every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


Leave a comment

A Sweet Little Fishy Story

FullSizeRender (1)

Caramelized Salmon

When we adopted The Daughter, we were old.  I’m not kidding.  We were 47, which is pretty old to adopt your first child, an 8-year old.  As My Mother said, “At least she’s housebroken and has all her shots.”  We learned that there’s a perfectly good reason that young people have children; you need a lot of stamina and patience, which certainly diminishes over time.

We all had a lot of adjusting to do.  Some of it was easy.  The Veterinarian covered fixing breakfast for her every morning at the ungodly hour of 6 am, an hour when I’m not sure who I am, much less where the kitchen is located.  Our long-awaited princess would wake up to his special omelets or French toast or garnished oatmeal.  None of that oatmeal out of an envelope.  This stuff was cooked and sweetened and spiced and bathed in warm milk.  I don’t think he ever prepared himself for one of our “date nights” as well as he prepared breakfast for her.  My responsibilities included lunch, dinner, laundry, and chauffeur, the same things I’d been doing for him for 27 years.

In the beginning, the kid never grumbled about the food she was served, once we weaned her from chicken nuggets, which we did immediately.  She loved to try new foods.  A week after her arrival, we traveled with her to New Orleans on a business trip, where she told the waiter at Commander’s Palace that the Parmesan cheese being grated, tableside, onto her salad smelled like “throw up.”  Being N’Awlins, the waiter laughed and said, “It sure does, honey.”  She scarfed it down.  A month later, we knew we were in BIG trouble when we took her to the Cheesecake Factory, and she told the waiter, “I’ll have the grilled chicken Caesar with freshly grated Parmesan, please.”

We persevered in introducing her to new foods.

“Do you eat fish?”

“Uh-huh,” she shook her blond head up and down, blue eyes peering out of her little wire-rimmed glasses.  She bore an uncanny resemblance to Felicity, the American Girl doll, with her dimpled arms and cheeks.

“Do you like fresh salmon?  It’s not like that stuff in a can.  I’m going to coat it with sugar and sauté it in a hot skillet.  You’ll like it.”

Her head bobbed.

She was more than willing to eat caramelized salmon, asparagus in nutmeg butter, and herbed rice with toasted pine nuts.  I thought I was a genius.  Surely, there were few households with an 8-year old eating gourmet cuisine.

At Christmas that year, our family was invited to a “casual-chic” Christmas party at the swanky home of some benevolent friends.  She was introduced to the host’s little nephew, and the two trotted off into the big house, while we headed to greet the roast pig that was lounging on the dining room table.  About 20 minutes later, one of the guests came up to us.

“Are you with the little blond girl with the glasses?”

“Uh, yes,” The Veterinarian and I looked at each other in panic.

“I’ve never seen a child that young eat so many raw oysters.  How’d you get her to eat them?”

“She’s eating raw oysters?”

“She and a little boy are on the deck slurping them down as fast as they’re shucked.  It’s pretty funny, actually.”

We hurried outside to find her surrounded by a crowd of amused adults, poking at shellfish on a gas grill.  In 20 minutes without us, our host had taught her to eat raw oysters and steam mussels on the grill.

“These are really good,” she giggled.

“How many have you eaten?”  Pictures of partially digested shellfish reappearing on the backseat of our car swam before my eyes.  She shrugged.  “Ok, kiddo, let’s go have some potatoes or bread.  How about some bread?  Lots and lots of bread.”

As the months passed, she started to exhibit food preferences.  Food she was willing to eat when she came to live with us was suddenly unacceptable.  In the spring of her first year with us, her school’s PTA solicited favorite family recipes. Thinking I was the Best Mother Ever, I dutifully contributed our family’s favorite meal, caramelized salmon, asparagus with nutmeg butter, and herbed rice with toasted pine nuts.

“Ha!  No pasta salad recipe from this family,” I smugly typed up my contributions.  No boring cereal-based snack mix.  No crescent roll-wrapped wienie chunks.  No sirree.  We might be older than any of the other parents, but with age comes knowledge and sophistication, the kind of sophistication that can be useful to a child.  I’ll show you how to parent, you snarky people.  You won’t make room for my kid in your scout troop?  (“Your daughter should have started in first grade,” I was told, “because our troops don’t have any room for newcomers.  Maybe you should start your own troop.”)  Ha!  We don’t need your stupid scouts and your stupid cookies and dorky crafts.  Our kid plays the cello and eats fish that isn’t chopped up into “stix.”

In September, the family cookbooks were distributed and came home in The Daughter’s backpack.

“Oh, look,” I squealed like a — like a — well, like a little pig, “here’s our recipe!”  The Daughter looked over my shoulder and screwed up her face.

“Caramelized salmon?”  she asked.

“What?”

“I hate that stuff,” she shuddered.

“What do you mean you hate that stuff?  It’s our family’s favorite meal,” I protested.

“No, it isn’t.  Steak is my favorite meal.  Steak with Béarnaise and garlic mashed potatoes and broccoli.  Or spinach soufflé.”

“You don’t like asparagus with nutmeg butter?”

“Blech,” she spit out her tongue.

“What about the rice?” I asked timidly.

“I hate those nut things.”

“You mean the toasted pine nuts?”

“Whatever.  They’re like bugs.”

“You eat smoked salmon.”

“That’s different.  I love smoked salmon.”

“But — but — you always clean your plate.”

“Yeah, well, I know it means a lot to you, so I ate it, but I’m never eating it again.”

The honeymoon was over.  I had been hoodwinked by an 8-year old, but I took heart; one of her favorite foods was broccoli, and she knew the word Béarnaise.  I flipped through the cookbook.  Actually, I didn’t know if I could explain to the other mothers that my kid ate raw oysters and escargots and real sushi (not California roll) and all kinds of mushrooms, when I wasn’t sure it was acceptable in our community to have mothered an under-age foodie.

Now that The Daughter lives on her own, she has rediscovered cooked salmon (she’ll eat it pan-roasted with an aged balsamic garnish, but still not caramelized) and asparagus and rice (without nuts), so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

CARAMELIZED SALMON

Sugar coat

Sugar coat

This may seem a little tricky, but it’s deceptively easy to make.  The sugar doesn’t really sweeten the fish but adds a glossy coating.  If you aren’t familiar with cooking sugar at high temperatures, here are some very simple points to remember.

When heated, sugar changes property significantly.  It melts, browns, and, as it cools, will harden on your utensils and in the pan and affix to anything it touches, like hot glue, and about as dangerous.  Excess sugar will burn in the pan, so turn on your exhaust fan before starting.  Because the caramel hardens to anything it touches, you will need to put each fillet on its individual serving plate.  Not to worry!  Because it’s completely soluble in water, clean up is a breeze.

Ingredients:

Two cups of white, granulated sugar, measured into a pie plate

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 four-ounce skinless salmon fillets, about ½ – ¾ “ thick (Note:  fillet means boneless)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

Season salmon with salt and pepper to taste, and press one side into the sugar until it is lightly coated.  Carefully turn over and press into sugar.  Leave the fish in the sugar while you prepare the pan.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat for 30 seconds.  You don’t want the heat to be so high that the sugar caramelizes before the fish cooks.

Caramelizing salmon - don't worry, all that burnt sugar dissolves in water.

Caramelizing salmon – don’t worry, all that burnt sugar dissolves in water.

Carefully place each salmon fillet into the oil.  Cook 1½ minutes without moving, jiggling, swishing, etc.  Then lift one corner of the fillet to peek at the color of the coating.  It should have started to brown but not burn.  (If the fillet browns too quickly, remove the pan from the heat and reduce temperature to medium-low.)  Cook another minute, then carefully lift the fillet.  The sugar coating should have all caramelized; if not, cook another 30 seconds.  Again, you don’t want the sugar to blacken, but a little blackened edge is ok, if you need to get the fish cooked.

