Monday, August 31, 2015

the quotidian (8.31.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

With anchovies and raw eggs: my first real Caesar salad.


Don't cry over spilled milk. Drink it.

Veggie tats.

The truck is fixed.


At the fairgrounds: warming up for a show.

Progress: just because no one sees it doesn't mean it's not happening.

This same time, years previous: the new bakery, grape parfaits, puppy love, walking the line, chocolate yogurt cake, oatmeal, jacked up, why I don't teach my kids science, and losing my marbles.    

Friday, August 28, 2015

tomatoes in cream

Really, people. I'm not sure where this recipe has been all my life. It's a classic, because Ruth Reichl found it in an old issue of Gourmet, and because it's French and everything French is classic, right?

I made it for supper Wednesday night, along with salad and fresh bread. It's simple—just tomatoes, butter, and cream—and the prep is leisurely, making it the perfect accompaniment to a pre-dinner glass of wine while listening to NPR (and shouting orders at everyone to fold the laundry, empty the compost, check the animals, shower, put away their shoes, set the table, etc). The family ate it politely—no raves—but I more than made up for their apathetic and uncultured natures with my joyous exclamations and multiple servings.

I had the leftovers for lunch the next day. It was even better the second day, perhaps because there were an abundance of juices. My adjectives of choice: creamy-rich, silky, thick and meaty. I ate it from a bowl, transporting it to my mouth via a spoon and buttered piece of fresh sourdough.

If you have any doubt as to the integrity of this dish, please take a minute to ponder tomato soup. Milk, butter, and tomatoes, right? Tomatoes in cream is tomato soup, but in a more noble form. This is the real deal. It's tomato soup not being blended into oblivion, and it's lovely.

Tomatoes in Cream 
Adapted from Ruth Reichl's blog, and, in turn, from the 2001 issue of Gourmet, and, in turn, from Elizabeth David, a contemporary of Julia Child and the author of French Provincial Cooking, a book I do not own but am thinking I should perhaps purchase.

Like all great simple recipes, the measurements are estimates. Some versions of this recipe call for minced garlic and/or onions. I'm sure that would be delicious, but I like the simplicity of just tomatoes and cream. The original recipe doesn't even call for salt and pepper, but I think the salt, at least, is crucial—don't skimp on it.

5 Roma tomatoes
1-2 tablespoons butter
1/3– ½ cup cream
salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted—let it brown a little, for extra flavor (or because you forgot about it)—place the tomatoes in the skillet, cut side down. Poke the skin-covered backs with a knife. Sprinkle with salt and set the timer for five minutes.

Cooking process, short version: 
Simmer for 20 minutes, flipping every five minutes.

Cooking process, long version: 
When the timer bings, flip the tomatoes and set the timer for another five minutes. Again, timer bings, flip, another five minutes. And again, bing and flip.

Now they are cut-side up. It's been fifteen minutes and the tomatoes are collapsed and wobbly. If there isn't much tomato liquid, poke their innards with a knife until the juices flow. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and simmer for another five minutes. Bing! Add the cream and gently shake the pan to incorporate the cream with the buttery tomato juices.

Serve hot, with plenty of fresh, buttered bread to mop up the juices.

This same time, years previous: peach crisp, it all adds up, Bezaleel scenes, they're getting it!, the quotidian (8.27.12), pasta with lemon-salted grilled zucchini and onions, fresh tomato salad, 2011 stats and notes, roasted tomato sauce, topping for apple crisp, and pasta with sauteed peppers and onions.      

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

on love and leftovers

Monday, for the first time, my three older children were all out of the house, working. The older two headed out first thing in the morning, and then right after lunch I dropped my younger daughter off at the horse farm. She has been begging—begging—to have a job. Her mantra: I'll do anything to just get out of the house. Monday was her first afternoon. I was eager to learn how it went. Did she fight with her sister? Did she apply herself? Would she be ready to throw in the towel? (Answers, respectively: no, yes, and absolutely not. Whoop!)

Of course, send the three older kids off to work and the youngest one is bound to feel left out. “Can I call Papa to see if I can go work?” he pleaded.

My husband, bless his heart, said yes. There were only a couple hours left in the work day and his job was in a remote setting and close to home. “Besides, it's our anniversary,” my husband reasoned to me over the phone. “A couple hours of free time is my treat to you.” 

When I pulled up to the job site to drop our son off, my husband walked around to my window. “I shouldn't have scheduled that meeting with customers this evening,” he said. “I'm sorry. When I said yes, I had forgotten it was our anniversary.”

