Thursday, March 31, 2005

Oh, dear

This isn't going to do Scott Savol any good at all in the Top 9.

The perfect brunch

Five eggy, tender crepes, hot and crisp-edged from the pan.
A jar of apricot preserves.
A banana, sliced.
A jar of Nutella.
Hot coffee with milk.

Decorate and eat in this order:

Banana/Nutella
Apricot
Banana/Nutella
Apricot
Banana/Nutella

Nothing further.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Church of Dog



When the s.o. builds a doghouse, he builds it for keeps. My favorite part is the ventilation slats in the eaves; for those keeping track, they represent incarnation #3 of the leftover shutters on our property.

Note to self

I'm blogging yesterday's rib marinade and sauce just so I don't forget how to do it next time (I made it up on the fly). But if anyone else wants to try it, here's how: Marinate the ribs for a couple of hours, add the sauce, flash in a hot oven for half an hour, then reduce to 225 or 250 F and go "slow and low," turning and basting occasionally for several hours until all the sauce has glommed onto the ribs and the meat is fork-tender.

MARINADE
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. honey
1 tsp. sriracha chili sauce
freshly ground black pepper

SAUCE
2 or 3 chipotle peppers with adobo sauce, chopped (about 1/3 small can)
8-oz. can tomato sauce
half an onion, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
half a stick of cinnamon

So now that I have a record of that, on to more pressing matters: American Idol! I thought Constantine did especially well yesterday--he moved me, to be honest, and I think the judges felt the same way--and that Vonzell was fabulous and Nadia redeemed herself. Meanwhile, Scott, Anwar, Jessica, and Anthony should watch their backs tonight.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Breakfast from a packet

Now that I have made my feelings known about prepackaged foods, I suppose I ought to confess the one major exception to the rule: breakfast cereal. I guess it's my upbringing: My grandfather, now very elderly, was the head cereal chemist for Quaker Oats*. So I grew up eating a lot of Life and instant oatmeal. To me it's extreme comfort food, even though I know perfectly well how to make oatmeal from rolled oats (and sometimes do exactly that).

Sure, sometimes I'll get up and eat a little serving of yogurt and some fruit. Sometimes I'll boil a couple of eggs and make toast. Sometimes I'll even embark on something more ambitious, like a batch of muffins or a plate of huevos rancheros. But on those mornings when the coffee cannot possibly be ready soon enough, it's commercial cereal** for me.

Lately I have been experimenting with "add-ins" to my instant oatmeal. Not long ago, I discovered that if you dice up an apple and throw it in the microwave for a couple of minutes with dry Maple & Brown Sugar oatmeal and a little more than the usual amount of water, it creates a delicious melange of oaty baked apple. It's also very filling. It's a rare and beautiful thing when such a small, simple breakfast can hold me until lunchtime.

This morning I branched out. I used the Apples & Cinnamon flavor and threw in three prunes, snipped in half. Sure enough, they rehydrated nicely and filled the oatmeal with raisiny goodness.

Now what, I wonder, will I do with the Cinnamon & Spice flavor?

-----
* He tried out several prototypes of Cap'n Crunch on my dad and my uncles, and interestingly, none of the ones they liked were chosen as the final product. I was never allowed to eat Cap'n Crunch for breakfast, ever. My grandfather had a deep-seated objection to the stuff.

** By the way, here's an interesting factoid about my mother. For years, she has had a bowl of Wheaties with skim milk for breakfast every day. She just...likes it. I find this a bit odd, since I crave variety, but I must admit it's a good cereal.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Food fashion

You know those lists that Vogue-type magazines print, telling you what foods are "in" this year? The ones that declare that, for example, balsamic vinegar is Out, thanks to ever so many Dreadul Imitations and Salad Saturations Ad Nauseam, and that this year everyone will be singing the praises of hominy? Well, I'm not much of a follower. This is not the Year of Infused Sake for me (although if you pour me a shot, I'll be glad to drink it), and I couldn't care less what chefs in Manhattan are purchasing for their overpriced restaurants.

I do, however, go through periods of heavy consumption of particular foods because I can't seem to get enough of them. (I think everybody does this. The year the first Bruegger's Bagel Bakery came to North Canton, Ohio, my stepdad ate his weight in cinnamon-raisin bagels, and as a onetime employee of that company, I can't say I blame him.) Here's what's big for me this spring:

1. Fennel - Hit the charts last fall and hasn't let up, not even a little bit.

2. Canned tuna fillet packed in olive oil - Because it's a whole different thing from chunk tuna in water, and it makes a salad a meal. Also, fresh tuna is pretty patchy around here and I've been disappointed too many times. This never disappoints.

3. Escarole - I didn't even know what it was before a couple of months ago. Now I must have it.

4. Broccolini - Steamed and dipped in rarebit sauce.

5. French pastries - Especially eggy, fruity ones. As if you didn't know that already.

6. Nuts - Almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pistachios. I have gotten in the habit of putting nuts in my salads, baking them on fish, and integrating them into entrees and desserts. Not only do I enjoy the taste and texture, but I feel healthier for it. Also, this is the year we switched from regular peanut butter to the natural kind that doesn't have emulsifiers or added sugar. The s.o. refers to it as "peanut butter you can sip" and never wants to go back.

