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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Is the last day in February really here already? I can’t believe a new month begins tomorrow, although it certainly feels like winter is on its way out in Berlin. Other than a very temporary dusting of snow last Tuesday, the past few days have been dreary and wet but not all that cold. It’s still winter- and I’m find with that for now – but the sun is showing its face more frequently, and I’m fine with that too.

Now that I’m back to living solo for the moment and it’s too dreary outside to really want to leave the house, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Not books, mind you, but other blogs. I’ve been devouring them as if they were books though  – especially [ this one ] and more recently [ this one ] – starting from the very beginning and reading them through chronologically.

I know I’ve come really late to the whole blogging thing, but it never really appealed to me until I was faced with the prospect of picking up and moving to a new place and leaving my entire social life behind. This, I think, made me explore other forms of socializing that I hadn’t considered before, and I’m glad I finally did. All the same, it’s more interesting to me to look back and read these blogs that came at a different moment when the whole medium was erupting. It’s like doing archival research but on a fun topic where there are no “implications” to consider.

Of course, the more I read other blogs, the more I am likely to reflect on sabasalads. I don’t frequently mine my own archives but recently I took a look back and, god, there’s a lot of talk about a certain d-word that ends in “-issertation.” I’m glad you all were patient and stuck with me through the fall. I guess it was important for me to process what was happening, but I think I want to take this thing in other directions and leave the d-word to the confines of the daylight hours and the museum.

Going through my own archives also brought back some truly great moments that I might have shoved to the back of my memory otherwise. My definite favorite is when two Chicagoans discovered the noble [ Brandy Old Fashioned, Sweet with Olives ] deep in the heart of Wisconsin at a fish fry. I’m going to put that on the “must do” list for this summer when I’m back in the states for a few months – it’s high time we drag that cocktail out of the depths of the midwest and start putting olives in other brandied concoctions.

OK. Enough reflecting and onto the main subject of today, which is a recipe for roast chicken. Actually, it’s more like a series of helpful tips: the proportions and some of the details can be modified to suit your tastes. The tips come from Jamie Oliver who may be a bit cheesy at times but also has some truly great recipes that I’ve gone back to time and again. In fact, I linked to this very recipe a while back on the blog in the post about the Brandy Old Fashioned mentioned above. Today, however, I’m giving it to you in my own words, in hope that you also try it out.

The steps seem fussy in writing, but it’s worth it. The key is the hot lemon (explained in the recipe), so don’t skip it.  The scent and flavor of lemon pervades everything and absolutely takes the dish from run-of-the-mill to “favorite” material. As an old roommate of mine would say, “simple… great.” You can throw in whatever root vegetables you like, but do include potatoes. They get real tasty after parboiled and then roasted with all the juices. I had some left-over, already-cooked brussels sprouts, so I chucked them in only for the last 15 minutes of cooking and they absorbed all of the delicious aromas and flavors in the bottom of the roasting pan. It was stunningly good. Serve with a green salad or braised green like kale and you’ve got a Sunday afternoon meal to be excited about, especially when the weather is dreary.

PS- I didn’t take any pictures of the chicken as I didn’t really expect to post about it. Trust me when I say it looks just as great as it tastes. The above is a snap of the tray this afternoon, when I reheated the leftovers and enjoyed them as much as I did yesterday when I made the dish.

Jamie Oliver’s roast chicken (adapted from here)

Ingredients (dinner for 2, plus a few leftovers, or dinner for 1 with lots of leftovers as pictured below)

1 good quality roasting chicken

A few medium-sized yellow potatoes (plus other starchy root veg. like kohlrabi, turnips or parsnips)

A handfull of carrots or brussels sprouts

A handfull of fresh, chopped savory herbs (e.g. oregano, thyme, parsley)

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 large lemon

Good olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

First, set your oven to 475 F. Put the roasting pan you will be using in there and let it get hot.

Next prepare your vegetables: If using brussels sprouts, go ahead and wash, peel away any especially dirty outer leaves and chop in half. If using carrots, wash and chop coarsely. Set these aside.

Get a pot of salty water going over high heat on the stove and put the lemon in there, skin and all.

Wash the potatoes and other starchy root veg. and chuck them in the pot of water with the lemon and parboil until just barely fork tender (no more than 7 minutes at a boil).

Meanwhile prepare the chicken. Set it in a shallow dish or, better yet, right on the butcher paper or packaging it came in, remove any gizzards from the cavity and trim any excess skin/fat around the edges if you like. Then douse it in olive oil and really rub it into the skin with your hands. Then, rub in the minced garlic and herbs, spreading these over the bird. Finally, aggressively salt and pepper both sides. Don’t skimp on the salt and pepper.

Remove the pan from the hot oven and set on the stove top. Set the chicken in the pan (and enjoy hearing it sizzle). Remove the lemon from the water with tongs (it should be quite hot). Pierce it with a knife a few times and stick it in the cavity of the chicken. The juices should be coming out of the lemon already. Add the brussels sprouts and carrots to the pan, moving them around so they get oily. Then slide this into the oven and turn the temperature down to 400 F immediately. Set the timer for 30 minutes.

