Sunday, August 25, 2013

Survival and Solitude with Rice Pudding

The Wall, (no relation to Pink Floyd), is one of those books that I just couldn't stop reading.

Oddly enough I heard about the book by watching the trailer for the movie that's just been made. I was so enthralled and scared by it that I got the book the next day and dove in. The plot is very basic, a woman (unnamed throughout the whole book) goes to a friend's vacation house in the mountains, during the night while she's asleep an invisible wall seemingly erects itself, boxing her into an area of the mountain. She is completely alone save for a dog, a cow, and a cat, everyone else is dead. She knows this because she can see other humans through the wall, but a terrible thing has happened to the outside world rendering everyone outside of her wall frozen in the place they were like a marble statue. She is the only one alive and inside her wall she must learn to survive. The book is told by our "woman" as three years into her solitude she decided to tell her story, not in the hopes that anyone will rescue her, or read it, but in the hopes of keeping her reason about her. There's not much I can say, it was terrifying, reflective, and moving. It's a simple book that seems to be about so many things, solitude, survival, loss, and relationships.
There is a fair amount of food that appears in this book, as eating, a basic need to survive, has become paramount in her thoughts. Our narrator must learn to farm, kill and skin deer and trout, and pick berries and apples, all to keep herself and her "family" alive. There is one food item however, that stood out to me, it happened very early on in the novel at a point where she had only been in the wall for about a month. It was a simple rice pudding that she prepares for herself one afternoon. The passage is very short, but it hit me directly.
"At lunchtime I cooked rice pudding, making do without sugar. Despite my economies, however, after only eight weeks I hadn't a single piece of sugar left, and in the future had to do without sweetness of any kind."
I think what struck me first was the rice pudding itself. I have fond memories of rice pudding. My father used to make it for us kids quite often, sometimes we had it for breakfast on winter mornings and sometimes it was prepared as a treat before bed. It is wonderfully homey and comforting. I began to wonder to myself and think of myself as that woman, and what that lunch time meal of rice pudding would mean. Eating the food of my father that would be out stone stiff in the world, how would I remember my family? Would the knowledge that I was eating one of the last sweet things in my lonely life make it worse?
There are days where our woman is so busy with work to keep herself alive that she never has time to think (a situation she prefers), and then there are days where she wakes and begins to think about the family she has lost.
"...it seemed certain to me that that the scale of catastrophe was enormous. Everything pointed to it: the absence of rescuers, the silence of human voices on the radio, and what little I had seen through the wall. Much later, when almost all hope had been extinguished in me, I still couldn't believe that my children were dead too, like the old man by the stream and the woman on the bench. If I think about my children today, I always see them as five-year-olds, and it strikes me that they'd left my life even then. That's probably the age at which all children begin to leave their parents' lives; quite slowly they turn into strangers. But that all happens so imperceptibly that you barely notice it. There were moments when that terrible possibility dawned on me, but like any other mother I very quickly suppressed the thought. I had to live, and what mother could live if she recognized the process?"
This passage to me highlights the depth of this book. It's not just an post-apocoliptic survival book, our narrator's total and complete solitude forces her to reassess her whole life, how she's lived it, what was really important and so on. As you can see the wall itself represents so many other things than the loss of humanity, it acts as a mirror, a way for our nameless woman, the representation of humanity that is left, to look inside and see all the things that were important, she is there to teach the reader to open their eyes to what they have.

I decided it would be best to ask my father for his rice pudding recipe, a way to learn it so that in a catastrophe, however earth shattering or perhaps only minor it might end up being, I would have one of the foods that would always bring me home.

Father's Rice Pudding:
Ingredients:
2 Cups white rice
3 cups of water
1 cup (plus more as needed of whole milk)
Dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla (or almond) extract
1 Tablespoon of butter
1/2 cup (or more as you like) golden raisins
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
1 egg


Process:
Cook the rice in a pot with the 3 cups of water and 1 cup of milk and the dash of salt.

Let it cook down until most of the liquid is absorbed stirring constantly.

