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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Le française

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.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Okay, so here's what I've been working on, the chicken tractor! I bought plans on eBay! "Easy instructions for the non-woodworker!" That's me! Indeed the very detailed instructions, clear pictures and diagrams, and helpful hints were well worth the fifteen bucks. My previous experience building things with wood includes, in total, a couple shelves and maybe a birdhouse when I was an adolescent. So if I could follow these plans and come up with something useable it's got to be easy. I did learn a lot in the process. For example: (1) Don't start building something on an enclosed porch if it won't fit through the door when it's done. (2) Everything goes faster if you use two drills, one for predrilling the holes and one for screwing in the screws. (3) Wood is flexible.

Here's how the chicken tractor works. As you probably already know, a chicken tractor is basically a moveable coop that allows chickens access to sunlight, grass (and weeds), dirt, and the insects they like to eat and also provides space for nesting and shelter from the elements. Because it's totally covered, it will also, it is hoped, keep predators—hawks, racoons, neighbor dogs—from getting to the chickens. Being able to move the coop every few days or every week or so means that the chickens will always have relatively fresh ground to peck at, and it spreads out the fertilizer all over the lawn a patch at a time. For more about chicken tractors, see The City Chicken.

This tractor is about 3 feet wide and 8 feet long, enough space for two or three smallish hens. There's a door in the front for putting a feeder and water bucket inside. (I'll probably try to rig up hanging ones so they travel with the coop as it gets moved around the yard.) A little ramp leads up to the nesting box area. I want to trim the nesting box door in white, because it just isn't cutsy enough as it is; I haven't found anything around the house to use as molding yet. Also I'll put a branch or dowel across between the center studs as a roost.

These are the wheels in the down position, in which the tractor sits flush to the ground when it's not in motion.

When you want to move it, you lift the back of the coop with the handles (they could stand to be about six inches longer, but these were the longest pieces of 1x1 I could find at the Home Depot or Lowe's; did I mention I had to rent a pickup truck to bring all the lumber home?) and kick the wheel assembly, which is on hinges, up underneath the back of the coop. Then you go to the front of the coop and use the longer handles to push or pull it like a wheelbarrow. Even though it's incredibly heavy, it rolls easily and smoothly (you could do it one-handed, to give you some idea), and it can turn on a dime. When you find a good spot, you just hook your foot under the wheel assembly and flip the wheels back out.

The back door leads to the nesting box, where the chickens will lay their eggs. I made the nesting box for three hens (though I'm thinking we'll probably only have two; the full-height center divider just looked cozier to me). Note the very bad paint job. I've learned that there are a few things I'm constitutionally incapable of doing, and one of them is using masking tape; another is putting two coats of paint on anything.

The whole nesting box slides out for (presumptive) cleaning.

The plans called for special thin, lightweight cedar shingles, which were then painted. I could only find these rough, thick underlayer shingles, which I think work fine. I didn't paint them because I like how they look all raw, and I think the cedar will weather nicely (cedar resists rot). Unfortunately I realized, just after I'd spent a couple hours screwing them all on in the blazing sun, that the shingles should've been staggered. If the roof leaks too much (there's a painted plywood base underneath) I'll take them off and redo them.

And that's it. Now back to copyediting.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Mom's Pickles

The chicken tractor is done, as of 2:30 today. Pictures to come as soon as the Mr. comes home and helps me get it down off the sawhorse.

I stopped in at the produce farm today, and they had—along with the expected zucchini and yellow squash, onions, potatoes, melons, corn (well, it was being picked), and tomatoes—several kinds of pretty cucumbers. This is just what I needed, although I'd gone there looking for okra. (I did—gulp—put in an order for three pounds of okra, not knowing that the heavy bag of squash and potatoes I was preparing to buy was only three pounds. I'm not very good with weights. Good thing I have one or two ideas for how to use okra.)

Anyway, I came home and looked up my mom's recipe for Persian pickles, which I think are the most delicious pickles this side of the Lower East Side. The comparison is inapt, because they're not dill pickles but tarragon-flavored mostly; also they're refrigerator pickles, which means you have to keep them in the fridge, but that's okay because like most pickles they're best cold anyway. My mom and her friend, who's from Iran, wrote a little book of Persian sweets and sours, as yet unpublished; this recipe comes from there. I halved it: 1 pound cucumbers, 3 garlic cloves, a few tarragon sprigs, 3 or 4 clusters of fresh coriander seeds (or 1/2 tablespoon dried seeds), and 2 dried red peppers in a leftover pickle-barrel-type jar (sorry, I forgot to check the volume; I'm not very good with volumes); 3 1/2 cups water, 1/4 cup kosher salt, 1/4 cup cider vinegar.

