Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hamburgers a la Lindstrom and shoofly pie

I am so happy in my cooking life right now. Revisiting these Time-Life books is a great sentimental pleasure.

Two dishes:

-Hamburgers a la Lindstrom from The Foods of Scandinavia. I had to make these because of the name. According to author Dale Brown, in Sweden meat used to be so tough that cooks typically ground it up and made meatballs (which explains Swedish meatballs) and so-called hamburgers like these -- "a piquant and juicy blend of beef, finely diced beets, chopped onions and capers." Mark thought they smelled like fish and was very suspicious. Owen ate with gusto and announced that he loved the dinner. I liked these meat patties fine, but won't make them again. Meatballs are better, as is meat loaf, as are ordinary American hamburgers.  (Isabel is away at summer school so she won't be quoted in the blog for a while.)

-Shoofly pie from American Cooking: The Eastern Heartland. I made a shoofly pie a few years ago that was so harsh I almost gave up on shoofly pie altogether. Since I typed that last sentence I pulled out The Joy of Cooking to see if it was the source of the offending recipe, and it was. But I didn't make the shoofly pie "a few years ago." I made it in 2002. I find this miscalculation disturbing.

The problem with the Joy recipe is that it calls for only molasses in the filling and molasses can be harsh and overwhelming. This recipe uses a mixture of molasses and light corn syrup and it is to die for, as my mother liked to say. You may well die for it. I don't think of the Pennsylvania Dutch as a decadent people, but this may be the unhealthiest dessert ever invented. Not even an egg in there, or a cup of milk.

Some dissenting opinions on the pie:  Owen thought it was "too sugary" and Jose Wilson, who wrote American Cooking: The Eastern Heartland, shares his view. Here's her description of the pie (this Jose is a she), which she first ate at the home of a Mennonite farm family:

"Shoofly pie isn't my all time favorite, frankly, because it's too sweet for me, but this turned out to be one of the best I have eaten. There are many versions of shoofly pie, which can be loosely defined as a liquid filling of molasses, boiling water and baking soda in an unbaked pie shell, topped with a crumb mixture and baked. Each version has passionate advocates among the Dutch. There's a rather dry one that is dunked in coffee, a wet bottom one that is much moister and spicier, and a cake-like kind in which the filling and crumbs are mixed together.  No one seems to know, incidentally, how the pie got its name. Logical thinkers tend to the theory that the sweet stickiness attracted flies. . ."

This is the moist type of shoofly pie. It is better than flummery.

9-inch unbaked pie shell
1 cup flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup butter (the original recipe calls for shortening)
pinch of salt (original doesn't call for, but the pie needs it)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup boiling water
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup molasses

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Rub the flour, brown sugar, and butter together in a bowl to form a mixture that resembles "coarse meal." This is your crumb topping.

2. In a large bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water then stir in the corn syrup and molasses. Mix well. Pour this into the pie shell. Strew the crumbs evenly across the top of the liquid filling. A lot of them will sink.

3. Bake for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for about 25 minutes more until the filling is set and doesn't quiver when jiggled gently. Don't overbake lest you end up with a dry pie; you want the filling to have a firm, jelly-like consistency. The recipe says to cool to room temperature before serving, but we ate it slightly warm and it was perfect. Needs ice cream or whipped cream. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Orange and strawberries

Sea-Tac. Starbucks. Beautiful glass. Sheraton. Insomnia. Starbucks. Beautiful glass. Sea-Tac. Writing. Self doubt. Writing. Self doubt. Very little cooking. This past week I’ve been unexpectedly busy, traveling and re-doing work I thought I’d already done and trying to get into the groove with Orange is the New Black.

And, unlike everyone else in the United States, I have failed.

The first episode featured an image so upsetting I couldn’t wash my mind’s eye clean for days and I trudged through four more episodes then gave up. Everyone else seems to be getting so much pleasure out of that show and damn it, I wanted pleasure too! 

