Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Counting the days

When I asked my mother to teach me to cook a dish or two, she said it was not worth my time, that she had to do these things, I did not. This worked hard against me, not only when I found myself alone, but when I was a divorced father with a three-year-old daughter. Still, while I remained unable to cook for myself, Rachel and I in effect taught ourselves to do some cooking together--to cook for someone you care about is quite compatible with not wanting to take care of yourself--messy sometimes, but excellent ingredients and the best of intentions getting through. --Stanley Cavell, Little Did I Know (p. 49) 
It seems as though the last thing I've had time to do this summer is cook. I certainly didn't plan things this way--July and August were going to be dedicated to leisurely trips to farmers' markets on the North Side and long afternoons of pastry-making and berry-eating. I'm not quite sure what's happened to this summer. It probably has something to do with the new apartment needing renovation and the school work from the spring I only finished just yesterday (hooray, now I'm actually on holiday). 
And now, while my boyfriend is attending a short but intense philosophy seminar with some very cool people in the Research Triangle, I'm in Chapel Hill, NC, without a thing to do but stroll around in the sun, stopping occasionally only to browse book collections or to eat with my constant dining companion, Stanley Cavell's autobiography, Little Did I Know. (Sadly, I don't have access to a kitchen. This chair at the Inn, however, is incredible. What possessed someone to mix green toile with intensely red walls and a checkered floor, I don't know.)
Between my visit to Auburn, Alabama earlier in the spring and my stay in Chapel Hill, I am developing a serious crush on the American South. There is something lovely about big, old trees and the hum of insects in the evening, about expansive porches and unsweetened iced tea, about having trees in the backyard heavy with summer fruit. I think I could live in a place like this.
Another porch picnic
On Saturday morning, a few of us walked into the neighbouring town of Carrboro to the farmers' market. (I am missing some of the best weeks of summer produce!) We came back to the hotel with potato-studded bread, a soft, barely ripened cheese from the Chapel Hill Creamery, two kinds of tomatoes, fresh Turkish figs, and half a lemon pound cake. We laid out our spread on one of the tables on the hotel porch (the hotel staff even obliged us with plates, napkins, and tea) and had ourselves a little picnic, while gushing about our favourite passages from Cavell's writings, of course.
But without a kitchen here, I'm just about ready to go home. I don't think I've gone quite this long without a home-cooked meal since my first year in undergrad on the mandatory meal plan. Not that I haven't had some great dining experiences here. Check out Lantern, if you ever find yourself in the area. The chef, Andrea Reusing, marries Asian flavours and techniques with traditional, locally sourced North Carolinian ingredients. The results are pretty spectacular. A few nights ago, I had a fantastic seafood hotpot chock-full of shrimp, halibut, squid, and mussels, all steeped in a wonderfully rich and lemony shrimp broth. The rest of the table split themselves between plates of whole fried flounder and pork chops. I think everyone was pretty pleased. 
Still, I'm counting the days until we're home. There will be lots of painting to do, but if I can just squeeze in a trip to the farmers' market, I know exactly what I'm going to share with you.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Kicking back

Thawing berries
These strawberries were destined for pie. But then my boyfriend and I *gulp* decided to buy and fix up the apartment across the hall and move in come September. So I cleaned and hulled the berries, tucked them into the freezer, and hoped I'd find the time to do something special with them in a few weeks. Five came and went. There was a kitchen layout to plan, contracts to sign, an old clawfoot tub to strip and re-finish, paint to pick out, and a seemingly endless array of supplies and fixtures to track down and grab ahold of. It's been messy and more than a little nerve-wracking, but things are finally starting to come together. The walls have long been patched up, the floors were sanded down and stained last week, and the kitchen cabinets are going in as I type--(at this point, I'm just the gopher for cold glasses of water, Band-aids, screwdrivers, etc.). I don't want to speak too soon--but it looks as though we'll have a new home, our first real home, in just a few short weeks.
Berry and riesling ice cubes
But about those berries. There's been an unrelenting heatwave here in Chicago. The short of it is--it's been far too hot to even dream of flaky, buttery crusts and unctuous, oozing fruit. So, when my friend, Adam, visited for the week and encouraged us to kick back a little, the berries hit the blender, along with some riesling, lemon, and sugar. And after a short spell in some ice-cube trays in the freezer, it was back to the blender with more riesling. Boozy strawberry slushies--nothing fancy, just perfectly summery and sippable.  
Strawberry slushie
Boozy Strawberry Slushies
Adapted from Bon Appétit, August 2011
Note: I have a feeling that these would be even better with lime juice in place of the lemon, along with a generous dusting of lime zest (I just couldn't be bothered to run to the store again). If you do try the slushie this way, hold back on the lime juice and zest until the second purée, as the juice tends to lose its flavour soon after squeezing.
2 cups hulled strawberries
1 750-ml bottle dry Riesling
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3-4 tablespoons sugar, depending on the strawberries' sweetness
Purée the berries, lemon juice, sugar, and 2 cups of the Riesling in a blender. Pour the berry mixture into ice-cube trays and freeze until solid. Chill the remaining wine in the refrigerator, covered. When you're ready to serve, purée the ice cubes with the remaining Riesling. Pour among six glasses. Garnish with basil or mint.
Above: the new living room as it was a couple of weeks ago.