Born Feet First

Best. Ice Cream. Ever.

Posted by BornFeetFirst on July 4, 2012

I’ve done it. I’ve created the best ice cream ever. Here it is:

 

Browned Butter Lemon Ice Cream. It’s like a shortbread cookie in frozen form. It’s sweet, slightly tart, nutty from the browned butter, and oh, so delicious. I could probably eat the entire quart.

Ingredients

1 stick salted butter (only the browned solids after clarifying – instructions follow)

1 1/2 cups milk

2/3 cup sugar

zest from one small lemon

1 cup whipping cream

Melt butter in a saute pan over med-low heat, continue cooking the butter until it is dark amber colored. Do not stir. Let the milk solids sink to the bottom and brown. Once it’s nice and dark, remove pan from the heat. Drain off the clarified butter into a glass container, and save all of the nice browned bits. It’s ok if there is a little bit of liquid in the solids, but try to get as much out as possible. Set aside. (I’ll post a recipe for browned butter sugar cookies – you can use the liquid in that recipe.)

Heat milk in a saucepan, whisking in sugar, lemon zest and the solids from your browned butter. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, constantly whisking to make sure the butter solids don’t clump. You will have small speckles in the milk – that’s fine.

Pour into a glass bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Beat whipping cream until thickened, but not firm – just get some air into it. Add the refrigerated milk/butter combo and beat until combined. The milk/butter will have separated overnight, so you just want to whisk/beat it until the solids are evenly distributed in the base.

Pour into your ice cream maker and process as you would any other ice cream.

This one stays nice and soft even after being in the freezer for a few hours after processing. That’s probably because of the high fat content, but I choose to ignore that little fact.

Enjoy!

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Rhubarb Chutney

Posted by BornFeetFirst on June 17, 2012

It’s spring – time for rhubarb!

Two weeks ago I made this gorgeous and tasty strawberry-rhubarb pie with a flaky gin crust – yum.

I’ve made a couple of quarts of rhubarb juice for cosmos, margaritas, and to mix with lemon-lime soda. And, the requisite upside-down rhubarb cake is inevitable sometime in the the near future, but this week’s batch of fresh pickings was destined for a more savory end – chutney.

A google search yielded several recipes for pickled rhubarb, rhubarb chutney and rhubarb relish. Taking ideas from each, I chopped, sautéed, boiled, stirred, reduced and finally, cooled my tangy version of this tasty accompaniment. Here it is chilled, served with a sharp gouda (I also paired it with a cabot – also tasty.)

Recipe:

4-5 stalks of rhubarb, cut in 1/4 inch pieces – about 2 cups total

1/2 medium Vidalia onion, finely chopped

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp finely minced ginger

large pinch of salt

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/3 cup dried cranberries, chopped

scant 1/2 cup sugar

Cider vinegar to taste (optional)

Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Sauté onion, garlic and ginger with salt until soft. Add wine and cranberries. Bring to a boil, cook for about a minute, then add the sugar, stirring until dissolved.

Add half of the rhubarb to the pan, reduce heat and let simmer, partially covered, for about 5 minutes until rhubarb is soft. Add remaining rhubarb and let simmer about 3 minutes, until rhubarb is just tender.

Taste the chutney. If it is too sweet, add a tablespoon or two of cider vinegar or a little more white wine. If it’s too tart, add a little sugar to taste. Cool completely.

Serve with a sharp cheese on crusty bread or a nice cracker.

Cheese: I went to Whole Foods, explained what I was serving and asked for recommendations. The  cheesemonger opened three different cheeses and offered me a taste of each. I chose two – both delicious with the chutney. One was Cheddar Clothbound Cabot and the other was Gouda Parrano.

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Swedish Baked Potatoes

Posted by BornFeetFirst on March 11, 2012

Here’s one for you:   Super simple, tasty and fun.

Couldn’t be easier…

Ingredients:

Yukon Gold potatoes – one small-medium tater per person
2-3 cloves of garlic
olive oil, butter, salt and pepper
Rosemary, thyme, or other spices at your pleasure
(See… simple!)

