Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is it worth driving the 450 miles to Benicia and San Ramon every Thanksgiving? Every year there's a turkey crisis - and it's a new one every year. There's been a fire in the oven, thermostat problems, time management challenges, endless debates over the initial turkey purchase - the list of "musts" gets longer every year - organic, humane, listened to Bach every day, vegetarian etc., etc. This year, after carting the turkey back and forth to a neighbor's oven (the hosts' oven door was broken during a Thanksgiving Eve repair job), my nephew looked at me and said, "There's really no culinary challenge with a turkey - it's just such a big thing". He's resolved that next year it'll be Cornish game hens (apparently they are au courant again). There are usually too many cooks, bumping into each other but we have a lot of fun.

The shadow Thanksgiving, the day after, is a Flip show - the Philippino side of the family. There are mobs of people, kids, dogs. The food is astonishing and non-stop, some of it ethnic but mostly just interesting things people find or have around at the moment. Lots of good wine. We drive home hoarse and happy from all the yakking. It's great.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dimidiated Turkey

Yesterday I read a few short descriptive pieces in a food publication and encountered the following words: dimidiate, ludibrious, archetype, proclivity and quintessential. Hm....not exactly the kind of vocabulary food writers use; in the the case of the first two, rarely seen anywhere.

What was the erudite publication? Trader Joe's Food Pilgrimager - the Thanksgiving edition. I quote:
  • "We start with fresh, whole turkeys and dimidiate them." 
  • "to preserve freshness, this turkey hemisphere is ready to heat and eat - "
  • Speaking of sparkling apple cider, they write, "Naturally non-alcoholic, this bubbly brew leads the way to ludibrious legends. "
  • Describing a floral bouquet - "Named for an archetype of Thansgiving cookery-Pumpkin Pie - this bouquet fits the holiday."
  • Speaking of canned pumpkin: "Our proclivity is to keep it pure".
  • "Crackers are quintessential cheese-delivering devices."
The typical TJ consumer must lean to the literati and lean quite considerably. 

Dimidiate means to cleave in half; ludibrious I found on a list of 20 obsolete English words which the list maker feels should make a come-back. It means the butt of jokes. Other words on his list I personally found more appealing and useful than than ludibrious are:
  • Jollux - fat person
  • Brabble - to argue loudly about something that doesn't matter
  • Quagswagging - swaying to and fro
Happy Thanksgiving. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Driver's License

My new driver's license arrived in the mail. As the chore list placed me in Temecula for the afternoon I stopped at Target to grab a bag of greasy popcorn for spirit lifting.  Looking at my own rapidly deteriorating mug staring back at me from the license was too much reality all at once. How far do your eyelids have to droop before corrective surgery is necessary and no longer cosmetic? Whatever it is, I'm there. The good news is that some new muscle mass is developing on my body. Too bad it's on my forehead from the effort of holding the eyelids up! Between the droops and the forehead bulges, I'm edging into a new Richard Burton look. Only having my upper lip zipped off once a month keeps me from looking like one of his thinner male cousins.

I guess the once a decade visit to Merle Norman for a make-up make-over should be added to my to-do list. Sensitive to the needs of an aging market, they must sell droop minimizer and bulge erase. Hopefully they are still in business. Otherwise I might have to venture over to the mercilessly lit Sephora Bar with its mystifying array of potions. 

While leaning on my shopping cart waiting for the popper to pop, holding my eyelids up as high as they will go - I noticed the Pizza Hut menu board. Calorie disclosure has ascended to a new level. The information is posted up there on the menu board in a type size = to the name of the item. 720 CALORIES in the Hearty Marinara, 810 CALORIES in the Creamy Chicken Alfredo!! If you order one of these and you're a little chubby, you're going to feel schmucky. Some day soon we'll look back nostalgically at the primitive era before the calorie sign when you could claim blissful ignorance and just enjoy the dang thing for the treat it is.

Happily, there's no calorie sign on the popcorn. Not yet.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Visiting Mortagne

Angels on ceiling of Notre Dame, Mortagne
In 1640 or so, my ancestors left Mortagne au Perche in France to pursue life in New France. The church in the town, Notre Dame has existed since around 1400 - I sat in a pew there on our recent trip and wondered if they sat in that same space praying for a safe journey. Were they baptized, married, blessed between those walls before they left? How it looked in 1640 is anyone's guess but now Mortagne is a lovely town with many artisan food shops and pretty gardens, set amid softly rolling fields.

