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Saturday, December 20, 2008


Clockwise from top left: Salt, everything, sesame, plain.

I've been itching to make bagels with my new KitchenAid Pro 600 mixer, and the imminent delivery today of something like twenty pounds of buttery, velvety Eastern nova and lox from Barney Greengrass—a gift to Mr. Chalmers from my parents—was more than enough to get me and the bug started last night. (Although, as it turns out, there were tons of bagels in the FedEx box too!) It's possible to make these without a good stand mixer, but it won't be all fun and games. The dough has to be super-stiff but also thoroughly combined (the barley malt syrup doesn't integrate itself easily), and you have to knead it for a good ten minutes. When I did this by hand last year I nearly broke my arms. The KA struggled a bit but powered through admirably.

This recipe is a keeper. Stick to it, and you'll have bagels that seriously taste just like the real thing—not just a decent New York bagel but a very, very good one. Crusty on the outside, chewy, and light on the inside. I don't remember where I got the recipe I based this on, someplace on the Internet, but my thanks go to whoever posted it years ago.

Makes 16 bagels.

For the sponge:

2 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten (see Notes)

For the dough:

1 tablespoon barley malt syrup (see Notes)
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3 1/2 to 4 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons vital wheat gluten
2 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

To boil and bake:

1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup
Toppings: sesame seeds, poppyseeds, coarse sea salt, dehydrated chopped onion and garlic;

The night before you plan to boil and bake the bagels:

Make the sponge: Put the water in a large bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Stir in the flour and vital wheat gluten, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise for 2 hours.
Make the dough: Add the malt syrup, yeast, 3 cups flour, the vital wheat gluten, and salt. Stir, adding enough of the remaining flour to make a very, very stiff dough. Knead for 10 minutes. Cut the dough into 16 pieces and roll each into a ball. Cover with plastic and let rest for 20 minutes. Shape the balls by sticking your finger through the center and stretching them into circles (make the hole bigger than you think it should be, as it'll close up as it rises). Put the circles on two parchment-lined sheet pans, spaced at least 1 inch apart, cover completely with plastic, and let rise for 20 minutes. Transfer to the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, boil and bake: Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and stir in the baking soda and malt syrup.

Drop in a few bagels at a time and let them boil for about 1 minute, then turn them over (chopsticks work well for this) and cook on the other side for about 1 minute. As they boil, sprinkle some of the toppings, if desired, on the parchment. Return the boiled bagels to the parchment and immediately top them with . . . toppings. Repeat until all the bagels are boiled and topped.

Bake for 5 minutes. Rotate the pans, lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees, and bake for 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the bagels inside for 5 minutes. Crack the oven door and leave them in there for 5 minutes more. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Note: Vital wheat gluten can be found at health food stores (check the bulk bins) and in good supermarkets (among the specialty flours). You can use barley malt powder instead of syrup, if you like. Both powder and syrup are available at most health food stores.
Serving suggestion.

Lox, overcast daylight, and the hand of a happy Mr. Chalmers.

Eastern nova, and lots of it. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Baker's Hours

The bug is not going back to sleep. She's been up since about 2:30. It's okay, though; I wasn't sleeping well either. And I had four loaves of bread in the pantry that I'd shaped yesterday evening and was too tired to stay up and bake. So this is what just came out of the oven.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Media Notes

1. I wish this reporter had called me back to confirm slash copyedit the quote he attributes to me, and also to confirm that I live in Athens, which I don't. I like Simply Meats, and I said some nice things about it, but I don't think I said them quite that stupidly.

2. You can find my mug on the beta version of the new recipe resource Cookstr, alongside some very smart authors indeed (and probably some thick ones like me).

3. I learned yesterday that my proposal for a kind of unusual cookbook has been accepted, and if all goes well and contracts get signed it'll be published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang. This will be the first book that's really my own (that is, it was my idea) and that I actually have a stake in (it's not a work-for-hire job). Apparently I'm going to have months upon months to write it, which means it's going to be awesome and I'm not going to go completely insane. Whew.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day in Fictional Baltimore

Does anyone else have this montage running through their heads right now? I wish this clip contained the "Naw, man, I can't vote" line that just breaks my heart.

