Saturday, April 30, 2005

Dude

Sometimes you can learn a lot by watching TV. We were just couch-potatoing in front of Jacques Pépin's Fast Food My Way program, and I took away so much from it that I think I would gladly have paid money for the experience. (I guess that would be called "supporting public television.")

He made a tomato gratin that was stunningly simple: Tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped, tossed in a hot skillet with olive oil and butter and then baked under a dry-breadcrumb and olive oil crust.

He also made a breakfast dish that I think I will have to replicate as soon as humanly possible. First he prepared butterfly pasta and tossed it with chives, a little butter and olive oil, shredded gruyére cheese, salt, pepper, and a little of the cooking water. Then he fried eggs sunny-side up and served them atop the pasta, cutting open the yolks so they melded with the sauce. Oh. My.

There was more, but those were the dishes that especially grabbed me.

Then, just when I thought things couldn't get any better, America's Test Kitchen came on and I figured out a lot of the things I've been doing wrong when I make pizza. (Mental note: Keep dough sticky.)

How long 'til dinner again?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Multitasking

A prospective owner is coming to visit Gracie tomorrow. I'm a little torn up about this, and the s.o. won't even mention it. Even though we know we need to find her a new home, we love her. It's very hard to think that she might be leaving us. The guy sounds pretty nice and responsible and might be a good fit. But we'll miss her if he adopts her!

Since we need her to give her best possible impression, we gave her a bath. She HATES baths. The only reason I was able to do it alone last time was because I took her to a dog wash with an eyehook for clipping leashes to and a sprayer for getting the tricky spots. At home it took two of us with all our strength (and she's not even that big of a dog!).

On the bright side, after all the splashing and shaking, I used the towels to wipe up the water and *bingo!* the bathroom floor had been mopped. Sort of.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Not surprised, but not happy either

Yes, I'm talking about the American Idol result. Constantine just wasn't that great last night, and I think it was a little unwise of him to continue rocking out when everyone liked his crooner/theatrical side so much better. No matter, I guess, because I'm pretty sure he'll be famous anyway. (He already is, right?)

But there are other forces at work. I'd like to send out a big f*** you to the folks at Votefortheworst.com who are doing all they can to deliberately skew the result by voting for Scott Savol. Whether or not their efforts made a difference this week, and whether or not Idol is worth caring about in the first place, these folks bother me because they exemplify what's most obnoxious about this country--the glorification of the mediocre. The logical extension of this attitude is that we elect a guy president who can't do any better at the job than any of our moron drinking buddies could do.

Whether you're electing a politician or a pop star, you don't want an everyman! You want somebody who's really good at the job.

*sigh*

Idol is going to be a little less compelling for me from now on. I still have a horse in this race, though. I'm rooting for Bo.

By request

The original version of this recipe came from A Midwest Gardener’s Cookbook by Marian K. Towne. I have changed the cooking method, preferring not to use the microwave. Here’s my version. The recipe can be cut in half and will then make 2 jelly jars plus a half-jar for your fridge. You don’t have to can it, but it’s easy to do and keeps the relish around for another time.

RADISH RELISH
Makes about 5 half-pint jelly jars

1 lb. red radishes, cut in half
1 medium onion, quartered
1 medium carrot, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 Tbs. whole allspice
1/4 tsp. whole cloves
1 c. white vinegar
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. water
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. salt

In a food processor, combine half the radishes, half the onion, and half the carrot. Process until finely chopped. Remove to a bowl and repeat with the other half of the vegetables.

Tie the allspice and cloves in a little cheesecloth bag, or clamp them inside a tea ball. In a saucepan, combine the chopped vegetables, vinegar, sugar, water, mustard seed, and salt. Toss in the cheesecloth bag or stick in the teaball.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Remove the bag or ball of spices. Now you have a choice: You can cool it and keep it in a jar in the fridge (it will last several weeks), or you can can it.

If you choose to can it, here’s how:

Have ready a box of jelly jars with lids and rings. You’ll also need a very large pot with a lid and, preferably, a metal jar rack inside (a cheap enameled pot with the rack is sold for about $15-20 at hardware stores and is called a boiling-water canner). It also helps to have something to grab hot jars with--either a jar lifter or a silicone Orka mitt.

Fill the large pot most of the way with water and set it on high heat to come to a boil. Meanwhile, sterilize your jars. You can do this either by running them through your dishwasher or by boiling them. What makes the most sense to me is to put the empty jars into the canner while it’s coming to a boil and leave them there to boil the whole time I’m cooking the relish.

Put the lids in scalding-hot water (don’t boil them, though) and keep them submerged while you’re working. Have ready a clean kitchen towel, laid out on your counter or table.

When the jars are sterilized, lift them out of the boiling water or the steaming dishwasher and place them, top down, on the clean towel. One by one, pick up a jar with a mitt or potholder and ladle hot relish into it, leaving a quarter-inch empty at the top. Take a plastic knife or similar implement and poke through the relish, freeing any air bubbles. Use a clean paper towel or clean rag to wipe the rim, then put a lid on top and screw it down firmly with a ring. As long as it’s on straight, don’t get overly worked up about the tightness of the ring; it’s suction, not the ring, that will seal the jar. Repeat for the remaining jars. If you end up with an uneven amount, don’t can it, just put it in the fridge for immediate use. The jars need to be full except for the quarter-inch at the top.

Take the filled, closed jars and carefully place them in the boiling-water canner with your jar lifter or Orka mitt. There should be an inch of water, minimum, above the lids. When the water returns to a rolling boil, set a timer for 15 minutes and slap the lid on. Lift the jars out after the time is up.

Here’s the fun part: Now you listen for the “poinks.” As it begins to cool, the air in each jar will contract and suck the lid down tight. You’ll hear a series of little poink-like noises as the jars seal themselves. After an hour, test each jar by pushing down lightly in the center of the lid. If there’s any flex to it, it hasn’t sealed. Either process it again or use it immediately. Having said that, though, I have never had a jar fail except for the time one broke while it was in the canner.

Breakfast with Madhur

Yesterday I raved about Madhur Jaffrey's Cookbook, and how glad I was I borrowed it from the library. But little did I know how delightful her influence would be around here.

First I made a batch of her quick pickled radishes. They were pretty good. Not spectacular, but definitely one for the files, since we often have radishes around.