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Give your potatoes a quick rinse, then pat them dry.

Carefully cut almost all the way through the potato, making 1/4-inch slices from end to end. Don’t cut all the way through – you need the bottom to stay intact to keep the tater together.

Slice very, very thin slivers of garlic. Slip a thin slice between each little slit in the potatoes. If you’re using other herbs (rosemary, etc) get some of those in between the slits as well.

Rub a dab of butter over the top of each potato, then drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Place potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 35-45 minutes or until the insides of the potatoes are soft and the outsides are crispy.

Enjoy!

Are they really Swedish? Who knows?

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Barley, Celeriac and Mushroom Salad

Posted by BornFeetFirst on March 4, 2012

I’m not a recipe follower, though I’ll take inspiration from recipes and modify them to fit my tastes. Take this one, for example, published in The New York Times on March 2, 2012 for a Barley, Celery Root and Mushroom Salad.

I love a warm salad and only recently have been willing to try celeriac (celery root) as I’m not a fan of the above-ground part of the plant. I made a few modifications, taking out the celery, celery leaves, and parsley, and serving the remainder on a bed of arugula. The result:

I served it room temperature with roasted pork loin. Yum!

Here’s the recipe with my modifications:

Barley, Celeriac and Mushroom Salad on Arugula
1 cup pearl barley
1 large celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 lb. mixed mushrooms: oyster, portobello, cremini, cut into bite-sized pieces (not too small)
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 shallot, finely minced
2 cups arugula
olive oil, salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Spread barley grains on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 20 minutes.

While the barley is toasting, bring 10 cups of water and 2 Tbsp salt to a boil. Add the toasted barley and simmer until tender, about 40-45 minutes. Drain, but do not rinse. Transfer to a large bowl.

When the barley is finished toasting, increase oven temp to 400. On a baking sheet, toss celery root with 2 Tbsp olive oil plus 1/4 tsp salt and pepper to taste. On a separate baking sheet, toss mushroom pieces with 3-4 Tbsp olive oil plus salt and pepper. Roast both until golden and tender, 15-20 minutes for the mushrooms and 30-40 for the celeriac. Let cool slightly before adding to the barley.

Whisk cider vinegar, minced shallot, 1/4 tsp salt and pepper. Whisk in 2-3 Tbsp olive oil. Toss the dressing with the barley and vegetables. Serve on a bed of arugula, or if you don’t like the spiciness of arugula, serve on spinach.

Makes 4-6 servings.

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Carpe Christmas

Posted by BornFeetFirst on December 21, 2011

The carp were destined for the bathtub. On every bus and tram and in the rickety-wheeled metal shopping carts pulled by stooped babushkas, clear plastic bags strained with the cargo of tradition. In vain the smoky grey bottom-feeders flailed against each other in just enough murky water to keep them alive until they reached the bathtub prisons awaiting them. But they wouldn’t stay long on death row; Christmas Eve was just around the corner.

Poland, with its deep roots in Catholicism, stood by the Vatican’s ban on consuming meat on Fridays and holidays. Fish were permitted, though, and carp, being cheap and easy to farm, became the culinary centerpiece of the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. I had noticed the oil drum barrels full of live carp in the Russian market with lengthy lines of shoppers at each barrel. Decades of shortages and fears that demand would far exceed supply meant that families bought their carp early. Because fish spoils easily, the best way to ensure the freshest meal possible was to keep the fish alive until the last possible moment – the morning of Christmas Eve. The best place to keep fish alive for a week? The bathtub.

I cringed and tried to avoid thinking about what Christmas Eve dinner would be like – thirteen traditional Polish dishes, many of which would include bathtub carp. When Krystyna, a member of my evening class for elementary school English teachers invited me to dinner with her family, I imagined a golden turkey or maybe a glazed ham, mashed potatoes, bright orange carrots, emerald green beans and buttery biscuits. But several of my students described the tradition of carp for Christmas, dashing my taste buds’ hopes. I couldn’t help but feel a bit homesick at the thought of eating the slimy, grey river dwellers. I almost cried at the thought of Christmas Eve fish rather than turkey, and wondered if, somehow, I could graciously bow out of dinner. It really didn’t feel like Christmas anyway.

