Sunday, January 31, 2010

More estate sale finds

Primitive from the Antique Mall.

Antique saucers

Sunday Breakfast

I found the technique for croustades in "Michael Field's Cooking School", another one of my $2.00 Mckay cookbooks. Fields made his croustades round, but I left mine square. I took two slices of Pepperidge Farm white bread , and cut off the crusts.I flattened each slice with a rolling pin ( the antique one in the photo, seen behind a set of molds I bought at an estate sale ) , then brushed melted butter on both sides. I put the slices into the molds and toasted them in a 350 degree oven. I erred on the side of lightly toasted. Perhaps next time I will brown them more. I nestled some bacon in one and a poached egg in the other, then I ate them. There was an attempt at Hollandaise sauce, but since my "mise" was not in "place" I flubbed it. I can see filling these toasts with shrimp or crab or even fried apples.

The Sun, our friend, is out today. He will do more for us than our landlords and the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Main numbered roads get scraped, but everyone on side streets will have to wait for the warmup and the melt. I watched one of my neighbors, an elderly man from Louisiana, try to back his way down the drive this morning. Finally he learned that going forward was probably best for getting to where he was going and he made some progress. The Southerners, God bless them, are naive about snow.

I am going to roast a chicken later today, and unlike the Hollandaise it should be a success. I am going to baste it with butter . I usually use olive oil, but there is nothing Mediterrranean about today or this weather. Today I look out my bedroom window at the snowy hill and I could be in Grenoble or Stowe or Quebec or Stockholm. Time to leaf through "Scandinavian Cooking" , another 25 cent McKay Books find. How about a "Swedish Sausage Casserole"? A "Finnish Turnip Pie"?

Poached egg and bacon filling for Croustades


Friday, January 29, 2010

Snow Day

Two worthy cookbooks arrived from Amazon today- "Feasts for All Seasons" by Roy Andries de Groot, and "When French Women Cook" by Madeline Kamman. I cannot wait to get into them and to post at more length, but we are under a Winter Storm Warning and I must slip slide into work. My nervous employer was already calling this morning at 11:00 ( I was asleep) to find out if I was coming in. So many people I work with commute an hour or more into the city , and they may not show. But we take care of people's mothers and children and husbands . We have a moral and professional obligation to at least try to get in. I expect everyone I see on the way to work tonight will be on their way to the hospitals they work at. Who else would come out on a Snow Day?

Thursday, January 28, 2010


The Chicken with Preserved Fruits that I cooked last night turned out well, even though I declined several parts of the recipe. I did not bake it in an airtight wrap of "grease proof" paper because I was not sure what Mrs. Bissell meant. Parchment paper perhaps? I opted for foil, and I think what came out of the oven was not far from what the recipe intended.I also tinkered by replacing "brown bread crumbs" with Panko crumbs lightly browned in the oven with butter. To reduce this recipe to its essence-

Brown 2 chicken breasts in oil using a stainless steel skillet. When they have browned enough, let them cool down so you can handle them. Cut a pocket in them length wise and stuff this with the panko crumb-mustard-apricot jam and garlic stuffing. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes or until your meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees. I used 1 cup of panko crumbs heavily buttered, 3 tablespoons of apricot jam, 3 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and a clove of garlic I crushed through a garlic press. This stuffing was excellent, and I am already wondering what else I can do with it. How about chopping up cooked shrimp or crabmeat, adding it to the stuffing and baking it in a ramekin or in a big scallop shell? What about stuffing it into a roast chicken or a Cornish Hen?

I was proud this turned out so well especially since I have learned in the past two days that I have gaps-big ones-in my culinary knowledge. I am in fact quite ignorant. I have gotten by with good luck and some common sense. Humility is now the order of the day.

For several months now I have been thinking about taking cooking classes just to "polish up". I thought about culinary classes at The Art Institute. Impractical(I work nights) and expensive. The Viking Store in Franklin has classes but they are also expensive. I resigned myself to my books. If I could discipline myself I could read my way through Madeline Kamman and James Peterson and learn as much as I would in a class.

Two days ago I found an alternative. Online video cooking classes from The Northwest Culinary Institute of Vancouver. At $15 a month this seems a bargain. I waste $10 a week on Cafetorium Cuisine alone. Yesterday I took the class on selecting and storing fish. I thought it would be review. It was not. Humbled by this I took a class today on pan frying, and I will not embarrass myself by telling you how much I learned. I was a self-taught cook. My mother resorted too much to the crockpot to be a cooking model, and one of my grandmother once served chicken soup with the chicken heart floating in it. I was on my own. I learned from magazines, and books, and by watching Mario Batali. What hubris! That I was considering trying to switch careers at some future date and to become a food writer and a cooking teacher. And I have never mastered baking beyond making cornmeal muffins from a mix. I confess.

