Saturday, January 30, 2010

Productive Day

I cleaned out the freezer today and made chicken broth, cornbread dressing and banana bread with the odd bits that were stored there. I also baked a loaf of no-knead bread and turned out a yummy tuna dip that I'll share in a few days. Here's my cornbread dressing recipe, and here's the banana bread recipe. What do you make when you clean out your freezer?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lemon Pudding Love

Lemons by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

After 20 years of marriage, you think I’d know this companion, best friend, loving father of my children. A man who professes to dislike desserts because they are “too sweet,” who can turn down chocolate with a dismissive wave, cheesecake with a grimace. But now, aha! I have found a chink in his armor, an irresistible temptation - lemon pudding. Lemon pudding, satiny and creamy, lush and plush, tongue-tickling tart and eye-brightening sweet, every mouthful a citrus melody in a composition of custard.

I’ve never made the pudding specifically for my husband; it’s my firstborn daughter’s favorite. She had a rough day today, and when she got in the car after school, recounted all her grievances, then got that faraway look in her eyes and adopted a petulant tone, “Why don’t you ever make lemon pudding? You know it‘s my favorite.” And later, at home, I check the refrigerator and see that I have a bag of lemons and the organic eggs that my neighbor brought by; it’s kismet.

The recipe’s a keeper, rich with half and half (you can sub whole milk), sugar and a quartet of egg yolks. And lemon, at least four juicy lemons and their zest are required for this batch. If all goes according to plan, the pudding will not need refrigeration because it will be scarfed down while barely warm, which we all know is the proper temperature for all homemade puddings. Mr. Cosby can keep his Jell-puddings in the fridge; all their generic flavors and paintbox colors. Real pudding, the kind that mommas make for their babies (of any age), is best eaten warm from the pot it’s made in, with a big spoon.

I make lemon pudding in a double boiler, and strain in a sieve, which is the culinary equivalent of Grandpa wearing a belt and suspenders. The gentle heat of the double boiler ensures the eggs don’t scramble and the sieve makes sure that any wayward lumps, plus the fine zest, do not interfere with the supremely creamy texture of the pudding.

Back to the husband - I placed the bowl of strained pudding on the table, the curds in the strainer in the sink and went about the making of supper. Dear Husband asked what was in the sink. I said, honey it’s lemon pudding, that’s just the offal, wait for the real stuff, we‘ll have it for dessert. I snuck a look and saw him hunched over the strained lemon bits like a lion on a zebra carcass and I swear, for the love of Peter Brady and all that is holy, for a split second, my husband’s eyes rolled back in his head.

You can believe what you want to believe, but this momma’s going to be making more lemon pudding.

Lemon Pudding by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Lemon Pudding

2-1/4 cups half and half or whole milk
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
Pinch salt
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about four small lemons)
3 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature (optional if using the half and half)

1. Set up a double boiler and place over medium heat. In top pan, whisk together the milk, sugars and cornstarch until smooth and not lumpy.

2. Whisk in the egg yolks, lemon zest and pinch of salt. Continue cooking, whisking frequently at first and constantly toward the end, until thickened to desired consistency, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Remove the pan from the heat, add the lemon juice and butter (if using), and stir until incorporated. Pour through a coarse sieve into a large serving bowl and let cool to room temperature.

4. If you must refrigerate right away, cover it with plastic wrap let chill for two hours. In my home, I pour out small servings in bowls, set out spoons, and announce that pudding is ready.

Text and images copyright 2010, Lucy Mercer.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bacon, Whoopee!

We go through a lot of bacon in our kitchen, especially in these chilly winter months when we crave hearty breakfasts and substantial oven-braised meals. Eggs and bacon is a quickly-put-together life-saving meal on evenings where we just want to get the family fed and watered before bed. When I make a pot roast or beef stew or a chicken braise, I will start with bacon before I sear the meat and prepare the sauce. The bacon adds a greasy cooking element, to be sure, just pour off all but tablespoons of the fat before searing the meat, but it adds smoky and salty flavor, as well. The smell of bacon cooking also signals to all within the house, including pets, that something good is definitely happening in the kitchen.

