Thursday, September 17, 2009

which it will be READY when its READY

Friends, I am in the throes--the throes, I tell you--of a serious Patrick O'Brian infatuation. The last month or so I have been doing nothing but reading, sleeping, thinking and dreaming Aubrey/Maturin. And now, thanks to the book "Lobscouse & Spotted Dog" I will soon be eating and drinking it as well. I am so obsessed with these books I've even picked up steward Killick's habit of inserting the word "which" at the beginning of sentences. One of my favourite things about these books are the loving descriptions of the food. But there are no receipts, a glaring omission that "Lobscouse" rectifies.

I checked the book out from the library today just to get a flavor of it (flavor, you twig? har!)--far easier to follow than my Wmsbrg Cookery, with its oven settings and measurements in modern cups and tablespoons--but with a lot of the original nineteenth century sources cited. Wistful thinking about cooking on a spit over an open hearth became wistful no more when I looked up and saw our brick fireplace--with a lovely large hearth just begging to be roasted upon. And I can think of no better delicacy to bring home to this year's Christmas feast than a Christmas pudding...although if I was to do it absolutely correctly, I should start it now and let it hang unmolested in the corner for the next three months. And then light it on fire. Wheee.

I don't know why all of a sudden I'm so obsessed with historical cooking (why I'm obsessed with Aubrey/Maturin is perfectly obvious) except I think it's something to do with the hearty, historical way receipts are put together. Lard, flour, eggs, suet, all combining to create something glorious. The tastes aren't as rich or as subtle, but they're easier to appreciate. You put rosewater in custard and by God, it tastes as rosy as a spring morning. I'm looking forward to mastering pudding...not only because as an Anglophile it's a duty, but because apparently it's Patrick O'Brian's favourite dessert.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

distinctly uncomfortable

The pie...was not a success. (the Yorkshire pudding, pt 2, was however. Unrivalled in its glory) I think the problem was I didn't cook down the blueberries enough and then added frozen before I let them thaw. The water from the frozen threw off the water/flour ratio, and the result was pie-soup in a graham cracker crust. Disgusting! Except when you scoop it over delicious vanilla ice-cream. Mmm...

My roommate, Jordon, is a W&M student, she's going to be a physical therapist some day. She is a dedicated academic, cleans the kitchen without prompting, runs marathons for fun and she babysits Kismet when I have to work. And she's watching "The Biggest Loser" right now. I got into the show last year, mostly because Jordon watched it, but I came into the season when people were losing dozens of pounds left and right, spouting feel-good maxims and it was mostly equal, harmless fun. Tonight's the series premiere, when America is introduced to the freak show that is this year's crop of losers, pre-losing. And suddenly I don't quite have the stomach for ice cream and pie soup.

It's not that the contestants are anything new--some of them are scarily big, and they've already had to take one person to the hospital after running a mile. But some of them are not much bigger than I am. And I am sitting here, squinting, confused, watching while women wail into their hands and swear--swear--that they will lose the weight and never, EVER allow themselves to get that big again. Okay. So how is that supposed to make me feel?

Apparently pretty crappy, according to the trainers, who are gushing about how "oh, this is the biggest show we've had so far, but this is how America looks now." So even though I'm at the small end of my size spectrum, I'm supposed to feel ashamed of my body because I'm still not small enough for mainstream America. And now we have a doctor who's point blank telling these people they're sick. Overweight, yes, but that's a "disease" you can take care of. Arg. I'm already feeling bad because the weight is slooowly piling on (I blame Jeff, who likes to take me out and feed me well) and with two weddings coming up, I've been eating salads for lunch and trying to walk Kizzy for an hour each night. Like yer supposed ta. But I'm not trying to become obsessed about my weight. I will lose ten pounds, get back to the post-London weight, and then I'm done. And I won't feel ashamed because someone on The Biggest Loser is starting out at my target weight.

