Tuesday, March 31, 2009
It turns out the issue with the nut in question is salmonella found in the crop of a large producer from California. A mere million pounds or so. First peanuts, now this. What is happening to our country's nuts, I ask?...not altogether seriously. But truly, how is it that these alerts are happening often enough to justify the FDA going on Twitter?
I went to Catholic school, where we had rules for everything, poly-blend uniforms, and mass on Fridays. And nuns. An army of them, scorning our innocence into military-like precision under the beatific gaze of our loving Lord Baby Jesus and Virgin Mother. I encountered my first school-engineered meal in the first grade at Our Lady of Fatima. After months of knowing only the homemade fare packed into my metal Strawberry Shortcake lunch box, I piled into our burnt-orange 1981 Volvo one morning to my mother's shocking announcement: "I couldn't make you lunch this morning. Here's money to buy it." She handed me a tenner. This was more money than I had ever held in my entire six years, and I was stunned into silence. Buy it?...You mean like those kids whose mothers don't care about them? With this? No one is allowed to have $10 by themselves. The food stinks like grease and plastic...
Seeing my worry, my mom walked me into class, where she briefed Sister Ada about my monetary surplus situation. Sister slipped the bill into an envelope and said I could get it before lunchtime. As if I wanted to. Lunch eventually rolled around and I obediently picked up my cash and made my way into the eating hall line like a little prisoner clutching an atom bomb. My menu options were sweaty hot dog in flaming hot plastic or gritty hamburger in flaming hot plastic. Both sat shrieking under the gamma rays of a heat lamp. Distrustful of the grease collecting at the bottom of the hot dog packages, I chose a naked burger, burning the total crap out of my fingers.
My stomach churned as I approached the cash lady with my specimen, who did a double take at my loot. "This is all you have? This can't be all you have. Oh, well..." and she dug below to change the $9.25 in singles and coins. At which point I began sobbing because I had no idea what to do with all that money. (No pockets on a standard issue first-grade plaid jumper, strangely.) The lunch monitor jumped to my aid, promising to keep the money for me if I would just get some milk and sit down. Humiliated, I did so, taking refuge in my cold dairy goodness and nearly gagging on the smell of the burger as I attempted applying mustard to it.
My peace didn't last long. Sister Lucille, our 5 foot tall, bulldog of a principal in a dress, brought 80 clamoring children to a halting silence with the repeated bang of her keys on the metal cash box. "Who put the wrong money in here?!! Someone paid with ten dollars!! This is the WRONG MONEY! WHO PUT IT IN HERE?!" She was facing the children, and she wanted names. No one, apparently, had discussed with Sister Lucille the idea behind this particular form of currency being legal tender for all debts public and private. Nor the virtues of stocking the till with plenty of ones. I looked at the cash lady. She avoided my glance, probably nearly as afraid as I was. And that was the first time in my 16-year parochial education that I had the thought: To hell with the nun and her crazy talk, I've been through enough.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Which brings me to The System. Shortly after my husband and I shacked up a few years ago, I decided it was time to finally summon the full flower of my cooking mojo with some inspiration and organization. For the former, I subscribed to Cook's Illustrated and refreshed my cookbooks. For the latter, I just winged it and created The System for planning meals and shopping at warp speed. It's pictured above and it goes like this:
Make a chart with three sections: Have, Need, and Make. I start with Haves, meaning the ingredients I've got on hand that I want to use up during the week. Next the Makes, the meals I want to use the Haves for, usually four dinners, a couple of snacks, maybe a dessert. Then...I think you get the idea...I just continue working backwards to the Needs to identify the items I'll get at the store or order from Papa Peapod. The key to the idea is that the Haves combined with the Needs results in the Makes. I have no idea if anyone else uses this too, but it's so logical, I figured it's fairly common. My husband saw it and asked me to explain. When I was finished he said, "You know. You basically have your MBA. That's pretty much an entire two-year curriculum distilled down to an executive summary in visual form." Since he's a big UofC MBA geek, I took that as a compliment. I pretty much know what Goolsbee knows....and I make quiche.
Some cooks have a favorite appliance or piece of equipment they use in the kitchen. This is my favorite tool.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Upstairs to the wine fridge. Downstairs to the glassware. Some rummaging through a gift bag... and out came a 40-year Taylor's Fladgate Port, two glasses, and a tub of Trader Joe's almond chocolate clusters.
I chose my spouse well, no?
