Sunday, November 18, 2012
I am dieting and carb cycling to lose about 5 pounds, and while today iiis technically a carb day, the plan does not in any way say that I should have a sandwich for every meal. But for whatever reason I seem to be eating like I’m pregnant with Guy Fieri, so after I had part of a leftover chicken cheesesteak for breakfast and the stars aligned for a glorious steak sandwich, I polished off a glorious steak sandwich dagnabit.
It so happens that we grilled NY strip to have with ‘zucchini spaghetti’ (and a little real pasta on the hubby’s plate) and tomatoes for a low carb dinner the other night.
Also so happens that I have sautéed mushrooms and that my mother-in-law gave me some of this luscious loaf of rye bread from Artisan Bakery and that I have been caramelizing onions to make French onion soup. Clearly I had no choice but to make a steak sandwich.
I toasted some of the bread, schmeared with mayo, a bit of horseradish and some caramelized onion. topped with sliced steak, some mushrooms and a sprinkling of Maldon salt. Worth every extra minute in the gym tomorrow! I strongly suggest if you think about making onion soup this winter that you have a steak dinner and grab some fresh bread the night or two before so you’re set up for such serendipity : )
For the steaks I often do something that I think I picked up in culinary school. Combine 1:1 balsamic vinegar and soy sauce, add some chopped garlic and herbage – I used thyme this time. Marinate beef for an hour or four. When you grill the beef reduce the remaining marinade in a small saucepan over low heat to a glaze consistency and then drizzle over the cooked beef.
Cleeearly, tomorrow will be another low carb day so I’m making more zucchini spaghetti and packing meals to be ready for the week. First I cut the top off and trim the end of each zucchini, and set up the mandolin with the thinner julienne attachment.
Then I run them down the mandolin lengthwise until I hit the seeds.
I have to break them the noodles apart a little bit, but it’s no big deal.
I sauté and steam them for just a few minutes in my electric wok, though a large sauté pan with a lid works just as well.
And then we have zucchini noodles. Are we buff yet?
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 - 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 - 20 minutes
Low carb spaghetti - it's actually good. For semi-low carb spaghetti, make this squash and then combine half and half with cooked pasta spaghetti.
3 medium zucchini, top and tailed
2 garlic cloves, sliced or minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp parmesan cheese or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
- set up mandolin with the skinny julienne attachment and run zucchini down lengthwise to get long spaghetti-like strands. You can run down about 3 times per 'side' of zucchini before getting to the seeds. Keep rotating to green parts and slicing until you are down to just the seedy part the whole way around. I'll confess this time around I pitched the seedy parts, but you can chop them up, sauté them and try - like we do in the restaurants when we make them for the staff or 'family meal' - to sell it as a 'zucchini heart' dish.
- warm oil over medium heat and sweat garlic - I find my electric wok is perfect for this job because I can adjust the temperature so easily and the big dome lid is good for steaming
- add zucchini spaghetti, toss gently to coat with oil and garlic, and allow to cook a minute or two
- add water, cover and steam another 2 - 3 minutes until zucchini is tender
- uncover and allow any excess water to cook off
- remove from heat, toss with parmesan, serve with stewed tomatoes or tomato sauce and envision your bangin beach bod
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
11.14.12 King George, VA-When King George residents Peggy, June and Kristin were faced with an enormous surplus of green tomatoes, they knew something had to be done. And with the 2012 surging popularity of canning with publication of books such as Putting Up and Put ’em Up they knew just what to do.
In a recent trend, more and more people like Peggy have been preserving some fruits and vegetables from the warmer months rather than following the traditional route of leaving them to rot and then going to a grocery store to buy some from Florida and Peru. And for many this means staring down the latest CSA delivery or a bike ride to the farmers’ market, where they get preserving tips, Chioggia Beets, Black Valentine Tomatoes and maybe some Warted Hubard Squash. Not so for Peggy who routinely walks all five blocks of Fairview Beach for exercise and saw the neglected green tomatoes in a neighbor’s yard.
