Monday, November 24, 2008

Ok. I have been busy, but I haven't really been THAT busy. I mean, so busy that I haven't sat down at the computer for a week and a half. That's obviously not true.
But I have done a lot of stuff, and some of it is very interesting. Like for example, I RENDERED LARD.
You are all aware that I am pretty much on the traditional foods bandwagon, and recently I had some pie with the most sensational crust I've had in a long time. I asked the piemaker for her secret, and she revealed it was half butter and half lard. Woah. Until that moment I hadn't really evaluated my relationship with lard, but I immediately realized that my pigman has been offering fat for rendering for a very reasonable price. So I determined that I would get some.
Turns out he had no idea about the process, but I looked on the ole internets and found some very simple instructions. (I'm not going to link to them, because I am pretty sure that none of my blogfriends are actually going to attempt this. If I'm wrong, you can find it by googling how to render lard. The blog I found was called Homesick Texan, I think.)
ANYHOO, Sunday was the day. I was a little concerned about the house getting all stinky, but it really just got a bacon/porkchoppy smell. And who can argue with that? I did 4 pounds of fat and it took a few hours and some creative problem sovling when it came to the straining (I really need to invest in a small sized colander. We do enough straining these days that it's reasonable.) I put it all into a pretty blue crock and closed the lid and stuck it in the fridge. In the morning--snow white lard! It still has a very faint piggy smell, which I think means it was back fat rather than "leaf lard" which comes from the belly. I fried some potatoes last night for our lamb burgers and they did not come out piggy at all, so I think it's all good. The coolest thing though: this morning when I woke up and came downstairs, the kitchen had a distinct aroma that brought back to mind my granny's biscuits. A-HA! I am so making buttermilk biscuits with lard today. And, I am so making a piecrust for my bourbon pumpkin pie.
Speaking of which, I am also so making a bunch of other stuff for Orphan's Thanksgiving 2008. I am not at all sure how many people are actually going to come for dinner, but I do not mind at all the prospect of tons of leftovers. We are going to have TWO TURKEYS--one heritage turkey roasted in the traditional manner (although I think I am going to do what Alice Waters says and flip the turkey over in the middle. It's radical, I know, but I did it with the chicken I roasted last week and it was amazing) and one wild turkey that rebby shot herself which she is going to smoke. Woah indeed. I seriously pity the fool who doesn't lie to their parents and sneak off to my house for dinner. Ha! Hopefully folks who are doing parental dinner will be able to sneak over afterwards for the traditional Urgh a Music War and copious amounts of wine and pie. Or maybe we'll just have to have a two days after leftovers party too. We'll see. In any case, it's still my favorite holiday, leftover from when I was a bookstore manager and it was the ONLY time I was able to take three days off in a row. I would start drinking the moment I got home on Wednesday and not stop till Sunday afternoon. This year I'll be a lot more conservative (I am opening the restaurant on Friday) but it will still be a long afternoon of wine and cooking and good times. I can't wait!
It's a good feeling to make a harvest feast using all local ingredients. (well, almost all. The cranberry relish will be the least local thing I think, given the ginger and tangerines that are going into it. The cranberries themselves, though, are local. woo!) In fact, I actually touched the hands of the farmers who grew almost everything we will be eating. That is something to be very thankful for.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

BISY! Bisy Backson.

Today I have a lot to cram in: lunch with Jennie at Fuel and Fuddle, baking bread, marinating, skewering and roasting 20 pounds of chicken for a catering gig, blanching and freezing brussels sprouts, broccoli, and beet greens, more dishes, more laundry, making dinner, putting away the laundry we did over the weekend, and maybe, just maybe.....actually written correspondence. I'm gonna try.

I better get moving....maybe more later. For now, I want to share with you:

the greatest thing to happen to me since swedish military surplus long underwear.