7. Kashi "Strawberry Fields" cereal - Best. Cereal. Ever.

8. Poached or medium-boiled eggs - A really nice change of pace from fried or scrambled ones.

9. Spring greens - I have been craving sorrel, watercress, baby arugula, mini lettuces, etc., probably because this is the time of year for them and I get excited about things like that.

10. Friendly-farmed meats - Not only the humanely raised chicken, beef, pork, and buffalo sold by Maverick Ranch, Spring Mountain Farms, et. al., but also meat from animals that refuse to thrive in tiny cages and pens, such as sheep and geese. They are more expensive, but sometimes I luck out and get a good deal.

What are you into lately?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The day after



I generally have leftovers for lunch. That's fine with me; if I like something well enough to eat it once, I usually want to have it again. Leftovers are a natural byproduct of an unstoppable desire to cook. There will always be more than two sane people should eat at one sitting.

Sometimes the postmortem on the food is glowing (i.e., "Damn, but I make good Chicken Marsala--even if it is just a recipe I clipped out of Real Simple, and even if I did nearly flame my eyebrows off while I was making it"). Other times, not so much. The cream custard I loved yesterday now seems way too over-the-top and heavy. Big surprise, there, since it is more than half cream.

So since I'm planning a French dinner today (cabbage soup plus a quiche made with Swiss cheese and one giant priapistic stalk of asparagus), I figured out a way to recast yesterday's hefty dessert. I baked a very airy, fluffy orange spongecake (the one in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1) that I glazed with apricot preserves (shades of yesterday's apricots) and filled with a healthy dollop of the orange- and nutmeg-scented custard.

Tangentially, I am kind of surprised that, to my knowledge, none of the low-carb fadsters have illuminated the difference between most American cakes and a certain type of French gateau. (Does anyone know how to make an "a" with a circumflex on an American Mac keyboard?) Sure, we have spongecake in our baking tradition, but do you know anyone who makes it? There's practically nothing in it but egg. It has more in common with a clafoutis or a crepe than it does with our usual birthday or wedding cake.

Save this post. Later I will be credited with igniting the Atkins gateau craze.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

"Mornin', Sam." "Oh, good morning, Ralph."

The chimney swifts are back. The bats appear to be gone. They work the same territory in opposite shifts. I wonder if the former drove off the latter, or if we had already evicted all the bats before the swifts showed up?

I love the chimney swifts. Just thinking about them gives me warm fuzzies.

The bats can stay, too, just not in the house.

For your arteries' pleasure

Here's a really delightful recipe I came up with today. It's a substantial reworking of something I found in a Cookshelf book. The original had some serious editing problems (not uncommon in that series, unfortunately, because the recipes are otherwise very nice) that resulted in impossible caramelizations, noxious amounts of nutmeg (2 tsp.!), etc. There was also an apparently intentional garnish that, in the photo, looked like mouse droppings. So here is my much-changed version. There is, happily, nothing rodent-like about it.

ITALIAN CREAM CUSTARDS
Makes 5 1/2-cup servings

1 1/4 c. whipping cream
3/4 c. skim milk
3 Tbs. to 1/4 c. sugar, to taste
zest of 1/2 orange, minced
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground Ceylon cinnamon
1/2 tsp. good honey (orange blossom honey is a nice touch)
3 large eggs, beaten
2 dried apricots

Place the cream, milk, and sugar in a large saucepan and slowly bring to a boil, whisking often. Reduce to a simmer and add orange zest, nutmeg, cinnamon, and honey. Continue to simmer a few minutes more.
Add some of the hot cream mixture to the eggs and whisk briskly. Add the eggs to the cream mixture and whisk well. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking often, until the mixture thickens.
Pour into custard cups. Chill at least two hours.
While the custards are chilling, place the apricots in a Pyrex cup and cover with water. Heat in the microwave for 2 minutes. Let stand at room temperature to completely cool and rehydrate the apricots.
When ready to serve, drain and mince the apricots. Spoon a little minced apricot onto the center of each custard.

(Served with: Chicken Marsala, spaghetti tossed with roasted red pepper and anchovy sauce, and steamed broccoli.)

Turning the corner

Last night was magical. The moon was so full and bright that it was like daylight outside when I took the dogs for their last walk of the night. An airplane, lights blipping, traced a long vapor trail between the moon and Saturn. The air was warm and moist. A whippoorwill called out.

Today is the very first day (Florida trip included) that I have worn shorts and a tank top this year. 79 and sunny, light breeze. The pear tree next to the house is starting to bloom now, and I saw a few violets in the lawn--the pale-purple kind with dark "whiskers."

