(Happiest place on earth. When we win, that is)
Bacon wrapped hot dog with chipotle aioli. Do you blame me?)
(Happiest place on earth. When we win, that is)
Bacon wrapped hot dog with chipotle aioli. Do you blame me?)
…. A good night’s sleep (finally!!)…
….a weekend filled with old, and new, friends…
….Thomas Keller’s fried chicken and waffles…..
….a surprise visit from a friend who stays for five minutes and brings wine…
…finishing a new pair of cool socks…
…listening to Adam Levy’s “I Can’t Stop From Calling” and thinking of loved ones out of reach…
…a “Heidi” dinner of Gruyer broiled on pumpkinseed bread, washed down with wine (above)….
Happiness is….having such nice things filling my days…
When I was visiting my parents recently, my mom and I were doing some gardening together and she said the most curious thing. She pointed to her watering can and said, “Don’t forget to fill Anita!”
After a pause of incredulity, and then laughter, we started discussing our family’s tendency to name inanimate beloved objects. Anita is named after my mom’s coworker who gifted her with the watering can.
But it all started with my mOm’s beloved sports car, the TR4A called the Red Baron. We loved swooping around in that little red car with the top down, blonde ponytails flying and those wonderful Ray Bans. My mom was quite the glamor-puss. Later, we acquired a monster Buick who was called the Queen Mary because of her enormity and stately elegance. My dear pal L___’s pale blue VW bug was Boo Boo.
Apparently it is quite common to name a vehicle but all of these cars have passed into the great tow yard in the sky, and yet the names live on. The new Red Baron is mOm’s fabulous red Kitchen Aid mixer.
Furniture have names in my circle too. V___ has a gorgeous couch named Bruno. I am about to acquire a turquoise Victorian settee named Vicky and a Martha Washington chair called Martha. Naturally. What else would one call them?
But there is more…
I have a whisk shaped like a squid named Cal (calimari). My vacuum cleaner is Jack. Actually, that is the model name. I love having dates with Jack. He’s very powerful. You can see why I have a lot of fun naming these inanimate objects but apparently, my nicknames are not all that original!
I then posed the question on Twitter and was delighted with the responses, reproduced here for you.
There are musical instruments:
@eatwellathome says: I call my violin Sophia. She’s a beautiful Italian.
@w_interrobang says: my viola’s name is Brutus.
Aren’t those lovely names! So evocative.
There are more cars, and computers:
@DinnerAtXtinas says: J has named his computers & servers after U2 albums. I named my last 2 cars.
@DinnerAtXtinas says: hehe The first car was a jeep named Steve-O (I was a teenager!) and 2nd car was ’66 tan Mustang named Sandy!
@kitchenmage says: Our computers are mythical creatures: Unicorn, Nixie, etc. Server that does backups, printers, etc is “House Elf” (H. Potter)
@lunaraven13 says: I had a car named Miranda
@ksiddiqi92 says: My new camera is named Kronos (the father of Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon)! My MacBook is “Mini Me” and I won’t embarrass myself sharing any more names. LOL.
Oh yes, Kamran, you do need to tell us more!
There is cooking equipment:
@ksiddiqi92 says: My pasta machine is named “Es Spaghetti” (you’ll know why once i have my pasta post up).
You must visit Kamran’s site, he’s an amazing cook and photographer, and still in high school. Great things will come from Kamran, wait and see…
Then, there is a very amazing sauce:
@SheSimmers says: My master stir-fry sauce is named Bruno I also have an oven called Theodore and a rubber chicken called Edward.
I am in love with Bruno now, by the way, I think you all should be too. As @SheSimmers says, Bruno loves you long time. I must admit almost falling off my chair laughing after reading this. I do love my Twitter friends, I hope you see why.
And then, a voice of sanity:
@julieako says: beginning to think I am odd b/c I don’t name inanimate objects….sigh
That’s okay, Julie, I think after writing this post it is clear to me that you are the “normal” one!
What have you named in your kitchen, your home, your garage? After all, what is in a name? A whole lot of laughs I think…
Such an idyllic day.
It’s 74 degrees outside, a soft breeze is blowing.
I am barefoot.
I relaxed in the back garden and painted my toes strawberry red and finished a scifi novel.
