Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tomorrow we'll probably find Waffle singing a little Prince in the bathtub

Bet you didn't know that you can actually bypass Campbellsville if trying to get to Knifley from Burkesville, did you? On September 18, after two convenient store stops, the latter of which confirmed both my faith in old men who eat breakfast at locally-owned gas stations and the fact that I had indeed stayed on Hwy 55 rather than veering right on 551, I arrived at the Janice Holt Giles cabin in rural Adair County. I had gone for a couple of reasons. A library patron had recommended that I check out "Kentuckians Reading Kentuckians," an annual event that gives local authors a chance to read their own work or the work of their favorite Kentucky writer. It was also just a pretty morning, the kind that reminds you that fall is in fact a few days away - insert any seasonal cliches that involve the word "crisp" -, a morning that necessitates a drive on a country road (or in my case, numerous roads, several of which were completely unnecessary).

Upon arriving, I took out my lawn chair, Avett Brothers bag (which housed my favorite Wendell Berry book, prep material in case one of the readers didn't show up), and camera. I walked past the pond, quietly stood while the presenter at the time finished her excerpt, and then made my nest under a maple tree (which I quickly identified as a maple not because I had a horticulture class in high school - sorry, CLT - but because I recognized the leaves from a hockey uniform). Comfortable with both my partly-shaded, partly-sun exposed furniture arrangement and the fact that every other attendee had a good ten years on me, I settled in for what turned out to be a lovely day.

*I got such a kick out of a couple, probably 75-80 years old, who wore matching shirts and performed a "duet poem" about cheating spouses. I enjoyed them even more in retrospect when I realized (the following Thursday night) that they were actors in the Barnlot Theater's production of To Kill a Mockingbird.
*I wish I owned the folk-artsy cabbie hat that Lynwood Montell so gracefully pulled off.
*I had the opportunity to hear Darlene Campbell, an elementary school teacher from Adair County, read some of her own poems and an excerpt from an upcoming novel. I respected her comment: "I make a living from teaching; let the writing money go to something that matters" - a statement made in reference to the proceeds from I'm Listening Momma. I was moved by her poem, "If The Devil Had a Name," a personal denunciation of cancer (her father is also battling the disease right now). I enjoyed her engaging presentation style and the laid-back sincerity clearly evident during our one-on-one lunch time chat.

If you get a chance, read some of Janice Holt Giles' work, be on the lookout for Darlene Campbell's upcoming novel, and consider attending next year's event...with or without a significant other and/or matching shirts.
This has been my piddle project the past couple of days after work...
This was Waffle's old doghouse. Mom decided that we needed to put the much nicer one (that no dog was using) in the pen for everyone's favorite dog (despite the fact that we named him "Waffle"). I decided to fix this one up for Lucy and Willie.
My trusty tools. I love that the saw handle is held together with duct tape. If this doesn't scream Curtis and Jackie, nothing does.
Well, it's not quite finished (I'm going to paint it this weekend), but I'm happy with the progress so far. We decided long ago that if they could actually write their names, Lucy would do hers in a rather dainty cursive, Willie in big block print.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I find most themed months to be dumb. October as "National Pizza Month" is an exception.

Just a couple of recipes to enjoy now that it actually feels like fall...

Mushroom-Sausage Ragu
I found this in the latest Food & Wine magazine. Although I haven't actually tried it yet, it seems like something I would love (I really enjoy mushrooms, polenta [If anyone has a good polenta recipe, please let me know], and water chestnuts). I'll report back.
Servings: 4

1 cup dried morel mushrooms
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 sweet Italian sausages
1/2 pound shitake caps, quartered
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 thinly sliced shallots
6 water chestnuts, sliced 1/4" thick
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
Chopped parsley, for garnish

Soak the morels in 1 1/2 cups of boiling water until softened. Rinse and pat dry; reserve the soaking liquid. In a skillet, heat 1 tbsp. of the oil. Add the sausages, cover and cook over moderate heat until no longer pink within; slice 1/4" thick. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet. Add the shitake, season with salt and pepper and cook until softened. Add the shallots and morels; cover and cook for 4 minutes. Add the water chestnuts. Pour in the morel soaking liquid. Add the sausages and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper. Off the heat, swirl in the butter and sprinkle with parsley. Serve over polenta.

