Friday, December 28, 2007

santa, chicken bones, fairies and magic

It was christmas eve night at about 9:30pm. We were on the bridge back home enjoying light traffic and happy children despite the late hour and occasion. After a brief moment of silence the elder monkey blurts out: "I see a white sleigh in the sky!"
"You do? Where honey?"
"Over there by the hills daddy!"
"Just above them right there hon?" I pointed to a plane, low in the sky heading southward, making sure to sound convincing and enthusiastic, "Is it the one with the blinking light right there?"
"WOOOOWWWOWOW!!!!! That is soooo coool sweetie!"
"YEAHHHHH! SANTA!" she squeels.
"Wow. Santa must have a flashing safety light on the back of his sleigh just like mommy and daddy's bikes huh? You're eyesight is much better than mine but I can sure see the flashing light real well."
"Yeah, Santa has a flashing light on his sleigh so all the airplanes flying around don't hit crash into him. He's being real safe."
"Wow honey, not everyone sees Santa on his sleigh on christmas eve night!"
"Yeah, but I did!"

I've always wondered how old St. Nick gets around safely in such dense air traffic. Thanks to my knowledgeable and eagle-eyed daughter, I now know.

I was working on printing up a list of beer bottles available at a new bar here in oaktown. It specializes in belgain brews and features a few nice 'Merican ones as well. Have you heard of The Trappist? Like, damn, this place is cool. And, it has incredibly high alcohol belgian ales that encourage one to ride their bike rather than drive. I call that a step in the right direction.

In order to do a little homework before going and getting some exercise, I wanted to study-up on what's available, but my printer was acting all funky and paper was getting jammed. After trying three times with no success I finally pulled open the cover to have a thorough look. Nothing out of the ordinary except some tweaked and torn paper shreds. I cleared these and then slammed the cover shut in the prescribed fashion. Out popped a small object about 1/2 inch long and stick like, but with rounded edges and made out of some very light material. Oh crap I thought. Great, some tiny little tab of plastic snapped off and the printer is forever maimed. But the piece wasn't plastic. Or from the printer. It was one of those small chicken bones that always winds up being chomped on while enjoying chicken stewed in a chile verde. Apparently "someone" was not fond of having the bone in their possesion and it mysteriously ended up stuck under the edge of the printer. It reminded me of that maneuver where as a child you take the gum from your mouth and scrape it from your hand onto whatever edge your little fingers find under the folding chair at a family picnic. Only, I don't think anyone was sitting on top the printer while eating chicken verde. In a folding chair. That I know of that is.

But after my discovery, maybe I should look at it again and scan for gum too.

Once, riding the bike over to the farmers' market, the monkey spotted these and said "Look daddy! Christmas puppies!" I almost wrecked the bike laughing so hard.

I was reminded of this the other day, when we dropped H off at work and on the way home saw one of those electrical transformer boxes in Emeryville that are painted with stencil art. There are dozens of them, black shapes on yellow backgrounds. The one we saw was the typical profile view of a person (like the kind used in most crosswalk signs years ago) only this one had wings.
"Hey check out that art work over there; that person has wings!"
"Yeah I think it must be a fairy daddy!"
"You think?" I asked with a twinge of doubt, feeling myself slipping into playing the contrarian.
"Yes, a girl fairy."
"Really? How can you tell?"
"Because it has wings."
"You mean boy fairies don't have wings?"
"Not at all?"
"Well, they have one tiny little one, but it just flaps around in the breeze is all."
"Oh." I thought about it for a while then asked: "Sounds like it's better to be a girl fairy."
"Yeah, girl fairies are a lot better."

It really is a blessing to be in the presence of a set of eyes that don't have the same filters in place.

Why such big chairs? Well, it's kinda like around here when things happen or a new skill is demonstrated without any clear explanation of how exactly. It usually ends in "It must be magic daddy!"

Like this morning. Not sitting on such a large chair mind you, but unexpected indeed. I was making a dough when the elder monkey asked "Do you hear that Nutcracker music daddy? In the livingroom?"
"No. Do you?"
""Mmm hmmm," she says with a funny smile and then prances off. A few minutes later I walk in and discover that the Nutcracker is coming through the stereo and is about halfway through the performance.
"How did this come on?" I ask.
"I don't know." Said with a little shrug and smile.
"You mean it was just on when you came in here?"
"Yep!" Then she starts twirling around doing her best to be on her tippie toes.
"You sure you didn't turn it on sweetie?"
"Really I didn't daddy. I just used my magic!"

So according to that logic, from now on, all posting about food that contains a recipe will include an attempt to quantify the amount of "magic" that was used.

