Friday, August 24, 2012

good to the last drop

After I made that lemon mousse the other day, I kind of got mousse on the brain. It’s comfortable there.  Right at home, you might say.  Among other things, I have always been perfectly content to eat a bowl of whipped cream when I had the chance; as a child, the task of licking the beaters and the bowl were my exclusive domain, and my college roommate used to take me right smartly downtown for a large creampuff when I showed signs of extreme distress, so clearly I failed to grow out of the fondness.

Having tackled the lemon, I set my sights on a coffee mousse.  Drinking coffee is one youthful habit I have surrendered; though I love the flavor of it, I abused its powers so severely during the last two years of high school that I hung up my mug of my own volition, alarmed by the jitters and headaches that went along with the admittedly delightful aspects of the ritual.  I consigned the use of the cup of joe to medically necessary situations--sole driver on a late-night drive, for instance--and otherwise abstained, sniffing longingly at other people’s cups. 

On a trip to Italy years ago (during which voyage, incidentally, I knocked out a temporary crown on a rear molar eating a creampuff) with my already coffee-craving pre-school-age daughter, a kindly barista prepared her a “caffe bimba”—a steamed milk laced with a grain ‘coffee’ that he called caffe orzo. She lapped it up.  Fine for her, but no coffee-lover over the age of four and in their right mind would maintain their resistance in Italy, right?  Only the fact that I was hugely pregnant shored up my resolve, and motivated me to try the kindercoffee.  It was delicious: roasty and rich and very convincing.  We bought some to bring home, where numerous attempts by various methods of grinding and brewing produced everything from dishwater to compost tea.

So began a survey of various grain-based coffee substitutes.  I found one that tasted kind of acceptable to me, but when I served it to my mother (a gold-standard Coffee Achiever of the highest order) she gagged and said it tasted “like burnt salmon.” You can bet it was hard to finish that can, once that association had been made.  Now we use (but do not serve to Nana) something called Dandy Blend, which to my tastebuds has all I miss of coffee.

I made the mousse with it and was quite happy.  But the mousse was a little sweet, and I also wondered if others would want to use the real deal, not some hippie grain substitute, and thought I had better test it out that way.  The formerly pre-school-age, still coffee-obsessed daughter, now my height, agreed heartily that this was called for, having inherited my feelings for whipped cream and coffee both. 

Life can only be lived forward, but understood in reverse—didn’t someone say that?  And then there is my favorite adage: “if you can’t set a good example, at least you can serve as a horrible warning.” (If I ever get a tattoo, that will be it.)

The short version of the story: both less sugar than I used in the first attempt AND using true coffee work well.  Proportions and directions are given below.  The longer, YouTube-ready answer: on a night when your cousin and her two small children, one running a fever, are in town for a few days and staying for dinner, and you face both a firm 7pm commitment for your teenager and a windfall of tomatoes, and it is 86 degrees in the kitchen, do NOT give in to the temptation to make two versions of mousse while preparing dinner, fielding requests for snacks, and roasting three trays of tomatoes.  Do NOT listen to the kindly cousin, who along with your time-anxious teenager is helpfully halving tomatoes and trimming broccoli while other foodstuffs fly through the air around her presumably-vacationing head, when she says “are you sure the cream will whip at that speed?  I always have to turn it up to get anywhere.”  Do NOT think, well, when I do that, it splatters but I guess if I drape a kitchen towel over the mixer I’ll be fine. 

Are you worried that I am about to tell you that the kitchen towel got caught in the beaters and there is whipped cream in my light fixtures and a burned-out motor in my KitchenAid?  No, I am a good towel-draper.  And had the tented stand-mixer been my only responsibility, it all would have ended peacefully.  But I had a frittata and some garlic bread finishing under the broiler, and four children traipsing through the house merrily playing hide and go seek, and the great company of the daughter and the cousin, and (oh, who could have seen this coming?), I made some FIRM whipped cream.  Think ‘spackle.’  The cousin was right: whips up faster when you crank up the motor!  Just as the garlic bread burned and one child could be heard laughing hysterically (“Alejandra fell asleep in the hamper!”), I pulled the cream back from the very brink and made something out of it that really could not be photographed, but whose data can serve us all well.

