Miscellany & Poetry - On food, wine, film, lit & then some.

Open love letter to David Nevins (Osetra Sono, South Norwalk, CT)

Dearest Dave:

Leaving you was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. As I opened the door of Boston’s Neptune Oyster that summer afternoon & walked out for the last time, tears in my eyes & a knot in the pit of my belly—okay, that was a lobster roll—I ached, how I ached, in a way only time could heal.

Time &

Tums
.

Or so I thought. But here I sit, hundreds of miles away, nearly two years hence, still dreaming of you & all those nights I spent moaning in ecstasy as you ravished me with your wild combinations of meat, fish & dairy products. How can I ever forget your masterful way with pickled beef tongue, fried oysters & gruyère? I cannot.

And yet, you too have moved on. A rambler, a rebel, you hit the road to make it all by your lonesome on the wide-open frontier of Norwalk, Connecticut—as I always knew, deep down, you would.

Thus it is that I languish here, Googling your website far too often for my own damned good, pining for Osetra Sono’s flash-grilled striped marlin with foie gras yogurt, chestnuts & golden raisins.

For lentil stew with both chorizo & smoked salmon (you sly thing!) topped with huitlacoche sour cream.

For red snapper in split pea broth with mussels, pistachios & lardo.

Pining, my God, for curried crab salad with crispy chicken crackles & green garlic cucumbers. As it were a lock of your hair, I have stolen your image file to gaze upon in rapture.

LARGE_SALAD

Until, my soulchef, the day we meet again.

Yours always,

Denveater

Because I like to have seconds of everything: second thoughts (+ a slice of walnut-pear-Roquefort cake)

A day later, I already miss this crazy blog—& though I am starting other blogs & though there will be major changes around here, I don’t suspect I’m leaving Denveater for good, at least not yet. We need to see a marriage counselor before we see a divorce lawyer.

Sometimes I just have to say something out loud in order to decide if it’s true.

Bear with me for a few weeks; I’ll check in from time to time until I figure it out.

Meanwhile, please enjoy my pal Vanessa’s Cake aux Noix, Poires et Roquefort. Not sure why it’s not Gateau aux Noix, Poires et Roquefort, but she’s got a French mom & a French director-husband with whom she’s making this sure-to-be-awesome documentary about Star Wars, plus she translated the recipe just for me, so far be it from me to nitpick. At any rate, it’s rich in every direction—heavy & heavenly.

Vanessa's bread

Cake with Walnuts, Pears and Roquefort

Ingredients

Scant 1/2 lb. Roquefort, cubed
2 large pears
Scant 4 oz. walnuts
4 eggs
1.5 c. flour
2 heaping t. baking powder
scant 1/2 c. white wine***
2 heaping T. butter
4 T olive oil
S & P

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Peel the pears and cut them into slices, removing seeds and rind.

Heat half of the butter in a pan and slowly brown the slices.

Butter a loaf pan and put it in the fridge (this makes removing the cake easier).

Break the walnuts into slightly smaller pieces and toast them for 2 minutes in a dry pan.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, & a pinch of salt and pepper. Make a hole in the mixture and add the eggs. With a wooden spoon or spatula, combine the mixture and slowly add the wine and olive oil. Keep stirring until the batter becomes smooth. Then add the nuts, pears and Roquefort. Stir to combine.

Pour into the pan and cook for 40 minutes. Let it cool, then remove it from the dish. Serve  cold.

***Opt for a light white wine (banyuls, maury), which will go well with the fat from the Roquefort. Sauternes works too. [For everything. Denved.]

The Scoop Series: spotlight on Rebecca Ballenger, a community garden–founding, backyard chicken–raising, solar oven–using baker of onion casseroles, with recipe & a cameo appearance by Rachael Ray

Back in the 1980s when the word alternative as applied to youth culture still meant something, man, before it became doublespeak for blatantly commercial, my high school pals & I were its embodiment—

Kung fu hard sole -wearing, Sexton-Summer1974-reading,

Siouxsie_and_the_banshees-listening, A Touch of Clove-smoking,

self-styled insurgents against the stultifying god-guns-&-goat-roping conformism of Reagan-era Oklahoma. We were all, we knew, destined for artistic greatness &, more important, cute as hell.

Among us kimono-clad or skateboard-toting or white-facepainted mildly defiant ones was Rebecca Long, Reb-L for short. She was dark like me & witty like I fancied myself & shared my taste for comically huge costume jewelry.

Reconnecting 20 years later, we find we have more in common than ever. Except insofar as she does myriad fascinating things with her life & I just sit around eating & getting drunk or thinking about eating & getting drunk. (See artistic greatness.)

Above all, out in Arizona, she pretty much walks the walk of a green activist—but humbly, without talking the fucking annoying talk. Thus was I determined to break her silence; in so doing, I discovered that the way in which her brain processes information & shapes it into narrative is delightfully strange & worth revealing in detail & at length.

Tell the people who you are in a nutshell, without referencing Austin Powers.

Clearly, I have no clue who I am or I wouldn’t continue to seek the newest sparkly objects to capture my attention. My blog domain, Rebel with a Blog, is a vestige from high school. My junk mail account is a variant on Glamour Girl. I’m neither glamorous nor a rebel, so I obviously like to point out the obvious by pretending to be the opposite.

No, you do shit like teach kids out in the desert about sustainable agriculture. How? Is that your job?

The short answer is that I’m interacting with my children & their friends at their schools. It’s not my job, not my training, not my education, not my background, not my anything. But I love it. It’s the most fun pain in the ass ever.

