Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Arepas with Yucatecan Pulled Pork and Pickled Onions (Page 62)

RECIPE #1219

  • Date: Friday, September 10, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Helen, Charles, Clara, Corbett, Mary, Allison, Ron, Esther, Ben S, and Bob
  • Recipe Rating: A

I would have made this recipe sooner, as anything with the words "pulled pork" in it sounds awesome to me, but I had trouble tracking down arepa flour. Finally I ordered it online and I was ready to make this dish. The dish had three components: pickled onions, pulled pork, and the arepas (little fried cakes of arepa flour and cheese). I started by pickling the red onions with chiles, white vinegar, oregano, and salt. I then marinated some pork shoulder chops in cumin, allspice, pepper, achiote, garlic, salt, oregano, oragnge juice, and white vinegar. I marinated the pork overnight, then braised it and shredded it. Finally I made a dough of milk, butter, arepa flour, sugar, salt, and mozzarella. I formed the dough into little disks and fried them in oil. I topped the cakes with pork and onions and served. In a word: Yum! Oh my gosh were these good. The warm, cheesy arepas were delicious and the pulled pork complemented them beautifully. The pickled onions provided both a nice textural contrast and a lovely burst of flavor. All of the components tasted great individually and they were even better all together. This recipe was definitely a winner. I wish I had a plate of these right now!

The recipe is here.

Only 74 recipes left to go!

What a terrible day. A lot of less-than-ideal things happened today, but my evening really captures the flavor of the day best. Those of you who know me know that I am more than a little crazy when it comes to food safety. I am extremely careful to make sure that the food I produce is safe. For instance, while I will personally eat raw eggs, I hesitate to serve them to company, and I would certainly never serve them to children (who are both the most susceptible to salmonella and suffer the worst consequences from it). We are having a few people over for dinner this weekend, including some kids, and I want to make the tiramisu from The Book, which contains raw eggs. So I went to great lengths to find a place nearby that sells pasteurized eggs in the shell. They are hard to find in Michigan. In the end my special gentleman bought them in Indiana, when he went to South Bend on Saturday for the Notre Dame game.

The point is, I care about food safety, and I am very careful, especially with poultry. A few weeks ago I found some frozen jumbo quail. I knew I was going to need them so I bought them and threw them in my freezer at home. Yesterday I decided to defrost them, so I left them to thaw on the bottom shelf of my fridge. Today, at the end of an otherwise crappy day, I needed to make a quail dish from The Book. I started by making the accompaniments and everything was going smoothly enough for a while. Eventually though, I opened the fridge. The quail had been packaged on a styrofoam tray and wrapped in plastic. I had wrapped it in an additional plastic grocery bag before putting it in the fridge. Much to my horror, there were apparently holes in BOTH the original wrapping and the bag that I wrapped it in. The entire bottom shelf of the fridge was drenched in raw quail juice. Worse than that, we have two produce drawers below the lowest shelf of the fridge and they were dripping with quail blood as well. I'll admit, I sat on the floor of my kitchen and cried. The drawers were jam packed full of food, all of which had been purchased because I needed it for a recipe. And everything, absolutely everything, was ruined. The most ironic part: one of the items drenched in salmonella-containing quail blood? My pasteurized eggs. Crap.

It will all be fine. My special gentleman and I disinfected the fridge like crazy people, and then went to the store and replaced all the produce (the new produce is currently being stored safely on the top two shelves of the fridge!). As for the eggs... my special gentleman was planning a trip to Ann Arbor to go to a seminar later this week anyway, and I think he can get some there. And despite how angry I was about the quail, the quail dish was quite good.

But man, what a shit day.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Stuffed Grape Leaves with Merguez Sausage (Page 58)

RECIPE #1218

  • Date: Friday, September 10, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, Clara, Ron, Esther, Ben S, Corbett, Mary, Allison, and Bob.
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I wanted to make some non-seafood hors d'oeuvres to serve at our crawfish boil. The fish-free choices in the Hors D'Oeuvres and First Courses section in The Book have become quite limited -- this is one of the few recipes I had left. This recipe was extremely labor-intensive. I started by blanching stacks of grape leaves in boiling water, in several batches. Then I prepared the filling. I cooked some rice, then added lemon zest, lemon juice, toasted pine nuts, dill, parsley, currants, cooked crumbled sausage, red onions cooked in oil, salt, and pepper. I then filled and rolled the grape leaves. It sounded harmless enough, but it took forever. Grape leaves tear easily, and vary tremendously in size. Plus, I had 75 of them to fill. Eventually I finished filling them. Then I layered them with salt and oil in a pot, weighted them down, and filled the pot with chicken stock. I simmered the rolls until the leaves were soft. I brushed them with oil, chilled them until they were cold, and served them. These stuffed grape leaves were fine, but they weren't nearly worth the effort. The filling was flavorful and the wide variety of ingredients went well together. They certainly weren't bad. I just didn't find them to be exceptionally delicious, which is what it would have taken to make all the work worth it. I wasn't the only one who was indifferent about these -- they were the only item at the crawfish boil that didn't get finished. At the end of the party there wasn't even a crumb left from the other hors d'oeuvre I made, but there were dozens of these still on the plate. They just weren't inspiring.

The recipe in The Book is almost the same as this one.

Only 75 recipes left to go!

Last weekend on Friday after work I drove to Ann Arbor to get some seafood at Whole Foods. The traffic was bad and there was a terrible accident on the highway. The whole ordeal ended up taking more than four hours. I returned home late, exhausted and hungry, and way too tired to cook any of the seafood I had purchased. As seafood doesn't keep for long, on Saturday I had a lot of cooking to do. I made clam soup, fried oyster sandwiches, a clam pot pie, and deep-fried shrimp balls. At the end of the day I crawled into bed, exhausted and overwhelmed by the feeling that I had gotten nothing done since I left work on Friday except work on my project. The laundry was still in the shoot, the bills were still in a stack in my office. My grading wasn't done. My calculus exam wasn't written. The research to-do pile on my desk was growing rather than shrinking. In short: I felt overwhelmed. I turned to my special gentleman and asked, "Remind me why I am trying so hard to finish this project in 2010." His response: "I have no idea."

