Saturday, December 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Big Sister! - updated (new pic)

The photo above is of my Big Sister Shirley. Today she celebrated her 80th birthday. Quite an accomplishment, I say.

This is the cake (from an iPhone photo by my niece Paula).

May the year ahead be filled with health and love.


Here is the birthday girl with her cake. Looking good for 80, if you ask me!

--the BB

Friday, December 16, 2011


As I announced in the previous post, I have been getting things done. Yesterday I assembled three racks of shelves for the garage and got boxes, formerly scattered about, onto the shelves. I also tore up lots of boxes for recycling.

The new hot water heater arrived very late yesterday afternoon and was installed. I no longer live in fear of an imminent water-spewing disaster in the garage. I celebrated with a long hot bath last night (re-reading Tales of the City). I have also finished watching Season Three of The Big Bang Theory.

I have assembled a list of every ingredient, except water, for tomorrow's dinner. I marked what I have and what I do not. Sorted and printed out as a shopping list. About to head out and shop. (On a Friday afternoon near Christmas, am I crazy? Better than tomorrow morning.)

I am going to attempt my first devil's food cake (from scratch, natch). I will make it today so if it does not work out (this is high altitude baking after all) I can do something else tomorrow while the stew cooks in the slow cooker.

This is not an Italian meal, for the first time in months. I knew I would eventually go in other directions though I still plan to learn more about Italian cooking. The stew and the cake are new adventures for me. Appetizers, side dishes, and salad are old hat. A balance, though the meal is still meant to impress. lol.


Pork stew with carrots, fennel, prunes, brandy, and cream
Haricots verts

Green salad

Devil's food cake

Just remembered I need to count my cake pans before I leave and add flowers to the shopping list.

I am rejoicing in the really big things I have accomplished this week and not dwelling on several other things that also need doing. Oh well.

Happy Beethoven's Birthday, everybody.

--the BB

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Aside from trying to depress us all with my previous post (looking back at our political journey may be edifying but it is also quite disheartening), I am trying to put this week to positive use.

Phone calls are slow at work so we are each taking one week off, in turn, to reduce staffing and still stay employed. This is my week to be furloughed. Not good for income but a gift from God in which I can catch up on some important things.

Today I took the car in for servicing. I knew I needed alignment of the wheels. Turns out I also needed two new front tires. But they were able to repair a puncture in the right rear tire that was giving me a slow leak that had to be dealt with. New wiper blades (I can see in the rain again!). All good stuff and right on schedule.

My '99 Accord came with a stereo that plays cassettes, nothing so modern as compact discs. Yesterday I bought a new stereo (and no, I did not get one for the really new stuff, deal with it) and it will be installed tomorrow morning. I will be able to listen to CDs while I drive AND can hook it up to my iPod. Bonus! Nearly all my collection of CDs is on my iPod.

I have run a few other errands. I replaced a broken kitchen strainer (the large one I use a lot), got a larger pastry bag, and have a new cake plate. Yes, I am dying to work on various cakes. Torn between a ricotta cheesecake and devils food for Saturday's dinner. Or something else. Cakes at 5200 feet elevation carry their own challenges.

Tomorrow I go shopping for a new water heater. Mine is, er, leaking. Not good. Let's get that fixed before it blows up on me.

Amid all this I continue my Big Bang Theory festival. I am in the third season now. So now I am addicted to that as well as Glee. I never got Friends, hated Seinfeld, but I love Big Bang Theory. Maybe it's the nerd humor that gets to me.

Yesterday I put up the tree. Today I decorated it.

Here is the Bear Angel that has topped my tree for decades. There are only two of them. Bill's sister has the other. Both hand-sewn by me.

And this is the tree. After this photo I hung the candy canes. Tomorrow I will gather all the kids beneath it and we can do a family portrait.

The kids will now also give me some peace and quiet.

Dang, I remembered another errand I could have run while I was in a specific neighborhood today. Oh well.

There is also the garage project. Last year Bill helped me organize the south wall. I just bought shelving to begin organizing the north wall. Bit by bit.

Happy St Lucy's Day, y'all.

