Saturday, April 29, 2006

I know how he feels

This is what I heard coming from Nick's room, moments after I woke up at around 8:30 (8:30! What luxury!) this morning:

"Yes! It's Saturday! Finally!"

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday Food #16: Brownies

[minor edits below]

I don't think I've made dinner all week. In fact, I know I haven't: on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday I had late afternoon meetings, so Mark made dinner, and on Wednesday we had to pick Mariah up late from school so we all went and had dinner out. Well, supper. Well, burgers and fries. Which we rarely do, so I guess it was all right. (Actually, they were quite tasty.)

So I don't know what to say about food this week. I plan to make Caroline's tofu tonight, actually, because it was a big hit the first time I made it (and I will be home in time, yay!) but you can find that recipe by clicking.

And while I know no one really needs another brownie recipe, because everyone who wants to make brownies already has one, I'm going to share one with you anyway because I'm thinking of making these tonight to go with the tofu. Well, not with the tofu. You understand.

The thing about these brownies is that they violate my brownie norms. Some years ago I was at my parents' house with various other friends and relations, and one of Caroline's friends and I got into a brownie bake-off. It was all my fault. She'd offered to make brownies, and so had I, and I said, "No, really, I'll make them. I've had your brownies." Which, yes, could be construed as an insult. Um, yeah. So we both made brownies, and they were both good. They were the melt-the-butter-and-chocolate kind of brownies (she wouldn't use the microwave, I would), so they were really quite similar, though our proportions were slightly different. As I recall, hers were slightly cakier, and mine were slightly chewier. Though there was also a whole waiting-for-the-oven thing that went on, that made the bake-off take much longer than it should have, and everyone was really hungry by the time we got to them, so I may have forgotten significant details from this story.

(Mine were pretty much these, from epicurious, if you want to know.)

But since then I have undergone a conversion and I make brownies with cocoa powder. Why would you do that, you say? Well, they come out chewier and fudgier. Although, frankly, they are best if you wait a day to eat them. Which is really putting undue pressure on folks. Who can wait a day to eat the brownies? I'm not going to. But they are still good, and a tiny bit quicker than the other kind, and a little different. So here they are, the ones I make now. The ones I may make tonight. Try them and see.

Here's what you need:

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups graulated sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Special equipment: An 8-inch square baking pan

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Melt the butter in the microwave and stir in the cocoa powder, espresso powder, sugar, and salt. Do your best to get the mixture very very smooth. [what was I thinking? It won't get really smooth at this stage. But it will after you add the eggs.] Let cool briefly. (It can be warm, but should no longer be hot to the touch, before the next stage. If you don't want to use the microwave, or don't have one, put the butter and powdery things in a heatproof bowl in a skillet of simmering water and stir to blend while the butter melts. Then, again, cool for a bit before the next step.)

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the chocolate chips. (You can skip them, of course, or add nuts instead, but why would you want to?) Spread the batter in the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick poked into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Test early: you don't want to overcook these. If the toothpick comes out clean they're overdone. They'll still be edible, of course, but really they are better this way. I promise. [even so, they took half an hour in my oven, which is sometimes kind of slow. Still, it's worth checking every five minutes or so.] Let cool completely on a rack.

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares, depending on how generous you want to be or how much ice cream you have to go with them. These will be even better the next day--store them in the fridge, and then zap them for less than thirty seconds in the microwave. If there are any left, that is. [for what it's worth, these are very very chewy: crackly top, fudgy inside. And we didn't eat them all, because, as Nick noted, "they are very rich."]

(Adapted from epicurious, as is so often the case...)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Meme week continues...

The ABCs, found in about a third of my blogroll, I think.

Accent: My parents thought I developed one when I lived in Southern California, but most people think I either don't have one, or it's vaguely northeastern. Vaguely.

Booze: Mostly, white wine. Occasionally red. I won't turn down a double margarita on the rocks from El Coyote, either.

Chore I Hate: I can't think of a chore I don't hate, actually, except loading the dishwasher or doing laundry, so those are pretty much the only ones I do. Does this make me a bad person?

Dog or Cat: Cat.

Essential Electronics: Laptop, especially with wireless access. DVD player, but actually the laptop can do that, so just the laptop.

Favorite Cologne: Body Shop patchouli plus dewberry. People ask me about it all the time, I hope in a good way. I have also worn Mystere by Rochas for over 20 years, mostly in the winter.

Gold or Silver: Gold.

Hometown: I don't know how to answer this question. I was born on Long Island and started school there. I've lived various other places. I've lived here longer than I've lived anywhere else, but you can't claim Richmond as a hometown unless your daddy and your daddy's daddy were from here.

Insomnia: Sometimes, though the early rising lately seems to have knocked that out.

Job Title: Professor, Mommy. Students call me either Doctor or Mrs., mostly, both of which I have trouble responding to.

Kids: Two.

Living arrangements: I live with my husband, two kids, and cat in our own house on a tree-lined city street.

Most admirable traits: I'm a good researcher and a quick study. Is that admirable? I think I'm also very forgiving.

Number of sexual partners in the last twenty years: One.

Overnight hospital stays: This one surprised me. I count five: wisdom teeth, thyroid surgery, appendectomy, and two babies. That seems like a lot!

Phobias: Calling people I don't know on the phone. I used to have a job that required this. It didn't last.

