Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows I like many celebrity chefs, but my favorites are The Two Fat Ladies from Great Britain. Sadly, both Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright have passed away, Clarissa just this year. But their legacy and popularity lives on after them. I once described Clarissa as “a friend I never met” because she always seemed the one of the pair that was more down to earth. Recently, though, I’ve been reading a lot about Jennifer and, like millions of her fans, I have fallen in love with her all over again.
That’s Jennifer driving the motorcycle in the iconic picture of The Two Fat Ladies. She was known all over London and beyond by her helmet and her two-wheeled transportation. At her funeral, her helmet sat in a place of honor, almost revered as a saintly relic. Yet I’ve seen her collect eggs, shellfish, and mushrooms in that helmet, never caring about the dirt or aromas transferred to it and thus to her hair.
One of the books I’ve read recently is called Enjoy! A Celebration of Jennifer Paterson.
It was a collection of remembrances from people who knew and loved her best. It was a wake on paper. Here are some quotes:
From her brother describing a party: During the revels there may conceivably have been some sort of encounter with one of the young female dynasts in a less well-lit part of the garden – memory is extremely vague at this distant remove. Anyway, the pirate’s hat (made from a black stocking hat of Jennifer’s) lost, forgotten and never recovered. I do recall, however, with startling clarity, my sister’s displeasure the following morning at the loss.
From a young man to whom she was a nanny: She treated everyone exactly the same, be they her perennial entourage of high-ranking officers of the Catholic Church, my school-mates, dinner guests, porters, waiters, girl-friends, the rich and famous, or even our dogs: she had something to say to everyone, and would usually leave us laughing, but often feeling a bit battered by the encounter. Most evenings she would end up singing . . . .
From a man who had hired her: Actually, I used to sack her quite often. Very rarely to do with anything she had or hadn’t done. Just the amount of drink I’d had, most likely. Be she was solicitous enough never to fail to turn up the following day.
(Me: This was a pattern she followed her whole life. Anytime a boss sacked her, she would always turn up the next day and continue working. It was as though she never left a job until she chose to.)
From her producer/director: [while in the hospital with her final illness] Jennifer was enormously touched when the Prince of Wales sent her a vat of organic soup and some ice cream from his private kitchens along with a handwritten get-well note. She hugely enjoyed the food but it provided us with a difficult social conundrum. What was the etiquette for dealing with the Tupperware containers it had arrived in?
From same person: On another occasion I rang her and was shocked to hear her answer the phone in a pathetic little voice, far removed from the Jennifer I knew so well. ‘Hello,’ she half whispered. ‘Hello,’ I said. ‘Still alive then?’ At this she instantly returned to her normal self, booming down the phone, ‘oh, it’s you, dear. Thank God, I thought it was another bloody do-gooder.’
From Clarissa, the other Fat Lady: Programme two, filmed at Westonbirt girls’ school saw the famous 180-degree turn [on the motorcycle]. — On this occasion I wasn’t aware what she was going to do and neither was [the producer/director], who rushed over afterwards to protest that we weren’t insured for stunts; so reassuring.
Also from Clarissa: I remember driving through London in some parade in a vintage Bentley with cheering crowds and Jennifer remarking, ‘Now I know how Hitler felt.’ You never knew what she would say next and that, I suppose, was the fun of it all.
Another book I’m reading is a collection of columns she wrote for a British magazine called The Oldies.
It’s set in diary fashion and is a slice of Jennifer herself.
“No one should pay the slightest bit of attention to diet literature. When people still ate at normal meal-times, you ate was put in front of you, with treats for high-days and holidays. Everyone was healthy without delving into things like calories and fibres.”
“I had the unusual honor last week of being godmother, or sponsor as they now call it, to the excellent Humphry Berkeley on the occasion of confirmation by Bishop Crowley at the London Oratory. Unusual, as Humphry is 66.”
“Does everyone find a drunk on the train?”
“To crown it all, these homosexual nuns arrived at Westminster Cathedral to picket the Piazza and disturb the sung High Mass. Then about 50 of them rose and produced banners against the Pope. One old lady in a wheelchair passed out in fright and had to be resuscitated and comforted, poor old thing. I do think it was very ill-mannered of these silly queens and not the best way to plead their cause.”