When lightly caramelized, turn the fillet over to the other side and cook another 1½ to 2 minutes.  Remove to each individual serving plate.


Leave a comment

The Myth of Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake with Buttercream Frosting

Red Velvet Cake with Buttercream Frosting

There are red velvet cakes, and then there are Red Velvet Cakes.  In the past five years, that staple of Southern cooks has been co-opted by trendy websites, blogs, magazines, chain restaurants, and cooking shows.  Somewhere along the way, the original recipe has permutated.  I, myself, have adapted the recipe that was passed on to me by My Mother, who got it in the 1950s from her sister who lives in Atlanta. Turns out, it may not have originated in the South at all.

As in religion, mythology explains the creation of something.  It doesn’t mean it isn’t true, it only posits a basis for everything that came after.  A search on Google shows as much speculation about Red Velvet’s origins as it does about its ingredients.  Some say it is based on so-called “velvet” cakes of the 19th century, which incorporated a little cocoa or almond flour to soften a cake’s texture.  Some say that the characteristic “red” color began with the redness of the cocoa or that of the brown sugar that was used.  Some say it originated at the Waldorf-Astoria.  Some say it originated at Eaton’s Department store in Toronto.  Some say its current incarnation was promoted by the Adams Extract company in Texas.

As with religion, no one can agree, so I’ll stick with my own lore of what a Red Velvet Cake should be, how it should look, and how it should taste.  I simply NEVER buy one in a bakery or restaurant, because they never correspond with the mythological essence stored in my brain.  I am a Red Velvet connoisseur.  I’ve been eating them for over 50 years.  It is my birthday cake of choice, and a birthday cake should always be exactly what I expect it to be when the fork hits my mouth.

The red color has always been controversial.  Before anyone was talking about carcinogens in food, one of my fourth grade classmates objected to the Red Velvet cupcakes that my mother sent to my class in honor of my 10th birthday, in 1962.

“EWWW!!!”  Teddy Rollo (name changed to protect the innocent) shrieked, after biting into one.  “It’s OX BLOOD!!!”  He dropped it on the floor.

“No, it isn’t!”  I shouted at him, as kids all over the classroom spit out my favorite cake.

“Then, why is it red?”  He stuck his buck-toothed, freckled face in mine.

“It’s food coloring!”  I snapped.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” our teacher yelled over the clamor.  “It’s cake!  There’s no blood involved, Teddy.  Settle down, class!”

“It’s just too weird,” one girl said to me apologetically and shrugged.

I was horrified to see half-eaten and uneaten cupcakes dumped in the trash.  What was the matter with these kids?  My mother had slaved over three dozen cupcakes for nothing.  I felt bad for her.  I felt bad for myself, and then I saw several untouched cupcakes left in the box for me, me, me!

Ten years later, the Soviets released a study that concluded that Red Dye No. 2, whose common name is amaranth, was a carcinogen.  Responding to public outcry, the FDA began its own study, which concluded that, in high dosages fed to female rats, there was a significant increase in the number of malignant tumors in the rats.  It was banned in 1976.

Uh-oh.  Would this be the end of Red Velvet Cake?  Nope.  Even though Red Dye No. 4 was eventually also prohibited as a food dye, Red Dye No. 40 continues to be acceptable in the US, despite the fact that it is banned in Europe, which, along with Canada, approves of Red Dye No. 2.  Did you follow that?  I had to google them all several times to make any sense of it.  Long story short, I buy my Red Dye No. 40 in bulk, so you can’t take Red Velvet Cake away from me.  I use two full ounces of it in mine, so that I get that authentic oxblood color.  I see those wimpy pink imposters that only use one ounce.  Tsk-tsk.  smh

Perfection!

Perfection!

I prefer a good French buttercream or my faux French buttercream frosting made with hot milk and granulated sugar, because I’m not a cream cheese frosting fan.  I find that the tang of the cream cheese clashes with the almond flavoring in the cake, and, if the cake is made traditionally with buttermilk and the vinegar-baking soda mixture, it doesn’t need any more tangy-ness.  In my so-called research, I found Red Velvet cupcakes frosted with almond-flavored cream cheese that might be tolerable, but I’d still rather have the frosting that my brain and stomach tell me belongs on Red Velvet cake.  Why mess with perfection?

My Sister made me a Red Velvet Cake for my birthday yesterday because she is The Best Sister Ever.  The cake was soft and tender; the frosting did not have a single crunch of undissolved granulated sugar (my biggest challenge in making that frosting).  And I had a big giant slice of perfection for breakfast this morning, also a family tradition.  After all, there are no calories on your birthday or the morning after, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

 

RED VELVET CAKE

Ingredients:

2 oz red color

3 Tablespoons cocoa powder (do not used Dutch-processed)

½ cup vegetable shortening, softened (I use ¼ cup unsalted butter and ¼ cup shortening)

1½ cups sugar

2 eggs

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 teaspoons almond extract

1 Tablespoon vinegar

1 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Grease three 8” or two 9” cake pans with butter and line the bottoms with buttered parchment paper.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and salt.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, blend food coloring and cocoa to form a paste.  Add the shortening and sugar, and cream thoroughly.  With mixer running, add eggs one at a time until blended.

Mix in ¼ of the sifted flour mixture, alternating with ¼ cup buttermilk.  Stop mixer and scrape bowl and beaters.  Continue adding the remaining flour, alternating with the remaining buttermilk, beating thoroughly and scraping the bowl and beaters after each addition of buttermilk.  It’s important that the flour doesn’t clump into ugly white blobs in your pretty red batter.

Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.

In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar and baking soda and then stir the mixture into the batter.

Pour batter equally into the prepared cake pans.  To decrease the number of large air bubbles trapped in the batter, run a sharp knife in an “s” shape through the batter in each pan.  Lift each pan about 1” off the counter and let drop onto the counter.  The larger bubbles will rise to the top and either break or can be broken with a toothpick.

Place pans in preheated oven and bake 30 minutes.  Insert a tester (toothpicks work just fine) into the center of each layer.  If it does not come out clean, bake another 5 minutes and retest with a clean tester.  In my oven, an 8” layer is usually done in 30 minutes.  The thicker 9” layers may take an extra 5-10 minutes.  But be careful that the edges of the cake don’t become brown.

When tester comes out clean, remove pans from the oven and place on a wire rack.  Let cake layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes.  You should see the cake’s edges pull away from the pan as it cools.  If not, gently run a plastic knife around the edge and wait 5 more minutes.

Place another cooling rack on top of the pans and flip.  Remove pans from the layers and the parchment from the cake and cool completely.  Frost with your favorite white frosting.

CAUTION:  I always lick the bowl and beaters, because I’ve been doing it for over 50 years, but it makes my mouth really red.  It also might give me salmonella, if the raw eggs in the batter are bad.  I don’t worry too much about it.  The red dye probably will kill me first.


Leave a comment

Queen of All I See

I tend to swear a lot when I drive alone in my car.  Other drivers aggravate me when they tailgate, drive too slow, drive too fast, fail to signal, abruptly cross lanes of traffic to exit, stop in the middle of the road, drive without headlights, come at me with their high beams, don’t clear the snow off their windshields, play music too loud, park too close to my car, bang my car with their doors, park in restricted spaces without authorization, and on and on.

However, I am a lady.  It would never occur to me to set their car on fire.  Or smash their windshield with a baseball bat.

