Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sticky Toffee Therapy

We had a doozy of a day today. No sun. No snow to play in (plenty of ice to slip and break your neck on though!) And Brian was gloomy too. I usually count on him to be able to pull me out of my funks, but he's fighting off a cold and had a crappy night sleep so his humor reserves were at a low.

I tried. I really did. I went to the gym first thing in the hopes of having endorphins help me out. I made a good breakfast: spinach sauteed in garlic and olive oil, egg cracked on top then sprinkled with feta accompanied by multigrain toast and strong coffee. We took the kids to see a planetarium show about the stars in ancient Egypt. I even wore the cheerful socks my sister gave me for Christmas:
But no go. Gloom still permeated the air. I decided it was time for some Sticky Toffee Pudding Therapy. Brian has never had Sticky Toffee Pudding which was everywhere you turned in England when I was there one winter in the early '90s. I figure that the English know something about gloom and how to treat it. Bring on the toffee!

It helps that it is a pretty simple recipe. The only "specialized" ingredient is the heavy cream for the caramel sauce. I made it in a loaf pan because as I accurately predicted, my freaky kids wouldn't eat it, so I halved the recipe (which would normally make an 8 inch square steamed pudding).

Sticky

Stickier
Stickiest

After devouring one piece, Brian looked up at me with the first sign of a smile I'd seen all day and asked: "How sick would we be if we ate the whole thing?"


Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake
serves 4-6 people, depending on gloom levels
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Pudding cake
2 T butter melted
1/2 C plus 2 T unbleached all purpose flour
4 oz whole pitted dates, cut into 1/4 inch dice
a little less than a 1/2 C warm water
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
a little less than 1/2 C of dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla

Toffee sauce
2 T butter
1/2 C packed dark brown sugar
1/4 t salt
1/2 C heavy cream

Pudding cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 4x8 inch loaf pan.
  2. Combine half of the dates with the warm water and baking soda and soak for 5 minutes.
  3. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl.
  4. Bring a kettle of water to boil.
  5. Process other half of the dates and the brown sugar in a food processor until it looks like damp sand, 45 seconds. Drain soaked dates--save the liquid, but set the dates aside. Add soaking liquid to the food processor. Add egg, vanilla and melted butter and process until smooth, 15 seconds.
  6. Plop wet stuff from food processor on top of the dry stuff in your bowl and sprinkle the softened dates on top.
  7. With a spatula, fold wet into dry until just combined and date pieces are distributed. Spread batter into prepared loaf pan. Put loaf pan in a bigger pan and pour boiling water in the bigger pan until it is about 1/4 inch deep. Cover the whole thing tightly with aluminum foil so the pudding cake will steam inside.
  8. Bake for 40 minutes until puffed and springy.
  9. Flip cake out onto serving platter.
  10. Take a toothpick and stab holes in it for the toffee sauce to seep into (very therapeutic!) Spread about 1/4 of the sauce and let soak in. Do it again.
  11. Cut into squares (or rectangles) and top each serving with more toffee sauce.
Toffee Sauce:
  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in brown sugar and salt until smooth. Continue to cook until sugar is dissolved and slightly darkened, whisk occasionally (about 4 minutes).
  2. Add 1/4 C cream and stir until smooth. Pour in remaining cream and whisk. Reduce heat to low and simmer until frothy, about 3 minutes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas meats

I left it until the last minute, but today, on Christmas Eve, I started (and finished) a revision of the decorations to Brian's stocking. Some folks who've been reading this blog waaaay toooo long may have a vague memory of our personalized stockings. Fiona's robot decorated stocking is pictured here. Mine has a pile of books; Ian's has a train. And Brian's used to have an assortment of cheeses. But cheese just wasn't right (I think it was just the first word that popped into his head when I asked him what he wanted on his stocking. It could very well have been "pontoon" on a different day.) Don't get me wrong, Brian likes cheese just fine, but he does not fetishize cheese the way he does meat. This is a man who has a "wall of meat" display of weird meat-related items next to his desk at work.

Here's a close up of the meats:
Ham, bacon and sausage (with fluorescent mustard) in a roll. The sausage was by far the hardest to pull off. The meat-man gave an appreciative nod of approval to the alterations.

And today, poking around at the Vault of Midnight, I found the perfect item to stuff in said stocking:
It looks revolting, but will be warmly appreciated.

When it comes to real meat, tomorrow I'll be making a prune stuffed pork loin for Christmas dinner, loosely based on this recipe.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The annual granola factory

It's a good thing I got my fun baking done last week because this week, the granola factory has been churning along:
This year's variety: Cherry Cranberry Granola

Here are the bags, all lined up and ready to go.
We're dropping them off a day early since 7-11 inches (!!) of snow are forecast for tonight and my guess is the last day of school before the break will be canceled. I do not need 10 pounds of granola sitting in the house waiting for school to start up again in January!

And yes, I did mention fun baking at the beginning of the post. On Saturday I attended my first cookie exchange with the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers. Patti hosted us (again!) and I have to say, the selection of cookies way exceeded my expectations:
Now that is a groaning table of bounty!

I made the cookies on the three goofy floral plates at the lower center of the photo: chocolate chocolate chip shortbread, mini mince pies and cranberry orange shortbread.

Want a closer look? (Of course you do!)
There were mincemeat spirals, date nut spirals, Italian wedding cookies, chocolate espresso cookies, chocolate biscotti, chocolate chip with coconut cookies, ginger snaps, jam thumbprint cookies, gingerbread mittens, pistachio bars, ginger cookies with candied ginger, homemade toffees and truffles and probably a few others that I'm forgetting.

Whew! And it's funny thing, but there aren't very many left from the heaped up container I brought home. Fiona gobbled up the ginger snaps and gingerbread, I appropriated the Italian wedding cookies and anything with mincemeat, and Brian has been coming to bed with chocolate and nuts on his breath (Ian thought they all looked too scary. Sigh.) So I might have to do a bit more fun holiday baking to get us through until Christmas, especially if the 7-11 inches of snow trap us in each other's company with no escape. Butter, sugar, chocolate and spices are almost as good as therapy in such a situation.

Monday, December 15, 2008

How does anyone get any work done?

These days, my brain is completely preoccupied with a) anxiety about the auto industry and b) the chaos of the holiday season.

Book? What book? I'm supposed to be writing a book?

The task of sitting down and spinning ideas into reasonably comprehensible prose seems even more impossible with the lack of sunlight, short days and hostile weather. It has felt much colder than usual--this Saturday I made the boy critter walk with me to the Farmer's Market when it was 18 degrees out. We got down there, got our 2 dozen eggs and we were about 1/2 a mile from home when I felt like I was ready to give up (the boy was fine, having fun kicking chunks of ice). I whimpered for the remainder of the march, then came home and sat in the tub until my thighs defrosted.

