Friday, December 09, 2016

Experiment with Squash

Tonight for dinner: a curry-spiced dish of rice pilaf. I browned the rice in the pan with onion and garlic, with later additions of acorn squash, raisins, and dried apricots. No recipe. Just using what was here.

On my plate, the rice pilaf with apple slices, two types of chutney, and a roll with butter. The spices blended nicely into the dish: cardamom, saffron, and curry powder. The red chutney is home-made plum chutney, and the yellow chutney is Trader Joe's mango chutney. Some of the spices, the rolls, and the dried apricots were also from TJ.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

"My Family and Other Animals"

"I was sitting in bed reading one night when, with a great whirring of wings, Cicely flew across the room and landed heavily on the wall, some ten feet away from where Geronimo was busily cleaning up the last bits of an exceptionally furry moth," writes Gerald Durrell in his memoir My Family and Other Animals. Cicely was a mantis and Geronimo was a gecko, and both were being kept by the ten-or-eleven year old Durrell in his family's villa on the island of Corfu, where they had decided to live for a while to escape the unpleasant English climate.

Although Durrell wrote the book years later, with an adult perspective, he manages to preserve his childlike view that all the animals he brought into the house were really like people -- he animates them with intentions, emotions, and thoughts. The fight between Cicely and Geronimo continued: "Amazed by her size and taken aback by her effrontery at settling in his room, Geronimo could do nothing but stare at her for a few seconds. Meanwhile Cicely turned her head from side to side and looked about with an air of grim interest, like an angular spinster in an art gallery. Recovering from his surprise, Geronimo decided that this impertinent insect would have to be taught a lesson." The battle continued for two more long pages -- and the author, though he viewed himself as a naturalist, attributes very human motives to each of these creatures, as he observes them. (p. 182)

Even flowers and trees sometimes have thoughts and intentions: "... no matter how hot it was below in the valley, up in the three olive groves the tiny wind played constantly, the leaves whispered, and the drooping cyclamen flowers bowed to each other in endless greeting." Or "I was leaning against an olive trunk that had spent the past hundred years growing itself into the right shape for a perfect back-rest." (p. 205-206)

Durrell's patience and vivid observations also extend to the relationships between the members of his colorful and eccentric family, their servants, the Greek people who help them adapt to life on Corfu, his various tutors, and an adult naturalist that helps him collect and (sometimes) domesticate such animals as two magpies, a black-backed gull, several dogs, a matchbox full of scorpions, a pair of water snakes, several tortoises, and others. The stories of the animals and how his mother, sister, and brothers reacted to them are amusing or even laugh-out-loud funny -- for example, the time one of his brothers appeared during a party at the villa in nothing but a bath towel because the water snakes were cooling off in the bathtub where he was intending to bathe.

In another episode where the magpies escape their cage and destroy his older brother Larry's papers (this is Laurence Durrell, the famous writer, presumably before he became famous) -- the young Gerry's attitude becomes too much: "It's disgusting the way this family carries on over animals; all this anthropomorphic slush that's drooled out as an excuse. Why don't you all become magpie worshippers, and erect a prison to pray in?" says Larry (p. 213-214)

Throughout My Family and Other Animals,  Durrell amuses the reader with all sorts of little episodes of family drama and descriptions of the way he, as a child, saw the natural world. I was interested in some of the descriptions of food and food preparation as he presented them. As an English family the Durrells were made very welcome by the peasants who lived in their area, and Gerry discovered that if he dropped in at various farmhouses, he would be welcomed with food, as well as learning local lore about the resident creatures..

"There was not a single peasant house you could visit and come away empty," he began one such narrative, and described how he contrived to awaken a peasant named Yani, who showed him how to make an antidote to scorpion poison, and then calls for his companion Aprodite to bring "a tin tray on which was a bottle of wine, a jug of water, and a plate with bread, olives, and figs on it. Yani and I drank the wine, watered to a delicate pale pink, and ate the food in silence." As he leaves Yani, he also receives a bunch of grapes "as a parting present." (p. 52-57)

Durrell's mother was deeply interested in cooking, and brought many cookbooks with her from England for their stay in Corfu: "spring for Mother meant an endless array of fresh vegetables with which to experiment, and a riot of new flowers to delight her in the garden. There streamed from the kitchen a tremendous number of new dishes, soups, stews, savouries, and curries, each richer, more fragrant, and more exotic than the last." Sister Margot, in fact, recommended going on a diet in response, mentioning "the orange-juice and salad one... the milk-and-raw-vegetables one... or the boiled-fish-and-brown-bread one." Brother Larry says: "I shall be taken from you at an early age, suffering from fatty degeneration of the heart." (p. 68-69)

I have no idea of whether the Durrell family was as colorful and eccentric as they are depicted in this entertaining book, but it's definitely fun to read. I've never read anything by Laurence Durrell, the more famous brother, but when (or if) I finally get around to reading his work, I wonder if I'll find it nearly as enjoyable as this little book.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Playing with Fire

Flambéing is the most fun part of making Poulet à la Normande, a chicken and apple dish from Normandy that recently appeared in the New York Times (here). The instruction "use a long kitchen match to light the liquor on fire" is a good one to obey! The flames did shoot around 2 feet high as noted. A short match would be a bit too scary.

As it happened, I had a jug of local cider that I'd been neglecting and therefore allowing to ferment in my refrigerator for a few weeks. Perfect! I also had the recommended pearl onions and sour cream to finish the sauce. The apples cut in chunks and a chicken that I cut up myself, as shown, were the remaining ingredients. 