A billion years ago, I found myself in the bird sanctuary—a 2.5-acre cultivated desert area at my children’s school—discussing the food harvests of pre-Columbian Sonoran Desert locals with kindergarteners:

073-PricklyPearFruits Images-1 Dirt15

prickly pears, mesquite beanpod flour, dirt—all the usual stuff.

My son’s teacher at the time was interested in all variety of sustainable-living issues. She knew I was in the desert discussing food with kids & that the primary source of my beef & produce was, & still is, local, through Tucson Community Supported Agriculture. I’m sure locavorism is listed somewhere among the Stuff White People Like but, being white, I just have to suck that up. The teacher asked if I would support a grant to establish a communal edible garden at the school. Being also a fool, I agreed.

My daughter’s school has a natural space on the premises, which was purchased with a Heritage Grant. After landscaping it, we were able to host educational events in what we then called the bird sanctuary. As we brought in more classes & had more events, we renamed it Borton Environmental Learning Lab, or BELL. Here’s me on Earth Day, the one in the goofy hat, discussing ground-hole identification: “Who lives down there?”

Lesson_4564

This year we added a community garden. First we put in the coop, then we planted veggies & started composting. We are currently making a farm stand. So here I am, deep into backyard chickens, soil enrichment & onion festivals.

So the coop at school inspired you to build a coop at home? What’s it like to raise chickens? Party all the time?

My chickens came first. I advise my fellow gardeners at Borton on all things chicken, but I don’t know any more about chickens than I know about dogs or cats. I wanted chickens for, oh, YEARS, but I was hesitant in case they were dirty, expensive, trouble, illegal, whatever.

We started out with a male

Guinea-fowl-info0

guinea fowl.

His name was Guinea & boy, was he loud. But he loved me. I think that made my husband Jesse just the slightest bit jealous; he didn’t care for Guinea all that much. Of course, that could have because he roosted on the neighbor’s house & crowed like all get out—the bird, that is. He was handsome though.

One day Guinea disappeared. For my birthday Jesse got me a replacement guinea. Segunda wasn’t as pretty, but she was quieter. She went home to Jesus the night of my son’s 8th-birthday sleepover. She was eaten by an owl right outside my bedroom window. I heard the whole thing go down. I had pneumonia & was subsequently hospitalized.

Guinea & Segunda prepped us for chickens. Some friends who were leaving town offered us their flock, which was already laying, so we had to build a coop quick. The guineas’ home had been an old dog crate we pimped out with a perch & mirrors (they like to look at themselves). Chicken coops are coolest when made from salvaged materials, though you can buy premade ones. Ours is recently remodeled with the children’s old playset. It used to be decorated with

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tin flowers (more photos & info hereherehere),

but now it’s insulated with that stuff used to cover a water heater & Jesse’s old Jeep windows.

The schedule is easy; we let them out to range in the morning & feed them at some point. They roost themselves & we lock out the predators. In the day time, the dog &

P6210120

cat keep them company & keep potential problems at bay.

We like to sit & watch them. Sometimes we feed them raisins by hand. They are soft and fluffy, so can be nice to hold, but I am always waiting to be pooped on, & I don’t care to be pooped on.

We have three standards: a Cochin, Sailor Moon or Big Mamma as I like to call her; an Americana, Persephone; & a Barred Rock, Daisy. We have three bantams (smaller in size than standards). One is a Buff Orpington (not to be confused with, say,

Palmer
Dynasty2

Palmer Cortlandt from All My Children or Blake Carrington from Dynasty—Denved.),

Buttercup, & the other two are two of those (as my great aunt calls plants she can’t name)—Firefly & Flower. Some people do not feel that chickens should be named, but ours are docile, friendly & members of the family.

Chickens should be on appropriate feed. Are they pullets? They need to be on grow feed. Are they laying? They need to be on lay feed. Are they boilers? Let’s not think on boilers for this love fest. To be a good egg producer, hens need calcium for the shell, protein for the yolk & grit for digestion. They also need lots of water; the egg white is 90% water. They will eat any kitchen scraps, but not rotten food or potato skins (so you won’t see them at the bar at Chili’s). The best part about that is that you get to feed your hens & use their poop to heat up your compost. No waste!

I’d like to branch out into ducks. Apparently duck eggs are the bomb for baking. Plus they swim around in kiddie pools. How sweet is that?

What do you do with the eggs?

For one thing, we measure them. We were afraid my son wasn’t getting enough math and science iat school. Our daughter is still a bit young, but is it ever too early to introduce empirical methods? We measure the frequency of egg production by hen (the banties lay small white eggs, the Americana lays green eggs & the other standards lay brown eggs) & by flock. We measure the width—which is based on pelvis size & which is practically the same by hen— & the length, which has more variance, & which some say can indicate whether the chicks will be male or female. When the hens are molting, or losing their feathers, they do not lay.

At the height of their production, we got six eggs per day (one from each hen). That was enough for us to share & to establish a regular gift to our neighbors. Now only our Americana is laying and the Barred Rock has just started back after molting. Unfortunately, the cat loves to sleep in their nest & and the hens aren’t that keen on laying around her. We are getting maybe six eggs per week.

A word about the flavor of backyard eggs—heaven. I’m not even kidding. Fresh eggs can’t be beat. People are knocking down my door to be my friend thinking they’ll get eggs out of me. From my hens, I mean. The difference for me is really in the texture: smooth, fluffy, light & not at all rubbery. Older eggs are better for boiling, so use store-bought for that.

You have been known to cook said eggs in your solar oven. What’s that all about?

My solar oven is soon to be on loan to Rachael Ray. I mean, not directly to her but to her producers, who are visiting the school. RR is interested in the garden & in the kids selling their goods at market. But technically, it’s not my oven; rather, it’s on loan from one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met in life. She used to be in charge of the bird sanctuary, but she moved to Mexico with her family. As a salve for my shredded heart [at her departure], she loaned me her solar oven. I immediately baked potatoes. Then I made brownies. In general I’ve had success with solar cooking, but dressing on Thanksgiving Day—not so much. It was overcast. I recommend sunny Thanksgivings where possible.

