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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.