What did give me pleasure last week: strawberry flummery from a recipe in American Cooking: The Eastern Heartland. It's a cornstarch-milk-sugar-egg pudding that you serve with berries, much like panna cotta, but sturdier. While the Time-Life volume is reticent on flummery’s origins, Amanda Hesser isn’t. According to Hesser, flummery is a descendant of a Welsh dish of very dense boiled oatmeal. Dictionary writers have defined it variously as “bland custard” and a “sort of pap and “Something insipid, or not worth having.”

For those of you who love bland custard and pap as much as I do, here's the recipe:

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
pinch salt
3 cups whole milk
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pint fresh strawberries

1. Mix 1/2 cup sugar, the cornstarch, and the salt in a heavy saucepan and, whisking constantly, pour in the milk in a slow, thin stream. Cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture boils and thickens. Turn the heat down as low as it will go.

2. Ladle a few spoonfuls of the hot cornstarch-milk mixture into the beaten egg yolk, mixing well, and, still whisking, pour it back into the pot. Cook for a few minutes more, but do not let it come to a boil. 

3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into a serving bowl and refrigerate until very cold. 

4. Just before serving, hull and halve the strawberries. Toss with the remaining sugar and then arrange them on top of the flummery. Serve immediately. (Leftovers are tasty, but after a while the strawberries collapse and their juice starts to run into the custard and the whole dish looks a lot less appealing.)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

This, too, would probably be better in winter

Nantucket. Never been there.
I made Nantucket scallop chowder last night. Delicious. Easy. Expensive. Are scallops cheap anywhere? I don't ordinarily love scallops -- for a sea creature, they are curiously rich and unctuous  and they make my teeth feel strange -- but in this chowder they were lovely. I might try making this was a more affordable fish, though I doubt it will be as good.

The recipe is adapted from American Cooking: New England. Their recipe calls for adding an additional spoonful of butter to each bowl when you serve the chowder, but the soup was already plenty buttery. Maybe when people harpooned whales for a living they needed the extra fat, but I sure don't.

5 tablespoons butter
2 yellow onions, peeled and sliced
1 quart whole milk
1 large boiling potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 pound sea scallops, cut into 1/4 inch slices across the grain

1. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in soup pot and saute the onions until soft but not colored. Add the milk, bring to a simmer, turn the heat to low and cook gently for 15 minutes. Watch carefully and adjust heat so the milk doesn't boil over. Strain the milk through a fine sieve and discard the onions. Return the milk to the pot.

2. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil and cook the potatoes for 3-4 minutes until firm-tender. Drain.

3. In a skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and saute the scallops for a couple of minutes, until almost cooked through.

4. Add the potato and scallops the the milk broth and heat. Taste for seasoning. It will need just a little salt. Serves 6.

This morning Owen pulled out the Tupperware of leftover chowder thinking it was waffle batter. The waffle iron was heated and we were about 30 seconds from disaster when I caught him. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

roquefort grapes and strawberry pie

Other than roquefort grapes, the most memorable thing that happened in the kitchen yesterday was that I said to Owen, "One day I'll be dead and you'll be sorry."

I used to think lines like that were reserved for mothers in Philip Roth novels, but have proved myself wrong. The remark came out at some point during our never-ending conversation about putting cereal bowls in the dishwasher, setting the table with the utensils facing the same direction, picking up socks, practicing trombone, turning off the TV after 7 or 8 hours, and whether or not RIPD is actually an awesome movie and my refusal to see it means I'm closed-minded.

We pretty much keep this going round the clock, with breaks for camp, sleep, and trips to the supermarket. He was unfazed by my remark. I don't know whether that's good or bad.

It was our turn to host Sunday dinner for my family and I tried to compose an eclectic meal consisting of delicious dishes chosen without regard to food groups and convention. I was inspired by a spectacular meal my friend Mary served recently comprised of lobster bisque, lobster tacos, and chicken tagine. No vegetables, salad, or dessert.

