WND – Birthday Month Part 4 (belated)January 15, 2009
When I plan meals sometimes I start with a side dish that I really want to have and then work outwards. Sometimes I start with a protein that I’m craving and then figure out what else goes with it. Sometimes I figure out what I have the energy to make and discard all recipes that involve a lot of work. Sometimes, I get lucky like this week and someone makes a specific request (birthday Dinner). Somewhere along the line though it all comes down to what it will look like on the plate.
A plate should always have at least three things on it – not more than five and never less than three. More than five separate dishes and your plate is chaotic and too full. Less than three things and the food looks lonely. This breaks down usefully to protein + starch + vegetable. Salad for these purposes does not count as a vegetable. Currently this is because I almost always serve salad in a side bowl, and growing up it was because salad was eaten after the rest of the meal. Either way it doesn’t contribute to the balance of the plate.
Last summer my mother gave me a book called “Queen of the Turtle Derby” which is a series of entertaining essays about life in the South. In one of the essays the author describes the difference in the way that Northerners and Southerners approach their plate. Up North people eat each part of the meal discretely and with as little mixing as possible. Down South people like to mix their food up so that their fork has a little bit of everything on it and all the flavors meld.
I hadn’t ever really thought about it before in those terms, but this more or less describes the difference in how I eat dinner and how my roommate eats dinner to a T. I like to use a bite of pork chop to scrape up some of the scalloped potato goo on the plate. I like to spear that bit of crust that’s fallen off the pork chop and eat it with a bite of scalloped potatoes to give them a bit of salty kick. And frankly, I’ll use anything to smother the taste of broccoli. My roommate likes to eat everything separately and would rather that her scalloped potatoes didn’t impinge upon her pork chop. This is why we serve salad in side bowls, so that the salad dressing doesn’t sully the rest of the food on the plate.
I will admit to the fact that the very worst thing I can think of to say about someone is that they’re tacky, that I have firm opinions about barbeque and that I conjugate verbs: I – You – He/She/It – We- Y’all- They. But, I don’t know that I would have assumed my willingness to mix my foods was part and parcel of a Southern heritage. Mind you, until I read “Queen of the Turtle Derby” I hadn’t given the matter much thought, or if I had I’d assumed it was a strange quirk particular to my roommate not to an entire region. I’m now trying to remember how it is that my parents eat their dinner. Is this something I picked up solely from my mother, or does my father do it too? And, if he does, is it because the intermingling of food on the fork is a point of intersection between Southern and Dutch on the great Venn diagram of regional eating habits, or was he worn down after 40 years of watching my mother eat?
Baked Pork Chops
Baked Pork Chops
I am quietly entertained by this menu since it is possibly the least kosher meal that I can think of, requested by the person who keeps a kosher kitchen. Which, mind you, is precisely why she asked for this for her birthday dinner (much belated), because for obvious reasons she can’t make it at home (her husband is more observant than she is, which is why she can both keep a kosher kitchen and eat a pork chop without suffering from a split personality).
Recipe previously given: Crunchy Baked Pork Chops
Recipe previously given: Scalloped Potatoes & Kitchen Toys
Why, you might ask, do I keep making broccoli if I dislike it so much? Well, (a) it’s always available, (b) it keeps well in the fridge, (c) it’s easy to make, and (d) everyone else likes it.
The unthinkable happened this week: I ran out of butter. This isn’t an event so rare that I started keeping an ear out for the Twilight Zone music, but it is a fairly rare occurrence and it was inconvenient. I could have gone out to the store for more butter, but I’d already changed into pajamas and had something baking in the oven and I didn’t really want to go out again. I had just enough butter to make the scalloped potatoes, but not enough to make Buttermilk Pie which is what I’d been planning on making for dessert. However, I had six egg yolks left over from the pork chops and I thought I’d make custard. This is where I made a fatal mistake – I decided to try a new recipe for a baked custard, rather than standing at the stove and stirring custard over a double boiler.
The custard never turned into custard. It turned, instead, into an indescribable and unappetizing slush of coffee, chocolate, milk and egg that in no way resembled custard. I’m not entirely sure what I did wrong, or whether the recipe was just flawed (although it came from the Joy of Cooking, so I’m inclined to think it was me and not the recipe). Either way, it was thrown away and all evidence of its existence was removed before anyone arrived for dinner on Wednesday.