Post # 77 Going Going Gone!

November 28, 2012 at 7:34 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 77 Going Going Gone!

I’ll be off line for a week so won’t be able to post anything until next Wednesday at the earliest.  Everything is fine, I just won’t be near my computer during the interim.  I thought I would just tell you a funny food story.

When I first moved the Washington, D.C., I shared an apartment in Arlington about three blocks from the Pentagon with two guys who were in the Navy.  I was just starting my computer consulting career.  As a young, single guy with nearly no responsibilities, I was able to concentrate on hobbies and writing as much as I chose to.  The other two guys elected me chief chef which was fine by me.  Our first week in the apartment, I asked them what they liked to eat.  Mostly the standard stuff, they said.  We like meats, and chicken, and fresh biscuits, and gravy, and salad, and most vegetables.  The list went on for quite a while.  The first night after unpacking was completed, etc. I set about making spaghetti, garlic bread, salad, and a cake for dessert.  I made one of my usual “garbage” salads consisting of lettuce and every other fresh vegetable that would fit in the bowl, plus grated cheddar and sunflower seeds.  When we sat down to eat, I piled a huge bunch of salad in my bowl, squeezed lemon over it, and dove in.  No one else touched the salad but everything else was a big hit.  The next night, I baked a whole chicken (these were big guys), boiled some ears of corn, put out the salad again, and dove in.  Once again, the salad remained untouched except by me.  The third night, I freshened the salad a little but noticed that tonight would be the last night for it.  I tucked in and ate as much as I could but there was still quite a bit left.  I figured, well maybe they weren’t 100% truthful about the salad thing.  I didn’t make salad for a long time.  Several months later, they asked me why.  I told them that the first time I’d made salad, no one ate it except me, and there was no sense in throwing food away.  They replied that they didn’t eat it because I put things in it they didn’t like.  So they drew up a list of things that shouldn’t go in salad, tomatoes being at the top of the list.  I’d never before met anyone who didn’t like tomatoes.  It left me gasping.  Once the list was completed, I thought about it and said, “So you guys basically just want a bowl of shredded lettuce?”  They nodded and I mentally shrugged.  The next night, to test them, I put out a bowl of shredded lettuce.  It was gone in sixty seconds.  Go figure!

See you next week!

Post # 76 Two Fat Ladies and Two Chubby Guys

November 26, 2012 at 1:01 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 76 Two Fat Ladies and Two Chubby Guys

In one of my earlier posts (number 12), I answered a question that I get a lot about who are my favorite chefs.  I mentioned these two in passing, not because they’re low on my list, but because they deserve a full post of their own.

The Two Fat Ladies had a cooking show on BBC1 for four seasons.  They went from place to place and made meals for people in the traditional British style.  The two fat ladies were Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson-Wright.  They were a couple of characters and kept things on the set lively.  Neither was the “star” of the show.  They had a friendship and respect for each other that went beyond that kind of thing.  They were just two ladies in the kitchen preparing foods and talking to each other while explaining to their audience what they were doing.  And what a sense of humor they had!

Jennifer was a drinker and smoker and drove a motorcycle with a sidecar.  Clarissa rode in the sidecar in all their shows, but one  which I’ll talk about later.  Jennifer also had a wonderful singing voice, a raspy brandy and cigar induced torch singing style that featured in nearly every episode.  The producers kept asking her to sing but she refused.  Clarissa finally told them that if they left her alone, she’d sing all they wanted.  Singing was in her blood.  She loved to cook and loved to tell stories about the dishes she was sharing.  Sadly, the smoking caught up with her and she passed away shortly after the fourth season ended.   There was no talk of Clarissa continuing with Jennifer; the show was about the pair.

Clarissa led a privileged life of the stuff British novels are written about.  She’s done everything and enjoyed it heartily.  She came to cooking later in life after she lost the family fortune to drinking and gambling.  She found that she loved to cook and after she sobered up, she became a professional chef in various venues.  Through the course of the shows, you learn that she was a successful sitting barrister in the London court system, once owned through her family an estate in the Caribbean, was an accomplished horsewoman as a pre-teen and teenager, and is a certified cricket umpire!

The two ladies did not know each other before the show started but their instant friendship shone through.  The shows were formatted the same way.  The first few minutes set up the meal, the ladies would then inspect the kitchen and tell the audience what they were planning and then get started.  About halfway through, the ladies would take a short jaunt somewhere then return to finish the meal.  The last couple of minutes always had the ladies standing apart from the dining and reflecting on the day and the meal.  In one episode, Clarissa in an ongoing effort to get Jennifer more active, convinced Jennifer to take a short walk to gather some fresh eggs nearby.  Nearby meant two miles and once they had left the farm with the eggs, Jennifer sat on a stone bench and resolutely refused to budge another inch.  Clarissa saved the day by finding the milkman on his rounds and begging a lift back to the kitchen for Jennifer and herself.

