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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Simplicity

We had my parents over for dinner over the weekend, and since we’d bothered to actually clear the dining table of all the various bits of mail and whatnot, I felt an actual centerpiece was called for to make it a true dining experience. The nonconformist azalea came to the rescue:

Simple, but elegant

Simple, but elegant

I rather like how the end of the branch was bare of any leaves or buds. It gave it a kind of ikebana air (but without the skill or time real ikebana takes.) The vase and vinegar cruet are both from my grandmother’s house. The flowers are now starting to wilt, but this has been making me happy all week anyway, not to mention encouraging me to eat more meals at the table like an adult.

Here was the whole meal:

Mmmmmm, dinner

Mmmmmm, dinner

That’s Caesar salad, Mark’s own version of potato leek soup, and the rosemary-thyme bread from the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day cookbook.

In other news, I really need to get some art on the dining room walls.

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When I was at the beach last month, we stopped in at a bookstore to browse and I discovered that Susan Wittig Albert has started a new mystery series. Albert is one of my favorite mystery authors, and while I know I originally started reading her for her modern China Bayles series, I have since discovered that I appreciate her even more for her historical mysteries. She and her husband co-authored a Victorian/Edwardian mystery series under the pseudonym Robin Paige that were simply amazing, but unfortunately that series was brought to a close because of the sheer amount of research the authors found themselves having to do, because they incorporated new real historical figures of significance into each book. It was that dedication to research that made the books so good, so I understand why they felt the series had to end, but I was still sad. That series did inspire another historical series, this time under Albert’s name, starring Beatrix Potter, who had appeared briefly in one of the Robin Paige books. I’ve enjoyed these, and the insight they offer into Potter’s life while still being fun fiction is lovely, but they didn’t grab me as much as the Paige books.

Now, though, Albert has started an entirely new series, this time drawing more on her gardening knowledge, frequently on display in the China Bayles series, but now put in the context of a Depression-era gardening club in the small town of Darling, Alabama, who call themselves the Darling Dahlias. The women of the club are all strong-willed and inquisitive individuals, so if something is happening in town, they’re going to find a way to solve it. I particularly like the president of the club, Lizzy Lacy, who often takes a leading role. Though it’s clear she is entering “old maid” territory to most people, she feels like she is only just discovering how to live her life and refuses to give up her independence. She is the local attorney’s secretary and recently managed to buy her own house, enabling her to finally move away from the smothering embrace of her mother. Her best friend is Verna Tidwell, an opinionated and fiercely inquisitive woman with a passion for detective magazines, who, when widowed after just 5 years of marriage, discovered she wasn’t terribly upset about now finding herself living on her own and now pretty much entirely runs the county clerk’s office while the official clerk is out fishing. Other members of the club include the proprietress of the local diner, who also happens to run the switchboard; the owner of the local beauty parlor; and the woman running the local boarding house for older women of modest means, just to mention a few. They’re all described in such wonderful detail that they feel like real friends, not only to each other, but also to the reader.

The back of each book also features period-appropriate household tips and recipes. At first I was skeptical, because this has become such a common feature in any cozy mystery having the tiniest tangential relationship to food, but in these books, they actually manage to feel perfectly tied in. The household tips are from Lizzy Lacy’s gardening column for the local newspaper, and the recipes are all ones mentioned by the club members as ones they’d like to share with each other. Even better, given the Southern Depression-era setting, they’re actually recipes the reader can easily put together with normal kitchen staples, which is how I got inspired to make lemon chess squares last week.

Lemon chess squares from the Darling Dahlias

Lemon chess squares from the Darling Dahlias

Having not made any type of lemon bar from scratch before, I have much more respect for how very unhealthy these things are, which is, of course, why they are so delicious. I’d tell you the recipe, but I had to return the book to the library yesterday, so you’ll just have to read the series for yourself! There have only been two published so far, and I can’t wait for more. Fortunately, the third book should be out in September. I really do highly recommend them. They make me wish I could loan them to my grandmothers and then talk to them about how realistic things seem. I think they both would have like the ladies of the Darling Dahlias.

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Yesterday I went to a baby shower for one of the other women at the karate school, so I whipped up a temari earlier in the week to take as my gift. (Temari are often given as baby presents in Japan.) Since she’s having a boy, I chose the pattern “Emperor” from Barb Suess’s first book. I wasn’t sure how she’d want to display it, so I put a braided hanger cord on it that she can remove later if she wants to.

Emperor, front view

Emperor, front view

Emperor, with cord

Emperor, with cord

On the same day I finished the temari, I also decided to make cookies. I guess I was in sort of a color theme, because they came out nicely coordinated with the temari.

Oatmeal Scotchies

Oatmeal Scotchies

That was just the first pan done. There were a lot more in the end, I assure you. Mmmm, cookies. (Those are just the Oatmeal Scotchies recipe from the back of the butterscotch chips package, if you’re feeling inspired to make your own.)