coffee mousse

½ c sugar
2 T Dandy Blend, or 1-2 T instant coffee (depending on your passion for coffee intensity)
¼ c cornstarch
1 ½ c whole milk
1 pint (2c) heavy cream
dash of vanilla

In a small saucepan, mix the sugar, coffee and cornstarch until lumpless and well-combined.  Slowly add the milk, stirring all the while, and mix until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring without stopping no matter who is asleep in the hamper, and continue cooking until it thickens obviously, about three minutes total.  Pour into a medium bowl (one that is a bit too large for this quantity), and press a piece of waxed or parchment paper right onto the surface to prevent a skim from forming as it cools.  Cool it down at least to room temperature, and possibly also refrigerate if you have time.

Whip the cream and vanilla using vigilance and attention to soft peaks.  SOFT.  Reserve about a quarter of the cream in a separate bowl (or drop it into a pastry bag if you are feeling fancy).  Using a balloon whisk, combine a dollop of the unreserved cream with the coffee mixture, to lighten it, then scrape this mixture into the cream bowl and lightly but thoroughly combine the two.  Scrape into one large or several individual dishes, and garnish each with the reserved plain cream. Refrigerate for as long as you can stand to wait; a couple of hours is ideal.

Crumbled chocolate snaps or chocolate shavings would gild the lily nicely, if you feel it calls for gilding. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

the ugly truth

Am I the 27th person in the last ten days to tell you that you MUST make an oven-roasted tomato passata?  Though I normally like to dwell on the fringe, I am happy to pipe up with the chorus here.  If I can provide that crucial last little shove to send you over the edge, all the better.  They are not beautiful, these tomatoes, but they bring a lot to the table.

Oven-roasting tomatoes is one of those brilliantly simple little dance moves in the kitchen that make you feel like you probably ought to get your own cable show, and now that tomatoes are dropping from every corner there is really no excuse not to try it.

Meanwhile, in related news, my Greek Food Porn impresario is really turning up the heat with the photos she is snapping on her vacation.  Check out what came slinking into my inbox yesterday under the unassuming banner, "Goat Milk Egg Noodles."

Now we really need some tomato sauce.  My gosh.  Cover those nude I mean noodles UP.

Besides the utter simplicity that the oven-roasted tomato has going for it, there is its versatility.  Roasted, as is, you may find you have eaten half the tray before getting organized to do anything with them.  Or perhaps that is just me. You can plop them onto a sandwich, say one involving fresh mozzarella, or toss them with hot pasta and some fresh basil and some cheese that appeals to you.  They are happy on a pizza.  And so forth.  You can whap the tray into the freezer, and once the tomatoes are firm, pack them in a ziploc bag.  Come winter, repeat all the steps with sandwiches, pasta and pizza, just pausing for about 2 seconds to pull the peels off the partially-thawed beasts (they toughen in the freezer), and thank your summer self for this outrageous gift.

The thing about this roasting business is that it concentrates the tomato-ness, as well as adding tons of flavor.  Gone are the days of a long-simmered tomato sauce, because you have roasted all the excess water off in the oven.  So even a glut of regular table tomatoes can become a stupendous sauce; you are not limited to sauce tomatoes only.  

Once you are done with roasting, cool them down and then do what my friend Marc does: attack the tomatoes with a blender or food processor, then force them through a strainer or food mill.  Blendering them up leads to a much faster and more thorough straining step, even if you have a food mill.  I freely confess to eating the skins and seeds I strain out, which I suppose means I could leave them in, except that the roasting and straining gives you such an amazingly silky sauce that I am glad not to have the bits and bobs interrupting it.

