Weekend Projects

An ordered list, though I make no promises on the order of completion:

  1. Helping Olivia move to her new digs!
  2. Baby knitting for a shower next week
  3. Getting myself educated about the candidates since election day is Tuesday. See the League of Women Voters for information about candidates and elections in your district.
  4. Doing SOMETHING with the green tomatoes: pickles? chutney?
  5. Can-jamming up the five or so pounds of peppers in the fridge. I’m thinking of some sort of spicy jelly for fancy sandwiches.
  6. Birthday knitting and felting for a birthday the following Monday
  7. Cleaning my house OH MY GOD

1026 Old Reliable Pound Stew

After the mixed bag that was our last batch of crock pot stew, I was craving an old standard.  I wanted Grandma’s stew, not some fancy concoction from Bon Appetit.  The sort of thing that you could trust would appear at a tailgate back when I was small and they still had season tickets near the 50 yard line at Kinnick.

Grandma's Tailgate Stew

I didn’t quite make Grandma’s stew today – thus avoiding the 1 1/2 shakes mystery.  What went into the crock pot was closer to “pound stew”, a recipe almost as easy to remember as pound cake: a pound of meat, a pound each of several vegetables, and a bit of gravy to pull it all together.  Shane’s only complaint was that it could use more seasoning, which I’m sure we’ll work out in the long winter ahead of us.

Pound Stew
Adapted from Kay Fesenmeyer’s recipe and from the Complete Slow Cooker Cookbook
1 lb beef stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes
1 lb carrots, peeled, and chopped into 1″ pieces
1 lb potatoes, chopped into 1″ cubes
1 lb tomatoes, diced
1 lb boiling onions, or quartered yellow onions
1 lb mushrooms (didn’t use this time but really want to next time)
1 tbsp oil or bacon fat (we used the latter)
1/4 cup flour
1-2 cups chicken or beef stock
2 tbsp corn starch
salt and freshly ground pepper

Dredge the beef cubes in flour, shaking off the excess. In a medium non-stick pan, warm the fat over medium-high heat, then add the beef and brown on all sides, ~5 minutes. Don’t worry about getting it cooked through, as it’s going to be in the crock pot all day.

Add everything but the corn starch to the crock pot, give it a good stir, and turn the heat to low. Go about your business for 8-10 hours. When you get home, whisk the corn starch in a bowl with a small amount of water, then stir into the liquid in the crock pot. At this point you have two options: turn the crock pot up to high, or carefully pour the liquid into a saucepan to reduce. I’d recommend the latter, as it is faster and also easier to whisk, thereby reducing the likelihood of getting a big blob of cornstarch in your bowl. Don’t worry if a few chunks of food end up in the saucepan – a few extra minutes on the heat isn’t going to hurt them. When the liquid has reduced to a gravy-like consistency, add it back to the pot, and serve with crusty bread to the hungry masses. As presented, this should make about 8 generous portions.

12 Books #2: The Points of My Compass

Brass Sundial Compass 3For most of us, the name E.B. White conjures up one of two things: the charming animal stories of our childhood – Charlotte’s Web, Trumpet of the Swan, or Stuart Little – or The Elements of Style, the authoritative manual written by White’s mentor and revised by White in the 1950s.  It wasn’t until I read The Points of My Compass that I discovered the E.B. White that made both of those previous associations possible – the New Yorker columnist, the thoughtful essayist, the man of farm and city.

The essays which comprise this volume are from a period when White styled himself as a foreign correspondent – who didn’t leave home.  In the spirit of fashionable bylines from Paris or Beijing, his letters came from all points of the compass – that is, a compass aligned with his apartment in New York.  Most essays are appended with a postscript written at the time they were compiled into this volume – commentary on his own commentary, or an update on the direction of world events during a tumultuous, exciting, and often bewildering period of American history.  In the introduction to the volume, White compares revisiting these essays to an afternoon spent in the attic with an box of old love letters:

“The world that I’m in love with has not resisted my advances with anything like the firmness it is capable of, and I love it as passionately as though I were young, and so it’s no wonder I have been heavily involved, no wonder an occasional passage in [the letters that make up this book] makes me wince.”

