Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Goddess of the Green Market

I have the first of our free-range, local, humanely treated chickens in the oven right now, 20 minutes from a delicious, homey meal of roast chicken, baked potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. The chicken was a minimalist affair, as I realized that with a recent lack of cooking, we had no viable garlic in the house. Or lemons. So I washed and dried the chicken; put it in a Dutch oven; sprinkled the insides with salt, pepper, and Herbs for Poultry (a nice Dean & Deluca blend); poured on a little melted butter; tied the legs together; sprinkled salt, pepper, and paprika on the outside; and sprinkled some Vidalia onions around the outside. I'm hoping that the less-processed bird will carry lots of flavor on its own. When it's all finished (about 90 minutes later), I'll add some broth to the drippings and make a nice little gravy. Not bad for a lazy Sunday.

Anyhoo, while I'm being tortured by the smell of roasted chicken, I took a gander around the web. It's been a bit since I've done a lot of food-writing perusing, and I had some catching up to do. I found a great New York Times video of Alice Waters at the Union Square Green Market in lower Manhattan, a place I would often frequent during lunch hours. Alice Waters is, I believe, directly responsible for so much of the local/sustainable food movement in America, and it's such a treat seeing how she approaches food at the market -- not with a list, but with the willingness to let inspiration strike. I wish I'd been at the table for the final product.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Golden Decade

Yesterday was Phil and my tenth wedding anniversary. We didn't get a chance to celebrate, although we're planning to this weekend. But it's so hard for me to get my hands around ten (actually thirteen) years with the same person -- and wanting to be with that person even more.

Between endless meetings and emergencies yesterday, I thought a little bit about what we've experienced together in the last ten years, both big and tiny. They're not remarkable; they're similar to what any couple might experience. But I'm proud that we've done them all together:
  • Moving to New York (celebrity sightings the entire time we were in the city, maybe a dozen, and they included some duds)
  • Experiencing close-up Septemer 11 and its aftermath
  • Watching all three epic Ken Burns and one epic Ric Burns documentaries
  • Choosing and buying a house together
  • Raising two boys we love desperately
  • Experiencing a friend dying of a terminal illness
  • Phil purchasing his first grill and realizing he's got a knack with fire
Happy tenth anniversary, Phil! Here's to the next fifty!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sonata for a Good Man

Scott O'Brien was our landlord in New York. The term "New York landlord" brings to mind either an absentee slumlord ignoring the multiplying cockroach population, or Fred Mertz. Scott was neither of these. He and his wife Kelly owned the four-story brownstone we lived in. Scott, Kelly, their two kids, and their dog Dazey (naming by the kids, spelling by Scott) lived in the first two floors of the building. We rented the third floor, and another couple rented the fourth. Scott was funny, vibrant, an engaged father, a devoted husband, a fencer, a lover of great wine, and a Grateful Dead devotee who was also responsible enough to have stock accounts set up for his young children.
When Phil and I learned I was pregnant with M, we decided to move back to the Midwest. We spent Labor Day weekend looking at houses, and settled on the one we live in now. The Sunday after our offer was accepted, Phil told Kelly we'd be moving out in a month. She lamented that "our little honeymoon home was breaking up." We hadn't realized it, but the couple upstairs had separated. That day we'd gone out to breakfast and seen Scott taking his young son for a bike ride. It was the last time I'd see him.
Although Scott largely worked from home, two days later, on September 11, 2001, his company attended a trade show at the World Trade Center. A dozen representatives from the company were there. Most decided to get breakfast down the road. Scott and a co-worker instead went to Windows on the World. After the first plane hit, Scott left a message for Kelly, saying "There's been an accident. We're waiting for help. I love you, and I'll see you soon." Just over an hour later, as we now all know, the building had collapsed. DNA tests on found remains have since confirmed Scott's death.
September 11 continues to be haunted with memories every year. I was in my office when a friend from Indiana called and exclaimed, "You're okay!" and started crying. Later, a friend from work and I walked home together and were shocked at how far uptown the smoke and debris clung to the air. Our brownstone became a macabre party scene as Scott and Kelly's dozens and dozens of friends descended to keep Kelly from being alone, often through forced merriment. Once I remember walking in the door and someone heading out of Kelly's apartment saying to me, "I forgot the salt for the margaritas! Twenty lashes with a wet noodle!" while I heard crying from inside the apartment. I think of all of these things, but mostly I think of Scott.
Scott's memorial service was attended by hundreds. It included poetry, dance, remembrances, and original songs written for the service, and it concluded with everyone in attendance singing The Grateful Dead's "Uncle John's Band." It was unique and reverent and thought-provoking and cathartic all at the same time. Just as Scott would have wanted.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Back in the Saddle: Hot Pepper Jelly