Then I decided to make Indian food for dinner. I made a lovely dry-cooked potato, carrot and pea dish with cumin seeds and green mango powder from Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes. I also threw together a spinach and chickpea curry from some leftovers that were in the fridge. For the starch, I decided against puris or naan or rice or anything traditional like that. Instead I chose something called Golden Sesame Cornbread from the Madhur Jaffrey book.

I warned the s.o. (a lifelong southerner) ahead of time: "I'm making something that looks like cornbread but won't taste like traditional cornbread." I had to do this because like all southerners, he has a very well-defined idea of what cornbread should be like. I've tried variations--a really nice custard-topped cornbread from Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking, for example--that have been rejected outright.

Well, I shouldn't have worried. From the first bite, the s.o. was in love with Madhur's delicate, cakey, ginger- and chile-scented cornbread topped with mustard and sesame seeds. I served it with some of last year's homemade pear and raisin chutney. He ate two pieces of it then and kept eating it all the way through "American Idol" and "House." I had to ask him to please save enough of it so I could have some at breakfast time.

He did save me some. And let me tell you, warm, cakey, fragrant cornbread with pear and raisin chutney is the breakfast of champions.

We will be making this recipe again and again. It's so easy and so beautiful.

By the way, I mentioned in yesterday's comments that I was baking dog biscuits. Since they, too, turned out really well (the dogs are clamoring for them! they are wrapped around our fingers!), I thought I'd pass on the URL. The kind I made are called Boo's Biscuits, and you can find them here. I made a half-batch, which happened to fit perfectly in a nonstick round pizza pan. I used warmed goose fat for the drippings, and I used a pizza cutter to score the dough into little squares before I put them in the oven. They smelled so nice that we actually tasted them before trying them out on the dogs (they weren't bad!). I don't think I'll be buying commercial dog treats anymore.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Your diet is hereby ruined. You can thank me later.

Try this: Honey graham crackers, spread with a very thin layer of Nutella and dusted with unsweetened dried coconut.

Books, food, etc.

Yesterday I stopped by the library to see if I could find The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which Alda had said was her favorite contemporary novel. With a recommendation like that, I definitely wanted to read it. But alas, the Uncle Remus Regional Library System* hath it not. I'll have to look for it elsewhere.

Of course, I didn't leave empty-handed. I brought home three cookbooks:

1. The oversimplistically named Madhur Jaffrey's Cookbook (what, like she never wrote any others?). This one's my favorite of the three. I read it pretty much cover to cover last night and took a lot of notes. She uses a lot of the same flavors and techniques over and over, but they're good sturdy techniques like popping mustard seeds in hot oil, etc., which she learned growing up in India.

2. Chinese Cooking for Dummies, which is better than it sounds because it was written by Martin Yan. I took this one out of the library before but made the mistake of not copying down the recipes I tried. This time the sweet and sour sauce and the basic chow mein are mine, dangit. I'm not the brightest bulb in the box when it comes to Chinese cooking, but the recipes in this book gave me excellent results when I used them before.

3. The Turkish Cookbook by Ozel Turkbas. I was excited, for obvious reasons, to see a Turkish cookbook in our teeny little rural library, but most of what I've found in this book looks underseasoned and Americanized. I would say the 1977 publication date is an excuse, but it's not; I have plenty of international cookbooks from the 1960s and 70s that are rigorously correct and adventurous. Still, there are a few things in this book that I can't wait to try. There's always something.

Two things I learned yesterday that have nothing to do with the above:

1. I've been rereading our copy of Amy Dacyczyn's The Tightwad Gazette (the book, not the newsletter). She has some good ideas that I use every day, but a lot of her economies are nitpicky and silly, and sometimes she's wildly inconsistent.** For years I've thought ill of her practice of substituting dry milk for fresh--that goes against everything I stand for as a foodie! But I'm willing to try almost anything once. Yesterday we ran out of milk, and instead of buying more I decided to make up a batch of the powdered milk I keep around for baking. After chilling it for a while, I bravely took a swig out of the jug. It tasted...fine. There was a malted-milk-powdery aftertaste, but it was not objectionable, just different. I'm thinking I should keep a batch of the stuff made up so I can use it in my coffee*** and in recipes, because that's an economically sound change that I won't feel a bit. When I'm making puddings (like last night's kheer), I can run through a half-gallon of milk pretty quickly.

2. On the other hand, Kellogg's Fruit Harvest cereal with strawberries and blueberries is cloyingly sweet and has a strange aftertaste. In no way is it an acceptable substitute for my beloved Kashi Strawberry Fields. I thought maybe it was the weird milk that was throwing me off, but I tasted a little cereal right out of the box and it was just as nasty. I won't be buying that again.

Oh, and...

I finished the first coat of paint on the fireplace mantel, but haven't gotten around to the second coat. It already brightens up the room a lot! I'll post a picture when I'm done.

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* Yes, really. Joel Chandler Harris grew up in the county on the other side of the lake. I show off my keychain-sized Uncle Remus barcode card at parties as an icebreaker.

** For example, she bakes her own bread but buys commercial hamburger buns. If you go to the trouble of baking your own bread, why on earth wouldn't you pinch off some dough and make a few buns? Also, she compares the prices of fresh vs. processed potatoes and shows that fresh is cheaper by an order of magnitude, but then admits to buying potato flakes sometimes. I don't understand. Surely a person who's obsessive enough to wash out plastic baggies and make potholders out of old jeans wouldn't think twice about boiling a pot of potatoes.

*** It is quite literally impossible to tell the difference between fresh and reconstituted milk in coffee.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Yay me!

I sanded the fireplace mantel yesterday. That was the evil part of the job--it involved moving furniture, rolling up the rug, and covering everything in the room with old bedsheets or plastic. Then I spent an hour or so employing power sanders and elbow grease, and another hour on the interminable cleanup of all the DUST. Ugh.

Today all I have to do is paint it. That doesn't seem so bad.

Despite our blustery weather (in the 40s this morning with frequent icy blasts of wind), roses and clematis are starting to bloom here in Greene County. I also noticed that my potted poblano pepper plant (try saying that ten times fast) has flower buds on it.

Baby tomatillos and lacinato kale in the garden. Apparent survival of a few cauliflowers. Excellent.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Le weekend

I thought this day would never come: I planted the sweet corn. Now we'll see if I got to it in time. I also started preparing the bean hills. The garden, whose appearance has so far been marred by the untamed beds in its middle, is starting to look as good as it actually is.

