Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Crisp and Clean

Rachel here.

First off, isn't that a pretty salad? We ate it with a baguette the other night, sitting in the yard as the sun sank and Maxine slept and it just felt so good. Spinach and basil and mixed greens, alfalfa sprouts and sweet grape tomatoes, sunflower seeds and scallions and red onions and chick peas, all tossed together and lightly dressed with homemade vinaigrette. Yummm...

In other news, I've been on a kitchen cleaning kick. We've got some ideas for a more general reorganization (it's funny how it takes a while living in a space before you really know how to best use it), but I've been focusing on the smaller details. My first stop was a major pantry clean-up. Everything's in cleaned jars with new labels now and cooking has been streamlined (as has grocery shopping). Plus, I just can't help but smile at how crisp it all looks when I open the cupboards.

We've been entertaining a lot this summer and finally, yesterday, our fridge was relatively empty again. Before loading in the new groceries, I went through each shelf, tossing old food and taking inventory before scrubbing the refrigerator thoroughly for the first time since Maxine was born. This is the kind of project that I find intensely satisfying. I love a good scrub, returning surfaces to a pristine state and putting like with like on the shelves. John and M played while I tackled the refrigerator. When I was done, I wiggled my fingers with satisfaction and announced to the open refrigerator door "Everything will be ok now". Unfortunately, John could see and hear me from the other room and he totally laughed at this moment of unfettered psychic revelation.

Yeah, it speaks volumes about me. Yeah, I don't care.

Anyone else out there a freak like me?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What I Ate: An Irregular Feature of What We Eat When We're Not Cooking

Janet here:

I just got back from an 1800-mile trip taking S back to college. (See sad post here.) In other words, I haven't been in the kitchen much so I can't really hold up my side of the blogging bargain until next weekend when I hope to spend some time there (in particular get very excited and start salivating for a KILLER brownie recipe).

Anyway, I decided I would start a new feature without even consulting Rachel because, you know, I'm the mother and I can do that. (I KNOW Rachel is a mother too but in this blog, I'm top mother dog. When Maxine starts to join us, Rachel can pull mother rank then. I'll probably be senile at that point and won't even know what's going on.) The feature is going to be about stuff we eat when we're not cooking. It could be something at a restaurant or it could just be at someone else's house or who knows? You'll just have to stay tuned.

To some extent, I was the third wheel in the recent road trip back to college. S and his father, Peter, are both, um, map-obsessives. I knew better than to weigh in on what route we might take. I just got in the back seat and knit, played Angry Birds, read and played more games of Words with Friends than is probably healthy. It was totally the way to go.

I'm not sure which one of them had the brilliant idea to head west rather than south but, thanks to Irene — you did hear about the hurricane, right? — it turned out to be a brilliant move. We completely avoided a single raindrop much less the monsoon. It was wonderful.

The first night we spent in Pittsburgh, which, if you haven't been, is a completely ignored city that is really fabulous and worthy of visits. I first discovered it while attending an Association of Alternative Newspapers annual conference and fell in love (from what I remember of my sober moments; these conferences were the stuff of legend, but that's another story). We arrived late and decided to walk over to the original Primanti Brothers' "almost famous" sandwich shop.

This chain was made more famous by Adam Richman of Man vs. Food (which is a fav of three members of our family; I'll let you guess which one is not a fan.). Anyway the claim to fame of these sandwiches is that they make all their sandwiches with the fries and their homemade cole slaw in the sandwiches. It's all one big bite and while it wasn't the most amazing sandwich I've ever had, it was tasty. I definitely recommend heading to one of their many locations if you're ever in Pittsburgh.

The Iron City is also where I discovered Penzey's Spices. There is an irony here: Apparently there is a Penzey's Spice store about 12 miles from me in West Hartford. At any rate, let me just say that going there made me want to throw out ALL of the spices in my spice rack

It's located on The Strip in Pittsburgh, which is basically a street, from what I can tell, completely devoted to fabulous food. Wholey's is there — a Mecca of wonderfulness in food, which also has vendors outside with great food as these photos show — and so is Penzey's and a ton of other great food stores. Just go there, all right?

