Monday, December 31, 2007
Just to make the point, there was a magnitude 3.6 earthquake in Yellowstone National Park last night, followed by 13 aftershocks. It didn't do any damage, but it was larger than usual.
So tonight, we will have a beef fondue, with cubes of top round dipped in hot oil, then into any of a variety of dips (hollandaise, horseradish sauce, salt and pepper, sweet and sour, soy/lime juice, plus anything that happens to still be in the fridge from the holidays); my husband's favorite addition is a thick-sliced pickled ginger that I make once in a while. Over the years, we have added a bunch of vegetables to accompany to meat; this year, it will be portobella mushrooms, daikon, sunchokes, celeriac, cherry tomatoes, and maybe garlic cloves. I love leeks, but couldn't find any good ones this year; I have also used potatoes and sweet potatoes with success. Actually, any vegetable that looks good at the store seems to work, some cooked and some eaten raw. I'll serve some good bread with it and call it good.
Happy New Year!
Sunday, December 30, 2007
I served it with pork chops (basic preparation) and individual goat cheese souffles from a Martha Stewart recipe (which I can't find on her website); the goat cheese I used was an aged one with some blue threads in it. It made a great combination.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
Now I just need to think of some way to cut the richness so it isn't overwhelming. Maybe a pickled vegetable, or something with lemon, or a green salad with vinegar and oil. Another way would be to do some kind of a red-wine sauce on the meat (although my favorite one has butter in it, which isn't exactly light, either). Probably the red-wine sauce on the meat and a green salad with oil and red-wine vinegar would be best.
It needs a basic starch, like sourdough bread, or just rice to serve under the slices of meat; the rice would be best with a sauce. That gives me something rich, something acidic, and something calm, my preferred balance for a meal. For dessert, I would probably serve one chocolate truffle per person, to go with the big red wine this deserves.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
- Compass Guide Montana, a guide book with literary excerpts and short essays;
- High, Wide, and Handsome, a 1943 history of Montana that is still one of the best general histories about the state;
- Bad Land, an American Romance (fiction), which I don't know anything about;
- The Last Best Place, an anthology of Montanan writing both fiction and nonfiction that serves as a great introduction to Montanan literature; and
- a map.
This Essential Reading is followed by a long list of other books that might be of interest to travelers to Montana: guidebooks, history, cultural portraits, biography, natural history, field guides, science, maps, and literature. It is a good selection; I suspect that I will be acquiring some of these books in the near future, even though I already have a pretty good library of Montana books.
Now I just need to figure out somewhere to travel, so I can justify using this site more!
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Roasted winter veggies
Preheat oven to 350 or 400 degrees. Clean, trim, and cut into bite-size pieces some combination of the following (I used the first four plus shallots):
Rutabagas (sweet, looks like a turnip - very good)
Sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes)
Carrots (big chunks)
Shallots or onions (definitely include some of these)
Garlic - whole cloves
Potatoes (not too many)
Sweet potatoes or yams
Place in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and some herbs (I used savory), and toss with your hands. Place in oven; this will take just under an hour at 400 degrees, over an hour at 350 degrees - the temperature can match your meat, if it is in the oven too. About 20-30 minutes before you pull the veggies out, trim some sweet peppers (I like the little ones that come in a plastic case) and add them to the pan.
Remove the pan from the oven. Cut some goat cheese into small chunks and toss with the veggies. Serve.
