Thursday, November 24, 2011

Crabapple Pecan Meringue Tart

The obvious thing to do when you are on tap for pies and dinner rolls at Thanksgiving, AND your brother is going to be staying with you for the holiday, AND you need to clean so that he has a place to sleep, is to make one of the pies more complicated.  Ordinarily crabapple pecan tart is topped with unsweetened coconut.  But I forgot to get unsweetened coconut.  So upon reflection I decided that meringue would be an interesting counterpoint to the tartness of the pie.

Sharing this recipe is sheer self-indulgence.  Most people don't make crabapple sauce, but they are one of the few fruit trees that fare well in Alaska, and Bird regularly mails me frozen bricks of it.  You should be so lucky.  If you are not on Bird's crabapple sauce mailing list, here is how you can make your own crabapple sauce.

Crabapple Sauce

1 or more plastic Safeway bags  of crabapples (the bigger kind that actually have some fruit, not the kind that are pretty pink skin wrapped around seeds) scavenged from the crab apple trees of friends
Sugar to taste (but not too much) (1/3 -1/2 cup usually)
1 food mill
brandy (optional)
1 cup size freezer containers

Wash your crab apples

With a sharp paring knife (you can use a dull one if you must, but it's kind of annoying), remove the stems and that weird woody nodule on the bottom of the crabapples.  This is best done with a friend, as this step can go on for kind of a long time, and if you have a friend there, then you have someone to talk to.  Ooo and aaa at the luminous pinkness of the little fruit. Toss the stemmed crabapples into a large stockpot.

When the pot is a third or so full, add enough water to come up about halfway up the crabapples.  Place over medium heat, cover, and bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, slosh in a little brandy if you feel like it.  Meanwhile stem more crabapples.

When the crabapples are mooshy and a bit exploded, run them through a food mill until the skins and seeds are all that is left in the mill basket, and you have a bowl of brilliantly pink crabapple sauce.  Add 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, and spoon into the freezer containers and allow to cool.  While you are doing this, your sidekick can prep the next batch.

Bricks of crabapple sauce keep brilliantly in the freezer.  With a bit more sugar and some pectin, it also makes rather nice freezer jam.

Crabapple Pecan Tart with Optional Meringue Topping

I made up this recipe for Bird sometime after our first venture into crabapple sauce making when we realized that Bird's freezer was full of crabapple sauce and we didn't know quite what to do with it.  I was reading my Gourmet Cookbook and found this recipe for a cranberry walnut tart.  A lightbulb went off and the rest, as they say, was history.

Piecrust sufficient for a single crust pie (homemade if you are ambitious, store bought if you are incompetent or feel that life is too short)
4 large egg yolks (or three eggs if you are not making meringue)
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) melted and cooled (apparently optional, as I forgot my melted butter in the microwave and people still raved about the tart)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup crabapple sauce (thawed if you are using a frozen brick)
1 cup chopped pecans
unsweetened shredded coconut if you don't feel like fussing with meringue
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup water
4 egg whites at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup white sugar, preferably superfine

Place crust in a pie plate or tart pan.  Preheat ovn to 425. Lightly prick crust in several places with a fork.  Line crust with foil and place pie weights, raw rice, or dried beans inside.  Bake until edges are golden, about 15 minutes.  Carefully remove foil and weights ad bake crust until pale golden all over, 5-10 minutes more.  Cool.  Reduce oven temperatureto 350.

Whisk together eggs, brown sugar, butter, salt, vanilla, and crabapple saucein a medium bowl until smooth.  Stir in nuts.

Pour filling into crust.  Bake for 25 minutes.

While the tart is baking make the meringue.  I used a recipe that I got from Joy of Cooking, for a meringue stabilized with cornstarch, as it stands up well to refrigeration.

In a small saucepan thoroughly mix the corn starch and 1 tablespoon of sugar.  Gradually stir in the water, making a smooth runny paste.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring briskly all the while.  Boil for 15 seconds.  It will form a thick, viscid, translucent paste.  Remove from the heat, cover and set it aside.

In a clean, grease free bowl , beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy.

Add the vanilla and cream of tartar and beat until soft but definite peaks form.  Very gradually beat in the 1/2 cup of sugar.

Beat at high speed until the peals are very stiff and glossy, but not dry.  Reduce the speed to very low and beat in the cornstarch paste one tablespoon at a time.  When all the paste is incorporated, increase the speed to medium and beat for ten seconds.  If you timed things right, the timer is about to go off.

Remove the tart from the oven and spoon the meringue over the top of the still hot pie, being sure to start by spooning a ring around the edge of the crust to anchor the meringue and keep it from shrinking away from the edges, then mound the remaining meringue in the middle.

Return the pie to the oven for another twenty-five minutes, or until the meringue is golden.

If you are not messing with meringue, at the twenty-five minute mark sprinkle the top of the pie liberally with the unsweetened coconut, and either employ a ring of foil or a pie shield to keep the crust from overbrowning. Cook for another twenty to twenty-five minutes.  The coconut should be nicely tanned.

Either way allow to cool before serving.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Behind again

In case anyone is wondering, 20 credits is a course load for lunatics.  My brain is like unto an orange after it has been juiced -- somewhat flattened and kind of oozy.  Despite this, or perhaps because of this, I have been cooking.  Cooking rather a lot. Other domestic tasks not so much.  My apartment has definitely assumed the mid-quarter chaos, that signals that it is the abode of a very tired person who does little more than cook, sleep, read, and sometimes water the plants.  But as I mention I have been cooking.  In order to get caught up on food based blogging I need to give the recipes for Black Forest cheesecake brownies, squash and bacon pasta al forno, the latest iteration of orange vegetable coconut soup -- NOW with extra legumes, as well as discussing the perils and delights of sour dough starter, venison meatballs, and the Greek place over in Queen Ann that is now my favorite Greek place.  I'll start with the brownies, widely acclaimed as the best brownies ever (okay, only Carolus Calvus described them thus) but they are pretty darn good.

The brownies in question were my solution to the problem of wanting a birthday cake, and being the only person around who would bake one (Okay, Jackie volunteered, but she doesn't actually like cake, and I didn't feel like a big party this year, so it seemed a bit unfair). Mom always makes me an Italian Cream Cake, which as far as I know has nothing to do with Italy but rather has a lot to do with pecans and coconut (the recipe seems to originate in the American South).  But in the absence of Mom, I opted for something that was nothing like what she makes me.

Black Forest Cheese Cake Brownies

Notes: The brownie layer is actually just a doubling of my favorite brownie recipe.  It's gooey.  Very gooey.  For reasons that I have yet to understand, if you bake these brownies in a glass dish, you will end up with a dish of delectable brownies that refuse to leave their pan neatly, no matter how you butter and flour the pan.  If you bake them in a greased metal pan, no problem. Unfortunately I was making a 9"x13" pan to share with my classmates, and the only pan that size I own is pyrex.  Fortunately taste made up for inelegant presentation.  If you just want a truly excellent fudgy brownie, halve the recipe and bake it in an 8"x8" baking pan, or a nine inch metal pie plate, if that's all that's clean.

Brownie Layer
2 sticks of butter (low fat is only one of the minor virtues, especially if you spend a lot of time walking around in Seattle's winter weather -- icy cold downpours, alternating with wind and icy cold sideways rain)
4 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate finely chopped
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cheese Cake Layer
16 ounces cream cheese, well softened and cut into chunks (I usually microwave it to goo, but other people choose to do things differently.)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest, if you happen to have it on hand

1 or possibly 1 1/2 cans of cherry pie filling.

Grease and flour a 9"x13" pan. Preheat the oven to 325.

In a large heavy bottomed sauce pan, melt the chocolate and butter over medium low heat, stirring to make sure it doesn't burn.  When everything is nearly melted, turn off the stove and let it coast until all of the chocolate and butter is in fact melted.

Add everything else, stirring until well combined.  One of the reasons I like this brownie recipe? It's really easy, even if you're really tired.

Scrape the brownie batter into the pan, and bake for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile combine everything else except the cherry pie filling, and mix until smooth.

When the brownies come out of the oven, scrape the cheese cake layer on top of the brownie layer and bake in the oven for 35 minutes or so, or until the cheesecake layer is just tinged with brown and beginning to crack on top. and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean of cheesecake, but with a few brownie crumbs.

Allow the cheesecake to cool for twenty minutes then top with the cherry pie filling.  Pop everything in the fridge and serve the next day to general acclaim.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Tex-Mex for Lutherans from Lake Woebegone

Friends and relations who are in the know about such things, point out that the following recipe has no ground beef, and no cream of mushroom soup, so it cannot possibly represent a true Lutheran Hot Dish Experience.  And they are right, although now I am thinking of trying to invent enchiladas that use cream of mushroom soup in a way that isn't horrifying, but I can't really call the following Tex-mex, and it sure as heck isn't Mexican.  It is derived distantly from a cheese enchilada recipe Mom picked up in Sitka.  It's a pretty distant derivation.