It's supposed to rain for a couple of days starting tomorrow, so I'm out there planting the hot-weather crops in the garden. Squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, tomatilloes, and also peppers and okra if I have the time and energy.

I love this time of year. I can see all the work and weeds and bugs and sweltering weather in the future, but it's not quite real yet. Right now it's just a fantasyland where everything is full of potential.

P.S. Gracie has learned to sit! By the time she is adopted, she will be a real treasure.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Jackpot!

I just got a ten-pound young goose for $10 at the eastside Kroger in Athens. I think it was a mistake on their part, since the geese weren't even on sale, and by all rights it should have cost at least three times that amount.

I love it when people hire the incompetent. "$35? That can't be right. I'll fix it so it's the same price as the chicken."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

TMI, I'm sure

I am pretty sure I think about food too much. I read cookbooks for pleasure on a daily basis. I dream about food. I linger in grocery stores.

Probably the scariest part, for the outside observer, is that I track everything I eat every day on Fitday. Some people think it's psycho of me to do it, but there's a good reason. You see, I have an eating disorder. I was a full-blown compulsive eater for years, with all the scary behaviors that conjures up (bingeing in secret, skipping lunch every day out of guilt but then devouring half the pantry when I got home, etc.). Counseling didn't help. Diets didn't help. The only thing that helped, in the end, was to be conscious of what I was doing--to bring it out into a realm where I could look at it and analyze it.

It turned out my big problem was portion control. I don't have that mechanism you're supposed to have where, when you have had enough to eat, the meter registers "full" and you stop eating. So if I don't measure and tabulate everything, I tend to eat like a 16-year-old boy, which is to say a LOT. And I never stop.

(My grandmother once complained to me that she's always ravenously hungry, no matter what she eats. A light went on in my head. Isn't genetics fascinating?)

Once my best friend in high school said I ate as though my food was going to get up and run away from me.

So now I keep track of everything. And yes, I think about food more often than is probably healthy. I don't think I will ever evolve to the point where I don't fantasize about it constantly. But then again, as long as I measure and keep track, I can eat whatever foods I want and my weight stays where I want it. It makes me happy. So sue me.

For me, it has been about learning to eat a single square of chocolate rather than an entire Ritter Sport bar.

It has been a matter of redefining pasta in a two-ounce portion. It has been learning to eat only one piece of lasagna rather than half the pan--and then freezing the rest so I can't pick at it mindlessly.

It has been about splitting gigantic restaurant meals or hunks of coffeecake in two, and then saving half for another meal.

I don't just watch calories; I watch my nutrient intake. It's a great reminder for me to have some fresh greens or to munch on an apple instead of, say, raiding the breadbox for leftover coffeecake. I think I enjoy my food more in the long run when I get a lot of healthy variety. I love vegetables, fruits, legumes. I love it all.

Diet programs like the Zone and South Beach and Atkins and Jenny Craig are--please forgive the vulgarity--total horseshit. Even if they work (which is debatable), there is something fundamentally wrong about denying yourself the things you love. It is wrong to have to eat unsatisfying, tasteless, low-fat versions of full-flavored real foods. And most sinister of all is the idea of eating nutrition bars and drinking foul chemical shakes in the name of losing weight. My feeling is, I can only eat a certain number of calories in a given day. Why would I want to waste even a single one on something substandard? There are hundreds of recipes I'm dying to try. It's everything I can do to fit in all the real food I want. I have no room for fakes.

Everybody needs a hobby, I guess. This is mine. I don't eat imitations because I am too busy trying to find or make the real thing. I don't eat Nutrigrain bars; I eat apple crisp. I don't eat Twinkies; I eat sponge cake. I don't eat Quarter Pounders; I eat buffalo burgers on crusty bread.

I tend to get a little dogmatic when I talk about food, so please forgive me. I'm sure it's like listening to a Trekkie talk about why (in their humble opinion) Klingon is an especially expressive language.

But I really do feel that way (about the food, not the Klingon).

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Idolatry

Tonight's American Idol results show has been postponed until tomorrow, and last night's performances are being replayed for our voting pleasure because human error invalidated last night's votes. What-ever. So I guess I'm going to take this opportunity to express my opinions on the top 11.

(1) Anthony Federov. I hate this little prick. He has a soulless choirboy voice and a prepubescent prettyboy appearance, both of which would be forgivable except that he also has the worst musical taste of all time. His song choices have ranged from Foreigner to George Michael. I wish we could get rid of him ASAP, but I am pretty sure all of America's 10- to 13-year-old girls are voting for him.

(2) Carrie Underwood. She's a squeaky-clean, pretty girl from a farm in Oklahoma. She has a lovely country-style voice. I find her a little bland, and I don't hear any evidence that she knows anything about music history, but I think she has a decent chance of winning.

(3) Scott Savol. When I first saw him, I wondered if he was, y'know, all there. He's a bona fide weirdo and he comes across pretty badly onscreen whenever he's not singing. Looks like Bubba Sparxxx but he has gorgeous soul pipes. I like him. Don't think he'll win, but I could be wrong.

