Izzy Eats: The art of raising a gourmand, one bite at a time

Stirring tales of eating, cooking and foraging in my never-ending quest to provide, great-tasting (local and organic whenever possible) EATS for me and my boy(s).

Friday, November 30, 2007

Saigon Cafe: Vietnamese On A Cold Day

Today was the first really cold day of the winter season. The kind of day where staying indoors with a cup of tea would suit me just fine. We had plenty of things around the house to nibble and I could have rustled up something for dinner too. We did have plans to go ice skating but they were sidestepped by a chore I had to tend to which ended up taking more time than I thought. This, quite understandably, threw Izzy into a snit. I rarely ever break my promises to him and I had to make it up to him.

I suggested we go out to dinner. That perked him up and at his request we went for Vietnamese. Our old stand-by, Saigon Cafe, has gotten a makeover. Some superficial decorative changes were made and the dishes have gotten pricier and smaller. Other than that, things are pretty much the same.

He and I both love the Spring Rolls and Summer Rolls so we started with those. Then we veered from the tried and true and ordered the Tamarind Soup, something I have never eaten. It contained okra, tomatoes, bean sprouts, pineapple and tofu. Rice was served on the side.


It was sour broth with a spicy kick. We both ate it happily enough but it didn't measure up to the comforting goodness of the Napa Cabbage Tofu Soup we usually order. When we were warm and full Izzy asked, "Why did we have to get a new soup?" He had so quickly forgotten that he had thought it was a good idea in the first place. I explained that it is fun to try new things because we might discover something we really like.

What do you order when you go out to eat? Tried and true or something new?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Birdbath Bakery: Sweet Eats And Sweet Tees: Izzy Eats First Giveaway!


It is official. I have become a Thursday regular at Birdbath Bakery on 7th Avenue at Charles Street. It is easily the cosiest place to park myself while Izzy is at clay class. They offer a small selection of City Bakery treats which seem to increase weekly, as well as the vegan selections I mentioned awhile back. Marshmallows have made an appearance this week. Who knows what else is in store?


The best part about this small eco-friendly spot is that I can sip my shot of hot chocolate and shop for original gifts without moving from my seat. I discovered this a few weeks ago when I walked in to find these sweet organic tees and onesies by Dillie, strung up as an eye-catching display.

The soft fabrics and simple animal graphics are sure to please all of the young'uns on your list (moms too!) (sizes 3 months - 6 years). (Though he doesn't know it, Izzy will be sporting the Whoo Owl shortly. ) Not only are these tiny garments easy on the eye but they also fit in with the eco-conscious spirit of Birdbath. They are fabricated from unbleached organic cotton down to the tags and they are hand silkscreened with plant and vegetable based inks.

Dillie is the creative brainchild of Kate Boyle, New York City based graphic designer and mom. Her inspiration comes from her three year old son and muse, Dylan. In her words, "I believe in responsible, smart and beautiful design and want the future to be as bright as it can be for our children."

The shirts are available at the store or on the web at Sparrow and Bull. Readers will get a 10% discount by using the code DILLIEXO when ordering, thru 1/31/2008.


Not only does Birdbath carry those adorable tees, but they also have a well-chosen display of eco-friendly gifts, including books, honey, syrup, and candles. I can't think of a better way to combine effortless holiday shopping and snacking.

P.S. One lucky reader will be the recipient of a free Dillie T-shirt or onesie, their choice of color and size. To enter, just answer the following question and post a comment. Where is your favorite place to snack and shop (could be two different places)?


I will accept comments up until Sunday, December 2, 2007. Send this post to your friends too! I will post the winner next week.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dinner At The Mall? Not At All...

At least not if I have anything to do with it. You see although I went through a mall-rat phase in my pre-teen years, I now can't bear the places.

And the idea of eating in the one ? Unimaginable, despite those years of scarfing down the delights of Chick-Filet (is that the name?). We do live just steps from a rather large mall that we often need to walk navigate on our way from here to there. Other than that and the occasional last minute gift, I try to stay away.

So tonight, when my friend H. mentioned that she was planning on taking her girls out to the mall to have dinner, I had to intervene. She said she didn't feel like cooking and it was on their way home. Before she had mentioned the mall, I had thought we might join them. After declining the offer, I hung up the phone and felt somewhat remorseful. It seemed sad that I would let terrible food get in the way of a friendly dinner.


It only took a couple of minutes for me to offer the solution. I would just make an impromptu dinner for them. My fast food had to be better than the mall fare, right? So I just boiled up some water. I made the simplest pasta with tomato sauce, green salad on the side. Izzy chose the tri-color fiore shape, which he had selected from the supermarket.

Everyone was a winner. Izzy was happy to eat with his friends. H. didn't have to cook and I didn't have to suffer through a mall supper.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

(Olive) Bread and Jam For Izzy


Bread and Jam For Frances is one of Izzy's and my favorite storybooks. If you haven't read this story with your child, start now. The way Frances' parents handle picking eating is priceless and, I might add, astonishingly effective. We have been reading it since Izzy was tiny and I am convinced it has helped him learn the possible consequences of being a picky eater.
Izzy does adore bread and jam but thankfully not to the exclusion of all else. In fact, yesterday he created his own spin on it, requesting olive bread with butter and jam. Certainly seemed like an outlandish combination to me but he insisted I give it a try and it did have certain appeal. Salty, buttery and sweet. It certainly is an easy snack to keep around the house. Hey, if it works for him, it works for me!


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Secret Soup (The Last Of The Turkey Chronicles)

My mother-in-law makes a mean turkey soup. The first time I had it was around Christmastime, in England, where she had been spending a year. It was warm, rich and satisfying, perfect for that damp British weather. I remember watching as she carefully removed every last bit of turkey meat from the carcass and later on having the soup appear on the table after a long walk. I didn't actually see what went into it but it had the usual suspects, carrots, celery, onion with some other mysterious ingredients.

Since then, I have had the soup on a few other occasions. Each version has been slightly different, depending upon what is in her fridge. It always maintains a certain unctuosness that I have difficulty recreating. What was the secret? I had to find out.

After making several attempts on my own, and preparing what my husband termed, "Jewish turkey soup", I decided it was time to request the recipe. What surprised me was that the ingredients were very similar to what I had put in the soup. My MIL was clearing keeping a soup secret. A family recipe she was reluctant to give up? My soups always come out clear (like my grandma's chicken soup) and hers seem dark and full of mysterious tidbits.

After actually trying her "recipe" and still coming up short, I asked yet again. This time she mentioned using some of the pan drippings. Yet how is that possible when they are used for gravy? I tried a second time but still my soup was not the same.

When it was time to tackle this year's turkey carcass, I went hunting for the latest recipe but couldn't find it so instead I made this...


The best part was that Izzy helped chop up all of the vegetables.


Mama and Izzy's Turkey Soup

Ingredients

Turkey Carcass (Cover with water and boil for two hours, skimming the fat)Remove every last meaty tidbit and reserve.
2 onions, chopped
3 leeks, chopped
1 cup chopped parsnip
6 stalks celery, chopped
6 carrots, sliced
tablespoon fresh thyme
1 cup leftover stuffing
3/4 cup alphabet pasta
salt/pepper to taste
olive oil


1. In a large stockpot, saute onion in a slick of olive oil til translucent. Add other veggies and cook five minutes.
2. Add reserved turkey and then pour in about 1/2 the stock (8-10 cups. You can freeze the other half or double recipe.
3. Simmer for about an hour, then add pasta. When pasta is cooked through, add stuffing.