Quote: "The advantage of a classical education is that it enables you to despise the wealth which it prevents you from achieving." ~Russell Green. I grew up hearing a version of this from my father, who (as I remember it) used to say, "The purpose of a liberal education is to enable you to despise the wealth it prevents you from acquiring." I have no idea who Russell Green is (I just found the accurate quotation and his name by googling "education despise wealth"), but I've lived by these words far too long.

Religion: Christian. I am, specifically, an Episcopalian, but I really object to listing a denomination as a religion. Especially when that means "Christian" means "fundamentalist crazy," as it seems to lately in most of what I read. Pet peeve.

Siblings: Three: one older brother, one younger brother, one younger sister.

Time I wake up: 5:45. Mariah's alarm goes off, I get up and shower, then I wake her up so we can both make it to her bus by 7. Yes, it's inefficient. Until this year, I would not have called myself either an early riser or a morning person; in fact, I reveled in my late-sleeping children. But I've seen the sun rise more days than not in the last academic year.

Unusual talent or skill: Like Mrs. Coulter, I can pick up small objects with my toes. So maybe it's not that unusual.

Vegetable I love: I went on a great chard kick over the winter. Sweet potatoes. Tomatoes (yes, I know they're a fruit). Asparagus. Spinach. Yum.

Worst habit: Procrastination. Blogging doesn't count. Really.

X-rays: Lots. In addition to the various hospitalizations above, two of which required x-rays, I've had knee surgery and some strange back/rib pains that necessitated x-rays. And then all the dental ones. [edited to add: Oh! And I broke my arm in 7th grade, which surely required x-rays once or twice. For someone as physically unadventurous as I am, that really does seem like a lot.]

Yummy foods I make: Go look at the Friday food listings.

Zodiac sign: Aquarius, with Pisces in various significant enough places that I usually read both and then promptly forget them.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

more lazy blogging

In case you haven't seen Don Knotts as Dubya yet, here it is.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

time to update the netflix queue

You've probably already seen this list at Raising WEG or Republic of Heaven; obviously I'm not being terribly creative these days (the semester is drawing to a close...lots to do.)

Mrs. Coulter says this is Roger Ebert's 101 Movies to See Before You Die. So, you know, I'm glad he's ready, but there are several I'm definitely planning to skip. I doubt that will make any difference on the whole dying thing, though.

I've bolded the ones I've seen.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) Stanley Kubrick
"The 400 Blows" (1959) Francois Truffaut
"8 1/2" (1963) Federico Fellini
"Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972) Werner Herzog
"Alien" (1979) Ridley Scott.
"All About Eve" (1950) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
"Annie Hall" (1977) Woody Allen
"Bambi" (1942) Disney
"Battleship Potemkin" (1925) Sergei Eisenstein
"The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946) William Wyler
"The Big Red One" (1980) Samuel Fuller
"The Bicycle Thief" (1949) Vittorio De Sica
"The Big Sleep" (1946) Howard Hawks
"Blade Runner" (1982) Ridley Scott
"Blowup" (1966) Michelangelo Antonioni
"Blue Velvet" (1986) David Lynch
"Bonnie and Clyde"(1967) Arthur Penn
"Breathless" (1959 Jean-Luc Godard
"Bringing Up Baby" (1938) Howard Hawks
"Carrie" (1975) Brian DePalma (And, having read the novel, I don't plan to see it!)
"Casablanca"(1942) Michael Curtiz
"Un Chien Andalou" (1928) Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali (high school Spanish class...)
"Children of Paradise"/ "Les Enfants du Paradis" (1945) Marcel Carne
"Chinatown"(1974) Roman Polanski
"Citizen Kane" (1941) Orson Welles
"A Clockwork Orange"(1971) Stanley Kubrick
"The Crying Game" (1992) Neil Jordan
"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) Robert Wise
"Days of Heaven" (1978) Terence Malick
"Dirty Harry" (1971) Don Siegel
"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (1972) Luis Bunuel
"Do the Right Thing" (1989) Spike Lee
"La Dolce Vita" (1960) Federico Fellini
"Double Indemnity" (1944) Billy Wilder
"Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964) Stanley Kubrick
"Duck Soup" (1933) Leo McCarey
"E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) StevenSpielberg
"Easy Rider" (1969) Dennis Hopper
"The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) Irvin Kershner
"The Exorcist" (1973) William Friedkin (Another one that I'm not planning to see; and again, I did read the book.)
"Fargo"(1995) Joel & Ethan Coen
"Fight Club" (1999) David Fincher
"Frankenstein" (1931) James Whale
"The General" (1927) Buster Keaton & ClydeBruckman
"The Godfather," "The Godfather, PartII" (1972, 1974) Francis Ford Coppola
"Gone With the Wind" (1939) Victor Fleming
"GoodFellas" (1990) Martin Scorsese
"The Graduate" (1967) Mike Nichols
"Halloween" (1978) John Carpenter
"A Hard Day's Night" (1964) Richard Lester
"Intolerance" (1916) D.W. Griffith
"It's A Gift" (1934) Norman Z. McLeod
"It's a Wonderful Life" (1946) Frank Capra
"Jaws" (1975) Steven Spielberg
"The Lady Eve" (1941) PrestonSturges
"Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) David Lean
"M" (1931) Fritz Lang
"Mad Max 2" / "The Road Warrior" (1981)George Miller
"The Maltese Falcon" (1941) John Huston
"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) JohnFrankenheimer
"Metropolis" (1926) Fritz Lang
"Modern Times" (1936) Charles Chaplin (I've seen clips of both this and Metropolis, but I dont' think I've ever seen either one all the way through...)
"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975) Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam
"Nashville"(1975) Robert Altman
"The Night of the Hunter" (1955) Charles Laughton
"Night of the Living Dead" (1968) George Romero
"North by Northwest" (1959) Alfred Hitchcock
"Nosferatu" (1922) F.W. Murnau
"On the Waterfront" (1954) Elia Kazan
"Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968) Sergio Leone
"Out of the Past" (1947) Jacques Tournier
"Persona" (1966) Ingmar Bergman
"Pink Flamingos" (1972) John Waters
"Psycho" (1960) Alfred Hitchcock
"Pulp Fiction" (1994) Quentin Tarantino
"Rashomon" (1950) Akira Kurosawa
"Rear Window" (1954) Alfred Hitchcock
"Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) Nicholas Ray
"Red River" (1948) Howard Hawks
"Repulsion" (1965) Roman Polanski
"Rules of the Game" (1939) Jean Renoir
"Scarface" (1932) Howard Hawks
"The Scarlet Empress" (1934) Josef von Sternberg
"Schindler's List" (1993) Steven Spielberg
"The Searchers" (1956) John Ford
"The Seven Samurai" (1954) Akira Kurosawa
"Singin' in the Rain" (1952) Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
"Some Like It Hot" (1959) Billy Wilder
"A Star Is Born" (1954) George Cukor
"A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951) Elia Kazan
"Sunset Boulevard" (1950) Billy Wilder
"Taxi Driver" (1976) Martin Scorsese
"The Third Man" (1949) Carol Reed
"Tokyo Story" (1953) Yasujiro Ozu
"Touch of Evil" (1958) Orson Welles
"The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948) John Huston
"Trouble in Paradise" (1932) Ernst Lubitsch
"Vertigo" (1958) Alfred Hitchcock
"West Side Story" (1961) Jerome Robbins/RobertWise
"The Wild Bunch" (1969) Sam Peckinpah
"The Wizard of Oz" (1939) Victor Fleming

