Oh, well… (the tale of horseradish dumplings)

Sometimes I get a cooking brainstorm and things work out really well or even better than I expected – the process goes smoothly, the food tastes great and all is well. Sometimes, not so much.

This weekend I was going to cook a corned-beef point and wanted a different starch to go with it.  We were out of bread, I didn’t want potatoes, noodles didn’t seem right so I thought dumplings might fit the bill.

We often make a chicken soup with Mary Whitcher’s Herb Dumplings (which we’ve written about before here) so I thought that dumplings might be just the thing.  I like horseradish with my corned-beef so I wondered if there was a way to combine dumplings and horseradish.  How about dumplings with a horseradish cream sauce?  I didn’t have a recipe and a scan of the interweb provided no real help but did reveal quite a number of recipes (actually only two or three recipes but repeated over scores of websites) for Horseradish Dumplings.  Voila!  With a slight shift in plans, moving the horseradish from the sauce to the dumplings, I was in business.

But soon, some problems arose.  The most promising recipes were in Euro-metric measures.  That’s OK, I have a gram scale and can rework proportions to fit a smaller batch.  The recipe I settled on called for suet for the fat.  No directions as to how to incorporate the suet into the dumpling dough.  Suet is a rather hard (firm) fat – do I chop/mince it into smaller pieces?  Do I render/melt it before mixing it into the dough?  No clue.  Also, I didn’t have suet on hand except for the somewhat gamey beef suet I put out for the woodpeckers – not suitable for human consumption.

horse.1

Fresh horseradish root

g\Grating hosrseradish

Grating hosrseradish

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did, however, have a jar of manteca from the local Super-mercado (Mexican grocery).  That’s not the same as suet (manteca is fresh rendered pork fat, lard, rather than raw beef fat, which is suet) but I figured if it worked in tamales it could work in dumplings.

Adding manteca to the batter

Adding manteca to the batter

The directions for the recipe was pretty straight-forward (and short) – Combine the ingredients.  That’s it, combine the ingredients.  I chilled the manteca to firm it up (fresh manteca is fairly soft and near liquid at room temperature) so I could cut it into the flour to make the dough.  So far so good.  Add the horseradish and parsley.  Mix.  That’s it.

When I make dumplings for chicken soup, I wait until just before we’re ready to eat and cook them in the soup and serve immediately.  But for this fiasco, I was cooking a corned-beef point by simmering it for three hours and finishing it by roasting it in a hot oven for a few minutes before serving.  So, I decided to cook the dumplings in the pan of water/broth that the corn-beef had been cooked in and serve them on the side of the corned beef with a touch of butter and a light grinding of pepper.

Adding dumpling batter to the broth by spoonfuls

Adding dumpling batter to the broth by spoonfuls

Well, you can probably tell from the title of this post and some word choices in the body that all did not go well.  Basically the dumplings slowly dissolved in the cooking water, gradually getting smaller and smaller as the cooking time passed.  By the time the dough in the center of a dumpling was cooked through each dumpling was roughly half the size it has started out.  The other half had mixed with the simmering broth to form a sort of flour and horseradish slurry.

Corned beef with horseradish dumplings and roast broccoli

Corned beef with roast broccoli and oh so delicate horseradish dumplings

The dumplings tasted fine.  It’s just that they were so-o-o-o-o delicate that I could hardly serve them without having them fall apart in front of my eyes.

I’ll spare you the recipe.  If you want it I’m sure you’ll be able to easily find on the web, as I did.  In hind sight, the basic recipe might be the problem.  The fat melts as the dumplings cook, weakening their structure.  Maybe actual suet might have stood up to the heat better (remember I said that manteca is almost liquid at room temperature).  For what it’s worth, Mary Whitcher’s recipe calls for egg which acts as a binder and MUCH less fat.  Next time I’ll try modifying Mary Whitcher’s recipe and stick with the tried and true.

One positive outcome though.  The cooking water and sloughed off dumpling dough combined to make a rather nicely seasoned, accidentally roux-thickened broth that I was able to use as the base for a decent potato soup.  Waste not, want not.