--the BB

Monday, December 12, 2011

December reminiscence

Seven years ago:

Boston Globe, March 8, 2004:
Iraq death spurs push for Humvee armor
In the days before his death, Private First Class John D. Hart called his father to tell him how unsafe he felt riding around Iraq in a Humvee that lacked bulletproof shielding or even metal doors.
It would be the last conversation Brian T. Hart would have with his 20-year-old son. On Oct. 18 near Kirkuk, Saddam Hussein loyalists ambushed his son's Army convoy, killing two. A hail of bullets felled the Bedford High School graduate while he fought from his Humvee.
"When he died, all his ammunition had been spent," the unit commander wrote in a letter to Hart's parents. "Your son gave everything he had for the safety of others. . . . As a commander, I struggle to find words that adequately capture the depth to which we honor Private First Class Hart."
For Brian Hart, a 44-year-old Bedford businessman, his only son's last words have come to haunt him, especially after learning that other families who lost loved ones in Humvee attacks had complained to the Pentagon about the lack of armor in vehicles.
In fact, an average sport utility vehicle found on US roads provides more protection than Hart's Humvee. "He would have been better off in a Toyota Highlander," the father said.

The GOP wants government off our backs, but they want to take over the job of teaching your kids about sex.
The GOP accuses the Democrats of not supporting our troops, yet shoves them into war with no protection from attacks.
The GOP claims to have a more diverse cabinet, but all the brains are exactly the same.
The GOP claims to have the morality franchise, yet corporate crime, murder, military deaths, voter fraud and abortions have increased dramatically under their rule.
The GOP claims to be the party to trust with homeland security, but they can't find anyone without a rap sheet to run that department.
The GOP claims to be fiscally conservative, but they've plowed through a huge surplus, ran it into a record deficit and they still want to borrow to pay for things like Social Security and a historically inept war.
The GOP claims to be compassionate, but their idea of a helping hand is to recruit more poor and elderly people into fighting that inept war.
Ready to take it to the streets yet? If not - when?


MORE ON EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION....As Matt says, although tax and accounting issues are worth looking at, the real cause of runaway CEO compensation is widespread corruption in the corporate governance sphere. CEO salaries are essentially set by other CEOs and a small coterie of "compensation consultants," all of whom are motivated to set each other's salaries as high as possible so that in turn their own salaries will — someday — be set even higher. How many other employees have a sweet deal like that?

So how do they get away with it? First, by convincing everyone that this is a reasonable statement: "If we want a good CEO, we have to pay above the average." Simple arithmetic tells you that as long as everyone believes this, executive salaries will spiral upward endlessly.

Second, by making it hard to figure out how much their executives are paid in the first place. Stock options, perks, lucrative pension plans, and so forth are hard to value, and thus prevent overpaid CEOs from seeming overpaid until it's too late.

And third, by putting up roadblocks that make it difficult for dissident shareholders to complain about all this. In most companies, shares are so widely dispersed that very few people have a strong enough interest in this stuff to make a fuss. And when someone does manage to make a fuss, most corporations have rules that make it all but impossible to gather enough votes to make a difference.

Of course, I guess there are other possibilities. Price levels are controlled by supply and demand, and perhaps there's a shortage of talented CEOs these days. Or perhaps demand is higher. Or maybe companies are better run than they used to be.

If any of those things were true, it would mean rising CEO compensation is just evidence of the market at work. As it turns out, though, none of them are.

CEOs aren't paid astronomical salaries because of market forces. They're paid astronomical salaries because they can get away with it. That's all.

Kevin Drum 6:14 PM Permalink

Six years ago:

SA to allow same-sex marriage

2 December 2005

South Africa is set to become the fifth country in the world, and the first in Africa, to allow legal marriages between same-sex couples, following a Constitutional Court judgment on Thursday.

Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and Canada allow same-sex marriages, as does the US state of Massachusetts.

Odom: Want stability in the Middle East? Get out of Iraq!

COMMENTARY | November 11, 2005

In his last piece for, retired Gen. William Odom argued that all the terrible things the Bush administration says would happen if we pulled our troops out of Iraq are happening already. In a new postscript, Odom writes that the converse is true as well: Bush says he wants to bring democracy and stability to the greater Middle East -- but in fact the only way to achieve that goal is to get out of Iraq now.