Last night we had a series of brief, energetic thunderstorms, which were just what we needed to re-saturate the ground and get my new crops going. Today it's bright and windy, with clouds that scuttle along quickly.

I have already been in the kitchen today, working on the beginning stages of tonight's cassoulet. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a recipe for it in his Meat Book, and of course Julia Child included one in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1. For all intents and purposes, the recipes are the same: Cook white beans with herbs and garlic. Brown several kinds of meat. Make tomato sauce. Bake them all together with a bread-crumb crust on top. Both authors recommend lamb as one of the meats, but I'm saving my one and only meager little cut of lamb shoulder for a braise I'll be making tomorrow (with lots of escarole...mmm...). The cassoulet will survive, I expect, with "only" pork, sausage, and preserved goose leg.

This all sounds kind of over-the-top, but it's a thrifty way to use odds and ends from the freezer. A chunk of this, a scrap of that, and pretty soon you've got something completely new.

I made zabaglione a couple of nights ago, by way of using up some excess egg yolks. But then when I ate a serving of it, it gave me a headache--too much liquor and sugar at once, I suspect. (I wonder why it didn't it do that to me last time?) So today I'm once again finding a new use for an overly rich custard. I think I'm going to make little cups of crispy phyllo dough, then fill them with a layer of zabaglione, a layer of saucy sugared fruit, and a layer of whipped cream. That should distribute the marsala thinly enough so it doesn't knock me out.

My main task this weekend, though, is sanding and painting the living room fireplace. It's one of the last holdouts of non-doneness in the downstairs. Wish me luck. I'm dreading every moment of it.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Book meme

Rozanne tagged me with this, so here goes:

1. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be saved?

Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Many, many times. On everyone from Loyd-with-one-L in Animal Dreams to (as a preteen, so cut me some slack here) John Galt (who is he, anyway?). I develop crushes easily. Hell, I’ve had crushes on cartoon characters before.

3.The last book you purchased?

A 1915 translated edition of Virgil’s Aeneid at a flea market. And I have bought (but not yet received; it’s in the mail) the brand-new signed reprint of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s A Cook on the Wild Side.

4.What are you currently reading?

Princess Alice: A Biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, by James Brough. I’ve only just started it, but it has promise.

5. Five books you would take to a deserted island?

(1) A Dashiell Hammett anthology

(2) The Time-Life Foods of the World series, 1975 ed., because they are just as much travelogues as cookbooks.

(3) Arts & Humanities Through the Eras: Medieval Europe 814-1450, which my mother and stepfather co-edited. I’ve really enjoyed the parts of it I’ve read, but I haven’t had time to dig into it the way I’ve wanted to--it is an encyclopedia volume, after all! Being trapped on a deserted island would be the perfect opportunity to read it cover to cover.

(4) Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

(5) Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, because no matter how many times you read it, you’re never really done reading it. ;-)

Okay, looking for victims...I tag Witho and her BF, Alda, and Kat.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Stupid garden management decisions and their inevitable results

This year I didn't label any of my plantings in the vegetable garden. My rationale was that (a) I didn't have any of the little signs I used last year and didn't want to bother getting more, and (b) I would know what everything was as soon as it came up.

That would have been really clever and thrifty of me IF some plants didn't take two weeks to germinate. A couple of the beds were still contaminated with weed roots and seeds when I planted, so in certain areas it quickly became impossible to tell what was a desirable plant and what wasn't. The task was made harder because I immediately forgot which row was which, so I didn't know what kind of seedling to look for.

Don't get me wrong--it's not a large-scale disaster we're looking at here, just a minor inconvenience. There are successes. I am proud to announce that this year I have a healthy, large crop of beets for the first time. I have been harvesting radishes, lettuce, and arugula for some time now. Turnips and kale are flourishing. Peas are starting to climb their trellis. The eggplants look healthy. And after the Big Washout that obliterated my tomatoes and peppers, the seedlings I planted to replace them are doing pretty well.

There are a couple of mounds of healthy squashlike vines that I think are cucumbers, but I can't be totally sure because I didn't label them and all squashlike vines look the same.

There are some rows I'm not as thrilled with. This morning I got out the hoe and utterly overturned the broccoli row. There was nothing there worth saving--just a tangle of invasive bermuda grass that I spent half an hour tugging out by the root. I was about to stick the hoe into the other side of the same bed when I noticed something that looked familiar. Was that...cilantro? Why yes, it was. And it turned out that on closer inspection (that is to say, me on my hands and knees with my face pressed close to the earth) there was more of it. So I spent another half an hour tugging bermuda grass roots out from between the sparse, delicate little cilantro seedlings. Then I sprinkled a few radish seeds in the sizable gaps in the row. That's my trick for gaps, because radishes don't take up much room, they're gone within a month, and you can never have too many of them.

I replanted the broccoli side with okra. I know for a fact it will grow and hold its own. Southerners don't grow vegetables because they are a platonic ideal of vegetable goodness; they grow them because they will GROW and you can feed a family on them. Turnips, collards, and okra being a case in point.

I threw in a couple rows of sunflowers before I came inside for lunch, just because I had room.

I still need to plant the beans, and I think it might be getting too late for the corn. Why do I always let this stuff get away from me? Spring goes so quickly...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A strangely intangible day

I look back on today and can't for the life of me figure out what I did. My back and feet hurt, which would seem to imply that I did something significant. But what it was, besides a little desk work and some garden-watering (with Miracle-Gro, I might add--the experimental cardoon plant was looking a little yellow), I can't say.

The s.o. and a friend are watching baseball and talking about baseball blogging. I am basking in the afterglow of American Idol. Two comments: (1) I called that*, and (2) Jo, your boy is back!

It occurs to me that this is one of the most blissfully beautiful times of year here. Every morning lately we have been waking up to a subtle, haunting perfume we can't identify. We go outside and search for it and it's nowhere, but still it's everywhere. The azaleas are vibrant right now, and so are the wild roses, but it is neither of those. The honeysuckle hasn't bloomed yet, so what in the world is it?

The blueberry bushes are in between flower and berry--they have tiny blue-purple buds all over them. The chimney swifts are thundering in the chimney.

Ah, now I remember something important that I did today. Today I found two roommates to share my hotel room at Twangfest. Now I can afford it for sure! Both ladies are in need of a car while they're there, too, which is something I can help with (I'm driving, they're flying). I'm starting to get excited about it now, and to wonder exactly who will be there.

