Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fish chowder

It turned nasty cold here, mostly rain with some sloppy snow. It's the kind of weather that demands comfort food. So I tried to come up with something I could cook without going to the grocery store. I baked oatmeal raisin cookies. But one cannot (should not!) live by cookies alone, even home-baked cookies. I looked at a couple of online recipes for fish chowder and adapted. Most recipes don't use sole because sole is such a delicate fish that it falls apart in the chowder. But I had sole in the freezer and it worked but I think this would work even better with a less delicate white fish like cod or halibut.

Fish Chowder

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 new potatoes, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups vegetable stock
1 (8 ounce) can diced tomatoes
¼ cup shredded carrot
1 cup whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound white fish cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pinch cayenne pepper (about 1/8 teaspoon)

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, and cook until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and garlic, and continue cooking until the potatoes have softened slightly, about 10 minutes.

Pour in the vegetable stock, tomatoes, and shredded carrots. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the milk, season to taste with salt and pepper, then stir in the fish. Add cayenne pepper. Continue simmering uncovered until the fish is flaky and no longer translucent in the center, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pumpkin soup

Thanks for reminding me about this recipe, Beth. It's a great one. Actually, I think I'll make it while I'm baking oatmeal raisin cookies. Then I can post a photo too.

Zesty Pumpkin Soup

Makes 6 cups

¼ cup butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic crushed
1 tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper
3 cups chicken broth
1 ¾ cups (16 oz. can) solid pack pumpkin
1 cup half-and-half (can substitute whole milk)
Sour cream and chives (optional)

In large saucepan, melt butter. Sautė onion and garlic until soft.
Add curry powder, salt, coriander, and red pepper. Cook 1 minute.
Add broth. Boil gently uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes.
Stir in pumpkin and half-and-half (or milk). Cook 5 minutes.
Pour into blender and blend until creamy.
Serve warm or reheat to desired temperature.
Garnish with sour cream and chopped chives if desired.

(Note: I also have used toasted pumpkin seeds—pepitas—instead of sour cream as a garnish. And you don't  have to puree it in the blender if you don't care if it's super smooth. One less kitchen gadget to wash.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Going once, going twice

For the past few weeks I’ve pretty much been tethered to my house. I keep my appointments with my trainer and I go to the post office. That’s about it. I go to the post office almost every day because I've been home cleaning out excess stuff and selling it on eBay

I’m new to the eBay selling thing. I’ve sold a few pieces of silver Indian jewelry, things I never wear any longer that are just clogging up the system. eBay is addictive—you sell a thing or two then you start looking around the house for more things to sell. Pretty soon nearly everything is up for grabs.

Today I crossed into new territory. I sold my entire collection of Chuck Taylor All-Star shoes. I’m pacing the floor, wondering if I’m going to miss them now that I’m committed to sell them. I sold nine pairs of various-color Chucks (mostly high-tops) as a lot for over $80. Does it shock you to know that people will pay for someone else’s old sneakers? I sold the pristine John Lennon Peace Chucks, in the original box, for $50.

Chucks were sort of my signature shoes. No one knew I wore them with orthopedic inserts. They fostered my image of an aspiring blues-playing, crazy old lady. I’m still an old lady, getting older by the day. I’ve given up blues guitar for old-time banjo.

No more Chucks. It’s great to have an entire shelf open up in my closet and it’s nice to have the money but I think I’ve lost my image. ‘Tis more the pity.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Comforting beef

It's a glorious fall day here in Virginia. I could be thinking about how pleased I am that the holidays are coming soon, but I'm not. (Bah, humbug.) I could be thinking about building a fire in my fireplace. (I have a gas fireplace so I just push a button.) Or I could be thinking about comfort food. Of course! Just imagine all the comforting possibilities like macaroni and cheese, curries, split pea soup, comforting shredded beef. Comforting shredded beef?

This is a version of a recipe that I got from one of the old Silver Palate cookbooks. My son Nathan particularly loved this when he was growing up, maybe just because of the name. We never just called it beef, or pot roast, or slow-cooked meat. It was always known by its full original title—Comforting Shredded Beef. And so it is.

Comforting Shredded Beef

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons oil
1 bottom round roast (approximately 4 pounds)
Salt and pepper
1 large sweet onion, sliced
½ cup Cognac
2 cups beef or rich vegetable broth
3 cups (approximately) full-bodied red wine (Chianti or Burgundy)

Heat oil and butter in a Dutch oven or slow cooker pot over medium heat. Sauté onion until soft and remove from pot.
Sprinkle roast with salt and pepper and brown on all sides in the oil and butter.
Pour Cognac into pan, warm it to a simmer, then light it with a match. Let it burn until flame dies out.
Pour in broth, ½ cup of the wine, and onion. Then cover and simmer over low heat for about 3 hours, adding additional wine so that there is always about 1 cup of liquid in the pot.
Remove from heat. When meat has reached room temperature, shred into small pieces. Return meat to the liquid in the pot and heat thoroughly.

Makes great hot beef sandwiches, or serve over rice.

