Saturday, May 07, 2005


I finished my first sock yesterday!

Ta da!

I had to unravel the heel turn to fix the mess I made with the short rows, but once I did and paid a little more attention to what I was doing, the rest was fast and fun. I think I'm going to get hooked on sock knitting, partly because they are so compact and easy to pick up and shove in my backpack on my way out the door. With the Magic Loop technique, there is no worry about the stitches slipping off the needles and the patterns are so basic that most of the time there isn't any need to have it with you.

I don't think I'll become one of those people who only knits socks though. I like sweaters too much for that. But this gives me an excuse to always have a pair going. I'm already anticipating my next sock yarn purchase--Knitpicks has three types of sock yarn at incredibly reasonable prices: Simple Stripes, Sock Garden, and Sock Landscape, all of which have appealing colors.

On the other E-Z front, I present last night's dinner:

A little out of focus, but you get the idea...

The pasta is a recipe from Everyday Food--one of the few food magazines that I don't subscribe to, but this dish might make me change my mind. The "sauce" if you can even call it that, was assembled in the time it took to cook the pasta and contained:
asparagus, whole-grain mustard, toasted pine nuts, and goat cheese. It was also supposed to have dill in it but I substituted a handful of fresh chives and a little parsley. It didn't call for any olive oil, but I drizzled some over the finished pasta because I love olive oil and could drink it straight from the bottle (which sounds gross, but I'm serious). Without the olive oil the pasta might have been a little gluey, but with the addition, it was a terrific, fast, creamy pasta dish.

I subscribed to Everyday Food when it first came out and there are a few things about the magazine that annoy me. I hate digging through the incredibly crappy advertising (Kraft et al) trying to find the recipes and I find that each issue has some sort of "idiot" article--like 6 pages devoted to how to boil an egg or steam broccoli--that make me wonder who they think their readership is. Most people who read cooking magazines, even ones devoted to speed and simple preparation, know how to steam broccoli.

I might be able to forgive these flaws if they continue to print enough good recipes like the one I made last night. After all, I routinely forgive Cook's Illustrated for the editor and founder's hokey essays at the beginning of each issue. I know I should feel indebted to Chris Kimball for founding a magazine that has provided many of the recipes in my food repertoire, but there is something about they guy that just makes my skin crawl, maybe it's the bow tie, maybe it's the smug folksiness of his essays. I have never caught an episode of his cooking show America's Test Kitchen which is a good thing because I'd probably throw my cast iron skillet (perfectly seasoned thanks to the fine instructions in Cook's Illustrated) at the TV.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


We had another feast at my book group last night that far surpassed any Thanksgiving meal (though I say that for those of you who actually look forward to Thanksgiving. I dislike traditional Thanksgiving foods, but that's a subject for a post next November).

I got so wrapped up in eating I forgot to photograph the main dishes until they were gone. I'll have to do a little word poetry to capture the flavors: Before dinner, there were spiced nuts and some hummus topped with olive oil and some incredible cumin that Halla's dad brings back for her from Egypt. The chicken/rice/apricot dish was mild, delicate, floral. The cucumber salad was a bracing counterpoint with mint and lemon. The spinach yogurt side dish was tangy and creamy and gave some welcome weight to set off the lightness of the other two dishes. Also some good bread and really good red wine to go with it all. We didn't have quite as many courses this time because only six of us could make it, but we'd probably feel really ill from over-eating if everyone had come (though of course we missed them in the discussion phase).

Someone reminded me to get out my camera at desert time. I know that cream puffs aren't a traditional Persian dish, but the author mentioned them in every other chapter so I get the feeling that they are a popular pastry in Tehran. I baked the choux pastry puffs earlier in the day, the chocolate sauce and vanilla whipped cream were made just before leaving and then I assembled them with the strawberries right before we ate them so they didn't get soggy. I made enough for 10 women, and as there were only 6 of us, well, we all had as many as we wanted and there were still some left over to reward the various husbands for putting the kids to bed single handedly.