Things that make me nuts!

Back on February 27th (when it was 65 days till I turn 65), I regaled you with things that I like, love, or just make me happy. Now that it is 33 days till that significant birthday I would like to share with you with some things that just drive me crazy. I was first going to say things that I hate but an acquaintance said to me accusingly, “Why would you do that?” I told her not to worry, her name would not be mentioned, at least not this go round. Some of these might make you smile, others will just have you shaking your head but it is what it is.

1. Getting up early. The best part about retirement – sleeping in.

2. Sweet Tarts. They are not fun, eating them is cruel and unusual punishment.

woman-sour-taste-400x400

Sweet tarts, eww.

3. Prejudice, Dishonesty, Stupidity. These are so bad they don’t deserve individual numbers.

4. Winter.…quickly followed by
5. Driving in the snow. Another positive part of retirement, I don’t have to go anywhere if I don’t want to.

Because this can happen!

Because this can happen!

6. “Unknown Caller” phone calls. If you aren’t brave enough to show your name on my caller I.D. then I ain’t talking to you.

7. You know when you are knitting and you realize you’ve dropped a stitch, like eight rows back? Yah, I hate that.

8. Bad hair days, especially when you are running late for an appt. and you have no time to do anything about it.

9. Evil done in the name of God. In the words of Blaise Pascal, “Men never take to evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”There are too many crazies out there who get away with a lot of bad shit because supposedly God said it was OK ( insert God of your choice, insert holy book of your choice.) Attention crazies! God has your number and he’s not happy.

10. Political commercials. I think I broke the mute button on my remote.

11. Abuse. Physical, mental, it’s all the same and it’s all bad.

12. Gaining weight. And the fact that as you get older it gets harder to lose it.

13. Slow computer connections. Why does it sometimes seem slower now than those old dial-up days?

14. Fish. Bleh! I’m not crazy about them dead or alive. Eating them, no way.

May I be excused?

May I be excused?

and finally…..

15. Cold feet. Socks are the best invention ever.

Ta-Da!  Only one more list to go….on my birthday.

Did you miss Me? I’ve been birding.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

We’ve been taking one big birding trip every year. A trip where we actually fly away from Wisconsin and try to find some birds that we would never see here in the Midwest. It’s fun, it is usually warmer and we get to expand our life list. One of the other people on this trip (obviously a beginner) asked what a life list is, so for the rest of you newbies, this is the list of all the birds you have seen for the first time. According to Audubon there are more than 800 species in the US, 654 are native to the United States. In 1998, Sandy Komito, set the current record of 745 species seen in one year. A man named Neil Hayward may have beat that record in 2013 with 747 birds, but his list is still being verified. My personal life list is about 420 but I’ve been working at it for 30 years.

Our previous trips have taken us to Southern Arizona, Southern Texas (Brownsville area), the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Magee Marsh and South Bass Island in Ohio so this year we picked Florida to get some birds and some warm weather. We were right about the birds but not the weather. Don’t get me wrong, it was warmer than Wisconsin but mostly upper 60′s and rainy. However the birds totally made up for the weather. So let me give you some highlights with a few of the pictures we managed to get.

This is the migration and breeding season in Florida so a lot is going on. The birds are either putting on a show to get a little action…

egret

Great White Egret displaying for the gals.

brpelican

Brown Pelicans: the left is in breeding plumage

or they are hiding out, guarding a nest or feeding young.

Can you see see the Black-crowned Night Heron?

Can you see the Black-crowned Night Heron?

A zoom lens was necessary to pick this Green Heron out of the reeds

A zoom lens was necessary to pick this Green Heron out of the reeds

The Nanday Parakeet blends in very well.

The Nanday Parakeet blends in very well. This guy was about 30 feet up.

A Limpkin w/ a snail. He was a long way off and behind tall grass.

A Limpkin w/ a snail. He was a long way off and behind tall grass.