This may not be MIL Soup but Izzy couldn't stop eating it. As for my husband, he wasn't home to critique it. But the stuffing may be the missing ingredient.

Raw Milk Rave

I finally did it. Instead of ordering goat's milk as I have been doing thus far, I ordered the raw cow's milk. I wish I had some to show you but it is already gone. It was that good.

The delivery arrived Wednesday, while I was knee-deep in Thanksgiving preparations. This week's order included creme fraiche, 1/2 gallon milk, 1 lb. butter, and a quart of chicken stock.

The moment I brought the milk into the kitchen, I had to open it and have a taste. So wondrously creamy, rich and comforting no wonder people go out of their way to get their hands on it. And as for Izzy? He had some too but only after I felt fine and healthy the next morning. Which is how I can tame my worries about serving him unpasteurized dairy.

But back to the other goodies. The creme fraiche smelled good but it did have a peculiar off- taste. When my brother's girlfriend sampled it, her description was, "gamey." And then a third taster, E., claimed "gamey" as well. I definitely detected an unpleasant barnyardy aspect to it and sadly couldn't serve it with the Thanksgiving Tarte Tatin.

And the butter? Well I have been happy with it since the beginning but this week's batch made my holiday biscuits reek of the barn and I, for one, couldn't eat them. Not sure what my guests thought as they were most likely too polite to say.

I guess raw dairy is an unpredictable thing. I have been accustomed to a life of industrial foods which are designed for consistency. But do I really want to eat the barnyard? Not so sure..but I will keep drinking the milk and experimenting to find what tastes good to me.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Helzel: It's All About The Neck

My grandparents spoke Yiddish while I was growing up. It was their secret language, used when they didn't want us to know what they were talking about. Long after I was supposed to be asleep, I could hear their hushed voices out in the den, their conversations punctuated with the words "ze kinder" (the children), a sure-fire tip-off that they were discussing something relating to my brothers and me.

Their English conversations were peppered with Yiddish words were often food-related and I can just hear my grandpa discussing the "helzel" (neck) around Thanksgiving or whenever it was we had some chicken or turkey necks stewing about the house. I was fond of the helzel and particularly relished prying out the bits of meat in between its tiny bones. It was tender and soft and now I imagine it would make some fine rillettes. Turkey rillettes? Do those exist? If not, they should but I digress.

When I went to purchase my turkey this year, I made sure to ask for an extra neck and some wings so that I would have an intensely flavorful turkey stock for the gravy. In fact, the highlight of my Thanksgiving preparations was making this broth, which piqued Izzy's interest in necks of all kinds.

He watched as I removed the neck, wings and giblets from the broth and when he saw me nibbling at the neck meat, he immediately followed suit. There we sat, just picking away at it, Flintstone style. As he nibbled he asked, "What part of the turkey is this?" I told him it was the neck and then discussion turned to necks in general. I didn't think that he could actually conceive of what he was eating and I wanted him to have a more concrete idea.

Short of taking him to a farm to watch turkeys or chickens, the best I could do was show him a video. And I knew just where to turn. I have just recently discovered Ms. Glaze, a fetching young woman who lives, cooks and blogs in Paris. Her blog features a few video clips, one of which has her explaining how to debone a chicken, head and neck included. What better introduction could there be to how animals become food?



I had no idea how he would react to the viewing so we sat to watch it together. He was simply captivated by the entire experience, especially since we have no t.v. and he has limited access to websites and such. He immediately requested a second viewing and his since watched it almost 10 times.

Does this mean he will be an expert at deboning a chicken some day? Or does he merely like watching Ms. Glaze? Whatever the case may be I am happy to indulge his interest in helzels and Ms. Glaze. But I do have to be careful. I left him alone with Ms. Glaze tonight and when I returned he had tuned in to her sausage-making video. "Mama, can we make our own sausage?"

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Remains Of The Day:Notes From A Dysfunctional Thanksgiving Kitchen

Here I sit, eating the remains of yesterday's pumpkin cheesecake. How I can even go near anything Thanksgiving related, is beyond me, given yesterday's mishaps, which will, if nothing else, serve as lessons for next year's meal, if there is to be one. It all began with the turkey brine..

As you may remember, I decided to brine the turkey, a first time event for me as in the past I just roasted it the traditional way. I left the turkey in the brine for 12 hours and Thursday morning decided it was removal time. Now this was a 15 lb. turkey, bathing in two gallons of potent brine in a rather large stockpot. What possessed me to take this duty on alone, no one can say, but I decided that I would dump the brine and remove the turkey. I picked up the entire affair and brought it to the sink. As soon as I tipped the pot, I splashed turkey brine all over the dish rack and floor, not to mention myself. This was not a pretty sight and being that I am rawpoultryphobic, I had to spend a good amount of time cleansing this mess.

This incident put me in the weeds from the beginning. Once I had the washed turkey comfortable situated on a roasting pan, it was time to get other things going. Now I had managed to do several things the day before, but it wasn't nearly enough. There were sprouts to trim, yams to peel, tatin crust to roll, apples to peel, more apples to peel. It seemed that the list was endless. Even though Izzy spent the morning at the park with with his Papa, I was still miserably behind.

I had initially invited the guests to arrive at four but quickly called to advise them that later was better. All of a sudden I looked at the clock and at it was after two. I had forgotten to preheat the oven and it was time to put the turkey in. The turkey didn't make it into the oven until 2:20 p.m. By my calculations, it would be out by 6:15 and the meal would be served by 7:00 p.m. So back to trying to get everything else ready. Let's face it. I am slow and everything just seemed to be taking longer and longer, while the kitchen kept getting messier and messier.

By the time the guests arrived my kitchen was a complete wreck. At least Izzy managed to set the table and I had a few appetizers out. One of which is always a hit. Nigella's Spiced Nuts. But nuts and cheese were not enough for me. No, I had to also make these Fried Cece (chickpeas) which sounded ever so appealing. Well thanks to Mr. Kevin Weeks, my kitchen wall is spattered with oil and anything nearby was similarly afflicted. He didn't warn me of the dangers of chickpea popping. Nor did he implore the reader to be extra careful when drying the chickpeas.


My nephew, a kitchen neophyte, to be sure, was in charge of drying them and clearly it wasn't sufficient. I tossed a handful into the hot oil and everyone started to run as the entire pan spurted oil everywhere. Granted they were tasty but not worth risking my skin or kitchen. Lesson 1: No Thanksgiving experimentation!

When it was time to remove the turkey, I had a thermometer discrepancy, along with the fact that each reference book I consulted, gave a different temperature for doneness. I took the turkey out but after watching red juices flow, realized that it needed to roast a bit longer. My family were exceedingly patient but I was annoyed. It was getting later and later and Izzy was on the wired side.
By the time the turkey emerged and was expertly carved by A. (he does have a gift for that, I must say), it was eight o'clock. And in fact, I needed all of that time to get the other side dishes ready. The final menu looked like this:

Appetizers

Spiced Nuts
Brebis Blanche Cheese and Crackers
Olives
Fried Cece (Chickpeas)

Main and Sides

Buttermilk/Thyme Biscuits

Brine Roasted Turkey with Chestnut/Cornbread/Apple Stuffing
Wine and Giblet Gravy

Squash/White Bean/Kale Ragout

Sweet Potato Mash w/Vanilla and Orange Zest

Brussels Sprouts with Glazed Cipollini Onions

Cranberry-Port Mold


Dessert

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Tarte Tatin


Sounds good? Doesn't it? It probably was but by the time I sat down to eat, I was so discombobulated I couldn't really enjoy it and Izzy had nibbled on so many snacks he could barely eat more than a bite of everything, even though as he patiently waited, he assured everyone that he was so hungry he would eat it all up.