I store raw bacon in the freezer. It thaws in the fridge in just a couple of hours, so it's usually not a problem, and if I really need bacon now, it defrosts in the microwave easily. After the package is opened, I curl the bacon pieces around my fingers and put them in a freezer container; much easier than separating strips of frozen bacon.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Banana Rehab

I have the best of intentions when I see bananas in the supermarket, especially if the clerk has just put them out and the bunches are creamy yellow, not marred by brown spots, and there is just the slightly fragrant smell, hinting at ripeness just a few days away. The girls will eat these bananas after school, I think, and indeed, if I remember to pack them in my purse, they will eat a banana in the car on the way home. The problem is remembering them...

As the wrestling coach who spoke at my high school graduation said, "If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas." (I can't remember much else about the speech, but the cliche has stuck with me.) So, intentions aside, I have a back-up plan. The plan used to be, and still is, freeze the mushy, smelly reprobates and give them new life as banana bread or snack cake. There is another solution, but this is entirely dependent on timing: the key to successful banana rehabilitation is to catch them just before they go bad.

If you have such a banana on your counter, check the freezer for vanilla ice cream or the fridge for vanilla yogurt, and if the answer is affirmative, get out a saute pan and go to town. Place the skillet over medium heat and sizzle a couple tablespoons of unsalted butter. Peel the banana or (s) as necessary, slicing the length of the fruit, then crosswise into 2-inch lengths. Saute the bananas in the melted butter until softened. Sprinkle a couple tablespoonfuls of brown sugar, light or dark, over the bananas, stir through. A pinch of salt would be ok, as would a finishing glug of vanilla. Have ready bowls of vanilla ice cream or that fridge mainstay vanilla yogurt, I say allow one banana for two servings, and spoon the syrupy bananas over the the vanilla ice cream. Lovely.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Blameless Product Promotion

In two years of blogging, I've mentioned quite a few cookbooks, but not mentioned equipment so much. I haven't need of the new rules for bloggers regarding swag and product placement, because honestly, I've never received stuff to blog about. I guess that's a bridge that I'll cross when I get to it.

So, here's my blameless product promotion for a kitchen helper that I've used for about six months and love, love, love: the Microplane Gourmet Series Fine Grater. According to the label, garlic, nutmeg and citrus zest are the primary targets for this implement. I haven't tried it with garlic yet, but nutmeg and lemon and lime rinds are reduced to fine, powdery shavings, the most divine zest you can imagine. The soft plastic handle is quite comfortable and the business area, the space where the Microplane magic occurs, is wide enough to accommodate the largest of lemons. I especially like the base of this tool, the solid, plastic-covered frame. It keeps the plane in place as you zest to your heart's content (or at least the limit of your lemons and limes).

My other zesting tools - a small strip zester that makes my hands cramp just looking at it and a larger Microplane, the kind that most resembles the woodworking tool that started the brand, will now migrate to the back of the tool drawer.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This Week, a Bridesmaid

I was the bride in last week's Salon Kitchen Challenge, and ranked an honorable mention in this week's category of stew. Up next: pudding! I made lemon pudding over the weekend, which is bliss on a spoon. And there's banana pudding, chocolate pudding, rice pudding...I will need to ponder this week's submission (and what a satisfying thing to ponder).

Click here for this week's wrap-up (and be sure to read the winning story and recipe on Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cold Hands, Warm Hearth

We've been cooped up in the house too long, due to what passes for a snowstorm in Georgia. A couple inches of white stuff on the ground, some ice on the roads and school officials decree a long homebound weekend with the kids. I keep a fire roaring in the fireplace and plan a filling meal to warm us up from the inside. Beef stew fills the bill.

Beef stew is a case study in how my cooking has changed over time. As a newlywed, I used the recipe in the Pillsbury cookbook that was given to me as a shower gift. One hundred or more cookbooks later, I learn about the kind of meat I should be using (chuck blade steak) and then to layering flavors by adding bacon and red wine. And I started to realize that beef stew’s appeal, aside from the bowl-of-comfort-and-warmth factor, is enhanced by these umami elements - bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, red wine. It’s an umami tsunami, if you will, that will make your hypothalamus and your belly happy.

Despite my love for the structure of recipes, I’ve endeavored to let go in the kitchen and make my own path. My recipes used to be very specific, now they tend to sound like Dizzy Gillespie in the kitchen, so my apologies in advance.

So, here’s how I make beef stew, most nights. Feel free to improvise. After all, did Dizz play it the same every time?