Of the discovery Peggy explained, ‘I mean they’re free. That’s cheaper than Bj’s with a coupon.’
She immediately rushed home to her landline and phoned June, also of Fairview Beach who said of their harvest, ‘There were so many tomatoes and we hated to leave them and just couldn’t stop picking them. It seems like too much to me, but Peggy says if you’re going to the trouble to set canning up, you may as well clean up the whole neighborhood.’
‘If I’m gonna make a mess with canning, I want to have enough to give some as gifts,’ Peggy explained. And Peggy won’t be the only one to be giving such fashionable gifts this year. According to recent analysis by sociologists, many self-identified hipsters, foodies, and some of the one third of Americans who are not obese are canning vegetables and donning them with decorative fabric for the holiday season.
Kristin, who is known for her ways with mountains of produce from her days in catering was called in to chop peppers and and help with the canning. She enthusiastically joined the effort noting, ‘as a chef who’s never owned a restaurant and professional journalist who has never published anything for pay, I feel I should stay on top of what’s new and shaking in the food world on my little blog. Just the other day I made artisanal sandwiches with homemade bread and unexpected ingredients like truffle oil, and have a hybridization of a pizza and a burrito in R&D. I’m always trying to come up with something new, so stay tuned!’
When asked of her mother-in-law’s progressive preservation practices Kristin added, ‘clearly Peggy and many of us here in King George are at the cusp of the foraging movement. These tomatoes are indigenous to Northern Virginia and therefor are modified-fish-DNA-free. Read it and weep Monsanto! We have 50 jars of this stuff and we’ll easily get through the winter making hip flatbreads and banh mi with these.’
Particularly trendy were the stained recipe and heirloom pots, pans and funnels. When asked about her role in such an emerging trend Peggy seemed puzzled, simply saying ‘At this time of year those tomatoes will never ripen and will freeze the first night the temperature drops, so it’s time to can them.’
Aside from a metric ton of green tomatoes, the take away for Kristin: ‘A lot of people are into canning right now, so I should totally get blog hits,’ she said as she pulled out her smartphone. ‘Omygod, for real? Do I seriously have to wait to get an iPhone to post this? Droid sucks.’
Approximately 1000 pounds of green tomatoes were saved from the season’s first frost this year in King George
Peggy Myruski led the pickling effort
Recent trend analysis shows many Americans are suddenly and annoyingly joining a trend in canning that has been growing in places like Fairview Beach for the last 60 to 150 years
Pickled green tomatoes grace a cheddar melt in yet another digression from area woman’s diet plan, but oh so nummm
Pickled Green Tomatoes
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
2 qt green tomatoes, sliced
3 Tbsp salt
2 cup cider vinegar
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
3 cup onion, sliced
2 bell peppers, red or otherwise, chopped
- mix tomatoes and salt and let stand 12 hours then drain
- heat vinegar, sugars, spices; bring to a boil, add onions and allow to simmer 2-3 minutes
- add tomatoes and peppers and allow to simmer 2-3 minutes more
- pack into jars and be sure to cover vegetables with syrup
- seal with hot self sealing lids; when they make a popping sound and the top of the lid is indented downward, the jar is sealed
Sunday, November 11, 2012
For our tailgate last week we wanted to include some Rappahannock oysters, so I did the only logical thing to do when porta johns are the only available facility for the next 8 hours. I made spiced double alcohol raw oyster shooters.
It started classy and stuff with Patrick O’Connell‘s pickled cranberries.
It’s not the blog… I always cook my food and then take it to the back deck to photograph it. The neighbors don’t find it strange at all.
These cranberries are versatile and great with oysters. I love bubbles so I decided to combine that much. Then, to make it a breakfast that would go the distance, I added some candied jalapeño and, well, vodka. What could go wrong? Down the hatch baby. It was a good way to warm up on a crispy fall morning in the middle of a field in the middle of Virginia after getting up at 4:30 am to bake bagel bombs, whip cream and sear bananas. Here, in the middle of the tailgate, the cranberries and vodka are in shot glasses awaiting the chile, oyster and bubbles.
