Friday, November 27, 2009

Memories, Preserved

With summer winding down, and September and school looming large, my parents and I retreated to Shelter Island for a final weekend by the ocean.  We crashed the private beach of a swanky resort, and within moments were basking in the guazy glow of opulence and indolence all around us--without spending $420 a night!  We dug our beach chairs into the sand and concentrated hard on enjoying our last 48 hours of freedom.  For Dad, that meant making sure every inch of his bare flesh was covered with clothing, then inserting earbuds into his ears and staring vacantly at the seagulls.  Mom wasted no time slipping into an unresponsive stupor while the backs of her legs fried.  I consumed books whole chapters at a time, pausing every so often to watch the visible annoyance on the faces of the legitimate hotel guests as the wind flapped their swanky umbrellas.  It was glorious.

On the drive home, we approached Wickham's Fruit Farm, and looking to prolong our mini vacation, we stopped to pick our own peaches.  They were heavy on the trees, thick on the ground, and warm in our hands.  We were hungry, so we ate as we filled our bushel baskets with the tangy, yellow-fleshed variety, as well as the sweeter white ones.  We finished our feast with crisp, yeasty, cinnamon sugar donuts straight from the fryer into white paper bags--the best I've ever eaten.  When I got home, I made peach preserves from the recipe on the back of the Sure-Jell box.  It was my first attempt at preserving, and it was throroughly gratifying to see the peaches transformed into adorable little jars of jam on my shelves.  Whether the jam was fit for human consumption was another story.

Mid-November, I pried open a jar, and encouraged by the strong sucking sound as the cap came off, proceeded to make Jam Crumb Cake (at Epicurious) for the church coffee hour.  Beneath a layer of cinnamony crumbs, the jam tasted almost as sweet as those remaining days of summer--and the church members lived to see another Sunday.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Antidote

Why do I always feel like a truck rolled over me at the end of the working week?  Half asleep at the wheel, I navigated my way home through the aggressive Friday afternoon traffic, staggered across the parking lot trailing fourteen bags in my wake, and stumbled through the door to find...a centipede.  And not just an ordinary centipede, either, but the great grandpappy of centipedes.  He was like four centipedes stuck together.  He was perched on the wall above the sofa, his fringe of legs undulating a greeting.  The instinct to run was very strong.
Have you ever swatted a centipede? They are not very quick, which is good. But they sort of explode like firecrackers, their parts flying every which way. I was grateful this guy's parts flew behind the sofa because I was free to ignore them and head to the kitchen for a glass of wine to still my shaking hands.  Then I rustled up this dish:

It's a quick hash of yellow potatoes, thick cut bacon and barely wilted baby spinach leaves, with my latest obsession nestled on top: a poached egg. This was the perfect antidote to work-weariness and an epic confrontation with an insect.  Followed by my other current obsession, Kozy Shack flan, and it almost felt like the weekend had arrived.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

It Ain't Mom's...

My mom makes the best rice pudding ever. It is simultaneously creamy and light.  It is good hot out of the pot, cold from the fridge, or even lukewarm.  No matter how full you might be after a family dinner, it is always a welcome sight on the table.  And it never, ever has raisins in it.  

But it's not the kind of thing you can have whenever the mood strikes.  Mom doesn't just whip it up on a whim.  You will never happen by her house and find a bowl of it on her refrigerator shelf.  For her to make it, you must be sick--and not just with the sniffles--or else sit through  a holiday dinner, and usually a Jewish holiday at that.

So why not make some myself?  That's what I thought too, and for many years I was after her for the recipe.  Finally, after claiming to have lost the original, she scribbled something on a page of looseleaf paper and handed it to me with the warning that it might not be accurate.  Did she smile a little to herself as she said this?  I can't remember. 

Now, my relationship with rice is rather one-sided.  I like it.  It does not like me.  Whether it's converted or Arborio, Jasmine or Basmati, one thing is certain: I can't, for the life of me, make a good pot of rice.  So what was I doing trying to make pudding from this capricious grain?

Well, the recipe she gave me was wrong.  Or else I just suck at making anything with rice.  It was a big batch recipe, so I had a large scale disaster on my hands.  I capitulated then and there and contented myself with boil-in-the-bag Uncle Ben's, and counting the days until Rosh Hashanah.  But a week ago, a bout with the sniffles left me with an insatiable craving for mom's rice pudding.  Unwilling to commit the same error twice, I searched the Internet for a new recipe to screw up. 

I knew mom's recipe was unique because it called for a custard made with egg yolks, with the whites whipped and folded in at the end.  Would you believe that of the million-plus rice pudding recipes available on the Web, there wasn't one that used this method?  So I decided to go in another direction altogether.  I recalled a rice pudding I had had in --of all places--Fort Pierce, Florida, while visiting my grandmother.  It was rum raisin rice pudding--doesn't that sound sort of senior citizenish?--but it truly was the highlight of the Early Bird Special.  Not the mousse-like dish of nostalgia my mom serves up, but delicious in its own right.  I decided to recreate it. 

I used Elise Bauer's recipe at as a jumping off point.  Then, realizing the cabinet was bereft of rum, and feeling too miserable to leave the house, I soaked sultanas in Jack Daniels instead.

Continuing with this exotic theme, I cracked some cardamom pods and threw them in the pot as well.

The end result looks darned good, doesn't it?

Well, don't be fooled.  The few spoonfuls I had out of the pan tasted alright, but I must have cooked down the custard for too long because, after a few hours in the fridge, it seized up to the consistency of a brick.  The cardamom tasted just plain weird, and who honestly craves cardamom when they have a cold?  The whiskey-soaked raisins still tasted pretty good, so I fished out a few more before burying the whole mess in the back of the fridge and eating a Cozy Shack flan instead.