But I digress....Back to Penzey's, which is known for its fresh, fabulous, creative spices and spice mixes. Maybe you all knew that cinnamon comes in a variety of types (I know as the food blogger here I'm supposed to be the "authority" but I'm going to 'fess up; I did not know this). Or that there is such a thing as Damask chili pepper or Guajillo pepper or Tien Tsin chili peppers...or that shallot salt exists or that there are European peppercorns, as well as Minton white, Tellicherry black, Malabar black, Sarawak white and Szechuan. I felt inadequate.

We also visited the Heinz History Center, which is a treasure trove of fascinating info and definitely will have you looking at Pittsburgh and western PA with a new appreciation. The Heinz Company exhibit alone is worth the visit, including Heinz catsup commercials from around the world featuring, among many other nuggets, one of Joey from Friends before he was famous. It's amazing.

We then headed to West Virginia, where we visited the world's largest radio wave telescope (I told you I did not plan this trip) and saw a lot of rural West Virginia. You will not be surprised to learn I do not have any great food moments to share from this part of the trip.

We dropped S off, after eating at Macado's in Radford, VA (and other locations). It was a fun college town sandwich spot. Again nothing amazing, but fun decor as this photo shows.

On the way back, we stopped in New Market, VA, where we did not have time to actually enjoy looking at the Civil War stuff (another visit is in order). We did, however, have an amazing Mexican meal at a place called Jalisco's, which apparently is a popular Mexican restaurant name because when I tried to find the link to the one we ate at, I found about a dozen all over the country. Oh well. I had a shrimp something or other and it was was the jumbo margarita.

It was a whirlwind five days and reminded me how much I love traveling in this country. Between the people watching, the history and the food, really what more could you ask for?

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

Janet here:

I had meant to write something about cooking for my youngest on the night before he heads back to college, but the reality is I got home late and didn't really make that interesting a meal. Besides, it's not what grabbing me. Instead, I find myself thinking of road trips.

If you read this on Friday, I will be wending my way slowly southward to drop off S for his sophomore year in college. We'll be taking our time on the drive down, making our way first to Pennsylvania and then into West Virginia before eventually, after a few days landing in North Carolina where we will drop him off and begin the loooonnnnggg, definitely not leisurely, drive back to work and our emptying nest.

The trip reminds me a little of the trip S and I took alone the summer he was 14. He was supposed to accompany his father driving his older brother G back to Indiana for college. At the last minute, plans changed, G flew and S, whose family nickname is Rand McNally, was more than a little disappointed. "But now I don't get my road trip!" he complained.

I told him I'd take him on a road trip for a week but I had one criteria: We had to do more than just drive, i.e. we needed some destinations, and we had to make a part of the trip be in Amish country in Pennsylvania. By the time I came home from work that day, S had a 60-page triptik outlining our trip day by day. We would start with lunch in Scranton (We are both The Office fans), spend the night and part of the day in Lancaster, and head to Baltimore where he wanted to see the aquarium. From there, we went to Virginia to Mount Vernon and Monticello and the Blue Ridge Highway, and we ended in Norfolk, VA for a little beach time after an unexpected but fabulous side trip to Antietam because we were both enthralled after visiting a teeny Civil War museum in Baltimore about Maryland's role in the war.

We ate some kind of crab every day and kept a journal where we each wrote something about the day every night. Throughout, I drove and S navigated. I literally did not look at a map once (This was before smart phones and we didn't have a GPS). S just told me where and when to turn.

It was the beginning of the switching of our roles, although I didn't realize it then. I rarely get a chance to tell him where to turn and when I do, he often turns the opposite way. At the time, I just reveled in the fact that this new teenager was willing and indeed interested in spending time with me on the road. He didn't put on his headphones once. It was a trip that absolutely changed our relationship.

This time around, the car will likely be quieter and S will be looking forward to leaving us at the end. The summer was good but now he's eager to get back to his friends and to be the captain of his own destiny and days.

It is the right way to go — we are both more than ready on so many levels — and so I will enjoy this short road trip, knowing that the days of traveling together are coming to a close.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Thought This Was A Post About Pizza, But Really It's An Homage To Our Grill

Rachel here.

