Food Friday: Royal Celebrations; Fancy or Plain?

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Early tomorrow morning I will haul myself out of bed, and will sit in my ever so inelegant, commoner jim-jams and watch the royal wedding of Prince Harry and American-born Meghan Markel on television. This promising spectacle is happening half a world away in England, but there are lots of American royal enthusiasts. Like me. I will be sporting a fashionable trifle of a hat – a perky, feathered fascinator, which will elevate the plebeian social status I have so far enjoyed as a solidly middle-class American suburbanite, who, despite the travails of our Revolutionary War mothers and fathers, I remain in thrall with England, and the British royal family. I like the royals. They are fancy, I am ordinary.

“God bless us, every one!” to quote Charles Dickens. And God save Queen Elizabeth. I imagine she will be ready for gin o’clock to roll around tomorrow, considering all the last minute antics of the extended Markel family. The queen is probably looking forward to having a big slice of the now-famous elderberry and lemon wedding cake, baked by another California woman, Claire Ptak. (https://gatherjournal.com/notebook/meet-claire-ptak-violet-cakes/) Before the big event, though, the royals might need a good traditional English fry up: a cholesterol-inducing mélange of eggs, bacon, fried bread, beans, mushrooms and sausages.

And how about you? Will you hold out for precious and delicious tea cakes in the afternoon, or will you prepare a scrummie breakfast to devour in the early hours, as the sun rises here, and the horse-drawn coaches trot through the ancient town of Windsor at noon?

The queen and Prince Philip enjoy a simple breakfast together, says BT Magazine: “The spread includes cereal, yoghurt and maple syrup, but Her Majesty likes to have toast with light marmalade, which she sometimes shares with the corgis.” So you can have a rather abstemious meal, like Her Majesty. (Of course, just to keep her wits about her, the queen is known to have a quick drink before lunch – gin and Dubonnet. Imagine how productive you would be in the afternoon if you adopted that regime!)

A more traditional meal is the full English breakfast. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/only-in-britain/the-15-most-british-foods-ever/full-english-breakfast/ This is a meal that will see you through an entire day of royal drama.

Or you can ratchet it up a bit, and enjoy the purely American snack of Cheetos, paired with Sancerre wine. Apparently it is the taste du jour. http://www.grubstreet.com/2018/05/cheetos-wine-pairing-sancerre.html And since you haven’t been invited to the wedding reception, or the after-party, you can drown your sorrows in the $60 bottle of Sancerre.

Of course, you should bake in advance. Undoubtedly the royal wedding cake has been ready for a couple of days, installed in a safe place of honor in the Great Kitchen at Windsor Castle. Feel free to start baking: https://www.hgtv.com/design/make-and-celebrate/entertaining/lemon-elderflower-cake We’ll trot by after the ceremony.

I think my family would prefer the simpler Chocolate Biscuit Cake enjoyed by Prince William as his bachelor cake: http://theroyalchef.com/the-royal-wedding-cake-recipe/ We are all chocolate fiends, and love refrigerator cakes. I wonder if the royals have ever eaten a Famous Wafer Cake – our summer go-to recipe. http://www.snackworks.com/recipe/famous-chocolate-refrigerator-roll-53331.aspx

Afternoon tea at Fortum and Mason is a ritual and rite in London. Social climbing folks not invited to the royal wedding might be hiding out in F&M’s delightful tearoom Saturday afternoon. I hope they have booked ahead. I love the tiny cakes and sandwiches and pâtisseries and all the sugar and jam and cream. I also love The Great British Bake Off. It is the most reassuring comfort food, prepared by the nicest people in the world. https://www.fortnumandmason.com/restaurants/afternoon-tea Watching it takes the sting out of staying home, instead of dancing away with the cool young royals. I’d probably be stuck with Camilla.

