Tag Archives: Saturday

Hardware, Soft Crust

Painted in WaterlogueAlthough I like cooking over charcoal, the half-hour or so it takes to get the coals ready is often too long to wait–especially during the summer, when we frequently get home late in the evening. Her parents gave us a gas grill as a birthday gift. It isn’t one of those gigantic cook-for-an-army models with a footprint that would cover most of the deck; it’s a funky little number that looks like a flying saucer. Although it can be used on a picnic table, ours sits securely on its companion-model stand (which will fold to take very little garage space once the grilling season ends). It can be used with a small propane canister that connects directly to the intake valve, but her folks recommended we use it like they do–with a full-sized tank connected by an accessory hose (which, like the stand, was included in the birthday gift).

We love it. It heats quickly and evenly; the cast-iron grates are sturdy and easily cleaned; and the saucer’s “wings” are convenient for holding prep items.

But we’re not the only ones who are fond of it. For the second time since May, I went out to start dinner only to find that something had chewed a hole in the hose.

The big-box home centers in the area couldn’t help me, but I found a replacement hose made of stainless-steel mesh at a old-school hardware store. Helpful Hardware Guy said, “Yeah, we sell a lot of these. Something drips on the rubber hose, and a critter thinks it might be dinner.”  I’ll remember to wipe down the hose from now on, but even if I don’t, the metal mesh will give any prospective diners a toothache.

Since it was a sunny Saturday–unusually warm for mid-October–I used the now-functioning-again grill to make lunch. Grilling pizza is remarkably easy, and much faster than baking it in the indoor oven. I’ve had too many occasions where the pie won’t slide off the peel and makes a horrible mess in the oven. This one was perfect, with a crust that was both thin and delightfully chewy.

Helpful Hardware Guy Grilled Pizza

Stretch your favorite pizza dough into a thin more-or-less round. Brush the stretched dough with a little oil, put it oiled-side-down on the grate, close the lid and bake for about 2 minutes.  Remove it with tongs—it lifts right off without any sticking!—and brush the uncooked side with a little oil. Off the grill, turn over the crust. Put sauce, cheese, and any other desired toppings on the grilled side, and return it to the grill. Close the lid, and bake for about 5 minutes more.

Thanks to the Helpful Hardware Guy, we may not ever make pizza another way.

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Adaptation

Painted in WaterlogueAdaptation is a tricky business. What you change, or omit, when going from one medium to another may be the very thing that someone else loved about the original. What you add may be the ingredient that spoils the stew. Ask her sometime about the film versions of the Harry Potter stories. (But don’t do it if you don’t have time for a lengthy and passionate response.) Sometimes, though, the adaptation can surpass the original. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a campy, silly film; the TV series of the same name is delightfully fun but deepens the metaphor of adolescence-is-like-living-on-the-mouth-of-hell. Sometimes both can co-exist admirably: Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories aren’t diminished by the existence of the musical Fiddler on the Roof—and although the stage version by necessity leaves out many details from the original and alters others, the result is a coherent and highly satisfying work of dramatic and musical literature.

She loves muffins. Well, not all muffins; she’s not indiscriminate. Her favorite is an orange-cranberry muffin from our local market. Muffin is perhaps the wrong word; they’re shaped like small loaves, and come in a package of six. I like them, too, but find them a little too sweet, and a little too moist. I don’t mean to say that they’re not properly baked, but that they almost fall apart when you slice them. And toasting? Don’t turn your back on the skillet; they’ll burn in a heartbeat. But she likes them a lot, so as the weekend approached I planned to pick up a package.

And then it was Saturday morning, and I hadn’t. And she wanted to get started right away making applesauce from the half-bushel we’d bought at an orchard last weekend.

I made us coffee and tea, and helped with the peeling and coring—and knew that I wasn’t going to be able to make orange-cranberry muffins, if only because we don’t have muffin tins. But we do have a loaf pan, and I know that it isn’t far from muffin to quick bread. So I compared a few recipes, thought about what I found lacking in the market’s cranberry-orange muffins, and set to work.

I used dried cranberries soaked in orange juice; substituted whole-wheat flour for a quarter of the usual all-purpose; added a quarter-cup each of old-fashioned oats and walnuts; and increased the liquid by a third and the leaveners by half. And, at risk of making anyone think I was trying to turn muffins into health food, I made a glaze of orange juice and confectioner’s sugar.

Cranberry-Orange Loaf

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

Zest
1 orange

In a measuring cup or small bowl, soak for about half an hour
1-1/2 cups dried cranberries
in
1 cup orange juice (start with the orange you just tested, and go from there).

