Friday, May 28, 2010

The Bottom of my Closet

For the past few days Nialla's words* have, for some reason or another, been floating around my brain.  'You don't know what it's like to come flying apart at the seams.'

And then Flavia's response: 'Yes, I do.  More than you might think.'

I remember my mom used to say to me when I was younger that I would 'take myself out of circulation', like a library book of sorts.  What she meant, of course, was that I would become pensive and withdrawn -- temporarily removing myself from the social circuit of my highschool days.  And here I am, all these years later, finding myself without a circuit and not knowing where to go.

Finding one's self circuitless is terribly easy to do, particularly if you have a propensity for moving a lot.  And if one does not think that a certain location will last too terribly long, it makes it even easier.  For why would one build up a social circuit only to leave a short while later?  Yes, it does help stave off the loneliness, but no matter how many people are around, we are all bound to feel lonely at some point or another.  It's human nature.   

Anyway, we moved to Mississippi (Jackson, to be precise) immediately after Michael graduated from law school, so that he could do a clerkship for a federal appellate judge.  (I was still in graduate school at Villanova at the time, so I spent part of that year doing a rather absurd commute to Pennsylvania.)  During this Southern stint, my quiet nature completely took over.  I was by no means reclusive -- on the contrary, I did all sorts of things, I just did them on my own.  I've never really minded my own company -- one of the bonuses of being particularly fascinating, I suppose.  And so days would pass, it seemed, without my actually speaking to anybody.  Of course when Michael got home from work we would talk, but that was from 6 or 7 in the evening on. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ropa Vieja con Arroz Amarillo (Old Clothes with Cuban Rice)

There is a Cuban restaurant in New Orleans that Michael and I used to love called Liborio.  It is a small little place with wonderful food and very, very strong coffee.  We haven't been there in about 8 years, but the food apparently made a lasting impression.  Ropa Vieja (or, Old Clothes) was what we both loved.  It came with rice and these amazing fried plantains.  I have not attempted to fry up my own plantains, but as for the rest...

We have now had it two nights in a row, and I think there is enough for one more night.  Although Emilia may not be very happy to see it grace the table again for awhile.  However, she was more than delighted with the Natilla de Chocolate that followed — that would be homemade chocolate pudding, which happens to be heaven.  I will not include the recipe for Natilla de Chocolate here because the editor for my cookbook ought to be shot on sight (or is that site?  I don't really know my sayings).  Anyway, the ingredient list is completely out of whack — supposedly it serves 6 and calls for a gallon of milk.  As I still consider you polite company, I will not tell you how many profane words I muttered as I stood in the kitchen trying to salvage said dessert — which I managed with finesse, if I do say so myself.

Also, a word of warning.  I had assumed that Cuban cooking would be a rather inexpensive endeavor.  I was wrong.  Flank steak from Whole Foods (yes, it is organic, but not grass fed) currently costs $14 a pound.  On the bright side, this recipe will feed your little family for a few nights — if you are anything like my little family.  In fact, if you throw in a dessert in at the end, you may just want to start off the evening in a pair of comfy sweats — as my jeans must have shrunk a size or two while sitting at the table.

And a note on the Cuban rice:  Following the heels of the pudding disaster, I was very suspicious of the rice recipe.  I've completely changed the measurements from those in the cookbook.  Alex Garcia says it serves 4, and you are supposed to use 4 cups of rice with 6 cups of water.  I used 2 cups rice to 3 ½ cups water, which works fantastically well, and still serves more than 4.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Olive Oil and Fresh Rosemary Cake

Sunday afternoon — Emilia is down for her nap, Michael is out doing yard work, Governor is working on his suntan on the deck, and I just pulled out an olive oil and rosemary cake from the oven.

This little cake is wonderful in the afternoon with a hot cup of tea, or whatever happens to strike your fancy.  It takes about 10 seconds to make, isn't too sweet, and has absolutely no frosting.  (Sometimes we end up with a bit too much frosting in this house.)  It's perfect and I don't know why I don't make it more often.

Olive Oil and Fresh Rosemary Cake

4 eggs
¾ cup sugar
⅔ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325° F.  Butter a 10-inch loaf pan and set aside.

In a medium size bowl (or just use your KitchenAid -- I would have, but didn't feel like hauling it down the hallway) beat the eggs for about 30 seconds.  Add the sugar, continue to beat until the eggs look nice and frothy and pale yellow.  With your beaters (or mixer) going, slowly add the olive oil.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the rosemary.

Then get a separate bowl and whisk all the dry ingredients together.  (That would be the flour, baking powder, and salt.)  Add to the wet ingredients and mix to combine.  Pour the batter into your prepared pan.

