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Friday, December 29, 2006

Select Northwest Fruit; or, Snowed In

We spent the last week at my folks' house in Washington. It snowed and snowed, and the bug's first Christmas was white. My dad tied an apple box to a toboggan and pulled her up and down the driveway.

It made her sleepy and maybe a little bit worried.

Her grandma and her dad held her while my dad and I tobogganed down the steepest hill I've ever gone down, complete with bumps and terrible dropoffs. On one run I yelled out as I went over the worst of the bumps and apparently the bug got concerned and I had to call up to her from the bottom of the hill so she'd know everything was alright. Mr. Chalmers came partway down the hill each time to help me drag the sled back up.

When the roads haven't been plowed and you live in a no-man's-land, as my parents do, there's not much else to do but cook and eat, so that's what we did all week. My mom had made a ton of cookies, so there were always jars and crocks of them on the counter: raisin spice cookies, poppyseed hamantaschen, Norwegian nut cookies (nöttgifflar, I think they're called), some kind of sesame-seed cookies, and, my all-time favorites, springerle and anise pizzelles. She and I made two pies with lard-butter crusts and great sour cherries my uncle and his wife had picked at the WSU orchard. There was also a lemon meringue pie.

Mr. Chalmers smoked a buffalo brisket one day on the Weber out in the snow. (My parents tend to buy meat by the animal or half-animal: the brisket was from a half buffalo they bought from a rancher up the road a while back.) It was beautifully smoky and flavorful. Buffalo's an unforgiving meat, but Mr. Chalmers did it right. That night he sliced up the rest of it and we threw it in a Crock-Pot with some canned tomatoes (my parents had gone down to Pasco to load up on vegetables at the truck farms at the end of the summer), chopped onion, minced pickled serranos, and some of the pickle juice. It was ready to have with eggs and toast for breakfast the next morning when we got up with the bug at her usual two-thirty, five-thirty EST. Breakfasts were eggs, waffles, steel-cut oats, venison fish (Dad got two bucks a few weeks ago and saved the tenderoins for us), pann haas, ham, sausage, etc.

My dad made a big pot of okra gumbo with andouille he'd made, wild turkey he'd shot this fall on the hill behind the house, and filé from sassafrass Mom had collected, dried, and ground in Virginia.

The highlight of the visit, foodwise, was the ham from the hog my parents butchered this fall. They'd brined the two hams for six weeks, then smoked them in their Little Chief, one at a time, at about 100 degrees, for 48 hours each. Which meant they were feeding hickory onto the fire every couple hours for four days and nights, during which it rained, sleeted, and snowed. I think they agree that it was worth it. The ham is absolutely amazing.

The Fredleys and the Chalmerses exchanged copies of Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, and the Chalmerses were also given the excellent Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. At my mom's request, I made a caraway mustard from the latter to go with the pork loin roast that came out of the freezer for Christmas Day. It was really good with the pork, with the brisket, and on ham sandwiches we brought for the long, long trip home. I know at least one of my eleven occasional readers made mustards recently, so I'll post the recipe here.
Caraway-beer mustard: In a double boiler, combine 2 tablespoons Colman's dry mustard, 6 tablespoons beer, 1 1/2 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon toasted crushed caraway seeds, 5 tablespoons malt vinegar, 2 tablespoons honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 large egg yolks, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly but gently with a whisk, until thick. (This will take a lifetime, but just keep going; it's worth it, I think.) Cover and chill.
When I wasn't eating, I was reading the Ruhlman-Polcyn book; if nitrites were safer to eat on a daily basis I'd seriously consider doing with this book this year what, for example, Minnesotan Marie Wolf did with Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Bread Bible last year. I think I'll start with the duck "proscuitto," and when my pink salt arrives from Butcher and Packer I'll move on to a fun new sausage, perhaps jagerwurst.

I still haven't finished the bug's sweater, but I'm getting there. At the meeting of knitters the other week, Carrie was kind enough to take a close look at the sleeve and body, and she thinks it should fit just right as it is, so I'll try the seaming yet again. She suggested starting at the shoulder and seaming down instead of starting at the bottom and going up.

She's nine months old and making all sorts of progress in her quest to become less like a dog and more like a person. With almost no hesitation, she climbed the flight of fourteen stairs in the grandparents' house (we don't have stairs here for her to practice on), and did so at every opportunity. (This is more than we can say for Cooper, who once had to be carried up and down a steep flight of stairs in Brooklyn.) Up was no problem, but she hadn't figured out down by the time we left: she was still trying to do it head first. She had her first pork chop bone. (Are babies allowed to gnaw on pork bones? She sure liked it, anyway.) Somewhere over North Dakota on the way out, her dad noticed that her first tooth had come in, her lower right front. She played with sniffling, coughing cousins for a day and seems to have come away from it healthy. First, second, third, and fourth snowstorms. First real Christmas tree, a fourteen-footer my dad poached from someone else's property up the hill.

I guess you can't always just cook and eat and read cookbooks. My dad, who may have been a little stir crazy, blowtorched his finger to demonstrate the effectiveness of Barricade fire-blocking gel, the product he's selling as president of Northwest Barricade.

It's a nontoxic, environmentally sound alternative to the other fire gel on the market, and more effective than the red stuff they drop out of planes. You basically just spray it on your house or property before a fire, and get the heck out of the way of the fire. It completely protects whatever it's sprayed on, and washes away afterwards with plain water. Firefighters trapped in a forest fire could spray it on their truck, get in the truck, and wait until the danger passed. It also puts out super-hot magnesium fires in about a hundredth of the time it would take with water. We heard a lot about Barricade over the holidays.