We are not what you would call novice port drinkers. Our good friend Mr. Just Grapes gave us the bottle on my husband's 40th last year because it's one of the adult beverages we're known for loving. Rubies and tawnies are like dear, beloved friends we invite over year-around. The highlights: We served the 2003 Fonseca Vintage Port as one of the dessert wines at our wedding a couple of years ago... and it sort of took over the party after a certain point, in the best way possible. I still snicker at the tiny dots that stain my silk wedding dress. This fall we enjoyed a gorgeous 1986 tawny the night before Thanksgiving dinner, and then...this, the Full Monty of ports. It was incredibly rich, with loads of buttersotch, caramel, and hazelnut, with a silky smooth finish that lingered and lingered like only port can. Adding the chocolate with the almonds actually made me swoon. Since then we've also tried it chilled before dinner, and found it to be absolutely delish.
Excellent idea for a birthday, or really, any night you decide to take Alpana's advice and open something lovely...now-ish.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
1. Girl, who do you think you're kidding in that outfit? Maria Pinto and the sheath dress notwithstanding, ditch those city boots stat and put on some denim and a pair of Wellingtons. America loves a First Lady who can dig in the dirt like a real woman, I just know it. All of Kansas and Nebraska are laughing at you right now.
2. Would the media please stop calling Alice Waters for a minute? We get it. Organic. Sustainable. Out of the ground. All very, very good for the future of food policy and the planet. Now let the woman zip it so she can roll up her sleeves and DO.
3. Alice "never dreamed of the brilliant stroke of bringing in schoolchildren" for the garden? Wow. She really hasn't been around the block with politics much. Or anywhere near most urban garden programs, apparently.
4. Landscape architects are likely a little miffed that Alice said they taint the movement. She better watch herself before they organize and build a manure topiary on her front lawn.
5. Yay fifth graders. Yay Sam Kass.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
This weekend I dug a little deeper and found an enlightening web site that describes all the different methods people use at home to coax the beloved froth out of their matcha powder, with most recipes calling for a 1/2 teaspoon of the green stuff. After researching Japanese whisks and Bodum's cute (although somewhat sex-toy-like) electric frothers online, I decided what the hell? Let's just try a martini shaker first. SUCCESS! Beautiful froth, deep green suspension of the tea in the milk, and no hives anywhere on my person. It totally works. Here's how:
1. Using a Cobbler martini shaker, pour in 6 oz. of cold soy milk
2. Add 1/2 teaspoon of high grade matcha powder
3. Toss in a bit of sweetener if you like - I use stevia leaf powder, another super-concentrated antioxidant source
4. Cap and shake it, shake shake shake it, shake like a Polaroid picture...for about 30 seconds
5. Pour this green loveliness into a deep cup or mug, making sure to tip out all of the froth from the bottom of the shaker
6. Nuke it in the microwave for one minute. The green froth will expand as it heats - once again reminding you that physics can be our friend.
When is physics not our friend? When we put hot soy milk into a metal martini shaker, that's when. Unless you miss the nice folks at the ER and/or cleaning explosive gunk off your kitchen ceiling, don't try this experiment at home.
Friday, March 20, 2009
The Blue Ocean Institute has devised a simple way to help answer the first three questions easily enough with their cool service called FishPhone.
1. Text to 30466 FISH + the name of your potential dinner victim.
2. They'll text you back an environmental thumbs up or down.
For example, I texted them for Artic Char, and their cheerful reply was,"Farmed Artic Char: very few environmental concerns; most char are farmed in inland facilities that cause little pollution."
It won't give you PhD-level insight into the issue, but it's one step closer to gaining peace of mind at the fish market or while perusing the specials menu.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
6 oz crab meat, picked through for shells
2 tbsp cilantro and/or parsley
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
I know, Mee-OW.
Literate, personal, insightful food writing...now that's the stuff. Some blogs have it, some don't. I'm not entirely sure that I read Emily Nunn's work in the Trib when she was with them, but I'm already a fan of her new blog, Cook the Wolf. And I'm not just saying this because we share a first name, a salon, or blog titles inspired by MFK. She wants to tell me about her grandma's mayonnaise? Bravo. I'm all ears when someone tells me of a formative food love. Especially when they know their parts of speech. She wants to suggest turnip perfume? Well.
The Demeter Fragrance Library doesn't have turnip cologne spray specifically, but comes close. How about Basil, Beet Root, Celery, or Dirt? Wet Garden maybe? Or better, in honor of a much needed new direction in life, New Leaf.
