Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Best Fried Chicken

Fried chicken: everyone has his or her own idea of a "best" fried chicken.  I have had lots of good fried chicken -- the bone-in, skin-on fryer pieces my mother used to cook in her electric skillet, the tender parboiled and fried chicken my Aunt Irene used to make -- who can say which is really the best?  What I can say is that this is the best fried chicken that comes out of my own kitchen.  A tender, buttermilk marinated piece of chicken joy.

There is no real recipe for this dish.  I use boneless, skinless breast meat which I usually cut in half through the thickest part to make each piece thinner and a little more uniform.  Trim off all fat, pierce each piece all over with a fork, and soak, fully immersed, in a buttermilk bath for at least four hours.  If you want a little more zip, you can add a splash or two of Tabasco sauce to the buttermilk.  Dredge each piece in salt-and-pepper-seasoned flour and fry in hot vegetable oil, turning only once.  I usually dredge in the flour twice, letting the chicken rest just a couple of minutes in between.

Any time, any place, winter or summer.  Love this chicken.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Holy Toledo

Botanical Garden glass flower
When you hear "Toledo, Ohio," what do you picture?  A Rust Belt city that has seen better days?  Well, okay, there might be some truth to that.  But Toledo, the Glass City, is much more than an industrial town.  While a number of giants of the glass industry -- Owens-Illinois, Owens Corning, Libbey Glass -- originated in Toledo, art glass is just as important.  The Toledo Museum of Art, with its cool, modern Glass Pavilion, houses one of the most comprehensive glass collections in the world.  Furthermore, it was in Toledo in 1962 that American studio art glass really began.  It was a happy coincidence of a glassblowing workshop at the Toledo Museum of Art led by Harvey Littleton, a ceramics instructor at the University of Wisconsin, and a glass engineer and innovator named Dominick Labino.

We were recently in Toledo for a couple of days and stopped by the Museum of Art.  My husband grew up in Toledo, so we have been to the Museum many times, but a special treat this time was "Color Ignited: Glass 1962-2012," an interesting exhibit.  It took us a while to work our way back to the Wolfe Gallery, where the exhibit was housed.  I mean, you can't just rush past the Impressionists, Rodin statues, and the Cloister!  I don't think I was supposed to take pictures in the Wolfe Gallery since it was a special exhibit, but I did snap this one before I remembered.

"Bowl: Citron Vanishing Gladiator" by Stephen Rolfe Powell

Glass and art also play a part at the Toledo Botanical Garden, still called Crosby Gardens by the locals.  The Botanical Garden was started when George P. Crosby, a businessman and realtor, donated 20 acres for a park in 1964.  The Garden now covers more than 60 acres.  And not all of the flowers are alive!  Check out these amazing larger-than-life glass poppies outside the artist demonstration buildings and shops.

In addition to the art outside in the gardens, there is also a Lithophane Museum on the grounds.  A lithophane is a delicate artform that reveals its three-dimensional beauty when back lit.  Plaster molds are made from beeswax carvings which are then cast, usually in porcelain.  The picture below is a lithophane lamp.  The lighter areas were more deeply carved to allow more light through.  Imagine the skill the carver would need to create all the detail.

Of course, the Botanical Garden also features some living things as well.

I believe this is a carpenter bee.  It was at least an inch long!
So there's just a little taste of Toledo.  And now, this fat lady doesn't sing, she doesn't even talk, but if she could, she might tell you to check out Toledo for yourself.
"Woman with the Birds" by Joe Ann Cousino

Thursday, July 12, 2012

What Says Summer to You?

What is the essence of summer?  Spending time on a lake, watching fireflies, mowing the grass . . . .  All these say "summer" but, for me, food is one of the most notable marks of summer.  Burgers on the grill, fresh sweet corn on the cob, luscious vine-ripened tomatoes, and fruit salad.

When I was a kid, my aunt and uncle often hosted family picnics.  They lived at the old "home place" (although the old home had been sold and moved and they built a new house), and we ate outside under the big oak trees near where the barn used to be.  I come from big families on both sides.  This was my mother's family.  There were eight children in her family, and many of them would come to the picnics.  Looking back, there was something comforting about the predictability of those picnics.  The hostess usually made chess pie, my childless aunt and uncle always brought a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, at least one person made potato salad, and there was almost always watermelon.

My favorite fruit salad mixture -- watermelon, strawberries, and seedless grapes.