Black Bean, Spinach, and Cheese Enchiladas

2 cups or so cooked brown rice (or 3/4s cup brown rice and 2 cups boiling water combined on a medium heat burner for half an, silly, use a sauce pan, don't just pour the water and the rice on the heating element)
1 can black beans
1 packet onion soup mix
1 cup sour cream
1 can diced green chiles
2/3s of a 7 oz brick of frozen chopped spinach
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups cottage cheese (low fat if you want)
1 cup or so shredded cheese, mexican blend or cheddar or whatever you like
1 package of whole wheat tortillas
1 of the larger cans of enchilada sauce
Additional cheese for the top

NOTE: If one wants to substitute say roasted zucchini, more chopped onions, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, or bell peppers for some of the rice, I think that's just dandy.  Or some chicken. Or all of the above.  I  just didn't happen to have any of those things on hand that I wanted to use for this purpose.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Combine everything but the tortillas, the enchilada sauce, and the cheese that you'll be sprinkling on top of the enchiladas in a large bowl. This shall hereafter be referred to as the filling.

Spoon a couple or three tablespoons of filling into each tortilla, roll it and stick it in a large baking dish.  I use my 9X13 pyrex dish and that seems just right.

When you've used all the tortillas that will fit, spread any remaining filling over the top, before pouring the enchilada sauce over the whole mess. Top with cheese.

Bake for 45 minutes, increasing the heat to 400 around the 20 minute mark.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

On Round Bread

This is the One Bagel.
As you can see from the picture, I made bagels today*. Or rather I made them yesterday, and baked them today. I have yet to find acceptable bagels in Seattle. They're probably around, I just haven't found them yet. Anyway, in my quest for adequately toothsome round bread, I decided to try my hand at making my own. I used this recipe for bagels. I did not plunk for barley malt syrup and that would make a difference in flavor, but the texture is impeccable. Nice and chewy, but not too dense.

*I was going to take a picture of bagels nicely arranged on a plate, and placed on a ledge in the entryway.  Very artistic with the cool grey light of a Seattle afternoon reflecting off flaking paint, wrought iron, and tenacious greenery.  Unfortunately, my camera's light sensor has died the true death, so instead you get my Frodo impersonation.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Wind from the Sea, Andrew Wyeth
Little known fact -- my favorite twentieth century painter is Andrew Wyeth.  The exhibition of the Helga paintings at the Smithsonian is the first time art on walls came close to capturing my attention the way the dinosaur bones at the Natural History Museum could. As an adult, looking with the eyes of someone who aspires to artistry, I am humbled and enlightened by his work in one of the most difficult of the painter's mediums. If I could paint with a tenth, a fiftieth even of his mastery, I would be a happy woman.

However I may envy his technical mastery, I would not hunger after his work if he were no more than a bravura technician. The starkness of the world Wyeth paints, alleviated with the touches of civilization, but never banished reminds me of Alaska.  His subjects -- farmers, fishermen, interior and exterior landscapes -- are illuminated by the fineness of his attention.  Stray threads in old lace curtains and decaying work boots with a bit of wear left in them are given equal dignity with fallow fields and hungry sea.  His depictions are loving, finding beauty in the deeply mundane.  The wind blowing nets hung out to dry is given spiritual weight in Pentecost. So I return to him again and again, seeking renewal of my own vision.

T.S. Eliot in Little Gidding gets at this sense of what I want to say about Wyeth's paintings in far fewer words:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning
I am quoting and offering artwork, because trying to talk about moving and making a new life in a place that is not Alaska is something that defies words for me.  I miss the sense of home that illuminates Wyeth's paintings, and while waking up in Seattle no longer causes me to feel like I've just lost everything I love, I still do not feel like I belong. Not really.  I'm making friends.  I have course work I find meaningful.  But I do not have the knowledge of place that tells me the names of the plants I see when I walk in the woods, or where to buy kaffir lime leaves (not that I need kaffir lime leaves right now, but I can easily think of three or four places to buy them in Anchorage). 

But why should I expect Seattle to feel as comfortable as Anchorage? It took me the better part of twenty years to grow into that local knowledge.  But I don't want to wait.  I want to feel at home now or at least not be wedded to google maps for finding anything outside of the Hill and a small section of downtown.

Meanwhile, I have a pot of daal simmering on the stove, and bagels rising slowly in the fridge.  I am trying to bring the kind of attention to my surroundings that Wyeth brought to the environs of the farm he lovingly painted for most of the twentieth century. It's not a bad life, but I miss the smell of the birch forests in September and the sharp feel of the air just before it snows.

Monday, September 26, 2011

While I'm ruminating

A thoughtful cow, presumably ruminating. Found here 

I am ruminating on place, connection, community, and other allied topics.  Ruminant as a cow, that's me.  I am also being deeply thankful that I froze all those leftovers last spring.  Coming back from Anchorage has left me with a bad case of not wanting to cook, even though I have kale.  (Which will probably soon be a big pot of kale and potato soup, because it's disappearing from the freezer fast.)

Meanwhile, have a link to a plum cake.  I want an excess of plums so I have an excuse for a plum cake.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On Quilting (And Other Things I Don't Do)

Bird tells a story about one of her cousins, the one everyone knows makes the best pie crust in the world.*  Before the female relative's mother died, her mother made the best pie crust in the world.  Everybody knew it.  She had the ribbons from the fair to prove it.  The cousin never made pie, because everyone knew her mother's was best.  Until her mother died, then she started making pie, and now she has her own ribbons (and a grandson whose first word was "Pie").

I only mention this because I come from a family of accomplished seamstresses and needle women. My aunt makes quilts that are like beebop jazz played on a French horn -- inventive, exuberant, and elegant all at once.  My Mom makes quilts that are more like Bach-- precise, meticulous, classic, and still playful.  Both of them make amazing clothing.

Mom tried repeatedly to interest me in sewing as a girl.  She failed miserably.  I would begin with good intentions, and get frustrated half way through and go run around in the woods instead.  It didn't help that Mom's sewing machine was on its last legs, and jammed whenever anyone looked sideways at it, and in my case whenever I looked directly at it as well.  Mom eventually gave up. My younger brother took to sewing more readily than I did.  (He also knits, and makes a mean chocolate chip cookie, while discoursing learnedly on political philosophy.  As brothers go, I think he's pretty cool.) I decided that I did NOT sew.  I was accursed in the mechanical department, and too impatient for anything beyond rudimentary mending.  And that was that.  For years.

At the end of my high school career, a friend of mine invited me to her house for a couple of weeks to make a quilt.  She had owned a quilt store at one time, and her stash filled rooms.  So together we pulled the fabrics for a log cabin quilt, in shades of red, turquoise, and blue (balanced by shades of cream and grey).  I didn't do most of the sewing. For reasons neither of us could explain, her ordinarily reliable machine jammed crazily whenever I went near it. So I pressed the blocks, and marveled at the evolving relationships between color and pattern.

Fast forward another four years.  Mom had taken up quilting, bought a new sewing machine, and I had a pregnant friend.  So I decided to make a baby quilt. My one experience with quilting was by this time, a few years old, and I didn't actually know how to use Mom's machine, but I went ahead and bought fabric anyway.  I made a split rail fence quilt (which was ridiculously easy to piece, even though I didn't know what I was doing).  However, just as I was putting the borders on the quilt top, my friend lost the baby, and the quilt went on the shelf. 

Fast forward again, another seven years, Mom found the quilt top on the shelf, and said, "Hey, Sarah, what do you think of finishing this?" And I looked at it, and I could see that it had some problems, but was withall a functional quilt on which to set a baby.  And lo! in the meantime many of my friends and relations were in their early thirties, which meant that there were babies and pregnancies all over the place, and the real problem was deciding who got the finished quilt.  So Mom and I went and bought some fabric for the back and I quilted the sucker while watching the evening news (and an extremely laudatory documentary about James Baker saving the Reagan administration, which I found peculiarly amusing in its bias -- I am sure that James Baker was a fine person and an able diplomat, but the way the documentary went on, one might have thought he invented glasnost and the internet as well as being Secretary of State). Mom helped me with the binding (which is another way of saying that she was the one who put the binding on).

I presented the finished product to a friend of mine, to general acclaim, and thought, "that's it, I'm done.  Never doing that again. I do NOT sew, and this is a fluke."

I came home for Christmas break, and I had still more pregnant friends and relations, and I wanted to do something creative that was nothing like a design class.  So I looked through Mom's quilt books, and came up with the idea that Mom and I would make a quilt for one of the imminent cousinlings in two weeks. My idea was that I would pick out the colors and the design, and maybe occasionally approach the sewing machine tentatively, but Mom would do the real work.

