Monthly Archives: October 2003

Four hours to go!

NaNoWriMo starts in a little under four hours. I may stay up just to officially get started. Or I may not…

Over the next thirty days you can follow my progress on my The Shooting Match website.

Happy Halloween!

We have happy kids. Halloween has been a big success. Grace was a colonial girl with a lovely satin dress and a mob cap and Jan made her little stuffed ferret an outfit to match. Amelia was Medusa with hair coiled like snakes and painted green and rubber snakes embedded in it and a gold lame greek dress and she also had a small rubber snake she could keep stored in her mouth and vomit out when she wanted to truly horrify people! Jan was a gypsy fortuneteller with patterned scarves and makeup and false eyelashes. She made me up as a pirate with a bandana around my head and a little braid in my hair and a big sash and a tattoo on my neck and then she superglued a blue jewel to my ear. I have no idea how I’m going to get it off…

Beforehand we went over to Cassundra’s house and had soup and grilled polenta and salad. Jan and I made the polenta earlier in the day. One batch was flavored with sundried tomatoes and parmesan. The other was flavored with rosemary and parmesan.

Polenta with rosemary and parmesan and with sundried tomatoes and parmesan

You’ll need two flat oven safe dishes or trays for the polenta. You’ll also need two biggish pots. Put four cups of chicken stock in each pot. Then put it on to boil. Get about two tablespoons of fresh rosemary and chop it fine and put it in one pot. Dice up a couple of tablespoons of sundried tomatoes and put them in the other pot. When the stock boils, turn it down to a simmer. Then slowly sprinkle a cup of polenta across the surface of the stock stirring all the time and keep stirring until the polenta is smoothly and evenly mixed in. This should avoid lumps. Do the same with the other pot and then simmer them on very low for ten to fifteen minutes stirring at least every minute. As the polenta starts to thicken watch it more carefully and keep stirring. After ten minutes test it to see how much crunch is left in the polenta. When it is all soft, turn it off. It should be pretty thick – almost like porridge. At this point you should stir about a quarter cup of grated parmesan thoroughly into each pot. You can eat immediately if you want soft polenta. Put some kind of sauce on it if you want.

Alternatively, for set polenta to fry or grill, pour each batch out into its own tray and set it somewhere cool to cool down. After an hour or two it will be basically solid. You can cut it into slices or wedges and put it in containers and refrigerate until you need it. When you are ready, coat it lightly with olive oil and grill or fry it. You can put a little more shredded parmesan on it. I usually serve it with a heated up basic marinara sauce just to pour over.

Popcorn Divining

This may have to remain a trade secret. Jan says it makes up 50% of her bodymass and I know that really it is the only reason she puts up with me. Well, that and warming up her cold feet…

Anyway, the reason that Jan likes the popcorn so much is that I make REAL popcorn. No microwave. No bag. No Orville Redenbacher. Just a stove, a pot, popcorn kernels, olive oil and salt. Oops – there went the secret.

But there’s more to it than that. I’ve gotten the popcorn thing down pretty well and Jan now uses popcorn to divine my mood. Three or more unpopped kernels at the bottom of the bowl – I’m mad at her. Two – unhappy but OK. One – things are OK. No misfires means that all’s right with the world.

So. Here’s how to make perfect popcorn.

Perfect popcorn

First, you need white popcorn – not yellow. Now, put (as Jamie Oliver would say) three or four glugs of olive oil in a big pot. Put it on the stove on high. Wait about a minute and then pour in enough popcorn kernels to cover the bottom of the pot in about a single layer. Shake the pot up to get hot oil on all the kernels. Put a lid on the pot and wait. In a couple of minutes the corn will start to pop. As it gets really rapid fire, shake the pot again very thoroughly. After about another minute and a half the popping will die down slowly. Shake the pot again. As the popping begins to stop, count seconds between pops. When you get to five between pops, take the pot off the heat. Dump the popcorn into a big bowl and salt to taste. Shake the bowl up to get the salt well mixed in. Eat hot.

Here’s a quote. Jan says ‘it’s like eating the hot insides of a fresh crusty loaf of bread but with a crunch to it and the taste of olive oil.’ She also says that you should eat it from a big, deep, relatively narrow bowl so it stays warm.

Noodling Around

It’s time to break out the ramen noodle idea again. The girls want me to write a ramen noodle cookbook where every recipe has ramen noodles as a foundation. So I’m going to try to start tomorrow with ramen noodles cooked in chicken broth with an egg poached in it at the end.

Pumpkin Carving

Halloween is almost here so tonight was the night to sit down with the girls and carve pumpkins. Jan and I stayed with straightforward designs although hers is very avant garde and mine is very traditional. The girls went crazy as usual and theirs look great. We put on a thunderstorm CD really really loud and listened to torrents of rain and loud crashes and rumbles while we carved away!

We won’t be eating any of this/these pumpkins – they just turn bad too fast – so no recipes. I did make a delicata squash and onion risotto tonight but it didn’t come out all that well. Thumbs down all around in fact. So no recipe there either.

Grapestake

Nothing to do with food for once!

The first two (and smallest) parts of the grand fencing project are almost done. The front fence on the right of our house is up but we need four more boards to finish it. This is a ‘good neighbour’ fence – the same on both sides and Jan and I are justifiably proud since we designed it. It has boards alternating on either side of a vertically set 2 by four but with no overlap so that straight on it looks solid but if you step to either side you can start to see through it, so it is airy and lets a little light through but provides us and our neighbours with privacy. The back fence is where the grapestakes come in. It is a straight rail and picket fence but the pickets are six foot long grapestakes so it makes an interesting and solid barrier around that edge of the pool. We stained it ‘sierra’ that makes it look rather orangey right now but will weather to a nice dark brown

Fast and Furious

Writing that is…NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. Check out my NaNoWriMo site, The Shooting Match.

