Feb 26, 2007

Ms. Hitachi B. Machine, 1995-2007

I got her in 1995, the summer I moved to Virginia to start a teaching job. A bread machine was perhaps a strange thing for a single woman to buy, and I'm not sure what I was thinking, but . . . whatever. She made good bread every so often. When I got married to John in 1997 I took her with me, but she did not get used for a whole year. Just as I was contemplating giving her away, I used her again and didn't really ever stop. We took her with us when we moved to our second house and used her every day, almost, after Jack was born and then Will. Having babies makes you hungry for carbs. And every time my Indiana In-laws came to help, of course they needed to eat bread.

Life was good for Ms. Hitachi B. Machine for many years. She had a position of honor in our household and didn't mind making the same oat bread forever, and the same pizza dough, and never any quickbreads. (You might as well make quickbreads the normal way.) Her glory years were the Swarthmore years, making sandwich bread for Will and Jack's lunches, and pizza dough for the Friday night pizza ritual.

But one day I was browsing at the upscale kitchen store, W-S, and a shiny new stainless steel bread machine caught my eye. She had a convection oven, many more settings, including "artisan," and this one called my name, almost audibly. "Lauren. I'm Q. Z. Nart. Take me home!" Looking back, my big mistake was talking about this machine in front of Ms. H. B and saying things like "Our bread machine doesn't have near that number of settings." Or, in a moment of desparation, "Don't you think our bread machine has gotten noisier?" John was the one to actually say out loud what I was thinking: "We've had this bread machine a very long time. If you find one that you'd really like, why not get a new one?" And I'd murmur, "Oh, no, I'd wait until this one dies."

One night shortly after that, at 2:10 AM, I heard the crash. I knew it was Ms. H. B. Machine right away, even in my grogginess. I took my time walking downstairs, getting slippers and turning the hall light on. Because I knew. That it would be too late.

There she was, lying on her side, door akimbo, a blob of dough flung two feet away from her, just under the range. I picked her up gently. Her door wouldn't close and a plastic corner had sheared off. I sighed. I brushed off the blob of dough and put it in a plastic container, to deal with the morning. I had heard dark rumors of such things, of bread machines moving around the counter during the kneading stage, and actually flinging themselves off the edge. However, this had never happened in 12 years. How strange that it should happen now. Or perhaps I had "accidentally" left her too close to the edge? My sadness is tinged with guilt. A little.

To prove how totally heartless I am, we already have a new Ms. Q.Z. Nart. She is shiny and beautiful, and makes delicious bread. All's fair in love, war, and kitchen gadgets.

Feb 24, 2007

The Manuscript and the Goat

It's a been a big week.

I finally submitted my manuscript and application materials for the MFA in Creative Nonfiction. I FedExed it on Wednesday, two days before the deadline, just as I had planned not to do, of course. I had to tinker with things for a while, but mostly I procrastinated about editing the personal statement, which my writing group had suggested I revise because I was "selling myself short." In the end I didn't even change it that much, mainly because I just didn't think it was worth the agonizing. I wash my hands of the matter now. I'll hear in early April as to whether I got in. The day I turned it in I "celebrated" by going to bed at 9:30. Please, no one let me apply to any more graduate programs in my life.

Then the next day I had to prepare a dinner for nine: my immediate family and my Dad, his lady friend visiting from Seattle, my brother, his girlfriend, and her two-year-old. It was a school night, but it couldn't really be helped. This had been planned for a couple of months, and of course I thought I'd have the application turned in a week before, ha ha. Part of me just wanted to punt and buy prepared food, but another part of me wanted to experiment aggressively with a quirky menu.

So that's what I did. I made a goat stew from meat I had gotten months earlier from the CSA, on a whim. You can use goat in almost any recipe that calls for lamb, so I made a stew from my mother's Spanish cookbook Delicioso! by Penelope Casas. When I started to smell it cooking it seemed a little strong, and I had misgivings, but in the end it turned out delicioso indeed. The cubed meat was cooked in red wine and a little vinegar, and I crushed six cloves of garlic, onion, and red bell pepper to make a paste. That was added in the last 30 mins. of cooking. The stew looked really scant at the end so I served it on couscous. Thank God for couscous, the Divine Extender.

I also made a salad of my own devising from baby spinach, arugula, blood orange sections, and red onions, with a dressing of olive oil, lime juice, and cumin. I bought some Manchego cheese and a fresh ciabatta; that's a rectangular flat rustic bread. We had a red Spanish wine that had been recommended to us by the all-knowing wine guys at Moore Bros. in Wilmington, our new wine mecca. For dessert? Also from the Spanish cookbook, an almond potato cake. It had two cups of almonds and a potato in it, and no other fat other than the oil already in the almonds. Six eggs, though.

Although I didn't pander to anyone's tastes for this meal other than my own, almost to an obnoxious degree, the food received raves. I believe it awakened everyone from their gastronomic torpor. Even the kids seemed happy, with the carbs anyway, if nothing else. (Now I'm all about Spanish cooking, and even got a serious mortar and pestle for the pastes with garlic and herbs.)

Next post: After making hundred of loaves of bread, our 12-year-old bread machine committed suicide, and I have only myself to blame.

Feb 13, 2007

Take Rachael Ray. Please.

