August 19, 2009

Vernon, Florida

I read the preprint of an article discussing the documentary Vernon, Florida. After reading that the town got the nickname "Nub City" because people in the town were lopping off their own limbs to collect insurance money, and that at one time more than fifty such cases were reported in a town of only 500 people, I knew the film would have some colorful characters.

So I invited Steve, my good docu-/mockumentary watching friend, over. And what menu goes with this film?, I asked myself. I could do turkey, because one of the main characters was a Zen Master of turkey hunting. Other possibilities? Ham perhaps? All my ideas seemed too conventional, and then it came to me.

Frog Legs

I had seen frog legs in the seafood case at the United Market Street stores. I had heard they tasted like chicken. If ever there was a perfect dish to accompany a film about "Nub City," surely frog legs was it. I went to Market Street on 98th & Quaker and searched without success for frog legs. I asked the girl behind the counter if they had any frog legs. With a half smirk, she said they were out, but I should try the other Market Street store, because "they sell weird stuff."

I went to the Market Street on 50th & Indiana and approached the seafood case. There were the frog legs at $5.99 a pound. I made eye contact with the woman behind the counter. "I would like one pound of frog legs, please." The face she made was classic. It was a perfect combination of surprise, horror, and disgust. "You don't get that request often?" I asked.

I bought my frog legs and went home. The meat was almost as inexpensive as chicken. I had a recipe ready, Sauteed Frog Legs with Tomato Garlic Butter. Unfortunately the recipe did not specify whether to sauté the meat bone-in or not, and since I had not cooked frog legs before, I wasn't sure what the norm was - if there is anything normal about eating frog legs.

Frog Legs

I set myself to the task of cutting the meat off the bones, and it took me awhile just to finish a pound of legs. It took me so long, in fact, that poor Steve had to go to work mashing potatoes. The meat cooked quickly. I added tomatoes, shallots, and substituted sherry for the white wine. I didn't measure it out, and I may have put too much in. Added a little chopped parsley and plated it up with mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. I tried the first bite. The frog meat was a little rubbery, springy, you might say, if you're into bad jokes. It had a slightly fishy flavor as well.

Frog Legs

Suffices to say I wasn't the biggest fan of frog legs. What was even worse was that I tossed the bones and scraps of frog meat into the trash, but I didn't take out the trash for a couple of days. By that time, the stench was quite lethal. Scott said it could be used in chemical warfare.

For dessert, I made a Buttermilk Chess Pie, which sounded good and Southern to finish off the meal. I tried a recipe from the Good Book. I guess I undercooked the pie, but it was still especially awful. Perhaps it was bad kitchen karma on account of what I did to the frogs.

Buttermilk Chess Pie

As for the film, it was interesting, though not quite the freak show I hoped for. I had to turn on the captions to understand the speakers due to their thick accents. The panhandle of Florida is a lot like the Panhandle of Texas. I could envision any one of those characters sitting at the local Dairy Queen telling the same wild tales.

August 12, 2009

Harold and Maude and Ginger Pie

Ginger PieI'm on a great streak of combining my food with movies, the latest pairing being Harold and Maude with Ginger Pie. Talk about a quirky little movie. I hadn't seen it in years; the thing I remembered most about it was that I liked the soundtrack provided by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens.

A few months ago Rob asked me if I could make ginger pie as in what Maude serves Harold in the movie. Humph, I've never had that or made it or heard of anyone else doing so either, I told him. I started searching for recipes online. There's nothing out there, I've looked, he said. There are only recipes for lemon ginger, pear ginger, ricotta ginger, but there's no ginger pie. He was right. I found Mile High Ginger Pie, but it still looked to be more instant vanilla pudding than ginger.

Rob arrived as I was finishing the pie filling. I had no idea how this pie-making project was going to turn out. We tried the filling before pouring it in the crust. Hey, that's not bad--actually it's good. Filling in the pie crust, pie in the oven, checked it at 30 minutes, decided to let it stay in a few more, then out of the oven to cool.

We started Harold and Maude, and at the part where Harold is over at Maude's and she offers him oat straw tea and ginger pie, we paused the movie to try a slice. We liked it a lot. It definitely had the dark, sweet ginger flavor of gingersnaps or gingerbread. Rob was especially excited to taste it, because apparently he'd wanted to try this pie since 1985 when he first saw the movie. So without further ado, I present a completely original Kimberly recipe, that is, best I can tell, unlike any others out there:

Ginger Pie

Ginger Pie
8 ounces crystallized ginger, chopped
1 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 egg
1 prebaked 9-inch pie shell
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Combine the crystallized ginger and water in a heavy saucepan. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until water is mostly evaporated and mixture is thickened and sticky, at least 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the heavy cream.

Mix the flour, brown sugar, honey, and egg together in a separate bowl. Then stir in the ginger mixture. Pour this mixture into the prepared crust. Thinly slice the butter and arrange the pieces over the top of the filling.

