Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Give-Away Winners!

Does this look the very model of a modern major general? I know. And yet. Pirates of Penzance this week--with our freckle-sprinkled Ben as the patter-singing general himself! We are so excited. After that there will be more recipes, step-by-step sour dough, and fun, fun, fun!

But I will say, I've been making this donut cake a lot recently, with a cup of spelt flour swapped in for a cup of white, and with almost double the amount of nutmeg. Fabulous. My favorite plain cake ever.

Also making lots of this tamale pie, but, thanks to our little vegetarian friend, with tofu chorizo swapped in for the ground beef. Also fabulous. I follow the tofu chorizo recipe from Deborah Madison's book This Can't Be Tofu! which, despite having a kind of retro I-can't-believe-it's-not-butter name, is actually full of great recipes. You can also buy various soy products, of course, or make it with ground beef, which is how it's best.

Meanwhile, Snow Child. I think I made it sound like a kids' book, and it does sound like one, but it's not. Just to be clear. There are teens who would really love it, but there's a miscarriage at its heart (that's not a spoiler, don't worry) and it's very grown-uppy. Just before you sit down to a nice big gynastrophic read-aloud with your little ones.

I also forgot to mention that Little, Brown will ship neither to a P.O. box nor to another country. If you have won, and live in Uruguay without a street address, let's see what we can figure out together. Also, please email me your address and info, winners, please. Chosen randomly (although I was tempted to pick only people who praised me and/or promised to roast their own coffee), and Susan and jen, please note the time and date stamps and look up your comments, since there were multiple Susans and jens:

Susan Mar 23, 2012 08:03 AM
jen Mar 23, 2012 01:12 PM
Library Lauren Mar 25, 2012 06:36 PM

Congratulations! And everyone else, thank you so much for entering, and please hang in there on your library wait list. It comes eventually. It does.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Snow-Child Give-Away / Roast Your Own Coffee

