Archive for April, 2013

Even though it is not my favorite season, I think that I must be craving summer because lately I have been wanting to eat hot dogs and ice cream — foods I associate with baseball, cookouts, and warm days.

Hot dogs are generally pretty far down the list of “natural” and “healthy” foods, and they certainly aren’t something that is usually homemade, although they do give me ideas of making my own ketchup and relish, but sometimes happiness trumps healthiness, so off I went to the grocery store last night for hot dogs, buns, relish, and shredded cheddar cheese.  (Ketchup and mustard supplies were already adequate.)  Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), since hot dogs and buns both come in packages of eight, there is no longer a need for me to do my George Banks impersonation.

While I was there, I decided to pick up some of the new frozen Greek yogurt from Ben & Jerry’s.  I didn’t even look at the ingredient list or nutritional information.  Just plunked two pints — one vanilla-honey-caramel and one raspberry-fudge-chunk — into my basket and walked to the register without a backward glance.

The hot dogs were a thing of unnatural beauty.  While two heated up in the microwave, I lined two buns with a sprinkling of shredded triple cheddar cheese.  Once the hot dogs were nestled into their buns, I added a stripe each of dill relish, ketchup, and pub style Dijon mustard and chowed down while listening to the baseball game on the radio (one which had not been postponed due to snow).

I only tried the vanilla-honey-caramel flavor of the frozen yogurt.  It was okay — a little tangy, a little sweet and not too much of either.  It certainly won’t languish indefinitely in the freezer, but I continue to not understand the addicting attraction to Ben & Jerry’s products.

It may still be chilly and gray outside, but last night I had a tasty moment of summer.

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I love music.  I grew up in a house of music.  I live in a house of music (sometimes very loud music).

I need to make another donation to the local classical music station because during the recent episode in Boston, the morning host promised to provide news updates when there was actual news but said that it was okay if we didn’t want to listen to the constant barrage of coverage and offered a safe haven where we could listen to beautiful music.

Yesterday was Record Store Day, so I went to a local music store to see what collectible treasures there were to be had.  Mostly I was hoping for a copy of the Grateful Dead release to give to the other music listener in the house, but they were all claimed before I could find one.  (Hopefully, none of them are included in the hundred or so eBay listings which have since shown up.)  Luckily, the release will be available to the general public on cd at some point, and I find plenty of other fun things such as a Newport Jazz Festival recording and previously unreleased demos by Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.

The classical cd section in the store isn’t very big, and the last few times I have looked there hasn’t been much of interest, so I wasn’t expecting much yesterday either.  Turns out I was in for a surprise.  There was a far better selection than usual, including numerous recordings and artists on my wish list.  And used CDs were buy two, get one free.  Not surprisingly, I came home with a bag full and, after the baseball game was over, spent most of the rest of my day in headphones.

The variety and intricacy and history of classical music never ceases to amaze me, not to mention the fact that a lot of it has survived hundreds of years, as have some of the instruments.

Did you know that Scarlatti composed 555 keyboard sonatas?  He didn’t get started until he had turned forty, and he wrote them in twenty years.

Did you know that J.S. Bach, so famous for religious choral music, played in coffee houses?

Mistlav Rostropovich played the Duport Stradivarius cello made in 1711 and scarred by Napoleon Bonaparte when it was a mere century old.  Jacqueline Du Pre’s Davidov Stradivarius, made a year after the Duport, is now played by Yo-Yo Ma.

And so on and so forth.  So many stories; so many pieces; so many performances and recordings.  Which to choose?

The digital age has done wonders for classical music, preserving aging recordings which only exist in libraries of one sort or another.  Sometimes the preservation is faithful to the original, and sometimes a remastering process is applied, with varying degrees of success.  The result is a list of choices which can be overwhelming.

While I am a huge fan of reading as research, in this case, I don’t think that a book is really going to do it.  Sure, an expert can tell you which are the most famous or most loved or “best” pieces and performances, but everyone’s musical palette is different.  You have to get in there and listen.  Find a good classical music station.  If you don’t have one locally, there are many which stream live online (99.5 WCRB out of Boston is my favorite — see above reference to the fabulous morning host) and make programs available after the fact. If you hear something you like, chances are there is a schedule online which will tell you the exact name of the piece, composer and performer.  There might even be a link to a recording you can download or purchase on cd (or even the treasured vinyl).

If you choose to go wandering through the online offerings, many at astonishingly low prices (for example, the voluminous “box sets” put out by http://www.thebachguild.com/), I don’t recommend reading too many reviews.  Classical music enthusiasts tend to be vehemently opinionated and can get carried away harping on details which may not be apparent to a more casual listener.

The most important thing is to enjoy yourself.  Keep listening and trying new (to you) composers and performers, and you will learn what you like.

