Monday, September 29, 2008

Pop Culture to the Rescue

Dr. Lavery allowed me to love TV again.

this post is sprinkled with fun clips not necessarily referenced in this post

Like many a college student, when I reached the age of reason I had to rebel against, well, everything I could. When I realized the influence of mass media on my ideology, on politics, and especially on American Culture, I felt repulsed by the idea that I was being contaminated by forces larger than me which were driven by money.

Daily Show from Oct. 2007 - Republican Black Issues Debate

This reflected a very narrow view of mass media, and it was not without value or principal, but just as when I wore a mohawk, stopped showering, and stopped wearing deodorant because I had heard it would give me cancer - I was overreacting.

chef barrett inc.
Mohawk Days - circa 2004

What has come with maturity is a discerning eye which I can use to effectively navigate the popular culture I want to participate in. First of all I'm a political junkie, and so finding information that's truly valuable takes work, and also requires the synthesis of many different sources - for fun, I love to watch the Daily Show, Colbert Report, and Countdown with Keith Olbermann, but not as news sources. Usually I've already studied for myself everything discussed in their shows, and I consider them all to be entertainment.

An Entry in Stephen Colbert's "Make McCain Interesting Greenscreen Challenge"

Today's media is so fragmented and personalized that we can find the voices we want to speak to us. This cuts both ways in the sense that we endanger our cultural-political perspectives with insulated sources of information. But, it's also amazing to know that We can find hundreds of local and national food bloggers to inspire our kitchen ambitions.

Thank You Dr. Lavery for helping me shake the too-cool-for-school routine and embrace what is beautiful about American Culture.

Visit Dr. Lavery's Blog |- The Laverytory -|

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Week In Review - Sept. 22-26

Although poor little Marky is still suffering from his tooth troubles, the cooking must go on...

Monday was a recipe we've made so many times, I don't have to reference it anymore.

Veggie Chili
Adapted from Rachel Ray

  • 2 tablespoons (2 turns around the pan) olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow skinned onion, chopped
  • 1 large red pepper, seeded and chopped (sometimes I use frozen pepper blends when red bells are $5 a piece)
  • 1 large green pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 large jalapeno pepper, chopped
  • garlic cloves (at least 4), crushed and chopped
  • 1 cup dark beer (I love to use Dos Perros by Nashville's Yazoo brewery or Shipyard's Pumpkin Ale) or vegetable stock/broth
  • 1 (32- ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 half palm full of ground cumin
  • 1 palm full of yr favorite chili powder
  • hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 15 oz. can spicy vegetarian refried beans

We turn the stove to a good 6 1/2 to 7 and combine onion, peppers, and garlic in our 5-quart cast iron dutch oven. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes to soften vegetables. Deglaze pan with beer or broth, add tomatoes, black beans, red kidney beans, stirring to combine...

Season chili with cumin, chili powder, hot sauce, and salt. Thicken chili by stirring in refried beans. Simmer over low heat about 5 to 10 minutes longer, then serve up bowls of chili and top with shredded sharp cheddar and any number of other things you might have on hand. Our favorites are: scallions, cilantro, pickled jalapenos, avocado, fresh tomatoes (if you have them), extra dashes of hot sauce (if you're me. I swear, I have no taste buds left. I used to scold my friend Dylan for the very same thing), sour cream (if you're Mark and can't get enough white dairy). Sometimes we crumble in tortilla chips.

As many times as we've made it, we never tire of this stuff. I've made it during the middle of sweltering July heat and we've relished it just as much. We often make double batches and freeze some for later. It comes in very handy on Monday nights, usually our laziest time in the kitchen.

Thursday we improvised with the leftover noodles Mark made on Saturday. He chopped the sheets of sage peppercorn pasta into linguine-like strips while I made the sauce.

I got the idea from here, realizing we had leftover cream in the fridge.

