Thursday, January 27, 2011

Winter Whites

Dear Mouse,

"Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky; it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely white-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards." - Dylan Thomas

I love Saturday mornings!! There is (are?) 15 inches- !! - of snow on the ground outside, I just finished listening to Ira Glass interview a 14-year old Glenn Beck disciple talking about how snow proves that global warming is "propaganda", but I'm still in a good mood. Friday was my last day at the day job I've held since 2004 and panic has not yet set in, I leave town Thursday for a two-month gig, and I'm wearing really comfortable socks. Today's plan: to read the Times in my pajamas, Netflix old episodes of BlackAdder (current obsession), and cook.

Let's never become these guys.

I just spent a month preparing for new head shots by (mostly) eliminating White (pasta, bread, potatoes) from my diet. Possibly because of this, I'm going to share with you two really good "white" recipes which ironically don't contain much flour at all. They are substantial, comforting, beautiful, easy, delicious, and a good idea when you are home this snowy season.

This is worth it for the magic moment where you're whisking a pot of hot liquid on the stove and going, "This isn't working, it's never going to turn into - PUDDING! OH MY GOD I made PUDDING!" It thickens, suddenly, and there you have it. It could Not be easier. I went for the vanilla-extract version rather than the bean-scraping, but I bet that would be excellent. Next time I would also totally go with her suggestion to add some rum. I have this bottle of The Kraken crying out to be used in such a simple, homey, not-too-sweet and incredibly filling dessert (which this is).

Mr. Poet's White Chicken Chili (based on Epicurious recipe)

Unlike the Ina Garten recipe of the same name, this chili really is White. It starts with a roux (flour and butter), and involves white chicken, white beans, and grated jack cheese, ending up with an incredible, creamy, wintry stew flecked with green chiles and flavorful heat despite its bland appearance. Mr. Poet's version used canned beans (and I bet you could also probably use canned chiles and still rock it out). An additional note from the chef himself reads "My only major change was to cook everything in the same dutch oven. Next time I'd brown the chicken in small batches ... and cook the peppers with the onions. Good to pair with corn bread, arugula salad, and 100 proof whiskey."

So there you have it. I'm heading back to my couch.

The Boo

Monday, January 17, 2011

I promise not to write about my wedding for the next nine months. No, seriously.

Well at least I know what I'll be doing with my hair.

Dear Boo,

The night before last, I had a dream. It was my wedding day. We were on the porch of wherever the wedding was being held, when I realized that the Fiance and I had never talked about what the ceremony would consist of. No vows, no officiant, no readings selected. Nothing. I frantically scribbled a list of names and some quotes from memory on a napkin and cried to Mom that I didn't understand how we could have forgotten to plan such an essential component. Then I realized I had never contacted a florist and how would we get decorations in time, what with the wedding happening in an hour or so! I tearfully settled on wilted neon daisies from the deli and thought how? how did this happen?? I didn't have long to wallow though, as I suddenly remembered that I was scheduled to perform in a show the night after the wedding and had failed to learn my lines. "I'll just have to carry my script!" I declared despairingly. "You can't do that," Mom said. "It's a performance. You'll have to make time to learn the lines."

I woke up, sweaty and only somewhat relieved.

Because you see, while there's still time, and I promise you I will not be doing a show the day after the wedding, and I'm sure I'll find a florist and put together some kind of a meaningful ceremony, all of this is dependent on me--no, US--actually living through the next nine months. And with the way things are going, I'm not sure I will.

I realize I'm being a tad overly dramatic. And I tell myself to shut up and check in with reality on a regular basis. I mean, seriously, I found the person I want to spend my life with, and incredibly enough, he feels the same way! And now we're getting married. Which means we get to have all the important people in our lives together in one place, to celebrate us and bear witness to this big, lovely, loving step. Does it really matter whether this occurs under a big white tent or a ceiling with exposed steel beams??

When I was in third grade, I think, we had a computer class, where each student sat down in the library in a tiny plastic bucket chair, basking in the green glow of those old PC screens. We were taught how to open a new word processing document and instructed to write whatever we wanted--a story about anything we liked. It wasn't a writing exercise, just an attempt to get our fingers familiar with the keyboard, to learn to connect the cursor with the place we wanted to add a word. During parent-teacher conferences, my teacher told Mom and Dad about how frustrating this was for me. While all the other kids clicked away happily all period, writing about dragons and princesses and beating up their little brothers, I twisted in my seat, furrowing my brow, crossing my legs, examining my nails, and generally brooding in an elaborate attempt to foster the inspiration necessary to write something really worthwhile. By the time I had settled on an idea, lifting my pointer finger to strike the first key, the period was over and we had to go to lunch.

Well, it seems not much has changed. Saying yes to the Fiance's proposal took about two seconds (once I realized he wasn't joking).
Choosing the location, date, and every other detail of this wedding is taking what feels like a lifetime.

Making choices has always been part of an agonizing dance I do with myself which involves the weighing of pros and cons, the mourning of the roads not taken, the imagining of all possible unexpected considerations, and a healthy dose of self-examination, emotional gymnastics, and snacks.

