As you may have been able to guess by the lack of posts, this summer has been a little busy. At this very moment Nate and I are both dealing with colds (summer colds are the worst), Nate’s watching Cars II (known as New Cars in our house) on the couch while I listen to our contractor walk around on the roof fixing a host of problems the previous owners passed onto us (to be fair we were aware of most if not all of the issues at the time we purchased the house but we weren’t anticipating having to deal with so many of the issues at once).
The bulk of the summer activity is coming to a close though as we prepare to welcome the new baby into our family next month. I’ve been asked a couple of times in the last week or two what I’m feeling about this, and the closest I’ve come up with is that his or her birth will be “permanently disruptive”. I of course mean this in a positive way, but whereas with the first child you have no idea what the fuck to do or how your day-to-day life will be impacted/altered, this time around I have a pretty good understanding, at least enough to know that the schedule has already been determined and this child must be made to fit into it in some way. Nate, naturally enough, has no idea as to what’s in store for him.
As for cooking, there have been a couple of notable meals I’ve been involved in preparing this summer. The first was helping my friend Dean plan and prepare a meal for his law firm. Little did we know when we were planning the menu that about halfway through the meal he would begin to exhibit the worst of his food poisoning symptoms, which would continue on for another week or so. I felt terrible for him as he had to bow out of the night’s action prior to the final three courses being served, but in a way it was exhilarating to feel the rush of adrenaline in feeding 30 or so people. Thankfully I didn’t have to plate all those dishes since the dinner party is interactive; if I did have to plate that many dishes I may have walked away with a different feeling altogether.
The other memorable meal of the summer was one to remember and honor my father-in-law. Erin and I hastily put together the menu a couple of days prior to the one year anniversary of his death. The idea was to put together a menu of some of his favorite dishes for us and my mother-in-law to enjoy and remember him by:
I’d never pieced it together prior to doing the prep work for this meal, but Jack was a huge custard fan. Behind each meal there’s a particular memory or story that each of the three of us had associated with these dishes. I’ll share perhaps the most memorable and lightest one as briefly as I can. We had travelled up to Virginia to spend Christmas with our parents in December 2008 and Erin, unknown to them at the time, was pregnant with Nate. Erin and I had deliberated on the best way to tell our parents the good news and Erin decided that she’d wear a long sleeve t-shirt that said “Due in August”. We started by “telling” her parents first, except they didn’t read the shirt for a good 5 or 10 minutes, until we couldn’t take it anymore and one of us begged “Would you guys please read Erin’s shirt”. A moment or two passed before there was a reaction from either of them (in all fairness I don’t think any of our parents were really anticipating us ever having children), but Jack’s reaction was completely memorable for his sheer sense of jubilation; in fact I must admit this is the only time I ever saw him cry. A man not flustered very often, he was preparing the caramelized onion and bacon tart when he found out his only daughter was going to provide him with his fifth grandchild, and when he put the tart in the oven he’d done so without having put in the egg base. After he composed himself a couple of minutes later he discovered his error and was able to salvage the tart.
Having been turned on to some aspects of Asian cooking by the Momofuku cookbook (I simply cannot get enough of the steamed pork buns) I purchased two books (Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen and The Big Book of Noodles by Vatcharin Bhumichitr) that have done quite a bit to alter how we eat at home in addition to broadening my horizons as a cook. Into the Vietnamese Kitchen in particular is a great cookbook that I recommend for anyone interested in learning about Vietnamese cooking and cuisine. Vietnamese cuisine makes a nice segue into Asian cuisine for someone with knowledge of French cuisine or French training, but some of the techniques are different. For instance pate is steamed in banana leaves instead of cooked in a terrine in a water bath.
The Big Book of Noodles is a worthwhile book as well, though I’ve found that many of the recipes are simplified, which may not be such a bad thing. I’ve already made some quick noodle dishes for lunch and dinner out of this cookbook, and because the recipes aren’t perhaps as authentic as they could be, I have most of the ingredients on hand on any given day.
Lastly, I’m brewing my first batch of beer. Actually I don’t know if it’s correct to say I’m currently brewing, because I’m currently doing nothing other than once or twice a day peek in on the glass carboy to see if the beer is still bubbling. I’m close to being able to bottle my first brew – an English style bitter made from liquid malt extract. I made at least one rookie error, which was doing everything in the evening, which meant I knowingly pitched the yeast at too high of a temperature (I really wanted to go to bed and had already prepared the yeast). It smells like beer with a hint of banana (this could be either the yeast I used which was an English ale yeast or due to esters created by pitching the yeast at too high of a temperature). I’m pretty confident that it will be drinkable even if it’s not the best beer I’ll have ever consumed. But that was most likely always going to be the case anyway since it’s my first effort. If if tastes alright I’ll post the recipe up here in a few weeks.
Next up I plan on making a porter from extract and after that I’ll take a stab at an all grain batch to brew a Belgian Wit (Erin’s favorite style of beer). My goal with homebrewing is simply to have fun and have some homemade beer on hand for families and friends when they come to visit. And fortunately I have a pretty vast crawl space in which to store what I make.