Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I take it all back about the Aviation

A perfect ashy-purple drink.
It's not technically an Aviation, but the Violetta at the Ashland Springs Hotel in Ashland, Oregon is very close. When I saw it on the menu I could barely contain my excitement given that, per the comments on my recent post, I clearly hadn't experienced a proper Aviation.

Right you all were. The Violetta contains Aviation gin (made in Portland), Deviation dessert wine (in place of maraschino liqueur), creme de violette, and lemon juice. The bartender drops in a tiny viola and though the color is less lavender than sooty, it's exquisitely beautiful. It is also delicious -- delicate and aromatic. The Violetta/Aviation makes a Negroni, my favorite cocktail of recent months, taste coarse and brassy. I think it's a good sign that I no longer like Manhattans (at all!) and that I may now be transitioning from Negronis to something daintier. Soon, I'll be a white wine spritzer drinker, and, after that, maybe just spritzer. A girl can dream.
All hotel lobbies should look like this.
Today we see plays. Isabel loves plays and while I do not love plays, I do love Isabel.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Even lucky boys have bad days

Gargantuan "Irish" cheesecake
Today Owen boarded a plane to Boston and he will not be back until midway through August. During the time he is gone, he will visit Ireland with his grandfather, spend time on the beach in New England with his cousins, and go to Africa with his mother. He has no idea how lucky he is.

pepperoni lasagna
Day before yesterday he and I got our shots and pills for Africa, then Owen chose his farewell meal from Guy Fieri's cookbook. He chose pepperoni lasagna and Irish cheesecake -- "because it's Irish and I'm going to Ireland!"

I could not imagine a more ridiculous meal. I kept my mouth shut.

Yesterday I cooked the meal and while I was cooking he came down with a blazing fever from the shots. He lay on the couch whimpering while the rest of us ate his lasagna and Irish cheesecake. He left this morning without tasting a morsel.

How was the lasagna? Big, rude, unwieldy. I would not make it again.

How was the cheesecake? It contained Bailey's, melted semisweet chocolate, sugar, cream, eggs, and two pounds of cream cheese. It was grotesque, absurd, and delicious. But my husband remarked, and I agree, that you can't beat a plain cheesecake with a graham cracker crust and some cherry pie filling on top. These super-sweet, chocolatey cheesecakes lack tang. Tang plus richness is what makes cheesecake great, not just richness.

An inadvertently artful shot
On another subject, this is a bean pie I made the other day using a lovely book called Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott. I wrote a story about oddball regional pies and felt I had to try baking the oddest recipe I could find. According to McDermott, the bean pie was developed in the 1930s "as part of the nutritional teachings of the Nation of Islam." To make it, you mash some navy beans and stir them up with eggs, sugar, melted butter and spices then bake the fragrant custard in a pie crust. I thought no one would touch this funky pie, but everyone in the family liked it. I think they may have liked it more than they liked the Irish cheesecake.

Monday, June 20, 2011

It does a body good

Where to put the chaise lounge?
My husband built a milking stand and we've begun regularly milking Natalie. Some first impressions:

-Milking is enjoyable and satisfying when the goat cooperates.
-Milking is maddening and messy when the goat doesn't.
-Milking forces you to confront earthy realities about food which is currently very voguish but also, I think, basically a good thing.

While I've known that milk comes from live animals since I was 3, until a week ago I had only ever acquired it from a carton at the supermarket. It has been disorienting, therefore, to suddenly start squeezing milk from the body of a bony, noisy, inquisitive mammal who tries to eat the buttons on my shirt and never, ever, bathes. Then to take the white fluid up to the kitchen and put it in my coffee? How weird.

But, of course, it's not weird at all. What's weird is that I would ever think it was.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Deborah Solomon stopped by last night

Q: Wow. That is one gorgeous drink. What is it?

A: Isn't it lovely? It's called an Aviation and it contains gin, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and something called creme de violette that renders it lavender. Steve Martin describes this cocktail in his novel Object of Beauty and I've been obsessed with trying it for the last week.

Q: Is it as good as it looks?

A: I don't know! Wait just a second. . . . Hmm. Okay. No. It is perfumey. I don't love this.

Q: Who cares, so festive.

A: I am sitting on the sofa beside my son who is watching Phineas and Ferb and it feels not very festive. Today I had to replace my falling-apart jeans and that required much self-scrutiny in the harshly-lit mirrors of Macy's, Sundance, and J. Crew. So, I decided to skip evening spin class, buy a bottle of creme de violette, and try a new cocktail.

Q: How's that approach to dieting and discouragement working out for you?

A: I don't think that's a nice question.

Q: Yeesh. Sensitive. Fair enough. You've been working through Food Network star Guy Fieri's new cookbook. How's that going?

A: I've been moving slowly and doubt I 'll get very far. I do like Guy, but his recipes are mostly gimmicky and only moderately delicious. The other night I made his version of beer can chicken. You heavily season the chicken, impale it on an open beer can, and pop it in the oven. The beer supposedly evaporates and keeps the bird moist, while the outside crisps up. Fieri's twist is to drape bacon over the skin.

