Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sprouts and Cake

This post is going to have to be five posts in one, there is just too much good stuff to be doing these days. One of my Rachels has come and gone, and that was mighty fabulous if I do say so myself. We walked and talked and sipped wine and chopped up some dinner and saw a film and ate some eggs and I got to make myself 100% certain that her man is not only smart and infinitely likable and - bonus - a Food Person but together they seem right as rain. I love that. Thanks for the visit you two.

The next Rachel has touched down here in the Tarheel state, but she and AV are spending a little time in the Durham/Chapel Hill area for a few days so it will be tomorrow when we see them. I am hoppy and squeaky as usual.

What the heck else? Oh. The garden. Well, as I mentioned a few posts back, it all of a sudden got blindingly cold around here. Right on the heels of days in the very high sixties. We were actually at my mum's when this happened, and from the carnage under the hoops I am guessing that one of them might have blown off (it was also mighty windy) and gotten tucked in my one of our fabulous neighbors. That or the plants under there just could not handle a sixty degree drop in less than a day. The usual troopers have not disappointed: kale, you are my best friend in the vegetable world. But the lettuces are on their last legs, broccoli long gone, chard a thing of the past. Ah well. We have actually been cooking up some plans for some cold boxes that will replace the hoops next year - big long plastic covered frames with tops that open for easy picking. The winter garden is a huge part of our diet (and what I think of to make myself feel better when I regret not getting to any canning this summer) but when it is freezing and windy it can be a real bear to get in there to pick.

Ok, I was all set to post something about bacon and brussel sprouts, but this girl just did it so just visit her. Brassica and bacon make the best of friends. We like to bake our bacon, a trick from one of my food loving uncles, and it makes a messy spattery chore into a snap - just remember to pour off the fat once or twice while it's baking. I sauté the brussel sprouts (sliced oh-so-thin) in just a bit of bacon fat with TONS of black pepper. Like way more than you might ever think was a good idea. Toss it all with some small pasta and some parmesan cheese and chopped up bacon and it's all good.

Ok, so cake and then I'm out of here. When I saw this recipe in the NYT I immediately knew that I needed to make it. Chocolate and whiskey? A lot of chocolate and a stupid amount of whiskey? I'm in. (Note: I distinctly remember the moment when someone first informed me that it was sexy for women to drink whiskey.)

A few notes on this: one, I had some leftover orange zest sitting on the counter so I threw that in and liked it immensely. Two, in the past when I have seen instant espresso powder on an ingredient list, I have just assumed that I would have to use the crap at the regular grocery store, Folgers or something ucky. This time, mind spinning on the cup! of whiskey that was about to go into this cake I checked the coffee section at our local health/gourmet food store and found some instant espresso that didn't look like a science experiment and smelled great. Worth it. Last two things: I think it needed to cool longer than 15 minutes before turning it out, but I did have a very deep bunt pan, and don't dust with confectioner's sugar before it's completely cooled like I did because then your pretty snowflake dusting will just melt away. Oh wait, also, I used a mix of good whiskey and cheaper burbon and it worked out just fine.

LAST THING: this f-ing cake will keep you up all night. Like really, all night. To the point where I would probably only ever make this for a huge party where it would all get eaten by people who want to stay up late. Because otherwise, there it is, and who doesn't like just a bite of something sweet after dinner when, well, something sweet it sitting right there??? People who know me well will be aghast to hear that after two nights of staring at the ceiling at 2 in the morning, I have not eaten any of this cake after 3 in the afternoon for several days in a row. My sweet tooth has been beaten. Sort of. Consider yourself warned.

Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bunt Cake
From The New York Times.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, more for greasing pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, more for dusting pan
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup bourbon, rye or other whiskey, more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish (optional)
1 teaspoon orange zest (optional)

1. Grease and flour a 10-cup-capacity Bundt pan (or two 8- or 9-inch loaf pans). Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In microwave oven or double boiler over simmering water, melt chocolate. Let cool.

2. Put espresso and cocoa powders in a 2-cup (or larger) glass measuring cup. Add enough boiling water to come up to the 1 cup measuring line. Mix until powders dissolve. Add whiskey and salt, reflect on just how much a cup of whiskey really is; let cool.

3. Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda and melted chocolate, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.

4. On low speed, beat in a third of the whiskey mixture. When liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup flour. Repeat additions, ending with whiskey mixture. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes for Bundt pan (loaf pans will take less time, start checking them after 55 minutes).

5. Transfer cake to a rack. Unmold after 15+ minutes and sprinkle warm cake with more whiskey (do it, I know it seems insane but you must). Let cool before serving, garnished with confectioners’ sugar if you like.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Merry Merry Merry

Hello, hello, hello! How were the holidays out there? I hope they were lovely. B and I had an absolutely perfect string of days full of reading and cooking and hiking and the tearing open of beautifully wrapped presents and, as always, lots of sitting by the tree. It's so warm here again - on Christmas day we headed slightly north to one of my favorite places to hike and it was positively spring-like, with brilliant green ferns and mosses so bright as to be shocking. The waterfalls were flush with water, a sight for sore eyes in our droughty mountains.

And the presents! People, we are so spoiled. Packages from all parts, boxes tucked into cars after leaving each of our mums, and our own sneaky gifts for one another. B got me a raft of supplies for cheese making, including Butter Muslin, which, just say it with me now - "Butter Muslin" - you feel better already, don't you? I do. My mum scored big with a gorgeous dead-stock vintage bathrobe for B, complete with all the tags of the era espousing how positively high tech this bathrobe is. Awesome. Major spoilage from our girls out west, a host of vintage house things from B's mum - everything so thoughtful and much of it old or handmade, which is just the best.

B made the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinner out of this cookbook, a traditional celebration meal from Sumatra, Beef Rendang. I was practically speechless, it was so good. Star anise, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, ginger, fresh turmeric, fresh galangal, cardamon pods, cinnamon sticks, coconut milk. Christ. Served up with fresh greens from the garden it nearly killed me with the tastiness. We decided that this dish should be our Christmas tradition. Can I keep talking about how great my husband is for a second? My mum kind of got him rolling on bread baking with a mini lesson when we were there, and the man promptly came home and baked up some kickass bread. This is so fabulous, because bread baking is Not My Thing but who doesn't want homemade bread in their life??? Right.

Anyway. One of my Rachels is on her way here right this very moment, so I am off to tidy the house. Coming soon: brussel sprout deliciousness and a chocolate cake that will keep you up all night and practically get you drunk from smelling it. Oh, and the chickpea thing! Stay tuned.

Monday, December 22, 2008

More Peppermints

Shiver, shiver, shiver. We have traded a high of 67 for a high of 20, which seems generous considering that it's midday and currently 11 degrees. Bring on the tea! The cider! The chicory! Christ.