Three years ago:

The Federal Reserve refused a request by Bloomberg News to disclose the recipients of more than $2 trillion of emergency loans from U.S. taxpayers and the assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

by kos
Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 01:20:05 PM PST
Seriously, I don't blame Bush for this. It was to be expected. I blame Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, who were supposed to protect the taxpayers from Bush's well-known efforts to pilfer our country.
Congress wanted to guarantee that the $700 billion financial bailout would limit the eye-popping pay of Wall Street executives, so lawmakers included a mechanism for reviewing executive compensation and penalizing firms that break the rules.
But at the last minute, the Bush administration insisted on a one-sentence change to the provision, congressional aides said. The change stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction, which was the way the Treasury Department had said it planned to use the money.
Now, however, the small change looks more like a giant loophole, according to lawmakers and legal experts. In a reversal, the Bush administration has not used auctions for any of the $335 billion committed so far from the rescue package, nor does it plan to use them in the future. Lawmakers and legal experts say the change has effectively repealed the only enforcement mechanism in the law dealing with lavish pay for top executives.

[Emphasis mine - BB]

Two years ago:

The People STILL Want the Public Option
by mcjoan
Thu Dec 10, 2009 at 02:12:03 PM PST
Not that public opinion on healthcare makes a damned bit of difference in D.C., but strong majorities still like the public option, according to two new polls, one from CBS/NYT [pdf], and the other from CNN.

Obama admin's sweetheart deal with drug companies holding up vote on cheaper drug import
by Joe Sudbay (DC) on 12/11/2009 09:12:00 AM
When you make deals with the devil, there's a price. Unfortunately, the price is paid by American consumers. We first wrote about the secret deal between the White House and the drug industry's lobbying group on August 6, 2009 when the New York Times exposed it. Now, we're seeing that deal's negative implications. Democrats are blocking a vote on an amendment to the health care bill on drug imports:

SCOTUS: Rummy Is Immune in Torture Suit
By: emptywheel Monday December 14, 2009 8:57 am
Today, SCOTUS declined to review an Appeals Court decision that ruled that Rummy and 10 other DOD officials are immune from suit for torture.
The Court’s denial of review of Rasul, et al., v. Myers, et al. (09-227) leaves intact a federal appeals court ruling that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and ten military officers are legally immune to claims of torture and religious bias against inmates who were at Guantanamo but have since been released. The Obama Administration had urged the Court not to hear the case, saying that, whatever claims the four ex-detainees were now making, they had no legal basis for those challenges at the time they were at the U.S. military prison in Cuba — that is, between January 2002 and March 2004.
The D.C. Circuit Court had ruled in favor of immunity, and in doing so avoided a repeat of its earlier decision — vacated by the Supreme Court — that Guantanamo prisoners had no constitutional rights. The Justices had ordered reconsideration of that conclusion. Instead of ruling anew on the legal challenges, the Circuit Court opted for an immunity finding. The Supreme Court’s denial of review does not stand as a precedent on that point, or on the substance of the ex-prisoners’ challenges.
As Adam Serwer points out, SCOTUS’ refusal to review the immunity ruling once again deprives the American justice system of a definitive ruling that torture is wrong.

One year ago:

Americans care about creating jobs, not cutting spending
by Jed Lewison
Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 10:00:04 AM PST
Selzer & Company for Bloomberg, 12/4-7, 1,000 adults. MoE 3.1%.
Which of the following do you see as the most important issue facing the country right now? (Read list. Rotate.) Sorted.

50 Unemployment and jobs
25 The federal deficit and government spending
9 Health care
7 The war in Afghanistan
5 Immigration
1 Other (VOL) (specify:)
3 Not sure

Bachus lets the truth slip out

Meteor Blades

Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 10:40 AM PST

In a way it's kind of refreshing. Perhaps all the incoming GOP leadership will be as forthright about their goals for the 112th Congress. First, John Boehner rejects the word and reality of "compromise." And now, nine-term Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus, who takes over as chair of the House Financial Services Committee next month, has a message for us, too:

Bachus, in an interview Wednesday night, said he brings a "main street" perspective to the committee, as opposed to Wall Street.

"In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks," he said.

The fox in the henhouse announces he's a fox. More of that, please.

Banning Big Wall Street Bonus Favored by 70% of Americans in National Poll

My little nostalgia strolls are rarely pleasant but the indicate the path we have followed to the present.

Let us learn from the past.

--the BB

Film the police

The American People are rising up. The 0.1% will fight back with all the power at their disposal. Document the misdeeds of their minions.

