Dec 24, 2010

Grandpa Jack and Aunt Julie are Coming! And Here's What's Cooking.

The boys are at Christmas pageant rehearsal. One of my sons is Herod. I guess someone has to have that role . . . be assured, they're casting against type. Mr. Dream Kitchen is installing The Big Electronic Present (to avoid unpleasantness tomorrow). I've got cranberries bubbling on the stove, scenting the kitchen.

This is just a quick post to tell you what our Mediterranean-inflected Christmas menu is.

Slow Roasted Leg of Lamb with Pomegranate Glaze and Red-Onion Parsley Relish, From Paula Wolfert's The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. My sister in law is bringing sumac for this from Penzey's. She lives near the Pittsburgh store. Have never made this, but I trust Paula. She even autographed my book, back when Philadelphia did The Book and the Cook. Back in the day.

Minted Baby Peas (frozen, from Trader Joe's--no need to get fancy with everything)

Smashed Red Bliss Potatoes with Garlic--again with the easy

Spinach Salad with Broiled Preserved Lemon (sounds harder than it is

Mixed Olives from DiBruno's

Down East Cranberry-Apple Pie, from Richard Sax's Classic Home Desserts (the first edition! Half the pages are stained by now). We'll serve with vanilla ice cream.

Peace to you, dear readers.

Dec 13, 2010

What Do Cheese Straws Have to Do with Sylvia Plath? How to Have a Holiday Book Exchange

Warning: James' Joyce's no-quotation-marks trick is used here, for no good reason. Please don't be confused.

If you've never experienced a white elephant book exchange, I'm truly sorry for you. Because they're insanely fun if you're comfortable with the other partygoers. Everyone wraps up a book that they don't want any more and then you just pick one out of the basket. The tricky part comes when everyone has donated books by David Sedaris or Nicole Krause and you've donated Shopping the North Carolina Furniture Outlets. (No, that wasn't me!) Or Thomas Pynchon's Mason and Dixon. (No, not me, either!) Then again, no need to admit your donation if no one saw you furtively sneak your gift in the basket. My donation, this year, was Crossing to Avalon: A Woman's Midlife Quest for the Sacred Feminine. (I'm sorry but I hate the humorlessness and grandiosity of archetypes). Anyhoo, here's the quick rundown, because I know you have a lot of things to do (note that this is the Liberal Overeducated Suburban Moms' version of a white elephant exchange):

Once the chitchat about music lessons, college applications, and the latest divorces abates, and you are well into the cranberry martinis, you can really get down to it.

Jonathan Franzen's Freedom: What about it? Is it really worth reading? Completely, ventures the hostess. It's a great doorstop, suggests another. She adds, it's about us--I don't want to read about us. Says your friend the radio producer, Patti Smith's memoir isn't that great; it's too precious. You say I know what you mean, but I sort of liked that she can be that way. She says, you should read Keith Richards' memoir--it's great. He's a smart guy. Smarter than you think. The books are all opened and then haggled over. Someone gives away Nicole Krause's A History of Love to the only person in the room who hasn't read it yet. But the receiver of David Sedaris' Holiday on Ice is not going to give it up. Ever. You are all jealous of her. The book you get, An Irish Country Christmas, sounds awful, and you manage to trade it for Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, A Marriage, by Diane Middlebrook. Rather different, eh? You're really looking forward to reading it, but it sounds more like an after-Christmas January blues kind of book. What with the affair, the divorce, the suicide, and all.

The last book picked, that truly no one wants? Glenn Beck's novel The Christmas Sweater. Each page has a curlicue border around it, which is enough to turn you away if not for all the other things about it that turn you away.

You bring Cheese Straws to the party, from where else but The Essential New York Times Cookbook. You should have doubled the recipe, because they are scarfed down and your dear family cannot partake of any leftovers. Says one one of the ladies, Where I come from you are judged on the quality of your cheese straws.

Dec 10, 2010

The Future is Here: Remote Oven Repair!

Our oven's brain is back. Its control board blew a couple days before Thanksgiving. (But of course!) We called our local appliance guys, an amiable father-son team. They pronounced gloomily, "Thermador stopped making these control boards. You'll have to get a new oven."

New oven . . . new oven . . . new oven . . . the words rang ominously in our heads. Our oven has a downdraft venting system, because it's in our island and we need openness. The only other brand we could get besides a Thermador is a Jenn-Air. They're about $2,000, and we've only had the Thermador for seven years. We were hoping there were at least thirteen more years to go!

So my super smart Mr. Dream Kitchen looked up the model number on the web and found this amazing company,, in Austin, Texas. For $180 they fixed our control board, and if it hadn't worked, they wouldn't have charged us. This involved shipping it and hoping like heck we'd actually get it back. But we did, in just a few days.

We then had the local father-son team install it, but the dad really balked because he feared we would blame them and not pay them if it didn't work. I bullied him into it, in my charming way, and our gamble worked out beautifully. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the Chocolate Dump-it Cake that is cooling on the counter.

Dec 9, 2010

The Pimento Cheese Incident; Or, The Essential New York Times Book Party Comes to Philadelphia

I'm an Amanda Hesser fan from way back. I've read The Cook and the Gardener and Cooking for Mr. Latte. I've also read her husband Tad Friend's memoir, Cheerful Money.

So when I received an invitation to a food bloggers' potluck/book party for The Essential New York Times Cookbook,I shoved my other obligations aside to attend. We were asked to make something from the cookbook, or the old version, or the NYT itself. I decided to make Pimento Cheese, thinking that no one else would bring it. Too regional, and not an impressive culinary feat. I was introduced to this Southern dip/sandwich spread in Virginia, and have had a hankering for it ever since. North of the Mason-Dixon line, it seems the stuff is contraband.

The party was held at Audra Wolfe's house in West Philadelphia, where we were welcomed warmly. Audra and her sister write Doris and Jilly Cook. Victory Brewing Company sponsored the event, very nice. We started at the nametag table, where we tagged not only ourselves, but also the dishes we had brought.

I gazed hungrily at the table, where, packed tidily into a souffle dish, there already lay a nice wodge of Pimento Cheese. Derek Lee, of The Best Food Blog Ever, had figured no one else would make it, because it's Southern. We laughed (bitterly?) and someone took our picture. Since several other people had wandered into the party, friendless and alone, nervously clutching their beers, it was easy to bond with them over the food. "What did you bring?" and "Tell me about your blog" are simple, safe conversation starters, and we quickly loosened up. I met Ray and Melissa of Bathtub Brewery, and took home, with their blessing, a bottle of Bee Sting for Mr. Dream Kitchen. Got talking to Christine Burns Rudalevige, a food journalist who can be found here, Sarah of Sarahdares, "Livia" of no counter space, and met, briefly, the beet-carpaccio-wielding Albert Yee of Messy and Picky. I also met the organizer of the Philadelphia food bloggers' potlucks, Marisa McLellan, of Food in Jars, who's publishing a book soon. I'm going to guess it's about canning. Oh, and the excellent Tenaya Darlington of Madame Fromage.

What else was on the table? A cheese ball, cheese straws, mushrooms stuffed with duxelles, a spinach salad with preserved lemon slices, baked sweet potatoes with chipotle cream, and venison stew. And did I mention pimento cheese? Desserts included cranberry-pistachio biscotti, chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache frosting, brandied peaches with cream, cranberry upside down cake.

Amanda Hesser was there all the while, padding about in her Converse sneakers and looking rail-thin. Really, how does she do that? She demonstrated making Heavenly Hots, tangy light pancakes made with sour cream and cake flour. It was like eating clouds.

Another pimento cheese appeared on the table and I tried not to look at it.