B and I drove north a few days ago to do some early Christmasing with my family and we are still here lounging about and reading and playing some wicked tunes on my step-dad's 1905 Gibson guitar. Holy hell did I ever just fall in love with that guitar. ANYWAY. Visiting my parents is so relaxing. I made meatballs and we watched the Wizard of Oz, which I have not seen in about 15 years and I was duly blown away by its magnificence. The witch still scares me, it's so delicious.

Before we left our rockstar chicken sitter came over, who happens to be in culinary school so of course we pretty much get together and talk about, make, and eat food. Last time we made some sort of dish involving paper thin slices of eggplant stuffed with a variety of delicious things like feta and ricotta and nuts and garlic. This time we made Peppermint Bark - I know, it involves white chocolate which is normally something I avoid at all costs, but we got the good stuff and it really does play nice here. It made sweet tins of gifty goodness. We also made a fabulous savory snack of roasted chickpeas with pistachios and all sorts of spices which I will post soon because it's a nice change from all the sweets this time of year.

Anyway. I hope everyone is very warm and snug out there. Don't forget your hat.

Friday, December 19, 2008

We Eat Our Greens

Ok, I don’t want you thinking that we are rotting our teeth over here with nothing but cookies, so today’s offering is a soup recipe that is both tasty and good for you and seems to come out ok no matter how many shortcuts I take when I make it. Plus it has a soft boiled egg plopped into it at the last minute which pretty much makes it a winner in my book (note: new favorite trick – forgetting to put baking eggs on the counter to reach room temperature and running out to the coop for a handful that were recently warmed by a chicken’s butt).

It is crazy warm here right now. Like I am looking darkly at trees and thinking “don’t you dare go crazy and bud right now” in as fierce of a way as possible. I think a cold front is headed our way, thank goodness. For now the chickens are psyched and my garlic just got another three inches of straw mulch because it was peeping up over the heavy layer already there – hey, I see you! Yum. The warm weather did give us a chance to pull off the hoops and the frost blankets to take better inventory than we usually do when we duck in there for greens. Some of the arugula bit the dust and the bok choy that we didn’t get to went to seed and thus went to the girls. But the greens and lettuces grow on. I swear that every time we eat greens, which, er, is a lot, we talk about how much better they taste than anything from the store. So. Sweet.

Ok enough about greens, back to cookies. This fine lady linked to this thing and it is practically giving me a heart attack. You were warned.

Quinoa Soup with Greens

3/4 cup of quinoa
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
3 medium soup potatoes (I like red skinned ones), chopped into the size you prefer (me: small)
2 quarts good chicken stock
1 cup water or enough to adjust the consistency to your ideal
4 cups chopped greens (I used chard, spinach and kale)
1 bunch of scallions, chopped (I use a fair amount of the green part too)
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg per person
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté garlic lightly in a dab of olive oil. Toss in quinoa and just stir to coat and toast for a handful of minutes. Add the stock and water, simmer for 10 minutes. Add chopped potatoes, and spices. Simmer until potatoes are just about tender (circa 10 minutes depending upon the size of your potato cubes – keep any eye on this as it’s easy to over cook them). Add the greens and scallions and simmer for another 3 minutes. Lower the heat and add the pat of butter and adjust seasoning and consistency. Boil your eggs in a separate pan (I like my hard boiled eggs to be oh-so-barely hard so that they are still a deep shiny orange in the center. Bringing water to a boil, putting the egg in and setting a timer for 7 minutes will get you eggs like that.). Ladle soup into bowls, slice your eggs in half (the long way if you please), put the eggs on top, enjoy.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Peppermint Pigs

Ok. So this might be the most discombobulated post here yet. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

There were these cookies, in my childhood, you see. Called Peppermint Pigs by those in the know, although I am not sure who in my family this includes. I may or may not have ever even eaten one of these Pigs. My brain wants to say that they showed up at my Uncle Mikey’s farm for a celebration, but I would have been too little for the remembering of eating things out there, although wouldn’t it be just like me to have a first memory about a cookie? Yes. Either through lore or the eating of one of these cookies I believe them to be a chocolate sandwich cookie filled with minty icing. I have bothered my mother about this recipe in the past, to no avail. Since I don’t really remember eating one, I think it’s quite possible that I just fell head over heels in love with the idea that a cookie earned the name Peppermint Pig. I have my suspicions that the name was generated by my family to indicate that they were so scrumptious that one would be inclined to make a pig of one’s self.

Ok. Enter in my collection of cookie recipes that either involve a chocolate wafer-like cookie (either roll-out or chilled log style) or a mint icing. It’s huge. On Saturday, when for some reason after years – years, mind you, over a decade even – of thinking about giving one of these recipes a whirl I finally went for it, I counted 17 different recipes, again without counting cookbooks. Jesus. So. I spent a moment thinking about what this cookie should be like. One: the chocolate cookie part should be thin, very chocolaty, and not very sweet. And two: the icing should be extremely minty and not at all gritty. I hate gritty icing. I am the kid who will eat your cake and leave you a neat shell of icing, nine times out of ten (my Gran’s baking aside, mind you, ooh, her Chocolate Raspberry cake will knock your socks off). So I went with a roll-out dough that used very little sugar and a ton of cocoa. And an icing recipe that called for cream cheese, which seems to not only cut down on the grit but, I don’t know, add some heft to the whole affair.

And woo-wee people, I just got lucky. These might have just surpassed the Rugelach as the holiday cookie of the year, at least according to my husband. They are time consuming, like any roll-out cookie, but oh so worth it (plus I just inherited my mother’s vintage cookie cutter collection that I used as a child – how I love those shapes). Creamy, minty filling between two deep, dark, barely sweetened cookies – you will put it in your mouth, exclaim how rich! How scrumptious! How intense! How could I possibly eat another? In about two minutes you will find out just how. And thus, whether even remotely close to the original or not, these are now my Peppermint Pigs.

Note: next time I would double the dough recipe; this really doesn’t make very many cookies. But then again, perhaps that’s for the best.

Peppermint Pigs
From too many recipes to count

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons all-purpose flour
Confectioner’s sugar, for rolling out dough

Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy and smooth. Add egg and mix until well combined.

Sift together flour and cocoa.

Add flour-cocoa mixture, mix until combined. Dough will be stiff and hard to work with. Divide into two discs, refrigerate until chilled, at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly sprinkle a smattering of confectioner’s sugar on a cool surface, and roll one disc of dough out to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into shapes as desired, return scraps to refrigerator for re-chilling.

Bake cookies 10-12 minutes, until the fragrance of chocolate is driving everyone in the house mad. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Repeat until dough is all baked.

8 tablespoons (4 ounces) of cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon mint extract, more to taste (I added more)

In a food processor, combine cream cheese and butter until smooth. Slowly add confectioner’s sugar until smooth, then the mint extract and vanilla. Taste, adjust.