Instead of a bat, I want a magic wand.  I would wave my glittering wand in their direction and POOF!  The offender would disappear instantly, transported to their final destination — their earthly destination, that is — so that they couldn’t endanger anyone else.

When an inconsiderate fool with 20 items gets into the express lane for 15 items and under, instead of shoving my cart into their backside, I would wave my wand and POOF!  They would be transported to the end of the longest line in the store.  While they wait contentedly, they could enjoy the tabloid headlines: Sleep your Fat Away, Baking Wedding Cakes with Three Common Household Ingredients, Self-Mowing Lawns, etc., etc., etc.

When a clerk talks on her cellphone while waiting on me, instead of slapping it away from her ear, I would use my wand to send her on a break and replace her with one of the wacky characters from the British television classic Are You Being Served?  We customers would be gently amused and served tea out of fine bone china while our purchases are wrapped in discreet packages with elegant ribbon.

When my flight is delayed for mechanical issues, instead of ranting and raving to the gate agent, I would wave my wand and POOF!  I would be transported with my loved ones to a private beach on my own private island — in a comfy chair under a shady palm tree with an infinite supply of good books — and a cooler full of iced beverages — and nothing to do all day — forever.  No jerks.  No fools.  No swearing.  Queen for Eternity.

With a private chef.  My idea of heaven includes a skinny me eating all my favorite foods, guilt-free, no fat, no calories, no carcinogens, and food that I didn’t even know existed.  Ambrosia.  The Nectar of the Gods.  All that crazy good stuff.  Transports of delight.  Even food that I can’t stand.

IMG_5067When I was a child, I ate three vegetables, corn, green beans, and potatoes.  It’s a wonder that I survived, isn’t it?  When I learned to cook, I discovered a whole new world of earthly delights.  For example, asparagus.  I always hated asparagus when I was a kid, because it came in a can and was a slimy, drab olive green.  It smelled bad and tasted like the can.

What a treat to find out that the real thing, properly prepared, tastes almost sweet, especially when garden-fresh.  I look for stalks that are a uniform diameter, either all tiny or no bigger than ½” in diameter.  I look for heads with tight “petals,” preferably almost purple.  If I’m not preparing it immediately, I cut off the bottoms to even them up and stand them in ½” of water.   When ready to cook, I break off the tough bottoms by flexing the stalk until it snaps.  (It actually does the work for you.)  If they’re larger than ½”, I scrape them with a vegetable peeler.

IMG_5073Don’t be intimidated by asparagus steamers.  Even I, the collector of obscure cooking equipment don’t have one.  Just follow these super-easy directions:

In a skillet large enough to lay the asparagus in one layer, bring 1” of water to a boil.  Gently lay the prepared stalks in the boiling water.  Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes or until a bright green, never drab green.  If your stalks are under ½” in diameter, reduce cooking time to 2 minutes.  Turn off heat, remove skillet, and carefully drain the stalks.  Return stalks to the hot skillet and roll in 2 Tablespoons of butter and 1/8 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg.  If desired, sprinkle with freshly squeezed lemon juice and sea salt to taste.  Serve immediately.

After 40 years, I’ve learned what asparagus smells like when it’s properly cooked.  When it’s overcooked, it smells like that stuff in the can.  Of course, asparagus is one of those foods whose fragrance returns to haunt you a few hours after dinner, if you know what I mean.  Of course, I’m a lady and wouldn’t dare use the “p” word…wink, wink.

DATE UPDATE:

Things have been really sloooow.  100 men (I assume they were all men) viewed my profile last week.  I like to reset my view counter each week to see how many men I have frightened away.  Of the 100 potential suitors (that sounds idiotic, even to me), several were brave enough to wink, like, or favorite me.

An attractive man winked at me, so I returned a wink, but he did not respond, so I still don’t understand the purpose of winking.  Maybe he was winking at someone else.  If he winked at me in public, I would have made eye contact and smiled.  If he turned away, I would have looked around to see if he was winking at someone else.  You know, that embarrassing moment when you realize that someone is not waving at you, as you wave back at them? Maybe it was a pity wink.

I received another message from match.com about a different attractive man that read, “So-and-So is interested in you.”  He only lives 15 minutes from me, so I read his profile and, thinking that I should have written to the other guy instead of just returning a wink, I commented on a photo of him on a sailboat, asking where he was when the photo was taken.  That was three days ago. My email box says the message hasn’t been read.  Does that mean that it was deleted or just not read? Maybe I shouldn’t have commented?

No one tells you these things.  I googled “Online Dating Etiquette” and found conflicting information.  Maybe he didn’t read it (match says he’s been online every day).  Maybe he deleted it (no way of knowing).  The “experts” say that I should just move on to the next guy because the more that I look and the more that I answer the more chance I have that the next guy who is interested or winks or shows up in my “Daily Matches” could be THE one.

I’m having my doubts.

More from the “experts”:  Guys who wink instead of writing are “players.”  Guys who wink instead of writing are just shy.  Guys who click “interested” without writing are just shopping.  Guys who click “interested” fear rejection.  Guys who are still married say they’re “currently separated.”  Guys want confident women who write to them first (ha!).  Guys of a certain age don’t like women who initiate contact.

You should answer every email, even if you aren’t interested.  It’s ok to ignore email from guys you don’t like.  Send a second email, if the guy doesn’t respond.  Never send a second email, if the guy doesn’t respond.  Don’t lie about your age.  It is expected that everyone shaves a couple years off their age.  Contact guys who want much younger women because much younger women don’t want them, anyway.  Don’t contact guys who want much younger women because they’re delusional.

Where’s Emily Post when you need her?  This is why manners are de rigueur to me.  We all understand the rules of the game when we follow proper etiquette.  Hey!  Guys!  How about just being honest?  If you don’t intend to start a conversation, DON’T DO ANYTHING.  If you’re married, talk to your wife!  Why frustrate two women?

In browsing what the site calls “Matches,” there was a 63-year old guy about 30 miles from me who said he’s a veterinarian.  I looked at all of his photos but didn’t recognize him.  Okay.  So, maybe I don’t know every veterinarian in Maryland (could be industry or government), but I know most of them.  And, yes, he didn’t want a woman older than 55 (wth is with these old guys?).  I wrote to him anyway, saying that my late husband had been an avian veterinarian and asking if he was in private practice.  As a divorced man, I guess he doesn’t want another long-suffering veterinarian’s wife, because I ain’t heard from him, either.  Silly me. I’m only one year younger than he is.  My email box says the message hasn’t been read, either, whatever that means.

On Sunday, I received a first email from a man inviting me to a “music circle” at his brother’s house on “Friday night” at which I “wouldn’t be expected to sing or anything” with a “group of men with guitars.” That sounds like the plot of a slasher flick.  No, thanks.

You may be amused to hear that the widower who doesn’t like the French emailed me that I am geographically undesirable.  For once, distance worked in my favor.  I didn’t need to bring out the wand and make him disappear, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


Leave a comment

Secret Ingredients

I received a wonderful gift for Mother’s Day.  My Mother fixed dinner for us.  We were in shock.  In the TVLand of the 1950s, the stereotypical mother cooked three fabulous meals a day for her grateful family.  Mine did not.  At least once a week, My Dad would walk into the house, note that the stove was empty, and say, “I guess we’re going out to eat.”

Although it seemed like a great treat to have her fix dinner for us, there was some trepidation on our part.  For the past 40 years, I have been the family cook for Important Holidays and Other Significant Occasions.

“She says she’s making roast beef,” My Sister informed me.