Monday, November 10, 2008

50 things you might not know about our new president: (and my comments)

• He collects Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comics

• He was known as "O'Bomber" at high school for his skill at basketball

• His name means "one who is blessed" in Swahili

• His favourite meal is wife Michelle's shrimp linguini (woo!)

• He won a Grammy in 2006 for the audio version of his memoir, Dreams From My Father

• He is left-handed – the sixth post-war president to be left-handed (double woo!)

• He has read every Harry Potter book

• He owns a set of red boxing gloves autographed by Muhammad Ali

• He worked in a Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop as a teenager and now can't stand ice cream

• His favourite snacks are chocolate-peanut protein bars

• He ate dog meat, snake meat, and roasted grasshopper while living in Indonesia

• He can speak Spanish (nice!)

• While on the campaign trail he refused to watch CNN and had sports channels on instead

• His favourite drink is black forest berry iced tea

• He promised Michelle he would quit smoking before running for president – he didn't

• He kept a pet ape called Tata while in Indonesia

• He can bench press an impressive 200lbs (sweet!)

• He was known as Barry until university when he asked to be addressed by his full name

• His favourite book is Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

• He visited Wokingham, Berks, in 1996 for the stag party of his half-sister's fiancé, but left when a stripper arrived

• His desk in his Senate office once belonged to Robert Kennedy (appropriate)

• He and Michelle made $4.2 million (£2.7 million) last year, with much coming from sales of his books

• His favourite films are Casablanca and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

• He carries a tiny Madonna and child statue and a bracelet belonging to a soldier in Iraq for good luck (he also carries a statue of Hanuman, the ultimate servant. I love this fact!)

• He applied to appear in a black pin-up calendar while at Harvard but was rejected by the all-female committee.

• His favourite music includes Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Bach and The Fugees

• He took Michelle to see the Spike Lee film Do The Right Thing on their first date

• He enjoys playing Scrabble and poker

• He doesn't drink coffee and rarely drinks alcohol

• He would have liked to have been an architect if he were not a politician

• As a teenager he took drugs including marijuana and cocaine

• His daughters' ambitions are to go to Yale before becoming an actress (Malia, 10) and to sing and dance (Sasha, 7)

• He hates the youth trend for trousers which sag beneath the backside (yeah!)

• He repaid his student loan only four years ago after signing his book deal

• His house in Chicago has four fire places

• Daughter Malia's godmother is Jesse Jackson's daughter Santita

• He says his worst habit is constantly checking his BlackBerry

• He uses an Apple Mac laptop

• He drives a Ford Escape Hybrid, having ditched his gas-guzzling Chrysler 300

• He wears $1,500 (£952) Hart Schaffner Marx suits

• He owns four identical pairs of black size 11 shoes

• He has his hair cut once a week by his Chicago barber, Zariff, who charges $21 (£13)

• His favourite fictional television programmes are Mash and The Wire

• He was given the code name "Renegade" by his Secret Service handlers

• He was nicknamed "Bear" by his late grandmother

• He plans to install a basketball court in the White House grounds (awesome!)

• His favourite artist is Pablo Picasso

• His speciality as a cook is chilli (I want to sample presidential chili!)

• He has said many of his friends in Indonesia were "street urchins"

• He keeps on his desk a carving of a wooden hand holding an egg, a Kenyan symbol of the fragility of life

• His late father was a senior economist for the Kenyan government

Plus, he is only 5 years older than me. We could totally hang out! Chili and scrabble night, maybe?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

butternut squash chili

butternut squash chili, originally uploaded by alienspice.