“We were doing a film pilot [The Two Fat Ladies] and after a dangerous morning of shooting simulated rabbits and pheasants at the Holland and Holland shooting school the afternoon consisted of making me drive a 50cc motorbike and side-car. This is incredibly difficult, the side-car seems to take over and drag you to the wrong side of the road. The brave owner of the vehicle sat in the side-car and off we went. We veered into a ditch the first time but gradually, with a panting heart, I managed to control the beast. Then we shot the film with the courageous Clarissa Dickson Wright as my passenger. All went well until the last shot had to be done later in the day. I must have lost my cunning by hen. I completely lost control of the machine’s direction, hit the camera’s very expensive tripod, careered away just in time and ended up hitting a flag post which mercifully stopped my progress. Clarissa was brick and made no moan whilst staring death in the face. Ah me, what larks.”
My personal favorite Jennifer quote comes from the second show (mentioned above.) The Two Fat Ladies have provided lunch for some girls at a girls’ school and it’s late in the day, they are relaxing and Jennifer lights up a cigarette. Clarissa says, “You can be expelled for that, you know.” Jennifer lifts her head proudly, blows a huge billow of smoke out of her lungs, and says in a regal tone and perfect British accent, “I don’t care!” Classic Jennifer.
Yesterday, I was wearing a dark gray t-shirt that I like cuz it’s nice and thick, and warm, and soft. It’s a nice shirt. When I took it off last night, I noticed that there were streaks of flour still on it that I had not been able to brush off. I laughed a little because it had been a floury sort of day.
We get up pretty early in our household, mostly because the dogs seldom want to wait past 6am to get out and then to have breakfast. By 11, I’m ready to fix lunch. When I did, I saw there was only one slice of store-bought bread left. The solution was easy. I grabbed the bread making machine, set up my recipe, hit the “make dough” selection, and left it to its own devices. An hour and a half later, I had dough set up to make my sandwich rolls. I shaped them out by hand, set them to rise, and left them alone for about an hour. Then I baked them and they came out exactly the way they’re supposed to, no problems. But I was up to my elbows in flour for a couple of those steps. (In case you want the recipe for the sandwich rolls, on the right side of the blog is a list of pages with recipes. Look for the one that’s titled Recipe for Post # 4 Sandwich Rolls.)
Once those were done, I had to start setting up for dinner. I was making Pasta with Lemon Sauce (which I’ve blogged about a couple of times here), and grilling a London Broil steak. Searching the pantry, I found half a box of whole wheat spaghetti which would do for the pasta, but I decided to turn my hand to making home made pasta. I’ve done it many times in the past, and thought now would be a good time.
Does anyone know what this is?
It’s a pasta rolling machine. It makes the task of making home made pasta super easy. I used to have one. I must have gotten it as a gift, because it’s not the sort of thing that I would even know to get for myself. The way it works is you clamp it down to a solid surface then put a small piece of dough into the hopper. There are several settings for width. You set the width at the widest setting and crank the dough through. Then you set the width a little smaller and go progressively through until you have the desired width for your pasta. By now, the small piece has stretched and grown into a large sheet of dough. Then, you put the sheet through the cutters and make noodles of a couple different sizes.
This is all accomplished in the space of just a few minutes. But I don’t have one of these anymore. I know I’m getting one of these as soon as I can, though. Because I made pasta by hand yesterday. It’s easy enough a process, but it makes your muscles ache!
First, you have to make the dough. It starts out easy enough. 1 1/2 to 2 cups of flour, and eggs. You make a well in flour, pour in the eggs, and using a fork, you mix the two together.
Easy, right? Well, not so much. Every bit of flour has to be incorporated and the dough is incredibly stiff. Think old play-dough. By the time you reach the end, this is the only way to do it.
Which is fine, because the dough has to be kneaded anyway. I ended up working the dough for about 30 minutes before it was to the right state.
Either one of these is correct. The one on top is a trifle drier than the bottom. That’s easy to fix with a few drops of water or olive oil and more kneading, but isn’t necessary. If you have the pasta roller machine, this is all corrected during the rolling out process. If you don’t have the pasta rolling machine, then this is what you must do.