Book signing time! I bought one, from a nice young man named Matthew, who works for Joseph P. Fox booksellers, my favorite bookshop in the city. Amanda had relocated to the living room sofa, and as I gave her the book to sign, I babbled on about the recipe for Country Captain and how my friend Oonie knew her husband Tad when he was a boy, bla bla bla. She smiled and laughed indulgently. And, in black pen, all lower case, she wrote: "lauren--hope this becomes a beloved kitchen companion--enjoy! all best, amanda hesser"

I suspect that this book party will be covered in the "Culture Diary" she is writing for the Paris Review. Will she mention the Pimento Cheese Glut?

I gathered my things, including the leftover pimento cheese (well--yeah!), Bee Sting, a few business cards, and the huge red beloved kitchen companion, said my goodbyes, and drove back home.

Tonight's dinner: Grilled Pimento Cheese Sandwiches.

Dec 1, 2010

Bone China

At Thanksgiving I like to use my grandmother's china with the green and gold design, even though the plates need to be hand-washed. They remind me of her. She would be pleased that I am using them.

We drink water out of my mother's cranberry-glass goblets. How she loved her cranberry glass. We use my Great-Uncle Fred's silver, which was given to him by a neighbor many decades ago. He and his wife Arline never used it because they already had a set. Fred said that he mowed this neighbor's lawn for many years, and that the silverware was a thank-you! This time of year, we also think of my late brother David and his November birthday. Next Thanksgiving, I want to put out a carved wooden box he gave me once.

My sons have birthdays the week of Thanksgiving; Will is nine and Jack is eleven. They never met my mother, Uncle Fred, or my brother David. They attended my grandmother's funeral when Jack was three and Will was one. If Jack remembers her at all, it's as a tiny frail lady with a vague but beautiful smile. I think of her as a strong, opinionated matriarch whose smile you had to earn. Sometimes it was worth it.

For Thanksgiving, we invited friends from the Shenandoah Valley, which is where we lived for eight years and had our children. Kathy and Scott are a conservationist and a photography/ design professor, respectively, both ardent lovers of their adopted landscape. Scott takes pictures of rivers, and Kathy protects the rivers and the land.

They and their children stayed for two days. My father drove down from Montgomery County for the meal. It was a busy place, with four kids running around. Legos everywhere. The fact that our oven was broken didn't ruin the day at all, thanks to generous neighbors. (Thanks, Marcia, Lori, and families!) The oven had died a couple of days earlier, so there was time to beg and plead.

Here is our menu:

--Cocktail: one part Campari, one part pink grapefruit juice, one part cranberry juice cocktail. Adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe.

--White wine with dinner

--Green salad with homemade Roquefort dressing

--Fresh organic turkey, "dry brined" this year. Success!

--Buttermilk mashed potatoes

--Bread stuffing with herbs

--Giblet gravy

--Sauerkraut cooked in a cup and half of gin. Really. I got the idea from Molly Wizenberg. The kids liked it better than brussel sprouts. Don't worry, the alcohol is cooked away, leaving a junipery contrast to the sourness.

--"Eunice's Cranberry Chutney" provided by my friend Kathy

--"Myrna's Pecan Bars," also courtesy of Kathy. Don't you love the names Eunice and Myrna?

--Butternut Squash Spice Pie, instead of the traditional Pumpkin Spice Pie, because we have a huge backlog of squash. It was delicious but the color was drab. No one minded. I whipped some cream to put over top.

After everyone left on Friday, Mr. Dream Kitchen called his parents, Mervin and Marilyn, who have often come for Thankgiving in the past. His mother has had two strokes by now, and it's hard for her to travel. They came when each baby was born; cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, and nurturing all of us so well. We miss their warm presence.

Now the silver and china have been washed and put away. Just now, in the quiet of the empty house, I looked at the bottom of one of the green and gold plates. "Tyndale et Mitchell Co., Philadelphia, Pa.", it reads. Another mark reads "France." I learn that Hector Tyndale, in addition to running the china importing business, was a Union General in the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. Just before the war, he had personally comforted John Brown's widow upon her husband's hanging. As an officer, he led his regiment in none other than the devastating Shenandoah Valley campaign, for which Grant had commanded, "Make all the Valley a desert."

Tyndale died in Philadelphia in 1880, as an indirect result of battle injuries. And six of his green and gold plates are here, in our cupboard. So beautiful, so old, so resilient, so fragile.

Nov 5, 2010

In Praise of the Rose Geranium

Rose geraniums were the most successful plant in the garden this year, and they are still going strong. No pests wanted to eat them and they survived dry spells and rain. They grew huge, but they're woody enough to not trail on the ground. They didn't bloom, but the best thing about them is their delirious scent, both floral and peppery at the same time. Just walking by and catching a whiff is such a calming moment.

My Nana made rose geranium jelly with hers. I haven't done much other than rub a leaf and take a good whiff whenever I've had the notion. Last week, though, I realized that I was running out of time this season, so I took off fifteen leaves, washed and dried them, and layered them with sugar in one of my Nana's blue and white striped ceramic cannisters. The cannister that says "FLOUR" on it, as a matter of fact.

In a few days I will take out the leaves, I supposed by dumping the sugar mixture into a colander over a big bowl and picking them out. Then the oils from the leaves should have flavored the sugar. Geranium sugar is good in cakes or cookies, I have read, but I would only put it in plain buttermilk cakes or sugar cookies, possibly shortbread. Here is a recipe for Victorian Rose Geranium Cake. I wonder if it has too many geraniums in it, though. I suspect it's like lavender; you only want a hint. A simple pound cake made with the geranium sugar, with a light glaze also made with the sugar, might be lovely, an occasion worthy of one's china tea cups. Nan's tea cups. Come to think of it, my Nana was a lot like a rose geranium: strong, long-lived, tenacious in adversity, and very feminine.


So I want to hear how Martha's dinner went last night! If you all still have a lot of green tomatoes, you might want to try this cake recipe I just found. I'd make it today if I weren't going out of town. Here is Green Tomato Cake with Brown Butter Icing.

Nov 4, 2010

Green Tomatoes, Butternut Squash, and Sausage

OMG!!!! Let me collect myself. Here's what happened. We had several green tomatoes from the CSA, and much as I love fried green tomatoes (and I mean pan-fried because I never deep-fry), they are labor-intensive. We also had a backlog of butternut squash. And we had just received a "breakfast box" as a special order from the CSA, which is just different types of ham, sausage, and bacon.

I like to roast a whole bunch of fall veggies together, so I thought, hmmm. Here's what I did. The tartness of the tomatoes balanced the sweetness of the squash, and the sausage just melds perfectly.

Roasted Green Tomatoes, Butternut Squash, and Onions, with Sausage

green tomatoes
butternut squash
fresh sage
olive oil
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
uncooked sausage

Preheat oven to 400. Line one or two cookie sheets with aluminum foil.

Cut some green tomatoes into quarters or eighths, depending on size. Put in a large bowl.

Repress any desire to peel the squash, as the skin is just fine to eat. Cut the squash into flat chunks and add to bowl.

Quarter the onions or cut into eighths. Add to bowl.

Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables, and add a little salt and pepper to taste. You want a light coating of the oil over all.

Spread in one layer on cookie sheet,vegetables touching each other. Leave a good inch on the sides.

Roast for a while. Check after twenty minutes and then every ten to see if they've gotten a bit soft and browned. The onion will char a little, and that's OK, but you might want to take them out then.

While the veggies are roasting, cook the sausage. Squeeze it out of its casing into a preheated skillet and cook until there's no pink.

Chop the fresh sage. My sage out there in the garden seems strong, so I just put in a teaspoon, chopped super fine.

Mix the vegetables and sausage and serve over pasta, quinoa, couscous, something like that. I cooked this ahead of time, since my boys had a bass lesson from 5:00 to 6:00. I texted Mr. Dream Kitchen to cook the pasta and voila, a lovely autumn supper.