Our Polling Place 2

The Chalmerses voted a bit later in the morning than last year, all of us having had a difficult sleep last night for various reasons. The bug skipped ahead of us (until we got to the highway and the railroad tracks), and the Mr. and I walked with our arms around each other. Our best neighbors and friends June and Cecilia were there, having just voted themselves; we chatted awhile, and the atmosphere was cheerful and expectant. It was a beautiful morning, bright and clear and breezy.

Later, at the Southern States in Lexington, the mood among the middle-aged white men I overheard talking politics was not so cheerful. Though I hate to admit finding pleasure in the bitterness I hear in a feed store in rural Georgia, I think this is a sign of good things to come tonight.

As I did last year, I submitted my picture to the Polling Place Photo Project, even though the building itself is just a tiny dot here, at the vanishing point. As they ask in the questionnaire, if there's anything that would have made my voting experience better it would be knowing that all my neighbors, even those much less fortunate than I am, were able to register and to vote as easily as I was.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Outside Brown

The pork shoulder was excellent. We smoked it until about 2 p.m., so maybe nine hours for an eight-pound Boston butt? I think it registered almost 180 degrees when we took it off.

Here are some things I want to remember about what I did this time for the next time:
  • Marinate overnight: apple juice, a little brown sugar, cumin, onion powder, salt, Goya adobo.
  • Start out with hot charcoal fire in the firebox, let it burn down till the briquettes are mostly coals, then add soaked hickory chips.
  • Do not trim off any of the fat. Put shoulder fat side down on the grate to start, then flip it after a couple hours.
  • Keep the temperature at 200 to 225 degrees: When the coals are white all over, add a few more fresh coals and a handful of soaked wood chips. If it's cold outside, be sure to do this before the smoker temperature drops at all, and before the old coals are totally white; otherwise it'll be hard to maintain the heat evenly and the new coals won't light very easily and things will suck for a while.
  • When the meat registers 170 degrees, keep going for another 1 or 2 hours. Those last 10 degrees, as Mr. Chalmers warned me, are the toughest, but they're worth it.
  • Boil a few cups of the marinade for 10 or 15 minutes with some chile flakes, then strain. Add about three times as much cider vinegar, and some more chile flakes. This should be about right and all the sauce you'll need.
Mr. Chalmers chopped the meat into chunks, and I made a sauce (for the side). This morning I roughly chopped some in the food processor—I know, sue me, but it was the best tool for the job, and just look at the results!—and mixed in a bit of the sauce and made a sandwich with a toasted storebought bun for breakfast.

The coleslaw was good too, though I'm no connoisseur of the stuff. It was just green cabbage (no carrot or other useless crap) with a dressing of sour cream, mayonnaise, yogurt, Dijon mustard, cider vinegar, salt, and a little sugar. I like it with tons of cracked black pepper, so I put some in my own servings. Also made some cornbread muffins.

Our friend Regan came out to watch the Florida-Georgia game and hang out and drink beer and Argentinian wine and throw the football around out in the yard. Along with the wine, she brought pretty little turnips from Athens Locally Grown, for which she volunteers each Thursday, and made a delicious turnip salad: blanched cubed turnips tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, cumin, paprika, and parsley. It was amazing, and went so well with everything else you'd've thought we'd called each other beforehand.

Dessert was creamy cold jasmine rice pudding with caramelized bananas, a Martha Stewart recipe that I would say is too fussy except that the results are always so worth the trouble that I can never bring myself to skip any of the steps. It's here, and you should try it sometime. The bananas take on this strange texture, and somehow taste alcoholic, as if they really do have rum in them. Weirdly addictive.

It was a happy, fun day, and I'm glad it lasted as long as it did.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Must Be Feeling Better?