It's great to be home with Cooper and Wagner, and we're all especially happy that the final, nightmarish leg of our plane ride and the Atlanta-area traffic jam are receding farther and farther into the past. Happy New Year, everyone.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Set-in Sleeve "Issues"

I've been knitting away on a bug-sized sweater (well, it'll be slightly too big for her, so she'll be able to wear it for more than a couple weeks), and have hit a snag with the sleeves.

When I sew up the seam, the body pieces buckle unattractively—I think this means that the sleeve caps aren't wide and/or tall enough, but as this is the first time I've knit anything with a set-in sleeve I don't know how it's supposed to work. Of course I'm not using a pattern, which would have helped with matching the armhole to the sleeve, and the basic sweater percentages didn't seem to work in this case (although it's not like I got out the calculator, and even eyeballing it now in the picture I can see I'm pretty far off the mark). Are there any experts out there who can tell me what I should do?
Back and front are the same, and there's no shoulder shaping because I wanted to overlap the tops at the shoulders to make a sort of boat neck accented with decorative buttons. I know the seam will be a little weird there because of all the layers and because I don't know how to sew those kinds of seams in the best of circumstances, but it shouldn't be this weird. There's 1 X 1 ribbing up the sides; it doesn't make for a nice smooth underarm seam, but I don't think the bug will mind.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Cold Snap

It's in the mid-teens here this morning—okay, fine: 14.9 degrees; I'm a nerd and I have thermometers—which makes the package I received from the amazingly talented Heidi in Michigan, who is certainly the most generous and thoughtful person I've never met, all the more welcome. She sent an oversized hank of hand-dyed Briar Rose Fibers Fourth of July (100% merino)—I'm not sure what the colorway is, but it's deep, rich reds and rusts, and this picture doesn't capture it very well at all. The bug needs a good warm wool sweater, so I'm going to start working on that right away, copyediting be damned.

Also in the package were these two pretty sachets of fragrant lavender to put in with clothes or linens in the dryer, and some tonal, peppermint-scented lip balm.

For Thalia the bug, there was a super-soft cotton T-shirt Heidi dyed and embellished with embroidery. Thalls really seems to like the texture of the embroidery nubbins, and I think the bright periwinkle (much cheerier than in this picture; I don't know why I can't get colors right with this camera today) will look beautiful on her.

And finally, just in time for wintry weekend breakfasts, Michigan maple syrup! In the absence of pann haas, I think I'll splurge on some good bacon, and make pancakes and/or waffles.

And now I need to see about fixing these drafty windows, or at least moving farther away from them, because it's only 53.1 degrees in this kitchen.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

How to Use Two Chickens

Of course, you could break them down into quarters or eighths, or debone them, and use the pieces in three or four completely different dishes, braised or grilled or whatever, or freeze them for later—that might be the really smart thing to do if, like me the other day, you happen to come across nice-looking chickens on sale at the grocery store. (And no, Mom and Mr. Chalmers, they were not expired.) What I'd like to convey here, though, is an easy way to make the most of a couple birds without spending a lot of time cooking or putting a lot of thought into the matter, and using as few fresh ingredients as possible. Sorry there are no pictures, but you've all seen roast chicken, chicken stock, pot pie, and chicken salad before, right?

What you'll need (not in order): 2 chickens (natch), 1 lemon, 1 1/2 onions, 1 bunch of celery, 3 parsnips, handful of frozen peas, 2 cloves garlic, bit of parsley, 1 tablespoon olive oil, flour, about 2 teaspoons dried thyme, salt and pepper, mayonnaise, and capers and fresh herbs (optional).

If you know you're going to make all of what follows, start out by dicing 1 of the onions, all of the celery, and the parsnips, and chopping some parsley; you can put everything in a couple of bowls in the fridge and save yourself a little cleanup time later.

So here we go. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Thinly slice 1 lemon and put half of the slices in each of two baking dishes or roasting pans. Pull the fat and extra skin off from around the cavity of each chicken; set it aside. Set the livers aside. Put the hearts and gizzards in a freezer bag to use later, when you have enough to grind and put in Cajun rice (or if freezer space is too precious, give them to the dogs). Chop off the tips of the wings and put them in a separate freezer bag to collect for stock; put the necks in the bag too.

Rinse the chickens. Spatchcock them: Stand one upright, breast side facing away from you, and use a heavy knife to cut down one side of the backbone, then cut down the other side and pull out the backbone (put the backbone in the bag for stock). (Cutting out the backbone would probably be easier with poultry shears; use 'em if you've got 'em.) Lay the chicken out flat on the cutting board and press down with your palm on the breastbone to crack it and flatten it further. Pat dry with paper towels, then season all over with salt, pepper, and a little dried thyme. Place the chicken breast-meat side up on top of the lemon slices. Do the other chicken the same way. While the knife and board and your hands are all poultried up, finely dice the fat and extra skin, and chop the livers; set aside.

Roast the chickens for, oh, 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the skin is dark golden, crisp, and puffed up and the juices from the thigh run clear. Have one of the chickens for supper. Put the other in the fridge.

Render the fat with 1/2 onion, 2 cloves garlic, and a pinch of salt to make schmaltz and gribbenes (you'll get about 2/3 cup schmaltz; put it in the fridge to solidify), and cook the livers with the gribbenes to make a spread for bread or toasts (add a few capers, maybe a minced anchovy, maybe some sage or parsley or tarragon if you like).

