Friday, February 26, 2010

Rooibos for Runners

A few weeks ago Miss Milia and I went out for one of our usual runs in the jogger. Emilia was snug as a bug with her hat, mittens, sunglasses, cozy pink blanket, statue of St. Gerard (which she will not go without), and a tattered copy of the MiniBoden catalog. It was cold, but a gorgeously sunny day — perfect for running, really. And because of this, I opted for the longer (and much hillier) route; taking us past a beautiful view of the Space Needle, the Olympics, all of Bellevue and Seattle, and Lake Washington. It is so beautiful where we live sometimes!

Anyway, as I'm huffing and puffing along, and Emilia is singing away at the top of her lungs, I looked down at her wares and noticed that her hands were bare. Naturally I began shouting (over the top of both her music and my i-pod), 'Milia, where is your other mitten?' It was gone; she had tossed it overboard. That meant that we got to go back over all the hilly bits, nearly keeling over from exhaustion, mind you, so we could find it. On the bright side, we got to see that spectacular view once again, and I got to listen to Emilia say (the rest of the way home), 'Mia twerp!' Alas, she was right.

Anyway, as it turns out, I've got this absurd disorder (Or is it an ailment? Actually, I think they call it a phenomenon), where I break out into hives whenever I go running. This would not be a problem, as it were, if I were not a runner. However, I love running. It is one of those activities that helps me get through the day. And it is, hands down, the single best thing for stress-management. Plus, if you have a small penchant for cupcakes and the like, running a few miles may definitely be in order, if not necessary.

However, ever since I can remember, I have had this rather bizarre 'phenomenon' following me around. I even remember it happening when I would walk home from school as a kid. The absolute worst of it occured when we lived in Haddonfield, NJ. I remember coming home from work, changing, grabbing my portable cd player (I was at the height of technology with that thing at the time), and running 6 to 8 miles. But I would always itch...and terribly so. There were times I would come home so angry and literally crying from frustration; my legs swollen and bleeding because, of course, I would scratch. I couldn't help myself. The marks would stay on my legs for ages, too. Nasty, right? Not to mention it being the most annoying thing in the world.

It took three doctors to diagnose me — hives urticaria. And all I needed to do was take a pile of antihistamines and be on my merry way. The only problem was that I hate to take any medication unless I am on death's door; not to mention the fact that taking allergy medication makes your allergy problems worse once you stop. So what was I to do? I simply stopped running.

Sitting in Queen Mary's Tea Room a handful of years ago with a few of the ladies in my family, I sat looking at a little menu/leaflet on Rooibos tea. I discovered that Rooibos is a red tea that comes from Africa, and does not have caffeine. (Incidentally, I also discovered that it is heavenly when mixed with Madagascar vanilla beans. I found this out because I demanded that my niece Grace let me have a sip of hers.) Anyway, as we all sat and sipped our respective teas and filled ourselves with sweet thing after sweet thing, I read of the many benefits that Rooibos tea supposedly has. The claims ranged from clearing up eczema, preventing cavities, treating allergies, and probably fixing a rather surly disposition, to boot. Shocking claims, if you ask me. So naturally I bought a little bag of it on our way out the door.

What can I say? It works. This spectacular little tea works. I drink it all the time. However, I have since learned to buy it bulk, and I have found a great site where you can buy it by the pound. I used to buy it from Whole Foods, but they kept switching containers. I would get home with a bag full of Good Hope Vanilla that smelled strangely of Blackberry Sage or something. Yuck.

Anyway, all these years later I am still delighted with this tea. It works for me. I literally don't worry about itching while running anymore, whereas it used to consume my thoughts as I trudged along the pavement. Now I just worry that Emilia is going to throw all her little things overboard causing me to have to run an extra mile or so in order to fetch them. And as much as I like to run, I have my limits, for crying out loud!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I Know How to Cook, by Ginette Mathiot

Look what just came in the mail today. I know, I know, it's already been out for months now. But to tell you the truth, it is a book that I was resisting. Don't get me wrong, I wanted it. It is a cookbook after all. But it is one of the new Phaidon Press publications. Let me explain.

