On unpacking, and editing.

As I type, I sit in a house full to the brim with unopened boxes, broken-down boxes, piles of bubble wrap and newsprint, and mounds of books, pictures, and random objects. And if that sentence doesn’t give you a de ja vu, it most certainly does me, since I was writing about an almost identical scene just 10 months ago.

Tim and I have now moved 6 times in our 9 year marriage. We started out in a teensy little shoebox-of-a-house in Asheville, North Carolina, and then moved up ever-so-slightly in square footage during the years before we moved to the now-infamous Athens reno. The thing about that house, though, was that by the time we were done, it was almost 3k square feet — more house than we’d ever had. From there we moved to an even larger house, our rental here in Indy. All that to say — over the past couple of years, as I’ve moved upward in the realm of house-size, I’ve managed to acquire my share of stuff (for instance, I am now the proud owner of four shower curtains). Add to this the fact that I’m a person who tends to sentimentalize the most useless objects, and we’ve got a problem on our hands — one that stems from the fact that we’ve now moved back to a smaller house.

This was a very intentional decision: it’s a house that’s just big enough for us, but not so big that we’re heating and cooling massive unusable spaces. Not so big that I can’t keep it clean without hiring Merry Maids. But we’re now faced with the daunting task of pairing down a bit. Using space wisely. Spending a small fortune on shelving units for the basement. And, you know, it’s good. We don’t need all this crap.

But, the kitchen. This is where I’m having trouble. Because — although I admittedly have a lot of kitchen wares — they (in my opinion, which is really the only one that matters in this scenario) are all useful, at some time or another. So I’ve set up systems and drawers, I’ve prioritized and sorted. I’ve purchased bins and utilized baskets. I’ve both cursed and praised those design-crazed Swedes, as our kitchen is wall-to-wall Ikea. But it’s still not all fitting.

So I’m facing the reality that it’s time to edit. Like the paragraph I just spent ten minutes writing and then deleting with the push of a button. Like the way I must let go of words and phrases when they don’t communicate what I intend. It’s time to take a long, honest look at the contents of my kitchen, and figure out what isn’t useful. Make a pile of stuff, and delete it.

But before you get any ideas, I’m not letting go of the cake pans in the photograph.

10 reasons to make your own mayo

  1. You’ve been looking to tone your arms, and long-admired the upper-body strength of Julia Child.
  2. You’re not really interested in whisking up buff triceps, but need to use the food processor that’s been collecting dust in the nether-regions of that dark cupboard.
  3. You’ve been obsessively saving empty jars, a practice spawned by the teachings of your depression-era grandmother.
  4. You’ve always wanted to write “make mayonnaise” as an event on your google calendar.
  5. You personally hate the stuff, but your spouse loves it, and your anniversary is coming up.
  6. You’ve been thinking about starting a blog, to document yourself cooking every recipe I post on my blog. You’re hoping to sell the movie rights to pay for your kids’ college education. The url of your blog will be whatawasteoftwoweeks.blogspot.com.
  7. You need weekend plans.
  8. It’s Memorial Day weekend, and nothing will impress the celebratory crowd more than a potato salad with homemade mayo. You’re envisioning a commercial-worthy scene of you, being lifted onto the shoulders of delighted gatherers as you are heralded as the Memorial Day Salad Queen.
  9. You are long-embittered by the gender discrimination of Nascar racing, and therefore boycott any product endorsed by the exclusively-male drivers.
  10. You’ve been looking for a reason to use the twitter hashtag #whatwouldmarthado.

What? None of those reasons caused you to run to your refrigerator to remove a couple eggs for warming to room temperature? Well, you should. Because homemade mayo is super-easy in a food processor, and can taste almost exactly like the stuff you’ve been buying in a jar for 20 years. Plus, it’s a lot better for you — not in a lower-fat sort of way, but in a beneficial-ingredient way. No preservatives, no chemicals; just control over the type of oil you use, the high omega-3’s of pastured eggs, and the (optional) probiotics of lacto-fermentation.

But really? I just think it tastes better. I went through several variations of recipes before finding one I liked, and in the end it was good ol’ Julia’s that won out. It’s mild, unobtrusive, not too olive-y, and with the addition of whey, lasts in the frig long enough for us to use it.

I use raw egg yolks in this recipe; my eggs are locally-pastured (meaning the chickens that lay them are able to forage for bugs in a grass-strewn land-of-chicken-happiness) and I want to get all the benefits that raw yolks provide. Pasteurized eggs from the grocery are also safe to use, but won’t offer as many nutrients. You can get whey from a container of plain yogurt: it’s the liquid that separates from the thick curd of the yogurt (it should be easy to get a tablespoon from a container).

Three things are absolutely essential: that you don’t use fewer egg yolks (successful mayo depends on an emulsion, and that emulsion can’t occur if there is too high a ratio of oil-to-yolk), that the eggs are at room temperature, and that the oil is added in the slowest stream. I have a Cuisinart food processor, and it has a tiny hole in the cap of the regular lid that allows me to pour the oil into the cap and it drips at the perfect rate. If you decide to try a blender, make sure you pour the oil at a very slow and steady stream.