Pasta with Creamy Tomato Sauce
An Adaptation

3 tablespoons butter
4 strips of bacon, diced and cooked in a separate skillet
1 onion, diced
1 bay leaf
Pinch of red pepper flakes
garlic cloves (at least 3), minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
5 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained, rinsed, patted dry and chopped (3 tablespoons)
1/4 plus 2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 15 oz. cans tomatoes (I had 1 15 oz. can of Muir Glen fire roasted and a 15 oz. can of Hunt's diced with jalepeno)
leftover fresh pasta or 1 lb. cooked pasta of your choice
1/2 cup heavy cream
Ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Grated Parmesan cheese

The original recipe had ridiculous measurements. I hate it when a recipe calls for an odd amount of canned substance, i.e., 1 cup diced tomatoes....No. What do you do with the remainder? Throw them out? Painstakingly put them away in the fridge? Um, no. So I use whole cans when I use them and adjust the seasoning accordingly. When I first starting cooking for myself, I was always intimidated by the recipe, abiding by it completely, but now, I almost always only use the recipe as a guideline. The rest is determined by what ingredients I have on hand and what kind of mood I'm in. With that being said, here's the process:

1. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add cooked bacon, onion, bay leaf, pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and beginning to turn golden, 8 to 12 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato paste and sun-dried tomatoes and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly darkened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup wine (or veg broth in my case) and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, 25 to 30 minutes.

3. Remove bay leave from sauce and discard. Stir in cream, remaining 2 tablespoons crushed tomatoes, and remaining 2 tablespoons wine or broth/stock; season to taste with salt and pepper. Add pasta to sauce. Stir in basil and serve immediately. Add fresh Parmesan, if desired.

This was a success, but I don't know if we'd make it again. It was too creamy for my taste. However, I was very happy to use up the rest of those noodles. It was a lovely twist that made this dish.

That same night, Mark chose (rather ambitiously in my opinion) to make some bread. He's live with the story here:

Mark's Cheesy Bacon Bread Endeavor

from Jamie Oliver via Sass and Veracity

I'm trying to branch out in the dough crafts, so when Wendy showed me this awesome recipe from the blog Sass and Veracity I knew I had to make it.

Bread dough has a different feel altogether and it was a lot of fun to make. If you follow her recipe here, my process was basically the same except I used FOUR TIMES THE BACON and a lot more cheese. The kitchen was ransacked afterward because I didn't prepare very well, but when it was all said and done, we had a house that smelled like delicious bacon a beautiful loaf of cheesy, smokey bacon bread.

Thanks, Mark. Truth be told, the oven was left on overnight and I woke up in a sweltering heat. Luckily, he didn't kill me and my cat in the name of his dough endeavors. Yet, quite nicely, the house has smelled like bacon ever since....and why aren't there bacon scented candles yet?

Oh, good Lord in heaven, I love me some bacon. I've been reading tons and tons of recipes for bacon as favorite of which can be found here . Well, today at the Whole Foods, I ate a rather fine piece of chocolate:

It was indescribably good in its texture and taste. Don't question it until you think long and hard about it (e.g., waffle + bacon + maple syrup, is it not a dessert?).

The meat continues, kids. Go ahead, hide your eyes.

2 p.m. Saturday

We proceeded to purchase 2 lbs. ground sirloin and make some pretty incredible burgers.

I've recently become obsessed with Tamarind chutney. Luckily, I live next door to an Indian grocery store. I love this place. I will not describe it right now because this post has already exceeded it's limits, but maybe later.

Anyway, we made the best burgers ever.

I was inspired, yet again, by a post over at The Bitten Word.

I composed a sauce of 1 1/2 c. water, 1/2 c. of mandolined ginger (too much ginger if you were chopping by hand--luckily I found a mandolin last week at the TJ Maxx), honey, ketchup, tamarind concentrate, chipotle chiles, smashed garlic and cider vinegar in my smallest sauce pan. Once it reached a boil, I turned down the heat and simmered it over low until it was thickened (20 minutes).

In the meantime, Mark prepared the toppings by tearing some lettuce, slicing an heirloom tomato we'd purchased (the first we've bought since June, as I remember it), and setting out the condiments. He also took a moment to say hello to an unexpected guest in our garden that he spotted scaling a tree root:

a turtle friend

I made an aluminum foil packet of mandolined onions, chopped poblano pepper (it really had to be used or thrown away at this point), and topped it with a small pat of butter and some additional tamarind sauce. This went on the grill when the burgers did.

It all turned out rather beautifully as you can tell:

-Mark's burger

Although I detest mayo, I must say it's quite beautiful in this presentation that you'll see below...though it kept me from sharing our usual dishtowel napkin during the meal.

He had to have a separate one as I wasn't about to be exposed to that business.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tommy Noodles and accidental mini-party

This last weekend was pretty phenomenal though I didn’t expect much from it as I had class (which is lovely, but very draining as it’s 16 hours of instruction piled on top of each other) and I wasn’t feeling well.

