Monday, October 6, 2014

What I Did This Summer

You know how you mean to call a friend, and you keep putting it off, mainly because you don't really have any news and figure you don't have anything to say? Then you've gone so long that it's awkward, so you put it off even longer, and then your friend thinks you aren't speaking, so they don't call either, and pretty soon there's just this big silence there? That's how this blog has been for me the past several months. I meant to post, I really did. But then I didn't have anything to say. Also I discovered the joys of Trader Joe's frozen pizzas and binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Castle. Not the most constructive way to spend my time, I'll admit, but still a lot of fun. And relaxing.

Only now fall is starting to chip away at summer. I made chicken stock for the first time in months yesterday afternoon. I made broccoli soup for our lunches. I actually want to bake bread. I like Spring and Summer, but I don't usually feel much like cooking then. Throw something on the grill, make a salad and call it good. Nothing especially inspired. Nothing worth writing home about. Or writing here about.

Seems like maybe I'm gearing up again, though. And to that end, I'll give you a brief review of Spring and Summer here at 305, so maybe you can feel like you are all caught up and we can move on, and my blog and I can be friends again. Just like old times.

March:
We celebrated Next Door Sutton's first birthday, had some fun with Liza and Levi, and P. went to BMW Driving School. (It was his Christmas present from me.)


April:
We took a downturn at 305 when my poor Dinky bloated and had to have surgery. It was touch and go for a while there, and he spent almost a week in the emergency vet hospital. But he did recover, thank goodness. Also, P. went to Newfoundland for a few days to do some school stuff.


May:
Hannah came for a visit, P. forgot how beach chairs work, and Duncan graduated.



June:
Our nephew Benjamin graduated. (I still haven't forgiven him.)


July:
We went to Denver to see my family.  My nephew's favorite pastime was running over me with his car.



August:
We saw Benjamin off to college and went to see Lyle Lovett at Greenfield Lake.



September:
Hannah and her boyfriend Jake came to visit, some of the kids came over, and we played with a new toy. (!)


Now it's October! Tempus Fugit! Hope your summer was as fun as ours. Minus the sick dog.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Winter at 305


It's been an unusual winter in coastal North Carolina. We're not used to frozen things around here, unless it's shaped like a cube and goes in a glass of sweet tea. Or all crushed up in a mint julep. Or floating around in a nice glass of bourbon. You get the drift. So you can imagine our surprise when we got not one, but two actual occasions of ice falling from the sky. We about lost our damned minds around here.

The first round came in the form of a bunch of sleet. That was the one that got the officials in Atlanta in a whole lot of trouble. I have a lot of friends and co-workers down there, and have heard first-hand about 13 hour commutes home and how horrible all that was. We didn't have too much trouble with that one, thank goodness. It was treacherous, but as long as you didn't try to drive in it, or take your dog for a walk, you were OK.

"What the... I thought we left this stuff up in Newfoundland?"
It was even kind of pretty. Cold, frozen and crunchy. Good for sledding. Folks around here don't have sleds, but boogie boards work just as well. Dinky enjoyed eating chunks of it.


"Seriously, Mom. What the actual hell?"
We weathered that one just fine. (See what I did there?) There were maybe two days when it wasn't good to be out and about, then it warmed up and went away.

Then this week started with a freezing rain prediction for Wednesday. The day we were supposed to leave for Denver to see this:



My nephew Wyatt's second birthday.

Tuesday morning brought a phone call from USAirways that the flight was cancelled. We rebooked for Thursday morning.

Wednesday
9:00 AM.

Ooooo! Pretty!




11:00 AM: Crashing sounds as tree limbs give up and fall to their death. Usually onto a power line or a car or a roof.

11:30 AM: Surrounded by the sound of power transformers exploding. Ritual sacrifices made to appease the power gods.

12:30 PM: The gods are not pleased with our dance performance and power is cut.

12:35 PM: I begin to hyperventilate with no internet access.

12:40 PM: Flight for Thursday morning cancelled.

12:41 - 2:00 PM: Run the battery down on my phone trying to get through to USAirways and rearrange travel. Rebook for Thursday afternoon.

2:01 PM: Commence nagging Pootie to set up the generator. He refuses, on the grounds that "It's a complete pain in the ass, I hate those extension cords running all over the place, I hate pulling the fridge out to plug it in, it's loud, and I'm sure power will be back on soon."