We drove around the larger area from where the French migrated, Le Percheron, and visited the Museum of French Emmigration to New France in Tourouvre. This part of France is not well known on the travel circuit but seems to be gaining popularity with Parisiens who are buying up the farms and country houses to use as second homes. 

Hotel du Tribunal
Emigration museum
The neighborhood
Special at the Tribunal
Chef Freddy Pommier, 23 years old
The area has become famous for Perche bread, a hearty bread with a lovely coarse crumb and thick, crunchy crust. We had some fabulous cherry jam and the area is known for Boudin noir, blood sausage, -not exactly a favorite of mine. The Hotel du Tribunal where we stayed had an excellent dining room with a young ascending star chef. We ate very well and had a few new things including veal brains, a first for me and even for Richard who has eaten almost everything in his many varied travels. Drank a couple of Medocs, very fruity and pleasant. Their wine list was well-chosen with affordable selections,
Le petit dejeuner at Tribunal
something we appreciated as the Euros were evaporating from our coffers. While the other restaurants in town seemed to be languishing, the Tribunal was full or near full for the three nights we were there. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Santa Conspiracy? or "Our brains were frozen"

Over the past 24 hours my blog has been visited by Kanturk (Ireland), Sao Paulo, Athens, Milan, Artem (Russia), Turin, Rikmaki (Finland), Rovaniemi (Lapland), Mandaguari (Brazil), Montesilvano, Dublin, Thailand, Rome, Bourg-Argental (France), Leeds, Manama (Bahrain), Tallin (Estonia) .

Rovaniemi stumped me and I had to go to Google. For those who don't know, it's the official home town of Santa Claus!! After a little forensic work, I believe I've accidentally tapped into some kind of secret elf rat line. Why else would I be getting all the foreign visits? A post script: my husband just came home and I asked him if he knew of Rovaniemi. He said "Of course. I've been there - on the train that goes north from Helsinki. Very spare." He laughed off the Santa Claus claim even when I told him that Santa has an office there. 

Despite the skepticism I am feeling right here in my own little room, I think there may be a big story here.  Have Santa and his helpers been using the internet for centuries (maybe Al Gore is really an under cover elf) and that's how Santa gets the scoop on whether you've been good or bad? And maybe he's been using a personal shopper in every city and that's how the presents get to your house from the North Pole. 

Here's some info from the Rovaniemi web page. Note that it has eight seasons named like the colors in fashion catalogs: "Frosty Twilight", "Midnight Sun". What clever folks are the Rovanieminian marketing people! In Winnipeg, where I grew up, we missed the golden opportunity to name January something romantic instead of God Damn Cold - the only thing we could think of when it was -40 F and
our brains were frozen. "Our Brains were Frozen" - great name for a Winnipegian memoir and oh no, a melody is breaking through - It's Now or Never. That'll be rattling around in my irradiated noggin for a day or two. 

Elves, if you're there - listen up. Come out from the shadows! You're among friends - leave us a comment. That's a good elf!!

Then again maybe this is some kind of horrible virus - sent in little bits from computers all over the globe and designed to, to ...........ugh, I don't even want to think about it. 

shopping-uusi.gif sights-uusi.gif 


Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland in Finland, located at the northern Arctic Circle.
Lying at the junction of North and South on the border to the Arctic,
Rovaniemi has become a modern town, full of life with its own unique characteristics.

There are eight different seasons this far north, each having its own type of daylight,
temperature and natural phenomena. The changing seasons offer excellent settings
for a whole variety of activities. During the frosty twilight, you can ride a snowmobile
through snowy forests or over a frozen river, the Midnight Sun on the other hand,
takes you cruising in a boat on the river. Each season offers an opportunity to experience
the town in a totally different light.

