Friday, March 13, 2015

Daytime and nightime with the ponies

My entryway smells strongly of horse. And has smelled strongly of horse anytime these past five months. No, I am not keeping Angus on the back porch – although that’s not an inherently bad idea. The horse smell is emanating from my barn clothes, which I put on three times a day to go do barn chores.

If I have Angus boarded somewhere, why am I doing barn chores three times a day, when it’s not four? An excellent question. It all began October 17 (not that I’m counting) when my dear friend Abby was knocked over by a horse and broke her right femur just above the knee. It wasn’t even a riding fall, just an accident that could have happened any number of other ways. The horse was merely incidental.

Horses are like small children: it doesn’t matter what shit goes down, they have to be fed and watered and handled and taken care of. And if the caregiver is broken, somebody else has to become the caregiver. As far as I am aware, there is no foster care network for horses. So, while Abby was laid up, I became the primary caregiver for what started out as seven horses (we’re down to five now, but that’s another story). To say nothing of Abby’s two young dogs. Large young dogs. I get paid to do this, mind you, but really it’s for love.

6:30 a.m. Feed grain to horses. Walk the dogs and feed them. Fill water tubs in fields and distribute hay, turn horses out into their paddocks. (Turn out is a little misleading, since it implies you open their stall doors and they walk out. In fact, you put their halters on and walk them down the driveway to their paddocks. This becomes relevant later.) Sweep the aisle. Set up supper buckets. Walk the dogs after their breakfasts.

4 p.m. Return to the barn, set up stalls for supper. Grain, hay, water. Collect horses in the paddocks, return them to their stalls. Set up breakfast buckets. Sweep the aisle. Walk the dogs and feed them.

9:30 p.m. Feed the horses a couple of flakes of hay, refill water buckets, pick out the stalls, walk the dogs.

Not terribly onerous. Except it’s every day. Every. Blessed. Day. Three times a day. And what lies between October, when this started, and March, where we are now? Yes, that’s right: Winter. This is New Hampshire and winter is very wintery here. This winter has been extremely wintery, starting with a big dump of snow on Thanksgiving Eve and continuing with cold, cold, cold and ice and snow. We still have more than a foot of snow on the ground around here and it was minus 14 last Monday morning, March 2.

So, that list up above? Is much more complicated in the winter. The water hoses freeze and then burst and soak the waterer. The good news is that at 14 below zero the water doesn’t wet you, it just freezes to your barn clothes. Yay. So you set up a rotation between the outside hose and the inside hose, because no matter how careful you are about walking the hose to siphon all the water out, they are frequently frozen when you need to fill buckets. In the barn, I just give up and fill buckets by hand, dispensing with the hose altogether.

The driveway freezes, too. So slick that the horses can’t be walked to their paddocks. And their paddocks freeze so slick that even if they could get to their paddocks it wouldn’t be safe to put them there. They have to stay inside and become bored and fractious.

The 50 gallon water tubs outside are supposed to be emptied at the end of the day every day so that they don’t become giant ice cubes with no room for water. On a single digit day the other barn helper fills the tubs to the brim and they freeze solid. I drag other tubs down, and the same thing happens. Now we are using muck tubs, which are smaller and can be dragged into the basement to thaw if they freeze. They freeze.

All this. Day after day after day. Abby thought she would be better by January 17. I had never really believed that. January came and there was no bone regrowth. February came and there was a little. Now it is March, and we can only hope.

Of, course, anyone who has horses or any livestock knows this story. I am full of admiration of Abby, who is 15 years older than I am, and who has been doing this every day for years and years and years. You can’t go to the movies. You can’t go out to dinner. It doesn’t matter what time of day or night it is, in five minutes it’ll be time to go do something for the ponies.

But this is not all complaint. There are things I have loved about this endless winter. I have seen every sunrise and every sunset between October 17 and now (except for the one I missed when I went away for a wedding. I saw the ones when I was away for a funeral.) I saw the comet we had this winter. I have observed the winter’s coming and now I see its departure and spring’s tentative arrival. I have become acclimated to the outdoor temperatures, so that now 20 degrees seems warm and 40 is bikini weather. I have seen the moon wax and wane and wax and wane – going from a pumpkin to a lemon slice to a curved upholstery needle and back again. I have seen the night sky and watched Orion shift slowly around the sky. I have seen the Milky Way (god bless the dark skies of New Hampshire) and many shooting stars.

