Schmaltzburger!

May is Burger Month, and I signed on with the amazing Kita Roberts and a bunch of other burger lovers at Girlcarnivore.com to create a burger that would celebrate the ultimate realization of the whole meat-between-bread epiphany brought to us initially by the 4th Earl of Sandwich.

burger month bug

I’m not gonna lie: I agonized over the burger. What meat should I use? Did I even need to use meat? What, specifically, constitutes a burger as opposed to a sandwich or a patty?

The Unit was clear: a burger is beef, ground, between two bread vehicles. Without bread, it’s just a patty. Cheese is a must, condiments are optional. Too many additions and the burger is un-bitable and therefore useless as a burger. I argued: but what about a lamb burger? OK, he said. A lamb burger is a burger, but only if it’s on a bun. If it’s on a pita, the pita falls apart and therefore useless as a burger. I persisted: if lamb is acceptable, then surely other ground meats are OK, too. Like Bison? Bison is OK, he said. Or pork? Pork can work, he said. Or chicken? No. No. No, he said. Chicken between bread is a chicken sandwich, which is a fine thing, but NOT A BURGER.

That clinched it for me. I needed to make a chicken burger, and I needed to focus on the most delicious parts of any chicken: the crispy skin and the delicious puddles of rendered fat at the bottom of any pan of well-cooked bird.

World, meet schmaltzburger.

Burger from above

Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat flavored with onion. Liquid gold. A sea of umami. Delicious on toasted bread, popcorn, vegetables, pasta, and now a burger. Michael Ruhlman wrote an elegant volume devoted to schmaltz. It’s definitely worth a read.

Here’s the run-down of my schmaltzburger:

And here's how you assemble a schmaltzburger.

And here’s how you assemble a schmaltzburger.

  • Bun: I modified this recipe from King Arthur Flour, subbing in chicken fat for the butter. Split, and grilled on cast iron in schmaltz.
  • Chicken Bacon: I saved the skin from the thighs and crisped it in a 400°F oven, pressed between two parchment-lined baking sheets for 15-20 minutes. While still warm, I seasoned the skin with chicken salt (made from dehydrating equal parts by weight of rich chicken stock and kosher salt…it’s essentially a chicken ramen seasoning packet without all the dodgy stuff. Delicious on anything!!)
  • Dill pickles and red onions: Should I have made my own pickles? Yeah, probably. Were these Vlasic dill chips pretty good anyway? Yeah, definitely. Onion sliced Audrey-Hepburn-thin.
  • Schmaltz aioli: Standard aioli recipe, but replacing half the olive oil with schmaltz.
  • Smashed chicken patty with Swiss cheese: Chicken thigh meat, ground, with some pork fat. I used a 5:1 ratio of chicken to pork, but my thighs were very lean (I had removed all the skin and fat for “bacon” and rendering for schmaltz). After some Goldilocks-ing, I settled on grinding about 60% of the meat with the coarse KitchenAid plate, and the remaining 40% with the fine plate. This gave the burger some good sized pieces of meat to bite into, but not so coarse that it felt like a sausage patty. The Swiss cheese held its own against the garlic-y aioli, but I imagine a sharp cheddar or provolone would work well, too.
  • Green & tomatoes: Standard. Although, the Unit was very particular about the tomato: only one slice! Considering the man has developed an entire constructivist ontology on the Platonic form of the Baconator, I feel I have little room to argue with him.
  • More aioli: Because, yeah.

All these things being said, one could go in many different directions. How about a schmear of chicken liver pate, a fish sauce aioli, and some pickled vegetables for a riff on a banh mi? Or, the liver, a fried egg, and garnished with a skewered yakitori-style chicken heart as an homage to Salvation Burger’s whole animal burger? And I’d be fine with just a bunch of smashed avocado and a digestively-distressing mound of jalapeños.

However, don’t skip the chicken skin “bacon” and the chicken salt. Or, if you don’t want that on your burger, just eat the chicken-salted-chicken skin accompanied by a super-cold martini.

Addictive: crispy chicken skin "bacon"

Addictive: crispy chicken skin “bacon”

Chicken salt" sounds weird, tastes great.

Chicken salt: sounds weird, tastes great.

I love a dry rosé with fried chicken, and this one did not disappoint with the schmaltzburger. The Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris blends grenache gris, grenache noir, carignan, and small amounts of cinsault and mourvedre. Red-fruit aromas of strawberry and cherry mingle with tropical fruit. Lots more fruit on the palate, along with minerality and a floral nuance. It stood up to the assertive flavors of the aioli, and the bone dry acidity parried nicely with the fat from the chicken skin and brioche. At about $17 at Bottles, it was a steal.

We drank this lovely thing.

We drank this lovely thing.

 

While the Schmaltzburger is my creation for #burgermonth2017, I would love to thank American Lamb Board, Analon, Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner, Char-Broil, Curly’s BBQ, Cuttingboard.com, Melissa’s Produce, Primal Stone, Spiceologist, Thermoworks, and Veal Made Easy for the sweet Grill Prize Packages!

This post is a part of the #burgermonth celebration happening all month long at Girlcarnivore.com and across the interwebs with 100 food folks who are much more talented and creative than I am. Check them all out!!

