Showing posts with label owen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label owen. Show all posts

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Again and again the same situation


Shakshuka as cooked from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi is a melange of red bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic, cumin, and harissa (North African chili paste) that you simmer until melded and delicious and in which you then poach eggs. Serve with bread and yogurt. BUT! Before you serve this magnificent yet simple dish, snap at your husband when he jovially (though not jokingly) wonders if he could have his eggs on toast as this looks "unconventional" and how does he know he's going to like the sauce? Tell him he has to try the food before criticizing. Glower. About 15 minutes later snap at your son when he says, neither jovially nor jokingly, that he's tired of the "weird" things you cook. When his father (ahem!) tells him to stop complaining your son says: "If I don't complain, how am I ever going to make change?"

How could anyone object?
Make change. Brood over those words. Eat in stony silence. Feel angry and disappointed and bitchy and deep down sure that this ongoing mealtime discord has to be your fault. Retire alone to the sofa to watch Circumstance, a movie about teenaged girls in Iran who like each other more than teenaged girls are allowed to like each other in Iran.

Back to first person now:  Circumstance was moving and disturbing. I recommend it. By the time it was over I wasn't mad anymore and no one was mad at me because we all basically like each other when we're not sitting around the dinner table.

Last night we didn't. We dined in front of The Walking Dead. I made Jamie Oliver's pasta carbonara with sausage meatballs which consists of linguine, olive oil, sausage, pancetta, cream, Parmesan, egg yolks, and lemon zest and tastes exactly like you would expect. I prefer shakshuka, but Owen ate the pasta carbonara like a walker with a fresh. . . no, that is rude. Owen ate a lot. He did mention that the pasta was "all lemony tasting," probably so I wouldn't get a swelled head. I wonder if he thinks that he is finally making change.
For about 10 beautiful minutes every afternoon the kitchen gets natural light.
How do we go forward in peace and harmony and food that isn't pasta?

There's no need to try to answer that. Isabel is getting her driver's license and Owen sounds like James Earl Jones and the question is almost moot. Disappointing eaters. Good kids.

Don't let my dismal story scare you off shakshuka. It's delicious, easy, healthy, and not "weird" at all. The recipe from Jerusalem has been published here on Food52, though they've cut the quantity of harissa to 1/6 the original amount. I approve; my shakshuka was fiery. This is a totally different version of shakshuka and looks excellent too.
Pride of Madeira

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving wrap-up and beyond

Father. Turkey.
The big news from Thanksgiving:  I will never brine a turkey again and neither should you. The method outlined here yielded a succulent and perfectly salted bird. I'm not sure I've ever roasted a better turkey.

Isabel's pies were, of course, stellar.


Clockwise from right: chess, sour cream pumpkin, buttermilk, pecan, chocolate caramel with sea salt.
And the kids -- 1 to 98, as mentioned by my husband -- were wonderful company and perfectly well-behaved.


I know my mission right now is to cook through Thai Street Food, but I'm going to be traveling for most of the next ten days, reporting a fun story that will take me to a handful of small towns in cold places around the West. Owen and I are currently in Groveland, California (just outside Yosemite) where it is raining and we are staying in a haunted hotel.

Owen is the messiest person I've ever met. He's disorganized and overemotional and forgets to put the lid on the goat food. He doesn't take pains with his homework and can never find his shoes or his backpack and he routinely leaves his jacket at school. He worries his parents.

But he's curious about everything, excitable and enthusiastic, and he has this wellspring of joy that sometimes seems like the most precious and mysterious of gifts. You can't imagine the ecstasies over everything we've seen so far on our very modest trip -- roadside petting zoos, haunted hotels, dioramas in small museums, snow. He may never master long division, but he's a peerless traveling companion.