I really had to zoom to get that last picture above. He was a long way off and behind grass. I cropped the heck out of the picture so you could see this interesting bird. Click on the picture to enlarge, it looks very painterly.

There were even some star-crossed lovers. Who am I to judge?

White Pelican & Double crested Cormorant

White Pelican & Double crested Cormorant

All in all it was a great trip. It finally got into the lower 70′s by the end of the week and the sun appeared on the day we left. Florida is a nice place to visit and out of the 120 species we saw, 10 of those were life birds for us. But I would never live there because even warm weather can’t make up for fire ants, snakes and these guys.

Taken from a bridge and I did not zoom in very much, he was big.

Taken from a bridge and I did not zoom in very much, he was big.

Another Turn of the Page: This is a Two-fer.

“Books may look like nothing more than words on a page, but they are actually an infinitely complex imaginotransference technology that translates odd, inky squiggles into pictures inside your head.”

Jasper Fforde, The Well of Lost Plots

twoshelves

I didn’t do a book list last month. It was snowing, again. Snowing and being slippery on the day I go to book group at The Attic Coffee Shop. Thus no report on all those good, …and bad, books we’ve been reading. This month at our March meeting, one of the members handed me a list of what the non-fraidy cats of winter driving, had read. So I now have February and March and am desperately trying to figure out how to get both of them to you without turning this into an interminable list. Let’s start with this month and work back.

marIf you recall we always start this round table with one of the members giving us a short bio of an author. Bea chose Nicholas Sparks, and though I personally think he is a pretty sappy writer, he proved to be an interesting guy. If you are curious I’ll let you look up all his details, while I forge ahead into the books presented this month.

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951) 224 pages. This is the third person I know who has read this book in the last three months and all of them can’t quite understand 1) why it is on banned book lists even today and 2) why it is considered a modern classic. Well it is still a somewhat edgy book even today but just imagine it in 1951. And it endures because it captures the eternal teenage experience of alienation. Bottom line, you don’t have to like it but it makes for good discussion.

Life Animated: A story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism by Ron Suskind (2014) 368 pages. Owen Suskind, the author’s son, is an autistic boy who could not speak for years until he was shown and subsequently memorized dozens of animated Disney films. These became the words he used to communicate with the world and people around him.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell (2013) 496 pages. The story of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark. By the time she died at the age of 104 in 2011, she owned palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut.  But why had she lived as a recluse for twenty years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health? Why were her valuables being sold off? Was she in charge of her fortune or were there others involved?

Hour Game by David Baldacci (2004) 736 pages. Second in the Sean King/Michelle Maxwell series. The two ex-secret service agents now turned private investigators are on the case of a killer who is copying infamous murderers of the past.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (2009) 291 pages. It is 1907, rural Wisconsin, and wealthy businessman Ralph Truitt posts an advertisement for a “reliable wife.” The woman who answers his post is not what he expected. This relationship may be dangerous to his health. I mentioned this book in my post on ‘Wisconsin Death Trip.’

Civil Action by John Harr (1996) 502 pages. A true story about polluted wells in the city of Woburn, MA. Residents complained about the smell and taste of the water for years and were continually told that there was nothing wrong. Lawyer Jan Schlichtmann accepts the case of eight families, all who have children that have developed leukemia.

Unstoppable by Nick Vujicic (2012) 256 pages. Despite being born without arms or legs, Nick’s challenges have not kept him from enjoying great adventures, a fulfilling and meaningful career, and loving relationships. Through stories from his own life and the experiences of others he explains why his life is remarkable.

We are Water by Wally Lamb (2013) 561 pages. After twenty-seven years of marriage and three children, Anna has fallen in love with Vivica, the wealthy, cultured, confident Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her professional success.” -Goodreads. Our reviewer who has enjoyed other books by this author felt that this one was just one big soap opera. She does not recommend.

Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005) 552 pages. It is 1939. Nazi Germany. Death has never been busier, but he has time to tell us this story of Liesel, from her journal. Liesel lives in Germany, she steals books, her foster parents are hiding a Jewish man in their basement.