So, we have a grill, right? I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before around these parts. It's kind of been our summer maker. I've been looking for work (still am, if you happen to know anyone in the Bay Area looking for someone like me...ok, plug done. Moving on...) and so we've--like so, so, so many other folks--have been a single income family. And we've been lucky to have that income (so, so, so many other folks don't even have that) and we've known it, but that doesn't mean that we haven't lamented how locally we've been living as of late. Usually we'd get away for at least a couple of days, a trip north or south for a change of scenery and a fresh perspective on our selves, our home, and each other. That wasn't in the budget this summer, though, and so our grill became the center to our little bits of get away.

We've strung lights and gotten chairs and a little table (which, mind you, just might be the ugliest table ever made, but it was free and sturdy, so here we are...and yes, I was going to paint it...and yes, that was nearly 2 months ago...and no, no I haven't yet...YET) and at night, after M has gone to bed, we've retired to sit under the giant and slightly creepy old pine tree out back, sipping wine while coals get hot and snacking on cheese and crackers while our main meal cooks.

And you know what? Not once--NOT ONE NIGHT--have I not absolutely relished every second of it. Vacation is awesome, and I hope our ability to take them returns soon, but there's something really magical about stepping out the back door and finding myself in a space that we've managed to keep exclusively associated with relaxation. My shoulders sink, my mouth slips into a half smile, my worries are checked at the door. I feel really proud of us for making this little summertime oasis for ourselves, for remembering to find a way to step away from the day-to-day so we don't get mired down in it, and for remembering to hold a space for us to come together in.

We've grilled all sorts of things. Chicken and steaks, vegetables and s'mores and whatnot. The other night, with friends who we've enjoyed several evenings out back with, John grilled up a pizza that was absolutely fantastic. He pre-baked the crust in the oven earlier in the day and then covered it with lemon zest, garlic, goat cheese, mozzarella, sliced Early Girl Tomatoes (so, so, so good--go find them and try them before it's full-blown tomato season and they're gone), torn basil, leeks (which we sauteed earlier as well) and crumbled bacon. I mean, really. This pizza was GOOD. So good that my mouth is watering right now as I write this even though I just ate half of M's sandwich and, really, I wasn't hungry when I sat down and began the post.

And tonight? Tonight we've got a date on the patio again. We'll plug in the lights and talk about our days, grabbing sweatshirts as the sun disappears and, for an hour or two, stepping away from it all.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Soda Will Hurt You (No, Really...)

Harmful Soda
Via: Term Life Insurance

Rachel here.

Have you seen this graphic? It's been popping up all over the interwebs during the last week. Officially offered up by Term Life Insurance, it thoroughly illustrates the intense detriment of soda on our bodies. I mean, really--head to toe, this stuff does us in.

I've always been glad that I grew up in a no-soda household because it instilled the rather healthy habit of drinking water and the like in me. Now I'm feeling extra glad, though.

Thoughts? Do you drink soda? Does this graphic deter you? Make you thumb your nose a bit? Are you bolstered going forward?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Zucchini Anyone?

Janet here: It's August, which means zucchini the size of small blimps are invading many gardens. Yes, you can make zucchini bread — and I have nothing against zucchini bread — but if you want something a little different, something with a little versatility, I heartily endorse this dip/spread. I served it as dip one night to friends and Peter used it as a tasty sandwich spread after that. Two meals in one!

Zucchini Dip/Spread

2 medium zucchini
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup bread crumbs or panko
1/3 cup ground walnuts
1 tablespoon minced scallion
2 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon minced garlic
pepper and cayenne pepper to taste


Grate the zucchini and then place it on a double thickness of paper towel and squeeze out all the moisture. This is critical.

In a medium frying pan, warm the olive oil and then add the zucchini and saute lightly, stirring regularly. Basically this is to get out additional moisture. Transfer to a cutting board and chop further. Let cool

In a medium bowl, mix together the yogurt, cooled zucchini, bread crumbs, walnuts, shallot, lemon juice, salt, garlic and peppers. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mo (as in Mo Rocca) and Me

Janet here: So yesterday was the Big Day. It was time for my close-up at CBS studios to see whether I can make it on to Mo Rocca's new food show on the cooking channel called My Grandma's Ravioli. (Yes, that would be the Mo Rocca of The Daily Show fame and NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.)

It all started when my friend Michael sent me an email that started "Don't bop me in the nose but...." and then said, "but you are a grandmother and this is Mo Rocca." Then he included a link to an open casting for grandmothers and grandfathers who are great cooks to come on Mo's new show and teach him how to cook one of their favorite recipes. I thought about entering for about 2.5 seconds and then wrote Michael and said, "Are you kidding? I LOVE Mo Rocca!" We then exchanged a few emails about how he wants to marry Mo and I promised I would invite him to the taping if I get on etc. If that happens, trust me you will hear about it here.