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Bacon.  Every once in a while, you’ve just gotta have it.  Well, I’ve just gotta have it.  Therefore, for lunch today, I had this meal:

I finally cooked some of the fabulous bacon I bought at the farmers’ market from the guy who sold me my Thanksgiving turkey.

I like my bacon well done but not overly crispy (and then there is my perennial fear of high heat), so I start it out on medium high heat for not very long (maybe thirty seconds or a minute) and then turn down the flame to cook it, relatively speaking, low and slow.  More of the fat renders before the meat is cooked all the way through.

While the bacon drained on paper towels, I spooned out most of the fat before cracking in two organic eggs — smaller than the others in the dozen, so probably not as good for recipes.  Yes, eggs fried in bacon fat.  Say it with me … Mmmmmmm.

Bacon and eggs like hash browns, but I am not so good at making hash browns, at least not quickly, so I tend to stick with mashed potatoes, which I find to be more versatile anyway (and which can always be fried a bit after the fact if you must have crunch).  I boiled up some red potatoes, tossed in a bunch of butter — go big or go home, right? — and herbed soft French cheese, and mashed with a fork.

It was worth every calorie and every gram of fat.

You can’t eat like this every day and be healthy, but I think that part of what makes a meal like this taste so fantastically good is that it is an occasional indulgence.  I chose to indulge today and will compensate accordingly for the next several days with lots of steamed vegetables.

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Poppy Pendle was born in a bakery — literally and much to the embarrassment of her parents, especially her mother. Poppy Pendle was also born a witch — an extremely gifted witch — much to the delight of her parents, especially her mother.

The problem is that the only kind of magic that Poppy likes is the magic of baking. She doesn’t want to be a witch. She doesn’t want to go to the exclusive magical academy for young witches. All she wants to do is bake and share her creations.

Conflict and struggle, adventures and mishaps, anger and sorrow, bravery and resourcefulness ensue. With recipes!! Almost all of which I want to bake.

Highly recommended for imaginative little girls (or not so little girls) who eschew the EasyBake oven for the real thing … or who have an uncertain relationship with the baking of tasty treats.

As mentioned on at least one previous occasion in this blog, baking and I do not get along terribly well, although as evidenced by the oatmeal cookie success, there is hope for the relationship.  Before I made the oatmeal cookies, however, I made lemon bars — Charlie’s Favorite Lemon Bars as made by Poppy Pendle to be exact.

I know that she is an imaginary character, but this little girl’s enthusiasm about baking (and sharing) and confidence in the kitchen are contagious.  The recipes are broken down into easy steps with clear instructions and plenty of encouragement.  She recommends the use of conveniences such as food processors and stand mixers (with the help of an adult), but if such appliances are not available, or you simply prefer to do things by hand, there are details instructions for that method as well.  She even explains measurements and calculations for making half batches of recipes.  As I read them, I found myself thinking, “If a twelve year-old can do it, then surely I can too, as long as I pay attention to the details of what I am doing.”

Now, I won’t say that the lemon bars turned out perfectly — I probably should have mixed the crust a bit longer in the food processor and baked it a bit longer before adding the filling, which was a bit too lemony for my taste — but they were most certainly edible, especially with a generous dusting of confectioners’ sugar over the top.  Hence I was sufficiently encouraged to try April Bloomfield’s recipe for oatmeal cookies.

Since the lemon bar recipe is several pages long, I don’t know that I can reproduce it here without infringing on copyright, and summarizing would lose some of the, ahem, flavor, but the author’s website is here: http://www.natashalowe.com/index.html.

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The best thing about truly fresh, local ingredients is that they require so little garnish or dressing.  Tonight I made a simple egg salad with fresh, local eggs, some diced red onion, a diced celery stalk, and due to the quality of the eggs, I only needed about a teaspoon of mustard and a tablespoon of mayonnaise to hold it all together.  I didn’t even add salt and pepper.  Then I piled on baby mesclun greens purchased at the farmers’ market on Saturday.  I prefer to put the greens on top and dig my way down to the salad because I get more greens that way, and they aren’t soggy from being under the salad.  Alfalfa or bean sprouts work well, too.  Delicious.

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Thus began an e-mail conversation with a co-worker when she sent me this link to a macaroni and cheese recipe containing a significant amount of cauliflower and squash, allegedly to reduce the fat and calorie content of this comfort food favorite.  Her plan was to see if she could get her son, who loves mac & cheese and detests squash, to eat it.

With its glorious, feel-good trifecta of fat, salt and carbs, macaroni and cheese is something of a sacred institution, but it is one of those dishes which everyone else seems to love and I just find gross, even though I do love both pasta and cheese, even together.