That’s a rolling pin, people. So you roll and roll until the dough is thin enough for the pasta you want. For most noodles, you want it thin enough so you can just see through it.
Now, at this stage, you’re going to shape your pasta. If you’re making noodles, as I was, you’re going to fold it or roll it up. Either way, you want to be certain the pasta doesn’t stick to itself when you unroll it, so sprinkle it very lightly with flour and brush it evenly across the surface. After you’ve rolled/folded it, use a very sharp knife to cut noodles of the desired width. Then unroll them and place them on a lightly floured towel. If you’re making them for another day, you can hang them on a drying rack, but I typically don’t do that.
The difference between fresh pasta, and store bought pasta (even those brands that claim to be fresh, not dried, etc.) it like the difference between store bought and fresh bread; the difference between store bought and vine ripened tomatoes (yum!); the difference between fresh brownies and, well, any brownies are good so never mind. (mmm, brownies! maybe another flour day?) My pasta actually turned out thicker than I wanted, was a lot chewier than I wanted, but what a flavor!
Fresh pasta cooks MUCH faster than dried pasta. Make sure the water is boiling fast and is lightly salted. The past will initially sink, then as the water returns to boiling, it will rise. In 2-5 minutes, it will be done. The best way to tell is to try a piece. The pasta will swell a bit and be thicker, but it will be so yummy!
I clean as I go, so the kitchen was in a good state. There were no major messes to clean up after dinner. As I said, the only real aftermath, apart from full stomachs, was a streak of flour on my t-shirt that I missed.
In The Hobbit, Gollum and Bilbo engage in a riddle contest to determine if the Gollum is going to eat Bilbo or show him the way out of the caves. One of those riddles is, “A box without hinges, key, or lid, Yet golden treasure inside is hid.” The answer to that riddle is the subject of today’s post.
I’ve written about eggs before, and undoubtedly will write about them again. Eggs are good, and we’re finding out that they’re good for you. I won’t go into the studies, science, or details, but nutritional experts everywhere are changing their minds about eggs.
I like eggs.
I know lots of funny stories about eggs. Steven King once lost a babysitter because of eggs. My little brother once tried to make green eggs and ham, with mixed results. A coworker in Frankfurt, Germany could not peel a hard-boiled eggs correctly to save his life and earned the nickname “Egg Wrestler.”
But that’s not what I’m about today.
We’re going to talk about having eggs for dinner. We do this a lot in our household. About half the time, it’s good ole bacon and eggs with whatever else we feel like. But the other half of the time, it gets a lot more complex, but still as tasty and simple as bacon and eggs. Eggs are inexpensive and can go a long way.
Ever had Pasta Carbonara? It’s a pasta and egg dish where the egg is cooked by the hot pasta and creates an unctuous sauce. It’s totally simple. Start water boiling for whatever pasta you’re going to use. Traditionally, a long thin pasta is used like spaghetti or fettuccini, but whatever you have on hand is going to be okay. Cook your pasta according to the directions. While it’s cooking beat one egg per two servings of pasta. Into the egg, add a pinch of salt and pepper, and about a quarter cup of parmesan cheese. Fresh grated is best, but the powdered stuff in the jar works just as well. Beat it all together well. When the pasta is done, drain it and put it immediately in a large bowl. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta and toss with wooden forks until all the pasta is completely coated and the egg has turned into a sauce. Serve immediately. Most of the time, I sprinkle it with extra cheese, and I toss fresh bacon crumbles into it while tossing the egg. I’ve also seen some recipes that call for fresh steamed peas, or other vegetables. I’m thinking sautéed mushrooms would be good, too.
However, eggs on top of pasta works for a ton of different dishes. I’ve seen a poached egg put on top of plate of pasta. When the diner breaks the egg, the yolk runs into the pasta and whatever is dressing the pasta to create a rich sauce. The judges on Chopped seem to love this technique.