P.S. Brilliant piece comparing two very different cookbooks.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Like asking Dwight about beets, Obama about healthcare

It's really hard to photograph goats. I quote Owen far too much, but as he puts it, "They're like paparazzi when they see us." Which is exactly right. We step outside and they come running, madly bleating, and then slavishly follow us around.
Owen isn't hugging Peppermint, he's trying to keep her from jumping on the lap of the photographer.
I would say they're in it for the food, as aren't we all. But Peppermint will neglect grain, melon rinds, popcorn, and tortilla chips to butt gently at my legs until I give her the attention she remembers from her pampered indoor babyhood: holding, scratching, conversation. Then when I go back inside, she finds a shady spot and chews her cud. Goats are the greatest pets. We're going to breed them in November and will hopefully have kids and milk in the spring.

Friday, September 03, 2010

No one has been hospitalized after 23 hours, so I'm calling it a success

I've stalled out on Barbara Lynch's Stir, a great book that I've been dawdling through for months. I was going to call it quits yesterday, but one reason I started this blog was to force myself to actually delve into my cookbooks on a regular, even daily, basis. DELVE. Like, cook stuff I don't know how to cook already. It felt wrong to quit when there's so much delving potential left in Stir.

I decided to take the next few days to cook as many interesting dishes as I can, then wrap it all up on Wednesday. On Wednesday, the foie gras arrives. I felt that before I moved on I had to make Lynch's "most requested" recipe: prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras sauce. This is the kind of dish I reflexively skip over because it looks difficult and expensive. I hope it is worth the money. I hope it is worth the misery of the ducks.

About last night's dinner. My father had invited himself over and since it was a hot day and he's a game guy, I planned a cold meal, all of it from Stir, most of it involving serious delving. Then my maternal grandmother, who is 98, unexpectedly turned up. So it was a party, a very unlikely party given that my parents divorced 25 years ago. My camera battery conked out hence lack of pictures.

We ate:

-oysters on the half shell with sparkling mignonette. At a local market yesterday, fresh oysters cost $1.19 a piece, which is less than half what you pay for oysters at a restaurant. Of course, you have to shuck them yourself which I had never done. By unfortunate coincidence, I sliced my finger while mincing the shallots for the mignonette and then had to shuck oysters with two Band-Aids and a piece of cheesecloth wrapped around my gory finger and while I am confident that no blood sullied the shellfish, the shucking took twice as long as it should have. Also, I used a butter knife. If you shuck a lot, you should definitely invest in the right shiv. The sparkling mignonette, which contains Prosecco, was fabulous and really did sparkle from the bubbles. Here's how you make it: Mix 1/2 cup Prosecco with 1/2 cup white wine vinegar, 2 finely chopped shallots, a generous grinding of black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. If you like oysters, try this dish. I can't believe it took me so long to shuck my own.

-butcher shop steak tartare. Even though I bought quality filet mignon and used salmonella-free eggs from our chickens, recent newspaper stories cast a pall over this segment of the meal. I always order steak tartare if it's on the menu because it's something I don't make at home. Now that it's something I do make at home, I might be done with steak tartare. Did I only order it in the past because it was exotic? Lynch's recipe, which is classic, calls for chopped raw steak, raw egg yolk, mustard, capers, and chopped cornichons. It tasted fine and I ate it, but not with tremendous enthusiasm and can not explain this sudden aversion.

-toasted bread salad with tomato and cucumber. Very pretty twist on a summer standard. Halved cherry tomatoes are tossed with fennel and cucumber and served on long baguette crisps spread with olive paste and adorned with sweet roasted red onion. Lovely.

At one point, Owen was sitting on the sofa between my tiny grandmother and my father telling them about something absurd (rockets? robots?) while they all three merrily ate the oysters. I wanted so badly to take a picture of those three right there, right then. It was like my own private Halley's Comet. I'll probably never get them all in the same room again, let alone the same frame, and certainly not in that giddy oyster-slurping mood. I had to make do with a mental snapshot.

Very fun evening. No crowd I'd rather shuck oysters for.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The mother of all catch-up posts

Should we forbid this comportment at the dinner table? Should we laugh it off?

I never would have worn a box to dinner! I wonder if the kids in ancient Rome started wearing boxes to dinner. I bet it was one of the signs.

A few nights later, I asked Owen to set the table and he did this:
I actually think the newspaper place mat is a good idea.