Here is a short history of royal wedding cakes from The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-gastronomy/prince-harry-and-meghan-markles-wedding-cake-breaks-with-centuries-of-royal-tradition

Plain or fancy? Aristo or American? Sweet and creamy, or good and greasy? If you tune into the wedding tomorrow, what will you have for breakfast? Tea and toast? Full English? Tea and cakes? Cheetos and Sancerre? Dubbonet? Cold pizza?

Best wishes to the happy couple!

“Love and eggs are best when they are fresh.”
—Russian proverb

Food Friday: Mother’s Day (Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You!)

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Mother’s Day can be such an emotional minefield. My mother never thought it was a big deal, and would protest if we squandered our allowances on store-bought cards. I recently unearthed an encyclopedic collection of our badly drawn Mother’s Day cards, Valentines and birthday cards that my mother had kept in a shoe box for all these years. So maybe it was a more important event to her than she led on. Keep that in mind, that sweet homemade gestures might be best. (Full disclosure: There is also the fact that my parents never ever threw away a single piece of paper. To paraphrase Russell Baker, our childhood New England house will soon sink because of all the National Geographics stored in the attic.)

If your drawing abilities are limited, you might try cooking breakfast for the mothers in your life. This is always a welcome start to the day. I remember fondly a few Mother’s Day mornings when I was not the first out of bed. I do not drink coffee, luckily for my crew, so the first hint for me of an impending breakfast in bed was the sound of ice clinking into a glass. Ah, a Diet Coke and some cereal. As their culinary skills improved, my children graduated to toast, English muffins, bagels, pancakes and eventually, French toast. And we all decided that breakfast in the kitchen was just as cheering as one in bed, as long as I didn’t have to prepare the meal. I still had to clean up, because one cannot ask for the stars when one has enjoyed bacon cooked by someone else.

This is my oft-hauled-out-of-my-recipe-Dropbox-file.

We always have day old French bread (in fact we have a collection of French bread in the freezer – we will never starve) and it always seems a sin and a shame to pitch it, so this is a delightful and economical way to be frugal consumers. And who doesn’t love the added kick of the rum on an eventful Sunday morning…

We don’t measure anymore – but if you are a newbie to Mother’s Day, the proportions are a helpful guide.

French Toast
1 cup of milk
A pinch of salt
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 generous dollop of rum
1 tablespoon brown sugar
8 1/2-inch slices of day old French bread
Powdered sugar (optional)

Serves: 4
Whisk milk, salt, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, rum and sugar until smooth. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium heat. Soak bread slices in mixture until well-saturated. Cook the bread on each side for a couple of minutes, until golden brown. Serve with warmed maple syrup and a pinch powdered sugar. Fresh strawberries are always nice, too. Add some rashers of bacon, and you have prepared a veritable feast. Volunteer to wash the dishes, the gesture will be appreciated.

No Fuss Bacon
Preheat the oven to 425° F. Use a wire cooling rack in a half sheet cookie pan – one with edges. Place bacon slices on the rack. We like to use thick-cut bacon these days, otherwise we tend to incinerate the bacon, and even Luke the wonder dog turns his nose up at that. Plop the bacon sheet in the oven for about 15 minutes. Keep checking every 2 or 3 minutes after that, to ensure even cooking. There are no fat spatters on the range top if you cook the bacon this way. There is still a certain amount of denial about cleaning the cookie sheet, but you can sneak it back into the cooled oven for a little while, at any rate…

Skip the mimosas. We are going to plant some wildflowers today, and need to keep our heads about us. Another Diet Coke will suffice.

And be a sport and watch Little Women on PBS Sunday night.

“When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They’re upset because they’ve gone from supervisor of a child’s life to a spectator. It’s like being the vice president of the United States.”
-Erma Bombeck

“I never leaf through a copy of National Geographic without realizing how lucky we are to live in a society where it is traditional to wear clothes.”
-Erma Bombeck

Food Friday: Cinco de Mayo!

