Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Well hello, dolly bars!

hello dolly barsBirthdays at the office used to be grand affairs with cakes, cards and parties thrown for each person on their special day. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago the birthday budget was slashed and no longer was there an endless stream of cupcakes, ice cream and/or pizza provided on the company dime.

Not to be deterred, my colleagues and I are a friendly bunch and decided to take matters into our own hands, either buying or making sweets to commemorate one’s birthday. Ice-cream cakes purchased at the local Hallmark store spent a long period in vogue, as one colleague noted, “What’s not to love—it’s cake and ice cream all in one package.” Meanwhile, some of the more kitchen-friendly folks have been known to whip up their own creations, such as one man’s recent offering of a triple-layer lemon-curd cake to celebrate his gaining another year of experience.

On my birthday, our lovely deputy art director brought in an array of cupcakes, sourced from a delicious bakery near her home in Forest Hills. The large box was filled with flavors ranging from German chocolate to red velvet. I was extremely touched, most especially since I’ve become one of those “I’ll just keep my birthday to myself” kind of people and reckoned no one would remember I was gaining another year. So when her birthday rolled around recently, I wanted to return the generosity.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

A hat, a skirt and some squash blossoms

I was on the hunt for a cowboy hat in San Miguel de Allende’s outdoor market. As my friends and I weaved our way through the various stalls, we spied a woman sitting on the ground, her long full skirt topped with a display of squash blossoms. “Look, squash blossoms!” one friend said. As we were on a road trip through Central Mexico—three women in search of excellent Mexican food—I stopped and admired the squash blossoms. It was, after all, the first time I’d ever seen them fresh. “How would you eat them?” I asked my friend. She said her favorite way to cook them was deep fried, though when stuffed with cheese or tossed in a salad they were tasty as well. I was intrigued, but since we didn’t have access to a kitchen, I did not purchase any squash blossoms that day and continued on my quest for a hat.

It would be two years until I saw fresh squash blossoms again. This time I was in Union Square’s Greenmarket. As I made my way through the market, a basket lined with the bright orange flowers was like an exclamation point after the long passage of bins filled with produce green, yellow and red. While not quite as picturesque as being splayed out on a woman’s skirt, I didn’t hesitate to buy them, eager to finally try this summertime delicacy.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

With patience comes pickles

Working for a weekly magazine, my Friday nights at the office are very late. We don’t put the issue to bed until 9:30, so I often don’t get to leave before 10. I’m usually too tired at this point to do anything but sprawl on the couch—forget about mustering the energy to eat.

This past Friday was no different, and while the couch beckoned my empty stomach more loudly insisted that I fill it with food before I lounge. As I stood staring into my fridge, I was dismayed that I had no leftovers, which left me with only a few easy choices: scrambled eggs, peanut butter on a spoon, or salad. None of these options called out to me, but ordering take-out didn’t appeal either. I recently read Anthony Bourdain’s thoughts about bad food, and to paraphrase—bad food is anything made without love. Perhaps it’s the influence of these words, but it’s true, you can really taste that lack in so many restaurant’s offerings. Not all restaurants, of course, but many of my late-night delivery options are not, shall we say, the pinnacle of carefully prepared, creative cuisine. I just couldn’t bear to suffer through an over-priced, mediocre meal.

As I was nibbling on a curly red lettuce leaf, a Mason jar on the lower shelf in the fridge caught my eye. How could I forget? There sat my first attempt at making refrigerator dill pickles and after six days of shaking the jar and keeping them cool, they were finally ready.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson: 1912-2007

We lost another great Texan today, Lady Bird Johnson. No matter if you agreed with her or her husband’s politics or not, all could concur that her mission to beautify the country and the state of Texas with wildflowers was a glorious, wonderful thing. Whenever I see bluebonnets, I think of Lady Bird, and I’m thankful her legacy of gorgeous, blooming flowers will continue far into the future. Not to mention, she was an excellent cook and some of her recipes are now a staple in many a Texan’s and homesick Texan’s collection alike.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

An anniversary served with fried chicken

Sixty years ago, my dear grandparents were married. A few days before the wedding, my grandfather’s mother wrote a letter to my grandmother’s mother. In her correspondence with her future in-law she said, “If there is anything in the old saying that a boy who is good to his mother will make a good husband, you have nothing to fear concerning your little girl’s future happiness for there has never been a kinder, more thoughtful appreciative son than Jack has been...We are looking forward to having Jean as our daughter.”

No truer words have ever been spoken. Witnessing my grandparents’ mutual respect, love and kindness to each other my whole life has always been a testament to what a good and healthy marriage should be. Not to mention, I’m very grateful they were married, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing these words today!

I asked my grandmother how they celebrated their wedding and she said that it was a simple affair, with just cake (that came all the way from Plano) and punch served at the reception. And she had an exquisite white dress from Neiman Marcus. Likewise, my grandfather has written that there weren’t many photos taken, “but the scene is etched in my memory: My beautiful bride, dressed in white coming down the aisle of Melissa Baptist Church...Five-year-old David [my cousin] said, ‘She looks just like Jesus!’” Though I’ve also heard the story told where another cousin, David’s sister Susan, thought Grandpa looked like Jesus—I reckon this means it was holy matrimony indeed!

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Cafe de olla ice cream, mom's hot fudge sauce

Fourth of July as a kid meant hot-fudge sundaes. Sure, at my parents’ annual bash we had other things to eat, most notably my dad’s barbecue brisket, which he got up at the crack of dawn to start smoking so it would be ready to feed the multitude of guests arriving later that day. And we had potato salad, baked beans, corn on the cob and coleslaw as well. But dad’s homemade ice cream topped with my mom’s hot fudge was always the highlight of the day—a smooth, rich treat that set off fireworks in my mouth.

Now that it’s summer, it seems not a day goes by that I don’t read about someone’s homemade ice-cream concoction. I’m not usually one to jump on the bandwagon, but after reading about so many mouth-watering frozen treats (many coming from David Lebovitz’s delightful and excellent new book, The Perfect Scoop) I could no longer deny myself the pleasure and joy of making my own ice cream.

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