Sift together:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

In another bowl, whisk together until light:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
Then add to that same bowl
1 egg
Mix until smooth.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry; stir just to combine. Add the cranberries, zest, along with
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake about 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool for about 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack. 

If you want to gild the lily, mix together
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp orange juice (add more, a few drops at a time, until just spreadable)

Spread the cooled loaf with the glaze. Or don’t, if you’re feeling noble.

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This bread is heartier than the muffins—denser, but not heavy, just not as light as boxed-mix cake. It’s not a replacement, not a home-cook’s duplication of a store-bought item; it’s an adaptation.

I prefer Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady to Shaw’s Pygmalion, but that’s just me; if you like your Eliza Doolittle without songs, I won’t complain. If you want to debate with her the canon of Arthurian legend from Le Morte d’Arthur to Camelot, I won’t have much to add to the discussion, but I’ll happily serve coffee and tea while you do. And maybe muffins. Or perhaps an adaptation.

His and Hers

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We got a late start this morning, so I didn’t get a photo of her lunch before she had to leave.

As we pulled into the market to gather some greens, I noticed the giant electronic sign displaying specials.

“You really don’t like tuna,” I said with a bit of a sigh.  I meant the good stuff, not the canned kind that might be suitable for glopping up with mayonnaise or feeding to the cats; Not only was it a terrific price, the fishmonger was cutting it to order.

“No,” she said apologetically, “but you should get some for you. I’ll be happy with boxed macaroni and cheese.” I frowned at that thought. I don’t want to cook something for myself that she won’t eat.

But by the time we reached the seafood area, I had an change of heart. I picked up a cod filet for her, and a tuna steak for me–two portions worth: dinner, and a near-future lunch for each of us. We continued our afternoon of errands and chores, starting to clear out the rented storage unit and bring the things we really mean to keep into our newly-finished and convenient-to-use attic space.

Half an hour before dinnertime, I portioned the cod and made packets for baking, each filet resting on a little bed of trimmed green beans, sprinkled with some dill, salt and pepper, a bit of olive oil and a slice of lemon. 20 minutes in a 400F oven, and it would be perfect. Meanwhile, the tuna hung out on the counter to come to room-temp.

When the cod had 5 minutes to go, I heated a skillet and set an inch of salted water to boil in a saucepan. I sprinkled the tuna with salt, pepper, and chili powder, and cleaned some broccoli. The stems went into the water first; a drizzle of oil went into the skillet. The florets joined the stems, and the tuna started searing–a minute-thirty on each side and it was just the way I wanted: blackened outside, rare inside.

We frequently have different things for breakfast or lunch. When we’re at a restaurant, it’s not odd at all that we choose different entrees. I’m not sure why I was hesitant to cook different things for us at home. It might not be an everyday occurrence, but I won’t be afraid to do it again.

 

Chore, Sweetened

We rented a storage unit when we combined households. It’s been enormously useful during renovations. We haven’t been there recently, though. She had suggested that we spend a couple of hours there this morning–taking stock, photographing items that we want to sell, and removing anything we know now that we don’t want to keep. Saturday morning arrived, rainy and cold. I really just wanted to stay in bed, but that wasn’t going to get the job done.

I went to the kitchen to brew coffee and tea while she got dressed. Waiting for the kettle to boil, I looked around for something to snack on–I figured we’d have brunch later. I sliced a banana and peeled a clementine. The latter did not become part of our shared snack, though; I gobbled it down in no time flat. Seeing a partial loaf of banana bread, I had an idea and changed course. Maybe I would cook a little after all.

Banana Bread Foster

Put a small non-stick skillet over medium heat.
Toast 4 slices banana bread.
Melt 4 tbsp butter.
Add one banana, sliced into thick rounds.
Sprinkle with 2 tbsp brown sugar and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract.
Toss occasionally until the sugar is melted and syrupy and the bananas are caramelized and slightly softened.
Mix together 1/2 cup ricotta cheese and 1 tsp sugar.
Spread sweetened cheese over the toasted banana bread.
Spoon bananas over the cheese.
Top, if you have some, with a little whipped cream.

There are still boxes and boxes of books and CDs and files and some small pieces of furniture that we love but aren’t in current use, but the unit is well-organized now, and a trunk-load of items have been sent away. We’ll face the rest another day, but we did good work. It wasn’t such a daunting task as we’d feared–or perhaps we were just well-fortified.

The sliced apples are on the plate to suggest that this was a healthy, nutritious breakfast.  They are fooling no one. It was, however, delicious.

The sliced apples are on the plate to suggest that this was a healthy, nutritious breakfast.
They are fooling no one.
It was, however, delicious.