Monday, April 24, 2006

fun with wikipedia

Borrowed from both Republic of Heaven and Raising WEG:

Go to Wikipedia and look up your birth day (excluding the year). List three events, three births, and three deaths, including the year.

So here are the three events:

# 600 - Pope Gregory I decreed that "God bless you" was the correct response to a sneeze. (This is absolutely my favorite thing! Who knew that "God bless you" came about as the response to a sneeze by papal decree?)
# 1923 - Howard Carter unseals the burial chamber of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.
# 1959 - Fidel Castro becomes Premier of Cuba after President Fulgencio Batista was overthrown on January 1.

And the three births:

# 1822 - Sir Francis Galton, English explorer and biologist (d. 1911)
# 1903 - Edgar Bergen, American ventriloquist (d. 1978)
# 1935 - Sonny Bono, singer, music producer, television producer, and U.S. Congressman (d. 1998)

(Also, because I can't help it, Margaux Hemingway, LeVar Burton, Ice T, and John MacEnroe, as well as the man who was headmaster of my high school while I was a student there...)

The deaths seem less interesting to me:

# 1912 - St. Nikolai of Japan, Eastern Orthodox priest (b. 1836)
# 1990 - Keith Haring, American artist (b. 1958)
# 1992 - Angela Carter, English writer (b. 1940)

My birthday is also Lithuanian Independence Day, and (somewhat sadly, I fear) Kyoto Protocol Day.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Even teenagers say cute things

Mariah was having trouble with her brother this morning. "So which one of you is Satan?" she asked, "because I'm pretty sure he's the spawn."

Later we went to see Friends with Money (about which Becca is right, by the way). We were discussing why it had an R rating. "There's supposed to be some bad language, mild sexual situations, and implied drug use, " I said.

"Ah, like high school," she says.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Friday Food #15: Tonkatsu

Growing up in Japan, we didn't, as far as I know, try really hard to recreate all the food we'd loved in the states. Nor did we go completely Japanese in our eating. I think most days were mostly "American": peanut butter sandwiches in the lunchbox, meatloaf for dinner, that sort of thing. I remember that orange juice was fiendishly expensive, so we only drank it when someone who had PX privileges bought us some. It was a gift item, like bringing someone a bottle of wine when you come to dinner.

But sometimes we ate Japanese food, and when we did it was most often some interesting food that was delivered in lacquered boxes brought on the back of a bicycle. I love that picture in my head. Sushi, tempura, and tonkatsu all came via bicycle deliverymen, and they were all good. I've only just rediscovered the tempura of my youth at a local Japanese restaurant--it tastes just how I remember it, light and crispy and exquisitely delicious. I could eat sweet potato and zucchini tempura all night.

Sushi is pretty widely available and I don't really eat raw fish sushi anyway, nor did I when we lived in Japan. In fact I've never seen the classic "no fish" Japanese sushi here in the states: sweetened, cold, scrambled egg on rice. Mmm. (not so much.) I'm perfectly fine with California rolls and even imitation-crab rolls the rare times I eat sushi, though now that we've discovered good tempura I may actually try the sushi at the same restaurant. Just to see.

But I've never found tonkatsu again. I thought maybe I had, again at the little Japanese place, but katsudon is not the same thing at all. Tonkatsu, for the uninitiated, is deep fried pork cutlets. Why this is Japanese, I don't know, but it is delicious. Typically it is served on a bed of shredded cabbage, which may be lightly doused with lemon juice. That's it.