Got up this morning around 3 and made coleslaw. It's 4:40 now, and I have a fire going in the smoker, almost ready to put the whole Boston butt pork shoulder on. I just took a pain pill and I'm drinking coffee and wearing my deer-hunter-orange puffy coat over my pajamas. Everyone else, including the dogs, is asleep. The pork's been marinating overnight in my husband's favorite pork marinade/brine thing: apple juice, onion salt, a little brown sugar, a little cumin, and some other stuff. More later.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quick Update

I got home from the hospital yesterday after surgery early Tuesday morning. Everything went well according to the stoic, matter-of-fact, blunt neurosurgeon (is blunt a word you should use to describe a surgeon?). It took about three hours, and he had to take out a piece of bone to get to the disc where my spinal cord was "splattered"—his word (did I mention he has no bedside manner to speak of?)—against the vertebra. The incision site hurts like hell, but 100 percent of the nerve pain in my back and legs is gone, completely. I can stand up straight for the first time in a couple months, and I slept very well last night (Percoset and Valium helped a bit with that), and didn't once wake up screaming and squeezing poor Mr. Chalmers's upper arm in a death grip.

What I'm dealing with now is the kind of pain that I can tell is going to go away—my dad, who's had four operations on his back, put it this way too. In other words, this pain makes sense: cut muscles, bruising, staples, and whatnot = hurt. The pain I had before made no sense. I know I'm going to be completely better very soon.

My mom and Mr. Chalmers are still pretty much doing everything around here that I would normally do—and then some. The nurse told me to eat lots of red meat to help heal the muscles, so they pulled some big "cowboy steaks" (bone-in rib-eyes) out of the freezer for supper last night. I'd gotten them as part of a "freezer pack" at Simply Meats on Baxter Street the day after our chest freezer came. They were amazingly tender and delicious, even though I'm not normally a fan of the rib-eye. Athenians, let's keep this place in business! Why didn't it turn up in the ABH piece this week about local butcher shops? Sure, it's not all local meat, and the more unusual cuts and meats are frozen or special-order items (as they are most places), but certainly it would've been worth a mention.

Mr. Chalmers also brined and hot-smoked a side of salmon over the weekend. I think it was his best yet. The bug ate—no exaggeration—about a quarter of it.

Continuing with the random food notes, after all my pre-op stuff at St. Mary's on Monday, the bug and I took Grandma to Just Pho . . . and More for lunch. We'd been there once. The night before, my mom asked the bug, "What is pho?" (She knows, but was just making conversation.) Without missing a beat, the bug answered, "Deeee-LISH-us!" My little girl makes a valiant effort with the chopsticks, but of course mostly uses her hands.

She also really enjoys the boba "smoothies":

My mom, who traveled through Thailand for a month or so with my Thai aunt, was happy to see that they had a durian boba drink. I had no idea she liked durian, even the fresh-cut ones. I've never had the guts to try it, but the smoothie version wasn't too bad. Weird, but not as terrible as the fresh fruits smell.

The pho itself was better this time than on our first visit. The herbs and add-ins were nice and fresh, and the basil was real Thai basil. I always ask for the raw meat on the side; last time they gave me raw round, but dry and crumbly cooked brisket, so this time I just went with the round, and it was nice.

I guess that's it for now. Time to lie down.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Stocking Up

Wow, it's been a while. I intend to write a real post one of these days, but in the meantime you can check out Flickr to see pictures of, among other random things, the Chalmerses and my mom and our friend Regan making butter in our old glass Dazey churn. I do have a big piece of news to relate: we've gone and gotten ourselves a chest freezer! It's a relatively small model, 8.8 cubic feet to be exact, but it fit through the narrow old pantry door (with about two millimeters to spare), which means it can be essentially right in the kitchen—such a luxury. I remember my parents' chest freezers—two of them: one in the laundry room on the other side of the house from the kitchen and one out in the storage barn. Holy pain.

It's a rainy, at times windy day here. My mom and I sat on the porch waiting for the freezer to arrive while it rained and the bug napped under a quilt in her teepee, on a bear-hide* rug my mom tanned out in Washington. I was reading Stocking Up and getting very antsy. I want to can a lot more stuff, sprout stuff, curdle and cure stuff, dry stuff, freeze stuff.