I know that what happens sometimes is this: you’re following along gamely, trusting me, opening your mind to tofu and English muffin rings, meatless Mondays, boys wearing pink, whatever, and then suddenly I’m like, “Our composting toilet. . .” or “. . . the fact that our house is made out of spelt husks,” and you realize that I’m actually completely insane. (NB: we have neither a composting toilet nor a spelt-husk house.)
And I mention my fringy freakyness now because I’m about to suggest that you start roasting your own coffee.
If you don’t love coffee and/or money is no object in your household, then go ahead and skip to the end of this post and enter the Snow-Child give-away (Unless money is no object, and then you should buy it! And buy me a copy too, please, since I had to return mine the library. Thanks.) But if you love coffee and/or are pinching your hard-won pennies, then consider this: if you buy your green coffee in 5-pound bags from Sweet Maria’s, you end up with the very best, freshest, fair-trade coffee you ever had in your life, for around 6 or 7 dollars a pound (unless you need to buy the Kona, which is $19.10 a pound. . . but then again, you could buy the “Panama Dry Process Experiment Gone Awry” for $2.80 a pound!). You don’t need me to tell you that, with savings like that, you’ll be a millionaire in 5 years. Plus, there’s the Little-House-on-the-Prairie thrill of roasting your own. Even though they doubtless had a hard time finding anywhere to plug in their hot-air poppers.
Yes, a designated coffee-only hot-air popcorn-popper is all you need! Like this one. Or a thrifted one, or one you already have and aren't using would be perfect, of course! That's all you need--that and the green coffee itself, which you should buy from the fantastic Sweet Maria’s, who have no coupon code to offer us, and with whom I have no business arrangement, but who are eponymously sweet, and thrilled that you might be buying coffee from them. Their site has all the information you need on roasting coffee (definitely start here) but I’ll just recap the basics so that you see how easy it is. Also, you should know before you start that the roasting smell will penetrate somewhat such that everywhere you go on roasting days, people will sniff the air curiously and say, “Do you smell that? Like burning toast?” and you will have to say, “I’m sorry. It’s actually my hair.”
First you'll get your beans, which will be small and greyish-green and smell like old dirt. I am not so much of a coffee snob that I have the faintest idea about what beans I would choose or why, and so I kind of pick them randomly from the cheaper side. I have liked everything. A sampler is a fun and inexpensive way to start.
Next you will measure 1/2 cup of beans (or whatever maximum your popper identifies) into the popper and you'll turn it on. You should have a large metal colander or bowl ready. And you should do this outside, if you've got an outlet (I roast outside, in the snow even, crouched in my coat over the popper). Otherwise, do it near your stove and turn the fan on high. It will make a lot of smoke and roasty odor, which dissipates in about a day or so. Tip the popper backwards by wedging a folded-up dish towel under its front side: this will keep the coffee beans from flying out before they're roasted.
Now you should consult that Sweet Maria's link above on what exactly you're looking and listening for. But I'll tell you this: first some beans will fly out, and you'll readjust the dish towel. Next nothing will happen for a minute or so. Then the husks will start flying out. (You can catch them in the colander but, honestly, whenever I do that I end up panicking when I need to dump the beans in, and then I end up dumping the husks out of the colander onto the floor, so it's kind of pointless. Just commit to cleaning them up later, which is easy.) After around 3 minutes, the coffee will hit the stage called "first crack," which means you hear them popping, like popcorn. This is when you need to pay close attention. First crack will taper off and then, around a minute later, "second crack" will start, which is a series of very-close-together cracking sounds + smoke. I usually let it go into second crack for about 15 to 30 seconds, and then I panic and dump the beans into the colander and they're usually perfectly roasted. Sweet Maria's has advice on what to look, listen, and smell for, and they have very exact timings for different roasts, but I can never see anything, and have to go on sound and adrenaline alone. 
Once the beans are in the colander, you shake them around to cool them off and then, if you're me, you roast another batch right away. 1 cup of green beans makes 2 cups roasted, which fills my mason jar without overheating my popper.
Now clean up your mess.
Once the beans are cool in the colander, put them in a jar, cap them, and leave them to cure overnight. In the morning, they will smell not like old dirt anymore, but like the most amazing coffee ever.
And then you can make coffee. If it's 80 degrees in March, you can even make iced coffee!
(That's from this post.)
But are you here for the give-away? Little, Brown, the wonderful publishers of The Snow Child, are going to give away three copies of it! Right here, on this blog. Just enter a comment here, along with your desire to win, and you will be automatically entered. I'll end the contest on Monday at midnight and announce the winners on Tuesday. Good luck! (And don't be shy to write in about the coffee instead--I won't enter you unless you ask to be entered.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Uglie Smoothie

I am not Lagunitas beer (alas). I am an uglie smoothie.
Before I even tell you about the uglie smoothie, I have to tell you about this:

The Snow Child. I just finished it, and it was magical. It's set in Alaska in the 1920s, and it reads like Little House in the Big Woods crossed with A Fairy Went A-Marketing. Crossed with Out Stealing Horses. Crossed with Ovid's Metamorphoses. Got a clear picture of it? No? All I can say is that it was such an incredible fairy tale that every morning I woke up and told Ben and Birdy about whatever part I'd read the night before and they were enchanted. I left out some of the gloomier twilit bits, but wow. What a wild and beautiful ride. I can't recommend it enough. So long as a childless homesteading couple making a girl out of snow who either does or doesn't come to life sounds like your kind of book. Plus: isn't that the loveliest cover? Sigh. Michael just said, "You're not reading it again, are you?" And I had to say, "I'm just looking at it. Sheesh." But I might read it again, just a little bit.

(And now I'm noticing that the book is based partly on an Arthur Ransome translation of a Russian folktale called "Little Daughter of the Snow." Arthur Ransome, who wrote Swallows and Amazons, which is only one of the best books ever! O, perfect world. While I'm sort of subtly recommending children's books: we're listening to The Railway Children on tape, and it is utterly wonderful. It is so fresh and fizzing, I can hardly believe it was written over a hundred years ago. I am also planning still to respond to all your fantastic book recommendations. I have checked dozens out of the library based on them. More soon.)

