You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2012.

 

egg soups, hurricane sandy, food without power, easy soups

 

For those of us lucky enough to have a working stove, some chicken broth on hand, and a couple of eggs, these soups may provide a little comfort without much fuss after storm-drenched days of coping.

Read The Hard-Boiled Truth About Egg Soups at NPR’s Kitchen Window here.

cookbook reviewWe tested this late in the summer, actually, but the review’s just coming out now.

I remember it really clearly because this was some of the most delicious food I’ve had in my life.  Night after night I sat at my plate making savage nom-nom noises and going caveman on the bones.

It wasn’t always easy cooking, as you’ll see in the review, but it was unforgettable. The matzo candy has become a household staple (and a reason to keep halvah around, just in case).

Read the review of Susan Feniger’s Street Food here.

recipes paper cookbooks electronic digital analog online

I’ve been a passionate advocate for paper cookbooks for some years. I love them equally for their beauty and practicality.

At the same time, I’ve been watching as the Internet’s portfolio of recipes has blossomed, and the search functions that allow you to hunt them down have gradually improved. More and more cooks have brought their devices into the kitchen–yet I and many others wondered: how do you cope with the small, single screen? How do you protect a basically fragile, complex machine in a humid, physically stressful environment? And what about all the extra features of a cookbook: the author’s headnotes, the company of other well-curated recipes, the sidebars, the paper pages you can scribble on with your thoughts and additions?

I don’t have a smartphone–our town is surely one of the last redoubts in the country where no cell service is available–so I have only toured iCookbook and other excellent cooking apps on my laptop.  But when Key Ingredient, a crowd-sourced recipe database site, contacted me about its Recipe Reader device, which it markets as a “Kindle for the Kitchen,” I thought it was time for me to step up and see if my paper biases were unfounded.  I do love a gadget.  I use and love a Kindle, too.  Let’s give it a try, I thought.

Like the Kindle, the Recipe Reader essentially syncs with just one place on the Internet–the database of recipes hosted by Key Ingredient.  So I signed up for the database, uploaded a few of my recipes, downloaded a few others, and set to work.

I was taken, at the start, with the Recipe Reader’s appealing physical properties. It can be canted at a low or high, practical incline for countertop use.  It’s durable, and the seamless surface wipes off cleanly when (inevitably) you spill or splash.

At first, it was just plain fun to see my own recipes pop up on the screen, with my own photos and words.  I like the way the quantities were automatically bolded and the font sizeable.  It was fun playing with the timers and the metric conversion tool and the substitutions glossary.

But as I worked with it, I grew more frustrated. First of all, it was annoying not to see more of the recipe at once.  Good cooks look ahead to budget their time, anticipate problems, and see where they can save steps. They look behind to check and make sure they didn’t omit something, and to repeatedly scan the ingredients list.  I could scroll up and down, but that’s something not usually necessary with a full-format paper cookbook.

And as much as I liked the timer, conversion, and substitution tools, I didn’t want to have to switch screens to see them.  I wanted to be able to convert on the fly, by touching “1/2 cup butter” and seeing it magically change to “8 tablespoons butter” to “1/4 pound” to “113 3/8 gr.” as I wished.  I wanted to be able to touch “Great Northern beans” and see “cannellini,” “navy beans,” “gigantes,” and “pinto beans” come up as substitutes, with mutatis mutandis instructions.  I wanted to be able to selectively scale up recipes by having some kind of multiplying function right there on the screen.

In short, I wanted magic.

I know there are apps out there that address many of these concerns.  And I know that all of this is achievable in a single device.  In a way, just using the Recipe Reader (despite its flaws) made me realize that.  I’m now open to the idea that an electronic device can have a home, and a happy one, in the kitchen.

The bottom line is this: What’s a recipe, for you? Is it just information–a formula? Or is it a complete learning experience?

