Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Breakfast luxury

Last night we had a really nice Indian dinner: a fenugreek-scented yogurt curry with ribbons of fresh-from-the-garden kale, and a batch of Mrs. Ramachandran's Chicken, which is a recipe I got at Bakerina's place. The chicken is so easy and good. And I don't know about you, but I'm always looking for the perfect way to use leftover chicken. This is it.

I served the above with brown rice and leftover homemade pitas. It was delicious, but of course in a family of two, leftovers beget leftovers and I am fully aware that I will be eating the same thing for lunch today.

So why fight it? I am in an Indian-food mood. And what better way to use the gorgeous champagne mango I bought at the grocery than to start the day off like this?

MANGO LASSI
1 ripe mango, cubed (see note)
1 c. plain nonfat yogurt
2 ice cubes, plus additional ice cubes for serving
1 to 2 tsp. sugar, depending on the sweetness of your mango

Put the cubed mango, the yogurt, the 2 ice cubes, and the sugar in a blender. Blend for several minutes, scraping down the sides once or twice, until frothy and fully blended. Serve over ice in a tall glass.

Note: The best way to cut up a mango is as follows. Balance the mango on one of its narrow sides on a cutting board. Slice down through it longways, about 1/3 of the way in, skimming alongside the long oval pit. Repeat on the other side. Now take the two sides you've cut off and score the flesh into cubes with the knife, not cutting through the peel. Use a large spoon to scoop the cubes out. At this point you still have a pit with quite a bit of fruit attached to it. Run your knife along the inside of the remaining strip of peel and discard it, then cut the rest of the fruit off as best you can.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Notes from a holiday weekend

Pardon me if this all seems a little random. I've got lots of teeny little unrelated things to say.

I'm still having trouble with my spongecakes. I tried making a Victoria sponge yesterday for a friend's birthday party, and it ended up being lopsided with a slightly sunken middle. Since there's no frosting to "cheat" with on a Victoria sponge, it looked like a hat that had been sat on. I quickly threw together a simple chocolate cake and took it to the party instead. We were left with the spongecake all to ourselves, which was fine with us because it tastes incredible.

So now I'm trying to figure out where I'm going wrong. My top two candidates are (a) incorrect oven temperature (I need a new oven thermometer to check this), or (b) whipping the egg whites a little too stiff, resulting in uneven folding and increased collapsibility. I guess I'll have to keep experimenting. Aww, poor me! Extra cake...it's a tough life.

I pickled some beets over the weekend. That I know how to do. You just boil some unpeeled beets until they are cooked through, then slough off their skins, slice them, and put them in a quart jar along with some sliced onions. Then you combine a cup each of cooking liquid, apple cider vinegar, and sugar. Heat that mixture up until the sugar dissolves, then pour it over the beets and onions. Let it sit for a while in your fridge and voila.

Another fun thing: When I made the quickie replacement chocolate cake, I ended up with some extra bittersweet chocolate glaze. I folded that into some leftover whipped cream from my birthday apple thingies and ended up with a remarkably stable, delicious cream-puff-filling type substance. This is probably something that a real pastry chef knows from Day One, but I am proud of myself for discovering it.

The s.o. and I took down a rotted pine tree that had been burned at the bottom by the illicit brush-burning activities of our Crazy Neighbor Ed. It was partly a selfish act--we didn't want it to fall the wrong way and flatten the back of our so-called guest house--but also partly an altruistic one, since we were kind enough to wait until Crazy Neighbor Ed's RV was out on the road before lumberjacking anything adjacent to its parking place. (Okay, to be honest, we don't care at all about CNE; we were actually concerned that he would sue us if our tree--which he damaged--fell on something he owned.)

It's amazing how tree-felling makes you feel like a complete badass. The s.o. notched the tree on both sides with the reciprocating saw while I pushed it in the direction of the lower notch. The goal was to avoid flattening ourselves or the guest house. We succeeded admirably. It creaked a couple of times and then WHOOOOSH it started to go down, and then it did a cartoonish BLAM! kind of thing when it hit the ground. Balsa-like rotted wood literally exploded out from it. It was cool. We loaded up the small pieces in the wheelbarrow and then dragged the main part across the yard to the burn pile.

I will wrap up today's extraordinarily fragmented post with the fun little meme that Jo gave me:

01. Total number of films I own on DVD/video:

Only 32. Collecting movies really isn't my thing because there are only a very few that I want to see more than once. Plus we have recently sold the majority of our collection in the name of Decluttering. But note that this number doesn't include DVDs of cooking shows, yoga routines, TV series, etc. I have a lot of those.

02. The last film I bought

I have no idea. It was forever ago. Maybe Bend it Like Beckham.

03. The last film I watched:

The Big Lebowski, for about the tenth time. I don't even own it; it just keeps popping up and of course I can't look away from it once it has started.

04. Five films that I watch a lot or that mean a lot to me:

Like Water for Chocolate
Breaker Morant
High Society
Dazed and Confused
and all of the Thin Man movies!

Tag five people & have them put this in their journal:

Nah...I've been meme-ing people like crazy lately. How 'bout you take it if you want it?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Revelations

What a great birthday I had. I feel very spoiled, and not in a how-old-is-that-milk? kind of way.

The dinners at the Lebanese restaurant that I asked the s.o. to take me to turned out to be somewhat ordinary, but the restaurant won me over with its extensive Middle Eastern pastry counter. I can see us stopping in before a trip to the nearby Goodwill store and ordering a Turkish coffee and a little bar cookie made of farina and pistachios. Good to know about.

