Biden Thyme

From Rye Bar in San Francisco – “Biden Thyme” – thyme-infused gin, citrus shrub, lemon and lime

Need I say more? Yes, it is time. It’s Biden Time.

This fabulous in-oh-so-many-ways cocktail was brought to us by our daughter, Sara, for a post-election treat. In addition to the Biden Thyme, we got a Jamaican rum-based cocktail which was labelled “I’m Speaking.” Guess whose face was on that! That spoke to Andy. Check out today’s Andy’s Corner.

Well, this is a food blog (of sorts), so let’s talk first about thyme. Clearly, there are lots of food bloggers out there who like the thyme/time idea. To name a few, there’s,,, (ahhhh, cute!),,, – and maybe my favorite – (which, should you be interested, is a domaine name that’s for sale – for about $3400).

I thought it would be fun to try to replicate the Rye Bar’s thyme cocktail, but I decided to infuse the shrub with thyme, rather than the gin. Shrubs were already on my radar, since we find them a nice alternative to wine in the evening – topped with soda water or tonic water, rather than mixed with alcohol. And if you’re wondering what a shrub is – other than a big leafy bush – it’s “drinking vinegar” – best made by mixing equal parts sugar, fruit and vinegar – and then allowing the mixture to sit for several weeks. Once mellowed, you can make whatever cocktails or mocktails suits your fancy. And you can use it to create an easy vinaigrette just by adding a little oil.

The other kind of shrub

About the time I was mixing up my thyme and lime (a rhyme) shrub, our 15-year-old grandson, Moss (of blogging fame), sent me a photo of a chocolate cake he had just made. And it said, “BYE!” (explanation point is mine). Perfect. Though Moss was saying goodbye to a friend off to Chicago for college, I had other thoughts. It was BYE to Trump. BYE TRUMP!!!!!!!

from Moss in San Francisco “Bye” Coffee and Chocolate Cake

Moss is a way fancier baker than I am; I’ve never made little frosting rosettes in my life. For that matter, I never make layered and frosted cakes any more. But I do make snacking cakes, which I define as a single layer unfrosted cake that is easy to make and keeps well. The kind you snack on.

I suggest you make Moss’s lovely masterpiece for a special occasion (like the end of the pandemic or to celebrate the first week of Biden and Harris in office). He used 3 6″ cake pans and filled the layers and frosted it with Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Then he drizzled over a homemade Salted Caramel Sauce.

For my snacking cake, I took the same coffee and chocolate cake recipe that Moss uses (which comes from Ina Garten) but I downsized it from 3 layers to a one layer cake. And I just used powdered sugar to top it. I’d put my cake’s photo next to Moss’s, but I don’t need to be embarrassed by having mine compared mmmm…unfavorably…with my grandson’s.

As we look forward to “A Better Thyme” (not to suggest that the current thyme varieties are lacking), there’s a line from Amanda Gorman’s inspiring inaugural poem that seems to be the perfect conclusion; the first line references both the Hebrew Bible and the musical Hamilton; the second is all Gorman:

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.

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It’s All Rice.

Whoops. Damn autocorrect! I meant it’s all RIGHT, not it’s all RICE. But now that I think of it – all rice isn’t such a bad idea. I wouldn’t want all rice every day, but I do like the thought of a container full of left-over rice in the fridge to help get us through the week food-wise. And speaking of fridges, Andy has developed a fridge fetish. It’s a little weird. See today’s Andys Corner.

Leftover rice is in our blue-lidded Oxo glass container; note also the Black Elderberry syrup – my immune system support 🙂 – plus, lots connected to our blog: dog and cat food, bourbon sauce, strawberry sauce, feta cheese, lots of wine, buttermilk, fresh noodles, red and green cabbage, iced tea, and more butter and nuts than any normal couple could ever eat.

It’s all right...doin’ the best you can.” A motto for this day and time – or a line straight out of my-favorite-song-video-ever from The Traveling Wilburys? Both! If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that the 1988 album by Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty can pretty much always make me smile (and maybe dance and sing)…even in the midst of a pandemic. As Petty croons, “I’m just glad to be here, happy to be alive.”