Butternut & Sweet Potato Bisque
I posted this recipe a couple of months ago, but the 65 degree weather begs for a reprint.
Servings: 4

1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
4 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
1 medium sweet potato, cooked, peeled and cubed (I used new potatoes)
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger (I used dry)
1 1/2 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375. Cut squash lengthwise and scoop out seeds and gooey stuff (as if cleaning a pumpkin). Sprinkle butter or olive oil, salt and pepper on both halves. Put about an inch of water in a baking pan and then place squash, cut side up, in the pan. Bake for about 75 minutes. If using sweet potato, cook at the same time (since I used the small, red new potatoes, I just peeled and cooked them on the stove top about 40 minutes into the squash cook time). 2. When the squash and sweet potato have cooled a bit, scoop out the good stuff and put the peelings in the compost pile.

3. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until it begins to brown. I also added celery...just because I really like celery.

4. Add squash, sweet potato, corn, ginger, brown sugar, coriander, salt, pepper, and 3 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until squash is tender (15-20 minutes).

5. With slotted spoon, transfer solids to food processor or blender and process to a smooth puree. Return puree to saucepan and stir to blend with liquid remaining in pan. Serve hot. (You might consider adding sour cream, cheese, fresh herbs, or cream fraiche on top).

And on those nights that you opt for a homemade or delivery pizza, try these pairings:

Rosato + Vegetables: A vegetable topping makes for a fairly light slice - even with all that cheese - so go with a lighter side of wine. Rosato (the Italian term for dry rose) is a tasty choice.

Pinot Noir + Mushrooms: There's no better pairing than Pinot and mushrooms - they're all about earth and spice. A little oregano makes the match even better.

Barbera + Fresh Tomatoes: Barbera, a medium-bodied red from Italy's Piedmont, is berry-bright and only moderately tannic (I think this means "acidic")- great with fresh tomatoes and herbs.

Chianti + Prosciutto Arugula: Good Chianti is savory and spicy, so it's good with salty cured meats like prosciutto or peppery greens - or both together.

Primitivo + Pepperoni: Big southern Italian reds like Primitivo are juicy and full-bodied, just the wines for a classic slice like this one.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I actually went to www.cheese.com to see where "Gouda" was located.

I don't think I have ever looked up, seen my waiter/waitress walking toward me, and actually been prepared to order. I like to hear what others choose. I like to pose an invariably well-phrased "if you were me, what would you get?" question to the server. I like to stare at the food being brought to other tables (which, I imagine, does not creep out said patrons in the least). So tonight, in keeping with tradition, I narrowed my options to three and then asked my delightful waitress (who, by the way, had already poured me three perfectly normal-sized glasses of water - guess who gets double the DDP tomorrow?) if she would choose the crab cakes with roasted pepper mayonnaise, the hot brown with a Havarti and Gouda morney sauce, or the mango and current pork chop. Guess which one was selected.

I'll tell you at the end.
I am in Louisville for the Kentucky Library Association Conference and, while my dinner dilemma is included in the list, it is not really of utmost concern tonight. Below are my random musings about the past couple of days...

1) I enjoy Louisville so much more than Lexington. I like the downtown architecture. I enjoy having a view of the river and the bridges. The traffic seems to flow better and just make more sense. In my opinion, Louisville doesn't seem to have an air about it the way Lexington does.

2) Money, smummy. I'm at a library conference. I should be buying books, right? The cookbook is by Albert Schmid, the Kentucky author, chef, and restaurateur who will be speaking at the Cumberland County Public Library on November 19. The horse racing book is a recently published historical narrative written by a fellow UK graduate student, Maryjean Wall. The young adult novel, Eli the Good, was penned by my new crush, Silas House. The final one is just something I found at Borders today that I thought seemed interesting. I'll report back after I've read a bit.

3) I love both the cookbook's dedication and the first paragraph of the introduction:
"To my father, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Schmid, because you love bourbon and my mother. To my mother, Elizabeth Schmid, because you love fine cuisine and my father."

"I love food and I love bourbon. My first exposure to fine cuisine and bourbon occurred when I was a student at the McDonogh 15 elementary school. There, as I began learning the three Rs, I also began studying food and gastronomy. Although I didn't know it at the time, it was one of the best places in the world for such study - the French Quarter in New Orleans. My father and mother moved to 'the Big Easy' so my father could become pastor of the Eastminster Presbyterian Church in New Orleans East. Every day my parents would drive me across town to my school in the French Quarter. On the way I took in the culture and the smells of New Orleans. Some mornings we would stop at Cafe du Monde, across from Jackson Square, for beignets and cafe au lait (I always had chocolate milk) before we reached my school, which was on St. Phillips Street between Royal and bourbon. I was not the only student who attended class with confectioners' sugar on his shirt."