Anyway, I found a photo, answered their questions (What is your favorite recipe? What recipe would you make for the show? Where did you learn to cook?), hit send and waited. Last week, they called me and asked me to come in for a camera interview.

I'm not gonna lie. I was jumping up and down. And then I freaked out and wondered how I could lose ten pounds in four days, prompting some conversations with Rachel about the possible benefits of investing in some Spanx.

I decided to go au naturel — and based on three of the competitors I saw in the waiting room, it was a good call. Let's just say, I was looking good.

The interview began with an assistant who is probably the age of at least two of my kids taking a few photos of me holding my questionnaire — I was number 36. Now those who know and love me know I HATE getting my photo taken. The reason is simple: the photos are rarely any good. In fact, if I didn't have decent self-esteem, I would get depressed over said photos. But I had figured this might be part of the deal and so this morning I actually practiced smiling in front of the mirror. I'm not sure the results were any different — they didn't show me the photos — but I at least felt as if I looked more normal.

But we weren't here for still photos. We were here for the camera interview. I went into the small office and met two other 20-somethings and sat down on the couch. A few more photos later, including one of each side of my head (obviously looking for my good side :)), and we were ready to roll.

One woman took the lead and started asking questions. What family memories do you have about cooking? Who taught you to cook? What's your favorite kind of cooking? Have you had any cooking disasters? What kind of cooking have you not mastered? What are your favorite cookbooks? Why do you want to be on this show? What do you like to do in your free time when you're not cooking?

The time flew by and I had them laughing for a lot of it (at least the two women laughed; the guy was a little harder to read and more aloof.) I left thinking it had gone pretty well.

Time will tell. I know enough to know that this might not be about me at all. They might already have a white woman with a touch of snark in their mix.

I should hear around Labor Day if I'm still in the running, with the taping to happen (in our kitchen!) later in September. Just enough time for me to lose those ten pounds ... or get me some Spanx :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Chicken Curry Affair

Rachel here.

I wrote about "The Family Dinner" a few weeks back and, no joke, have not stopped thumbing through its pages while I stand at the kitchen counter since. I mean, really--I'm kind of going through the equivalent of a junior high crush on this cookbook. I glance at it sideways from across the room, I feel a little jumpy and eager when I open it, I think about it when we're know the feeling, I know you do.

So anyway, this weekend I finally found myself with a bit of free time (a rare commodity in these parts). Wanting to expand our chicken repertoire (you know how I feel about a good, whole bird), I turned the ever-pleasing pages until I found a recipe for Curry. It calls for a whole chicken and, after a few weeks of crushing from afar, "The Family Dinner" and I finally rendezvoused at the stove.

Here is what I'll say about this recipe before I share it with you below. Ok, I'm going to make a list because, well, I feel like it and it seems like an appropriate medium for conveying my post-cooking sentiments.

1. Make this meal.
2. Extra make it if you have kids.
3. If you don't have kids, you can definitely kick up the heat.
4. If you do have kids, they just might blow your mind like M blew mine and eat the entire plate of food before them, grinning the entire time and happily staying in their seats until mealtime is over.
5. The 8 parts of the chicken are: 2 wings, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 breasts. Not, as John delighted in informing me after I refused his assistance butchering our dear bird, 2 wings, 2 legs, and 2 breasts that you then turn into 4 so that you can tell yourself you know how to butcher your own bird, thankyouverymuch.

Sloooooow Cooker Curry
Or, you know, not, if you're like me and don't have a slow cooker

serves 6

1 T. vegetable oil
1 red onion, cut into wedges
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. very finely minced fresh ginger
2 T. curry powder, hot or mild
1/2 cinnamon sticks (don't have one? 1 stick=1 tspn. ground cinnamon, so use 1/4 tspn. here)
3 whole cardamom pods or 1/4 tspn. ground cardamom (optional) (using cardamom makes me feel fancy)
1 14-ounce can good-quality crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. small red potatoes, unpeeled, cut bite-size
1 whole organic chicken, 4-5 pounds, cut into 8 pieces, skin removed
1 c. Greek yogurt, whole or 2 percent
1 c. fresh or defrosted frozen peas

