Monday, January 31, 2011

The Deep End of the Pool

I rush into the house, drop the car keys onto the table, and run over to my computer to check the evite again.   I am definitely going to be a little late, what with gathering up all the supplies, but it can't be helped.  I head into the garage and start hunting through the shelves.

My husband:  So where are you going without me tonight?
Me:  (mumbling on purpose):  Oh, it's a god *muffled* ss party.  
Him:  What?   I didn't catch that.
Me:  (much more loudly):  Do you know where we keep the little candleholder things?
Him:  No.  Why?
Me:  OK then, can you go outside and pick me a few lemons?  With leaves on them?
Him:  Um, I guess so.  Why do you need leafy lemons?
Me:  Thanks, honey!  

Having found my candle, I throw it into the bag on the counter.  I go back to the evite again.

You are invited to A Goddess Party!  Please bring:
  • a favorite dish or drink (it's a potluck)
  • an inspirational reading material
  • flowers/foliage from around your home
  • gently used gift item you love but can't use anymore (may be wrapped)
  • photo of loved one(s) and/or crystals
  • pillow for your toosh & small wrap/blanket
  • candle
Dress comfortably!

Even as I read it for the tenth time, I have to resist the by-now-familiar urge to either run away and hide or to double over with laughter at the absurdity of the whole thing.  Photo of loved ones and/or crystals?  [Pause for effect.  Look out at audience.] "Are those, like, interchangeable in Goddess-land?"  [Crowd roars in appreciation.  I move on to witty riffs on "toosh" and "foliage"].

But, no.  I am not only going to the Goddess Party, I am leaving my cynical, snarky self at home and taking my toosh pillow and poetry off to Calabasas.   I even arm myself with a warm-from-the oven bread pudding as an offering to my fellow Goddesses.

Walking in the door of my friend's home, my fears flare up again.  I don't know a soul, with the exception of my hostess.   The living room floor is covered with different fabrics, scented votives twinkling everywhere.  Baskets full of lavender, rosemary, and birds of paradise form a circle around the candles.  I feel my eyes rolling involuntarily, and have to check myself.  Framed photos nestle in the ring here and there, in front of a variety of pillows clearly meant for all of these strangers and me to sit on.   And do what???  God, please don't let there be chanting.

I stroll into the kitchen, shaking hands and meeting the other guests.  A few are chatting away like old friends, others look almost as nervous as I do. One woman leafs through well-worn paperbacks, dog-earring pages for inspiration at the last minute.  Looking around in vain for a glass of wine*, I begin grazing the appetizer spread in a show of "This isn't weird at all" bravado.

After a few late arrivals, including (hooray) one more familiar face, there are eleven women sitting cross-legged in the candlelit room.  The solemnity of the burning sage ritual** is marred somewhat by us falling into fits of giggles when our leader is outside.  But we compose ourselves and settle down to listen, as one by one, each tells about the people in the photo, about her story, about herself.

The awkwardness vanishes.

A marriage is breaking.  
A relationship is holding on by a thread.  
Cancer has been beaten.  
God has been found.  
A brother has died unforgivably.  
One 89 year old mother refuses to rest, my 71 year old mother refuses to live.  
A grandson shines. 
A younger sister is gone three days after a joyous moment in the sun.
A sibling struggles and a family falls apart.
Lost love returns with a vengeance.  
A husband accepts her unconditionally, and she adores him for it. 
There is the miracle of a son.

And we are, collectively, suddenly, massively grateful to be able to speak these things aloud, without judgement. To women who have their own, different but somehow terribly similar, struggles and triumphs going on, and so understand every word completely.   The unburdening is cathartic, the release intense and unexpected and draining and energizing, all at once.  

A flurry of buoyant support comes back from the group.   Passages and poems and, at the end, voices from all around.   Information and emotion flows around the circle.  We feel we know, a little.  We know enough.

We say to each other:

You are gentle. 
You are kind.
You are a bridge, a path, the glue.
You are infectious.
You are gorgeous.
You are smart and creative and wise.
You are fierce.
You are crazy sexy cool.
You are so strong.  Even when you bend into seemingly impossible shapes, you get stronger.
You are a poetess in disguise.
You are a teacher, a giver, a mother, a muse.
You are a great and true friend.
You are a force of nature.
You are the deep end of the pool.  

We believe each other.   

