Literary Eats: At Home on the Range

While unpacking boxes of old family books recently, author Elizabeth Gilbert rediscovered a dusty, yellowed hardcover called At Home on the Range, originally written by her great-grandmother, Margaret Yardley Potter. Having only been peripherally aware of the volume, Gilbert dug in with some curiosity, and soon found that she had stumbled upon a book far ahead of its time. Part scholar and part crusader for a more open food conversation, Potter espoused the importance of farmer’s markets and ethnic food (Italian, Jewish, and German), derided preservatives and culinary shortcuts, and generally celebrated a devotion to epicurean adventures. Reading this practical and humorous cookbook, it’s not hard to see that Gilbert inherited her great-grandmother’s love of food and her warm, infectious prose.

The excerpt below, from the chapter entitled “Egg Yourself on in Emergencies,” is, in my opinion, one of the most perfectly perfect things written. Ever.

The second inexpensive assistant to have in your icebox for quick meals is cold boiled potatoes, dull as it sounds, but their variations are almost as endless as those of eggs.

Hashed browns are my first thought, probably because I spent most of my young summer days on the New Jersey coast and a plate of crusty potatoes, soft inside and turned omelet-fashion from the sizzling pan always brings back memories of numerous fishing picnics and I can almost smell the driftwood smoke and see the sun setting over the water. The party generally consisted of three or four young sportsmen and the fortunate (so we thought) girls of their choice, and we started early and eagerly planning and providing food for our Izaak Waltons.

First, we’d have two stuffed eggs apiece, made as I have told you, each half carefully clapped onto its mate and the whole wrapped in wax paper. Then a quart jar or so of whole peeled ripe tomatoes and a smaller one of sharp French dressing, thick with slices of onion and chopped celery, and perhaps a washed, chilly head of lettuce, well wrapped. One of the embryo housewives would produce a cake or a pie, for in those days girls thought their swains were impressed by their culinary skill, and with a great paper bag of cold boiled white potatoes and a pound or two of sliced bacon we were ready to go, accompanied by rattling frying pans, plates, cups, cutlery and a coffee pot.

A trip by canoe or sailboat to the beach, and the boys busied themselves building a fire and then vanished with their fishing rods while we got ready for their return in what we felt was a truly domestic fashion. Coffee and water were measured into the big pot and set aside. The tomatoes and dressing were put in a shady, cool place, bread was sliced and buttered, and all hands began peeling and dicing the potatoes. At dusk, just before we expected our fishermen back, we started all the bacon frying and then put the brown slices to drain on a bit of paper. Some of the grease was saved for the fish that seemingly never failed to appear with the boys and into about ½ inch of the grease that was left went the diced potatoes and a few pieces of chopped onion and lots of salt and pepper. The whole mass was well pressed down into the hot pan and then moved to a “medium” corner of the fire, there to remain for about half an hour.

When the fishing had been unusually good and we needed no extra meat, the bacon was broken up in the potatoes just before we served them, otherwise it went in between our buttered slices of bread. How good the ice-cold tomatoes with their spicy dressing tasted with the broiled fresh fish we basted with the bacon drippings, and how we argued over who should get the last crumb of brown potato before the pan was taken to the edge of the beach for its scrub with sand and sea water! Then big cups of strong black coffee and huge pieces of cake or pie and, while the sun set, someone stirred up the fire and a young voice started ‘Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee’ or maybe a newer song like ‘By the Beautiful Sea.’ Is it any wonder I like hashed brown potatoes?

But even without my memories, try them made just the same way on a prosaic stove. Let the boiled potatoes be cold and dry and have the bacon grease and skillet hot. For home consumption a few chopped onion tops or chives are better than the lustier sliced onion, and a dusting of chopped parsley makes them more delicate. The finished product, with some of our faithful poached eggs resting on top and the bacon curled about the edge, is a one-dish luncheon that any man, particularly, will relish. Sliced tomatoes in sharp dressing just like that made at the picnic, hot coffee, gingerbread from a good package mix, topped with marshmallows when it’s half baked, fruit—and how long has it taken you? Not more than half an hour, including setting the table.