(4) Bo Bice. Stunning. A sexy Southern man with a great, versatile rock 'n' roll voice. He took a big risk by singing Jim Croce this week...zzzzzzz. But I love him all the same. In a perfect world, he would win.

(5) Nikko Smith. Eh. He doesn't make much of an impression on me. He was already eliminated once but got reinstated when Mario left for personal reasons. I suspect he'll leave again soon, but who knows? The judges were complimentary this week, so he could sneak through.

(6) Vonzell Solomon. She has a great disco diva voice, but she occasionally has trouble controlling her pitch. She was great this week and the judges hyped her a lot. I like her pretty well and I hope she doesn't have to go back to being a U.S. Mail carrier.

(7) Constantine Maroulis. Hot! He was looking weak for a while, but he has shown more resilience than anyone expected. This week he rocked the audience with--wait for it--The Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You." It was weird, it was theatrical, it was gutsy, and I think it worked. He isn't the best singer in the group, but he does have the best stage presence. And did I mention he's tasty?

(8) Nadia Turner. She was a favorite of mine until this week, when she did a horrific rendition of "Time After Time" in a ridiculous fauxhawk. She even forgot the words, twice. It was just stupid, and now that I think of it, it's not the first time she's made a bad song choice. She deserves to get cut.

(9) Mikalah Gordon. Have you ever noticed that when people are called "irrepressible," they are usually the people you would like to repress the most? That's how I feel about this overplucked Streisand-loving teenager. I should cut her some slack because she's young and immature, but still she annoys me. Puh-lease, send her home before she says "FABULOUS!" again.

(10) Anwar Robinson. Great singer, questionable style (he seems to think he's Wyclef Jean). He was amateurish and boring this week, but he hit his final "wow" note as usual, and that may pull him through.

(11) Jessica Sierra. She has an excellent voice, but she just doesn't look like a star to me. I gather she barely squeaked by last week. I think it's because she's a little unmemorable. Too bad, because she does have talent.

Like magic

One of the benefits of being a lazy, non-detail-oriented gardener is that sometimes my plants go to seed or are unwittingly buried in compost at the end of the season. That's how I got a little crop of carrots this spring; they were the ones that had been forgotten under the weeds last year and had wintered over.

Today I was cleaning up some beds and installing new weed-blocking fabric (a new experiment, this--the very concept of not having weeds everywhere) when I found something that looked familiar. It was mache! There were several clumps of it. The very plant that had failed me so disappointingly last year was volunteering this spring. And it was pretty large, too, since it had gotten started early before the hot weather came.

I also noticed a couple of dandelionish plants nearby that turned out to be arugula, big enough to harvest and eat. This isn't as big of a deal--I have an entire bed of thriving arugula nearby, which will be edible-sized within a week or so--but it's satisfying nonetheless. Gardeners of the world, plant arugula! It is the most enthusiastic seedling around. It'll outcompete any weed Mother Nature throws at it.

I noted with satisfaction that my beets--notoriously tricky in this climate--have sprouted and are doing pretty well. I can take full credit for this, since I had the presence of mind to plant them in February (they're another plant that likes cool weather).

The turnips are preparing for their yearly onslaught abundance. Nothing can stop a turnip.

There are a couple of cute little pea plants, but most will have to be reseeded because they got drowned by a storm just after planting and started to rot.

All in all, very successful so far.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Further developments

The lawn is unkempt with wild onion.
The first white irises have popped open.
The honeysuckle is leafing out.
The Bradford pears are a riot of white petals--but not yet the real pear tree beside the house, which blooms a little later.
And in the asparagus bed, one pioneering spear has poked up through the mulch.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Because one cannot live by ice cream alone

We are exhausted. We've been making a wire-fence pen and a very swanky doghouse for Gracie (after we find her a permanent home, the pen and house will be used to put up any dog that needs to be fostered; I suspect we will take them with us when we move). That has meant a lot of digging on my part--eight two-foot-deep holes in stiff silt and clay--and a trip to Home Depot for a lot of bulky materials. And for the s.o., it has meant a lot of hammering and sawing of wood, and a lot of tamping of dirt with a heavy sledge.

Also, the other day at dusk, the s.o. was outside using the table saw for an unrelated project when he started noticing small swooping creatures launching themselves from the eaves of the house. It turns out that what we had thought was a nest of peeping baby birds in the wall was actually a massive colony of bats. "Well, that explains why we don't have a mosquito problem," the s.o. observed. Bats are useful and good creatures, certainly. But the thing is, we can't sit idly and let our walls fill with guano (there's a lovely image). So the s.o. is spending a lot of time on the extension ladder, sealing chinks in the siding (the trick is to try to do it while the bats are outside), and meanwhile he has built a largeish bat house from plans he found on the internet. I think he is making some progress on the bat-exclusion front, if displaced bats are any indication. A couple have blundered into the chimneys and down into the house, leading to a lot of barking, meowing, and shrieking on the part of the house's occupants.