So. You will need:

a lot of tomatoes
parchment paper to line your baking trays and don't forget I said that
olive oil
fresh oregano (best) or dried (fine alternative)
whole, peeled garlic cloves
coarse salt
fresh pepper

Heat the oven or ovens to 350.  Halve the long pointy tomatoes and quarter the bigger round jobs if you have those too.  Lay them out in single layers, cut side up, on parchment-lined trays and pans. (Carmelized tomato sugar and oil are rotten to scrub out, so go for the paper).  Tuck some leaves and sprigs of oregano in among the tomatoes, or sprinkle the dried leaves over, and cozy some garlic cloves around as well.  Pretend (if necessary) that you are Italian, and drizzle olive oil generously over the tray.  I used to obsessively paint each tomato with a pastry brush full of olive oil, and mince up the herbs, and sprinkle diligently, until I connected with my inner Italian.  Now I am all about the broad strokes.  Abbondanza and so forth. Sprinkle a fat pinch of coarse salt over the tomatoes, and a few grinds of pepper.

Slide them into the hot oven and roast until they shrivel and there are bits of tomato caramel here and there.  A lot depends on the size of the tomato--cherry tomatoes roast in a blink, while the fatter ones take about an hour or more.  Use convection if your oven has that setting.  Rotate the pans now and again.  Your house will smell heavenly.  Sing whatever arias come to you.

Cool them in their pans.  If you have used mainly sauce tomatoes, you probably want to slap a tray in the freezer for later bagging.  If you have roasted big fat round table tomatoes, a lot more water than you might expect will emerge as they cool, making you think you achieved nothing.  You are fretting unnecessarily; you have gone a great distance, and just make sure you include that liquid when you grind it all up to make sauce.  

Use whatever appliance you have handy (blender, food processor, stick blender) to break the tomatoes down a bit--no great huge pureeing is called for, just a thorough pulsing--and strain using a food mill or a coarse strainer.  The sauce freezes nicely but you may want to just throw it right on some pasta (helpful if a band of Greek women have tied a goat up in your yard and taken over your kitchen), or add a little stock and cream and call it soup, all for immediate consumption.

Buon appetito.

Monday, August 20, 2012

armchair travel

My friend Andrea is a good friend to have.  She will agree to come along and pick cherries in unbearable weather, and show up with even more containers than you have brought--a sign of her optimism and enthusiasm.  She will share your obsession with cracking the code on some elusive Turkish or possibly Greek baked pudding that may also be boiled, which seems to contain chicken but doesn't have to, and present you with cookbooks and late-night emails testifying to her mettle as a code-cracker.  She may, if you are very lucky, also present you with a bottle of olive oil, which turns out to come from the olive grove belonging to her family in Greece.  

Then again, she may twink off to Greece for a month, and send you what can really only be described as apricot porn.  So think twice before getting too friendly with her, or you may find your inbox clogged with images like these:

all photos by Andrea, who is in Greece, and not by me, home here in Massachusetts

Look at the pits, lolling about in that sultry way, on top of the jars.

She says she has a jar of this in her suitcase for me.  I think that is the sea that I see, there behind the jars and the olive trees.  I hope some of that is in her suitcase, too.

As for what we can actually eat, the greens have been glorious lately, now that the weather is cooling off and we have had some rain.  My default treatment of a mess of greens is to saute them with garlic and tamari, but I went successfully out on a limb last night and this is how you can, too:

almost rich greens

a large bunch of kale 
a large bunch of swiss chard
2-3 T olive oil
1-2 T butter
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
salt to taste
1-2 tsp curry powder
2-3 T heavy cream

Wash the greens (leave the washing water clinging to them) and chop them up--I like to roll them and then cut in fine ribbons.  Heat the butter and olive oil in a large, heavy skillet and saute the garlic for maybe a minute--don't let it brown, just become fragrant.  Stir in the curry powder and immediately add the greens, in batches if need be.   Cook, stirring, with maybe the addition of a splash of water if there is not enough water on the leaves, until the greens soften and become almost tender.  Now add a fat pinch of salt and the cream, and cook another few minutes, until tender enough to suit you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

