Posts Tagged ‘Food’

Shirley Temples

Posted: 25 December 2009 in observations
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Shirley Temple

Fill glass halfway with ice
Pour lemony-limey soda onto ice
Top off with a tablespoon or two of grenadine
Add one maraschino cherry
Serve, drink.

We had a fantastic dinner last night at a local high-end southern restaurant.  The atmosphere was perfect.  For someone with splitting headaches, finding the careful balance of ceiling lights, spotlights and candlelight is a precarious undertaking.  Fortunately, there was nothing to interfere with my fantastic biscuits with honey, shrimp and grits or ribs.

The booth was cozy and under a heat vent – completely welcome on a chilly night.  The air was cheery; chatter from the bar, low conversation from leather booths, clinking glasses and soft gusts from the swinging door.  Normally, we’d have some inventive alcoholic beverage, but given we’re awaiting Vega’s* June arrival, we went virgin for this holiday.  Suits me, that’s one less headache trigger to worry about.  Neither she nor I could think of any virgin drinks to try aside from the super fruity ones, so I ordered a pair of Shirley Temples.  I know, how 7 yrs old.  We didn’t know what was in them but they were delicious nonetheless.

It was a perfect cap to a fantastic Christmas Eve.

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I Missed My Garden

Posted: 16 December 2009 in observations
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Today is the last day of our vegetable experiment.  All summer long we enjoyed the bounty of the season; heaps of lettuce in spring, peaches that ripened in the car on the way home and were almost bad by the time they hit your tongue, apples that looked like they fell off the tree and into the basket but tasted like they were polished with velvet gloves, late fall frozen blueberries and cider, and the sharp taste of farm onions and garlic.  The food collective we joined had a long season – from April to December – and today is the last day.

I don’t think we’ll hop on board next summer.  We couldn’t seem to find the right combination of feast and famine to effectively use all of our food (or have enough of it).  We missed the farmer’s market but felt like we couldn’t buy there while justifying the huge expenditure at the beginning of the summer.  The cost was heartbreaking for a few months.  Sure, we’d have spent it anyway, but we’d have spent it over time with a focus on the fruits and vegetables we loved.  We deeply enjoyed supporting local farmers, but would like to feel more connected to the food by buying directly from the farms that harvest the food and speaking to the people who grew it.  It’s a luxury we have, living where we do, and I’d like to take advantage of it.

We’re not walking away empty.  I learned an amazing amount from this summer and I’ll have the satisfied feeling that comes from lessons learned through cleaning dirt and eating vine-fresh fruits.

  • Pumpkins will not grow when it is wet.  Tomatoes will not grow when it is cold.
  • Cold, wet summers cannot be predicted and everyone feels the pain in their pocket and in their mouths.
  • I prefer onions from Georgia with a hint of sweetness.
  • Peels come off of peaches when they are less ripe, but pies are best made with the ripest peaches.  Go figure.
  • Green onions will contaminate the entire car if you don’t wrap them up.
  • Don’t expect apple season to last as long as it does in the grocery store.
  • Forget citrus.  Eating locally involved no oranges.
  • I don’t like to eat more than one squash per season.
  • I used to think Bibb lettuce looked romantic.
  • I never want to see a Bibb lettuce again.
  • Fresh cider pulled straight from a vat brought straight from the orchard – yum.
  • The end of corn season broke my heart.
  • Red Sails Lettuce is the best sort of lettuce.
  • I love wandering through markets and setting a menu based on produce.
  • It rained all but two Wednesdays between April and December. Two.
  • It’s not as fun to bring home wet green beans as you think.
  • I like cauliflower when mashed with salt and butter.
  • I love eating, and vegetables and the process of food but I missed my garden.

Tangerines

Posted: 13 December 2009 in observations
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I have vines growing from my ears.  Twisting, turning, thick green vines curling out of my ears, around my lobes and looping gently over my shoulders.  I must.  I’ve swallowed the seeds from thousands of tangerines.

When I was little, my grandparents babysat.  For lunch, my grandfather ate tomato soup and one tangerine.  He ate on a television tray in his glassed-in sunroom and he did it whether it was winter or summer.  I’m not positive there was even a tv in the room which makes me wonder if it was me he was watching over lunch.  Incidentally, for breakfast he had blueberry muffins (the sort that came from a box with a can of blueberries) or blueberries in half and half with a spoonful of sugar.  For dinner, he had applesauce with his pork chops and cranberries with turkey.  I wonder if he had fruit with every meal.