In the weeks leading up to December 25, I noticed a few odds and ends of decorations in stores, but nothing even close to the rampant commercialism back home. There were no holiday sweaters, no green and red swags lining balconies, no Christmas tree lots and no strings of colorful lights or jolly store Santas with children whispering secret wishes into their ears.

The only real signs of Christmas were a few small, brightly wrapped gifts sent by friends and family sitting under a minute plastic Christmas tree that my roommate Tracey and I had decorated with tiny paper chains made from strips of magazine ads. Though Tracey and I had each opened a few gifts from home, we agreed to wait until Christmas morning for the rest, and to have a little celebration of our own. But first, we each had Christmas Eve dinners to attend.

Krystyna picked me up early in the afternoon and because buses and trams were on an almost non-existent holiday schedule, we had a 20-minute walk across town to her parents’ flat. An icy blast, seemingly straight from the North Pole had swept across the northern half of Poland. The air was the bitterest cold I had ever felt – my lungs burned with every breath. Tiny, sharp needles of cold poked at my eyes until I could barely stand to keep them open. Each step seemed slower than the last as my legs slowly hardened like chicken in a freezer.

We finally reached the non-descript commie block of flats where Krystyna’s parents lived. A steamy cloud, heavy with the aromas of cooked fish and stewed vegetables enveloped us when Krystyna’s mother flung the door open to welcome us. Her fleshy arms pulled me close as she plastered my cheeks with the traditional three kisses of greeting – right, left, right. I presented my hostess and her husband with a poinsettia that had, unfortunately, shriveled from exposure to the arctic elements, despite the fact that I had protected it with several layers of newspaper.

I quickly unwound the two scarves I had tucked carefully around my neck and under my wool hat. I pulled off my hiking boots and heavy socks, and the two sweaters I had layered over my turtleneck. In contrast to the polar outdoors, the flat was positively tropical.

After a quick tour of the small flat, Krystyna’s mother led me to the head of the table where an empty plate stared openly upward, waiting patiently for food I hoped I could enjoy. The two women paraded from the kitchen with platters and bowls full of food while the father and I sat silently smiling at each other, having exhausted the limits of my Polish language skills with a brief discussion of the weather.

As the culinary offerings filled the table, I carefully evaluated the contents of each dish. I easily identified the cucumber and cream salad topped with dill – a dish I liked. Next to it, though, was a molded gelatinous mass. Are those peas? I wondered, taking in the grayish-green pebbles suspended in river-water colored goop. I had grown up going to church potlucks where well-intentioned ladies added peas and celery to green jello, but the molded mass in front of me was like nothing I had seen before. And what is that at the bottom? Something akin to mushy grains of rice anchored the mound to the plate.

The heavy platters and bowls began their short circuit around the table, each person taking a spoonful of the cucumber salad, then a portion of fried carp with caraway seeds on top, some boiled potatoes, steamed cabbage, then baked carp still in its skin. Finally, the murky jello mold jiggled to life as Krystyna’s mother hefted it from the table and handed it to me with an encouraging smile. The smallest scoop I could manage without seeming rude landed on my plate with a slurp. Only then could I see that the sludgy mass at the bottom was shredded carp meat. This was no church potluck. I was about to eat carp jello.

That evening back in my flat, I couldn’t help but marvel at my iron clad stomach. I had made it through fried carp, baked carp and carp jello, not to mention a variety of stewed cabbage and onion dishes. But, while my stomach was full, I felt completely empty. I hadn’t realized how tied my soul was to the comforts of home holiday cooking and time with people I love. I cried myself to sleep that night, missing home, family and friends more than I could have imagined possible.

With the coming of Christmas morning, though, some culinary redemption: hot chocolate with marshmallows, a box of my favorite crackers and an instant Jello cheesecake mix from care packages under the tree. Tracey and I didn’t often eat our meals together, but Christmas morning seemed like a good opportunity to relax at our minute kitchen table, lingering over eggs, toast and the happy surprise of hot chocolate while comparing notes about our Christmas Eve meals.

