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A Current Favorite Dessert: Gelato; Sour Cream; Salt

October 22, 2012

There is a brand of gelato called Talenti. It comes in a fancy-looking clear container that one might mistake for a glass jar before they dropped it and it did not shatter. I normally do not buy it; we are a Haagen Dazs family. (Our affiliation is likely because we do not plan to eat ice cream, we just realize that we need it late at night when we are walking by the deli down the block. And at the deli, it’s Haagen Dazs, which I am not complaining about)

But one day I shopped at the food co-op, which is expensive and annoying but of course, has a great selection of organics and new-fangled ice creams in aesthetically pleasing containers. And I came upon a Talenti’s Belgian Milk Chocolate gelato, which I thought my husband would really love. (I tend to go for French roast, dark chocolate, peppery juicy zinfandel, but he really appreciates medium-body coffees and chocolates and wines and cheeses and I’ve developed more of a taste for the subtle goodnesses, too. Also, gelato makes me crazy; I love it.)

I bought a container of Belgian milk chocolate so we could have it during the debate. I have been cooking real dinners to eat together during the debates, because 1. solace from dystopian thoughts about the future (present?) 2. it’s a fun way to spend with Matthew, who gets home from work at about the time they start, but which is unfortunately just about my hour of expiration for civility and good conversation and 3. our teething baby automatically will not sleep if there is a debate on, and if I am watching politics with a screaming, wiggly zero year old—albeit a lovely, lively, adorable one—I need a double dose of solace.

I thought that having a good dessert might help.

The dessert is indeed good; Matthew and another friend with an excellent palate tried it and gave it the thumbs up.  It’s really smooth and chocolatey though not too rich. It’s a great base but by itself, it’s a little one-note for me. In my ice cream as in my life, I like to have a lot going on. For dinner I’d made little personalized vegetarian enchilada casseroles (butternut squash, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli) , and that meant that there was a bit of sour cream in the condiment bar I’d set up on the coffee table.

So I added a bit of sour cream on the top of the gelato to get a little acid in there, right where you might put a tiny bit of whipped cream, which I’ve honestly never understood as a condiment for ice cream. (“Hmm, I am having a cold slippery sweet thing. Perhaps I should top it with a . . . cold slippery sweet thing?”)  But the sour cream added a tiny bit of contrast in mouth feel and taste. And then I added some Maldon salt flakes.*

And suddenly, I had the best ice cream thing ever. The sour cream freezes into a little slidey glacial sour chunk that offsets the complete smooth of the flavor and the salt, well, see the asterisk down there.

This is a good thing to eat during the debate. Ice cream, a bit of sour cream, Maldon sea salt, and you may as well get a blindfold, because the debates are sort of scary. Perhaps some earplugs to drown out the baby.

Oh, and Mitt Romney’s lies.

Try some tonight!

*If you have not had this salt, and you are seeking a cheap and cheerful way to immediately escalate your quality of life, try it. Even the 3 year old licked a finger and put it into a little bowl of Maldon the other day and said “Mommy, this is REALLY GOOD SALT.” And he was absolutely correct; all salt was not born equal; no, no it was not.

An Unfinished List of Things We Did Not Name the Baby

October 17, 2012
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It took us four days to narrow down our list of names to find what was right for our baby girl.

Here is a list of things that were not on the list, but that might have been apt.

1. Elflily

2. Creamtop

3. Ed Kochalike

4. Sir Napsalot

5. Plum Chunk

6. Peekytoe Crab

7. Peekytoe (Regular)

8. Butternut

9. Screamtooth

The Eye of the Sparrow

October 10, 2012

So, you’re going to need to watch this.

(These guys, the Bad Lip Readers, have their own channel on YouTube with more things like this.)

Fruit Pie Series: Key Lime

August 15, 2012

In my last (pie-related) post, I referenced a desire to look out over beautiful gardens.

To be fair, I do. Our apartment, on a raised first floor, overlooks the common gardens of our co-op building, and they are largely the reason we bought our apartment.

The blooming beds and pots spilling tendrils onto artfully arranged tables and the park benches rescued and painted orange and marbles catching light and furniture painted purple and stained glass windows propped about were and are ideated and executed and scavenged and when necessary, funded every year by one obsessive, energy-filled tenant.

It bears mentioning that his leg is currently broken.

Still, this gardener guy guy cannot rest, and he’s pruning and rearranging and watering, limping around in his strappy boot after a roller blading incident I didn’t ask too much about. He talks 100 miles an hour. I love this guy and I don’t know what we will do if he ever moves out, aside, of course, from try in vain to keep up his efforts, and lament when we fail.

When he broke his leg I meant to cook food for him and drop it off, of course, but this and that happened and I didn’t manage to make the food and bring it up there.

But I often chat with Gardener Guy through the window as I am cooking or stewarding projects in the kitchen in the afternoon. Recently I was making pasta and offered him a bowl. He reached his dirt-caked hands up over our window boxes (which he waters; whose plants he gave me) and grabbed the bowl and a fork.