Jen looks very happy to have wine in one hand and
cream puffs in another. (That's Meg in the background.)

I was a little disappointed that the chocolate sauce separated a bit when re-warmed, but it still tasted good. The cream was organic and fabulous--I haven't seen such yellow cream since the days I used to spend on my Great Aunty Peggy's dairy farm in Devonshire. This is what my puffs looked like once I started eating them:
One down, three more to go...
Now we are trying to decide what to read next. A few possibilities are Peter Ho Davies and Carol Shields, neither of whose fiction I've read. I'm drawn towards Davies since he lives in Burns Park and I like to read local authors; I also like the title of one of his books though I have no idea what it is about--wouldn't you want to pick up a book called The Ugliest House in the World? We'll be emailing around in the next few days to poll those who weren't able to attend.

I know there are other books out there that have come out in paperback that I've been meaning to read, but right now their names are not popping up. I'd like to get a little off the book-group-track (you know what I mean, the books that it seems like every book group is reading: The Kite Runner, Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Red Tent) because some of the most interesting discussions we've had have been about less well-known fiction: The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, a novel about Newfoundland, is one that comes to mind. A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, beautiful short stories about Vietnamese immigrants in the American South, is another. If you can think of a novel or short story collection that is terrific and not yet publicized up the yin yang, let me know.

New Food Reading at UM

Today in the New York Times "Dining In" section, there is an article about the a brand new research collection that is opening at U-M's Clements Library: the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive. It sounds like a big deal with "over 20,000 items, from books to magazines to menus to advertisements, from the first American cookbook, American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons, published in Hartford, Conn., in 1796, to a century of advertisements for Pillsbury flour, to a copy of every issue of Good Housekeeping."

I knew there were a lot of people in this town who like food and it pleases me to no end that my obsession is being validated in the academic community. I am particularly excited that they have a category in the collection (mentioned on their web site) devoted to culinary ephemera. Brian and I loves this kind of stuff; we like to go to antiques markets and sift through dozens of phamphlets and posters with weird food advertisements. Here is one of our finds from the American Meat Institute:

My absolute favorite piece of food ephemera in our modest collection is a pamphlet from the Banana Farmers Association titled "The New Banana!" It has a recipe on the back for possibly the most disgusting banana dish ever: Bananas and Bacon (the subtitle is "Start a conversation!" It would be quite a conversation in my house if I tried to serve such a dish.) Unfortunately I can't locate it right now, but I'm going to set Brian to the task.

On a more serious note, the library will also be hosting biennial symposia on American Culinary History which should mean that some interesting people come to town.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A little of something for everyone except you writers

This post wanders all over 3 of my obsessions (writing has fallen by the wayside this week unless blogging counts) so I'm going to try and organize it so you can skip to the part you are interested in:

Sock Knitting Help Needed!
I need some help from experienced (or just opinionated) sock knitters. Here is a photo of how far I've knit my first sock:

My debut as a sock model.
I have no problem with the yarn or the heel flap (though I would make it a size smaller having somehow forgotten that I have scrawny calves that aren't good at holding socks up). But the heel turn is another thing entirely. It seems clumsy and, well, just plain wrong. Take a look:

It is not easy to take a photo of the bottom of your own foot.
I'm using Sally Melville's pattern from The Knitting Experience: The Purl Stitch. I followed the pattern to a T and even modeled my short rows on the instructions that were in the Winter issue of Interweave Knits magazine. But this heel-turn looks way too lumpy and uncomfortable to me, and I don't think it is just the stripy yarn. I'm trying to decide whether to take out the heel portion and try a different pattern.

Unfortunately I can't make it to tonight's meeting of the Ann Arbor Knit-In group; I'm sure the knitters there could solve the problem in about 10 minutes. I doubt I have the will-power to set the sock aside until I can next make it to one of their meetings. So please knitters, help out a new sockista and let me know if I should continue or unravel, and if you think the latter, any advice on a better heel-turn pattern?

