Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘stuffing’

Okay, I know I meant to write more about food writing* this week, but I’ve had so much fun with another idea that I want to talk about it first. It’s my dearest love of sloppy food.

There’s such pressure to be perfect these days. It’s not new; our great-grandmothers used to compete, silently, to see which woman on the block was first to hang her clean wash on the clothesline on Monday morning. Those days are over, mercifully. But new ones, and pressures, took their place. With the advent of movies, TV, and now social media, we’re holding ourselves up for comparison to endless others paraded in front of us, forgetting that what we see is not likely the whole enchilada. Very not likely. (Philip Galanes of The New York Times recently received a letter from a young woman asking why on earth her stepmother, who had always been cold to her and her sisters, would post kitten memes on Facebook that read, ‘I heart my stepdaughters!’ He replied, ‘Facebook is not the real world. It is not even adjacent to the real world.’)

One way to counteract the deluge of pretentious perfection is to go whole hog in the opposite direction, at least for a time. An excellent way to start is with eating.

I work my way down this list if the pressure mounts, or when my life gets too tidy, and would encourage you to do the same. Sandwiches feature prominently.

  1. Tomato-raw onion-Cotija sandwiches. The ingredients slide out in 17 different directions, and I slurp extra-virgin olive oil off the backs of my arms.
  2. Dark chocolate that I’ve melted for a recipe, and had extra at the bottom of the Pyrex bowl, so I put it in the refrigerator to firm up overnight. This is one of my favorite choices for chocolate day: wedging the tines of a fork into that bowl to chip out the chocolate in shiny shards, and eating just shy of a migraine. I take my joys where I can get them.An example of bloomed chocolate. Looks cool in the bowl. Not so much on candy.
  3. Italian subs. With everything on it, and lots and lots of oil and vinegar. A sopping roll is a blasphemy and an aberration to many; to me, it’s a requirement. I learned from a counter guy at a local sub shop that if you like your sandwich this way, you should say, ‘WET.’
  4. Tuna-anchovy sandwiches. It drips out the edges of the bread as you bite into it and you get to pick up all the fishy little bits with your fingers.
  5. S’mores. Homemade, baby.
    IMG_4526
  6. Ice cream with leaky cones. I like to take the paper cone off the bottom and slurp.
    on the clock to take the shot before I wear this.
  7. Thanksgiving dinner. The ultimate. On the floor. I grew up eating a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, but it was far too straight-laced for the likes of me. So one year I spread out my best friend’s grandmother’s afghan on the floor and we had a picnic of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. We wore fleece and socks instead of dressy clothes, and we deliberately ate the whole thing with our fingers. It was one of the most liberating meals of my life.StuffingIn the early ’90s, I taught a camp group of Pre-Ks (four-year-olds). One rainy day when we were stuck inside, all of the Pre-K groups were given smocks, big sheets of glossy fingerpaint paper, and bowls of chocolate pudding. I plopped a blob of pudding onto each of their papers with a plastic spoon. For most of my kids, this was exceedingly well received. One little girl, though, Lucy, didn’t want to touch it. Her mom always had her dressed just so; I can still picture her, with tiny gold stud earrings and her long hair pulled back with a ribbon. Everything she did at camp she did with caution, and I would gently encourage her to try more, to do more.

    At first she agreed to put her pointer finger in the pudding and swirled it around a little. That went on too long. It was a rainy day, and this was all we had to do in the cramped gym for 45 minutes, so I kept cheering her on. ‘Come on, Lucy Luce! Get your hands in there!’ She put two fingers in and Mona-Lisa smiled. That was it. I looked away for a few minutes and came back to find her with both hands flat to the paper and pushing them up and down and laughing her little beribboned head off.
    There’s a place for excellence in our lives…not perfection. There’s a place for tidiness. But too much, and with the wrong expectations, and we stifle ourselves. Life is a rainy day in the gym. Every day is. Go messy for a while, laugh, lick your fingers, and fresh new ideas will start bumpity-bumping around in your head. Let yourself enjoy it, too. Be a Lucy.