My new River Cottage DVD, a gift from the s.o., has not arrived yet (curses!). But my Cook on the Wild Side book, ordered in March and dispatched on its official release date in mid-April, finally deigned to show up. Yes, it really does take more than a month for parcel-post packages to arrive via boat. It lends new poignancy to the plight of our ancestors, who could not avail themselves of Air Mail. Anyhow, I'm not sure how useful the book will be on a day-to-day basis ("Bunny a la Runny Honey"?), but it's quite amusing and eye-opening. And, y'know, I'm a completist.

My mother sent me several really nice things from her recent trip to New Zealand: divine woolly socks, a tube of Rotorua mud mask (whose box was amusingly mangled by the Baggage Check people), and a gorgeous Maori whale-tail pendant made of carved jade. She also checked my Amazon wish list and sent me something off of it, a book called The Glorious Foods of Greece that Jo* had recommended to me.

The Greek cookbook has already educated us and improved our lives. That sounds like a grandiose statement, but here's why:

(1) There's always something "missing" from an American spanakopita, isn't there? A little something-something that you can't put your finger on? Well, if this author is to be believed (and I think she is), the Greeks don't just use spinach in their pies. They make use of a vast array of wild herbs as well. The specifics vary by region, but in certain areas they are especially fond of sorrel, purslane, and nettles. It's all very Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. In addition to the wild greens, the recipes are likely to include a combination of chard, spinach, parsley, green onions, etc. In other words, they aren't as one-dimensional as we have interpreted them.

(2) There's another way to prepare greens for a pie besides boiling them. Apparently the traditional method is to chop them coarsely, salt them, and then knead/rub/pound them in a colander or sieve until they soften and their thick green juice trickles out.** I imagine this was devised as a way to substitute elbow grease for expensive firewood. Being a little work-averse, I used my KitchenAid mixer, with the paddle attachment, to do the pounding. Then I pressed the greens in a colander and gave them a final squeeze with my hands before putting them into the pie. It worked perfectly.

(3) The s.o. has never liked spanakopita. That pains me, because I make a pretty good one if I do say so myself. But thanks to this book, we have arrived at a happy compromise. It turns out not all Greek pies are made with phyllo. Last night I cooked an Epirote recipe called "Mixed Greens Pie with a Cornmeal Crust" that was for all intents and purposes a cross between spanakopita and polenta. It was a hit with both of us. Harmony reigns.

I also made a Peloponnese stew of lamb breast (the cheapest cut in the market--simultaneously fatty and tough) with onions and garlic in a vinegary sauce. The recipe called for goat, but I didn't have any of that on hand.*** The liquid part of the stew was a bit much for us, being both sinus-clearing and oddly sweet, but it certainly made for meltingly tender meat!

So anyway, I think I'll have some leftover greens pie for lunch. Life is good.

UPDATE:
The River Cottage DVD has just arrived! Woo!

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* And no, Jo, I haven't forgotten about that meme! I'll get to it soon, I promise. It looks fun.

** Chlorophyll shooters, anyone?

*** Although we might soon. A friend of ours, a Pakistani market owner in town, has a herd of meat goats**** and recently learned the proper Muslim way to slaughter a goat. We are hoping to buy one from him and split it with a friend.

**** I really wish you could all hear him tell the story about getting a Great Pyrenees dog to herd the goats. The story takes about 20 minutes to tell and the upshot is that his goats are being herded just fine, but he has still never laid a hand on the dog. It will have nothing to do with him. It's hilarious.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Impressions

About a week ago I overheard a music teacher in a piano store talking about the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie. She said her husband was a big fan of the books, but she'd never read them. He loved the movie, whereas she was completely lost the entire time.

So it was with great generosity of spirit that the s.o., who has only ever read the first one-third of the first book, took me to the film yesterday. Luckily, he loved it as much as I did. We can only conclude that the music teacher was a little dim!

*POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT*

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Okay, so here are my impressions of the thing. First of all, I was surprised by the amount of new and/or recast material. They did a really good job of streamlining a very complex plot and adding elements where necessary to make the movie make sense to newbies. But with all that cherrypicking, they didn't really leave themselves open for a sequel, did they? (I don't want a sequel, mind you, but you would think Hollywood would.)

A lot of the actors made unusual and brave choices in their portrayals. I mean, Martin Freeman was born to play Arthur Dent, so no surprises there. But Mos Def and Sam Rockwell especially shed new light on their characters. It's hard to play an alien, isn't it? I mean, how do you make someone seem...inhuman, yet humanize them at the same time?

I thought Zooey Deschanel did a surprisingly good job with Trillian. One of Douglas Adams's weaknesses as a writer was a complete inability to write a compelling female character. As a result, there wasn't much to work with. But she did manage to eke out a believable performance. That's also why I thought the Point of View Gun was an interesting device. "It won't have any effect on me--I'm already a woman," she says. Yes, but for the first time ever, we have some idea what she is thinking and feeling.

I loved the light-saber toast slicer. I got all excited about it. "Would it be possible to invent something like that in real life?" I asked the s.o., breathlessly. He shot me a funny look. "Um...not safely," he responded. It's a good thing I don't have kids, eh?

I loved Trillian's bell-bottom jumpsuit and Zaphod's appalling taste in space-piratical clothing.

But my absolute favorite thing about the movie was the fact that they used a piece of the music from the original radio program. I heard the first little arpeggios and the hairs on my arms stood straight up. That music is incredibly nostalgic for me, because my dad introduced me to Douglas Adams via the radio program. I only visited him on alternate weekends, so every week he taped it for me and we listened to it together. I still have the cassettes.

