Eating on Election Day

This week’s recipe is forthcoming.

I have my students for an extra half-hour this week. With Tuesday’s election predicted to draw record numbers of voters, schools are modifying classes Nov. 4 to accommodate for the influx of people on school grounds.

I grumbled a bit that I hadn’t read any election stories taking this angle, but never fear, The New York Times has got it covered. There have been several discussions by papers large and small about the safety aspect of holding elections at a school with hundreds of wee ones, but I haven’t heard many discussions about the logistics. It could be a nightmare.

Our school gym serves as the cafeteria. With the gym shut down all day, all P.E. classes must meet outside in the rain. Additionally, to the horror of our union, students must eat lunch in the classroom, violating the duty-free lunch provision of our contracts. We have no idea how long the lines will be, or whether our parking lot will be able to accommodate the number of voters.

Please don’t get me wrong, it’s exciting that we need to grapple with these concerns, as they mean people are finally interested in fulfilling their civic obligations. I just find it interesting that the schools have to handle all the election modifications on their own.

Finally, of course we also cannot have any sort of material supporting one candidate or another, seeing as how we’re much much less than 300 feet away from a polling place.

I wanted to close with a picture of Allison Janney giving her speech at a Rock the Vote event in West Wing Season 4, but I couldn’t track one down. Can you?

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Busiest Post of the Year

I find it interesting that a large amount of traffic to this site is generated by people searching for the phrase “busiest bar night of the year.” If you Google that phrase, our very own Clipped and Diced comes out as the top link.

It’s surprising to me that more “real” articles haven’t been written on this, other that ones that mention the myth/commonly held notion in passing. When I went to my new favorite site, Google news archives, there wasn’t much available.

You would think the “busy bar night” story would be one of those recurring articles that are written every single year, although the information doesn’t change much. (Another interesting piece, uncovered in my search for cliched newspaper articles, can be found here)

Is it just too obvious to discuss?  If so, then why are so many people searching for it?

Back in 1960, the New York Times alleged that New Year’s Eve was the biggest bar night. Don’t you love that language — “the annual brouhaha associated with seeing in the New Year will be no more than a blurred memory in the convalescent reveler’s dulled brain.”

This 1996 article from the Hartford Courant seems to provide a more modern view. I also enjoyed this article, although I could only view a snippet of it without paying.

Finally, I appreciated Access Winnipeg’s May 2008 article claiming that Good Friday is the busiest bar night, “Good Friday being the only holiday that lands on a Friday every year.”

And there’s always good old Spartan Tailgate, keeping it real with the best bar night of the year for single guys.

What’s your experience as the busiest bar night of the year?

P.S. Speaking of bar nights, meet your fearless Clipped & Diced authors at The Elysian in Seattle’s Capitol Hill next Friday evening!

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Cooking for Two, the second time around

I was checking out Google’s new, expanded newspaper archives this weekend, because Toby’s been feeling under the weather and I’ve renewed my pledge to attempt to cook more. First of all, let me say that I’ve believed this site will revolutionize Clipped & Diced since the moment I heard about it on Lifehacker.

First of all, as a big visual person, I was floored to see the timeline breakdown of when articles were published. Here’s what I saw when I searched for recipes.

One of the first pieces I found was an LA Times article discussing the increase in recipes designed for two diners. Toby and I receive subscriptions to several magazines targeted for two-person households, and we have a few cookbooks along those same lines. The interesting part of the article to me was the fact that it was printed in 1986. It could have very well been written today.

Look at the increase in articles that match the term “Cooking for Two” over time.

Twenty years after the L.A. Times article was written, the Pillsbury Bake-Off caught onto the trend and added a Cooking for Two category, as I discovered from The (Doylestown, PA) Intelligencer. However, it appears as though by 2008, the category was eliminated. Never fear, I contacted the folks at Pillsbury as to the history of this category, and perhaps they will get back in touch with me.

I needed more facts and figures. So I went to the US Census Web site and trolled through a few reports.

The image is tiny (I took a screen capture from the PDF I opened at school), but you can see two-person households increased from 25.2 million in 1980 to 34.4 million in 2000. That’s a lot more potential subscribers to Cooking for 2 magazine.

The previous image may have seemed dramatic, but this graph indicates that the average household size actually only decreased from 2.75 people to 2.59 people between 1980 and 2000. According to the Cansus Bureau, “The steepest decline in average household size occurred in the 1970s, a period coinciding with the baby-bust period, relatively low levels of immigration, and increasing proportions of people living alone.” Additionally, the relatively small chance between 1990 and 2000 may be because of “higher immigration levels and the tendency for immigrants to live in larger households.”