Earlier, we'd had a "tea" party. Table was a stack of boxes of canning jars. It was a good day to be on the porch. Grandma even swept the "piderwebs" away so the bug could—would—ride her trike up and down the long empty side of the porch.

We've become a bit lackadaisical about the chickens, one of which is seen here. These days we kind of just let them out in the morning and put them in at night and hope for the best. So far I think only one is laying, so unless that's the one that gets carried off by a dog it wouldn't be a huge loss. I must admit, though, that I've become accustomed to having them around.

My mom's been here for almost three weeks, and will stay a couple more weeks to continue helping out. I'm having back surgery this Tuesday to fix a badly herniated disc—it's been a mess for two months now. As much as I'm not looking forward to the process itself, I'm very much looking forward to putting the whole back-pain thing behind me so I can at least stand up long enough to cook a full meal, or take the bug for her bedtime walk. It seems that surgery is the best (some would say only) way to do it.

Mom and the bug planted a cover crop of annual ryegrass on my spring garden plot—right on top of the straw and newspapers I put down in early summer to kill the grass—and it's growing like crazy. She just put two loaves of bread in the oven and made some tea. She's almost done sewing slipcovers for the old orange sectional—she's been dragging her feet on the last part, with the curved swoosh-shaped back. Need to light a fire under her. Then she needs to start getting supper ready, and there's vacuuming to be done . . .

*Edit: Correction: sheepskin. But she did tan it herself.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


The bug and I went to see a man about some chickens yesterday. I was hemming and hawing about which of the Ameraucana hens to get, and felt I was taking too long, so I quickly said I'd take that one and that one . . . and one of those black ones over there. He snatched up a black one and stuck it in our box. I learned upon opening the box when we got home that the black one was a rooster. So we have two Ameraucana hens (or more likely a mixed Easter Egger breed) and a Black Australorp rooster. They've settled into the chicken tractor nicely, and the dogs have been exceptionally well behaved, barking at them only intermittently from behind their own fence.

This afternoon we found the first egg in the nesting box. It was very light blue, a bit oddly shaped and large but lightweight for its size, with a bright orange yolk and a sort of thin albumin. Tasted like . . . egg. (All that back-breaking labor is starting to pay off, ha ha.)

Whenever I reminded the bug to hold the egg carefully, she'd gently and slowly uncurl her fingers so that it was just balancing on her palm.

The bug likes tossing the chickens scratch, and we've given them pear and apple trimmings and cores, and some grapes (the latter of which went uneaten except by fire ants) in addition to crushed pellet laying feed. She also likes counting the chickens. She counts everything now, including, the other day, all the apples in a three-pound bag: twelve!

Our chickens do not have names (yet). My first thought, before I knew that one was a rooster, was that they could be Nancy, Bess, and George, but now that may be too cute by a third.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Cold Smoking

In August—no, wait: September. In Georgia. That's the kind of thing the Chalmerses do. Here's the rig we rigged up, and I have to say it's kind of genius, and much easier on the back than my original plan to build a freestanding smokehouse with bricks and wood, and clay pipelines buried in the yard. (Not to say that that might not happen someday, but just that it'll be after the adobe pizza oven has been completed. Priorities!)

Styrofoam cooler, into which an old wire cooling rack fit perfectly on the little built-in ledge. Hole cut out of the side. Flexible duct pipe inserted. Ice (not visible) and rock salt in bottom of cooler.

Salmon on the rack. Mr. Chalmers used a cure of, I think, sugar, brown sugar, salt, and orange zest and put it under weight in the fridge for maybe 24 hours? Indoor-outdoor thermometer wire running into cooler so we can read the interior temperature. The idea is to keep the environment as cool as possible (ideally around 54 degrees) while pumping smoke into it. Outside temperature was around 85 degrees; Mr. Chalmers managed to keep the cooler at 65 to 70 for, I think, about 4 or 5 hours. (Can you tell I was a little out of it this weekend?) Note beer can in the background.

The other end of the duct fit snugly over the smokestack of our Char-Griller smoker (after the swivel cover was removed). The Mr. built a charcoal fire in the side firebox on the right, and topped it with hickory chips wrapped in a foil packet that he punctured a bunch of times to let the smoke out.