Okay, food. In the bowl in the photo at top is the tomato soup from Barbara Lynch's Stir. I was not so crazy about this soup, which tasted like spaghetti sauce, so Isabel and I changed it drastically, mostly by adding a lot of sugar and cream. I think the two of us were warped by Campbell's and expect tomato soup to be rich and sweet. Doctored by us, the soup was absolutely delicious, and while it is perverse to use canned tomatoes in August, this would be an excellent soup for January. Here's the recipe:

TOMATO SOUP

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 1/2 cups water
salt and pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil (or another fresh herb. I think dill would work well.)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups cream or milk

1. In a soup pot, gently saute the onion and red pepper flakes in the oil until the onion softens. Pour in the tomatoes and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching.

2. Add water, basil and sugar and simmer for another 15 minutes.

3. Puree in a food processor or blender until smooth. Return to the pot and stir in the milk or cream. Taste for seasoning and serve, ideally with grilled cheese sandwiches. Serves 4.

A few nights later, on the newspaper place mats, we ate Lynch's cheese risotto, which employs, instead of the usual Parmesan, my favorite cheese: aged gouda.
This ugly photo is strictly to prove that I really did make risotto.

The aged gouda was an excellent twist, but the really interesting aspect of this recipe was that Lynch instructs you to fold whipped cream into the cooked risotto. I don't understand the point of whipping the cream, because it melted as soon as it touched the risotto, instantly reverting to its pre-whipped condition. That said, the risotto was incredible.

All caught up.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Catch-up post #3: Off the Grid

If you don't live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you probably don't know how cold it has been this summer, how Siberian the evenings, how gray and disspiriting the mornings, how completely isolated we feel from the August rituals of the rest of America -- cookouts, afternoons at the pool, perspiring. Yesterday, I wore boots, tights, and a long-sleeved dress and it was actually one of our warmer days. In the garden, not a single tomato has ripened, though a few have molded and rotted, still green. It is August 18.

But we do our best. Friday night the kids and I went to an event called Off the Grid, which is basically an open-air convocation of food trucks where hundreds of people in Irish knit sweaters and Peruvian wool caps flock to eat Asian tacos and hot dogs and empanadas and other comestibles sold by mobile vendors and pretend they are having a brilliant summer experience. Isabel and I wanted to eat something from every truck. We did not succeed.

Here's what we tried:

-Malaysian crepe with chicken.
The crepe when submerged in sauce was more like a yummy noodle. I gobbled up the "crepe" and picked at the chicken, which was harshly seasoned and not delicious. The children boycotted.

-a taco.

-a gordita

-a cupcake. Owen had to nag a lot before he got this because I believe bought cupcakes are a rip-off. He got a "Twinkie" flavored cupcake and was disappointed that it didn't taste like a Twinkie. Next time I'm just going to buy him a Twinkie.

-some Chinese dumplings

-saffron lemonade

-two creme brulees, one vanilla, one dulce de leche.
I thought these were quite good, Isabel thought they were middling, and Owen disapproved. Owen: "This is one of the foods that you don't want to take a giant bite of because if you accidentally get too much of it in your mouth it feels really gross."

He might have a point.

We were chilly and had to keep scavenging for seats and none of the food was as tasty as what you'd get in a restaurant. Still, walking back to the car I had this feeling that we'd done something incredibly fun, that we'd shared in a communal celebration of the chill of high summer before the chill of autumn and winter sets in. I guess this is a seasonal ritual people require, even when it's completely absurd. We won't go back, but I'm glad we went.


Monday, June 21, 2010

A perfect Berkeley day

That's not a Novella Carpenter cardboard cut-out Owen is standing behind, it's the real Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City. We took her Urban Goats class yesterday in Berkeley and she was absolutely great, every bit as straightforward and droll and cant-free as you'd expect after reading her book. She gave a PowerPoint presentation about breeds, feed, shelter, etc., then did a hands-on demo of vaccine injecting, hoof trimming, and milking. I've read so much about goat husbandry over the last few months that little of it was new to me, but I'm glad we took the class. She's inspiring.