We blow out the candles, toss our cares into the fireplace***, open up the wine, and eat a pile of delicious food with so much gusto you'd think we'd been starving for weeks.  We do this together.  If not as actual Goddesses****, at least as new-found friends.

Bread Pudding of the Goddesses
Bread pudding is an incredibly useful tool of the leftover trade.  In this instance, I was able to make this sensational dessert using a package of stale hamburger buns that were just sitting around in my cupboard.  It may well be even better with bread you buy just for the occasion, but I'll never know.  It is NOT a useful tool of the dieting trade.    But it is sublime enough to be worth every calorie.

To line the baking dish:
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

For the pudding:
About 6-8 cups of bread cubes, preferably from a rich, relatively dense type of bread, such as country french, sourdough, or egg bread*****
A little more than a cup of the add-ins of your choice, optional****** 
1/4 c. butter, melted   
3 c. heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
6 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
1/3 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
generous grating of fresh nutmeg
a couple of pinches of salt

Choose a heavy 9x9 square, round or oval baking dish.   Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl, then spread the mixture into the bottom of the baking dish.   This will magically form a caramel sauce on the bottom of the pudding as it bakes.  YUM!   

Spread a layer of bread cubes on top of the brown sugar.  Sprinkle half of your add-ins (if you are using them, and I hope you are!) on top of the bread.  Cover with another layer of bread cubes, and the rest of your add ins.  The dish should be nicely full but should not have bread above the edges.    Drizzle the melted butter on top of the bread, and set the dish aside.

In a larger bowl, whisk together the cream, the milk, the eggs and egg yolks, the sugar, the vanilla, the nutmeg and the salt until blended and smooth.  Pour the custard over the bread in the dish.  

Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and push down gently to make sure that all the bread is submerged.  If you have a heavy plate handy, set it on top, otherwise stop by occasionally to push the bread back into the custard.   Allow pudding to sit for at least 30 minutes, or put into the fridge for several hours if you like.   If you do that, remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature before baking.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Place the pudding into a roasting pan large enough to hold it comfortably, and add enough lukewarm water to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish.   Remove the plastic wrap.  Carefully put the pan into the oven.  Bake until pudding is set, golden brown on top, and a small knife inserted into the center comes out clean...about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Let cool in the water for 20 minutes.

Spoon bread pudding into dessert bowls, scraping some of the luscious sauce from the bottom of the pan onto each piece.  Top with fresh whipped cream.

Click to Print this recipe!

* Goddess party rules say no alcohol before the ceremony.  You'd think that little piece of info would have been on the invite, but no.
** There really was this branch of burning sage that practically smoked us all out, used for the ceremonial inaugural "smudge" that we all received.   I had to bite my tongue.
*** Literally.  We wrote down seven things we wanted to leave behind us in 2011, then burned the list in my friend's fireplace.
**** I mean, come on.  I may feel a lot better, but I'm still me.
***** You will need enough to fill up your baking dish, so the exact amount may vary.
****** I HIGHLY recommend bittersweet chocolate chips and dried cherries, but you can use raisins or other dried fruit, fresh apples tossed with a little cinnamon, name it!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

I've been discovered... least by Steph, a fellow FFWD blogger who was kind enough to give a nod to Cheesy Pennies in her list of blogs worth checking out. She's received the same nod herself from several folks, so it's like I was noticed by someone noticeable. Which is extra special.

Thanks, Steph!

Friday, January 28, 2011

In the event that your salmon filet tries to do a sweeping overhaul of the nation's healthcare system just before the midterm elections

Give it a good shellacking*.

Pacific Northwest Lacquered Salmon
Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.  The original recipe calls for the salmon to be grilled**, but as tasty as that is, the process can be really messy with this marinade.  I find broiling to work wonderfully instead.

8 Tbs. (1 stick) butter
1/3 c. honey
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. liquid smoke flavoring
3/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 center cut salmon filet (about 2 lbs), skin on, in 1 piece

Combine the butter, honey, brown sugar, lemon juice, liquid smoke, red pepper flakes and salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring every so often, until smooth, 5 to 7 minutes.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

Arrange the salmon in a shallow rimmed dish.  Pour all but 1/3 cup of the cooled marinade over it.  Let stand for 30 minutes.  About halfway through sitting time, stop by and spoon marinade on the side back over the salmon again.

