Monday, June 28, 2010

On Pearls, Frank Sinatra, and a Medium-Rare Steak

Last summer we went to Maine for a fabulous vacation.  It was marvelous.  We stayed in a house right on Moose Pond — which meant you could, quite literally, run out the back door, down the steps, across the lawn, down the dock, and jump into the lake.  And to be perfectly honest, I did this every chance I got.  So did Michael.  And so did my dad.  The water was surprisingly warm and we had a grand ol' time out there — swimming or counting '1,2,3, Jump!' with Emilia, and then jumping into the water, over and over again.  Michael's family thought we all had a loose screw, taking to the water as we did, but what can I say?  I grew up doing these sorts of things, which means it is way too late in the game to stop now.  Besides, they have always been some of my favorite memories from when I was a kid.

Anyway, for some reason or another, my dad took it into his head that he needed to send us a giftcard to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, a month or so ago, as a 'thank-you'.  Now, why on earth he felt so inclined to do such a thing is beyond me.  Because, really and truly, it would have been no-where near as fun without him.  In fact, we should have been the ones sending him a giftcard.  We actually debated saving it until he came for a visit so we could all go together.  However, the man just got back from Jamaica with my sister and her family.  So visits to the Pacific Northwest may not be happening in the immediate future.

And so, last Saturday, being the first day of summer, we all sat staring out the window at the cold and dreary rain.  Just when we were all about to completely lose the will to live, Michael said this: 'How about we go to Ruth's Chris tonight?'  Everything immediately looked a lot brighter.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pan-Fried Curried Cod

So I was on the phone with my mom earlier today when she tells me about the 'diet dinner' she recently made.  'Honey, it was cottage cheese, sliced bananas, pineapple, and toast.  David was so mad.' 

Now then, I don't mean to take sides or anything, particularly when it is with the one who didn't slave in the kitchen making said diet-dinner.  However, I will say this: I am not a great lover of cottage cheese myself.  And I say this knowing full well that it was one of my grandma's favorites (in the diet-food category), and we should all do our absolute best to live up to Grandma Jo's standards.  (Cottage cheese aside, this can be rather difficult sometimes...)  Anyway, I suppose it wouldn't be so bad for breakfast, or lunch, or a snack of sorts. 

Sometimes breakfast food for dinner is exactly what is called for.  After all, it gets very annoying having to plan meals every single day of the stinking week -- day after day and week after week.  And sometimes it is best just not to be bothered with it at all -- hence a bowl of cereal or something.  In fact, this is the very reason I have become such a fan of frittatas and omelettes and such for dinner, they are very easy and don't take very long.  The Coquette's Eggs we did last week (twice, in case you were wondering) is a perfect example of this -- very simple and ultimately meant to be breakfast. 

I suppose where my problem lies is in the idea of diet food.  There are so many foods that could qualify as 'diet', I suppose, if we simply looked at them differently.  And this is where I annoyed the daylights out of my poor mother (whose cottage cheese dinner was probably very nice).  I told her about our 'diet-dinner' we had last night; although we are not on any diets around here -- despite the fact that my jeans are all wicked tight these days because I haven't felt like running.  Anyway, our 'diet-dinner' consisted of cod fish and rice and asparagus, and it was a breeze to make.  Michael and I loved it.  However, I can promise you that Emilia would have preferred being at grandma and grandpa's house having cottage cheese and fruit.  The only way I could get her to keep the fish in her mouth was through ice-cream bribery.  (Her new favorite thing is chocolate ice-cream.  Can't say I blame the girl.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Language Lesson from Martine à la Ferme

After Emilia was born, I had grand plans for her to be multi-lingual by the age of five.  (Laugh as much as you'd like, but I was actually quite serious about it.)  I bought language cds (in both French and Spanish) that I would put on for her all the time — in the car, while she was in her swing, in her bouncy seat, wherever.  In fact, her 'language lesson', as I referred to it, was an excellent way for me to be able to take a shower in the morning.

Anyway, I also found these fabulous (and quite sturdy) little flash cards (in both French and Spanish) that we would play with from time to time.  Well, that she would chew on, more like, from time to time...  (Although my Spanish vocabulary has grown exponentially since I first looked at them.)  Nowadays they can usually be found at the bottom of her toy bin.

Oh, and then the books — I also got her several books (in both French and Spanish), including, Buenos Dias, Baby and Martine à la Ferme.  I have read these books to Emilia over and over for the past two years, and she has always loved the 'Bonjour Médor!' part of Martine the best.  However, as we sat reading before her nap this afternoon, Emilia began to quote a good chunk of Martine right after we'd finished with it.  (I know I've said it before, but this girl is quite the mimic.)  Half of me was rather impressed, while the other half was mortified and wanted to rush out and bury the book in the backyard immediately.  Because despite my many years (ago) of studying French, I've always had a bit of a complex as far as my accent is concerned.  And rightly so — it is atrocious.