pile driver

Do you know the warm, allover thrill of being totally caught up in every respect?  I do not.  I don’t think I have ever felt even an approximation of it. In fact I just imagine that it is a warm, allover thrill.  It could be a chill up the spine for all I know, or a burning sensation in the ankles.  But how generally behind I feel on a daily basis sunk to new lows when I found myself with pneumonia in the spring.  I surrendered not only the days on end when I was too sick to attend to things, but the weeks following where I hardly had the energy to do half of what each day called for, let alone to dig out from under the snowdrifts that had accumulated while I lay around moaning. So I find I am still encountering the aftershocks from this adventure.  Not having the time or energy wattage to give my blackberries their brutal spring cutback, for example, meant each pint of berries cost the picker a decent bit of blood-loss.  

And then there is the wool.

Among the things I never expected to know a thing about back in my careless youth are the finer points of wool processing.  But we’ve had sheep for ten years or so, and now I can get an email from the nice fellow who does our spinning and sort of understand what he is saying.  You will think, on first glance, that this passage that follows, which arrived when he was working on our last batch of yarn, is written in the same language as the paragraphs above it, but you will soon see that we are dealing with the Woolian dialect of Yarnglish.

It is very difficult to keep a thick singles consistent, so as I predicted there are some thick and thin spots.  Though I went through it pretty well, there are assuredly some tornado slubs I missed.  I probably also missed the occasional break-and-start.

Right!  Got that?

One of the tasks that slipped through my already slippery fingers back in the spring was taking the small mountain of wool that was sheared off our sheep and readying it for processing by the nice fellow.  Of the pounds of fiber worn by your average sheep over winter, a large portion is pretty well worn out (at least in terms of future re-use by humans) by the amount of hay and, well, other refuse that it is full of, and all of that unpleasantness has to be cleaned off of the edges of the woolly suit that the shearer has removed from the animal.

this is the "during" shot

whereas here you see the "befores" comparing notes with the "afters"

Some people cover their sheep as the wool grows in order to keep it tidy, especially if the wool in question is very fine and prone to matting.  There is a lot of crossover, I think, between these people and those who feel the warm (or perhaps icy) thrill of preparedness at all times.  The little slipcovers require monitoring and adjusting and repair—a trifecta of tasks not on the daily agenda here.  

We leased a ram one year who came in one of these snappy white covers, looking a little like Maurice Chevalier in a dinner jacket (but only a little).  He also looked out of place, to say the least, among our ragtag bunch with the hay in their hair, and he took kind of an uppity attitude as a result.  He was not observed completing a single item on his to-do list; he appeared to spend all his time standing debonairly off by himself, snerling his lips in the peculiar way that rams do when they are around ewes who are in the mood, but demonstrating no further interest. It turned out that he was simply discreet--plenty of lambs followed his visit--and also that he was pining for the billy goats back at his home farm, whom he mounted with frank enthusiasm in broad daylight as soon as he hopped off the truck.

This is totally not where I was going with this.  Lemon mousse!  That’s what I planned to tell you about.  Let’s get our bearings: tackling tasks was the theme here, and I was really almost ready to lead you to the mousse, through the sheep.

Okay, so usually I am right there as the clippers buzz, roughly sorting the wool as it gets bagged up, and then when the rush of shearing is behind us, on a nice sunny day I set up this strange table that my husband built for me and do a more thorough job of getting the nasty bits out of the fiber. It’s called “skirting” and it is grubby work, with a distinct mythical quality.  Both rolling a giant stone up a mountain and a tower room filled with straw come readily to mind as I stare down the heap of bags, each with its infinitely indefinite degrees of "done."  But I was not right there at the time, and though my multi-tasking husband managed to play my part as well as his on the day of the haircuts, I also failed to find time to do the second stage.  For months.   Like most tasks of this nature, once a backlog of time builds up between when you ought to have done it and the present moment, the impossibility of ever getting it over with looms larger every day.   

Also true: once you dive in, you get some momentum up, and once you get it behind you, you feel pretty flippin’ pleased with yourself. 

Until you look back at the to-do list.