P.S. Anyone can comment now--you don't need a blog or a Google account. That's an invitation, dear readers.

Nov 3, 2010

Supper in Brooklyn: Alchemy of New York, Part Two

After the High Line that Saturday (see previous post), we stopped in a wine bar in the West Village called Gottino. We had wandered a long way, and were thirsty. Very thirsty. But Gottino's water glasses were truly the tiniest water glasses we'd ever laid eyes upon. The bartender took mercy on us and gave us carafes. Then we needed a flashlight to see the menu. I hate having to use a flashlight! It puts me into a snit, it does. But when we got our little bowl of artichoke slices,charcuterie, pecorino, and fennel, and the wine of course, we were snit-free.

Waiting for the bill, we admitted to being a bit knackered at that point, so we returned to Brooklyn to rest in the room, and catch the beginning of the Phillies game. (Won't mention the game again. Promise.) One really wonderful thing about walking for miles in a city, is how fabulous it feels to get back to your room, take your shoes off, and lie on the bed for ten minutes.

In Brooklyn, the modern and the vintage live together in a poignant harmony. Years ago, I remember hearing a itinerant knife sharpener making his rounds in the neighborhood I was visiting. And here's a recent picture of one. At the same time, you have your hip coffee places, bike and skateboard shops, minimalist restaurants, and funky dress shops, but tucked modestly into the streetscape, not blaring their newness, just waiting patiently to be discovered. And on this trip, two doors away from our guest house, was a bookbinder, with an ivy-covered sign admonishing "Appointment Only," and no phone number. According to Google Maps, it's called the Park Slope Book Bindery, but it seems to have no web presence. Indeed, why would it have one? But I feel sorry for any hapless writers schlepping by with their thick sheaves of vellum covered with polished prose or poetry, only to read on the sign that they needed to make an appointment.

Rested just enough, we went for dinner at a homey but stylish little pub called Alchemy. The owner of our guest house had recommended it after I mentioned to her that it was in my Zagat's. Alchemy was crowded with people all younger than 40. One otherwise normal-looking young man was wearing a scarlet fedora, which in the dim light and amongst all the black and gray garb, shone like a beacon.I'm not sure what to do with that observation of the red fedora, so I'm just sticking it in here all smooth-like.

Mr. Dream Kitchen ordered a Captain Lawrence Pale Ale on draft, an aromatic beer with notes of citrus, pine, a noticeable bitterness, and a touch of malty backbone to help balance it out. And you know I got that sentence from the Captain Lawrence website, correct? Do real people talk about beer that way?

I had always wanted to try a dirty martini. I'm in the generation between gin martinis and vodka martinis and am siding with the gin. The server, of course, asked what kind of vodka I wanted. Gin tastes like juniper and vodka doesn't taste like anything, and that decides it for me. The "dirty" just refers to a nip of olive juice. It was a sassy savory cocktail that took me all evening to drink. As for water, the server put a decorative glass bottle of plain cool filtered water at our table for our refills. (On this trip we decided not to lug around water bottles, hence all the tedious references to water in restaurants. It's like when you don't have a timepiece and you start to notice all the wall clocks.)

Then we split every course that we ordered:

Roasted mushroom salad with shaved parmesan and fennel. We don't get mushrooms from the CSA and were experiencing a severe mushroom deprivation.

Cassoulet with a tart cherry sauce. This is a classic French dish with duck, sausage and beans. The beans were a little mashed with the sausage, which was unusual but worked very well. The cherry sauce was not too sweet and a good complement for the duck, although it's not normally found in cassoulet. Although it's not as strange as a red fedora. Indoors. On a young man.

Guinness pudding w/ vanilla ice cream and candied hazelnuts. Unbelievably, pinch-myself, why-am-I-sharing-this-anyway good. It was more like a little cake right out of the oven, nothing sticky or glutinous about it. And the candied hazelnuts--brilliant. There was also some kind of butterscotch-y sauce. I don't know. It's hard to be terribly observant when you're in a swoon. After a martini.

Next installment: a vegan breakfast and a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Question for my readers: Can you explain the red fedora?

Oct 27, 2010

Walking The High Line: The Alchemy of New York, Part One

Twenty-four hours in New York without the children

Bathed in golden light, the High Line on a fall afternoon sings of endings and rebirth. It's an abandoned train line that has not operated since 1980, part of which has been turned into a park, and the rest will be redeemed from the weeds some day. To walk a couple stories above street level, on train tracks, amongst mounding grasses and masses of asters, is a revelation. You look around to see Chelsea's understory. A giant yellow billboard looms over the path. A decrepit factory invites you not to look in. The parking lot of a wholesale butcher shop, full of gleaming white trucks, lies below.

You're just above the hustle but way below the sky. The buildings and billboards are startlingly close but inaccessible, like strangers wearing sunglasses on the subway. You gaze at the factory's broken windows without knowing why. You admire the sheer size and brashness of the yellow billboard. As you watch, a bride steps out from behind it. The entire bridal party appears; they are having their picture taken.

Everyone walking the High Line looks beautiful: the giggling toddler trying to run away, the elderly woman in a wheelchair being escorted by her son, the film student with his parents, the young African couple taking iPhone pictures. This is their moment, New York's moment, our moment, in the golden sun.

You take a picture of your husband next to the asters, the Hudson River in the background. The picture is a tiny rectangle of versimilitude, a vain attempt to capture the light on his face, the silver in his hair.

You link hands as the shadows fall. It's time for dinner.

Oct 19, 2010

Homemade Feta: The Verdict

All that work, and it's gone already.

The homemade feta ripened in the fridge for five days in a vintage yellow Pyrex container, and yesterday it was deemed ready. I took four cubes of it to my sons' bass teacher and her chef husband. The rest I crumbled over roast eggplant, peppers, and sweet potatoes, and served over farro penne. I had roasted the veggies earlier and just warmed them in the oven with a little balsamic vinegar. My sons loved the feta and couldn't stay away from it before dinner. Unfortunately, a good number of the vegetables just got moved around on the plates instead of eaten. Mr. Dream Kitchen did a much better job of eating his veggies.

The cheese is very white and firm. It tastes so fresh. It's not brine-logged and half-dissolving like storebought can be. In fact, the instructions said not to brine this. Instead, I sprinkled it with Kosher salt when I first put it in the fridge. The verdict is: an unequivocable thumbs up.

In other news, three issues of Martha Stewart LIVING have inexplicably arrived at our house in the last week, bearing my name. Is someone trying to tell me something, and if so, what?

Oct 18, 2010

Cicchetteria 19: Warm Mixed Olives and a Negroni

You will recall that last year the Dream Kitchen family tried something new on my birthday, going out to eat as a family at an interesting city restaurant with great food instead of getting a sitter. We had a great time at Distrito, sitting in a pink car. Everyone loved it. It didn't hurt that a Phillies game was showing on a huge screen, either.

It's such a satisfying moment, when you realize that the kids are big enough to behave themselves and enjoy real food. No coloring books needed! And a restaurant with small plates is perfect for tasting new dishes. This year I had bought a Groupon for a new restaurant called Cicchetteria 19, on 19th St. just south of Rittenhouse Square, right across from Metropolitan Bakery. No pink car, here. Just a small neighborhood restaurant, exactly the right size. We were led to a bar-height table with stools. We had a good view of--yes--the Phillies game. I love when the Phils are still playing when my birthday rolls around.

