Friday, November 30, 2007

it's magically delicious!

I was on the phone the other night with my mom, doing some preemptive damage control (at my father's bidding). Controlling damage for a possible situation that might happen in the near future. it's not so much different than what i do for a living, so i was happy to oblige.

the boy and i are going to visit my parents who live just north of San Francisco for a couple/few days over Christmas, so naturally the conversation with mom eventually turned to food. it pretty much always does (followed by the Very Exciting topic of weight and weight gain, which she always rolls around to at some point). in my family, we really "do it up" on Christmas Eve, with a more relaxed Christmas Day. My parents' house is where everyone always ends up on Christmas Eve; it's been that way for as far back as I can remember. since people show up randomly throughout the evening, Mom likes to serve food buffet-style, that way early people can graze and get bombed on champagne and greet late-comers with hearty cheers and glazed-over eyes. Mom likes to serve very special foods, some smuggled from France in the toe of a stocking in the bottom of her suitcase. I think she does this for two reasons: one, she likes the luxuries. and secondly (but probably most importantly), she likes to show off and have her relatives ooh and ahh and Ooh La La over it. i can't blame her. if i'd smuggled truffles and foie gras and the world's stinkiest cheese from France, i'd want that pat on the back and some recognition too, dammit.

Part of the preemptive damage control i was working on was to ensure that we spend Christmas Day at home (and not elsewhere, like, say, at an acquaintance's house an hour and a half away from where my parents live, acquaintance who is not very well liked in the family, and which would pretty much ruin Christmas as it did the last time the family was forced to go there). so i roped her into a technical discussion about the Christmas Day meal. we delved into the merits of serving a capon versus turkey, versus standing rib roast (what the boy, my dad, and i are rooting for), versus a stuffed tenderloin (she saw one in the Needless Markup catalogue and is thinking of replicating it).

Then we started talking about gifts. this is the first year that the boy and i aren't giving each other anything. honestly, we don't need anything. we have enough crap as it is. but we're getting our families some gifts. my mom announced that she wanted some pastry brushes from Williams Sonoma (who buys their pastry brushes from Williams Sonoma? are they that much better than the ones at Linens N Things? seriously? but then again, who buys their stuffed tenderloin from Neiman Marcus? WHO deserves to be smacked on the back of their head?). then she said she was going to give my brother's kids an ice cream maker for Christmas. because ice cream makers are for kids, apparently. two kids well under the age of 10.

Mom: "So you think the Cuisinart ice cream maker is a good gift for the kiddies?".
Me: "Uh yeah, i'm sure if they had guidance, and had an adult help them prepare it or watch over them, then yeah i guess it would be okay".
Mom: "What do you mean, an adult help them? I don't understand. Can't you just put everything in the machine and it automatically makes ice cream? so it's not for kiddies?"

POOF! just like magic!

Me: "Well, I have a Cuisinart ice cream maker".
Mom: "You do? but you're not a kiddie!".

i'm all about kids in the kitchen, but i think the Cuisinart ice cream maker is not an age-appropriate gift for two kids who'd rather watch The Wiggles and Tom & Jerry than stare at cream simmering on the stove. am i wrong?

Monday, November 26, 2007

on rain and turkey

i'm sure everyone in atlanta had a nice relaxing weekend, but that was all thrown out the window this morning when the rain started. because, Rain? what is that? suddenly, all ability to drive, all logic and common sense is thrown out the window. people in atlanta do not know how to drive in the rain (and don't get me started on snow - you might as well just stay home on those rare occasions)**. it took me an hour to get to work this morning; and just when i thought i'd made it, i almost got hit in the parking garage of my building. some shmo who was pissed off that another lady stole his spot decided to slam on the accelerator while veering around her; if i hadnt jumped backwards about two feet i'd have been hit. i yelled out, "HEY! WATCH WHAT YOU'RE DOING, DUDE!" but he just blinked at me and sped away.

and then i realized how silly i sounded by screaming out DUDE at 8 am. especially while wearing 3 inch heels.

i have plenty to write about regarding thanksgiving, and lots of pictures to show, but not today (sorry!). i recently purchased a domain name (yay!) and will be migrating Things and Stuff over there, so i spent the entire weekend swearing at my computer because i can't get Things and Stuff to work properly. i am totally in over my head when it comes to All Things Computer Related. 8 years ago i would have been able to do this stuff, but i'm out of practice, which resulted in me getting pretty grumpy. i want it to work, dammit. i'm willing it to work.

so anyway, i'll keep you posted on that grumpy progress. in the meantime, here's something to tide you over, even though i just know we're all sick of the sight of turkey at this point (i'm so leftovered-out i could scream).



yes, your eyes do not deceive you. we had not one but two turkeys this year. not because we were feeding hoards of people, mind you. but only because we are gluttons; fools, really. the boy discovered the joys of deep-fried turkey this year and decided to make it for thanksgiving. but more than anything, he loves his roast turkey; so instead of tossing a coin and figuring out which one to make, he made both.