In this case, first I had to clean up the collateral damage of completion: no matter what precautions are taken with tarps and wind direction, the theater of operations ends up looking like it was used for teddy bear target practice or some barbaric ritual that ended badly for a lot of rabbits.  Then there is the mondo pile of yucky, discarded wool to be dealt with.  To garnish the satisfaction of clearing the skirting off my agenda, I took the discarded wool around to the back of the house.  I terrorized my overgrown herb garden (see above, "not at all with the program since spring,") generating another huge pile, this time of weeds and clippings, and mulched the newly-weeded beds with wool.   

When it matts down a bit from the rain, I’ll cover it with some bark mulch to help it look less silly.  Right now, we are in the fluffy and silly stage.  But we are also weeded.  Thirteen square feet of well-maintained, out of a total acreage of....oh, forget it.  I am losing that pleased feeling already.

So: piles of wool, clean and less so.  Piles of weeds.  A pile of dessert.  See how it all connects?  I wanted to make some of a recent windfall of lemons into a mousse and I was too lazy to be bothered taking the time to look up how to do it.  I got a notion in my head a while ago that a person could make a batch of lemon curd, and whip some cream, and fold the two together, and chill it, and put raspberries on top, and I was not in a mood after all this picking and bagging and digging to be delayed by researching methods and quantities that had been tested and worked out by others.  

This attitude is often my downfall, but in this case the end result vanished in a matter of moments, so it must have had some merits.  I chilled it for an hour or two before we ate it, but I think a longer chilling would have been good for the firmness. I also think my daughter, who did the final construction here, would testify that it can be eaten immediately without any chilling at all, because without strict supervision that is just what she would have done.

Lemon Mousse in a Jiffy

You will need:
a batch of lemon curd

a pint of heavy cream
a dash of vanilla
1/4 c powdered sugar, possibly

a lime
a pint of raspberries
2-3T granulated sugar

Step one: make the lemon curd.  Cool it down completely.  You can do this ages ahead.  It keeps like a dream.

Step two: whip a pint (2 cups) of cream to soft peaks, adding 1/4 c of sifted powdered sugar if you like things on the sweeter side, and that dash of vanilla.

Step three: Reserve about a quarter of the whipped cream for garnish.  Fold the cooled lemon curd into the remainder gently and thoroughly (a balloon whisk works nicely).  Scrape into a serving dish (or a group of individual dishes) and top with the reserved cream.

Step four: Using a microplane, zest a lime onto the surface of the dish or dishes.  Now juice the lime, and in a small bowl toss a pint of raspberries with the lime juice and 2-3T of sugar.  Reserve, while the mousse chills, and then spoon a little of the berries and their accumulated juices over each serving.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

hedge your bait

In an old Pillsbury Bake-Off cookbook that my mom has, of early 70's vintage, there is a recipe for Blueberry Boy Bait.  It's a very buttery and sweet, cinnamon-sugar-dusted one-bowl cake, but it almost doesn't matter what it tastes like, right?  The name does all the work.  We used to make batches and batches of it.  As near as I can recall, no boys were baited.  But it was a tasty cake.

I woke up thinking about Blueberry Boy Bait because someone left the freezer door open yesterday--not the Big Kahuna Freezer, thank goodness, because if that puppy defrosts, you will find me in the nut-house with all the nuts and the squirrels.  The mere notion of such an event gives me grey hairs.  This was just the little bottom-of-the-fridge freezer, where snacks are snatched hourly, and nothing much was lost besides a set of those yogurt & jam popsicles.  But a little bag of blueberries did thaw and then re-freeze, making me think that quickly dispatching them was best for all concerned.

When it came time to mix it all up, I found myself unwilling to use all the sugar called for.  Furthermore, I did not have, at room temperature, all the butter indicated.  Also, there is a cinnamon-resister in my house. I was planning to sub coconut oil for half the butter, and my little peanut brain, already excited by the alliterative "blueberry boy bait" thing crackling across its wires for hours, starting humming the song that any little peanut brain might hum under these circumstances:

and, with a few additional modifications, this was on the table not too long after. 

