Tuesday, November 29, 2011

If You Can Stomach It.

The book club selection for the month of October was Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. It was my first suggestion to the group. Although after our meeting and hearing everyone’s responses I may be banned from making suggestions for a while.
I’d first heard about Katherine Dunn while researching Portland area authors for an art project. I discovered she’d been in the news, not for a raving book review, or teaching; she’d been involved in a violent altercation outside of a grocery store. A young woman approached the, then 64 year-old Dunn outside the NW Trader Joe’s and attempted to steal her purse. Dunn refused to let go. In an effort to make a getaway with Dunn’s purse, the young thief slapped Dunn across the face. Dunn, who made her career writing ground breaking material about boxing, who also, to this day boxes herself, seized the opportunity to defend herself, punching the punk thief in the face.  I said to myself: “That’s my kind of woman.”
 It was more convincing than a traditional book review.
I was holding the electric orange covered book in my arms, wandering the stacks at Powell’s Books in Beaverton when an employee stopped and asked:
“Is that Geek Love in your hands?”
“It’s great, but it is twisted. Seriously it’s F***CKED up.” She laughs. Initially her comment seemed slightly sarcastic. In hindsight, the truth is I assumed I could handle anything this little book could deliver. I thought I was ready.
“If you end up liking it you should read…” the employee mentions another author and book I’ve never heard of and after finishing Geek Love, I’m unsure if I want to remember who it was she suggested.
 “Geek Love is really good, but it’s weird. Y’know she’s local?” the woman adds.
 “I know. I heard she was local.” I thank her for the information. I go back to browsing. I was really curious now. I was so excited when I left the book store I drove straight to a park to read in the grass.
 In a nutshell the work explores issues associated with the nuclear family. Geek Love is the story of a tight knit family of carnival freaks starring an albino, hunchback, dwarf middle daughter named Olly, who is the narrator, the eldest son Artie (a boy with fins instead of arms and legs, rendering his body nearly useless outside of water), a pair of Siamese twins named Elly and Iphy, and the youngest son nicknamed Chick, who only appears normal, but has metaphysical powers. All these children were born to normal parents, who “customized” their intentionally freakish children through drug experimentation.
            When your entire world is defined by the monetary value of your unusual physical appearance, one’s self-worth becomes skewed. When your siblings are the only other people in the world as “unique” as you are, rivalry doesn’t begin to cover it. Those with the least physical power grow to use mental manipulation to gain control. Those gifted with the abilities to manipulate the physical world, use their power to possessively protect the family’s way of life (no matter how destructive or detrimental that way of life might be from the outsider’s perspective).
Upon entering any theme park ride: a haunted house, roller coaster or otherwise, pregnant women and those suffering of heart conditions are encouraged to turn away. Soon to be added to that list is Geek Love. Not for the faint of heart, defiantly not for the easily offended; a word of caution is certainly necessary. Thirty pages into the novel I caught myself saying “What the F**k” aloud at the end of nearly every paragraph. I screamed: “No!” My voice whispered in disbelief an: “Oh my God…” at the conclusion of each chapter, where I then allowed myself a long break before continuing.
Although I had to stop regularly, to absorb, digest, and reassure myself nothing would be regurgitated; I finished. Maybe this makes me a mildly twisted freak too; but, I had an impulse to finish. Despite the journey feeling less than comfortable, or familiar, or enjoyable, in the end I was absolutely satisfied. It was a sweat-inducing, chill giving, challenge in content served in a precisely executed package of repulsively addictive language.
Maybe I shouldn’t admit it to everyone. No, I should. I’d rather own up to the fact that I did indeed find pleasure in and a little love for the unsettling work: Geek Love.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The After Thanksgiving Dinner...And Lunch... And Possibly Breakfast.

I slept in this morning. I skipped the pushing and shoving that goes along with black Friday shopping to do something a little more productive. This is how I’m doing Thanksgiving leftovers this year, and it’s definitely NOT a run of the mill turkey sandwich.

            Of course it’s pie. There never seems to be enough room to stack everything between two slices of bread. I thought this would be a more convenient package for take to work lunches over the next couple days, and believe me nothing is left out.
            I used pre-made crust this morning, because, after a full day of cooking yesterday I thought my mom and I each deserve a break. Just roll out a crust into a prepared 9-inch pan, poke the bottom and start layering!

I started with stuffing, just barely coating the bottom.

Next comes the turkey. I used a whole thigh for dark meat and about a ¼ of a breast. I cut the turkey into long, bite-sized pieces. To preserve moisture in the pie I scattered a just little bit of the flavor-rich-fatty skin in the meat layer.

On top of the turkey goes cranberry sauce.

Next are your vegetables. Use whatever you have already made! I had roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and steamed green beans.

The whole thing is topped with a mountain of mashed white and sweet potato. I highly encourage stacking the potato layer as high as the crust can stretch. Cover the whole thing with a second crust. Use a touch of water to make the edges stick together. Press the edges with a fork. Brush the whole top with egg wash (one egg+ a splash of milk). Cover the edges of the pie with tin foil to prevent burnt edges. Don’t forget to put at least four small vent slits in the top. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes.

