Friday, March 21, 2014

Homemade Pickles, Rick Moranis, and a Season Called Sprinter.

Successful Pickling Dabblage.
I was caught off-guard by the beginning of Spring this year.  I completely forgot about it, happy to live in my on-again, off-again sun-drenched-quick-melting-snow-filled-Denver-winter for a bit longer, I suppose.  Suddenly, Roman's class was taping paper flowers all over the school hallways and I was being asked questions about possibly acquiring a "blood-drinking plant that eats flies." Roman has an obsession with Venus Fly Traps ever since he caught me recounting to Matt the plot of Little Shop of Horrors a couple of weeks ago as I waxed nostalgic about my own love of Rick Moranis.  I suppose that's as cool as Spring gets for a 4 year-old boy.

Pretty dapper, I'd say.
It doesn't mean I'm not ecstatic to be out of winter, though, as I have been, admittedly, reading gardening books and websites for weeks.

Maybe it's because this is the first year ever when I have a piece of land to call my own, to mold and prune and plant and sow however I want (Matt is strangely happy to follow my lead on the garden, actually).

Maybe it's because I'd like to delay decisions on things like the color of the Wisteria I'll choose, whether or not I'll plant hydrangeas this year (our wedding flower), or what type of grapevines to purchase for our gazebo (learning toward Sauvignon Blanc and possible Merlot or Cab).

It all seems so exciting and overwhelming at the same time.  I should be glad, then, that in Denver one does not actually plant things until after Mother's Day.  Last year it snowed on Roman's birthday (May Day) and apparently that falls within the absolute norm for the high desert country we live in. 

Roman's favorite vegetable.

So maybe this half-way reluctance to usher in Spring is the reason why I've been cooking half-Spring, half-Wintery things the past few weeks. I can't quite commit to grilling yet, and still, I can't quite let go of the barely dormant excitement at fresh squash coming into the supermarkets.  I want to turn away from the winter crops, but I still find myself loading up on grapefruits and the last of the Brussels sprouts.  And maybe all of this is why I was suddenly inspired to make a batch of quick-fridge-pickles yesterday with a bag of mini cucumbers I purchased at Costco.  A warm-weather crop being preserved for winter, just before the summer.  Makes no sense and I don't care. It's not really Spring. And it's not really Winter.

It's Sprinter.

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It's Fish Friday - and I'm hoping I can make it through the whole day without eating meat
(a sad, probably heretical ongoing joke between me and Matt).  Last week I accidentally ate a chicken nugget, the week before that I inhaled a breakfast taco with sausage at McDonald's before realizing my heathen ways.  And I still haven't given anything up for Lent, except maybe thinking about Lent.  But today I'm committed!  I went and got some lovely Cod fish yesterday and my plan is to make homemade fish and chips and serve them with homemade tartar sauce and homemade dill pickles.  And since Matt lives in perpetual fear of botulism from my home-made-preserves I decided to make those pickles in the fridge rather than jarring them for the winter to come.  They don't keep as long (they have to be refrigerated) but I don't think we'll have a problem finishing off a 1-quart jar in the next couple of weeks.

Here is the recipe I found and slightly modified from a blog called "Mountain Mama Cooks." Matt thinks they are a bit too sweet (which is odd because they contain no sugar) so my next attempt will be at making SOUR dill pickles.  And here also are the pretty pictures of the pickles that resulted from my 30-minute dabblage in pickle-making.

Happy Sprinter - for those of you who, like me, still haven't fully transitioned. :)

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Quick Homemade Refrigerator Pickles 
Makes a 1 quart jar, tightly packed


1/2 head of garlic, unpeeled
5 cups water
2 1/2 cups vinegar
1/8 cup + 1 tbsp pickling salt
1 lb of mini cucumbers sliced in half lengthwise (look for the really thin-skinned ones as they absorb the pickling juice better)
1/2 serrano pepper (or to taste)
1 tbsp dried dill (or 1-2 large fresh sprigs)
1-2 tsp whole peppercorns
1-2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1-2 tsp yellow mustard seed


1. Bring water and garlic to a boil.  Allow to boil and cook for five minutes.

2. Add the vinegar and salt and stir until dissolve.  Take off the heat.

3. Sterilize your jar and fill with all the other ingredients, tightly packed and artistically if you so desire.

4. Bring the pickling juice back to a boil and pour into the jar, completely covering the veg and filling to the brim (ideally without burning your hand, as I did).

5. Seal the jar, allow to cool completely, and refrigerate.

These pickles are ready to eat as soon as you like and depending how the intensity of the picklage you crave.  I liked trying them a few hours in when they are still really crunch and taste like a cucumber salad. Today I'll enjoy the more intense pickling flavor and softness that reminds me of Saturdays at the movies in Texas. :)

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Amicable Alimentations: Sticky Toffee Pudding & Friendships that Stick

The steamed pudding.
Amicable Alimentations: A series of posts with no predictable order or timing dedicated to a delicious food and the friend who most reminds me of it or inspired me to love it.  Here's the link to post number one, number two, number three, number four and this is post number five in the series.

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When you're facing life as an ex-pat, the natural tendency is to compare.  To compare the familiar, the presumed-correct, the "normal," with the unfamiliar or odd or inconvenient.  Living in the UK was baptism by fire in this regard, especially because it is deceptively convenient in the sense that the language is ostensibly the same (it's really not) and the outlook, that of "first world" or "ally" or whatever other politically and culturally-charged label has been hoisted on the UK from the other side of the Atlantic, similar (it's really not).