Breaking Point by C. J. Box (2013) 384 pages. #13 in the Joe Pickett series. Two EPA employees had just been murdered, and all signs point to Butch Roberson, a local man who has been trying to build a house on land designated as a wetland. Joe must find the truth.

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira (2010) 364 pages. Mary Sutter is a brilliant, head­strong midwife from Albany, New York, who dreams of becoming a surgeon during the Civil War. She faces a hard struggle against the sexism of the time.

That’s March. As to the February titles…well I’m just going to feature them in a row of covers. Click on the picture to see them larger and to read the author’s names.Two are from past lists, three are non-fiction, five are novels. Looks like eight people didn’t mind driving in the snow.
feb

For a Fast Dinner Idea, Put One of These in your Pantry

Wow! You all have been busy. I clicked on ‘blogs I follow’ and nearly fainted away. I’ve been off making books and reading books ( about 4 in the last two weeks), going to the physical therapist and the chiropractor. Maybe it was the back pain that made me shy away from sitting at a computer for any length of time. But the back is starting to feel better and I knew if I didn’t get back to writing soon I’d start drifting away. So let’s do what we do best here, talk about food. This is a simple one.

1. Do you like Chinese Hot and Sour soup?
2. Do you want to make dinner fast so you have time for other stuff?
3. Do you have a husband who cooks?

If you answered yes to any of these questions put one of these in your pantry and you or your sweetie will be able to make dinner in a flash, sort of.
soupI know this sounds like a commercial but this is far from it. Matter of fact, my Sweetie had major skepticism until a coupon got him to take a chance on buying this box o’ broth. Then the other night as we mulled over what to have for dinner he said, “How about Hot & Sour soup? We’ve got all the parts to put it together.”  Now I know it probably isn’t as simple as that, you do have to have a few other essential ingredients but they aren’t really exotic and you can get away with the bare minimum and still say, “This is damn good!”

You’ll need:

One, 32 oz. box of Swanson Chinese Hot & Sour Broth
2 Tbls cornstarch
3 Tbls cold water
1 cup mushrooms (any kind is fine but Mr. Chef used shiitaki and wood ear. Button, cremini, oyster or any readily available fresh mushroom will work.  But even if all you have is canned, drain ‘em and use ‘em)
1/3 of an 8oz can of bamboo shoots, diced (Mr. Chef used Tiger Lily buds that he dried himself last summer – okay, I guess, we have unusual items ‘on hand.’
7 oz of firm tofu, diced
1 egg, beaten
1/4 C. green onion, thinly sliced

How to Make it:

Stir the cornstarch and water in a small bowl until smooth.
Heat the mushrooms, broth, bamboo shoots (or whatever) in a 4 qt saucepan on medium high, heat to a boil. Add the cornstarch mix and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly w/ a whisk.
Reduce heat, add tofu; add egg without stirring. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring to swirl the egg after 1 minute. (like in egg drop soup). Sprinkle with onion.  This should serve 6 or give you a lot of leftovers.

What is great is the broth is really authentic tasting. That is, it tastes just like my local Chinese restaurant.

Hot&SourAdditional tips for the adventurous:
Feel free to add a little meat (2 – 4 ounces). Pork or chicken is good. Slice the pieces thinly and put them in when you add the tofu. Once the meat is cooked through, then add the egg.

If you aren’t a fan of boiled tofu, do what Mr. Chef did and slice it thin and fry it first in a little oil.  Don’t stir it or muck around with it.  Just let it sit and fry, turn gently once the bottom is nicely colored, flip and fry the other side.  Drain on paper towels before adding to the soup.

Experiment. Different vegetables, more green onions, no green onions, cabbage. You won’t have traditional Chinese Hot & Sour Soup but you will have a tasty soup.  I would not leave out the egg, however, and the mushrooms are pretty important as well.

As an extra bonus, this is a great soup to have when you have a cold.  The rich chicken broth with the peppery heat and tart sourness helps clear the head and nourishes the soul and you can actually taste its bold flavors through the dullness of the cold.

h&s

Quick Hot & Sour Soup w/ potstickers on the side.