I was pleased with my free-wheeling menu on paper. Here's how it worked in reality:

We started with cute little roquefort grapes that people consumed on the deck while drinking wine, shucking oysters, and making "jokes" about how I should just give our baby goats to the organic meat vendor at the farmers' market and ask for their pelts as payment.
I love how she's studying him.
I wrote about roquefort grapes in the last post and don't want to repeat myself, except to say that I love them inordinately. The trouble with roquefort is that it's too rich and salty to eat in quantity. Refreshing, thirst-quenching grapes solve this problem! And introduce another. We had leftover roquefort grapes and I snacked on them all day today. They are irresistible and, aside from the grape part, terrible for you. The recipe is at the bottom of the post.
my new love
After a while we moved on to the oysters casino I came across in Time-Life's American Cooking: The Eastern Heartland. What are oysters casino? A New York specialty made by topping oysters with bacon and sauteed vegetables then popping them under the broiler. Sounds swell, no? I'm not giving the dish itself a thumbs down, just this particular version, which lacked richness and zest. Not a hit with anyone. I might try this recipe next time I spend all that money on oysters.

Next came the chicken potpie. According to Time-Life's American Cooking: The Eastern Heartland:

"In Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, potpies are pieces of noodle or baking powder dough. They are boiled with meat and often potatoes to make rib-sticking potpie stews that are named for the kind of meat used. Thus . . . chicken potpie, though it bears no resemblance to the pastry-encased potpies typical of other parts of the United States."

In short, this was not potpie but thick chicken noodle soup. Nourishing fare for a cold Monday in January when you're recovering from the flu. Less ideal for a Sunday dinner in July.
overdid the color enhancement
We finished with fresh strawberry pie from Time-Life's American Cooking: The Northwest. Half of the berries were uncooked, the other half simmered into a sweet cornstarch paste that held everything together. This pie was popular, but not quite delicious enough for me to disseminate the recipe.

Only the roquefort grapes were that good.

Roquefort grapes, adapted from Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres.

Wash and dry 1 pound of seedless grapes (green or red). Toast some nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds; I used walnuts), then chop fine. Cool completely. In a mixing bowl, beat together 8 ounces of cream cheese, 1/4 pound of roquefort, and 2 tablespoons cream until smooth.  Roll the grapes in the cheese until they are covered with cheese -- but not too thickly! This is crucial: You want a very thin coating of cheese. Think of the earth's crust on one of those models from elementary school. Thin like that. After the grapes are covered with cheese, roll them in the nuts. Chill for a few hours. You want these to be cold and firm, not at all gooey.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pickled peaches

I pickled peaches yesterday using the easy recipe from American Cooking: Southern Style. Criticism right off the bat: the recipe doesn't tell you to process and seal the jars, so you can't store them and give them as holiday gifts and that's a shame because THEY ARE SO GORGEOUS. They practically glow. They have to sit for a few days before we eat them and are meant to be served with Virginia ham and now I'm thinking about mail ordering a Virginia ham. I will tell you how they taste and post the recipe if they are great. If they are less than great I am going to try this recipe next.

By the way, I'm truly sorry I insulted a reader with my tirade about the canning jar tattoo last week. It was a very ugly tattoo that set me off, but I shouldn't have generalized about all canning jar tattoos. I think a tattoo of a jar of pickled peaches, to name just one possibility, would be beautiful.

Last night Mark and I went to a party and one of the appetizers was roquefort grapes. I've seen that recipe so many times and thought, yuck, no thanks, but I'd never tasted a roquefort grape. Last night I tasted one. Then I tasted another. Today I bought roquefort and grapes. I'm hosting our weekly extended family dinner  and am trying to produce an eclectic, eccentric meal like my friend Mary served us in Maine of which roquefort grapes will be a piece. We'll see if I can resist making a boring salad at the last minute.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My first and probably last seed cake

If you read a lot of British novels, you've probably come across references to something called seed cake that is served when the vicar comes to tea. I'm back at the Time-Life books with a vengeance and while flipping through The Cooking of the British Isles yesterday, saw a recipe for this mysterious and enticing cake. Since it was simple to make and we had all the ingredients (flour, butter, sugar, egg, caraway seeds, baking powder), I put on my apron and 7 minutes later the cake was ready to go in the oven, which was still heating.