If using a slow cooker, heat up a large nonstick pan and drizzle in the oil. If not using a slow cooker, use a big, heavy-bottomed pot. When the oil shimmers, add the onion and saute until soft and golden. Add the garlic and spices, stir for 30 seconds, until fragrant, then stir in the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. (This can be done the night before: Chill the sauce, add the potatoes and chicken, and store in the fridge until you're ready to cook). If using a slow cooker, put the potatoes on the bottom, then the chicken, and top off with the tomato sauce. If not using a slow cooker, just add the potatoes and chicken to the sauce pot. For cooking with a slow cooker, set cooker to low for 6 to 8 hours. If using a pot, simmer for 40 minutes. In a slow cooker, fold in yogurt and peas 30 minutes before serving. In a pot, simmer for another 10 minutes before serving. Check flavors, ladle over rice and enjoy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Oh, Parenting

Rachel here.

I had this, that's an understatement...I had a conviction until this past Saturday. After years of being a total nut job about food, we, as parents, were never going to do anything but trust M about her own consumption habits. I've read countless books and articles about how babies and toddlers know how to feed themselves, about the importance of just letting them be and remembering that they don't have hang-ups like the rest of us. For a while, meals at our house looked like this:

Me: "Mama made you special carrot sticks with apple sauce and ginger. Three of your favorite things rolled into one!"

M: Slow blink. One hand slowly slides towards the plate. Suddenly, the plate is upset down and empty. Carrots litter the floor.

John: "Would you like something else to eat instead? We have yogurt and applesauce and chicken and tofu and..."

M: Affirmative nod.

And then one of us would pick her up and carry her into the kitchen and open the refrigerator and the cupboards and let her pick out what she wanted to eat. And then we'd feed it to her until, you know, she started shaking her head "no" and trying to smear the rest of her meal to the dining room table.

This past Saturday, though, M was sick. She was snotty and pukey and feverish and a wreck. She refused apple juice over and over again and wouldn't touch a single thing. We tried to remember if you're supposed to starve a fever and drown a cold or the other way around...that is, until we realized she had both going on, at which point we quit trying to remember and became seriously convinced that we had to get something into the kid somehow.

Out the window went our efforts at breezy my-kid-knows-what-they-need parenting and into the car piled M and me. We trekked over to Target where I bought her Pedialite before taking her to the baby food aisle and letting her pick out every food item that had her true love Elmo's face plastered on it.

Every. Single. One.

Sitting in the cart, her booger-laden face sparkled. It might have been the fever, but I'm pretty sure it was the mountain of Elmo food she finally was allowed to touch (prior to this I'd been telling her the character-advertised foods weren't for sale...only Nana can buy them, I explained).

Once home, we settled down on the floor amongst her booty. One by one, we opened each package. At most she ate a bite from each.

At least she ate a bite from each, we reasoned. And she downed the sugary nastiness that is Pedialite.

It was our first meal-time barter. You can have this if you eat it. Eat one more bite and you can stop. We went on and on, filling our weekend with attempts to get some food into our kid.

And now that she's better? I'm back to thinking that we probably could've laid off, to believing that the kid knows what she needs and will make sure she gets it for herself.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Good Way To Spend A Sick Day

Rachel here.

For quite a while now we've been buying our chickens whole. John deftly dismembers the birds for us (learning how to butcher a chicken is definitely on my to-do list and I seriously admire his prowess). Sometimes we grind some of the meat and turn it into chicken burgers; others we try to one-up each other with homemade barbecue sauces. Always, though, we set the bones aside.

Regular readers know that we don't do store-bought chicken stock in this house. Homemade stock is so unfalteringly superior and so easy to make that we just refuse. Home sick on Monday, and with M off with one of our dear friends, I decided to tackle the serious pile of chicken bones that we'd accumulated in our freezer over the past few months. Though it's the middle of summer, it was nice to spend the day making something cozy and warm, something that fit with my ill demeanor.

I sliced a large white onion in half and then cut each half into wedges. I halved the wedges and threw them in the stockpot with all of the chicken bones. I hacked up a couple of carrots and half a bunch of celery or so and tossed these in, too, before covering the ingredients with water and adding a few bay leaves. I let it simmer for hours and hours.

