Sunday, September 23, 2012

Autumnal Equinox

This week, I could definitely feel the seasons turn.  It seems like overnight, my tomato plants started to look past their prime, and there was a cold snap in the air that came upon us on Friday evening and hasn't yet left us.  We closed the windows and pondered putting on the furnace, but I hate to give the summer up yet.    The average fall frost date for my area is October 2, which means I should have a couple weeks left.    Sure, we are guaranteed a spell of Indian summer - I can remember kayaking in 80 degree heat last year in late October, but for now, it feels like fall for sure. 
According to Greek mythology/Druid/Pagan/Wiccan culture, on the autumnal equinox is a time of celebration.  I'm no expert in paganism, but the festival is called Mabon, and it is a time to recognize balance, since the earth is equally in darkness and in light on the equinox. 
Being a Catholic, I have always appreciated how the early church borrowed from the pagan calendar for it's feast days.   Thus, the feast of St. Michael (Michaelmas) became associated with the autumnal equinox.   According to the Feast Day Cookbook by Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger, Michaelmas is to be celebrated with eating a roast goose - in fact, it is said that Queen Elizabeth had learned of the defeat of the Spanish Armada while she was eating her Michaelmas goose.   In Scotland, the custom was to eat St. Michael's bannock, a buttermilk cake that looks interesting. I'll have to try making it some day. 
For me, I am celebrating the equinox by making curried cauliflower soup. I love making this soup this time of year - it's a beautiful chartreuse color and it has a spicy kick that lends well to the chill in the air.   Plus there's a ton of cauliflower at the farmer's market this time of year.   Enjoy! 

Curried Cauliflower Soup

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1 head cauliflower cut into florets
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
3 onions, sliced 1 inch thick
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
4 cups water
2 cups reduced-sodium canned chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat oven to 450°. On a baking sheet, toss cauliflower with vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Spread out, and roast until the florets turn brown, about 25 minutes.

2. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onions, and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in curry powder, cauliflower, water, and broth; cover, and bring to a boil. Uncover, lower heat, and simmer 5 minutes.

3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer 3 cups cauliflower to a bowl, and set aside. Put remaining florets into a blender or food processor, add 1 teaspoon salt, and process until smooth. Stir purée into broth in pan, and reheat if necessary. Ladle soup into bowls, and top with reserved florets and parsley.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Eat Your Books

 My problem is that I have a wee bit of a cookbook addiction....

This is only one small part of my vast collection....even though it looks a little unkempt....I guess it's more than a little unkempt...there is sort of a method to my madness.  They are filed by subject.  The top shelf is canning and food preserving, the middle shelf is crockpot cookbooks, a stack of vintage scouting books, and camp cookery.  The bottom shelf is part of my self published/fundraiser cookbooks.  I have 6 other similar bookcases filled with cookbooks, so trying to find a recipe can sometimes be a challenge.   You'd think someone with my book fanaticism would find a better way. 

It all started back in the 5th grade, I was a library aide at Rinke Elementary School in Warren, MI.   The future nerdly engineer in me loved the Dewey decimal system and shelving books.  There was a place for everything, and every bit of information had a spot.  There was the smell of the card catalog - in the days before the internet, we got to page through thousands of cards describing every book in the library.   I knew I could wander down the row where the 900s were shelved and find a book on whatever subject I was currently obsessed with...I can distinctly remember finding a book about meteorology and exactly where it was shelved in that library.  Even back in 1975, I was obsessed with the weather.  I can't remember our librarian's name, but I can remember the spot where that book was located still to this day.  I also remember where all the LHOTP books were kept (LHOTP my shorthand lingo for "Little House on the Prairie") and the Beverly Cleary books, and the series of books we called "The Betsy Books" (written by Carolyn Haywood) and the Encyclopedia Brown books.  

I wanted to spend my whole life there, but there was class to attend, so I volunteered at my church's religious education library on Wednesday afternoons.  The library was much smaller than Rinke's library, and they didn't have all the subjects we had at Rinke, but they did have a vast collection of books about the mysterious sightings of the Virgin Mary, who I also was very devoted to at that age.   There were less books to shelve there, so I got bored pretty quick with that library.   Later on, when I went away to college and the Dewey Decimal System was no longer used to index the library, I was heartbroken.    I never spent that much time at Michigan Tech's Library, because their non engineering holdings were limited, but I loved to spend time at the Houghton Library to get my fix of whatever my latest obsession was.  I can distinctly remember the painting of Douglass Houghton that hung over the fireplace in that tiny library, and also checking out all the Dorothy Parker books I could get my hands on via interlibrary loan. 