“Oh my god,” she exclaimed when I described the carp jello. “You ate it?”

“How could I not? I didn’t want to be rude.”

She shook her head in disbelief. “I didn’t eat any of the carp, just potatoes and bread.”

Later that afternoon we bundled ourselves up for the one-mile walk to our friends’ flat for an American Christmas dinner – or, as close as we could get. I carefully carried the instant cheesecake  that I had made in our frying pan since we didn’t have a cake pan.

As we climbed the four stories to their flat, I could smell the true aromas of Christmas. Somewhere, they had found a turkey breast and roasted it to a crispy, buttery perfection. We filled our plates with perfectly seasoned stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes, golden carrots and flaky biscuits. We sat around their warm kitchen all afternoon and into the evening, talking, laughing, playing games and, over time, finishing off the entire cheesecake.

Tracey and I finally called it a night, strolling back to our flat under a clear sky full of stars, with snow crunching under our boots. I was content, satisfied, fulfilled. Back at home, I filled the deep bathtub and poured some shampoo under the flowing tap to create luxurious bubbles. A long, hot soak in the tub was the perfect way to end the holiday.

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The Iron Curtain

Posted by BornFeetFirst on November 6, 2011

“Mom,” I called to the kitchen where she was washing the dinner dishes. “What’s the Iron Curtain?” I stood in the middle of the family room captured by the grainy, black and white images on the television of men and women in drab wool coats and thick, furry hats trudging through snow-covered streets and standing in line to buy bread. The news reporter ended his story about food shortages in Poland by commenting on the difficulty of life in general “behind the iron curtain.”

Though I was only in first grade, I knew about shortages and rationing. It was 1975, and I could still remember the hours my family had spent waiting to buy gas for our cars. But I didn’t know that people somewhere else in the world were waiting in similar lines to buy bread, or why those people lived behind a curtain made of iron.

My mom was used to answering my questions about world events and geography. At four, enthralled by the folk song “Waltzing Matilda” I had scoured the encyclopedia and the atlas to learn about Australia. I played that song over and over on the little plastic record player in our family room, until my mom pleaded, “Why don’t you listen to one of your other records?” But the other songs didn’t have the allure of Matilda, adventurously waltzing in the dessert with a grubby wanderer while kangaroos bounded off in the distance. I pictured her in a flowing yellow ball gown like the ones the dancers wore on Lawrence Welk, and wondered how she kept it clean in the dusty outback.

“The Iron Curtain?” my mom asked as she dried her hands on a kitchen towel. She looked at the television for clues, but the station had already cut to a commercial.

“They said on the news that Poland is behind the Iron Curtain. Why is Poland behind a curtain? And why didn’t they show it on the news?”

“Well, there are countries in Europe that are all under one kind of government called Communism. People who live in those countries can’t leave and other people can’t go in, so they call it ‘Living Behind the Iron Curtain’. Poland is one of those countries.”

People can’t leave? No one could visit? The curtain must be enormous! I thought, trying to picture it in my mind.

“What do they hang it on?” I asked trying to imagine how a curtain made of iron could be drawn across a whole country. I already knew about the Berlin Wall; it made sense. A wall of concrete could stand on its own, but a curtain needed a curtain rod. And a curtain rod needed walls. And, how could iron be made into a curtain?

“How do they hang what?”
“The Iron Curtain. How tall is it? What do they hang it on?”

“It’s not really a curtain. It’s just a border – like the border between Washington and Oregon. You can’t see it.”

“Why do they call it a curtain if it’s not a curtain? And why don’t people just drive across it like we drive across the river to Portland?” We occasionally drove the 15 or so miles from our rural home in Battle Ground, Washington, across the Columbia River into Portland, Oregon. It seemed simple enough. And while I loved the thrill of crossing into another state on those occasions when we did so, I was always slightly disappointed that there was no exact line that I could see. The thought of a massive curtain border held some measure of adventure and excitement.