He perched on a bench and finished off the spaghetti quickly. He handed the bowl back up and I asked whether he wanted more: someone with his metabolism can probably eat bowl after bowl after bowl of pasta. He admitted that he did want another. “We’re making a pie too,” Henry sang out, as he crunched up graham crackers in a freezer bag, using his alligator rolling pin as a bludgeon. “But it’s not ready yet and you can’t have any.” Henry adores Gardener Guy; he loves him just slightly less than he loves pie.

GG asked what kind, and then he gasped. Key Lime is his favorite sort of pie, he said, so I vowed to bring him some when it was done. My husband dropped a few slices off at his apartment the next day, and the next time they ran into each other, Gardener Guy said that he’d seen Key limes in the grocery store and bought them. Just, uh, in case. Then he became embarrassed, because it sort of seemed like he was suggesting that perhaps I should make him a pie.

All I really want in life, of course, is to have someone I like want me to make them a pie, and then be able to make it for them. Such a simple, joy-infused transaction is irresistible to someone with my personality. (I had to take a personality test at work one time and the results were that I was the sort of person who is most motivated by wanting to be loved.  And food = love and then there you go.)

So I texted him and told him to drop off the limes. The next time I came home, 2 bags of tiny round Key Limes were hanging around the handle of our door.

If you’d like the truth, I actually had been making lime pies with plain limes. Mexican ones, or Persian, or whatever. But no lime is plain, if you ask me. If you ask me, all limes are magical.

I was a bit put off by the teensiness of the special Key limes but in truth, they are far easier to juice. They fit perfectly in my little green lime-juicing tool. The difference in flavor is that the juice has a bitter component, so I did not add zest to the pie(s) I made with the Key limes.

This cold summer fruit pie is easy, it’s delicious; and it is a good project to undertake with children, though not 6 month old children; people who are 6 months old tend to suck at the sorts of projects that pretty much anyone else can do.

But this is a pie that a 3 year old can make with just a little help.

Key Lime (or Regular Lime) Pie

Ingredients

Crust

10 Graham crackers

2 T sugar

6 T butter

Filling

3/4 C of lime juice

3 cups sweetened condensed milk (more than one 14 oz can; less than 2)

1/2 C sour cream

Lime zest, if you desire (adds color, texture, and a dimension of bitterness)

Procedure for Crust

Put graham crackers in to a freezer bag and smush completely into crumbs. If your three year old does it (or heck, your husband, or wife, or anyone who is less than a crumb control freak than I am), you may have to do a little bit of fixing at the end.

Then add sugar and shake around to mix. Isn’t shaking stuff around in a freezer bag so much fun?

Transfer the crumbs to a mixing bowl.

Melt butter over low heat. Pour into the crumb mixture and scrunch it all around with your hands. Isn’t that fun too? I love this pie.

Press crumbs into a 9 inch pie plate. Don’t worry about how perfect it looks.

Cover with foil and chill for a few hours so the butter can regain its composure and glue everything together.

Procedure for Pie

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together all filling ingredients in a mixing bowl. Taste it.

Wow! I used to be opposed to pie made with sweetened condensed milk on the basis of the fact that

  1. 1. it’s seems like cheating and
  2. 2. you can discern the telltale texture / flavor through the pie.

However, you can’t taste it so much after it’s been chilled, and the other key lime pie I used to make had gelatin in it.

I am not opposed to gelatin but if you make this version, you will be able to brag that this is a horse-free pie without crossing your fingers.

Bake for 5-8 minutes, until teeny bubbles form and pop in the top. If this doesn’t happen, you should still take it out of the oven. In my experience it is impossible to keep track of these unseeably small bubbles and their popping status while the pie is in the oven. Remove, let cool, and then cover and chill overnight.

Fast, easy, cheap, and fail-free.

Poem for Henry

August 14, 2012

One of my son Henry’s first and favorite friends is a beautiful, curly-headed, and articulate little star named Clara.

The other day I was surprised and happy to see an email from Clara’s grandmother, Jan Rider Newman. Jan is a poet and explained that last summer she’d written a poem about Henry after seeing him at the playground. She’d decided to share it with me.

I can’t tell you how much I love it. It’s a perfect characterization of Henry, who loves to observe.

(And to eat, of course.)

Brooklyn Playground, June 2011
(for Henry)

Amid hot pink dresses, mint and yellow
silly string, shrills of children bent on fun,
you eat pizza from your mama’s hand,
watch sparrows by the black iron fence,
stroll the asphalt, hands behind your back—
still center in the eye of chaos.

Fruit Pie Series: Cold Blueberry, Short and Sweet

August 9, 2012

I’ve got to keep this short and sweet, but coincidentally, I am going to tell you about a pie that is both short, and sweet!

It feels like blasphemy to announce, but blueberry pie usually bores me. Though a symbol of summer, it can often be unbalanced: syrupy and sweet, without an acid anchor.

But this is a blueberry pie, and it is perfect.

Served cold, it has a nice structure, but most importantly, it’s balanced. The filling tastes like—in addition to summer blueberries—butter, lemon, and Grand Marnier. (The crust also has an orangey element to set it off.)

It’s made with both cooked and raw blueberries, and was served to us last weekend by some dear friends who just bought a beautiful 108 year old house overlooking lots of lovely gardens and land.