So that does it. I'm taking a break from the book; maybe once the holiday piano recital, the school multicultural fair and other holiday get togethers are over I can contemplate having enough of my brain back to devote time to my characters. But right now, it is dopey to keep fighting an uphill battle and making work that has been a wonderful pleasure into a chore.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The problem with peanut sauce....

....is that it looks like someone barfed on your food.

Despite this unpleasant aesthetic reality, I ate three bowls of the pictured (barfy-looking) goodness last week. Brian was off on a work trip and that meant I got to do some more single-girl cooking. I chucked bean and cheese quesadillas at the critters more times than I care to count, and then assembled the big bowl of brown rice, steamed vegetables and tofu topped with tasty but ugly peanut sauce for myself. I layered raw spinach on the bottom, then hot brown rice (which wilts the spinach a little) and then the cut up steamed zucchini, red pepper, broccoli, green and yellow beans, carrots and tofu cubes. Then a few glops of barf-sauce and ta da! Dinner!

Here's my master recipe. I know that it's hard to crave something so completely un-photogenic, but I'm thinking that keeping a container of this peanut sauce, along with my favorite tahini lemon sauce, ready in the fridge at all times would be a good idea.

Peanut Sauce

1/2 C peanut butter (I like chunky, though it makes the sauce look even more like barf)
1 T soy sauce
2 T brown sugar
juice of 1 lime
1/2 C coconut milk
1/2 C water
1 large clove pressed garlic
about 2 inch knob of ginger, grated (microplane does a great job with it)
2 T fish sauce (optional) or add a little more soy sauce

Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat. Whisk to combine all the elements until the sauce bubble and thickens. Can be served hot or cold.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Thirds

Yum yum.

I'm giving a big old brain-burp now after a week of binge reading my way through two helpings of thirds in two series of books by two of my favorite authors. Follow that?

First I finished Inkdeath, the last book in Cornelia Funke's Inkheart trilogy.

This was one of the most fun books I've read this year; it isn't stand alone, but it was a rollicking good read as the culmination of the (significant) amount of time I've spent in Inkworld. Most of all it fulfilled my appetite for the characters and I think I'm ready to let them go, not because I'm bored with them, but because I like where they are and don't feel a perpetual need to know what happens next. Funke did leave herself an opening for another book, but not in a cliff-hanger way: the meddlesome Orpheus disappears into the northern forest, but he isn't dead and could make a reappearance.

I've read some criticism that the character Meggie is more passive in this book, which is true, but I always thought of Mo as the main character of the series, not Meggie. I liked how his wife, Resa, finally got to play a significant role in the adventure. Also there were plenty of meta fiction references to how adventure and fantasy books are traditionally written (such as when Meggie comments on how Finoglio never lets his women characters do anything in his books) which seemed to be playing with and winking at narrative convention.

Then this past weekend I gobbled up When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson*. This is the third book that has featured Jackson Brodie, a not-always-competent private investigator. While there are crimes committed and investigations mounted, these books are not traditional detective fiction. When the crimes are solved, it doesn't feel like the culmination of the novel; rather it is the characters and their growth and development, their struggles to overcome their pasts and attempts to live relatively moral lives in the present which capture our attention most fully.

And despite loads of traumas and injuries endured by all the main characters, the humor is dark and biting and feels so right. You can feel the author's pleasure when she makes some of the jokes (the Yorkshire town of Hawes is repeatedly misheard as "whores"--soften your "rs" and read both words with your best British accent) and there are loads of little digs buried in the text: sing-song nursery rhymes and bits of Virgil coexist and twist their way into the plot. I think I could easily read the book again just to decipher all the hidden bits that are embeded in the text.

But I'll put that off for the moment. After two helpings of thirds, I'm a wee bit full.

*If you'd like to read the first few pages of the book to get a feel for the tone and see if it is to your taste, the NYTimes kindly published an excerpt here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Longhand

One of the reactions I had to the outcome of the election was to have trouble sitting at my computer. For the past year I sat here following all the twists and turns of the primary, tearing my hair out at the idiocy of the Michigan Democratic Party. And then from the conventions to the election I entered a new level of dependence on my computer, spending waaaay toooo much time anxiously trying to keep the reality of Sarah Palin (aka the puppy skinner) from knocking me flat on my ass. I scoured the internet looking for anything with a glimmer of hope, reading and rereading reports that would (hopefully) assuage my anxiety. Oh sure I did some fiction writing too, but the stiffness in my fingers could not be attibuted primarily to story output, but to a personal/political anxiety problem.

Perhaps it is not that surprising that I feel like I've expended a whole lot of mental energy while sitting in one place and wouldn't mind a wee change of scene.

In the week following the election, I printed out my current draft of my novel and went elsewhere to work on it. I write on a desktop, not a laptop, so this meant going longhand. And before you feel pity for me being the last person on the planet who is not mobile with her technology, I have to tell you something:

I really enjoyed it.

It was fun marking up my draft and making little sloppy stars to show where to insert new text and then writing that text on old spiral bound notebooks with a leaky blue ball point pen. It reminded me of how I used to write when I was less computer dependent, not that I've ever really been computer-free. My mom was a grad student in computer science way back in the '70s so I used to do craft projects with old punch cards and we had computers in our home way before they were being marketed in home electronics stores (anyone care for a game of Pong?). I learned about 6 different word processing programs before I graduated from High School, by which time most of them had started to look and behave similarly. Anyway, I've never written totally longhand or with a typewriter, but I used to do a much more significant portion of my writing with a pen.

My handwriting is worse than ever and I don't even remember how to form most of the cursive alphabet (which the boy critter thinks is hil-ar-i-ous since he's learning cursive in school now) and my hand got a little cramp in it for the first week from holding the pen too tightly, but I feel like I accessed a dormant-ish part of my brain and, considering that I'm writing a novel for kids, it feels like a good thing to go back in one small way to a way I wrote when I was younger.

Reading what I've written from start to finish and not letting myself go back to the computer until I had worked my way through the entire draft and written about 30 more longhand pages to add to it, made my novel seem more whole and real and alive to me than it ever has. Maybe I've reached that crucial word threshold where I feel like I can see the whole book. I'd estimate I'm a little more than a third done, but have the whole book pretty decently organized and some chapters written for each of the 7 major parts of the plot.

So today, having had a good long break from excessive-obsessive computer usage, with my newly fattened draft (though a lot of crappy bits were cut in the edit, the process as a whole was still a significant weight gain), I started a different form of organization: I created a spread sheet that tracks the book scene by scene. I tried this earlier in the draft and just didn't have enough to make it work. But now I'm loving the fact that I can enter in scenes that I know need to be written and haven't written yet--helpfully highlighted in the spreadsheet with yellow--between once sentence summaries of the scenes that are already written. It feels like I'm making a terrific, fun To-Do list. If I wake up dull and blah in the cold December morning and can't get writing, instead of (or in addition to) dosing the hell out of myself with yet another strong cup of Ethopian Natural Sidamo Mighty Good Coffee, I can open the spread sheet and decide which yellow scene I feel like writing that day.

