Monday, November 22, 2010

Bone Marrow, Chicago

Dear Mouse,

**Lack of beautiful Chicago photos in this post brought to you by Apple Computers: Planned Obsolescence. Rated G, for AnGry. (as in, my brand new iphone died with all photos in it before I could post. Ahem. )**
photo courtesy of

So it's 5AM Monday morning and Vitamin A is earning Good Guy points driving me to O'Hare Airport. We are listening to an REM compilation and talking about "Fall on Me", the first song of theirs I ever heard (age 10, Amy S.'s room, Highland Park NJ, cassette tape player). I tell him I have a vivid memory of my exact mental image while listening: that I was holding in my hands a ripe melon - coarse, scratchy, and brown outside - and prying it open to look at the fruit - rich, coral, miraculous- inside. I remember that is what I thought. Why a melon? I have no idea, especially since it was probably a cantaloupe and I've never liked them. But that's what came to mind, and it's probably my earliest food/art mental collusion.

A says "You should tell the band that. They would probably love to hear it."I fleetingly imagine doing so. (Ring, Ring. Hello? Michael? This is The Boo. Well, you dont know me, but, your song reminds me of a melon.)

Rewind to Saturday night. Date night dinner at Longman & Eagle. Scooping bone marrow and onion jam onto a toast point, Vitamin A asks me, "So do you really like to read books...about food?"

Pause to imagine a photograph here. Blustery exterior, dimly lit and gray-brown vivaciously noisy interior. Dark wood bar, friendly crowd in various jeans and sweaters. It's all very Chicago. Menu titled "EAT". Zoom in on cocktail menu titled "DRINK" and the phrase "Extensive Libations Program".

Yes, let's rewind further. Longman & Eagle, named for the adjoining street and a nearby statue of an eagle, is attracting a lot of Chicago foodie interest with its adventurous menu and casual dare I say hipster vibe. A friend of A tells me, breathlessly, that the restaurant recently earned its first Michelin star. Not too shabby.

I bypassed the "Blood and Sand" (involving scotch and 'flamed orange oil') and the "Harvest Sidecar"(applejack, pear liquor, cointreau, nutmeg) in favor of a "Hot Apple Cider" which is exactly that, if you add generous amounts of rum and applejack brandy. I watched Vitamin A peruse a list of beers with names like "Three Floyds Robert the Bruce" or "Half Acre Daisy Cutter"; I think he ended up with "Goose Island Night Stalker", but I can't swear to it.

Anyway the point is that the whole reason we are eating bone marrow (I moved on to wine at that point) is because of a book about food, which is how the subject comes up. I am so sure I remember some articulate rhapsodizing about bone marrow on toast in Ruth Reichl's memoir "Tender at the Bone" that I knew we'd have to order it. Even before I texted you, Mouse, (A: "Are you really going to text your sister about this?") for support.

It arrives - this really should not be surprising- in a bone, a thick short bone right there on your plate. It comes with warm toast, a pot of tangy red onion jam, and an overflowing spoonful of sea salt. I really, really like all of these things. So far so good. I scoop some of the - yep, that's really marrow isn't it? - creamy, translucent substance out with my knife, spread it onto the toast, dress it up, and bite in.

Vitamin A is talking about Shakespeare's Henry V, which I am about to assistant direct with a cast of 5th-7th graders (true). I reflect on how interesting it is to talk with people who a) LOVE books and literature, b) love food, c) are well-educated and well-spoken about both... yet do not necessarily see how these things could be connected. While for me, as I've said many's the time, Food and Art 'live' in the very same place. Sure, I say, I read books about food. Because they're not just about food. But food can be a language all its own, a powerful way to put the reader "there". No? I can't imagine a better description of my 'Fall on Me' experience than that imaginary melon.

But it takes all kinds. Vitamin A's response to food-in-literature is the same as my response to raisins in my baked goods and your response, at age 5?, to the freckle you found on your arm: Nooooooooo! Get it oooooofffff!

We also ate veal (because why stop at one aggressive meat) with some really stellar creamy grits, a beautiful salad with sliced apples and a melted cow's milk cheese called "Barely Buzzed" (there was pork in the dressing!!), and a main course of Maple-Braised Pork Shank (this also contained pork), which we both agreed was kind of disappointing; like they just poured maple syrup over it. But all in all a delicious meal, if a bit too sweet.

We stopped just short of the dessert menu, because I was full, A is not a dessert guy, and because the menu features - get this - gruyere donuts (!) with parmesan (!!) and "whipped citrus goat cheese" (!!!). Longman, please.

And the Item Itself? Well ... honestly: there was love, but I'm not sure if it was the marrow or its accessories. And there was the gelatinous-ness, which usually spells trouble for me. I've often said I despair of being a "real gourmet" because there are so many classics (think bleu cheese, or foie gras), that I just can't get into. And also ... it was bone marrow. I kind of couldn't get past that. So I'm not sure I'd go back. But it was exciting and new and if nothing else certainly an endorsement of Ruth Reichl's ability to turn a phrase. Perhaps sometimes the reading is better than the eating.

If, of course it was Ruth at all. I searched for that Reichl passage in order to write this post, and I just couldn't find it. If anyone has it, send along. I offer you this instead.

Well I could keep it above...
but then it wouldn't be sky anymore...
so if I send it to you, you've gotta promise to keep it whole...

Love and cantaloupe,
(and Happy Thanksgiving!!)

The Boo

Thursday, November 11, 2010

15-Minute Quinoa "Risotto"

Dear Mouse,

OK, something is happening.

