Another Turn of the Page – Stay Warm and Read

“What better occupation, really, than to spend the evening at the fireside with a book,
with the wind beating on the windows and the lamp burning bright…
-Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

reading-by-fire

This is our December list but as I write this it is January and it is 1 degree on my outdoor thermometer. Fortunately there is not much of a wind today so wind chill is only -10 but that could change tomorrow. Last month we were spoiled up here in Wisconsin with very mild weather, 40’s, 50’s and Wisconsinites had on their shorts and sandals. But now its snowmobile suits, mufflers, gloves and thick socks. If I didn’t have appointments this week that would be me in that picture above. But alas, I am not allowed to be a book hermit all week. Rest assured I will try every chance I get. And when I’m not reading, I’ll be working on a good jigsaw puzzle. So is it cold where you are? Need a suggestion for a good book? Here’s what we shared in December.

December

1. Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris by Alex Kershaw (2015) 304 pages. When American physician Sumner Jackson, and his family, lived at Number 11 on Avenue de Foch, he found himself drawn into the Liberation network of the French resistance. He knew the stakes were high. Down the road at Number 31 was the “mad sadist” Theodor Dannecker, an Eichmann protégé and at Number 84 was the Parisian headquarters of the Gestapo.

2. Old World Murder by Kathleen Ernst (2010) 325 pages. This debut novel is a good, steady paced mystery. The  characters are realistic and you do start to care about them. I thought it would be a typical cozy but it has some gutsy parts. Best of all it is set in Wisconsin in a real living museum. The author also uses other place names, locations and Wisconsin traditions, i.e., the Friday night fish fry, to make you feel right at home.

3. The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian (2013) 309 pages. This book is a historical thriller. The story unfolds in war-torn Italy and the chapters alternate back and forth from 1943  to 1955. All is set in Italy. In between are short chapters related to the individual who is killing the remaining Rosati family who once played reluctant hosts to the Nazis.

4. Killing Lessons by Saul Black (2015) 400 pages. A frightening, tense and suspenseful serial killer novel. Not for the faint of heart.

5. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (2015) 384 pages. Author of The Paris Wife. This fictional biography, set in colonial Kenya of the 1920″s, is about the life and times of pioneering aviator and horse racer Beryl Markham.

6. A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott (2015) 296 pages. With the background of the making of Gone with the Wind, this novel combines historical events with the fictional career of an aspiring screenwriter.

7. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (1962) 259 pages. What if Japan and Germany won WW2 and split up ownership of the US? That is the premise of this alternate history novel. Dick won the Hugo Award for best novel in 1963. This book is also the basis for Amazon’s drama series by the same name. Pretty scary stuff, similar to, “What if Donald Trump became president?”

8. Cross My Heart by James Patterson (2013) 544 pages. The 21st novel in the Detective Alex Cross series. This will be followed by “Hope to Die”.

9. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (2003) 356 pages. A memoir by an Iranian woman who was a professor of English & Persian Literature at the University of Tehran before, during, and after the revolution and war with Iraq.

10. Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr. (2012) 432 pages.The Civil War is over and Sam Freeman, a runaway slave who once fought in the union army has decided to leave his safety in Philadelphia and head out on foot towards the war-torn South in search of his wife, Tilda. This is almost a suicidal mission for he discovers little has changed.

11. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014) 460 pages. This may look like a romance but it really is a mix of murder, mystery and humor. The author tells the story of three mothers of kindergartners whose apparently perfect lives unravel to the point of murder and it will keep you guessing till the end.

12. See Me by Nicholas Sparks (2015) 486 pages. If you are a Sparks fan you will know what to expect, a story about love, with a bit of mystery and suspense thrown into the mix. And if you are a Sparks fan, you will love it.

And finally, one of our snowbirds sent me a message that even though she is in South Carolina, fleeing the cold, she still is thinking of us and reading. Ellie wanted to give a shout out to The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. I have read it and I agree, it is a good story.

Oh, What a Night!