I realize, though, if I ever want to fit into a wedding dress, I cannot snack my way through every decision. That is, not if the snacks continue to be salt and vinegar potato chips. So, instead I plan on making and eating this salad as much as possible. I'll need the vitamins to get through this phase of planning. Take that, wedding industry! I refuse to be swept up in your tidal wave of white poof, archaic anti-feminist customs, hideous rental chairs, MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF YOUR LIFE, nonsense. Talk to the kale.


The Mouse

Kale Salad

(shown above with sausage and peppers over garlic bread)

This was inspired by a salad
Chef Josh served one night, and a recipe he has for a "Winter Panzanella Salad with butternut squash, croutons, and kale. If you email him, I bet he'd share the recipe...

It never occurred to me to eat kale raw, as I'd previously only cooked it down into near oblivion to soothe the bitter bite. But it turns out, it's fantastically delicious in this form, and makes for a great hearty winter-time lettuce alternative. And since it's raw, you're getting the maximum dose of all its healthy leafy green properties. I made a version for our Christmas dinner, and its crunchy, acidic, and inescapably healthy flavor was a perfect foil to the rest of the rich meal.
Here's how I do it:

1 Bunch or so of kale (I like Lacinato or Tuscan Kale. I think the curly variety you often find in supermarkets is better cooked.)
Remove stems and spines, and slice thinly.

2 large shallots, sliced thinly

1/2 lemon

3 T or so of Cider Vinegar

6 oz grated cheese like very sharp cheddar or gruyere might work
6 T or so of Olive Oil (for both sauteeing shallots and to finish salad)

(optional: couple handfuls of sliced almonds)

(optional: add 2 T of chicken stock)

Clean kale and remove stems and spines, slice thinly and put in bowl. Slice shallots thinly and sautee in a good amount of olive oil over medium high heat until translucent and fragrant. Pour shallots and oil over kale while hot. Squeeze lemon over kale, add cider vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Add a bit more olive oil, and toss. Taste it and adjust with more lemon or vinegar if it needs acidity, or more salt and olive oil or chicken stock to your taste. Add cheese and almonds (if using), toss and serve. I find the kale tastes best if you let it sit with the dressing for a bit before eating.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Farewell to Christmas

Dear Boo,

Happy Little Christmas!

I remember growing up, we celebrated the twelfth and final night of Christmas as sort of a last hurrah to the season, softening the blow of taking the tree down, stripping the house of its last shiny bauble, twinkle, and bough. It was always so sad seeing our living room afterwards, as if the way we lived 11 months out of the year was just devoid of something--spirit, spectacle--ooomph. And then there was the dried out, naked carcass of the tree, left for the garbage man on the sidewalk. It was all too much to take. So the Parents devised what in retrospect was a fantastic strategy of distraction. For this one special night, The Mouse and The Boo would make dinner for them--planning the menu ourselves, scanning the food-stained pages of mom's ancient stack of cookbooks, and taking our first few stabs at slicing, dicing, and sauteeing. What did we even make? Do you remember? All I can recall is the discovery made some time around 1996 that parmesan and pears taste delicious together--a revelation for us novices that came in the form of a salad (with fennel maybe?) from one of mom's cookbooks (Silver Palate maybe?) (Note from the Boo: It was Chase's "Open House Cookbook", and the salad was "Mixed Greens w/Fennel, Pears, and Parmesan Shards". The beginning of my obsession.), and Jamie Oliver's Spinach, Feta, and Pea Salad (a standby to this day).

Then there was a make your own sundae bar, where I'd pile on the "Whipped Topping" and we'd sit, cookies and cream mustaches on our faces watching Dad fumble and curse at the ancient movie projector which he'd eventually get to work with a sputter and whirr, and there I'd be, larger than life, six years old in the Helyar Woods, grinning at the camera and lifting my skirt over my head. Or grandma at her wedding on a rooftop in the city, the wind blowing her veil, and you next to me saying, "When I get married, I'm going to do it on a rooftop in Manhattan." (Or did I make that last part up? Is it possible we actually had footage from her wedding?) And then we'd exchange gifts with each other (what did we possibly buy each other as kids?), and give presents to Mom and Dad (remember when I gave Dad a tie? That still makes me laugh. What the hell was I thinking?). And then, the house quiet and a little empty, the scent of pine needles beginning to fade, we'd go off to bed.

I think some of my earliest memories of cooking, and the joy of finding a new recipe, of feeding people and watching proudly as their plates were cleared, came from our Little Christmas traditions. And as this year was the first time I've had my very own Christmas tree, covered in my very own hand-crafted ornaments, I'm finding that I still need a little something to help soften the blow of saying goodbye to the season. (Note from The Boo: Um, mine is still up.)

So, tomorrow night (since tonight, on the official twelfth night of Christmas, I had rehearsal), The Fiance and I will celebrate Three Kings Day (his people's name for Little Christmas) with a gift exchange, dinner by him, and--sniff--taking down the tree.

But before we say goodbye, one last taste of the holiday.

