July 2008 Archives

By Lydia on July 27, 2008 6:08 PM| | Comments (4)
I remember summers when I was little. I'd find my mama at midnight listening to the Talking Heads, standing in her bra over a bubbling cauldron. She makes jam, salsa, pesto, freezes corn, and pretty much makes winter delicious. It always seemed a little magical, but it turns out to be absurdly easy!

Ted and I went down to Mr. Post's farm in Rockford and picked a bunch of raspberries and a pint of currants. I got a million bug bites, but I felt charmingly pastoral, so it was worth it. Jam-making is essentially boiling the hell out of fruit and sugar. Some people add pectin, a fruit-derived gelling agent, but I don't like stiff jam. Currants are very high in pectin, anyway, so their presence makes the jam hold firmer than berries alone. The only real trick is to No Burn the Jam, which is much easier when you make use of a $5 Family Fare candy thermometer.

X cups berries, or chopped fruit
1/2 X cups sugar
1/2 a citrus squeezed

Mash. Stirring A LOT, heat on med-high until sugar melts. Turn to low and cook to 220-224 degrees F, stirring somewhat. Should take about a half-hour on low. Put in jars that are Very Very Clean. Not necessary to refrigerate, but if you have room do.

It was delicious.
Sick Day!
By Lydia on July 22, 2008 3:52 PM| | Comments (8)
Well, I am nearly post-sick. Yesterday I was a crumbling husk of lady, with aches and tears and whines. I had to go home from work, and my boss threatened me and made me cry. I spent the day sleeping and violently waking up in hacking coughs and pools of snot. This morning my mama brought me ginger ale and took me to the doctor. Diagnosis? Strep throat and bronchitis. Fuck you low-level Chez manager. I am bringing in my doctor note and filing a complaint against you, you arrogant, harassing dick.

I always feel better when I get a diagnosis (and free, high-potency sample antibiotics,) I think because I am so used to near-constant, psycosomatic, anxiety-driven symptoms which are typically incurable. I love a good bacterial infection for its detectability and ease of remedy.

In any event, I am at the point this afternoon where I am still achey and coughing and mucus-riddled, but in good spirits with hope of health. I am sick, however, so I am allowed to lie in bed watching television and drinking soda. I am permitted ice cream (for my sore throat) and pizza delivery (as I shouldn't have to ride my moped to the grocery ill.) My mother brought me multiple kinds of juice; goat cheese and an avocado, and cherries from the farmer's market.
I think  fruit is good for illness. Do any of you have favorite treats for when you're feeling poorly? 
Secret Restaurant
By Lydia on July 20, 2008 9:37 AM| | Comments (1)
Things that I love: eating breakfast out, bloody marys, indian food, boys who bring me flowers. This being said, I had a really good morning. This in spite of the fact that I am getting sick and feel like total shit. I have a low tolerance for physical discomfort, and when I am ill I get really depressed. I could make some hypothosis about this being due to Portland-era flashbacks of sickness, but in reality, I've always been a baby in the face of a virus. 

I finally had a Sunday off from the soul-crushingly boring and useless Mezze Morning, and made my first trip to the West Side for Chris/Audrea/Ted's sort-of-illegal restaurant. The three of them have a pretty awsome set-up where they each have tasks, and the proceeds go to the mortgage on their house. There is one set menu every Sunday, with drinks extra. This morning they had made indian: potatos with "appropriate spices," eggs with spinach (or vegan spinach) and tomato sauce, a dal, mint chutney, indian pickle and a warm tortilla in place of naan. The food, made to order, was delicious. We decided the potatos could have been spicier, but with the mint chutney they were great. The eggs were scrambled with spinach and topped with the butter-chickeny sauce and were fucking amazing. I really couldn't have been more pleased with the quality of food.

Part of the deal is that with your $6 breakfast you also get live music by local musicians. I had to leave before Marky Rozema and his act went on, but I'm sure it made the Pogues very happy. Just kidding.

It makes me so pleased to know people who are this cool. People in this city who make their houses into restaurants and cook good indian and, you know, do things. I think maybe my least attractive quality is a laziness I can't shake. I admire initiative in my friends. I aspire to it, i guess. Maybe its a start that I know people cooler than me. 

