Monday, July 26, 2010

Among injured people there is an instantaneous bond.   Within 30 seconds, all the people in the subway car with injuries--broken arms, walking casts, sprained ankles--have made knowing eye contact.  Much in the same way that you immediately begin to notice every other red Jeep on the road once you get one yourself, your eye immediately, almost involuntarily, gravitates to those who are sharing your particular state of being.  It's an instant topic of conversation.  The waiting room at the orthopedic surgeon's office is a veritable cocktail party, with the requisite bad jokes ("You shoulda seen the other guy!" "Hey, doc, after I heal will I be able to play violin?") and easy-flowing conversation ("Dude, I'll NEVER try windsurfing again").

On Saturday night, I managed to break a big tendon in my thumb while I accompanied my son on a carnival slide ride.  Amazingly, I got in the door of a great surgeon today who will make it better.  I had to withdraw from a much-anticipated gig (the Monadnock Music Festival) because neither tendon surgery nor long-planned festival programming can wait.  I'll be in a cast for five weeks.  No beach, swimming, tennis, etc. for the rest of the summer.

It would be silly to say how tough it is to suddenly be a lefty, inasmuch as it is far from a permanent problem.  Rather, I'd prefer to focus on the fact that doing tasks requiring dexterity with the non-dominant hand supposedly develops the brain and can help stave off mental deterioration.  I am already developing some skill at one-handed shampooing, left-handed toothbrushing, and clutching bottles in my right elbow and wrenching them open with the left hand.  Whether this will prevent me from becoming senile in my dotage is a matter of speculation.  When I regain use of my hand, it will take me time to unlearn all this, much as the time when, returning from Brazil, I was unable to type for a week because my body had learned the Portuguese keyboard a little too well.

I am embarrassed to say that my left hand is still too weak to turn the (very stiff) key in my own door.  Nor can I type very effectively or floss my teeth (must master that today).  However, my temporary cast is a great thing on which to balance my book or hot cup of tea (it's basically a giant, rigid potholder).  In addition to being a conversation starter, my removable cast actually represents the difference between comfort and protection, and agony and fear.  I have never worn one in my life, and I expected it to be unwieldy, itchy, hot, and uncomfortable.  To my astonishment, it is none of the above.  So, my summer's plans have taken a different path, but it's alright.  I now have a whole new group of unexpected compadres everywhere I go.  Who knew?

All this comes hard on the heels of Charlie's accidentally attempting to ingest two nightshade berries--as few as two can prove fatal in children--found in a badly overgrown garden in our local park.  Poison control was called, as were the paramedics...who helped us determine that by "I ate them", Charlie actually meant "I put them into my mouth, intending to consume them, but upon discovering them to taste bad, I ceased masticating and ejected them from my mouth, but not before smearing a good deal of residue on my cheeks so as to adequately confound and distress my mother."  The paramedics departed, having revived us from our gratitude-inspired fainting spell, Charlie was totally fine, and the next day I hit the ER.  I can only manage what Aetna will think.

So these are the latest in a year filled with unexpected, occasionally agonizing episodes.  At this point, I just plan to sit back and let the next five months unfold as they will, hoping for a better year next time (because of course, EVERYTHING will improve at the stroke of midnight on January first, twenty-eleven).  I have decided that this is The Universe's way of shoring us up for the future, building up a few psychic calluses just in case.  Funnily, this is not unwelcome.  If everything else that has happened so far HADN'T happened, I think I'd be feeling a lot sorrier for myself right now.  I realize this year has given me the gift of perspective and forbearance.   July, however, is probably the wrong time to make this observation... what if I suddenly strike it rich, become unimaginably famous, and achieve perfect self-awareness?  It will ruin everything.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Date Skirt

Given the frequency of my postings about food, you are probably wondering if this is a posting about some kind of ground date marinade for skirt steak (hmm, come to think of it, I'll have to try that sometime).  No, this is a posting about an actual skirt.

Long ago, ten years to be quite exact, I was a single woman living in New York City. More precisely, I was recently single and eager to meet some people.  I did not know at the time that in September of that year I would meet the man who would eventually become my husband.  I simply knew that I felt like going out on a few dates, like any reasonable woman in her early thirties might, and I bought some new clothes in anticipation of some evenings out.

The men I met (husband excepted) were underwhelming, but my go-to date skirt was great.  It was (is) knee length, cut narrow, and is black with a black mesh overlay imprinted with oversized roses in my favorite colors (red, orange, yellow).  I always fell back on this skirt because it was both demure enough to demonstrate that I was not out for a wild night of first-date debauchery, yet slinky enough to imply that I might be convinced over a series of evenings to dip my toes into the waters of tomfoolery.

Clothes always wind up hanging around in my closet too long.  Once in a while I'll have a fit of clear-mindedness and become able to follow the famous closet cleaning rule, which is "if it hasn't been worn in a year, out it goes".  The skirt has always stayed (along with a men's black-and-white polka dot shirt I've had since college that manages at once to look vintage and modern.  My dad borrowed it once when we were on vacation and he forgot to bring a dress shirt.  He looked like Errol Flynn.)

I'd be the first to admit that for not a few years now, especially since becoming a mom, my figure has been not quite as lissome as it was when I purchased the Date Skirt.  Although holding on to clothes (or worse, buying new ones in too-small sizes) in anticipation of the day one achieves one's goal weight is a cardinal sin, it should be said that this skirt wasn't a carrot at the end of a stick.  It is just a reminder of my last hurrah as a single person, and gazing upon it made (makes) me feel happy and empowered.

I got together today for a lovely lunch with a new friend.  She is dazzlingly-yet-effortlessly stylish, achingly lovely, and great fun to chat with.  I felt a need to come up with a Sufficiently Slick Outfit so I wouldn't feel abashed when seated next to her.  For the first time in a decade, I reached for the Date Skirt.  I paired it with black patent sandals, a clingy cap-sleeved tee shirt, my big, dangly gold filigree earrings shaped like leaves, a wrist-full of jangly gold bangles, and my favorite black quilted bucket bag.  Definitely a SSO.  It felt odd to have my past clinging once again to my hips, yet familiar and comforting.  I did not feel like the same hopeful, expectant newly-minted single person I was when last I wore it, but I felt close enough to bring a smile to my face.  To be honest, it's a big more snug than once it was.  But these days, my life and heart are feeling more snug than they did back then, too.  Which, I suppose, was the whole idea behind the Date Skirt in the first place.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Basket-Woven Bacon and Thurber Cookies

This is a sidebar to the various posts about my aunt and her life/death/memorial service.  My aunt was a major foodie, and of course it made sense to create a menu for her memorial luncheon that contained some of the foods people associated so closely with her.  I proposed a menu that included a homemade pâté de campagne (accompanied by crudités, Dijon mustard, cornichons, and freshly baked baguettes from the local bakery The Blue Duck); various forms of charcuterie and cheeses; a potato and green bean salad dressed with pesto; and of course, Stoned Wheat Thins.