Someone commented to me that apparently I was no longer writing a blog, and it struck me that it has been a bit since I've written. My bad. I'm back.

Phil took M camping on Memorial Day weekend, which left me and T home to entertain ourselves. After a five-hour marathon at the Indianapolis Children's Museum, where he played with all three of the Thomas the Tank Engine railroad setups, followed the next day by a visit to a toy store so he could play with yet another Thomas the Tank Engine railroad, I was itching for a little non-Useful Engine time. So while he watched a Thomas video, I made some hot pepper jelly using hot peppers and bell peppers I'd bought at the farmer's market on Saturday.

This is one of my favorites. The red and green color of the peppers actually makes it a great holiday gift, if you're so inclined. I tend to horde it all, myself. This is great on cornbread with chili, as well as a nice glaze for chicken or fish. Also, if guests come over unexpectedly and start acting peckish, you can whip up a super-quick appetizer: Spread cream cheese on a plate, top with the hot pepper jelly, and serve with crackers. This, like the Rhubarb Marmalade recipe I posted in the spring, is a perfect first canning project.

Hot Pepper Jelly

1/2 cup finely diced hot peppers
1/2 cup finely diced bell peppers
6-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 3-oz. package liquid pectin (Cert-o or Ball brand are the ones I know)

Sterilize 7 or 8 half-pint canning jars and their lids. They will also have rings that go hold the lids in place, but these just need to be clean, not sterilized. To sterilize, stick them in boiling water for several minutes. Meanwhile...

Mix the peppers, sugar, and apple cider in a good-sized non-reactive pan. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Lower the heat and boil gently for about 7 minutes, give or take a minute, stirring frequently. The little peppers will get limp and the sugar will be dissolved. Pour in the liquid pectin and and boil for another 60 seconds, stirring constantly; the pectin helps firm up ("set") the jelly.

Spoon the hot jelly into the sterilized canning jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of space at the top of the jar; you don't want to fill it all the way to the top of the jar, or the jar won't be able to seal. Also, if any jelly gets around the rim of the jar, wipe it clean or the jar won't seal. Put the dome lids on the canning jars and screw on the lid bands. To seal the jars, either flip them upside down for about ten minutes, and then flip them back, or process them in a water-bath canner (a big pot that is made for canning and has a unit that lifts the jars out easily).

Because I wanted to be sure these would seal, I processed them in a water-bath canner, but the flip-over method would have been fine.

Total, this took me about 30 minutes, and made just about seven half-pint jars of jam. We've already opened the first of them; the jelly is sweet but a little tangy -- a really nice combination.

One aesthetic note: Try for a nice mix of color. If you're using only jalapenos for the hot peppers, then use red bell peppers. If you're using red hot peppers, using green bell peppers. The mix of colors is pretty.

It's early morning and T just started squawking. So I need to go, get him out from under his Thomas quilt, smooth his Thomas jammies, and no doubt find the Thomas engine that he likes to grip while falling asleep, which always falls under his bed during the night. We'll see you on the Island of Sodor.