29 July 2011

Alchemy With Lime

Do you know Ilina? She's a feisty cocktail inventor, a fellow homonym aficionado, and a left-minded rabble-rouser. I recently got her attention with an en passsant remark on Twitter (or Facebook, who can remember?) and ended up doing a guest post for her 5:00 Fridays series. Looking for drinks inspiration? Check in with her every Friday.

I love a good gin and tonic, but what I've come to realize is that it's all about the lime. I don't much care what brand of gin you use, I prefer the tonic freshly opened so it's not flat, but whatever you do, give me more lime!

Not too long ago, I happened upon a recipe on the Times website for a "better mixer". I wasn't looking for a better mixer but the photo, involving what was clearly a lot of lime, intrigued me. I immediately put 18 limes on the shopping list.

I washed the limes. I carefully shaved off the green peel with a vegetable peeler. I squeezed the limes. I measured the juice and added sugar and stirred in the peel. I let it sit overnight. I strained out the peel. I waited another day, until I was quivering with anticipation as I got out the cocktail shaker.

We mixed up a batch using a 1:1 ratio of gin to cordial. We served it up, over ice cubes, in martini glasses. It was thoroughly delightful, if a tiny bit on the sweet side.

For the next one, I got out the tiny angled measuring cup - which is less cute but more useful than a traditional jigger - and we tried 2 ounces of gin to an ounce of cordial. That was a little too heavy on the gin for my taste.

The third version was the charm: an ounce and a half of gin plus an ounce of cordial made the perfect balance of sweet, tangy, potent. It might even be better than a gin and tonic.

The cordial is amazing. It's just lime juice and sugar, in a 1:1 ratio, with the peels infused into it, but somehow those simple ingredients transform into magic, unctous, viscous, pale green magic.

Lime Cordial, adapted from the New York Times

10-12 limes

Wash limes in warm water and towel them dry. Shave off the green peel with a vegetable peeler.

Cut limes in half and juice them. Measure the juice. Measure an equal quantity of sugar. (If you have two cups of lime juice, measure out two cups of sugar.)

In a glass jar (like a 1 quart mason jar), add sugar to juice and stir until fully dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Drop the peels in and mash them around with a wooden spoon to extract some of the lime oil. Cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. When ready, strain the cordial off from the peels into a clean mason jar or stoppered bottle. Put it back in the fridge for another day, to cure, before using. (I got about 3 cups of cordial out of 2 cups of juice from 11 limes. Your quantities will depend on the size and plumpness of your limes.)

Perfect Gimlet

3 ounces lime cordial
2 ounces gin

Shake together and serve over ice.

Perfect Lime Soda

3 ounces lime cordial
8 ounces selzer

Serve over ice.

28 July 2011

How to Find Anything

Finally, I’ve had that parenting moment where I felt I’d turned into my mother.

We were going someplace, and the girl wanted to bring her Harry Potter book, but she couldn’t find it.

Where’d you have it last?, I asked.

Well, it was in the other room, but Daddy must have moved it.

Look again, I said.

She padded into the other room, and called back to me but it’s not here.

I followed her in, swiveled my head 90 degrees and spotted the book on the counter by the television. And I had this flashback to my childhood, when I could never find the screwdriver / buttons / baling wire / glue / sweater / cake pan my mother sent me off to look for, and she could always find everything. It’s the omniscience of the mother, yes?

26 July 2011

Use Real Chicken Broth, People

Okay, since I didn't win a free trip to BlogHer with my recipe using Knorr's new shelf-stable concentrated chicken stock, I'm not biting the hand that feeds me when I tell you that the stuff is rather nasty and not worth cooking with.

Should I start at the beginning? Sometime last month, BlogHer set up a competition. 200 bloggers got samples of Knorr Homestyle Chicken Stock, a product about to be released in the United States, to use in the creation of a recipe. Recipes were submitted, 8 people were chosen; there'll be a cook-off at the BlogHer conference next week. I entered, out of curiosity, and because I do like to cook and I thought it might be fun to create a recipe to toss into the stockpot.