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How nice that Cinco de Mayo is on the weekend this year. It is going to be a balmy Saturday, when we can throw open the windows and admire all the new weeds growing in the vegetable garden. Still, weeds are better than hungry bunnies.

For your edification, Cinco de Mayo is an annual celebration of the victory of Mexico over France in 1862, at the Battle of Puebla. It is not their Independence Day. There is much food, for which we are truly happy. Here is a quick, informative video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJmlUljRWDw

Bon Appétit is quick to point out that there are many recipes for Mexican foods which are not tacos, but I am sure you can enjoy as many tacos as you wish. Because we are all about food, travel and celebrations. https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/21-recipes-for-mexican-foods-that-aren-t-tacos-to-celebrate-cinco-de-mayo

There will be no mariachi bands marching through our house on Cinco de Mayo, but there will be tacos, and maybe some good Mexican beer. And I have to confess that I came to the taco party late. When I was growing up our spices were limited to Christmas nutmeg, cinnamon for cinnamon toast, black pepper and baking powder. Garlic was an exotic commodity. Red pepper was on the tables at Italian restaurants. I doubt if my mother was acquainted with cumin. We never had Mexican food. My mother’s idea of adventurous ethnic cooking was preparing corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day. And so my indoctrination came from my peers, as do so many seminal youthful experiences

The first tacos I had were at my friend Sheila’s older sister’s place. Margo was sophisticated and so grown up. We adored her and the string of characters who wandered through her tiny beach house. She made tacos regularly, and we mooched often. I learned how to shred the cheese and the lettuce and chop the onions that went on top of the taco meat, which we browned in a frying pan and then covered with a packet of Old El Paso Taco Seasoning Mix and a cup of water. I thought it couldn’t get any better than that.

Sheila and I graduated to platters of nachos and tacos at the Viva Zapata restaurant. (I think we were actually more attracted to the cheap pitchers of sangria, which we drank, sitting outside in dappled shade under leafy trees, enjoying languid summer vacations.) And then we wandered into Mama Vicky’s Old Acapulco Restaurant, with its dodgy sanitation, and her exquisitely flaming jalapeños on the lard-infused refried beans. Ah, youth.

A more sophisticated approach might be following these ideas from World Food and Wine: https://world-food-and-wine.com/cinco-de-mayo-food

With winter barely behind us, let’s get ready for summer, with these ears of corn. https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/3-ingredient-grilled-mexican-street-corn-elote

The good folks at Food52, never at a loss for recipes and great ideas, has a page of fantastic drinks, salsas, and guacs: https://food52.com/collections/407031-cinco-de-mayo

We will carve up the season’s first watermelon so we can enjoy the sweet goodness of Merrill Stubbs’ Watermelon Paloma. Yumsters. https://food52.com/recipes/23479-watermelon-paloma

Enjoy yourself. May is truly here.

“It’s spring fever…. You don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”
– Mark Twain

Food Friday: Tra La, It’s May!

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Well actually, it’s almost May. And it is going to be a beautiful weekend. It’s time to revel in flowers and blooming trees, emergent allergies and impromptu al fresco meals. We had turkey sandwiches on the back porch the other day, and it is surprising how festive it feels to chomp down on rye bread in the sunshine, instead of in the kitchen. Even eating off paper plates felt like an adventure – which probably says that we need to get out more. And so we shall with May Day arriving on Tuesday.

We will not be swinging from May poles, but we might indulge in another May Day tradition – filling baskets with May flowers. I can remember weaving construction paper May Day baskets when I was in elementary school: the paper strips were flimsy and diabolically difficult to control. I’d fill the clumsy basket with violets and daffodils gleaned from my mother’s garden. And while she valued the gesture, she did not appreciate me stripping the flowers from their natural settings.

