29 November 2007

A Salad Fit for a Winesap

After Thanksgiving break, my aunt sent me back to school with my favorite apples, the Stayman Winesap that I've already used once. I love how crisp they are, and how the promise from the rich, wine-like apple smell is so fully delivered in every bite. My aunt, knowing well my affinity for them, gifted me with three of these fragrant beauties. Three, which just happened to be the number of weekly updates for ABS. I knew that it was time for a long overdue apple week (for real this time Aubrey, though I'm sure your Fall Break apples are long gone now).

No cooking involved in this salad dish, rather a balancing of the delicate, dry flavor of the Winesaps with the tangy, sweet, crunchy, savory, and fresh flavors of the rest of the salad. The cheese in particular required some hands on attention – I acquired a French manicure of crumbled feta to prove it. The juxtaposition of all of the competing elements of the salad itself required a dressing that could both hold its own and keep those elements as the focal point. It also needed to be something out of my fridge, because with two weeks left to this semester, it's time to start working on whittling away at the perishables. For instance, all of the salad ingredients – barring the fresh apples I brought back after break – came from the dining hall at one time or another. The dressing conundrum ended up solving itself through this school-fueled necessity: a bottle of pomegranate and hibiscus vinaigrette that's been living in the suite's refrigerator since August. Extra pungent from sitting for three months, but still sweet from the pomegranate. Even now, I'm not sure what a hibiscus flower tastes like exactly, so I can't speak for how well that held up. In any case, I was glad to use another serving or two of my dressing, which turned out to be a complimentary, but not overpowering flavor for the whole dish.

I liked my apple salad so much I ate two and a half servings in one sitting. But hey, I figure I'm allowed to pig out on fruits and veggies. Maybe it'll even make up for the four snickers bars I had for breakfast, followed by a take-out box full of dining hall French fries for lunch. Two and a half salads balances that mess out, right?

Maybe I outta drink a V8, just to be on the safe side.

Fall Apple Salad

Things you can pocket at the dining hall:

2 cups spring greens mix

¼ cup feta cheese

1/3 cup Craisins

½ cup croutons

Things you can get elsewhere:

1 Stayman Winesap apple

pomegranate hibiscus vinaigrette dressing

  1. Arrange salad in layers, starting with the greens and ending with the feta. Sprinkle lightly with dressing. (If you go too heavy, the greens will start looking wilty and unappetizing. Plus the feta really becomes a star flavor when it isn't competing so much with a flood of dressing.)


27 November 2007

For Love of Leftovers

"I guess I should wait until you leave to lick the plate." – Emma

If you hadn't guessed, my very favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is the stuffing. My great-grandmother's herb dressing recipe, my aunt's James Beard dressing, traditional cubed stuffing cooked in the bird like my dad's. It doesn't matter the form, they're all beautiful and unique. Like snowflakes, except, you know, delicious. I love stuffing so much that I ate it (not leftover dessert or even cranberry sauce) for breakfast until Sunday, when I had to leave the leftovers behind and come back to school.

There's pretty much nothing that needs to be done to stuffing for it to be enjoyable leftovers. Microwaving's the most messing with it that I'll allow. The turkey on the other hand, that is prime for remixing. Turkey is not my favorite fowl. Cooked right, it can have a crispy, succulent skin like duck and rich dark meat reminiscent of a nice capon chicken. Yet I can't find an apt description of good turkey without heavily relying on comparisons to other bird flesh. On Thanksgiving, there's plenty of cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, and yes, of course, stuffing, to lend it flavor. After Thanksgiving, all of its compliments run away to reinvent themselves as breakfast solo acts. And then you're left with literally pounds of neglected turkey. That's when the creative remixing comes into play.

Of course I know that I'm not alone in my quest for new methods of turkey recycling. After I found the following curried apple pita recipe in my copy of Fast, Cheap & Easy (discovered at a Pennsylvanian Amish market last summer) and served up the fragrant lovelies with an extra twist of sweetness in the form of vanilla yogurt and some drizzled Fireweed honey, I snooped around the internet to find other solutions to extraneous Thanksgiving bounty. I didn't have to look very long.