And once I add another 20,000 words or so, I'll be stepping back from the computer and doing another longhand edit.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A bowl of warmth

It was 19 degrees F outside this morning when the critters and I went on our walk to the Farmer's Market. We go every Saturday morning, partly because I like the ritual, and partly because the boy has a piano lesson later in the morning and if we don't get him some exercise before it, then he! bounces! off! the! walls! and has trouble concentrating on the music. It's about 1 mile each way from our house and that is sufficient to get the spazz out (well, most days...)

There isn't as much to buy in the winter, though we usually still pick up a dozen eggs, some cider, and maybe some hoop-house spinach. And the kids each get a cookie--the kind I don't make at home with frosting and sprinkles--as a reward. I'm kind of amazed that they are always game to go on this forced march with me (they even went last week when there was horizontal sleet hitting us in the face!) but I guess dangling a crappy cookie in front of them does wonders in the motivation department.

So now that we have established that it is cold outside but that we must go out in it, the project becomes making warming foods as a reward for those of us not motivated by crappy cookies. Soup is always good, but I have a new favorite warming dish of late:
It may just look like pasta with a meaty sauce, but look a little closer. There's ground lamb in there, and cubes of soft roasted eggplant, and some of those slow roasted tomatoes I made last summer. There is a tangy garlic-yogurt-mint sauce to offset the richness. And then, my favorite and the feature that makes the recipe over-the-top-comforting: some browned butter poured over the top.

This tasted really good served with a plain spinach salad with a sharp vinaigrette, but I can also imagine making a big bowl of this and just curling up on the couch with it while reading a good book, or watching a decent movie.

I adapted this from a recipe in the NYTimes that describes itself as deconstructed Turkish dumplings. I've never had Turkish dumplings but now I would like to try them!

Warmth-in-a-bowl

1 large or 2 small eggplants, about 1 pound, in 1/2 -inch cubes
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, more to taste
3 fat garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1 pound ground lamb
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 t dried dill
1 C canned diced tomatoes (drained) or your own slow roasted tomatoes, if you have them
1/2 pound bowtie pasta (I made it with bowtie the first time and the corkscrew noodles pictured above the second and kind of prefer the bowties)
2 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, to taste
1 cup plain yogurt, set in a towel lined sieve to drain for about 1/2 an hour (or use about 2/3 C Greek yogurt)
1/2 C chopped fresh mint (optional, but good)

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bring a pot of water to boil for pasta.
  2. Toss eggplant with 2 tablespoons oil and a large pinch of salt. Spread on a baking sheet, making sure there is room between pieces, and roast until crisp and brown, stirring a couple of times, 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. In a large skillet, heat remaining tablespoon oil. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and the onion and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add lamb and sauté until lamb is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain off excess fat (after all, you will be dumping butter over the resulting dish...) Then add 1/2 teaspoon salt, red pepper flakes, dill and black pepper to taste. Stir eggplant and tomatoes into lamb. Taste and adjust seasonings--you may need more salt.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together yogurt, remaining garlic, chopped mint and a pinch of salt. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  5. When pasta is almost done, in a small saucepan, melt butter: the amount is to your taste (at least 1 T per serving). Let cook until it turns golden brown and smells nutty (about 5 minutes) but be careful not to burn it.
  6. Drain pasta and spread on a serving platter. Top with lamb-eggplant-tomato mixture, then with yogurt sauce. Pour melted butter over top. Sprinkle on additional red pepper and more mint or dill, if you like. Serve immediately.

Friday, November 14, 2008

5 stupid things I regularly do in the kitchen

I'm starting a new meme! My not-so-little internal self-critical voice is being more chatty than usual lately, so I though it was time to share:

5 Stupid Things I Regularly Do in the Kitchen
  1. Use a metal knife to pry bagels out of the toaster.
  2. Boil stuff over. Particularly beets because the magenta juice is fun to clean off of a white stove top.
  3. Yell at my kids to get their own damn snacks and then realize I've put all of the possible foods out of reach on the top shelves of the cabinets. They can either stack chairs to reach them or they are left with dried beans, rice and flour that they can munch on. Yummy!
  4. Forget to use my potted herbs that sit in the window behind the sink. My rosemary is turning into a shrub and I don't think I've remembered to use it in the past 6 months. I made roast chicken and potatoes last week and forgot--again--to snip off a little. I think I need to equip my herbs with microphones so they can yell at me. And brains. And mouths...
  5. Blame the fridge-that-I-hate for my poor memory and habit of letting vegetables in the crisper liquefy before I remember they are there. I'm sure that one of the $1500+ fridges-that-I-covet-and-will-never-own would poke me or something before the scallions turn to slime.

So please, to the 5 people listed below, help me feel that I am not alone and share with me some of the stupid shit you chew yourself out about, and yet continue to do:

Teacher Patti at Teacher in the Hood
one (or all!) of the lovely ladies at Gastronomical Three
Mom at Mother's Kitchen
Ed, at Vacuum
Jen, at A2eatwrite

Thursday, November 13, 2008

out of the mouth of my surly babe

I promise I'll stop talking about the election soon. But first I must report this conversation between Fiona and her Granny Jan:

Scene: a small girl and her Granny are driving in the car. On the side of the road, they see someone walking a dalmatian dog.

Granny: Fiona, see the dalmatian? Does that make you think of the 101 Dalmatians movie?

Fiona: I don't like that movie.

Granny: Why not?

Fiona: Because Cruella De Vil wants to take the skins off the puppies and make a coat out of them.

Granny: That is a really mean thing to do. Really nasty.

Fiona: I bet Sarah Palin would do that.

(Granny has to concentrate hard to keep the car on the road because she is laughing so hard.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yea!

Yea! And we get a puppy too!

What?

Only Malia and Sasha get the puppy?

Oh.

But Yea Anyway!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Yesterday Fiona and I made a load and a half of these black cat cookies for school parties:
Then in the evening I recovered from the sugar haze in the air by making two of my favorite Indian spiced dishes, one an old favorite and one brand new (apologies for the quality of the photos--we started gobbling before I remembered the camera).

The main course was a chicken dish that I can't believe I haven't posted here before. It's one of the dishes I learned along with the terrific biryani rice in the Indian cooking class I took in 2005.
The sauce has a richness that I've only tasted in restaurant Indian dishes, but there is no cream, not even ghee in it. It is the layering of spices that makes it so good. It is cooked up with potatoes; the original recipe calls for 2 medium potatoes but I recommend more, something closer to 4. I had some nice little fingerlings so substituted these and kept the skins on.

One of the coolest things is that despite the fact that the chicken is highly spiced, it is cooked with its skin on and I was able to pull a couple of pieces out, peel off the skin and pull it off the bone and both kids ate it. Neither had a clue that the sauce covered stuff on my plate was the exact same food as what they were consuming. True, Ian dunked his in honey mustard so he probably couldn't taste any of the spices, but Fiona chowed hers down without a blink. Score one for mom!