The cat napped (and yawned) in a pool of sunshine.
I found the first pink rose of the spring.
A neighbor dropped by to share fresh spring lettuces from his garden, a welcome addition to our dinner tonight!
mOm made Granny’s German potato salad while I watched, taking notes.
Another knock at the front door was a young neighbor, selling raffle tickets as part of her fundraising for next year’s fair. She’s joining the Miss Junior Calaveras County contest. I hope she wins, she’s so lovely and charming. Hope one of our raffle tickets is a winner too!
Sundays in the country are so charming and relaxing, with soft warm weather, nice neighbors, a beautiful day, an even more beautiful dinner to come.
Sundays with family are such a gift.
I will miss it here.
Cooking is an art; baking is a science.
Coming from parents who were/are scientists, my early cooking tutelage was often based upon the science behind the cuisine. Why flour thickens sauces, how sugar works and melts, why meat browns, why egg whites whip up.
When one is baking, the science must be exact. If you do not accurately measure or weigh your ingredients, beat things to the correct consistency or bake things to the right temperature your finished dessert will not turn out the way the recipe intends. The type of ingredient used in a recipe also matters. If you use skim milk in lieu of whole milk, for example, the resulting dessert will not be as creamy or thicken properly.
Lately, my mom and I have been plagued with a series of desserts that did not come out the way we had planned. The vanilla panna cotta was thin and watery and on two occasions the family favorite, fluffy tapioca pudding, did not set up. We were perplexed. We tried the recipes again, ensure we were using whole milk and large eggs, not the usual gut-busting jumbo eggs available here in the country, much larger than citified jumbo eggs. Again, the tapioca was more like a creme Anglaise or tapioca soup. It was so disappointing.
Today, while I was baking orange blossom pecan bars with marmalade, mOm had a brilliant thought. She pulled out the measuring spoons and remarked, “I wonder if these new (rectangular) measuring spoons measure out the same as our old redoubtable measuring spoons?”
Immediately, we dropped everything and pulled out the kitchen scale, the sugar jar and all the measuring spoons we could find in the kitchen drawers.
We compared the Norpro rectangular measuring spoons, which we used for our ill-fated tapioca preparations earlier in the week, and a set by Tupperware from the ’70′s, and the set we call the “old redoubtable” that have been in the family since the ’50′s, aluminum and oxidized to a powdery finish after being washed in the dishwasher, a wedding gift to mOm from Aunt Marg.
The Norpro measuring spoons were purchased recently at a high-end cook shop and are also found everywhere in catalogs.
According to a standard conversion chart, one tablespoon is equivalent to 14.235 grams. Our measuring spoons resulted in the following for 1 tablespoon of sugar, scooped and leveled:
What a shocker!
We rarely use the Tupperware spoons because they are old and ucky. We always had, in the past, used the vintage aluminum measuring spoons but they are getting on in years and don’t fit into small jars and boxes with the ease of the Norpro’s rectangular measuring spoons. But no longer!
“If they aren’t accurate, they aren’t useful.” mOm says. Spoken like a true scientist.
A difference of 3 grams too few with the Norpro or 2 grams too many with the Tupperware can make a huge difference in the result of your finished dish.
In the case of our soupy tapioca pudding, the recipe calls for 6 T of tapioca, and by using the faulty Norpro measuring spoon the recipe was short 18 grams of tapioca, over a full tablespoon! No wonder the darn thing did not set up and was like soup.
If you have a set of these Norpro rectangular measuring spoons, please do weigh out a tablespoon of sugar and let me know what you come up with.
mOm is going to use the inaccurate Norpro set just to retrieve ingredients from tight jars and continue on with using our old redoubtable.
(Update: see recipe for revisions and commentary…)
There are a few things in life that test our patience. Traffic jams. 3:00 pm on Friday at work. Doing taxes. Waiting for the ‘puter to load. Filing.
People have said to me in an admiring fashion that I must have a lot of patience to knit. Well, I don’t. I am actually quite an impatient person. This is why I always, without fail, burn my tongue with hot soup. I feel that actually it is the other way around; knitting has taught me patience. The act of knowing that in order to finish knitting a sock it takes a certain amount of inevitable time has taught me patience and to enjoy the process of what I am doing. It is the zen of being in the now.