A day or so later, use the second roasted chicken: Take all the meat off the bones and set the meat aside; discard the smaller bones, skin, and excess fat. Put the larger bones in a stock pot with 1/2 onion (unpeeled is fine), some parsley stems, celery trimmings, a bay leaf, and some peppercorns (and whatever else you like to put in stock). Cover with water and simmer for 1 or 2 hours, skimming the foam from the top if there is any; strain the stock and discard the solids.

Make pot pie (I didn't have carrots or potatoes, so I used parsnips this last time to cover the sweet and starchy bases, and it worked just fine; also, in the crust I used the schmaltz instead of shortening or butter—it was a little harder to roll out, but it tasted really good and made the pot pie even more chicken-y): Combine 1 1/2 cups flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Cut in the solidified schmaltz. Sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon cider vinegar and 3 to 5 tablespoons ice water and gather the dough into a ball. Wrap it, flatten it into a thick disk, and freeze it until firm. Roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap into a circle or rectangle to fit your pot-pie baking dish. Place on a plate or baking sheet and freeze again.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a skillet over medium heat, cook about 1 cup diced celery and celery leaves, 1/2 diced onion, 3 diced parsnips in about 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the onion is soft, sprinkle about 2 tablespoons flour over the vegetables and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Pour in enough of the stock to cover the vegetables, then add about 1/2 cup half-and-half or milk, a handful of chopped parsley, all of the dark meat from the chicken and a little of the breast meat, and a handful of frozen peas. Transfer to a baking dish or a deep ceramic soufflé dish, cover with the almost-frozen dough, crimp the edge, and cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake until the filling is bubbling over and the crust is nicely browned on top. That's your second chicken supper.

If you can bear to eat more chicken, celery, and onions, make chicken salad: Dice the remaining chicken breast meat, add diced celery and leaves, a little diced onion, and mayonnaise, salt, and pepper to taste (I add my pepper after it's on the sandwich). Obviously, fresh herbs are good here, as is a squeeze of lemon juice or a few capers.

God, it's only Wednesday and I'm so sick of chicken I could die happily without taking another bite of it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ten for Twelve

Of the last twelve nights, the bug has slept all the way through ten—or, at least, she hasn't awakened for long enough for me or Mr. Chalmers to have to go help her get back to sleep. Last night I got up with her once, to rock her a little; the night before was probably a fluke: she cried a lot, and I had to sleep with her on the floor for a couple hours before putting her back to bed. This was almost certainly because she'd slept with us in a big motel bed the two previous nights—she might've missed having our hair to grab onto whenever she felt like it. So the nights have been great. Napping she doesn't do so much anymore, but that's okay.

At a restaurant Saturday night, she sat in a booster chair for the first time. Usually she sits in her car seat or our lap. It was past her bedtime and she was a little cranky until she stole the pickle off my plate and spent the rest of the meal sucking on it. When it had gotten too mangled we gave her Mr. Chalmers's fresh one. Pickles probably aren't the best thing for a baby to eat, but she sure seems to like them.

As part of our plan to raise the bug in the Jewish tradition (not really), I made schmaltz and gribbenes yesterday with the fat from the two chickens I roasted for the week. (I suppose I should post about the very best way to roast a chicken, but they'd be more persuasive with a picture, so I'll wait till I have one.)

Schmaltz and gribbenes: I chopped the fat into fine dice, rendered it a little over low heat, added some onion, garlic, and salt, and cooked over higher heat until the gribbenes were crunchy and the onion had given off most of its liquid. Strained the schmaltz into a cup and continued to cook the onion, garlic, and gribbenes with the two livers. Added some parsley and capers, and this we put on bread.
Speaking of bread, four loaves of it I made yesterday. I'm trying to make more efficient use of my time and the oven.

I thought I'd save the fat to spread on pumpernickel if I ever get around to making some, but now I'm thinking I'll try using it in a pot pie tonight. I'm working on editing (well, in this case rewriting) a book about great old-school gilded-age-type desserts, and all the talk about chiffon cakes with four flavors of buttercream and flaming meringues is making me want a simple pot pie. Also it's in the low twenties here in Carlton—pot pie weather.

Edit: It might be nine for twelve, actually. I seem to remember being up with the bug one night last week. Anyway . . . she's sleeping well, is the point.

Monday, November 27, 2006

French Bread

Mr. Chalmers's boss was kind enough to share her beau's recipe for French bread with me, and also sent Mr. Chalmers home with a perforated French bread pan! As soon as he handed over the recipe, I started the dough. The process is simple, no-frills, and probably doesn't even require the use of the special pan (though it helps the dough keep its shape). Crust was great: crisp, shattering, and a beautiful golden color. The bread is salty, as it should be: you get lots of flavor for a plain white-flour bread. Definitely the best French bread I've made.

This picture is terrible, but don't let that stop you from trying the recipe.
Joe's French bread: Dissolve 1 sachet (1 scant tablespoon) instant yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water, with a pinch of sugar. Let sit until it bubbles a bit, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon fine sea salt (I used coarse kosher) and 1 cup unbleached bread flour (I used White Lily, but the new Gold Medal with a bit of barley in it was recommended). Beat with a wooden spoon for a minute or so. Add 2 to 3 cups more flour, to make a somewhat stiff dough; knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until no longer sticky. Let rise for a couple hours. (Apparently a second rising works better, but I just did one.)

