September 23, 2016
Last year, we attended a Dead Poets Society Party, where each guest took turns at the podium, regaling the group with essays, songs, dramatic readings, poems, anecdotes, etc. Hosted by Debby and Glenn Angelino, it was a fun, sometimes poignant, mostly hilarious evening. Debby and Glenn are pictured in the top left photo, with my husband Bob sitting in the middle. Jim and Janie Wine (top center photo) read a scene from When Harry Met Sally. (Jim also brought down the house with his unique stylings of That’s Why the Lady Is a Tramp.) Joel From (top right photo) provided some entertaining medical anecdotes, with a lot of heart. (He’s a cardiologist.) The variety provided by the group was impressive. Me? I wrote an essay on—what else—food. I have included it below (so I can get a little more mileage out of it). Perhaps it’s a bit ribald; as Mrs. Doubtfire’s dear late husband Winston would have said, “Brace yourself, Effie!”
Love for Sale in the Produce Aisle
Piloting my cart through the maze of shelves and shoppers, I arrive at the produce department and behold the teeming carnival before me. I push past the bell peppers in brazen colors that belie their mild proclivities; spurn the harlot-rouged tomatoes seducing me from their clear-plastic bordellos; dodge the pheromonal onions with their unkempt topknots and flimsy overcoats hiding pungent secrets; disdain the dainty-leafed lettuces overdressed in their endless ruffles; shun the bronzed carrots flaunting their gratingly slim, androgynous bodies.
Rounding the corner, I pull up to my favorite spot—the potato bin—and invite some stodgy russets to take a ride. Perhaps they don’t radiate the vitality of the other vegetables, but I do admire their stoic inner beauty. Today, I’m not in the market for those pretty prima donnas laid out like magazine centerfolds on every shelf. I watch the hydrating mists caress their delicate skins every few minutes, and it gets on my nerves. Well, wouldn’t we all look dewier if we were continually being coddled and moisturized? I try to remind myself that they are mere flashes in the pan—fresh and lovely now, but their days are numbered.
Earthy, fleshy, homey. Starchy, stuffy, sturdy. As my trusty tubers bump along the conveyor belt, I see the knowing glints in their many eyes. I sense that we are simpatico with their forthcoming reincarnation—that moment when these hard-core hunks will morph into malleable mounds of mmm mmm goodness; when white hot heat sears their very souls, ending in a climax of butter melting deep into softened flesh. And a final flourish of salt and pepper enflames their mortal wounds. Sadistic? Perhaps, but balms of sour cream are brought in to soothe their glorious agonies.
When the consummation is complete, my plate—licked clean—reflects my regret. But not for long, thanks a generous pour of lusty cab sitting to my right.
My obsession is the stuff of aching-loin novels. I could pen this overwrought potato prose well into the wee hours of night, but then who would dispense with these dirty dishes? My reverie fades as I fill the sink with soapy water. Truth be told, though, I tremble in anticipation of my next dalliance with those humble lumps of pure goodness. (August 2015)
It is my pleasure to feature my most beloved potato recipe of all time, thanks to my friend, Barb DeBuhr, who first introduced it to our gourmet group a few years ago. I could eat an entire pan of Yukon Gold and Boursin Gratin and never tire of it. Be warned that this recipe is definitely near the top of the “Naughty Scale,” but once you have wrapped your lips around these amazingly rich, elegant, velvety potatoes, you will never forget them. When you are having company for dinner, this is the side dish that you will want to serve. It’s just as delicious rewarmed. Don’t even think about discarding the leftovers.
I could not operate in my kitchen without a mandoline. When you don’t own one, you have to find the sharpest knife in the block to slice your potatoes (or other vegetables) to a uniform thickness. Slicing several pounds of potatoes is time-consuming, which makes investing in one of these handy tools well worth it. While it’s on your mind, why don’t you start your holiday wish list and write “mandoline” at the very top? Be certain that your Santa knows what a mandoline is; otherwise, we’ll be expecting to attend your mandolin recital at Hoyt Sherman Auditorium after the music lessons start paying off.
I have two mandolines. One is the “safe” kind that has prongs to hold the potato (or other vegetable) in place while you slide it over the blade. It is fairly safe to use, but there is always a piece of potato left on the prongs that you must remove and slice with a knife. I personally prefer my very old mandoline that has no safety guard. Slicing potatoes on this thing takes no time at all, but you can quickly slice off your fingertips if you’re not paying attention. I have used it for years so I know that I must be ever vigilant; fortunately, I have never had an accident. Unless you are going into the Witness Protection Program and need to have your fingerprints removed, I recommend that you go with the safer version of this tool.