I've since looked at other British cookbooks to see how they handle seed cake. Jane Grigson has a version that incorporates ground almonds which she says "make all the difference." Fergus Henderson's recipe calls for more eggs and consuming the cake at 11 a.m. with a glass of Madeira, a delightful idea that would ruin the rest of my day. Leon Baking and Puddings calls its seed cake "Madeira cake" and that made me think of Nigella Lawson's recipe in Domestic Goddess for "My mother-in-law's Madeira cake." I wonder if that was her first or second mother-in-law. Poor Nigella. I looked up her recipe and it doesn't contain seeds, but she does offer a seed variation.

All this is academic, though, because for a mature American palate, seed cake has a fatal flaw: caraway seeds. I associate caraway seeds so strongly with rye bread, that I can't appreciate the flavor in a dessert. Neither could Mark. It's just too confusing. This seed cake is in no way repulsive -- it is like a dense, soft shortbread -- and I will continue to nibble at it for the next few days, but it is not something I ever need to bake again.

Speaking of novels, when I was pulling the pictures of the seed cake off my camera, I found the photos I took last week at The Mount, Edith Wharton's house in western Massachusetts. I don't think any of the furnishings were original, including that pretty cane bed, but I was interested to learn that Wharton used to do most of her writing in bed.

I, too, often write in bed. When I'm writing anywhere else (on the sofa, at a desk) the impulse to stand up and do something practical, like run the dishwasher or sweep or fold laundry, makes it dangerously easy to quit writing. But when I'm lying down, I want to stay lying down so much that I keep writing, even when the writing gets hard. It's one of the few times I can make laziness work to my advantage. Try it some time.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Forty? Seventy? Aren't they basically the same?

Back home in California and happy to be here, yammering goats and very small mountain of work notwithstanding. 

But one last post about the New England sojourn:

Last week, Isabel and I drove up to Maine to visit my friend Mary who lives in an old farmhouse full of eclectic furniture, art, and textiles that shouldn’t work together but do: Oriental rugs, Marimekko tablecloths, midcentury modern dining room set, flea market paintings, relief maps, collections of plastic wildcats and old padlocks. I love her house. I mention the decor because I started thinking there’s a strong correlation between how a person puts together a house and how she (or he) cooks
None of the dishes Mary served us for dinner should have worked together, but it was a perfect meal. This is what she served: lobster bisque, lobster tacos, chicken tagine. No vegetable, no salad. You aren’t going to see this lineup in the “menu suggestions” of any cookbook and that's a problem with cookbooks. 

But the recipes? They came out of cookbooks and no complaints there.
-lobster bisque. You'll find this 1881 recipe on page 108 of The Essential New York Times Cookbook. I've never cooked lobster and probably never will as lobster = unthinkable luxury in California, but for people who live or vacation in coastal New England, the book is widely available in libraries. It's outstanding, so you should consider buying it and I'm starting to think my mother-in-law's beach house needs a copy. Of this lovely bisque, Amanda Hesser writes: "Everything about the soup is subtle. The lobster flavor is pure but discreet. The sweetness of the Sauternes echoes that of the shellfish, and save for a little zing of cayenne, all the flavors are elegant and restrained." Mary substituted 1% milk for the whole milk Hesser calls for and Okanagan ice wine for the Sauternes. If I could only eat one soup for the rest of my life, this would be it.  

-lobster tacos. This recipe from Mark Miller’s Tacos entails marinating lobster, avocado, and chunks of ripe mango in lime juice and olive oil. You then fold this into soft corn tortillas with some soft lettuce and finish with truffle oil. Mary used pineapple instead of mango and omitted the truffle oil and the tacos were my second favorite part of the meal. I loved them, but loved the bisque more. The recipe is here.

-chicken tagine. In one of Kate Christensen's novels, a 74-year-old woman seduces a 40-year-old man by serving him this chicken tagine, and Christensen includes the recipe in Blue Plate Specialher new memoir. Way to raise expectations! I took a few bites of the tagine and it was very good, but I was too full of lobster to give it my full attention. Isabel, however, loved it and ate thirds. Later, I asked, “Do you think the chicken was really good enough that a 70-year-old woman could use it to seduce a 40-year old man?” She stared at me with precisely the expression you'd expect on the face of a 16-year-old  when her mother asks such a ludicrous question. She said, “No? I don’t know.” And looked away, presumably so I’d shut up.  