** this rant isn't against the rain itself, because i realize that we're in a drought and georgia needs rain. so i'm not complaining about that. i'm being a complainy-pants about the drivers on GA400 South. end rant.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

on Thanksgivings past

this thursday marks the seventh Thanksgiving that the boy and i will spend together. Thanksgiving is the boy's favorite holiday, and we whoop it up right. to get inspired (not that we need much more inspiration since our minds are going a mile a minute), we spend full evenings discussing menu options and watching all the Thanksgiving-related shows on OnDemand. we get ridiculous about the planning. i wouldn't want it any other way.

while falling asleep last night, i thought about all my Thanksgivings past; and even though the majority were good, the ones that are the most memorable are the ones where things weren't perfect. for instance, the Thanksgiving when i was 16 and living in France. my mom was visiting relatives in the States and it was just going to be my dad and I for dinner. i was a bit down because i knew we wouldn't have a traditional Thanksgiving meal, but my dad told me not to worry! he had a Master Plan, and he would provide an honest-to-goodness Real Thanksgiving Dinner for me when i got home from school. i was a bit skeptical. for one, November isn't the time for turkeys in France; maybe times have changed in the last twenty years, but back then you couldn't find a turkey for at least another month. and cranberries? not to be found. not indigenous to those parts. so i got home to find my dad with a big grin on his face, all pleased with himself. i sat down to dinner. and on my plate was a cornish hen with mashed potatoes and groseilles en gelée. i'm sure the look on my face spoke volumes, so my dad said, "Just pretend it's turkey!".

man, what a snot-nosed brat i was.

then there's thanksgiving 1988, when i was attending the University of Florida. i hitched a ride with some friends to Miami, so that i could spend Thanksgiving with my American grandmother. a lot of my dad's relatives would be there, and my parents showed up as well. that Thanksgiving is memorable because i vividly remember my mom and my grandmother arguing over the stuffing. my grandmother wanted pecan and cornbread stuffing, while my mother wanted to "class it up" with chestnut and oysters. this escalated into a huge argument, ending with them not speaking to each other for the rest of the weekend. i don't remember who won (i think we ended up with both dressings), but i'll always remember my grandmother's determination, "You just can't put chestnuts in the stuffing! not in my house! that's just not right!"

there were some Thanksgivings in my early 20s which were memorable but in a different way, and frankly i'd prefer not to remember those. those are best left in the dark of my brain, never to be revisited.

and last year, well. you can read about that here . i sincerely hope that the power doesn't go out this year!

this year, it'll be just three of us. usually we feast in the late afternoon, and by then J will be there after spending the first part of the day with his own family. the boy and i have extended invites to all kinds of people, but everyone we know here in Atlanta already have plans or family to go to. so it'll be the three of us for dinner, with Mr & Mrs B showing up for dessert and some grazing in the kitchen. last year they came over in the early evening and Mrs B and i stood at the stove, grazing on the leftovers of the 22 lb turkey. this year, even though we're such a small crowd, we're having not one but TWO turkeys; one brined and roasted, and the other brined and deep fried. i know it is excessive, but we do feast on leftovers for days quite happily, and the boy always makes turkey noodle soup. i feel guilty, in a way, that we're able to splurge monetarily and gastronomically regarding this holiday. i know a lot of people don't have the good fortune that the boy and i have, and i am truly thankful that we are able to do this.

here's to all of you out there, wishing you good memories and full bellies this Thanksgiving. please remember the things you are thankful for, people long gone, and call the people you love who can't be with you.

me, i'm going to call my Dad and thank him for all the trouble he went through in 1985 to ensure that we'd have a nice family meal together.