3:00 PM: Hijack neighbor's wifi. (Jesse set up HIS generator.) Settle down with my iPad for a good sulk. Wonder aloud how much food I'll have to throw away because my husband won't set ours up. Contemplate feeding him something spoiled.

5:00 PM: Tempers flare as the light fades and the water cools to tepid.

6:00 PM: Pootie works out in the dark while I try to cook dinner wearing an LED head lamp. Burn self repeatedly.

7:00 PM: Light every candle in the house. Still cannot see dinner.

7:30 PM: Boil water for cleanup. More burns. "Wash" dishes. Unable to see if they are actually clean. Or are actually dishes.

8:00 PM: Give up and go to bed. Pootie loses his complacency upon realization that he must haul the coffee grinder next door to use it.

Thursday

7:00 AM: Discover that dishes from previous night are indeed filthy. Think about throwing them away. Spill half a pot of coffee on counter trying to make it manually.

8:00 AM: Nag Pootie about hooking up the generator again.

9:41 AM: Nephew Benjamin texts that their power is back on. Consider killing him.

9:45 AM: Thursday afternoon flight cancelled. Give up after seeing how many flights cancelled in Charlotte and Wilmington. and am unable to get through to USAirways.

10:00 AM: Pootie finally caves, as it becomes clear that power will never, ever be restored. Brings out generator.

10:15 AM: Generator refuses to start. My head explodes.

11:30 AM: Take generator to the shop. Along with nine hundred other people in town.

6:00 PM: Go out to dinner with neighbors. Complain about outage.

7:31 PM: Give up and go to bed. Fall asleep to the sound of generators thrumming in the neighborhood. Everywhere except in our yard. Jealousy and resentment set in.

Friday

7:00 AM: Discover that everyone, absolutely everyone in town has power but our neighborhood.

7:15 AM: Discuss options for governmental overthrow with neighbors.

8:00 AM: Pootie decides since our generator is going to be fixed on the same timeline as power restoration - never - we will borrow Craig's.

12:45 PM: Set up borrowed generator. Plug in modem, router and computers. Plug in fridge. Peace temporarily restored.

6:00 PM: Get cocky and plug a lamp in to cook dinner.

7:30 PM: Trip over lamp cord and destroy lamp.

7:31 PM: Give up and go to bed.

Saturday

7:00 AM: Give up hope of ever getting power back.

8:00 AM: Look around house and realize we are living in squalor. Extension cords everywhere. Consider burning the house down.

9:00 AM: Give up personal hygiene. Weep.

11:00 AM: Go to grocery. See six power trucks just sitting there, doing nothing. Try to convince Pootie to run over the workers.

12:00 PM: Unverified sightings of power trucks. Momentary excitement.

12:30 PM: Power trucks do not materialize. Lie on floor in complete apathy. Decide never to hope again.

1:00 PM: Begin drinking heavily. Weep more.

3:00 PM: Receive texts from neighbors with photographic proof of power trucks. Suspect Photoshop.

3:30 PM: Neighbor claims power is restored. Pootie refuses to turn the panel on, convinced it will just go back out again. Begin planning his murder.

3:40 PM: Neighbor verifies power is on, narrowly saving Pootie from an untimely demise.

3:45 - 5:00 PM: Frantically eliminate all traces of generator, candles, lanterns, and anything else that will remind us of the past four days.

5:00 - 7:00 PM: Turn on every light in the house and weep with joy. Plan purchase and installation of whole house generator.

8:00 PM: All is right with the world.



 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Lemon Lime Butter Cookies


I'm probably in the minority, but I get tired of too much rich stuff and like something with a clean, bright taste when I've eaten too many chocolate things. I figured since I was sending a box of butter and sugar to the office, it might be nice for them to have something like that. Kind of a palate cleanser before moving on to the bourbon balls.

I adapted these from my Fine Cooking "Cookies" book. They're just the right amount of tart and sweet with a nice butter undertone that doesn't rub out the lemon and lime flavor.

I also like these because they were log cookies. Mix the dough, shape them into logs, roll them in sugar, wrap them in plastic and chuck them in the fridge for a couple of hours. Or freeze them and keep them on hand for a few months. When you're ready, cut them and bake them and you're done.

If you'd like to add them to your holiday baking repertoire, here is the .pdf.

 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies


I'm not a fan of oatmeal cookies in general, because all too often, people sneak evil raisins in them. This version has cranberries, which are seasonal, festive, and not gross and disgusting. Bonus!

These cookies are quick to whip up, but they are a little fiddly because you have to roll them into balls and moosh them down. Still, there are worse things than having to lick cookie dough off your fingers. (After I finished rolling them all, of course.)