Serves 6 to 8.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Primal urge

This morning I read a story in the Washington Post about how archeologists have discovered that ancient people seemed to have had an innate desire to express themselves using paint.* A hundred million years ago people in Africa were painting their faces or painting drawings on the walls of caves. (Maybe it was a hundred thousand years ago—I often get confused with zeros in large numbers. That could explain why I’m so disappointed when I find I have a couple hundred dollars in my bank account instead of a couple million.) Archeologists found clam shells and animal bones that were used for painting tools as well as paint made of ground ochre and charcoal, bone marrow, and minerals.

I wondered what has been compelling me to paint. Last week, while the weather was perfect painting weather, I painted my back gate with ochre and oxblood (redwood color alkyd paint) and patched and painted my deteriorating front door with chalk, petrified cedar roots, and boiled yak eyeballs (white alkyd paint).

But that was purely functional painting, just an effort to make my old wooden gate and my front door last through another winter. What about the urge to create?

I’ve been doing that too, feeling the fever to transform something with paint. My current thing is painting furniture using European chalk paint that I discovered. I got the inspiration, tracked down the supplies, watched some instructional videos, and read a couple of books. A little more than one week into this new obsession, I have finished three pieces—my kitchen table, a small Victorian plant stand that my mother just gave me, and an old pine drop-leaf side table with lovely spool legs. (I've posted the photo of the drop-leaf table, nearly done, still waiting for its final coat of wax.) I’m testing colors and wax techniques and varying how much I distress the pieces. There’s hardly a piece of furniture in my house that’s safe. And as soon as I finish a piece, I start looking at it again, wondering how it would work in another color, another technique.

I haven’t been to the grocery store in about three weeks and have barely left the house except for frequent trips to the paint store. (You should see my cool new wax brushes—I’m psyched.) What a great avocation for me—I can sit on the basement floor in grubby clothes. I can’t answer the phone because I’m covered in paint, wax, and dust. So I understand the primitive people sitting in their caves with their paint and their tools. I get them. It’s just what we feel compelled to do, to pull away from the world and create. Slightly different circumstances, but the same nonetheless. Eccentric hermits, aren't we all?

*See the original story online at

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pie and vodka

I’m not giving up on the pie crust thing, not going to let a little lard and flour conquer me. So I put enough pressure on myself not to fail again. I’m going to a potluck concert tonight and I’m bringing apple pie. This morning I went to the farmers market and found my favorite pie apples, apples that are only available here for a couple of weeks in the fall—Stayman Winesaps. Apple pie is about the only thing I can bring tonight. There is no other food in my house unless I decide to invent something with Cream of Wheat. (Actually, I was considering the options. Do you think Cream of Wheat could adapt to a savory dish? Kind of like a polenta thing? I could make curried Cream of Wheat with almonds and dried cranberries. What if I told them it was an Afghani dish from the tribal regions . . . probably not.)

Recently I became intrigued with a supposedly foolproof pie crust recipe that gave me reason for hope. The secret ingredient? Vodka. Here’s the thing—you have to beware of eating the raw crust dough. You know how there are all those little scraps and things that fly out of the food processor and you know they are unsanitary so you eat them raw to keep the kitchen clean? They have vodka in them. So in the middle of a lovely Saturday afternoon, I’m in the kitchen baking apple pie but I’m like a soused June Cleaver.

A number of foodie bloggers have written about this pie crust, originally from Cooks Illustrated. (Here’s the post from Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite bloggers  I made it in one big flop-over crust à la Martha Stewart and used Martha’s filling recipe for Bottom Crust Apple Pie.

The dough worked beautifully. It just came out of the oven. It smells incredible and it looks pretty darned good. Tonight we'll see how it tastes. Maybe vodka was the secret all along.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Calm in the storm

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

Today Pastor Mark preached in the Book of Jonah, about how Jonah ran away from God and God came after him. Whoa, that was an eye opener! This God of ours is no wuss. How many times have I run away from God? At this point the count of my run-away episodes is just one less than the count of the times I’ve come back. Thankfully he is a forgiving God.

And how about the strategies I use to avoid God? I say I’m having issues with “organized religion” or that I’m too busy or I’m ignoring God because I’m angry with him. Or I get stuck in that flower child I’m-okay-you’re-okay version of faith, feeling that everyone has a valid point of view when it comes to truths about a higher power. The trouble with the I’m-okay-you’re-okay thing is that it keeps me swirling around in my own self-righteousness without any real convictions or accountability. And when trouble comes into my life—as it certainly does—and I’m only relying on myself, then I’m hanging on to thin air. Thin air doesn’t work well—I’ve tried it. I need God.

Consider what happened to Jonah. Jonah got cocky and ran in the opposite direction from God. Jonah thought he knew better. God had to send a whopper of a storm to get Jonah’s attention. And, as Pastor Mark said, God left no doubt about who is in control. God has sent me some whopper storms too and he finally got my attention. It is through storms and suffering that God reveals himself. If there were no troubles in my life, I would not have turned to him in desperation. If my self-sufficiency had been enough to survive life’s storms then I would not have learned the peace that comes through trust in God. God calms the storm.