Thursday, May 31, 2007

Dinner Plans

I have half an hour to go before I'm off work.

My plan tonight is to work out, then swing by Foods of Wholeness and pick up a nice piece of fish--mahimahi, halibut, something like that--take it home, wrap it in parchment with chopped kalmata olives and lemon slices and fresh oregano (courtesy of Lori graciously allowing me to mooch off her CSA share) and the tiniest bit of cayenne, and bake it at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. In the meantime I'll make a salad and mix a much-deserved Gibson (3 to 1 gin and vermouth, shake with ice, strain into a chilled glass, garnish with pickled onions). I will take my drink out onto my porch and hang out with my cats while my fish finishes cooking. And then I'll have dinner.

No. I'll work out, then go get a steak--no, a handful of lamb chops, that's it. Salt and pepper, stick them under the broiler for three or four minutes on each side. Fried potatoes. Gutsy dark red wine: Australian syrah or something. All I need in life.

Or--ah! After my workout I'll pick up a hunk of gorgonzola cheese, an orange bell pepper, and some fresh basil. I'll thinly slice the pepper and an onion and slowly saute them with olive oil till the onion is carmelized, in the meantime cooking an appropriate amount of spaghetti. When the pasta's done, I'll toss it with the onion and pepper and the crumbled cheese (which will go all melty and wonderful), then scatter in basil chiffonade.

Hm. Let's roast a red bell pepper -- put it under the broiler and turn it till it's black all over, wrap it in foil and let it sit for fifteen minutes, then scrape the blackened skin off with the back of a knife. I'll seed the pepper, cut it into bits, and puree it with cream into a rich red sauce with my brand-new whooshy. I'll make tapanade (kalamata olives, anchovies, garlic, and capers, chopped into atoms and mixed with a little brandy). I'll grill a chicken breast. I'll puddle the bell pepper sauce on my plate, place the chicken on top of that, then top the chicken with a spoonful of tapanade.

Or maybe--

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Glass of Awakening

The other night, Lori presented John and me with glasses of cold raw milk from Green Hills Farm in Quarryville, PA. I hadn't tasted raw milk since a kindergarten field trip to a dairy when I was oh, 5 or so. It was incredible. Think about this: we grow up drinking pasteurized milk, and because we drink it from a very early age, we get imprinted with that particular flavor. We know, deep in our bones, what milk tastes like. It's this, this stuff I brought home from Whole Foods yesterday in a bottle. Not only has it been pasteurized, its butterfat content has been reduced to 2%. This is what I always buy; this is milk to me. But I'm wrong! We're all wrong. Real milk as it come out of the cow is something completely different from what most of us have grown up with. To compare the two is to compare apples to oysters, or ginger ale to gin.

Of course, what with factory farming and BSE and other horrors of Big Food, pasteurization is a necessary evil, and it's likely to remain so unless the dairy industry as a whole adopts more traditional, pasture-based, feeding-the-cows-what-they're-supposed-to-eat kinds of practices. It just sucks that it has to be this way. If we have to process a natural product to make it less toxic and plague-ridden, and if that processing not only affects the nutritional benefits of the product but actually makes it taste worse, shouldn't we reevaluate how the product is produced? And don't even get me started on cheese.

That glass of milk was as succinct and convincing an argument for buying local and knowing where your food comes from as any I've heard. This is something I really need to be more serious about. He said, between bites of his breakfast of cold leftover pork fried rice from Tian Jin Palace.

For dessert that night, there was John's thoroughly amazing chocolate strawberry shortcake, with strawberries from John's garden and slatherings of raw cream.

(Further reading: A Campaign for Real Milk)

Friday, May 25, 2007

King Alfred Burnt the Surgical Trusses

There is absolutely nothing to report on this beautiful Saturday morning. I'm drinking coffee and poking around YouTube for British comedy.

Such as these bits from "At Last the 1948 Show," whose cast included pre-Python John Cleese and Graham Chapman, as well as Marty Feldman.






I also found this Rowan Atkinson sketch, which is a true classic. His stuff doesn't always work for me, but when it does, it's deadly.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Semi-fogbound early morning rooster mix

  • As I was lying in bed this morning, slowly uncrumpling into a state of semi-wakefulness, I heard a rooster crow. I love living in Takoma Park.