The finished cookie is soft and a little chewy and the cranberries give it a nice tart counterpoint, unlike raisins, which make oatmeal cookies vile.

If you'd like to add these to your holiday baking list, the .pdf of the recipe is here.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cafe 305 Christmas Cookie Bonanza 2013



The halls are decked.



And it was the first weekend in December, which meant it was time for Annual Cookie Baking Weekend!

Every year except last year, when I was in Canada and didn't have a proper kitchen or a chest of krugerrands for shipping, I bake a ton of cookies and send them in to my colleagues back at the office in Atlanta. I've been doing this since I physically worked in the office. Although when I worked there, I didn't ship them, obviously.

In preparation for the day, first off, I did my workout. I'm not a big sweets person, and I'm not a nibbler, but I swear I can gain five pounds through osmosis if you put me in a room with butter and sugar all day. After that, I ran the vacuum, to minimize the amount of dog hair in the food. Note I said "minimize". It's impossible to completely prevent some hair from inadvertently landing in cookie dough somewhere. I mean, look at him.


He makes a Yeti look like a Chihuahua.

I try, is what I'm saying. But if you wind up with some small bit of shaggy dog in your edibles from 305, just remember, it was free, so you can't call the Health Department on me.

I cleaned the kitchen all spotless. Then someone decided he needed to come in and make lunch and get stuff all over the counters and in the sink again.


Bad timing.

I cleaned it up again (although to be fair, he cleaned up most of his mess - it just delayed my start). Then I was ready for prep.

Cooling racks - check. Mixer - check. My favorite scraper paddle for baking - check.


Eleventy hundred pounds of butter - check. Glass of water - check. Baking is thirsty business.


Fine Cooking's Cookie Cookbook - check. Christmas playlist - check.


Apron - check.


I was ready!

I will be posting a cookie a day for the next several days. For starters, though, here are my personal kitchen rules and some things I've learned over the years that help keep me organized when I'm doing a big baking day like this.

1. Most important rule of all: CLEAN AS YOU GO. There is nothing worse to me than finishing up six hours of cooking and standing there with an aching back surveying the aftermath of ... well, six hours of cooking. I've always had very small kitchens, and counter space runs short fast. I don't have the luxury of piling dirty dishes everywhere. So I clean up after almost every step. Saves me a mid-day shut down to clean a space off the counter. Put stuff back as soon as you've finished using it, even if you're going to use it again. I understand the whole mis-en-place thing, and I know it works for most people, but if I had to put out a bunch of little bowls and cutting boards in an assembly line all along the counter, I'd have to rearrange furniture in the dining room and start my cooking line in the living room. Plus, the clutter would probably make my head explode.

2. Look through the recipes and plan ahead. For today's baking, I had three doughs that needed to be refrigerated, and three that didn't. So I made the refrigerator doughs first so I could toss them in the fridge and let them chill while I baked the other cookies.


3. If you happen to be lazy, like me, choose your recipes carefully. I deliberately avoid stuff that's really fiddly, things that make a huge mess and use a bunch of bowls, things that involve melting chocolate (see "huge mess"), and ANYTHING that needs to be decorated. I just don't have the patience or the skill for it. I realize that makes me not exactly a top-notch baker, but I'll leave that to the Abby Dodges of the world, (several of her recipes I used today), and admire her from the back row of the baking short bus. One thing I've discovered is that these refrigerator doughs are awesome for a multiple-recipe baking day. Mix the dough, chill it, and after you've made the more labor-intensive cookies that need to be rolled into balls or dropped or whatever, you pull those bad boys out of the fridge, grab a shiv, and shank those bitches - wait - just slice them. This strategy keeps me from getting homicidal around 3:30 PM. Mostly.

4. If you have a stand mixer, invest in a second bowl. It has been a wonderful luxury having two. This does not undo my "clean as you go" rule, but I finish with one, wash it, put it on the rack to dry, and use the other one. Then when I wash the one I just used, the one on the rack is dry and ready. It really speeds things up.

5. If you live in the South, get cooling racks. Seriously. My baking day was rainy and damp and warm. Even with having A/C running part of the day, it still gets a little damp in the house. If you pull warm cookies out of the oven and leave them on parchment on the counter, they stick and sag a lot worse than when you pop them on a cooling rack so the air can cool them all around.