Over on Slashfood, leftover remix recipes have been featured with their own tagged category. This week, Bob Sassone asked

"But what's the fun of making a big turkey if you're not going to make soups and sandwiches and pot pies with the leftovers?!"

Here, here.

He was responding to this Jill Hunter Pellettieri article over on the Slate magazine site, which posits:

"In some ways, the leftover feast is as sacred as the meal itself. The guests have left, you've cozied up in your PJs, and the only remaining company is your closest family, the people you love most. There's the huddling around the Tupperware as you all seek the perfect bite of cold stuffing; the soft hum of the microwave in the otherwise quiet house as it warms the mashed potatoes; the smell of toasted bread slathered with mayo for the perfect turkey sandwich (sandwiches are, in my mind, the only acceptable use of leftovers)."

Well, partially. She's spot on about the stuffing. It would be sacrilegious to mess around with that. But earlier in the article, she also claims that the turkey itself is "often dried out" and that chicken is "more flavorful, more manageable." I don't think that finding new use for turkey need take anything away from the day itself. Although it is the centerpiece of the table, the Thanksgiving turkey is still just one symbol out of many, eaten for tradition, not for flavor. And isn't it better to find ways to enjoy all of it, rather than rehashing the same meal in microwaved form until you are so sick of it that you toss whatever's left?

I'm certainly a proponent of finding new flavors to accent leftover turkey. Last night I made this for a gathering of friends hanging out in the suite. We weren't in our PJs, and I definitely needed more than the microwave, but I think we found that cozy, thankful, meditative place to which Pellettieri aspires.

Curry Apple Turkey Pita

(recipe adapted from Fast, Cheap & Easy)

Things you can pocket at the dining hall:

1 cup sliced onion

16 lemon wedges (or 2 lemons)

½ pound cooked turkey

4 pita bread rounds

Things you could buy at the store:

1 Tablespoon yellow curry powder

½ cup vanilla yogurt

4 Tablespoons Fireweed honey

1 apple (Stayman Winesap variety)

  1. Zest and juice the lemons, discard seeds. Warm oil over medium to low heat.
  2. Add lemon juice, zest, and onions, stirring continuously until onions are limp (or "tender" as a cookbook would call them).
  3. Shred cooked turkey and mix it and the curry powder into the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Move pan away from the heat, slice and mix in your apple.
  5. Spread vanilla yogurt inside pita pocket (or cut pitas into sandwich slices and spread like mayonaise if they have no pockets, like mine). Drizzle honey inside (not outside, unless you want honey all over your face), close pita, and eat.


24 November 2007

Turkey Day the Second

I think I may have a freakish fondness for stuffing. Despite what the name implies, yesterday on Turkey Day 2 I was again able to gorge myself on stuffing of two different kinds to the point where my plate of seconds was only stuffing. And then had room for two desserts. And ate stuffing for breakfast for the past two days. Maybe I just have a natural, or seasonal, competitive eater's stomach. Or maybe it was because my aunt made a James Beard stuffing and it totally rocked.

As much as I could praise the turkey, or the green bean casserole, or the cranberry sauce, or the mashed potatoes (all of them gloriously evocative of Thanksgivings past), the best part of any Thanksgiving has to be eating the food with family. Meals without company can be indulgent and filling, but they can never be as satisfying as a meal shared. This Thanksgiving I got the chance to surround myself with family three times, and remind myself just exactly where all of my different roots are. My cousins on dad's side may be on Myspace and Facebook, but nothing really compares with being in the same room with them for story-telling. Just like frost-your-own cupcake day can't ever fairly be judged against frosting a homemade carrot cake with my aunt in the kitchen I grew up in.

It's almost unfair, giving college students less than a week to be home to enjoy the holiday, and its leftovers. In three weeks I'll be home again for Winter break. Until then,
I’ve got Dad’s Marshall Field’s turkey leftover sandwiches to tide me over. Still tastes like Thanksgiving in my house and I’m feeling good.

