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Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's official

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Persepolis



You can argue all day about whether graphic novels really qualify as "novels". Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, is a childhood memoir about growing up in Iran under the Shah and during the frightening years that followed his departure. Very much worth seeking out, both as a key to understanding a complex subject, and as a small work of art.

And back to normal again


Here's the whole gang, including paparazzi, at H & D's house, digging into the feast. It already seems like a long time ago.

Here's Supermom and her family hanging out at my house one morning. They're back in Wisconsin now.

Time to move on.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Apres moi, le deluge

Today, as usual, it's just me. It's peaceful, serene - yes, even clean. Tomorrow there will be thirteen of us - fourteen if QV joins us, which I hope he will (making for a luckier number) - and this will include 5 children ranging in age from 1 to 8, converging from Boston, LA, and Milwaukee (or "Mwawkee", as I hear some natives say). It's never easy for me to make this violent population transition, though of course I'm not complaining. I love having the whole gang here. But it usually takes a few days for me to figure out what everyone likes and needs, and by then, of course, they're gone - til the next time, when all the requirements will be subtly different.

It's not as if I have to do all the cooking. In fact we're having the main meal on Thursday at H & D's. They'll do the turkey honors, and most of the sides. And there will be plenty of able cooks on hand. Still, I want to make it easy for everyone. (Translation: I don't want them messing everything up!) So, as much as possible, I'm trying to be a good prep cook, thinking in terms of mise en place. For the pie-makers, there are four rounds of pate brisee in the fridge. I've always depended on the simple Cuisinart method in the Martha Stewart Pies and Tarts book. There's a little jar of minced garlic, whizzed in the mini-prep. There's a quart of chopped celery in a plastic container. And a quart of chopped onions. Lots of chopped parsley. There's plenty of sage, thyme and rosemary in the garden still - and fifty-ish weather is predicted, so I'll let it stay there. I'll do the cranberries in a while; that's always another easy thing to get out of the way. I have all the ingredients on hand for G to make the fancy parsnip dish and the hazlenut/currant/brioche dressing that she learned to make in a class with young chef last week in Boston. The garage is loaded with beverages, including "juice boxes" (yes they're 100% juice, don't worry) for the young. The sideboard is groaning with unaccustomed snackfood: peanuts, pistachios, panettone, clementines, gingersnaps and caramel wafers from TJ's, salt and vinegar chips...

There's a huge vat of chili simmering on the back burner - we'll have that tomorrow night, along with basmati rice (I'll make that shortly), shredded cheddar (I cheated and bought it pre-shredded) and sour cream. I'll make some cornbread tomorrow - that will be easy. Salad greens have been washed and dried, and I've made a jar of good vinaigrette. I'm not entirely sure what dessert will be tomorrow. I'm thinking I might make that good lemon-orange sherbet I mentioned in the "Gaga" post; but it means clearing enough space in the freezer for the Donvier container to pre-chill. I'll need to see how realistic that is.

And so I continue to putter. Happily, of course. Safe travel, everyone - I can hardly wait!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Another puzzle

Another double-crostic of mine has just been published here. Click on "Hot off the Press" in the left-hand column to do the puzzle on-line; the puzzle title is "connection" (it will at some point be supplanted by a new one which will not necessarily be by me). It's not too hard, but of course that's what I said the last time, right?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Milton Friedman

It's true that I don't have or watch TV, but I have a clandestine addiction to the Charlie Rose Show, which I am able to watch on-line (just the last week or so for now, but soon to be expanded to a huge archive - yay!). The Nov 17 show was devoted to the late economist and Nobelist Milton Friedman, and includes a brief clip from 1999 and a longer one from Dec 26, 2005. Very much worth watching.

Wine and jewelry



The new wine shop on Church Street was having an artist's exhibition of fine handmade jewelry combined with a tasting of special wines. So of course I had to go. The jewelry was by Louvee, and the designer herself was there. My favorite piece, the necklace in the picture, had already been sold. Not that I was planning to buy it!