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The Importance of Cake

A conversation from last night:

Me: Where do you want to go to dinner?
Mark: I think I want to go to [Japanese restaurant].
Me: Oh, okay.
Mark: Do you not want to? We could go somewhere else.
Me: Well… it’s just, it’s your birthday, and I think I should get to eat cake!
Mark: I see. It is my birthday, so you should get cake?
Me: …yes.

We went to the Japanese place. I got a fried banana instead.

Happiest of birthdays, Mark!

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Our first full day in Tokyo wasn’t very action-packed for me, since I was waiting at the hotel for Kamiyama-sensei and Tomo to come, but that was a nice change after feeling like I needed to be doing something ever since we had landed at the airport. When I woke up that morning, I decided to go to the Starbucks I had noticed around the corner at the apparent entrance to the Sunshine City mega-mall. The mall wasn’t open yet, but the Starbucks was in a little semi-external annex, so I sat at the bar in the window to eat my breakfast. After a while of staring out the window idly at the crowd gathered on the terrace there, it occurred to me that 1) it was sort of strange that there were so many people on the terrace when the mall didn’t seem to really be open, 2) I was perhaps the only female person sitting on either side of that window, and 3) all the predominantly young men out there appeared to be reading and quite actively discussing manga. My best guess is that new issues came out on Sunday morning. Either that or there was some sort of special event that day, but there didn’t seem to be any signs up or anything.

I wandered back to the hotel once I’d finished eating. In my room, where I spent the remainder of the morning, since it was the only phone number I could be called at, (I hadn’t realized what a pain being in Japan without a cell phone would be,) I caught up on some of my random Japanese TV watching. I watched some US sports, golf and baseball as I recall, amusingly being broadcast live at a much different time of day than I was used to; a cooking competition a la the Food Network, which featured a group of candy makers who competing in challenges to make extremely realistic non-candy foods out of candy (pizza, eel donburi, a hamburger, etc.) that had to look realistic even on the inside once the judges started to eat them; an apparently live broadcast of the Emperor and Empress planting trees in a ceremony somewhere; a show with two go masters playing each other with commentators giving in-depth analysis of their every move and what else they might have possibly chosen to do.

At about mid-day, Kamiyama-sensei and Tomo arrived. They elected for us to eat in one of the hotel’s restaurants because had gotten a lot hotter since I had gone outside that morning for coffee. That was fine with me, since we ended up talking for 3 hours anyway and it wouldn’t have mattered where we were. We did, of course, have soba, and it was okay, but I think we all agreed that it wasn’t nearly as good as the restaurant where we had planned to go if I had been able to come to Sendai. (sniff, sniff)

(more…)

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Setting a Good Example

Tonight, Mark and I went out to dinner on the way home from work, and experienced perhaps the most scrupulously polite service I have ever encountered. We owe this all to Tim.

Tim was our completely silent trainee waiter, assigned to follow our waitress around and not even get to hold extra plates while she passed things out. In an effort to show him a sterling example of table waiting excellence, we were “sir”-ed and “ma’am”-ed at every opportunity, had more options presented to us for the customization of our entrees than I have ever heard of at this establishment, and got to hear the phrase “Please excuse me while I reach across you” each and every time we were served a plate or had one taken away.

Despite Mark’s insistence that it would be good for Tim, I encouraged him to refrain from making somewhat shocking conversational shots at the waiters in his usual effort to knock them off script. May Tim soon take his place along side all the other fine fully-fledged waitpersons of that illustrious establishment.

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A Waste of Good Chocolate

Yesterday, Mark and I went to the mall. Our purpose was to allow Mark to torture the clerks at the Williams-Sonoma story by having them open up the fancy knife case and then stand there while he tested the chef’s knife from each of the 8 different good cooking knife sets, overanalyzing each one with regard to its weight, balance, handle construction, and hold comfort. Out loud. At length. (This is Mark, after all.) And then he typed notes about them into his Blackberry and didn’t buy anything. Time well spent.

After accomplishing this goal, we rewarded ourselves, or rather, he rewarded me (and incidentally himself) with hot chocolate from the Godiva store. Mmmm, Godiva. But when the woman making the hot chocolate for us discovered that she had made too much and it wouldn’t all fit in out two cups, she dumped the rest of it down the sink. Godiva hot chocolate. Down the sink. It’s not like it’s coffee or something, with sludge at the bottom; it’s good chocolate all the way down!

I actually felt my jaw drop in shock, and Mark burst out laughing at the look on my face. “You look like she just kicked a puppy!” He continued laughing so hard, the poor woman thought he was high, or drunk, or perhaps just crazy. She was very apologetic after he explained, which he did after my efforts to make him be quiet and act like a dignified person failed, and I suspect she was relieved when we left.

The hot chocolate was excellent. I wish I’d had more.

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