Saturday, January 25, 2020

samin's soy-braised beef short ribs

Remember how, after I got that new fridge, I was so excited because I got to put the old one in the basement and have two fridges?

It was real nifty.

And, it turned out, it was real good we had that second fridge, too, because shortly after, our little freezer died, the one that was packed to the brim with all our raspberries and strawberries. We’d just loaned our other little freezer-that-was-a-bit-bigger-than-the-small-berry freezer to my brother for him to put his four piggies in (that’s not a euphemism for anything — he really did have four stone-cold dead piggies to put in it), and the other two freezers — the one big chest freezer and the old upright — were pleasantly stuffed. So yay for the fridge freezer! We stuffed it full with all the berries and went about our business.

And then a few days (weeks?) later I went down to the cellar to get some apples (or a beer or something) from the fridge and noticed that the fridge felt warm and that, upon closer inspection — NONONO OH PLEASE NO — there was a trail of red juice trickling down the back wall of the fridge and all the way into the crisper drawers. I opened the top freezer and, sure enough, it was full of bags and boxes of soggy-boggy berries.

In a royal snit, I called my husband at work and then, as per his infuriatingly calm instructions, I slammed everything onto trays and stuffed them into the other freezers, and then, when everything wouldn’t fit, I called him back and told him in no uncertain terms to COME HOME AND FIX THIS PROBLEM NOW.

He did: he came home and then, upon learning that a co-worker had an unused freezer we could have, he went to pick it up.

But it didn’t work.

So then I employed my brother’s help (he did have our other freezer, after all) and he poked around in his social circles and emerged victorious with an old upright freezer that we could have for keeps and, better yet, that worked.

For a few weeks, we were freezer stable. It was nice.

But then this past week I noticed that the red raspberries from the chest freezer weren’t as rock hard as they should’ve been. My husband put a thermometer in the freezer: 20 degrees. By the next morning it read 29 degrees. It wasn’t a surprise, really — we had gotten the freezer secondhand sixteen years ago after all.

This time I was the one to head off to work and my husband got stuck with taking everything out of the chest freezer and stuffing it into the two uprights. Everything fit, but just barely. It was time to get a new freezer. My husband began obsessively researching freezers while I played mental tetris with our budget categories, trying to figure out where we’d get the money from, and concentrated on Eating Down the Freezers.

And then, just this morning while I was in town writing, my husband fixed the freezer!

“I found the problem,” he announced when I walked in the door. He waved a frayed cord in front of my face and my eyes about popped out of my head because just this Christmas — Christmas Day Night, to be exact — my cousin had had a house fire, thanks to a faulty freezer cord. And here we’d been with freezer with a faulty cord all along, GOOD FREAKING GRIEF.



When we first got the freezer, the cord had been taped. This photo was taken after the freezer shorted out and my husband peeled back the tape to investigate.

(My cousin’s family all got out in time — thank goodness for fire alarms! — but their garage and laundry room burned, and the rest of the house had smoke damage. Our family gathering that was to be at their house that weekend got canceled. “Now we know,” I wrote to her in an email, “The extent you’ll go to get out of hosting the family gathering!!!”)

So it’s been a good day. My husband’s repair saved us hundreds of dollars and our house didn’t burn down, yay.

But all this freezer talk is just a preamble for: I made short ribs!



Confused? Here, allow me to connect the dots: With our freezers crash-and-burning right and left, I’d already been constantly thinking about what I could dig out of the freezer and cook next and then, one afternoon while watching an episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat with the kids (my older daughter hadn’t seen the series yet so the rest of us are happily doing a re-watch), Samin’s soy-braised short ribs caught my eye.



Long story short (though it may be too late for that), I made them and they were fantastic and now I know exactly what I’m going to do with the remaining packages of short ribs and I can’t wait, the end.



Samin’s Soy-Braised Beef Short Ribs 
Adapted from her Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat Netflix series, and by conferring with the recipe that NPR’s On Point posted.

Samin says to salt the ribs and then add the marinade thirty minutes later. I salted the ribs and then, thanks to my sloppy reading, waited more than twenty-four hours. Worried they’d be too salty, I skimped on the soy sauce a little, but I shouldn’t have. The ribs were just fine.