The wines were extraordinary, and there were cheeses selected to accompany them (i.e. you were supposed to have things in the proper order, from light to dark, or heavy, or whatever). The wines were: Revana Cabernet Sauvignon ($104.99 per bottle), Virginie de Valandraud St. Emilion ($59.99), Robert Sinskey's Vandal Vineyard Pinot Noir ($49.99) and a 30-year-old white port from Eufemia ($69.99). None of them available by the box, and I'm sure you're all proud of me for not asking. The best cheese, served with the port, was a Papillon Roquefort served with a drizzle of chestnut honey. Wow - I actually have some of that chestnut honey; what a great way to use it! I will need to come up with a poorhouse version of this.

Friday, November 17, 2006

More sketchbooks


I love this way of looking at a sketchbook on line! The link will take you to a video where you can watch the pages being turned by disembodied hands. Well, OK, it's a tiny bit frustrating because, even though you can pause whenever you want and zoom in, or watch it full screen, you don't get the clarity and quality you might wish for. This is from an exhibition in London of artists using Moleskine sketchbooks. Once you get to the YouTube site you'll see several others from the same group to look at. This particular one is by Antoine Cosse, a French illustrator who lives in London. I found it on the always interesting and unusual moleskinerie blog.

Coffee and Cigarettes


Thanks to Ann Althouse for the nudge to track down this charming and eccentric movie on DVD, Coffee and Cigarettes. How did I miss this? It's a series of black-and-white vignettes with wonderful actors in groups of two, sometimes three, just talking over coffee and cigarettes, the common thread. Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright lead off in a perfectly timed and utterly silly encounter, and the film ends on an existential note with Bill Rice and Taylor Mead playing Beckett-like characters in a gloomy unspecified location. Cate Blanchette is phenomenal playing dual roles as herself and a star-struck cousin, and there's another favorite scene with Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan as "cousins". If there's any theme beyond the coffee and cigarettes it is the cousins, or twins thing. Otherwise there's no plot, but - who cares? Oh, and there's even an entire sketch about my new favorite physicist, Nikola Tesla. And a credit, in the end, to the "Tesla Coil Wrangler". Worth looking for.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dollhouse cooking



This was never intended to be a food blog, though I read and admire quite a number of them (Wednesday Chef, Toast, Amateur Gourmet, Chocolate and Zucchini, Chubby Hubby, 101 Cookbooks, Le Tartine Gourmand, David Lebovitz, to name a few - too lazy to provide links but they aren't hard to find). But since the bread thing I've been getting an unusual number of baking-related hits, plus it's one of the foodiest weeks of the year, so I thought it would be timely to mention these.

After years and years of cooking for a family - or not cooking, as the long-suffering family may choose to interject - it's an adjustment to shift to cooking-for-one mode. Especially when there is a sweet tooth and a fondness for baking. If you're a cook, you may have noticed how a really simple thing that you make all the time suddenly becomes cumbersome and time-consuming when you have to make it for a crowd. Well, reverse the process: when you scale down a recipe and make it in tiny amounts, things become very simple. Measurements are by the spoonful, bowls are cereal-size, washing up is no fuss at all. If you just do the math it's a simple matter to scale down most any recipe, but I snagged this fun book, Small Batch Baking, at the library last year. One of my favorite recipes in the book is this supberb oatmeal cookie, which comes together in seconds, makes 2 huge cookies (as pictured) or 4 regular ones. The ingredients are nearly always on hand, it satisfies the craving for a little something and, best of all, you're not left with 5 dozen cookies calling your name.

2 Perfect Oatmeal Cookies

Adapted from Small Batch Baking by Debby Maugans

Mix in bowl with fork:

3 T flour
3 T oatmeal
3 T sugar (I used turbinado)

Add:

1/8 t baking soda
1/8 t salt
pinch of cinnamon

Then mix in:

1 1/2 T soft butter
1/4 t vanilla

and

4 tsp (1 T plus 1 t) beaten egg (this is about half of one medium egg)
3 T raisins (I sometimes use yellow ones, or try dried cranberries)

Blend with fingers if needed to make a dough that holds together. Divide in two and make 2 big cookies on parchment or silpat sheets. Flatten with wettish hand. Bake at 350 about 15 min, or til lightly browned but still soft. Cool a few minutes before transferriing to rack. Makes 2 giant cookies; could also make 4 more "regular" sized ones. Or double recipe to make 8. Perfect and delicious!

Bark!