Need some burger-loving tunes? I am seriously crushing on the tongue in cheek 80s vibe of DREAMCAR’s Kill for Candy. Lots of AFI and No Doubt alums in this one, and the clichéd synths could be A Flock of Seagulls or The Human League. So fun!

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Orphan Peeps and Pineapples

Perhaps no other item announces spring more sweetly than the Peep. These wee marshmallow chicks, bedecked in crunchy technicolor sugar, hold a special power over our collective consciousness from mid-February until late April. Those beady eyes and tiny beaks slay me. And, let’s face it: post-Easter-half-price Peeps are perhaps even more wonderful as the Peeps that arrive in stores on February 15th.

My friend Peter delights in stale Peeps. He’ll open a package in March, stow it on top of the fridge and retrieve it a couple of weeks later when the chicks have developed a hearty chew only possible through partial dehydration. Peter likes Peep jerky.

However, no one I know has demonstrated such Peep devotion as my friend Rebecca, who held a Peep party this year! She created cocktails, Rice Kris-Peep treats, fruit brochettes, and much, much more out of these fluffy nuggets. But once the party was over, Rebecca was D-O-N-E with Peeps. I mean, she was Peep-ed out. Therefore, she kindly offered me the remaining stash for an orphan project. Of course, I jumped at the chance.

Heaps o'Peeps!

Heaps o’Peeps!

I, obviously, have not followed Peep evolution closely enough, because I was flabbergasted by the variety of Peeps available in our modern world. We have progressed far beyond the yellow and pink of years past into a staggering wealth of options. Chicks, bunnies, eggs. Chocolate-coated, white chocolate-coated. Vanilla, blueberry, strawberry, fruit punch. FRUIT PUNCH PEEPS. Ponder that for a moment when people claim that creativity is dead.

Since Rebecca had already gone explored the Peeps-krispy treat, I decided to incorporate some vanilla-flavored Peeps in a version of Momofuku Milk Bar’s Compost Cookie. I theorized that the potato chips and pretzels in the cookie would provide enough salt to stand up to the overwhelming sweetness of the Peep. I neglected to consider, however, that the marshmallow would make the dough extra-spread-y. Thanks to gooey Peeps, I ended up with two giant cookies instead of eight regular-sized cookies. I separated them as best I could during the cooling process, but these cookies were definitely amoeba-shaped, rather than cookie-shaped. I also overbaked them, rendering them crunchier than I had hoped. Still edible, but more akin to granola than cookie. I give myself an A- for concept and a C- for execution!

Two giant compost cookie columns. I'll pay more attention to spacing next time. Oops.

Two giant compost cookie columns. I’ll pay more attention to spacing next time. Oops.

 

Then, my two most stalwart orphan donors, Monika and Jenni, gifted me with two perfectly ripe pineapples and two adorable wedges of honey-sea salt cheese. I made jam with one of pineapples and sorbet with the other. These cheese was begging to become a scone, and walnuts seemed like a good match for the slightly sweet saltiness of the cheese. These scones go really well with the jam, which is a nice bonus.

Two gorgeously ripe pineapples and delicious wedges of cheese flavored with honey and sea salt.

Two gorgeously ripe pineapples and delicious wedges of cheese flavored with honey and sea salt.

Walnut & cheese scones.

Walnut & cheese scones.

Layers.

Layers.

Pineapple jam.

Pineapple jam.

Pineapple sorbet.

Pineapple sorbet.

Thank you, Rebecca, Jenni, and Monika for playing along! I had so much fun!

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And here was my ear candy for the cooking session:

I’ve been digging this new track from The Cold War Kids a lot lately. I really love the walloping piano, Nathan Willett’s ecstatic vocal delivery, and the concept of love’s inexplicable nature. Frankly, I’m always a little puzzled about why we love one another. I get why we’re physically (or intellectually or emotionally) attracted to one another, but that’s only a shadow of what love really is. The thing that binds us to one another even when times get ugly or boring or supremely un-fun? That’s what tough to figure out.

Holler at me if you’ve got the answer.

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More Orphans!

Friends, we’re back with episode two of the Orphan Food Challenge! Once again, Monika and Jenni came through with a trio of fantastic ingredients fully ripe for a gustatory makeover.

Treasure trove! Chicken ramen, yummy cheese, and a luxurious bottle of balsamic vinegar.

Treasure trove! Chicken ramen, yummy cheese, and a luxurious bottle of balsamic vinegar.

I may have squee-ed out loud when I saw these lovely items. Ramen is an ur-food for so many of us: the flavor memories run deep. I used to know someone who would break up the noodle brick and eat the shards without cooking them, claiming they tasted like potato chips. Okay: it was me. I used to do that. What?! Don’t judge. They’re delicious.

The cheese had a mild, nutty flavor with very little sharpness and good meltability. And that vinegar? Don’t get me started. It took every amount of impulse control I have (not much, see previous paragraph about raw ramen noodles) to abstain from drinking it straight. So unctuous and syrup-y!

Here’s what happened:

Tortilla with eggs, potatoes, asparagus, smoked paprika and the orphan cheese. A little cilantro mojo on top.

Tortilla with eggs, potatoes, asparagus, smoked paprika and the orphan cheese. A little cilantro mojo on top.