Also, the recipe calls for five pounds of ribs but I didn’t weigh mine, and for dashi, a Japanese stock, but I subbed in chicken broth.

5 pounds of beef short ribs
canola oil and salt
¼ cup each soy sauce, brown sugar, and mirin
4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly mashed
1 heaping tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
¼ teaspoon cayenne
about 2 cups chicken broth
cilantro, chopped
green onions, chopped

Salt the ribs and return to the fridge for 30 minutes to 24 hours. The night before you plan to cook the ribs, stir together the soy sauce, brown sugar, mirin, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and cayenne. Place the ribs in a sturdy plastic bag and pour the marinade over, squishing it around so it covers the meat. Place the bag of ribs in the fridge, flipping it over on occasion, if/when you remember.

About five hours before you want to eat, take the ribs from the fridge. Place a large stock-pot over medium high heat and pour in enough oil to cover the bottom. Working in batches, brown the ribs: about 3 minutes per side.

Place the ribs, bone side down in a single layer in a large baking dish. Deglaze the pan with a little broth and pour over the meat, along with all the marinade from the bag. Add enough chicken broth to go about three-fourths of an inch up the ribs.

Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes before lowering the heat to 325 degrees and baking for another three to four hours. Remove the foil, crank the heat up to 450 and bake for another ten minutes, or until the tops are toasty brown (but not burned, like mine were). 

Sprinkle with lots of fresh cilantro and chopped green onions and serve with rice.

This same time, years previous: salad dressing: a basic formula, overnight baked oatmeal, doing stupid safely, all the way under, women's march on Washington, lemon cream cake.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

pozole

I’ve been meaning to make pozole, the traditional Mexican stew, for years now, ever since I’d had it at a fund raiser dinner, but what with all the dried chiles and meat and assorted toppings and hominy (hominy? what even is that?), it seemed a bit involved.

But then David wrote about it and the recipe didn’t look nearly as complicated as I thought it’d be. A month before, I’d gotten over the hominy hump when I’d purchased a whole huge tin of the stuff for a sausage soup (spoiler: there’s nothing tricky or even very exotic about hominy) and now I had the leftover hominy stashed in the freezer. And, once I realized I already had hominy in the freezer, I remembered that I also had leftover Thanksgiving turkey and turkey broth down there as well. And then I checked my stash of dried chiles and, lo and behold, I had the exact ones the recipe called for! 



The soup came together super fast. Aside from the making of the red sauce — just soak the toasted peppers in water and then blend them into a paste), it was mostly just assembly. And boy, was it good — so nourishing and rich and tasty — and the second day it was even better.



Half the soup is condiments (chopped lettuce, radishes, avocados, sour cream, hot sauce, lime, tortilla chips, whatever) which means it's basically soup with a giant salad on top. How fun is that?



And! In the dead of winter, when we're craving soup and becoming increasingly desperate for crunchy greens, pozole is the solution. The best of both worlds, it'll do you good. Promise. 

Pozole 
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s blog.

4 cups cooked, chopped chicken or turkey
4-6 cups cooked hominy, rinsed and well-drained
2-3 quarts chicken or turkey broth
2 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
3 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
1 smallish onion, peeled and rough chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
lard or oil
salt and pepper

toppings: finely chopped iceberg lettuce or cabbage, sliced radishes, avocado, lime wedges, fresh cilantro, green onions, sour cream, hot sauce, tortilla chips, etc.

First, make the red sauce. Toast the chiles in a dry skillet over high heat until they are smokey hot and blackened in places. Place the chiles in bowl and add two cups of boiling water. Cover with a plate and soak for 15 minutes. Transfer the now-soggy chiles to a blender, add the onion and garlic, and blend, adding some of the soaking water as needed to make a thick, smooth paste.

Now, for the soup. Melt a generous scoop of lard (or a couple glugs of oil) in a large, heavy-bottomed kettle over medium-high heat. Add the red sauce and cook, stirring frequently, for about ten minutes — this deepens the sauce's flavor and removes the bite from the garlic and onion. Whisk in the broth, and add the chicken and hominy. Bring everything to a boil before reducing the heat and simmering  for about 20 minutes. Season as needed.