“That's okay. I kind of forgot it was our anniversary, too. All we're having for supper is leftovers.” 

We fist bumped and I drove off, laughing. Such a team, we are. Nineteen years together and we eat leftovers to celebrate.

Actually, no. That's not true. We ate the brown rice and curry in order to empty out the fridge and fill our bellies. There was nothing celebratory about that meal, just ask the kids.

Later, though, after the children were in bed, we snuggled on the couch while watching a show, and, when I licked my chocolate peanut butter ice cream right off the cone and into my lap (!), my husband straight a-way jumped up to fetch me a washcloth. True love, that.

This photo, taken by our younger son when we were in NY, is a pretty good illustration of our individual personalities and relationship.

Me: upbeat, needy, and demanding.
Him: long-suffering, reliable, and resistant.

Our relationship: the two of us, so totally different, smashed tight together.

So about that (non) celebratory anniversary dinner? The way I see it, there's plenty enough celebration in the simple comfort of ordinary togetherness. The relaxed supper of leftovers at the nineteen-year mark is just icing on the cake.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (8.25.14), don't even get me started, atop the ruins, tomato jam, on not rushing it, basic oatmeal muffins, chocolate malted milk frosting, earthy ponderations, part three, and odds and ends.    

Monday, August 24, 2015

the quotidian (8.24.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Breakfast for supper: sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits.
(Could these be frozen for make-ahead lunches? I'm experimenting to find out.) 

For lunch: veggies, this a-way.

For supper: not (many) veggies.

From Columbia: the best house guest ever.


Thank yous: for all my gracious Fresh Air host families.

For her new (old) room: a new (old) table.

A folding party.

Paying a visit. 

This same time, years previous: proceed with abandon, that special date, he got me, grape jelly, summer's end, 16, coming up for air, whole wheat buttermilk waffles, fourteen years, earthy ponderations, part two, Valerie's salsa, canning tomatoes, and so why did I marry him?.        

Friday, August 21, 2015

sun-dried tomato and basil pesto torte

I discovered this recipe, years ago, while browsing the cookbooks in Barnes and Noble. I jotted it down in the little brown notebook (right after chocolate peanut butter truffles and before zucchini fritters) that I used for B&N recipe filching, and then went home and made it. The recipe was a smash hit: everyone in my family loved it, and at least three of my friends now make it most every summer.

Problem is, I never posted the recipe here. Maybe I was feeling lazy, or swamped with summer produce—who knows—but I did something I never ever do which was to include the recipe in my recipe index with a link to the post that my friend did about it. In other words, I first filched the recipe and then I filched my friend's post about the recipe. Not good.

But all that is about to be made right! I am posting the recipe here, on my blog, today. (Although I used my friend's post to make the dip that I photographed for this post. Moral: filching is a vicious cycle.)

This dip is a bit of a production. It involves three layers, and each layer is a different recipe. There's the cream cheese and ricotta layer, the basil pesto layer, and the sun-dried tomato pesto layer. But did you just read that? Cream cheese-ricotta and basil pesto and sun-dried tomato?! It's a killer combination people. Killer.

But it is a kitchen event, so here's what I suggest. Assemble your ingredients, pick a day when you'll be home for the better part, and then make a double batch. If you're going to go to all this trouble, you might as well make it worth your while, right? You will get two enormous pans of frozen dip that you will cut into wedges like pie, resulting in many slices of dip. Each of those slices will be individually wrapped and then stored in the freezer.

This means you will have a year's worth of killer—killer—dip on hand for any occasion: potlucks, New Year's Eve parties, company dinners, lazy Sunday suppers, etc. Pull one of these wedges of pesto torte out of the freezer, set it on a plate and mound crackers around it, and people will think you are the bee's knees. And they will be right, of course, because you made a pesto torte.

Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Pesto Torte 

I just ran downstairs and dug my little brown notebook out of my three-ring recipe binder. The original filched recipe has all sorts of notes and is somewhat different from the recipe that my friend posted and the one I just made. The following recipe is a combination of my notes, my friend's version, and some adaptations based on my recent torte-making experience.

Use any kind of almonds: slivered, toasted, or raw. Other nuts—like pine nuts (but they're so expensive), walnuts, or pumpkin seeds—would probably be fine. Feel free to use Romano in place of the Parmesan, if you like. I use my own oven-roasted tomatoes. You'll need a food processor for this recipe. If you don't have one, borrow or buy.