A package containing four little tubs of stock arrived by mail. We examined the label:

Water, salt, modified palm oil, autolyzed yeast extract, sugar, carrots, chicken fat, lactic acid, leeks, maltodextrin, xanthan gum, potato starch, garlic, chicken powder, parsley, locust bean gum, malic acid, thiamine hydrochloride, natural flavor, disodium phosphate, ascorbic acid, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, caramel color, succinic acid, spice, mustard oil, beta caratene, coconut oil.

Let me tell you something. To make chicken stock, take the carcass of the roasted chicken you had for dinner, fling it in a pot, cover it with water, and boil. Strain off the bones, and put the stock in the fridge. When it's cold, scrape the fat off the top. Divide it up into 1 cup plastic containers and stick it in the freezer. DONE. Two ingredients. Hardly any work.

We forged ahead, disheartened by the long list of unpronounceable ingredients. I peeled the foil off the top of a little container, and sniffed. Cat food! It smells exactly like cat food! I lovingly made the meatballs, with a package of ground free-range, organic chicken from the philosophical butcher. I harvested herbs from my garden, and used an onion from my CSA. And then I poured disodium this and disodium that in the pan around the patties and put them in the oven. And I used the rest of the gums and acids to make the couscous. And I cried a little in my heart, because I was selling my soul for a chance at a free plane ticket and a free hotel room and a free conference pass.

We ate the chicken balls and couscous, with cats on the prowl. They thought it smelled like cat food.

And I submitted my recipe, and I didn't win. I'm kind of relieved, because really? I couldn't have lived with myself otherwise.

Try my meatballs. The trick is that you brown them on top of the stove, and then you finish them in the oven. The stock reduces a bit, making a little sauce for your couscous. Substitute rice or orzo, or just serve the meatballs with some nice crusty bread to sop up the sauce. (Oh, if you'd like some cooking photos with acerbic commentary, click on that picture of the ingredients - it'll take you to a Flickr set.)

And remember what Michael Pollan said: Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.

Chicken Balls with Couscous

4 T. olive oil (divided)
1 medium onion, minced
1 T. minced fresh tarragon
2 T. minced fresh parsley (divided)
¾ cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1.75 lbs ground chicken
1 T. kosher salt
1 t. ground pepper
3 cups homemade chicken stock
1 T. butter
1 ½ cups instant couscous
  1. Put 2 T. olive oil in a large oven-proof skillet. Add onion. Cook onion over fairly high heat for about 4 minutes, stirring often, until onion is softened and translucent. (Yes, start with a cold pan, it’ll be fine.) Add tarragon and warm through, about 1 minute.
  2. Put chicken in a large bowl. Add panko, 1 T. parsley, salt and pepper. Scrape onion/tarragon mixture from skillet into bowl. Mix everything together gently, with your hands.
  3. Form mixture into seven slightly flattened balls, and put on a cookie sheet to rest. They’ll be a bit smaller than a tennis ball. Set aside for about half an hour, and clean up the kitchen or supervise some homework – but don’t wash that skillet you cooked the onions in.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  5. Add the remaining 2 T. olive oil to that big oniony skillet, and put it on the stove to heat until the oil is shimmery. If the skillet’s not big enough for all seven patties to cook without crowding, work in two batches. Cook the patties for three minutes on each side.
  6. Turn the pan off, pour 1 cup of the chicken stock around the patties, and pop the pan in the oven.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes. [Another built-in pause! Make a salad, feed the cat and go water the herbs on the back porch.]
  8. When the chicken is almost done (meaning, the timer’s about to go off), bring the remaining 2 cups of stock to boil in a small saucepan. When the chicken timer goes off, add the butter and couscous to the saucepan, put the lid on it, and turn off the heat. Set the timer for another 5 minutes. The patties and the couscous will be done at the same time. Fluff up the couscous with a fork, and mix in the remaining 1 T. parsley.
  9. Serve patties with couscous on the side, with some of the now reduced chicken stock drizzled over both. Add a vegetable and you’ve got a meal.
Total time, about 90 minutes. Active time, about 30 minutes. In other words, you can do other stuff while you’re making dinner.

This will serve anywhere from four to seven people, depending on how hungry and/or greedy they are. In my house, the seven year old was so hungry that she needed two patties and more couscous and all of the ketchup.

