Sans le Nom: Cookery, Rhetoric, and Other Forms of Pandering

"Now I call this sort of thing pandering, and I declare that it is dishonorable."Plato

"When a name comes, it immediately says more than the name." —Derrida

July 29, 2008: What I Did on My Summer Vacation

I just got back from my vacation, and I must say I spent it splendidly.  Just so I'll remember the "ingredients" for next summer's vacation, here's a top-ten list of what I think should go into the mix, in no particular order:

  1. Voraciously consume seven books NOT on my list of things I must read.
  2. Escape one week of hot Arkansas weather.
  3. Sit around a good fire at night, counting satellites, meteorites, planes, and planets and drinking good wine (provided by my dad).
  4. Time when the cicadas hand things over to the katydids (9:29 p.m., Eastern time).
  5. Get some idea of when the katydids go to bed (around 2:30 a.m., Eastern time?).
  6. Sleep outside in a huge tent with cots, mattresses, fluffy pillows, and...electricity!
  7. Write way more than the three-pages-a-day minimum. 
  8. Shop 'til I drop (Trader Joe's, y'all, when will I get one in my neck of the woods?).
  9. Pig out!  (I had steak two times in one week—egad!—provided by my mom).
  10. Just hang out with family and relax.

Of course, everyone needs a vacation from her vacation, and I have to admit too much relaxation tends to make me forgetful about all the pressing things that need to be done.  So back to work it is!

July 17, 2008: Another Sop

Yes, Tripod, my Web host, experienced a ten-day interruption.  But everything's back to normal now, so I can once again grace the blogosphere with my awesome (and humble) presence.  So, to once again assuage the impatient masses, I'm rolling out another recipe. 

My friends and I, in the National Writing Project, were discussing recipes and the fact that most of them don't contain any wisdom or personality.  I remarked that you only get the wisdom and personality if you watch the accompanying video or TV episode.  And the more I think about it, the more true it seems.  Anyone will tell you that you don't just walk into the kitchen one day, Betty Crocker recipe in hand, and make a delicious pot of chicken and dumplings on the first try unless you've got two things going for you: 1) you know the basics of what you're doing (poaching a chicken, working with different kinds of dough) and 2) your recipe was written by a writer who knows that since she can't be with you in the kitchen, it's going to take more than a list of ingredients and five sentences of instructions to get the chicken and dumplings just right.

So here's a recipe for a breakfast casserole by a fine writer, who woke up one morning and said to herself, "What would be the components of a perfect breakfast?  And how could I put them all into a single, easily-transported dish?"

Pommes de Terre Mornay au Gratin (because I made it up, I get to give it a frou-frou name)

Mornay sauce (recipe below)
Cooking oil spray
Frozen hash browns (I recommend Mr. Dell's, which contain nothing but potatoes), enough to fill a 9 x 13 casserole to a depth of one inch
9 slices of bacon (I use Coursey's; order five pounds and have it shipped: 1-870-439-2503.  Or canoe the Buffalo River all the time and stop by on your way home from a float.)
1 medium onion, chopped
8 ozs mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (reserve the stems in the freezer for vegetable stock)
1/2 a bell pepper, chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped
1/2 c bread crumbs
1/2 c Parmigiano-Reggiano (or Kraft if you can't get the good stuff))

Mornay Sauce (Unapologetic)
1 qt whole milk
4 T butter
4 T flour
4 ozs Swiss, Emmenthaler, or Gruyère cheese (half an 8-ounce package), cubed
1 t salt
freshly cracked white pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Make the Mornay first.  Pour the milk into a pot and warm on medium until hot, but don't allow it to even so much as simmer.  Cold milk will create lumps.  Hot milk will ensure an un-lumpy sauce.  While the milk is heating, melt the butter in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet on medium.  Once the butter has melted, add the flour and stir until both are well mixed.  You now have a roux.  While stirring, allow the roux to cook for 2 minutes.  Taste it to make sure the flour is cooked and not raw or floury.  The flavor should be neutral.  Cook a minute longer, if it tastes raw.  Add hot milk to the roux in 1/2 c increments.  Stir until thick and then add more milk.  Continue this until all the milk is incorporated.  Add the salt and pepper.  And, a few cubes at a time, add the cheese.  Once the cubes melt, add more.  Take off the heat and allow to cool.  If it forms a skin, just stir it really well.