Monday, December 24, 2007
To learn more about umami, see this nice collection of articles on Finding Dulcinea. The linked article from the Wall Street Journal is especially helpful.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
To go with steak tonight, I picked out tiny brussel sprouts and oyster mushrooms; I will sautee the mushrooms with shallots I already have, microwave the brussel sprouts, and toss them together before serving. The sprouts and mushrooms led to conversation at the check-out stand, when the young man checking me out asked what I was doing with the oyster mushrooms and how they were different than criminis or shitakes. He likes mushrooms and cooks with them regularly, but hasn't tried oyster mushrooms because they are pricey (and shitakes aren't?). I pointed out that I had enough mushrooms for 6 people, at a cost of $2.50, and enouraged him to try them. When I mentioned that I was going to mix them with the sprouts, we then had a long discussion about not liking brussel sprouts and how to cook them so that they aren't so bitter (microwave in a covered bowl with a little water until they are JUST tender, before the flavor get strong). He sounded game to try them now that he is older; he may never like them, but at least he will have a better idea of what they really should taste like. I can't say that brussel sprouts are my favorite, either - I get them because my husband loves them and they are at their best this time of year - but they aren't bad when they are cooked with mushrooms, shallots, and butter. And they are one of the easier choices this time of year, when I am still missing the summer vegetables.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Inspired by Seasons of Light at the Museum of the Rockies planetarium, we have come up with our own ritual to scare the sun back up into the sky. Every July, we get an extra set of mortars and fountains, which we stash until December 21 comes along and it is dark and cold. We have my sister and her family over, and we set off fireworks in the snow. Fireworks in the winter is a completely different experience than July fireworks, as the lights reflect off the snow. Some years, it is so cold that we use a propane torch to light the fuses and the little ones watch from inside; other years, we can sit comfortably outside and light them without gloves. And it works - every year since we started, the sun has promptly started rising in the sky the next day, making the days longer and, eventually, warmer.
For more information on winter solstice rituals, see
Thursday, December 20, 2007
There was one challenge to overcome first: I had carefully bought three cans of WHOLE green chilis, avoiding all the cans of chopped green chilis on the shelf. But when I opened the cans, they turned out to be full of chopped green chilis. I looked at the labels, thinking I might have made a mistake, but no, they were mislabeled. So my husband and son made a run into town, to a different store, to get more cans of whole green chilis. This was good, because even the larger cans they got didn't really hold enough chilis for all six of us; my son had done his best to figure out how many chilis each can held, but was fooled by the "Approximate servings per can: 5" - it turned out that each can held three large chilis.
Find cans of WHOLE green chilis, two chilis per person (don't trust the label - get an extra can or two); remove any seeds, trying not to tear the chilis. Slice farmer cheese (or Monterey jack, or pepper jack, or something else that melts well), not too thinly; cut some of the slices diagonally to create two long, thin triangles. Stuff each chili with slices of cheese, using the triangles to get down into the points.
Put some flour on a small plate, and mix in a little salt and chili powder. For 4-6 people, beat 2 eggs (or 4 egg whites*, if you made hollandaise recently) and place on another plate.
Heat something to fry with in a skillet; the best is lard, if you have it, but shortening or oil will work. Make sure it is good and hot before moving on. Dip each chili carefully in the eggs, then in the flour to cover. Place the chili in the lard and fry on each side until just turning golden; if you cook it too long, the cheese will melt all over the pan and make a real mess. Serve and eat promptly.
Good with black beans, Mexican rice, or just chips and salsa.
*Egg whites freeze well, at least for this use. I freeze one egg white in each depression of a mini-muffin tin (or an ice tray), then bag them together.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
In looking for something to back this up, I did find reviews of a report that said, among other things, that London is subsiding generally as the land mass of England responds to the unloading of the last ice sheet, with the north tipping up and the south tipping down. The weight changes as tides come and go up the Thames are dramatic enough to change the level of the ground by 10 mm twice a day, and the seasons load the ground differently, so that measuring true subsidence is tough. All this is relevant because the Thames is rising over time, about 1 mm annually, leading to increasing flooding. So even if the lack of local beer doesn't flood London from below, the Thames is likely to take care of the job.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
It must be so frustrating to be in retail anymore. You provide a quality product and good service, spend time to help someone figure out what they need, and then they buy elsewhere to save a few dollars – if they really save anything after shipping. I understand wanting to save money, and internet purchasing is great if you know what you want; but if you need the service, it is only fair to pay for it instead of “stealing” it from the business. It seems wrongheaded to me. And I won’t even get started on supporting the local business community so it is there when you need it!