For those of you who don't know, a few years ago Phaidon began publishing what are considered to be the quintessential (and best-selling) cookbooks from countries around the world. The first was The Silver Spoon, which has been Italy's best-selling cookbook for over 50 years (and one of the most popular wedding gifts in the country, if I remember correctly). And then there was 1080 Recipes from Spain, and Vefa's Kitchen from Greece; both best-sellers for over 30 years in their respective countries.

I have the Italian and Spanish books, and I actually really like them. I love the artwork in 1080 Recipes, in particular. However, neither is a book for which I continually reach. I have done a few pasta recipes from the The Silver Spoon and the tortilla española from 1080 Recipes, but I think that is it. Part of the problem may be that I have Italian cookbooks coming out my ears. And as for the Spanish, I seem to gravitate toward Penelope Casas.

When I think about it, each of the Phaidon cookbooks is essentially The Joy of Cooking done for the appropriate country. And please, do not bawk at this. The Joy of Cooking is actually an excellent cookbook with almost everything you need in it (within reason, of course), and it should not be dismissed. I suppose its biggest problem is that it is not hip or stylish ... by any means ... whatsoever. (I think Americans only really want cookbooks by celebrity chefs from the Food Network or something.) Admittedly, Mrs. Joy (as my beloved Ms. Child referred to it) is not a cookbook that I reach for on a regular basis (other than for pancakes and dutch babies, anyway), but it is an excellent publication. And this brings me back to today's mail.

I Know How to Cook by Ginette Mathiot (translated by the lovely Clotilde Dusoulier) looks marvelous. Yes, it is an overwhelming doorstop (like its sister publications), but it looks exceedingly well done. I may actually read quite a bit of it before delving into the recipes, and that is a good thing. It has section after section filled with glorious tidbits. They range from wine; seasonal food (this includes cheese and meat, which I find fascinating); entertaining; setting your table; a splendid section on herbal tea (yippee!); herbs and spices and souring agents; directions for making your own jam; menus by famous people I've generally never heard of; and several crêpe recipes. Not to mention the gorgeous artwork.

And so, with that in mind, I'm delighted with my new book. (Perversely, I also ordered it in French because, for some reason, I thought it would be fun. Seriously, what goes through my mind sometimes? That is a rhetorical question, by the way.)

'People who know how to eat are ten years younger than those to whom that science is a mystery.' —Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du goût, 1825 (Taken from the frontispiece in I Know How to Cook.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Early Rising Valentine

We returned home Friday night after a nearly two week 'tour of the eastern seaboard', as it were. After cancelled flights, cancelled trains, 2 feet of snow, and the flu all-around, we finally got out from Philadelphia. (Another story for another day, I'm sure.)

The time change is always hardest when traveling east, it seems. But it does get rather annoying when your daughter refuses to adjust back once you've returned home. (Usually Emilia waits until we get home before she finally decides to adjust to east coast time.) Although, it certainly served us well on Sunday.

A typical Sunday Chez Bindas is to get up, rush through breakfast and showers, and almost get to church at 11:00 on time. (No comments, please.) However, this Sunday Emilia woke up at 5:37 in the morning singing Simon & Garfunkel at the top of her lungs, and randomly yelling, 'Mama get you!'

So after a nice breakfast of pancakes and bacon, I decided to get started on our Valentine's Day cake. I also decided that Miss Milia was going to help. So we pulled a chair from the dining room table into the kitchen, perched her on it, and got started. She helped measure flour, sugar, and vanilla. She tossed the egg shells in the trash, tasted the cocoa powder, and whisked and whisked away with me. We had ourselves a grand time. And what do you know? Two layers of chocolate cake were left cooling on the wire racks as we slipped into church a few minutes early. That's right — early.

After nap-time we assembled the cake. We pulled the chair back into the kitchen, whipped cream, mashed raspberries, and made ganâche. (More accurately, Emilia ate the raspberries while her mama did these things.) But she was more than excited to help sandwich the layers, drizzle the frosting, and stud the top with raspberries. So excited, in fact, that I literally had to remove her little little mouth from the cake — not once, but twice (once before the frosting and once after). I kept telling her that it is considered shocking behaviour to bite into a whole cake before one has even finished making it, but she didn't care. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear she was being raised in a barn.