This, however, all went out the window today because mOm and I decided to bake beans. Not just any beans, but the original Boston beans in a darling authentic Boston bean pot.
(See, it’s even helpfully labelled in case you forget)
We put the bag of Boston pea beans to soak last night in a vast quantity of water and a good palmful of salt.
This morning, we drained them and put them in fresh water to cook with a nicely bundled bouquet garni (celery, parsley, thyme, bay leaf). Brining them overnight really helps the beans to cook quickly. Once they were done, 45 minutes later, tender but perfectly intact, we layered them in the bean pot for its maiden voyage. They were snuggled together with thinly sliced salt pork and nice cubes of Easter ham, and topped with a soup of bean broth, black strap molasses, brown sugar, chopped onions, ketchup, dry mustard, salt and ground pepper. Topped with its little cute lid, they went into bake. For 5-8 hours.
So, we got started a little late this morning. The fog hadn’t lifted in the corpuscles or brain pan and needed frequent applications of hot coffee. A little breakfast was in order, as was the prerequisite period remaining absolutely frozen still in order to watch quail bob along the terrace. Eventually, around 11:00 am, we felt compos mentis enough to handle a knife and in we went to the kitchen to assemble the beans. Then we retired to the living room with another cuppa and various amusing volumes, the collected short stories of Lord Peter Wimsey for me and Dorothy L. Sayers Society monthly bulletins for March and January for mOm. We wait for the beans. The house began to fill with an incredible savory scent after an hour, and after three hours we gave a peek within the pot. Alas, no miracle had occurred, the beans were a long way away from being done. At five hours we checked again, and again, the beans were just achieving a medium beige color and the onions were threatening to dissolve into a succulent mush.
Meanwhile, the aroma drove me outdoors. I really just couldn’t stand the tease of the scent of onion and molasses and pork products emanating from the kitchen. Fortunately the rain has stopped today and the porch was a pleasant place to sit and knit, accompanied by multitudes of birdsong. It was deemed warm enough to open the front door to air out the house, meaning my tranquil perch was invaded by the ever alluring scent of baked beans. I gave up trying to concentrate on knitting my sock, and wandered the terrace. The weeds were mocking me so I began yanking them out by their roots like errant gray hairs, such a pleasant feeling of revenge. And still I was tormented by the scent of baking beans. The neighbor kids from the bottom of the cul-de-sac meandered by, walking their bikes up the formidable hill, and they paused near my parents’ mailbox. I watched them out of the corner of my eye as I assiduously weeded, and noted they were sniffing the air, like a hungry pack of dogs that only preteen little boys can emulate.
Finally, at 5:00 pm, I checked the beans again. Alas, still not done. We changed the linens, folded laundry, uploaded pictures from the Flip, watched the news, checked email, pacing the house like lions before mealtime. It’s after 6:00 pm and the beans are still not done. I think I may never survive this process.
If you would like to similarly torture yourself, here is the recipe. If I survive this torment and long wait, I will post a picture tomorrow of the finished beans. In the meantime, be very glad that we have not yet developed the capability of smell-o-blogs.
1 # dry pea beans or navy beans
1 Bay leaf
1 celery rib, halved
3 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
1 sprig thyme
1/2 # salt pork
1 large slice baked ham
1 cup c molasses, black strap preferred
1 T dry mustard
1 c ketchup
1 c dark brown sugar
1 T salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 c dry sherry
Soak the beans overnight in a very large pot with copious amounts of water and 3 T of Kosher salt. Drain the next morning. Replace into the pot, and cover generously with cold water (at least 2″ above the surface of the beans). Make a bundle of the celery, parsley, thyme and Bay leaf and secure with string, leaving a 6″ tail. Place in pot and tie the tail to the handle of a wooden spoon, which rests at an angle at the top of the pot. Simmer the beans gently for 30-60 minutes until tender but intact, and the skins blow off when blown upon lightly.
Drain beans, reserving the broth.
Meanwhile, chop the onion, and divide the salt pork into 2 pieces. Thinly slice one piece and deeply score the skin side of the second piece.
Preheat the oven to 300 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet heavily with foil.