As I move towards the end of this project, it is more like having 75 projects left than 75 recipes. The dishes that are left are left for a reason. Many of them involve ordering ingredients, or trekking to Ann Arbor to buy things I can't find in East Lansing. Some of them are extremely labor-intensive. There is nothing left that is quick and easy. The payoff is that we are eating lots of interesting things (crawfish, octopus, goose, buffalo...) and I am making lots of dishes I have never made before. It's fun. But time-consuming. Last weekend, in my overwhelmed state, I had a revelation: there is no reason to rush. So I am pushing back my finish date. Instead of trying to finish this year, I am going to take an additional few months and aim for a finish date in March. As soon as I made the decision a huge wave of relief rushed through me. And this weekend I got much more done. I did a lot of cooking, some from The Book and some not from The Book. I paid the bills. I worked. I graded. I spent time with my special gentleman and our friend Grant who stayed with us Friday night. I went to church. I ran. I went on a home tour with Mary. I took a bath. It was awesome.

So it will take me a little longer to finish than I had planned. But I will finish. And I will cherish these last few months of the project!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Horseradish Cocktail Sauce (Page 343)

RECIPE #1217

  • Date: Friday, September 10, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Corbett, Mary, Allison, Helen, Charles, Clara, Ron, Esther, Bob, Ben S, and Marcy
  • Recipe Rating: A-
This was the dipping sauce that accompanied the Louisiana Crawfish Boil. In all the crawfish boiling confusion I forgot to take a picture of the sauce by itself, but this sauce is what you see in the white bowls in the picture above. This recipe was super simple. I just whisked together some ketchup, mayonnaise, horseradish, lemon juice, and salt. That was it! And although it wasn't obvious to me that all those things would be tasty together, they were! This sauce was quite flavorful, and was a wonderful accompaniment to the crawfish, potatoes, and corn. When we have our next crawfish boil I will be making this cocktail sauce again!

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Only 76 recipes left to go!

When I was in seventh or eighth grade my friend Melanie asked me if I wanted to be her model for Style Revue. I had no idea what she was talking about. She explained that she would sew me something to wear and then I would model it for judges and they would judge her on it. In retrospect it was like Project Runway for kids. Except that Mel let me pick what kind of outfit I wanted. And she didn't make me wear stilettos. And Tim Gunn wasn't there. OK, so it was nothing like Project Runway, but it was the only time in my life that I have ever walked the runway. Mel made me an awesome outfit -- a sweatsuit of sorts -- and she got a blue ribbon for it despite my terrible modeling. This was all part of our county 4-H program. The next year I joined 4-H and was a very active 4-H member until I graduated from high school. It was when I tried to learn to sew myself that I realized how crazy talented Melanie is. My first year in 4-H I made pajamas -- chosen in part because PJs don't have to fit too well to look right! Melanie helped guide me, but basically I was hopeless. I am stubborn though, so the next year I tried again, making some plaid shorts with suspenders. I still have them. I don't wear them, of course, but I keep them around for a good laugh. It was after I made those shorts that I decided cooking, acting, and public speaking were better 4-H activities for me than sewing!

Now, almost 20 years since that Style Revue, Mel and I both have finished graduate school and earned PhDs. Yet we are both still drawn to those creative outlets we loved even as children. I went to culinary school and now have almost completed this crazy project. Mel has won a bunch of awards as a seamstress. And she just launched a business using her amazing sewing skills! She is rescuing wool sweater that are bound for the trash (because of snags, shrinking, etc...) and turning them into beautiful wool mittens! I have a pair (and just ordered another!) and they are awesome. If you are interested, she has just started selling part of her collection online. Her website is here!

It's strange to realize how much the activities we did as a child affected who we became as adults. And amazing to realize that friendships can thrive over decades of time, mostly spent living far apart. I am very thankful for Mel's friendship, and that she invited me to be her model all those years ago. It occurs to me, though, that she hasn't asked me to walk down any runways wearing her mittens -- maybe she wasn't too impressed with my runway walk! :)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Louisiana Crawfish Boil (Page 342)

RECIPE #1216

  • Date: Friday, September 10, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Helen, Charles, Clara, Corbett, Mary, Allison, Ron, Esther, Bob, Ben S, and Marcie.
  • Recipe Rating: A

My special gentleman loves crawfish and has been suggesting that we make the crawfish boil from The Book for quite some time. Live crawfish are difficult to come by in most places, but certainly there was no way we were going to find them in Michigan when they were out of season to begin with. So, we needed to have them shipped to us live from another part of the country. We ordered them from Louisiana, but they actually arrived from Oregon. The minimum quantity we could have shipped was 20 pounds, so we approximately tripled the recipe in The Book and threw a party! I have mail-ordered live seafood before (e.g. steamers), but when the 20 pound box of crawfish arrived I was a little startled by how alive they were. They were moving around in the box quite a lot, causing the box to shift back and forth a bit on the counter. Our kitties were mesmerized. I was disturbed. Eventually I built up the courage to take them out of the box and clean them in the sink. We had about 250 crawfish, and only 4 of them died in transit. Pretty impressive! I got them into the sink:

Then I gave them a good rinse. My gloves were not so protective -- I got pinched many times. I think I swore more times while rinsing those crawfish than I usually do in a month!

While I was in the process of purging the crawfish, I was also preparing the boiling liquid. I combined water, seafood-boil spices, salt, cayenne (15 tablespoons of cayenne! Yes, 15 tablespoons!), some onions, lemons, and whole heads of garlic in a HUGE canning pot and I brought it all to a boil over two burners. When it was boiling I added some red potatoes and boiled them until they were cooked through. I also boiled ears of corn. By that point all of our guests had arrived and were wandering in and out of the kitchen to see the spectacle that was 250 live crawfish in the sink! The unfortunate thing was that with so much cayenne boiling away on the stove, there was cayenne in the air. It was impossible not to cough. It quickly permeated the whole first floor of the house, and everyone was coughing and coughing. I felt bad for everyone, but particularly for little Clara and Allison, who are both about a year and a half old. Their little coughs were so pathetic!