Eating the chicken is of course almost as much fun as setting fire to it. In the bowl at right, you can see my smooth sauce containing the cider mixture from braising the chicken, the sour cream, and some cornstarch to thicken it. On my plate you can see some of the sauce on bread, as well as on the chicken. The recipe recommended a side of salad, but we had carrot sticks and bell peppers for crunch and color. Other than setting fire to the liquor, it's not really a particularly difficult recipe compared to other classics from France.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

December in the Kitchen

In my December kitchen I'm resuming my cooking adventures and day-to-day prep. Yesterday I returned from another trip that included food prep and cooking in other people's kitchens. I think I've done this for the last 4 months -- or is it the last 6 months? I love to travel!

As always, I brought back some magnets from my trip, which started with Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh and continued with 10 days in Virginia with side trips to Washington, D.C. The three new magnets in the photo are from the exhibit "Stuart Davis: In Full Swing" at the National Gallery of Art. Davis's works really appeal to me, and I was fascinated to learn many new things about his life and how he created art.  

A room from the Stuart Davis exhibit, which we saw last Thursday.
But back to my kitchen: I have a new water-boiling pot, replacing the one that was getting cranky and that had a broken water filter in the spout.

Morning coffee.
Fruit and vegetables: first thing I buy when I replenish my kitchen supplies.
In December I'm committed to a few cooking adventures as well as efforts to have good and healthy daily meals. For one, I hope to make a recipe that I read in the New York Times cooking section: Poulet à la Normande. We also have some plans for Christmas and Chanukah cooking.

A Magnificent Kitchen in Pittsburgh

As I mentioned, we began our trip on Thanksgiving, where we arrived at Aparna and Joel's house just as they were beginning to cook the turkey. Their kitchen is entirely new: Aparna designed the remodel, including considerable rearrangement of the floor plan, with incredible creativity. Here are a series of photos showing how many people can be cooking at the many new workspaces and enjoying the new picture window with a large dining table.

Check out lots of links to blogger kitchens at Bizzy Lizzy's Blog HERE.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Dinner for a Hawk

This hawk had just caught a mouse, and we watched him eating it around 4 PM today.

We saw the hawk as we were walking at Dyke Marsh and at Belle Haven Park near Alexandria, VA.

Alexander Calder in Washington, D.C.

In the newly redone modern art building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, they've dedicated one tower room -- above -- to Calder's beautiful works. Though each piece appears to have required a great deal of effort, Calder was incredibly prolific, and I've seen many of his works elsewhere as well. A gigantic sculpture of his, for instance, is installed in the Senate Office Building.

Calder's sculptures have always intrigued me. He could twist a wire and it would be a horse, and cast a silhouette of a horse. He could shape metal plates or wood forms and wire them together into fascinating assemblages -- mobiles. Now, over 80 years later, it seems as if mobiles must have existed forever. They didn't! Calder invented the mobile and showed them in art shows in the late 1920s -- his creation was named in 1931 by Marcel Duchamp. Though there were other instances of hanging kinetic sculptures, he created this modern version.

Calder's depiction of the dancer Josephine Baker really
captures her famous ability to move, I think.
A red metal Calder mobile hangs in the huge atrium of the newly renovated building.

A version of this work, "Fish," is in the Calder room at the National Gallery. This one and the two that follow
are from the permanent collection of the Hirshhorn Museum, which faces the National Gallery across the Mall.
"Vertical Constellation with Yellow Bone."
"29 Disks"
Changing from Calder: This sculpture is titled "Legs" by Louise Bourgeois.
I loved the way the Hirshhorn guard just happened to stand beside it.
Art work designed for taking a selfie, in the National Gallery atrium.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Sculpture Garden, National Gallery of Art

The sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Art in Washington includes a beautiful restaurant and a skating rink, surrounded by wonderful, large works of sculpture. We had lunch there this afternoon. I've always enjoyed their selections of salads, sandwiches, and pastry.

Miriam and Alice rented some skates and then enjoyed two hours
on ice while we revisited the annual nature photo contest at the Natural History Museum.

Ten years ago, we visited the sculpture garden and skating rink with Miriam,
who was not yet a skater but hoped to learn sometime.
This morning we also visited the Hirshhorn Museum, which will figure in a later blog post.

Rooftop Garden, National Gallery of Art

From our visit to the Mall in Washington D.C. two days ago.

Friday, December 02, 2016


Gingerbread cake that says "I Luv Family" and has all our portraits on it.
Note: the stylized artwork by two teenagers is purely intentional.
Omelet and baked potato with the same toppings -- tomato, bell pepper, parsley,
cucumber, ham, sour cream, etc.

A Dining Room Painting

Berthe Morisot, "In the Dining Room." From yesterday's visit to the National Gallery of Art.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Washington, D.C.

Union Station, Washington, D.C.

This morning we took the commuter train into Washington's Union Station. It's a train station in the grand old style. Really impressive! 

We spent a bit of time looking around the station until the National Gallery of Art was scheduled to open. From around 10 until 3 we were inside the National Gallery, where we saw various exhibits and explored the recently renovated East Building including its rooftop terrace. That will be the subject of another post. 

Model train display for Christmas.

The station's food court.

The entrance, decorated with Christmas wreathes.

The Capitol lit by morning and afternoon sunshine.

The sun shone beautifully all day until around 3:30, when it went behind a cloud. Above: morning sun from the esplanade (or whatever it's called) in front of the station.

The capitol after the sun went behind a cloud. Soon afterwards, we took the train back to Virginia.

The Washington Monument.