I'm personally a Tiramisu + Paperback + Champagne Brut blend. My own grandmother would definitely be Clean Windows + Angel Food + Gin and Tonic. No question.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
The food was mediocre. My husband enjoyed his seared scallop appetizer, but my Caprese didn't have much more than presentation going for it. The "organic grilled" tomatoes were bland and just slightly warmed. The mozzarella was barely flavorful and the texture was too chewy. The only highlight was the excellent balsamic vinegar. My lobster pasta special was a miss too. The lobster meat was lovely, but there wasn't much of it. The sauce was too oily, the wilted tomatoes contributed no flavor, and I'm still unsure what the buffalo mozzarella was doing showing up in this dish. Most of the flavor came from several beautiful, large grilled shrimp, but they were overdone and leathery. His venison was festooned with rich flavors of truffle oil, demi-glace, black truffles, and mashed potatoes...but it was slightly overcooked and somehow not very flavorful. Our banana caramelo dessert was fine, but Think has an issue with using awkwardly designed plates. This one showed up in a reed-thin canoe that kept capsizing as we tried to eat out of it. Next to that, I tried to drink my coffee out of a cup with a wavy handle so poorly designed, I fantasized about what it would feel like to hurl it into a fireplace and yell OPA!
Nonetheless, the place was packed and most people around us seemed oblivious to the bone-rattling noise and poor service. Maybe they were so happy with their BYO wine, they didn't care. I can't help thinking that the BYO policy is only thing keeping people so interested.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
1. By far the most versatile of the varietals we tried was a Riesling, in this case O'Reilly's from Yakima Valley, Washington. It was light and drinkable, with a just barely a touch of fruity sweetness, decent acid, and a very clean, almost watery finish. Nice - but I wasn't gaga for it solo. It was absolutely stunning with maki from Meiji, picking up the sweetness in the unagi sauce in particular. Surprisingly, it paired almost as well with guacamole, contrasting the spiciness while complementing the acidity of the lime and tomatoes. It also worked very nicely with pad Thai, although I preferred a Gruner Veltliner slightly more.
2. It's wise to check the BYOB's menu online to pair your meal in advance. If you're unsure about pairing a tricky place, like say, Schwa, where they'll be throwing all kinds of innovative flavors at you (mmm...barnacles), you can print out the menu and take it into your favorite wine store for advice. You'll become an instant darling of the staff.
3. Saving that, it's usually fine to take a few bottles with you to the BYO so you can have some options. Please fetch a decent carrier, so you're not rolling in there all ghetto with your brown paper sacks. The market abounds. Just beware, a few places like Coast Sushi have a limit on the per head amount of alcohol you can bring in.
4. The most versatile food pairing wines are those with low tannin and good acid. Many whites naturally excel at this: most sparklers, Riesling, Albarino, Gruner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and a lot of Chardonnay and Roses are great. Regionally, wines from Alsace and Austria often have that clean style with decent fruit to keep things interesting. For reds: Pinot Noir, Barbera, and Beaujolais are good bets. We stocked up on more of these to have on hand when BYO duty calls, and to play with pairings at home.
5. Stick with that profile especially for anything that's kick-you-in-the-arse spicy, like Mexican or authentic Thai. Tannin and high alcohol will just throw gasoline on your already en fuego situation, mi amor. More sweetness is a great idea to cool you down.
6. Don't fear the fruit. Even sushi tastes fantastic with wine that's showing some interesting fruit character.
7. More robust cuisine with earthy flavors, like a lot of Italian, Spanish, and other Latin food can obviously take bigger tannins. This where the Old World wines of my grandfather work: big, hairy, interesting reds with some Kung Fu acid. Go for it, Don Corleone.
8. If you're in a rush or just totally overwhelmed by wine performance anxiety, grab a bottle of something from the same country as your cuisine. It'll probably work.
9. A technical note: When you're playing with pairings, make sure you have some of the food in your mouth when you actually take a sip of wine. The chemistry happens when the food and wine come into direct contact. I can't think of a better place for such magic than right on my palate.
10. Don't sweat it too much. Open the bottle and enjoy.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
So obviously I need to ditch one of several dozen meetings and get myself there stat. While I'm at it, I'm going to pop around the corner to enjoy cup of Clover-brewed goodness at the Intelligentsia. Call me the un-Doyle.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
A few years later this January, I went on a Nigella spree while stuck home with a cold, watching hours of Express segments on YouTube and ordering up the cookbook on Amazon. Like any courtship, I need to live with a cookbook for a while before I decide if we're meant to be. I might fall hard in the beginning. But then it's trial by fire, baby, and you better bring your A-game. And let me just say that after two months, Nigella Express has passed the gauntlet with flying apron strings. She's my girl. Knock her at your own risk. I will cut you.