At least, that's the hope...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

the universe does not want me to bake

Remember last November when the great cookie carnage of '08 occurred? Little did I realise that this signaled the beginning of a trend. I have been trying to up my game a little, since my roommate can turn out the most amazing treats with little more than butter, sugar, caramel and showtunes. But whenever I attempt anything more challenging than a Krust-Eaze box mix, the results usually go horribly awry.

It doesn't help that Jeff is trying to get me interested in period cooking. As a colonial woman, of course cooking would be my responsibility, and it's one that I genuinely AM interested in, especially since I get to play with fires. But it hasn't been going so well. I'm trying to master a Sally Lunn receipe, which is flour, water, eggs, sugar, uh, salt, and yeast. And I have yet to not kill the first batch of yeast, so I always end up using twice as many packets. Then of course there was my unintentional over-spraying of the pan, resulting in a lovely puddle of...whatever it is they put in non-stick cooking spray. (not historically accurate, I know, but then again, neither are electric ovens) Jeff even bought me the a copy of the Gentlewoman's Companion, a CW publication that has over five-hundred receipes, all printed in the original eighteenth century dialect. Which is nice, except for the baking times: "Bake in a moderate oven." Ooookay. Thank heavens for margins where I can scribble modern interpretations and notes. (1 pint=2 cups. Bake at 350 for approx. 20 minutes...)

Jeff was off at a workshop today, so I decided to try to find something I could make for dinner. Most of the receipes called for ingredients that I didn't have ("take a piece of lard the size of a goodly egg...") but I finally settled on breaded lamb chops and Yorkshire pudding. I love Yorkshire pudding, but I haven't had it since England, so I was excited. And the receipe was easy: three eggs, well beaten, a cup and a half of sweet milk, three tablespoons of butter, melted, a cup and a half of flour, sifted. Mix together well, pour into a shallow pan, bake in a hot oven. ("400 degrees for 30 min/425, 25 min?") The pudding, baked in a Pyrex pie pan, turned out glorious. It bubbled up in the middle, butter pooling around the edges, and then sank back down when I took it out of the oven, just like I remembered. Finally, I thought--something right.

Then Jeff and Nicole came over. Nicole is learning how to build men's waistcoats from scratch and Jeff is her guinea pig. I directed him to the bangers I had bought for dinner and started the process of reducing potatoes to mash...until Nicole asked if the pudding was supposed to be smoking. Jeff had turned the burner on under the pudding, not the burner under the pan o' bangers, and the pudding was burning. I grabbed up a towel, moved the pudding to another burner to cool off and turned off the offending burner. I stood there, towel in hand, intently studying the pudding to see if it had been burned when--


The Pyrex exploded. Shards flew everywhere, hiding themselves in corners and liberally dusting the scones I had made earlier. My heart, moments before preoccupied with beating normally while I saved the pudding, moved instantly into overdrive. Kismet came over to investigate, until Nicole grabbed his collar. I was so shocked I couldn't speak.

We cleaned the kitchen up. Pyrex may be indestructible, but once it destructs, it is some nasty edges and sharp pointy bits. HOT sharp pointy bits. But we got it cleaned up. I threw away the pudding, and a couple of scones, not wishing to inflict a horrible lingering death on my dinner guests, but oh, how my heart ached for that lovely, golden brown pudding.

Now, I was angry. I knew, logically, that it was an accident--that our stove does not make it easy for you to know which knob to turn--had made the same mistake myself once or twice--roommate had shattered a Pyrex lid only last year--but all the same, I was angry. I stomped around and held back tears, and in the end, just hugged Jeff and apologised.

"I'm not angry at you," I said, he looking earnestly and apologetically at me, "I'm mad at the universe. Apparently the universe does not want me to bake. Just when I thought I was going to succeed, the universe notices and says "oh no you don't!" and snatches victory out of my grasp."

Little does the the universe know I'm going to attempt blueberry pie tomorrow...