“What?!”  I was incredulous.  I’m the succulent beef roaster, served with freshly-grated horseradish root, port-laced au jus, glazed carrots, and crispy Yorkshire Pudding.

“Mm-hmm.”  She muttered.

“But she doesn’t like to cook.  Maybe we should order out Chinese or Italian.”

“I offered, but she said she wanted to make roast beef,” My Sister sighed.

I considered bringing a bottle of red wine, because I can eat anything, even mushrooms, if I gulp them with copious amounts of wine.  My Mother thinks that all meat should be served well-done, which means gray and dry.  After living with The Veterinarian for 42 years, I now eat beef medium-rare and, occasionally, even carpaccio, if the kitchen is trustworthy.

When dining out with My Mother, we pray that she orders fish.  I have seen her fight with waiters over meat that she said was presented still “mooing” and have seen chefs in perfectly fine restaurants refuse to serve her prime rib well-done.    We grovel with the waiter when she orders beef, begging them for an “outside cut.”

It turns out that we needn’t have worried.  She made pot roast, one of  my favorite recipes.  Still, she grumbled.

Secret Ingredient

Secret Ingredient

“I couldn’t find canned French onion soup at any of the grocery stores,” she said, “no Campbell’s, no Progresso, not even a generic store-brand.”

The key to her pot roast is two cans of Campbell’s French Onion soup.  It’s the only soup that I ever cook with, and I only use it to make pot roast, because, well, it tastes like Mom’s.  It isn’t too salty, like that dry soup mix, and it doesn’t have mushrooms.  You simply dredge a piece of lean chuck roast in flour with salt and pepper, brown it on all sides in hot oil and drain on paper towels.  Then, you pour one can of the soup in the bottom of a Dutch oven or slow-cooker, top it with the meat, whole peeled carrots, and celery (with the leaves), pour another can of soup over the top, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to very low and simmer for at least 2-1/2 hours.  Alternatively, you can cook it, covered, in a 325° oven, which My Mother did.  Hence, roast beef.

Of course, a lot of sliced onions and beef broth will give the same effect, but I think that  piece of pseudo Swiss cheese in the soup can makes a richer sauce.  Yes, I’m delusional.  Although I’ve not read the soup can’s label, it’s probably a mess of chemicals, but I just don’t care.  It’s the taste and the memories that make the difference.

My Mother finds gravy a challenge, too, although this time it was nearly perfect.  She strains the broth to remove the vegetables and globs of fat and meat and reheats it in a saucepan.  Then her technique gets a little “dicey,” as she takes her ancient, empty jar of Taster’s Choice instant coffee crystals, into which she places flour and — yikes! — cold water, which she shakes vigorously, increasingly complaining that it won’t smoothly blend.  She stirs this into the hot broth and tries to stir out the inevitable lumps with a spoon.  This produces more grumbling.  I offered to make the gravy, but she wouldn’t let me near the stove.

Let me tell you how to really make gravy.  You start with two tablespoons of hot fat — strained pan drippings or butter — and slowly whisk in two tablespoons of flour, until the mixture is smooth and bubbling.  To make more gravy, use more fat and flour, in equal proportions. Then, and only then, do you slowly whisk in enough hot broth to make a thick gravy.  It’s better to have gravy that’s too thin, because you can always reduce it by simmering (or boiling, if you’re really pressed for time).  If it’s too lumpy, just pass it through a sieve.  No sweat.

With My Mother and My Sister, 1958

With My Mother and My Sister, 1958

All in all, our meal did just what a Mother’s Day dinner should do, evoke memories of family and love, which puts the comfort into food.  No one had to get dressed up or grovel with waiters or dodge the traffic in downtown Baltimore headed to hear the Artist-Once-Again-Known-as-Prince in his “Rally 4 Peace.”

DATE UPDATE:

I had two dates with a mostly pleasant widower a couple of weeks ago.  I don’t think I’ll hear from him again, which is ok.  We disagreed about voting (I do; he hasn’t for 20 years), current events (he doesn’t pay attention to the news; I do), and the hospitality of the French.  I have never had a bad time in France.  He hates the French.  That’s a quote, not a paraphrase.  He said that the French are only nice to me because I speak French.  I pointed out that The Veterinarian didn’t speak French at all.  I pointed out several occasions when the French have been extremely gracious to me, my family, or my friends, but he wasn’t convinced.

I told him about a train trip in France where some young people made rude remarks about Americans.  Two middle-aged Frenchmen sitting in front of us got up and chewed the kids out.  On their way back to their seats, the men came to us and apologized in English.  I replied in my choppy but intelligible French with beaucoup smiles.  Graciousness when traveling goes a long way to effective communication with others.

My date remained unconvinced, and in the end, I didn’t see myself traveling any place with him, much less through the remainder of my life.  Oh, yeah!  And he doesn’t drink wine.  Maybe that’s why he doesn’t like France.  Maybe that’s why I don’t like him.

I received an email from a man who said he was a medical researcher and teacher with a PhD.  He wrote to me, “Hi!  Cute photo!”  I read his profile essay, which said he was born in Canada, and skimmed his other profile information, noting that he had traveled a lot and lived abroad.

I thanked him for his compliment and said, “I grew up in Detroit.  Where in Canada were you born?”

His response?  “Hmmm.  I guess you didn’t really read my profile…”

Mystified, I re-read his profile, which still only said that he was born in Canada, but down below, under the notes section, where I noticed again that he refused to comment on his “Faith,” that he speaks English and French, and then, near the bottom, under “Favorite Hot Spots,” between “Love NYC and San Francisco” and “lived in Tel Aviv” that he was born in Montreal.  Oops!  My bad.  That’s why I was a better English major than chemistry major, failure to note the minutiae.

I replied, “Sorry.  I did read your profile, but the items under “Hot Spots” didn’t stick in my memory.  Bonne chance! [Good luck]”  I wanted to say, “Sorry, Professor, I read your profile but didn’t realize there would be a quiz.”  Yes, I made a mistake, but a little graciousness on his part would have been nice.

Yesterday, a man who lives 50 miles away in Washington, DC and whose profile claims to only be interested in women within 40 miles, asked me to Skype him.  I know how lame I sounded telling him that I don’t have access to the internet except through cellular data.  I told him I would be happy to correspond by email, citing my geographic undesirability.  Of course, he hasn’t responded.

Then, there was this guy, whose grammar is questionable: “Oh boy do I love the sarcasm.  I am that way as well.  Your profile is a great read & in person I bet it’s a million times better.  Now that I am retired I had made several considerations.  I opted out on all of them except for going to hell in a hand basket.  I haven’t been there yet.  Oh wait, I’ve got that covered.  I use [sic] to live in New Jersey…”

“Do I sound that wacky in my profile?”  I fretted.  I reconsidered myself and rewrote my profile to sound more gracious; sweet, gentle, kind, patient, forgiving, loving, tolerant, demure, meek, etc., etc., etc., a ruse that I have tried in the past without success.

Today, I received this from a man in Pennsylvania, “I enjoyed reading your profile.  It was clear, direct plain … and positive.  I do not seek a reply.  You have a very interesting personality.”

I translated this as:  “For God’s sake, don’t write to me, crazy lady!”

By the way, My Mother, who isn’t crazy about France, either, loved the blouse that I bought for her birthday last October and then lost and didn’t find in time for Christmas and finally gave her for Mother’s Day.  She gave me a giant Tootsie Roll, my favorite childhood candy.  We shared love and comfort on Mother’s Day, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


Leave a comment

Pot Head

Blackened steakI was thinking about moving the other day.  As much as I love my house, which has taken 34 years to perfect, I’ve decided that it’s too much trouble for one little woman; the woodland pests (deer, ants, snakes), the icy gravel lane in the winter, the remote location.  The BFF and I really don’t need 11 rooms and three full baths.  I can’t get her to bathe enough, as it is, although she needs it, after chasing the aforementioned deer through the aforementioned woods all the muddy winter long.