I had never made a pâté before, but it isn't difficult.  The only part that can become difficult is the part where you (meaning I) decided to make a basket-weave/pie crust-style pattern of the raw bacon that lines the pan in which the pâté bakes.  This is not easy.  The recipe only asked that I lay the bacon in and up the sides of the pan, which is easy.

This is my recipe.  The only other difficulty I had was with the seasoning, because obviously you can't taste raw ground pork to see if you have enough salt/pepper/etc.  I suggest taking a spoonful of the fully mixed raw pâté, forming it into a small, flat patty, and quickly cooking it to taste for seasoning.  Suffice to say that the richness of the pâté demands fairly bold seasoning, so use a heavy hand with the pepper, allspice and thyme.

Serve at room temperature with a sprinkling of salt, cornichons, Dijon, and a baguette.

Yield: Makes 20 servings


3/4 cup Cognac

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup minced onion

2 1/2 pounds ground pork

12 ounces bacon (8 to 10 slices), finely chopped
14 ADDITIONAL bacon slices for lining pan [buy two packages]
3 garlic cloves, pressed

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons dried thyme

1 1/2 teaspoons allspice

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup whipping cream

1 6-ounce piece ham steak, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick strips

Coarse sea salt

Cornichons (tiny sour pickles)

Dijon mustard

  1. Set rack at lowest position in oven and preheat to 350°F. 
  2. Boil Cognac until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 1 1/2 minutes. Cool.
  3. Melt butter in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. 
  4. Add onion and sauté until soft and translucent but not brown, about 8 minutes.
  5. Combine ground pork and chopped bacon in large bowl. 
  6. Using fork or fingertips, mix together until well blended.
  7. Add sautéed onion, garlic, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, thyme, allspice, and pepper to bowl with pork mixture and stir until incorporated. 
  8. Add eggs, cream, and reduced Cognac and stir until well blended.
  9. Line 9x5x3-inch metal loaf pan with bacon slices, arranging 8 slices across width of pan and 3 slices on each short side of pan and overlapping pan on all sides. Using hands, lightly and evenly press half of meat mixture (about 3 1/4 cups) onto bottom of pan atop bacon slices. 
  10. Arrange ham strips over in single layer, lying longways [this is so you will get little ham squares in each slice]
  11. Top with remaining meat mixture.
  12. Fold bacon slices over, covering pâté [if your bacon strips are too short and don't actually cover the whole surface, it doesn't matter because this side of the pâté will be the bottom when served]. 
  13. Cover pan tightly with foil. 
  14. Place pan in 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan and transfer to oven. 
  15. Pour boiling water into the larger baking pan to come halfway up sides of loaf pan. 
  16. Bake pâté until a thermometer inserted through foil into center registers 155°F, about 2 hours 15 minutes.
  17. Remove loaf pan from baking pan and transfer to rimmed baking sheet. 
  18. Place heavy skillet or 2 to 3 heavy cans atop pâté to weigh down. 
  19. Chill overnight. 
  20. This can be made 4 days ahead.
  21. To unmold, place loaf pan with pâté in larger pan of hot water for about 3 minutes. Invert pâté onto platter; discard fat from platter and wipe clean. Cut pâté crosswise into 1/2-inch slices.

Here are some observations I made while making this recipe.

  • Cold bacon is much easier to work with than room-temperature bacon.
  • Don't even bother trying to hand-mince the bacon unless it's frozen.  I recommend putting large chunks of chopped frozen bacon in the food processor and pulsing over chopping it.
  • Before loading the pâté mixture into the pan, do my trick of making a mini-burger out of some of it and tasting for seasoning.  
  • The type of salt you use greatly impacts the overall saltiness of the finished recipe.  Regular table salt (such as Morton's) is very fine-grained, whereas Kosher salt is much larger and flakier.  A teaspoon of table salt has much less air in it than a teaspoon of Kosher salt.  If you are using Kosher salt when you make this, I recommend adding about another 1/2 teaspoon.  But again, you can mix, cook a patty, taste, and adjust if needed.
  • Another time, I'd take twice the number of ham strips (buy two steaks), and make three layers of pâté with two layers of ham instead of the one layer the recipe calls for.  Also, I'd buy extra cornichons and lay a few lines of them alongside the ham strips so we got little green dots in each slice.
  • After you bake the pâté and remove the foil, you will see a TON of liquid and fat has accumulated.  Be assured that MOST OF THIS IS LIQUID, NOT FAT!  Therefore, you really should let the meat sit in its juices for about 20 minutes so they redistribute through the pâté and keep it moister for serving.  You might also just leave the juices alone and weight/chill the pâté without draining at all.  If any gelatinous or fatty residue remains on the surface of the pâté after unmolding, you can gently scrape it off using a knife.

As for the Thurber cookie, I got a bee in my bonnet about Father's Day and couldn't think of anything to make for my own father that wasn't hopelessly twee.  I decided, instead, to bake him a giant cookie (about 10" x 8") depicting one of his favorite James Thurber cartoons (the caption is "Alright, have it your way. You heard a seal bark.")  This method is applicable to any relatively simple cartoon, or any design at all, I suppose.  For the best royal icing and sugar cookie recipes for this type of thing, search my blog posts from last December.  Roll out to the appropriate thickness, and lay baking parchment over the flat dough.  Using a pencil, sketch the OVERALL outline of the shape you want onto the paper, then using a very sharp paring knife cut out the design right through the paper.  To assure sharp borders, chill the cut dough for at least 15 minutes in the freezer before baking.  My dad liked it a lot...this kind of thing is right up his alley.  Maybe next year I'll do some Charles Addams.

More Memories of Shirley

I posted a version of this on my Facebook page, but wanted to post it again here for the benefit of those who attended Shirley's memorial party yesterday and requested the URL for my blog.  Should any of you read this and want digital copies of any of the photos you saw yesterday, please send me a message by posting a comment at the end of this blog entry.


Being able to hear the dogs barking themselves silly as you come down the driveway...

clamshell shards in lieu of asphalt...

burning feet at Flying Point beach...

homemade pesto with home-grown elephant garlic...

sauteed cherry tomatoes...

tennis on the TV...

the smell of Pall Malls...

the feeling of soft moss underfoot near the pond...

sweltering in the upstairs bedroom on summer nights...

taking the dogs to Carvel and then for a run on the beach...

going to grown-up parties and wandering around others' houses...

getting a lecture from Shirley and Tee Adams when all I wanted to do was watch the Miss America pageant...

the little copper saucepan in her kitchen...

triscuits and tomato juice in the fridge...