I might also add that there were nine of us at the table, five of whom were vegetarians. What was I doing with a 15 lb. turkey? Don't ask! Great-grandpa only ate the cranberry sauce. My nephew seemed to only like the sweet potatoes and my brother G. only wanted to eat the squash/kale and bean thingy. How did I find myself surrounded by such a picky bunch?

The desserts, as almost always, were a hit, despite my slightly overcooked Tarte Tatin.

But, all in all, was it worth the chaos and effort? What can I do differently next year?

Last year, on my way home from Thanksgiving out, I decided that this year we would stay home. Our travels were not enjoyable so I made sure to remind myself of this by writing a "note to self" on my palm pilot which would ring the following November 1st. What notes will I write for next year?

The key note (if I can even bring myself to do it again) will be to make everything in advance. When I spoke to my greatest friend and superwoman, L. at about 3 p.m yesterday, she had her feet up and was nibbling on nuts, awaiting her guests. My stepmother also an organizational example, had prepared everything but the turkey by yesterday morning and surely had time to ingest bonbons and primp as she awaited her guests.

Strangely, my sister-in-law (to whom I owe infinite thanks for washing more than half of yesterday's dishes) reminded me that nine years ago, I made Thanksgiving (in my teeny tiny NY kitchen) and transported the entire meal to her house. In fact I have transported the Thanksgiving meal on numerous occasions and it was never nearly as stressful as yesterday. You know why? I made everything in advance!!!!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks and No Thanks

Izzy and I were up early and just about on our way to pick up our turkey from Union Square yesterday when the phone rang. It was my friend and neighbor H., who so kindly offered to take Izzy along with her children, to the Liberty Science Center. I couldn't have been more thrilled since frankly I had no idea how I would drag Izzy with me, the granny cart and no stroller. He wasn't keen on the idea but I had no choice. I had no other way of getting that turkey, plus all of the other missing ingredients home.

After sending him off with her and her children. I rolled my granny cart along to the train station, filled with thoughts of gratitude for my friends and neighbors who seem to come through in a pinch, when I least expect it. They are deserving of more than thanks (in fact a whole post devoted to the subject) but that will have to come later. Until then, I send my Thanksgiving wishes. And the good fortune they had, of not having to sit at my Thanksgiving table. Why? Take a look...


Yes, this may have been my work area but it is still indicative of the kitchen chaos that characterized my evening. From undercooked turkey to a of frenzy of fried chickpeas and oil spattered walls, it was not a pretty sight. I am still cleaning up..to be continued...


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Prep: Step By Step: The Day Before

I am going to document the process. Starting now. Certainly fun for me and fascinating for you, no doubt. This post will be updated throughout the day (and night) as Izzy and I work on Thanksgiving. See inside the mind of a disorganized but well-meaning cook..

Step 1: I cheated on this one and bought a brine mix from Whole Foods. It has all of the same ingredients that were recommended here and since I am trying to be Zen about this I feel safe (sort of).

This turkey brining is an odd business, not to mention the fact that it takes up time and space that I don't have. But I am convinced it will help create a turkey masterpiece. So I whisked up the mix with two gallons of water and poured it over the turkey which is now bathing in this large stockpot. Unfortunately, the tush is still sticking out, but I don't think that will be a problem since it is the breast that needs flavor.


Step 2: Stock for gravy. Just throw the turkey giblets, along with 2 wings and 2 necks, 1 quartered onion, 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks, some dried thyme, bay leaf and 1 teaspoon of peppercorns into a stockpot. Add two quarts of water. Simmer for two hours.


This is what it looked like before adding the water.


The stock is simmering nicely. On to the cornbread for the stuffing.

Step 3: Prepare cornbread for stuffing. A simple recipe which is now baking. It is 4:20 and I have only completed three steps...slow going with Izzy helping, eating and then blogging.

Step 4: Chop ingredients for stuffing.

At this point it was sheer kitchen chaos and this step lasted for a few hours longer than it should have, with dinner, phone calls, bath and bedtime in between.

Step 5: Prepare Pumpkin Cheesecake...now cooling in fridge at 1:12 a.m.

Step 6: Tarte Tatin Dough...Now chilling in fridge until tomorrow.

Step 7: Prep biscuits for baking tomorrow.

The last thing I will do tonight is wash dishes..and try to get to bed before 2 a.m...since I still have about 10 things left to do tomorrow. And so many untold stories...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cranberry-Port Sauce: A Mold To Behold

My childhood memories of cranberry sauce consist of a can-shaped burgundy mass, plopped onto a plate. I wouldn't go near the stuff and I had no idea that it was derived from berries.

Then, many Thanksgivings ago, when I started preparing my own Thanksgiving meals ,I came across this astonishingly simple recipe from Gourmet Magazine. My boyfriend and I prepared it together and it has since become our Thanksgiving tradition. For very little effort (done two or three days in advance!), you can wow your guests. And if you are only accustomed to the canned variety you will be in for a real treat. It isn't too late for you to add this recipe to your menu. Izzy and I are simmering ours as I write. Just get some Tawny Port, 3 bags of cranberries, 3 lemons and make sure you have sugar around the house.

Cranberry-Port Sauce Molds (adapted from Gourmet)

3 bags fresh cranberries, picked over
4 1/4 cups sugar
3 cups Tawny Port
3 teaspoons lemon zest
6 Tablespoons lemon juice

1. Place everything into a pot and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until mixture pops and thickens.

2. Allow to cool and pour into oiled molds. This makes enough for two 8-inch size bundt pans. But use whatever you have.

3. Refrigerate until firm.. overnight is best.

4. Loosen mold with a small knife and turn out onto a plate.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Where's My Thanksgiving Menu? (Thanksgiving Angst)


Is it in a magazine or is it in a blog I've seen?
Is it in my recipe file or hiding underneath this pile?

Each night before I go to bed,
A turkey lurks inside my head.

What shall I cook? What shall I bake.
It had better taste good, for goodness sake!

I'm still not sure. I still don't know.
There's not much time left, Oh NO!


This is what I have so far...




Finger Foods

Spiced Nuts (Nigella Lawson)
Fried Chickpeas
Sheep Dip and Crackers (3 Corner-Field Farm)

Main Course and Sides

Buttermilk Biscuits

Roasted Turkey (Brined)
Stuffing? Cornbread/Apples/Chestnuts Sage?
Gravy ?

Pumpkin, White Bean and Kale Ragout (The Vegetarian Option)

Cranberry Port Mold (Gourmet)

Brussels Sprouts (tba)

Sweet Potatoes (tba)

Salad (tba)


Desserts

Pumpkin Cheesecake (Epicurious)

Apple Tarte Tatin (Patricia Wells)



I beseech you, if you can fill in any of the blanks I will sleep better tonight.Or be prepared for more Thanksgiving angst to follow!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Baumgart's Stole My Heart: A Childhood Restaurant Lives On

As a little girl, my family did not dine out much, at least not until I was about seven or eight. One of the few neighborhood establishments we frequented was Baumgart's, in Englewood, N.J., a local ice cream parlor/ diner with lovely aqua blue booths. It was naturally retro 50's before that was in. Going there for lunch was a real treat, especially when I could have their legendary homemade ice cream for dessert. I don't recollect their menu offerings back then, aside from the fact that they were of the diner ilk with items like grilled cheese and tuna salad.

