Saturday, May 28, 2005

Granny to the Rescue!

Let me brag again about what a terrific mother-in-law I have. When she heard that I was really disappointed about the loss of this weekend for a home-bound writing retreat, she offered to go up to the tchotke-filled cabin with Brian and the kids (they are all her tchotkes, after all). So the kids get a weekend being spoiled to death by Granny Kathy (someone who will never say No! unlimited lemonade! cookies as a major food group!) and Brian gets to have his mommy take care of him while he's sick. (He is feeling a bit better; well enough to handle the drive.)

They left yesterday at 6 PM and for the first time in almost 5 years, I have the house to myself for more than a matter of hours. They even took the dog (they left Jonah, the cat, but he's a low maintainence buddy).

I'm a morning writer so yesterday evening, I set the scene for a successful time today at the computer--did a superficial clean-up of the house so the only chaos I have to confront is in my brain, re-stocked the caffeine supply, and then primed the front room. Ok so the last thing falls into the home-improvement area, but Mary Jean reminded me that most writers do not successfully write for 8 hours straight in a day (and for those of you who do, I don't want to hear about it....) so I figured a project that a) needs to be done and b) that I find kind of therapeutic and conducive to brain relaxation would fit the bill this weekend, so I'm painting the front room. Today, I'll take a break after doing some writing to paint the ceiling white and tomorrow the walls get painted this color:

It looks a little glowing and orangy me it's more a warm sand color.
I thought about painting the room a deep shade of blue since I find blue a calming color for a room and thought that would be good for an office where one is not supposed to freak out and wack the computer when it (or my brain) misbehaves. But it is a North facing room and I was concerned that it would end up feeling gloomy. No, I did not even consider leaving the room white. I grew up with a hospital-architect for a father who considers white (or maybe off-white if you are feeling really bold that day) the only acceptable color. Yes, I am still rebelling against my father at the ripe age of 35...

Enough about home improvements--I had my first cappuccino of the morning and I'm off to face my novel!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Prisoner release DENIED

No happy food ramblings today, no strange knitted toys, and not even a little rhapsodic waxing over someone else's wonderfully written novel: today I'm feeling sorry for myself.

I had my hopes up that Brian would follow through on the plan to take the kids up to the cabin for the long weekend thus freeing me to work on my long-neglected novel for 3 days without interruption. But Brian has come down with a pretty bad cold--a sore throat so bad that he has trouble swallowing anything that isn't liquid and noticeable fatigue. I may not always be the most sensitive spouse, but even I know it isn't fair to send the guy off with two insane bundles of energy when he's feeling that lousy.

I was, however, surprised at how disappointed I felt last night when I realized that my mini-writing retreat would not be happening. I've been keeping that part of my brain pretty much in prison since Ian was born (that's almost 5 years, folks) and told myself that realistically I wouldn't have enough time or energy to face it until both kids were in school. I convinced myself that I was ok with this. Brian's suggestion of the free weekend was kind of like an early prisoner release promise that was withdrawn at the last minute. I was already peeking out through the bars and anticipating what freeing that part of my brain would feel like.

Anyway, instead of continuing this poor-me rant, I am going to try something a little more proactive. Today I'm going to call my mother-in-law and see if she will agree to take the kids for one day a week for the summertime which I will turn into my writing day. I already feel guilty suggesting this since she is probably too nice to say no and a full day with them both can be exhausting. But hopefully the guilt I feel will motivate me to use the time well: I hereby publicly promise that if I can pull it off I will not end up using the day to run errands, clean the sty-of-a-house, do any of the myriad home improvements we have started and never finished, or even relax with my other 3 obsessions. I will use that day to write.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Leftovers I like

One of my flaws as a cook is that I dislike leftovers. I often make too much food for us to consume at one sitting and sorely neglect my part of the responsibility in dealing with the leftovers the next day. I'm not a big fan of eating the same thing twice in a row so contemplating last night's dinner for lunch the next day makes me grumpy. Thankfully Brian is happy to take leftovers to work with him, he's no human-trash-can, but he doesn't have the food-repetition disorder I seem to have. But I may have found an exception to my leftover loathing; here is what I had for lunch yesterday:

