Peanut Butter and Purple Onions

Sounds crazy until you try it.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


I have sad news, friends. One of the creators of the peanut butter and purple onion sandwich, my grandfather Johnny, passed away yesterday.

He has been increasingly slipping away from us for some time now, and I think we all knew that he wouldn't be with us for much longer. And even though I know that his time had come, and that he has earned peace, it's hard to lose him.

No one is really sure from whence came the fabled peanut butter and purple onion sandwich -- Dad and Johnny never could remember the particulars -- but Johnny's versions were superb: thin slices of rye, toasted crisp; salty, gooey natural peanut butter; translucent rounds of sweet onion. He did occasionally add mayonnaise, which of course is blasphemous, but he was charmingly unrepentant.

Johnny also taught me about the gorgeous combination of strawberries, brown sugar, and sour cream, how to efficiently cube a potato (he liked to apply engineering principles to the kitchen), and how to make szchi, his Russian mother's cabbage soup. That's a holiday recipe, a feasting bowl, and I think Johnny would like it if we stirred up a batch in his honor. I'll undertake that soon. But before that, I'll make a PBPO sandwich in his memory. Peace.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


...anyone else ever read the children's book about the dragon named Serendipity? It was one of a series of very slim paperbacks -- I remember others like Kith and Kin, The Gnome from Nome, and The Wheedle on the Needle. As I think about them now, they were thinly-disgused adaptations of Aesop's Fables and other morality stories, but Devorit and I really just liked the pictures. And the silly names, of course.

Another old favorite has been rattling around in my head for a couple of weeks now. I couldn't remember the title and didn't have a clue as to the author. It was one of those British children's books where the protagonist children are sent away for the summer to the countryside, which turns out to be a wonderful mystical place -- you know the kind of book I mean. Summer holidays are rife with magical adventures in the British Isles, it seems.

Anyway, I can only remember fragments about this book. Definitely at least two children were involved, one boy for sure. Something about gardens, and an evil witch in the garden next door, and a gate that she couldn't cross. Blackberry canes, which I didn't understand (I pictured candy canes entwined with blackberry vines), and ash keys, which also made no sense. Early in the book, the children, bored, try to toast marshmallows by stringing them on a thread with a needle and dangling it over a fire, but the fire goes out and leaves a scorch mark on the ground. I think their beds turned into boats in the middle of the night. And later, in trying to escape from the evil witch, the boy does something with rowan berries and a piece of string that has been dyed red with the blood from his skinned knee. I remembered the magical rhyme -- "rowan berries and red thread, stop a witch in her speed." (And I remembered being annoyed that the "rhyme" didn't, at least in my American accent.)

But I didn't know the title or author, and so I didn't have the first clue how to find this book. On a whim, I typed the magical rhyme into Google. Three hyperlinks later, I was looking at a copy of the book on eBay.

None of this has anything to do with cooking, really, but I'm so happy with the magic of the internet, that I just wanted to share. And to suggest that if you are lucky enough to have a copy of Timothy and the Two Witches by Margaret Storey, go and re-read it. I can't wait.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It's a What?

So we flew to Florida last weekend, where Dimples grew up and his parents still live, so he could defrost a little from the New York chill. (Mighty has been the grumping of late when every Saturday is too cold for city wandering.) Great weekend, flight delays notwithstanding, and I have two events of note to relate.

1. I went jet-skiing! And, more crucially -- lived to tell the tale! (Of course, I was no more than a limpet clinging to Dimples's back, occasionally providing him with an unnecessary rendition of the Heimlich maneuver when we hit choppy water.)

2. The Floridians, they do not lie when they boast about their citrus. I spotted what appeared to be grapefruit on his mother's counter -- my usual conclusion about a yellow citrus fruit with a diameter larger than a softball. But no! These were lemons! Ponderosa lemons, to be precise, which apparently are just very, very big lemons. To wit:

Now that's a lemon.

Inspired (and a little frightened), I offer you this recipe for lovely lemon muffins, made with olive oil for a more vibrant flavor. No ponderosa lemons were harmed in the making of these muffins, because I wouldn't dare.

Lemon-Scented Olive Oil Muffins
Adapted from Cooking Light

1 c. all-purpose flour
0.5 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
o.25 tsp. salt
0.5 c. nonfat sour cream
1.5 T grated lemon rind
2 T. excellent extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 T. skim milk
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 large egg
1 large egg white

1 c. powdered sugar
0.5 tsp. grated lemon peel
3-4 T. fresh lemon juice

Heat oven to 350. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl with a whisk, then make a well in the center.