Blood Strengthening Menu
Thank you for all the recipe ideas for iron absorption; it looks like beans are the way to go. Yesterday Fiona and I went to Whole Paycheck (our house term for Whole Foods Market) and did a big re-stock of our legumes. Later this week, I'll be making Micha's Black Bean Ful recipe, some navy bean or split pea soup and some dal (if you see a cloud of methane around Summit St., well, you know where it is coming from...)

I also figured out a solution to my beef-issues: the steak I made last week was really good, but it'll last me for another six months before I want to eat another one. I would never turn down a portion of John and Ami's fabulous beef tenderloin, but that isn't an everyday occurrence. But one way that I do like to eat beef and don't get sick of is in a good roast beef sandwich and Whole Paycheck had some beautiful, antibiotic-free roast beef in their deli case. I'm trying to console myself with the reasoning that paying $13.99 a pound (agggg!) is cheaper than buying expensive high absorption iron supplements and hell of a lot tastier. (Vegetarians, you may want to avert your eyes or quickly hit the "page down" button.)

A plate of beefy-goodness from Whole Paycheck.

Yesterday I made a terrific sandwich with the above pictured beautiful beef, whole grain mustard, mayo and radish sprouts on Zingerman's rye bread. Good enough for a repeat sandwich today.

I'm also tickled to report that 4 of my friends tried my Faux-BBQ-Pork recipe this past week: Lynne, Sarah, MJ and John all made some variation of it. I know the phenomenon of "Knit-alongs" in which everyone knits the same thing and reports back on their progress, alterations and impressions. I wonder if there is such a thing as a "Cook-along"?

Note: if you aren't satiated by all this food talk, you will want to check out the next section too which starts off about books, but quickly devolves into food-talk...

Reading Reading Lolita
Reading Lolita in Tehran is not a speedy read, but I do appreciate interpretations of familiar western novels in the cultural context of Tehran. I used to teach Nabokov's Lolita (this is the edition I recommend if you haven't read it) when I was a TA drudge at Northwestern and a big chunk of my first Master's Thesis (at UC Davis) was on Jane Austen, so these are books I am quite familiar with and the author has pointed out things that I never noticed. I think that Dr. Nafisi is probably a fabulous teacher in person, but writing about teaching is hard to keep quite so interesting. One thing in particular about the way she writes is bugging me: the author (the professor, leader of the reading group) keeps referring to the women in her class as "her girls." I know this is supposed to emphasize her maternal feelings towards them, but honestly, most of them are in their 30s, some have children, and one has been married 3 times. The book is full of feminist interpretations and the author is way too smart not to be aware of the language she is using, so I have to believe that using "girls" is intentional. Every time it comes up (which is often) it makes me gnash my teeth and distracts me from whatever the real point of the chapter is. I think the weakness of the book is the characterizations of the book group members: too often they are distilled to one characteristic (Mahshid is pious, Azin is sensual) and this linguistic urge to infantilize them further renders them as cardboard cut-outs rather than real women.

Tomorrow night we are meeting at Halla's house to feast and discuss the book, so I'll bounce my gripes off the group members and see if I should just chill out (feel free to weigh in and tell me what you think). As usual, it looks like we will be having a fabulous meal. This is how the menu is shaping up:

Halla: Chicken with apricots, rice and almonds
Marilyn: Soup
Sarah: Cucumber Salad (w/ yogurt or tomato)
Meg: Borani Esfanaaj (Spinach dish)
Jen: White Wine
Kate: Cream Puffs

And there are still a few other members who haven't decided what to make yet.

I'm making Cream Puffs (and not some more traditional Persian desert) because they are mentioned so often in the book--every time these women meet they drink tea and eat cream puffs. I haven't made cream puffs since I was a teenager so it'll be fun to make an outrageously unhealthy desert. I bought organic heavy cream and strawberries at Whole Paycheck yesterday and I have some good Ghirardelli chocolate in the cupboard with which to make a chocolate sauce.