Beef Stew, a Primer

1/2 pound sliced bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

¼ cup flour

1 (1 lb. or so) beef chuck blade steak, trimmed of excess fat and sliced into 1½ inch pieces

2 medium onions, peeled and cut into wedges

4 carrots, peeled, trimmed, split lengthwise and then into 2-inch sections

2 stalks celery, trimmed and sliced into 2-inch pieces

4 medium red potatoes, peeled and sliced into 2-inch chunks

1, possibly 2, small containers of mushrooms, rinsed, dried, trimmed and sliced (for shiitakes) or halved (for buttons)

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup red wine or water, to deglaze the pan

1 can low-sodium beef broth

1 (28 oz.) can whole organic tomatoes

salt and pepper to taste

1. First of all, I use two Dutch ovens. One for browning the meat and creating the sauce, the second to hold the meat, vegetables and sauce that will go in the oven. I know that’s weird and you may not want to do it this way, but this is my method, so there.

2. Fry the bacon in a Dutch oven over medium heat. When bacon is crispy, remove and place on paper towels to drain. Pour off all but two tablespoons of grease in the pan.

3. In a paper bag, if you have it, or Ziploc bag , place a ¼ cup of flour and season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place beef pieces in bag, seal and shake, shake, shake. (This is an ideal job for any children lurking, waiting for their sister to finish her turn on the Wii.)

4. Place seasoned, floured beef pieces in pot with sizzling bacon grease and brown, turning to make sure the pieces are evenly cooked. This requires about three batches, maybe four. As the meat releases from the second side, place it in the Dutch oven that will go in the oven and cover with lid. Place drained bacon pieces with meat.

5. After you remove the meat, place a tablespoonful of tomato paste in the pan and stir for a couple of minutes, until it’s good and brown. Add the onions and continue to cook until softened. Pour a ½ cup of red wine into the pan and deglaze. This means to scrape all the brown stuff off the bottom of the pan. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add the beef broth or water, canned tomatoes, one or two bay leaves, and the potatoes.

6. Now that you have a pot full of stew, get a sheet of parchment paper, crumple it in your hand and place it on the surface of the stew. Place the lid on the Dutch oven and slide the entire pot into a preheated oven. I use convection and cook the stew for a minimum of three hours at 300, checking on the liquid level every 45 minutes or so. If the liquid is too low, just add water to barely cover the meat and vegetables.

7. Serve the beef stew with buttered noodles or maybe a pan of baked polenta or, if you're in the mood (and in the South), creamy grits. And don't forget the pan of home baked fudgy brownies for dessert.


Lindsey, who is four, hears activity in the kitchen. “Mommy, can I help?“

“I thought you wanted to play with the Wii.“

“No, I want to cook. Mommy, I want do it. Let me!”

“But it’s raw meat, sweetie, it’s messy.“

“I want to put the raw meat in!”

“Not in the pot, honey, you’re not allowed around the hot pans.”

“But I want to put the meat in the bag.”

“You’ll have to wash your hands again.”

“That’s ok, I want to do it. Mommy, does the raw meat feel cold?”

And as she helps dust the meat with flour and place it in the pan, “Mommy, look at the little nest of meat. Nest of meat. Nest of meat. But mommy, let’s take it out. Let’s take it out now. Can I take it out now?”

“No, darling.”

“Why? Why?”

I distract her with a new task. “Sweetie, find me an onion.”

“Where do you keep them? Oh, that’s right, I remember.” She digs in the onion drawer, with a giggle. “Found it.”

Just in case you ever need to occupy a four-year old for 15 minutes or more, pull out an onion and watch as she peels the outer layers bit by papery bit. However, onions are not always enough to occupy a four year old, so you look around for another project and see that the trash can needs emptying. While I tie up the bag and prepare to take it outside, I teach Lindsey how to open a new bag and place it in the can.

She’s so proud of herself, she commands, “Take my picture!”

So that’s why Lindsey’s giving me the sweet face beside the trash can and I hear, “But mommy, I thought you were going to give me a hug.”

“I can give you a hug. How about a hug right now? I’m going to squeeze tighter.”

“No I’m going to squeeze tighter.”

“And I’m going to squeeze even more tighter.” And just as I thought she was on to a new project, she says,

“Let’s cook some more!”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Required Reading

A rare Saturday afternoon at home and while the girls played with the Wii, I caught up on reading. Roger Ebert is a thoughtful writer and this piece from the Chicago Sun-Times explains his health problems of recent years and what he misses most about not eating. Roger Ebert's story "Nil by Mouth" here.