(Another pandemic-worthy album suggestion is 2000’s O Brother Where Art Thou. I’m enjoying exercising – daily to the music of “You Are My Sunshine” written by one-time governor of Louisiana, Jimmy Davis, and sung by Norman Blake and, on a bit more joyful note, “Keep on the Sunny Side, Always on the Sunny Side” sung by The Whites. It’s kind of interesting to think that a star in that 2000 film was George Clooney – and Clooney is in the news right now for his new production – in which he also stars and which is getting mixed reviews – Midnight Sky. )

As for “all rice,” I grew up eating Uncle Ben’s Converted Long Grain Rice – and, admittedly, never thought about the implications of the picture of the black man pictured on the box. Now – about 70+ years later – Mars, the parent company, announced that they intend to rebrand the rice, acknowledging that the company “understands the inequities that were associated with the name and face of the previous brand.” Aunt Jemima is being rebranded as well. Neither image was all right.

Of course, today, being a bit of a food snob, I wouldn’t even think of eating par-boiled rice. I’m even so uppity that our well-known Mahatma extra-long grain rice from Texas has been replaced in our cupboard by Basmati and Jasmine rice. And organic is preferred. As for brown rice, I know all the pros and I recommend it highly for health reasons – and I’ve made countless meals using my grandmother’s Brown Rice Casserole (with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup), but I still prefer white rice when push comes to shove.

The Zojirushi 3-cup rice cooker is perfect for the two of us.

As for cooking rice, I’ve given up on my mother’s method – which – in addition to most likely being “converted” – had no rinsing (unheard of back then!), lots of water, stove top, covered pan, maybe some butter. Today we use either our Zojirushi rice cooker – or bake the rice in the oven (see recipe below). And, to be absolutely fair, I have to admit that Andy cooks more rice around here than I do. He should be writing this,

I picked out just a few of our BigLittleMeals’ recipes that work great with leftover rice. You can pick and choose from Mexican to Vietnamese to Israeli to Chinese to add some cultural excitement to your stay-at-home life.

Mystery Mix Rice Salad

Cazuela-de-arroz-con-hongos (mushroom and rice casserole)

Bo Kho (Vietnamese beef stew – served over rice)

Bob’s (Deconstructed) Pastel – Israeli Meat Pie – if deconstructed as Bob recommends, it would be great over rice with a little broth added

Breakfast Lunch and Dinner Fried Rice

Rice Pudding

AND, if you want rice and Louisiana flavors (how can you not?), here’s a recipe which comes from Marcus Samuelsson’s new cookbook, The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food , which is dedicated to Leah Chase, who was considered the grande dame of New Orleans restaurateurs until her death in 2019. Though not a gumbo in the traditional “first you make a roux” sense of the word, Samuelsson’s gumbo is a great recipe inspired by this legendary woman.

Leah Chase and Obama at her restaurant, Dooky Chase
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A Westerner with Lagniappe

Eleven years ago – December of 2009 – I wrote a little essay for a now-defunct online publication entitled The Urban Campfire. When a friend send me the motivation for the publication, I was inspired. We are a creative cooperative made up of real people living real stories. We are fighting the wars, making the movies, traveling the globe, cooking the food, singing the songs, paying the mortgages. Chances are, you are too. Your story has a home here. Join the fire.

Today’s Urban Campfire

Though my title was changed by the editors from “A Westerner with Lagniappe” to “A Moveable Feast,” it was my first attempt at writing something for others and online. I never dreamed that eleven years later Andy and I would be happily blogging every other week about our lives and about food.

I’m re-posting this now because I just made the turkey gumbo recipe and I think you’ll love it. If you didn’t think to make broth with your turkey bones, simply substitute chicken and chicken broth. The chocolate bread pudding recipe is a timeless hit, too.

And an aside: seeing that plate of boiled crawfish makes me want to pack my bag and hightail it back to Louisiana for a spring visit. There’s nothing I miss more – except, of course, my Baton Rouge friend, Katie. Let the vaccinating begin!