And here is a reenactment of the whole shooter set-up, because somehow I din’t manage a picture of the finished shooter at the actual tailgate. I’m not a photojournalist, especially after a morning cocktail and during judging.
Sip the first third to half of it of it, then shoot the rest. Check toes for feeling, sniff country air, wonder what type of mental illness drives you to cook as though Tom Colicchio will be walking up with $100k check for a remote tailgate contest. Take a bite of a bagel bomb, rinse and repeat until you’ve lost recall of mental illness and nonexistent check.
This sounds like a lot of prep, but it’s so easy and quick. First make your pickled cranberries and you can preserve them or just keep in the fridge for several months. Same deal with candying the jalapeños…
They will hold for weeks in the fridge (and probably out of the fridge, but try that at your own peril and/or add extra vodka to shots for disinfecting and medicinal purposes).
Pickled Cranberry and Sparkling Oyster Shooters
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Prepare cranberries and jalapeños ahead of time and then make shooters and a variety of cocktails various for weeks.
1 (12 oz) bag fresh cranberries, washed and picked over
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider
1/2 cup water
5 whole cloves
1/4 tsp whole allspice
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1 whole cinnamon stick
1 tsp peeled and roughly chopped fresh ginger root
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
oysters, freshly shucked
- combine all ingredients in a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a rolling boil
- remove from heat and allow to cool
- fill glass jars and seal, or transfer to other container or tupperware and keep in the refrigerator
- heat oven to 300 degrees
- combine water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved
- add jalapeño slices to syrup and cook for 1 - 2 minutes
- using a fork remove jalapeño slices to a sheet tray lined with parchment, making sure they're spaced out
- drop into oven and cook until dehydrated
To make shooter:
- get a juice glass and drop in 1 or 2 cranberries with a little syrup
- open sparkling wine and pour some into juice glass to test
- in the meantime, or much later... line up shot glasses or mini martinis and add a cranberry plus a little cranberry syrup to each, then add some vodka
- when folks are ready, add an oyster, a piece of candied jalapeño, and some sparkling wine
- advise people to sip a little before shooting as the initial sipping of everything together is very nice and then the shooting is a bit easier afterwards
Pickled cranberry recipe is from Refined American Cuisine by Patrick O'Connell, Chef/Owner of The Inn at Little Washington.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
One year ago, happy newlyweds Brian and I went with a friend to the Montpelier Hunt Races near Charlottesville, Virginia and I met some other Fredericksburgers, two of whom have also been cooking for a living – Laurie (LB) and Shanti. We’ve become good friends over the year and, through a series of misadventures wound up celebrating the anniversary with a spot of our own at this year’s races… and by entering the tailgating contest.
This year’s tailgate contest theme was ‘Celebrating Southern’ and was judged by Chef Jason Alley of Comfort restaurant in Richmond, and soon to open Pasture in Charlottesville. We had no shortage of ideas of how to celebrate southern, so we came up with a big menu, vowed to edit it down, edited it, and then made everything anyway.
We went with an heirloom theme, using family made quilts as linens and for straw bale seating as well as heirloom fruits and veggies, heirloom recipes and some traditional dishes. We also ventured slightly with a southern style negimaki and pimento cheese bagel bombs.
The set up was chaos. It was our first time doing a tailgate, first time getting a space at Montpelier, our first time catering together and we had enough food to fill a banquet hall coming out of one truck onto one 6′ buffet table. Turns out we needed the buffet table, a 4′ and then a card table to hold all of our food.
But we finally got there… and fortunately the judging did not start at 10 am which was a possibility and only one hour after the gates opened! LB’s daughter designed the polished menu despite 30 late-breaking changes, and LB made an interesting salad dressing that is sweetened with confectioners’ sugar from a recipe in an historic VA cookbook. The lettuce was plucked from her garden that morning – what could be better than that you ask? Why, lettuce picked in the morning with croutons that are crusted in potato chips! It’s hard to do anything wrong with potato chips, but these fresh, buttery toasted croutons with Route 66 potato chip crumbs exalted the potato chip ever higher.
