29.10.09

Guest Post---"One Truffle At The Ritz" by my dad

Hello dear readers!

My mom is in town visiting and we've been quite busy. With Halloween coming this weekend, I confess I haven't got much time to write anything thoughtful; however, I wanted to share this lovely tidbit with you in the interim. I didn't even ask permission, but this is a short essay my dad recently wrote and submitted to Saveur Magazine. I think it's a great piece, and perhaps it will be a welcome change from my boring stuff! Would love to know what you think.

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ONE TRUFFLE AT THE RITZ


True food lovers are always ready for that singular new experience, whether it is the rare and exotic, the voluptuous and excessive, or simply the soul satisfying richness of the best of the tried and true; that moment,that first bite can be almost paralyzing in its intensity and, if the planets are properly aligned, can be relived and savored for a lifetime. I count myself among those fortunate (and perhaps relentlessly inquisitive enough) to have had several such food moments. One of my favorites was the experience of a unique dish at the Ritz in Paris in February, 1980.


I was a 31 year old lawyer in Paris for only the second time and on a side excursion after a London meeting of the American Bar Association. My wife, Julie, I and another couple, had decided to stay at the Ritz, certainly an extravagance, but one quickly and eagerly justified as a once in a lifetime experience. After all, what better time to go than with good friends; besides, Julie was seven months pregnant with our second child, so a little indulgence could be justified.


We arrived a little before check-in time and our rooms were not yet ready. Even without a room, we felt welcomed and cosseted by the hushed quietness of the public areas richly carpeted in plush oriental rugs on gleaming stone floors and furnished with rare and carefully polished antiques. It was winter and the hotel was sparsely populated, its silence punctuated only with the staff's murmurings and the quiet rustling of the maids' black taffeta skirts as they went almost invisibly about their duties. We had certainly "arrived," but were doing our best not to look as overwhelmed and intimidated as we felt. We tried to behave as if all this was second nature to us so as not to betray the "country come to town"reality of this group of four young people from Houma, Louisiana.


That night we decided to dine in the hotel as tired travelers (and pregnant women in particular) sometimes do. The large formal dining room was empty when we arrived. While we missed the energy and excitement of a crowd, there was still something almost reverential about the room. The linens, crystal, sliver, silk drapery, flowers and candlelight watched over by several tuxedoed staff members created something resembling an empty stageset. We had to choose whether to be lonely guests in an empty hotel restaurant, or instead the stars of our very own opulent production. We quickly chose stardom and a bottle of champagne as the useful accelerant.The occasion was extraordinary and demanded no less.


We studied our menus at length with the much needed assistance of Julie's still quite good high school French. This necessarily took quite some time and, after all, we were not in a hurry. It was then that I began eyeing a beautifully presented whole smoked salmon lying in state on a gilded baroque sideboard across the room. As soon as had I began to whisper of this delicacy to my companions, a waiter glided up with a substantial portion for us to sample. I had not yet read or heard about Cesar Ritz's famed table radar, but had just experienced it firsthand. The service continued with our needs being met almost before we recognized them ourselves, and all this was done from a respectful distance without intrusion.


Eventually we made our selections. With Julie's help and some charade-like communication with the waiter, I discovered a hot appetizer described as a whole truffle baked and sauced in a puff pastry. My experience of truffles at this point was confined to tiny specs in pates.The specter of a whole truffle was mesmerizing. I loved their smoky, earthy flavor. The idea of a whole one all to myself prepared and served in this temple of opulence and excess was too much to bear. Unfortunately, so was the a la carte price of $50.00, a staggering sum indeed to a young lawyer in 1980. I agonized only briefly before resorting again to my tried and true justification of excess. When, would I ever have such an opportunity again? Wouldn't I forever regret any penurious cowardice?

Of course I would! And so the battle was won (or lost depending on one's perspective) and I placed my order.


The dish arrived plated on heated Limoges. I knew because I had already peeked at the bottom of my bread plate proving once again my lack of manners and proper upbringing. The golden square of pastry rose several inches from the plate and was topped with a circular dome hinting at the prize within. When I broke the very crisp and layered croissant- like crust with my knife and fork, a small cloud of pungent steam rose as I waited for the dish to cool. Despite my best efforts to savor it slowly, the deliciously sauced and spongy golf ball sized black truffle, along with every crumb of the pastry seemed gone in no time at all.


I do not remember the other courses, or what everyone else had during our long and very French dinner. I do, however, remember one very special glittering evening of splendor and luxury with my lovely wife and two dear friends, all of whom kindly indulged me in my quest for memorable excess. We had an exceptional evening and I have Proustian memories of it even now, and without ever again biting into another whole truffle.

28.10.09

Butternut Squash Risotto Recipe


I made this last night and it was pure heaven, people. It was also my first attempt at risotto, and I confess I'm pretty damn impressed with myself. I loved it, Hubby loved it and Izzy had a few bites, too. But Abby is allergic to veggies, so her radar went off as soon as she saw the cubed squash. Oh well. This made a TON, so we have plenty of leftovers for tonight! If I can make this, anyone can!! It would be healthier without the butter, but I'm not sure it would taste as good.