The borders of the Iron Curtain were guarded and roads were blocked, my mother explained. I insisted that if the roads were blocked people could just walk up and over the mountains like they did at the end of The Sound of Music. But it wasn’t that simple, she explained. For every barrier she posed, I provided a solution. As a natural problem-solver, I felt a growing frustration at the thought of being trapped behind an imaginary curtain.

She pulled the globe down from the shelf that held our well-used Encyclopedia Britannica set. With her finger, she traced a line from north to south through Europe, roughly showing the location of the Iron Curtain and explaining that it was the government that kept its citizens in and foreigners out, rather than just the lines on the map. I was shocked at the number of countries closed off to the rest of the world and saddened for the people behind it. I longed to travel – to see the world. I couldn’t imagine being trapped by an imaginary curtain drawn closed by the government.

I pondered what I had just learned: that a government could close its people in; that an imaginary barrier could be so effective; that behind it people lived with little food and much despair.

“I’m going to go to Poland someday to see the Iron Curtain,” I proclaimed.

“I’m sure you will,” my mother replied.

Fourteen years later, in 1989, I did exactly that. I slipped behind the Iron Curtain into Poland for the first time.

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To Market, To Market

Posted by BornFeetFirst on September 25, 2011

For over a year now, I’ve been working on a memoir of the year I spent living in Elblag, Poland teaching English. (1992-93) I always say it was the best year of my life – the year I learned more about myself than I could have imagined needed learning, and challenged myself more than I thought possible. Here’s a little taste of that amazing year.

__________

To Market, To Market

With hands tingling from below-zero temperatures, I pulled open the heavy, steel-framed glass door and stepped inside the store, smack-dab into the end of the line for a grocery basket. For decades, the people of Poland had stood in line for everything from bread to shoes. Even now, three years after the fall of Communism, they didn’t seem to mind waiting for one of the limited number of shopping baskets. Always a line, I sighed. Of course, no one was allowed to shop without a basket, so I had no choice but to wait.

Well, at least it’s warm in here. Outside, more than two feet of crusted snow blanketed the town of Elblag, and the frigid winds of January blasted through the heaviest layers of clothing. Though careful, I had slipped several times on the icy sidewalk between my apartment and the store. Perfect weather for mac and cheese. Or enchiladas. Or a burger.  I had been dreaming of my favorite meals from home since the first flakes of snow drifted to the ground in October, but had yet to find anything resembling comfort food.

I pulled my gloves off and vigorously rubbed my hands together as the line crept further into the cinderblock building with its barred, high-set windows and garish fluorescent lights. The concrete floor and metal shelves amplified the clickety-clack sounds of four cash registers as the cashiers pounded on heavy keys and cranked levers to total each receipt.

Finally, I reached the front of the line, where a departing customer handed me her empty basket. I pushed aside images of my favorite foods and started my weekly shopping routine. Most of the store’s stock consisted of items produced in Eastern European countries or former Soviet republics. I couldn’t read the labels and had discovered early on not to trust the pictures on the front. Why had a can decorated with drawings of fruit trees, contained some kind of pate’? Lesson learned.

My regular circuit through the store always started at the meat and cheese case. By now, the panis behind the counter, in their dingy white aprons, knew me and understood my requests, in halting Polish, for zuta ser. It didn’t have the tang or smoothness of cheddar, but I had grown accustomed to its mellow flavor and grainy texture. The only other cheese available was a slightly grey, cottage-cheese-like goo displayed in a crusty bowl.

“One-half kilo yellow cheese, please,” I requested at the counter.

“Of course,” the pani replied as she expertly eyed the wheel of wax-coated cheese and cut off exactly a half-kilo. She wrapped it in butcher paper, and with her fat black marker, noted the price on top. Before I could say thank you, she pulled the bigos kielbasa from the case and cut off a 10-inch portion. I sighed inwardly. I hadn’t intended on buying any, but I didn’t want to make a fuss by refusing it after she had so proudly remembered my preference.

Bigos kielbasa was the only meat I ever purchased at the store and all the panis knew it. Other choices were available, but I couldn’t summon the courage to try the purplish-brown blood sausage, or the bloated white links with fat globules visible through translucent casing. I also steered clear of the slabs of pork with their thick edges of fat and an iridescent blue-green sheen that matched the color of the flies that swarmed the meat.