And instead of streaking in the Washington College time-honored tradition, I think we will invite a few repressed, button-down kind of friends in for brunch on Sunday. Bunch is easier than dinner, and it still leaves time for a nap late in the afternoon, curled up with Laura Lippman’s newest novel, “Sunburn”. And it is an opportunity to drink Prosecco in the form of mimosas. Deelish. It is also a good time to practice recipes for Mother’s Day – which is two weeks away – in case you forgot… https://cookieandkate.com/2017/best-mimosa-recipe/

We will have some fabulous blueberry muffins, as endorsed by Slate Magazine Editor Julia Turner on a recent podcast of the Slate Culture Gabfest. Ms. Turner is a whiz at indefatigable research. She leaves no blueberry unturned. Be sure to add a significant slather of excellent butter. Calories don’t count in May. https://smittenkitchen.com/2010/08/perfect-blueberry-muffins/

http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/culturegabfest/2018/04/slate_s_culture_gabfest_on_a_quiet_place_howards_end_and_preventative_care.html

Sausage rolls are perfect brunch finger food. You can have either the million step method and prepare your own puff pastry from scratch, and grind up the sausage, or emulate the genius folks at Food52, and you can use prepared puff pastry as found in your grocery store’s frozen food section: https://food52.com/recipes/34729-mini-sausage-rolls

Or you can be like Martha; there is alway this. But don’t forget, reading Laura Lippman is more important (and ultimately more rewarding) than inserting beautifully browned and caramelized onions into a tiny hot dog any day. https://www.marthastewart.com/317893/pigs-in-a-blanket

You can have lots of different dipping sauces if you want to dress things up. Elegant French mustards, Tzatziki sauce, remoulade, catsup.

I think cake is the perfect food, and pound cake is the ideal brunch dessert. I like to put out little bowls of fresh berries and whipped cream, because I have never seen the sense of cooking fruit, except in blueberry muffins. You do what makes you happy. https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/lemon-pound-cake-with-berries-and-whipped-cream

And now everyone can collapse into the Adirondack chairs scattered around the back yard, drinking more mimosas, admiring the burgeoning flowers on your tomato plants and the dancing blossoms on the dogwood trees. It is finally spring, and after our naps, we may have the strength to celebrate properly.

“Tra la, it’s May, the lusty Month of May
That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray
Tra la, it’s here, that shocking time of year
When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear”
-Alan Jay Lerner

Food Friday: Wrap it Up

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We are watching the new container garden with the anxiety level of people in search of a new binge-worthy TV show. When Mr. Friday comes home at night we amble outside with glasses of cheap white wine, tossing the ball for Luke the wonder dog, and then we circle the newly rabbit-proof-fenced garden. The first blossoms on a tomato plants were duly noted on Wednesday, as were tiny nubbins emerging on the pepper plants. Right now the lettuces are scarcely large enough to interest the Borrowers. But still, we dream.

We dream about lettuce wraps, and salads. Deelish medleys of chopped and sautéed vegetables and tender meats wrapped in brilliant green lettuce leaves, grown in our own back yard. Or a bowl heaped with crisp fresh lettuce leaves, peppers and tomatoes, topped with sizzling slices of steak. It has been a very long winter, hasn’t it, that we are dreaming in these early, tentative days of springtime weather of the golden glories of summer harvests? The weeding hasn’t even begun and we are hurling ourselves into the future, with immodest projections of bumper crops. It will be the best vegetable garden ever, our eight foot by 4 foot allotment of expensive, perfect, bug-free, pesticide-free veggies.

In the meantime, we still need to eat, and must support our professional farmers. Poor Mr. Friday was victimized this week. He was my lab rat as I tested some of these recipes on him. One night he endured the BLTA chicken salad lettuce wrap, and the next he had a very similar tuna salad wrap. It wasn’t very scientific or methodical, but I thought I was getting two things done at once – dinner for us, and a few lunches stockpiled for me. But as I say, he is a patient man.