If you're curious, the recipe is on Christensen's web site

After dinner, Mary said, “I didn’t even offer anyone dessert!” But that’s what made the dinner so great. Dessert would have been conventional and too much.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

No, it's MY broccoli salad

As mentioned in the previous post, I’ve been in Massachusetts at the beach house of my in laws along with dozens and sometimes scores of relatives and friends. There was an extended family potluck the other night to which I contributed a corn salad and a batch of s’mores bars.

The corn salad came from Ms. T at Food52 and I’d never made it before, but after glancing through the plethora of corn salad recipes viewable within 3 minutes on an iPhone while standing in a parking lot, Isabel chose this one. She is unerring in her snap judgments. This is a tomato-less salad that involves blanching the corn, scraping it from the cobs, and tossing with pancetta, cilantro, vinaigrette, and caramelized onions. The Shaw's in Wareham, Mass., didn’t carry pancetta so I used thick-cut bacon and added fresh mozzarella for heft and seasoned the salad very, very vigorously. It was delicious. Do the bacon and mozzarella make this my corn salad? Or is it still Ms. T’s?

Per Isabel’s request, I also made Anne Thornton's killer s’mores bars which I’ve made many times in summers past, always omitting the chipotle pepper.  Does the omission make them my s’mores bars? Or are they still Anne Thornton's?

While I was waiting for the corn to cook, my mother-in-law, worrying that there might not be enough food at the potluck, said, “I think I’ll make my broccoli salad.” 

Because she first tasted the Smitten Kitchen broccoli slaw at my house, I said, “Wait! That’s my broccoli salad!” 

She said, “I’ve made it more times than you have.” 

I started counting in my head the number of times I’ve made the salad but realized I was acting like an 8-year-old and ceded her the broccoli salad because: mother-in-law. 

And because: who cares. These are all three fantastic recipes and you should make them.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Girl with the Canning Jar Tattoo

I will get back to cooking from Time-Life books soon. I want to. But as of a few days ago I’m steaming and relaxing in Massachusetts at my in laws’ beach house. The hydrangeas here are far more beautiful than in California and my hair far less so. I'm supposed to cook a dish for an extended-family potluck tomorrow. What should I make?  

So, the other day in Boston I saw a young woman with a tattoo of a large gray canning jar on her bicep. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more disturbed by a tattoo. Snakes? Nude women? Fire-breathing dragons? Whatever. 

But this canning jar. Jeez.

To start with, it was drab and blocky, inert and homely. At least a snake has a sinuous and interesting shape, and while a  naked woman isn't a tasteful choice, the unclothed human form has a certain primal allure, or so I’m told. And a dragon has spikes and curves and flame and scales and mythology. All of the above suggest a sexy misspent youth. What does a canning jar suggest? This lovely girl is going to be 60 one day and on her aging arm will be a large, gray canning jar. Couldn’t she at least have put some peaches in it?  

Also, while this young woman looked very hip and independent, just a few decades ago canning was a hot, oppressive chore for women, not an empowering choice. I'm certainly not against canning -- my mother and grandmother were prodigious canners and I’ve canned some myself -- but while you're at it, why not tattoo an ironing board on your other arm? 

Except, at least an ironing board could be interpreted as ironic. There was nothing ironic about the canning jar. It was painfully earnest.

That night I couldn’t sleep and decided to stream a movie called First Winter about a group of young people who live on some kind of communal farm where they appear to do little but take drugs, practice yoga, and have unwatchable threesomes. Unwatchable to me because I found the lead character’s beard so repellent. Others will feel differently.

Anyway, an unspecified catastrophe out in the larger world forces this group to try to live by their wits through the winter, chopping wood, hunting, huddling under blankets for warmth. Eventually, they resort to eating food they canned themselves. The lead character and one of his lovers feed this canned food to each other while giggling in a bathtub and the hideous consequences won’t surprise anyone who’s read East of Eden

If you must tattoo your enviably dewy skin, go with the reptiles, girls! Or why not a rose?