Tonight Nashville will be under a winter storm watch, and I will be creeping home from work in the morning. I am tired of winter, but today I saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler in the cedar outside my window. They winter in Mississippi and the Lower South. I have never seen them in Nashville this early-

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chicken with preserved fruit- ready for the oven

A visit to Mckay Books

I am always amused when I go to McKay Used books to see that the cookbooks on the shelves labelled "High Demand" are not. The same books are always there, and most are by the cooks who have shows on the Food Network. I gave up on that network when Mario Batali left , so none of these books appeal to me. I am positive that the real "High Demand" books are snatched up right after the stockers shelve them. That is the reason I never see anything there by Julia Child.

I have learned that when I see a cookbook I want at McKay I need to buy it. She who hesitates is lost. I am still upset at thinking there would be a second chance at one of the old faux leather brown and gilt Gourmet Magazine Cookbooks I saw one night. Unless one is looking for "The Frugal Gourmet" or a Food Network book, there is no next time at Mckay Books.

On my last trip to McKay I found a book I was looking for, and that is a rare thing. Most of the cookbooks I buy there are ones I have never heard of , and did not know I wanted until I saw them. The book I knew I wanted was "Pork", one of the books in Richard Olney's " The Good Cook" series. I paid $4.00 for it, a bargain since I have seen the whole series for sale on the Internet for $600. I own five of these books now with 20 or so left to go. Finding them could take years.

My "Mrs Appleyard's Kitchen" came from McKay, as did "The New York Times Cookbook", Craig Claiborne's "Southern Cooking", "Italian Slow and Savory" by Joyce Goldstein, and "Michael Field's Cooking School". And there are so many others, and not all by authors of such note.

On the night I found "Pork" I also found an unusual old import from England. The title "A Cook"s Calendar" baited the hook, and the introduction by Jane Grigson reeled me in. The author is a Mrs Francis Bissell, a private chef and food writer. My copy was a gift in 1989 to someone named "Louis" from "Bill + Vernell". It is one of those little mysteries one finds at McKay. Who were these people? What happened to Louis? How did the book come to be at McKay? I will never know.

I knew I had a little treasure when I saw Mrs Bissell's recipe for "Chicken Breasts with Preserved Fruits". It sounded wonderful, and I had preserved fruits or at least thought I did. I had dried apricots, and dried cranberries- But wait. Oh no. She means something called "mostarda", which I would have to buy at an Italian grocer. Try finding one of those in Nashville-. Then, as I turned to page 25, where Mrs Bissell described "mostarda" in more detail, I discovered the author was a woman after my own heart.She was a Substitutor! Just like me! There was now hope. Instead of waiting for mostarda to be shipped from Cremona I had two possible substitutes- Mango Chutney or apricot jam mixed in equal measure with mustard. The latter I can do. And will do. Tonight. There will be pictures-

Before I end this post I will go back to Louis and Bill and Vernell. There is a scene in the movie "Out of Africa" where Denys Finch Hatton asks Baroness Blixen to make up a story, but only after he gives her the first line. Food for thought.

"It was Louis and Robert's first dinner party as a couple, and Bill and Vernell were puzzled over what they should bring as a hostess gift-".

Sunday, January 24, 2010

She is lying!

Do not believe a word my owner says. My little protege and I are only acting in self-defense. You see and hear about all the food she cooks and eats. What does she feed us? Econo Dog Crunchy Kibbles at 3 dollars for 5 pounds. Well we showed her. That crap has orange dye # 13 in it and last week we threw it up all over the rug. That dye is never coming out! She better watch out now that I know how to type on the computer. That is the real reason I learned to stand on my hind legs for hours. If she would just get a shorter stove maybe I could cook my own meals.

Please allow me to introduce myself-

The Canine Kitchen Corp

Anyone who wonders what it would feel like to be under 24 hour surveillance by the CIA, the FBI, and Homeland Security has obviously never owned a beagle. Dog experts do not think highly of the intelligence or trainability of the beagle. This underestimated little hound always makes the top ten dumbest dogs list, but that is because his real genius lies in one area and one area alone- manipulating his owner into giving him food.

Any food. Of any kind. I have read that pet food companies will not use beagles for taste testing because the dog lacks the discrimination of the true gourmand. My beagle would eat a card board toilet paper roll if I acted as though it was food. He would puke it up later, hiding it behind the couch to save face.

The beagle misses no cue. The refrigerator door opening. The sound of a styrofoam take-out container opening. The slight clink of the can-opener. If one is in the kitchen and cannot see one's beagle tread carefully for you are about to fall over him . Did you really think he was in the other room? Anyone who does not believe me has only to enlarge some of the photos on this blog. Can anyone spot the beagle? It isn't difficult.

My beagle has perfected the art of standing up on his hind legs for minutes at a time. Working beagles find rabbits with their noses, not by standing up and scouting the horizon. I believe this evolution in beagle behavior came about with the invention of the kitchen counter . And they call beagles stupid! I once saw a show on Animal Planet about a lady dog trainer called into an English home where the beagle had learned to open the refrigerator and the pantry door. I felt this woman was racing against time to rehabilitate this dog before the animal dropped dead of morbid obesity or required costly Lap Band surgery.