We hadn’t seen Shane and Sarah in more than a week, so we’d planned to have them over for dinner Saturday night…that turned into "Sam is coming into town," so she and Randy were invited as well…then, to my delight, little Alex and his friend (and my new friend) Carrie…then we got a surprise call from Dylan and Bethany who we never get to see. I was so excited when they called, I was literally screaming for Mark to tell them to come. Luckily they were in Nashville, so there we had it, our own little impromptu dinner party.

I knew I wanted to make the Butternut Squash lasagna recipe in the new issue of Martha Stewart Living. *Sorry, Martha, but according to Joy Ramirez, lasagne is actually the correct spelling because, “the word in Italian means the layers of pasta itself, which would be plural and ending in e rather than singular, which would be lasagna.”

Mark was over in east Nashville that morning and I had asked him to pick up some fresh ricotta from Lazzaroli's. He’ll regale you with the fascinating tale:

The first time I walked into Lazzaroli's, it was a surreal experience. I wasn't a foodie in any way at this point, (still in the baby stages of earning stars on my apron) but it was impossible not to be impressed by all the imported goodies, fresh made cheeses, and especially the strikingly unique raviolis: I picked up some pumpkin ravs, also some goat cheese and pear on my last visit. In contrast to the magnificent food was a touch of the stereo-typical Italian movie-star worship - autographed photos of Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino, and Robert De Niro

Inside Lazzaroli's

I was there on this first visit to pick up some fresh pasta - I put it on the counter to purchase and it was my first face-to-face with Tom "Tommy Noodles" Lazzaroli:

"No Sauce?" he said with some disdain in his voice.

"Oh, we're going to make our own," I replied.

"Well, you better, because if you put that sugary store bought shit on these noodles, you're wasting my time and yours."

It had been almost a year since that hilarious first encounter, and in that time, I have grown into a dough-making enthusiast. So when Wendy requested I go to Lazzaroli's to pick up some fresh ricotta, I was really excited to bring up my recent experiences, seeking his guidance (and approval), and see what I could learn to improve on my skills.

When I walked in, it was a similar treatment - like the "soup nazi" (without extremism) Tom is the kind of guy who does quality control on his customers, testing with questions to make sure they will respect his work/their ingredients, or get an earful first perhaps. I immediately launched into "talking shop" by revealing my plan to make lasagna - "Oh, making your own noodles, eh...making your own sauce? 'atta know if you get too good at this, I'll put you to work."

He proceeded to hook me up with some awesome flour in an unmarked bag which resulted in my best noodles yet. Here is my noodle process, this time with Tom tips:

Sage Noodles with Cracked Pepper

2 cups flour from "unmarked bag"
3 lrg. eggs (in my case I used 5 medium organics from Hohenwald, TN)

some sage - yeah, it's not very precise, I would just say about 4-6 oz.
1 T olive oil
lots of cracked pepper

Put the cups of flour in your mixing bowl, if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer then you're so set, but otherwise you will have to incorporate the wet ingredients manually with a wooden spoon or something like it. Fill the palm of your hand with peppercorns to measure, then place these in a coffee grinder. After obliterating them into dusty chunks, add them to the flour and turn on your mixer to kind of aerate the flour and evenly distribute the pepper.

Chop up some sage finely. I got some at Krogers in the produce section by the salad dressings and organic veggies. Throw them in the blender by themselves and use the blender to chop them a little further. Add the eggs and olive oil and blend like crazy.

Now it's adding time - slowly pour a little bit at a time and watch the flour bead into mini dough balls. Continue this process for 20 minutes, slowly letting the pasta come together until it suddenly crosses that breaking point and clumps into one ball. You want to err on the side of too dry because it's easy to add more mixture, or water if it happens to be too dry after all your mixture is gone. If you get it sticky, you're screwed - mostly. It's just so hard to incorporate flour.

Now you go through my pasta rolling process laid out in previous posts. Have fun.

Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagna

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living October 2008.

Serves 10 very generously with some leftovers.