“At Home on the Range” by Margaret Yardley Potter. McSweeney’s, March 2012

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Literary Eats: Show Boat

showboatDid you know that the notes in the refrain of “Cotton Blossom” are the inverted notes of the refrain of “Old Man River.”  Go ahead, sing it in your head:  Cot-ton Blossom……Old Man River.  See?  Now good luck getting that out of your head.

We’re speaking, of course, of the musical Show Boat, which was based on the novel of the same name by Edna Ferber.  I took a compilation of five of her novels out of the library, because I actually wanted to read Saratoga Trunk.  But Show Boat was there and it won the mental coin toss and I read it first.  I hadn’t read anything by Edna Ferber before and was just blown away by her writing.  Her sentence structure and cadence make the paragraphs read like songs.  And her sensory descriptions are beyond everything.  You don’t read Show Boat, you see, hear, smell, feel, touch and eat it.  The food was unbelievable!  So much so that I felt compelled to dust off “Literary Eats” and share some of these passages.

Begin with how the mischievous and Gallic Captain Andy Hawks convinces his staunch, Puritanical wife Parthy of his plan to buy the Mississippi river show boat Cotton Blossom:

“‘…And will you look at the way the kitchen looks, spite of ’em.  Slick’s a whistle.  Look at the stove!’  Crafty Andy.

Parthenia Ann Hawks looked at the stove.  And what a stove it was!  Broad-bosomed, ample, vast, like a huge fertile black mammal whose breast would suckle numberless eager sprawling bubbling pots and pans.  It shone richly.  Gazing upon this generous expanse you felt that from its source could emerge nothing that was not savoury, nourishing, satisfying.  Above it, and around the walls, on hooks, hung rows of pans and kettlesof every size and shape, all neatly suspended by their pigtails.  Here was the wherewithal for boundless cooking.  You pictured whole hams, sizzling; fowls neatly trussed in rows; platoons of brown loaves; hampers of green vegetables; vast plateaus of pies.  Crockery, thick, white, coarse, was piled, plate on plate, platter on platter, behind the neat doors of the pantry.  A supplementary and redundant kerosene stove stood obligingly in the corner.

‘Little hot snack at night, after the show,’ Andy explained.  ‘Coffee or an egg, maybe, and no lighting the big wood burner.’

There crept slowly, slowly over Parthy’s face a look of speculation, and this in turn was replaced by an expression that was, paradoxically, at once eager and dreamy…”

The boat is bought and a new life begun.  Parthy is slow and reluctant to embrace it, but Andy is in his element, and so is his French lineage:

“Certainly it was due to Andy more than Parthy that the Cotton Blossom was reputed the best-fed show boat on the rivers.  He was always bringing home in triumph a great juicy ham, a side of beef.  He liked to forage the season’s first and best:  a bushel of downy peaches, fresh-picked; watermelons; little honey-sweet seckel pears; a dozen plump broilers; new corn; a great yellow cheese ripe for cutting.

“He would plump his purchases down on the kitchen table while Queenie surveyed his booty, hands on ample hips.  She never resented his suggestions, though Parthy’s offended her.  Capering, Andy would poke a forefinger into a pullet’s fat sides.  ‘Rub ’em over with a little garlic, Queenie, to flavour ’em up.  Plenty of butter and strips of bacon.  Cover ’em over till they’re tender and then give ’em a quick brown the last twenty minutes.”

