October 31, 2008

Comfort Food

 

It has been another . . . less than optimum . . . day. 

I woke up too early–thus the week after the clocks change–and lay there worrying* till I inadvertently fell asleep again** whereupon I overslept.

            The phone rang, and it was Asmodeus,*** who wanted to drop off my new all-in-one printer/scanner/fax, which is going to Revolutionise My Life or at least give me back a little shelf space†, and I was barely out of bed and not at my best and most brutal, and I acquiesced to this.  By the time the hellhounds and I were out caroming over the countryside I realized this was a mistake, because right at the moment the last thing I want is another new gizmo to get used to, but Asmodeus was supposed to ring me before he started, so that’s okay, I’d ring him when I got back, and tell him to wait and send Gizmo X on Monday when Computer Men are coming back anyway.  Then the hellhounds caught a grouse†† and Darkness ducked out of his harness.†††  And when we got home again, my little street was blocked by an SUV sitting in the middle of it with all its doors open while its contents stood around chatting to my over-the-road neighbours who would be very nice people except for their taste in friends, who run to SUVs and cluelessness, and who in this instance looked very startled at the impertinent fact of my existence.   

            And by the time I fought my way to my front door . . . there was Asmodeus waiting for me, standing on the top step with a Large Cardboard Box.  It’ll only take five minutes! he said.

            The first thing that happened after he left is that I couldn’t find the ‘off’ switch.

            Then I turned on a computer–any computer–and started making lists of the things that don’t work.  Some new, some old, some familiar, some strange. . . .

            I need comfort food

And, as it happens, I received this by email from b_twin_1 a few days ago: 

I gave you chocolate before but I forgot that in your time it was the 26th.

And given the issues you are having accessing the forum…. (::sigh::) 

So here’s a special risotto that includes your favourite drink: 

Champagne Risotto:  http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/6811/champagne+risotto 

            She and I share bafflement that the original poster seems to think this modest recipe would stretch to feed 20. . . . Twenty what?  Flower fairies?  Chihuahuas?  People who don’t like risotto?  Menopausal women?  She also said:  personally I don’t add cheese to risotto . . . .  which in my cheese-denied state I seized upon and said that I made non-cheese risotto myself but I’d always assumed it was Fake Risotto and, rats, if I were going to post it I’d have to figure out the quantities, because I tend to Add Stock Till It Looks Like Risotto and meanwhile could I post her Creative Use of Champagne Risotto?  Whereupon, bless her, she sent me this: 

Sure you can use it for a post.

If it makes you feel better I never put cheese in risotto while I am making it because Mum has such issues with dairy.  Sometimes I will put cheddar on it as I am serving it for myself but lately I haven’t been bothering. 

Ever had that thought when you are in a restaurant that yours is better. 

Yes.  Frequently.  It’s one of my excuses for not going out to dinner.  The best thing about going out to dinner is getting dressed up.  Now, this is a skirt, and these are shoes-that-aren’t-All-Stars.  Those of you with office jobs will not appreciate how exciting this is. 

Ahem.

I do have a Lazy Cow’s method (should it be Lazy Ewe in my case??) 

What, not even a house cow? 

 for risotto.   ;)  It involves a wodge of butter and whatever is in the pantry/fridge. 

(Following the Lazy Cow Cooking Principles) 

B-Twin-1’s Risotto without the Cheese.

All done in under half an hour….

Ingredients:

Start with –

1 wodge of butter (oh okay, you want a measurement … about 1-2 tbs)

1 spanish onion

2 cups Arborio rice

4 cups chicken stock, hot

Herbs – I usually use parsley, oregano, garlic  (and whatever I feel like grabbing from the drawer or garden) 

Additions –

(whatever is in the fridge)

Vegetarian option = Pumpkin or Mushroom

Non-vege option = Bacon or Chicken (pre-browned or cooked) or cooked gourmet sausages (our butcher does some great gluten free pork  or lamb & rosemary ones)

Broccoli / Peas / Corn 

Method:

Take a heavy based saucepan/pan (I use a cast iron Chasseur) and toss in the finely chopped onion (and fresh garlic and bacon if that is what you are using) with the butter. 

After the onion starts to soften I add the herbs.  Then I put in the rice and swish that around a bit to heat up and get coated with butter. 

I then add the chicken stock.  All in one hit.  But it is HOT (ie. just off the boil).  Stir that all around and put the lid on the Chasseur. 

When the liquid starts to simmer I toss in all the veggies and anything else.   Then I put the lid on.   And turn the heat down very low.

I stir it maybe once or twice in the next 10 minutes or so.  It varies a little each time as to when it is “done” but it is usually about 15 minutes.  I look for it to have absorbed the liquid but still be “slippery” looking and not gluggy.  Gluggy means too much liquid or too long.  