4)I so enjoyed Silas House's talk today about his recently published book, Eli the Good. Here are a few reasons why (these statements are slightly paraphrased):
-"They didn't have the canvas I had." (In reference to his own children's inability to roam the neighborhood, to play outside all day, to create a community playground). I just really like the way he uses canvas here.
-"All good art should remind us, at least in some way, of personal responsibility."
-"Good protest comes out of education and it bears responsibility."
-"The only agenda I ever have in my writing is to show rural people as smart, as readers, as individuals with complexity."
-"If you want to understand someone better, give them a camera; have them go out and take pictures of anything they find interesting; upon their return, take the time to really look."

5) The next time you are staying in the Downtown area, skip the 4th Street Live area and opt instead for the Bristol Bar & Grill (Main St., about 3 blocks west of the Galt House). Order the mango and current pork chop.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

To Get Anything Called "Possum Trot" for $20 Is A Steal

The first sentence of these things is always the hardest for me to write...especially when I know that the dead horse beating is about to commence. Convincing myself that some reasonably clever hook will craftily disguise the fact that what follows is basically "I like thoughtful presents and gestures," I put a lot of pressure on myself to come up with some moderately interesting angle and/or random tid-bit of nonsense that might spark interest. I know what you're thinking. I AM incredibly sneaky.

Today's hook: Cliches are cliches because most of us understand them, use them, and maybe even do them. I would love for someone to explain to me "beating a dead horse."
Today's advice: If you know someone has to move, even someone who is neither relative nor long-time friend, call and offer to help. Bring a trailer if you have one. Chalk up the vagabond's outfit and hair-do to moving day rather than bad taste. And do all of this with no ulterior motive.
Thank you so much Terry and Tommy Staley.

And, when you finish moving, start the first of two additional projects...
1) Design a card for someone based on something they've said or written, something that you know will resonate with and mean something to them, something that reminds them of the thoughtfulness and creativity that exist in the little world they are fortunate enough to share.

2) Take the time to write. Don't put pressure on yourself. Forget tailoring to a particular audience or to unnecessarily strict (and often self-inflicted) expectations. Have fun with it. And then, send it to someone who you know will appreciate it.
Thank you Fran Smith.
"Lying across the bed after a day of doing virtually nothing, my eyes drifted to a corner of the room I seldom view. Tucked in behind an antique dinner chair is one of my longtime possessions: a stuffed bear dubbed P.T. You see, I am a collector of ‘things’ (much to my husband’s and children’s chagrin) and teddy bears were probably the first items to seemingly multiply in our home.

I can’t exactly define when the bear phase began although it might be traced to my cousin Tommy, two years my senior. He lived in Chicago and made no effort to conceal his disdain for his ‘country’ cousin. He and his family only visited a couple of times annually but it was more than enough for us to end up in a tiff about anything and everything. His teddy bear accompanied him on one such trip and our time together was spent arguing, fighting, punching and tugging over that poor bear. Exasperated, his mother (my aunt) purchased an identical bear in Chicago and mailed it to me. For whatever reason, it was nearly six months before the bear, all of its limbs limply protruding from the tattered and much postmarked box from which it was mailed, made it to our mailbox. I am fairly certain it was love at first sight and Cub set up permanent residence in my bedroom then accompanied me to college, back home again and finally to my own home.

But back to P.T. . . . during my college days at Eastern KY University, I became friends with a classmate named Ginny. A married mother of two from out of state, she was infinitely more worldly (much more worldly!) than I could ever hope to be. Having gotten pregnant in high school, she had married her sweetheart, Les, had her children and settled wherever his job took them. Despite her family, Ginny was always restless, longing for the carefree days of being nothing more than a college coed intent on earning a degree along with a maximum amount of fun along the way. Perhaps it was that yearning for fun and freedom from responsibility which prompted her to begin an affair with a fraternity boy whose last name was Moore. A simple greeting of “How are you?” would prompt her standard reply of “Moore or Les,” referring to both her husband and the frat boy, followed by her characteristic laugh.