Hey! Enjoy. Time to go do my stretching exercises and then catch up on my blog reading.

Bánh mì, One Really Great Sandwich

slice of bmIn the previous post one of the things I said I loved was a great sandwich. Not just a good sandwich but a great one. I make ‘good’ sandwiches, my husband makes great sandwiches and his bánh mì is one of them.

It is not a difficult sandwich to make if you have the ingredients and that is the key. Curt can pull together a great sandwich just from what he finds available in the fridge but if we are having bánh mì, then you know it is a plan.

Bánh mì is a Vietnamese term for all kinds of bread but mostly it refers to a baguette. But if you walk into a Vietnamese restaurant in America, bánh mì is a type of meat-filled sandwich on a short baguette or bánh mì bread. In Green Bay you can get a pretty good version at Pho #1 Noodle & Grill.  (their bánh mì is image #6 in their menu slide show).

Typical fillings for a bánh mì may include pan-roasted or oven-roasted seasoned pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, grilled pork, spreadable pork liver pate, grilled chicken, roast duck, soft pork meatballs in tomato sauce, fried eggs, and even tofu – in other words, whatever is at hand and that strikes your fancy. That sort of flies in the face of a plan but you’ve got to have the roll and the pate’ or liver sausage is an important flavor.  Accompanying vegetables typically include fresh cucumber slices, cilantro and pickled shredded carrots and daikon radish. Common condiments  might include spicy chili sauce, sliced chilis, mayonnaise, and cheese.

Mise en place:  bolillo, ham, liver sausage, Shriracha laced mayo, frresh pickled carrots and cabbage, cilantro and mint

Mise en place: bolillo, ham, liver sausage, Shriracha laced mayo, fresh pickled carrots and cabbage, cilantro and mint

Curt’s version starts with a baguette, or a hoagy roll, or most likely a bolillo (a short baguette-like roll common in Latino markets).  Not shown in the mise en place photo, is a little commercial sandwich dressing (he used Beano’s Original Submarine Dressing) which he squirted on the greens – you could substitute any Italian dressing or just oil and vinegar.

Bánh mì (ala Curt)

Bánh mì, ala Curt.  This is a pared down version.  A more authentic bánh mì would also include lean roast pork and thinly sliced fresh green chiles.

Put it all together and voilà - a great sandwich. If it is a serious plan he usually gets roast pork slices and good ham from the deli which in my opinion is better than just ham.

Hey, look, it’s lunchtime by my clock and writing this post has made me hungry. I think I’ll go see what sandwich fixin’s I can find…maybe even get Curt to give me some pointers.

Closed and ready for the first bite!

Closed and ready for the first bite!

65 Days to 65: Another Boomer gets Closer

Woo-hoo!!!

Woo-hoo!!!

As of today, February 27, it is exactly 65 days till I am 65. Even if I hid all of the calendars I knew this was getting closer because everyday five (or more) pamphlets from insurance companies and/or medicare show up in my mailbox to remind me. Now that I am in the home stretch I think I might just put the recycle bin outside next to the mailbox and save myself a trip. Now I’m not going to rant or reminisce for 65 days or you will all seek me out and stomp my computer into teeny pieces. I don’t think I really will rant at all because you know it’s not so bad, turning 65. Instead I will give you a peek at what makes me tick, gets me up in the morning, makes me smile, makes me shake my head in dismay and then on the fateful day unload my list of things I’ve learned in 65 years ala “Dave Barry’s 25 things I have learned in fifty years.” I am sure you have seen his list at some time. It periodically circulates on Facebook as 16 things it took me 50+ years to learn. While trying to locate the original list I found out, through Snopes, that the list posted by everyone and their 2nd cousin twice removed is not Dave’s actual list. You can find the real one in Dave’s book, “Dave Barry Turns 50.”

But I digress. This post is just lists and pictures of some of the stuff I love, like, think is cool, makes life great. So in the immortal voice of Julie Andrews, “These are a few of my favorite things.”