Miraculously, we even had time to sit and have an adult breakfast beverage for a moment. I say ‘we’ even though this is a photo of LB and her superstud husband Scott, because I have the hardest time getting myself actually into a picture. So anyway, I enjoyed some bubbles and clicked away, chronicling our impending glory : ) And aren’t the straw bales with quilts great seating?! so much more comfortable and better for a crowd than beach chairs.. albeit bulky and impractical for a horseless, waterfront dweller.
Then the judges came and we got them to eat almost all of our food, but they were a little overwhelmed (there were at least 20 teams in the contest), so they never got any of my grits flapjacks with bananas foster sauce. boo hoo. Oh well, after the fourth horse race the announcement came booming out of the speaker – we won!! So off we went to the Winners’ Circle to claim our glory and a photo op with Chef Jason.
In the very middle of the pic it’s me and Laurie. It’s only the silhouette of their backs in this picture, but Jason and his business partner were soaking up as much of Virginia’s finest fall sun and country air as they could on the rare Saturday excursion away from the restaurants.
We were soaking it all up too… that’s me on the right. Thanks for your photography Brian! mmmwah
And then we claimed our prize, which will be dinner and wine pairing for the three of us at either Comfort or Pasture. I’m behind the lady with the hat, in between Jason and the other judge.
And then it was time to actually tailgate… actual tailgate courtesy of my in-laws Peggy and Andy : )
oh, and there were horses and riders racing. Our tailgate spot had THE action. The horses turned the corner just before blowing by us as they headed for the finish line.
Then another tailgate judge came by…
She noted our glaring omission of carrots. Sorry baby. Have I told you how beautiful you are?
The day continued to dazzle and the orange fedora that served as our betting pot was donned after we got news of University of Tennessee football victory. Yay for another victory! I heart victory.
I could have stayed all night, but it was time to repack the pick ’em up truck, dole out bagel bombs to go, and go brag-post : ) Hey, we crushed it.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Once in a while a gal needs a break from homemade protein bars, ultra lean turkey, blanched greens and squash dressed with hemp oil. I wish I was kidding. And I’m still not in the skinny jeans… jeez.
In the interest of full disclosure I do eat a square of chocolate every other day and continue to drink wine despite the fact the Bethenny Frankel hasn’t yet come up with Chard Zero yet. Could you get on that please, Bethenny? I would like to come up with it and make my own $100 mil but my calorie-free grape growing experiment upset the HOA. urp.
So anyway, in the fall I like making this Apple Strudel recipe from epicurious.com, but this time I wanted individual, pick up pastry so here’s an adapted version of it. It started with soaking dried cherries in brandy. No, I was not drinking the brandy. Apparently I’ve just forgotten everything I ever knew about photography… and actually when I knew something it was with old timey, film loaded cameras, so I’m way back at the beginning of the SLR learning curve.
Soak cherries with brandy or raisins with cherry brandy. Some kind of dried fruit swimming in booze. And then take some ginger snaps and grind them up in a food processor with the blade attachment. I have one of those mini processors which works well for this because you don’t need much. It’s not as thorough as the large one, so you may have to pull a few larger pieces of cookie out and eat them because they will tear the pastry. Take one for the team.
Then dice up apples. Maybe everyone knows this, but it’s helpful enough I’ll mention… apples, peppers, anything with a skin on it is easier to cut and much easier on your knife if you always put the skin side down towards the board so the knife is going primarily through the flesh. You’ll get the job done faster and keep the edge on your knife a little longer.
Then melt butter and lay some phyllo sheets under a damp towel. I know I know, phyllo’s not always cooperative, but remember that it only costs a few cents a sheet. So when a couple sheets really make you crazy, just chuck them and grab a new one.
Mix up apples, cherries and half of the ginger snap crumbs. Then lay out a sheet of phyllo, brush with butter, sprinkle with cookie crumbs and then repeat with two more sheets. Then you’re ready to roll.