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* I predicted the dream sequence on House last night, too, for what it's worth. Best. Episode. Ever.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Just do it

Try this recipe. Just go ahead and try it and you'll thank me later.

It's a recipe for something called a Far Breton, which is more or less a member of the clafoutis family*. I made it first thing this morning and groggily did everything possible to screw it up, including trying to make it in a springform pan (don't--the batter is too thin and it will run out!). Eventually I poured what was left into a souffle dish and stuck it back into the (by-then-smoldering) oven. It resisted all my attempts to kill it and turned out delicious.

I can't believe one of the reviewers on Epicurious called it "bland." Nothing could be farther from the truth. I suspect that person skipped the flaming-the-fruit-in-brandy step, or maybe forgot the vanilla. I can't imagine that their taste buds could really be that lame.

Here is today's brunch menu:

Far Breton
Canadian bacon
Buttered homemade bread
Sliced pears
Hobnobs with Brie (try it!)
Coffee

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* I know, they keep cropping up here. I can't help it--I love anything that resembles a crepe with fruit in it. Especially a GIANT crepe with fruit in it.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Cows 50, cowboys 0

The signs had been up on telephone poles all over the county for a week or two. The s.o. was excited and kept reminding me not to make plans for Saturday night. We were going to the rodeo!

It turns out there is a livestock arena in Union Point that I had no idea existed. At dusk that day, the s.o. navigated as my car bumped along the Crawfordsville road, past a hand-lettered sign that read "CONTESTANT PARKING," to a steep driveway where cowboy-hatted volunteers were directing traffic into the public parking lot.

The red dirt arena had the air of a high-school football game, with gaggles of teenagers wandering around, giggling and eating nachos. A lot of them were wearing 4-H tee shirts and/or cowboy hats. Many of the girls' cowboy hats were cotton-candy pink. We found seats in the bleachers just as the last notes of the national anthem faded away.

I should mention that this wasn't my first live rodeo. About 14 years ago, I attended a pro-circuit rodeo at a Boys' Town in western North Dakota. Some of the best cowboys and cowgirls on the continent* were there. Because of this, my impressions of Saturday evening are probably a little skewed. Let's just say I'm not wowed by the cattle- and horse-wrangling skills of Georgians and Alabamans. In event after event, almost no one qualified. It wasn't what I had learned to expect from the time I spent on the Great Plains, but it was still well worth the $10 admission.

Calf roping was unintentionally hilarious. A chute would open ("sponsored by Bug House Pest Control, ladies and gentlemen!") and a calf would jet out into the arena, followed by a horse-riding cowboy who would either utterly fail to rope the calf, or fail to tie it down for more than a few seconds. Steer wrestling followed a similar pattern. The steer was almost always eventually subdued, but oh-so-slowly. Feeling a little uncomfortable for the benighted contestants, we watched as they tried to wrest the legs out from under the unwilling animals. There was a lot of flailing. Times were in the neighborhood of 20 seconds.

Bronc riding and bull riding were unnerving, especially the latter. As I watched animals that weighed well over a ton writhe and kick and stomp, nearly mangling and crushing the local cowboys, the geekiest thought in history crossed my mind: This must be what the computer animators who worked on Lord of the Rings modeled the Balrog on. Watch The Two Towers and then a little off-peak-hours ESPN2, and tell me if you don't agree.

One cowboy hastily limped away from his run-in with the Balrog, raising his arms in nervous triumph (e.g., "I wasn't killed!). Another walked off, shaken, flexing his trampled hand to see if it still worked.

The head rodeo clown made predictable jokes (fat wife, soiled trousers, cops with doughnuts, etc.) to occupy the time in between events. At one point he asked the crowd if they were fans of Larry the Cable Guy**. To my astonishment, the audience bellowed, in unison, "Git 'er done!" One guy in a NASCAR jacket nearly knocked himself out cheering. Later I discovered that one of the merchandise trailers parked out back was selling GIT R DONE tee shirts. Oooooookay.

My favorite parts of the evening were the children's activities. That's a bizarre thing for me to say, since I'm wildly uncomfortable around kids. It's not that I don't like them or that they don't like me--in fact, for some reason I've never been able to pin down, four- and five-year-old girls always decide I'm their New Best Friend, and I find it kind of sweet. It's just that even when I was a child, I related better to adults. I think I've heard Fran Lebowitz say much the same thing, which gives me a little pause, but that's the way I am.

Anyway, the littlest kids were given hobbyhorses (on loan; the s.o. noticed that these same hobbyhorses were for sale for $15 out back, and doubtless many parents were persuaded to buy them afterward) and competed in horsey races across the arena. But the seven- to 11-year-olds were too big for that. They were allowed to participate in the Calf Scramble.

The Calf Scramble went like this: Ribbons were tied on the tails of two calves. Then the calves were let loose into the arena and the horde of children chased them, vying for the ribbons. To say I was nonplused by this is an understatement. Even baby calves weigh 250 pounds. That's the size of two mastiffs! Think of the liability! But I guess I was just being a fearful city slicker. When calves see that many children running toward them, it turns out they have a very predictable reaction: They run like hell in the other direction.

Soon a towheaded boy was barging his way through the bleachers near us, shouting, "I GOT DA RIBBON! I GOT DA RIBBON!"

I wish I could tell you about the cowgirl barrel races and the other events, but we weren't there to see them. We've been having unusually clear, cold nighttime weather lately (I am pretty sure it was in the upper 40s Saturday night) and we left for a while in the middle so we could go home and get our hats and mittens. It was worth it. Newly warmed, we were able to stay till the very end, when the announcers bade everyone farewell and turned on the recording of "Happy Trails."

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* I say "on the continent" instead of "in the country" because it turns out that the Canadian west is a hotbed of cowboy skills. Some of the best riders and ropers are from Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. It makes sense when you think about it.

** For the uninitiated, Larry the Cable Guy is the least talented of Jeff Foxworthy's redneck comedy power quartet. I actually think the other three comedians are fairly good (although uneven to say the least--for the love of God, don't waste a half hour of your life watching the television series), but I've never been able to account for Larry's appeal.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Je ne regrette rien, part deux



A tarte normande aux poires, or pear custard tart, in my new tart pan. I'm pleased as punch.

I wish I'd written this, and so many of his other sentences too

"He was from the Bay Area and let me listen a bit to his Windham Hill tape, Colors or Songs for the Road Within or something. Music that, if you're not buying a futon at that very moment, is essentially aural torture."