In no particular order: My Husband, my Son, Family.
(well, yes there is a little order, they wouldn’t be happy to come after brussels sprouts)

1) Drawing of Curt by Yumiko 2) Curt's self portrait  3) Me & Curt & Beano the parakeet -needlework by me.

1) Drawing of Curt by Yumiko 2) Curt’s self portrait 3) Me & Curt & Beano the parakeet -needlework pillow by me.

Then comes wine (Sauvignon blanc), summer, books, birds, bird-watching, cats, socks, bacon and vampires.

1) Not sure what this is but I love it, it has a spout and looks like it's from Metropolis. 2) vampires and graphic novels, yay!  3) Weird bird thing, I use it as a soapdish.

1) Not sure what this is but I love it, it has a spout and looks like it’s from Flash Gordon.
2) vampires and graphic novels, yay!
3) Weird bird thing, I use it as a soap dish.

Things like fresh sheets..and pillowcases, being warm, driving on dry streets, a great cup of tea, fresh bread…with butter, and looking at the stars, make me say Yes!.

1) Cool shapes  2) Found in a field in rural England  3) My taste in music is pretty eclectic

1) Cool cup shapes 2) Sign found in a field in rural England 3) My taste in music is all over the map.

I read fantasy, science fiction,thrillers, horror. I love brussels sprouts (there they are), libraries, bookstores, health insurance and art, artists and making art.

1) Fiber piece by me based on a drawing by my son  2) Painting by Nathan (age 8) 3) Fire by Mauda  3)

1) Fiber piece by me based on a drawing by my son
2) Painting by Nathan (age 8)
3) Fuego by Maura Vasquez

I enjoy blogging, knitting, and then there is my latest passion for bookbinding.
Friends, laughter, Movies watched in a theater, football, a really great sandwich.

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!
And Halloween is the all time best holiday!

1) Pumpkin/snowman head. Good decoration for Oct - January  2) Words to Live By  3) Evil Nurse - don't ask.

1) Pumpkin/snowman head. Good decoration from October to January
2) Words to Live By
3) Evil Nurse – don’t ask.

So there is your peek into my world, see you in thirty days with the things that drive me crazy. Hey, like the button says, “I’m not dead yet” -Monty Python and the Holy Grail

A Trip to Wisconsin: Don’t forget to Pack the Blue Vitriol

Make it stop!

Make it stop!

The wind, the wind! The blowing, the creaking of the house, the whistling of the windows! Will it ever stop? The constant, never-ending scream of the wind. Arrgh! Get the blue vitriol.

Photo: Wisconsin Death Trip

Photo from: Wisconsin Death Trip

Well it is windy. I think the weatherman said 20mph, gusts to 35. And it is cold this morning, 24, but its been colder. My house is creaking and some of the windows are whistling – note to self: get those replaced – but its supposed to end by noon. My furnace is fine, my fridge is full and my Sweetie is warming up the espresso machine so I really don’t have anything to complain about. But the whining of the wind this morning reminded me of a strange book called Wisconsin Death Trip. If you have not come across this book in your travels, it is worth the journey.

Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy

Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy

First published in 1973, This book by Michael Lesy, is based on a collection of glass plate negatives taken by Charles Van Schaik in Black River Falls, Wisconsin from 1890 – 1910. The subject matter ranges from children in coffins, to farm animals, to family portraits of some of the grimmest-looking people imaginable. These are coupled with newspaper excerpts of suicides, murder/suicides, madness and misery. This period of history in the US was tough, because if you were either making your fortune or you were having a really bad time. The distance between city folk and country folk was pretty wide and the country people weren’t doing too well. There was drought, foreclosures, and poverty, and in Wisconsin, the weather didn’t help anyone’s attitude either. It gets cold, really cold, and it snows, a lot, and back then you had a bunch of kids to feed and you had cows or other animals to feed and wood to chop and water to thaw. When the wind whistled, it whistled loud and found every crack in the house. We are having a lot of pipe freezing this winter up here, and its a pain and a big inconvenience but back in 1893, you couldn’t just wrap the pipe in heat tape or use the hair dryer, hell, you had a well that froze up. Just going outside to get the water was a big ordeal, not to mention hauling it over to the barn once you dug a path through the snow. And then you had to go out to the barn a couple of times a day to make sure the trough hadn’t frozen over. If the well froze, you were melting snow.

