Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It sounds more made up

I don't know if you realize how many holidays there are in the middle of the month of March. For example, March 14th is Pi Day. And you can go on all you want about how pi is actually not a physical construct and how we should be celebrating tau day on June 28th to be consistent mathematically with various other equations, but I am personally in favor of any holidays recognizing Greek letters that are homonymous with popular American desserts.

On this year's Pi Day, Jeff and I finished up a noncircular dinner and then headed over to the new barbeque joint on our block to grab the shaker lemon pie they had advertised on their online menu. After checking with our server that they had this specific pie in stock before sitting down, Jeff and I took another look at the menu and then decided that the butterscotch pudding with candied bacon also sounded like a good deal. Five minutes later, our server returns, looking horrified: "We're out of pie." We explained that it wasn't a huge deal and that the auspicious date likely had something to do with their unexpected demand for pie that evening. Still, the server was nice enough to bring out a dish of apple cobbler that didn't appear on our bill, explaining that cobbler is basically just smashed-up pie. I think from now on, whenever a restaurant is out of the dish I want, I'm just going to make up a national holiday for that dish, so that they give me a different dish for free. Sorry, it's prime rib day. October 12th. (We left a big tip.)

Then the day after pi day, March 15th, is The Ides of March, which is also Sam's Mom's Birthday, and is also The Day Yosemite Reservations Open for Summer. Depending on who you are, all three of those have the potential to be either very delightful or very stressful. If you are Julius Caesar or someone who likes camping but has a job, it usually turns out to be a very stressful day. Because if you want to stay in Yosemite Valley or Tuolumne Meadows sometime between July 15 and August 15, you're going to have to synchronize your computer with the giant clock on the face of Half Dome, stake out your virtual campsite, and start turbo-clicking "reserve" from 6:58 AM PST until a month's worth of campsites in Yosemite National Park are all booked up. That will happen at about 7:15 AM PST. Well, it could be worse; you could be Julius Caesar.

Despite some (literally) last-minute computer snafus, Jeff and I successfully navigated the Yosemite logjam once again this year and I decided to make egg-in-the-hole to celebrate. I once read that egg-in-the-hole is the only food that Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys knows how to cook for himself at home. I have to say that I'm just a little bit incredulous, because (1) as one of rock music's most infamous perfectionists, you'd expect him to be a pretty good cook, just sitting at home making omelets and practicing theremin all day; and (2) making egg-in-the-hole is actually one of the hardest things I can think of. You have to cut some bread to the perfect thickness, hollow out a hole of the exact right volume, fry it over the most delicate heat until it's perfectly browned, deftly slip in a single egg, let that cook just until the white just shows the barest hint of coagulation, gently lift it but forcefully flip it, pray, and then lift it onto your plate without the whole affair just falling apart into a puddle of yolk and shame. It requires a lot of concentration and a lot of finesse, but I think if Brian Wilson could write the harmonies to "California Girls," he can probably handle it.

And then two days after the Ides of March, it's St. Patrick's Day. Jeff and I had a small, casual get-together that began with this art deco cheese plate I prepared: oat soda bread, tomato jam, Irish cheddar, and Kerrygold butter. The oat soda bread, based on a recipe from Heidi and fortified with hazelnut meal is one of the best things I have ever baked and fortified with hazelnut meal for extra protein. I vowed to keep a loaf in our apartment at all times. I have not made it since then.

From there, we progressed to this lovely Irish beef stew that Jeff made. It has Guinness in it, of course, as well as some prunes (apparently an Irish thing) and some parsnips (unfortunately an Irish thing), some pearl onions and some mushrooms, and all the other usual suspects of beef stew. Honestly, I don't even ask what Jeff puts into things he braises anymore because they all turn out wonderful and tender. I may or may not have rewritten the lyrics to a Nicki Minaj song to celebrate Jeff's prowess for braising meat.

And here is a raw marinated kale and cabbage salad I prepared as the counterpoint to that Super Braise. What I actually wanted to show you hear was a picture of the dessert I had made, a "whiskey ginger" float that paired homemade ginger ale with Irish whiskey, ginger ice cream, and a topping of vanilla whipped cream. I was pretty proud of finally making a ginger syrup that had enough ginger in it to satisfy me; it only took twelve ounces of ginger and another tablespoon of sichuan peppercorns, just for that little hit of novocaine in your soda. I had everything all bubbled up and mixed together--and then my camera ran out of battery. It was a huge bummer, because I also missed out on the opportunity to photograph the following night's Car-Bomb-a-nara, an Irish fusion pasta dish that added cheddar, cabbage, and Irish butter to the scrambled eggs of the Italian original. So I know this picture of kale salad is not very exciting from a food porn perspective, when you could have gotten a shot of my hipster ice cream float or cross-cultural heart-stopping pasta.

But there will be many food-oriented holidays for me to invent next month and photograph, so just stay tuned.


Recipe roundup...

Egg-in-the-hole is the hardest food in the entire world to make; go buy two dozen eggs and half a dozen loaves of bread, read my description, and just do it over and over until it looks even better than the one from Moonstruck. Fry the bread in olive oil or clarified butter, and rub a clove of garlic on each side as it's still warm. I believe in you.

Oat Soda Bread from Heidi's recipe. For the flours, I think I used 7 oz ground oats, 5 oz white flour, 3 oz ground hazelnuts, and 2 oz whole-wheat flour. Then I topped it with raw buckwheat and sesame seeds. It was wonderful.

Jeff's beef stew recipe coming up shortly...

To make the raw kale salad, I tore up a bunch of kale and marinated it in some peanut oil with salt. I sliced half a head of cabbage very thin and marinated that with some apple cider vinegar and salt. When I was ready to serve, I tossed them together and seasoned with some additional salt, pepper, and vinegar. Some toasted rye seeds would have been great, but I think I ate my entire supply those raw last year. That was a questionable decision.

The ginger ice cream was David Lebovitz's recipe in the Perfect Scoop, except I used 10 oz ginger instead of 2-3 oz or whatever basically undetectable quantity he calls for in his recipe for people who hate ginger. The ginger syrup was this epicurious recipe, except with 12 oz ginger instead of 4 oz.

Whiskey ginger float: a little ginger syrup, 2 oz whiskey, 10 oz soda water, a scoop of ice cream, a scoop of vanilla whipped cream... and I think this is what they have for dessert in Ireland, every single night.

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