By this time, the potatoes should be parboiled. Remove the pot from the stove, drain the water out, then chop the potatoes in half and put them back in the still hot pot with a pat of butter if you like and stir them around so that the surfaces get fluffy.

After 30 minutes, remove the roasting pan from the oven and add the potatoes, moving everything around so it all gets covered in cooking juices. Return this to the oven for at least 45 minutes or until skins on the potatoes and chicken are crisp and golden.

Let the bird sit for around 15 minutes before carving. Enjoy!

Today I made a trip to the airport, but for the first time in a long time, I didn’t get on a flight. Cesar left Berlin today to go back to Chicago, and I returned to my apartment. Cesar has just been in Berlin for seven weeks and it’s been great. As much as I enjoy my solitude on certain occasions, I much prefer living with other people. I had forgotten how much I missed planning dinners and making joint grocery lists and being able to have a conversation about my day while chopping carrots or peeling potatoes. It’s a good thing.

The days of such departures are always awkward for me. This is the case if I’m the one leaving or if I’m the one seeing someone else off. I tend to mill around the house aimlessly and find it difficult not to say things like “this time tomorrow I’ll be waking up in….” Or, “in just a few hours you’ll be arriving at….” I’ve always been one to dwell on the future instead of the now and the anticipation of imminent trips is no exception.

The day flew by though. This morning we recreated our usual Sunday ritual, which is to listen to various podcasts over coffee in the living room. After that, we went to [ Rogacki ] for the fish soup. This is something that I think should be on everyone’s “to eat” list in Berlin. It’s a perfect, simple dish: chunks of mild, white fish are covered with a ladle of golden, almost buttery broth and the whole things is topped with a handful of freshly-cut dill. It was a great way to celebrate the end of a great seven weeks. After that, there was just enough time to grab luggage and head to the airport.

On my way back home from dropping Cesar off, I got off several stops earlier than usual at Südstern, ostensibly to check out an indoor market on Bergmanstrasse that I had been thinking of trying out. What I really needed was to change my routine. It would have been far more difficult to exit at my normal subway station, to see the same advertisements and walk past the same kiosk and turn the same corner that I do every evening, just to come home to an abnormally silent house. The market was boring and overpriced, by the way, but the long and irregular walk home through the park and down a few back streets served its purpose.

Right now, the apartment is silent except for the sound of the neighbor’s television. Having returned home from a shopping trip made more difficult with the knowledge that I’m back to cooking for one, I’m feeling the need for some music or a podcast to fill the empty space.  All this is not meant to sound whiney. In fact, I’m not sad. This empty feeling, while unpleasant, serves to confirm to me that the last seven weeks – the longest span time for which I’ve lived with Cesar or any other partner or boyfriend – were a very good thing, indeed.

Cauliflower and Cheese Soup (adapted from Nigel Slater’s Tender)

I’ve been eating a good deal of cauliflower lately, probably in part from being bored with the other winter root vegetables that make a regular appearance on my grocery list. Thumbing through Nigel Slater’s Tender, I found this soup, attractive due to its simplicity and the cheap ingredients involved. It had comforting flavors and was low-maitenence, perfect for a night like tonight.

Notes: The original recipe called for whole-grain mustard and Gruyere or Cheddar cheese. I used what I had available: Dijon mustard and a not-so-great Gouda-style cheese. If you’re not using a salty cheese like Cheddar, make sure to taste for salt at the end and adjust. The original recipe also called for crème fraîche. I skipped this and thought it was creamy enough on its own.

Ingredients

1 large cauliflower

1 yellow onion

2-3 cloves garlic

50 grams or so of butter

120 grams of sharp cheese, such as Cheddar or Gruyere

1 teaspoon of grain mustard

Salt and plenty of black pepper

Instructions 

First prepare the cauliflower by removing the outer leaves and cutting off the base of the stem. Rinse the whole thing, then cut it half down the middle and remove the florets from the core. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and put the florets in until just soft, around 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely dice the onion and garlic. Heat butter in a deep pot and sauté the onion and garlic until translucent. Then ladle the cooked cauliflower florets out of the boiling water and into the pot with the onion and garlic, stirring to coat the pieces. Next, add 3 cups of the water used to cook the cauliflower to the pan, along with a healthy dose of salt and pepper, and bring the whole thing to a boil, cooking until the cauliflower is soft, around 15 minutes.

When the vegetables have softened, spoon the mixture into a blender and pulse until just smooth. You will probably need to do this in two batches. Once smooth, return the mixture to the pot and bring to a simmer. Add the shredded cheese and stir until melted.

Adjust seasonings and serve immediately. This soup was excellent with slices of dense, dark bread and a salad of arugula, oil and vinegar.