Q: And that wasn't awesome?

A: It was fine, but I would not go so far as "awesome." Plus, I had to buy a whole 6-pack of Bud. Our supermarket doesn't sell singles.

Q: Quite a change of pace from Heidi Swanson.

A: I know. I miss Super Natural Every Day. Not a lot of vegetables in Fieri's book. I was very hopeful about the Bomb Bakers (recipe is here) but they were not a hit.

You brine the potatoes for 8 hours, roll them in oil and Lawry's seasoned salt, then roast them for an hour. I was very curious about brined potatoes, except to me they just tasted like baked potatoes with inedible, salty skin.

On the other hand, I loved Guy's pork blade steak piccata. Recipe is here.

Q: What's on the table tonight?

A: Bloody Mary flank steak. It's been marinating in V-8, vodka and a lot of other stuff for the last 24 hours.

Q: On another subject entirely, how's the little goat?

A: Wild and impish and she charges at the chickens. We're petting her lots, but pretty soon we're going to need a lasso.

Q: Are you liking the Aviation better now that you're getting to the bottom of the glass?

A: It is vile. I like it so little that, to my shock and disappointment, I'm going to stop at one.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

All about bedrooms and a little about brisket

8th grader no more
"Bedroom community" strikes me as the wrong term for a suburb, at least the suburb in which I live. This feels more like a factory town where the product is children. I'm not talking about babies, which, yes, are traditionally made in bedrooms. But in fact, they're often made in urban bedrooms and eventually (some) parents bring the babies out to the suburbs for finishing. I grew up in a city. That was fun. But this seems fun, too.

June is a big month, as product starts coming off the assembly line. Day before yesterday, Owen graduated from elementary school. He and his cohort have mastered their math facts and can sing Congolese folk songs. They are of middling height and physically awkward. According to the inspirational quotes they recited, they believe in striving, friendship, and the value of being true to one's self. Admirable! At the graduation, there were a lot of dresses with "bubble skirts" like this. While the ceremony was sweet, it did not feel momentous and I went straight from the graduation to buy goat ration and fly traps.
A few hours later, Isabel graduated from middle school. That ceremony was not sweet and it did feel momentous. There were a lot of dresses like this. At one point during the distribution of diplomas the principal called the name of a girl named Ella C. who spent the night at our house several times circa 2006. I said to my husband, "Well, they screwed up. That's not Ella." He said, "That's Ella." I squinted my feeble old eyes. I still couldn't see that this was Ella.

But later I confirmed: it was Ella.

This happened again and again and again. Everywhere wandered radiant young people I've known since they were five, almost all of them taller than me with vaguely familiar faces and very long legs. It was poignant and unsettling.

Isabel went to a graduation dance in the evening where the dresses got shorter and tighter, the heels higher. I had bad dreams all night. One involved raising a baby albino alligator that I was feeding with an eye dropper until the baby alligator ate the eye dropper and swam away. In another dream, I excised a very tiny kid goat from inside of a Bartlett pear. And in the worst nightmare of all, I overheard a friend say that my bedroom looked "like a pig pen." I did not, in the dream, deny that my bedroom looked like a pig pen, merely chastised this friend for gossiping about the way I keep house. If you know how to analyze dreams, please, please don't.

Back to our scheduled programming: The other night I made Guy Fieri's Bring It On Beef Brisket.  About half of his dishes have gimmicky names like that, which doesn't bother me when the recipes work. This one didn't, not for me. It was the most disappointing kind of bad meal, because I was so looking forward to it. The photograph in Fieri's book shows the brisket is falling to shreds, collapsing under a blanket of what appears to be glossy barbecue sauce. I thought about that brisket all day and it cooked for what seemed like all day. But the the meat never softened, remaining an implacable raft of stiff gray cow flesh. The sauce lacked zest.

Three possibilities:

1. the recipe is wrong
2. the piece of brisket I got was wrong
3. I did something wrong

Last night, I made Fieri's ginger carrot soup. My husband thought this was great, but I could not eat it. I've grown accustomed to vegetable soups made with only vegetables, and the homemade chicken stock was overpowering, too chickeny, and I couldn't taste the ginger.
None for me, thanks
Tonight: Fieri's pork blade steak piccata. The grill is heating as I type.

On another subject, we've begun milking Natalie. Last night, Owen helped milk and then I went upstairs and made him hot chocolate with the fresh milk. He couldn't get over how awesome the whole experience was. I don't think I could persist in our onerous and messy animal project without him. I appreciate not just the work he contributes to keeping them, but his sheer joy at having them.

Monday, June 06, 2011

At least it wasn't Twinkle

Owen named her Sparkle. I tried to point him in another direction, any other direction, but he is adamant: She is Sparkle. And she is perfect.