Baumgart's existed for about 30 years in its first incarnation and was then taken over by a Chinese family during the 1980's. They renovated the space, keeping the retro feel, and adding a new spin. Baumgart's became a diner by day, Chinese restaurant by night and a winner all around. I became even more enamored of the new restaurant and it is still a place I wish were around the corner. I rarely pass up a chance to eat there, even though I now live a half an hour away. Fortunately, my dad still lives nearby so we still find ourselves there often enough, as was the case tonight.

Izzy is just as enthralled with Baumgart's as I am, and whenever we venture out to eat near my Dad's house, he is disappointed if we go elsewhere. And with good reason. I began taking him there very early on. And as soon as he was big enough, I sat with him at the front counter, complete with soda-fountain appeal. It is just right for nibbling on a quick lunch or a great sundae.




Baumgart's food, whether Chinese or American (and now Japanese too) is comfortingly delicious. Chunky chicken sandwiches rub elbows with sizzle duck crepes and it's all good. We are generally creatures of habit when we go and I return to the same dishes over and over. Shrimp with shallot chips never fails to please. What's not to like about plump juicy shrimp showered with excessive amounts of fried shallots? And the BBQ spare ribs and dumplings? Steps above any Chinese restaurant aside from the haute variety.

Tonight, Izzy couldn't get enough of the Warm Chinese Spinach with garlic, a dish that appeals to all generations to be sure. For a change of pace, we all ordered sushi this evening and it was perfectly presented and fabulously fresh. It is challenging to eat lightly at Baumgart's since there are so many tantalizing dishes. We were trying to save room for dessert because no meal at Baumgart's is complete without it.

They usually have an array of baked goods on hand but the homemade ice-cream is what I crave as it is my benchmark for all others. They offer a few standard flavors and one weekly special. Their sundaes are incredible, chock full of gooey fudge and showered with chocolate shavings, a dollop of whipped cream on top. The one pictured is known as the Strong-Man and it is difficult to finish alone, which is why I ordered the mini-version this evening. Izzy didn't wish to share since he was eating his own black raspberry cone.

Every neighborhood needs a restaurant like Baumgart's, even when I lived in New York City, there was nothing else that came close. As it turns out, the owners have actually expanded throughout Bergen County. There are three other locations with a fourth one in the works. If you are lucky, there may be one near you, though I doubt it will measure up to the original.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Thanksgiving Shopping At The G-Market??

Union Square Greenmarket Saturday. I know. Pure shopping foolishness once again. But I had to do it and with Izzy as my sidekick. I had no choice. Monday I will be stuck home awaiting the dishwasher repair..the very idea of preparing this entire Thanksgiving meal and washing all of the dishes is abhorrent.

So my only option was shop today and Wednesday with a little local stuff thrown in and hope to have it all together. I dread Wednesday, when I drag Izzy and the 15 lb. turkey plus all of my missing ingredients home together, with granny cart. That ought to be interesting. But I digress. Back to today's story...

We made our usual rounds, stopping by to see the sheep lady who had her holiday dip on hand. It is a spreadable, dippable cheese which is one easy no-brainer appetizer. Picked up some other essentials and as we were on our way to the playground I was approached by a woman with a camera.

She wanted to know if I would be willing to answer a few yes or no questions. Now tell me.. Do I have a sign on me that reads, "Pick me. I am a nervous, babbling wreck?" Why am I always the target? In any event, I assumed the questions were food related and was happy to oblige.

The young woman appeared harmless enough and for once I didn't feel that I looked my worst. She handed me a small mike, pointed her camera at me and asked: "Do you believe the G-spot exists?" With Izzy at my feet, she then inquired, "Have you found your G-Spot?" I burst out laughing, answered and she then proceeded with a couple of other questions. I continued to giggle until the interview was complete. At the end she said, "I would interview your son but he is a minor."

Never mind interviewing him. Didn't she have a clue that he would soon be interviewing me. "Mama, what is a G-spot?" Hmmm... If you have any clever ideas for an appropriate reply, do let me know!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Why Why No Pumpkin Pie??? (aka: Not Pumpkin People)

A giant pumpkin sits, lonely and forlorn, left over from Halloween. But don't expect to see it turn into a pie on my Thanksgiving table. I just can't do it. Why? Perhaps I lack the pumpkin-pie gene. Or, more likely, I was not exposed to the pumpkin pie flavors at a tender age, thereby never developing a taste for it.

My anti-pumpkin pie sentiment was spurred on by the lively discussion going on over at Serious Eats. Ed Levine is of the mindset that nobody really likes pumpkin pie (since he doesn't) and readers have been weighing in. Now I don't much care for it myself but I have encountered many a pumpkin pie lover and I certainly have my own theories as to how they came to be.

Simply put, it all goes back to one's ancestry..or if not there, then the childhood Thanksgiving table. Take me for example..Coming from a Russian-Jewish background, pumpkin pie did not figure into my family's repertoire. Not that we had much of a grand Thanksgiving tradition going on around our house anyway, but one thing I know, pumpkin pie was not a player. Aside from a dryish turkey, I have no idea what we ate. My grandmother was in charge of Thanksgiving and as a daughter of recent Russian-Jewish immigrants, she wasn't well-versed in the ways of the pumpkin. I imagine we had apple-pie or something from the local kosher bakeshop. I managed to live my entire childhood without any exposure to pumpkin pie flavors or textures and therefore they never made it into my taste imprint.

Now let's take my husband, on the other hand, who was born into a family who arrived here not much later than the Mayflower. His ancestors were well-versed in the ways of the pumpkin.. He must have pumpkin spices pulsing through his genes. I am sure he grew up with pumpkin pie on his bib and it is one of the few desserts he will agree to eat. It would seem that no Thanksgiving with his family is complete without an array of pies on the table, including the quivery pumpkin.
As long as we celebrated with his family, this never posed a problem. It was only when I began to prepare the meal that I found myself in a bit of a quandry. I did not have the time or inclination to prepare several desserts but wished to please everyone. I couldn't only make my favorites. What was a nice Jewish girl to do?

Then, a few years ago, I stumbled upon this marvelous melding of Jewish/Wasp cuisine:the Pumpkin Cheesecake.... The combination renders the pumpkin infinitely more appealing and delightful than any pie ever could. This incarnation turns the quivery pumpkin creamy and mutes the bold, pumpkiny flavors so that I can finally embrace them.

Stay-tuned for a bit more on Pumpkin-Cheesecake..The baking and conclusion..

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Time To Talk Turkey

It is now less than a week away and I haven't finalized my menu or made an ingredient list, nevermind a preparation plan. If I don't have that done by tomorrow night, I will undoubtedly find myself in the weeds come Thanksgiving Day. (I will stop blogging and start preparing. I will stop blogging...)

I will probably stick with the tried and true for some things but if I hear of a worthwhile recipe, I may consider branching out. If anyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving side dish , or vegetarian option, they feel like sharing, send it along.