Non-threatening Dinner
By Lydia on July 9, 2008 12:19 PM| | Comments (3)
My days are running together. I guess that's what summer is all about. I haven't paid any attention to what day it is, I'm staying up late, running around town. Its been all moped rides and drinks out, dancing and eating and telling embarrassing stories with my friends. Its been awsome. 

Yesterday Troy and I took our usual Moped Navy run, and went to the Chez to abuse my discount. One of the nicest things about that place is the sweet deal we get. We have this great new vinho verde called "Gazela" that's really cheap and good. Its a very mildly sparkling white and its refreshing and grassy. Vinho verdes are young wines from a certain area in northern Portugal. The name means "green wine" which refers to it being meant for drinking very young. Mostly its white, as ours is, and I really reccomend it. Troy and I ended up splitting a bottle, which is the economical way to drink at the Chez, their cocktails being delicous, but exorbitabtly priced. 

We also made the decision to splurge on paella, something I never ever do, even though it is one of my favorite dishes. (I never get biriyani either, why is that?) But that comes later in the meal. We started with white anchovies, which are served with capers and chopped raw garlic and onion. I like to pile bits of this mixture onto bits of bread for eating. I love anchovies. They are like the essence of fish. They have such a deep, funky, fishy flavor, but also that tang and salt from proper marinating. The salty-sour capers pop in your mouth, and there's a little heat from the garlic, and crunch of onion chunk. Of course, I smelled like it all night, but that's the price I am content, no, pleased, to pay. 

I wanted to get the pimientos de Padon, but Troy didn't seem too excited about them. Padron peppers are from the Galician region of Spain, and are small and green. The funny thing about them is that the majority of them are mild, and even sweet, but that one in ten or so will be really incredibly spicy. Eating them, therefore, is a bit of a gastronomic Spanish roulette. There's even a little saying that goes, "Os pementos de Padron, unos pican e outros non," basically, some are hot, some are not. They are seved sauteed in olive oil with garlic, dusted with coarse sea salt. But I digress, no peppers for us. We had instead a stuffed portabella mushroom with spinach and cheese and other stuff. Its ok, but just such typical, banal, West Michigan, cheese covered, Chez tapa fare. 

I think the secret to the Chez is careful ordering. Anchovies, olives, jamon serrano, and roasted garlic? All good. Blue cheese fritters? Ick. Whatevs, I ate the damn mushroom, so why am I complaining?

The paella came, and the foodrunner, Christy, plopped it down, intoning, "paella," as she wiggled the spoons in it. Half in my cups I thought this was a hilarious departure from the normal San Chez Paella Routine, which involves a 5 minute sermon on the finer points of arborio rice, saffron, socarrat, and seafood, while doing a neat little stirring and serving manouver. I've been a foodrunner, and I know how satisfying it is to Not Do That for once. 

That said, I should probably do the lecture here. Paella is rice casserole of Spain, as biriyani is to India, risotto to Italy, and even jambalaya to the American South. It is made with short-grain arborio rice, which gives it a good sticky texture, and contains any number of meats, seafood, and vegetables. Saffron (more expensive by wieght than gold!) gives it a distinctive golden color and amazing flavor. Side note, I made a really awsome lemon saffron martini the other day at work.

The damn paella was so good I ate way too much of it and almost ruined my night. It was all gooey rice and crawfish niblits. Troy and I didn't even use the small, personal plates, opting instead to shovel the mess into our mouths straight from the pan. Also, we were using mussel shells for scoops. And we made the squidlets dance before eating them. It was all very primitive. After that I was pretty much down for the count. But I still had a couple of hard hours of summer fun to put in, watching Japanese game shows at a pub, and band practice after. Plan for tomorrow? Buy myself some topsiders go to the beach. Summer of Lydia.

4th July
By Lydia on July 5, 2008 7:39 PM| | Comments (0)
There is a gilt about certain summer days. On Friday I ran hard into home plate and was overcome by hugs and high-fives at the climax of a truly great softball game. People were laughing and swearing and my sister tried to tackle me on the field. She didn't do so well, as she disects DNA for a living, and I lift kegs, but still. 