Ah! The country life.

So in those moments when we are not playing with dogs, shoveling dirt, or chasing bats with brooms, we are hungry. Here's what we had for dinner today, which I thought turned out really well:

TURKEY GUMBO
2 turkey thighs, skinned, deboned, and halved
2 to 4 Tbs. flour
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
14-oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
8-oz. can tomato sauce
3 c. fresh or frozen okra, chopped into bite-size pieces
1/2 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 c. diced cooked ham
several sprigs fresh parsley, chopped
a bay leaf
3 c. water
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Dredge the turkey pieces in flour and fry them, with the onion, in the oil in a large pot. When the turkey is slightly browned, add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Reach into the pot with two forks and pull the turkey into large shreds for easier eating.

Somebody stop me

We picked up a copy of The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook at a thrift store while we were traveling, and I noticed it contains a bunch of ice cream recipes that don't require an ice cream freezer contraption. Well, let me tell you, there is no way I'm going to read a recipe for Coffee Malted Ice Cream without giving it a try.

Here's my adaptation. It's currently half frozen and is completely decadent-tasting. If the texture is anything even approaching proper ice cream when it's done, it'll be a runaway success.

COFFEE MALTED ICE CREAM
2/3 c. sweetened condensed milk
3 1/2 Tbs. malted milk powder
1/2 c. strong cold coffee
scrapings of half a bourbon vanilla bean
1/2 tsp. cognac
1 c. heavy cream, whipped until it holds stiff peaks

Mix everything but the cream together until smooth. Freeze in a shallow glass or plastic container until edges and bottom are frozen, then scrape into a bowl and beat until smooth but not melted. Carefully fold in the whipped cream, return to container, and freeze until firm. Stir a couple of times during the freezing process.

Florida photos...

...can be found here. If you open the first one up and then use the "next" button to view them, you'll see the captions and comments.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Moral: Ask Icelandic people what to do with fish

Alda's recipe for salmon (see her March 18 entry and its comments) is soooo good! The s.o. and I both think its marriage of spicy/cool/tangy/mild is awesome. I'll make it again, for sure.

It went really well with my beloved watercress salad. That's a nice bonus.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

What do you get if you pour boiling water down a rabbit hole?*

Here's a little seasonal flavor for you--in my not-so-humble opinion, the very best hot cross buns recipe on earth. I came up with it by crossing a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe** with a Sunset magazine one, then adding a little bit of Florida inspiration in the form of orange flower water. If there is any smell headier and more magical than the scent of an orange grove, I don't know what it is. And orange flower water, though a pale imitation, helps me remember what it was like to stand in a grove and draw that sweet air into my lungs.

HOT CROSS BUNS
1/2 c. golden raisins
2 Tbs. brandy
125 ml cold skim milk
125 ml boiling water
pinch of sugar
1 1/2 packets yeast
500g all-purpose flour, divided into two bowls of 250g each
50g sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 tsp. grated orange zest
50g melted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten and divided in half
1 Tbs. skim milk
a few drops orange flower water
3/4 c. powdered sugar

Soak the raisins in the brandy for 30 minutes or until all the liquor is absorbed.
Mix 125 ml of cold milk with the boiling water. The resulting liquid should be about 105 degrees F. Toss in the pinch of sugar and then mix in the yeast. Let the mixture sit until foamy. Add the activated yeasty liquid to one of the bowls of flour and mix well to get a sticky batter. Let rise, covered, in a warm place for 45 minutes or until doubled.
To the other bowl of flour, mix in the remaining sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, lemon and orange zests, and brandied raisins. Add this mix to the risen batter, along with the melted butter and half the beaten egg. Knead for a few minutes with floured hands. Cover the dough and let it rise for one hour in a warm place, until doubled.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently pull it into a log shape. Without kneading or punching down, cut the dough into 16 equal pieces. Gently shape each into a ball. Space them evenly on an oiled, floured baking sheet. Let rise 15 minutes, covered with a damp towel. Brush lightly with remaining egg and bake 15 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
Put the 1 Tbs. milk into a medium bowl and add just two or three drops of orange flower water. (Don't overdo it--a little goes a long way!) Gradually whisk in the powdered sugar until you have a thick icing. With a rubber spatula, transfer the icing into a plastic sandwich bag. Snip off the corner and pipe crosses onto the buns.
The buns are best when warm, but they'll keep for a couple of days.

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* Hot cross bunnies, of course. This is quite possibly the worst joke ever told, but it's the only one I can ever seem to remember.

** It's because of the HFW ancestry that some of the measurements are by weight and/or in metric measurements. I like the British weighing method better than cup measures anyway when it comes to baking, since it's more accurate.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Back

We have returned from Florida, happy and tired. I will post photos and details of our vacation soon. Right now I'm too scattered. But I can tell you it was about as close to perfect as a vacation could be. Muy bueno.