Have I mentioned the Census Bureau is a delightful source of random interesting information?

For our attempt at a two-person meal, Toby and I settled on a 2004 recipe from our very own Seattle Times.

Red Curry Chicken Saute with Coconut and Lime

– 1 baby bok choy
– 2 green onions
– ¾ teaspoon cornstarch
– ½ cup light coconut milk
– 1/3 cup reduced-sodium and fat chicken broth
– 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
– 2 boneless and skinless chicken breast halves
– 3 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided
– ½ to ¾ teaspoon red curry paste
– 1 tablespoon lime juice
– Hot, cooked rice

1. Separate the bok choy leaves, then cut both stems and leaves on the diagonal into ¼-inch-thick slices. Discard all but 2 inches of the onion greens. Slice thinly on the diagonal and set aside.

2. Put the cornstarch into a measuring cup and whisk in a couple tablespoons of coconut milk. When smooth, whisk in the remaining milk. Combine broth and fish sauce. Slice each chicken breast in half crosswise, then lengthwise into thin strips.

3. In a heavy skillet, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium heat. When hot, put the bok choy stems into the pan and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add the leaves and cook another minute. Remove from the pan.

4. Pour the remaining 2 teaspoons oil into the pan. When hot, add chicken and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes, or until just cooked through. Remove from pan. Put the curry paste into the pan, mashing briefly with the back of a spoon. Add green onions, saving a few for garnish, and stir briefly. Remove pan from heat and slowly add coconut milk, stirring until well-blended with the curry. Put back on heat and stir in broth. Simmer a couple minutes, until thickened. Pour juices that have accumulated around chicken into the pan and simmer 30 seconds. Stir in lime juice, chicken and bok choy. Simmer a few minutes to blend, then spoon over rice. Sprinkle reserved green onions on top.

Notes

  • I was able to do this! Me! So it’s really not that difficult.
  • Toby thinks you should add more curry if you attempt this. Not a lot, but some.

The funny part about this was that we actually had a hard time finding just two chicken breasts, so we increased the recipe by half to add another breast in. Cooking for two fans claim that too many leftovers just won’t do, but I’m floored by the fact that both Toby and I will have lunch ready to go tomorrow!

This begs the question, if you live in a one- or two- person household, do you cook for two? Or do you reap the benefits of leftovers? And how much is too much when it comes to leftovers?

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Published in: on October 26, 2008 at 7:22 pm  Comments (3)  
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Food Reporting at its Finest

I am fascinated by the work of Michael Pollen, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. Listen to his great interview with Terry Gross of Fresh Air, which aired tonight.

(Note: Look at the above link I sent you to for The Omnivore’s Dilemma — they came out with a mass market edition of the book! They never come out with mass market editions of nonfiction books, other than like, Silent Spring!)

Among all the interesting tidbits I learned, I was particularly excited about Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden. I longed to find a picture of her down in the dirt of her garden, but the Library of Congress archives failed to turn up any gems.

I regret that Toby and I have neglected this blog, which still takes up a significant portion of my creative brain space. Alas, I am teaching an after-school program, coaching track, co-chairing the Math Team, did I mention our classroom library is up to 1,304 books, and I’m working at Display and Costume until Halloween, so perhaps after that I will be cooking more frequently…

Getting Braver

I’ve been getting more daring in my cooking attempts. While visiting friends in Boulder, Colo. (food pictures and stories forthcoming), I made guacamole and even helped prepare a slow cooker chili recipe. They sound simple enough, but they were a real stretch for me.

Now that I’m home, I’m attempting to get back on the healthy, home-cooked band wagon. This morning I decided I wanted hard-boiled eggs, yet… I had no clue how to make them.

Searching recent newspaper articles, prompted by the recent Easter holiday, I’m sure, I discovered there are a lot of people who stress out about eggs.

Luckily, Moyra Fraser answered my call. This Telegraph reporter explained how to create hard-boiled eggs that will offer sunny yellow centres. I’ll post later with my results.

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Published in: on April 2, 2008 at 9:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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YWCA Cookies

Watch your backs, Girl Scouts. This was way ahead of your time, Mrs. Fields.

Apparently, the YWCA ladies can bake a pretty mean cookie.

1919 YWCA Poster

It all started when I had a hankering for some chocolate chip cookies. I found a 1977 article buried in the back of the Washington Post that began thus:

It is highly unlikely that the Downtown YWCA’s recipe for chocolate-chip cookies will ever be revealed. But that doesn’t stop people from asking. Or from trying to reproduce it.

The popularity of the cookies has fended off competition from Famous Amos and the Famous Amos knock-off called The Famous.