Bake for 45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through to get even coloring.  Insert a skewer, if it comes clean, pull it out.  If not, close the door and go back to reading the Wall Street Journal for a few more minutes.

Allow to cool in the pan for a few, then gently tip the cake onto a wire rack. Mmmm. (Recipe from: The Babbo Cookbook by Mario Batali. Random House, 2002.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Poppies and A Picnic With Monet

I could be wrong, but I think we have two mentally unstable weirdos living in our neighborhood.  And no, I'm not just saying this because they actually said hello to us yesterday as we were out on a walk.  Well, maybe I am -- that inner New Jersey side can be a hard thing to fight sometimes.  But to tell you the truth, most of the people in our neighborhood are not the 'saying hello' sort.  (Myself included, unless I am out running, then I somehow feel compelled to say hello to everyone.  But that's what runners/bikers/et al do.  You know, Share the Road and all that crap.)

Anyway, there is a house a few blocks over that I absolutely (and inexplicably) love.  It is a small brick house, and I suppose it wouldn't be a stretch to call it a dump, but that might be a bit harsh.  (No, it's not too harsh, but it is rather rude to say it out loud.) 

I believe that a very old person once lived there -- and then maybe died not so long ago -- because after years of  utter neglect, the place was completely spiffied up.  We walked by once and saw a man loading up a huge truck to take things (presumably) to the dump.  Then another day the 8-inch moss and grass growing on the roof were removed, and even the lawn was mowed.  Nearly everything else remained the same though, including the old van parked in the driveway.  It is an absurdly old, green Grandma's Cookies van, and I love it.  Michael always says he wants to take it and turn it into a chipper van like that movie

One of the reasons I have liked this house so much is because it reminds me of Harry Potter.  It is completely in the manner Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, or even one of  the Wizarding tents at the Quiddith World Cup Tournament.  You know what I mean, a tiny dump on the outside, but on the inside it has spiral staircases and all that.  Anyway, they have No Trespassing signs hanging up all over, so I've not actually gotten any good looks through the windows or anything.  But one of these days...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's in the Mail!

Oh dear, now I've done it.  I've destroyed Emilia's collection of Mini Boden catalogs.  It was completely by accident, mind you.  We were sitting in her big green chair before her nap, and as I reached down to get her bottle** the whole top popped right off and the bottle spilled everywhere -- carpet soaked and Mini Boden's ruined.  (Funny, I couldn't care less about the carpet.  I haven't liked it since we put it in, so I would not cry if we had to replace it.  Although, I would really cry if we had to cough up the money to pay for it right now, and that I can promise.)

Anyway, like a girl after my own heart, our 2-year-old daughter loves herself some Boden.  And her catalogs have proved to be some of her favorite reading material -- leaving them completely tattered, yet consistently perused, and even taped back together in some instances.  The girl loves them.

One of her favorite spots in the house for hiding is on the floor behind the big green chair in her bedroom.  (With her door shut, but not all the way, because then she can't open it back up.)  And if you ask her, from behind the door, 'Whatchya doing?' she will answer, 'Mia taking privacy!' or 'Mia reading Boden!'  Shortly thereafter you can can hear her quietly saying, 'You have that!...You have that, too!...You get that as soon as you get bigger!...You get those when you go potty in the toilet!'  And on it goes.

She used to be obsessed with a picture of a boy with a soccer ball on his head.  And as soon as she got her own soccer ball, she ran around the house yelling, 'Just like the boy!', which instantly made me feel better.  I was worried that she was turning into a little fashionista (to quote Grandma Margaret) or something.  I mean, really, the girl's only 2.  But it turns out that she just loves the pictures of the kids having fun in the sunshine -- who just so happen to be natty dressers.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Apple & Thyme Martini

A couple of weeks ago, Michael and I thought we had the best idea ever.  We were going to start a new tradition: Friday Night Cocktails.  The plan was that we would try a new (and hopefully lovely) cocktail every week.  And the plan was that we would do it right when he got home from work, before dinner, while pretending that we were on the set of Mad Men or something.  (We don't actually have cable, so we've only seen this show here and there while at other people's houses.  Seems quite good though.)

Anyway, after the first week (that would be the marvelous Rossini, A Venetian Cocktail) we basically tossed our new tradition over-board.  If one is going to sit down and enjoy a nice cocktail, it is best to do just that -- sit down and enjoy it -- and not be in the middle of making dinner, getting Miss Milia in the bathtub, doing dishes, folding clothes, and all the other activities that make it feel like bloody Groundhog Day over here.  Otherwise, you'll have downed half a bottle of vodka and won't know what in sam-hell is even going on anymore, and why haven't we eaten dinner?!  And what kind-of-monkey-operation is this anyway?!