The Casserole
Fry the bacon in a cast iron skillet until done to your liking (some people like chewy; others like crispy).  Drain the strips on paper towels and leave enough drippings to coat the skillet, reserving the rest in a jar in the refrigerator for other uses (do not waste Coursey's bacon drippings, y'all).  Add the onion to the skillet and sauté until almost caramelized. Remove to a mixing bowl.  Add the mushrooms in a single layer and sauté until nicely browned.  If your skillet will not accommodate the full eight ounces of mushrooms in a single go, sauté them in two skillets.  If you crowd the mushrooms, they'll boil instead of sautéing, which will leave them dull gray and tasteless instead of a rich and flavorful brown.  Add these to the mixing bowl.  Now sauté the green pepper and the zucchini together until nicely browned.  Add to the mixing bowl.  Chop the cooled and drained bacon and add to mixing bowl.  Stir gingerly, until the ingredients are evenly mixed.  Spread evenly over the hash browns in the casserole. 

Top the casserole with the Mornay sauce, spreading it evenly.  Cover with foil and put in the oven for one hour. 

Au Gratin
Remove the casserole from the oven and sprinkle the bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano evenly over the top.  Bake for 10-15 more minutes.  Serve with the Surgeon-General's warning:  "This may be hazardous to your health." 

This will have to do for now, as I'm leaving on vacation tomorrow.

July 7, 2008: Breaking News—This Just In

I'm not easily excitable.  Okay, okay, I hear the collective "Are you serious?" reverberating throughout the blogosphere.  I'm willing to admit that I might be a little excitable. 

Okay, a lot excitable. 

What I am definitely not is afraid of snakes—in most circumstances.  But this wasn't just any circumstance.  I just found myself (and you're getting this fresh off the presses—it happened not 20 minutes ago) bumper to bumper to stop sign with a giant, and I mean humongous, rat snake.  That is to say, I stepped inside the chicken coop this afternoon to collect eggs, leaned over to grab two out of the nest box, and wondered aloud, "Gee, who left this long rope of pretty black cloth underneath the nest box?"  Only to realize, "Holy smokes!  That's not a long rope of pretty black cloth!" 

Said "cloth" was about my height.  Which is another way of saying the snake was at least five feet and three inches. Understandably, I was a bit rattled (ha, ha).  And that's the problem with snakes.  It's not so much that they're masters of camouflage:  This one, juxtapositioned against the dusty earth in a sunny spot, stood out like a sore thumb.  It's that they often show up in places where you don't expect them to be, and then you don't realize what you're looking at. 

So I ran off to phone the hubs, and, while I was doing that, the pretty cloth slithered away, stuffed fat with three of my eggs (I could see their outlines).  After surveying an area within a 100 foot radius of the chicken coop (or, at least, it felt like it in 95 degree weather), I got down on my hands and knees (yes, in dried up old chicken crap) and pounded the head of an old iron mallet into the snake's escape route. 

Some day, I'll tell my friends how much grist for the mill their chickens have given me.  But for now, I'm going to take a shower.    

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About Me
I teach; cook; write; hike; read; dally; canoe; eat; write; rock 'n roll; eat some more; tumble and fall; dawdle; complain; bento; write; organize; watch movies; ignore e-mail;  renovate; write; curse computers; brew my tea dark and bitter; herd cats; live in Arkansas; Plato, Derrida, and rhetoric (yes, those are verbs); remain overly cautious; persuade; imbibe; GTD; and oh, yeah, I write a little. 


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E-mail me at sanslenom at msn dot com.

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