04 November 2009

Slinging hash: chocolate pudding

Sacha has become very interested in cooking lately. I'm glad to see him taking an interest, but alarmed whenever he pulls his chair in front of the lit stove and shouts, “CAN I HELP TOO?” I'm trying encourage him and keep him alive by making things he can help with without putting himself in mortal peril, that he'll actually want to eat, and don't make too much of a mess.

I'm sure you can guess which of these two of these criteria chocolate pudding satisfies. It's been said thousands of times that corn starch based puddings aren't any harder to make from scratch, and taste far better than a mix, but that doesn't make it any less true.

We've done this together a couple of times lately, and have a system worked out. I measure dry ingredients, and Sacha dumps, something he excels at. Then he helps me add the milk, and we argue about proper stirring technique. I suggest we go in a circle, and Sacha counters that we should go up and down, as if we were churning butter. And that's where it gets a bit messy, and I get a bit exasperated, and pull rank by taking the whisk away from him. 

But he makes up for it by amusing me with his taxonomy of dairy. I often use a combination of 1% milk and cream for pudding. As we pour the milk into the measuring cup, Sacha explains, “This is the milk.” Last time, I finished off the remainder of a pint of cream and opened a quart. “This is cream,” he said, and we poured from the pint. When I opened the quart, he declared, “And this is coffee milk.”

That's my boy.

Chocolate Pudding
adapted from Gourmet

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk, preferably whole, but 1 or 2% will work, as will a combination of milk and cream
4 oz chocolate chips

Whisk together cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, 2 minutes. The mixture will thicken as it cooks. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate chips and vanilla until smooth.

Pour pudding into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until cold, least two hours. If you are anti-pudding skin, press the wrap directly on the pudding.

Serve with whipped cream.

31 October 2009

Barbara Charmaine Goldsteen

My mother-in-law, Barbara Charmaine Goldsteen died early this morning, from complications related to pancreatic cancer. This was her fourth bout with cancer; prior to this, she had survived ovarian cancer three times. Her first two sicknesses occurred before I knew her; when David was a teenager.

No cancer diagnosis is good news, and ovarian cancer is especially deadly. When she was first diagnosed, at the age of 39, her doctor more or less told her to get her affairs in order. And yet, she went on to defy all odds and survive not once, but two more times. She was a medical miracle.

During this last illness, we learned what had become painfully obvious by that point; she had been dealt a genetic short hand, and had a mutated BRCA gene. This last round was the most serious by far; when she was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her prognosis was five months; she outlived that diagnosis by more than a year.

Despite the fact that for a third of her life she had an uncomfortably intimate acquaintance with this disease, she never allowed cancer to define her. She had a remarkable capacity for staring down her illness and saying, "Fuck you, cancer." She was aggressive and fearless in her treatment protocol, and refusing to take no for an answer. And while cancer ultimately killed her, she did not ever allow it to sap her of her will to live. She came to New York for treatments twice a month for a better part of the year, and while she was in town, and suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy, she did not take to her sickbed, but continued to explore the city to the best of her ability, seeing shows, and visiting with family and friends.

For a brief while, her doctor was able to put the pancreatic cancer into remission, although it ultimately metastasized to the point where it was like chasing mercury. A few weeks ago, when she took ill for what would be the final time, she told a friend that she did not want anyone to pity her, because by her reckoning, she should have died twenty years ago. She had not expected to live long enough to see her children grown and married, let alone meet eight grandchildren, and die knowing a ninth was on its way.

And yet, although I am grateful that my children had the opportunity to know her for as long as they did, I can't help but feel cheated, because we always want more than we get, and I had hoped she would live to see her grandchildren marry as well.

30 October 2009

Executive decisions

After some wavering, dithering and prevaricating, I have decided to participate in NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. It rolls off the tongue awkwardly, no? I am going to do my best to post something every day in November, which will be no small undertaking for me. I've stockpiled a few things, and I hope that is not considered cheating. Some items will be short, and a few may be lame, but I'll try my best to avoid that. Will I make it? I have no idea, but I'll do my best. 

I am also changing my name. As of November 1, I am retiring Hausfrau. Hausfrau is an awesome blog name, and I can't think of anything that suits this blog better.

