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Category: Casa de Gaskell
I kill plants. Indoor, outdoor, it doesn’t matter. No plant is safe with me.
But thanks to Pinterest, and the plethora of beautiful plant pictures found there, I decided to persevere, and bring some green into my house. This time, I thought I’d try out a succulent. They’re supposed to be hardy and idiot-proof, plus they’re cool looking.
This is how it started:
And, this is how it looked after living with me for six weeks:
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Some readers have been asking for the recipes that appear in TABLE FOR SEVEN. While I can’t claim Gordon Ramsay status in the kitchen — other than shouting, “You DONKEY!” to Zoe in a passable English accent — I do like to cook, especially when it’s something unhealthy and delicious.
This spaghetti carbonara recipe is featured in the second January chapter in TABLE FOR SEVEN. Pasta is my ultimate comfort food. This dish is starchy, and cheesy, and bacony, and exactly what I crave on terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.
For a 2-person serving, here’s what you’ll need:
12 oz spaghetti
1/3 lb. pancetta, diced
2 shallots, diced
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup grated pecorino romano
3/4 cup grated parmesan
2 eggs, beaten
Cook the spaghetti, as per the box instructions, until it’s al dente. Drain.
Meanwhile . . .
Saute the pancetta over medium heat until the fat begins to render. Add the shallots, and cook until golden. Then add the wine, and let the whole thing simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.
This will smell delicious. If you have a pug, she will appear and stare at you.
Ignoring the dog, add the pasta and, using tongs, toss the spaghetti with the pancetta/shallot mixture.
Then add in the cheese, and toss some more.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Most carbonara recipes say that at this point, you should remove the pan from the heat, add the eggs, and let the heat of the pasta cook the eggs. Then they add all sorts of dire warnings about how the eggs won’t be fully cooked, and there’s a possibility you will contract salmonella, the plague, etc, so if you do, don’t contact their legal department.
I usually leave the pan on the burner, and toss the eggs with the pasta over a low heat. Gordon might not approve, but hey, I’ve also never gotten sick, so I’m okay with that.
Dish out into two shallow bowls, and pepper to taste. You can also add salt to taste, but I find that the pancetta and pecorino romano add enough salt to the dish, so it doesn’t really need more.
Serve and enjoy. With the remaining white wine, of course.
Why? Because I’m stubborn, that’s why.
(By the way, I married a stubborn man. And together, we produced a child that is one thousand times more stubborn than either of us. It’s like our stubborn genes met, mutated, and created a super strain of stubborn.)
But back to the pig soup.
For my second attempt, I decided to play it safe, and make split pea soup. Also, I used a left-over bone from a ham, and skipped the whole stock-making step. I think the stock would have been good — even excellent — with this vastly-less-disgusting variety of pig bone, but I’m still scarred from my last go-round.
For some reason, split pea soup gets a bad rap, probably because of its vile color. But I love it, especially on a chilly night.
Here’s my recipe, which, like most of the things I cook, started as someone else’s recipe, before I tinkered around with it:
Split Pea Soup
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 left-over ham bone
2 teaspoons dried leaf marjoram
10 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 lb. dried split green peas
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven. Add the vegetables, and cook at medium heat until they soften, stirring occasionally. Toss in the ham bone, and let it cook for another few minutes. Add the marjoram, broth and peas. Simmer the soup, partially covered, for an hour. (Or for as long as you want. I left it bubbling away for two-and-a-half hours. The whole point is to create ham-infused pea mush, after all.)
Remove the bone from the soup, and let it cool slightly. Remove the soup from the heat, and give it a few blasts with an immersion blender. Pick any remaining ham off the bone, dice it up and add it back to the soup. Stir and serve.
Voilà! It is done and it is delicious. Just try to ignore the color.
I’ve been home for four days with the Hell Flu. I’m not sure if that’s the correct medical term, but it should be.
The good news? At least I didn’t have to go camping with George and Sam. Because if there’s one thing worse than the Hell Flu, it’s camping.
In fact, I hate camping so much, that when George and I married, I made him take an extra vow:
I will never, ever make you go camping.
(He also promised he’d never make me move to Texas, a vow which he promptly broke. I’m holding firm on the camping. The closest I’ve come is a cabin at Disney World’s Fort Wilderness, which George claims didn’t count because it had air conditioning, a television and daily housekeeping service.)
They arrived back home yesterday, tired and filthy, but enthusiastic about their trip. They were full of stories about freezing night temperatures and rustic accommodations that did nothing to change my mind about my camping ban.
Sam had to take two showers and a bath before he managed to scrape off all the layers of dirt he’d accumulated on this adventure. When he was finally clean, he curled up on the couch with me.
ME: I missed you!
SAM: You did?
ME: Yes. Didn’t you miss me?
SAM: Hmmm. Actually, I didn’t really think about you. I was pretty busy.
ME: (sadly) Oh.
SAM: Except for when you called. I thought about you then.
ME: That’s nice. You know you don’t have to be quite so honest all the time. Learning how to lie to me might come in handy for your teenage years.
My soon-to-be-released book, TABLE FOR SEVEN is about regular people cooking delicious meals. So, finding good recipes has been on my radar.