After that, Owen and I went to a take-out shop I'd heard about called La Bedaine and bought a wild boar terrine sandwich with cornichons and mustard, which is a very Berkeley kind of sandwich. 
Owen talked so much he hardly touched his portion, so I ate for two, which was okay because there's no food I'd rather get fat on than Berkeley food. 
 
I figured since we were in Berkeley, we might as well make a day of it, so I signed us up for a hippie fermented foods class in the afternoon. As you can imagine, Owen was totally stoked. Who wants to see Toy Story 3 when you can learn to make sauerkraut?

Actually, he went along with it very cheerfully, probably because I was listening so attentively to his monologues. It's amazing what undivided attention can accomplish. 

Our fermentation teacher was named Nishanga Bliss. That's a name you either have to live up to or live down, I can't decide. Whichever it is, Nishanga managed. She convinced me of the virtues of fermentation (probiotics) over canning and made a fantastic dill pickle that took about 5 minutes flat (not counting fermentation time) before moving on to kim chi. She also sang the praises of a very pure salt from Utah mined from "ancient oceans" and talked a lot about making her own soda pop. Owen wanted to leave halfway through the class, which I'd expected, but in the car he told me he wants to make pickles this week, which I had not. 

Pickle tutorial coming soon.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Does that look heavy to you?


Capital letters denote words spoken in anger.

Tipsy: Owen, it's time to feed the goats.

Owen: Why do I have to do EVERYTHING. 

Tipsy: You don't. Just feed the goats. 

Owen: Can you carry the bottles down? 

Tipsy: You can carry the bottles.

Owen: But they're SO HEAVY.

Tipsy: I think you're strong enough.

Owen: I think I'm going to drop them.

Tipsy: Please don't drop them.

Owen: I'm going to drop them on the floor. I know I am. I won't be able to help it.

Tipsy: You're not going to drop them.

Owen: Yes I AM.

Tipsy: If you drop them I'M GOING TO THROW AWAY ALL YOUR LEGOS.

Owen IF I DROP THEM I'M GOING TO BLAME YOU.

Tipsy (opening a beer): Please, just go feed the goats.

He didn't drop the bottles. He fed the goats. And once outside, he happily futzed around for 45 minutes and came back chatty and agreeable. It was just the two of us. He ate cereal for dinner, we watched a back episode of Lost, and I let him go to sleep in my bed. I think we're all ready to wean these goats.

Friday, April 09, 2010

She needs a haircut

I poured a glass of wine, pulled out my wallet, and Owen and I ordered some chicks the other night. What with shipping, you pay a pretty penny for your chicks when you order from My Pet Chicken, but they offer a huge selection, and you can buy as few as three. Most hatcheries require orders of 25. We requested:

-1 blue Andalusian, because Owen likes its looks

-1 Marans, because I still want chocolate brown eggs

-1 Welsummer, again, it's about the chocolate brown eggs

-2 Easter Eggers, because we still want green eggs and our surviving Ameraucana doesn't lay them

-1 buff laced Polish (see photo at top), to attempt to replace the irreplaceable Alberta Einstein

We have a few slots left and are holding out for a Penedesenca, currently unavailable. We would also like a silkie bantam, preferably black. 

Meanwhile, Owen and I have been reading My Fine Feathered Friend by former New York Times restaurant critic William Grimes. This sweet, droll book recounts the true story of a bossy Australorp hen that mysteriously turned up in his tiny New York City back yard one day and made herself at home, eating the cat food, roosting in a tree, and laying eggs in a little nest. I've read this book twice before (it's very short) and can't recommend it more highly.

