The Mamie Taylor

February 10, 2012 § 13 Comments

According to our bottle of it, Rye Whiskey was once the predominant brown spirit in the US, and the base of many classic cocktails.  But, Prohibition  changed all that “and the spirit of Rye was oft forgotten by many.”

My impression is that, actually, the entire ability to make a cocktail of any quality was forgot by many.  Replaced for years either by overly ginned martinis or tutti fruity funhouse drinks.

I can’t actually say for certain because first I wasn’t exactly around for most of the lost decades, and when I arrived on the scene I wasn’t allowed to drink for some time.  And then, not all that far into my personal era of being able to legally drink (which has been fairly dominated by craft beers and red wines, if I may please present myself as a total snob), classic cocktails had a resurgence.

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Chocolate and nutmeg tart with hazelnut crust

February 7, 2012 § 24 Comments

…Then Nutella slipped the shoe gently onto Eggnog’s foot.  It fit perfectly!  They gazed into each others’ eyes, and each knew it had found a soul mate.  And they lived happily ever after.

I mean, is there anything else you really need to know about this remarkable combination of milk chocolate, hazelnut, and nutmeg?  I don’t really think so.  Of course, that has also never stopped me from waxing poetic for at least a couple more paragraphs.

I don’t normally eat milk chocolate.  I’m a dark chocolate girl.  Switching your tastes over from milk to dark seems almost a rite of passage.  You know, paying your own rent, choosing subtle shades of eye shadow, drinking coffee, and eating dark chocolate.  They’re signs you’ve entered adulthood.  And, it’s not just because dark chocolate is healthier.  Milk chocolate is often palate-deadeningly sweet.  Just a single, uniform brushstroke of sugar across your tongue, while dark chocolate has notes of coffee, berries, caramel, wood, vanilla…

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Holy Mole Chicken and Squash Chili

February 3, 2012 § 6 Comments

Ok guys, I’ve got to come clean.  I’m a hater.  Okay, well not really a hater, though I’m worried I’ll come across as such (Hmm, I don’t think “hater” and “as such” are frequently used together in a sentence like that.  Also, I sound like a ding dong when I try to say something like hater.  But I’ve gone and done it, so let’s put it past us, alright?).  I just don’t really get American sports, and I’m afraid I really don’t get the Superbowl.  (I can’t even remember if it’s one word or two.)  Up until college, I kind of thought the Superbowl happened once every four years, like World Cup Soccer (that is, football to the rest of the world) or the Olympics.

The Olympics!  Now there’s exciting sports to watch!  Particularly the winter Olympics.  See, by virtue of how I was raised, I find Nordic skiing, biathlon, long-distance speed skating, and the like, to be the most thrilling displays of athletic prowess.  Oh my gosh.  I lose my words.  I think about the men’s Nordic skiing relay in ’94 and ’98, the EPIC battle between Norway and Italy, Norway losing (gasp) on their home turf in Lillehammer by 4/10ths of a second, then avenging their loss in Nagano, with a dramatic sprint finish by Thomas Alsgaard, beating the Italians by 2/10ths of a second.

Phew!  Heavens.  My heart races and I find myself squeezing the life out of the nearest chair arm just thinking about it.  I have to catch my breath for a second.

Okay, now tell me that that’s not more exciting than the Superbowl.

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Parsnips and dates with tahini-yogurt

January 31, 2012 § 24 Comments

I am going to start by saying that as a general rule, it is not a good idea to substitute ingredients for one another based on color.  At least, don’t do it all willy-nilly.  Sure, sweet potato bits can stand in for cubed butternut squash pretty well, and many leafy greens are swingers, changing partners and taking one anothers’ places at will.

But, you may not always get that lucky.  At least some small morsel of thought is required.

A cautionary tale: one of my very dearest friends lived along with my self and eight other fairly hapless souls in a large, elegantly dilapidated house on the edge of campus our junior year of college.  We all shared a kitchen and subjected each other to our culinary experiments, and dirty dishes, at will.  My lovely friend (who is now an excellent cook, so let that be a lesson in perseverance) produced a wide variety of extremely, um, innovative foods, many of which were about as edible as a chocolate truffle rolled in glass shards.

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Pizza with mozzarella, lemon, and olives

January 27, 2012 § 16 Comments

I love to look at the work of various chefs, always trolling for ideas to pocket and have turn up sometime later, perhaps a little jumbled looking from having gone through the brain equivalent of a wash cycle, in meals I cook.  I think there must always be a little ticker tape running in my mind storing up a restaurant meal here, a recipe there.  Not that they ever seem to come back to me when I most want them to.  But, they’re influential.

The food ideas from some quadrants are delectably comfortable, vindicating in a sense.  I see them and I think, ‘oh that’s exactly how I would have done that!’ Or, ‘ha! I’ve made almost exactly that before!  I should make it again sometime.’

Some food ideas shake you up a little, splash some cold water in your face to wake you up from the food ruts we all settle into, at times more frequently than not.  These are the dishes that inspire you with an ‘I would never have thought of that!’ nudge.  Sometimes that ‘I would never have thought of that’ is followed by an ‘and I’m intimidated by the very idea, and don’t think I actually want to try making something like that at all.’  Other times it’s followed by an ‘and I will make it the next chance I get!’