Overall the movie was interesting in a good way. Not exhilarating, not stunning, not life-changing, but definitely interesting enough that there was no way I was leaving my seat. I felt that they got things right (hopelessly bureaucratic Vogons, sweetly batty Slartibartfast, etc.). As some reviewers have noted, the comic timing is a little bit off in places, and I'm not sure you ever get a chance to identify with any of the characters. But I really liked it nevertheless, and I highly recommend it...

...although it took me so long to get around to seeing it that everyone else has probably seen it already!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Idol

Well, that didn't go well.

Cars: Can't live with 'em, can't set 'em on fire

I wasted most of today dealing with automobile-related issues.

Tomorrow is my birthday. My 35th, if you're curious. It's a time for celebration, of course, but until this morning it also had an insidious implication: My driver's license was expiring.

I had hoped to move to Oregon before my birthday this year. Yes, I'm eager to embark on a new phase of my life. But on a more practical level, I had very illegally never obtained a Georgia driver's license in the four years I had lived here, and I was hoping to avoid it altogether. My Tennessee license was perfectly valid, as long as no one asked any troubling questions about my residence.

It didn't go that way, though. I'm still here! So Monday when I was in town, I stopped at the tag bureau and asked (a) where to get a driver's license, and (b) exactly what documents I would need in order to obtain one. The man behind the counter gave me some convoluted directions to the Highway Patrol office on Hwy. 29 (luckily I know Athens like the back of my hand and was able to translate his ramblings), and then said I would need my existing license and my passport. Period. Nothing more.

So this morning I drove 50 minutes--into Athens, and then across it--to the Highway Patrol office. I walked up to the Information desk and was immediately disqualified from receiving a Georgia license because I couldn't produce a utility bill or mortgage contract to prove that I lived in Georgia. (If I ever see that man from the tag bureau again, I am going to spit on his shoes.)

Luckily, a brainstorming session with a lady behind the counter inspired a solution. Instead of having to drive all the way home and back, I was able to dart over to a nearby branch of my bank and have them print out a copy of my latest statement. That sufficed as proof of residence.

The photo on my new driver's license is a little odd. I look bemused, or maybe rattled. I liked my old license better, but of course I had to surrender it. That was right before they fingerprinted me. Fingerprinted! What a way to make me feel like a convict...as though the cheap wood-paneled room with the flickering fluorescent lights didn't do the job well enough.

On the way home the chattering eh-eh-eh-eh-eh noise that my car makes when I brake inspired me to stop by my auto mechanic shop. I am loyal to this shop for two reasons:

(1) It is within walking distance of an excellent coffee shop, plenty of restaurants, and some passably interesting shopping.

(2) It is run by a pair of nice young Indian guys who don't take appointments. It's first-come-first-serve, but if you are female (or at least if you are me) a little mild flirting will bump you to the front of the queue.

I produced the receipt from the front and rear brake job they'd done for me a month and a half ago. The Indian guy with the goatee took my keys and drove away in my car at an alarming rate--so that he could slam on the brakes and test it. Then he swung a yooey (U-ie? how on earth do you spell that?) and returned. He said he was very busy, but that I was so nice that he would see what he could do.

When I returned from the coffee shop, the car was already reassembled. Goatee guy told me the brakes were all fine. The noise was probably the wheel bearings. It wasn't dangerous, just annoying.

He didn't charge me anything.

I guess a free diagnosis of "annoying" is pretty good, all things considered.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Today's scorecard

Number of feeder bags of Miracle-Gro used: 2
Number of cornstalks trampled by unknown animals (probably deer): about 8
Number of sunflowers cropped short by probable deer: 4
Snakes: 0
Ant bites: 2
Baby yellow crookneck squashes: 3

Franco-Dixie fusion cuisine?



I had an article due this morning, so I made this clafoutis to reward myself for finishing the final edit. A clafoutis is ideal for a situation where you have to intersperse baking with other work, because so much of the process is waiting--an hour for the fruit to sit in the brandy and sugar, an hour for it to bake. There's very little real activity involved.

I hope you make this. I can't begin to describe the haunting flavor of the brandy-soaked peaches in the eggy custard. One caveat: Be sure to drain the peaches well after they macerate, or the consistency will be too wet.

PEACH CLAFOUTIS

3 c. small peaches, quartered, stones removed
1/4 c. cognac
2/3 c. sugar, divided into two 1/3-cup portions
part-skim or whole milk as needed (see instructions)
3 large eggs
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
powdered sugar for dusting

In a wide, flat bowl, soak the peaches in the cognac and 1/3 c. of the sugar for 1 hour. Stir occasionally.
At the end of the hour, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a deep 9- or 10-inch pie plate.
Set a colander or sieve over a bowl and drain the peaches, pressing lightly to get the liquid out. Pour the liquid into a large measuring cup and top it off with milk until you have 1 1/4 c. of liquid.
Add to a blender, in this order: the aforementioned liquid, the remaining 1/3 c. sugar, the eggs, the vanilla, the salt, and the flour. Blend at high speed for 1 minute.
Pour a thin layer of batter into the bottom of the pie plate and set it in the oven for just a couple of minutes until it sets. Remove from the oven and arrange the peaches cut-side-down in the plate. Pour the remaining batter on top. Bake for about 1 hour, until the top is puffed and golden and the edges are browned and pulling away from the sides.
Dust with powdered sugar. The custard will sink as it cools. Serve warm.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Silver the wannabe mongoose

I was walking Silver this morning and, as I am wont to do, stopped by the garden to look around. I poked around in the eggplants a little; we have been meticulously scraping off cucumber beetle eggs, etc., and I wanted to make sure no more insect damage was being done.*

I happened to look to my left and discovered Silver nose-to-nose with a four-foot-long black rat snake, in a frozen staredown. Border collies and snakes: two types of animals that can really stare.

