A Big Lemony Thank You

Anyone who works in a school, specifically a Barrington Public School, knows that the indispensable champions, the truly unsung heroes, are the custodians. They keep our environment tidy and livable.  When teachers and students come in any morning, the trash is emptied, the floors are swept, and the toilets are clean.  How many times a day do I call on John (or Johnny, Tim, Joe, or John) to adjust someone’s heat, or investigate a weird smell, or restock paper towels, or clean up a coffee spill (don’t even get me started about the giant coffees students suck down, or spill, all day at the high school).  Worse, whenever someone vomits and doesn’t make it to a toilet. Even worse, when the occasional subhuman decides to take a dump on the floor instead of where it belongs (yes, it happens. Not often. ). Bloody nose dripped on the floor?  Call a custodian. No paper in the copy room?  Call a custodian.  Bees in the ceiling?  Roof is leaking? Fruit flies in the office?  Your key got stuck in the door?  Yup, call a custodian.  And no matter how busy they are, when I call and ask for something, they provide it within minutes.

In addition, these gentleman (and they are gentlemen, courteous and helpful, to a man) work all summer in a building that is mostly not air-conditioned. You think you’re hot in a classroom in June?  Imagine being in that same classroom in July, moving furniture, stripping and waxing the floors (four coats!), and moving all the furniture back.  They get all this done before most of the staff set foot in the building (too soon!), and they greet all the returning teachers with a smile.  How many of us could do the work they do and be as gracious as they are?

So this is a big THANK YOU shout-out to the custodians of Barrington High School. I made you this lemon pound cake.  And I hope whoever reads this will think about, and thank, the people who keep their workspace clean, tidy, and stocked.

image_554582107364224Lemon Pound Cake

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • zest of two lemons, about 2 tablespoons, plus more to decorate if desired
  • Juice of three lemons, divided
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 11/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 325º. Butter and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan and set aside.  In a medium bowl, mix together flour, powder, and salt, and set aside.

Cream 1 cup butter and sugar together and blend at medium speed for about a minute.  Add the lemon zest and 4 tablespoons juice, and mix. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Alternate adding the sour cream and flour, half of each at a time, mixing well after the cream and until just incorporated after the flour. Spoon batter into prepared pan, and bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove to a rack for a few minutes, then turn onto a cake plate.

Glaze:  While the cake is cooling, whisk together 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar, and 1 tablespoon melted butter.  Brush the glaze onto the cake while it is still warm, adding more when it is absorbed.  Top with fresh lemon zest.

Cake is best served the day after making it, but I can’t usually wait that long.

A Quick Winter Cocktail

Babs and I made up a cocktail,img_2879 but we haven’t settled on a name yet. It is a variation on a Whiskey Sour, with maple instead of simple syrup. I prefer using very dark, strong-flavored maple syrup, what is known in some areas as Grade B (but not in Vermont, where they prefer to categorize all their maple syrup as Grade A), but that’s a matter of taste. The other people in my house don’t care for that intensity of maple. It’s also very good with a bourbon-barrel aged syrup, like Wood’s. Vermont Sidecar? Maple Sour?  What do you think?

  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce maple syrup

Add all ingredients to a shaker filled with ice, and shake vigorously for 10 seconds.  img_2877Strain into an old fashioned glass with fresh ice, or into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry, if desired.

Lemon Ricotta Cookie Throwdown – or, A Short New Orleans Visit

img_2401-2
Sugar loading at Angelo Brocato’s

I was in my beloved New Orleans a few weeks ago, with no agenda but to soak up as much Rob Kellner juju as I could get. Chuck had to work almost the whole time we were there, so Rob and I had a good bit of mother-son time. We went to a few museums, ate at almost no restaurants I’d ever been before, and took care of what my friend Bevin calls “doing the needful” – oil change and grocery shopping.

Rob picked us up at the airport, took us to our hotel, and then we headed to Felix Oyster Bar on Iberville in the French Quarter for dinner.  Okay, so I went to a few restaurants I’d been before.  Two or three.  If you haven’t already read my ode to Felix’s, I’ll sum up now by saying

img_2359
Oyster feast at Felix’

just go.  Not fancy at all, just fresh, delicious food.  Best char-grilled oysters in town. www.felixs.comThen we walked a block on the dug-up Bourbon Street – road work is making it even more disgusting than usual, with no where to go to dodge the drunks and hucksters.  We elbowed our way to the Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta to hear the legendary Germaine Bazzle and her band.  Miss Germaine is a jazz vocalist who sings scat, and can mimic a muted trumpet.  She’s 85, looks 15 years younger than that, and was a joy to see.