My taste in colors can run up against the bounds of good taste, and go reeling off in directions that are even more unsuitable. So Mom had a job convincing me that Purple, Blue, Turquoise, Red, Orange, and Yellow, might not be the most graceful combination of colors ever conceived. In fact, she failed.  The quilt is so...vibrant, that it took me until recently to realize that the block I'd used, was ordinarily called Buckeye Beauty and one I'd admired greatly in more traditional settings.  Despite this, the quilt was not dire despite the fact that I did all of the piecing and most of the quilting, although possibly a bit more stimulating to the visual centers of the brain than one might expect. It all went together in a fashion almost devoid of sturm und drang.  But I was clear, I do NOT sew, and I don't quilt.  I just really love my cousins. 

So this summer, again home in Alaska, I found myself poking through Mom's stash, and thinking that a quilt might be a fun project to take on.  Once again, I had an excess of pregnant people, but they all knew each other, and I worried about hurt feelings if I only made a quilt for one of them.  But I really wanted to make a quilt. (A clear sign that my anti-sewing resolve was crumbling.) As I was flipping through Mom's quilt books for the millionth time, admiring things that are clearly not for someone as scatterbrained and imprecise as I am, I found something I liked in one of Marsha McClosky's books, a nine patch. Nine patches are unintimidating. The sort of thing that I could do with minimal supervision, even if I wanted to do something kind of scrappy, which would not allow for strip piecing.  And those colors in that pile over there were Bird's sort of colors.

I'm certain Bird needs another throw for her couch.

Next thing Mom knew, her sewing room was awash in hundreds of 2.5" squares (approximately -- among my quilting handicaps is a failure to fully grok the zen of a rotary cutter, with the result that at least thirty percent of the time, I fail to cut straight lines, despite the assiduous deployment of a really large ruler) of blue, teal, cream, and the occasional burst of red.

I discovered that coming home and sewing was a nice break from the general public at work, and suddenly hundreds of squares became a slightly more reasonable number of blocks, then rows of blocks, and then slightly inexplicably a nearly twin size quilt top (since a nearly twin size quilt is pretty perfect as a throw on a couch).  Not long after that it became a full blown quilt, in which many of the seams matched more or less.  I did in fact operate a sewing machine in the process, but it still seems astonishing and improbable to me that I must use the passive voice. 

There are problems with making a surprise quilt for a really close friend.  One of them is that people like that are prone to asking dangerous questions like, "what have you been up to this week?"

I am terrible at dissimulation.  "Um, I've been quilting. (OfcourseasyouknowIdon'tsew.)"

Bird, knowing about the bumper crop of babies in my social circle, asked,"Do you have a recipient in mind?"

"Er, yeah, but I might decide to keep it." (Which is always theoretically true, but not very.)

"I see."

After I get off the phone, "Mom, I blew it, Bird knows what I'm up to."

So now Bird has a quilt, and I seem to be planning a quilt to tackle when I go home for Christmas.  I'm thinking of combining log cabin blocks with little tiny variable star blocks (the aunt that does wild and elegant jazz quilting is going through a phase that involves sending Mom books by Gwen Marston, who has interesting ideas, even if her taste in colors is even more over the top than mine).  Which means that I will have to figure out how to make variable star blocks, and well, it should be interesting.  And if I get bored, I can call it a baby quilt and hand it to someone who's pregnant. Or if I really decide I'm in over my head, it will be a wall hanging and I'll give it to someone who has a wall.  I guess I might sew after all, or at least I quilt.  Even if I make quilts like punk rock -- sloppy**, loud***, and finished quickly.****

*Everyone is wrong about this.  Mom makes the best pie crust in the world.  Everyone is invited to practice, especially if I get to try the results, but Mom's crust is best.
**Although I'm getting better at sewing straight seams with practice.
***Although actually, Bird's quilt is closer to the quietly elegant end of the spectrum than one seeing my more normal output might expect.  Anything that is mostly cream, is probably elegant.
****Inarguable.  I will probably never hand quilt anything bigger than a pot holder.

Monday, September 19, 2011

More Exciting Things to Do with Bacon, and Miscellany

There are two kinds of people in the world, the ones who complain that fish tastes fishy, and the ones that think tuna salad is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Which is another way of saying that lunch made me happy.  

Meanwhilst, after intense discussion, in which many epithets were floated as possibilities, and some laws as unchangeable as those of the Medes and Persians were laid down ("absolutely nothing with 'chicken' in it"), JVW has a new nickname on this here blog. She will not be known as Xuan De (even though it means 'righteous virtue'), nor will she be known as Biker Chick, Evil Cajun Twin, nor yet Optimistic Gardener.  And she insists that Squid Girl is an honor that I should keep to myself.  Instead, she will be henceforth referred to as Bird (as in Isabella, the nineteenth century travel writer, and also a category of vertebrates she gets quite excited about), until I decide that really I can do better. 

Not only that, but Bird has contributed an explanation of one of my all time favorite appetizers to this blog.

Bacon Wrapped Dates as Explained by Bird

All you do is get dates of moderate size, not those great huge ones.  (At least, if you used the huge dates you’d probably need a whole slice of bacon per date, which would make a big mouthful that would be difficult to bite.  The smaller dates are easier to eat.)  Then you cut slices of bacon in half (so that you have two short strips, not two long skinny strips).  You wrap a date in a half-slice of bacon and secure it with a toothpick.  When you have wrapped all you want to cook, you put them on a broiler pan under the broiler.  In my oven, they are usually crispy-looking after about 10 minutes, when I then turn them over for another 10 (but you would want to watch them carefully, what with variations in broilers and potential variations in distance between broilers and dates).
Then you take just a bit of butter, like perhaps as much as a tablespoon if you have used up the whole pound of bacon, and less butter for less.  Sprinkle in some garlic powder and squeeze in a bit of lemon, then microwave till the butter is melted and drizzle it over the dates.  And voila, bacon-wrapped dates of profound yumminess and pleasure.  Just as good microwaved the next morning. [Or cold if you're running short on time, and need to get to work in an expeditious fashion. -- SE]

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Said to Jackie this evening on the phone, "These cookies are really good.  Unfortunately, that means I need to remember what I did so I can blog it."  With that in mind, I offer recipes for the two kinds of oatmeal and STUFF cookies I am making at the moment.

Regular People Cookies
1/2 pound (or two sticks) of butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt (unless you use salted butter)
1/2 cup wheat or oat bran
2 1/2 cups oat meal
1 cup dried cherries, cranberries, or raisins
1 skimpy cup chocolate chips
1 cup walnut halves chopped

Preheat oven 350.

Combine ingrediants in order, mixing well after each addition.  An electric mixer is best, unless you have biceps to rival my brothers. 

Drop by teaspoon fulls on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake for ten minutes, or until golden around the edges.

Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies of the Revolution

1/2 pound (or two sticks) of butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons of brandy
2 teaspoons espresso powder (no, 2 teaspoons of really strong coffee will not work, it will just make you long for the coffee taste that you feel ought to be there)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon salt (unless you use salted butter)
3 cups oat meal
1 cup dried cherries, cranberries, or raisins
1 skimpy cup chocolate chips
1 heaping cup walnut halves chopped

Proceed as above.  These recipes are after all closely related.

Other than that I can say that zucchini, onions, garlic, walnuts and spinach sauteed in bacon fat is my family's new favorite vegetable experience. Especially with cod baked after being sloshed with olive oil, lemon juice, and sprinkled with dill, pepper, and gorgonzola.

The bacon fat was leftover from the bacon wrapped dates I wrote about last week.  I really ought to write up a recipe, or rather get JVW to tell me what she does, since she is the official bacon wrapped date maker.  Bacon wrapped dates are splendid, and make a fantastic portable breakfast.

Things on the Mind

1) Enchiladas -- namely cheese and green chile enchiladas, bulked out with black beans, potatoes, and smoked almonds (which I could feed to various and sundry Seattle veggie-types).  There are times when I don't have enchiladas on the brain, most of them involve anxiety dreams about showing up to sing somewhere without rehearsals or functional sheet music.

2) Smoked salmon wraps may be the world's best nearly instant meal.  Too bad I'm headed back to the land of exile and not enough salmon, especially not the smoked kind. 

3) Moon cakes -- someday I will understand Asian pastries that aren't hum bao. It's probably not today.  For now they are on the list of foods that I find deeply inexplicable, like horchata. I feel I have had a nearly intuitive grasp on the true place of hum bao in my life since my first one, when I worked upstairs from Charlie's Bakery, and one was a buck seventy-five, which made it an even cheaper lunch than going to Taco King for tacos.  At least you can get hum bao  in Seattle.  I should check out the tacos at Rancho Bravo sometime soon.  I have a feeling that they might be an acceptable substitute.  (After all, they serve horchata, which I don't like, but it is a good marker for Mexican joints that might make me happy.)