A Different Story

“What would like to do with the day?” she asked.

It was a perfect Saturday. The sky was blue and warmer than it had been in weeks. I’d done a little tidying and made breakfast. She read aloud the first chapter of a novel we were sharing. We planned dinner, and some chores afterward while we listened to a podcast: nothing too strenuous. I’d have to go to work for a while in the late afternoon, but in the several hours before then we decided to have an adventure.

We’ve been doing a little shopping on-line, looking for an apartment in NYC (or at least closer than we are now), and have found what appears to be a wonderful neighborhood. Friends of mine, and relatives of hers, even live there. But so far we’ve only been virtual house-hunters. Now, we had time, and decent weather, for an actual reconnaissance mission.  We’d drive to Yonkers and walk around to see the place for ourselves.  We could have lunch at a little café before driving back.

In that moment of calm after the decision was made but before the activity of getting organized to go, she froze.

“What’s that sound?”

I didn’t hear it.  Then I did.

Water. Dripping.

Well, sure.  It’s sunny. The ice is melting outside.

Except the drips were inside.

Ice dams had formed over the gutters. Now starting to melt in this bright sunshine, the water was forcing its way in. There were drips along the windows, and a huge blister above them where wall met ceiling.

Where the freshly painted wall met the just refinished ceiling, that is.

We threw out our plan for the day and spent it instead on the phone trying to find a roofing company to remove the ice and repair the damage, filing a claim with the insurance company, washing and drying all the linens that were lying on the quilt rack and had been soaked by the drips, hooking up a dehumidifier, and re-organizing the spare room so we could use it as a bedroom during construction.

I cleared the deck of snow and slush and ice so that it would be safe for a roofer to place a ladder there. I couldn’t reach the roofline at the front of the house, but I could lean out a landing window with a shovel and push snow off the porch roof, clear the resulting snow and slush off the front stairs, and get most of the frozen crud cleared so the trash can and recycling bin would sit level for the first time in weeks.

She called me in to lunch–a pasta dish she and her friend had talked about when they were at dinner on Friday–and, sitting comfortably while we ate, we saw more water.

There were stains and blisters on the living room’s just refinished ceiling, too. Which meant that there was also damage to the bedroom’s brand new flooring.

The contractor has been working on the powder room–laying pretty new tile and installing a new sink. From there, he was going to lay new tile in the laundry closet and the front entryway and we were going to be done.  Our search for a buyer for the Country House could start, and our search for a new City House could begin in earnest.

Not yet, apparently.

It’s just a setback.  Setbacks happen. Nobody was injured. Lots and lots of homes in New England have ice dams and wall and ceiling and floor damage.

Just a setback. A disappointment. An unexpected turn. A different story. Our intrepid hero and heroine will carry on.

Turn the page.

Pre-Catastrophe Breakfast.  Since it's an English novel we're reading. English Muffins stood in for crumpets, toasted and spread with preserves, honey, and applesauce, with sliced apple alongside.

Pre-Catastrophe Breakfast.
Since it’s an English novel we’re reading. English Muffins stood in for crumpets, toasted and spread with preserves, honey, and applesauce, with sliced apple alongside.

In the Not-Completely-Bleak Midwinter

This has been a long, cold, snowy winter, and the end seems frustratingly out of reach, still.  We’re tired from the extra hours of fuss and worry and the poor quality of light, and sore from shoveling snow and digging out cars and throwing salt.

But I’m so grateful that the only effects of it have been inconvenience and some discomfort for us and the people we love. We’re warm and dry, well fed and well attired. And we seem to be making a real effort to stay connected to one another rather than to hibernate. To find beauty in this winter land (that can so easily become un-wondrous). To laugh and smile and lift one’s spirits. 

“We should go to New Orleans,” she said. I had a rough time picturing her amid the revelry of Mardi Gras. “Of course not!  But a couple of days eating beignets and drinking Hurricanes…”

I’m unconvinced that there would be Hurricanes (plural), however much they seem like “Red Kool-aid, perfect,” but I could be wrong.

I didn’t feel up to the challenge of making beignets, but there were a couple of donuts in the kitchen, the last of a dozen we bought earlier in the week. They were a little old, even for dunking in our cuppas, but they weren’t too far gone for a little transformation.

Donuts Dreaming of New Orleans

Melt 2 tbsp butter in a non-stick skillet.

Slice the slightly-stale old-fashioned donuts through the center. Toast in the pan, cut side first, about three minutes per side.

Warm and soften about 1/2 cup fruit–whatever’s at hand. Berries, maybe, or sliced apples in a little butter and brown sugar.  I had some chunky, well-spiced homemade applesauce, and that was perfect.