Once cookies are cooled, ice away, into sandwiches or whatever the heck is cheeriest to you. Make a pig of yourself, it’s Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tree Sap

Oh my goodness. Just plain old busy around here. The man just finished up his finals, with smashing success as usual, and I have been sick, after just recently reflecting upon how long it had been since I got sick. Grr. Nothing deadly, mind you, at this point just an extremely annoying cough that wakes me up out of a dead sleep for a pleasant 20 minutes of hacking. Awesome.

In non-sarcastic awesome news, we got our tree a few days ago, later than usual due to aforementioned sickness and the fact that our car is the size of a roller skate. In what turned out be a fantastic discovery, there is this place that sells trees on the cheap-o while they are still bound up. Downside: no walking around in the cold picking the perfect tree. Upside: will fit into a roller skate. B knocked it out of the park and ended up bringing home the most perfectly shaped tree in the universe. It’s crazy beautiful and once I again I could not believe that I even entertained the thought of not getting a tree. I am allowed to have five hundred favorite things about Christmas, but really, my favorite thing about Christmas is sitting in the dark with just the tree lights on. I never fail to be filled with gratitude for how many amazing people I love and am loved by, for how beautiful the space around me can be, for how the passing of time is a wondrous thing. I may want to catch it by the coattails sometimes, but the fact is that every year is more spectacular than the last. Yeah, there’s always some sap in my Christmas tree…

Before I really bit the dust I baked up some snickerdoodles, a cookie I am not even entirely sure I like enough to be baking it at home, but dang it, I loved them when I was a kid and I had all the ingredients so there you go. When I was a kid we baked a lot of cookies, including snickerdoodles, out of this cookbook:

Choice, no? I look at the photo now and see mostly food coloring and tasteless sugar cookies, but man, when I was a kid I thought that cooky [sic] book was awesomeness incarnate. You should see the full color spreads inside (and no, I don’t own this anymore, but I found someone’s flickr page of it that took me waaaaaaay back).

Hey guess what? Hot on the heels of my fabulous visit with my BFF Dietlind, here comes my other BFF and her husband! And just before that, for a snippet of time, we get to hang out with my childhood BFF (conveniently also named Rachel) and her beau. Can you get over my luck? Me neither. Before that we are headed north to hang with my mama again, ‘cause it was just so much fun last time. Plus we are dying to read book two in the Reading Aloud While Driving tradition we started over Thanksgiving.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Cookie Hop

Hellooooooooooo! I feel like a lifetime has passed since I last made an appearance here. Thanksgiving was so fantastic. B and I have started reading aloud to each other in the car, which makes the drive go by in a hot second (note to self: always pack a flashlight). And then there was the incredible food and the walks and the sleeping in and the playing of many games and just general cozy family fun. Truly one of the most relaxing holidays in years.

And then: well, I got some kickass news in the job department. More on that later, but suffice to say that it has caused much toasting and B picking me up and spinning me around and a lot of general squeakiness and hopping around. I am a total hopper; I didn’t even realize it at the time, but people at our wedding reported that I hopped up and down after B said yes. Hop, hop, hop…

And speaking of hop-worthy things, there was a very brief time in my life when I lived in Portland, Oregon. Like, I measure this time in months, it was that brief. I liked Portland just fine, although something was always overwhelming me there: the sheer volume of hipsters, the ever-extending list of places to eat at or bands to see, the fecundity so ferocious that gardening there was more about pruning than coaxing… It wasn’t for me, but I do have a sweet spot for a few things there, including the Fig Tea Cookies from the Pearl Bakery. I love figs, and I will pretty much choose anything figgy when I visit a new bakery because oddly enough fig goodies are kind of rare (and date goodies, but that’s another story). Anyway, these were really more like large fig bars than a cookie, but they were indeed perfect for tea.

So. I fell hard for these, and when B and I visited last year I was so disappointed that they didn’t have them that I left vowing to track down the recipe or die trying. Well. Hello intertubes, I love you – the recipe popped up lickty split, right here. Note: there is an error in this recipe for the crust (it reads “10 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter” – 10 tablespoons is 1 1/4 sticks of butter). But: it doesn’t even matter because this crust recipe is not very good. In fact, when I’m being honest, it wasn’t very good even straight from the bakery. It was fine. Just fine. The cookies were all about the filling, bursting with fig and orange and cloves and brought down to earth by honey and cocoa and toasted walnuts. The filling knocked the cookie crust so far into the background that it was waving unnoticed from a small island somewhere west of far west. So when I made these last time and had a bunch of leftover fig filling, I threw it in the freezer thinking that it would stay there until I found something better to wrap it in.

I bet you know what comes next, don’t you? Longtime readers and eaters will know that I think these are pretty much one of the most amazing cookies to ever come out of my oven. They are gorgeous, fun to make, the dough is amazingly easy to work with and phenomenal tasting, and best of all: you can put whatever ingredients you want in there. My usual is dried apricot, walnuts, pecans, brown sugar, sugar, apricot preserves, and whatever spices sound good that day. They are knockout just like that. But last night I made half of them with the fig filling, and there was a serious amount of freaking out and hopping around in the kitchen. And this morning. And I will probably go home and hop around a little bit tonight just for good measure.

One note: the recipe for the fig filling calls for fresh figs, and I’m sure if you can get them they would be lovely (personal aside: I think it would be a waste of a fresh fig). Dried figs worked just fine.

Rugelach Pinwheels with Fig Filling
From the Sweet On You Bakery via Smitten Kitchen and from the Pearl Bakery

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

12 ounces (about 2 cups) figs, stemmed and soaked in warm water until plump
2/3 cup currants
3 ounces (about 1 1/4 cups) toasted walnut pieces
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1/4 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted after measuring
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2/3 cup honey

1 cup sugar
Any spices you might like to throw in here

* This makes a ton of filling – feel free to halve it, or better yet: make the whole lot of it because it freezes like a dream.

1. Place cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Add sugar and continue processing until fully incorporated. Add flour and pulse just until dough comes together. Divide dough into 2 equal pieces, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

2. Meanwhile, make filling. Place the figs in a saucepan and cover them with water. Bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat, drain, and cool the figs. Once the figs are cooled, combine them in a food processor with the currents, walnuts, and orange zest until finely minced. Add brown sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, nutmeg, coriander, cloves, and honey; pulse to combine. Taste and adjust. Scrape the filling into a bowl.

3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Spread a thin layer of fig filling over dough. Roll dough into a log beginning with one of the long sides; wrap in plastic wrap. Transfer dough log baking sheet. Repeat process with remaining piece of dough. Place dough logs in refrigerator; let chill at least 1 hour.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Mix together the sugar and spices for the topping; set aside.

5. Slice chilled dough logs crosswise, about 1/4 inch thick. Toss each cookie in the sugar-spice mixture. Place cookies 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until lightly browned, 18 to 20 minutes. Lift parchment paper from baking sheets and transfer to a wire cooling rack; let cool.

