Thursday, June 18, 2009


Out for ten days. Might pop in, might not - we're on vacation baby!!!!!


Some people amaze me. They seem to be calm, stylish, and able to do every interesting thing in the world at once. You know, the mom who has 2 babies, helps her husband with his business, is writing a book, keeping up two blogs one of which chronicles her efforts to read 200 books a year, cooks from scratch, writes for local magazines, and will be starting graduate school in the fall. Seriously, she's real, her name's Amanda, she's my twitter friend though not real life friend yet, and she talks about life here and here. There are many such people in my life. Yours truly, of meagre margins, attempts to not quite keep up because that would imply a fair race, I grab a coattail and hope I get dragged into neat things. Which is what happened with the bread. Women and men I admire bake bread and they got me all intrigued. So I now bake my own bread. I have 6 different types of flour and two different types of gluten. I'm really into it.
Bread is such an impressive tool - you offer to bring homemade bread to a gathering and you get an appreciative ahhhh. It's quite gratifying for moi whose sink is full of dirty dishes and who still has to finish wedding thank you's two years late BUT I HAVE FRESH BAKED BREAD!

No one needs to know that it is actually made with a bread machine, except now everyone will know because everyone I hang out with reads this blog. Unfounded or not I feel that making my own bread is a feat and I'm going to stick to that, no matter how it happens.

I've got this wonderful huge cookbook and from it I've made Brioche (pictured) Proscuitto Mozzarella Bread, Black Olive Bread, Halepeno Bread with Longhorn Cheese, Beer Bread with Cheddar, Roquefort Cheese Bread with Walnuts, Ricotta and Fresh Chive Bread, Italian Lemon-Ricotta Bread, Chickpea Flour Bread as well as numerous others.

Marianne over at Prepare to Eat challenged readers to make their own bread in May. Marianne's method is a distant dream for me at the moment. She soaks her flour, she hand kneads everything, she doesn't use much white flour or any sugar. Sigh. I like to think that someday when I'm home for more hours of the day than I'm at work I, too, will do bread the ideal way. But really, won't I just find other excuses (kiddos, the sink of dirty dishes, Arrested Development on Hulu?) I'll probably still use the bread machine. But I'm OK with that. I don't think it's cheating, it's just a different way and I'm still coming out ahead. Those fancy loaves that I mentioned above would have cost approximately $6 per loaf here in the DC area, and I make them for half that or less. A cheap loaf of bread makes a meal of lentils actually filling. And all the ingredients in my bread I chose and I can pronounce.
One of the best parts is that I now have a perfect and designated use for one of my favorite wedding gifts - the bread/cutting board handmade by Aunt Mimi and Uncle Gary who are, themselves, die hard every day Zojirushi bread bakers. Also I finally got to buy the little butter dish I've been wanting.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Honfest 2009

When the Parkers decided to move to Baltimore they exhaustively researched every neighborhood before they decided on colorful Hampden. They immediately felt at home. Hampden is traditionally a very working class neighborhood but hipsters and yuppies have moved in and the together they form a delightful mishmash of genuine Baltimore. Last weekend we caught the best of it all at the HonFest.

The Honfest or Hampden Festival has something to do with honoring Hampden's roots with outrageous sixties housewife style costume (former Hon Queen on the left). There are also bands and sidewalk flea markets and funnel cakes and all that.

These Hons sang in four part harmony.

They set up Glamour Tents where anyone could get a beehive 'do.

You're supposed to say 'Hon' (short for 'Honey') after everything.

Like: I said 'Thanks for letting me take your picture.' She said 'Sure thing, hon.'

The guys don't get costumes. They just get burritos and beer. They were OK with that.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Best Crab Cakes

Six years ago I lived in Tennessee and I visited Annapolis for the first time for a teacher training conference. What impressed me the most was not the perfectly preserved Colonial streets and buildings, though I was charmed by those, but a meal I had at a waterfront restaurant called Phillips Seafood. The crab cakes were recommended so I dutifully ordered them with a glass of chardonnay. They were absolutely amazing (and cost a small fortune at $29 for two small cakes with no sides!) Everyone claims that their crab cakes have hardly any filler, but at Phillips it was true. These crab cakes were really something else. Four years later I moved to Annapolis and I knew I wanted to work at that crab cake place. And I did, for years, until a few months ago. Privy to the inner workings of the prep kitchen I got a pretty good idea of what was in those famous cakes. The exact recipe is closely guarded but here is my best adaptation (with Lisa's help using our leftover meat from the birthday feast) based on stolen glances over shoulders in the back of the house.

The Best Crab Cakes
(An audacious claim I know, but I'm just repeating what everyone around the table said.)
2 eggs
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons crab seasoning ( I prefer Phillips Seafood Seasoning rather than Old Bay and I'm not just saying that)
2 teaspoons fresh parsley chopped
2 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 pounds jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over
2 cups Ritz crackers, crumbled

Mix all the ingredients except the crab meat. Carefully add in the crab meat at the last minute. Form into 2 inch balls and place on a cooking sheet. Refrigerate for an hour. Broil (or bake at 550 degrees) for about 7-10 minutes or until the tops are browned.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Birthday/Crab Feed

First off, we opened that bottle of wine. It took two strong men and an assortment of knives and wine openers. But they prevailed.

