Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Alphabet: A History (B is for Burnt Sienna)

B is for Burnt Sienna

One summer when I was eight years old, my Aunt Teresa gave me my first set of real paint. Not plastic tubs or dried tablets in a hinged box, but metal tubes full of thick acrylic goodness.

I held each tube one by one reading the names that were written underneath a small square showing the color inside. I knew right away that these were no ordinary colors, for instead of the plain red and blue and yellow I was used to, long foreign names took their place. Napthol Crimson. Indigo. Vermilion. Ultramarine. Burnt Sienna.

Teresa squeezed the brownish Burnt Sienna from one of the tubes onto a plastic palette. I watched in fascination as she mixed in a little bit of Ochre and then a dab of Titanium White. "There," she said. "Remember....the color of the grass on the sand dunes at the beach starts with Burnt Sienna."

Aunt Teresa brought more than just color into my life.

When I was in high school and had begun to have sex with my boyfriend for the first time, she wanted to talk to me about it. "I'm not going to tell you about love or diseases or birth control," she said. "I know you know all that stuff already. What I want to know is if he's giving you orgasms. Because if he's not, you need to teach him how. It's important."

Very early in my first marriage, I found that to continue to carry the baby growing inside me would result in my death. It was Teresa who sat beside me with silent streaming tears as I learned to maneuver the needles I would have to stick in my stomach for two weeks preceding the abortion.

When this same marriage failed, and no one around me knew what to say, Teresa didn't say anything. She sent me a book titled, "100 Things You Don't Need a Man For." With a $5 bill as a bookmark so that I could drink a mocha while reading it.

That same summer of 1978 when Teresa gave me the acrylic paints, she also took me to Clam Beach for a sunset picnic. She spread out a blanket behind a sand dune to shield us from the wind. Out of a brown paper bag she lifted a loaf of bread and a large thermos.

"Is that hot chocolate?" I asked, licking my hopeful lips.

"Even better," Teresa answered. She unscrewed the lid, and the richly-scented steam filled the air around us. "This is called fondue. It's made out of hot cheese. You tear off a piece of bread, dip it into the cheese and eat them together. It's sooooo good."

It sounded good to me, and it smelled even better, so I quickly ripped a hunk of bread off the loaf.

"Before you eat it, you have to promise me you won't tell your mom about the fondue," Teresa said, her voice dropping to a whisper, "because I put wine in it."

Elated that the aunt I so much admired thought I was grown up enough to eat wine, I promised her I'd never say a word. I then dipped the bread into the thermos of gooey cheese and took a small bite. It was delicious. I grabbed an even bigger hunk, drenched it with an even bigger gob of cheese and stuffed it into my mouth.

Teresa and I ate the whole loaf before falling on our backs to lick the last of the sticky fondue off our fingers, surrounded by the grass on the sand dunes, whose color started with Burnt Sienna.

My dear Aunt Teresa passed away last week after an exceptionally long battle with multiple sclerosis. She will be greatly missed.

Read Alphabet: A History (A is for Art) here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Culinary Travels with New York Little Brother

My wife and I attended a wedding last weekend in a small town in Wisconsin. A few hours to kill before the wedding found us driving around looking at the fall foliage, drinking cider and enjoying some time completely unscheduled without the kids.

To my delight, we found ourselves smack- dab in the middle of a Columbus Day Weekend street fair and carnival. Wandering around listening to locals argue about which is a better mascot, a Packer or a Bear, sampling endless supplies of free cheese and listening to high school cheerleaders rattle off cheers and chants about the dogs and bratwurst they were peddling at their fundraising stand, I ran into this beauty of a sign:

Knowing my love of Mexican food, you can imagine my eye was first drawn to the "taco" portion of the sign. Walking tacos no less, whatever the hell that might be...I immediately inquired. I expected them to be wrapped in foil. As this was a street fair, I assumed it would allow one to walk around with said tacos. I was wrong. You see in Wisconsin, walking tacos refers to the meat in the tacos. Anything that used to walk can be put in them. In this case it was pig (yes, the guy said pig and not pork,) and chicken. Apparently cow and bull had been sold out by the time I got there.

Two chickens and a pig later, my attention was drawn to bacon...chocolate covered bacon! What, are you kidding me? Two of the most wonderful treats in the world, finally dating long enough to have offspring.

As you can imagine, the young lass that accompanied me to this fair had stayed at this stand long enough to be polite and hear the history of walking tacos, but at this point had had enough and wandered off to look at more exciting local handicrafts such as wooden spoon kitchen witches, doilies and such.

Jim, the corn fed gent that walked me through the taco talk, pointed to the sign just as I was finishing up chicken #2. Mouth full, I gave him a head nod, and held up three fingers. Jim took three slices of raw bacon, dipped each into a vat of melted chocolate, and let them cool for just long enough to make sure the chocolate stuck to every inch. Transfer to the even bigger vat of hot oil was smooth. A couple of minutes later, I was in heaven...pig and chocolate heaven.

And I thought the only thing I was really going to like in Wisconsin was the cheese. So happy to be wrong about that!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The absolute best time to get your Saturday Night. Revised. Yet again.

is on a stormy Tuesday afternoon.

I know it's been awhile, but you remember the tune. Sing it with me.

Bomp chicka bow wow....chicka bomp chicka bow bow.

Mmmmm hmmmmmm.

Friday, October 9, 2009

It's like holding autumn in the palm of your hand. And then cramming it in your mouth. While moaning in ecstasy.

Cheddar cheese on apple pie; you either love it or you hate it. The rest of my family thinks it's really weird, but my mom and I just can't get enough of that glorious combination.

Fortunately for me Mama Xanax has a few trees, and she always shares. Golden Delicious apples are ripe right now - perfect for pies topped with thick slices of extra sharp cheddar, which was what I was planning to make last night. Then I saw this recipe over at Bon Appetit and just had to try it. If you're one of those that loves a little cheddar with your apple, you should too. And if you're one of those who's never tried it but thinks it sounds a little weird, these will win you over. These apple turnovers are quick, easy and really delicious. Here we go:

2 medium Golden Delicious apples, peeled, halved, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I used three because they were small apples.)
1 1/2 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
Pinch of salt
1 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
1 large egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water to blend (for glaze)
Sugar (Oops - I left the sugar out of the picture. Pretend there's a bowl of chunky raw sugar sitting next to the apples.)

Take the first six ingredients and mix them together in a bowl. Isn't that lovely? A perfect marriage of fruits and nuts with some sharpness thrown in for flavor - kinda like the comments section at the Humboldt Herald.

Then take your thawed sheets of puff pastry and use something round, like this small dish, to cut four circles out of each sheet. Place the rounds on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper.

Then spoon the filling onto half of the rounds.

Make an egg wash by beating an egg with a little water.

Brush a little bit of the wash around the edges of the rounds and fold over. Then use the tines of a fork to seal it tightly and make it look pretty.

Cut a couple of small slits in the top, brush the tops with more egg wash and sprinkle on the sugar.

Mmmm. Mmmmm. Mmmmmm. See how my turnovers are bursting open at the seams and spilling out everywhere? This is because I filled them too full as I'm just a more-is-better kind of girl. I'm sure you'll be completely cautious and frugal with your filling.


UPDATE: Some sweet jackass who really knows how to grate my cheese noticed that I didn't give any baking info. Sorry! Bake them at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes. Remove them with a spatula onto a wire rack as soon as they come out of the oven, otherwise they'll stick.