I along with my Izzy, will be preparing Thanksgiving for nine of us, at my house. What will you be doing to celebrate?


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No Water? No Problem...well not exactly


As I write, United Water is working to repair a water main break that turned my block into a flood zone this afternoon.

Izzy and I were roused from our "stay at home sick day" laziness when we heard all sorts of commotion in front of our house. We peered out the window to see a muddy river flowing by. At first I was quite frightened. I told Izzy to watch from the window and I ventured out to see what was going on. From the looks of it, water was flowing from street, to sidewalk, down into some of the homes on my block, but not yet ours. I watched in horror as the muddy water crept up closer to my front patio and saw the looks of panic on neighbors' faces as we all wondered what was going to happen. The fire department arrived but were unable to staunch the flow. They were powerless without the help of the water company.

Meanwhile I called family members, asking for advice as to how to keep the water from entering our home. Instead of the calming response I had hoped for I heard "The water will just flow, nothing you can do except move things away." Great, my house was going to be inundated by a thick muddy river.

I stood outside gaping, while friends and neighbors wandered down the block, all of us shaking our heads in disbelief. Finally the water company arrived about a half hour later and turned it off. So much for fine disaster management. We can count ourselves amongst the lucky ones. Our sidewalk tilts toward the street and this kept our house safe. Other families were not so fortunate and their basements and ground floors were flooded.

The entire block is now without water for an indeterminate length of time. Of course this lack of water put a slight damper on our dinner plans. It also assuaged any guilt I may have had about ordering Chinese food. So comforting to know that a warm meal is available if my kitchen isn't functioning. The only thing I forgot to consider was how stinky the dishes would be afterwards with my inability to wash them.

As you might imagine, this water issue has pervaded our thoughts for the day. Aside from no dish washing and other food-related tasks, there was also no water for bathing. This impacted Izzy's bedtime, especially since he had to forgo his steam shower which has been part of his morning and bedtime while he is sick. What we did manage to do was brush teeth and wash up a bit..with the help of our trusty glass bottles, filled with Poland Spring Water.

Yes, one thing we had on hand was plenty of drinking water. I have it delivered in five gallon jugs so we are never without. It turned out to be just what we needed to keep our sanity through this minor disaster.

How lucky we are that for us, this will most likely be just a small inconvenience. As my brother so thoughtfully pointed out, so many people have gone and do go for much longer without running water so I should just get over it. In the next breath he then advised that I save some spring water for "the most expensive flush," something to keep in mind the next time you are without water.



Hugged For Kielbasa: Giving Food Advice To Strangers


It happened like this: I was on my way home from my weekly Greenmarket excursion. I sat on the Path train headed for Jersey City, wheeling my overstuffed granny cart, carrots and other produce poking through the slots for all to see. A toddler in a baby stroller caught my eye and began an animated game of peek-a-boo with me.

I exited the train at Pavonia Newport and noted that he and his mother left too. As she walked beside me, she admired the vegetables in my cart. Soon a discussion of food ensued and she lamented the fact that her child did not eat enough vegetables. An all too common scenario, to be sure. She purported to be a terrible cook, blaming his veggie woes on her lackluster kitchen skills. I probed for more info..What did he eat? What did she like to eat, etc...As the facts emerged, I discovered that her son did indeed eat. She said he ate Polish food and Mexican food. Well that is certainly something to be proud of since there are many toddlers who have not even tried those things.

She still feared that something was lacking from her son's diet. She said she was a busy, single mom and didn't have much time to cook. I told her that there are many ways she can improve upon it and that I could help her.
Our conversation continued the entire way from the Path station to my home for about 10 minutes. As we were nearing the end of the walk, I somehow gleaned that the woman was Polish. When I inquired she nodded affirmatively. I then asked if she was familiar with Europa Meat and Provisions, our local spot for pierogi and kielbasa. She said that she hadn't heard of it and that her mother (in Chicago) kept telling her that there must be some Polish food around here somewhere.

She was so thrilled with this news that when I stopped to take leave of her, she said, "I just want to thank you for making my day, or maybe my life. I need to give you a hug." And she did. I told her to contact me through this blog and I hope to hear from her soon. Perhaps she and her son are tucking into a giant platter of pierogi right now.

Europa Meat & Provisions Inc Description - Polish deli, meat Address - 527 Jersey Ave, Jersey City, New Jersey ( NJ ) 07302-2720 Google Map Mapquest MapTelephone - (201) 435-2221

Monday, November 12, 2007

Positively Piggy: On Andouillettes (For Offal Eyes Only, Others Read At Your Own Risk)

I have eaten andouillettes (not to be confused with andouille), on many an occasion while living in Paris. I had simply thought of them as tripe sausage without delving much further into more precise descriptions. I remember having savored a platter of them, with mustard, at one of my favorite Parisian cafes, Au Petit Fer A Cheval in the Marais.

Those andouillette aromas of my past came wafting up when I received the following messages from A., who was in Paris, eating what he called "anduitte". Clearly spelling is an issue here but I knew what he meant. And so I offer you some amusing snippets from our exchange.

A.: I doubt it is legal in the U.S. to eat what I ate for dinner.

Le garçon was very pleased with my request. "Parfait monsieur, Trreeess bien". I was awarded a piece of some lardon pastry concoction as a gift. The chef came out & displayed it with much pride. How could I say no?

What is usually stuffed in to anduitees? I'm not sure that's spelled
correctly. Looks like innards.


At this point I sent him the Wikipedia definition, which I must say, was quite an eye-opener for both of us. To which he responded...

I did have the distinct feeling of getting up close and personal with a pigs bottom. Not bad with mustard though.

I thought it was very good. But somehow around the time I was about to have that last bite a little voice was trying to tell me something...

What do you suppose that little voice was trying to tell him? By the time the little voice spoke up, he had all but finished the dish. Would he have left that last bite had he known then what we know now? Seems doubtful.

And what do we know now?
excerpt from Wikipedia in case you were too lazy to click:

"French andouillette, on the other hand, is an acquired taste and can be an interesting challenge even for adventurous eaters who don't object to the taste or aroma of feces."

It has been a long time since I ate andouillettes but surely I would have remembered something of that aroma, wouldn't you think?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

New York City (On Odd Characters and Stinky Cheese)

The beauty of New York lies in its oddities. Where else, besides Paris, can one spend a subway trip with a veritable walking zoo, emerge to listen to great music and then buy unusually stinky cheese all in under two hours?

Yesterday, Izzy and I took the subway uptown to see a concert on the Upper West Side. As we sat minding our business, we heard a chirping bird. We glanced around and at first saw nothing. The chirping sounds persisted but instead of finding a pet bird on somebody's shoulder we noticed a man with a large feather protruding from his hat. Apparently he was the source. The chirping continued and then new sounds were introduced. We heard a sheep baaing, a crow cawing.. amongst others. By that time he was clearly playing to a crowd of one, or two. Izzy could not suppress his giggles, nor could I. This character turned our ride into quite a joyous one. We were definitely in the mood for the concert, which kept our moods upbeat.

When the concert ended, it was time to get down to some food business. No trip to the Upper West Side is complete without a trip to Zabar's even if it means braving the maddening Saturday crowds. My mission was some green olives for Great-Grandpa but naturally I couldn't leave the store without picking up a few items for us. Our first stop was the olive bar, followed by the cheese counter. Izzy immediately made a stinky cheese request. We were given samples of Casinca, a French goat cheese which Izzy deemed suitably pungent. Then we went on to scan the rest of the store and thirty minutes and fifty dollars later, we found ourselves back outside.