It’s a magical, fantastic life for Magnolia, Andy and Parthy’s precocious daughter.  She has the run of the ship from bow to stern, from stage to dressing rooms, from the captain’s wheel high above, to the kitchen far beneath, and it’s here she spends some of her happiest hours:

“Magnolia liked to loiter in the big, low-raftered kitchen.  It was a place of pleasant smells and sights and sounds.  It was here that she learned Negro spirituals from Jo and cooking from Queenie, both of which accomplishments stood her in good stead in later years.  Queenie had, for example, a way of stuffing a ham for baking.  It was a fasincating process to behold, and one that took hours.  Spices – bay, thyme, onion, clove, mustard, allspice, pepper – chopped and mixed and stirred together.  A sharp-pointed knife plunged deep into the juicy ham.  The incision stuffed with the spicy mixture.  Another plunge with the knife.  Another filling.  Again and again and again until the great ham had grown to twice its size.  Then a heavy clean white cloth, needle and coarse thread.  Sewed up tight and plump in its jacket the ham was immersed in a pot of water and boiled.  Out when tender, the jacket removed; into the oven with it.  Basting and basting from Queenie’s long-handled spoon.  The long sharp knife again for cutting, and then the slices, juicy and scented, with the stuffing of spices making a mosaic pattern against the pink of the meat…”

Magnolia meets Gay Ravenal, a professional gambler who turns actor, but never loses the itch for the game.  After they are married, he convinces Magnolia to move to Chicago with their daughter Kim, where their life is dictated by whichever way the Ravenal luck runs.  Where fortune goes, the food follows.  “If the Ravenal luck was high, [breakfast] was eaten in leisurely luxury at Billy Boyle’s Chop House between Clark and Dearborn streets.” 

“In came the brokers from the Board of Trade across the way.  Smoke-blue air.  The rich heavy smell of thick steaks cut from prime Western beef.  Massive glasses of beer through which shone the pale amber of light brew, or the seal-brown of dark.  The scent of strong black coffee.   Rye bread pungent with caraway.  Little crisp round breakfast rolls sprinkled with poppy-seed.

This is 1870s Chicago, before it “got civic” – young, raw, bustling, coarse, when:

“Calories, high blood pressure, vegetable luncheons, golf, were words not yet included in the American everyday vocabulary.  Fried potatoes were still considered a breakfast dish, and a meatless meal was a snack.”

We learn of the culture of the professional gambler, and of Chicago’s numerous gambling establishments.  Gay Ravenal favors Mike McDonald’s “The Store”, and who wouldn’t:

“Ravenal might interrupt his game to eat something, but this was not his rule.  He ate usually after he had finished his play for the day.  It was understood that he and the others of his stamp were the guests of McDonald or of Hankins.  Twenty-five-cent cigars were to be had for the taking.  Drinks of every description.  Hot food of the choicest sort and of almost any variety could be ordered and eaten as though this were one’s own house, and the servants at one’s command.  Hot soups and broths.  Steaks.  Chops.  Hot birds.  You could eat this at a little white-spread table alone, or with your companions, or you could have it brought to you as you played.  On long tables in the adjoining room were spread the cold viands – roast chickens, tongue, sausages, cheese, joints of roast beef, salads.  Everything about the place gave to its habitués the illusion of plenty, of ease, of luxury…”

Luck continues to dictate the room and board of the Ravenals, such as at Cardinal Bemis’ famous place on Michigan Avenue:

“He would ask suavely, ‘What kind of a dinner, Mr. Ravenal?’  If Gay replied, ‘Oh – uh – a cocktail and a little red wine,’ Cardinal Bemis knew that luck was only so-so, and that the dinner was to be good, but plainish.  But if, in reply to the tactful question, Gay said, magnificently, ‘A cocktail, Cardinal; claret, sauterne, champagne, and liqueurs,’ Bemis knew that Ravenal had had a real run of luck and prepared the canvasbacks boiled in champagne; or there were squabs or plover, with all sorts of delicacies, and the famous frozen watermelon that had been plugged, filled with champagne, put on ice for a day, and served in such chunks of scarlet fragrance as made the nectar and ambrosia of the gods seem poor, flavourless fare indeed.”