Something else I can't recommend more highly: this toasted coconut ice cream recipe. Serve with chocolate sauce.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Breakfast of cowboys

Here's a surprise: Muffins are even better when you dunk them in a half pound of melted butter and roll them in sugar. 
The Pioneer Woman calls these French breakfast puffs, but they did not strike me as very French. They struck me as very American. Also, very delicious. If you're interested, this is one of the recipes that appears in both the Pioneer Woman's cookbook and on her web site
First, you make a fluffy, sweet, nutmeggy muffin. PW calls for shortening, which somehow seems nastier in a muffin than in a pie crust, but since I had a tub in the refrigerator, I used it. Pale, puffy muffins emerged from the oven 25 minutes later.
I thought that a half pound of butter (Pioneer Woman calls for salted butter) was more than we needed for dunking the muffins, but Isabel ran out before the last two muffins were coated. You don't just dip the crowns in the butter, you drench the whole muffin.This meant that there were two sticks of butter coating 10 muffins, which is about 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter per muffin. Is that a lot? How much butter do people who butter muffins put on their muffins?
 
After buttering, we rolled the damp muffins in cinnamon sugar. 
"Don't be afraid to really coat 'em up," writes Pioneer Woman. "Let the kids help!" 
I let my kid perform the whole messy operation.

"Cinnamony sweet perfection!" gushes the Pioneer Woman. "The deliciousness of these beauties is not to be underestimated." One of the mysteries of Pioneer Woman is how she manages to be both immodest and charming at the same time, which she does.

At any rate, we all agreed with her -- cinnamony sweet perfection! All except Owen.

"Tastes like a donut," said Owen. Then: "No offense, but it's a little too sugary and you can taste salt in there." 
He was responding, I think, to the salted butter. I told him he's crazy, that salt, sugar and fat are the qualities we look for in a food, and that when he gets the whole trifecta in a single dish he should rejoice, and that he should never say "no offense" because just those two words are offensive. 

I didn't really say that. I don't think I said anything. This morning I offered to toast one of yesterday's leftover puffs for breakfast, but he declined. He wants pancakes, so I am now going to make Pioneer Woman's pancakes. They appear to consist mostly of sour cream.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Better cream of tartar biscuits

Every photograph ever taken of Owen would look like this if he had his way. He's eating biscuits, watching League of Super Evil, and no one's making him get dressed. 

Thanks to An Honest Cook, who recommended this excellent recipe, the second batch of Crazy Heart-inspired cream-of-tartar biscuits was stellar, producing 18 tall, tender, very light and fluffy biscuits. Far above average in the biscuit department and I highly recommend.

The kids and I are supposed to start driving to Seattle this afternoon, otherwise I would use the leftovers to attempt this incredibly tempting recipe for biscuit pudding from Salon.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Again I am wrong about something

This is the tiny frizzle hen that inspired me to buy Owen a frizzle hen last fall. Owen's black frizzle was ugly, miserable, and cantankerous and a rogue dog killed her a few weeks after we brought her home, which was almost sadder than if she'd been nice.  This one looks like a fluffy chrysanthemum with a little chick face sticking out, and she's very sweet.

I had misgivings about yesterday's 4-H visit to the retirement home because it struck me as patronizing. Just because people are old, doesn't mean they want to sit around and watch show-and-tell with scraggly barnyard animals. 

Oh, but they did. I was so wrong. When the 4-H club arrived, there were about 20 people waiting in the lounge, pumped for the show, wheelchairs drawn up to formica tables.
 
Each of the kids made a brief (or, in Owen's case, meandering) presentation, and then brought their animal around for residents to meet and admire. 
It went on for about an hour, and by the end the kids were no longer shy, everyone was chatting, the animals were running around, and there were a few moderately amusing mishaps. I don't want to get corny about the healing power of animals/the rightness of generational mixing, but it was an unexpectedly lovely afternoon. 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Moro yogurt vs. Brown Cow

On the left is homemade yogurt with strawberry jam. What's on the right was marked down at Whole Foods this week.

Although I make yogurt all the time, I've hesitated to send a child to school with homemade yogurt in a canning jar because I worried it might be embarrassing, like going to school in a dress made from a flour sack. But Owen, who is a 9-year-old ecofreak, loved the idea. I questioned whether, for all his scruples, he would find strawberry jam an acceptable substitute for "fruit-at-the-bottom." He did. Amazing. It has really bugged me to make great yogurt and then feed the kids expensive and mediocre single-serving cartons of Dannon/Yoplait/Brown Cow just because they're pre-sweetened and portable. Non-serious problem now solved.