The other night I did a little googling and figured out how to make my own tonkatsu, and it was so tasty, I'll be doing it again soon. I didn't have any cabbage in the house so I made a shredded salad to go with that was a big hit as well, so I'll include that here too.

For the tonkatsu (to serve four)
Four boneless pork loin chops, pounded to about 1/2 inch thick
1/2 cup flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups panko (or other breadcrumbs, but panko would be traditional)
2-3 cups peanut oil

Trim the pork chops of all visible fat and, as noted above, pound them between two sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Dredge in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, pressing the breadcrumbs into the surface of the meat. Put the breaded pork chops on a plate, cover, and refrigerate for 20 minutes to an hour.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan until a piece of bread sizzles when dropped in. Fry the chops two at a time, for about 4-5 minutes per side, until they are golden and crispy and cooked through. Drain on paper towels and serve sliced into four or five crosswise slices.

You might want to make this dipping sauce to go with. I made half a recipe, since my kids don't really eat condiments (except Nick eats ketchup, which is what he used for a dipping sauce. Sigh.)

You may serve them over shredded cabbage if you like, or make this easy shredded salad:

Grate four or five carrots (whatever fits in the food processor feed tube at once), and thinly slice two or three cups of baby spinach leaves. Or you could use cabbage, if you had it: up to 2-1/2 cups or so.

Dress in a marinade of:
2 tbl. vegetable oil
2 tbl. rice vinegar
1 tbl. soy sauce
2 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
a few drops Asian sesame oil

Throw some chopped peanuts or toasted sesame seeds on top, if you like.

(dressing adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home)

read this now

Dr. B. has lots of important things to say about feminism, academic and otherwise. Here it is.

Recipe coming later, don't worry!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Mother of All New Yorkers

(with apologies to Ann Douglas)

My subscription to the New Yorker has finally restarted, with the issue dated April 17. And I really hit the jackpot with this one: so much stuff I wanted to read, and re-read, that I took my time over it. Jody at Raising WEG already noticed that this issue has several stories that end up sort of being about mothers, especially bad ones. Specifically, pieces about Maurice Sendak, Pete Seeger, and the Episcopal Church's Gene Robinson all featured the mothers of said subjects, more or less prominently. Sendak's mother was particularly difficult, apparently. The story about his father pushing his mother off a bench, while she was pregnant with Maurice, was heartbreaking. Not only that it happened, but then that they told the story to their son. But I also love his take on the whole thing, at the end of the profile: "If I had a real mother and she made me happy, and a real father who made me happy I would be working in the computer store . . . " Point taken. All of Sendak's work comes out of the trauma of the abandoned child, the sadness of the lonely child, the anger of the misbehaving child.

Similarly Pete Seeger's parents sounded intriguing, difficult, though not quite as crazy as Sendak's. My favorite moment in that profile, though, is about Seeger himself as a parent; looking at the cabin he built himself, he notes a place where a shelf full of books and records tumbled down onto his daughter's crib, with her sleeping in it. Luckily the crib was sturdier than the shelf, but Seeger recalls it as one of several such failings, of his own inattention to his children. It's a sweet moment--but perhaps only because the kids grew up.

The article on the Episcopal church doesn't really focus heavily on Gene Robinson's parents, though his mother obviously participated in the piece (his father is not quoted directly, I believe, though his mother is). What's perhaps more interesting is the concept of the Mother Church, which seems at the moment to be disintegrating: the colonialist enterprise of Christianizing Africa and Asia is perhaps going to be the undoing of the Episcopal Church, as the newer converts press for traditionalist interpretations of texts that many liberal Episcopalians read very differently. It's a problem too big for me to go into here, but the piece seems fair and balanced (the real kind). As a liberal Episcopalian myself I have to wonder if it's really worth giving up the principles of tolerance and acceptance for the unity of a church--one which has so far managed to stay together even over slavery, over the American Revolution, over the ordination of women. I'm not invested enough in the organization, that is, to give up its principles. But more on that another time, maybe. And someone else is welcome to talk about Adam Gopnik's take on the Gospel of Judas--I just want to know how he gets to write all the really fun stuff. (I want his job even more than I want Caitlin Flanagan's, though I don't really want him to lose his job in order for me to get maybe I want hers after all...)

By the way, there's more on the controversies in the Episcopal church here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Beyond Beowulf

It's a little-known fact that a highly ranked institution of higher learning granted me a Ph.D. in English some years ago without bothering to verify that I had read Beowulf. In fact I had not, thus disqualifying myself for the first half of the survey course that used to be called "from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf." (There's lots more in that first half that I probably couldn't teach, but we won't go there now.)

Eventually I read Beowulf because my dad translated it. That's right. He read it about ten years ago and got so interested in it that he worked up the Old English to make his own verse translation.

Have I mentioned that my dad's retired?

Anyway, after the translation was finished, he found he had more to say about these people, and the result is his new book, Beyond Beowulf. In alliterative verse, like the original (well, except not quite: read the introduction to find out more), the poem tells a great story of a people searching for a new place, a new life. I'm hoping to read it to Nick this summer; he enjoyed Nancy Farmer's Sea of Trolls a year or two ago, and knows enough about Vikings and Irish monks and the like to enjoy it a lot.