My current fiction read is "The Piano Teacher" by Janice Y.K. Lee, about Hong Kong during WWII and again in 1953. I'll probably follow this with "A Reliable Wife" by Robert Goolrick. I read the first eight pages and want to know more about the characters and setting - always a good sign.

My newest cookbook is "My Bread" by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery. I've turned out about a half dozen of the no-knead loaves and they are wonderful.

Next on my cookbook must-purchase list: "Rose's Heavenly Cakes" by Rose Levy Beranbaum. I've perused this book already. I think it's Rose's most beautiful book - lots of photographs, all stunning. Of course, the recipes will be first-rate, I expect nothing less.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Woo Hoo!

My post about New Year's Breakfast was singled out as this week's winner of the Salon Kitchen Challenge! I thought the Crabby Eggs Benedict post had it in the bag, but I guess the editors liked the cute kid picture in my post. My original story appears below, and

here's the edited entry on (sigh! to have an editor!).

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Welcoming 2010 with Breakfast

Our New Year’s breakfast is a week late, because the girls were visiting friends last weekend. I was at home, working and worrying in a too-quiet house. The memory is a bit hazy now, but I think I welcomed the end of the aughts with a whole wheat bagel with a schmear, and my usual two cups of coffee. So, today, we mark a new year with a breakfast menu of yeast-raised waffles, warm fruit salad and brown sugar bacon. I'm a conscientious cook and want to be sure that all food groups are covered: sweet, salty, fruity and porky. Yes, it’s going to be a good year.

The yeast-raised waffles are intensely buttery, but not greasy. The recipe is from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, an orange ring-bound bible that’s never far from my kitchen counter. The advantage of this recipe is mixing the batter in the evening and letting it ferment in the fridge overnight, bubbling into a smooth vanilla-scented batter. And speaking of vanilla, I triple the amount called for in the recipe - everything is better with vanilla.

Brown sugar bacon, aka candied bacon, has been embraced by the masses. At least the masses at my house. As if bacon needs anything to make it taste better or be worse for your health, let’s just coat it in brown sugar.

The warm fruit compote, oh, I mean salad, is my attempt to add some nutrition to this meal. A warning to all food snobs: I am a heathen, I know, because the recipe calls for canned fruit. I suppose I could summon the energy to peel pears and oranges and pineapple this morning, but in the spirit of these lean economic times, I whip out the can opener and go to town. Besides, the canned fruit reminds me of the “84 Charing Cross Road” movie scene where Helene Hanff and her friends gather round and choose items to send to Frank Doel and Cecily Farr and Messrs. Marks and Cohen in post-war London. (The letters included with the package are in the book. One of the best lines is the follow-up to the initial package in December 1949, when Helene reconsiders the propriety of sending a ham to Marks & Cohen, the bookshop proprietors. She asks if they are kosher and offers to rush a tongue over. ) Really, if it’s good enough for h.h., it ought to be good enough for my family.

Despite my hopes that my youngest will sleep in this morning, (my first Saturday off since before Thanksgiving), Lindsey is awake and full of energy. She’s a helper, constantly reminding me that she wants to do and try everything. Especially if it’s electric and has a button. ("Ooooh, the waffle maker! Does it have a button?“) We’ve taken to hiding flashlights from her, because she plays with them, leaving them upside down, turned on. During a recent power failure, we managed to find a dozen flashlights, but not a one worked.

This morning, she stirs the waffle batter, beating out the bubbles to a smooth consistency. Then it’s time for the bacon, a task that I’m not too sad about handing over.

“Let me do it!”

“But do you really want to touch cold, slimy bacon?”

“Yes, I want to do it!” Well, if you insist…

And so she does, stretching each piece in the pound to fit on the rack suspended over a foil-covered baking sheet. I pull out the brown sugar. “Let me do it! Give me a spoon!“ And so the brown sugar is liberally poured over the bacon before I slide it into the oven for a half hour’s crisping and baking. Thirty minutes filled with pleas to be the one to pull the hot pan out of the oven. “But Lindsey, the pan is hot. And heavy. Let Mommy.”

“Let me do it!” No, I don’t think so.