6. Hop around in delight.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pie Preparation

Mmm... Butternut squash just before heading into the oven for roasting. I have always been a butternut squash pie girl. From my mama, I think. In fact, I haven’t laid my hands on a pumpkin since the last time I carved one, probably decades ago. Anyway, there was much roasting this morning, along with the making of several pie crusts. We are headed north for the eating, which I am very excited about because my mother makes the best stuffing you have ever put in your mouth. I tried to give her a run for her money last year and didn’t even come close. Eat well out there.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Popcorn & Pies

Oooph, busy weekend around here. Looking forward to the holiday break. What’s everyone baking out there? I do love a holiday that requires a pie.

Last night I remembered that I forgot to tell you that popcorn popped in bacon grease is the bomb. I would like to feed it to someone unsuspecting to see if they would guess; it’s not as bacon-y as you might imagine, just gooooood in that piggy sort of way. Important Monday tip, ahem.

Friday, November 21, 2008

First Snow

Oh people. I am such a kid inside. Today we woke up to snow, snow neither of us had read was on the way, and I greeted it by hooting and hollering around the house with nothing but a pair of skivvies on, pulling back curtains in each room to review the beauty. What is it about snow that can transform a sleepy kid (or an adult just acting like a kid) into a streaking flash of energy when just moments before she had been bemoaning how cold it was this morning and instead of obeying the alarm clock, burrowing into the warm covers and positively toasty crook of her husband’s neck?

Anyway. We had bowls of steaming oats for breakfast, and I went out to visit the chickens who seemed a bit surprised by it all but mostly just fine. A note to any would-be chicken parents out there: we do not keep our waterer in the coop, due to space limitations. If your setup will share that feature, and if it gets cold enough to freeze a bowl of water, just buy this waterer and be done with it, you can just unplug it during the warmer months. We have been doing quite an early morning dance to get water to our girls, and honestly we probably haven’t been out there early enough. So down to the farm store I went and now we have two big waterers when you really only need one.

Speaking of the girls, they have been laying like absolute champs. We do have a little light on them in the early morning to stretch the day a bit, but not by much. I continue to feel for our two Rhode Island Reds – they really do get pecked and chased by our two head honchos, the Silver Laced Wyandottes. There has actually been some subtle reorganization at the top, and as you might imagine, I am endlessly fascinated by the rules of the flock. I would want to be one of our middle birds...they don’t seem to attract the attention of the bossy girls, but don’t seem to have to pick on anyone to maintain their rank. Yes, I am Heather the amateur chicken sociologist.

Enjoy the weekends out there.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Eating

Have you given me up as lost? Assumed that Dietlind and I had so much fun that I just expired from it all? You would be close, but I think I’m going to pull through. Let me start by saying: it is so nice to be visited here. In San Francisco, I got used to being visited. Who doesn’t want to stop in over there? But Asheville? What with its exorbitantly priced local airport necessitating a two hour drive from a larger airport after you just survived sitting on your ass in several tiny plane seats for hours? And given that most of my people are coming from places like San Francisco, truly folks: we have nothing to offer you here when it comes to eating out, seeing good films on the big screen, or soaking up a lot of eye candy. But we do have beautiful hiking, mountains stretching as far as the eye can see, trees with leaves that turn magnificent fall colors before falling to the ground and kicking up that amazing fall smell, some very entertaining chickens, some homegrown produce, and a kitchen ready to serve.

And oh my lord, did we eat. There were brownies and there was a cherry pie, both by request (this pie crust is it people, just give yourself time to chill it). Diets mentioned that she hadn’t gotten to eat much of our wedding food, since she was running around heating it up and everything, so first we cooked up the wedding pork (ground pork, lots of chopped garlic, sesame oil, soy, chopped ginger, ume vinegar, vietnamese caramel sauce) garnished with chopped scallions, served over rice, and placed next to a heaping pile of garden greens. Then, also by request, Dietlind made her famous chicken tortilla soup which is spicy and limey and served heaped with cotija and avocados and tortilla chips that get that just-so crunch when given a moment to swim in the soup. Then B made his legendary Spicy Delicious Chickpeas, the chickpeas of courtship – seriously, these guys join this recipe in the cheap and easy but terrifically flavorful department. And then there were blueberry waffles topped with maple syrup, yogurt, and warm homemade apple sauce. There was the making of pots of coffee, the mulling of apple cider, and the swilling of juices with breakfast. And lastly, there was a breakfast so totally inspired that I am not going to say one word about it here yet because I want to make it for Rachel and AV when they come visit in just a few weeks. I will say that it involves farm fresh eggs and piling things on top of each other and a serious amount of holy shit this is amazing kind of talk.

We hiked, we walked, we got a little crafty, we watched Paul Newman and Liza Minelli and we talked and talked and talked. It was grand and we are still eating leftovers. Love you Diets.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


How did it get to be Thursday already?? Crazy, I tell you, just crazy. I am actually extremely excited that it’s Thursday, because in eight hours I will be hugging up my girl Dietlind, who will have crossed mountains and plains and time zones just to land here in the mountains to say hello. I am so lucky. We are going to cook and eat (of course), drink tea and wine, walk and hike, play with the chickens, meander around Asheville, visit the farmer’s market, go to a party, and who the hell knows what else. I am a little sad that it is raining cats and dogs outside because it’s bringing down the remaining leaves and I had hoped there would still be fall splendor when she got here. Oh well, she did not come all this way for the maple trees.

May you all hug old friends soon.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Bok Choy Butts

Well, I gotta say. Winning elections sure makes the week go fast. Anyone else out there having a hard time getting out of the habit of obsessively reading several million tabs worth of political news? Righty-o, I will just stave off withdrawal with a little moderate following of the cabinet posts and demographic breakdowns of the election and...

We are having the most stunning weather this week. Seriously unbelievably beautiful. Everything that turns a color has gone for it, and the mountains are mostly deep red and yellow, so much yellow. The garden is loving the warm days and cool nights, and here are some bok choy butts to prove it:

Chez H & B does seem to be having a string of hardware malfunctions though, including my precious food processor and my camera. Grrr. The camera wants to be a videocamera at all times. Sorry buddy, you are a $99 point and shoot, so quit with the puffery. I have long held dreams of a new camera that will take attractive flash-free pictures of food, but the checkbook doesn't like to have its hand forced, if you know what I mean.