Last week, I decided to try out a new soup recipe. It was unusually chilly in South Florida, and therefore good soup weather. And a pot of soup bubbling on the stove always makes the house smell cozy.
Still, new recipes are fraught with danger. Even if you follow the instructions, and read the helpful hints from other cooks on the Epicurious site, and do everything right, it can still go terribly wrong. If the dish comes out, you’re a culinary hero. If not, you’re tossing out expensive ingredients and ordering a pizza.
This particular soup recipe called for smoked ham hocks, which I’d never cooked with before. I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen them at the grocery store.
According to Wikipedia, the source for everything you can ever want to know about anything:
A ham hock is the joint between the tibia/fibula and the metatarsals of the foot, where the foot was attached to the hog’s leg. It is the portion of the leg – also known as pork knuckle – that is neither part of the ham proper nor the foot or ankle, but rather the extreme shank end of the leg bone and the associated skin, fat, tendons, and muscle.
So, basically, while a ham hock is not an actual pig foot, it’s pretty damn close.
Also: it’s disgusting.
As soon as I opened the first package of hocks, I was pretty sure this was something I wanted nothing to do with. But I bravely soldiered on. I boiled five of these things in a pot, with assorted chopped vegetables and aromatics, for four hours, to make the stock.
The smell . . . it was not good. It smelled like ass. I opened all of the doors and windows, trying to flush out the odor with cold air, while my family shivered under sweat shirts and blankets.
When the stock was finally finished, the recipe directed me strain the stock, reserving the hocks. Once they’d cooled, I was supposed to chop up the meat for the soup.
I tried. I really did. But there wasn’t any meat to chop. As soon as I took a knife to the hocks, they fell apart in a pile of skin, and fat, and disgustingness.
I tossed the meat, put the stock in the fridge overnight, and the next day, went back to Publix for ham steaks to cut up and use in the soup instead. I was hopeful that, while gross, the shanks may still have a produced a decent stock. After all, a chicken carcass isn’t exactly pretty, but I boil those suckers into delicious stock all the time.
So after another few hours of labor – chopping and cooking more vegetables, adding in the vastly-less-disgusting ham and the now gelatinous ham stock – the soup was finally finished.
And then I tasted it . . . and it was bad. Really bad.
Just to make sure, I called George in.
“Try this,” I said, offering him a spoon.
He gamely complied. An odd expression crossed his face. He put down the spoon.
“That’s the most revolting I’ve ever tasted in my life,” he said.
I sighed. “Yeah, I thought so, too.”
“Then why did you make me try it?”
“I wanted to be sure it was really as bad as I thought it was,” I said.
Two days of work dumped down the drain. Oh, well. At least the pizza was delicious.
ME: Happy Birthday! How does it feel to be 43, old man?
GEORGE: I’m 44.
ME: [GASP] Are you serious? You’re 44??
ME: I had no idea. Jesus. I thought 43 sounded old. But 44 is even worse.
ME: So you’re now officially in your mid-forties. And have you realized you’re closer to SIXTY than you are to TWENTY?
GEORGE: This is a fun conversation. We should do this more often.
Sam’s music teacher – who I now suspect might be a sadist – sent him home with a recorder and instructions to practice the song “Hot Cross Buns.”
I’m about to lock myself in the bathroom with ear plugs and a martini.
I spent the weekend with a puking eight-year-old. And since it was MY eight-year-old, I was front and center for most of the puking.
Parenting quickly teaches you what you can and cannot handle.
For example, poop diapers never bothered me much, with one very important caveat: the poop had to belong to my child. I’ve had to change a few chunky diapers from children other than my own, and it has never failed to make me gag.
(Am I alone in this? I’ve always wondered. I know it obviously means I shouldn’t ever be employed at a day care, but that’s not news to me. I’m not one to go around thinking all children are adorable little angels. I love some children, and like some others, but I also feel that a fair number of kids are complete assholes. Which only makes sense. All of the adult assholes out there had to start somewhere.)
When it comes to vomit, my stomach is not so iron-clad. I learned this while I was holding the puke bowl for the puking child, and started to retch myself. It wasn’t sympathetic retching either. I was just completely grossed out. And the entire time, my husband was staring at me bug-eyed – from across the room, mind you, well out of the smell zone – and begging me to hold the bowl steady.
It was a rough weekend at Casa Gaskell.
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Is it a bad sign if you look inside your bag, and think, “Wow, a crazy person must live in there”?
This is an inventory of what I’m currently lugging around:
Make-up bag, containing six lipglosses, three lipsticks, a compact and a tampon
Sunglasses, in case
Kleenex, 2 packs
Assortment of receipts
Advertisement for body wrap that magically shrinks body (George thinks this is hooey, but I’m totally going to go do it. Because it’s magic.)
Facial cleansing wipes
Used light bulb (reminder to get a replacement, which I’ve already done)
Belt for vacuum (reminder to get a replacement, which I haven’t yet done)
Two sweat wristbands, both used (ick)
Gym towel, used (ick again)
Water bottle (half-empty . . . or half-full?)
A single coffee bean (no idea)
I think it’s time I streamlined my life. Or, at least, my bag.