Butternut Squash Risotto

Makes 6 1-1/2 cup servings

Adapted from Chez Panisse via The Wednesday Chef.


You will need:
1 medium butternut squash (about 1 pound whole or 12 ounces cut up)

24 sage leaves

Salt and pepper

7 to 8 cups fat-free chicken (or veggie) stock

1 medium onion, diced small

3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups uncooked Arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup parmesan, grated



1) Peel squash, then dice into very small (1/4- or 1/3-inch) cubes. Combine squash, a few sage leaves, 1 cup stock, and a little salt in a heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender (but not too soft) about 5 to 10 minutes. (You want the cubes to keep their form when they’re stirred into the risotto.) Drain and reserve liquid, just in case.


2) While squash is cooking, add the rest of the stock to another pot, bring to a simmer, and keep it there. Meanwhile, finely chop 6 large sage leaves.


3) In another, larger, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium until melted. Add chopped sage and cook about 1 minute. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn heat to low, add rice and a pinch of salt and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often, until rice has turned slightly translucent. Turn the heat back up to medium, and add the white wine. Once the wine has been absorbed, add enough hot stock to cover the rice. Stir well and reduce the heat back down to medium-low.


4) Gently simmer the rice, stirring occasionally, until stock is absorbed. Add another 1/2-to-3/4 cup warm stock, and stir occasionally until new stock is absorbed. Repeat the process until all the stock has been absorbed by the rice, and rice is tender. This could take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. (It took me closer to 30.)



5) While all this is going on, sauté 10 sage leaves in a 1/2 tablespoon of butter until crisp, about 30 to 60 seconds, turning once halfway through. Rest on paper towel.



6) When rice is mostly tender, add cooked squash, parmesan, and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, until dairy is melted and squash is heated through. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, using sage leaves as garnish.




Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving:


371 calories, 10 g fat, 1.4 g fiber, $1.77


Calculations:


1 medium butternut squash (12 ounces cut up): 153 calories, 0.3 g fat. 6.8 g fiber, $0.7224

sage leaves: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $1.50

Salt and pepper: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.03

7 to 8 cups fat-free chicken (or veggie) stock: 120 calories, 8 g fat, 0 g fiber, $3.001

medium onion, diced small: 46 calories, 0.1 g fat, 1.5 g fiber, $0.18

3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter: 356 calories, 40.3 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.21

2 cups uncooked Arborio rice: 1280 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, $2.49

1/2 cup dry white wine: 96 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, $1.23

1/2 cup parmesan, grated: 172 calories, 11.4 g fat, 0 g fiber


TOTAL: 2223 calories, 60.1 g fat, 8.3 g fiber, $10.72

PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 371 calories, 10 g fat, 1.4 g fiber, $1.77

27.10.09

Post-It Note Tuesday

If you want to play, go here to check out Supah Mommy's blog!
















Have you read The Help by Kathryn Stockett?



Bloggy friends, if you haven't yet read this book, please please please hop on over to http://www.amazon.com/ right now and buy it! The Help, written by Kathryn Stockett, was so good I started reading it Saturday night (yes, I realize this means I have no life) and blew through it. I finished it yesterday morning. It was that good. Better than sex.


The Help focuses on the lives of three narrators: Minny and Aibileen, black maids and best friends, and Eugenia, a.k.a. Skeeter, a young white woman who has recently graduated from Ole Miss. The book is set in 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi and it deftly exposes the tensions rising during the civil rights movement. Once I started this book, I quite literally couldn't put it down. Dan's stepmother gave it to me for my birthday, and it's been one of those books gathering dust on my nightstand (I know many of you have similar piles!). Well, a friend of mine mentioned having read it, so I figured it was high time I started. Then I couldn't stop. It was so, so good. I gobbled up every page, hungry for more. I didn't want it to end!
I immediately related to Skeeter and loved her character. After all, she's a GRITS member (Girls Raised In The South) like moi, she's a sorority girl, and she loves to write. She's tall, she feels awkward in her own skin, and the people she considers her best friends don't think twice about ditching her. Throughout the novel she comes to terms with her true self--the difference between who she is and who she wants/doesn't want to be---and learns to stand alone. I was so proud of her and what she did that I caught myself laughing and cheering out loud...and catching tiny glimpses of myself.
Here's an excerpt that I loved, a scene between Eugenia/Skeeter and her family's maid, Constantine:
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The first time I was ever called ugly, I was thirteen. It was a rich friend of my brother Carlton's, over to shoot guns in the field.
"Why you crying, girl?" Constantine asked me in the kitchen.
I told her what the boy had called me, tears streaming down my face.
"Well? Is you?"
I blinked, paused my crying. "Is I what?"
"Now you look a here, Eugenia" --because Constantine was the only one who'd occasionally follow Mama's rule. "Ugly live up on the inside. Ugly be a hurtful, mean person. Is you one a them peoples?"
"I don't know. I don't think so," I sobbed.
Constantine sat down next to me at the kitchen table. I heard the cracking of her swollen joints. She pressed her thumb hard in the palm of my hand, something we both knew meant Listen. Listen to me.
"Ever morning, until you dead in the ground, you gone have to make this decision." Constantine was so close, I could see the blackness of her gums. "You gone have to ask yourself, Am I gone believe what them fools say about me today?"
She kept her thumb pressed hard in my hand. I nodded that I understood. I was just smart enough to realize she meant white people. And even though I still felt miserable, and knew that I was, most likely, ugly, it was the first time she ever talked to me like I was something besides my mother's white child. All my life I'd been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine's thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe.
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Read this book. I promise you won't be disappointed!

