Friday, December 14, 2007

I wasn't going to do a 2nd annual post on gifts for cooks, but . . .

according to my beloved StatCounter, a disconcerting number of you are in the market for a pair of fancy dishwashing gloves. (These misguided souls among us are landing on this post from July 2006, which does not endorse fancy or proletariat dishwashing gloves. I suspect they're looking for something like this. I've been reading a lot of Evelyn Waugh lately and I've been so, so good in not repeating the phrase "sick-making" as often as Agatha Runcible, but: those things are too sick-making to crumple into a ball under one's sink, let alone wear.) If you need to buy a gift for a cook or—ugh, hate this word—a foodie, and you've already considered the suggestions I posted last Christmas, here are some more presents I would not return:

For the cook who has a healthy appetite for both cheese and kitsch, a fromage board and knife ($40 for both).

For the cook whose "cooking" is limited to making tea, a shiny gold teapot ($27 for 1-liter size and $33 for the 1 1/2-liter);

a sugar shaker named "sweet talker" (£29; let's not think about how many $$);

and a couple of graph paper mugs that might inspire post-tea scribbling ($12.95 each).

Or, if your tea drinker has been caught with their pinky in the air, a pair of grey-brown cups and saucers with gold rims to match the teapot ($28 per set).

For the cook who is basically competent but slightly inattentive, an adorable milk saver ($29).

It's not often that I cook something that requires me to heat up milk or cream, but nearly every time I have I've gone beyond scalding. The problem is that it can go from a gentle simmer to a volcanic mess in just a few seconds, and as that's happening it doesn't make any noise. You can't set a timer, either, because you don't know how long it will take. The solution is a milk saver, a little ceramic disk that rattles against the bottom of your pan just as the simmering begins. This one's got a brilliant red flag, to catch even a glazed-over eye.

For the cook who needs to work on having more friendly thoughts about pigs and fewer covetous thoughts about bacon, a pink salt pig with ears and, reportedly, a curly tail ($7.95).

For the cook who you don't know very well but want to buy a little gift for, a set of gleaming gelato spoons ($2.49 each). A cheap gift indeed, so you'd better at least tie them up with some thrillingly gaudy ribbon ($1.80 per yard).

For the cook who, when they're not cooking, eats even more toast and yogurt than you think they do, a bird-like honey pot ($44)

Or, if you've got more scratch to spend, a set of porcelain Mad Hatter dishes to hold jam, sugar, etc. ($250). Who doesn't want to be reminded of Hatty Town while having breakfast?

For the cook with raggedy post-it notes sticking out of their favorite cookbooks, Mark my Words for Cooks ($5.95) a kit for flagging recipes one would like to try, or tried and loved, or tried and hated.

For the cook who has knocked over countless glasses of red wine while getting dinner ready, stubby, old-fashioned café wine glasses ($40.50 for a set of four) for drinking exactly 23 francs worth of wine without spilling a drop.

For the cook who frequently comes home from the grocery store with a big bag of lumpy lemons, a lemon seed necklace ($280) or a copy of The Golden Lemon ($14.95). I have this book and I haven't tried any of the recipes yet but they're almost all appealing.

For the cook who has occasionally served you over-cooked pasta, a stainless steel spaghetti tester ($48). I'm not sure exactly where I stand on this—I can think of better uses for $48—but if someone gave me one I'd end up using it.

For the vegan, an obscure Dutch vegan cookbook ($12). I'm curious about the "Devilled Eggplant in Tulips."

For the Anglophile baker, a "Made in England" rolling pin (£39).

Finally, for any cook with ambitions beyond a single burner, a fancy new timer ($29.95). Said cook might set up to four independent timers at once (!!) and the numbers are BIG. The result could only be a happier relationship between arroz and frijoles.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Step away from the turkey: it's not too late for a non-murderous Thanksgiving

As an ex-vegetarian who is seriously contemplating getting back on the wagon, I feel that this is an opportune moment to remind you that you don't need to munch on turkey tomorrow. You don't need to munch on the vile faux-corpse of a Tofurkey either, because I'm going to give you a recipe for something better. (Stuffed squash, which I'll get to in a moment).

Long-time readers know that I've always been ambivalent about posting meat recipes here — I don't think I've ever posted a single recipe involving beef or pork, for example. Birds and sea creatures haven't fared as well, and their surviving friends and relations are hereby forgiven if they ever wish to wave their wings, claws, tentacles, or wee little fins at me in a menacing manner.

