Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why it matters

Ever wondered why some people are so bent on cleanliness and orderliness? Join me today at Blushing Hostess Homekeeping for Why Clean and Orderly Matters.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

When self-proclaimed "gods" fall in the vineyard

Normally, I don't sign in twice in one day to update Blushing Hostess but the recent clamoring of Wine Spectator Magazine to defend itself has me back here shaking my head. A person sent WS the required $250. application fee to be considered for WS's restaurant wine cellar "Award of Excellence", the name and contact information of a fake restaurant in Milan, and its equally as fictional wine list (consisting largely of bottles WS had themselves declared undrinkable). What do you know, the non-existent place received an Award of Excellence. The story is recounted on his website.

Sadly, proving how very not open to criticism and admission of their significant failure they are, WS has posted a response here along with only comments which support WS's defense and not the remarks of any of their stunned and disgruntled subscribers. There is no road for WS to maintain their integrity now (no matter how much crying, utensil banging, and foot stomping they do), nor any hope of openness: the refuse to print any detracting comments about their obvious ability to be bought (and willingness to give their "Award of Excellence" away based on a Google search and an answering machine message which they consider enough of a checking process), nor finally any reason to keep reading them. Their defense is feeble-minded and accusatory when, as a long ago reader who suspected this was the case all along, it should have been a mea culpa and a vow to use the event as a learning experience from which to increase their believability. It would have been great to see WS take the high road, manage a stitch of elegance, or even go silently away. But their response is graceless, ill-concieved, and not worth reading. Wine Spectator has demonstrated only that they are a group of self-aggrandizing petulant four-year-olds from whom the wine glasses should be removed.

Wine is an experience. If you feel no experience is a poor one and all will help you to grow, you might discover you enjoy something the wine gods did not. Read a book like the Wine Bible, then set out on your own to try as many as you can. It will mean more than the recommendation of a bought-off mag with an unparalelled sense of their own importance. Then, you'll be an individual, beholden to no one and nothing. If only Wine Spectator could say the same.

Serving corn on the cob

Questions about how to serve corn on the cob when entertaining? Join me at The Blushing Hostess Entertains blog for The Great Corn Struggle.

Sweet summer

Having retired my equine-related rants for the moment, it is time to move on to the king of summer crops: Sweet corn.

Is it like this with your family? Most of our best summer meals as the years raced by us included sweet corn. These outdoor tables of ours were all over: Charlestown and Newport, Rhode Island. Falmouth and Boston, Massachussetts. Charleston, South Carolina. When we were children, we would sit together for dinner on a picnic table on the front lawn of the summer cottage and eat shellfish or steak and sweet corn. There, on those fair summer evenings in Rhode Island is where I first came to adore farm stands, sweet corn, roadside ice cream joints, and drive-in movie theaters. There was so much joy in those days, maybe because all of the things I have just mentioned to you are without complication and our time there was full of those carefree and blissful landmarks of a child's, and a cook's, memory. And they still have to do with a feeling that transcends childhood: Purity. Easy ice cream and corn filled days. They go by too fast and are difficult to reclaim. As a generation changes hands though, it is time to strip away, if only momentarily, the complexity life can bring. For me, there is nothing like the taste of sweet corn in high summer to remind you to ease up on the acceclerator in my soul.

Now is as good a time as any to begin the road back there for my children. Before we go though, I should admit a failure on my part: As I learned to cook and years took me past those days at the Whetton Cottage, I have become increasingly adept at complicating things than need no muddling, including sweet corn. I do have to pass along a recipe for this grilled corn I love, but I will do it tomorrow or so. Today, I will just tell you how to make sweet corn the way I first came to love it, a thousand years ago, on a front lawn in Charleston, Rhode Island. I hope this takes you back too.