Monday, November 19, 2007

martha stewart

i have issues with Martha Stewart. okay, just one issue. up until the point where i had the bad fortune of meeting her at a booksigning, i always liked her a lot. but i read that her mother died this past weekend and that makes me a bit sad. Food Network used to air her show (and then pulled it after she got sent to the pokey - the show is now on Fine Living), and i liked watching the episodes when Martha Senior was on. she was really cute, and the Marthas together had a good dynamic. Martha Kostyra, rest in peace.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

quick and dirty way to make preserved lemons


A couple of months ago when i was in between jobs and had a lot of time on my hands, i cooked a lot. one of the things i made was preserved lemons, something that i've been yearning to try for years now. i'm occasionally running across some recipe that calls for two tablespoons of sliced preserved lemons or something or other, and it was always such a letdown that i couldn't make the recipe immediately. a "real" preserved lemon takes, what, a month to make? it's encased in salt and left to hang out and do it's thing in a container at room temperature. i think Nigella Lawson has one that can be done in the freezer and takes less time.

so when the boy told me he had a preserved lemon recipe that took a day or over night to make, i begged him to share it. I call it the Quick & Dirty Way to make preserved lemons.

this is not a traditional preserved lemon because, as you'll see, it's way more fragrant and has more spices in the mix than an honest-to-goodness authentic one. but if you're longing to make your house smell fantastic, put aside a day to do this; put Casablanca or even Lawrence of Arabia on the DVD player, and daydream that you're transported to North Africa. i've never been, but i imagine this is what a Moroccan spice market smells like (I've a vivid imagination, and daydreaming is something i'm no stranger to).


10 lemons, cut in half vertically. you'll first want to scrub them clean, including any green ink left over from the word "sunkist"
1 stick cinnamon
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon white peppercorns (I didn't have any so I used pink peppercorns)
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 cup sugar
5 sprigs thyme
1/4 bunch parsley
1/4 cup kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a pot:



Bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Do not feel like you should stir this while cooking; in fact I insist that it's best left untouched.

Remove from heat and cool, then put in the fridge until completely chilled. Repeat steps 2 and 3 four or five times until lemons are tender (it may only take 3 passes, my batch did). you will know when they've been through enough passes when the lemon rinds look and feel totally smooshy.

Cool and store in a container, including all the liquid, in the fridge. This will keep about 3 to 4 weeks. Your house will smell like a Moroccan marketplace, minus the smelly camel dung and B.O.


this is what mine looked like after the first pass on the heat:



second pass:



finished:



I'm throwing in the boy's recipe for preserved lemon oil, which can be useful for a lemon-garlic aioli, among other things. this recipe makes an enormous quantity, so do some fractions if you want just a little bit.


3 preserved lemons - gently cleaned of excess spices - leave as much inside flesh as
possible, then quarter.
4 cups canola oil


Puree preserved lemons in food processor.

Add canola oil and puree more.

Store in a clear container in the fridge , shake occasionally.

Use.

handmade gift

“I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be yet and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, that is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog.”

i saw this on ann's blog, who recently befriended (be-blogged?) me via serious eats. ann's got a great blog and has inspired me to earnestly makeover our kitchen walls with art of some sort (sorry Boy!).

so, you're tagged.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

on waffles



i don't get a craving for waffles, but every once in a while the boy does. so on those days, out comes our cheap little waffle iron. it was all of 7 dollars at a Target sale a few years ago, and we couldn't pass up on it. if we made waffles every weekend, that thing would have probably keeled over by now; but it gets used maybe once every 4 months, so it suits us perfectly.

the recipe we've been using for the past few years is this one from emeril. i can't eat more than two waffles in one sitting, and neither can the boy; so i make a whole batch and put them in a ziplock bag in the fridge so that the boy can eat them for breakfast for the rest of the week. these also freeze beautifully; freeze in one layer for a bit then store in a ziplock and pop them in the toaster when you want one. better than an Eggo, i tell ya.

one of these days i'm going to have to try that Southern speciality, fried chicken and waffles. i'm actually surprised i haven't tried that yet, seeing as i've lived on and off in the South for almost 20 years.

Friday, November 16, 2007

i'm probably touching a raw nerve here with some folks, but who cares.

