Monday, July 9, 2012

Bellini for Bruce

This edition of Drink Your Way Through Your CSA Box is brought to you by my husband’s Uncle Bruce, who passed away last week at an age so unfairly young it hurts double to bring it up. Let’s just say cancer’s a bitch and leave it at that.

Bruce and I were related entirely through marriage, which is to say there was no blood at all, his father having married my husband’s grandmother years ago before anyone in my generation was born, so that my husband grew up with an Uncle Bruce the same way I grew up with an Aunt Chellie whose father had married my grandmother before I was born, and even though we don’t share any DNA there was never any difference at all between her and my other aunts and uncles, with the possible exception being the fact that she was much nicer. That’s no dig to my other aunts and uncles, who are all perfectly nice people (well, mostly most of the time); it’s just that Chellie is one of those people who is always calm and pleasant and has a neutralizing effect when family situations get too charged.

Bruce was the same way, as far as I can tell. If you ask anyone in my husband’s family, they’ll more or less tell you Bruce was the best one out of the group, themselves included, which is how my family feels about Chellie and, to perhaps a greater extent, my brother’s wife, Geneva, who is one of the best people anyone knows. In the world. Seriously. Patience of a saint, except that there are no saints in Judaism, so patience of whatever takes the place. A mensch, I guess.

Uncle Bruce had something of a starring role in our wedding. Because we were getting married in an interfaith (or, as my Irish Catholic father not-so-delicately put it, “secular Jewish,” with a particular tone that let you know exactly how he felt about that, which was something along the lines of “I suppose this is what my daughter wants so by god I’m going to make sure that ridiculous chuppah is hung exactly the way her newly heathenish soul wants it”) wedding, we didn’t have a lot of specific guidance about how to structure the actual marriage ceremony itself. And then we found an interfaith ketubah and fell in love with the text, and we decided to base our vows on the ketubah, and as a nod to faith we decided to have our nondenominational Christian minister administer the vows in English and have the Hebrew text read as well. We asked Bruce to do the reading, and he was honored, but like many of our Jewish friends and relatives (as it turns out), he had a limited ability to transliterate from written Hebrew to spoken Hebrew. This led to me spending a few days, just weeks before the wedding, tracking down someone confident enough to transliterate our ketubah text from the alef bet. (And now I know exactly how many of you were taking Hebrew school seriously. Noted.) Eventually my friend Wendy came through with help from her mother’s cantor friend, which is another thank-you note I still need to write because it got lost in the pre- and post-wedding haze. It will have to wait another week or two, though. That’s a note I can’t bring myself to write this week. Bruce read the text beautifully, and it was the moment of our wedding that felt the most like prayer, and for that I will always be grateful.

My husband is in Chicago right now, sitting shiva with Bruce’s wife and the family, and I’m here in Anchorage going to work and taking care of the dog, who has been my constant companion for seven years and who just started on arthritis medication that made her vomit four times on Saturday and left me texting my sister-in-law the veterinarian for guidance and then, per her instructions, cooking the dog chicken and rice and administering Pepcid coated in peanut butter.

I think it goes without saying (although I’ll say it anyway) that if the dog needed the pills hand-coated in gold leaf before she could take them, I’d be off to the craft store to stock up.

The dog is very good at taking the pills she doesn’t mind taking and eating around the ones that bother her. Right now she’s digesting a Jif-doused Pepcid while a dose of Proin sits untouched in her bowl where once it lay hidden in a glutinous coating of white rice and chicken broth. The Proin, in case you were interested, keeps her from peeing all over the floor. I’d rather she tolerated the Rimadyl, which makes her vomit but also helps her run up and down the stairs with the ease I remember from our early days, back when she was just a young dog and I was a first-year graduate student in fiction with the horizon opening in front of me like so many books or tulips or other things known for opening.

All of which brings us back to cocktails. I got home tonight and took the dog outside, and then I opened up the sliding glass door so she could go hang out on the deck. We live in a third-floor condo, and we take the dog down to the communal yard three or four times a day, but the rest of the time she’s inside, except in summer, when we plant herbs and flowers and beans on the deck and leave the sliding door open so she can sit out there above the street and bark at passing huskies and motorcycles. But today, just as I opened the sliding door, it began to rain.

The dog hates rain.