And now Dad has a blog, too, where you can find out more about Beyond Beowulf and his other books (eventually, or so he says). [edited to provide correct url!]

So, thanks, Dad, for forcing me to fill one of those gaps in my neglected education, and for giving us all more to read!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

this cracks me up

One of the great advantages of having two children widely separated in age is that we have an extra memory for the second one's infancy. Though sometimes Mark and I forget which child did what, Mariah remembers all kinds of things about Nick that we have forgotten.

One is that he used to have trouble with the letter "m." Of course this was something Mariah was concerned with. She used to try to get him to say an initial "m" whenever she could. He had a lot of trouble with "milk," for example, always calling it "nilk." As Mariah recently reminded us, she used to say to him, "ma-ma-ma-milk!"

And he would echo, proudly, "ma-ma-ma-nilk!"

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter Baking

Just a few pictures:

First, hot cross buns for Good Friday. The recipe is from epicurious, though I skipped their pastry crosses (I'm going to make pastry just to decorate buns? I don't think so!) and used Nigella's simple flour/water/sugar instead. (Basically a paste of equal parts flour and water and then a quarter as much superfine sugar.) Worked like a charm. The buns are fine, they reheat better in the microwave than the toaster, and next time I will shape them more. (OK, if you want to recreate this exactly, I also substituted dried cranberries for the golden raisins and used meyer lemon zest instead of orange zest.)

Then, simple lemon cake. This is Donna Hay's, and she says nothing about it (she says nothing about anything), but I figured with sour cream and lemon it was hard to go wrong. It's a very good, very easy cake. I served it, as you can maybe see here, with raspberry coulis (one package frozen, thawed raspberries in the blender, then pushed through a sieve) and whipped cream. Mmmm.

Finally, Nigella's easter egg nest cake. Isn't it pretty? It really is. It's a flourless cake with a whipped cream/chocolate filling. But, you know? Not to complain or anything--it was fine, but I've made better cakes. I might use the technique again with a different cake. This one's a teensy bit dry, so it really needs that whipped cream filling, and some of the extra raspberry didn't go amiss, either.

Oh, and I forgot to take pictures of the strata or the roasted vegetables. My dinner guests burst into spontaneous applause at the end of the meal, though, so I think it came out all right. (Well, the wine was also quite good...)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Friday Food #14: Easter Strata

edited to reflect what I really did

I made strata for the first time last year for Easter, as part of my famous all-custard meal (we had trifle for dessert). It was a big hit, so I think I'm going to reprise it this year. As I look over the various recipes in epicurious, however, I find that there are as many ways to make strata as, well, pancakes or cornbread or something basic like that. Basically you layer cooked veggies, cubed or sliced bread, cheese, and eggs and milk or cream. Let it all sit overnight in the fridge, and bake it for about an hour at 350 the next day.

The devil is in the details.

Last year we made two strata, as I recall: one with artichokes and mushrooms, and one with, I think, spinach and red pepper.

So here's how I plan to do it this weekend:

1 package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed this really needed two packages
12 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion
1-2 tsp. minced garlic
olive oil, butter

1 large loaf french or italian bread, ripped or cut into slightly larger than bite-size chunks

3-4 cups milk I used three cups 1% milk, one cup cream
6 large eggs
1-2 tablespoons dijon mustard, optional

2 cups shredded gruyere or fontina
1 cup grated parmesan

Oil/spray a large baking dish--at least 9x11, possibly 9x13. for this one, I used the bigger dish

Saute the mushrooms and onions in butter and/or olive oil, with the garlic. Salt and pepper to taste; maybe add some thyme if you have it. Add the thawed artichoke hearts at the end and set aside.

Mix together the eggs and milk, adding the mustard if you're using it. If you look at the recipes, this is where you'll see the biggest discrepancies: some ask for as many as 12 eggs, others as few as 3. Same with the milk: some call for up to five cups of liquid (some combine milk with half and half or cream), others as little as two or three. I'm going to start low and add more if it looks too dry, but I'm figuring my ideal strata is more bready than eggy. Your mileage may vary.

Layer half the bread in the bottom of the baking dish. Layer half the vegetable mixture over it, then half the cheeses. Repeat the layers. (You can do this is three layers if that seems to work better in your dish.)

Pour the egg/milk mixture over the layered bread and vegetables. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at least 4 hours in the fridge, or overnight.

Take the dish out of the fridge half an hour before you want to cook it, and preheat the oven to 350. Bake the room temperature strata for about an hour, until the top is puffed and golden. Serve hot or at room temperature.

I also made another one with no vegetables, a pound of turkey breakfast sausage, and shredded colby/jack instead of the fontina and parmesan. That one's in a 9 x 11 pan.

I notice I don't normally say the number of servings you should get out of my recipes; all are always enough for four, usually with leftovers. This should serve 6-8; I'll make two for our Easter meal for 12, and expect some leftovers. It reheats well, so leftovers are a good thing. (Leftovers are always a good thing, in my book.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Easter preparations

Today is Maundy Thursday, and Passover, and Holy Week is passing me by without a comment. It's been that kind of a month, I guess. Still, the pollen is out in full force so it's obviously spring, and time for these celebrations of new life, rebirth, hope. I'm teaching novels in children's lit that track the season nicely, actually. I've just finished teaching Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, which is a resurrection story of sorts. There's a lovely extended metaphor throughout the novel of a tree, leafless and dead at the beginning but bursting into leaf by the end. "Now the green blade riseth" could be the soundtrack.