from Women's Day Special Interest Publications: SlowCooking

1T veg oil (I used bacon grease cuz I had it handy)
1 lb ground beef (I think my package was closer to two pounds. I like it beefy, but you could totally just leave it out and make it vegan too!)
2 onions finely chopped
4 cloves garlic minced
1 T cumin seeds, toasted and ground (totally do this! if you have a cast iron skillet, just put the seeds in and heat them for a few minutes till they smell good. then you can crush in a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder(cleaned!) or even use a glass on a cutting board. it's so worth it to toast and grind the seeds.)
2t dried oregano leaves (I used 1T fresh leaves chopped up cuz I have them in the garden still)
1t salt
1/2t freshly ground pepper
1 cinnamon stick about 2 inches long(this recipe is totally worth investing in cinnamon sticks if you don't already have them around. you'll probably make this again, or else you can mull some cider with them!)
1 can diced tomatoes with juice (28oz, the bigger one)
3 cups cubed butternut squash (I think I had way more than 3 cups of squash by the time I chopped up the guy I had. for the record, this batch of chili bubbled over onto the counter a few times. make sure you have some headroom in your crockpot!)
2 cups rinsed and drained kidney beans (1 small can. I made it with white beans once too and I think I liked it even better)
2 dried new mexico ancho, or juajillo chiles (here I just used some ground new mexico chile (NOT CHILI!) powder reconstituted in boiling water)
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (you could leave this out, but don't try to serve it to me!)
In a large(seriously large) skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Add beef and oinos and cook,sitrring, until beef is no longer pink. Add garlic, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and cinnamon stick and cook stirring for 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes with juice and bring to a boil.
Place squash and bean in a 5 qt or larger crock pot and cover with meat/tomato mixture. Cover and cook in high 3 hours until squash is tender.
When squash is just tender, soak dried chile peppers in a heatproof bowl in boiling water for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the liquid.
Remove stem and seeds and puree chiles in blender or food processor with cilantro and reserved liquid. Add to cooker and stir well. Cover and cook on high 30 minutes until hot and bubbly.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

It's a happy Saturday!
This morning I got up super early and headed to the strip district. It was really great to be down there before a lot of places had opened, sitting outside Fortune's sipping on a blissful cafe mocha as the commerce slowly started up. I liked watching people stop and look at the colorful handmade sweaters and ponchos of the Indian vendors. I liked watching the Italian ladies setting up their cookie tables outside Penn Mac. What I didn't like at all, though, was watching the guys to my right unload box after box of Steelers merchandise....all made in China. And that was only one stand of SteelersmerchandisemadeinChina---there must be at least 7 of them down there on any given Saturday. I even chased a couple of empty made in China boxes down the street that blew out of the back of their van. They didn't notice, or didn't care.
Now, I don't begrudge Pittsburghers their Steelers merchandise. But wouldn't it be great if some of the out of work people who LIVE HERE could make a living making Steelers merchandise for their neighbors? It just made me think a little too much about local economies.
So, I had my mocha and I got my pound of Guatamalan Antigua coffee, and I went down the street to get the couple of serving ware items I still needed for the roller derby banquet we're catering tonight. I tried not to think about the fact that most if not all of the plastic there in Schorins is probably made in China too. Ugh. I walked down the street to Stamoolis where I got some good cheese and some kalamata olive bread (so not made in China!) and then to Reynas where I got two big cans of Hatch Mild Green Chiles. Even though Reynas doesn't carry the frozen Bueno anymore, I have been pretty lucky with alternatives. The jarred green chiles I bought a couple weeks ago made a great stew, even though the medium was definitely not medium (at least not in my estimation!) So I got mild this time. It was super yummy with my breakfast eggs.
From there I headed down to the Firehouse market, where the bell was yet to be rung. I was second in line for turkey! I got a big ole 16 pounder. Woo! Between this guy and the wild turkey rebby got last weekend, we are going to be all set for a big feast! I stood around and waited for my friends the Camerons to meet me, wishing I had worn my all the way cotton tights instead of my cotton leggings. It got COLD this morning! Finally I saw them arrive, and I Juliet, Lydon, Amelia and I went to talk to the chicken farmers while Dave parked. Nate and Kristin were so welcoming and friendly and shared alot of information with Juliet about their farm and their personal transition from vegetarians to poultry farmers. Lydon liked looking at the pictures of the chickens. Amelia liked her bagel. It was chilly, but we had a great time hanging out and talking with them, and then visiting some of the other tables for produce. Juliet got some of the tiny turnips I've been curious about, and I got some broccoli rabe, cilantro, and a giant squash. It was a nice, though hurried visit. Hopefully next weekend will be less chilly and we can linger a little longer!
I headed home and made myself a yummy bacon-egg-green chile-tortilla breakfast and some coffee, and listened to Barney Frank on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me! It was awesome. I was especially happy to hear about how President Elect Obama said on MTV "brothers should pull up their pants." After breakfast, I cut the cheese. Ha. Now I'm caught in that limbo of can't really do anything because I have to go soon, but I don't have to go for another couple of hours. So it's internet-a-rama for me.
I don't know if I really mentioned it on here or not, but Russell Brand quit his radio show over a crazy kertuffel. You can read all about it in the internets, if you care to. Basically, he allowed himself to be a distraction for the British media, I think. He probably was only too happy to have a reason to quit the radio show so he can concentrate on his movie career, but I for one am sad because I really loved being able to listen to his wit and wisdom (and yes, stupid childish behaviors even) on a weekly basis. Here's Mr Gee's take on it (the poet lauriate of the Russell Brand Radio Show):