My Christmas plate. Clockwise from down center: the Fiance's Pernil, Yucca with Cuban Mojo, The Boo's Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Raw Kale Salad, Ina's Cauliflower Gratin, The Mother's Sauteed Red Cabbage, The Mother's Stuffing, The Mother's Turkey, and--yep--The Mother's Sweet Potato Casserole. With marshmallows.

And lastly...

For Christmas Eve at the Boo's House, Ina's Baked Shrimp Scampi. A mess of shrimp swimming in garlicky butter with parsley and breadcrumbs, baked until golden brown. (Note from the Boo: MMMMMM)

I'll be making this again. At least some things don't have to get put away with the ornaments.

Ina Garten's Baked Shrimp Scampi

2 pounds (12 to 15 per pound) shrimp in the shell
3 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
1/4 cup minced shallots
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 extra-large egg yolk
2/3 cup panko (Japanese dried bread flakes)
Lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Peel, devein, and butterfly the shrimp, leaving the tails on. Place the shrimp in a mixing bowl and toss gently with the olive oil, wine, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Allow to sit at room temperature while you make the butter and garlic mixture.

In a small bowl, mash the softened butter with the garlic, shallots, parsley, rosemary, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, lemon juice, egg yolk, panko, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper until combined.

Starting from the outer edge of a 14-inch oval gratin dish, arrange the shrimp in a single layer cut side down with the tails curling up and towards the center of the dish. Pour the remaining marinade over the shrimp. Spread the butter mixture evenly over the shrimp. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until hot and bubbly. If you like the top browned, place under a broiler for 1 minute. Serve with lemon wedges.


The Mouse

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Kitchen Where We Meet The World (Potluck 2011)

Dear Mouse,

"I don't mean to be a Posshole Asta", said Leon, looking over my shoulder, "But you have too much water in that pot."

Ah, out of the mouths of Lions...

Jamie Oliver's 'Chicken In Milk'.
Photo lovingly recycled from a Mouse Post Past

He meant, of course, "Pasta A**hole" (as in, someone who claims at least partly Italian background and has things to say about the way you're making dinner), but a slip of the tongue created this fabulous new job title. I told him he should start an Italian Cooking Advice Column, "Ask the Posshole Asta", and then I said to get out of my kitchen.
(He stayed though... because he was also cooking the meal.)

Yes, Mouse, it's a new year, bringing with it new vocabulary words, new humans (welcome to the world, Little Poet!! born 12/30/10), new relationships, and most importantly, new ways to approach eating things. My 2011 began with a Potluck Dinner Party.

What with Little Poet and the new year, I was inspired to do a little digging into the significance of the number 11. Like any good, new Agey friend, I printed out her astrological chart (the 'snapshot' of the planets' positions at the moment of birth). Little P had a few big planets in the 11th House, which meant approximately nothing to me. But what I learned straight off I really liked:

"The 11th is the house of friends... our first experience of tribal society, the playground where we meet the world." (

New Year's Eve 2011 found me close to friends indeed - very close, as three of us tried to prepare four dishes simultaneously in my very tiny kitchen. How did this happen, I wondered. Firstly, my plan had been for a solo New Year's (silent meditation retreat, two days of yoga, or similar). But there I was, two days to go and no closer to a plan than "Kripalu costs what?" Then I realized that several friends, none of whom know each other, were without plans. I offered to host a potluck dinner, and it was On like the silver top hats grudgingly worn by the staff at Cafeteria this year.

Secondly, 'potluck' is not a word that often escapes my (food snob?) lips.It always sounds like "good luck with that". Oh, sure, it's fine for an office lunch or maybe a church dinner? But it's an entirely different thing in your home. You're letting someone else deck your table with their god knows what creations, and even - gasp - commandeer your stove to prepare. A dinner party is something you either host or attend. Right? Something well-planned and harmonious. A potluck is, like, every man for himself. You won't be hungry but you also probably won't be satisfied. Right?

rigatoni alla vodka, photo courtesy But ours looked like it.
(I really need to unpack/locate my camera)


Leon, aka Posshole Asta: homemade vodka sauce, homemade marinara type sauce w/veggies.
J-Mas (Posshole Asta #2): rigatoni and fresh raviolis from place in Jersey, homemade (vegan) chocolate chip cookies, surprisingly tasty.
A-Mac: spinach salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, and goat cheese.
The Boo: Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk, as seen above. (Really, so easy and people freak out. Make it.) Roasted Brussels Sprouts w/bacon and rosemary.
The Mayor: red wine and mulled cider, witticisms.

To drink: kir royales for some, seltzer and pomegranate juice for the teetotalers, a word that I think must have been invented as an intoxication test (ie, if you can say or spell it, you're not drunk)

Highlights: the TWO pasta courses (oh, 2010 decadence past). The digestive walk around the block before midnight. The viewing of Times Square Fireworks from my fire escape! The after-dinner 'Double Dream Hands' rehearsal. The brief loud chorus of Auld Lang Syne. Going to sleep to the sound of hooting noisemakers on 7th avenue.

There's something about learning to feed and be fed at the same time. In 2011, let us play in the 11th house of communal creativity. Let us open our kitchens and our hearts to new tastes and new lessons. Sometimes, we can let someone else boil the water and make the sauce.

May I suggest your local Posshole Asta?


The Boo