4) The woods in Anchorage September smell like home.  This really may be the most beautiful place on earth.  (If you ignore the urban architecture, mostly.) We saw a moose. Another downside to Seattle: no moose.  (Or bears, wolves, coyotes, or lynx.  Oh well.)

5) It's been a very short time, but I am going to miss my coworkers at the UAA bookstore.  All that bouncy youthful energy.  All those interesting conversations with international students about what it's like to be a long way from home.  YU being unearthly cheerful even in the morning. 

Sorry, this post is short on literary merit, but I have to be up early tomorrow, and I want to go bond with Peter Fleming.  Peter Fleming, being the much funnier brother of the more famous Ian, wrote travel books, in which he deploys British imperturbability in the face of the insane, the outrageous, and toads hopping through his sleeping quarters all night long. I offer this quotation from the beginning of News from Tartary as an amuse bouche (because really everyone ought to read him):
It was time to take stock of the situation, and this, with a kind of luxurious incredulity, I did.  It was a sufficiently improbable situation. I found myself the leader of a party of four people who had left Peking the night before with the undisclosed intention of proceeding overland to India ( a distance of some three or four thousand miles) by way of North Tibet and Sinkiang.  For the latter province, which had until recently been rent by civil war and which was virtually closed to foreign travellers, we had no passports. Apart from a rook rifle, six bottles of brandy, and Macaulay's  History of England, we had no equipment or supplies worth mentioning. Two of us were women; and our only common language was Russian. I felt extremely cheerful nonetheless.
He goes on like this for hundreds of pages. Cheefully. Currently, I am not reading News from Tartary, but rather Brazilian Adventure which outlines an expedition at least as mad.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Minor Offering

1)The Tall Guy characterizes the following as "a funny read, with astonishing revelations about what Allen Ginsberg ate for breakfast". I would characterize it as a funny read with hilarious discussion of unexpected gastropods. I was raised by granola smoking hippies and very little surprises me in the way of breakfast food. These two facts are not unrelated. Either way, fun: The Meal That Ended My Career as a Restaurant Critic.

2) I cannot blame the following link on my altitudinally enhance friend, but I think it's awesome: T-shirt of Awesome.

3) JVW should start a blog, because I keep wanting to post snippets of her emails.  Today she is trying to convince me that YouTube stardom is around the corner, if I just coupled my dubious singing and, I also assume, her considerably less dubious singing with carefully chosen pictures of chickens. She also shared some unorthodox experiences of the apple harvest (such as it is) in Anchorage.  The thing about Anchorage's growing season is that it is short but intense, and when apple trees are blooming elsewhere there is still snow on the ground here.  This does not make for happy apple trees, although there are few optimistic souls, and hardy trees that make the attempt. 

4) Biological accuracy about charismatic megafauna is important to me, even if the megafauna in question is shy and retiring in the forests of central Africa.  In other words, an okapi is not an antelope.  Other than that, I do recommend The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, even though I am probably just about the last person to read it. I blame the author's interview I heard on NPR about his second book.  Too much adultery in suburbia, without a really strong narrative voice to balance it out.  This has adultery in suburbia, but it also has a reasonably well done Autistic narrator.

5) Because one needs more beautiful astronomy:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's that time of the year again

I was going to attempt to write something trenchant about  That Anniversary but I got too angry and burst into tears instead, which is a problem when one is wearing glasses as this one does these days.  Also that post was a hair more serious and self revelatory than I am willing to be in this medium. And the audience in my head -- sundry relatives and close friends has probably heard me say all I really have to say on the topic, and yelling online won't help anything, especially when others manage to say what I want to say and keep some shreds of civility. So instead I will talk about the week which was totally a red letter week as these things go -- except for intermittent episodes of yelling at Leon Panetta and Congress which is pretty much par for the course.  (To the best of my knowledge Leon Panetta  does not read this blog and does not know that every so often he says something that causes me to yell at him in the privacy of my car*)

In the course of this magnificent week, I got to spend time with three of the four people who know way too much about me**: Skadi, the Tall Guy, and JVW (who I really need to come up with a better nickname for).  Spending time with any of them is exciting, but getting to see three of the four in a week is almost too much to hope for (especially as it's the three of the four that I am usually at least a thousand miles away from at all times, and even when I'm home in Anchorage, one of them is persistently in the Midwest***).  I made up a new recipe.  And I went for a hike.  And I finished a quilt. I am exercising great restraint.  If I were to truly demonstrate my happiness any one of these things would be occasion for all caps, bold, and hot pink, flashing type.  As it is, I merely point out my excitement, so that people who know me well can say, "indeed, Sarah is very happy about all this." Also any one of these things is enough and more than enough for a blog post, and may yet prove to spark one. I kept writing the one about how I don't sew in my head while I was, in fact, sewing.

And because it wouldn't be my life without heaping helpings of absurdity, I also explained my beauty regimen to a Japanese student, who didn't believe that I was as old as I said I was. (Dear readers who have never met me, I look more or less  my age, which is almost thirty-one.)  Upon producing my driver's license, he (yes, dear readers who have not already heard the story, the student in question was and is male) asked what I did to have such wonderful skin.  I stared at him as if he had gone completely mad, and explained that I took a multivitamin, and walked a lot. I believe that the main thing in my beauty regimen is beyond his reach.  Namely, at this point in his life, he is unlikely to be able to be related to both my grandmothers (and possibly my grandfathers as well).  Certainly my complexion is one of those things for which I can take no credit. 

But I mentioned a recipe, and I have one, albeit with almost no measurements, because if I'm not baking I rarely measure.  JVW has opined that my recipes are funny.  I have no idea why she thinks this way.

Smoked Salmon Pizza

First off you need a recipe of pizza dough.  Use your favorite, or use this one. If you use my recipe, I strongly suggest leaving the herbs out of the crust.

I actually suggest making the "sauce" the night before so that the flavors have time to meld.  I, of course, did not do this.
1 box cream cheese (full fat, or neufchatel if your definitions of virtue run that way. Although the results will not be quite as over the top.)
A handful of fresh dill or to taste, snipped up with kitchen shears
A handful of fresh parsley, like wise
A clove of garlic or so, minced, mashed or smashed, or a teaspoon or so out of a jar
A couple of green onions minced
A sizeable pinch of sweet paprika
The zest and juice of a quarter lemon
A tablespoon or so of milk
Salt and pepper

Use a hand mixer to mix everything.  You might consider nuking the cream cheese to render it easier to work.  Chill overnight if you have time to do that.

Toppings for the pizza

Smoked salmon, not lox (lox is a fine thing in its way, but it lacks the force of smoked salmon)
roasted red peppers
grape tomatoes
pine nuts (I forgot that I had meant to put pine nuts on the pizza, until I was eating the leftovers.  It didn't suffer from the lack, but I suggest them, if you like that sort of thing.)

After the first baking of the pizza crust (see the linked recipe), spread the pizza thickly with the cream cheese mixture.  I have a hard time thinking of it as a sauce, because in the main, sauces pour; however it fulfills the role of sauce.

Sprinkle on the toppings in quantities that seem right to you.  The feta should probably be added with a light hand.

Bake the pizza for 5 minutes or so, or until the cheeses are a bit browned.  Serve with a large green salad, bacon wrapped dates, red wine, and most importantly good friends. I fed this to JVW, the Tall Guy, and his girl friend (who seems like still another delightful person, whose perversity of location I shall regret).  No one complained, and everyone had seconds and in some cases thirds. 

*Some people watch football and yell at the tv.  My family treats politics the same way.
**I really dislike the term "best friend," with its exclusivity, and in any case my relationships with all of these people are so different.  But they do all know more about me than I find entirely comfortable, though sometimes it is comforting.
*** Repetitive to the point of annoyance announcements that the friend in question ought to move to Seattle or Anchorage have so far not been productive, but hopefully my brainwashing attempts will eventually bear fruit.  Also, my friends are incredibly tolerant.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Limitations of My Method

I intend to write about smoked salmon pizza with cream cheese sauce.  It would be a lot easier if I'd measured anything while making it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Not really about food (much)

Acerodon celebensis
Except for the recipe for sweet potato pancakes, which the Tall Guy wondered to me why I didn't post here.  Since I didn't have a good reason at the time for not posting it, three weeks later I have gotten around to it. Anyway, the Tall Guy and I get to spatially intersect this week. And I expect to feed him dinner tomorrow. (Early forecasts are smoked salmon with a chance of pizza, with scattered bacon wrapped dates clearing off before the entree. If what I am thinking of really works, I am going to be blogging the meal in gratuitous detail.) So I really had better post the recipe. 

