Tag Archives: Friday

Sweater-weather Breakfast

Painted in Waterlogue

“You two like butter,” our next-door neighbor said, handing us a stack of recipes she’d torn from magazines. I’d say that seemed like an odd thing to say, but our neighbor has been described as “like the kooky neighbor from a sitcom.” It’s a pretty apt description. She pops in unexpectedly, often to vent about something that’s happened in her workday or with a story about her cat, then disappears just as fast. But she’s also a very faithful cat-sitter and a good friend. And she brings recipes.

They weren’t just recipes featuring butter, it turned out; they were recipes featuring brown butter. Tidying up papers around the dining room before starting a work-from-home day, she looked through the sheaf of pages and showed me one: Apple Cardamom Dutch Baby. “Could we make this on Saturday?” “Sure,” I said. “Or today.” (I had forgotten to start a pot of oatmeal last night, and didn’t have any better breakfast ideas.) She set up her work station and prepared for a conference call, and I got to work in the kitchen.

It took me a minute to find the cardamom. To be honest, it took me a minute to remember what cardamom is. I knew it wasn’t a kind of sweater, so it wouldn’t be in my closet. It was with the baking spices, of course. She’s organized the cupboards to keep the “cooking” spices separate from the “baking” spices, although in the case of cardamom it might well have been stored with the “mostly ignored” spices. The jar had a label from the market near the City House, so it surely wasn’t optimally fresh. Still, it smelled interesting, so I decided to use it.

While the butter browned-but-did-not-scorch, I assembled the rest of the ingredients and whisked together the batter; the baking time neatly coincided with the rest of her phone meeting.

Dutch Baby is one of those dishes that always looks great in recipes, but often disappoints me on the plate. The pancake comes out of the oven brilliantly inflated, but collapses in the seconds it takes to serve it, leaving a dense, too-sweet mass. This one was different. The brown butter brought toasty notes; the cardamom was tart and earthy; and the apples, soft but not mushy, gave the pancake more substance than a jelly-topped version would.

I don’t know how long our neighbor had been gathering the recipes, but I’m glad she brought them to us when she did. With the leaves starting to turn in our part of New England, the cool nights and crisp mornings, and the sweaters coming out of storage, it’s perfect brown butter time. It’s probably time to buy some fresh cardamom, too; we’ll be  be making this again.

Apple Cardamom Dutch Baby
Adapted from a page torn from Martha Stewart Living magazine (sorry, the page didn’t have a date)

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 medium-sized crisp apple (Honeycrisp, Gala, Granny Smith–whatever you like, but something that won’t turn to mush)
  • Sour creme or plain yogurt for serving

Preheat the oven to 450F.

In a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, brown the butter–stirring occasionally, to make sure it doesn’t burn, and to make sure the bottom of the pan is coated. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cardamom.

Peel and core the apple, and slice about 1/8 inch thick.

Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy. (I used an immersion blender in a 1-quart plastic tub.) Add the salt, vanilla, and flour, and 1 tbsp of the cardamom sugar, and whisk to combine. (The batter will be thin.)

Lay the apple slices gently in the hot pan; pour the batter over the apples, then bake about 20 minutes until puffy and golden.

Sprinkle with the remaining sugar, cut into wedges, and serve immediately, garnished with a little sour creme or yogurt.

Not So Casual Day

Painted in Waterlogue

She wore jeans to the office on Friday. No big surprise there; she often does that, and sometimes on mid-week days when she doesn’t have meetings planned. Even in jeans, she looks professional, put-together, and not a bit sloppy: she looked, as she always does, classy.

I was wearing running clothes, as I usually do for breakfast-and-lunch prep and ferrying her to the train; I usually run or exercise or do whatever semi-messy chores the day-start requires after she’s on her way. I didn’t have time to run on Friday, though; I had to get to church for a funeral service.

I’d never met the deceased, a woman in her 80s who’d been in a nursing facility for the past few years; I’d only spoken with her husband a couple of times. He’s a trim, well-spoken fellow, who was holding himself together, just. During the service, his brother-in-law told the story of they met, how his sister had plenty of suitors but this skinny guy somehow won her heart, and as they dated and even long into their marriage he looked at her as if he couldn’t believe his luck. Others told stories of their entertaining, her gardening, her love for books; how classy she was.

At the reception after the service, I saw some photographs of the two of them in younger days, including the wedding portrait that had been displayed at the front of the church. I’ve seen plenty of old photographs, and lots of wedding portraits that make me think, “Well, that was how people looked then.” Not this time: this lady was beautiful for any generation. And classy. And he had that same, “Me? Really? With her?” look. (I suspect you’ll recognize that same look on my face in photos of us.)

I hadn’t planned it this way, but was glad for the lunch I’d packed us both: plenty of crunch, a little salt, and a little sweetness.

Roasted Beet and Clementine Salad

2 roasted beets, peeled and sliced or chopped into bite-sized wedges.
1 small package of soft goat cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons pecans, toasted in a dry sauté pan until fragrant.
2 cups of assorted salad greens
1 clementine, peeled, sliced in half, and segmented (but not squeezed)
1/2 tsp each balsamic vinegar and olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Toss all in a large bowl, then plate or package into to-go containers.

