Saturday, May 17, 2008

#2 Pasta Putanesca

In the last year, I have learned through Top Chef how important Mise en Place is to a chef and after making the Silver Palate's Pasta Putanesca recipe I learned how important it is to the home cook. Mise En Place is the french word for preparing ingredients ahead of time. This dish is fast and very easy but to do it successfully I recommend doing all the Mise en Place before you put the oil in the pan. As soon as I got the ingredients home I was furiously cooking but what a mistake it was not to cut the anchovies, the olives, and the garlic first. Things were chaotic in the kitchen and made for a stressful dinner. I also made two other mistakes with this dish. First, I used diced tomatoes instead of the whole tomatoes called for in the recipe. I think the whole tomatoes would have provided more juice to the sauce and made it richer. The second mistake was I blindly grabbed a jar of olives and didn't notice they were pitted. There I was chopping the olive around the pit while the garlic was browning in the pan. What a pain.

#1 Linguine with Tomatoes and Basil

This is the recipe that actually prompted me to get on Amazon and finally buy the Silver Palate cookbook. I had heard about the cook book years ago and been interested in the easy, yet elegant recipes it promised. But is was an interview I had heard with the authors about this gooey brie dish that ended my procrastination and it was this dish that I made about two days after the book was in my hot little hands. I love Brie and pasta but I thought that eating an entire pound of brie and two pounds of pasta between just the two of us might be a little ridiculous. So, I invited some of our favorite dinner guests to a nice Sunday dinner and went shopping. This dish is a dream to make for guests. The only real work is cutting tomatoes and garlic. I have to confess that I didn't read the recipe thoroughly at first and it did come to a surprise to me that you didn't cook the sauce at all. But it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The warm pasta adds enough heat to melt the Brie but it is still cool enough to be refreshing and almost kind of light. (If you don't think about all the cheese you just ate). We had this with a Cameron Hughes Lot 58 Chardonay and some La Brea bread. I highly recommend this dish more summer dinner parties. You make the sauce a couple hours ahead of time so the flavors can meld then all you have to do is cook the pasta before your friends arrive. Although, I would recommend not letting this easy step allow you to lose your focus. I got distracted and let the linguine burn a little. Oops. Luckily, I made a lot and there was enough pasta left to serve. Overall, I think it was a success and I am looking forward to having another dinner party with this dish.

New Project

Recently, a younger cousin of mine excitedely mentioned that she had purchased the new Top Chef cook book and was discovering some great new dishes. I was inspired by her enthusiasm and thought I might buy it and cook as many of the recipes as I could. However, a couple of weeks before I bought the 25th Anniversary edition of the The Silver Palate and instead of splurging on yet another cook book I thought I might as well make as many of these recipes as I could and then move to another.

To make the cooking more interesting and to give me something fun to blog about I have designed a little challenge for myself. The blog-o-sphere is full of accounts of people making every recipe out of this or that great cook book. I know that I am not disciplined enough to actually make every recipe in any cook book so I thought I could try a scaled down version. To keep myself focused and manage my expectations, I intend to meet the following goals:
  • I will make 12 recipes out of the cook book that I can serve as a main dish. Desserts and side dishes are just a bonus.
  • I will make and blog about the recipes by September 30, 2008. I am writer and work well under a deadline.
  • I will remake 5 of the dishes and serve them to guests by December 15, 2008. The Silver Palate ladies encourage their readers to make entertaining a habit. We often get in a rut of just going out with friends or spending our weekends holed away in the house. This part of my challenge will hopefully form some new healthy routines without exhausting us too much.

Now, this is the part where I cheat a little. I have already made three of these recipes and have served one to guests. I will blog about those in the next entries. So this officially starts my mid-year challenge.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

God and Gabo

So, I finished Why God Won't Go Away and am so glad I picked up that book. Most people probably read this book in college (it was one of CornyT's texts he teaches from) so I am a little old for the religious eureka moment that you often have as a young adult but my belief system did undergo a paradigm shift. The authors argument that we have a biological ability to have spiritual experiences was convincing and their evolutionary explanations for the human need for myths and stories was profound. The author's argue that stories helped the species survive; imagine a hunter walking through the woods, hears a strange noise, sees nothing but remembers a run in with a tiger a few days back, is sure the noise is the tiger returning, and takes off maybe evading danger maybe just getting a good run in. Had the hunter not had the capacity to imagine or believe the tiger may be out there without seeing it would lead to an easy lunch for the tiger. All in all this book blends the arguments of science in a beautiful and harmonious way. Although be warned this is a very academic book and at times it is very repetitive and the attention to detail necessary for scientific papers does not make the most entertaining reading.
The third book of the year was Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Memories of My Melancholy Whores. I have been shopping around for a new book club and the one I am currently trying on selected this slim, novella for the month of March. What I loved most about it was it's quick reading, 119 pages. I finished it in three hours and felt so satisfied that I could book another book down on the ole' list. What I hated least about it was the subject matter. I can live with a less than likable protagonist and I can understand that this is allegorical and is more about aging than love but what I have a hard time argue away is that he could only love the girl when she was asleep. When she does say something he decides he loves her so much more when she is sleeping. *sigh* Besides that I also feel like the whole book was a little shallow although I do appreciate how it inspired a lot of thought and was not as easy to "get" as it was to read. This should be an interesting book discussion.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Citizen Smarty Pants