Combine sour cream, lemon rind, olive oil, milk, lemon juice, egg, and egg white in a small bowl, mixing well. Add to the well in the flour mixture and stir just until moist. Resist the urge to stir until the lumps are gone -- you will regret it.

Spoon the batter into 10 sprayed muffin cups. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until the muffins spring back when you touch them lightly in the center. Remove from pan immediately and cool on a wire rack.

For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, lemon peel, and enough lemon juice to create a consistency that pleases you. Drop the glaze onto the cooled muffins and let stand until set.

* I used my new olive oil from the Ferry Building, which has a lovely bold flavor. If you use a regular olive oil, the flavor will be more of a supporting player.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Can I Interest You in a Doorstop?

So this would've been my St. Patrick's Day post, if Blogger hadn't eaten it -- approximately twenty-three times. Anyway.

When traveling in rural Ireland last year, we ate a lot of simple food -- potatoes, of course, but also lamb stew, beef braised in Guinness, and thick upright-spoon-supporting soups. And with everything came baskets of thinly-sliced brown bread, dense but sweet, perfect for sopping up juices and gravy. Loved it. Ate a LOT of it. Hadn't been able to replicate it.

So when the latest issue of Saveur (which I am soooo not renewing) included an Irish brown bread recipe, I thought, hey, BNA! This is your next project. Go forth, and bake.

So I did. I thought ten cups of whole wheat flour sounded like an awful lot, and heaped in my mixing bowl, it certainly looked like an awful lot, but I am nothing if not a faithful recipe adherent.

I was prepared for a certain denseness. This is not supposed to be a light and fluffy loaf, after all, and it only rises once. But, dude. These loaves were so dense, they bent light -- the wheat version of a black hole, if you will.

Ok, maybe it was me, but still. I'm not publishing the recipe -- I don't want it propogating and I don't want to be liable if someone accidentally drops a slice and smashes a toe. The real stuff is too good to besmirch.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

March Madness

So I've been pretty out of the food blogging loop lately, much to my chagrin. I've had to severely cut back my blog-surfing at work, because I was becoming appallingly unproductive. My present job is a one-year position, and I needed to step up the pace with my assignments. And, contrary to what I might wish, perusing the latest culinary adventures of my blogging fellows was not helping me put the pedal to the metal.

(This is, obviously, no one's fault but my own. If I possessed the self-restraint of the average three-year-old, such draconian measures wouldn't have been necessary. But...well, at least I can admit to my faults. Some of them, anyway.)

So blog-time at work has slowed to a trickle. At home, the internet connection is spotty and there are the usual interruptions (cats), distractions (cats), and yowls for attention (...guess). And then we've been traveling and hosting quite a bit since Valentine's Day.

All of which is simply to say, I'm sorry I haven't been commenting as frequently on everyone's sites, and I do hope to be a more frequent poster and commenter soon. (I'm working on that self-restraint thing.) I'm also hoping to plan my time better so I can participate in more blogging events, which have been awesome for getting me out of my culinary ruts.

One habit I have when working on a tight deadline is braiding my hair -- colleagues at my San Francisco firm knew that if they saw me in the hallway with pigtail braids, things were going okay, but if I escalated to the French-braid spiral, then doomsday was nigh. With my hair now in too many layers for easy braiding, but still feeling tense and out of sorts, last week I turned my plaiting fingers loose on dough.

I love challah. It's a celebratory bread, a beautiful burnished way of ushering in a better mood. I've tried many recipes over the years, but this one from the Madison is probably my favorite. I recommend it for the next time you need to let your hair down but can't manage to put it up.*

Adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

2.25 c. warm water
2.25 tsp. (1 envelope) active dry yeast
3 T. sugar
3 eggs, beaten -- reserve 2 T.
0.25 c. vegetable oil
1 T. salt
6-7 c. all-purpose flour, preferably King Arthur
poppy seeds, optional

Mix the yeast with 0.25 c. warm water and 1 tsp. sugar in a small bowl, and set it aside until it's foamy, about 10 minutes.