Last night was almost surreal, or maybe I was hallucinating but a little “sort of surprise” retirement party took a lot of interesting turns. If I was Alice I might have thought I was sliding into the rabbit hole but no, we were at a new restaurant, to us, called THREE THREE FIVE. Seems it has been here in Green Bay for almost six years and we vaguely knew of it but had never been there. Fine foodies we are. Anyway this all started because a dear friend of ours is officially retiring from a fine academic career and we, Curt and I, and three other of her friends wanted to celebrate this milestone. We were initially called by Sid who proposed this outing. We readily agreed and the planning began. This particular restaurant was her first choice but they are a bit unusual as they are only open on Wednesdays to the general public. The rest of the time they host private parties, cooking classes and corporate gatherings. They tout themselves as an upscale private dining studio. Also they only take reservations a week ahead so on the off-chance we could not get a booking, Sid put an alternate plan in motion. She reserved us a table at Cafe Chanson, a local restaurant featuring French cuisine. If we couldn’t get THREE THREE FIVE, Cafe Chanson was a lock.

THREE I THREE I FIVE with Christmas lights reflected in window

THREE THREE FIVE with Christmas lights reflected in window

Fortunately she was able to get us a table and our guest of honor promised to hold the date open. We weren’t telling where we were going just that Curt and I were picking her up at 5:40pm. No dancing shoes required but bring your appetite.

When we entered the dining room we immediately saw two other friends and former colleagues from the University who had retired a few years earlier. They are great foodies and it wasn’t surprising that they had discovered this restaurant and were regular diners. They, of course, had a seat at the counter which overlooked the kitchen and the food prep. We greeted them and asked about the food, needless to say they gave it a vigorous thumbs up.

Once seated we got caught up in the atmosphere and the menu, which was printed on origami paper and had extremely small type. This group does not have young eyes and this was REALLY SMALL type and the lighting was dim. We muddled through but Ginny dug out her magnifying glass. The theme of tonight’s menu was the chef’s interpretation of Japanese cuisine.  We discovered later that each Wednesday is different and some evenings the menu has twice as many choices. Tonight happened to be Asian.

Origami Paper Menu

Origami Paper Menu

Three Three Five menu 1/6/16

THREE THREE FIVE menu 1/6/16

Once we started ordering I didn’t think of taking pictures of the food but this being a special occasion, it really wouldn’t have been appropriate. Some of us just wanted to graze on starters while three of us went directly for the Tonkatsu Ramen. Between the 6 of us we ended up trying everything except the Bread & Butter and the Steamed Bun (which we saw on another table and it looked great).

Now is when some of the special things happened. The chef arrived at our table saying this must be a special occasion because a couple at the bar wanted to buy us a bottle of wine or two bottles or cocktails. Well of course it was the friends I mentioned earlier. We went with a bottle of champagne (and asked him not to break the bank with his choice.) He chose well, not too dry, not too sweet.

After a few more plates were brought to the table, the chef sent an order of sablefish with his compliments. Okay here is the second weird thing this night. If you read us regularly, you know I don’t eat fish. I can’t even get it near my mouth. But Carol, after tasting the sablefish said I had to try this. It didn’t taste fishy. I would like it! All right, for the guest of honor, I would try. it. I am embarrassed to admit, I liked it. It was almost buttery. And…I had a second piece. Whoa! we were definitely down the rabbit hole.

As we ate and observed the other diners, we started to recognize people we knew but were not acquainted with, like the new director of the public library. He started after I retired so I was a stranger to him. Also one of our local sports stars, Jordy Nelson, from the Green Bay Packers. He is on the injured list so obviously can go out for a nice dinner instead of sweating it out somewhere preparing for this weekend’s playoff game.

As to the food… the Tonkatsu Ramen was amazing. Fabulous broth, mushrooms, slices of super tender pork belly and a perfectly cooked egg with a firmly set white and a totally runny yolk inside. We were so impressed with the egg that we asked the chef for details on how he accomplished that trick.

Curt pronounced the oysters good even if there was too much granita on top.The Wagyu Beef Dumplings were fabulous. Sid and Carol gave us some little tastes but kept the majority for themselves; they were really almost too good to share. The only real disappointment was the Chilled Foie Gras…lots of Riesling gel, lots of ground pine nuts, slices of lychee but if there was foie gras in there, Ginny couldn’t find it. The rest of us looked too. Maybe they waved it over the plate before bringing it to the table.  But that was a minor blip in the evening.

