Archive for May, 2011

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So long, farewell

May 28, 2011

I’m moving out of the Quincy apartment in two weeks – two weeks! – and the timing is really terrible. Not because I’m so very busy with end-of-year concerts and recitals (I am, but most of that will be over in a few days), but because this is the time of year when it’s suddenly a good thing that the bedrooms – located in the basement, but overlooking a sort of cliff, so they get plenty of light – are a solid 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the house. The cross-breezes that blow from the kitchen through the living room are awfully pleasant, and there are new green leaves outside the windows, though they’re already full of holes chewed by the horrible green worms that loll all over my car in the morning. So, OK, there are pros and cons to everything, and I’m not going to miss the green worms or how cold my room was in winter or the bathroom fan that sounds like a dying horse. But as I sit here in my breezy kitchen surrounded by pint glasses full of flowers (it’s concert season and I only have one vase), listening to the chatty sparrows outside, it’s hard not to think of all the things I am going to miss.

My pantry, for one. It makes me unreasonably happy to gaze at its shelves lined with bright-colored cookware, hot sauce, vinegar, pasta, and tea: it’s a feeling of plenty, a cozy, provided-for feeling. And it has my favorite view in the house, at least in spring and summer when the trees are leafy. From this angle, through the stand of skinny trees, you can’t see the house next door, so it looks like I live in a forest, not a narrow, pothole-ridden residential street in a blue-collar suburb. Downside: it’s hard to see things in there at night, because although there is an overhead light with a pull-chain, I’m too short to reach it.

I don’t know that I will miss this kitchen, exactly, what with its dearth of counter space (just enough for a dishrack and a cutting board), but I have certainly had some culinary adventures here, including last week’s flaming rhubarb crumble and the salmon that I once pulled out of the oven, then promptly fumbled onto the floor. Both those incidents involved a blue Le Creuset baking dish that didn’t break when dropped (though it melted a bit of the linoleum) and didn’t scorch irreparably even when its contents were blackened (thanks, Bon Ami), so if nothing else, at least I know that dish is nigh indestructible. More importantly, I think the two years I’ve spent here have been the ones in which I’ve grown most as a cook, trying out new recipes, ingredients, and techniques, inspired somewhat by this blog but much more so by other blogs, books, and magazines. In this kitchen I read a recipe for homemade fruit preserves and said, “Oh! I can do that.” Hence the jars of ginger-peach jam above, a combination which I haven’t really perfected yet, but I’ve got a new idea to try as soon as I can find some ripe peaches.

I think I may have mentioned that I like trees, and while the bunch outside my pantry window are sort of an illusory comfort, there are more than I could ever ask for a mere seven minutes away in the Blue Hills. I will probably come back and hike them again in the fall – maybe even the whole Skyline Trail in a day, if I can find a friend with a car to do it with me – but I’ll definitely miss the convenience of being able to hike any sunny morning that I don’t have to work, without any planning. It’s not like I’ll be starved for trees this summer; I’m supposed to climb Mount Washington with the same friend I hiked with last year, and the theater-company housing is aptly named the Spruces. There are plenty of maples and firs around my parents’ house, where I’m staying for a bit between moving and leaving for New Hampshire. But I’m worried about how things will be in New York. I’ve been spoiled here; even when I lived in Boston, there were enough trees around to harbor the occasional raccoon or oriole. Either the city will break me of my need for green things, or I’ll end up spending all my time in a park.

I do anticipate a wider array of food, coffee, etc. available in New York, and if my recent visits are any indication, I have a lot to look forward to. I haven’t been able to find a good bread place around here, though there are plenty of cupcakeries, and I’ve often wished for a high-quality independent coffee shop close by. Of course, while the South Shore may not boast Blue Bottle, Stumptown, or the like, I do have a small, secret soft spot for Marylou’s, a local chain that is almost as well known for hiring cute high school girls and dressing them in short shorts and pink T-shirts, as for its ridiculously flavored coffee.  Pictured above is the white chocolate chip iced coffee I purchased today. It was insanely sugary, and I would probably rather die than have been caught drinking it in front of my former Peet’s coworkers. But it was pretty tasty. And while I have little to say about Dunkin’ Donuts coffee except that it’s usually better than nothing, I do feel a certain pride to have lived in the town where it all started, and to have visited the Weymouth location where they still make their own pastries in-house. Maybe not as proud as I feel to have lived in the same zip code as the Sam Adams brewery. But a little, anyway.

No, I’m not going to miss my cat. She isn’t going anywhere, not if I have any say in the matter. But her personality seems to adapt to different environments; the chilliness of this apartment probably led to her realization that laps are kind of comfortable, especially my lap, especially if I’ve got a fleece blanket over my legs. So I’m curious exactly who she’ll be once we figure out where we’re living next. I guess I wonder the same thing about myself.

If you’ve been reading this long and live in the area (and you aren’t somebody I’ve never met, though if you are, hello! And thanks for reading!), consider this your invitation to come have a cup of tea or some dinner, or go hiking, or just keep me company while I throw things in boxes, sometime before I move. I haven’t had nearly enough people over since I’ve lived here, and I’m running out of chances to fix that.

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What not to do with rhubarb

May 14, 2011

Well, it looks like it’s that time of year again: the time when I come home with some shiny, delicious-looking piece of seasonal produce, visions of culinary greatness dancing in my head, only to destroy that innocent fruit or vegetable through ignorance and/or faulty equipment. Last year it was a pair of artichokes that turned out brown and limp but still too tough to eat; this year it’s a pound of jewel-toned rhubarb. And although I’d like to blame my sometimes-faulty oven or my general ineptitude for baking (which have joined forces to produce countless muffins that were perfectly golden on the outside, but overly squishy and moist in the middle), in this case I think it mostly comes down to a reluctance to follow directions.

The directions I wasn’t quite following were for a rhubarb crumble, posted on Orangette in 2005. Simple enough – toss sliced rhubarb with sugar and spices, top with a mixture of flour, brown sugar, rolled oats, and… 6-7 tablespoons of canola oil? Really? Baking-challenged or not, I’ve made (and eaten) lots of apple crisp, and I’ve always used butter in the topping, and certainly not 6 tablespoons of it. I figured a couple tablespoons of butter plus a slight drizzle of oil would work out all right. But I didn’t take into account the high flour-to-oats ratio in the rhubarb recipe, and without the stipulated amount of fat, the topping wasn’t browning, though the filling was bubbling gleefully. So I drizzled on a little more oil, turned on the broiler, and set a timer for three minutes. The timer sang out, I opened the oven, and my lovely rhubarb crumble was not merely browned, but blackened, and dancing with flame. I hastily shut the oven door and turned off the broiler, then opened some windows to dispel the nasty-smelling smoke while I waited for the fire to die out.

The silver lining: while I had to scrape off the hard black crust from the top, a little of the actual crust underneath survived. And I did make one successful innovation. The crumble recipe called for orange zest and I didn’t have an orange, so I substituted a tablespoon of grated fresh ginger (borrowed from another recipe I’d dismissed as probably less foolproof, ha ha). I am basically a ginger fiend, but I think even a normal person would appreciate the warm, spicy quality of the filling. And the extra flavor probably helped banish any lingering notes of carbon.

Whether my salvaged rhubarb crumble is fit to serve the friends I’m having for dinner tomorrow, I haven’t decided yet. But I bet it’ll make a terrific breakfast, topped with a dollop of vanilla yogurt.