Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Rogue Post...By My Mother

Clearly I need not state the obvious and say that I have been lacking motivation, focus and inspiration when it comes to this blog. My mother wrote this “rogue post” weeks ago for precisely this reason- and it has taken me THIS LONG to even get around to posting it. I mean it was already written. All I had to do was upload it with the pictures and it would be done. But apparently even this is too much for me.
These oatmeal cookies were delicious, and my mother’s rogue post that follows ain’t half bad either. It reminds me of the letters she used to write to me when I was at summer camp. I used to always get homesick, especially at camp, and her letters never helped much.
“The kitchen is silent as I write this,” she would say. “I made blueberry muffins this morning but there is no one here to eat them.”
Lines like this were enough to send me into a fit of snotty tears, and since I was embarrassed to be caught crying over letters from home, I got into the habit of stuffing them into my pockets and then trudging up the hill to the “latrines” where I could read them in one of the toilet stalls and weep privately .
What a baby!
I now hand you over to my mother and her delicious oatmeal cookie recipe. I recommend eating them for breakfast, because they are sort of like a jacked up granola bar.
*You may also like to note my mother's photography- and the fact that the lense to her camera apparently has a smudge on it. Greasy cookie dough fingers will do that!

This is a ROGUE BLOG posted by Simon and I, who, for the past few days, have been left home alone in the hot, humid, Rhode Island heat. We have been missing Sophie, her blogging, and her cooking because she has been ‘otherwise occupied ‘with her travels and is now consumed by her summer tutoring job at URI.
When will life return to normal? When will Sophie sit again on the sofa paging through volumes of poetry and cookbooks releasing little sighs of delight and ‘hmmms’ of anticipation?
Last night, after the wild and sudden downpour that created flash flooding along Wakefield’s Main Street, Sophie drove off to her class. Abandoned once more in the 90 degree heat and in a fit of desperation, Simon and I decided to further crank up the BTU’s in the kitchen and bake.…. oatmeal cookies. Specifically, the comforting oatmeal cookies from Simon’s childhood memory. It was wicked hot in the kitchen but the cookies did not disappoint. Here’s our version of the original recipe taken from The Bakery Lane Soup Bowl Cookbook by Marge Mitchell and Joan Sedgwick which makes no apologies for butter and cream. We played with it a little by eliminating the white sugar and cinnamon, adding raw sugar, coconut, peanut butter chips, vanilla and peanuts.

Sorry there’s no poetry here for you. Just close your eyes and think “oatmeal cookies, oatmeal cookies, oatmeal cookies”. You won’t feel the heat anymore.

Oatmeal Cookies

3 cups regular oats
2 cups raw and brown sugars
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup sunflower oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking soda

Assorted chocolate and peanut butter chips, raisins, shredded coconut, slightly salted peanuts and walnuts.

In a big bowl mix dry ingredients, in a big measuring cup( 4 cups) mix the liquid ingredients and the baking soda. Mix liquid in to the dry. Stir in the assorted chips and nuts. Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet . Bake about 10 minutes or until they smell wonderful at 350 degrees. Makes about 3 dozen healthy sized cookies.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cooked Poem: "Cabbage"

Several weeks ago I was rummaging through a friend’s bookshelf, a bookshelf that contains, among other things, a rather extensive collection of Charles Simic.

“I have a feeling,” I said. “That Charles Simic would have some good food poems.”

Turns out he does indeed.

“Cabbage,” comes from his collection of poems entitled The Book of Gods and Devils and is, as this copy’s owner remarked “out of print.”

I have already mentioned my affinity for cabbage here- boiled, fermented, raw- I love it. So when I read this poem that afternoon I knew “Cabbage” was fated to be the next cooked poem.


She was about to chop the head
In half,
But I made her reconsider
By telling her:
“Cabbage symbolizes mysterious love.”

Or so said one Charles Fourier,
Who said many other strange and wonderful things,
So that people called him mad behind his back,

Whereupon I kissed the back of her neck,
Ever so gently,

Whereupon she cut the cabbage in two
With a single stroke of her knife.