Cicchetteria 19 is Venetian, so I ordered an Italian cocktail called a Negroni, which is gin, vermouth, and Campari. I tried Campari in Rome once, which I thought too bitter for human consumption. So much for my dream to be the kind of person who can order a Campari and soda in a breezy, confident way. In this case, the sweetness of the vermouth and juniper of the gin counteracted the bitterness nicely, the aftertaste reminding me a little of liquorice. The first sip went down nice and warm. Mr. Dream Kitchen got a decent mojito, another traditional Italian drink, no doubt. Mojitio? Mojitonio? It wasn't as strong as the Negroni, sorry dear.

We decided to get one appetizer, one pizza, and five small plates.

Appetizer: Calamari, thinly sliced and quickly sauteed, a delicate texture.

Pizza Alice (ALL-EECH-AY): Pizza with French fries on top. Really. Very thin-crusted with meltingly perfect cheese. I've looked it up, and the name doesn't seem to be used anywhere else as far as I can tell.

Five small plates:

Artichoke/tuna pate on toast (will explain the Artichoke-Tuna Incident shortly)
Meatballs made w/ aged beef
Warm mixed olives in olive oil and lemon juice
Carpacchio of the day: Octopus, sliced super thin, with peppery greens
Crocque Monsieur

Also, they brought us two baskets of warm toasted bread brushed with olive oil.

We were all in a happy place, for sure. The boys have a new understanding of what a meatball can be, and I've resolved to make some soon. For some reason I never have. The olives were heavenly. Eating warm mixed olives and drinking a Negroni, with my family, in Philly with a postseason game on the tube, created quite a frisson, the perfect union between local and cosmopolitan, coziness and adventure, old and new.

And like any perfect evening, it wan't perfect. We ordered artichoke pate on toast. "This tastes like tunafish!" each of us said upon the first bite. The server looked highly skeptical and after a very long time, long after we had consumed the tunafish, she offhandedly explained, "It was just a kitchen error." No apology or assurance that the correct dish was forthcoming. After another eternity, the artichoke pate arrived, again without apology. It's not in good form for a server to blame the kitchen. But oh, well. More food for us!

Plates clean, it was time to make a decision. I also had a Groupon for Scoop DeVille, and the boys wanted to go there instead of ordering a Nutella Pizza with Strawberries.


Ice cream has evolved way past Scoop DeVille since I last went there (which was probably in the 1980s), and with Capogiro in the neighborhood, it's criminal to go anywhere else, let alone to a place that serves just okay ice cream blended with a bunch of stuff, in a styrofoam cup. Then again, Capogiro is not offering Groupons.

We got to walk through Rittenhouse Square on the way to and from Cicchetteria. The usual collection of pampered small dogs were walking their well-dressed owners. A young man held a big pet rabbit like a baby, garnering a guaranteed "aw-w-w" from passersby.

And as a special bonus, we got a free ride in on the train. Our conductor was terribly confused by our family pass arrangement, which I now suspect SEPTA has abolished in their recent misconceived fare adjustments. Mr. Dream Kitchen's Trailpass is (was?) supposed to give the rest of our family half off train fare on the weekends. The conductor turned pink trying to do the math, said he'd come back and never did. Disembarking at Suburban Station, we could hear him explaining our situation to another conductor. We just kept walking, therefore getting a free ride. If you ever see our pictures on a WANTED poster put out by the SEPTA Police, just give me a shout-out, okay?

Oct 15, 2010

Whey Bread: An Old Tradition that You Never Knew About

Cheesemaking results in lots of whey. I made ricotta from the Gouda whey, you'll recall. Whey helps to regulate insulin and is a great source of proteins, minerals, vitamins, and lactose. One hates to waste a single thing in this cheesemaking process.

What follows is my digression-laced recipe for Whey Bread. It evolved from my ever-handy foolproof One-a-Day Baguette recipe. It has evolved so far that it bears about as much resemblance to the baguette as we bear a resemblance to Neanderthals, and I mean no insult to either baguettes or Neanderthals.

In this case I used goat's milk whey, which has a fuller flavor than cow's milk whey. I hesitate to use the adjective "goaty," which seems a lot like "stinky" or "yucky." In this case, you can taste the goat's milk flavor, but only if you think about it, and it adds a warm depth to the bread. Baking whey into bread is an old tradition in Spain and no doubt in many other places where they harvest grain and herd cows and goats.

This is a nice sturdy loaf, good for sandwiches. Mr. Picky ate a big slice of it, toasted and buttered, for breakfast.

Lauren's Whey Bread (makes two loaves)

3 cups whey
2 teaspoons yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
4 cups unbleached regular flour
4 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons salt

Lightly oil two loaf pans.

Warm up the whey in a medium bowl in the microwave for about a minute and half. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the top and let it proof for 4 or 5 minutes. Here's where I was flummoxed: the yeast did not foam like it always does. It kind of sank but I soldiered on because The Internet had no answers for me. But I know the yeast is good. It never fails to proof.

While this is proofing, or whatever it's doing, go ahead and put four cups of flour, doesn't matter which type, in your largest bowl. Put the other four cups in a medium bowl and mix it with the salt. This way you are ready to mix everything together and you needed something to do, anyway, in those four or five minutes. Getting everything ready is called mise en place, which, when I do it, makes me feel extremely good, bordering on smug.

Turn on some music now, if you want, because your hands will be busy and floury for a few minutes. I like Radio Paradise.

Okay, pour the whey mixture into the 4 cups of flour in the large bowl. Mix it with a wooden spoon,without overmixing. Add the flour and salt mixture and either mix with your hands (what I always do) or mix with the wooden spoon. You may need to add a little water because you need for it to be a big shaggy ball. I doubt you'll need to add flour.

Put the dough on a lightly floured counter or board and knead it for about 10 minutes. If the phone rings or you don't like the song you're listening to, tough.

Lightly oil yet another large bowl. Roll the dough in the oil and cover with a wet dishtowel. You may have to let the dough rise up to three hours. It may not exactly double, but don't worry about it. Cut it in half with a bench knife or just a big old hefty knife, and place the dough in the loaf pans. Let them rise again, maybe an hour or even two. Until they've risen a bit.

Bake them in a 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes. They should be golden brown. Cool on racks. Freeze one for later.

Oct 13, 2010

On Making Feta

Yesterday was Feta Cheese Day at the Dream Kitchen. Roxane returned, bringing her mesophilic starter and cheese curd knife (really just a long offset spatula), and a special surprise. Tucked inside a canvas tote, swathed in a dishcloth, resting pretty in a salad spinner basket, was our little Blanche. "Blanche" is what we named last week's Gouda. She is now a lovely buttery yellow wheel of actual cheese. She needs to be waxed in a few weeks and then aged a couple of months. Blanche hibernates in Roxane's coldest kitchen cupboard. No doubt she overhears a lot of conversations,and maybe she'll be talking one day herself. Watch what you say, Roxane and family.

The feta was simpler to make than the Gouda, no changes in temperature, just about 86 degrees the whole time, with less messing about with the curds and whey. As with all cheesemaking, we had to maintain the right temperature and wait around in a semi-vigilant state. That's why it's good to make cheese with a friend so you have plenty of time to critique the child-rearing strategies of your acquaintances, or deconstruct the public school system's latest pedagogy du jour. We were more relaxed, this being the second cheese and all, and actually sat down for a few minutes.

After a couple hours of warming, mixing, cutting curds, and waiting some more, we hung the curds in cheesecloth over the sink. Roxane went home, and five hours later I took out the cheese, which was recognizably feta--firm and white with those tiny holes in it. I cut it into one-inch cubes and liberally Kosher-salted it. It will be ready after four to five days of refrigeration. By the way, it's against Dream Kitchen policy to name feta.

P.S. You will note that the human=cheese metaphor kind of stopped when it came to waxing and aging. Thought you'd appreciate that.

Oct 8, 2010

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers

--For they shall be the very first to buy rennet at their local health food store, and hence be followed to the cash register by the manager, who pondereth the reason in his heart.