22 November 2007

Turkey Day the First: Stuffed to Perfection

Thankfulness comes in the form of a full belly. And in a blessedly elastic belly. Power-napping does wonders to expand the appetite. This afternoon started with hand-mashing potatoes and salad arranging. Dinner number one - with my maternal grandmother, aunt, mom, and step-dad - was relaxed, quiet, and crispily delicious. Especially the stuffing (or dressing, as Mammaw calls it). Mammaw whupped up the cream for our pumpkin and black cherry pies (from the local Amish market, and yes, I meant 'whupped'). Preparations had started the night before, as had the eating (the stuffing was just that good), and when we were all finally at the table, we shared our news and tucked into our feast in a collective sigh of contentment.

Dinner number two - comprising at peak times 30-35 representatives of my step-dad's family - was three long tables of traditional Thanksgiving feast foods (sans sauerkraut, thank goodness) and joyful toddler shrieks, catching-up and keeping up. My mom, step-dad, and I tried our luck at the themed quiz - glad I'm not alive during the original thanks-givers' times, I like forks! - while we polished off our plates. The youngest family members kept all entertained with bubbly laughter and bumps and bruises and drawings and general adorableness. As we left for our car, warmed from the furnace of post-feasting digestion, I was thankful for all of it, and for having the chance to reprise this holiday not only twice, but a third time again tomorrow with my dad's side of the family.

For now, it's time to pass out again - I feel like I've got stuffing for brains (mmm… stuffing) - and let my weary appetite replenish itself in time for Turkey Day, the sequel. See you on Saturday with more utterly gluttonous indulgence. Enjoy!

Mammaw whupping the cream. So delicious.

Power-napping between first dessert and second dinner. I'm turning into such a hobbit.

And this was only my table - multiply by three for the full effect. I was stuffed like a turducken, but I had to at least try everything on the table. Couldn't resist the bacon in the lima beans.

Shark + Knife = cooler than the pilgrims.

20 November 2007

Fruit Salad Mish-Mash

This evening before I leave for Thanksgiving break, one of my classes met for a pot-luck movie night. Our professor's wife made the main dish: lasagna. Other students brought bread, wine, and dessert. I couldn't be left out in the food making, of course. My contribution: fruit salad.

As far as party food goes, fruit salad has become a rather ubiquitous side dish, so I wanted to do something special to spice it up. Undertake a quest, if you will.

Step 1: recruit as many fruit salad recipes as humanly possible in half an hour's internet and cookbook trolling. I had originally planned to allot a few more half hours to this task, but the sheer numbers enlisted in the online fruit salad recipe army made step 2 a lot easier.

Step 2: amalgamate said recipes into something otherworldly. I had the germ of an idea from Kids Cooking: A very slightly messy manual: make this into ambrosia (how lofty is that?) by adding a sour cream/marshmallow/cocoanut mixture. Other recipes online seem to echo my slightly messy manual, including one that can't help but remind me that there really isn't all that much cooking to do with most fruit salads. Time to crack open the spice jars (and some fireweed honey from this year's Maryland Renaissance Festival) and get experimenting.

Step 3: fully realize my kitchenette's impracticality as a fruit salad laboratory. One 2 x 3 countertop workspace gets really, really tight when you've got to break out the mixing bowls in multiples. I tried six variations on sour cream, lemon zest, vanilla extract, nutmeg, allspice, marshmallow fluff, cocoanut nectar, and fireweed honey. The winner scrapped the vanilla extract, fluff, and cocoanut, which overpowered the fruit with too much sugary-sweetness and not enough punch.

Step 4:

Fruit Salad Mish-Mash

Things bought at the store:

1 lemon

½ teaspoon all spice

¾ teaspoon nutmeg

1 ½ teaspoon fireweed honey

Things nicked from the dining hall:

¾ cup sour cream

4 gala apples

2 navel oranges

4 bananas

½ cup strawberries

  1. Zest and juice the lemon. For zesting, grate the skin down to the white, but do not use the white (the pith) as it is simply not good tasting. Juice the lemon into the serving bowl.
  2. Blend sour cream, spices, honey, and lemon zest together until creamy.
  3. Peel and cube fruit into even sized chunks, starting with oranges, then apples, then bananas, adding each to the lemon juice in the bowl as you finish.
  4. Gently mix everything together and refrigerate 2-3 hours before serving.