On another subject, I just read a collection of short stories called Bobcat by Rebecca Lee that I picked it up because of the title. The "mesmerizingly strange" book has nothing to do with bobcats, but is full of incandescent writing. Rebecca Lee. I love her voice. I copied down a dozen passages, but here are three choice food-related tidbits:  

“They had Fig Newtons, which I knew were not exactly healthy but they were faintly educational and maybe even sort of biblical.” 

“A single line from the archaeologist Ernest Becker often tore through my mind at the end of long meals, that every man stands over a pile of mangled bones and declares life good.” 

“Normally I don’t like trifle -- its layers of bright, childish tastes; strawberry, coconut, sugar. But Lizbet’s trifle was perfect and mysterious-seeming -- anise, raspberry and port with a gingerbread base. Lizbet basically knew how to live a happy life and this was revealed in the trifle -- she put in it what she loved and left out what she didn’t.” 

That sounds like a disgusting trifle, but what a wonderful book.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Pie, dress, animals

close, but not quite
I was on my own for the 4th of July so I made a blueberry pie to take down to my grandmother and aunt who live about an hour away.

Some years ago, I made an unbaked blueberry pie that involved cooking some of the berries with sugar and cornstarch on the stovetop to create a sweet, semisolid "sauce" into which you folded the rest of the berries. You poured the filling into a pre-baked crust and chilled for a few hours before serving. The uncooked berries retained their freshness and pop, while the "sauce" bound them together and it was the best blueberry pie I'd ever eaten, skirting two common problems with summer fruit pies: soggy crust and heavy, supersweet filling that tastes neither fruity nor summery.

But I couldn't remember where this stellar recipe came from and I looked and looked and finally gave up and made a blueberry glace pie from The Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Herrmann Loomis that looked very similar. It's delicious, but the proportion of fresh berries to cooked seems too high. This recipe looks about right and next time I crave blueberry pie, I'll try it.

Now I will tell you about the dress.

This is the first item I have ever bought on ModCloth. I appreciate how one user review of the dress says, "perfect for small busted ladies." True!

I have to be careful with ModCloth because the clothes are very youthful and I am not. But I think this dress looks like something a mature woman might have worn to an afternoon party in the 1950s. Mrs. Cunningham on Happy Days? A nosy neighbor lady in a Douglas Sirk melodrama?

Since my grandmother likes it when my sister and I "make an effort," I made an effort and wore the dress for the first time on the 4th of July. She looked me up and down and said, "Mark is gone this week? I hope you're behaving." Like I've been going to martini bars and letting strange men light my cigarettes.

This is how I knew she liked the dress. This is my grandmother's language.

I whipped cream for the pie and then my grandmother, Stephanie (my aunt), and I sat around the kitchen table and ate blueberry pie and talked for several hours. We talked about family members who died in 1932 and family members who were born three years ago. We talked about people we know who have a touch of OCD (discretion!) and people who could use a touch of OCD (Owen). We talked about boys who chased my mother in high school, female friends who wronged her, children who used to swim with my cousins and me at the Beauvoir pool circa 1976, and about my lovely, lovely grandfather, whom we all miss. I am starting to tear up as I write this. I don't have a mother, but I still have an aunt and grandmother and sitting around the table with them was like taking a long, deep drink at the well when I hadn't even known I was thirsty. It was the perfect 4th of July.

Toward the end of the afternoon, Stephanie said, "Let's go out to dinner!"

But I had to drive home and lock the chickens in their house before the skunks came out for the night and I had to feed the obnoxious goats before they started eating the fence and as I stood up to leave, I resented those animals with every fibre of my being.

I kissed my grandmother good bye. "That is a very beautiful dress," she said. "Poor Mark. I hope you're going straight home."

Like I had any choice.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

You can't judge a book by its cover, chapter 17,033

This is Fireworks. When we got her I thought she was the scrawniest, ugliest chicken I had ever seen and I found Owen's choice of a name darkly funny. I don't think he meant to be darkly funny. I think he chose "Fireworks" because she was orange and maybe because she looked like she'd just survived an explosion. She's some kind of bantam frizzle and she's very shrill and quick, always racing around and squawking.