You could certainly make a case for using all butter if you had it, but the coconut was a nice accent.  I put almond meal in everything, but it is not a deal-breaker here; cornmeal would substitute comfortably, and so would an equivalent amount of regular flour.  If cinnamon has more curb appeal (or availability) than limes in your house, skip the lime zest and make the original topping.

blueberry cake with lime
uncertain, to a degree, of whom it might bait 

1 c whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
1/3 c almond meal or cornmeal, or additional flour
3/4 c sugar
2t baking powder
3/4 t salt

5T butter, softened
5T coconut oil, room-temperature
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1 cup milk

1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

3 to 4 T sugar
zest of one lime, finely grated

Preheat the oven to 350 and lightly butter a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a mixer and mix well.  Add the butter, coconut oil, eggs and vanilla and mix on low speed for about half a minute, until lightly combined.  Bump the speed up one notch and slowly add the milk.  When all the milk has been added, and the mixture looks pretty uniform, take the speed up to medium and beat for 2-3 minutes, until the batter is fluffy and light.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly.  Scatter the berries across the top.  Combine the sugar and zest (or cinnamon), and sprinkle over the berries.

Bake 40-50 minutes, until golden and set.  Try to let it cool a little (it makes slicing it easier), or just make a mess of dishing it out and hasten the cooling process with ice cream.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Last week I was at the deli counter of the market when a woman came up next to me and ordered a sandwich.  "I'd like a hummus wrap on whole wheat, please," she said. "With shredded carrots and four or five raisins."

I am in love with this moment.  I am not sure why.  Her bold dedication to her unique desires, I suppose.  When the sandwich guy got into gear on her sandwich, he repeated her order back: "So that was a whole wheat wrap, with hummus, shredded carrots,--" 

She piped up cheerfully: "And a few raisins.  Three, or four.  Maybe five."

I am deeply curious about this.  Why the Five Raisin Ceiling, for example?  It had the sound of a firm limit.  I guess the curiosity and fascination originate in a part of my brain that is near the area that can crack myself up thoroughly by reading silly names in the phone book.  But I also know, if I wanted to eat this same sandwich, that I would travel with an emergency pack of raisins in order to carry out an after-market modification. You go, Raisin Lady.

That's about the most exciting food news of the last few days, other than a trip to eat a fine and very reasonably-priced dinner at Lone Star Taco Bar in Allston, as part of our recent Boston-Area outing. 

Instead of cooking anything yesterday, we made hats. In case this sounds like one of those blog entries you read where the house is way cleaner than yours and the parenting more relaxed and the life just generally upgraded, remember that at least at this address, the house was a mess, the mercury at about 90 and the humidity higher than that, measures of testiness and irritability spiked here and there throughout the process, and we had take-out pizza for dinner afterwards, in a dining room still liberally flecked with soap and wool.  

I read those blog entries too, and wonder why my kitchen is not light-suffused, my children not happily dressed in the vintage-inspired pinafores I made for them, why my afternoons are not taken over by building fairy houses in the woods and eating dishes of cloudberries with cashew cream of my own fashioning.

Every so often you meet a person who seems to have a lovely existence in absolutely lovely order.  They can be found in the wild, it's true, but outside of the stop-motion blogosphere they are rare.  More often, I come into contact with people of the more regular variety.  Yet if one area of their personal map looks to be under tighter command than it is on my atlas, then I may think--ha!  perfect life!  I stink!  Look at the way they do that and I can't! 

Usually I think that, truthfully.  Almost inevitably I think that.  But a few weeks ago, a close pal said she read this post of mine and thought to herself--ha!  perfect life!  Look at how you did that and I can't! Oh, you and your perfect life.  On a farm!  With the chopping!

We are all so committed to believing how much better we ought to be at most things.  Even the chick with the pinafores and the cloudberries, I bet, when the camera is off and the sun sets, has some deep doubts.

On the drive home from Boston, with my visiting nephew in tow, the cousins talked through the "what superpower would you choose?" question.  You know those moments when you wish you had a tape recorder in the steering wheel?  Flying was mentioned, yes, but also time travel, and turning into a liquid, and--I'll take me a little of this one, please--snapping my fingers and everything falls into place.