What is it exactly?

Get in your

3408

WABAC machine

& head to Miami in the 1970s, where middle-aged women in knitted swimwear fry themselves with reflective panels poolside at the resort. Like all great inventions (e.g. kites that attract lightning), it wasn’t long before a dual purpose was discovered for those panels: cook skin, cook stuff. Unfortunately early solar oven models didn’t live up to their potential because the panels could only generate heat enough to bake flesh. Often they left soft gooey middles in casseroles, much to the consternation of the few June Cleavers who hadn’t turned to prepackaged foods.

Misty Rainbow Cloverleaf was also way grossed out, but she was dedicated to pinko liberal causes like earth loving. One day she watched horrified as her son, perched on the concrete roof of the commune’s underground bunker, burned ants by directing the sun’s rays through a magnifying glass. Voila! The answer to her prayers. The reflective beach panels could capture a maximum amount of the sun’s rays & direct them through a glass oven door. The glass door would have the additional benefit of allowing her children to see their

Alieninvasion

in action.

Okay, really, I know NOTHING about solar ovens except that they are an entertaining diversion, economical & environmentally sound. They cost around $250, which is ridiculous because the basic model is a wooden box painted black inside, with a self-leveling shelf, a glass door & metal wings. Solar ovens have been around forever & Peace Corps alums can often make them using tinfoil & a pizza box.

RLoven2

Recently I made onion pudding. I like it because it sounds disgusting, but also because wow, YUM. One of the things I appreciate about Denveater is the standard disclaimer about measurements. That’s also the way I roll. The disclaimer should apply to recipe titles. If you are really anti-onion pudding, call it a casserole. Throw peppers into it & call it a frittata. Pour it in a crust & have yourself some refrigerator pie—or quiche, if you insist, though that totally goes against the whole vibe I’m working toward.

Without further ado:


Onion Pudding

(brashly stolen from Southern Living, served by my ‘Bama Mama & adapted by me)

RLonion2

Ingredients

6 large eggs (I used 7 because two were from our bantam hens, so were smallish)
2 c. heavy cream
3 oz. shredded parmesan
3 T. all-purpose flour (Why don’t I have any of this? I use a combo of wheat pastry flour and bread flour)

1 T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1/2 c. butter  (but pul-LEEZE. Less will suffice)
6 medium-size onions (I used my CSA yellow onions)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Stir together first 3 ingredients.
Combine flour & next three ingredients.
Add dry to wet.

Caramelize onions in butter until they reach

RLonion

this state.

Stir onions into egg mixture & transfer to a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish.
Bake for 30 minutes or until set.

And what’s this about Rachael Ray borrowing your oven?

I hope her producers are gentle with “my” solar oven while they have her. I hope they remember that she works best when her panels & window are clean. Will they remember to flip up the nylon closure so that it doesn’t melt from the manufactured heat? Oh! And she likes to be tilted 30° west of the direct rays of the sun. That way she doesn’t have to be shifted while cooking.

Dear oven, I’m so sorry I pimped you out like this. My explanation, because it’s no excuse, is that it’s for the betterment of the world. People all across America might think twice about passive energy. Children will be amazed by the sun’s power. You will shine brightly. And I will be there to pick you up & dust you off. Then, we will resume our experiments with casseroles. Also I’ve got the best granola bar recipe…

In that case, to be continued at some point in some way, shape or form…

The Hell-Yeah Recipe Files: Denveater’s mashed potato casserole

***Don’t you worry your lovely little heads as to whether I’ll ever get back out of the kitchen & up against a bar where I belong. As soon as the financianal—oh, sorry, is that a typo?—bleeding slows to something more like a trickle than a geyser, & since there ain’t much left to spew that’s imminent, I’ll belly forth.***

Most publications devoted to healthy cooking host a column, e.g. Cooking Light’s Lighten Up, that revises a fattening recipe, say, chicken-fried foie gras Alfredo en croute, to yield a lighter dish—cornflake-crusted chicken liver I Can’t Believe It’s Alfredo en crispbread or something.

Not running most publications, & for that matter not being devoted to much of anything except culinary mayhem, I’d just as soon transform light recipes into rippling, dripping invitations to wallow in your own flab.

But no such luck with this baby; cranked all the way, it still doesn’t go to 11. The original, clipped from Weight Watchers, is that staunchly light—not to mention synthetic, what with nonfat processed cream cheese product, nonfat yogurt & reduced calorie margarine. Oh, & abominable garlic powder. My version, cutting some of the crap & adding extra-extra flavAH, manages to seem less like a pile of light gray slop a corpse would be slumped over in a grainy photo Morgan Freeman’s eyeballing in Se7en. Plus it’s eeeeeeasy.

Mashedpotatocasserole

Mashed Potato Casserole***

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

Prep time: about 10 min.

Cooking time: about 45 min.

2 lbs. baking potatoes, cut into 1/2 in. dice

8 oz. cream cheese or Neufatchel

1 c. plain yogurt (you can use the nonfat stuff if you’d like, but spring for a dandy brand, like Fage)

3 cloves garlic, minced

cumin

curry powder

S & P

paprika

vegetable oil or cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a saucepot, cover the potatoes with water & bring to a boil; reduce heat & simmer until tender & easily pierced with a fork, about 15 min. Drain.

In a bowl, combine all remaining ingredients but oil. With a potato masher or even a large spoon or fork,** mash the ingredients until completely mixed & fairly smooth.