Ivory Snow by the washing machine...

the smell of Prell shampoo and showering outside on hot summer afternoons...

the magnetic soap holders...

bathing Charlie in the kitchen sink when he was a baby...

the coffee table imprinted with fossils of shells and tiny prehistoric animals...

the pictures of lions hanging in the stairwell...

being able to hear the train whistle at night, which for years blew the exact same notes that form the first orchestral chord of Debussy's "L'Apres Midi d'un Faune"...

the excitement of seeing swans on the pond...

Athena's horse paddock...

the huge, feathery, gone-to-flower asparagus plants...

giant purple alliums, later dried and displayed in the baroque coffee pot on the sideboard...

tiny white gravel by the back door...

the dusty smell of the studio...

the beautiful worn brick of the walkway...

playing "Island of the Blue Dolphins" (i.e. being stranded on an Aleutian Island) with shells and sticks, and then being stung by a wasp and screaming bloody murder...

walking to the Penny Candy store to buy those candy dots on paper, candy cigarettes, and mint leaves...

leaving pennies on the railroad tracks with Athena and Pete...

doing Mad Libs with Athena in the upstairs bedroom and her saying "Horse" (and spelled "Hoss") every time she was asked for a noun...

swinging open the huge bedroom window shutters and looking down at the living room...

her little glass jar of salt with the big cork and the wooden spoon...

Her ceramic "S" hanging on the wall...

the smell of salt air and dogs...

the old sweatshirt I inherited from her that for years after smelled EXACTLY like her and her house (I hated to wash it)...

making "doggie stew" and doling out Liv-A-Snaps...

being fascinated as a child with the cat door that opens underneath the house...

the espaliered pear tree on the street side of the studio...

swimming with Athena and Pete one summer in that murky pond...

hanging out in the dory on the pond with Pippit...

the high-pitched squeak Pippit would emit when she was excited...

Spider and Mara...Dolly...Shammy...Nathan...Bobby...Pippit...Bugsy...

how Shirley helped me to get ARF to to place Butch, an abused cat from my old Bronx neighborhood, with a nice adoptive family...

sitting around in Dorothy MIllstone's livingroom and looking at all her tchotchkes...

going to the dump with the dogs...

Shirley's ingenious kitchen trash can system (the hole in the counter!)...

Gristedes milk in the brown and red carton...

Dove chocolates in the vegetable crisper...

the cool terra cotta tiles underfoot downstairs...

the bright chime of her downstairs clock...

the woodstove on chilly days...

the picture on the living room shelf of Pete and Shirley, with Spider licking Pete's face...

the precarious three-legged dining room chairs that dump you on the floor when you shift your weight even slightly...

the perpetual hunt for a pillow for Shirley to use while reading that was strong enough to withstand her incredibly sharp elbows...

attempting to make said pillows and stuffing them with everything from cotton batting to rice.  Nothing worked, of course...

Shirley's coy assertion, when asked about Jelly (whom she and everyone who met him believed to be the world's most perfect marmalade cat), that she "made him up out of my head.  And no, you can't have him."...

Shirley being so patient and sweet with Pete when he was a little boy and threw up twice in one night...

writing a poem to Shirley, which I planned to read aloud during a company visit exhorting her to stop being so crabby and go sailing (she did not sail, don't know why I thought this was a good idea)...

the dogs galloping with abandon in the back yard, tongues flapping and ropes of saliva training in the breeze...

the wonderful shaggy copse that forms the front end of the property, making it truly private...

the thrill of driving all the way from Boston and FINALLY turning into that magical gravel driveway and driving through that tunnel of trees...

doing little woodworking projects during the summer and painting them with leftover house paint...

Laughing once at a shopping list she wrote that said "canned cat" (she forgot the word "food") and the next morning being wordlessly and straight-facedly presented by Shirley with a can bearing a handmade label saying "CANNED CAT".  This sits on my shelf still...

coffee in a kimono in the mornings.  I have owned many kimonos, most hand-imported by my dad, because I like the memory and the feeling of it...

being yelled at to close the #$%$#@ shower door upstairs (until I was 40, although I hadn't left it open and flooded the bathroom since the Carter administration)...

sandy towels and sunburns...

takeout duck legs from Citarella...

"Sushi Wooshi" in fashionable downtown Water Mill...

going to Megans for burgers with cheddar/port spread (so good)...

going to the post office to pick up the mail...

Shirley's unmistakable handwriting and simple cream-and-brown stationery...

the beautiful birth announcement she made when Charlie was born...

the skeleton and funny little animal skulls in the studio...

a million cool pencils and drafting tools to play with...

the tool bench...

the suet bird feeder...

being really happy that Shirley liked three cast brass Japanese garden bells I gave her one Christmas...

baking her a prune cake (thinking it was something nice from her childhood) only to be told "what is this crap?" (trust me, it was funny)...

trying on Sally Curtis' new Walkman when they had just come out, and wandering from room to room in Shirley's house, marveling that I could still hear the music JUST THE SAME wherever I walked...


As a very small child way trying to walk with my mother all the way to the Milk Pail along the Montauk Highway, never realizing it was nearly four miles away...

Mara running away all the time...

Bugsy trying to bite the water coming out of the sprinkler...

Heavy Duty, the cat with 34 toes...

realizing for the first time that Shirley just as much as my grandmother had raised my dad...

not understanding why she wanted to stay in a hotel when she came to visit (I totally get it now!)...

plants and flowers everywhere...

sounds of birds and cicadas...

talking with her about the house, how it was built, and finding out how to maintain it (although Dick Jr. really did everything)...

if you left even one paperclip at her house after visiting, receiving a grouchy phone call from Shirley in which she would berate you for leaving "all that crap" in the house...

A gold-colored can of pate of dubious origin that stood on her pantry shelf literally as long as I can remember...

Shirley being triumphant when she and Dick figured out you could use those cheap, adaptable wooden tool handles from the hardware store as stair grips/railings. She loved anything clever like that...

the feeling of amazement when the back yard was first re-landscaped to include the new trees and the little brook...

the little slate lazy susan on her countertop with the African clay dish, the tiny sleeping rhinoceros, toothpicks, eyeglass cleaner, and other carefully curated things necessary to the activities done while sitting there (largely, reading and drinking coffee or whiskey, smoking cigarettes)...

the little oblong copper pan that always held a neat, crisp stack of Viva paper napkins.  She was very brand-loyal.  I remember being shocked when she started using Dove soap in lieu of whatever she'd used for decades before.  Only a dermatologist's orders would've compelled a huge change like that...

the binoculars hanging at the ready, in case some interesting bird should alight on one of the perfectly-positioned bird feeders outside the kitchen window...

