Wednesday, December 31, 2008
From the 'sphere:
Thank you to CeF. More traveling and less fretting this year. I'm a fan.
Thank you to TGWAE. Like I said in my note, been there once about 14 years ago. Didn't understand the food I was missing. Thanks for letting me see the side of that city I like to hope I'd see if I lived there.
Thanks Michelle, for not stopping the smackdowns in the face of crap part of a year. We need your friggin' frigs in the 'sphere.
Thanks Lisa for doing food and local and for finding fun ways to bring the two things together.
Thanks to Stef for another year of beautiful food and pushing the envelope in the kitchen.
From my world:
Thanks to Mom and Sally and to Dad and Beth. Some of the best memories of the year are at the farm or the new house in Annapolis sitting on a stool or a step-ladder while good food happened right in front of me.
Thanks to Bec and John. It's always good to have a big sister and her hubby. Especially when it's these too. Gorgeous new house John. Thanks for building it and making me feel welcome there.
Thanks to all my pals who kept me alive through another campaign. Can't name you all because I'm just too damned blessed with 'the family you get to choose.'
Thanks to Chez for lettin' me be one of the macaronis.
Thanks to G for steppin' up and doing it real big.
Thanks to Julie, Wendy, Molly, and Traci for including a kegger hanger on.
From my blog:
Here are my tops from the year. Not an exhaustive list of what I think I did right but the posts that stand out as I look back over the year. They may have been gorgeous food, or they may have been the post that indicated a direction I'll take in the coming year.
Lazy Man's Supper. Read that cattle call e-mail again and realized that's about as close to how I feel about feeding people as you can get. Good food. Zero pretense.
Easter Supper. It was just a beautiful meal.
Waverly. Travel. Food. Local. Shades and hues of a neighborhood. A good friend. A great market.
Gettting Back to Cooking. A late spring day. My favorite summer recipes for a cookout. Video of Pearl. It's all there.
UGK. Ah, yes. The side-project of the year. The Underground Kitchen. Poured a lot of my soul into that project. Turned out to be four gatherings this year. Not sure on more since all three of the front of the house people have moved (Ashland, Pittsburgh, and Chicago). We'll see what else I can get into that involved food and hordes of people. Have faith.
44 Years. A rebirth of family and tradition and food and health and a future with fewer complicated days and longer hours on porches.
Crust and Steam. Getting over a phobia in the kitchen and finding that there is absolutely no substitute for homemade. There really was a moment when the bread came out of the oven and slid right out of the pan onto the cooling racks that my knees got a little 'one cocktail too many' wobbly.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.There was too much food, and Dad and Beth are leaving today for Paris. So we were sent home with food. This morning, I made a frittata with sliced shitakes, potatoes, and onion. Sprinkle of cheddar and sprinkle of parmesan.
-A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
It just struck me that I was simply keeping Christmas in my heart one of those "all the days of the year" that Dickens talks about. The connection of part of my meal coming from family, the remembrance of the more ornate and still more intimate meals that we shared together on Christmas Eve and Christmas.
Wherever you are today, and tomorrow, and 192 days from now; Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a tasty year to you.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
I made the annual Brussels Sprouts for Christmas Eve dinner. Beth made the new to us ham for the holiday. Pops requested the spiral cut in a fit of nostalgia for his youth. We'd always done Turkey on Christmas day when I was a child (with the occasional foray into everyone gets a game hen, or roast beast). There wasn't a Christmas Eve big dinner too.
These days, there's a doozy of a dinner on both days. Christmas dinner is roast beast that Beth always pulls out of the oven at the perfect medium rare moment. There will be horseradish. And for the second year in a row there will be Potatoes Dauphanoise. Gruyere-y, potato-ey goodness.
More pictures soon I'm sure. If you can't find it here, check the flickr Christmas group.
Friday, December 19, 2008
It should surprise no one that my 200th post is one of random food. It wasn't saved so the the first loaf of bread was Number 200. It wasn't a grand dinner party with oodles of friends (though there will be one of those with roast beast and root veg tomorrow).
It was a lunch that just happened. I just walked into the kitchen and put an acorn squash in the oven. Butter, brown sugar, honey, heat.
But that wouldn't be enough. It was small so I'd need more 'stuff' for my belly.
Enter the broccoli and the carrots that would only last another day. Enter the couscous. Dash of onion, pinch of garlic, dribble of chicken stock.
A simple meal that took five minutes to make.
I wonder what 300 or 400 will be...
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
I heard the hollow sound. The sound they told me to listen for when tapping the bread in the oven.
That there was bread in the oven was a miracle in and of itself.