To serve, ladle the pozole into bowls and pile on the condiments to high heaven.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (1.14.19), no-knead sourdough bread, the quotidian (1.15.18), the quotidian (1.16.17), cranberry bread, on kindness, through the kitchen window, GUATEMALA!!!, crumbs, vanilla cream cheese braids.

Monday, January 13, 2020

the quotidian (1.13.20)

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




Sluuuuurp! 




Thrifted and white: how I like my dishes.




The Big Bedroom Switcheroo of 2020: dismantling his corner.




Poof and proof: Curls and brushes do not together go. 




Work spot.




Churchin' Murchitos.




What ewe lookin' at? (sorry)




Snow's a-coming!




Glory be!




All done.




A papa pep.

This same time, years previous: full house, scandinavian sweet buns, the quotidian (1.11.16), the quotidian (1.12.15), the quotidian (1.13.14), roll and twist, sticky toffee pudding, rum raisin shortbread, earthquake cake.

Friday, January 10, 2020

6.4 magnitude

While our younger daughter was in Puerto Rico over the holidays, there were lots of little, and some not-so-little, earthquakes. She told me that some nights everyone slept in the living room together (and just the other night I learned that our friends had lectured her: If our English suddenly stops working and we’re running, FOLLOW US, instructions which made me double over with laughter). None of it seemed to bother my daughter, though, so I didn’t worry. Besides, it wasn’t like I could do anything.

But the night before she was to arrive home, I jolted awake, adrenaline pumping. My first thought was that there’d been a big quake and she was hurt. I lay there, panicking, wondering if I should wake my husband so he could check his phone. I didn’t, though, and eventually the panic subsided and sleep overtook. (I later learned she had felt an earthquake that night, but it’d been several hours earlier and, again, she hadn’t been much fazed.) So maybe I was a little worried after all?

It wasn’t until a few days after she’d returned home that they got hit by the first serious quake, the next day followed by The Big One. That morning when I came downstairs, my husband filled me in on the news (he’d taken the early-morning calls and texts): Six-point-something, tsunami warning, evacuation, island-wide power outages—

Abruptly I started crying, and my husband, confused, stopped his bad-news litany. “Well, I didn’t expect that reaction,” he said, and I half-wailed, half-shouted, “This upsets me!”

But truth is, my response startled me, too. I’m usually pretty even-keel and pragmatic and the facts were: our friends were fine, the tsunami warning was canceled, the devastation wasn’t nearly as bad as it could’ve been, or as it was in Hurricane Maria. But when friends are terrified, facts have less power to calm. The fact fact is, the island has been through so much, and now this.

For the last few weeks, the island’s collective stress — both physically and emotionally — had been building, taking a huge toll everyone, and now, even though scientists say that this was The Big One and everything should settle down, there are still dozens of tremors, making it hard to sleep and keeping them in a constant, elevated state of anxiety. They send us pictures of their mattresses all lined up outside, and emails filling us in on the details of a life displaced.



photo credit: Chiro

But as they gradually catch up on sleep (or at least get some), their energy, and their sense of humor, returns. One morning’s email was titled “Refugees Day 2,” and Chiro posted a video of his makeshift earthquake meter: a gallon jar of water atop a concrete pillar, eerily sloshing away.

A couple nights ago, I marinated thin slices of cube steak in Chiro’s pincho sauce. We had rice and refried beans, avocado and lime. Our local Puerto Rican friends braved the snowy roads (safe to us; deadly scary to them) to come eat with us and drink hot chocolate and tell us more details of the news from home.

This next week, MDS sends down a couple people to assess the damage and plan a response.

And so it goes.