Speaking of food, a few days ago I made a leek, chard, and sweet potato galette that totally rocked the house off of its very foundation. I used this crust recipe, which is the easiest and best savory crust I have ever tried (remind me of this when I go crust hunting again, please), and then I just sautéed the leeks in butter with lots of salt and pepper, added the chard at the last minute, lined the bottom of the galette with rounds of sweet potatoes baked this way, threw some grated gruyere over the whole mess, and oh lord. Seriously, I thought my husband was going to pass out from the sheer deliciousness. Go there. Here is a picture of the prep work, the galette didn't have a fighting chance at the spotlight:

Ok, so is it annoying when I post the searches that lead here? Too bad, I think it's hilarious. Starting with the pressing questions:

Do carrots grow better when watered with carrot juice? Umm. I just don't understand this question. Wouldn't juicing up carrots and pouring the juice on the ones you are growing sort of cancel your end carrot gain? Er. Maybe you water the juice down? Get back to me, mysterious visitor, I know you're out there and you'll be back because I bet you still don't have an answer and the next time you google for it I'll be there...

What is an orange round miniature thing which you can eat and cook?
You can eat your cat. If it's small, the big orange ones are tough.

Can squirrels eat cinnamon?
Another gardener plagued by squirrels? Hard to say, perhaps just a squirrel lover wanting to make some cinnamon buns for the crew.

Is it true that sesame seeds make your boobs grow? Yes, absolutely, but only if you grind them up and snort them.

Now for the demanding ones:

Eat my boobs. Righty-o.

Photos of dashing smart handsome men models in underwears. Plural. Not just one underwear here. I am sorry this website was such a bust on that request, I will really have to talk to B about that.

List of things you should eat to make your boobs grow.
Goodnight, this joins the eating of boobs and the sesame boobs and several hundred other boob related searches, largely related to getting a bigger rack. If these people could see my modest boobs they would realize I have no secrets in this department.

That's probably enough for now, but don't worry: there's always more. Involving gopher fuzz, and the man with the biggest pea ever!

Last exciting piece of news: this time next week one of my bffs, Dietlind, will be here! I am so excited I could just pop! Eeeeee!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It Feels Good

Oh people. I am still awash in the moment, the moment when we hit refresh and saw that Ohio was sitting neatly in the pocket. We turned to each other, each of us adding up the safe treasure of west coast electoral votes and realized that this was it. Throughout the night we drank whiskey, ate popcorn, called people in Nevada to make sure they voted, ran around the house (literally), baked a cake, whooped on the phone with my parents and with friends on all coasts, and shed a few tears for the journey. When we went to bed North Carolina was still too close to call, and as I write this that is still true. I know we don’t need it anymore, but call me greedy: I want it. We did kick Elizabeth Dole to the curb, resoundingly, which feels pretty good. Looks like there’s the possibility that nasty old Prop 8 might have passed, along with two other anti gay marriage proposals (Florida and Arizona) – all three are huge blemishes on such a hopeful day.

Hope. A new feeling in this department. I’ll tell you: I am not accustomed to it. I sit comfortably with the folks who vote regularly for blue candidates even though they don’t come close to the core of our politics. And honestly, Obama is not the radical candidate that embodies that core. I know that. And yet. And yet I cast my vote for him with hope and trust and the genuine liking of him, and come what may: it feels great.

I loved this article. Make sure you get to the pie.

UPDATE 11/6/08: And we are now officially Obama country over here in North Carolina!!!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Fall Fall Fall

Happy Monday out there. I hope your weekends were as beautiful as ours. We sat in the backyard watching the leaves fall, rode bicycles in short sleeves, drank wine in the park across from puffs of bright yellow maples. So beautiful. We also clipped our girls’ wings, which was hilarious and not nearly as traumatic as last time, and B and I both braved up and worked the phones for Mister Obama. What a hoot. I left a lot of cheerful messages, got cursed at and hung up on once, and had a few really nice conversations with people. This Tuesday will be the first time in years that I have watched an election roll in on the east coast. I will probably be hanging from the ceiling by the time the polls close out west.

Above are veggies waiting for stir fry in lovely Diana Fayt bowls, each of them a wedding gift from loved ones all over. Our baby bok choy is big enough for fine eats and I love the sweet crisp that it adds. The garden is happy – our kale is big and strong and last week I picked the first full serving of it without fretting that I was taking too much. The lettuces and arugula are sweet and spicy. The chard and beets did not germinate too well this round, I think we might need new seeds, but we have a handful of them nonetheless. The leaves are slowly dropping from the cherry and peach trees, and our blueberry bushes have gone from green to yellow to red. And so it goes. Enjoy fall out there.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Chocolate Friday

Friday! Friday! Wee-hoo. I had a little weekend preview this morning when B made oatmeal with spices and apples and honey and brought it in for me to eat in bed. So yum and cozy, I am the luckiest girl around.

As you know, we have been eating a lot of fruity things over here, what with apples and persimmons and pears knocking around. And normally I prefer fruit desserts anyway. But the other day I came home from work and suddenly felt as though I might fall over dead without some chocolate. So. In a total departure from habit, I found myself with a brownie recipe in my hand. I don’t know people, life does things to you and suddenly doors open. Brownies? I have always thought they were pretty blah. So frequently gummy and full of weird aftertastes, so completely all one thing, unlike rugelach pinwheels filled with nuts and apricots and spices, or spice cookies with fresh ginger and chocolate chips (oh my lord, I think that recipe was lost in the move, I must post those soon), or cherry pie with its crust and almond extract and lemon juice. But whatever, we were having a chocolate craving, so suddenly the one dimensional aspect of a brownie seemed like a good idea, as did using the Cook’s Illustrated version of things because let me tell you people: it’s a jungle out there if you are looking for a simple brownie recipe. Jeez.

So anyway. Hang onto your chairs out there, because these brownies are a-mazing. Not gummy, not shattery, not anything other than perfection of texture and deep, serious chocolate. And you can make these in your sleep, they are that easy. They do have some sugar in them. Like, “Oh god, will my teeth fall out if I eat one of these?” amounts of sugar. What can I say, brush up I guess, because they taste perfect and you need one.

From Cook’s Illustrated, with a few changes

3/4 cup mix of pecans or walnuts, chopped medium
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups cake flour (I used all-purpose and all was well)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (or better yet, just dumped into the double boiler, chopped shmopped, and honestly, I did not use the spendy stuff here and they were still amazing)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into six 1-inch pieces (uh, ditto)
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature (Hey, did you know that a “large egg” weighs about 57 grams? When you get your own chickens the weighing of eggs comes with the territory, I ended up using 5.)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Note: this next part is fussy, but trust me, I have already un-fussied it a great deal. Cut a piece of foil that will generously cover a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Tuck foil into pan, pushing it well into the corners and up along the sides. If you own baking spray, do your thing. If you don’t, grease the foil lightly. I do this by saving the wrappers on the butter sticks and using those and what butter still clings to them – keeps you from getting greasy hands, you just kind of smear the wrappers around. I really did a hack job getting every inch of the foil greased, and it was all ok.