I can tell from the way toys and treats are scattered that the dog has been lying just inside the sliding glass door all day, waiting for me to come home so I can let her out on the deck to watch the traffic and snap at dragonflies. Now, instead, she sits just inside the door and looks out at the disappointingly wet sky.

As for me, between Bruce and Rimadyl and work and the rain, I ditched my plans to eat a healthy, balanced dinner.

Instead, I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich on white bread. American cheese, processed and completely devoid of any redeeming qualities. (Although I did skip buttering the outsides of the bread. I don’t have a death wish.) And then I took the three apricots left over from last week’s CSA box, which were too soft for me to enjoy because I grew up in Alaska in the 1980s and consequently I love underripe fruit because that’s what I knew as a child, and I blended them up with honey and vanilla and drank them in champagne.

I drink a lot of champagne. No, seriously, a lot of champagne. (And I’m using the general term “champagne” here to apply to any of your sparkling white wines that tiptoe under the banner of Champagne despite not having been grown anywhere near the region.) I have some high-quality favorites, but my daily quaff is the embarrassingly affordable Barefoot Bubbly, for two reasons:

1. It’s cheap. Right now, there’s a special at Oaken Keg: Buy six bottles, get ’em for $9.90 each. Since that’s about a week’s supply of champagne at my house, we look forward to that special.

2. It’s good. Not Mo√ęt good, but absolutely quaffable.

The Bellini is considered by many to be a “brunch cocktail,” but I reject that description because (a) I enjoy champagne at all times of day; and (b) I find the phrase “brunch cocktail” to be redundant to the point of stupidity. If you want to make a Bellini, I’m sure there are about a thousand and one excellent recipes for it on the Internet. But here’s what I did:

1. Took three apricots left over from my CSA delivery, halved them, pitted them and tossed them in the cup that came with my immersion blender. Probably some recipes call for you to peel them, but your mother would tell you all the nutrients are in the skin. Actually, she might be saying that about potatoes, but I’m sure there’s not all that much difference between a potato and an apricot.

2. Drizzled them with honey and some of the vanilla we brought back from our honeymoon in French Polynesia. If you want measurements, you should probably Google “Bellini recipe.” I’d guess it was about a teaspoon of each.

3. Used my trusty Cuisinart hand blender to whip it all together. (Side Note: I’m a little bit afraid of my stick blender. Or at least, I was a little bit afraid of it before my mother cut off the tip of her finger with hers; now I’m respectfully terrified of it.)

4. Filled a champagne flute with two-thirds Barefoot Bubbly and one-third apricot pulp.

I recommend putting the wine in first and then the pulp, because when you pour sparkling wine onto things you’re risking overflow (which I experienced, probably because I tried thinning my apricot pulp with champagne and then adding it to the glass of champagne, which created an over-the-top champagne/apricot fountain all over my kitchen counter, which was filthy anyway, so whatevs). Also, in terms of flavor, I could have done without the vanilla. I really only put it in because it reminds me of our honeymoon, which reminds me of our wedding, which reminds me of Bruce.

It stopped raining just about the time I finished toweling up the rest of my Bellini, so I sat out on the deck with my sandwich, my drink and the dog, smelling that post-rain wet pavement smell that I love.

If there’s a lesson to take from all this, it is… well, that you can’t ever go wrong with a fresh fruit puree and a tasty sparkling wine. Grind it up and pour it in. It may be ugly, but it will almost always taste delicious.

Also, try to marry into a family that includes a veterinarian who will answer your Saturday afternoon vomit texts for free.

And I suppose, really, that I needed a reminder that life is short, and no matter how many evenings there are with champagne and pureed organic fruit and really good grilled cheese sandwiches and a dog who loves you, there can never be too many, or even enough.

The same can be said for the uncles and aunts everyone loves best, who always make everything better, who volunteer to read Hebrew even if they’re not terribly confident, who come into your family and help everyone feel better about everything.

Thank you, Bruce. We love you.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012

Justify your summer binge drinking with fresh fruit

It's super warm in Anchorage and between Full Circle and Costco (and a massive backlog of good dietary intentions), I have a house full of fresh fruit. More fresh fruit, in fact, than two people could possibly eat unless they were doing a fruit fast, and a fruit fast won't work out for us because, as it turns out, one of the rules is you can't eat steak.

