Archive for August 2005

The joy of the outdoor shower

Outdoor ShowerA common feature at beach houses in New England is the outdoor shower. (It may be common at other beach houses in other places too, but I don't have experience with that.) It's supposed to keep people from getting the inside of the house all sandy after a day at the beach, make it easy for a quick rinse off of salt, etc., and probably also handle the extra bathing requirements of a house full of guests. But beach day or not, hot day or cool, I use the outdoor shower whenever I possibly can! Because there's something so pleasant about taking a shower outside -- watching the trees bend in the wind and the clouds move across the sky and listening to the birds twitter and squeak. Unlike the indoor shower, which is dark and cramped, outdoors the feeling is expansive, almost wild. I feel it lends itself to the best shower thinking and day dreaming. It's just such a nice start or end to the day. The true end of summer for me is marked by the day when I have to return to the indoor shower.

Searching for autism's causes

There seems to be a lot of discussion lately about what causes autism (see, for example, this recent column by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Vaccines and Autism: Looking for the Truth? Study the Amish). Most of what I've read focuses on preservatives in childhood vaccinations as the cause. But an interesting op-ed in yesterday's New York Times, The Male Condition, by Simon Baron-Cohen (the director of the autism research center at Cambridge University) hypothesizes that genetics, rather than environmental factors, may be the cause of autism:

One needs to be extremely careful in advancing a cause for autism, because this field is rife with theories that have collapsed under empirical scrutiny. Nonetheless, my hypothesis is that autism is the genetic result of "assortative mating" between parents who are both strong systemizers. Assortative mating is the term we use when like is attracted to like, and there are four significant reasons to believe it is happening here.

The reasons he outlines sound pretty compelling to me, and I look forward to seeing further research that could support his assertions.

Grilled salmon & sweet potato cakes

Grilled salmon fillet*
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes**
1 scallion, thinly sliced, white and light green parts
1 egg
fresh lemon juice
capers and caper juice
salt and pepper

* I usually have about 1 1/2 cups or so, it's not the whole fillet but just a few inches left after dinner.

** You can of course use a regular potato

Another autism report

Reader Josh sent a link to the Immunization Safety Review Committee's 2004 Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism whose description reads in part:

This eighth and final report of the Immunization Safety Review Committee examines the hypothesis that vaccines, specifically the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and thimerosal-containing vaccines, are causally associated with autism. The committee reviewed the extant published and unpublished epidemiological studies regarding causality and studies of potential biologic mechanisms by which these immunizations might cause autism. Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism finds that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. The book further finds that potential biological mechanisms for vaccine-induced autism that have been generated to date are only theoretical.

The 214 page report is available for download as a .pdf for ~$35. And to be fair, I haven't been following this issue closely, so I don't know what's "right." I'm just interested in the issue, especially these days as more and more of my friends are starting families.

Yummy grilled salmon

I've been grilling salmon a lot lately (wild salmon only, not farmed, because farmed has lots of chemicals and is bad for you and you shouldn't be eating it) and we always end up with a little bit left over. So I've been making salmon cakes for dinner with the remains, and boy if it isn't as good (ok, nearly) the next day. I've tried to re-create my recipe here for you: Grilled salmon & sweet potato cakes. I substituted sweet potatoes on my most recent batch of cakes and it was a nice change from the traditional potato in fish cakes. Pretty yummy!

A good beach book about France

Almost French: Love And A New Life In ParisI recently read Almost French: Love And A New Life In Paris by Sarah Turnbull, a delightful memoir of a young Australian woman who falls in love with a Frenchman and moves to Paris. It has all the requisite examples of screwing up in a foreign culture, and really captures a lot of the essence of not only being an outsider in a new land but real slices of Parisian life as well. It's a good beach read -- nothing too strenuous -- just the thing as you sit on the sand to make you day-dream of heading to Paris.

I scream for ice cream

Ever since I worked at Herrell's Ice Cream in Harvard Square during college, I've longed to make my own ice cream. At Herrell's I was an "ICM", or ice cream maker, and spent my shifts making malted vanilla, pumpkin, and chocolate pudding ice creams. So yummy! So today's New York Times article, Ice Dreams, Crystallizing, about making ice cream and sorbet from scratch, rekindled my interest. I've been planning to buy an ice cream maker someday when I have a bigger kitchen but man oh man is this tempting me now!

This summer a pint of overripe raspberries (and memories of the old Tommy's Lunch diner in Cambridge, Mass.) inspired a raspberry lime rickey sorbet, which had all the zesty flavor and pucker of the beverage it was modeled on.

But great ice cream need not be high-concept (if a lime rickey could be considered that). Often a wallflower flavor of a single dimension, like strawberry, takes the slate. In that spirit we set out to create a subtle ice cream from commercial crème fraîche (sour-cultured heavy cream), whisking it with simple syrup to create the base. The flavor was phenomenal, but it left a waxy feel in the mouth.

We then substituted two parts regular sour cream, which is lower in butterfat, to one part yogurt and produced a velvety, tart ice cream that is fun to swap for vanilla, as in a fruit parfait. (Its drier flavor is ideal for treacly grilled peaches and apricots.) We've never had much luck with fig ice cream, which flatters neither figs nor cream, but a simple stewed fig topping with lemon juice and sugar, spooned over sour cream ice cream, tastes divine.