A reversal of fortune could quickly put the Ravenals in a rooming house on “Gambler’s Alley” where weak coffee and single eggs are made over a gas jet in the room, and Magnolia hoards the nickels that will allow her and her daughter a trolley ride to the park on Lake Shore Drive.  And then, just as quickly, the luck can turn again:

“It was no novelty for Kim Ravenal to fall asleep in the dingy discomfort of a north side rooming house and to wake up amidst the bright luxuriousness of a hotel suite, without ever having been conscious of the events which had wrought this change.  Instead of milk out of the bottle and an egg cooked over the gas jet, there was a shining breakfast tray bearing mysterious round-domed dishes whose covers you whipped off to disclose what not of savoury delights!  Crisp curls of bacon, parsley-decked; eggs baked and actually bubbling in a brown crockery container; hot golden buttered toast.  And her mother calling gaily in from the next room, ‘Drink your milk with your breakfast, Kim darling!  Don’t gulp it all down in one swallow at the end.'”

As their circumstances become more dire, the descriptions of food grow more meagre and infrequent, and after Ravenal’s desertion and the decline of the river boat era, the food of bygone days becomes a dream.  But what a dream indeed…

Gingerbread

I have a few favorite books that I faithfully read every year, usually in the fall.  Among them:  Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede; Elizabeth Ehrlich’s Miriam’s Kitchen; and Laurie Colwin’s twin masterpieces, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking.  I was in bed with the latter two this weekend (I love writing that), dreaming of comforting things to eat now that the tiniest bit of chill is in the evening air, and now that I am a touch more inclined to make dessert.

Like gingerbread.  Says Colwin:

The sad fact is that gingerbread is on the decline, although it is alive and well in the children’s books of the fifties, where cheerful housewives wait at home for the arrival of their hungry children at three o’clock, ready with a great big pan of warm gingerbread and some ice-cold milk.

You do not need to be  housebound mother to make gingerbread.  All you need is to put aside an hour or so to mix up the batter and bake it, and then, provided you do not have a huge mob waiting to devour the gingerbread immediately, it will pay you back for a few days because it gets better as it ages.  I myself never have any around long enough to age, but my English cookbooks assure me that a few days make all the difference.

Colwin then offers her personal thoughts on gingerbread, namely that the more ginger the better, and molasses should never be used because it is too bitter.  She prefers pure cane syrup and endorses that made by the C. S. Steen Syrup Mill.  Of course her books were written in 1992 and she helpfully offers the reader the address and phone number of said company.  Ten years later, you simply can go to their website if you wish to order syrup.  Colwin also advocates Lyle’s Golden Syrup which is available in most grocery stores and I myself have some in the cupboard but only because I’ve made this gingerbread before.

Colwin gives two gingerbread recipes in More Home Cooking, and I go with the one from Delia Smith’s Book of Cakes, which is called “Damp Gingerbread.”  I could call it “Moist Gingerbread” and watch the majority of my girlfriends go screaming from the room.  But I won’t.  However I will give you my own little tweaks and modifications as we get down to business and get to perfuming your kitchen.

Damp Gingerbread

  • 9 tbsp butter (that’s one stick plus one tablespoon from a second stick)
  • 12 oz Lyle’s Golden Syrup (that’s 1 1/2 cups and a little bit annoying because Lyle’s comes in an 11 oz bottle.  I use 1 cup of the golden syrup and scant 1/2 cup of Grandma’s molasses, and do so without a trace of bitterness)
  • 2 cups plus 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger (can be a level spoon or a heaping spoon, depending on your taste)
  • 3/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp dark cocoa powder (this is optional but when I said I was going to make gingerbread, Panda asked if it could be chocolate gingerbread, and how could I refuse?)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 heaping tablespoon fresh ginger (and stop me if you’ve heard this before, but if you are a ginger person, Spice World’s bottled pressed ginger could and should be one of your very best friends, and see funny story at the end of the post)

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a baking dish with butter or spray with Pam.

Melt butter, golden syrup and molasses in a saucepan and set aside

Sift flour, salt, baking soda, cocoa powder and spices into a mixing bowl and set aside

In a separate small bowl, whisk egg, milk and pressed ginger

Pour syrup and butter onto dry ingredients and mix well.  Add egg-milk-ginger mixture and mix well.  The batter will be very liquid: this is damp gingerbread.