Easy huh? ;) 

Yaay easy.  Easy is good.  I love pine nuts, so I will put slightly toasted‡ pine nuts in at the last minute in a herby risotto and–further on the lazy domestic stock front–a couple of tablespoons of hummous stirred in with your couple of tablespoons of pine nuts will totally make this a main dish, although if I’m planning on hummous I’ll probably leave the onion out.  (I use an enameled cast iron pot:  easier to clean if I get it wrong, and it sticks.

I went and had a further prowl at www.taste.com.au/recipes after this: 

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/1662/white+chocolate+and+blackberry+muffins 

caught my eye, in the sidebar to the Champagne Risotto.  Which put me in mind of tea food, and what I could serve Mozart, Beethoven and Verdi when I have them round‡‡  So I had a look for scones: 

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/search.php?keywords=scones&publication

And I’m a trifle old-fashioned, having learnt scones from Constance Spry and Nell Beaton–fizzy lemonade, feh–so I pass over a lot, but these look good, and very like something I make (if I can put oatmeal flakes in something, I probably will): 

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/14592/rolled+oat+scones 

There’s also a recipe for Savoury Scones which specifies ‘tasty’ cheese.  As opposed to the other kind I guess?  ‘Another scone, vicar?  Would you like the kind with the tasty cheese or the really nasty purulent cheese?  I find that the nasty is very good for your moral probity, and if you concentrate you can get one down in two bites.’ 

* * * 

* About everything, of course.  Peter, hellhounds, me, PEGASUS, the American presidential election, the global economy, whether IE will ever stop crashing, and whether Yog-Sothoth will ever make it through the barrier between that universe and this one. 

** Thanks to being computer-bereft yesterday while Computer Men performed arcane and sorcerous acts, I’m nearly finished with Peter’s new ms, and I’m at the place when the hero has cause to return to the dark scary hidden booby-trapped maze that runs through the walls of the palace, and . . . aaaaaaaugh.  Bad dreams.  Bad.  

*** I’ve been resisting naming Head Computer Man Asmodeus, but he keeps going on about how long we’ve been together, AKA how many damned computers and associated gadgetry he’s sold me over the years because I’m too dumb and gullible to live, and I ask you, what kind of a colleague would a Hellgoddess have but a demon? 

Shelf.  Space.  Shelf!  Space!  SHEEEELF SPAAAAAAACE–! 

†† Oh gods.   

††† OH GODS.   

‡ Slightly toasted makes all the difference.  Do it.  You spread ’em out in a single layer in a heavy saucepan or skillet–I use my little iron scrambled-eggs skillet–put it on medium heat, shake occasionally, and watch it like a normal dog watches a bowl of dog food.  It’ll go from nothing to too brown in the twinkling of a wandering eye.  But if you turn it on low it takes forever. 

‡‡ I feel that having them one at a time would be a better idea, but I’m not sure if the Time Travelling Admin will allow this.

The poor old Wedding-Guest

 

The new web site was supposed to have been turned on by tonight at midnight and . . . doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.*  So I was going to post my FAQ answer to this question:

 

Q: What do you do with your spare time? Do you have any hobbies?

 

. . . as an explanation why the web site wasn’t going to get turned on by tonight at midnight (Blog/Webmom can only set up what I send her), and I did know this particular answer was kind of long, even in a FAQ full of rather long answers, but I’ve just copied and pasted it now and it’s . . . uh . . .

 It’s nine pages long. 

I’m not sure, can you get arrested for this kind of excessive behaviour?  I am reminded of the poor old Wedding-Guest:

 

He holds him with his glittering eye—

The Wedding-Guest stood still,

And listens like a three years’ child:

The Mariner hath his will.

 

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone: 

He cannot choose but hear;

And thus spake on that ancient man,

The bright-eyed Mariner

 

. . . For about 200 stanzas.

 

Me Mariner.  You Jan—I mean Wedding-Guest.

 

So, hey, I’m going to get two entries out of it.  Tonight.  Tomorrow.  Having tomorrow more or less off will give me a little more time to get on with the rest of the FAQ.**

 

I admit that a lot of the following will look pretty familiar.  You can read me ranting about Not Enough Time and Doing Too Much nearly every flapdoodling day here on the blog, and furthermore all I’ve done is rewrite the out of date bits of the old FAQ answer.  But for anyone goofy enough to have read the old, shorter FAQ answer all the way through, the changes may prove instructive.  Somewhat depending on your definition of ‘instructive.’

 

* * *

 

Enter this answer at your own risk.  In fact it would be quite a good idea, before you come one word farther in, to leave a letter propped on the mantelpiece telling your nearest and dearest where to come looking for you if you get lost.  Not only do I do too much, I like talking about it. 