Sweet Corn, Unadulterated

Buy two or three ears of corn per person, depending on the size of the relevant appetites. Remove (shuck) the husks and silk entirely from the ears. Wrap each ear in tin foil and place on a the grill over medium heat. Cook twenty minutes, remove a kernel with a knife and taste to be sure it has softened. Once cooked, remove to a platter or basket and serve in foil, as is. You guests may like salted butter as an accompaniment. But not me, no sir.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Reading and swearing

Despite my terribly consistent composure (somewhere, my Mother and Margaret are laughing knowingly), occasionally something will get me so wound up with annoyance that I cannot help but become a bit of a mercenary with words or kitchen equipment. This time it was the former, and it took the shape of a Letter to the (Highly Questionable and Vastly Incompetent) Editor of The Journal News regarding two recent pieces (First, is the one that reports news. Second is the one that recounts history absolutely irrelevant to Ward's gold medal.) on McLain Ward. Ward is a local kid hereabouts who has now won two gold medals, the first in team show jumping in Athens in 2004, the second in the same event in the Bejing Olympics - though the equestrian events were held in Hong Kong. Both times, he ride a horse called Sapphire. Both times, the Journal News presented the information a gold medal had been won, accompanied by mention of Ward's father, Barney Ward's, long ago issues with the law.

First let me say that while I do not have a personal dog in the mosh pit of rerun "news" that is The Journal News reporting, I will disclose two facts, neither of which would keep me off a jury: I rode against McLain for many years in a futile effort to best a kid with freakish natural equestrian talent - a nice kid, I might add. Second, I have only known his Father to be perfectly mannerly. I can be then relatively objective in telling you I am bored with the Castle Hill scandal story. I am also frustrated for McLain Ward's lifelong endeavor to continue to return gold medals to the US which seemingly only brings reminders of a dark time from long before which has no bearing on the rider he became. The convictions of another man, in another era are irrelevant, no matter how many people gripe about apples having fallen from trees - all of those people safely ensconced in their glass houses, thankfully.

Here, generally, is the way it went: Fifteen years ago a huge scandal a few years in the making rocked the show jumping sport and laid bare some ugly truths about what happens in isles late at night and why (it's about the money, duh.). Making no excuses for anything that happened to the defenseless animals who died in the insurance crimes involved, it changed the sport if only to add a layer of visibility and create some shamefulness in pockets. Look, what happened was wrong and the sport grieves for the animals still. But McLain Ward's Father was only one focus of the federal investigation which rounded up 22 other people in the same case, few of their names ever to be mentioned again. McLain, a young man at the time, was not involved in the scandal fifteen years ago.

Nor was McLain Ward involved in the scandal of last week at the same Olympic equestrian events when four horses in the show jumping contests were found to be doped, which will potentially lead to Norway losing their bronze medal. And, come to think of it, he was not involved when Germany lost their gold medal in 2004 to the United States, also for doping. He has had some problems along the way all his own, but he won his medals as a product of hard work and because he has the ability to be a team player. He won them for this great nation (ahem, the one my Husband is overseas defending at the moment also) and he won them clean of dope and of scandal. You know, the United States, where you can be anything you want to be if you are willing to work hard and pay your dues. Here, where you are not your Father, and here, where your Father can do the same when his debt is paid.

Unfortunately the Journal News, unaware of our ability to move on and persevere evidently, persistently leads in placing Barney Ward's cross squarely on his son's shoulders. If the words "Ward" and "won" and "horse" are linked together in a story, The Journal News will be certain to report the little gold medal as an aside to the much more (apparently) newsworthy fifteen-year-old sins of Ward's father. Scandal sells papers, winning fair and square, not so much. And while The Journal News claims the old scandal "haunts" Ward's victory, I advance the theory that the Journal News desperation to sell copies of a hack second-rate local paper is what is actually haunting McLain Ward, his family, and Castle Hill.

This post will get me letters, comments, and emails from the reams of people who still pointlessly argue on message boards about admittedly shameful events that happened nearly a generation ago. Events which have been repaid to society, and have been retired as debts to our civilization. Like it or not, while one can harbor anger and righteousness, the law is the law and what is done is done. McLain Ward and his teammates deserve a moment in a new and brighter spotlight free of old things for which none of them owe. And his Father deserves to be ecstatically prideful and speak freely about his son, because his chit is paid. And maybe just a little, whenever McLain has won again (recently he has been dubbed the Tiger Woods of equestrian sports. Oh, if only he had an agent adept enough to do for horses what Tiger did for old fogies and wingtips! Then! Then, we'd see news cameras on every isle and people would get away with less animal abuse.) he has experienced some vindication.

So, he has another gold medal. And all I have to say to the Journal News and all who would be foolish enough to put an obstacle in front of a family of life long show jumpers: Take that, haters.

This one, is for McLain Ward.

