So much for being back

We’ve been back home in Atlanta going on six months now and I still can’t seem to find the time to write. I seem to have lost my voice for the moment. A nasty comment on my last post may have affected me more than I want to admit. In any case, my writing self has lain dormant for a while.

The good news: the cats. They couldn’t care less. They have catnip . . .

 … and food.

Never mind that their humans live in a part of the city hell bent on recreating past episodes of the Jerry Springer show for the entertainment of the neighbors. In the six months we’ve lived here, we’ve seen furniture thrown off the porch during a particularly dramatic spat, had to call the cops on a domestic dispute, dealt with teenagers who seem to have mistaken our front yard for their own personal football field, and headed to the back of the house when we heard gunshots.

And I love being here, in Atlanta, my home. I’m cooking again. I’m writing again. I will be back. Thanks for being patient.

Still No Artisan Bread

Dear readers, I regret to say that I lied to you at the end of my last post: “I discovered that you can make good artisan bread with no recipe at all.” 

I’m not sure why I suddenly took on the tone of a Google sidebar ad (“I got white teeth for only $1. Find out how”), but to be fair things did seem to be heading in that direction. What I should have said was a little less glamorous: You need a recipe, but artisan bread isn’t that hard.

Cleo: “Even I can make artisan bread!” (Note: She was whisked from the scene before she got a chance to prove it.)

Thought it isn’t hard, it involves several steps and takes a couple of days to make–which means that recipe testing is taking longer than I originally anticipated. So it will be a while before I can post on this topic.

I’ll be turning to other subjects in my next few posts. In the meantime, though, check out this fabulous site on artisan bread to learn  from someone who actually seems to know something about it.

Hiatus Activity

It’s been a busy few weeks.

The cats have helped me with my crosswords.

Cleo admired Fred’s latest painting.

Fred cooked supper, even involving vegetable matter in the process.

And we visited the family farm in Tennessee.


Posting will continue to be sporadic over the next few weeks, as we travel around the country for holidays. I’ve been cooking a lot and hope to share recipes for the holidays soon, but will certainly be back in January.

When You’re Down . . .

I’m just now returning to something resembling normalcy, after an unpleasant bug that kept me out of work for four days and cost an appalling $108 in antibiotics to cure. Fred was out of town leading an arts workshop, so I had only the cats to help out.

Thelma took care of the livestock . . .

. . . while Cleo and Catalina made sure I stayed warm.

Unfortunately their food preparation skills are somewhat limited, and the only thing they caught during the week offered little of nutritional value and even less in the way of presentation.

Needless to say I was thrilled to have Fred back, and look forward to returning to the kitchen this week.

Good-bye, Louise

Our dear cat Louise, featured so often in pages of this blog, died unexpectedly yesterday morning. The vet discovered fluid in her lungs when we took her in Friday afternoon, and by Saturday morning we decided it would be best to have her euthanized. We trust that God is giving her lots of tuna, that she is getting good lap time on a regular basis, that she is chirping happily in a warm sunny spot, and that she is finding many birds and voles to chase–birds and voles that misbehaved horribly in this life, and are getting their just desserts.

But I miss her, my friend and companion of 14 years. She sat on my lap and chirped through a broken engagement, three major moves, a new marriage, and a career change. She was always there to remind me that a creature deserves and therefore should demand love and respect, that naps are a necessary part of life, and that you need to pay attention to the things you love no matter how busy you may be.

Good-bye, Louise.

Six weeks old
With her favorite toy as a kitten

Protecting her human at night
Helping to write the blog

My sweet friend

Best Bread in the World on a Snowy Weekend

Go ahead and mock us Southerners for shutting down over the 6 or so inches of snow that fell here on Saturday. We’re happy to take a sabbath, close up, hunker down, tuck ourselves in and enjoy a pleasant winter day snugged up in our house, baking, reading, and napping.

Cleo, never satisfied just to stay safe in a warm house, mewed so desperately to get out on Saturday that I decided to let her venture forth.

Obviously, she didn’t get far.

And anyway, I don’t understand why anyone would have wanted to leave the house this weekend. I baked like crazy, including this loaf of bread.

The recipe claims that this is the “best bread in the world.” That depends on what you like in a bread, of course. If you like a crusty loaf this one won’t satisfy, but its soft and tender crust makes it perfect for sandwiches. I find its sweet and nutty flavor very appealing.

The recipe is quite forgiving in the portion of wheat to white flour. In fact, I accidentally reversed the portion of white and wheat flour in the original recipe, and I like the change so much I kept it here. 

Best Bread in the World 

Makes 2 loaves

2 cups boiling water
1 cup uncooked oatmeal
1/3 cup lukewarm water
2 tbsp. yeast
1 tbsp. salt
1/2 cup honey
2 tbsp. butter
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1 egg yolk plus 1 tsp. water

Pour boiling water over oats in large bowl. Add salt, honey, and butter, and stir. Let stand until softened, butter has melted, and mixture is lukewarm.

Stir yeast into lukewarm water and let it dissolve. (I usually give it a stir until the lumps are gone.) Add to oat mixture. Gradually add flour, stirring with wooden spoon, until a soft ball of dough forms. It should stay together easily when you gather it together with your hands.

