Saturday, May 29, 2010

update on nothing much

The plants are growing nicely.

The carrot-feta salad from Smitten Kitchen is fab. I've made it twice this week because the first time I ate half of it while standing in the kitchen waiting for the kebabs to grill. And now I see that she has posted a shaved asparagus pizza. I just used up my gf pizza dough on a pesto-goat cheese flatbread! This must stop!

I have gone running 4 times this week. Yay new running shoes.

My dress from a 1939 pattern is almost finished. I hope to wear it to a party tomorrow in the Bumper Car pavilion at Glen Echo (part of a 1920s amusement park; alas, it no longer contains bumper cars).

My last few days off are here. I start teaching intensive Latin on Wednesday (3 hours a day, M-F, six weeks).

I bought my plane ticket to Strasbourg for the Summer School in Coptic Papyrology, in late July. I am staying 5 extra days and taking the train to Paris. I thought I would be there for my birthday, but I had the dates mixed up. So I'll actually be coming home the day before. Close enough though, and nothing to complain about!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cookbook Felicity

I found my favorite cookbook, The Taste of Summer, in a small-town used book store, right before I started working as a cook/housekeeper for the rectory at St. Francis de Sales in 2004. The recipes are, as the title suggests, summer-oriented and entertaining-friendly: Lots of grilled meat and vegetables, salads, cold and hot soups, appetizers and desserts. The extra tips are also extremely useful: picnic-packing recommendations, wine pairings, and instructions for optional advance preparation of each dish. The extensive menu suggestions with each recipe served me well for a long series of semi-formal 4-course dinner parties, 12-20 people each, throughout the first year of my culinary career. But just one or two dishes make a perfectly lovely dinner at home, no special occasion required.

It is the source of my most popular party food of the Royal Street years (Goat Cheese and Pesto Torta), my go-to picnic-potluck salad (Green Bean Salad with yellow pepper, jicama, and tomato), the chicken chili of which I made way way too much for the Blue Room college graduation party (I told people not to eat before they came!), my standard rosemary-lemon roasted chicken, pesto chicken, the best grilled lamb with mustard-sage crust, the best pasta with Italian sausage and peppers, summer squash gratin with leeks and rice, plum-hazelnut tart, almond cookies with lemon and port, wine-poached peaches with raspberry sauce... seriously, I've probably made 1/3 of the recipes in the book. Only one was a total flop (possibly user error), and only 3 or 4 weren't good enough to my taste to make again (mostly in the soup chapter). The pages are splotched and sticky and the binding has separated from the innards.

After my allergy diagnosis, I didn't use it for a long time, since I was trying to learn how to cook gluten- egg- dairy- and frequently meat- free. The specialized diet blogs and vegan cookbooks helped me tremendously, to the point that I am now revisiting "normal" cookbooks with the confidence to alter the recipes as needed. So I've come back to it, and my current favorite is a recipe I somehow never made in the St. Francis days: Pizza with leeks, pancetta, and fresh tomatoes. It's a little bit labor intensive, like any homemade pizza, but so so worth it. In fact, the first time I made this, I also made a Manly sausage and mushroom pizza in case Brooks didn't care for the Girly/California pizza, but he actually liked it better, and he's no wimp in the manly pizza-eating department. So here is the recipe, to tempt you to keep an eye out for this book. I have simplified the preparation steps and changed the cooking method, since I haven't been brave enough to try grilling pizza as instructed.

Pizza with Leeks, Pancetta, Mozzarella, and Tomatoes
Modified from The Taste of Summer

1/2 pound tomatoes
3 leeks, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
1/2 pound pancetta (I usually use bacon, either regular or turkey)
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (on mine I use whatever mild goat cheese I can find)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Pizza dough for 2 9-inch rounds
cornmeal and oil for the pans

Oil two baking sheets and sprinkle with cornmeal. Cook the bacon in a frying pan and drain on paper towels. Pour off the grease but keep a tablespoon in the pan. Add the sliced leeks and saute over medium-low heat until tender. Remove from heat. Slice the tomatoes thinly and blot on paper towels to remove excess moisture. Roll out the pizza dough and transfer to prepared baking sheets. Top each with half the leeks, half the mozzarella, and half the bacon (crumbled). Arrange the tomato slices evenly and sprinkle with fresh basil. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes or until done.