Once Abby is well, I don’t think I am going to go looking for another barn job. But, on balance, I wouldn’t have missed this one.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Better living through communal cooking

I agreed, just the other day, to cook a big dinner for about 75 people or so at my church. It had originally been planned as a potluck (or what I was brought up to call a 'covered dish supper'). I am not a fan of covered dish suppers or potlucks or any other such meal which lacks central planning. I had told my husband that I did not plan to attend, because it was a potluck, but somehow, in the course of a conversation with the new rector of our parish, I ended up agreeing to cook for the supper.

It was very well played of her, I must say. She did it by agreeing with me about the importance of just giving people a gift, of not expecting them to do anything, of the need to feed the people as a love offering, and how potlucks contravene all those principles. She did it by asking me about other meals I have cooked for large groups, and how, really, it’s not that complicated or time-consuming or difficult. I think she may have done it by appealing to my pride.

In any case, after a wide-ranging conversation about the work I do in the parish and what I consider to be important, she asked me whether I would be willing to cook for a meal which had been planned for a Friday night for some indeterminate number of guests. I said yes, of course, and immediately began thinking about what I would cook. I first thought of lasagna, one vegetarian and one not, but too many people are gluten-free. Then I thought about a dish involving ground lamb and thinly sliced potatoes, but lamb is rather expensive and slicing all those potatoes, even with a mandolin, is troublesome.

Eventually I settled on Indian, as I often do when cooking for a crowd. It’s easy to scale up, it’s delicious, and it accommodates the gluten-free, the vegetarian, the vegan, and the dairy-free.

Meantime, since I was a little worried about who and how many might show up (I had a vision of me, the MIL, the husband, and maybe six vestry members rattling around in the parish hall with food for 75), and because part of the point of the meal was simply to gather for our own amusement, nothing to do with  church business, I started invited any random person whom I thought might enjoy the event. I invited some nice people whom I don’t know at all well, but who are regulars at the community supper I cook for once a week. I invited some non-churchy friends. I tried to inveigle a daughter into coming home. And I took a big risk and invited a woman I’ll call Isobel.

I had met Isobel almost a year ago, when she came to a planning board hearing to promote a change to the town’s zoning ordinance to allow farms to hold events and run B&Bs and have little restaurants. These were things the board favored but we thought the proposed ordinance was problematic in the extreme and very badly written. We said we would promise to address the issues in the next planning cycle but we really could not recommend that the town approve the proposed ordinance. Well, the town meeting did approve it. And now we were stuck with it.

In my role as planning board chairman I scheduled a workshop last June to address some of the issues with the now-approved ordinance. I set up tables, and gathered materials, and planned my strategy. We had about 35 people at the meeting and one of them was Isobel. She arrived just as we were about to begin, declined to join the table I gestured her to, and radiated as much hostility and impatience and dislike of me personally as I have seen in quite a while.

After the public workshop we set up a subcommittee to try to rewrite this foul ordinance which had been wished on us. There were four of us on the subcommittee, and one of them was Isobel. We started meeting regularly. Hostility continued to pour off her. In spite of this, I liked her. She was smart, she was committed, she cared deeply about the town and about the farmers. She’s a woman about my age, clearly well-educated and well-traveled. From my perspective, we had a lot in common, and I thought she was a woman I would like to know better.

The subcommittee continued to meet, and Isobel’s hostility eventually began to lessen. She actually laughed at my planning jokes. Well, she laughed once. I continued to think she was a woman I would like to know. We discussed the fact that I keep bees and chickens on my in-town lot, something of which she approved. She was less chilly but I wouldn’t say she was warm toward me.

The subcommittee and the planning board eventually created an amendment to the ordinance that we could all live with. The final meeting before we went public was about ten days before this Friday night dinner I had agreed to cook. I was sitting next to Isobel, and on an impulse, I leaned over and said,

“I’m cooking a big dinner next Friday at All Saints’ and I wonder if—“

She interrupted me and said,

“Do you want me to come and help you cook?”

Now that I was not expecting, but I took a leap and said,

“Yes. Yes, I do. That would be lovely, thank you so much!”

She asked me what I was going to cook and I told her Indian.

“Oh, I love Indian food! I’ve been traveling to India since I was in my early 20s, and now my daughter is married to an Indian. I would love to help you cook an Indian dinner.”

I have never been to India. I have never studied Indian cooking with an actual Indian cook. I gulped. This could be really great, or just terrible. I decided to focus on really great.

