Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving of Firsts

Even though tomorrow is Thanksgiving on the calendar, we had a big family dinner - "Fakesgiving," perhaps? - on Saturday in Connecticut. And such explains our Thanksgiving of firsts:

1. First post-tailgate "Thanksgiving": Our first appointment that day was with the Yale/Harvard game (read: tailgating extravaganza with adorable toddlers running alongside drunken coeds). Here's a rundown of the experience written two years ago, right after my first game (and the very same weekend I came to realize the kinds of traditions that would henceforth require my participation).

Outside Yale Bowl, Plenty of Wine and Cheese
After unfurling a white linen tablecloth over the hood of his Jaguar sedan, Maurice Barry carefully assembled his tailgate spread. Barry and his brother, John, came prepared for the occasion, armed with an Italian white wine, a red French Bordeaux, some cheeses and green grapes, shrimp cocktail, mushroom soup, sandwiches for lunch, and brie for dessert.
The game, was, well... we don't talk about the score. But the reunions and signs of intense procreation happening all around us were fantastic. We arrived back in Guilford that afternoon to find a table set for 15, perfectly dressed with foliage, berries, and nuts from the yard, and a kitchen already bursting with fantastic smells.

2. First Thanksgiving champagne cocktail: Why in the world has this not been a tradition of mine before 2009? We sipped on simple cocktails made with sugar cubes, bitters, orange peel, and champagne, and I loved the flavor combination to kick off the celebration. I have all the makings for new ones this week, and the fixin's to dream up a cranberry champagne cocktail, too. Gotta be seasonal! 

3. First deep-fried turkey! This one shocked the Connecticut crew, who figured a Southern girl like myself would know my way around the deep fryer. But no: straight-up roasted turkeys from my mom's stove. I actually really enjoyed the turkey, although I might be cheating since I didn't really eat the crispy skin. The white flesh inside the skin, though, couldn't have been any juicier or more tender.

4. First dining-out experience on actual Thanksgiving: That's right, folks - we had so much fun in the kitchen on Saturday that we didn't feel the need to replicate the experience this week. We're just exhausted after a hectic New York City adventure tacked on to the end of the weekend. So dining at Craft it will be! We're taking along an extra-special guest, too. I'll probably wistfully miss cooking tomorrow, but right now, I'm pretty thankful for those reservations.

5. First (and last) last-minute fall-themed decorating attempts: Er... easy fall decorating with fresh everything, like I do every year? Gourds, pumpkins, the works? Not so easy if you're too busy to deal with it until the week of Thanksgiving and there's no more produce to serve as cheap decorations. D'oh!

6. First time hosting a Thanksgiving Sips & Sweets gathering! Since we're not cooking a real meal, we decided to host a little dessert party and celebrate an excuse to drink lots of champagne. Our place should be bursting with goodness: actual baking by this non-dessert girl (no promises - we'll see how it goes), a slew of libations, and no doubt many festive outbursts from this gal.

7. Oh yeah... first married Thanksgiving :-) I think of our "first" Thanksgiving as being two years ago, when it was just the two of us in Dallas and I made approximately 16 dishes that would feed about 40 people. Just us, in our apartment. There were even snow flurries. That's the 'Giving that'll always give me cheesy "way back when..." feelings. But our fingers were a tad heavier this year than that one. So to Thanksgiving Bling!

Happy week of food and drink, everyone!

Fantasy: "I'm not working today - I'm at the State Dinner!"

THIS is how you look at your wife at a State Dinner, in case anyone was wondering:

And that is most certainly how you dress. Naeem Khan: stunning. And the arm full of bracelets? The perfect touch for an event honoring India.

I loved the decor. Our wedding florist was the runner-up to becoming the new White House Florist, and I wish her hands had been on this event! Really, really nicely done, however. 

Did you see the menu? Forget the turkey... I'm craving chutney and lentils right now.