Taxi the cat spent the week patrolling the house and was visited twice by a friend of ours. You're a good egg, Jon--thank you. She was very glad to have your company. She is a little miffed at us, but she'll get over it.

Silver and Cairo spent the week at the Winterville location of Four Seasons Pet Resort. They were the new location's very first customers! They had a fun week at "camp" (lots of romping in the play area, ample Bil-Jac, etc.) and were sent home with Hawaiian-print bandanas around their neck. The manager of the kennel even took a photo of them for us and printed it out on a little postcard.

Gracie the new kid spent a week luxuriating at Athens Animal Hospital. She got all her shots and was dewormed (luckily, she was heartworm-negative, but she did have a pesky case of hookworm that needed attention). She gained a little weight and won everyone over with her friendly personality. When I picked her up, I took her directly to Pawtropolis to use the self-service dog wash. I managed to get rid of most of her hobo smell. You should have seen the dirty water that poured off of her. Who knew she had white feet? She looks so pretty now.

Special thanks go out to my veterinary-student friend Becky, who interned at Athens Animal Hospital and was able to give me good advice on what to do with a bedraggled wandering dog on a moment's notice! Becky, you rule.

The s.o. is building an outdoor run and doghouse for Gracie, since she's not too keen on other dogs.* I have already become very fond of her. She's such a playful, curious little monkey. Sweet as can be. When she rides in the car, she climbs up into the back window and makes all the other drivers crack up. If anyone knows of someone near us who'd be a good parent for her, please let me know.

Other than taking care of all these doggie details and catching up on my e-mail, the only thing I've done since we got home is cook an elaborate Indian meal. I did it because I was inspired by new purchases. We shopped at, like, a thousand thrift stores while we were traveling. At one of them the s.o. found a couple of those stainless-steel covered dishes that they serve entrees on at Indian restaurants. At another, he found a stainless steel three-cup condiment caddy. At yet another, he picked up two volumes of the Time-Life Books Foods of the World series: Chinese and Indian. They are copyrighted 1969, and they're fantastic--super authentic and informative, with as much cultural information as cooking instructions. So I took the Indian volume and set to work filling our new serving dishes. I made:

Roghan Josh (Curried Lamb)
Same ki Bhaji (Fried Fresh Green Beans with Coconut)
Puris (Deep-Fried Unleavened Whole-Wheat Bread)
Dhanya Chatni (Fresh Coriander Chutney)
Kela ka Rayta (Yogurt with Banana and Grated Coconut)

All of the recipes were spot-on. Delicious. I felt such a sense of accomplishment; I had been trying for quite some time to make a decent roghan josh, and this recipe--the simplest I've tried--was the best. Also, I had always assumed there was some trick to making puris, but there isn't. You roll them out and drop them in hot oil, and they puff up like balloons. Cool.

I think it's time to sit around and read some magazines. All that unpacking and dog-collecting has worn me out.

One more thing: DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT HAPPENED ON AMERICAN IDOL THIS WEEK?!

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* There was a snarling, lungeing incident when she encountered another dog at Pawtropolis, although I was able to contain her. Gracie trusts people, but seems to have a strong instinct to protect me against other dogs. We will try to socialize her, but I suspect she would probably do best in a situation where she would be an "only dog."

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Gah!





OK, I lied again. One more post. Does anyone want a puppy?

A stray wandered up on our front porch. A 4- to 6-month-old female mutt who is definitely part pit bull (judging by her square head and small flop ears), maybe mixed with something small. SUPER friendly. Likes to give kisses and receive hugs. No aggression whatsoever. Strong guard dog instinct--barks at scary stuff. We have named her Gracie because we needed something to call her. It seemed right.

She is skinny but not emaciated. Her collar was too tight. She has the remains of a chewed-off lead on her collar.

As you know, we're trying oh-so-hard to leave for vacation. I called my friend who's a veterinary student, and she gave me the number of an animal hospital in Athens that can vaccinate and board on short notice. I'm calling first thing in the morning. And then we are outta here...and will deal with this when we get back!

In case anyone is wondering, we are fostering this dog, not adopting her. We don't want another dog, and indeed don't have the time for one. But we can't just cut her loose. She has proved already that she hasn't got the sense to stay out of the road. And if someone else around here found her, they might try to dogfight her, or worse. Gotta find her a real home where she'll be loved.

LATER. In a week.

Why does everything always have to happen when you're busiest????

One more before I go

This is what happened to the sweet potatoes and cauliflower (not the radicchio; it went into a salad, and there was an accident when the bottom of the salad dressing cruet blew out in mid-shake, but I think you can imagine the scene as well as I could describe it in words, so I'll leave it at that). It is delicious and we're freezing the rest of it so we can enjoy it again when we get home. Please forgive the lack of exact measurements and instructions; I did it by taste and added things as I thought of them. If you do this, you'll want to start by sauteing the onions in the oil, then throw in the sweet potato, garlic, and spices, and keep sauteing. Then add most of the rest of the ingredients, simmer until tender, and stir in the cilantro near the end.