A final aside: while I am re-posting this partly to simplify my post-holiday blogging, Andy is simplifying things too. But in his case, it’s simplifying recipes. Be sure to read today’s Andy’s Corner.

And now to my Urban Campfire contribution:

For a born and bred Coloradoan, the move to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 35 years ago (footnote: now it’s 45 1/2 years ago) was nothing short of terrifying. The summer nights with 90+ degree temperatures, the clothes-drenching humidity, the stinging caterpillars, the frequent typhoon-like downpours, the 2″sized cockroaches scurrying through the house, and the incredible cultural differences made me want nothing more than a return ticket to the West.

Was I Annie Oakley?
Or Scarlet O’Hara?

But time changes all things, and it wasn’t long before I was enjoying our new Southern life, with our close ties to the LSU community, including dear friends, theater performances at the Union Theater and later at the fun and funky Swine Palace, basketball games with the iconic Dale Brown at the helm, and the LSU Newcomers Gourmet Club. Though we didn’t often do Cajun/Creole food at those dinners, we developed a great fondness for cooking, good meals…and nice wine.

As my interest in Louisiana food expanded, I started collecting recipes and cookbooks, including the must-have River Road Recipes put out by the Junior League of Baton Rouge and Cane River Cuisine from the Service League of Natchitoches, LA, and The New Orleans Cookbook by Rima and Richard Collin.  

And I started collecting recipes from all the born and bred Southerners who knew so much more about crawfish etouffee, and red beans and rice, and pralines, and roux than I did.

In 2001 we left Baton Rouge to return to the West and our roots. But as the holiday season approaches each year, I find myself practically waxing poetic about all things Southern – well, all things about Southern food. I’ve sent a shopping list to my good Baton Rouge friend Katie begging for her to restock my larder with those Southern necessities. I need Bergeron pecans from New Roads, cayenne pepper from Zatarains, LSU Beauregard yams, file powder, Tony Chachere’s Creole seasonings, and some real andouille sausage, preferably from LaPlace, Louisiana. (culinary note: the Beauregard yam is actually a sweet potato)

With all that in hand I’m ready to do my holiday cooking, which will include a left-over turkey gumbo, simple baked yams (or sweet potatoes – unless you’re from Louisiana; if you’re now thoroughly confused, a great read is You Say Potato, I Say Yam from the NYTimes) slathered with butter, and a bread pudding, sometimes with chocolate and sometimes with a whiskey sauce. I may still be a born and bred Westerner, but I’m a Westerner with lagniappe.

the unofficial urban campfire glossary

Andouille – a spicy smoked pork sausage (pronounced ahn DOO ee)

Atchafalaya: the Atchafalaya River (pronounced A-CHA-fa-LIE-a)

bayou:   a creek or small river that is a tributary of a larger body of water; or a  sluggish stream that meanders through lowlands, marshes, or plantation grounds.

beignet: a square doughnut with no hole (pronounced BEN-yay)

boudin:  Cajun blood sausage (pronounced BOO-dan)

café au lait:  coffee served with an equal part hot milk (delicious with a beignet)

crawfish:  also “mudbug” (No one in Louisiana would EVER EVER refer to them as crayfish), a small cousin of a lobster living in the mud of  streams or lakes; called a crawdad in other parts of the country

etouffee:   a Creole dish typically served with crawfish over rice (pronounced AY too Fay)

file: a Cajun/Creole powdered seasoning made from dried and ground sassafras leaves, not the root (pronounced FEE lay)

lagniappe:  a little something extra, as a gift a store or restaurant owner might offer with a purchase (pronounced LAN yap)

“suckin’ the heads”: eating crawfish (update: it’s actually sucking the head of the crawfish to enjoy the spicy juices; are you non-Louisianans grossed out?)

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True Colors

I thought a holiday blog about holiday colors – Christmas’s red and green – or Hanukkah’s blue and white – was perfect. I would tie it into food. Then I started to analyze my food options. Blue food? I don’t think so. White frosting, maybe…or cooked egg whites? Even red and green all of a sudden seemed challenging. Tomatoes are out of season. A true Christmas green might be in a salad – but what else?

Got it! True Christmas colors!