Even as I write this post I am being watched. I went to heat up some coffee and was followed by the beagle and the Shih Tzu he is secretly training. I know what they are up to. One plans to trip me and the other plans to grab what I drop. Hot coffee! That should teach them. Humans can play this game too.

Good Morning!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Caveat emptor

I am 13 bucks poorer today from 2 nights of dining in the Cafetorium across Church Street. A victim of anomie and apathy, I ignored the brown bag and took my chances. I will have to say that 3 of the 6 dollars I spent that night were not wasted. The breakfast bar was open that night, and only rarely have I found its food infected by excessive spice. I had a puffy buttermilk biscuit covered with gravy, a 3 inch sausage patty, and wonder of wonders- Tater Tots, which are even more beloved than barbecue. I am not being ironic here. I am too much of a food snob to ever be seen dragging Tater Tots out of Publix in my canvas sack- Yet I cannot resist them. Crunchy, savory, salty. I could write an Ode To Tater Tots, and I probably will. There are never enough, and they sell out early. At the Other Big Hospital I once worked at there were people who only went to the cafeteria when the cook broke out the Tots.

I am embarassed to say I wanted more food, but I saw some gorgeous cold spaghetti at the salad bar. Perfect to go with my super mango flavored vitamin drink and the Tots. 15 minutes later I threw the pasta in the trash before it could melt my esophagus. The Pepper Pusher had now infiltrated the salad bar.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to re-eat it, and I wasted 7 bucks doing it. The chicken pot pie looked so good- It was covered by a nice crust of yellow cornbread that was edible. But this was a stealth attack- The Chicken and carrots below were saturated with pepper, coated with it. Marinated in it.

I would swear off the Cafetorium forever except for this- What if they have a fry basket of Tots?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

antique soup tureen

The Night Shift

The Tee-Tiny Kitchen is quiet today.Its refrigerator, pantry, and freezer are full of good things to eat, if only I had the will to use them. But I am suffering from what the world calls "jet lag" , and what I call "Night Rot'. Firemen, policemen, EMTs, nurses, ER doctors, grocery store stockers, taxi drivers,Mini mart clerks- they all know what I mean. It is the curse of nights. Procrastination. Apathy. It does not matter that I could cook calves liver and onions in the Venetian style. All I want is a French Bread pizza. I will settle for a grilled cheese sandwich.

Years ago I remember looking across the ICU nurses' desk at a nurse named Gary gray-faced and slumped in his chair. "Jesus", he said, Now I know what it feels like to be dead".

Night Rot means always having to say you're sorry. That the mini-blinds have an inch of dust. That you forgot to set the alarm and missed an afternoon matinee with a friend. That the beagle peed the rug, and you didn't find it till the stain had gone beyond Oxy-clean. A friend with a colorful youth once told me that working nights was like like taking drugs- one always had great plans that always came to nothing. And every night a city full of people will feel like this. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. I will clean the apartment and reward myself with a trip to McKay's Used Books. But now - I want more coffee. And something to eat. How about Boursin spread on toast? Oh wait- I ate that when I came home this morning. No matter. I would eat Spam if I had a can -

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fennel slaw on Limoges

Here is a photo of the Fennel salad I posted a while back. I do not enjoy salads composed of huge piles of lettuce that make me feel like a cow chewing her cud. A very simple salad to make.

Fennel slaw salad

Too much news

After several days of watching too much news-political and global- I have opted to turn the channel to Music Choice and listen to a rhapsody by Delius.I was feeling all the terrible "a" words- Apathy, anomie, anxiety,agitation, anhedonia, and ambivalence.Donating a little to Doctors without Borders made me feel more hopeful until I read their planes were being turned away from landing in Haiti.

I used to be able to listen to classical music on our public radio station, but no more. They have gone to an all jabber most of the time format.What a sad situation- to be grateful to Comcast for Telemann instead of to NPR.How soothing it is to listen to the wonderful orderly elegance of Baroque music. We should not allow dim-witted chatter, and gossip, and trivia into every waking moment of our lives.

My plans to make Bongo-Bongo soup this past weekend went astray.This is one of the signature dishes of Trader Vic's restaurant. I ate at the old Trader Vic's in Boston many years ago. Pu-Pu Platters and Mai-tais paid for by the U.S. Veterans Administration. The V.A was a generous employer back then. They paid for the hotel room, the nursing seminar,and the mileage. Add to that the faux exotica of Trader Vic's tiki torches and Polynesian decor! I remember nothing of the seminar. I cannot remember who I drove to Boston with, but I remember eating at Trader Vic's! I was under the impression that the whole restaurant chain had closed. I was wrong. Their website shows perhaps a dozen restaurants in the U.S, two in Germany, one or two in Britain, zero in France, and what look to be at least 100 in the Middle East! Dubai, the UAE,Azjerbajan- all the places one imagines restless oilmen sitting around glad there is someplace to get a drink.