Preheat broiler.  Cover a baking sheet with foil, spray a cooling rack with non-stick spray, and set the rack on top of the baking sheet.  Transfer the salmon to the rack.  Broil for 10-12 minutes, watching carefully.  Because the marinade is full of honey and sugar, it will tend to caramelize quickly and burn easily.   If this happens before the full time is up, move salmon down to a slighly lower rack, and add a few extra minutes to the cooking time.

While salmon is cooking, rewarm remaining marinade.  Just after salmon comes out, drizzle the extra marinade on top.  Serve immediately.

For an entertaining history of the word "shellacking", click here***.

* Hopefully, like Mr. Obama, the salmon will absorb the lesson and achieve surprising legislative victories during the lame duck session, or at least make all of the picky eaters in your family happy for once.
** Now with the grilling?  Is there no end to these absurd partisan attacks?
*** To be fair to the Bush administration, I suppose I should work on a recipe that would involve a good thumping.   Will keep you posted.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Two down

Me:  So.  A few people, with kids.   Totally casual, for your birthday. I'm thinking burgers.
Him:   And...potato salad!?!
Me:  Well, it is your birthday...
Him:  I love you.
Me:  In that case, we'll have carrot cake, too.

Potato Salad!

For Step 1:
About 2-3 lbs white or red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 Tbs. kosher salt

For Step 2:
1/3 c. olive oil
2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

For Step 3:
4 hard boiled eggs, finely chopped*
3/4 c. chopped green onion
1 c. finely diced celery
1/4 c. minced Italian parsley, plus extra for garnish
1 1/2 c. mayonnaise
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. creole seasoning or seasoned salt of your choice

Step 1:  
Place potatoes and salt in a large pot of cool water.   Place the pot over medium high heat, and set a timer for 15 minutes.   When the timer goes off, check the potatoes for doneness.  They should be cooked through but not mushy.  Give them another minute or two if they need it.

Step 2:
While the potatoes are boiling, whisk olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper together in a large bowl.   Start with about 1 1/2 tsp. of salt and maybe 1 tsp. of pepper.    When the potatoes are done, drain, and immediately add the hot potatoes to the bowl and stir gently to completely coat them.  Taste to see if you need more salt and pepper, and then allow to cool completely.  This step gives the potatoes a nice dose of flavor, as they will absorb the oil and vinegar mixture as they cool.  It will also help them keep their shape in the finished salad.   Neat trick!

Step 3:
While the potatoes are cooling (or the night before if you are so inclined), chop up all the green stuff, and get your hard boiled eggs ready.   Stir the mayo, the mustard and the seasoned salt together in a smaller bowl and set aside.   When the potatoes are cool, stir in the eggs, green onions, celery and parsley.   Then carefully mix in the mayo/mustard combo.    

Taste for seasonings, then store in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.   Garnish with additional parsley, if desired.

Click to Print this Recipe!

Carrot Cake, too!
From the wonderful New York Cookbook by Molly O'Neill
Let's just say that if there is carrot cake on the menu, my husband will order it.   I tried recipe after recipe for many (many!!**) a birthday of his until I hit upon this one, and I've never looked back.   The only carrot cake that even comes close is the one from The Baker, a terrific neighborhood spot in Woodland Hills that makes a killer double layered version that we both swoon over.

For the cake:
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
3 c. sugar
4 1/2 c. freshly grated carrots (about 10-12 large carrots)
1 1/2 c. coarsely chopped walnuts
3 c. all purpose flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
6 large eggs

For the frosting:
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
12 oz. (1 1/2 pkg.) cream cheese, softened
2 Tbs. milk or cream
1 Tbs. vanilla
2 c. powdered sugar
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350, and oil a 13x9 or 10x15 pan***.  

In a large bowl, combine the oil, sugar, carrots and walnuts.  In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Using an electric mixer, add three eggs to the carrot mixture, then 1/2 of the flour mixture, then the other three eggs, and then the last of the flour.  Beat well on medium speed after each addition.  

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake until the cake is springy to the touch in the middle.  This will take about 45-50 minutes in the 13x9 pan, or 35-40 minutes in the larger pan.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

To make the frosting, blend butter and cream cheese together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.   Add the milk and the vanilla and beat well.   Finally, mix in the powdered sugar and the salt.  It will be smooth and silky and absolutely delicious.  But don't eat all of it right now.  It is supposed to go on the cake.

When the cake has cooled, you can either frost it right there in the pan, or turn the cake out onto a serving plate to frost the whole thing.   

