The Summer That Was

We drove 4,000 miles to San Antonio and back for RSA, where I chaired a SuperSession on Machine Rhetorics. There were so many smart, hilarious friends and fambly.

I hadn’t been back to the South in four years. There was tex-mex and charcuterie and bbq and papusas and mescal mojitos. We found handmade brooms and comb-in honey.

We also went to Faulkner’s house, where I last visited just as I was starting this whole odyssey in academia.

Then we came home and drove around the state once a week or so. We visited dairies and I ended up with dairy t-shirts. Total summer milage: somewhere around 7,500.

And there were friends with wonderful gardens and magic sheds.

Sometimes dear ones gave me plants. We expanded the front beds and put in a huge stone birdbath.

Everything broke. We replaced major appliances one by one. Mr. Husband did dishes by hand for almost the entire summer. We started cooking with cast iron and black clay pots a lot more.

We put out a hummingbird feeder and found out that we like feeding birds.

I sat out on the deck with the birds and read and read and read. Then I came inside and wrote and wrote and wrote. Sent a couple of revised articles back out the door. Signed a book contract and started revising the manuscript.

When we moved in five years ago, I insisted on writing in the smallest room in the house. My procedure for setting up my study involved hauling boxes and a desk in and getting to work. There were still unpacked boxes everywhere in there this summer. I sorted them, donated a bunch of stuff, and finally painted the walls. And discovered that the best view in the room is from the closet, which I turned into a reading nook.

We froze berries and herbs. I grew a lackadaisical garden and made only the jams that I really wanted to make: strawberry and spiced plum. More writing, less preserving during the late-summer harvest season this year.

We got addicted to Lark Rise to Candleford and rationed episodes all summer. We continued working our way through the available canon of Godzilla movies.

And then it was time for the cabbage harvest and Labor Day.

We summered. I am not usually a fan of the season, but this was a wonderful one.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Recipe Project #171: Asado de Puerco (or Pollo or Carne) a la Veracruzana

When we came home from San Antonio in early June, we hauled all of the Mexican cookbooks out of the cookbook bookcase and started paging through them, and then Mr. Husband also ordered up a copy of the truly marvelous Border Cookbook. It’s been all salsas and migas and tacos and enchiladas and chilaquiles around here. When he came home from the butchers with a very nice bone-in pork butt last week, we immediately decided to make it into Asado de Puerco a la Veracruzana from Diana Kennedy’s The Essential Cuisines of Mexico since we already had all the other ingredients. (We became people who always have banana leaves in the freezer back when we became addicted to Puerco Pibil.) I made up the two separate but simple marinades, rubbed it all into the meat, and then wrapped it up until it looked like this:

And then it went into the fridge for a day, and then into an oven for awhile, and then it was marvelous. We wondered if the marinade would translate well to a whole chicken, particularly one cooked in a cast iron dutch oven over coals. It does. We ate the chicken breasts the first day, and then the rest of it became various sorts of chicken enchiladas and a big batch of broth that is now bagged in the freezer for future reference. Today, we’re trying it with a chuck roast, and I suspect it will be just as marvelous.

5 pounds (2.5 kg) pork roast on the bone, preferably butt
6 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
6 ancho chiles, seeds and veins removed
4 morita chiles, or 1 chipotle or 1 mora
½ cup (250 ml) water, approximately
4 whole allspice, crushed
Banana leaves sufficient to wrap the roast in a double layer

Pierce the meat all over with the point of a sharp knife. (Or pierce it with a jacquard.) Mash the garlic with the salt and moisten with the lime juice. Rub this mixture thoroughly into the roast and set aside to season while you prepare the chile mixture.

Lightly toast the ancho chiles on a hot griddle or comal. Cover them with hot water, add the whole, untoasted morita chiles, and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the chiles to soak for 5 minutes longer.

Transfer the chiles to a blender jar with the water. Add the allspice and blend until smooth. Add a little more water only if necessary to release the blades of the blender.
Coat the meat liberally with the chile paste. Hold the banana leaf over a hot heat until it softens and wrap it around the meat. Let the meat season overnight in the refrigerator. (If you are not using the banana leaf, simply leave the meat unwrapped.)