Potato and eggplant salad
White House arugula with onion seed vinaigrette
2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Modus Operandi, Napa Valley, California
Red lentil soup with fresh cheese
2006 Riesling Brooks "Ara" Willamette Valley, Oregon
Roasted potato dumplings with tomato chutney
chick peas and okra or green curry prawns
Caramelized salsify with smoked collard greens and coconut aged basmati
2007 Grenache, Beckmen Vineyards, Santa Ynez, California
Pumpkin pie tart
Pear tatin
whipped cream and caramel sauce
Sparkling Chardonnay, Thibaut Janisson Brut, Monticello, Virginia
Petits fours and coffee
Cashew brittle
Pecan pralines
Passion fruit and vanilla gelees
Chocolate-dipped fruit


Thursday, November 19, 2009

You know what time it is, busy procrastinators!

Right now I'm in the middle of a huge work meeting that is rather unnecessary for 6:15 in the evening. So unnecessary, in fact, that I am blogging rather than participating in said meeting. I'm thinking about our early evening flight tomorrow for a weekend in Connecticut and New York. Have I packed? No. Do I even have clean laundry? No. Is our apartment presentable for the pet-sitter (why yes, our cats are spoiled)? No. Do I have time tonight to do all of this? No. Did I have to cancel my participation in Champagne Thursday? Yes. Do I have an overly full day tomorrow, too? Yes. Do I have any idea how I will get on the plane in an acceptable manner tomorrow with appropriate outfits for the weekend in tow? Nope!

But you know, it'll all work out.

And in the meantime, I'm pretending that when I finally do make it back to my apartment tonight, this bed will magically be there, in clean and beautiful surroundings:

Maybe with a packed suitcase full of fresh laundry waiting beside it?

Related: Have I ever been prepared for a trip? Even when we left town for our wedding, I was up packing and panicking until 3 a.m. And I'm pretty sure we had that one on the calendar for a while. Hopeless.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pirate Radio: Mood booster for whatever ails you

Begin with one of my very favorite actors...

Pay tribute to one of his best characters...

Mix in another phenomenal actor....

Sprinkle in these moves...

Add in MURRAY (!!!) to your liking...

Garnish with a variety of other extremely likable people who are all fantastically styled...

Mix with a Richard Curtis screenplay (no need for 100% historical accuracy, right?) and serve to a fantastic soundtrack that'll have you humming and tapping your feet for two hours. What do you have?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday I'm in Love

My three picks for the week:
Haiku Duel

Please allow me to brag about two hometown heroes, the dynamic husband and wife duo known as Basashi-san and Mozza-san. On their brilliant blog Haiku Duel, my pals offer up competing haikus about topical news of the day in posts like Battle Karadzic War Crimes Trial and Battle Federer on the Grand Slam. Readers vote on their favorite haiku, and then tune in the next week for the outcome, along with a "glorious victory haiku" and "shameful defeat haiku." Think it can't get any better? Oh, it can: comments are accepted only in haiku form, and if they're good enough, you might find yourself spotlighted as the "extraordinary spectator haiku." Go get caught up the gloriousness of Haiku Duel, and get ready to vote in the new battle... I hear it's going to be posted tonight.

Beautiful Revolution

I fell in love with this Beautiful Revolution piece, seen over at a new (to me) blog, The Bedlam of Beefy. In a different light, this piece from the Love Letter series is just a little bit amazing.

The One-Liners of Roger Sterling

I'm still in denial that Mad Men is over for the season, and helping that cause is this fantastic composite of Roger Sterling one-liners from Season 3, courtesy of New York Magazine. Maybe NYM can do video tributes to every character for a while to help soothe the pain? While I wait breathlessly for the Peggy and Joan montages... long live the Silver Fox!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Confession: Window-Watching

I found myself completely entranced this morning by an article in today's Home section of the New York Times: Window Watchers in a City of Strangers.The piece elegantly peers into the lives of New York residents who watch their neighbors through their windows. Practices that might seem unsettling to outsiders are approached here as a reality of life for many New Yorkers, whose view out their windows often directly faces the private lives of neighboring strangers. The article introduces us to artists who find comfort in watching other artists work late at night; dueling dinner parties; family gatherings, and of course, sex and death. The resulting collage is a gentle look at a few much bigger questions: What's at the core of city living? Do collections of individuals whose lives surround one another's comprise a sort of family? Why do we watch other people, or why don't we?