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Lemon braised lamb with rosemary

January 20, 2012 § 7 Comments

Pretty much everyone in my family is a card carrying nerd in his or her spare time.  You may not perceive this on first glance.  It’s a sort of internal nerdiness.  Our spirits wear broken glasses, high water pants, and pocket protectors.  We pick up on Star Wars references, and occasionally sing little songs under our breath about whatever it is we’re doing in the moment.  Ok, maybe it’s actually just me who does that.  But, whatever.  (Have you seen New Girl?  Kind of like that.)

One of my brothers has read famous political figures’ dissertations, for fun.  The last time I spoke to my mother, she was gleefully reading a stack of dictionaries.  (Some of them have fascinating material in their appendices.  Seriously.)  I have a certain propensity toward exploring the thesaurus.  My reliance on it during college verged on the religious, zealous, fervid, a little over the top.

As many of the food obsessed are wont to do, I also like to read through cookbooks.  So, when my middle brother gave me The Flavor Thesaurus for Christmas, well it was clear that the book and I were going to need to get a room.  I’ve been slowly savoring my way through it ever since.  It’s truly a magnificent little oeuvre, informative, but not remotely boring.

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Keema beef curry

January 10, 2012 § 26 Comments

I am always on the lookout for things to do with ground beef.  I’ve expounded before on how much we love our meat farm share, how cool farmer Kim is, how wonderful it is to know where your meat comes from.  Because, seriously, it really is.  And overall, I don’t mind not being able to choose specific cuts of meat, for we generally receive a remarkable variety.  We do wind up with a lot of ground beef, though.  Not as much as my parents, who buy a substantial portion of a cow every year, but a lot nonetheless.

So, we have a regular rotation of spaghetti bolognese, chili, beef tacos, and back to spaghetti, like a song on repeat.  At least it’s a pretty good song (I used to dread spaghetti when I was little because I felt like we had it so often. Now I understand why, and I welcome it almost weekly as a satisfying respite from thinking about the age old question of what’s for dinner).

Then there’s the occasional meatball or hamburger thrown in, depending on the season.  Meatloaf has shown up a couple of times too.  I welcome it in and try to give it something like a homemade apple barbecue sauce to make it feel at home.  It makes awfully good leftover sandwiches, however awkward I feel about meat in a loaf form.

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Parsnip and leek soup

January 2, 2012 § 20 Comments

What would you do if you weren’t afraid of failing?

It’s not an original question, I’ll admit.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  It’s pretty painfully cheesy, like those horrible motivational posters we used to have in our gym locker rooms for high school sports, or the quotes I carefully wrote into my journals, in metallic pens and with cutesy cut-outs as decorations.

Yet, it was the question I found myself asking in my mind last night as I got ready for bed and contemplated the journey back to Boston and working/studying/data analysis/teaching/writing/whatever-it-is-I-actually-do after a swift and very full holiday vacation.  I have a tentative nature when it comes to work and school, and I put a lot of effort, particularly mental effort, into trying to make sure I do everything right and just as others want.  The idea of failing is so scary I almost never allow myself to fully contemplate it.

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Spiced cinnamon sugar breakfast puffs

December 20, 2011 § 24 Comments

On the off chance that your holiday breakfast plan is not yet inscribed in stone; in case you aren’t already bound and determined to have a strata, or frittata, or sticky buns, or perhaps puffy pancakes or spoon bread; or maybe you’d like to just add some icing to your giant, decadent, multi-course holiday brunch cake; well then dear friends, may I venture a suggestion.

I actually feel a bit ashamed that I’ve been holding this recipe from you for so long.  It’s a recipe that may, in fact, deserve a little shouting from the rooftops.  And, it’s a recipe with a history, which means stories.

I didn’t know any of the stories when I first started baking the original version (this is a wholly different iteration, but we’ll get to that later), I just knew that I had the recipe copied down on an index card from my friend, and I had labeled it “breakfast puffs.”

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Kale avocado and persimmon salad

December 17, 2011 § 4 Comments

My lunch has left me fixating on leaves.  It’s similar to when you think too long about a word and after a bit you aren’t sure whether it actually is a real word because at that point it sounds too weird to you.  I do this relatively frequently with the word ‘which’. It’s awkward.

Anyhow, as I ate my lunch – this unabashedly leafy salad – the fact that we eat leaves became odder and odder to me.  Leaves, people!  I started to feel like maybe I was confused.  Maybe I was a manatee or giraffe or some other animal that grinds away pensively at greenery.

Do we really eat leaves?  The red bursts of the poinsettias decorating coffee tables at this time of year, those are leaves.  On my run yesterday I chased some last oak leaves as they fluttered down from the trees (I find chasing after falling leaves to be one of the most elating and gleeful activities.  It always makes me feel like I’m 4 or 5 again).  They weren’t that dissimilar from the foundation of my salad (well, apart from being dried out and brown, which my salad distinctly wasn’t).

It was a disconcerting moment.  Particularly because a not inconsequential portion of my diet is made up of leaves.  In fact, I love leaves.  In the summer, I eat salad like it’s my full time job.  In the winter, I eat a lot of greens as well, but usually in sauteed or braised form, which renders them far less leafy looking.

Perhaps that’s why I was having trouble with the concept of leaf-eating.  As mid-winter bears down on us, salads do tend to seem incongruous.  Cool, refreshing, light, not exactly what you’re looking for when you want rib stickiness, something to warm you from the inside out.

But, there are exceptions.  Salads robust and hearty enough to deserve a place on the winter table.  And, in spite of my perplexing ruminations while eating it, I do believe this is one of them. « Read the rest of this entry »

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