On Monday Rob and I went to the beautiful Botanical Garden in City

img_2364
At the Botanical Garden

Park, where we saw enormous lily pads and riotous orchids.

Then we had lunch at Parkway Bakery & Tavern (parkwaypoorboys.com).  Rob had been before, but I hadn’t.  There is usually a long line to the order counter in the dining room, but here’s an insider tip:  sit down at the bar in the front of the Bakery, and the bartender will order for you.

img_2379
One oyster, one catfish

There were some screamingly loud tipsy women at the bar when we sat down, so we thought about moving to a table outside, but the bartenders were pouring half price fresh mango margaritas, so we stuck it out.

In the evening Rob collected me and we drove to the Westbank, across the river, to the House of Hope Fellowship in Harvey, where Rob is the accompanist.  I had been hoping to attend a church service since Rob started playing there almost a year ago.  What a welcoming, uplifting sermon and congregation!  Several ladies of the church came up and gave me a hug, and said how much they treasure Rob.  “Me too!” I said.

On Tuesday Rob and I went to the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Old US Mint, where we saw an exhibit about the women of New Orleans Jazz (including a clip of Miss Germaine singing!), and a photo essay about musicians in traditional brass bands written and photographed by the father of Rob’s friend and colleague, the brilliant trumpeter Aurelian Barnes. We had lunch at a quirky place called Shank Charcuterie , a one-man operation, with house-made smoked meats.  (www.shankcharcuterie.com)  Boudin!  Yum.

Kristopher Doll, butcher and chef

Wednesday we wandered through the Impressionists and later artists at the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park.  Later we lunched at Brown Butter Southern Kitchen – amazing Brussels sprouts!(www.brownbutterrestaurant.com).

img_2407

 

While grocery shopping, we rescued a grasshopper from the broccoli bin at Whole Foods, and resettled her on an outdoor window-box of asparagus ferns.

On Wednesday afternoon we went to Angelo Brocato’s, a famous Italian bakery and ice cream shop in Mid-City img_2400(www.angelobrocatoicecream.com)  We had gelato, an eclair, a chocolate cannoli, and a few bakery cookies, including lemon ricotta cookies.  The eclair and cannoli were delicious, the gelato was sublime, but the cookies?  Meh.  I told Rob I could do better. I mean no disrespect to Angelo Brocato’s, which is a gem.  But I think my cookie is better – more lemony and moister.

Here’s my recipe.  Rob, look for your package in a few days.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 15 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
  • zest of two lemon, finely grated, divided
  • 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

Combine first three ingredients and set aside.  Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in eggs.  Add ricotta cheese, zest, lemon juice, and vanilla and blend completely.  Add dry ingredients and stir gently until just combined.  Cover with waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or non-stick foil.  Using two spoons or a cookie scoop, measure out tablespoons of batter onto prepared sheets.  Bake for about 15 minutes, or until edges just begin to brown.  Remove from oven and cool on parchment for 20 minutes.

Icing:  Blend together confectioners sugar, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, and zest of one lemon.  Dip cooled cookies into icing, and let set on parchment until icing hardens.  Store in airtight container.

Makes about 5 dozen.

img_2425-2

Lobster, et al.

My dad had a severe allergy to crustaceans, those water creatures that turn pink or red when cooked:  lobster, crab, shrimp, and crawfish.  Because they couldn’t be cooked in our house, they became very special occasion foods, something to be ordered in nice restaurants.  My mom will still get a lobster roll on or near her birthday.  Or any other time they are offered, really.IMG_0618

When Andrew was four, he tried his first lobster.  He tasted a piece of the claw, then tried a small chunk from the tail.  He chewed, swallowed, thought about it, then said (famously, in our house), “I’ll just have a big bowl of claws.”  You and me both, buddy.

