March 26, 2014
It’s dawned on me that I should have perhaps narrowed a focus, photography-wise, for the trip. To provide discipline, as well as a single, specific/thematic collection to come away with. I’m really good at overwhelming myself, and have a tendency to like everything and want to do everything there is to like and do, and though inherently motivating, this mindset renders me totally distractable and a little awol. SO. I guess it’s not too late to choose something. Something specific that varies from place to place but is inherently the same.
For this post, it’ll be food. I might just tackle posting my pictures that way. Sort them by subject, rather than city. Oh geez I don’t even know–I’m feeling indecisive and ridiculous.
Food. Has been amazing on this trip. After seafood and the downright bonanza of pie making in North Carolina, I moved on to DC…where, beyond anything else, food was FUN. I stayed with a friend of mine that I met at Le Cordon Bleu, so one of the first things out of his mouth was…what should he make for dinner?! Roasted chicken over root vegetables ended up being the perfect thing for a cold night. DC WAS SO COLD. And quiet! Walking around their neighborhood towards the store that night, I felt like I was living in the lines of my favorite Stevens poem– “it was evening all afternoon. It was snowing. And it was going to snow.” (from XIII in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird) It didn’t snow until the next day, but the city already had that mute, impenetrable stillness in the sky. God I love snow. The calm of it!
The next day, we (my friend, his roommate and I) dragged ourselves out of our hangover haven of homemade waffles and snickerdoodles to go to the Main Avenue Fish Market, which turned me into a kid at the candy store. I adore seafood–of every kind, prepared every way. We went with oysters, mussels, and clams destined for a traditional seafood linguine.
Anyway. It was such a treat (I had to think about that phrase–it seems very un-hip to call anything a “treat”…but it was,) to be amongst the hustle bustle of kitchen prowess again. No matter what scale or volume–the preparation of food is beautiful. The raw colors, the fast precise movements, the sound of the knife on the cutting board, etc.
Baltimore! was centered more on drinking than eating. So by the time I got into Philadelphia, I was craving health. And some peace and quiet…there’s nothing easy or convenient about driving or parking in any of these cities. It had been awhile since I’d had a night alone, and I was frankly kind of excited to turn in early… This was my attitude while scouring a few “Best of Philly” lists before deciding on The Pub and Kitchen for dinner. It struck me the right way, as being relaxed and fun. …maybe too fun of a bar, I kind of had to throw the detox idea out the window. AND, the address was the same number as my hotel room. While I don’t necessarily believe in signs, it was totally a sign. Because everything that followed was weirdly perfect. My phone died as soon as I sat down at the bar, so I started to pull out my book but…it wasn’t in my bag. So I had to go to plan C, which was my neglected poetry notebook. And as I settled into writing and the best beer I’ve had for awhile (Sprecher winter lager), the song I’d been repeating all day came on. And then the bartender turned it up. 10 minutes of sublime serendipity.
And the food! Was as colorful as it was delicious, and because I was solo and therefore feeling especially anonymous and bold, I shamelessly took pictures. (kind of shamelessly, I still like to get public food photography over and done with a minimum of clicks.) The anonymous feeling fell away once the bartender and I started talking; he asked me about what I was writing–I really might have looked insane because I kept laughing about this or that, alternately staring into space and writing in gushes. So yeah, great night in Philadelphia. And I cannot recommend the Pub and Kitchen enough!
AH. It’s definitely too late to start in with New York. And this post is already probably too long. So–it’ll have it’s own. Signing off with a song I discovered today, and I like it enough to break some rules. I don’t put stuff on that I haven’t listened to a least one million times, enough to test quality of staying power…and let’s be real, quality means staying power. But whatever I couldn’t stop with this one–I was in a coffee shop that had a really awful jazz piano going on overhead, and I had to have this full blast in my ears to drown it out. So, there’s some kind of test.
But really though what has this city done to me?! I never like pop music this much. I’m leaving tomorrow for New Haven! Back on the road means back to shuffle; can’t really wait. I’ve missed my car, which was safely nestled into a lucky parking spot close to my uncle’s apartment…until I had to move it early yesterday morning for street cleaning. Overall though, driving in Manhattan hasn’t been that bad. The street set-up is so easy, it’s really just the other drivers, aggressive pedestrians, and the seeming absence of lanes that’s weird. I tend to be an assertive driver myself, so…I find it kind of fun. Before this trip I don’t think I’d have felt that way. Actually, I’m probably less innately nervous about a lot of things than I was a month ago. Ah, but so my nerves did spike when I was first driving in and saw a police car (obviously); then I realized I was in a bus lane, and then couldn’t even find a coherent lane to merge into. (quel clusterf***) But the beauty of it is that, unlike Prairie Village Kansas, the cops here have better things to do than pounce on innocuous errors.