"Aaaaaaargh!" I yelled, as I hastily pulled her back.

I made her sit a few feet away as we watched the snake thread itself through the row of green beans, then decamp for the tomatoes. She eyed it, making soft "wuh" noises as it slid away. Then I hugged her about sixty times.

There are two problems with this series of events:

(1) If Silver had encountered a poisonous snake instead of a perfectly harmless one, she would have done exactly the same thing. That freaks me out really badly.

(2) I am going to be really jumpy in the garden from now on because the irrigation hoses look quite a bit like black rat snakes.

I need to have a nice cup of tea and calm down. I actually really love and appreciate the snakes on our property. So far I've never seen a poisonous one (the gigantic king snake that lives under the house is reputed to hunt, among other things, poisonous snakes--isn't that nice! I think I'll keep him). Also, we have a blissful absence of rodents in and around our house. Between the cat (inside) and the snakes (outside), rats and mice don't have a chance.

But I am protective of my girl. I need to keep an eye on her.

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* This reminds me of two things. First, there are volunteer cucumber plants in the garden. I plasticked off a section for them to sprawl onto so I wouldn't have to hunt them among the weeds. (All that black plastic mulch is probably the reason the snake was there--good basking grounds!) Second, a neighbor stopped by yesterday and we talked gardening. I asked him how he dealt with the little black bugs and he told me he went down to the Feed & Seed in Greensboro and bought some insecticide spray. Uh, no thanks. Well, at least I tried to pick up some local wisdom.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Thrift store hero

The s.o. bought me a baking stone in like-new condition...for $2! (The people at the thrift store didn't know what it was.)

Thoughtful AND frugal: two of his most wonderful characteristics.

The merry month of May



Here are a few shots of the property. All the plants are going crazy right now, and the rain has made everything bright green.

This is one of the flower beds, with the house and the pear tree in the background.




Here's Cairo under one of the pecan trees. That weird texture on the ground is all the pecan flowers that have fallen.




The blueberries are almost ready!




And most exciting of all, the tomatoes have begun fruiting. These little green guys are about the size of cherry tomatoes now. How long do you suppose until they're ready?

Everybody talkin' bout...

Marlee has tagged me with this short, sweet, and thought-provoking little meme.

The last CD I bought was:
We vs. the Shark...Ruin Everything! We vs. the Shark are a really great math-rock band based in Athens. Not my usual fare, but they're really great and I do tend to be kind of eclectic.

Song playing right now:
The Continental Drifters' version of "I Can't Make It Alone"

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me:
As Marlee said, it's impossible to draw the line at five, but this is a start...
"No Sign of Water" - Damnations
"Ordinary World" - Duran Duran
"Ground" - The Glands
"When Ye Go Away" - The Waterboys
"Commodore Peter" - The Silos

Five people to whom I’m passing the baton:
Hm, a meme that's second nature for Beth and Tim, but they've just left on vacation, so I'll let them off the hook. By the way, I'll be guestblogging at Tim's, so keep an eye peeled.

How about Em, the other Tim, Maggie, Amy (if she feels like blogging...no points off if not, because she is a busy girl), and Neil?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Tidbits

We are finally getting some rain. I knew if I waited long enough to water the garden, Mother Nature would bail me out! To be fair, I have watered twice this week, but it wasn't enough. We've had an awfully dry May, and things were beginning to look a little crispy. Also, the dry weather has favored the little black hard-shelled bugs that are eating holes in the turnip greens. Not too pleased about that, but then again they don't appear to like kale or chard, so I guess we'll survive.

Meanwhile, the dry weather has probably helped the pear tree. It suffers from fireblight, which only stops spreading when the hot summer drought sets in. I think the only serious damage is cosmetic, though. It has set tons of fruit this year. If we are still around at harvest time, there will be some big batches of pear-citrus marmalade.

Apropos of nothing, the other day the s.o. and I made sort-of-homemade flour tortillas to go with our fish tacos. I say "sort-of-homemade" because we used Quaker masa. So in other words, they were still full of trans fats and chemicals, but at least they didn't have that horrible sickly-sweet preservative taste that storebought flour tortillas always have. (I can't stand those things.) Anyhow, I was rolling them out and the s.o. was searing them in a cast-iron pan. At some point I realized that he was purposely wrinkling my nice flat tortillas in an attempt to create an image of the Virgin Mary to sell on eBay. He didn't get anything worth photographing, but some of the results were amusing at the time. And they still tasted really good.

Oh, and the fish tacos: In a half-cup of fish broth spiked with cumin, oregano, ancho chile powder, and minced fresh garlic, bring a pound of catfish pieces to a nice bubbly simmer, then turn them and simmer for another minute or two until they are just barely done, or not even quite cooked through. Remove the fish pieces with a slotted spoon to a plate (reserving the broth in the pan) and squeeze a liberal amount of lime juice over them. Let them sit while you prepare all the condiments (refried beans, cilantro, sour cream or yogurt, avocado, raw onion, salsa, lettuce, tomato, etc.) and make up the tortillas. When you're just about ready to serve dinner, return the catfish pieces to the broth, season to taste with salt and pepper, and bring just to a simmer again. This is surprisingly good despite its simple and low-fat preparation.