As for the yogurt itself, I used the Moro recipe, which is much fussier than my go-to recipe in Anne Mendelson's Milk. 
 
Mendelson's recipe involves heating milk and cooling it, adding a few spoonfuls of "starter" yogurt then putting the mixture somewhere warm to sit overnight.  In the morning, you strain the yogurt for a few hours to thicken. It's like Greek yogurt, and it's fabulous. (This is virtually identical to Mendelson's formula, and if you've never made yogurt, you should try it.)

The Moro recipe calls for boiling milk until it reduces by a third, which takes a while, then adding cream. You cool this decadent mixture, stir in your starter, and put it somewhere warm to sit overnight. It is also fabulous, perhaps slightly more fabulous than Mendelson's yogurt, if not fabulous enough to merit the extra effort. It is also extremely fattening.
 
Still, I count this yogurt as one more reason to love the Moro cookbook.

In other news, I finally got around to reading Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Not for everyone, this best-selling mystery, as it is lurid, grisly, intricately (some might say "implausibly") plotted, and overpopulated with sadistic Swedish sex maniacs. I never wanted it to end. Have now embarked on the sequel instead of taking down the Christmas tree. There are times when serial killers are better companions than sentimental Christmas ornaments, though I really do need to take down that tree. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An almost horror story

Two nights ago, Owen and I could not find Rhoda, one of our favorite chicks. She's perky, smart, and rust-colored.  We searched the yard with a flashlight, then hoped she'd turn up in the morning. She didn't.

We mourned the loss, Owen especially. Even Isabel, who finds our poultry operation eccentric and embarrassing, was sad. Rhoda is an unusually sweet pullet.
 
Another night passed.

This morning my husband was straightening up the chicken run and picked up an overturned litter box that had been used for food at some point. Underneath, was Rhoda, alive, 2 feet from the coop.

Two reactions:

1. deep gratitude that Owen did not pick up that litter box three days from now

2. I need to keep a tidier chicken run

That's Alberta Einstein after a few minutes in the rain. You should see her after a few hours -- the fluffy head of feathers turns stringy and muddy and droops around her face like a greasy pageboy haircut. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

The kitchen bitch vs. bitchy in the kitchen

Owen has claimed Isabel's Snuggie as his own, a practice we called "Indian giving" back in the day. They don't use that term around the schoolyard anymore, which is probably for the best. The Snuggie makes him look a little like Max in the Wild Things book, and I sometimes even think he acts more demanding and imperious when he's wearing his cape.

One quirk of our picky family is that everyone loves salad, so the other night we had feta salad with pita crisps out of Moro. It was fine; I was trying to diet. See wooden salad bowl in foreground. Didn't get around to setting a gracious table that night.

Yesterday, I roasted chicken with harissa and made the cauliflower with pinenuts, saffron and raisins, also from Moro recipes. I was feeling very disspirited and bored and cooking dinner seemed like a monumental drag and I decided it's because I've been picking the most boring, frugal, and easy dishes out of the book. There's little excitement in a conscientious work- and child-centered day if you eliminate even the cheap thrill of grilling a quail, or frying an imported chorizo. I am much less crabby when I try something new or fancy or challenging or exotic. 

This is why I took Dan Duane's side in Eizabeth Weil's New York Times Magazine story that all my friends were talking about a week ago. Let the guy go wild in the kitchen, I thought. Especially if you won't French kiss! (You have to read the story.) A pig's head and some squab are cheaper than a divorce.

But I had more sympathy for Weil after reading Hanna Rosin's Doublex piece today about culinary turf wars and the rise of the male "kitchen bitch." You can read it here. I know these men, the ones who have you over for big, showy dinners with pricey cuts of meat and Tuscan wines while the little brown wren of a wife quietly clears away the dirty glasses. 