It's been a bridge-y few days. But this caught my eye today. Roz Chast could hardly have done better.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Quince sniffing

These are quinces, from the farmer's market yesterday. I had made a mental note to look for them, even since reading David Lebovitz's ode to them. Just as he describes, they are filling the house (and before that, the car) with a delicious scent. I am thinking they are not quite ripe yet, since they are more green than yellow. But what do I know? I am also not sure what I want to do with them. I'm thinking "compote"; but....open to ideas. Preserves? Anyone?

It was almost an afterthought that I went to the market. I'd gone first to a used book sale - cleverly managing to escape only $5 the poorer. Then I figured, "oh, I might as well see what's there". The problem with our market is that the vendors are always the same, and rarely have anything that is really different or better than what I can get anywhere else. No unusual varieties, no specialties. I wish it were otherwise! Still, I like the concept and the vibes, so I usually stop by, and usually buy something. So yesterday it was the quinces. Breathing deeply now.... aaaaaah!

Update: Still that wondrous fragrance, still debating. Just came across this tempting post from Shuna of eggbeater. Sounds like a good approach. I love anything that, once prepared, can be kept for months at a time.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Julia


This is Julia, named for the friend who agreed to be wrapped in plaster for art's sake. Z made her in art class when she was a high school junior. She won a prize, and was exhibited all over the state. But I knew it would just be a matter of time before she'd arrive here, like another mouth to feed, and we'd have to put her somewhere. For years she was in the living room, next to the fireplace. Now she's upstairs where she alternates between the two large empty bedrooms. But there will be young visitors up there soon, and they might be frightened. Maybe time to bring her back downstairs. I enjoy having her around. And there's plenty of room for her now.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bread Critique





Ta-da! Here it is.

I now think I made the original dough a little TOO moist. Especially after having watched the NYT video of the procedure which Nina kindly directed me to (not sure how I missed it, actually). When Lahey mixes the dough (nonchalantly and instantaneously with one hand) it looks sticky but not LIQUID the way mine did. Just points out the importance of not relying too much on measurements. This meant that when I got to the "form it into a ball" stage (right after the 15-minute rest) I had a little trouble ending with anything resembling a "seam" anywhere. Similarly, after the "rise-between-the-towels" stage the dough was STILL quite wet, and not so easy to extricate from the lower towel. Bittman notes almost as an aside that he had a number of "failed attempts" that were still better than almost anything you could buy. I agree with this 100%. I'm definitely starting with a little more flour (or less water) next time, but this loaf is heavenly. I'll be making it again and again.

Probably the most important innovation here is the way in which baking the moist loaf in a preheated COVERED pan deals with the all-important need to introduce moisture into the oven. This is essential for the crustiness we're looking for. And I am VERY pleased with the crustiness of this loaf! Professional ovens, as I learned at the CIA, have automatic sprinklers built into them. Home cooks, lacking these, are variously advised to throw in a few ice cubes, use a spray bottle to spritz the inside of the hot oven, or put a pan of water in the bottom, all of which I've tried, none of which is ideal.

I discovered in my cyberfiles (courtesy of the amazing "Zoot" - worthy of a future post) another recipe from the NYT that I had clipped but never used that comes very close to utilizing this technique. Here it is suggested that you preheat a large heavy pan in the oven, as we have done, but THEN, instead of putting the dough IN the pan, you put it on a baking stone and then use the hot pan to quickly COVER it up, like a cloche. You remove the pan toward the end of the baking period. Same thing, really, but gives you a lot more leeway in terms of different shapes for the bread.

Oh, and now I notice there was an accompanying article by Kay Rentschler from the same May 26, 2004 paper which credits Sullivan Street's Jim Lahey for the idea. Maybe Mark Bittman has been prowling through the Times archives.

As to the flour type: at the CIA we were told that using all-purpose hard winter wheat flour was best for these holey, crusty, "artisan" breads. The protein content is 11-12%. Official "bread" flour is a little higher in protein (11.5-12.5%) and better for "quick breads", Pullman loaves, and soft rolls, according to the handout I have before me from Chef Jurgen Temme of the CIA. The Rentschler article confirms this. (And oops - I now see that I incorrectly referred to a "poolish" as a "biga" in my first post. I'll fix that.) I'm actually not sure what brand flour I was using - whatever was in the canister! I'm guessing it is King Arthur unbleached all-purpose, since that's what I normally buy.