And tomorrow, Good Friday, I'll be teaching Charlotte's Web, an Easter story in which the sacrificial lamb (ok, he's really a pig) avoids his fate. Some people read Charlotte's death as a substitute for Wilbur's, a Christ-like sacrifice, though I'm not sure I really see the same substitutive logic going on here. For that, of course, see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which I taught earlier in the semester.

I have these things on the brain as I try to finish out this semester and plan for next fall, when I'll teach a seminar on children's literature and theology. In the meantime I just can't help sharing one of my favorite passages from Charlotte's Web, perhaps from all of children's literature. Here it is:

"…You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur. Nothing can harm you now. These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, then the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world, for you mean a great deal to Zuckerman and he will not harm you, ever. Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur—this lovely world, these precious days…"
Charlotte stopped. A moment later a tear came to Wilbur's eye. "Oh, Charlotte," he said. "To think that when I first met you I thought you were cruel and bloodthirsty!"
When he recovered from his emotion, he spoke again.
"Why did you do all this for me?" he asked. "I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you."
"You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that." (pp. 163-164)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

summer jobs

I had my first summer job, I think, the summer after 7th or 8th grade. It wasn't a paying job; I was a junior counselor at the local village day camp, and that meant that I was occupied during the essential day time hours and getting valuable "work experience," but for no pay. I did crafts and went swimming with 2nd grade girls, as I recall.

The next summer I did the same job for pay, though the pay was minimal at best. Can it be that I made $80 for it? How long did the camp go on? Details are sketchy. One summer I spent mostly with girls (clinging to me in the shallow end of the pool, endlessly screaming), another mostly with boys (running around and shouting). Otherwise I don't remember a thing.

Then there was a summer when I babysat. There was a refugee couple living in one of the church-apartments (a story for another time, maybe) and I watched their baby. Was that all summer, or just a few weeks? It felt endless. The baby cried and cried, and I couldn't really communicate with the parents. It was hot and humid and grey. I read when the baby was sleeping. Daytime TV, in those pre-cable days, was even more depressing than my job.

Then summer jobs got interesting. I spent one summer cleaning a restaurant and serving ice cream in Maine, two summers waitressing in Massachusetts, a summer in an office job in New York, a summer working in the college library...Those all had advantages and disadvantages, but there was real money involved, and other people, and a sense of growing independence. I've never been unemployed for more than a week or two since then--if I wanted a job I could have one, even if it wasn't a very good one.

Mariah's been offered her first summer job. She's been to camp, she's taken random and even not-so-random babysitting jobs, but this is the first time she's been offered predictable hours for the whole summer. Watching two kids, though sometimes only one, in a big house near our own. She'd been thinking retail--the local grocery store hires and trains teenagers, and it's actually a plum job for a high school kid--but this will pay better and be more flexible. She'll probably take it.

The kids aren't babies, so she won't have the isolation-with-crying-baby experience that I did, but I do regret a bit that she won't have co-workers. Still, there will be other summers for that. In the meantime, it looks like she's got her summer planned out. And I didn't do a thing. Amazing.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More on why I'm no fun at the movies

I always want to watch the other movie, the movie about the other person, the story that isn't being told. I wanted Ennis's wife's story in Brokeback, and in Walk the Line, there were lots of other stories I wanted. The band, now--who were they? How did they meet up? Were they really as bad as Vivian said, but they got better? He seemed to keep them throughout his career--did they mess up their marriages too? Rely on uppers to keep them going? We saw that one moment with them blowing stuff up, and another where they cancelled the tour, and that was pretty much it. But they looked interesting.

So did Vivian. I can see why Rosanne Cash isn't thrilled with the movie. The movie is a fairy tale, really, the love-at-first-sight thing that wraps up everything with the happy ending of the right marriage. "But...but...but..." Rosanne must have been saying. What about me? What about the family he came home to for all those years? What did Vivian see in him anyway, this guy she apparently dated for one month, then married after not seeing him for two years?

Oh, and his parents' stories. When Ray, at Thanksgiving dinner, says "I gave up drinking years ago," I wanted to know that story, too. When? Why? How? And Johnny's mother, whose name I can't remember--she got him started singing, but turns up later in his life with cat-eye glasses, a beehive, and no lines. What's up with that?

I know, I know, it was Johnny's story and not theirs. But they were part of his story, weren't they? (Oh, yes, along with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and the Beatles and Bob Dylan and and and...some other interesting stories there, right?)

This is why I like Robert Altman movies (mostly, not all) and John Sayles movies (ditto) and Victorian novels (ditto, ditto). Lots of characters, lots of plots meandering around. Back story and front story confused. These aren't the only movies I like, of course, but movies with big casts and lots of characters that then shortchange those characters annoy me.

Oh, and yes, sure, Reese was great, though when they played June Carter Cash singing over the final credits you could tell how much bigger a voice the original really had...while Joaquin Phoenix actually did sound like Cash, I thought Reese didn't quite manage Carter as well. But that's ok, I thought she did a good job. And, really, a thankless one. Most acting is (or should be) interpretation rather than imitation, after all, and it's hard to play someone that so many people have seen and heard interpretively. So it was all about "how close is this to the original," which is something I hate in movies from novels, too.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Why it's no fun to watch movies with me

After Camille Claudel, I swore off movies about artists whose craziness produced their art. Enough, enough with the crazy artists!

