Friday, June 17, 2005

Let the Foraging Begin!

We took the dog for a walk yesterday and stumbled upon an incredible quantity of wild strawberries.

tiny sugar bombs
I have never found so many wild strawberries at one time--only about 10 or 20 plants at a time. But I picked (and ate) literally handfuls. If you have never had a wild strawberry the best comparison I can make to cultivated strawberries is the difference between say, a Lindt chocolate truffle bar and a Hershey bar. They are tiny, but the flavor is so pure and clear with absolutely no filler or dead space in the fruit.

Foraging is something I love--it fulfills both the food obsessed part of my personality and the tightwad principles I was raised with. Yesterday, even the 2 year old was walking faster than I was because I kept dropping down to pick more berries. In the end, it started getting dark (and yes, kids went to bed way after their bedtime) and I had to leave many of the berries unpicked. To me this felt like walking past gold coins that were scattered by the edge of the path and ignoring them.

So I'm going back. This time with a bucket. Will I tell you where to find this bounty? The forager in me is highly secretive of such finds, but I promise, after I get one more crack at them I'll share...

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Tea time

We took my mom (aka Granny Jan) to Greenfield Village yesterday for a birthday celebration afternoon tea at the Cotswold Cottage. You could not have asked for a more beautiful day--breezy, not too hot with big puff-ball clouds.

Tea was pretty good too with scones, jam, finger sandwiches, tea cookies and little pastries. And a big pot of tea for each of us (even the kids--they had an herbal berry tea and had fun putting lots of sugar cubes in with the little silver tongs). My only gripe is what they tried to pass off as Devonshire Cream--it tasted like Cream Cheese frosting, sweet and tangy. Real Devonshire clotted cream is a sticky, unsweetened ooze with soft-butter consistency. It has a fat content of about 55% and often is thick enough to stand a (small) spoon up in it. Normal (single) cream is about 35% fat, whipping (heavy) cream is about 45%. And it is expensive at about $5-6 for a 5 oz jar.

Some cheap tea shops in England advertise cream teas and serve them with unsweetened whipped cream which I'd say is a preferable second to this frosting stuff they gave us. Mind you, Ian loved the whole tea, cream cheese goo and all. And I was thrilled that he ate one and a half scones with goo and jam and didn't cast his usual suspicious gaze over the whole enterprise.

While Ian sampled Napoleon pastries...

Fiona filled her shoes with rocks....
Fiona does not have much of a sweet tooth though and after eating the egg and cucumber sandwich and taking one bite of a lemon tea cookie she lost interest and played with the pebbles on the ground around the table.

Granny Jan had a wonderful time, loved hanging out with the critters and wasn't bummed by the lack of real clotted cream. But I feel the need to provide an authentic cream tea for my British mum, so next week I'll track down some of the real stuff (Big 10 probably has it), make her some scones and serve them with gloppy strawberry preserves (Trader Joe's has a good version with big chunks of fruit), and a big pot of tea.

Here is my scone recipe, straight from my British mum:

English Scones

1 and 3/4 C flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C unsalted butter
1 C dried fruit (see *note for good combos below)
1/3 C milk
1 t fresh lemon or orange zest (microplane zested is best)
1 egg

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut in butter then use your fingers to flatten the little bits into flakes--don't over do it--it should not look as fine as cornmeal or your scones will be heavy. Stir in dried fruit.

Combine milk and egg, add to flour mixture and fork stir. Turn out onto floured surface and knead 5 or 6 times, just 'till you get it to hold together. Pat into a circle about 1 to 1.5 inches thick and cut into 6 wedges (like a pie). Place wedges on a parchment or silicone-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes. The tops should be slightly golden.

Serve warm with jam and clotted cream or butter.

*a note on dried fruit:
Currants are the traditional dried fruit to put in scones, but you can be as creative as you like. Dice bigger stuff until it is about currant-sized.
Here are some of my favorite combos (all combine to 1 C total of dried fruit) :
diced dried pears with crystallized ginger
diced dried peaches and dried cranberries
chopped dried cherries (particularly good with orange zest)

I tried dried figs once and they were nasty...

Jerk Pork

There are so many horrible puns using the word "Jerk" that I just couldn't stomach a snappy title today. So here we have a straight to the point report on my first try at jerk seasoning. I made this jerk pork sandwich this past weekend and it was pretty terrific:

The pork is layered with grated swiss cheese, pickle slices and spicy mustard.

It made for a great sandwich (the recipe I was following dictated the condiments which were not my first instinct for complementing a sandwich but turned out to be really good; an added benefit is that the sandwich would travel well and not get soggy if you were taking it on a picnic), but next time I'm just going to make the pork as an entree because I think it was even better on its own. And did I mention easy? Super easy.

Of course, I made a few modifications to the recipe which came from the weekly Dining & Wine section of the NYTimes. Here is my version:

Grilled Jerk Pork Tenderloin
(doubles easily)

3 scallions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Scotch bonnet peppers, stemmed (if you aren't up for heat or plan to try and get your kid to eat it, I'd recommend choosing milder peppers or de-seed the peppers.)
1/4 cup lime juice
1/8 cup soy sauce
3 T olive oil
2 t dried thyme
2 t ground allspice
2 t ground black pepper
1/2 t cinnamon
1 pork tenderloin

1. In a blender or food processor, combine scallions, garlic, peppers, lime juice, soy sauce and olive oil. Add thyme, allspice, pepper and cinnamon. Blend to make a smooth puree. Place tenderloin in a big ziplock storage bag, and add puree.Refrigerate 8 to 24 hours, turning occasionally.