I googled houses for sale in my neighborhood and found a solid brick rancher on a corner lot with a field across the road.  My imagination, as it usually does, went wild.  The price was great (sadly, it was a foreclosure).  A two-car garage and deck or terrace could be added.  The living room had refinished hardwood floors and a fireplace for my pellet stove.  There were no photos of the bedrooms or the two full and one half baths, but I imagined that they were serviceable, in a retro way.

Even the kitchen, with a recently installed stove and microwave and decent stainless sinks and faucet were usable.  The vinyl flooring was a mess.  No sweat to replace.  The refrig was missing.  No big deal.  I have a spare, if I have to use it.  The counter was a hideous red Formica.  Easily replaceable.  But I hesitated at the cabinets, which were plain, golden oak.  No trim.  No handles.  Probably strippable.  Probably paintable.  All things I have done a million times in my lifetime to other sketchy cabinets, but these cabinets were few…and far between.

I thought of my cooking equipment.  I thought of the number of cabinets in my own splendid kitchen and sighed.  Do I really want to return to the 1970s?  I have soooo much stuff, so many pans, so many gadgets, so much glassware and china and flatware and table linens.  Everything lovingly chosen for a specific purpose.  No “sets” with useless extras.

I could hang a pot rack again, but it wouldn’t hold everything.  I’d have to purge.  I gave a lot of things to The Daughter when she set up her own household, but there’s still so much stuff left in my conveniently-placed deep drawers and pull-out shelves.

I wouldn’t get rid of my two cast iron skillets.  One belonged to my grandmother and one was given to us as a wedding gift, holding a pineapple upside-down cake.  I use them both every week, and you can’t make a dark roux or blacken a steak or piece of fish in anything less substantial.  (Yes, I still blacken stuff, sometimes intentionally.)

Always blame the cook!

Always blame the cook!

I have two omelet pans, a Calphalon and a stainless-lined copper.  I already gave away a non-stick Calphalon omelet pan to The Daughter.  I blame The Veterinarian for those.  He was famous for his omelets and was always looking for the perfect pan.  I gave it to The Daughter because she makes omelets, and I don’t.

I have a non-stick 10” skillet and an enormous 12” Calphalon fryer with lid.  When I need that big pan, nothing else will do. I have a wok which I use more for deep-frying than as a wok.  I don’t deep-fry any more, but I wouldn’t part with it.  I have a cast-iron fajita grill and stove-top grill and a 12” griddle.  I might jettison the fajita grill.  It’s definitely superfluous.

That’s just the skillets.  Then, there’s the saucepans, stock pots, Dutch ovens, and gratin pans.  As outdated as they are, how could I part with my two remaining Club Aluminum saucepans, remnants of my earliest days of cooking?  You can really smash a potato masher into the larger of the two.  How could I part with the little Calphalon with the steamer insert, which, now that I’m cooking for one most of the time, is the perfect size?

Saucepans

My oldest saucepan was purchased with Gold Bell gift stamps.

I’ve ended up with two 3-quart Calphalon saucepans, thanks to the aforementioned woodland pests and, I suspect, bacteria.  I once carelessly left one of them unattended while I was boiling down some stock.  (Probably distracted by something stupid like the laundry or the BFF eating something inedible.)  The residue burned into the bottom of the pan so badly that I couldn’t get it out with soaking or steel wool.  It had become lumpy and completely unusable.  Thoroughly disgusted with myself, I threw the pan outside into the woodsy underbrush, where it lay for over a year.  (One of the many advantages of living in the woods without neighbors; you can chuck stuff into the brush.)  I trotted over to Target and bought another, this time, non-stick (so when it burns it will provide toxic fumes).

When the reject reappeared, in an accusatory manner, in the dead of winter, I retrieved it and was surprised to find that the black residue was gone.  I don’t want to know where or why.  I filled it with water, boiled it for 10 minutes, carefully observing it this time, and voilà!  Now, I have two 3-quart saucepans, one with a clear glass lid and one with a lid that strains the contents.  Both are useful, so neither is redundant, right?

The Italian gratin pan is a work of art.

I have two stainless-lined copper saucepans with lids and one solid copper for making candy (again, I blame the Dearly Departed for the excess).  There’s the enameled double-boiler, which also is small enough to make the perfect stovetop-to-oven casserole for one little woman.  There’s the Le Creuset Dutch oven in which I always make my butternut squash soup and Julia’s Boeuf à la Bourguignonne and a domed Dutch oven for my pot roast.  Don’t ask me to choose!  Same with my two stock pots, both of which have strainer inserts and one has a steamer basket.  I always strain my stock from one pot into the other.  How else could I make a clear stock?

I have two beautiful copper gratin pans, both works of art, especially the Italian one with the acorns on the handles, a spectacular gift from old friends.  I never part with works of art.

I have two roasting pans, one of which holds a 25-pound turkey on a rack.  What else could I use, once a year, on Thanksgiving?  Not that I’m roasting 25-pound turkeys these days, but, it could happen, couldn’t it?

I must not be the only one with a pan fetish.  The vacation condo that I stay in on Grand Cayman came equipped with a basic set of pans, two sizes of saucepans, two sizes of skillets, and a Dutch oven.  For the past three years, I’ve noticed that the other co-owners have added two skillets, a stock pot, and a roasting pan, some of questionable quality, I must say.  None of us is there for longer than three weeks, so you’d think the basic assortment would be sufficient.  I didn’t contribute to the pan collection, but I bought better knives and wine glasses.  First things first, I always say.  Now, if I could get them to replace the glass-topped electric stove with gas burners…

Yeah, my knife (not to mention sharpener) and stemware collections are subjects for other days.  I blame the Veterinarian for those fetishes, too.  How convenient!

DATE UPDATE:

I have been mostly inactive on the dating site.  I did receive the following email,

“Enjoyed reading your profile. It made me laugh, multiple times. 1st and last paragraphs are exceptionally honest, the others somewhat challenging. Understand not playing games, but playing nice may prove beneficial. But what do I know.”

He’s “currently separated,” so, probably, not much.  I answered,

“Thanks for the commentary!  I don’t know how to be less than honest.  I was with one man for 42 years and have no clue what men are looking for.  I can only be me.”

Pointlessly, he replied, “Sorry for the unsolicited commentary. It seemed you were a little frustrated and the scammers seem to pick up on that. It just takes a little time to get the hang of online dating, at least that has been my experience.”

I am happy to say that my profile seems to have deterred the scammers, as I have heard from just one in the past two weeks.  His profile name contained the words “sugary” and “muffin.” Before I ever read it — because, why would you read anything written by a man describing himself as baked goods? — his profile became “unavailable,” meaning that some other exasperated woman beat me to reporting him.  Get a load of what he wrote:

“Hello,
I pray that this letter meets you in good health. I really enjoyed reading your profile & everything you have to say about yourself …. I am a gentleman as respectful and considerate as I am passionate and focused. The most virile men, I think, are the ones that combine a steel core of resilience in adversity with a loving devotion to wife and family, and who want their families to be truly happy. [Points for that.] The small things matter: warmth, good conversation, and fun, the capacity to give and receive and to experience…I would appreciate it, if you could contact me on my personal email, so that i will contact you at my convenient and tell you more about me, my family and work…I’m not into finding girls in bars or parties i believe people i find here are responsible and are searching for the same thing. I humbly urge you to find time and convey your reply back to me .
Warm regards,
Dave
PS.. I went through your profile and pictures and I was like wow ,YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, Quite enchanting!!!!!”