Although Christmastime comes but once a year, in Rovaniemi you can experience Christmas throughout the year. Rovaniemi, in Finnish Lapland, is the hometown of Santa Claus who can be met on any day of the year at the Santa Claus Office on the Arctic Circle

Welcome to Rovaniemi, the heart of Lapland in Finland!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My Cheesy Swiss Fantasy

I would visit the Bernese Alps area with a single goal: to eat authentic Raclette and real Fondue moitie moitie (half and half) again.  In my dream visit, I would arrive in Switzerland 8 pounds lighter than my usual weight and in good enough shape to be able to hike at least 5 miles in the gorgeous Swiss countryside before each meal and 1 or 2 afterward. Eating would occur mid-day, about 2:30 when appetites would be ravenous and we'd arrange to spend two or three hours enjoying the food and still have sufficient time for full digestion before passing out at night. I'd do this in September, late September, when the air is cooling (cheese weather) and the alps would be visible in all their splendor. The Raclette meal would be first, then I'd have a day off to eat salad and rest. The following day would be the Fondue feast. I'd perhaps get a liver transplant (this is a fantasy after all) before leaving because a nice fresh 18 year old liver might be able to process the two bottles of Swiss white wine that I'd like to drink with the cheese dishes.

Of course, there would have to be appetite left every evening for Swiss chocolate  - about 7 p.m.. Lovely truffles made from that Swiss chocolate with a melt point of 98.6 - the kind puddles into silk on the tongue. And with the chocolate I'd savor just a little brandy.

After a short break I'd drive back down to Annecy and do a Tartiflette Savoyard day, same as above.

Final "Ugly American" fantasy details: Nobody would mind that we were taking tons of photos of the food; we'd be invited into the kitchen to meet the chefs and get more background information in English; we'd get a decent seat in the restaurants; taxi's would be available to deliver us and take us home.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Club Meeting November

Here's to the book club
The beautiful table
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand was enjoyed by all. A very convivial pre-meeting mingle in Rox's warm and hospitable kitchen was a welcome and too-short respite from the slings and arrows of the real world. As people arrived, dishes of delectables in hand, the kitchen island filled up with plates, wine glasses were filled and as usual, the talk ranged on subjects far and wide. Beth D's arrival was particularly special as she hasn't been able to make the book club for quite some time.

Now straight to the food: The appetizer was a plate of melon wrapped with prosciutto. In an homage to the book, Beth D. brought Steak and Kidney Pie and she made the mints that Major Pettigrew liked to nibble while hunting. Both were excellent and she made a few converts to the idea of kidneys for consumption instead of limiting one's admiration to their function only. A hearty lasagna was composed of vegetables from Lori's garden, the last remnants of summer - and two delicious salads were enjoyed, one which incorporated wonderful, juicy pears from Barb's garden along with chunks of plum. We also had butternut squash wontons with a walnut and brown butter sauce.  Without any advance planning and quite by accident, these meals always turn out interesting and satisfying.  A Sauvignon Blanc, perfectly chilled, from the Fallbrook winery was excellent, perfect with the repast.

Steak & kidney pie
Back to the book: Beth opened the discussion with the declaration that despite the satire, the novel was essentially a love story - the story of the Major and Mrs. Ali, a cultured Pakistani woman who runs the shop in the town.  All agreed that the book is a comedy of manners and a light hearted study in contrasts - between old and new manners, the changes planned for the new village versus the old, the differences in generations standard of behavior, difference in manners young versus old, American versus English and the cultural/religious differences of Muslims and Christians. Most appropriately for a book club choice, a love of literature threaded through the book; Mrs. Ali and the Major fall in love reading Kipling to each other.

When Mrs. Ali and the Major consummate their relationship the author tastefully leaves them in each other's arms and "the morning after" unfolds in the next chapter. Several expressed relief that "Sex Over
Sixty" was not explored explicitly.

I read this book on Kindle for Mac; Beth D. brought her new IPad and showed us some of the features.  Beth C. also is now the proud owner of an electronic reader - the Kindle, which is her Christmas present. Many of us who thought we wouldn't like electronic reading are gradually gaining interest.

Eating, drinking, discussion
Next month's book is yet to be determined. Barb is choosing between three. We decided to change our  meeting dates to the the first Wednesday of the month beginning in January as both Beth's find that time more convenient and the rest of us have no preference.  Going forward the group will meet at member's houses on a rotating basis, Roxanne doing double duty for both November and December.

