Tuesday, December 29

nyc bound

on a whim, it seems I'm headed back to new york for 48 hours, to see a few shows with the broadway-obsessed portion of the family. the weather looks to be unfortunately, ridiculously, cold. I may be forced to wear every article of clothing I own ("checked baggage costs how much now?"), but I'm determined to get some use out of the prezzie santa brought last week, for our low-tech christmas.

{holga love}

wish me luck in finding time to venture out of the immediate times square area. the theater fixation often results in a staggering number of shows per visit — 7 in 4 days, once — eating nothing but giant pretzels for stamina, and well, that's just unbalanced.

{getting in the mood ~ h&h bagel, smoked-salmon schmear and a celray}

that, and I'm fairly certain that particular 10-block area encapsulates everything that is wrong with our nation. you got your good morning america mob, rising at 4-am (eastern!!!) for 5 seconds of background airtime and a hand-lettered sign, your fraud-a and faux-lex vendors selling from black trashbags (who may or may not be supporting the terrorists), your world's largest applebees (no really, that's the official name), your red m&m guy dressed as the naked cowboy (who sued and has retired to boca, I'm told), and almost nothing New on broadway – nearly all plots are derived from abba songs or adam sandler films. or shrek's flatuence. it will be fun, surely, seeing a show or two with the sister who attends a performing arts boarding school (though we v-chat often, there's rarely enough real time together). but generally, the experience is totally coocooforcocoapuffs (b will sagely sit it out), and may require sneaking out for a few early-morning walks in the muffled, snowy park.

you know ... for photos! ... riiight! quiet—err— scenic photos.


Monday, December 28

preserved lemons

these might be the least involved preserves I've yet attempted. the recipe comes from eugenia bone's well preserved, which wisely accompanies each "canned" recipe with a few dishes using them ... because what's the point in putting-up food if you don't ever use it? one of the accompanying recipes in this chapter is a lemon risotto with soft-shell crab. I can hardly wait to try it out when spring warms the breezes. 'round these parts, that should be sometime in mid-february.

preserved meyer lemons

take five or six meyer lemons – called "valley lemons" in texas (no difference except about a buck-ana-half a pound at the market) – preferably discovered on your porch, following one of doubletonic's visits home (that girl deserves to be called the giving tree, for all the produce that mysteriously arrives on our front stoop). scrub them well, as the skin will be included.

bring a wide-mouth pint jar and its lid to a boil in a large pot of water. boil for 10 minutes before removing with tongs.

when the jar is dry but still hot, cut about half of lemons into wedges and arrange in jar – packed as tightly as possible, sprinkling a little of 1/2 cup total kosher salt between layers.

cut remaining lemons in half and squeeze into jar, until everything is submerged. any variety other than meyer lemons may require a few extras to generate enough juice. harder lemons may benefit from 10 seconds in the microwave or two minutes in simmering water. remove any visible air bubbles by nudging fruit aside with a skewer or knife, to allow juice to fill the space. screw lid on until finger-tight.

store on kitchen counter, while lemons ferment for two weeks (non-meyer varietals may require 3 to 4 weeks – they're ready when the peel is soft enough to tear), turning the jar every few days to redistribute salt. after the lemons soften and the juice becomes syrupy, refrigerate up to 6 months.

that's it. no, really! to use, scrape off seeds, ignore the white precipitate of salt/oil/pith, and chop. regular lemons may require scraping off of the pith, but meyers are good as-is. but then again, meyers are practically perfect in every way.


Saturday, December 26

chard gratin

1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
3 oz gruyère cheese, grated (1 cup)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp assorted fresh herbs (chives, tarragon, and flat-leaf parsley, par example), finely chopped
1/8 tsp nutmeg, grated
1/2 cup milk, cream, or dairy-free substitute
1 tbsp all-purpose flour (to thicken, this could be replaced with gluten-free alt)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 bunches swiss chard, leaves and stems separated and both cut into 1-inch pieces
1 bunch spinach, coarse stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped

toss bread crumbs with oil, garlic, herbs, and salt and pepper (to taste – I like quite a bit of pepper with gratineed greens) in a bowl.
preheat oven to 400°f and bring a large pot of water to boil. when boiling, add chopped chard stems, torn chard and spinach. cook until mostly done, then blanch in cold water. squeeze as much water out as is manageable and roughly chop.

in a large skillet, add butter, and saute onion over med-low heat, until soft and translucent. sift flour into the same pan, stirring to combine with butter, and continue stirring until a light roux is formed [then add milk – thanks dt]. add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste, and remove from heat. toss greens with cream sauce and transfer to a buttered 12-inch oval gratin or 2-quart shallow baking dish, spreading evenly. top greens with cheese and bread crumbs and bake until bubbling and crumbs are golden, 20 minutes or so.