Monday, December 17, 2007
In 1096, the People's Crusade, the first branch of the Crusade to leave France, made its way into Germany, where the hot-headed among the Crusaders decided to eliminate the Jews before continuing to the Holy Lands. Jews were massacred and temples desecrated in Spier (in spite of being sheltered by a Christian bishop), Worms (where 1000 died), Mainz (where they were protected at first by the archbishop, who later fled; 900+ died), and Wurzburg. In Hungary, Jews were attacked in Trier, Metz, Prague, Ratisbon, and Nitra before the king of Hungary stopped the Jew-killers. Would-be Crusaders in England picked up the idea and massacred Jews in London, York, Stamford, and Norwich; only Winchester Jews were safe.
The killing didn't stop in Europe. When the Crusaders made it to the Holy Lands, they killed Jews even more enthusiastically than they killed Muslims; the Jews in Jerusalem were basically wiped out, in generally upleasant ways. This pattern lasted throughout the Crusades, as far as I can tell, but seldom shows up in the text books.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Plating for a table is actually easier than plating individually, especially if the kitchen you are working in has expansive countertops. You lay out 8 plates, deal out a pork chop to each plate, then get the potato pan and spoon out a portion on each plate, and follow with the pan of apples. In the meantime, the server puts a roll and two pats of butter on the plate, where you indicate. At the last minute, you start putting 4 asparagus and a dollop of hollandaise on each plate, just before the server takes them. In this way, 8 plates can go out in about two minutes, instead of 10 minutes, even if the server takes the time to serve the ladies first. The second table's plates can be put together while the first table is being served, and everyone can eat quickly.
When serving at a family event with young children, it also helps to figure out if there are any special plating instructions - like small portions - before you start putting food on the plates. (But I suppose it is unrealistic to expect young adults to have mommy experience.)
Saturday, December 15, 2007
I called La Chatelaine, which makes very good chocolates, and asked what I had done wrong. The chocolate master wasn't there, but the person I talked to thought that the problem was adding cold cream to the warm chocolate. I then told my sad story to a chef friend, who said, "You broke it. And you can't fix it." All her recipes call for adding the liquids before melting the chocolate, or warming them before adding to the warm chocolate. She also very nicely admitted that she had had the same problem with a batch of chocolate for mousses last week, which made me feel a little better.
While I was talking to real people, my technocentric son hopped on the computer and found this advice on the internet: "Be extremely careful not to get any water (not even a drop) into the chocolate. Water will turn the chocolate into a grainy, lumpy mess. If this happens, you can add a little vegetable oil in order to make it smooth again, but this will affect the flavor. What if your recipe calls for melting chocolate along with water or some other type of liquid? That's fine, as long as the liquid is mixed with the chocolate from the beginning of the melting process, it won't get grainy on you, (but adding even a drop in mid-melting will cause this problem)." Which makes sense of what I was hearing. (For more on what happens when you melt chocolate, see this Cooking for Engineers post on tempering chocolate.)
Sigh. So I went back into town, got more chocolate, and came home to try again. This time, I added the cream and Kahlua before turning up the heat - and it worked perfectly. So it was an expensive lesson, but I learned something.
Dark Chocolate Fondue:
Put in the top half of a double boiler (I suspended the fondue pot by the handles over a pot of water):
4 bars of chocolate (5.3 oz each)
1 3/4 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 oz Kahlua (give or take)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
Turn the heat to medium low; the water shouldn't boil or even simmer. As the chocolate softens, stir regularly. DO NOT ADD ANY LIQUIDS.
Keep the chocolate mix warm and dip any or all of the following in it:
Pound cake (Sarah Lee frozen is the best for this use)
Mandarin orange segments
I will also take praline bits (ice cream topping; I would have prefered Heath bits but couldn't find any) and dark cocoa powder to dip the chocolate-coated goodies in, for a truely decadent experience.
