The 5 o’clock dinner

That’s right. Ferd and I have been eating at 5 o’clock sharp. Daddy is away, and it’s the Amercian Way. None of this waiting around for 7:30 to start dinner when we’re hungry about 10 minutes after snack. Last night we started out with a few slices of apple and a side of sour cream potato chips. For the first course, buttered spaghetti. For the feature, a nice and crispy hot dog with a little more of our favorite sauce (butter) on broccoli. For dessert a mint chocolate cookie ice cream dish (mamma was too cheap to buy the cones this week) and to tide us over until bed, a bowl of cereal.
This way after homework, we still have plenty of time to get the music on and dance. We each play our favorite (Ferdinand–”Bohemian like you”, Dandy Warhols. Mamma–”I Wish”, Stevie Wonder). We always miss Dad when we dance, so we play one for him too. (Dad has a lot of favorites, so it’s hard to pick. We tried Nina Simone, Donald Bryd and Los Amigos Invisibles. Ferd said what Dad would really want would be to play Dandy Warhols again, so we did that too.) By 8 we had books read and were lying in bed. Ferdinand couldn’t fall asleep until after 10. At quarter til, I threatened to throw away all of his candy; when he said that was OK, I figured he really was afraid. “Ferd” I said, “you got your mom, you got your dog, you got about 26 stuffed animals and Christmas lights wrapped around your doorway–how does fear find its way through that?” “Oh, mom” he said, “I can’t explain it.”
What could I say? I put the music back on and stayed with him until he fell asleep.

Beets, baby

Ever since I read that if your pee turns red after you eat beets, it means you need to eat more beets, I have been feeling the need to eat more beets.  I have always loved beets, it’s just that when I look at one I think, “do I love you that much?”  It’s a lot of work peeling beets–it turns your hands red, you have deal with all the guilt about not cooking the greens, if you’re not cooking the greens, and if you didn’t eat the beet in the first place, you could just pretend you never knew you were beet (iron) deficient.  Except that ignorance is bliss until it bites you.

On the plus side:

it’s an opportunity to get yourself a brand new peeler to fly through the job.

ruby red hands are gorgeous against gleaming ice and snow.

beets make all other root vegetables look marvelous.

Peel the beets, then cut into a half inch dice.  Do the same with potatoes (no need to peel first), sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips.  Toss the whole bunch with olive oil and salt.  Roast at 400 degrees until softened with whole cloves of garlic.  Fry some sliced red onion in a pan separately with parsley or thyme until compleltely softened.  Toss with the vegetables when they are ready, and give them a drizzle of your best balsamic.

If all you have is the beets and potatoes, roast both and toss with boiled string beans, toasted pecans, blue cheese, shallot and chive.

Just the two of us

Scene:  The kitchen, 8:30 am.  School starts in 10 minutes.  Daddy’s gone to Italy.  Mamma is on her own.  The dog is pacing, Ferd’s pink eye is back, and mamma’s lungs feel like they have been the floorboards for dance trials featuring concrete boots.  Mamma can’t find the eye drops or a pair of socks.  Ferdinand can’t find the stickers that the doctor gave him.  Mamma remembers she is on a massive dose of antibiotics and reaches for the bottle which is set just over the sink.  Mamma had never filled the sink with dishwater before, but she was trying to immitate the kind of people who are enviably organized and fill a sink with hot soapy water in the spirit of “let’s be ready for anything.”  The pills sunk to the bottom of the sink pit;  $150 dollars worth of uninsured pressed powder soaking with the breakfast dishes.
Mamma: (in her best Janis Joplin)  MY PILLS!  Oh my God, my pills, my pills.

Ferdinand:  They’re all wet Mom.  There’s soap and pancake stuff on them.

Mamma:  They’re fine.   I’ll put them in the oven.

For dinner I made Ferd potato cakes with the leftover mashed from my job on Tuesday.  I had baked antibiotics and a piece of cheese.