A few weeks ago I had leftover mashed sweet potatoes to contend with. I now know what to do with leftover mashed sweet potatoes.  This is not a normal problem, leftover sweet potatoes.  They pretty generally get eaten up with enthusiasm around here, but the other day I made a bunch, and there was a giant salad, and hamburgers, so I ended up with sweet potatoes.

I made pancakes.

Sweet Potato Pancakes
Call it a cup and a half of mashed sweet potatoes (mine had butter, garlic, and too much nutmeg* in them), 2 eggs, 1/3 cup flour,1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder. Fry at a lower temp than you otherwise might do pancakes, because they come out kind of thick. Maple syrup and butter are just dandy on them, but I couldn't help wishing for something a bit sharper like plain yogurt or chevre.

So my informal recipe for sweet potato pancakes is now revealed.  However the real reason for this post is that JVW and I were emailing each other one night recently and for reasons that I attribute to the lateness of the hour and the general ambient silliness of the people involved in the correspondence, we began writing parodies of Romantic verse with fruit bats inserted willy-nilly.  JVW has asked me to post them here.  I suspect that this is a ploy to get me blogging more regularly again.  For reasons that I find utterly obscure, she thinks my recipes are funny.

In this outbreak of pastiche, Byron and Shelley were probably the most deeply wronged, and you are about to see. (If one clicks on the titles, one will be whisked to the original poems.)

It Flaps in Beauty

 It flies in beauty like the night
Of muggy climes and buggy skies
And only stops to take a bite
As past the mango tree it flies
Though you may wish it on a plate
Upon a bun and edged with fries
One wing the more, one wing the less?
Deeply impair'd the nameless grace
Which soars on tropic ev'ning breeze,
  Or, clumsy, crashes into place
among the dense papaya trees.
  How pure, how dear its little face!

That furry cheek, and mark├ęd brow,
  So soft, so calm, yet eloquent;
The the feet that grip, that cunning toe, 
  that tells of days unconscious spent;
A mind at peace with all below,
  A heart whose love is innocent!

That was a joint effort.  What follows is definitive proof that JVW is not only sillier than I am, but she is also better at formal verse.

The Destruction of the Orchards

The fruit bats came down like a wolf on the trees
And their membranous wings sang their song on the breeze
The sheen of their claws was like sun on a pond
And their fur was bright auburn or brownish or blond
Like the locusts of Joel of each separate kind
The fruit bats flew down for the fruit they might find
Their goal was to gorge on those mangos so sweet
Then roost in the trees, hanging on by their feet
But behold! for the villagers had quite enough
They wanted to keep their papayas and stuff
Their nets were in place in the branches aloft
To catch all the fruit bats, so darling and soft
And then one by one all the fruit bats were caught
The cleverer primates had captured the lot
The fruit bats did tremble, their eyes got as big
As the eyes of the Chinese Prohibitous Pig
And some of the people said, “Stir-fry the bats!”
And some said, “Slow-cook them in monstrous great vats!”
And some said, “Fillet them and put them to freeze
And then we can eat them whenever we please!”
And while they were arguing, the fruit bats broke free
And on the night wind far away did they flee
They swore they would no more rob orchards of men
At least not until they got hungry again
The following can also be squarely blamed on JVW.  Well JVW and Percy Shelley.  (Shelley makes me want to smack him on grounds of both verse and biography, so this effusion particularly pleased me.)

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said, “Two vast and trunkless wings of stone
Flop in the desert.  Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered muzzle lies, whose crown
And outsize ears, and look of silliness
Tell that its sculptor knew with fear and dread
The hunger for papayas and the stress
Of having such a great big furry head.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Batymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my fruit, but don’t you even dare
To steal a mango.’  There is nothing more:
Behold the ruined giant frugivore.”

*My relationship with nutmeg is intense and complex. I can't stand the flavor, when I can taste the flavor.  When it is a faint trace, setting off all the other flavors in a dish, I adore it. When I explained to my friend JVW that I hated nutmeg,  she responded in tones of deep bemusement, "but you put it in all sorts of things." This is true.  As I said, it's a complex relationship, and the line between love and hate is very very fine indeed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Adventures in Applied Color Theory

Last night I helped K, my Viking Cousin, and G, his sister-in-law, paint the living room and dining room of the Viking Residence. It was Sunday as the "Work Party to Get the Viking Residence into Shape before the Arrival of Small Viking #2" was winding down, that A, the Viking Wife, said quietly that she would kind of like the living room and dining room painted before the room got put back together. G and I looked at each other. Then we looked at A who is eight months pregnant and a very good sport about having her entire house torn up while the floors were refinished and the windows on the south side of the house replaced. We both thought, "this needs to happen." 

Yesterday G asked if I wanted to come to the Viking Residence and paint last night. After a bus trip that took almost an hour longer than it needed too on account of Seattle traffic, I arrived just in the nick of time for dinner.  Initially things did not look good for getting the painting done. Colors had not been decided on. Paint had not been bought. K was in a funk because of all the stuff that needed to get done. A was worn out. Small Viking #1 was beginning the evening meltdown. But G and I were determined.

I made noises that implied that I had ideas about the colors, so K told me to go look at the paint chips and make some decisions.   So I did.  I picked out a slightly brighter sunnier yellow for the living room, and a rich grey for the dining room (which is open to both the kitchen and the living room).  I have long felt that the dining room needs to be a darker calmer color to mark a still point between the activity of the living room and kitchen*(which is bright green). I have felt this so strongly for so long that my mind insists on remembering the dining as a much darker color than it actually was. K was a little dubious about the grey.  I spouted off with color theory**, but what really decided things was that A looked at the colors and said, "those are just what I want."  Possibly she meant, "I want people to make a decision. Anything is fine as long as it's fresh paint."  However we chose to take her at her word, and sent K off to buy paint, while G and I wiped down the walls and taped.  A took the Small Viking #1 upstairs and put him to bed and then fell asleep herself.

K came back with the paint, and shortly after nine o'clock we started painting.  When it came to the grey, I had several moments of fear because the paint came out of the can much lighter than I remembered and a slightly off color, warmer than I wanted.  Advising other people on what to paint their houses is always slightly harrowing because what if it doesn't work?  What if they hate it?  Et cetera.  Fortunately the grey dried to match the chip. We finished shortly after midnight with the caveat that the grey in the dining room needs a second coat (but it's such a small space that that will take no time).

We sat around drinking beer, eating goat cheese sandwiches, and feeling proud of ourselves.  I crashed in the office. The goat cheese sandwiches were amazing.  However I will not offer a recipe because unless you have scallions fresh from the garden, and equally fresh lettuce, and home made goat cheese cured in jerk seasoning, you just won't be able to replicate it.  Alas. 

When I got up this morning A and Small Viking #1 were up and A said that she liked the new colors.  I do too.

*I may have read The Not So Big House one too many times.
** To wit, cool colors recede, and darker colors, depending on the context, also tend to recede.  So the very small dining area should feel a bit larger with a darkish coolish color on the walls.  And it would provide a point of contrast to balance the yellow and the green of the living area and kitchen.  (The old dining area had been sort of a light orangy tan. It did not work.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Report on Experimental Curry

In case you're wondering.  A boring apple that cooks down into mush is very nice in a coconut curry with the cauliflower and other things you wouldn't normally combine with apple. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Am Lazarus Back from the Dead...

Or at least Sarah back from the end of the quarter, and I'm back to start blogging again.  Much as I would like to say that I am moved by pure love of self expression, I will cop to actually being moved by the plaints of my reading public (such as it is).  Now that I am no longer putting sixty hour weeks in the studio, but am instead seeking summer employment (that does not involve me standing on concrete for hours straight*) and putting up a portfolio online, I have time to bend my ear to their requests.

Tonight there is experimental curry on the stove.  Well not terribly experimental, except for the apple I threw in on a whim.  Apple?

I keep forgetting that Gala apples are not my idea of pomaceous delight.  Not even close.  They may be almost the same color as Braeburns and Fujis, but they lack the snap and crispness that makes them favorites, and they cook poorly.  Under those circumstances the apples become some sort of sweet secondary vegetable, and thus into a curry that is already going to play host to cauliflower, an onion, garlic, and a tomato (as well as lentils and rice and some left over chicken). 

But that's not why I'm writing this.  I am writing this because I made gluten free, dairy free brownies that weren't entirely awful AND DID NOT REQUIRE ME TO BUY XANTHAN GUM.  Also the texture wasn't bad.**

Black Bean Brownies

One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed very well, preferably a brand that does not add onions to their black beans.  Alternatively one could make ones own black beans.  This one did not feel so moved.  Nor did she want to go buy new black beans after she opened the can and then realized that they had onions. So she ended up rinsing her black beans many times over and speaking of her actions in the third person. Even so, not too bad.
3 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil or more.  Next time I'm considering upping the oil. 
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon if you feel like it.  Or are trying to cover the taste of oniony beans. 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup walnuts chopped

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease an 8"x 8" square baking pan, or a 9" round pan.  (Any guesses as to which I was using?)