Val thanked them. OK, we all thanked them. We managed to finish the wine and now I can't let go of the empty bottle. It's so neat. And useless. I need a Throw Away That Special Yet Empty Bottle of Wine Day next.
The Chesapeake Blue Crabs were amazing. A local fisherman caught us a bushel of crabs that morning, steamed them that afternoon and delivered them to us hot.
We poured the Old Bay and hammered away.
The wonderful thing about blue crabs is that it takes hours. They're nothing like king or snow crab legs or even bodies. They're smaller for one, the flavor is different of course, and there are techniques and toxic body parts and it's laborious and extremely rewarding. The crabs are delicious hot when you start out and still hours later when they're cold. You dip them in Old Bay and butter. And it's a very drawn out and relaxed event. You just sit and talk and pick crabs and eat potato salad and coleslaw and talk and drink beer or wine and melt more butter and pick more crabs as the sun goes down.

And things wind down.
Tadd's stories keep us laughing.

P.S. I couldn't decide - we had both avocado and sweet corn ice cream for dessert, both yummmmm!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Year Two

It just keeps getting better and better.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cooking and Menu Stuff

I wrote out my first menu plan on April 29, 2008. I filled in the categories of Lunch and Dinner and Extras (we're nibblers for breakfast) and I wrote the sources for my recipes and I wrote the cost of each week's groceries. The menu plan was an attempt to be more thoughtful and frugal about the food we bought and then tried to consume before it turned bad. It has since then turned into a sort of record of our lives (thank you Ax for the idea). I can flip pages and see my cooking style evolve and streamline. At some point I began to write in meal events such as 'Parents and in-laws all for dinner for Zebulin's graduation' or 'Goodbye dinner for Mel and Everett, and goodbye picnic for Billi and Daniel' (both in one week - it was cruel), or 'Val's first meal back in the U.S!' I've been able to track the cost of menus and as I've found my rhythm that bill has thankfully gone down (though it's still staggering compared to other parts of the country!). 
Subscribing to a CSA just reinforced menu planning even more. Perhaps it's possible but I can't imagine how I would make sure to use up all those random items in a week without being very deliberate about it. Our CSA joined Twitter (thus finally convincing me to join) and they post our share the day before so that I can start planning before we pick it up. We also have a Yahoo group where members share their ideas and recipes for the produce each week.  It's a challenge, for sure. I've said before it's like a puzzle - figuring out what to do with all these pieces you've been handed and stick within a budget and the time frame of a week. I love it. I still get excited when I find out what's in our bag for the week. And I'm still proud when I manage to use it all up efficiently and deliciously before the next batch comes in. Every time I have to throw a languishing bok choy away I vow to plan better for next week. In short, a lot of effort goes into this. One of my organizing tools has been this blog - a little sidebar section that links to most of what I'm cooking each week. I just added a list of what we actually get in our CSA each week above the recipes I use it all in. In a glance I have a summary and online catalog of recipes for all the planning I've scribbled in my notebook. But a disclaimer: if you ever peruse that section beware that not all recipes are tried and true. Often times I get a repeat in my CSA (lately it's Basil!) but there is always some new thing and its recipe is a shot in the dark. If a recipe/link stays up more than a week it was a winner. That sidebar is my way of letting you know what I'm attempting, as well as keeping me straight when I look at a fridge full of pieces. 
On a side note - Axon and I went to see Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and the mover and shaker of the Slow Food Movement) speak at the BCPL a few weeks ago. The evening was informative and inspiring and sobering and we agreed with most of the things he said. But one thing in particular struck me. In a question/answer session someone asked him what his favorite part of the 'success' of The Omnivore's Dilemma was. He seems a humble and sensible man and he stumbled over what to say to that question. I don't remember his answer. Later a farmer got a hold of the mic - he introduced himself as the owner of Springfield Farms - the farm that Zebulin and I order all of our pork, beef, eggs,  and chicken from. He said 'I just want to speak on behalf of farmers, I want to say thank you, thank you for your book and for what you've done, you've brought people back to our farms and it has made all the difference.'  I started kind of tearing up and then Michael Pollan said 'That is my favorite part of the success of 'The Omnivore's Dilemma', hearing people say things like that.' Gee, I'm kind of crying again just typing it out. All that extra menu planning - it's so worth it. 

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Perks of Working in Restaurants

Free delicious food, free end of shift drinks, fast easy mad money, exercise built into your job, invitations to other restaurant openings, and contests with wonderful prizes. Why did I quit again? Case in point - the obscenely large bottle of wine on the right was my prize for selling the most Sebastiani Chardonnay over the course of a three month contest. I was presented with this bottle on December 31, 2007. I was so impressed with the size of the bottle and myself for winning it that I haven't had the heart to drink it yet, waiting for the perfect occasion (and enough people gathered together). It's a bad and absurd habit, I do it with new clothing, my favorite vinegar, and certainly with wine. That one on the left is another candidate for Open That Bottle Night this year.
But recently, in a life cleansing type mood, I decided to put an end to that bottle of chardonnay this weekend. At my birthday party. Which is an all out Maryland style crab feed. And there will be plenty of drinkers to help me out.
The wine's probably a year past its peak anyway, and it will go out in style, and I'll try to stop saving my prized possessions.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Hot Time of Year...

...begins and the aforementioned summer wardrobe panic sets in. Somehow, with human nature at the reigns, it snowballs (or should I say tumbleweeds?) and I find myself wanting to consign it all and start over. Not rational. For example - this is theoretically lovely: 

The problem is me not the duds. 
Can I consign myself and start over?