The cheese joined a few waxy potatoes, some chopped asparagus, a good dash of smoked paprika and a half dozen eggs in a Spanish tortilla. I plopped some cilantro mojo on top because I seem to be doing that with everything these days.

Noodle salad with peanut dressing, on top of baby spinach.

Noodle salad with peanut dressing, on top of baby spinach.

I riffed on a Thai noodle salad with peanut sauce for the ramen noodles. Peanut butter, soy, sriracha, rice wine vinegar, and a smidge of water create a completely unauthentic dressing for the bouncy noodles. I served this on top of lightly dressed baby spinach leaves, because it felt weird not to have a serving of vegetables in something I called a salad.

Sad, damaged cake. Not winning any beauty contests, but pretty tasty!

Sad, damaged cake. Not winning any beauty contests, but pretty tasty!

In what I hoped would be a complete triumph, I made a tiny (vegan!) chocolate cake with a shiny chocolate-balsamic glaze. The technique for vegan baking (vinegar + baking soda to achieve the rise) has lately intrigued me, and this cake baked nicely. However, when transferring this tiny cake into its tiny box, I crushed the edge. Dilemma: (A) present the ugly cake anyway or (B) eat it all myself and try to create a prettier one? I chose (A) this time. No promises for the future, though.

And here’s the bonus:

What I tell you now isn’t pretty, but since you already know about my raw-ramen-eating past, I feel like we’re in a relationship and ready to be honest with one another. Do this: take the seasoning packet from the ramen. Add it to a container of sour cream. Don’t use a separate bowl, just stir it right into the cheapest sour cream you  can find. Presto: the most delicious potato chip dip on the planet. Extra delicious if you happen to be hung over, not that I would know anything about that.

Full disclosure: I didn’t photograph this and I certainly didn’t share this. Sorry, J&M!

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Ear candy: I listened to the new Aimee Mann album, Mental Illness, while cooking. Y’all, this is a painfully beautiful set of songs. I’ve been mulling on the nature of cravings, caprice, and gratitude lately; these songs made me think of these things in different ways, which is precisely what we should demand from art. I implore you to listen to them all, but “Patient Zero” struck me particularly:

Life is grand / And wouldn’t you like to have it go as planned?

I’m ready for a new challenge! Who’s in?

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The Orphan Food Challenge

I love snow day cooking. I love the way the oven heats up our chilly house and the complete lack of guilt I feel over putterring in the kitchen on a weekday afternoon during which I would normally be in the office or at the gym. After all, if there’s a freaking foot of snow on the ground, I refuse to bow to society’s expectations of either my productivity or my ass size.

During a February snow storm that paralyzed most of Providence, I rummaged through the cabinets and fridge in search of inspiration. I found an embarrassing number of opened bottles of hot sauce, some of which I probably cracked a quarter decade ago. I ended up using a good bit of them to make sweet & spicy popcorn, slathering popped kernels with a hot sauce caramel and baking in the oven until crisp. On first bite, it presented as sweet, but then the heat hit on the finish. It was darn tasty with a Negroni (me) and a martini (The Unit), but I think it would really sing with some bubbles: maybe a Crémant d’Alsace or a Prosecco.

Sweet & spicy popcorn.

Sweet & spicy popcorn.

 

Coincidentally, a day or so later, Jenni and Monika presented me with a bag of cheese orphans from their fridge: adorable packages of bleu, havarti, and a citrus-ginger fontina that J & M feared would go bad. I knew with a little foster-cooking, these cheesy foundlings could make someone happy. As I cooked, I had the idea that we all have odd, unused things in our fridges and pantries. Why not try to put them to good use?

And thus the Orphan Food Challenge was born.

The Facebook post that started it all.

The Facebook post that started it all.

 

Once the call went out, Monika and Jenni again responded with a wee, unopened jar of chili paste. The inspiration for the paste’s makeover hit me while grocery shopping: I saw tiny bags of flavored, roasted chickpeas for $6 a piece. That’s highway robbery! My red chili roasted chickpeas came in at just $1 for twice the amount of chickpeas, not including the jar of chili paste (and there’s still 2/3 jar left, so: still a bargain).

Thank you, Monika and Jenni for playing along!

Thank you, Monika and Jenni for playing along!

 

Red Chili roasted chickpeas.

Red Chili roasted chickpeas.

Maddy, another early adopter of the challenge, presented me with a tin of spicy squid and a can of hearts of palm. These proved a little more difficult than the chili paste because cans can do horrible things to food, most notably making the food taste like cans. The squid was particularly aromatic, so I braised it in white wine and garlic before adding it to a stew with confit-ed pork belly, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, and herbs. I even threw a few homemade sourdough croutons on top.

We have Maddy to thank for these ingredients!

We have Maddy to thank for these ingredients!

Squid & pork belly stew.

Squid & pork belly stew.

The hearts of palm went into an agrodolce salad with roasted red peppers, pine nuts, golden raisins, picked shallots, capers, and a healthy dose of sherry vinegar. I love how the hearts of palm almost look like squid rings.

Hearts of palm salad.

Hearts of palm salad.

I’m looking for the next challenge, so scour your pantry and hit me up and I’ll try to make you something delicious!

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And, speaking of delicious, please check out the new album from The Old 97’s, perhaps my favorite Texas band ever. The video for the lead single “Good with God,” is hilarious, featuring Jenna Fischer and Fred Armisen, and the gloriously gorgeous vocals of Brandi Carlisle.