Back view, with smoke.

We didn't think we'd be able to keep the temperature low enough, but what we got was remarkably close to real cold-smoked salmon, and we now believe it will be possible, with a few adjustments (including to the calendar, and to the cure and to the wood used for smoking [needs to be subtler, like a fruit wood]), to make actual lox. I'm going to revisit the bagel technique I started working on last winter.

I have no pictures of the finished salmon. It looked, you know, kinda like the salmon you see in the picture above, except sliced.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Lists Are Fun

My last list has become a bit obsolete, so here's one I picked up from one of my favorite morning-reading blogs, Antidisingenuousmentarianism or something like that. Take it and do it yourself, if you'd like.
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. [I don't know how to do a strikethrough on Blogger, but I'll gray-out things I wouldn't eat.]
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.
1. Venison [We almost never had beef at home when I was a kid]
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile [Just alligator, caught by my wacky uncle in the Everglades]
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes [Dad made strawberry wine and Mom made elderflower]
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl [Would not eat a bread bowl]
33. Salted lassi [Salted lemonade doesn't count, I suppose]
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea [Just to be a jerk here: "clotted cream" is a part of "cream tea"; you don't ever say "clotted cream tea," because it sounds gross]
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal [Only because I hate the idea of an extra slice of bread in the middle of a hamburger]
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini ["Gin martini"? there's no other kind, folks]
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips [My mom went through a period of trying to pass carob off as chocolate to me and my brother, but it failed miserably]
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin [What the hell is this?]
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis [My folks make it every Robert Burns Day, but funnily enough I'm never around]
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake [Thanks again to that crazy uncle]

Lots of stuff here I'd like to try, though they wouldn't be at the top of my list. Maybe Kobe beef and snails would be up there. What can you all tell me about the things I haven't eaten? Is hare like wild rabbit? Tougher maybe? Can you really taste the rose in rose harissa? Seems like the rest of the spices would overpower it completely and make it not worth the expense.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Comfort Food

So the old back has not been doing very well for the last few days, and meals around here have been low-impact affairs centered around foods you can put between slices of store-bought sandwich bread. But tonight, aches be damned, I wanted something more interesting, so I made this Isan (northeastern) Thai dish from an old Saveur (June/July 2003), and it's making me very happy! It's a room-temperature larb—spicy and salty, with cooling mint. And very lime-y, thanks to the big bag of extra-juicy limes Clare brought over when she and her kids came to play on Saturday. (More about that fun day—Okrapalooza—later, I hope.) The original recipe called for minced grilled catfish, but I just thawed some lean ground pork and cooked it in a skillet until there were lots of crisp bits. I made the same dish earlier this summer with chopped leftover roast chicken, which was fine, but not as good as the pork, texture-wise.

This may actually be the best thing I've ever made, and it's one of the easiest very good Thai dishes I know of. The recipe as published was called Laab Pla Duk (Minced Grilled Catfish Salad), but with ground pork it seems more like what's commonly called larb gai* on menus.
Larb (?)

Adapted from Saveur
Serves 2 to 4

1 pound lean ground pork
1 tablespoon rice (jasmine would be best, but I used brown rice)
6 to 10 dried red chiles (I used 6 chiles de arbol, but the original specifies 10 Thai chiles)
Juice of 3 limes
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
4 kaffir lime leaves, very thinly sliced
About 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
About 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (or use culantro or saw-tooth cilantro—mine died when we went out of town and it wasn't watered)
5 shallots, thinly sliced

In a heavy skillet, cook the pork over medium-high heat until no pink remains; drain if it gives off a lot of fat. Cook for about 5 minutes longer, until crisp and well-browned in places, breaking up the meat with a spoon. Transfer to a colander and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, in a dry pan over medium heat, toast the rice until golden brown, then transfer to a spice grinder and let cool a bit. Grind to a coarse powder and put in a large bowl. Return the pan to medium heat and add the chiles; toast until blackened in spots, then transfer to the spice grinder, coarsely chop, and add to the rice.