One of the things I'll miss most about Hausfrau, and in part why I chose it, is that in addition to a domestic vocation, it is also a porn name, in the sexy librarian mold, and I thought that was a good joke. One of the things I've learned via Google Analytics is that there are a lot of people trolling the Internet looking for hausfraus having sex. Sometimes they stumble across my site via keywords including some combination the two, including my favorite: “anal hausfrau blogspot”. You would think anyone looking for such footage would quickly navigate away from this site disappointed, but you would be wrong. Mr or Ms Anal Hausfrau Blogspot stayed to browse awhile. Maybe they found a recipe, or just related, because they are going through the exact same thing with their kids. Whatever they got, thanks for reading.    

As much as I like it, hausfrau is also a very popular name, and there are a lot of us out there. For awhile, I've toyed with coming up with something more unconventional. A few weeks ago, I hit upon it.

I will tell you what it is on November 1.

28 October 2009

slinging hash: garlic soup

In an exquisite feat of timing, my children fell ill this week in highly choreographed fashion. Gabriel went first, spiking a fever on Sunday evening. Sarah came home early from school on Monday, and Sacha woke up sick in the middle of the night. I thought this most considerate of them, as it means we'll get this round over with quickly, whereas if they'd staggered their sickness, I would be housebound for the better part of a week.

We had a very pleasant day, in part because the kids were too sick to be demanding, and spent the time alternating between napping and sitting in front of the television in a stupor. I did get breathed and coughed on a lot, however, which left me wondering how many days it will be until I fall ill.

And so when it came time to prepare dinner, I thought of garlic soup. I started making garlic soup years ago, inspired by a recipe in John Thorne's excellent Outlaw Cook. Research is beginning to confirm the folk wisdom that garlic may help ward off colds. I knew my kids would hate it, but as they had no appetite, I didn't have to worry about feeding them, so why not try to stack the odds against getting sick in my favor?

Garlic soup is quick and easy. You boil garlic in water, mash the garlic into a paste and return to the water, which is then enriched with eggs. Boiling the garlic tames its pungency into something delicate, while the eggs give the soup body. In all, it is a great demonstration of one of the most awesome things about soup, in that you can make something delicious from practically nothing.

Garlic Soup
serves 4

I serve this with bread or croutons, but plain boiled rice would also work.

6 cups water
12 cloves of garlic, peeled
bay leaf
a few sage leaves or sprigs of thyme, optional
salt and pepper
6 eggs
a few slices of crusty bread
1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Bring the water, garlic, bay leaf, herbs and a teaspoon of salt to a boil. When the water comes to a boil, turn it down to a simmer and cook until the garlic softens, 15-20 minutes. Remove garlic and mash to a paste in a mortar, or with the flat of a knife. Return garlic to the pot.

Beat the eggs in a bowl, and slowly add to this a ladle-full of the cooking liquid, whisking constantly. Whisk the eggs into the pot and stir over very low heat. If the soup comes to a boil, the eggs will curdle, which is not a tragedy. Adjust seasoning.

Meanwhile, broil or toast the bread, and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and place in the bottom of soup bowls. Ladle the soup over the bread, garnish with additional herbs and a drizzle of olive oil, or not.

Serve immediately.

22 October 2009

Parenting in ALL CAPS

It is hard to comprehend, as you cradle your newborn in your arms, how much this child will annoy and anger you someday. This is the flip side of love; the ones we adore the most are also the ones most skilled at driving us crazy, sometimes in equal measure.

Spanking has been out for some time, but now, the tide is turning against yelling at our children. I take this with mixed emotions, as yelling is an inevitable, and necessary part of the job.  

In my better moments, my study of mindfulness practices pay dividends. I was talking with a friend about meditation recently, and quipped that one of the greatest benefits I have derived from my yoga practice is to yell at my children with far greater precision. What I meant is that I've become better at catching myself on the verge of an explosion, and deciding how to engage. Recently, I've used a trick I learned from Elena Brower, of lowering my chin to my chest, which changes the pattern of your heartbeat, and I've found it really works. As a result, when I do yell, I am more likely to be in control my anger rather than allowing it to control me.

In my lesser moments though, I've resorted to stomping, gritting my teeth, growling, and wrist squeezing. Once, when Sarah was small, I took a page from my cat, and hissed at her. It was not my proudest moment, but it got her attention.