On the Friday in question I went to the big grocery and bought all the ingredients for 75 persons’ worth of red lentils and basmati rice and yogurt and cucumbers and onions and garlic and chicken thighs and cabbages and frozen peas and sweet onions and regular onions and limeade and tortillas to take the role of chapatis. I got started cooking about noon, and Isobel arrived about 2 p.m. She tied on an apron and said “What do you want me to do first?”  Chop things for a chopped salad, I said.

She chopped like a champ. She worked hard and did whatever I asked. She did not tell me I was doing things wrong, in fact she told me I was doing things absolutely the way an Indian housewife would do it.

We had a blast. We cooked, we washed dishes, we set up the dining room. We talked about our children and how we came to be in Grover’s Corners.

Sometime along about 5 p.m. Isobel said, I have lived here seven years and I do not have a single friend.

Well, I said, you have a friend now.  Yes, she said, I do.

As for the dinner? It was magnificent. And truly authentic, according to my new friend Isobel. I’ll tell you about the dinner another day, maybe.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The tribulations of country life

I had to get a new phone a week or so ago. My phone stopped working quite suddenly, and in a rather peculiar way. It worked fine as a smart phone (I could check my email, look things up on google, etc., etc.) and I could call people and they could hear me, but I could not hear them.

This happened after I put my phone in my pocket early in the morning while I was out doing barn chores. (I'll tell you all about that another day.) I put the phone in my right hand barn coat pocket; it didn't want to slide in, so I gave it a shove, and it went in. Ten minutes later, I wanted to look at the weather to see whether I could safely take the horses' turnouts off them (I couldn't. Who are we kidding? It hasn't been above 15 degrees in months) and when I pulled my phone out it was covered in egg. Half-frozen egg.

Apparently I had picked up a frozen egg from the hen house the night before when I went to shut the hens up after evening barn chores, hung the coat in the entryway and forgotten all about the egg. I wiped the egg off the phone, and pressed the home button.

"The audio jack you are attempting to use is incompatible with this device. Please remove it and try another jack."

Yeah. Egg white, even half-frozen, makes a lousy audio jack. So when I got home from the the barn I tried clearing out the audio jack what-ever-you-call-it (port, that's it) with various implements and eventually I stopped getting the incompatible dialog box. So I assumed it was healed. But when someone tried to call me, I could hear them, but they could not hear me. I could make calls, but the ring was inaudible and when the callee picked up they could hear me, but I could not hear them. I tried plugging in a pair of headphones. No improvement. In an inspired moment I tried putting the phone into speaker mode: Success! But then I was permanantly in speakerphone mode. Not really how I want to make my phone calls.

I went down to Verizon and said, "My phone is not working. I think maybe there is something wrong with the audio port." They look in with their iPhone flashlight and see nothing. (Egg white is pretty inobtrusive, after all.) I explain about how it works on speakerphone but no other way. They run some diagnostics and agree: your phone is borked. We don't know why. You should replace it.

As it happened, I was only three weeks short of an official upgrade, so I called corporate headquarters and pleaded my case and was given permission to purchase a new iPhone. (Which, by the way, I love. Way better than my old one. Even Siri is less like a bad secretary and more like an actual useful cyborg being.) So, I have a new phone.

I didn't bother to wash my barn coat -- I just dumped the squashed egg and egg shell out of it and carried on. I'll wash it in May. Or maybe I'll just burn it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Haitian Dinner

The Sunday after the Haitian earthquake, I am stomping around the old dining room, whining at my husband about my lack of income and how this prevents me from doing anything for Haiti.

"All I can do successfully, apparently, is cook. What am I supposed to do: fly to Port-au- prince and start cooking grits?" Then I listen to what I just said: All I can do is cook. And I think: Well, cook already, woman.

"I wonder if I cooked a dinner whether I could get people to buy tickets, and then I could send the proceeds to Haiti? Could we afford to do that?" Sure, says my dear husband Hugh, we can do that. "Fifty people came and sang on Boxing Day; I bet 50 people would pay $25 to eat a good dinner with a real napkin, to support Haiti. I'm going to do it. I could feed 80 people, no problem."

I plan a menu that night: appetizers, Caribbean pork, black-eyed peas and rice, collard greens, onion relish, grapefruit and mesclun salad, Key lime pie. I can do that for 50 people, no problem. No fancy finishing, no split-second timing.