I brought the cake to the table after a lovely soup dinner, and Emilia looked delighted. She was rather pleased with her little self for 'help[ing] mama make Valentine cake!' And after all that, she still sat and just ate the raspberries.

The cake itself is wonderful (as are all of Nigella's cakes). It's not too sweet so you can really taste the raspberries. And strangely enough, Michael (who won't go near a cupcake to save his life) had two pieces.  Aaaah, a man after my own heart!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

One Perfect Rose

A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet —
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
"My fragile leaves," it said, "his heart enclose."
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

— Dorothy Parker, 1926

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Call Your Mom!

You know those times when you see something and know you will not be able to sleep until you have it? (Me either, but I have a friend with this problem.) Anyway, ages ago I was thumbing through Vanity Fair magazine and I saw this ad for a handbag. It was a picture of this beautiful handbag on a small table in a coffee shop with a pair of glasses next to it. I think there may have been a cup of coffee and a newspaper involved, but I really can't remember. Naturally, I fell it love with it. And, as I have a (rather annoying) tendency to do, I began obsessing over it.

I suppose you should know that I am a highly intelligent person, and I have taken enough literary criticism classes in my life to know a few things about advertising. This is one of the things I know: I loved that bag so much because it embodied a whole image — an image that I happen to love. Looking at this ad made me want to sit in a coffee shop somewhere on the Upper West Side wearing my tortoiseshell glasses (I don't wear or need glasses, by the way), a streamlined and luxurious black turtleneck, ballet flats, a just-so shade of red lipstick, and my hair tied back in a knot at the nape of my neck. And I would sit, with my doppio espresso, reading the Wall Street Journal or something, totally undisturbed by the trivial, and rather shallow, nonsense surrounding me. 'Ah, 'tis just another day. Remind me to call my broker later, dahling. Where shall we winter next year?' You know what I am getting at. And yes, I know it is a sham. Well, for me, anyway. But that is the beauty of advertising. Each of our belongings is an idea or a projection of something else, in a way. That aside, I tracked down this bag. I couldn't help myself.

I suppose another thing you should know is that Kate Spade's handbags don't actually grow on trees. They are expensive — and rather expensive at that. Certainly not in the manner of Hermès or anything, mind you, but still expensive. But really, what was I to do? I was quite literally losing sleep over it. My options were thus: Buy said gorgeous handbag and all my problems will be solved; or, don't buy it and become some wildly unattractive hag — all on account of the fact that I am losing a great deal of beauty sleep each night. Naturally, I bought the bag.

Shortly thereafter the guilt set in. No, it wasn't a million dollars, but it was enough to make me sick if I thought about it too long. So I tucked it in the back of the closet, waiting for the guilt to subside. It didn't. So, one sad day I drove myself to Nordstrom with the idea of returning my gorgeous handbag. I walked in and slapped it on the counter and began demanding a full refund. Mid-sentence, I said, 'What am I doing? Lady, give me back my bag!' And I quickly left.

A few more months went by and I pulled my lovely handbag back out of the closet. I took one long look at it and thought, 'Why this isn't a handbag at all! It's a piece of luggage! Talk about huge. What on earth am I going to do with this thing?' (Although, I daresay it would be perfect for a diaper and wipes and such. Nevermind a newspaper and smart glasses.) I have been more than happy with my gorgeous little Longchamps, after all. (Which is true; it's the best handbag I've ever owned, and suits me perfectly.)

I drove myself back to Nordstrom, slapped the bag back on the counter again, and said, 'Please! Just take it away!' As the girl was beginning to issue my refund, I carelessly glanced at the tag. Written in a tiny little font were the words: Call Your Mom. Call Your Mom — that is the name of the bag. I can't even begin to tell you how appropriate that is. It nearly made my heart beat out of my chest. I had just been talking to my mom on the phone in the car. It's a sign! And then I looked up and saw that the bag had since gone on sale — by quite a lot. Oh my goodness.

And so, being the classy dame that I am, I returned the bag. And then I bought it again — on sale. I realize this is wildly tacky, but I am feeling rather pleased with myself. And I plan to call my mother in the morning and tell her all about the new diaper bag I 'just bought'.