The ingredients themselves are quite attractive. But then, thanks to the laws of color mixing, this happens.
Okay. The uglie smoothie. I should tell you, first of all, that while I'm interested in juicers, I cannot stand the thought of wasting all that fiber and pulp. I just know that if I got into juicing I would spend my life trying to form the leavings into crackers and casseroles, paper and pinatas and lawn sculptures. So for now, I stick with smoothies. And this is pretty much a perfect one: hideously ugly, wildly nutritious, and lip-smackingly delicious. You get loads of protein from the milk and almonds, and then a good, deep green feeling from the spinach. The date and vanilla make it taste kind of milk-shakey, and the strawberries are the crucial aromatic ingredient that also adds a bit of welcome tang. Plus, if you need to be perfectly camouflaged while lounging atop a military vehicle, this is the smoothie for you!

Uglie Smoothie
Makes enough for 1 game grown-up or 2 uncertain children who will nonetheless love it.
If you plan ahead, you can soak the almonds in hot water for half an hour; this will make a creamier smoothie, although I like it both ways. You could also substitute half a banana for the date, but I do recommend using one or the other for sweetness.

Large handful baby spinach (kale is good too)
3 ice cubes
¾ cup low-fat milk
Small handful raw almonds (scant ¼ cup)
5 strawberries
1 pitted date (or half a banana)
½ teaspoon vanilla

Whir all the ingredients in a blender until smooth. Drink. Feel profoundly nourished.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Maple-Lemon Tofu

This could also be called “Maple-Lemon Tofu with a little side of funky.” Or MORE Tofu, as in “I wish there were more tofu.” It is our new favorite tofu recipe, which is saying a lot, since we have a number of excellent tofu recipes up our sleeves around here.

Those are the first spring chives from our garden! They were one inch long, and I picked two of them.
Tofu is one of the few things we all love equally. I know that’s a weird thing to say from just about every angle: first of all, loving tofu is kind of like loving a sea sponge or loving Styrofoam. And second of all: Really? Doesn’t our whole family eat just about everything? And the short answer to that is no. In fact, we are in an odd phase of becoming more, rather than less, difficult to feed. Birdy has become a serious vegetarian, and by “serious” I mean that she won’t even eat bacon anymore, which is the dietary equivalent of wearing a soy yarmulke. Luckily, however, she would still prefer bread and cheese to just about any complicated something you might think to serve her, so she is not a difficult person to feed. Even though she claims to not like soup. (WTF?)

Birdy, waiting for her friends to arrive. Sigh. Stay gold, Ponyboy.
Meanwhile, Ben, who has always passionately loathed watermelon and raw tomatoes, has started also to dislike shrimp, arugula, beets, sesame seeds, and all egg dishes, such as quiche, that are not simply the eggs themselves. Unless the eggs are hardboiled, in which case he would sooner gulp from a pool of stagnating muck than eat them. Then there’s Michael, who won’t eat goat cheese, cottage cheese, polenta, winter squash, avocado, tropical fruits, walnuts, olives or anything that smells like it ever thought about olives. Me, I won’t eat overripe bananas or undercooked eggplant, and I don’t love white pepper.

On the one hand, that is, cumulatively, a lot of different foods to avoid. On the other hand, everybody in the family has a positive outlook about food, and so I don’t get a claustrophobic feeling trying to squeeze dinner into everyone. Picky eating is, I think, a state of mind. If you have a good attitude and an adventurous spirit, I don’t really care what you do and don’t eat. Especially since we all love beans and rice, and bread and cheese, and salad, and most fruits and veggies—and those are our main food groups. Along with tofu, which is where I’ve been headed all along here.

Tofu has the added advantage of being nice and cheap.
This recipe makes tofu with a custardy inside and a golden, crusty outside that’s thickly glazed with sweet-and-sour saltiness. Do you know Bragg’s Liquid Aminos? I know. It just gives you a vague ninth-grade biology feeling, the word “aminos.” I don’t understand what the point of them is, and I don’t know if they’re made by the Dr. Bronner soap people, and that’s why the bottle is covered in crazy talking. But it tastes funkily delicious: like vegemite crossed with soy sauce and distilled through the umami machine. It appears to contain both essential and NON-essential amino acids (look out!) and, let’s be frank, is mostly salt. It makes everything taste like the dry-sautéed string beans you might get at a Chinese restaurant, in a good way. 
It looks like we were doing shots.
For scale.
Meanwhile, you already know about maple syrup, which is sweet, and lemon, which is sour, and garlic, which is garlicky. Altogether, it’s one of the stickiest, crunchiest, yummiest tofu dishes you’ll ever have the pleasure of eating. Report back, okay?

