Wednesday, November 30, 2005

enough shrugging

Enough shrugging!

I'm currently in the middle of that clarity of being over a week's distance from a work-week. My ast day in the office was November 15. On November 17, Puck and I boarded a plane and moved to our new home with J. and his dog, Clyde. And in the days between the move and today, I have been baking, sauteeing, roasting and braising. J and I took a sausage-making class together - from which we came home with over 30 homemade elk bratwursts (which made for a fine, fine Thanksgiving meal - all cooked on the "hotdogger" attached to the muffler of the snowmachine when we celebrated the day of Thanksgiving by making our first long-distance voyage to a village down the frozen river). Next week I'm taking a mask-making class. J and I are thinking about doing a weekly radio show on the one local radio station. I'm motivated to unpack, if only to clear space to bring out my sewing machine and start finishing up years-old quilting projects and to sew some Christmas stockings. I make my grocery shopping a daily adventure, and in doing so am slowing improving my snow-machining wherewithall. I guess my habit of losing the trail is also contributing to the fact that I'm learning new snowmachine trails each day. I'm bundling up and taking the dogs out to romp around in snow drifts. And I'm reading. And thinking. And, oh!, I love this: I'm free and available and motivated to socialize and to listen to the local band and to attend the local fiddle dance and to 'machine to the houses of friends for dinners and to meet people and to talk about things. Any ole' things.

In other words, the day-to-day thoughts of "work" seem a world away, and the world seems at my doorstep!

Don't get me wrong, I have much professional items on my to-do list. And I am thinking about how I should go about such professional items as being able to pay my bills and keeping my health insured. But the difference of thinking about these things in my current situation, as compared to thinking about them while I'm in a mental escape from my tasks of perusing contracts or researching briefs, is that the potential for "something different" feels exhilleratingly viable. A breakfast cook? A home chef that delivers soup? A manager of a radio station? A cashier at the grocery store?

It's all possible. It could all be done!

But, here's what I'm committing right now to do: start recording again what I'm cooking! and start recording the stories and sources that are making our meals so memorable.

I can't catch up from the past week and a half, which is quite a shame as J. and I have been dining on some fine recipes. But I can promise to start recording them going forward.

As a bridge, here's a pantry recipe for baked apples:

Half an apple, and core each half. Drizzle lemon juice over each half, and sprinkle the center of the hole with a spritz of cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix together cinnamon, brown sugar, chopped walnuts, chopped dried apricots, and butter. Put a mound of the mixture into each apple half. Drizzle with birch syrup. And bake in a 350 degree oven until the perfume has filled the house (approximately 30 to 40 minutes).

Friday, November 04, 2005

sisyphus shrugged to sup on stew

I'm simply not a good mover.

I am, quite honestly, atrocious at it. I can distract myself - dissuade myself - tire myself. I'm a pushover, as far as succumbing to even ridiculous excuses to put off (again) the packing of boxes.

But let's face it: packing and moving and relocating - it all sucks. Even if someone comes walking through the door and does it all for you - it still sucks. It might be a less exhausting experience, but the ease doesn't reduce the discomfort and chaos of having your possessions tucked into cardboard boxes wrapped tightly with duct tape. In my case, I'm doing it - and in the most time consuming way: everything I pack has to be packed to survive the ordeal of being mailed. I can't just pack it for a trip in a U-haul. Nope. It has to be packed with caution and forethought, as well as in accordance with federal postal regulations. Ugh. In any event, no matter how much has been accomplished, by anyone and under whatever circumstances - it always feels like there remains an endless, infinite amount of packing left to do!

So after one good solid day of packing, I decided to reward myself. I went to the store and bought a bottle of Oregon pinot, a can of Irish Guinness, a big thing of beef, and some Matanuska carrots, traceless onions and a bag of Alaskan red potatoes.

And then I unpacked a couple of boxes to dig out my castiron dutch oven and my bay leaves, and embarked on a recipe for a dish that I shall endearingly call "Rooney Stew."

Elise of Simply Recipes, who inspired it, calls it "Irish Beef Stew."

It is a unique recipe for Irish stew, because it calls for red wine AND Guinness. Highly recommended!

Because I made a few minor changes to incorporate an Oregon girl's education in stewmaking (i.e. three times more meat and triple the pour of "tenderizers," hours more of stewing, concerted attention to using leftovers in lieu of listed ingredients, reserving the potatoes to make a bed of stoemp** upon which to ladel the stew instead of stewing them with the meat, and serving it by simply hoisting the castiron dutch oven to the table and giving the guest the honour of ladeling his own), and because I have a very dear friend who shares my Oregon roots and with whom I spent a lot of time in Florence drinking, alternatively, Irish pints of Guinness at the Fiddlers' Elbow or red wine from backpack-sized cartons which - in our collegiate lingo - we called "Buzz in the Box", I named my version after this Irish, red-wine drinking Oregonian: "Rooney Stew." I served it to J. on his 24 hour trip to Anchorage to see the debacle of my packing "progess" and to attend a CLE.

Delicious! Triple the exclamation!

*** Stoemp is the version of mashed potatoes that I learned to love when a poor student in London. Belgo, a Belgian restaurant, had this special where a dish of bangers and mash cost, in pounds, the hour you arrived. So, if you arrived at 3:30 p.m., for example, your bangors and mash only cost 3 quid and change. Instead of typical British "mash," Belgo served those bangors with Belgian stoemp. Now that I live in Alaska, and it is winter, and I never could follow a recipe no matter where I am - I make it by frying some bacon, lifting it out when its crisp, pouring out most of the grease, and sauteeing some onions, carrots, and garlic. I also add something green - preferring savoy cabbage, but using regular cabbage with parsley or kale. Sometimes I use spinach. In any event, when the potatoes are boiled soft, I mash them like normal. (I like boiled red potatoes, skins on and mashed into clumps - not whispy uniformity.) Then I mix in my sautee and add the regular butter, sour cream and bit of milk. It makes a colorful and hearty base for bangers - and for stew! I know that you have to take my word for that - I still don't own a digital camera. But trust me, it's pretty, hearty and delicious!

The only trick to this simple heartiness is to time carefully the sautee of the green ingredient - too early, you lose the vibrancy of the color, and too late you the potatoes get gummy in waiting for them. This trick becomes particularly relevant when the green is spinach.