Yukon Gold and Boursin Gratin
Yukon Gold and Boursin Gratin
- 2 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
- 2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
- 1 5-ounce carton Garlic and Herb Boursin cheese
- 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Peel and slice potatoes into 1/8-inch (or so) slices. Combine cream, Boursin and shallots in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until cheese melts. (If some small lumps remain, that’s fine.) Butter a 9-x-13-inch baking dish. Spread half of the potato slices in the bottom. Pour half of the cheese sauce over the potatoes. Sprinkle 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt evenly over all. Grind black pepper over all. Spread the remaining potato slices on top. Pour remaining cheese sauce over potato slices. Sprinkle with remaining salt, and grind more black pepper over all. Bake at 400 degrees (uncovered) for 50 to 60 minutes, or until top is golden brown and potatoes are tender.
Recipe from http://www.messycookblog.com
Now, let’s talk more about that baked potato pictured above. To make a beautiful baker, scrub a good-sized russet (or as many as you require) with a vegetable brush under running water. Dry it well. Pierce it in several places with a paring knife to help release steam. Rub it with olive oil and roll in kosher salt. Place it directly on the oven rack at 350 degrees for at least 1 hour (depending on size of potato). When it “gives” slightly, it’s done. Remove from oven; let it rest for a few minutes. Slice part way down into the potato and also almost all the way across to each side. Gently push in on both sides to make it open up as a perfect pocket for all the toppings you love. Use your kitchen shears to cut a bunch of fragrant chives to sprinkle on top. Pure joy!
Yesterday was the first day of fall, and just in time to celebrate the change of seasons is my sister Kris Gourley’s Apple Party Mix. It’s so fragrant and spicy; one whiff will convince you that summer has packed up and moved out.
Apple Party Mix
Apple Party Mix
- 1 12-ounce box Crispix cereal
- 1 2.5-ounce bag Seneca Original Crispy Apple Chips (in produce aisle)
- 2 2.5-ounce bags Seneca Granny Smith Apple Chips
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh pecan pieces (I used whole pecans)
- 1 cup butter
- 1/4 cup white sugar (or a bit less)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar (or a bit less)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon (to taste)
Pour cereal into large roaster pan. (Note: Kris uses a large aluminum disposable roaster pan. I used my large granite roaster this time, but I like the idea of no clean-up with the disposable pan. She often doubles the recipe.) Break all the apple chips into smaller pieces and remove any seeds or hulls that happen to remain in the chips. Add them to the cereal. Add the pecans. (Note: I toasted the pecans for a few minutes in a skillet with a tablespoon of butter and a sprinkle of salt before adding them to the rest of the ingredients. This is not necessary. I just happen to like them a bit toasted.) Gently mix everything together. In a medium saucepan, add the butter and sugars. Bring to a boil just briefly until the sugars are dissolved. Stir in the cinnamon. Pour over cereal/apple mixture. Stir gently to evenly coat. Bake at 275 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool completely and store in large plastic container.
Recipe from http://www.messycookblog.com
I’ve never been a fan of deprivation. Certainly there have been plenty of times when I have been deprived (or deprived myself) of things I wanted. Haven’t we all? When it comes to food, though, I admit that I cannot turn down something beautifully prepared. It doesn’t have to be costly—macaroni and cheese, baked potato, grilled cheese sandwich, deviled egg, tomato basil soup, chicken salad. And the occasional expensive dinner splurge is immensely satisfying as well. If food is well made with quality ingredients that I love, I will savor every bite, without guilt. I wasn’t endowed with the steely mien required to just say no. So I say, “Here’s to joie de vivre wherever you can find it.”
I love the following quote. (I understand that some of you will not care for it.) It is attributed to poet Charles Bukowski. Others say, however, that it originated with author and musician Kinky Friedman.
Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain you of your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness.
Let it kill you and devour your remains.
For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.
Food, music, reading and writing are some of my passions. When I am immersed in one of them, hours may pass without my realizing it. Think about what activity you love that causes you to become lost in yourself over a period of time. That, my friend, is your passion. Life is short. Do what you love as intensely as your time, health and wherewithal will allow. Give yourself permission. Tempus fugit. Do you hear me?
The consequences of a foodie lifestyle are hard to hide. The following quote—another one of my favorites—says it all.
She fitted into my biggest armchair as if it had been built around her by someone who knew they were wearing armchairs tight about the hips that season.—P.G. Wodehouse
I hope this post didn’t leave you feeling overstuffed and dyspeptic. I’ll look forward to seeing you here when the next post is published on October 7. Thank you!—Tracy