So, for a cookbook junkie like me, I had the opportunity to try out a wonderful website called Eat Your Books, which is a cookbook indexing tool. At first, I wasn't sure why I would need something like this, but I quickly became hooked.   How it works is that you search for all the book titles in your collection, and put them on your electronic bookshelf.  Then, if you want to look for a specific recipe, you can type in the ingredient and it will find them all in your holdings.   For example, I currently have an overabundance of basil in my garden that I want to use in a dinner recipe for tonight. I am weary of eating pesto at this point.   I could start paging through all the indexes of all my books, but I'd be here all afternoon,   Instead, all I have to do  is search for "basil" in the "main dish" category, and it will pull all of the potential recipe ideas from my collection.  I could make Ina Garten's Provencal Potato Salad, or Pasta Alla Checca from Lucinda Scala Quinn.    A click on the title shows the recipe's ingredients.   A user still has to locate the cookbook in her collection to get to the actual recipe, so I guess this means I need to invent some kind of Dewey Decimal System for my cookbooks.  Got any ideas?

The good people at Eat Your Books have generously offered a reader of my blog a complimentary lifetime membership (normally $25/year).   My first ever contest!  I will choose a winner at random from those that comment below about their favorite cookbook, and also you must "like" the Eat Your Books facebook page.  The membership is non transferable.  The contest closes midnight Sept. 15.   I look forward to reading your comments. 

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Essence of Ann Arbor

For a while now, I've been wanting to write a post about Ann Arbor, but I struggled with what image to associate with the city.  I suppose, for many people, the words "Ann Arbor" bring to mind the U of M football stadium, a.k.a "The Big House" ...

...but for me, it doesn't mean anything.  First of all, even though I went to U of M for a while, I don't consider it my alma mater in any shape or form.  I don't wear the maize and blue, deep down I'm a Michigan Tech Husky at heart - I wear the black and gold.  When I was an MBA student at the U of M in the early 90s, I used to buy season tickets to the football games for others with my student discount, and I even attended one (actually a half) of a game, and decided I wouldn't need to go back any time soon.  Your "seat" is actually only a marked 18 inches of allowable butt width on a bench, and evidently a lot of U of M fans are super fat, at least they were in my row.   So I never got to sit down, and it was blisteringly hot and very, very crowded.  So, unless I get invited to one of the new sky boxes, I think I'd just rather watch the football game at home on TV.    But I think it would be fun to go to the tailgate parties instead of the actual game, maybe I'll try that this year.  The funny thing about U of M football fans is that they are usually people that would never, ever be accepted into the'd think that for that reason alone, they'd root for Michigan State.  But no, it seems that the Wolverines attract a certain segment of the population that has been dubbed the "Walmart Wolverines" in this spoof of the Pure Michigan ads.  

So, what image best conjures up Ann Arbor?   Maybe it's John Sinclair....

 I guess these days most people wouldn't know who John Sinclair is, and I can remember trying to explain who he was and what he did to my niece when she was considering attending U of M, but it's hard to explain why so many people cared that a guy got thrown in jail for smoking pot in the early 1970s to a teenager in this generation.   Besides, Ann Arbor is no where near as funky and earthy as it was back then.   As I am fond of saying "Ypsi is the new Ann Arbor" these days.   Ypsilanti, the town due east of Ann Arbor, is where all the hippies live now.    Speaking of Ypsi, at least they have a landmark that everyone recognizes as true Ypsi....

There are places I am very fond of visiting in Ann Arbor, such as the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market... 

...but I can't say that it brings the city of Ann Arbor to my mind right away.   For many people, especially the tourists, I guess Ann Arbor means Zingerman's....

...and while I like Zingerman's, should a city's iconic image be a business?  I don't think so.   Maybe the Ann Arbor Art Fair?'s another tourist destination avoided by most locals and, like Ann Arbor's hippie counter culture, is a shadow of it's former self.  

I guess the bottom line is that the essence of Ann Arbor really can't be captured in an image, because it is so many things to me.  I'll try to use words to describe it instead:

  • Smart people - sometimes too smart for their own good.  In Ann Arbor, you can always find someone that knows (or thinks they know) more than you do about something.  This can be helpful sometimes and irritating a lot of the time.  
  • Multicultural - In Ann Arbor, it truly is a melting pot of people from all over the place.  For that reason, if you are looking for an obscure ingredient to make an ethnic dish you once read about in Saveur, you can find it somewhere in this town.
  • Open minded - say you want to do something a little out of the mainstream, like have a blessing ceremony for your same sex union on the vernal equinox presided over by a warlock, you can do it in Ann Arbor.  It would be easy to pull together in a few hours.   You want to walk down the street wearing a bishop's mitre and a racoon skin coat and orange corduroys?  Go right ahead - no one will bat an eye.  I've seen it done - in fact I used to play guitar with a guy that this was his regular "about town" outfit. 
  • Temporary - Ann Arbor is a town that many people spend some time in, but few people spend their life here.   People are always moving from and to Ann Arbor, as a result, I find I know people all over the world now that I met here first.   I'm one of the minority that has hung around - it will be 20 years this fall. 
So, what's Ann Arbor mean to you?  Do tell...