But I HEARD the deep hollow wrap-wrap-tapping back at me after about 50 minutes in the oven.
Pulled out the loaves and just stared at them.
There wasn't anything else for me to do.
My first yeast breads ever had just arrived.
And I had no idea what to do next.
The recipe stopped after "Remove bread from pans immediately; cool on wire racks."
But could I slice into it right then?
Is there some baking equivalent of letting a roast rest to redistribute the juices so you don't have all the flavor sloshing around on the cutting board?
No, no. I've heard of people slicing into fresh baked loaves of bread. They usually are remembering a farm house kitchen, or recounting a tale of a mid-20th century grandmother.
So I knew I could do it. And I was literally bouncing around in the kitchen with a goofy grin on my face. Like the one on my face in the picture of me circa 1981 when I'm climbing over the fence at the farm. Or the goofy grin when I got Bec in trouble at age 9. Or November 4, 2008 when I realized that in 77 days they really were going to have to call him "Mr. President."
Proud and not caring if anyone else ever realized how proud I was.
And then the knife sliced through the crust and the soft interior. The steam rose from the first slice. The intensity of the yeasty aroma burst out at me.
It was unbelievable. And it damn well may have been transformative.
I just opened up a fairly large door of things to do in the kitchen that I had mentally blocked off.
I'll sacrifice having processed food in my cart for breakfast burritos and quick grilled cheeses. Especially since a good chunk of the bill was flour, baking soda, powder, eggs, and butter to start baking my own bread, biscuits, and cookies.
Corn bread I do. I make Date Nut Bread at the holidays from Grandma's recipe in Mom's script on the faded index card she pulled out and put on the kitchen counter when I was little. I got to help mixing 'potions' for her. Sifting the flour and the baking powder.
I should really make biscuits too. I love biscuits. Mark just gave me a mason jar of his family's apple butter from this year's harvest. So there's buttermilk in my fridge now too for the biscuits.
And I have the Aunt Ida Cookie Cookbook that Aunt Margaret put together. And I love cookies. And I found Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips for dirt cheap at the Big Lots. If you have a Big Lots near you...shop there. Dry goods and cheap pantry items.
And I read this yesterday. So I'll be starting in on loaf number 1 shortly. Details to follow.
Now there's a pot of lentil soup on the stove bubbling away. The onions, celery, and carrots sauted in bacon drippings. Then I added in the water, tomato paste, sweet and hot italian sausage, the chopped bacon, and the lentils. After 15 minutes the potatoes went in. After another fifteen the chopped parsley went in. The thyme and bay leaves have been doing their job the whole time.
UPDATE: The dough is covered by a damp cloth and rising in a warm place as we speak (er, um...as I type).
Sweet Jebus, I'm BAKING!
Monday, December 8, 2008
visiting pops and B for the first time since july-ish. dad's brain moves in mysterious ways. so he suggested osso bucco. he couldn't tell you why, but he knew i liked it and B made it well. those two things were enough.
he didn't remember the pile of bones on my plate last christmas as i collected everyone's leftovers to spread marrow on toast. had to cut more rustic baguette. just for marrow. as it should be.
dad's anti-carb these days and serious about it. six inches gone from his waist serious. working hard and getting results serious. so there's baked asparagus. this is okay in my mind because a) i love asparagus, and b) i will love asparagus in my frittata tomorrow morning too!
the main event was delicious. i helped by keeping B company while she cooked and by stirring risotto. and stirring. and discussing whether to leave the grains a bit al dente with some liquid left in the pan (which would get soaked up by the melting cheese added off heat at the end), or whether an extra ladle or two and several minutes of stirring to get completely cooked grains and no liquid left at all was the 'preferred' way. my vote's for method one. B's is for method two. either way, you're getting something damn tasty...so don't complain.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
As an added bonus, tell me what 'Milanese' dish I'm having with it.
Trust me, I'll be telling you how fabulous it was shortly, and I'll have pictures.
Need a clue? A second-meal use for this dish involves Bourdain's death row meal from before he ate with Fergus...(yes, I am THAT dork. Deal, you love me or want me to cook for you, or both).
Monday, December 1, 2008
Nestled against the Monongahela National Forest and a few short miles of WV Route 39 from the Virginia Border and Bath County, the family farm house was built in the winter of 1884-1885. 44 years ago, after retiring from the ministry, my Grandfather and Grandmother were back at the farm house built by Ella and Preston Rexrode (my Grandmother's parents).
Mom came home from college for Thanksgiving that year.
After that, Grandma and Grandpa moved to Ravenswood in Jackson County on the Ohio River to live near my Aunt and Uncle.
