breeding joy

cut up

In 2004, our family was a bit worn by a run of fairly epic events: illness, strife and woe, though strangers for the most part up until then (lucky us!), took up residence in our solar system with a vengeance. When the dust settled (for good, we innocently thought) my husband and I did a hugely greedy thing: we had another baby.

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It was greedy by planetary standards, and that gave me some major pause. But it was also greedy for joy. I can run circles around most circular thinkers—but this! But that! But this and that!–and though I continue to visit and revisit many of my big decisions, I feel pretty confident that the joy grab was a sound move.

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Illness, strife and woe have not been as strangers since then. But the boy continues to compound the happiness of those around him. This week Vitamin A turned 10, a noteworthy milestone.

birthday #1

We always have his Party after the holidays, when his school chums are more available, and mark his official day with a quieter bit of family-based hoopla. He made a detailed dinner request, but all he said about dessert was something plain-ish, possibly involving jam.

yolks

My mom used to make a thing called a sponge omelette, which came from a Viennese pastry cookbook that she got some serious mileage out of when we were tots. It came to me in a blinding flash as I was mincing and roasting things; it obligingly required only ingredients that I already possessed, mixed up in a trice and was easily made gluten free, if that’s of interest to you.

lit up

Partly because I burned the bottom of it a little bit last night, and partly because it was so tasty and easy to make, I had to make it again for breakfast this morning. It tastes just like childhood happiness, and just like I remember, and is a simple method for fomenting a little joy in your orbit.

I made last night’s omelette for a crowd, in a 12” skillet using 6 eggs. I made this morning’s version in a 10” skillet using 4. Thanks to this recipe, which was not what I was after but was certainly helpful, I discovered the handy calculus that what you want is about a tablespoon each of flour, sugar and butter per egg. Meaning you could make a one-person omelette without much trouble (I’ll leave you to calculate how large that omelette would need to be). I bumped up the flour a bit more, as you’ll see, but the math basically held up for the two versions.

If you want jam on it, and it certainly plays well with jam, go for apricot.  If you want your lily gilded further, try my friend Peggy‘s insanely delicious whipped cream (details below).  There is no going back to the plain stuff, though.  Consider yourself warned.

Much as I did not have a gift guide, I also don’t have a major 2014 in review to offer. But if you haven’t seen them already, I think this sweeping biographical survey and this incredibly moving visual stunner are worth a look as we fiddle with the focus knobs in preparation for another turn around the sun.

Wishing you all a peaceful, healthy new year.

baked

viennese sponge omelette

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 4T sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • barest scrape of finely grated lemon zest
  • 5T sweet rice flour (or AP flour)
  • 4T salted butter

Heat the oven to 350.  Put the butter into a 10″ oven-proof skillet, and begin to heat it over low heat. In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until glossy and peaked.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar and lemon zest until thick and pale, about 4 minutes by hand with a balloon whisk.  Turn the heat up a little under the pan, and fold a little of the egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten.  Now begin to fold in the remainder, and when it’s about half combined, add the flour.  Gently fold until well blended, and pour into the waiting pan, where the butter should be foamy.  Slide into the hot oven.  Bake 16-20 minutes, until lightly golden on top and springy to the touch in the center.

Serve right away, with a dollop of jam and cream, or take it neat.

cream

(my amateur version of) Peggy’s Whipped Cream of No Return

  • half pint of heavy cream
  • 4 oz creme fraiche
  • 1T maple syrup
  • dash of vanilla extract or 1/2 t of vanilla bean paste

Whip the cream with the vanilla and maple until it holds the softest peaks; fold in the creme fraiche, and beat a moment or two longer, until it has a nice dollop-y consistency.

 

 

holiday braking

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Are you feeling it? Not the amnesiac impulse that leads to you to truly believe you can operate a sewing machine, pastry bag (or whatever instrument is your personal Martha Stewart Waterloo) like a boss, not the bubbly energy that suggests you can mingle cheerfully and with durably good hair at multiple holiday gatherings in a single day, not the vain hope that you can get to (and out of) the post office three days before Xmas with your dignity and errand timetable intact.  Not those things.  We are all (right?) grappling with those demons.  I am wondering if you are feeling what Mrs Wroblewski, my sister’s college-era landlady, called “too much party.”

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make ‘em tiny or don’t make ‘em at all. Photo by Julie Scott.

The tiny houses are done.  This year I managed to avoid a 3peat of the ‘Bake Em Wrong First‘ fiasco, which is a significant advancement.  But the process is not automated yet.  It continues to be lunacy. This year it was lunacy in good company, as two friends enabled joined me. Blessings on their heads.

hogs

So that’s done.  And the little hoggies are done, too.  Make those bad boys one year and you’ll find yourself on the hook in perpetuity.

The sewing and the parties continue to unspool, though, and so does the feeling–often a pleasant one! don’t get me wrong!–of Too Much Party.