Chop and place nuts on baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder (note: sifting is not part of their directions, but I always sift when using baking powder because it's so lumpy). Add nuts and chocolate chips to flour mixture, stirring until they are even distributed.

Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl over saucepan of lightly simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth (I used my pyrex double boiler, because hey, it’s one of my favorite kitchen things and who doesn’t love see-through pots, and when finished poured mixture into a larger bowl for the addition of other ingredients). When mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually stir in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, stirring after each addition until thoroughly combined. Add vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, folding until batter is completely smooth.

Pour batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with very, very few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes (ok, I had to bake it more like 45 minutes, but you do not want any gummy to spoil your party, so be vigilant and don’t take them out too early). Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil edges. Cut brownies into the size you like, and share with your friends so you don’t eat all that sugar yourself.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cold Harvest

Good grief people, we are windswept over here. Cold and windswept. The frost blankets and the hoops are up over the winter garden, the cracks in the chicken coop stuffed against the drafts, the floor of our house not to be stepped on in sock feet. You know it’s cold when you yelp as your bottom hits the toilet seat. Ahem.

Anyway. We had a dinner date yesterday and for once I wasn’t cooking! Dinners seem to mostly take place at our house, which is all fine and dandy but getting served up huge bowls of pumpkin coconut soup from someone else’s stovetop was a real treat (note: eating it made me want to try substituting coconut milk for the usual dairy in pumpkin pie). I offered up a salad, so in the middle of the windstorm I hopped around outside moving sheets of plastic and trying to keep my fingers from freezing, but damn, it’s all worth it when you tuck everything back up and in the warmth of the kitchen you take a look at the enormous bowl of greens you just picked. I will never get over how such tender lettuces can grow when the nights hover below 30 for weeks on end. Scrappy little lettuces.

I leave you with a photo of yesterday’s harvest. May you all keep warm and well.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Carrot Soup & Garlic Planting

Another fine fall weekend over here, lots of music, lots of apples, lots of bundling up against the cold. This morning I planted our seed garlic. Something so very magical about tucking cloves into the ground while the wind is howling around your head and your fingers are freezing inside two pair of gloves. I bought our garlic from here, and so far they have been the nicest dang people I have ever bought seeds or starts from. I planted four kinds: Chesnok Red, Siberian, Susanville, and Zemo. Three hardnecks and one softneck. Some folks out there soak their cloves before they plant them, but none of my friends do that and the Hood River folks made no mention of it, so we’ll see how just sticking them in the ground goes. I just prepped the bed with compost, poked them into the ground, covered the whole bed with a good thick layer of straw and a lighter layer of leaf mulch, and watered everything. Like putting something to bed for the winter. Fun.

Ok, so we continue to eat these beans. Lately I just cook them up and in a separate pan I sauté leeks from the garden and sausage from our favorite farm down the road, lots of salt and pepper and some thyme, throw the beans in and ooph, it is so yum. Truly, it looks like a big mess of glop, but damn, those beans are so incredible, the leeks so sweetly leeky, and the sausage we get is out of sight. Cheap and easy baby.

Also cheap if ever so slightly less easy: carrot soup. I can be kind of a pain in the ass about carrots. I have very strong feelings about what size exactly carrots should be when they show up in food, and I am pretty much never in favor of a huge mouthful of cooked carrots. But I like carrot soup, go figure. I love the subtle peanut flavor from the peanut oil in this soup. Warm and cheery on a cold night, better yet the next day.

Carrot Soup

1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon Madras curry powder
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 large onion, chopped
1 large leek, chopped
1 pound carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds
1 large potato, preferably yukon gold
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lime peel (one lime should do)
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, more to taste
5 cups chicken broth
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Toast coriander and mustard seeds, then grind to a fine powder.

Heat oil in soup pot, add ground seeds and curry powder, cook for 2-3 minutes. Add ginger, cook for 2-3 minutes. Add onion, leeks, carrots, potato, lime peel. Add salt and pepper and sauté until onions begin to soften. Add broth, bring to a boil, and simmer until carrots are tender, about 20-25 minutes. Cool slightly. In batches, puree until smooth (this works best if you blend the ingredients without a lot of accompanying stock, add it in once you have a smooth texture). Return batches to soup pot, add more broth if consistency is too thick. Stir in lime juice, season. Yum.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


My stars kids, I think it’s about wintertime. We have been having heavy frosts every night this week and we have reached the time of year where I scheme to make something in the oven every night to warm the kitchen up. Frequent go-to for this purpose: sweet potatoes. Holy shit, we love us some sweet potatoes at our house. These were a relatively late discovery for me, as I don’t really remember eating these as a child (save for the practically universal disappointment of marshmallow laden sweet potato pie, I mean, gak). But man, do I eat them now. I think they are kind of a magic food, like miso and fresh figs, where you just can’t believe that something that tastes this good can also be so good for you. A lot of time I just chop a few up and throw them in the oven with a chicken. Wa-la. But it is true that they don’t always cook perfectly, sometimes there will be a kind of woody, starchy chunks here and there.

Well, leave it to Cook’s Illustrated** to get to the bottom of such a thing. Turns out that above 175 degrees the starch in a sweet potato will cease converting to sugar. Well who knew? So here is how they roast sweet potatoes to get around this, and let me tell you: you will end up with perfectly roasted super sweet little chunks of goodness. When we bake these, you would swear there were cookies in the oven, and on a cold winter’s night, I’d take these over cookies any day.

** The magazine I used to think was the dorkiest thing in the entire would – I could not believe my mother gave me a subscription – and now six years later I adore, if in a slightly patronizing Oh those Cook’s Illustrated people are so crazy kind of way. What this change of heart signifies I cannot tell you.

Perfectly Roasted Sweet Potatoes
From Cook’s Illustrated

Sweet potatoes, scrubbed (do not peel these guys, the skin is so tasty!)
Vegetable oil

Note: do NOT preheat oven.

Cut sweet potatoes into 3/4 inch thick rounds. Toss in oil until lightly coated, season with salt and pepper (sometimes we throw on red chili flakes or thyme or anything else that might sound good). Arrange potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet (note: CI has you put them on a baking sheet covered in foil sprayed with cooking spray but sheesh already), and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place in oven on middle rack and adjust temperature to 425 degrees. Cook for 30 minutes.

Remove foil, and cook until bottom edges brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Take sheet out of oven, flip potatoes, and continue to roast until other side is brown or golden, another 18 to 22 minutes.

I know this seems like a long time, but it’s totally worth it to have the creamy sweetness contrasted with the slightly crisp, browned edges. Plus, the longer the oven is on the warmer it is in our kitchen. Eat ‘em up!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Breaking Up

Ok, I am breaking up with tapioca. We have been together for a long time, this is no small thing. As a squeak I would sometimes spend time at my Granny’s for the summer. Probably mostly driving her crazy, probably mostly about when exactly we were going to do the Making of Tapioca. Because my Gran makes the best damn tapioca around, rich and creamy and seemingly always served with bright orange slices of home canned peaches. I can remember the long-handled spoon we used to stir it as clear as day. And here’s where my memory must have failed me: I in no way remembered that you have to stir this shit for an eternity. Jesus.