--For they shall dirty many more pans and bowls than they thought possible.

--For they shall run out into the yard like madwomen, wash bricks, and bring them inside to press the cheese, because the book says so. All the while, the flashing neon "Thou shouldst get a job, girl!" sign doth flash in their minds.

--For after hours of heating, temperature-taking, separating, and draining, they shall see how small, nay, how very dinky, said cheese will actually be.

Lo, the cheesemakers hath removed the bricks, lifted the cheese gently out of the strainer, and gazed upon this small white disc wrapped in muslin. They hath named it "Blanche," of the tribe of Gouda. Anything that taketh so long, and shall not be mature for, yea, many months, must be worth naming.

And--hark, the time of feta was not yet. 'Tis actually now going to be next Wednesday, because one of the cheesemaker's daughters forgot her hockey uniform and needed it right away. But the health food store manager, truly a righteous man of cheese, had kindly brought out the freshest goat milk, so the time of expiration is not yet nigh, glory be.


Are you ready for me to stop talking like this? Me too. Let's just say there is a reason those little cheeses at the farmers markets cost so much. But my friend Roxane and I had a great time catching up with each other, and it's really kind of fun in an I-don't-know-what-I'm-doing kind of way. We did have Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll as our guidebook. She'a apparently the doyenne, the maven, the master of cheesemaking in the U.S. I even made ricotta with the leftover whey and it was delicious on penne mixed with a little garlic, salt, and fresh grated Pecorino.

Lo, on Wednesday, there shall be feta . . . .

Oct 1, 2010

Oatmeal Two Ways

Check out this way to make oatmeal . . . it's even better than the usual way. I got this recipe from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, an eye-opening book that I started reading two days ago. I'm not prepared to comment much about the book as a whole just yet, but try this oatmeal and get back to me, OK? Apparently fermenting grains is an ancient tradition that we should get back to, for nutritional reasons. I changed some of the wording for clarity.

Breakfast Porridge (adapted from Nourishing Traditions, p. 455)

Serves 4 [in my family, serves 2]

1 cup oats, rolled or cracked [not quick oats]
1 cup warm filtered water
2 tablespoons yogurt, kefir, or buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt {I will use half this next time]

next day:

1 cup filtered water
1 tablespoon flax seeds (optional) [I didn't use]

Mix the oats, yogurt, and 1 cup of warm water the night before and leave out on the counter, covered. In the morning, bring another cup of water to a boil with the sea salt. Add the soaked oats and simmer four minutes or so. Let sit off heat for a little. Now listen to what Sally Fallon says. Are you sitting down? "Serve with plenty of butter or cream and a natural sweetener." I love this woman!

Speaking of butter, today four sticks of butter were harmed in the making of my version of Vanishing Cookies, from the Quaker Oatmeal boxtop. These cookies will be sold tomorrow at the Swarthmore Presbyterian Fall Fair, along with my rendering of Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Gingerbread, which I'm obsessed with. I've written about this before.

Here is the original recipe. Again, I always use half the salt. I have also learned that the recipe can handle twice the amount of raisins. Today instead of raisins I added one cup each of toasted walnuts, Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate chips, a cup of their white chocolate chips, and one cup dried cranberries. I'm going to make sure we charge a bundle for these cookies! We tier the pricing based on what we think (or know) the ingredients and level of sophistication to be. It's a quirky process, full of conjecture.

They're all baked and I'm tired. Flour is all over my kitchen and I need to make the icing for the chocolate gingerbread.

Sep 29, 2010

You Can Stop Asking Me if I've Read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food LifeAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had started to read this book a couple of years ago but my attention flagged. This time around, I'm much more interested in the idea of homesteading and so my own piqued interest pushed me through it. You probably know that this is an account of Kingsolver and her family raising as much of their own food as possible and eating locally for one year.

The memoir market has been crammed with first-person accounts of a year doing (fill in the blank), a genre which Ben Yagoda calls "schtick lit." But in the case of gardening or farming, it makes all the sense in the world. Barbara Kingsolver is the perfect person to write this book, with her deep attachment to the natural world, rural upbringing, and years of experience vegetable gardening. A family that's completely on board doesn't hurt either. It is a very inspiring book, although you have to be half-inspired as you start, because the drama in farming is of the subtle sort.

As for the literary quality, it's uneven. Her husband and daughter Camille chime in, which adds to "we're all in this together" feeling, but the juxtapositions are awkward at times. Seasonal recipes are included. Sometimes Kingsolver gets all science-y and Michael Pollanesque. Much of her information on the poultry industry and genetically modified vegetables I already knew, plus the informational tone was a bit tiresome when you knew there were stories around the next bend.

The last chapter includes the actual size of the plot (a little over 3500 square feet) and the financial information. (According to her they saved a lot of money.) I wish this was presented earlier to give the readers a clear sense from the beginning of the scope of their project. Even a map of the garden would have been helpful.

But these are quibbles. It's really an immersion in an old/new way of thinking about food and our world. Maybe in three hundred years, if global warming hasn't starved us all, we will look back at the 20th and early 21st centuries as a Dark Age when corporatism reigned, parting us from our food sources, our health, our spiritual connection to the earth, and the wisdom of our traditions. I hope we will see it that way, because if we don't, then it means corporatism will have won.

The awkwardness of this mixed-genre book is also its gift. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the Psalms, Jeremiah, the Gospels, the Farmer's Almanac, and Joy of Cooking all in one, and maybe that's the best way to preach it, sister.

Please note that although the book does not have an index, the website includes one, as well as all the recipes from the book and inspiring pictures and stories from gardeners and homesteaders around the world:

View all my reviews

Sep 28, 2010

Flavor--Depth--Heat--Blast Off! A Hot Sauce Adventure

My brother Dan can make anything--soap, curtains, dog food, a basement. And culinary delights, too. My favorite Thanksgiving is when he brings a fully cooked and stuffed Heritage turkey. In a past life he was a bartender, and in another, a tofu maker. He also makes music. He played keyboard for the Original Sins and he still does a lot of musical stuff.

Dan's lovely wife Elaine brought me a bottle of his hot sauce last week and we tried it on Saturday night. Everyone in the Dream Kitchen family likes hot sauce, and we put Brother Dan's on some quesadillas I made using Amish pepper jack cheese, CSA tomatoes, and yellow peppers.

Right away you could taste that deep habanero pepper flavor and a vinegar tartness. A few bites later---"GET ME SOME BREAD!!! RIGHT NOW!!!!" from one of my sons. (He has this kind of taste adventure every week with hot sauce. Either there's no learning curve, or he likes drama. I'm going to go with the latter explanation.) So we learned to take it easy, but it's a great hot sauce with depth and flavor in addition to the heat.

Brother Dan is not a recipe kind of guy. So when I asked him how made the sauce, I knew I wouldn't get a precise list of ingredients and procedures. Here's how to make it, in the words of Brother Dan:

It's all home-grown peppers. I just threw in what was ripe - about six habanero peppers. Just cut them in half - carefully! You want to avoid touching anything but the skin. Some people choose to use gloves when working with the habaneros, but I just avoid touching the innards. It's the insides, the seeds and the whitish pulpy stuff, that's the hottest.

Threw them in with some Bragg's apple cider vinegar (which is REALLY good), a few bulbs of raw peeled garlic, a fair amount of salt (the stuff can be salty, since it's a condiment), and some carrots, and enough water to cover it all. The carrots give it some body and sweetness, and the vinegar adds flavor and helps preserve the sauce (as does the salt).

I cooked it in a pressure cooker for a while - at the very least, you want it simmering in a covered saucepan. The steam can be very irritating to the lungs and eyes. And, after it's all cooked, I use a hand-held blender to puree it well.There you go!! It's good stuff - easy to make, too.