Add all the remaining ingredients and the pork and toss to combine. Taste and add more lime juice or fish sauce if necessary—it should be very tangy and salty. Serve at room temperature.
This, incidentally, is our newly red table, which we've decided we like in the kitchen, even though it's in a weird position right next to the desk. The bug and I have our breakfast here now, and have a pretty bouquet of matching red spider lilies on it. In the evenings, I sit at the table and flip through magazines or something while Mr. Chalmers sits kind of opposite me at the desk (which he calls the computer lab) and we engage in veep speculation. The bug wanders in and out, as do the dogs.

*Edit: Larb gai, of course, being made with chicken, not pork.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Supper Last Night

This was really good, y'all. I rubbed a chicken all over with salt, Chinese five-spice, and cumin (I saw that combination, plus bacon, on squabs on Iron Chef the other night), then roasted it at 425 degrees until nice and crisp, basting once. And the salad is from a recipe on Epicurious: Green-Tomato and Honeydew Melon Salad. I couldn't find the pepitas in my cupboard (spice cabinet is next on my list of wood things to build), so I used sesame seeds, and then I found the pepitas. Of course, too, I used four times as much vinegar—Champagne and white wine vinegar this time. The tomato was a bit pink, but still tart and crunchy, a beautiful contrast to the soft, sweet honeydew. Mr. Chalmers and the bug liked this as much as I did; try it!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Our friend Clare, a true Renaissance woman in Crawford with an absurd amount of energy (she's building two or three houses with her bare hands, and doing it with a six-month-old strapped to her front and a two-and-a-half-year-old on her back), gave us a bagful of produce from her garden when the bug and I met her and her kids at the Chick-Fil-A (the new one on the East Side has a great—i.e., air-conditioned—playground). Among other things the bounty included these neat beans. Note the gorgeous dark purple ones; in real life they were almost iridescent. I have no idea what any of them are, but they were great just steamed in the same pot with some Yukon Gold and red new potatoes then tossed with Champagne vinegar and pesto.

On Saturday night, Mr. and Mrs. Chalmers went out to the Hold Steady show at the 40 Watt, and our neighbor from across the road stayed with the little Chalmers (until 2 a.m.!). I made a spinach lasagne for her dinner—anticipating that we'd also appreciate leftovers the next, long day while we recovered. And the first pie I've made in months and months: blueberry, with a cornmeal crust, from this very good recipe on Epicurious. It was lovely morning-after food.

Pie and crayon.

Our other neighbor, June from up the road, came by early one morning last week and picked up the bug. She and her two granddaughters, who've been playing with the bug all summer, often just taking her up to June's house for supper and bringing her back at bedtime, took the bug to swim at Lake Russell for the whole day! They got home at 5. I almost didn't know what to do with myself all day, but I managed to strip several coats of paint and contact paper off the bug's former diaper-changing table (an Ikea number from way back), sand it down, and "Americanize" half of a UK cookbook. And now I'd better get to the other half . . .

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Le fran├žaise

So we Googled "mes vacances"—I think it was to see if you use the plural possessive mes—and came across these funny little videos from Gorseville. The bug was already in bed, but we watched them all without her, charmed by the theme music and the sweet voices. This morning I played one for the bug and her reaction was the same as ours: "Again! Again! Again!" Who needs Muzzy?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lemon Ice Cream

The Chalmerses are heading out of town tomorrow for a week in Asheville, North Carolina, with Mr. Chalmers's mom and sisters. I don't know if I'll be able to post anything while we're gone, but I thought I'd leave you all with a very good recipe just in case. I made it today to use up some lemons and milk and such in the fridge—well, to transfer them, in ice cream form, to the freezer. This is based on a recipe for lemon-buttermilk ice cream from the Times (the article's from 1998, but it was in a recent recap of ice cream articles). I had no buttermilk, and I think it'd be even better with its tang on top of the lemon's, but it's still pretty great as it is. I added the vodka on the recommendation of David Liebowitz, and I think it does help make it nice and soft right out of the freezer. Another thing I've learned in the last couple days is that it's possible to overchurn your ice cream; this is what gives it that weird, buttery mouthfeel as the butterfat separates out of the cream and milk. So check the ice cream well before you think it might be ready—that is, when it's the consistency of runny, melty frozen custard—and know that it has to finish freezing in the freezer.