*Sorry if I melted your brain there. Peace & love.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I spent this week outsmarting insects called no-see-ums, dismantling and cleaning my apartment, and restoring it after a fumigation, just as everyone enjoys doing a week before Christmas. Me in black leggings tucked into new and surprisingly tight black* Hanes socks, with a long-sleeved shirt tucked into my waistband, to deter the biters. Dressed like this while dragging out paper snowflakes, ceramic light-up houses, and a suped-up tree stand. I looked like a Goth elf. But I beat the invisible little suckers.**

This is good news. And because I’m tenacious and in decent shape, the house is clean, aired, and bug-less. But I’m not ashamed to say this ordeal wore me out. Extra treats have been essential to get me from point A to point B, and I have been enjoying them without the faintest trace of guilt. Christmastime offers up some awesome once-a-year treats. Maybe you could use a couple yourself. Here we go.

Things that Cheer Me Right Back Up

-Driving past the house nearby that has a porch decorated with lit trees and a life-sized Santa.

-Making gingerbread men (to be continued; the dough’s in the fridge to firm up). Finding a cookie cutter for them has proved preposterously futile, so I’m cutting them out freehand. Edibility is the only requisite here, which is good.

-Dim sum and crepes, plus homemade stuff: mozzarella in carrozza, burgers made in the manner of English spiced beef, proper stuffing (which I sadly missed at Thanksgiving), and sour cream coffee cake. The recipe is here.

IMG_6190

The Cake. It won a ribbon at the county fair and is a Christmas morning tradition. One year I even put it under the tree as a present to me. Maybe I’ll do it again.

-Following the local volunteer fire truck as the guys dress up and deliver early gifts to our kids. The kids jump up and down in picture windows and I can see them mouthing SANTA!

-Decorating my tree, which I keep in my room, and which was cut down by a gold miner (truth). Yukon Cornelius made a rare appearance in Colts Neck, NJ. He looked great for his age.

-Filling the bedroom with white pine to keep the tree company.

-Visiting the antiques store to see bits and pieces of Christmases past.

-Buying myself a rhinestone necklace and wearing it home from the mall, even though I had on work boots. Logic, schmogic.

-Observing the sky at dusk on New Year’s Day to predict what kind of a year 2016 will be. It’s an old custom. You want to look for a cloud shaped, however vaguely, like a bull. Totally not kidding! Look it up.

-Reading my old book of Christmas ghost stories, which are less scary than they are quaint.

-Sending Christmas cards. I might be one of the only people who likes this activity. That and eating fruitcake (caveat: homemade).

-Opening my vintage Advent calendars, which are German, at least 50 years old, and were owned by my neighbors growing up.

Sweet.

IMG_0377

Girl after my own heart.

*I wear black clothes a lot. It matches everything, plus it’s all that’s allowed backstage.

**These guys can get in through window screens. Explains why I never saw them.

Read Full Post »

IMG_7460

Huber Woods, Navesink. New Jersey’s a dish, isn’t it?

Every year on Thanksgiving I make my family’s recipe for stuffing, eat it in great quantities, then go hiking. (The unfathomably good recipe is here.) This tradition does not vary, because like diamonds and a little black dress, like Valentino and the smoulder, it works. It ain’t broke.

But. I had to alter the tradition a bit this year, as I’m still nursing the effects of last month’s scratched food pipe. The stuffing starts with a loaf of crusty Italian bread. When it’s done, it’s spicy, rich, and chewy—the kind of addiction you wouldn’t mind having. And I don’t.

How it ought to look.

I was disheartened for a good week beforehand because I thought I would have to forgo this dish. But I decided to buck up, and good techie that I am, made a plan: to eat stuffing, somehow, and not have it aggravate my condition.

Instead of buying my Italian bread on Monday and letting it go stale on my dining room table until Thursday, I bought it fresh, the day before. Next I pulled the crust from the fluffy white insides—the part I was hoping I could swallow easily—and froze the two portions separately. I also prepped some homemade chicken broth.

On Thanksgiving morning I defrosted the bag of bread insides and added it to my pan with the sausage, spices, olive oil, eggs, toasted nuts, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I ground the dried rosemary with a mortar and pestle so it wouldn’t be too spiky going down. Then I poured broth over the whole thing to make it even more tender.

I am not going to lie and tell you that it was delicious. It was decent. The next day it was quite a bit better. But it was more important that I wasn’t uncomfortable, and I wasn’t. I made it work. This was a huge win.

Then I went hiking.

IMG_7459

Gradations of light and shadow, eastern meadow.