And so, we changed it.  Instead, let's get the babe into bed, and then sit down with our drinks.  Nice in theory, but difficult to do when it is going on midnight and we should all just be in bed.  Now our plan is to have a nice cocktail when we darn well feel like it, so long as we aren't rushing about and can actually take a moment to notice it.

This is another great cocktail for spring.  (Would be lovely to have on a Friday evening, really, whilst sitting on the deck.  Try it and let me know how it works.)  Anyway, Michael made them and did a splendid job.  The thyme is what makes the drink;  the fragrance and the earthy taste are so refreshing -- it's practically a health tonic, I'm sure.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

No. 19, To Chan(n)el Your Inner Scarlett O'Hara

'What's the matter?'

'I think I'm having low self-esteem or something.'


'I don't know then, now do I?'

'Well, you need to put on some Chanel 19 and kick some ass.'

And there you go, another reason why I love my husband.

It is true when I say that 31 Rue Cambon is my new true love.  What can I say?  It suits me so well, and has already begun to remind me of me.  And to think that I had been so against the idea of getting a 'new' Chanel perfume since my 'signature scent quest' began.  By 'new' I simply mean any of the perfumes that were created after the death of Coco Chanel.  However, that leaves one with two fragrances from which to choose: No. 5 and No. 19, as it were. 

No. 5, try as I might, has never swept me off my feet.  It has always been a bit too strong, and never fails to conjur images of dusty old ladies.  (I am currently trying to work through this, by the way, so don't hold it against me.)  Despite this, I can appreciate the fact that since 1921 it has been consistently hailed a masterpiece.

Though No. 19, introduced in 1971, is still a great success, it is very different from its powerhouse of a pre-cursor.  I suppose it was meant to be for the woman who was sick and tired of her No. 5.  Or, maybe it was for the rare breed that simply did not like No.5 (as if!).  At any rate, then as now, No. 19 can not touch No. 5 in popularity, sales, or even sheer recognizability.  However, according to legend, a man once stopped Coco on the street as a breeze came up and, not knowing who she was, proceeded to ask 'what ever gorgeous fragrance could you possibly be wearing?'  Or something like that.  And shortly thereafter No. 19 hits the shelves. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lunch at the Elephant & Castle

I hadn’t thought of you, hadn’t thought of you walking into The George, but you did.

And through the smoke and people standing up,
you saw me lying on the carpet with

Andy, was that his name? I’m not too sure.
I do remember how much I’d fancied

him. He was blond, while you’re dark, blue-eyed while
yours are grey. I don’t think you’ve forgotten

have you? I don’t have much of an excuse,
except it was lunchtime and I hadn’t

eaten, but I had drunk nine bottles of
Becks, so lying at the back of The George

with (let’s call him) Andy seemed OK.
Perhaps it was, until I was aware

of your leopard print shoes next to my head,
and the way you said nothing. I’m grateful

for that. You put out your hand, helped me to
my feet and walked me back to Lambeth North.

It was then that I knew I wanted you.

--Karina Naomi

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Miss Dahl's Flourless Chocolate Cake

Hmmmm, well ... not really sure what to say about this one exactly.  It is a rare thing to come across a chocolate cake that I actually dislike.  Particularly one of the flourless sort that is made with nice quality chocolate.  However, this one ... well.  Maybe you should try it and get back to me.

Emilia and I made it last week, after we stocked up on Green & Black's chocolate from the store (Sophie refers to this chocolate elsewhere in the book, so I figured we may as well try it here.)  And after dinner that night I pulled it out of the fridge, whipped some cream, rinsed some raspberries, and served it up.  (She suggests crème fraiche, but I opted for sweetened cream).  Anyway, Emilia ate the raspberries and cream, Michael (being the dear that he is) ate his whole slice, while managing to agree that it was clearly not one of the best attempts at a chocolate cake.  And then he went on to say that maybe I should write a letter to Sophie voicing my complaints.  He suggested writing something like this:

'Dear Hot Dame (his words, not mine), Maybe your wee-one liked this cake...' 

By 'wee-one' he is actually referring to Jamie Cullum, which is rather funny, really, as the two of them are probably the same height.  Oh, and as a side-note, my wee-one (and Emilia) just got us tickets (for Mother's Day, wasn't that nice?) to go see Sophie's wee-one in concert this summer at Chateau Ste. Michelle.  I'm most excited as he is rather fabulous, is he not?