Grease or spray either a 9-in. pie plate or a 10-in. loaf pan & spoon in mixture. If desired, sprinkle the top with a little extra paprika & bake uncovered for 30 min.

***Standard disclaimer: On reasoned principle, I’m not inclined to indicate amounts for cooking fats and seasonings except where absolutely necessary since, in my own fairly extensive experience, adjustments to taste are all but inevitable. Just as you might automatically—& hilariously, I might add!—append the phrase “between the sheets” to the end of every cookie fortune, so you can, to every ingredient for which quantity isn’t listed, tack on the qualification “within reason.” (If by some astronomical odd you happened to arrive at this blog looking for the very 1st recipe you’re ever going to attempt & really truly need estimates, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.)

**The original recipe calls for an electric mixer for a super-smooth texture, but A, I like a little chunk, & B, I start with smaller pieces of potato to make mixing unnecessary. Still, if you like it smooooooth, mix away.

The Awkward Recipe Files: Denveater’s roasted eggplant-zucchini soup with herbed sour cream

You may be wondering why I file some recipes under “Awkward” & others under “Half-Baked.”

Good luck with that.

Or you may be wondering what kind of potassium scurvy I’ve got that I crave so much eggplant. All I can tell you is it started in college with the discovery of a ding-dong snack that was low-calorie enough I could consume it in bulk sans guilt, as I am wont to do even now that I don’t have a paper on assonance as its own form of memory in Lolita due in the morning.

I myself am wondering why 1 of the most mournful couplets in postmodern American poetry just popped into my head, by James Tate:

It’s midnight.

I wish it were 11:59.

At any rate, my Flaccid Eggplant Chips—no? maybe Eggplant Flaps?—are easy as pie (for which, yes, I do have a recipe featuring eggplant): all you do is preheat the oven to 400°; slice a roughly 1 lb. eggplant* crosswise into fairly thin disks—1/4-1/2 in. tops; halve or quarter each disk, depending on your preference sizewise; coat a baking sheet with cooking spray (or lightly with vegetable oil if you’re feeling sassy); pour some soy sauce into a small dish; & either use a pastry brush to coat both sides of the eggplant flaps or, if you’re down with a little waste—& obviously, who isn’t?—just dip them in directly to the dish, shaking afterward to avoid excess. Arrange on sheet & bake for 20 min., at which point they should be almost gooey in that marvelous way eggplant has of practically deliquescing. Even so, most will peel cleanly off the sheet, though a few will stick. Eat ’em plain or toss ’em into a salad, so long as you’re not aiming for presentation points.

Or do what I did recently—turn them into an accidentally awesome soup

Eggplantsoup

which shouldn’t foam like that unless you’ve just poured it straight from an especially powerful blender.

Roasted Eggplant & Zucchini Soup with Herbed Sour Cream***

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter

Prep time: 15 min.
Cooking time: 20-25 min.

For the soup:
1 eggplant, roughly 1 lb.

2 large zucchini

cooking spray or vegetable oil

soy sauce

4-5 c. beef or vegetable stock or broth**

S if needed & P

For the sour cream:
ca. 1/2 c. packed fresh basil

ca. 1/2 c. packed fresh cilantro

ca. 1/2 c. packed fresh mint

3 cloves garlic

1-2 T red wine vinegar

juice of 1/2 lemon

cumin

allspice

S & P

dash of cayenne or Tabasco

ca. 1-1 1/2 c. sour cream, regular or light

1-2 T olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400° & follow the directions for Eggplant Flaps. As soon as the baking sheet is in the oven, spray or lightly oil a second baking sheet. Slice zucchini into disks about 1/2–3/ 4 in. in thickness, arrange on sheet, & brush or spray the tops with more oil (do not dunk the zucchini in soy sauce as well, as you’re guaranteeing a sodium overload); add pan to oven. This may or may not increase the cooking time from 20 to 25 min.; the important thing is that the veggies are soft.

While they’re cooking, heat the stock/broth in a soup pot & prepare the sour cream: Coarsely chop the herbs & chop the garlic. Add to a food processor with all remaining ingredients but the olive oil; when blended until smooth, add the oil & pulse to incorporate. Set aside.

When the veggies are done, place in blender with stock or broth & puree to a mostly smooth, only slightly chunky consistency; season with S & P to taste (& do taste, keeping in mind that between the soy sauce & the broth there’s already plenty of salt in there). Serve with generous dollops or swirls of the sour cream—enough to insure that it fully infuses rather than merely garnishes the soup.

*All this bother about salting eggplant & letting stand to release the bitter juices—I don’t buy it. The only really bitter eggplants I’ve ever encountered were severely underripe or overripe, so I’ll go out on a limb & advise you just get a ripe one.

***Standard disclaimer: On reasoned principle, I’m not inclined to indicate amounts for cooking fats and seasonings except where absolutely necessary since, in my own fairly extensive experience, adjustments to taste are all but inevitable. Just as you might automatically—& hilariously, I might add!—append the phrase “between the sheets” to the end of every cookie fortune, so you can, to every ingredient for which quantity isn’t listed, tack on the qualification “within reason.” (If by some astronomical odd you happened to arrive at this blog looking for the very 1st recipe you’re ever going to attempt & really truly need estimates, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.)

**Look, if you’ve got the time & energy to make stock from scratch, you’ve got the time & energy to figure out how. Sheesh, do I have to do everything around here?

