Monday, April 21, 2008

Fly away

So, you and I both know that it is time for me to go. As we wait on another airplane to yet another city, it occurs to me in how very many cities I have done this identical thing: Wait for a plane to take me to some other place. It makes me wonder if I will ever arrive at the last place, or ever feel a time has come when I can safely throw my suitcase out.

I am not this girl anymore: That swank New York fashionista who wore sunglasses on and off international flights, darting from gate to lounge. Talking on a cell as I was moving. Always telling someone else how to do something they should know how to do, or telling them where to go. I saw and missed much of the world on that ten year journey through space, time, and fashion. I worked for some remarkable houses and with some staggeringly brilliant business people. I worked and I flew and I worked some more. I would crash for twelve hours, fly again.
There were three suitcases always. One on each wall of our bedroom. The first was the big international suitcase (big deal suits and ritzy shoes). The second was for domestic short haul (pretty upscale trendy stuff), the third went home to Westchester with me on the weekends to see my family (Lily, jeans, and go-out clothes). And that was my entire life. You could put it in three bags and tell the entire abysmal story.

I once stepped from a plane in California to meet Lois. This debarking is memorable because I was deeply confused. "Did you know I was going to Korea?" I asked her. She laughed and said yes, it was on the itinerary I sent her. I had long before stopped going over the flights. If they happened, they happened. If they didn't, they would happen the next day. Nonetheless, the experience of landing in Seoul but expecting to be in San Francisco was an alarming one. I got to Lake Tahoe, but I began to realize the excitement and charm of the life had evaporated. Cities that others would wait a lifetime to see held little interest.

As a result of these past ten years I was and am interested in home. This is how I have come to be writing about the things that go on in a place many American's spend far less than half their day: the literal and figurative homefront. Both the one Josh came home to from the war, and the
place where we dwell as a family. And now you have made our homefront part of your lives and homes. I am so pleased, because you cannot imagine how very much joy there is in being able to be in our home on a Wednesday at 2 pm. For years, I wondered what the light was like in the places we lived during the day, because I was never there to see it.

I know the light now. And I know why I need to be here: Both to care for this home and family, and to share it with you. In the event that you needed to know you had company in me: A person who wondered about the light, and now a person who is here, both of these perches in life being quite significant and pivotal. And both of them requiring for survival the sense that one is not alone. You are not, rest assured.

I am pleased to tell you that the response to my keeping you company has been remarkably positive and so, the cooking will stay right here at The Blushing Hostess. But, bi-weekly entertaining and manners essays will move to The Blushing Hostess Entertains. I hope you will go to Google Reader and subscribe to both: That is the handiest piece of free blog software I could ever imagine, they track all of your favorites on one screen for you. What a gift.

Moving on to what you came for, I want to talk with you about stock. Until recently, I had some canned in the closet to augment the batches of homemade when the freezer went dry. Then the New York Times exposed the only decent canned stock as containing MSG, and that interlude is over. Now the stocks in this place are exclusively homemade, as are the glace and demi-glace. This all takes place in rotation and is well worth the (usually) little active time it requires.

There is a restaurant in San Francisco where Chef Judy Rogers, who was formerly at Chez Panisse, turns out a remarkable culinary product. After reading The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, I understand how she arrived at the heightened level of cuisine she has attained. Judy Rogers knows the difference between stocks made from various bone types. She has raised the bar from arguing over whether cooked or uncooked chicken is best. She requires the chicken butchered and sliced a certain way. A shoulder bone here. A pig's head there. A combination of chuck and a calf bone. She knows which one makes a stock brighter, and which one increases viscosity. And while many may know it, few can articulate it as accurately. Few can write it so that you think you might actually know what it tastes like too.

And few can get to the place this stock does. Certainly no canned broth. When the San Francisco Chronicle published this recipe, it was part of a price comparison between canned stocks and homemade. The Zuni stock below, they somehow determined, cost .60 more per cup than a canned stock. While it does not have a huge yield because it cooks down from only four quarts of fluid to start, I do wonder if there is very much difference today in the cost at all: Mine yielded a little over 2 quarts which would have been $5.60 in our store. The chicken I used was about $5.00, throw in some veggies, and I have a much better beginning for everything than I could get from a can. And that is what we all need, a great beginning. Let's hope for one for the Entertains blog, shall we?

Zuni Chicken Stock
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers in the San Francisco Chronicle
Makes 8-10 cups

One 5 1/2 pound chicken, preferably with neck and feet, or a smaller dressed chicken plus extra wings to equal 5 1/2 pound
About 4 quarts cold water
1 large carrot, peeled, in 2-inch chunks
1 celery rib, leaves removed, in 2-inch chunks
1 large onion, root end trimmed, peeled and quartered
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

Remove the giblets from the chicken, if included. Don't remove the lump of fat you find inside the cavity; it will add flavor. Rinse the chicken. Cut the two breast halves off the carcass and reserve for another use. Slash the leg and thigh muscles to encourage the release of flavor. Cut off the feet and neck, if the bird has them.

Place the feet, neck and carcass in an 8- to 10-quart stockpot. Add the cold water. If it doesn't cover the chicken, don't add more. Instead, remove the chicken and cut off the legs and wings at the joints, then replace all the parts in the pot, arranging them so they sit low enough to be submerged.

Bring to a simmer over high heat and skim the foam. Stir the chicken under once just to allow the last of the foam to rise, then reduce the heat and skim the foam carefully, leaving behind any fat. Add the vegetables and salt and stir them under. Return to a gentle simmer and adjust the heat to maintain it. Cook without stirring until the broth has a rich, bright, chickeny flavor, about 4 hours.

Turn off the heat and let the stock settle for 1 minute, then pour through a wide strainer. Tipping the hot, heavy pot can be awkward. Start by ladling the stock into the strainer until the pot is light enough to lift and tip. For a clearer stock, restrain through a fine-mesh sieve. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate or freeze in freezer containers.

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