Oh cabbage. What to do with you? Making my own sauerkraut has been on the list for a while now, but I think this is a project for later in the summer. I then thought that perhaps I should just make coleslaw, especially because it was Memorial Day weekend and coleslaw would fit into the whole cookout scheme of things. But this just didn’t feel right. Simic is Yugoslavian after all, I thought, and saying this poem inspired coleslaw seems shallow and wrong. So instead I found a recipe for Yugoslavian Stuffed Cabbage, and while the timing seemed a bit off last weekend, I found myself in the kitchen boiling vinegary cabbage and cooking heavily seasoned ground meat.

I couldn’t help but think about mysterious love as I pulled apart each boiled cabbage leaf, and rolled into a tight little bundle, nestling it in snugly with the other cabbage rolls.

Are you mysterious, cabbage? Do you, as they say, symbolize such strange and mysterious love?

Oddly, the night after I made the cabbage rolls I lay in bed and watched this film. In it, two women fall in love while working in a sauerkraut factory in Germany. What are the chances, right? The filmmakers must know about this mysterious love thing too, I thought. In one scene in particular, the two lovers crouch together in a cabbage field, and between loaded looks and long silences, talk to each other about their past failed relationships. One of them struggles with a knife to cut the cabbage from its stem, and then the other says “here, let me show you an easier way.”

Major cabbage symbolism in action right there, I tell ya. Regardless, it was a good film. You should rent it. Or stream it, or whatever. But I’ll warn you it is a little depressing. So don’t watch it and then yell at me about how it got you all sad, okay?

Since I have never eaten a cabbage roll before I really had no reference point for what it should taste like. And the idea of mixing cinnamon and nutmeg in with the ground meat, and then paired with tomatoes and sauerkraut did seem a little gnarly at first, but the flavors actually play off each other very well. The recipe recommends that the rolls are even better after sitting for a few days, and this is true. I ate them the next day for lunch and they were even better. Supposedly they should be served with boiled potatoes. Maybe washed down with a glass a vodka, too.

And I apologize for these photos. I struggled with finding a way to make the stuffed cabbage look as appetizing as it actually is. So I realize they look at little rough here, but they are good! Really!

Yugoslavian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

1 head of cabbage, cored
1 c. vinegar
1 onion, chopped
¼ lbs. bacon, copped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch parsley, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 lbs ground meat (you can use any combination of pork, veal, beef, or turkey. I used pork and turkey because that is what I had in the freezer)
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bag or can of sauerkraut (about 2 cups)
1 14 oz. can of pureed tomatoes
2 cloves
1 Tbs. sugar

Boil the head of cabbage in water for 20 minutes, along with the 1 cup of vinegar. Drain and cool.

In a skillet, brown the onion, bacon, garlic, parsley, and celery. Add the ground meat. Let cool and then add the cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, salt and pepper, egg, and rice.

In a separate bowl, mix together the sauerkraut and tomatoes.

Trim the cabbage leave and fill with meat mixture. Place them into a casserole dish, fitting them tightly against each other. Cover with sauerkraut and tomatoes mixture. Sprinkle with sugar and the two cloves.

Cover and bake at 350 for two hours. Serve with boiled potatoes.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

This time we did use the kitchen

*All photos courtesy of Danielle Henderson
The last time we made waffles over at my friends Jon and Lea’s house we had to do it like this because their kitchen was completely gutted for renovations. It has been many many months but the kitchen is finally functional, and while it is not entirely finished, Lea and Jon invited everyone over for a Memorial Day brunch Sunday morning.

The kitchen looks beautiful, Lea made scrambled eggs, home fries, and fresh carrot/pineapple juice that were to die for, plus this delicious cinnamon role (made out of pizza dough that she bought from a local bakery). And Jon, good Pennsylvanian boy that he is, ironed up some tasty waffles which we all drizzled with blueberry compote, maple syrup, and Greek yogurt.

I may have mentioned before that both Jon and Lea are talented potters, so Sunday morning we drank and ate off of their beautifully handcrafted plates and mugs. Coffee and waffles definitely taste better this way.

