Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lox, because I can

When I was growing up on Long Island, lox and bagels were standard Sunday morning breakfast. Sometimes we would be treated to smoked whitefish too, but lox was a given. That and the Sunday New York Times. My parents would disappear behind the paper while my brother would either be teaching me some math he had learned (he was 2 years ahead of me in school), or we'd finish our bagels and head off to the basement where he'd be building his latest radio.

When I was growing up I never gave a thought to where lox came from, because I knew where it came from. It came from Max's delicatessen. That's where all the best stuff came from, including the best stories. It was kind of the central point of town, and every one of my parents friends shopped there, and everyone had their own funny story of what happened that day at Max's. Max was a character, to say the least. To begin with, Max was not actually his real name, but when he bought the store sometime before recorded history, it had a sign on it that said "Max's Delicatessen". So rather than change the sign, he changed his name.

My favorite story is one which could never happen in today's world, but is indicative of what it was like back in the days when people trusted each other. Max had a policy of giving any cop who was on his beat a sandwich for a quarter. Yes, you read that right - 25 cents. While it's true that everything cost less back then, 25 cents was still cheap enough to not cover his cost, I'm sure. But Max did it anyway. Max also used to yell at everyone who came into the store "Whaddaya want to buy this junk for???" Everyone laughed and Max would laugh too. One day Max looked out the window and saw a cop about to write a ticket for one of his customer's cars which was double parked outside. Max dropped his knife and ran out the door shaking his fist and screaming "If you give my customer a ticket, I'll poison you the next time you come in here!!!" The cop put away his book, and walked away laughing, as did everyone in the store. No one left Max's hungry, and no one left grumpy.

So, back to the lox. We always bought it from Max's, and it was always sliced paper thin, which was just the way we liked it. I've had different versions of it since then, and while I've always loved lox, some is better, and some - while perfectly edible - isn't the best. It wasn't until years and years later, at one family gathering at my brother's house, when my niece Rachael (who is a rock star chef, if you want my opinion) brought gravlox which she had made, that I realized that people actually could make lox. Not only that, but it could be smashingly good. Now, I know that gravlox is lox with a college education, but still, when you get down to it, we're talking salmon which has been salt cured.

Fast forward again to another family gathering (we do love to get together!), this time at my other brother's house in Florida, and my sister in law served lox and bagels for breakfast. It was terrific, and when I asked her where she got it, she said "I make it." (She's from Siberia.) "You did?" "Yes. It's seeemple. You just take 3 tablespoons salt to one tablespoon sugar. You mix together and then rub all over salmon. Cover it and leave it on counter over night. In the morning, there will be water in dish. Dump out water, wash salmon, take paper towel and dry. Rub a little olive oil on it and put in refrigerator for 3, 4 days. You have lox."

I've been making it ever since. I miss going to Max's and hearing him shout at everyone. But at least I can have lox any time I want - even on a Tuesday.

One Note: Use the fattiest lox you can find - it's better.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Crab Chowder for a Rainy Day

Or should I say rainy week? It's not that I'd want to live in a place where it rains all the time, but I do love the rain we're having. I wish I had the time tomorrow to drive up to the Laguna Mountains to photograph in the snow. It seems to fall on the evenings where I have to go to work the next day. Most uncooperative! When I was up there last weekend, it looked like this:
It was raining when I took that photo. I drove up hoping that when I got above 4,000 feet I'd find some snow. No such luck. The predictions are that the snow levels should be down around 3,000 feet this evening. The photo above was taken closer to 6,000 feet. I'd love to see the world blanketed in white, and have the sounds of traffic muffled by the snow. If it lasts until Thursday, maybe....just maybe....

But the canyons are green and the little seeds I've planted from those heirloom tomatoes I bought at the farmer's market are getting a good soaking. I'm excited about having tomatoes in my garden again this year. Meanwhile the chard is up and thriving, and I also planted radicchio for the first time. Why not? That's something that makes San Diego special -- all the things that grow here with barely a nudge from me.