from Wisconsin Death Trip

from Wisconsin Death Trip

And then there were the epidemics (smallpox, diphtheria), alcoholism, gangs of armed tramps, barn burnings…. well it isn’t surprising that old Ben hung himself after offing the family or Sarah drank blue vitriol when she discovered she was pregnant – again!. When I read this book for the first time, probably in the early 80′s, the reference to blue vitriol was new to me. And it came up more than once in Wisconsin Death Trip. Sure people were hanging themselves, using garden tool in unique ways, jumping in the lake with rocks in their pockets but drinking blue vitriol? I found out it is copper sulfate ( copper and sulfuric acid) but what the heck were they doing with it on the farm in the early 20th C.? It was pretty common on the farm since it was a fungicide, insecticide and a blue dye. Interesting enough, it was also used as an emetic, drink a little-you vomit….drink a lot-you die.

Because it just sounded so odd, it became one of those phrases you use in a family that if outsiders heard you they’d scratch their heads or have you committed. With us, whenever things got crazy around here or the wind didn’t stop blowing for 10 hours straight or you had a bad day at work, you’d say something like, “I can’t take it, where’s the blue vitriol.?” Sounds creepy? Maybe. But for us it was a way to lighten up a stressful situation. Too bad those farm wives in 1901 didn’t think that way. To them drink actually meant drink.

Now this may all sound pretty morbid and yes, some of it is, but this book is also fascinating. It will give you a different perspective on the “good old days.” Of course not everyone was behaving like this but some were. And it wasn’t just in Black River Falls, it was happening in other towns in Wisconsin, and in Iowa, and in Nebraska, and in Minnesota.

So hang in there. Winter will be over someday. The pipes will thaw. The wind will die down. No need to get out the hedge clippers, the rope or the blue vitriol.

PS: If you like Wisconsin Death Trip you might enjoy two fiction books that pull inspiration from WDT, A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick and
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

books

Damn! It smells good in here.

Dinner is complete, our guests have departed with smiles on their faces and I’m ready to give you some of the highlights.

Moroccan Spice Market

Moroccan Spice Market

It is going to be hard to give you all the recipes, 1) because there were seven dishes and 2) once we were in the frenzy of cooking we forgot to take final pictures. Many of our dishes had advance prep which was good because by the time the guests arrived we were actually able to talk to them. But that is also why most of the pictures are from the beginning and not so much the end. Things just get crazy once food is about to go into the oven or onto the stove top and then our friends arrive and we are stashing coats, talking, hugging, pouring wine and getting the appetizers out, (I did squeeze in one shot of my half eaten plate).

So what did we eat? Well,foodie fans, the cuisine was Middle Eastern and that meant spices, spices and more spices. Throw in a couple of herbs for balance. Here was the run down for the evening.

APPETIZERS:

Kofta (Middle Eastern meatballs) These are usually served on skewers but we put out picks and accompanied them with a mint yogurt dip. This is the only recipe we did not take from Ottolenghi’s cookbooks. See an earlier post crediting the originator of this recipe, Conor Bofin.
Spices/Herbs: ground sumac berries, caraway, cumin, Aleppo pepper, fresh mint, garlic

Stuffed Portobellos w/ melted Taleggio cheese
Spices/Herbs: basil, tarragon, pepper, garlic

Mushrooms being stuffed

mushrooms being stuffed

SOUP:

Watercress & Chickpea w/ ras el hanout
Spices: ras el hanot is a North African blend and you just can’t find it in Wisconsin no matter how hard you try. After reading a few variations Curt created his own just like a good North African Jew.
Cardamom, clove, cinnamon, coriander, ground chili, cumin, pepper, paprika, fenugreek, turmeric, ginger, mace, allspice, nutmeg and fennel. (count’em – 15!)