Check the rice for tenderness, you want it to be al dente, if it still needs more time, add more milk or water (which ever you like). Then, add the butter, raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and egg.

Mix together and continue to simmer.

I also added a little more milk as well as I wanted it to be a little looser that what I had going. Keep stirring the whole time as as the rice gets softer and combines with the milk it will stick to the bottom of that pan and will become a nightmare to get off. As it cooks just keep checking the tenderness of the rice until it is as soft as you like it. Also feel free to add more brown sugar if you would like it to be sweeter.
Top it off with more raisins and a sprinkle more of cinnamon.

As I ate I thought about the things I would prepare where I stranded alone on my own. What do I know about food and survival? What things would I prepare to help remember my family and the life I had lost, as well as help me feel safe in the new life I would have to live? This pudding would definitely be at the top of the list.

Tell me readers, what meal reminds you of your past, or even your life today? What would you prepare for yourself if you where left alone forever? What would comfort you?

Bon Appetite

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Cake or Death

I can't name an author who has had a bigger influence on me than Roald Dahl. 
Most of my happiness and joy of reading comes from greedily gobbling his books up, both as a child and as an adult. Also what self respecting book nerd wouldn't identify with the one and only Matilda? It was the book that gave you permission to hang out at the library and read all day, and I admit it, I held out hope that one day I too would get special powers from all those books, but alas I still sit and wait. 
Besides reading Matilda taught me about the importance of friendship and the power of standing up and helping those that you love. 
And not to mention there was the very scary Miss Trunchbull, what a horrible woman. I was always terrified of her. It also made me wonder if some of my teachers at school were going to be equally as horrible and pull on me by my braids and swing me around the yard. 
I'll never forget reading the chocolate cake scene as a child, my first thought was Chocolate cake as punishment? That can't be that terrible can it? But as we all know, when the Trunchbull is involved it can. 

"Now then, Bogtrotter," the Trunchbull boomed. "Tell the cook what you think of her chocolate cake."
"Very good ," the boy mumbled. You could see he was now beginning to wonder what all this was leading up to. The only thing he knew for certain was that the law forbade the Trunchbull to hit him with the riding-crop that she kept smacking against her thigh. That was some comfort, but not much because the Trunchbull was totally unpredictable. One never knew what she was going to do next.
"There you are cook," the Trunchbull cried. "Bogtrotter likes you cake. He adored your cake. Do you have any more of your cake you could give him?"
"I do indeed," the cook said. She seemed to have learned her lines by heart. 
"Then go and get it. And bring a knife to cut it with."
The cook disappeared. Almost at once she was back again staggering under the weight of an enormous round chocolate cake on a china platter. The cake was fully eighteen inches in diameter and it was covered with dark-brown chocolate icing. "Put it on the table," the Trunchbull said. 
There was a small table centre stage with a chair behind it. The cook placed the cake carefully on the table. "Sit down Bogtrotter," the Trunchbull said. "Sit there."
The boy moved cautiously to the table and sat down. He stared at the gigantic cake.
"There you are Bogtrotter," the Trunchbull said, and once again her voice became soft, persuasive, even gentle. "It's all for you, every bit of it. As you enjoyed that slice you had yesterday so very much, I ordered cook to bake you an extra large one all for yourself."
"Well thank you," the boy said, totally bemused.
"Thank cook, not me," the Trunchbull said.
"Thank you cook," the boy said.
The cook stood there like a shriveled bootlace, tight-lipped, implacable, disapproving. She looked as though her mouth was full of lemon juice.
"Come on then," the Trunchbull said. "Why don't you cut yourself a nice thick slice and try it?"
"What? Now?" the boy said, cautious. He knew there was a catch in this somewhere, but he wasn't sure where. "Can't I take it home instead?" he asked.
"That would be impolite," the Trunchbull said, with a crafty grin. "You must show cookie here how grateful you are for all the trouble she's taken."
The boy didn't move.
"Go on, get on with it," the Trunchbull said. "Cut a slice and taste it. We haven't got all day."
The boy picked up the knife and was about to cut into the cake when he stopped. He stared at the cake. Then he looked up at the Trunchbull, then at the stringy cook with her lemon-juice mouth. All the children in the hall were watching tensely, waiting for something to happen. They felt certain it must. The Trunchbull was not a person who would give someone a whole chocolate cake to eat just out of kindness. Many were guessing that it had been filled with pepper or castor-oil or some other foul-tasting substance that would make the boy violently sick. It might even be arsenic and he would be dead in ten seconds flat. Or perhaps it was a booby-trapped cake and the whole thing would blow up the moment it was cut, taking Bruce Bogtrotter with it. No one in the school put it past the Trunchbull to do any of these things.
"I don't want to eat it," the boy said.
"Taste it, you little brat," the Trunchbull said. "You're insulting the cook."
Very gingerly the boy began to cut a thin slice of the vast cake. Then he levered the slice out. Then he put down the knife and took the sticky thing in his fingers and started very slowly to eat it.
"It's good, isn't it?" the Trunchbull asked.
"Very good," the boy said, chewing and swallowing. He finished the slice.
"Have another," the Trunchbull said, and now there was an altogether shaper edge to her voice. "Eat another slice! Do as you are told!"
"I don't want another slice," the boy said.
Suddenly the Trunchbull exploded. "Eat!" she shouted, banging her thigh with her riding-crop "If I tell you to eat, you will eat! You wanted cake! You sole cake! And now you've got cake! What's more, you're going to eat it! You don't leave this platform and nobody leaves this hall until you have eaten the entire cake that is sitting there in front you you! Do I make myself clear Bogtrotter? Do you get my meaning?"
The boy looked at the Trunchbull. Then he looked down at the enormous cake.
"Eat! Eat! Eat!" the Trunchbull was yelling.
Very slowly the boy cut himself another slice and began to eat it.

