Um, can someone tell me what the heck happened to August? Seriously. I don’t know how in the world it’s September. With the furry (and purry) addition to our household and my grad school classes starting up again after Labor Day, it looks like my summer is pretty much over with no more travels, which makes me… quietly agitated with wanderlust. Scrambling eggs with bits of sage-spiked cheddar cheese from Sugarbush Farm, the last remaining bounty from a Vermont trip earlier in the summer is my consolation. Sigh…
This is a story about heavy cream. It’s also about savory cheddar scones with black pepper. This paragraph is here just so the “SEO keyword” is in the first paragraph of the post. When I see qualitative/quantitative indicators about stuff I do–which I do in the right-hand column as I write this post, and it’s telling me that SEO for this post is now “good”–I tend to get obsessive.
With that out of the way: I don’t know why, but it seems as though all the organic dairy companies stopped selling the smaller, 8-oz-sized heavy cream and replaced them with pint-sized cartons. At least in my neighborhood, it’s rare to see those convenient little containers of heavy cream these days, which is annoying for a two-people household that usually doesn’t need a full pint of heavy cream. Which is to say that I have a barely used pint carton of heavy cream in my fridge that I need to use up. (I used the “barely used” part of the cream in a kick-ass Jamaican curry cream fettuccini the other day.)
Which is why I resorted to a trusty old friend for situations like this: Cream biscuits, or scones made with heavy cream, in lieu of butter. Cream biscuits are awesome: They are super-easy to make (you don’t even need to small-dice the butter, as you would in butter-based scones), bake pretty fast, and always turn out delicious. Because we were planning on a quick hike in Harriman State Park later in the day, I added some cheddar cheese cubes for additional protein boost, and a generous grinds of black pepper, for interest.
Savory Cheddar Scones with Black Pepper: Recipe (makes 4 scones)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 pinch salt (I use a Korean sea salt that’s similar to Kosher salt)
Lots of ground black pepper
Roughly 3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3-1/2 cup small-diced cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven at 400 degrees. You can use a toaster oven with no ill effect, as I do most of the time.
Line a baking sheet with aluminium foil.
Set a mesh colander over a large bowl. Run flour and baking powder through the colander into the bowl. You don’t have to do this, but it helps get rid of any lumps and uniformly mix the flour and BP.
Add the sugar, salt and black pepper to the dry ingredients.
Pour in 3/4 cup of heavy cream and cheddar cheese, and mix roughly.
If the dough is too dry–there shouldn’t be dry flour patches, but the dough shouldn’t be sticky, either–add some more heavy cream, one splash at a time, until you can easily pick up the dough and form it into a rough, bumpy ball. I usually use my hand for this step, as it’s far more difficult to get the dough together using a spatula (or worse, a whisk!), which means I’m likely to end up with a runnier dough.
Divide the dough into 4 equal-sized portions, and shape each one into… um, scones. Duh.
Place the scones on the baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes or so, or until golden.
I’d picked up a little bit of sour cherries from the Greenmarket at Union Square a while back, and made some sour cherry compote (just sour cherries and sugar cooked together on medium-low heat). The cherries didn’t look to be in great shape–a lot of them had iffy dark spots–but as a compote, they turned out all right. This morning I finally had the chance to eat the sour cherry compote over Greek yogurt. Such a refreshing treat for a summer breakfast.
My Romanian coworker once told me about a sour cherry soup that she used to make: A popular summer soup in the Hungarian area of Romania, made with sour cherries, sour cream, sugar and spices. She lamented that it’s so difficult to find sour cherries in the US, unless a neighbor or a friend shares the bounty from their own tree that she hardly ever makes the soup, but it’s stayed in my head ever since. I’m not sure if my brain can process something sweet, tangy and served chilled as a “soup,” but it sounds wonderful. One day, I’ll make it. One day…
We have a new distraction at home, a fuzzy, purry kind. We’ve had him–a sweet orange tabby kitten we found by a church in our neighborhood–for about two weeks, and it’s been a blast (especially at the crack of dawn, ugh). One of the unintended effects of this new addition to the family is the uptick in to-go meals, because we want to hang out with him at home than spend that time waiting for our food at a restaurant. Last night, we had a Mexican dinner in this manner, and the leftover made it into breakfast this morning: tomato chilaquiles.
Chilaquiles, as a breakfast dish, usually consists of deep-fried corn tortilla pieces cooked with scrambled eggs and topped with a salsa. I tend to add one or two vegetables to liven up the dish that can be a bit on the heavy side. Today, I used some chopped up Long Island tomato that added an intense, savory, summery flavor to the dish. Topped with some sort of mayo-based cilantro sauce (that came with the dinner), it was a satisfyingly junky start of the day!