We are about to get pounded by rain and thunder. No tornadoes though. One of these days I will post my tornado poem. It appears that I used to be able to spit out verse on any subject. Possums. Ants in a Flowerpot. Hummingbirds. Sad to say that poetry has fled. Now I blog and and try to put the seat of my pants in the seat of my chair so as to get back to work on my hospital novel-

My old garden roses

Old roses

The most durable roses I ever grew in my Nashville garden were the old shrub roses.Modern shrub roses such as the "Knockout" roses have taken their place now, for they are more disease resistant and are ever-blooming. Yet I do not think they can compare with the way too transient beauty of the resplendent old roses with their elegant French names. Here is a poem I wrote a few years back about my old roses-

Mme. Isaac Pereire Meets Zephirine Drouhin

Wives of bankers-

Courtesans. The notorious

Women of Paris.

Everywhere- this festival of gowns.

Double carmine. Half double. Quartered

In one fine moment of absolute crinoline

Before the mildew and blackspot

When they are only once, in spring.

And if Degas with his brush stood here

He would see my carnival

While the sightless- so many-

Would see only roses.

poem written by Elizabeth Sprague

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bait and switch

The word went out last night at 11:30 that the menu hotline at The Big Hospital Across Church Street was predicting pulled pork barbecue in the cafetorium. Barbecue! On a bun! Forget the catfish fillet and fennel slaw in the brown bag I'd brought in. Splurge! Why not? I was down to 12 bucks in the bank account, but in 2 hours my Direct Deposit ship was coming in. Barbecue! I took off across the quartermile skywalk with my debit card. "Where's the barbecue?" I asked Mr Happy, the peevish night cook. Mr Happy did not like people who made him grill cheeseburgers. He wanted everyone eating from the hot line. I thought he would be pleased with people craving barbecue. But There was no barbecue that I could see. Only Cheesy Big Lumps and UFOs (unidentified fried Objects). Mr Happy looked shame-faced ."We ran out of barbecue. We thought we had some, but we had to put out pizza instead".

I did not want Cafetorium pizza that was burnt on the outside and uncooked dough on the inside. So my meal was catfish fillet after all, with a cup of marinated mushrooms from the salad bar.

"It was a hoax." I announced to my disappointed co-workers. "We're screwed now", someone muttered. They all regretted not having ordered Hot Wings earlier when the Wing Zone was open. I knew what was coming next. They would send out a hunting party 2 blocks to the Jack in the Box. Safety in numbers to dodge the rats and the street people. What choice did they have? They were hungry. And everyone knows there is no hungry like Night Shift Hungry.

Hounds in the Tee-tiny Living room

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Opposum Poem

I do not think anyone has written an Ode To a Possum before, but a few years back I managed to do it. It is called "The Possum On the Porch'.

He takes a donut with his feet
(So strangely pink!)
He is not neat.
He crumbles it,
Then snuffs it down.
Tossing remnants all around,
While behind the glass
My Cock-a-Poo
Knows what she would like to do.
To her - he is the Holy Grail-
Prize Supreme of a doggy tale.
But he would only disappoint.
He'd slump and keel
His tail ajoint.
Playing dead would be a bore.
It's best for the dog-
To be behind the door.

A poem by E Sprague

The state hero of Tennessee

Mario Batali, the chef, once described the pig as " The National Hero of Italy". The pig is the State Hero of Tennessee as well, though here he shares his title with another state icon- the catfish. I pan-fried a catfish fillet last night for dinner. I dipped it in egg , then rolled it in a half cup of flour seasoned with a teaspoon of Creole seasoning. 6 minutes on each side and it was crunchy and buttery and moist on the inside. My fillet was farm raised, and I was grateful for it, even though wild catfish are one of the few fish I can hook and land. I practice catch and release with them, since the logistics of cleaning them are so daunting. I read somewhere that they are easy to clean as long as one has a board, a nail, a hammer, and pliers. These are not items that I am in the habit of packing for a holiday out of town. And remember too, that all the while the hungry fisherman ( or woman) is trying to subdue this fish, the fish is trying to sting and maim.

The owner of a cabin I used to stay at on Kentucky Lake told me that he had spoken to one of the men who constructed the Interstate 40 bridge over the Tennessee River, and that this man and the other bridgeworkers were afraid to go into the water because " the catfish down there were as big as cars". He also told me about men who go into the water and stick their arms into catfish caves and then into catfish gullets, dragging the fish out by the throat. I found this hard to swallow. It sounds as plausible as the Urban Legend of The Choking Doberman. Then I saw videos about this on You-tube. I still do not know whether to believe this, but this I do believe- that if this sport does exist I'll bet it involves a lot of beer.