* 3 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
* 1 Vidalia onion, sliced into thin half-moons
* 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
* 1 pound whole-milk ricotta cheese
* 1/2 cup heavy cream
* 1 large egg yolk
* fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
* Freshly grated nutmeg
* Hazelnuts, chopped
* garlic
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 1 package fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped (minus whatever Mark used in the pasta noodles)
* 1 1/4 cups organic veggie stock
* Fresh Lasagna Noodles cut into 4-by-13-inch strips and cooked
* grated Parmesan cheese


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss squash, onion, oil, and 1 teaspoon salt on a baking sheet. Season with pepper. Bake until light gold and tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool.
2. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Combine ricotta, cream, egg yolk, hazelnuts, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Season with salt. Have Dylan taste it for seasoning and texture.
3. Melt butter in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. As soon as it starts to sizzle, add sage, and cook until light gold and slightly crisp at edges, 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Place squash and onion in food processor bowl and puree. Gently stir in sage-butter mixture and stock. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Spread ricotta mixture in the bottom of the baking dish, top with a layer of noodles, then butternut squash mixture, then sprinkle of cheeses. Repeat layering until you’ve filled the dish. Top with rounds of fresh mozzarella.

6. Bake until cheese is golden and bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

The hazelnuts made the texture quite lovely. If I were to make a vegan version, I would puree some tofu, add hazelnuts and some sort of acid (lemon zest and juice or some kind of vinegar).

After our bellies were filled, we played a game of Taboo which has come to be a favorite activity of ours when we have guests over (exactly how old are we?).

Vulgar Bulgar Soy Joes

As mentioned in my previous post, this week has been fairly virtuous in my kitchen efforts.

It's been "no recipes" week. I read and study recipes so much that I should be able to carry something out freehand at this point. Monday we made some excellent meatless sloppy joes using TN made Soysage. We loved the Snobby Joes from Veganomicon, so we figured we’d try these guys out.

Vulgar Bulgur Soy Joes
This recipe is dedicated to Darlene Connor. Darlene, I sure wish you could have grown up eating my loose meat sandwiches instead of Rosanne’s.

1 15 oz can of organic tomato sauce
1 4 oz can of organic tomato paste
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 poblano pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper (we have more of these than we know what to do with)
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
garlic, amount up to you
½ package of soysage
1 c. bulgur
Hungarian smoked paprika
Homemade chili powder

Sautée the peppers, onions, and garlic in a cast iron skillet. Add soysage, breaking it up as much as possible. Once everything is slightly softened, add various spices and cook for a few minutes. Add tomato paste, mix well, and then add sauce. After it simmered for a while, I adjusted the seasoning…you guess it, I added hot sauce. This kind this time. The mixture looked pretty thin, so I decided to thicken it by stirring in some bulgur.

A note about bulgur: its one my new favorite grains. It’s incredibly easy and quick to prepare and the texture is wonderful. To prepare it, I poured about a cup into a mid-sized bowl (in this case, I didn’t season the bulgur itself, because it was going into an already seasoned dish. If you want or need to, add whatever seasoning you like at this point), filled the teakettle and set it on high heat. Once it’s whistling, add enough water to cover the bulgur, cover the bowl with a dishtowel and let it sit for about ten minutes. Test for texture, I like mine real chewy. Most of the water should be absorbed, if it’s slushy still, just drain it.

After I added the bulgur, I turned the heat to low and let it sit and marry together a little while we cleaned up and got the bread and toppings together. I toasted some mini Sweet Hawaiian rolls and chopped up some red onion (to the consistence of those little darlings that adorn Krystal burgers). We had some baby Romas that needed to be eaten, so we sliced those as well.
Finished product (we used up the rest of the mustard slaw—the longer that stuff sits, the more I looooove it):

After dinner, I was still hopped up on coffee and not ready to resign myself to the couch for the night (very out of the ordinary for me), so I packed some leftovers for our lunches the next day, marinated the chicken for the next night, and made a red pepper dressing for these veggie wraps I get at The Food Company. I’ve eaten the Veggie # 2 for lunch at least once a week since I’ve started working at Lipscomb. There’s a ton of spinach expertly wrapped in there with lots of other goodies. The texture can’t be beat. And the sidecar of red pepper lime dressing is good enough to drink on its own…and vegan, as all dressings should be.

I tried my hand at creating my own version at home using a new wedding gift. Yes, due to the unconventional nature of our nuptials, we’re still receiving the odd gift here and there. I’m not sold on these little prep machines, but this one I think we’ll keep. It’s perfect for small projects and really works unlike the others I’ve tried.

The dressing was surprisingly identical to the Food Company version. I was pretty excited. I got out the juicer (it’s really not hard to clean it, so I should use it more often) and juiced some lemons and limes. I added the lemon juice to the chicken marinade and added the lime juice to the food processor bowl, which already contained a small jar of roasted red peppers. I added a touch of olive oil, black pepper, two teaspoons of honey, and a few dashes of chipotle hot sauce. I blended that up and it was very near perfect in my eyes. I haven’t made one of the veggie wraps yet, but I’m sure it’ll be great.