Mayonnaise (food processor version; adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
makes about 2 cups*

  • one large egg, plus 2 large egg yolks (room-temperature)
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp table or fine-grain sea salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (plus more to taste)
  • 2 cups high-quality, fresh oil (I use 1 3/4 cups sunflower oil, plus 1/4 cup mild olive oil)
  • salt to taste
  • 2 Tbsp whey

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process the egg and egg yolks for one full minute.

With the machine running, add the mustard, salt, and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice (or vinegar).

With machine still running, start adding the oil through the pinhole feeding cap, or if by hand in a stream of droplets. Continue until you have used half the oil and the sauce is very thick — do not stop processing until the sauce is thick. Add another 1/2 tsp lemon juice, then continue adding the rest of the oil. Season with more salt or lemon juice if necessary.

If adding optional whey: when mayonnaise is complete, add whey and process just until combined. Pour into a jar, and leave on counter for 7 hours before transferring to refrigerator. With whey added, the mayonnaise will keep for several months (without, it will only keep for 2 weeks).

* To halve the recipe, use 1 cup oil, 1 egg plus 1 yolk, and start with 1/4 tsp salt and 1 tsp lemon juice (other ingredients remain the same). Stir in one Tbsp whey at end.

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What do you cook the week of a move? (penne with smoked salmon cream sauce)

penne_smoked_salmon

Last time we moved was 10 months ago. Our house was on the market in Georgia, and we were preparing for our first cross-state move since having children (for those of you who don’t have children, you can imagine what this is like by getting a mental image of all your stuff, then multiplying it 4 times, even if you don’t have 4 kids). We were saying goodbye to a place we’d been for seven years. It was an exhausting, emotional time, as well as a time of purging. A purging of stuff, of resources, and of food.

Meaning: I tried really hard to clean out our freezer and use its contents before the day I was forced to give or throw away the remains and pull the plug as we knew it. I had a short-lived series of posts called Freezer Meals that documented the eats I concocted during this process. My goal was simple: use up everything frozen. I don’t think I actually achieved the goal completely — but the effort got us a good way through my excesses in forward-thinking-ness.

This time around, there’s not a lot of need for cleaning out the freezer; we can just fill up some grocery bags, drive the contents a few miles down the road, and put them in their new icy home. So while I’ve tried to use up a few things that were at the end of their life, I’m now facing the week of our move and nothing to necessarily and creatively concoct. So when coming up with the menu this week, considering that boxes will begin multiplying and time will begin disappearing, my goal was simple: make everything fast and easy.

I thought a little ahead, and last week doubled a recipe of Sloppy Joes in a Bowl for us to pull out of the freezer one night. And tonight, I planned for a quick & easy pasta dish with a lot of payoff: Penne with Smoked Salmon Cream Sauce. I forget about making this, so we don’t eat it often and it ends up being a surprising treat each time. I should put this on my list of dishes-to-serve-for-dinner-parties; it requires so little prep, and cooks so quickly, it would be easy to prepare and cook even as your guests arrive, and be served hot at the table.

This is a rich dish, and depending on your brand of salmon, can become too heavy-handed. It’s good to balance it with a nice big salad and serve small portions (this being said, my husband ate two heaping bowls tonight, and uttered not a single complaint about the weight of it all). Try to get wild-caught salmon if you can; I purchased a 4-oz package of smoked wild coho salmon from Trader Joe’s for about $5 — a good price for protein at dinnertime. If you don’t have arugula, you can season it at the end with a handful of chopped Italian parsley; but do try to add something green, as this adds a lot of color and flavor balance to a potentially one-sided dish.

The vodka is optional; it cleans the flavor just a touch, and when am I ever afraid to sprinkle vodka on something? If you’re in a bind, you can try to substitute half-n-half for the heavy cream; but the sauce will be more watery (if this happens, stir the sauced pasta over low heat to allow for more liquid absorption).

Penne with Smoked Salmon Cream Sauce

  • 1/2 pound penne pasta
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • dash vodka (optional)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • one (4-oz) package smoked salmon, torn into small pieces
  • large handful of arugula, cut into thin strips
  • salt and black pepper to taste

In a large pot, bring 3 quarts water to a rolling boil. Add 1 Tbsp salt, and pasta; cook until al dente (about 8 minutes).

At the same time you begin cooking the pasta, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add onion and cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes (do not brown onion). Add salmon and stir until it lightens in color (about a minute). Sprinkle the pan with vodka, and stir while the alcohol evaporates. Stir in the cream, and heat through. Remove from heat, and taste for seasoning (mine usually doesn’t need any salt because the smoked salmon is so salty).

Reserve a small amount of cooking water, and drain cooked pasta. Return penne to pan over medium heat, pouring the cream sauce over the pasta. Stir in the arugula, and heat for about a minute to allow the pasta to absorb some of the sauce and for the arugula to wilt slightly (if sauce becomes too thick, stir in some reserved cooking water to loosen the texture).