And as to the "folding" step which Pat G forgot, its purpose is (and I am paraphrasing from Chef Temme's notes again): 1. to expel gas and introduce oxygen 2. To move yeast cells to a new food supply 3. to equalize the dough temperature. Probably more than we need to know - just try to remember next time.

So that's it. Apologies to readers who are not interested in this subject. As if they are still with us!

Update: I've made this three times now, and each time was better than the one before. The firmer dough, using the 1 1/2 cups of water made a product that was much easier to handle. And finally, on the third round, I had access to a supply of wheat bran which made all the difference in terms of non-stickiness, and added a nice, nutty element to the crust. When I make it next, which will be soon, I may dispense with the towel altogether. I know that professional kitchens use special canvas for this. But I have a wooden peel that I use for pizza. I think that if I sprinkle this with the wheat bran and then let the dough ball rise on that, covered with a bowl or towel, I'll be able to easily slide it right off into the hot pan. (I'm using a 40+ year old Le Creuset casserole which I know I'm lucky to have.) The risen dough is just large enough that it's a little hard to handle without deflating in the towel-to-pot stage. Oh, and I've been using a 500 degree oven with excellent results. (Using an oven thermometer, so I know it's there.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Instant 24-hour bread

It's not often that a truly revolutionary kitchen technique comes along, but after reading Mark Bittman's article on no-knead breadmaking in yesterday's NY Times, I can hardly wait to try this. The revolutionary parts (besides the no-knead, which you can sort of get around anyhow by using the Cuisinart, or a dough hook) are these: 1. Only a tiny bit of yeast is used. 2. The bread is left to rise for a LONG TIME (about 24 hours, so yes, you do have to plan ahead). 3. The blob of wet dough is tossed into a pre-heated cast-iron casserole to bake (so no "shaping" is needed either).

I take it is a very good sign that this technique comes originally from Jim Lahey, owner of the Sullivan Street Bakery in NY. The pane pugliese from here is a classic, and a long-standing favorite of mine. And I do know, both from reading (masters like Peter Reinhart) and from hands-on experience (a lifetime of baking, and a fun one-day class in artisanal breads at the Culinary Institute last spring) that the wetter the better when it comes to a good dough for breads of this kind. And the long rise would take the place of using the normal starter, or "poolish".

Why am I blathering on about this? Off to the kitchen. I'm going to start a batch right now.

Falun Gong

I don't worry too much when I miss a pop reference in a crossword but I'm always taken aback when I come across something I feel I should have known about. Clued as "Chinese spiritual movement" in today's NY Sun, the answer is "Falun Gong". Wikipedia explains it here. Did you all know this one?

Oh, and no longer in limbo, it seems. It took over 8 hours for Blogger to transfer my data to the new system. Why, I wonder?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Wet and in Limbo

I was just going to say that it is wet here. It's been pouring rain all day. My basement is full of water but I will ignore it for now. It's happened before. Now I read that there's flooding all over town. Trains and busses are delayed (tracks and roads flooded); small parks are underwater. We're being told to say home. So I am.

Now for the limbo part: I've put off switching to the Blogger Beta. But now I sign on to post and am told "Your New Version is READY". As in: the time has come. Time to switch. So I click all the requisite clicks, fill in all the passwords and get a final screen that says something like this: It may take some time to update your blog. We will send an email to your G-Mail account when it's ready. Well, OK. But that was TWO HOURS ago. Seems it will still let me post here. Or not? Who knows whether or not this will show up? Let's try.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Bloomington Grandmother

Please scroll down to view the "Gertrude Gaddis Price" post. It seems that when you start a post in Blogger and delay its actual publication, it posts on the original "creation" date; not the posting date. Always learning....

Gaga

When I talked about Whole Foods the other day I neglected to mention all the free tastings. For example, a nice young man offered me a little cup of a delicious orange sherbet that he explained was made exactly as his grandmother (Gaga) used to prepare it. A Proustian moment later I was transported to the Lemon-Orange Sherbet that my own mother and grandmother used to make. In my recipe files it is attributed to "Clara of North Creek" (revealing its Adirondack origins). One of its virtues was that it could be "still-frozen" in a bread pan in the small top-of-the-fridge compartment referred to as a "freezer" in the forties and fifties. This recipe is a gem, and I'm going to make myself some soon - maybe today. I'd probably scale it down to half and make it in the Donvier, but here it is, exactly as written:

Lemon and Orange Sherbet (Clara of North Creek)

2 oranges and 2 lemons (juice and grated rind)
1 T lemon extract
2 c. sugar
1 quart milk
1 pint cream

Strain juices into sugar. Add lemon extract and mix well before adding milk, cream and rinds. Freeze until solid around edges. Remove and beat til smooth. Refreeze.

