Overthinking a Meal

Monday night, without my kids, but with two of my nieces, my sister-in-law, and Grandma and WG, we sat down to a meal of: pappardelle with bolognese sauce, salad, garlic bread, ice cream with raspberries and chocolate sauce. It was the last night of a visit, after all. The dinner was fairly uncomplicated, when you think about it. Then again, when I consider what it takes to put food on our table I become overwhelmed by the enormity of the process.

Over educated though I am, I wouldn’t consider myself a deep thinker. I have a lousy memory, especially for history and important facts (but an exacting one for minutia). And, even though I try to “get the big picture” – a phrase I fondly remember from driver’s education when I was seventeen – I become stuck in the narrow tunnel of everyday life. Suddenly, though, I’ll find myself in, say, a restaurant and I’ll begin to imagine all of the people involved in getting my dinner on the plate. I don’t mean just the servers and cooks. I mean EVERYTHING, down to the carpeting, the napkins, each element of the food (who made the big cans that held the tomatoes for the sauce?), the cooks’ uniforms, the wood for the tables, the plate itself (china made in China?). The web of people, industries, transportation, raw materials, machinery, etc., becomes so intricate that it is overwhelming to me. The sheer number of people who touch my life each day, who I don’t know, but are probably within six degrees of separation, is unfathomable. The global economy that supports the system is even more baffling. How can and does it all work?
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Fortuitous Blogging

I have been off-line for so long, it feels so strange to even look at my blog. A little over a month haitus, after only about 7 months on the job, and I am truly missing the writing and cooking. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to get back to the cooking or photography anytime soon, given that I am not able to bend, lift or twist for a while longer. Still, we have been planning menus and having delicious meals at our house BECAUSE of 44dinner.

When I had my surgery, and knew that I’d be laid-up for a while, our former baby-sitter, ML, came back to work for us in the afternoon-evenings to help with shuttling the girls and with dinners. Well, what better way to keep consistency in our lives than with food. ML has been cooking from recipes on the site and we have been eating our old favorites. The girls even tried, and loved, the Cambodian spring rolls that S & I tested this summer.

Here is our menu for this week:
Monday: Burgers, Corn Salad
Tuesday: Filet of Sole Meuniere, Cauliflower, Israeli Couscous
Wednesday: Rotisserie Chicken (farmer’s market), Quinoa, Veggies TBD, Salad
Thursday: Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce
Friday: Brisket with Noodles (my Mom made this while she was here and froze some…Yea!), Carrots, Jewish Apple Cake

Happy New Year!

No Measurements, No Recipes

Fresh Berries
My brother-in-law made an interesting comment to me regarding our divergent cooking styles. It turns out, that because of this blog, he thought that I cooked from recipes whereas he cooks without them. In reality, I use recipes as guidelines, and much of what I have posted (except for breads and sweets) I have measured along the way so that I could post a “recipe”. So, for instance, I generally don’t use measurements for meatballs, or tomato sauce, or even frogs legs chicken (now that I know how to make that by heart!).

On the otherhand, because I have wanted to try new preparations, I have been using more recipes and ideas from magazines and cookbooks than I have in the past – like for the turkey burgers with tomato jam, and the Vietnamese Chicken Salad. I’ve definitely expanded my repetoire of meals because of trying new dishes. Which is a good thing, I think.

Veggie PrepAmerican RatatouilleSimple Dinner

When I haven’t been trying out new recipes this summer, I have been cooking with ingredients that we have on hand, or with inspiration from the bounty of the summer months. I’ve been buying most of our food from the Farmer’s Market – everything is so fresh and bright at this time of year. Without the girls at home, S & I have been eating a lot more vegetables as a percentage of the food on our plates – a good thing. Most vegetables have been unadorned, save for a little olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper – if that.
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Superfood for Hikers

When S & I went to Acadia National Park, we planned to do some hiking on the small but steep mountains by the ocean. Unfortunately, our view of the ocean was completely obscured by an incredibly dense fog that hung around the entire time we were there. We saw neither sea nor sky, really.