"The artist Gail Albert Halaban explores the topic in a series of staged photographs, like the one above of a building on Third Avenue."

I admit to being a voyeur of sorts. I love glimpses into windows at night and enjoy seeing and listening to pedestrians on the sidewalk below my office window. While some might take a Big Brother approach to this sort of behavior, I feel more like a benevolent observer. Human behavior is fascinating to me, always, and I'm endlessly curious about people. The pitter-patter of conversation, pots clanging at the next place over... those sounds have always been comforting to me. And, ooh, I like the color of their walls... Ah, they're cooking together! See what I mean?

Peeking into other people's lives reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, courtesy of Mark Twain: "Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy." I suppose, for me, glimpsing even the smallest of behaviors is a way to write these bigger stories in my own mind. And it's worth noting that I only enjoy watching strangers, not people I know.

Tell me: are you a window-watcher as well?

* For illustrations of some celebrated New York residents' views, see "Personal Views of the City," a slideshow featuring the work of Matteo Pericoli. There are so many gorgeous photos in the article, as well, but unfortunately only two of the them are in the online version.

PS: This discussion reminds me of The Lives of Others, an absolutely brillliant film. Netflix immediately.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kitchen Gadgetry: Japanese Mandoline (and bonus recipe)

I didn't plan on falling in love with this mandoline. In fact, I registered for an entirely different one, and in the time it went unpurchased on our list, I read so many terrible reviews of it on Chowhound that I removed it. The problem was, I found terrible reviews of every mandoline, models that ranged from $40 to $200. Terrible reviews of every mandoline, that is, save one: a cheap Japanese model sold on Amazon with barely any English on the packaging. Enter the Benriner*, which can be yours for only $20: score!

I like that the Benriner is so simple and flat, making storage a snap. It's also really easy to use once you get the hang of the finger guard (safety first!). As someone without a food processor (I'm coveting the Cuisinart Elite), this mandoline makes certain dishes immensely quicker to assemble. I don't have a photo of my Benriner in action, but I have better: a recipe tailor-made for this little Japanese wonder. Enjoy!

Maggie's Apple and Fennel Pick-Me-Up Salad
(serves 4 easily)

This light salad can stand alone for lunch or accompany any sort of main dish - it's particularly good with fish. Sometimes, I really crave crunchy, lively freshness, and this fits the bill.

1 fennel bulb
1 apple
1/2 red onion
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Several handfuls of salad greens (I know that's imprecise, but I just add to the bowl until I like the overall consistency)

For the dressing:
 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about one small lemon)
zest of one small lemon
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

Using your mandoline's course blade, shred the fennel bulb and apple into long strips and place into a large salad bowl. Mix in sliced red onion (you can use the mandoline again if you'd like) and toasted pine nuts. Once you've mixed your dressing together, blend it into the salad. If you're planning on having leftovers, don't dress the entire salad right away. It'll keep well in the refrigerator for several days without dressing.


If this salad isn't your speed, here's another dish that begs for a mandoline shortcut: Glass Noodle Stir-Fry. Paired with Sesame-Crusted Tuna with Ginger Cream, it makes a fantastic meal (and I didn't even like Hosea).

Kitchen Gadgetry: Immersion Blender

Yesterday's post featuring Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup mentioned that I use an immersion blender to avoid pouring hot soup into a blender in order to puree it. In comments, Samma asked more about my blender. Here's the scoop:

I have a Kitchenaid model, available on Amazon for $50:

I considered buying a Breville that was three times the price, but the reviews of this one convinced me to give it a try. I figured that for my needs - pureeing soups, not crushing ice - the cheaper model would be fine. It's been great. Here it is in action:


As you can see, I'm using the blender right inside my big 'ol dutch oven. My dutch oven is 6.5 quarts and somewhat of a beast. Lifting this thing and gracefully pouring boiling liquids into an upright blender? Not going to happen. The immersion blender has been my lifesaver in this regard.