During the week we tried a variety of lettuce wraps, mostly because we were wildly bored with the usual winter fare. It’s April, so surely spring can’t be far off, don’t you think? I am unboxing my summer fantasies of flowy white dresses and dappled sunshine on the back lawn. I am denying the more distinct possibilities of hot humid weather, with a mosquito population that surpasses last year’s, and that is after I saw video of snow falling in Ohio. We may still have a way to go.

We are streaming “Lost in Space” now on Netflix. I loved it when I was little. So far the only food I have seen them eat has been a box of delightfully crunchy Oreos. That is one well-planned space mission. Perhaps they should consider adding the much vaunted BLTA Chicken Salad Lettuce Wrap: https://www.cookingclassy.com/blta-chicken-salad-lettuce-wraps/. There will be limited dishes to wash – my personal philosophy and perfect for busy space explorers.

I am also working my way through all 15 seasons of “ER”, and when I am not mimicking dire symptoms, I am conscious of the fact that we need to cut back on carbs and fats. I love a crispy taco shell, too, but low-cal lettuce wraps have next to no calories. One fried hard corn taco shell packs about 150 calories, and a lettuce leaf has only 5. Which, according to my art major math, means you have saved enough calories for another glass of wine. https://www.staysnatched.com/spicy-low-carb-steak-lettuce-wraps/ Lettuce is nothing but crunchy water, and it is virtuous.

This is the recipe that inspired this week’s Food Friday: https://shewearsmanyhats.com/chicken-cashew-lettuce-wraps/ I am a sucker for cashews. This dish gives me joy, and hides the fact that I still have not mastered using chopsticks. It is everything you want in a simple, fast meal, too, with lots of healthy color and texture and crunch. Not as delectable as Oreos, but you knew that.

We will be walking around the garden most evenings, talking about our dreamy dreams of glorious harvests and tasty tomatoes. And hoping the rabbits don’t get too many ideas.

“We will gladly send the management a jar of 
our wife’s green-tomato pickle from last summer’s crop — dark green, spicy, delicious, costlier than pearls when you consider the overhead.

—E. B. White

My musings about lettuce wraps did not include the real danger out there – E. coli. Please read this CNN report and be careful when you buy lettuce. Have a Happy Earth Day! https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/19/health/chopped-romaine-lettuce-ecoli-outbreak/index.html

Food Friday: Asparagus Time!

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Forget about that forecast for snow tomorrow. Do not listen to those weather reports. Spring has sprung, and one of the first harbingers of the joyous season of renewal is the deliciousness that is asparagus. Maybe you are the hardy sort who plants it, or you are like the rest of us, and you are a loyal consumer. Either way, it’s time. Get out there and plant, or go out and buy a big, verdant bunch of super fresh asparagus.

Just to let you know what sort of household I live in – my children thought that pickles were green, leafy vegetables. It was difficult to get them to eat anything exotic (read: healthy) from the produce section. I have never been a big fan of stinky, cooked vegetables either, so they must come by it naturally. It wasn’t until I went to college that I finally ate a cooked pea. Mostly because there was no one in the dining hall who would accommodate my eating peccadillos. I drew the line at Brussels sprouts that were served there;talk about stinky!

I still don’t like vegetables that have been stewed beyond recognition. And I resist kale on principal. Aren’t we lucky there are so many ways to enjoy asparagus? Lightly roasted, gently steamed, broiled, wrapped with bacon, folded into pasta, trembling on the edge of ancestral china, lightly dusted with grated egg yolks, rolled in sesame seeds, on top of pizza, in a quiche …

Here is a duel between a Food52 recipe for asparagus and pasta, and one by Martha. I am inclined toward the Food52 version, just because I have all the ingredients, and don’t need to shovel the driveway to go to the store for mascarpone.

Creamy Asparagus, Lemon, and Walnut Pasta
Serves 2

7 ounces dried spaghetti (or pasta of your choice)
1 pound asparagus spears
1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Zest of one lemon
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a strong boil. Season with salt, then add pasta. Cook according to package directions for “al dente.” Set aside about 1 cup cooking water, then drain pasta.

