Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Helping Hand

While this is rather shameful I must admit that I did not participate in the Daring Bakers Challenge this month. Of course I intended to and bought all the ingredients ahead of time. Unfortunately I waited until the last minute to do the baking and it just happened to coincide with the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest right now. Bummer. Who would turn on an oven right now? Ugh.

So I thought I would share some things that I have previously made.

Neither of these are family recipes. I got them both from Ina Garten. I often pour over cookbooks but don't like the recipes or they simply don't come out that well. If I see something that I like I usually make small adjustments to get what I want. In a lot of cases I replace sugar with honey or maple syrup, and I replace whole eggs with more egg whites. I really do try to cut back on the fat and especially the sugar if at all possible.
However, if I could recommend any one's recipes for use as they are, it would have to be hers. Absolutely everything that I have tried making from her books has come out perfect. Above is a chicken thigh baked with basil and herbed goat cheese under the skin, served with polenta and a vege medley I made up. Her recipe was actually for chicken breast with herbed goat cheese and basil under the skin, but hey thighs are cheaper and richer in flavor. It was wonderful and super easy.
Below that is her version of soda bread that has a nice zesty orange flavor. It came out beautiful and delicious and was so perfect with a cup of Earl Grey. Thank you Ina.

I try to watch Food Network when I can, but for the most part I find it disappointing. The "chefs" have been reduced to silly catch phrases and pompous reality tv judges. Terrible. Many of them are practically famous for making paninis or risotto or anything with pounds of butter. Pathetic. I can tell you that Ina's recipes are simple but inspired and give you ideas that you probably haven't thought to try before. I admire this woman. I wouldn't mind having dinner with her one bit.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tsunami Dorit

I just took an extended vacation to Chicago and Traverse City, MI. It was a much needed break and eye opening experience. I spent time with my grandma, I hosted a barbecue party with my parents, I attended a wedding where I danced the horah, I did a small hike on Mackinaw Island, and I managed to tour Hyde Park a little and check out the Harry Potter exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. Despite all these lovely experiences I did run into a tsunami. You might not think that a tsunami is possible in the Midwest, but there she was: Tsunami Dorit.

Dorit is my mother. Her name is pronounced Dor Eet. Not Dor It. A friend and I used to refer to our mothers as hurricanes but I have since found that the tsunami is more appropriate for Dorit as it is unpredictable, incredibly fast moving, and causes unbelievable devastation in a short period of time. I actually tend to think of myself as a hurricane just because I tend to get caught up in a frenzy of projects and leave bits of them everywhere but never reach what I believe to be my full potential. This might be a symptom of having a tsunami for a mother.

Do you think I am being disrespectful? It's funny. For years and years I thought we would never understand each other. And then I thought that she is pretty awesome in smaller doses, and now I totally get it. We are opposites. It's never been more clear to me as it was these past few weeks. We have a strained relationship because we are opposites.

I know what you are thinking. You're thinking yeah right, you will be just like her and you are stuck on some silly teenage notion that your parents are the cause of all your problems. I know I know. Well I will tell you that I did inherit some things: I like to be a hostess, I find cooking and baking to be endlessly interesting, I am usually a social being, and I can talk to anyone. What I mean by that last bit is that "I have the gift of the gab, I have kissed the Blarney Stone," and all that jazz. My dad is really her polar opposite as he is quiet, reserved, sarcastic, witty, and very mellow.

Here is where it gets interesting: there is always yelling. Yelling about groceries, yelling about the news, yelling in several languages and all coming from the tsunami. You never know what could set her off. One minute a cigarette is smoked and there is calm and peace in the world and then next a wild berserker is in front of you in full on wolf mode. You are helpless. There is no reasoning no talking back no relaxation for hours. THE FEAR! THE HORROR!