Friday, December 25

merry christmas to all ...

...and to all a good night.

{hand-stitched retro-chic ornament by grammie}

so as with most everything else lately, this post comes a little late in the day. but sometimes the point is just showing up at all, right? so to anyone out there, friends and family near and far, please know that I'm with y'all in spirit tonight, and though we're apart this day, I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

blech. okay, that's all the sap I'll subject you to for now. non-traditional christmas feast recipes coming soon (hint: israeli couscous?).

Thursday, December 24

gingerbread pear cake

a few days before christmas, doubletonic dropped a surprise by our front porch on her way out of town: some of the sweetest, prettiest pears mail-order can deliver. someone had sent them to her workplace, and well, dt's coworkers just must not have ever heard of the legend of harry & david. despite dt's best efforts to work her way through the crate, there were still several perfect, golden-wrapped pears begging to be devoured. the question was not whether they would be dispatched, but in what form. but since it was so near christmas, any imagining of pears came along with the spicy richness of ginger and molasses. done. this cake is a paradox of lightness and savory depth. it was one of my favorite (and easiest) of martha's recipes, and now I believe it may be even better. mmm ... yeah, and better on the hips than the usual embellishment of whipped cream.

gingerbread pear cake
(serves at least 12 — adapted from martha)

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus some for pans
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little for the pans
1 cup boiling water
2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp candied ginger, diced to taste
2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 cup unsulfured molasses
2 tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
confectioners' sugar, for dusting

heat oven to 350 degrees. butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch pan (or two 8" rounds), and set aside. in a small-ish bowl with high sides, combine boiling water and baking soda, and set aside. in a mid-sized bowl, sift together flour, ground spices, salt, and baking powder, and set aside.

in a large bowl, cream butter until light, then add brown sugar and beat until very fluffy. beat in molasses and grated ginger, baking-soda mixture, and flour mixture, then beat in eggs (be sure to add eggs, lightly beaten). stir in pears (or place directly into the pans, tarte tatin style, as this batter is quite loose and they pretty much fall directly to the bottom of the pan anyway).

pour batter into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. cool completely on a wire rack before dusting liberally with confectioners’ sugar.

then take one over to your landlord's house so they'll reconsider raising the rent in 2010.


Monday, December 21

happy solstice

70 degrees here, on the first official day of winter. it would feel better somehow if frost hadn't killed the tomatoes two weeks ago.

{vainly hoping for over-wintering morning glories}

ah well, I s'pose there's no room for complaint. the winter greens and snow peas are doing just fine.

{baby heirloom kale}

Saturday, December 19

homemade mustard

{the beginnings of a white wine - chive mustard}

{and beer - thyme, as well}

this fall has been almost entirely absent of canning, as – like most falls – it's been a season scarce of both time and resources. so when winter break edged around the corner and the itch surfaced again, a new challenge seemed necessary. now, what to make in the dark days of winter? citrus, probably yes. spinach? ew, nope. the idea of homemade condiments seems strangely intriguing, and the more consideration it got, the easier it seemed. minimal ingredients, minimally processed. so many flavor profiles to experiment with. but very little *instant gratification. but having been (nearly) vegetarian for so long, mustard is a staple I could slather on almost anything. and so the challenge begins. if your grocery offers spices in bulk, by weight, abso-freaking-lutely take advantage of it regularly, for all spice/herb needs. product is fresher and so ridiculously inexpensive it makes you wonder how much a little glass jar/little red tin could possibly cost. typically, a refill on any of my jars (excepting vanilla or saffron – duh) costs less than 30 cents, sometimes requiring a pinky finger on the scale to force the weight to register anything at all. if local stores don't offer bulk, try asian/indian markets, as mustard seed is a base for many indian dishes and a pound of dry seed – enough for about a gallon, soaked – runs in the three dollar range.