Fortunately, I also have a well-stocked liquor cabinet, a really kick-ass blender and a basic understanding of mixed drink composition. Which is why I'm kicking back in the sun right now, misting the dog with a spray bottle (you'd need misting, too, if you were covered with a thick coat of Siberian fur) and sucking down my second daiquiri of the evening, which I refuse to feel guilty about because news flash, y'all: This drink is almost entirely made of fresh, healthy, fiber-rich FRUIT.

Purists might complain that a traditional daiquiri is made with lime, it's not blended, etc., etc. To that I say: You're right. This is an incredibly lazy adaptation of what is already a bastardization of the drink whose name it bears. But it is so delicious, and so easy, that I really don't care.

If you'd like to join me on the guilt-free bar tour of summer produce, hop on board.

How to make the easiest strawberry daiquiri in the whole world

Get out your blender. Actually, start by getting a really great blender. If you get married and you're not sure what to put on your registry, may I recommend a spectacular blender? It will change your life.

Got your blender? Great. Dump a tray of ice cubes into it. (This is why you need a quality blender. There's nothing worse than trying to crush ice with an ineffective blender.) Then add about twice the volume of fresh strawberries (one part ice, two parts berries, more or less). 

Once you've got your fruit in there, splash in some liquor. I used rum, because this is a daiquiri, and that means rum. As far as measurements go, I don't want to tell you what to do (and I've never measured the liquor myself), but I usually put in enough that there's a puddle about an inch and a half deep at the bottom of the blender.

At this point, depending on the natural sweetness of my berries (which I have, naturally, pre-sampled; that is called quality control), I will probably add some kind of sweetener. I generally add a couple of packets of Stevia in the Raw. You could also use sugar or honey or agave or whatever hippie natural sweetener you like, but for God's sake, don't use Sweet 'N' Low. This is FRESH FRUIT. Don't wreck it.

OK, now set your blender to pulse mode (what's that? Your blender doesn't have pulse mode? See the first step. You need a better blender) and puree that bad boy until it's smooth. Then TURN YOUR BLENDER OFF and stick your finger in the top to taste it. (The finger part is imperative, which is why it's majorly important that you turn the blender off before you taste. Your evening of delicious homemade daiquiris will be ruined if you have to spend it in the emergency room.) If it's not sweet enough, sweeten it. If it's too thick, add more rum. (It should be thicker than extra pulp orange juice but not as thick as a Jamba Juice.) When it's perfect, pour it into one of the margarita glasses you got as a wedding gift. Take a photo and put it on the Internet so your relatives will know how much you like those glasses. Instagram it first so you feel extra arty.

Guess what? You just made a motherfucking strawberry daiquiri.

You are now awesome at concocting frozen blended alcoholic drinks, so take your skills out into the world and do good works. You can alter the basic recipe to change it up. Sub tequila for the rum and call it a strawberry margarita. Sub vodka for the tequila and call it amazing. Last night I used all fresh strawberries, but tonight I mixed it up (because I used most of the strawberries last night) and tossed in some seedless black grapes as well. And, OK, most of a SpongeBob Push-Up Pop. Listen, I just go with what feels right. And it felt so, so right. I also like to add a splash of liqueur in a complementary flavor; Chambord for your frutti di bosco, Triple Sec for your summer/citrus fruits, et cetera. If you're daring (or severely, depressingly alcoholic), you can even take it to work in the morning and call it a "smoothie." Just don't let anyone smell your breath.

Take the genius one step further:

Want this mind-numbingly simple process to be even more stupidly easy next time? Get a clean ice cube tray and fill it up with your leftover daiquiri.

OK, who are we kidding? There is no leftover daiquiri. Which is why you always make extra. So take your extra daiquiri and fill up an ice cube tray (or two). Stick it in the freezer. When the cubes are frozen, dump them into a Ziploc bag and keep them frozen.

Pop quiz, hot shot: What do you have now?

That's right. One quick and easy, ready-to-blend daiquiri. So next time all you have to do is pop those frozen daiquiri cubes in the blender and hit "puree." So easy a child could do it. In fact, if you have children of blender-operating age, I recommend teaching them to do it right now. That way you don't have to get out of your deck chair for the rest of the summer, and they'll have something to talk about with their therapist someday.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Spam of the week

Oh, good lord. Really?