The tangerines were just that, not today’s clementines.  They had seeds and popped with juice and had a bare minimum of stringy pith.  He peeled, picked out the seeds and ate each slice.  I peeled, pulled off each bit of the pith and ate the slice, seeds and all.  To this, my grandfather would say “If you eat those seeds, you’ll grow vines out your ears!”

I’ve always been stubborn.  It’s no wonder there are vines growing out of my ears.

One of the great things about Charlottesville is the proximity of everything to where you are right now.  That’s a generalization, of course, but on days like today it seems true.  Work is within biking distance from my house (though I admit we drove today.  Okay, we drive everyday.  But I biked twice.  In the summer.  And then it was too hot.) and the parking garage is a short walk from work.  Between work and the garage is a restaurant.  And, amazingly, it’s a restaurant that we like that isn’t too expensive and doesn’t make us sick.  I would go every day if I could.

In fact, we don’t go as often as we could.  Usually we go for a weekend breakfast and, very occasionally, we stop in for lunch.  With the small staff, there’s always a welcoming smile.  At the risk of sounding a bit Cheers, it’s the most friendly, comfortable place in our radius.  Despite not being there every week, the host always has a chat with us and a couple of the wait staff have memorized drink orders for us.  There are a ton of other restaurants to enjoy, but not all are within walking distance and almost none make us feel like friends.

I’ve never had a place like this and I’ve always wanted one.  Mostly, I’ve lived in big cities with anonymous life.  Not a big drinker, so there’s never been a local bar.  I’m too shy to form relationships at convenience stores or markets.  If something was within walking distance to both work and home, it was a fast food restaurant or a gun shop.  Hey, I’ve lived in some interesting places.  As a bonus here, one of the staff is gay, coupled and at a similar place in life.  That’s like buried treasure, y’all.

So Charlottesville, I know I’ve given you a hard time about your shopping mall and your weird socio-economic strata but I promise to never sass you about your southern hospitality.  It’s nice to be home.

Delayed Gratification

Posted: 8 December 2009 in observations
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A few months ago, I read that chocolate chip cookie dough was ten times better if left to sit in the refrigerator overnight before baking.  Chemically, I think the theory would hold true for any cookie with flour and butter.  Leaving the dough overnight allows the flour to break through the bonds of the butter just enough to turn out a cookie that is richer, has a sturdier texture and boasts a slight caramel flavor that swiftly bridges the chasm between homemade cookies and bakery wares.

A few weeks ago, I put together a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  I don’t really like chocolate chip cookies, but the chips had been sitting there, mocking me, and I was likely to try to eat them with a spoon and a handful of baby marshmallows at any second.  The marshmallows were rescued (you can breathe again) and cookies it was.  Here’s a secret.  I prefer raw cookie dough infinitely.  Baked, cookies have a flat, greasy flavor.  Recalling the overnight trick, I resisted eating more than a spoonful (yes, I’m aware of the egg terror) and shoved the bowl in the fridge.

After 12 hours, that dough tasted like some sort of keebler elf had snuck into my kitchen and substituted my regular cookie dough for sweet miracles.  It was a little darker and was more integrated than it had been the night before.  I couldn’t taste or feel the grains of sugar.  And in a blast of genius (and no small amount of loathing for hours spent scooping and baking trays of cookies), I rolled dozens of balls of dough and threw them into the freezer.  Not like that.  I wrapped them first.  We also baked a few and they were phenomenal.  Much better than any cookies I’d had recently.

A few hours ago, I came home and ate one small ball of raw, frozen dough.  After I finished lolling about in heaven, I baked six of the frozen cookies.  Between the overnight dough and the pre-made freezer balls, I am the happiest person alive.  Best. Idea. Ever.

We had a fantastic snowfall last weekend.  It’s the first time I ever remember decorating the tree while heavy snow fell and Christmas carols played in the background.  I can’t believe it has never happened, but with a childhood spent in the west, it’s not entirely unlikely.  Still, it was a particularly storybook memory to tuck away.