Call it a new years resolution of sorts.

Didn't think I was gonna get around to posting again, so sorry to sound repetitious but........

Happy New Year Everybody!

Monday, December 24, 2007

christmas tree seeds

We were down in Reedley for a pre-christmas visit and fruit gathering. My father in law asked if I could help him with getting up on a ladder and cutting down a pesky limb on one of the pines "down near the end." We dragged the ladder down to the southwest corner, past the last apricot on the right, and looked between where a handfull of pistachio trees blend into some pomegranates. We spotted our victim and discussed it's doom; deciding where to make the cut and set the ladder in place. I climbed up and found a comfortable branch to hold steady with, envisioning one hand gripping tight while sawing with the other. Then up came the saw, followed by lots of nice satisfying rasping noises, made possible by the blade having been recently sharpened.

Our limb safely on the ground and no longer encroaching on orchard space, my FIL started to gather a few pine cones that had fallen. He handed me one of them and pointed out that a few were loaded with nuts.
"Ah nuts! Cool! Hey, this isn't a pinyon pine, like the ones you gave us before.......a few years back." I remember cracking some and realizing that the nuts were going rancid with age because I took forever in using them and failed to refrigerate them properly.
"Well, this is an eye-tell-yen stone pine, but I didn't plant it. It just came up on its own. In fact all the stone pines around must've come from the first one we got years ago."
Wait a second, did he just say stone pine?
"Are there more cones laying around?" My heart started racing with dreams of local pine nuts. We quickly gathered all that we could find with open scales and exposed nuts, then got to pretending like we were squirrels, dismantling cones and stockpiling the bounty.
"Yeah, that first one was one of those live christmas trees that we got one of the first years here."
"Oh, the one leaning over near the house?" I asked.
"Right, but the birds have been busy spreading it around since I guess" he says with a chuckle.

Thank you birds. It's nice to benefit from your scattering ways. It looked like we had a bunch and I was eager to see what they tasted like. Out in the yard, this would require a few rocks, but then you mash the H - E - double hockey sticks out of them. We would have to wait until we got into the house and used a much more sophisticated tool. Such as channel locks. You can set them so that when the handles are fully squeezed together, the ends aren't touching. This allows you to crack the shell without completely mangling the inside, although at least a quarter still get a nice dent. Simple technology, but hey, I'm a simple monkey.

Inside the house my FIL got to cracking a few and quickly discovered that the majority were empty or shriveled. It was quickly becoming quite disconcerting. He came up with a simple solution. "Maybe if we put them in water, the empty ones will float and we can harvest the sinkers." Frickin' brilliant! I thought, I hope I'm half as sharp as this man is when I'm eighty two! With a little over fifty now on the counter drying after their bath, I began thinking of how best to use this hard earned bounty. Uh, hard earned, okay, no euphemisms, how about tiny little bit.

Well, it looked bigger in small hands at least. And next to all them pretty pairs of fairy wings they looked like a divine treat from the heavens. Which considering that they were dropped by birds, and perhaps even while in flight, I was really liking the analogy. The real working amount had still yet to be revealed. With pliers in hand, I set about pinching the crap out of my fingers while shooting small bits of nutty shrapnel about the kitchen. In fact, yesterday, a full five days after performing the task, I found a shelly chunk in my large fry pan that hangs from our ceiling rack.

So there you have it. 53 more or less intact pine nuts, free from their shell and ready for a recipe. My first thought was pesto. But have you seen any fresh basil in my yard lately? That would be no. With the first turn of weather even thinking about winter, and the first night in the upper thirties it quickly becomes that dried stick looking stuff next to the tomatoes. I have some pesto still socked away in the freezer though, so this meager ration was going into the next choice: cookies.

Biscotti to be exact. The ones on the left, pictured above the neapolitans are the anise cookies I've eaten my whole life, but I like to tinker and make vegan varieties. So I used some pistachios, lemon zest, a touch of corn meal, a few finely chopped shards of chocolate, and all 53 pine nuts and did just that. The end result was nice, but needs work. Next time I'm cutting down on the flax and adding more corn meal. Maybe even ditching the chocolate, or limiting it to a thin coating on one side. Then, they might be considered part of the holiday cookie lineup.

Of course, someone has to eat the experiments. I find they go down nicely with a steaming hot cup of joe. At least three or four at a time, I hear. I also hear those pine nuts spoil real fast, so you gotta make sure and eat them while they're fresh. Then enjoying such freshness you'd just have to think about ways to make the harvest of nuts bigger in the future.