This same time, years previous: boys in beds, homemade lard, our little dustbunnies, sourdough crackers, one year and one day, the quotidian (1.9.12), salted dulce de leche ice cream with candied peanuts, hog butchering!, baked hash brown potatoes.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

my new kitchen: pendant lighting

For weeks, we searched high and low for lights to go above the new island. They needed to be cheap and sturdy, provide clean light (I was sick of the yellow-green glow from our old hanging lamp), and probably made from something aluminum-ish, to go with the fridge and stove. I scoured the internet, poked my head into stores, discussed options with my husband, and asked around. Nothing.

And then one day I’d decided I’d had enough of the whole thing and off we went to town, me and my husband. We went to all the stores and looked at all the lamps. And then, in Bed, Bath, and Beyond, my husband jokingly picked up a metal dog dish and flipped it upside down. “I could make one,” he said.

“Yeah right,” I said. “That’s not nearly deep enough. The bulb would stick out.”

A minute later he resurfaced brandishing a colander. “How about this?”

And then, my brain slowly shifting gears, I spied some metal mixing bowls. “Or these?” Suddenly the options seemed endless.

We bought both a colander and a metal mixing bowl and, back home, we decided we liked the colander best — with directional lighting, there’d be no bright glare daggering our eyeballs through the colander holes — and my husband mockwired it. It seemed okay, so he went ahead and cut a hole in the bottom. If it didn’t work out, we'd only wasted fifteen bucks.



He sanded down the shiny stainless steel on the inside to reduce glare. We debated cutting off the handles, but then decided against it — if you’re going to use colanders as hanging lights, you might as well go all the way. (Our younger daughter suggested I dry my homemade pasta from the handles.)





Once we were sure we liked it, he bought a second one, wired them both, and that was it — our island had lights!



I’m still not entirely satisfied — the light feels a little too bright, and it doesn’t quite reach to cover all of the island’s surface (we might have to install a dimmer switch or experiment with different kinds of bulbs) — but for now it’s plenty good enough.



Besides, the fact that we’re using colanders as lights delights me to no end.



What a hoot!

This same time, years previous: the Baer Family Gathering of 2019, today, the quotidian (1.9.17), how we kicked off 2016, what it means, date nut bread, between two worlds, buckwheat apple pancakes, candied peanuts.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

moving out

This weekend my older son moved out of our house and into a basement apartment in town.



Now he’ll be close enough to school — he starts classes tomorrow — that he can walk or bike, which means he won’t waste time and gas driving back and forth to town and can take full advantage of campus life. Though I’m not sure how much time he actually have for extracurricular fun and games: rumors are the nursing program is intense.

The people renting the room to him — friends that we met when I was eight months pregnant with our son — gave our son the freedom to do anything to his room as long as it was an improvement, so the weekend was spent getting him set up.

My husband and I helped him clear the room out. My son, with the help of a couple of the kids, painted it. My husband and I went shopping with him for a rug remnant cover the tile floor and to lighten and cozify the room. We gave permission (in certain cases, begrudgingly) for him to make off with bits and pieces of furniture from our house: lamps, mattress, bedding, twinkle lights, a chair, etc.



And now the room’s all set up and lovely!

***

“Are you sad I’m moving out?”

“Not exactly sad,” I said, slowly stirring the white sauce for the macaroni and cheese. “More” — I paused, searching for the right word — “more verklempt.”

“Verklempt! What’s that?” and, without waiting for a response, my son pulled out his phone and googled it. “Overcome with emotion? Unable to talk?”

“No, no, not that. I thought verklempt meant sad, but in a happy sort of way. Melancholy, maybe.”

Because this is good, his moving out, studying, getting a job, working. I wouldn’t want him not to move out, right? But still….

“I’m excited about your adventures,” I explained, “it's just, I’m going to miss hearing about them all the time.”



Arapahoe Basin, Colorado: here's a video of the trip
photo credit: friend Theo Yoder

It’s almost cruel: just when kids grow up enough to be interesting, they leave.

***

It used to be that when the kids were little, I was constantly bored and overwhelmed and frazzled. Forever in search of meaningful projects and conversation, I seized every opportunity to escape.

But now, it’s flipped. The older the children get, and the more they strike out in search of their projects and work and relationships, the more I feel a pressing need — correction: desire — to be present. Now’s when I need to be available, to listen and support and coach.