What follows is a single batch so you can see the recipe in all its simplicity. But don't make just one batch. Please, you gotta double it. Trust me on this.

Note, on July 10, 2016: I ran out of the cream cheese layer while making a double recipe. Next time I'll triple the cream cheese part while only doubling the two pestos.

for the cream cheese layer:
1 pound cream cheese
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
1 cup whole-milk ricotta

Beat together until creamy. Set aside.

for the basil pesto layer:
¾ cup almonds
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups fresh basil, packed
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¾ cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients, except for the olive oil, in the food processor and pulse until combined. While the motor is running, slowly add the oil through the spout. Transfer the pesto to a bowl, cover with plastic, and set aside. Return the food processor bowl to the base without washing it. 

for the sun-dried tomato layer:
½ cup almonds
2 cups chopped sun-dried tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
¾ cup Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup of the basil pesto you just made
1 to 1 1/3 cups olive oil

Process the almonds and half of the tomatoes (because adding all the tomatoes at once can overwhelm the processor's motor). Add the remaining tomatoes, garlic, cheese, and salt and process until fairly smooth. Add the basil pesto and combine. With the motor still running, slowly add a cup of oil through the spout. If the tomatoes were very dry, you will need to add the remaining third cup of oil, but if they were juicier, then you might not need all the oil. The pesto should be creamy and smooth, not dry or runny.

for the assembly: 
Line a 10-inch springform pan with plastic wrap or spray it with cooking oil. (That said, I kind of think the torte won't stick to the pan if you skip that step. I did, however, line the bottom of my pan with wax paper since the bottom of my pan is getting a little rusty-ish.) Set it on a cookie sheet to catch any oily drips.

Spread 1/3 of the cream cheese mixture over the bottom of the pan. Slip the pan into the freezer for thirty minutes.

Spread the tomato mixture over the cream cheese base. Go all the way out to the edges. Slip the pan into the freezer for 60-90 minutes. This layer doesn't freeze as quickly, and if it's not frozen solid, it will smear up the next white layer (see my photos).

Spread the second third of the cream cheese layer over the tomato layer. Freeze for 45 minutes. 

Spread the basil pesto mixture over the cream cheese. This is a thinner layer. Freeze for 1 hour. 

Spread the remaining cream cheese mixture over the top. (I dirty iced the torte with just half of the mixture, froze it for 30 minutes, and then used the last bit to finish off the torte, all pretty-like.) Cover the torte and return to the freezer for a good hour.

Once the torte is frozen solid, remove it from the freezer. Remove the sides of the springform pan, and transfer the torte from the bottom pan to a cutting board. Slice the torte into the desired number of pieces, tightly wrap each piece in plastic, and slip the pieces into a plastic bag. Freeze.

To serve: unwrap one piece of frozen torte and set it on a plate to thaw. Serve with crackers, chips, toasts, pretzels, or whatever crunchy-munchies you have on hand.

This same time, years previous: on unschooling and parental comfort level, bruschetta, stewed greens with tomato and chili, the quotidian (8.20.12), photo shoot, this is what crazy looks like, two-minute peanut butter chocolate cake, red raspberry ice cream, earthy ponderations, part one, oven-roasted roma tomatoes, and cold curried corn soup.      

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

miracle cat

Late last winter, I got an email from a local reader wondering if, because our cat Luna had died, we would be interested in taking their cat. Their family was moving out of the country for a couple years and they needed a home for their much-loved, seven-year-old cat named Obie.

I read the email through once, and then again, this time through squinty eyes. Our cat had just died because a car had hit it. Did they not catch that part of the we-are-down-a-cat post? A just-smashed-cat does not exactly scream This is a safe place for your kitty cat! Give it to us!

I decided that, under the circumstances, it was best to be clear. “I'm flattered that you'd offer us your beloved pet, especially after the one in our care got killed!” I wrote. “Here's the deal: our animals are 100 percent outdoor animals (except for when the kids sneak them into the house), and we use our cats for mousers (and cuddles). If you are okay with Obie being an outside cat (he looks so sweet!), then we'd love to have him. But we also understand if you want him to be an inside animal.”

He still has his claws, she wrote back, and even though he's always been an indoor cat, we're fine with him being outside.