  • Was anyone surprised that a Liberty University student was arrested with homemade bombs in his car at Jerry Falwell's funeral? According to ABC News, "The student, 19-year-old Mark D. Uhl of Amissville, Va., reportedly told authorities that he was making the bombs to stop protesters from disrupting the funeral service." The obvious question of when Jesus said it was ok to blow people up aside, I wonder how explosions and body parts flying through the air would have been less disruptive to the funeral. But I guess they aren't too big on logic at Liberty U., are they? Seriously, the mind just boggles.

  • Joss Whedon (who I've almost forgiven for my earworm of the last three days) on Dua Khalil and the movie Captivity: "How did more than half the people in the world come out incorrectly? I have spent a good part of my life trying to do that math, and I'm no closer to a viable equation. And I have yet to find a culture that doesn't buy into it. Women's inferiority--in fact, their malevolence--is as ingrained in American popular culture as it is anywhere they're sporting burkhas. I find it in movies, I hear it in the jokes of colleagues, I see it plastered on billboards, and not just the ones for horror movies. Women are weak. Women are manipulative. Women are somehow morally unfinished ... And the logical extension of this line of thinking is that women are, at the very least, expendable." Go read the rest.

  • And these two posts have convinced me of my hopeless poseurness. I bet John has a pig's head in a vacuum-sealed bag in his freezer right now.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fruity Oaty Bars

Having plowed through the whole first-and-only season of Firefly on DVD, I watched Serenity (the movie that was based on it) on Saturday. The series is now my third-favorite thing I've seen on television, behind the new Battlestar Galactica and Arrested Development, and the movie was pretty good too, but that's not what I want to share with you today. What I want to tell you is that since seeing Serenity two days ago, the Fruity Oaty Bar jingle has been playing on a continuous loop inside my head.

And now it's in yours too.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Ok, that's enough

I've got to get that godawful pic of Jerry Falwell off the top of my blog because it's creeping me the hell out. Here's a nice shot of one of my favorite cheeses, Humboldt Fog.

Ah, that's better. Nothing takes away the taste of evil like chevre.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Good Riddance


"It appears that America's anti-Biblical feminist movement is at last dying, thank God, and is possibly being replaced by a Christ-centered men's movement which may become the foundation for a desperately needed national spiritual awakening."

"If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being."

"I do question the sincerity and non-violent intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations."

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this [the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001] happen.'"

"AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals. To oppose it would be like an Israelite jumping in the Red Sea to save one of Pharoah's charioteers."

"The Jews are returning to their land of unbelief. They are spiritually blind and desperately in need of their Messiah and Savior."

"I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!"


Of course it's rude and tacky and disrespectful to cackle with delight at someone's death. But you know, I'm ok with that.

So long, you big fat jerk.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Inessentials

Mark Bittman had an interesting article in the New York Times a couple of days ago on no-frills kitchen equipment. I feel pretty much on the same page as Bittman when it comes to this. I hate accumulating gadgets that only serve one purpose and machines I never use. I'll never own a bread machine or a rice cooker. I've been doing without a microwave for about a year; if I ever get another one, I'll want a small one. Like toaster-sized.

But the article reminds me that there are a few things I need to shop for before my batterie de cuisine can be considered complete. I list them here just so I won't forget them:

  • A food processor. I've long considered this an inessential, mainly because I don't have one. But you know, making pesto with a mortar and pestle is only interesting the first twenty or so times you do it. I should probably upgrade.

  • A stand mixer. Bittman sneers at this, but I'm becoming one of his "baking fanatics," so there you go.

  • A great big thick cutting board. I'm tall. A work surface about four or five inches higher than usual would improve my life in all kinds of ways. Julia Child was about my height, and she had high, custom-built countertops in her kitchen. But alas, I rent.

  • A roasting pan. Currently I own a roasting rack, but no pan for it. Go figure. I usually set the rack on a baking sheet, which works fine but makes an ungodly mess. I sometimes find myself deciding not to roast the chicken or pork loin I'm craving because I don't want to have to clean the oven afterwards. Not acceptable.
Apropos of my knife situation, Bittman points out that the knife used most often by professional cooks in restaurant kitchens is the stamped-blade, white-plastic-handled Dexter-Russell brand. It costs $10 from a restaurant supply shop, maybe $30 elsewhere. I spent $90 on my Global. Thank you, Mark Bittman, for making me feel like a putz. On the other hand, he states that "a decent steel is expensive enough that you may as well graduate to an electric sharpener," which is pretty silly, considering that (a) a sharpener and a steel do two different things, and (b) a "decent steel" can be had for $15 or $20 if you know where to look. And a mandoline is essential? Come on!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Three Knives, Continued

I'm starting to think this Global chef's knife I've got is too good for me. I'm scared of sharpening it because I might screw up the narrower-than-usual bevel. Which means I'm reluctant to use it because I want to keep the ghastly sharp factory edge on it as long as possible, never mind that how sharp it is doesn't matter if I'm not using it. Considering I'd use my old Henckels to chop nuts and peppercorns without a thought, this is pretty lame. MinoSharp makes a cute little thingamajig for sharpening Global knives; as much as it goes against my principles to buy single-task kitchen equipment, I'm going to have to swallow my pride and buy one if I'm ever going to use this knife like a proper tool. It's either that or find another home for it.

