Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sing a New Song

It always creeps up on you, when you realize you’ve become your mother.  Rarely do I think before a statement is made, “I am going to say something that will sound like my mother’s voice is coming out of my mouth.”  The epiphany hits you after the statement or act is done.  Sometimes it makes you cringe; sometimes it makes you smile.

I was raised in a family that really, really loves to sing; and sing loud.  My parents played the music they liked, and while lots of kids grow up listening to Oldies, I was the only third grader in my class who knew all the words to Gene Pitney’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” or Jim Croce’s “Operator.”  Likewise, while my mother sang traditional lullabies to get us to sleep, “Rock-a-bye Baby”, “Hush Little Baby” and the like; the nighttime songs that come to mind most are “Greensleeves," “Yellowbird,” and “I’ve Got Plenty of Nothing.”  (While I knew the words, I didn’t really learn the melodies of these songs until much later.  My mother is horribly tone deaf, but she makes up for it in feeling.)

So, as we were driving along the other night and the sky started to pour, my son asked me to sing the rain song.  Did I think of “Rain, Rain, Go Away” or even “The Itsy Bitsy Spider?”  Nope, I started belting out B.J. Thomas’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.”  At that moment I was my mother.  And I smiled.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Slow Times

It’s a little slow around here right now.  I suppose I should enjoy it, but I feel the need be working on something.  It’s probably because projects are looming ahead, promising joy and anxiety.

 I learned a few things last week though: 

  1. I can’t understand why it has taken me this long to getting around to reading The Great Gatsby.  I have had this book on my shelf for over five years, and must have picked it up three or four times.  Somehow it never held my interest.  I must have given up at page three, because this time I could not put it down and finished it in two days.  What a beautifully tragic story.  Oddly enough, a conversation about the movie Roadhouse triggered my interest in starting it again.
  2. Sweet onion butter!!!!  I made it to go along with some bacon muffins, and I now want to have it on hand all the time.  It's great on corn muffins, crumpets, and I'm looking forward to smothering it on a steak.  It’s very simple to make.  Take a stick of butter and let it come to room temperature.  Add ¼ cup chopped sweet onion, ½ tsp of garlic powder (more or less to taste), and mix it all together.  Put it in a crock, mold, or small bowl and there you have it. 
  3. Every time I go grocery shopping, I should check how many eggs I have.  It’s simple arithmetic, but somehow I can never keep track of how many eggs I have used during the week.  When I load my groceries into my fridge on shopping day, I find that I either have twenty-two eggs, or like this week, one.  Does anyone have an idea for a pantry-staple, eggless dessert?  I didn't want to make a run with the kids just for eggs, so I tried twice to make a brownie-pudding cake, and let’s just say that you won’t be reading about it on my blog.  

I woke up a few days ago with Cyndi Lauper’s song Money Changes Everything in my head, and I thought, I would like to find out.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Better with Butter

Is there anything that butter does not make better?  My entire body says “No!” (and unfortunately, as the song goes, my hips don’t lie). 

This past week was a rather indulgent one.  My little sister graduated from high school on the 11th.  That evening I ate a large, cheese laden dinner, had a slice of chocolate-peanut butter cake, and then went out for song and drink at a Korean Karaoke place. 

My husband’s 30th birthday was on Tuesday.  That was dinner at a local Korean grill (the Korean theme just happened unintentionally) where I first tried Bibimbap!  It will be hard not to order that every time we go back.  I also made him chocolate toffee bars.  This recipe called for one pound of butter!  They are a crumbly, cakey, cookie bar, with the brown butter flavor of toffee and topped with chopped nuts pressed into melted chocolate.  In a word: delicious.

Then there was drinking and eating with friends on Thursday downtown (I am going to have to recreate the fried green tomato BLT I had out sometime at home this summer) and Tess’s actual graduation party on Saturday, with more cheese laden food and more cake. 