And then there’s this, a fling from this time last year–staying power:
March 23, 2014
Ah, I know, such a winter recipe. I’m just really bad at rules, so, I don’t think of things in terms of belonging or not belonging. I wouldn’t turn down ice cream on a snow day; I still prefer my coffee hot in August. I believe that the ideal of a thing can be, in hypothetical existence, divorced from all other implication.
Yeah yeah yeah, to everything there is a season, which conditions the ideal–especially with food and in this instance, squash. But. I can vouch that the squashes acquired in March, which I used for this recipe, rendered as excellent a pie as I ever had in the autumnal months.
So! The catalyst for baking this time around was my grandmother, who revealed that she’d recently gotten everyone’s imaginations salivating over mom’s butternut squash pies. Mom would make a couple and stick a few in the freezer for Mimi to pull out at bridge club and whatever. Bad at rules but quick to learn, it rapidly dawned on me that I really had to make these pies.
Butternut squash is wonderful; from the color revealed during peeling to the way it smells roasting in the oven. And then the way it goes so well with cinnamon and nutmeg, rum and a good pie crust.
Mom’s Butternut Squash Pie
- Ingredients -
1 butternut squash (or, if you find the pureé readily available, 2 cups)
pinch of nutmeg
1 T and then 4 T butter (separate steps)
4 eggs, separated
1 1/4 c granulated sugar
3/4 t grated orange zest
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/3 c Grand Marnier (I used rum–!)
2/3 c heavy cream, at room temperature
1 T cornstarch
- Directions -
1) Prepare/pre-bake the crust. Roast the squash: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Peel the squash and remove the seeds; cut into slices about 3/4″ thick. Arrange them in a 9×13″ baking pan filled with water coming 1/2″ up the sides. Roast for 1 1/2-2 hours, until soft and easily pierced with a fork. Pureé with 1 T of butter and a pinch of nutmeg.
2) Combine 2 cups of the pureé with the egg yolks, sugar, orange zest and cinnamon. Beat until well combined, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile melt the butter and let cool to room temperature. Add the butter and liqueur to the squash mixture, then the cream. Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks; sprinkle with cornstarch, then continue beating until stiff peaks are formed. Finally, fold the egg whites into the squash mixture.
3) Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust; bake for an hour at 350 F. Chill before serving and top with whipped cream!
A very mellow night in New York City–thanks to my Uncle’s hospitality I’ve been able to have a quiet night at home in the heart of this busy place. This morning I was troubled by the
hint of deep tiredness in my eyes, and decided to hop off the merri-go-round I’ve been on for a minute to catch my breath. I probably should have taken this time to dive into a travel-related post, because…there’s so much to tackle there. But, something about that clear-cut orange seemed more viable for my brain to handle than the hodge-podge of cities and roads and weather and people that this week has been. Absolutely wonderful, but! Another night.
XX remix. I really like this Jamie character–he has another great one that’s more aggressively dubstep called “New York is Killing Me,” which is exactly how I felt on Friday morning (and this morning). Actually wine was the culprit, but I still find New York infectious. (in a good way I think)
I kind of hated this song initially, but then something snapped and I got hooked on it in Louisiana weeks ago.
Annnnnd, I was introduced to this in DC while staying with a friend who’d been in an acapella group in college, along with his roommate, so–I enjoyed some seriously good serenading late one night, and have liked this song increasingly since then. This surprises me though; it’s not generally my taste of music but! I’m all for it because…why consciously keep yourself from warming to something?
March 18, 2014
I keep hearing myself say, “this is my favorite day of the trip–” A phenomenon that I think reflects the people I’ve (re-)connected with more than geography or my hyperbolic self. I really, really hope that everyone takes me up on hospitality in Paris (or, short-term in KC late spring/summer!).
One such experience was a day last week at the beach with my grandmother and uncle. I’m not going to put too many words to the experience; it just was the best day. For a broad scope of reasons that I’m still wrapping my head around.