6. This is just something I observed yesterday. I've cooked for a bunch of years with a regular oven. Meaning not convection. And when it came time to remodel, I almost didn't get a convection oven, but I finally did. Since then, I've used the convection oven for this particular cookie baking extravaganza, and man has it saved me a lot of time and again, murderous rampages. I can bake three sheets of cookies at one go, and with minimal interference from me, they all cook evenly. I don't use it for much else, but it's worth it just for that.

If you want to follow along for the next few days, wander back over to Café 305 and see if any of the cookies strike your fancy. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Great Slump of 2013

Many, many days and weeks have passed since my last blog post. And there were a lot of days between that one and the one before. And the one before that. I'm not sure what's been wrong with me, but my moxie has gone missing. I haven't had anything interesting to write, and dinner has become about getting something on the table instead of a creative outlet. Am I jaded? Am I bored? Am I tapped out?

The other night, Pootie even went so far as to suggest I start cooking from recipes again. I briefly considered setting him on fire, but that would have made a mess, and I would have missed him later. Probably.

Don't get me wrong. I've loved having my kitchen back, and my grill, and I cook dinner almost every night. It isn't bad, it's just not impressive. 

But on Thanksgiving, I got a hint of the old spark back. Cooking the turkey and dressing this year and breaking out my grandmother's embroidered tablecloth and napkins started to make me want to get back in the kitchen and really cook, not just put a meat, carb and vegetable on the plate.

Then the day after Thanksgiving, Pootie came in the office and said magic words that put me all the way back in the game:

"Do you want to go get a Christmas tree today?"

I have always loved the holidays, and this is the time of year I usually get really inspired and want to make a bunch of fancy stuff and throw down.

But this was Christmas before last:


And this was last Christmas:


Not exactly Norman Rockwell years.

Pootie usually tries to put the brakes on me when I want to put a tree up after the Fourth of July, but this year he was actually suggesting we put up a tree while it was still November. Unprecedented!

We went tree-hunting with our wonderful neighbors, Morgan and Jesse. And no, it wasn't just so we could use their truck. This is Sutton's first Christmas.


We claimed our trees in pretty short order.



Then we put our beauty up and got cracking.



We kind of have a theme.


 I kind of went on kind of a decorating free-for-all with my newfound holiday spirit.





Basically, if it wasn't moving, it fell victim to a frenzied excess of holiday cheer.



And sometimes it hit things that didn't exactly stand still.


Hopefully, it will take, and I'll continue to feel upbeat, creative, and motivated past Monday. We'll see.

Meanwhile, here's a recipe for Apple Sambo, which is a richer, tastier version of spiced cider to kick off your holiday season.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sailing and Lime Rum Shrimp




This past weekend, we rented a Hobie Tandem Island and took off for an afternoon of fun on the water.

Holla!

It's a perfect boat for around here, because you can pedal/paddle it or sail it, or even shove it around with a regular paddle if you run aground on an oyster bed. Or four. Not that we'd know anything about that.


You can also pull it up to a beach for lunch.


It's a decent leg workout, and honestly a lot more comfortable than kayaking.


And she'll go like nobody's business with a stiff breeze. Unless you're stuck on an oyster bed. Which can cause cursing, harsh accusations, and name-calling. Of course I've only heard about that second-hand.

After a full afternoon, which may or may not have involved a few oyster beds and some colorful language, we turned the boat back in and headed home. Maybe it was in icy silence... maybe it wasn't.

We fished for shrimp (at Harris Teeter) and I figured something tropical would be appropriate. I also thought lacing it with rum might soothe someone's hurt feelings a little. I might or might not have lost my temper on one of those theoretical oyster beds.

Lime-Rum Shrimp is one of my favorite ways to cook shrimp in the summer. It's also a very quick dinner.


Peel and devein about a pound of fresh shrimp. Zest one lime, and mince 3 cloves of garlic. Put a large pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle a little olive oil in the pan and add the shrimp and the garlic and the lime zest. Sprinkle with kosher salt. And don't be stingy with it. When the shrimp start to cook, add a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of brown sugar, the juice of the lime you zested, and about 2 tablespoons of dark rum. I ordinarily use Meyer's but we were out, so I used Gosling's dark. 

Pour a separate glass of rum over ice and take it to the person you may or may not have yelled at if you need to suck up a little.

I like to serve this over coconut rice. To make that, just make rice the same way you always do, but substitute half chicken stock and half canned coconut milk for the water. It also goes well with pineapple slaw.


Here's the .pdf if you'd like to take this one on a test sail in your own kitchen.

I'd recommend avoiding oyster beds.