Cut the sheet into strips the width you want for the pastry. The first batch I did were kind of big. I started cutting five and six strips so they’d be smaller.
Then comes the rolling, which is a little tricky at first because the filling wants to come out. But all you do is take one bottom corner to the far edge so that you create a right angle triangle.
Then fold over the top edge towards the opposite side and work that way until it’s a sealed up pastry. Drop onto a lightly greased (or sprayed) baking sheet, brush the tops with butter and bake them off.
I had blueberries to use up, so I made some strudels with blueberries only – no sugar, no nuthin and they were oozing warm blueberry business when they came out of the oven that I literally cleaned up off the sheet pan with a spoon. Serve as is or make the cranberry sauce or dust with confectioner’s sugar or serve with chocolate sauce. They are good on their own though, and are nicely portable that way which makes them a convenient breakfast.
Yield: 15 - 20 pastries
Prep Time: 1 1/2 hours
Cook Time: 20 - 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
2 - 3 granny smith apples, small dice
1/3 cup dried cherries
2 Tbsp brandy
1/4 - 1/2 cup sugar (optional, I often leave out)
3/4 cup ginger snap crumbs
1 stick of butter, melted
9 sheets phyllo dough (thawed)
- soak cherries in brandy for an hour and heat oven to 375 degrees
- combine apples, 1/2 cup cookie crumbs, sugar and cherries
- lay long side of phyllo sheet towards you on counter, brush with butter and sprinkle with crumbs
- lay another sheet of phyllo on top of the first and repeat with butter and crumbs
- repeat with third sheet and then cut 4, 5, or 6 (sizes of phyla sheets can vary) strips from the dough going from the long edge closest to you straight away
- scoop fruit filling onto the bottom of each strip
- roll each strip into a triangle by bringing the bottom corner to the opposite side, then folding the triangle down the strip
- use a little butter to tack down loose pieces or trim them off
- repeat process two more times
- lay pastries on greased baking sheet or parchment, brush with butter and bake for 20 - 30 minutes until golden brown
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Don’t remember Don Music? Click on this link for some muppet magic and four of the most enjoyable minutes you’ll spend today.
I think about Don Music a lot lately as I attempt to establish myself as a freelance food writer. And by ‘establish myself as a food writer’ I mean to publish one bloody thing. Of course I should muster up more confidence and pitch a lot more – that will be happening this very afternoon immediately after I finish this blog post, a cup of green chai and searching for Caribbean cruise chef work.
Ok, fine, I’ll work on more story ideas and inevitably feel like smashing my head into the computer exclaiming ‘Oh I’ll never get it!!!’ Who knows, maybe Kermit will show up as my muse. Maybe I can pull a Theresa Caputo and channel Jim Henson.
And seeing how this would not be the day for a classic French preparation of frog legs today’s recipe is for shrimp. I had company coming, lots of jalapeños, string beans and butternut squash from my farm share, and the notion that I wanted something special enough for guests, yet something that wouldn’t require two extra hours at the gym.
So I made butternut squash raviolis, cooked string beans, and came up with this shrimp dish. For those who’ve vacationed in the Caribbean, I’m affectionately calling it Jalapeño Painkiller Shrimp (named after a fav libation), but otherwise it’s just a good combination of shrimp, jalapeños and orange that’s good with just the beans, and/or with pasta or rice. In the middle of entertaining I forgot to try food porn shots, but the next day the sun was lighting up these flowers a friend brought so beautifully, so instead we’re getting a ‘moment of zen.’ How about that? From head bashing to zen. You’re welcome.
Shrimp with Jalapeños and Orange
Yield: 6-8 servings
Prep Time: 30
Cook Time: 15
Total Time: 45
There is some indulgence with the cream and juice, but not so much that it will destroy your day's healthy eating.