Being half-French and growing up in France is not the first thing i usually tell people about myself when I meet them in person (except if you've run across this blog, but that's another thing altogether). I don't have any French friends here, and i really ought to go seek some out because i do yearn to speak French and do "French things" on occasion. i might join the Alliance Française; who knows.

however, in the past few years, i find that if i tell people i grew up in France, i come across as pretentious. i think it's because i dont have an accent when i speak English (which is a shame, really; i adapted too easily), so some people naturally assume that i'm full of shit. this kind of used to bother me, but the older i get, the more i dont care. i find it rather amusing now.

when we moved to Maryland in 2001, my sister-in-law was friends with a man whose future wife was a self-proclaimed francophile. i looked forward to meeting said future wife, because she apparently spoke some French, and unless i'm on the phone with family, i don't get to speak French very often. imagine my surprise when i was introduced to the girl and she shunned me. i thought, Here's a chick who spent a high school year in Provence, whose house is full of stupid touristy so-called French crap (eiffel tower trinkets, posters of rolling fields of lavender, the kind of slum - as my Dad calls it - you'd never find in a French household), and upon being introduced to me, turned her nose up and looked away. now, why is that?

i dont get my feelings hurt anymore because of people like her. i just deem them not worth being friends with. i have come to a conclusion though (and i'm not sure that i'm right, but it seems to be the only logical conclusion to describe her behavior; and most importantly, it satisfies me). before i met her, this woman was the center of attention amongst all of her friends because she was "worldly" and "cultured" and had supposedly spent a fair amount of time in Provence, which is where my mom's family is from. and here i come into the picture, and i'm a threat. even though we have different circles of friends and i'm by no means an attention whore when i'm out with people, she saw me as a threat to her carefully planned French aura. her mother was much the same; when a few years later i was invited to the girl's baby shower (shocking that i even got an invite), her mother's house was overly-decorated in what she called "Provençal country" style. i tried to initiate conversation with the mom, without sounding the least bit cocky or snobby, but no go. the minute this woman found out that i'd actually grown up in France, she would no longer have anything to do with me.

weird how people are.

end rant. back to the regularly scheduled program, e.g trying to find liquor store that actually carries the Beaujolais Nouveau today.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

on the Beaujolais Nouveau

At this exact moment, my buddy Charles is sitting on the curb in front of his favorite wine store in Williamsburg VA waiting for it to open. But booze stores don't open this early, you say. That's right; they don't. But Charles has an "understanding" with the owner of this particular shop. Every year on the third Thursday in November for as far back as I've known Charles, he sits on the curb out front of this particular store until the owner notices him, which prompts the owner to unlock the door and let Charles buy a case of Beaujolais Nouveau. Charles feels it would be an intrusion if he knocks on the door, so he graciously sits outside until he's noticed.

I have heard nothing - and i mean, Nothing - about this year's BN. I normally celebrate along with the rest of the pleebs. I've hosted gatherings in the past, been to the French Consulate dinners in San Francisco, and went to a good party last year hosted by a francophile friend of Patty's. I usually scour the web looking for related articles on the subject on the days leading up to The Day to find out what the weather was like prior to the grapes being picked, what the experts are saying, what the French are saying.

But this year, nothing. I almost forgot about it, to be honest. I've got so much going on right now, and on top of that I keep forgetting that we're already half way through November and that Thanksgiving is in one week. (How is that possible? Dear Boy, we better get on the task of finalizing our menu and shopping, ¡rapidamente!).

I'll email my mom in a little bit to find out what she thinks of this year's release (she's currently in Paris, braving the lovely transit strike by schlepping all over town in high heels; this is the same woman who rode a camel in Morocco wearing Prada boots). And I will spend part of my lunch hour calling the liquor stores close to my house to see if they've got their shipment in. I had a heckuva time last year finding some On That Day.

Happy Beaujolais Nouveau day to all of you!

Friday, November 9, 2007

memories

Five things about me that my friends may not know.

1. I’ve never eaten at an Olive Garden.

Shouldn’t I get some kind of award for this? huh?

2. In the late 90s, I bought a pink garlic braid at the local marché in Aix-en-Provence, and was determined to get it back to my US home kitchen. Now, I’m not a good liar. I have no poker face. I had the hardest time containing my horror when I arrived at US Customs at San Francisco Int’l and saw not one but two happy waggy tailed dogs sniffing around the bags. I was traveling with my mom and gasped, “But what if they take my garlic?” She said, “Don’t be stupid. Keep your mouth shut. Watch me, I do it all the time”. When the stoic customs agent asked me if I’d brought back any foodstuff from overseas, I quit twitching enough to stammer out a “No”. Okay, so I know people have done much, much worse. My mom brings back whole grocery bags of unpasteurized cheese and saucisson and doesn’t bat an eyelash when interrogated. But I always find myself giggly and embarrassed in front of authority, even if I’ve done nothing wrong.