First thing Monday I call the church office and ask whether I can borrow the church hall for my little party: Sure, just make it clear that this is your benefit party, not a church do. Absolutely, I say.

Then I call Roy's Market and talk to Peter Robinson.

"Peter, I'm doing a benefit dinner for Haitian earthquake relief and I'm going to want to order pork butts. How much lead time do you need if I want them on a Tuesday evening?" Peter tells me he can get the meat in plenty of time, and then asks what he can do to help me in my project, since he has been wanting to do something for Haitian relief, too. "Could you sell to me at cost?" "I'll do better than that, Ivy, I'll give you all the food." Oh, my goodness. How fabulous, how generous.

I create a Facebook event, email everyone on my address list. Responses start pouring in. I wanted this to be affordable and apparently I hit the sweet spot. By Friday I have sold close to 90 tickets. By Monday next, 105. "Mom, you said you were going to do this for 80 people and how many do you have now? 100. You have to tell the people NO," says Frankie-my-daughter. I hate telling the people no.

In the meantime, Frankie organizes a squad of high school students to help serve. Hugh says he will come home early and help serve. My good friend Bridget offers to spend the day helping me cook, my mother-in-law Molly offers to do the flowers. This is getting to be fun.

Since I am not buying food, only wine, I figure I can spend a little dressing up the hall. I have enough napkins for more than 100 people; I have almost enough tablecloths. I make new tablecloths for the round tables, in cheerful approximately Provencal colors. I wash all the tablecloths and iron them, and I iron all the napkins during my Friday afternoon at home. It reminds me of being a Waldorf nursery school teacher, sitting and ironing and talking. I get 48 little glass vases and candles to put in them; I get Mason jars for the tulips Molly is getting. Now it's really fun.

I go to Market Basket, home of rock-bottom prices, to buy wine. How much? I call my sister Holly (who is an experienced benefit organizer) from the wine aisle: how much wine do I need for 110 people? "Well, you figure 80 percent will drink, and if you figure two glasses per drinker, which I think is generous, you've got 110 people, that's 85 drinkers, four glasses to the bottle." I'm getting the double bottles, so eight glasses to the bottle. "Okay, eight glasses to a bottle, 170 glasses, you need 24 bottles." I buy 24 red and four white and hide them in the closet at church. My fantasy of having a footman to move stuff in and out the car recurs.

What shall we wear? people ask. What are you going to wear? I suggest that guests take this as an opportunity to get a little dressed up, here in the fashion-free zone. But what was I going to wear? A little black dress was wrong for the kitchen, kitchen slops were wrong for the dining room. There's a reason uniforms exist: I buy a good looking chef's jacket.

I make a schedule for cooking: pies on Monday, regular community supper cooking on Tuesday, put the pork to marinade after Tuesday supper, everything else starting at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. Monday went to hell in a hack, so my friend Nancy and I made pies on Tuesday after dinner. Wednesday morning Bridget and I start in. We peel and chop onions for relish, peel and section grapefruit for salad, wash and stem and chiffonade collard greens. In the middle of all this, I go home to sell a non-functioning car and pick up a few last things. It is a scary moment when I go to pick up the salad greens and no one at Roy's can find them. Peter knows where they are, of course. I make 14 loaves of bread. Molly makes 14 bouquets of tulips for the tables; Bridget and I arrange the tables; dress them with bright tablecloths and napkins, tulips and hurricane lanterns. The floor gets swept, the chairs arranged. It looks like a party in here.

Okay. Meat's done, peas are done, salads ready to assemble, collards ready to sear. Frankie and her friend Cody show up and finish setting the tables. Hugh calls and says he will be there looking like a waiter by 5:45. Bridget and I each dash home to change, Bridget is going to pick up plain votives for the lanterns because one of the boxes I bought turned out to be vanilla scented (yuck). I shower and leap into black pants, white tee shirt and chef's jacket, cram my already aching feet into black Dansko clogs (the preferred shoe of barn managers, line cooks, and school teachers everywhere). I meet Hugh at the bottom of the drive. "Get some ice, please," I holler out my window in passing.

"Ivy, I'm at Job Lot and there aren't any plain votives." Go by my house, there's a box of Shabbat candles on the pantry cupboard. We'll use those.

"Mom, there aren't enough glasses." Go home and get some, please. "What do we do about the forks?" What about the forks? "There aren't four for every place setting." Take away the dessert fork, we'll wash salad forks and return them as dessert forks with the pie. I hang up my white jacket and throw on an apron and start searing collards. There are a lot of collards.