The Outer Banks are beautiful, and in my opinion most extraordinarily so in the pre- and post- summer months. When you can’t keep up with the wind in your hair or on your face, and your feet aren’t sure what’s more uncomfortable between the cold waves or the rough sand. These things plus the fact that it’s mainly empty define my ideal beach experience. These things compounded with nostalgic family history that felt so very alive and well, made it the best day. (more so than the other favorite days)
Pictures include the Albermarle Sound, Jockey’s Ridge, Bodie Island Lighthouse and the Wright Brothers National Park.
I really can’t believe I haven’t posted this song before–
Or more TV on the Radio in general, actually. I always forget about it! That song came on today while driving from DC to Baltimore (yes, in the snow), and I got stuck on that album for the afternoon. And it’s persisted through the evening, accompanying a whirlwind of thoughts after a kind of unexpectedly fun/wonderful time with an old friend! So now it’s nearly three in the morning and–whoops.
I love these lyrics.
March 13, 2014
Pie! Today was the second day in a row that I got after pie. My grandmother reminded me a few times that she was always more of a cake maker, as was my mom, so it made sense that I was always drawn toward making it over pie…but working at Rye kind of converted me. I really, really miss rolling pie dough. And there’s something really fantastic about lightly pressing your middle two fingers in the center of a pie and feeling the slight resistance, and knowing it’s perfectly ready to come out of the oven. Set around the edges, suitably puffed, but not to the point that it’ll dramatically deflate.
Pie! I’m ridiculous and decided it’d be a good idea to make some pie bars
instead of in addition to brownies for that catering event a few weeks ago, the one requiring some easy pick-up cocktail desserts. Because, why make a simple bar batter when you can make a crust, filling, and topping?! Twice x3! In a small kitchen!
Fortunately, these lemon-buttermilk chess pie bars were easier than their key-lime pie peers. And I didn’t have to think about them, at all really, start to finish. Just like yesterday, after an afternoon invitation to dinner at my uncle and aunt’s house (which, oh my god, was so good–pheasant, wild rice, gravy, potatoes; basically spring-time Thanksgiving).
Right. So dessert was on me and I remembered making those bars–decided to re-do it as the recipe intended. One 9″ deep dish! Serve with non-sweetened whipped cream or! whipped creme fraiche. (I recommend the latter; this is a pretty sweet pie so the tangier/cooler the accompaniment the better)
Pictures are of the bars…if you want to get after those instead of the single 9″ pie, make the pie crust as directed but line/use a rimmed-cookie sheet, make the filling as directed, and reduce baking time by about half (bake until just set).
Lemon-Buttermilk Chess Pie
- Ingredients -
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c (packed) light brown sugar
1 1/2 T yellow cornmeal
1 T all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, beaten to blend
2/3 c buttermilk
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 3/4 T fresh lemon juice
1 T freshly grated lemon zest
2 t vanilla
pinch of kosher salt
bit of powdered sugar (for dusting)
- Directions -
1) Make the crust as directed (use the link above or your own–). Continue after it’s pre-baked… Preheat the oven to 350 F and make the filling: whisk first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl until well combined. Whisk eggs with remaining 6 ingredients in a large bowl (mixture may look curdled–). Gently whisk in dry ingredients.
2) Pour filling into cooled crust and bake until custard is set around edges but jiggles slightly in center, 1 hour-1 hour 15 minutes. Let cool completely, and dust with powdered sugar before serving. (can be made a day ahead, and left in the refrigerator!) (adapted from epicurious.com)
That and I always get into Exile in Guyville in the spring–this song in particular is almost worth being sick or hungover so my voice can reach as low–
(as far as I’m concerned it’s twenty years ago)
March 11, 2014
These three states have each felt like home to some degree; Alabama because of family I chose, Tennessee because of Sewanee, North Carolina because of family I have. I’d go ahead and say that this stretch is the most social I anticipate my trip to be, but if there’s one thing I’ve realized and decided, it’s that expectations are ridiculous. In any event–the past week and a half has been wonderful!
I’m always surprised by Alabama; I never get used to its beauty. The sky behaves or misbehaves dramatically, above quiet mountains and quiet fields. I stopped in Tuscaloosa and then Huntsville, a place I know as if I’d lived there (…kind of did). A place where impromptu dinner parties include the best fried southern food I’ve had to date, and people whose hospitality exceeds what I could ever possibly deserve. And by that I suppose I’m talking about definitive grace; I’m always humbled by the love and generosity I feel when I’m there. And for that, I am beyond thankful.
