Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why I Write...

A fellow blogger, Van Waffle, who generously did a guest post here at Babette Feasts a while back, posed the challenge to some bloggers to write about why we write. Van's essay is here, a truly thoughtful piece about what writing has brought to his world and his life.

For me, I think it is simpler. I write partly because I can. I always knew I was a good writer through school. An award-winning essay got me a trip as an exchange student to South America, where I made friends I have to this day, people I call family in Montevideo, Uruguay. I placed out of writing classes in college. I turned in decent essays.

And then I stopped writing. I took a job where I could find one (in retail). It required no writing. Then I took a job when I wanted to move to New York City--I worked in a bank with people who seemed a lot more intelligent than I was. Am. I didn't write that much there, but what I did write, I relished. To this day, one of the best things I did there, totally for me, was attend a business writing seminar hosted by a crusty older man, someone who really knew how to write. Anyone who had that guy as a teacher would have been lucky. Attending that class made me realize I really was as good a writer as I thought.

And then I still didn't write much.

I got married. I changed careers and worked in a professional kitchen as a chef. I loved that job. I sure didn't write there, but...once again, I was good at what I did. Really good. I moved up fast. It's a tough job, not for everyone, but I still remember it as about the most fun I ever had in a job.

Then I had one child..then another. I didn't take much time off, ending up working in catering, still meeting great people, but putting in about 40 hours in 3 days, sometimes 4 days, all in the evenings or all day Saturday and Sunday. Catering was pretty backbreaking work. Some of the glow was off the cooking gig.

And then we moved to another city in another region. When I thought I was ready to get back into the kitchen, I got offers of starting as the salad maker. Again. I had proved myself in the one of the top restaurants in the country, moving all the way up to expediting, and they still wanted me to make salads. I finally landed a job as a pastry chef with a shift of 11 p.m to 7 a.m. If I thought catering was a grind, this was a grind and a half. All of the work and none of the fun. And I was pregnant with child number three.

I came home exhausted and just decided I needed a job where I could make money and stay home.

So I decided to write. I got out books titled "How to Write and Sell Magazine Articles" and followed the instructions. And I started to sell work. Bit by bit. Writing has sustained me with a modest income, allowing me to be around for my kids and fulfill some need to do something I'm good at doing.

No, it's not writing the great American novel, although I'm determined to write that someday, too. It's a job. It's a craft. A craft I am trying to hone all the time. I can pick out fun blog posts, poignant posts, even, I am sorry to say, boring ones. It's not all great, but I'm trying to get better. When I do get inspired I write a personal essay here and there. Those are fun, too.

But there is more. The blank page or screen is, indeed, a place for me to write down heartaches, sadnesses, angers...the therapeutic letter to some bonehead, written with venom and brilliant turns of phrases, written so I can get it ALL off my chest...and then take a deep breath, delete that note and compose a calm, professional and reasoned reply to said bonehead.

I think the day my brother died and in the days after, I wrote a lot in his memory. I wrote a poem, I wrote a haiku and finally this small essay, which I repost every May 20. Those helped. A tiny bit.

I write because I can. And I am glad I can.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Twist on Marcella's Lemon Chicken.

I first wrote about this recipe last fall after making it a few times. Since then, the recipe has evolved to suit the tastes of our house... It has become a go-to favorite here ever since. I've made it countless times, changing it up just a bit...but finally, this is the end result. Many thanks to Marcella for the first iteration of this recipe, her chicken fricassee with lemon and egg from Essentials of Italian Cooking. Now here's the more plebeian version...I cannot believe I don't have a photo for you. We must eat it too quickly for me to get something...I promise one is coming.

Babette's Adaptation of Chicken with Lemon and Egg from Marcella
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
1 cup beef stock or bouillon (I use Better than Bouillon)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 egg yolks

1. Use large cast-iron skillet. Add butter, melting over medium high heat. Add onion and cook until softened.
2. Push onion to side of skillet. Pat chicken thighs dry with paper towel. Add to skillet in single layer and reduce heat to medium. Allow to brown well on each side, at least 5 minutes per side. Salt and pepper chicken.
3. Add beef stock, scraping bottom of skillet to get up any good browned bits. Reduce heat so liquid is at very slow VERY SLOW simmer. Cover, leaving lid slightly ajar. Cook this slowly 45 minutes, turning chicken thighs in stock every now and then.
4. After 45 minutes, uncover. You should have just enough liquid to cover the bottom of the skillet.
5. Whisk lemon juice together with egg yolks. Remove skillet from heat and quickly stir lemon juice/yolk mixture into skillet, turning to coat chicken thighs. Work quickly to keep egg yolks from "cooking"--the juice/yolk mixture should combine with the remaining stock to make a silky, thickened sauce.
6. Turn chicken thighs and sauce onto warm platter and serve immediately. Serve with something like orzo to get every last drop of sauce from this dish.

Serves 6 to 8

Monday, August 11, 2014

Pizza in Punxsutawney...a little Bit of Paradise


Behold. The Pizza Oven...
There is something to be said for a place where you can have plenty of land. You know. Land where you can build a pizza oven.
You know what else you get with a lot of space? An  Aga. Just saying. I love Punxsutawney.













Friends F and S indulged me in inviting myself to their home in Punxsy to make pizza in the oven. F built the oven, the stone walls, the stone house..but it was that pizza oven I was after.



F built a fire early in the day so by the time we arrived, the coals were glowing hot. I brought the dough and a few toppings. They had some great mozzarella cheese, homemade sausage, basil from the garden.


Take some basil. And green beans. And oregano. And...and...and...

And that oven.

I practiced on a little foccacia.

It seemed easy enough. But as I made bigger pizzas, it was tougher to get them off the peel and onto the floor of the oven. I lost some toppings into the oven. Oops.