After I removed the potatoes and the corn from the boiling liquid, I added the 20 pounds of crawfish:

I boiled them for a few minutes, then let them stand in the liquid for a while to absorb the seasoning. We covered a table on the porch with newspaper (in true Louisiana crawfish boil style) and dumped the potatoes, corn, and crawfish on the table. We served the boil with some saltines and horseradish cocktail sauce (which I will post about next). It was a lot of food:


We crowded all 13 of us around the table and everyone just dug in with their hands, discarding shells in piles on the table or into pots and trash cans. About 20 minutes into the meal I thought there was no way we would even come close to finishing all those crawfish. But two hours later, as the last few people got up from the table and came inside for dessert, the only thing from the boil left uneaten was one potato (which we saved and ate the next day). The only other things on the table were piles of corn cobs and shells:


I was amazed that everything got eaten! So how was it? I think my special gentleman summarized it best. He declared this meal in the top 20 from The Book for quality of food and the top 10 for fun. It was really fun! We had a great crowd of people eating with us and it was just a wonderful experience. I am not a huge seafood person, but I liked the crawfish more than I thought I would. And I loved the potatoes and corn, which both picked up great seasoning from the boiling liquid. It was very liberating to hold a potato in my hand and take bites from it like an apple. It was that kind of meal! I don't know much about crawfish boils, but we had several former New Orleans residents at the table and they gave this boil their seal of approval. In retrospect I wish I had taken a picture of everyone around the table eating. I always get so wrapped up in eating the food that I forget to take a picture of the people who were there. It was a lovely evening, and what made it great was not just the food but the friends we had there to share it with us! The A grade I gave this recipe was not just about the taste of the food, but also about the experience of preparing and eating the meal. My special gentleman is already talking about having a crawfish boil again next year!

(Thanks to Helen for some of the pictures!)

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Only 77 recipes left to go!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Peach Praline Bombes and Peach Syrup (Page 870)

RECIPE #1215

  • Date: Monday, September 6, 2010 -- 10pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


I put off making this recipe because it looked like it was going to be a huge pain. As it turns out, that assessment was correct. In brief summary: I started by making a peach syrup from fresh peaches, sugar and lemon juice. Then I made homemade peach ice cream by making a custard base, adding pureed peaches, chilling it, and then freezing it in an ice cream maker. Then I made homemade praline by making caramel and stirring in chopped almonds. I finely ground the praline in a food processor, then folded the praline into some whipped cream. Once I had made all the components, I assembled the dish. I put some ice cream at the bottom of paper cups. I hollowed out a little well in each ice cream layer and put the praline whipped cream in the wells. I then topped the whipped cream with more peach ice cream. I froze the bombes for more than 8 hours, then I tore away the paper cups. I cut the bombes in half and served them with the peach syrup. What a pain! I have an extremely high tolerance for fussy recipes if the end products are awesome, but that was just not the case here. The end product was only OK. The ice cream didn't have a great texture -- it was pretty icy. The praline whipped cream was definitely the highlight of the dish. It was extremely tasty. The peach syrup was fine but nothing special. All together it was really a lot of peach. I found the peach ice cream with peach syrup to be overkill. Neither me nor my special gentleman were too impressed with this dish. Indeed, there are several more of these bombes sitting in our freezer and we haven't touched them. It will have to be a pretty desperate dessert situation in our house before they get eaten!

The recipe is here.

Only 78 recipes left to go!

As soon as my special gentleman and I bought a house, both his parents and mine unloaded all of our childhood belongings on us. We each did an initial sort, establishing what we wanted to keep and what we were ready to get rid of. The keepers were thrown into the upstairs closets to be dealt with later. Later has arrived and I have been repacking everything into big, stackable, waterproof plastic tubs for storage in the basement. The task doesn't sound super fun, I admit, but in fact it has been delightful. I have found some serious gems from my childhood. My favorite discovery today was an "essay" I wrote when I was 6 years old. It is typed (which is baffling because I don't know how I would have typed it without the help of an adult, and after reading it I find it impossible to believe that an adult helped me) on white paper. At the bottom of the page I drew a pilgrim and a table with a turkey on top. The essay is about Thanksgiving. It reads as follows:

"This year we are going to washintin for thanksgiving. We yusily have thanksgiving at home with turky and pupkin pie. Not this year we are going to washintin."

Hahahah... every time I read it I laugh out loud. Pupkin pie! I love it!

Seriously though, I think it has been a helpful exercise for me to go back and look at my own assignments from way back when -- essays I wrote before I could spell, or math problems I did before I knew algebra. As a teacher it is important to keep in mind that I didn't always know the things I know now. Going through my childhood papers has definitely been humbling. Also humorous. It must be really funny to be an elementary school teacher. Every terrible essay I wrote has phrases like, "Great job Teena!" strewn across the top. Really? Great job? Hahaha!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Roasted Double Veal Chops (Page 455)

RECIPE #1214

  • Date: Monday, September 6, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I saw veal chops at Whole Foods and decided to make this recipe. I started by cooking some pancetta. I removed the pancetta from the skillet and browned the veal chops in the fat. Then I roasted the veal in the oven to 135 degrees. While the veal roasted I cooked garlic in the fat from the veal and pancetta. I deglazed the skillet with white wine, then added veal stock and reduced. When the veal was done roasting I let the meat rest, and meanwhile deglazed the roasting pan with the wine mixture. I stirred butter, parsley, thyme, pancetta, and pepper into the sauce. I sliced the veal chops and served them with the sauce. This dish was pretty good. The veal was quite tender and nicely cooked. The sauce was flavorful, although I found it much too thin. My special gentleman was completely wowed by this dish -- he suggested a grade of A. I wasn't quite as impressed. It was certainly good, but I thought a richer sauce with a thicker consistency would have been better.

The recipe is here.

Only 79 recipes left to go!

Ugh. What a day. Today seemed like a promising day. I didn't have to wake up until 8am. I had lots of unscheduled time to get work done. And my special gentleman and I had tickets to a wine and beer night at the zoo tonight. When I went to bed last night I thought, "Tomorrow will be a fun day!"

It didn't turn out that way.