C'mon, man, dang

You don't get to the finals by singing an Air Supply song. You just don't. That is so wrong.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

More from the library; or, an exercise in excessive footnote recursion

For most of Sunday and Monday, our internet connection was down. No surprise there; it had been a while since Communicomm had toyed with our livelihoods, so I suppose we had it coming. I was trying to work on some writing jobs. The s.o. was trying to check up on some of his eBay auctions. But the little "cable" light on our cable modem just kept on blinking. It mocked us.

I called the technical support line. Communicomm is in the habit of leaving timely little messages for you to listen to while you're on hold. The one I got Monday told me that the internet was down in the Eatonton, Ga., area, and if that was my problem, I might as well hang up because they were already apprised of it. I hung up.

So we went to the library to check our e-mail and take care of some business. It wasn't too busy, so I got to use a really nice new computer. The screensaver was an illustration of Brer Rabbit. (Have I mentioned lately how amused I still am by the name of the Uncle Remus Regional Library System?)

I was done with my business before the s.o. was done with his*, so I started wandering the stacks. I've been too busy and scatterbrained lately to do any serious reading, and I already have two books in my queue, so I didn't need more fiction. Naturally, I headed for the cookbooks. I found two must-haves almost immediately: Shirley Corriher's CookWise and the Africa volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series.

Unfortunately, now I've decided I have to own both of them**. We are trolling eBay for them and watching the appropriate auctions. So much for the frugality of using the library.

This evening I tried to apply some of the science I'd learned from CookWise to the bread I was baking. I used the same Deborah Madison recipe I used last time I made wheat bread, but I varied my method. I left the dough a lot wetter, used my KitchenAid mixer instead of my hands to knead it, and as a result got a much more dramatic rise. In fact, for the first time ever, I managed to OVERRISE my bread. I wasn't prepared for that--in the past my problem has always been the opposite. There was a slight spillover during the first rise, and then (since I hadn't read the part about overrising and didn't know how sorely the dough needed to be punched into submission) an overambitious second rise that could not quite support itself.

Well, live and learn. And anyway, even though the bread is slightly saddle-shaped, it is still very good. Instead of dense and hippie-ish like last time, it is tender and holey. It's all good.

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* I don't suppose I need to tell you that when we finally got back home, the internet was back up.

** In fact, we are considering buying a complete set of the Time-Life series, which (if we are successful in doing so) might mean that I will eventually be selling my existing China and India volumes. If we do that, I will post a link to the auctions, because I firmly believe that these are some of the best cookbooks ever written.***

*** I am beginning to think that the authors of Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant borrowed quite liberally from this series. Their Ethiopian recipes, especially, are quite similar. If I find out that the British Isles volume contains the Moosewoodian anecdote about shouting "Death to the Red Hag!" when eating colcannon****, I will know I was right. And more power to 'em if so, because they added yet another fantastic cookbook to the canon.

**** Second mention of colcannon this week, FWIW.

Definition

Antnesia (ant•ne•zhuh), n. The inability to remember the location of fire ant hills in and around the garden, resulting in being stung by the same colonies of ants over and over.

Friday, May 13, 2005

An open letter

A little advice to the remaining American Idol contestants, as they prepare for the final two episodes:

CARRIE:
If I were you, I would have tried to avoid packing on the "Diana DeGarmo 15" during the course of the show, but that ship has sailed, so let's concentrate on constructive advice.

You are America's sweetheart. You are everyone's little sister. You are an apple-cheeked milk-pure farm girl from Oklahoma. You have never been on a "Sin Wagon." You are not "Trouble." You do not "come home a little late at night." Please don't sing worldly, tough songs. You have demonstrated over and over that you can't carry them off.

Sing something sweet and heartbroken. Let your voice be clear and flute-like; let it tremble on the emotional parts. I suspect people will vote for you in droves.

VONZELL:
First of all, whoever's been doing your makeup is a genius. Put him or her on a permanent retainer. You are naturally one of the prettiest girls I've ever seen, and that person knows how to magnify your beauty and make you shine like an angel.

Most contestants need to be careful to avoid songs made famous by divas. There's no way they can match the quality of the vocals. But you have taken on Thelma Houston, Chaka Khan, and Dionne Warwick and come out victorious. Keep pushing. When you do your best you are really something to behold.

My only criticism is that sometimes you go into these weird little "oo-hoo" warbles that make you sound like a cheap knockoff of Whitney Houston. You need to cut that out. But please don't tell your brothers I said that.

BO:
You have more soul in your little finger than most of the rest of the Top 12 combined. You are the person who needs to follow Fantasia's advice and "get ugly up there." Howl and growl. Show us what you are capable of, like that time when you sang "Whipping Post" and left me stunned and speechless. Nothing would give me more pleasure than seeing you win this thing.

When you're not singing, smile at the girls and continue to be a gentleman. You are living proof that scandals don't stick to nice guys. I am rooting for you.

This is going to be a multi-post day

Another quick recipe:

STRAWBERRY BANANA SMOOTHIE
1 frozen banana, broken into chunks
3 large strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 c. nonfat plain yogurt
1 Tbs. quick oats
1/8 to 1/4 c. evaporated milk, as needed for easy blending

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and pulse till smooth.

Two seasonal items

We have turned the corner that we turn every year around this time, when I know I won't wear anything with sleeves or toes again until October. It seemed so sudden. Now it is irrevocable.