Ok, wait, I am getting ahead of myself. I tried to make tapioca about a year ago, and failed miserably by curdling the eggs. Any sane person would have walked it out to the compost right then. But no, I had to let it sit on the stove for a few days, tentatively taking a few bites the first two days (something very Homer Simpson about trying curdled tapioca daily to see if it might have magically uncurdled) and then sort of stoically ignoring the whole pot until one morning my nose informed me in no uncertain terms that the tapioca must be dealt with. I was just so damn heartbroken about wasting the ingredients! All that milk! Eggs! Sugar! Denial! Gah. So I wrote to my Granny and she sent me handwritten instructions and I put them someplace safe and thoughtful and, er… You see.

Anyway, this weekend I decided to give it another shot. Not with my Granny’s careful instructions, what with losing her card and everything, but with some recipe I’d cut out from somewhere because it had a lot of orange zest and orange juice and cream. I honestly really only thought to do this because we’ve been getting this lovely raw milk but sometimes we have a bit too much on hand and it being raw and everything means that it doesn’t last forever so LONG STORY SHORT: in an effort to use up the milk I once again made the worst tapioca ever (no curdling this time, just general The Fucking Tapioca Balls Will Not Cook Through Syndrome). But before it was evident that I was making the worst tapioca ever, there was the stirring. And the stirring. Christ there was stirring. I am 100% sure that it was only because I was generally not permitted to eat sugar as a child that I did not even notice that this magical pudding practically required one to stir one’s own arm off. Goodnight, there is just no need for such stirring – and this from a woman who will whip up chocolate pudding or pot de crème without complaint.

So tapioca, it’s over.

As a total aside, something ate all the tapioca out of the compost. Which, I must confess, at first I found irritating. I mean, at least all those ingredients could add to my compost riches, right?! But then I kept thinking about a bunch of squirrels eating tapioca and I think this is funny enough and probably a very good end to a harrowing adventure. You may now all climb back off the edges of your seats.

You Need This

If anyone ever tells you that they bought a bushel of apples and then mentions that they do not own a food mill or an apple peeler thingy, tell them they are insane and that for $20 this wicked snazzy apple peeler corer will keep them from completely losing it. With thanks to Nici for reminding me.

Bonus fun for those with chickens: watching them run around with three foot long apple peels!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Persimmon Pudding

Well I don’t know about you, but I am glad that the debates are over. Early Voting just opened here, and I walked across campus and put in my ballot for our guy. Woo hoo. Sure is a sparkly fall day out there.

Speaking of fall, B’s dad and stepmum were up for a visit last weekend and guess what they brought me? A big bag of persimmons! Kinda like a big bag of gold in my opinion. Turns out that there’s a persimmon tree right by their house. These appear to be of the Hachiya variety. Where I grew up in West Virginia there were a lot of persimmon dishes around Thanksgiving, but I believe those were wild persimmons, very small and not sweet until after the first frost. I wonder if we have those here?

Anyway. The big bag of persimmons. They weren’t ripe, but I just put them in a paper bag and checked them every few days, and when one was soft and squishy to the touch I’d peel it and throw it in a jar. By yesterday it looked just about full enough, and sure enough, when I measured it up it was 2 cups exactly. With the persimmons that have yet to ripen I want to make some persimmon bread from a recipe given to me by this gal, and some persimmon cookies, but what with not having my hands on this many persimmons in years and years, first I had to make my childhood favorite: persimmon pudding. I used a recipe that I hand wrote a million years ago, who knows from where. Two things: this is not a pudding in the chocolate pudding kind of way, but rather in an English pudding sort of way. And it falls. It has fallen every time I’ve ever made it or seen it made; it just does that and I think it’s supposed to because otherwise the texture would be all wrong. We snacked on it during the debate, after a big pot of these beans and a big steamer full of kale. I hope Obama eats this well.

Persimmon Pudding

Blend together:
2 cups persimmon pulp
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cups butter, melted and cooled to room temp (4 tablespoons)
2 large eggs, room temperature

Whisk together:
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon (and/or other spices like nutmeg and ginger)

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, but do not over stir.

Then add:
1/2 cup cream (you can use whole milk if you need to)
1/2 cup buttermilk (you can make buttermilk with regular milk and some vinegar)

Bake at 325 for about an hour in a 9 x 12 pan (9 x 13 is fine).

Thanks for the persimmons Tim and Gale!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Green Eggs & Meatballs

Oh my goodness, I had the best weekend. Just sweet and relaxing. Someone did pull out in front of me and was smashed each other a little bit, but fortunately their SUV was so big and our car is so small that they actually smashed me with their tire. Uh, a fleeting appreciation for the size dynamics on the road… Anyway, even that was pretty much as nice as it gets, what with them being totally pleasant and retroactively hilarious (see husband hopping around the bumper exclaiming “Goddamn! It’s a good thing I just got done meditatin’!”) and everyone and everything seemingly fine despite it all.

Plus, and I keep meaning to mention this, we have been watching Paul Newman films. We were kind of already headed down that road before he died, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (my favorite of his earlier films) and Cool Hand Luke, but his death renewed our focus and since then we’ve watched Hud (ooh, he is so bad), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (wtf with that scene on the bicycle, gah), and the Color of Money. Do not be afraid of the Tom Cruise action in the Color of Money. He’s terrific, and so is Paul. I know we were supposed to watch The Hustler first but we couldn’t get our hands on it so we’ll just watch them out of order. Anyway, all to say that we love Paul and so should you.

Ok, in other excitement, those eggs up there are green and one of our chickens laid them! Rhodie, our one Ameraucana, has been one hilarious chicken from the get-go. For the first few months she was officially Totally Insane, but she has chilled out a great deal and now I can even pet her. I just reread the description of her breed and I guess she’s supposed to lay blue eggs, but frankly I am thrilled to bits with the green eggs. They just seem so special, and she’s such a beautiful and unusual looking chicken, she is one of my favorites. Honestly though, whichever one I am petting is my favorite.