However, we did see a lot of blue. Hiking/climbing/clamboring on fun trails, we snacked on wild blueberries during both the ascents and descents.

No photo taken, but the popovers and lobster stew (cream, sherry, lobster, paprika and butter….that’s it) at the Jordan Pond House were very, very memorable. The company of my 88 year old great aunt was the most special part of the visit Down East.

When Life Gives You Oranges

Marmalade on Toast
Living in California, we have the right climate for growing citrus. When we bought our house, we counted up the number of citrus trees and it was an astounding eleven. These aren’t full size commercial production trees, but dwarf trees that reach about 10 feet max. Nonetheless, we have more oranges than we can use and plenty of lemons, too. Some of the fruit is better than others – none are juicing varieties.

So, nine years ago, when we settled into having a “grove”, I looked at the oranges and thought, “Marmalade. I should make marmalade.” I’d never canned anything in my life. I mused, “I can do this.” I looked through my old standby cookbooks, and took the plunge. Ever since then, I have produced at least a dozen jars of marmalade every year – most times it is more like 24 or 36, because I have taught lots of people to make it. And, I give it away as gifts. Either people are being very nice, or there is an unusually large contingent of the population that loves marmalade. Given the plethora of varieties of marmalade at the supermarket, I’m hoping it is the later.

I usually make my marmalade in early February, when the oranges turn orange, but are on still on the sour side. Oranges are green before the rind turns orange – prompting many people to ask if we have lime trees. The sour oranges give the marmalade a nice flavor and combined with the bitterness of the rind, it always turns out pretty well. Since we have multiple varieties of oranges, I use them all: tangelos, navels, valencias, mandarins, calamondins. At least I think those are the varieties that I’m using – our trees aren’t marked.
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Watermelon Seeds

Watermelon seeds make me feel old.

I know that sounds strange, but it is not easy to find a watermelon with seeds these days. Most watermelons at the grocery store are seedless, including the new mini-watermelons. And, those “watermelons” don’t even make sense to me – since watermelon seems to be about abundance and summer excess.

Today, we are having a watermelon seed spitting contest at the 4th Grade end-of-year party. My task is to bring an old fashioned watermelon. Luckily, my favorite grocery store had them in stock (bless them). I bought one that is, I think, more than 20 lbs. An early season monster.

I’ll be curious to know if any of the kids exclaim, “Watermelons have seeds?!!” And, with all those leftover seeds on the field, will we have a new crop of seeded watermelon growing in the autumn?

5 Minute Bread

Above are some pictures of the bread that I’ve been baking from the book that I just bought, “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. I’m all for easy and quick recipes and this book is just that (not including the time it takes to rise and bake the bread).

I’m loving the book. I’ve made the Pain d’Epi, twice (from one mix of the bread), and the Peasant Loaf, once (served last night with the soup). I’ve got the rest of the dough in the refrigerator.

The bread takes literally 5 minutes to mix, similar to No-Knead Bread. And, it is pretty comparable. This style just makes more per batch, and has more recipes. The premise is that you mix the dough in a relatively large batch, no kneading, let it rise at room temperature for a couple of hours and then throw the whole thing in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. The dough lasts in the fridge for up to two weeks – the flavors continue to develop over time. When you are ready to bake the dough into bread, you cut off the amount you want to use, shape it, let it rest for a short time while your oven is heating, then bake it. That’s it. You do need a baking stone, but that is the only extra equipment. Actually, I tried the Peasant Loaf baked in a covered pan, like No-Knead bread. It seemed to work just fine. I may try bagels or bialys next.

I have found that the book’s proportions aren’t exact in terms of the number of pounds of bread that each recipe makes. A recipe that indicates that it makes 4 pounds of bread really only makes about 3 1/4 to 3 1/2. But, the bread is really good! The Pain d’Epi is pretty impressive looking, like from a Parisian bakery. The texture is somewhat heavier than traditional french bread, big holes but a dense crumb. Nonetheless, a great crust and wonderful flavor.

Here is a link to Zoe Francois’s blog!