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.

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!

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…

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.

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!

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.

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
breadcrumbs
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

Continue reading “Grilled salmon & sweet potato cakes”

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.

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.

Yay Discovery!

STS 114 mission patchI just finished watching the lift-off of the Discovery and it was so cool, especially because they have a new camera now mounted on the external fuel tank (the big orange thing) so you could see the Shuttle roll over and then you could see it separate. The fuel tank falls off and burns up in the atmosphere on re-entry, and you could watch the Shuttle just float away above it. It's pretty incredible after so many Shuttle launches to get a never-before-seen view of the process.

I love watching the Shuttle and it's always held a special place in my heart, as I saw two lift-offs when I was younger in Florida. I thought I'd written about my experiences here, but I realized that I posted about it ages ago over on Metafilter, in a thread about the launch of Atlantis (STS 98) back in February, 2001. I've reposted it below:

I actually attending two launches in the 80's, a Challenger lift-off in 1985 (STS 51-A) and the first lift-off, of Discovery (STS-26), after the Challenger explosion. A family friend was on both missions, and was actually the commander (Rick Hauck) of the Discovery. Far and away, it was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life.

The first time we sat in the astronaut VIP seats, about 3 miles from the pad. After Challenger they moved all the viewing stands back to about 7 miles. Still, an astronaut's family and guests sit closer than anyone else, so the view is unobstructed, and there's a loud speaker right next to the stands. The ground shakes and the flame when the engines fire up is as bright as the sun, you can't even look at it.

My adrenaline rushed as they said, T-3! 2! 1! And after lift-off, as the count went up, and edged towards 73 seconds (the time when Challenger exploded), everyone went totally silent. All you could hear was the mic, saying "t plus 68 seconds, t plus 69 seconds, t plus seventy seconds.) As soon as Discovery went to full throttle up at t + 73, and the boosters fell off, everyone burst into tears and cheers. (I'm not kidding, it was really that emotional.) There was this little trail of white and off it went into the heavens.

It still is the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life.

Watching today, it still brings tears to my eyes. I'm so hopeful that today marks our return not just to the International Space Station, but to Space with a capital S — to the moon, to Mars, and eventually beyond! Godspeed Discovery, I only wish I were onboard too!