Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I try not to cook too many all pasta meals, but today was a snow day and seemed to call for comfort food. The new issue of Cook's Illustrated had a recipe for baked ziti and so that's what I cooked. It was excellent and only required two pots -- not bad, for Cook's Illustrated, where they are capable of telling you that the only way to get decent butter is to keep a Jersey cow.

So we had baked ziti and a salad and a pinot noir and a conversation about geography. Locket had her geography questions, which seemed to be mostly puzzles and only tangentially about geography. One of the answers turned out to be the place where Barack Obama's father was born -- which I have already forgotten.

This is a short post because over on Facebook I just wrote 25 things about myself for a note -- and I'm a little tired on me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Not much cooking

All right, I confess. I didn't make a proper dinner between Dutch baby Friday night and soup for 75 people tonight. Don't I get a little credit for the 75 people? You know, 75 people ate a nice supper -- a nice supper that I cooked. Oh, okay,it's true: I'm a slacker.

Tonight Goodie asked me how Locket got home from school. "Beats me," I answer. "Swell, Mom, great job on the Mom thing." "I told her to find a ride home, and she must have because I didn't hear from her." "And how would you have heard? Since I know you didn't have your phone." "Good point."

I am apparently the meanest, least engaged mother in town. The other day I was talking with part of the carpool (which I now drive in the morning, instead of making Locket depend constantly on the kindness of others) and I was explaining that I would be picking up at 7:30, for a 7:40 drop-off at school. "Well, the kids don't have to be there until 8 a.m. Isn't that awfully early for them to have to get there?" I have to tell you, this is a thought that has never crossed my mind and now that it has: 20 minutes early is not too early. They have a place to go inside; it won't kill them to be early and I need to get to work.

So soup supper tonight: chicken and rice, and roasted butternut squash. Tomorrow is supposed to be terrible weather, so maybe I'll walk to the grocery and get the ingredients for something indulgent and time-consuming. Cook's Illustrated has a great-looking recipe for baked ziti .... maybe I'll make that.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Friday visits

I made the dinner tonight that I had planned to make last night: a Dutch baby and chicken sausages. It was very tasty and easy and everyone enjoyed it. CB is off to Montreal this weekend so it was just Goodie and Locket and DH and I and we polished it off in short order, before going upstairs to watch "Mrs. Brown" with Judi Dench. I fear that I look more and more like Judi Dench -- I only hope I'm a smart as she appears to be.

I came home from a somewhat frustrating day as a substitute teacher at the high school. I had three sections of English, two of which were reading "Our Town" out loud. Oh My God the agony. Their oral reading is so awkward and dis-fluent that I could hardly bear to listen. Of course, the only way for their oral reading to get fluent is to practice which means someone has to make them do it. If it were my class I would have them read chorally and then have them practice particular speeches over and over, but I'm only the sub, so I did what I was told to do. I did manage a good discussion with one of the groups so it wasn't a totally wasted day.

Once I got home from school I rushed around doing the tidying up I had planned to do on Thursday night (when instead I was trapped at Starbucks) in advance of my Friday gathering. On Friday afternoons a group of women meet at my house for handwork and talk -- it's the high point of my week. This week the talk was all about schools and teaching and dogs -- the group is just getting to know each other so talking about our dogs is a regular feature. And of course my dogs are underfoot so they're a natural topic. My brother says, and I think he's right, that dogs are the universal topic: you can talk dogs to anyone.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Another lost meal

I came home from the barn this afternoon late, cold and stiff from the first ride in three weeks, ran myself a deep, hot bath with Epsom salts, baking soda, and lavender oil. I soaked for half an hour or so and then got out and put on my pajamas. Goodie was expected home from the barn about 6:30, CB was upstairs reading, and Locket was doing homework. Dear Husband was at aikido and not expected home for supper. A perfect night for a Dutch baby and some chicken sausages.