But with practice? I got this.

I use Carol Field's pizza dough. I cannot get it thin enough--or could not last night...I plan on learning to toss pizza dough, so I think I can conquer that problem. How hard can it be, right?

Here are two winning combos and my secret ingredient for really great pizza:

Stretch your dough. Brush the dough with EVOO mixed with anchovy past, just a touch. No one will know but you, and it makes it awesome.

I like to sprinkle just a little parmesan cheese on next in case toppings are wet-ish.

Great topping number 1:
Fresh marinated mozzarella (oil drained--we used mozzarella bocconcini from Costco), homemade sopresata, and drained and chopped artichoke hearts. I chopped the artichokes and drained them on paper towels while we waited to make the pizzas. I tore the mozzarella as I put it on so it was not too big.

Great topping number 2:
Red onion, thinly sliced and sauteed. Red bell pepper, thinly sliced and sauteed. Smoked gouda.
Prep the dough the same way (anchovy olive oil, sprinkle of parm) and top.

I think we cooked a little too late--my host thought the oven should have been hotter, and for the very last pizza, he raked the coals (I should have paid more attention) and the pizza cooked a lot more quickly...I liked turning the pizza in the oven with the peel--once it was in, if I waited about a minute, it was easy to lift and turn the pizza to take advantage of the coals.

Awesome night--thanks, my friends!!
Until we cook again...













Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thursday's Thoughts

Goat cheese, olives, lemon, herbs, black pepper, olive oil. Done.
During June, Thursday became my essay day, so I'm going to keep it going--even if I HAVE missed nine days of blogging since the blogathon.

I think often about simplicity in the kitchen. The days of me cooking for days have passed. The kids are almost all out of the house, our circle of friends seems smaller (so many were soccer and gym parents--those things ended and so little replaced it). Our family almost is never all together.

But that is all okay, because into the space left by big gatherings is a sense of simplicity. My new, go-to app of goat cheese, olives, lemon zest and olive oil, with plenty of herbs (this is from Leite's, and they use thyme; I use whatever I have on hand) and black pepper. My favorite breakfast is unflavored greek yogurt with my own granola, a drizzle of honey and frozen blueberries. Lunches are leftovers. Dinners? Well, either I am testing a recipe, but when I'm not, I want easy. Easy includes grilled lamb sticks (ground, seasoned lamb pressed onto skewers--we get it at the supermarket and it's an "easy" dinner), chicken teriyaki in the crock pot, Marcella Hazan's lemon chicken. Caprese salad, especially in the summer. Chicken marinated with lemon, garlic, rosemary and olive oil.

See? So simple nothing needs a recipe, really, just some instructions.

But really it's about that simplicity--even if I need to think ahead. To me, even homemade pizza (dough and all) is simple as long as I've remembered to start the dough in the afternoon.

I still love having people over and hosting family and friends for special occasions. It just doesn't seem to happen often enough.

In the meantime, I'll do my best to keep it simple, but keep it special.

My Special Variation of Marcella Hazan's Lemon Chicken:

It's easy and a variation of her full-chicken-cut-
up approach (plus I leave some stock in skillet because it makes such an awesome sauce): brown a finely diced onion in butter in a large cast-iron skillet. Add boneless skinless thighs. Brown well. Add 1 cup BEEF stock, cover and simmer at the lowest of simmers 45 minutes, with lid slightly popped so stock is evaporating...turn thighs a couple of times while simmering. When there is just a bit of stock covering the bottom of the skillet, stir in a combo of 2 yolks and 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice...OFF the heat, that is...stir stir stir til it thickens...DONE. A one dish meal.)





Monday, June 30, 2014

The End!

I think this is the first photo I ever loaded to Babette Feasts..
Here are things I have loved about this month.

Everything was a potential topic. Recipes, essays, photos, my art. I thought about it often.

I made notes to myself while I was out and about about ideas for the blog.

I got to read a lot of other fabulous blogs.

I woke up and had a plan for the blog.

I got it done.

I love blogathon. If I take anything away from this month, it will be to schedule posts for the next few months.
...Otherwise, Babette Feasts languishes.

What have you loved?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Wordle Sunday

I especially like the spot that says "always push great food."

Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 Things About Summer


Summer Bounty

. It's hot. The oven shuts down, the grill goes on. And I buy a toaster oven, because let's face it. Sometimes you still have to brown things. I just don't want to brown them in that huge heat box.

2. I keep trying to cook from the market. Lots of good stuff in the markets now. Peaches. Lettuces. More peaches. One of my favorite memories is being at a market around closing time and landing a case of peaches for not much money. I made peach jam...I sure could use a case of peaches now.

3. Drink real lemonade. Please do one thing this summer: make real lemonade with REAL lemons, real sugar. There is nothing like it.

4. Eating outside may not be for summer--for us, at least. I think spring and fall are great for eating out on our porch, but the afternoon sun starts beating down on our porch around 4 p.m. and the heat doesn't quit until the sun dips below the horizon. It's too hot to eat out there. Not too hot for my morning cup of coffee, though! (I am researching shade options! Maybe we'll get to eat outside again if we have more shade.

5. Grills can have very long lives. I bought our grill used for about $50. It gave us two full years of service, even when I asked it to fire up in the winter. The bar where the gas comes out--the piece with tiny holes in it--the burner?--finally just rusted through. Huge flames were licking up at the food, burning everything...we were reduced to cooking around the edges...but then I saw a replacement burner, bought it, installed it in about five minutes (okay: maybe 10!) and voila: We've still got this grill running. Maybe next year it'll get new grill grids. The ignition never worked, so I'm not worked up about it...The year after that? New bricks to spread the heat...And maybe by the year after that I'll have to replace the burner again. Repair before replacing, right?