Bonus for moms out there: my friend MaryBeth uses her Cuisinart immersion blender (even cheaper than mine - I'm jealous!) to make baby food for her newborn. As with my soup pureeing, she says baby food-making is a snap with one of these.

A huge time saver (not to mention mess preventer), this tool. Less time and less mess? I'm a fan!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Feeding your indecision and optimism, one slurp at a time

Update: Now including the poem in comments!

I just spent thirty minutes digging through an ancient e-mail account trying to find a poem written for me long ago by my dear friend Allie. The poem was called "You Are My Tomato Soup," and was an ode to the comfort of a long lasting friendship. I think she wrote the poem in early college (or maybe it was late high school, in which case my e-mail searches were always going to be fruitless). Whenever it was brought into the world, I tacked it onto my bedroom wall and it moved with me for years. No doubt it's now in a box of lovely paper things that were also on various bedroom walls over the years. The wall posting is what matters with this poem, not the exactly timing, because the fact is, Allie and I have been friends since elementary school, and with that kind of history, it's okay to lose the specifics a bit.

(I write this knowing full well that if Allie drops by for a visit one day and sees this post, she'll remember exactly when she wrote "You Are My Tomato Soup" and could probably recite it on the spot. The woman's memory knows no bounds.)

I'm thinking about tomato soup this morning because I've fallen for a new recipe, even though it strikes me that new tomato soup recipes are almost besides the point. The dish is one of comfort; it soothes with a steadfast presence. We wouldn't want a new tomato soup recipe to shake our moorings too much; we look to other dishes for that kind of inspiration. But for times when you want the soothing nature of tomato soup and a little spunky conviction running through it (in the form of, say, sriracha sauce), this is your soup. I think it's best eaten in times of indecision, when you're most in need of a jolt of spicy optimism.

Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup
from "Michael Symon's Live To Cook" by Michael Symon

Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 28-oz can San Marzano tomatoes, with their juice
1 1/2 cups Chicken Stock
3/4 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1/2 cup Roth Kase Buttermilk Blue cheese*

Heat the olive oil in a 4-quart pot or Dutch Oven over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and a three-fingered pinch of salt and sweat for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sweat for 2 more minutes. Add the tomatoes, their juice and the stock and bring to a simmer with a small pinch of salt. Add the cream, sriracha sauce, and oregano and simmer for 45 minutes.

Pour the soup into a blender, add the blue cheese, and blend until smooth, working in batches if needed. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean pot, taste, adjust the seasoning if necessary, and reheat to serve. The soup will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for a few days. (My note: Or buy an immersion blender - I have a cheap Kitchenaid that works beautifully - and puree the soup right in the pan, and don't bother with any of the pouring or straining.)

*This cheese is available at Central Market, if you're in Texas. If you can't find it, look for the creamiest blue cheese available (buttermilk is best), or try a creamy gorgonzola if you're my sister and think you hate all blue cheese, even when melted amidst other flavors in soup form. Hmph.
**Credit for finding this soup goes to the Amateur Gourmet

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Days of our (Food) Lives

Such food-related delights on the interwebs today. Yummy enough to get me through the Monday morning blues, even. Or over the fact that I'm not in New York to attend the Piglet party, for instance. Sigh...

