Monday, July 15, 2013

unusual twists, promised recipes

And then there were four

Ask me where I would like to go for breakfast and I'll say -- front porch! And so this morning, I soldiered forward into the raspberry patch (unfortunately, I did not pull the strings tightly on my netting garb and so for a while, I had a mosquito trapped inside my head cover, buzzing incessantly while I tried to see beyond him and pick the berries)...

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DSC03807 - Version 2 bring in newly picked berries for breakfast (they smell of sunshine), then reached for the granola I 'd made just yesterday, and, too, for the coffee,  for the kefir -- in other words, the usual... And there we were on the porch again, Barbara joining Diane, Ed and me for a last meal at the farmhouse.

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And so ended a weekend of sweet encounters with friends.

A summer Monday is a summer Monday

I had two appointments downtown today -- one with a student to review her exam and one in a clinic where I was to have a rather routine heart stress test. I'm old, I do insane things like dig ditches and climb mountains and so the doctor suggested that it might be a good idea to test the limits of my various physical exertions.

Being rather frugally inclined these days I parked the car at the hospital (in the meanwhile, Ed spent the better part of the day fixing Rosie and her heat flashes) and walked to my office. A good 2.5 mile trek, but hey -- free parking is free parking.

I was rewarded by seeing these two newcomers to campus.

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I veered then to the lakeshore path -- the one I used to bike on when I lived in the condo to the west of campus. Pretty! And a tad more refined in the months when the students are away for the summer.

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Not much has changed here. Well, maybe some things have taken on a more modern twist.

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My student was late and my meeting went past the half hour I had estimated for it and so when I finally left my office to return to the hospital (for the stress test), I was, in fact, nearly running.

Did I tell you? It's hot and humid today in Madison.

The appointment instructions tell me I'm not to drink or eat anything in advance of the test. Well now, should I faint before I even get there?

Okay, I'm at the hospital. More or less on time. Pant, pant. The technician asks me if I have any concerns and I tell her that frankly, I'm already stressed, having run here in 90 degree weather to be on time. I tell her I'm thirsty. But, her protocol has it that I am more likely to faint and choke if I am hydrated than if I am not, so I remain thirsty until the completion of the test.

Have you had one of these tests? You know what they're like: you're on a treadmill and they keep increasing your speed and tilt, until you exceed any possible reasonable heart capacity and then they watch to see if you survive or have a heart attack. (If your heart goes nuts, then they conveniently have a hospital handy and you can marvel at the speed with which you'll be admitted and hooked you up to various monitoring devices.)

I get rather competitive on treadmills. If the technician tells me she did level five without great effort, I'm going to have to outperform that.

As I m puffin' away, she turns chatty. So, did you go anywhere this summer?
Mountain puff puff puff hiking puff puff puff in Slovenia. I figured that would put a pause into the back and forth.
So let me get this straight -- you're having a stress test after mountain hiking? This makes no sense!

How can I explain to her that for me,  teaching places more stress on the heart than any run up a mountain!

No matter, I've reached the heart rate goal. I tell her I've had enough.

This Old House

What's that buzz? Ed asks in the evening.
Funny you should mention it. I was curious, too, only I figured it's normal but beyond my comprehension. There are so many mechanicals at the farmhouse that I just don't get.

We walk down to the basement.
Oh no... He dashes upstairs and shuts off the water pump. I pretend I'm unfazed. I want to emulate the demeanor of a person who is never on edge, never stressed (in other words -- an Ed).
After a while I ask, without a hint of worry -- what's happening?
The water pressure is way high.

Okay, so the pressure is high.

Is the house going to explode??? I ask, less calmly.

He grins. No.

I think about the number of things that can fail in a house that is 100 years old. My list alone exceeds the number of fingers on my hands. And then some.


Several readers asked for clues on how to cook foods that last a lifetime. So here are the two I mentioned yesterday:

"Crunchy chicken"

This one is (more or less) from the NYTimes 60 Minute Gourmet (publication date: 1981, where they are called Supreme de Volaille Milanese, because in Milan they like to put bread on their meats). It's easy, but it dirties a lot of plates. Oh well -- my kids have always loved it.

Chicken breasts, boned, skinned and cut into filets (meaning, cut in half so they're thin)
1 egg for every 2 whole breasts
breadcrumbs (for sophisticated palates, add some lemon zest here. Or parmesan cheese. Or just breadcrumbs)
canola oil (or some other veggie oil) and butter if you want to stay true to form

So trim those breasts. Keep them neat and more or less same sized. Then, line up your bowls (or plates):
The first one will have flour: say a couple of TBSP per breast.
The second one will have the egg, with a dash of water and a splash of oil, all mixed up with a fork or something.
The third one will have the breadcrumbs (with the cheese or lemon zest, or plain)

The fourth plate will be there, ready and waiting for the finished breasts.