Cut dough in half and roll into French loaf shapes or baguettes (Julia Child's instructions for folding, patting, rolling are worth looking at). Place in greased pans and let rise for 45 to 60 minutes. Cut deep slits in loaves and let rest for 5 minutes. Place in the middle of a cold oven and set the temperature to 400 degrees. Toss 4 or 5 ice cubes onto the floor of the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes. Add a few more ice cubes halfway through the baking to make it crustier. (I misted the oven a bit instead.) Try to let the bread cool for 20 minutes or so before slicing into it.

A few days later, I made rye bread using the cold oven technique—it worked really well, I think. I used maybe 1 cup of rye flour, the rest regluar bread flour, and added 1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds. Oh, and I used about a cup of sourdough starter and just 1/2 tablespoon yeast. Let it sit all day in the fridge because we went out before I was able to bake it. I just finished eating the last of it and neglected to take a picture, but it looked like your basic rye bread.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Short Long Weekend

Another easy, relaxed Thanksgiving here at the Chalmerses' house; we pretty much made what we'd had last year in Florida because it was all so good then, and didn't knock ourselves out trying to make seven sweets and seven sours or anything like that. We even forwent the stuffing! Mr. Chalmers brined a turkey breast overnight, then smoked it in the backyard while the bug played in her jumper nearby. I made an apple-ginger cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting, a lemon buttermilk pie with a lard-and-butter crust, sourdough bread (which was fine but not very sour), the fresh cranberry relish my mom has been making every Thanksgiving for a decade and a half because it goes so well with venison (even better with turkey, and still better with smoked turkey), some snap peas, and roasted acorn and butternut squash with random spices (cayenne, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, salt). Our friend Jon came by in the evening with a cranberry crumble, and we played dominoes and stayed up late—late for us, anyway.

My old mixer was put through its paces again this year with the three-layer cake batter and a big batch of thick icing. It did just fine.

I don't know why I insist on using 8-inch pans for cake recipes that call for 9-inch. I do kind of like how tall and unwieldy the cake is, though.

Here's the pastry dough I was so excited to try. I used a little more than half leaf lard and the rest butter, and a bit more salt than usual. It tasted great, I think, and was exceptionally easy to work with; baked up, it was sturdy and flaky but not nearly as tender as all- or part-shortening crusts I've made.

That pile of crumb topping in the foreground is John's crumble.

My mom sent a package with more bibs, and two bags full of zwieback for the bug.

We've been going on little daytrips. Friday we took the scenic route to and from Augusta, and yesterday we went to Decatur and spent a couple hours at Your Dekalb Farmer's Market, where we had lunch and bought, among other things, some tiny quail and a couple of bream (bluegill), which we grilled with lemon and basil and garlic and had for supper with the best French bread ever (more on the latter later).

The bug, possibly because of all the fun things she's been getting to do this weekend, has been sleeping very well. She slept from six last night until six this morning—straight through. Yes, twelve hours straight. (And she's napping now!) Mr. Chalmers says he heard her make a few whimpering sounds at one point when he was up anyway, but it wasn't enough to wake me up and that's what really matters. And of course because of all this wonderful sleep she's been in excellent spirits, as have we all. Even Cooper and Wagner are getting along better.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Après Hammock

This is how I copyedit lately: I set the bug's jumper thing out in the backyard next to the hammock, with a blanket underneath it for her delicate feet. I put lots of layers on her and on me, and I sit in the hammock with my computer and she jumps and watches the dogs until I get too cold and we have to come in and eat and warm up. When she's conked out in her bed with the space heater going full blast (we just moved from Florida, remember), I make a spicy vegetable stew, the kind you eat with a fork and a hunk of bread, and get back to work.

Vegetable stew: Make it spicy enough and it'll cure a cold. Sauté lots of garlic, 1 sliced onion, and 1 chopped potato in olive oil until the garlic is fragrant and soft. Add some canned tomatoes and a little of their juice or water, 2 coarsely chopped serrano chiles, and a big pinch of hot pepper flakes. Season with salt and black pepper. Simmer until the potato is almost tender,then add green beans (I used frozen!) and chopped fresh herbs (today I used celery-root tops and basil), and season again with salt and pepper. Simmer until the beans and potato are tender. Of course, you can add just about anything else to this you want.
This is how she prefers to wear her hat: in her mouth.

I Can't Believe It's Lard! Hog: Part 2

Leaf lard, from around the kidney. Note how white and creamy it is!

Tubs that used to contain dangerous quantities of butterlike spread now contain heart-healthy lard (the one on the left is still warm from being rendered and hasn't solidified).

My parents mailed a well-wrapped container of leaf lard to me, and last night after the bug was snug in bed I skipped around in the sections in Real Food about lard and butter and margarine. I knew that butter was better for you than margarine (Mom, Dad, I'll send you this book when I'm done), but didn't know that lard was so much better for you than margarine or shortening. I also didn't know that commercial lard, aside from tasting too porky to use in sweet pies, is partially hydrogenated! So after skimming Melissa Clark's Times article in which she tests a zillion pie crusts containing various proportions of different fats and leaf lard plus butter comes out of it the clear winner (interestingly, chopped unrendered suet does well too), I'm even more excited to try my first lard pie crust next week for Thanksgiving. What to put in that pie is an open question. Any suggestions? I really like the sound of Clark's pear and pomegranate molasses, but a good buttermilk pie would perhaps let the crust shine a bit more, and Mr. Chalmers likes apple pie so much, and I have these Concord grapes . . .