So I just finished my first book of the year, just making my one book a month goal. Phew. Luckily, the book, Citizen Vince, was such an enjoyable and quick read. My favorite type of book is not a particular genre but is anything that is a little smart and a little entertaining. Not to say I don't read books that are not "smart" or not entertaining, I certainly do. But when I can find that combo I am at my happiest. Citizen Vince is historical fiction set in 1980 (yes, over twenty years makes it nice and historical, scary) a few days before the Carter Reagan election. Jess Walter captures the spirit of that time so well and does a beautiful job of rendering the whole psyche of the country through some unlikely characters. At the center of those character is Vince Camden a New York thug dropped in small town America through the Witness Relocation program. Through Vince Walter explores identity, American values and morals. He asked the question of who we are as Americans, what makes us vote for a candidate who may not necessarily want baby sitting our kids. I think what I took away most from the book was, we still can't get away from the romanticism of a cowboy in charge, interest rates were 20% percent in 1980 (we may have it bad now with the dollar taking a beating but 20%!!! Oh MY GOD), and heroes should not have to kill the bad guys (kind of a spoiler). I highly recommend it!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Neurological Mysticism and New York Thugs

Every year I have a goal to read a minimum of one book a month. Since I have been keeping track I have only stayed at that bare minimum once. Typically I am between 16 and 25. Last year I think I was at 18; slow year but I was a little busy. So this year I have no excuse, no major event to plan and I am not even volunteering much so I am ashamed to say that it is January 25 and I haven't even finished one book yet. I have however started three, so the likelihood that I will finish at least one of those is high, I hope. I started with an old Louise Erdrich book I had laying around the house, the only book of hers I haven't read. Oh I tried to get into it but this one, Tales of Burning Love, had none of the interesting conflict that characterized her earlier work and just a lot of tedious unrequited love. Yawn they're bad for eachother they can't stay away from eachother YAWN. So faced with going to the gym with no ipod (missing headphones) and no book, I grabbed a book out of CornyT's back seat, Why God Won't Go Away. He couldn't believe I actually wanted to read one of the texts for the class he taught (special topic religion and science) and we both figured I would dump it when something better came along. To our surprise I love it. The book has educated me on the anatomy and physiology of the brain and makes a cogent argument for the neurological capacity for spirituality. The authors also argue that the need for archetypal stories is biologically driven and necessary for our survival. Interesting stuff and I am about half way through. However, I am setting it aside for the moment to read Citizen Vince. I reserved it from the library when I was desperate for a read and now I feel obligated to finish it so the brain book is on hold for the moment. Luckily, I am loving it so far. Only 25 pages in but I am so taken with the fresh voice and the compelling plot. I love it when I find a book that is entertaining and smart- the ultimate combination.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

In the swing of things

Well we all back to work and a little bitter about being pulled out of our cabin paradise of long naps, long walks, and lots of leisure time but reality isn't all that bad I guess. Work is incredibly busy for me right now. We are one month out before our big release that has been about 6 months in the making and I have a big document to complete in about a week. To make things more complicated we are going to Connecticut this weekend to Nephew 2s barmitzvah and are celebrating a belated Christmas. Getting any work done there will be a little hard but I have a long battery on the laptop and plane rides are boring anyway. Who wants to read a book on a plane anyway:).
So, anyway I digress, in the spirit of New Year's here is my list of resolutions:
* Blog more
* Find more ways to express my creativity
* Volunteer more
* Send work for publication
* Manage Grady's allergies

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merry Christmas 2007/Happy New Year 2008

We spent Christmas in the Ozarks. Grady and CornyT and I rented a cabin and spent four days getting away from it all. The trip was ideal. When we weren't snuggled down by the fire sipping hot chocolate with Irish cream, we were taking the dog for hikes in the mountains. Rarely do things turn out as well as you hope but this little retreat in our charming mountain cabin could not have gone better. I also was pleasantly surprised by the book I brought. At first, I wasn't so sure about the book club choice, Suite Francaise, but two chapters in I was completely hooked. I finished soon after we got back from Arkansas and it was my 16th book 2007 and I think it might have been my favorite. All and all I really loved her keen sense of character and her ability to shows all sides of a very complicated historical event.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Itchy but not mangy

I read recently that Austin was ranked as one of the worst cities for allergies. I never new what a scratchy throat and watery eyes felt like until I spent a couple of years in the Texas capital. In fact, the first year I was afflicted I was convinced I had a bad cold. It wasn't until the following year when I had the exact same symptoms that it occurred to me that it was the infamous "cedar fever". Well turns out that our canine pals also suffer more acutely in Austin and as I learned today my breed of choice, Golden Retrievers are even more at risk for skin allergies. Poor Grady. Looks like we are going to have to take him to a doggie allergist and have his skin tested. We did get some good news from the vet: the mange that the puppy had was Demodectic mange, the non-contagious type. Yay. I also decided that I am definitely switching to this vet full time now and will take Grady and Livia to him for now on. He was personable, seemed knowledgeable, and didn't charge me for the visit because he just referred us to a specialist. He did give me some FREE prednisone and a little topical spray for the red patches. Wish I had found this guy 7 months ago. While we were waiting in seclusion (you say mange and you get your private waiting area) I read a chart explaining the age rate in cats. It's not quite the even 7 human years like it is for dogs, and according to this chart Livia's 7 years is actually 51 cat years old. Oh and I found it amusing when I told the vet that we were the first foster parents for the puppy now known as Xena he said " that puppy is quite a handfull isn't she". ha ha it was nice to hear someone agree with us and we weren't just being hard on her.