We at The Dream Kitchen will have to peek into Brother Dan's larder more often, where there is always somethin' good.

Sep 5, 2010

Book Review: Urban Homestead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book opened my eyes to the possibilities inherent in my yard and my kitchen, the vegetables, fruits and nuts I could grow, the chickens I could have, the cheese I could make, you name it. It's all written in a non-self-righteous and quite good-humored way. There is much knowledge here, and it's inspiring and realistic at the same time. Erik and Kelly live in Los Angeles and farm a small yard, even the median strip. Like another reviewer said, after reading this book I look at all the lawns everywhere and I can only think of what could be growing there!

I always thought that self-sufficiency was for right-wing survivalists. But now I see this whole new bent, a sustainable and interdependent way of life that creates a different kind of economy. It's an economy where you make and grow things yourself, and shrink the role of money in your life. Hence you shrink its power over you and derive great pleasure from the making of things, not the buying of things. This resonates deeply with me. This isn't a how-to manual for every single thing you could do to create a homestead. It does list resources for where to turn with more specifics.

They're publishing another book called Radical Home Economics in the spring.

Aug 17, 2010

Hannah Likes Eggplant; Or Playing with Calzone

Do you know the difference between calzone and stromboli? I don't either, except calzone is more likely to contain ricotta, and tends to be half-moon shaped instead of oblong.

Whatever it is, it's good. On Saturday I was looking for something celebratory to make for dinner. We had not had our Friday pizza so I made a batch of dough and thought I could feed more people with the same amount of dough if I made calzone.I looked at a calzone recipe in Biba Caggiano's Trattoria Cooking to get some ideas, and fancied an eggplant and radiccio recipe. Our local co-op had no radiccio so instead I got spring onions, and substituted ricotta for mozzarella (Are you sick of mozzarella or is it just me?) The filling was eggplant, green onion, quartered Calamata olives, capers, and garlic, along with some parmesan. I had made pizza dough a couple hours ahead of time and cut it with my bench knife into five pieces, one for each person. Our summer houseguest Hannah helped me spread some ricotta onto each circle and then heap the eggplant mixture on top,then sealing each calzone carefully closed.

They all fit on the pizza stone just dandy. We baked them at 450 for 20 minutes and they turned out golden. And no leakage! High praise. The ricotta and eggplant complemented each other and the calzones were light and not greasy like they can be. And no sodden wodge of mozzarella!

Because this was Hannah's last official dinner at our house (I explained Hannah earlier but I'll do so again), John made another of his mindblowing ice creams from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop. This time he made plum ice cream, because we had plums from the CSA. It turned out satisfyingly plummy in taste and color, light and creamy. Last month John made Lebovitz's fresh mint ice cream and it made us want to see all other "mint" ice creams as impostors.

So. Hannah. She lived with our family for the summer while she served as our church's youth intern. This job seemed to involve lack of sleep and pizza, also four road trips with middle schoolers and high schoolers. They did service projects in Atlanta and Appalachia and went on retreats and other mysterious outings. Through it all, Hannah bonded really well with the youth and also with our family.That is, when she wasn't on a road trip. I'm not sure she enjoyed the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episode she was forced to watch, but we loved hanging out with her. She introduced us to her native North Carolina's cherry soda Cheerwine, and Atlanta's Sweetwater beer. We introduced her to Washington Square, Elfreth's Alley, Franklin Fountain, beets, dandelion greens, and radishes.

And in June she was my kitchen assistant when another food blogger, Amy Leis of Amiable Life, had dinner with us and interviewed me about my family recipes. (It will be published next week and I'll include the link.) I miss you already, Hannah. You are the only household member who ever wanted to go to Target with me.

Jun 3, 2010

In Which We Open Our Home to A Food Blogger We've Never Met

What's the term for the internet equivalent of theater's "fourth wall"? Amy Leis from the blog Amiable Life will crash through that wall tomorrow to interview me and have dinner at the Dream Kitchen with us tomorrow. Amy found me by way of First Person Arts. Hooray, First Person Arts. I could rave on and on about FPA for a while, but let's focus here.

I will make a chicken dish I remember from childhood called "Country Captain," which came from Cecily Brownstone of the Times. Originally the dish is said to have come from a Sepoy officer in India, and then some British officer (hence "Captain") adapted it. Then it sailed across the world to Savannah, Georgia--some say. Then it became very popular, especially in the South. My mother and grandparents lived at Ft. Benning and Ft. Gordon during World War II; maybe that's where they originally ate it. Nana had several copies of this recipe, some handwritten, and dating before Cecily Brownstone's. I think. But I don't really know.

A full blown blog entry about Country Captain will come along later, and various speculations about its colonial history, but in the meantime, cleaning and shopping must proceed. Hannah (see previous entry) will be my prep assistant and all-around helper. We need to have everything prepped before Amy comes at 6:00 because there's no way I can answer questions and measure things at the same time. I'm also going to make one of my Nana's many rhubarb desserts--A crumble? A pie? A crisp? and a salad with CSA lettuce and dandelion greens. So fair readers, you will hear more about this here, and even more in a couple weeks on Amiable Life. Stay amiably tuned.

Jun 1, 2010

Homework. Baseball. Dinner. Pick Any Two.

Memorial Day weekend was very cooperative this year. It brought summer sun and warm temperatures. Even the water at the local swim club was warm enough not to turn lips blue. Nice! But weird. In fact, it was so summery that it was hard to remember that school schedules and homework drama still lay ahead.

You don't know what homework drama is? It involves secret procrastination and then wailing demands for perfect silence and cooperation from everyone else in the fifteen minutes before it's time to leave for school. Oh, and baseball playoffs start today, which will only exacerbate the homework situation. Let's check the math. If baseball is from 5:15-8:00, including practice and driving to two separate ballfields, and kids get home from school at 3:55, then that leaves one hour and twenty minutes for homework, "dinner" (frozen veggie burgers), and changing into elaborate baseball uniforms and accessories. Slider pants, athletic cup, baseball socks, baseball pants with their special belt that takes much effort to slide through the loops, and the shirt that we hope can be located. Then there's the cap in the cap bin and the bla bla bla in the I-don't-know-I-thought-you-had-it-last mystery location. Which leaves zero time for computer use, daydreaming, or drawing funny cartoons.

Baseball, summer, and even homework are all good. It's just that the conflict between all three may not bring out the best in us.

Speaking of crunches, were not lazing at the pool all weekend. We here in the Dream Kitchen family were getting ready to host Hannah, our church's youth intern, for most of the summer. This involved frantically clearing out the "guest room" and turning it into an actual guest room. And, gimme five, we succeeded! She arrived yesterday, in her light blue VW bug with a big peace sign on the back. It's one of those newer neo-bugs, and a it's a magnetic peace sign, not a bumper sticker, so wipe that Woodstock-y image from your mind. Hannah is very cool and we like her! Plus, yesterday she let Will look at videos on her iPad. Her! iPad! Hannah also brought chocolate chip cookies, but we agreed that the two things should not be handled at the same time, especially in this heat.

The Chocolate Chip Cookie iPad Goddess will probably be around later this afternoon, no doubt trying to take a nap, meditate, or write in her journal. Think she'll mind me yelling threats and ultimatums for an hour and twenty minutes? Perhaps this summer will put her off the idea of having children any time soon. Probably a good idea anyway, since she's only 22. Glad to be of service.

Apr 15, 2010

Bridget Foy's + First Person Arts = Home Away from Home

I'm still thinking about Sunday night at Bridget Foy's, the food writers I met, the homey dinner we had, the stories.