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A Memory of my Big Brother

How did I land here?

I ask myself this question almost every time I hang around my crazymessydelighfulloving family. How did I end up among this truly stellar, undeniably awesome, generally hilarious, and always big-hearted crew? If you are reading this, you probably know me and my cranky ways and therefore reasonably may ask the same question. It is surely one of God’s miracles that I managed to attach myself as the caboose of this family considering (a) they had an excellent train to begin with and thus no need of another rail car and (b) I’ve got a couple of ill-fitting, wobbly wheels from another manufacturer so I’m often messing up the works of the rest of the train.

How did I land here?

The question had even more weight last week at my eldest brother Mike’s funeral. Surrounded by people who reflected the enormous love my brother radiated—love so massive even death couldn’t shut it down—I didn’t know whether to curse God for taking my brother so damn early or rejoice because I had been so blessed to know him at all. I still haven’t figured it out.

Cousins in the snow. Mike is the tall one.

Cousins in the snow. Mike is the tall one.

Mike graduated high school and moved away the year I was born, so as a kid I only knew my brother from the photographic evidence left behind: faded black and white Kodak prints of a bundled cherub, often in a group of equally bundled and equally cherubic cousins, playing in the New Hampshire snow; his high school yearbook, which chronicled his prowess as an athlete and a scholar; and one washed out Polaroid of him looking over me at my baptism, his serious visage bespeaking his trepidation about yet another sister and his role as godfather.

My christening, in which my godmother dotes and my brother/godfather looks as if we wants to hurl.

My christening, in which my godmother dotes and my brother/godfather looks as if we wants to hurl.

Because of college and his service in the Air Force, I didn’t really get acquainted with my brother until nine years later, when he brought his bride-to-be to meet our family. Mike and Janice were the most glamorous people I had ever known: young, good looking, well-traveled, and in possession of a sports car with red leather interior. In what is surely one of the most positive influential experiences of my young life, Janice would let me shift the manual transmission of this sporty beast from the passenger seat as she drove and pressed the clutch. What a thrill!

I can’t separate my love for Mike from my love for Janice, and by extension, their glorious children, and now the generous spouses and shining personalities of their children’s children. So, while I feel sad and angry at my brother’s death, I also recognize how profoundly and palpably his love is still present. Here’s one thing I will miss, though: every time I saw or talked to my brother, he would end the conversation with, “Love ya, buddy.”  In person, he always added a hug, a kiss, and probably another hug.

awkward-family

This family, y’all! Their Easter/4th of July photo from 20 years ago was featured as being awesomely awkward.

 

When I was 13, I was babysitting Mike and Janice’s eldest daughter, Meagan, then an infant. It was a Saturday night in the spring of 1979 and I counted on them getting home early so I could catch a new movie called “Roller Boogie,” starring Linda Blair and Jim Bray. I really wanted to see “Roller Boogie.”

Admit it, after watching this trailer you kinda want to see it, too.

Unfortunately for my temperament at the time (but with great fortune for my aesthetic development), Mike and Janice arrived home too late for me to make the movie (NB: I never actually saw it, but I understand it lives in its entirety on YouTube, so I guess there’s still time for me). When they came through the door, well past 10 PM, I was watching Saturday Night Live with arms crossed tight around my chest and my foot tapping very judgily in a Church Lady type of way.

“I missed ‘Roller Boogie’!” I whined.

“’Roller Boogie’?” Mike asked.  “Why do you care about ‘Roller Boogie’ when Rickie Lee Jones is singing? She’s amazing!” He pointed at the TV.

Sure enough, that episode of SNL introduced America to the Duchess of Coolsville. I listened with Mike and Janice to Rickie Lee sing about some guy named Chuck E, and eventually I, too, fell in love with her weird cadence and her limp beret.

The song is filled with interesting word play and slightly uncomfortable timing. The truly tasty drum fill at 1:59 comes, as I am schooled by The Unit, from Steve Gadd, a drummer’s drummer if ever there was one. As a whole, this song still sounds fresh and innovative thirty-eight years later.

A lot like my brother’s love, which will continue to inspire and comfort for the rest of my life.

Mike, to me, you’ve always had this kind of cool and inspired sorta jazz when you walk.

Love ya, buddy.

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Semaphore and Gibberish

We’re at the second to the last vegetable box for the season which almost prompts me to ask, “where has the time gone?” However, I’ve spent almost every post bemoaning my own procrastination and sluggishness, and I know, on my rarely-used rational level, that to ask such a question would be dishonest and foolish. So: we’re at the second to the last vegetable box for the season, full stop.

And let’s get right to it:

It was an autumnal affair, replete with gourds and tubers and apples and fungi.

Herbs, chard, kohlrabi, squash, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and apples.

Herbs, chard, kohlrabi, squash, sweet potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, and apples.

In the midst of cleaning out the pantry, I found a bag of sorghum grains and attempted to concoct a grain salad with the sorghum, roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli, some sesame and sunflower seeds, and a miso vinaigrette. It was a C- dish at best. Sorghum’s funny; it never achieves the nutty chewiness that farro does and although I like the flavor, the texture’s a bit of a miss for me. Still, I took it to the gym in the hopes of pawning it off on hungry athletes.