I don't know what I would call my husband's kitchen persona, but this is not it. When I came back from Hawaii, the refrigerator was full of Oscar Mayer products, the super-cheap milk from Walgreens, and half-eaten jars of spaghetti sauce. Frustrating in its own way, but at least there are no power struggles over who's making Christmas dinner.

I started to wonder if I'm guilty of what Rosin and Weil complain about, of forcing my spouse to do the childcare while I pour my energy into time-consuming, show-offy cooking feats. On occasion, yes. But after some soul-searching, I acquitted myself. Almost all my cooking, ambitious or otherwise, occurs between 5 and 7:15 p.m. when I'm alone in the house with the children, helping with long division homework and listening to them fight. Cooking just keeps my hands busy; I'm available, but not idle. What else would I do? 

In other news, I just read a dark little book (physically little, not little in any other way) called American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell. If I had my own 2009 top ten list, this would be on it.  Campbell's stories are scary, precise and exquisitely written; the characters are meth addicts, salvage yard operators, and struggling Michigan farmers, so-called "ordinary" people but they're not given the usual, solemn "ordinary" treatment. It's funny and wicked and brilliant. Highly recommend -- but not for everyone. Definitely not for my mother, for instance. If you don't like dark, disturbing books, I would instead recommend Mennonite in a Little Back Dress by Rhoda Janzen, which I also loved, and is sweet, witty and altogether delightful.
  

Sunday, December 13, 2009

While I was napping

That's a clone of a Mars Munch Bar that my husband and Owen  made out of Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Recipes Unlocked yesterday afternoon. You have no idea how rare it is that either of them does anything in the kitchen more complicated than pouring a bowl of Cheerios or opening a carton of yogurt. Owen wanted to buy a Snickers, Husband said no, but that they could go home and make a candy bar. So they did. 

I was shocked and impressed. I ate so much of this candy that I have a stomachache. It's like peanut brittle that doesn't stint on the peanuts or stick in your teeth. The chocolate wasn't called for in the recipe, but works.

Tipsy: Doesn't it make you want to try more stuff in the kitchen?

Husband: No, it just makes me want to make this over and over again.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Three pies down, two to go

I always thought that I was drawn to cooking because my mother had so few inclinations in that direction. She was always installing skylights, building bookshelves, and working in her pottery studio. Cooking was all mine, and I taught myself to cook using cookbooks. See subtitle of blog. I assumed things would play out this way with Isabel, that she would look for areas where she could  distinguish herself.  And she has. She also cooks. She used to bake with me all the time, and now she bakes without me all the time. I couldn't make a pie unsupervised when I was 12, but she can.
I was watching her yesterday and noticed she's picked up all my "tricks" -- she melts her butter in a measuring cup in the preheating oven instead of on the stove, etc. -- 
but she's neater, more patient and methodical. Like, she puts the pecans in an orderly row.
 I never do that.

I'm the tiniest bit jealous. I'll always be a fake cook who learned from books; she'll be a "natural" cook who learned from her gentle, wise, and beautiful mother.

While Isabel and I were having our wholesome Laura Ingalls Wilder day, Owen took in some serious TV. The trouble with taking pictures of a kid watching Ben 10: Alien Swarm is that you can't get both stupefied child and flashing television in the same frame. 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gourmet Today: roasted pears and candied celery

Right before we went to Boston last week, we had party with my uncle Luis, his wife Ana Maria, and my grandmother. The only dish I made that didn't come from Gourmet Today was the guacamole (excellent Rick Bayless version with tomatillos) and the guests -- all natives of Guatemala -- informed me that this chunky Mexican guacamole lacked the suave, elegant texture of Guatemalan guacamole, which is essentially pureed and, of course, far superior. Having stated their case, they basically scraped the bowl clean of the barbaric Mexican guacamole and my grandmother took the dish to her place at the table and used the last bits as a relish for the rest of the meal.

 I served straciatella, a chicken soup with spinach and egg that was fine, and an eggplant souffle, that was also fine but didn't rise one centimeter, so I called it a frittata. I forced myself not to apologize.
 
 For dessert, we had roasted pears with candied celery because I wanted to taste candied celery.