Catfish Farming ! The Book!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

or this

You won't find this at Ikea or Bed Bath or Beyond

Old lamp shade from Buried Treasures- now free standing


I woke this morning realizing that some may not have heard about NYC's Mayor Bloomberg announcing a war on salt. He wants New York restaurants to cut back on salt in what they cook. It is my feeling that this is none of his business. Surely the Mayor of the town I was born in can find more pressing problems that need his attention. Anyway- the biscuits I made last night would really have upset His Honor- The recipe was from Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking, and it called for LARD! The biscuits were delicious. I cut them out with biscuit cutters I bought at an estate sale last month. They are the round shiny things with handles in my photo of the biscuits and the LARD. A woman I worked with once told me she did not think she could live with the humiliation of going through a supermarket checkout with a can of lard. I felt no such shame. But then again the only reason I stop in front of the "Healthy Cooking" section at McKays is to see if a stocker has shelved any volumes of Richard Olney's The Good Cook there by mistake.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In Honor of Mayor Bloomberg

a cook's tour of San Francisco

The Hive

I worked a 12 hour shift last night,slept a mere 4 hours today, and doubt I will have much culinary energy tonight.( Though I have been surprised before by a second wind out of nowhere). I work in a part of downtown Nashville that I call the Hive. Here one is never more than 15 seconds away from another siren or 5 minutes away from an another Lifeflight helicopter. Vanderbilt Medical Center looms to the east.Some people call it the Wonderbilt, and the students in the dorms around it call their campus The Vanderbubble. To the west is Centennial Hospital, flagship of the Frist empire. And in the middle is Baptist- The hospital that straddles Church Street and which in its history has consumed many city blocks, then spit them out as parking garages. Let us not forget the Hutton Hotel, the Loew's Vanderbilt, the Red Ball Garage, the Cathedral of the Incarnation, The Jack in the Box ( Preferred after hours hangout of the city's taxi fleet), a Taco Bell, an Indian restaurant,several gay bars, and of course the corner Krispy Kreme. I never see the Metro police at any of these eateries. Not surprising. An old cop guarding a prisoner who was a guest in the Catholic Hospital I once worked in told me his fellow officers only ate at places they were certain no one would feed them ground glass. Yes- Hayes Street has intriguing aromas. An intoxicating combination of curry, exhaust fumes, and sugary donuts. I love it. Ah- city air! I love it.

And back to this morning's most interesting incident. I looked out of one of my patient's windows just before dawn today , and I saw dozens of really large black birds wheeling around over the garage. I knew they could not be vultures, though I was disappointed by this. I love a cheap and easy metaphor as much as any other writer, and who would not jump at the chance to mention vultures in the same sentence as Bill Frist, HCA, cut throat Nashville hospital politics, dying downtown restaurants, and decline in general? No such luck. The birds were crows, who I am sure were dumpster diving and patrolling for french fries dropped in the parking lots. I had never expected crows to prove to be so urban, but then again who would have thought Peregrine Falcons would nest on the Nashville Electric Services building and feast on fat pigeons. Or that an old friend- the dear and late Jennesse Aurandt- would hear scratching at the ICU back fire escape door one night at the Catholic hospital in town and would find a possum trying to get in .

I may post later tonight for I have found recipes from the original Trader Vic's restaurant in San Francisco. I found them in another 2 buck bargain from McKay's- Mrs Doris Muscatine's "A Cook's Tour of San Francisco" published in 1963. I now have recipes for Rumaki and Bongo-Bongo Soup. I intend to cook the latter this weekend after I am paid. I have to buy canned pureed oysters, A-1 sauce, MSG, whipped cream, and Gerber's spinach baby food, though the recipe does not specify how many jars. Doesn't it sound good!

Lastly I found two small buttercups blooming today at Edwin Warner park. This was in the bottomland along the Little Harpeth River. Winter is not for long in Tennessee!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Beach houses Cape San Blas

Looking toward St Joseph Bay

Cape San Blas Florida

The American Riviera

For everyone tired of the cold I thought I would post a few pictures from an autumn vacation on Cape San Blas, Florida 2 years ago. No more posts today. I must go to work-

Hall Pottery mixing bowls

The corn puff

The preceding photo is of a corn puff, a dish of my own creation. It was not inspired by a book or a recipe , but by an 8.75 oz can of corn I found in my cupboard. What do do with it? I imagined eggs. 2 eggs. A quarter cup of half and half. A teaspoon of sea salt. 4 tablespoons of melted Cajun Finishing Butter that I bought at Publix. I tossed all the forementioned into a bowl, mixed it up with a fork, then poured it into this little brown casserole dish-with-a-handle. I did not butter the dish. I cooked this in a 400 degree oven until the top was golden and a skewer I stuck in the puff came out clean. I believe this took about 20 minutes. The puff did not disappoint. I feared it might have souffle-ish tendencies and that it might collapse, but this did not happen. It was most tasty. Proof that with the right principles one can get away from always going by the book.

The small brown casserole I used was a second-hand shop treasure bought for a few bucks at Buried Treasures out on Highway 100 in Fairview Tennessee. I have found everything from a vintage swing coat to an antique food mill there. I prefer a second hand kitchen where nothing matches and everything is unique. See the pink Hall pottery bowls in the next photo!