The vegetable side dish is Spaghetti Squash with Indian Spices out of this month's issue of Fine Cooking and I probably would have overlooked it if two friends, Lea and Sarah, hadn't raved about it. I got to taste Sarah's version and became very territorial of the bowl, circling around it on the buffet and swooping in for seconds as soon as everyone had their first serving.
I've never had spaghetti squash this good--onion, ginger and garlic are the base flavors. There are mustard and cumin seeds that provide little pops of flavor and tomato and cilantro to brighten it up. Oh, and there is also 3 T of butter in there...I'm sure it could be removed without much effect, but it does make this dish feel decadent and a little less virtuous (in a fun way!)

So without further blathering, here are the recipes:

Chicken Curry with Potatoes
by Bhanu Hajratwala

serves 4-6

2 lbs chicken, cut up in pieces
1/3 C oil
8 whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks, approximately 2 inches long each
8 whole cardamoms
8 curry leaves (get them at Indian grocery stores--then dry some, they are better fresh but ok dried and much more convenient)
1 large onion, chopped
2 T fresh masala (chop together about a 1 inch piece of peeled ginger, two big cloves of garlic, 1 chili, about 1/2 t turmeric and a squeeze of lemon juice--I make this in big batches blended together with some canola oil in the food processor and freeze it in 2 T sized portions so it is always ready to go--it is an excellent flavoring base for daal too.)
1 t red chili pepper powder
1/2 t turmeric powder
2 t salt
2 C water
2-4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered (or use and equivalent quantity of skin-on fingerlings, cut in half lengthwise)
1 medium tomato, diced
2 T Garam Masala
2 T chopped cilantro

  1. Heat oil with cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamoms and curry leaves till lightly brown.
  2. Add the onion and saute at medium heat until lightly brown (approx 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes).
  3. Add the Fresh Masala, chili powder, turmeric and salt. Cook for a further 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add the chicken, stir well, and cook covered until the chicken is no longer pink on the outside.
  5. Add the water to cover the chicken and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the potatoes and tomatoes and cook covered until the potatoes and chicken are done (aproximately 20 minutes).
  7. Remove from the heat. Add Garam Masala and chopped cilantro.
  8. Serve with any Indian bread or rice.

Spaghetti Squash with Indian Spices

from Fine Cooking, October/November 2008

serves 4-6

1 small spaghetti squash (about 3 lbs)
1 T vegetable oil
1 t brown mustard seeds
3 T unsalted butter
1/2 C finely chopped onion
2 t minced ginger
2 t minced garlic
1 t cumin seeds
1/2 t ground coriander
1/2 C chopped tomato
1 small serrano chili, seeded and minced
kosher salt
1/2 C coarsely chopped cilantro

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Halve the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Set the squash halves cut side down on a heavy duty rimmed baking sheet, and bake until strands of flesh separate easily when raked with a fork, about 45 minutes.
  2. Set the squash halves aside until coole nough to handle. Use a fork to rake the cooked squash into strands.
  3. In 10-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium hot heat until hot. Add the mustard seeds and cover. The seeds will start popping; cook until the popping subsides, about 1 minute.
  4. Uncover, reduce the head and add the butter. As soon as it melts. add the onion, ginger, garlic, cumin seeds and ground coriander and cook until the onion softens, about 3 minutes. Add the tomato, chili and 1.5 t salt, stirring, until the tomato beins to soften and the chili is fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  5. Increase the heat to medium high and add the squash to the skillet. Toss with tongs to distribute spices and heat through, 1-3 minutes. Toss in the cilantro and taste to see if you want a little more salt.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

7 random food facts

Mother's Kitchen tagged me for a meme of 7 random (food) facts about me. Here goes:
  1. I dislike intensely two words often found in food writing "toothsome" and "veggies". Not sure why, but they both make my skin crawl (or in the case of "toothsome", my teeth itch).
  2. I often pick an entree at a restaurant based on the sides. In fact, I care a lot more about sides than main courses which I often think of as pain-in-the-ass necessities for blood sugar stability. I love the fact that in a lot of southern BBQ joints you can get a plate of sides and skip the meat (collards or mustard greens, slow cooked green beans with bacon, coleslaw, baked beans, mac and cheese and some sort of corn--creamed, fried, cob).
  3. I have a salt tooth more than a sweet tooth. I like to bake deserts more than eat them which has probably increased my welcome at a number of sweet-toothed people's houses. Not that you won't see me indulging in cookies/cakes/pies, etc. but I don't really crave them and rarely binge on them. Potato chips, olives, and pickles are another story entirely.
  4. I learned to cook as a defensive measure because my mother is British. She has many gifts but the kitchen is not the arena for displaying them. Thanks to her though, I have a pretty decent fake British accent and my kids make me use it to read Harry Potter out loud to them.
  5. I presently subscribe to three cooking magazines (Gourmet, Food and Wine and Cook's Illustrated). At times in the past I have subscribed to 6 at a time, but I had trouble keeping up. Of course, I am thinking of asking for a Fine Cooking subscription for Christmas...
  6. My favorite food? A good salad. Really.
  7. I've bitched about it enough here that most people already know this, but my punishment for gluttony is having two kids who are suspicious at best when it comes to eating. When I think about the foods I enjoyed when I was their age (green bean and sweet potato tempura, curry, pomegranates, beets, SALAD!) that my kids would never put in their mouths, it makes me want to tear my hair out. I know, there are plenty of people who outgrow their kid-palate and I live in hope of the day I can share my pleasure in food and cooking with one of them.
Tag, you're it!:

Ed at Vacuum
Stella at so beautiful and so ordinary...
Jen at A2eatwrite

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cool stuff

Random cool stuff:
  • Last.fm radio You type in the name of a musician or group you like and it makes a station with similar artists that you can listen to on-line. This has to be the best way to find new music that suits your particular tastes. This morning I've been listening to a station that branches out from the band Fleet Foxes.
  • Little paper zombies craft for Halloween decorating. I made two of these last night while watching crap tv.
  • New favorite breakfast. Thankfully I still have a load of kale in the garden (and I make this in its most basic form because usually my coffee hasn't quite kicked in yet).
  • There is a sequel to one of my recent favorite children's books, Toys Go Out. I'm looking forward to laying my hands on Toy Dance Party.
  • Purple cauliflower (and cabbage) from the farmer's market. The girl critter picked out the cauliflower and may even agree to eat some of it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

snort!

The critter thought it was fun. When I told him that today wasn't a test day and he'd have to wait until Thursday, he gave a big sigh of disappointment. Yet again, I am left scratching my head.

I had another head-scratching moment today in relation to my vegetable garden. I think I've mentioned how disappointing my garden has been this year: 3 of the tomatoes got wilt and 2 got the bottom rotting fungus, beans died, cucumber withered, lettuce was nibbled by cute baby bunnies, spinach bolted, zucchini plants flowered then turned yellow and died, carrots stayed stumpy and barely edible, need I go on? The only vegetables I got enough of were arugula, kale, peas, scallions and basil. So I've decided to get a farm share next year and just plant fun stuff in the garden--pumpkins, potatoes, peas, (only vegetables that start with the letter P?), stuff that we never can have too much of and that won't impact our diet too much if they fail.