Serves 2, who would rather be dining together.

I didn’t loosen my tie as I finished my day. I wanted to look good when I picked her up from the train. I was careful not to spill salad on my shirt.

 

Beet and clementine salad.png

 

Not So Fast

IMG_0092Although my Lenten Friday lunch was delicious and made from ingredients-on-hand, it didn’t mean I had no intention of not buying groceries or cooking something wonderful, or even going out for dinner sometime. Especially since it was the Friday before our first Valentine’s Day as newlyweds–and doubly-especially since my Valentine’s Day itself was overscheduled with church, a condo association meeting, and a long evening rehearsal.

I left my office when she left hers, and headed out to do some marketing. (Her commute is much longer than mine; I knew it allowed for errands.) By the time her train was approaching the station, I had developed a dinner idea and sourced the few ingredients I knew we didn’t have–and found and installed a new bathroom shower-head (her real Valentine’s surprise).

While she decompressed from the workday and warmed up from the frigid outdoors, I cleaned a half-pound of shrimp, then tossed the shrimp with the juice of a lime, a pinch each of salt and chili powder, and a shot of tequila. While the shrimp marinated, I grated some cheese, chopped a handful of cilantro, mashed an avocado, and found a jar of her excellent salsa in the cupboard.

She made a salad while I gave the shrimp few moments in a hot cast-iron skillet–seriously moments; it was maybe a minute-thirty tops. I chopped the shrimp roughly and started making assembling quesadillas. A tortilla, some grated cheese, a bit of shrimp, a little more cheese, a second tortilla; flip carefully to lightly brown the second side and melt the rest of the cheese.  I slid the finished product onto a plate and stashed it in a warm oven while I repeated the process, then sliced each double-disc of cheesy, shrimpy goodness into wedges, and plated the wedges with dabs of avocado, sour creme, and salsa for topping.

She took a bite and mmmmmmmdd pretty expansively. I took that as a good sign. “Dinner’s okay?” I asked. “Omigod,” she said. Leaving theology out of it, I joked, “It’s just a grilled cheese sandwich.”

“It is not just a grilled cheese sandwich.”

“Well, no. There’s seafood. And a white sauce. It’s just a few breadcrumbs away from being a McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish!” She grimaced.

Of course, it wasn’t really that either. But it wasn’t much harder to make than it would be to get a fish sandwich from a drive-through. And it was much better.

It wasn’t fasting, and it wasn’t fast food. There wasn’t much of the sacrificial about this meal—abstinence in name only, but we never said we’d be ascetic. We were grateful to be well-fed, and grateful to be together.

 

 

Not Giving Up

IMG_0091My grandmother did not teach me how to cook brisket. But if she had, I wouldn’t be making it today.

This is the first Friday in Lent, the season leading to Easter that many Christians traditionally observe by fasting and abstaining from certain foods. “What are you giving up for Lent?” is a common refrain. The church in which I grew up focuses a lot on such food-based observance: meat is not eaten on Fridays in Lent.

Which means that, according to the letter of the law, one may not eat a three-day-old pastrami sandwich—but going out for lobster would be perfectly appropriate. That doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice to me, unless one had a shellfish allergy.

I’m not here to argue theology or the rationale for food-based religious traditions. I just wanted to have lunch. I was running a little behind this morning, so I opened the fridge to grab something left over to take with me. But I couldn’t see anything meatless.

I honestly don’t think the creator of the universe cares if I have chicken salad on Friday. And for the first time, I’m working in a church that doesn’t have the same sort of restrictive traditions regarding Lent that I grew up with. Nobody would care if I brought a bacon-triple-cheeseburger for lunch. But it would feel strange to me.

I guess I could run out at lunchtime and buy a tuna sub.

And yet going out for lunch—even a modest one—seemed against the Lenten spirit. I looked in the fridge again.

There were couple of hard-boiled eggs. And the leftover vegetables from last night’s dinner. And some brown rice. Heat the rice and veg, slice the eggs overtop, maybe a splash of soy sauce…

Give up chocolate but have the apple pie? No coffee but twice as much soda? No video games but unlimited TV? Not much gain on those plays. But modest discipline seems appropriate. It’s how I was raised. It’s what I was taught. I won’t feel a need to confess if I have a bite of turkey some Friday, but I’m not quite ready to give up all “giving up” yet.

As I ate my not-quite-bibimbap—which was so much better than than any tuna sub—I thought of my mom and my grandma. I hope they’d be pleased that I kept tradition.

Like a grandmother’s brisket.

Separate Checks

She took a very early train to town on Monday to have breakfast with an old friend, and stayed late in town tonight to have dinner and see a show with another friend. And I couldn’t be more delighted.

We both work long hours, and she has a long commute. She takes breakfast and lunch to the office nearly every workday; I often do, too, and on my late nights I’ll at least take something as a between-rehearsals snack. We see each other first thing in the morning and in the late evening, and on some parts of the weekend. That’s about it. There isn’t that much time together.