Pour into baking pan and bake for 50-55 minutes until the middle is just set with the edges pulling away from the sides of the dish.   Your kitchen is going to smell amazing and don’t be surprised if you feel inclined to string up some lights and create a holiday station on Pandora.  At the very least you should light a candle.

Cool for ten minutes before turning out.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or just eat it straight out of the pan.  Try to save some, wrapped in foil, because it really does improve with age.

*Funny story about bottled ginger:  I was in Stop & Shop yesterday, trawling the produce section where I know they keep those jars of ginger.  They are usually on the lower shelves beneath the bins, cozied up with the bags of apple chips and the jars of minced garlic and the bags of pine nuts.  But they weren’t there.  I scoured every last lower shelf and then went over to the ethnic aisle, thinking maybe they’d moved in with the Asian ingredients.  No, not there either.  I checked the produce section one more time and then finally asked a clerk.  He wrinkled his eyebrows, asked if I didn’t mean ginger root?  No, I said, it was bottled fresh ginger.  He asked another clerk.  Clerk2 said yes, the bottled stuff, he knew what I meant but he hadn’t seen it stocked lately.  Had I tried the ethnic aisle?  Yes I had.  Clerk2 apologized, as did Clerk1, and I thanked them both and moved on.  As I was passing the refrigerated display of bagged lettuce and other salad stuff, AH-HAH!!!  There they were!  Hiding!  “Hey!” I called out happily to Clerk1 and Clerk2, holding up my prize, “Found it!”  And they just seemed really happy about it, and apologized again for not knowing their own section.  They were cute.  It’s these little things that make your day.

Orange Couscous Supreme

Trawling the leftovers from my local library’s annual Book Sale (“Free!” said the sign, “Help Yourselves!”) I found Kim Sunée’s Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love and the Search for Home.    I took it down to Lavallette with me and I really, really wanted to love this book.  It started out very promising, with sumptuous descriptions of the cuisines of New Orleans, Stockholm and France.  But halfway through, I was becoming annoyed with Keem.  Three-quarters through I wanted to smack her.  By the end I was just skimming from recipe to recipe.  The food was amazing but frankly I couldn’t stomach any more of her search for home.

Anyway, one recipe that immediately jumped out at me was an orange couscous salad.  It sounded perfect beach house fare.  It was mine and Jeeps’ night to cook dinner for 14: we had chicken breasts marinating in Ken’s Steakhouse dressing, and shrimp marinating separately for kebabs.  My brother-in-law was out crabbing and undoubtedly would be bringing in a catch.

   

I thought the couscous salad would go great with the mixed grill so I ran out to the local A & P to gather ingredients and whipped it up.  It was a little labor-intensive but all-in-all a great success.  Even my brother-in-law, who is no fan of couscous, liked it a lot.  And he wasn’t just being nice.

I doubled the recipe given below, skipped some things and added others.  It’s one of those dishes that you make by the recipe once and then improvise ever after.  And you’ll notice that I brought my cutting board and knives down to Lavallette which is quite possibly the smartest thing I’ve done.  Ever.

And before we begin, a short tangent on sectioning oranges, which was harder than it sounds.  I knew the basic technique of cutting a slice off the top and bottom to stabilize the orange, then cutting the peel and pith off lengthwise, then cutting between the sections to get your supremes, as the French say.  But this method resulted in the orange falling apart, miserably small chunks of orange clinging to large shreds of membrane, and a growing fear of slicing into my hand.  My brother-in-law had already taken a trip to the ER after a mishap cleaning his crabbing knife, so I resorted to the grapefruit method of cutting the orange across horizontally, then cutting out the half-sections with my paring knife (also brought from home because my pants are smart).  This worked out much better.

Orange Couscous and the Supremes Salad

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 10-oz box plain couscous
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 tbsps chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tbsps chopped mint leaves (I skipped, I’m not a fan of mint so I doubled up on parsley)
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup golden raisins, currants or chopped dates (I skipped)
  • 1 cup snow peas, roughly chopped (my own addition)
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (my own addition)

Bring water to a boil.  Put couscous, onion and snow peas in a large serving bowl and add water, stir, cover with plastic and let steam 5 minutes.  Fluff with fork.  Stir in olive oil, salt and pepper.  Set aside and let cool.