4-6 jalapeños, cut lengthwise into strips, seeded (I had really hot peppers)
1 fennel bulb, julienned
1 yellow onion, julienned
1 Tbsp chives, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 lemon, zested
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 lbs shrimp, shelled and deveined
- combine shrimp with orange and lemon zest
- over medium high heat add 1 Tbsp oil and sauté the jalapeños, fennel and onion until they get a little caramelization, then reduce heat and allow vegetables to soften, about 6-7 minutes
- add juice from from the orange plus the cup of juice, stir to combine and increase heat to medium high
- add heavy cream and when sauce is simmering reduce heat to keep it at a simmer for about 10 minutes until thickened and lightly coats the back of a spoon
- in the meantime heat another sauté pan to smoking, add oil and then sear shrimp, turn and sauté and allow shrimp to cook through, about 2 minutes
- toss shrimp in with vegetables and sauce, combining
- platter with beans, pasta or rice
Monday, October 22, 2012
Virginia is for lovers, and right now, butternut squash, acorn squash and apples. Lots and lots of apples, so I used them in the salad we had with the Cioppino. I blanched some haricot vert and then made an apple cider vinaigrette and topped the whole thing off with a parmesan tuile. The tuile requires some babysitting, but is actually quite easy once you get your method down, and they are like the crack cocaine of salad topping, so go’head, heat the oven to 350 and try em.
It’s best if you have a silpat, but parchment paper works well too. Take a ring mold or biscuit cutter on a silpat or piece of parchment on a sheet tray and cover the surface inside the ring with finely grated parmesan cheese until it’s just covered, but not too thickly. The trick is to have enough around the edge so the edge isn’t too fragile, and to avoid bald spots, but all the while keeping it from being too thick anywhere so that they cook evenly.
Then lay another 5 or so out on the sheet pan, each time carefully lifting the mold straight up, and then gently place the pan in the oven. After 5 minutes rotate then pan so that they cook more evenly. They will start to bubble up and turn golden, but leave them in and alone until they start to brown slightly. That is the difference between them being a little chewy or crispy. And nutty flavor and crispy crunch is what we’re after. Once they’re there just pull the tray out of the oven and allow the tuiles to cool on the tray. Once they cool and firm up you can remove to another tray or tupperware and start another batch. yuuummm.
Greens with Apples and Haricot Vert
Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 20-40 minutes
Total Time: 20-40 minutes
5 cups of salad greens
1 lb haricot vert, blanched
1 apple, julienned
8 parmesan tuiles
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp apple or maple syrup
salt to taste
- whisk vinegar and syrup together
- slowly whisk in olive oil and add salt
- julienne apple and toss with vinaigrette
- when ready to serve, toss greens with vinaigrette and plate
- toss apples and beans together and plate on top and next to the greens
- drizzle with a little more vinaigrette and top each with a parm tuile
Monday, October 15, 2012
easy, healthy pre made meal for a crowd? check
small, bite-sized pieces without shells? check
road worthy? check
Those were some of the prerequisites for a recent friendly get-together that I wanted to keep simple, healthy and low-impact on the clean up. Brian’s Mom and I cooked down here on the river and then we all loaded into the car to take dinner on the road to visit some friends.
Normally I would make the base of the stew and then add littleneck clams, shrimp and mussels to steam open at the last minute, but we had a request to make everything small and to avoid the shells, so I used a big can of chopped clams and crab meat for most of the stew and then added small shrimp 2 minutes before serving.