I make table cards. Oh, fork. Oh, shit. Oh, damnation. My seating chart was arranged predicated on FIVE tables of single tickets; I've only got four set up and I don't have enough stuff to set up another one. I recount; I re-shuffle; I slip a few singletons into tables of eight that are only six. There are enough seats, I know there are. Seven tables of eight is 56, plus the High Street twelve is 68, plus four tables of 10 is 108. That's enough. I'm pretty sure that's enough.

I teach the wait staff to make salads. They start plating 100 salads. They are great girls: Katherine, who is only 10; Elspeth and Lucy and Maggie, who are 14; Emily and Frankie and Fern and Olivia and Sadie. They're all spruced up and energetic and having fun. Bridget is soldiering on; Hugh arrives in his tux. "Waitrons," he says, "please listen. We're going to serve each person at a table at the same time. We'll send you out in groups so that everyone at one table gets a plate at the same instant. Organize yourselves into squads, please." He looks fabulous; and I would never have thought of that detail of making sure that the tables got served that way.

We start rice, we slice meat, we make salads, we cook collards. We light candles, we fill water glasses, we open wine bottles. It's chaos, but everyone is having a terrific time.

Two guests show up at 6:30 p.m. and stroll into the kitchen: What can we do to help? I want to scream "You can get out of my bloody kitchen, that's what you can do! This party starts at 7 p.m., not now!" What I actually say is, "Oh, gosh, thanks, but we're a little crowded, so if you wouldn't mind just waiting in the entryway. There's a bench to sit on." I shut the kitchen door and the double doors into the hall to prevent further incursions.

Bridget and Sadie light a fire in the fireplace. For a terrible moment the hall starts filling with smoke; Richard, father of Elspeth and Catherine, takes over fire duties so Sadie and Bridget can return to the kitchen; the smoke clears, the fire lights (after Richard sacrifices some wineglass boxes and my unread newspaper); all is well.

6:55. I shut the hatch doors from the kitchen into the hall. I warn the wait staff, I put on my jacket and my friend Sage buttons the little knot buttons for me and tells me to breath. Catherine strokes my arm and says "It's all right, Ivy, just breathe." I breathe.

I open the doors into the hall and start welcoming people, collecting money, directing people to tables, shuffling madly when several people who were not on my list want to know where they should sit. I set up a two-top for the last two incomers (although later I discover their empty seats at other tables) and circulate and let people know that the blue napkin contains a loaf of fresh bread.

Ready? asks Hugh. Give 'em 5 more minutes, I say.

7:15. I ring the bell and thank people for coming. I do not cry. Hugh organizes the first flight of servers. "Okay, girls, one plate in each hand. Table one, go." The girls roll out of the kitchen and start serving. Oh, blast, I forgot to remind them about serve from the right, clear from the left. Well, the tables are too tight for that to work, anyway. "Table two, go." Salads are out. We start making bowls of rice and beans and greens and onion relish for each table. Fern plates meat since she's one of the few non-vegetarians on the wait staff. Hugh stalks around the hall, watching the service, timing the next course.

Ready to clear salads. The girls swoop out. Ready to serve the main course. Four girls take out the sides, four take plates. Plates with meat come back for empty plates for the vegetarians. The girls and Hugh are having a blast. I circulate and talk about the food and do a little serving. Tiny Catherine circulates with a pitcher of water and refills water glasses. A few latecomers appear and are squeezed in somewhere. People appear to be having a great time.

Refills of beans and rice and collards go out. I start another rice cooker full of rice, which of course, is ready about the time we're ready to serve pie.

Frankie is managing the dishwashing with great good humor. Fern whips cream. I get pies out of the fridge. "You're going to plate those pies, aren't you?" Hugh says. "They're pretty fragile." I plate pies, Fern dollops whipped cream. Later we discover that the plates just out the dishwasher are making the pie melt a little. Oh well.

"Table nine is out of wine." Take the bottle from the two-top. "Unh-unh. Andrew already took it for his table." Hugh shuffles wine bottles.

Ready to clear? The girls clear and take orders for coffee. "Someone wants to know can they have tea?" NO is my first response, but of course they can have tea. Flights of pie-serving girls swoop around. Maggie and Catherine serve coffee. "Ivy, the pot is empty and we need eleven more cups." Tip it, fill 'em only half full, steal some from already poured cups. Bridget performs the miracle of the loaves and fishes and somehow produces eleven more cups of coffee.