Corn Puff photo

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Possum recipes

Now here is a cheap, abundant source of protein! These two photos are of Mary Land's "Louisiana Cookery". She also gives recipes for "A brace of Starlings", and "Curried Coot Breasts". And did I forget the "Mud-Hen Casserole"? Last but not least-Chipmunk! "Dress the animal and remove the kernels. Miss Land writes. "Sprinkle with orange juice and rub with butter." This reminds me of an old Cajun joke I read in someone else's cookbook though I can't remember which one. A Cajun man and his wife see three little green men emerging from a space ship that has landed by the bayou. "What are they?' the woman asks. "Never mind" said her husband "You boil some water and I'll get my rifle." Talk about Alien ET-touffe!

Possum Louisiana style !

Mary Land's Louisiana Cookery

The tee-tiny kitchen

This latest photo is a look at my galley kitchen.The island makes it look even smaller, but I just will not give up that piece of marble.It also keeps me mindful of how much I eat. How humiliating it would be not to be able to fit into my own kitchen!

I thought I might post a word as to how I came to be called "Miss Betsy". The "Miss" came from my co-workers, and as far as I can tell no one under 40 is ever called "Miss"' It seems to be a term of respect for age, whether or not one really is a "Miss". Think of "Miss" Daisy King, the on and off Nashville Martha Stewart. And what about the late Miss Mary Bobo, a legendary proprietor of a Tennessee boarding house ? It seems I am in good company.

The tee-tiny kitchen

paperwhites and phalenopsis

Estate sale find

The oil painting in the photo is a Simone Barbie that I bought at an estate sale in Belle Meade. Barbie was a French painter whose work was done around 1938. I am a Francophile who loves French art, style, food, and design.

Simone Barbie painting

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Snowy day cookbooks.

Here are some cookbooks that are good reading for a snowy afternoon-

Mrs Appleyard's Kitchen by Louise Andrews Kent

The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth by Roy Andries de Groot.

Clementine in the Kitchen by Samuel Chamberlain

The Old World Kitchen by Elizabeth Luard

Honey From a Weed by Patience Gray

any book by Elizabeth David

Simple French Food by Richard Olney

The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis

Remember that you can get any of these through inter-library loan !

Beautiful soup, so rich and green

I wonder if the soup of Lewis Carroll's poem was split pea soup, the richest and greenest soup I know. I made some last night, and had it for lunch today. It is a good soup for a cold winter day of undecided snow flakes- the flurries that wander up and down and sideways.

This soup is easy-

1 bag of dried split peas
2 cans of chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups of water

1 cup of diced ham (I used country ham.)

1 bay leaf
Sea salt to taste
2 garlic cloves sent through a garlic press
a quarter stick of butter
3 carrots- peeled and diced.

Start by putting the peas in a colander and washing them with cold water. Then put them into the soup pot along with everything else. Cover the pot and cook on medium heat until the soup boils. Lower the heat and simmer the soup until the peas melt to a puree. You will need to add more water from time to time until this soup is ready as the peas swell and absorb liquid. If you neglect to do this you will have green pea baby food. And that is it! Anyone has time to cook this through a snowy weekend afternoon. Serve it with grilled cheese sandwiches for a late lunch or supper.

I will go on the record as admitting that I use canned stocks. I do not think there is any shame in this. Julia Child talks about how to use canned stock in her "Way to Cook". In this case it may be that the perfect is the enemy of the good.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Brown bagging it and a 60 cent raise

I am fortunate to have gotten a sixty cent an hour raise this year. I work for a for profit hospital, but my friends who still work at one of the big non-profits here in Nashville have had no raises or cost of living adjustments and have been told not to expect any.In better times, when I paid my way through life with my Citi card, I would have been contemptuous of 50 cents plus a dime more an hour. No more. 700 bucks will fill my gas tank 14 times. It will buy 700 cans of dog food.Since I have been forced into accepting the new Age of Frugality I try to look at all matters financial this way.
This also means no more cafeteria food from the Big Hospital Across the Street where dinner usually costs four bucks plus change. One never knows how much the bill there will be- even the cashier doesn't know until her machine tells her. No one asks either. The only questions there are for the cook. "What is that?" we ask, eyeing the big lumps beneath the Mystery Sauce de Jour. The cook scowls,knowing that we will be ordering a burger and fries. He sighs and starts slamming around, a martyr to the fry basket. We leave, feeling guilty ,but we are happy not to have been fooled into buying Big Lumps with a side of de-natured corn (saltless. Tasteless. Yet heart Healthy!!).
But even burgers add up and before a month is out we are appalled to see that we have spent 75 dollars on cafeteria food. That is a quarter of our cable and Internet bill! It is clearly time to bring out the Tupperware from the back of the cabinet.
Tonight I am bringing in pasta shells with a condiment of sauteed mushrooms I found in a freezer bag. I cooked 2 cups of shells in a lot less water than pasta usually expects and found this made no difference. I steamed the ice off the mushrooms by heating them through in a no stick skillet. I added a few big pats of butter, a half cup of heavy cream, 3 smushed up garlic cloves and some grated Parmesan.I coked this until it thickened. Then I saw the 2 last slices of proscuitto sitting on an egg carton. In they went. I had this pasta for lunch. I will eat it again tonight at work. One must frequently sacrifice variety for frugality in these times when the bank account is only in the mid double digits and there is a week to go before the next paycheck and the gas tank is down to a quarter full.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cream of Vegetable soup and Fennel salad