They were constantly talking politics of the day.  In one episode, Clarissa was making “lovely boudoir sandwiches” out of minced chicken, beef tongue, mustard butter (butter with a bit of french mustard blended in by hand), and watercress.  She told the story of how one king’s wife was so stalwart that she invited his favorite concubine to his deathbed.  She mentioned the names but I don’t recall what they were.  Jennifer then added that the concubine was the great-great-grandmother of Camilla.  Clarissa said, “Yes, I’d heard that.  Apple doesn’t fall too far, does it?”

In another episode, they are killing time before they go on a crabbing boat by going to a beach to have fresh winkles and mussels.  However, the tide catches them and because of their combined weight, the motorcycle becomes mired in the sand.  They leave safely, of course, but with the dramatic music in the background, it provides a little dramatic humor.

In an episode where they are making lunch for a pony club gymkhana, their menu goes a little heavy on the chiles and the chocolate.  Jennifer notes at the end that they’ve probably given the dear little tykes the collywobbles.  Clarissa notes that’s likely to be true, but they themselves would be far away when it struck.

Despite her girth, Clarissa was an amazingly athletic woman during the show’s run.  She put her hand to chopping down trees with some lumberjacks they were feeding.  She dug some potatoes.  She convinced Jennifer to assist in gathering strawberries right off the vine, which if you don’t know, grow very close to ground so must be harvested on your hands and knees.  They climbed into airplanes and raced with the owner/pilots guiding the planes.  They used their legs to guide a barge through a tunnel on an elevated lock.   They churned fresh butter and milked goats.  There was very little these two ladies would not take a try at.

The settings they were in also became a major part of each show.  They served in an embassy.  They fed scouts in a field at a jamboree.  They went to Jamaica to spend Christmas and floated in the ocean.  They walked a pier when they fed a group of nuns on lobster.  They climbed a large hill in Scotland to shoot grouse.  They listened to a male choir in Wales.  They fed a group of London barristers who were friends of Clarissa’s.  The fed the Cambridge rowing team lunch after their record 7th win over some other team in a row.  Maybe Oxford?  Maybe Eton?  I don’t remember.  You never knew where these two fat ladies were going to end up.

The thing that is truly remarkable about this show is the way it endures.  We have the DVD set and have had to replace it once because we wore it out.  It’s still shown on the BBC, and Clarissa is still highly in demand as a speaker and advocate.  As I said, Jennifer passed away, but her legacy continues as part of the most-loved television teams in BBC history.  Their style of cooking was so nonchalant, and so easy to follow that it makes everyone who watches want to try their hand at the recipe just to see if they can do it.  Partner/spouse and I have made several of their dishes and the one I wrote about just before Thanksgiving as a potato side dish came from their show.  If you have an opportunity to watch the show, I recommend you do so.  It’s a half-hour well spent with gentle good humor and learning thrown in.

Enjoy!

 

Update:

Just realized I forgot to talk about the motorcycle!  Jennifer had a motorcycle and sidecar that became the iconic image for the show.  The ladies traveled all over in that thing with Jennifer driving and Clarissa seated in the sidecar.  Occassionally, they offered rides to people who climbed on behind Jennifer.  Clarissa constantly teased Jennifer by telling the guests that Jennifer didn’t have handle grips for them so they were forced to hold onto Jennifer.  Jennifer very drily replied, “There’s not a bit of truth in that.”  Once, Clarissa thought she had forgotten one of her treasured kitchen implements back at the place they had left and Jennifer cried “Hold on!” and performed a picture perfect braking 180 degree turn and without losing a moment of time continued in the opposite direction to collect the forgotten item.  Clarissa just grinned through the whole manuver.  Another time, as they were driving off into the sunset at the end of a show, the two ladies were discussing the fact that Clarissa had never driven the motorcycle so they decided that needed to be corrected.  Without stopping the bike, they switched places with no loss of speed or direction.  They never told the producers when these things were going to happen and it added an element of surprise and fun to the show.

Post # 75 Thanks For Giving, Mom

November 23, 2012 at 9:35 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Yesterday in America, it was Thanksgiving Day.  It was a day set aside to feast as appropriate to your observance of the day, and while feasting to give thanks for all you hold dear.  My family and I did all this and watched television and enjoyed the dogs and remembered all we were thankful for during a stress-filled year.  This year, for me, has been filled with words.  I started this blog and maintained it steadily three times a week for six months, while adding a few short stories to it.  I completed the first and second drafts of my first novel.  I created and maintained a sporadic second blog for just my rants and raves.  I became active in gay politics and made my opinions and views known on a national level and was accepted in that arena.  Those twenty-six letters and one dozen punctuation marks did me proud this year.

