Archive for December, 2008

And, finally

The end of a year. Are we here again? Really?

Are we quite sure we didn’t skip over something in the middle, a chunk of days and weeks? Maybe time actually, literally got away for once, and we didn’t even notice.

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But no, I suppose I do remember it all: the celebrations, the letdowns, the triumphs, the recurring colds. The days that swept through in a haze of sock matching and sheet fluffing and story typing. And the food! It has certainly been a memorable year in food.

Just to recap, to get it all down for, you know, posterity or my years-from-now self, I’d like to record my top food favorites from 2008. Listen in, if you will, and feel free to pitch in a few of your own.

1. Soft-boiled eggs — It’s true: this is the year I learned to love and make a soft-boiled egg, and what a revelation! What a difference from its chalky, crumbly, hard-cooked counterpart. Each has its place in egg-eating society, but only one can you spread on hot, just-popped toast.

2. Gastronomica — It’s replaced the New Yorker as the reading that keeps me up at night, and that I tote around with me to read at red lights/in the school pickup line/during other situations when I can peruse in snatches. This academic journal is a delightful study of all things food, even those that touch the world of food in a peripheral way.

3. Butter — I always thought butter was the enemy, the thing to eschew at all costs. Now I just want to make really good cookies.

4. Mary Jane caramels — Nostalgia candy without the nostalgia, because they’re new to me. I’ll still hit as many convenience stores as necessary to find a Big Hunk before I go to a movie (it tortures me that they’re so elusive!), but right now these are a close second.

5. The Splendid Table podcasts – I want to be Lynne Rosetto Kasper when I grow up.

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6. Delayed-fermentation method whole-grain bread baking — Thanks to genius Peter Reinhart, I’m like the poster child for before-and-after bread baking. I did my due diligence, studying faithfully the first huge chunk of his book instead of just rushing into the baking part, and at last my loaves are finally worthy (They rise! They’re not too dense! And they’re whole wheat!).

7. Lemon Bars — Alice Medrich and her copious use of lemon zest has single-handedly saved me from an over-reliance on chocolate.

8. Foodgawker.com — Navel gazing for the inner food stylist in all of us. I could spend hours admiring everybody’s handiwork, and it’s always fun to see my own amateur forays in the mix.

9. Fiori di Sicilia — It’s always a happy day when the big brown truck with gold lettering stops at my house, especially when the box that the big brown-uniformed man drops at my door contains food products. Lately I’m dripping hints of this citrus-vanilla je ne sais quoi in every sweet thing from French toast to cinnamon rolls. Yum.

Happy New Year!

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Who’s the boss?

You know that thing parents do when they regale you with some story of what a genius their kid is? Well, I’m proud to state that I’m above doing that. I’d never do such a thing, never annoy unsuspecting people who have interesting lives of their own with things that, really, are only of interest to me.

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Except when it involves telling you that my genius kid came up with a genius Christmas cookie idea. An idea you must want to hear all about. Because who could possibly get annoyed by a story of Christmas cookies? Much less Christmas cookies dreamed up by a fifth grader. Yes, Christmas cookie genius you’ll be quite pleased to bend your ear for.

So Emmie informed me that she wanted to make a contribution to our baking day in the form of Chocolate Chip Peppermint Bark Cookies.

Fair enough, I told her. We decided that we could follow our much splattered-upon chocolate chip cooke recipe, winterizing it — if you will — with cocoa powder and peppermint chips*.

“Can I be in charge?” Emmie wanted to know. “Can I tell you what ingredients we should put in when?”

“Do you even know what to put in when?” I asked, secretly skeptical that she could go without my ongoing guidance, my cookie-baker-extraordinaire micromanagement.

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She replied by ticking off the steps in confident succession, everything from mixing the butter and sugar (“That’s cream the butter and sugar together,” I duly corrected my wayward progeny) to whisking the dry ingredients first and then the wet ingredients before mixing them together.

Ok, so she doesn’t need me. She’s nearly as tall as me, you know, and skips around gloat-y with glee that she’ll pass me in height sooner than later. Sometimes she even wears my shirts, even though, with her skinny jeans and Converse, they make her look like she’s on her way to an A-Ha concert.

She’s on her way out. Up and out.What’s a mom to do?

Eat cookies, I guess. Eat cookies with the security that at least my oldest still needs me around to tell her who PJ Harvey is. Then there are the college and wedding funds she still needs me for. And it’s true, she did ask me the other day what an emulsion was, so she’s not picking out hot pads for her own place quite yet.

Lucky me, we still have a few more cookie-baking Christmases to go.

*That’s 1/4 cup of cocoa powder, and peppermint chips in addition — not in place of — the chocolate chips. Do try this at home!

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Thinking about potatoes

I’ve made no secret of the fact that food — specifically the study and preparation thereof — serves as a trusted diversion from my little life’s daily bores. It keeps me content, calms the restlessness ever so slightly.

What I mean is, the fact that I get to cap the day by cooking dinner makes me not mind looming laundry duty quite as much.

