Potatoes!

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So I’ve been doing something a little weird today.

The New York Times website has a page that shows you how to make Pommes Anne, a delicious looking potato recipe from France. I’ve been obsessing over that page today.

If you’re interested, the page can be found here. It’s behind a subscription wall, but it’s a free signup. They don’t email me anything and they don’t ask for money. If you’re willing to sign up for a login, you can see the page yourself.

If you’re unable or unwilling to sign up to see for yourself, here’s the basic gist of how to make the dish. It’s labor intensive, using simple ingredients, but the end result looks delicious.

Start by preheating your oven and placing a rimmed baking sheet on the rack so it will heat up with the oven. Cut Russet potatoes into roughly evenly sized and shaped cylinders, then use a mandoline to slice each potato into thin slices. (If you like, you can add slices of garlic to the dish, but the traditional recipe doesn’t include the garlic. Slice the garlic cloves with the mandoline just as you did the potatoes.) Blot the potatoes dry.

Put a cast iron skillet on the stove and turn it to medium. Add clarified butter and begin placing the potato slices in concentric, overlapping circles to fill the bottom of the skillet. Add salt and pepper to taste, then drizzle more clarified butter over the potatoes. Add a second layer of potatoes (adding the garlic slices evenly spaced across the top of the layer, if you chose to add garlic), salt, pepper, and clarified butter. Continue adding layers like this until the skillet is full – potatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, clarified butter. This will eventually form a dome. Occasionally shake the skillet to prevent the potatoes from sticking to it.

Butter the bottom of a pan and use it to press down firmly on the potatoes. Cover with foil, then cover the foil with a lid. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven, remove the lid and the foil, and press down firmly on the potatoes again with the pan. Return the skillet to the oven, uncovered, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the sides are dark brown when lifted away from the skillet.

Remove the skillet from the oven and press down firmly on the potatoes with the pan, then use the pan to hold the potatoes in place while you drain any excess butter off the dish. Use a thin offset spatula to carefully run around the sides and bottom of the skillet to release anything that’s stuck on, then turn out onto a serving dish. Slice into wedges and serve. The end result will be crisp on the outside with a mashed potato-like interior.

I haven’t actually tried this recipe, but it sound absolutely fantastic. We’re short the cast iron skillet, the mandoline, and the thin offset spatula, but as soon as we can pick these items up – and can figure out where we’ll store them in our tiny kitchen – I want to try this dish.

There are secrets to this dish to make it turn out perfect, and the webpage goes into detail about those. There’s even a video that shows you the process, and that video is magic.

Most cooking videos available on the internet tend to rush you through the whole process of cooking, using time-lapse photography to compress the whole thing down to an easily digested TL;DR-like nugget of a minute or so. The video for Pommes Anna is somewhat longer, but the process is unhurried, and the shots are shown in real time. Doing this shows the complexity of preparing the dish and also gives the video a respectful feeling to it – you can tell that preparing this dish is a labor of love, not a quick meal on the go. It’s amazing to watch and the finished dish has a lovely presentation. The video is as much a work of art as the dish itself.

I don’t know why I’ve been obsessing over this recipe today. It’s done nothing but make me hungry for something I can’t eat for some time. But it’s gotten me looking forward to the day that we have everything we need to make it.

 

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Life Snippets

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We’re going to have a guest in town from Houston tonight – she’s got professional development activities locally tomorrow – and so the second evening of my wife’s new work schedule will involve a great deal of socialization. This is a good thing – this is a dear friend of ours from way back – and I’m looking forward to it.

Nothing really earth shattering in the book today. Lots of laying groundwork for the rest of the book – it’s still the introduction, and I’m not reading for speed, I’m reading to comprehend concepts, which takes me longer than I’d read strictly for entertainment – but still good information.

The last couple of days have been pretty good. No real lows to speak of, no highs either, just …  a couple of days. Nothing to write home about, but that also means that they haven’t been much to write about either.

Tonight we’re having one-pot lo mein. It’s a fairly simple recipe – everything goes in the pot, the pot gets stirred frequently through the process, it simmers down into a sauce, and you serve. It’s a tasty recipe and it’s one we enjoy doing. There will be socialization tonight, along with following basketball and softball scores (championship series for one, championship game for the other) online.

Tomorrow we’ll be visiting with our guest in the morning and since it’s show day, most of my afternoon is dedicated to programming and most of the evening is dedicated to broadcasting. I don’t get much done on show days, but I can still keep track of my checklists and get everything done. There’s also hockey to keep an eye on Thursday night, so I’ll be a little distracted. (I don’t watch sports that often – we don’t have cable – but I track scores and progress online. Besides, I couldn’t watch the game during my radio show.)

Friday I think I’m going to start work on my notes from my last therapy session and get some work done on that front.

Saturday is show day, and programming that show takes longer than my Thursday show does, so we’ll be at it for the better part of the day.

Sunday is do-nothing day, and I’m glad for it.

So that’s enough rambling, I suppose. Our guest is here and it’s time to go prep dinner anyway.