Have you ever seen that bit in the movie Je t'aime Paris?  You know, where the postal worker from Denver is reading her postcard aloud in her head while walking all throughout Paris?  Well, that is me.  Mortifyingly me.  Or, at least I think it is anyway — which amounts to the same thing.  And so, because of this, I am thinking it may be best if we stop with Martine altogether.  Or maybe, we should just skip the French and look at it for the pictures.  If Emilia is going to grow up mangling languages, I'd rather she do this in her own right, and not because her mama instilled an appalling accent into her little head before she is even out of diapers.  I mean, really. 

Instead it may be a better idea to just get really rich so we can send her (and me) to lessons (in both French and Spanish) where she can learn herself a right-proper accent.  Not now though because I've poked around a bit and the prices I've seen are almost as appalling as my accent.  Why is it always so expensive to be so fancy?** C'est incroyable!

**Speaking more than one language is not, in fact, fancy.  It's smart.  Besides that, we could really use Emilia to be our translator down the road when we go to buy our flat in Madrid.  Or Barcelona.  Or somewhere in the Andalusia.  Or France.  I'm not that picky, when it all comes down to it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Governor's 7!

Governor turned seven years old today.  And, so far, all we've managed to do is go on a very long car ride to Ballard**, run into Target, the dry cleaners, the post office, and the gas station.  All the while we listened to Mary Poppins (yet again), as Emilia periodically chimed in with the fact that she did not want to throw up (on account of her feeling car-sick).  Meanwhile, I've just discovered the lovely trick of rolling the window down right when she says she does not want to throw up, it seemed to help her immediately.

Typically, when it comes to Governor's birthday, we cook up a lovely dinner -- a roast chicken or Neapolitan Meatballs are his absolute favorites.  In fact, any kind of seasoned meat would likely do the trick.  I think we will be grilling salmon tonight, which would be his fourth or fifth choice, but what can I say?  At least it isn't tofu.  Anyway, once Emilia is up from her nap, maybe we'll go for a long walk to see the horses or something.  That ought to make the little bugger happy, or at least a bit happier. 

Since my mom and David left yesterday, Governor has been downright despondent -- laying on his bed and giving me dirty looks all day.  Whenever my mom comes in town, Governor takes up position on the couch next to her and does not move until they pack up the car to go.  In fact, I'm fairly certain that my mom is Governor's favorite person in the world -- unless you happen to be holding a seasoned meat of sorts -- then you will be his best friend, albeit temporarily.  He loves to cozy up to my mom, who always has twenty blankets around her, and sleep hour after hour after hour.   

And then when mom and David (and Sugar, too!) get in the car to go, poor Governor is relegated back to one of his beds on the floor.  Because really, as much as I love that little guy, I do not -- I repeat, I do not -- relish the thought of sitting on an extension of his dog bed every time I want to plop down on the couch for a bit.  And as sweet and pathetic as he is, he is also a smelly little thing that sheds.  And to quote Emilia, 'that's grody to the mak!'

Monday, June 14, 2010

Coquette's Eggs

I will admit that what drew me to this recipe was the name.  However, what made me actually pull all of the ingredients out of the fridge was the simplicity of it, and the sheer fact that it just sounded good.  Sophie Dahl (yes, this is another of her recipes) has it filed under the Spring Breakfasts section.  But as it calls for feta cheese, I thought this sounded a bit strong and rather rude first thing in the morning.  So instead we had this for dinner, and I think I made the right call.

What I did was this: I got a Picolo Como loaf of bread at the store, sliced it, brushed the slices with olive oil, put them on a baking sheet, and then popped it in oven for a few minutes.  I also roasted asparagus, excellent choice, if I do say so myself.  And I poured two glasses of wine (one for me and one for Michael, respectively), and I poured a small glass of sparkling water for Emilia.

It is true that Michael spent half of the dinner worrying about his dental work.  But other than that, it was very good — extremely simple and quite a nice little dinner, really.  (Apparently the crusty loaf of bread got a little too crusty for him in the oven.  And he has never forgiven me for once serving him a bean dish that sent him to the dentist the next day.  In my defense, it didn't occur to me that rocks would actually be included in the bag of dried beans I bought from the store.  I rinsed them thoroughly and cooked them up according to the recipe, but I neglected to look for rocks.  What can I say?)

Anyway, back to the recipe at hand.  The whole thing takes no time at all, but it's probably best to start with your peppers. Sophie Dahl suggests using roasted red peppers from a jar, but I actually like to roast peppers myself. It is very easy, all you have to do is put the pepper on a lined baking sheet, plonk it in the oven under the broiler, and turn it with tongs as needed. Once it is all blackened up, put it in a bowl and cover tightly with saran wrap. After a few minutes, remove the plastic wrap, and the skin from the pepper should come right off. Then slice it up and use it accordingly. Simple as that. And I think much better than anything you can get in a jar.