Eat and marvel at the utter deliciousness!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Urban gardening

Since my academic life is suddenly less hectic than it has been in years, I have put my mind to developing new hobbies, or rather, to putting more time and effort into old ones that fell by the wayside long ago. So in the last few weeks I have been spending a great deal more time in the yard and garden. My lack of maintenance last summer meant that the azalea bushes in the front all died. So about a month ago I dug them all out and planted gladiolus bulbs instead. No picture because they haven't bloomed yet. The rose bush on the side of the porch, however, is beautiful as always:

In the back yard, the baby lettuce is tempting me to thin it out and eat some:

After several years of trying to grow vegetables in pots, with mixed success, I have finally taken the more committed step of digging up part of the yard for an in-ground garden. A concrete slab running parallel to the fence provided a convenient division for a little row of vegetables.

From seed, French round zucchini, ruby Swiss chard, and two kinds of cucumbers.

I just planted these yesterday so the picture shows you the bird netting tent and the urban garden scene, complete with chain fence and alley, rather than any actual plants.

I am almost too impatient to be a gardener; I look at the bare ground every day and chafe at the impossibly long number of days until harvest.

Three kinds of tomatoes: Early Girl (medium-sized red ones), Sun Gold (yellow cherry) and Cherokee Purple (yes, heirloom purple tomatoes).

And most delightfully of all, a brave little raspberry bush:

At this stage, a gardening hobby turns into an even less glamorous weeding and watering hobby, so I will inflict no more pictures upon you until the harvest begins.

But I can certainly find other non-academic things to keep me busy:

Friday, May 7, 2010

School update

For those who wonder if I will ever be out of school, I say that the End is in Sight: only two more academic years. (I will also remind them that I have not been in school since I was 18, so it hasn't been as long as they think.) I am done with all my classes, including language requirements. I will take comprehensive exams in October and then start writing the dissertation, which will ideally be finished in the spring of 2012.

Ph.D. exams in my department consist of 5 3-hour exams. One is a translation exam, and out of my control. For the other four, I have to compile the lists of books (ancient and modern) on which the essay questions will be based. Two are specialized to my alleged dissertation topic (which is still split between two possibilities), one covers the broader late antique context, and one is focused on aspects of the history of scholarship in the field. It's a strange sort of project to have to figure out for oneself what one ought to know at this level. I've just sent off a preliminary and partial draft (a 6-page list, the result of several months' work) to my advisor, who I am sure will add many more items. I want the list-making to be over so I can start seriously reading the stuff! (See the sidebar for some of the things I'm reading already.)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Blogs and Spices, or, In Which I Tentatively and Humbly Restart this Bloggy Thing

I am a chronic blog lurker, because it is a good distraction that doesn't require me to produce coherent and publishable thoughts. But in recent months, my usual suspects have either quit blogging (bad when they are the beautiful and inspiring sort like Pleasant View Schoolhouse) or become boring (good when they are the hyper-fundamentalist sort that I use to provoke myself to a pretense of "righteous indignation"). So I return here with the esoteric subject of my spice cabinet.

Yesterday I bought smoked paprika for the first time for a recipe from my new favorite cooking blog. Today it elevated popcorn to a new height of sublimity. I don't understand people who have only half a dozen spices in their pantries. But I do envy their tidiness. I try to buy mine at the bulk section of the health food store because it's easily a quarter of the price, but the result is two shoeboxes full of different sizes of jars and little unlabeled plastic bags which I have to identify by color and smell every time I cook. (Is that garlic powder or fenugreek?) No mistakes yet, but it's bound to happen sometime. I have no wall space for those handy mounted racks. What's the answer?