The Half-Baked Recipe Files: Denveater’s crumb-coated pasta with chestnuts & brie

As bloodhound owner Harlan Pepper in Best in Show, Christopher Guest has that great addled gem of a Southern-drawled monologue—

I used to be able to name every nut that there was. And it used to drive my mother crazy, because she used to say, “Harlan Pepper, if you don’t stop naming nuts,” and the joke was that we lived in Pine Nut, and I think that’s what put it in my mind at that point. So she would hear me in the other room, and she’d just start yelling. I’d say, “Peanut. Hazelnut. Cashew nut. Macadamia nut.” That was the one that would send her into going crazy. She’d say, “Would you stop naming nuts!” And Hubert used to be able to make the sound, he couldn’t talk, but he’d go “rrrawr rrawr” and that sounded like “macadamia nut.” Pine nut, which is a nut, but it’s also the name of a town. Pistachio nut. Red pistachio nut. Natural, all natural white pistachio nut…

—which resonates every holiday season as I turn into a cross-eyed echolalic going “chestnuts, chestnuts, chestnuts” all the live-long day. They’re chewy, they’re fruity, they’re low in fat—what’s not to love?

Here’s what: their harvest season is stupidly short, about 2 mos. in autumn—which is why recipes for holiday stuffing with fresh chestnuts are legion & recipes for, say, potato salad with fresh chestnuts sadly aren’t. Luckily, you can store them in the fridge for several weeks; year-round, you can order dried chestnuts online or buy them jarred—for instance, as I just discovered, at Urban Pantry on S. Broadway (about which I have much news, to be shared over the course of the next few days; that’s some cool new shit owner Alex Failmezger has been stocking up on over there).

Chestnuts

Here’s what else: like fava beans & pomegranates, they require the kind of mind-numbing prep work that only literally nitpicky obsessos like me who get high off pulling the lint from the dryer & tearing hangails free & tweezing hairs at the root &, full disclosure, peeling dead skin & popping zits get a kick out of (not, rest semiassured, simultaneously).

But of all the methods I’ve encountered, I came across one this year that required half as much time & trouble—no soaking, no scoring, no peeling problem. I’m baffled, but I’m sold. Try it with that last fresh batch you just haven’t been able to face yet, or substitute the dried or jarred stuff & keep it in your files for next fall.

Roasting Chestnuts the Less-Likely-to-Commit-Harikiri-Before-You’re-Through Way

(courtesy of one “Cook from Allentown, PA”)

Prep time: about 1 hr.

Cooking time: 20-30 min.

Preheat broiler.

Trim nuts: On one end of the chestnut is a little oval, differently colored than the rest; chop it off. It doesn’t slice clean with your average chef’s knife; you have to poke a hole with the tip & then bear down.

Chestnutcutting

(Watch for internal discolorations like so as you go;

Chestnutrot

that’s rot.)

Broil nuts: Reserve 10-18 min. for each side, depending on how hot your broiler gets, until shell has darkened noticeably.

Peel nuts: Fresh from the oven, they’re hard to handle without a dishtowel, but as they cool you can use your bare hands. Start from the chopped-off end & basically fumble until the shell & skin slip off. While it’s always the case that they adhere more the more they cool, with this method I didn’t lose a single nut to impatience. They all came clean sooner rather than later.

Chestnutpeeling

Now you’re good to go on to a little concoction I like to call, because it’s what it is,


Denveater’s Crumb-Coated Pasta with Chestnuts & Brie***

Chestnutpasta

Prep time (minus chestnut prep time): 30 min.

Cooking time: under 10 min.


Serves 2-4, depending on capacity


olive oil, both for cooking & for dressing

1 small onion, chopped

3-4 garlic cloves, minced

30-35 roasted chestnuts (yield from about 1 lb. unshelled), chopped

about 1 lb. pasta (your best bets are smooth: noodles no thinner than spaghetti, shells, or tubes)**

6-8 oz. brie, cubed (I prefer more rather than less, but my tastes are monstrous)

breadcrumbs to taste (start with 1/2 cup & increase as necessary)

S & P


While heating water in pot for pasta, heat cooking oil in a skillet over med.-high heat; saute onions & garlic until soft and colored.


Cook pasta until al dente; while it’s cooking, toss chestnuts into skillet with onions & garlic. Continue to cook for a minute or 2, then set aside until the pasta is done.


Drain pasta & return to pot. Add chestnut-onion mixture & cubed brie to pot; toss until thoroughly mixed. Add bread crumbs & more than a drizzle but less than a deluge of finishing oil; toss again until pasta is well coated with both crumbs & oil.

Chestnutpasta2

Not, admittedly, the best tossing job ever.

***Standard disclaimer: On reasoned principle, I’m not inclined to indicate amounts for cooking fats and seasonings except where absolutely necessary since, in my own fairly extensive experience, adjustments to taste are all but inevitable. Just as you might automatically—& hilariously, I might add!—append the phrase “between the sheets” to the end of every cookie fortune, so you can, to every ingredient for which quantity isn’t listed, tack on the qualification “within reason.” (If by some astronomical odd you happened to arrive at this blog looking for the very 1st recipe you’re ever going to attempt & really truly need estimates, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.)


**Generally, I follow the Italian rule about matching the shape to the sauce, but since this is a relatively dry dish, it’s pretty versatile; I’d exclude only the more delicate or intricate shapes from your options—your bowties, your angel hair, your basic Escher knots.

The Half-Baked Recipe Files: Denveater’s faux risotto with lentils & mushrooms

Translated from the French-Italian, “faux risotto” means “not even close, you lazy, stupid American.” As it happens, I can make un vero risotto with, if not the best of them, at least better than the worst of them when I feel like it. But by some cruel twist of physiological fate—& I suspect I’m not alone in this—my cravings for especially moist carbohydrates run almost directly counter to my spunk; when one’s weary bones most need soaking in a hot bubbling bath of starch & fat, it’s all one can do to draw it.

So it’s this stuff to the rescue.