While water is coming to a boil, cut off and discard the tough ends of the asparagus. Cut the remainder into 1/3-inch rounds, leaving the tips intact. Heat olive oil and garlic in a large pan over medium heat for five minutes. Add asparagus, salt, pepper, and 1/3 cup of the reserved pasta water. Cover pan and cook asparagus for 4 to 8 minutes, until tender to the bite. Turn off heat and discard garlic.

Once pasta is finished, purée 1/3 of the cooked asparagus and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water in a food processor, blender, or immersion blender until smooth. Try to avoid blending the asparagus tips, for aesthetic reasons.

Add puréed asparagus back to pan, along with sliced asparagus. Mix in cooked pasta, lemon zest, and more pasta water as needed to keep the sauce loose. Heat on low for a minute or two to allow pasta to absorb some of the sauce. Serve immediately, topped with chopped walnuts.

https://food52.com/recipes/28279-creamy-asparagus-lemon-and-walnut-pasta

Egg Noodles with Asparagus and Grated Egg Yolks
Serves 4 to 6

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound asparagus, trimmed, stems cut on the bias into 1/2-inch pieces, tips cut into 2-inch lengths
12 ounces wide egg noodles
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus 3 tablespoons fresh juice
8 ounces mascarpone
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan (2 ounces)
4 hard-cooked egg yolks, grated on the large holes of a box grater

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add asparagus and cook until crisp-tender and bright green, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon. Add pasta to water; cook according to package instructions until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups pasta water. Return pasta to pot with asparagus. Stir in zest and juice and both cheeses; toss to coat. Add pasta water, little by little, to adjust consistency until creamy. Sprinkle with grated yolks and pepper; serve.

https://www.marthastewart.com/1515859/egg-noodles-asparagus-and-grated-egg-yolks

If you want to start planning for your asparagus future, you had best get to work on your asparagus bed. We aren’t going to try them this year in our new raised garden bed. We have a very humble 4 feet by 8 feet raised bed that we built last weekend. I feel like Mrs. Ingalls out on the prairie with our six tomato plants, 6 pepper plants, 2 basil plants, a dozen beans, and a whole row of nasturtiums. Everything will be edible and beautiful. The bunnies are sure to appreciate all our efforts, thank you, Mary Lou!

I just didn’t think that we would be vigilant and enthused enough to attempt asparagus on this first outing. The weeding alone would disqualify me. Asparagus plants do not tolerate weeds. So think about that as you start nibbling away on your own the sweet, tender asparagus spears you bought at the farmers’ market this weekend. https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/growing-asparagus/7343.html

“Asparagus, when picked, should be no thicker than a darning needle.”
Alice B. Toklas

Food Friday: In My Fantasy Garden

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Are the Nor’easters through with us yet? Can we please go outside and dig? All my little seed packets exhort me to wait until the danger of frost has passed. It is practically April! I am ready to hang up the turtlenecks, and get out in the garden.

I have been waiting all winter for this – I admit it. I have been thumbing through seed catalogues and feverishly imagining my new and improved sunny, raised garden bed, fecund and lush and spilling over with cukes, beans, and sun-warmed tomatoes.

I have been thinking about all those tender, fresh, aromatic herbs that I will manage to coax along this year. I have pictured the modest bow I will take when I humbly present our salad greens at the Fourth of July picnic. Envisioning how I will please, delight, and amaze Mr. Friday when I whip out a fresh, homegrown shallot for the salad dressing. I am still considering how I will take revenge on the idiot neighbor who mows his lawn on Sunday mornings – zucchini is the perfect passive/aggressive payback.

So let’s get hopping! These tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, cabbage, beans, lettuce, beets, carrots, and radishes will not plant, water or weed themselves!