I don't have a fireplace in my little house, but if I did, I'd certainly fire it up. These days are made for fireplaces and soups. I think when I was younger, I had this fantasy of being able to spend my winter days curled up in front of the fireplace with a good book, some classical music playing softly, and a bowl of hot soup on the table next to me. Well, I've got the classical music. I've even got an incredibly good book I've been reading -- "The Short Stories of Lydia Davis". She's a spare writer with an astonishing grasp of psychology. And now, thanks to a little "extra" time (what on earth is that supposed to mean?), I've got a rich, warming soup.
Chowders are wonderful repositories for this and that - the things you don't have a lot of but which add depth and complexity to a meal. I've made clam chowder before, and I thought of this as a variation on that theme. With some milk and fish stock as a base, you can pretty much add any of the standards of a good chowder. For me that included a couple of small potatoes I had gotten at the farmer's market - red ones that hadn't made it into another dish. I started with them, some onions, a couple of stalks of celery, a little garlic (of course!) and a red pepper, sliced and put into a pot to saute in butter before adding the stock and milk.

I'm usually conscious about the amount of fat I consume, but this rain and the cooler temperatures it brings has made me crave more of it than usual. So instead of using Earth Balance, I used real butter. Even added some cream to make it richer. Let's just say that when I decide to "sin", I don't mess around! I used canned crab meat, but if you've got the time and patience, you could use fresh, and you could combine different kinds of crab meat - snow and king are good choices. And because there was a little bit of corn left in that bag in the freezer, I threw it in as well. A pinch of salt, a dash of sugar and another dash of cayenne pepper brought the whole thing together.

The only part of the picture that doesn't match that fantasy? I have to work tomorrow. But fortunately I enjoy what I do! And I'll have some wonderful leftovers waiting for me at the end of the day.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fritata as Executive Compensation

I had plans for today. Oh yes, I had plans. I was going to go to Costco and pick up some prints I had ordered online just to test the system. You see, I want to start printing some of my photos, but before I go crazy, I want to make sure I understand how to do it right. So I'll be starting with Costco, and learning how to make the prints come out the same as what I see on my monitor instead of with some crazy blue tint. Whatever.

And then I was going to go for a nice long walk. I spent this past weekend sitting. My current acupuncture teacher was in Pasadena, so I drove up to LA for the weekend and sat through classes on both Saturday and Sunday. My teacher is terrific, her information is invaluable, but by Sunday afternoon I had had it. I couldn't focus anymore. I needed the CEUs, and I knew that even in my state of diminished attention, I would still be able to latch on to a sentence here and there, and that they would be incredibly useful. So I sat for two days and felt like I had a square butt by the time I left. I really, really needed that walk today!

And then, because I had spent the weekend in Pasadena, I didn't have time to do any cleaning around the house. So I needed to do some basics - like the bathroom sink and the kitchen counters. And of course, there's always cat hair that needs to be vacuumed. But I don't want to bore you with this list - it's not why you, dear reader, have come to my blog.

So why didn't I accomplish any of this? Not one single thing on my list? Because I spent the entire day trying to figure out how to insert an image and some type into another image in Photoshop. I had my layers. I created new layers. I inserted the image in one and the type into the next. And then I flattened the layers and the image and the type disappeared. For those of you not familiar with Photoshop, this is all gobble-dee-gook, and I don't want you to even begin to try and puzzle it out. You'll miss a perfectly good day. But since I am redoing my photo website, I really need to figure this out!

There are times when I wish there was no such thing as modern technology. I waste my day in front of a machine in my little office instead of getting outside, doing some work in the garden and getting the fresh air I need. The antidote? Cooking. Yes, I have a combination stove with gas burners and an electric oven, and this, too, is technology. But that's different. It's the way I reward myself for everything else I do, be it the back breaking labor of digging up plants or hauling tree limbs in my garden, or the tedium of figuring out how to deal with the minutiae of my digital darkroom.

So sit down and join me, won't you? We're having a fritata with onions, tomatoes and roasted asparagus. Believe it or not, we have had some asparagus on sale recently! Wasn't it Mae West who said "I can resist anything but temptation"? Well, for me, asparagus is temptation. And I already had the eggs as well as some tomatoes.

1 onion, diced
1 tomato, sliced
5-6 roasted asparagus
6 eggs, beaten, using only 3 yolks. (My reduced fat version).
1 TBS Earth Balance (Or butter, if you wish).

Since I prefer my onions well cooked, I heated the pan, put the Earth Balance in and added the onions, cooking them until toasty.

Cut the asparagus into bite-sized pieces.
Add asparagus and tomatoes to the eggs.
When the onions have cooked, pour the egg mixture into the pan.

Allow to cook over medium heat until the bottom has set and there's only a little bit of runny egg on top. Place in the oven under the broiler until the top has cooked and the eggs are set.

Serve slices with crusty bread.

It's hard to stop at one slice, I know. Especially when you're seeking comfort in simplicity. Go ahead -- help yourself to another slice....