Yield: 8-10 servings
3 stalks celery, chopped (save some celery leaves for garnish if you like)
1 medium onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced (3 would be plenty, but I like a lot of garlic)
2 tsp dried oregano or 2 Tbsp fresh oregano
1-2 tsp cracked red pepper flakes
3 bay leaves
2 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 cups chopped clams (one of those big 51-oz cans contains just under 2 cups chopped clams and 2-3 cups clam juice)
2-3 cups clam juice
2 28-oz cans chopped tomatoes
1 cup merlot, pinot noir or other medium bodied red wine
1 cup pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc
1-2 lbs crabmeat
1 lb shrimp, deveined, tails removed
- heat olive oil over medium high heat and add onion, celery, oregano and red pepper flakes
- once vegetables are softened and translucent add garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute
- add tomatoes, clams, clam juice, wines and bay leaves, bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer for 20 minutes
- make ahead to this point and cool or add crabmeat and allow heat through for 5 minutes
- just before serving keep stew at a very low simmer where there is steam coming off but there aren't any bubbles or movement. Add shrimp and allow to poach gently for 1-2 minutes
- garnish with celery leaves
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Brian and I went to visit family friends at the beach this weekend. Despite an astounding gastric episode I had on Friday night and Saturday morning, I felt I was in the clear, and we made our way to the eastern shore. After showing Brian some nostalgic spots we enjoyed a lovely lobster dinner with our hosts, reminiscent of Mom’s formal crab feast – all of which is captured in photos on my pseudo-smart phone, which are now of course, totally unaccessible. Damn you Droid.
On top of that, Friday and Saturday turned out not to be a fluke and I was officially sick with a bug or something I ate, so I spent the majority of the visit in bed. Those frustrations aside, I had the pleasure of meeting Dinghy. She was terrifying at first.
Then, while I lay in my sickbed we began to communicate, telepathically of course, and it turns out we have a few things in common, like a love of Kate Spade and we agreed that the Sandi Cardigan would be great for this season.
She also cued into my love of boating and sailing and suggested, if I made it to the Annapolis sailboat show that I check out the rhodes22. Not that sailing is her strength. She is more of a Sea Ray power boat cruiser. Sure, she can help let off a jib sheet, but I shouldn’t rely on her for points of sail.
Me: Thanks for the tip. Maybe we’ll get that ride someday. Is it true you can tell when the weather is coming sooner than we humans?
Dinghy: Oh yeah, I can let you know to shit your pants at least 10 minutes before you’d know you need to.
Me: hmm, let’s scuttle back to land. How are things with your humans?
Dinghy: I can’t say enough about my humans. They are generous in every way and are fine with me not learning one thing from them. For this and some other reasons I’ve chosen not to destroy a lot of their stuff. That and because I respect their personal responsibility.
Me: That’s nice. Excuse me please while I go puke.
Dinghy: Eat too much mulch and rug fuzz?
Me: No, probably picked up e-coli off a menu or something grosser I learned from Dr. Oz. Anyway, you were saying?
Dinghy: Well, as head of the household here I have my concerns, and have been reading some disturbing things on woofingtonpost, not to mention a most illuminating SNL this week.
Me: Go on 10-pound terrier poodle. Go on.
Dinghy: All I know is that I run this place for us to be self-sufficient. Everything here has been earned and we exercise and brush regularly. And as a female, I care about equal pay for women, appointments that represent women like that of Sonia Sotomayor, and about healthcare like access to birth control. Trust me, these studs talk a big game about social responsibility, but once that litter shows up, the bitch is left holding the bag, and I don’t’ want to see that any more.
Me: True ’nuff scruff. Sounds to me like you know who’d you vote for. Does your library card allow you to vote?
Dinghy: No, but my bug-hunting license does (NWS).
Me: Well, we’ll see what this November brings then. I think I’ll writhe around with nausea some more.
Dinghy: I’m going to go around make cute, communicative, endearing ear movements. Catch ya later.
Me: urp. Later.
Dinghy: Head of household, Intrepid Doggie Diplomat, Nominated Most Dognappable by chefinista.com
Monday, October 1, 2012
I’m surpised it’s taking me a while to write a review of this memoir by Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef/owner of Prune restaurant in NYC. It’s got the entertaining wit and grit of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential with delicious food scenes and some good old hard core kitchen details, but it’s also a brave and very vulnerable telling of being dazed and somewhat directionless, to finding her adult self in the food world. Something with which I can relate, a lot and maybe a little too tenderly right now, as I contemplate my next steps.