The major surprise came at the very end when we asked for our check and was told, “your bill has been taken care of.”. What?  No way. Our friends again.  Where are those two?  Gone.  Of course, the waitress wouldn’t tell us what it came to so we might tip her appropriately and we couldn’t thank our benefactors. So one of us asked if THREE THREE FIVE had gift certificates. They did, so we left a $100 certificate for our generous friends and an additional tip for the waitress. Next time our friends come in, it will be their turn for a surprise.

Like I said, What a Night!

 

 

The Basic Batard

No, not bastard; batard.

detail of bread crust

A batard is basically a loaf of bread lacking the confidence to be a baguette, that classic bread of France. The classic baguette is around 24″ long and around 2-1/2″ in diameter. The batard is shorter – around 12″ but sometimes as little as 6″.

I like baguettes/batards for several reasons. The crust to crumb ratio is pretty high so you get lots of nice crispy/chewy crust (my favorite). You don’t need to slice it because its small diameter allows for the primal pleasure of just tearing a piece off to dip into your soup. And, lastly, the baguette/batard is the prefect bread for making pain perdu, French toast.

While I have made bread for many years, I’ve avoided trying to make batards.  When I have tried in the past, they came out pasty, with poor crust and just plain boring.  The problem was not enough temperature and humidity.

But, I have solved those issues.  I haven’t done anything that most good bread cookbooks don’t tell you.  It’s just that I actually followed directions this time and it worked.

Basically this is the same dough I use for my basic bread using the well-known recipe for no-knead bread from Jim Lahey and popularized by Mark Bittman in a video in the New York Times.  The difference for batards is in the final rise and baking.

Batards rising. Note generous coating of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the towel.

Batards rising. Note generous coating of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the towel.

Prepare the dough as directed in the recipe.  After the dough has fermented over night, divide it into 2 or 3 pieces, handling it carefully so as to not deflate it.  Shape (stretch) each piece into a 12″, or so, long form and place on a floured tea towel to rise.  You can bunch up the towel along the loaf to help keep it from spreading too much.  Use a separate towel for each loaf because you will use the towel to roll the loaf onto your baking sheet.

While the loaves are rising, pre-heat the oven to 500˚ F. Put a large roasting pan on the lower rack of the over with 1″ hot water in it.

Slashed loaves on baking sheet ready for the oven.

Slashed loaves on baking sheet ready for the oven.

Roll the risen loaves onto a dry baking sheet.  Using a very sharp knife or single edged razor blade, slash each loaf (classically with 3 long diagonals) about 1/4″ deep.  Put the sheet into the hot and humid oven and bake for 25 minutes.

Finished loaves fresh from the oven.

Finished loaves fresh from the oven.

Allow the batards to cook on a wire rack and store at room temperature. Bon appétit!

The "Taster" waiting for his sample of the fresh batards.

The “Taster” waiting for his sample of the fresh batards.

The “Taster” is a small sculpture that hangs on our kitchen wall.  It was made by Andrew Lonnquist of Olander Earthworks.  We bought ours at the Saturday Market in Portland, Oregon but is also available (along with a number of other characters) at his Etsy site.

Dum Dum Dum, Dum da Dum, Dum da Dum

Spoiler Alert! yep, I mention things you don’t want to know,unless you are in the know.

forceWe finally made it to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I had to spend 5 days avoiding spoilers and over-enthusiastic reviewers who forgot to put “spoiler-alert” at the top of their articles. But I made it and wow!

Back in November, the 17th to be exact, our friend Michael emailed an idea for the foodies group. “How about we all go see Star Wars and then go out for dinner afterwards?” It didn’t take long for us and the third couple of our group (Patricia and Richard) to say, YES!!!!

We decide against the opening day cause we are old nerds and not interested in fighting the crowds or the kids with light sabers. So we picked the following Tuesday, the 22nd. I was charged with getting the tickets, Michael the dinner reservations. Two days before Christmas meant picking the theater furthest away from the huge shopping mall. None of us were interested in walking a half mile from our parking spot to the show. And two days before Christmas also means that even on a Tuesday the restaurants would be packed…ours was.