Serve warm with a heavy-handed spoonful of gravy.
I hope you had an enjoyable holiday yesterday!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sweet Potumpcan Pie

            Thanksgiving is about spending time with our families and stuffing ourselves to the brim with comfort foods. It’s the one holiday of the year where it is more than acceptable to enjoy multiple desserts, because at my house there are at least 3 available choices. Gluttony is sin all the time; I’m a sinner especially this one day of the year.
My problem is that after all the wonderful turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sautéed Brussels sprouts with bacon, roasted sweet potatoes, dinner rolls, more turkey and the inevitable digestive-waiting period between dinner and dessert, who the hell has room for pie? Who has room for even a little of everything?
            I set off to correct this little problem. This year at work my co-workers and I competed with each other in a pumpkin pie-baking contest. I invented this recipe to combine my three favorite Thanksgiving fare pies. The result is an awesome parfait of sweet potato, pumpkin, and pecan pies.
            At first glance it looks complicated, littered with a million details, but don’t be intimidated. Each filling takes less than five minutes to whip up and many of the ingredients simply repeat. I make piecrust from scratch so I can specify the flavor, but store bought crust is always a superb shortcut.

2 ¼ cups all purpose white flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted COLD butter
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp spiced rum
6-8 tsp ice water

1.      Combine flour, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Cube the chilled butter and combine with the flour with a pastry blender until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
2.     Pour 8 tsp of water over an ice cube in a cup. Add the maple syrup and rum to the same cup. Stir. Add one tsp of the wet mixture to the flour/butter mixture at time (stirring with a fork in between) until the crust reaches your desired consistency.
3.     Roll finished dough between two sheets of wax paper to even ¼ of an inch thickness. Place in a prepared glass pie dish 9-10” in diameter. Trim the edges of excess, then shape your edges to fluted pattern or pressed with a fork. Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork many, many times before baking.
4.     Line the piecrust with parchment paper; fill the paper with 2 cups dry beans. This keeps the crust flat while pre-baking. Bake the piecrust at 350° for 15 minutes.

Sweet Potato Filling:

2 cups mashed sweet potatoes (I roasted mine in butter for 40 minutes at 350° before hand, cool to room temp to avoid scrambling the eggs)
6 oz sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp clove
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp nutmeg
¾ tsp salt

1.    Throw all ingredients into a bowl, and then mix with an electric mixer on medium speed until everything is combined, about 4-5 minutes.
2.      Pour into the piecrust (now out of the oven and sans beans).

Pumpkin Filling:
7.5 oz (½ can) unsweetened pumpkin puree
6-7 oz  (1/2 can) evaporated milk
1 egg
¾ cup white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ginger
1/8 tsp clove
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/8 tsp nutmeg

1.     Throw all ingredients into a bowl mix with an electric mixer on medium speed until everything is combined, about 4-5 minutes.
2.    Pour into the piecrust over the top the sweet potato filling. The pumpkin filling is much less dense and will simply float.
3.      Place back in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes.

Pecan filling:
1 cup raw pecan halves (chopped or left whole to preference)
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 beaten egg
Pinch of salt

1.     Combine in a bowl and whisk by hand until everything is combined.
2.     When the pie has baked for 20 minutes, remove from the oven. Using a spoon scoop the pecan topping and arrange on top of the pie in five lines coming out from the center, leaving spaces between for marshmallows.
3.      Bake again at 350° for 25 more minutes.
4.     After 25 minutes remove from the oven. In the gaps place mini marshmallows. Return to the oven for 5 more minutes, just enough to start melting the marshmallows.
5.     To achieve a toasted marshmallow look and flavor use a culinary torch.
6.      The pie must rest for at least an hour before serving.

When serving slice so that each piece is half pecan topping, half marshmallow topping. Three pies in every bite never tasted so delectable. It’s safe to say I solved my “problem”. I’m thankful for my family, having a roof over my head, a job I love, and creative problem solving. Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Perfect Reuben

A short vocabulary lesson-

Cabbotage: Placing soured, spoiled sauerkraut on an otherwise perfectly amazing pastrami sandwich. *

*No cabbotage EVER found at Kenny and Zuke’s.

            I’ve never particularly cared for fermented cabbage, so I’ve rarely indulged in Reuben sandwiches. Until I discovered Kenny and Zuke’s- a Portland Mecca for perfectly cured, smoked meat sandwiches and homemade pickles with an already outstanding reputation. There are a millions reasons to stop in for lunch or all-day breakfast, piled into juicy, pickle-y, meaty layers.
            I went a few weeks back for a lunch date with one of my best friends. How can a weekend get better than a stop at Powell’s (where I picked up Habibi, Craig Thompson’s new graphic masterpiece), followed by the best Rueben I’ve had in my life, at a sidewalk table on the last sunny afternoon of the mild Portland summer? I’m still daydreaming about the toasted rye bread; the sweet strings of the kraut not too tangy or assaulting my taste buds with vinegar, the teeny-tiny-diced pickles in the creamy Russian dressing. The sweet delicate cabbage, complimented the savory, ultra-thin pastrami; the heaping layer of gooey, nutty, salty Swiss cheese balanced everything out.

            I was so excited just holding the wrapped tinfoil packet, letting it warm my hands. Walking to our table, the smell of it floating on the breeze was taunting my growling stomach. By the time I opened it, I couldn’t wait long enough to get a picture before taking a bite, two actually.
            There were certainly a few minutes of waiting. But, having the best quality is worth the extra anticipation. From my experience nothing this good stays a secret. I never trust an empty restaurant. For a delectable cabbotage-free experience: 
Kenny and Zuke’s Delicatessen: 
1038 SW Stark St, Portland, OR 97205. 
Hours and full menu available at Kennyandzukes.com