26.10.09

Manic Monday Awards Ceremony

Hello, everyone!

It's just another Manic Monday here, so I thought I'd liven up the morning by handing out a few awards!




The entertaining and always interesting Steph in the City gave me this Heartfelt Award and I couldn't be more excited! Thanks, Stephanie! I really enjoy reading her blog. She really makes me think, which is a rarity when I'm so often in mommy-coma-land. You should check her out here right now and become her newest follower! I would like to pass this award on to these lovely ladies:


Bacon is my Lover

Blog-Ignoramus

Life Laugh Latte

Martinis or Diaper Genies

Speaking of Witch

A Day in the Life: Chronicles of an Only Parent

Princess of Sarcasm



Next, Kys over at Stir-Fry Awesomeness gave me this Friends Award, which made me feel all warm & fuzzy inside. Thanks, girl! Kys is a kick in the pants and her sense of humor is outta dis world. FOLLOW HER NOW! I'm going to be a big dork and give it back to her, as well as to these wonderful peeps:

Batcrap Crazy


Adventures of the Reluctant Housewife


Leigh vs. Laundry


The Miss Elaine-ous Life


2 Kids.....3 Martinis


Headaches, Hormones & Hot Flashes


Daffy over at Batcrap Crazy gave me the Silver Shoe of Sincerity Award, which is a new one and I'm sooooo flattered! Thank you, Daffy, from the bottom of my heart. And in case you didn't know, Daffy and I are going to meet in person soon. I'm sure she'll stop following me once that happens, though. We live not terribly far from one another and she's going to risk everything by coming to meet me & my little hooligans!


I'm going to pass this gem along to:


MJ over at Dirty Little Confessions. Mary Jane isn't afraid to tell it like it is or to let her true, vulnerable self shine through. So she is very deserving of this and you should go check her out now!

25.10.09

Sunday E-mail Shiggedy

Please tell me I'm not the only one who gets this crap all the time. Yes, it was in my spam folder, but still! It drives me bananas. So ridiculous. Do you think that many people actually fall for it and respond? Please note the "asses" he refers to near the end (I put it in bold italics). The only ass here is this jack-off! I especially love his use of grammar and his command of the English language. Obviously I didn't even try to click on his link, and neither should you. At least it was my laugh for the day:

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Good Day,Urgent Business Proposal.

I am the Director of Bill and Exchange at the foreign remittance Department of Africa Development bank (ADB). I am writing to seek your cooperation over this business deal. In my Department, I discovered an abandoned sum of (US $10 Million United state Dollars). In an account that belongs to one of our foreign customers who died along with his entire family in a plane crash that took place in Kenya, The account belongs to the Late DR. GEORGE BRUMLEY, acitizen of Atlanta, United States of America but naturalised in Burkina-Faso and contractor with Anglo Gold. Since we got information about his death, we have been expecting his next of kin or business associate to come and claim his money because it cannot be released unless somebody applies for it as next of kin or business associate to the deceased as indicated in our banking guidelines but unfortunately, all his supposed next of kin or relation died along with him at the plane crash leaving nobody behind for the claim. You can read more about the crash on visiting this site;http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/africa/07/20/kenya.crash/index.html it is therefore upon this discovery that I now decided to make this business proposal to you and release the money to your account as the next of kin or business associate. The Banking law and guideline here stipulates that if such money remains dormant after four years; the money will be transferred into the Banktreasury as unclaimed fund. The request for your assistance and maximum co-operation as a foreign citizen is highly needed to release this fund. I will like us to share this money mutually on two equal halves between me and you .Please note that I don’t have any asses to withdraw any cent from this money due to the money was insured by the owner DR. GEORGE BRUMLEY. I will indulge you at this point to understand that this is privileged information and must be strictly confidential.

Best Regards Yours faithfully,

DR. PAUL RICHARDBILL AND EXCHANGE MANAGER,
Federal Republic of BURKINA-FASO PRIE CONFIDENTIAL NOVAT
 

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