Babs and I, and later Chuck when he joined our lives, would make a pilgrimage once a year to Krones Lavallette Inn on the Jersey Shore.  For a ridiculously low price (maybe $12 in 1988?), they would serve us a lobster steamed or boiled in beer, corn on the cob, french fries, and a salad.  My memory tells me those were the best lobsters ever.  Cheap drinks and friendly/salty waitresses perfected the experience.

One memorable lobster meal was a birthday party for my Uncle Jeff at a friend’s house. We all had lobsters, grilled chicken, and corn on the cob, then jumped in the pool. There was soon a notable butter slick floating on the water. I thought of that often when cleaning the pool at our house in Cincinnati – I wonder how long it took for the butter to filter out of that lobster party pool?

In my adulthood, I have developed a mild crustacean allergy, mild enough that I wonder if it’s all in my head.  It is well managed by taking an antihistamine and not overindulging.  When I make New Orleans barbecue shrimp or roasted shrimp cocktail, I need to keep the windows open and the exhaust fan blasting, or my face gets itchy.  I can usually cook OR eat them, but not both.  I overindulged on lobster salad (recipe below) last week, and had to double the Claritin dose.

About that New Orleans barbecue shrimp:  it isn’t grilled or barbecued, and it doesn’t have anything like BBQ sauce on it.  Traditionally, whole shrimp with shells and heads are cooked in an addictive blend of butter, lemon, Worcestershire sauce, and creole seasoning, heavy on the black pepper, rosemary, and thyme.  It is usually an appetizer, served with crusty French bread to soak up that compelling sauce.  For an entree, it may be served with rice. Pascal’s Manale, an old-school restaurant Uptown that claims to have invented the dish, serves it shelled on paneed veal (like a schnitzel). While they may have invented it, Mr. B’s on Royale Street has perfected it, and their website provides the recipe I follow when I make it.  Mr. B’s BBQ Shrimp  Also, see more of my recommendations in my New Orleans post:  I dream of New Orleans

In the summer I like to make a lobster, corn, & tomato salad.  Except for wrangling the beastie out of its shell, this is a simple preparation with beautifully cool, fresh flavors.

Can’t Stop Eating this Lobster, Corn, and Tomato Salad

  • Two 1.25 pound lobsters, steamed (I usually have the market steam them for me) and cooled – or you can buy 2 cups shelled lobster meat if you’re feeling lazy.IMG_1128
  • 4 ears of fresh local corn
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 small or 1/2 large sweet onion, like a Vidalia (substitute red onion if desired, but there will be a sharper flavor)
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • Juice from 1 lemon, more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons champagne or white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • salt & pepper
  • cayenne pepper, optional

Break off the lobster tails and claws.  With kitchen shears cut the shells open and carefully extract the meat.  Be sure to remove the fin of cartilage from the claws.  If you are strong and in no hurry, you can also remove the meat from the legs & knuckles – this tends to be a slow process.  You can whack the claws and legs with a mallet or hammer, to speed up the process, but be sure to remove any slivers of shell that this creates.  Set lobster meat aside.*

Cut the grape tomatoes into quarters or halves (it’s a matter of taste), place in a colander over the sink, and sprinkle with a half teaspoon of salt.  Toss gently, then leave to drain while preparing the rest of the salad.

Shuck the corn, and brush gently to remove as much corn silk as possible. Carefully cut the kernels from the cobs into a large bowl.  Cut onion into tiny dice, then in a small bowl, whisk it together with lemon zest and juice, vinegar, olive oil, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne if desired.  Pour over corn.  Cut reserved lobster meat into bite-sized pieces, and add to the corn.  Add fresh herbs and cut, drained tomatoes.  Gently stir to incorporate all ingredients.  Taste to adjust seasonings.

Serve over lettuce leaves.  Should serve two for a main course, or more as an appetizer.

*The lobster shells can be saved to make into a stock.  Shrimp shells, too.  Put in a stock pot, add chopped onion & celery, cover with water and a lid, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, and cook for a couple of hours.  Cool, strain, and freeze.  Perfect for seafood gumbo.

The Bird in the Wall

First, some backstory:  We have birds fly into our home.  A lot.  We always have, in every house in which we’ve lived, although not when we lived in apartments in New York.  We have birds nest in our mailbox or our Christmas wreath, or fly in through a briefly opened door, or find their way in through the curtains.  I have come to understand that most people do not have to catch or chase out upwards of a bird every few weeks from their house.  But we do, several per month, more in the warm months.