“Enchanting.”  No one ever uses that word any more outside of Disney films.  I am quite taken with the idea that I could be “enchanting.”  I don’t think of myself as an “enchanter.”  I’m more the “annoyer” or the “defender.”  My enchantments would be more like the seductive Siren than the hapless Helen of Troy;  more luring ships to the rocks than launching them to my rescue.

Maybe I am challenging on the outside, but, honestly, on the inside, I’m really a cream puff, full of sweet crème anglaise, gently thickened in the perfect double-boiler.  Cooking is quite sensual, obviously, which is why I just can’t part with my pots and pans or my kitchen.  They’ve served me faithfully, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


2 Comments

Feelin’ Crabby

Chesapeake Swimmer

Chesapeake Swimmer

How ‘bout dem O’s, hon?  Baseball season started this week, and here, in Baltimore, it’s also the start of crab season, the crustacean, not the grass, although that is starting up, too, after a ghastly frigid winter.

Growing up in Michigan, my knowledge of fresh seafood was limited to fried lake perch and steelhead trout, the latter of which, by the way, is better than any salmon you’ll find in Alaska or Scotland.  Occasionally, you’d get frozen shrimp or scallops or, in the very best restaurants, you’d find a tank of cold water lobsters.  In the 70s, King crab and snow crab legs started showing up on seafood buffets, but the Veterinarian, a Virginia native, used to wax poetic about blue crabs, of which I’d never heard.

“Were they sweet?” I asked.  Yes.  “Did you swish them around in butter?”  No.  He told me they were steamed with a salty, spicy coating, unless they were soft, when they were gently sautéed in butter.  I couldn’t grasp what he was talking about.

One summer, when we were still in college, we made a car trip to Williamsburg, Virginia to visit his family. We ate all the local specialties, Smithfield ham and ham biscuits and peanut soup and, heaven forbid, cornbread loaded with sugar (the great debate of our marriage — sugar or no sugar in the cornbread).  Still, he was on a quest for crabs, which took us down the Colonial Parkway toward Yorktown, that flat bit of marshland where the British general, Charles, 1st Marquess of Cornwallis, surrendered King George III’s army to General George Washington, ending the war for independence.

The Veterinarian had childhood memories of a seafood restaurant called Nick’s Seafood Pavilion.  It was a quirkily elegant place of larger-than-life copies of Classical art and a vast menu of everything briny.  Not recognizing most of what I saw, I safely ordered the fried scallops.  My husband was beyond excited to have his fondest dreams come true; soft shell crabs were on the menu.  I knew he liked all manner of unusual food (he was the first person that I ever saw eat a whole lobster, and he ate really stinky cheese before stinky cheese was fashionable), but I had no idea what to expect.Nicks_Seafood_3

Our waitress brought me a beautiful platter of plump, delicately breaded and fried scallops.  I was oohing and aahing over them, when I was abruptly distracted by the platter she set in front of the Veterinarian.  It contained what I thought were two enormous insects that had been breaded and sautéed, a plate full of spindly legs.

“Oh, man!” he beamed.

“What happens now?”  I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Where’s the shell?  How do you get the meat out?”

“The shells are soft, so you just cut them up and eat them.”  He picked up his knife and fork and started slicing through the delicate little body.  “As they grow, they shed their shells periodically, which makes them soft and vulnerable but really tasty.”

“Oh, dear God,” I mumbled and stared at my plate.  I couldn’t even watch the carnage.  “If those were crawling on land, people would be swatting them.”

“You want to try one?”  I looked up to see a spindly, battered leg hanging from his lower lip like a cigarette.

“Of course, not!  That’s disgusting!”soft shell crab sandwich

But a more disgusting consumption of soft shell crabs was yet to come.  Not long after we moved to Maryland, we went to lunch at a little restaurant on the Chesapeake Bay, where he ordered a soft shell crab sandwich, which is nothing more than a sautéed crab on lettuce and tomato, between two slices of white bread slathered with mayo.  And, yes, the legs hang out of the crusts of the bread, and you eat the whole thing.  Well, I didn’t, but he did, and he even taught the Daughter, who hails from Colorado (long story), to enjoy them.

In Maryland, eating steamed crabs has its own etiquette.  Newspaper or brown butcher paper is spread on a table, usually outdoors.  The crabs are steamed by the bushel-full in a crust of Old Bay spice (a blend primarily of salt, red pepper, celery salt, black pepper, garlic salt, white pepper, onion salt, paprika, and more salt) and dumped on the table, with their bright red bodies and legs and shriveled up black eyes staring at you.  Then, diners take sharp knives and wooden mallets to pry open the shell, crack open the legs and claws.  They scrape off faces (of the crabs, not the people) and the lungs and all that other slimy-looking gunk that only an experienced Marylander recognizes.  The process takes hours.  No kidding.  Hours.  You can sit down at 1 in the afternoon and still be sitting there at 8 in the evening.

Maryland Heaven

Maryland Heaven

Since I prefer not to dismember my food before eating, I am always the wet blanket at a crab feast for hours, a social problem that many transplants to Maryland never get over. If I’m lucky, there will be Silver Queen corn dripping in butter, maybe saltines, and, if the stars are aligned, there might be Maryland crab soup, or, if I’ve been living right, a crab cake or two.  If I can manage to look really pathetic, someone will pass me a lump of crabmeat, the prized nugget on the back of a crab.  There are only two per crab, so I must wait patiently for hours.  No one likes to give up their lumps.  Basically, I sit there for hours watching people play Whack-a-Crab for hours.  Did I mention how long it takes?

Traditionally, the Baltimoreans (not to be confused with the Baltimorons) crack open a Natty Boh (or something from my friends at Heavy Seas) to kill all that salt in the Old Bay and follow it all up with Berger cookies for dessert.  Any crabs that aren’t eaten are picked over for soup or crab cakes the next day.

You see, I love blue crab meat.  There is nothing better, but I simply cannot pick crabs by pulling off their spindly legs and ripping open their shells with my bare hands.  All through the long, cold winter, I dream about Crab Cakes (broiled, not fried, for me), Crab Imperial, Hot Crab Dip, Crab and Smithfield Ham, Crab Balls (no, crabs don’t have them, but you can make them), Crab Claws, Crab-Stuffed Rockfish, Cream of Crab Soup, Maryland Crab Soup, and Crab Quiche.  Now, if I can only understand the local fascination with lacrosse, I might become a true Baltimoron.  I already make the best crab cake in Bawlmer, hon, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

Maryland, My Maryland Crab Cakes

Crab cakes are controversial around here.  Fried or broiled?  Binding or not?  Old Bay or not Old Bay?  That’s the question.  Well, if they’re Maryland crab cakes, I think they need just a tiny bit of Old Bay, but not so much that it overwhelms the sweet crabmeat.  I broil mine, because it seems a shame to turn any crabmeat into dry crusty flakes.  And, if you’re a genius cook, skip the binding.  I am an experienced cook but no genius.  I like a little soft bread crumbs to hold the thing together as it cooks, so it doesn’t ooze into a mess on the baking sheet or fall apart when you’re trying to plate them.

For a special treat, make a sauce by boiling down heavy cream to thicken it, and stir in a little prepared stone-ground mustard to taste.  I like mine just slightly tangy, a perfect complement to the sweet little cakes.  And fresh Silver Queen corn sweetens the deal as an accompaniment in the summer.