I wandered into the kitchen and turned on the oven. I unpacked the apples I had bought on the way home and was getting out the ingredients for a Yorkshire pudding (that forms the swaddling for the baby -- it gets filled with cooked apples) when Locket drifted in and asked why I was wearing my jammies. "Because I'm not going out again." "Aren't you taking me to rehearsal?" "What rehearsal? You have a rehearsal tonight? You could have let me know." "I though you knew." "I didn't and I guess that means getting dressed again and that's the end of supper." "Oh," says Locket. "I need to go really soon."

In the end I made myself some grits and eggs and called it dinner and made yet another trip to Keene. I spent the rehearsal sitting in Starbucks reading the NY Times and not eating a cupcake.

Last night's dinner did get cooked, by CB, and apparently was quite tasty.

I'll be really glad when this production of Locket's is over; I don't know what I was thinking when I suggested she audition. Actually, I do know. She auditioned in November when January seemed very far away and two rehearsals didn't seem so onerous as they do now that I'm driving 1/2 hour to them. The good news is the production goes up the first week in February and only runs two weekends; until then I guess I'll spend plenty of time in Starbucks.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

So, dinner. Tonight I have to drive Locket to Keene for a rehearsal, which I only just found out (at 5:45 p.m.) -- I won't be making dinner but this is what I would have made if I had: salmon patties with chili mayonnaise, green beans with tomatoes and garlic, rice, salad. The green beans are ones that I froze last summer, grown by my somewhat austere truck gardener friend. They are still delicious, even four months away from August.

It's my experience that all truck gardeners are gloomy and melancholy souls, whereas dairy farmers are calm and cheerful.** I think it's because everything conspires against gardeners -- it's too wet for some things and too dry for others, you've got too many bad bugs and not enough of the good ones, you plant a boatload of tomatoes and then nobody wants 'em. It's no wonder they're depressives. I have planted vegetable gardens but I have discovered that I do best when I garden with someone: they keep me from abandoning the thing in late July when it's hot and buggy and muggy and the beans need to be picked everyday, sometimes twice. Right now I'm farming out my farming, as it were, by participating in my farmer friend's virtual farmstand. He posts what he's got available on Wednesday, we order by Thursday evening, and he delivers on Friday. Fabulous.

** Dairy farmers are cheerful and placid because they get to hang around with cheerful and placid cows all day. Plus, they get to stick their fingers in the calves mouths anytime they want. There is nothing so soothing as having a new calf suck on your fingers. Try it, you'll see.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Community supper

Tuesdays are my day to cook community supper at my church. Most of the participants are not church members, just people who need a meal. By "need" I don't necessarily mean "can't afford dinner"; in fact, most of them are fine financially. What they need is company: we get a fair number of single older people who are tired of eating alone, and lots of single parents with small children. People arrange to meet each other at community supper, just as they might arrange to meet at the diner for lunch. They save seats for each other, and I'm always sorry when I have to collect the tablecloths and stack the chairs, because there are often people still visiting.

The supper was my idea and I had to fight hard to get it approved by the church. People weren't sure that the town needed another supper or that the Episcopal church needed to provide it or that there were enough volunteers to make it work or that the menu was okay. I proposed from the beginning that it would be two soups (one vegetarian, one not), salad, cheese, bread and butter, fruit, and dessert. There's already a wonderful spaghetti supper in town and another church does a rotating menu and I believed then (and still believe now) that what was needed was a meal which provided lots of vegetables. Some in church worried that serving soup was somehow demeaning; the people who come apparently don't feel demeaned or deprived.

So, this afternoon I went to the market and bought: 2 roasting chickens, 4 pounds of cheese, 5 pounds of carrots, 2 large cans of chopped tomatoes, 2 packages of frozen collards, 5 pounds of onions, 2 heads of garlic, 5 heads of red-leaf lettuce, 3 heads of romaine lettuce, 6 cans of frozen juice, 2 yellow cake mixes (I'm embarrassed to admit that, but I did), 3 cans of sliced pineapple, 6 pounds of frozen peas, 6 packages of lentils, 6 lemons, and 2 pounds of butter. I think that's what I bought.