Which left me confused: were they okay with him dying? Because, to be frank, there was a high probability that might happen. This time when I replied, I did not mince words. “We'd love to have Obie. But I feel it my duty to be very upfront with you. Our cats have a 50-50 chance of living. We live right next to a road. They are outside cats and sometimes they run away. We had a great cat—Blackie—but he disappeared while we were in Guatemala. We like our animals and take good care of them and give them lots of cuddles, but we see them as animals, not semi-humans, which, to some people, makes us seem cold hearted. All that to say, we would LOVE to have Obie and we will do our best to love him up real good, but only as long as you are okay with the stats.”

She replied that my honesty was “refreshing,” and then, several months later, they delivered him to our house. So okay then.

Obie (short for Obama) was fat, sweet, and completely terrified. He cowered in his crate, and, when let out to roam, hid still as a mouse in the bushes. The second evening when I went outside to crate him for the night, he slipped under the deck where he had been hiding all day. He didn't seem the wandering type, so I decided to leave him be.

The next morning he was gone. We searched high and low, walking the property, searching outbuildings (including the neighbors'), calling, calling, calling. Once I heard him meow and tore out of the house to search for him, but I couldn't find him anywhere. Because I felt responsible, I contacted the owners (who hadn't left the country just yet) to see if they wanted to come search—maybe he'll respond to your voice?—but they were fine just letting him go. We prefer to imagine he's “frolicking in the fields somewhere and eating mice,” they said. Which suited me just fine, so that was that.

Until a dark and stormy night (okay, so not “stormy” but it was pouring rain) (or maybe, in light of this tale, it's more accurate to say “pouring cats and dogs?”) when, right before bed, my older son said he had seen a cat that looked like Obie out by the barn. The three younger kids raced out of the house, spied a pair of eyes in the back of the woodshed, and frantically dug him out. Incredulously, it was Obie. He was unbelievably skinny (we can circle his backbone with our fingers and touch them together) but bright-eyed, without a scratch on him, and as timid (and decidedly not outdoors savvy) as ever. Which leads me to wonder just exactly what he was doing for the last two months? Hibernating in a hole somewhere?

For the last week, Obie has been treated to the best of care: several meals a day, a crate inside a kennel (there's no running away this time), and lots of snuggles. We're hoping he sticks around.

This same time, years previous: kale tabbouleh with tomatoes and cucumbers, the quotidian (8.19.13), basic topping for fruit crisp, and two morals.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

in progress

Once my son finished building the walls for my brother's shed, he dismantled them, hauled them over to my brother's house in the trailer, and reassembled them. Ever since then, he's been working on the shed on location.

Evenings before bed, my husband will run over with him to check his work and discuss next steps. Usually my son only works for only several hours at a time (at which point he runs out of materials or needs advice), but the other day he spent the entire day roofing. When I went over to take some pictures, I was slightly surprised at how big the whole thing appeared to be, and how high up he was. But he looked like he was being a smart monkey—deliberate and focused—plus, he had a phone in his pocket in case of an emergency (that is, if he's not unconscious and the phone isn't smashed in the fall). There's no way he's going to learn how to do this stuff without actually doing it, I suppose, and now's as good a time as any.

Now, I hear, he's working on the door, plus my brother wants a little roof to extend out from the building, like a carport but for firewood. My son called up his mentor friend (who also happens to be an engineer) to figure out structural support-type stuff. Right now he's in the middle of building shelves for the inside of the shed. Even though he's getting paid a lump sum, we're making him keep track of his hours so he can learn to measure money earned against time spent and supplies purchased. Hopefully, this will help him gain a realistic understanding of both the building process and his own abilities.

Bit by bit, the shed is taking shape and new skills are being acquired. Like many of the more involved and challenging projects we undertake—growing food, writing a book, raising children—much, if not most, of the satisfaction is in the process.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (8.18.14), starfruit smoothie, garlicky spaghetti sauce, barley and beans with sausage and red wine, and thoughts on nursing.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

the quotidian (8.17.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

One little monkey.

No one was forced in the eating of this tomato.

My son made these: they were so good that we nearly came to blows over them.

I misjudged.

A surprise visit by five East Coast women resulted in an accelerated peach-canning process.
(You know who you are: thank you!)

Saturday morning, before breakfast.

In three bites and with lots of crunching and growling: how to eat a mole.

My quiet evening on the porch.

His quiet evening on the sofa.

Underway: The Great Bedroom Shuffle of 2015.

In tomatoes: an important message...

..from my son. 

This same time, years previous: knowing my questions, easy French bread, from market to table, summer visitor, the beach, lately, our life, around the internets, kill a groundhog and put it in a quiche, washing machine worship and other miscellany, peach cornmeal cobbler and fresh peach ice cream, and drilling for sauce.