17 August 2015

Four Score

When I turn 80, throw me a party. Invite my friends, invite my family. Invite the neighbors from down the street, invite the painter and the real estate agent. Invite my step-daughter, and convince her to fly in from California for the weekend. Invite my secretary and tell the theater director that it's fine to bring the playwright along.

Hire a square dance caller, get a band. Don't be surprised when the fiddle player knows some of the guests. Convince everyone that they really can do the Virginia reel, even if they don't know left from right.

Find a BBQ joint that caters, but make extra salads for the vegetarians and for the people who want something other than baked beans. Put up a tent in the field, and fly bandanna prayer flags all around.

And don't be shy about asking people to help: she loves to bake, and she loves to order people around, and she's a whiz with a tomato salad in the heat of August. And she'll deliver a box of pimiento cheese sandwiches the day before, which you'll need, because you'll have forgotten to eat lunch.

Order me a birthday cake, but don't try and put 80 candles on it. And have some grab and go brownies (for the people who like chocolate) and lemon cake squares (for the ones who prefer something a little lighter). And late at night, after most of the guests have gone home, you'll move all of the candles to one table, and you'll sit there eating the homemade chocolate chip cookies that one of the guests brought, while you kill all the open bottles of wine.

Remember to take some pictures, but if you forget, other people will.

It'll be a blast.

Lemon Cake Squares (from Moky's Black Book)

  • 6 T. butter (3/4 stick or 3 ounces)
  • 1 c. + 2/3 c. sugar (divided)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • juice of one lemon
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. 
  2. Cream butter and 1 c. sugar. Stir in eggs. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt, and stir into creamed mixture. Add milk and lemon rind and mix until well combined.
  3. Pour into a greased and floured 9" x 13" x 2" pan (or better yet, line the pan with a parchment sling). Bake at 350F for 25 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, combine lemon juice and remaining 2/3 c. sugar. Spoon over hot cake, and return to to the 350F oven for another 5 minutes. Cut into 1" or 2" squares while still warm.

15 August 2015

Pie, Pie!

What you're going to say is that you don't bake. Or you don't know how to make pie crust. But it's easy! It just needs force of will. You want it, you make it.

The plums and the raspberries cried out "Pie, pie" this weekend at the farmer's market. We bought a bunch of little yellow and little red plums and a half pint of raspberries, and I came home and made some pie crust. Instead of a pie pie, it seemed to me that a galette would be better. And, it's easier! And it doesn't need a pie pan.

Just do it. Use the recipe I posted on this day in 2008. Use 2 cups of flour; you'll have extra dough which you will roll out, cut in strips, douse with cinnamon sugar, and eat like cookies as soon as they're out of the oven and cool enough to handle.

For the galette, roll out a rough 12" disk on a sheet of parchment - there's no need to worry about the edges, but try to make it more or less round. Transfer it to a baking sheet and trim back the parchment. Whack up some fruit into a bowl and toss it with a little sugar and some pie filling enhancer (a fabulous product from King Arthur). Dump the fruit into the middle of of your sheet of pastry and spread it out, leaving 2" clear at the edge. Fold the edge over and pleat it as needed to fit neatly into a rough circle. Dot the exposed fruit with butter and slam that baby in the oven. 40 minutes or so at 400°.

How hard was that?

07 August 2015

The Travels of Boo Boo Bunny

The day we dropped the girl off at camp, I helped her unpack and made her bed and together we realized that she'd forgotten her stuffed bunny. She was noncommittal about it, I'll be okay, but the next day I brought the bunny into my office thinking I'd mail it. Then I had second thoughts and chose not to mail it, not wanting her to feel embarrassed at the receipt of a babyish object.

Camp was going swimmingly. We got chatty funny letters to Mom and Dad - one of which probably caused a postal employee to dig out the high intensity lamp because she wrote the address in orange ink on orange paper, but it arrived eventually.

She was signed up for two back-to-back sessions at the camp - and because there was to be a dog and pony show on the last day of the first session, Daddy and her grandparents were going to drive out for the day, visiting day, if you will. The night before that, I left my office, got to the subway stairs, thought about the bunny in my desk, and continued home.

At home, there was a letter. Note, please that it was addressed to Mommy and Daddy.

