This Is Not (Exclusively) What I’ve Been Doing

 

It's not as strong as it looks. I (hic!) promise.

 

I know it doesn’t look too good–I take an extended absence from blogging and my first post upon returning is a cocktail. But I haven’t been on a week-long bender, honest (at least not lately). I have two valid and related reasons to explain my recent disappearance: I was going out for the local roller derby league, and then I broke my wrist. Yeah, I know–you don’t have to say it.

So between the obsessive practicing of my T-stops and, now, the pain, both cooking and blogging about cooking have gotten pushed down my priority list. Luckily for y’all, I had this little number tucked away in reserve. I only hope that I’m not too late for you to make such delicious and alcoholic use of the last-of-season tomatoes.

I love bloody Marys, but sometimes they can be a little–well, thick. Gloppy, even. This lovely version solves that problem, while saving all of the flavor and essence of a good tomato-based cocktail. Tomato water is not only sophisticated and impressive, but astonishingly easy to make; in fact, “make” implies rather more active work than tomato water requires.

Tomato-Water Bloody Mary

Take a good quantity of good-quality tomatoes. Stem them and chop them roughly. Place in a colander set over a large mixing bowl, and let stand for several hours. Remove tomato pulp from colander and set aside for another use (I like to freeze this, and add it to stews, soups, chilis and tomato sauces later).  If desired, strain tomato water with a fine-mesh strainer.

In a tall glass, mix 1 oz. vodka, a few shakes Worcestershire, the juice of half a lime, a tsp. of horseradish and hot sauce or Sriracha to taste. Add tomato water and ice cubes. Stir. Garnish with green olives, pickle spears, Slim Jims, cherry tomatoes, cocktail shrimp, lime slice or all of the above. Enjoy!

A Tale of Two Chickens

Their names are Bobby and Cissy, after the dancers on the Lawrence Welk show. Cissy is the one with the white patch on her head.

Technically, it’s four chickens–two live ones, and two chicken dishes. But “A Tale of Four Chickens” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, now, does it?

We got new chickens–chicks, really–last week. They are darling. When they cheep they sound like songbirds. They are palm-sized, so small that we don’t have anything to hold them except for a cardboard box.  At night we take them up to the attic (the only place they will be safe from the cats, one of whom has been eyeing them with obvious relish); during the day they get to roam around the backyard and eat bugs. Mmm, bugs.

It’s a little strange eating chicken dishes when we keep chickens as pets–pets with eggy benefits, as my friend Fernanda says–but we all love to eat chicken, especially when it’s coated in panko, fried, and dipped in ranch or blue cheese dressing. So we compartmentalize the meals and the backyard egg machines, and it all seems to work out fine.

We had just gotten a lovely bunch of Thai basil from the CSA (they also had purple basil, lemon basil and–get this–lime basil. Lime basil! What’s next, pomegranate basil? Chipotle basil? Cheddar basil?), so I decided to make some Thai Basil Chicken for the grownups. Of course, the grownups partook of the nuggets, too.

That place mat looks like it belongs in an ice cream parlor, doesn't it?

I make my children’s nuggets from scratch, because I find the packaged, processed ones only slightly less terrifying than the Michelin Man (who, obviously, terrifies me for reasons that I suspect have to do with my father, but that could be pure conjecture). Years ago the kids and I went to a playdate and were served a lunch of microwaved, dinosaur-shaped nuggets. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut, let me tell you. Yes, homemade nuggets are a lot of work compared to ripping open a plastic bag, but they’re worth it. And I usually make a large batch and freeze some.

I mean, it’s not like I make my own hot dogs, for crying out loud.

Anyway, here’s how I make my nuggets:

  1. cut chicken breast into pieces
  2. coat in flour
  3. dip in egg wash–this is my one exception to my ironclad rule to never pair chicken and eggs in the same meal, which is just creepy
  4. coat in panko, which are special Japanese breadcrumbs that make things especially crispy. I don’t know how they do it, but from what I know of the Japanese, I imagine robots are involved
  5. Fry in vegetable oil until golden brown
  6. Enjoy.

I can wrap shit in lettuce just like P.F. Chang (who I suspect is fictional anyway). Where's my restaurant chain?

Thai Basil Chicken

½ pound ground chicken (I made my own, using my Vitamix. Not to brag or anything)
1 shallot or small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T fish sauce
1 T soy sauce
1 T brown or raw sugar
minced Thai chilies*, Sriracha or hot pepper flakes, to taste
1 bunch Thai basil
cooked jasmine rice
large, wrap-like lettuce leaves

Heat coconut or olive oil in a large skillet or (preferably; ask me how I know) wok. Stir fry the onion and garlic until fragrant; add the chicken. Cook, breaking up the chicken into pieces, until the chicken is no longer pink. Add the sauces, sugar and source of hotness and stir-fry for a minute. Add the basil; stir and fry until the basil is wilted.

Serve with rice or in lettuce wraps.

*be careful with those little buggers. I mean it.

Berries, Birds

It was every bit as delicious as it looked, too.

Behold the turkey sandwich with cranberry mayo, sprouts, cuke, lettuce and artichoke hearts on fresh-baked sunflower seed bread. Isn’t it gorgeous? I wish I could take credit for it, but credit goes to Burnap’s Farm Market and Garden Cafe, where I took the offspring over the weekend. It was a bit of a hike, but well worth it. Besides the usual fresh produce, baked goods, jams, cheeses and homespun candies you usually find at these sorts of places, Burnap’s also offers a surprisingly wonderful little cafe. I had steeled myself for chicken nuggets and burgers, but instead had that scrumptious piece of work. The kids shared a homemade pizza, in between scampering off to climb and swing and make friends on the playground. I bought a flat of strawberries and creamer potatoes. Seriously, this place is like the Platonic ideal of a farm market.

They’re not even paying me to say that.

Only one fly in the ointment: when Little Miss Four pointed at another child and said, “That Nazi over there is trying to get me” –a direct result of her having watched Mr. Six-Going-On-Seven play too much Lego Indiana Jones Wii, but try explaining that to a mother in a snit.

When we got home I sat out in the backyard, chickens for company, and hulled the berries. I froze about half of them, ate about a quarter, and saved the rest for strawberry pie. Even though I am a patent leather girl at heart, I do have a pretty wide farmwife streak, and doing things like processing fruit and vegetables al fresco, or in the winter tromping out to the coop in Wellies and an old barn coat to gather eggs, is a good way to indulge that. Without any of the, you know, actual hard work.

Fran and Kluckla, two of our Black Australorps. Although to be honest, I can't tell Kluckla and Ollie apart. That could well be Ollie.

The chickens–they are named Kluckla, Fran and Ollie (not pictured)–enjoyed the hulls very much. They are wonderful little garbage disposals, pet dinosaurs and cheap entertainment during backyard get-togethers. My children really enjoy picking them up and trying to make them go down the slide. The chickens enjoy these behaviors slightly less.

The eggs are everything you could wish for, and more. For a while it skeeved me out to eat eggs that were that fresh, sometimes even with feathers stuck to them and streaks of chicken poo. But they’re so delicious, and wholesome. I think it took me two breakfasts to get over my qualms. The only drawback to fresh-from-the-oviduct huevos? If I want to hard-boil eggs, I have to buy “old” ones from the store. Ours are just too fresh.

Life’s rough, ain’t it?

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