Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Calm Before the Storm

Greetings earthlings.

Once again, it's Thanksgiving. Once again, it's time for friends and feasting.

This year's menu is:

spiced nuts

Turkey (dry-brined this year, so we'll see how that goes)
Roasted Vegetables (beets, Brussels sprouts*, carrots, onions, garlic)
Stuffing the way my family makes it, so I have Bell's Seasoning
Cranberry Sauce
Mashed Potatoes
Cabbage with Lemon, Garlic, and Dried Cranberries

Dinner Rolls

Apple Pie
Chocolate-Pecan-Bourbon Pie (whipped cream will be on hand for these)

I'm writing this the night before, when the turkey sits in the fridge, the bread awaits baking, most of the vegetables are chopped, the nuts are roasted, the pie crusts prepared. I am still convincing myself that I will have time to mark a few essays while things cook, and knowing full well I will find reasons to avoid it. (Reasons means dishes.)

Thanksgiving is one of the things I miss most about New England. I enjoy sharing it here.

*roasting Brussels sprouts is the One True Way to eat them

Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Busy Season

This week marks the first time I've slept in my own bed and spent most of my time in my own city since around the 18th of April. Which explains why things went radio silent 'round these parts. In that time I have:

  • walked part of the Offa's Dyke Path (now redated earlier) and gotten a spectacular sunburn
  • enjoyed the hospitality and interesting papers of Spoleto
  • talked and listened in Kalamazoo
  • learned about early medieval archaeology
  • heard some wonderful things about the development of Caroline minuscule
  • attended a symposium on an important 1914 production of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim's play Paphnutius (And heard the play acted, possibly for the first time since 1914)
  • begun to assemble panels for Kalamazoo and Leeds 2015

It's been good stuff, all of it, and has made me think--which, after all, is one of the joys of this line of work. More later.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Sometimes You Just Gotta Hit the Road

So I've been teaching for the first time this semester...which explains why I posted once this semester and then never again.

I've learned a lot from the experience, including food-related things such as making most of my meals for the week over the weekend. Soup Forever!

But today, I plan to write about something else.

Something perfect for the stresses and frustrations of PhD life.

(my skill at photography is legendary)

I make a lot of my own bread, for the same reasons that other people play lots of video games, or go to the gym, or go stare at cat pictures for a very long time: it's fun. It helps. Breadmaking has the wonderful advantage that it allows you to punch something, and the more you punch, the tastier it gets.

It has the disadvantage that it takes a lot of time, and you need to be in a position to pay attention to how long things are taking. But other than that, it takes simple, cheap ingredients, and did I mention you get to punch things?

Oatmeal Bread

(adapted from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant)

1 c of water
1 c milk
2 c oatmeal

1 tbsp yeast
1/2 c lukewarm water

1/2 c brown sugar
1 c white flour

2 1/2 c wholemeal flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

Heat the milk and water in a saucepan on the stove until boiling. Before your stove is covered in a mess, take it off and add the oatmeal. Allow this to cool until the bottom of the bowl is warm to the touch but not hot and you can comfortably touch the oatmeal mixture.

While your oatmeal is cooling down, boil water in the kettle. Pour out half a cup into a shallow bowl and allow it to come to a temperature that's still warm but cool enough you can stick a finger in. Add and dissolve the yeast.

When the oatmeal is sufficiently cooled, add the yeast mixture and the brown sugar. Stir it all together, and add the cup of white flour. This is what the recipe calls a sponge. Cover it with a tea towel, put it in a warm place (the top of the refrigerator is where mine goes.) Go watch an episode of a TV show on Netflix do something else for 45 minutes.

Now comes the punching! Add the salt and add about 2 cups of wholemeal flour. You may need a little more--you want a stiff, dry dough, with almost all of the flour mixed in.

Dump your dough onto a floured surface (this is where that last 1/2 cup of flour comes in) and start kneading. The dough is pretty stick, so oil your hands first. Using the heels of your hands, stretch the dough away from you, then fold it, flip it, and repeat. You want to do this for at least 5-7 minutes, until the dough has a bit of give (what recipes call elastic). 

Wash your bowl or find a new one. Give it a light coating of oil and dump in the dough, turning to coat the top. Cover it with a tea towel again and go do something else for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in size. (It's almost impossible to tell when it's doubled, so I generally go for visibly bigger. This is the part where you can let it rise for the length of TV show episode, or forget a bit, and let it alone for two. Nothing terrible is going to happen.)

Punch the dough down and shape it into a loaf by folding the edges under until you have a tubular thing that will fit in an oiled loaf pan. Cover and let rise for about 45 minutes, pr until the loaf visibly gotten bigger.

Preheat the over to 180C/350F and bake for about forty minutes, until the loaf is browned and sounds hollow when you knock on it.

Turn it out on a wire rack and let it cool.

Makes five-six breakfasts (10-14 slices of bread, depending on how generously you cut). Oatmeal bread is incredible with peanut butter.


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Healthy Cake

Yesterday I brought a cake to a friend's birthday party. It turned out pretty well so I thought I'd share.,

This is mostly based on the Red Wine Chocolate Cake found at Smitten Kitchen, with a few variations, because I am a graduate student, not a New York City-dwelling adult. I cannot always be trusted not to run out of butter and brown sugar. Not to mention that the waste of an egg white, no matter how much it will 'improve' the cake, still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Here it is the rainy season better know elsewhere as winter. Because I forgot to take a picture of the cake, let's all look at these pretty flowers.