Place pie on the lower-middle rack of the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. Cool to room temperature before cutting.

One change I made from what I originally did was specifying that the ginger be chopped. Last night I used large pieces of crystallized ginger, instead of chopping them, and when I got a bite with a big piece of ginger, the flavor was a little too strong for me. Also, it was only after the pie was in the oven that I realized that I hadn't added salt or vanilla to the pie filling, which things I'm pretty sure every pie needs a little of, so I may make that change for future experiments. The only other problem I see is that the filling is a little shallow for a 9" pie. I would remedy that with a little more cream and sugar and an additional egg.

Between the Ginger Pie and Sunday's Summer Berry Pie, I'm on quite a pie kick. I would love to know how the recipe turns out for you.

You can do what you want.
The opportunity's on
And if you can find a new way
You can do it today.

August 10, 2009

Julie & Julia

Last fall, I read My Life in France and loved it. I was going through one of those ugly phases in life where you feel like all your circumstances are beyond your control, present life is unhappy, and there is no hope of respite in your murky future course. I had succumbed to melancholia and needed something cheery and inspiring. And it may be ridiculous to admit, but I did find the fluffy autobiography of Julia Child to be inspiring.

The joy and persistence with which Julia undertook everything - learning French, enrolling in the Cordon Bleu culinary school, practicing cooking techniques, creating recipes, traveling, doting on her husband, making new friends, writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking - certainly motivated me in the kitchen but in life as well.

I have been excited to see Julie & Julia since the online saturation of ad banners, trailers, critical reviews, and blog write-ups began. Perhaps you have not been so inundated, but foodie sites, blogs, and the New York Times can talk about nothing else:Saturday morning, I hosted a French breakfast before going to see the movie. We had pain perdu, omelettes, and white chocolate mousse with blackberries.

Pain Perdu White Chocolate Mousse

I enjoyed the movie. The Julie part of the movie was very reminiscent of You've Got Mail, complete with voiceovers, heavy old laptops, and New York scenery, so Nora Ephron definitely has her signature on this. The Julia part was better, with many hilarious scenes and a very sweet romance between Julia and husband Paul.

One of the pivotal points in the book and the movie is when Julia has her first meal in Paris, sole meuniere in a bubbling browned butter sauce. I tried to recreate the sensation for Sunday dinner at my house. I dredged orange roughy filets in flour and fried them in butter. Then I made a sauce by heating butter until it turned light brown and had a nutty fragrance, adding lemon juice and parsley, and spooning it over the fish.

Fish Meuniere

I served the fish with asparagus and croissants. French bread would have been better as croissants are already too buttery, but I had to make do with what I had on hand. For dessert, a Summer Berry Pie with blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. I don't know how French it is, but nonetheless, bon appétit!

Summer Berry Pie


The hobby about which I'm most passionate after cooking is classic movies, and I define classic as pre-1950. I love talking about classic movies and the actors who played in them. I've always been a fan. In junior high english class when we had to do book reports, I did mine on Cary Grant biographies. For my ninth birthday, I asked my mom to get me An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr on VHS. Some of the other titles I requested around that same age were Casablanca, Rebecca, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Roman Holiday. My other junior high obsession was The Beatles. I was as much a groupie as one could be in the 1990s, even waited in line at midnight at Best Buy for the Beatles Anthology albums. I had a watch that played "I Want to Hold Your Hand." This immersion in pop culture of previous decades had the effect of making me into a fuddy duddy at the age of puberty who went around saying, "The music and movies you young people favor today are rubbish."

Rob knows more about movies and pop culture than anyone else I know, so it's great to debate the merits of one film over another with him. He told me a few weeks ago that for his birthday party, he was going to show a movie at the Firehouse Theater in the Underwood Center, and so we hashed out some ideas for the film he should show.

Casablanca? No, too serious and would the audience tolerate a black and white film? Bringing up Baby? I said the dialogue was too fast; we need something more physically exciting. I suggested one of my favorite movies, Charade, and started naming its selling points. It stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. It's got comedy, suspense, romance, and mystery. It's set in Paris. Haute fashion from the 1960s. Score by Henry Mancini. I could go on. He agreed.

I made the party invitation, which I thought turned out well -

Rob's Birthday Party

Black Forest Browniesand offered to take a couple of treats. After Rob's input, I decided on Black Forest Brownies and White Chocolate Chip Blondies. The brownie recipe was a miss, but the blondies were alright. They're very sweet and akin to a White Chocolate Macadamia cookie. Rob also got popcorn and treats donated by Cinemark, quite a coup, since he does so much to promote film around here.

Rob's Birthday Party

It was one of the most fun parties I've been to. I started to feel completely selfish for recommending one of my favorite movies as the film we should watch. I hoped everyone else would enjoy it, too. I've seen that movie countless times since I was a child, but it was exhilarating to watch it in a theater. View the Charade trailer and stream the entire film online, because it's in the public domain.