Step 5: Enjoy!

17 November 2007


On special occasions and at least once whenever our relatives from Maine visit, my grandmother makes meatloaf and these biscuits. They're as much a staple of my childhood as sweet potato casserole, chicken pot pie, pinwheel cookies, or (yes, even) spaghetti. I love them more than cheesecake, saving room for at least four or five at the end of any meal they grace with their presence. These biscuits (or in our quirky rural-Mason-Dixon-line-farm meets Northern-Ball-mer (Baltimore) meets Towsonite-suburbia slang: bick-its) don't have anything fancy about them, they aren't exotic, or even particularly unique in recipe from other baking powder biscuits (in fact, the baking powder I used had nearly this recipe printed directly on the side) – but in the eight or so minutes that they spend in the toaster oven, they transform from just anybody's dough to my Mammaw's biscuits.

I don't know how they do it, but they do. When I smell the crisping dough, I am instantly transported back to my grandparents' rancher, Mainer cousins at my side making stick-and-duct tape swords, or careening around the basement on the old red tricycle, or messing around with the pop-O-matic on the Trouble set. My memories are almost always linked in to food, a mutually beneficial relationship for both of us. Yet even without twenty-odd years of memories tied in to these biscuits, they still smell doughy and rich coming out of the toaster oven, and make excellent jam and butter vehicles, as my suitemate remarked while she scarfed down six of them.

Baking Powder Biscuits Bick-its

Repurposed from the dining hall:

1 cup milk

½ teaspoon salt

Bought at the store:

2 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

4 tablespoons shortening

  1. Sift flour, salt, and baking powder together. Use a colander over a large bowl or pot, tightly holding colander and bowl or pot together at the rims and shaking side to side, thus avoiding turning your kitchen or dorm room into a flour bomb detonation zone.
  2. Cut in shortening with two knives until it is mostly mixed but still a little lumpy.
  3. Pour in milk and stir until all dry matter is absorbed.
  4. Drop rough, tablespoon-sized portions onto an ungreased baking tray. Bake 7-8 minutes on 450O F in the toaster oven. Yields 30 biscuits, though only 24 are pictured because my suitemate ate 6 before I took pictures. : )


15 November 2007

The Best Vegetable

Throughout my childhood, sweet potato casserole reigned king of the tubers at my family's Thanksgiving table. It's a ritual: a mere half hour before the meal my stomach will roil in need of that salty sweet perfume wafting up the stairs from the kitchen, but I have to wait, or burn my fingers on the oven-hot, sweet potato innards. My mom's recipe, one from Bette Haney – who originally had it from Mrs. Maggie Schenault of Alabama – clipped from a newspaper, is a dessert that needs no marshmallow fluff because it's really a pie without a bottom crust masquerading as a vegetable. My favorite Thanksgiving vegetable.

One year my mom tried to make baked acorn squash instead of my sweet potatoes. My whole family had been changing up the traditions for a few years, most memorably swapping one giant turkey – difficult to roast without drying it out – for a couple of capon chickens, and adding in my step-dad's carrot soufflé. I love that soufflé (another cleverly disguised dessert mingling with the dinner foods) and I did like the baked acorn squash (though I probably eye rolled through it that first year). Still, my sweet potatoes had that mythic cloak curling coyly about them from the time when adults went into the kitchen and feasts magically came out, all while I played with Barbies and half-listened to the parade on TV.

Bette Haney's Sweet-Potato Casserole with Praline Topping

(Halved for toaster oven convenience.)

Bought at the store:

Potato Mixture:

1 ½ large eggs (I know, half an egg, right? But if you pour it out and then divide half off to not use, it works.)

2 lbs sweet potatoes (Although if they've still got leftover sweet potatoes in the dining hall, they'd save you a bunch of steps and time. You'd just have to scrape off any offending marshmallow bits before use.)