 In a blender puree the beans with the eggs and vanilla extract until creamy. Then puree them a bit more.

In a large bowl mix together the dry ingredients (sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, cinnamon).

Carefully fold the bean and egg mixture into the dry ingredients, then mix until totally incorporated.

Stir in the walnuts and chocolate chips, and scrape into the prepared pan.

Bake until only a couple of crumbs cling to a tester.  I started checking at 30 minutes, but the brownies came out at 40 minutes.

If you have the time, these definitely benefit from aging over night. 

* I have a most unholy love of working retail (I pretty much hate recreational shopping).  I like meeting people.  I like talking about things I enjoy.  I like selling people things that will make their lives better (for sometimes very abstract values of better).  I'm even good at it. My feet however have issued an ultimatum about me and standing on concrete floors for hours a day.  Since my feet are an integral part of my active and exciting lifestyle, I perforce must accept that sometimes desks are okay too. 

**I have a couple of people in my life who need things to be gluten free and dairy free (this pretty much rules out chocolate mousse, since I'm allergic to soy based dairy substitutes; likewise tortes that substitute chopped nuts for flour were likewise out, because I hate chopping all those nuts by hand). I prefer to be able to accommodate them.  Preferably with things that are acceptable to not so restricted eaters. Texture is the area where gluten free desserts often fall down.  So when I find something that works for everyone I get all excited.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Still Haven't Been Devoured by Raptors

I'm still behind on my blogging.  Oh well, I am at least sort of caught up on my school work.  Somehow these two states go hand in hand.  I consider this regrettable.  I'm beginning to feel like I might have enough stuff for an online design portfolio, so I'll be working that out soonish.  Heavy on the -ish. 

Meanwhile I have been eating and sometimes cooking.  I bring these insights therefore to the table.

1. The Culinary Arts program at Seattle Central is run by a bunch of maniacs out to convert the world to a bizarre cult of deliciousness and pastry cream and really cheap slices of amazing cake.  On Friday my friend A and I stopped in at the coffee stand and satellite chapel of the CA and came away with one goat cheese, onion, and proscuitto pizza-ish baked good, two shrimp and rice salads, and two cream puffs, an almond croissant, and a slice of Seville cake*.  All of it verged on the transcendantly good, and the Seville cake achieved apotheosis, despite getting melty in the sun. 

2. I am baking brioche this afternoon.  I have always wanted to try my hand at it, but have not always had a stand mixer at my disposal.  Today it occurred to me that I have a stand mixer, all the ingredients, and TIME, which as my posting rate will show, has been at a premium lately. 

Or rather I claim to be making brioche, because I did not actually read the recipe all the way through before embarking.  As everyone knows, this is one of the classic blunders:  land wars in Asia.  Going up against a Sicillian when DEATH is on the line.  Frying bacon shirtless.  And not reading the recipe all the way through.  Turns out I will not be baking brioche today, because it needs a minimum of 12 hours to rise slowly and elegantly in the fridge.  I am however eagerly anticipating the results of all of my patience. 

Brioche dough is extraordinarily elastic and tastes sort of like slightly yeasty cake batter, probably because of all the butter and eggs.  As I was scraping the brioche dough into the bowl it will rise in, I couldn't help that think that a) it moved like an alien life form, and b) there ought to be a use for something this strange in the aerospace industry. 

3. Kale continues to be my favorite leafy green,  Closely followed by butter crunch lettuce.  I really like lettuce.  This goes back to a trip to Ireland as a teenager.  During the three weeks I was there, almost the only vegetables that appeared edible were the lettuce and the chips.  So lettuce not only tastes good, but also carries this nostalgic thrill harkening back to the first time I left the country by myself.

I should say that I have since returned to Ireland and eaten some truly excellent meals.  I remember with particular fondness the vegetarian buffet at Govinda's.  I had no idea what I was eating, but I knew it was delicious. 

4. I have currently decided that the best way to cook a game hen is to rub a mixture of butter, herbs, and a pinch dried mustard under its skin, stuff it with a few apple slices, and cook it in a casserole with more apples, kale, and garlic.  350 for an hour and a half, serve it with rice and make your friends, even the gluten intolerant friends happy. 

5. Snoqualmie Ice Cream is the best ice cream for sale at QFC.  Especially the coconut.  Especially the honey cinnamon custard.  No, I can't decide which is better. Molly Moon's may be better (and I'm not even sure about that), but Snoqualmie is cheaper.

*What the heck is Seville Cake, you ask?  In this case it was a cake largely composed of dark chocolate mousse,  on a substrate of chocolate sponge cake, with an intervening layer of custard flavored with marmalade.  Just the description makes me want to drool on the keyboard.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Rumors to the contrary, I am still alive

April may not be the cruelest month, but it certainly was a busy one.  I spent a lot of it eating beans and rice and things out of boxes.  So nothing exciting to talk about food wise.  Except to say that my second favorite breakfast after eggs and sausage is a big slice of Yorkshire pudding with jam.  But most of this month my breakfasts have mostly been a gigantic cup of coffee or two, and a peanut butter and honey sandwich if I remember to pack a spare.

So, I've been keeping myself busy with school and friends and family, and there was a holiday in there, and then my brother graduated from college, and I went home to Alaska for the big event, and suddenly it's May and I haven't posted to my blog in a month, and people are starting to send me emails wanting to know the reason why.  AND I still have not made the definitive rhubarb custard.  Oh well.

Well, actually there is one recent recipe worth sharing, and it's a good one.

Last week, one of my college friends turned thirty.  To assist her in dealing with the shock of it all, I took a small vat of eggplant dip to her birthday party.  She is sensitive to wheat and deals poorly with members of the chili family.  So most recipes for eggplant dip were unsuitable in that they called for bread as an ingredient and/or chilis or bell peppers.

But I wanted eggplant dip.  So I improvised.

Eggplant Olive Dip

1 1lb eggplant, halved lengthwise and the flesh scored in a crosshatch pattern.
2 medium tomatoes halved
Olive oil
1 or 2 or several cloves of garlic minced, smashed, or otherwise rendered blender friendly
1/4 cup or so kalamata olives or other brine cured olives
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375.

Rub the cut sides of the eggplant with olive oil.  Rub the tomatoes with olive oil. Rub a shallow baking pan with olive oil.  Place the eggplant and tomatoes cut sides down in the pan and slide it into the oven.  Leave it alone for fifty minutes or an hour, until everything is roasted and delicious smelling.

When time is up, allow the veggies (fruit actually, but never mind) to cool, so that you don't burn yourself when you strip the flesh from the eggplant peel and dump everything including the garlic and olives in a food processor or blender or food mill or whatever.

Add a healthy dribble of olive oil.  I think I used a tablespoon, and puree by your favorite method. 

Transer to a suitable container and stick in the fridge over night to allow the flavors to develop.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with pita wedges or toast or use as a sandwich spread.  It's marvelous with cheese, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

More of this Miscellany Business

Edward Hopper, Rooms by the Sea. 1951
Happy Saturday!  Have some Edward Hopper. 

I love Edward Hopper's use of light in pretty much everything he painted.  He uses light as means of revelation.  In many of his paintings the light reveals human loneliness and the fragility of human connections but it can also illuminate the beauty in a couple of ordinary shop girls having lunch or a deserted city street
 This is my favorite of his paintings, one that seems to move away from his ordinary realism. Here the light streaming through the open door invites the viewer into the mysteries that lie beyond our carefully constructed comfortable lives. 

1. I intend to revisit the rhubarb custard question this weekend.  I'll see if I can materially improve the texture.  (Rhubarb, still one of my basic food groups.) So maybe I really will get around to posting a revised recipe.

2.  For my local readers -- QFC has Breyer's ice cream on sale for 2.99 a container.  In the words of Oscar Wilde, "I can resist anything but temptation." 

3. This poem has been much on my mind of late:  "Otherwise" by Jane Kenyon.  It's been a spring of a lot of quiet happiness.  I'm doing well at school, making friends, settling more into the life of the city around me.  It's tempting to think that this must all go on indefinitely, but one day it will be otherwise.  I do realize that this sounds kind of grim, but it's Lent, and those of us observing are told to "remember that you are dust." It is a fruitful thing to reflect on.  And if I am going to link to "Otherwise" I should post "Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop" by W.B. Yeats, thereby perpetuating what one of my friends refers to as the Ervine Yeats Infection.

4.  One of the things about moving to a new place is that the seasonal progression of plants changes.  All sorts of things are blooming right now.  Some of them I can identify or guess at, but many things are entirely new and unknown to me.  Many of these things smell absolutely fantastic.  I look forward to a day, when I can wave a smart phone in the direction of the shrubbery that has captured my undivided attention by reason of it smelling like jasmine and lemons, and google the scent, and so get an identification.