(Magdalen College Gardens, Oxford)

Sooner or later, it will be spring!

Healthy Cake (it's red wine and chocolate, so it's good for you)
adapted from Deb Perlman of Smitten Kitchen

Notes: Using all butter would be a good idea and I'm pretty sure using only light brown sugar would be just fine.

3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4c dark brown sugar
1/2c light brown sugar
1/4c white sugar
1 egg
3/4c red wine
1c flour
1/2 c cocoa powder
1/8tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4tsp baking powder
1/4tsp salt
1/4tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180C or 325F.

Using a spatula and a large bowl, mix the butter, oil, and sugars until smooth. Add in the egg and red wine. The batter will have little buttery flecks--don't worry about this. Mix in flour and cocoa still blithely ignoring any small lumps. If your soda and baking powder are a bit old and lumpy, use a tea strainer to sift them into the batter (this prevents those horrible chemical lumps). Then add the salt and cinnamon. Mix.

Grease a nine-inch cake tin and pour in your batter. Bake for 25 minutes and then check to see whether a toothpick comes out of the cake clean. If it doesn't continue to bake the cake for five minutes longer until your toothpick comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan for ten minutes, then place it on a rack to finish cooling.

Serves at least eight

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Again, Some More

How many graduate students do you know who have gardens?



(photo taken 1 June 2013)

I am lucky, lucky in so many ways but one of the ways in which I am luckiest is that my five-person house has a great backyard, or as the British would say, a garden.

I can't remember when I came up with the idea that I was going to grow things in my garden but I explained it through feeling a bit lost and uncomfortable in my new city of Leeds. Putting down roots, I thought would help.

About a mile from my house is a shopping centre, which has a Poundland. If you're ever in the UK and tempted by a green thumb go to Poundland. Seriously. All of the plants and seeds and soil in that photograph (with the exception of the really long pot on the left) were purchased there. I got my gardening tools and my seed trays there and started off.

My plants took up the entire windowsill but my housemates were very gracious about it. (Also I told them they could eat what I grew, which helped.) They even watered it all when I was away.

The plants grew bigger.

Eventually, by early summer, everything had been planted outside. We had two kinds of tomatoes, parsley, marjoram, thyme, pansies, basil, and morning glories. I bought two rose bushes for a pound but they didn't make it. Here is one side of the garden:

And here is the other:

In my childhood home, we have a little herb garden by the back door. There's something wonderful about being able to walk a few steps and pick something for dinner.

By late November the tomatoes looked even scragglier than the September photograph above. Into the compost they went. I rescued the green tomatoes and put them a brown paper bag to ripen and we used them up until...


Yep, I went home for Christmas and forgot about the brown paper envelope of tomatoes on top of the refrigerator. When I came back, I discovered to my delight that they were still good.

New Year's Resolution: Tomatoes for 2014! And living rosebushes.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Just a River in Egypt

See this sock?

It might fit a hobbit with swollen ankles. Wearing a cast. It will never fit a human being.

Frogged and tried again.

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt. -Mark Twain

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

After the Feast, Have Some Spiced Nuts

Hi there! There was meant to be another post about Thanksgiving but then I got wrapped up in cooking. Dinner was a good time, but I have only before pictures, like this one:

 In that picture is visible: rolls, foccacia, salad, stuffing, and mushrooms. There was a turkey, it was just on the other side of the room, cowering under tin foil. See?

I had fun and I'd like to share one of the most successful dishes of the evening.

One of the things I've noticed, in my limited but enthusiastic experience of throwing large dinner parties: food always takes longer than I think it will. This is especially true of dinners like Thanksgiving, where you slap a large chunk of poultry in the oven and hope the kitchen fairies are with you. When I invite people over, I want them to have a good meal and a good time. This is why I try to have something already prepared while the rest of the food gets ready.

This year and last, I relied on the geniuses at Fine Cooking and their menu planner. One of the suggestions for a nibble were these spiced pecans. They'd also be good for Christmas, so here you go!

Spicy Maple Pecans

(adapted from this recipe)

The original recipe calls for walnuts but I didn't have any. LEAVE THE GINGER IN. I took some of it out because I was dubious about it, and I wish I hadn't. A lot of the spice comes from those ginger pieces--despite its title, this isn't a very spicy recipe.

The baking time when I made these was only 20 minutes because the pecan pieces I used were quite small. Yours may take longer.

4 tbs unsalted butter
1/3c maple syrup
6 slices fresh ginger, the size of a 10p piece, cut small
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp salt
1/4tsp hot sauce
4c pecans

Preheat oven to 200C. In a large pot on the stovetop, mix everything but the nuts and stir for a few minutes until combined.  Take the pot off the stove, pour in the nuts, and stir to coat. On a greased baking sheet, spread the nuts in a single layer. Bake for ten minutes, then stir, then bake for another ten minutes. If they still look wet and untoasted, repeat the bake and stir step one more time.

Put the pan on a rack to cool. When the nuts are completely cooled, put them into bowls.

Makes 4 cups, which is good to feed 17 people with very little left over