Mid-Shore Authors: The Unexpected Environmentalist J.I. Rodale with Andrew Case

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It’s pretty clear that J.I. Rodale did not set off in life to be what we now call an “environmentalist.” The godfather of the “natural food” lifestyle, founder of Prevention magazine, and advocate of organic farming, Rodale saw himself first and foremost as a publisher.

That’s one of the many takeaways from Washington College professor Andrew Case’s new book, “The Organic Profit:
Rodale and the Making of Marketplace Environmentalism,” (University of Washington Press) which chronicles Rodale’s unique role in building a marketplace for organic products and supplements.

Nonetheless, Rodale began a movement that eventually led to the popularity of organic products, the awareness of the dangers of pesticides, and the importance for taking care of one’s own body and what it consumes. All which encompass the fundamentals of our current environmental movement in this country.

All of this proved to be irresistible to Case whose scholarship has focused on the history of environmentalism and consumer culture. He began to document Rodale’s rise after World War II, the rapid success of the Rodale Press, and a family business that has left a permanent legacy in the annals of the American environmental history.

The Spy sat down with the author at Cromwell Hall on Washington College’s campus to talk about the overarching themes found in Organic Profit and the fascinating profile of one of America’s great entrepreneurs.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. Please go here for more information on “The Organic Profit:
Rodale and the Making of Marketplace Environmentalism.”

 

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

New Chestertown Eatery – Germaine’s New Orleans Style Carry-Out

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Germaine’s Carry-Out Grand Opening Thursday, April 19, at 827 High St, Chestertown, MD, 21620

It’s open! Germaine’s Carry-Out celebrates its grand opening with a New Orleans-inspired menu today, and you owe it to your taste buds to pay a visit.

Germaine’s is located at 827 High St., the site of the fondly-remembered Herb’s Soup and Sandwich take-out. But while the location is the same, Germaine’s puts her focus on the subtly flavorful Creole cuisine, as developed by the original French and Spanish settlers of New Orleans. On any given day, the menu will feature a choice of soups — with chicken, shrimp and Andouille sausage gumbo always in the spotlight — sandwiches, including muffulettas and po’boys, and a choice of crepes. Germaine’s is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

John Hanley and Germaine Lanaux. John helped to muscle the huge freezer out of the truck and into the restaurant.       Photo by Jane Jewell

Germaine Lanaux grew up in New Orleans, sampling the offerings of the city’s great restaurants from an early age — and learning the elements of French cookery from her father Gaston. After her family moved to Baltimore, she began her career as a chef at Martick’s Restaurant Francaise, then spent some 15 years traveling in Europe, working as a chef in Spain and Paris. Upon her return to the U.S., she opened her own supper club and catering business in Baltimore, Cafe Germaine. Having moved to Chestertown a number of years ago, she now brings this rich body of experience to her new venture.

The Spy staff visited Germaine’s late in March, when she hosted a “soft” opening to give the town a small sample of her fare. The free muffulettas — with soppressata, mortadella, salami, olives and pickled vegetables on a sesame seed roll — were delicious. She plans to add larger carry-out meals and rotating dinner specials to the menu at some time soon. And be sure to ask about office trays.

The Mufaletto –a speciality of the house!  Photo by Jane Jewell

Germianes’ menu is very reasonably priced.  Shrimp, chicken, andouille, and rice gumbo is $10.  The traditional white bean, potato, and kale soup runs $4 for a cup and $6 for a bowl. In sandwich selections, the muffuletta is $8 while the Cuban–ham, house roasted pork, swiss cheese, salami, pickles and mustard on cuban bread with creole seasonings–is $9.  The Big Easy at $10 is a shrimp po’ boy with remoulade. Germaine’s also offers a variety of crepes at $8 and a Nutella crepe at $6.

Germaine believes in buying local as much as possible.  Consequently, many ingredients come from Kent County farms or other Eastern Shore sources.  They partner with Cedar Run Farm  and Langenfelder Pork for pasture-raised and naturally-fed beef and pork. Much of their produce comes from Oksana’s farm on McGinnis Rd just outside Chestertown.  Oksana’s vegetables are grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers from non-GMO seeds. Chester River Seafood, Crow Farm, Langenfelder Pork near Kennedyville, St. Brigid’s Farm also just outside Kennedyville, and Unity Nursery are also regular suppliers.

For more information and full menu, visit Germaine’s website, or call 443-282-0048.

