Thursday
Jan182007

Strange Dreams


I've always found the phrase 'strange dream' to be redundant. Aren't dreams strange by definition? I've never had one that wasn't. Take Monday night, for example. I dreamed about Sir Philip Sidney, and he looked exactly like his portrait. Why would he, of all people, appear on the stage of my slumbering brain? I have no idea, unless my subconscious was trying to remind me of the couplet most often quoted from his writings:

Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,
'Fool' said my Muse to me, 'look in thy heart and write.'

Yes, yes, milord; I'll get back to it straightway.

Saturday
Jan132007

Tonnerre mes chiens!*



It was James's turn for CIA Night last night. He'd chosen to make Jambalaya, always a crowd pleaser. I promise, he didn't really use the green spoon for tasting--only for stirring.
Unfortunately, I've never been to Louisiana. Most of what I know about the Cajun culture has come from my long-distance love affairs with Queen Ida, Buckwheat Zydeco, and Donna the Buffalo. The rest has come from eating at restaurants in Manhattan. Many years ago at Harglow's (now closed), I tried Jambalaya for the first time. Love at first spoonful--slow-cooked rice with tomatoes, onions, and peppers, studded with tender morsels of shellfish and andouille sausage--what could be better on a cold January night?
We used the Cook's Illustrated recipe, but modified it quite a bit. For one thing, we added small red beans, because Red Beans & Rice is my second favorite Cajun dish, so why not combine the two? I'm sure it was very up the bayou of me, but it was delicious. Just so you know, Applegate Farms makes a kickin' Chicken and Turkey Andouille--highly recommended.
One of the many terrific things about James is his gift for mimicry. We all adore Luis, the child prodigy chef featured on the Noggin channel. Luis was born in Guatemala but lives in Australia; he can't be more than six or seven years old, but he's a brilliant and enthusiastic cook. James does a perfect impression of Luis's endearing accent, and assumes his persona ad libitum whenever he's in the kitchen.
The Jambalaya turned out great. A bonus is that Jambalaya, like so many other slow-cooked dishes, is always better the next day--and we have plenty left over for dinner tonight!
* Tonnerre mes chiens = literally, thunder my dogs, or Holy Cow!


Friday
Jan122007

Sock and Scone



Perfection. I'm always reaching for it, nearly always falling short. Perfect writer? Hardly. Perfect knitter? I wish. Perfect wife and mother? Lamentably, not even close. But when I do attain perfection in some tiny corner of my life, it makes the reaching in all arenas easier to continue.

I tasted perfection twice the other day--a rare occurrence indeed. I made a batch of scones on Wednesday morning; this is a recipe I've been tinkering with for over a decade. The original recipe--called "Dried Fruit Cream Scones"--came from The Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. I've changed it enough by now though to call it my own, even by the strict interpretation of my copyright lawyer husband. I've made it frequently enough to have gotten it into the category of "Very, Very Good" for a long time, but a new twist (sour cream instead of my usual buttermilk) the other day brought it into a flawless state.

Chocolate (or Peanut Butter) Chip Scones

2 cups flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips (or peanut butter chips, if you like)
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Mix the first four ingredients together well; add the chips. Add the sour cream and the melted butter; mix only until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake for 15 minutes.

Full credit goes to Shauna for suggesting years ago that the scones were great with dried fruit (when I want to go that route, I use chopped dried cherries and apricots), but that they'd be outstanding with chocolate chips. Pure genius, Shauna--thank you for once again dramatically improving the quality of my life.

I can't stress how easy these are--such delightful payoff for very little work. Of course, perfection in the realm of food carries a degree of subjectivity about it, but give these a try and see what you think.

The other instance of defectless excellence was my first-ever full-sized finished sock. I grafted the toe Wednesday evening, wove in the two ends, and presto! Completion. I'm sure a discerning judge at a County Fair might find fault with it, but what a thrill it is to put on something that I made to fit my own foot exactly. Impeccable comfort. Can't wait until the other one is done.

Failure frequently looms large in my life; I try to be patient with its bitter presence, as I know that there is much to be learned with each new mistake. How pleasant is the contrast then, once in a great while, to savor perfection's rich flavors.


Thursday
Jan112007

Inspiration


Someone emailed me and asked whether I had made an inspiration collage for the other novel I'm working on. Yes, I have, and here it is. This book will be finished first, mainly to make Patrick happy. Of course, I'll be happy, too; it's just that for a long while, the other manuscript was flowing better for me.

This one is going well at the moment; I like my story, and I think about it all the time. Knitting is especially conducive to my musings on plot points and character details. I'll let you know just as soon as I'm done, I assure you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of your kind phone calls and emails regarding this blog. It's nice to know that others are enjoying it; I certainly am. Feel free to leave me comments right here on the blog page, though. It would be ideal to have an organized record of your responses. Thanks again.

Wednesday
Jan102007

Look to the Cookie!


Someone requested that I post this email of mine (first sent out last spring) to my blog, so here: your wish is granted!


As Jerry Seinfeld famously decreed, the Black & White Cookie is a perfect dessert, symbolic of the unity that should exist in society. But long before Seinfeld featured this NYC delicacy on his show, I was on the search for the perfect B&W, because when they are good, there's nothing better. On the other hand, a bad B&W is more than disappointing: it's an abomination.

Today was a rainy, crappy day on a lot of fronts. At about 4:30 this afternoon, I found myself seeking comfort through food, as is my wont. I stopped at the fabulous Garrison Market (more on them later), thinking I'd have a little scoop of heaven (Blue Pig ice cream, made by local genius Julia Horowitz down in Croton-on-Hudson).

At the counter I noticed something that had never been there before: a platter of Black & Whites. "Hmm," I thought. "Do I go for the sure thing (the Blue Pig), or do I take a risk and try Garrison's version of the B&W?" I'd been happily surprised before; their lemon pound cake rivals my own, for example. I decided to gamble.

What a payoff, my friends. I've eaten many a B&W, from Zaro's in Grand Central, to a funky version from a Dominican bakery on Amsterdam Ave., to shrink-wrapped numbers from your bodega of choice, to the (previously) definitive version made by William Greenberg. I even made them myself once from a recipe published in the NY Times and served them at our Seinfeld "Final Episode" party.

Garrison's blew them all away. The cakey cookie, potentially dry and crumbly, was light, fluffy, and perfectly moist. The two frostings--vanilla and chocolate--were ideal. Not too sweet, and a bit al dente, but not glue-ish. Fresh and fragrant--mmm. Though milk would have been a pleasant accompaniment, it was not necessary. I finished the entire cookie in the car on my way home.

It's a good thing that Tess's preschool is ending next week, because right now I drive by the Garrison Market four times a day doing drop-off and pick-up. I'm not sure I could resist the siren call of a daily B&W, and that could be disastrous.

Garrison Market―what a gem. It opened up a year or so ago in the former Gulf service station on 9D, just north of St. Philip’s-in-the-Highlands. They make homemade doughnuts daily that are to DIE for. Sandwiches, paninis, dang good cheeseburgers. Lovely drinks, from Italian lemon sodas to Izzes to Ronnybrook's celestial drinkable yogurt. And the Blue Pig ice cream. And now the Black & Whites. And the chance that when you're there, you'll bump into Kevin Kline tanking up on some Catskill Mountain coffee. Life only gets better here in Putnam County, I tell you.

I hope that all you locals come up and join me for a B&W soon. Those of you who are far away: I hope you are drooling by now, and that when you finish reading this, you will go online and buy a ticket to come visit. These cookies are worth the trip.