"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: roald dahl

easter . . .


French macarons . . .

French macarons . . .

G. and I are enjoying a quiet, sunny day today. The kids are visiting in-laws and so we will have a quiet day and a simple supper tonight. Right now, I am listening to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and feeling like snapping my fingers to the music–it’s so much fun to listen to it! Earlier, I went to the piano and played the 2nd movement of the C minor Fantasie by Mozart. The makeshift wooden board that G. placed over the pedal worked well with my leg that still has a heavy cast on it.

Last night, with absolutely nothing to watch on TV (unless you wanted to tune into a four-and a half hour view of the “Ten Commandments”,) we decided to watch “Amadeus” the 1984 movie which won 8 Academy Awards. It’s a little grating to me with the Mozart character’s neighing all the time (from Tourette’s Syndrome)? But F. Murray Abraham (who won an Oscar for best actor in this best picture) plays Salieri, a rival court composer whose works are banal compared to Mozart’s and who is obsessed both by God’s gift of talent to Mozart and his equally strong belief that God has shortchanged him of same. This assignation of “blame” to God for Salieri’s shortcomings is one of the amusing conceits of the film. Reading about Salieri online, he is purported to have taught the likes of Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt so he must not have been as lightweight a musician as the movie, “Amadeus,” makes him out to be.

Anyhow, seeing the period instruments (since G. specializes in all things piano) is a treat to watch. I was also reminded again hearing excerpts of Mozart’s great Mass in C minor with its rousing opening “Kyrie” how great a composition it is. So, I listened to it this a.m. before segue-ing to the more upbeat and laid back jazz of Dave Brubeck’s quartet and Paul Desmond playing saxophone. Did you know that it was actually Desmond who composed “Take Five?” I didn’t until recently when I watched Clint Eastwood’s masterful biographical DVD of Dave Brubeck which we saw on PBS a couple of years ago.

For lunch today, I’m going to heat up some frozen Korean dumplings with chives and make a piquant dipping sauce of Chinese black vinegar, Japanese seasoned rice vinegar, Ohsawa soy sauce, sesame oil, chopped scallions and grated fresh ginger root. Afterwards, we’ll try a tiny sliver of the dark chocolate sour cream cake that I made yesterday afternoon. I had to bake it ten more minutes than the recipe called for and even then, the beautifully rounded middle sunk when cooled so it looked like a miniature tube cake!

I also had difficulty broiling a miso eggplant dish for dinner last night–you couldn’t chew it and it felt and tasted like wet cardboard. I even tried frying it afterwards but to no avail. Then, I remembered the pizza stone the other night didn’t seem hot enough even though heated to 500 degrees. And that instead of the pizza taking 3-5 minutes to cook, it still wasn’t done at 15 minutes and I had to turn on the broiler to finish it. So, dear reader, it occurred to me that perhaps my stove/oven isn’t heating up properly. (DUH!) It’s about a dozen years old and I cook a lot, so it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s losing its legs, heat-wise that is.

So, I dug out my oven thermometer and will be double-checking whether it preheats to 425 degrees when I get ready to roast the rack of lamb that we’re going to have for dinner tonight. I use Julia Child’s recipe for a mustard (Grey Poupon Country Dijon), olive oil, soy sauce, fresh rosemary chopped and lots of minced garlic–the marinade coating applied for the room-temperature lamb before going into the oven. The lamb on the rack looks miniscule so I’m hopeful that there will be something tasty there when it comes out of the dubious oven.

better nomaYesterday, I don’t know what came over me–perhaps it was re-reading a cohort of British cookery books in the last few days–I decided to cull out and reorganize my bookshelves, one whole section of which is dedicated to food. One of the shelves now includes a set of Terence Conran, Roald Dahl, Jane Garmey and Time-Life volumes on making galantines, terrines, meat pies, trifles and aspic with eggs. In this group, I rediscovered the absolutely wonderful simple and yet appealing recipes in Nigel Slater’s cookery books. Slater’s recipe for roasting chicken wings suffused with fresh lemons and cracked pepper until the wings are caramelized to the baking sheet is one I’m going to try next week, I think. SLATER

Even though they were somewhat pricey, I went through some books yesterday that had recipes I know I would never try (too conventional, complicated or took too much work/ingredients) so they went into the carton that will be donated to our local library. That is the only way I can justify ridding myself of books–which is to recycle them at an institution that will either catalog them or sell them in their bookstore.