Lentilsandrice

I adapted the recipe for Creamy Brown Rice with Lentils years ago from—I don’t recall for sure, but I’d swear it was a copy of Weight Watchers magazine in a waiting room in a medical clinic in Brookline, Mass.; how very Elizabeth Bishop–esque of me, minus the revelatory profundity—adding mushrooms, parmesan & more sour cream for extra if less weight-watchful comfort. Not that this need be unhealthy; on the contrary, provided you substitute lowfat for regular sour cream & go easy on the cheese, with its wealth of fiber-rich brown rice & lentils it fully qualifies as wholesome.

Big note: On reasoned principle, I’m not inclined to indicate amounts for cooking fats and seasonings except where absolutely necessary since, in my own fairly extensive experience, adjustments to taste are all but inevitable. Just as you might automatically—& hilariously, I might add!—append the phrase “between the sheets” to the end of every cookie fortune, so you can, to every ingredient for which quantity isn’t listed, tack on the qualification “within reason.” (If by some astronomical odd you happened to arrive at this blog looking for the very 1st recipe you’re ever going to attempt & really truly need estimates, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.)

Denveater’s Faux Risotto with Brown Rice, Lentils & Mushrooms

Serves 2–4, depending on capacity

Prep time: 15 min.

Cooking time: 1 hr. 15 min.–1 hr. 30 min.

olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

8 oz. sliced mushrooms

1 heaping c. uncooked brown rice

curry powder

black mustard seeds (regular seeds are fine too; I happen to like the color contrast)

salt & pepper

4 c. water or broth, any type (except fish, natch), plus extra on reserve

1 c. dried lentils

about 1 c. sour cream, regular or light

grated parmesan

Heat oil in soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion & cook until soft, 5 min. or so, stirring occasionally. Add rice & spices; saute 1 minute, then add water or broth & lentils & bring to a boil.

Reduce heat & simmer roughly 1 hr., until rice & lentils are soft but not mushy, adding additional water or broth if liquid is gone before they’re done. Remove from heat & let sit 5 min.; stir in sour cream. Top with an extra dollop of sour cream & a sprinkling of parmesan.

Lentilsandrice2

Cool stuff in my house (Part 8, in praise of La Tienda)

these chicken-legged candleholders (though they might be even cooler if 1 of them was a drumstick)

Candlestix

this Cyberoptix tie I got the Director, depicting a telephone pole whose uprooting seems to have resulted in the electrocution of some bunny rabbits

Tie

my ever-changing food-themed collection of scents

Scents

from L to R: Fig Leaf by Demeter; Marrons Glacés (candied chestnut) by Laura Mercier Eau Gourmande; grapefruit-based Oyedo by Diptyque ; Fresh’s Orange Chocolate

& these quail eggs in olive oil with roasted peppers I ordered through La Tienda,

Quaileggs1

Quaileggs3

which of course just taste like any other hard-cooked birds’ eggs, only cuter. If cute has a flavor it’s quail egg.

Novel Ingredients: What literary works shaped your culinary tastes?

The Director’s brother flipped a cute little switch recently when he told me how he’d cultivated a liking for port in homage to Kerouac upon reading On the Road. Since my own adolescent Beat phase centered largely on Burroughs’ gaping, oozing oeuvre, beginning with Naked Lunch, you can imagine (not too fluorescently, I trust, gentle reader) that it didn’t coincide with my culinary awakening. But his comment got me to thinking about what did:

N54938 ,

wherein Pippi partook of tropical breadfruit—of which I had no inkling but pictured lovingly, not so much like

Medicinal_plants_breadfruit .

as

Countrywhite

split-top, with fresh creamery butter baked right in, as the voice in the ad circa 1978 used to melt out of the TV, & filled in the middle with something like

RichBananaPudding-main_Full .

I’ve since put the question to my writerly pals (& rest assured the comment board is always open to readers writerly or otherwise, as is my e-mailbox!): Which works of fiction/poetry/drama most whetted your appetite &/or wetted your whistle? The answers may surprise you. Or not, I just get a kick out of that phrase.*

Matt Rohrer, author of numerous books of deeply strange & charming poetry, whom you may have met here, whereas I met him when I was 13 & thereafter collaborated with him on what was my 1st restaurant review, about Dairy Queen & its great blazing


Item_blizzard

Blizzards:


I actually have quite bad luck following up on culinary tips from
literature. It started in 4th grade, reading
SRAs or whatever the little
folders were called with different topics & reading levels.** The point was
reading comprehension, but one of them I read was about

Bigcrab_lg

deviled crab.


It
sounded incredible. I’d never heard of anything like it. Of course, crab was
absolutely mysterious to me because I lived in Oklahoma, & I probably
responded to the promise of evil or anticlericalism in the “deviled” part.*** But I just couldn’t shake it, & asked my mother (who is a really excellent
cook) to make it, but crabs weren’t available in Oklahoma in 1979.

About a year later, we took a vacation to Florida & stopped at a
restaurant that served deviled crab. I couldn’t believe it, & waited
impatiently for it to come. When it did, it was terrible. Or at least, I
didn’t like it. I suppose nothing could have lived up to the pressure of
representing everything that I couldn’t have in Oklahoma. But I remember the
texture was just gross.

My-heavenDoesNotEqualSlime-ball_~u12261348


Not long after that, reading The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe, I became
fascinated by what Jadis the White Queen offers Edmund:

Delight_Turkish_Delight_Candy

Turkish Delight.


All
I knew was it was some kind of candy & her version of it also had magical
(& evil, now that I come to think of it) powers. It was several years
(again: Oklahoma****) before I got to try Turkish Delight, & it was almost as
big a disappointment as the deviled crab. It certainly couldn’t compare to a Butterfinger (which is definitely the best candy bar).