Sorghum salad with roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli, toasted seeds, and a miso vinaigrette. Not wonderfully delicious, I must admit.

Sorghum salad with roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli, toasted seeds, and a miso vinaigrette. Not wonderfully delicious, I must admit.

The chard and squash went into breakfast burritos.

Breakfast burritos: roasted squash, sauteed chard, eggs, and cheese.

Breakfast burritos: roasted squash, sauteed chard, eggs, and cheese.

I sauteed the cabbage and mushrooms as a bed for a perfectly fried egg (I love a crispy edge on a sunny side up egg, but I know that’s considered UGH by egg experts).

Sauteed cabbage and mushrooms, under a perfectly runny egg and a moderate (for me) amount of hot sauce.

Sauteed cabbage and mushrooms, under a perfectly runny egg and a moderate (for me) amount of hot sauce.

I chopped the herbs finely and whizzed them into a good amount of butter and roasted garlic. I’ll pop this in the freezer and hack off bits in the future to use on roasted chicken or vegetables.

Herb butter with roasted garlic.

Herb butter with roasted garlic.

And the apples went into a deliciously moist and boozy cake.

Bourbon apple cake.

Bourbon apple cake.

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Now, about the title of this post: when I started this blog a gazillion years ago, I planned to call it “Semaphore and Gibberish,” referencing the lyrics of Elvis Costello’s “Pidgin English” from his aesthetic tour de force (and my favorite album of all time) Imperial Bedroom. I remember, upon first hearing the song, that I had to look up “sempahore” in the dictionary (and since it was the 1980s dark ages, I had to flip ACTUAL PAGES in a ginormous and faintly odorous book). It was one of many words my relationship with Costello taught me. Ultimately, I decided to title this heap of rubbish with just my name: a wise decision in retrospect because, while I have certainly filled these posts with gibberish over the years, it hasn’t been of the quality to merit an EC-derived moniker.

Fast forward to last week, when I saw the man himself live at the Orpheum in Boston, performing Imperial Bedroom (and Other Chambers). Apologies to those of you who encountered me in the 48 hours after the show; I’m pretty sure I was insufferable in my post-concert giddiness. Suffice it to say that thirty years after I first fell in love with Imperial Bedroom, I now have even more appreciation for the verbal gymnastics and the dizzying perfection of the musicianship. It seems silly, at my age, to have such devotion to one aesthetic statement, but when one looks at the primary artistic influences on my life, it makes a bit more sense.

Jamie's artistic and intellectual influences.

Jamie’s artistic and intellectual influences.

 

Here’s the song in discussion. Happy listening!

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Wasting Moments

In keeping with my theme of produce procrastination, I have two boxes to report on. Rest easy: I have no grand emotional scrimmages to agonize over, nor any lightning bolt revelations about BIG and IMPORTANT things. Just food: the glorious bounty of that time when fall shingles over summer in New England.

The first box:

Kale, mint, fennel, butternut squash, onions, radishes, a trio of zucchini, and a tumble of crisp apples.

Kale, mint, fennel, butternut squash, onions, radishes, an enormous melon, a trio of zucchini, and a tumble of crisp apples.

The apples became undocumented apple butter, which then became a filling for a dozen or so undocumented brioche-y donuts. The radishes garnished an undocumented tray of waffle nachos (yes: you read that correctly). The melon went into an undocumented fruit salad. Sensing a trend here?

I let the onion and fennel spend a nice long time in a pan with some butter getting brown and sticky together. Then, they joined that bunch of kale, some fontina cheese, and a potent amount of hot pepperoncini in a stromboli that served as post-workout snacks at the gym.

Is it a stromboli or a mummy?

Is it a stromboli or a mummy?

Stromboli, filled with caramelized fennel and onion, kale, fontina, and hot pepperoncini.

Stromboli, filled with caramelized fennel and onion, kale, fontina, and hot pepperoncini.

The squash became soup, aided by Thai red curry paste, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, and coconut milk.

Butternut squash soup with Thai red curry.

Butternut squash soup with Thai red curry.

The zucchini I roasted, along with some tomatoes, and added to a salad of couscous, feta cheese, and the mint. I slathered this with the tahini dressing that I use to make all things delicious. This, also, got foisted on the gym family.

Coucous salad with roasted zucchini, tomato, mint, feta, and a tahini dressing.

Couscous salad with roasted zucchini, tomato, mint, feta, and a tahini dressing.

 

The second box:

Purple, red, and green peppers; cilantro, lettuce, cabbage, mushrooms, turnips, and romano beans, in orbit around an eyeball-ish li'l loupe melon.

Purple, red, and green peppers; cilantro, lettuce, cabbage, mushrooms, turnips, and romano beans, in orbit around an eyeball-ish li’l loupe melon.

In a rare bit of efficiency, many of these lovely vegetables went into a soup pot.

Chicken and vegetable soup with cilantro mojo. A tiny slice of bread and an obscenely large hunk of Twig Farm washed rind on the side.

Chicken and vegetable soup with cilantro mojo. A tiny slice of bread and an obscenely large hunk of Twig Farm washed rind on the side.

The cilantro mojo has become my favorite condiment. Bright and sharp with garlic and sherry vinegar, this green stuff enhances anything that needs a little kick (it would even be good on a spoon, not that I would know anything about that).