Maple-Lemon Tofu
Serves 4 (but double the recipe if you want to forestall complaining)

A version of this recipe circulates online as Matthew’s Delicious Tofu, and it has ginger in it and less lemon. I like it better the way I make it. It is one of the very few dishes in which I use lemon juice but not the zest. I’m not really going for the lemon flavor as much as the tartness—in fact, you could use rice vinegar instead, if it’s what you’ve got.

1 block firm or extra-firm tofu
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, very finely minced or put through a garlic press
1/8 cup maple syrup
1/8 cup Bragg liquid aminos (or soy sauce)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Finely snipped chives or scallions, for garnish

If you have time, wrap the tofu in a clean dish towel and put something heavy on it, such as a large can, then leave it to drain for a half an hour or an hour or so (I did this while the rice was cooking.)

Slice the tofu into 12 skinny slices, then cut those in half so that you end up with 24 skinny half slices. Now multiply that by the square root of kill me and you’ll have exactly π.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Lay the tofu in the pan in a single layer and leave it undisturbed for 5 or 6 or even 7 minutes. By this point it should be golden and crisp on the bottom (it won’t get very dark, but it will look nice and appetizing). Flip all the pieces and cook for another 4 or 5 minutes, then lower the heat to medium-low, add the garlic, and move it around with a spatula for a minute. You’ll have to kind of fry the garlic in the spaces between the tofu.

Now add the maple syrup, Braggs, and lemon juice to the pan, and shake the pan to make sure that all the tofu gets coated with the sauce. Cook for a minute or so, then flip all the pieces and cook for another minute or so, until the sauce is reduced to a syrupy glaze and all the tofu looks nicely coated. Arrange the tofu on a platter, top with the chives or scallions, and serve.

Weighting the tofu.
Cutting the tofu.
Frying the tofu.
Admiring the tofu.
We ate it with brown rice and a spinach salad. Yum.
Birdy likes to eat with a single stubby chopstick that she carved herself. She uses it like a cross between a fork and a harpoon.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A Pair of Winter Soups

Roasted Cauliflower Soup
You know what I say about soups like this: I am crying joyfully into my hankie, adjusting my veil at the altar, while the children are pecking the soup on the cheek, thanking it politely for a lovely evening. No matter. It is winter (finally) and so soup must be made. Also it is winter (still) and so assorted root vegetables must be used up. The first soup is a favorite of mine, and one I actually put up on family.com last year, but it was a little buried on the site, and you may not have seen it. (This may not seem very important, I know. But it is! So I’m bothering telling you so.) The second is one I just recently made out of utter Root Vegetable Desperation, in a frantic effort to forestall the pending Root Vegetable Apocalypse (which arrives in the rapturous form of a guilty April trip to the compost with moldy armfuls), and it was absolutely and utterly simple and delicious. The kids even had seconds, and Ben considered taking the leftovers for school lunch. Sure, he took cheese and crackers in the end, but he considered taking the soup.

The soup is named Hotlips not just after the M*A*S*H character, and not just because the harissa in it will make your mouth tingle, but also because I grated a beet into it, mostly for color, and it turned the exact shade of Ben’s bedroom. Which is actually the Benjamin Moore color “Hot Spice.”


Benjamin Moore, Hot Spice
But I thought if I called the soup “Hot Spice,” you’d think it was really spicy, which it isn’t. Use an assortment of root vegetables, or all one kind, as you have need and inclination. But do try to use the carrots and beet because the resulting color is so lovely. As you know, I serve soup with bread, biscuits, popovers, or, er, waffles.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup
serves 4-6
Active time: 15 minutes; total time: 1 hour

As you know, roasting brings out the nutty sweetness of cauliflower in a kind of insane way. Call this "Caramelized Cauliflower Bisque" and see if the kids like the sound of it.

2 medium-sized heads of cauliflower
3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
1 quart chicken broth
1 cup water
1 cup half and half (or whole milk)
Freshly ground black pepper
Snipped chives (optional)

Heat the oven to 450. Cut the cauliflower into small florets and, on a large foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, toss them with the garlic, onion, oil, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Roast 25-30 minutes, flipping the florets halfway through, until they are golden and starting to brown.