[No, I'm not saying the police are our enemy. But many police departments are being used like corporate armies to suppress free speech and peaceful assembly, restricting the free press, and acting violently against those they are supposed to protect. We must document that and hold their badges accountable, and especially hold accountable the politicians at whose behest they act.]

--the BB

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sunday Dinner

I've lost track of the number of Italian dinners so we'll just call this Sunday Dinner.

The bread, begun last night and baked late this morning. To the basic recipe I added julienned sundried tomatoes and some tomato paste. It is dusted with cornmeal. Here is the recipe.

The table in wheat and wine colors.

Yes, I have both a Kitchen Aid mixer and a hand-held mixer. Why do you ask?

I still prefer creaming butter and sugar with a wooden spoon. It feels more honest. This was the first step of the walnut-ricotta tart.

Ready to party. Yes, that young couple in the photo may look familiar.

Appetizers: the tomato bread and some Costco pugliese bread with two kinds of cheese and an artichoke spread. This photo was taken before a plate of salami was added.

Primi: Risotto milanese with shrimp.

Secondi: Chicken thighs alla cacciatora with wilted spring greens and apples, garnished with wedges of persimmon.

This is the walnut-ricotta tart, glazed with apricot jam and Grand Marnier, garnished with chocolate curls. There is orange zest in the cake itself.

Lovely company. So nice to see my friends tonight and feed them.

It took me a long while to unwind tonight so here I am posting this well after midnight. Sweet dreams, food lovers.

--the BB

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday Dinner

I modified plans for yesterday's dinner so I would not be on my feet so much and did manage to have a couple of lie downs as well as sit with my foot propped up during the happy hour, enjoying the company and conversation of friends.

All hot food but the peas was cooked and in crock pots when the guests arrived; the work was basically all done.

I bought bread instead of baking it. Sergio brought some delicious cheeses. On a whim I added dates stuffed with walnuts and parmigiano reggiano. Since Sergio is from the Mendoza area, Bill brought a couple bottles of Malbec, of which I drank the lion's share. Well, I wasn't driving anywhere afterwards.

Next was a butternut squash soup, at Kathy's request, served with a fresh grating of nutmeg, a dollop of sour cream, and some pomegranate arils.

The main course was pollo con le cipolle, chicken with onions, from a recipe in Marcella's Italian Kitchen, pp 192f. The link was done searching through Mad Priest's Amazon link and if you are thinking of purchasing the book, do try to do it there. Support your friends.

I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs from Costco, initially held together with toothpicks until they had fricasseed enough to hold their shape. The onions sweat for at least an hour before they are browned. This is not a quick recipe, though I did all the other dishes while the onions were doing their slow cook.

It was served with beets (another shortcut; I did not roast and peel them - bought them boiled and peeled at Trader Joe's) - glazed with honey, balsamic vinegar, and thyme. Also peas, as Kathy wondered why I never served them. Actually, I love peas but usually do more labor-intensive vegetables for company.

Skipped the crostata di mermellata that I had planned. Another day. Simple spicy pumpkin bread from a mix served with cinnamon gelato from Italian Classics from Cook's Illustrated, p 437. It seemed appropriately autumnal.

I then debuted my new demitasse cups (thanks again, Randy and Troy) and risked making espresso. It worked. (I know, I should not be surprised if something works when one follows instructions, but I was anxious nonetheless.) I used Whole Foods Espresso Roast beans, ground in my new Krups coffee grinder and steamed through a Bialetti Moka stovetop espresso maker. Not too difficult a process.

Sergio had a second cup so I guess it's truly drinkable. I, of course, would never taste the stuff because of my intense dislike of coffee flavor. I also heated and frothed milk so Kathy could have a lattè. Chef and barista in one evening.

Everybody chipped in to do dishes afterward and I could go to bed and prop and ice my leg with nothing left to worry about.

I am so blessed to enjoy the company of friends.

--the BB

Friday, October 28, 2011

The pantry reorg project 2011

I think this Día de los Muertos my Mother is hanging around. I have not done this much kitchen cleaning in forever. Hoping she can ignore the rest of the house for now and just be pleased with this much.

For about nine days I have been working on reorganizing my pantries and kitchen. Yes, pantries, as in the plural. In fact I have four: one in the kitchen, one in the hall toward the powder room, a new one in the hall closet, and a huge chunk of an upstairs closet where little-used items live. I am a pack rat and I know it. I also like equipment to cook whatever I feel like cooking. Enough with confessions.