I will always marvel at Dahl's ability to paint adults in the meanest of lights. I mean the Trunchbull is simply terrifying, and not just in her physical appearance, but the fact that she is psychologically cruel. She found the one thing Bruce couldn't resist and made him eat it until he was about to be sick all over himself or burst. I suppose it is like when some well meaning adult finds the cigarettes you thought you so cunningly hid in your bedroom, and makes you smoke the entire packet. You feel ill and woozy and wonder why you tried to smoke the things in the first place. The joy of it for Bruce however is that in the true spirit of children's fiction his friends didn't let him down, they cheered and rallied for him to press on, to keep eating the cake. It wasn't that finishing it would mean they could leave, it meant that they were going to fight the Turnchbull together, that they were going to cheer their friend on, that they could in some small way be victorious. Bruce, bite by bite was fighting for all of them.

I was lucky enough to find a cookbook called "Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes" and in it was a recipe for Bruce Bogtrotter's chocolate cake. Serendipitous if I do say so. Usually I read a food scene in a book and hunt around the internet for a recipe that seems appealing, or somewhat close, but here in my hot little hand I had the exact cake the Dahl thought of when he wrote that scene. Fortuitous indeed.

The Recipe:
 Ingredients:
I love a recipe with very few simple ingredients. You know it must be good as there's nothing to hide the flavor.

For the cake:
8 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
8 eggs, separated, yolks lightly beaten
For the icing:
8 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate
8 ounce of heavy cream

Process:
1. Preheat the oven to 350F
2.Line the cake pan (8 1/2 once round) with wax paper and butter the bottom and sides of the paper. (to make it easier I tend to spray the bottom and sides of the pan with cooking spray, then line it with paper, then the butter. The cooking spray holds the paper in place making the butter easier to apply)

3.Melt the chocolate in a Pyrex bowl (or double boiler pot, as I did) set in a saucepan of simmering water. 

Mix in the butter and stir until its melted.


4. Transfer to a large bowl and add the sugar, flour, and lightly beaten egg yolks.

5. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. 
Gently fold half of the whites into the chocolate mixture, blending thoroughly, then fold in the remaining whites. (I found this step a little difficult. Tee batter is so heavy that it is hard to fold the whites in properly [for folding techniques check out my soufflé recipe], I found that it took me twice as much time to fold in the whites, but eventually I got them all in)
6. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for about 35 minutes. 
There will be a thin crust on top of the cake, and when tested with a chopstick the inside will appear underdone don't worry, the cake will get firmer as it cools. Remove from the oven, and let cool in the pan on a wire rack.