Oh, and in my unstoppable blabbermouthy way I told the nice young man that in our family we made it with a combination of orange and lemon. If you notice that Gaga offers this any time soon - well, you will know where the credit lies.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Audiobooks

Ann Althouse turns out to share my enthusiasm for these, and has just blogged about them. She provides a link to a pertinent Stephen King article. Both have elicited a spate of comments and recommendations worthy of (digital) notetaking. The voice of the reader makes such a difference, as most point out. I may give up on the Pico Iyer travel essay book I'm working on right now; the narrator has a strange, affected accent that really interferes with the content. But the subject ("lost", or rarely visited places, such as N. Korea, Cuba, Paraguay...) is fascinating so I may stick with it for a while.

Red wine

Drink red wine, live longer. That's the kind of news we like to hear! This blog also has a wealth of information about box wines. If only they were more readily available around here.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Too many books

This week's New Yorker cover says it all. The books pile up. How are we to decide what to read, find time to read, or even know what goes into the pile? What, for that matter, is a "book" any more. Sometimes I feel that weeks or months go by and I haven't read any books at all, and yet I'm reading all the time. Magazines compete. So do blogs. If I listen to a book on tape is it the same as reading it? And now I am finding myself enlightened and distracted by podcasts - podcasts that are about books. Slate, Powells, the New York Times have all jumped on this train.

Here's a good and timely interview with son-in-law discussing the role of the literary journal in all of this. Agni, he tells us, is going to introduce a blog by editor Sven Birkerts. I'll be looking forward to it.

In the meantime, here are some of my recent book encounters:

Brainiac, by Ken Jennings. Combines a history of trivia as an idea and the story behind his Jeopardy success. An easy, entertaining read.

Shopgirl, by Steve Martin. Listened to this on tape, read by the author. I have enjoyed Martin's short humor in The New Yorker and expected more of the same. Instead, it's an X-rated (OK maybe just R nowadays) urban fairy tale about the intersecting lives of Mirabelle, the artist and glove salesgirl at Neiman Marcus, Mr Ray Porter, the gentleman millionaire who is infatuated by her, and Jeremy, a young man who has a lot to learn about everything. Beautiful writing, highly recommended. There is, apparently, also a movie, starring Martin as Mr. Ray Porter. I think I'd enjoy seeing it, though it's hard to imagine how it could tell the story any better.

The Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, and Blankets, by Craig Thomson. I'm lumping these together because they are both "graphic novels", or grown-up comic books. Also R- rated. I loved them both; Blankets is a fairly traditional "first love" coming of age story. The Fun Home, an unusual memoir, refers to the funeral home run by the author's family.

In the works right now, for future reporting:
Georges Perec. Life A User's Manual
Doug Psaltis. The Seasoning of a Chef
George How Colt. The Big House
Pico Iyer. Falling off the Map (audiotape)

November First

It's a beautiful day - feels more like September than November. Sunny and crisp. If this is global warming I'll enjoy it for what it's worth. I hate to go and waste the afternoon at the bridge table, but that's the plan. It will be dark soon after I get home.

Today is the grand opening of the new Whole Foods in West Orange, so of course I went to check it out. It's in an oddly downscale location, in an overgrown strip mall, squashed between a Wendy's and a K-Mart. Should be interesing to see what's there in five years. Beyond being just plain BIG, there are whole categories of things that the smaller Montclair store just doesn't have, such as the raw bar, burrito and pizza stands, artisanal chocolates, olive oil tasting, bulk spices, clothing (!) - and a huge assortment of help-yourself hot and cold foods, including a wide range of tempting-looking Indian specialties. Got some free swag, too: a tote bag, water bottle, Valrhona chocolate bar, Lara bar. All in all, a good place for an upscale bag lady like me to hang out.