I’m sorry to say, if you can’t get fresh, blue crabmeat, the other stuff just doesn’t work.  Also, gently pick through the crabmeat to remove all remnants of shell, cartilage, seaweed, or other unsavory looking items.  Nothing worse than a mouthful of shell.

1 large  egg

½ cup    mayonnaise

1 tsp      Old Bay seasoning

½ tsp     ground pepper

1 tsp      fresh lemon juice or dry vermouth

1 tsp      Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp      garlic powder

1 pound jumbo lump blue crabmeat, well-picked over

1 slice   soft white bread, finely crumbed

Preheat regular oven to 400° or convection oven to 350°.  Prepare a baking sheet with butter, cooking spray, parchment, or a silicone liner, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk egg until yolk and white are combined.  Whisk in mayonnaise, Old Bay, pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire, and garlic powder until smooth.  Gently fold in crabmeat, taking care not to break up lumps.  Sprinkle bread crumbs over the surface of the mixture and very gently fold in.

For dinner-sized servings, scoop crab mixture into six mounds on the baking sheet.  Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.  If using a regular oven, you may need to run them under a broiler until lightly browned.

For cocktail-sized servings, scoop crab mixture into 12 mounds on the baking sheet.  Reduce baking time to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Optional Sauce:

1 pint of heavy cream

2 teaspoons of coarsely-ground mustard (or to taste)

Heat heavy cream in medium-sized skillet until boiling and thickened.  Stir in mustard and remove from heat.  Spoon onto serving plates and top with crab cake and optional cooked, Silver Queen corn kernels and sugar snap peas.


Leave a comment

Happy Easter to all my Peeps!

Peeps!

Peeps!

Spring may or may not be upon us, but Peeps have been in my kitchen for about a month.  I remember when Peeps came in one shape (chicken) and one color (yellow).  On their website, the Peeps folks offer a year-round explosion of squishy rabbits, ghosts, pumpkins, reindeer, snowmen, Strawberry crème hearts, and sour watermelon and blue raspberry flavors, in colors like turquoise and lavender.

I’m a traditionalist.  Mine are yellow, and they are chickens.  Of course, they’re chickens, they’re Peeps!  Did you ever hear a rabbit “peep?”   Mine are purchased far enough in advance (and on sale the day after Easter) to become dry and crispy on the edges.  Of course, you can speed up the drying process by slightly slitting open the package.  Unfortunately, then I can hear them peeping at me.

Last week, I posted this on Facebook:

“OH, NO!  The package of Peeps has been opened!  Why did I do that?”

30 of my crazy friends wrote to agree with me.  Well, not all 30 are crazy.  I was surprised to find that even my most staid friends agree that the best Peeps are aged Peeps.  But, as my cousin said,

“Some are always willing to be eaten before their time.”

I’m a woman who has eaten in many Michelin-starred restaurants (for lunch, when it’s cheaper and seems incredibly more chic to be indulging in a leisurely lunch and a bottle of wine at mid-day), but a finely aged, sugar-coated, airy confection rivals the finest meringues, and I do love meringues.

I once had dinner with about eight veterinarians at the now-shuttered Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia.  My friend, a Philadelphia native and holder of multiple graduate degrees, had been intimidated to eat there, but, she thought, if she could get the globe-trotting Veterinarian and me to go with her and her delightful husband, she could cross it off her bucket list.  As we were in town for a conference, she started adding people to the reservation, telling them (as you sometimes must do with veterinarians),

“You have to wear a jacket and tie, cowboy boots are ok.  It’s going to be expensive, but you can afford it, and I don’t want to hear any complaining, because this means a lot to me.”

(I love her.  She’s as direct as I am.)

We had a riotous time from the get-go.  In that elegant bastion of Frenchness in the wilds of urban America, where the menu was entirely in French, the maître d’ was gracious and accommodating and, by the end of the evening, was telling us jokes.  At the end of a dinner made excellent by the company of friends and great service, the dessert trolley rolled up to the table, boasting every manner of sweet imaginable, and about six different meringue-based confections.  I asked the waiter,

“Which meringue do you recommend that I have?”

“I recommend that Madame has one of each.”

And I did.  It rivals the time I was served 10 different chocolate desserts at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and the pistachio nougat on a pool of dark chocolate that the waiter in Dijon referred to as “dessert before dessert.”  (We had pre-ordered the Grand Marnier soufflé, which followed the nougat and preceded the petits fours which preceded the chocolate truffles.)

So, yes, I know my food.  And I know my Peeps.  They should be served aged, slightly crispy, and eaten rapidly.  A friend of mine says they’re great toasted over an open fire, but I don’t think I could bear to see my little friends go up in flames.

DATE UPDATE:

Let’s play match.com’s daily dating game “Which Do You Like?”Match game

The guy with a woman draped around his neck or the guy propped up on bed pillows.  Skip.

The guy in funky, Elton John eye wear with Rip Taylor hair or the unshaven guy taking a selfie of himself in a mirror but staring at the ceiling.  Skip.

The cute guy with a profile that could have been written by a four-year old or the serial killer squinting at the camera.  Hmmm.  This is a tough one.  The cute guy would be nice to look at for a couple hours, but I fear that his 12-year old self would monopolize the conversation.  Or, worse, that it’s a scammer.  Oh, well, let’s go with Cute Guy.  He won’t respond, anyway.

There are no winners in this game.  Of the many times that I have looked at a photo, made my choice, and written to someone, only two have responded.  One guy said, “We are not a match,” and the other said, “I am cruising on my sailboat and out of the country for the next two months.”  As the “experts” recommend, I am always polite and brief and ask a knowledgeable question about one of their interests that requires more than a “yes” or “no” answer.

For example, if you say you are a wine aficionado, I might ask, “Which wine do you like with turkey?“ because there are a lot of acceptable variables.  Could be a white.  Could be a red.  He could be a traditionalist or could be thinking out of the box (not of wine, I hope).  And wouldn’t I be an interesting date with whom to talk about wine?  Or food?

Or, if your profile photo is taken in front of the Eiffel Tower, “What is your favorite museum in Paris?” because I’m not wasting time with someone who would go all the way to France and not step into one of its many fine museums.  And wouldn’t I be an interesting date with whom to talk about art?  Or Paris?

Or, if you claim to be a pilot, I will ask, “Which airport has the best $100 hamburger?” because every general aviation pilot knows the joke about spending $100 in gas to fly to an airport to have a hamburger.   And wouldn’t I be an interesting date with whom to talk about aviation?  Or hamburgers?

Hmmm…maybe I should try dumber questions.  I bet these are guaranteed to get me a date.

To the guy who’s a homebody and likes to snuggle in front of a fire, “Would you like to take a nap on my comfy sofa while I clean the kitchen after I fix you a four-course dinner?”

To the guy in his alma mater’s sweatshirt holding a football, “Would you tell me all about that winning touchdown you made in high school?”

To the shirtless guy in swim trunks on a beach, “Want to compare tan lines?”

Finally, I have a word of advice for a particular gentleman who wasted my time for nearly three weeks:

If you initiate contact with me by commenting on my profile photos like a man besotted, writing “I would love to meet you” and “You are beautiful; let’s share a bottle of wine” and “You and your dog are beautiful; I could kiss you both” and you IM and email me multiple times with extensive information about yourself and your children and how compatible we are, and if I should respond favorably to all of this, and if you set up a future date with me, and if you subsequently never write to me again to confirm the date that YOU offered and don’t respond to my very brief inquiry (“Which wine should I have with my pizza, or should I look elsewhere?”) and if I google you and find out that you were lying about your age and, I suspect, your marital status, just know that the soft, warm breath of my dear friend, Karma, is breathing down your neck.