The only time in our homeowning lives that this was not true was when we had Cosmo, our blue parakeet.  Maybe the Bird Union saw that we were set, and so didn’t send a weekly representative?  In fact it was during the Cosmo years that we had the most bird nests in the wreaths, or the shutters, or the mail basket.

Would anyone care to speculate as to why we attract birds in this way?  sparrow-2067146_1920

In any case, this was a particularly bird-heavy week.  I chased one out on Tuesday. Andrew chased one out on Wednesday but said he heard one in my bedroom upstairs.  Sure enough, when I got home from work I went upstairs and found a sweet fluffy brown bird hanging out in the doorway to Rob’s room.  It let me get close but not close enough to catch; it didn’t seem particularly distressed by my presence.  Eventually I chased it out into the hallway, and thence into the bathroom.  I closed the door so it wouldn’t escape back into the hall, and then I opened the skylight to allow it fly out.  A few years ago I removed the screen to the skylight for this very purpose.  This bird didn’t seem in a great hurry to leave, and I had to encourage it up and out.  I closed the skylight again and went downstairs.

An hour or so later, I had made a porcini linguine for my supper and sat down to eat it while I played a little Mah Jongg on my laptop and watched Big Bang Theory reruns (Chuck was in DC and Andrew was working at Brickyard).  The volume was low on the tv, just background noise, really, to keep me company.  As I began to play my computer game, I heard a bird twittering.  In the room with me.  I looked around, but couldn’t find it.  I sat back down to my pasta and my Mah Jongg, and I heard the twittering again, along with a soft thunking noise.  Oh, no.  There must be a bird somehow trapped in the wall, or in the baseboard heater.  When I got up and walked toward the wall, the tweeting would stop, as if the bird were afraid of me.  It was only when I was sitting quietly at the kitchen island, eating and playing my game, that it felt safe enough to call out again.

I went to bed, hoping it would find its way out and be hanging out in the Great Room when I got up in the morning.  It wasn’t, but I didn’t hear it either, so I assumed it had either found its way to freedom or died.  When I sat down with my coffee, I heard the twittering start up again.  I pulled all the furniture away from the wall, and started pulling the baseboard covers off, to see if I could find the poor little trapped bird.  No luck, and this was a noisy process, so I stopped – I didn’t want to wake Andrew or scare the bird unnecessarily.

Chuck got home late last night, and we spent some time this morning sharing stories from our week apart and making plans for the weekend.  I told him about the bird, and he agreed that we would need to do whatever we could to free it.  And yet we didn’t hear it, even when we sat still for several minutes.  Now, it must be dead.

This afternoon, after making Vietnamese chicken salad and chicken liver pate, and washing several loads of dishes, I sat down again at the computer with a well-deserved cup of tea, to play a few rounds of Mah Jongg.  Suddenly I heard the twitter again!

I realized that each time I had heard the bird in the wall I was playing Mah Jongg.  When I sped up my game play the bird twittered more frequently.  When I slowed down my play, the bird tweeted less often.  When I got up to investigate which part of the wall the twittering came from, it would stop.  It started again when I sat down.  Damn bird!

Have you guessed the conclusion yet?

My Macbook is connected to a bluetooth speaker, which sits on a table against that wall. Each time I clicked on a tile, there would be a very soft thunky noise.  When I made a match, there would be a little tweety noise.

No bird in the wall!

I’d like to share with you the recipe for my spectacular porcini linguine, but the truth is that I didn’t create it.  It was from a package, and it was amazing.  If you ever find it in a market, buy it.  I got mine from Fortuna Sausage & Italian Market in Manchester, VT.  www.fortunasausage.comtiberino-lpm-2T

 

 

 

 

St. Pat’s From a Very Non-Irish Kitchen

I don’t have a drop of Irish in me.  I have some Scots-Irish, which means a couple of my Scottish forebears settled in Ireland many hundreds of years ago, but that’s about it. Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, they say, although I’m conflicted about celebrating the legacy of a man rumored to have driven underground the Druids and other Earth-worshipping folk in Ireland.  That’s what “driving the snakes out” means – you can read about it here: A pagan celebrates St. Patrick’s Day.