I don't know how many barbecues you guys have hosted but I can tell you what I would have made should I have been "in charge" of this one. I would have made marinated portobellos and red onions on the grill for vege-burgers, and chicken kabobs. I would make a fruit salad and a spring green salad and get some chips. Done. Tsunami Dorit on the other hand made this: salmon, hamburgers, chicken skewers, 4 different kinds of cole slaw, 2 different fresh salads, 2 trays of nachos with grilled steak and melted cheese, crackers with cream cheese and sun dried tomatoes, chicken wings, key lime pie, cherry amaretto bundt cake, pasta salad, 2 different potato salads, 2 watermelons, and there were bowls of sunflower seeds, pistachio nuts, and small chocolates infused with vodka on each table.


There was so much to do and since she didn't really prepare much ahead of time she put our guests to work. My friends came in from all over the place and before they knew it the tsunami had aprons on them and they were standing in front of a hot stove being ordered around. It was chaos. They were afraid. A neighbor came by around 3 and tried to get her to just choose one or two things and come outside to join the party but was received with: "See that bowl over there? I need that. Oh and can you bring this down?" Afterwards there was, "Aviva! Get her something to drink," after the poor girl had been up and down the stairs three times. When it was getting to be around 5 or 6 and people wanted to head out and say their goodbyes, the tsunami said: "NO. SIT DOWN. You haven't even had any pie."

My mom was robbed in this life. She should have had at least four athletic sons that need to eat all the time. Instead she could only have me and several people commented on how lucky I was that I managed not to be obese considering the circumstances.

You see, it's not that the efforts aren't appreciated, it's that I just don't get it. I don't want to produce such a display and spend all that time and money to be the world's greatest hostess. I really think that less is more but this is the complete opposite of what she thinks. Tsunami Dorit likes everything in excess and aggressively gets what she wants and it's hard to be around that sometimes. She thinks that I am wimpy because I don't yell at sales people if they don't have something in stock that is in their catalog. She believes that if she makes a manager feel like a shmuck she will get what she wants and it usually works. I tend to be of the "Ok well I'm disappointed that I can't get what I want, what can I do instead?" sort of thought process. She doesn't like that about me.

About a month ago I had asked my parents if they would like to go to the midnight release of Harry Potter with me. My dad is a big fan so I thought maybe they would like that. They agreed and I bought tickets. We arrived at the theater about one hour prior to the start but the teenagers had taken the place over. There were only single seats at that point and I didn't like that idea. I figured that I didn't really want to sit alone and the experience was supposed to be for the three of us. So, I said that I thought we should see if we could get a credit for a matinee the next day.

The tsunami then took over and demanded to speak to management. I tried to stop her but she actually told me to shut up right in front of the manager she was going to berate. She told him that I had flown in from Seattle and that I wanted to see this with my family and that I was highly upset and what kind of place are they running anyway where they let all these people in an hour ahead and on and on. I was mortified. She asked this guy who was sweating profusely to make people move for us. Oh my god. I tried to plead with her to stop and when the guy came back and told us there were only single seats, she FORCED me to sit in one. I believe she said, "Sit down right there and watch your movie." Was I being punished for something? I didn't know if she was going to grow 12 feet and turn green and rip off her clothes and start eating people or what. I had a full on anxiety attack in the theater and had to do a breathing exercise to calm down. I felt that I could almost see water rushing over the entire movie theater and people getting swept away and I sat there nauseous and hoping it would be over soon. When we left she said, "See? You saw your movie because of me. You never appreciate anything I do."

I have to tell you that it is highly unlikely that I will turn into this tsunami someday. I just don't get it. I can only hope that she will cut back on the coffee and cigarettes because she really doesn't need the energy. I won't ever have one tenth of her energy.

On the other hand she happens to be the life of her little block in Skokie. Everyone knows her and admires her garden. A couple of her neighbors who are around my age have struck up a friendship with her and always tell me how lucky I am to have such a lively fun mom. Wow! What a perspective. My friend T told me at the BBQ that Tsunami Dorit intends to "dance like a slut," at the upcoming wedding "because you only live once so shake it god damnit." I told her that once I was in my twenties my mom constantly asked me why the hell I wear crew neck T-shirts. "Hello? You have breasts god damnit. Give them some air. Why hide them in such a stupid T-shirt?"