Preheat the oven to 325 F (165 C) [or prepare your coals.] Please the meat in a dutch oven or casserole with a tightly fitting lid and bake for 2 hours, by the end of which time there should be plenty of juices at the bottom of the casserole. Remove the lid and continue cooking the meat, basting it from time to time, for about 2 hours longer, or until soft.

Serve hot, with fresh corn tortillas.

Note: Rather than reheating this pork the next day, Kennedy prefers to eat it cold. We also found this to definitely be the case, and it makes excellent cold pork sandwiches. It does not freeze well, she writes.

Posted in Cooking, Recipe Project | Comments Off

Poem

by Muriel Rukeyser, from The Speed of Darkness, Vintage Books, 1968

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

Posted in Literature | Comments Off

Recipe Project #167 – 170: Meyer Lemon Sour Cream Ice Cream, plus other ice creams

For almost all of our time together, Mr. Husband has been the official ice cream maker in the house. My job has been to purchase and read Lebovitz’s canonical book on ice cream and then point out things we should make. This year, for whatever reason, I just hauled out the ice cream maker and got to work. We’re surrounded by outstanding dairy farms, and some of their products have been turned into a constant round of ice creams. The freezer is half-full of various half-liter Weck jars now, each packed with a different flavor. So far, I’ve made:

Vanilla Ice Cream (excellent by itself, with homemade strawberry syrup, and in root beer floats)
Cinnamon Ice Cream
Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

I also made a couple of rounds of a Meyer Lemon Sour Cream Ice Cream that was inspired by that last recipe. Lebovitz provides a regular Super Lemon Ice Cream that plenty of bloggers have adapted for Meyer lemons, and I further adapted it to include homemade sour cream. It’s possible to mix it entirely in a blender or food processor, and I suppose you could also chill it in it as well. We decant ours into an old, very clean darkroom developing tank and put it in the coldest part of the freezer with a darkroom thermometer in it to chill until it hits the freezing point. Then and only then does it get churned.

2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 cup milk
1/2 cup thick sour cream
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pinch salt

Zest lemons directly into food processor. Pour in sugar and process until the sugar is faintly lemon-colored and the zest is finely ground. Juice the lemons and straining out any seeds. Pour the measured juice into the sugar/zest mixture. Blend until the sugar dissolves.Add milk, cream, and sour cream, then blend.Chill for about an hour; the product may break up, but just stir it back together. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s directions.

Posted in Cooking, Recipe Project | Comments Off

Recipe Project #166: Tortilla de Plátano Maduro (Ripe Plantain Frittata)

Back in late May, we took a long road trip down to San Antonio for the RSA Conference. We hadn’t done this sort of multi-week trip since 2010, when we drove from Syracuse to West Lafayette for the Computers & Writing conference, then over to Minneapolis for RSA, and then on down to North Little Rock to see my family. This year our route went through Pittsburgh, Lexington, Memphis, Baton Rouge, San Antonio, back over to Lafayette, and then on homeward. One of the things I’ve missed about this kind of slow, car-focused travel is the unexpected opportunities that pop up alongside the road. This time, one of the more memorable ones was a South American restaurant in a converted gas station somewhere between Beaumont and San Antonio that we happened upon right at lunchtime. And lo, there were pupusas, curtido, and horchata:

It was a revelation. And of course now we are interested in Salvadoran and Columbian food, despite the fact that we’re not entirely sure where to start. Not that this has ever stopped us before. One way in is this ripe plantain frittata, which is swiftly becoming a breakfast mainstay. It reminds me of a dish described by my Venezuelan Spanish teacher many years ago, back when I was thoroughly confused by the idea of plantains and cheese together. We’ve been finishing it with comb-in honey that we picked up at Henson Brooms in Symsonia, KY on the way back home.