Before and after photos were requested. There is no way I would share what any of this looked like before. Here are after photos taken this evening. Most of this was done prior to today as I am resting my infected leg.

This is the counter to the right of the stove with stirring and whisking and ladling and scraping devices. Also the many oils and vinegars, salt and pepper. An old man lives here because his pills for the week are all laid out where he won't forget to take them each morning.

This is the space to the left of the stove with the Kitchen Aid, new white dishes, more salt and pepper devices, butter dish, toaster, knives, and spoon rest.

This is "la cave" or most of it. All the reds and some of the whites, ranging from about $5 to $25 a bottle. I can't usually taste higher than that. Right now these are mostly Italian since that is the kind of cooking I am doing.

This is the kitchen pantry. I have detail photos but will spare you those. Since I am tall the top two shelves are at eye level, which is why lots of jars live on the right where I can see them easily. Pastas, grains, flours mostly inhabit the top left. Then come cooking and serving ware, then miscellaneous (including my workout supplements). Oil for frying and vinegar are hiding behind the pizza stone. The floor in this pantry was swept and mopped tonight and I am glowing with satisfaction.

Plastic containers for leftovers etc. have been matched with lids. About 40% are in another pantry (see below). 20% are in a box as take-home gifts for tomorrow's dinner guests, if they want them. The remaining 40%, largely unmatched, have been tossed in the trash. Finally.

This is the new pantry in the hall closet. It holds heavier equipment: the ice cream freezer, larger serving platters, a triple crock pot, all the cake and pie and tarte tins, overflow linens, food mill, pasta drying rack, and deep fryer.

Here is a view above the fridge that needs a new circulating fan. Nuts and dried fruits on top (and emergency healthcare directives, just in case you are at my house and I have a heart attack). A talavera dish and a print from a wine tasting trip years ago. Those who embiggen the photo may recognize some of the refrigerator magnets.

The "side pantry" on the way to the powder room: upper shelves. Here are wine carafes; dish towels and dish cloths and aprons tossed indecorously atop one another; coffee and tea devices, ramekins, and protein bars.

The lower shelves include the teas, rice steamer, cast iron devices, trivets, and storage containers. Below that is a huge bag of rice.

Saints watching over the kitchen include La Morenita (for everything), of course, San Pascual (for kitchens), Maria Magdalena (for witness and faithfulness), Genesius (for theatre folk), Antonio de Padua (because he was there and loves Jesus), Roque (for plague victims and people like me with infected legs), and Rafael (for healing). My home is dedicated to Guadalupe, Rafael, and Cuthbert. St Rock's feast is my Aunt Jesse's birthday, the Archangel Raphael's feast on older calendars was my Uncle Virgil's birthday, and Mary Magdalen's feast is Jim O'Donnell's birthday. Let us keep Jim in our prayers as he prepares to join the saints.

An overview of the stove side with decorative items above the cabinets.

And this is the table set for tomorrow's dinner. The napkins were starched a couple weeks ago. The tablecloth went from the dryer to the table without an iron. Yes, there is wicked candy corn in the little pumpkins. Grown ups gotta be bad too.

Welcome to my kitchen. No, you may not see any photos of the sink area right now. What, you want everything? Forget it.

I have done lots of rescheduling tomorrow's meal to minimize time on my feet. The soup is easy and so are the vegetables. I bought two loaves of rustic breads at Trader Joe's instead of baking them. I am not trying a new technique for dessert. Pumpkin bread (now cooling) was from a mix and I will make the cinnamon gelato tomorrow. No new techniques there, just different recipe. The chicken dish should not be hard and everything should be cooked and warming before guests arrive. Then I can sit down, with my leg up, and visit and enjoy my friends.

May you all have a safe and blessed Season of the Dead (who live in God).

--the BB

Monday, October 24, 2011

Le weekend

OK, y'all know I've been on a major cooking and entertaining jag all summer and into the autumn. It is a revival of a long-time interest. As a boy I hung out in my mother's kitchen. During my college years I worked summers as a dishwasher and cook's helper. While in college I also occasionally served as a waiter when we had formal dinners. I used to bake a lot in my junior and senior years. Bill and I both love to cook and we enjoyed entertaining.