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bread Kick

I'm on one. Last week after making a few pretty good standard French loaves I read Mark Bittman's Times article and recipe (these will be paid-only archive pieces soon, so if you're interested you should read them now) about the Sullivan Street Bakery guy's "new" way of making bread—no kneading and a very wet dough with very little yeast and a long rise, baked in a heavy pot with a lid—and all the various Chowhound threads about it. I wrote to my mom, and she immediately started a Bittman loaf while I went on a hunt for a six- to seven-quart cast-iron Dutch oven. Before I'd found one I liked, she reported:
It's very good. Very tough crisp crust. The interior is holey, soft, and moist. The flavor is OK. mild. I think I prefer more bready flavor, more yeasty, more sour. This is like white bread. Which it is. Lately I've been making a bread with overnight starter and part whole wheat flour, and it has more flavor. The crust of this today is kind of almost shiny smooth, it is not dry & crumbly. Yet. It is more crisp than chewy. It looks as if it were glazed--nice golden brown, but of course lumpy & rough with bran.

The hard part was the pot. Even the biggest Corning ware pot was not big enough. I have a lid for a smaller dutch oven. To find a 6 to 8 quart size meant using one that does not have a lid. So I put heavy duty foil on it & held that down with a lid that almost fit. I figured that even though it's only one little loaf, the size of the pot must have something to do with the air in there. If it were smaller, the bread might burn?

But using that big pot for one loaf seemed like overkill, and I usually do at least 2 loaves at a time. Often 4. One little loaf is not worth that much effort, especially when I can get good bread with normal methods--kneading isn't that hard! And the water squirt in the oven works. The most important thing I think is the long cool rise. And I can make more bread without taking up the whole oven for one hour at 450 degrees for one loaf.

But I sure can't complain about it--it's very good--a bit dark on the bottom, hard to cut, but nice & chewy. It is a big blob--no shape to it. I used lots of bran & should have used more--it stuck to the cloth. You need a good new linen towel that is stiff--I used an old piece of limp linen, & with dips in the wrinkles, the bran did not get completely over it. But it did not stick to the pot at all.
She'd written to me a month or so ago about her own new way of making bread, letting a biga (starter) rise very slowly in the fridge for a long time (she uses stuff like wine dregs for the yeast). So Friday afternoon I decided to wing it and try a combination of all of these techniques. Unfortunately I didn't keep track of amounts, or take in-progress pictures, but I'll do that next time. Here's what I did, though, in broad strokes:
Friday afternoon: Combined lots of cold water in a big ceramic bowl with just 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast, about 1 cup whole-wheat flour, and about 2 cups bread flour and stirred until smooth. It was like a very runny batter. Put it in the fridge overnight.

Saturday morning: Added more cold water and another 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast, then stirred in 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and just enough bread flour to make a wet, very sticky, shaggy dough—too wet to turn out onto the counter; I left it in the bowl, covered, for about 4 hours at cool room temperature.

Saturday afternoon: Turned the dough out onto the counter, sprinkled with a little flour, and used a bench knife to fold it over on itself a few times. Washed the bowl and very lightly greased it with olive oil. Put the dough blob back into the bowl and let it rise for about 6 hours, covered, at cool room temperature. It's still very wet. Every once in a while I'd use a rubber spatula to fold the edges of the dough over and into the middle, pulling the dough from the bottom up and over itself and gently pressing down on the mound. It wasn't rising very much, but it was getting stretchy. Still wet.

Saturday night (about 8 p.m.): Used a spatula to turn the dough out onto the counter, then cut it into two portions. Again using the bench knife I formed the pieces into roughly round balls (it was still so wet that it was hard to form the dough at all), then transfered them to a cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet. Brushed the tops with water and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The balls were more like flat disks, heavy with the weight of the wetness. I let the loaves sit just until the oven was preheated to 450 degrees, then put them in, threw a couple ice cubes in the bottom of the oven, and baked for about 30 minutes.
Here's what I got:

The crazy loaf in the back is the one I had some problems with as I was transfering it from counter to baking sheet with the bench knife: the bottom ended up on the top.

Glossy, crackly crust; high, holey crumb; chewy; pretty good flavor with the right amount of salt. Here's how it looked this morning:

Changes for next time: I'll make the dough ever so slightly less wet. I'll remember to save some of the dough to use as a sour starter for the time after that, because it would be much better if it had a little more tang. Also I'd like to try it with rye, as it's been years and years since I've made good rye bread (I did it once, in Queens, and never managed to replicate it).

I've been dipping in and out of Nina Planck's Real Food since I bought it yesterday. (I went to high school with her in Loudoun County, Virginia, but she was a couple years ahead of me and I didn't really know her.) So far it's pretty smart, although Mr. Chalmers is not a fan of the climate-based explanation for the lack of milk consumption in East and Southeast Asia—and he's right that it's more likely just cultural (see Italy, Greece, China: hot places with cheese traditions and a cold place with no milk-drinking or cheesemaking at all). Despite the book's use of discredited essentialist anthropological theories it's making me want to make real yogurt. So look for that story here soon.

Yesterday the Chalmerses went into Athens. We went to the bookstore, made a quick stop at the Kroger, then went downtown and had coffee and read for an hour or so. It was overcast and windy, but warmer than it has been. Town was quiet, perhaps because of the holiday or the away game at Auburn. The bug was happy to sit outside with us, and she let us finish our coffee at our own pace and read peacefully until we were ready to leave. Her eyes were especially blue yesterday, it seems.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Little Project

I can't really make anything major these days—sewing-, knitting-, or otherwise-wise—but I did manage to rig up a canopy over the bug's bed the other day, to trap heat, absorb sounds (in particular this bizarre new sound she makes whenever she's standing up, and most other times too), and to make her area a little cozier: twelve-foot ceilings are pretty but decidedly uncozy.