And with Karma for a friend, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


2 Comments

Cooked by the Book

How did you learn to cook?  Maybe you didn’t.  Some people learn from their mothers, but My Mother wasn’t very experimental.  She knew what she knew, and that’s what she cooked.  She made the usual comfort food, pot roast, fudge, and spaghetti.  She also made foods unique to where I grew up in Detroit, like stuffed cabbage with sauerkraut and City Chicken, and food from her old Kentucky home that no one north of the Mason-Dixon line had seen in the 1950s, like cooked eggnog, Red Velvet cake, and unsweetened cornbread.  She only owned one cookbook, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, so my exposure to international cuisine was limited.

The book that started it all for me.

The book that started it all for me.

The summer that I got married (1972), I worked for a lady who had traveled the world and who insisted that I needed a copy

of The Joy of Cooking, the 1971 edition of the classic by Irma Rombauer.  I had never heard of it and found it daunting, as I leafed through it.  Make my own stock?  What was wrong with Campbell’s soup in a can?  Béarnaise sauce?  What was tarragon?  Pâté à choux?  Cabbage paste? They seemed so exotic.  So time-consuming.  So uncomfortable.

The Veterinarian knew how to cook bacon, eggs, and that mid-Atlantic mystery food of his childhood, scrapple (Rapa-brand, of course).  His mother made the food of her Virginia childhood, fried chicken, fried chicken livers, and scrambled eggs with shad roe (the accompaniment to the scrapple).  She passed along to her son her mother’s recipe for chip dip, cream cheese flavored with Worcestershire sauce.

Armed with Joy of Cooking and the current edition of Betty Crocker, we set up housekeeping.  Within months, we gave our first dinner party for another couple.  We decided to have ham (because who can’t heat up a ham?), scalloped potatoes, a vegetable that escapes memory, and cheesecake for dessert.  From Betty Crocker, I had learned to make a medium white sauce for the potatoes, and the results were a revelation of creaminess.  The cheesecake was an easy recipe from my best friend’s mother.  I put the softened cream cheese in the blender with the eggs, sugar, and vanilla, and, when it stuck to the sides of the jar, I scraped it down with a wooden spatula, WHILE THE BLENDER WAS RUNNING.

That’s right, at our first dinner party, we served a dessert with extra fiber, wood chips.  We ran it through a sieve and were able to get out the big chunks.  I was near hysteria, until The Veterinarian pointed out that the graham cracker crust disguised the very tiny splinters that were left.  After all, he reassured me, the spatula was clean, and the wood was organic.  Washed down with enough Blue Nun wine, our dinner was a success.  (And the other couple remain dear friends after 42 years.)

Soon, we branched out.  We couldn’t afford to dine out often, so we cooked for ourselves.  There was lots of trial and error, but, mostly, we found that, with regular practice, cooking wasn’t so hard.  We watched Julia Child, Graham Kerr (the Galloping Gourmet), and a wacky minister who went by the name “Frugal Gourmet.”  We delved into that Joy of Cooking, whose step-by-step directions and explanations of buying and storing food revealed techniques and tastes that we had never imagined.  We started cooking with wine, real wine, not that salty stuff labeled “Cooking Wine.”  We started drinking better wine, too.

Old friends

Old friends

Then, I acquired a copy of Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and we were off and running into heart disease territory.  I can still reproduce her signature Boeuf à la Bourguignonne, Carottes Vichy, and Coquilles St. Jacques à la Parisienne without looking at the recipe.  The Veterinarian perfected Vichysoisse [btw, you pronounce the final “s” because an “e” follows it — don’t let a snooty waiter bully you into saying, “Vishyswa”] and turning ordinary granulated white sugar and water into the perfect golden syrup for Crème Renversée au Caramel.  [Helpful hint:  Use a microwave.]

We acquired even more cookbooks, such as Pierre Franey’s 60-Minute Gourmet, which taught us to cook efficiently with fresh ingredients, and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, which explained the chemistry of baking.

Within 10 years, we were full-fledged foodies.  As we began to travel, restaurants famed and unknown were always on our must-sees.  We returned home to reproduce our favorite dishes either from memory or from their cookbooks, such as Union Square Café  in NYC (for the Tuna Burger and Garlic Potato Chips), The Inn at Little Washington (for the Butter Pecan Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce), Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (Etouffée and Blue Cheese Dressing), The Ivy in London (Roast Poulet des Landes), and Hawaii’s Roy’s (Chocolate Soufflé).

The two very best recipes came from Chef Cindy Wolf of Baltimore’s Charleston.  She shared her stock and lobster bisque recipes, which The Veterinarian adapted and left me.  Yep, he actually left lobster and veal stock and a Paul Prudhomme gumbo in the freezer, proving you can’t take it with you.

We also created and adapted traditional recipes.  He used melted butter and added coconut to Toll House cookies to give them more crunch, and I used almonds in the graham cracker crust and folded in beaten egg whites to the filling of the classic Key Lime Pie recipe.  Over the years, we learned that there is no kitchen disaster that can’t be remedied, even if it ends up in the trash 10 minutes before your guests arrive.  The cheese course becomes the appetizer or the dessert, or, maybe the main course, if you turn it into fondue or pasta.

With the advent of Google, there is almost no recipe that you can’t find online.  In fact, you can find hundreds of recipes for the same dish and can pick and choose between them to create a unique version.  I learned to make my own Tom Kha Gai soup that way and have lowered the fat in the Cheesecake Factory’s Louisiana Chicken Pasta.

Some things never change.  I still use the Betty Crocker fudge recipe that My Mother used.  I still make the best real Red Velvet cake with Buttercream Frosting and an awesome stuffed cabbage with sauerkraut.  I’ve adapted the City Chicken to simmer in white wine and veal stock, unheard of in 1950s Detroit kitchens, and I actually learned to make that pâté à choux to reproduce Detroit’s favorite Sanders’ Hot Fudge cream puff shells.

Several years ago, a friend gave me a vintage copy of The Joy of Cooking, which started The Veterinarian collecting them.  Imagine my surprise to find, in the 1931 edition, the recipe for his grandmother’s cream cheese chip dip.  It survived the 1943 edition, but, by 1971, it had disappeared, maybe because it says to spread the mixture on the potato chips.  Who in their right mind would do that?  Not even the most ardent foodie, I suspect.  [Hint:  Stir a little milk into the softened cream cheese, add a few drops of Worcestershire and some grated onion, and the mixture will be thin enough to serve with chips.  Wouldn’t Irma Rombauer be surprised to know that it’s my good luck charm whenever the Baltimore Ravens play?]

DATE UPDATE:

My one month trial to chemistry expired, so the site “treated” me to a free month.  When I declined to renew my match subscription, they offered me three free months.  Good.  I’ll still have something to write about.

This morning alone, the scammers are either cloning each other, or there’s just one guy or gal with a lot of time on their hands.  The theme is “I will love to know you better [sic], as long as you have a pulse”, although I suspect that may be optional, if I, the “lonely” little widow, can provide access to my bank account.  You be the judge.

It’s not the distance that’s the potential problem.  It’s your multiple personality disorder:

photo (5)

His profile disappeared because someone else complained about him before I opened the email.

From a man whose name leads me to believe that he is not the Catholic that he claims to be in any way, shape, or form:

Anything with a pulse

Anything with a pulse

From a man who is only slightly more discriminating, but pulse may be an option in the 105-year old date:

105?

105?  Really?  I’m soooo flattered to be included!

Finally, we can agree that this guy is still a “boy”:

photo (8)

Well, I’m not lonely enough for that, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!