Persian Pickles

2 to 3 pounds small crisp pickling cucumbers
5 cloves garlic, unpeeled
5 sprigs fresh tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 fresh or dried chiles
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup cider vinegar

Pack the cucumbers, garlic, tarragon, coriander, and chiles into a 1-gallon jar.

Bring 7 cups water and the salt to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Add the vinegar and pour the mixture over the cucumbers. Put the lid on the jar. Refrigerate for 6 weeks.

Slice the pickles lengthwise to serve. Use within 2 months.

Makes 1 gallon.

Fresh coriander seeds—before they've dried into what we normally think of as coriander. They're tender, and the flavor is dead between coriander and cilantro. They're good sprinkled on top of a bowl of dal. I'm not sure how they'll work in these pickles, but I'll bet they'll be fine.

Produce and Panzanella

This was our first tomato from our plants, an oversized grape:

The bug picks them as soon as there's a hint of orange on them, and eats them one after another straight off the vine. Sometimes I can wrestle them out of her grip and put them on the counter out of reach to finish ripening.

All of our tomatoes this year will be on the sweet side—these grapes, the Golden Egg, and the Cherokee Purple. (Not sure about the Manalucie.) I'm actually not a fan of sweet tomatoes, much preferring ones that have an acidic bite, which to me tastes more like tomato than the fruity varieties popular among tomato fanciers. I've realized, though, that while the sweet tomato has no place in a traditional tomato sauce for pasta, or on a pizza, or in a salsa, and is just barely acceptable in a tomato sandwich as long as there's a thin slice of onion to balance it, there is one excellent use for them (besides eating out of hand, for which they're just fine), and that's panzanella, the beauty of which I was recently reminded of by a friend. Somehow the sweetness is less cloying here?

I was able to save from the bug enough tomatoes for a lunch of warm panzanella yesterday. I used a dark, seedy multigrain bread (storebought) instead of the usual Italian bread, and it was perfect.

Warm Panzanella

Serves 1 or 2

2 thick slices bread, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large clove garlic, sliced
4 plum tomatoes or 5 large grape tomatoes (or whatever), chopped
4 sprigs fresh basil, torn
2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, stemmed
Large handful of fresh spinach, stemmed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 slices fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Put the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast under the broiler, turning the cubes to toast both sides until well browned. Set aside.

In a sauté pan, cook the oil and garlic over medium heat until the garlic is soft but not browned, about 2 minutes. Raise the heat to high and add the bread cubes, tossing to coat with the oil. Cook, tossing frequently, until the garlic is golden brown, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, and spinach and cook, tossing frequently, until the spinach is wilted and the tomatoes are just heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the mozzarella. Cook, tossing constantly, until the mozzarella is just starting to melt, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.
The other night I had a supper of corn from the Comer farmers' market. It was only $2.50 a dozen, but the ears were very small and exceedingly wormy, and the corn was not very good. Still, with Plugra and salt I'd ground very fine in a mortar (for better sticking) it was a nice meal. The bug and I ate ten ears, just because it was corn. I'm hoping for better as soon as it's available from the farm on Sorrow Patterson Road. That is, I hope the corn I get there this year is as good as it was the first time I got it there last year—subsequent batches were underwhelming.

In other news, but still in the production category, the bug has been helping me with the chicken tractor. Here she is painting one of the door studs or whatever they're called:

I neglected to take any in-progress pictures, but you can see it in the upper right corner here. Damn thing is all lopsided and out of alignment (to put it mildly; I realized too late that I was building it on a slight incline), and in its almost-finished form it is extremely heavy, but I think it'll work okay. I still have to put wheels on (no way can it be moved without wheels) and do a little bit more futzing, then I'll finally be ready to think about actual chickens. (Honestly, I've been more excited about building the coop than having chickens to put in it. I mostly think of them as fertilizers so I can have a decent garden next year. For good corn.)