Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chicks on Demand

I did it. I placed the order.

After years of wanting them, and months of talking, and weeks of getting serious about it, we're getting chickens.

They're supposed to be born next Monday, and delivered a few days later.

We used the chicken selector on the My Pet Chicken site to narrow down the selection. Decent egg layer, brown or colored eggs, slightly unusual breed. It came up with a selection and we chose the Brahma.

"Brahmas are gentle giants with feathered legs and feet and profuse, fluffy feathering. Originally from India, these birds were bred for meat production, though the hens lay relatively decently and are great setters and mothers. This fancy breed of chicken makes a great pet for its quiet and tame nature, tolerance to the cold, huggability and sheer chic-ness!"

Aw, huggability.

I'm so excited, but also nervous. I grew up with chickens, and loved having them, but doing it in the city is another matter. It's legal in NYC, as long as you don't have a rooster, and you don't create a nuisance. That's where the quiet part comes in. I just hope my neighbors are okay with it... (dry nervous laugh).

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bread Bonanza

My friend Mirem directed me to this blog about frugal living. The family is living within its means -- what a concept! -- and therefore having to be creative to feed themselves. One strategy is to bake all their bread.

In college I went through a bread-making obsession, but haven't done much since then. Even when the no-knead recipes started circulating, I wasn't tempted. But suddenly... I'm intrigued.

A few weeks ago I started attempting to make all the bread our family eats. We have lots of toast in the morning, and most of us eat sandwiches. So, potentially it could be a lot of money we save, right? Especially after our savings have paid off the three loaf pans I went out and bought as soon as the whole idea occurred to me... Okay, so I don't know how much money we'll actually save, but I do like the simplicity of the ingredients.

This is what I'm doing: three batches at a time. I can set up my daughter next to me, with a bowl, a cup measure and a bunch of flour options, and let her make a mixture while I do the other two.

Following Mark Bittman's recipe, it's basically 3 cups of flour, 1-1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp yeast, and 1-1/2 cups of water. You mix, let sit for four hours, then put into a loaf pan and let rise another hour. Bake for 45 minutes. So quick! So easy! So far we've used mixtures of whole wheat flour, white whole wheat flour, corn meal, ground walnuts and, for sandwich bread, some unbleached white flour. Next week I'm going to try grinding up some steel cut oats and adding those in.

The recipe is so easy. I can't believe how forgiving bread is, if you're willing to eat dense old-school hippie loaves, anyway, which we are. Why have we been kneading bread all these centuries? Schmucks!

These are loaves that would make the writers of that old school hippie cookbook Laurel's Kitchen proud. Somehow, my kids are loving them. Okay, it helps that my daughter has been putting Nocciolata (an organic type of Nutella) on hers. But my son has been right there with me, eating goat cheese-and-arugula sandwiches, and asking for turkey, pickle, and mayo sandwiches for both breakfast and lunch. And my husband and are both obsessed with the Sarabeth's Blood Orange Marmalade I got at Citarella last week.

Here's what we took to the park yesterday: nocciolata sandwiches, gruyere and arugula, radish and butter, turkey-pickle-mayo.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

French Onion Memories

1. When I was about 12 my mom and I went into Manhattan for the day to go shopping. We lived an hour outside of the city, so we could do this every now and then, but it was always kind of exciting, especially when we went out to eat. My mother was not above following food fads, so we would eat macrobiotic, or Korean, or Sushi, or basically where ever her really cool urban friend had taken her at some point.

On this day, it was either rainy or cold, I'm not sure, but I remember the feeling of relief when we stepped into this little bistro, La Bonne Soupe, which I don't think anyone had recommended, but there it was and we were hungry and needed shelter. It was really crowded and tiny inside, with the tables all really close together, and all the Manhattanites crunched together having their business lunches or their affairs or their sophisticated friend-dates. Is it just me because I was a pre-teen then, or was Manhattan in the 80's a really intense place? It felt like a very wild and self-aware social experiment.

Anyway, on my mom's suggestion, I ordered French Onion Soup, which I'd never had before. Food critics are always talking about food being "a revelation", and that's exactly what this was. Buttery sweet broth, the crouton, the salty melted cheese with the bits of crusty brown broiled into it... And to be cold or wet and be served this soup among all these self-consciously sophisticated New Yorkers... It was wonderful.

2 In Rhinebeck, NY, when I was in college, we used to go to this classic old pub, Whitaker's or Flannigan's, or something like that. This was the first place I had a French dip sandwich, more about that some other time, but it was also the first place I had a mediocre French onion soup. The broth was probably canned beef broth and tasted overly salty and flat, and the cheese was rubbery, and cooled into a thick hard goo that you had to cut through. It was gross.