It’s time for a little elbow grease action – which is much more healthier than hot yoga. But don’t get so enchanted by the beauteousness of the seed packets to take on more than you can chew. Buy a few easy veggies, and a couple of happy flowers. Marigolds or nasturtiums go well in both a vegetable garden, and in the salad bowl.

I have learned over the years with my sandy back yard, and my short attention span, that I am easily distracted and disappointed. Now I keep my exposure to a minimum. I am happiest (and most successful) with a little container garden. I have fresh herbs and I do a couple of tomato plants every year. Maybe if I remember to water every day they will have a real shot at making it to the table.

I had a successful little run with lettuce a couple of years ago. We had a few awfully fresh salads. I doubt if it was very cost effective to wrangle my own little Bibb lettuces, but it felt so good to wander outside with the kitchen shears, and judiciously snip a leaf here, another leaf there, and know the salad was good and fresh, and I was leaving modest carbon foot print. Obviously I neglect to factor in the air pollution generated from multiple trips to the garden center…

If you do not feel not up to the responsibilities of growing your own vegetable garden this season, now that the snow has almost melted, and the daffodils are popping up every where, please think about supporting your local farmers at farmers’ markets and farm stands and CSAs. They were cool (and essential) long before Brooklyn and all its mustachioed, plaid-sporting, artisan, organic, heirloom, microcosmically hip farmers, soap makers, tanners, butchers, chicken farmers, bakers and baristas. We like homemade and all the virtues associated with it.

It is oh, so very pleasant to wander outside in your jim-jams on a summer morning, pausing to watch the sun rise, while munching meditatively on a dewy green bean that you have just twisted off a vine, before you ever have a cup of coffee or skim Twitter. Instagram cannot replicate that real delight. Honest.

http://www.almanac.com/vegetable-garden-planning-for-beginners

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-make-vinaigrette-1415996135

“From December to March,
there are for many of us three gardens:
the garden outdoors,
the garden of pots and bowls in the house,
and the garden of the mind’s eye.”
– Katharine S. White

Food Friday: Guinness is Good!

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This weekend we will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in the time-honored tradition of consuming mass quantities of dark beer, none of that green stuff, please. But not to overdo or inebriate – but to add some flavor to our lives as we wait out the last few days of winter, and anticipate the glories of spring. We will have Guinness cocktails, Guinness burgers (or maybe Guinness Irish stew) and Guinness chocolate cake. Let’s give a toast to improving weather!

“May you have warm words on a cold evening,
A full moon on a dark night,
And the road downhill all the way to your door.”

Tonight we are breaking with our usual Friday night pizza routine, and we are going to make Guinness burgers. And lots of crispy hot chips. And we will pour a couple of pints of Guinness stout for the cocktail hour. Or we might even have a couple of Black Velvets, which a chatty waiter once told me were Catherine’s (Duchess of Cambridge) fave. Doubtful. But they are very delicious! Gourmet Guinness meatloaf on a bun!

Guinness Burgers
https://realfood.tesco.com/recipes/guinness-burgers.html

Black Velvet Cocktail
4 ounces (1/2 cup) chilled Champagne or Prosecco
4 ounces (1/4 cup) chilled Guinness Extra Stout

Pour the Champagne into a flute or another tall glass.
Pour the Guinness on top
Consume. Repeat, as necessary.

If you would like a fancier cocktail, try some of these. I like the equal proportions for the Black Velvet, and then wondering whether I should have poured the Champagne, or the Guinness, into the glass first. It is a wonderful conundrum, and no one seems to agree.

https://www.thegooddrink.com/st-patricks-day-guinness-cocktail/

“Moderation is a fatal thing– nothing succeeds like excess.”
–Oscar Wilde

It is going to be cool enough this weekend that it might be wise to have a pot of stew bubbling away on the stove so you can get warmed through and through. May I suggest a seasonal Irish stew recipe? The addition of Guinness makes it warm and dark and comforting, enough to get you to spring next Tuesday.