 

So the basic deal is, I don’t have any spare time, probably because I don’t have hobbies, I have obsessions. I don’t much like the word ‘hobby’ — as soon as you call something a ‘hobby’ it seems to me it loses all substance, all value, and becomes just something that sucks up some hours. Eating chocolate chip cookies or (re)watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a hobby (not simultaneously however: the human nervous system can only bear so much stimulation); cooking and gardening and bell-ringing and riding horses and playing the piano and practising homeopathy — and reading — are something else. (I’ve even been known to embroider pillow-cases and shirt- and cushion-fronts.) But can you have more than one, say, avocation? That sounds a little pretentious. So does Personal Enrichment Programme.  I do a lot of stuff with my time besides write books. A lot of the voluntary stuff (ie paying bills or going to the dentist are both necessary I suppose but not what I would call voluntary) also… feeds me. Feeds the person I am, which includes the writer who writes books and has a web site with a FAQ, and now an endlessly hungry blog.

 

(The last time I updated this, the list of obsessions included running and fencing:  if I have to choose, I’ll take homeopathy and the piano over running and fencing.  But I don’t have to like making these exclusionary choices.   My fencing teacher now lives in Burma or Singapore or some other exotic elsewhere, which helps, although I’m sure there’s a fencing club around here.   And I still have fantasies of running again—aside from every Sunday morning on the way to service ring at the church—although even if the ME let me, my knees probably wouldn’t.)

 

I feel however that my main problem isn’t that I’m an obsessive, it’s that the stupid day refuses to be any longer than twenty-four hours, week after week and year after year.  (What are our scientists doing, that they haven’t knocked a hole in this wall yet?)  There are quite a few other things I would be obsessive about too if someone would invent the tesseract soon, please. Photography. Rose breeding (as opposed to just growing phalanxes of the things). I’d probably breed carnivorous plants too, just because they are weird and fascinating. I have several waterproof cachepots of carnivorous plants big enough to take on house flies—the tallest sarracenia is as long as my arm, with pitcher-mouths as big around as a 50p piece, and a bright lime green—and one of my favourite sounds is that of trapped flies buzzing furiously in the throats of my beautiful pitcher plants as I walk past the kitchen window sill at the cottage.  I’m an ‘all critters are siblings’ wuss about most things—yes, of course I fish spiders out of the bath—but houseflies, mosquitoes (and rats) are the enemy. I rotate my carnivores, so none has to stay indoors too long.  They’re sun lovers.  (I also have a Venus flytrap so small it probably has to ask the pansies it usually sits next to for help when it tackles a gnat.  But it’s three years old and still producing infinitesimal fringed dumpling-shaped traps, so it’s eating something.)           

 

I’d take up sailing again.  (The tesseract has to bring a larger bank balance with it.) I’d have learnt to work on the MG myself, instead of girding my loins to sell her (sob).   I’d like more time for drawing—I’d like any time for drawing—and I’d like the excuse to buy some new watercolours;  I suspect the last lot have shrivelled up solid. I might conceivably take French lessons, since it’s French I theoretically learnt in school, and I am deeply embarrassed at being another of these self-centred English speakers who don’t feel they have to learn anybody else’s language. But I’ve never gotten very far doing anything on guilt and good intentions alone, so I’d have to turn out to like it, and I can’t do grammar and conjugations (shuuudder) in my own language.

 

I’d like to finish learning to knit. I’d like to learn to make clothes, with buttonholes and zippers and belt loops and all those exciting things, but my inherited sewing machine was previously owned by someone who did know how, and I was so demoralised knowing it despised me that I gave it away when we left the old house to someone with whom I hope it has a rich and happy relationship. I’d like to be able to make an origami crane that didn’t fall over. (Origami is very obsessive.) I’d like to learn pottery-making and silver-smithing and how to polish and set stones. I’d like to learn blacksmithing—swordsmithing!—and farriery, but my back wouldn’t take it even if my tesseract would.  And I would ride every day.  Twice a day.  I would start doing yoga again.  Once upon a long-ago time I could do headstands and the splits (not together).  I could also do a Sun Salutation that didn’t change every time I did it because I kept forgetting how it went. 

 

I would certainly read more. A lot more.

 

However I am taking piano lessons again.  I wasn’t going to.  I absolutely wasn’t going to.  The piano wasn’t just on but was indestructibly welded, with auxiliary bolts, onto the ‘I’m not going to get round to it this life, it’ll have to be the next life’ list.  (The list itself is made out of case-hardened steel, to make it both highly resistant to tampering, and utterly impervious to sad, bitter tears.)  When we moved out of the old house I gave my baby grand piano to a local school with a pang more of lost dreams and opportunities than of any practical reality.  I even thought I was more or less resigned to not having a piano around the place any more, reminding me that I’m not playing it. 