*I strongly recommend *not* attempting this at home without the self-restraint to prevent immediate tasting; the immature product is quite sharp. ... quite. [note to bro & p3: hopefully you've held out until now, and can be convinced to continue another few weeks, before cracking the seal on the jar. ::grin::]

{soaked seed, prior to adding herbs ~ thyme in this case}

grainy mustard
adapted from here

1/4 cup brown mustard seeds
1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
3/4 cup flat amber beer or white wine (for the gluten free alternative)
1 tbsp mustard flour (can be made in a spice/coffee grinder, to avoid gluten additive, but it's slightly coarser)
1 tbsp dried minced onion
2 tsp dried thyme leaves, chives, or other herb (must be dried, if going un-refrigerated at any point)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (or other 5%+ acid vinegar)
1 tsp salt

soak mustard seeds in the booze of your choice, overnight. about 20 minutes before you are ready to make the mustard, stir mustard flour, minced onion and thyme into seed/booze mix and allow to rest. transfer mixture to a blender (or food processor) along with vinegar and salt, and grind until the desired consistency. transfer to a sterilized glass jar, and refrigerate at least 5 days before using, but the bitterness mellows the longer it rests – two to three weeks is reputedly better. water-bath canning is not an option, as extended high heat flattens mustard's flavor.

{... and chive in this instance}

Saturday, December 12

I'm not dead yet!

hrmm. well, damn. that little break went on longer than expected – sorry! the last few weeks have been quite a time, or rather, have faded into the dense fog rolling in almost every night. between catching the plague over t-giving, end-of-semester chaos, making time for seeing a few friends, a family visit, singing the fall concert series, and then jamming a winter concert in there for good measure, there's just not been much time for posting (even the half-dozen mostly finished ones). hell, I've had over three hundred unread google-reader articles to catch up on! so here are a few highlights:

it snowed! sort of. enough to cause everyone at work to abandon their desks for 5 minutes, seizing the photo op.


overall snowfall was sort of disappointing (approx 27 giant, messy flakes total here. houston got a picturesque dusting ... stoopid houston), but then we got another miraculous overnight flurry at work.

I was really really (really.) behind on holiday preparations, but we finally decked the halls and put up a tree (we succumbed to the cut tree, since mean grimace, the potted tree of the last two years didn't survive the transplant. that, and the blue-gray of a frasier fir is so pretty), with a few treats from home nestled under. I made a few things, but mostly relied on the expertise of folks at the blue genie art bazaar. if they had a year-round storefront, I'd probably rely on them for most giftie-type stuff.

{hallway: decked ~ doilies cut from recycled turkish newspapers – perhaps not foodsafe, but pretty!}

{tree: trimmed}

{some goodies mom was up 'till 3am packing for the mail}

{... with a few recognizable selections}

a visit from g-ma – who resides in misty oregon. I had hoped we could offer her some typical 70 degree sun, but she brought the oregon gloom with her. just two days before her arrival, the first freeze swept through and killed the tomatoes, eggplants, peppers (all things nightshade), basil, and saddest of all, the morning glories. though we had kept things tidy – even mowing the back 40 – under the sudden, damp blanket of leaves, the yard was less than prize-winning. ::sigh:: back to g-ma: though we've seen her fairly regularly in the last year (it's been year of monumental events), it was really wonderful having a few days devoted entirely to spending time together. I took a few days off work and we walked the trail with that dog and sat around drinking cups and cups of tea (ain't no party like my nana's tea party ... heeey. hooo). it's pretty common knowledge that g-ma is a pistol (mom theorizes if she were born to a different era, her calling would be advocacy), but having very little on the agenda provided time for her to prove hilarious, as well. my favorite quote of the week: in context of describing how she was forced to leave a dentist's practice because of his high pressure tactics, attempting to replace her bridge for cosmetic reasons (she's over 80, and the procedure is an ordeal), he suggested the bridge might be visible when she smiles. her reply: "Iiii don't smiiiiile!" (that's not to say she doesn't laugh. there's quite a bit of laughter where g-ma is near) I just wish she could have stayed longer.

{g-ma does not enjoy having her photo taken – fresh stock on her night stand}

the annual office vaguely-inappropriate-christmas-cookie decorating gathering. think booze, tinted royal icing, and occasionally patriotic (wha?) themed holiday cookies. this year was a doubly celebratory event, as we toasted dr. natasha's successful diss defense.

