Saturday, January 22, 2011

Vent: Saving the Day

I need to vent.  This may come as a surprise to those of you who, perchance, view my blog as nothing *but* one vent after another!  Feel free to sit there, stewing in your surprise.  Me, I'm gonna vent.

Gentlemen, don't start off your conversational day with a ridiculously naive question about... abortion.  Don't, especially, use a lighthearted tone and a vocabulary more appropriate to a phone poll interviewer. 

And don't state, even in your desperation for an exit strategy, that you didn't mean to "upset" anyone.

Your take on The Female, this morning, my friend, was abysmal.

The next portion of my day was spent trying to decipher a financial assault from Linda of Home Depot fame.  She charged to my beloved credit card a jaw-dropping $5752.93 -- this after Fred authorized her to charge a mere $2441.96. 

Fred was not home, of course, having followed his abortion exit strategy with an actual exit.  He's off meeting with those Militant Lesbian Existential Feminists.  I tried to warn him -- as he called a cool "G'bye, love ya"
-- not to spring his discussion topic on The Girls. 

I sent them an artfully arranged plate of fresh-baked individual Spanish omelettes (tortilla de patatas), darling creations from my tired old muffin tin and from our larder's nearly-gone ingredients.  The last bits of obsessively saved onions, the final odd-sized-and-about-to-bloom potatoes, the remainder of my spicy black beans, some pickled jalapeño I keep forgetting to use.  The dregs from a jar of hot salsa.  Carefully diced and mushed, showing restraint with the cumin, for once, I married it all together with the perfect ratio of egg to milk, and with a wonderful olive oil.  Damned good, damned good. 

I don't like to add cheese but was cajoled and muscled into it, at least limiting it to a quick sprinkle on top at the end of baking -- then nicely browned.

The point of making the individual size was to have portion control over this admittedly wild and crazy, but increasingly chunky, group of Lesbians (+ Fred).  Twelve perfect little tapas.  Still, I had to eat a couple of them for quality assurance.  And Fred, who clearly is not dealing from a full deck today, chowed down prematurely on another three or seven before plating them for The Lesbians.  It could be, also, that Uncle Kitty Big Balls led Dobby and Marmy Fluffy Butt in a Kitchen Raid.  Whatever -- I am not sure what message The Girls are going to discern from a gift of three miniature Spanish omelettes arrayed on a serving platter whose diameter tops 20 inches, easily. 

Maybe Fred will think to tell them it's a tasting menu for some upcoming fundraiser.

focaccia di Recco
Abortions and disappearing tapas, together with vague plans for murdering Linda, put me back in the kitchen.  The only logical response to all this crap was to cook, trying, this time, to preserve the evidence.

I was trying to decide between a focaccia and a galette as the best vehicle for mushrooms and caramelized onion -- with the possibility of some acorn squash, also caramelized.  Time to read recipes, my favorite fictions!

The Percocet and ibuprofen were kicking in.
A late coffee was delicious.
My mood was rising.

Only rarely did my humongous credit card balance gurgle to the surface of my grey matter, burn into my retina. 

At odd moments, too, the precise conditions under which I might deem abortion "amoral" swam around in my mental mush.

The recipes began to drive me crazy.

It's as if the writers were more concerned with documenting their idiosyncracies than encouraging me to whip up a meal according to their design.  I made the mistake, for instance, of looking at a Pampered Chef recipe for "Mushroom Focaccia Bread."   I was naive enough to think the point was the food and the techniques employed to create it.  Ha!

Here's a sample of what the Pampered Chef folks consider cooking guidelines:

Slice mushrooms using Egg Slicer Plus. Chop onion using Food Chopper. Heat Stir-Fry Skillet over high heat; spray lightly with oil using Kitchen Spritzer. Add mushrooms and onions; cook, stirring frequently, 5 to 7 minutes or until golden brown and all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; set aside.

In Classic Batter Bowl, combine pizza crust mix, yeast packet and 1 tablespoon of the seasoning mix. Add water and oil; stir until mixture forms a ball. Turn dough out onto well-floured Cutting Board. With floured hands, gently knead dough 8 to 10 times. Lightly sprinkle Rectangle Stone with flour using Flour/Sugar Shaker. Roll out to edges of baking stone using lightly floured Baker's Roller.

In Small Batter Bowl, combine mayonnaise, garlic pressed with Garlic Press and remaining seasoning mix; mix well. Spread mayonnaise mixture evenly over dough using Large Spreader to within 1/2 inch of edge. Using Handy Scraper, make 1/2-inch deep cuts around edge of dough at 1/2-inch intervals, forming a decorative border.