Before I go on, let’s chat a bit about that cheese and that bread. I have struggled for the last six months or so to produce a good sourdough loaf. I clung to the notion that I could accomplish this using a no-knead method for the bread. WRONG. I was horribly, horribly wrong. I finally had to give in and pursue a relatively fussy method of using three different types of flour and building a levain and an autolyse and then babysitting the bloody thing with turns every thirty minutes and then sticking it in the fridge overnight and on and on and on. But…BUT, I finally achieved a beautiful loaf with a gorgeous open crumb and a fantastically delicious flavor. I mean, look at this:

Hello, lover!

Gorgeous, but kind of a pain in the ass.

The cheese is from Twig Farm in West Cornwall, VT. I’ve written of my love for Michael and Emily’s cheeses before (here and here), and it continues, unabated. Please, go get this cheese. It is quite frankly, some of the finest cheese I’ve ever eaten produced by really nice people. Win-win, right?

Twig Farm triplet: square, tomme, and washed rind.

Twig Farm triplet: square, tomme, and washed rind.

This wine was a delicious accompaniment. The Unit is not much of a Beaujolais fan, but I was in need of a Gamay intervention, so I frankly didn’t ask his opinion.

I love a Brouilly. This one exhibited a delightful perfume of blueberries, cherries, raspberries and currants.

I love a Brouilly. This one exhibited a delightful perfume of blueberries, cherries, raspberries and currants.

The peppers became a piperade, heavily spiced with pimente d’esplette. I bucked tradition by putting it under, rather than on top of, my egg, because I’m a rebel that way. I also completely overcooked the egg, because I’m an idiot that way. I ate the overcooked egg anyway, because I’m hungry that way.

Overcooked egg atop piperade.

Overcooked egg atop piperade.

 

The mushrooms lent their umami-ness to some mega-chain-style lettuce wraps for the gym-fam.

PF Changs-ish lettuce wraps with chicken and mushrooms.

PF Changs-ish lettuce wraps with chicken and mushrooms.

 

I was feeling kind of bad about all the procrastination, but then I listened to the first track off the new Kings of Leon album, “Waste a Moment,” which encourages me, in a very shiny and over-produced way (but still featuring Caleb Followill’s amazing caterwaul), to not worry about it too much. Plus: they name-check Waco, Texas. Officially exonerated, y’all.

 

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Meet Elvis.

See these people? These sweaty, wonderful, generous people?

wonderful-people

This is my GRIT team. My gym family. The people who put up with my truly juvenile humor, my aging and creaky bones, and my often tenuous grasp on choreography. The people who show up, day after day, willing to get breathless and battered. It takes a delicious sort of craziness to do what they do.

The fact that these people give 100% in the gym isn’t the point. They are all overly generous in every aspect of their lives. They look out for one another: babysitting, family needs, shoulders to cry on (and professional veterinary advice) when your cat is sick. That’s what kicks me in the gut. They’re this good all the time. And when people this good not only tolerate me but also are unabashedly wonderful to me, I  think maybe I don’t suck as a human being quite as much as I’ve convinced myself I do.

Thanks to this magnanimously zany group, I have a new mixer: a sexy stainless KitchenAid* to replace my 28-year old model that has served me well but certainly deserves retirement at this point. I won’t go in to how I turned into a gloopy puddle of mush upon receipt of this glorious machine, but know this: the white-knuckled relationship my middle-aged face has with gravity lately? Gravity totally won.

(*As if the KA didn’t blow me away enough, said mixer had in its company lots of gift cards for food and drinks at delightful places. Oberlin, watch out.)

#mixerselfies Thank you, Melissa Rector, for snapping these!

#mixerselfies Thank you, Melissa Rector, for snapping these!

Last Saturday, we held a naming ceremony for this intoxicating device with a small party at the house. We cast votes based on the four sexiest beings (real and fictional) I know.

name-me

voting

The winner, by a wafer-thin margin:

elvis

 

World: Meet Elvis. Like his namesake, whose intricate and arcane lyrics have challenged me emotionally and intellectually, I feel certain that this Elvis will enhance my culinary acumen (or at least my aspirations) beyond belief.

mixer

To my dear gym family, my draw to Elvis has always been his cynicism, bitterness, and extensive vocabulary (traits I try to embody myself!!), but for you, I dedicate this sweet and hopeful song, not written by Elvis, but brilliantly performed by him. Elvis could find the peace, love, and understanding he’s looking for in our sweaty little rooms!

xoxoxo

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Ever Since I Gave Up Hope I’ve Been Feeling So Much Better

I’ve contemplated (and complained, because I’m a complainer) quite a bit lately on failure, and how it plays such a constant and ever-growing role in my life. Wah, wah, wah. Grumble, grumble.

But then today, I read an interview with Andrew Bird on the KXT website*, and then I remembered that Andrew Bird is coming to the Columbus Theater in Providence on October 15 (which is a delightful venue and if you have never been there you most certainly should go), and I also remembered that I never really gave his latest album a nuanced listen. Wouldn’t today be a great day to do that? Couldn’t I NOT FAIL at that?