The coaching (read: lecturing) is intense — one child recently asked me why I didn’t pursue a career that required me to lecture full-time; she wasn't even being sarcastic — and oddly enough, much of the things I enjoy (the movies, games, Ultimate, conversation, food) now involves and includes my children. Being with them is often (but not always) both fun and satisfying.

In other words, I’m experiencing a complete reversal of the early years with them.

What a pleasant surprise.

I was recently telling some friends about this shift, kind of puzzling over it because most of the people I know do the opposite — stay home and then return to work when their kids reach their teens — but my friend said that she had a friend who worked out of the home when her kids were little but, once they hit middle school, she quit her job and stayed home because the middle and high school years were when she felt most needed.

So I guess maybe I’m not the only one who feels this way?

***

Sunday night, after our family night movie, he loaded the last of his stuff into the car, I gave him a candle (because candles make a place home) and, laughing, we hugged good-bye.

We’ll still see lots of him, of course — he was back the next day to do some chores, eat lunch, and have coffee, and he’s called a number of times to fill us in on his adventure stories, and there have been texts and emails (You got any ideas for some non-time-consuming meals I could cook…?) — but it’s different. We no longer have four kids in the house.

The balance is shifting.

*** 

In recent months when I’d come downstairs in the morning, my son would often be slumped in the soft swivel chair by the bookcase, or maybe curled up on the end of the sofa in front of the fire, carefully cradling a cup of coffee in his hands. There’d be nothing to occupy him — no phone, no book, no nothing — just the slow, steady, meditative slurping of his coffee. Sometimes he’d take so long to drink it that he’d have to reheat the mug partway through.

My husband and I teased him that he’s a stodgy old man already, methodical and routine rigid, but truth is, both my husband and I were quite fond of our coffee-drinking mornings. In that seam between night and day, the gray, early-morning light filtering through the windows, the three of us would chat and tell stories and bicker and make plans. It wasn’t perfect, but it sure was special, and I’m going to miss those moments.



the last morning

I'm going to miss him.

This same time, years previous: high-stakes hiking, Christmas cheese, marching, high on the hog, 5-grain porridge with apples, breaking the fruitcake barrier, when cars dance, headless chickens, cranberry sauce, baguettes.

Friday, January 3, 2020

my new kitchen: the computer corner

The final bits of the kitchen remodel have been trickling in. There are still a few more little projects waiting in the wings, but mostly it’s done. (Or as done as things get when you’re married to a carpenter who doesn’t always feel the same level of urgency as one might wish...)

For my little corner workspace, my husband said he had a gnarly piece of old chestnut out in the barn. One side was curved, which my husband thought was a strike against it, but I was like, “I love that crooked side! Let’s showcase it!”

And so he did.



I love the wood's textures and flaws, how it's already worn down and settled. It's like finding that pair of jeans at a thrift store, a pair that's already broken in and fits perfectly.



In the back corner of the desk, he drilled a hole through which to funnel all the cords and wires, and then, just a couple weeks ago, he added a narrower undershelf, made with a bit of knotty oak. Above the desk, he hung a kitchen cabinet which holds my office supplies, wine glasses, and extra dishes. I like that I can tape notes to myself on the inside of the doors, like a hideaway bulletin board.



He mounted the bluetooth speaker that the kids got for my birthday several years ago above the window — the sound wraps around the kitchen much better at that angle — and I hung twinkle lights by the coffee pot. (And speaking of the coffee station: I LOVE IT. It’s one of my favoritest spots in the whole entire kitchen.)



Yet to be found:
*a swivel bar stool with a back (something like this but from a thrift store, please)
*a small, cozy desk light that takes up next-to-no room, something like this, maybe, or this, or this attached to the bottom of the cupboard (would it even give enough light?)
*perhaps some art work or shelving for the walls, depending...

I’m still getting a feel for the space, deciding what I absolutely must have and what I can do without.

This same time, years previous: Lebanese dried lemon tea, the quotidian (1.1.18), 2017, Christmas, quite frankly, constant motion, cranberry crumble bars, the quotidian (1.2.12), loose ends.