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Enter the chia seed.  It’s always entering at this stage of the game.  It entered here, and here, under similar conditions.  But there is just something about four ingredients that get shaken in a mason jar, and which you can feel restored by eating (in a quiet corner, in your pajamas, preferably), that really fits the bill.

I am grateful that I picked and froze strawberries in June, when the world was green, but any frozen strawberry would do here.  Are you curious about cashew milk?  This is good reading, then.  (I was wondering if I was missing something by not soaking before blending, and now I feel better; hence: good reading.) But really, just have at it.

pinkmilk

for maximum pinkage, you can add a pinch of beet powder but it tastes good pink or not

 

strawberry chia pudding

  • 1 c raw cashew pieces
  • 2 c water
  • 1-2 T honey
  • 1 large handful of frozen strawberries (a generous cup)
  • 1/3 c chia seed
  • optionally: a dash of vanilla extract and/or a scrape of orange zest.

Blend the cashews and water until smooth (trust me that you’ll want to first verify that no spare blender parts or kitchen utensils are in the blender with the nuts).  Add the honey and the strawberries and blend again.  Pour this concoction into a one quart mason jar, and drink it up add the chia seeds.  Shake well.  Refrigerate until thickened, about four hours (best) or overnight (still tasty).

Happy holidays.

alldone

 

 

 

The Tomatrix

P.G. Wodehouse with his wife Ethel

P.G. Wodehouse with his wife Ethel

The Pekingese notwithstanding, I have been a rabid fan of P.G. Wodehouse since I was a youngster.  In one of his most epic Jeeves/Wooster romps, The Code Of The Woosters, Bertie finds himself a guest at a posh country home, in a bedroom where the mantel is festooned with little china figurines.  As the plot thickens and various characters process their woes and frustrations, one by one the tchotchkes get dashed, passionately, to the hearth. At the end of the book, Bertie comments that the “rush of life at Totleigh Towers” has taken the ultimate toll, and not a shepherdess is left standing.

It’s been a little refrain in my head since then, “the rush of life at Totleigh Towers.”  This has tons to do with tomato soup, as I will now demonstrate by deftly changing the subject with an imperceptible flick of my wrist.

It’s the time of year when it must be accepted—in my zip code, anyway—that edible food will not be coming fresh from a patch of earth nearby for several moons to come. I know, and hold dear, persons who are still plucking ripe tomatoes from the vine on their sun-drenched patios. But these activities are just a memory here in the Northeast. If we’re eating it, more than likely it’s coming from a can, a jar or an airplane.

Enter, on its white horse, the preserved tomato. As far as I’m concerned, if you have a can of tomatoes, like so:

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 7.30.42 PMOr a jar of home-canned tomatoes, like so:

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then you have dinner (as well as the next day’s thermos) halfway in the bag. Whatever the rush of life may toss your way, you can meet it with soup.

Admittedly, we have a bit of a tomato soup fixation around here. There’s the tomato soup of panic, and the tomato soup of willingness to roast stuff, and a few others that I think I have outlined in this forum. In my rich fantasy life, I spent this week developing a kind of slide rule (that’s a precursor to the app, for you young folk) for tomato soup, so you could triangulate and calculate and manifest a successful tomato soup based on whatever Old Mother Hubbard had stowed in the cupboard. But I am not especially gifted in the techie arts, and I also just noticed that “tomatrix” sounds less like a decision-making instrument and more like some nasty slow food role play identity.

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Frankly, I would be happier if I did not know this existed.

My mind also ran to posting one soup at a time, as a means of improving on the recent 70-day blogging gap (blogging plays the role in my life of the china shepherdess at Totleigh Towers, it would appear) with a barrage of closely-spaced tomato soup posts. But then I noticed that the last post here was a tomato post, and that was so depressing on so many levels that I almost threw in the towel again. Luckily I remembered that none of this was remotely significant on any meaningful scale, and I was able to further reassure myself that it’s useful to see all the soups together, so whichever two people in the universe actually read this can think of novel ways of their own to mix and match ingredients. I am a woman, my college roommate and I used to say (usually in a bakery or department store, but not infrequently in matters of romance), and I can rationalize anything.

fennel

The basic premise here is that you’ll want a member (or two) of the allium family (onion/leek/garlic/shallot/scallion), and a few spices that suit the mood, then some auxiliary ingredients for extra vegetal power and/or protein boosting, possibly something creamy, and then you have the option to gild the lily a bit with garnishes (the uptown name for “stuff you fling on top.”) Simple, right? I will put in a little quick and quiet plug here for cooking large batches of your own beans and freezing them in 1 or 2 cup portions, because a home-cooked bean is SO MUCH TASTIER than a canned bean, but I also unabashedly embrace the canned bean. It’s an arse-saver. Always wise to have a few kinds tucked away for dinner emergencies.

One nice thing about bisque-ing the beans into the soup is that they add excellent substance and creaminess without making things heavy, and furthermore bean objectors will not have the traction that a visible, whole bean provides. They don’t even need to know the beans are in there.