The things I love about paper cookbooks remain unchanged and hard to duplicate–the sense of customized, sustained attention, the physical heft and portability, the permanence, the voice.  It’s a tangible artifact for a tangible act –  the act of cooking.  To compete with the accessibility of online recipes, cookbooks have had to step up in quality, usefulness, and longevity.  And they have. The best of today’s cookbooks have a thoroughness and perceptiveness not yet achieved by many apps.

What I think I’ll love about digital and online recipes, someday, is the speed and readiness of the information. But there will have to be a lot of information, and it will have to be high-quality, deeply steeped in reference material, and as instantaneous as thought, before I’ll readily set aside the slower pleasures and practicality of paper.

Not really a food post this time, just something that’s been kind of haunting my mind.

Today I found myself thinking of my friend Kevin, who passed away this spring.  Kevin was a fellow NPR Kitchen Window contributor, and one of those friends one makes so easily and casually these days thanks to social networking.

Over the course of maybe 3 years’ acquaintance, we had just a handful of exchanges– a few phone and email conversations and a bunch of Facebook interactions.  We posted food haikus on each other’s Walls.  Mine were mostly absurdist; his, more heartfelt.

I found Kevin interesting, a little funny, always game for some chitchat about a pretty wide range of subjects ranging from food to politics to technology. I thought his haiku was OK, if a little callow.  On occasion, I caught a glimpse of a more sensitive nature.  If I happened to disclose some waves breaking in my emotional life, I was always surprised that Kevin was so quick to respond and try to shore up my outlook.

Over the phone he seemed strangely grave, and in his written messages to me I sometimes felt he was trying to prove something about his life experience, or maybe his smarts (not that his smarts needed proving).  He mentioned his health problems in passing, the way people do, and I thought that the way he mentioned and then minimized them was also just, you know, what people do.

I didn’t hear that he had died until a couple of months after it happened.  It was only then I discovered that he had been desperately ill through much of our acquaintance, and though his death was always before his eyes, he never spoke of it to me.  I found out what had been stalking him–acute liver disease–only by digging deep into search and finding some posts he had filed on a non-food website.

When I learned he was gone, it was as though I suddenly had to re-interpret everything I knew about him.  Things he’d said that maybe seemed overblown in a casual acquaintance suddenly made every kind of sense in an acquaintance whose every day was tinged with the formality of death.

That he had a really profound sense of humor, was essentially modest, was private enough not to share his burden of trouble, and yet was empathetic enough to help others share theirs, were things I only later understood.  But now I saw why he seemed to take things so seriously.  Why shouldn’t a man facing the end at any moment feel the need to prove the things he’s done right in his life? Why shouldn’t he write earnest haiku? Why shouldn’t he seem grave on the phone?  Why wouldn’t he reach out and find the humanity in other people he scarcely knew?

It was like one of those movies where a sudden shift in perspective makes you realize you have to review the whole thing from a new reality baseline.

Alas, a friendship can only be reviewed in memory once death has put an end to it.  And Kevin, merely a somewhat like-minded acquaintance when I knew him, has transformed in my memory into someone who might have been a dear friend if I’d gotten to know him better.  Yet that would have taken getting-to-know-you time, a kind of time that social media makes you feel you don’t need.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t have ever gotten to know him even a little if it weren’t for that very mode of communication.

The only thing I can conclude is that you never really can be sure you know a person, and you might as well give them the benefit of the doubt.  Chances are they contain multitudes, and among those multitudes there just might be someone very dear.

ameraucana eggs, silver laced wyandotte eggs, barred rock eggs

I didn’t catch them at it, but this morning there were two beautiful palest blue eggs in the coop.  They could only have been laid by Feather and Spalty, even though only Feather has shown all the signs of maturity.

One of the girls was apparently taken by surprise and didn’t quite make it to the nest box.  Nevertheless, both eggs were delivered safely, and without apparent drama.

ameraucana

One Patch, on the other hand, continues to raise high the roof beam with cries of  indignation for an hour every day before she lays.

Incidentally, the eggs are crazy delicious.