As I got older, the same thing happened with drinks. I always felt like the
characters in Hemingway’s
Hills Like White Elephants, complaining that all
the drinks they’ve never had before but have heard of just taste like
licorice. Which, as it turns out, is true. In my junior year abroad, when I
was 20, I tried as many different liquors as I could get my hands on.
Arrack, Sambuca, Pernod…all of them taste like licorice. Which tastes
terrible.


Matt’s opinion on this point does not necessarily reflect that of your insatiable Denveditor—& let’s not forget absinthe!—but it does reflect this:

Arrack .


Recently, however, I read the complete unexpurgated original translation of
The 1000 Nights & 1 Night, which is around 3000 pages long, & realized
that what kept me going had at least as much to do with the descriptions of
the feasts the Djinns were constantly being forced to provide as with
anything else in the stories. But when I got so hungry reading it that I
couldn’t take it anymore, I just got up off the couch and had some peanuts.
Nothing can touch peanuts when it comes to everyday snacking.

Atheism25qdProduct-ezr440Toasted_Peanut_in_Shell

Speaking of Hemingway, says Joey Porcelli, author of Rise & Dine: Breakfast in Denver & Boulder & coauthor of The Gyros Journey: Affordable Ethnic Eateries along the Front Range:


After reading
The Old Man and the Sea, I wanted to eat a big fish. After Eat, Pray, Love, I wanted to to eat pizza in Naples. After reading The Geography of Bliss’s chapter on Iceland, I didn’t want to eat anything ugly ever again, except lobster. After reading Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, I wanted to drink a mint julep. After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I wanted to grow my own food. After reading The Secret Life of Bees, I craved honey. After reading The Jungle, I never ate cow again. After reading Kitchen Confidential, I wanted to snort cocaine in the kitchen. After reading Alive, I wanted to eat my neighbors. Should I quit reading? (Au contraire: I think you should reread the latter pair, then invite the Director & me over to join you. That fundamentalist next door looks ripe.—Denved.)



Michael Brodeur, music editor for The Boston Phoenix & fellow former food (& music) editor for the Weekly Dig:

There was a part in Johnny Got His Gun where I have a distinct memory of a description of a sandwich that was nothing but bread & a thick
slice of (Bermuda?) onion. That hung around a bit.


I trust that comes before the hero’s face gets blown off. Googling “onion sandwich” yields a number of recipes, like James Beard’s, that are nearly quelle simple as Brodeur recollects, adding only a little butter & mayo, a sprinkle of sea salt & minced parsley or chives:

OnionSandwich1

Warning: requires lips & teeth. Do not insert in face crater.

More specifically, I’ve always loved the indulgent little books of Italian
writer Aldo Buzzi, whose A Weakness For Almost Everything is one of the
best-fed books ever.


Having been meaning to read him forever, I’ve just been inspired to order both the aforementioned & The Perfect Egg & Other Secrets—in which, per 1 online description, Buzzi “writes about how to make lime soup, what goes into an olla podrida, varieties of futurist cuisine, the difference between edible & inedible pigeons, & the emotional resonance of overcooked pasta.” Sweet—to be con’t.

Beth Partin, author of Living the Mile-High Life, a just plain smart collection of observations about this wacky Rocky Mtn. valley in which we live (whose twin emphases on food & literature prompted me to prompt her in turn for her thoughts):

I confess I can’t think of a story that actually compelled me to eat or drink something, but there are many stories that have made me long for food: I always wanted to have a meal at 

250px-J.R.R._Tolkien_-_Beorn's_Hall_(Colored_by_H._E._Riddett)

Beorn’s table,


or try

180px-John_Howe_-_Lembas

lembas,


the waybread of the elves, for instance. No doubt someone, somewhere, has come up with a recipe for it. (‘Fraid so—make that Frodo so, heh. See also below.) Also, this passage from Election Eve by Evan S. Connell made me wish I could go to the Wibbles’ buffet:


However, the Wibble buffet was sumptuous, imperial, a whopping tribute to an exemplary bourgeois life. Mr. Bemis gazed with satisfaction at the roast beef, sliced breast of duck, venison, platoons of shrimp, a giant salmon, lamb chops sprinkled with herbs, prosciutto, crisp little sausages & more. Rosy red tomatoes stuffed with something creamy. Butterfly pasta. Mushrooms. Mr. Bemis gazed at the beautiful mushrooms. Asparagus points, juicy pickles, Gargantuan black olives. Nor was that all, oh no. Desserts. A perfect regiment of seductive desserts. Lemon tart. Mince pie topped with hard sauce. Blue & white cheeses. Chocolate mousse. Peaches. Pears. Melons. Petits fours. Nuts. Strawberries. A silver compote of mints. Fancy bonbons individually wrapped in gold foil. Nor was that all. Mr. Bemis clasped his hands.*****


Maybe for my fiftieth birthday I’ll throw a party like that. (I’m available 24/7.)

Last but never least, MC Slim JB, acclaimed food-writer-about-Boston:

There are many times—most often early in the morning, or at around 3pm when my concentration and energy are flagging—when I wish I had some lembas, the revivifying elven hardtack from The Lord of the
Rings
, in my pocket. (You can!—see above.) But Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe made me want to drink rye.
Consequently, I became a rye drinker years ahead of
the current rye
revival
& was inspired to write a piece about it for the Weekly Dig
in early 2007.