I think that it is because my mother didn’t make it from scratch, and my friends ate Kraft macaroni and cheese out of a box, which I find to be utterly disgusting.  (It’s NOT cheese!!)  Many years later someone convinced me to try Annie’s brand of macaroni and cheese out of a box, and I was still disgusted.
I replied with a few problems I saw with the above recipe.
Even with the cheese and margarine (really?? margarine? to make the roux? Hmmm), half a teaspoon of salt (especially nasty iodized Morton salt – I have become a salt snob since reading Salted by Mark Bitterman) is so not going to cut it against 8 ounces of pasta, a cup of cauliflower and a cup of squash.  One way to counteract the potential for blandness without just adding more salt to the dish is to make sure that the boiling water for the pasta is nice and salty.  I also suggested adding some other herbs and spices (unless her son objects to such things … which, it turns out, he is).
Also, unless the skim milk is of the high quality organic variety, skim milk is probably not going to thicken up very well, or maybe it will just take longer than milk with a higher fat content.  A little cream cheese or low fat sour cream or plain Greek yogurt might help.  (This co-worker is also lactose intolerant, so I asked what she planned to do about all of the cheese.  She responded that a combination of nutritional yeast, garlic powder and salt are her cheese substitute of choice but that she would use at least half real cheese for the initial offering.  She did plan to use butter instead of margarine and almond milk instead of the skim milk called for in the recipe.)
I would think that the relatively high water content of squash and cauliflower would dilute the taste in  a serious way.  If you cut up the squash and sprinkle it with salt and let it sit for about half an hour, it will give up a bunch of its moisture, which you can then drain off, if you can spare the waiting time (i.e. don’t have a dramatic seven year-old telling you that he is dying of starvation).  Overcooking it would do it too, so I advised against the “cook them well” direction because the vegetables were going to cook a bunch more when they spend over half an hour in a 350 degree oven.  I voted for steaming over boiling.
My final recommendation, based on a childhood memory of someone else I know, was to add sliced up hot dogs.
The result, in her words: IT WAS A TOTAL WIN!!!  (And she liked it, too, which was a helpful bonus.)
I have not been inspired to make the dish myself, or even this recipe which I found in the comments section of the first recipe which I thought sounded more promising, but it’s kind of fun to know that there is another sneaky way to get kids to eat vegetables.

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While the temperature only made it into the low-to-mid-forties and the wind was blowing fiercely, the sun was shining brightly, and there was still a farmers’ market to be found.  Sadly, today was the last “winter market,” and the regular summer schedule doesn’t start up until mid-June.  On the bright side, most of the farms that I buy from welcome visitors.  It’s just that they are a bit spread out, so being able to visit them all at once at a market is much more convenient.

The selection is still a bit limited, but I still came home with a nice bag full, of green things — spinach and mesclun and something called Tokyo Bekana — a dozen eggs, aged farmhouse cheddar made from raw goat’s milk, and a pound of bacon.

The bacon came from the farmer who sold me my fabulous Thanksgiving turkey last year.  I saw the bacon at the last market, but I was good and bought chicken breasts instead.  This week, however, I decided not to resist and bought a pound when I signed up for this year’s Thanksgiving turkey.  It’s too bad that I am not more of a fan of meat because he sells all cuts of beef and pork, including whole and half animals butchered and wrapped to the customer’s specifications.  It just sounds like such a good idea … if you have a large family to feed and/or eat a significant amount of meat.

I haven’t decided what I am going to do with all of the greens yet, although I think that some of them could be wraps for salad made from the eggs, but I have already eaten a good chunk of the goat’s milk cheese.  It tastes like a smooth but tangy blend of cheddar and feta.  Yum.

So start looking around for farmers with spring greens to sell and let your palette know that it is spring!

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I have a thing for bags.  Not fancy handbags or clutches or wristlets made by famous designers.  Not tote bags particularly.  And not even my reusable grocery bags.  The best way I can think of to describe the bags I like are mini-messenger bags — bags with lots of pockets, preferably with zippers to close them, and a nice long shoulder strap so that I can wear it crosswise.

I have a couple of guide bags from Eddie Bauer (although I may have given the smaller one away), the larger of which was dubbed the “spy bag” by a friend of mine because of how much the relatively small bag could hold.

A regular purse doesn’t work for me because I don’t really carry regular purse things.  I don’t even carry a wallet.  My travel necessities include my journal, at least one book, at least one pen, probably my phone and my iPod, keys if they don’t fit in a pocket, and whatever identification and funds I might need to get where I am going.  When I had a netbook, it was nice to be able to carry that as well, along with accessories such as a mouse, flash drive and power cord.  Now I have a nook hd+, which takes up a bit less space, especially if I don’t pack the keyboard.  About the only girly things I am likely to have are ChapStick lip balm and some sort of hair restraint.  I carry no make-up, comb/brush or hair products.  Not being a mom, I don’t carry child-related and appropriate items.