Watermelon is my ultimate summer food.  I have loved it all my life.  I remember eating it in the yard when I was about six years old with my friend and neighbor, Tracy, whom my dad called Betty because he said she looked like a girl he used to know.  Tracy was a year younger than I was and kind of shy, so she never told my dad he couldn't call her Betty.  I think she kind of liked it anyway.

We also had occasional picnics at home -- cook-outs.  We had a spindly three-legged charcoal grill. No one we knew had a Weber in those days and, while the internet tells me the gas grill was invented in 1960, in the mid '60s, I'd never heard of such a thing.  Nope, we had a shallow pan grill -- at least until my mother burned it up by building a wood fire in it one time so all the neighborhood kids could toast marshmallows.  We ate on a fabulous redwood deck that had built-in benches all around as well as the ultimate 1960s wrought iron table and chairs.

These days, we still cook outside as much as possible during the summer, only now we use a gas grill for instant heat and easy clean-up.  Our menu has expanded as well.  We still grill burgers, hot dogs and steaks, but also chicken, bratwurst, pork loin, fish, and shish kabobs.  And when I can find flank steak, I like to make this grilled flank with spicy corn relish.  Boy, this would have knocked their socks off under the oak trees back in the day.

Full disclosure: When I took my plate outside to take the picture in sunlight, another sign of summer came along. I certainly remember these pesky guys from my childhood picnic days!

The flank steak recipe comes from Country Living.  It is super easy, just a marinade of olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic.  You can find the recipe on their website.  I changed their relish recipe slightly to make it less spicy and more colorful.  The original is here.  My version is below.

Corn Relish

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup minced onion
1 cup chopped colorful bell peppers
1 cup frozen corn kernels
Sprinkle of salt, to taste
Couple of grinds of pepper mill
1/2-3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey

Heat oil in non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and peppers, cook about two minutes, stirring frequently.  Add corn, salt, pepper and cayenne, and cook until vegetables are slightly soft, about 4-5 minutes.  Add lemon juice and honey, stir to combine and dissolve honey.  Remove from heat.  Serve at room temperature.

Linking to Mercantile Muse Get Your Party On: Gotta Have It/Gotta Blog It Link Up

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Works in Progress

With this awful hot weather and lack of rain I haven't had a lot of gardening to do lately, so I've been working on some things indoors.

My big, horrible project is painting the last room in the basement.  When I say "room," don't get the idea that we have some kind of lovely finished basement.  Not at all.  We have a basement that serves strictly as a laundry room, storage, and my old darkroom (that I haven't used in years).  A basement with 100-plus-year-old stone and brick walls.  The walls need to be coated occasionally to help prevent the mortar from crumbling.  I have finally, after eighteen years in this house, gotten up the motivation to finish the final section.

The first step was decluttering.  I took apart an entire home gym, hauled it to my car, and had both the Salvation Army and the junk shop reject it.  Luckily, the metal scavengers took it from the curb.  I also emptied the husband's computer accessory closet -- 20-year-old software boxes (many empty), manuals for printers that are long gone, textbooks for software that is several generations outdated.  Then on to the fun part.  

And by fun part, I mean drudgery.  This job involves a LOT of shop vac use, wire brushing, more shop vac, filling small cracks and holes, more shop vac, painting with thick, gunky, stinky waterproofing paint - which seems to be the best thing for solidifying the mortar - and, for good measure, another round with the shop vac.  It is a slow project, partly because I work on it for a day or two and then take a couple of days off, but also because it all has to be brushed on by hand in order to cover the rough, pitted stones.  I don't have the words to describe just how yucky this job is, but I think the brand name of the paint -- UGL -- kind of sums up how I feel about it.

This is what I'm dealing with.
Coming along -- s l o w l y.
To take my mind off the horrors of DryLok, I have also been crocheting more squares from 200 Crochet Blocks for Blankets, Throws and Afghans by Jan Eaton.  The three newest squares are  Victorian Lace (#92, two hook difficulty), Kingcup (#95, three hook), and Spinner (#89, two hook).  I'm really liking the brighter colors in the last two squares.

I also began working on the shawlette I am making with the Alpandina yarn I received from the yarn swap I wrote about in June.  I still have a little ways to go before I get into the lace portion, but I like it so far.  The yarn feels fabulously soft. I am going a bit slow on this because every once in a while my center line gets off by a stitch and it has to be unworked.  I don't notice the problem for a while, so this usually involves taking out one to two complete rows. Confession:  I lack the confidence to undo my knitting mistakes if it's more than a couple of stitches, so I have to wait for my daughter to come home for a visit.  I'm sure she thinks I am incompetent, but she kindly fixes things so that I can continue.

Looks a little like a stingray.