--David Rakoff, "I'll Take the Low Road," from the collection Fraud

Friday, April 15, 2005

Je ne regrette rien

We have coined a new slang phrase. You know how when people want to say "information" they say "411" instead? Well, in the same spirit, the s.o. and I have decided that "filing a 4868" will henceforth mean "procrastinating." We are sure this new phrase will get a lot of use.

So yesterday morning I was filing a 4868 (yes, figuratively--I printed out the real one later in the day) and decided to bake a couple loaves of bread. I'm not too talented at baking bread. It requires a completely separate skill set from pastry-making or cooking, and I've never really gotten the hang of it. But we were almost out of wheat bread, so I cracked open Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and embarked on a recipe entitled "Molasses Bread with Cooked Grains." I used oatmeal as the cooked grain. And guess what? It was easy. A few hours later I had two beautiful, nicely-risen loaves of delicious oaty, wheaty bread. It turned out better than anything I could buy at the store, which, believe you me, is a new experience for me when it comes to bread-baking.*

This unexpected victory put me in a good mood for the whole work day, and much to my own surprise, I got quite a bit done. I interviewed four key people for my next article and wrote several hundred words on my current one. Then I had to drive into town to run some errands.

Errands, schmerrands. Yeah, sure, I went to the bank and put up a bunch of dog posters and picked up a case of beer and some pistachios**, but it didn't take me long to find my way to the expensive snobby cookware shop. Emboldened by my earlier success, I picked up the baguette pan I'd been wanting forever. After all, I reasoned, the only thing wrong with the baguettes I'd made a couple weeks ago was that they'd spread out funny. Obviously it was an equipment issue.

And then I saw it: a nine-inch red ceramic tart pan from the Emile Henry "Couleurs" series. I had never seen this particular piece before, but I knew it was exactly what I wanted. I already have the gorgeous blue pie plate from the same series--it was a gift from a very considerate chef friend--and I'd been thinking about collecting a few more pieces in different colors, but I hadn't known where to begin. Now, suddenly, I knew.

So I own it. I guess I'll be adding the large green souffle dish and the yellow rectangular baker to my Amazon wish list. As if my list weren't long enough! And did I mention that the "Provençal" series is unbelievably lovely in person? Sigh.

You know what? I don't usually buy things on impulse. It's not in my nature or my budget. But I keep walking into the kitchen and thinking, "I don't regret that at all."

Now the only question in my mind is, what shall I put in it for Saturday night's dessert?

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* I am not alone in my bread-making woes, I know. When I was growing up, I remember visiting my dad and my stepmother during their extreme hippie phase. My stepmother is a wonderful, delightful person, but back then she baked a lot of whole-wheat hockey pucks in the name of natural foods.

** Guess which errands were undertaken at the s.o.'s request?

Results

I heard a chuckle from the vicinity of the s.o.'s desk. I slugged down the rest of my coffee and walked over. He looked at me and furrowed his brow.

"I like all of these," he said. "Are you sure you can't send them all a jar?"

I considered it for one brief moment, and then pictured myself bubble-wrapping, styrofoam-peanutting, and shipping four separate packages. And then I considered the prospect of having three fewer jars of relish for myself. "Um, yeah, I'm sure," I said.

He scrolled up and down and finally pointed a finger at the screen. "This one, then."

.
.
.
.

Congratulations to Diana, who has won a jar of homemade radish relish. Diana, please e-mail me your street address and we'll go from there. And a huge thank you to everyone who entered. You really made us smile!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Pollyannaism, a contest, etc.

Well, no word yet from the real estate agent. Maybe those people will come look at the house. Maybe not. I keep telling myself that at least I have already scrubbed the front porch! It looks quite nice, if I do say so myself.

I have no way of knowing (thanks to my realtor!) how the next few months of my life will take shape, but I'm strongly considering going to Thursday and Saturday nights of Twangfest this year. I attended Twangfests 1, 2, 3, and 5 (I had tickets for #4 but missed it because my dad died, which is ironic because he was a massive Commander Cody fan and would have been pleased as punch if I'd gone to see Bill Kirchen live), and I think it's time I showed my face there again. Good friends, good music. I've known a lot of the organizers and attendees for years, and I miss them. Hard to believe this thing has been in existence for NINE YEARS.

Cairo and I are playing ball as I write this. Nature is amazing. One drop of retriever blood in a dog and the instinct kicks in--the prospect of cavorting with an old tennis ball is almost too good to be true. Hours of amusement. It sure brings a smile to my face to see him that happy.

Another amazing thing about nature is how quickly plants begin to thrive when they're given a couple of really perfect days (warmish sun mixed with sprinkles of rain). The trees I transplanted look pretty good--even the hawthorn, which was touch-and-go for a while because I managed to snap off the tip of its taproot when I dug it up. It could still die, but I don't think it will. The crabapples, meanwhile, look as though they've been growing in situ all their lives.

Out in the garden, the turnips have doubled in size, the kale is sprinting upward, the eggplants are putting out a new whorl of leaves, and the first round of lettuce has reached a stature where it's finally worthwhile to pick it. Most notably, the radishes are ready to harvest--red, cheery, round, and poking up out of the soil. That means I'll be making radish relish in the very near future.

Radish relish is a recipe I got from A Midwest Gardener's Cookbook, a very useful tome by a Mennonite woman named Marian K. Towne. It's organized by season and then by vegetable or fruit (in the approximate order of harvest time), and it has lots of recipes for quick salads, casseroles, and preserves. So last spring when I was deluged with radishes all at once, I consulted it. Lo and behold, it gave me radish relish, an alarmingly fuchsia-colored concoction that tastes amazing on bratwursts and hotdogs. It's one of the easiest and most satisfying canning projects a person can take on, in my opinion. Now I grow extra radishes just to make sure I'll have enough relish.

Who would like to try radish relish? If your answer to that question is "Me! Me!" you'll need to work for it. Write a 25- to 50-word essay in the comments box on why you deserve to have a jar mailed to you. Time limit is 10 AM EST tomorrow. Most compelling and amusing essay wins the prize. The s.o. will be the judge since he's very clever, yet impartial, and doesn't know any of you.

I suspect Greavsie will be irked by my timing because he is traveling today and can't possibly write an essay while he's on an intercontinental flight, but again I promise: This will not be the last contest offered here.

And now I have to keep working on some writing of my own...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Psych!