Reserve a few small florets for garnish, if you like, then add the rest of the cauliflower along with the onions and garlic to a large pot with the broth and water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat, then simmer the soup, partially covered, for 30 minutes, or until the cauliflower is very tender. In a blender in batches, or with a hand blender, puree the soup until smooth. Stir in the half and half, add black pepper and more salt to taste, and serve, garnished with the reserved florets and snipped chives.

Hotlips Soup
(aka the soup of many roots and some harissa)
Serves 4-6
Active time: 30 minutes; total time: 11/2 hours

“Where do you get harissa?” someone asked me the other day, and I pointed to our friend Khalid who was standing right there. “Him.” He brings it back for us from Morocco and it is wildly beautiful and fragrant, smelling puckeringly of preserved lemons and tinglingly of chiles. A little stirred into a bowl of lentil soup is the difference between {yawn} and “YOWZA!” That said, if you don’t have a Morocco-going friend, you can buy some harissa at a market or make it yourself, or you can make the soup with Thai red chili paste, and it will be fantastic. If you do, though, swap in coconut milk for the cream and lime for the lemon, and garnish with cilantro if you have it.

1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil
1 large onion, any color, sliced (mine was red)
1 stalk celery, sliced
Kosher salt
6 or so cups of diced root vegetables (I used 1 small celery root, 1 turnip, 2 large carrots, 2 parsnips, and 1 potato)
1 small beet, peeled and grated
½-1 teaspoon harissa (or else use thai red chili paste and coconut milk)
1 quart chicken broth
Lemon or lime juice to taste (I used the juice from ¼ lemon)
½ cup heavy cream (or coconut milk)

Heat the butter and olive oil in a soup pot over medium-low heat, then sauté the onion and celery with around ½ teaspoon of kosher salt (or etc.) until softened and fragrant, around 5 to 10 minutes.

Add the root vegetables. In truth, I do this as they’re prepped, in stages. Just keep sautéing and stirring every now and then until everybody’s in the pot. Then stir in the harissa or red chile paste. Add the broth, turn the heat to high, and bring the pot to a boil. Now cover it, turn the heat to low, and simmer gently until all the veggies are falling apart, 45 minutes to an hour.

Puree the soup with a stick blender or, in batches, in a blender. Add the cream and lemon juice and salt to taste. Salt is your friend, now and always. For ultimate smoothness, put the soup through a food mill (I didn’t bother, and there was the odd stringy something as a result). Garnish with harissa and attractive blobs of cream.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Luau on Castro Street

for those of you who remember Ben's famous Pool Party on Castro Street cake

I bring you Birdy's follow-up:

Cake concept from our favorite cake book. Which I see you can buy used for $3!
Fantastic almond cake recipe here. (Warning: uses weird canned product.) I made it in a sheet pan and baked it for less time.
World's best frosting here. I added 1/2 teaspoon almond extract. Perfect.

Okay, a real recipe is coming soon. Also, is anyone interested in a step-by-step real-time recipe for/instruction in sourdough? I've become a little obsessed, and wanted to gauge your interest in such a topic. 

Friday, March 02, 2012

Blog Search Keywords

"falling down stairs skirt over head"

Now, I have done many foolish and embarrassing things. But that does happen not to be one of them. Maybe were you looking for the post about how I walked to a meeting with my skirt tucked into my underwear? That gets lots and lots of traffic thanks to the delightful search phrase "skirt tucked into underwear." I am sorry only that the post must be so disappointing in its lack of pornographicness.

For some reason this reminds me of this thing that happened last year, where I got an email from AOL that was addressed "to all freelancers," and that reassured me that, despite whatever rumors I may have heard, I was not going to be laid off. "Do I work for AOL?" I asked Michael, and he shrugged. I could not remember writing for them, but maybe I had? No matter, because the next day I got an email explaining that I was, in fact being terminated after all. This was about a week after Disney had laid off all its online people, me included, and it was really an insult-to-injury kind of moment. I may be the only person in the world to be fired from a job I never even had. And to be found because of falling down the stairs with my skirt over my head, which I never even did. Did I?

Compensatory cat photograph due to random nature of blog posting.