When I became single again I retreated from the world, big time. I needed to on many levels; it was more than depression. I needed to find myself again and moving to New Mexico was a way to go into the desert and be alone with myself (and my demons and angels). Each year I feel more myself. And I am cooking again, feeding people, trying to give people an experience similar to going to a nice restaurant.

Yes, I have indulged mightily in retail therapy, buying multiple sets of dishes, linens, new flatware, and some cooking equipment. This is also an investment in my future. I certainly hope to throw dinner parties when I retire somewhere down the road.

Saturday I assembled some shelving and put it in the hall closet, which has been grossly underused. Heavier cooking equipment, the silver chest, the cake and pie tins, spare glassware (extra red wines and champagne flutes) have all moved there. They are accessible but out of the way. This has freed space in the pantries (yes, I have two of them) and I am reorganizing those so things are where I can find them. Counters are more organized and usable. I have been cleaning a lot of stuff that had been hidden away.

I also baked some plain rustic bread and a lemon-ricotta cake, the latter for a potluck. I had the idea last week of making ginger-pear gelato, so I improvised and did that. Sunday I was looking at some red lentils that have languished in a corner of the kitchen for way too long. They joined some orzo, beef broth, a shallot, a carrot, some celery, and spices to become a stew for Sunday dinner. The photos and much of this commentary have already appeared on Facebook, but here they are for my blog friends.

Red lentil and orzo stew with a mountain of parmigiano reggiano and some home-made bread.

Lemon-ricotta cake and the ginger-pear gelato that I have named "Gelato Lindy" for my dear online friend now in China.

Once I get the pantry reorg done, I will set the table for next Saturday's meal. If I remember to take photos, you will see that after it happens.

--the BB

Monday, October 17, 2011

The coffee hater

I make a very lousy Swede for at least two reasons: I hate the taste of coffee and I try to avoid eating fish. Don't even think of mentioning lutfisk. Shudder. The one Swedish thing about my cooking is the generous use of butter. Smor ock kärlek. Butter and love. That's the motto of Swedish cooking. That much I truly live up to.

Back to the coffee issue. I do not mind the smell of coffee brewing. That is homey. But I have never liked the taste of coffee in my mouth. Don't even consider bringing up mocha, thanks. If I detect coffee in my chocolate I want to spit it out, and usually do, though not in front of others.

When I went to France on my semester abroad in autumn of 1967 I had successfully navigated to the ripe age of 21 without ever tasting more than a sip of the nasty stuff. The day I arrived on the train in Montpellier my host family was all out and about. So Jean René, the son my age, arranged for a friend to meet me at the train. Said friend took me to the apartment where his family lived and his mother looked after me until my family could sweep me off to their home. The gracious lady offered me coffee. I said, as graciously as I could, that I do not drink coffee but appreciate the offer. She opined that this was because I had not had good French coffee and hers was marvelous and I must have some.

Well, I may have been a callow youth but I did not want to start an international incident on my second day in France. She brought me a (mercifully small) cup of coffee, "black as my heart" as my mother would say. Steeling myself, I took a sip. Fire hit my belly, and I don't mean passion. I thought I had just downed battery acid. And since I had not slept much on the train the night before nor eaten much, the caffeine hit my bloodstream almost instantly. My heart raced. And yes, I thought the flavor was incredibly vile. I made polite noises and probably took one or two more sips before begging off, saying it was most impressive but my body was not accustomed to it.

No, I don't ever intend to drink coffee again. Why do you ask? Yes, unless the tiramisu is beyond elegant I will spit it out. If it is truly exceptional I will eat one bite just to test the quality of all the other things that make tiramisu elegant. I believe it is a wonderful dessert, I just don't want any.

So, on Facebook I talked about my indulging in a high end ice cream maker Friday night. If I make this much gelato, why not? One tires of having to put the freezing canister of my prior ice cream device in the freezer for at least one night. One might want to make more than one flavor or greater quantities and need to keep on freezing after one batch. Well, now one can. It was a chunk of money. I said I felt I could justify this (having made gelato now five times in two months). But I could not justify the espresso machine for sale at Costco because I loathe coffee, don't even keep any in the house, and it was way too much money. Though it would be nice to be able to serve espresso at the end of a lovely Italian meal, just to round out the experience.