With such a track record of plant death and destruction, when I saw one of the few surviving tomato plants dropping its tomatoes before they turned red I assumed it was another failure and my thumb was turning a fine shade of black.
Only today I remembered that I had planted a yellow tomato plant and they were falling off the vine because they are ripe. Snort!

Monday, October 13, 2008

The MEAP tip toe

Tomorrow my oldest critter takes his first standardized test. Sigh.

A friend whose son goes to another Ann Arbor public school, one that is really well regarded and not a struggling school by any stretch of the imagination, told me that they started MEAP prep in the second half of 2nd grade and that her son's teacher had to cut the dinosaur unit from their curriculum in order to get in enough test prep. This just breaks my heart (she was very disappointed about this too).

In her weekly note last week, the Principal at my son's school wrote a strong statement about how standardized tests are contrary to the holistic program at the school but that, darn it, the kids have to take the thing. The preparation for the test consisted of showing the kids a sample test a couple of weeks ago and telling them to get a good night sleep and eat a good breakfast. I'm trying to take a similarly resigned-but-supportive attitude, but since my kid is a lousy sleeper and eater, I gotta admit that I do feel a little tense.

So I'm doing what I can and am churning out batches of mini banana chocolate chip muffins (without the ground almonds and with soy instead of cow milk to accommodate allergies) for the kids to snack on between testing blocks.
So hey, my house smells great and for all I know, my kid is quirky enough to think that the test is fun!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Heh heh heh

I'm feeling good this morning after hearing that McCain has given up on Michigan. And my sister sent me this link to a hysterical Sarah Silverman video about the election called The Great Schlep. My favorite moment in it? When she compares "Yo!" and "Oy!" because Jews read from right to left.

And lowering my political anxiety means that I'm not expending a nutso amount of energy worrying and can instead focus on writing and food and some knitting. So here's an update:

WRITING
The writing is still going really well. It's pretty cool to sit down each day and be able to see and feel the shape of the whole book--it's like the book is a crossword puzzle I know I can complete, and I just have to keep plugging away and filling in the little boxes. Except that makes it sound tedious and it is actually really fun. I'm also fleshing out some of the supporting characters and liking them more and more as they develop.

FOOD
On the cooking front, I have a few plans. I have to try this recipe for Deconstructed Turkish Dumplings that was in the NYTimes food section recently. And there is another NYTimes recipe for Zucchini Egg Lemon Soup that I want to make before zucchini season is over. If I make it with yellow summer squash I might even be able to trick the small critter (who loves basic Avgolemeno soup) into eating it.

I'm also going through a little Korean food phase right now. This was triggered by a visit to the improbably named JC Rich restaurant. JC Rich is where Steve's Lunch used to be, but unlike Steve's, where you could get diner food like eggs and hash browns in addition to Korean food, JC Rich is all Korean. It is a happy discovery in the cheap/campus Korean category; far better than the (also deceptively named) Coffee Break Korean restaurant a few doors down on South University.

(I just did a little Googling and apparently the JC in the name stands for Jesus Christ. And someone noted that there are Korean translated bibles next to the salt shakers. Frankly, I was too busy woofing down the food to notice or care.)

Next time I go, I'll bring my camera. Brian and I went there on our gym/date night and I got my favorite, Dolsot Bi Bim Bop (Brian had spicy squid) and I thought it was really good--there was a wider variety of vegetables than you usually get at the cheap places (shitake mushrooms, spinach, cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts) to mix with the egg and beef. It came with little banchan portions of bean sprouts, pickled daikon and turnip kim chi that they refilled often. The portions were insane and if I had got regular Bi Bim Bop I might have eaten less (that is to say, a reasonable amount), but I love the crunchy rice crust that forms on the bottom of the stone bowl and so I ate my way to get to it. That's my excuse for gluttony and I'm sticking with it.

You'd think that eating so much would satiate my appetite for Korean but you'd be wrong! This week I made a trip to Manna International Foods/Korean grocery (on Broadway) and bought some supplies for home treats--a quantity of fresh kim chi (I love seeing the gallon sized jars in their coolers), mung bean pancake mix, some thin sliced beef for bulgogi and lovely vermicelli noodles for Chap Chae, which I haven't made in way too long. I have a quantity of scallions that are finally ready from my garden so I've been making kim chi scallion pancakes at every opportunity--I even had them for breakfast this morning and they go well with black coffee.

KNITTING
And knitting wise, I'm working my way up the sleeves for my Urban Aran. I've added a half-hour of knitting time to my week by signing the smaller critter up for a Little Ninja's Karate class. And the smartest thing I have done with this sweater is knitting the two cardigan fronts and the two sleeves at the same time. It is totally worth the hassle of untangling the double balls of yarn not to have to remember the changes I inevitably end up making to the pattern when working on the second sleeve or front. This may be the first really symmetrical sweater I knit...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Crisis

I wasted a whole lot of writing time this week with a big old crisis of confidence. On Tuesday I convinced myself that I didn't like my main character and needed to make her more spirited and less cautious and that had a ripple effect all the way down. If she was confident, then all the people around her would have to change and her entire journey over the course of the novel would change. And that left me with what? Maybe just a concept?

For my fellow dweebs out there, just think of if Tolkien had decided that Boromir actually did get to carry the ring instead of Frodo. Different book, eh?

So I spent a chunk of Wednesday moping about and feeling bad about all the effort I'd put in so far. I revised my supporting documents which track my heroine's journey and rewrote my character sketches and remembered how one of my favorite profs from undergrad said that editing your own writing sometimes feels like you are "slaughtering your little darlings" and what a sucky a feeling that was.

I didn't get to write on Thursday because the small critter had a day-long field trip that I helped out on. And not writing was probably the smartest thing I could do--take a flipping break and get a little distance from my crisis.

Today I went back and decided to just read what I had written so far. No writing expectation, just a chance to see if my Tuesday freak out was justified or not. And it is with a big sigh of relief that I can say that my crisis of confidence was not warranted--I like my main character the way she is and while I'm sure I'll be doing some severe editing in the weeks and months to come, I don't have to slaughter this little darling just yet.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The tahini devotee

I think I might be kind of sick of humus. I used to eat it voraciously and while I appreciate its blood-sugar-level stabilizing effect, it has started tasting a little pasty to me. Or maybe I just ate too much not-so-good industrial humus rather than the stuff we get in Dearborn and have dubbed "white velvet." But even my homemade stuff hasn't pleased me of late.

But not to worry. I have something even simpler that I'm presently eating in great quantities: tahini lemon sauce (pictured above drizzled over roasted cauliflower and rice).