Friday, December 14, 2007
According to a biograph of William Marshall that I am reading, when King John died in 1216 and left a 9-year-old son (Henry III) as his heir, the English nobles did not automatically transfer their allegeince to the boy. In fact, many of them, already in rebellion against John, had chosen the French prince, Louis, to be their leader and had invited him to be the next king of England. So in 1217, Louis and his knights landed in England and soon controlled southeastern England, with the exception of Dover and Lincoln castles; it took William most of the summer and fall to run the French out and regain the loyalty of the rebel nobles. Since the French king, Phillip Augustus, had already run John out of Normandy and his other possessions, this was the beginning of the true separation between France and England, although the English kings tried unsuccessfully to reverse it for another couple centuries.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Life has changed yet again, and now I have a child at an activity for 45 minutes near the grocery store, at a time when I can haul groceries - on a Tuesday. So I am once again buying groceries on Tuesdays, whether or not we are desperate for them. It is lovely. When I put things on the grocery list, I know when I will get them, and we run out of things less often; I can mail packages or drop off film then, so I am more likely to remember them; I can check my post office box. But best of all, it reclaims a rhythm that I had really liked, brings a calm back into my life that the haphazard patterns had eliminated. It's funny how such small things can make such a big difference in your life.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
- Use it as a spread for a grilled or hot sandwich, especially with portobello mushrooms, chicken, or beef.
- Pound some chicken breasts flat, spread some spinach leaves on top, and cover with a layer of the dip. Roll up carefully and place in a baking dish. Add a little something for moisture (white wine, chicken broth), maybe a slice of provolone on each breast, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
- Grill beef tenderloins, reheat dip (maybe after adding some minced garlic), and serve beef on top of dip, with baguette.
- Use as a topping for baked potatoes (reheat first).
- Add chopped onions or shallots, reheat, and use on top of mashed potatoes.
- Top a hamburger with bacon and warmed dip.
- Grill portobello mushrooms, top with warmed dip, and stick under the broiler for a few minutes, then serve as appetizer or main course. I would probably add a dash of Worchestershire sauce to the mushrooms before I grilled them.
- Reheat and use in pork or chicken tacos (without too much hot sauce).
- Spread on pizza instead of tomato sauce, preferably after adding some minced garlic.
- Reheat and use as intended.
Hmmm - I might have to see if the dip freezes and make several batches to store for future dinners. I know it will keep in the fridge for 24 hours before baking and I can't think of anything that freezing would harm. (On the other hand, everything in salsa freezes fine, but salsa gets watery after being frozen.) It would certainly be handy to have stashed in the freezer.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Amusingly enough, although apologetics developed with the first apostles and was part of the church before the Protestant Reformation, Christian apologetics now defend "their" faith against Roman Catholics, in addition to Mormons, Muslims, and atheists.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Someday I will tell him that there are easier ways to make lasagne - when he is no longer home to make it for my birthday.
In a food processor, place
2 cans artichoke hearts, drained
1 C shredded parmesan (do this in the processor before switching to the metal blade)
4 oz feta cheese
enough mayonnaise to make it all hold together, about 1/4 cup
Pulse to blend and stop before you have a paste.
Spoon into a small baking dish and cook at 375 degrees for half an hour. Serve with crackers or small toasts.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
His comments on conformist individuality are the stronger parts of the book. His primary observation is that the urge to establish yourself as an individual is so strong now that it has become a kind of conformity of its own. Although I wouldn't say that I feel a compelling need to present myself as an "individual", I recognize myself in his description of the many people (from the baby-boomers on down) who bypass the formal institutions - religion, work, marriage, having children - in order to organize their lives exactly the way they want them. In my case, it is homechooling; I bypass not only the school system but also the formalized homeschool curricula available, and create individualized curricula for my kids designed for their specific strengths, weaknesses, and interests. So while I don't think of it as being an individual, I am clearly acting in ways that place a higher value on individual needs and preferences than on traditional structures and forms. This argument makes sense and makes sense of current trends.