{apple cider side cars ~ alliterative mood enhancement}

{and baking}

{time to re-visit sexual harassment training ~ that two-sided cookie appears to be wearing a thong-bikini}

{a few of my contributions: that dog with the p.t.s.d. eyes, b-in-horizontally-striped-polo, and dead-grimace}

and a hanukkah matzoh crack party with doubletonic, mike and cp.

{addiction on a cracker}

we made latkes, too.

... with homemade applesauce.

terri gross is on vacation. though I love her show (especially her more off-beat guests), her seat will be filled by the ever-fascinating radiolab. if you've never heard the show, check out the podcasts. yesterday's episode on randomness was amazing (go to the 30-minute mark for the woman whose compulsive gambling was caused by her parkinsons meds ... I was floored). [ed. note - the episode on parasites was even more amazing, the last segment (ugh. sorry for that unintended pun) especially – hint: crazy cat lady]

and a few trips to the main building, where the surroundings are almost fantastic enough to tempt me into applying for a gig in accounting. almost. but then I remember – I'd have to work in accounting.

{painted ceiling panel calling my name}

{the vault-like doors reminding it's another – more mystical – realm altogether - surreptitiously shot without white-balance adjustment, before the front-desk gnome could return}

Thursday, December 3

sweet potato pecan pie

since thanksgiving was sort of a wash this year (probably best I was not responsible for preparing edibles for anyone else, anyway ::cough cough::), quameigh & dave hosted a bit of a do-over for friends in the area. dave made an unforgettable fried turkey (I see now why thousands of people risk burning their damned houses down every year), and a few delicious sides. the rest of the feast, and the delightful ukulele accompaniment was provided by the guests: a motley group of physicists (astro-, and otherwise), code-monkey entrepreneurs ... and us. the amazing food, fascinating chat (overheard while discussing reprogramming a linux-based webcam: "so did you hear that lecture professor so-and-so gave on the physics of rainbows?") and sing-along rendition of "tonight you belong to me" was a wonderful, memorable way to mark the season. it's only fitting, noting after the fact, that the token foodnetwork scienc-ie gastro-dweeb provided the recipe for our contribution. it is custardy and rich, without being tooth-achingly sweet, and the pecans give it a really wonderful, slightly sweet crunch.

sweet potato pecan pie
from my favorite culinary geek-wizard (second only to the especially nerdly bowtied pbs guy)

1 pound 3 ounces sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 1/4 cups plain yogurt (greek or bulgarian hippie-yogurt is perfect, if it's an on-hand staple)
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
5 egg yolks
1 (9-inch) deep dish, frozen pie shell (or one recipe pie crust, no need to blind-bake)
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 tablespoon maple syrup

put cubed potatoes into steamer basket and place steamer basket into a large pot of simmering water that is no closer than 2 inches from the bottom of basket. allow to steam for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. mash and set aside. preheat oven to 350 degrees f. beat sweet potatoes with the paddle attachment of your hand or stand-mixer. add yogurt, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, yolks, and salt, to taste, and beat until well combined, then pour into pie shell and place onto sheet pan. sprinkle pecans on top and drizzle with maple syrup. bake for 50 to 55 minutes (or if your rent-house oven is as crappy as mine, until the custard reaches 165 to 180 degrees), then remove from oven and cool. refrigerate after cooling.

spider house rules

this neighborhood spot served as backdrop for holiday-card photos for our friends pure and j-money. pure has some sort of school-mascot-related connection (never heard of the "spiders," myself, but that probably shows I don't know squat about collegiate sports), and while the service is spotty (dress down or suffer the hipster service-staff scorn), the atmosphere is about as wonderfully kooky as the "keep austin weird" mantra might suggest. beyond the regular live music and outdoor film screenings, should you ever need a year-round twinkle light background, this is your spot. they make a pretty tasty sangria, too.

... while it seems uncool to post any of the pics of pure&money (they're sort of private), hopefully they won't object to a piccy of their darling girl.

Monday, November 30

weekend piccys ~ gratitude

{we spent thanksgiving in the traditional texan way}

{stoking an old rivalry}

{... did I mention the "traditional" part??)

{... and the rivalry part??}

{with a lovely, traditional toast}

{I may have forgotten to mention they're big on tradition in these parts ...}

{... but it's cool, 'cause I'm pretty big on pie}

{giving thanks for a great game}

{then for an austin tradition ~ the city's first integrated restaurant still serves a great breakfast}