Eat real food, people.

23 July 2011

Five Years

Remember my oh-so-irritating list of things I was going to do before I turned fifty?

Well, I finally finished another one of them.

Yup - I got printed books for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. (Apologies for the awful glare besmirched photo - the books look better in person.)

I started blogging on the 23rd of July in the year 2006, with a post about the inimitable Julia Child and butter, which means that those five books actually represent four full years and about half of another. It's a lot of words, words that I didn't know were going to come pouring out the way they have, words that I wanted to keep in a tangible form. I mean, what's going to happen to my blog when Al Gore invents the thing that comes after the internet?

After futzing around with several different services that would suck all the posts in and print them, I ended up using Blog2Print because it was by far the easiest of the choices. While their service isn't as granularly editable as, say, Blurb, I cranked out the tweaking necessary to get my five books done in under an hour. They offer free shipping, which is supposed to take weeks; I had my books in days. (Yes, you can pay for faster shipping, but I found it unnecessary.) And I'm really happy with how they came out - it was a good ratio of time input to product output.

In fact, I'm so happy with the books that I got in touch with the company and asked if they'd give me a discount code for you all, my readers. And they did. If you feel the need to print out some or all of your blog for posterity and grandchildren, go to Blog2Print and use coupon code b2pmagpie15 - it'll get you 15% off between now and August 23rd. Call it my anniversary present to you.

Disclosure: Nope, Blog2Print didn't pay me to tell you any of this. There is, however, an affiliate link in that there url - if you click over from here and make a book there, I'll get a little referrer fee. Is that okay with you?

21 July 2011


You know how whenever your kid has a sleepover, you wonder whether everything will be okay? Are you going to get a call in the middle of the night, please come get your whimpering mess of protoplasm? Are you going to have to call someone else’s mother, your child is scared and wants to go home?

I settled the two little girls on the floor in their sleeping bags, with pillows and stuffed animals deployed, and read them An Awesome Book (which is indeed awesome and you should run right out and buy several copies now). Then I went downstairs, watched an episode of Weeds, and went back up to bed. The little girls were sound asleep.

I was reading, and still awake, when the little girl who isn’t my daughter came sobbing into my room, I can’t sleep, I want to go home. I tried comforting her, futilely, and called her mama. They came and got her, but we left her stuff and her sleeping bag for rounding up in the morning, not wanting to wake up the still sleeping child of mine.

I went to sleep.

Sometime later, who knows when, the little girl who’s mine came sobbing into my room I can’t find her. She climbed into my bed with her little cold feet and told me she’d been all over the house looking for her friend who wasn’t in her sleeping bag. Why’d she go home? Why’d she leave her bag? Why was she scared? Can she come back for breakfast?

All was well in the light of day, but these are the things they don’t tell you about.

19 July 2011

$5 plus a half hour =

Do you have any idea what these are?

If I hadn't seen the sign at the Greenmarket, I wouldn't have recognized them, at least not from just looking at them. Despite a lifetime of eating chickpeas in various forms, I'd never seen fresh ones before yesterday.

So I bought a pint, for the rather spendy sum of $5. I quizzed my husband when I got home - he didn't recognize them either, and guessed they were soybeans, which the pods slightly resemble. But these pods are smaller, and only have one or two chickpeas inside.

I set to work shelling them - if shell is what you do to chickpeas. Maybe you shuck them, husk them, peel them? (Maybe you call them garbanzos.) Shelling the pint took me a half an hour, and resulted in 3/4 of a cup of little fresh chickpeas, looking kind of like wrinkled peas.

The farmer had said to boil them for a five minutes, so I did that, and tossed them with a pinch of coarse salt and a drizzle of olive oil. And they were seriously good, toothier than a pea, less mealy than a dried cooked chickpea.

But $5 and a half hour for a small side dish for two adults? I'm unlikely to buy them again.

18 July 2011

Monday Mincement

Is it because I'm someone's mother that I feel the urge to tell strangers to tie their shoelaces?

It is annoying the hell out of me that just because I engaged in online commerce to obtain new little yellow plastic flowers for our hummingbird feeder, I keep seeing banner ads for the little yellow plastic flower company. Time to scrub the cookies out of my browser.