My family takes fouth of July very seriously. It is our excuse for a reunion, so the early days of July were a roster of arrivals from all over the country. The highlight of the day itself is the baseball game, and it is prefaced by the Annual Fourth of July Team Name Debate, and the Annual Fourth of July Argument Over Soft Baseball vs. Softball. This year the discussion was over Hunters vs. Gatherers, House Elves vs. Clothes, Crunchies vs. No Crunchies, Tube Anenome vs. Rainbow Nudabrank, Stem Cells vs. Antisense RNA, etc. Consencus was reached when my cousin jpg.ed a poster of two celery sticks and the slogan "To Crunch or Not To Crunch," a referance to whether one prefers her potato salad with textural variety or not. Factions are divided.

The game itself was intense. Crunchies (of which I must say I am one; honestly, they are the only thing I like about the potato salad, given my reaction to mayonnaise) were down 8-0, but we were rallying hard. We came back by the bottom of the ninth, and I was up to bat. I let a few balls go and smaked a line drive to middle left and made it to third with the tying run batted in. My sister Esther was up next. She popped one into center that was neatly caught by my cousin's wife, and in the confusion of an out I ran into home. 

Afternoon sunlight and giddiness drove us to the swimming hole where I floated on my back for a long time until i was beset by 7year old girl-cousins.

Dinner for the 4th used to be lobster, but my cousins Betsy and Dan moved to Savannah, and now we have "low country boil" also known as "frogmore stew." This involves a number of really large pots filled with (gradually) potatos, corn, shrimp, sausage, and garlic. Also Spice and Spice 2. There are certain "secret ingredients" involved which I wholy disprove of. Those I know for sure are cayenne, celerey seed, corriender. The whole mess gets boiled to tenderness, then strained, and dumped onto newspaper-covered tables to be picked apart niblet by niblet. Some people parcel it onto plates and sit to eat. Others stand and vulture-pick, dipping into cocktail sauce and mashing garlic onto bread.

I ate so much. So so much. And I was the belle of the ballfield. Should I mention I was dressed in my very best "A League of Their Own" outfit? Y'all would love the pics. 
Cured Meats
By Lydia on July 3, 2008 9:52 PM| | Comments (3)
There is a trick to the impromptu meal. My Grandmother doesn't want me telling you this (or talking about her at all,) but the secret is multiple kinds of really good mustard. Horseradish helps. With delicious condiments on hand, all you have to do is go to Union and hit up Nantucket for some sourdough, and Martha's for cheese or meat. OR BOTH!!!! if you are decadent, and NEITHER!!! if you are of the vegan ilk. (If vegan, disregard this post entirely, and just spread some avocado on toast to make a near-perfect lunch. My problem is that to make it my actually-perfect lunch you need to smear goat cheese on too...) In any event, the simplicity of good bread and some well-made animal products are hard to beat for picnics/traveling/when swarms of family descend on WMichigan demanding to be fed.

At my Grandma's yesterday we had quite the hors d'oeurves, boasting 3 kinds of thin-sliced pig and 2 cheeses. The capicola was good, but it won't ever be my favorite meat. The texture is oddly loose for me, and the though the flavor is delicious, kind of creeping the heat up on you, I just don't find it as satisfying to suck on. I think that good cured meat must be eaten plain. I like to tear small bits off with my fingers and suck on them. Whatever, its not that wierd. This applies to all your jamon serranos, your prosciuttos, and, I found out yesterday, your nuss schinkens. Nuss schinken, a German version of everyone's favorite cured mammal,  is dry-cured with salt, then smoked, and is served in paper-thin slices, a la serrano and prosciutto. The pigs, of course, are not your garden variety swine, and are fed a special acorn/nut diet. I guess everything tastes better when its own food tastes better! The meat is dense and silky, with a great salty/nutty flavor.

The remaining meat, something of the salumi class, was good, but ultimately forgettable in the presence of the German stuff. Cheese-wise I was quite happy with an unaged asiago, that was a departure from anything I've ever had stuck to the top of a Midwestern bagel. Texturally similar to a havarti, but flavorful, I'd like to have a second bite so I could actually tell you what it tasted like. I think the final player was a stilton, but I'm really going to have to start taking notes.

The great part? All these foods, served the next day with butter knives and mustard make lunch! Anything with mustard and bread makes lunch!