As for the coquette aspect of the dish?  I'll leave that for you to decide.  If nothing else, you can't deny that the name gives it a certain charm. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

You Like That Pretty Dress!

For some reason my dear friend Jane has taken it into her mind that I am the crafty type.  And because of this, she brings box after box, filled with book after book, on such subjects as: how to decorate your vintage table; or, how to make a lovely dress from an old pillow case, etc., over to our house on a fairly regular basis.  And she does this despite my continuous pleas of: 'No more, please!  We've no where to put them!  And what do I know of ruffled pom-pom aprons anyway?'

And so when she was over a few weeks ago with her husband (so that they could look at our rather nasty popcorn ceiling in the living room and proffer advice as to the best way of removing said nastiness) she, being Jane, couldn't help herself and brought more books.  She then proceeded to sit down with Emilia and look at all the pictures of the 'pretty dresses'.  Emilia, without losing a beat, ran to show me — 'You like that pretty dress!'  ('You' is Emilia and 'Me' is mama, by the way.)  In fact, she carried this particular book around for a few days pointing it out whenever she could.

'Well, looks like I'm making a dress,' I told her.

But guess what?  I did just that.  I made a pretty dress.  And, not to brag or anything, but it even looks like a dress.  Well, la-di-da!

Now, let me make this perfectly clear.  The last time I sewed an article of clothing was when I was in junior high (or middle school, depending on where you are from).  I made, all by myself, the most spectacular pair of bright blue crop pants — nice elastic waistband and all.  And you may rest assured that they were hideous.  But, oh, how I loved them.  (Dare I tell you that I wore them with my highly coveted huarache shoes?  Yes, it's true.  And being the first person at Davis Middle School to sport such a style, making all the other girls jealous, I fancied myself a bit of a trend setter.)  But other than those pants, all I've made are drapes -- and those are just big squares, really. 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Soba Noodles with Aubergine and Mango

A few of the things my husband said regarding Ottolenghi's Soba Noodles with Aubergine and Mango:

'This dish is preposterous ... but it's so good.'

'That eggplant one astonished me.  I had no hopes for it.'

And there you go, a truly bizarre dish that is a great success!  To be honest, the main reason I decided to make it was because we had a pile of fresh basil in the fridge, and I was needing to use it before it went bad.  (You know how sometimes you look for certain recipes just to use up a particular ingredient that you'd really rather not just stare at while it goes bad...)  Anyway, as I copied out the ingredients we needed to get from the store, and later as I began to cook it all up in the kitchen, I had a few twinges of guilt.  I knew this was not something that Michael would have picked for dinner ... ever ... in a million years.  But I thought it looked good. 

For starters, Michael claims to loathe mangoes (odd man), and he also doesn't typically go for any sort of noodley-dish that is not steaming hot.  Also, he does not harbor any fondness for tofu.  (Ottolenghi suggests adding fried tofu to the dish if serving it as a main course, which I did — and which Emilia, for one, would not touch.  Again, 'Mia don't like it!')

Anyway, this is what I love about the Ottolenghi cookbooks.  The recipe for Soba Noodles with Aubergine and Mango comes from the brand-spanking-new and hot off the presses Plenty.  Plenty is a completely innovative vegetarian cookbook with a strong emphasis on just that: vegetables.  The book is absolutely gorgeous — fresh, diverse, and never boring.   It is filled with the oddest (when combined) assortment of fresh ingredients that, even if you may have a few doubts going in, always turn out spectacularly well.  Michael's assessment is spot-on, if I do say so myself.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

-- William Carlos Williams, 1934

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


This is without a doubt the best bread recipe I've ever encountered.  It is also the recipe that takes the longest to make.  Don't let that be off-putting though, because it is pretty easy. I know I've said it before, but any bread recipe that does not require me to knead for 3 days straight (or even 5 minutes), is a true winner.  In fact, all the work for this brioche is done in your KitchenAid mixer.  Other than that, most of the time involved is the phases of rising/proofing.  It is well worth the effort as it is surprisingly good.  And I don't mind telling you that I am always rather pleased with myself when I pull a loaf out of the oven.

Traditionally speaking, we are supposed to eat brioche like the French do — for breakfast (with a cup of coffee, plenty of cigarettes, and the perfect red lipstick, if you are really trying to be authentic).  As for me, I dream of a nice warm slice of brioche with a healthy smattering of butter and jam, and an enormous cup of tea.  Mmmmm. 

However, I am not the sort to wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning simply to get a nice breakfast on the table.  (Sorry, Michael.)  Instead, we do what Patricia Wells suggests, and we have it for dinner.  My favorite way to serve this brioche is with a roast chicken, a fresh green salad, and plenty of extra butter on the table.  Oh, and a nice crisp white wine also adds to the sheer loveliness of the table.