Friday, November 30, 2012

A Must Read

Arts and Letters Daily, that very best of web sites, has an article tonight from the New English Review by one G. Murphy Donovan. It is titled "The Culture in Kitchens", and here is how it begins-

"There are four clear threats to the modern family, and possibly civilization: cell phones; video games;the Internet; and junk food. We allow the first three because they are cheaper than tutors, private schools, or nannies. Indeed, games and gadgets support a kind of electronic autism where neither parent or child speaks to each other until the latter is old enough to drive".

Anyone who can write or think like this gets my attention. An accomplished satirist. A sort of 21st century Twain. Here is more of the painful truth:

"Grazers are families who eat separately at home where preparation, menu, or timing is irrelevant. Grazers usually feed their kids like pets-on demand from cans and packages".

This I can also appreciate, as I feed a beagle on demand, and as everyone knows, the beagle, like the Great White Shark, is one of Nature's Eating Machines.

I like to think that if I had a family I would feed them at table, at one time, and feed them well. Alas, I am a misanthropic hermit without husband or child, but I do feed myself well, as though I did have a hungry family.But I get to eat all the cherry chiffon pie. Unless the beagle begs for a piece-

Who among us has not seen and been appalled by "electronic autism". I used to see it nightly in the nurses' lounge where people ate in silence whilst twittering, texting, and watching "House Hunters International". In the old days conversation at the break room table could be entertaining, for we talked about who was quitting, who had been "written up", and who our night staff supervisors were dallying with in empty rooms. No more. Even gossip has met its match and been wrestled to the ground and throttled.

A threat to civilization indeed!

*This article is in the November issue of the New English Review.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Aside from my two dogs, these cabinets are my best possessions. I bought them several years back at the Bellevue Antique Mall. They brought a bit of France to my apartment, even though I am certain they were painted by some folk artist here in Tennessee. He or she must have been French at heart. Who knows who owned them before. Were they in a farmhouse? Or did they come from one of the wonderful vintage homes down off West End Avenue? A mystery.

But this I know- only death could have separated them from their owner.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Breakfast Chili

Several years back, when I had more money to travel than I do now, I would drive over to Reelfoot Lake in extreme north west Tennessee to stay at the Blue Basin Cove Bed and Breakfast, owned by Mrs Nancy Moore. I went to bird watch and fish, and I went to walk the dirt roads atop the great levees.

Landside, I looked out over fields of sorghum and cotton. Corn fields born of the farmers' ethanol dreams and rice paddies flooded to attract Snow Geese and ducks as they left the North Country for the Mississippi Flyway, that immense avian migratory river.

And if I turned as I stood, if I turned my back on the farm fields, I would look down onto the flood plain and over at the Father of Waters- the Mississippi River.

Wide in high water and narrowed by sandbars visible in drought- no matter what season it was, no matter if it was spring with sweet songs from Baltimore Orioles in the cottonwoods or winter with wintering bald eagles in the trees, the Great River was always carrying the barges relentlessly up and down. So travel the goods of a nation.

Nancy Moore told me one day about the cooks who signed on for lengthy river trips and fed the bargemen three squares a day. And had I not been locked down by dogs I thought I might run away and become a barge cook-

When I made this chili con carne this morning with country breakfast sausage as the meat, I thought about the bargemen, for this is just the kind of food they would eat as they came southward past the sandbars and eddies and dangerous sunken trees-

Fried eggs, hash browns, corncakes, pancakes, biscuits, bacon, sausage- food for the working man with a long ,and at times, anxious day.

Breakfast Chili

1 pound breakfast sausage, crumbled

1 medium yellow onion,diced.

2 tbs olive oil

One 28 oz can good quality diced tomatoes

Two 15 oz cans kidney beans

Salt to taste

Chili Powder to taste. I used about two tablespoons

1/2 teaspoon Adobo seasoning(optional)

A few drops of Yucatan Sunrise or some other Habenero hot sauce(Optional)

Saute the onion in the olive oil until it is golden and soft. Then add the sausage in pieces, and as it cooks break it up with a wooden spoon. Do this over medium heat.

When the sausage is cooked through add the kidney beans and the tomatoes. Do not drain the beans, but add the bean liquor to the pot.

Stir well, then begin to add the seasonings. This dish can absorb a lot of chili powder, and only you know how little or much you want.

The same can be said of how much salt you add. Add the adobo and hot sauce if you like. Lower the heat to low medium and allow to cook another fifteen minutes or so.

This should serve at least four.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Thanksgiving Post Mortem Post

I am out of the habit of holidays. For during my forty years as a registered nurse I have never had more than a handful off. In the years when it was not my turn to work Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve I worked the holiday anyway, filling in for people to whom these days meant more than they did to me.

But now my job does not require I work holidays at all, and the regular staff is not allowed to replace themselves with an " as needed" worker as expensive as I would be making time and a half.

I had two sweet invitations to dinner, but I turned both down. I am not much for mandatory merriment, and I loathe turkey, so this gave me a quiet day to cook garlic chicken and listen to Aaron Copland and George Gershwin on WQXR on-line. It was one of the best holidays I have ever spent.