Then again maybe I should just sit back, have a second cup, a few more biscotti and not think at all. Let nature run its course, and let the birds do all the work. With some luck, in just twenty or thirty years more time, I'll be making that pesto.

Happy Holidays Folks!
Oh, and while I'm at it I'll say Happy New Year too!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

naan too soon

Naan experiment 1: Garlic Chevre with Sesame Seeds.

It all started innocently enough. A simple potluck invite and mention of a theme and next thing you know I've volunteered to do naan. That means it was time for a naan experiment, but, the recipes I had in my mind, to try all together somehow at once, called for yogurt and I hadn't any on hand. Or in my fridge. As usual, I had to make do with what was available. I figure garlic naan is good, so some gifted garlic chevre went in with some milk, to go along with the active starter as the liquid component for my dough. My typical ratio of 1/4 whole wheat would be used. The few recipes I read spoke of kneading the dough for longer than five minutes so I assumed that they were after gluten development. I went ahead and pounded away for a while, then set it to rise in the oven.

After an initial floof, I put our pizza stone in the oven and cranked it up to blistering hot. Out comes the rolling pin and begins the thumping and squishing the dough until I work out the thickness I should start with. After the first pinch-ballup-squashandroll maneuver, I slapped the bread on the hot stone and stood back to avoid singing my eyebrows. Looking away I noticed our phone had a message. I pinched-balledup-squishedaround-andflattened the next one and then pulled the tester from the oven. I tore a bit off, shoved it in my mouth and shuffled over and hit play on the phone, hearing a disturbing message that was something to the effect of my cousin Rohan being due any minute. Though I didn't expect him to eat any of the milky-cheesy naan, I full well expected him to scrutinize me in how it was prepared. I began to get nervous. I could hear his first line: "please tell me you're making calzones," or maybe "don't tell me you're making naan!" I then imagined the tirade he would undoubtably launch into when he found out about my yogurt substitution and involuntarily gave a small shudder.

With the first rolled too thin, it fluffed nearly all the way resulting in a pita and was rather dry and thin compared to what I was envisioning. I abandoned my plan for immediate success (like, duh) and pulled out a few hot dogs to nosh on with the sample pieces I'd have to eat. I thought about the rack positioning I had arranged and decided to move the pizza stone to the top for the next round in order to try crisping the naan some. I worked on rolling out a few more, a touch thicker this time, hoping for a more doughy middle and lightly browned top given the new configuration. I got out a little butter and clarified it really quick, brushed the top and sprinkled on some sesame seeds. In went the next round.

With what looked like the best so far in the oven, Ro opens the door without a knock and invites himself in, grabs a beer from the fridge and in a quick maneuver cracks the top with his teeth and spits the cap out. He then pauses to tilt the bottle in my direction and give me a wink and nod, all in a highly practised manner before taking his first swig.
With a raised eyebrow I get: "Smells nice D. But what is that........some type of bread with like, what, goat cheese or something? some garlic?"
""Yes Ro, I'm making bread." I tried for the distraction move. "Are you well? Is the beer satisfying"
"Bloody well, thank you. And the stout is nice. Much too cold, my clueless American family member, but tasty indeed. Too bad it won't warm up appreciably before I'm through with it." Then lifting his nose and giving the air a prolonged sniff, "Wait, that smells familiar. Are you attempting a naan of sorts my dear cousin?"
"Well......." I didn't know how truthful to be, fearing the scorn and judgement I knew was imminent. I decided to tread lightly and thought that if I said something highlighting it having all this cheese in it, that it might trigger the vegan preferences he sometimes displays, resulting in him leaving it to me. "Yeah, cheesy garlic goaty cheese bread" I blurted.
Instead of the response I'm hoping for he lets out a: "Sounds great!" followed by a brief belly rub and "mmmmmm, goaty cheese bread!"
"So this sounds good to you my vegan cousin?"
"Oh yeah!"

We sampled the next round, me having a sense of accomplishment with my results and my cheery cousin polishing off his beer and moving on to his next without even a nod. I remembered the hot dogs I had boiled earlier and went to reach for one when I sensed scrutiny from behind.
"Are you gonna eat that?"
"No. Simply chew it up and spit it at you, why do you ask?"
"Because it would make a great bagel dog."
"Ro, that's brilliant!" Then I thought about it. "Wait, you want one too?"
"Does this mean you're taking another carnivorous detour from the veggie highway?"
"Maybe. I just know that right now, this dough would make for one great bagel dog wrapper, and coupled with them fine all veggie hot dogs and a chance to relive a childhood memory while enjoying a warm beery tummy, well, then, how do you Yanks say it, shit damn pardner, sign me up!"
"They are most certainly NOT vegan there Ro."
"But the package said Prather Ranch right?"
"Yeah. And.....?"
"Let us sit and eat. Then I shall explain," he says, reaching for another beer.