Monday curry

I feel like I am turning into a page filler for the National Enquirer:  “Mother Drifts.   Two Weird Bug Bites Involved.”  Over the past few weeks, I have been feeling the intense need to move (with my family) somewhere other–like maybe France or India.  At about the same time, I was bitten by something.  I am almost sure it is a spider.  On the positive side, maybe I’ll end up in France or India with a movie contract to make Spider Woman.  Trying to remain calm and practical, I made an appointment with the doctor and I am going to try cooking instead of packing.
I have no idea where the hammer is, and no idea how to tell a fresh coconut from a dud, so I’m going to have to use canned coconut milk for my curry.   Toast 2 teaspoons of fennel seed, 5 cardomam pods and 1 teaspoon of cumin.  Crush in a mortar and pestle and set aside.  Saute 2 inches of fresh ginger with 2 cloves of garlic, a shallot, a few leaves of fresh cilantro and a small red onion with 1 fresh chili that has been deseeded and sliced, in butter.  Add  1 teaspoon of turmeric.    When the onions are completely softened (about 10 to 15 minutes), add 1 (12 oz.) can of the best coconut milk you can find along with a can of water and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Give it a squeeze of lemon juice, and continue to simmer gently for about 5 minutes.  Add another few leaves of fresh cilantro, and taste for salt and pepper.  Add cubed and peeled potatoes and nearly cooked, on their own, and a half cup of chic peas.  Put the lid on the pan long enough to cook everything through.  Serve with rice, peas with butter and fresh mint and skewered, sauted shrimp.

All in a dinner hour

Everybody has their midweek classics, but you know what might be one person’s go to recipe can easily be another’s “Are you kidding me?”

Take my friend Mary–yesterday afternoon, a Thursday afternoon like any other, Mary was making dinner for her family; something quick and easy.   She was making it early because she works, she goes to school, she has two kids–she had other things to do.  Mary made fish curry.  She crushed and toasted the spices, stirred in fresh coconut milk that she removed from the coconut herself, and then made a side of idly–ground lentils and rice that you make into a sauce with the lentils and patties with the rice.

She also grated the coconut–you know, in her spare time–on a little bench that sits just a few inches off the ground with a thin sharp disc extending from one end.  “Faye”, she said, “I don’t the grate the coconut every day, just when I need it, and then I just freeze the rest for the next time.”  Mary is my hero.  I didn’t have the nerve to tell her that my go to quick and easy during the week is a can of chic peas with olive oil poured over the top and a garlic clove or a fried egg with or without a plate.

I am going to try and add something new to my list that made weekly appearance’s on my mother’s until Carl Henry decided that we were all doomed for a life of high cholesterol and walkers, and switched us to lowfat only mozzarella.  Our fondue pot was worn out from overuse.

Try this:

Rub fondue pot (or first, go out and buy one) with a peeled clove of garlic.  Throw out the garlic. Add 1 1/2 cups of of a very light dry delicious white wine and a tablespoon of kirsch.  Heat it up on top of the stove.  Put 2 tablespoons of cornstarch,  1/2 pound each of gruyere and ementhal or any semi hard cheese you love, cut into tiny cubes in a bowl together.  Toss it up.  Gradually add the cheese to the gently simmering wine in handfuls, making sure that one handful melts before you throw the next one in.  Stir slowly and constantly with a wooden spoon.  Rip up some seriously good French bread and with a long fork, dip the bits into the cheese.

Planning early

Ferdinand loves the dog. He lies down on the floor next to her so they can talk eye to eye. He never walks past her without reaching down to pet her and the dog feels the same about him. Yesterday, he asked me if we could s-t-u-f-f Molly when she dies so that she could live with us forever. (He had to spell it out he said, because he didn’t want to upset her.) I told him maybe we could make a book instead. Or maybe eat her favorite foods in her honor–popcorn, parmesan or bits of beef.
I remember when my stepfather died, (man of the deep south) we had a meal of fried chicken, collard greens, and sweet potatoes. Thank God we didn’t stuff him.
The best fried chicken comes from the great Edna Lewis. She brines it overnight, then soaks it in buttermilk for half a day, infuses lard and butter with country ham until the ham is crisyp, then coats the chicken in cornstarch and flour, and fries it up in the ham infused fat. I like my collard greens with garlic and onions cooked slowly enough to read the paper cover to cover by, and then mixed up in a ratio of 2 parts collards to 1 part cabbage, and my sweet potatoes just as they are with butter, salt and a grind of black pepper, or if I am feeling especially spicey, like the late great Carl Henry, a little cayenne.

