Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Next stop, slop

I hate to make a big deal of the tragic state of the culinary landscape our town because I believe constraints make for opportunity. Really, the fact that one small town has a Cozy Diner, Kalico Kitchen, AND Comeback Café is no reason to get discouraged and eat hash browns that are delivered frozen by Cisco.

And we can finally chalk one up for the culturally adventurous and celebrate the new Thai restaurant. Our contractor loves the place--and had never eaten thai food before, ever! Criminal....

Last time we were there, an old couple was loudly complaining that they didn't have fried rice just like one of the 10 Chinese restaurants down the street and proclaimed that it was horribly neglectful of the staff to leave the soy sauce off the table. We immediately creeped out the waiter by being overcompensatingly nice, as if our smiles could drown out the grouchy croaking at the next table: "They must miss you over at (unnamed greasy Chinese restaurant). We'll go there next time."

W. and I started to bet on whether they would ask for chopsticks, but quickly remembered the only chopsticks in town are at our house. They certainly don't come to your table with your sweet and sour chicken at the local favorite Chinese joint.

Gotta love it ... the only alternative is a perpetual state of despair.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Hot drinks for cold garages

Because W. and I are living in the garage while the contractors toil in the incessant rain and occasional snow, we have learned some creative ways to keep blood circulating in our extremities:

The laptop warms up your legs; the trendy vintage good-idea-when-we-lived-in-so-cal metal desk? Cold, cold, cold.

Junk mail catalogs on the floor cut the cold of the concrete slab (and absorb mud and dirt before being easily recycled).

Socks and mittens are a mixed blessing—if our fingers and toes are already cold, wearing them is like insulating ice cubes. An external heat source is key...

... and that’s where the hot alcohol comes in. Not only does it warm us to our toes, it makes us forget about the dirt and sawdust and pet hair and mud for a while.

When our kitchen is stripped of windows and insulation, I make a quick version of the BISHOP featured in a recent Gourmet. I cut an orange into thick slices, stud each with a clove, and broil on each side until dark brown around the edges. Then I dump the orange pieces into a saucepan with enough ruby port for two generous drinks and heat. Sturdy mugs or hot toddy glasses or Mason jars wrapped in napkins are lovely, but an insulated coffee mug is the only thing that will make it across the yard to the garage without making the drink tragically cold.

When we are feeling ambitious or celebratory, we make an adapted version of our friend Mike’s wassail. A certain very lucky group in my hometown looks forward all year to New Year’s Day, the day of Mike’s annual party and the notorious wassail. I won’t lie, it looks like sludge with a film of pond scum resting on top; It is served in coffee cups that waft steam of pure alcohol—breathing in before a quaff is a dangerous proposition. But a few sips of the sweet hot spice, and the party becomes very convivial. A few more sips, and we’ve nearly forgotten the homemade bagels and gravlax, the brown bread and roast beef, the persimmon pudding.

I don’t make my wassail in bulk like Mike does, but I like to make enough to fill the Crockpot. We missed Mike’s New Year’s party this year, but made the wassail ourselves to serve before and after a rich pork chili spiked with coffee and topped with avocado, toasted pumpkin seeds, cotija, and radishes.


Combine in heavy saucepan, boil, and cool slighly:
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 T. nutmeg
1 t. ground ginger
6 cloves
4 allspice berries
1 stick cinnamon

Beat until stiff, not dry:
3 egg whites

Beat until light, about 2 minutes:
3 egg yolks

Fold whites into yolks in a large bowl. Slowly strain sugar mixture into eggs, whisking to avoid making scrambled eggs instead of a nice, thick, muddy-looking layer that will rest on top of the wassail and disgust your friends in the most satisfying way.

Heat to 130-140 degrees:
2 bottles cream sherry

1 cup brandy

Slowly mix in the egg mixture. Reheat if necessary, but not over 140 degrees. A slow cooker will keep your wassail piping hot.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Contractors plus portable CD player equals all classic rock all the time.

If I hear one more double shot of Jethro Tull ...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Somewhere in Northern California

On one concrete floor, one California king mattress.

On one Calfornia king mattress, two sleeping bags, two wool blankets, four pillows, four wool socks, two pairs of capeline, two wool sweaters, two jackets, two wool hats, four mittens, one scarf, four cold feet under one dog and two cats, two cell phones, one bored husband, one contested iBook, no money to get the hell out of here.

The bigger cracks in the wall are stuffed with newspaper
--the worst chills are chased away by wassail.

It may not be Minnesota, but this is pretty fucking cold.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Deconstructing Paradise

If everything contains within it the converse, a bit of ying to its yang, dark to its light, red to its blue...then construction must be made up in parts of the opposite: destruction.

Of course.

I just wish I had realized that before. Before backhoes ripped our backyard into oblivion. Before the aluminum siding had been stripped off the house--just in time for the freak snowstorm. Before our bathroom opened to the elements. Before we moved into the garage with the two cats and the dog. Before getting a snack meant a trek across the yard and a hop over a mudhole. Before I know what really cold and really wet and really dirty really were.

A little addition/remodel on a budget, starting in February.

Seemed like a good idea last fall...