In the bean pot or a large covered casserole, layer half of the beans and half of the diced ham and all of the sliced salt pork. Gently pour the remaining half of the beans and add the remaining half of the diced ham and the scored chunk of salt pork.
Mix together 8 c of the bean broth (we had 5 c and this was plenty) with the molasses, brown sugar, dry mustard, ketchup, salt and pepper and chopped onions. Mix well and pour this gently over the beans.
Cover the beans and bake 7-8 hours. An hour before they are done, meaning the beans have achieved a dark brown hue like good polished walnut, add the sherry. Cover the pot again and bake one more hour.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough that one should make these beans the day or two before the target service date. And one should be outdoors during this baking process, else sanity may be lost.
Update: After baking for 6 1/2 hours, the beans finally achieved that dark brown hue we associate with properly baked beans. The flavoring was a bit bland to our taste though, so we updated the recipe above with additional quantities of ingredients, which helped achieve the desired taste we wanted. They could have baked another 2 hours though, to deepen the flavors, so we changed the baking time to 7-8 hours minimum.
For dinner last night we each had a nice bowl of baked beans, a slice of ham and some fresh pineapple. It was heavenly. I even considered having hot beans on toast this morning, in the English fashion.
The Boston Bean pot was incredible. Mom bought it because it was so cute and our family loves baked beans. After the 6 1/2 hours in the oven, the pot was crusted with thick, dark, burned-on bean juice and I thought it would have to soak all night in order to wash up. Mom took a gentle scrub brush to it and all the baked on crusts and stains just wiped away! It must be the heavy glaze on the pot or something. It was well worth the minor investment and the cupboard space! Check them out!
Yes, folks, it is time once again for food torture at Easter time…
Behold, Peep torture:
And there is more….
How to make a ham feel very foolish:
Now, to calm yourself after such unpleasantness, here are some happy pictures:
Birds off the back terrace:
And a dusting of snow for Easter:
Please note that snow is such a rarity in California, hence the excitement! If you look really closely at the mountain ridge across the valley you will see a sugar dusting of snow.
It’s the day before a holiday, Easter for my family, and I am up at my parents enjoying the peace and tranquility of the country and all of its relative benefits: fresh air, birdsong, no sirens, great company and chats, and best of all amazing meals.
Since tomorrow’s a big day in the kitchen, we decided to take it easy today and have a very simple dinner. The menu was my idea, based upon a favorite dish from my dear step-sister U___’s mom M___.
Years ago when U___ was in a play, M___ and I spent a great time chatting during the intervals about cookery. M___ is authentically Scottish, born across the pond and a true lady. I quizzed her in great deal about Scottish cuisine, having not had a lot of exposure to it over here besides what my family cooks as part of its standard repertoire. She rattled off a handful of familiar dishes, and we scooted out to the parking lot to the car where, stashed in the trunk, was a tin of her shortbread. Guiltily we snarfed finger after finger of shortbread whilst keeping an eye on the wristwatch; it wouldn’t do to be late for her daughter’s play! Later, she brought up a dish I had never heard of, sausage rolls. She told me they were her favorite snack for a heavy tea or a light supper or lunch.
Ever since that day, eons ago, I have been making sausage rolls for myself but apparently never mentioned them to any member of my immediate family! Quelle horror! Tonight I rectificed this shortcoming and made them for my parents. It was a perfect quick and easy dinner, and left the kitchen clean for other pursuits tomorrow.
1 # sausages – I used Lockeford apple sausages, 2 are almost a pound
1 package prepared croissant or bread dough
Spicy brown mustard
Preheat oven to 375 F.
In a small skillet, place sausages and 1/3 c water and cover, bring to a boil and cook 7 minutes. Remove lid and then cook until water evaporates, and brown sausages well. Remove from pan, let cook and cut each sausage into 4 pieces, then each piece in half.
On a work surface, unroll prepared croissant or bread dough and spread each piece of dough liberally with spicy mustard. Top with sausage pieces, two per dough piece, and roll up, pinching with fingers along seams. You do not need to completely seal up the dough.
Place rolls on a lined baking tray and grind black pepper on top of each roll. Bake 11-20 minutes until rolls are golden brown and dough is cooked through on the bottom.