Some people (not me) like to throw a bunch of extra walnuts around the side or decorate with little frosted carrots.     But for special occasions, I do let my twelve year old go a little crazy with the red food coloring.

Whatever makes them happy, right?  Right.  

Happy Birthday!

Click to Print this Recipe!

* I use this neat tool that I inherited from my mom.  You can use it to create perfect egg slices, or, if you rotate the egg after the first slicing, you get beautiful little egg matchsticks.   I thought I had some kind of vintage heirloom, but it turns out you can get these on Amazon for less than $20. Otherwise, using a knife works great, too.
** He's had plenty of birthdays, so all this practice hasn't been an issue.  
*** I used a 10x15 size in the pictures here, so the cake is not quite as high as it will be if you use the smaller pan.  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Holy Grail of Coffee Cake

There seems to be at least one in every town or neighborhood...the breakfast place with crowds of people milling about under the eaves on weekend mornings, clutching their free cup of coffee and the newspaper while they wait half an hour or even 45 minutes for a table. The crowd is pleasantly bed-headed, attired in slouchy t-shirts or workout clothes, or perhaps whatever they were wearing on a hot date the night before. People chat, hold hands, lean on shoulders, or just sit companionably on benches.   There are strollers and dogs, baseball caps and sunglasses accessorizing the scene.  Someone has brought a grandparent.  Few will even glance at the menu when they sit down, instead ordering their usual thing from the friendly, freckled young waitress in the polo shirt that stops by. Crayons are plentiful, as the placemats are made for drawing on until the pancakes come.  Mugs are constantly being refilled without asking, there's syrup ready to go at the table, and when that first forkful of breakfast hits the tummy, all is truly right with the world.

Where I went to school, this place was called Hobee's. It has been nearly a quarter of a century since I was in college*, but Hobee's is still there, and is still famous for two things:  Their spicy orange tea, brewed so strongly that it feels like you are drinking dark liquid cinnamon, and their coffee cake.

This is the one and only photo on the Hobee's website.  They clearly know what the people want to see.

I do like their tea.  But I have not spent 25 years trying to duplicate it at home**.  Their coffee cake, on the other hand, is an obsession.

It comes to your table in what can only be called a slab. A thick square, maybe 4 inches across and a few inches high.  The cake itself is rich and dense and warm, with juicy blueberries tucked in here and there.   It is covered with sugary cinnamon crumb topping, and comes with a little scoop of butter right in the middle, which  has begun melting into that sugary topping on its way from the kitchen.  Oh my god, do I love that coffee cake.  I have loved it since my very first morning at Hobee's and I will love it until the day I die.

And people know this about me.  In one memorable exchange, a guy I'd been friends with for years was upset that our relationship was not going to evolve into more than that.  He was very upset, actually.

Him:  (after all else has failed)  Well, you know what?
Me:  What?
Him:  Hobee's coffee cake is made....FROM A MIX!!!
Me:  (tearing up at last)  It is NOT!
Him:  It is TOO!  I saw it, in the kitchen one time.  A big fat mix from COSTCO!!!
Me:  You're a LIAR!! That's what you are!  GET OUT!!!!

We never spoke civilly again.

After literally decades of trying, I have, at last, found the holy grail.  A way to make something close*** to Hobee's Coffee Cake at home.

Blueberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake
A personal homage****

For the cake:
3 c. buttermilk baking mix (like Bisquik)
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. sour cream
3 eggs
Splash of vanilla or almond extract
1 pint fresh blueberries
A couple of Tbs. of powdered sugar

For the topping:
3 c. flour
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) butter, cut into small pieces

Butter a 9x13 baking pan.   Blend baking mix and sugar together in a large bowl, then mix in the sour cream, eggs, and vanilla with an electric mixer for 3-4 minutes.  Batter should be very light and smooth.  Set aside.  Rinse and dry the blueberries, then gently roll them in powdered sugar to coat.  This will keep them from streaking the batter when you mix them in.   Carefully stir the blueberries into the batter.  Pour batter into pan.   If you want to make sure you have some blueberries on the top of your cake, save a few to scatter on top after it goes into the pan.  Otherwise, they all tend to sink as the cake bakes*****.