It didn’t take long until I was going around singing “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” Andy, upon hearing Kermit’s song – over …and over…and over – started thinking about other colors…anything but green. Yup – see today’s Andy’s Corner. He’s doggedly determined to write about brown.

After I got Kermit’s song out of my mind, I fixated on Cyndi Lauper and her 1986 “True Colors” (the video is probably not rated for small children 🙂 – but it’s kind of cool. )

Show me a smile then
Don’t be unhappy
Can’t remember when
I last saw you laughing
This world makes you crazy
And you’ve taken all you can bear

Sounds to me like Cyndi was foreseeing 2020’s pandemic with those lyrics!

“True colors” led me to The Secret Language of Color, a book published in 2013 by and written by Joann and Arielle Eckstut. Why were red and green the colors of Christmas? Maybe you all already knew this, but I didn’t realize that holly – and ivy too – had a lot of impact on that. Though Christians adopted the colors and assigned meaning to holly’s bright evergreen leaves and intense red berries, holly’s association with winter goes back to the ancient Celts. It was believed that holly in the home in the middle of the cold, dreary winter would bring good fortune and a prosperous new year.

But here’s my favorite holly and ivy story. It’s one that will now be a part of our Christmas Eve – forever. 🙂

Holly has traditionally been associated with males and ivy with females (I might add that ivy’s “clingy” and “soft” nature and the “support” provided for ivy by the “rigid” holly contributed to that – but that’s all too sexist to think about :). 

There is a tradition in some areas of England that says whichever plant (holly or ivy) enters the home first on Christmas Eve will dictate whether females or males will rule the roost in the year to come. Trust me, I’m aiming to get in first with my ivy (which BTW I happen to dislike – intensely – and which covers way too much of our streetside perennial bed). Andy will have to put up a pretty serious fight to beat me into the house (plus, we don’t have any holly in our yard, so he’ll be at a real disadvantage!).

Ah, yes. Back to Christmas colors.

My failed attempt a making Christmas-y green cupcakes (which had matcha in them) with Christmas-y red frosting (which had strawberry sauce)

Though my green cupcakes with red frosting were a miserable failure Christmas-color-wise, I had high hopes for my red and green peppers – before cooking, that is. I chose a recipe from The Breath of the Wok by Grace Young, our daughter’s friend in NYC. It’s easy, delicious – but isn’t great at keeping its Christmas colors post-stir-frying.

After I gave up on a true Christmas green in anything cooked, I settled on our new all-time favorite sauce – strawberry. Even after cooking and freezing, it stays a Christmas-y red. It’s perfect on waffles or French toast or pancakes or ice cream. And it’s wonderful to defrost in the midst of a dreary, cold winter – and enjoy the fruit of a bright and cheery warm summer. Or maybe make it, freeze it, and give it as holiday gifts – a little lagniappe – for your friends and neighbors. As Kermit and his friends sang in 1987, “We need a little Christmas now.”

Homemade Strawberry Sauce
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How to Cook a Wolf (along with Pigeons, Calf Brains, Kidneys… and Water)

Ann’s bedside reading stockpile

[Note: Andy and I have swapped roles for today’s BigLittleMeals post. Andy is doing the blog and I am taking over Andy’s Corner].

The other day I noticed a book on Ann’s night stand with the curious title How to Cook a Wolf. Out of curiosity, I picked it up and began to randomly thumb through it. It was written by MFK Fisher, about whom I knew little except that she was supposedly a renowned food writer and that she had lived in a house on the property of the Bouverie Preserve not far from our place.

Additionally, I knew that Ann was so intrigued with a photo of MFK Fisher with her cat that she tried to emulate it for a Facebook post. What I didn’t know was that Ann and MFK Fisher had an “unexpected” Louisiana connection, which she reveals in today’s Andy’s Corner.

From Ann’s Facebook post. Ann is on the left with our cat (then a kitten), Choco Latte. MFK Fisher is on the right with her cat, Charlie.

