Monday, June 19, 2006

Lit a burner on the stove and offered me a plate

Our Lodge cast iron 10 inch fryer got quite a workout recently. We bought that fryer for one particular purpose: to perfect my secret Maryland panfried chicken. I love to fry chicken in part because it's the only dish I can say I cook by hearing. In a covered pot, it's the tone and frequency of the bubbles that tells me if the oil is hot enough or if it's time to flip the meat. It's just the right amount of concentration: you don't watch it like a hawk, but you can't just walk away either.

It's also a dish that, as near as I can tell, every carnivore likes and many of them associate with special occasions. This particular chicken was to say farewell to our friend Fred, who's moving on to tenure-track pastures, and to celebrate bottling a batch of homebrew with him. We brewed that batch with Mike, another one-year, who'll swing back through town in about a week to pick up his six, and maybe some fried chicken.

The next night was Crawfish Feast, hosted by our friends Bruce and Kimmarie, where two bushels of crawdads met their timely and tasty demise.
Shucking shellfish is primal, and in a different way, so is eating them together. It's renewing to be part of a group of people dipping their hands into the same pot.

Our contribution was Alton Brown's Pineapple Upside Down Cake from I'm Just Here for More Food. I got a lot of credit for that cake, and I did do the bulk of the work. The most important contribution, however, was from Executive Chef Alison who looked in the pan and wisely said "that's not caramel; that'll never be caramel; it's a lost cause early in the recipe; throw it out and start over." (In case you're wondering, it appears important that you not let the butter completely foam out, because the brown sugar won't melt if there's not at least a little water left.) There may be nothing more valuable than a friend who'll stand by you when it's time to cut your losses.

And then the last success was that Bruce and Kimmarie told us to try out a recipe called "Get Breakfast" from Alton's first book. The best description of this recipe I can come up with is that it's a broiled deep-dish potato pancake. I can't say exactly why we hadn't made it... but it's fantastic. And if your cast iron is seasoned enough, this dish of cheese, eggs, and frozen hash browns slips right out beautifully.

I kind of doubt Alton's story that he developed this as a college student, because it's more work than I would've done for breakfast as a hungover 20-year-old. (Admittedly, toast is more work than I usually did for breakfast at that age.) On the other hand, it reheats great and serves four. An enterprising person might make it before a night out, and microwave the leftovers whenever they crawl out of bed.

In the introduction to Cooking from the Heart, Michael J. Rosen writes that "a recipe is a memory made indelible." It appears the alternate is true as well: someone else's recipe can help preserve your own memories.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Hey there little Red Riding Hood

Before this year, I never was into Dr. Who. All I could see was the sets put together by one-armed monkeys. Daleks and Doctors and inscrutable plot lines, oh my!

Well, that changed when the Sci-Fi Channel started running Christopher Eccleston in the new series. (Oh my goodness, he's playing Number Six in the upcoming remake of The Prisoner... another BBC classic I couldn't get as a kid.) Lovely tough Billie Piper might have had something to do with it. Farewell, 9th Doctor, we hardly new ye.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister

One of my colleagues says that what he loves about baseball is that, at any game, you're likely to see something you've never seen before. Community softball last night contributed three of these for me:

1) I'd never been involved in the fielding end of a rundown before.

2) I'd never screwed up the fielding end of a rundown before.

3) I'd never seriously injured myself just swinging the bat before.

I've pulled muscles legging out a hit, of course, and hit the dirt hard going for a grounder. I caught a fly ball with my face once in 7th grade. Two years ago, I ran full-tilt over a 4-foot high chain link fence, trying to rob the batter of a homer. (Missed the catch, earned a beautiful diagonal bruise across my torso.)

But this time, I was just up to bat, well warmed up in the middle of the game, when something clamped a vise on my shoulder and tried to rip my tricep up to heaven.

People at sandlot pickup games have been trying for years to get me to slow down my naturally vicious swing. I guess I finally got the message. My body just said "Guess what? I'm 35 and I don't do that anymore."

My dad comes home from emergency hospitalization tomorrow, and when it comes to health, I probably should count my blessings. My wife would like me to count anything at all, if it'll stop my whining about being The Oldest Man That Ever There Was.

Still, it's a bit of shocker to have your body tell you that "normal" is pushing too hard.

Wonder if I'll be able to play next week?