Does that look like a dreary plate of leftovers? I think not!
On Monday night I made the flank steak with arugula and goat cheese salad and it was terrific. I loosely followed the Cook's Illustrated recommendations (May 2005 issue) for how to deal with flank steak: I made a paste of lots of garlic (I think I used 6 cloves) and olive oil (about 6 T) and salt, pricked the steak all over with a dinner fork (great stress relief to poke the hell out of a piece of meat!), rubbed on the paste and let it sit for half a day in the fridge. At dinnertime I wiped off the paste, ground some pepper over the steak and tossed it on the gas grill. I didn't really time it--I think it was about 4-5 minutes per side. Then I plopped it on a carving board, tented it with tin foil and left it for a good 15 minutes while I finished making the salad. I'm convinced that this last step is what transformed the steak from shoe leather to a chewy but juicy steak. Most of the time I'm so hungry that by the time I'm done cooking I have no patience to let food "rest" (I have also been accused of having a tongue made of asbestos since I often eat foods that are pretty darn hot, temperature-wise).

For the salad, I tossed the arugula with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, ground some pepper over it and sprinkled it with a little coarse salt and then tossed it again with a little balsamic vinegar. I topped the arugula with halved grape tomatoes and some crumbled plain log-like goat cheese.

By the time I was done with the salad prep, the steak had rested and was ready to be sliced (against the grain at a slight angle). And the resulting dinner was terrific! The warm steak and cool goat cheese combined nicely and the arugula and tomatoes offset the richness with their bitterness and acidity. I had plenty of Farm Bread on hand to mop up the steak juice and olive oil, but if one was on a high protein diet, the bread would not be missed. I'll definitely be making this again--it strikes me as a terrific dish for an outdoor party or buffet since it doesn't rely on the meat being hot to be good.

And I discovered that left-over grilled flank steak is a nice thing to find in the fridge when one is hungry the next day! I assembled a steak sandwich and paired it with some of my garden's fresh radishes, romaine lettuce thinnings and cornichons. And much to my surprise, I found myself smiling over a plate of leftovers.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Yes, I've been watching a little too much Sesame Street--which reminds me to gripe a bit about how they plan to change Cookie Monster because he doesn't promote healthy eating habits. What will he be replaced with--a Broccoli Monster? (come on, sing along with me: "B is for Broccoli, that's good enough for me...")

Yesterday it was raining and I felt in need of a little chocolate therapy, so I decided to follow Ami's recommendation and try the urban-legend-Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe. They are fantastic cookies--there is a bit of instant espresso powder in the dough which gives it a richer flavor. Following Annie's question about brands of chocolate chips to use in the Healthy Banana Muffin recipe, I decided to branch out and try Ghirardelli chips and see if there was any difference--there is. The extra $1 or so is worth it--these chips were bigger, richer and didn't have that burn-the-back-of-the-throat quality that the Nestle or store-brand chips have.

A plate of cookie-goodness

Lest you think I'm only cooking these days, I show a progress report on my second sock:

knitpics merino sock yarn in color: flower power
I'm making this one in 2 x 2 rib which I like a lot for its stretchability. The knitpics yarn is also softer and springier than the Elann yarn I used for pair #1. I also like how the colors of the yarn are swirling around the sock, sort of like a barber pole.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Garden Bounty

It has begun! My garden has started producing and we now have months of fresh delicacies to look forward to. This year I planted (in alphabetical order): arugula, basil, beets, kale (red russian and dinosaur), lettuce (bib, romaine, oak leaf), mache, mesclun mix, peas, pole beans, radishes, rainbow chard, spinach, tomatoes (green zebra, sungold cherry, and beefsteak). Also small quantities of herbs right outside the kitchen: basil, chives, rosemary, sage, spearmint, thyme. I think that's it. I decided to leave the cucumbers and zucchini to the farmers' market because I'm not a fan of prickly vines.

Here is a photo of some of the radishes I harvested yesterday, destined for a radish salad tonight:

"Easter Egg" variegated radishes (pink, red and white)
I also thinned out the romaine lettuce and the arugula and brought home enough for a few salads.

Today I'm going to track down some flank steak to make a grilled steak with arugula and goat cheese recipe for dinner. I will report back on my progress to make a flank steak that doesn't end up like shoe-leather...

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Bijoux du congélateur

The snooty sounding French title for this post sounded a lot nicer than "dinner from crap I dug out of the back of the freezer." Since dinner turned out remarkably well, I thought I'd be a little pompous here and use the French for "jewels from the freezer".

I made a mango shrimp stir fry and raspberry strawberry cobbler and pretty much everything that went into both recipes was either frozen or a basic staple (flour, milk, etc.). I never would have made the Mango Shrimp recipe before reading Mark Bittman's wonderful article in the NYTimes validating frozen food (you can't access the article on the NYTimes website for free, but you can read it here). And my shrimp recipe is heavily indebted to Trader Joe's which sells decent frozen food at reasonable prices.