My superpower?  I would give us all, each and every one, the ability to both forgive our messes--the tumbleweeds of dog hair in the corner of each and every room (why are the dogs not bald?  how much spare hair can they have?), the unbalanced checkbook, the backlogs of laundry and filing, and the fits of temper and panic, and the perennial failure at wearing lipstick of any hue (no, it is not because I have never tried the right color)--and enjoy our selves, five raisins and all. 

It is Monday and I have a monster load of things to do. I will not get to most of them, and these failures will undoubtedly snowball into unpleasant errands, increased expenses and more temper and anxiety.  

But we did


Friday, August 3, 2012

in it to win it

Silver Sisters, you have something to put on your toast!  Just email me your particulars, and I'll get things rigged up for the post office.

Thank you all for your stories.   Also, I sensed some passionate interest in the visuals over this last week.  Maybe the Raisin of the future is a Hollywood Hottie Eye Candy SnackPorn site.  I'll think it over this weekend.

Family road trip today, so no big adventures in the kitchen.  I made the trunkload of zucchini I foisted on my unsuspecting sister, whom we are visiting, into that miraculous zucchini soup.  Earlier in the week, my citrus angel sent the most ambrosial oranges you can imagine, which we instantly converted into one of the best things ever to drink in the summer.

That right there, above, is Ryan Gosling eating an apple.  It looks like a crunchy one, doesn't it? 

See you Monday!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

we're all in trouble now

Yes, there is still time to leave your name for that jar of jam....

new day

There are a few reasons to be grateful today.  Actually, there are dozens and dozens.  Here are three four:

1. The Miracle Chicken, who survived being pecked for all intents and purposes pretty much right to death, as I told you, and then dodged The Hand Of Chicken Death that claimed her bunkmates and three other chickens in one dreadful week of random and distressing poultry management misery that I kept secret from you, and was presumed Taken From Above yesterday by the circling hawks, has materialized yet again.  Though unnaccounted for at roll call last night, there she was this morning all "where's my breakfast?"  She continues, at least for today, not to be dead. This is a specialty of hers, thus far.

2. When I said, honestly but also, in truth, kind of reflexively, "Thanks so much," to the young man with special needs who does the bagging at the grocery store this morning, he said, very thoughtfully, "You are welcome so much."  I became, instantly, way more thankful than I had been a moment earlier, and a little more alert to the nice ways we can connect to other humans as we go about the day.

3. At least 10 of you are battling Ryan Gosling with me.  There is still time to leave your name to win a jar of jam and save us all from my searches to see what other food groups have been rendered into effigies.

4. The corn and the tomatoes are rolling in, so it is time to make my go-to summer potluck salad.  I don't make it every single day in August like I used to, because barley of course had to go and have gluten, and sometimes I make it with quinoa, which is also really fine, but nothing beats it with barley.  Nubby and chewy and satisfying.  Or so I recall.  It is a snap to make and loves parties.  (If you don't feel up to cooking the corn, or have more nectarines than tomatoes, make Alana's salad.).

corn, barley & tomato salad

1 c raw pearled barley
4-6 ears of corn, shucked
about 2 large tomatoes, any color
a large handful of fresh basil, chopped
1/2 c olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
fresh ground pepper and coarse sea salt, to taste

Cook the barley in lightly salted water until tender, about 30 minutes, and drain.  Cool (you can rinse it to make this happen faster).

Cook the corn, cool, and slice from the cob. (This is also a fine use for leftover cooked corn, if that ever happens to you). Slicing slowly is the key to not filling your kitchen with corn asteroids.  It usually takes me a cob or two to remember this.

Chop the tomatoes into a chunky dice.

Combine the corn, barley, tomatoes and basil in a large bowl.  Season with the oil, vinegar, salt & pepper; taste and adjust as you like it.  Err on the side of a little extra salt and vinegar, as the flavors mellow out as it stands.