The bookshelf by her easy chair containing life's most important books:  Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", and a guide to north American birds...

her brightly colored Swedish enameled ashtrays... was the one in her bedroom turquoise or orange?...

the little stool painted with a portrait of Dolly, the bassett hound, one of Shirley's dogs when I was very small (6 or 7)...

remembering that Shirley buried Dolly when she died out in a garden, beneath a little tree and a bunch of day lillies...

the day a bunch of official Audubon bird watcher tramped into Shirley's house, a crisp fall day, taking "inventory" of all migratory birds they could observe in and around her property (which, sitting on a pond lying very near a bunch of other small ponds, makes it a perfect haven for birds of all sorts).  Fixing them some hot soup and tea...

sliding open the kitchen window on summer mornings and letting the breeze blow through the house, listening for Shirley coming and going from the studio, waiting to hear her screen door slam...

repeating "wait, Bobby, wait...Bobby, wait!!  WAIT, BOBBY!!" every time you tried to go out the sliding glass door...

learning from Shirley what a "Baltimore Oriole" was (the bird, not the baseball team, although that's what she called the birds). Also, spotting red-winged blackbirds and learning the sound of their wonderful, distinctive song...

the mysterious and always-exciting little path that connected the Haresign's property and Shirley's, and shuttling back and forth all summer long on many exciting missions...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Banh Mi: A Vietnamese Sandwich, Not a Gaelic Epithet

Summer supper is a conundrum.  If it were only my husband and me, and we happened to still be living half a block away from Saigon Grill the most superb Vietnamese restaurant in the world (yes, a completely subjective claim inasmuch as I see no need to visit many other Vietnamese restaurants now that I've found one so clearly superior), we'd order in a little bo luc lac and goi du du and call it a night.  Cool, crispy, vegetal, sour, sweet, crunch, savory, slippery, pungent, spicy, the list of descriptive adjectives goes on and on.  Amazing food, amazingly refreshing.  And, not coincidentally, the product of a country deeply familiar with dense, wet, hot weather.

My summertime supper go-to meals include the following:

  • Salade Niçoise, bread, cheese, cold French rosé
  • Fish tacos (fried tilapia with crema on fresh corn tortillas), salad, and cold Negro Modelo beer
  • Cold barbecued chicken drumsticks with cornbread, blue cheese coleslaw, and cold beer
  • Corn-on-the-cob, sliced tomatoes, cold white wine (no meat)

As of tonight, I can add homemade banh mi, the much-vaunted (in New York, anyway) Vietnamese sandwich, served with icy lemonade.

Asian cooking for the uninitiated can be exasperatingly labor-intensive.  As might be expected, the whole construct is different from that of Western cooking. Some recipes require a million ingredients, many of which take a long time to even locate, and these ingredients often require slow and painstaking chopping into microscopic bits.  On the other hand, the actual cooking (i.e. the application of heat) sometimes takes only seconds.  You really do have to get a little bit Zen about it all and embrace the process, especially if you have dull knives.  If you're getting super authentic, you may also find yourself with lopsided amounts of leftover ingredients.  I once gave my husband a private cooking lesson for his birthday, a one-on-one tutorial in Thai cooking.  The chef gave us a list of about 20 ingredients to be found only at an Asian grocery, saying “these are the ones you WILL be able to find”.  The food was spectacular, and not as hard as you'd think, but we were left at the end with enough pickled minced radish and palm sugar to make Thai food daily for a family of seven for a month.  Unlike cilantro or soy sauce, pickled minced radish does not have all that many applications in non-southeast Asian cuisine. 

This recipe for banh mi does indeed require a lot of chopping, but happily, with the exception of the fish sauce and the sesame oil, all the ingredients are available at a regular grocery store.  It should be said, though, that fish sauce and sesame oil really are heart of the recipe, and are not so obscure as to be impossible to locate, so I strongly recommend you make the effort to find them.  A well-stocked Stop & Shop/Wegmans/whatever should have at least one brand. 

By the way, if you're not familiar with fish sauce, I'm not referring to tartar sauce but instead to a clear, amber colored liquid made of fermented fish juices.  It usually comes in a big plastic bottle, and is as common as soy sauce is in Chinese and Japanese cuisine.  It smells very funky in the bottle: it's quite strong and you wouldn't want to take a big gulp of it.   The tiniest bit of it appears in thousands of southeast Asian recipes, and the food simply doesn't taste right without it.  If you find it off-putting in its naked incarnation, remember that there are a lot of highly pungent fish-based products we regularly consume (such as the anchovies pureed into many a caesar salad dressing) without being aware of what makes the flavor, only that the flavor is right.  I'm just saying give it a fair chance.

These sandwiches are all the things Vietnamese food should be... that is, crispy, fresh, meaty, salty, sweet, tangy, pungent, etc.  And most of all, they are just the thing for a boiling hot summer night.

(Vietnamese pork sandwiches on French bread)
Recipe courtesy of

Hot Chili Mayo:
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce [Sriracha brand is good, but I used plain Jamaican hot sauce]
  • the juice of 1/2 lemon

  • 1 pound ground pork [I used "meatball mix", which is equal parts beef, pork, and veal]
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)*
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

  • 2 cups coarsely grated carrots
  • 2 cups coarsely grated Japanese white radish [you can substitute purple turnip or jicama]
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
  • 4 10-inch-long individual baguettes or 
  • 4 10-inch-long pieces French-bread baguette (cut from 2 baguettes)
  • Thinly sliced jalapeño chiles
  • 16 large fresh cilantro sprigs

Prepare the Hot Chili Mayo:
Stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Prepare  the Meatballs:
Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs [NB: I always make my meatballs flat like mini-hamburgers, so they cook quicker and more evenly].  Can also be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Prepare the Sandwiches:
First, assemble the homemade carrot/radish pickles.  Toss first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of meatballs. Sauté until brown and cooked through, turning meatballs often and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. These may be kept warm in a 300 degree oven.

Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half. Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2-inch-thick shell. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Arrange jalapeños, then cilantro, in bottom halves. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables [I didn't drain mine, as I like my banh mi kind of juicy/squishy]; place pickles atop meatballs. Press on baguette tops.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Garden of Futility*, or Why I Planted Tomatoes and Basil in Spite of Myself

Nota bene:  I adapted my original posting and read it aloud at my aunt's memorial gathering/service.  What appears in the blog now is the adapted version.  For those unfamiliar with my aunt and her unique style of verbal expression, the expletives contained herein are direct quotes from her, not my own.