The movie: I really enjoyed it. It did seem very familiar as it seemed to echo Star Wars: A New Hope in many ways. Harrison Ford, even at 73, still played Solo at his cocky best. He has aged well. Weren’t some of his lines original to Episode 4? Carrie Fisher pulled off General Organa even though in person Carrie is a bit flaky she handled her role well.

Their first meeting in the movie, Han: “You’ve changed your hair.”
Leia: “
You’re wearing the same jacket.”

han-leia-star-wars-the-force-awakens-161251

I loved these snippets of dialogue.  Chewie was Chewie. And of course C3PO and R2D2 eventually made their appearance. My favorite character was Rey, for she is the subtitle folks. Yep, the force is strong in her and it’s waking up. But then isn’t Luke her father?

picture from Comicbookmovie.com

picture from Comicbookmovie.com

My fellow movie goers did not think so but I contend she and Kylo Ren are cousins. By the way, these two have a very intense light saber battle. Great to see Luke finally. Did you notice the Mark Hamill was on-screen for 20 seconds and got 2nd billing in the credits? And Han, oh we will miss you.

All in all we had a great time. Now I can read all of the articles on who everyone is and why they are fighting. Like who’s the Resistance as opposed to the Republic and where the hell Supreme Leader Snope came from? (PS: He’s really Andy Serkis).

Afterwards we had a great time at a local restaurant, Plae Bistro where we hashed out the movie, shared our favorite moments, drank a lot of wine and ate good food (except for the Mushroom Spätzle, yuk).

I will end with a movie/food note. Did you spot the Romanesco Broccoli in Rey’s meal at Maz Kanata’s? A fractal vegetable, how delightful.

Romanesco Brocolli

Romanesco broccoli

An Old Friend Leaves Us

Today we had to face the death of a beloved pet. The dear little cat was named Shadow and he was my mother’s cat for at least 8 years and he was a sweetie. He came to her as an adult not a kitten. He was a long and lanky guy compared to his new roommate, the short and pudgy Sassy (my Mom’s other cat). He was kind of a goofball, hiding in the closet, behind the towels. Drinking out of the sink instead of a bowl. He loved to play, he loved to cuddle and when Sassy passed on he became the resident lap cat.

Peek-a-boo

Peek-a-boo

In the past year he started losing a lot of weight. He was still eating but his lankiness started to become more pronounced. Then my Mom fell in October. With three fractures in her pelvis, it was just too much for her to take care of him and herself. So the decision was made to board Shadow for a while. Fortunately his veterinarian also has a boarding service so one afternoon I picked him up and took him off to the Cat Care Clinic. My Mom called and checked on him everyday. For a few days he wouldn’t eat much and the assistants hand fed him. Then some diarrhea kicked in and the doctor asked if she could do some blood tests.  Results were inconclusive but by the time I picked him up 12 days later, he had probiotics, anti-diarrheal medicine and an one other pill. He came home to lots of tender loving care from my recuperating Mom. He started eating again, bowel movements stabilized and because he had a big heart he once again became her faithful companion for the next five weeks. Probably one of the main factors that got her through her healing.

But once she was up and around he started failing. The old symptoms came back, he seemed to lose more weight, if that was possible, and he just didn’t look good. This week, no food would stay in him at all and it was clear he had something very serious, like cancer, and was probably starving. His little heart was giving up. My mom made the tough, tough decision to have him euthanized. Curt and I took him back to the kind people at the clinic.

The Shadow knows.

The Shadow knows.

Today is a day of mourning but we will never forget the Shadow and his big heart and the joy he brought to my Mom’s life.

Another Turn of the Page: The Meeting I Missed

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship,
stories are the thing we need most in the world.”Philip Pullman

book-shelf2

I love my book groups. At this one, I sort of facilitate…you know, keep the discussion rolling, but frankly any of the members could do it. We are a very compatible bunch. We all love books and reading and we make sure everyone gets a chance to talk about the books they brought. I, unfortunately, had an unexpected trip to Urgent Care with my Mom this past month so there was no way I was going to get to the meeting. I quickly contacted a few people, asked them to keep a list of the books discussed and said I’d try to get there if I was able to get away in time. No such luck.  Later, I felt sad. I discovered that I really really missed being there. When I saw Philip Pullman’s quote (above), I knew it was the one for this post. I need the stories and I needed the companionship of my fellow readers.