*since originally posting this, I’ve made a terminology change.  I’d thought my girls were “Araucanas” but they’re almost certainly not. They could be “Ameraucanas”–a white and “blue wheaten” perhaps. Or they could even be “Easter Eggers,” Araucanish mutts.  Regardless, the eggs are beautiful, and so are the birds.

I was there when it happened!

I went out the door to check on the girls, and I thought I heard an egg song so I dashed inside for my camera before walking over to the garden.   I looked in the nest box.  No egg.  Big circular hole in the straw, though, with the linoleum showing through.  I went and got some straw to add to the nesting box, but when I got back One Patch was already there–fussing and making swirlies in the straw and playing with the wooden dummy egg.  No more complaining, just quiet clucking.

Then she settled in and just sat.  I took a picture or two.  Lumpy and Two Patch came up to visit and watch her.  After about 10 minutes of me watching them watching her, I was ready to head inside and leave One Patch alone for a while.

I took a look at the other birds, who were hanging out in the downstairs of the ark.  I inspected the 4th Barred Rock for distinguishing marks–they’re quite hard to tell apart. Just as I’d decided it was Jumpy, two more Barred Rocks came down the ramp.  And then another.  Drat!  I thought, now I have to figure out who you-all are too.  And then Wait! that’s 4 Barred Rocks!  Who’s minding the nest?

"barred rock" "21 weeks" "first egg"

I went round to the egg door, opened it, and there it was, a beautiful light brown egg exactly the size of the little wooden dummy egg sitting next to it, but speckly and yes! still warm!

The flock is exactly 21 weeks old today.

myanmar, naomi duguid, new cookbookThere were three things about this book that instantly struck me when it arrived in the mail:

1) It’s the first solo venture by Naomi Duguid (whose previous books were usually authored with her ex-partner, Jeffrey Alford);

2) This book looks and feels much more like a working cookbook than those previous endeavors;

3) It’s a relatively unfamiliar cuisine for the West, yet out of a region (Southeast Asia) that has become a rich  mine of material for cookbooks published here of late.

All of this made for fascinating testing – and some flavors that startled and intrigued even the rather jaded palates of our household.

Read the review of Burma: Rivers of Flavor here.

"point of lay" pullet barred rock chicken "about to lay" expecting "first egg"

One Patch the Drama Queen, not knowing what to expect when she’s expecting.

Well, the girls are 21 weeks old tomorrow, and we’re all waiting anxiously for the first egg.  There’s been pacing, and growling, and constant checking out of the nest box.  And that’s just me.

One Patch (Barred Rock) has been ahead of the game all along.  Her comb and wattles were the first to redden, and a couple of weeks ago she started to do the “egg squat,” flattening herself to the ground and spreading her wings.  Since then, Feather (Ameraucana), Stripèd (Silver Laced Wyandotte), and Jumpy (Barred Rock) have all started doing it too.  The others still run off, skittishly, when you try to pet them.

We’ve moved the portable ark to garden bed #2 and fenced it in with bed #4, so the girls have a place to play, forage, hunt for bugs, and generally be chickens while cleaning up the debris from my tomatoes, pole beans,and cucumbers.  After they’re done here, we’ll move them down to beds #4 & #6, #6 & #8, and so on till winter, when they move into Chickhenge, the fortress-like permanent winter coop.

Today, One Patch has been more edgy than ever, pacing the edge of the fence and popping into the ark several times an hour to look at the next boxes.  She’s being very vocal, too–a sort of raspy, downward, protracted, complainy kind of growl, like a rusty barn door being opened and closed repeatedly by a restless toddler.  It’s about equally cute and annoying.

I understand all of this is pretty typical behavior for a pullet about to lay.  (Some people call it “chicken PMS”.) And I know that first egg could be today, tomorrow, next week, or November.  But it’s sure hard to wait…which is probably why I’m sitting here balanced on the corner of the asparagus bed with my laptop on my knees.

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