And with that, I was hooked.  The letters range in topic from the characteristics of New York pigeons to the nature of the newly-formed United Nations to the fate of the railroads in the state of Maine.  Each is quiet, thoughtful, and absolutely anchored to the real world, a rare trait in political essays.  I was shocked by the currency of his observations – change a few facts, and many of the essays could’ve been published in the New Yorker in the last year.  Like this:

“The farm as a source of individual need and a supplier of personal wants has almost vanished from the scene.  In its place is a sort of dirt-factory operation, and the land is not so much cultivated as it is mined for gold.  Curiously enough, among the new farmers who are still doing things in an old-fashioned or backhanded way are fellows like me, not truly countrymen at all but merely dudes who have the time or the money, or both, for such bygone frivolities as raising some of the stuff they eat and drink.”

Not so different from this, which makes me sad.  But that’s the way with these essays – they are at turns sobering and heartwarming, pastoral and urban, equally likely to provoke a smile or a frown.  They’re wonderful.  I can’t recommend this book enough.

Photo by Lost Bob Photos

Things I Love Thursday #2

  • Rediscovering how much I love the Hackers soundtrack. Hackers 2 ain’t so bad either. Please note that while there are two soundtracks, there was only one movie, and that’s probably for the best.
  • My second book for 12 Books, 12 Months: EB White’s The Points of My Compass which, while slow in parts, was so, so worth the read. Review forthcoming.
  • I was pretty into the warm weather we were having, but the temperatures are back to normal October blusteries.  On the up side, now I can make the soup I wanted to eat earlier in the week but couldn’t bear on 70 degree evenings!
  • Thanksgiving travel plans falling into place.
  • The fact that people are actually responding to the survey on the website.  Hooray for usable data!
  • Looking at sweaters on the internet. I need better layering options, and I’m not finding ’em in my price range.
  • This quote from Christopher Hitchens: “Because so much of life to me has been about prolonging the moment. Keeping the argument going for another stage, keeping the dinner party alive for another hour. There’s no question that it’s an enhancing thing and that’s the life I’ve led for a long time. I can’t imagine what it would have been like otherwise.”

What are you into this week?

1025 Braised Beans on Toast

I have a weakness for interesting vegetables at the market.  Sometimes it works out marvelously – like with fava beans this summer, or Brussels sprouts last winter.  Sometimes it’s just unfortunate, and then we end up eating something weird because I feel guilty about wasting food, especially food that looked so interesting! I’m going to call tonight’s dinner a draw.

Tongue of Fire Beans

Tantré had these guys listed as Tongue of Fire beans – closely related to Cranberry beans or Borlotti beans, all of which are cultivars of the Cargamanto bean from South America.  I just knew they were very pretty, and that fresh beans didn’t require quite as much work as their dried counterparts, though perhaps more work than their canned friends.

After scouring the net for a simple preparation, I hit on braising them, then serving over toast.  One recipe called for up to 90 minutes and a quarter cup of olive oil.  Another used canned beans and needed 10 minutes plus much less oil.  Rancho Gordo was for once no help.  I aimed for something in between.

I drizzled about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in our 3 quart enameled pot, then added a couple of cloves of minced garlic and the beans, shelled, rinsed, and cleared of debris.  I tossed them around a bit, then added a couple of diced tomatoes and a cup or so of water, a bay leaf, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.  On went the lid, and the pot simmered away for the better part of an hour.  I stirred occasionally and added half a cup of white wine about halfway through.  When the beans were soft and cooked through and the liquid almost gone, I killed the heat, warmed up some Italian bread, and served the lot as somewhat fancied up beans on toast with a bit of Ortiz tuna on the side.

A fine dinner – filling and with lots of protein – but not necessarily worth repeating.  We ate it right up and had some bacon chocolate later.

Braised Cranberry Beans
Polenta with Tomato-Braised Beans from Cooking Light

“Because so much of life to me has been about prolonging the moment.”

““Because so much of life to me has been about prolonging the moment. Keeping the argument going for another stage, keeping the dinner party alive for another hour. There’s no question that it’s an enhancing thing and that’s the life I’ve led for a long time. I can’t imagine what it would have been like otherwise,” [Hitchens] adds.”

Christopher Hitchens: ‘My life is my writing … my children come later’ – The Globe and Mail

1024 Wait, What Season Is It?

So Friday night Shane finally gave in to the weather and turned on the heat.  It was 26 when I left for work that morning, bundled up in my jacket, cowl, and gloves, shivering at the bus stop in the pitch black at 7am.  It was the beginning of soup weather, which was all I’ve wanted to eat for the last week, and at least 3/4 of what I planned to make this week.