Using a pastry blender, fork or a food processor, blend all the topping ingredients except the butter until well combined.   Then, pulse or mix in the butter until you have a nice, chunky topping that resembles a blend of small pebbles, cornmeal and pieces of cookie dough.   Sprinkle liberally on top of the cake batter, breaking up larger chunks and making sure to cover it entirely and generously.   You may have a little extra, which is nice for a little treat after all this hard work.

Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out nearly clean, with just a few moist crumbs.  Serve warm.  If you have some butter and a little ice cream scoop around, all the better.

* I know this because my reunion is coming up this fall and I double checked the math on the email they sent because I was sure they had me in the wrong class.   But I am, in fact, officially some kind of geezer grad now.  I even put on my progressive lenses and read the damn thing twice.
** Especially since I discovered that the Good Earth Tea you can get at the grocery store is pretty darn close.  You just have to let it steep for about 15 minutes longer than they usually recommend.
*** Perhaps even better, because as usual, I have erred on the side of extra topping.  
**** Of course, now there's a purported copy of the real recipe online, which CLEARLY shows it does not come from a MIX!!!
***** This is fine in my house, because the kids assiduously eat around the blueberries, so having them on the bottom makes the dining table a lot less messy.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

One down, me to go

I pick up my son after school.

Him:  What's for dinner?
Me:  Fried chicken.
Him:  (Grabbing my arm and practically yanking our car off the road in his excitement) The kind you make?  The one like you made before that time?  That one?
Me:  Yep.
Him:   Happiest day of my life.   Right here.  Happiest day!

He sits back in the front seat, changes the radio station to something truly annoying* and starts texting and facebooking and whatever else on his phone.   We're not talking anymore, but we're both grinning like idiots.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Strips
A mash up of recipes from The Pioneer Woman and The Clinton Street Bakery Cookbook.  The cookbook is a recent acquisition and it's gone right into the rotation of cherished favorites.

About 2 lbs of boneless chicken breast tenders**

2 c. buttermilk
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder or onion powder

2 c. flour
1 Tbs. seasoned salt
2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 c. buttermilk

2 -3 pieces of bacon (optional)
Plenty of canola oil

Rinse chicken tenders and pat dry.  If there's any visible fat or any those little white veins on them, trim those off.

Combine the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl with a whisk.   Place the chicken tenders in a shallow dish, and pour the marinade over them.    At this point, you can let them soak in the fridge for many hours, or as little as 30 minutes.  Depends what time of day you found this recipe.

Combine all the coating ingredients except buttermilk in a dish that is shallow enough to let you put a few pieces of chicken in there and roll them around, but has sides high enough so when you do that stuff doesn't spill all over the floor.    Slowly toss in the buttermilk with a fork.  This may seem strange, but it will create these little clumps of coating that will make the chicken extra crispy and good.  Trust me.

Take the chicken out of the fridge.  Get out a large cooling rack, and set it over a baking sheet or paper towels for easy clean up.     Arrange these three things in a line:  chicken container, then coating container, then rack.

Working a few pieces at a time, place chicken into coating mixture and turn gently until completely covered.  Place on the rack.   Continue until all the chicken is ready to go.

In a large, deep frying pan, add canola oil to a depth of about 1 inch.  Heat over medium high heat.    Here comes that optional bacon part.  I'd read that real Southern fried chicken is sometimes cooked in bacon fat,  so my nod to that tradition is to fry a couple of pieces of bacon in my relatively healthy canola oil to give it that bacon-y flavor.   If you're with me, add the bacon to your hot oil, and let it fry until crisp.    What happens to it after that is none of my business.

Fry the chicken strips in batches, making sure not to overcrowd the pan.  Turn once.  You should need roughly 2-3 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of your pieces.   Place finished pieces on a baking sheet covered with paper bags or paper towels to drain any remaining oil.

Serve hot with your favorite sauces***.   Might not be the happiest day of your life, but it will come close.

Click to print this recipe!

* This is a great parady of my current nominee for most irritating song in the world:

** If you have a growing teenage boy, use closer to 3 lbs.  You can also use boneless chicken thighs for part of this, but trim them really well of fat and cook about a minute longer on each side.

*** My favorite sauces for these:
Homemade or purchased BBQ sauce
Equal parts Dijon mustard and apricot preserves, mixed
The kids favorite:  Ketchup

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My New Year's Resolution obviously not about timeliness.

In fact, I was going to give the whole resolution thing a miss.   Poor track record and all that.   But then, I made one anyway.

So it's clearly not about decisiveness, either.