The day went pretty smoothly until about 11am, when a killer headache set in. I don't often get headaches since I quit drinking caffeine, more than 5 years ago now. Obviously headaches are no fun for anyone, especially the sort of mind-numbing can't-focus-your-eyes headache I had today. On top of just the pain and unpleasantness of it though, ever since I was diagnosed with my tumor headaches have made me a little nervous. I know, of course, that it is extremely unlikely that the headache I had this afternoon had anything to do with my brain tumor. But the thought always occurs to me that it might, and it never makes the situation better.

So I was in a lot of pain and consequently having trouble concentrating. By 3:30pm or so I had used up whatever focus I could muster, and I was exhausted. So I left the office and headed home. I was desperate to get home. So desperate, in fact, that I biked home through a downpour. I arrived home drenched, as though I had stood in the shower with my clothes on. I dried off, changed clothes, and relaxed for a few minutes, looking forward to our trip to the zoo despite the weather. I wasn't home long before I heard one of the cats meowing in the basement. I went to check on them and discovered that during the torrential rain, the basement had flooded.

So instead of spending a fun evening at the zoo drinking beer and wine we spent a miserable evening in the basement with a wet vac and a bucket of bleach water. The drying, cleaning, and disinfecting is far from done, but we have made considerable progress. The poor cats -- their food, water, and litterbox are all down there, and they were not happy at all about all the water. I wasn't happy either. *Sigh*

Now it is 9pm, and although there are a million things I should do, I feel like giving up on the day and going to sleep. I may just do that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Horseradish Steak Tartare with Watercress (Page 446)

RECIPE #1213

  • Date: Sunday, September 5, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

The following story is more than a little embarrassing:

My special gentleman and I are both food people. I like to cook (obviously) and my special gentleman likes to eat. I think of us as being rather open-minded when it comes to food. Particularly my special gentleman. I can't think of a single plate of food that I have put in front of him that he has refused eat -- and I have put some pretty crazy things on the table. I am a little more squeamish than him. In the grand scheme of things I don't consider myself a particularly squeamish eater -- but it's true that some things don't sound good to me. One of those things: steak tartare. I love steak. LOVE it. But raw steak? It just doesn't sound good. And so in my whole life of cooking and eating I had never once eaten steak tartare. Tuna tartare? Sure. But never steak.

So there I was, standing in front of the meat counter at Whole Foods in Ann Arbor and I saw a particularly nice looking sirloin steak. I figured if I was going to eat a steak raw, that would be the one I would eat. So I bought it. When I got home I was having trouble motivating to make the dish. I read the blurb before the recipe in The Book to get motivated. Usually the recipe blurbs make some declaration about how awesome the dishes are going to be. In this case, the blurb was an explanation for the name of this classic dish. Apparently steak tartare was named for the Tartars, who would put raw meat under their saddles to tenderize it as they rode around all day. Then at dinner they would chop up the meat and eat it. Needless to say, that did not improve my attitude.

Nonetheless, I proceeded. I very finely chopped up my beautiful steak, then mixed it with Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, vegetable oil, horseradish, lemon juice, capers, scallion greens, salt, and pepper. I was supposed to serve it with watercress and radishes, but I had to substitute arugula for the watercress. I figured the greens weren't really the point of the dish so I allowed myself the substitution. I mounded the tartare onto two plates and I put it on the table. My special gentleman and I both stared. After a moment he said, "I don't want to eat that." I was shocked. Shocked. My special gentleman is the most adventurous eater I know. He will go to foreign countries and eat whatever is put in front of him without even knowing what it is. He never refuses a plate of food. Somehow, though, raw steak rubbed him the wrong way.

So I was actually the one that reluctantly took the first bite. And it was... delicious! It had a great balance of flavors and a wonderful texture (which was the part I had worried about most). It was really good. At the same time, it was hard to eat. I couldn't shake the feeling that eating it was like biting into a hamburger patty completely raw, or cutting off a piece of cow and gnawing on it. I don't know why either of those images bothered me, but they did. If I had felt comfortable eating it, I would have happily eaten the whole plate. It was tasty. And actually, I might have eaten it all. But after he finally did take a bite or two my special gentleman chimed in with, "Can we cook it?" I laughed. He was serious. It was just too hard for him to get past his psychological aversion to the pile of raw cow flesh. So I scraped it off our plates into a skillet and cooked it up. A few minutes later we were eating it again. I felt very comfortable eating it after it was cooked -- I quickly downed my whole serving. But the truth is, it had tasted much better raw!

That's the story of the steak tartare, embarrassing as it may be. Even though I liked this dish, I wouldn't make it again. I wouldn't feel comfortable serving it to friends, and I wouldn't feel particularly comfortable eating it myself. But, I do think that the next time I find myself facing some tartare I will appreciate it more. Probably in time it will just be another thing that seems normal to me and I will have no problem with it at all. Hopefully. Because it turns out it is delicious.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Manhattan Clam Chowder (Page 118)

RECIPE #1212

  • Date: Saturday, September 4, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I went to Ann Arbor a couple weekend ago to grocery shop and came back with some clams, so my special gentleman and I made this clam chowder. His contribution: shucking all the clams! After the incident where our clam knife got confiscated by TSA at the San Francisco airport, I had to buy a new one -- this was our first chance to put it to good use. So, my special gentleman started by shucking many, many clams. Meanwhile I cooked onion and celery in butter. I added peeled diced potatoes, chopped canned tomatoes, and minced garlic and cooked for a few minutes. Then I strained and added the clam liquor which my special gentleman had reserved while shucking. I also added some tomato juice, bottled clam juice, basil, thyme, bay leaf, and pepper. I simmered the soup until the potatoes were tender, then stirred in the shucked clams and some parsley and cooked for a couple minutes. I seasoned with salt and served. My special gentleman and I both assessed this one as OK but nothing special. The broth didn't have much depth of flavor to it. Often even tomato-based clam chowders will have some bacon or something to contribute smokiness. In this case there was none of that and broth was a little bland. The potatoes were nicely cooked and of all the ingredients I appreciated them the most. We both ate some of the soup but neither of us were itching for a second bowl.

This recipe isn't online.

Only 81 recipes left to go!