7.While the cake is cooling, make the icing. Melt the chocolate with the cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over lowest heat, stirring occasionally until the chocolate is fully melted and blended with the cream. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.


8.When the cake is cooled enough to handle, remove it from the pan and discard the wax paper. The cake is prone to sinking slightly in the middle so flip it upside down.
9.Carefully spread the icing over the cake with a spatula.



This cake was insanely rich! It was thick, fudgey and cloying sweet. I could barely finish my piece. As I munched on I thought only of Bruce, what it must have felt like to eat the whole thing. Mine wasn't even half the size of his and I would have died. I certainly would have needed my friends to cheer me on. I can only hope that in my life when I am faced with a holy terror such as the Trunchbull I can think of this cake and Bruce Bogtrotter and know that if my friends are there for me I can get through it.

Bon Appétit.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Souffle Revisited


Oh summer, I am finally starting to feel ok with you being around. Much to my friends' chagrin I am very much a winter girl, often summer, that is when it gets to scorching degrees, can leave me feeling light headed, ill, and frankly very cranky, but this summer has been mild and pleasant. I think this summer is exactly what people think and dream about when they are lost in their winter doldrums (as I happily flock through heaps of snow) and simply long for the summer sun on their eyelids. The temps have had me wanting to just lie back, lounge and indulge in my very favorite summertime read, Brideshead Revisited. This is a book that begs for a blanket in the grass, some champagne coyly popping next to you in a glass, and the very best of summer fruits to get you through the chapters.

The funny thing about this book is that I usually tend to gobble up the first part: Et In Arcadia Ego. Roughly, this translates as "I, also, am in Arcadia". It refers to two paintings by Nicolas Poussin which, again roughly, are interpreted to mean that in the face of death, art's duty—indeed, her raison d’être--is to recall absent loved ones, console anxieties, evoke and reconcile conflicting emotions, surmount isolation, and facilitate the expression of the unutterable, which honestly sums up Sebastian and Charles' relationship to a T. Anyway after Sebastian, feeling rejected and heartbroken and decided to go away on his own, steps out of the novel, I begin to feel lost and frankly a little bored with the book. Sebastian gives the work so much life, Waugh lets his prose just blossom and flourish with that dear boy on the page. That said, I think it says a great deal about Waugh's ability with this work that I grow tired and thin with the absence of Sebastian, because though maybe he won't admit it to himself this is how Charles feels without Sebastian for the rest of his life. Sure he marries Julia, the female counterpart to Sebastian, but she will never fulfill that tiny hole of loss Charles will forever feel.



Which brings me to the big meal in the middle of the book. Now, suffice it to say the first part of the book is simply bursting with beautiful descriptors of food, fruit, and drinks. These college kids are simply living it up. Especially the summer that Charles and Sebastian spend at Brideshead alone and reveling in each other's company. Daily meals of fresh fruit (peaches, strawberries, and white raspberries) and evenings spent learning about wine using a book to guide them through the reserves in the cellar of the estate. Not to mention the copious amounts of champagne these boys drink, oh how often I've longed to be their classmate at Oxford. Alas. 
So the meal I spoke of, it takes place a few chapters before part two of the work, where Charles, now studying art in Paris, returns to his room one day to find Rex (Julia's fiancee) waiting to meet with him and take him out for a meal. Charles, knowing the boastful Rex will pay for the meal, takes him to a small, but quite excellent restaurant where they dine like kings. 
"I was there twenty minutes before Rex. If I had to spend and evening with him, it should, at any rate, be in my own way. I remember the dinner well--soup of oseille (*which is a sorrel soup. Sorrel being a sour, spinach-looking herb*), a sole quite simply cooked in white wine sauce, a caneton a la presse (*this consists of various parts of a duck served in a sauce of its blood and bone marrow, which is extracted by way of a press. It is often considered the height of elegant eating*), a lemon soufflé."