Serve garnished with chopped Italian parsley or more chopped arugula.

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Homemade popsicles: Let’s move beyond freezing apple juice.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just gets a little old, even for an ice-pop-loving-four-year old (or 38-year old, for that matter).

That age-old bell for ringing in the summer is a mere days away (I refer to Memorial Day weekend — the very weekend we thought was a great time to move — anyone dying to unload a moving truck next Saturday?), so it’s time to bring out the frozen goodies, the ideal afternoon cool-me-down. We will eat untold numbers of these icy sweets over the next few months, so we need to make sure we have variety, and that delicate balance between something being not horrible for you and yet also desirable, in the “treat” sense of the word.

mango_popsicle

Yes, there are plenty of boxed options out there. But anything made with “real fruit” and not much else is gonna put you out around a dollar a pop. I’ve never been praised as a math whiz, but I can quickly calculate that for a family with 3 kids, that could end up pushing $90/month. On popsicles. But making your own ice pops isn’t just about saving money; it’s about experimenting with flavors, using up over-ripe fruit, and involving your kids in some of the process. Since you have all the control over what goes in, you can use a little less sugar than what’s utilized in a store-bought brand, introduce your family to new fruits, or cater to a food-allergic family member.

Continue reading “Homemade popsicles: Let’s move beyond freezing apple juice.”

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb baggage pie.

rhubarb_chop

I married well in at least one important sense: my husband willingly eats anything I cook. That being said, he’s not simply a walking mouth without a sense of culinary preference; so I guess it’s better to describe him as a both adventurous and thankful eater: he understands the effort I put into what we eat, and appreciates it. He also rarely turns up his nose at a specific ingredient, and never picks random pieces of food from his plate.

With just a couple of exceptions. I’ve covered before my attempt and subsequent failure at trying to win him over to the wonderful world of beets. And then there’s the infamous story involving cabbage, apples, and many tears shed at his family’s dinner table sometime in the early 1980s. But I recently discovered that yet another food item exists as a potential fodder at his therapist’s office: rhubarb. When I brought home a pound from the farmer’s market last Saturday, he looked at it and made a face usually reserved for those moments when he’s misjudged his “full moment” at dinner, and is feeling the consequences while simultaneously putting away the leftovers.

“What?” I asked. “It’s rhubarb,” as if that look of mild disgust came simply from his not knowing what it was.

“I know,” he replied, still looking at it as if it were roadkill I’d decided to cook up. “My mom used to make a pie.”

And without giving me any more details involving dramatic stands at his childhood table, he left it at that. I didn’t ask questions, but did inform him that I’d be using the rhubarb, along with strawberries, to make something he was sure to like. After all, he didn’t marry his momma, and I wasn’t making a pie.

Continue reading “Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb baggage pie.”

It all hinged on this.

“I’m kind of nervous.”

Tim said, as we drove the mile and a half down College Avenue to arrive on time for our reservation at Recess. He’d surprised me by planning the dinner out in celebration of our 9th anniversary, and as he drove we were both realizing that this wasn’t just a short trip to a restaurant — wasn’t just a night out to commemorate sticking it out together through 9 years; we were driving to a revelation. We were about to have a definitive answer to the monumental 10-month question: could we have a dining experience in Indy that rivaled what we had in Georgia?

For some reason, I wasn’t feeling his anticipatory dread of having our final answer (with the knowledge it could be disappointing); I wasn’t exactly confident, but perhaps more willing to give the city a longer grace period — after all, even our historically favorite restaurants in Athens could have a bad night. It probably helped,too, that we were finally eating a meal concocted by the famous Greg Hardesty. But dropping that name requires a bit of back-story.

About a year ago, Tim and I made a trip to Indianapolis — with the purpose of deciding whether or not he would take the job offer at Butler and therefore pack up and move 700 miles. We were hosted on that trip by friends of friends — and I think a little birdie must’ve told them that we were “into food.” They made sure to take us to places like Goose the Market, to assure us that this was a city where love of food could thrive. And we had conversations at some length about an amazing restaurant downtown — called Elements — and the creative mind behind the food: Greg Hardesty. There was just that one tiny problem: Greg had sold Elements, and soon after the quality suffered, with the end being closed doors. So, where is the chef now? we wondered. We hear that he’s planning a new project, but don’t know much other than that, was the vague answer. Since we liked so many other things about the city, we decided to move, even though we had to return to the South and describe the food scene as “chain-ish.”

Continue reading “It all hinged on this.”

Happy 9th

Today is our anniversary. And about 20 minutes ago, Tim (he’s off today) asked me with a sly grin if I had plans for dinner. Knowing where he might be going with this, I glanced at my menu and told him we’d be having pasta with Italian sausage and parsley. That’s when he told me I’d better check with Greg Hardesty about that.

So, instead of cooking tonight, I’ll be having this.

Good, husband. Seems like I made the right decision, nine years ago.