As for the type of tomato, it’s of very little consequence. Whole peeled. Diced. Ground peeled. Pureed. Even the fire roasted ones will do, provided you are in the mood for a little char.

The plain tomato soup that starts things off here is really a souped-down version of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Spicy Tomato Soup, and the tricks of whisking or blending in a little mayonnaise (really?! yes!) for savory creaminess and a little honey to balance the tomatoes’ acidity are handy ones to have up your sleeve.

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Plain Tomato Soup    

  • 2T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 28-oz can of tomatoes
  • Optionally , a couple of peeled, diced carrots
  • 2T mayonnaise (or more, if you like a creamier soup)
  • 2t honey
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Sauté the onion in the oil until it softens. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Dump in the tomatoes and 1.5 cans of water and bring to a simmer for 20 minutes or so, then use an immersion blender to incorporate the honey and the (I know it sounds weird) mayonnaise and make a smooooth soup. Adjust the salt and pepper to your liking.

Increase the vegetative power with a couple of carrots, diced, that you simmer in with the tomatoes. Gives it a little more body and still comes across as tomato soup.

Dude it up with some minced fresh dill or basil or something like that, if you feel you must. But this is the kind of tomato soup that you might drink from a mug that has your name, along with possibly a painted bunny or dog, on it, and which begs for grilled cheese sandwiches cut in triangles.

 

fennel tomato soup

Tomato Soup with Red Pepper, White Beans & Fennel 

  • 2T olive oil
  • 1-2 shallots, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small fennel bulb, chopped
  • 1 16-oz jar of roasted whole red peppers, drained and chopped
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • 1 28 oz can of tomatoes
  • 1 can white beans, drained
  • optionally, 8-12 ozs chicken broth
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Sauté the shallots for a minute or two in the oil over medium heat, then add the garlic and let it get fragrant, then add the fennel and cook, stirring, until things are nicely softened, about five minutes. Add the spices and heat them through, then add the peppers, and cook a minute or two.  Now the tomatoes and the beans head in to the pot, along with either a tomato can and a half of water or a can of water and the chicken broth. Let all that simmer about twenty minutes, then whack it with the immersion blender until super smooth. Adjust the salt and pepper to your liking

Gild the lily with a drizz of really good olive oil and a little dab of crème fraiche or sour cream or heavy cream, maybe some minced up fennel fronds, or chopped baby arugula, and so forth.

 

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Spicy Tomato Chickpea Soup with Lemon

  • 2 leeks, well rinsed and finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2T olive oil
  • 2T ground cumin
  • ¼ to ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 slices preserved lemon (or a good zatz of lemon juice, plus a scrape of zest, and some additional salt)
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Sauté the leeks for a minute or two over medium heat in the oil, then add the garlic and cook, stirring, until things are nicely softened, about five minutes. Add the spices and heat them through, then add the lemon and mix it in well. Dump in the tomatoes and the beans and a can and a half of water. Let all that simmer about twenty minutes, then whack it with the immersion blender until super smooth. Adjust the salt and pepper to your liking.

Doll up the soup with a sprinkle of crumbled feta (or some other dairy item), or some toasted croutons, or cooked greens, or go crazy and make some little drop dumplings:

  • 1 c AP flour (replace up to ¼ c with a whole grain flour)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1T minced parsley
  • 1 egg

Mix these things well, along with about half a cup of water, until you have a smooth, stiff batter (add a little more water if you need it). Bring a saucepan of water to a low boil, and use two teaspoons to drop little gumball size pieces of dough into the water. Let the little dears cook until they rise up to the surface, then cook one more minute. Drain, and add to finished soup.

 

coconut soup

And now for the curve ball! The soup that is the thing that is not like the others. Your reward for slogging through all this bisque-y soup.

‘You’re Not From Around Here’ Tomato Soup with Coconut and Other Surprises

  • 1 orange flesh yam, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • A tsp of grated fresh ginger, if you have it
  • 2 tsp garam masala, or curry powder will do fine
  • 1 28 oz can of tomatoes
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 10-oz package of frozen corn
  • A big old giant handful of baby spinach leaves
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Sauté the onion in the oil over medium heat until it begins to soften, then add the garlic and ginger (or not) and cook, stirring, until things are softened but not brown, about five minutes. Toss in the cubed sweet potato, then add the spices and heat everything through, tossing to coat. Now add the tomatoes and the coconut milk, and a can and a half of water. Let all that simmer about twenty minutes, until the sweet potato chunks are tender enough, then hit just one corner of the pot with the immersion blender, in effect pureeing about a cup of the mixture to give it some body, but leaving the rest alone and chunky. Add the corn and spinach, heat through, and then adjust the salt and pepper to your liking.

Doesn’t want much in the way of garnish, but some fresh basil (or even better, Thai basil) would be entirely welcome.