3. In our Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment in the late 90s, with its huge post-war kitchen (sometimes in the company of rats), my husband and I were obsessed with eating dinner. I cooked like a mad woman back then. An old boyfriend who had since become a chef had told me about Richard Olney's book Simple French Food. It's got recipes, but it's more like a treatise, a beautifully written, gentle and urgent manifesto about how food should be. I cooked out of that book for a long time, and studied it constantly. His soup chapter is maybe my favorite, and in it, he talks about French Onion Soup, or Panade รก l'Oignon au Gratin. It's got no beef broth, just salted water. Onions, butter, dried bread, salted water and cheese. I used to make onion soup from that recipe in our big blue and white kitchen with the window looking out over the autobody shop, sometimes with the revival church across the street blaring its sermons. Ahh, those were sweet times.

4. Yesterday. Fairway. My kids arguing about which pickles to get. Me mesmerized by the gruyere stand. Inspiration. I bought, I made, I ate. I love french onion soup! It is the perfect meal for these cold spring days.

This is how I made it:

About 1-1/2 hours before I wanted us to eat, I thinly sliced 3 fat yellow onions and sauteed them slowly in a Dutch oven in about 3 tablespoons of butter with a pinch of salt, stirring them every now and then. I happened to have beef soup bones in the freezer (I get them for my dog). So I put a couple of them into a pot with cold water and made a quick stock. I didn't have dried bread, so I toasted slices of French bread in the oven.

When the onions were soft and liquidy and sweet, I laid the toasts around the entire pot on top of the onions, then laid thin slices of the Gruyere on top. (I got my kids to help, hoping to pique their interest.) Then I gently strained the stock into the pot, and put the whole thing into the oven under the broiler for about 15 minutes. Wow, was it delicious.

My kids both tried the soup. My 5 year old: just a sip of the broth, followed by a dramatic wail of protest, followed by an impromptu lesson on dinner manners. My 10 year old: just the broth, but quite a bit of it before announcing the flavor was too weird. Um, you mean so delicious it's blowing your mind, right? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Spring!

I'm not religious (after running into a cross-carrying parade the other day, I told my kids with much dubious shoulder-shrugging and head-shaking about the meaning of Good Friday and Easter as told by Christianity), but I love Easter for the fact that it's basically a celebration of spring.

As I've mentioned, I've been working on the eco-Easter basket, with some success. It turns out so many things are spring-like and delicious, that it's a wonder Peeps ever saw a need to be made. Okay, maybe you like Peeps (as my mom does), and if so by all means indulge.

Here's what went into our baskets:

- Spring-like dish cloth to line the basket. This is so cute and right-looking (and practical!), I don't know why cellophone grass dares to exist
- Chocolate Easter bunny
- Ferrero Rocher chocolates (an Easter gift from a neighbor, which I decided to regift into the baskets)
- Jelly Bellies, tucked into plastic eggs which I saved from last year (Does anyone like Jelly Bellies? My husband got these. I feel good about them, they are like the malted eggs from my childhood; no one will actually eat them.)
- Lemon candies
- Strawberries
- Blood orange, perhaps the last of the season
- A Pansy, to be replanted tomorrow

If I thought my kids wouldn't scream at the sight of asparagus, I probably would have put some stalks in, for height, you know?

Anyway, happy spring! It's supposed to be beautiful tomorrow.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Sound of Falling Axes... and Cauliflower

We had one of those scary meetings at my job a few weeks ago, in which it turned out after a lot of nailbiting and queasy suspension that nothing was going to happen, everyone still had their jobs, but we were urged to remember how tight budgets were, and how easily it could all be taken away. Okay, thanks. I left sobered and grateful to still be employed in this job that I love.

But then... this week the other ax fell. My freelance gig, writing a food column for, is no more. Under constant pressure to cut costs, my editor said she finally had to cut back on freelance content, of which I am. I can't say I'm surprised. Budgets have been steadily shrinking in the publishing industry for the last several years, and I knew it was only a matter of time.

Depending on how I look at it, I either just lost a sizable portion of my grocery budget, or my monthly shoe, jewelry and sushi fund. Hmm, choices, choices.

I think I just developed a renewed interest in all those blogs about frugal cooking and eating.

This dovetails with our efforts to eat less meat, since meat is expensive.

Last night, in an effort to atone for our porterhouse birthday dinner, we ate like old-school vegetarians: roasted vegetables with quinoa, and homemade whole wheat bread.

This was partly to clean out our bloodstreams a little, but also to take it to the next level with my kids. What, they can eat oysters, but roasted beets make them cry?

I'll be honest. I didn't really expect them to eat the roasted vegetables. I figured they could have buttered bread or quinoa. Frankly, I didn't care that much. After our feast last night, they weren't going to die of hunger if they had a small meal tonight.

