Don’t taunt the vacation planner!

So I’m kind of going nuts.

My trip to Chicago is in less than two months, and due to the flooding in North Dakota a portion of track (that goes out every time there are issues with the Missouri River in that area) has been flooded and in need of repair. Trains are theoretically running again later this week, but it seems like there’s a reasonable chance of the track washing out again in the next month.

As someone who finds half the fun of my vacation in the up-front planning, this means it’s time for trying to find Plan B. I’d really been looking forward to seeing that part of the country, so we may end up with some kind of hybrid flying/driving option. I’m kind of not interested in a Greyhound bus across the back of beyond Montana.

Savory Buttermilk Biscuits

The bakery up the street from my house makes a pretty mean biscuit filled with cheddar, pepper and onions that they call a “savory biscuit” and which I pick up whenever I happen to be walking by in the morning (if I’m not in a rush for the bus). When I was pondering making a bread of some variety for Easter dinner last weekend, these biscuits came to mind. So I’ve made my own version with what I had on hand.

Since I didn’t make them round, you might call these a scone. But you would be wrong.

Makes about 8

3/4 cup chilled buttermilk
3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper, divided
3/4 cup grated manchego cheese (because it’s what I had)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)

Preheat oven to 425°F. Mix buttermilk and onions in small bowl. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and 1 tsp pepper in stand mixer. Add chilled butter to mixer and cut in butter until fine meal forms. Add cheese and mix until just incorporated. Add buttermilk mixture and mix on low until dough forms. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and press out to six inch square, about 1/2 inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut the dough in half, then in quarters, then cutting those quarters diagonally to make triangles. Transfer triangles to baking sheet. Brush biscuit tops with some of egg glaze. Grind pepper over top of the biscuits. Bake biscuits until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool on rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

All Clear—Connie Willis

It’s nearly May and I’ve only read six books this year? I think we can safely say that I need to get a lot more reading done SOON. That said, there are a few books I read at the end of February that I neglected to write up. So this will all be out of order. I suppose I’m the only person that matters to.

I read Willis’ Blackout last year (time travel, WWII, I’m not going to get into the finer points here), and like many people was forced to turn off my brain for vast portions of it that contained obviously terrible research (stupid things like the Jubilee line existing in 1941). A friend and I were recently talking about authors that write books about places that they’re not native to and the details that end up being “wrong” as a result, but some of those pieces just went beyond that—especially for a book in which the details are theoretically terribly important. Continue reading

What should I have said, for example, to a bottom dweller who recently belittled my existence?

I have a love/hate relationship with my hair. As a child I always wished it were stick straight and dark brown. Only in the last few years have I come to embrace the fact that I’m a mousey-strawberry-brown curly-haired person. Only it’s not quite curly, it’s more this wavy and frizzy mess that I mostly keep under control through patronizing an expensive stylist and the judicious application of shampoos, conditioners and styling products that promise to tame my frizz while leaving my hair soft and manageable. This has meant embracing a styling regimen that means while my hair gets wet every day, it only sees shampoo on the weekends.

Continue reading

Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World’s Fiercest Food Fight—Mark Caro

I won’t get into the finer points of pro and con for foie gras production and the protests against it—other than to express my frustration that animal rights organizations have in this country, gone after the “low hanging fruit” of a luxury food item produced artisanally with a fair amount of care, rather than bringing similar energy to bear against factory farming—which would, to my mind, achieve a larger net result if they made progress.

Caro presents a pretty fair account of the recent back and forth between the food and restaurant industries and animal activists—even attempting to get Temple Grandin to take a side on the issue one way or the other (and she did blurb the book). He is, most certainly, a food journalist—and one that through this book eats a lot of foie, as well as participating in production of foie in France—so he perhaps gives the restaurant industry more of a fair shake than some might feel is warranted.

The larger question he doesn’t try and answer is how much importance should we place on enjoyment when discussing a food’s status as luxury or necessity—which is certainly one of the larger questions hanging over these kinds of foods.

Cooking of the British Isles (Time Life “Foods of the World”)—Adrian Bailey et al.

Yes, another one for Tine Life. After feedback from potential contributors—the Northwest is moving to the summer, when things here are actually in season.

Things we have learned from this Time Life book? That they’re apparently fond of haggis on the Isle of Man as well as in Scotland, you should never trust cheesemongers in Dorset, and we should all be eating frumenty for breakfast. This weekend I’m visiting my neighborhood butcher and cheesemonger to see about a couple of ideas I had for related posts. Fingers crossed it works out. The first couple of general housekeeping posts should go up in the next few weeks. Eek!

If any of my UK friends would like to volunteer to guest blog about food and related issues, I’m happy to send you a PDF copy of the book. (Yes, I scanned the entire book. With the way the Royal Mail is behaving at the moment, it was necessary.)

American Cooking: The Northwest (Time Life “Foods of the World”) — Dale Brown et al.

Since they are books and I am reading them, the Time Life series will get recorded here, though all my thoughts on content will end up at the as-yet unnamed blog. General thoughts, and likely this will be the case with all of these books, is that they are definitely a product of their time in how they talk about food, gender roles, and some of the attitudes towards native cultures. None of it shocking. I’m definitely going to get a lot of interesting ideas to keep be going through all of the books—and they are going to serve their purpose as a framework for content well.

First task as a result of this one on the Northwest? I think I need to find myself a local mushroom forager to tag along with one day (Likely this will mean getting in touch with some people from the Puget Sound Mycological Society at the UW).

The Suicide Collectors — David Oppegaard

I love a good post-apocalyptic story. The flap copy makes a comparison to The Children of Men and I can see why. The premise here is that in our near future, some unknown force drives most of the population to commit suicide (called “The Despair”). The story follows a man named Norman and his neighbor in the days and weeks after Norman’s wife commits suicide. Genuinely creepy in places, suffering from superficial characterizations in others, but generally an interesting and swift read. It doesn’t answer a lot of the “Why?” questions, but it’s not really meant to.

After reading this and watching The Walking Dead this fall, I wonder at how I would do at the end of the world. I think it might go either way.

Not a year in review.

I’ve started to do the standard year in review post a few times now and I keep getting stuck in March every time.

This is the year I said goodbye to Amélie after five years, and in that rediscovered a bit of faith in humanity through the love and support of friends and family.

I went to New York on my own for the first time, and took a train from Boston to Baltimore. I saw old friends, some of whom I’d not seen in person for more than ten years.

I saw two coworkers (and friends) leave for other things, found myself mentoring two new team members, and I was promoted to Associate after four years and a bit of working my tail off.

I’ve spent more time reading, and more time discovering how to fit creative projects into my daily routine. I’ve rediscovered old friendships and strengthened new ones.

I made a lot of noise over the last year about all the terrible things going on in my life, but really, I’m doing okay.

Here’s to another okay year in 2011, thank you for being part of 2010.

Watermind — M.M. Buckner

I tried to describe the plot of this to Elaine last night and she laughed at the sheer silliness of it all. In short: sophisticated microchips that began life as part of a Canadian weather monitoring experiment form an artificial intelligence after spending quality time in a Louisiana swamp with a lot of random industrial and hazardous waste. Discovered by a rebellious former chemistry student from MIT (who is running away from her previous life following the death of her father) who was working cleanup in the swamp with her musician boyfriend, hijinks ensue after the so-called “watermind” accidentally (or intentionally, we never really know) kills another cleanup worker.

The rest of the book follows the fight to alternatively contain, study or destroy the entity. Most of the things the characters do make very little sense, or are completely trite, and frankly it all wasn’t much of a “thriller” as advertised in its blurbs and flap copy. Le sigh.