Allow me to compound this story with another aside. When I moved to Albuquerque and had the illusion I would entertain more than I actually did the first four years here, I bought one pound each of regular and decaf coffee and put same in my freezer. I do have a coffee grinder (two, actually, though one is for spices only). I have a coffee maker (two, actually, for "leaded" and decaf). I think it was three years later that I tossed out the two pounds of coffee. Probably had freezer burn at that point. I had made coffee once, perhaps. (I do have tea, mind you.)

Friend Randy, who keeps an eye on my Facebook posts, not only showed up with a couple bottles of wine on Saturday but he and his friend Troy also had a little host gift:

These lovely rose pattern demitasse cups and saucers for my espresso.

Knowing full well how I feel about coffee and the whole issue around it.

Bless their hearts. (And aren't the cups beautiful?)

It was not gratuitous teasing. Randy also pointed out that there are alternatives to expensive fancy schmancy espresso machines. (Oh, and tonight at Costco I noticed the espresso machine was actually about eight dollars cheaper than my new ice cream maker. That was a bit humbling.)

So I did some reading online about espresso and related topics and did a little shopping on the way home tonight.

I have a new coffee grinder. I can set it for an espresso grind without wondering if I have done it right.

And I have a stovetop espresso maker, the classic macchinetta from 1933.

I also have some Italian roast and espresso beans from Whole Foods (small quantities) and also a bag of the espresso roast Starbucks and medium roast decaf from Starbucks purchased at Costco. I need to learn how to use the new toys, of course, but I will learn.

I also know that my hand blender can whip up 150 degree milk, so I don't need no stinkin' steam device or 'spensive device à frapper.

So if you come to my house for an Italian meal, you will be able to enjoy a shot of espresso. Hell, I'll even throw some hooch in and you can have caffè corretto. A latte? We can do that too. What, you want mocha? I've got Starbucks cocoa powder. We'll do it.

This is your friendly barista, who still loathes coffee but wants y'all to have a good time (and drive home sober).

--the BB

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The meal that was and the photos that weren't - updated

Last night's meal was fun to do, a lot of work, and the company was great. Part of my cooking journey is to have dinner guests that I would like to get to know better, making new acquaintances and gaining new friends. This weekend everybody had prior commitments and it appeared we would be only three for this huge meal. My friend Randy pursued it a bit, asking if I knew K and D. Yes, I said, I just met them Thursday night. He had their phone number. I rechecked old messages, and by the time we were through it was a full table of six as originally planned. Yay! Thanks, Randy. Fun lively dinner companions.

In fact, I had such a good time (or was very busy pulling the main course together) that I forgot to take any photos past the soup course.

Here we have the antipasto.

One bread dough made into a large loaf and a smaller one with olives. The olive bread is in the center with the cheeses. The other is on the sides with bruschetta. Two kinds of olives, salted pistachios, toasted almonds. We began with blood orange soda in champagne flutes and pinot grigio/pinot gris.

Here is the table.

And here is the butternut squash soup, wickedly containing whole milk and heavy cream. The fresh bit of thyme from the yard was described as the fly in the soup. "Are we supposed to eat the fly?" was the question.

The next course was stracotto, an Italian pot roast that was browned then braising in the oven for four hours. It was cooked with onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms, a can of diced tomatoes with their juice, chicken broth, beef broth, red wine, and a sprig of fresh thyme. As the meat rested I cooked down the liquid with a sprig of fresh rosemary (also from the yard), furiously reducing it to about one third. Omigod, the sauce on the meat was incredible. Served with a ladle of soft polenta, sautéed haricots verts, and sautéed mushrooms.

Dessert was blueberry gelato. I was going to make a sorbetto but did not have enough blueberry puree so I threw cream in and called it gelato. Served with cantucci.

Every course had some learnings, which is another reason I do this. I want to be a better cook with a wider repertory of dishes and techniques plus consistent results.

Very few leftovers but damn, we ate well.

Planning the next one in a fortnight.


Leftovers to the rescue. I had one large serving of leftovers from the main course and took it all to work today for lunch. I also took a dinner plate and my camera. So here is what the main course looked like (except on a harsh white formica background (sorry).

I must say, the stracotto recipe is a keeper. Dayumn, them's good eats! I must do this again.

And supper tonight is pure naughtiness, just dessert. Gelato di mirtilli con cantucci.

More came out of that dinner party. To be continued in the next post.

--the BB