My son had buttered bread and some salad. My daughter wouldn't touch the bread, but scooped up her quinoa with her usual fish sauce and lime juice. But here's where it got weird. I put a tiny floret of cauliflower and a tiny cube of yellow beet on her plate.

"Eeeew, what's that? Why is that there?" I told her what they were and urged her to try to them.

"Just one, okay? Just one. Which is the smallest?" They were both pretty small, but I suggested the caulflower.

"Would it taste good in fish sauce?" Yeah, I thought it would definitely taste good in fish sauce and lime juice.

"Mmmm! That's so good! What is it called again? More cauliflower!"

I only started liking cauliflower a few weeks ago, so this was a total surprise. She ate almost all the cauliflower we had. She loves cauliflower.

And even with just bread and salad, my son didn't starve.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Snapple Magic

The milk petition is going well -- almost 1000 signatures on line and a few thousand more in person. We were hoping just to get 1000, so this is excellent!

When we were gathering signatures at the school, lots of kids wanted to sign, so we made a separate petition for them. One girl was running around the cafeteria recruiting signers.
If you haven't signed, please do. If you have, please pass on to friends in NYC who haven't signed.
thank you!

Meanwhile the Office of School Foods continues with the Snapple machines. Five years ago Michael Bloomberg made a deal with Snapple, that they could be the sole vending presence in NYC schools. Great, so the city's made millions of dollars on this deal, but at what cost? Doesn't it seem to a little counter-intuitive to be feeding unhealthy garbage to children, who are then getting nutritionally-caused diseases at unprecedented rates, which the city will ultimately have to treat?

Anyway, my ire was raised by Snapple the other day. I picked up my kindergartener in the school cafeteria. She had just come from gym and was overheated. The gym teacher suggested I get her some water. Too bad the water fountains in the cafeteria don't work so well, and I'd forgotten my water bottle. So it was off to the Snapple machines, which sell water in addition to Snapple. I put in the dollar and let my daughter punch the button for water. Uh... why did Peach Snapple come out? Did she accidentally hit the wrong button?

I really didn't want her to guzzle down a Peach Snapple, so I tried again, and this time I punched the water button. Peach Snapple again. First ingredient water. Second ingredient high fructose corn syrup.

I asked the security guard who was in charge of the machines and told him what had happened. "Yeah, that always happens to me, too," he said. I'm not going to accuse the Snapple people of doing an intentional bait and switch, but ... why is this happening?

Perfect Birthday Dinner

My son turned 10 on Monday. I work late Mondays and Tuesdays, so we waited until last night to have his birthday dinner.

His request? "Oysters. Good ones, you know? Not those giant ones. The little ones, really cold. Then rib-eye steak, with that thing you make, you know, with the parsley? The parsley mash. And for dessert, blood orange sorbet."

Be still my heart.

When prompted he agreed also on arugula salad with radishes. My husband and I might have chosen the exact same menu for our own birthday dinners. What, a kid absorbing his family's tastes and preferences? Shocking! And yet, after so many years of frustration, I can't help but be shocked.

Here's the dinner in all its glory:

We got these at Citarella in Manhattan. I think they are kumamotos.

Mignonette for the oysters-- vinegar, shallots and pepper.

Giant porterhouse steak.

Parsley mash -- essential for steak. It's a pesto of garlic, anchovies, capers, parsley, salt, black pepper and olive oil.

Arugula. There were radishes too. I believe that eating bitter sharp greens with red meat is beneficial. I know it tastes good.

Hey, if he didn't want a cake, who was I to push it on him? Sorbet is good!

They were giving out samples of this when I shopped, and I had to buy some to take home. It's ice cream made from coconut milk and agave syrup. It's amazing. Where was this when I was off the dairy?

Happy Birthday, kid. I can't express how pleased I am that we are moving beyond the picky years into the sit down and feast together years!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

More Signs

Okay, this day was more like what I had in mind the last few months of fantasizing about April.

Our other cat is completely soulful in his sun worship.

My daughter and I stopped on our way home from school and picked up some Johnny Jump Ups.

We also got some seed starter and tried this trick my friend Mirem showed me. We've been saving strawberry containers to make little mini greenhouses. We lined them with paper...

...And put seed starter in, then planted cucumbers, zucchini, and moss roses.

Yah, spring!

Signs of Spring

I need it to be a lot warmer and this weak-sun bullshit is driving me crazy. Warm up already!

But there are signs that spring is really coming...

Happy cats. Cats don't care if the sun is weak, they'll take it. Plus, they love it that The People start being outside more.

Dogs feel the same way.

Cold frames (rescued windows) are still in place, but if you lift them up...

... either radish or arugula sprouts!

I think these are daylilies that I transplanted last summer.

Attacks of Total Pogo Insanity

Tree Climbing

Asparagus, three times this week already.

Strawberry Madness!