In the flush 80's when the Catholic hospital I worked at was successful, the nuns gave out turkeys during the holidays. I always gave my bird away. Alas that hospital, now deep in the red, no longer even offers cafeteria service and hot meals to its night staff. A heartless and pointless decision. In my opinion.

But I digress, for the subject was turkey. How much better a holiday Thanksgiving would be with a pork loin or a pot roast or a nicely browned roast chicken.

For the problem with Thanksgiving is that people who never cook or do not know how to cook think that they have to, and the turkey is not a roast for amateurs to inflict on family or guests. Even I, who have some culinary skill, would not attempt to roast a bird the size of a bulldog and expect to produce something edible.

How I remember my last family Thanksgiving. My aunt cooked the turkey, and the men folk announced to the table how relieved they were that the turkey was not too dry. Faint praise indeed, for a dutiful meal. At this point one of the male family comedians might have made a joke that the turkey tasted like chicken.

But even they could not get away with that. It did not taste like chicken. It tasted like paper towels.

Stuffed with food we felt too guilty not to eat, we would then settle in front of the TVs, where there were two options for holiday viewing- Football and "Tora! Tora! Tora".

"Touchdown!" yelled one screen. "Climb Mount Niitaka!" screamed the other. Entirely too much bellicosity for the women, who went out for a late walk along a wood road in the forest up the hill.

And since I have years of Thanksgivings ahead of me(I hope), I will opt for lighter, tastier fare, cooked by me, and enjoyed by me and my two hounds alone if necessary. I will be sufficiently thankful for that.

Yet out of the past I can still hear Admiral Yamamoto's voice booming from the TV screen.

"I am afraid that all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant", he intones.

Yes, we have.

It is The Great Turkey, Charlie Brown, and no one knows how to cook it-

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cozy November Days Indoors

Nashville had its first hard freeze last night, which makes it even cozier to stay inside.

The Estate Sale Diaries-November 23 and 24, 2012

This photo is from the Patterson Estate Sales website, and it shows some of what was for sale yesterday at a moving sale in West Meade. I went to the sale, which I thought had a whiff of New England about it. No Nashville Plantation Style here. Everything in the plain style. Braided rugs. Grandma Moses like primitive paintings. Simple furniture and lots of stoneware. Antique quilts that attracted a crowd. There were few books,only a handful of ladies'club ring binder cookbooks, but some real finds in the kitchenware department. For a few bucks I bought these. When I saw them I was no longer a 62 year old woman, but an 8 year old in my mother's Southington, Connecticut kitchen squeezing butter ccokie dough onto baking sheets. My mother had the same set. The press I bought yesterday had to have been at least 50 years old. The cake decorating set looks even older. I would guess it dates from the forties. No zip codes on the boxes and "cookie" spelled "cooky". Made in America, as well, back when America made things.

I also found this set of blue and gold glasses, with their elegant diamond and gilt motif-

And this decorative lidded pot-

And this stoneware baker in an unusual shape.

The second sale I went to was in senior housing near the neighborhood Catholic church. Despite finding a handsome Berndes 7 inch sauce pan (retail $99) for three dollars I found this a dispiriting sale for the house had the worst kitchen I have ever seen.It was as though the builders put up the house, then looked around and noticed they had forgotten the kitchen. "Oh, well",they must have said "We'll just stick it over here in this closet".
Cramped and windowless. An insult to food, to life ,and to the old person who lived there . Why do old people need to cook anyway was what this miserable little space seemed to say. They are just waiting around to die.
I could not get out of this sad place with its evil faux kitchen fast enough.
How heartbreaking these senior ghettos are-

Here is the saucepan-

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Thanksgiving Chicken

This recipe, from the incomparable"The Old World Kitchen-The Rich Tradition of European Peasant Cooking", by Elisabeth Luard, is a classic of French country cooking. It is simple. Simple enough for any novice. Indeed if some young person wanted to invite friends for dinner but found herself fearful of her skills, she would find this foolproof. Luard's recipe calls for a whole chicken cut up and cooked for an hour at 350 degrees in a tightly covered casserole or Dutch oven. The chicken keeps company for that hour with some sprigs of rosemary, a few shakes of Herbes de Provence, a wine glass of olive oil, and twenty cloves of unpeeled garlic.

I did not use a whole chicken. I used the drumsticks of three chickens, a half cup of olive oil, 10 garlic cloves, and the herbs already described, and then added salt to taste. Then I drizzled a little more oil over the chicken. And in an hour, it was done. I fished the chicken out with a slotted spoon, then looked down into a golden pool of olive oil suffused with herbs and garlic and chicken fat.

I needed a side, so out came the chef's knife and potato peeler and into the Dutch oven went three Yukon gold potatoes, sliced. An hour later they were done. Had I had a bigger Dutch oven, I could have added the potatoes in the beginning for a one pot meal. Nor would carrots have been a mistake, had I decided to add them.

One fire. One pot. One meal. That is how the peasantry ate. No eight burner twenty thousand dollar stoves, no Ruffoni or All-Clad cookware.