We were ready for our trip home. Back down to the subway we went and boarded the next train. As we sat there on the crowded train, I was assaulted by an unpleasant aroma which I eventually attributed to our cheese! We had to take three trains in all, and each time I was certain that the neighboring passengers were sniffing suspiciously, pondering the source of the odoriferous air. I made a point of opening the cheese bag and apologizing loud enough for others to hear for any offensive aromas.

Later on I had to wonder. Did my fellow passengers consider me, like our animal calling friend from the morning, one of the oddities of New York?

Putting The Kibosh on Spaghetti Squash?

Who can honestly say that spaghetti squash is their favorite vegetable? Until today I couldn't weigh in on a spaghetti squash discussion, having never cooked or eaten this odd vegetable.
How did that come to be? I am not exactly sure but I never found it on my dinner plate as a child (probably because you couldn't find it in the frozen vegetable section). And then, later when I could and would eat nearly anything, recipes for spaghetti squash held little allure (stringy, watery textured vegetable..., uh,no thanks).

So how then did I find myself with two large spaghetti squashes in the fridge? Well I have Farmer Rich to thank for that. His harvest has forced me into experimentation. The squashes have been hiding in the back of the fridge, awaiting an uncertain fate. Cook or compost? That was the question. I hadn't planned on cooking them tonight but I was cleaning out my fridge and figured, now or never. So I googled and found a simple, straightforward recipe.

I cut the squash into halves roasted it drizzled with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When it emerged from the oven I took a fork to create the "spaghetti strands". This is something Izzy took great interest in watching.


As I fluffed up the strands I was reminded of E., a CSA member who told me of how she could not eat spaghetti squash because she had been scarred by her mother's childhood preparation of the vegetable. It had been served, "spaghetti style" with tomato sauce. Now, examining the texture, I could see why she doesn't go near the stuff.

I needed to add some other ingredients but before doing so, I wanted an unadulterated taste. Verdict? A bland, insipid vegetable to be sure, nothing like its more orangey, sweet butternut cousins. The addition of some butter, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese (I left out the rosemary and added butter) definitely helped to elevate its status to something palatable. But still I would not go out of my way to buy or order this anytime soon, except for Izzy.

He had an entirely different perspective on the matter. He could not get enough of the stuff. He couldn't keep his fork away from the stove, spooning up mouthfuls at every turn.



Maybe he lacks for certain vitamins present in this squash. Perhaps he gets the taste for it from the other side of the family. Whatever the case may be, he finished the entire batch. Lucky for him, I still have one more in the fridge. After that, he might just have to wait until next fall before I find myself making another.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Trouble In Lunch Paradise: Izzy Didn't Eat

Miss E's side: At pick-up she pulled me aside to let me know that Izzy did not eat his lunch. She explained that he was not allowed to sit with his best friend C. because they had not been eating appropriately together. The teachers decided it would be best to separate them. When Mr. D. told Izzy to sit elsewhere, Izzy was not pleased, and therefore he did not eat.

Of course this made Izzy very sad, and me too. He was clearly very upset on the short walk home and told me he was angry at Mr. D. and wanted to throw him in the garbage. Of course I told him we love Mr. D. and he is a wonderful teacher who only wants the best for him. At that moment, on the brink of tears and most likely hungry, Izzy felt otherwise.

Izzy's side: As he told the story, he was following C. to their usual table, when Mr. D. intercepted him and told him he needed to sit somewhere else. I asked why he thought that was and Izzy said he didn't know. I asked if he ate nicely with C. and Izzy said he did. I then explained that I had heard otherwise. Izzy said that it was untrue and that his teachers needed to go to "Fibber Island." Izzy is not known to lie much himself so I am wondering what the real story is...

What I know is that I want all mealtimes to be happy times. I hope there will be a satisfactory resolution to restore lunchtime happiness for all. I hope this was just a blip in the lunchtime radar.

Going Nuts: Or Pecans/Pomegranates and Four Hours In The Kitchen

This past weekend, my mother-in-law arrived bearing nuts; to be precise, a basket of pecans, adorned with rosemary branches. Not just any pecans, mind you, but some special type of pecan, sent from Texas by my sister-in-law. And knowing her, they were probably self-harvested or have some other exotic tale surrounding their existence. For my purposes they looked lovely but, truth be told, I couldn't fathom what on earth I would do with them.

Turns out that Izzy had his own nut agenda, which began to unfold during the course of an action-filled playdate with his old friend E. She arrived after school with mom and sister in tow. Their play began quietly enough and evolved into more boisterous fun. From puzzle-solving to couch-jumping those two found endless ways to entertain one another, with little parental intervention.

At one point, while eating some unmentionably icky lunch I had prepared, Izzy zeroed in on the nuts sitting on the counter and was suddenly bitten with the urge to crack some. I located a nutcracker in the far recesses of my pantry and placed it on the table. I demonstrated the method and away they went. Pecan shells were flying everywhere and Izzy and E. patiently shared the nutcracking duties. I missed the most fabulous shots due to severe technical difficulties so my photos only provide a slight inkling of what ensued.


Here E. concentrates on removing the nut meats. Clearly a riveting activity!






This was only the tip of the iceberg! Nut shards were everywhere.


Izzy experiments with nut-flinging. I am sure the resident insects were pleased.

Those two cracked, tossed, dissected and ate until it was time to move on. So back to the living room they went but only for a brief spell. Before long it was snack time..Hey, weren't the pecans a snack? I guess they just weren't adequate.

So I inquired:"What would you like for snack? An apple? Some rice cakes?

E. answered: "Yes apple. I'll have rice cakes too." And then she settled herself into a chair to wait. Izzy joined her at the table. As I turned my back to get out the rice cakes, it was E.'s turn to zero in on something on my counter. (Note to self: clear off counters of food if you don't want kids to indulge).

Before I knew it, she was providing Izzy (and me) with a glimpse into the wonders of the pomegranate. Overheard...She liked to eat them. They were sweet and juicy. She ate the seeds. Her mama cut open the fruit and scooped them out for her. And on it went...She surely did provide a compelling enough argument for opening one. By the time she had finished, Izzy was begging for one too. So from nut shard to...

Pomegranate juice..the state of my kitchen was declining rapidly. The pomegranate lesson was delightful for all. E. demonstrated her speedy pomegranate scarfing abilities and Izzy became equally enamored of the juicy fruit. It was a perfect moment of peer influence on eating habits. I tried hard not to cringe when pomegranate juice threatened to stain my marble table..and it didn't!

When and only when, the pomegranate had been suitably picked over, the duo left the kitchen. I had just enough time to clean up when...They came back. It was teatime and they were thirsty. Besides it was time to calm them and tea can have that effect. So I brewed up some mint tea and they sipped it together before retiring, once again, to play.

That didn't last long. Seems dinner time was drawing nigh and little mouths were hungry. In the kitchen again at which point, the only thing I was handing out was crackers.