I think I need to keep a container of this tahini sauce around, sort of like the way I always have a jar of mayo in the fridge. It would be terrific tossed over some diced tomatoes, cucumbers and minced parsley and mint. It would taste mighty fine on a roast beef sandwich. If you happen to have some spare falafel or kofte around, serve them with this. It would probably be an awesome topping to a pile of sauteed tofu and asparagus. And you could dip carrots in it when feeling peckish (excuse me for a moment while I go get some carrots and the leftover tahini sauce. Ah. Now. That's better.)

The roast cauliflower with tahini sauce can be found in many Lebanese restaurants, though whenever I've ordered it the cauliflower has been deep fried (no batter--just golden brown all over). If deep frying doesn't seem like a pain in the butt to you, be my guest! But if you are somewhat fearful of boiling cauldrons of oil (like me!) the roasting route is far easier and does a pretty good job in sweetening up the cauliflower and tempering the strong cabbagey flavor that some people find off-putting. You probably already know that plain roast cauliflower is pretty terrific, but give the sauce a try and, like me, you might get hooked. As soon as the florettes come out of the oven, I'm snatching them off the roasting pan, dunking them in the sauce and risking burning my tongue--the combo is that good. If you don't like the white on white coloring, feel free to sprinkle with a little chopped parsley or mint and maybe a sprinkle of sumac or paprika for snazz.

Tahini Lemon Sauce

1/2 C tahini
1/2 C hot water
juice of one juicy lemon (3T maybe?)
1 small garlic clove
1/2 t salt

Puree together in a blender. That's it!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

BAM!

I sat down at the computer shortly after dropping the critters off at school and just about when I was opening the documents that house my novel I heard: BAM! BAM! BAM!

My office is about 10 feet from the street where they were DROPPING a huge METAL thingy to BREAK up the STREET surface. The impact was also rattling the glass in my windows, and, truth be told, rattling my brain.

So I closed the documents and decided that the city of Ann Arbor road crew was telling me not to write today. Not that I usually check with the road crews to decide whether it is a providential day for creative expression, but it was pretty clear that today wasn't.

But hey, it gave me an excuse to go to the Farmer's Market and there I discovered that it is the time of year when farmers pretty much pay you to take their tomatoes. I bought all these romas for slow roasting for $5:
That's pretty nutty.

I also picked up some prune plums, courtland apples, and zucchini.

I've never made slow roasted tomatoes, but as it takes about 9 hours, I should have some for sampling shortly after I put the critters to bed. I'm thinking some tomatoes, a baguette, some shavings of Parmesan and a glass of wine will be my companions this evening (Brian is off on a work trip this week).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Be gone, Steam Fangs and Flack Gobbler

It has been a long time since I read a piece by Anne Lamott (her last piece in Salon was in March 2007), but the woman got me through many a rocky parenting time, particularly in the early days, with her book Operating Instructions.

And now she has written what feels like the wisest thing I have read about the coming election.

Steam Fangs and Flack Gobbler (the names of the candidates who I do not support after, as Anne Lamott suggests, running their names through the the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator) can get the hell out of my nightmares--I kid you not--I was up at 3 am the other night freaking out about Flack Gobbler.

I really hope that the folks running the Obama campaign, and the candidate himself, read her piece because it gave me a blast of good karma energy and hope that I'm thinking they could use a little dose of right about now.

And now I'm going to follow up with at least a little bit of Anne's prescription--drink some water, eat the bar of chocolate, and get the damn lawn sign put up.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Diana's Beans n' Greens

The Lady Food Bloggers got together again and the plate of bounty runneth'ed over:
From top to bottom(left to right)--Emily's baguette with artichoke dip, Cindy's homemade pickles, Cheryl's chickpeas, Patti's mac and cheese, Maggie's wild rice, heart nut and peach salad, Diana's beans n' greens, and Sarah's summer squash and pasta. And not pictured are: our host Shayne's pitcher of minty mojitos and all the fixings for pizzas on the grill, Stephanie's chocolate beet cake, Alex's raspberry mascarpone tart, Cindy's peach pie, and my cucumber feta dip with pita chips. Whew! (I think I got all that in...forgive me ladies if I missed anything, the blurr of good food may have anesthetized my brain!)

I'm proud of my will power because despite the lusciousness of the raspberry tart and its proximity to my side of the table, I didn't scarf it all down and leave none for anyone else. Instead, I ended up stuffing myself silly on Diana's beans 'n greens--one of the healthiest dishes at the potluck! Diana's beans 'n greens uses fennel (both the fresh bulb and the seeds) to boost up the flavor profile of a dish that is a cross between a slaw and a bean salad. And it was refreshing in a way that I don't usually associate with beans or with kale.

Diana has blogged about her versions and variations of the beans n' green here.

This weekend I had fun playing with her recipe and this what I ended up putting together from what I could lay my hands on:
I didn't have the wide variety of beans that Diana had (loved the flageolet beans!), nor the lovely color contrast of the red pepper (I substituted some corn kernels that tasted nice, but weren't quite so photogenic.) But even with my alterations, it tasted really good!

Diana's Beans n' Greens
adapted by Kate

4 cups of chopped fresh kale leaves without stems
1 small yellow onion, diced
1/2 large fennel bulb, small dice
2 ears of sweet corn, cooked, kernels cut off (Diana used red pepper which made a nicer visual contrast)
1 can great northern (or other white beans), rinsed well and drained
1 cups black beans, cooked, drained (1/2 C dried)
1 cup pinto beans, cooked and drained (1/2 C dried)

Dressing
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¼ cup water
¼ cup olive oil
1 large clove peeled garlic
1 t salt
1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Toss all vegetables together in a large bowl.
Blend all the dressing ingredients together in a blender.
Add the dressing to the vegetables and toss again.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

A return to fiber

Now that there is some cool air moving back in to my surroundings, I'm willing to immerse myself up to my armpits in woolly goodness again. My serving-as-a-cat-bed for the summer Urban Aran Cardigan has been retrieved from the felines in time for the restarting of my son's piano lessons (also known as my guaranteed one-hour of knitting time.)

And I figure I really should get going on it since there are a bevy of new knitting books at the library that I've requested and will be receiving in the near future. Thanks to Ed, who taught me how to create an RSS feed for any new knitting book that my library enters into its catalog, I get first notice on acquisitions and can get my request in at the front of the line. I usually get the books within a month or two of them being added to the collection.

Coming my way in the near future are:

Boutique Knits





Closely Knit





Inspired to Knit





Knit So Fine





Knitted Critters for Kids to Wear





Continuous Cables




and

Alt Fiber





Based on my judgmental perceptions of the covers, I'd say I'm most attracted to Closely Knit because the sleeve on the cover looks like something I'd wear. I'm guessing that Inspired to Knit and Boutique Knits won't be my cup of tea based on the quantity of lipstick that the cover models are wearing (because you know all about that inverse relationship between lipstick quantity and knitwear wear-ability, right?) Knitted Critters looks promising for the smallest member of our household who pretends to be an animal for most of her waking hours, but the photo on the cover looks like the hat doesn't fit well. One of my pet peeves is the number of kids' hats that sacrifice fit for cuteness. If the hat doesn't stay on, no kid will wear it and thus your effort has been wasted. (I learned this the hard way...) And I don't have much of an opinion on Alt Fiber or Continuous Cables since the pictures of their covers are a little too small for me to make out.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Week 1--lovin' it!