*KXT, based in Dallas, is, hands down, the best radio station ever: listener-supported, giddily-eclectic, and not so far down at the end of the dial that you feel weird listening to it.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love Andrew Bird: the ectomorphic precision of his music, the literary introversion of his lyrics, and how he uses a violin, a gramophone, and (of course) his own whistling to reach straight into my spleen and MAKE ME FEEL. His music is good stuff.

Andrew Bird, Are You Serious

Andrew Bird, Are You Serious

The latest record, Are you Serious (no question mark), rocks harder than those of the past. I think Stacey Anderson at Pitchfork nails it: “It’s deceptively straightforward at first, unfolding genially as more guitar-driven rock than he’s attempted before, almost a sidestep of ambition with freewheeling frayed ends. But it’s still got all of Bird’s standby elements—the esoteric wordplay, the many stratas of strings—subtly edited into economy.”

My favorite track this time through is “The New Saint Jude,” and although it reminds me of Graceland-era Paul Simon with its Soweto-influenced pep (something of which I am generally dubious…yes, I’m talking to you, Vampire Weekend), I am besotted with the lyrics:

So here’s a mighty revelation
That’s sure to cure what ails ya
That everyone’s just a disappointment
And everyone’s a failure

And the delightful chorus: “And ever since I gave up hope I’ve been feeling so much better.”

Thank you, Andrew Bird, for providing me some cover for my abysmal performance with the vegetable box this week.

Baby bok choy, potatoes, mushrooms lettuce, a good quarter of the color wheel in peppers, leeks and broccoli.

Baby bok choy, dill, potatoes, mushrooms lettuce, a good quarter of the color wheel in peppers, leeks and broccoli.

I admit right off the bat that I didn’t use the mushrooms soon enough and they turned into a slimy, soggy, shameful mess (FAIL). I also made fried rice with the bok choy and broccoli and pizza with the roasted peppers and potatoes that I delivered to my gym family without taking pictures (FAIL). Gym peeps, back me up on this, K?

Steamy blistered peppers.

Steamy blistered peppers.

Here’s what else happened:

Pork schnitzel with creamy leek sauce.

Pork schnitzel with creamy leek sauce.

Tender buttered potatoes with dill and flaky sea salt.

Tender buttered potatoes with dill and flaky sea salt.

Some of the peppers made it into a hearty dish of migas: stale tortillas, homemade bacon, onions, and peppers, scrambled up with eggs, and slathered with cheese, avocado, hot sauce, and sour cream.

Migas, with a decadent dollop of sour cream. Delicious even without a hangover.

Migas, with a decadent dollop of sour cream. Delicious even without a hangover.

We countered the artery-clogging nature of the migas with the artery-clearing properties of a hand-harvested red wine from Ballard Canyon’s Saarloos and Sons. Saarloos names all of their wines after members of the family; this one was Big Brother. It was an in-your-face grenache, but not a fruit bomb. This wine is very well-balanced: in addition to the cherry and red fruit one generally associates with warm climate grenache, there was a good amount of cedar and herbs on the nose and palate. The bottle is also really cool. I mean: look at that bike.

A muscular 100% grenache from Saarloos Sons: the big brother. Please visit their tasting room if you are ever in Los Olivos.

A muscular 100% grenache from Saarloos and Sons: the big brother. Please visit their tasting room if you are ever in Los Olivos.

I also finally made it to Bucktown, the new (tiny) place on the West Side that serves Southern specialties. When you go, do not miss the fried green tomatoes (shatteringly crispy and not mushy at all!) or the collard greens (again, not mushy, and well seasoned with bacon). If you are lucky, as I was, this very friendly neighborhood cat may come visit you!

Kitty action shot!

Kitty action shot!

The kitty definitely wins the post. For me, I’ll continue to contemplate my failure and listen to Andrew Bird.

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Cerebral Tapas

Catching up (again) with two boxes on which to report. Frankly, I delayed posting on the penultimate box because I had neither a culinary, literary, nor emotional trope to conjoin the produce with the workings of my head. I’m in the same boat with the latest box, but at this point I’m burning daylight (how’s that for mixing metaphors?), so I’ll just take some good advice from Yoda.

What follows are random thoughts and random cooking projects with no distinct connection to one another. They are, in essence, small plates from my brain and my kitchen. And as with most tapas, I fear they are, both individually and collectively, profoundly unsatisfying. Maybe a glass or three of sherry would help.

First the food.

The second-to-the-last box:

Cabbage, onion, corn, tomatillos, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, and thyme.

Cabbage, onion, corn, tomatillos, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, and thyme.

Here’s what happened:

Cheater's porchetta: pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon with young garlic and thyme.

Cheater’s porchetta: pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon with young garlic and thyme.

Zucchini gratin: lots of bechamel and gruyere renders this vegetable considerably less healthy.

Zucchini gratin: lots of bechamel and gruyere renders this vegetable considerably less healthy.

Lamb leg stuffed with garlic and thyme.

Lamb leg stuffed with garlic and thyme.

Gym-bound stack o'burritos with a tiny jar of mummy-like sauerkraut fermenting in the background.

Gym-bound stack o’burritos with a tiny jar of mummy-like sauerkraut fermenting in the background. I did not share the sauerkraut.

Squash, corn, and bean burrito with tomatillo salsa.

Squash, corn, and bean burrito with tomatillo salsa.

