Entries from November 25th, 2012

Used Books

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The door of our apartment is constantly revolving. New teachers arrive on a fresh contract, and seasoned teachers leave for long-term travel or to return to their homelands at the end of theirs, usually in such a rush that, inevitably, they leave at least a box’s worth of things behind. We move into empty bedrooms, but every other room is filled with the belongings of somebody else. I’m looking around my room right now, wondering how the hell I’ve accumulated so much stuff in just over a year. But maybe it’s not as serious as I think. I guess I won’t know until I start to pack it up.

In our living room, we have an 18-inch wide relic of a television with two English channels, always at least one rack full with drying laundry, a standing air conditioning unit (of which I consider us very lucky), and a communal bookshelf. Mainly travel and self-help with a sprinkling of sci-fi and mystery, the selection of books in our living room gives a look into the personalities of our mysterious predecessors. I get to read books that I might otherwise have overlooked, like this hilarious treasure of a story. I laughed out loud, cringed, and generally felt more confident with my own set of social skills, as erratic and infantile as they can be. This bookshelf and what it represents is further motivation for me to leave the books I’ve brought and bought behind for whoever might like to read them next.

A few weeks ago, I bought a notebook to add to the shelf so that we could write down tips or memories or jokes if we want to – something to give fresh roommates an idea of who lived here before them. I would have loved to read something like this when I arrived. Who knows. Maybe we’ll end up using all the blank pages for an impromptu game of Celebrity. That would be fun, too.

Clam Chowder & Cohabiting

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Let’s put it out there: Cohabiting can bring out the worst in a human being. Coexisting can get hairy. You see things you don’t want to see, hear things you don’t want to hear, and sooner than later, parts of yourself you’d rather reserve for a very select group of people are all out in the open, and the people who were strangers yesterday are suddenly either best friends or mortal enemies. I live with three other people, and on occasion, I’d like to pull out my hair or shout like a toddler or flush the toilet while one of them is showering, or do all of that all at once while I double-dip my spoon into a carton of ice cream that doesn’t belong to me. I am certain that each of the people I live with have had similar fantasies. If they haven’t, I guess I’ve got some word-smoothing to do should any of them ever read this.

I’ve lived with enough different people to understand that my habits can drive a person nuts, too. Take Patrick, my first roommate in New York, an Irish man nearing his 60’s who worked off-hours delivering newspapers and lived in a rent-controlled apartment in the heart of Chelsea. We hit it off during our first meeting at his kitchen table, which was lucky considering I had three days to find a place to live.

“Ya got charisma,” He told me. I moved in three days later.

Within those first few days in Chelsea, I managed to offend Patrick at least twice. I brought home a frozen pizza (“Ya living in New Yawk! Ya got a pizzeria on every cawna, girl! Whaddya doin?“) and tried to watch Grey’s Anatomy on the black and white set in the living room (“Aw no. We only watch educational programs in this house.”)

He returned the favor by drinking any alcohol I brought into the house before I’d opened it, leaving his bottle of Valtrex next to the fruit bowl on the kitchen table, and neglecting to mention that mice would be making a daily appearance upon that first meet-and-greet when we were both attempting to sell our best personal qualities.

But I was living in Manhattan! On my own! I thought this was all par for the course.

Patrick adored The Beach Boys, marijuana, and listening to The Beach Boys while smoking marijuana on the couch, where he sat naked from the waist down.

I moved out two months later, but The Beach Boys had nothing to do with it. Neither did the pot.

There are a lot of things I like about sharing a space. I like sharing a pot of coffee and the sounds of other people living. I like our family dinners, those that are spontaneous and those we plan, and I like the sounds of football when it’s on in the living room.

A couple of weekends ago, my roommates and I had a group of friends over for dinner. We asked everyone to bring a soup, or a wine, or bread. Graeme made delicious tomato lentil that he pureed with such gusto, he broke his new immersion blender. Matt brought the best loaf of walnut-studded bread. Natalie made smoked salmon and capers with toast and cream cheese. Mike made a gumbo that was even better the next day.

And we made New England Clam Chowder, all four of us, with equal effort. Next time, I’d add more clams as the original recipe suggests. This is the clam chowder I’ve been waiting for. And our family dinners? They’re pretty great, too.

New England Clam Chowder adapted loosely from Emeril Lagasse

3-4 pounds small clams, scrubbed and rinsed

6 slices bacon

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped celery

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 + teaspoons dried thyme

2 bay leaves

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

salt to taste

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a stock pot. Add the clams, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover the pot and stir the clams with a wooden spoon. Cover and cook 5 to 10 minutes longer or until most of the clams are open.

Transfer the clams to a big bowl and strain the broth twice through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl to drain out the sand. The recipe says you’ll be left with 8 cups of clam juice. It seems like we were left with less than this, but it worked out fine.When the clams are cool enough to handle, remove them from their shells and chop in 1/2 inch pieces. Set the clams and broth aside.

Cook the bacon in a large heavy pot over medium heat until crisp and the fat is rendered. Reserve 2 tablespoons of fat and discard the rest. Add the 4 tablespoons butter, onions, and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, and bay leaves and cook until the vegetables are soft and wilted, about 3 minutes, but don’t brown them. Add the potatoes and the clam broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the broth thickens slightly and the potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes. (For a thicker broth, mash some of the potatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon). Remove from the heat and pick out the bay leaves. Stir in the clams and cream, and season with pepper and salt to taste.

Cover and set the chowder aside for an hour to allow everything in the pot to get acquainted. When you’re ready to eat, place the pot over low heat and slowly reheat, but be careful not to boil. Serve hot.

Eat it while it’s hot

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Some people exercise when they’re feeling stressed. Some people pour vodka. I like to chop an onion, mince some garlic, coat a pan with olive oil, and get busy.

Maybe it’s the upcoming elections back home. Maybe it’s more about Sandy. Whatever the reason, I woke up today with a particularly strong yearning to cook. Mike was around, and good thing. He added an unspoken motivation proven to be essential to today’s mission. We peeled, diced, sliced, and seeded nearly a dozen persimmons for a chutney, a butter, two kinds of jam, and a white sangria spiked with Cointreau and spotted with persimmon pomegranate seeds. Persimmons are seasonal here, and it seemed like the right route to take.

But this isn’t about persimmons, or boozy persimmons, for that matter. I want to tell you about popcorn.

For some reason, twenty-nine years and six-and-a-half months passed before I realized the incomparable bliss of stovetop popcorn and maple butter. I’ve always liked popcorn, but fake butter is only good for a couple of bites, and the instant, pre-bagged stuff is too easy to burn. The streak was broken this week, my friends. I might never buy microwaveable popcorn again.

Popcorn : Hot and Sweet

1 teaspoon sunflower oil

¼ cup popcorn kernels

3 T unsalted butter

3 T maple syrup

pinch salt

pinch cayenne pepper

toasted, unsalted peanuts

First, toast your peanuts. Spread a handful in a dry pan and heat over a low flame. Take your time with this. Burnt nuts are sad nuts.

Heat the oil in a large pot and drop one kernel inside. When it pops, add the rest of the kernels. Shake the pot quickly to spread the kernels across the pan, and cover, keeping the heat on medium. Once the kernels begin to pop, keep shuffling the pot across the heat. When the popping slows down, turn off the heat. Keep the cover on until the pot goes quiet.

Spread the popped corn on a baking sheet and mix in the peanuts.

To make the glaze, melt the butter slowly in a saucepan and add the maple syrup. Add the salt and cayenne pepper. Pour the glaze over the popcorn and toss to coat. Most importantly, eat it while it’s hot.