Then after four hours of kitchen chaos the playdate was over. We were all understandably weary. Good-byes were said. The door was shut and I went back to the kitchen. After all, I had to prepare dinner.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Early Bird Special At Bone-Lick Park


Sounds strange I know but we had dinner at a restaurant called Bone-Lick Park.. The irony of having the Early Bird Special at an establishment thus named was nearly lost on me until my friend R. pointed out that it might not me the best idea for Izzy to go bragging to his classmates, "Guess where I had dinner....?" It took awhile still for me to comprehend, as I was thinking ribs, while she mumbled something about the restaurant's location in the West Village.

Why were we Early Birds? Blame Izzy. With the time change and darkness falling sooner, I usually feel the need for us to be home on the early side, but that would mean giving up any chance of dinner out. The Early Bird Special idea is a way to compromise. We can still dine out, but be home in for Izzy's bedtime.

Instead of snacking from 5-5:30 as we often do after pottery class, we met my friend R. at the restaurant, which I had been meaning to try for awhile. Izzy and I arrived first and were escorted to a perfect corner banquette location in the back. I cannot tell you how important a banquette feature is for toddlers and preschoolers. These seating arrangements allow for adequate room for table antics. Squirmy children can lounge and drape themselves about as needed.

The need for the banquette became more apparent as soon as R. arrived. Izzy decided to play a bit of hide and seek under the table and the seating helped shield him from gawking onlookers. Eventually he settled down enough to order and play some sticker games.

He and I shared a meat combo platter with baby back ribs, pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, plus an extra side of stewed okra. The pulled pork and macaroni and cheese were definite winners, for both Izzy and me. R. had the brisket which was less appealing.

Overall, this spot has a lot going for it, particularly in the kid-friendly department, though you will find plenty of decent options for kids and adults alike. Not to mention a strong mojito which had the usual teetotaling me slightly woozy after only about a 1/4 of the drink, which was all I had.. After all, I had to drive the stroller home.

I managed to get us both home, despite my 1/4 mojito and our trip home went according to plan. What I didn't realize was just how tired Izzy was. When we walked in the front door he turned to me and said, "Mama, you weared me out today." It was a long day, especially for Early Birds.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds: Pepitas Pepitas Too Much I Eata*


Nevermind that Halloween season just came and went, it was pure blogspiration that led me to some pumpkin seed experimentation. Truth is, I had been itching to do this for awhile and Ann's beautiful post spurred me on.
My mother used to make them when I was very little and somehow the vague memory has stuck with me. Long ago, I made an attempt to recreate those toasty wonders but was none too pleased with the outcome. I had been meaning to experiment again but figured there was an elusive secret to the process. Then I read Ann's post and I took it as a sign to begin a toasted pumpkin seed tradition at our house. Most conveniently, we had several pumpkins hanging around the house from our party and several squashes leftover from my CSA.

For our first foray into the pepita universe, I used the seeds from the squashes from last night's dinner. Izzy took great pleasure in removing them for me but was insistent upon using a spoon. I helped, getting slimy hands from the squash innards.

I followed this recipe, boiling the seeds in salted water and then toasting them with salt and olive oil. Upon removal from the oven, I sprinkled them with smoked paprika and a bit more salt...which was sufficiently spiced for Izzy and me. The seeds were flavorful but not adequately crunchy. We ate them despite their supposed shortcomings and I vowed to try again, soon

So that is how I found myself, just a day later, cutting open a Halloween pumpkin (not sure which kind). Once again, Izzy took charge of the seed-removal surgery. He complained of a certain stink wafting from the pumpkin but happily went to work. We got a lot more seeds and I was hopeful that this time we would have a winner.

When I boiled the seeds this time, I noticed that they darkened from light cream to grayish in color. This time, I allowed them to toast until almost all of them were browned, listening as they snapped and crackled in the oven. They smelled familiar, perhaps a scent from childhood, as they toasted away.

Upon removal, I sprinkled them lightly with the smoked paprika and more salt. This time they were perfect but for some strange reason, Izzy only ate a few whereas I could not stop munching.


*I owe the creation of this post's title to more blogspiration. Ever since I read the Farmgirl Fare post, I can't get it out of my head. Izzy and I refer to it on a regular basis, as part of our secret eating lingo.



Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Tale of Two Squashes: Butternut/Ambercup

Roasted squash has stolen my heart, from the butternut a few weeks ago, to the ambercup tonight. In order to compare and contrast their flavors and textures, I roasted them in tandem.

As before, I tossed them with olive oil, fresh thyme, salt and pepper at 425 f, for 45 minutes. The butternut (more commonly found) has a beige-colored skin and light yellow flesh. It has a more watery texture than the ambercup. The ambercup is deep orange on the outside and an even deeper hue of orange on the inside. The ambercup is most similar to the Kabocha, another winner in the squash family. It is sublimely smooth textured and more intensely flavored than the butternut.

I combined the two varieties of roasted squash with applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized red onions and cream. This became a sauce for a decidedly autumnal pasta dish.
The dish, like this photo, still requires some refining so I won't leave you with a definitive recipe. Instead I leave you with thoughts of a winning combination..roasted winter squash, bacon and carmelized red-onions. Could make a fine Thanksgiving side dish or part of a stuffing.. With such flavor, many ideas beckon..

Monday, November 5, 2007

Microwave Ovens...Who Needs 'em?

Microwave ovens sprung to mind today after having read these two messages on my local family yahoo group. The first poster requested information on a glass cover for microwaved foods:

"I was using a plastic microwave cover which I would put over the food to prevent splattering. I threw it out because I'm afraid of the plastic, but now my microwave keeps getting dirty. Does anyone know where I can buy a glass one?"

I loved this reply:

Microwaves kill all the nutritional value in food. I recommend tossing the microwave.


Thus inspired, I began to explore my own microwave oven history...

I think our family bought our first microwave oven when I was in high school. I remember using it to bake potatoes, to warm up leftovers and to actually cook a recipe I found in the cookbook which came with the microwave.

My parents were in the process of divorcing and was I somehow left in charge of food shopping and preparing some dinners for my dad while my ex-step-mother was off gallivanting who knows where. For much of my childhood I had been exiled from the kitchen which left me somewhat cautious around the stove. The microwave seemed to be a godsend. No flames were involved and all I needed to do was place the ingredients in a dish and press some buttons.

The dish I was so fond of included chopped meat, canned tomatoes and maybe a few veggies and herbs. My father fondly dubbed it, "waboo" and we found ourselves eating it at least a few times. It is clear that my taste buds had not yet bloomed and my dad's must have been on hiatus. Whatever it was, at that time the microwave was my friend. Once the "waboo" phase ended, the microwave all but collected dust.

After that exposure, I spent my college years without this cumbersome,not especially necessary appliance, with intermittent usage at home, during vacations. Then along came microwave popcorn, whenever that was, and then, for a brief spell, my interest in the ovens soared. When I finally moved into my own apartment, I was convinced of the urgent need for my very own, rotating tray, microwave oven. I used it most frequently for melting butter or chocolate to use in baking recipes, and of course for reheating leftovers. At this point, though, the idea of actually cooking meat in it was fairly repellent. I lived with that microwave for ten years. And then..

When A. and I moved to our current home, I gave up the idea of having a microwave altogether since it certainly didn't fit into our retro kitchen. Besides, I realized that most things I had used the microwave for could be done just as easily on the stove.

The funny thing is that my most recent exposure to a microwave has been at the home of my 98 1/2 year old grandfather. He eschews most modern appliances but insists on using a microwave for all manner of foods. Most recently, he hatched the bright idea of cooking an egg in it. In fact twice lately, said egg exploded, bursting open the microwave door and spewing its insides all over my grandfather's ceiling. A fine surprise for my brother to clean up to be sure.