Without further ado--here are the recipes:

Mango Shrimp Stir-Fry Recipe:
12 oz frozen Rock Shrimp (TJ's sells them in 12 oz bags, a little more or less would be fine too)
2 C frozen mango chunks (about 1/2 a bag of the frozen TJ mango chunks)
1 1/2 C frozen multi-colored pepper pieces (TJ sells bags of frozen red/yellow/green pepper mix)
3 scallions (horrors! a fresh ingredient!), sliced on the diagonal
1 T grated ginger (the jarred stuff from the Indian grocery store works fine, obviously fresh is fine too)
2 large cloves of garlic, squished through a garlic press or minced fine
1 T cornstarch
2 T canola oil
2-3 T soy sauce
1-2 T bottled Chinese oyster sauce (optional)
1 T tabasco (optional)
1 T toasted sesame oil
salt and pepper

cooked rice, to serve it over (brown rice is particularly nice since it is kind of nutty tasting)
  1. First defrost your frozen stuff: put the shrimp in a colander and stick them under the tap with a lukewarm stream of water flowing over them. While they are thawing this way, stick the mango in a bowl and nuke it for about a minute; check and see if it is thawed, nuke some more if it needs it. Put the peppers in a separate bowl and nuke them--I started them on the defrost setting and finished with about 30 seconds regular power. Try not to over-nuke the peppers because they will get mushy. Drain them if they exude some water.
  2. Pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel and toss in a bowl with 1 T cornstarch and some salt and pepper.
  3. Now that all your ingredients have shed their icy coatings, heat up a large non-stick frying pan (or wok) and add the 2 T of oil. When the oil is nice and hot, add the ginger and the mashed garlic. Let it sizzle for about 30 seconds until it starts to smell good then add the mango. Stir fry till the mango is warmed up (about a minute or two), then add the peppers; shove all the mango and peppers to one side of the pan and dump the shrimp in the other side. Stir the shrimp gently and let them cook for about 1 minute then mix the shrimp, mango and peppers together.
  4. Add the scallions, soy sauce and oyster sauce (optional) and stir fry for about another minute or two till the shrimp look cooked.
  5. Take off the heat, add sesame oil and tabasco sauce (optional).
  6. Serve over rice.
Ta da! The only thing that is slightly sub-standard about this recipe is that the peppers do get a little mushy, so substitute fresh if you have them. But for convenience, speed and idiot-proofness, frozen is fine.

Since it took almost no energy to prep the ingredients for the stir-fry, I decided to make desert too. In digging around the freezer, I found about 4 C of frozen raspberries leftover from a picking binge last summer at Makielski's berry farm. I thought about making a raspberry pie or tart, but making a crust was too labor intensive. So I made a raspberry cobbler. I also had about 1 C of fresh strawberries that looked like they would start molding soon, so I sliced them up and chucked them in too.

Raspberry Cobbler Recipe:
4-6 C frozen or fresh raspberries (or a mix of berries. I ended up using 4 C frozen raspberries and about 1 C fresh sliced strawberries. Blueberries would be good, or some peaches.)
1/2 C sugar
1 T cornstarch
1 t cinnamon
1/4 C butter
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C milk
1/4 C buttermilk (optional, substitute another 1/4 C milk if you don't have buttermilk on hand)
1 C all purpose flour
1/4 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
heavy cream or vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In an oven-safe 2-quart dish, toss raspberries with 1/2 C sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon.
  3. In a small bowl, blend flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  4. In a bowl or a mixer, beat the butter and 1/4 C sugar together. When they are creamed and a little fluffy, add the buttermilk and milk (or all milk) and the flour mixture. Mix together until sticky and sort of biscuit-like. Drop by tablespoons over the berries in the baking dish.
  5. Bake for 30-40 minutes (a little longer if using frozen berries, a little less if using fresh). The top will be browned and the berries will be bubbling up underneath it.
  6. Serve with a drizzle of heavy cream, or vanilla ice cream.
If you happen to have a lemon on hand, a little lemon zest grated in with the berries would be nice. But since that requires you to have a fresh lemon around and we are celebrating the riches of the freezer here, think of it as completely optional.

Don't you want to go dig around in your freezer now and see what is hiding? Try not to get beaned on the head by a bag of frozen bagels, like I did...