First up, I offer some letterpress goodness from David Kamp, whose The United States of Arugula I already told all of you to go read. In conjunction with another of his books, The Food Snob's Dictionary, Kamp worked with Greenwich Letterpress to develop these Food Snob Placecards.They're pretty amazing, if you ask me. After all, nothing is funnier than the fun you can poke at yourself. Take a look and buy some for your next food snob gathering:


And on that note, there are several recent online tidbits 'round the Web that perfectly embody the hilarity that is the fusion of the food and blogging worlds:

Take celebrated chef David Chang*, for instance, who only recently survived pissing off the entire city of San Francisco. GQ asked Chang to blog for them for three days alongside his cookbook co-author. What's revealed is not so much the seedy underbelly of cookbook promotion as the impressive amount of booze fueling the Chang tour. For instance: "Warm-rail gin and rum mixed into a big shot. Tastes and smells like rubbing alcohol, always a good thing when you need to remind yourself to stop drinking, and a bad sign when you find yourself drinking 10 gin rummies." Chang's missives are outright hilarious, due nearly entirely to his use of profanity and unapologetic rock star-dom (highs and lows, mind you). My favorite sentence, as he's en route to the SFA Conference to meet up with John Edge and company: "Southern hospitality makes me feel terrible as it makes me realize what a massive asshole I am." Read: David Chang for GQ.  (And by the way, I agree with Anthony Bourdain that SanFran needs to get over it.)

    Next up... you know those moments of generational confusion that happen with, say, your grandmother from time to time? Well, last week the grandfather of French cooking, Jaques Pépin, found himself lost in translation. The kindly god of soufflés estimated to the Miami New Times that he'd hooked up with "more than 10,000" cooks/servers/bartenders during the course of his formidable career. Obviously, shock and awe spread throughout the foodosphere with the news that Pépin was handling more than pastries around his legendary kitchen, and 10,000 of them at that. The next day, however, Pépin rushed to press with a rebuttal. In what I'd venture to say is a mistake as endearing as it is embarrasing, Pépin exclaimed: "...I must be too old and not 'hip' enough to understand that the TRUE meaning of 'hooked up with' now means 'slept with.' My interpretation of your question was that you were asking how many people I have encountered, cooked with, worked with, etc. in the food world. SHAME ON YOU!!"

    Rounding out this trifecta of foodie soap opera episodes, I present Todd English, owner of nine restaurants, many of which have several outposts. If you pay attention to the sordid world of chef gossip, you know that English is now known as the "Runaway Groom." That's right, folks, English left his bride Erica Wang at the altar last month. The first reports had the heroic bride attending her own reception anyway, bravely enjoying time with friends and family in the face of her embarrassment while the would-be groom partied in South Beach. But wait... there's more! In classic soap opera fashion, English rebounded with a tale fit for a PR wet dream, claiming that he wasn't the bad guy, but instead a victim of physical and verbal abuse! And we hear that they actually broke up a week earlier, but Wang had the "reception" anyway. But wait... there's more! The jilted fiancee retaliated with a tell-all interview in the Post, and then English decided to have Wang arrested for assault! I don't think we've heard the end of English & Wang, do you?

    Moral of today's post: Why waste time with lame reality tv when you can just read foodie press instead?

    *The Momofuku cookbook is on my Christmas list, in case anyone out there is wondering...

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Friday I'm in Love

    Some weeks, I'm pretty pumped when Friday rolls around. Some weeks it kind of surprises me, because the leadup came and went so quickly. This week, I have such a literal interpretation of the phrase "TGIF" that I would be on my knees begging some higher power to make today Friday if it really wasn't. Whew! On that note, three little gems from the week:

    The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks, by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock

    My favorite cookbooks are always the most literary ones. Don't just throw your recipes at me; seduce me first. I want to know where you're coming from, what you're about. I want to know what you always have in your pantry, what you can't resist at the market, and your idea of the perfect meal or midnight snack. I want to get to know you, then I want your recipes. This cookbook follows that premise as well as any I own. I was initially introduced to the unlikely pairing of Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock via Cornbread Nation 1, and promptly started running across their names on a weekly basis, everywhere I looked. I adore the spell of this cookbook: Peacock's gentle way of writing about "Miss Lewis," the careful delineations of Virginia v. Alabama heritage, and the really lovely presentation of food that is as graceful as it is down-home. For a taste of the tour de force behind this book (Edna Lewis is a legend in her own right, most notably for The Taste of Country Cooking), read this evocative essay published posthumously in Gourmet in 2008, "What is Southern?" A few minutes into Miss Lewis' "Southern is..." statements, and you'll be daydreaming about strolling along a green country road with a glass of sweet tea waiting for you on a porch across the creek. For instance.