Longtime readers know about my love affair with nature—with the wildest parts especially. It is at once a source of serenity and energy for me to leave the paved walkways and cross meadows, hills, glens, groves, the untidy places, the unmanicured country. There is no grass, let alone neatly trimmed grass. The spicy fallen leaves are slippery. I get my ankles tangled in the snarls of vines that cover the rolling ground. Chipmunks, groundhogs, and squirrels dart between thistles. Once I even saw a coyote. I always hope I’ll run into him again. But I hike mostly because I love the feeling of being enveloped by something ancient and unspoiled. It’s like getting massaged on the inside. And I always try to see something I haven’t seen before.

A few Thanksgivings ago I found a hidden cemetery, with maybe 30 occupants in all. I always wish them a nice holiday.

Last year I found tiny old wooden shacks labeled with numbers—1937, 1938—and I fancied them past years, relegated silently to the woods of Navesink. I could not bring myself to look through the windows and still cannot. This year I found 1929.

And also this year, beyond the eastern meadow, I followed a deer path until I was surprised by the shadow of a horse. It stood perfectly still, so I ventured closer to investigate. It was a sculpture, perfectly to scale, and made entirely of driftwood blackened with age. Imagine coming across this with no warning.

12309613_2130104267018496_3433882818643451530_o

The afternoon light gets low pretty early these days. I watched it ride the edge of the trees and wondered if I had enough time to look just a little farther. I’d never been beyond the brook at the western end of the woods, and it was tempting. I decided it was getting too late to chance it. Coming across a coyote at nighttime is somewhat less appealing.

But here’s the thing. Being sick or injured can make a person want to withdraw and not take chances. God knows it’s happened with me, especially recently. After a month of ping-ponging between my food pipe being okay and being uncomfortable, you can believe I’ve hung back from time to time. If I’m not careful, though, that can become a new habit.

Last Thursday I wanted to go farther. I’m so glad I wanted to. It’s a good sign. There are times when I won’t be able to, like this time. But I figure as long as I always want to know what’s beyond the brook, I’m okay.

For dinner that night I ate half an Italian sausage, some caramel applesauce I stirred up on the spot (sliced apples with a little butter, brown sugar, and water), and vanilla pudding I’d made the night before. And it was okay again, and I was grateful.

The crust from that loaf of Italian bread is sitting tight in my freezer, waiting for another batch of stuffing. It’ll happen.

IMG_7465

 

Read Full Post »

IMG_6028

The following account details a situation I should have handled like an adult and, head bowed, I regret I did not. Or maybe, okay, that entire sentence was a total head fake.

So it’s fig season, running a little late since it was a cool summer. I am lucky enough to know a farmer who grows them, and luckier still that a fair amount of customers don’t even know it. The clear upshot of this is that I end up with a shameless amount of figs, and eat most of their fat gorgeous selves on the way home.* Locally grown figs aren’t all that easy to come by, and for that reason I include them with Italian white truffles, or patience on the New Jersey Turnpike, in their rarity and in the hushed tones in which I speak of them. I love them, and while normally I am a kind and sharing person, I leave that person in the back of my Honda with my yuppie canvas shopping bags during fig season, to come back out again at Thanksgiving time and thrive just until the stuffing is served.

I was at the farm last week, and asked the girl at the counter if I could please go fig slinging. I leaned. I whispered. She and the farmer discussed it, during which another woman overheard and squealed. ‘Oh, you have figs? I love figs! Where are they?’

Did I wail to the heavens? Did I go all Jeff Gillooly? No. I took down a couple of baskets and offered to walk the nice lady out to the trees.

IMG_6026

Quite obviously not figs but dried thistle flowers, or possibly artichokes (they’re in the same family) that grow alongside the fig trees. Coolness.

That totally smacks of Snow White and the hunter, but you can relax. Much wile can be applied under the guise of nice, as any Thin-Mints-quota-driven Girl Scout can tell you. As we walked, the woman asked how to tell if a fig is ripe. I told her it’s been a cool year, and that goodness me, it has been tough to find a ripe fig; and we’re likely to have the same situation that cool and drippy day.

She went on one side of the row of trees and I went on the other. She’s chatting and sharing fig recipes, I’m chatting and marvelling that not everyone eats them all on the way home, and she’s saying, ‘Are you getting many? Wow—you’re right. There just aren’t that many to be had,’ while I am making agreeable tut-tut-it’s-a-shame noises while slipping fig after ripe fig into my coat pockets. Well, I couldn’t put them into the basket or she’d see how many I was picking. And…I was wearing decades-old, secondhand shoes, and I don’t have any problem at all with ducking under leaves to look for hidden fruit. This very nice woman, on the other hand, looked like she was going straight from the farm to Ann Taylor Loft, with her skinny jeans tucked into smart leather booties, and hair combed and everything.