Our friends Vigleik and Shihchi and their son Henrik are staying with us tonight. They live in Chicago and are on their way to Niagara Falls for a short vacation. They are staying with us tonight on their way there, and later in the week on their way back. I have known V and Shihchi since before I ever started this crazy project, so they were project eaters from the very beginning. Back in the day we all lived together in Boston. They moved away to Chicago though, and then I moved to Indiana, and now Michigan. So in the last few years I haven't had the chance to eat too much book food with them. They were here for dinner tonight though so I jumped at the chance to make a book dinner! We had a nice meal consisting of one very edible dish from The Book and one much less edible dish -- one of the many nice things about old friends is that I don't feel too bad feeding them the more questionable dishes from The Book! After dinner we all graded the dishes. This used to be a tradition that I strictly enforced -- everyone had to declare their grade for each dish no matter how uncomfortable it made them! I have since relaxed about this and many a meal have gone by with no grading discussion at all. I realized tonight that it is nice to have input from people besides just me and my special gentleman. I might bring back the mandatory grading! Anyway, it was a nice evening -- we ate dinner on the porch and sat around after dinner, chatting and eating brownies with ice cream. It's so nice to have friends visit! We have a bunch of visitors coming in the next couple months and I am delighted to have the company. I am looking forward to cooking and eating many of these last 81 recipes in the company of family and good friends!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Grilled Mussel and Potato Salad (Page 157)

RECIPE #1211

  • Date: Saturday, September 4, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Last Saturday I made a trip to Ann Arbor to get some groceries. Part of the point of my trip was to pick up some seafood. I returned with mussels and clams, and I used the mussels to make this recipe. I started by boiling some red potatoes then slicing them, brushing them with oil, and seasoning them with salt and pepper. My special gentleman then grilled the potato slices and tossed them with lemon juice. I put the mussels in an aluminum pan and my special gentleman cooked them on the grill until they opened wide. I shucked the mussels and added them to the potatoes along with thinly sliced fennel, chopped parsley, chopped black olives, capers, and more lemon juice. I let the salad sit for 10 minutes then added some more oil and salt and pepper to taste. My special gentleman and I both had the same opinion about this one: it would have been better with just the potatoes. The grilled potatoes were indeed very tasty, and the lemony, briny dressing was very tasty on them. But the large quantity of fennel and parsley detracted from the deliciousness of the potatoes. And the mussels just seemed out of place -- as though someone had written a recipe for a nice salad and then thought, "Maybe it needs a protein," so he or she threw in some mussels. We weren't crazy about this one. Indeed we ate the potatoes and threw out most of the rest.

The recipe is here.

Only 82 recipes left to go!

What a fun weekend! On Friday night my special gentleman and I hosted a crawfish boil at our house. I had to make the crawfish recipe from The Book, and there is no place to buy live crawfish around here. So, I had them shipped here overnight. The minimum quantity I could purchase was 20 pounds! So we threw a party! We had 13 people crowded around the table on our porch and it was just wonderful. I'll post details and pictures when I get around to posting about that recipe. It was definitely a memorable book dinner!

Yesterday we just had a fantastically lazy day. We slept in. After my morning run we drove out to the middle of nowhere to visit two butcher shops in nearby towns. We found a couple things I still needed for my project, so it was a successful journey! In the afternoon I ran errands, paid the bills, cleaned, played with the kittens... It was great to have a mellow day to get things done in a leisurely manner!

Today we went to church in the morning, which was really wonderful. We are loving the church we have been going to and the people there are tremendously friendly. After lunch I went in to work for the afternoon. Sunday afternoon is a nice time to be in the office -- it's very peaceful and easy to be productive. In the evening we went back to the church because they were hosting a pig roast. A Pig Roast! Yum! We ate some awesome food and met a bunch more people -- very fun. After dinner I went for my run, and now I am just doing a bit more work -- trying to get myself ready for the week ahead!

Yesterday, over a leisurely lunch with my special gentleman it struck me: I really like it here. We are getting to know more and more people, and I feel optimistic that soon we will have some close friends in East Lansing. Plus, I am loving my new job, and my husband, and our house, and the kitties, and our day to day lives. I am feeling very blessed. It's lovely.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Frozen Terrine (Page 864)

RECIPE #1210

  • Date: Sunday, August 29, 2010 -- 7:30pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Bob, Laura, Corbett, Mary, Allison, Helen, Charles, and Clara
  • Recipe Rating: B

I put off making this recipe for such a long time because it just sounded so ridiculous to me. There was only one item on the ingredient list: "6 pints ice cream and/or sorbet (2 pints each of 3 flavors)." And the "recipe" was to line a terrine pan with plastic wrap, spread the ice cream into six layers in the pan, freeze, then unmold, slice, and serve. I am not saying it was a bad idea, I'm just not sure I would call that a recipe. The hardest part of preparing this, by far, was decided which three flavors of ice cream to buy. I made some brownies to serve this with, so I needed chocolate-compatible flavors. In the end I went with vanilla bean, mint chocolate chip, and double chocolate chunk. I ended up being happy with those selections. I'm not so sure how to grade this one. Did it taste good? Sure. Ice cream tastes good. Would I ever do this again? Well, no. It was hard to get the layers even, so it didn't end up looking any nicer than scoops of ice cream would have. So why bother?

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A story: a few years ago I saw a dentist who happened to also be a medical doctor. He looked at the x-rays of my teeth and asked, "Were you anorexic as a child?" I immediately and defensively shot back, "No!" "Oh," he said, "well normally someone as tall as you would have teeth with long roots, but you barely have any roots at all. That can happen to people who were anorexic as children." Walking home from the dental office an hour later I realized he was right -- as a child I didn't really eat.

My lack of eating was not anorexia nervosa -- it had nothing to do with weight or body image -- it was more like post-traumatic stress. It all started on Christmas Day when I was 10. Over two days we had two big Christmas meals at two different houses, and a a restaurant meal in between. On Christmas night I projective vomited 13 times. I have a strong stomach, and before that I had only vomited once in my life, after eating an entire bag of jelly beans at my brother's birthday party when I was 5. I was not prepared for that horrible Christmas night, it was extremely unpleasant, and I was terribly traumatized. I looked for an explanation and was told that I had eaten too much. In retrospect, of course, I had food poisoning. I ate all those big meals, with turkey, and stuffing... probably I had salmonella. But I didn't even know the word salmonella at age 10 and I firmly believed that eating too much led to hour after hour of projectile vomiting. So I decided I just wouldn't eat too much. After careful experimentation I established that 16 ounces of food was safe. So from the time I was 10 until the time I was about 15, I carefully counted every ounce that I ate, making sure each day to stay under my 16 ounce limit. It was not much food. For instance, a standard yogurt would count as 6 of my 16 ounces. I ate a lot of calorie-dense food during that time, trying to pack as much energy as I could into my 16 ounces.