Anyway, I'm not giving up on this cookbook yet, despite the fact that literally every single recipe I've done has required tweaking of sorts.  The recipes do still look good.  In the meantime, I tossed the rest of the cake out yesterday (which was painful) but I simply could not bring myself to have any more.  And then Emilia and I pulled out her beautiful new apron and made cupcakes, which you will hear all about later, I'm sure.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag

I know I've said it before, but I absolutely adore Flavia de Luce.  And despite the morbidity of Alan Bradley's latest installment, I also adored The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag.  I suppose 'morbid' may not be the best word, but it does describe it accurately -- well, maybe just a bit, anyway.

When I read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie a few months ago, I was smitten.  I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of that book, and have not been afraid to let everyone know.  So naturally expectations were rather high for this latest in Bradley's series.  Did it disappoint, you ask?  Not at all.  However, I don't think it was as good as the first.  But let me explain.  My dad still claims that the best Harry Potter book was the first one.  Period.  End of story.  (I totally disagree, I think the best was the fifth -- and that the seventh was complete rubbish, but that's just me.)  Anyway, he claims that this is because everything was so new and exciting when he sat down to read it the first time, and I guess I can appreciate that.  This must be what I am suffering from with The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag.   But I shouldn't be, because the book is marvelous, really.  And truthfully it is every bit as good as the first.

The story goes like this:  Porson's Puppets (a popular kids show on the BBC) rolls, quite literally as their van has broken down, into the village of Bishop's Lacey (somewhere outside of London) sometime during the summer of 1950.  They ultimately decide to set up shop for a few days, while hoping to get their van fixed.  On the night of their final performance, however, Rupert Porson dies in the middle of the show.  The question quickly becomes whether or not Rupert was murdered, and why on earth anybody would want to do such a ghastly thing to a virtual celebrity.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lily's Stir-Fry with Tofu

It would seem that we are in a terrible rut when it comes to dinner these days.  Every night I appear to be doing some sort of variation on European peasant food.  Spain and Italy (and even France, every now and then) grace our dinner table, in one form or another, nearly every night of the week.

I am told that American peasant food would be a hamburger from McDonald's.  (Or, Burger Burger Burger, if you've seen that old episode of Frasier.)  And there is nothing wrong with that.  (As a sidenote, I highly recommend the book The Omnivore's Dilemma, because I'm actually lying when I say that.  There is something wrong with fast-food for dinner.)  Anyway, most of us eat what we can afford, and unfortunately healthy foods tend to cost a lot.    

Enter Euro-peasant-food.  I do (on a fearfully regular basis) Tortilla Espanola, Garbonzos con Espinacas, pasta (and then more pasta), roast chicken, quiche, frittatas, and soup after soup after soup.  And to be perfectly honest I'm bored to tears by it all.  Me thinks I need to expand the repertoire a bit.

I used to cook with tofu a lot back in the day.  However, I was told to stay away from the stuff during my erstwhile days as a fertility patient.  Not to mention the fact that, in large quantities, soy has been known to turn men gay (or so I hear).  Both my sister and I called our father (who happens to eat tons of the stuff) to tell him about this study after it came out, but he didn't care.  Instead we periodically ask him if he's 'gone gay', as it were.  And for some reason he never seems to think this is as funny as we do.  Anyway, I personally don't have a particular love for tofu, but I also don't loathe it.  I suppose I'm simply indifferent.  (See what I mean, I'm in a rut.  It is very odd for me to be indifferent about anything food related.)

This recipe for Lily's stir-fry with tofu comes from Sophie Dahl's new cookbook.  I made it for dinner last night and Michael and I polished it off in no time (thank goodness I doubled the recipe).  Emilia, on the other hand, put one bite of tofu in her mouth, promptly spit it out, and then declared, 'Don't like it!'  And that was that.  I tried to sneak a bite of the different veggies into her mouth when she wasn't looking, but I got the same results, 'Mia don't like it!'  She can really be a twerp sometimes.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Rossini, A Venetian Cocktail

I drink champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it -- unless I'm thirsty. (Madame Lilly Bollinger)

This is a perfect drink for springtime.  Gorgeous to look at, and if you're not careful, you will have downed the whole bottle in no time.  Bliss.

Rossini (Cheers!)
1/2 cup ripe organic strawberries
1 flat teaspoon sugar (or more, depending on your strawberries)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup very cold prosecco

Hull and then quarter the strawberries.  Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice.  Puree until absolutely smooth.  (Michael used the marvelous hand-held blender and a Pyrex for this.)  Pour into 2 glasses, divide the prosecco, give it a good mix, let is settle, and serve immediately.  (Recipe from Venezia: Food and Dreams by Tessa Kiros.  Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2008.)