My preference for lean sausage over the richer, more desirable fatty options baffled the panis. “It is for peasants,” they explained the first few times I requested it. Pointing to the other, richer sausages, they pleaded with me to purchase those instead. I politely refused week after week, until finally, in resigned disbelief, they collectively shrugged their shoulders and gave up their quest to convert me.

“Dziekuje,” I said, thanking the pani as I put the items into my basket and quickly backed away, eager to avoid any further offerings from the counter.

The rest of the store consisted of five scantly stocked, low shelved aisles. Aside from staples like bread, canned fish, butter and jam, occasional surprises appeared on the shelves. One week I found Italian pasta, and the next, a package of Turkish dates. A jar of Greek olives was a delightful find early in the fall, but I hadn’t seen any more since. The English words “Spotted Dick” on a lone, heavy can caught my eye early in the year. “Steam, then serve with custard”, stated the instructions under a British flag and a picture of pale cake dotted with raisins. Steamed, canned cake? That can remained on the shelf the entire year I lived in Poland.

I scanned each aisle, hoping for something interesting to break the monotony of winter and the tedium of the same few meals over and over. I grabbed an unlabeled bag of snacks I called puffs. They looked and tasted a bit like foam packing peanuts, but had a satisfying crunch, and I had become accustomed to their lack of flavor. I could almost pretend they were Cheetos. Almost.

Two months back I had giggled with delight when I found three one-liter bottles of Dr. Pepper nestled on a bottom shelf next to a Polish soda that tasted like carbonated metal. I treasured every last drop of the beverage, and searched the shelves every week after that glorious day hoping to find even one more bottle, but to no avail. It seemed so odd that the store would get only three bottles, and never any more. But that’s just how things were in Poland.

A few other basics went into the basket as well: a can of stewed tomatoes, a kilo of flour, and some peanuts. As I turned the corner to the last aisle, my eyes locked on to a familiar image. A taste of home. A staple from my childhood. On the top shelf, above massive bags of barley with Cyrillic labels, stood six small, cable-car-emblazoned boxes. Rice-A-Roni. The expiration date had passed two months ago, and the boxes were a bit crushed. With instructions and labels in Greek and Albanian, I couldn’t tell what flavor they were, but I didn’t care. I wanted them. No. I needed them.

Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat. My head spun with delight. I could have burst into song right there in the aisle. The buttery, nutty rice concoction was one of my favorite dishes to make as a girl. By the time I was eleven, I didn’t even need the instructions. Melt butter in a pan, sauté the rice, add water and herbs, cover, simmer.

I snatched three boxes then hesitated. Can I take them all?  I sighed, staring at the remaining boxes on the shelf. Is that greedy? The Greek letters started to swirl as my eyes lost their focus. And then I had my answer. With no Polish instructions, how will anyone else know how to make it? I quickly grabbed the remaining boxes and headed to the cashier before guilt got the better of me.

Like the ladies that worked at the meat and cheese case, the cashier panis knew me well. At first, they had questioned me each time I shopped: “Why did you come to Poland? Aren’t your parents worried about you? What are you doing here?”

Inevitably, my stumbling answers, “I teach English. I like Poland. My mother and father think it is good,” could not satisfy the curiosity of the inquisitor, and she would call her colleagues over for a group interrogation. Their questions and my simple answers would be repeated until I reached the limits of my vocabulary and they returned to their stations. I hoped, rather than believed, that deep down they understood that I had always craved adventure; that my parents were naturally concerned for my safety and well-being, but wholeheartedly supported my wanderlust and encouraged me to be independent; and that despite their opinions of their homeland, I actually wanted to be here. But they probably just thought I was crazy.

The cashier pulled each item from my basket and pounded the keys of her register, her boredom evident in her vacant stare. Cheese, sausage, peanuts, flour – the same things everyone else was buying; she knew the prices by heart. She pulled the first box of Rice-A-Roni from the basket, hesitating as she looked for the price sticker, then adding it to the total. By the time she reached for the last box, her eyes had become focused and inquisitive. I could almost see the wheels turning in her head. She glanced up at me, her eyes squinting. She held up the box, and in slow, simple Polish asked skeptically, “This tastes good?”