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup melted butter

2 ½ Tablespoons heavy whipping cream

½ teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon allspice


½ cup packed light-brown sugar (You'll want to do the packing, it'll give you more sugar if you cram the measuring cup full than if it's just loose.)

1 ½ Tablespoons flour

¼ cup finely chopped pecans

1 ½ Tablespoons softened butter

  1. Peel, boil until soft, drain, and mash the potatoes. Or clean 2 lbs of dining hall cooked sweet potatoes and start from there.
  2. Beat potatoes and eggs together (make sure you've got a big bowl for this). Mix in remaining Potato Mixture ingredients until you've got a smooth paste.
  3. For the Topping, stir sugar, flour, and pecans together. Work in the softened butter.
  4. Pour Potato Mixture into a greased baking dish. Sprinkle Topping evenly over everything.
  5. Bake 50-60 minutes at 350O F until the topping is browned and bubbling and sending out perfumed feelers.
  6. Arrange loose pecan halves in a pattern on top.


13 November 2007

A Rocky Courtship

Ah, Dining Hall. This month, you've been reaching out to students, showcasing just exactly how far you can push your limits. Unfortunately, while you've had some successes, you've managed to reinforce to your student body just what those limits are.

Last week, Thursday night: Japanese Dinner. It shouldn't be unreasonable to get dinner from a buffet line in less than twenty minutes. It shouldn't be unreasonable to serve the advertised foods for more than the first hour of a three hour event. I'm speaking here about the "dumplings" everyone was talking about when I got to the MDR at 5:40 PM. I never did get to eat them. The tray was steaming empty when I arrived, and wasn't refilled until halfway through my forty minute wait in the sushi line. And then you filled it with pirogues. I didn't get any miso soup, either, because that was gone when I got out of the forty minute sushi line, replaced with an unidentified chowder.

I realize that the dining hall was especially full (perhaps the advertising worked a little too well?). I realize that you are patiently waiting for the college to get around to your renovations (After, of course, we get a new stadium, new dorms, new parking lots, and a new fountain. Those things rightfully come before renovating the one building on campus that 99% of students use daily.) so that you can better serve the growing student body. However, Dining Hall, I expect you to learn from this experience not that student-WCDS collaborations are inherently doomed – although I was fairly upset about the length of time spent in the sushi line (which was forty minutes, I counted), the sushi was wonderful.

The ingredients were fresh, the rolls expertly made, and the design-your-own roll idea was a special treat for sushi lovers – but that in your current state, if you cannot feed so many people with the specialty of the day, then maybe you should pick a different specialty.

Tonight, Tuesday night, for example: Thanksgiving dinner. This was definitely your specialty.
I thoroughly enjoyed the orange peel cranberry sauce, the garlic mashed potatoes, the seafood and crab bisque, and those rolls. The rolls were exactly what rolls should be – crunchy, butter-glazed outsides and soft, sour dough insides. Perfect. There were less than perfect things. I think in this case, more than any other, tradition is against you. You are competing against Mom's sweet potatoes, Dad's turkey, Aunt Nancy and Mammaw's stuffing. Honestly, I commend you for even trying to compete against those heavy-weights.

Most of all, though, your Thanksgiving dinner reminded me of a promise I'd made to myself when I started this blog: to find a way to make some of my favorite family recipes in my limited kitchen and bring a little bit of home to Washington College. Dining Hall, I may not see you Thursday night. I send my regrets, but I have a date with a sweet potato.

10 November 2007


These are not your typical stuffed peppers. I've never liked stuffed peppers. Probably because they taste like Bad Mexican. Bad Mexican is heavy on melted cheese, heavy on greasy beef, and manages to taste like beans no matter what is in it. Bad Mexican is unhappy American food that changed its name (Good Mexican, of course, doesn't get better than beef quesadillas at Frisco Burrito in Towson. Super fresh sour cream; succulent, sizzling beef; otherworldly pico de gallo; and perfectly crisped tortillas. If you've had them, you know what I mean and why I don't feel bad about giving them free advertising. If you haven't: it's time for a pilgrimage.)

I don't like not liking food. I needed to take the Bad Mexican out of the stuffed pepper. I needed to use the fresh ingredients taking over our kitchen closets.