I made a quick spinach salad with red onion, cucumbers, tomatoes and mushrooms with a blue cheese dressing, and steamed some broccoli and dressed that with olive oil and a seasoning mix from Penzey’s called Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle.
We watched a salmon hued sunset while dining on our sausage rolls and toasted M___ with some local Black Sheep Sauvignon Blanc. This winery is a true treasure and the fruity and dry notes of the wine really hit the spot after the sweet apple and porky notes of the sausage and the tang of the mustard.
Replete and happy, we all retired to our various pursuits and later I served up some chocolate mousse from Julia Child’s classic recipe, decorated in anticipation of Easter with some pastel M&M’s.
Tomorrow is a busy day, our menu is:
I hope you have a wonderful Sunday, whether it is your Easter or not, and enjoy some snausage rolls of your own sometime.
Just for fun, why I call these “snausages”!
I have been thinking about the word “sustenance”.
In my early training in survival techniques, sustenance means Shelter, Heat, Food, Water, then orientation to find help. When one is poor, the meaning of sustenance is one of basic needs: a place to sleep, food to eat, a place to bathe. When one is wealthy sustenance might mean something on the opposite end of the spectrum: beauty, art, music, all of the things to sustain the soul since the bodily needs are not an issue.
Ideally one doesn’t need to concern one’s self with basic sustenance, but when this is the case one tends to turn to what is on hand for sustenance. I don’t know about you but to me it can feel quite difficult to be creative and feel fulfilled while eating down the pantry. When times are financially flush I tend to overshop and fill my pantry with random things that I like or think I will need “later”. Then, when times are lean or when I splurged a little too much before the next check comes in, the pantry is not only a source of sustenance but a source of solace as well.
To me though, sustenance concerns a more esoteric definition. My friends and family offer my sustenance. Their kind words, thoughtful acts and consideration fill my “life pantry” with the most filling and nutritious things for my soul and heart. My dearest friends and family have been sending me cards and emails just at the moment when I feel bereft, and this buoys me up like a cork out of a champagne bottle. When my pantry door was swinging widely showing empty shelves, my phone chirped with an incoming call to say that a friend was “just around the corner” and had leftover homemade pad thai and sticky mango coconut rice for me, just in case I was feeling peckish. Or a call early in the morning saying that she had just made steel cut oatmeal with cream and Demerara sugar on top, would I like some? Or a dear friend who offers a safe haven and refuge, over and over, including dinner and lots of wine and bourbon. Years ago, I would come home from a harrowing day of work and find a packet of Twinkies in my mailbox, an offering from a friend’s son who seemed psychically to know when I needed a dose of sugar and fat and whatever else is in a Twinkie that makes one feel somehow better. To me, this is the definition of sustenance, just knowing that people are out there who really care and seem to know when you feel a little down. It’s awfully lovely to be on the giving end of this kind of sustenance too, sending a note for no reason in particular, making an extra loaf of bread and hanging it on the door of a friend’s home or bringing along extra cookies for an impromptu visit.
Recently, I have been feeling more in need of sustenance than usual. It is really disheartening to be looking for a job along with the masses of other talented and slightly (mostly) desperate people. The constant rejection and straining of ones ears hoping the phone will ring wears on the cheeriest of dispositions. Materially, being a person with a culinary bent it is especially hard not to be able to run down to the good butcher and buy a fat chicken to roast whenever I feel like it, and to contemplate the dwindling supplies in the crisper bin knowing it’s another week plus before I can shop again.
It was my distinct pleasure the other day to be perusing the pantry, which I had fortuitously refilled with some nice things, and to discover a flat of potato gnocci, a can of San Marzano whole tomatoes and a can of artichoke hearts packed in water. I had a good two inches left on a hunk of Pecorino cheese and half of an onion in the fridge, and a gift bottle of Viogner chilled down as well.