As for the chicken marinade, I added the lemon juice, as I mentioned earlier, and some Gingerly vinaigrette, garlic, parsley, and black pepper.

I was in super overachiever mode at this point, so I went ahead and made the dressing for tomorrow night’s salad as well mixing the freshly squeezed lemon juice with olive oil, chopped parsley, garlic, and salt and pepper. It was a little too lemony, so I added some veggie broth we had in the fridge. It was quite lovely. I’ve never been able to master dressings and sauces. I must say that I’ve had more success this week than ever in my culinary adventures.

Tuesday night, Mark grilled the chicken on our tiny little grill while I composed a simple salad in attempt to replicate the salads we get at Kalamatas. I tore up some romaine, sliced some kalamata olives, one of our Celebrity tomatoes, some feta, and a few banana peppers from our garden. We added the dressing and a little bit at a time (it was very liquidy, but it was light and lovely to my tastes). I had some pickled pepperocinis with mine. It was very satisfying. I was proud of us for eating salad for dinner: that never happens in our house. We’re a couple of children. If it doesn’t have melted cheese, generally, we’re not filling our bellies with it.

Sadly, I’ve come to realize that I hate vinegar. I know that’s a crazy pervasive statement, but it’s true. The last couple of vinegars I’ve purchased, I tasted at Whole Foods before I bought them. I thought I’d picked a lovely fruity balsamic…but I can’t stand adding but a tiny touch to anything. Maybe I’ll grow out of it.

Until then, I’ve resigned myself to creating dressings with citrus.

Fast forward: It's Monday and I've continued with my good habits of last week. We had the most lovely little weekend...Jenny Lewis and an impromptu dinner party at our place on Saturday. Details to follow.

In Retrospect

Sometimes I write stuff and I'm too lazy to post it on the actual day I wrote it as evidenced below:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I have a pair of navy blue corduroy pants. When I wear said pants, all the world is right and good and as it should be. I have not been able to fit myself in to those pants for some time now. This week, with the empowering cooler weather, I took that into account. I've had a very virtuous and forward-thinking week so far. Until today.

My first thought when waking up was that I was horribly hung over. It was one of those nascent, unthinking times of morning when you can think all sorts of things. I was also convinced that it was Xena's fault that the alarm clock wasn't set for 7:30 a.m. In reality, I hadn't had so much as a Tylenol PM the night before…in fact, I'd only drank water yesterday. As it turns out, I'm suffering from sinus ickyness.

I should have known it was coming. My friend Christin was complaining about the very same aches and sore throat the night before at dinner. That's another thing: dinner was delectable, but all but sabotaged my perfect streak of eating virtuously. We were originally going to go to PM which had some lovely offerings that fit beautifully into my plan…but because it was crazy busy (due, probably, to the fact that it's Nashville Originals week and they had a special prix fixe deal going on), so we all decided to go to Mafiaoza's. No. NO. No. I proceeded to eat fried cheese and a pizza entitled "The Last Request." I did, however, put my foot down to Mark and Christin about the salami, though. No salami or Italian sausage. They're of the devil. I wouldn't eat them if they were completely calorie free and loaded with antioxidants.

So I've been working out really hard every day this week…sweatin' it out on my elliptical in the office listening to old podcasts of The Writer's Almanac and New Yorker Fiction, taking the occasional walk with the husband after dinner. As I have class tonight and tomorrow night from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. (basically I just leave my office on the third floor and report to a classroom on the first floor), I was supposed to get up at 7:30 today, ellipticize and go about my day. But I feel icky and didn't even want to stand to wait for the trolley this morning (long story—basically, parking on campus is non-existent for faculty and staff, quite the debacle). Oh well, I have been good this week. I'm sure two pieces of pizza and a cheese stick won't do me in for all eternity.

It's just that I was riding this wave of positivism…and those come about less and less for me in my old age. You can't mess with it in its embryonic stages. I've been really sweet to myself this week, not allowing any negative thoughts about myself or my body to creep through. I've felt really comfortable in my skin knowing that, though I might think I'm gross now, I'm effecting change in a positive manner.