Sautéed tomato sunny-side up and a croissant, using a weekend bounty from Long Island. I’m loving the bright red and yellow against the white plate.
Every time I bring home tomatoes from farmers markets, I’m blown away by how much more flavor they pack. The difference from a grocery store tomato is like day and night, heaven and hell, summer and winter, whatever. It’s hard to believe that they even belong to the same species!
As I indulge in the savory, green, intensely tomato-y juices, I’d resolve to only get fresh tomatoes from farmers markets, dangit, for as long as they are in season. Then I relapse and buy tomatoes from grocery stores out of sheer laziness and get used to their sad, watery blandness, vaguely dissatisfied. Then another farmers market beauty falls in my hands and reminds me of how amazingly wonderful a tomato can be, and I regret all my sins.
That’s the cycle I go through every summer. It’s stupid, but I’m obsessed with walking, and life happens. And that means sometimes farmers markets can’t.
Breakfast this morning:
Sautéed Long Island tomato sunny-side up with zippy Greek oregano
Cantaloupe & white peaches (also from Long Island)
Doesn’t look all that different from the spinach scrambled eggs a few days ago? Well, you’d be correct, except that this one contains a generous sprinkling of Greek oregano, which adds a wonderfully bright, lemony zing to the dish. I huff the little ziploc bag of the stuff like a drug addict every time I use this herb, I confess.
It would have been more Greek if the cheese was feta; I used a cave aged cheddar I had on hand, so the eggs are only “sort of” Greek. Crusty olive bread from Balthazar adds some more Greek touch (and the neighborhood in which this breakfast was eaten, I suppose), but where’s the yogurt?
I don’t know exactly what I was powering up for, considering that we spent the day driving on Long Island and lazying on the beach, but somehow what I had appeared to have all the elements of a power breakfast: Protein, spinach, peanut butter, milk. I was ready to take on the summer vibes, I guess.
While I love the beaches, the incredibly relaxing ocean air, fresh seafood, wineries, breweries and farmers markets that dot the major thoroughfares of the two forks, a Long Island jaunt is always just a little frustrating. The culprit is half Long Island, half me. Long Island trip always end up being heavy on driving, light on walking, which make me miss that feeling of pleasant exhaustion and a sense of accomplishment of a hike in the Hudson Valley or a long flaneur session in the city. Any exhaustion that I get from a Long Island trip is usually the mental exhaustion of driving on the Long Island Expressway.
The problem gets compounded because we eat and drink so well on Long Island. (Did I mention deliciousseafood? And beer?) All in all, a day on Long Island makes me feel like an engorged slug with a guilty conscience. I sometimes try to combat the feeling by visiting one of the many state parks, wildlife refuges and nature preserves, but while fun in their own ways, they are mostly on the small side, with limited walking/hiking opportunities. (What’s not limited is the ticks and chiggers. Shudder!)
This is not to say Long Island is all bad–the issue really is the mismatch between my restless, must-be-walking-all-the-time tendencies and Long Island’s sit-back-and-relax focus. I need to find a way to not be so obsessed with being active all the time, I guess…
Scrambled eggs with spinach and grated Parmesan cheese
I keep wondering what’s all about the Magnolia Bakery. Beyond the cute, farm girl, country-chic aesthetic that can be a refreshing change of pace from the usual New York City decor that leans sleek or industrial, I’m not really getting its popularity. I’ve tried their sheet cakes, cupcakes and now muffins, but none of them, while decent, don’t seem to grab me much. The Magnolia Bakery muffins this morning were dense, substantial and tasty in a homey way, but again, I probably won’t go out of my way to buy them again.
I’ve been derailed by end-of-semester projects, sinking ship at work and some schedule changes lately. Tomorrow, I’ll be done with summer semester, and I can breathe. For now, just another breakfast: Crunchy cheddar waffles with black pepper. The cheddar cheese chunks melted beautifully, and formed a crunchy crust here and there, while the abundant black pepper gave it a spicy kick, a nice contrast to the slightly sweet batter.
I usually reserve waffles, pancakes, French toasts and other involved goodies for weekend breakfasts, which is probably silly, because they don’t take that much more time to make, particularly the waffles, which don’t even need flipping. French toast requires a bit of pre-planning, which might be beyond my (very limited) plan-ahead abilities, but after making these crunchy, cheesy, spicy waffles this morning, I think waffles can–and should–be in my weekday breakfast rotation.
What removed the mostly psychological hurdle from weekday waffles was a bag of pancake mix from Japan. Each little bag contains just the right amount of flour, sugar, baking powder and other powdery things for pancakes (and waffles, apparently) for two. All you need to do is add an egg and some milk, mix in anything you want, and cook the batter. Pre-made mixes always feel stupid and wasteful to me (after all, they are charging SO much more for just a mixture of simple things that I already have in my cupboard), but having one on hand really makes it easy and spontaneous, psychologically, to make waffles or pancakes for weekday breakfast, as it eliminates the need to pull out bags and jars from different areas of the kitchen, measure things out, and put them all back in again.