I distract her with the next step, opening the cans of fruit for the warm fruit salad. (I know: can opener in the hands of a four year old! Get DFACS on the line.) We’ve been at this game for awhile, and she gives up the job early in the attempt, settling for emptying the fruit into the strainer suspended over a bowl. And she wants to be the first to sample the fruit juice. I catch her later, dipping her cup directly into the bowl of leftover juice. Blind eye, I think, blind eye. Then I hear, “Mommy, mommy, mommy.”

And probably again, “mommy, mommy, mommy.”

“What do you need, sweetpea?”

“Mommy, I love you.”

And I could end this story here, with a halcyon glow of promise and hope. But later, when I pull out the breakfast plates, she says, “I don’t want a plate.”

“But you need to eat on a plate. Waffles with syrup are messy. “

“I don’t want waffles. I want to dip my bacon in the syrup.”

“What about fruit?”

“No fruit. Just juice.”

So, here’s to 2010, a year of promise and hope, and in September, a five year old.

And later,

“Mommy, mommy, mommy.”


"Is Christmas over?"

"Yes, it is, sweetpea."

"Because I love it."

Warm Fruit Salad

This is a dump and do recipe.

29 oz. can peaches
20 oz. can pineapple tidbits
15.25 oz. can sliced pears
8.75 oz. apricot halves
11 oz. can mandarin oranges
one small jar of maraschino cherries

Set up a large bowl and a strainer and grab your can opener. Put a casserole dish alongside. Open each can, drain into the strainer, the place fruit in casserole dish.

In a small saucepan, combine:

½ stick butter
½ cup orange juice
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves

Melt butter in saucepan, heat o.j. in microwave for 30 seconds. Add sugar to butter, followed by warm orange juice. Heat until bubbly then add spices. Pour over fruit in casserole. Place in moderate (350 oven) until ready to serve.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bright News Today

A favorite writer from the dear, departed, Francis Lam, has set up shop at and runs a competition each week, the Salon Kitchen Challenge, where bloggers post at Open Salon on a given food topic and winners are chosen. Last week's challenge was to revisit an early experience in the kitchen. I wrote about the time I made croissants at home and found out today that my piece was singled out for an honorable mention.

The most exciting thing is Francis Lam read my essay! (I say this with the same inflection as a tween mentioning Taylor Swift or maybe a Vegas cocktail waitress spying Tiger Woods at her table.) The most embarrassing thing is that I didn't proof my article as thoroughly as I should have and the single best line contained a (now-corrected) goof.

read about my honorable mention here. (I post as PB&J)

and read my obituary/tribute to Gourmet here.

And the edited article is posted below.

Kitchen: the Home of My Heart

You know, you’re either a book person, or you’re not. Just like you’re either a kitchen person, or you’re not. Me, I’m both. Give me a stack of books and a recliner and snap! there goes Saturday afternoon. If it’s a stack of cookbooks, then Sunday afternoon, too, will be whiled away in the kitchen.

So it is with “Kitchen” by Banana Yoshimoto, a novella originally published in Japan 20 years ago, with an English translation reaching the U.S. in 1994. The narrator, Mikage, begins, “The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it’s a kitchen, if it’s a place where they make food, it’s fine with me.” I’m right with you, Mikage.

The kitchen has always called to me. I was a girly girl in the midst of boys. When I grew tired of playing with Barbies, or reading the Boxcar Children, I would wander into the kitchen and ask Mom for something to do. In the beginning, this meant setting the table -- plates, silverware and paper napkins and preparing the drinks (milk for the kids, sweet tea for the grown-ups). And before long, I found books in the kitchen, cookbooks. A copy of Southern Living's The Holiday Cookbook, part of a mail-order series ca. 1972, was a favorite, partly due to the extravagant cover picture of a buxom apple dumpling covered with cream amidst a pile of dew-kissed Red Rome apples, a quartet of lit taper candles in the background. I'm not too sure I wanted to eat the dumpling, but I certainly wanted to make it.

The preface to this volume actually begins "Holidays are a most important time to the people of the Southland." and continues "From thousands of southern kitchens come the appetite-teasing aromas of rich fruit cakes...exquisite dishes of meat and fowl..light-as-a-feather breads...and all the foods so important to holiday festivities."