One of my absolute favorite things about my mom is that her favorite plant is the pussy willow. Nearly every time she stops to admire one she says: "Such a beautiful plant. Such a stupid name."

I can't keep up with this woman.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Great Bacon Debate

And now on to a lighter subject: bacon. Ha ha. I'm about to tell you something extremely controversial and exciting.

I don't like bacon.

Really. It's true. It's not that I hate it or anything. I have been known on occasion to order it and have a little at a diner, but I think it's pretty gross. I don't understand the appeal of eating a fried piece of fat that has a tiny bit of salty meat attached to it. Gross.

I've tried to understand it. I know people that dream of bacon. I've been to weddings and parties where people raved about the scallops wrapped in bacon and I just really like scallops by themselves. On the whole I think the meats of the pig variety are just too salty for me and have a weird color.

We didn't eat it at home of course. My mom wasn't ever around people who cooked pig and she never learned how to cook pig so I never learned what it was. The first time I ever saw a ham was at my Grandfather's birthday party. I was 11 years old. There was this gigantic pink thing on the table and I leaned over to my mom and asked in a frightened whisper: "What is that?"

"It's a ham honey. You don't have to eat it."

"Are we supposed to eat it?"

"Well it looks like that is what they're serving. You don't have to eat it. It comes in a can."

"It comes in a can? Are you going to eat it??"

No! Shhh. Don't eat it if you don't want to."

"Why is it so pink? It looks like My Little Pony."

(My Little Pony happened to be pink with a rainbow tail. Pink was my favorite color at the time but I had never eaten anything that color, with the exception of strawberry ice cream of course.)

"I don't know. You can try it if you want to, but you don't have to."

I didn't want to try it. Any pig related product seemed like it was something I should be afraid of. I never tried ham until my twenties and I really really didn't like it. I understand that there are all sorts of cuts of pig that taste different and granted I even gave pork chops a try recently, but I don't think I will ever grow to love the pig product.

I have no idea when the first time I tried bacon was. My mom made us turkey bacon and so I always thought that was what it was. Whenever I see bacon I just can't get over the grease and the fat. I don't understand why that makes anything better and I especially don't understand why it goes on top of burgers sometimes. I don't want triple bypass surgery, do you?

The bacon problem came into play recently because I wanted to try making a Coq au Vin. It was something I've only had twice but remember it to be a beautiful savory chicken dish. Both times I had it without bacon but I don't know how they made it. Every recipe I looked up called for salt pork, slab bacon, lardon, or pancetta. What the hell? How was I going to do this?

After doing a little reading I discovered that pancetta might work for me better than the other options. It's supposed to have a lighter flavor and is often sliced very thin at a deli. The thinness appealed to me because I figured it would blend better than chunks of bacon. So I went to a European Deli near me and amazingly they were out. They were getting more that week but I was ready to start that day. I asked the guy what he thought I should use instead and he said bacon. I told him that I don't like bacon and got the inevitable shock response. Wow big surprise people. Not everyone likes bacon. Just like how not everyone celebrates Christmas. I know, shocking. Happy Holidays to you.

Anyway, I asked him if he thought turkey bacon would work and he seemed to think it was a great idea. I was super excited because I wasn't even going to go there but then I received confirmation that it was going to work.

Not so much.

The turkey bacon was a terrible crunchy texture in a smooth saucy dish and the flavor overwhelmed everything else. So much for not using the pig.

I followed a combination of recipes from The Food Network and I think I used the best of both worlds. Still it didn't work for me and I'm not so sure real bacon would have helped that much. No point in giving you the recipe. It was lousy. If you know of a good Coq au Vin recipe without too much pork flavor, I would be happy to try it. Damn swine.