Next time I will put my foot down and say, "No cheese tonight, children, we're going to Jason's Deli." That's the thing, though, there are so many great healthy places to eat around here, and I have it so much better than when I was in high school and junior high. In Parsons, I could only eat at Subway or, if I were in a restaurant that I didn't choose, I'd just eat chicken and a naked baked potato (not even salt). I would, however, indulge in a side of BBQ sauce that I’m sure was loaded with high fructose corn syrup. The point being, I have tons of healthy, non-depriving options around here, I just have to be an assertive little brat as I was in those days. Also, I'm lucky in that I've always had fairly healthy taste, so I don't really feel deprived when I'm eating well. It's the cheese and liquid calories that do me in.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Corn Soup

I'm a compulsive list maker. The act of writing and organizing a list almost gives me as much satisfaction as if I'd actually completed all that was outlined in them. I'm an avid collector of lists…those found in grocery carts or in store aisles. They're little self-contained character sketches.

The other night after I posted the previous blog, I made a list of all the things we've made and documented in the last little while that I'd still like to post about and a list of things I'm excited about making for the first time and the requisite posts to follow as a result. I'm going to start with this ridiculously simple corn soup recipe…well, simple if you have one of these guys.

Corn, next to tomatoes, may be my favorite summer vegetable. All through this last little spurt of not-cooking, I've been thinking about all the corn I'm missing…how pretty soon it's going to be back to only what Kroger can afford me in the way of corn that's nothing compared to the sweetness of locally grown Peaches & Cream or Silver Queen corn that's so abundant at our Farmer's market during the summer.

When preparing corn, I eat quite a few raw chunks because of their pure and unadulterated sweetness. The cat and I love corn. She's never showed any interest in human food until one day…I brought home an armload of corn; set it on the kitchen table and she went crazy. I tried to take pictures, but she's writhes around so crazily, they never come out right using my dinky little point and shoot.

She doesn't try to eat it; rather she rubs her face against it and kind of half bites at it. It's adorable, really, but I'm pretty biased. Now every time I bring home corn, I tear off a little strip of husk for her to cart around the house for a while.

So, this corn soup is really only corn and butter and whatever garnishes you like:

Creamy Corn Soup
Lifted straight from Everyday Food


16 ears of yellow corn stripped from the cob
4 tablespoons of butter (cut into small pieces)
1 tablespoon of coarse salt


Tortilla chips
Lime wedges
Chives (from our garden, as seen above)
Hot sauce

1. Remove husks and silks from corn. Holding ears in a large bowl, slice off kernels (to yield about 10 cups). When slicing corn from cobs, work in a deep bowl to catch the kernels and any juices. In two batches, puree kernels and accumulated juices with a total of 2 cups water until chunky.
2. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, cook pureed corn, butter, 4 cups water, and salt until butter is melted and soup is heated through, 5 minutes.
3. Serve hot, garnished with tortilla chips, lime wedges, and sliced scallions, as desired. Or let cool, then freeze in individual servings; reheat over medium-low.

If and when I do get some corn in the near future, I've been inspired by a post over on Vegan Crunk to make a raw corn soup. I intend to puree corn with jalapeño, red pepper, cilantro, and a healthy dose of freshly Jack LeLanned lime juice, maybe an avocado to thicken it or some coconut milk…the same concept, only rawer and slightly healthier.

P.S. I've taken to reserving the naked corncobs in a big zip lock in the freezer for use in future homemade veggie stocks.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Sorry friends, but this one is political in part, so cover your eyes if you don't appreciate "liberal scum" like me.

-This post is by Mark + Zena

Euphemisms are an everyday linguistic device. I use them a lot because I'm a naturally encouraging kind of person who verbally nudges people towards optimism and hope - Ha! But I also have a tendency to oversell the high points of a situation that might otherwise be typical, or even bad.

Take McDonald's food for example. Oh, I don't "euphe-o-mize" their food, but truly they are always sticking to this linguistic device in an attempt to suck in those-who-know-better to try their newly introduced items. Like in this McSkillet Burrito commercial, the operative adjectives are found at "...goodness of a Sunday Morning breakfast in a..."

I think you see what I mean. Words like "home style" being used as an adjective - What is that supposed to mean?

It's almost like there is some unspoken rule about food advertising that new products need a minimum of three adjectives describing them: "A home style, sit-down, Sunday Morning breakfast, hand-wrapped to go"

It's like when a Beer commercial stresses "superior drinkability"- do they have nothing else to exclaim?