My friends and family certainly knew that I ate lightly, and commented on it frequently. But they also knew that I showed no interest in how much I weighed and I had no body image type problems, so they didn't think I had an eating disorder. I certainly didn't think I had an eating disorder. I thought I had a system. A system necessary to avoid vomiting. And I never explained it to anyone. In retrospect, I have no idea why not. After 5 or 6 years I realized that you feel full before you vomit from overeating. Even later I realized it was very likely food poisoning that was to blame for that horrible night. Soon I transitioned from never eating to eating all the time. And I learned that I love to eat! When I started eating again, without worrying about the weight of every spoonful I put into my mouth, it was such freedom!

I went to a different dentist a couple weeks back and he mentioned my short roots. In a strange way those roots feel like a battle scar. And a lesson. If I had just explained to someone, anyone, why I didn't eat, they would have told me that it was nonsensical. I just didn't know. There's a lesson in that. I am in some ways a very private person. Sometimes it is better to not be so private.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Lamb Kofte with Garlic Yogurt Sauce (Page 513)

RECIPE #1209

  • Date: Sunday, August 29, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Bob, Laura, Helen, Charles, Clara, Corbett, Mary, and Allison
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I had been eying this recipe for years but it wasn't until very recently that all the pieces came together and I was able to make it. I started by making the sauce (not pictured above), which was a mixture of yogurt, garlic, and salt. Then I soaked some white bread for 30 minutes. I squeezed the bread, then mixed it with ground lamb, minced red onion, chopped parsley, baharat spice mix, Maras pepper flakes, Urfa pepper flakes, and salt. I formed the mixture into cigar shapes, and threaded them on wooden skewers which I had soaked in water. My special gentleman then grilled them to perfection on our new grill. This dish was quite good. I love lamb kofte and I think this version was as good as any I have had. The meatballs came out moist and extremely flavorful -- indeed the baharat, Maras and Urfa were wonderful together. The consensus around the table was that these lamb meatballs were tasty. The yogurt sauce wasn't anything amazing, but it went quite well with the lamb. I would certainly make this recipe again.

The recipe is here.

Only 84 recipes left to go!

This dish really epitomizes something that I love about this project -- the feeling of community surrounding it. When I started cooking through The Book, more than four and a half years ago now, I never would have guessed how many people would become involved in my endeavor. I never would have guessed how many generous people would send me ingredients and supplies, let me cook in their kitchen, lend me their equipment, and be willing to eat the crazy dishes I produce.

When I first read this recipe I suspected it would be delicious but I had no idea where to find ingredients like baharat, Maras pepper, and Urfa pepper. And I didn't own a grill. A while back now a blog reader from England, who I have never met, sent me a package with a bunch of Book ingredients in it. Included in his very generous gift was some baharat spice mix. With the baharat in hand I was extra vigilant about looking for the Maras and Urfa pepper flakes, but I never could find them. Then in April, for my birthday, my sister-in-law Deniz sent me a bunch of items off the Gourmet Project Wishlist, including the Maras and Urfa peppers! Awesome! With all the tricky ingredients finally in my pantry, I just needed to get my hands on a grill. For years I have been taking advantage of the grills of my friends (e.g. Alex, Emilee, Brian, my parents, my in-laws, etc...) to make the grilled dishes in The Book. But now that we have a house, I figured it was time to buy a grill! My special gentleman generously agreed that we could buy whichever grill I wanted and my father-in-law Dave helped me pick out the perfect grill! When I finally got around to making this dish it was for a big group of friends, which was the perfect way to serve a dish that had contributions from so many people!

As I near the end of my project people ask me often if I will miss it once I am done. I am ready to be finished, but of course I will miss it. In particular, I will miss the community that has become involved in it. Whenever I cook a meal for my friends and family they know it will be coming from The Book, and as far as I can tell they enjoy being part of the project. That has been a wonderful gift!

Tomorrow night there will be another adventure courtesy of The Book -- I am hosting my first-ever crawfish boil!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Cold Tomato and Sour Cream Soup (Page 83)

RECIPE #1208

  • Date: Sunday, August 29, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Helen, Charles, Clara, Bob, Laura, Matty, Corbett, Mary, and Allison
  • Recipe Rating: B

I picked this recipe for our dinner party a couple weeks ago because it was quick and could be made ahead. I pureed several pounds of tomatoes, then strained the puree. I stirred in lemon zest, lemon juice, finely chopped scallion greens, sugar, dried thyme, dried marjoram, salt, and pepper. I chilled it until very cold, then served it with sour cream. It was that simple! I often have a hard time getting super-excited about cold soup. While I liked this soup fine, I wasn't wowed by it and with many other options on the table I didn't finish my serving. Opinions around the table varied. My special gentleman took one bite and set it aside, while it was Mary's favorite part of the meal. It had a good, clean flavor to it, and was quite refreshing. I thought it was a nice soup for a summer evening. However, it was the type of soup that was tasty for the first few bites but I wouldn't want to eat a big bowl of it. In small portions, though, I could see serving it again. It would be perfect served in shot glasses as an hors d'oeuvre at an outdoor summer party, for instance.

The recipe is here.

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In my new job I have a joint appointment. I am appointed both in the math department and also in a science-focused residential college within the university. What that means is that I have two offices, two sets of colleagues, and my teaching is divided between the two units. The research component of my job isn't affected by the joint appointment. The residential college has their own calculus courses (also physics, chemistry, biology, history and philosophy of science, etc...) and the students take all these courses in the building in which they live. This semester I am just teaching one calculus class in the college and I am not teaching in the math department. Next semester I will have one class in the college and one in math. Although I am not teaching in the math department this term I still spend time there of course. That's where all the math seminars take place and I keep most of my research-related materials in my math office. I think balancing my time between the two units will be one of the challenges of this new job. So far it has worked out pretty well. Today, for instance, I spent the morning in the college -- first office hours, then I lectured. I ate lunch in my office there, then biked over to the math department where I did some research work and went to the Algebra seminar. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I try to spend the whole day in the math department, since I don't teach on those days.