I'm an open-minded person, one who doesn't mind certain inconveniences if the pay-out is charm or beauty or leisure, or even education.  But I'm also highly intolerant of inefficiency, laziness, and lack of perspective.  Not a whole lot of things I saw and learned in the UK really stuck with me in the end, but many of my experiences and friendships did. 

Another thing that did stick - almost inevitably, as it was a rather sticky thing - was a love of steamed puddings, and Sticky Toffee Pudding in particular.  Steamed Puddings.  Yep - that sounds kinda gross to an American audience, doesn't it?  It makes me laugh.  The first time I heard of Suet Pudding I kind of gagged a little bit.  Beef fat pudding?  Literally, steamed lard pudding?  "What could be more disgusting?" said my inner-food-snob, dismissively.  I was wrong, of course.  It's delectable, especially in its' savory iteration.  And while I am indeed a professed lover of savory things, I must also admit that it was a sweet steamed pudding that fully won me over to steamed puddings in the end.  Well, that and the colorfully named "Spotted Dick" dessert which, however displeasing an image it may conjure - runny, creamy custard oozing all over its' brown spotted glory - is strangely delicious.  But we'll return to Spotted Dick in a moment.
I think I first had Sticky Toffee Pudding one very rainy June - our first in London, only weeks before our basement flat on Warwick Road was violently thrashed by an unexpected flood, at a restaurant in Kensington called Ffiona's.  My dear friend Sandra, whom I always think of as my "New York friend" (because really she was literally the only person outside my co-workers I hung out with in Manhattan), and her husband Jed had made the trek across the proverbial pond to visit us in the UK during what we erroneously called a "short relocation period" to Europe before heading back to New York. (We never returned to New York, of course, and we ended up staying in London for almost 4 years, but never mind the commonplace oddities of foiled life-plans.)
Ffiona's Charming Exterior on Kensington Church Street
Image Credit

I'd long-before noticed Ffiona's as it fell along the pleasant bus trip from Earl's Court to Notting Hill which we often made on the weekends.  It was located on a particularly picturesque and winding road through central London called Kensington Church Street, not far from an even more picturesque church where there was the most enticingly beautiful flower stand I'd ever seen and never went to.  That's a regret.  Anyway, it was tucked away in a small series of stone buildings and had a quirky sign.  It was one of hundreds of restaurants I'd pointed out to Matt and said "We should go there!" and never did.  Such is life in London - so many things to spend one's money on, and so little money to do it with!  And, yet, in this case - we did go to Ffiona's, and all because of something else rather sticky and wonderful - my friendship with Sandra.

You know, it's not often one finds a life-long friend, but I did when I met Sandra.  And despite only having lived in the same place as friends for a little over a year, we've shared some awesome experiences together, and, most of all, continue to.  From tapas' nights cooked in tiny Manhattan kitchens to Grey's Anatomy Marathons to drooling over Bacon Naan at Tabla to Greek feasts in her first home.  From karaoke in a sleazy French quarter bar to near-fisty-cuffs outside a fancy restaurant in Nola.  From my pregnancy with Roman to watching her adopt her beautiful twins to now sharing Alexander's adoption, our lives have been, it feels, somehow divinely intertwined.  I'm happy to be able to look back and say that.

The Cozy Interior.
Image Credit
But back to the pudding.  As luck would have it, Sandra's husband's parents had lived in London too.  They'd lived less than a mile from our flat in Earl's Court, in a beautiful mew (Adam & Eve Mew, if I recall correctly) on the much nicer, less dodgy end of Kensington Borough.  They'd recommended Ffiona's to us and were good friends with the namesake owner of the joint.  We went and had a lovely dinner there - mostly due to ambiance and company, I must say - which ended with Ffiona's "infamous" sticky toffee pudding.  It wasn't the best STP I've had since, but it was good enough to be memorable and make me want more.  Also on that trip, as Sandra recently reminded me, we made a feeble but valorous attempt at making Spotted Dick (because, again, who can an opportunity to continue making fun of that name?) in our damnable but somewhat-charming basement flat on Warwick Rd., which, quite frankly, was falling apart long before the July flood of 2007.  In the midst of checking on the pudding, our oven door literally fell off very nearly smashing onto my feet at 400 degrees.  It was, as Sandra put it, a little bit scary at the time, but pretty hilarious afterwards.  Moments like that, with good friends and in memorable places, make foods come to life.

And so I dedicate this post to Sandra and our many memories, food and not, one of which has left the legacy of Sticky Toffee Pudding in my life.  Sandrett will be coming to visit me and meet Alexander in a week's time, and I can't wait to have another delicious adventure with her here - including making some STP again.  Hopefully the oven door won't fall off this time, but even if it does, we'll laugh just as hard.

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English Sticky Toffee Pudding
Serves 8-10

I made this version of Sticky Toffee Pudding, the recipe for which I found on David Lebovtz's wonderful blog, and which is a derivatory version itself, being a variation on Mani Niall's version in the book Sweet!  I have to say, I deviated slightly on the tofee recipe as I, sadly, didn't have Lyle's Golden Syrup or Molasses.  And, also, I prefer to use a few more dates in mine (because I love dates).  This recipe has always been a winner for me - I think I made a toffee addict out of my brother-in-law Jim, for one thing - but I made it again a few weeks back and it worked a treat on the chill from a Mile-High Winter's day.  Best served warm. 


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