Contact me as soon as possible.
Calvary greetings,I am here because i read there are people here, to make a lot of difference in this life.i think you can make a lot of difference if we talk , become good friends in our lord , and see that with greater power , comes greater responsibility . You can make a change in the life of others,most especially the poor at heart , and the less privileged. first. I think i would start all with a proper introduction of myself .
I am Missionary Mary Singers , a widow to Late Paul Gaston Singers. I am 57 years old,suffering from long time cancer of the breast . From all indications , my condition is really deteriorating and is quite obvious that I may not live more than two months after my next surgery , because the cancer stage has gotten to a very severe stage . My personal physician told me that I may not live for more than 2 months and I am so scared about it . I have no child of mine , even though i wish i had . It is late now you know , since i can not get married again , and age is no longer on my side.
Psalms 119:116 Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live, and let me not be ashamed of my hope.Psalms 138: 7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou will revive me..Psalms 145:18Psalms 57: 7 My heart is fixed. O God my heart is fixed, I willsing & give praisePsalms51: 17 The sacrifices of God are broken spirit, a broken & contriteheart, O God thou will not despise.psalms 41: 1 Blessed is he that considereth the poor, the Lord will deliver himin time of trouble.
Two of my favorite verses: Philippians2:27: For indeed he was sick nigh unto death, but God had mercy on him & that on him only, but on me also,lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.( I always say this in my mind)
So, I now decide to divide part of my wealth, by contributing to the development of the motherless baby homes, needy, poor, charity homes and widows too.i am willing to donate the sum of $5.000,000.00, which is still the major inheritance i have left.i wish you could be someone who i could trust with all my heart,to make this wish of mine come true.
Please note that, this fund is lying in a bank. so i need you to use the funds to help the poor . I know this is hard , and it take a very strong heart to get this done , but you should keep this saying in your heart , I am like Moses in the Bible . He came to the Red Sea and Pharaoh behind him and no way to turn but God delivered him all by a miraculous deliverance . It will be a miracle from God to be able to help all the dear people God has laid on our hearts .
This is why with God in my heart,i contact you,and i want you to contact me,so we be in contact with all the poor souls out there . Give new lives , hopes and days . I have come to find out that wealth acquisition without Christ is vanity and i hope you will agree with this also . I will be praying hard that Satan will not stop this effort . Do contact me and i will tell you more of what you wish to know .
God bless you.
Yours in Christ,
Mary Singers

Sorry, Mary. I already sent all my money to that nice Nigerian prince.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

In the kitchen with Martha: Bacon jam

Martha Stewart's Slow-Cooker Bacon Jam

I used to not eat meat. I KNOW — how sad for me. (No offense, current vegetarians. I'm sure you're perfectly happy just as you are.) A lot of recovering vegetarians talk about how they used to crave bacon before they gave in and got back on the hog. Personally, I can't remember ever once longing for bacon during my near-decade of abstaining from meat, but I do think it's a delicious meat product that I now enjoy from time to time. And my favorite menu item at Burritoville when I lived in New York was the VLT, a wrap that included faux bacon and soy chipotle mayonnaise. (Although I notice it's not on the menu anymore, so maybe I was the only person who loved it.)

If I like bacon, though, MLB super loves it, and so do most of our friends, and consequently I've found I can't go wrong with a bacon-based appetizer when entertaining. Usually I stick to bacon-wrapped apricots with teriyaki sauce, but when we had a few people over last weekend I decided to branch out with Martha Stewart's recipe for bacon jam.

That's right. Jam of bacon.

I was drawn to this recipe initially not only because it is bacon jam (jam! of bacon!) but because it has the words "slow cooker" right there in the name, and the only thing I love more than making delicious food is making delicious food in the Crock Pot. I'm a big fan of dumping things in a pot, pushing a button, and walking away for eight hours, only to come back to hot, tasty dinner. (Side Note: Want to make chicken tacos? Put a package of chicken breasts in your Crock Pot with a jar of salsa and a packet of fajita seasoning. Eight hours on low. Shred with forks. WINNING.)