2. Light a grill. If using charcoal, heap the coals to one side. If using gas, turn both burners on high. When hot, scrape excess marinade from the tenderloin and sear the tenderloin (a few minutes per side). Then move the tenderloin over to the cool side of the grill--with a gas grill turn off one side of the burners and put on the unlit side. Shut the lid and leave for about 25 minutes. Check with an instant-read thermometer so that the center reads 150 degrees. If it hasn't made it to 150, shut the lid and check every 10 minutes.

3. Take pork off grill and let rest for 5 or 10 minutes, then slice into circles.

Yield: 4 servings.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Am I insane?

I need a reality check from the knitters out there to see if I'm a complete nut for contemplating a potentially overwhelming project.

Here's the scenario:
My future-office is now drywalled and painted blue (I got rid of the creamsickle peach color). We have the oak flooring that we will install sometime soon. And then the final electrical inspection. Anyway, for a room that we have been working away at for, oh, 4 years or so, it is almost done.

The room is north facing and has three windows facing north and two facing east. They are pretty big windows: 40" wide x 45" long. And the north windows face the street and are about 5 feet from the sidewalk. This means that the room is very visible and I'll need to figure out some way of creating a privacy screen. I'm no privacy freak, but I don't particularly want everyone to see my messy desk and appalling posture (I'm currently writing this slouched down in the chair with my spine twisted to the left and my feet up on the same desk that the computer is on. No, it isn't particularly comfortable, but it is one of the many contortions that I assume when seated at the computer. Yes, I've tried to sit with my feet on the floor but it makes me feel insane.)

The problem is I really don't like curtains much. Don't even get me started on the term "window treatment." The first time I heard someone use the term was about 5 years ago and I swear I thought she was talking about something you did to the glass--like the way a fluoride treatment is something done to your teeth.

With a room that is dominated by the windows (there isn't much wall between those 5 windows, just enough for a little wood trim for the frames), most curtains strike me as too busy and fussy for the space. I priced out supremely simple pleated or honeycomb blinds and it was more than $140 per window and that is just way too much money for something I don't even like much.

So I checked out a few books from the library on how to make your own blinds and the ones that I'm attracted to are also the most simple to make and pretty darn cheap: roller shades that you make with your own choice of fabric. They have nice clean lines, I could pick exactly the kind of fabric I'd like and the ones in the book didn't look at all crappy. They even showed some that were nicely trimmed along the pull-down bar. I thought of hitting the next antiques market looking for some old lace to attach to the edge, but what are the chances I'd find 200 inches of the same lace?

Which got me thinking whether I could knit lace to edge all the shades.

Am I nuts to contemplate this?

Lynne gave me the beautiful book Knitting on the Edge for Christmas and there are plenty of potential edgings in it that I could try out. But I think it would have to be pretty fine cotton yarn or maybe even the thread that people use for thread crochet. Would knitting 200 inches of it turn me into the kind of crazy person that people cross the street to avoid?

While you are thinking about my dilemma, here are a few not-insanity provoking projects I'm knitting now:

What you are looking at: about 3.5 inches of the back of the Ribbi cardigan, done in mist knitpicks wool (I'll do the sleeves in olive), and 1 and 1/4 socks done in the knitpicks merino sock yarn in the flower power colorway. I like how the stripes swirl down the foot like a barber pole.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Flutter, flutter

Both Julie and Annie honed in on the somewhat derogatory "feathery adjectives" reference that Christine Schutt made in the interview with Deborah Solomon and it got me thinking about my affection for a little fluttery prose. (Don't you just love Solomon's irreverent statement about the washing machine? I do.) I have Schutt's book out of the library now and I'll post my impressions of her prose style soon--my sense was that she was trying to describe how her prose is "muscular" and masculine and not at all "girly."

Well, "manly man" prose may be what she appreciates, but I like a little feathery fluttering. True, sloppy use of adjectives can be nauseating but when I think about the writers who take my breath away, they are most often very lyrical and know how to employ their adjectives to the best effect. Particular books/authors that fit this category and come to mind include: Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy, Jane Mendelsohn's I Was Ameila Earhart, and pretty much anything by Michael Ondaatje.
In the case of Hansen and Mendelsohn I think they pull it off because both authors know how to keep their paragraphs short. I would find their prose overwhelming and too much to absorb if they were long-paragraph writers like Henry James. But they know how to break up images, moments and dialogue so that the fragments are like vivid bursts of light. And they trust their readers to be able to put the pieces together into a coherent image.

Michael Ondaatje seems to be able to do the short fragment style (like in The Collected Works of Billy the Kid and Coming Through Slaughter) and more leisurely, longer lyrical paragraphs (like in In the Skin of a Lion and The English Patient.) But then, I think that Ondaatje is a magician--I'll go wherever he takes me whether it be a short, choppy jog or a long, slow meander.

So, who are your favorite "lyrical" authors? Any thoughts on how they pull it off?