The critters are back at school and I have loved this first week of getting to write every morning.

Both kids seem to have embraced school which reduces the amount of worrying energy I expend and allows me to feel really free once I drop them off at 8:06 AM. Fiona, the extrovert, loves Kindergarten and at the end of the first day hid from me because she didn't want to leave. Ian likes his new teacher and the kids in his class seem kind (a big concern for my son) even though his best friend isn't in his class.

I have found that having three uninterrupted hours five days in a row has allowed me to take a much broader view of my book. I was able to develop significantly the back story of my villain and to work out some kinks in the logic of the world I've set up, both things that eluded me when I was only able to write once a week.

The only thing that has made me a wee bit cranky is the excess of construction noise that is currently going on outside my office window. Our neighborhood has been slated for sidewalk repairs (though individual home owners have to pay for it...grrrr) and this appears to be the week that all my neighbors hired the concrete contractors to come and jack-hammer out the slabs and bring in the big churning mixer. It'll make walking in our neighborhood a damn sight nicer in the long run, but right now I'm wishing I had a pair of ear plugs...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

One of my favorite things...

...from our trip to the UP were the wonderful wild blueberries we found almost everywhere:
though the waves and beach
and cabin in the woods were wonderful too!
While Ian was reading a stack of old Mad Magazines and Brian and Fiona were searching through the mucky bits for frogs (and found a spectacular mutant frog with 5 legs pictured below):
Count them legs, people.

I was sprawled out in the sun, or curled up in front of the fireplace with an excellent book: A Free Life by Ha Jin. Through a man and his family's immigrant experience, the book addresses how freedom sounds great as an abstract concept, but how freedom also means uncertainty and how it is often very scary. (The political wonk in me thought that universal health care would have relieved a great deal of Nan's employment concerns). Nan's struggles and conflicts with the Chinese immigrant community also show how manipulative nationalism and patriotism, whether of the Chinese or American variety, can be. Reading it after a couple of weeks of Beijing Olympics coverage was particularly timely.

The book starts off slow, and truth be told, it took me a long time to get into it. I started the book last January, but didn't get sucked in, so I put it back on the shelf to try again later. I'm glad I came back, because it isn't a showy book: it contains lots of the small events of everyday American life and you come to understand the main character, Nan, by how he responds to the stresses and pressures. At the beginning of the book, I was a little annoyed with how moody and grouchy Nan was, but by the end, I liked and admired the guy because he didn't settle for easy answers or do what other people thought he should be doing. He ended up embodying freedom in his impractical desire to become a poet and the compromises he had to make to achieve this goal. The book ends with "The Poems of Nan Wu" which are lovely and feel sort of like an intimate peek into a guarded character who you have slowly come to know over the course of the book. You can reference the subjects of the poems back to the novel and they show how Nan used his poetry to find meaning in events that were confusing and chaotic when they happened. It was an excellent book to read in a peaceful place where there was time for contemplation and an ample supply of wild blueberries.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Better

Thank you for all the heartening words about the trials of parenting and how it is kinda normal to want to wring the necks of your progeny. Tonight I am drinking:
Pomegranate Cranberry juice with some Pama pomegranate liqueur, a splash of club soda and a whole squeezed lime on ice.

Though yippie and hurrah I am not drinking it because I need to, but because it is nice and refreshing and why not?

Thank god for camp. In particular the camp the kids are going to this week which is run by real adults, not rah-rah college student counselors. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with the rah-rah type camp, but we are not really rah-rah types. Those kind of people usually scare us. We are more the dweeby type and whoooa boy is this camp run by some lovely caring dweebs. My kids are each taking three "enrichment" classes which include Fencing, Baking, Ooey Gooey Chemistry, Little Ninjas (combo of karate and dodge ball from what I've seen), Self Defense for Kids and a math class that provides ample quantities of candy for math problems completed. They come home tired, they come home happy and they come home with interesting stories to tell me about things they learned. Way better than spending time with a pissy guilty mom (though not as cheap of course...)

While they are gone I am getting a blissful taste of what my writing future holds in the near future (school starts Sept 2nd!). I've been so happy to have the kids go to a place where the people are kind and their brains (and bodies) are kept active while I hunker down and work on my novel. This summer has been hard on the writing front and it is now pretty clear to me that some of my frustration with the kids has been frustration with a lack of opportunity for me to write. This book is stewing about in my head a lot of the time and clearly keeping it cooped up in there is not good for my psychic health.

In other obsessive news, I finished reading a lovely children's novel, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. It's an adventure starring four gifted children who together take down an evil genius. While their world is richly imagined and the plot moves quickly, what I particularly liked was how each of the characters demonstrated a different sort of intelligence. If you read any sort of educational theory you come across "multiple intelligences" with "word smart" and "number smart" being the two that are most rewarded in our educational system (just look at any I.Q. test) while "kinesthetic smart" and "interpersonal smart" are less emphasized. This novel shows how none of the children can be successful without the others and thus the acrobatic girl is as valuable a team member as the boy who is a walking dictionary. Even the curious fourth member of the book, Constance, who seems to be grumpy, hungry and tired most of the time, proves to be absolutely key to their team with her intrapersonal intelligence--this is one girl who knows herself! The playful tone of the novel reminded me of Roald Dahl, without as much of his dark side. My kids are a still a bit scared of the cruelty of some of Dahls characters, so this one is a safer bet for a successful read-aloud. And even nicer news for me, there is a sequel!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I don't care what's for dinner...

...because I'm going to eat pie!
The first piece is always messy.

The crust tastes fantastic but is a little fragile. And the peaches (Michigan Red Haven seconds from the farmer's market) slipped down my throat like liquid gold. I don't even remember chewing the first slice which meant I had to have another, right?

The second piece was kinda messy, too.

For once I'm glad my kids don't eat peaches (weirdos!) because that means more pie for me and Brian!

Friday, August 15, 2008

I call it Kate's Coping Strategy

After a day of a lot of effort for zero gratitude, I mixed myself one of these:
vodka, lemon sorbet, splash of orange juice, club soda, lime and a little pomegranate liqueur poured over some ice. Or basically whatever I could lay my hands on that didn't sound disgusting when mixed together.

Then I took it outside and sat on the front step and watched cars go by on Summit St.

The worst thing about being this fed up with the small people inside the house was that I was also too tired to do anything more restorative than have a big old drink. Too tired to go for a walk on a beautiful evening, too tired to call up a friend and go out for some fun/relief, too tired even to listen to the radio, which is pretty pathetic on the tiredness scale.