Our two founders were sorely missed.
Rox, hostess with mostest

Vegetable lasagna

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

My Kindle Trial

This month our book club read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. For the first time I installed Kindle for Mac on my computer and downloaded the novel from Amazon for $9.99,  about $4.00 less than buying the hard cover book. Being able to instantly access a book is wonderful. It took 3 minutes and worked flawlessly. I didn't want to even try doing this because downloading anything always seems to involve some kind of complication for me - but this process worked perfectly.

Did I like reading it online? I liked increasing the font size to make it marvelously readable on my big IMac screen. I found I could read faster because of not turning pages ( I never thought I'd say this) and not shifting my body around, dropping the book and picking it up again. Everything is well illuminated on screen, so much more so than when you read under a light - at least, when I read under a light. I don't think I've ever really chosen a chair and light that were ideal for reading and I always seem to have to turn a certain way or sit in a certain position to get sufficient light when reading at night.  When I left the book to do something else, of course, it was very easy to come right back to my place. 

You can display the text full screen or in columns and you can change the background color if you wish. You can mark spots in the text and make notes in the margins. Unfortunately you can't print the notes - I  guess that function will be available at some later date. For a book club situation, this is a real handicap because you can't carry along anything for discussion unless you make notes as you go along. 

At first I thought my neck would be cricked from reading with my head tilted up but I found by enlarging the type, I could sit back and read at a comfortable angle. 

What do I miss? Of course, the feel and heft of a book in your hand and the smell of the binding and type. The inability to write in the margins, underline and make notes is a big disadvantage for the club. Most of all, not being able to read in bed! All of my objections would be overcome with a handheld device and now after this trial, I'm ready to invest in either the Kindle or the Ipad. 

21st century, here I come!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Eat, eat, eat

Our friend's Roger and Maguy welcomed us into their lovely home in Bern Switzerland. With a glass of champagne we tasted the three delicious cheeses she had selected as an appetizer and enjoyed their new winter garden room, a wall of glass that makes their home warm and sunny. After catching up for a few minutes and a house tour, Maguy stood up and said, "Now I will make a Syrian dinner and we will
Maguy and the mezze
Stefanie grating cucumbers
Entree plates
eat in 55 minutes. OK?" "Okay!" we said and I opted to sit in the kitchen and watch. Her daughter Stefanie helped with preparation so I was just an observer. First thing she did was put a marinated chicken into her soaked Rommeltopf. The chicken takes about 45 minutes in her oven. Next she plated and organized her mezzes - there were about a dozen: tahini, string cheese, a combo plate of peppers and radishes, a baked cheese en croute.  While Maguy got everything together, Stefanie grated cucumbers for a Tsaziki type dish - an accompaniment to the chicken. Somewhere, somehow delicious rice was prepared but they snuck it by me so I didn't get to see what they did. The rice was extraordinarily plump and perfect - perhaps the best rice I've ever eaten. They are both very expert cooks.

We ate and ate and ate - at least three times as much as we normally consume at a sitting. Once the mezzes and chicken, with lots of red wine, were cleared away, they prepared espressos and presented  three desserts on a tray - a cheesecake, a mousse and a tart. We did our best with this but then she brought out some Swiss chocolate! I flat out asked her if she was trying to kill us!

It was 1:00 a.m. when we left with plans to get together the next day to visit Neufchatel and eat fondue. EAT FONDUE!!! We were nearly comatose and doubted we'd be able to digest dinner before it was fondue time. 

Despite the rain the next morning, we continued with our plans for a short tour of Bern, Richard's old stomping grounds and a cheese finale.  By 3:00 p.m. after touring around and shivering in the rain, we were interested in eating again so the schedule turned out to be OK for fondue. It was extraordinary.  Dessert, yes dessert, was a blob of cream served with a crust filled with cream, served with raspberries. Another artery clogger but perfectly delicious! Why go halfway - if you're going to die, die choking on the good stuff. Not one to quit, Maguy wanted to go home and cook us a typical Swiss meal; I had to fight with her about opting out and finally insisted that we couldn't eat again. Those Syrians are persistent - when they decide they're going to feed you, watch out!!
Post fondue dessert

I was amazed to learn that all Swiss homes by law must have a bomb shelter, the law was in effect until only a few years ago. Theirs is now the wine cellar - nice transition.