I suspended two shower curtain rods from the ceiling (which is beadboard, so it's easy to screw hooks into), and braced them apart with a piece of bamboo I found in the pantry. Then two sections of material are draped over them and kept from slipping with a little double-stick tape. Impermanent, maybe, but it works. The mobile is a bit of a fly in the ointment, but eventually I'll get around to fixing the height so it clears the canopy but is still out of bug reach. So far the canopy has not improved anyone's sleep. The bug is waking up every two hours to stand up and growl in the dark.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hog: Part 1

Here's the hog hanging in the garage. The slaughterer left the halves attached at the bottom and at the top so it wouldn't flop apart when my parents sawed it into sixths.

My dad is cutting the chine bone out with a twenty-dollar reticulating saw so that it'll be easier to separate the ribs into chops. My mom almost lost her arm at least twice. My folks don't always wear matching red shirts:

In the foreground are the ribs, which have been separated from the bacon and the part of the ribs you use for chops. My mom is trimming fat, I think. That's a big pile of it next to the lard pot:

Chops ready for the freezer:

Sausage being made. The gray stuff off to the left is the liver, which Mom and Dad froze for later use in liverwurst. The white stuff is fat, of course, some of which went into the sausage and some of which was rendered for lard. The KitchenAid meat grinder/sausage stuffer attachment worked really well. It started to heat up at about pound twelve, but how often does a person want to make more than twelve pounds of sausage anyway?

This is andouille (salt, cracked pepper, garlic, cayenne, thyme), which Dad smoked the next day:

Breakfast of pann haas, fried in bacon fat. We made about ten loaves of it:

The hams were all that was left to take care of as it was getting light outside (we were all up with the bug at 3:30 that morning and just went ahead and started the job, so it was pretty much done by noon). After the bulk of the butchering was over, Dad put a fresh piece of cardboard underneath the hook just in case he got a deer that evening. In fact, he had one in his sights later, but decided to let it live. As he said, that deer was lucky we'd just butchered a whole hog.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

He's a Pretty Clean Dog

Sorry: I still don't have hog pictures. But here are a few of the bug, who's been a sweet little terror the last few days. I'm betting we see a tooth before the week's out, as she's been making a funny face where she sucks her lips in and smacks them like an old lady, and she's been unusually fussy and unable to sleep well (the latter could have something to do with the fact that she stands up in her crib the second she's even partly awake, which makes it hard for her to fall back to sleep on her own and results in twenty-minute naps and frequent nighttime wakings).

We've been letting her crawl free as much as possible; the kitchen is relatively safe now, though she's always finding something we haven't thought of (a stack of newspapers on the window seat, a spilled coffee bean god help us), and there isn't much we can do about the garbage can she loves so dearly.

The other day I caught her sleeping on Wagner, and then, of course, she promptly woke up.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween

And I thought this tree couldn't get any scarier. I hope we get a trick-or-treater before I eat all the candy.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Home Sweet Home

Whew! The bug and I are just back from our adventure in the interior Northwest, the Inland Empire, the heart of which (to us) is the Scotia Valley in far northeastern Washington, where my folks live. (My dad's entry in the county motto contest was "Got meth?") As fun as it was, it's sure good to be back home with Mr. Chalmers et al.

I have lots to say about our trip, especially the hog butchering, the sausage making, and the wild elderberry pies my mom made, but I'm still trying to get some pictures onto my computer. Until I do, here's what my parents did with and got out of the hog (dressed weight about 175 pounds, I think, without the head; unfortunately I didn't get the weights on all of the parts):
  • Bunch of thick pork chops
  • Thinner pork chops
  • Two slabs of ribs
  • Two nice loins
  • Two hams, which are in a Pennsylvania-style brine for curing (as opposed to a Southern-style dry cure)
  • Lots of stew meat from one shoulder, and I think two larger roasts from the other
  • Liver's in the freezer waiting to be made into liverwurst or braunschweiger
  • Lots of andouille, which Dad smoked over hickory
  • Lots of very spicy fresh chorizo
  • Lots of plain breakfast sausage made with just brown sugar, salt, and pepper
  • A ton of pann haas (that's scrapple to eastern Pennsylvanians) made with the heart plus scraps and the meat from the head—we had some every morning with maple syrup
  • A quart or so of leaf lard for pie crust
  • Several tubs of regular lard for god knows what—there's a lot of it
  • No bacon: my parents figured why bother curing what is essentially a slab of fat when you can get bacon for a buck a pound at Costco
  • No blood: the slaughterer didn't save it for them, so there'll be no blood sausage (this time)
The guy who raised the hogs charged my parents the cost of the piglets, plus the cost of their food (all-natural grains and fermented something-or-other, no scraps), plus twenty-five bucks. The slaughterer charged one or two hundred bucks, but I'm sure they made out really well for all the meat they got. And it's good pork, too.

The bug saw fourteen wild turkeys up close; my dad called them down from the mountain behind the house so she could see them. She also saw a Great Blue Heron on the Little Spokane River, which runs through my parents' property, and some sheep, some llamas, and one dog. She was too strapped into her high chair to see the deer that came by the house around suppertime, but we told her about them. She got to play with my cousin's three kids—aged six, four, and two—and my college friend's two-year-old daughter, Ava, who at one point in their visit from the O.C. asked her mom, "Mom, are you my conscience?" Mostly, though, the bug liked crawling around on the five thousand–plus square feet of pristine wall-to-wall carpet in her grandparents' house and climbing on their big floor pillows and soft footstools, and wriggling underneath dining chairs and tables to get to the heating registers my mom cleaned just for her. In a week she went from tummy-crawling with some real crawling to completely real crawling, and she will now pull herself up to stand, holding on to something, and then take a few shaky steps.