Thursday, November 06, 2008

je suis heureuse.

Yep, I am feeling a very simple, complete kind of happiness today that I haven't felt in a long, long time. I have found ways to wrench the joy out of little moments and even whole days and weeks at a time over the past 8 years, but I feel like today instead of the low level backdrop of dread, I feel a low level backdrop of potential and ease. Imagine that! It feels foreign, which is I guess why I chose to express it en francais.
Still and all, it's not all roses. California fucked up big time. Well, they fucked up about 50%. Hooray for farm animals, hooray for teens who need abortions, hooray for veterans buying farms and children's hospitals. Too bad for married gay folks, renewable energy, and nonviolent drug offenders. I gotta say I am REALLY happy not to live in California today. The presidential victory would be so tainted.
Luckily I live here in PA, where we did the right thing (of course we didn't have those kinds of decisions to make) My sissy is happy to live in MA where they still get to pay income taxes, and don't have to go to jail for rolling a joint. Also, dog racing banned. Even Ohio knocked it out of the park! Thank you for redeeming yourself, land of my youth!
So yeah, it's a new era. I am mildly concerned about what kind of damage Bush and Cheney will try to wrack up in the next two months. I kinda wish there was some sort of "can we just kick them out NOW!?!" provision. I mean, Barack and co need some time off, surely, but I wish there was a way to just get the bad men out of the big chairs now so they can't do any more harm. I'm trying not to focus on that though.
Instead I'll focus on good stuff! Like, this is going to be the most Thanksgivingest Thanksgiving in a long time. Rebby is going to be here for T-day for the first time in many years. I am so excited to make a big feast for friends. Rebby went turkey hunting last weekend and got her first, which she is going to smoke. Yum. We'll do a more regular roasted turkey too, and all kinds of traditional side dishes. Which reminds me....I need horseradish. The horseradish mashed taters were one of my favorite parts of last year's dinner and I definitely want to replicate. Hopefully I can get a horseradish at the farmer's market on Saturday. And cranberries. I've got sweet potatoes and regular potatoes and onions and garlic stockpiled in storage. I got a couple of pumpkins on Monday for pie. I need, seriously, to get some lard.
Ok, enough food talk. Hope you are all feeling happy today. It feels good, doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I keep looking back at this and it's helping.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

happy monsters!

happy monsters!, originally uploaded by alienspice.

jeff and lisa got married last night! we had such a good time, and I am so so so so happy for my friend jeffy and his beautiful bride.
they're headed to niagra falls for their honeymoon this weekend. bon voyage!