Readers will also know that when I see beady little eyes peering in my window I'll hand over nuts without hesitation, not because I am fattening the little cuties for pâté but because I like having them around. They will also know that my adoration of the spaniel pictured below is limitless, even when he's trying to eat wood chips or lint or curtains or other unworthy things.

little someone

I don't think it's outlandish to assume that he perpetually wags his tail in part because he trusts that he won't be roasted, grilled, or pan-seared. Shouldn't all creatures feel the same? They get their hearts broken by stupid plastic boyfriends just like we do, you know. And like us, they crave justice and rarely get it.

Obviously there are lots of reasons not to eat meat, and I won't prattle on about them now because that's almost certainly not what you're here for. Let's just say that I was a vegetarian for many years and am very sympathetic to the point of view that there are many arguments against eating meat, and no good arguments in favor of eating it.*

Are you annoyed with me for raising this issue at this time of year? Everyone has got to draw a line somewhere. Otherwise you'll end up like der Karl, thinking that a plate of horse meat carpaccio is as appealing as Hedi Slimane trousers.

Besides, a series of recent concerts reminded me of my long-dormant suspicions that happiness awaits in a new career as the leader of a Morrissey cult. An enterprise in which I am doomed to failure if I haven't gone back to veg. I'm going to get started on preparing the pamphlets I'll distribute at the next symposium, on the assumption that I'll surely have come 'round by then.

I was going to make a silly joke and caption this "a rare recent photo of Morrissey and Mike Joyce," but sensitive types may consider such a comment libelous against dear, blameless turkeys.

Photo from

Anyhow, on to the recipe. I've been making this for years, with a few changes. The first being to omit the dried cranberries. They're almost always sold sweetened, too sweetened, and there's just something awful about dried fruit in one's dinner. It's very 70's. If you truly like the idea of dried cranberries I urge you to play up the 70's theme in a big way so as to make clear it's not an accident — decorate your table with images from Our Bodies, Our Selves and the Black Panther Coloring Book, and offer drugs to all of your guests in the main room, instead of sneaking off to the drug room with the hip-looking ones.

Other changes to the recipe: Fresh herbs. There is simply no excuse for dried, which taste dusty and have an awful texture. Also, I usually replace the onion with leek, which is more subtle-tasting and more colorful, and the water with white wine or stock, and the whole wheat bread with sourdough or whole-wheat sourdough. I also usually add some nuts, if the squirrels haven't eaten them all. I never measure any of this stuff so if something doesn't feel right, decrease or increase it as you see fit.

baby leeks herbs, herbs, herbs

On the left, baby leeks, which I got from the same people who sell ramps at the Union Square greenmarket when those are in season; on the right, a pile of herbs.

Finally, note that the original recipe I linked to above calls for microwaving the squash before you stuff it. I haven't got a microwave so I roast it, but I have microwaved it at other people's houses and it's fine that way too. Consult the link if you need directions for that.

stuffed squash

Serves 4; yes, you can halve or double the recipe

2 small- to medium-sized acorn squashes (or dumpling squashes or small kabocha), halved lengthwise and seeded
5 tablespoons butter (1 tablespoon of which should be softened to room-temperature)
salt and freshly ground pepper
approximately 1 cup finely sliced leek, white and pale green parts
1/3 to 1/2 cup white wine, dry vermouth (Noilly Prat is good), or vegetable stock
8 ounces fresh wild mushrooms, tough stems removed and sliced
2 to 4 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs — a combination of sage, thyme, rosemary and lovage is nice
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs, preferably sourdough or whole wheat sourdough — I use fresh bread and break it into small, irregular pieces in the food processor
1/4 cup lightly toasted and coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Put the squash halves on one or two baking sheets, cut side up, and rub the tablespoon of softened butter on the insides until they're evenly coated. Season them with salt and pepper and roast them until they're very tender when pierced with a fork, about 40 minutes. (You can do this in advance and refrigerate the roasted squash until you're ready to proceed with the recipe, but let it warm up a bit at room temperature before you go ahead with the final cooking).

Increase the oven temperature to 425°F (or preheat it if you roasted the squash in advance).

Melt the rest of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and the mushrooms and sauté until they soften, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the herbs and the breadcrumbs and sauté a few minutes more, until the crumbs begin to brown. Stir in enough wine or stock to moisten the stuffing. (It shouldn't be dry-looking but you shouldn't be able to see liquid in the pan, either.) Stir in the nuts and season the stuffing with salt and pepper.