Mommy. I need booboobunny right now. I haven't needed him before now, but I really need him. I just miss him, you, and daddy. I miss my kitties too. And my hammies. Please send him now. Please. I need him.

Oh my heart.

I looked at my husband, and he looked at me, and so it came to pass that at 5:30 the next morning, we found ourselves driving into Manhattan to pick up Boo Boo Bunny so that Daddy could deliver him to camp.

03 August 2015

My Blue Plate Special

When I first heard about Blue Apron, I was intrigued - partly because back in the carefree days when we had no kid there was a company called Impromptu Gourmet that sold dinner kits, chef-designed do-it-yourself dinner kits, in the refrigerated case of upscale grocery stores. I'd bought one one day, and locked my husband out of the kitchen, and presented him with a really stellar meal a half hour later. A little internet sleuthing reveals that I served up Charlie Palmer's Crisp Duck Breast with Pomegranate Molasses Glaze, Duck Leg Confit, Cipollini Onions & Toasted Couscous.

That company doesn't seem to exist anymore, probably because their business model wasn't right - it was good for the customer who wanted to do something special on the spur of the moment, but I would think it was damn near impossible to coordinate perishable supply with unpredictable demand.

In the past couple of years, a few new companies have sprung up, providing the same kind of dinner kits, but on a subscription basis. That makes it a lot easier to predict demand, so they can tailor their supply chain and have everything come out even at the end.

Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Plated and their investors see ample opportunity to carve out their own place within the industry by offering recipe kits filled with healthy, sustainably farmed food for less than the cost of buying the ingredients on your own. And that's without factoring the savings in time, they say.

A friend of mine has been using Blue Apron for a while, and really likes it. One of Blue Apron's marketing schemes is that they reward existing customers with a meals to give to friends, and through her generosity, we got to try out the service. And then I forgot to cancel, so we paid for a second week of meals. That was last summer. A couple of weeks ago, they sent a "hey, try us again" email and I got sucked back into it.

It is distinctly amusing. A box shows up with - really - all the ingredients you need for three meals for two people. Well, all the ingredients except salt, pepper and olive oil - which you have, right? And you need pots and pans. And knives. But all of the grocery shopping is done for you, and lots of the ingredients are portioned out. A quarter cup of heavy cream, in a wee bottle. A couple of tablespoons of flour in a tiny plastic tub. A small plastic bag with just the right amount of panko. The vegetables are not prepped, but you are given just enough - one onion, a sprig of tarragon, a handful of fava beans, 2 ears of corn, 3 kinds of exotic mushrooms. No need to buy a whole bottle of balsamic vinegar, or a kilo of israeli couscous.

It's up to you to do the cooking. If you're reasonably skilled in the kitchen, it'll be easy - I got a dinner of breaded chicken breasts and a corn/cucumber/tomato/arugula salad on the table in 45 minutes.

Dinner, on the table in 45 minutes. #blueapron

A photo posted by @magpiemusing on

If you're a novice cook, the instructions are pretty good, and include color photos so you have an idea about what you're doing.

There is zero food waste - though there is a prodigious amount of packaging. Remember all those tiny tubs and wee bottles and small bags? And everything shows up in an insulated bag with two large ice packs inside a cardboard box.

The service seems fairly priced: three meals for two is $60 - which includes shipping - so it's $10 per meal. Yes, the pasta with tomatoes and mozzarella we made last night was less than $20 for two people, and because we cook a lot we have a pantry full of stuff that can be turned into cheap meals. Still, $10 per person is cheaper than going out to almost anywhere I'd care to eat, and the results are damned tasty. And it gets you out of the same old rut.

I did choose to do it while the child was away...she would have eaten the chicken but not much else. [There's a family plan which looks like the food is a little more kid-friendly.]

We did the three meals on consecutive nights, but the FAQs say the ingredients should be good for a week. I can imagine that a fridge full of very specific ingredients could be a bit onerous and guilt-inducing in the I have it, so I have to use it way that a CSA can be oppressive.

In short, I have really mixed feelings about Blue Apron. No time to cook? Skip it. Can't justify the $10/person and all of the packaging waste? Skip it. No sharp knives or desire to cook? Skip it. If you're adventurous, craving novelty, and bored with all of the things you usually eat, you might really enjoy it. I even ate mushrooms last week, and liked them.