I would be tempted to bitch about this (what happened to the refreshingness of SPRING?), but nature and humanity have conspired to remind me how beautiful this season, too, can be. The honeysuckles have bloomed. Suddenly the whole outdoors is erotic and dreamy. The smell is strongest at night; I always smell the flowers before I see them.

Sometimes I wonder if I would love Georgia as much as I do if it weren't so full of spectacular invasive exotics. It is a love/hate relationship, but the love can be overwhelmingly strong.

This is also the time of year when I start to feel a little twinge of desperation, wondering how I am going to use all our turnips. I managed to work a bunch of the greens into a colcannon the other day, and it was very successful. Then I was paging through Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant and saw an intriguing Finnish recipe, which I adapted as follows:

APPLE TURNIP SLAW
2 small tart apples, peeled, cored, and halved
1 medium turnip, trimmed and quartered
a handful of chopped fresh parsley
juice of 1 small lemon
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vegetable oil

Put the apple and turnip chunks in the food processor and pulse until coarsely grated. Remove to a medium bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and toss well. Chill.

It is a little sweet, a little biting, and surprisingly delicious, especially as a counterpoint to heavier or richer foods.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

"So many roses..."



Baked goods in the mail for the first person to tell me: Under what circumstances did Homer Simpson utter that phrase?

Oh, and this is that rose bush I mentioned before--the exuberant one outside the bedroom window. I prune it every so often, and it does this several times a year.

The herb garden



Here's a shot of our herb garden with the sage and thyme in bloom. The mint is sequestered in a rusty old woodstove so it can't take over the planet. And of course, that's Gracie in the background.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Hell freezes over

I never thought I'd say this, but Anthony Federov delivered the most competent, consistent performances on American Idol this week. His forte is the bombastic power ballad, and luckily for him, there are bombastic power ballads in every genre. He's getting good at picking them out. His confidence is up.

Vonzell and Bo* both had boring first performances. Then they both tore the roof off with their energy and talent the second time around. Wow!

Carrie started out okay (she was in her element with that Dixie Chicks song, but it didn't show off her range) and devolved into excruciating soullessness on a Vogon-poetry kind of level. God, it was awful.

I have no idea who will go home tomorrow.

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* "Hello? Glenn Frey School of Fashion? Yes, I'd like to enroll."

I tried it, I liked it

Remember the other day when I said America's Test Kitchen had showed me all the things I was doing wrong when I made pizza? Well, I went to their web site and copied the entire recipe for the pissaladiere they made on the show. (You can do the same thing if you sign up for a trial copy of the magazine, which is not a hardship but might actually be impossible if you don't live in the U.S., I dunno.) Then I tried it for tonight's dinner. IT IS BRILLIANT. As usual, they've managed to give definitive, foolproof instructions for making delicious food.

Here's the crux of what they recommend:

(1) Don't add too much flour to the dough. The initial ratio should be two cups of bread flour to one cup of water (there's a teaspoon of yeast, a teaspoon of salt, and a tablespoon of olive oil in there, too), and you shouldn't add more than a tablespoon or two of flour while you're kneading. Keep it sticky, using your dough scraper to move it around. You don't need to knead it for as long as you think.

(2) Don't punch the life out of it after the first rise. Just divide it in two and reshape it into balls.

(3) Oil the bejeezus out of your hands and "dangle" the dough in the air, turning it, until it's roughly 12 inches around. Then put it on a piece of parchment paper and press/stretch it into an 8x14 oval, dimpling it with your fingertips.

(4) Heat the oven to 500 degrees F with a baking stone on the LOWEST rack. (I don't have a baking stone because it broke during one of my interstate relocations, so I used a perforated pizza pan, which also works because it lets all the superhot air come in contact with the bottom of the pizza.)

(5) Use a peel or a baking sheet to slide the parchment with the pizza on it onto the stone. Bake 13-15 minutes.

For those of you who haven't tried the delight that is pissaladiere, it's a cheeseless, sauceless Proven├žal pizza topped with caramelized onions, anchovies, thyme, and olives. I committed the ultimate heresy by substituting capers for olives, since I can't stand olives. I know that is bad and wrong, but it was my pizza, so there.

I'm not usually into white pizzas. This one...this one I could relate to. My usual portion control went out the window. I overate. Kind of a lot.

It was worth it.

Monday, May 09, 2005

It's an honor just to be nominated

The lovely Diana has tagged me with the following meme. I am supposed to pick five of the following occupations and complete the sentiment, then add an occupation of my own choice to the end.

THE OCCUPATIONS:

If I could be a scientist...
If I could be a farmer...
If I could be a musician...
If I could be a doctor...
If I could be a painter...
If I could be a gardener...
If I could be a missionary...
If I could be a chef...
If I could be an archaeologist...
If I could be an architect...
If I could be a linguist...
If I could be a psychologist...
If I could be a librarian...
If I could be an athlete...
If I could be a lawyer...
If I could be an innkeeper...
If I could be a professor...
If I could be a writer...
If I could be a llama-rider...
If I could be a bonnie pirate...
If I could be a servicemember...
If I could be a business owner...
If I could be an actor...
If I could be an agent...
If I could be video game designer...
If I could be photographer...
If I could be a circus performer...
If I could be a spy...
If I could be a fashion designer...
If I could be a high school student again...
If I could be a clothing designer for very small dogs...
If I could be a restaurant critic... *

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If I could be a scientist...it would probably mean I had gotten a Ph.D. as I originally set out to do. It would mean I had picked an adviser who was an innovator, not just a number-cruncher. I think I would be a vertebrate paleontologist and maybe publish some papers on the Paleocene crocodiles I dug up when I was working for the Science Museum of Minnesota one summer. Hmm. I think I detect a bit of wistfulness in my response to this one.