The Brits have a wonderful dish called Toad in the Hole. It can be made many ways with sausages, meats, or eggs. I’ve talked about it before on the blog, but it bears repeating. Take a slice of good bread. Cut a hole or a shape in the middle but save the piece you cut out. Butter both sides of the bread. Heat a non-stick skillet. If you want sunny side up eggs, toast one side of the bread in the skillet, then turn it over. Pour the eggs carefully into the cutout so they are directly on the skillet. Cook carefully until the eggs are set. Eat hot. If you like your eggs fried solid, put the bread in the hot skillet and put the egg in immediately. Flip the bread carefully with the egg in it. Cook until done to taste. You can also toast the cutout at the same time and serve it as an extra piece of toast to sop up the yolk.
However, you take this up a few levels by making a crostini, or toasted cheese sandwich, or a mock cheese soufflé on toast and putting a poached or sunny side up egg on top of it.
Shirred Eggs is just a fancy way to say baked eggs. They’re actually really good, and really easy. I posted once about shirred eggs in a ramekin “nest” made from cooked spinach and cheese. But then I found another recipe that sounds just as good and only requires two ingredients. This recipe makes one so adjust as needed. Heat your oven to 350. Take one medium ramekin and spritz a little cooking spray or olive oil in it. You only need a little. Place the ramekin on a baking sheet. Then take two pieces of prosciutto and line the ramekin folding in as necessary. The prosciutto should not go over the top of the ramekin or it will burn. If you do have burnt prosciutto, just use a sharp knife or a pair of scissors to trim off the burn. Cook the prosciutto in the ramekin by itself until it’s crispy, about five minutes or so. Remove the ramekin from the oven and carefully place an egg into the ramekin with the prosciutto in it. Cook in the oven until done to desired state. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve. Be careful as the ramekin will be hot. If you’re very adept and careful, you can remove the prosciutto “cup” and serve it that way.
The list goes on and on, but I’m going to leave you with a couple of vegetable dishes. It’s easy to cook your favorite veggie and put a cooked egg on top just before serving. I like to steam asparagus, squeeze some lemon over it, and add a lightly fried egg. The picture shows it with a piece of prosciutto underneath which I’ve never tried, but I can’t imagine it being anything but good.
Finally, I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite ways to dress up Brussels Sprouts. Lots of people don’t like them, but I’ve liked the “little baby cabbages” since I was five. My favorite way to eat them is to steam them up with some salt, put them in the fridge to chill, and eat them icy cold with that touch of salt and juiciness from the steam. Partner/Spouse introduced me to Brussels Sprouts Hash. You take as many Brussels Sprouts as you want and cut them into shreds. Then add chopped green onion, chopped regular onion or chopped leeks. Fry some bacon in a large skillet and break into pieces. Drain all the grease except 1-2 tablespoons, depending on how many vegetables you have. Heat the grease and put all the chopped veggies in and stir fry until crisp tender. Serve hot, BUT if you have a mind to, lightly fry or poach an egg. Leave the yolk runny. Gently place the egg on top of each serving. As the yolk breaks and runs into the hot veggies, it creates a good sauce, similar to Carbonara. Good stuff.
Back in the late 80′s, I went out to dinner with some friends. At the time, I was eating in a whole-grain kind of way. I was learning the flavors of food and didn’t want anything covering that up. When I ordered my salad, the waiter asked what dressing I’d like. I asked if they had any lemon I could squeeze onto it. He looked puzzled, as though no one had ever asked for lemon before. All they had were lemon juice packs for the tea so I got a couple of those. It was a technique I’d learned in college. Tasted as good as vinaigrette without a lot of oils and seasonings to mask other flavors. Sometimes, all I did was sprinkle a little salt on the salad. One of the ladies at the table was floored that I wasn’t having dressing on my salad.
“How can you not?” she asked. So I replied, “How can you have?”
I told her how the lemon was light enough to allow me taste the other vegetables, but still provided a tartness that enhanced flavors. The more I talked, the more confused she looked. When our salads arrived, I asked her if she wanted to taste it, but she shook her head.