Death is a funny thing.  It’s so abrupt in so many ways, and yet it drags on in others.  The protracted ups and downs of illness are followed by the sudden rock-hard knowledge that the person who dies is really, truly not going to be there any more, and that abrupt transition is counterbalanced by the endless tying up of loose ends.  The ends are always frayed, and as we dig through the deceased’s belongings we veer back and forth between a weird prurience (as in “wow, I never knew she took that many prescriptions”); and breathtaking grief (as in, “when I gave her that for Christmas I never envisioned the day I would take it back”).

Death is such a certainty that in a way it feels trite to say aloud “I’m sad because my aunt died”.  It seems even more trite to say “I’m sad because my Aunt Shirley died”, because according to a theory I have developed through Complex Scientific Methods, everyone in the world regardless of age, national origin, creed, or ethnicity has at least one Aunt Shirley, whether literal or figurative, and thus being sad because one’s Aunt Shirley has died is about as emotionally original as feeling a sense of ennui when gazing upon the autumn leaves, or crying at the end of Casablanca.  

My personal Aunt Shirley was an artist, a lover of good food and drink, a lover of good company, a superb if occasionally irascible aunt, a part of this house, a part of this fork, a part of all of us in ways too complicated and juicy to relay.  As you all are no doubt aware, she, my uncle Dick and my father all grew up in coastal Oregon, children of a lumberjack and a housewife-cum-dress shop saleswoman.  Shirley sensibly got out of small-town Oregon and went to art school in San Francisco, where she began her distinguished career as a medical illustrator.  Ten years older than my father, she was his de facto caregiver throughout much of his childhood, toting him along everywhere as a cheerful and compliant miniature sidekick, while their parents, Forrest and Margaret, worked (hard).  Shirley urged my father to get out of Oregon too, to go to college somewhere—anywhere—else.  Thus was Shirley instrumental in my father’s decision to attend MIT, which in turn led to his decision to marry my mother (a beautiful, roving Canadian whom he met in Boston), and then to sire a couple of offspring, including yours truly and my splendid brother Peter.  So basically, I owe my existence to my Aunt Shirley.  It's all her fault.

Aunt Shirley wound up in New York City (in the West Village, like any self-respecting artist in the 1960s), and in the early ‘70s she bought her little flag-shaped piece of property.  Were you to fast-forward this narrative about three decades, anyone who didn’t know Shirley and all of us could be forgiven for wondering if my family were That Kind of Hamptons People.  Obviously we—particularly Shirley—are indeed not TKoHP.  When Shirley built this tiny, lovely, quirky, modern house, she was one of a bunch of artistic types who found the area to be cheap, remote, and conducive to the Artistic Lifestyle of the early 1970s.

I came on the scene in 1968, and since I was about four years old (slightly younger than my son currently is) I have been spending time in this house, which for all of us is as inseparable from Shirley in our minds as pork is from beans.  This house is about as close to my heart as my own home, and my brain is similarly hardwired to its smells, sounds, sights and sensations.  Which brings me to the subject of basil, garlic and tomatoes.

My brother and I always went off to Shirley’s in summertime for a week or two, and Shirley’s beautiful raised garden beds out back were always full of tomatoes, basil, and garlic (not to mention lemon cucumbers, asparagus, and a bunch of other stuff).  Our summertime meals were often centered around these flavors, and in particular I remember frequently eating pasta tossed with obscenely ripe tomatoes, crushed with torn basil and perfumed with minced elephant garlic (I discovered yesterday from Shirley’s student Deb that Shirley’s students referred to this concoction as “Shirley’s Stuff”).  It was—and is—so fragrant, so lush, so fresh, and so completely and utterly soldered in my brain to my wonderful, cantankerous Aunt, her lovely house, and every single memory contained herein.

So Shirley is gone. The exact timeline of her illness and death is too fussy and brutal to have committed to memory, but suffice to say some (namely and particularly my beloved dad and our extraordinary friends Athena and Marlene) went light years above and beyond the call of duty for the sake of all Shirley did and meant, moving heaven and earth to get her back into her house where she belonged, seated at her counter, sipping coffee and reading a novel, propped up on one elbow.  Although she slipped away alone, I imagine it was exactly as she wanted: private, unfussy, matter-of-fact.

But now she is gone, and all the stuff must be dealt with.  Reality dictates that the house must be sold and her belongings dispersed appropriately.  Thus I find myself unexpectedly and heartbrokenly commencing the End of Days in this house, in my Aunt, and in a very rich and happy chapter of my life.  My fantasies involved a future spent hanging out here with Aunt Shirley, older and more cantankerous than ever, a teenaged son, and a husband, spending long hot summer days lolling about the house, tracking in sand and nursing sunburns, being told to close the goddamn shower door and shut the goddamn garden gates so the goddamn dogs didn’t run away and get run over on the Montauk highway, and barely keeping up with the tomato and basil plants in the garden as they sprang forth baskets and bowls of produce.   Now we stand poised to drop the keys into the hands of strangers, hoping that this outdated, run-down jewel, in its sparkling-green-yet-now-illegally-close-to-wetlands setting, will sell for a fraction of what we all indignantly feel it’s worth. 

In this market, who knows how long it will take to close on the sale of the house.  I’m willing to take a gamble—I can’t not—that it will be at least 65-70 days, which is how long the seed packet said it will take for the optimistically vast number basil seeds I planted to get to harvest. I cheated on the tomatoes, planting sturdy-looking varietals birthed by local growers:  two San Marzanos, a Black Krin, a SunGold, an Arkansas Traveler, a Celebrity.  I threw in some cilantro and parsley and marigolds for good measure, and formed seven small hummocks of earth, each planted with six lemon cucumber seeds, a weird, old-fashioned varietal stubbornly favored by my aunt and thus beloved by her nieces and nephews.  Shirley’s eternally self-propagating bed of elephant garlic is already well on its way, helped by me only when I raked away the winter’s blanket of fallen leaves to expose the startled, crumpled, pale yellow sprouts to chill March sunlight.

So maybe we’ll get lucky (or unlucky) and get to see the garden through.  Maybe we’ll hand our infant garden off to a family as eager to see it through as we are, or maybe it’ll fall prey to a family eager to pave it over so they can park their late-model BMW SUV.  I am stoically resolved to all eventualities.