Martha Stewart's Slow-Cooker Bacon Jam, however, is one of those tricky slow cooker recipes that requires just as much (or more) cooking outside the Crock Pot as it does in the actual slow cooker. First you cook your cut-up bacon. (I used good bacon. Why would you cheap out and use Safeway brand bacon? THIS IS BACON JAM.) Then you cook onions and garlic in the bacon fat. Then you cook brown sugar, vinegar, coffee and maple syrup in the onions and garlic. (Yes, this recipe has essentially everything that is delicious in it.) THEN you pop it all into the slow cooker, and then when it's all done you pulse it through your Cuisinart. The slow cooker is really just sort of a brief (four-hour) interlude; it might more properly be called Frying-Pan-And-Food-Processor Bacon Jam.

Naming conventions aside... this is delicious. I probably don't even need to say that; you saw the ingredients. It solidifies a bit in the fridge (all that bacon fat setting up), so I microwaved it on low power for a minute or two before serving. We ate it on baguettes, but honestly, you could eat it off recycled sawdust cardboard chips and it would still be delicious. We sent some home with a friend who said he ate it on leftover salmon and mashed potatoes, which was obviously also delicious.

It also makes a ton. When Martha says you should "send your guests home with a jar," she's not just giving a nod to hospitality. She's warning you that (a) this is amazing and (b) you will have a ton left over. So bust out those jars.

Jan. 15
Today on Martha's calendar: Clear fallen branches around property, split for firewood, and stack inside barn.
Today on Maia's calendar: Stare at Christmas tree needles still scattered around living room floor and think about vacuuming. Watch "Downton Abbey" instead.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bucket list

#1: Stage "Starlight Express" in Anchorage. Outdoors. On ice skates. Because, you know... It's Alaska.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2012: The year of Living Marthalously

MLB and I recently celebrated six months of wedded bliss (which means we've been married now for about a third of the length of time we were engaged, but still, it's a milestone). Someone asked us recently how long it takes to recover from a wedding like ours, and the answer is: We don't know. We're still ordering albums and mailing off the final thank-you notes and believe it or not, gifts still trickle in from time to time. We just threw out the last of the top layer of our cake (I know you're supposed to keep it in the freezer to eat on your first anniversary, but after reviewing the state of what was left during a recent freezer purge, we decided it would be better to part ways. If we decide we want cake for our first anniversary, we'll buy a new one).

Still, we're definitely on the downhill side of wedding wind-down, which means that my thoroughly-documented full-time year-and-a-half-long obsession hobby has more or less come to an end. Now that wedding planning is over and I've started to get the hang of being married, it's time for a new project in a new year. (Besides, you know, my job and my eye shadow blog and learning to be a writer again.) 

I didn't have to think too long about what it would be.

I love Martha Stewart. I'm not ashamed to admit it. She's given me something to aspire to since I first picked up her magazine close to 20 years ago. Martha makes me believe it's possible to do everyday things beautifully. She validates me when I go through occasional fits of mania and want to do things like alphabetize my spices and sew dust bags for all my shoes. (Disclaimer: I have done only one of those things, and it was not recently.) And she provided me with a significant amount of much-needed moral support during the wedding planning process. 

Some people think Martha sets unrealistic standards that none of us can ever meet, and sure, there's some merit to that. I mean, looking at her monthly calendar in the magazine makes me break out in a cold sweat of inadequacy:

"Clean and oil saddles"? "Bring a bowl of fresh eggs to the office"? Where's the day for "Lie on the couch with a box of crackers and watch an entire 'America's Next Top Model' marathon"? Let's just say Maia's Month and Martha's Month bear little resemblance to one another.

On the other hand, there are lots of dreamy Martha Stewart projects that are attainable, or even deceptively easy. Like this cake topper, which appeared in Martha Stewart Weddings years ago, and which occupied the File Away For Future Wedding folder in my creative subconscious for years:

And which I then used as the basis for my own wedding cake topper, which turned out beautifully, if I do say so myself:

And now that I'm old and married and not working long, exhausting hours anymore, I'm ready to fully embrace Martha's influence. Throughout 2012, I'll be undertaking a variety of Martha Stewart projects — at least one from each issue of the magazine, and additional projects from (You can preview some of the possibilities on my Living Marthalously Pinterest board.) I expect that some of these projects will be epic fails, some will be raging successes, and many will have to be adapted to allow for the fact that I don't live in a Westport farmhouse with a full staff. And of course, I'll share the results here on Own The Sidewalk, where 2012 is the Year of Living Marthalously.