What follows are pages and pages of Rex going on and on about himself, much to the extreme boredom of Charles, but thankfully he had that luscious meal to escape into, thank heavens. Keep in mind at this point Rex has been going on and on about himself without a breath. Charles stays lost in his thoughts.
"After the duck came a salad of watercress and chicory in a faint mist of chives. I tried to think only of the salad. I succeeded for a time in thinking only of the soufflé. Then came the cognac..." 
"He [Rex] lit his cigar and sat back at peace with the world; I, too, was at peace in another world than his. We both were happy. He talked of Julia and I heard his voice, unintelligible at a great distance, like a dog's barking miles away on a still night." 


For myself I decided to focus on the lemon soufflé, I had never made a soufflé before and now seemed like the best time. Now I know that you may have heard the many horror stories of fallen soufflés from doors banging, but honestly that is simply not the case. With a touch of preplanning this dish was actually quite simple to make, and holy-cow delicious to eat! When I say preplanning I mean that a) I read through the whole recipe several times (I know this sounds like an obvious step, but I am the type of cook that reads through the ingredients, then thinks yeah, I have all that stuff, then proceeds with the dish. The only time I actually read through the recipe is as I make it. It is a terrible habit that has brought on a fair few kitchen disasters! I decided to try and break the habit here.) And b) I watched a few soufflé making videos, to watch other chefs' folding techniques etc. Checks theses out: Julia Child making a cheese soufflé, How to make a sweet soufflé, from the Guardian . Ok now that we are all feeling confident let's get started.


I used this very simple recipe:




Ingredients
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing molds 1⁄2 cup sugar, plus more for molds
3 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. lemon zest
8 eggs, separated, plus 1 egg white 1 cup milk
1⁄2 cup fresh lemon juice Confectioners' sugar, to garnish 
Instructions:



Heat oven to 375°. Grease eight 6-oz. ramekins and then coat with sugar, tapping out excess; set aside on a baking sheet. *I only had 10-oz. ramekins, so I dusted six of those.*
Also I learned in watching those videos, that it's best to melt the butter down and brush it in the ramekin, that way you'll get an more even coat for your sugar (the sugar here is important as it adds that extra bit of sweetness the soufflé needs)

Whisk together 1⁄4 cup sugar, flour, zest, and egg yolks in a 2-qt. saucepan; add milk and stir until smooth. 

Place pan over medium heat; cook, stirring often, until thickened, about 12 minutes. 
You're looking for the consistency of chunky Greek yogurt.

Pour through a fine strainer into a large bowl. *Ok, I didn't strain my mixture at all. It was too thick and I didn't understand what I was supposed to be removing (maybe the zest?), so I skipped this step*. Stir in butter and juice.
Place egg whites in a bowl; whisk until soft peaks form. 
Soft Peaks! Well softish, I think maybe a tad more stirring to allow it to come together a little better.

Add remaining sugar; beat until firm peaks form. 
Firm peaks!

Add 1⁄3 of the whites to lemon mixture; stir until smooth. Add remaining whites; fold until combined. Divide batter among ramekins.

Bake until risen and golden brown, about 18 minutes. 
These took a tad longer than 18 minutes. I kept checking every minute or so. Just be careful opening the oven, it's not that the soufflés will fall with any noise, its just that any heat that escapes the oven will hurt the cooking process. I only opened the oven door a crack so I could peek in on their progress. 

Immediately transfer to serving plates, and dust with confectioners' sugar. 





Add a few cherries and some champagne, and you have a meal worthy of a summer in Brideshead.  I imagine that wonderful summer is what Charles thought about at he drowned out Rex and thought of his dear companion Sebastian. 



Bon Appetite 




Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Revolutionary Breakfast

Breakfast, the most important meal of the day they say, well in Revolutionary Road that adage can be taken to hyperbolic extremes.
I unabashedly love Richard Yates! I've read most of his books, for me Revolutionary Road is a favorite, right next to The Easter Parade. However, nothing happy ever happens in his works, they are all heart wrenching and painful. Also, if you haven't read the book, keep in mind this post focuses on the end chapters and gives most of the ending away. SPOILER ALERT.