She was so runty and hideous that I assumed she had to be a loser in all departments, including intelligence. When will I ever learn? All day I've been trying to think of a specific and dramatic example to illustrate Fireworks' cleverness, but it's hard with a chicken. I'll just say that on many occasions I've noticed her snaking a bread crust away from a bigger chicken or chasing off a crow. There is also the fact that she's managed to survive countless bobcat, hawk, and raccoon attacks on the flock. That's no mean feat. At this point, she may be our most senior hen.
see how much smaller and homelier?
Last night I got home at 10 and went straight down to shut the chickens up in their house. I found Fireworks pacing around in the run, muttering. Odd. All the hens are usually inside well before dark. Had she forgotten how to climb the ladder to the door? I picked her up, popped her inside the house, shut the door.
We aren't carpenters.
The door doesn't close cleanly and I fumbled with the lock for a nanosecond and when I couldn't get the rod to go through the slot, gave up because it was dark and I figured it wasn't a big deal. This is called cutting corners. I turned around to leave when -- BOOM -- the door flew open and Fireworks and the other bantam, Birthday, came screaming down the ladder. Slithering after them came a skunk. The skunk promptly sprayed and vanished into the night.

My point is this: freaky little Fireworks was the only hen smart enough to leave the house when that skunk turned up earlier in the evening. All the rest of the hens were up there thinking the skunk might be too full after eating all their eggs (which he had) to bother eating them. More likely, they weren't thinking at all. But Fireworks? So on the ball.

Of course, most of the hens were roosting on a pole a few feet above the skunk and because Fireworks doesn't roost she was in a particularly vulnerable position. But Birthday doesn't roost either and she was just hanging out with the skunk. Frankly, I think any hen, roosting or not, would have been wise to make herself scarce when that skunk appeared. As Brad Pitt said in World War Z, "Movement is life." Or something like that.

The other point is that sometimes you're rewarded for laziness. If I'd taken two seconds to actually lock the door like I knew I should, the skunk would have been trapped in the hen house all night and Lord only knows what I would have found in there this morning.


I just made this roasted broccoli with smoked paprika and almonds for dinner. It is fabulous and easy and you should try it.

Monday, July 01, 2013

What is this, Jennifer, a glass blog?

 I may like STUFF too much.
If I even have any blog readers left, I apologize to you for my absence. Two things happened almost simultaneously in the last month.
  1. As I mentioned in the last post, I was assigned to write a story about art glass and the learning curve has been super-steep. Busy, busy, busy. As I also mentioned in the last post, I’m now a little obsessed with glass. Not so much art glass, as glass itself. I bought some bowls that are too wide to be easily used as vases, but can be if I figure out how to use a frog. My mother knew all about frogs and had a whole collection that I gave to Goodwill after she died because I couldn't imagine ever needing a frog. Oh well. But before I go buy a frog I have to finish writing this story about glass. Like, by a few hours ago.
  2. I feel squirmy sharing this second thing, but it’s the real reason I haven’t been blogging and it happens to people all the time so I can’t see any reason to keep it a secret. Except that it makes me feel squirmy. So. In June I had the first MRI of my life, then the second MRI, and then a biopsy. I WAS SO SCARED. The biopsy was no picnic, but the real soul crusher was the uncertainty which dragged on for several weeks. I didn’t curl up in fetal position and start sucking my thumb, but nor did I cheerfully proceed with baking Austrian tortes and blogging and forming an opinion about foolish, foolish Paula Deen. In fact, I decided to skip the whole Paula Deen chapter altogether. One night last week, people were talking about her and I just got up and cleared the table. Fortunately, this turned out to be a health scare as a opposed to a health catastrophe. There is nothing wrong. I am hugely relieved, though having enjoyed a small taste of 21st century medical drama, I hope to be eaten by wild guinea pigs immediately before the next health scare or catastrophe.  
What else can I tell you? It is very hot, I thoroughly enjoyed World War Z, and there is now a baby bobcat preying on our chickens. I find myself unable to hate a baby bobcat.