But there’s also not all that much time for our friends.  Even those who are our friends were, just as likely, her friends or my friends before they knew us as us. Friends deserve time.

We don’t have to enjoy spending time with the same people–though we mostly do. In the same way, we don’t have to enjoy all the same foods. It’s perfectly okay for her to have a burger if I want a piece of fish.  It’s perfectly okay for me to want a chicken sandwich when she’s craving macaroni and cheese. I love bitter greens. She could eat rice at every meal. Most of the time we agree on a menu, or meet in the middle, but it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why there are restaurants. And lots of pots and pans in our kitchen.

While she’s been out with her friend, I haven’t been lonesome. I stopped at home and ate the leftovers from my dinner Wednesday night (a seafood dish she wouldn’t have enjoyed), then I went to the theatre, too. I saw a school musical starring the son of one of my friends. In fact, it was the invitation to that show that occasioned her evening: it’s a show she really dislikes. (Just like friends and foods, we don’t have to like the same plays.)

The show I saw ended earlier than hers, so I had time to stop at the market after, and spend some time at home with the cats before going to meet her train. We’ll share the stories of our days and our evenings.

Maybe over breakfast or lunch.

Just a Sip

We are neither of us tee-totalers; we just don’t drink very much. She hasn’t yet found a wine she’s enthusiastic about. I like a humble glass of red with dinner once in a while, but I’m often just as happy without. I found a recipe for a grapefruit soda-and-gin cocktail that became all the rage at her mom’s surprise birthday party last June, but as the summer wore on I usually drank mine without the gin, and eventually I switched to grapefruit juice and seltzer: less sugar, almost as flavorful, and I could drive after drinking one.

She’ll have a Manhattan once in a while–she, not her mom.  (Her mom might like them, too, but that’s another matter.) Because she likes sweet beverages, I’ve learned to make a Manhattan so untraditionally fruit-filled that it’s nearly a new drink–maybe it should be called the Suburban. And I have learned to make it small: I usually make a single drink and split between us. Even then our glasses usually end up half-full, and not merely because we are optimists.

And so I giggled when I opened a Christmas gift that arrived from some old friends: the Teeny Weeny Martini Set: thimble-sized glasses, a miniature cocktail shaker, and an ice tray that makes positively Lilliputian cubes. I’m sure they thought they were being silly–or maybe they recall that I’m not much of a drinker.

We stayed in Friday night–no theatre, no movies, no restaurants, no takeout, just us–and as the chicken marinated for the recipe we planned, it seemed like the perfect time to try our new barware.  I mixed a few drops of dry vermouth with a half-a-jigger of gin, chilled it with an ice-fragment, shook-not-stirred-even-though-that-meant-a-slightly-watery-cocktail-the-way-Bond-likes-it, and poured the result into our micro-glasses.

As for garnish: just a drop of pickle brine in each. I would have tried a twist of lemon peel, but we were out.

She took a sip, and made a face. It was nowhere near sweet enough for her liking. Fortunately, a sip is all there was. As for me, I had twoTwo whole martinis. Well, G. I. Joe-sized ones. I might even do it again sometime. Maybe with a different garnish.  Wonder where I can find a very small olive…

Just right for Cocktail Minute

Just right for Cocktail Minute

Date Night Fish Tacos

“How would you feel about cod?” I asked, looking at the market’s specials.

“Go for it,” she replied.  “Crispy?”

Then, before I’d had a chance to reply, “Oh! Let’s try the cod the way we did that one time with the beer batter and crackers, then break it apart as the base for fish tacos!”

I may have smirked a little. “So batter and bread the fish, and then put it inside a tortilla?”

We were using iMessage, so she couldn’t punch me, but she did stick out her tongue.  Or at least her typing indicated she did.

I liked the idea of fish tacos–I always like the idea of fish tacos–but thought there might be a way to let a little more of the fish’s flavor come through. But lots of Californian fish tacos are made with breaded fish. Many chicken sandwiches are made with breaded chicken. And no Bayou restaurant would serve a Po’ Boy made with unbreaded shrimp. There are mysteries in the universe, I guess.

I picked up the fish, along with a pineapple (also a weekly special) and some other vegetables. If we were having fish tacos, we were going to do it right.

By the time her train arrived, I had assembled salsa and slaw to accompany the fish. We detoured on the way home to look at holiday lights; I would have shown her photographs of them, but my phone had crashed in the middle of the running route where I’d seen them. While she tried on some new clothes that had arrived in the mail, I set to preparing the fish–a bit of a risky proposition, considering that the fashion show was a lovely distraction from a skillet skimmed with hot oil.

The slaw was a little wetter than I meant it to be, and so the tacos were a little sloppier. Still, we both had seconds, so the mess didn’t seem to deter our enjoyment.

A drive to see Christmas lights, a fashion show, and–in her words–“freaking awesome, exquisite” fish tacos. Not a bad night in the suburbs. Continue reading