She did amazingly well on the four-hour flight to and from SLC and the two-hour flight to and from Spokane: she slept well on the plane, the changes in pressure didn't seem to bother her at all, and she had big smiles and laughs for everyone around us, which was a good thing because all of our flights were totally booked. It wasn't easy traveling with her on my own, but it wasn't as horrible as I thought it could've been. The hardest part (though it was fun in its own way) was changing her diaper in the airport family restroom, because she kept crawling around and activating the automatic soap dispenser, filling the sink with unused liquid soap.

I spent our first full day home trying to baby-proof this old house and get the floors semi-clean for her. Long way to go yet.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bug News

Here's what's going on with the bug these days.

At least 25 percent of her floor movement now is true cross crawling (on hands and knees, tummy off the ground), and the rest is the funny lunging crawl she's been doing for a couple months (she gets up on all fours, then pitches herself forward onto her tummy and pulls herself along and up with her hands). Either way, she's fast enough to get across the dining room and overturn the dogs' water bowl in the time it takes me to change my T-shirt.

Yesterday she pulled herself up from the floor to a full standing position by holding onto Wagner. And then she stood up in her crib.

She usually does not like to be in her play yard paddock thing, and will do everything she can to push out the opening (or she'll complain until we take her out ourselves).

If I start reading or reciting "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" to her while she's having her prebedtime meal she'll stop eating, look up at me, and laugh her head off.

She opened her first kitchen cupboard the other day, so I guess it's (past) time to move all the dangerous stuff out of the lower ones. She also has an unhealthy obsession with cords, wires, cables, electrical things in general. Also heating vents in the floor.

She's now eating solid foods at least once and sometimes twice a day, all of it made by us except the rice and barley baby cereals. I think I've given her a couple things babies aren't supposed to eat, like a bit of raw peaches, and a wedge of lemon I gave her to keep her from taking everything else off my own plate as I ate supper (she enthusiastically gummed the lemon until almost all the flesh was gone, and suffered no discernable aftereffects). For the first two months, she needed a bath after every meal she made such a mess, but recently she's gotten better about just eating the food and not grabbing for the spoon so much, which makes the prospect of twice-a-day meals less daunting.

Some of what she's eating: asparagus, avocado and guacamole, minted peas, green beans, summer squash with garlic and basil, zucchini, acorn squash, sweet potatoes, stewed prunes with rice cereal, salmon, curried tilapia, gobhi aloo (without the potatoes), plums, and so on. She's liked everything except chicken so far. Whenever I'm making something for us that she'd be able to eat too I just puree some in a mini food processor, push it through a sieve if it has tough skins or seeds or whatever, and freeze the puree in ice-cube trays, like this:

Then I throw the cubes into bags:

When we feed her, we just thaw one or two cubes in the microwave, and if it's too runny we stir in some rice or barley cereal to thicken it up. It's super-easy.

For the last week or so, during the day she hasn't seemed as interested in nursing as in eating from a bottle, so I've been accommodating her while trying to keep the old milk supply up. This may be the start of all-out weaning or it may be temporary.

Suddenly, changing her diaper or her clothes has become the hardest thing I do in the course of a day. She won't lie or sit or stand still for it. I've resorted to putting the changing pad in the middle of the floor just so I at least won't have to worry about her leaping off the table. It still takes all my strength and dexterity to get the job done. I wonder if there's a better way to do these things.

She's sleeping like a champ. Last night she went right to sleep after a briefer-than-normal feeding at 7:30, woke up for another at 4, then slept till 6 and woke up in a great mood (as did we all).

Still no tooth.

I think she knows what "No" means (takes Wagner's tail out of her mouth), but doesn't care (puts it back in).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Historic Couch Is History

One night last week, we'd just managed to get the bug to go to sleep for the night (the first two hours of it, anyway) and settled in on the orange couch for some TV watching when Wagner got sick all over the old couch and I decided I'd already cleaned it for the last time. This was the couch I'd had in college and taken with me to Queens, the one my dad took the bed out of so it'd be easier (for the Israeli-army mover guys) to carry up to my fifth-floor walkup at 666 Ninth Avenue in Manhattan, the one that still had the worn-out remains of two (2) sets of slipcovers my mom made underneath the set I made myself, the one I sawed the legs off of during a bout of spring cleaning years ago, the most comfortable couch that had ever been made in the whole world. It's gradually making its way to the dump.

Here's the couch (and me, and a very small Cooper)
in Florida a year or so ago. You can tell it's Florida from the mint-green walls.

The next morning I said I'd be sad if we gave Wagner away but I'd get over it. Since then he's been good. Model pet dog. He's only eaten one board book (it might've been I'll Teach My Dog a Lot of Words) and one Beanie Baby in that time—which for him is good beyond all expectations. Everything would be easier without him, but maybe a little less interesting.

The bug, like Wagner, tends to escape from enclosed areas. Still, this new
baby paddock is pretty good at slowing her down.

The bug learned to drink water ("water: the main drink," her dad explained) from a sippy cup this morning. Before, she'd just chew on the spout, not realizing you have to suck on it to get anything out. To be honest, I didn't know this either until I tried to show her how it was done—I mean, it's not called a sucky cup.