It is when he brings in the "I'm Special" theory and tries to apply it to every aspect of modern life that Niedzviecki loses me. I accept that people want to feel special; that pop culture causes some people to be dissatified with their drab, humdrum lives, that it encourages them to do stupid things in order to be famous, and that it is ubiquitous in modern culture. His descriptions of why people feel the need to be noticed in the media help me make sense of behavior that I don't otherwise understand, such as volunteering to go on Survivor, and other things that are simply odd, like the number of people who post videos on YouTube. However, Niedzviecki confuses the basic human need to be an acknowledged part of a community, a need that goes back to a time when being an outcast was practically a death sentence, with the need for celebrity (or notoriety, which it increasingly resembles). Of course it is important for people to have a niche in a community, to know that other people know who they are and (with luck) value their contribution; this is part of being human, not a modern development. But this is not the same thing as doing things like setting up back-yard wrestling federations, engaging in extreme sports, or killing school kids in order to make it on TV or the internet. (He neglects to mention one obvious example: more people are giving their children unusual names or unusual spellings of common names.)
Niedzviecki sidesteps the flaw in his argument by setting up a world in which everything is a symptom of the I'm Special disease; no one is immune, in his view. Doing stupid things to get on TV is obviously a symptom, but so is joining a strict religious order - the latter is simply a reaction to pop culture's insistence on being special. He ignores the obvious counterexamples: what of the Amish, who mostly avoid pop culture altogether? And more relevantly, what about people who simply don't care? There are still people who are happy with their lives, who take sufficient satisfaction in family and friends and doing a job well, who don't feel the need to make a fool of themselves in public just to get their name in the paper. Niedzviecki may not know them, since they are mostly married and not part of hip culture, but they exist in substantial enough numbers to disprove his universal application of his theory.
Niedzviecki has some good observations, stories, and points, and explains some odd trends in modern life. Now if he would just apply a little more precision to his arguments, he would have a stronger book - although maybe less sensational.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Of course I figure this out just after I bought some new icicle lights for my deck.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
We took advantage of the unfortunate warm spell to peel the ice off the driveway and put up the house lights while the roof was dry. With the exception of one string of lights that I had to get last night, we are now ready for winter again!
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Even a fancy stew takes time, half a day for this recipe. I figure that if I'm going to put that much time into one dish, I will make the most of it - four batches worth. Luckily, my son tried making beer last summer, so we have a huge stainless steel that worked perfectly (although I still need to get the bottom completely clean). So I spent most of today making chili: browning the pork and beef, peeling tomatoes, dicing onions and more onions, seeding and mincing four different types of peppers, sauteeing the vegetables, and simmering the whole mess all afternoon. I got some help on the tomatoes from my daughter, but the peppers were mine to deal with; I have washed my hands repeatedly, but I can still feel the pepper oil on my skn. The good news is that the chili smells wonderful and I have plenty to put in the freezer for this winter, even after saving some for my parents and my father-in-law.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Monday, December 3, 2007
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Saturday, December 1, 2007
We took some teenage friends and sleds so that we could mount a diversion, not let the trees realize that we were actually looking for one to bring home. The boys had a blast careening down short, steep slopes full of obstacles, where they really shouldn't have been sledding at all, but it wasn't enough to fool the trees. Nearly all the good trees headed for higher slopes or took refuge behind a ratty looking older trees, and we had a hard time finding one that came even close to our requirements (which admittedly got looser as we got colder). Finally, my daughter found one hiding amoung four or five spindly trees and, after a lot of discussion, we cut it down and took it more-or-less proudly home. It looked pretty small and sparse in the woods - that was part of its disguise - but turned out to be a great tree with lots of room for ornaments, and just the right size. So we got a trophy tree after all, in spite of the wily trees.