Instead, she asked the waiter if she could have my dressing since I wasn’t going to have any. She put Thousand Island and Ranch dressing on her salad. That floored me. For one, I don’t care for either of those dressings. Also, she put so much dressing on her salad that all you could taste was the dressing. The crispness of the lettuce, the juiciness of the tomatoes, the bite of onion, all of it became a vehicle for transporting Ranch dressing into her mouth. We never did reach an agreement on that, and still laugh about each other’s expressions today.
My brother, when he was younger (and my younger I mean back when we were kids and into our teens) was certainly not a discerning eater. His tastes were basic and simple, more in line with the way my mother cooked. His favorite meal was cereal; his favorite sandwich was peanut butter and jelly. While the rest of us were enjoying steak, he was looking for mustard to put on his burger. When we were eating popcorn, his hand became a claw gripping as much popcorn as he could jam into his mouth and still be able to breathe. When he finally developed an appetite for steak, he’d cut chunks so large my mom and I would cast bets as to whether he was going to choke or not. When he was about 19 or so, he worked for a local construction company and they sent his crew out of town on a job. Their last evening there, they decided to go to a “nice” restaurant instead of the fast food burgers they’d been eating all week.
“They put dried up, old, stale bread crumbs all over my salad!” he told me.
I smiled, holding back laughter. “Those are croutons. They’re supposed to be there. They’re good.”
“I don’t care what you call them. They were dried up, old, stale bread crumbs. I made them take it back and take them off.”
I suppose his tastes have changed. I saw him eat croutons once.
A guy I used to work with once called me to his office to brainstorm. As I sat down, I noticed a bagel on his desk.
“What’s on that?” I asked, always curious what other people liked to eat.
“Not much. Some cream cheese, some peanut butter, and some chocolate spread.”
This was the guy who had just had liposuction to find his abs.
Another work friend told me he was on a plane once, and because of the length of the trip, and multiple stops, he was very hungry. They were serving a small snack before dinner and he said they had the best bread and cheese sandwich. He ate his pretty quickly, and the guy next to him didn’t want it so gave his to my friend. Then the flight attendant brought him another. After that leg was over, he was talking to his teammate as they walked to the next flight and commented on how good the cheese sandwiches were. She looked puzzled for a moment and said, “That was bread and butter. The butter was frozen.”
One time, when I was still traveling, I was in the “office”. It was a big warehouse kind of place where all the travelers had assigned desks. I’d go in very early to get my computer work done, and give up my spot to someone who came later. As any reader of this blog knows, I don’t care much for many breakfast foods, so one day I brought in some pizza I’d had the night before. I sat at my computer, ignoring my coworkers who were coming in, munching away happily at two cold slices of mushroom pizza and catching up on email. Suddenly I heard, “What the HELL are you eating?” One of my coworkers was staring aghast at my pizza. I thought it was pretty obvious what I was eating but I said, “Pizza.” She looked at me for a couple of seconds then added, “And a Pepsi? At 6am?” She was holding a large Starbucks cup so I said, “You like your morning caffeine hot and sweet. I like mine cold and fizzy.” She shook her head and wandered away.
One time in China, I was working with two people who both disliked Chinese food. Every day for lunch, as we went back to our hotel and the closest American food restaurant, we would pass through the lunch room for the local staff. The aromas would drive me crazy because I wanted some of everything. One day after passing through and waiting at the elevator, I was thinking that now would be the time that I tried once again to convince them to go someplace local when one of them turned to me and said, “Man, that smelled awful! I had to hold my breath in there.” So much for eating local. I made up for it on subsequent trips.
So what’s all this go to do with How To Eat Food? The point of all these stories, aside from chuckling, is that however you want to eat is how to eat food. There is no Food Police, and your palate is just as valid as Julia Child’s palate, or anyone else’s palate. So however you want to eat, just enjoy!
My mom passed away in June of ’91 and there’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about her and the things she taught me and my sibs. She was mercenary, but full of laughter. She taught me to cook because I asked her to, but she was looking to the day when I would take over and she wouldn’t have to anymore. She was not an inspired cook. What she was was an inspired parent, a wonderful friend, and an outstanding human being. One of the things she taught all us kids was that it was okay to have things that were special to you. She had many things that meant a great deal to her. If they got lost or broken, she didn’t lose time with regrets. She got other things.