Stir the yeast mixture into 2 c. warm water in a large bowl, then add the rest of the sugar, the eggs, the oil, and the salt. Add the flour a cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon to make a smooth batter. When it becomes hard to manage, tip it onto a floured surface and knead in the rest of the flour until you have a satiny, smooth dough. This always takes longer than you think it should -- about 10 minutes.

Oil a large bowl, then add the dough and turn to coat. Cover and set aside in a warmish place until doubled in bulk, about an hour. Punch it down, divide in half, and then divide each half into three equal balls.

Now return to your Play-Doh days, and roll each piece into a rope between 10 and 12 inches long. Take three strands and pinch their ends together to give you a place to start your braid. Braid the strands, taking care to periodically nudge the braid together to avoid stretching. When you come to the end, press the ends together and tuck them under to seal. Repeat with the other three strands.

Place the braids onto greased baking sheets, cover, and set aside until they double in size, about 45 minutes. Heat the oven to 375 degrees during the last 15 minutes, then make an egg wash with the reserved egg and 1 T. water. Brush the wash over the dough, taking care to dab it into the crevices of the braids. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, if you like.

Bake about 45 minutes, or until the bread is "burnished gold," as the Madison puts it. Cool on a rack and try to keep yourself from ripping your lovely braids apart before you admire your handiwork.

*Here at Peanut Butter and Purple Onions, we specialize in the mangled metaphor.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

WCB #41

Friday was Widget and Max's first birthday! My St. Patrick's Day kittens are now officially catlings.

Here are some pictures from the first day I brought them home -- to our still-in-boxes apartment. Widget was all about exploring from the first minute, but Max was pretty timid and huddled in the carrier...until he discovered the joys of wrestling his brother!

...update -- I've managed to armwrestle Blogger into uploading two pictures, but we are now at an impasse. Oh well, future WCB editions await.

Blogger Is My New Nemesis

Argh. Can't comment on posts, new posts vanish into the ether, half the time can't even see my own blog.

I assume the Blogger Powers That Be are working on this...bear with me.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

How I Spent My Weekend

Actually, this is not at all an accurate representation. Two of my dearest friends got married in a gorgeous ceremony in downtown San Francisco, and -- amazingly, because, come on -- everything was flawless. Stunning. And any other superlative you can imagine.

But here are two non-wedding related photos, capturing two of the non-wedding highlights of the weekend.

First, our spread from Cowgirl Creamery at the Ferry Building...

I hear it's a bit passe now to declare abject adoration for the Ferry Building, but I ask you: how can we not? How can we not swear endless fealty to a place that offers Cowgirl Creamery, Acme Bakery, a wine shop, an herb shop, an olive oil shop, tea, chocolate (2x), more baked goods, caviar, oysters...? And Slanted Door? There's nowhere else that captures the over-the-top earnestness and gourmet hedonism of Northern California. Wonderful.

And then I came home to my Penzey's order! Do you think I went overboard?

Don't worry, these aren't all new. I bought a gadzillion empty bottles, because the mishmash hodgepodge of different sizes and shapes was driving me insane. I spent a happy two hours sorting, organizing, transferring. And now my hands smell like cardamom (slight mishap with a carton of pods).

How cool is that?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Oh Happy Day!

Trader Joe's is coming to New York!

And I am off to San Francisco. Have a great weekend, all!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

This Is What the White Rabbit Must Have Felt Like

...when he was late for a very important date.

I had plans for the evening, my friends. I had a menu to make: lemon-ginger chicken, couscous, roasted fennel. I was even going to write it up if it went well, considering both my cooking and my posting have fallen by the wayside lately.

But do you know what was demurely waiting for me in the mail today?

Oh yes. That's right. The new Penzey's Spices catalog.

Obviously, you understand that I now have no choice but to stay up until I've finished reading every. Single. Entry.

Don't let the bedbugs bite!

The lemon-ginger chicken turned out very well, and it's absurdly easy. Zest a lemon, squeeze all the juice out of it, pop the zest and juice into a Ziploc, and add 2 tsp. minced ginger, 2 tsp. brown sugar, 1 tsp. peanut oil, and 2 chopped dried red chiles. Add four bone-in skinless chicken thighs, give it a good shake, and marinate them in the refrigerator overnight. Dump everything into a baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, checking for doneness at 30 minutes.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

WCB #39

So sleepy...

Visit Kiri and his friends over at Clare's!