But, Friday was really where it was at.  Friday was supposed to be an easy day at home.  I remember it was not, but I can’t quite remember why.  There was much tension throughout the day, but that afternoon made everything better.  My parents got my husband a charcoal grill for his birthday, and this past Friday we christened it with the best burgers we’ve ever made.  Add to that some home made strawberry lemonade, grilled corn on the cob, and blowing bubbles with Max and Sam, and we ended up with our easy summer afternoon.

The Best Burgers

My husband loves burgers.  Burgers are many times his benchmark of a restaurant.  So, it made me very happy when he finished his first one on Friday and said, “You know, you go out and order a great burger, and everyone says ‘Wow, this is great, but it’s never as good as home made.’  Before, I never got that. Now I do.”

I have a tendency to want to complicate dishes with herbs and spices, or try out different techniques.  I think I feel that the more components to a meal, the more of myself I can put into it.  I purposefully tried not to do that this time, but the method can lend itself to some interesting variations.

You will need:

4 T butter, softened
1 ¼ lb ground beef
Buns and whatever “fixin’s” you like

First, get your charcoal grill going.

Roll the softened butter into a log.  If you want to make a more creative burger, you could add fresh, chopped herbs to the butter, or garlic, perhaps some chipotle peppers, before you roll it.  It’s up to you.  After you have your soft butter in log form, wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it until solid, about 30 minutes.

Divide your beef into four sections and, handling the beef as little as possible, shape it into patties.  Now, take out your butter, and cut the log into four equal pieces.  Flatten each round into a disc.  Place each butter disc in the center of the patty, and shape the beef around it.  Remember, the patties will shrink on the grill, so you want to press them down and make them a little wider than the bun.

Season the patties with salt and pepper, and then grill them over direct heat until desired doneness, trying to turn as few times as possible.  Be sure not to pierce them or press on them with a spatula.  The butter will melt and seep into the rest of the patty, keeping it juicy and flavorful.  All you may really need is a piece of cheese melted on the top.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pick your poison

So apparently resolutions made in Spring are just as hard to keep as ones made in January.  It has been a while since I’ve taken the time to post anything, but I’ve been more in the mood to read and react to words than to create my own.  I finished the Professor’s House by Willa Cather and The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris.  Both deserve some discussion, but that’s not why I am here today.  Today I am here to talk about what will be my definitive Summer 2011 drink, the Leland Palmer.

The recipe for this drink was featured in the June 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.  The picture made you long to be outside on hot day; maybe enjoying a twilight barbeque with a group of friends, or perhaps just you and your honey, coming back from the pool or beach, with nothing else to do that day but sit back and relax. The limocello-gin-tea mixture was poured into a mason jar filled with ice, condensation forming on the outside of the jar, and a slice of lemon perched atop the rim.  I had never craved a drink so badly before.  Alas, I was seven months pregnant at the time, and when I was finally able to drink again it was not Leland Palmer season.  I had forgotten all about it until I Netflixed Twin Peaks (where the drink gets its name). 

The recipe calls for jasmine tea, but I’ve used Darjeeling and I’m pretty sure you could use almost any fresh brewed iced tea.  I emphatically suggest pouring the drinks into mason jars, preferably out of a heavy glass pitcher.  There’s something wonderfully sentimental about it that sings summer.

The Leland Palmer adapted from Damon Boelte and Bon Appétit

½ cup honey
½ cup hot water
3 cups freshly brewed jasmine tea, cooled completely
¾ cups gin
¾ cup limocello
¾ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ cup grapefruit juice
1 cup chilled club soda
lemon for garnish

Stir honey into hot water until completely dissolved.  Set aside to cool completely

Mix honey water, tea, gin, limoncello, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, and club soda* in a large pitcher.  Pour over ice into six mason jars or heavy glasses.

* If you don’t think you will finish a pitcher in one sitting, you can omit the club soda when you combine everything.  Then, just add a splash of the soda to individual glasses before serving.