To make this, you halve and core Bosc pears and lay them in a bed of sliced celery and pour over everything a lemony, sugary syrup spiked with expensive dessert wine. 

I used the cheapest dessert wine I could find (Moscato) and it cost $15 for a half bottle, which gave me pain.

 You roast the pears until tender, remove them from the oven and place them in a serving dish while you boil down the syrup and celery. When the celery is shiny, sticky, and almost jammy, you take it off the heat, pour it over the pears, and serve.

Like the rest of the meal it was fine; the celery tasted only vaguely of celery, mostly it was just achingly sweet. We enjoyed this novelty dish, but I'd never make it again and I'm worried that a lot of Gourmet Today recipes are going to fall into this category.
 
There's more to this story. Many months ago, I stated steeping vanilla using inexpensive beans I bought in bulk on amazon. Since I couldn't decide what liquor to use, I made three batches: one with dark rum, one with golden rum, one with vodka. I cut the beans into pieces, stuffed them into three jars, and added the booze. Then I let them sit and sit and sit.

To embellish the pears, I decided I would make custard sauce and divide it into four portions and flavor each with a different vanilla, including a supermarket vanilla. Then we would taste them all, discuss, and declare a winner.
 
I wish I could say there was a dramatic finale to the vanilla experiment, but you had to really concentrate if you wanted to detect a difference between the batches of custard sauce. There was a weak preference for the homemade vanilla made with light rum and I would say the dark rum was the loser. The supermarket vanilla was definitely the mildest, but I'm not sure that was a bad thing; it didn't overshadow the bright flavors of the milk and egg. 

Really, though, the differences were so subtle it was hard to make a case for any of these vanillas. I haven't priced it out, but on flavor alone, homemade vanilla -- at least as made by me -- is no better than McCormick's. 

******

A scene from our home a few minutes ago:

Owen: Mom! Dad!

Tipsy: Yes?

Owen: I asked the Magic 8 ball if any more of our chickens are going to die and he said, "My sources say no!"

Tipsy (heart sinking): That's wonderful.

Husband: Ask the Magic 8 ball if I am the handsomest dad in Tam Valley. 

Owen: Aaahh! He says "Don't count on it." Wait, let me try again.

I find nine to be a very sweet age.

Friday, October 23, 2009

If what she's trying to show (not tell) is utter contempt -- A+!

This was on the screen of our family computer when I sat down a few minutes ago. It is a writing assignment that Isabel produced for school. 

SHOW NOT TELL

The room was messy.

“Ouch!” I cringed as a sharp, bright red, plastic lego pierced my foot. My brother had stolen my colored pencils and I wanted them back. Scanning the room I narrowed my eyebrows in disgust. Week, maybe month old laundry littered the rug which was stained with chocolate milk. Various toys of every shape and size cluttered the floor and the stench of discarded week old pizza filled the air. Hopping to avoid any more of the deadly legos, I made my way to his scratched-up brown desk. Pushing aside piles of drawings and forgotten homework assignments I finally dug my way to the bottom and found what I was looking for. I grabbed the pencils and sped out of the messy room.

Do you narrow your eyebrows or narrow you eyes? I believe it's the eyes.

Actually, I think Owen's room is looking comparatively good these days. No week-old pizza. I checked.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

How many birthday cakes does a boy need?

A kid needs 28 birthday cakes. One for the friends party, one for the family party, and 26 cupcakes for school.
 
I was thinking of buying the cupcakes (tired, who cares), but Isabel wanted to bake them. She favors the Magnolia Bakery recipe which is reprinted here and which we have made 20 times and love. She was going to color the buttercream frosting pink, but I told her, it's your brother's birthday, any color but pink. 

So she made. . . 

Gay Pride cupcakes. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Such a hit they were at school that Owen traded the extras for action figure cards. He was very pleased with the exchange, but I've seen those cards and they were cut from the back of a cereal box. He totally got rooked. 

Today he's going to learn to bathe chickens at 4H. Just thinking about that cracks me up.

My review of Nick Hornby's new novel is here