But as I sat back on the couch, sipping a glass of wine, and enjoying the feeling of digesting a feast, my thoughts went back to other things that I am thankful for.  As is ever my wont, I remembered those very humorous times during other feasts and was struck by how many of them centered around my mom.  Mom passed away in June of 91.  She was the heart of the family, full of the joy of living, rocking with laughter.

Mom was always taking a notion for doing things differently.  One Christmas, she decided not to label any of the gifts under the tree.  The only person who knew what was what, was the person who actually was giving the gift, in most cases her.  So someone would open a gift and it might be for them and it might not.  The person who gave the gift would then say who it was for.  There are many reasons why this was not a good idea.  Mom thought it was great.

Another “good idea” she had for Christmas was the year she got the same presents for everyone.  I always think of that as the year of Trivial Pursuit.  I ended up with three copies of the game because everyone thought I’d enjoy it and be good at it.  They were right on both counts.

The only holiday that mom insisted that everyone sit down to the table for the main meal was Thanksgiving.  She was raised on a farm and that holiday always had a special meaning for her.  She didn’t get maudlin or anything, but she was always thankful for being able to provide a feast for her family.  Guests were always welcome and it didn’t matter how many.  Mom always felt that everything would be okay as long as there was enough to eat.  We lived in the Arizona desert and one time a friend came over.  He sat down on the couch in the air-conditioned room and sighed happily at the coolness.  He still laughs over three decades later when he recalls how five minutes later my mom thrust a plate of grilled cheese sandwiches under his nose because, well, that’s just the way she was.  He always says that he wasn’t hungry but he ate every bite.

She was always redecorating the living room.  It was the biggest room in the house, therefore the biggest place to showcase her “talents.”  One time, she went traditional and did a chair rail in white, with red paint beneath and red patterned wall paper above.  But she did a checkerboard pattern so both below and above had alternating sections of paint and wall paper.  One time I came home from college and she had papered the living room in posters of the rock group Blondie because she liked their music.  I asked my dad how he could stand it.  He said he knew it wouldn’t be up for very long.

Mom also had a green thumb about the size of the jolly green giant.  I’ve seen her stick cuttings from a plant into plain water and leave it and watched as the biggest, lushest plant grew from it.  It didn’t matter what plant it was, it worked for all of them.  She had a rose garden in front of the front porch and one of those bushes had at least one rose in bloom on it every single day of the year.  I’ve seen her plant a “dead” Christmas tree and watched it grow to thirty feet tall.  It became a nesting tree for every damn mockingbird in the county and was the noisiest thing you ever heard.

After I took over cooking for the family, she got a lot more ambitious and experimental with cooking.  She was more willing to try something different, or at least, different for her.  Some of her experiments weren’t so great.  She once created a solid gazpacho.  I have no idea what she was aiming for.  Others were quite good and stayed in our repertoire for years.  Even today we still eat “baseballs” which is just a highly flavored chicken salad in a spherical roll with the insides taken out and filled with the salad.

However, with all the memories that come flooding back at this time of year, candy bowls, fudge mountains, burned chicken soup, etc. there’s one that consistently makes me laugh.  Feast days for us were highly anticipated and became more elaborate as years went by.  By the time we kids were all in our late teens and early twenties, the spread filled the kitchen and dining room and spilled out into the living room.  There was always enough food to keep an army alive for days and we usually did keep a horde of guests alive for at least the weekend.  The day of the feast, we served buffet style and everyone gathered at the same moments to share in the repast.  After that, everyone was on their own for at least two or three days.  They could have whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it.  With no set mealtimes, it made for a very relaxed and inviting holiday.  This one particular Thanksgiving, I was sitting on the couch reading and pondering idly if I was really hungry enough to get up and get a piece of pie or a cookie or maybe a turkey sandwich or a slice of ham.  Mom came into the living room with a saucer pile high with whipped cream on top of some kind of pie.  I watched, wondering what kind of pie was under there.  She had just about finished and I still couldn’t identify it.

“Mom, what kind of pie is that?”

She giggled.  “I didn’t get any pie?”

“Oh, cake or something?”

“Nope.”   She was still grinning.

I looked at her for a moment then realized what she’d had for dessert.

She looked at me in all innocence.  “I like whipped cream, okay?”

Hope you enjoyed your feast, your holiday, however you chose to honor it.