When the stock was done and our house smelled amazing, I put a ladle in the freezer to chill while the stock cooled down a bit. I strained the stock, saving the insides, and then pulled the ladle from the freezer. Icy cold, the fat from the stock easily clung to the ladle and was removed in no time. I carefully sorted through the insides from the stock, removing all of the bones and cartilage bits and fat nubs. While doing so, everything became a hearty mash for M to eat (she loves this stuff for some reason, though it's really not flavorful at all).

I portioned the stock into containers, leaving room for it to expand, and then put it into our freezer. When the day was over, we had a few nights of hearty food for M and several servings of chicken stock in our freezer. Though I still felt sick, it felt good to have so much homemade goodness for my family.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fruit Galette

Janet here: 'Tis the season of fresh fabulous fruit here in the Northeast, unlike Rachel's world where fresh fruit is available all year long and I try not to hate her for it but it's really difficult believe me just around January when the only fruit in my world is an orange and a dubious apple.

But I digress. We had friends for dinner this past weekend, and I wanted to use up some peaches that were a little too ripe. And then I bought some fabulous raspberries and tossed in a nectarine just because I could. Result? Wonderfulness. If you want a fruit dessert and are tired of crumbles or crisps, try this. You won't be sorry.

Fruit Galette

for the filling
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch nutmeg
1 1/2 pounds fruit of your choice. If peaches or something like that cut into wedges.

for crust
1 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
ice water as needed

To make the crust, combine the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. Pulse a few times. Then add the butter pieces and pulse until the butter is cut into the flour pieces and looks like peas. Sprinkle the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, over the butter-flour mixture and pulse after each addition. Do this until the dough forms small lumps.

Put the dough onto a lightly-floured surface and form into a disk about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until well chilled. (I have also frozen it at this point because I usually make two at once because basically I hate making pie-ish dough, and that works fine too. If you double the recipe and do that, thaw it in the fridge the night before and then take out to thaw further...although don't let it become too soft because of course then rolling is a problem. But you probably knew that.)

To make filling, stir together 3 tablespoons of the sugar, the cornstarch and the nutmeg with the fruit.

Put the rack in the lower third of the oven and heat oven to 400 degrees.

Unwrap the dough disk and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll it out into as close to a round disk about 12-14 inches in diameter as you can. Do not freak out if it's not round...mine looked more like one of those cancer moles the doctor's office warns you to do something about, but I was able to make the edges just fine with a little creative pasting of dough where needed.

Put the dough on the baking sheet that is covered with parchment paper (seriously one of the great inventions, don't you think?). Make a mound of the fruit in the middle and then start turning up the edges, pinching as you go to try to make sure none of the fruit juices will seep out. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar on the crust.

Bake 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbling, about 12 minutes longer. Let cool on the pan. Then transfer to a wire rack after 5 minutes. Let cool completely and serve. Ice cream or whipped cream optional.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Beery Friday

Time for Mike the Gay Beer Guy's monthly post on — duh! — beer...

Hi Janet, Hi Rachel -

OK... I know this is a food blog. I’ve been pretty good so far with writing about food and adding comments about beer, don’t you think? Well, this month, I’m going to stray away from food and only talk about beer!

As you know, in my professional life, I am a musician. For the past seven summers, I have participated in the International Musical Arts Institute, a summer chamber music festival based in Fryeburg, ME. While I enjoy the musical experience greatly (I mean, seriously ... what could be better than playing string quartets with your friends), our festival is about 20 minutes away from a Belgian-style pub that has slowly become a regular staple in our repertoire of restaurants we visit.

Ebenezer’s Pub and Restaurant in Lovell, Maine is a diamond in the rough; as you drive through the seemingly endless woods and wilderness, Ebenezer’s emerges in all its greatness. So what exactly makes this deceivingly innocent watering hole so amazing? Thirty-five Belgian beers on tap and a cellar of over 700 bottles that have been given the right amount of TLC over the years. And I should clarify ... yes there are some American examples or Belgian-inspired beers on tap, but I have yet to find a better selection of real Belgian beers ANYWHERE!! (Can you tell how excited I am?!)

Do you remember my friend Tim, who I talked about so affectionately in my very first post? Well, he and I (and a few others) went out one evening on the rare night we did not have a concert.