3. I spent the summers of my 16th and 17th years flying gliders in Germany. Our landing strip was used at night by a local sheep farmer, so in the mornings when we pushed the planes out, it would be a minefield of poop. And every morning, everyone would scream out “Schaf Scheiße!” in unison. Incidentally, it was during my first summer there that I drank beer for the first time. I got hammered on two Becks beers, wandered away from a party, and got lost in the woods in rural Germany. Around 5 am, I found the main road and hitchhiked back to the compound.

Moral of the story: Now, I don't recommend that women hitchhike, especially naive 16 year olds. But if you had to hitchhike, Germany is the place to do it. Germans are the nicest people ever.

4. When the boy and I were first dating, I didn’t know he could cook. Three entire months into our relationship, I get to his house one evening and he’s made a really nice dinner. I asked him why he was holding out on me for so long, and he said, “I wanted to make sure you were worth it”.

I’ve never let him live this one down.

5. When I was 7, the cafeteria at my school served cow brains as the entrée for lunch (this was a typical French school lunch back in the day). My entire class refused to eat. In an effort to get us to eat, my teacher announced that no one would get any dessert unless we ate at least some of the brains. And do you know what dessert was? Chocolate cake. I was determined to get that damn cake; I did what all kids do when they’re being force fed something they don’t like. I plugged up my nose with the thumb and index finger of my left hand, picked up a fork in my right hand and shoveled those brains into my mouth. I was the only kid that day who got chocolate cake. I don’t remember the brains being all that bad though, except maybe texture-wise.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

on the Almighty Mini Moo


I havent brought my one-cup french press into the New Big Corporate yet, because I wasnt sure if that would look pretentious. See, i'm the New Girl; and rumor has it that she was hired to spy on everyone for the Main Corporate Office (not true). It's been hard making friends here (which has actually made it easy to focus on work). I figured i'd wait a little bit before bringing in my tiny french press and good coffee as i don't want to add to their rumor mill.

the breakroom here is equipped with this machine which dispenses a myriad of teas and coffee (like my 25 cent word there? myriad? okay, i watched Heathers far too much in my youth). there is also a display of Lipton Tea and Bigelow's Green Tea. I usually stick with trusty Lipton's, and i've been using the occasional Mini Moo in it.

so i'm sitting here this morning, drinking Lipton's with one Mini Moo in it, and i had a momentary thought about Gee - Exactly What Is In This Thing? and how many calories have i been ingesting? so i did a little Googling and found this.

Land O' Lakes Mini Moo. Ingredients: Grade A Milk and Creme, Sodium Citrade, Carrageenan, DATEM, and Tetra Sodium Pyrophosphate.

Calories: 15. Total Fat: 1g. Sodium: 10 mg. Shelf Life: 2 months.

I'm a little bothered that this is considered dairy yet is stored at room temperature. and if you don't follow the instructions and shake first - well, the product is a bit separated. Coagulated, if you will.

i just looked up the last three ingredients, which all do more or less the same thing (thicken, gel, etc), but that last one, Tetra Sodium Phyrophosphate? it's listed as "a slightly toxic and mildly irritating colorless transparent crystalline chemical compound".

This isn't much better than the alternative, which is to use the powdered creamer which is also provided in the breakroom. First ingredient on the side of that container is Corn Syrup Solids.

so i've been flying through these things at a rate of 4 a day or so - depending on how many cups of tea or coffee i've been drinking, and now i'm kind of worried. i going to bring in my own milk starting tomorrow.

Side note: yearsss ago I worked in Ocala Florida (I lived in Gainesville but couldn't find a job there, so i got a job working at a hotel in Ocala). One of the girls i worked with was married to an Official Butter Taster at Land O' Lakes. Apparently, Butter Tasters make boatloads of money. But before you get all excited and decide you want to switch careers (taste butter for a living! hell yeah!), here's the kicker: the husband was forced to eat an extremelly bland and plain diet. He was not allowed to eat salt, pepper, hot sauce; no FLAVOR of any kind was to be introduced into his food for fear that it would intrude with his butter tasting abilities.

Would you be able to do this? Swap money for taste buds? I don't think I could.