When I saw him today, he wondered allowed about what had possessed him to try such a trick...and meanwhile I wondered as to how long the over-sized mug of tea with lemon had been sitting inside his microwave. When I questioned him he replied, "oh several days at least." as he drinks a bit at a time and then places it back inside... Yumm...at least the waves kill the bacteria.

So now what do you think? Do you need a microwave? Why?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

It's A Scone Thing

I probably didn't even know what a scone was until I was in my twenties but ever since I discovered their charms, I haven't stopped baking , eating and serving them to practically everyone I know. I usually rotate through a few recipes, depending upon what's around the pantry.

Of late, Izzy has been my willing assistant (having been a part of scone-making since birth he has eased into the role quite nicely). He dumps and mixes, freely turning the mixer on and off as needed. Today he was more than happy to help as we created a recipe to serve to Grandma Jeannette when she came for tea. Our creation was born of necessity since we didn't have the usual ingredients on hand.

I looked to the dried fruit section and found some figs. When I handed one to Izzy to taste and suggested we bake with them, he immediately said, "No!". He then proceeded to pop said fig into his mouth and quickly demanded another. At which point I said, "These figs are awful. We better not put them in our recipe."

Of course he then insisted that we use them and thus today's scone creation emerged: Whole-Wheat Fig-Orange Scones

Ingredients

1. 1 cup unbleached flour
2. 1 cup whole-wheat flour
3. 1/3 cup sugar
4. 1 tablespoon baking powder
5. 1/2 teaspoon salt
6. 6 tablespoons butter
7. 1/2 cup heavy cream
8. 1 egg, beaten
9. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
10. 1/2 cup dried figs, chopped
11. Extra cream and cinnamon sugar for topping (optional)


Directions

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. and combine dry ingredients.
2. Add butter, chopped into small pieces and mix until butter is pea-sized.
3. Add figs and mix once to incorporate.
4.Mix cream and egg together, add to dry ingredients slowly, just until dough forms. Knead briefly and form a ball. The trick is to handle dough as little as possible.
5. Cut ball in half and roll out each half into a circle about 5 inches wide. Cut into 5-6 wedges. Roll out second half and do the same.
6. Brush tops with a bit of heavy cream and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
7. Bake at 425 F. for 12-15 minutes or until tops are lightly browned.

Serve with jam, clotted cream and plenty of tea.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

CSA Season Ends: Until Next Year Catalpa Ridge...

The only person rejoicing is my husband, who had little patience for stepping over the unpicked up shares in our vestibule or the stray vegetable leaves and parts scattered in our front yard. I think they add a certain "farmy" character to our house but that's me...

I mourn the end of friendly chatter during weekly pick-up and vegetable surprises (like the beautiful squash above and these yard-long green beans) which made my regular shopping trips easier. I will miss watching Izzy come home from school to inspect the weekly offerings and most of all I will miss the character that Farmer Rich's unusual harvests add to our dinner table.

Admittedly, some of the crops left me a bit puzzled. Take the vegetable above, on the right. I still don't know when and if I may actually use it, a gnarly horseradish grown awry. Not sure what went wrong but the idea of stuffing the tentacles into the food processor doesn't make sense to me since I think horseradish is better off grated finely, by hand.

Unusual crops aside, we were also the more than happy recipients of beautiful, more common produce. Butternut squash, heirloom tomatoes, garlic, red onions, Swiss chard, and zucchini were just a few of the vegetables to find a home in our weekly menus.

I am still left with a vegetable drawer full of turnips and squash I haven't gotten to using, some apples which I hope are still crisp, heads of garlic on the windowsill awaiting mincing and some green tomatoes from the last delivery.

Until next June, I will have to load up with extra produce on my weekly trip to Union Square, where I have been eyeing some Brussels sprouts and yellow beans. And maybe I will send Farmer Rich an idea or two for some strange crops of my own!



Friday, November 2, 2007

Getting My Goat (Milk and Yogurt, That Is)

Everywhere I look I see goat cheese, in one form or another. From fresh in salads, on sandwiches and just plain, there are aged chevres and those with ash, pyramids, buttons, large rounds, logs, both soft rinds and firm.

Considering that goat cheese is so widely available(at least in the NY area), why then is it so difficult to find goat milk or goat yogurt? It seems to be a specialty item, not widely available in this country. There are a couple of brands of goat yogurt to be found at gourmet shops and supermarkets in the area and I have heard that goat milk exists here and there but must be sought after.

All this to say that when I saw that raw goat milk was available from my raw milk railroad, I jumped at the chance to try it. I had initially joined to start drinking raw cow milk but couldn't bring myself to order it right off the bat. To ease myself into the raw milk zone, I chose goat milk, for the simple fact that it seemed less frightening to drink the raw milk of an animal closer to my size. I received a half gallon of the stuff, in a jug marked only with the letters GM smudged on the cover. My plan was to drink half and use the rest to make yogurt.

First we drank it plain. Then Izzy put some on his cereal and the best use yet was in the cupcake frosting. Finally it was time for the true test, yogurt-making. I simply followed the yogurt recipe I have been using, substituting goat milk and goat yogurt for the cow milk components. I made it late last night so once again, the morning excitement was coming down to find if the yogurt had formed smoothly instead of turning into a curdly, watery mess.

Izzy and I were tickled to find the jars looking smooth and fresh. I stuck them into the fridge to chill. Later on I removed one for sampling and this is what I found. Slightly tart, creamy yogurt.


This yogurt tasted wonderful and would certainly be a match for any cow milk yogurt. The question is, why isn't it more widely available. Why do Americans have unfounded goat prejudice. When I mentioned goat milk to my stepmother, L., she scrunched up her face and seemed repelled by the mere thought of it, though I know she doesn't think twice about eating goat cheese. Apparently adults, like children, need to be eased into trying new foods and flavors. Watch how this cheese monger does it:




For Izzy, goat products will just be part of his normal repertoire, nothing out of the ordinary. Which is the way it should be. For in my experience, goat milk cheeses or yogurts may be tart or mellow yet rarely do they have that pungency or barnyardy flavor associated with cow and sheep milk products.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Chocolate Cupcakes With A Twist (Look To The Goat)



Once again, Billy comes through with a delightful chocolate cupcake recipe. I think it may become my standard. Just look at this batter. It has the appearance and texture of chocolate mousse. You can actually watch Billy (when he was still Billy for now he is a girl and a cute one at that, but I suppose that is for a different blog) prepare the cupcakes on this rather annoying Today Show video.

Celebrate National Chocolate Cupcake Day
Celebrate National Chocolate Cupcake Day


Instead of using the chocolate frosting featured in the video, I went with Billy's Vanilla Buttercream, which was just what we needed for Halloween decorating purposes. I used raw goat milk instead of regular milk. I am sure that made all the difference!

Billy's Buttercream Frosting


Ingredients

Makes enough for 30 cupcakes

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
6 to 8 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup milk (raw goat milk if you have it!)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. With mixer on low speed, add 6 cups sugar, milk, and vanilla; mix until light and fluffy. If necessary, gradually add remaining 2 cups sugar to reach desired consistency.

Izzy and I couldn't get enough of these cupcakes but who could tell what the rest of the guests thought. Most were so high on sugar they were too busy bouncing about to even comment!