That said, I usually cook some iteration of corned beef and cabbage on March 17, often in the form of good New York Reuben sandwiches.  This year I decided to make a corned beef in the slow cooker, with colcannon on the side, instead of braised or boiled potatoes and cabbage, which are fairly boring and have a tendency to stink up the house (at least the cabbage does).  Colcannon is an Irish dish served in autumn & winter, often around Halloween.  The cabbage (or kale) is sauteed with onions and garlic and mixed into mashed potatoes.  My corned beef was cooked in the slow cooker with onions, celery, and carrots, braised in dry red wine.  Andrew is working at Brickyard Wines in Barrington, and will occasionally bring home a bottle of red to taste and review. We had two bottles that we didn’t particularly love, so I used those as my braising liquid.  I had never done that before – I have braised my corned beef in beer in the past, but not wine.  I thought about it and decided, in my mother’s words, “what could be bad?”

The slow cooker tootled along for about nine hours on low, at which point I pulled out the corned beef, patted it dry, and glazed it in a dijon mustard and brown sugar paste. In the oven it went for about half an hour, until the glaze was bubbling all over.

img_1720
Corned beef and colcannon

Oh, my, was it ever delicious!  Maybe the best corned beef I’ve ever had.  Tender without falling apart, crusty on the outside, infused with a hint of red wine.  The slow braise had pulled a good bit of the salt out, too.  The colcannon was a perfect mix of creamy potato and crunchy cabbage.  We ate the hell out of that meal, and still had leftovers.

Today, Sunday, we are eating up the leftovers for breakfast.  More on this in a minute. Today is St. Joseph’s Day.  I make note of this because I actually have a teeny bit of Italian blood, of which I am inordinately proud.  A gentleman named Taliaferro emigrated to England from Italy in the 16th century and became a court musician.  His son or grandson (can’t remember which – I have to look it up again on Ancestry.com) came to Virginia in the next century and added his DNA to what became my paternal grandmother’s lineage. To celebrate St. Joseph’s Day we will have baked pasta for dinner.

But now, in the morning, I have made colcannon & corned beef patties for breakfast. Think of them as Irish latkes.  I diced the beef and mixed it into the colcannon with Dubliner cheese, egg, and flour.  I fried up the patties and served them with a dollop of sour cream & dill.  Good grief.

img_1725
Colcannon patties

Here are my recipes:

 

Red Wine Braised Corned Beef

Roughly cut up three carrots, three celery stalks, and an onion.  Place them in a slow cooker.  Rinse thoroughly a 3-4 pound corned beef – I used flat cut, but I don’t think it would matter much.  Place it on top of the vegetables.  Add dry red wine until it just about covers the beef – you can add water if you don’t have enough wine.  Cook on low until tender, about 8 or 9 hours.  Preheat oven to 375°.  Remove beef from the liquid to a foil-lined roasting pan, and pat dry with paper towels.  Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar with two tablespoons dijon mustard and mix until smooth.  Coat the beef with this mixture, and place it the oven.  Cook for about half an hour, or until the glaze is bubbling all over. Remove, let rest for a few minutes, then slice.

 

Colcannon

Peel, cut up, and boil two russet potatoes until soft.  While they are cooking, dice one onion and mince two or three garlic cloves.  Set aside.  Core and chop one small green cabbage – my pieces ended up about one inch by half an inch.

Drain and mash the potatoes, adding milk and butter and salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.  In a large skillet over a medium flame, heat a few tablespoons of butter to foamy.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until tender.  Add a few shakes of dry thyme and the cabbage, and saute until tender, about 15 minutes.  Add the mashed potatoes, stir and mash to combine, and adjust seasonings.

img_1719
Colcannon

Irish Latkes

  • 2 cups colcannon
  • 1 cup diced corned beef
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup shredded Dubliner or cheddar cheese
  • butter & olive oil
  • sour cream & dill, if desired

I used my hands to mix this thoroughly.  Combine the first five ingredients.  Form patties using well-oiled hands.  Heat a few tablespoons butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until bubbly.  Fry four or five patties at a time, without crowding them, about 3-4 minutes per side, until golden brown.  Remove from pan to a baking sheet lined with foil and paper towels in a warm (200°) oven.  Serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill.

img_1722
Irish Latkes