Grate Parmesan cheese using Deluxe Cheese Grater. [Emphasis mine]

I mean, seriously?  What would happen, do you think, if I used my Beat Up Old Carbon-Steel Wok?  Any serious wokker will tell you that The Pampered Chef's Stir-Fry Skillet (oven safe to 400 degrees... chuckle, chuckle), with its "DuPont™ Autograph® 2 nonstick coating inside and out," is an absurdity.  The one thing we can all probably agree on, abortion issues and credit card usury aside?  Stir-frying requires high, high heat.  You want to sear or caramelize?  You do NOT reach out for your nonstick cookware!

Jeez, I only have my Mediocre Multipurpose Grater on hand... and the only available bowl is this old crappy one that I stole from a long ago roommate and, oddly enough, have never felt like naming.

Even after I extracted what was left of my good mood from the clutches of the Pampered Chef recipe, I kept taking hits. 

Even the usually safe Diane Seed sold me out.  Her basic recipe for Focaccia with Cheese is based on the original Focaccia di Manuelina -- Manuelina's having been credited as the creator of focaccia with Recco cheese.  Of course, the number of cookbook authors claiming to have the "original" recipe is legion.  Whatever. 

It's a beautiful recipe, at first glance.  Tepid water, plain flour, salt, olive oil, cheese.  A hot oven.

Add enough tepid water to the flour and salt to make a soft dough.  Knead for a few minutes then leave to rest for an hour, covered by AN INVERTED PUDDING BASIN.  [caps mine!]
I'm all for having Diane tell a story or two, or even, as her website puts it, "weave a spell." Weave away.  Charm me!

But don't freaking put in the freaking recipe, to that point a thing of austere beauty, that I have to rest my dough under a freaking "inverted pudding basin."  What would happen if I left that lovely soft dough rest beneath, say, the pillbox hat, an Oleg Cassini knockoff, that my mother wore to Mass the entire month of March in 1962?  Would my dough fail to revive if recklessly lodged under a very stern, plain (and -- again --nameless) stainless steel bowl?

And why is Diane Seed bleeding an English esthetic all over her Italian cookbook, anyway?  I mean, really.  Of what good is that inverted pudding basin?  Am I steaming my dough?  Am I making dumplings?  Are we having Dim Sum? No, I am not;  We are not!

My. Ass.

It goes on and on, this degradation.

Look -- I know that bakers are peculiar about dough.  I am peculiar about dough.  But in our public venues, in our recipes, we should strive to obliterate what weirdness we can. 

I'm just sayin'. 

Maybe your Weirdness Quotient is under control.  Well, lucky you!

I've always liked Jacques Pépin's attitude.  Without sacrificing crucial technique, he'll say, 'I do it this way.  It's easier and it tastes good.  You can try this, this, or this, too.' It's all about what works.

One of the most entertaining cookbooks I own is Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home.  (I miss Julia Child.  Whenever I do something *large* in the kitchen, I think of her.)  There are recipes, sure, and important dictates as to technique -- but there is also a fun sense of suggestion and personality.  Julia chirps and throws in a little more butter;  She is the fussy francophile, one of the authors of the iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Jacques fairly purrs and revels in things rustic and simple;  Never mind that he was chef to Charles de Gaulle and other heads of state.  Jacques takes on Julia's butter with frequent counteroffers of garlic.

Ah. Fred is home, bouncy and cheerful.

Clearly, he is trying to force bounciness and cheer upon me.  Harrumph.

Well, at least The Lesbians sent gifts:  Roasted red pepper hummus, bags of pretzels, and Bagel Chips.  Beulah, he tells me, "adored" the Spanish Omelette "Tasting." [I glare at him; He grins.]  Now he is telling me about Sassie's kitten, who chewed on his hair and covered the back of his head with love bites.

"Sounds like a serious Board Meeting," I opine, my glare having fallen flat.

Pulling off his stiff new jeans and sighing as he pulls on his sweats, Fred promises to deal with Linda, Demon Flooring Expert of the Lone Alpe Home Depot... tomorrow.

He's suggesting a gnosh, a movie, maybe a nap. 

Fred is insisting on a day off -- let The Manor run itself, he says.  Abbot Truffatore is at the Monastery this weekend, where he belongs (It's Homecoming!) and though we expect The Captain to drop by any day now to see how the Haddock ancestral manor is faring under our guidance, he is not here now, is he?

Fred always returns to me strangely assertive after a day with The Girls.  That, and this opportunity to vent, is saving the day...

He actually wants to be with me.

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