Mound the stuffing into the squash halves and bake them until they are crisp on top, about 10 to 15 minutes.

stuffed squash

* "Animals taste good" is a conclusion, not an argument! It's a conclusion that reflects one's point of view on various ethical and social issues, which you free to discuss in comments on this post, or not. Up to you.

Monday, September 10, 2007

a postcard from the art parade

Wish you were here — were you? The 3rd annual art parade—organized by Deitch Projects, Creative Time and Paper Magazine—made its way down West Broadway Saturday afternoon, and it was so nice to be reminded of a time when Manhattan had yet to be taken over by high-anxiety career-obsessed dullards.

My favorite was the girls with their hair braided together.

at the art parade

There were also marching bands, balloons, and a run away on a raft.

at the art parade

at the art parade

at the art parade

And a sexy troubador with an armful of bracelets.

at the art parade

An egg.

at the art parade

A dreamy dessert cart.

at the art parade

Also oranges shared with the crowd, a sweet-faced horse, and a little red riding hood gang.

at the art parade

at the art parade

at the art parade

Other girls were busy talking on their phones.

at the art parade

Musicians, messages, and balloons are essential for any good parade.

at the art parade

at the art parade

at the art parade

at the art parade

at the art parade

at the art parade

Brought to you by the letter D.

at the art parade

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

rumors of the Committee's demise are greatly exaggerated, but you are welcome to send flowers

I wish my reasons for remaining blog-silent in August were thrilling; alas, I did not win the Mega Millions and go on another vacation and return to buy an island off the coast of Maine, where I rehabilitate orphaned squirrels and chipmunks and teach them to parade through the woods in tiny marching band formations. No, what happened was I got caught up in a project at work that will have me summarizing deposition testimony into 2008. A thousand yawns!

Just when I was getting settled into a routine of churning out annoyingly detailed charts and starting to believe I could make time for ye olde blog again, I was struck with food poisoning that beat my ass down like Foxy Brown. If I'd gotten it from a restaurant I would very likely name names, but it was from my law firm's cafeteria. Obviously this place is trying to kill me, and in the future I will look over my shoulder for Colonel Mustard with the candlestick before I even sit down at my desk. Thanks to plenty of white toast, chicken broth, and two consecutive prescriptions for Cipro I am not ready to enter into eternal rest just yet.

I've hardly cooked a thing since the end of July but there was focaccia that turned out well and the recipe is below. You can buy decent focaccia, of course, but if you want some with interesting herbs you'll have to make your own. This one had lovage—which looks like celery leaves, and tastes a bit like a cross between tarragon and celery—summer savory, and tarragon, and it was terrific.

The recipe below is adapted from one in Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbfarm Cookbook, one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. Black bean soup with apple, braised monkfish with fennel and lemon thyme, bay laurel roasted chicken, coriander-orange scones, lavender and plum chutney, herbed home-cured salmon, don't these things sound good? They're all in there, along with botanical watercolors, gardening tips, and a guide to using just about every herb from angelica to woodruff. Ok, so maybe those two particular herbs evoke hippies sitting in stinky teepees rubbing their crystals together, but I promise the recipes are appealingly modern, and the ones I've tried so far—a lot—have all been winners. There are also tons of suggestions on ways to vary the recipes, which makes it instructive for any cook looking to make the jump from being dependent on recipes to being confident about improvisation. Traunfeld has a more recent book out (The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor) and the only thing stopping me from adding it to my collection is the fact that I am drowning in books. I have books on my desk, books on my dresser, and in my bookcases there are horizontal books on top of the vertical books.

A comment on the recipe below: If you read through it all the way—ha! I have never done such a thing!—you will see that you need to have all your herbs ready to go near the beginning of the process. If you don't make a note of this before you get started and you get to the point where you suddenly need to add half the herbs, and you haven't even washed them yet, I warned you so that's totally not my fault.

focaccia with 3 herbs

focaccia innards

herbs on top, herbs on the inside — I hope you like herbs

Focaccia with strong herbs, for people with strong personalities

Adapted from the recipe for Herbed Focaccia in Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbfarm Cookbook.