The other Jeanne kept the list and dropped it off the following Saturday, saying, “I wonder if you can guess who read which book?”  Yikes! Quite a challenge. First of all I didn’t know who attended and who didn’t. We also have a few new people. I haven’t quite gotten a handle on their reading patterns yet. To be honest, we have some long time members who are pretty eclectic readers, so they are a challenge as well. At this week’s meeting, I am going to make my guesses. I will add a note later to this post with the results. (See note at end, added 12/10/15). In the meantime, here are the books.

november

1. The Innocent Killer: A True Story of a Wrongful Conviction and its Astonishing Aftermath by Michael Griesbach (2014) 283p. An in-depth look at a very important case in Wisconsin criminal law. It is the story of violent crimes against women, police investigations and the vital importance of evidence.

2. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson (1989) 299p. The author travels 14,00 miles through America visiting a variety of small towns. Remember this was the America of over 25 years ago.

3. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (2013) 404p. A far-reaching novel, Hosseini explores the ways families nurture, wound, betray, honor and sacrifice for each other and how we are often surprised by the actions of those closest to us.

4. Winter Stroll by Elin Hilderbrand ((2015) 272p. 2nd in a trilogy, following Winter Street, and it is another Christmas on Nantucket. In this one, Kelley Quinn, owner of the Winter Street Inn, reflects on the past year as he writes a holiday letter to friends and family.

5. West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan (2015) 304p. A compelling but also heartbreaking novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years in Hollywood.

6. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (2015) 489p. The is the third in the Cormoran Strike mysteries written under a pseudonym of J.K. Rowling. It starts off with a bang when a mysterious package containing a woman’s severed leg is delivered to Robin Ellacott (Strike’s partner). Then it is just an exciting ride to the finish.

7. The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom (2012) 224p. “In this fable, the first man on earth to count the hours becomes Father Time.” –Goodreads

8. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2004) 371p. Our second novel by this author. This one, his debut novel, is set in Afghanistan and is the story of an unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant. Was made into a feature film.

9. Mamista by Len Deighton (1991) 410 pages. As a group of Marxist revolutionaries in Spanish Guiana prepare to unseat their country’s leader, a group of high-powered men in Washington prepare to keep the current government intact and capitalize on the small country’s newfound oil.

10. The Pearl that Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashini (2014) 464p. Set in Kabul, 2007, Rahima and her sisters, with no brothers or strong father, can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope is an ancient custom, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters. But this is a story of two women because a century earlier, her great-aunt, Shekiba, lived her life the same way.

11. The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison (2015) 464p. This is the story of a Somali pirate hijacking gone bad despite the best efforts of Paul, the best hostage negotiator the FBI has. It tries to explain the reasons behind such acts of piracy without excusing them. Though this is fiction the author uses real incidents to tell his tale.

12. The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty (2012) 384p. In 1922, only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, her parents insist she be accompanied by Cora Carlisle, a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Five weeks in the big city together will change both of their lives.

13. The Bavarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar (2011) 432p. Tobar, the author of Deep Down Dark, uses his fiction to take a look at life in Southern California. He centers the story around the well-to-do household of Scott Torres and Maureen Torres-Thompson and their over-worked cook/housekeeper, Araceli. Araceli happens to be an educated woman from Mexico City but because of her illegal status can only find work as a domestic.

Note: Checked in with the group today. I got 7 of the 13 correct. Not too shabby!!

Just a Little Nutty, vol. 2

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Tomato/Almond Pesto

This is another recipe adapted from one I found in Bon Appetite (November 2015). The original recipe called for cherry tomatoes and quite a bit more than I use here. I wanted more almond, less tomato to come through in the final product. This pesto was intended to be a dressing on blistered green beans.  We tried that and it was fine but I thought it was better as a dip for crudites (I kept sampling it with the raw green beans before I cooked them) so I present it here as a dip but feel free to use it however you think will be tasty.

