Monthly Archives: July 2012

Two days off …

That manuscript I’ve been working on? I submitted it on Friday afternoon. Then I took the whole weekend off.

And did the most everyday things like … laundry and cleaning out the fridge. A walk to the bookstore and the kitchen store. There was a lot of time spent on my couch – watching movies and taking naps (sometimes taking naps while watching movies). You know, weekend stuff.

Unsurprisingly, there was some thought about food and time spent in the kitchen. And future plans. In less than a couple of weeks my dear, dear friend Robin is coming to visit and play in Minneapolis for the weekend. The last time she was here was January 2011 and it was beyond cold and snowy. We drank wine and cooked dinner and watched terrible movies. We made a peach shortcake with canned peaches and cinnamon scented whipped cream.

(What does it mean that I remember dessert from a year and half ago, but cannot for the life of me remember the movie we watched?)

That dessert was humble, thought up while standing in the grocery store. It was cozy and homey and perfect for the frightful weather. However, the weather right now is anything but frightful. And peaches are coming into their own. I spent a good part of Saturday conjuring up a summer version of that shortcake with canned peaches. I admit, there was an appetizer my friend Laura cooked up last weekend that I haven’t quite been able to get out of my head – prosciutto-wrapped peaches with basil. Savory, sweet, salty and screaming of summer. So I hijacked the idea and turned it into a dessert.

Bacon Buttermilk Shortcakes with Minted Balsamic Peaches (and sweet basil ice cream if you’d like). Sometimes I have food ideas that disappoint with my execution of them. This is not one of those times. It’s a dish that works easily at the start of the day, or the middle of the afternoon or as a finishing thought late at night. It’s possible that it’s not so great and I am simply smitten with it because I had the time and the inclination to think about food after so many science-centric weeks …

Bacon Buttermilk Shortcakes with Minted Balsamic Peaches
makes 2 shortcakes
1 cup flour
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
7/8 teaspoon baking powder
3/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup buttermilk
3 slices cooked bacon, crumbled in bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 ripe peaches, peeled and cut in bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint

Preheat oven to 400º. In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Pulse a couple of times. Add butter and pulse for about 30 seconds, until dough resembles cornmeal. Add buttermilk and process until just combined, adding more flour if too sticky. Turn dough over onto a floured surface, sprinkle bacon pieces and knead together a couple of times until bacon is well distributed. Pat dough out to 1-inch thickness and cut into two 3-inch rounds. Brush with heavy cream and bake for 25 minutes.

While the shortcakes are baking, toss diced peaches, sugar, balsamic vinegar and mint in a small bowl. Slice baked shortcakes in half, spoon peaches over and top with remaining biscuit.


My windows are open…

I’ll admit it, I’m a snoop. You have no idea how unbelievably happy I am when I spot a house without curtains … just so I can catch a glimpse of what might be inside. It sounds creepy, I know. It’s not so much about the people – in fact, I get uncomfortable if in my gawking, I spot the residents, but more about the space and how it’s filled. When I was younger I thought I was going to be an architect. I took years of drafting and architecture classes in high school and even a semester of it in college, but gave it up because I didn’t think I was creative enough to come up with new design ideas.

But I still love buildings, homes and design. I love taking a space and elevating it so that it’s not only functional, but fun to be in. And I love seeing how other people tackle that challenge. Cue: The Small Cool Kitchen Challenge at The Kitchn. Here’s the deal, people submit their small (<120 square feet) kitchen and viewers vote for their favorite. Whoever is the most popular (and it seems exactly like a popularity contest, with some design and function thrown in) wins some sweet kitchen gear.

So I entered. My kitchen is SMALL, ~60 square feet, and pretty cool. My aunt came to visit a while back and she was flabbergasted at how I managed to cook and bake all that I do in the teeny tiny space. But I make do (the trick – wash your dishes as you go!). I was afraid I wouldn’t make the cut as there are some preliminary editorial decisions (exactly like when you submit a science manuscript) and I just got word that my kitchen was internet judgement-worthy. I’m generally not into these things, or in self-promotion, but if you want to take a peak inside of my kitchen … my windows are open.

Meleah’s Economical Minneapolis Kitchen

(I don’t care so much about winning the prizes – where would I put all that new kitchen what-not in my small space? But I am in desperate need of validation … I’ve never been a contender in popularity contests.)

Edith Rose and the Green Beans

With a title like that you’d might expect I am going to tell you a story involving sitting on the deck with a great-grandmother, receiving pearls of wisdom that only come with a life lived, all the while snapping green beans that were harvested from the garden only moments before. It’s a nice story.

But not at all true.

Edith Rose was my family’s golden retriever. We inherited the name from her previous owners, but called her Edie for short. I wish I had a photo to share, but it was during a time long before digital cameras and cell phones. Fiercely loyal and protective, always with a smile on her goofy dog face, Edie was the most wonderful childhood companion. When our cat had kittens, their favorite place to snuggle and sleep was within the warm folds of Edie’s soft, golden fur. Jealously was always striking Silver, the mama cat, and we would often spy her taking the kittens, one by one, up the stairs and hiding them in the attic. Inevitably, the kittens would always end back with Edie.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Edie, thanks to my CSA. I’ve been drowning in green beans. With the weeks on end of hot weather and me still deep in the writing cave (although I am starting to see some pinpoints of light, indicating the end is near), I haven’t had the time or the inclination to spend much time in my kitchen. Which means the green beans have been piling up. That was never the case when I was a child – Edie would see to that. Of all of the things to that I loved about her, perhaps my dearest is that Edie was a foodie. One of her favorite snacks was green beans, fresh from the garden (or apples, just fallen from the tree). Every summer day, often on multiple occasions, you could spy her waggling butt (an adorable hybrid of wiggling and waddling – like most foodies, Edie was slightly overweight) making its way down the garden rows, ‘harvesting’ the green beans.

