Baking, Blogging, and Blue Sky

I just finished two batches of cookies. Unfortunately my batch of all-purpose flour (one of two  canisters I had lying around) for the chocolate chip cookies was bad. So they went in the trash. The ginger cookies were absolutely phenominal though. (I left the cloves out.) I thought about bringing them into work to share, but I might not let them out of my sight. Gourmet magazine just posted their favorite cookies from the December issue of Gourmet from 1941 to the present and I found a group of bloggers who are making 12 of the cookies from that list in 12 days (and blogging about them with pictures and reviews). The instigator of this event is apparently Andrea. I had regularly been reading the blog of one of the contributors (Sass and Veracity) and came across this baking bonanza. After looking through all of the first four days cookies and reviews I was overcome with a longing for soft, chewy ginger cookies…which I then made.

I have a long list of things to blog about, but find that everytime I sit down to post it takes me over an hour. And to be honest, I’d rather be making bagels. So instead I don’t blog. But I am keeping a list of things to blog.  Right now the list is Yogurt, Smores Souffle, Switzerland, and Bagels. In particular Montreal bagels because they are the best. (Please don’t send hate mail!) So those are coming. But it might be Christmas before they get posted. Also my digital camera has appeared to die, so I can’t photograph my culinary attempts which makes them more boring. I will take it to Liz at Christmas, however, and she will touch it and then it will work. (This really did work on a former digital camera of mine. She apparently has a touch for electronics.)
But onto why I really posted today. I read a liberal blog (perhaps mentioned here before) called Progressive Alaska. Philip Munger, the blogger, is an Alaskan activist and musician, so while most of his posts relate to Alaskan politics, he also posts tributes when famous musicians die (recently Odetta and Miriam Makeba). Today he simply posted a picture. I’m not going to lnk to the image, but to the blog post, so click through for the picture. It’s right next to where my dad used to work and where we used to go on a mid-December Saturday afternoon to get a Christmas tree…but that’s a story for another time. Lots of good memories.
Stay warm! While some people (Gina!) may be living down South, others of us are deeply immersed in winter and already layering to protect ourselves from the -5 windchills.

Comfort Foods

In a world of burgers and fries, there are a number of ways to be enlightened and uplifted by food. There’s fancy restaurants costing hundreds of dollars and requiring reservations months in advance. Sometimes simple is better though and I’ve been thinking the last few days about some of those foods. (This is probably due to the fact that very soon I will be leaving the wonder that is free gourmet food, cooked for me three times a day and be returning to the real world. In the real world, I don’t make 4 types of salad, two types of pizza, a meat, sauteed mushrooms, and two desserts. Perhaps I would if I was a professional chef, but that’s not very likely.)

So what do I want to eat when I’m feeling down/lonely/cold/tired/like-winter-will-never-end/hot/like-summer-will-never-end? Well, it depends a lot on the season. Here’s a snapshot.

Winter: My ultimate comfort dinner would be a plain fresh (warm) loaf of bread with a bowl of soup. The type of soup isn’t very important although broccoli cheddar or squash with pancetta and thyme would be fantastic but I’ve been thinking this week about broth based soups like a minestrone. These soups must be homemade. If it comes out of a can it doesn’t count, although I admit that I don’t make my own broth. I realized while thinking about the fact that this is one of my ultimate meals that I very very rarely make soup. In the past three years I can think of only two soups that I’ve made: the aforementioned squash and a Brazilian black bean stew. Soup isn’t generally something I think of as an option for 1 person, but 2 might be more reasonable.

Winter desserts: These range from the simple (boxed brownies) to the complex (cheesecake). There are two things I associate with winter dessert comfort things primarily though. The first is rhubarb. I’ve learned that in California rhubarb is a foreign plant. The grocery clerks have no idea what it is. In the mid-West people beg you to take some of theirs (the fruit equivalent to zucchini). The easiest preparation is just simmering the rhubarb with some sugar and serving the resulting sauce over vanilla yogurt or ice cream. The other winter dessert that comes to mind is rice pudding. This (if made properly) requires patience, for you start with uncooked rice and slowly cook it in the oven, constantly stirring. (Now I really want rice pudding.)