It has definitely been an interesting change. For instance, this is the first time I have ever had an office in a building where undergraduates live (more on that in another post!). I am loving my new job, and the new challenges that it has presented. And each day I am feeling a little more settled and on top of things. I am hopeful that by the end of the semester I will have my head above water!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Cheese Pastries (Page 32)

RECIPE #1207

  • Date: Sunday, August 29, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: ???

What follows is a sad story...

I had put off making this recipe for years despite the fact that it sounded delicious (Cheese! Pastry!) because it looked pretty labor-intensive. We had a dinner party a couple weeks ago though, and the menu I picked was pretty easy. So I figured I would have time for one semi-ridiculous labor-intensive recipe. This was the one I picked! I started by making a pastry dough with flour, salt, cayenne, grated sharp Cheddar, butter, and heavy cream. I let the dough chill for several hours. Then I rolled out the dough, and using a tiny circular cookie cutter I cut tiny little rounds from the dough. I rerolled the scraps once and cut more rounds. I then baked these rounds in batches to get crispy little cheddar crackers. My special gentleman and I ate more than our fair share of these crispy little bites straight out of the oven. They were like homemade Cheez-Its, but so much more delicious and less neon orange than those familiar snack cracker. Each little cracker was buttery, cheesy and delicious!

If only the recipe had ended there, as it might well have, there would have been no problem. Everyone would have delighted in the tasty treats and at the same time wondered, "Who makes homemade Cheez-Its?" But, there were more steps, so I continued! I beat together some Gruyere with softened butter to form a cheesy filling. Then I sandwiched a bit of cheesy filling between a pair of delicious cheesy crackers. I formed many, many cheese and cheese sandwiches this way and set them on a baking sheet. So far, so good. I only had one step remaining: bake until the cheesy filling just melted. Easy enough, no?

Side note: I have four timers in my kitchen, and it is not unusual for them to all be running at once, all timing various aspects of a complicated meal. I strongly prefer one of the timers over the other three because it is the easiest to use, and makes the least annoying noise. Indeed, rather than incessantly beeping, it only beeps twice, and then stops. This is a nice quality in a timer, unless... you happen to miss the beeps.

I threw these cheesy sandwiches in the oven just a couple minutes before guests were supposed to arrive. They only needed 4 minutes in the oven. After about 2 minutes, a car pulled up, and I ran out of the kitchen to greet our guests. I got caught up in showing them around, offering them drinks etc... In short, I left the kitchen. My special gentleman was out back, manning the grill, so neither of us was in earshot of the few short beeps. I wandered back into the kitchen a few minutes later, but the timer wasn't beeping, and I was distracted by ribs and lamb and salad, etc... It wasn't until I thought, "I should put the asparagus in the oven," that I also thought, "Oh, shit!" It had been maybe 12 minutes since my little cheese sandwiches went into the oven and they were burnt (see picture above). The photo gives the impression that they might still have been edible, but indeed they were not. So very sad.

So how can I grade this recipe? I can't really. I can only say that those little cheese crackers were super-tasty, and I can only imagine that sandwiching some Gruyere between them wouldn't have hurt. I would guess this was an A-/B+ recipe. But who knows?

I was sad for a few minutes -- especially because of everything I made for that meal, those little pastries required the most work. But after mourning them for a few moments I let it go. These things happen. If things didn't go wrong once in a while it wouldn't be an adventure!

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Monday, September 06, 2010

Barbecued Chile-Marinated Spareribs (Page 490)

RECIPE #1206

  • Date: Sunday, August 29, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Bob, Laura, Corbett, Mary, Allison, Helen, Charles, and Clara
  • Recipe Rating: B+

My special gentleman and I both love ribs so the only reason I hadn't made this recipe already was that until very recently we didn't own a grill. We bought one a couple weeks ago, and this was the very first thing we made with it! I started by simmering the ribs on the stovetop. Meanwhile, I blended together dried New Mexico chiles, boiling water, ketchup, garlic, cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt, tequila, vegetable oil, cumin, and allspice. I reserved some of this to baste with, another bit of it for dipping sauce, and used the rest as a marinade. I marinaded the ribs overnight in the sauce. Then my special gentleman grilled them to perfection, basting with some of the reserved sauce. I then cut the racks up into smaller pieces and served them with the dipping sauce. These ribs were pretty good. In fact, I liked them a lot. They just weren't as good as the other ribs in The Book! For instance, both the Chinese-Hawaiian "Barbequed" Ribs and the Paprika-Glazed Baby Back Ribs were better than these. The difference, I think, was that those recipes produced slightly more tender ribs than this recipe did. I also thought the sauces in the other recipes were more interesting, although I liked the chile sauce in this recipe as well! I would definitely eat these ribs again, but I wouldn't choose to make this recipe over some of the other tasty rib options available in The Book.

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The first week of the semester was exhausting. There were several days that within 10 minutes of getting home from work I was looking like this:

So I was ready for a long weekend! We didn't make any Labor Day weekend plans, as we knew we would still be adjusting to the start of the semester and would need all the extra time we could get. The weekend turned out really lovely. On Saturday after my morning run I drove over to Ann Arbor to grocery shop for my project. Ann Arbor has things East Lansing doesn't have (seafood for instance), so I came back with several bags of goodies -- clams, mussels, veal chops, etc... Not long after getting back from my lengthy grocery trip, I got a phone call from my friends Mike and Andrew. They were driving from a conference in Toronto back to Bloomington, Indiana. East Lansing was right on their way so they stopped by to visit, which was awesome! After they had to hit the road again my special gentleman and I prepared a somewhat questionable seafood dinner then walked to our neighborhood coffee shop for some delicious hot chocolate.