I set to work. Ringing up my best friend on the phone for an extended chat while I cooked, I chopped the onion and sauteed it a little with a pinch of dried chile flakes. Naturally, the wine was opened and a glass poured for general purposes, not the least for sipping while I cooked, and a little found its way into the saute pan. The tomatoes were opened and I broke them into little pieces with my fingers. There is a great satisfaction in life to smell onions and wine cooking away while squeezing and tearing spurting scarlet tomatoes into shreds with ones fingers, I highly recommend you try this and soon. The artichokes were next, I drained them into a colander and gave them a good rinse of cool water and shook them dry. Then, into the onions they went along with the juice from the tomatoes, a bay leaf and a good grind of pepper from my Turkish coffee grinder. The impromptu sauce simmered slowly on the back burner while I preheated my little convection oven. I put a dab of butter and a slosh of olive oil in a small pottery casserole pan and added the gnocci, and grated a goodly amount of Pecorino cheese on top and tossed them in the oven while I relaxed with the remaining glass of wine and laughed and chatted away while tickling the cat’s fat belly with my toes while he lolled at my feet.
When the oven’s timer dinged, I dislodged the cat from around my ankles, refilled the wineglass, pulled the golden and cheesy melted gnocci out of the oven and poured the fragrant and chunky artichoke sauce over the top. A little more cheese was grated on top and my supper was ready. It felt healthy and tasted delicious and not at all like “rations”. My fun chat with my friend continued while I dined, making “nummy” noises over the phone, and even though she lives far away I felt as if we had just cooked and eaten dinner together. Sustenance achieved on all fronts.
Quick Artichoke Marinara with Gnocci
1 packet of potato gnocci
1 T butter
2 T olive oil, divided
1/2 c grated Pecorino cheese, divided
1/2 onion, diced
29 oz can San Marzano whole tomatoes
14.5 oz can artichoke hearts in water, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp dried chile flakes
1/2 c dry white wine
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375.
In a medium saute pan over medium heat, saute onions in 1 T olive oil with a sprinkling of salt until softened, ~ 10 minutes. Add the wine and simmer for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juice, breaking tomatoes apart with your fingers or scissors, and the artichoke hearts and chile flakes. Add more salt to taste and a few grinds of pepper. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, butter a small casserole dish and add the gnocci, drizzle 1 T olive oil on top and sprinkle with 1/4 c of cheese. Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until the gnocci are golden brown but not dry and the cheese is melted.
Remove from oven, top with sauce and the remaining cheese and dish out into pasta plates for serving.
(Sorry, I didn’t take a picture of this, my hands were full from cooking and from holding the phone!)
I am unraveling a sweater I have spent the last month working on every day.
When I first started knitting it, I didn’t make up the correct size and when I was a third of the way finished with it I realized my error and unraveled it. Gamely, I started again, this time making the correct size, and when I finished the body of the sweater I began having doubts. The design of the sweater didn’t appear like the picture in how it draped across the body, but, again, gamely, I forged ahead with the sleeve. When I was almost done with the first sleeve and trying on the sweater for the third or eighth time, I realized that the design of the sweater just wasn’t flattering. I checked other people’s projects on Ravely, and realized that none of the completed sweaters really looked good on their bodies either. Instead of investing more time into a sweater that wouldn’t compliment me, I decided to unravel the whole thing. Sitting with the beautiful fabric in my lap, unraveling, I began to feel quite emotional. I feel like everything I attempt is a failure. Everything I try to do unravels in the end and I am left with great building blocks of what I could do, or could make, or could become, but really, all the effort I expended has resulted in – nothing. I feel as I unravel this sweater, that I am in fact unraveling my entire life back to the beginning, back to nothing but potential.
Are you ever haunted by a word, by a word like potential? It has been given to me at various points of my life, from childhood school assessments, to work performance reviews, to comments from friend and loved ones. She has “potential”. You question yourself, “am I living up to my potential?” I look at gorgeous balls of yarn and see the potential in them. I see myself wearing a beautiful sweater that I made myself and feeling the satifaction that I have made something that lived up to the potential of the thing. Sometimes, though, I just cannot achieve anything that meets the potential that I envision. Then I begin to fear starting a project because I have this niggling feeling that it won’t be as good as I want it to be. I will always look at the finished product and think, “it’s okay but it’s not what I had hoped for”. Then, worst of all, I won’t even start something new because I know it will never be right. My art supplies sit fallow in a box, the clean paper unmarked, the yarn unknit. This fear of failure at the start is my greatest failure.
How does one overcome fear of not living up to ones potential? Or breaking past the fear of even starting?
I do not know the answer to this, as I sit here, unraveling.