What could I say? I wasn’t buying it because it was tasty I was buying it because I needed it. Those six boxes connected me to home and family, to the warmth and love of my childhood.

Even if I had had the vocabulary to express my feelings, I was pretty sure that kind of sentiment would reignite the interrogations of months past. The cashier panis would call over the meat and cheese panis, and I’d be surrounded. I would stumble through my explanations for buying out the entire stock of little boxes of rice, and their initial analysis of my mental state (crazy American) would be confirmed. “She eats peasant sausage, likes living in Poland, and bought boxes of rice because she needs love?” I could picture them clucking their tongues and shaking their heads.

I took the easy way – the only way – out. “Yes. I like it. It tastes good,” I said, wrapping my tongue around the harsh consonants of the Polish language. Even with my best effort, I spoke with the vocabulary and enunciation of a child. I added the boxes to my grocery bag, handed the cashier a wad of limp, crinkled zloties, and slid home as carefully as possible along the icy sidewalk.

That evening, I prepared dinner with the care and attention normally reserved for a Thanksgiving feast. I dropped the butter into the pan with a flourish and watched it sizzle as it melted. I inhaled the nutty aroma as the rice browned. Then, at just the right moment, I added water, savoring the familiar hiss before it settled to a bubbly simmer. I stirred in the herbs and warmed my hands over the billowing steam before covering the pan to finish cooking.

I chose the blue floral plate from the stack of mismatched dishes in the cupboard, and set a place at the tiny kitchen table, complete with fork, knife, spoon and a folded paper napkin. I carefully mounded the entire pan full of love onto my plate, and took my seat on the low, hard stool. The first forkful of rice was like a welcoming hug, and I was transported through time and space, back to the bright, sunny kitchen of my childhood. I slowly savored every bite, lingering over dinner and fond memories of my family as long as possible.

Later that night I climbed into bed with a deep sense of contentment and reassurance that my family loved me, no matter how far apart we lived. I slept soundly and peacefully, tucked under my thick, heavy blankets, warmed and comforted by a taste of home.

Winter lasted another three months, but the Rice-A-Roni lasted only three weeks. I wasn’t surprised that, despite my weekly search, I never found another box. Among the store shelves, I found other surprises as spring came and went, including two boxes of Cheerios and a pallet full of Diet Coke, but nothing ever compared to the six small boxes of rice that appeared just when I needed them.

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Blueberry Beet Pancakes

Posted by BornFeetFirst on August 28, 2011

Our garden wasn’t very productive this year, but the beets and blueberries didn’t seem to mind our unseasonably cool summer. Roasted beets – yum. Blueberry cobbler – yum. And now… Blueberry Beet Pancakes – YUM!

Aren’t they pretty? They taste great, too! Good to the last bite.

Admit it. You want to make some. Now you can!

Blueberry Beet Pancakes

Whisk the following together:

3/4 cup roasted beets, pureed with a handful of fresh blueberries (do not used canned beets, people.)

1/3 cup vanilla yogurt (or plain yogurt plus 1 tsp vanilla extract)

3 Tbsp melted butter

1 1/4 cup milk

1 egg

Sift the following into the mixture above, then stir gently to combine. Don’t over mix! Some lumps are fine.

1 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour (or graham flour or emmer flour for a little extra flavor)

1 Tbsp baking powder

3 Tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/4 tsp if you’re using table salt)

Drop batter onto your heated griddle, 1/3 cup at a time. You know what to do from there, right? Cook them until they’re done, then serve with butter and maple syrup or your favorite pancake toppings. Makes about 12 pancakes.

Enjoy!

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A Little Revisionist History

Posted by BornFeetFirst on June 4, 2011

I love Sarah Palin. Now, don’t get me wrong… I love her not because I think she’s a viable choice for political office, I love her because she flings fodder for jokes like a farmer spreads manure on his fields. It’s deep and rich and so deliciously smelly.