It's also not about the things I should do this year*:

Eat healthier
Nag less
Re-evaluate the phrase "a good skin care regimen" to determine whether it could apply to me personally
Charge what I'm worth
Get some sleep

And it's not about the things that I shouldn't:

Check email while driving
Ever eat at McDonald's
Take my family for granted
Wear that sweatshirt with the holes in it out in public

Nope.  It's not about rightness or wrongness.
It is about an intention and a dream and a few very wise words from Mr. Berry Gordy, Jr**.

The first part, the intention and dream part, comes from the message of the week*** at my kickboxing studio:

Make a list.  A real list, that you write down and keep close.   On one side of the list are your intentions, your goals.  Specific, attainable things you want for yourself this year.   On the other side are your dreams.  Your wildest, craziest, biggest ambitions.  The pie-in-the-sky hopes that make your heart soar.   If you don't give voice to your dreams, you may as well not have them, right?  So let them fly!

The second part, the Berry Gordy part, comes from a talk he gave to the kids at my daughter's school in honor of Martin Luther King's birthday.    He told stories about his boyhood and his boxing days and his career in music and his friendship with Dr. King that had the entire room spellbound.    How hard it was for him to embrace the concept of "turning the other cheek", but how deeply he felt that to be at the core of the civil rights message that we were all celebrating now.  Towards the end, he said there was one great lesson he'd learned the hard way:

The secret to happiness is being proud of yourself.  To live life in a way that you feel good about deep down inside.   All kinds of people are rich and famous and miserable.  Other people have a lot less but they are full of joy.   Choose well.  Choose good.  Choose joy.

And so, I'm doing just that.  My intention and my dream and my resolution are all the same:

This year, I resolve to be happy.
I choose joy.   

What's on your list?

*I may do those things this year.   But I don't officially resolve to do them.
** Yes, that Mr. Berry Gordy, Jr.
*** This was actually the message of two weeks ago.  But I think I did already say that this wasn't about timeliness.  And I did manage to get it written down, so that's a huge plus.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A nice sturdy box

I admit that I'm getting tired of my mom's absurd situation.   Particularly as it is now rolling into month two with no change in sight.  Well, no change in my opinion.  From Mom's perspective, things have now reached a crisis point.  

My cell phone rings.

Me:  Hello?
Board and Care Owner:  Hi Sharon.  I'm calling about your mom.
Me:  [Panic sets in].  Is she OK?  What's wrong?
BCO:  Oh, she's wonderful.  Totally fine.  In fact, she's had a visit from hospice today and they were chatting away in there.   She just had dinner and everything's great.
Me:  [Now aware that Mom wants something and has talked this guy into calling me]  I'm so glad to hear she's doing well.   What can I do for you?
BCO:  It's about the TV.
Me:  The TV?
BCO:  The TV in her room.   You see, the TV actually belonged to another resident, but we had left it in there since the family never let us know what they wanted to do with it.  They've gotten in touch, and we're going to need to move it out.   Your mom seems very attached to it, though.

[A long pause as we both recognize this as the understatement of the century]

BCO: [Charging ahead uncomfortably] So we were wondering if maybe you had another TV that she could use.
Me:  Um. Sure.  I have her old TV.  I could bring that over.
BCO: [Clearly relieved]  Oh, that's good news.  Really good news.  And there's really no rush.  Anytime this week will be fine.
Me:  Honestly, it's no problem.  Thank you for calling.  Can I talk to my mom, please?
BCO:  Of course.  Of course.  One moment.

[I hear him telling her I'm on the line.]

Her:  Hi, sweetie.  How are you?
Me:  I'm fine, Mom.  How are you doing?
Her:  I'm good.  I had a nice bath today.   But I think they're going to take my TV.  I told them they should just buy it from that family so I could keep it, since it seems like for what they're charging, the room should come with a TV.   They should realize that I can't get up and go to the living room like everyone else, you know?  I'm on hospice, for heaven's sake.  But I guess that just isn't going to work out.
Me:  Well, don't worry Mom.  I have your TV in the garage, and I can bring it over.  The guys will help me set it up for you and everything will be OK.
Her:  Oh, thank you, honey.

[A pause.]

Her:  And maybe you could bring a box to put it on.
Me:  A box?  What for?
Her:  Well, this TV is so much bigger than my TV.   I think you're going to have to raise my TV up a lot to make it work as good as this one.   At least 24 inches.
Me:  Mom, it's going to sit up on that big dresser.  I'm sure it'll be fine.
Her:  It's just that I don't have to sit up to watch this TV.  It's perfect for me.