I forgot my camera to document the deliciousness, but the lovely Danielle was there and managed to take all these pictures. All photo credits go completely to her! Her camera’s battery died 20  minutes in but being the resourceful type of lady that she is, she merely gave the battery a couple of licks and it worked like a charm!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Healthy Midweek Meal

While fresh basil is not quite in season yet, the unusually hot weather we experienced here in Rhode Island this week had me craving this lighter version of basil pesto.
Locally my mother is known as the “pesto queen” since during my childhood she ran a small pesto making business, selling it by the gallon to local restaurants and gourmet shops throughout South County. Every summer she would grow a large garden of basil, and would spend July and August weeding and later harvesting the basil in huge quantities. She did most of this herself, but would also often enlist local teenagers and more help from wonderful friends and neighbors.
Harvesting was a long process: we would clip the basil and put it on a big white sheet, which we would then carry over to a kiddie pool full of cold water where it would be washed thoroughly (this was a nice job on hot, humid August afternoons). Once it was washed it was put out to dry on big screens in the sunshine. When the basil was dry it was transferred back to a big white sheet which was put on the ground and then surrounded by “basil strippers.” This sounds exciting, I know, and while actual stripping would have been way more fun, these strippers were just lots of people sitting in beach chairs “stripping” the basil leaves off the stems. This took a long time, especially for the younger kids, and my mother would often get us to help by offering us ice cream sandwiches as incentive (which worked for me, obviously). Once all the basil was stripped it was transported in big baskets into the kitchen, where my mother would stand for hours feeding the basil leaves into an old meat grinder, which turned the basil into a dark green paste. The meat grinder always horrified me because I knew that if I stuck my fingers into while it was on, it would grind them up. Scary! The ground up basil was then put in the big freezer down stairs and frozen until my mother would get a pesto order.
This pesto recipe however, is not her famous one. I will post that someday I promise. Instead, this pesto is one that is much lighter and therefore more “figure friendly,” since most of the olive oil is replaced with chicken or vegetable stock. While this may not sound appetizing, the minced basil with garlic, pine nuts, and cheese makes it equally delectable. Put it over whole wheat pasta, along with some cheery tomatoes and grilled chicken thrown in and it is a really healthy and satisfying meal.
Simon also made a very tasty Bloody Mary Tuesday night, garnished with the last of my dilly beans from the summer. And the garden is now full of delicious salad greens, which we also ate, tossed with lots of balsamic vinegar and salt.

Figure Friendly Pesto

2 c. fresh basil, packed

2 cloves of garlic

¼- ½ c grated Parmesan cheese

¼. c pine nuts

¼ low sodium chicken stock

3 Tbs. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Put everything in the food processor and pulse until it is a paste. Enjoy!

Add any of the following: grilled chopped chicken, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, sautéed zucchini, grilled shrimp etc.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Goat Cheese Danish, Thanks to the Lovely Andrea

Before you say anything let me tell you that I know. I know. I have been neglecting the blog. I have been unfocused. I have been easily distracted. I haven’t even been cooking very much.

What have I been doing?

What have I been doing.

I’m not really sure. I guess part of what’s been going on is that the seasonal shift from winter to spring has finally happened. Now, instead of scurrying through the short days, trying to be as industrious as possible before darkness and cold descends, friends call at noon to say they are drinking beer on the porch. They say that they are enjoying the warmth and sunshine, and that I should come over. At noon. To drink. Sometimes on a Monday. But I didn’t just write that.

Or, there was that Saturday a few weekends back when a friend and I decided to tune up and dust off our bicycles so that we could take rides anytime, all the time. And since we fixed mine up (which had been sitting unused in the garage since I took a nasty spill during an unexpected rainstorm in 2008) I have been going for rides a lot, instead of making things.

Then last weekend my parents asked if I would help them in the garden. I planted rows of bush beans, and made little dirt mounds for zucchini, sprinkled basil seeds, and dill seeds, “Scarlet Nantes” carrot seeds. I watered little pepper plants, shoveled compost that was full of wiggling pink worms into the wheelbarrow. Helped my mother mulch the dahlia beds.