The other night, I cooked Guy Fieri's lamb chops with mint pesto, my maiden voyage into Guy Fieri Food. They were excellent. I wish Guy didn't try so hard, what with the tats and the slang and the Phyllis Diller hair, because I think he has good ideas and sound recipes and all that shtick just makes him seem insecure. But I guess shtick is required these days to become a Food Network star.

It seems tasteless to post a photograph of lamb chops adjacent to a photograph of a baby goat, so I'll skip right to Fieri's chicken-under-a-brick, which I served last night.

To make this, you spatchcock a chicken and season it well, then heat oil in a skillet, splay the chicken out in the hot fat, and top with another skillet weighted down with four foil-wrapped bricks.

Roughly thirty minutes later, the chicken looks disturbing, but tastes wonderful. Serve with green sauce.
I know. 
Does anyone watch much food TV? Favorite shows? The other day, Owen and I watched Anne Thornton make s'mores bars on a program called Dessert First. It's sort of stunning that shows are devoted to recipes this remedial, but still, we watched. When it was over, Owen said, "Mom you HAVE to make those."

 I did.

And they were insanely good. One of those desserts -- buttery, a bit salty, crumbly, chocolatey but not overwhelmingly so, crunchy, gooey -- that you can not stop eating. You just want more, more, more. I have a problem with this kind of dessert as there's no built-in stopping point. Satisfaction is impossible. But I would be derelict in my blogging duty if I didn't tell you that the recipe is absolutely phenomenal. (I omitted the chipotle powder, as Thornton does on the show. Come to think of it, chipotle powder might make these easier to stop eating.)

Saturday, June 04, 2011

It's a doeling!

Twenty minutes old.
Natalie gave birth to a beautiful baby girl today.

The labor was fast and agonizing in the agonizing way of all labors in my limited experience. Finally, I gave a gentle tug on the tiny hooves that were emerging from Natalie's body, as I have seen done in YouTube goat birth videos, and to my complete wonderment and shock, about one second later there was a slippery, squirming miniature goat in my hands. I'd read that you needed to wipe the baby down with towels and clear its throat and nostrils, but Natalie was instantly all over that kid, licking and nuzzling and possessive. All that was "needed" from Owen and me was to dip the newborn's navel in iodine and step away.

Isabel and her friend Juliet were up in Isabel's room. As Juliet said, "The goat was screaming, but Owen was screaming louder."

That's it for our summer 2011 kidding season. Short and sweet. Peppermint never caught.

Not that this would make Peppermint feel any better -- probably, it would gross her out -- but the new baby is her very own half-sister.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

From focus and momentum to mild confusion and indolence

Monday, I used 6 inches of red pencil in 5 hours. 
Wind me up, set me off in a direction and there I go. Put me on the sofa, and there I sit. Shifting course is what's hardest for me. Maybe everyone?

The last 10 days were intense. I would admire my own work ethic except it felt less like an ethic than brute momentum.  I did nothing but pore over the manuscript of my book to the point of neglecting to brush my hair, sort the mail, or attend zumba class, and I would have done so for the rest of my life had a deadline not forced a change of course.

Day before yesterday arrived that deadline. I reluctantly carried the proofs to the UPS store and overnighted them (old school!) back to the editor in New York and then, hair still uncombed, wearing jogging shoes and least attractive jeans I have ever owned, drove straight to the Century Regency on Smith Ranch Road to see Midnight in Paris.* The ship has been forcibly turned and I am back to my usual, semi-indolent ways.  It will take a new deadline to get me to change again.

By the way, if there is any place on the planet you can confidently go with uncombed hair and wearing unflattering jeans, it is the Regency midday on a Tuesday. As usual, it was just the field trippers from the retirement home and me. I was very happy to be back.

Last night, I was going to try one of Guy Fieri's chicken recipes -- the one with the brick, or the one with the beer can -- but I ended up driving a young trombonist and a young pianist/dancer all over Marin County from 1:50 p.m. until 7 p.m. Not an exaggeration, a time sheet, as mothers of children in their middle years need not be told. So we had sushi. I felt tired and sorry for myself. I went to bed. I read 40 pages of Janet Malcolm's Reading Chekhov, which is extremely enjoyable and comprehensible even if you have never read Chekhov, which I have not. But should. I studied Malcolm's inscrutable half-smile in the jacket photo. What will my jacket photo look like? I woke up and checked on Natalie, who is still pregnant. Am I balking at starting Guy Fieri's book because he is so irritating? Or because I really don't want to eat a dish called Guy-talian Nachos? Except, who am I kidding. Of course I want to eat Guy-talian Nachos. There is no time to cook one of Fieri's chickens tonight, as I am returning to zumba class, but maybe his linguine with clams.

But then I'll look puffy in my jacket photo!

Can't wait for Tree of Life.

*Should you see it? Rachel McAdams negates her prettiness with convincing portrayal of crass shrew. Owen Wilson makes a more appealing Woody Allen than Woody Allen. Michael Sheen is wasted behind that beard. Plot: mildly amusing. Actor who plays Hemingway very cute. Altogether, Bridesmaids was better. Albeit, of course, filthy.