After Shine, I swore off father-son crazy artist movies. I am tired of father-son problem stories. I know fathers and sons have problems. I just don't care to watch them on screen any more. Especially when they're also crazy artist stories.

After Ray I should have sworn off biopics about drug-addicted God-fearing singers.

Instead I watched Walk the Line last night and remembered swearing off pretty much every genre to which it belongs. And why.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Friday Food #13: Lemon Chicken

I had a cooking disaster last night (actually, the food was fine, it just wasn't all cooked at the same time) and I really didn't want to post a recipe today. Then I remembered that I'd made lemon chicken the night before and it was a great I regained my confidence. This is the first meal I made for Mark's mom, I believe--it used to be my standby "casual dinner party" (the only kind I ever have) main dish. It's relatively quick and always tastes good. I've adapted it very slightly from my first "real" cookbook, The New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet. My battered copy is actually in pieces now--time to tape up the spine again--and this is the recipe it falls open to. Franey calls it Poulet Scarpariello, or Chicken in White Wine, but I have always called it lemon chicken. You can decide.

To serve four, you need:

The number of chicken pieces you want to serve four. For years, I made this with four large, meaty, bone-in breasts. Franey wants you to have a 3-1/2 pound chicken, cut into serving pieces. But the other night I made it with eight boneless, skinless thighs, and that really worked well--and was quicker than bone-in pieces. So you decide.

Flour for dredging
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbl. butter
2 tsp. finely minced garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry sherry
juice of 1 lemon
(optional: 3 tbl. finely chopped parsley)

Season the flour with salt and pepper and dredge the chicken in it.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet--large enough to hold all the chicken comfortably in one layer. Add the chicken (skin side down, if your chicken has skin) and cook until it is golden brown on one side--4-5 minutes with no bones, up to 10 minutes for big meaty pieces. Do not cover the skillet.

Turn the chicken pieces and cook until done. I always need to pierce one piece with a knife, and it always takes a little longer than I think it will. Franey says 10 to 12 more minutes for his bone-in pieces. Without bones, again, it shouldn't take quite as long.

Carefully pour the fat from the skillet, leaving the chicken in it. Add the butter and, when it has melted, add the garlic as well. Pour the wine around the chicken and bring to the boil. Squeeze the lemon juice over the chicken and, if you're using it, sprinkle with parsley. Cover closely and cook 3 minutes longer. (I've never ever used the parsley, not out of any personal animosity towards parsley but just because I never seem to have it around, and I've never missed it, but one day I will use it and report back.)

I usually serve this over brown rice with a salad or some other green vegetable; Franey includes a recipe for rapini as a side dish, and it looks good but I've never made it. He also, of course, wants you to serve it with "the usual salad with cheese as a second course and, if desired, a final course of fresh fruit or a purchased or previously made dessert." I love the assumptions buried in there, about the kind of meal this is, the kind of person you are, etc. I've of course never served it with a salad and cheese course to follow. Sigh.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Mid-day pedantry

I try not to be that pedantic English prof around whom you have to watch your relative pronouns and such. You know. The guy at the post office today, making conversation, said, "I guess I have to watch what I say around you" and I cringed inside, as I always do. I really try not to be that way.

But sometimes it's hard.

I'm taking a fabulous yoga-on-the-ball class once a week. I love it. It's fun and the exercise is good and I love deep relaxation. But sometimes I get confused, as when the instructor says, "now put the ball around your feet."

Umm, what?

Or, today: "Now make sure that your body weight is equally carrying both legs."

See, this kind of thing distracts me and I have to think about what she means instead of just going with it. That's when I want to turn into that pedantic English professor and note that it's important to distinguish between subject and object.

(And yes, I was blogging in my head during deep relaxation, and yes, that does tend to defeat the purpose.)

Oh, so that's why!

Nick, at the bathroom door: Yerg! What's that smell?

Me, inside: Nailpolish remover.

Nick: Yuck! (walking away) That's why I'm glad I'm not a girl!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

trophies, competition, and team sports

I don't read Imperfect Serenity often enough, but I loved this: "If every kid in softball deserves a trophy, doesn’t every kid on earth deserve a meal?"

Read the whole post, really.

We gave up competitive sports with Nick this year and I have never been happier about kid-activities. He used to "play soccer," as did Mariah, for years before, and it was never any fun, really. That is, the kids enjoyed the snacks, the banquets, the trophies (yes, we have a whole shelf of ones, mostly Mariah's), all that. Occasionally they enjoyed the games and, when they were little, even the practices, because it was a lot of running around. They learned almost no skills, and they hated that their teams always lost--although, given the skill instruction that wasn't going on, it was no surprise to us.

I actually did like hanging out with the other parents on the practice field, and even coming to the games with a mug of hot coffee on a chilly morning. There was certainly some value, too, in the kids just being outside. But Nick in particular is extremely competitive--he just hates to lose. (Second child syndrome, anyone?) And he usually did, so there were often tears after the game.

Now he does tae kwon do, twice a week. He spars with other kids, yes, but the point of the practice is not to compete with others but to do your best. And he does. He has progressed rapidly (or so it seems to his proud parents), learning new patterns and integrating new moves into his sparring. He has broken boards with his bare hand. He can focus. He can balance. And he can even (I love this!) meditate. You haven't lived until you've seen four or five little boys sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed, hands in laps, meditating. What do they think about? I don't know...but I love it.