One of the things that she had for a long time, up to her death, was a ceramic hand-painted mixing bowl. That bowl was the bowl I learned to cook in. It was the perfect size for just about everything. I stirred up cake batter by hand in it. I creamed butter and sugar for cookies in it. I tossed salads in it. It fit in the crook of my left arm perfectly.
My nephew was around four one time when he wandered into the kitchen and saw me with the bowl and a wooden spoon furiously creaming butter and sugar together. His eyes lit up when he saw that because he knew that soon something good would be coming out of the kitchen.
“I like that.” he said in a wheedling tone. It was obvious he wanted a taste.
“No, you wouldn’t like this just yet. It’s just butter and sugar.”
“Oh, no, Uncle Joe! I like that.”
I shrugged. “Okay! Get a spoon.”
Delighted, he ran over to the drawer got out the biggest spoon he could find.
“Dig in, ” I said.
Again, his face lit up as he scooped as big a mound of butter and sugar as would fit in his mouth. That expression soon changed as the muck started melting. He swallowed as fast as he could but it still wasn’t fast enough to clear the butter off his tongue.
“Is it good?” I asked.
He nodded vigorously with a less than enthusiastic “mm hmm!”
Me being me, I asked, “Want some more?”
His expression showed his confusion. If he said No, he knew there was not a snowball’s chance that he’d ever get a taste from that bowl again. If he said Yes, he was going to have to live through the experience of having a mouthful of butter and sugar again, something to be avoided.
After a moment, he said, “No. I think we should leave the rest for the cookies.”
Just before Mom passed away, I was telling her that story and we were laughing hard. She got up and walked to her kitchen and brought the bowl out to me. “Here.”
Several months after mom had passed, my sister mentioned that she’d always wanted that bowl. A friend happened to be going on a temporary work assignment near my sister, so I sent the bowl along with her. Now my sister has it, and uses it to store fruit and veggies.
Another thing Mom had that sort of defined her cooking style was an old cast iron skillet with a matching lid. I remembered that skillet from early childhood. Washing it was tough to do because all she ever used it for was frying chicken and the grease and flour would always gunge up on the bottom. But as I got older, and learned to appreciate the wonders of cast iron, I always regretted not getting that from her. I assumed she’d given it to my brother’s wife when she was teaching her how to make fried chicken. I mentioned to Dad on one of our trips to see him about it. Turns out that he had that skillet in his shed, so now I have that skillet and lid. Still haven’t used it yet.
But the biggest thing that all of us kids remember most from childhood on was Mom’s favorite cookie jar. It was shaped like a cow, and the lid was the back of the cow. The handle was a kitten sitting on top of the cow licking its chops. The kitten was smiling; the cow was smiling. Presumably, any kid getting cookies out of it would be smiling too. After Mom passed away, my brother got the cookie jar. It had always meant a lot to him.
One day, Partner/Spouse and I were wandering around an antique store in Virginia and I stopped dead in my tracks. There was the cow cookie jar!
I was surprised. The story about how we acquired the cow, as it was told to me by both Mom and Dad decades apart, made it seem like these things were very rare. In my parents’ home town in Ohio, there was a pottery store that was the front for a factory. They made all kinds of things. Back in the late fifties, they made a limited run of this cow cookie jar. Mom said only a few hundred were made; Dad said only seventy-five. One of our cousins had bought one, and Mom had seen it. She fell in love with the kitten’s expression and had to have the cookie jar. It was prohibitively expensive for the times, but Dad got it for her anyway. She kept that cow protected and intact through all our moves, and raising three children and a whole pack of dogs.
And there it was on the shelf of an antique store that I was in! One horn was broken off, and the price was over $200 so I didn’t get it, but I let my brother know how much it was going for. He told me that his son now owned it and remembered all the cookies that I used to put in it.
I was telling my sister about that cow in the antique store and she shared a story with me. Our little brother had a secret. Whenever Mom filled the cookie jar, he would put two or three cookies in the head of the cow. There was just enough room to hide three Oreos. Whenever the jar was empty, he could count on getting a few cookies out of the head of the cow.
On a whim, I searched Amazon, and they had one! Now it’s on my wish list.