We started with the Ichtegem Gran Cru from the Strubbe Brewery in Ichtegem, Belgium. This was clearly the favorite of the evening, with two regrets: 1) it was the first beer of the evening, and 2) we wish we had ordered another glass! Simply complex and amazing. The bouquet has raisiny and figgy scents, layered among the obvious malty and sour cherries. I would call it a Flemish Sour Ale; this area of Belgium is known for open and wild fermentation and you taste all the years behind the creation of this beer as you sip!

Next up was a Saxo Blonde Ale from the Caracole Brewery in Falmignoul, Belgium (the lighter beer picture at top). Nothing was wrong with this beer — I actually enjoyed it very much — but there just wasn’t anything special about it. The recipe is probably very simple: a combination of malted barley, sugar, noble hops, water, and yeast. The yeast profile was clearly something Belgian (anyone who has had any American Ale knows the direct opposite extreme), but nothing to write home about.

Third was Pannepot Wild. Although not the favorite of the evening, it was certainly the most complex. According to the quick research I’ve done, the brewers from De Struise in Oostvleteren, Belgium took their standard Pannepot, fermented it with a few strains of wild yeast and then aged it in some French red oak wine barrels. Talk about a collage of flavors! Everything you could expect: tasty dark malts with figs, raisins, cherries ... a little sour, some Brettanmyces flavors (the books like to describe the Brett. as like a horse blanket, but I prefer earthy), but also some bright citrusy flavors as well...very cool!

And last but not least — the Cuvee de Jacobins from Bockor N.V. in Bellegem-Kortrijk, Belgium. To come full circle, we finished the evening with another Flemish Sour Ale. While the first beer was very balanced, this was almost vinegary. To get technical, the more oxygen involved in the fermentation process, the more vinegar flavors you get. There’s nothing wrong with that; I’m just noting the differences between this and the Ichtegem.

I wish everyone could experience Ebenezer’s. But in the meantime if you can’t get to Maine, I encourage everyone out there to find something new and try it. Quite often, there are many Belgian beers at decent beer, wine, and liquor stores...Try something!


— Mike TGBG

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

For Elsa

Rachel here.

Food, obviously, keeps us going. When we are healthy, eating well gives us the energy we need to get up and go and it supports our body in its daily rejuvenation.

When we are sick, though, sometimes we need more than good food. Sometimes we need a lot more.

We are interrupting our usual programming here today to ask you all to join us in donating blood and platelets to the Red Cross. There is a sweet and silly little toddler named Elsa who we are quite fond of and who needs all of the help she can get kicking Leukemia's butt. Blood cannot be donated directly to her, but click here to find a blood drive near you. The more blood and platelets available in banks, the better for people like Elsa who are busy showing cancer who's boss.

I do not know where nourishment of the ephemeral variety comes from. In case hope is carried through wind streams, though, drifting through the air until it finds the body it's been sent for, please join us also in sending hope and strength, laughter and fight into the ether that it may find Elsa and her family and help keep them warm.

Now stop reading and click on this link. Elsa and many, many other people need our help.

Take good care of yourselves and each other. And remember that we are lucky, each of us and every day.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Brunch Schmunch

Janet here:

This recipe (or my variation) was touted in the most recent issue of Food Network Magazine (I swear I am not a paid shill for this magazine; it's just that this month had a ton of inspirational recipes!) as a brunch recipe. I made it (with a few tweaks) for dinner and it was fabulous. So whatever. You decide.

Eggs with Squash

serves 3

2 pounds zucchini, grated
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 scallions, diced
red pepper flakes to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
4 eggs
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Grate the zucchini into a colander. Toss with 1 tablespoon of salt and let drain in sink for about 40 minutes. Squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible.

While the zucchini is deliquifying, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet. Add the scallions and saute. Add the red pepper flakes and salt. Cook until the scallions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the shredded and dry zucchini. Cook about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parsley, nutmeg and pepper to taste. Cook until the mixture is slightly dry. Remove from heat and cool

Make sure the zucchini is evenly spread out in the pan. Make four little holes in the mixture. Put a little pat of butter in each hole. Crack an egg one at a time and pour into each hole. Add the grated cheese on top. Put the skillet into the oven and cooked 12-15 minutes until the eggs are cooked the way you like them.

Serve and enjoy