Should we be denied the pleasure of watching our garden grow, I suppose I can always glean what I can from King Kullenthe precious plastic clamshells of imported basil, the cottony and faintly-flavored tomatoes, the non-elephantine garlicand hold fast to what diminished pungency of memory (or memory of pungency) I can find.  But I do hope Aunt Shirley’s garden gets one last hurrah before we hand over the keys and the papers, and walk away from these forty-some-odd years.

Here’s a recipe I thought you all should know.

Shirley’s Pasta

Three large, ripe tomatoes, hot from the sun, chopped coarsely
A mess of basil, swished off at the backyard faucet and torn up
However much elephant garlic you like/can stand, crushed or minced
Some olive oil, Kosher salt, and pepper
A box of linguine

Take the first four ingredients and combine into a soupy, sludgy sauce at the bottom of a big, wide wooden salad bowl.  Boil the pasta until it’s just tender.  Drain well in an old, banged up aluminum colander, and throw the drained pasta into the bowl with the sauce.  Toss with abandon, and plop bowl down on a long wooden dining table surrounded by three-legged chairs.  Festoon with freshly grated parmesan and feed to hungry children while it’s still hot enough to burn their tongues.

Here is the garden on June 28 (planted May 23 or so).  What a difference a month makes...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nostalgic Snacking (or, I Was A Teenaged Card Sharp)

I categorize my teenaged self thus because the term 'card blunt' does not exist.  I played a lot of cards, but that doesn't mean I was any good.

I am sitting here on this drizzly proto-spring morning getting caught up on work and, until I ran out of salsa, snacking on Pace mild salsa, Finn Crisp fiber crackers, and Chobani 2% Greek yogurt.  This, I realize, looks foul on paper but in reality it is divine.  Pace mild salsa is everything an American-style salsa should be: chunky, tangy, a hint of sweetness, peppery bitterness, the merest hint of heat, good balance of liquid to solid.  Chobani 2% Greek yogurt is the closest thing to sour cream that gets brought into our house anymore.  It is unctuous, not overly starchy (that extra 1% of fat makes a big difference), and not horribly grainy and soupy like most yogurts I know.  Finn Crisp crackers are the best cracker in the world (and here I need to apologize to my friend Geoff, with whom I shared a passion for AkMak Armenian whole wheat crackers for many years, but Geoff, the times they are a-changin').  Finn Crisps are long and rectangular and satisfyingly rigid (all the better for scooping up heavy dips), possessed of a wonderful rough texture, tangy with rye and crammed with fiber and whole grains, and low in calories.  They snap gratifyingly, like a tortilla chip, but are not deep fried.

When I was a young 'un, living in the pre-renovation Keep Cottage co-op at Oberlin College, I discovered the joy of Hearts (or was it Spades?) and we played it for hour upon hour.  In fact, if memory serves me, there was a brief period where one could leave for class, hand off one's cards to a bystander, return two hours later, and assume the cards of some other departing person.  At our elbows, always always, were bowls of real sour cream, bags of crispy corn tortilla chips, and jar after jar of Pace salsa. Usually the salsa and sour cream were stirred together to make a chunky, tangy, pink ambrosia.  I hadn't eaten this combination in years, and when I popped it into my mouth this morning my head swam, instantly full of memories of friends, crappy plumbing, many delicious meals shared, many more horrible ones shared (two words: undercooked beans), and card games that seemed to last weeks on end.

Other snacks that trigger my Pavlovian response system:

- Graham crackers and apple juice.  I defy anyone who attended pre-school in the United States to not sigh contentedly while consuming this combination.

-  Nacho Cheese Doritos and Coke.  The junior high slumber party staple.  Just the memory of this combination jets me back to Melanie Nezer's rumpus room.

- Thick slabs of toast, made from freshly-baked, still-warm whole wheat bread, slathered with butter.  In my neighborhood growing up there was a family, the O'Connors, whose father worked at the King Arthur Flour company.  To earn pocket money, the O'Connor kids would bake loaves of the most gorgeous whole wheat or white bread, and deliver them to neighbors while the loaves were still warm.  This bread was (and still is) a revelation.  Faintly sweet, lofty and tender yet substantive, with a bottom crust that became shatteringly crunchy when toasted.  Since the kids baked after school, this meant hot toast with fresh bread when WE got home from school, and it was heaven.

- Chewy slices of Syrian dried apricot paste.  When I was a very small kid, my mom used to give us this gorgeous sweet (which we simply referred to as "apricot") as a special treat.  It came--and still comes--in about 10" wide, 20" long sheets, about 1/3" thick, folded over three times, wrapped in plastic wrap then bright orange cellophane, and adorned with a beautiful, colorful label in bright blue, orange, and yellow.  I swear, they still use the same label today as they did when I was a child.  It is very dense, very chewy, sticky like caramel, and (if you're an apricot freak like me) a wonderful smack-upside-the-head of apricoty goodness.  A footnote to this snack:  years later, pregnant with my son Charlie, I discovered a middle eastern food shop on the road to my obstetrician's office.  I stopped in and asked if they carried "apricot".  He said yes and produced a packet.  Delighted, I told him I used to get it as a special treat when I was a kid and I loved tearing off pieces to snack on.  He looked at me like I was crazy.  Apparently, in Syria it's dissolved in water and used to make an apricot nectar drink.  They do not eat it like candy.  I guess my usage is to them a bit like enjoying a heaping bowlful of orange juice concentrate.  Oh well... live and learn.

- Canned peaches.  My sister in law remarked once that she had never met anyone as crazy for canned fruit and vegetables as my brother and I.  I'm sure whenever the greater population hears the canned food industry's proclamations ("It's as healthy as fresh fruit, perhaps even more so!  The fruit tastes better because it's allowed to ripen more before picking!") it collectively rolls its eyes and say "yeah, yeah, methinks thou doth protest too much".  However, with God as my witness, I tell you it's true.  No, canned peaches do not have the same texture and exact taste as their fresh counterparts.  Come on now.  But they are lovely and springy and peachy, delightfully slippery, great in desserts, and a heck of a lot better than the cottony orange croquet balls my grocery store sells year-round.  They were absolutely a snacking mainstay of my childhood, no doubt because of my mom who grew up in midwestern Canada, where the peach growing season... well, what peach growing season?  They knew from their canned foods, and as a result, so do I.  Oh, and of course, I love canned apricots equaly.

And I'll have you know I didn't mention Proust even once during this post.  Okay, just that once.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

When the Going Gets Rough, the Roughed-Up Make Fried Chicken (or, If You Bathed in Buttermilk for 24 Hours, You'd be Fabulous, Too)

A dear friend (the previously mentioned Stephanie) noted today, with evident puzzlement but profound kindness, that there are two ways people act when they're in crisis.  The first type reaches out to friends and talks everything over until they can get a grip on things.  The second type fold in on themselves like a morning glory at night and wait for the sun to come up.  You will easily determine into which category I fall based on the fact that Stephanie called me today to inquire whether I'd joined the French Foreign Legion.