Zest both oranges and juice one of them.  Remove peel and pith of second orange and cut into sections.

  

Add zest and chopped orange to couscous.  Stir in parsley (and/or mint), tomatoes, cucumber, and the fruit if you’re using it.  Cover and chill in refrigerator 1 hour and up to 2 days.  Taste before serving and add more salt, pepper, olive oil, juice if needed.

  

Random Reads

I’ve finished some good books lately and have to write them down immediately otherwise I forget.  Then people ask me “What have you read lately?” and I kick myself because I know I’ve finished a really great book but I can’t remember a damn thing…

Hothouse flower and the Nine Plants of Desire, by Margot Berwin.  I just finished this last night so it’s fresh in my mind and it.  was.  wonderful.  SO sososososo wonderful.  Magic realism just the way I like it.  Please read it, too, and then let me know if you liked it.

Before Ever After, by Samantha Sotto, which I’ve mentioned a couple times before but now I’ve actually finished it and can officially say that this is an awesome story.

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, by Natasha Solomons

A Proper Education for Girls, by Elaine di Rollo

Commuters, by Emily Tedrow Gray.  Also mentioned before and also first-rate but comes with a bonus of the author’s favorite books listed at the back.  So I got a great read AND a great reading list, which led me to pick up:

Digging to America, by Anne Tylor

A Ship Made of Paper, by Scott Spencer

 

 

Went to the library last week and picked up this stack:

Sins of the Seventh Sister: a Memoir of the Gothic South, by Huston Curtiss

The Summer Kitchen, by Karen Weinreb

Swan, by Frances Mayes

       

Getting back in the Swing

I miss you too.  Thrice I was asked today when I’d be blogging again.  The issue is getting back into the routine of school and activities, managing middle school and workloads and who is going where on what day.  Anything I’ve been making for dinner the past couple weeks has all been made before.  Everyone is tired.  Now is not the time for adventure, now is the time for tried and true meals that won’t fail me.  And, I confess, a lot of scrambled eggs.  Oh, and I made mushroom barley soup in David Crockpott and it was very nice, dear, but after the effort it’s a shame that mushroom barley just isn’t high on my list of favorite soups.  It’s in the freezer now in case any of my local pals want it.

Another thing taking up my time is me.  I mean I’ve been trying to write again, and when I say write I mean work on that damn novel of mine, take the time every day in the early morning or late at night to write something because seriously, what the hell am I waiting for?  I joined Fanstory.com and have put up a few of the scribbles already posted on the blog.  There’s been some good feedback and I just feel that I have something to say and a gift of sorts for saying it.  Anyway, my Fanstory site is here.

And as writing goes hand-in-hand with reading, and Reads is this blog’s middle name, here are the pages I’ve been flipping:

    

Commuters I read and loved and then despaired of ever being a successful writer.  The Secret Lives of Dresses I was sure I was going to absolutely love.  I mean, it’s about a woman who owns a vintage clothing shop and (wait for it) secretly writes stories about the dresses she sells.  Whichever patron buys the dress, they also get the story.  I mean is that a book made for me?  I was sure it was going to be my new BFF but alas, by the last chapters I was skimming and I thought maybe I can be a successful writer.

Now I’m reading Before Ever After and back to despairing because I know I’m going to love it and be humbled.  (Sigh)

And now let’s have a snack.  I’ve made zucchini fritters before here.  Haven’t I?  I must have.  Hmm…no…just black bean fritters.  Well no matter, it’s the same premise, and I just discovered/remembered this recipe which I had dog-eared in Food & Wine.  It’s Mario Batali’s twist on shredded zucchini, eggs, flour, onion, etc.  His genius lies in the addition of ricotta cheese and lemon zest (smacks forehead), now why didn’t I think of that?