I've been itching to write something about the unwatchable Rachael Ray for a while, except I don't want to watch her enough to write it. But she's on the tube whenever I'm at the gym, so I've been able to catch just a few snippets in the locker room. However, very little seems to be about food, it's boyfriends and banter and heartwarming stories but where's the food? It must be later in the show after I leave. When I read in a Karen Heller article in the Inquirer the other week that Ms. Ray has a recipe for Barbecued Succotash, something deep inside of me snapped. And that's even before I learned about Hot Dog Salad or Sangria on a Stick. Anyway, that was it. I'm on the warpath against R.R. and her slummy recipes. I want her off my Triscuit boxes and off the TV. And have I seen huge ads for her show on SEPTA buses? Or only in my nightmares?

Now you simply must read what Anthony Bourdain says about her as a guest writer on Michael Ruhlman's blog. (You need to scroll down, or you could read all his merciless comments on the Food Network's "bobbleheads," if you have the stomach for it.) Sometimes you have to love this kind of writing. Bourdain really bites.

Feb 12, 2007

Water: The Accidental Baptism

There I was, Wednesday afternoon at around 2:10, trying to solve a problem. Once a week, I teach a writing class to middle schoolers at Will's Montessori. We are reviewing websites, and I had gotten us all on our own Wikispace. Here's the problem: I had seriously underestimated their ability to turn it into a party. They had been sending messages to each other during the whole class without my knowledge, even though I had told them I could read everything they sent. Anyhow, there I was, thinking, What Have I Done, and staring at the kids' comments on the screen. I began to hear a slow, rhythmic tapping sound . . . on my open file next to the computer. Dripping, actually. I looked up and saw a brown water line on the ceiling. Upstairs, I saw that it was wet around the toilet.

I wiped it up, and not sure what to do next, flushed. In retrospect? Not such a good idea. The toilet overflowed, and overflowed, and overflowed, with astonishing rapidity and force. Over the bathroom floor, down through the floor and into the kitchen, raining onto my keyboard and monitor as I grabbed the files and anything moveable out of the way. For about fifteen minutes I became another person, Panicked Princess. She unplugged everything she saw. She grabbed a bucket but she really needed about six. She grabbed a towel but she really needed ten. Panicked Princess called 911. She really shouldn't have, but she hadn't seen this much water coming down, indoors, ever. She called hubby, who calmly told her where the valve for the house's water was located. She succeeded in turning it off.

A nice Swarthmore Borough policeman came. (The police here don't have a whole lot to do.) He helped Panicked Princess mop up. He told her reassuring things like "This floor might buckle. You might have to redo it." "Your kitchen cabinets are wet. I hope you won't have to have new ones put in." "Can I see your basement? Oh, look, it's pouring down here, too." Our shop vac/wet vac was in the attic, so I carried it down our narrow attic ladder. Panicked Princess was beginning, slowly, to morph back into Lauren. Deep breathing helped.

Finally, Nice Swarthmore Policeman said, "I don't think it's as bad as it looks. That's just residual water coming down." Lauren was back. Lauren called Will's school to cancel an interview for an article she was writing for them. Lauren called a friend to have her get Will. Lauren called the plumber, and something in her voice, a trace of Panicked Princess, prompted them to put our house at the top of their emergency list.

So, after hours of looking for a clog, they found what was probably a bird's nest at one time, perched on top of the exhaust pipe, maybe? It's all conjecture at this point. Plus, pipes have been freezing around here, so that may have contributed to what amounted to an impressively impenetrable clog.

And the upshot? A nice new high-pressure toilet and a plumbing bill not to sneeze at. Grains and flours had to be thrown out. And as I said, some cookbooks now have slightly wavy pages. But then License to Grill was already doused with water at some point, and Trattoria Cooking was already wavy and scorched. Some people don't believe in keeping cookbooks in the kitchen, or so I hear, and now I know why. My mother's collection is in the living room, because I consider them archival, but otherwise I think cookbooks are to be splattered upon and marked and otherwise affectionately abused.

As for my computer? It. Is. Fine. I normally try to avoid that bloggy habit of using periods for emphasis, so please understand that when I do it, it means EMPHASIS. EMPHASIS!!!! My manuscripts for my MFA application have not been lost. I was supposed to back them up, like John was always telling me, but of course I didn't. But everything is fine. Did I say that? That my computer is fine? Like when Batman's helicopter crashes into the foam rubber expo (we just saw the movie last night), it was just good fortune. For which I'm very thankful.

And my Wikispace problems? I've locked the space and we're now using the school's email to share responses. Because I have no time or interest in policing the students, and the Wikispace was just too, too tempting for the little darlings. That problem, in my mind, was all wrapped up with the other one, how to stop a flood when you're not at the source. Here is what I've learned:

1. Middle schoolers do technology a million times faster and better than 48-year-olds.
2. Each toilet has a little shutoff valve right on the dang thing.
3. If you admit a mistake, students are grateful and everyone can move on.
4. Always know where your water shutoff valve is.
5. The dryest time of winter is the best time to have a lot of water between the floors in your house.
6. Back up your files.
7. Cops can be very nice. So can middle schoolers.

Feb 9, 2007

Water: First in a Series

I don't have time to even start to tell you about the havoc that an ancient bird's nest can wreak when it clogs a pipe that was already mostly frozen. Let's just say my computer has suffered serious brain damage. And my cookbooks have wavy pages. And we have to get a new toilet. Et cetera.

However, I will share an anonymous message I found on a piece of paper in the upstairs hall. It says:

Bath B. horible