Our real estate agent called us at lunchtime today and told us a couple wanted to see the house. I had spoken to these folks a couple months ago and then they'd disappeared. I thought they had long since found a property. But apparently they're still looking. We set up an appointment for 9 am tomorrow...or so I thought. Tonight during American Idol our agent called back and said they couldn't make it at that time after all. We're not sure when they can make it.

They would need us to move out REALLY soon. Which is well and good, except the longer they take to see the house and potentially make an offer, the more of a hardship it would be for us to get out as quickly as they'd want us to.

Can someone please, please do what they say they're going to do, when they say they're going to do it? This seems like a pattern with our real estate agent. Everything is a freaking surprise. HEADS UP! HOUSE SHOWING! OH WAIT! NO HOUSE SHOWING AFTER ALL!

Even American Idol was disturbingly unpredictable. Maroulis safe. Bice not so much--a narrow escape. Who knew singing "Freebird" doesn't get you very far anymore?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Mercurial

What on earth has gotten into Constantine Maroulis? The past two weeks he has been killing the competition on American Idol. He's been performing so well that I've been leaping out of my seat, yelling "YEAH!"

This guy is the one to beat. And I hope nobody can do it.

I spent part of the day at my desk and part of the day outside. I dug a bunch of holes so that we could transplant some trees (my! how our free seedlings have grown since they first arrived!) and turned over a lot of dirt in the garden. Gorgeous weather--a balmy partly-sunny day with occasional sprinkles of fresh-smelling rain.

I'm exhausted. I ache.

Monday, April 11, 2005

A full day

I hurried through my office work this morning so I could drive into town. First and foremost, I sped directly to the restaurant supply! But...they didn't have anything I wanted. They're not a very fancy restaurant supply. Still, I emerged with a kickass set of every possible size of biscuit cutters, which faithful readers will recall that I needed very much. (I can probably use a medium-sized one as an English muffin ring if I have to. Still, I don't relish the idea of making one muffin at a time! I guess I might have to order the rings from Amazon after all. Either that, or make all different sizes of English muffins. That might be funny in a way.)

My Spidey sense was tingling when I got to town, so I drove over to the Goodwill store. Sure enough, I ended up with four pairs of beautiful nearly-new shoes--exactly the sorts of things I'd been looking for but hadn't been able to find new--for $5 apiece. Oddly, I didn't find anything else at Goodwill. Just shoes.

I was on my way to my friend J.'s place (to drop off the leftovers of what I'd made for contest winner Jo) when I spotted a sign for a Red Cross blood drive. Since I'm an obsessive nutrition-tracker, it occurred to me that giving blood was a free, benevolent way to get my iron level and blood pressure checked. I marched in the door and signed my name before I had a chance to chicken out. Nearly an hour later, I was still there, because it turns out I have been to Africa within the last three years and, while that didn't disqualify me, it was a piece of information that they wanted to enter into their new software, which they were having trouble figuring out.

Anyhow: Iron level 38 (lowish but absolutely fine). Blood pressure 90 over 70. Heart rate 60 (fine, but probably artificially high because I was starting to panic by then).

I didn't faint. And bonus: I got a Nutter Butter cookie! I haven't had one of those in years.

Once I was safe to drive, I went to J.'s place and gave her the pastries. She had just been to a big international grocery in Atlanta and rewarded me with a packet of Hobnobs! She knows the way to my heart.

My last stops were the copy shop (to print out "free dog" posters) and two locations of the Taco Stand (to put the posters up on the bulletin boards). Then it was time to go home. Way past time, really.

Dinner: Rice-paper spring rolls with noodles, shrimp, cilantro, bean sprouts, and cucumbers. Side of peanut sauce. Dessert: Pears poached in red wine, served over plain yogurt. It's nice to have something so simple and light after all the ridiculousness that's been going on around here.

Half, baked

In job interviews, I am in the habit of describing myself as a "quick study," partly because I can learn new software and processes and such fairly fast, but mostly because I've found it's a phrase that prospective bosses respond positively to.

In reality, though, sometimes it takes a long time for information to sink into my head to the point where I can actually use it on a day-to-day basis. For example, despite a lifetime of cooking for a maximum of two people*, it has taken me until now to figure out that I should cut most recipes in half.

Cutting recipes in half works really well most of the time, but occasionally I'll run into recipes that don't divide (or, for that matter, multiply) well. My family pie crust recipe, for example, is a hot-water crust that derives its tender flakiness from the fact that the dough's warmth lets you roll it out in just a few strokes, without overworking it. It is completely possible to make a half-batch, but you have to work with a certain degree of alacrity because the smaller mixture loses its heat more quickly. With a full batch, you can laze around all you like.

It would be helpful if cookbooks included information about sizing--how to tweak the baking time, for example, or what kind of pan to use for a different-sized batch. When and if I ever write a cookbook, I'm going to do that.

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* Except when I invite people over for dinner or cook for an event, in which case all bets are off and I make enough food for an army.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Two out of three ain't bad

I love, love, love my new haircut. Mid-career Jennifer Aniston is gone. Elisabeth Rohm's coif has replaced it. Not blonde, though; just my usual brown with a few shiny new strawberry-blonde highlights. I wish I could freeze the way my hair looks today for future use.

The weather was perfect for the Braves game. Our seats were not behind the Braves' dugout, as advertised. They were behind home plate! The home team tromped the Mets and there was, as usual, an entertaining drunk shouting guy behind us. "Swing batter MIIIIIIIISSSSSSSS!" The only down side was that they didn't put me and my temporarily perfect hair on the new humongous video screen.

The restaurant supply was closed. In retrospect, it makes sense that they're closed on weekends. Ah, well. I suppose I can wait a few days to buy my English muffin rings and baguette pans. In the meantime, I probably just dodged a financial bullet, didn't I?

Friday, April 08, 2005

A week ends, a season begins

There's something really special about the first time you eat something from your garden in the spring. That's what I experienced today. Sure, I had eaten a few of last year's carrots, plucked after overwintering--but that doesn't count. And sure, I'd had some of our asparagus--but the asparagus bed came with the house; it's not as though I had anything to do with growing it. And yes, I've been cutting sorrel all winter--but...well, I've been doing it all winter.

So maybe this isn't the first produce from the garden. It just feels like it.

Anyhow, the arugula needed thinning, and I came away with two heaping cups of baby leaves. I washed them three times to get the sand and mud off, then tossed them with sopressata, hard-boiled eggs, a few leaves of Boston lettuce, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper, and it was about as close to perfect as a salad can get.