I love this cover, it says so much about what April is feeling.

Like I said, I chose the scene right at the end of the book, when almost nothing has gone the way April Wheeler has planned: she is not going to Paris, she is going to be stuck in a dull suburbia where she will have to mother yet another child, a child she does not want.

"When he [Frank Wheeler] went into the kitchen it seemed that his hope was confirmed. It was astonishing. The table was carefully set with two plates for breakfast. The kitchen was filled with sunlight and with the aromas of coffee and bacon. April was at the stove, wearing a fresh maternity dress, and she looked up at him with a shy smile. "Good morning," she said.
He wanted to go down on his knees and put his arms around her thighs; but he held back. Something told him--possibly the very shyness of her smile--that it would be better not to try anything like that; it would be better to just join her in the playing of this game, this strange, elaborate pretense that nothing had happened yesterday. "Good morning," he said, not quite meeting her eyes. He sat down and unfolded his napkin. It was incredible. No morning after a fight had ever been as easy as this--but still, he thought as he unsteadily sipped his orange juice, no fight has even been as bad as that. Could it be that they'd fought themselves out at last? Maybe this was what happened when there was really and truly nothing more to say, either in acrimony or forgiveness. Life did, after all, have to go on.
"It certainly is a--nice morning out, isn't it?" he said.
"Yes; it is. Would you like scrambled eggs, or fried?"
"Oh, it doesn't really mat--well, yes; scrambled, I guess, if it's just as easy."
"Fine. I'll have scrambled too."
And soon they were sitting companionably across from each other at the bright table, whispering little courtesies over the passing of buttered toast. At first he was too bashful to eat. It was like the first time he'd ever taken a girl out to dinner, at seventeen, when the idea of actually loading food into his mouth and chewing it, right there in front of her, had seemed an unpardonably coarse thing to do; and what saved him now was the same thing that had saved him then: the surprising discovery that he was uncontrollably hungry.
Between swallows he said: "It's sort of nice having breakfast without the kids for a change."
"Yes." She wasn't eating her eggs, and he saw that her fingers were shaking a little as she reached for her coffee cup; otherwise she looked completely self-possesed. "I thought you'd probably want a good breakfast today," she said. "I mean it's kind of an important day for you isn't it? Isn't this the day you have your conference with Pollock?"
"That's right, yes." She had even remembered that! But he covered his delight with the deprecating, side-of-the-mouth smile he had used for years in telling her about Knox, and said: "Big Deal."
"Well," she said, " I imagine it is a pretty big deal; for them, anyway. What exactly do you think you'll be doing? Until they start sending you out on trips, I mean. You have never told me much about it."
Was she kidding or what? "Haven't I?" he said."

What follows is a very stiff, quiet conversation about what Frank will be doing in his new position. Frank leaves the breakfast hopeful, almost happy about what was happening in his life. He has a great new job, a great wife that made him as he says a "swell breakfast" and the fighting between them seems to have abated.
I've wondered about this scene often over the years. I often wonder what exactly April was thinking as she prepared this breakfast for Frank. Of course it is hard to tell as it is all from Frank's perspective, so we, just as him cannot know April's thoughts. She knew that when he left she was going to abort the baby, and she knew that in doing so she would more than likely ruin her marriage, perhaps giving herself a chance to escape alone to Paris? She of course couldn't know that she was going to die either, but I wonder what she was really trying to accomplish. Did she want to hurt him more by creating this lovely "suburban" breakfast scene in her home, chatting up her husband before her went to work only to have him come home to the fact that she rid herself of their new child? Or was she really trying to forgive the fight? She does seem genuinely interested in the conversation of Frank's new responsibilities, but perhaps she is just, leading him on, is she just that cold?