So, my wannabe vegan cousin and I sat and enjoyed some bagel dogs. They were way better than anything either one of us had as youths. These were uncured organic free range beef, lovingly wrapped with sourdough garlicky goaty bread and served with a (couple) nice dark beer(s).

"Well D, these are the best vegan bagel dogs I've ever had the fortune of tasting."
"What the......there was nothing vegan about them!"
"Sure there was. You see, if the cows eat only grasses, then this is vegan beef."
"Uh-huh, and what, somehow you're not then actually eating the cow?!?"
"Exactly. If you make hot dogs from cows that are strict vegans, then the meat used is really only a form of concentrated vegetal-mass, especially if you grind it so thoroughly. Meaning that this meal is really 100% vegan!"
"Well, even in the fictitious world of your mind where beef is vegan, the hot dogs would be, but not the goat cheese dough."
"Hmmmm," then a few hmmphs followed by a sigh. "I suppose not the dough. What a shame. Maybe we should have another beer to help commemorate the perfect vegan bagel dog. That very nearly, almost was."
"How eloquently put Ro."
"Right!" Then with a wink and a nod "another stout for you my brother?" then seeing the look on my face " c'mon, they're really good, I know the brewer......."

Notes to self: Really tasty, but really springy dough that is hard to get the right thickness. Maybe I'll try a commercial yeast version and/or knead the dough less next time. Garlic sesame combo works nice. Putting pizza stone near the top can result in radiant heat from oven roof browning the highest portions of the naan (good thing, although if using an electric oven it would probably burn the crap out of it being so close to the heating element). Overall, a good learning experience that warrants at least another experiment.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

kitchen noir

Dark, mysterious things have been happening in my kitchen. Like the case of the missing toast:

In the busy life I lead, I am often not able to fully ingest something before my attention is diverted away. In this case, I was about to sit down to a nice slice of toasted baguette when the wee one woke up from a morning nap. I ran upstairs to attend to him, and returned just a few moments later to find these remains. Hmmmmm, in black and white, to make it all the more mysterious......

Well now. If my breakfast is going to disappear I'll just have to do something about it. Sticking with the theme, I pulled out a boudin noir (my new favorite sausage) from the fridge and plopped it in a frying pan. I went to the remains of the baguette and discovered there was enough for a breakfast sandwich. So after frying the sausage, with the pan still blistering hot, in went two eggs. Slice the bread and pop it in the toaster. Spicey mustard in hand, the fixin's were coming together.

Now that is one good looking breakfast sandwich.


What the hell? Black and white still? What the f*%@ is going on here?

Can't a guy enjoy his morning sandwich in peace AND color?

Well, it tasted great. Them folks over at the Fatted Calf really know a thing or two about charcuterie. Topped off with local eggs and handmade mustard on a sourdough baguette and I nearly fainted. I could eat this all the time for breakfast. And lunch. Okay, and dinner too, who am I kidding. But I'll still need something to wash it down with. Something black I suppose.

Like a homebrewed black death stout. Who cares if the picture is black and white or not, the beer is black. That's all that matters. Oh, and super yummy tasty. I guess that matters too. There is another gallon or two in the garage, that should in theory, peak in flavor somewhere near the winter solstice. Pffftt! Like it will last that long. (I've really gotta get to making another batch of that stuff, damn it's good!)

Then, with the holidays just around the corner and the prospect of cooking very large sized meals for lots of family and friends, you start looking at all the kitchen implements at your disposal and wonder: do I have a big enough pot to cook that 15-20 pound roast in? I rifle through the pots and pans in the kitchen and none look up for the task. Besides, it's hard to gauge how big such a roast would be in theory. Unless you have such an ample sized "roast" at your disposal.

Looks like an eight-gallon stock pot will work!

Thanks little buddy. Good thing 6 month olds are entertained by such simple things. Like being momentarily sequestered in a large pot while your father day-dreams of enormous quantities of chile verde............

And for the folks worried about child endangerment: calm down. I'm a professional Monkey Wrangler here. I've been on the job for four years and haven't killed anyone yet. There was no active flame under that pot, nor was there one for the previous couple of hours. And just so you know, he loved it. So much in fact that the elder monkey requested she try it out as well.

See you all later. On the dark side of things.

Got any kitchen noir to share?