For reasons I never comprehended, Ginny liked me and we spent some time together outside of class and one evening I was invited to her home for dinner. I don’t recall what her house, children or husband looked like (oh yeah, it was a split level house) but I do have a vivid recollection of another dinner guest. Seated at the table, his nose buried in an empty dinner plate, was P.T. Ginny explained that her children thought it would be funny to include their bear in the dinnertime festivities. I learned P.T. stood for Possum Trot, the company which employed Ginny’s husband Les. Realizing how fond I was of the bear he offered to get me one at cost. And so in exchange for a $20 bill, I received my own P.T.

My older sister, never one for collecting or spending money on useless items, ridiculed my purchase the minute she saw P.T., claiming he was the ugliest stuffed animal she’d ever seen. P.T. continued to hide out in my bedroom, away from her cruel glances and comments. Then she began to think of way to torment me – and him. There was the day I made a mad dash out of my office at the newspaper to go to photograph a fire and there behind the wheel of my car sat P.T., his burly paws clutching the steering wheel as if he’d been waiting there all day to chauffeur me. Another time poor P.T. was nearly cut in two by the car’s window glass tightly rolled against his stuffed belly. Once he was suspended from the ceiling fan, a fake suicide note (I knew it had to be fake because even after four years of college P.T. still couldn’t hold a pencil!) pinned to his shoulder. What indignities my sister made that bear suffer!

Life is much more sedate for P.T. these days. He resides perched atop a Longaberger basket and looking rather festive in his own Hawaiian lei. He seems happy – except for my sister comes to visit. I won’t be surprised if those bear claws show themselves someday, despite his benign expression. He’s comfortable in his synthetic fur and resolved that neither sticks nor stones are going to break his absent bones."

Friday, September 10, 2010

If Only I Were a Prodigy Hoodlum From South Boston

In one of my early Pillow Book posts, I wrote something to the effect of "If I couldn't run 30, I chose not to walk 5." I then proceeded to talk about how I had grown, sidelined my perfectionist tendencies and embraced even relatively small measures of progress. Boy, did I lie. Even though I knew that writing made me feel more settled, that the Pillow Book community brought such interesting conversations into my life, I abandoned it. I was concerned that with less time available for writing, the entries would reflect haste, the thoughts, and pictures, and recipes, poorly-concealed apathy. Stagnation won out.

But, I'm growing again. Although I plan to do a more in-depth entry this weekend, this is me tying my tennis shoes.
Wendell Berry wrote a short essay in 2009 titled "In Memory: James Baker Hall" in which he describes the impact Hall had on his writing and on his life in general. Here is the excerpt that has been on my mind:

"In it [letter from Hall] you hear, not only his manner of speech, but his characteristic, passionate refusal to gloss over or leave out matters of difference. We certainly did have a journey together, and we certainly were not always going in tandem or in the same direction. But his candor about that gives a palpable verification to the letter's final words: 'with love, in friendship.'

When I try to reckon up my debt to Jim, as if to itemize the account and end with a sum, I always have to settle for 'immeasurable.' Our conversation, starting so early and lasting so long, I count as an immense gift in itself. But it also made Jim one of the people I have most frequently talked to in my thoughts. His presence in my mind has been one of the tests of whatever I have thought. And I have always read his writing and studied his photographs, looking through the work to the man, wondering, as his artistry grew, how it had grown, how he had come to know what he knew, how he had learned to do what he did."

Thank you Caroline, Lindsey, Melissa, and Andy for giving meaning to "with love, in friendship."

Since Caroline and I bought 842 apples at Jackson's Orchard, we decided that each meal on Sunday needed to contain them. Here is a recipe C scoped out on Simply Recipes.com. Best friends, bottle of wine, good food = great night.

Chicken and Apples in Honey Mustard Sauce
Serves: 4
1/2 cup apple cider
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp mustard
2 Tbsp seasoned dry breadcrumbs
4 4oz chicken breasts
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 small unpeeled apples, cored and cut into eighths (we used Gala)
1/2 cup chicken broth
Fresh parsley

Whisk cider, cornstarch, mustard, honey, salt and pepper (to taste) in a bowl. Set aside.

Spread bread crumbs on a piece of wax paper, lightly coat chicken with crumbs.

In a large non-stick skillet, heat the oil and add the chicken breasts. Cook over medium heat until golden brown on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn chicken, add apples, and cook until browned on the other side.
Add chicken broth, cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 15 minutes.

With slotted spoon, remove chicken and apples to serving plates.

Whisk cider mixture again and add to skillet. Cook and stir over high heat until lightly thickened and bubbly, 1 to 2 minutes. Spoon over chicken and apples, sprinkle with parsley.