Last up: meatballs. So, since we really didn’t eat meat when I was a kid, I sometimes get to floor people when I say things like “I have never had a meatball.” Which, until about five years ago, was true. After which I floored people for the next half a decade by saying “I have only eaten meatballs once.” But now it’s twice because I just made them yesterday. The truth is that I have a mild fascination with comfort food: meatballs, turkey pot pie, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, etc. I think it’s because that kind of food was not at all a part of my family’s food culture (well, you can read about my great-aunt’s macaroni and cheese here). My mom’s version of comfort food was miso soup and greens, if you know what I mean. Which I am eternally grateful for, and I intend to torture my children with miso soup when they are sick too. But anyway. That first plate of meatballs was at a hipster restaurant in the Mission, one that pretty much forged its success on spaghetti, but I was just not sold. The meatballs were packed with capers. And I am very fussy about capers. Suffice to say that in my meatballs is not where I like them. But I remained intrigued by the whole meatball thing because you can put all kinds of things in them that you don’t normally throw into pasta sauce (eggs! bread crumbs! cheeses!). So for the last five years I have been saving meatball recipes. Like, I have eleven of them, and that’s without counting cookbooks. And when my favorite food blogger recently decided to do meatballs, I felt it was a sign. Plus, I keep being told to eat more beef, and honestly the only thing I know how to do with cow is put it in chili. I have all of my recipes organized by main ingredient (I am a librarian, don’t laugh), and I don’t even have a beef folder; the only beef we eat is generally cooked by B.

ANYWAY, this is getting way too long, so here’s the wrap up: I made meatballs! Which not only involved beef, but also frying, another thing I generally outsource to my husband. I used the Smitten recipe as a base, but I made several adjustments, via the eleven other recipes I had handy, via my “no fucking way I’m using veal” feelings, via the sauce amount looking skimpy, and via what needed to be eaten from our garden. And…they are totally, totally amazing. So good. Like roll over and die good. Due to afternoon plans, I made them after breakfast, which turned out to be a good idea because they kind of took a long time and because then they had all day to just make friends with the sauce they had been simmered in. Warning: this makes a huge pot of meatballs. For the two of us, I might think about halving it, we’ll see if we get sick of them by the time we finish them up.

Spaghetti & Meatballs
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the meatballs:
1/2 pound ground pork
1 1/2 pounds ground beef, the good stuff if you please
1 1/4 cups fresh bread crumbs
4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh sage, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fennel seeds
1 extra-large egg, beaten
Vegetable oil
Olive oil

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 leeks, finely chopped
1 green pepper, very finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup good red wine
3 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, pureed in food processor for just a jiffy
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

For serving:
Spaghetti, cooked
Freshly grated parmesan

Make the meatballs: Place the ground meats, bread crumbs, all seasonings, Parmesan, salt, pepper, egg, and 3/4 cup warm water in a bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into one-and-a half-inch meatballs.

Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-inch) pan that will be big enough to hold the whole dish by the end, to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil (really do let it get hot, but not smoking, otherwise you will have sticking issues). Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium heat, turning carefully with tongs. There will still be some sticking; this is ok. It should take about 8 minutes for each batch. Don’t crowd the meatballs, and let the oil sit for just a second between batches to regain temperature. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pan.

Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and leeks and pepper and sauté over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.

Serve over pasta, garnish with parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fry 'Em Up

Oh me oh my. Every once in a while on Tuesday mornings B and I get a mini weekend kind of thing where we can sleep in a little and have a late breakfast. Today was one such morning, and after collecting four more eggs over the weekend we plotted to make our first farm fresh fried egg breakfast.

What a simple pleasure, to crack open eggs gathered in our back yard from hens who have only eaten organic grains and legumes and garden fresh greens and bugs. The yolks were the deepest orange yellow and far less runny than store-bought eggs. We fried them up and plopped them down on a piece of toast topped with a little grated cheese and chopped arugula from the garden, salt and pepper to please. As I broke the first yolk my mind was filled with the memory of the girls as little chicks just peeping their hearts out from inside their tiny mailing carton, of B and me eating dinner in the basement every night giggling ourselves hiccupy with their goofiness, of catching pillbugs and watching them go nuts until Gonzo finally ate them. What a hoot.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Egg Egger Eggest

Well folks, this post was coming around sooner or later: the first egg!!!! A beautiful light brown egg, just sitting there in the sunshine. I hooted and hollered and even the neighbors got in on the act. The egg, as you might have already guessed, was not laid in the nesting box. Which seems perfectly understandable to me…there you are, going about being the chicken you’ve always been, hunting and pecking for bugs and greens and scratch and then all of a sudden here comes an egg. Talk about a surprise. Anyway, I put a decoy egg in one of the nesting boxes to hopefully raise the gentle suggestion of egg laying in the coop. We’ll see.

I wish I could know which one of our girls laid it…I asked, but they weren’t talking.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Apple Ginger Upside Down Skillet Cake

Oooh, we are feeling the chill around here – last night was under 40 degrees. Sorry little garden sprouts, no Indian Summer in the forecast yet. Oh well. The lettuces and arugula and bok choy are growing just fine. It’s the greens that worry me. That and my bike ride to work. Must dig out all my warm things, I was nearly frozen to the bike by the time I arrived.

Yesterday I left work early for no good reason (well, I also have to work this Saturday, so that seemed like a good enough reason) and came home and finished my book, made a huge pot of chili (full of gorgeous peppers from the garden, both green and red), and baked an apple cake. I made this cake last fall, and although it was wonderful, I realized after it was baked that I had neglected to put the baking powder in. So it was a little on the dense side. But it was still tasty so I figured it would only get better if I put all the ingredients in. Indeed. The cake part of this is a very dark, spicy, not-too-sweet gingerbread, topped by a layer of sweet, caramelized apples. And I am a sucker for interesting fruity upside down cakes baked in a cast iron skillet. The moment when you turn ‘er over and get a peek at your handiwork, my favorite.

Apple Ginger Upside Down Skillet Cake

For the topping:
1/2 stick unsalted butter
4 peeled and sliced apples (pick a tart baking apple)
2/3 cup brown sugar

For the cake:
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup boiling water
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup molasses
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon chopped candied ginger

This cake bakes up perfectly in a 12 inch cast iron skillet. Anything smaller and you might be better off making two small cakes - adjust baking time accordingly if you go this route.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a large cast iron skillet. Swirl butter around to coat sides of pan, then sprinkle 2/3 cup of brown sugar over bottom of pan. Cook over low heat until sugar no longer looks grainy. Remove from heat and arrange apple slices in a pattern that pleases (note: pack those apples in on top of each other; they will shrink upon baking and they are so yummy!). Set aside.

Mix boiling water and baking *soda* then set aside.

Sift together flour, spices, salt and baking *powder*.

Cream together 1 stick of butter and 2/3 cup brown sugar. Beat in molasses, eggs, fresh ginger and baking soda mixture. Add dry ingredients and candied ginger, stirring until batter is smooth. Pour batter over apple slices (should fill the pan just a little more than halfway up the sides – if you have extra bake it in another pan). Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick stabbed in the center comes out clean (mine had to go for just over 40 minutes). Let cool, then run a spatula around edge, invert cake plate or stand (hello wedding gift) on top of skillet, grab the skillet and cake plate together firmly, and turn the whole thing over like you really mean it. Eat it up!