Some kids thrive in team sports, and I'm not opposed to them by any means. I think it's important to be able to cooperate with others, to anticipate and work together and all those other great skills. But, as Eileen says in her post, and Elise in hers, you can get that without the competition. And then you wouldn't have to waste all that money on trophies.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Day care? Leisure time?

I'm really glad Becca blogged about this, because now I don't have to. I, too, found myself intrigued, frustrated, and annoyed by the piece, as it raised important issues without really getting at what for me is the heart of the matter. We've already "done" the fun-with-dad vs. chores-or-errands-with-Mom thing, haven't we? The whole question of what's life and what's child care makes me tired, perhaps because even when I'm not doing child care I may be doing it: calling the pediatrician from my office, for example, or renewing the kids' library books online because no one can get to the library today. Is doing the grocery shopping child care because all that's on the list is stuff for their lunches?

But Mark did the grocery shopping yesterday and he actually can take them to the library today, and I need to use the computer for other things, so today I'm not going to blog about this.

Monday, April 03, 2006

mean girls

I have a confession to make. I was a mean girl.

This is hard for me to believe or accept, all these years later. I'm a feminist raising a feminist daughter, and the whole mean girls phenomenon makes me so angry. Mariah went through it a little bit, being on the receiving end of mean comments from popular girls, though nothing like what we saw in the movie. I mean, the whole use of three-way calling to humiliate each other, the rules, the ritual quality of it all, that didn't happen. It was more garden-variety testing of limits and of the rules of popularity, and we did our best to alleviate it with good friends who didn't do that, a change of schools, and lots of talk at home.

So it pains me to tell my story, but I've told it to her more than once. And yesterday I told it again, because my dear dear friend, Mariah's godmother, who was on the receiving end of my meanness, was visiting, and the subject came up. Turns out she had completely blocked the incident for years, but had recently remembered it and wanted to check her recollection against mine. I don't remember all the details, including who started it, but I remember enough.

The scene is a New England boarding school. We are all seniors. We are not the popular kids. A few years back someone had dubbed the popular kids "the Rat Pack," and dubbed us "the Book Pack." We were smart, and didn't care who knew it, not the prettiest or the most popular girls by any means. But we were a pretty tight-knit group, especially at the core, which had been established by sophomore year.

I can't remember why we did this. Some of us were particularly close to one teacher, a guy who taught history and was funny and a little subversive in a very conservative environment. As often happens in boarding schools, we formed a little coterie around him, a coterie that probably existed more in our minds than anywhere. Two of us became the managers of the (boys') team he coached. It got us out of gym class, into contact with boys who otherwise wouldn't have given us the time of day, and (most importantly, I think) further into his orbit. We weren't allowed in the boys' locker room so our duties were minimal.

For some reason some of us decided to pretend that he was taking us on an international trip, and --the most important and mean part-- that the spaces on the trip were limited and my dear friend was not going to be invited. Now, we didn't tell her this outright. That would have been too easy, and not mean enough. Rather, we spent a week or so in whispered conversations which we broke off when she came into view. We dropped the name of the city we'd be visiting, and then looked stricken. We staged a phone call or two to make her think we had tickets. We even, I think, involved the teacher. (With hindsight I am appalled that he would have played along. What was he thinking? What were we?)

After a week or ten days one of us--not me--confessed, and apologized. Later we came up with another scheme that involved the excluded one, but that one was less successful and nowhere near as mean. To this day I feel guilty for what I did to my friend. I've apologized over and over again--and we have remained friends, for all that--but I still can't quite get the taste out of my mouth. I was surprised she'd been able to forget it, since I never have. But that's how these things work, I guess. It had turned into something she couldn't think about, while I always had to.

I know I did it precisely because we weren't the popular ones, the Rat Pack. They did this kind of thing all the time--then again, they really went on international trips without each other. We didn't live that kind of life, none of us, which is why this was so effective, and so mean.

Mariah and Mark just stare openmouthed when I tell this story. They can't square it with the person they know, and I'm grateful for that. But that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Mark thinks it couldn't have happened if we weren't in boarding school, but I'm not sure. It might not have gone on so long, or involved the teacher--I'm not sure teachers outside of boarding schools have quite the involvement in their students' lives that our teachers did--but the stories I hear from middle and high school suggest that this kind of thing does, after all, still happen. I could spin a story about how this demonstrates our creativity, our ability, in fact, to spin stories, but that would miss the point. We were mean and awful and I wish we hadn't been, but we were.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Of course she should also cite Miriam...

Mommy wars -- a false battle - Los Angeles Times: "IN HER MUCH-DISCUSSED new book, 'Mommy Wars,' Leslie Morgan Steiner likens the tensions between working mothers and stay-at-home mothers to 'a catfight.' Personally, I think it's more like dueling roosters: a cockfight.

In a classic ethnographic essay on Bali, anthropologist Clifford Geertz described the Balinese cockfight as a form of 'deep play.' For the Balinese, Geertz argued, the 'meaning' of cockfights went far beyond the surface conflict between the birds. Cockfights formed 'a symbolic structure' that both reflected and affected every aspect of the Balinese social structure.

When you apply Geertz's insights about deep play to the alleged mommy wars, the Balinese cockfight and the mommy wars have a lot in common. "

Nice insights from Rosa Brooks, about whom I know nothing at all.