Friday, February 29, 2008


Popovers have always been a bit of a tricky wicket for me. Sometimes they pop; sometimes they don't. Sometimes they stick to the pan so tenaciously that I'm tempted to take an axe to them. Occasionally, when I'm counting on them most, they're hard little rocks.

And sometimes, unexpectedly, they rise gloriously, and when they do, popovers are sublime.

How to achieve the perfect popover? I'm convinced it has more to do with gremlins than science. Although the concept is simple -- flour, eggs, milk, butter, and salt -- the execution has a lot of variables. Must the ingredients be at room temperature? Do you mix the batter vigorously, or treat it tenderly as if it were muffins or biscuits? Do you let the batter rest? Do you pre-heat the pan? Change the temperature mid-bake? And what sort of pan do you use: a deep popover pan, a regular muffin tin, or (as I used above) a tin sized for jumbo muffins?

Recently and with great reluctance I further increased the variables by revising the popover to conform to a low-cholesterol and low-saturated fat diet (the reasons for which are tragic but boring). So, no egg yolks and no butter. I feared total, dismal failure.

Check it out. They popped! And the taste and texture were great. Sure, they're a little less eggy, and someone with taste buds more perceptive than mine would call out the missing butter. But for me, they're divine.

Cross Your Fingers and Squint Popovers (to make them pop)

3 egg whites
1 1/4 cups half-percent milk
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I have not yet tried whole-wheat, but I will.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon zero-trans-fat butter substitute, melted (I used Smart Balance)

Whisk together the egg whites and milk. Stir in the flour and salt, then the melted non-butter. Let the bowl sit on top the stove while the oven pre-heats to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. (If your stove is like mine, it has a warm spot, good for bread dough and popover batter.) Pour batter into a greased 6-hole jumbo muffin tin and put in oven. Immediately reduce heat to 400 degrees. Bake 25 minutes or until they're browning and smell good. Remove from pan and eat immediately with maple syrup or jam, burning your fingers and mouth but enjoying every single bite.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mmm Mmm Good. Sort of.

After reading selections from Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma, a new fervor for mostly-vegetarian cooking has assailed me. Helped along by the surprise gift of How To Cook Everything Vegetarian from my mom (thanks, Mom!!) I've had lots of fun planning out menus and serving simple, fresh, and delicious meals.

Well, not always simple. Yesterday I made homemade tomato soup. It sounds easy, but let me tell you, any soup recipe that involves roasting and straining and food processing in addition to stove-top cooking is not a simple recipe to me. And the clean-up was daunting for a simple bowl of soup. (Note: I probably used more pans than called for because I'm a lousy cook.) 

The result? It was . . . okay. Kinda like straight tomato sauce.  (Additional note: I should probably not expect gourmet taste from store-brand ingredients.)

It was perfectly good soup. It tasted like tomatoes. And I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I prefer the taste of Campbell's. To be perfectly fair, I should make the recipe again, using high-quality ingredients. But I'm not going to, at least not right now. One can, one pot, and one bowl. That's awfully hard to argue with.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Poetry in Honor of St. Brigid

photo by phirleh on flickr, shared

There is a tradition among bloggers to post a poem in honor of St. Brigid each February 2. I love poetry, and often read it to my children. While my son groans, he has written a poem or two himself; and my daughter loves to write poetry.

Back in the day I took many poetry courses and even taught a few as a graduate student. And yet the wonderful thing about poetry is that I am no more an authority than any other person. While poetry is sometimes accused of being obscure or accessible to only a rarified few, I think it exists for everybody. It is ours, and we don't need anyone to tell us what it means. If anything defines poetry, I think it's that it speaks directly to the reader. (My old professors would probably faint.)

Being a nosy person, I had to look up St. Brigid. She was Irish, perhaps the daughter of a pagan chieftain and a Christian Pictish slave. (Accounts vary.) According to this article, "Brigid was given the same name as one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion which her father Dubhthach practised; Brigid was the goddess of fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge." Which is interesting, because before I looked up St. Brigid, I had chosen this poem by Anne Bradstreet.

Here followes some verses upon the burning of our house, July 10th, 1666. Copyed out of a loose paper.

In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow neer I did not look,
I waken'd was with thundring nois
And Piteous shreiks of dreadfull voice.
That fearfull sound of fire and fire,
Let no man know is my Desire.

I, starting up, the light did spye,
And to my God my heart did cry
To strengthen me in my Distresse
And not to leave me succourlesse.
Then coming out beheld a space,
The flame consume my dwelling place.

And, when I could no longer look,
I blest his Name that gave and took,
That layd my goods now in the dust:
Yea so it was, and so 'twas just.
It was his own: it was not mine;
ffar be it that I should repine.

He might of All justly bereft,
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the Ruines oft I past,
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast,
And here and there the places spye
Where oft I sate, and long did lye.

Here stood that Trunk, and there that chest;
There lay that store I counted best:
My pleasant things in ashes lye,
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sitt,
Nor at thy Table eat a bitt.

No pleasant tale shall 'ere be told,
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle 'ere shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom's voice ere heard shall bee.
In silence ever shalt thou lye;
Adeiu, Adeiu; All's vanity.

Then streight I gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the skye
That dunghill mists away may flie.

Thou hast an house on high erect
Fram'd by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent tho: this bee fled.
'Its purchased, and paid for too
By him who hath enough to doe.

A Prise so vast as is unknown,
Yet, by his Gift, is made thine own.
Ther's wealth enough, I need no more;
Farewell my Pelf, farewell my Store.
The world no longer let me Love,
My hope and Treasure lyes Above.

It isn't the Christian sentiment that I find most striking about this poem -- it's the plaintive tone, and the story it tells. What did she lose in that house fire? Did she have a library of precious books? Did she lose her own poetry? Perhaps they were her store, her pleasant things. Maybe it was some jewelry brought from England, or letters from people she loved but would never see again.

I read, some time ago, about a brave soul who gave away nearly everything she had, keeping only forty things. I wonder what forty things I would keep, and what Anne Bradstreet would have kept. I wonder how close our lists would be.