If I could be a chef... Ah, you knew I'd answer this one, didn't you? I would do one of two things: I would either run a small pastry shop or I would start a catering company that specialized in small gatherings. I have a friend who's a successful chef and I like to think I'd tackle it a little bit like she has—a few standards, but mostly a different menu every day, depending on what's good and fresh. I wouldn't want people to get any sense of "production line" from what they ate; I'd want them to feel as though they had been invited to a special, intimate dinner at my house.

If I could be a linguist...I would study Basque just because it's so freaking cool. Actually, one of my goals for the next decade of my life is to become fluent in one or more of the foreign languages that I started studying in the past but never got anywhere with. To this end, I have been studying Spanish on the internet. "Es un libro aburrido." "Quien es esa muchacha en la photo?" "Bh...bh...bh..." (That last one is me trying desperately to get my b/v sounds right.)

If I could be an innkeeper...I would want to have a bed and breakfast, and it would probably have way too much in common with the one on Newhart.

If I could be a fashion designer...I would want to apprentice under Olivier Theyskens at Rochas, because he seems to have a lot more fun playing with shapes and textures and historic references than other designers do, yet he still always creates clothes that are very true to the label's heritage. Hopefully I would be a somewhat better patterner and seamstress than I am in reality.

I don't really want to nominate anyone, but please take this and run with it if you like!

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* Am I supposed to answer this one, too? I'm not clear on the rules. Well, if I could be a restaurant critic, I would probably get fired pretty quickly for savaging a restaurant that happened to be an advertiser in the publication I was working for.

Finally it makes sense

Ha! A web page where a geophysicist explains how fudge works. Finally I can use my degree to understand why yesterday's batch of coffee penuche was grainy.

(The answer was that I didn't wash down the sides of the pan, and then furthermore I cooled the fudge in the pan, giving the crystals on the edge plenty of time to take over my whole batch of fudge. I'm new at this. But hey, I've finally turned a corner on breadmaking. Maybe one day my candy will be up to par, too.)

P.S. The penuche is still good to eat, just not "right."

Saturday, May 07, 2005

It's just the bartender in me

I have mixed myself a very nice mint julep. There are pro-muddling and anti-muddling camps. I personally prefer to muddle the mint so thoroughly that the drink looks like an algae-choked koi pond.

Happy Derby Day, everyone!

Friday, May 06, 2005

Poor girl

Gracie doesn't feel good. I think the anesthetic that's still in her system is making her kind of queasy.

I brought her a small pile of puppy food with a scoop of natural unsalted peanut butter on it. She took one halfhearted lick, not even marking the surface of the peanut butter, and turned away. She took a couple of small shlups of water and headed back into her crate.

She'll feel better tomorrow, hopefully. She seems fine healthwise. She just needs to sleep this off.

Go for a ride! Go for a ride!

Last night the s.o. told me that he had noticed some changes in Gracie—symptoms that might indicate the onset of her first heat. This was very bad news, since the appointment we had made with the low-cost spay clinic wasn't until July. They were booked solid and couldn't manage it any sooner.

There were many reasons we were anxious to get Gracie fixed ASAP. One was that we were less than eager to have male feral dogs climbing our dog-pen fence or breaking into our screened porch to try to get at her. A second was that the risk of various "female" cancers in dogs climbs precipitously if they are allowed to go into heat even once or twice. A third was our stance against pet overpopulation; we feel it is irresponsible to keep a dog intact if it is not top showdog breeding stock. And of course the fourth reason was that we are trying to find her a new home. It would make her a lot more marketable.

With reasons #1 and #2 especially in mind, I got up bright and early this morning and made some phone calls. The vet clinic that boarded Gracie when we first found her didn't have any openings, and at any rate their price was twice what the low-cost spay clinic charged.

Then I called our regular vet--the somewhat fancy and expensive clinic where we take Silver, Cairo, and Taxi.* I explained our situation. Out of the blue, the vet tech offered to do a charity spay on Gracie this very day, for a third of their usual cost. The discounted rate turned out to be five dollars cheaper than the low-cost spay clinic's price. This wasn't something they advertised, she explained, but they would be glad to do it for us because we were established customers and we were fostering Gracie and trying to do the right thing.

A couple of hours ago we got a call from one of the vets, letting us know that Gracie had done great in surgery and was waking up nicely. We're going to pick her up as soon as I finish my last appointment of the day.

What great people. I can't begin to say how grateful I am. Like the time the veterinary orthopedic surgeon gave us a "Good Samaritan" discount on Cairo's amputation, this is an example of how supportive the veterinary community around here can be. Animal lovers unite!

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* This isn't some kind of doggie/kittie favoritism. When we adopted Silver from the pound, the Animal Control folks sent her there to be spayed because that was the place that had an appointment available. It was luck of the draw. But we turned out to like the place so much that we stuck with them.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

What a day

Today two machines took my money and failed to deliver a product or service in return. One was a public telephone and the other was a tampon vending machine. Think about that for a while and you'll have a pretty good idea of what my day was like.

I drove into Athens to run some errands. My last stop was the Publix supermarket. I had just loaded seven bags of groceries into the car, including some dairy products and fresh fish, when I slid into the driver's seat, turned the key, and...

Nothing. Not a sputter, nor a vroom.