Ingredients; Kumato tomatoes are described as brown

Ingredients; Kumato tomatoes are described as brown

2 medium sized tomatoes (I used Kumato Brown Tomatoes because they’re the best available in Green Bay at this time of year), seeded and cored, and cut into 1/2″ pieces.
1/4 C. roasted, unsalted almonds
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. Sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1 tsp. sweet paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and pepper

Cut about 1/4″ off both ends of the tomatoes.  Remove the core and the jelly/seed part.  Cut the tomato flesh from the walls and ends into 1/2″ pieces.  chopped

Place the tomato pieces into a cold nonstick saute pan and put on medium-low heat.  Leave the tomatoes to heat; they will release much of their water and gradually turn soft.  DO NOT vigorously stir.  You want to leave the cooked tomato in recognizable pieces.  Set aside to cool completely.

Grind the almonds in a food processor or blender to a fine chop or coarse meal consistency.  Finely mince the garlic.

Add half of the cooled tomatoes, all the almonds, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, paprika and cayenne (if using) to a mixing bowl.  Stir to combine well and mash the tomatoes somewhat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Put in the remaining half of the tomatoes and stir gently, trying to keep the tomato pieces somewhat whole.

dip

Finished dip

Serve as a dip for raw or lightly cooked vegetables; as a sauce for grilled meat; or as a spread on thin slices of crusty bread.

This can be made up to several hours in advance.  It may store well in the refrigerator but I’ve never had any left over to find out.

Smoked paprika might be an interesting substitution for the sweet paprika. I’ll update you on that if I try it. In the meantime stay tuned for more “nutty” recipes.

Just a Little Nutty, vol.1

Walnut/Parsley Pesto

About a year ago Jeanne subscribed to Bon Appetit magazine. We had some extra airline miles or reward points, who knows, so she thought we would take a chance on a new subscription. I was skeptical. We have a subscription to Saveur, and in the past we have gotten Fine Cooking, Gourmet, and the much-missed Cuisine (now defunct). But for some reason Bon Appetit seemed to be equated with Good Housekeeping in my mind. But surprise, surprise, we have gotten some fine recipes out of this publication. The December issue arrived the other day and the theme splashed across the cover was “Cookies!”. So of course it was the holiday issue and I immediately said there wouldn’t be much to cook from this issue.

However that evening there I was with the magazine open on the counter and ingredients for a Bucatini with Walnut-Parsley Pesto gathered next to it. As I browsed past the Buche de Noel and the Ombre Rainbow cookies this recipe jumped out and I knew it sounded good and that we pretty much had everything needed to prepare it.  Of course, with some make-do substitutions.

First off, we had two sizes of bucatini, a long,hollow, macaroni-like pasta, but not enough of either size to make a meal. So, I used both. Luckily, even though they were technically of different overall diameters, the wall thickness of each was the same and so they would cook at the same rate.

noodles

Bucatini, big (right) and small (left)

Now onward to the recipe, with a few apologies to Bon Appetit.

Ingredients

Adapted to yield 2 servings

  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 2 Piquillo peppers and 2 Piparras peppers.  The original recipe called for 3 pickled Calabrian peppers or 1/2 Fresno chile with seeds.  Calabrian peppers seem to be the darling of the food world these days but we didn’t have any.  The Piquillo are sweet pimento-like peppers and Piparras are small pickled, mild, chili-like peppers.  We used Matiz brand of both.  Pimento and Pepperoncini, seeded, would be an acceptable substitutions.
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely grated
  • 3/4 ounce Parmesan, finely grated (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 – 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 3/8 pound bucatini or spaghetti (about 6 ounces), broken in half lengthwise
Ingredients measured and ready to go

Ingredients measured and ready to go

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until fragrant and slightly darkened, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.  You can do this in a dry skillet too but watch carefully so you don’t scorch the walnuts.
  • Reserve 2 Tbs. of the walnuts.   Pulse remaining walnuts in a food processor or blender until very finely chopped (but not pasty). Reserve remaining walnuts for serving. Remove stems from Piparras peppers; add Piquillo and Piparras peppers to food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer walnut/pepper mixture to a medium bowl and stir in garlic, Parmesan, oil, and parsley. Season pesto with salt and pepper.  Taste to adjust seasoning.  You should be able to taste the walnuts, garlic, cheese and parsley without any one of them taking over.  Try to avoid eating the whole bowl before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

    Ingredients, chopped and mixed waiting for the pasta to be cooked

    Ingredients, chopped and mixed waiting for the pasta to be cooked

  • Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente.   Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot and add pesto along with 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid. Toss, adding splashes of cooking liquid as needed, until pesto coats pasta and sauce is glossy.
  • Crush reserved walnuts with the flat side of a knife. Divide pasta among bowls and top with walnuts and more parsley.
  • Do Ahead: Although the pesto can be made ahead, and kept covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days, it hardly seems necessary.  The prep takes little time, there’s no actual cooking involved and the pesto will taste best when freshly make.