Sarah had a little trouble remembering her 5th grade history this week. She had Paul Revere warning the BRITISH that the AMERICANS were coming, which puts him in the category not of “True American Hero” but of traitor, kind of like “that eggs benedict guy”, as I heard one friend proclaim, lumping Paul Revere with Benedict Arnold. It wasn’t just a slip of the tongue, it was a mangling of one of the first pieces of history we all learned (or, perhaps, didn’t learn) in grade school.

I'm gonna change things just a skosh, ok?

In honor of Sarah, I’ve rewritten a famous poem. The original, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sums up Paul Revere’s famous “the British are coming, the British are coming” ride as follows:

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march

By land or sea from the town to-night,

Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch

Of the North Church tower as a signal light,

One, if by land, and two, if by sea;

And I on the opposite shore will be,

Ready to ride and spread the alarm

Through every Middlesex village and farm,

For the country folk to be up and to arm.

But, that’s not it at all, according to Sarah. No, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has it all wrong. In honor of my gal pal Sarah, I’ve rewritten the poem (and history) to reflect what she sees as truth.

Listen, Americans, and I’ll revise
Our history, because I’m so wise.
You know Paul Revere, back in the day
Got on his horse and rode the other way
To warn the British that it would not be ok
To take our arms and… you know… other stuff.
He rang the bells and shot his gun
And faced those Brits down, one by one.
“We will be secure and free!”
Cried he, cried he.
And that’s kind of how it was,
You see.

Here’s a link to USA Today’s short piece about Sarah’s flub, including her words: USA Today

And here’s a link to information about Paul Revere, including a scan of an original manuscript describing events leading up to and including the historical and critical midnight ride.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Samoa Ice Cream!

Posted by BornFeetFirst on March 6, 2011

Sing along with me, will ya?

It’s the most… wonderful time… of the year! With the Girl Scouts door-belling, and all of them selling Girl Scout cookie cheer! It’s the most… wonderful time… of the year!

I look forward to mid-February for about 11.5 months every year. I love those clover-green boxes of Thin Mints and the sticky pull of Samoas. I would never turn down a Do-Si-Do or a Tag-A-Long. I inwardly cheer when groups of uniformed girls stand behind their towering tables of cookie boxes just under the grocery store awnings. The first Thin Mint of the year makes my taste buds tingle. The second, third, and… well, the rest are just as thrilling as the first.

Now, I love a Girl Scout cookie all on its own, but I like to be a little creative, too. One year I baked a bunch of crushed Thin Mints into a batch of brownies. Awesome. Then I baked another batch with Samoas crunched up inside. Delightful! The Samoas melted into the batter as it baked. This year, I’m on an ice cream rampage.

Here it is: Coconut Samoa Ice Cream.

Creamy Coconut with Girl Scout Samoa Cookies

Today I’ll make chocolate Thin Mint ice cream. I have to use up the rest of that pint of whipped cream, after all.

Sometimes I get all fancy and cook up a custard base for my ice creams, but lately I’ve been using a simple no-cook base. The trick to keeping this base from becoming icy after freezing is to whip the cream before adding it to the mixture. A little brandy helps as well.

Coconut Samoa Ice Cream

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup whipping cream

1-2 tsp brandy* (optional)

7 Samoa cookies, chopped.

Whisk the sugar into the coconut milk until dissolved. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until thickened, but not stiff. Fold whipped cream into coconut milk mixture. Add 1-2 tsp brandy (if you’re using it). If you do not want to use brandy, add in 1-2 tsp vanilla extract or  1/2 tsp almond extract.

While your ice cream base freezes in your ice cream maker, chop the cookies into small chunks. I chopped about 2/3 of the cookies into fine pieces and left the remainder in chunks about the size of garbanzo beans.

Add the cookies in during the last minute of freezing, or, if your ice cream maker doesn’t deal well with mix-ins, just stir in the cookie bits when you transfer the ice cream to a container.

Take a little taste now, then let the rest of the batch “ripen” in the freezer for 2-3 hours before digging in! Yum!

What’s your favorite Girl Scout cookie flavor?

Posted in Recipes & Food | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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