After making 2 quarts of vegetable stock yesterday I knew I had to do something with the onion, the fennel stalks, the carrots , and the potato that were left. I am no longer in a position ( Are any of us?) to waste anything. I put the vegetables through my antique conical food mill, then added back some stock, some butter and cream. It was today's lunch. Frugality is new to me,and it was re-inforced yesterday by a headline I saw about English pensioners who were burning second hand books to keep warm since the books were cheaper than coal. I have never had to burn my books, though I was so broke last spring that I had to sell my "Mastering the Art Of French Cooking Vol. 1 and 2" along with my Nigella Lawson's at McKay"s so I could get gas to get to work. ( I have since replaced the Julia Child books). This also ties in with an article I saw this morning on The sky is always falling at, but there may be truth to their prediction of massive food shortages in 2010. Picture egg rationing. Goldman-Sachs first and the rest of us getting what is left over.
The fennel salad I made was more of a fennel slaw. Fruit is so expensive in winter that I have to limit myself to an occasional clementine, and this salad is crunchy and fresh, just like fruit. I put a fennel bulb, a half a red onion, and three peeled carrots through the julienne blade insert of my food processor and there was was the salad-slaw. I dressed it with sea salt, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. I can see adding pine nuts or olives in the future. Perhaps even chopped dried apricots.
Going back to work looms over this afternoon. Even worse is a prediction of snow tonight.This is not Minneapolis, and the thought of Nashvillians driving in snow is terrifying. I would not want to be working at Kroger or Publix today for my fellow citizens will be in a milk and eggs panic. I will creep along in in second gear. Let everyone else drive 40 right into a ditch!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

la cuisine de bonne femme

Having some extra time tonight since I am hiding inside from the cold I thought I might post tonight about the kind of cooking I aspire to. I saw the term in the introduction to Olney's Lulu's Provencal table and that term is la cuisine de bonne femme- the cooking of the good wife. In other words- good home cooking. I am not a good wife since I am no wife at all and never have been. I am too stubborn, opinionated,and fractious to have ended up as anyone's grandmother. But I am a good cook, though I am self taught. I love to eat and even though I only cook for myself I do not mind the effort. 15 years ago my passion was gardening, but now that I live in an apartment I must be content with a shady porch and a sunny foyer and the constraints of digging in containers. I love my plants, but my passion for them has dimmed into mere affection. Passion needs to burn somewhere, and now the conflagration is in my tiny kitchen. I do not know how many cookbooks I can stuff into this small space, but if it requires evicting my Library of America Faulkners I will do it. My father loved Faulkner, but one reading of Light in August was enough for me. I can always find the Snopes family at the library though probably not in the Bellevue branch which is entirely devoted to James Patterson and Ladyfiction. I opt though to keep Richard Olney and James Beard here with me. My cookbooks are now not only in the kitchen, but also in my little dining room. I have no doubt that they are headed by manifest destiny to reach the far shores of my bedroom. I once collected gardening books this way, but most of them have been sold off or given away.
When I moved here from New England I brought no cookbooks with me. I did have a blue LeCrueset skillet I bought for my first apartment when I graduated from nursing school. Now it hangs in my kitchen It is a well-travelled skillet. 2 years ago it travelled the Gulf Coast with me . I kept it in a cooler in the back seat. It visited Cape San Blas,St George Island, Cedar Key, Fort Morgan, and Fairhope Alabama. In fact I brought most of my serious cookware with me since most guest cottages stock only paper thin fry pans since people who live to cook on vacation are so rare-
The past few months have been my Golden Age of cookbook collecting because I finally discovered McKay's over on Charlotte Avenue. I will write about the wonders of this bookstore in another post. Lest anyone think I post and read and never share what I have cooked let me end by saying that today I made homemade mayonnaise under the guidance of James Petersen. I whisked it by hand then added garlic so I could claim two triumphs in one day. Aioli! Later I made 2 quarts of vegetable broth. If I could break my bondage to Hellman's, I could surely save money on Swanson's as well. Goodnight to everyone and to all the ships at sea. I will go to bed tonight dreaming of all the photos I will post as soon as I can persuade one of my friends Techno Whiz kids to teach me how to do it.