That's all I've got for now. Happy ice cream!
Lemon Ice Cream

¼ cup strained fresh lemon juice
¾ cup sugar
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vodka
Zest of 1 lemon, candied (optional; see Note)

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the lemon juice and ¼ cup of the sugar and cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove to a bowl and set aside to cool.

Clean the saucepan; in it, combine the half-and-half, milk, and ¼ cup of the sugar. Heat until steam rises from the surface.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks together with the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Gradually whisk ½ cup of the hot milk mixture into the yolks, then return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until the custard is thick and coats the back of a teaspoon. Transfer to a wide bowl and set in another bowl of ice water. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Stir in the lemon syrup and the vodka. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly onto the surface of the custard, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Freeze in an ice cream maker until it’s the consistency of runny soft-serve ice cream, then stir in the candied lemon zest, if using.

Note: To make candied lemon zest: Remove the zest of the lemon using a vegetable peeler. Put it in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then immediately drain the zest in a strainer. Return it to the pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil again, drain, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil a third time. Drain and return the zest to the pan and add ¼ cup water and ¼ cup sugar. Boil over medium-high heat until the zest is translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool to room temperature in the syrup, then remove with a fork to a piece of waxed paper. Sprinkle with sugar and put in the refrigerator until firm and dry.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Blackberries up the Road

They were much better than last year, and I credit the rain. They're still well protected by two-foot-high fire ant hills and lots of poison ivy, but one morning recently after the bug left for daycare I decided to go all out and get as many as I could. I put on long pants, high boots, gloves (which ended up being too unwieldy for handling the delicate, very ripe berries), and a long-sleeved shirt. I went early enough that it wasn't too hot. I brought a long pole with a hook on the end, thinking that I'd use it to pull vines toward me, but it was more useful for shoving them out of my way and for tamping down the brambles so I could step over or onto them—the hook just made that more difficult. I took a lot of risks—jumping over ant hills and into the thick of the brambles—and at one point, surrounded by ant hills and stuck to the thorns on all sides, it occurred to me that if I lost my balance and fell the cicadas and doves would be the last sounds I heard. I worked fast, and checked my picking hand for ants every few seconds. Usually I come home with three or four painful bites and a handful of berries, but this time I had no bites and about six cups of berries! I probably dropped enough for a pie, and left enough for four. I found a back way in, though, so if we're still here next year it'll be a piece of cake. I also found the muscadines, which are behind the ant hills, through the poison ivy, and on the wrong side of the blackberry bramble—but they're there, and when they're ripe I intend to pick them.

I picked the bug up early from daycare, and we made blackberry frozen yogurt from my mom's old recipe. She used to make it every July in Georgia and Virginia. Next time I'll strain out the seeds. (I like the seeds, but others don't.)
Blackberry Frozen Yogurt

4 cups blackberries
2¼ cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 quarts plain yogurt

Put the blackberries and 2 cups of the sugar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved and the berries are broken down a bit.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks. Stir in ½ cup of the blackberry mixture, then stir in the remaining blackberry mixture, the lemon juice, and vanilla. Set the bowl in another bowl of ice water and let cool to room temperature, stirring frequently. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

Beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add the remaining ¼ cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

In a large bowl, whisk the yogurt, then fold in the blackberry mixture, then fold the yogurt mixture into the egg whites.