Eating it overlooking her garden reminded me of my dream of living in a beautiful 108 year old house overlooking lots of lovely gardens and land. A slice of that dream was making pies, and another was having children.

In the dream, I am not crabby, nor am I scattered. I’m in a reverie. The children are . . . in the other room. Or outside, sunkissed and safe in the beautiful gardens, rather than peeing on the floor and then demanding in an inimitable shriek that I hold up an iPhone while they bathe, so that they can watch police Lego videos on YouTube. For some reason, I never thought about that scenario when I imagined having children.

Sometimes when it is summer and I make a pie and I have the radio on and my thoughts to myself, it feels like one of the photos—you know the kind, from the other sort of blog, the kind of blog written by some oddly successful woman who lives on The Plains.

In the magic hour, when the light is long, when she is done driving the cows from hither to yon and making everyone’s clothing by hand, and homeschooling, she will carefully pick a lens for her very expensive camera and use it correctly. The photo will lend everything a patina of wonder, blurring reality just a smidge, won’t it.

That is what time does to memories, and that is what the chance to make a great summer pie — or even to write a few words about one — does to my day.

Jane’s Blueberry Pie

PASTRY INGREDIENTS (Grandma Evelyn’s pie crust – makes 2, 9” single crusts)

2 ½ cups all purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup cold unsalted butter

½ cup Crisco

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

4 tablespoons cold orange juice (freshly squeezed)

PASTRY PROCEDURE

Sift flour with salt in a large bowl

Cut in butter and shortening

Add orange peel

Blend until texture of course crumbs

Using knife or fork cut in OJ, don’t overwork

Refrigerate 1 hour before using – don’t skip this step.  It’s difficult to work with if you don’t do it.

(By the way I use a Cuisinart)

PIE FILLING INGREDIENTS (for 1 pie)

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 ½ tablespoon corn starch

¼ teaspoon salt

2/3 cup water

3 cup fresh blueberries clean

2 T butter

2 tablespoon lemon juice

1 ½ tablespoons Grand Marnier

PIE PROCEDURE

1. Heat oven to 425.

2. Make crust

3. Line 9” pie pan with pastry

4. Trim and flute the edges

5. Line pastry with aluminum foil and dried beans or rice

6. Bake for 10 minutes

7. Remove foil and beans

8. Bake for 5 minutes longer and let stand to cool.

9. Combine sugar, corn starch and salt

10. Stir then add water and 1 cup of blueberries

11. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly

12. Boil until very thick about 15 minutes

13. Stir occasionally

14. Remove from heat and stir in butter, lemon juice and Grand Marnier, then cool a bit, and stir in remaining blueberries

15. Refrigerate for 1 hours

16. Spoon into pie shell

17. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving

Make some whipped cream, adding confectioner’s sugar, Grand Marnier, and vanilla

Enjoy!

You have permission to eat this for breakfast the next morning.

Famous Beltway Chicken Salad: The Too Hot to Cook Series

July 17, 2012

For one hot, fragrant, lonely summer, I lived in the suburbs of DC. I was twenty and trying to figure out what would happen after college.

I dated a dark-eyed boy from Beirut who had shrapnel lodged in his calf, a fact which I managed imbue with both cultural gravity and romance for about a week, until some controlling, misogynstic commentary ruined it.

I worked for Hillary Clinton. We met only once, but it was over a piece of lemon cake, which happens to be my favorite sort of cake.

In addition to working on Pennsylvania Avenue, I worked scooping ice cream on Avenue P. I’d come home late, hot and sticky, my tee-shirt reeking of sweet melted cream. It was disgusting.

I also worked at a giant Mexican restaurant. The highlight —lowlight?— was when I had to be brought to the hospital because I’d spilled frijoles a la charra down the collar of my shirt, resulting in second degree burns.

The lesson? In the summer, DC is too hot to cook, or even carry food around.

But unlike New York in the heat, DC smelled good. Perhaps because of the thick quality of the air, rich cooking smells hung, waiting to be enjoyed.  Spinach and artichoke dip. Roasting meats. But what I remember most about the food I bought that summer is the chicken salad sandwiches from right outside of the White House.

They cost somewhere in the range of $7 — not cheap for a 1993 intern — and were served on croissants. This is how I have been making chicken salad ever since,  and now I’m going to tell you how to do it.

It’s a simple enough idea. Poach white meat chicken until just cooked in water, broth, or stock with peppercorns, onions, and garlic. Cool enough so that you can touch it, and dice or shred. Some people like big chunks of chicken in their salad. I just tear it apart, perhaps to get more surface area for mayonnaise to cleave up to. You could also, of course, use rotisserie chicken.

Mix in mayo. Add white pepper, and add salt. My current favorite is Maldon sea salt. (It’s finely flavored but not too big or too small or even more importantly, rock hard.)

Chop red onion and mix in. Chop a can of water chestnuts and stir in. When the salad is to your taste, add sliced almonds, and a handful of chopped tarragon. Sweetness, bite, and crunch from red onion, fragrance from tarragon, texture from almonds and water chestnuts: it’s a wonderful salad. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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