 

Then I started bell ringing again, because what is now my home tower is a relatively short stone’s throw from my cottage, and I’d lasted about six weeks after the house move, listening to the bells, before I was on the phone to the tower secretary asking if they’d take a recidivist ex-beginner.  I’d had to give bell-ringing up when the ME knocked me down and sat on me, and one of the things that’s never quite come right again is a tendency to RSI.  Starting bell ringing again made my hands hurt.  I’m just not going to sit around squeezing a tennis ball, which is one of those physiotherapeutic clichés.  (Boooooooooooring.  I know.  I did it after I broke my hand.)  Hmm, I thought, piano players have strong hands.  So I went out and bought a cheap electric keyboard and started playing scales.  One thing led to another.  I’m now the insufferably proud owner of an 1897 Steinway upright, and composing, gods help me, which wasn’t even on the long life list.

 

I’d take voice lessons again if I could find a teacher with a fabulous enough sense of humour to take me on:  that really was on the long list (with the drawing, the knitting, the French, the fencing . . . ) but it has developed a certain painful irony lately.  My favoured form of composing is setting poems or reworking folk songs, which involve, you know, words.  (The word proclivity carries through apparently.)  And both my piano teacher and my husband insist that if I’m going to write songs I have to sing as well as play them.  There’s perhaps some excuse for my piano teacher, who is a self-confessed sadist anyway, but the poems I’m setting tend to be Peter’s, and he should have a sufficient sense of self-preservation to say Okay, if you must set them, very well, but for pity’s sake don’t sing them.

 

Sigh.

 

My first serious discovery of life outside books had been horses and horseback riding, when I was nine years old and living in Japan where my military father was posted. (Of course I’d been reading about horses for years.) I took my first riding lessons from some Japanese ex-cavalrymen who had set up a riding school for us occupying round eyes; in hindsight I wonder about this, since this was the very early sixties and WWII wasn’t all that long ago, but at the time it all seemed friendly enough, at least until your horse refused the fence again because he knew you weren’t so sure about it yourself, whereupon the air got, I think, pretty blue, but since it was in Japanese you didn’t know for sure. The ex-cavalrymen belonged to the ‘put them on a horse and make them jump things until they fall off and then put them back on and make them do it again’ school of learning to ride, which was exciting, but rather alarming, and I was a nervy, easily frightened child. Obstinate (I did keep getting back on) but nervy and easily frightened. (I am a nervy, easily frightened, obstinate adult). I do still have a blown-up photo poster of me at eleven jumping a horse named Shadow over a decent sized fence — which is to say I am somewhere on top of him and he is going over the fence and my hands could have released better and my hard hat is sitting on the back of my head and wouldn’t have done me much good if I’d fallen off — which proves I got that far anyway. I didn’t actually learn to ride until twenty years later, taking dressage lessons, but that’s another story.

 

I hesitate to mention this because after years of stumbling into philosophical and/or financial holes and making wrong choices I feel rather superstitious about it, but I am presently riding at a very nice yard indeed, with nice normal (well, not too normal) people and a terrific owner who also gives riding lessons.  Deep in the Hampshire countryside too, so if you don’t feel like schooling that day you can just go out on a hack.  Divine.  This is what all those pony books when I read when I was a kid were about (no, not the BLACK STALLION, but all the Monica Edwards and Pullein-Thompsons), and here I am in one at last.

 

I started cooking pretty young too. I have always liked to eat, and once you figure out how, you can have exactly what you want by making it yourself (one of my better memories of an extremely unpleasant adolescence is making cakes and pies to Saturday morning cartoons), and you may find that half the fun is diddling around with a series of recipes till you achieve your aim via your own adaptations and evolving marginal commentary. Although despite the Betty Crockers and Joys of Cooking and Julia Childs and Delia Smiths and so on it still seems to me there’s a huge credibility gap between the pages of most cookbooks and the hasn’t-a-clue, um, boil water?, learner. Knead your bread till it’s the texture of an ear lobe? A vivid image but not one I can recommend as practical. Bread making books go on too much about kneading anyway. (They can’t all be in the pay of the bread-making machine industry.) Almost nobody points out that if you let your sponge do most of the work you don’t have to. (Although I actually enjoy beating the bejeezus out of bread dough. It’s an excellent counterpoint to long hours at your desk.) I love baking generally. My husband and I observe a strict turn and turn about in the bread making but all the cookies and desserts and puddings and sweets are my territory (he does usually make the Christmas pudding but then I’m busy making acres of Christmas cookies and moaning).