She begins with beloved memories of annual spring lamb roasts her father would organize for over a hundred folks, using his background in theater and romantic vision to transform the empty overgrown meadow behind our house, riddled with groundhog holes into an event where all had a glass in their hand, their laughter rising above our heads and then evaporating into the maple leaves; the weeping willows shedding their leaf tears down the banks of the stream; fireflies and bagpipers arriving through the low clinging humidity of summer; a giant pit with four spring lambs roasting over applewood coals. I think he was for a while, the Great Gatsby of rural Pennsylvania.
Just when she’s got you feeling all wistful and woozy, about say, the sailing trips your own father used to organize, it comes to an abrupt end when her parents suddenly divorce, siblings scatter, and she is left to her own devices at thirteen years old. Devices like working in kitchens in her tiny town and ‘borrowing cars.’ At age sixteen, she was allowed to graduate her alternative high-school in an ankle-length white gauze dress that I’d shoplifted from a store in town and moved to New York City with $235.
Why yes, this is where she gets into drugs. But less predictably also manages to hustle some major bucks while waitressing for the Lone Star Cafe, which eventually led to a charge of Grand Larceny and Possession of Stolen Property which in turn helped lead to her dropping out of Hampshire College after 5 semesters.
The next stop was Europe and some other globe trotting where Hamilton inspiration for what would eventually become Prune. Like at Margarita’s restaurant in Greece:
when pushed the little gate fashioned out of branches and bedsprings, there was a rough and casual Eden inside, with olive trees, grapes, fig trees… and wild greens called horta that she boiled in salted water to tame drabness and then drowned – delicious death! – in her own olive oil… And at the end of your meal, she would come to the table with a short pencil and start to tally your bill by scribbling directly on the paper tablecloth.
There are some treats she enjoys in Turkey and India that you might have to google, but in my opinion it’s the right amount of food nerd detail and relevant, accompanying enthusiasm for it, without turning into travel-logue. It is after all what would eventually inform her menu and styling at Prune. But first there was a masters in creative writing to be earned, and a true mentor to meet.
As Gabrielle is pursuing her degree in Michigan she works with and befriends a caterer, Misty. While Gabrielle adored the reading and writing and having my brain crushed, her resolve to start a new kitchen-free life was further weakening in the direct warmth of Misty’s home style of cooking, her bumpy, misshapen tomatoes ripening on the back steps…unwittingly showing me that what I had been doing these past twenty years – and what I had come to think of as cooking… (was) nothing more than tricks of the trade. She was wakening me… out of a decades-long amnesia.
The awakening eventually leads to the opening of Prune, her childhood nickname. She has a lesbian relationship but eventually marries a Phd/MD man who frequents Prune. He is Italian and they visit his family every summer and she has an idyllic seeming family finally after those years alone. But as I have felt in many kitchens, she feels about her adoptive Italian family. Is she truly family? Truly in? Or is she a very warmly welcomed guest who is close to, but nevertheless looking in from the outside? That has been and continues to be how I feel about being in the food industry. In a way it’s a clan and inclusive. In others it’s low-paying, brutal, unbalanced and tolerant (encouraging) of very barbaric and aggressive behavior. Maybe it is just like a family.
Gabrielle has two children – one whose delivery she schedules after a second cook suddenly quits. Her marriage was never quite right and hits the rocks, and she confesses to crying on the train ride home from a conference about women chefs where she was on the panel for culinary students.
… not to say… if you’ve been a chef, then adding parenthood to your day is just as easy as running a lamb shank special on your menu. Days go very badly and there is never balance. Everybody gets shorted, everybody gets hurt, and you, the mom, not the least. But it does give you a leg up, I often think, because the restaurant is the perfect starter family… such a perfect in-flight simulator that I’ve grown to feel sorry for anybody who enters parenthood… without first having run a restaurant.
The pull of a restaurant kitchen is difficult to manage for sure. Once it’s in your blood, it never leaves and part of you always wants to go back. But you know when you walk in, it will be at the exclusion of so much else. At least in Gabrielle Hamilton’s case, being a chef did not exclude writing this book.
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