In the beginning of April, I had submitted a super short 250-word essay along with a recipe to First Person Arts for a competition. When I was in Denver at the AWP convention (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) I got email saying I was invited to read it at Sunday night's Edible World dinner. The timing was such that I ended up taking a cab directly from the airport to the dinner. Having deprived myself of overpriced soggy airplane sandwiches, I was ready to eat and relax.

I had the pleasure of getting my reading over with first, which makes sense since it was about cocktails and appetizers. Juliet Whelan followed with a childhood story about whipping cream with an egg beater for the first time. When Juliet isn't regaling people with stories about whipping, she is an architect of spare modern spaces. I myself live in cluttered old cramped spaces, but admire that clean aesthetic nevertheless. Anyway, the three of us perched on barstools at a head table like bridesmaids who had lost their groomsmen. Instead of identical dresses, we wore (almost) identical eyeglasses.

Dinner, based on recipes from Suzan Colon's Cherries in Winter, was luscious. We started with split pea soup, then moved on to meat loaf (with bacon, do you even have to ask?), mashed potatoes, asparagus, and finally apple cake. Why haven't I been here before? Bridget Foy's has been at Second and South Streets for thirty years, even longer than Hats in the Belfry across the street, which is saying something, but what? I've never bought a hat there, either. The real Bridget Foy herself, who was only a tot when her parents named the place named after her, came in to say hello. It had never occurred to me that Bridget Foy is a real person, although why wouldn't she be? Why assume fictionality? She is now a mother, so I wonder if she's fixing to open another restaurant soon for her baby, to continue the tradition.

Round about apple cake time, Suzan Colon gave a reading from Cherries in Winter. When she was laid off from her job as editor at O, she had to save money by cooking in her Nana's frugal style instead of shopping at "Whole Paycheck Foods." From what Suzan read that evening, it sounds like a good-humored little memoir that affirms the nurturing instinct. I like when she includes a real recipe from her Nana and then her own semi-botched but-basically-OK version. Apparently her friends scoffed at her newfound domesticity. Making muffins for the husband? I can see the gimlet-eyed stares now. I've noticed that women seem to make these comments more often than they used to. Some kind of anti-foodie feminist backlash? But I digress. Cherries in Winter. It might be a nice Mother's Day gift. At the very least it may inspire you to test your own grandmother's or mother's recipes.

The other diners were a very receptive mixed-age crowd, not without their own stories. What was that about making pork sausage matzo balls? And one lady volunteered to read--cold-- the essay of a missing presenter from Houston (yes, Houston). One thing I love about First Person Arts is that it attracts people from their early twenties on up, especially at the Story Slams because they don't cost much. It is easy to talk in front of this diverse and always warm audience. Whether you are a hipster, oldster, or in-betweenster, or someone who eschews the suffix "ster" altogether, you should give their Story Slam, Salon, or Edible World a try some day. Of course, you need not speak a word. Oh--pictures here, courtesy of Erika Vonie.

The Tiny World of Cocktails

As a little girl, I loved cocktail paraphernalia; especially the vessels shaped precisely for the drink: lowball, highball, martini, old-fashioned, sour, and the rarely used liqueur glasses, each one tinted a different color. I used to read our tallest tumbler, where, on the side, in red letters like Jesus' words in my New Testament, were directions for making a "Tom Collins." For the parties that my parents gave or attended, we children were scrubbed clean and made presentable, me in my pink smocked dress and Mary Janes, and David and Dan in their gray flannel shorts, white shirts, and clip-on ties.

In compensation for such torture we got to use the Lilliputian props of the cocktail ritual: jaunty little napkins and swizzle sticks with teeny tiny umbrellas. We used the swizzle sticks as weapons, to spear the great juicy prey floating in our Shirley Temples, the maraschino cherries. Swizzle sticks were also deployed to vanquish Olives in Blankets, and Small Objects Wrapped in Bacon.

Decades later, I began to realize how much work those cocktail parties must have been--all those little things to assemble and serve hot, all those drinks to refresh, egos to soothe, and names to remember. And glasses upon glasses to wash afterwards, and you hadn't even had dinner yet. Here is a simple recipe from my grandmother that must have been a godsend--she wrote “Delicious” beneath the title. I have turned it into a found poem. The text is from my grandmother but the line breaks are mine. (Loyal blog readers, you've seen this recipe before.)

Cheese Bites, Broiled

Cut tiny rounds of

Pepperidge Farm bread. Place

paper-thin small white onions on top of

each round.

Mix equal parts of

mayonnaise and grated Parmesan,

spread on top, and

broil until brown.

Mar 26, 2010

Clam Tavern: Retro in Delco

Last Saturday, my older son Jack was at a sleepover, and the rest of us went out to dinner. My friend Lori said she was going retro, to Towne House in Media. which gave me the idea. We couldn't blatantly copy her and show up at Towne House as well. I remembered that Jackie in my book group had mentioned Clam Tavern, so we popped over there, to Clifton Heights. It's actually more than 20 minutes away, where Baltimore Pike narrows to one lane in each direction.

Clam Tavern is a little brick building on a corner, a modest little place. Clean as a whistle and filled with cops and firefighters and guys who want to be cops and firefighters, and guys who were cops or firefighters in the past, and the big-haired gals of cops and firefighters. They had Hop Devil in bottles, so Mr. Dream Kitchen was happy, but not as happy as if the taps had been working. That's right, the taps were not working.

Apparently, you have to make reservations here on a Saturday night to get a decent table. We didn't have them, so we settled for a bar table right by the door, where we got to see plenty of action. Someone was having a birthday party, and all the revelers were collecting at the bar, filling up the place with well-scrubbed white people.

So we studied the menu, which included Clams Casino. Is that retro, or what? So John and I split an order of that, and then split an entree of fried oysters. I have always loved fried oysters ever since I ate them at Walt's King of Crabs at 2nd and Catherine, in Philadelphia. That was back before Queen Village had parking meters in Queen Village, in the age when Acme Piano Company was just that and not a condo named after it. Walt's King of Crabs served fried oysters, and buckets of mussels. They served pitchers of beer, creamy cole slaw, and decent fries with the seafood. When you were done putting all that away, you were expected to get the hell out of there and allow room for more hungry hordes.

The Clams Casino were very spicy, rich little concoctions of clams, bacon, and chopped jalapenos, mixed with breading and baked in clamshells. The oysters were fresh and perfect. (Am I using enough adjectives for you?) Will had chicken fingers (sigh) and fries, but he liked our fries (that we were splitting; remember how I technically "don't eat fries"?) better because they had Old Bay Seasoning.

So afterward I talked to my friend Lori, who was pleased with Towne House--where, interestingly enough, she had clams casino as well! Strange. Well, no, not so strange, maybe. Lori reminded me that it was she who told me about Clam Tavern in the first place, last year, from a secretary at her work. Jackie had merely cemented the impression in my unreliable brain. So it's not coincidence, exactly, more like a sphere of influence imploding.

Next time at Clam Tavern: A martini (with gin and an olive) instead of beer, and crabcakes. And also? Reservations.

Mar 24, 2010

A Found Poem from Nana's Files

This is exactly how my Nana's recipe reads; I only added line breaks. It must be read in that pretentious poet voice; you know the one I mean. A hint of resentment and aggression in the consonants, especially when pronoucing "broiled," would help.

Cheese Bits, Broiled

Cut tiny rounds of

Pepperidge Farm bread. Place

paper-thin small white onions on top of

each round.

Mix equal parts of

mayonnaise and grated Parmesan,

spread on top, and

broil until brown.

Mar 19, 2010

Mortar & Pestle: A Quick Sketch

Oh, no.

My town paper, The Swarthmorean, has listed several local blogs today, so I had to hurriedly post something fresh!! So----hi. Don't mind me, as I straighten my hair and shove the cat off the table. We're ready. Really. I post whenever I've a mind to, and I never apologize or explain.