Like Edie, I enjoy my green beans fresh from the garden, but here I took it one step further and slathered them in batter, fried them up, threw on some flaky sea salt and paired them with a refreshing cucumber-mint dipping sauce (I dare anything with cucumber and mint not to be refreshing). A tasty alternative and a welcome reprieve from the writing cave.  Not to mention the golden brown hues of the fried green beans is just about a perfect match for Edie’s fur and the long green beans with knobby pockets of batter look eerily like the gnarled fingers of an elderly woman, wise from all of her years (perhaps my fictional great-grandmother from the story)…

Fried Green Beans with Cucumber-Mint Yogurt Sauce
Fried Green Beans
from Mark Bittman
Canola oil
1 pound green beans, ends trimmed
2 cups flour, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
3/4 cup beer (or sparkling water)
Cucumber-Mint Sauce
from Food and Wine
1 cucumber, peeled and deseeded
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain greek yogurt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
Freshly ground pepper

For the green beans:

Put at least 2 inches of oil in a deep-sided frying pan (the larger the circumference, the more vegetables you can fry in one go) over medium-high heat. Heat to 350 degrees.

Mix 1 cup flour with baking powder and season with salt and pepper. Whisk in egg and beer (or sparkling water) until just combined and the consistency of pancake batter. Place remaining flour in a shallow dish. Dredge green beans first in dry flour, then in the batter and place in hot oil (make sure the oil is hot enough or else your vegetables won’t get golden brown). Cook, turning once, for just a few minutes. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

For the cucumber-mint sauce:

Set a strainer over a bowl and using a microplane, grate the cucumber into the strainer and squeeze excess water (note: use the cucumber for a cool and refreshing cocktail … maybe a little gin and some basil leaves? Just a suggestion). Using that same microplane (why do more dishes than you need to?), grate garlic clove into a small bowl. Mash in salt to a paste. Add yogurt, olive oil and mint, stirring to combine. Add the shredded cucumber and season with coarse black pepper.

Casting Shadows

I’m in a right foul mood. It started after I gave that big career-defining talk. Since then, I’ve been a busy bee trying to write up the corresponding manuscript. I’ve been spending a lot of time alone and even more time in my head. Not always the best place to be. Especially when your an over-analyzer like myself.

Life is complicated. I’m not sure why I am constantly surprised by that, but I am. Do you remember the chair that I was re-upholstering? A lesson in patience, a thinly veiled metaphor for accepting that it just takes time to heal a broken heart. It’s been finished for quite some time now, but I haven’t wanted to talk about it or even share it with you. That’s the problem with pinning your hopes on a metaphor. It sometimes doesn’t carry all the way through.

 However, I do think I did a nice job of  returning it to a functional state and even making it into something pretty. I am proud of that. I did it. All with my own two hands (and a staple gun, screwdriver, tack hammer, blood, sweat and more than a few bouts of cursing). It didn’t take all that long to accomplish, but there was quite a long period of time, when the whole thing sat in the corner of my living room stripped naked, alone and dysfunctional. The most difficult part was figuring out how to de-construct the whole thing so that I would have some semblance of an idea of how to put it back together. I certainly didn’t want a humpty-dumpty situation.

That’s certainly easier said than done. It’s tough, demolishing something  in order while maintain its integrity so as to make something new. I certainly got hung-up in a few places. A giant mess made itself at home in my living room. I contemplated throwing the whole thing out. But one thing I am not, is a quitter. I finish what I start, seeing it to completion.

So I finished the chair. But here’s the thing – I don’t like sitting in it. I don’t even like looking at it. It just reminds me why I wanted to re-upholster it in the first place. I’ve even trained myself to not even glance towards that corner of my living room, although occasionally I spy the cats lounging in it.

It’s sort of the same thing with this manuscript. I threw myself into this project when the rest of my life had completely crumbled down around me. I am proud of the work that I have done and it has been the most exhilarating scientific journey that I never anticipated. Words are getting thrown around like ‘landmark,’ paradigm shifting‘ and ‘discovery of the decade‘  (at least for fungal biologists…). It’s a big deal. And I am an integral part of the whole thing.

But despite the bright lights, there are shadows and my demons are lurking amongst them. Would I have worked this hard if I hadn’t been thrown into the position I was in? Or if my life had moved forward like I had planned? Certainly not. So how can I be happy with my current academic success? Proud, yes. I did it. But happy? That’s a whole other story.

I don’t know if it’s too many days deep inside my head, in the heart of the science-writing cave, but I am sad. Sad in way I didn’t anticipate. It’s all the more wrenching because these cloudy days came after so many beautiful sunny ones.

I warned you I was in a right foul mood.

Intellectually, I know I am being silly and completely self-absorbed. But I’m single and I’ve been through a lot over the past six months. I get to be. No excuses and no apologies.