The whole crew – Cathy, Corey, and Germaine – ready for action!      Photo by Jane Jewell

Germaine’s Carry-Out with a New Orleans Twist at 527 High St. Photo by Jane Jewel###

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

Food Friday: Homemade Ravioli

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It is just as well that spring appears to be coming early, because we have started to mess with the new pasta machine. You must remember that we have baked pizza almost every Friday night for at least 25 years, and consistently roll out (and devour) parabola-shaped pizza pies. Precision is not our métier or our skill set. So what were we thinking when we unboxed two Christmas presents,the new ravioli maker, and an electric meat smoker on a rainy Sunday? We really need to get outside more, and fast.

I can credit Mr. Friday for this adventure. Give the man a decent gas range and suddenly he has a yen for cooking. I applaud that impulse, I just wish it did not include machines with sharp moving parts, and multi-step productions that require more than the four hands available. Luke, the 70-pound ankle bracelet was willing as always to help us in any way, but he was transparently hoping for falling gifts and could not advise us, let alone assist.

We have only tried making homemade pasta twice since Christmas. The first time resulted in some very tasty(though frankly, irregularly-shaped) fettucine noodles. The second time we leapt out of the frying pan into the roiling ravioli water. We do not have a lot of experience with pasta and neither of us had Italian grandmothers who patiently turned out dozens of perfect tortellini for admiring crowds. We did read Strega Nona aloud to our children a few dozen times, but no spaghetti magic did she impart. We grew up in households where Wednesday night was indeed Prince Spaghetti night: the pasta was store-bought and in a box, although the sauce was homemade. Neither of us has ever taken a pasta making class at Sur la Table. I did work in an Italian restaurant once. It specialized in Chicago-style pan pizza, which does not give me any street cred.

We follow recipes. But not always to the letter. And sometimes we make substitutions, or take shortcuts, or feel we have gut instincts worth following. We are often foolish. Which could explain our history of parabola pizzas, sunken brownies, and overdone smoked briskets…

Bon Appétit knows their stuff: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/fresh-pasta-dough

And who would argue with Martha? https://www.marthastewart.com/972476/basic-pasta

Apparently we need to practice more, so it is a good thing we are heading into another weekend.

Back to Bon Appétit for the ravioli lesson. https://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/primers/article/how-to-make-ravioli-guide

For building the ravioli we followed the instructions on the back of the ravioli maker, which drew me back to my Play-Doh days; lots of squeezing and molding. We had some sticking issues, but I think it was the combination of wet weather, and the experiment with 00 flour. It was super fine and prone to making itself adhere to all the surfaces we were using: countertop, rolling pin, ravioli mold, and even the pizza cutter,

For the filling Mr. Friday experimented and improvised. So you might want to go back to Bon Appétit or Martha for something predictable and orthodox. But ours was pretty yummy. I am guessing at exact measurements, so you might have to go with your own gut feelings.

4 ounces bulk Italian sausage
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon grated whole nutmeg

Mr. Friday frizzled up the sausage, over a medium heat, on the nifty new gas range, and then drained it on paper towels. Then he mixed the cooled meat with the beaten egg, cheese, basil and nutmeg. Then he filled the ravioli bottoms, and then applied the top sheet. He used a pizza cutter to cut the ravioli apart, and then refrigerated them until Monday night, because, multi-takers that we are, we still had to figure out if we had smoked the brisket for the proper amount of time. The new smoker was smoking away out in the back yard, where we had to occasionally run to protect it from the irregular rain showers. Lots of experimenting went on that day!

Monday night Mr. Friday waltzed in the door, poured two glasses of wine and started an easy peasy pasta sauce – and three cloves of garlic, lightly heated in olive oil until fragrant and then smothered with a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. I was assigned Parmesan cheese grating and topping up the wine glasses.

Mr. Friday popped the 12 ravioli into a boiling vat of water for about 4 minutes, and artfully plated them, and swhooshed a light lashing of aromatic sauce over the ravioli, dusted them with cheese and another sprig of fresh basil, and put them on the table. Where we fell on the plates like starving dogs, and gobbled the food all up. Deelish. Poor Luke. Gravity failed him this time. He did not appreciate the heel of bread, even though it was schmeared with the best Irish butter.

The next time you want to fill up a weekend, consider homemade ravioli. Personally, I am hoping it is going to be warmer this weekend, and we might have to occupy ourselves outside. Otherwise I might start thinking about perfecting my bread baking. My loaves have been likened to medicine balls and loads of bricks. Yummy!

“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”
― Federico Fellini