ENTREE and SIDES:

Roasted Chicken w/ clementines and arak
Spices/Herbs: Whole grain mustard, thyme, fennel seeds, salt, black pepper, parsley

1) marinating w/ spices and clementines 2) ready to eat

1) chicken thighs marinating w/ spices and clementines 2) ready to eat

Saffron Cauliflower
Spices/Herbs: Saffron, black pepper, parsley, bay leaves

cauliflower

1) vegetables gathered 2) mixing in saffron 3) out of the oven

Herbed Rice
Herbs: Parsley, dill, chervil, chive, tarragon, marjoram

DESSERT:

Sweet Filo Cigars
Not herby or spicy. Lemon zest, honey and sugar

Rolling and frying the filo cigars

rolling and frying the filo cigars

As you can imagine from the above lists of spices, our house smelled amazing, beautiful, lusty, yummy. It was like entering a Moroccan Spice Market (let it be noted, I have never been to Morocco) or an Iranian or Middle Eastern grocery ( nah, haven’t been in those either but I have a good imagination). It was heady. Colorful too. And on top of it all, it tasted wonderful.

plated

the parts of the main plate

Here is my plate after a few minutes into eating. Obviously I was enjoying myself and almost forgot to grab the camera. I suggest you grab the Jerusalem cookbook and start spicing up your life.

Dinner is almost served

Two days plus change till guests arrive for our turn to cook dinner for the Foodie Group. We’ve been testing recipes, buying cookbooks, debating side dishes and appetizers and now it’s the home stretch. I thought things were pretty settled till my Sweetie, the main chef of this duo, questioned the starch side to the main entrée’. I should have expected this because he inevitably second guesses the menu and then we have to discuss the merits of the chosen dish over the merits of the suggested replacement. Rice dish versus potato dish, ended up with, I think, a compromise of a seasoned rice but he may call an audible on Thursday. In which case I will be panicking, thinking that everything is going to taste and look the same. But I think he’s convinced, for now.

Our overall cuisine choice was settled on when Curt discovered Yotam Ottolenghi and his cookbooks, Jerusalem and Plenty, which he co-authored with Sami Tamimi. (see post from 1/15/2014) “Ottolenghi’s cooking style is rooted in, but not confined to, his Middle Eastern upbringing: ‘a distinctive mix of Middle Eastern flavours – Syrian, Turkish, Lebanese, Iranian, Israeli and Armenian – with a western twist’. His “particular skill is in marrying the food of his native Israel with a wider range of incredible textures and flavours from the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia.” He now lives in London (he also has British and Italian roots) and we are from the US with roots in Germany so once we combine all that, dinner may resemble this map from 1581.

Stylized world map by Henry Bunting, 1581

Stylized world map by Henry Bunting, 1581

It’s not a food map but it could be interpreted to read as a confluence of cuisines centered in Jerusalem. Okay, okay, too romantic or esoteric for you? It’s a cool map and we used it on our invitations.

So like I said, cookbooks have been consulted. Lists made.

ckbk

This veggie dish is on the menu

Shopping will be completed tomorrow.

I hope we can get watercress in the middle of February.

I hope we can get watercress in the middle of February.

Tableware, decorations and napkins have been selected. Hey, you thought this was just dinner? Our foodies all try to create not only good food but a special atmosphere. And it gives us a chance to use some dishware and linens that normally would be stashed somewhere till a holiday might require their presence.

Red tablecloth/blue napkins

Red tablecloth/blue napkins

I have already done some cleaning but soon the madness will begin and God help you if you get in the way of Chef Curt once his plan of action is in place. I will have to insert myself into the kitchen at some point since I am the dessert woman for the evening and it is one I have never tried. I think I have some emergency gelato in the freezer in case of failure.

So, ready, set……oh crap!  The “Chef” is wondering is we have enough appetizers. Excuse me while I go slap him.