Back to the reorganization, the revised bookshelves also hold a section of what I call “Celebrity Chefs”: David Chang’s “Momofuku”, Rene Redzepi’s “Noma”,Thomas Keller’s”French Laundry”, Daniel Boulud, Stanley Tucci, Jane Grigson, Judy Rodgers’ Zuni Cafe Cookbook and the River Cottage series by that guy who has an un-spellable name.

On the top shelf (for most usage) are short stacks of cookbooks featuring Asian noodles, tofu, dim sum, Chinese snacks, Bento box and Japanese Zen/Temple cookery. There’s also a smaller section down below on macrobiotic and raw vegetable ideas. Right now, I think I’ll be cooking more recipes out of the Nigel Slater books than anything else. Not only are the books now better organized, there’s now room for more!better asian

The photos above and below are of an order of French macarons that I made and had sent to C. and her husband for Easter. She teaches high-school French so these little treats seemed like the perfect thing for Easter. She’s going to share them with her in-laws after their luncheon today. The funny thing about them is that I ordered them from a baker on Etsy (one of my favorite places to find homemade things,) and in finalizing the purchase, I noticed a Chinese name in their email address. Sure enough, she was trained in France to bake these macaron specialties but like me, she’s Chinese. I meet many artists who are Asian on this site. And in the oddest of places too–like with these macarons. They’re made of egg whites and an almond paste filling–somewhat like marzipan, I think. They arrived in time and C. said they shared one macaron before bringing them to the Easter luncheon and it was delicious!macarons 2

rack of lamb with mustard, rosemary, garlic glaze . . .

rack of lamb with mustard, rosemary, garlic glaze . . .

In addition to the mustard/rosemary rack of lamb medium rare (hopefully,) we’re having artichokes with a curry mayonnaise as a starter, the lamb, small yukon potatoes crisped in butter and garlic salt, and parsnips (G.’s favorite vegetable.) And for dessert, the dark chocolate sour cream cake with chocolate frosting.

So, here’s hoping you have also had an enjoyable day filled with reading the paper, Easter egg hunts and some nice wine and tasty food!


books . . .

bookcase 1Although I didn’t think ahead of time that I was going to do it, I am finding myself in the midst of my semi-annual (twice a year) bookcase clean-out. Or I could just say book clean-out because I seem to have them stacked in all sorts of places, waiting to go to the library as donations, or finding a place to remain. This time, I’m even donating some large format books. It’s an interesting exercise because it’s a little like looking at a mini-“this is your life” video as the books get sorted or discarded, noticing how my interests and tastes have evolved.

The first section of bookshelves nearest the kitchen is prime real estate for books I love and use the most: cookery books by hip, healthy cooks such as Andrea Reusing, Nigel Slater, Alice Waters, Deborah Madison, Holly Davis, Heidi Swanson. Bookending them are Julia Child, the Conrans, Ronald and Felicity Dahl, the River Cottage guy and the River Cafe in London cookbooks. A dozen each of Japanese and Chinese cookbooks, dim sum, bento box, asian grill, noodles galore, tofu and soba paperbacks are now grouped together on the third shelf down. This reorganizing and culling out has inspired me to look through some of my favorites (Holly Davis and Andrea Reusing) once again.