Recently, we've noticed Pizza Hut and Hardee's taking a similar approach with their advertising, doing hidden camera spots inside "real restaurants", to market their "tuscani"-pasta dishes and $6 gourmet burgers respectively. Both play on the idea that they aren't real restaurants themselves, except Pizza Hut has the boldness to exclaim their new product is "restaurant quality". I can hardly call that a euphemism when it's so self-deprecating.

George Carlin's piece "advertising" is a brilliant take on language and euphemisms which will further my point.

The most dangerous euphemisms however are political. Politicians love to substitute a euphemism to muddy the waters of a debate or make themselves feel better about taking a hideously wrong position.

Jon Stewart explains some of the bigger political euphemisms of the Bush administration in this clip from early August when the Bush administration was trying to negotiate an "aspirational time horizon" with Iraq - not a timetable for withdrawal.

The idea is to create confusion in the populous, most people don't look deeper. Also, even after giving the order to do so, W can ask his legal counsel to write the laws, redefine and rename the procedures, and thus create plausible deniability - Water boarding may be torture, or maybe not. So George Bush can continue to say publicly "we don't torture", while knowingly giving the Geneva Conventions a big middle finger.

- Trust me, waterboarding is torture

"But these are terrorists, these are people who tried to kill Americans and who want to do us harm!"

If you believe this, then maybe you don't care that our country tortures captive prisoners. However, on many occasions prisoners have been released, innocent of any connection to Al Qaeda, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Which is why in our own country, until the passage of the Patriot Act (another euphemism for a bogus law), we upheld the writ of Habeus Corpus to protect people from wrongful imprisonment.

After seeing "The Road to Guantanamo", which chronicles the captivity at Guantanamo of 3 British citizens who were in Afghanistan for a wedding shortly after 9/11 and were captured while fleeing from the country as it was bombed, I realized what's most at stake. They had ID on them, but were held for 2 years, interrogated regularly, and then finally released without charge.

When we do to our prisoners that which China would do, we lose our moral authority in the world and let all other countries we might otherwise hold accountable off the hook. It creates an international ripple that allows Syria, Lebanon, and more to say to themselves "Well, the US did it, so why can't we?" It's very simple, if we don't hold ourselves to a standard, how can we ask that of others. Ex: where does the lack of moral authority come from in this quote?

This is all besides the fact that torture gives us terrible information and breeds more hatred towards our nation. It's really a no-brainer, further proof that there is plausible deniability for the existence of a brain in the Bush administration.

Why was Nixon impeached? And something so egregious as the complete dismantling of this major legal principle isn't enough for George Bush to rot in jail?--- Yet, mind you, because torture breaks international law, and no Presidential pardon can save this administration from another country which should choose to prosecute -- (Somebody please?)

Thank God that, at least on this one issue, John McCain is different from the Bush administration. It goes without saying that Barack Obama, a constitutional lawyer and law professor, understands what's at stake fully and completely.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tooth + Noodle

We haven’t been doing much cooking in the Barrett-French house since Mark had his last baby tooth surgically removed Monday. I thought I might recap last week’s stellar endeavor: spinach pasta with random veggie sauce.

I had some squashes from the co-op that we’re about to exceed their best by date. I sautéed them with onion, tons of garlic, carrot, red pepper, and a banana pepper (from our garden). The last of our summer matos were piling up, so I cut them up and added them after the veggies were a little soft. I threw in some pesto cubes I’d frozen after ravaging my basil plant one Sunday afternoon (I like to spend a few hours in the kitchen on Sundays. Yes, I love the cooking, but I like to hear This American Life. Oddly, I’ve realized that through this endeavor, I have heard Car Talk inadvertently each week for years! It’s comforting to me to hear it, because I’ve made such a habit of it).

I digress. Anyway, I sautéed the veggies, poured in the tomatoes, added some organic veggie broth and seasonings, put the lid on and let it simmer on low for a couple of minutes. At the last minute, I mixed in some frozen baby peas and parm. Meanwhile, Mark worked on making the infamous chickpea cutlets from Veganomicon. I swear, I’ve seen these guys on a million food blogs. He mashed some chick peas with some olive oil, added vital wheat gluten, some spices, and made them into a dough of sorts, then cut them into cutlets (oh how I detest that word). Poor Mark didn’t mind his recipe (partly my fault as well) and we ended up with something like an overcooked McNugget. Well, I guess we’ve figured out what we’ll feed the nieces on their next visit.