the Carry- in

Yesterday I found Paula Wolfert's "Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean " at the library. I was reading through the introduction today thinking about how much pleasure some cultures get from so little and how little pleasure Americans get from having so much. Food, for example. I have been thinking about all the holiday "carry-ins " I have been to lately and how little pleasure there is in them. A "carry-in" is Southernese for potluck, and the ones I have seen this season have been sad affairs. I can remember the potlucks we used to have when I worked at Nashville's catholic hospital. These were lively and convivial. The conference room table bloomed with crockpots. No one cared if three people brought the same old green bean casserole with french fried onions. It was the intent that mattered. People ate and enjoyed, then hurried back to work so that others could eat and enjoy.
Things have changed. Potlucks at the place I work now mean six giant bags of corn chips and one half pint jar of salsa. Supermarket cookies with the chewy tenderness of a DVD. Pink shrimp in a plastic clamshell container -half defrosted and tasting like wet facial tissue. Tepid appetites and disgruntled attitudes. The other night - New Years day eve- I saw a nurse trying to cut himself a slice of ham at the potluck table ordered to move so that another nurse could see the TV. Those beautiful southern manners, thought I. A kindly older nurse had spent her own money that night to order 5 boxes of pizza for 20 people. 5% of the staff took 95% of the pizza without remorse.
How did it come to this I wondered? I knew some people hadn't brought anything because they could not afford to. These were our nurse technicians- the working poor. They resented being asked to bring in food for people they worked with when these techs could hardly afford to feed their own families. I could understand this except that many of these same people spent precious dollars on lottery tickets every week and on take-out from the Wing Zone most nights they worked. And then there is the way too tired to cook crowd who work five and six 12 hour shifts a week at 2 jobs and commute 60 miles a day. Who could expect more than a Kroger pumpkin pie from them? I have not yet mentioned the Lap Band tribe. Half the female nurses I work with have had Lap Bands and another quarter are scheduled to have one. How much of a pleasure can cooking be when you submit to this? I would think one's relationship to food would be permanently tainted . When did so many of us become so fearful or disrespectful of food?
I consider myself blessed that I can take pleasure in elderberry syrup on homemade french tost, in Crawfish Pie and cream soup and turnip gratins with cream and butter. This is nothing less than taking pleasure in the world and in life. It is no mean thing. I think of seeing our Nashville Kurdish immigrants last Christmas having their great open air party at Edwin Warner Park. They had tripods cooking srews and braziers grilling lamb. Their children brought their bikes, their young men played soccer, their young women strolled, and their older people smiled and watched. So much joy in their new life here. I admire them. I wish more Americans were like them. Until the next time then.

as promised, though in a slightly different direction

In the 2 days since her introductory post Miss Betsy has been at odds with her Internal Critic and her Internal Editor, both of whom have reservations about her writing about herself in the third person. The critic thinks this style comes across as too arch . The editor thinks it may irk readers and sour them on her blog. Miss Betsy has considered this carefully and has agreed to be open minded, and to start writing in the first person. She reserves the right to go back to any voice she likes, since after all- this is HER blog. More on the Southern version of a workplace potluck- the carry- in- later in the day and also some musings on hospital food. And perhaps a word about Richard Olney and his Turnip Gratin recipe from Simple French Food. I cooked this yesterday for the third or fourth time, and recommend it unreservedly. I might also talk about the elderberry syrup I had yesterday on French toast. French toast you can get anywhere. But Elderberry syrup- More later.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


As Miss Betsy introduces herself she wishes to apologize in advance to any readers who come to her blog expecting down-home and folksy. Miss Betsy was born in New York City and grew up in New England , and she is not down home. In spite of this the people of Nashville- a great city known as both an Ideopolis and the new Ellis Island- have accepted her as an honorary Tennessean. For her part, Miss Betsy will tell anyone who listens that her opinion that Vermont is the most beautiful state in the union was wrongheaded. Miss Betsy is now loyal to Tennessee, and she feels Vermont and Tennessee are tied for first place. How sad it would be not to love the place you live in. And as for Miss Betsy's kitchen- it is indeed "tee-tiny", a word she borrowed from a co-worker from Louisiana, a woman far more folksy than Miss Betsy could ever be. That her kitchen is small does not bother Miss Betsy. She cooks for one, though her 2 dogs would disagree, having sampled most of what she cooks. The tee-tiny kitchen is big enough for good cooking, for reading, for writing, for looking out the south facing window at Edwin Warner Park, one of the glories of Nashville. In this kitchen three nights ago Miss Betsy continued her New Years eve tradition of Lamb. Not cooking it since she was waiting to go to work, but reading- Charles Lamb's essay on New Years Eve and the day after that he calls "the Nativity of our common Adam." Miss Betsy has loved Charles Lamb since she read his description of another clerk at the Customs House as a man whose "mind was in its original state of white paper.". Miss Betsy knows many co-workers and others who fit this description. They will not be reading this blog so she feels free to say so. She intends to devote this blog to her cooking, her library of cookbooks , her wider reading, her opinions, the city she lives in , the little "entertainments" she writes for herself, her dogs, her container gardens, and last though not least- her estate sale adventures. She has decided to devote her first real post to the "Carry-in"- that workplace fixture of the holidays that inspires dread in some and a fast trip to Krogers in others. Miss Betsy regrets this introduction must end now, but she is headed out to see "Sherlock Holmes" with a friend.