Huntsville is around an hour and a half from Sewanee, Tennessee, a place I hadn’t been since graduation in May 2011(!). The mountain really does pose a challenge to the notion that “you can’t go home again.” …especially if one of your best friends lives there and is kind enough to let you crash with her in the middle of a crazy busy week! I found it remarkably similar to how it was when I was in school, and yet far from stagnant. For a small community, it offers a niche for a surprisingly large variety of people. And to be perfectly frank I really wouldn’t mind living there–provided I had the right amount of engagement. Have to be busy in order to thrive!
Beyond Sewanee, my time in Tennessee included a last-minute home cooked meal and dance party in Murfreesboro, and a long lunch in Chattanooga followed by THE BEST gelato I’ve ever had. I reconnected with friends who, even after a silent three years, fused their lives with mine as naturally as if we’d done it only the week before, partying and talking until they had to leave for work (4 a.m. and then 4 p.m., respectively! busy 24 hours!).
North Carolina–should probably be its own post. There’s a distinct difference between my previous experiences elsewhere and my memories here. Driving across this state is something I did with my mom several times a year until 2004, to land in the small town in the northeast corner where she grew up (Elizabeth City). It’s a drive I’ve never done without her, and for the first time since the years immediately following her death in 2005, I’ve caught myself in a mindset focused on her current absence rather than her former presence. Which is to say, I miss her more than usual. Up until now, I’ve revisited people and places that had significance after she was gone. Consequently, I couldn’t especially miss her in those contexts because–she was never in them. But in a place that was and still is so fraught with her, it’s semi-unsettling all over again. Not even so much that she’s not here, but that I had and have grown so used to it. A constructive trick of the mind, a simultaneous tribute and betrayal. My consciousness is quick to draw good memories at random, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, but when memories avalanche in light of tangible and immediate situations–that. That is when and where the trick fails to cover the void.
All of this isn’t to say that I’m not having a good time–no, quite the opposite. It’s really, really, really wonderful to be here. Even if it makes me wish I were 8 years old and ready to tear my hair out during long antiquing hours; or 10 and begging mom for another Pepsi; or 13 and noticing mom’s swift re-organizing of my grandmother’s kitchen. Or just noticing the way she made everything a little bit more wonderful.
Music-wise…I’ve been about to break my car with bass and have almost broken my voice with singing; and somehow those songs I’d pin-pointed for sharing don’t fit tonight. SO. Here’s what’s up instead. Pretty pop-ish but kind of intense. Especially that second by Pinback; aggressive but disciplined. [a favorite]
Annnnnnnnnd, I’m always mildly and pleasantly shocked when I get carried away by Death Cab:
March 6, 2014
So! I learned something! If I stop moving on this little endeavor of mine, my brain might stop as well. I’ve been in Sewanee, Tennessee most of the week, pretty truly one of my favorite places in the world. My intention for this post is not, however, centered on my traveling. Because again, I haven’t done very much of it this week.
Plus it’s so completely dreary outside, that these key-lime pie bars are a nice distraction. And some of you really might have only subscribed for recipes and then I went and put that program on hold…so here we go, momentarily back on track.
I made these for a dessert party that my sister and I catered the week before I left, and they were definitely favorites. I decided to top them with meringue instead of the more traditional whipped cream, because my muscle memory was still working on banging out lemon meringue pie at Rye. That and its sheen is nice in pictures. [I think] And who am I kidding, I really just wanted to use my kitchen torch.
Here’s the recipe that I used; it’s a classic key-lime pie recipe by Fine Cooking…I just adapted it to make a few dozen bars; here’s step-by-step of what that requires:
1) Make the crust dough x2, and line a rimmed cookie sheet instead of a pie pan with it. If you cannot roll out a single large rectangle of dough that will cover the entire thing, feel free to do it in two batches, and line the pan one half at a time, lining/pressing the middle seems together. Blind and pre-bake as you would a normal pie.
2) Make the filling as directed, and understand that the baking time will be significantly reduced due to the shallower dimensions. Cook until just set, checking after 15 minutes, and in additional 3-4 minute increments if it’s still liquidy (should register at 140 F on an instant read thermometer). Let cool/set as directed.
3) Make meringue! Whisk 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup egg whites in a heat proof bowl set over a pot of boiling water. Let set until the sugar dissolves, and the liquid is smooth to the touch (when you rub your fingers together you don’t feel any sugar granules). When ready, beat on high speed with an electric mixer/whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a piping bag and pipe away!
Neil Young today all day! Also just one today.