So you dip each filet in each bowl: first with the flour, then in the egg mixture, then in the breadcrumbs. Then lay it flat on the ready final plate. Pat down the crumbs so that they adhere.

Heat some oil (and butter) in a large skillet. I mean about 4 TBSP per 2 whole breasts. It's tempting to skimp here on the oil. Don't.

You'll be cooking the breasts for about 7 minutes on each side. The nice thing is that you can bread the filets ahead of time and put them in the fridge until you're ready to cook 'em. So sort of do ahead.

That's it. The kids liked it with macaroni and tomatoes on the side. These days they prefer risotto.

Greek Shrimp Salad (and separately, Couscous, even if you are not a couscous fan -- this one works well with the salad!) (credit: Gourmet magazine August 1991)

Now, the nice thing about this recipe is that it is like Ed's hair: extremely forgiving for any mistakes or omissions you may make. And it is easy to double, triple, etc etc.  In Madison, the Whole Foods store sells 2 lb bags of frozen cleaned shrimp for $14.99. These are fantastic for the salad! I generously plan a half pound per diner, but that will give me lots of leftovers. Which are great.

So, the original recipe is for 1.5 lb shrimp. Do your math and adjust it as you wish.

6 TBSP olive oil
1.5 lb smaller (but not tiny!) shrimp (shelled, deveined)
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1/4 tsp grated lemon zest (I use more)
1 TBSP fresh oregano, minced, (or 1 tsp dried)
6 oz of Feta, crumbled
3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 c. thinly sliced celery
1 c. Kalamata or other black olives, cut into slivers. I buy canned to make it easy. And I use less than that.

For the shrimp: in large skillet, heat 2 TBSP of oil over moderately high heat until it just begins to smoke and sautee shrimp, stirring, until they are just firm.
Transfer them to large bowl. Do this in batches if you're using more than 1.5 lbs.
For the dressing: in small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, vinegar, zest, oregano and salt and pepper to taste; whisk in the remaining 4 TBSP of oil (until emulsified).
For the final prep: Toss the shrimp with the dressing, the Feta, the tomatoes, the celery and the olives until the salad is combined well. You can do all this up to a day in advance. Just cover and chill.

The Couscous:

1 TBSP butter (per each cup of couscous)
1/2 tsp salt
1 c couscous
1/3 c of pine nuts, toasted lightly (just put them in the oven for a few minutes. Watch carefully, once they start browning, they go quickly toward burning!)
1/4 c minced parsley
1/3 c thinly sliced scallion
1 TBSP white wine vinegar

In saucepan, combine butter, salt and 1 1/2 c water (for every cup of couscous), bring liquid to boil, stir in couscous. Let it stand, covered and off heat for about 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and stir in pine nuts, parsley, scallion and vinegar.
They say you can do this 6 hours in advance. I'm on the second day of it and it's fine!

And there you have it!


Careful what you make in your early adult years because, unwittingly, it may become your signature dish for decades -- up until your retirement age and maybe even beyond.

So that I never knew, when I first made breaded chicken cutlets for the little tykes, that I would be making them still now (can you make crunchy chicken, please?). Or that the craze for gnocchi would pass, but risotto would remain a coveted dish forever. Or that the FBI cake (chocolate with whipped cream) would be the go-to birthday cake for years, until it came to be replaced by the chocolate orange almond cake. Or that a party staple would be the Greek shrimp salad with couscous (Gourmet Magazine, 1991). These are not complicated foods -- that's a prerequisite. You don't go back to your huge creative efforts again and again. Mille feuille -- only once. But the good, fresh and honest stuff -- they can be yours for life.

And so if I know my older girl and her husband will be joining my two friends, and Ed and myself for dinner on the porch, I'll reach for that great do ahead Greek shrimp dish, so that within a couple of hours I can have a meal ready, requiring nothing more of me once everyone arrives and takes their place on the porch, but to sit down and join them.

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How many such beautiful evenings do we get in the course of a summer? When swallows, then bats swoop down like fighter jets in the darkening sky (depleting the mosquito population for the next day)? When every last crumb of rhubarb cake disappears, because you've stayed out so long that you get hungry all over again?

Early in the evening, we take a photo on a timer, my two friends and I. We've done many such photos of the three over the years. Here it is, this year's edition. To be updated, one hopes, in the years ahead. On the porch maybe, just before a summer supper of Greek shrimp salad.

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