Many people find that making things, whether edible or not, is a panacea in times of trouble or doubt.  I put myself in that category.  Not for me, the sitting around in a meditative state and working out my feelings.  This has a lot to do with my Scottish/Canadian/Protestant-type upbringing, which involved a lot of stiff upper lips and a general disavowal of personal emotions.  These character traits have, curiously, served me well:  when OTHERS are experiencing crises, I am a champ.  I will swab blood from the faces of screaming toddlers, I will calmly soothe those who have experienced loss, I will formulate a level-headed plan when someone is unable to cope.  But when I'm feeling at a loss myself, I tend to retreat to the kitchen.

The last 12 months (the last four years, actually, the birth of my beautiful son absolutely notwithstanding) have been a sh*tstorm of the first degree.  Is it a coincidence that my blog, having to do largely with crafts and cooking, evolved during this time?  Who knows.  I didn't ever deal with death as a young person, but as an adult I soon found that with death inevitably comes food, regardless of the religion of the deceased.  So as I mourn and parse various passings and transitions, some literal and some figurative, the occurrence of a little fried chicken seems not only logical but inevitable.

Anyone (God bless those of you who actually read this) who has followed this blog may recall an earlier posting about fried chicken.  It was my first outing, and while my ever-loyal husband raved, I was wholly unsatisfied with the results.  Too firm in texture, not "done" enough, bland in flavor.  About six months ago I went a little nuts at Costco and bought about 100 chicken legs, and have been slowly working my way through them.  I defrosted the last 10 two days ago and thought it was time to try again.

Of course, being an honorary southerner*, I have come to understand that fried chicken with a lovely tossed salad and a glass of chardonnay does not cut the mustard.  There really ought to be collard greens and cornbread and gravy and some manner of sweet dessert.  So yesterday (the day before, actually) I set myself methodically to the task of doing it right.

*There's an old anecdote about a man who claimed himself to be a Mainer (that is, someone who calls the state of Maine home), even though his parents had only moved there about 50 years previously.  A wizened old-timer squints at this upstart and says "Well now, if your cat had kittens in the oven, would you call 'em biscuits?"  I daresay this sums up what any southerner may feel upon reading this blog.  But don't they say that the converts make the best true-believers?

Theses are long recipes with detailed instructions.  There are, simply, no shortcuts.


Equipment needed:

  • Tupperware container large enough to contain 10 large chicken drumsticks
  • A baking sheet
  • A cooling rack
  • A very large, high-rimmed skillet, no LESS than 12" across and 4" high (you can use a deeper vessel, but the diameter is very important.  This is shallow frying, not deep frying) WITH A LID for safety (see note below about grease fires)
  • Tongs
  • A frying or candy thermometer
  • Paper towels
  • Two large bowls
  • A medium-sized sieve
  • Cheesecloth or paper towels
  • A apron or other protective garment (or wear clothes you don't care about)
  • A timer or clock
  • Two sturdy oven mitts

  • Ten large chicken drumsticks (no thighs attached) of similar size
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 1 onion
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Tabasco
  • Smoked paprika (optional but awesome)
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour OR all-purpose white flour
  • More Kosher salt and pepper and paprika
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (aka corn flour, NOT cornmeal)
  • 1 pound lard (aka "manteca"), usually found in the meat or dairy section of the supermarket**
  • 1 stick unsalted butter


The afternoon before you plan to eat your fried chicken, wash the legs and put them in the big tupperware container.  To these add the whole quart of buttermilk, about two teaspoons of salt, a bunch of pepper, a teaspoon of smoked paprika, your tabasco, and onion, sliced into thick slices and broken up a bit.  Seal the lid and shake well.  Refrigerate and take out to jostle when you think of it.  Leave for a day.  The next day, remove chicken from buttermilk (toss the buttermilk) and place on the cooling rack laid atop the baking sheet to catch drips.  Allow to drain very well...the less moisture that hits your hot fat, the happier you'll be.

Over MEDIUM LOW heat, gradually melt the lard and butter together.  The butter will cause this mixture to gently foam; use a spoon to skim off as much foam as you can.  Eventually, the foaming will stop and you will see lots of dark brown residue at the bottom of the pan. These are the milk solids which have cooked and should be removed to avoid a burnt taste.  Line your sieve with cheesecloth or a paper towel, position over one of the bowls, and carefully pour the fat through the sieve.  Discard the towel, and return the strained oil to the skillet.  Before replacing it on the hot burner, take a moment to wipe any drips of oil off the bottom of the pan with a paper towel, so as to avoid smoking or (God forbid) a grease fire.

A word on grease fires...when frying with fat at high temperatures, this is always a risk, although the risk is low if you use common sense.  Should any fat ignite, DO NOT POUR WATER ONTO THE FLAMES.  When water hits hot fat, it causes violent spattering which could severely burn you.  If the fire is inside the burner, quickly kill the flame/heat and pour BAKING SODA onto the flames to extinguish.  If the fire is inside the skillet itself, clap the lid on it and allow the lack of oxygen inside to extinguish the flames.   

Affix your candy/frying thermometer to the side of the pan, and raise the temperature of the oil gradually to 335 degrees, give or take a couple of degrees.  Any higher and the exterior of the chicken will burn before the interior cooks.  Any lower and the chicken and crust will absorb too much oil.  You will find you can adjust the temperature up and down pretty easily by simply turning the burner on and off.

Prepare your dredge.  Mix the flour, cornstarch, salt, pepper and paprika thoroughly in a clean bowl.  One by one, coat the chicken with the flour (work it under the skin if it's loose) and then pat thoroughly to remove any excess.  Set the floured drumsticks aside until all are done, and work quickly.

Now, here's where you have to make an important judgement call.  If your skillet is on the smaller side, fry the chicken in two batches.  If you can fit all ten pieces in your skillet WITHOUT TOUCHING, then fry all at once.  Put the chicken into the 335 degree oil as quickly and carefully as you can.   This all-at-once approach will make it easier to predict when they're done.

**A few words on the subject of lard...NOTHING is better for frying chicken.  I will not pretend it is laden with nutritional benefits, but the flavor and texture that hot lard imparts to fried chicken cannot be equalled with any other type of fat.  Lard, in my estimation, is no better or worse than any other fat that is solid at room temperature.  As long as you don't eat fried chicken every day of the week, the very occasional indulgence will have zero long-term impact on your health.