This was the starter for a meal of foil-baked river trout in white wine, paired with steamed broccoli. I love trout. It seems to be one of the few fresh fish that live up to the word "fresh" around here, and quite honestly, I like it even better than salmon (which it resembles for reasons I've never been able to figure out).

A little part of me wants to drive into town and celebrate the ending of the work week. This has been a hell of a week, and I'm sleep deprived and ready to taste a little freedom. But I am going to stay in and watch TV because tomorrow has the promise of greatness. I'm getting my hair done (after a couple weeks of looking like a fashion "don't"--I swear my roots must be two inches long) and going shopping at Manning Bros. Restaurant Supply (WOOOOOO! HOG WILD!), then joining the s.o. and his dad for a Braves game at Turner Field...with enviably good seats right behind the Braves' dugout. Gloat gloat gloat.

Yes, I like the look of Saturday.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

N-V-T-S, nuts

Baked goods in the mail for the first person to tell me where the title comes from.

Cairo has been lying at the s.o.'s feet, staring intently up at him, for about 15 minutes straight. It must be hard to type when those shiny, worshipful canine eyes are burning into the side of your head.

The s.o. has been eating a lot of pistachios lately. The dogs congregate around him when he starts cracking open the shells, knowing that eventually they'll get one. I've heard of dogs loving popcorn (and ours are no exception), but pistachios? Now we've done it--our dogs have acquired gourmet tastes!

I turn to look at the s.o. "Do you have pistachio dust under your fingernails or something?"

He looks down at his furry admirer.

"Maybe."

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

(Not) just desserts

I had some tart pie cherries and their juice left over from making a clafoutis this weekend, so I decided to make cherry ice cream. Besides being spectacularly pink, it is perhaps the best ice cream yet. Here's what you do. But first, a caveat:

I get my cherries fresh from a fruit farm and freeze them in pie-sized amounts (5 cups of cherries to 1 cup of sugar). The sugar helps them keep their bright-red color and their fresh texture while they're in the deep freeze. So the "juice" that comes with my cherries is actually more of a light syrup. If you use canned pie cherries, you'll want to add a little bit of sugar.

CHERRY ICE CREAM
2/3 c. sweetened condensed milk
1 c. sweetened pie cherry juice
1/2 c. pie cherries, chopped
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 c. heavy cream

Whisk together the condensed milk, cherry juice, cherries, and lemon juice. Freeze in a shallow container until the outermost half-inch of the mixture is frozen.
Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Scrape the frozen parts away from the edges of the cherry mixture, then carefully fold in the cream, retaining as much fluffiness as possible, until the mixture is no longer streaky.
Continue to freeze until firm. While it is freezing, take it out every hour or so and carefully fold the frozen edges toward the middle. The goal is to break up the ice crystals but, again, retain the fluffiness.

*****

Now, I should hasten to add that we do eat healthy entrees and don't subsist wholly on ice cream. I made a perfectly good quasi-Indian meal today! I keep trying to make myself into Iron Chef Indian, and someday I swear I'll get there. It definitely comes a lot more naturally to me than it used to. Once upon a time I used to go out for Indian food, but now that I live in a place with exactly zero Punjabi-run* restaurants, I have been forced to take matters into my own hands. I think it's for the best.**

The veg was something called "Carrots with Fresh Spinach Ribbons" from Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes. It was really interesting and different; it called for whole cumin seeds that were toasted in oil, which gave the whole dish a nice nutty flavor.

We had some leftover unsauced tubini pasta, so for the main dish, I immediately thought of something called Keema Macaroni that Bakerina reprinted on her blog many months ago. I had tried and liked her version, but I craved a soupier sauce. Plus, in my mind, keema = lamb. So I took Neelam Batra's recipe for Moist Ground Lamb Pilaf, cut down the yogurt a bit, left out the almond slivers, and substituted pasta for the steamed basmati rice. Perfection! Bakerina, you are an inspiration as usual. I never would have thought of doing such a "fusion-y" thing as putting pasta in Indian food if it weren't for you, but it works big time.

And now I am approaching another writing deadline, but I refuse to think about it. My brain is focused on vegetable gardening, laundry, and the imminent American Idol results show***.

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* Northern Indian is my hands-down favorite unless the chef is really out of this world. There's a vegetarian south Indian restaurant in Athens and it's not bad, but it doesn't scratch that itch.

** I can still utterly destroy an Indian restaurant's lunch buffet, though. "Destroy the Buffet" was a phrase coined by an ex-co-worker to describe his lunchtime activities at India Palace, and I think it fits. The image we're going for is sort of like Godzilla in Tokyo.

*** Addendum: I was wrong about the results. Unfortunately, that horrible Anthony kid is still on the show, and we've lost Nikko Smith just when I was really beginning to enjoy his voice and arrangements. Miraculously, baby-mama-beating Scott Savol hangs by a thread.

A few short commentaries

1. April in Georgia means a thick coating of chartreuse dust--otherwise known as pollen--on every horizontal surface. It's on the car, the front porch, you. People who think they don't have allergies are suddenly forced to admit that, yes, come to think of it, they do feel a little itchy and congested. It's kind of cool-looking, though.

2. The wisteria is blooming. Invasive or not, it looks gorgeous when it takes over a woods.

3. The thing about losing all the weight you ever wanted to lose--living the dream, so to speak--is that if your competitive nature is one of the things that helped you lose the weight in the first place, you're suddenly left in a tricky spot, motivationally speaking. Now there's no more woo-hooing "I LOST A POUND!" While your friend or mate who hasn't reached his/her goal is still cheering incremental victories, the best you can do* is say, "Hey, look, I still weigh the same!" Which in reality is even more challenging and cheer-worthy, but it's hard to feel that way. And then if you gain a pound, even though it's almost certainly a normal water fluctuation, suddenly you wonder if you're screwing up and if this one pound is a harbinger of thirty more. "Oh, God, I'm doing something wrong," you fret. "Is this how it all ends?" It turns out that the hardest thing on earth is to achieve stability and just RELAX AND ENJOY IT.

*Barring an Olsen-twin-style corporeal disappearing act, which is not only potentially deadly but disgusting to look at. I like to have a little "back" on me, y'know?