So, breakfast. I did April Wheeler a little favor here and prepared the scrambled eggs "french style" basically it is a loose scramble where the eggs are creamier and come out looking more like cottage cheese. Perhaps, had she made it to Paris, she would eat her eggs this way everyday.
I used a simple recipe from an April 2012 (serendipitous!!!) Bon Appetit magazine I had.
The recipe itself is from Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten
Ingredients:
4 Large eggs
2 tbs. chilled unsalted butter, divided.
Cayenne Pepper
Kosher salt
You can also see the bacon I am going to cook up too here.

Before I dive into the recipe here's a quick note: I recommend cooking the bacon in a cast iron skillet first before beginning any steps on the eggs. The eggs cook at a rapid speed and taking your attention off them for even a minute will result in disaster (believe me!).
Bacon! (Check out all that bacon fat! I like to save it in a jar in my fridge, I use it to add a little flavor to other recipes.)

Once the bacon is brown on both sides just pop the whole skillet in the oven (at say 250 degrees) to stay in there while you make everything else. Not only will the bacon stay warm it will also crisp up very nicely.

Ok recipe:
Combine eggs and 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter in a small room-temperature saucepan and season lightly with cayenne and salt.

All mixed up, note that the butter doesn't blend all the way in. That's ok, it'll melt pretty quickly in the pan.

Place over medium-low heat and cook, whisking gently and constantly while scraping the bottom and sides of the pan, until eggs are just thickened, creamy and small curds begin to form, 3-4 minutes total. (If mixture begins to stick to the pan while cooking, remove from heat; whisk gently for 30 seconds, then continue cooking over heat {I had to do this twice today})
Sorry for the blurriness, but it was nearly impossible to take a picture and whisk at the same time.

Remove from heat. Add 1/2 Tbsp of butter; whisk until melted. Season with salt.
Soft scramble! Though these came out a hair too "well done" I would have taken them off a few seconds earlier if I could. They were still delicious though.

I also made a little toast using my bread recipe from the Wind in the Willows post.
Finally, a little french press coffee (are you sensing a theme here? Poor April, the only Parisian lifestyle she will get is through food) and grapes, and you have yourself a nice suburban breakfast, fit for fixing your marital spats.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Drinking Gatsby

In which I jump on a bandwagon. 

I thought it would be fun to explore the cocktails in this book. I think as much as the wealth and opulence of the characters speak to the larger themes in the work, so do the massive amounts of liquor and drinks. As I'm sure you are all well aware The Great Gatsby takes place in the prohibition era, a time when liquor was eradicated in a misguided effort to return America to simpler, valued times, which of course only led to everyone wanting to drink more. Gatsby's access to massive amounts of liquor speak to his character on two levels: one his wealth of course, but two it feeds the rumor that his wealth came from bootlegging. There is the suggestion that he illegally sells liquor to drug stores that he owns. For a small fee, doctors would prescribe their patients whiskey for just about any ailment, and some pharmacists would even sell forged prescriptions to their customers.

The first drink is actually one that I am insinuating would be served at the Gatsby home.
Chapter three, the chapter that introduces us to the Great Gatsby. 
"There was music rom my neighbor's house through the summer night. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars."
"Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York--every Monday these saw oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour, if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler's thumb."
I'd like to think that some of those oranges were used for Mimosa's. Mimosa's were "invented" in Paris in 1924 (a variation on a Buck's Fizz which was 2 parts orange juice to one pat champagne), and seeing as how the "new rich" were up with the trends it seems logical that they would have been served either during one of his parties or for the folks that stayed later and needed a little "hair of the dog" to get them on their way. 
Mimosa's are pretty simple, half champagne, half orange juice. As you can see I do not have a fancy machine to juice my oranges, nor a butler to assist me. I simply have an old fashioned juicer and a strong upper arm. 
I juiced about six oranges which yielded plenty of juice. 

I also brought a fairly cheap champagne for two reasons, one, I am not Gatsby so therefore I am not rich, and two I figured if you are going to mix sweet juice into it anyway why bother with anything fancy. 

Besides Barefoot champagne is perfectly acceptable (as I drank the rest of the bottle afterwards and found it tolerable).