July 17, 2015: Three Good Things

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Been a while since I’ve done one of these. I’ve been running out of spoons late at night and I just can’t be bothered to expend the energy to come up with three things about the day that were good. Today has been a total wash, moodwise, but I’m going to force myself to get something down in print.

1. Tonight’s dinner started to smell … off … as it was cooking, so rather than ingest was was very likely chicken that had gone bad, my wife went out for burgers (since we’re at the end of the week grocery-wise, and there’s not much else left in the house to eat). I had already started the cauliflower steaming, so we had McDonald’s with steamed cauliflower. (I do not recommend this. Fries are the appropriate side for a burger. Always.)

2. I came up with what I feel is a good analogy for depression. It works like of like color blindness for the mind. People with color blindness see the same world the rest of us see, but the colors are so muted and dull, a lot of what they see looks similar. In depression, we experience all the same emotions everyone else does, but they’re so muted, everything feels the same, and it takes something really vivid to break through that dullness. I’m going to write more about this tomorrow, since I think I’m onto something.

3. All I have to do is brush my teeth before getting to bed before 2:00 am and I’ll have completed my checklist for the first time in almost a month.

July 7, 2015: Three Good Things

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1. I went to go get bloodwork done this morning. I asked a question about how I should be taking one of my medications and was assured that I was taking it correctly. (Wish it were working better, however. It’s one of my blood pressure medications and it’s still really high.)

2. I tried a new recipe for dinner tonight. It didn’t work out well, but it’s the first time I’ve cooked from a recipe in a couple weeks.

3. When the recipe went south, I managed to head off a bout of irrationality on my own, without any outside assistance. This is a big deal.

A Step Toward Self-Care

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Dinner tonight was an unmitigated disaster.

At noon, I started the crock pot to give us tasty, tasty chicken stroganoff. It was a new recipe and I was eager for it to be dinner time so we could try it.

Dinner time rolled around and I start the water for the noodles. Then I go and stir the crock pot, as it’s essentially cooked through at this point.

I did not have a thick, white, creamy sauce coating perfectly prepared chicken thighs.

What I had was a golden, brothy mess interspersed with mushrooms and the occasional curdle of yogurt and cream of mushroom soup.

And I immediately blamed myself.

I followed the recipe to the letter. I even said as much to my wife, who was trying to minimize the damage my self-hatred was doing to me. The fault must have been with the recipe, she said, but I wasn’t listening.

Finally, steaming mad at myself for having ruined dinner and wasted the money that went into it, I went to sit at my computer.

But instead of immediately distracting myself with the further adventures of Yet Another Character Through The Same Game I Keep Playing Over And Over, I silently asked myself a question.

“What do you see?” I answered that I see the character sheet interface in my game.

“What do you hear?” The game sounds from both the PC game and the tablet game I run concurrently (one’s an MMO, the other is a simulation, so the latter doesn’t need nearly the same amount of attention the former does), the air conditioning unit, the sounds of my wife making us turkey wraps as a plan B for dinner.

“What do you smell?” Well, to be honest, I smelled the same thing I smelled before I lifted the lid to the crock pot – chicken stroganoff. At least it smelled right.

“What do you taste?” The neutral taste of the water I had just drunk.

“What do you feel?” I felt frustration at the way dinner had turned out. I felt the couch under my back and butt and upper legs and the floor against the bottoms of my feet. And I felt something else … calmer, more in control.

I went to the recipe page to see if anyone else had experienced this same result and, sure enough, they had. It was recommended to add flour or arrowroot to thicken up the result, but I knew there was no way flour could salvage this mess. The recipe’s contributor also acknowledged that even the desired result is runnier than a typical stroganoff. So now I was calmer and knew that it really wasn’t my fault, it was just a bad recipe.

And my mood lightened, my grip on rationality had returned, and I was looking past the dinner snafu and on toward what we actually had for dinner.

This incident marked the first time I had the presence of mind to do the sensory inquiry on my own, and it worked brilliantly.

I know that these five magic little questions aren’t going to solve all my problems when it comes to stress and anxiety and irrationality. But they may be a stopgap measure to get me to the point that I can listen to reframing statements, and those can be what really pulls me back into a rational frame of mind.

I wish someone had shared these questions with me years ago. Then again, I’m not sure I was ready to listen to their wisdom when I was younger.

I’m ready now. And I hope that this precedent is just the first of many instances where the sensory inquiry interrupts a situation rapidly growing out of control.

June 29, 2015: Three Good Things

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As stated in yesterday’s post, this week I am concentrating on good things about myself instead of good things about my day.

1. I’m a talented cook. I make a chicken Marsala that is the best I’ve ever had in nearly 25 years of looking for its equal. I make a pulled pork barbecue that even avowed barbecue haters look forward to, and I have someone trying to back the commercialization of its sauce. I can prepare anything from beef Wellington to salted caramel truffles.

2. I’m an excellent and attentive listener. I don’t offer advice unless solicited, I’m capable of asking questions that help others solve their own problems, and when told something in confidence, would never dream of betraying that confidence. I am where secrets go to die.

3. I inspire people with my story and my perseverance. It is because of this that I am so public with my struggles, in the hope that I can continue to inspire people that need to know they aren’t alone and there are others fighting the fight alongside them.