2 cups warm water (105° to 110° F)
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
1/2 cup mixed fresh lovage, summer savory and tarragon
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
4 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour, plus additional flour as needed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt or kosher salt for sprinkling on top of the bread

Pour the water into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until the yeast is dissolved and blooming on the surface. Add half of the herbs to the yeast mixture; put the remaining herbs in a small container or tightly-covered bowl and refrigerate until needed. Stir the salt and the flour into the yeast mixture to form a soft dough. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 8 to 10 minutes. It should be shiny and soft, but with some elasticity; if it is very sticky, sprinkle a little additional flour on it (just a tablespoon or two) and keep kneading. Put the dough in a large bowl—yes, it can be the same one you mixed it in, if you wipe it clean first—and tightly cover the top with plastic wrap, then a dish towel. Let it rise at room temperature until it's doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

After the dough has doubled in size, it's time to prepare it for the second rise: take the dough ball out of the bowl, set it down on a sheet of lightly oiled wax or parchment paper, stir together the olive oil and the remaining herbs in your large bowl, and plop the dough back in the bowl. Don't bother turning it around and around to coat it with the olive oil and herbs because when you are ready to bake, you'll invert the dough ball and they'll be on top, looking pretty. Simply cover the bowl as you did earlier and let the dough rise until it doubles again, about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Turn the dough out onto a sturdy quarter-sheet or half-sheet pan so that the herbs are on the the top and gently stretch it out until you have an oval or a rectangle about 12 inches long and 10 inches across. (I used a quarter-sheet pan and stretched it as far as I could in all directions; the bread ended up being thicker than I would have liked but it tasted fine). Let the dough rise again for 10 to 15 minutes, sprinkle it with flaky or coarse salt to taste, and bake it for approximately 25 minutes, or until it is golden brown. It will smell terrific, but let it cool for at least 10 minutes before you slice it or tear it apart.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

we're back and I'm a little cranky about it


Some of it is the usual vacation-is-over malaise; some of it is the sense that but for oppressive student loan debt, I'd like to live on the island for at least a year or two. I've lived in the east village for nearly ten years now and, particularly during this third visit to Vinalhaven, I've come to suspect I could be really, really happy there. I also strongly suspect that whatever bacon I would be able to bring home there would fail to satisfy The Student Loan People's voracious maw.

But! Of course the preceding two weeks were not marred by gloom.

We sniffed at pine-scented breezes.


We ate superlative clam chowder, fried clams, blueberry pie.

clam chowder

fried clams

blueberry pie

The chowder, clams and pie above were from the Harbor Gawker, which happens to be for sale (scroll down). Any fantastically generous readers want to buy me a restaurant? I am smart enough not to tinker with their menu, nor alienate their super-friendly employees. And I'm a lawyer, which might come in handy if Rebecca Charles ever drops by.

We also ate plenty of fearsome creatures from the deep.

big bully

It's a bad season for lobstermen so far, and I understand last year was bad too, but the industry seems to be a sustainable one.

blue Maine lobster

steamed Maine lobsters

lobster rolls

We found a SPOOKY hidden graveyard in the woods.

hidden graveyard

We admired spindly, celadon green mosses and pearly seaweed.

spindly moss

Geary Beach park

It rained A LOT.

it rained a lot

Lane's Island on a cloudy morning

And it was foggy A LOT.

Geary Beach park

foggy Mill Creek

On the sunnier days, we drove around with all the windows open.

driving to town

Or we sat on the deck and watched for the birds: osprey, herons, the occasional bald eagle.

Mill Creek on a sunny afternoon

yes, that's Mill Creek again

I fell in love with moths and yellow spiders.

fuzzy moth

hairy moth

another yellow spider

luna moth

This preposterous fuzzy-headed creature in the faux bois style — a luna moth — alit on our door the morning of my birthday. He seemed determined to stay for a while so we moved him to a rock nearby, for fear that he'd be trampled by the guys coming to work on the hot water heater. He didn't move for a very long time, even after a breeze knocked him off the rock and onto the deck, and my mind rattled with plans for his florid little corpse: I didn't have a shoe box but I had a plastic container about the right size to transport him to Manhattan, and then he'd probably need to be sprayed with some sort of preserving tincture, wouldn't he, and maybe I ought to see about having a professional mount him in a little glass case, and wouldn't that be the most memorable birthday gift to myself? The little beast did not expire after all; he was only resting, and flew away before the morning was over.

Another one came by the next morning, and stayed until his impressive antennae were dry.

luna moth trying to dry after the rain

I'm still unpacking but hope to be posting recipes for lobster rolls and whatnot soon.

Carver's Harbor