In addition to the lime rickey sorbet, the authors talk about making ginger ice cream and various flavors based on herbs and spices. Right now I have a garden full of lavender, mint (mint sorbets!), and basil . The blackberries are coming into season (and I've already got a quart picked towards jelly) and the rose hips are rippening too. Imagine all the ice cream possibilities! If you are less able to resist than I, you can get the very ice cream maker mentioned in the article, a Cuisinart ICE-20 1-1/2-Quart Automatic Ice Cream, Frozen Yogurt, and Sorbet Maker, from Amazon this minute for $49.95. Must not one click...must not one click...

Working with rose hips

Did you know you can Eat Your Roses? Last summer and this summer I've spent time on Nantucket trying to learn about native plants and trying to use them in various recipes (so far in the very experimental phase!). There are tons of rosa rugosa on the island and so rose hips are plentiful. My memories of them dodging and throwing them with/at my cousins. Rose hips leave big welts, so dodging is key. Now that I'm more mature, I've turned my attention toward rose hip jam and rose hip tarts (and the many recipes listed here A Patchwork of Rose Hip Recipes). Alas, it's recommend you wait until the first frost before harvesting them, but that's too long for me. I think I'll give them another couple of weeks and see how they taste. I bet a rose hip reduction could be pretty tasty, on something!

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in DisguiseIf you've been reading this site for a while (or checked my reading page) you know that I'm a fan of former New York Times restaurant critic and current Gourmet editor in cheif Ruth Reichl's memoirs. I recently read her newest, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, which covers her stint at the Times. Both funny and touching, Ms. Reichl details the various disguises she employed to avoid detection as she dined at some of the great, and not so great, restaurants of New York City. Also included are the eventual reviews she wrote after the meals. A very hunger-inducing and enjoyable read.

Interview with Ruth Reichl

Amazon also has an interview with Ruth Reichl on their site, Behind the Scenes at the Times: An Interview with Ruth Reichl in which she talks about writing Garlic and Sapphires, working at Gourmet and what makes good food writing. I only wish it were longer!

Oh the yummy langoustine

A delicious article on langoustines from R.W. Apple in the New York Times makes me yearn to board the next jet to France for a trip to eat these yummy little crustaceans, Lobster's Little Cousin, and Its Envy.

What, you may well ask, is a langoustine? Shellfish nomenclature is a vexed matter, and nowhere more so than where langoustines are concerned. More later on the technicalities; for now, suffice it to say that they are slim, pink, thin-shelled relatives of lobsters, with bodies 3 to 10 inches long and skinny claws. (The claws are often as long as the bodies.) At its best the meat is heavenly, more subtle in flavor and delicate in texture than that of their huskier cousins from Maine.

Though not the same, the article reminds me of the smaller little lobsters I ate in Anguilla a few years ago. I think they called them langoustines actually, but they were larger than the creatures Mr. Apple muses about in this article. Either way, I want langoustines in my belly right now, even if they're not breakfast food!

A delicious what? A slump?

The blackberries are still growing along my road and after two batches of jam and one blackberry and peach tart, I was looking for something easier to do with the quart of berries my cousin and I picked yesterday. A quick search over at Epicurious yielded this delightful recipe for a Blackberry Slump, which is basically cooked berries with a slab of cake on top. Not the neatest or fanciest dessert but it was easy and tasty. Later we were discussing the other slumps one could make and agreed that an apple and cranberry slump, with cinnamon added to the batter, could be a delightful fall dessert. I'm adding slumps to my repertoire of homey yummy goodness to make.

Enjoying Elizabeth David

Ages ago my mother gave me Is There a Nutmeg in the House? Essays on Practical Cooking with more than 150 RecipesIs There a Nutmeg in the House?: Essays on Practical Cooking with more than 150 Recipes by Elizabeth David. I read some of it, and then put it down. The other day I picked it up again, and am enjoying it as much as I did the first time (I don't know why I ever put it down, frankly.) Her bold opinionated writing about food is refreshing and enjoyable and most interesting to me, it feels modern.

Though some of the writings in this collection date to the sixties and seventies, her opinions on whether one can substitute a bouillon cube when a recipe for stock ("Well, will a bouillon cube 'do'? Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it will do nothing."), the excessive gadgetry of a "dream kitchen" ("And too much equipment is if anything worse than too little. I don't a bit covet the exotic gear dangling from hooks, the riot of clanking ironmongery, the armouries of knives, or the serried rank of sauté pans and all other carefully chosen symbols of culinary activity I see in so many photographs of chic kitchens."), and the "ogres of factory farming...and all those who push the just acceptable at the expense of the best," sound like they could have been written today.

Great food writing is a joy to read. Great food writing that stands the test of time is all the more impressive, especially considering the trials and trends of the culinary arts on both sides of the Atlantic. But Elizabeth David is there to remind us that great food is simply great ingredients that don't get all muddled up in the kitchen. And for that, I thank her.

Why the Beatles still rock

An interesting article in the New York Times, Why This Band Plays On, examines the continued popularity of the Beatles after all these years.

But fun on the level that the Beatles managed to achieve - at least in those days - implied more than a collective, thrilling scream. We remember the Beatles for their music and spectacle, but we celebrate them because, when they stood before their American audiences in 1964 and 1965, we witnessed the social and cultural power that a pop group and its audience could create and share. From there, I guess, you measure how much we've learned, or how much we've lost.

The Beatles broke up before I was even born, yet from the time I was little I've been a huge Beatles fan. In fifth grade some girls asked me in the locker room what my favorite song was and I remember telling them, "Either 'Ob-la-di Ob-la-da' or 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand'," torn as I was between my first love for early Beatles and my then-developing love for their later work. The girls scoffed and said something about old music not counting. Apparently I was supposed to like some song by Rick Springfield or something. Take that fifth grade girls! I don't see your precious Rick Springfield being mentioned in the Times these days!