Saturday, August 20, 2005

good eatin'

Another food-dominated post here. (I have been knitting and reading too, but nothing significant to report. And writing-wise, I haven't written anything since I did the little vignettes for the Observer City Guide. My brain is a little fried right now with my maternal worries about Ian starting kindergarten. Is he worried? Nope, of course not! But I'm getting some wicked insomnia.)

First off, the star of the show with a recipe: The best corn on the cob I have ever tasted!
Ami sent me the recommendation and the recipe and I am singing her praises to the stars for sharing this one. I know, fresh corn tastes pretty darn good just boiled, but this is corn that has gone to heaven. Salty, sour, spicy and a rush of sweet corn flavor underneath.

Here is Ami's recipe so you too can join the corn in flavor heaven:

4 ears fresh corn

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

1 1/4 cups crumbled Cotija cheese (I substitute pecorino, but any salty, crumbly cheese will do)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup mayonnaise

Chile powder for sprinkling (I recommend Chipotle since it brings out the smokiness of the grilled corn)

2 limes, cut into wedges

1. Start grill. Peel back husks from corn, leaving them attached at the ends and twisting them to make handles. Strip the silks. Brush each cob with olive oil and season with salt. Arrange cobs on the grill with the husks dangling over the sides so they won't burn. Grill, turning occasionally, until lightly charred all over, about 20 minutes.

2. Spread the cheese on a medium plate and the cilantro on another. When the corn is done, slather (my favorite verb in the whole recipe) the cobs with mayonnaise and then roll them first in the cheese then in the cilantro. Sprinkle liberally with chile powder and serve with lime wedges and lots of napkins.

The only thing I have to add is this piece of advice: make extra. You won't want to stop after one ear of corn.

The other memorable eating this week was done with the wonderful women of the "Reading and Eating" Book Group. We read Ideas of Heaven and loved it. It was about time that we read a book that was worthy. The food was loosely derived from the many different settings for the stories and once again, a three-course feast!

I made a pseudo-sorrel (spinach with lots of lemon) chilled soup. (Notice the nasturtium garnishing the plate of cheese and crackers to the rear--Marilyn is an elegant host!)

Then came the plate of great bounty: (clockwise from top) Sarah's amazing tomato pie, Italian bread, Meg's Antipasto salad, Marilyn's grilled Tilapia with horseradish cream sauce, and another amazing Marilyn salad.
Desert was a comforting baked custard that Diane brought accompanied by strawberries.

We haven't decided what book we will read next. Sarah is reading the first few chapters of a book by an Irish woman writer (can't remember the name off-hand) to see if it is worthy. This may be our book selection method now since we suffered through a number of stinkers that we approached cold. If some bold reader can report back on the first few chapters and decide whether they seem worthy of group attention, hopefully the number of books we enjoy reading will go up and the stinkers will go down.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


As if in response to my political despair the New Yorker came to the rescue with their article about Kinky Friedman running for governor of Texas as an independent. Yes, that would be Kinky Friedman of the past musical group "Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys" who wrote songs like "“Asshole from El Paso"” and also Kinky Friedman the mystery writer (whose books feature a Kinky Friedman who solves wierd mysteries and, in his words, "All he does is, he stumbles around, he can't get laid, and he fucks up").

A few of his funny-sounding yet potentially effective policies are called "Slots for Tots" (video poker in bars with proceeds going to the strapped education system) and "No Teacher Left Behind" which seeks to treat teachers with the respect they deserve. He also says he'd appoint his biodiesel buddy Willie Nelson as his energy czar (I am a big fan of biodiesel and am trying to figure out how to lay my hands on a decent GM diesel in this country--unfortunately almost all the diesel vehicles that GM makes are sold in Europe unless I want to drive a massive pick-up truck. It does have to be GM due to hubbies job).

I highly recommend reading the whole article since it had me snorting out loud with laughter. While reading it I also felt my political despair lifting and I am now a firm backer of his campaign with the slogan:


In other obsessing areas, I found an image that nicely merges of two of mine:
I call it "yarngeti" and it's what's for dinner.
(photo taken by Clara Parkes, found in a Knitter's Review article about how to deal with your stash, reprinted with somewhat belated permission--sorry Clara for not citing you as the photographer right away!)

Actually dinner tonight promises to be another book group feast. The menu looks like this:

Me--Pseudo Sorrel Soup
Sarah--Tomato pie (with bacon and sour cream)
Meg--Antipasto salad and crusty bread
Marilyn-- Grilled Fish and a mixed green salad
Diane--Wine and a dessert yet to be determined

It's a smaller group than usual which is too bad because we finally read a good book (Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories) and I'm really looking forward to talking with folks about Joan Silber's combination of sexuality, faith and religion. But that's the way summer schedules work and I'm confident tha the five of us can have a kick ass discussion over our kick ass meal!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

non-fiction thoughts

Thanks to the food based chapter on war rationing, I have stuck with London: 1945 and I'm now in the chapter about the National Election that was held in July 1945. I'm finding this chapter fascinating because it shows how much has changed in the world of politics. I know many American's grasp of British history is a little shaky, so let me give a little primer: Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940; he was a member of the Conservative party (though in the 1930s he was somewhat of an outcast in the party; he said that in 1940 no one else wanted the job). In July 1945, after VE day but before VJ day, the conservatives LOST the election and the Labor Party won and their head, Clement Attlee, became Prime Minister.