I ended up with a sweet, vegetarian friendly twist on a savory, bean-y staple of the Bad Mexican type. Instead of rice, I used pumpernickel bread to fill out the stuffing, and instead of melty nacho cheese or tomato sauce to bind it all together, I used mustard. I was first introduced to the delight of apples in spicy mustard one July when it was time to use up ungifted Christmas gift basket non-perishables. What I wanted was an excuse to throw out some dreadfully pungent and therefore unusable mustard (and I've always been a ketchup girl, anyway). Apparently, dreadfully pungent mustard plus super sweet apples equals delightfully stimulated taste buds on both the sweet and tangy receptors which makes mouths happy. I wanted to carry that experience over to my stuffed pepper makeover, so I replaced the beef (which in this sort of preparation tends to be greasy no matter what the cook does) with apples and peppers. Kind of like stuffing a turkey with minced turkey innards, I guess.

I can't think of stuffed peppers as Bad Mexican anymore; I can only think of this, and that's a good thing.


Bought at the store:

4 apples (Cortland, Winesap, or Gala. 2 for the stuffing. The other 2 to be stuffed, if you want more sweet than savory in the final product.)

3 slices pumpernickel bread

3 ½ Tablespoons Dijon mustard

parmesan cheese

chili powder


garlic salt

Harvested locally:

5 green bell peppers (3 for the stuffing, 2 to be stuffed. If you're not stuffing the apples, use 7: 3 for stuffing, 4 to be stuffed.)

2 medium spicy red mystery peppers

  1. Carve the cores out of two green peppers and two apples.
  2. Dice and mash the remaining apples, green peppers, and the pumpernickel slices.
  3. Stir in sliced red pepper rounds, mustard, and spices to taste.
  4. Pack the cored peppers and apples with your stuffing, top with an extra dusting of chili powder.
  5. Bake peppers for 15-20 minutes at 400O F and apples for 10-15 minutes (until they begin splitting and bubbling out of their skins) at 400O F.


08 November 2007

First adventure: Sunday Dinner

When Lindsay, Emma, and I came back to the suite after pepper picking Emma took over the kitchen to fill our bellies. It's good to have a break from being the wielder of the spatula after a burst of intensive party cooking. Yet even though I kept my hands firmly on the camera and out of the sauce dish this time, I couldn't help but help. While Emma wielded my new seven-inch carving knife against such fiendish foes as Lindsay's peppers, chicken breasts, onions, mangoes, and plums, I made the sticky rice. But I cheated and made it in my rice cooker, one of my parent's wedding gifts that I seized from the back shelf of my their pantry nearly a year ago. So mostly my hands stayed on the camera, and I let Emma work her magic this time.

Emma had this Indian cooking sauce that just begged for fresh mangoes (and when we used all of those that we had, really ripe plums) and kind-of sweet, kind-of hot mystery peppers. As heady tropical steam filled the kitchen, I attempted to catch the cook at work. Yet every time I got close she'd shy away and try to clear the shot of all save the food. Eventually we got on the same page and our cook du jour got her hands, at least, into the shots as well as the food.

Soon the rice clicked over to warming, the chicken browned, and Emma's spicey-sweet mango sauce had bubbled to perfection. We nestled down on the couches with our heaping portions served, as an added bonus, in some of Emma's hand-made ceramic bowls and ate until we were stuffed like the Thanksgiving turkey. I'd definitely be willing to get pampered by Emma's eats any time at all.

Indian Mango Chicken

Pocketed at the dining hall:

3 plums

Bought at the store:

Patak's Mango Chicken sauce (Since this import is only sold in specialty food stores, you could get away with substituting a mild yellow curry paste mixed with a can of coconut milk, as long as you use an extra mango. Both paste and milk can be found in the international foods aisle of any grocery store, even the C-town Acme, and include instructions on how to make them into your own sauce.)