The dishwashing team is running at full speed. I circulate and almost cause a table to get two servings of pie. We find two tables who still don't have pie -- no more whipped cream, but the pie is still good.

Table 10 wants to know whether they can buy another bottle of wine. They could have another bottle of wine if I had one. I take them a bottle of white -- no more red. Next time, I keep control of the wine bottles and have the wait staff pour, because at the end of the evening some tables have drunk all their wine and part of the next table's, and some tables still have half a bottle.

It sounds wonderful out there. Everyone chats away to their tablemates, people compliment the food, people admire the servers.

A few of the candles begin to burn out. People begin to gather up to leave. I ask Lucy's Sam and the Corwins and the Hulberts whether they can stay and help stack chairs. I have to leave the hall totally cleared, ready for exercise class at 9 a.m. the next morning.

The party's over, but the work is not. Olivia's mother gathers hurricane lanterns, napkins and tablecloths; the wait staff clears the 200 glasses and 100 plates and who knows how many pieces of silverware; Frankie bosses the dishwashing; chair stackers stack chairs. Even Sebastian, our shy and diffident exchange student, starts clearing. When I mention this, Frankie giggles and says that Olivia told him to. "She said she was practicing her Spanish commands."

Hugh and Sebastian and Lucy put away tables. Hugh sweeps. We wash and dry, wash and dry, wash and dry. We sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in several different keys, all at the same time. We keep washing and drying.

10:30 p.m. Olivia's mother and Olivia head home. Bridget and Sadie and Maggie and Frankie and Lucy and Hugh and I keep washing and drying. Everyone gets the giggles. I pack up dirty table linen and start loading the car. We sing "Both Sides Now."

11 p.m. We can see bottom. I send Bridget and Maggie and Sadie home along with two buckets of compost for some pigs they know.

11:30 p.m. Frankie and Lucy and Sebastian head home. "Mom, just so you know, we're not going to school tomorrow." We'll talk about that in the morning, I say. I know they're not going.

Midnight. Hugh finishes loading all our stuff and heads home to make coffee.

12:15. I wipe out the sinks, sweep the filthy floor, wipe down the counters one last time. Turn out the lights and head home.

We raise $3775 for Partners in Health. We have a good time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Oh yeah, forgot. (DH here again.)

Easy dad dinner #1--I've been cooking this one for 20 years.

Cheese souffle--3 tbsp butter melted in a 4-cup measure in the microwave; 3 tbsp flour whisked in and nuked for a minute and a half or so; 1 1/2 cups milk whisked in and nuked for 3 minutes; remove, whisk, and run for 3 minutes more. This makes a perfect white sauce every time. This time I got over-excited and I think used too much butter and too much flour and then maybe too much milk and the white sauce set after the first nuking with milk, but it was fine. A bay leaf or three and salt and pepper is good.

Whisk in enough grated cheese. Enough might be 1/2 to a full cup of grated cheese, depending on how cheesy you like your souffle. Don't use cheddar--it melts very badly and leaks whey all over the place. I used fontina which was good but surprisingly salty. Whisk in 3 egg yolks.

Take the whites from those eggs and 2 more and whisk them up separately to shaving-cream consistency. (Julia says "soft peaks" which is fine as a technical description if you know what that is. Think shaving cream.) Fold the egg whites and white sauce mixture together gently (I do it right in the bowl I whisked the eggs in) and pour into a prepared souffle dish. Save the extra egg yolks for the pudding you'll make tomorrow.

I'd gotten away from flouring my souffle dishes, but I did it this time (butter the bottom and sides, sprinkle in some flour, roll it around, knock out the excess) and I am reminded why it's worth doing. It turns into a lovely crust all around the custardy interior and makes for more happiness for the fans of BCBs (Burnt Crispy Bits).

Cook the whole thing at 375 for 20-30 minutes, until it's got some nice toasty brown on top. Ideally it should be crusty on the outside and like custard in the center. These were perfect. I say "these" because my aformentioned over-enthusiasm with the white sauce led to more souffle than would fit in one dish so we had the dual souffle option.

With the souffle went chard from the freezer, put up by the Delight of my Life, and cooked with onions. (Caramelize the onions first, then put the chard in. They're so good they don't need anything more than that. Maybe a little cider vinegar. They'll stand being cooked for a bit, too.)