 

Gardening was an accident of circumstance. The last summer I lived in Maine it had sort of semi occurred to me that there was, you know, um, earth out there and I could probably grow something in it. My little house was pretty heavily shaded by lilac hedges and an enormous maple tree, and the soil was the standard Maine granite bedrock with a few crumbly bits on top to mislead the unwary, but it still could be done. I put in a few snapdragons and carnations, bought from the straggly on-sale table at the local garden centre, and watched in fascination while it took them really quite a surprisingly long time to die. Maybe I was on to something here. Then Peter, my gardening-mad husband, happened unexpectedly, and I found myself plonked down over here in southern England in the middle of a two-and-a-quarter-acre southern English jungle. The longer version of this story is somewhere else on this web site — the essay on how I wrote Rose Daughter [link to come], which is a longer version of the afterword in the book itself (both leave out the fact that Peter’s first fiance’s gift to me was a pair of secateurs, so his protests about my not having to take on gardening to please him may perhaps be viewed with a certain benign suspicion) — but the point is, there I was, sink or swim. I swam.

 

I’m still swimming, although we left the old house and the two and a quarter acres several years ago.  Peter suddenly began feeling his age, and decided that his idea of growing old gracefully was living within walking distance of the shops.  So we moved into town, into (ahem) a range of little houses with little gardens.  I’m now conducting a scientific experiment in growing the optimum number of roses in the minimum amount of space.  (Pots as a layering device.)

 

As you will have gathered by now I am a dilettante obsessive, which is probably the worst kind. I didn’t need any more interesting occupations to bore my friends and loved ones with (Peter, so far as I can tell, cannot be bored with conversation about gardening and gardens, although I’m still trying) but my butterfly mind will keep flapping.

 

To Be Continued . . .

 

* * *

 

*Soon though!  Soon!  Really!

 

** Tonight I’m going to play hooky and compose something. 

AAAAAAAAAAAUGH*

 They’re sending me another set of galleys.**

Remember I told you they’re reissuing SUNSHINE?***  I hadn’t realised they were resetting it . . . although they may not be.  One of the little mysteries of the printing process is that merely LIFTING a set of pages from the drawer equivalent and laying them on the worktable equivalent to create a new edition with may somehow draw brand-new typos and other bewitching errors out of the swirling perilous publishing ether, I don’t know, I guess like foxgloves attract bees and hellhounds attract dirt and mayhem and too much magic attracts thunderstorms and earthquakes.† 

So any minute now there’s going to be a another thump at the cottage threshold and it’s going to be SUNSHINE.

And meanwhile this is me, having hysterics in the corner.

+ + +

Speaking of comfort food, which I should be, and of sorbet, sherbet and ice cream, which we have been, and of posting old favourite recipes that I can no longer eat because of dairy or some other banned substance, which I said Playing with Your Food was going to give me the excuse to do, I give you:

The Butterscotch Sauce.  There Is No Other.

 

½ c thin/single cream

1 c dark brown sugar††

1 tsp vanilla

three grains to a pinch of salt

2 T butter

Cook cream and butter gently in a bain marie/double boiler half an hour, stirring occasionally.  Add other ingredients and stir well.  Chill and then beat well.  It gets all lovely and gudgy and thick. . . .

            My addendum from thirty years ago reads:  If this lasts long, you’re sick.

I have no idea where the recipe came from originally.  It was given to me by the admirable woman who used to make it for me every time I fetched up on her threshold†††.  For civilised behaviour’s sake you glop it over ice cream–or cake;  it’s glorious over spice cake or gingerbread–I am/was quite capable of going after it naked with a spoon.‡  The week/fortnight I’m having I may do it again, and if my digestion kills me, then I won’t have to read proofs.‡‡

* * *

* The General All Purpose Cry of Anguish Header.  I’ve used it before.  I will use it again.  Life is like that.  Okay, my life is like that. 

** Or page proofs.  I’ve been thirty years in this business and I still don’t use the jargon correctly.  As far as I’m concerned, I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.  It’s typeset pages with my words on them and I have to read them.

*** With a woman in a red dress chained to a wall on the cover.  Sigh.  I’m told this will sell.  Well, I like the wall.

† True.  Ask any working mage.  And a real nuisance it is too.

†† Wimps may prefer light brown.  Feh.

††† Probably also with a thump.

‡ You can read that any way you like.  This is a very intense and passionate butterscotch sauce.

‡‡ Oh–no–bother it, I have quite a few books to finish before anything kills me.

Scrambled eggs

 When I unveiled the Five Heroines a few days ago I got distracted, as I am inclined to do, but I’d been thinking about a recipe to commemorate all that noble and continuing effort.  Chocolate, I hear you say.  Well . . . believe it or not I don’t think chocolate is the answer to all of life’s conundrums.*  And chocolate, while paradise,** isn’t sustaining in what I feel is the necessary manner here.  And I was thinking about nursery food and desert island food and what I want when I get back from bell ringing or when I crawl miserably out of bed at 6 am to go to a homeopathic seminar*** as well as cheap, easy, requires no prior planning, development, or exotic kitchen equipment, and hot.  Scrambled eggs.