My next drink was the Gin Rickey. It was well known that Fitzgerald loved gin as he felt that it was the one liquor that was undetectable on the breath, in fact this is what a lot of people during the prohibition felt about gin, hence the heavy herbal aromatics of it. 
During chapter seven, the meatiest of all the chapters, where all the high action occurs, Gatsby is over Daisy and Tom's house for lunch. Gatsby and Daisy of course can't keep their eyes off each other but the meeting over all is quite awkward. The day itself is already hot, and then Daisy's daughter is brought out and tensions begin to rise, as Gatsby had no idea of the child. 
"With a reluctant backward glance the well-diciplined child held her nurse's hand and was pulled out the door, just as Tom came back, preceding four gin rickeys that clicked full of ice. Gatsby took up his drink. "They certainly look cool," he said, with visible tension. We drank with long greedy swallows."
Rickey's were definitely the drink of the day in Fitzgerald's time as they provided pure refreshment in the pre-air-conditioned era. I can imagine that despite the physical heat that the characters were sitting in, Gatsby himself was growing hotter and hotter as the luncheon trailed on. He was sitting in a room with his one true love, after being introduced to her daughter of which he had no knowledge of, all the while her husband sits across from him. Greedy swallows, indeed.

Rickey's themselves are basically drinks with squeezed fresh lime juice and carbonated water. 
Fresh squeezed lime juice


Basically pour 1.5oz of gin over ice, add the juice of half a lime and fill with carbonated water. Toss in a few lime wedges and you have yourself a cold gin rickey. 

Now, I've never been much of a gin drinker myself, but I have to say this drink might just change that. 


Finally we have the Mint Julep. This drink also appears in the all important chapter seven. After noticing how passionately Gatsby stares at his wife, Tom, always itching for a confrontation, suggests that they all drive into New York City together. It's oppressively hot and the group decided to take up a room at the Plaza Hotel in order to cool down a little. Now of course they couldn't just call up room service and order some drinks sent up to the room, but Tom came prepared, in the room he unrolls a bottle of whiskey from a towel. Also, as the group gathers in the room, Tom himself is doing his best to call out Gatsby in every way, trying to expose him as a fraud and belittle him in front of Daisy. 
"That's a great expression of yours, isn't it?" said Tom sharply. "What is?" "All this 'old sport business. Where'd you pick that up?" "Now here Tom," said Daisy, turning around from the mirror, "if you're going to make personal remarks i won't stay here a minute. Call up and order some ice and mint for the julep."

Of course they never actually drink the juleps. Even as the ingredients arrive the argument between Gatsby and Tom accelerates and Daisy is confronted, and...well the novel reaches its climax, this is where I sound like your mother and tell you to go read the book.
I can't rightly say that the events would not have turned out the way they did if the juleps had been consumed. Though in drinking them I can see the need to order one up when things get hot and sticky, both physically and in conversation. Are you sensing a theme here? It seems to me that Fitzgerald wanted to make everyone as uncomfortable as possible, so like a good writer he turned up the heat and let it happen! Also a small but very important detail, Daisy was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Perhaps Fitzgerald wanted to hint at Daisy's southern roots and in her need to make peace he had her suggest the drink of her hometown. Maybe. 
Mint Juleps are pretty easy. You just need some Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey, mint, simple syrup and crushed ice. Having crushed ice is important as the small chips give the drink it's slushy effect. 

Just take 4-5 mint leaves and muddle them with .5oz of simple syrup (to make simple syrup just melt equal parts sugar and boiling water, stir until it dissolves). Add 2.5oz of bourbon and fill the cup to the brim with crushed ice. Stir and stir, until your glass feel frosty. Garnish with a spring of mint. 

At first sip the cloying sweetness fights with the burn of the whiskey, my suggestion is to let the drink rest a minute or two. This will let the ice melt for a minute, after that the whole drink mellows out and becomes a sweet refreshing drink.

So friends, summer is coming (any day now Chicago!) and I suggest mixing a few of these bad boys up. Hopefully you won't have a heated life changing confrontation while drinking one, but if you do at least you'll be refreshed.

Cheers!