I tried it several more times. I got out of the car, swore and kicked it a few times, and got back in and tried it again. Still nothing. I would have popped the hood, but one of the many things that's wrong with my 1990 Accord is the fact that it takes two people to open the hood because the latch sticks. One person has to be inside holding the release while the other person worms their fingers underneath the edge of the hood and fiddles with the lever.

Not. Good. For one thing, my car appeared to be broken. For another, the house was 45 minutes away (plus traffic, since rush hour was fast approaching) and there were two half-pound grey mullets swathed in deli wrap whose freshness depended on my ability to think quickly.

I went inside and, after the pay phone stole my 50 cents, approached the service desk. And here's where my love for the high level of customer service at Publix supermarket was justified once and for all: They put my groceries in their walk-in cooler and let me use their phone to make a long-distance call.

The s.o. didn't answer. I later found out he had been outside chasing Gracie, who had broken her collar and was on the lam.

I walked about half a mile to the next strip mall and found another pay phone. I called collect because I was out of change. The s.o. picked up this time, and I described my location so he could come rescue me. "Go get yourself a coffee or something," he advised. "It's gonna be a while."

I started walking back to the strip mall where the Publix was. On my way I passed another grocery store. Suddenly I noticed that a shopping cart standing abandoned outside was not empty. There was a 10-pound bag of charcoal briquets underneath it that someone had forgotten when they loaded their car.

I looked left. I looked right. Nobody was around. I decided the charcoal was a karmic payback of some kind, tucked it under my arm, and continued walking.

An hour later I was sitting in the car enjoying an overpriced Starbucks coffee when I saw the s.o. pull up in the other car. Gracie, collarless, was hanging her head out the window.

I handed over the keys to my car and the s.o. tried to start it a few times. He did all the same things I did, including kicking the car. Then he released the gearshift and tried everything with the car in neutral. Finally he had me hold the hood release while he popped the top. He stuck his head under the hood and tweaked something.

"Turn the key," he yelled.

"VROOOOOM," went the car.

"You cured it!" I shouted in jubilation.

A battery wire had come loose. And here all this time I had been contemplating setting the goddamn car on fire, or maybe making it into some kind of public art. O me of little faith.

When we got home at 7-something p.m., I discovered that the reason the mullets had been so inexpensive was that they needed to be not only gutted, but also scaled. Couldn't one thing be easy today?!

But you know what they say. All's well that ends well.

And don't waste any time worrying about the tampon thing. After all, I was marooned at a grocery store.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Hooray!



My Cardinal de Richelieu rose is blooming. And there are six more buds!

Constantine Maroulis, we toast you in your absence

One thing about growing up in and around Canton, Ohio, is that I have almost unreasonably high expectations for Greek food. I remember the newspaper society page being filled with snapshots of Greek debutantes. I remember the annual festival at the St. Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church (best baklava in town).

I spent three weeks on the Peloponnese during a college interim term. I didn't know what to expect from the cuisine in the "old country" and was struck by the freshness of everything, and by the ever-present citrus fruits. There were oranges and tangerines served alongside every meal, and of course lemon juice in everything. The cheese, the wine, the bread--all so flavorful and hearty. The friendly and generous people who shared their meals with us.

All this week I've been dreaming of Greek food. I don't have a good Greek cookbook*, so I did a little googling and came up with these two recipes. They looked good, so I tried them both (with lettuce, onions, yogurt sauce, and a side of spinach).

We thought both recipes were great. I was also surprised by how easy they both were. I followed the instructions exactly except I made the keftedes out of lamb instead of beef (cook's prerogative), and only made a half-recipe. Also, I found that I needed to bake the pitas at 375 instead of 350 to get them to puff up.

Now if I just had some ouzo to sip on the front porch...

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* No, I don't know how this has happened--can anyone suggest one they especially like?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Well, it was a strawberry pie



I got to this pie a little too late to take a picture of it. It's one of my favorite desserts in the entire world. Maybe my very favorite one.

Technically I guess it's a tart, since it consists of raw fruit with a cooked glaze poured over it. But I like it with a plain unsweetened shortening crust, which maybe makes it more of a pie after all.

Here's how easy it is: You make a single pie crust and bake it. When it's done and it has cooled a little, slice a quart or more of raw strawberries into it.

Meanwhile, take a heaping cup of fruit (usually more raw sliced strawberries, but in this case I used unsweetened cooked rhubarb), mash it well, and add it to a pan that contains a mixture of 1 c. sugar and 3 Tbs. cornstarch. Add half a cup of water and cook, stirring, until the glaze becomes clear and thick. If you used strawberries in the glaze, stir in a squeeze of lemon juice.

Now pour the glaze over the pie shell full of strawberries and chill it in the fridge. Done.

Can't...stop...photoblogging...



Look what I found in the garden! These gorgeous purple-topped turnips, including their greens, will be part of tonight's dinner. Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes has a great recipe that uses them both.

A handful of radishes



I just thought this was pretty--fresh out of the earth.

I'm kind of on a photoblogging jag. Bear with me. I have more to do than I have to say right now!

The pan in question



For those who have never seen such a thing--the pan that makes cornbread in the shape of little ears of corn.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Awwwww...



Yes, I own one of those silly cast-iron pans that makes cornbread in the shape of little ears of corn. But the "ears" are perfect for dipping in chili! Anyhow, you can find the recipe I used here.

Living room fireplace



As promised. The color isn't coming across quite right. It's actually more like the background of this blog than the yellowy hue it appears in the photo.

Pretty, no? I'm so proud of myself for finally finishing it.