10 October 2007

Yes, Nice Does Matter

I was delighted the other day when Mary aka Breadchick from The Sour Dough, a fellow blogger and Yooper (that is, someone from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or the U.P.) named me in her Nice Matters Awards.

Mary is one of the many bloggers I've met online who is just plain nice. Courtesy, politeness, support and encouragement matter in the blog world as they do in our everyday lives.

My father always said, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar." And he was always charming, whatever else he was or wasn't.

He was also very polite. I used to hear him ordering food and supplies by phone. He sounded almost humble, he was so polite.

He also used to say, "If you can't say anything good about someone, don't say anything at all." I never, never heard him badmouth anyone.

I have not always lived up to those standards. But I do try.

I have been lucky though. I have met all of you, and you have been patient with me over the past few months. You have visited me, even though I often do not have time to repay the visits.

So, in my mind, you are all pretty nice.

But there are several of you who have been with me for more than a year now, really offering advice and encouragement. So, while I salute all my blog friends, I especially mention the following food bloggers, who have visited my site frequently and posted, even when I was missing in action:

  • The lovely and thoughtful Jan from The Traveling Food Lady

  • The gracious and kind Christine from Christine Cooks

  • Another upbeat and witty midwesterner, Katie from Thyme for Cooking

  • A fine fellow food writer with a charitable heart, Lydia from The Perfect Pantry

  • The creative and always cheerful Tanna from My Kitchen In Half Cups

  • Now there are many others who have been helpful, friendly, caring. Erica, Kalyn, Laura, TerryB, Terri, Cyn, CF, Lucy, Judy, Toni, Kristen, Julie, Andrea, and the many newcomers who have surfaced in the last six months. Not to mention my non-cyber friends who visit here (you know who you are). But these five have gone the distance with me.

    I have a hard time narrowing things down. This is tough.

    So, what the heck. You are all nice.

    Oh, yeah, what about the photo? I thought that was nice, too.

    27 September 2007

    Road Food: Pasties

    I love business travel. I enjoy checking into a hotel room, unpacking my things, which always include a good book, bubble bath and the other acouterments of pampering, and a local newspaper.

    My husband says he enjoys it, too.

    “There are no demands on your time,” he says. “At home, you feel as if you should be doing something constructive.”

    Once I am checked into a hotel room, I am usually not interested in leaving. I relax almost immediately and want to get further acclimated to my temporary environment. But I do leave, mainly to search for a local deli. I seldom eat alone in restaurants, and I do not like take-out food.

    In Marquette, Mich., there are some very nice locally owned sandwich shops and delis. But the other night, strapped for time and weary from a long drive, I opted for a local supermarket, expecting to find the usual selection of rotisserie chicken, cole slaw, potato salad and baked beans.

    Instead - being in Yooper country - I found pasties, those meat-and-potato stuffed pastry pockets that Cornish workers took into the iron mines with them. They are a staple here, where the mines have long dominated the local economy.

    My husband, having Cornish genes, loves them. I find them a bit too carb laden. But after more than three hours of driving on an empty stomach, a pasty looked pretty darned good.

    (By the way, that’s a soft A, not a long one. Paa-stee, not pay-stee. The two uses are not interchangeable, either.)

    I bought a pasty, adding some cheese and nuts, and enjoying an apple (courtesy of a friend at the Italian market back home) for dessert.

    As pasties go, it was not the best or the worst I’ve eaten. Doesn’t really matter. I was ravenous, and it was hearty and satisfying.

    What I was really tasting here was a night of freedom. I missed my husband, but had a long phone conversation with my sister-in-law, a warm bubble bath and a good book to sooteh my road weariness.

    When you travel, what do you do? Eat out? Splurge? Choose takeout? I’m curious. My new job will involve more travel, and I may just broaden my horizons at mealtime, too.

    I'll be on the road again Monday.

    23 September 2007

    Pork Tenderloin with Apples, Cider and Calvados

    We awoke Sunday to the sound of gunshots, coming from either across the river or the swampy area to the west of our neighborhood. It is ruffed grouse and wild turkey season, and there are some of the former and plenty of the latter around wooded areas here, in and out of the city.

    The day was warm and sunny, but when the chill set in at dusk I closed the doors against it. I could smell the smoke from my neighbor’s wood fire and hear honking from the Canada geese down by the river.

    These are good nights to hunker down at home with a seasonal meal and a hearty wine.

    Tonight, we continued the apple theme, preparing Pork with Apples, Cider and Calvados, a recipe adapted from Epicurious.

    • 1 pound pork tenderloin

    • 5 tablespoons butter
    • 4 Golden Delicious apples, cored
    • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
    • 2 large shallots, peeled and chopped
    • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
    • ¼ cup Calvados
    • 1 cup half-and-half
    • ¼ cup apple cider

    Slice pork into ½ inch thick slices. Place between wax paper and flatten with a mallet. Wrap or cover and refrigerate.

    Melt twp tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add apples and sugar. Brown apples lightly, for about 5-6 minutes. Remove from skillet, and set aside.

    Melt two more teaspoons of butter over high heat. Add the pork. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté until cooked gthrough and lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Set aside, keeping the pork warm.

    Melt one teaspoon butter in the same skillet. Brown shallots, adding the fresh thyme. Add Calvados and boil until reduced to glaze. Blend in half-and-half and cider and boil until entire mixture thickens. Season with salt and pepper.

    Reheat apples and pork. Serve with sauce.

    To round out the meal, I roasted red potatoes and Brussels sprouts in olive oil and salt and pepper. I paired the meal with a simple but robust red table wine. For dessert, there were pumpkin bars.