Generously flour kneading surface with white flour. I like to use a non-fuzzy cotton towel, like the ones made from flour sacks. Knead dough until smooth and elastic. The instructions say to do this for 10 minutes but it never seems to take me this long. Dough will be ready when it doesn’t “fold” over easily during the kneading process and it springs back in your hands. Don’t clean kneading surface unless required for another task–you will use it one more time.

Oil a large bowl and add dough, turning it to coat with oil on all sides. Cover with a towel and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Oil 2 loaf pans. Punch down dough and divide in two. Knead each half briefly and shape into loaves. (You can clean your kneading surface now!) Place loafs in pans. Cover and let rise until pans are full. Preheat oven to 350.

Beat egg yolk lightly with the teaspoon of water. Brush surface of each loaf with egg mixture. Bake 35 or 40 minutes.

Turn loaves onto rack and let cool slightly, if you can resist, before slicing. Loaves will freeze well.

Warm Food for a Chilly New Year

We are back for 2010, after a long vacation over Christmas that included our third wedding anniversary and a week in Jackson Hole, WY, with family. We limited the possibility of injury by sticking to snowshoeing. Fred also took his first cross-country ski lesson, during which they taught him to fall down. He was so pleased that he practiced falling down quite a bit thereafter, and seems to have mastered the technique quite well. 

I was also reminded why I married him, because he is the only man I know who would bring a copy of Poetry magazine on a snowshoeing excursion. (I post this photo as a tribute to Ruth Lilly, the benefactor of the magazine, who died while we were on the trip.) 

Returning to Durham, we were surprised to find the temperature was very nearly the same as it had been in Wyoming. The cats responded appropriately. See if you can spot which one made herself at home in our sweater drawer.

And finally, I made this delicious pork and bean soup. I post it despite my concern that it’s not possible to replicate it. For starters, the broth I used was from a Cornish game hen I roasted over Christmas. The hen was stuffed with sage dressing, and the flavors may have infused the broth. 

Second, the pork came from a container of pulled pork “barbecue” from Whole Foods. As barbecue, it was lousy–tender but lacking anything in the way of zip, zing, or flavor. Not even worthy of a sandwich, it was heartlessly tossed into the pot, where it took on a new life so tasty that it may convince me to buy it again for the sole purpose of making this soup.

Pork and Northern Bean Soup

Makes 3 – 4 servings

About 1 quart chicken or other poultry stock
1 medium onion, chopped
3 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry Great Northern beans
1 cup small carrots, sliced
1 tbsp. herbes de Provence (could substitute a mix of sage and thyme)
1 cup mild pork barbecue, shredded or chopped*
1 small can evaporated milk, or more to taste
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

*Note that this is North Carolina-style barbecue, which is vinegar based and uses no tomato. If this type of barbecue is not available, I would substitute leftover smoked pork shoulder, pork chops, tenderloin, or even ham.

Put enough chicken stock in bottom of soup pot to cover and saute onion on medium high heat. Add garlic and stir. Add beans, remaining chicken stock, and a large pinch of kosher salt (a teaspoon or so–it really does not matter as long as you don’t overdo it, since seasonings will be corrected at the end.) Bring to a boil and let boil for 1 -2 minutes. Cover, reduce heat to medium low, and let simmer until beans are just tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check every half hour or so; add water or more stock if liquid level begins to get low, enough to keep ingredients well covered. Add carrots and herbes de Provence. Cover and continue to simmer until carrots are tender, 15 – 30 minutes. Add pork and evaporated milk and stir. Remove from heat immediately or when soup is sufficiently warm; do not overcook the pork. Add more salt to taste and pepper if desired. Serve immediately.

Grill Baby Grill

Like most couples marrying later in life, Fred and I had already accumulated most of the kitchenware we needed. Knowing this, our friends and relatives flooded us with gift certificates at our wedding, most of which have long since been used.

Still, one set of key certificates remained untouched: two cards from Crate and Barrel in generous amounts, waiting for just the right purchase.

The pressure to decide on exactly the perfect way to use these cards was becoming a terrible burden for Fred and me. We are people who hem and haw over restaurant and movie choices. How could we be entrusted with such a weighty matter as this?

And so it was that shortly after our arrival in Durham, cards in hand, we visited the Crate and Barrel at Crabtree and spent an entire afternoon examining every item in the store, debating their individual merits: potholders, bed frames, pillows, chaise lounges, All Clad cookware, pickled onions. Only one item, though, really stuck with me: a grill, made by Weber, that allowed you to use propane to light the charcoal and that came attached to a handy plastic table for holding your plates of burgers and steak. (I assume the table won’t melt.) We decided, though, that the wooden screened-in porch of our apartment would not be the best place for grilling, and let it go.

But this summer, finally beginning to settle into our house in Trinity Park and freed from the confines of the wooden screened-in porch, I found myself fantasizing about seared salmon steaks and mesquite-smoked pork chops, with my equipment tidily arranged on the little plastic table and my charcoal and wood chips securely stored in the handy pull-out bin underneath. And so it was that on one of our rare trips to Raleigh recently, we took the plunge.

Here it is, safely ensconced on our concrete porch next to our brick basement. We can only hope that the weeds growing out of the patio won’t catch fire.

Louise, excited by the prospect of grilled tuna, also helped with the assembly.