Linguine with Lemon, Garlic, Thyme and Mushrooms - Sweet Jesus, the brilliance of this sums up the genius of the entire book. Here's a combo of familiar ingredients that you can literally throw together while all cranked out and exhausted after work. And not only is it simply delish, it requires no more actual cooking than boiling water. Magic.
Caramel Croissant Pudding - Are we back to dessert already? Imagine that. Forget food porn, just reading the name of this thing put me in a tailspin. After all those years of turning my nose up at the notion of English puddings, I realized that I'm a big dumb dork. I now have a new outlook: I don't trust people who don't like dogs, or this pudding. Because who wouldn't adore being handed a bowl of this? No one I can hang out with long, I assure you.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
There are over a dozen videos on YouTube to teach you to mix it, all of them featuring a fairly hefty history lesson -- it's the George Washington of cocktails after all. This is the best one I found, once you get past the intro. Cheers!
Friday, March 6, 2009
Even so, IFA makes a great point. How can we even pretend to care about the quality of the meals we feed kids in public schools when most corporate cafeterias - the Beemer of high-volume lunchrooms - sell adults swill smothered in cheese? My observation has been that European companies do an amazing job of offering cafeterias with impressive food - a truth illustrated by the change that happened when my husband's Dutch employer was bought out by an American company last fall. Literally overnight, the employee cafeteria food went from fresh fish grilled to order to coagulated meatloaf sitting under a heat lamp. And the meatloaf was more expensive.
I was inspired by another news item this morning that occurred in a cafeteria setting most consider to be even below the standards of a public school: Michelle Obama volunteered at a soup kitchen in DC yesterday. Rather than serve their usual menu, she brought with her mushroom risotto and broccoli from the White House kitchen. That kind of respect for how we nourish other people's bodies and spirits in even the most basic of ways isn't the norm, which favors efficiency, convenience, and cost containment. This makes me like Michelle even more.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
My honey and I are a New World, fruit forward couple. I know that's awfully personal, but it's true. So we often end up lugging home more than a few bottles of big, sexy, fruit bomb wine, only to wonder why we never have anything to go with the veggie pizza I like on a weeknight. We finally got wise a few months ago and started reigning ourselves in at the wine store...FOCUS! We need light reds! Bold whites! Step AWAY from the Shiraz and Barolos!
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
vinaceous - \vye-NAY-shus\
: of the color of red wine
Matisse's The Red Studio painting at MOMA is a moving example of a vinaceous interior that seems to fill the entire gallery with its vibrancy.
Today is Chicago's 172nd birthday, and I can't imagine she's ever looked or tasted better.
I mean seriously.... We have a sparkling, gorgeous lakefront; a twinkly Bean in Millennium Park; and the Art Institutes' absolutely stunning Modern Wing opening in a matter of months (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), and that's just within a few square city blocks. We have Grant Achatz and Michael Carlson keeping the entire culinary world guessing what's next. We have dozens of home-grown boutiques dedicated exclusively to shockingly exotic truffles, gourmet cupcakes, and organic cookies for dogs. We even have cult-status gourmet cocktail bars so rarefied, no one can get into them. Oh, yes, and there's certain former Senator in the White House, and a very promising bid for the Olympics brewing.
So I don't want to hear any boohooing about the economy or the weather today, people! Today, I want to see cake and candles and puppies frolicking. May I suggest something luscious from Sweet Mandy B's on the way home? Or a cocktail named for our fair city?
A classic after-dinner drink from the city of big shoulders
2 oz. Brandy
1 oz. Champagne
Dash of Angostura Bitters
Dash Triple Sec
Use a cocktail glass with a sugar rim (make by rubbing a lemon around the rim and then dipping in powdered sugar). Then combine ingredients (except the champagne) in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into the glass. Finally, add the champagne.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Monday, March 2, 2009
What would cure this funk is a nice tall glass of the happiness I discovered on the brunch buffet Saturday morning - jugo verde. After chugging my third or fourth glass of its delightfully sweet, green goodness, I realized that I 1) felt awesome, and 2) had no idea what it was. Exotic tropical fruit? No, mamacita. Turns out it's simply jucified parsley, maybe with a little pineapple juice mixed in. That's it. I could actually spelunk into the depths of a cabinet right now, dig out my juicer and whip up a batch of the stuff tonight.
In Chicago. Where my soul has once again become encased in a layer of icy winter discontent.