Mixed up, Muddled up, Shook up world

I spent Saturday on a real tear. First was Grace’s soccer game. Our first loss. No real surprise there – bound to lose one after all. But I was annoyed that the other team set out their stall so much to win at all costs. There was a lot of dirty play – fortunately NOT by my girls. But the real difference was that for us it was the early morning of the living dead. One of the delights of this set of girls has been that no matter what, some of them are always in the game urging the others on. Not this Saturday. Instead they all dragged around. Oh well.

Anyway, then I came home and checked in on the fence construction crew that Jan had gotten going (and fed coffee and water to) and went off to get more lumber – much more lumber. We are ending up refencing the three longest sides of our property. Then I got the crew lunch. And finally I got in on the act and stained lots and lots and lots of six foot boards and vast quantities of grapestake. But 200 or so grapestakes isn’t enough – we have 1000! I also stained myself, my clothes and parts of the driveway.

Mixed up, Shook up Chicken

But then it was time to knock off. So I cut up and skinned a chicken (nice size organic fryer – about three and a half pounds). Then I mixed up about two tablespoons coarse sea salt, a teaspoon of black pepper, two teaspoons of sumac and a tablespoon of dried oregano. I drizzled a little olive oil on the chicken and then rubbed the spice mixture thoroughly into the chicken all over. I let it sit in the fridge for an hour. Then I turned the broiler on high and grilled it for about 25 minutes total turning it halfway through. Two minutes before the end I squeezed all the juice of a lemon evenly over all the pieces. It was fantastic and you’d never have guessed the spices.

Sweet Potato Fries

We had the chicken with sweet potato fries I made from two large beautiful sweet potatoes we got from Terra Firma Farms in our organic veggie box. I scrubbed them thoroughly, then cut them into wedges lengthways – about half an inch thick. I smeared a cookie sheet with olive oil, rubbed them thoroughly onto the sheet, coating both sides with oil. Then I put them in the same oven as the chicken (so the oven was on maximum temp) for the same length of time – 25 minutes total. I also turned them over once halfway through. Sprinkle with salt just before serving.

Ginger Turnips and greens

I also cooked turnips and their greens from the same box of vegetables. I sliced up the turnips and put them on to saute in a little canola oil. Then I chopped up the greens. I put two diced cloves of garlic and about a teaspoon of chopped parsley in with the turnips. As soon as the turnips started to turn brown I tossed in the greens and cooked it all until the greens started to wilt. Then I added a teaspoon of candied ginger puree (from Trader Joe’s) and stirred it in and turned off the heat. Then I added a small squeeze of lemon juice. Also a big hit.

Garlic, olive oil and orzo

Three magic ingredients (and two more at are less important) that conjure up the perfect comfort food in my family. We started making this when the kids were just old enough to eat solid food this small and it has been a favorite ever since. It goes with everything, it’s easy and the ingredients can be kept in the pantry for use at any time.

Garlic Pasta

Put on a pot of water to boil. You can hurry things up by starting with hot water and/or boiling some in an electric kettle first. Peel at least half a head of garlic (eight to ten large cloves) and very finely chop it into pieces that are about half the size of a grain of rice. I do this by slicing the garlic thinly one way, then broadly the other way so it is like matchsticks of garlic and then finely chop it the third way. But the rapid rocking chopping technique is fine as well. When the hot water boils, add a pound of dried orzo pasta (looks like grains of rice) and wait about five minutes. Put a frying pan on high and pour in about five tablespoons of olive oil. Let it get a little hot and then add about a quarter teaspoon of crushed red chili flakes. Wait about a minute and then add the chopped garlic and swirl it into the olive oil. Watch it closely and as it begins to turn toasty brown, turn the heat off immediately. By now the pasta should be just about done. When it is, drain it, put it back in the pot and pour the olive oil, garlic and pepper over it and stir thoroughly to coat it all with the oil. Serve but allow for people to add plenty of salt to taste. It usually needs it. Not only is it delicious, but vampires will keep well clear!

Another cook in the house…

Although I tend to write about MY cooking and ignore everybody else’s, I am not in fact the ONLY person in my household to do any cooking, although I do do the majority of it. My eternal other, Jan, is a kick-ass cook in her own right and she reminded us all of it yesterday. I had taken the kids swimming and was expecting garlic pasta (recipe another time), some kind of meat and maybe greens for supper – always a great meal and a true standby in our family. Instead I opened the door and smelled bacon. But wait, those were beet greens on the stove and further smells were intruding. To cut to the chase, we had the following: gnocchi in a herbed goat cheese and parmesan sauce, topped with wilted beet greens and arugula with crumbled bacon and a side dish of mixed roasted beets, summer squash, butternut squash and onions. Yowza!

Today just the gnocchi con goat cheese, greens and bacon.

Gnocchi with goat cheese, parmesan, wilted greens and bacon

Put on a big pot of water to boil. In the meantime top and wash the beet greens and chop up into small pieces. In a frying pan, carefully cook the bacon, remove, drain on paper towels and pour of the grease. Without cleaning the pan, put it back on the heat and toss in the beet green stems. Wait a minute and add the beet greens themselves. Wait another minute and toss in the arugula. As everything starts to wilt ad about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Turn off the heat and put aside. When the water boils, salt it a little and add the gnocchi (about a pound). I use packaged gnocchi that cook in about three minutes. Once cooked, drain and return to the pot with about a quarter cup of milk. Add about four ounces of goat cheese. I used herbed goat cheese but plain would be fine. Stir thoroughly until milk and cheese have melted into a coating over all the gnocchi. Add about two tablespoons of grated parmesan and stir that in thoroughly as well. Serve up the gnocchi with greens on top and then crumble the bacon over it all.