The author, Maureen Waller, does a terrific job explaining how this shift happened--one would think that the Conservative Party would have had a huge advantage with a Prime Minister that led the country to victory over the Nazi's and in general brought about the whole British "team spirit" attitude towards enduring the war on the home front. I'll leave it to you to read her book and listen to her detailed explanation of the reasons for the Labor Party victory (big class issues, memories of Conservative mis-rule during the depression, the age of many of the returning service men and women who hadn't been old enough to vote in the last General Election of 1935, etc.).

But there are a number of things about this election that are striking to me, not the least the civility. A Labor Party minister discussed the date for the election with Churchill (British General Elections are called by the ruling party and thus don't have a set date the way the US Presidential Election is in November ever fourth year) and here is the language he used:

"I added that these points...were made in order to enhance the chance of a fair contest adequately prepared and free from as many emotional factors as feasible." (p.324)

This sentence left me breathless--I had to reread it several times. Can you imagine the current leaders of our political parties talking with each other about how to make sure our election was "a fair contest" and "free from as many emotional factors as feasible"? It seems to me that campaigns now days are almost entirely about emotional factors: lots of fear-mongering, buddy-buddy-whose-your-friend-characterizations, manipulations whenever possible of a candidate's record, personality, family, whatever.

I know it is silly to romanticize the past and this book is most certainly not a romaticization of Britain in 1945--it includes plenty of pretty horrible examples of humanity in addition to lots of inspiring references. But to think we have fallen so far in political civility makes me feel completely ill.

Is there any way back out of the hole we have dug for ourselves?

A nice summer dinner

The corn chowder with adaptations turned out nicely. Notice I didn't say spectacularly--it isn't one of those firecracker dishes that has you jumping out of your seat and assaulting the cook for the recipe. It is gentle summer food that highlights fresh ingredients and isn't so rich that you feel ill in the heat afterwards. But it was a decidedly nice dinner.

I paired the soup with steamed green beans and baguette:

The garnish is really essential to the flavor of the soup--basil, chives and tomatoes boost up the creamy mildness of the chowder. I think without the garnish the soup might be percieved as blah. I didn't think of adding a little tobasco sauce until dinner was over, but I'll be shaking a little on when I eat the leftovers for lunch today.

Corn and Shrimp Chowder

2 slices of slab bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cups diced onion
2 large carrots, diced
1 celery rib, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 red-skin potatoes, diced
3 cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 t fresh thyme, chopped
6 ears of corn, kernels cut off, cobs reserved
1/4 C white wine
1 1/2 C evaporated milk (1 can)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
10 oz rock shrimp (frozen is fine—thaw them under running cold water)

Essential Garnish: 1 large tomato, diced; chopped fresh chives (about 3 T); chopped fresh basil (about 1/2 C), few drops tobasco sauce

Cook bacon in a frying pan over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until crisp, about 5 minutes. Add onion, carrots, celery, and bell pepper to bacon fat and cook, stirring, until onion is softened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour all the chicken broth into a stock pot. Add white wine and about 1 C water. Now using a knife, hold each corn cob over the broth and scrape the cob to get the rest of the good corniness out and into the broth. Then drop the scraped cob into the broth. When you have done this with all the cobs, simmer the cobs 5-10 minutes in the stock. Remove the cobs. (This extra step--while a slight pain in the butt--will yield a big result in the flavor base of the soup).

Add potatoes and thyme to the broth and simmer, covered, until potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes. Add the bacon and sautéed vegetables, the corn kernels and the condensed milk and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Add sea salt and pepper. Add the shrimp and serve the soup when they are cooked through (about 2 minutes). If you make the soup ahead of time, wait to add the shrimp 'till the end or you will end up with tough little wads of vaguely shrimpy-flavored chewing gum.

Serve with a copious quantity of basil, chives and tomato on top. Add a few shakes of tobasco if you like.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Coming up for air

Ah, nice to be back at the computer again, looking ahead to a fairly normal week. My darling sister left yesterday morning--I had a lovely time with her despite the fact that one of my parents was not exhibiting good behavior or social skills.

I made the chocolate gelato again (chocolate being an essential ingredient to successful recovery from a bad parental encounter) and this time added the zest of one orange to the custard mix (and let it steep for a while before straining it out) and about a half teaspoon of orange oil. This helped a great deal in the aftertaste of the finished product.

And last night I finished the wonderful Ian McEwan book Saturday. His writing is so elegant. Some people aren't big fans of the day-in-a-life structure, but I have an affection for such books; I think the predictibility of the structure is comforting and that lets my brain focus on other parts of the book. I am still bummed out that the book was excerpted in the New Yorker because until I got past page 100, I couldn't really let myself go--I knew what was going to happen and it made me tense. Once the incident that was excerpted was over, I enjoyed the rest of the book in a full-immersion sort of way.

In particular I loved the descriptions of neurosurgical procedures--I don't have the stomach ever to be a doctor, but I love anatomy and processes; reading about how the body works makes me feel peaceful and comforted. I wish I could find an author of McEwan's caliber with prose who authored books about how the body works--I can handle dry, scientific writing, but what a pleasure when it is also beautifully written. I'm thinking Oliver Sacks might fit the bill--I think I'll check out The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat.

Today I plan to make a variation on this corn chowder recipe (I'm planning on replacing the heavy cream with evaporated milk, cutting out the sweet potato, adding a little white wine, adding some rock shrimp right at the end, and making sure that some fresh basil is a part of the garnish). Ami inspired me to make corn chowder after her brief description on my answering machine of a terrific sounding summer meal: corn chowder, salad, good bread, and a good cheese. If the chowder is worthy, I'll be sure to post the recipe tomorrow.