5.  Possibly the best cellphone ad ever.   Even though I don't speak Japanese.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Miscellany! With Thunderstorms

1.  The weather lately has been unamusing.  The attentive reader may remember that a couple of weeks ago I was writing exultant posts about the glories of spring time.  No more, it's been cold and grey and dreary.  It snowed in Everett this morning.  This evening we had thunder and lightning.  But no snow, thankfully.

However it's so cold that I shut my window last night.  I  almost never do that.

2.  Lately it seems that I am accursed in the transit department.  I miss buses.  (Once I was standing within five feet of the bus stop, but happened to be looking the wrong way.  I realized the problem when the bus pulled by me.)  Or the bus just fails to show up.  Or, if it shows up, it's the wrong bus, and I end up having unsought adventures.  Today's bus failure fell into the third category.  The upshot of which was that I ended up dashing from half way up Cap Hill to lower Queen Anne, trying to keep an appointment for dinner with a friend before we went to church for Stations of the Cross.  We ended up having to postpone dinner until after the service.

Despite postponing dinner, I managed to traverse the city by foot unexpectedly zippily, however my left hamstring decided that it needed to spazz out just as I was standing up from kneeling.  There is a whole lot of kneeling, standing, and bowing involved in a high Anglo-Catholic Stations of the Cross.  As one is keenly aware when one has a furious left hamstring and five stations left to go. 

3.  Tonight I ate goat for the first time.  It was very tasty in the curry in which it occurred.  Said curry may be the most luridly red thing I have ever eaten, not even excepting Water Melon Jolly Ranchers.

4.  Skadi did indeed visit this weekend and it was wonderful.  Jackie put in an appearence as well. There was beer, cooking, ranting, and laughter.  New Belgium's 1554 is well on its way to being the official beer of my apartment.

In the course of going for a perfectly normal walk, we discovered that one can walk from Capital Hill to Lake Union.  There are a lot of stairs involved in going from sea level to 400 feet in less than a quarter mile.  Because Skadi was around, this seemed like a great adventure, rather than a brilliant way to fall and break your neck.  We also discovered that the oatmeal raisin cookies at Joe Bar are a pretty good way to refuel after climbing all those stairs.

5.  Thanks to those who chimed in on the problem of what to do with a bunch of Kale*.  I made soup.  Lo! It was very good.   Is very good.  I may be eating this soup forever.  Happily. 

Kale Potato Soup

1/2 large chopped onion
8 oz raw bratwurst cut up into bite size pieces
1 lb russet potatoes chunked up
1 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
5 or 6 cups chicken broth
1/2 bay leaf
1 large pinch smoked paprika or chipotle (optional). I think I used somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 tsp of paprika.  I would have used less of the chipotle. 
1 bunch kale, stems discarded, and leaves sliced up
salt and pepper to taste.

Brown the sausage and onions.  If the sausage is very lean, you may wish to use a bit of vegetable oil as well.

Add the caraway seeds, vinegar, potatoes, chicken broth, bay leaf, and paprika.  Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for ten minutes or until the potatoes are just growing tender. 

Add the kale and simmer for another ten minutes or so or until all the vegetables are nice and tender.  Salt and pepper the soup to taste.  Serve with a crusty whole grain bread.

*I was trying to learn more about Kale and discovered that all sorts of wild claims are made about its health benefits, but more interestingly I learned that cabbages, kale, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and broccoli are apparently all cultivars of the same species.  Furthermore in frostless climates, a cabbage can grow on its stalk to a height of 3 meters, providing fresh leaves year round.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ideas? Please? Ideas?

I bought kale today.  It was a moment of weakness, but the Viking Cousin makes awesome squash kale soup, and the Tall Guy swears by it.  So tell me, what would you do with a bunch of kale?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

After the Stew

 M'dears, I have just made home made chicken potpie and it was easy.  And delicious.  Not healthy, really, but so delicious. You see I had this leftover chicken stew from earlier this week (see previous post about the wandering Band-aid), and I am not a huge fan of leftovers.

So I found myself wondering about making sort of a savory crisp.  I can make fruit crisps in my sleep more or less.  So I began, and half way through I decided that I wanted a more biscuity top crust, so I added some baking powder and milk.  All in all it came together very nicely and a good use for the stew.

Leftover Potpie

1 1/2 c flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1/2 c COLD butter (room temperature butter only if you want a gluey mess)
2/3 c cold milk
A quart of so of stew.  If the gravy/broth is thin, mash together equal quantities flour and butter into a paste and toss that in the stew, and then simmer the stew for a while to get rid of the raw flour flavor.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a largish bowl.

Chop up the butter into very small pieces.  (I usually quarter the stick of butter the long way, then quarter the quarters the long way, and then dice the butter small.) 

Rub the butter into the flour (or use a pastry blender or two knives).  That is toss the mini butter cubes in the dry ingredients, and then with clean DRY hands work the butter into the flour, by rubbing handfuls of flour and butter between your thumb and fingers.  Because the palms of your hands are warmer than the extremities, try to avoid contact with the palm of your hands.  Continue this until the butter and flour are mixed to a crumb like consistency. 

Pour on the cold milk, stirring just until it comes together. 

Lay out a piece of plastic wrap, and pat the dough out into a round(ish) half an inch thick.  This should be a bit more than eight inches in diameter (mine was more than enough for the round casserole I was using, but if I were you I would probably shoot for the diameter of whatever vessel you're making the pie in.  Cover with another layer of plastic wrap, place it on a plate and stick it in the fridge for an hour.

While the dough is chilling,  bring the stew to a low simmer.  This would be the time to thicken it if necessary. 

Likewise preheat the oven to 350.

When the oven is hot and it's been an hour, carefully pour the warmed soup into the intended vessel.  I used an eight inch diameter souffle dish, which worked just fine.  But whatever you use, use something with walls high enough to hold the filling and the crust, with some spare. 

Get the crust out of the fridge, discard the plastic wrap (like I needed to tell you to do that), and place over the filling.  Cut a vent in the crust. If you have extra crust trim it off and bake it on a cookie sheet

Bake at 350 until golden, about 35 minutes. 

They Mean It About the Waterproof Part

A couple of nights ago I sliced my left thumb while making some chicken stew.  (There will be no recipe for this, since it was on the order of take some carrots, a stock of celery, a double handful of mushrooms, and half an onion, and some leftovers -- chicken and potato salad, a couple of spoonfuls of canned spaghetti sauce, a big slosh of white wine, a drinking cup of water, and five cups of chicken stock leave in a 300 degree oven for 2 hours, marjoram, sage, oregano, and the juice of half a lemon, black pepper, salt, call it good.  Oh, I guess that pretty well is a recipe.)  I fumbled through the cupboard over the sink while trying not to bleed on anything I was planning on eating.  Found the Band-aids (Waterproof, size medium).  Slapped one on the wound and went back to making dinner.* 

The next morning I woke up.  Sometime later in the day I noticed I wasn't wearing the Band-aid. I didn't remember taking it off, but it was entirely within character to have forgotten such a thing.  I went off and washed my hair instead.  Ran some errands in a down pour without a rain jacket (I'd looked outside and thought it looks like rain, and then completely discounted that observation).  I went to Tacoma, in further rain, this time wearing a rain jacket, missed my stop** and ended up at the Park and Ride in South Tacoma, where it was raining sideways. 

In short I spent most of yesterday varying degrees of soaked to the bone. 

This afternoon I discovered that the errant Band-aid from two days ago, was stuck to my lower back.  I have no idea how it got there, but I am very very impressed with its tenacity in staying.  Although really I would have preferred that it had stayed on my thumb. 

*Bob's Red Mill Irish Soda Bread Mix?  Yum. 

**Or possibly I was on the wrong bus, there is an increasing amount of evidence in that direction.  In any case I was definitely reading. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On the color of subjectivity

Franz Marc, Large Blue Horses
Our color theory teacher discussing the particulars of an assignment:
If you interpret tranquility as lots of reds, blacks, and yellows, I can't really disagree, but I will send you to the school nurse.
I do actually have strong comforting associations with red -- strong enough that it would make sense for me to include them in the color palette of a room in which I wanted to feel tranquil.  Note also, that the reds and yellows give the painting above a sense of voluptuous abundance, while the symmetrical composition gives it stability.  This abundance and stability provide the perfect setting in which the blue horses can rest tranquilly. Or, at least, I see it that way. However the assignment was to communicate beyond the confines of my skull, so I sidestepped the issue by not illustrating tranquility.

My color associations slip over the borders into synesthesia sometimes. Many, maybe all, scents and tastes have color.  My favorite perfumes smell golden brown and purple.  Lavender is silver.  Eggs are various shades of beige.  I don't like things that taste too beige, unless there is a strong flavor to balance all that mute beige.  Lemon, a bright robin's egg blue, goes with almost everything.  Caraway is a bright springy green, but too bright a yellow green is the color of a headache.  I don't like things that taste like headaches.  Chartreuse' actual color matches the color I associate with the flavor, which should give a nice consistency to the experience, except that it is exactly the color of a migraine. 