            I realise that there are people who think that cooked eggs are creepy and icky, but I feel sorry for them, as I feel sorry for people who don’t like LORD OF THE RINGS, or walking, or dogs.  Or think that Stonehenge is boring, or Edward Burne-Jones’ paintings embarrassing or quaint.  I know what you’re talking about, but what you’re missing. . . .  I feel the same way about people who don’t like scrambled eggs. 

            I also wonder how many people don’t like cooked eggs, or scrambled eggs, because they’ve never had good ones.  Or have had the wrong kind:  I prefer them seriously gooey, but there are people who genuinely like them dry.  If you’re a gooey kid growing up in a dry household you probably converted to Cheerios† and take out pizza at the earliest opportunity and have never looked back.

            There are at least two controversies on the subject of scrambling your egg:  the first is about the addition of milk or other pollutants and the second is the employment of a bain marie.  Laurie Colwin has it right about bain maries:  ‘The loveliest scrambled eggs I have ever had were . . . by an Englishman who insisted that scrambled eggs should be made in a double boiler.  The result is a cross between a scrambled egg and a savory custard, and if you happen to have about forty minutes of free time some day it is certainly worth the effort. . . . Stir constantly. . . . Stir as in boiled custard until you feel either that your arm is going to fall off or that you are going to start to scream uncontrollably. . . .’  Yes.  Life is too short.  All you need is a heavy-bottomed pan and a low flame, and then you can scramble your eggs perfectly in less time than it takes to flip through the latest Peruvian Connection catalogue with your other hand. 

            But the question of milkUgh!  No less a personage than Julia Child puts heavy cream in her scrambled eggs.††  And I say, so much for Julia Child.  People keep telling you to add milk or cream because this makes your eggs softer and, yes, sure, you put some liquid into something and it becomes soggier.  But in this case at an intolerable cost to the texture.  Properly cooked scrambled eggs melt in the mouth.  Scrambled eggs with milk–or, worse, cream–are slightly sproingy.  Slightly too coherent, too muscular, because of what happens to milk when it cooks.  The Joy of Cooking, which I admit I do not love †††, gives ‘3 T cream’ as optional, but in the instructions it says ‘When the eggs begin to thicken, break them into shreds . . .’  Shreds?  You only get shreds if you’ve put cream in.  Eggs do not shred.  Cabbage shreds.

            The ex-sainted Delia gets it about as right as anyone:  http://www.deliaonline.com/cookery-school/how-to/how-to-scramble-eggs,9,AR.html

But in her current incarnation she’s probably using powdered eggs from a packet anyway, and I don’t want to know.

            So this is how I make scrambled eggs:  first, something that I feel is undervalued in the literature, get the size of your pan right.  It makes all the difference in the homogeneity of the finished product.  I have a tiny iron skillet–about five inches–for two eggs;  I use the omelette pan, which is seven, for three.  And I think it’s piffling mystique-making to say you must have a dedicated scrambled eggs pan that you use for nothing else.  The iron skillet, for example, is my pine-nut and sesame-seed roasting pan.  I also use more butter than I’ve seen anyone else recommend:  I won’t tell you you’re doing it wrong if you want to use less, but it’s another of those missing-out things.‡  Too much is great.

            Melt about a tablespoon of butter in your pan–put it on the heat only just till the butter starts to run and then take it off or it will get too hot.  I beat my eggs in the frying pan, not a separate bowl‡‡, which means the pan can’t be too hot or the eggs will start to cook before they’re mixed.  Also for lazy absent minded sluts it’s a useful back up to not having the pan too hot when you do start cooking them, because you don’t want that either.  Use a fork;  beat till blended.  Then put back on the heat and start stirring.  I use a wooden spatula for greater scraping prowess.  This is the main thing:  keep those eggs moving.  That’s how you get them cooked evenly so every mouthful is as divine as the last.  You can stir fairly leisurely till your spatula starts picking up solids on its business edge:  then raise your stirring speed and possibly even take your attention off the fascinating Peruvian Connection catalogue. ‡‡‡   As soon as the eggs are almost but not quite the consistency you want, whip them off the heat, but keep stirring, and add another wodge of butter–okay, I use nearly another tablespoon;  this is both why I have to walk hellhounds and why I don’t eat breakfast, because this is my idea of the perfect scrambled eggs, and having known perfection, I’d rather just miss out dull–and keep on keeping stirring, because you want the new butter to work its way into every interstice:  this is what stops the cooking process and leaves you with eggs of the precise degree of gloopiness, or ungloopiness, you like best.

            It does take a little time and experimentation to be able to do it right every go.  Oh, and, possible note of warning to other lazy absent-minded sluts:  the thing I still forget to do occasionally is to have that final wodge of butter already on the knife in easy reach before you put the eggs on to begin cooking.  You lose precious seconds–stirring like mad, of course–groping for it after the fact.