Mario Batali’s Forehead-Smacking Zucchini-Ricotta Fritters

  • 2 medium zucchini (about 7 ounces each), coarsely shredded
  • 2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
  • 3 large scallions, very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh sheep-milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Olive oil, for frying
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

In a large bowl, combine the zucchini, garlic, scallions, ricotta, eggs, lemon zest and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Stir well, then stir in the flour just until incorporated.

Line a large baking sheet with paper towels. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of olive oil until shimmering. Working in batches, add 2-tablespoon mounds of the zucchini batter to the hot oil, spreading them to form 3-inch fritters. Fry over moderately high heat, turning once, until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain the fritters on the paper towels and serve right away, with lemon wedges.

Eat.

Read.

Think about it…

Random bites

Here’s the first pea harvest.  I know, try to contain yourself at the sight of such abundant bounty.  Still, good things come in small packages, and there is nothing like picking them off the vine, pulling the string, splitting the pod, and scraping it along your bottom teeth to pop the peas in your mouth.

That is how you do it, right?

Moving along.  Here was some yumminess:  Quinoa Patties as found on Stacey Snacks.  I’d had my eye on these and over the weekend I cooked up about 4 cups of quinoa and just had it keeping in the fridge.  Monday night I was late in the city, so I texted the URL to Jeeps…oddly, just as he was peering in the fridge and wondering what to do with the quart-sized Chinese food container filled with quinoa.  They were made and waiting when I got off the train and they were dynamite.   We had them with just steamed broccoli; Stacey shows them with a dollop of guacamole, and in another post she has them on a bed of greens with, hello, a sunnyside egg on top.

Speaking of eggs, it has been beastly hot the past two days, with more beastliness to come.  But is it hot enough outside to fry an egg?  My neighbor Elizabeth does not suffer clichés gladly, and demanded proof over hyperbole.  The results are in, and yes, it was that hot:

[Editor’s note – Naive ninny that I am, I really did think Elizabeth had conducted said experiment but later she confessed to a Google image and then passed along an article about how, in theory, it is not possible to fry an egg on the sidewalk because it does not reach the temperature required to denature and coagulate the egg whites.  I called her a fraud and told her that to salvage her street cred, she should crack an egg on the hood of her car.  Stay tuned]

Oh, here’s a treat.  Last year we went to friends in Westport for Memorial Day, and one of the appetizers they served was goat cheese in apricots with hazelnuts.  We went crazy over these and let me be perfectly frank:  goat cheese and I have a contentious relationship.  For years I wanted to like it, I felt it was something I really should like, but whenever I had it…I just didn’t like it.  But I kept on and each time I didn’t like it a little less.  And then with the apricots in Westport…maybe it was the type of goat cheese or the company it was keeping, but I think I ate half the platter and Francesca and I fought for the last one.

So this was my lunch on Tuesday.  I went the extra step and drizzled some honey over them, and then a pinch of sea salt.  And they were so good, I made like another four and ate those too.

Tuesday night I went back to dance class.  I have not been in….many years.  My mother is guest teaching at my friend Jen’s dance studio, 5-6-7-8 Dance Arts, for the month of June.  So I went and I took Pandagirl, and I wasn’t prepared for how emotional I’d feel at one, being back in class; and two, being in class with Panda.  And my mother.  We weren’t halfway through the first plié combination when I was getting teary.  And now I have this amazing picture of three generations at the barre:

Also taking class was Jen and Anne Marie, both of whom were my mother’s students as well.  Being with them in class was like traveling back in time.  It felt so familiar…and yet it was different.  You could just see in our carriages that we remembered all the training, but so much unneeded luggage of youth has been left behind and to hell with perfection – now is the time to just dance.  It was also humorous how many times we each had to break and turn our knees in to relieve our howling joints, or massage a cramp out of our arch.  My body felt okay that night, but by Wednesday afternoon my calves and hips were filing for divorce.

Last, a preview of my next “Reads” post.  It’s easy to say that a book is one of your favorites so I just want you to get an idea of what neighborhood of favorite I mean when I talk about In this House of Brede:

It is a book very beloved to me.