The light bulb moment: Maybe I should try making my own pre-made mixes and store them in pre-portioned Ziploc bags. Then, all I need to do is exactly the same as if I was using a store-bought mix; pull out a bag, mix the content with eggs and milk, and cook the batter. All at a fraction of the cost of a store-bought mix. Hmm…
Breakfast this morning:
Crunchy cheddar waffles with black pepper (a lot of it!)
I was never a big user of microwave. The only reason I even had one in the kitchen was because Flaneur came with one, which he inherited from his mother. Even then, getting rid of the microwave still took some oomph.
I probably used our microwave a couple of times a month to thaw and reheat frozen rice. That was really the only use we had for the ugly space hog. We kept it around because we had no reason to get rid of it: There was space; it came in handy every once in a while; and it was already there.
All that changed when we moved to NYC and had to get rid of close to half of our belongings. The size of our apartment went from 1,400 sqft to about 600, of which at least 10% is the staircase. Our kitchen went from a stand-alone 120+ square footer to a 200 square-foot space that’s shared between the kitchen unit along one wall and the dining area.
That meant, among other things, that there was not enough counter space for the microwave, unless we wanted to a) put it in front of the only window in the room and b) stare at its glorious beauty all the time, because we’d be hanging out in that dining space on a regular basis. (I tend to hang out at the dining table rather than on the couch; I guess that’s how I grew up.) Something had to give, and it was the microwave.
Getting Rid of the Microwave: the Why(s)
The decision wasn’t a difficult one to make:
The microwave was ugly and big. Keeping it would have meant that it’d be looming in my sight all the time, which didn’t excite me.
I wasn’t using it much anyway. I did consider what inconvenience getting rid of the microwave would cause when reheating frozen rice. Not having a microwave meant that I’d have to boil some water, put on our bamboo steamer, line it with a piece of cloth and steam-thaw/heat the frozen rice that way. That gave me pause; it seemed like a lot more steps to go through than using the microwave, and a lot more instruments I’d have to wash afterward. But then I remembered that I never enjoyed removing the microwave-softened plastic wrap from the scalding hot rice. In the end, washing bamboo steamer seemed more palatable.
In general, I dislike unitaskers, and the microwave (at least for my life at the moment) was a unitasker–a giant, ugly one.
There was no place to put it. If we kept the microwave, something else had to go, and I couldn’t think of anything else from my kitchen to take its place in the trash.
And, I guess this played a factor, too: I didn’t pay for it.
So, out it went.
How I Got Rid of the Microwave
Did we actually put it out for trash? No. I technically still have it–it sits in the communal kitchen at my work, and gets used every day to reheat lunch and make hot water. I doubt that I’d bring it back home when I leave my current position, though. I haven’t used it at home for such a long time that I now know for sure that I can live without it unless my lifestyle goes through a big change, and that the lack of microwave isn’t that inconvenient, at least for the way I eat, cook and live. When I move on, the microwave will likely be my parting gift.
I think there are a few reasons I could get rid of the microwave, going beyond the few points above about it being ugly and not used all that often:
I didn’t have to feel guilty about discarding something that still works and has value, because the microwave only moved to my office (and it gets used more there than in my kitchen, come to think of it).
I didn’t fret about “getting rid of” the microwave, because if it turned out that I did miss having it around, I could always bring it back home (and figure out where the heck I’d put it–most likely in the bathtub!).
What does this mean? I think the lesson here is that trial separation might work for stuff that you want to get rid of but you can’t be 100% sure you’ll be happier without it. Obviously not everyone can dump their unwanted microwaves or other household appliances at work, but one can always stash something away in a box, in a corner of a closet or any other out-of-the-way places in the house to see how life goes on (or not) without ready access to that thing. If you realize that you do want to have it around, all you need to do is to dig it back out; if you don’t miss it at all, great, it can go to the thrift store.
Life without the Microwave
Uh… I don’t even think about microwaves. If I need to reheat leftovers, I reheat it in my beloved toaster oven. Put the leftover in a oven-proof container (quite often, just the tray that came with the oven, lined with a piece of aluminum foil), cover it loosely with aluminum foil, and use the oven’s “reheat” function, which seems to work really well, using gentler heat than bake or toast functions. For frozen rice, I just use the bamboo steamers.
For TV dinners and frozen lunches? I tried a TV dinner once, just to see what that’s like, and never touched them since. So, no need for a microwave there. (And I don’t have a hungry teenager who devours pizza pockets and other things that require a microwave. Yay?)