And then this happened:
Welcome to the wilderness little brother....

BUT THEN a few days ago my friend Andrea, who keeps goats, asked if I would like to come over and make goat cheese filled Danish.

And of course I said yes.

My friend Andrea, who I already told you keeps goats, has been making all sorts of delicious things with the goat milk. Fresh chevre, ricotta, yogurt, and ice cream.
Neither Andrea nor I had ever made Danish before, and the normal pastry dough recipe for Danish that Andrea and I found involved too many "roll out the dough and then refrigerate for 30 minutes” stages. Instead, we found a quick method recipe from the cookbook Baking With Julia, which worked beautifully. Andrea read the directions while I rolled out the dough, and then folded it. At first we didn’t understand why you have to keep rolling it out and then “fold it like a business letter.”

“What is the point of this?” I kept asking every time Andrea told me to do it. “Why does this matter?”

“I don’t know,” she kept responding. “Just do it.”

This question was answered when we took the adorable little Danish out of the oven and the dough had risen in little flaky, buttery,  golden layers.

“This is why!” I cried holding the Danish in the palm of my hand. “By rolling it and and folding it over and over it makes it like this!”

Oh, the revelations of the self taught home cook. These are special moments indeed.

The goat cheese we used was a yogurt Andrea had made and then strained most of the liquid out of. The result was a delicious, soft cheese with a very understated tang. I don’t know how Andrea has been making the cheese. She is just going to have to enlighten us about it by guest blogging here soon.

We made two different combinations for the Danish. The first was goat cheese with stewed rhubarb from Andrea’s garden. I just put it in a pot with a little water and brown sugar and let it cook down. Then we also made a batch with the goat cheese and some lemon marmalade Andrea got at the farmer’s market. These were good too, and tasted sort of like lemon meringue pie.

Originally we were going to make the Danish into a “pinwheel” shape, as described in the Joy of Cooking. But I cut the squares too small so we just ended up leaving them as squares and then placing the cheese and filling on top. They were delicious.
My friend Rose and her daughter Ella arrived just as the Danish were conveniently coming out of the oven.

How many did you eat Rosie?!

I think it was at least five.

Danish Pastry, from Baking With Julia


1/4 cup warm water (105ºF to 115ºF)
2-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 sticks (8 ounces) cold unsalted butter


Mixing the Dough

Pour the water into a large bowl, sprinkle over the yeast, and let it soften for a minute. Add the milk, egg, sugar, and salt and whisk to mix; set aside.

Put the flour in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Cut the butter into 1/4-inch-thick slices and drop them onto the flour. Pulse 8 to 10 times, until the butter is cut into pieces that are about 1/2 inch in diameter. Don't overdo this — the pieces must not be smaller than 1/2 inch.

Empty the contents of the food processor into the bowl with the yeast and, working with a rubber spatula, very gently turn the mixture over, scraping the bowl as needed, just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Again, don't be too energetic-the butter must remain in discrete pieces so that you will produce a flaky pastry, not a bread or cookie dough.

Chilling the Dough

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough overnight or for up to 4 days, (if that better suits your schedule).

Rolling and Folding

Lightly flour a work surface (a cool surface, such as marble, is ideal), turn the dough out onto it, and dust the dough lightly with flour. Using the palms of your hands, pat the dough into a rough square. Then roll it into a square about 16 inches on a side. (A French rolling pin, one without handles, is best here.) Fold the dough in thirds, like a business letter, and turn it so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. (if at any time the dough gets too soft to roll, just cover it with plastic wrap and pop it into the refrigerator for a quick chill.)

Roll the dough out again, this time into a long narrow rectangle, about 10 inches wide by 24 inches long. Fold the rectangle in thirds again, turn it so the closed fold is to your left, and roll it into a 20-inch square. Fold the square in thirds, like a business letter, so that you have a rectangle, turning it so that the closed fold is to your left, and, once more, roll the dough into a long narrow rectangle, 10 inches wide by 24 inches long. Fold in thirds again, wrap the dough well in plastic, and chill it for at least 30 minutes, or for as long as 2 days. (Depending on what you plan to do with the dough, you might want to divide it in half now.)