            And having learnt to scramble eggs, you can also now make the perfect omelette with only the minorest of adjustments.

* * *

* Yes.  Conundrums.  Why would five normal, sane . . . uh.  Wait a minute.  Why would five regular readers of the Hellhounds and Roses^ blog who are no doubt otherwise normal, sane, functioning members of society, want to run a recipe blog when there are so many more interesting things they could be spending time on.  At least three of them, for example, live within range of a change ringing bell tower. 

^ Even my piano’s name is just a fancy classical Greek way of calling her Rosie

** No doubt the inconvenient tendency to melt in contact with human flesh, which means it is inclined to get distributed all over your keyboard not to mention your shirtfront, has to do with what usually happens when something escapes Plato’s cave:  the ideal version is slightly contaminated by mortal reality.  In the Elysian Fields you can eat chocolate with your fingers and keep typing.  Oh yes and your battery never runs down, in the Elysian Fields.  Here in the humdrum world I stay plugged into the mains as much as possible, and I eat my chocolate with a fork.  Since I’m always typing.

*** The mere shock of having breakfast is almost enough

† I was just looking Cheerios up on Wiki to make sure they still exist–I don’t eat breakfast, how would I know?–and I observe you can now get them cheese flavoured.  Ewwwwwwww.  Has General Mills no shame?

†† She also tells you to hold a spoonful of raw egg back, and stir it in at the end, after you’ve taken the pan off the heat, to make the result creamier.  Yuck.  I don’t want an oiling of raw egg, I want the entire dish to be equally soft and squidgy.

††† Which will no doubt cause many people to feel the pity for me I feel for people who believe Tolkien should have stuck to his translations from Anglo-Saxon.

‡ My usual caveat here about salted butter.  If you’re using up to 2T salted butter, you don’t need salt.  If you’re using a couple of teaspoons of salted butter, you probably do need salt.  And of course if you’re using unsalted butter. . . .

‡‡ Lazy SlutTM, it’s in the rulebook.

‡‡‡ Do you suppose anyone ever wears the denim skirt with the ragged hem and the train?

Playing with Your Food

 We’re still sort of figuring out what we’re doing with the recipe blog (or the Five Heroines are trying to figure out what I’m doing) and we should have been more emphatic about this to begin with, which is to say I should have been.  Sorry.  But the idea is supposed to be that recipes are still initially posted to the main blog, here, Days in the Life, not the recipe blog, even if you want to respond to or gallop on from an old recipe you found there.  If you want to cite an old recipe as inspiration, that’s fine.  It’ll send us all back to the old recipe too.*  Having them all come here first is chiefly for my convenience, I admit, but the bulk of the work of this blog does still fall on me** and I can use all the convenience I get.  And I don’t want to miss anything.  It also gives me a (brief) opportunity to use a new recipe as part of a post, although the Five Heroines are so disgracefully on top of this that recipes go up in PWYF while I’m still reading the ingredients list and wondering what the funny noise under the kitchen table is.***  I may indeed go so far as to post any comments I make over there here too, mainly as a time thing again:  I don’t have time to write any more comments, unless I get some extra use out of them.†  So, anyway, post here, please, and then the Five Heroines will copy it and hang it next door.

            And I was going to talk about scrambled eggs, which is a Perfect Food, but I think I’ll save it till tomorrow.  I will, however, note:  http://lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/food/recipe/0,,2265305,00.html#article_continue

How is the rest of the world, or anyway the rest of the world as demonstrated by this blog’s readers, on Delia (Smith)?  She’s god, over here, or rather the Great Mum Goddess.  She taught the UK to cook–several decades ago now, I think, before cooking from scratch turned into the latest fashion accessory.††  If there hadn’t been a Delia there might not have been a Nigella (Lawson), a Jamie (Oliver), a Hugh (Fearnley-Whittingstall:  no, really), all of whom are huge over here (and for all of whom I have varying amounts of use).   But her latest is called How to Cheat at Cooking, and since I haven’t read it I’m not allowed to have any opinion, but–mmmMMMmmph–I’m not going to read it because I’m not the least interested in cooking from tins.  Lazy SlutTM is all about streamlining, sure, but I still go to the greengrocer and the butcher, not the canned goods shelves at the local monstermarket. 