I usually like to add a bit of protein so with this dish I coated a few shrimp with Korean chili sauce (G0chujang ) and fried them separately.

Chopped peppers, Shrimp in Koran chili sauce

Chopped peppers, Shrimp in Koran chili sauce

Now when Jeanne cooks a new recipe it is very important that there is a picture. She measures her success on how close her finished dish looks to the photo. I, on the other hand, cook from the recipe.  Pictures are nice but not essential. In this case I think Jeanne would be pleased at how close my shoot-from-the-hip attitude matches the photo.

2plates

Left: Magazine photo from the December, 2015 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.  Right: Curt plating (before adding shrimp)

The final plates that came to our table had the shrimp. Bon Appetit!

plate1

This post begins a series that will center around nuts.  I was please with this dish and, my addition of a couple of shrimp notwithstanding, it’s a pretty simple meatless meal.  The nuts add a richness and texture that is appealing.  The recipe got me thinking about nuts in other well known or not so well known dishes.  In the future I will follow my nose and post some other nut based, flavored or inflected dishes that I hope you will like.

We are Going to get Gas

Natural Gas. Not the natural gas from legumes and cruciferous vegetables but the kind that heats your house and cooks your food.

Ever since we moved out to the country, away from our local urban area, we have heated our home with propane. Well, to be honest, we heated with oil for a short time but quickly had that removed and contracted with the local propane company. A tank was installed in our yard and every 6 weeks or so the propane guy would show up and top off the tank. Prices varied from year to year but we didn’t have much choice. Natural gas didn’t come down our road because we didn’t have enough residents along our mile. And we weren’t interested in cutting and splitting wood and stoking a stove. We did have a small wood stove for a while but it super heated our living room while the rest of the house froze. Creosote build-up and chimney fires were always a worry.

Last year we had a super cold winter. Our locked in price on propane ran out and we had a few pretty high bills. So this year we prepaid at a locked in price for the full season to get a good price.  A month after we paid the money Wisconsin Public Service ( the local natural gas company) sent us a letter inquiring about our interest in natural gas. I guess we finally had enough people living on our road. Great timing!

Sure we were interested but what were the details? Were we going to take a big loss on the already purchased propane? When is this happening? Once we got the details it wasn’t as dire as we might have imagined. Still on propane this year, natural gas next spring. Whew! That saves some trouble and money.

Breaking ground

Breaking ground

But the pipe was getting laid this fall and two weeks ago it began. Pretty slick. Dig a hole, dig another hole further down the road feet (up to a 1/4 mile away), force a bore through the ground until you get to the next hole – attach the gas line to the bore and then pull the gas line back through the hole.  Not as much digging as I thought until – the bore is steerable and can maneuver around underground obstacles.…until they got to our house. Lots of rocks made it harder to just force the pipe through. So they dug a big hole and moved on down the road to lay the rest of the pipe on the other side of our neighbors house. Plan was to force the pipe from the other direction. Great idea until they hit the mother of all rocks. As the pipe went 6,7,8 feet down rather than forward, they gave up. So an actual trench had to be dug.

Conference: "Sheet! That's a big effing rock"

Conference: “Sheet! That’s a big effing rock”

Digging the trench.

Digging the trench.

 

Some of the "smaller" rocks

Some of the “smaller” rocks the size of watermelons, microwave ovens and ottomans

 

Trench and pipe

Trench and pipe

Well whatever they planned must have worked because yesterday they hauled away the big rocks, back-filled the trench leaving a hole open in the front of our house. Next week they’re supposed to dig another trench up to our house to make the service connection. Wonder if there is another big rock waiting for them?

We were left with a smaller hole and attractive orange tubs.

We were left with a smaller hole and attractive orange tubs.