    Paisley Craft Shade

    I would like to decorate an entire room around this lampshade.

    Brussels Sprouts season

    I'm thrilled that we're about to be bamboozled by fresh brussels sprouts. Show me someone who thinks they don't like brussels sprouts and I'll bet you they've only eaten them boiled and overcooked. Ugh! The real beauty of brussels sprouts comes out when they're roasted. My favorite way to cook brussels sprouts - which is also the easiest technique I know - is a rift on this Barefoot Contessa recipe. Mix the sprouts with olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper, throw them in the oven, and leave them there until they start to get charred and crispy. Oh, you want them fancier? Okay, then: throw chestnuts, pancetta, golden raisins, or walnuts into the dish for roasting. Or top the just-roasted sprouts with squirts of lemon or freshly grated parmigiana. Easy. Done. And delicious. Don't believe me? Talk to my sister and mother, who both told me they didn't like sprouts until I cooked them my way a few weeks ago. Guess who's lining up for brussels sprouts this weekend at the NC Farmers Market? Hmmm? Enough talk - go get your sprouts on, people!

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Looking for the silver lining

    I'm going to be honest: baseball and politics have put me in a terrible mood this week. I'm grouchy. And over-worked. And tired. Yesterday after work, I fell into two hours of deep sleep from which I only roused myself in order to meet up with some long-lost pals. Our girls' dinner (admittedly, more of the liquid variety for me) was great for my spirits, but I don't think any dinner could trounce yesterday's news.

    Consider this: on the same day the despicable Yankees won the World Series, gay and lesbian couples in Maine, so newly affirmed of their right to marry like the rest of us, were spending their first post-election day as lesser citizens than their neighbors. I imagine that many Mainers who voted to repeal the gay marriage law were more passionate booing the Yankees that night than they were when they casually revoked the rights of their fellow citizens the day before. But perhaps the casual indifference of the folks who stayed at home on the couch is even more damning. Me, I'm not sure I could feign indifference about couples who've been together 20 years and only want to be recognized as such. Staying on the couch in the face of those couples is heartbreaking. But that's just me, a silly civil-unions-for-everyone proponent anyway.

    I love poring over election returns data, and will be anxiously looking at the age of the average Maine voter from Tuesday. We already know that a huge portion of the opponents to gay marriage are aging Americans (who incidentally, also turn out to vote in much higher percentages than other age brackets). Many statisticians point to this data to explain that in another generation, a ban on gay marriage could seem as incomprehensible to us as a ban on interracial marriage* seems to us today. This one's for them:

    from Flickr

    Since I can't drop in to say hello without a silver lining, here are two good things: We're working hard on that whole Life Plan thing, and hope to have an update soon. Also, sometimes you just need to wear pretty shoes - not for vanity or fashion's sake, but simply for the way they make you smile when you need to (even if The Evil Empire did indeed strike back yesterday). Today is one of those days.

    To a brighter future!

    Want more information or ways to help regarding the struggle for marriage equality? The organization we donated to in lieu of favors at our wedding, Freedom to Marry, is a great resource - go check them out.

    Bonus Link: Ana Marie Cox: "Glee," Sincerity, and the Maine Gay Marriage Repeal

     * Speaking of interracial marriage, our justice of the peace friend in Louisiana finally resigned. What comes around goes around...

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    My Wandering Days are [closer to being] Over

    Change is afoot. I can feel it.

    Here's an oldie but goodie for T, who's flying home to me tonight. We used to laugh about how appropriately us song this one was. I like that it means something different now. Tell it, Belle and Sebastian.

    "My Wandering Days Are Over"
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