Why does the bank waste paper by sending a whole page of "how to reconcile your account"? Is that some archaic law? Don't people know how to reconcile their accounts? And if they don't, does anyone really think they're going to start because of an extra piece of paper in the envelope?

This morning, between the subway and the office, I saw a kid in a stroller. Yeah, yeah, so what? The nanny was pushing the stroller with one hand, using the other to talk to her phone (read, paying no attention to the kid). The kid was leaning back with her feet up on the bar, using the stroller like a La-Z-Boy. In one hand, she held a sippy cup, in the other, an iPad (read, paying no attention to the out of doors). Yeah, kid was watching movies on her iPad, while her nanny talked on the phone. I think they should have stayed home.

15 July 2011

Making Travel Plans

Back in the olden days, if you wanted to go somewhere, you went to the travel agent and bought a plane ticket, and when you got to the airport, you got your seat assignment (without having to take your shoes off first, thank you very much). Oh and there was red carbon paper involved.

Nowadays, it's search Orbitz-Travelocity-Peapod-Amazon-Priceline-Kayak for the best price, unless you want to use points, in which case you toggle back and forth between the airline site and the credit card where you've racked up said points, and hope that you get the points transferred and the ticket "bought" before your reservation expires. And if you're really lucky, you don't have enough points for all three tickets, so you have to use points for two and hard cold cash for the third, and then you end up with separate confirmation numbers, and when you want to try and get seats together for at least two of the three people because one of them is seven and probably should be sitting next to a parent on the plane, you can't for the life of you manage to do that because the only seats that appear to be available are single seats in the middle.


So you call the airline, and they helpfully tell you to just show up early at the airport, which is code for "your seven year old is going to be sitting by herself, sucker".

Then you politely turn to Twitter.

And your husband texts back nicely landed on one foot.

I'm still kind of amazed that it worked as well as it did. Of course, if I get to the airport and they've shoved things around so we're in three single middle seats, I might have to have a cow.

14 July 2011

Telling Wally Tales

Remember Wally? The guy who played the Mendelssohn at my wedding on the contra-bass clarinet? And who once jumped up and down on a peanut butter sandwich?

Here's a picture of him that turned up in a pile just recently - an old picture, not at all new. He'd been renovating a bathroom, and is very fond of oak furniture, so someone - possibly my mother - gave him that nice oak toilet seat for Christmas, for the new bathroom. Of course he had to wear it. It's kind of like how when you get new underpants for Christmas you wear them on your head? Well, we do, anyway.

Wally and toilet seats and my family go way back. Sometime not too long after we'd moved into our house, there was a plumbing emergency of the never-flush-tampons-again variety. There was a blockage in the sewer line, and my father thought it would be a good idea to open the clean-out plug in the cellar, at the point where the sewer line exits the house. It would have been hunky dory, except that there was three stories of sewage on the wrong side of the plug - which came pouring out when he opened it. Yeah. After a frantic phone call, Wally came up the hill wearing a WWII gas mask and carrying a camp toilet - one of those contraptions that's a toilet seat on legs with a plastic bag attached. Somewhere, I think there's a picture of Wally wearing that toilet seat.

He's good people, that Wally.

12 July 2011

Second Grade Poetry In My Heart

My heart is as happy as a cute cuddly kitten.
My heart is as angry as a stampede of buffalo.
My heart is as sad as when Slinky and YoYo died.
My heart is happy like a puppy.
My heart is angry like squawking geese.
My heart is sad like a rain storm.

(Yes, I'm still putting away the piles of school paperwork.)

11 July 2011

Trail of Thought

Sputter, sputter

A postcard came in the mail – addressed to the seven year old – offering "pre-planning" at a nearby cemetery. Yeah, like she’s going to buy a "clean, dry, above ground crypt" anytime soon. The card included a proactive disclaimer: If this information reaches you at a time of sickness or loss, please accept our apology. All well and good, but where’s the apology for making the seven year old’s mother apoplectic about the state of direct mail lists and the attendant waste of natural resources?