And that's just foods and smells.  There is another layer of meaning, color and emotion go together.  Red for joy, protection, comfort.  Dark blue for grief*.  Pink for aggression (positive or negative).  Pale yellow for epiphanies, apprehension of beauty, and power.  Bright yellow green is almost always negative: deceitful, hallucinatory, painful.  Sometimes.  But other people don't see color in the same way. So I try to take into account the commonly agreed on cultural connotations of color.  Or at least not say things like "purple is the color of stability so I chose to use it to anchor this design, as it plays off against the teal of secret growth, and the manic yellow green."  Johannes Itten, the father of color theory, tried to make such personal associations universal.  For example, according to him purple was an ominous, threatening color. That aspect of his work has not aged well, even as his principles for understanding color schemes continue to be taught. 

*Blue is a funny one actually.  My brain tends not to classify many shades of blue as color, but rather as shades of grey with pretensions.   I discovered this in final presentations when someone complimented a student on his colorful composition which took me a moment to understand, because the colors in question were mostly blue.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Miscellany: End of Quarter edition

It appears to have been a bit more than a week since I last posted. School is over for the quarter, and won't resume until a week from today.    The quarter finished in a final presentation session of Biblical proportions.  Four and a half hours of people talking about their quarter long typography projects.  Now while I am in no way complaining about listening to people talking about things that have demanded their attention, enthusiasm, time, energy, heart, and soul -- I think we can all agree that that is a long time to sit still. I have since then been celebrating, recuperating, NOT going to Costco*, and celebrating my grandfather's 85th birthday.  And seasonal allergies.  I hate seasonal allergies.

So here are five things to justify this post.

1. Foodwise I will probably be experimenting with a different base for the cheese cake brownies at some point this week (I am expecting company of the highest caliber next weekend -- my friend Skadi).  The cheese cake brownies were Awesome.  Even better than the rhubarb custard, and I generally like fruit desserts better than chocolate desserts.  However they were less than ideally cohesive since the brownie recipe I was using as a base was one of the gooey brownie type recipes.

I will probably eventually reveal the recipe, if I can get it to do the things I want it to.  AND next time I will remember to more accurately account for the amount of jam used in the recipe.  Because "enough jam to turn the cream cheese mixture Mary Kay pink" is not the most useful instruction ever in the history of useful instructions.

The rhubarb custard is also getting a redo, so revisions may show up later this week, hopefully these revisions will lead to a better texture.

2. This is the brownie recipe I used as the brownie base.  It is gooey.  So much so that these are more like fudge than an actual cakey brownie.  They are my favorites, and well worth the pan scraping to get every last nibble.

3.  In honor of the end of my first quarter of typography, here is illustrative typography that overwhelms me with its playful elegance.  Someday I want to be that cool.

4. XKCD goes philosophical. 

5. Given a week where I don't have to be up in the morning at any given time, I immediately resume my natural pattern of staying up half the night reading.  This means that my spring break list is moving much more slowly than my reading list. 

*J and I packed a picnic dinner, with the intent to watch the end of a beautiful spring day from the beach at Carkeek park and then go to Costco.  It quickly became apparent that sitting on the beach and chatting about our respective weeks was more fun than Costco.  Somehow I ended up covered in mud.  Such is life.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tastes Good, but the Presentation...

Custard on the left, raspberry cheese cake brownies on the right. Despite appearances there was no actual blood involved in their manufacture. I'm just purely terrible at dessert decoration that goes beyond rustic.

Well, they should taste alright anyway.

Winter Is Over and Past!

I woke up this morning and I wanted out.  Birds were singing and delicious smells of earth and flowers were coming in my window.  Two of my cousins are in Everett this weekend instead of Palo Alto and Iowa, so I had planned on going up north shortly after breakfast.  Which is fine.  But I've spent many of my last several weekends being social and I wanted some time to be me... in silence.  Fortuitously, my aunt called and said everyone was moving slowly, so maybe we could meet up before dinner?

Suited me fine.  I went and washed my hair and took out the recycling and then I went for a walk.  For a couple of hours I walked over north Cap Hill taking pictures (and figuring out the rudimentary manual controls on my camera) and breathing.  Volunteer park was filled with families.  The koi in the koi ponds looked particularly handsome. The reservoir glowed deep teal.  The crows were raucous in their delight with the day, and I kept fighting the urge to write Anglo-Magic-Realist short stories in the mode of A.S. Byatt-- all about a woman who lives in a city by an inland sea and communes with the wise fish who hear all the secrets of lovers who sit by their pond.  (If I develop an actual plot rather than a handful of images I may yet follow through.)  Anyway, everything seemed alive and suffused with joy and intelligence. 

On my way home I stopped at the grocery store and bought a pound of rhubarb for to make a something or other to augment the raspberry cheese cake brownies (recipe coming later, if I think it's worth while) I made last night, before I remembered that one of my cousins has given up chocolate for Lent.  I had been thinking idly of rhubarb upside down cake, but I didn't have enough butter.  Ditto the rhubarb crisp idea.  Eventually I settled on a rhubarb custard.  Except no where could I find a recipe for what I wanted.  At least, not under that name. 

Eventually I adapted a recipe for rice pudding of all the peculiar things, and I offer it here to you all.

Rhubarb Custard

4 cups of chopped rhubarb.  This is somewhat less than a pound, but extra rhubarb has never been a problem for me.
1 1/2 cup whole milk
2/3 cup + 1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp muscato (it's a light sweet white wine, which could probably be omitted, but I had it so I used it)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a souffle dish (I would suggest an 8"x8" baking dish or 9" deep pie plate, but all I had that did not already have baked goods in it was the aforementioned souffle dish), and toss in the rhubarb.  Toss the rhubarb with 1 Tbsp sugar and the moscato.  Set aside.

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan bring the milk to a simmer.

While you are waiting on the milk, whisk together the rest of the sugar, , the eggs, the vanilla, the cinnamon and the salt. If the milk simmers while all this whisking is going on, remove it from the heat.

Gradually add the hot milk to the egg mixture while stirring continuously.

Pour over the custard and bake at 350 until puffed and golden and set.  Details on the timing of this when it comes out of the oven.  I went to about an hour and ten minutes, before allowing it to continue cooking in the oven with the heat off. 

I used more moscato than what I outline above, and it was too much.  Between the extraneous moscato and the liquid the rhubarb is throwing off, there is too much liquid in the dish.  The smell is intoxicating, but the evidence suggests that the texture may be less than perfect. Some of this trouble could have been avoided by baking the custard in a shallower dish with more surface area, and placing it in a water bath. 

On further exploration most people will probably want more sugar than I used, and possibly less rhubarb.  Next time.  For there is going to definitely be a next time. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

White Chili (Sort Of)

I have a perfectly good recipe for white chili that I have been meaning to make for awhile.  I like white chili.  No.  I love white chili.  And when the fit is on me, chili from a can will not do.

I didn't know the fit was on me, until I went to the grocery store for brownie supplies.  I came back with chicken, chilis, and a sweet potato.*  A sweet potato?  Huh?  Yes, the Vast Orange Vegetable Conspiracy has struck again.  Sweet potatoes appear nowhere in my white chili recipe.  Possibly they do now.  I'll know for sure in a couple of hours.

M's White Chili, Now with Sweet Potato

1-2 Tbsp veg. oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 boneless skinless chicken thighs, likewise chopped
1 large sweet potato chopped (If you're not a victim of sinister orange vegetables throw in a couple more chicken thighs.  Or several, the original recipe I have calls for 2 pounds of chicken, I use considerably less.)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 chopped up Anaheim chili

2 cans white kidney beans
1 can green chilis
1 cup apple cider
3 cup chicken stock (or four cups chicken stock and skip the cider)
1 1/2 tsp cumin
3/4 tsp coriander
1 tsp oregano (if you're not a nitwit and forgot to buy it)
salt and pepper to taste

Pour the oil in the bottom of a heavy bottomed soup kettle.  Heat to medium high and toss in the onions and the chicken.  Cook until the onions are translucent.  Add the garlic and the fresh chili.  Cook, stirring often, a bit longer.  Add everything but the salt and pepper.  Cook over low heat for a couple of hours at least.  Really, the best way to do this is in a crock pot.  I do not currently own a crock pot.  This is sometimes a problem.

Before you serve, check the seasonings and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with grated jack or cheddar, lime wedges, and sour cream. 

*Notably forgetting the sour cream and the oregano.  Savory cooking of any sort without oregano is outrageously difficult.  I may have to make another trip to the grocery store to fix that one.