Tune in Thursday for a photo gallery of our gluttony.

Monday, May 02, 2005


I know the photographs of foods in the various food-porn I subscribe to (last time I checked, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Bon Appetite and Saveur) are supposed to inspire one to cook, but what use are they when they don'’t accurately represent the finished dish? I accuse Eating Well magazine (note: not a magazine I subscribe to but my insanely healthy parents hand off their copy when they are done with it) of major photo-doctoring for their recipe “Miso-glazed Scallops with Soba Noodles”. Take a look at the photo below showing how different my scallops look from the ones in the magazine's photo.

White and pasty, or luscious and caramelized--which would you choose?

Yes, I used “dry” (that is to say untreated with STP) sea scallops. Yes, for once I followed the recipe instructions. But I don'’t see how any scallop could brown, much less caramelize, like the ones in the photo with the recipe as it is written. They had me marinate the scallops briefly in miso, ginger, rice vinegar, garlic, mirin and a little canola oil then cook them on medium-high heat in a non-stick pan with a little olive oil. My scallops exuded so much of their natural juices which, combined with the coating of rather wet marinade, resulted in them simmering in the liquid for the requisite 3 minutes per side. There was absolutely no way that a crust could form; if I had cooked the scallops until all the wetness boiled off, I would have had vaguely-scallop-flavored hockey pucks, over-cooked to the point of inedibility. I think that Eating Well brushed their finished scallops with a sugar syrup and browned them with a blow torch.

Other than the look of my completed dish, which was on the wan and pasty side, it tasted fine. Brian really liked it and ate 3 servings. I don’t know if I'’ll make it again because I wasn’t blown away by it and I think there are probably better ways to use a pound of huge sea scallops.

On the subject of food magazines, I will share a wonderful discovery: —you can get a subscription to some of the big food-porn publications at super low prices on the internet. If you go to you can find a year'’s subscription to: Saveur for $3.99 and Gourmet for $4.90. Bon Appetite is a little more pricy at $9.90 and Food & Wine goes for $12.71. Cook's’ Illustrated is the least impressive on the discount level, —at $21.94 you only save $3 off the regular subscription price. Anyway, it'’s worth checking out the prices they have listed against what you are paying for your subscriptions. Maybe you too can have a mailbox overflowing with food magazines and can save some money to spend on things like, say, insanely expensive sea scallops (for which you would find a better recipe than the one that I used.)

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Yarn: The Music Video, and I'll show you my crema if you show me yours...

Knitting is trendy enough to play a starring role in a French music video of a song called "Ta Douleur" (Your Pain): a persistent piece of blue yarn keeps knitting itself onto the young female singer. It must be seen to be believed.
Some very gracious knitter made that long dress with the extremely long sleeves and allowed it to be unraveled over and over (I figure that's how they did the filming, by unraveling and playing the tape backwards so it looks like it is magically knitting itself on sans needles--clever, eh?)

And back to the espresso subject--here is a photo example of the lovely crema that my aforementioned Saeco Espresso Classico made this morning with the Amazing Beans coffee. It took all my will power to take a picture before consuming it.

mmmmm crema

I've found that by tamping the ground coffee extra hard into the filter basket, I can make up for the slightly coarser grind. I have promised Lynne a thorough tutorial with my machine when her replacement machine arrives. I might have to order some decaf from Amazing Beans if we are to make numerous shots and not end up swinging from the light fixtures...

Anyone have some good recipes of deserts to make with fresh espresso? I'm thinking something along the line of espresso creme brulee or chocolate espresso cake. Most coffee flavored deserts call for instant espresso, but I'm looking for a way to use the fresh stuff. Maybe we'll just stick with one of my favorite simple deserts--scoops of good vanilla ice cream that one dumps espresso over right before eating. If you need some inspiration, watch Juliette Binoche do just that in the film Trois Couleurs: Bleu. I love that movie.