Since there was no insulation, no HVAC system, and little else in the way of modern convenience; the farm house stood vacant from October to late-March every year since. The water shut off to keep the pipes from freezing in the winter.
I spent summers there, sometimes two-week vacations, sometimes for seven weeks at the camp in town with the occasional night at the farm when the family was visiting.
We'd walk the road down to Max and Rene's on Saturday's to watch cartoons, passing the milkweed pods along the way.
Now I was back in late November, with the milkweed along the creek giving up it's wispy seeds to the wind.
Cold air and a little snow higher up the hillsides on the drive in to the house.
There were Winterberries at the edge of the high field by the barn and down from the old orchards.
Brilliant red against the muted greens and yellows of the winter hay field. A bed and breakfast for the deer, providing shelter from the wind and a ready meal in the mornings and evenings.
We cooked our meal on Friday this year, a slight twist to the traditional day so that Bec and John could spend Thursday with John's family in Morgantown.
John had finished building their new house a few short months ago. The radiant-floor heating and concrete kitchen counters. The back deck and the little-brother suite.
It's nice, I'll blog food from there soon.
As we waited for them to arrive, Mom sauted a bit of Buffalo sausage from the Dupont Circle farmer's market in DC.
There will probably be more local food as the years go by. There's a crew of young people who have come back to Pocahontas County after years abroad in our land for school and work, to build families, and to do what young West Virginians are supposed to do, go somewhere else to live.
But that's changing. Sarah and Joe Riley are raising beef, lamb, and pork at Stamping Creek Farms. Mom picked up a sampler box after I left. I'll be driving over to get a box of swine sometime soon. Greco will like it...
In addition to the sausage, we had a gorgeous salad, and some friggin' incredible sharp cheddar on wafer crackers with a small dollop of cranberry chutney.
And after that, we started putting together the real meal. I made a cornbread that morning for Mom to use in the cornbread, sausage, apple stuffing. Used a much coarser grain corn meal this time.
The bread had real 'teeth' to it. A much stronger corn flavor, and it held up very well in the stuffing.
Yes, stuffing. We put it in the bird. Like people have been doing for YEARS. No one's dead, and the thing was delicious.
Mom had S buy the turkey and asked her to get one somewhere between 12 and 18 pounds.
Bear in mind there were five of us for dinner.
So the 16 pound monster, while technically in the range, was definitely a conversation piece as well as a source of protein. And it was stunning.
Back to food.
There were mashed potatoes, the last fresh green beans of the year cooked with bacon, our family's cranberry sauce heavy with orange zest, and rolls with which to butter and sop gravy. Or you could go the raspberry preserve route. Or both.
Yes, dear reader, four of the five diners here were lovers of the Brussel's sprout.
Trim them. Blanch them. Shock them. Render Applewood smoked bacon until halfway cooked. Add sprouts. Saute. Add two tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper. Cook until the bacon's crispy. Serve hot.
When you cook them right (and yes, I cook them right), they are not stinky cabbage. They are crisp, bright cabbage with a chew. More than a hint of bacon flavor. And a GREAT way to prove your foodie superiority! (Smile, that was sarcasm...sort of...)
I got lazy with the camera at this point.
One quick shot of the spread at a bad angle.
But you can see the gallon of gravy, the taters, the turkey, and the gorgeous china.
It was a classic family meal with smiles and toasts and remembrances of past meals, and missing members of the family.
I think it was especially joyful for Mom to be able to look around that table and see family in that room again. A rebirth of a meal held for decades without pretense.
The remains of the turkey already bubbling away on the stovetop in the kitchen while we ate.
A walk the next afternoon along the entire property line in the fields.
Down to the bend in the creek that wasn't there when we were kids, the flooding that sometimes ravages the area creating a new view in a familiar place.
It was a warm day on Saturday, and we were taking off layers as we walked.
Along the eroding creek bed to the old swimming hole. The clay bank we used as a slide long gone. The visions of Willow trees along the bank to hold back the erosion well-formed in the minds of Mom and S.
We finished the walk and headed back to the house for a bowl of soup before Bec and John headed back to town. They knew where the white pines were growing so they could take a few in the spring for their new house.
Mom had located some ground pine for the Christmas decorations.
I had fixed the wireless at the house so we could all sit by the fire in the living room and connect with the rest of the world when the mood struck us.
It was everything I possibly hoped the holiday could be.
Herb took one look at me when I got back and declared I hadn't looked as relaxed and happy in months.
He's right. In part because of the four days I spent there.
In part because I am keenly aware that it won't be the last holiday at the Rexrode Farm.
We'll have more turkeys, more fires at night, and more walks up the road.