Freeze in an ice cream maker until it's the consistency of runny soft-serve ice cream, then transfer to the freezer until completely frozen.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Starting Over

I've taken a bunch of pictures of stuff lately and have all sorts of fun blog posts to write, but since I found out on Saturday that not only did my computer need a new hard drive but the repair shop couldn't save anything from my old drive I've been kind of avoiding dealing with pictures. Pretty much everything I've done in the last eight years was on that drive; while I don't really care about the work stuff and the two books I'd started (and abandoned), I'm sad that all the pictures and little movies we've taken of the bug were lost. I was terrible about backing up, although I did find a CD of a dozen or so pictures I burned for some reason last fall. We emailed small files of some pictures, and there are jpegs on this blog, of course, so not all is lost, but most of it is. I'm looking into serious data recovery efforts (like the people who do computer forensics)—and trying to figure out a better organizational system for myself.

Do any of you out there have any advice? How do you manage your pictures, edit them, post them to blogs, and archive them? I'm stumbling my way through Flickr and haven't hit upon a workable strategy. In the meantime, while I get this sorted out, here are a few midsummer pictures, the last of which, happily, taken with a camera smudged by little fingers with wild blackberry frozen yogurt.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Long Weekend

The other evening, the bug's new friend up the road called and asked if she could come over and play for a couple hours and have hamburgers (she's a babysitter in training, literally, with the Red Cross). As I watched the two of them walk up the road I was overcome by a desire to make a supper that included both meat and side dish. The meat was a big thin slice of beef I got at Los Compadres, the Latino supermarket on Prince Avenue—the stuff you use for fajitas. It'd been marinating for a while in lime juice, olive oil, a bit of Goya adobo seasoning (purchased for the NFL recipe-testing job), and cilantro. Grilled it hot and fast, then thinly sliced it.

I made a fresh salsa (tomatoes, scallions, lime juice, cilantro, serranos, salt). And a Greek spinach, scallion, and rice dish, which I topped with yogurt. (The spinach recipe came from Regan, who's been searching her files for good simple but somewhat unusual dishes for me to make. I added tangy sorrel to it.) It was so nice to have a meal like this—simple as it may seem—and watch the News Hour on TV without the little one yelling "Caillou! Caillou! Max and Ruby!" in the background.

Next day, we piled in the car and went to Greenville, South Carolina! For no other reason than to get out of the house. Well, that's not true. We went because going to Bonefish Grill was the closest we could get to going to Florida this long weekend without the death drive through south Georgia. We went to the Greenville Zoo, the crazy modern playground nearby, and then downtown for gelato—watermelon (Mr. Chalmers's preference) and grapefruit (mine); the bug liked both of them, but did seem to speed up when she hit the watermelon layer on the bottom.

I froze some of St. Herman's sourdough starter just to put my mind at ease—in case I forget to refresh it as I had for the last month or so. Luckily it's still alive and well as ever. I refreshed a couple times, then let it go past its prime and spread half of it out on parchment paper and froze it, then the bug crumbled it up and put the pieces in a freezer bag. I made two small loaves of sourdough today. The flavor was excellent, but I botched the technique a bit so no pictures this time. Used mostly white whole wheat flour, along with bread flour.

The first Cherokee Purple ripened yesterday. It's delicious, I have to admit, despite its sweetness. I had it just now in a tomato sandwich (with the sourdough) sans onion. The bug was excited that she got to pick some more big ones today.

We went to Whole Foods in Greenville, and I got a couple handfuls of sea beans—always wanted to try them.

Mr. Chalmers smoked a side of salmon, and I fiddled with the beans. Here's what we came up with for a late breakfast or early lunch today:
Hot-Smoked Salmon

3/4 cup kosher salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
2 1/2 pounds salmon fillet

In a large bowl, combine the salt, brown sugar, honey, and about 1 gallon cold water and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add the salmon, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Smoke at about 200 degrees F. with liberal use of smoke (hickory) for about 3 1/2 hours, until firm but still moist.

Sea Bean and Cucumber Salad

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups thin sea beans
1 small cucumber
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted

Blanch the sea beans for 1 minute in boiling water. Drain, then plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Set aside in the water to soak while you prepare the cucumber and dressing.

Peel and seed the cucumber and cut it into thin strips.

In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger. Drain the sea beans and add them, along with the cucumber, to the dressing and toss to coat. Divide among serving plates and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
I also made cold borscht, New York deli style.

The bug liked it a little. Not a lot, but enough.