Around the last holiday shopping extravaganza, I discovered a company called (*)speck.  I discovered them online but have since seen their products in stores.  This bag was right up my alley, and I got a great deal on it.  There is a slot for the tablet, a pocket for the iPod and headphones and other miscellaneous cords, another pocket for money and identification, and another slot for books and the journal.  The strap isn’t long enough to wear crosswise, but it fits pretty well all the same.

Today I learned about a company that sells bags and organizers through the party/event plan or model or whatever it is called.  It seems like you can buy (or sell if you are a hostess, er, consultant) just about anything this way.  There have been Tupperware food storage parties and jewelry parties and cookware parties and candle parties, and of course we can’t forget those marvelous mavens of make-up, the Mary Kay ladies selling their way to a pink Cadillac.  The company which facilitates the selling of bags is called Thirty-One, and I stopped by a table where the local consultant had samples and catalogs and was not only selling the wares but doing so as part of a fundraiser to benefit the local YMCA.

The company offers many shapes and sizes of duffle bags and tote bags, as well as the sorts of bags which catch my eye, such as the Organizing Shoulder Bag and the Organista Crossbody, but the ones which really intrigued me with the thermal bags.  There were lunchbag shaped and cooler sized bags, including a drawstring pouch which would be perfect for knitting projects, but there were also much smaller options which could hold just a few snacks or heat/cold sensitive medications and easily fit inside a larger, non-insulated bag, purse or tote.  There is even an organizing pack with dividers set in it to keep camera equipment safe and protected from temperatures outside the comfort zone.

The general web site is http://www.thirtyonegifts.com/Catalog/ and the link to the specific event and consultant I met today is https://www.mythirtyone.com/shop/catalog.aspx.

There are, of course, lots of bags and organizing options out there to be had, but I thought these were neat and a little different than anything else I have seen.

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This link is just too much fun not to share: Cook Your Cupboard

My mother sent it to me, along with the accompanying NPR story.

I know that it is kind of cheating, but I think that is going to be my post for the day.  If I get motivated and/or inspired, I may be back.

In the meantime, enjoy.  (And look for the vegetarian haggis.)

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Baked goods are, shall we say, not my forte.  I usually can’t even successfully bake cookies that come right out of a package.  Lately, however, I have had a craving for oatmeal cookies, and I just wasn’t willing to buy some from the store.  Long ingredients lists become less appealing all the time.

I searched my library via EatYourBooks.com and was rewarded with an extensive list of possibilities.  I didn’t want anything too fancy or complicated, and I was looking for soft and chewy rather than crispy.  The recipe of choice became Soft Oatmeal Cookies from A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield.

The whole cookbook is amazing.  Yes, there is a lot of meat, and there are a lot of dishes I wouldn’t be inclined to cook myself, but the author makes them sound so good that I would be willing to try them in her restaurant if the opportunity presented itself.  This unassuming cookie recipe is tucked into the dessert section near the end.

The official ingredient list:
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dark sultanas or golden raisins
1/4 cup dried currants
10 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
large pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats

I didn’t have sultanas or currants, but I did have golden raisins.  I also had chopped hazelnuts left over from making a green bean, quinoa, hazelnut salad.  So I used half of a cup of raisins and a quarter cup of hazelnuts.

Two notes: The only “complicated” part about this recipe is that the raisins need to be soaked for several hours and the butter needs to be at room temperature.  I would recommend taking the butter out of the fridge or freezer and setting the raisins up to soak the night before.  Secondly, I highly recommend making a double batch.  Unlike so many cookie recipes, this one only makes about 16 cookies, even if they are substantial.  Since they are chewy/cakey rather than crispy, a little bigger is definitely better.

I put my fabulous stand mixer to work, complete with birthday present paddle attachment with a sort of spatula edge to it so that there is less scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Take the eggs out of the fridge.  Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  I am reasonably sure that I know what light and fluffy looks like now.  The author says about four minutes.  I let mine run a bit longer, just to be sure.  If you can leave your mixer unattended while the creaming is happening, sift the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix together.  (I used a fork.)  Once the butter and sugar are creamed, add the eggs one at a time, beating about thirty seconds in between.  Add the vanilla and the dry ingredients.  Mix until flour is incorporated.  Add raisins, nuts, and oats.  Mix again.  Put the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  I would recommend two.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  (I suppose that you could just grease the pan, but really, parchment paper is the way to go.  The cookies just slide right off, and cleanup is so much easier.  If you have ever had to sandblast cookies off a pan, try the parchment paper.  You won’t be sorry.)  Divide the dough in half (if making one batch).  Take one half and divide it into 8 balls.  Put the balls on the paper lined pan.  Bake for ten minutes.  Rotate the pan.  Bake for another ten minutes.  Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cook.  Repeat with remaining dough.

The result should be yummy, not too dense, almost breakfast/granola bar textured cookies.  Enjoy with a tall glass of well chilled milk or a cup of coffee.  Yum!

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