I'm about to use my mortar and pestle. Unlike a bread machine or a food processor and their obscure parts that break, a mortar and pestle is reliable. Also, it's beautiful, with its cool stony curves. I truly do love looking at it. I am going to crush garlic and fresh ground pepper into a couple tablespoons of olive oil, and schmear (I love Yiddish) it over my pizza dough. It's a ritual I made up. I figure it makes the oil more garlicky and peppery . . . right?

Without this weekly use of the mortar and pestle I would be a lost, depressed, soul in the kitchen, a culinary Eeyore, complaining darkly about the hairline cracks in the food processor and the wrong parts that we got for the bread machine. Don't get me started about that piece of the oven that falls off about four times a year.

My boys are out back playing catch. The windows are open and I can hear the thwack of the baseball hitting the glove. They'll be hungry. So I'll be going.

But tell me: what simple kitchen tools please you?

Jan 31, 2010

A Snowy Pilgrimage to Pub & Kitchen

Yesterday afternoon the Dream Kitchen family drove in to First Presbyterian Church at 21st and Walnut to a Musicopia Concert. It's a youth orchestra. The concert was beautiful and the acoustics of the big old stone church were resonant. Afterwards, we walked just a few frigid minutes, through a lightly falling snow, to Pub & Kitchen at 1946 Lombard, to meet friends. It was about 17 degrees, and there was not a small amount of complaining performed by both boys, but we made it. Our friends were running late, but the host let us sit down with just the four of us. There is an up side to eating dinner at 5:00: an almost completely empty restaurant. And thank goodness for that silly hockey game on my iPhone.

The other family came, and we all decided on what we would eat. These days I'm always thrilled when there's no kids' menu and they have to spend more time figuring out what to take a chance on. They split a luscious cheeseburger with great-looking fries. (I don't eat French fries so I can only comment on their appearance.) I ordered a creamy artichoke-leek soup, steamed mussels with tomato and chorizo, and an IPA. John got meat loaf and mashed potatoes. It was all just heavenly. A beloved neighborhood pub called Chaucer's used to be at the site. It had famously wonderful cheeseburgers and a reliably folksy, comfy atmosphere. The other couple and I had lived in Center City Phila. in a previous life (not together), and we recalled Chaucer's fondly. Pub & Kitchen is trendy, with a much more sophisticated menu. Which is totally OK, really. The server was great. Everything was copacetic. A child--who shall remain unnamed--fell down the stairs to the loo but was fine. Not even embarrassed. It was that good a place. I don't know why there's a pig with rabbit ears on the building and the website. Some kind of joke,I don't know.

Anyway, we all proceeded to walk to our friends' condo.


Now we know where we shall live when our kids have graduated from high school. A condo in the Fitler Square neighborhood. With 12-foot ceilings. With its own parking lot. With a ton of architectural integrity. Near so many cozy little restaurants. General fabulousness all around. It will take us nine years to get rid of enough stuff to fit into it. I've already started, though; yesterday I gave away some baby blankets.

Pub & Kitchen, we'll be back. Save us our regular table.

Jan 26, 2010

The Loaf and The Fish

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move ... And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.” --Woody Allen's character, Alvy Singer, in Annie Hall, 1977.

Ha ha. Has Alvy's comment been quoted knowingly to you as many times as it has to me? Maybe I should worry. Actually no one has ever quoted the last sentence to me, just the first part. It was back when my friends and I were mostly single and someone was trying to break up with someone else for no specific reason other than boredom. I have spent many hours of my life, if you add up all the idle moments, wondering just what moving forward means. For Woody Allen perhaps it meant expanding the stepdaughter relationship in creepy ways. Maybe for him the shark metaphor is apt. As for me, I prefer a metaphor that doesn't involve flesh-eating predators.

So here's the new metaphor: sourdough. "A relationship, I think, is like sourdough starter, you know? It has to be fed constantly. And I think what we've got on our hands is a smelly blob of rotten flour and water."

OK, work with me here. My friend Julie--of Fertile Plots but also fellow basketball-soccer-baseball mom of two boys in my little town --gave me some sourdough starter last month and I'm amazed at this miraculous stinky-delicious, messy-wonderful, sour-forgiving viscous goo. Something primordially human lives in this stuff. My neighbor gave me some starter a couple of years ago but between my sister in law and me both making separate mistakes in proportions, the sourness diminished and then I put it in the back of the fridge and it died from neglect. But so far Julie's sourdough starter is still vital, because I have been faithfully feeding it. It didn't hurt that Julie gave me her simple recipe that she perfected after much trial and error. The recipe follows shortly. I rarely ever have to refrigerate it, because I make the bread almost every day. I keep it in my grandmother's blue and white striped Cornishware canister, already helpfully labeled FLOUR. If there is a backlog I just give a loaf away and whoever receives it is very surprised and grateful.

When I make bread, it is always Julie's and my bread. And if you live nearby I can give you some starter, and then it will be your bread, my bread, and Julie's bread. Sourdough. It lives, but only if it's fed. It multiplies. It takes time. I've often thought that love is like that, not a zero sum game, but bountiful and endless. We just need the starter, the patience to let it grow while we attend to other things, daily commitment, and a little generosity. And if we have some bread left over, we can cast it upon the waters. Do sharks eat bread?

Julie's Sourdough Bread (The "I" in the recipe is Julie.)

1 1/2 c starter*
1 c whole wheat flour
1 2/3 c white bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. to 2/3 c. water

Put all ingredients in bread machine on the dough cycle. When the cycle is finished, shape the dough into a rough ball and place in bread rising basket. Allow to rise until about double in size (anywhere from an hour to five hours, depending on the weather). Preheat oven to 420 degrees, placing a pan of water in the bottom of the oven to create a steamy environment. Invert basket over a baking stone; slash top two or three times diagonally with a razor blade. Bake for 33-35 minutes on baking stone.

After removing the starter to make bread, feed the starter with 2/3 c. bread flour and 1/2 c. water. (I sometimes need to adjust the water – if the starter seems really soupy, use a little less water.) Cover and let sit on the counter for a day or so. Then feed again and put in refrigerator until ready to use again. I’ve read that you should allow your starter to come to room temperature before using it, and also that you should use room-temperature water that has been sitting for an hour or more to let various things evaporate out of it. I try to do both these things, but if I’m in a hurry, I’ve skipped these steps and the bread and starter have been fine.

*Julie bought her starter from King Arthur Flour. There are recipes for starter out there. Or I will be glad to give you some if you live near me.

Jan 21, 2010

Cracking the Black Walnut

We like nuts. So my inlaws sent us some at Christmas--five bags. One bag contains black walnuts, a real treat. They have a deep winey, earthy flavor--"truffly" as a friend says--stronger than English walnuts. They tend to cost more, but maybe that's because harvesting them is difficult. A neighbor boy where we used to live in Virginia would collect all the neighbors' black walnuts, shell them himself using equipment loaned by a farmer, and sell them back to us for $5.00 a bag.

There is no such enterprising youth up here, so the nuts falling on our heads and littering the autumn lawn in the years since we moved up to Pennsylania tend to be a nuisance more than a blessing, big hard green balls raining down. We have a pile in the back corner of the yard that grows bigger every year. Ignoring the nuts seems sad and wasteful. We did see a black walnut crusher at an Amish store in Indiana, but buying one would be a grander back-to-the-land gesture than we want to make.

So. What to do with these beautiful nuts? John's birthday was coming up, so I decided to make Walnut Spice Cake with Lemon Glaze. I toasted the nuts before adding them to the batter. It's a lovely use for black walnuts; their strength is tempered by the spices and lemon. We still have a lot left. Any other ideas?