I made a giant pot of lemon lentil soup with greens and tomatoes, flavored with some ground cumin. This was the first ever appearance of lentils: some people loved it and came back for seconds, other people hated it. We only had about 4 servings left so I think I'll keep it on the rotation, but I probably won't serve it again for a couple of months.

The other soup was chicken and rice, which I make every week. I used to make chicken noodle but several of my stalwart volunteers can't eat wheat so I made the swap to rice -- no complaints so I think it's a permanent change. I add 5 pounds of chopped carrots and 4 pounds of green peas along with onions, celery and garlic. It gets flavored with Bell's seasoning and a lot of salt. Chicken soup requires an amazing amount of salt and it's the salt that makes it taste good. Sorry, but that's the truth.

We had 47 people, which is about average these days. We started with only 2o or 25 and have gone as high as 90 -- 90 really stretches us thin. I like a 75 night: big but not overwhelming.

I do most of the cooking; my mother-in-law helps and I have an older couple who are nearly always there. They're in Florida this week and next -- I really missed them today. The kitchen clean-up crew is wonderful and faithful, and the real reason the suppers go so well and why I don't mind cooking every week.

About that cake mix: I made pineapple upside down cake. I don't always bake for community supper and I never made a cake before, but you know, today was a great day for all of us and I wanted to celebrate. I couldn't manage an inauguration party but I did produce a cake for community supper.

Monday, January 19, 2009

After planning board

I'm just home from a town planning board meeting (we are struggling with an ordinance which will encourage traditional neighborhoods and infill developments instead of sprawling subdivisions) and I stopped at the neighborhood market to grab a few things for dinner. I bought two chicken breasts and four thighs, a packet of spinach for salad, eggs, milk, and a can of mandarin oranges.

So what's for dinner? A casserole of mashed sweet potatoes (I had the potatoes on hand) with cottage cheese and eggs -- I might separate the eggs and make it more souffle-like, or I might not. A spinach salad with mandarin oranges and toasted walnuts and a garlic vinaigrette dressing; roasted chicken.

Right now the potatoes are simmering and the chicken is brining. I'll put the casserole together and put it in the oven as soon as the potatoes are done; the chicken goes in when Dear Husband arrives. I nearly always brine chicken to make it juicier; I also brine pork. I put a double handful of kosher salt in my big mixing bowl and add water; sometimes I add a little sugar or some peppercorns, but not, I confess, usually.

Winnie is back at school so there are five for dinner tonight: two vegetarians and three meat-eaters. I hope there's a bottle of white down cellar -- it's so cold that it doesn't need to be refrigerated to be at pouring temperature.

Black-eyed peas

This blog starts with what I'm making for dinner or just made for dinner. So here goes: black-eyed peas with homemade chutney, Asian slaw, roasted carrots, plain rice, chorizo, onion relish, and a bottle of pinot noir. We ate that last night at about 8 p.m. with all hands present and accounted for. It's a dinner that makes all six of us happy: the vegetarians get rice and beans and a cooked veg and a raw veg; the rest of us get all that and a sausage, minus rice for those of us who don't eat white food.

I started the beans at about 5:30, before I went out with Locket to deliver soup for her soup business. By the time I was back at 6:30 the beans were almost done. I added some homemade chutney and some salt and pepper and a little lemon juice along with a little more water. Then I peeled and made fingers of the carrots, tossed them with a little olive oil and stuck them in a 425* oven. I julienned half a cabbage (while fending off the brown puppy who loves cabbage) and made a dressing with pickled ginger and rice vinegar. It would have been better with some umeboshi plum paste -- but the pantry seems rather bare of condiments. It must be time for a big shop.

Sausage in the oven in a cast iron frying pan; rice on the stove top. All done and the best thing was it did not require a trip to the store -- everything was in the icebox or in the pantry.

After dinner CB and Goodie and Dear Husband and I watched "The Last Picture Show," which I had somehow missed all these years. Man, is it ever good. I think part of the reason it holds up so well is that it is in black and white -- color seems to date movies more thoroughly.