On Sunday morning we went to church. We have been talking about trying to find a church here for a while now, but we hadn't yet mobilized to do it. This weekend we finally got our act together and went to one we have been eying. We absolutely loved it! The pastor was extremely articulate and obviously super intelligent. The congregation was beyond welcoming. The message was very inclusive. And in a way I can't describe, it just felt like a good fit for us. Plus, the church is just a short walk from our house, which is an added bonus. We will certainly return. I spent the rest of the day yesterday running, running errands, and cooking. Today I celebrated labor day by going in to the office! I had a lot I needed to get done so taking the day totally off wasn't really an option, but I did stay home until 11am which felt luxurious! I had a nice, quiet day at the office, alternating between getting work done and decorating my office a bit. Then this evening I taught my special gentleman to make risotto while I made veal chops, and the results were extremely delicious. We sat down to a really wonderful dinner and a bottle of white wine. Lovely!

What a nice weekend!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Bread-and-Butter Pickles (Page 910)

RECIPE #1205

  • Date: Saturday, August 14, 2010 -- 3pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, and Spencer
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I found concord grapes at the grocery store a couple weeks ago, which motivated me to make the Concord Grape Jam from The Book. I figured that if I was going to drag out the boiling water canner and start sterilizing things anyway, I might as well make two canned recipes on the same day. Recipe number two was this one. I started by slicing some Kirby cucumbers and onions and tossing them with canning salt and crushed ice. I weighted the mixture down and let it sit for several hours. Meanwhile, I sterilized jars for the pickles. I combined cider vinegar, maple syrup, water, mustard seeds, pickling spices, turmeric, red pepper flakes, and more canning salt and boiled. I then drained the vegetables and packed them into the jars. I filled the jars with the hot brine, then sealed and processed them in the boiling water canner. I let the pickles stand for a week for the flavors to develop. These pickles were tasty! There are a lot of pickled things in The Book and I can definitely say that this recipe is my favorite of the ones I have made so far! The pickles came out very nice. They were sweet but not too sweet. Crunchy. Delicious. I'm not really a pickle person, but even I liked them! For a nice, standard, sliced sandwich pickle, this recipe is very good.

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The first week of the semester is over now and all in all I think it went pretty well. It is amazing how much more oriented and on top of things I feel now as compared to just one week ago! I certainly wouldn't say that I have yet settled into my routine for the semester, but I have a solid grasp on what needs to happen week to week and how to do it. My class is going well so far -- my students seem very nice, friendly, and on top of things. I have no complaints!

One of my projects for the long weekend is to decorate my office a bit. Everyone who stops by comments that it is a little sad looking. It's true, the current contents of my office are: a desk, a table, three chairs, a metal bookshelf, a metal filing cabinet, a chalkboard, my fancy new computer, and various papers. I did bring a few other key items: I have a tiny fridge which is currently stocked with yogurt, carrots, apples, and muesli. I also have a supply of sea salt, balsamic vinegar, and dark brown sugar. Just the necessities. (At the moment there is also a haiku about instantons on the chalkboard, courtesy of my special gentleman, but sadly that may have to be erased soon.) I am plenty equipped to work and eat lunch, but the space isn't the friendliest. Truth be told, I have never decorated any of my previous offices. Sure, I had a couple pictures on my desk at IU but that was the extent of it. I always knew I would soon be leaving so I never felt compelled to invest the time to, say, paint my office. It's strange to think that I could be in this office for the next five years, or longer. After so much moving around it is difficult for me to internalize that we will likely stay here for quite some time. It would definitely be worth it to put a little love into the decor of my office. I actually have two offices at the university, and both of them are currently in the same sad state (one of them slightly worse than the other -- it doesn't even have the fridge or the sea salt). I hope to make a little progress on at least one of my offices this weekend!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Concord Grape Jam (Page 917)

RECIPE #1204

  • Date: Saturday, August 14, 2010 -- 3pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Teri and Spencer
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I have been watching for Concord grapes, as they are one of the few seasonal ingredients I still needed for my project. So when I saw them at the grocery store a couple weeks ago I immediately jumped at the opportunity to make this recipe. I started by sterilizing a bunch of jars in a boiling water canner. The next instruction was to peel 5 pounds of Concord grapes. When I read that I was scared. Concord grapes are pretty small, so 5 pounds of them was a lot of grapes! I peeled a couple pounds, then recruited my special gentleman to help me peel the rest. It was easy to squish the grapes out of their skins, but the sheer number of grapes made it pretty time-consuming. By the time we finished peeling I think we were both a little angry at the recipe. I pureed the grape skins with some sugar, and put the mixture in a pot along with lemon juice, the grapes, and more sugar. I boiled the mixture for a bit, then forced it through a food mill. I brought it back to a boil and cooked, stirring, until the jam was done. I ladled it into jars, then sealed them and processed them in the boiling water canner. I let the jam sit for a day to develop the flavor. I had a pretty bad attitude about this jam after making it, but that quickly melted away at the first bite. In a word: Yum! I have made jam plenty of times before, but this was my first time making grape jam and it was pretty awesome. It had a fantastic grape flavor and a wonderful jam texture. With store-bought grape jelly (which I also love!) it is always difficult to imagine it coming from actual fruit -- it seems more like gelatin with fake grape flavor added. And perhaps it is. This recipe produced a real fruit jam. Not only was the flavor genuine, but the texture also conveyed that real fruit went into it. I was impressed. We gave a couple jars away and now are carefully rationing the rest!

The recipe is here.

I have been thinking lately about how friendships start. I'm not thinking so much about casual friends, but rather about serious friendships -- the kind of friends you lean on heavily when things are bad and call first when there is good news. I have great friends. Unfortunately, though, none of my close friends live in East Lansing (except, of course, my special gentleman!). I just moved here, and these things take time, but it's still on my mind.

Consciously pursuing a friendship with someone feels a bit like trying to date them. You want to be enthusiastic without being overbearing, show interest without scaring them off. I never liked that part of dating. Earlier in life I think it was easier to find friendships without pursuing them. Back in college or graduate school when almost everyone was single and spending tons of time together, deep friendships came along naturally. And maybe that will be true in married adult life too. It's just less clear to me how that happens. Someone told me recently that as an adult you become friends with the parents of your kids' friends. I didn't find that too reassuring, seeing as how we don't have kids.

I'm sure I will figure it out, and soon we will have some great friends here. In the meantime, I am missing my nearest and dearest very much. You know who you are.