The Gold Medal Champagne Cocktail
Serves 1

4 oz Champagne
2 tsp peach brandy
2 tsp passion-fruit juice
2 tsp lime juice

Pour all into cocktail shaker. Shake gently to combine. Pour into champagne flute. Have seat over there, in the cat bird seat. Drink, in between flashes of *)#! eating grin. Live vibrantly. Never look back.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Long, hot summer

In 1985, Don Johnson and Cybil Shepard starred in the made for television remake of a 1958 movie classic, Long, Hot Summer. The only thing it had going for it was that the title was factual within the times: That was indeed a very long, hot, summer. I was very young at the time, not of an age to remember when the movie had truly been done well by fine people like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The remake was the kind of movie where the title sticks with you for practical purposes as an accurate descriptive, everything else was forgettable. That turn of phrase always returns to me on days when the hot, heavy air seems to stick to my shoulders.

Sometime after that I found a perfect recipe for a late summer scorcher (or long hot summer night) in, say, our gorgeous North Salem, where on the steamiest of days, the gray mist of humidity rises from the rolling verdant hills of our native ground.

Though, one might be disinclined to make a soup and even more so a chowder on an evening of this caliber, one would sadly miss the quick strike of heat at the end of every spoonful and the spice and silky creaminess that makes life and soup worth tasting. I have always been a fan of heat in my food when the temperature rises. When you make this soup, with any luck, someone will give you a glass of good rioja or a Guiness and all will be right with your world for one sizzling, hopefully lingering, summer evening.

Disclaimer: I believed this old scribbled recipe to have originally been published in Bon Appetit though I cannot locate any sign of it. In any event, I also believe it was the work of a restaurant in Colorado in it's original form. If indeed the reference does emerge, credit will be given herein.

Spicy Corn and Sausage Chowder
Serves 8

Originally, I made this recipe with spicy pork sausage which was divine. Also, canned summer corn and used only cream. I have lightened the recipe over time but certainly you can return to the original ingredients with slightly thicker and more oily results.

3 tbls olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound spicy chicken sausage, removed from casing and crumbled
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano, preferably fresh
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 cup sweet summer corn from two ears
1 1/2 cup potato, peeled and diced
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream

In a heavy bottom soup pot over medium heat, add olive oil and heat until glistening. Add the onion and cook just until translucent. Add red and green peppers and cook until softened. Season with salt and pepper. Add crumbled sausage and cook another ten minutes or until the meat is cooked completely. Add cumin, oregano, bay leaves, cayenne, and Tabasco. Stir to combine evenly.
Reduce the heat to low and into the pot add the chicken stock and water. Cook until it is gently simmering away. Add the corn and potatoes and cook for seven minutes or until the potatoes are softened and cooked through.

Add the milk and cream and allow to remain on the heat a few minutes more until completely heated through. Serve with crusty bread, sourdough is my preference.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Stop the insanity

I am an avid reader of This multi-authored blog site covers all manner of food and food-related topics. I will be the first to admit that some of the topics are merciless bores (every blog has these moments) and others are wholly without educational merit (I like to further my education at all times when I am reading). But for all the entries that had me snoozing or shaking my head there are as many that I find appealingly informative, even interesting (to use possibly the most boring word in the English language, now you see what can happen to even scintillating bloggers!).

I read an entry today that made my shoulders and nose scrunch up and my right foot tap wildly does when I am uncontrollably bothered and cannot release my frustration with a verbal hailstorm of withering and warlike dialogue! This entry, which recaps the estimated earning of household celebrity chefs is a disturbing commentary on food and eating in this nation in general. I dare say that those who commit to buying books simply because they promise you 30 minute meals might be interested to know that all of the schooled, trained, and well-reviewed chef's at the bottom of the list have a multitude of published recipes which can be made in a shake of lamb's tail. Not to mention, their years of training which will help your at-home results immeasurably: You know, because they made the dish 10,000 times over four years or whathaveyou.

It pains me to see that commercialism in the home-cooking retailing industry has failed to support truly well-trained chefs. It pains me even more that the exposure of those same chef's has not been broad enough, or down-to-earth enough to convince any shaky, pressed for time, novice at-home cook that their books are far better tools than 365 days without repeat meals (aka 100 days of chicken, 100 days of steak, 165 days of pasta- do you see any repeats here- wink?) or a follow up volume of slow cooker recipes (because the first was insufficient for the market demand? I do not understand.) When a Ho-Jo's dishwasher more than quadruples the earnings of Mario Batali or Anthony Bourdain, it is way past time to boycott entire (questionable) meals made in 30 minutes, the gross overuse of butter, and slowcooker abuse. And it is time to march to the bookstore and buy yourselves some books from folks who really know the way to cook well.