The dough is now ready to be shaped, filled, and baked, following the recipes of your choice.

The dough can be kept covered in the refrigerator for 4 days or wrapped airtight and frozen for 1 month; thaw overnight, still wrapped, in the refrigerator.

Yield: Makes 2 pounds of dough

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bluebird Sings Spring Songs

Last week I was invited to judge my old elementary school’s Pie Baking Contest, which is just one of the many exciting events at the school’s annual May Fair.

When I was little I used to wait with bated breath for the May Fair every year. It was quite the social event, complete with a Maypole, dancing, face painting, flower crowns, and sticks with streamers tied onto them that we would wave around excitedly.

The Pie Contest is a fairly new addition to the festivities, and I took the job seriously from the get go. My friend Lea also agreed to judge, and on Saturday we arrived ready to eat lots of pie.

Actually this is not entirely true. Originally I was excited to eat lots of pie, and I thought it was a great idea until I began thinking about it more, whereupon I realized that this could potentially be too much pie. It started to give me anxiety.

“Lea” I said, my voice heavy with concern. “Even if we just take one bite of every pie- say there are forty pies? That will still be like eating an entire pie on our own, at least. I don’t know if I can do it.”

“Maybe we can do it like wine tasting,” she said trying to ease my nerves. “We can take a bite and chew it just enough to taste it, and then spit it out.”

I thought about this for a minute, and tried to imagine sticking a forkful of oh, say, chocolate cream pie in my mouth, chewing it (sort of) and then spitting it out.

“That’s impossible,” I said to Lea. “How can you only partially chew pie? How can you taste it without swallowing it? It will just dissolve in our mouths before we can spit it out. We have to eat it.”

“That would be so gross anyway,” she said. "Imagine."

So I was resigned to the excessive pie consumption that seemed inevitable, and made a mental note to take an epic bike ride later that day.

But once we arrived we quickly realized that all my worries were for naught because only two adults entered pies! The pie contest would have been a total bust if it wasn't for the “Under 14” category in which about ten pies were entered.

Suddenly our task seemed much more manageable, and we got to work tasting and rating on a scale of 1-5 (five being the best), for crust, filling, originality, presentation, and overall tastiness. Since there were not that many pies entered I admit I did indulge in repeated tastes of the same pie. With most of the pies. Okay all of them. But Lea and I did go for a bike ride that afternoon- I swear.

The pies were all delicious, but I do have a few personal favorites:

The first was an apple pie that was decorated with a ceramic blackbird poking out of the middle, and then little dough “eggs” that were dyed blue. I was instantaneously deeply in love with the kid who conceptualized this one. The apples weren’t cooked through and some weren’t peeled, but I didn’t care. It was just so sweet! And the girl who made it even wrote on the recipe card “bluebird sings spring songs.”

My heart melted.

The grand prize winner went to Owen Gilmartin for his outstanding Old Fashioned Lemon Pie with Macadamia Coconut Crust. It was also decorated with glazed blackberries and raspberries. Taste, presentation, and overall deliciousness made this one the winner.

There was also an insanely delicious sweet potato squash pie, with a huge mound of whipped cream on top. This was one of the two pies made by a parent, but the spices in the filling gave it a wonderful warm and complex flavor.
Happy May Day!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cooked Poem: Ode to an Artichoke, and some Jong and Child

For Simon
This Cooked Poem on the artichoke was completely accidental. The artichokes just looked so lovely in the grocery store on Saturday that I had to take them home with me. And because they looked so lovely, and complicated, I thought there has to be at least one poem that has been written in the last several hundred years that is about the artichoke. I found “Ode to an Artichoke,” by Pablo Neruda, and then sure enough, Erica Jong has her own poem about the artichoke in response to Neruda’s. She also has one in response to Julia Child’s instructions on the preparation of an artichoke. I therefore decided it would be appropriate to include everyone for this Cooked Poem. The artichoke was grown and harvested, Neruda was inspired and wrote a poem, Jong read Neruda’s poem, ate the artichoke and responded, and she also read Child and responded. Then I read Neruda, Jong, and Child, cooked the artichoke and ate it.