    When I make this again, I will experiment with other tart apples, red ones this time to give the dish some color. I will likely add more shallots, too.

    16 September 2007

    Chicken with Cider and Calvados

    In college, I devoured young women's magazines, and somewhere along the way clipped an extensive article about Normandy. The accompanying photos of lace curtained windows, baskets of apples and bottles of Calvados formed my ideas of what a French kitchen should be, and I saved them for years.

    I also saved a handful of recipes from the same feature article. Tonight, for the first time, I made a chicken recipe I've saved for more than 20 years. This is the first time I've prepared it.

    It seemed the perfect time for apples and chicken: A sunny but coolish Sunday with heavy overtones of autumn all around, from the honking of geese overhead to the red-tinged leaves on the many maples in our neighborhood.

    Chicken with Cider
    • 1 3-to-4-pound chicken, cut up
    • 1/2 cup flour
    • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter 
    • 1 Tablespoon cooking oil
    • 2 dashes fleur de sel
    • dash freshly ground pepper
    • 1/4 cup Calvados or brandy
    • 1 3/4 cup apple cider
    • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1 teaspoon parsley

    Coat chicken with flour and brown in large skillet containing oil and butter. Place skin side down, and turn as needed to brown both sides. Season with salt and pepper.

    Pour in Calvados and ignite, using a long match. Allow the liquid to burn until the flame extinguishes itself. Add cider and herbs. Bring to a simmer. Cover and allow to simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes.

    Check breasts with a meat thermometer, remove if hot enough. Legs and wings will need to cook longer. Remove the chicken from the skillet, add a bit of flour to the remaining sauce and use a whisk. Pour over the chicken.

    The chicken was moist and tender. The sauce had enough apple flavor to hold my interest. But I think I will add onions and shallots to the skillet next time. The flavor was way too subtle.

    I served this with green beans amandine and herbed potatoes. Wine Pairing: A white merlot.

    09 September 2007

    Sausage Stuffed Red Peppers

    Brr. It is downright chilly here tonight. Out come the winter pajamas!

    At any given time, you will likely find red peppers, sweet Italian sausage and a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in my larder. Onions, garlic and cheese are givens, as important as milk and coffee. So when I found inspiration in The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, I did not have to venture out for provisions.

    The magazine features yellow bell peppers stuffed with ground beef and cheese. I used red peppers, sausage and olives. The recipe below is an adaptation.

    Sweet Italian Sausage-Stuffed Red Peppers

    • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage
    • 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
    • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes from a jar, chopped
    • 1/2 cup green and/or black olives, pitted and chopped
    • 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce
    • 4-6 red bell peppers
    • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • 1 teaspoon each rosemary and thyme, chopped

    Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil; set aside. In same skillet, brown sausage, using a wooden spatula to cut into small pieces. Add herbs and, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and spaghetti sauce and allow to simmer about 20 minutes over low heat.

    Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the tops and stem off the peppers. Set peppers on their sides and cut away roughly 1/4 of the pepper and remove seeds and membrane. Place peppers in a greased baking pan. Set aside.

    Add cheese to sausage mixture. Add beaten egg to serve as a binder. Finally, add rosemary and thyme. Spoon sausage mixture into peppers and bake at in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and top with Parmesan or other cheese (I used a mild cheddar infused with basil and tomato).

    Allow peppers to cool 5-10 minutes before serving. This mild herby and very sweet dish would be perfect paired with a rosé table wine, perhaps something from Provence.

    24 August 2007

    Paris: On the Cheap

    I cannot tell you how much I wanted this raspberry confection in the window at LeNotre near the Bastille one dreary morning in May.

    I craved it. I could taste it. I wanted to consume it.

    Eating it - posessing it - would have brightened my day considerably.

    But it was 40 euros, and it was a big. I should have bought a smaller dessert, which was about 7 euros. But even that is hard for me to do, as my frugality gene rears its practical head regularly when we are on the road.

    The way I see it, you never know when you will need every extra penny you have. So: No frivolous purchases.

    My husband and I often split desserts. We want a taste, not the whole thing. This saves us both money and calories, not to mention carbs, fat, salt and other things that are bad for you but good tasting.

    We restrain ourselves, shooting photos instead.

    I'm not sure if I am entirely happy being so darned prudent and frugal.

    22 August 2007

    Paris: The Quality of Light

    Before you actually travel to Paris, you may have been there.

    You might have imagined, as I did, quays wrapped in light evening fog or gritty neighborhoods of cheap shops and trinket stores. You might have yearned to see Paris come alive in the morning with delivery trucks blocking narrow streets and outdoor vendors already hawking their edibles in street markets.

    I did. I imagined all this, based on photos and stories and books. And then I experienced it all first hand.

    I was never disappointed. Paris fails to disappoint, time after time.

    Much of my early vision of Paris was fashioned by magazine ads for such perfumes as "L'Air du Temps" and "L'Heure Bleu," which inevitably featured pale photographs of the Seine and Notre Dame or Pont Neuf. My teen-aged imagination took flight, and a vision of Paris was formed.

    It was palpable. I could smell it and taste it, too.

    Eventually, I saw it for myself. And I photographed it.

    I love the photo above for the way it captures the watercolor quality of the light over Ile St. Louis and Ile de la Cité at 6 p.m. Our feet were aching, and we stopped to rest on precarious seats above Quay d'Orleans.

    It is an ordinary picture of an ordinary moment. And yet because it met my expectations, I wanted to savor it.

    And so I did.

    Those of you who post here know exactly what I mean. You've experienced this too, if not in Paris, then somewhere else.

    Where and when did you have your "Yes, this is it" moment?