Tortilla de Plátano Maduro (from My Columbian Recipes)

3 very ripe plantains, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons honey
2 cups grated queso fresco or queso blanco, plus more for garnish

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a nonstick fry pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the ripe plantain and cook, stirring occasionally, about, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and queso together.Place the cooked plantains in a baking pan.
Pour the egg mixture in the plantains and place in the oven and bake until golden on top, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Drizzle with honey and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Serve warm.

Posted in Cooking, Recipe Project | Comments Off

Lost

—by David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Posted in Literature | Comments Off

2013 Leisure Reading

Over the years, it’s become a tradition of sorts that Compatriot G and I both post the past year’s reading. He includes all the books he read for work or for play, but this is just my evening reading during the pre-sleep hour when I give myself permission to read whatever I want. I have no idea what my actual total would be, given that I also read for two doctoral seminars that I was teaching and for the book that consumed my summer months.

  1. Chez Jacques: Traditions and Rituals of a Cook by Jacques Pepin
  2. London, the Biography by Peter Ackroyd
  3. The Private World of Tasha Tudor by Tasha Tudor
  4. Henry the Explorer by Mark Taylor and Graham Booth
  5. The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth by Roy Andries de Groot
  6. Cooked: A Natural History of the Senses by Michael Pollan
  7. Whole Larder Love: Grow Gather Hunt Cook by Rohan Anderson
  8. One Man’s Garden by Henry Mitchell
  9. The Kitchen Diaries II by Nigel Slater
  10. Berkeleyworks: The Art of Berkeley Breathed
  11. Clarissa’s England by Clarissa Dickson Wright
  12. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  13. Awakenings by Oliver Sacks
  14. Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Vol I
  15. Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Vol II
  16. Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Vol III
  17. Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Vol IV
  18. Metamaus by Art Speigelman
  19. Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie
  20. Some of the Words Are Theirs, by George H. Jensen, Jr.
  21. The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
  22. The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson
  23. The Lunar Men by Jenny Uglow
  24. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  25. The Clockwork Universe by Edward Dolnick
  26. Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions by Guillermo del Toro
  27. Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes
  28. Hellboy: Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola and John Byrne
  29. Newton, by Peter Ackroyd
Posted in Personal | Comments Off

Recipe Project #165: Okara Banana Bread

Some time last year, Mr. Husband started making homemade tofu. One of the byproducts is okara, which Wikipedia describes thusly:

Okara or Soy Pulp is a pulp consisting of insoluble parts of the soybean which remains after pureed soybeans are filtered in the production of soy milk and tofu. It is generally white or yellowish in color. It is part of the traditional cuisines of Japan, Korea, and China, and since the 20th century has also been used in the vegetarian cuisines of Western nations.

Okara is the oldest of three basic types of soy fiber. The other two are soy bran (finely ground soybean hulls), and soy cotyledon/isolate fiber (the fiber that remains after making isolated soy protein, also called “soy protein isolate”).

It’s very tasty when it’s simply toasted until it’s dark brown and sprinkled on while rice, but okara tends to pile up when you’re making tofu every week or two. I was too buried in my book manuscript to do much research on what to do with it and was consequently tempted to just haul it out to the compost, but Mr. Husband poked around on the Internet until he found quite a few interesting things to do with it. One of them is this banana bread from The 350 Degree Oven. It’s an astounding banana bread that has replaced the Prudhomme recipe I’ve been making for about 25 years. (The post I linked also includes a recipe for okara meatloaf that is mighty fine. See the post for visual instructions.)

2 c. mashed banana (about 4 bananas)
2/3 c. okara (wet)
2 c. sugar
1 c. canola oil
4 eggs
6 T. sour cream (or plain yogurt)
1 tsp. vanilla
4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and spray 2 large loaf pans (or 6 small ones) with nonstick spray. Mash the bananas and mix in the okara. (Your okara should be wet – but not overly wet – basically the same moistness that you have once the soy mixture is squeezed to release the milk in soy milk making.)
  2. Add the sugar, oil, eggs, sour cream, and vanilla to the banana mixture and mix well.
  3. Sift the remaining dry ingredients.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and mix until just combined – do not over-mix.
  5. Pour into the prepared pans and bake 1 hour for the large loaves, 30 minutes for the small loaves. Cool in the loaf pans for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack and cool completely.
Posted in Cooking, Recipe Project | Comments Off

Recipe Project #164: Roasted Cajun Turkey Breast

Back in the summer, we started cooking large pieces of meat, slicing them thin on the big meat slicer, and freezing them in half-pound bags for sandwiches. This turkey breast was one of the first experiments and has become a regular. I’m planning on making another one before I start teaching again in a week. It’s adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s Sunday Night Roast Beef and Gravy with Easy Rice, of all things.