Guinness Irish Stew
http://dadwhats4dinner.com/guinness-irish-stew/

I love a great dense chocolate Guinness cake. I will be baking one Friday afternoon. It should see us through the weekend and beyond. I prefer masses of cloud-like whipped cream to the cream cheese icing here, though

Chocolate Guinness Cake
Butter for pan
1 cup Guinness stout
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
¾ cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking soda

FOR THE TOPPING:
1 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
½ cup heavy cream

1 For the cake: heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, combine Guinness and butter. Place over medium-low heat until butter melts, then remove from heat. Add cocoa and superfine sugar, and whisk to blend.
2 In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Add flour and baking soda, and whisk again until smooth. Pour into buttered pan, and bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to one hour. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan.
3 For the topping: Using a food processor or by hand, mix confectioners’ sugar to break up lumps. Add cream cheese and blend until smooth. Add heavy cream, and mix until smooth and spreadable.
4 Remove cake from pan and place on a platter or cake stand. Ice top of cake only, so that it resembles a frothy pint of Guinness.

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1875-chocolate-guinness-cake


“St. Patrick’s Day is an enchanted time —a day to begin transforming winter’s dreams into summer’s magic.”

Food Friday: Potatoes à la Lyonnaise

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Last weekend I was pleasantly surprised by a new potato recipe I stumbled over on the brilliant Food52 website. I know – what can’t be done to the potato, and what else could we possibly discover? Incroyable! These potatoes were the elegant accompaniment to the nice little filets mignons that Mr. Friday cooked on the grill – spring is coming! The daffodils are up. Never mind that snow – it is melting away as we sit and wait for balmier days.

https://food52.com/recipes/31663-potatoes-a-la-lyonnaise

This is a recipe that I am sure to add to our répertoire. It was multi-stepped, but I expect it will soon evolve into an intuitive recipe – much like mastering the Adobe InDesign program: simple, elegant, instinctive. And it seems easily adaptable. As always, I used what we had on hand, and we did not have sweet little petite potatoes. There were a couple of Russet potatoes lurking in the larder, which I peeled before parboiling. Then I sliced a large, sweet onion. (I try to get Vidalias when they are in season – I expect that I was using something from Peru, so there go all my carbon footprint credits.)

I love a cooking challenge that involves mass quantities of butter. I sautéed the onion slices in 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter, while I was achieving a nice crusty crispy surface on the potatoes with another 3 or 4 tablespoons of butter. I loved having two frying pans going at the same time – it made me feel like a sous chef who has been given a little more responsibility; and it reminded me of dueling banjoes, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and I remembered pushing two small children on swings at the same time…

I did not have a suitably posh French baking dish for the ten minutes the onions and potatoes spent together in the oven. It would have been nice to have a hideously expensive yet, oh, so élégant Staub enamel dish, but I found that the aluminum birthday sheet cake pan worked just as well. And as I was plating in the kitchen, Mr. Friday had no idea that his piping hot, piquant potatoes were cooked in such a pedestrian pan.

A good crispy potato is a culinary achievement. The perfect frite can bring tears of joie. I have been known to embarrass Mr. Friday by sending back soggy French fries – the ones which have been sitting limply under a heating lamp in the restaurant kitchen. I want potatoes that have been snatched out of the blazing hot fat and whisked over to my table tout de suite. The main dish is almost a secondary when the potatoes are transcendent.

And even better news? There were enough potatoes left over to heat up in a little skillet in the morning. It was the perfect Sunday breakfast: homemade biscuits, thick rashers of applewood smoked bacon, and recycled Potatoes Lyonaise. Délicieux.

“It is easy to think of potatoes, and fortunately for men who have not much money it is easy to think of them with a certain safety. Potatoes are one of the last things to disappear, in times of war, which is probably why they should not be forgotten in times of peace.”
― M.F.K. Fisher