Archive for January, 2010

By now I am guessing that most of you have seen Julie & Julia, the movie about Julia Child and Julie Powell.  Even if you haven’t seen it, you might have seen the original episode of The French Chef where Julia Child flips some potatoes in a pan and talks about the need to have the courage of your convictions when doing something that’s just a little risky.

Last night when I was thinking about what my next blog post should be (over a wonderful dinner with S at Ned Ludd here in Portland) it came to me that a recent experience with my current knitting project had required me to invoke the courage of my convictions too.

A very dear friend is about to embark on a great adventure — heading to Thailand to provide mental health services for refugees.  Unable to think of exactly what to do to support her in this endeavor, I decided to knit her a hat to take with her.  I chose cotton yarn thinking it might be a bit warmer over there than here, dug around in my voluminous yarn stash for a bit and got started.

The pattern I chose starts at the top with only 4 stitches. After knitting a bit of I-cord, you increase to 8 stitches, move your nascent hat onto 4 double pointed needles, and start knitting around and around, increasing at the end of each needle (adding 4 stitches in every row) until the circumference is as big as you want it to be.  At that point you stop increasing and keep knitting until the hat is long enough, cast off and voila! a hat is born.

Pausing at several points along the way to check my gauge (a measure of how many stitches there are to an inch), I calculated that I would need 112 stitches to create a hat of the right size.  And so I proceeded merrily along and finished the hat after two evenings in front of the TV.  And it was WAY too big.  And not really long enough to cover even my ears.

And so here’s where the courage of my convictions part comes in (I know you were wondering about that by now).  At this point — after finishing my project (I hesitate to call it a hat) and finding it was not going to work for the person I had made it for I had a few choices.

(1)  I could throw it away.

(2) I could give it to someone else.

(3) I could rip it out and start again.

The third option was really the only courageous one, and this gets back to Julia Child and the potatoes.  Ripping out knitting is not something to be undertaken timidly.  I mean, you can carefully take out every stitch, one at a time, gently moving stitches from one needle to the other as you slip the yarn out of each stitch.  Or you can just pull your needles out of your knitting and rip courageously, confident that when you have ripped back as far as you need to go you’ll be able to slide the stitches back onto the needles and start knitting again.

And that’s what I did.  I ripped it out.  Rows and rows of stitches (well, it was only a hat, so it was not really that many rows, but it felt like a lot of rows when I was ripping).  And when I had ripped it back to almost the start, I slid the stitches back onto the needles.

And now I am knitting again.

I’ll let you know when it’s done!


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New year, new cocktail

Just before the holidays I read a book about New Orleans food called Gumbo Tales. Written by Sara Roahen, former food writer for The Gambit, the book tells the story of Sara’s experiences with food (and drink) in New Orleans before and after Katrina.

It’s a great book and I highly recommend it to any of you who like reading about food (or who are planning to visit New Orleans in the near future).  It made me long for a trip there myself.

There are a lot of chapters in the book that left an impression, but the one that has made the biggest change in my eating (or more accurately, drinking) habits is the one called simply “Sazeracs.”

Before reading this book I had never heard of a Sazerac, a drink that, according to Wikipedia (source of all accurate information), is one of the oldest known cocktails, originating in pre-Civil War New Orleans.

Always on the lookout for a new drink to test the skills of Portland’s many talented bartenders, and made truly thirsty by Roahen’s descriptions of the beverage, I started ordering them around town; and liking them.  So far I have had great versions at Toro Bravo, Clarklewis and Beaker and Flask.

Last night I decided to make my own.  I started (in the liquor store parking lot!) by reviewing a few recipes on my iPhone.  List in hand (I needed Rye or another “American Whiskey;” Absinthe, Pernod or Herbsaint; and Angostura Bitters — I had a small bottle of Peychaud’s Bitters and a lemon at home already), I made my way into the store.

The biggest dilemma was what whiskey to buy.  Despite some recipes that said NEVER to use Bourbon in a Sazerac, the Rye selection was very limited so I decided Bourbon would have to do.  I bought a bottle of Black Maple Hill Premium Small Batch Bourbon.

There was no Absinthe or Herbsaint so I ended up with Pernod, a lovely, green, anise-flavored liqueur.

The Pernod (1 scant teaspoon) is used to “rinse” a chilled glass. The other ingredients:  2 oz Rye or Bourbon, 1 tsp simple syrup, 4 dashes Peychauds bitters and 1 scant dash Angostura bitters, are mixed gently in an ice-filled cocktail shaker before being poured into the Pernod-rinsed glass.  Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Sit back, take a sip and imagine you are in New Orleans.

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Crab cakes anyone?

My husband S and my brother T are great friends.  One of the things they love to do together is cook.  As far as I can remember, the first food they conspired on were crab cakes, and for a long time they never made them except when they could do it together.

These days, though, S sometimes makes crab cakes on his own; especially at this time of year, when Dungeness crabs are in season in the Northwest.  The dish has also become one of my stepson’s favorites, so we usually have them at least once when he is staying with us.

The recipe S and T like (after trying several) comes from the Joy of Cooking.  It’s not complicated; like most great food it depends on great ingredients rather than fancy footwork.

Crab cakes
(adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
Serves 3-4 (the recipe can easily be doubled if you need to feed more people)

1 pound fresh lump crab meat (we use Dungeness crab here in the Northwest; in Maine we used the local “peekytoe” crab)
2 Tbs butter or olive oil
¼ cup finely diced red bell pepper
½ cup finely diced scallions
1 Tbs minced garlic (or more to taste)
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup mayonnaise (use homemade if you feel inspired, otherwise the kind from a jar works well)
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup minced parsley
2 Tbs + 2 cups Panko style bread crumbs (divided)
4 Tbs butter or olive oil (for sautéing crab cakes)

Carefully pick over the crab meat to make sure you have removed any stray bits of shell.

Heat the butter or oil in a medium saucepan until it foams.  Add the bell pepper, scallions and garlic and sauté until soft (8 – 10 minutes).  Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the crab meat with the egg, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, salt and black pepper, cayenne, parsley and two Tbs of Panko breadcrumbs.  Add the sautéed vegetables and mix well.

Spread the remaining 2 cups of breadcrumbs on a rimmed baking pan.  Shape the crab mixture into 8 small cakes and gently coat each with the breadcrumbs.

Refrigerate the cakes, covered, for at least 30 minutes before cooking them (1-2 hours is even better, if you can manage it).

When you are ready to cook the crab cakes, heat the butter or oil in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the cakes to the pan 1 at a time.  Don’t crowd the pan (it’s best to cook these in small batches and keep the finished cakes warm in a low (250 F) oven while you cook the remaining cakes).

Brown the cakes on both sides, turning after about 5 minutes (these small cakes will need about 8 total minutes of cooking to be fully browned and warm throughout).

Serve hot with lemon wedges and Aioli or chipotle mayonnaise (or both, if you feel motivated).

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