Flaky biscuits and tomato butter.

Flaky biscuits and tomato butter.

 

Also, during this time, The Unit had a birthday, so although this tiny plum galette has no relation to the box, I’m posting because I am hideously proud of this pastry.

Pastry glamour shot: plum galette.

Pastry glamour shot: plum galette.

 

The more recent box resembled a box of crayons in its vividness.

ROY G BIV was here: Ground cherries, chard, tomatoes, celery, carrots, squash, slender eggplants, and a cantaloupe.

ROY G BIV was here: Ground cherries, chard, tomatoes, celery, carrots, squash, slender eggplants, and a cantaloupe.

And then this happened:

Fish tacos with ground cherry salsa and lime crema.

Fish tacos with ground cherry salsa and lime crema.

A duo of pizzas for my gym family:

Fluorescent yellow squash pizza.

Fluorescent yellow squash pizza.

Pizza with grilled eggplant, Swiss chard, and fresh mozzerella.

Pizza with grilled eggplant, Swiss chard, and fresh mozzerella.

The carrots and celery started to wilt, so I quickly diced everything up finely and sauteed with an onion to make a mirepoix. I blended it into a paste and froze into cubes. I’ll use these in the coming months to add long-cooked flavor to soups and sauces. They’re extremely ugly, though.

Frozen blended mirepoix, AKA nuggets of deliciousness.

Frozen blended mirepoix, AKA nuggets of deliciousness.

This celery boasted copious leaves which I felt bad about discarding, so I dried the leaves and then ground them with sea salt to create the most gorgeous celery salt. If you need any for hot dogs or Bloody Marys, hit me up.

What to do with celery leaves?

What to do with celery leaves?

Celery salt in beyond-adorable Weck jars.

Celery salt in beyond-adorable Weck jars.

 

We drank some lovely bottles, including five gems from California, an obscure Greek wine, and a spunky Gewurztraminer.

Three beauties from California: SB and Rose from the 2015 vintage at MacLeod and a 2008 Viognier from Kenneth Volk.

Three beauties from California: SB and Rose from the 2015 vintage at MacLeod and a 2008 Viognier from Kenneth Volk.

More yumminess. The Limniona, especially, was surprising: slightly rustic, with loads of fruit and excellent with lamb.

More yumminess. The Limniona, especially, was surprising: slightly rustic, with loads of fruit and excellent with lamb.

 

And now, my head.

I’ve been…well, I wouldn’t exactly call it meditating, but something between pondering and meditating…cerebrating, maybe? (And this makes me really wish Kool & The Gang would reunite and record a tune called “Cerebrate.” Can’t you just hear it? “Cerebrate weird times, come on! / There’s some thinkin’ goin’ on right here / A rumination that’s sure to bring some tears / So bring your weird times and your daydreams, too / We gonna cerebrate your puzzle with you.” What? Too much?)

Anyway, I’ve been cerebrating about failure a lot lately: about the pain and shame associated with falling short, repeatedly and chronically, with the goals that I’ve set for myself. And, it would make sense to feel less shame about hitting the skids with small goals (e.g., tackling sourdough bread) but certainly that’s not the case. In truth, each crappy loaf of bread bothers me more than the crappy—and only—novel I wrote ten years ago.

Further, it seems like everything I read these days tells me to quit being such a whiner and suck it up, Buttercup.

Like this, from The Undefeated Mind:

(We should) stop hoping for easy lives and instead focus on the cultivating the inner strength we need to enjoy the difficult lives we all have.

Or, from Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain:

Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does the most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all.

And from James Uden’s beautiful new book on Juvenal, The Invisible Satirist:

There is no praise of a life in accordance with nature; no promise of freedom from social pressures and restraints by adopting the Cynic lifestyle; no sense of communion with other humans beyond national or ethnic borders. There is only the ability to endure the inevitable sorrows and hardships of modern life….

Which led me to recall this excellent passage from Rob Sheffield’s Turn Around Bright Eyes:

Morrissey: philosopher for our age?

Morrissey: philosopher for our age?

 

Maybe I’m not listening to enough Morrissey, but—switching gears—I’ve been listening a lot of Elvis Costello lately. I saw Costello at the Newport Folk Festival this year; he was wonderful, and that’s not (entirely) abject, slackjaw love talking. I’ve been known to dis his less-than-stellar work (North, anyone?) when called for. However, when I go on a Costello bender, it’s all-out. I’m pretty much, like, “We must follow this bizarre white rabbit and see where we end up.” This time, I landed on 1981’s Trust, a wildly eclectic collection of arguably mixed-quality songs.

This song, “New Lace Sleeves,” is one of the very, very good ones. Generally, I am drawn to Costello for his lyrics (honestly: who’s better?), but this one drew me in with Bruce Thomas’s insistent start-stop bass hook. Then, Pete Thomas’s slightly arrhythmic drum line and Steve Nieve’s playful (and occasionally dissonant) keyboard trills transfixed me. And this is all before I even listened to Costello’s high-tension croon and positively poetic musings about class warfare and morning-after-hookup awkwardness:

The salty lips of the socialite sisters
With their continental fingers that have
Never seen working blisters
Oh I know they’ve got their problems
I wish I was one of them

Wow. That’s some good writing.

Happy listening!!

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