4. This week was a gimme for Constantine on American Idol. The theme was show tunes, and he's an experienced musical actor. So while almost all the other contestants floundered through boring renditions of boring songs, he got the ladies all hot and bothered with a sexy, tuxedoed version of "My Funny Valentine." Our prediction is that we lose pernicious little Anthony Federov this week, because surely his performance of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" was not what Rogers & Hammerstein had in mind. Ugh--I wanted to punch out my eardrums with an ice pick.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Farm facts

1. People in the U.S. spend only about 10 percent of their disposable income on food. That's lower than any other country in the world.

2. For every $1 spent on groceries in this country, only 19 cents goes back to the farm.

I don't want to get all John Mellencamp about this, but obviously it is wrong on so many levels! How is it that so many of the most essential jobs pay the worst? But there are a couple of things we can do, off the top of my head:

1. Join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program. You give a farmer--usually an organic one--a chunk of money up front before the yearly planting starts, which keeps them from having to take out a loan at interest. Then, every week, you get a share of everything that grows. Often the farm will have recipes and food tastings and value-added products, too. It's one of the best and most fascinating ways to become connected to your food. Props to Red Cardinal Farm in Minnesota for teaching me to love edamame, garlic scapes, and lacinato kale.

2. Buy at the farmer's market, direct from the source. If you don't know what something is, ask.

3. Buy local produce on those rare occasions when you see it at the grocery store.

4. When you shop at the grocery store, buy more "whole" foods as opposed to prepared ones. Stick to the outer aisles and tread not in the center ones full of boxes and packets.

Anyone have any more ideas?

Monday, April 04, 2005

Bleah

Steer clear if you know what's good for you; I've got my period. The Midol has kind of kicked in, but I still feel pretty lackluster and it's not worth testing my temper.

Stereotypically enough, I can't seem to keep away from the leftover chocolate brownie pie today. It's a good thing yesterday's dinner guests (our beloved J. and F.) helped us polish off the ice cream already, or I'd have a spoon in that, too.

But I also have a new passion with much better vitamin content: Today I tried celeriac (a.k.a. celery root) for the first time ever. I followed a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe and made it into a gratin with light cream, garlic, and red pepper flakes. I love it, I love it, I love it. Did I mention I love it? It's the best root vegetable ever. Such depth of flavor. I'm going to want it all the time now.

Let's see, what else? Oh, yeah. I'm on a deadline. I really ought to get back to work, but nothing sounds less appealing right now.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Cold feet, literally

I had a great night at J.'s place. She didn't have to work, so she had a few of the girls over. There was lots of wine drinking, lots of talking, lots of laughs, a little Belgian chocolate, and some teeny strawberry and brie tarts of G.'s that were really awesome.

But I had the worst drive home. First I stopped at the grocery store (where I bought the last $10 goose in Athens, thankyouverymuch) and while I was in the produce section picking out portobello mushrooms, I started to have an unusually bad Raynaud's attack. I watched as the first two fingers of my right hand turned white and dead-looking. It hurt. I swore, flapped my arms like a moron, and breathed hot air on my fingers to no avail.

The fingers stayed fishy and numb the whole way through the grocery store. I didn't figure they'd improve. If there's one thing I've learned in five years of dealing with this condition, it's that I lose my ability to regulate my body heat when I'm overtired. And guess what? It was super late and I was exhausted. I just needed to get home and go to bed.

By the time I made it through the excruciating, pointless self-checkout (is it really a self-checkout if the clerk has to override the machine twelve times?), four toes were numb as well. Two of them were the toes that have been frostbitten again and again because of the Raynaud Syndrome. Not good.

I got in the car, started the engine, cranked up the heat in the footwell, then sped away. A few miles later, near the edge of town, I noticed that the gas gauge was dangerously low--like, way below "E." It has a habit of dropping off like that; first you think you're fine and you have a quarter-tank, and next thing you know you're running on fumes. I started looking for a gas station, and lo and behold, none were open because it was 3:30 in the morning...or was it 4:30 in the morning because of Daylight Savings? I kept thinking that the next station would be open, but again and again I was dismayed to find them closed.

Here's where it gets scary: The last 18 minutes of my drive home is through really, really rural territory with absolutely no gas stations. And I don't carry a cell phone, because they don't work out in the country. Still, at this point I had no choice but to forge onward.

It was a windy, chilly night. I envisioned having to walk for miles to find a telephone, alone and scared, with my extremities beginning to blister.

It was the longest 18 miles I have ever driven.

But obviously, since I'm here writing this, I made it. I guess that's kind of anticlimactic, but it doesn't feel that way. I'm still so wired that I haven't gone to bed, even though it's almost 6 am. On the bright side, I got all the dishes washed. The dishwater was nice and warm, and I have feeling in my hands again.

I'll be sleeping in my wool socks tonight.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Friday, April 01, 2005

New adventures in thriftiness

You'd never know I was a vegetarian for half my life.

Here's how the chain of events goes: I am thawing the $10 goose for the weekend. I plan to roast the breast, and then I will bake a delicious terrine with the neck and giblets. But I remember that due to the relative youth and smallness of American geese, I came up a little short on pieces-parts last time I made that terrine. So I think, all right, what can I do to pad this thing out a little, other than adding extra sausage and breadcrumbs?

I go to the grocery store. I wander past the meat counter and spot what may be my favorite food label ever:

HORMEL CHICKEN GIZZARDS AND HEARTS
mostly gizzards


(Which maybe works as a metaphor for life, if you ask some people. But I digress.)

Aha! I purchase a package.

At home, I separate out all the hearts (there are actually at least ten or fifteen of them, despite the small print) and put them in a baggie in the fridge to use later in the terrine. They'll be a welcome addition to the goose parts. Then I put the gizzards in a pot with onions, garlic, carrots, celery leaves, parsley, peppercorns, tarragon, etc., cover it all with water, and simmer. An hour or two later, I strain it and I have a lovely chicken stock, which I freeze for a future soup.

I have just tossed a boiled gizzard to each of the awaiting dogs when, out of curiosity, I google "chicken gizzard recipe" and find out that people really do eat these things. Huh. I thought they were dog treats. I shrug, then clean the mushy stock vegetables off the gizzards, chop them roughly, and stick them in the fridge.

Today at lunch I saute the gizzards in butter with some onion, mushrooms, black pepper, and a dash of sherry. I serve them for lunch alongside scrambled eggs. And you know what? The texture is oddly clamlike and chewy, but they're quite good.

When life hands you "mostly gizzards"...