And get this: I just discovered that during life’s less routine unpleasant situations, intent concentration on food can also save one from certain madness and problematic squirming. Like, say, my recent (first-ever-and-I-hope-final-ever) MRI.*

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It went something like this:

Knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-whirrr-bang-bang-bang-bang-to-infinity-and-beyond-banging…

“Ok, so dinner. I need to use those potatoes from co-op before they rot. And the rosemary. I know I have some parmesan. I think I have some parmesan. So I’ll make parmesan-skillet potatoes with rosemary. I love rosemary with potatoes…”

Bang-bang-bang-goes-the-bangity-bang-bang…

“Ok, trying to find my yoga breath. I really should make it to yoga more often…I hope I have some parm. I think I do. Ok, what else? Parmesan-skillet potatoes with salmon burgers. We have lettuce, spicy mustard. No buns. As soon as this is over [how much longer?] I’ll jet to Trader Joe’s for buns.

“Assuming I get out of here, that is. What was that the doctor was saying about if the MRI tech had a heart attack, and whether or not I could climb out? She asked if I was claustrophobic. Does the anxiety over claustrophobia that’s preventing me from opening my eyes qualify as claustrophobia? Ok, thinking about dinner, not claustrophobia. Thinking about potatoes…”

Knock-knock-clatter-clatter-bang-bang-where’s-the-chitty-chitty?

“I swear it just got louder on my left side. Did this machine just vibrate the earplug out of my ear? Leave it to me to not properly insert an earplug. What else do I need from the store? Ooh — salad. What can I put into the salad? Why do I always feel the need to reinvent the salad? Salad, not doing such a good job of distracting me right now.”

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“I know! Cookies! I can’t wait to bake next week with the girls. They’ll look so cute in their little aprons and they’ll bicker over who gets to crack the last egg. That’s so Christmas, isn’t it? Sounds of sibling quarrels as smells of baking goodies waft from the oven. Is that why I can’t stop filching the chocolate chunks?”

Mommy has a headache.

“Oh! That reminds me: must print that recipe for orange-pistachio biscotti I heard on NPR’s ‘Here and Now.’ Orange-pistachio biscotti sound so wintry, so holiday-ish. What was that website again?”

More with the knock-knock-bang-bang clatter-clatter sequence…

And then, 25 long minutes later, the banging-clanging is done. I can get on with my day, on with my last-minute salmon burgers and well-intentioned holiday baking plans.

Enjoy the season, friends.

*Not to worry — nothing serious. Just life’s wear-and-tear.

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Three lemons and a recipe

At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, or not quite cynical enough for my generation, I need to take a moment to gush.

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A friend dropped by the other day with a little something:  Three lemons and a recipe. They were in a paper sack, tied with a white satiny bow.

Beauty, simply presented. A thoughtful gift. An appetizing gesture.

Does she know that lemon bars ascended to my Dessert Top 5 of 2008? That my girls would be just as excited about the bow as I would be about the citrus?

Does she know that lemons have an energizing presence on my countertop? That they get me almost giddy with the thought of possibility?

Maybe not, but in a gift of lemons, she probably knew this much: Scent, color, form, promise. It’s all there in a lemon.

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Those strings

I wonder if I’ve created a monster. Not only does Quinn (six years old, and counting) feel free to comment on my couscous plan (“Mom, we need to add lemon zest”), just because she’s wielding a wooden spoon, she’s become rather attached to a certain breakfast preparatory ritual.

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Every morning, she must carefully and thoughtfully select a color for her yogurt. Some moms let their salmon-resistant tots slather their filets with ketchup; I allow my girls to custom color their plain yogurt. It’s a benign concession, I think, this way of bargaining with them to give up on coercion in the dairy aisle, to just say no to added sugar with their active, live cultures.

But the color selection has become quite the process, one that involves Quinn climbing up to stand on the counter, opening the upper cabinet where the food coloring is kept, and removing all four boxes of food coloring — even though each box contains the same four colors. (Let’s not even try to determine why I have four boxes of food coloring. Just another one of life’s little mysteries.)

“Just pick a box!” I want to scream. But I don’t scream. Never, ever, ever.

Better yet, just name your color, I want to tell her (not in an exasperated voice. No, never). But she has to do it herself. Has to pick. Has to drop, drip-drip-drops of food coloring into her creamy daily dairy.

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So, enthusiastic as she is to have her way with food things, I’ve decided to just enable her. Like every good mommy does. By praising her good intentions with buying her stuff.

Because both of my girls are so gung-ho right now in the kitchen, I couldn’t resist picking up a couple of Beansoup‘s Chefs Aprons. They’re reasonably priced and come in sizes — a concept I can appreciate. I’m a sucker for a darling print, anyway — put one on an apron and I’m a goner. Beansoup’s durable fabrics are both charmingly mod and irresistibly retro.

Which is kind of how I feel when I cook.  Apron strings tied on my terms. And it’s never too early to let my girls in on that, is it?

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Shrug soup

Tomorrow I will make a soup. That’s a shrug of a declaration, I know. Hardly sensational. Not exactly newsworthy.

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But that’s soup for ya: dutiful and long-suffering, not really one for the headlines. There when a cook needs to just feel like a cook. Yes, soup will be happening in this very kitchen tomorrow, in the quiet way in which soup is often made.

Soup because I have advance notice that tomorrow is going to be a doozy, a dawn-to-dusk succession of too much to do.  Soup because the last parsnip is worried it’s been overlooked for being too gangly. Because I didn’t intend for the celery to languish. Because the carrot twins are ready for their marching orders and the assembly of onions is feeling more like a crowd, so many arrived in my last co-op box.

Soup because soup feels like winter and because, at the end of the day, the only thing that needs to be sweating in my kitchen is that onion, chopped and thrown in the pot with minced garlic.

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