While I’m not religious, I celebrate a holiday that brings family together (however you identify family) and focuses on giving.  We decorate a tree, we give thanks, we sing carols, I’m sure my wife has a word or two with god.  As for me, I welcome the coming longer days and the change of the seasons.  Spring is coming and along with it rebirth.  First though, rivers of eggnog, fantastic mistletoe kisses and heaps of chocolate.  Let’s not skip past those.

D says my family is fanatical about memory making.  Okay, I added the fanatical part.  And they are.  I grew up with my mother insisting that we were a “white picket fence” family and she constructed memories to go with it.  At the holidays, that meant gingerbread houses and men, sledding and hot chocolate, ice-skating on frozen ponds with colorful scarves and mittens.  She kept our childhood ornaments and carefully marked the dates, though the construction paper and popsicle stick ones have somehow disappeared, leaving only pretty ones behind.

Food features prominently in my family’s memories. Turkeys are golden and huge.  Ham is perfectly glossy.  There are dozens of tins of different cookies and plates of pies.  It’s a little like a Karo syrup Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  This year, I’m quietly appreciating a holiday season (and I’m counting Thanksgiving and birthdays in that) spent without my extended family and all the food and perfection that comes with it.  Not up to speed on my family’s weird birthdays?  Now you are.

This season, I’ll be able to get up as early (or as late) as I want to, wear sweats at the breakfast table, eat toast instead of cinnamon rolls, eat tacos instead of turkey, enjoy a non-gift focused celebration, listen to whatever music I want and not have to watch any parades OF ANY KIND.  There will still be memories (like when my wife doesn’t kill me for putting on the seventeenth unique version of Let it Snow.  You think I kid.) and the look on her face when she finds the tiny gifts I’ve tucked in her stocking.  It will be good.  I’m looking forward to my own sort of memory making.

As I stood there, peeling potatoes, I was thinking about how this particular peeling tool always nicks my fingers.  Every time, no matter how careful I am, I end up with a bandaid around a knuckle and blood in the sink.  Daydreaming about my soon-to-be nicks (maybe that’s why I’m getting nicked to begin with), I started thinking about how folks end up unexpectedly spending their Thanksgivings in the ER.

Ordinarily, I’m a reasonably good cook.  Dinner is an important part of our daily ritual and the more cooking involved the better.  Sometimes we’re too exhausted to whip up a feast (or anything at all) but when we do I feel more grounded and more satisfied.  Cooking a Thanksgiving meal is like a year-long version of that grounding.  It’s a capstone that makes me feel confident in the coming year, grateful for my connections and relationships, and quietly thrilled at my increasing mastery of the traditional meal.  And I don’t even like turkey.

Ordinarily, I have reasonably good technical skills.  Today I quickly chopped fresh sage and thyme into a sweet pile of fragrant, miniscule herbs.  It was indistinguishable in the stuffing, lending flavor but no earthy texture.  I mashed potatoes in a stable, sturdy pot.  I helped walk my wife through a perfect carving of the Norman Rockwell bird.  Knifes I handle, heat I manage, dishes stay intact.

Ordinarily, I’m not worried about stabbing myself.

Last night, I had a moment (after the finger nicking and before The Incident) when I wondered if I would call an ambulance or drive to the hospital if I sliced my finger open with my freshly sharpened chef’s knife.  Fortunately, it was the dull paring knife that slid off of the turkey and plunged into my stomach.  Stabbed.  I managed to stab myself directly in the stomach. The knife skidded off the bird, my wrist bumped the edge of the sink, the knife slammed into my shirt and punctured my stomach and then…stopped.

So here’s what I’m thankful for: that I am too lazy to sharpen the paring knife like I do the other knives; that I had a paint stained t-shirt on with a thick dried wad of paint right over the belly; that I am too lazy to use a rag when I paint; that I was using my non-dominant, less-strong hand; that my general high-stress personality caused me to freak over dropping the turkey (the dirt!) and simultaneously suck in my stomach; and, that I didn’t do more than draw a drop of blood.

Seriously.  Who stabs themselves at Thanksgiving?  Thankfully, we avoided a trip to the ER and a home evisceration.  We’ve a lot to be grateful for.