Summer: Comfort foods for summer are simple, in part because there’s no energy left to exert for cooking and people generally want to stay out of the kitchen. So food is simple. Two cobs of corn with butter and salt. That is my ideal meal. Add in a BLT and I’m completely sold. The tomatoes should be perfectly ripe and dripping down your hands, the cheap white bread, though toasted, melting as it succumbs to the juice of the tomato.

Summer desserts: Again, simplicity is everything. Strawberries that have been sitting out at the farmers market for 2 hours so that they’re warm and juicy. Raspberries with the perfect touch of sweetness. Peaches and nectarines, like tomatoes, dripping all over you and leaving strings in your teeth. Cherries that you eat and then spit the pits around the yard. Watermelon that brings refreshing cool on the hottest of summer days.

The interesting contrast between my summer and winter menus is that I spent my whole life eating the winter menus. We’ve always had the ingredients for soup and bread and rice pudding available. (Rhubarb we don’t grow in Kentucky and it seems silly to buy.) But the summer menus are things I used to dream about. Growing up in Alaska we didn’t have sweet corn or tomatoes, cherries, peaches or nectarines. It was always a treat coming down to Ontario and getting sweet corn, even if I did have to have it cut off the cob because of my braces.

This summer I’ve taken advantage of the wonderful farmer’s market that’s a short bike ride from my house (I’ll blog about it soon) and I’ve had meals of corn, watermelon, and berries. It’s been wonderful. Now, with fall in Minnesota coming, I’ll have to break out my cookbooks and reaquaint myself with the world of soups. It’s a long winter, but the idea of eating warm buttered bread and hot soup while watching the snow fall makes it seem a lot more like home and a lot less like neverending torment 🙂

Inside my head

Here are the things I’m thinking about/looking at today:

  • Being a food snob is one thing. Being an ice snob is something else entirely…
  • Peter Sagal had a piece on NPR today about email addiction. I understand completely where he’s coming from! Although I think my fantasy email is less Justice League of America and more that someone wants to offer me a immense fellowship to travel the world or wants to put me on NPR.
  • Ben’s flying in tomorrow and so we’re going to spend some time in San Francisco. Just in time, this piece on “farmer’s market fast food” appeared on Mark Bittman’s NYTimes blog, Bitten. I think that we’ll be making a stop at the Ferry Building market as well as a dim sum place. In addition, Bittman posted a recipe for Pasta with Corn, Zucchini, and Tomatoes. Personally, I like my corn best fresh, briefly boiled and eaten with either salt and butter or lime and chili. But if there’s an overabundance I’m ok with eating it other ways as well.
  • The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has posted its winners. If you enjoy bad writing you will love this. (The people are purposely writing poorly, it’s not an accidental occurrence.) Here are my favorites: Bill swore the affair had ended, but Louise knew he was lying, after discovering Tupperware containers under the seat of his car, which were not the off-brand containers that she bought to save money, but authentic, burpable, lidded Tupperware; and she knew he would see that woman again, because unlike the flimsy, fake containers that should always be recycled responsibly, real Tupperware must be returned to its rightful owner. – Jeanne Villa (Novato, CA)
    Dorothy had reasons to be nervous: a young girl alone in a strange land, traveling with three weird, insecure males badly in need of psychiatric help; she tucked her feet under her skirt to keep the night’s chill (and lewd stares) away and made sure one more time that the gun was secured in her yet-to-develop bosom. – Domingo Pestano (Alto Prado, Caracas, Venezuela)
  • I get the headlines from The Independent (from the UK) every night. They often have highly amusing headlines that I send on to Simon. Today’s was “Cocaine use trebles in a decade.” I had never heard the word treble used as verb. Apparently it means triples. I had to look it up in the OED because Google’s define feature didn’t define it in it’s verb sense and you can’t tell exactly what they mean by the first paragraph
  • I generally miss out on tv shows. When I was little I didn’t watch tv much at all, and most of it was PBS. So since I’ve been enjoying NPH in How I Met Your Mother and Dr. Horrible I figured I should go back and watch Doogie Howser, M.D. Hulu had the first two seasons online and so I watched them. When I get into a show I watch all the episodes fairly quickly, so it was good when I finished seasons 1 & 2 and moved on with my life. Now, however, they have posted seasons 3 & 4…
  • Speaking of TV: I’ve been thinking a lot about the 2004 Olympics. This is primarily because I’m not watching the 2008 Olympics. It’s not that I’m protesting China, not at all, it’s a convenience thing. I don’t have a tv here and I have a 40+ hour a week job. In 2004, I had just finished my job in Letcher County and I was sitting at home in front of the TV working on my scrapbook while watching the Olympics. I even remember watching the opening ceremonies with a group of college friends that I didn’t usually hang out with. It’s strange to think how much my life has changed since then.