[She sighs.]

Her:  Maybe if you put it way off to the side of the dresser, I can watch it at an angle lying down.   That could work, I guess.

[She sighs again.]

Me:  OK, Mom.  I'll look for a box.
Her:  Thank you, honey.  Since I can't have this TV, a nice, tall, sturdy box should be just the thing.
Me:  I'll do my best.   Have a good night.
Her:  I will, honey.  I feel much better already.

Maybe if I put her way off to the side, I can watch this whole thing at an angle.  Lying down.

Until then, I'm eating this chocolate cobbler.

Susan's Granny's Chocolate Cobbler 
I clipped this recipe when it was first posted on the Tasty Kitchen blog because it sounded both bizarre and delicious.   Turns out it's not bizarre at all.  But it is super delicious.   My adapted version* is below.

1 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
7 Tbs. great quality cocoa powder**, divided
1 1/4 c. sugar, divided
1/2 c. milk
1/3 c. butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 c. very hot water
1 Tbs. strong black coffee

Preheat the oven to 350.   You will need an 8 inch square, oval or round baking dish.   You don't have to grease or butter it, just have it handy.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, 3 Tbs. of the cocoa powder, and 3/4 c. of the sugar in a medium mixing bowl.    Place the remaining 1/2 c sugar and 4 Tbs. of cocoa in another bowl and reserve.    Add the milk, melted butter, and vanilla o the flour mixture, and stir until smooth.   Pour the mixture into the baking dish and set aside.

Add the brown sugar to the sugar and the cocoa, and stir to combine.   Sprinkle half of this mixture generously over the batter.    Combine the hot tap water and the coffee, and pour that mixture over the whole thing.  DO NOT STIR.  Sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture on top.

Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the center is set.   Allow to cool for a few minutes, then serve with vanilla or coffee ice cream.  Or, if you have just been on the phone with my mom, both.

* I added the coffee.  It just makes it that much more chocolate-y tasting.  If you like, throw in some mini chocolate chips, too!
** I splurged on a small tub of Valrhona unsweetened cocoa at Surfas a while back and have never regretted it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Episode 22

At last month's very exclusive Foodie Girls' holiday potluck and gift exchange, there were several things that went over big with the crowd:

FG16's Butternut Squash Soup
FG3's Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus
FG17's Corn Souffle
FG14's Tamales
FG9's Decadent Macaroons
FG10's Salted Caramel and Chocolate Potato Chips

But, as good as all of those things were, the biggest hit, BY FAR, was this little piggy.

Not only is he cute, he does this:

What a party animal.

Episode 22 - This little piggy says "yum!"

In a fortunate confluence of beginning-of-the-year culinary virtuosity and pig lighter avarice, these little piggies call Honey Pig home.  A high-end BBQ restaurant in the heart of Koreatown, Honey Pig has   nothing battered or fried, and absolutely no cream, eggs, chocolate or sugar.  Just prime cut meats, lots of vegetables, and loads of exotic flavors.  Perfect for people coming off of the seasonal excesses of late December.*

The place is all clean lines and dark wood, nearly empty at lunch but likely packed at dinner time.   A plump and clearly happy white pig greets you on the sign outside, on the rug walking in, and on the menu.  That menu is mostly in Korean, with tiny English notes beneath each entry.   The notes are accurate, but not super helpful.  For example, did we want the "beef prime", the "beef rib prime" or the "thin beef"?  The "pork belly" the "black pork belly" or the "special pork belly"?    It was hard to concentrate on making sense of the choices because of the delicious smells and sizzling sounds coming from the tables around us.  

Each table has a large round piece in the middle, essentially like a wok turned upside down. As we sat there sniffing hungrily and puzzling through the options, our waitress appeared and flipped a switch to start the BBQ heating up.   She came loaded down with a bowl full of bright green scallions, beautifully cut into delicate shreds, dressed with rice vinegar and a dash of chilis, a huge pile of marinated bean sprouts, and another bowl overflowing with napa cabbage kimchee, the fermented vegetable side dish that is a Korean specialty.    She passed out trays, each with two dipping sauces, one sweet and pungent, and the other as spicy as its flaming red color would lead you to believe.   There was a tumbler of cool water, too.  Rice paper wrappers, lettuce leaves, and small shallow bowls of garlic-infused salted oil also appeared.   And we had yet to utter a word to her.