Last week was the big Elberton 12-County Fair. We went on Thursday night with our friend Andrew to see the demolition derby, which was exciting, thrilling, loud, and wonderful. The bug fell asleep on my shoulder in the middle of the second heat. We also saw a whole wall of nice-looking canned goods and one or two sorry-looking flattened pies, and a barn full of every kind of domesticated fowl imaginable, most of them raised by someone named Jesse. I had a styrofoam cup of trolelotes (white corn kernels in a thin broth, topped with mayonnaise, Country Crock, and crumbled queso fresco—or maybe it was cotijo) from a booth selling goat tacos, among other Mexican street-type foods.

I just sent in the second of the three freelance jobs that've been hanging over me, so I'm feeling home free right now. The one-time house cleaning service Mr. Chalmers arranged (at my request, made the day after the couch died) helps a lot too: having the floors clean and the plastic dry-cleaner bags folded and stacked neatly on the bed is a great start; it makes ridding up the rest of the place seem a lot more worthwhile. Some things I'm looking forward to: going the Pig Jig in Vienna, Georgia, this weekend; finishing that third freelance job, a book about Huntsville, Texas, the execution capital of the world; coming up with some decent cookbook ideas; seeing the two minutes of Adam Brody in Thank You for Smoking; mildly rooting for Jeffrey at Olympus Fashion Week on Project Runway; putting in some good hammock time before it starts to get too cold; taking the bug on her first plane ride (to Spokane via SLC—wish me luck) to visit my parents and help with a hog-butchering.

Finally, because no blog entry is complete without a meat-in-the-skillet picture, here's the Chinese dish I love so much. I think I'm slowly getting closer to the Ninth Avenue Grand Sichuan International version, though theirs is much hotter and more sour than mine was, which is hard for me to understand because I always make everything too hot and too sour for normal people. At least this time, as Mr. Chalmers pointed out, the sour long beans were more like just another ingredient than "something from another planet." (They can be a little, um, squeaky?)

This is, let's see, ground turkey (in place of pork; for the heart), hot pepper oil,
hot pepper flakes, diced sour yard-long beans, scallions, a little garlic and ginger,
a splash of soy sauce, and some Chinese black vinegar.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Country Come to Town

The bug and I went to Atlanta, stayed overnight with her dad downtown and everything. Yesterday started at the usual 5:15 and, well, it ended a little while ago when dogs, bug, and I all went down for a nap. Happy exhaustion. The city! First thing I did (after loading up the car, dropping Cooper and Wagner at the kennel, and taking the bug in for her six-month checkup, where she didn't cry at all when she got her shots) was stop for horchata and two excellent tacos—homemade tortillas with barbacoa and al pastor—at El Rey del Taco on Buford Highway. I shopped. I put semiperishables in a cooler in the car. Here's what I got at Ranch 99:

Thai-type stuff: green curry paste, Chaokoh coconut milk (the best brand,
and I love these half-size cans!), fish sauce, chile-garlic sauce (not Thai, but I
use it in everything), palm sugar.

Chinese-type stuff: hot pickled yard-long beans and sour
mustard cabbage, two packages of each.

The first is the main ingredient in my absolute favorite Chinese dish, a Hunan (I think) stir-fry with ground pork, scallions, and hot pepper oil. The second I stir-fry with marinated very thinly sliced beef.

Here's what we got at Your Dekalb Farmer's Market:

Mormon-type stuff: coarse yellow grits, Arborio rice, steel-cut oats
(the price was excellent, and the mornings are getting awfully chilly),
jasmine rice, couscous. Yawn.

More standard foodie-type stuff: ginger, kielbasa, cave-aged Gruyère (which may be my
all-time favorite cheese), crackers, roasted unsalted cashews (the Super's favorite),
fino sherry (in which to preserve fresh ginger so it lasts forever and I always have some
in the fridge), amontillado (my all-time favorite sherry for drinking), sherry vinegar
(yes, I have a favorite vinegar).

We met Mr. Chalmers at his hotel. I set up an impromptu sleeping area for the bug, with a thick blanket and pillows, and sat down on the floor to feed her in the hopes that she'd take a nap before dinnertime. Well, they must've been goofy shots she got that morning, because she was so nutty! She just kept laughing and laughing so hard she couldn't even eat—giggles and belly laughs and screeches of delight. She was delirious. Maybe she just liked being out and about all day long, or maybe it was lack of sleep, but she and I had the best time sitting there on the floor doing nothing but laughing every time we so much as made eye contact. She didn't go to sleep until half an hour before we were to meet a friend in the hotel restaurant—Trader Vic's!—for dinner. We had to wake her, but she got to gum a big wedge of Mai Tai–infused pineapple throughout the meal.

When we got home this morning it looked like there'd been a huge storm here: lots of big branches down, cellar doors blown open, and even more pecans than usual on the ground. In the afternoons for the last week there've been virtual hailstorms of pecans coming down on the metal roof. It sounds like guns going off. Unfortunately, I don't think any of the pecans are good to eat: they're either dried up already or too green when they fall to the ground. Maybe the trees are too old.

Might not be many posts for the next few days, as I have a big rush copyediting job to work on, plus two other copyediting jobs on the docket. We want to spend some time at the Madison County Fair down the road, watch the UGA game, make something with that kielbasa . . . And Concord grapes are in so that means pie, pie, pie. And cobbler. I want to try to freeze some containers of grape pie filling, see how that works. No time to can anything this year I don't think.