That is, until I popped the kitchen window open this morning to vent the breakfast heat and smells and discovered that it was NEARLY 70.  It is the last week of October, right?  I was wearing flannel pajamas and fuzzy socks last night, right? I did pull my tomatoes out two weeks ago because the growing season is over, right?

Fried green tomatoes
Photo by eirikso

Speaking of those tomatoes, they’ve been sitting in a big paper bag in the corner waiting for me to figure out what the heck to do with them. I’ve gotten recommendations for chili or pickles, and I’ve had good intentions of frying them, but for the most part they’ve just been sitting there awaiting my attention. This morning I discovered two things: first, nearly a dozen of the tomatoes have ripened! The paper bag trick works! Second, fried green tomatoes are damned fine breakfast food.

fried green tomatoes
Photo by kthread

This was my first time making fried green tomatoes – in fact, it might be my first time EATING fried green tomatoes – so I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious these were! The tomatoes were small, maybe 2″ in diameter, so we only got about 3 slices out of each. I used Mollie Katzen’s recipe from Sunlight Cafe, which called for an extremely minimal batter – just polenta and salt – so these aren’t the great batter-coated beasts that I saw all over Flickr while looking for photos to illustrate this post. Super simple, super delicious, and when served along with bacon, scrambled eggs, and slices of Avalon‘s Italian bread – an amazing breakfast on an amazingly beautiful morning.

Mollie Katzen’s Fried Green Tomatoes from Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Cafe

1023 Afternoon in Detroit

I feel like I just want to show you pictures of our afternoon in Detroit with Laurie. I’m not sure if I have the words to capture the things we saw. First, the Fisher Building – we were headed to the knitting store, but were absolutely stunned by the interior of this Art Deco building.

Fisher Building Interiors

Fisher Building Interiors

And then The Heidelberg Project, two blocks of strange and unsettling urban art, made more unsettling by the overcast day and the contrast between the bizarre and the commonplace: a child riding her bike by a tree where a bike is mounted, for example.


Faces in the Hood

Black Squirrel

What could we do from there that might be more strange and wonderful? We tried to get dinner at Slows – a foolish idea any weekend, but much worse the weekend after it was profiled in the New York Times. Laurie’s friend had suggested Woodbridge Pub, so we headed there – confirming our suspicions that everything in Detroit is 2 miles away – and had an enjoyable dinner at what felt very much like a neighborhood restaurant – and will likely be one of our go-to spots for future trips to Detroit. I’m really glad that Laurie’s visit provided us with a very good excuse to see and try a number of new things!

1022 Happy mouths, happy friends.

@ Jolly Pumpkin
Photo by ryanbmolloy

I’m really having a hard time figuring out the best part of tonight. Was it the red chile tofu sandwich at Jolly Pumpkin? The trio of dips split by a trio of friends? The fact that I successfully ate something other than oatmeal or soup? Perhaps it was Shane’s walleye, which he later said he wished he could just eat forever without stopping. If walleye become an endangered species, you can blame him.

Photo by surlygirl

Or was it Laurie’s first visit to Zingerman’s? We were plied with anchovies, cheese, and four or five kinds of ham, culminating with jamón ibérico. Jamón ibérico! $200 per pound! Cue the sounds of angelic delight. And then we went Next Door and tried chocolate studded with cacao nibs, and were told that we were basically making more chocolate in our mouths as we ate.

Chocolates at Zingerman's

Happy mouths, happy friends.

1021 Tummy Troubles

I sincerely hope the celeriac fries aren’t to blame, but I’ve had the worst stomachache since this morning, and nothing seems to be making it better.  I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but I will note that I’ve spent a lot of time with the heating pad and cups of ginger tea this afternoon and evening. Shane came into some free cheese at Zingerman’s the other night – he mentioned that his last cheese purchase tasted a little soapy, and they gifted him with Brebis d’Iraty in exchange – so he had cheese, crackers, and a Lil’ Sumpin Wild, but I stuck to chicken noodle soup:

Chicken Noodle Soup
Photo by essgee51

And here’s more evidence of Shane’s bestness: when he stopped at Plum for soup for me, he called me with all of the options (including nutritional information), and came home with not one but two soup choices – the chicken noodle, which I’d requested, and an absolutely delicious container of butternut squash and apple, which I’ll be taking for my lunch tomorrow.

With cold and flu season squarely upon us, what are YOUR food remedies?