She went to pay (she told me she found five figs) and I stayed on. I live a half hour away, and she told me she lives three houses away. She’s going to end up getting more figs as long as she thinks to visit more often than I do. But then again, maybe not. She’d have to wear crap shoes like me and be willing to brush spiderwebs out of her nose. She really didn’t seem the type.

I did well, as the title reveals. And I’ll be back this week.

*I do have recipes, but due to my above weakness they don’t usually see the light of day.

Read Full Post »

I know Thanksgiving’s over. I also know you probably already have a favorite stuffing recipe—maybe a treasured heirloom, passed down through generations, or lovingly learned at your grandma’s knee, or clipped from Good Housekeeping, circa 1978.

Abandon it. This is all there is.

I could break down the elements of this stuffing to determine the science behind why it’s so yummy, how its unapologetically rich and salty ingredients come together to make it so addictive. But I think I’ll let it speak for itself.

My family used to make shovelsful of this stuff every year because we knew we were going to be eating it all morning and afternoon while we prepped the rest of the food. It sat in two enormous, low earthenware bowls on the oven’s warming plate, and we stuck our fingers into it every time we passed to watch the parade. To this day, I associate Mighty Mouse with the smell of toasted pignoles.

The greatest thing about this recipe, aside from the taste, is how quickly it comes together. It takes maybe half an hour, usually less. And it’s what Sara Moulton from Gourmet magazine would call ‘a dump recipe’, meaning it all ends up together and then you stir it and say ta-dahh.

My father invented this at least 40 years ago, and we have never, ever had any other stuffing. When I was a little kid I hated it because it was too spicy. Now I eat it like a stoned Rottweiler,  figuring it’s okay since I lost out on all of those years.

My sister wrote down the recipe for me maybe ten years ago. She was the one who made it in latter years. I’d come through my parents’ kitchen door and she wouldn’t say hello; instead, she’d walk up to me with a forkful of the stuff and say, ‘Tell me what this needs. I can’t taste it anymore.’ Once everything’s in the pan, you taste and tweak until it sings just right for you.

Go:

Semolina bread with sesame seeds, stale and broken into pieces, about 1.5 long loaves (I think it tastes better when pulled apart with your fingers rather than chopped, but we’ve established that I’m a heathen)

1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage with fennel seeds, uncooked

4-5 tablespoons Italian seasoning (it’s a bunch of dried herbs like rosemary and basil and others, all in one container. Get the kind without salt and pepper added.)

Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1/2 pound, grated

Pignoles (pine nuts), 1/4 pound

6 eggs

2-3 good splashes of olive oil

Black pepper

In a big skillet, on medium heat, break up the sausage and partially cook it. In a big bowl, mix the bread, seasonings, 1/4 lb cheese, and eggs, and mix to blend.

Throw the stuff into the skillet with the sausage and mix to let it start soaking up the sausage drippings. Let it sit a couple of minutes, then use a spatula to turn it. The underside of the mixture should be nicely browned, thanks to the eggs. Break it up and let it sit another couple of minutes, turning it as needed, until it’s all browned.

Taste and add whatever it needs more of. I find it usually needs more cheese, and sometimes more pepper. (It doesn’t usually need salt because the cheese is salty.) If it gets too dry, add more olive oil or a bit of healthful turkey stock (even though you’re about to blow it with the diet today). Turn off the heat.

Put your pignoles in a shallow, heavy little pan over medium-low heat. Watch them and shake the pan every 15 seconds or so until browned. Toss them into the skillet with the rest of the stuffing and stir.

This is pretty much an all-purpose recipe—good hot, good cold, good room temp. Delicious stuffed in a turkey, in which case it gets soft and tender, delicious even if it never sees the inside of the bird. Really really good the next day, per my family’s tradition, on one of those sandwich-sized toasted English muffins with cold sliced turkey, lavish amounts of mayonnaise, hot bacon cooked extra crispy, and cranberry sauce.

One New Year’s Day my parents asked me over for dinner. I was a little under the weather and declined. They called back a few times, and each time I said no. Then my sister got on the phone.

‘Mom made stuffing.’

There was a pause.

‘THE stuffing?’

‘Yep.’

What can I say? I grabbed my box of Kleenex and got in the car.

Read Full Post »