AFRICAN-STYLE LEFTOVERS SOUP
1/2 c. chopped onion and/or shallot
1 Tbs. peanut oil
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped
a few cloves garlic, minced
ginger (fresh or powdered)
berbere*
peri peri**
cumin
a 14-oz. can of diced tomatoes, with juice
half a head of cauliflower, in florets
a couple handfuls of shredded cabbage
a handful of unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped
a teaspoon or two of peanut butter
salt and pepper to taste
a little water if needed
1/4 c. chopped cilantro

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* I was going to call this a West African soup, which it more or less resembled, what with the peanuts and sweet potatoes and all. But then I went and threw an Ethiopian spice mixture into it and mangled my geography. Ah, well.

** And then I threw in a South African red pepper powder to further confound matters.

The bikini is in the bag

There is no milk in the house. We're leaving on our trip to Florida tomorrow morning, and we are trying to "run down" the food in the fridge.

This morning: Oatmeal with brown sugar and diced apple. Coffee with no milk. Things are getting lean and hungry around here. I usually have about a quarter-cup of skim milk in each of my two cups of coffee (not that I'm a creature of habit or anything), and I miss it a lot. Not enough to use powdered milk or to open a whole can of evaporated/condensed milk, though.

Last night I made EmptyTheFridge Lo Mein. Leftover chicken, tofu, the last green and white onions, the last half of a bunch of cilantro, the dregs of a bag of frozen peas, the remainder of an already-opened can of commercial chicken broth. By the time I piled all the leftovers into it, it was huge, so now we have leftovers of lo mein. Oops.

For tonight's dinner, I get to figure out what to do with two sweet potatoes, a carton of yogurt, and half a head of radicchio. (?!)

I don't expect to be blogging much, if at all, for the next week. We intend to find a library at some point and check in, but by then I will probably have 30,000 e-mails to deal with, and no doubt all of them will be RED HOT EMERGENCIES. So it's safe to assume you won't see much of me until the 17th or 18th.

We will be spending a couple of days in Kissimmee/Orlando, then moving to a beachfront campsite in St. Pete for the remainder of the week. There will be jai alai, manatees, museums, botanical gardens, sponge divers, thrift shopping, kitsch, seafood, Cuban food, Greek food, and of course a lot of spring training baseball. I'll post some photos when I get back.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Mistake? Or good fortune?

I accidentally bought white chocolate Toblerone today. The bars were 79 cents each and they were sitting on the checkout counter at Big Lots, and I grabbed three of them without looking too closely because I loooooove Toblerone.

When I got home with the groceries and looked closer, I was terribly disappointed because I don't like white chocolate. I dislike it to the point where I don't even want a hint of it in a cheesecake or a cookie. I've always seen it as pointless--chocolate without the chocolate. Give me my cocoa!

But then I broke off a little "mountain peak" from the bar and ate it. And you know what? If all white chocolate tasted like that, I wouldn't think so poorly of it. In fact, I might even like it a lot.

Let us raise a glass in honor of Swiss chocolatiers.

But let us not become hasty. If I am eating dinner at your restaurant and the waiter tells me the house dessert specialty is Raspberry White Chocolate Decadence Cake, I still won't order it, because most white chocolate is not worth the energy it takes to break off a chunk. White chocolate as a "fancy" extra in a dessert? That's hack.

I did it

I finished the living room ceiling! Woo! And now my neck hurts too much to look up at it. I think it's probably very pretty.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Fruits of my labors, part deux

The consensus here is that the bramley burnt creams from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Year are one of the best desserts ever to grace the earth. Of course, since I have no access to bramley apples here in the U.S., mine were macintosh burnt creams. I don't think much was lost in translation.

Let me try to describe the concept. You cook up a batch of homemade applesauce, keeping it nice and tart. You chill a layer of the applesauce in ovenproof ramekins. Then you whip some cream--unsweetened--and chill a layer of whipped cream on top of the applesauce. Then you sprinkle a layer of brown sugar over the whipped cream and put the cold ramekins under the broiler just long enough to caramelize the sugar, yet keep everything else cold. Chill once more, then crack the burnt sugar with your spoon and dig in. Stunning. I made a half recipe (three ramekins) for three people, but we all wish I'd made more.

Lately I've been really loving desserts that are heavy on fruit, eggs, nuts, etc. Wholesome, bright tastes, with less fat and flour than I've baked with in the past. I've been making these cookies from Jacques P├ępin's Simple and Healthy Cooking that have nothing but ground pecans, powdered sugar, and egg white in them. I have nicknamed them pecanaretti. They're wafer-thin and crispy and toffeelike, and when they're crumbled they make a perfect topping for, say, key lime pie-flavored yogurt, or zabaglione.

Bring me your tired, your poor, your sweet-toothed...

Clever, clever s.o.


Like our new entertainment center? It's a 1920s electric stove that came with the house. We don't have the money to restore it right now, but we are managing to put it to good use nevertheless.