Post # 74 Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie

November 21, 2012 at 10:52 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

If you’ve read through my blog, you know that most of my experience in cooking comes from my family.  To greater and lesser degrees, we all enjoyed cooking.  My dad could make a killer potato salad (I’m told since I don’t like the stuff), and he and my brother both have taken to outdoor rotisserie grilling like ducks to water.  My sister, on the other hand, never took to cooking very much.  She’s a good cook, and when she doesn’t try to do anything to spectacular, she does really well.  But there was one Thanksgiving dinner she made that stands out in memory.

It was just after she got married.  I don’t remember if it was the first Thanksgiving they had as a married couple, or the second or third, but it was definitely in the early days of their marriage.  They decided to host Thanksgiving dinner for their friends who for various reasons had no place to go for Thanksgiving.    She wanted to invite us, but as she explained, we wouldn’t enjoy the menu.  It was a standard menu, turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, etc.  Later, we learned that she put an extra “herb” in the stuffing to make it more fun.  She came to the house a few days before the feast to pick our brains about how to get this going.  She and her husband were only making the main things, and the guests were all bringing the side dishes.  One guy had said, “Don’t worry about the pumpking pie.  I’ll bring that.”  She was even making fresh bread to turn into stuffing.  I told her that if she ran into any problems or had questions to call.

So the day arrived and they woke up at 5 a.m.  She wanted to get the bread done early so it would have time to turn into stuffing.  Her husband is a unique person.  He wakes up either happy or grumpy, but none of the other seven dwarves.  This day, he woke up grumpy.  So she was trying to get things going and he was being a hindrance.  She finally said, “To heck with this.  I’m going back to bed.”  After much pleading on his part, she finally got up again when she was planning to finish the bread.  So things were moving along.  I’d only received a couple of phone calls for minor things.

Then, about 2 p.m. I got a frantic phone call.

“The pie just showed up!” she said.  I couldn’t figure what the problem was so I said, “Yeah?  Does it look good?”

“It’s a pumpkin!”

“Right, he said he’d bring a pumpking pie.”

“No!  It’s not a pie, it’s a pumpkin!  A real, live, orange pumpkin!”

I suddenly had a vision of this pumpkin sitting on her kitchen counter looking benign and orange and started laughing.

“Stop laughing!  I asked him where the cans were, the ones I always see you using to make pumpkin pie, but he said it came right from his garden.  What do I do?”

I stopped laughing and caught my breath.  “Okay, first, does it have a stem?”

“Yeah, about a foot long.”

“All right.  Grab the stem firmly and beat him about the head with the pumpkin until he’s either bleeding or unconscious.  Then come up here get one of our pies.  What flavor would you like?”

I’m always grateful for a good laugh.  Hope you are too!  However you plan to do Thanksgiving Day, I hope it’s all pleasant for you!

 

 

Post # 73 A Side of Potatoes, Please

November 19, 2012 at 10:10 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

We’re coming up on a major holiday in America called Thanksgiving.  Most chefs and home cooks have their menu planned already, but I wanted to toss something into the mix that you might like and is really easy to make.  I got the recipe from The Two Fat Ladies, a cooking show from Great Britain that I’ll be blogging about soon, maybe the next post!

Wash two pounds of potatoes.  I use russets, but any variety will do.  You want one that will hold together well, so stay away from the softer, mashy type.  Fill a very large bowl with cold water.  Slice the potatoes very thin.  I use a mandolin for this because it goes so quickly, but you can use whatever you like.  You must be certain that the potato slices are as thin as you can make them.  As you slice them place them in the cold water.  This does two things.  It keeps them from turning brown, and it washes off the starch which causes sticky potatoes.  Once all the potatoes have been sliced and placed in the bowl, run water continually through the potatoes until the water comes out clear.  Stir the potatoes with your hands and make certain you’ve separated all the slices so as much starch is washed away as you can possibly make it.  Once this is done, dry the potatoes.  Last night, I used my salad spinnner to dry the potatoes and it worked great!  Slice one large onion in the same manner and separate the rings.  Set aside in another bowl.

Heat your oven to 425.  Take a medium to large casserole dish and wipe it with oil.  You want a lot of oil on the sides and bottom or else it will stick.  Now, start layering the potatoes and onion into the dish.  Sprinkle a little kosher salt in between the layers and every other layer add some cracked pepper.  When the dish is about half full, drizzle about a tablespoon of oil over the potatoes.  When the final layer is done, drizzle another tablespoon of oil over it.  I usually put a layer of cheese in the middle, too, but sometimes leave it out.  It’s up to you.  Also, I make sure that onions are on top to get brown and crispy.  Put the dish in the oven uncovered and leave for about forty-five minutes.  Cool for about ten minutes, then serve.  The flavor of potato and onion (and maybe cheese) is wonderful!

This makes a great side dish for any meal, but particularly now at Thanksgiving since it’s in the spirit of the first Thanksgiving.

Enjoy!

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