Basmati rice

1 lb uncooked chicken (or 1 lb cooked chicken with mild or no spices from the dining hall)

2 mangoes

½ yellow onion

olive oil (vegetable oil is better, if you've got it)

Harvested locally:

2 green bell peppers

3 mildly spicy red mystery peppers (one of my suitemates whose family grows peppers is working on the name)

  1. Brown chicken in 1-2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil over medium heat until white on all sides.
  2. Add sliced fruit and vegetables. Cook an additional 5 minutes.
  3. Measure 1 ½ cups water for every 1 cup uncooked rice (use the cup that comes with the cooker, otherwise the math gets tricky in the English* measurement, as their cup = ¾ cup) and flip the rice cooker switch to on. This will take about 15-20 minutes, but you can start it any time during the cooking process, as your rice will be kept steaming fresh by the warm function for as long as you need.
  4. Empty cooking sauce over veggies and chicken. Turn down heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

If you don't have a rice cooker, I'd suggest going for instant rice or even microwaved rice, as cooking sticky rice on the stove is a thankless task that should only be attempted if you are held at gunpoint. Seriously, it's intense!


*Because we are a stubborn people and like to melt cultures into a confusing blur, we still use an antiquated measuring system, called "English" or Imperial after our colonial masters, but which also includes measurements from other immigrant cultures. Meanwhile, the rest of the world has converted to the much more efficient base ten system of Metric. But you can have fun with conversion with sites like these, where you can finally know how many ancient Hebrew measures are in a U.K. hogsheads. (It's 37.195 281 818 measures in 1 hogshead [U.K.], for those not in the know.)

06 November 2007

Pepper Picking

Sunday evening, my friend Lindsay drove Emma and me to her grandmother's house. Our goal: fill a market bag with the peppers ripening in the vegetable garden.

First, she showed us her room, the room her two aunts grew up in and left their acid green carpet behind. One window looked South on the two ancient front yard trees. One window looked West on the garden and the horse farm next door. One window looked North on the backyard swing set and the field beyond where once there was a blue-tongued bull that let children pet it sometimes.

Then: harvesting time. While we explored her yard and the vegetable garden, the sun set in a blaze of orange and purple behind the neighbor's industrial sized farm complex. It was almost hard to tear our eyes away from it to focus on the task at hand. But we did explore, seeking out ripe peppers, strolling through towering lima bean vines dangling fuzzy white bean pods, walking the edges of the property and sounding memories. This place had a sense of place; it knew what it had been, and what it was now. It knew because Lindsay knew; it knew because she spoke its memories.

We drove back to campus when the sky faded to blue-black. Our market bag brimmed with green bell peppers and a mysteriously mild red pepper that may be Serrano, or Anaheim, or Early Jalapeño, or maybe even Hungarian Hot Wax left to redden. Sometimes this happens with gardens: you plant the seeds and something totally unexpected shows up, a stranger whose face is distantly familiar but whose name you can't place. It's all part of the adventure.

03 November 2007

A Recipe for a Party:

9:00 AM – 10 hours to party time. Hit snooze alarm 10 or 12 times.

11:28 AM
– Drag myself out of bed. Carve Pepperoni Jack-o-lanterns and green, orange, and yellow bell pepper snakes. Still in my pajamas. Mmm… breakfast.

1:15 PM – Take a break for real life (i.e. my job. A food blogger's got to work).

3:40 PM – Swing by the dining hall for last minute party essentials. I'm saved – fresh mushrooms on the salad bar. And – why didn't I think of this before – cucumbers. They'll do much better for fingernails than "cheese."

3:55 PM – Pit stop at the bank.

4:00 PM – Hit up the dollar store for more last minute party essentials (But where are my post-Halloween sale items? And why are they already stocking Christmas goods?? Do find excellent red glass serving plates, though.)

4:25 PM – 2.5 hours to party time and home again, finally. Fry up pizza toppings.

4:40 PM – Carve onion bats. Cool shades, on. (For the onion tear gas. Not that they help much. These are some seriously onions. Told you there would be tears.)

5:07 PM – 2 hours to party time. Attempt to fry up onion bats. Set off fire alarm. Cue desperate magazine fanning.

5:15 PM – Set off fire alarms. Again. Even more desperate magazine fanning.