Perhaps it's all the changes in the air right now -- new apartment, new borough, exciting new gig coming up, and the news that the comfortable, mind-numbing day job I've had for, oh, NINE years or so is - finally! - laying me off in February. I dont know. But what I do know is that somehow, some way, I have become ... a person who cooks. (And who posts RECIPES on the blog. Not just, say, recipe links or gossip. Though that will certainly continue.)

Now I know what you're gonna say. What have I been doing this whole time with pie crusts and muffins and soup? Well, yes. But it's the realization that you can leap without a net (or a recipe) and survive. That I can make stuff up on my own.
I got so excited about my quick-and-tasty invention tonight that I actually plugged in my laptop, and started typing this post as soon as I finished... this:

When you're here, you're family.

This really took fifteen minutes to make. Ok, yes, one of the important ingredients - the "Chopping Board Pistachio Pesto" from the Splendid Table - had been prepared in advance and was waiting for me at home. BUT allow me to point out that THAT recipe came from their "Weeknight Kitchen" newsletter. It's simple and fast. So even if you do this whole "risotto" in one go, it would just be a half an hour and a bit of extra chopping.

Following some primal instinct, I picked up a can of navy beans, a jar of sun dried tomatoes, and a box of quinoa, and I made the following deliciousness in 15 minutes flat. Perhaps because of the Italian flavor palette, I really think it resembles a risotto, only lighter and packed with protein from the nuts/beans/quinoa trifecta. It's comfort food that gives you energy instead of knocking you out (risotto, for me, usually involves an early bedtime... if I make it to the bed.)

The Boo's Fifteen-Minute Job-Loss Quinoa "Risotto"
(with thanks to The Splendid Table)

Probably 1/2 C leftover Chopping Board Pistachio Pesto - ? or less, whatever tastes good
1 C quinoa
2 C water
1/2 small jar (or more if you like) sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped up
1 can navy beans, drained
sprinkling of leftover fresh thyme leaves, to taste
coarse salt and black pepper to taste
splash of red wine from the bottle you didn't finish on sunday
leftover grated parmesan from when you realized the pesto recipe doesn't call for parm
That's it.

Bring the quinoa and water to a boil on the stove. Turn down, cover, and simmer 10-15 until all the water is absorbed. While quinoa is cooking, mix the beans with the pesto in a big bowl. Add chopped up sundried tomatoes. Splash a little red wine in, sprinkle the thyme, add salt & pepper. Then spoon probably 3/4 of the quinoa (you can save the rest for something...) into the bowl while still hot, and mix gently but well. Serve with grated parmesan for sprinkling.

Here's to improvisation in the face of life's changes. Happy Thursday,

The Boo

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sausage Pancakes. Yeah, you heard me.

What's hiding under these pancakes?

Dear Boo,

I've had a quite a few million dollar ideas in my lifetime. There was the iphone app that turns the screen of your phone into a mirror for makeup touch-ups. And there was the heartbreak when I realized this already exists. And who could forget my million dollar jingle for Shout Detergent, sung to the tune of Tears for Fears "Shout" (shout, shout, get it all out! These are the stains I can do without!). SC Johnson--call me. And then there was the sausage pancake. A brilliant idea I was sure would be embraced by The Boyfriend--oops, sorry, not used to the new terminology yet--The Fiance, who has been known to douse a plate of pancakes, sausage and bacon with maple syrup, and by you, The Boo who does not fear an odd combination of pork product and sweets (see: bacon bark, and peanut butter and bacon sandwiches). And yet, when I presented this idea to the two of you, triumph ringing through in the timbre of my voice, I was laughed--LAUGHED--out of the kitchen, and it pains me to recall was met even with a flat-out, collective "EW GROSS." My pride bruised and my dreams dashed, I forced a laugh and retreated behind the proverbial diner menu of bored, traditional breakfast foods.

But, in the words of Winston Churchill, I never never never gave up.

So you can imagine I wasn't entirely shocked when I saw this:

Dunkin Donuts' Sausage Bites, "bite-sized sausage encased in maple-flavored pancake balls", a new breakfast offering which, while totally disgusting, will surely be worth at least a million dollars for the donut giant.

And so it came that this morning for Sunday breakfast, there were homemade sausage pancakes on the menu at the Mouse House. And while The Boyfriend still holds he prefers the two items intact and separate, united on his plate only by maple syrup (wrong), everyone at our table could agree the creation was delicious (And, it goes without saying, surely superior to the laboratory-created, mass-marketed crap).

Of course, poke around on the internet and it becomes very clear that I'm not the only one to have had said million dollar idea.
But no matter.
A delicious union of sweet and savory breakfast treats: One million dollars.
The feeling that comes with saying I TOLD YOU SO to all the sausage pancake haters (who shall remain named The Boo and The Boyfriend): Priceless.


The Mouse

The Mouse's Sausage Pancakes

Not that you really need a recipe...

Take 4 breakfast sausage links (we used chicken because that's what they had). Remove the casing and break up into quarter-sized chunks. Brown in a pan with a bit of oil, until cooked through.
Make batter according to package instructions. We used a Buttermilk and Honey mix from Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, but Bisquick is good too. Pour batter into the pan, and then scatter sausage bites as you would blueberries. The Boyfriend did this part, since he's the pancake maker in this house. Seriously, he's never made a less-than-perfectly round and golden brown pancake, and he does crazy-delicious things like add granola as a filling which, if you haven't tried, you should do.

Flip, and cook as you would any pancake. Keep warm in the oven while you cook the rest. 4 Sausages were plenty for the 6 large pancakes we made.

Eat with a pat of butter and generous REAL maple syrup.

Laugh all the way to the bank. Or, more likely, the couch, where you will need a nap.