All this inspiration from what is really just the flower head of a thorny thistle.

I decided to dedicate this Cooked Poem to my brother Simon, who is the most passionate artichoke lover I have ever known. Since childhood, Simon has delighted in the ritual of pulling off each leaf, dipping it in the lemony vinaigrette, and then scraping the leaf between clenched teeth to get at the tender flesh.

So I thought about him as I sat at the table tonight, with the rain outside, doing just this.

They really are so delicious.

"Ode to an Artichoke," by Pablo Neruda

The artichoke
of delicate heart
in its battle-dress, builds
its minimal cupola;
in its scallop of
Around it,
demoniac vegetables
bristle their thicknesses,
tendrils and belfries,
the bulb's agitations;
while under the subsoil
the carrot
sleeps sound in its
rusty mustaches.
Runner and filaments
bleach in the vineyards,
whereon rise the vines.
The sedulous cabbage
arranges its petticoats;
sweetens a world;
and the artichoke
dulcetly there in a gardenplot,
armed for a skirmish,
goes proud
in its pomegranate
Till, on a day,
each by the other,
the artichoke moves
to its dream
of a market place
in the big willow
a battle formation.
Most warlike
of defilades-
with men
in the market stalls,
white shirts
in the soup-greens,
artichoke field marshals,
close-order conclaves,
commands, detonations,
and voices,
a crashing of crate staves.

with her hamper
make trial
of an artichoke:
she reflects, she examines,
she candles them up to the light like an egg,
never flinching;
she bargains,
she tumbles her prize
in a market bag
among shoes and a
cabbage head,
a bottle
of vinegar; is back
in her kitchen.
The artichoke drowns in a pot.

So you have it:
a vegetable, armed,
a profession
(call it an artichoke)
whose end
is millennial.
We taste of that
dismembering scale after scale.
We eat of a halcyon paste:
it is green at the artichoke heart.

Here are sections 11 and 12 from Jong’s poem “Fruits and Vegetables.”


(Artichoke, after Child): Holding the heart base up, rotate it slowly with your left hand against the blade of a knife held firmly in your right hand to remove all pieces of ambition & expose the pale surface of the heart. Frequently rub the cut portions with gall. Drop each heart as it is finished into acidulated water. The choke can be removed after cooking.


(Artichoke, after Neruda)

It is green at the artichoke heart,
but remember the times
you flayed
leaf and leaf,
hoarding the pale silver paste
behind the fortress of your teeth,
tonguing the vinaigrette,
only to find the husk of a worm
at the artichoke heart?
The palate reels like a wronged lover.
Was all that sweetness counterfeit?
Must you vomit back
world after vegetable world
for the sake of one worm
in the green garden of the heart?

Here are Julia Child’s instructions, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Preparation for Cooking:

One at a time, prepare the artichokes as follows:

Remove the stem by bending it at the base of the artichoke until it snaps off, thus detaching with the stem any tough filaments which may have pushed up into the heart.

Break off the small leaves at the base of the artichoke. Trim the base with a knife so the artichoke will stand solidly upright.

Lay the artichoke on its side and slice three quarters of an inch off the top of the center cone of leaves. Trim off the points of the rest of the leaves with scissors. Wash under cold running water.

Rub the cut portions of the artichoke with lemon juice. Drop it into a basin of cold water containing 1 tablespoon of vinegar per quart of water. The acid prevents the artichoke from discoloring.

Artichauts Au Natural

6 artichokes prepared for cooking as in the preceding directions

A large kettle containing 7 to 8 quarts of boiling water

1 ½ tsp salt per quart of water

Drop the prepared artichokes in the boiling, salted water. Bring water back to the boil as rapidly as possible and boil slowly, uncovered, for 35 to 45 minutes. The artichokes are done when the leaves pull out easily and the bottoms are tender when pierced with a knife.

Immediately remove them from the kettle with skimmer or spoon and drain them upside down in a colander.

Boiled artichokes may be served hot, warm, or cold.