So absurd. If I ever own one of those beautiful Shun Damascus steel creatures, I'll be paralyzed.

Meanwhile, I'm loving the Chinese knife more and more as I'm learning to use it. Granted, it lacks a bit of the precision of a chef's knife, but I suspect that has more to do with the skill of the user. It's comfortable in a fat-ballpoint-pen kind of way, and the wide blade makes a nice safe rest for my left-hand knuckles when I'm chopping things. Plus I know how to sharpen it, so I'm not afraid to put it to good hard use.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Followup

  • There's more on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette letter quoted below at Snopes.com.

  • I'm much happier with round 2 of the jambalaya. I browned the chicken in just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pot, which gave me a nice fond to color the rice. Damn, this stuff is good. Especially for breakfast, cold, scooped right from the bowl in the fridge, with a big steamy mug of coffee to wash it down with.

  • Dine out for Eastern Market on May 21.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Jambalaya

Out of the blue this afternoon came a major faunch for jambalaya, a dish which, though I have considerable experience eating it, I've never made before. Improvising and half-remembering recipes I've read, it went like this:

I seasoned a pound and a half of chicken legs with salt, black pepper, and cayenne and browned them in a half-inch of peanut oil in my new and very impressive Lodge cast-iron dutch oven. While they were browning, I chopped two celery ribs, half an enormous green bell pepper, and a big onion (the Cajun mirepoix, oui?), cubed three links of andouille sausage, and minced four cloves of garlic.

When the chicken was golden brown, I pulled it out and drained it on paper towels and spooned most of the oil out of the pot. In went the mirepoix, to sizzle and slowly brown and smell like heaven on earth. The sausage went in as the veggies were getting limp, followed by the garlic just for the last couple of minutes.

I returned the chicken to the pot and added 4 cups of water, 2 tsp. salt, about a tablespoon and a half of Texas Pete, and several enthusiastic grinds of black pepper. I covered the pot and let it simmer till the chicken was cooked through, about 20 minutes, after which time I brought the broth back up to a rolling boil and added two cups of long-grain rice. I realized I probably had more water in the pot than the rice could handle, so I let it boil uncovered for about five minutes before covering the pot, lowering the heat, and letting it cook for 15 minutes.

It's mighty tasty, though not the nicest color. (No pix, alas--my digital camera needs a new battery. Which is probably just as well.) I was going for a "brown" jambalaya rather than the red New Orleans style. I might try using a dark chicken stock next time, or get more serious about caramelizing those onions. But what the hell, I was hungry, and it was delicious, and I'll surely be making it again.

Rough Week

Like many if not most DC folk, I took Monday's fire at Eastern Market pretty personally. It's one of the key places in the city-as-I-know-it. I remember going there with Tes the day after I first moved here and looking around and thinking,"yeah, I've moved to a good place." Since then I've spent countless Saturdays nosing around there. My house has paintings and furniture I've bought there; I've found achingly beautiful fruits and vegetables there that I've cooked amazing things with. I've been regularly abused by the surreally surly counter staff at Market Lunch. I've been thinking that when I eventually move out of my house, I'd like to find a place in Capitol Hill so I can make Eastern Market my regular grocery store. The fire was a real sucker punch to the soul.

On the bright side, there's a high likelihood that the rebuilt and repaired Eastern Market will bear some resemblance to its former glory, though it will take time for the majesty and funkiness of the place to reassert itself. And maybe--just maybe--some of the vendors will keep it together enough in the interim that they'll be able to return when the building reopens. That's the real concern, of course. I'm impressed that most of the concern expressed in the media has been about the Market as the centerpiece of a community, as opposed to merely a historically important building.

You can make a contribution to help the vendors at the Capitol Hill Community Foundation's website. There's also a new blog, saveeasternmarket.org, that will keep track of the restoration, and the DC Government has set up a Restoring Eastern Market site as well.