The "light-as-a-feather breads" include croissants, submitted by Mrs. Carol Scott of Hickory Flats, Mississippi, and featured in the Entertaining for Easter chapter, just below the Deviled Egg Bake. In 17 brief sentences, all squished together in type so tiny it might as well be agate, Mrs. Scott demystifies croissants with instructions like "repeat rolling and folding twice and cut crosswise into fourths." (In contrast, the Gourmet Cookbook recipe takes up two pages and features line drawings for spatial-relations-challenged folks, such as myself, to figure out the folding and turning and shaping. )

To this day, I'm not sure why Mom let me make the croissants in the book. I am certain that at that time that I'd never even had a proper croissant, although I was a fan of its white-trash cousin, the Pillsbury crescent roll in the pop-open tube. (You may have heard of the sixth taste, umami. I would add a seventh, packaging, which explains the appeal of processed foods that snap, crackle and pop before they're even eaten.)

Using Mrs. Scott's terse instructions, I set about one cold Saturday to make croissants, first combining the softened butter and flour, rolling it out between waxed paper sheets and chilling the mixture in the refrigerator. I then made the yeast dough, set it to rise and then layered the two, followed by turning, rolling, chilling, cutting, shaping, rising and baking. We Warrens marveled at the results. Not the prettiest rolls, mind you, four dozen rolls of all sizes, some resembling twisted gherkins and others chubby gerbils, but the way the laminated dough puffed and turned golden brown in the oven was magic. The rolls were buttery and yeasty, and to this aging mind, one of my proudest accomplishments in the kitchen. But in the 30 years since, I've never baked them again, perhaps because the clean-up was staggering, flour and butter everywhere, all the counters crusted with dough, every baking sheet dirty.

So, here I am, a week after Christmas, with a day in the kitchen before me and nothing better to do than to recreate the taste of my first croissants. I’ve still yet to eat a French croissant from a boulangerie on the Rue St. Whatever. (Maybe that can be my New Year’s resolution -- to somehow make it to Paris and taste an authentic croissant.)

Re-reading the recipe is interesting. Of course, the ingredients are measured, not weighed, and the measure for flour is left out of the ingredient list. I think, sure, I could spend my afternoon and three sticks of butter on this recipe, or I could take advantage of a quiet house and watch the “Burn Notice” marathon on USA and maybe get a little Wii snowball fighting in. And then I have a change of plans.

Cooking and baking are necessities, making food for yourself and folks you love is a skill that will serve you well, I tell my girls. Wise grandparents will tell their children to choose their battles with their own young ones. The kitchen is my territory and I choose my battles there, carefully considering whether I really want to spend an afternoon scraping hardened dough bits off the countertops, and sweeping the fine flour dust from the floors. Or if a simple rustic loaf will suffice.

Forgive me, Mrs. Mary Scott, whoever and wherever you are, I won’t be making croissants anytime soon. I pulled out my Christmas present to myself, My Bread, by Jim Lahey, he of the Sullivan Street Bakery No Knead Bread. Within three minutes, I mixed up the bread and set it out for its first rise. The following morning, I baked a rustic, toothsome loaf, and my house is once again perfumed with the smell of Just Baked Bread. As for tasting authentic croissants again , I may make them someday with my daughters, but in my heart, I‘m holding out for Paris.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year, New Hope

I feel the truth of what older friends and family have been telling me -- the years speed up as you go along. It seems like last month, I swear, that we welcomed 2009 with the prayer that it be a better, more stable and peaceful year for our families, our jobs, our country. Many feel like that hasn't happened. Yet there remains, as always, hope, and that's why today I'm eating black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and braised in the oven; and collard greens, this year the pre-chopped kind in the 2 lb. plastic bag, so much easier than rinsing fresh greens, cooked with a smoked turkey leg and served with red wine vinegar and coarse black pepper; cornbread baked in my cast-iron skillet; and homemade buttermilk-brined fried chicken.

I will take a moment to express sorrow for those non-Southerners without the grand tradition of this humble feast. The black-eyed peas are for good luck and the greens for lots of "greenbacks" during the year. The fried chicken and cornbread are because I can and I will.

So, I raise a fried chicken leg to my friends and family and readers and wish all of you health and happiness in 2010. May at least some of our wishes come true this year. And no matter what the year brings, may we still be able to afford black-eyed peas and greens when we welcome the new decade January 1, 2011.