And:

http://lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/food/story/0,,2279712,00.html#article_continue

How to Cook without Recipes by Glynn Christian, which sounds like it might be very interesting–even if I think I could have gone through life quite happily without knowing that pineapple and black pepper have a strong affinity–and which is almost what a lot of us here do already, but he lost me pretty comprehensively with this line:  ‘. . . Umami [a perhaps somewhat controversial fifth taste after sweet, sour, bitter and salt] is the rich, stock-like taste that makes it better to be human than bovine or leonine or anything else:  it is mankind’s ultimate reward, and perhaps his objective, for getting out of the trees, because umami makes roasted meats more delicious than raw.’  There are so many things wrong with this statement it’s hard to know where to begin.  With the ‘mankind’ and ‘his’, perhaps, since I’m way too old and have lived through far too many decades of embattled feminism to put up with this any more:  ‘humankind’ and ‘our’ would have worked perfectly well here.  And I’d probably let the inaccuracy of ‘getting out of trees’ pass if I weren’t already bristling to twice my size.  But one of the standard ways of obtaining the ‘umami’ flavour, from the culture that gave us the word, is miso, which is fermented soybeans (or rice or barley).  And even those of us who eat meat may, in fact, like it raw.†††  Back before the latest 1,000,000 health scares about one thing or another I used to get through a lot of steak tartare.‡   Which brings me to my culminating condemnation which is, so, as one might say, you meathead, what about vegetarians?  Are they still in trees because they haven’t discovered the rapture of dead roast flesh?

* * *

* I’m really cross I forgot to mention, the other night, while gambolling among the apricots, that Susan of Athens’ apple pie recipe contains apricots. 

** Well duh.  Also, speaking of duh, I will grandly declare that at least a tiny, fractional part of my extreme idiocy concerning computers and the net is because I haven’t got time to settle down and figure it out from first principles.  Well, third or fourth principles, helpfully channelled through some soothing filter like Computers for Dummies.  Blog entries are words:  I can do those.^  I’ve had kind of a bad day doing blog admin, and I’m feeling even more incapable than usual.

^ Speaking of the themes of Days in the Life:

  • (a) lack of TIME
  • (b) techno moronity
  • (c) footnotes

That about covers it.  (d) Subgroups are headed with the category Hellhounds.  As I sit here I can hear them mulling over new villainies. 

*** A beta version new villainy being tested to failure.

† For example, someone was worrying that her egg white was refusing to beat stiff for the cream-cheese sauce for my Hot Water Gingerbread.^  You don’t need meringue-quality egg white for the cream cheese sauce:  the weight of the cream cheese is going to overwhelm all those fragile little air bubbles anyway.  You want what lightness and volume you can get, but don’t fret yourself.  AJLR, very properly, says that any speck of fat or protein will stop egg whites from beating up well, and recommends applying a slice of lemon on your instruments of destruction before use.  Yeep.  I’ve only ever used a paper towel–or, if you’re feeling environmentally friendly, a supremely clean^ dish towel–to wipe everything stringently till the varnish^^ starts coming off.  Slices of lemon require prior planning:  you have to have a lemon on hand.  Then you have to cut it:  which means washing the knife and the chopping board afterward.^^^  No, no, no, I’m not starting a new trademarked domestic science philosophy called Lazy Slut Ethics for nothing.+

^ Which, if you’re too environmental, you don’t have.  I rang the washing machine man a few days ago because I’m tired of tiny flecks of dirt on all my clean clothing, especially the ones that aren’t dirt-coloured to begin with, which is most of them.  It would be impractical to have a second washing machine for muddy jeans, All Stars, and dog towels.  The washing machine man said there was nothing wrong with my washing machine, that the problem was that I washed at too low a temperature with wimpy detergent.  Sigh.   Oh yes and when’s the last time I ran it empty on boil?  I may have to learn to buy lemons regularly.

^ And if you’re cooking in, on or with anything varnished, I recommend you step slowly away from the Chippendale sideboard, and go sign yourself up for the nearest outreach class in remedial water boiling and essential wooden spoon brandishment. 

^^ We are assuming the possession of Basic Knife Skills, and that there will be no blood.  Trust me, egg whites don’t like blood at all.

+ http://www2.xlibris.com/bookstore/bookdisplay.asp?bookid=28705  Hmmm.  I wish it gave you a sample recipe in the excerpt.  Oh, and I’ve just Lost All Control and ordered an OP copy of Peg Bracken’s seminal I Hate to Cookbook.  I’ll let you know.

†† I mean, thank god.  Thank the Great Mum Goddess.  The UK came to it late enough.  As someone who moved over here quite clear in her determination not to live a life of mushy peas and phosphorescent kippers^ I am very grateful that Delia had had her first best seller by then.

^ I like kippers.  But not the ones that glow in the dark.

††† Kipling’s story The Mark of the Beast has always seriously scared the begeezus out of me.

‡ The basis of the name is the legend that nomadic Tatar people of the Central Asian steppes did not have time to cook and thus placed meat underneath their horses’ saddles.[citation needed] The meat would be tenderised by the end of the journey.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steak_tartare  

EWWWWWW. -Ed.

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