I think the worst thing about how I feel is the guilt--I feel incredibly guilt that I am not treasuring every moment with my kids, even when they are being little shits. Sometimes I look at my daughter's hand in mine and think "It'll never be this small again--her hand will get bigger and she will get sick of me and I won't have appreciated the moments that she adored me enough." It doesn't help that I have a really sucky memory for reality. I can recount the plot of a book I read ten years ago, I can recite lines from my favorite poem from senior year of high school (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock) but for the life of me, I can't remember a lot of significant stuff about my kids' lives, stuff that Brian or my mom will sometimes refer to and I only dimly know what the hell they are talking about.

So while my kids are being ungrateful little wretches and sucking the energy from the marrow of my bones, I feel guilty. Maybe I'd have more energy if I just felt mad.

Though I must say, I do not feel so guilty that I won't spend the damn money to send them to camp next week so that people who are getting paid will deal with them and I will get some time to write.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Meat-fests

We are lucky to be friends with someone who is intent on reproducing Southern barbecue up here in the northern climes. Thanks to his Southern wife, our friend Brian (yep, my husband Brian's best friend which makes life a wee bit confusing when we get the families together. Luckily my Brian is happy to be called "Crazy Brian" so we can be a little clearer in our conversations) has had ample oportunity to sample the real deal and it is our good fortune that he recently invested in this beauty:
The first meat-fest we were invited to was to try out his smoked pulled pork:
Brian transforming the smoked pork shoulder into "pulled" pork.
Sarah made some luscious Southern slow-cooked green beans with ham hocks, black-eyed peas and a peppy vinegar-hot pepper sauce to go with it. I brought the biscuits which were fine, but we all agreed that a slice of squishy Wonder bread would have been better since that is what you'd get with pulled pork in the South.

The meat was fantastic--smokey, tender, moist. There was not a scrap left at the end of the evening and I felt bad that after sweating over the smoker all day, Brian didn't get to look forward to left-over pulled pork sandwiches the next day. (On a related note, there's a wonderful blog entry about "smork"--smoked pulled pork--here.)

Between meat-fests Sarah, the non-crazy Brian and I did a little research in the form of the "blue plate special" on Thursday nights at Zingerman's Roadhouse:
Starting at the left and going clockwise are: pulled pork, brisket, wings, greens and cheese grits (the plate usually comes with mashed potatoes, but I much prefer grits with this line up). It was pretty decent--I liked their brisket best of the meats, but maybe it was just the fact that it had a nice kicky sauce. Their pork was nowhere near as tender and moist and smokey as Brian's. What I really enjoyed were the sides: excellent greens and grits. But then before trying Brian's pork, I never really understood why meat was everyone's focus--a big plate of Southern side dishes is my idea of (artery clogging) bliss.

The second meat-fest we were invited to was to try the Texas-style brisket:
From the left: black eyed peas, the glorious brisket, napa cabbage buttermilk slaw, and broccoli slaw. Not pictured is the slice of Wonder bread (yup, I brought a loaf this time) that I used for brisket eating.

Can you see the pink-ish smoke ring on that brisket? Yum. If forced to choose, I'd say I liked the pork marginally better than the brisket, but I think I might just be a bit more of a pork person than a beef person (cue Jewish grandparents rolling over in their graves...). And I certainly am happy to eat brisket when pork isn't on the menu!

So now the question is what meat product we should pester Brian to smoke next? Suggestions anyone?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

ahhhhhh

The kids have been subdued, this is what my sangria pitcher looks like and I feel much better now that the malondialdehyde and hydroperoxide in my system have been neutralized by the polyphenols in the wine. And I also feel better because of the ALCOHOL!

I made it with a bottle of La Vieille Ferme red--super cheap this month at $5.47 a bottle at Plum Market--a lemon, a lime, some sugar, and what was left in the triple sec bottle. The swig of wine I took before dumping it in the pitcher made me think it would be fine without the (ahem) fortifications, no bells and whistles, but perfectly drinkable which is more than I can say for most wine at this price.

uggggggg

The kids have no camp, no plans, no nothing this week and they are driving me nuts. Fiona, at the tender age of 5, has learned to whine "I'm bored" like a droopy teenager. Due to this pleasant state of the homestead, I have come to two realizations: 1) I better find some kind of camp for the other week we have nothing planned or else I'll throttle them and 2) I am not drinking enough wine, especially considering that Slashfood reported on research that red wine increases longevity. It looks like a pitcher of sangria is going to be made and consumed tonight.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Elixir of Life Recipe

Meg was kind enough to e-mail me with the recipe for the Elixir of Life AKA Pomegranate Mojito.

Pomegranate Mojito
makes 1

1 oz Pama Pomegranate Liqueur
1 oz premium white rum
1/2 oz lime juice
2 T simple syrup
about 10 mint leaves
ice
club soda

Muddle syrup and mint leaves in a glass. Fill glass with ice. Add Pama, rum and lime juice. Top with club soda. Garnish with a slice of lime and/or more mint leaves.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Catch Up #2--taking it up yet another notch

Remember how I mentioned that at our last book group meeting Ami took it up a notch? Well Meagan hosted in July and damn if she didn't take it up yet another notch. I seriously don't know how I'm going to host after these displays of elegance...ah well! Luckily I haven't got a competitive bone in my body so I'll just serve food at my dinky table with my mismatched glassware and still have a grand old time!

But I am very happy to go to the homes of friends who are generous enough to include me in their celebration of good taste! Meagan set up this elegant table on her back patio:
While inside Meg used her muddler to great effect:
Ta da! Pomegranate mojitos!
That's how I imagine the elixir of life should look. Oh man, I want one right now...

And it just got prettier from there. Ami made a lovely, labor-intensive appetizer from the French Laundry Cookbook.
Let me see if I can remember all the components--the base is made up of a chopped tomato compote and the green pool around it is chive oil. The next layer up consists of blanched green beans in a thickened cream vinaigrette and it is all topped off with frisee tossed in olive oil and a little sea salt.

There was also a lovely summery fresh mozzarella salad, chlodnik (cold buttermilk cucumber soup), redskin potato salad and an amazing array of gorgeous grilled vegetables with a fresh herb vinaigrette.
And what was all this culinary and decorative splendor in honor of? Thankfully a really good book. We read Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses and it is fantastic. (Warning to all relatives--you'll probably get a copy of this for your birthday or Christmas!) Stylistically the novel is very quiet--even shocking events are related with a lack of histrionics. And the plot of an old man remembering the most significant summer of his youth is contemplative without ever getting sentimental. What amazes me still when I think back to the book is the subtlety with which the author told his story and how much he left out. This is a book that trusts its readers to fill in the gaps--there isn't one moment I can think of that is obvious and there were many times where I re-read a scene to make sure what I thought was happening was what was really happening. I also loved how every question wasn't answered--there were plenty of gaps in the story, particularly in the part told in the present, that are never explained. But then, this is a book that exemplifies the "show rather than tell" dictum of good writing. Like Meagan's gracious and elegant hosting, this book is a hard act to follow.