Admittedly, How to Cook a Wolf is not the kind of book I would normally take to the beach for pleasure reading; I prefer obscure sociological thrillers such The Social Construction of Reality or The Division of Labor in Society. However, it didn’t take much thumbing through the book before I was hooked.  Not only is Fisher entertaining and witty, she has a keen eye for the social and philosophical significance of our daily food-based routines. What better sociological thriller could I hope for?

Last House – Fisher’s home in Glen Ellen

How to Cook a Wolf was published the year before I was born, in the midst of WWII. A glance at her chapter titles, such as How to Be Sage Without Hemlock, How to Keep Alive, How to Make a Pigeon Cry, and How to Comfort Sorrow makes it clear that this is not your run-of-the-mill cook book.

WWII Poster: Basic rations per person.

On a practical level, Fisher’s essays and recipes are aimed at helping folks to survive while at the same time eat well during the food rationing and wartime hardships of her day. But she is writing about much more than that. For her, how and what we eat is metaphorical for our basic human needs.

It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it (a quote from her 1992 NY Times’ obituary – which is worth a read in itself).

When reading How to Cook a Wolf it’s hard not to think of the many parallels between the stresses of the war-time 1940s and the current stresses we are experiencing in the pandemic. While these two crises are different in many obvious ways, Fisher’s words are still particularly relevant to our current situation.

Anne Wallentine, in a recent Eater post, claims that Fisher’s book is “essential reading” for right now:

As our human-made systems are wrenched apart, Fisher’s advice on attitude, thrift, and how to nourish yourself and others in a crisis is newly relevant. Right now, the future is unknowable, the present uncertain. But the past is always available, and Fisher’s exquisite prose offers it up for both insight and escape.

Beyond the metaphorical side of food, Fisher does offer up some solid non-metaphorical recipes. As today’s guest food blog author, I feel obligated to say something about these recipes.

I’ll admit at the outset that a few of her recipes are a bit off-putting to me. I’m not real keen on trying such dishes as Calves Brains, Kidneys in Sherry, Roast Pigeon, or Aunt Gwen’s Cold Shape (quartered calf head).

I realize that my preferences are culturally biased and I feel the sting of Fisher’s admonition (although I actually do like Rocky Mountain Oysters!):

One way to horrify at least eight out of ten Anglo-Saxons is to suggest their eating anything but the red fibrous meat of a beast… when you eat a stuffed baked bull’s heart, or a grilled lamb’s brain or a “mountain oyster,” you need not choke them down with nauseated resolve to be braver or wiser or more potent, but with plain delight.

A good source for some of the more interesting Anglo-Saxon-friendly recipes in the book can be found at Four Pounds of Flour, a blog from about 10 years ago that reproduced and discussed many of the her recipes. It’s worth taking a look at.

In today’s blog we are including one recipe. It is from the chapter entitled “How to Boil Water” which begins with a story about a young woman who “didn’t know how to boil water” until she got married. You have to read it to appreciate her tongue-in-cheek narrative, even if it seems a bit gender insensitive by today’s standards.

Soup prerequisite?

Eventually, the chapter evolves into a discussion of how to make soup, for which boiling water is generally a prerequisite.

As a steady diet, plain (boiled) water is inclined to make thin fare, and even saints, of which there are an unexpected number these days, will gladly agree that a few herbs and perhaps a carrot or two and maybe a bit of meager bone on feast-days can mightily improve the somewhat monotonous flavor of the hot liquid.

One of Fisher’s “mightily improved” boiled water recipes, which we include below, is for A Basic Minestrone. According to Fisher,

Probably the most satisfying soup in the world for people who are hungry, as well as for those who are tired or worried or cross or in debt or in a moderate amount of pain or in love or in robust health or in kind of business huggermuggery, is minestrone. (Just so you know – “hugger mugger” used as an adjective can be defined as secret or clandestine. Minestrone sounds perfect for December 2020!)

Ann made a pot of this soup a couple of weeks ago to serve for lunch with our good friend Lynne. As we sat on our deck on that chilly day – separated by six feet of social distance – and savoring the hot soup and each other’s company, I couldn’t help but think of MFK Fisher’s suggestion that food, security and love are entwined, maybe even more so during trying times like these.

So, enjoy the soup and find security and love during this season of uncertainty.

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