And look where the components go!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Janus-faced

Good Jamie:
While moving furniture and DIY supplies upstairs so that the s.o. could install baseboards, I found a partial can of semigloss paint in the living room/dining room trim color, which means I probably don't have to buy more paint for the living room ceiling after all. This means a potential savings of $25 (expensive, I know...it's Ralph Lauren paint) and a trip to Athens.

Bad Jamie:
Casting health concerns aside, I made batter-fried pollack, homemade onion rings, and baby broccoli with rarebit dip for dinner. Mmm...so greasy and fried...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Fruits of my labors

Julia Child was known for drinking wine while she cooked. Perhaps that's why she was in the habit of leaving things in the oven for about five minutes too long. Take a look at Julia Child & Company, which shows photos of actual food cooked on her show, and you'll see that most of her pastries are a little scorched.

With this in mind, I would like to amend the recipe for clafoutis that appears in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1. A clafoutis should remain in the oven for 55 minutes, not an hour.

Anyhow, I don't mind that my plum clafoutis turned out just a tad too brown. Redolent of cognac, bubbling with purple juice, eggy and slightly sweet...oh my, it takes all my strength to keep from eating the entire thing.

Busy bees

After I've been working on a particularly grubby and grueling DIY project, there's no feeling in the world like stepping into the shower and getting really clean. I deploy the sweetly-scented personal-care equivalent of 80 grit sandpaper. It's so wonderful to scrub off all the teeny paint chips and cobwebs and dirt, and to emerge smelling like mangoes or papayas or coconut.

All of that is a lead-in to the fact that I started painting the living room ceiling today. Yes, I know you're supposed to work from top to bottom when you remodel a room. But we had to live somewhere, didn't we? We couldn't stay at the Suburban Lodge motel forever--not at $180 a week. So we finished the walls and moved on in.

So now I am moving furniture wherever practical, and throwing dropcloths over the rest. I'm scraping peeling paint where I find it, painting what I've scraped, and basically spending hours on a ladder with one arm over my head. Then there's a long, drawn-out cleanup where I vacuum everything and use the brush attachment to get flyaway dust out of the papasan cushion.

The room is starting to look a lot better--lighter and brighter! and with a ceiling that matches rather than clashing with the walls!--but I suspect it's going to take me a while to finish.

Outdoors the weather is gradually improving after the lapse earlier this week. The arugula, radishes, and turnips are starting to look like real plants. The sorrel is sending up new shoots. The s.o. has been outdoors whenever he can, using the table saw to rip baseboards for the upstairs (and to make a couple of replacement boards for the exterior, with the goal of keeping a noisy squirrel out of our attic).

Suddenly it's afternoon, and I haven't even had my lunch!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

AI results postmortem

I'll keep this brief for readers who couldn't care less. Heh.

Constantine survived despite what I thought was a really lame performance. I'll start rooting for him (as a number TWO favorite) again if he doesn't suck next Monday.

Aloha didn't make it...proving once again that the only thing more deadly than a terrible performance is a workmanlike but forgettable one, especially if you have to sing first. Really a pity. I did like her.

Have towel, will travel

Can't wait for this! Best casting ever. It looks so good. My only regret is that my dad (who introduced me to Douglas Adams' work and had a very similar sense of humor) isn't still around to see it with us.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

One fish, two fish, bread fish, Hugh fish

The title is a reference to dinner, of course. I made the Foil-Baked Trout with Granary Bread Croutons from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Year cookbook. I did it completely "by the book," even to the point of following his suggestion to serve the fish with wilted spinach and new potatoes. Excellent.

Today it snowed. Let me say that again: It snowed. I was out running errands and I kept seeing these little flakes flying around. Because I am a northerner, my Spidey sense said "snow," but somehow I couldn't quite believe it. Sure, it was wool-sweater weather, but snow? The wind was howling, but snow?! We don't DO snow here. Maybe there was a fire somewhere and this flurrying stuff was ash.

It was snow. A piece of it fluttered onto my windshield and melted. Ash doesn't do that.

As soon as I saw that melting flake, I started cussing. FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK! I did not move to Georgia so that I could run my errands in the snow. On the bright side, the snow didn't stick around here (although it did in the northern mountains). On the not-so-bright side, a hard freeze is forecast for tonight. I am not impressed.

Snowflakes aren't the only things I've been seeing out of the corner of my eye. Lately I've noticed a lot of signs.

Outside a church: JESUS LOVES YOU MORE THAN ANYONE. (Do they mean "Jesus loves you more than he loves anyone else," or "Jesus loves you more than anyone else does"? It's kind of important to know which one. I favor "A.")

On a marquee in front of the Hardee's: MONSTER THINKBURGER. (Think twice about eating it.)

On a signboard with letters dropping off, in front of a gas station in Union Point: WIN 20 GALLONS OF GA. (I already carry 20 gallons of Georgia with me at all times. I think I always will.)