I beg of you: Learn to cook as you would learn anything else you care about: carefully, thoroughly, and well. There is delighful reason there are conventions in cooking some of which take time some of which none at all; these conventions make the food taste better, even great. You will never be sorry and your table will see many sparkling days. That is a promise.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bird on a wing

It seems as though life can just take off like the fastest of birds on wing at times. It took me only a moment, in the great universal scheme of things, to return to you. Though, in truth, it took a couple of weeks. A lot of changes have occurred here, certainly, since I have been gone from you.

Pregnancy has brought on some difficulties. At times rendering me completely useless. At other times causing me to demand salads at every meal, several days of sushi, or the truly inexplicable urge to eat a plate of Olive Garden lasagna, a demand for which I know of no orgin: I cannot remember having any point of reference to crave such a thing. But, off we went nonetheless. This too will pass, but probably not before my friends end up in every ethnic food joint from here to the south end of Tenth Avenue. Look, if you need to have food cravings, there is no better place than New York City: Every food you could dream of, from every region of the world, around the clock.

Also in the meantime, Josh has once again departed for yet another deployment. It is always with mixed emotions that we, as a family, yield to the needs of a nation with much responsibility world wide. But, we think about about your freedom and our own, and we nod to the looming absence: This constant companion is as much a responsibility in this house as keeping a roof above our heads and raising our children. Long ago it became clear to me that my husband and his esteemed colleagues do not have jobs, they have callings. For this reason, we sometimes see the running of a household and a family differently than our peer group. But I will say this about those peers: While they cannot imagine what this life is like, they have never failed to support it and to put thier own blood, sweat, and tears into making this work for our family when we need it. I have always found this a noble pursuit all it's own. I am never without a hand when I need it. Never without a family member or a friend who can be on the next plane. That is a good feeling.

On another far afield note, one of the great marks of a lady or gentlemen is their ability to act appropriately in society. The intention of advancing that ability in myself and encouraging it at large is one of the chief goals of this blog. The critical events that I recount from the life of a family are part of my blog which is pursuant to a larger goal of mine. At times, my choice to write publicly as part of the Hostessing forum herein causes my family members to receive email from people they would rather not hear from discussing subjects that are personal within in the close-to-anonymous life of a chronicled Internet family. My Husband has been continually gracious with me in this respect. I am amazed by his patience in having corners of our lives laid bare. A lesser person might not be so understanding or gentlemanly. I am hoping you can help me to insure these blogs are an invitation for comment on the subjects covered within the Comment structure laid out by Blogger below, not cause to pepper other family members with commentary in other venues. I will be grateful for your help as always...

Because of all of this deploying, we have traveled home to be with our family. Or, more specifically, with my Mom, to hang around her during her recent surgery. She is doing great. But you see what I mean when I say that sometimes the speed and regularity of stunningly relevent events can cause one to lose track of time. I realized that I had been remiss in sharing with you a dish we have always enjoyed a brunch and which was recently served successfully at a Sunday meal in our home for six. It is a staple in my brunch arsenal and I hope it will become an oft-returned to classic at your early Sunday table as well. This is my way of making up all my silent, non-blogging days.

Brunch Souffle
adapted from Huevos Quiche, St. Augustine Inns
Serves 8

This is a light, fluffy version of a crustless quiche. I have used crab meat here, you might enjoy substituting mild or spicy sausage or chorizo. I have made it happily also with shrimp and prosciutto and serrano ham. Easy and adaptable!

Canola oil spray for greasing casserole dish
8 eggs, soundly beaten
1/4 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cups small curd whole fat cottage cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup corn
1 cup lump crab meat
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon adobo seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a casserole dish of about 8"x12" or close.

In a large bowl, combine the beaten eggs, melted butter, cottage and cheddar cheeses, scallions, corn and crab, or your protein of choice. In a small combine the dry ingredients: Flour, baking powder, adobo, garlic powder, salt and pepper, stir to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and wisk vigorously until evenly combined.

Pour into greased casserole dish and bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown and set. Allow the casserole to cool at least ten minutes before serving.