5:42 PM – Test punch mixture. Promptly spill onto my never-worn, tan-colored, last-clean-pair-of- pants. Break for emergency spill reversal measures. The punch is good, though.

5:55 PM – 1 hour to party time. Back in my pajamas. Blend up the "finger foods" dip. Black (food dye) + White (Ranch dressing) = Green? More food dye seems to be the solution. Unexpected bonus: temporary giraffe tongue effect.

6:10 PM – Frost remaining spider cookies. No, I didn't finish frosting all of the cookies on Thursday. I'm sure I had very good reasons, but now I'm ruing my previous lack of industry.

6:46 PM – 0.25 hours to party time. No Rice Krispie witch cookies (Next year, maybe). No fingernails on the carrot "finger foods." Commence last minute cleaning (Read: straightening up, tossing the dirty dish towels (and other common room detritus) into the bedroom and closing the door on them).,

7:00 PM – The first guests arrive! Take coats for Hindi Film Star and (Unmarried) Roman Woman. Yes, I am still in my pajamas. But not for long!

7:05 PM – Finally decided on a costume: Random Hufflepuff # 34. The pants are stain-free and dry, which is a plus, because otherwise I'd have to go as Random "Stumbled Over to the Great Hall Still Half in Her Pajamas" Hufflepuff #34. Not nearly as effective, really.

7:07 PM –Set out chilled punch, start up music, welcome more guests (purely coincidently dressed in coordinating Washington College Student costumes), commence pizza making. Revelry and toaster oven adventures ensue. And fun was had by all, and it was all good.

01 November 2007

A Good Place

Ah, party prep. I'd forgotten how much it eats my life. But it's all good. It's good to have a goal, to have a grand, tenuous idea that exists only in my head become a witnessed reality. It's good to try more than one new thing at a time, because it magnifies the feeling of accomplishment in the end result. Not only did I do this, I also did that and that and I made them all work together.

But even at this early stage, I'm wrestling with the success of my ideas in the details. (Remember how I said there would be tears and disasters?) Last night I started with the spider cookies and they look vastly different from my mental image of them. Granted I wasn't be able to frost them until today – frosting is one of those delicate processes best not attempted in the wee hours of the morning and they were entirely different beasts then, much less like that image – and that is affecting my view of the final result.

What I have are flatish sugar cookies with spoke-like pretzel protrusions that only look like spiders if I'm looking at them all squinty in the half-light. It doesn't help that I started by chopping each two inch pretzel stick in half – some of the spiders are so stumpy that I wonder how they would propel their fat bodies around. Eventually I cottoned on and left the pretzels full length, but there's nothing I can do for the poor dachshund spiders.

My suitemate accurately compared the dough-ball form to the soot-spirit things from Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, which of course, made me love them more. Those soot-spirit things are adorable! But my store-bought dough flattened on baking. My suitemate suggested adding baking powder. I perversely continued to make flattened soot-spirit dachshund spiders. Now they look like this one after he was smooshed under his piece of coal. Which I find somehow even more adorable. I think I found that place where I've succeeded in my own failures. It's a good place.

Tomorrow morning I'll craft my rice krispie treat witches, find (and carve??) a pumpkin, and prep the pizza ingredients, at which point I've run out of things I can do until immediately before people arrive on Friday.

Spider Sugar Cookies

Things you can procure at the dining hall:

thin pretzels

red hots

chocolate sprinkles

Things from the store:

sugar cookie dough

melting chocolate

  1. Preheat toaster oven to 350O on Bake.
  2. Mould dough into ½ inch thick spider bodies. Poke eight pretzel legs into the bodies, at least ¼ inch from the edge of the dough.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes for each batch. (I know, it takes a loooong time, but it makes the room smell delicious while you can work on other tasks.)
  4. Melt chocolate in the microwave (one 5 oz. bar takes 2-3 minutes).
  5. On a sheet of wax paper or other protected surface, coat each baked spider body with the melted chocolate. Generously sprinkle. Affix as many eyes as suit your fancy to the body, about ¼ - ½ inch from the edge. If they keep falling off, use a dab of the melted chocolate frosting.