The actual frying is the sexy part, a feast for nearly all your senses (except touch... call me conservative, but I do not advise touching chicken as it fries.)  The bubbles roil furiously, the sound is a deep crackly gurgle, the smell is divine...and what else is taste but slightly augmented smell?  The raw side will, inevitably, leak some blood, which looks alarming if you're not expecting it.  You will fry on EACH side for 8-10 minutes.  If it looks very dark brown, that's fine.  It's supposed to be rather dark.

As long as your drumsticks are neither gargantuan nor minute, twenty minutes total will yield perfect chicken.  If you really need visual reassurance, a poke to the thickest part of a drumstick with a knife tip should yield clear juices.  However, avoid cutting deeply into it when the chicken is just off the heat, as all the juices will spill out and leave you with a dry drumstick.  Remove the cooked chicken to a CLEAN cooling rack set atop a CLEAN baking sheet (please, please, be sure to wash your rack and sheet thoroughly before re-using...any surface annointed with raw chicken juices is a hotbed for microbe terrorist activity).  Do not cover the hot chicken or it will steam/sweat and you'll lose that fabulous crispness.  Allow to cool for fully 15 minutes.  Believe me, it will still be plenty hot, and during the resting period the juices will have re-dispersed through the meat uniformly.  Also, nothing is quite as demoralizing as biting eagerly into a long-awaited piece of freshly fried chicken, only to sear all the skin off the inside of your mouth.  Just wait.  Delayed gratification is always better.

Allow your fat to cool considerably (like, for an hour) before pouring/spooning it into a sawed-off milk carton or empty can.  Allow to solidify completely, and dispose in the regular garbage.  Do not, under any circumstances, pour the hot fat down the kitchen sink, unless you have a secret crush on your plumber and are trying to devise ways to lure him into your home.


  • A very, very big pot (must hold 12 cups of water--3 quarts--with room to spare)
  • A collander (or better, a salad spinner)
  • A cutting board
  • A long-handled spoon

Ingredients (enough for five people):
  • Three big bunches of fresh collard greens
  • 1 pound (more or less) of smoked turkey wings
  • Garlic Powder
  • Seasoned Salt
  • Kosher Salt
  • Smoked Paprika (again, optional but excellent)
  • Pepper
  • 3 quarts of water (that's 12 cups)


Put the turkey, the water, a tablespoon of garlic powder, a tablespoon of seasoned salt, and as much smoked paprika and pepper as you like, in your pot.  Bring to a boil, then cook on medium high heat for one hour.  You are creating the brothy base of this dish, and that hour of cooking is important.

While the broth bubbles away, slowly, meticulously, and patiently remove the collard green leaves from any central stem.  If you have never handled collards before, I would call it the love child of romaine lettuce and kale.  It's kind of like a big, loose, dark green, disorganized cabbage.  As you start cleaning the leaves, be sure to reserve any small, tender inner leaves, which are lovely and frilly and have a deep, cruciferous sweetness.  Wash all leaves individually under running water to remove all traces of sand/grit.  Once this is done, strip each leaf of its stem and central vein by grasping the edges of the leaf and pulling gently.  If there are any dry/yellow/yucky bits, tear these off now.  The smaller the leaf/vein, the less important it is to remove it.  At the end, you will have a large fluffy pile.  

Make small stacks of leaves (6-10) and cut these into 1 inch strips.  Wash these prepared leaves one last time, and drain thoroughly.  

When the broth has cooked for an hour,  remove the turkey wings from the broth and allow to cool on a plate.  When cool enough to touch, hand-pick the meat from the bones, discarding any gristle, skin and fat, and tear into bite sized pieces.  Return, along with any juices from the plate, to the pot.

Add the collard greens to the pot, cover, and boil on medium heat for about 45 minutes.  They will first be brilliant green, then gradually darken as they cook and soften.  When they're done, the broth will be rich, dark, fragrant, salty, smoky and vaguely sweet.  Before serving, taste for salt (you may need quite a lot) and you may even want to add a little sugar if you like your greens on the sweet side.  Serve with plenty of the broth (aka potlikker).


(courtesy of The Gift of Southern Cooking, by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock)

2 tablespoons hot fat from frying chicken
1 cup finely diced onion
2 cloves garlic finely minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon flour
1 pound of tomato, fresh or canned, seeded and chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup cream (you can use all milk, too, but don't use lowfat...what's the point?)

Heat the fat in a skillet and add onion and garlic, salt, pepper and thyme and cook over medium low heat for about 10 minutes.  Sprinkle flour over this and cook another 2 minutes.  Stir in tomato  and about 1/2 teaspoon more salt, and cook for five minutes.  Slowly stir in milk/cream and SIMMER gently for five minutes--don't boil--and taste for seasoning.

This is a chunky gravy that adds a delightful hit of tang to your chicken.  I suppose if you felt particularly refined, you could strain it or puree it with an immersion blender (or in a regular blender).  I like the chunks.  The gravy is not 100% essential to the experience but it IS 100% southern, and it's awfully good.


(courtesy of The Gift of Southern Cooking, by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock)

  • A cast-iron skillet or 9" square baking pan***
  • The usual bowls, measuring spoons, etc.
***A few words on the merits of cast iron skillets.  My husband inherited his from his paternal grandmother, already seasoned with decades of use.  You can buy a new one and season it yourself, or you can skip it entirely and just use a regular pan.  But there's a crispness that a well-seasoned cast iron pan imparts that cannot be imitated with other pans.

  • 1 1/2 cups fine ground white cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 3/4 cups soured milk (regular milk to which 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice has been added, then allowed to curdle for 5 minutes...a great trick for pancakes and waffles, too.)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Mix dry ingredients thoroughly.  Stir the milk into the beaten eggs, and gradually beat into the dry ingredients until you've achieved a glossy batter.

Melt butter in the pan by placing in the hot oven.  When melted, remove and swirl pan until butter coats the entire bottom and sides.  Pour remaining butter into the batter and blend thoroughly.  Pour batter into the pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, until it's becoming golden brown on top and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.  

This cornbread is best served hot.  It has a wonderfully custardy texture, not awful and crumbly and dry. No sugar, by the way.  That's a northern thing and it ain't how it's done.

= = = = =

The first bite of this chicken is a revelation,  Your teeth break the skin with a gentle crunch, and the luscious, salty, chickeny juices pour onto your tongue.  It is impossible to describe the sensory joy this brings.  It is also impossible to stop eating.

The greens are a great foil for the chicken, with their smoky, moist, vaguely bitter lusciousness.  Of course, you need the cornbread to mop up all the succulent potlikker and any stray bits of tomato gravy.

This meal is not a cure for all ills, but it is both quicker and cheaper than psychotherapy.