Bubble, bubble

Also in the mail, the same seven year old got a thank you note, for a birthday present, from a friend. It was a homemade fill-in-the-blank card, dear _________, thank you for the _________. At the bottom, though, the friend had written in big letters: FREEZE THE TOURIST. I scratched my head, my husband scratched his head, we were both completely baffled. The girl child read it a couple of times, and then lit up: FREEZATORUS! It is, of course, their rendition of the freezing charm from Harry Potter, which the girl and her friends are all presently obsessed with.

Dollar, dollar

A couple of weeks ago, in a fit of trying to raise money to buy a new American Girl doll, the seven year old asked "Mama, if I read all seven Harry Potter books this summer, will you give me a dollar a book?" I'm not really in favor of paying kids to read books, but a dollar a book for all seven rather long and complicated Harry Potter books? Yes, indeed. She's midway through book two. She was supposed to be getting cash for cleaning the cats' litter boxes too, but has been somewhat less diligent about that. Funny that. I'd rather read a book than scoop poop too.

Kitten, kitten

07 July 2011

To Be Not Alone

I've been wondering to myself why I bought a ticket for BlogHer again this year. I've never been to San Diego? That's part of it. The swag? Really, I don't want any processed food coupons, thanks. The cocktail parties? Oh, they're fun, but I've got better wine at home.

Clarity descended in the form of a post by Maternal Dementia - who was writing on the heels of attending a blog conference in England:

...to be in the company of others who, finally, understand why you blog...there’s a huge sense of connectedness – and relief – when you think to yourself, that’s just like me and oh, I’m not alone.

That's it. That's why. It's the meeting of the tribe.

Are you going to be there?

06 July 2011

I am from...

I am from cast iron skillets, from white Keds and yellow foul weather gear.

I am from the afternoon southerly, splintery docks, the cannon fired at sunset.

I am from coral bells and basket of gold, blue hosta and purple irises, from cherry trees made for climbing, and ivy covered walls.

I am from Christmas Eve and blonde hair, from Albert and Marcus and Marie. Marion too, she who revealed little, is that where I'm from?

I am from hoarders and fixers, cooks and lawyers, politicians and artists.

From stinky cheese and poison, and a fog as thick as pea soup.

I am from show tunes, Handel, Pete Seeger. From summer Sundays at the beach, and winter Sundays at the skating rink. From red velvet seats and first position arabesques, and Edward Gorey in his many rings.

I'm from Germany and France and Ireland and England, from weisswurt and springerle, hot cookies and gorgonzola, oysters on the half shell and icy cold Schaefer long-necks, and five pound bags of Bazzini’s pistachios.

From the rules about mayonnaise on the teak, beer croquet in the side yard, the blowing of the big horn and hand-cranked ice cream after a long hot day.

I am from fly rods, bear skin coats, block parties. From black and white snapshots and Kodachrome slides. From sterling silver and hand-me-downs. From hope, pain, love and old age. From oriental rugs and footlockers, station wagons and bicycles, charge cards and index cards, and wicker chairs found on the curb.

And what's after me is from what's before me.

I spotted this poetic exercise in personal history at Amanda's and Flutter's and De's, and finally succumbed. If you want to too, visit the template. Schmutzie's done it too, and is making a link-up. Join in. Come back and tell me where you're from.

04 July 2011

America The Beautiful in Sisterhood

You know I went to women's college, right? Well, one campus tradition is a gentle revision of the words to America the Beautiful:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above thy fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed her grace on thee,
And crown thy good with sisterhood
From sea to shining sea

But 'tis okay, because the lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates, a graduate of and an English professor at Wellesley. I mean, if anyone's going to mess with her lyrics, it'd be her fellow alumnae and matriculants, yes?

On Memorial Day, there was a singing of America the Beautiful down at the ceremony at the train station. I sang along, I always do, and I sang out my cranky feminist version of the lyrics (which, incidentally, I've taught to my daughter, thank you very much) and the woman standing next to me just grinned at me approvingly when we were through.

So, if you happen to be of the female persuasion, and happen to be singing America the Beautiful today, Independence Day, perhaps you want to fix the lyrics too.

Enjoy your Fourth.