Plate the donuts, cut side up; spoon on the fruit; add a dollop of whipped cream; sprinkle on a little cinnamon and grated nutmeg.

Serves two, one of whom may say something extravagantly complimentary.

The omelets we were planning for breakfast became a very late brunch.

She asked how I felt about stuffed peppers.  I like the idea more than the execution; the pepper flesh always seems slimy when baked.  She had an idea. I chopped some vegetables for her, and she did the wonderful rest.

Stuffed Pepper Casserole
(All the Flavor, None of the Slime) 

In a saucepan, add 2-1/2 cups boiling water, 1 tbsp olive oil, and 1 cup white rice.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.  (The rice may seem underdone, and will be a little sticky, but that’s okay.)

In a Dutch oven, brown 3/4 lb. ground beef; season to taste with salt, pepper, worcestershire sauce, and all-purpose seasoning.

Dice 1 onion, 2 ribs of celery, and 1 big bell pepper (2 peppers might be even better.) Trim 1/2 lb. green beans and slice into small pieces.

Push the beef to one side of the Dutch oven, and add vegetables to the other. Sauté until just softened.

Add most of the rice to the Dutch oven, reserving a third of it to make fried rice later in the week. Also add 1-1/2 cups marinara sauce (or a 14-oz can of diced or crushed tomatoes). Mix all together. Cover and bake at 350F for 30 minutes.  While baking, fold some laundry or try on some clearance-special clothes or watch an old game show.

Serves 4—or, at least, two hungry people, with plenty that will be looked forward to for lunches.

Thank you, winter, for being hard, and bringing out some of the best in us.

Picture This

“Drunken Chicken Marsala?” she asked, showing me a photo on Pinterest.

The photo was beautiful.  Chicken, tomatoes, mushrooms, and a silky-looking brown sauce.  “We could have it with polenta,” she said, “and green beans.” I thought the recipe sounded good, but she had said the magic words.  (As far as I’m concerned, the recommended daily serving of green beans is How many are there?) We added the few items we’d need to our shopping list and headed off to do errands.

First stop: the Big Box Home Improvement Store. Clamps and glue to repair a dining chair were easy to find. Tile was a little harder. We need to replace flooring in the entryway, powder room, and laundry closet, and to create a  kitchen backsplash. I’m getting more at home in home improvement stores–I no longer get the sense the greeter wants to take me by the arm and say, “Here, sir, let me help you so you don’t hurt yourself with the sharp things”–but I seldom really feel like I know what I’m doing.  Being faced with the myriad choices of the tile aisle only makes things worse. (Don’t even get me started on the cabinet door pull options. It’s good to know that I’m not alone in this difficulty; there’s a lot of science suggesting that more choices makes things harder rather than easier. But she’s gently helpful, and very decisive, and in far less time than I would have taken alone, I had a handful of samples and we were headed for the checkout.

There’s a wine shop across the road from the Big Box Home Improvement Store. I don’t have any particular store loyalty, so we went there for a bottle of marsala. We should probably develop a relationship with a wine seller, someone who knows our tastes and can make useful suggestions. (Come to think of it, maybe the wine seller would have tile recommendations, too.) Fortunately, the wine devotes more shelf space to flavored vodkas than dessert wines, so I wasn’t paralyzed with indecision. We checked the recipe to make sure we were looking for a dry marsala rather than a sweet one, and picked a half-bottle in the middle of the price range.

Our final errand was a trip to the supermarket, where I felt thankfully and entirely at home.

This was her recipe, so she took the lead; I chopped vegetables and pounded chicken breasts and then made a salad and stayed out of her way. It wasn’t going well. There was much concern that the chicken wasn’t browning properly, that the wine was being absorbed too quickly, that dinner was going to be a mess and we would die of salmonella poisoning. (Actually, she wasn’t concerned that we would die; only that would. I think this means she was afraid of killing me with a single bite, but it might mean that she would know enough not to take a second taste.)

I did my best to assure her. I know that chicken breast at this thinness takes a very short while to cook completely. If the pan looks dry, she could add more wine. The tomatoes would provide even more moisture. Most importantly, I hoped to remind her that food stylists make every dish look more beautiful than we can.

The rounds of polenta had lovely crisp bits on the outside and soft centers. The green beans were crunchy and healthy and altogether wonderful.  And the chicken marsala?  Not only did it not kill us, but it was savory and a little sweet, earthy and hearty and warm. And, for a couple of home cooks, picture perfect.

Marsala is, apparently, a dessert wine. Does it pair well with chocolate chip cookies?

Most definitely not a food stylist’s plate.