We also had carrots julienne. This is something I first had in France (dreamy look... where was I? Oh yes) but it's one of those recipes that has sort of evolved over the years. The only problem with it is getting those julienned carrots. You can sometimes buy carrot slaw in the grocery these days (I love these days) and I wouldn't disdain them. You can also get a mandoline at great expense from the French or at very little expense from the Japanese. (The teeth of ours, from the Japanese, have gone astray, so that wasn't an option.) Or you can get a julienne blade for your Cuisinart if you want to go to the trouble of setting it up and cleaning it. What you can't do is use a grater. You want matchsticks, not flat slips of carrot.

So this time, with the souffle in the oven and nothing to do for ten minutes, I julienned by hand. Cut your carrots to 2" lengths; cut those in half and put the flat side against the cutting board; make thin lengthwise vertical slices of those; stack up the slices and slice lengthwise again to make matchsticks. Pretty much fun on a slow day. I worried my matchsticks were too thin, but hah, that's not happening.

Finish with a enough olive oil and good mustard to coat the carrots thinly.

So that's it. Even the dad, who's a slow cook, can do that in 45 minutes from a standing start. And the four of us gobbled up one whole souffle and half the other in a sitting.
Another post by the DH. I have to get it in quick before the Delight of my Life and Desire of my Days posts tonight's dinner, which was a corker.

So: Seafood risotto. In France (and how many sentences around here begin "In France..." accompanied by a slightly dreamy expression), you can get salade au fruites de mer, which generally includes whelks and cockles and things with too many legs. In Italy, you can get risotto ai frutti di mare, which has clams and shrimp and things with too many legs. Here, well, I thought I'd see what I could do.

I'd made risotto before but never a seafood risotto and I wasn't following a recipe because none of them would be what I had in Italy, so why bother? and this is what I got:

Asparagus because they were at the grocery and looked good; scallops ditto; shrimp from the freezer, jumbo and I would have preferred smaller, but that's what they had; bluefish because it was in and I love bluefish; carrots chopped square for color, mushrooms because why even bother be in the kitchen if you're not cooking mushrooms?

So chop an onion and a few cloves of garlic and saute until limp. Add mushrooms and cook till they've given up their water and re-absorbed it. Then the real cooking begins.

2 cups arborio rice, added straight to the onions and mushrooms. I've used sushi rice too, and it's okay, but the truth is arborio rice is better and is generally available at a reasonable price. The sushi rice tends to cook down until there's a tiny little grain of sand at the center of each kernel, and then from there it goes immediately to mush.

1/2 cup of dry white wine added to the rice after you've stirred it around once or twice. Then keep adding water and stirring to maintain a sort of slurry in the pot--wet but not swimming. I do this in a wok, by the way, because it's got the best cure in the kitchen.

While that's going on, I pre-cooked the other ingredients in the microwave. I wasn't sure how long they would take to cook, so I nuked them until they were almost done. Once the rice was almost done I tossed the other ingredients in to finish.

Final touch was a few pats of butter. No cheese for a seafood risotto, but nothing ever was hurt by monte au beurre.

Vegetable was a salad. Enough already with complications in the kitchen.

Enough for the whole (reduced) family of four plus the two grandparents, and it kept even the picky vegetarians at the table. I might not use bluefish next time. The taste was fine but the texture was a bit odd in combination with everything else. Swordfish would go well.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fish story

Winnie returned from northern Ontario last night, calling for fresh corn, a request I am always happy to grant. I had already bought swordfish from the general store in Dublin first thing in the morning (they only have fish once a week but it is prime when it arrives -- I often make special plans to go up there on fish day) and I had leftover roasted potatoes from Sunday.

We had potato salad, fresh corn, and grilled swordfish. I slather olive oil on my swordfish (and also on tuna) about an hour before I plan to grill it -- it seems to help keep it from drying out. Normally I choose steaks (fish or other) to be all the same thickness, but I realized last night that in fact having variable thicknesses makes it easier to grant everyone's desires vis a vis doneness. Goody likes her fish cooked quite done and everyone else wants it a little underdone. Voila' all fish were ready to eat at the same time.

I dressed the potatoes with two tablespoons of dijon mustard, two tablespoons of olive oil, three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and a little mayonnaise all shaken up together. If you are dressing leftover potatoes it helps to reheat them before you dress them -- they absorb the dressing better.

All in all, an easy, pleasant weeknight meal. Tonight I we're having a dinner party and I think I'll make blueberry cobbler.