1 turkey breast, on the bone
1 teaspoon Essence, recipe follows
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cups turkey or chicken broth
+/- 1/2 cup of white wine (optional)

2 tablespoons cornstarch (if making gravy)
1/4 cup water

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.

Season the meat on all sides with the Essence, salt, and pepper. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven and brown on all sides, about 4 minutes per side. Remove the the turkey from the pan, deglaze with a good glug of white wine or some of the broth and add the onion slices and thyme sprigs. Place the breast on top of the onions. Add the broth to the pan and place in the oven, uncovered. Roast until the breast is tender and done, approximately 160F. Let it rest for a minimum of 30 minutes after you remove it from the oven.

At this point, you have choices: you can either strain and defat the juices in the pan and save them for another purpose, or you can turn them into turkey gravy if you’d like to serve this as part of a hot turkey dinner. If you’re doing gravy, then:

Use a slotted spoon to discard the onions and thyme sprigs. Place the Dutch oven over medium-high heat to heat the turkey drippings. Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl until dissolved. Add the cornstarch mixture to the beef drippings and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully transfer to a gravy boat or decorative bowl.

Emeril’s Essence Creole Seasoning
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.
Yield: 2/3 cup. (I keep mine in a closed Mason jar. It’ll make two rounds of roasted turkey.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Recipe Project #163: Rigatoni Pasta Pie

Mister Husband started making this dish sometime back in the fall semester, when I came home after a particularly difficult day on campus to find him pulling these out of the oven for dinner. They’re festive and tasty and while they’re a little fiddly to make, they’re not all that hard. We’ve had them several times since and decided that they were just the right thing for Christmas Eve dinner for two. We usually halve this recipe and bake it in two smaller spring-form pans. I use my personal ragu recipe rather than what’s indicated here, which includes a mix of ground pork or sausage and ground beef and sometimes finely diced mushroom along with heartier spices, tomato sauce, and wine. We’ve also occasionally added an initial later of ricotta-based filling as a bottom layer in the tubes.

Martha Stewart’s Rigatoni Pasta Pie

1 lb rigatoni pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 lb ground beef (I used ground sirloin)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 (28 ounce) can good quality crushed tomatoes
butter, for pan
salt
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
8 ounces coarsely grated mozzarella cheese

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until slightly underdone (I cooked mine for 12 minutes when the box indicated 14 minutes). One pound of pasta should be cooked in 6 quarts of water, make sure you are using a big enough pot so the pasta doesn’t stick together. When done, rinse in cold water and drain again. Toss pasta with 1 Tablespoon olive oil to coat. Set aside.

Heat remaining 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground beef. Cook, stirring occasionally until browned. Add garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Cook 2 minutes more.

Add crushed tomatoes; simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes.

Toss pasta with Parmesan cheese. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Tightly pack pasta into pan, standing each piece on end. Spread meat sauce on top of pasta.

Push the meat sauce into the pasta holes filling each one up. Stuffing the meat into the holes is a weirdly satisfying task. Enough said. [Edited: Personally, I find it tedious, but to each their own. The most efficient way to do this is to spread the filling around on top of the tubes and then gently bang the pan against the counter to get it to settle down into the holes.]

Pace in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top and bake another 10-15 minutes until cheese is golden. Remove from oven and let stand for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge to loosen and then unmold.

Cut into wedges and serve with any remaining meat sauce you might have.

Posted in Cooking, Recipe Project | Comments Off