We'll definitely try these again, but next time we'll make them the focus of the meal rather than an afterthought.

The pasta, on the other hand, was fab. Very fresh tasting as the veggies were still a little crunchy.

I took some to my friend and coworker Katie the next day and she raved about it. I do this from time to time to sort of test our palates. Mark and I like everything we make, but I often wonder if it’s a little too garlicy or too something. So Katie’s my guinea pig. Thanks, KT!

This past weekend was our yearly family reunion at Nathan Bedford Forrest state park in Camden, TN. I think it’s so hilarious and ironic that it's the grand wizard’s park. I’ve attended this shindig each year since birth (only missing one for a Bright Eyes show back in 2001). The first time I went I was merely two weeks old. I always look forward to it. Saturday is a fish fry, Sunday is a big pot luck followed by a raffle that raises money for renting the lodge the next year. There are a lot of miscellaneous prizes, but the best are the home sewn quilts made by various family members throughout the year. There’s also a candy jar contest in which everyone guesses the number of candies and the closest guess wins the jar…the winner is given the responsibility of bringing the jar back filled and counted for next year's contest.

For the occasion, I made mustard slaw (adapted from David Rosengarten’s recipe) and a strawberry cream cheese cake for the occasion.

We love seeing our favorite cousins (I have no idea how they’re actually kin to me) Frank & Joy. They’re lovely conversation. It’s pretty overwhelming, though, because there are so many people there and I don’t really know many of them anymore. Anyway, the car ride was long and full of giggling children.
From Blogger Pictures

I did, however, witness a snake killing. An unnecessary and saddening experience. It was like watching a train wreck: you can’t look away. Pretty soon after arriving, my youngest niece, Lacy, said she’d seen a snake under the small bridge next to the lodge area. Well, word got around and these three grown men proceeded to poke it with sticks even after it’d retreated. I was kind of expecting the snake to come out and bite them on the face Snakes on a Plane style, but alas, they just kept poking at it until it ran out from under the bridge to hide under a rock. Then one of them pinned it down with a piece of aluminum siding, took out his pocket knife and cut it’s head off…a very intimate and disturbing killing to witness. Its head was still attached and its tail was still writhing. By this time, someone had retrieved one of those litter grabbers and he picked the snake up and carried it around and showed it to everyone. Grr.

We’re going to be away this weekend as well. It’s Mark’s mom, whom I affectionately refer to as Deej's 50th birthday. She’s planned a party for herself (because no one else would do it right, she’s said) in Cincinnati. Looks like I’ll be missing Car Talk kitchen time again this week. And next weekend I have class Thursday-Saturday…Sunday is Conor Oberst + Jenny Lewis!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I'm Mark

I'm Mark

From Mark First Entry

I'm the other half of this duo. Most of you who will read this also know me, so I'll spare too much introduction. Wendy and I have a sweet little life here in Nashville:

A sweet cat - (yes, we are crazy cat people)
From Mark First Entry

*note the relaxed paw - this is a natural lounging position for Zena.

...and plenty of space and toys to kill time joyfully in the kitchen with new projects. For a long time I was basically the "chopping team" and the meat tech.

At work as the meat tech
From Mark First Entry

In the last year however I've begun finding my own crafts to focus on - primarily, making great pizza and pasta dough.

*making some dough by hand in the spring
From Mark First Entry

Yesterday I worked on making my first ever flavored pasta dough using spinach, while Wendy made another batch of chili powder.

Pasta is easy to make. The recommended ratio is 3 eggs to 2 cups of all purpose flour. If you have a Kitchen Aid mixer or food processor with a blade attachment, those work best. You should start by placing the flour in your processor and turning it on for 30 second or more to aerate and evenly distribute the flour in the bowl. Then, beat the eggs in a mixing bowl and add to the flour. Run your processor until the dough comes together in a firm ball. If it beads up into little flour balls, add water 1 tsp. at a time and continue to mix. If it sticks to the sides of the bowl add flour one tbsp. at a time while continuing to mix.

The spinach pasta required one half cup more of flour and half of a 10oz. package of frozen spinach: chopped, boiled for a few minutes, and drained until as dry as possible. This was added to the beaten eggs before I added that mixture to the flour.

All the steps in the rest of the process

We're not sure how we'll use this pasta yet, but it turned out well. I sprinkled it with flour so that it won't stick together and placed it in a bowl.

Surely, we'll let you know how it turns out. --Mark