Since the Dig ransacked its own online archives & stashed the loot—& there was once some precious loot—shortly thereafter, Slim sent me the text of said piece; here’s a learned & suave excerpt:


SQUEEGEE YOUR ANOMIE WITH RYE WHISKEY

It’s a film noir world: drop that Technicolor cocktail

by MC Slim JB

Rye commands reverence among booze historians as America’s oldest whiskey, the original base of ancient cocktails like the Manhattan. Yet despite cultish adherents & growing press attention, rye cruises in the blind spot of most Boston bartenders. Order it & you’re liable to get a blank stare, or an unassuming blended Canadian whisky like Crown Royal, the kind that Americans had to settle for during Prohibition. Repeal came too late to restore rye’s fortunes: bourbon had usurped the American whiskey throne, relegating the impoverished surviving ryes to the plebian front-end of Boilermakers.

Philip Marlowe, the archetypal private detective of 1940s hardboiled crime fiction, slugged rye from bottles stashed in his desk & glove box. Preferring brash rye to sweeter, mellower bourbon flagged Raymond Chandler’s protagonist as an old-school hard guy. The assertive bite Marlowe favored is distilled from a mash of at least 51% rye grain (where bourbon uses sugar-rich corn) & aged in charred-oak barrels. Respectable ryes under $40 are still produced by venerable brands like Van Winkle & Sazerac, but this roughneck is also getting the super-premium makeover: you can now drop $100 or more on 21-year-old ryes from boutique producers like The Classic Cask.

As for cocktails, rye’s emphatic character is ill-suited to the sickly-sweet concoctions that rookies order when they graduate from Goldschläger shots. Crafting a well-balanced rye cocktail demands a certain scholarly, 19th-century rigor and inventiveness. Such precise bartending chops are cultivated at only a handful of…elite establishments, [where] rye is one tool in the campaign to hoist drinkers out of the dark age of chocolate “martinis”. When you’re ready for a grown-up drink with some grizzled authenticity, try curling your lip like Bogart and ordering a rye cocktail….[You’ll] feel virtuous, vigorous, like a star in [your] own black-and-white movie. While I agree with Chandler that “It is not a fragrant world,” the right rye cocktail can certainly refresh it for a moment.


Especially if you’ve also got lembas in your pocket.

———

*Come to think of it, so does the protagonist of Delillo’s White Noise, who repeats it over & over in the throes of a particularly pomo meltdown, largely foreshadowed by harrowing trips to the supermarket. Thus we come full circle.

**I remember those. The levels were represented by colors, probably to spare remedial readers from the more direct/explicit embarrassment numerical ratings yield. Relatedly, I rarely cared what level the color I was at represented, so long as it was a pleasing hue—violet, turquoise, old gold…

***Matt had to go to catechism classes & shit, not that he wound up minding as he got kissed by many a Norman High School cheerleader in nursing homes during the volunteer part or whatever.

****If you do a Google image search for Oklahoma, you get: 3 movie posters; 1 picture of the bombed-out Federal Building & another of that firefighter holding that baby; 1 age-progression photo of a missing child, whom agents at the SBI are apparently convinced has had more than his or her share of gender-reassignment surgery since he or she went missing; & 1 picture of an all-out Sooners fan whose plains the wind comes sweeping down. Doin’ fine!

*****Suddenly I’m reminded of 1 of my own literary nearest & dearest, Italo Calvino, whose Mr. Palomar didn’t make me want to eat or drink this or that particular thing so much as to just generally inhabit the body & world of the ever-hyperstimulated titular character. From the section titled “Mr. Palomar Does the Shopping”:

The cheese shop appears to Mr. Palomar the way an encyclopedia looks to an autodidact: he could memorize all the names, venture a classification according to the form—bar of soap, cylinder, dome, ball—according to the consistency—dry, buttery, creamy, veined, firm—according to the alien materials involved in the crust or in the heart—raisins, pepper, walnuts, sesame seeds, herbs, molds—but this would not bring him a step closer to true knowledge, which lies in the experience of the flavors, composed of memory & imagination at once….

Behind every cheese there is a pasture of a different green under a different sky: meadows caked with salt that the tides of Normandy deposit every evening; meadows scented with aromas in the windy sunlight of Provence; there are different flocks, with their stablings & their transhumances; there are secret processes handed down over the centuries. This shop is a museum: Mr. Palomar, visiting it, feels as he does in the Louvre, behind every displayed object the presence of the civilization that has given it form & takes form from it.

Sigh.

———

ADDENDUM: Speaking of hyperconsciousness, the virtual ink on this blogpost wasn’t yet dry when MC Slim JB came up with another good one; if he sends a photo of the recipe herein at some point, I’ll post that as well:

Haruki Murakami‘s characters spend a lot of time eating & drinking, much of it pretty ordinary , everyday food—canned beers, instant noodles, spaghetti with jarred sauce, frozen prepared foods. It serves to reinforce his wonderful, quiet documentation of the quotidian rhythms of uneventful lives. Few people seem to enjoy lush banquets in his work. There’s one dish he describes, not sure where now, either in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or maybe Hardboiled Wonderland & the End of the World, where his protagonist makes a rice omelet. I’m not sure if a rough recipe is included or not, but mine now follows a formula that I tacitly, perhaps unfairly, attribute to Murakami: a bit of leftover rice stirfried with a bit of soy sauce, some minced garlic, maybe some pepper flakes & a dusting of five-spice powder, with a couple of beaten eggs poured on top & cooked until barely set. I love this as breakfast food, & I’m certain the only time I ever otherwise seen it is in Murakami’s fiction.

Google Search Laffy Time: “collecting shingle urchins recipe”

Someone arrived at Denveater via a search for that alarming string.

Googling right back, I learned that there’s not only actually such a thing as a shingle urchin but that it’s really kind of a looker.

Wana

Still, how does 1 go about eating it? Perhaps in some sort of chowder with hemorrhoid oysters & cold-sore clams?