Two weeks ago the deep cold came to Berlin. Hats and gloves are required now for even the briefest trips out to the corner store. But along with the drop in temperature the sun has shown its face a bit more. The days are slowly but surely getting longer as well, and I suppose I’d rather have it be sunny but freezing cold than dark and uncomfortably chilly.

The Saturday before last, Cesar and I went to a sauna overlooking the Spree. It was the perfect thing to do on one of the coldest nights of the year. The sauna is part of Berlin’s public pool system, and is open until 3 AM on weekends. We stayed until 2 AM and got home in less than 20 minutes on the train, including a transfer. So cheap, so easy. These are the times that I love living in Berlin.

On Sunday I went for a walk in the cold while Cesar made pork shoulder.

The lengthening of days is a reminder that 2012 is already flying by. For the last few months, I’ve been photographing objects in museums as part of my dissertation research, mostly fragments of ornament from a palace in Iraq. I was also working on an introductory chapter that didn’t involve the objects. Now that I’m about half way through what I set out to look at and the draft of the first chapter is in, I’m trying to pause for a minute, to take stock of what I have and to figure out what I still need. So far, it’s a lot of click-click-clicking through files on my computer and flipping through pages in exhibition catalogues.  Aimless yet frantic at the same time.

Before I had a relatively mechanical task to do. Now I feel like I’m staring into space a lot and time has a tendency to slip away quickly. An afternoon, a week, might evaporate while the cursor only moves a few inches across the screen. But this is what has to happen before the next chapter starts. The dead of winter and the doldrums of dissertating have hit and the only thing to do is to keep clicking and to take more walks in the snow.

Also, to cook. Cook, cook, cook, and bake. I’m not sure where this baking idea came from, but it’s hit full force. After the  choco-beet cake , I also made [ these ] and [ this ]. My attempt at the latter is shown below.

For now, I don’t have a cake recipe. Instead, I have a very simple but very satisfying meal that is almost perfect for the dead of winter. Yes, it’s another version of beans, greens and protein, but this time with cheese. In Berlin’s Turkish markets, you can buy this amazing stringy, salty cheese. It’s just salty enough so that no extra salt is required as garnish. I think the term in Turkish is Dil peyniri. I don’t know the German. In North America, you could use queso Oaxaca or something similar. It’s worth it to seek the cheese out for this one. Otherwise, you can use any bean and any dark green that wilts nicely. This time I used pinto beans and kale, but I made it the week before with spinach and preferred that.

Pintos, Bitter Greens and Poached Egg

Ingredients (for two)

1 cup of pinto beans

Salt to taste

2 large eggs

Two hand-fulls of dark/bitter greens for wilting (e.g. kale, broccoli raab or spinach)

100 g (3 oz) stringy white cheese (e.g. queso Oaxaca)

Crushed red chili flakes or tabasco for garnish

Directions

Soak beans overnight in a pot of cold water. In the morning, drain the beans and rinse.

About 2 hours before you want to eat, recover the beans with 4 cups of water and add a generous pinch of salt. Bring these to a simmer and let cook until soft (about an hour to 1.5 hours). Add more water and salt if necessary. You should end up with a good amount of liquid so that you can wilt the greens.

Once the beans are soft, rinse and chop your greens to the desired size and shred the cheese. Add the greens to the beans. Stir and cook until the greens are tender, about 5 – 10 minutes depending on what you use.

When the greens go into the pot, bring a small saucepan of water to the simmer with a dash of vinegar. Break your egg into a bowl and gently slide it into the simmering water. Watch the pot so the water doesn’t begin to boil and ruin the egg (keep it over low to medium heat). Let the egg poach for around 4 minutes and then ladle it out with a slotted spoon.

Serve immediately by ladling a spoon-full of the bean mixture into a shallow bowl. Top with the poached egg and shredded cheese.

Dear Readers,

I had a recipe-related post ready for you today, but I’m providing a link instead. It’s to this week’s podcast from This American Life, which deals in part with the consequences of [ HB 56 ], the immigration reform bill passed by the state of Alabama, my home state, in June 2011. Supporters and opponents of this bill have debated its effect on jobs and the economy, but what’s really at stake are civil liberties: the bill essentially makes racial profiling mandatory for employees of the state and strongly encourages it elsewhere. Most of you have probably heard about the bill in the news. After hearing this broadcast I decided to post it instead of the usual food-talk, because I think they did a good job presenting the issues.

Here is the link

It was depressing, although not entirely surprising, to hear that some Alabamians who have no reason to enforce the law actually feel compelled to do so out of personal motivation. People suspected to be immigrants have been ID’d at places such as the grocery store and Walmart. Moreover, while Alabama has demonstrated with the “success” of this bill that some of its residents are especially prone to xenophobia and racism, such attitudes are clearly alive and well elsewhere. The bill itself was crafted by Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas, whose recent endorsement of Mitt Romney was proudly acknowledged by Romney’s campaign. (See also the SPLC’s report on him.) If attitudes don’t change, we will undoubtedly see more flawed and hateful legislation like this in the near future. It is a shameful time to be an American, indeed.

That is all for now.