Another Turn of the Page: And I remembered Everyone’s Name

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

bookshelf graphic from Goodreads

bookshelf graphic from Goodreads

It’s been crazy around here with travel and family emergencies so I never got to the September book list. So, I am jumping straight into October. But first I have to tell you the neat thing about September: We had an influx of new members, three guys and a gal. It was great to have new readers sharing their books. And in October, they all came back and I, because of my sneaky notes, remembered everyone’s name. Yes!

I also made some comment about how great to increase the gender pool (we now have 4 men), to which one of the guys said, “yes, and we are the deep end.” I though about this a minute and said, “Wait a minute, that means , we are …the shallow end?”  Hmm, we are going to have to stay on our toes with these guys. But really, I love having them. The discussion, the input and the humor is a different dynamic and that’s good.

So, here’s what all fourteen of us read. PS: Three of these titles were reviewed in previous months but I list everything our members present in a month. After all we get some of our reading choices from each other. Oh, and by the way, Happy Halloween!

october1.The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (2013) 416 pages. The story of the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew and their quest for gold. A team, composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, who defeat elite rivals from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler.

2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) 531 pages. A National Book Award finalist this New York Times bestseller is about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

3. Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Alan Sherman by Mark Cohen (2013) 353 pages. With exclusive access to Allan Sherman’s estate, Cohen has written the first biography of the manic, excessive, and hugely creative artist who sold three million albums in just twelve months, yet died in obscurity a decade later at the age of forty-nine.

4.Back of Beyond by C.J. Box (2011) 372 pages. Box, famous for his Joe Pickett series, tries his hand with a new character, Cody Hoyt, a troubled cop who tries to save his son from a killer stalking Yellowstone Park. The story is good, but doesn’t come close to his Pickett series.

5. The Martian by Andy Weir (2011) 369 pages. I am sure you have heard of this one because of all the movie buzz ( and the movie is good but the book is better). I featured the original cover because when I read this, the movie rights had just been sold. The story: “After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark Watney finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.” Besides being a great story of survival this book has marvelous humor.

6. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (2015) 430 pages. An engrossing story of the sinking of the luxury liner, Lusitania, by a German U-boat in 1915.

7. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009) 290 pages. Set in Seattle, this novel tells the story of a forbidden friendship between a Chinese-American boy named Henry Lee and a Japanese-American girl named Keiko Okabe during the Second World War.

8. The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain (2014) 352 pages. After the death of her father, Riley MacPherson returns to her childhood home. While clearing out his possessions she finds out more than she bargained for, her sister, who she believed committed suicide, may be alive.

9. Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by Laura Bates (2013) 291 pages. Bates had created the world’s first Shakespeare class in a supermax prison – the solitary confinement unit. Larry Newton, indicted for murder and sentenced to life with no possibility of parole, is the man she transforms.

10. Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman (2015) 384 pages. A love story set on the tropical island of St. Thomas about the extraordinary woman who gave birth to painter Camille Pissarro; the Father of Impressionism.

11. The Scam by Janet Evanovich (2015) 304 pages. Tired of Evanovich? Well Pete isn’t and he says this one ( #4 in the Fox and O’Hare series) is the most fun yet. Capers, cons and heists! What more could you ask for?

12. Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hector Tobar (2014) 320 pages. A fascinating story, soon to be a major motion picture.

13. Light in August by William Faulkner (1931) 507 pages. Leave it to Bea to get us back to a classic. In this one, Lena Grove travels, on foot and with the aid of strangers, through the South in search of the father of her unborn child. Her journey introduces the reader to a variety of characters, including the child’s father, a man who falls in love with Lena, and a biracial man named Christmas. Strong, memorable characters. (And I couldn’t resist using a vintage cover)

14. Necessary Lives by Diane Chamberlain (2013) 368 pages. It is 1960 in North Carolina and the lives of Ivy Hart and Jane Forrester couldn’t be more different. Fifteen-year-old Ivy lives with her family as tenants on a small tobacco farm, but when her parents die, Ivy is left to care for her grandmother, older sister, and nephew. As she struggles with her grandmother’s aging, her sister’s mental illness, and her own epilepsy, she realizes they might need more than she can give. (I always though this author was a romance writer. I was wrong as evidenced by the two of her books presented this month).