That’s it for today folks. I’ll probably not post this weekend, but should be back to normal next week. I’ve got 11 more days of my internship and then it’s back to grad school.

Update: I added a bonus picture for those of you who made it this whole way! Here’s a picture from back in 2004 during my terms in York. This was taken from my dorm room window during exam week in April.

Crepes and Fire

A few weeks ago I went to a cooking class with the subject “Sweet and Savory crepes.” Some of you may know or guess that I like crepes. Especially ones like this:

Photo by swperman on flickr

Some of you might even know that I have made crepes before. But I’m sure none of you will be surprised to learn that I jumped at a chance to take a crepe class, for free (with LOTS of samples.)

We started out the day with sweet crepes. We were shown how to make several different sauces and the crepes themselves. Then we moved on to savory crepes. Stuffed with chicken and cheese and drenched in sauce (“to prevent them from burning”) and then thrown under the salamander. We even made a cake with layered crepes and custard and, I believe, nutella. This was topped with a thin layer of white sugar and then we got to blow torch the top of it. This was very similar to a favorite dessert from when I was little, pancake pie. (Although that recipe didn’t involve a blow torch.) The recipe was from a book called Pancake Pie by Sven Nordqvist (translated from the original Swedish). The plot, as described on amazon is “Despite many difficulties, a farmer named Festus is determined to celebrate his cat’s birthday by baking a pancake pie.” The book includes a recipe. Basically one makes crepes and layers them between alternating layers of fresh strawberries and whipped cream. The result would look like this:

Photo by Sheila Steele on flickr

Back to the cooking class…We were wearing plastic gloves, flipping crepes with our hands, and having a good time. Little did I know the best part. We got to play with more fire. This is something that my brother was a specialist in back in the day. I wish I had a picture, but imagine something like this. Campfire, failed attempts to roast marshmallows because the flames were never allowed to die down to coals, completely intrigued six year old…

Photo by zen on flickr

The mixture that becomes the sauce for the crepes involves mixing brown sugar and butter and then some sort of alcohol. Grand marnier, peach schnapps, raspberry liquor. But if you use a gas stove and the right twist of the pan, after adding the alcohol you can flambé the sauce. Like this

Photo by cogito ergo imago on flickr

Everyone was pretty impressed with the flames I got on mine. It was just about the coolest thing in the kitchen. (Or, the hottest thing rather.)

From an email to my mom:

The crepe class was one of the coolest things ever because we got to flambé. Basically we threw booze in our sauce and then used the gas cook top to light it on fire. One of the highlights of my summer, most definitely. I don’t think I’ll be able to convince Ben that I should try it at home 😉

I am writing this now because tomorrow I’ll get to help the sous chef serve up crepes to the public. (er…semi-public?) I think the crepes are pre-made and so we’ll be making the sauces and serving. I went by last week (the first Wednesday after the class) to say that I wasn’t going to be able to make it, but that I would come this week. She said she had a stack of aprons waiting.

If you don’t hear from me it could because I went a little crazy with the flambéing. Or it could be because I have to go and socialize and network tomorrow night. Assuming things go well, I’d be up for showing off my skills in other locations as well. You just might want to have a fire extinguisher handy.

Photo by ziggiau on flickr