Saturday, March 25, 2006


Well, the bathroom is almost done--the last thing to do has been fixing the plaster on a bit of the walls. Tomorrow we'll paint and then have our bathroom back. Whew.

It has been spring break here, and I'll be delighted on Monday when the kids go home. Just in time for break we've had what I hope will be the last snow of the season. Nearly 2 inches on Monday and flurries most days for the rest of the week. Plus a bit of hail yesterday for good measure.

In this lovely weather I've taken the time to make pot roast. I posted my basic recipe below, so I won't repeat it, but have this to say about meat for pot roast. I usually use chuck roast, which I love because it is strong tasting, and comes out tender with predictable regularity; but it is also super fatty (not much marbling, but loads of interstitial fat between the muscle groups). I bought a bottom round roast this week because it was super cheap, had almost no interstitial fat (round must be close to 98% lean), and cook books often describe it as being perfect for braising. It was ok, but not very tender, and pretty dry. I've had the same experience when I use brisket (which is seldom cheap here). I'm wondering if that's just the way it goes. E. used bottom round in a beef and barley soup not long ago and it came out pretty tender and tasty, but was cooked in little pieces, rather than one big chunk.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Oh, My, God.

I do try to keep up a twice-a-week posting schedule, but I got a bit thrown off my schedule this weekend.

The wierd old guy who owned our house before us did a number of weird, dangerous, or just plain grim things to the house (the most spectacular of which was putting mirrors on really and truly, every wall), the most disgusting of which was carpeting the full bathroom upstairs. (A side note: throughout the house, the old guy laid wiring between the carpet pads and the subfloor, all spliced together with flying junctions. Nice.) We've been slowly fixing the various things that he did, making the house liveable and getting rid of his vibe. The bathroom, however, we had been putting off. It really needed a total revamp, and we decided we had neither the money nor the time right now to take care of it. We figured we'd take care of it once Ellen finished her degree and we could pay someone to do it for us.

We figured.

One overflow of the toilet was all it took, really, though, to make us revise our plan. Yep. Now we had not just the theoretical pee-sponge carpet in our bathroom, but the honest to god pee-sponge. It was tainted and there was nothing to do but tear it out.

So Ellen and I spent the last four days ripping out carpet, getting rid of the hideous and oversized old vanity, scraping up badly-laid linoleum, tileing the floor, fixing the tiles in the bath alcove, and so on. A few hundred dollars and a whole lot of hassle later, we have a lovely bathroom. Tomorrow we'll reinstall the toilet and put in a new sink and we'll have our bathroom back. Yay.

All of this has seriously cut into the cooking. Nothing is less appealing after spending hours tearing out pee-sodden carpet than preparing food.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Dinner with old friends

Dear friends of ours and their two children came by for dinner last night.

They live in Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula, but a rather convoluted set of circumstances brought them through Chambana on a road trip. (For the full story, in four part orchestration, with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back, see their blog:

These friends and Ellen and I have some history--we've been friends since high school, and we have not always gotten along spectacularly, but they have also been true friends. When we all lived in Seattle, and we worked downtown, one of them was a partner in diner-surfing and coffee guzzling. This visit was nice, in part because the long past, which sometimes occupies far too much space in our conversations, was hardly part of the conversation at all. I'm thrilled to see their lives seeming so good.

It is so hard to believe we are adults. I often feel wierd about this, and all the more so when I see my old friends. I know we're not kids any more, but I still feel like pretty much the same person I was back when we used to hang out more often. I wonder if I will ever feel any different.

It was lovely to see all of them--in fact, it was exactly right. I often wish they (and certain other people...) lived in town so that we could do this more often. They got here about 5:00, we made pizza, drank piles of wine, and sat and chatted till late in the evening. Around 6, just as we were getting ready to cook the pizzas, Lynn came by (she and Xanthe and Bella, our daughters, were working on an album of children's songs). The house was warm, noisy, a little higglety-pigglety, but not too chaotic; just the way I like it. In fact, this is the essence of hominess to me: warm lighting, a fire in the grate, a kaleidescope of noise and cooking smells.

Pizza, fresh made, is a perfect food for these sorts of dinners. It's special and a bit of work, but easy to eat and easy to serve to a big crowd. I like to make 8-10 inch pizzas so you can have lots of different kinds. Figure on one per person.

Making the dough is not quick, but it isn't really very hard, and is absolutely worth it. Ellen usually makes it, but I did last night and it didn't turn out badly. We use a recipe we got from Eating Well twenty years ago or so:

1 tsp active dry yeast
1-2/3 cups UAP flour (I really think King Arthur is the only flour to use)
1 cup cake flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm water

Mix 1/4 cup water and yeast. Stir until dissolved.

In a mixing bowl combine 1-2/3 cups flour, cake flour and salt (I've started running dry ingredients in the cuisinart for a few seconds instead of sifting). Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in yeast mixture. Gradually stir the flour, adding the rest of the water.

Knead until smooth and not sticky, about 10 minutes. (you may need to add more water). Dough will be fairly moist.

Let rise in an oiled bowl 2 to 2-1/2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Punch down and knead breifly. Divide into pieces, make into balls and flatten into discs.

I bake on a very high heat, and when I put the pizzas in the oven, I also like to throw in a cup of water, to make a steamy environment. It makes the dough a little chewier.