As the only veteran visitor, I did manage to stop the group from devouring the condiments immediately as I recalled that we'd be needing them later.   However, my experience was limited to that one tip, since I hadn't been the one to order on my first outing to Honey Pig.  After being advised that we would definitely be wanting the "beef rib prime" instead of the "beef prime" (not sure why) and the "special pork belly" rather than the "pork belly" (because the special comes without skin), we sat back and started to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells coming from our very own table.

Our waitress ringed the lower part of the BBQ with alternating piles of the bean sprouts and the kimchee.    Over the course of the meal, these expertly pickled veggies (what was left of them) became crisp and caramelized treats that FG9 was picking off with gusto at the end, like dessert**.    Then the waitress arrived with our first protein...the thin beef.    The rolls of paper thin meat arranged in a circle on her tray looked almost like candy, with each tube of bright red accented by the strip of clean white fat on the end.  She placed them in the center of the BBQ, stirred up the veggies, and seemed mildly amused by our dumbstruck faces.  

As the beef quickly cooked, she demonstrated how to create a little package with the rice wrapper, the sauces, some cooked sprouts and kimchee, the sizzling meat, dipped into the salted oil, and a hearty topping of those refreshing scallions.   Folded up, it became this incredible melding of hot and cold, crispness and softness, oil and vinegar, earthy fermentation, meaty juices and bright, fresh acidity, all in one bite.   Every flavor your mouth could want, right at your fingertips.  Oh, yeah.  We like this place.  A lot.

The parade of proteins continued.  The beef rib prime turned out to be deeply marbled boneless short ribs, and they were very good, adding an element of rich meaty texture to the flavors we had so enjoyed with the thin beef.   The special pork bellies, skinless as advertised, were too fatty for some, but I found that if they were left on the BBQ long enough for the fat to render and get nice and crisp, these, too, made me very happy all wrapped up in a lettuce leaf with the condiment bonanza.   Overall, the quality of the pork was excellent, just like the two cuts of beef we tried.

Next came four of the largest shrimp I have ever seen in my life.    When the note said "big shrimp", it wasn't kidding.  They were beautifully butterflied and had been smeared with garlic on the way to the table.  They hit the sizzling center just as the last pieces of pork were on their way off.  More than enough for all five of us to have several satisfying bites each as the waitress materialized yet again, bearing sliced squash and tofu***.  After tossing those on to cook, she looked at me.



The rice is my favorite part.   If you recall, our little upside down wok had played host to the sprouts and the kimchee, the squash and the tofu.  There was an onion in there, and the garlic shrimp and the pork and the beef.  There were crispy bits all over the place, a few slowly caramelizing veggies still sizzling, and a stray piece or two of beef and shrimp that had survived the furious reach of our chopsticks.   To all this goodness, they add a bowl full of seasoned rice, lettuce, seaweed and other fresh greens.  We stir and scrape and stir again.  The smell is maddeningly good.  The rice is browning and the greens are just wilting.   Steam rises.   We scrape and stir and scrape again.  It's perfect.  We load up our little plates with this fried rice of the gods and pronounce ourselves very, very happy.  Perhaps even more happy than that little white pig.

We look longingly at the now nearly empty, completely blackened upside down wok and realize the lunch has come to an end****.

After waiting a bit longer for the check than we would have expected, we split the bill and looked, rather pointedly, I thought, around for the complementary pig lighters.

Alas, those little piggies were gone*****.

FG Final Verdict?  Honey Pig is ON the list!
Pricing Information:  Meats (which come with all the sides, soup and rice), $16 (regular pork belly) to $26 (beef prime).   We ordered four proteins for five of us, which was more than enough food for lunch.  Price per person, with tip, was $25.
FG Value Rating:  Fair Deal

* OK, maybe it was just me that went crazy on the cookies.  But I doubt it.
** Turns out she's given up sugar and flour until March, so it wasn't surprising to see her doing that.  And, clearly, it wasn't just me going to town in December.
*** These must come with the meal, as I did not see any notes saying "squash and tofu" on the menu.
**** A robust miso and cabbage soup was served somewhere in between the shrimp and the rice, too, to wash everything down.   But we didn't BBQ it, so I put it here in the footnotes.
***** Sources say more are on order, so perhaps next time we will be able to bring one of those little piggies on home.