Luard collected classic recipes and tramped around in places such as the Carpathian Mountains talking to shepherds' wives about their chicken in sour cream recipes. The book's geography spans Scandinavia all the way to the Balkan states once threatened by the Ottoman Empire. It is history, culture, ethnography. In short-it is literature, which 99.9 percent of cookery books are not.

And as for Garlic Chicken, kings could not eat better.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Necessity is the Mother of Breakfast

An exotic sunrise led to an interesting breakfast made from a lone banana and 2 ounces of canned green diced leftover chiles I wanted to use up. I decided to make a frittata.

A frittata starts as an omelette, then ends up in the oven.My cast iron skillet can cook on stovetop and in the oven, so I used it for this dish.

Had I added more eggs my frittata would have been fatter, but I was satisfied with my results with two eggs. This was very easy to make, with most of the work done by the food processor. And it was delicious.

Two eggs

1 tablespoon of dulce de leche or just plain sweetened condensed milk

2 ounces of canned diced green chiles

1-2 teaspoons of vanilla sugar or plain sugar depending on how sweet you want it-

1 banana

Put all in a food processor and blend till foamy. Pour into a lightly buttered hot cast iron skillet and leave on medium high heat till the eggs begin to set. Then transfer to a 375 degree oven for five to eight minutes or until the frittata is set.
Remove, allow to cool slightly and garnish slices with guava jam.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Beef Stew with Fruits

When I find stew beef marked down I buy it,for I prefer my beef as a nugget in a stew rather than as a slab. I like a good conventional stew with carrots, onions, and potatoes, spiced by a little vinegar, some tomato paste and garlic, and bound together by flour, a corpulent fellow who thumbs his nose at long winters.

But this afternoon's recipe would regard flour as a fat man who tries to sit too close. This stew I think would be for cold nights in a brief winter, for it incorporates two fruits not from cold country- the pomegranate and the orange- and only one friut of the North- the apple. After that the other players are the same old crowd.

The apples go into this stew in chunks, just as the beef does. The pomegranate arrives as molasses, and the orange comes as a little juice, and some slices that some might eat, but that some cooks might discard before serving.

The ingredients list-

Four or five small red potatoes, peeled and diced

1/2 diced up yellow onion

Two carrots, peeled and cut into half moons

Two whole peeled garlic cloves

Two apples, peeled and cored and cut into chunks. I used small Jonathan apples from an economy bag and not those individual giant apples in rows with the little stickers on them as though they were prize steers at the county fair.

One tangerine or orange cut into three unpeeled slices.

One liter of chicken stock

One pound of stew beef .

Sea salt to taste

A one inch chunk of butter for the stew and a sliver to use to brown the beef in a cast iron fry pan.

A tablespoon of white wine vinegar to deglaze the cast iron pan.

A shake or two of Herbes de Provence

Three tbs of tomato paste

Two tablespoons pomegranate molasses-do not substitute pomegranate juice

Two tablespoons of orange juice

One bay leaf.

Saute the onion in butter right in the soup pot until it is soft and golden. Season with sea salt to sweat it. Remember that undercooked onions are a sin against soups and stews. Put them in raw and they will stay raw proclaiming to the world that you, the cook, are either careless or an amateur.

Brown the beef in a lightly buttered cast iron fry pan. When they are browned, and if the onions are ready add them to the soup pot. Deglaze the cast iron with the vinegar and scrape it in with the meat. Now add the chicken stock, and everything else.

Cover and simmer over over medium low heat. Do not boil this. This stew is not instant. Plan on a slowcooked two hours. Then remove the lid and allow the sauce to reduce by a third. Remove the bay leaf. Leave in the orange slices for someone, intrigued, will eat them. Add more salt to taste.

This recipe should serve four.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Estate Sale Diaries

The needs of my aging Toyota preclude estate saleing now, but when I saw these pictures I had downloaded from the estate sale company's email to customers I decided I had to post them. The sale was last summer, and I bought my Hall Pottery mixing bowls there.

The owner had collected mixing bowls and glassware, and I think her collection was stunning.

One of the best estate sales I ever attended!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Homage to Fred Astaire

Watching a Fred Astaire movie is better for a bad mood than an anti-depression pill. His graceful style and his dancing feet and the wonderful gowns on his leading ladies. Tonight I am watching him on Turner Classic movie station in "Three Little Words". Turner Classic is a a national treasure, and we are lucky that they show films all the other channels have put on the back shelf.
There is an elegance to these older movies, to the musicals, and the old westerns  To the black ties and the polished shoes. When was Fred ever disheveled? The carnation in the pocket, the black tie were always perfect.Nothing vulgar, no entire sentences composed of four letter words .Back then"gosh" was the closest  thing to an expletive heard on the screen .
And now Mr Astaire, dressed in a cranberry colored bathrobe is reading a newspaper ,and listening  to the radio. He is talking to his wife in person, not text messaging or playing on a computer, not watching football  on a big screen TV.This movie was released in 1950, the year I was born.
Ah, the fifties. They were a different world-There will never be another Astaire.