In the middle section are two shelves of Taoist and Zen poetry, writings, translations and books about the I-Ching, including half a dozen translations of that venerable book. There’s a mini-library of books about Cape Cod and the North Shore:  National Seashore volumes featuring towns of Eastham, Wellfleet and Truro; books about the stone quarries in Rockport. New England Transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings and Henry David Thoreau’s journal of his time on the Cape meet halfway on a shelf with Taoist poetry translations by Red Pine and Zen writings by Alan Watts.

I-Ching emerson bookshelf

Finally, there’s enough room without having to lay books flat onto vertically shelved books (except for my two-volume boxed set of the I-Ching at the ready whenever it’s needed.) Whenever that kind of cramming has overflowed, it’s time to cull them out. It happens often in August, for some reason: must be because it’s so hot and one of the most uncomfortable times to do it.

There are five cartons of books to load into the car and take down to the public library today. Wednesday is their donation day and I’d just as soon have them out of the house so that I can enjoy the books that now have more breathing room. I’ve been remonstrating with myself lately about continuing to buy books when there’s no more room, but am glad to see how much richer my library is now than it used to be.

At the library, I’ll have a chance to look up and borrow some of the books that were suggested at the memoir writing class last week. It’s an opportunity to broaden my reading without buying more volumes, at least not today.

oeufs en gelee. . .

Well, if you read about my Christmas meltdown earlier, here is a follow-up report on making oeufs en gelee. An etsy potter from Australia wrote to me at the time that she was interested enough to “google” it to see what this dish was all about.

Apparently, it’s a traditional first course dish served in France and England from what little is available online. A photograph of a big glass bowl filled with jellied consomme with eggs suspended in it, a pile of toast and butter beside it stayed in my memory from Roald and Liccy Dahl’s book called, “Memories of Food at Gipsy House.” I think it was Roald’s own words that imprinted it into my mind:

“R.D. To me this is the most beautiful and delicious dish, but it is difficult to make well. If you can succeed in having the eggs not only soft-boiled inside but also separately suspended in the jelly, and yet not having the jelly too firm, then you have achieved the miracle.”

Okay: achieving miracles. It sure didn’t feel like that when I attempted to peel eight small eggs after having boiled them the allotted time. The shells kept sticking even though I had plunged them into cold water after removing them from the boiling water. The insides were also too runny. So, there went the first batch of eggs! I had also taken out my old beat-up copy of Julia Child‘s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” volume one in which she very helpfully described on page 113 some aspects of the “mystery” that goes into making the consomme turn out just right: you have to chill and test small batches of your consomme cum gelatin mix to see if it jells up properly–not rubbery and not too soft. My little test plate wasn’t jelling as fast as I wanted it to. Meanwhile, the phone rang and a voice asked me where was I for a chiropractor adjustment?–which had somehow slipped my mind while peeling the first batch of eggs.

So, I layered the broth into a Tupperware jello mold (see photo above) and put it in the fridge while I boiled up a second batch of eggs, leaving them to boil for a minute longer this time, plunging them into cold water afterwards. Then we ate supper: carryout Chinese. Afterwards, I peeled the eggs carefully and they seemed okay this time. I dried them off and slipped them into the mold, and then put fresh springs of tarragon around them. Added more consomme mixture that had chilled in an ice filled pie pan and then put it back in the fridge. An hour later after the third batch of consomme had jelled (this time firmer than the rest for some reason), I broke it up and spooned it onto the remaining room left in the mold, hoping that this jelly on the bottom would hold the thing together. Put the lid on firmly and set it in the fridge.

It looks like this mysterious, luminous pale brown concoction with eggs suspended, tarragon leaves barely visible.

At this point, I’m just glad that oeufs en gelee are now in the fridge and ready to bring up to serve as a first course with toast, butter, a little fresh ham and cornichons. I’m not so naive as to think that it will actually taste that great–although I am still hopeful.

I think the important thing for me was doing it because I was enraptured by Roald Dahl‘s experience and description of this dish. And besides, who wouldn’t want to make a try at performing miracles during this time of year?

Here’s an update: a photo of a serving of oeufs en gelee on Christmas Day!