I learned a good trick for anger management from Sarah. She was about three, and we were beginning to teach her to identify her emotions, and express anger verbally rather than physically. In true sanctimonious parent fashion, "Use your words," was a constant refrain. One day when she was angry about something, she clenched her fists and scrunched her face, and shouted, "I WANT TO HIT!"

We were so proud.

So sometimes when I'm close to losing it, I'll say, "I am really angry right now, so angry that I want to spank you."

What do you do to manage your temper?

21 October 2009

slinging hash: potato gratin

Although there are thousands of ways to cook them, I am not very imaginative when it comes to potatoes. If I'm serving chicken, I make mashed potatoes; with beef, it's roasted or baked potatoes.

When I'm feeling frisky I switch it up by serving mashed potatoes with beef, and vice versa. Last Friday night, I made lamb, and by my logic, it called for an entirely different potato preparation. (If you're wondering, how about rice?, I have one word for you: Sacha. Rice doesn't always vacuum well, and it takes a long time to pick those grains up from the rug.)

And so I remembered potato gratin, and as I always do when I make one, I wondered, why don't I make this more often? Potato gratin is easy and delicious, and coming in somewhere between roasted and mashed, is the perfect fence straddler.

And for a slatternly cook like myself, a gratin has the advantage of coming together more by method than recipe. It is flexible and forgiving. If you have a lot of time — ha! — you can cook it longer on a lower heat. If you're in a hurry, you can raise the temperature, cook it at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time. You can make it with milk, half and half, or cream. Add garlic, or not, though I highly recommend it as there are few things that smell more heavenly than garlic warmed in milk. It is fashionable in the food pages to say that with a salad, potato gratin would make a great light supper, but in reality, I wouldn't bother with the salad. I'd be happy eating it all by itself.

Potato Gratin
serves 4-5
You can easily increase this; my general rule is one fewer potato than the number of people you are serving. 

4-5 medium potatoes
2-3 cloves of garlic
whole milk, half and half or cream
salt and pepper
butter, for greasing dish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.

Scrub the potatoes, and peel them or not, according to your mood and their level of filth. Slice potatoes about 1/8 inch thick.

Slice the garlic into thin slivers.

Butter an 8" square or gratin dish. Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom of the dish, scatter a few slivers of garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining potatoes and garlic. Slowly pour in milk, half and half or cream to reach the top layer of potatoes, leaving them exposed. Gently press the potatoes down to submerge them a bit; you don't want the potatoes to be completely covered, as they will bake down as they cook.

Bake 40-60 minutes, checking after 40 minutes. Gratin is done when the top layer is nicely browned, and potatoes can be easily pierced with a knife.

19 October 2009

Fighting words

My children have all been great dumpers and tossers of things. The basic recipe goes something like: upend one tin of blocks, add a generous amount of Legos, and a smattering of cars. Using your hands, mix well until ingredients are incorporated, and then repeat vigorously, until items are spread to the far corners of the house.

Sacha is by far, my most talented child in this respect, and I am waiting patiently for him to outgrow this phase.

In the meantime, because I am a control freak have a low threshold for chaos, I spend a good amount of time sorting and returning things to their rightful places. This kind of routine busing of the house is so automatic to me that I do it unthinkingly, and without complaint.

The thing I cannot abide, however, is the flinging. Sacha walks in, sees pillows and blankets neatly arranged on the upholstery, and then methodically tosses everything to the floor. He stops to assess his work, and moves on to the den to do it again.

It is how my house goes, in under sixty seconds, from this:

to this:


It would be one thing if this happened in the course of play – say, making a fort – but the flinging appears to be an exercise in itself. More often than not, once the flinging is done, so is Sacha. His work is so deliberate that it is hard for me not to take it personally. It's as if he is certain that my insistence on placing pillows on the furniture is wrongheaded, and if he rearranges things often enough, eventually I will come to agree. 

Or so I thought, until I walked in to the living room last weekend to find Sacha wrestling with a brown pillow, shouting, “YOU'RE GOING DOWN PILLOW, YOU'RE GOING DOWN!”

This gave me a different perspective. In hindsight, we often realize our tendency to personalize things that have nothing to do with us. I thought the flinging was about me, but now, I saw that it was the pillows, not me, that are Sacha's nemesis.

I'd like to say that this insight gave me new found tolerance for Sacha's idiosyncrisy, but that would be a baldfaced lie. It's still extremely annoying.