Nervous and Afraid

For lunch, Jonathan made the best pasta with spinach and garlic that I have ever tasted. I took a bite and put down the fork. “What are hiding from me,” I said.
“What did you do to these noodles?”
“This is how you make them.”
I didn’t believe him for a minute.
Except what reason does he have to lie to me? I’m crazy enough as it is. I can’t imagine he would think that it would do him any favors to wind me any tighter.
I revisited the idea that he could be telling the truth. Have I lost the sense to judge what I make? Very possible. Very, very.
I am in a sort of a situation at the moment, where I am putting my entire self on the line. Everything I have–from who I am and what moves me to all that I know and all that I love is on the table and on the camera.
When you decide to take a running leap across the chasm of doubt and everything that has kept you from leaping for real before, there is no way that it is going to be an easy ride to the other side. I know that when I get there I will be shooting from the hip and walking tall and talking straight, but Jesus, it’s deep in the middle. Though it might seem the perfect time to rip everything apart and ask one million times, did I make the right choice, and have I ever made sense or a decent dinner, I find that in the middle of the leap, the only thing left to do is commit to the leap. Love the leap.

To get the groove back:
Simmer shallots until they have melted in a little butter and olive oil; add finely slivered garlic, pignoli, currants and then spinach–tiny, teeny leaves–with a little salt and black pepper. Then add al dente pasta, along with a spoonful of the cooking water if you need it, and a good handful of Parmigiano Reggiano.

All in a season

We made it back to the mother country for Christmas. Isabel had the house dressed from chimney to floorboard with twinkling Christmas cheer. We piled into the car the morning after arrival and zoomed off to the Rothschild Estate. We were yelled at for being late by a small lady with not one hair out of place and sensible shoes. “That’s all right” my mother in law said, which threw the lady enough to leave plenty of time to shimmy past her through a Christmas fantasy land and onto the frosting on the cake of a dining room table. I have never seen so many proper people sitting so nicley in one room. We feasted on roast bird, brussel sprouts, sausage stuffing and creme brulee, and I wouldn’t have ordered brussel sprouts for Ferd except that he decided he needed them.
(and then) “What the heck, Mom!!! Why would you eat that?” We drove from there straight to the Royal Albert Hall smack in the middle of London, and had a first class box with a pile of sandwiches, sips of wine and spoons of raspberry mousse; I don’t know how to keep up that kind of eating. Christmas Eve I got the flu and watched some really good television and then rallied for the big day. Isabel (vegetarian) made her traditional pork roast, baked ham, stuffed turkey, andsausages stuffed with bacon. Plus soup, two kinds of potatoes, more brussels, carrots, and a few desserts, and when we were ready, mince pies and chocolates.
When the appetite kicked in again, it was up to Lincoln (picture perfect beautiful with massive cathedral) for another dinner at a 200 year old pub with Grandpa Frank, and all the aunts, uncles and cousins.
As soon as we landed back in the big apple, more family (adopted)–Ann and Carmen for the New York City tour and then Jeannie, Gary and Mads for dinner at the stardust diner in Times Square where the waiters jump up on the tables and sing their Broadway bound hearts out, then Kel for a great big pursuit of happiness secret. (just you wait)
How are you going to keep up that kind of schedule and grocery shop?
I defrosted a piece of leftover braised brisket and I’m going to rework it into a beef and leek pie with a pastry crust.
Shred the beef, cook up a big pan of leeks in butter with thyme and a bay leaf, add some cubes of peeled potato, dust with flour, saute a little longer to give the flour a toasted flavor, and add homemade stock or water. Simmer, covered until the potatotes are tender. Add the shredded beef to warm through, and a spill of heavy cream. Get it into a casserole dish and top with your favorite pie crust. (1 cup of flour, 7 tablespoons of butter, pinch salt, pinch of sugar and ice water to bring it together). Bake at 425 til the crust is golden. Serve with a big goblet of red wine and a tiny salad of bitter greens.
Tomorrow have cereal and peanuts.