But a cooking teacher in Arlington took up the chocolate-chip cookie challenge two years ago when the Y re-buffed her request for the recipe.

This teacher, a Mrs. Carol Finkelstein, spent two years trying to recreate this famous recipe — at one point, the article says, she even considered taking the YWCA cookie to be analyzed by a lab.

But if this cookie is so legendary, why haven’t I heard of it? Famous Amos, sure. Toll House, of course. The Neiman Marcus urban legend, yes. But I’ve certainly never been to a YWCA or a YMCA and discovered cookies so good they prompted a two-year quest for the recipe.

I was so perplexed I e-mailed the PR coordinator for the YWCA in Washington, D.C. Apparently, my ignorance was so profoundly idiotic that it didn’t warrant a response. So I stepped up my online investigation.

The National Capital Area YWCA recently held a YWCA cookie bake-off, in the spirit of those great original cookies. Again, though, this article assumes I already know the wonder of the cookies! The article goes on to explain that thousands of these cookies were sold from one YWCA in ONE DAY. Barbara Bush and Sandra Day O’Connor are apparently big fans.

But this is the only non-newspaper place where I can find mention of the “famous” treat. Frankly, the Post and the New York Times seem borderline obsessed with them. This Post article provides a pretty good history of the cookie, which was baked by the same four women from 1951 to 1981.

I think a large part of my intense curiosity surrounding these cookies is the fact that I am so perplexed that something treated as common knowledge in several articles was so totally foreign to me. Reporters constantly struggle to walk the line between making sure their readers have all the background information they need without making the article sound like they’re talking down to readers.

For example, I feel as though people in my generation chuckle a bit when local news stations do specials on Internet predators or the newest, hip thing for kids. I wonder if my great-aunt would be laughing similarly at me and my twitterpations over a freaking famous cookie. (P.S. My spellcheck recognized “twitterpations, but not twitterpate)

And what will happen in the future, when people forget that “tots” is a reference from Napoleon Dynamite and Brittany and Paris are no longer household names? When I first thought about this, I figured it wouldn’t be a problem people could go to Wikipedia or the Urban Dictionary to track down dated references. But if the YWCA cookie is so completely erased from most circles of pop culture, isn’t it inevitable that this will happen to some degree even in our time?

And as for the recipe? I spent too much time researching this weekend and not enough time baking. Check back in a day or so!

AJC for Jamie G.

I have a new food reporting obsession. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s recipe finder.

On many sites, I’ve had a difficult time searching through recipe archives. My queries for “chicken” wind up netting either zero hits or 23946732875. Even ProQuest fails me at times.

So it was a welcome change to discover the AJC’s food page. I admit, I was skeptical of the newspaper’s site at first — the home page was so crammed with advertisements that I thought I hit one of those error pages, where you misspell a word in the URL, so scam artists design a site that looks similar but is just all links and ads.

The food site itself is divided into several categories that seemed pretty intuitive to me:
• What are you bringing? (recipes suitable to bring to a potluck or work function, they seem to serve more people than an average recipe without being restaurant-sized batches)
• Sunday Dinner (more involved meals designed “for when you have more time”
• Fit to Eat (healthy, obviously)
• 5:30 Dinner Challenge (30-minute meals)

Bottom line: AJC: UR DOIN IT RIGHT.

The Journal-Constitution is also doing it right because they’ve hired the talented Jamie Gumbrecht from the Lexington Herald-Leader, where she worked as a pop culture reporter. And although it’s silly that she’s moving away from Seattle instead of closer, I can’t help but be happy for her.
Jamie and Shannon
Jamie and me in 2003.

Just for Jamie, I stepped out of my comfort zone again this week with another cooking-but-it’s-sort-of-baking recipe. I attempted broccoli corn bread, and then in a flash of inspiration (and because the site was so freaking easy to navigate), I also tried the peanut butter and jelly cupcakes.

A note to food page designers: I loved being able to rate the recipes, as well as see how many people rated them. Toby was highly skeptical of the corn bread, but I pointed out that 16 people gave it 4 stars.

However, it would have been helpful to know when the recipe was posted and how long the recipes stay posted on the site. I assumed that because 16 people had a chance to try the corn bread, it wasn’t just posted super-recently, but as our Detroit News adventure taught me, I don’t expect it to stay online terribly long.

This meal was served with my mom’s fantastic chili recipe, which is not from a newspaper, but is delicious nonetheless. And I should mention that *I* made this entire meal, so you know it’s simple.

Broccoli Corn Bread

2 (8 1/2-ounce) boxes Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup finely chopped onion (1 medium)
1 (10-ounce) box frozen chopped broccoli, thawed, excess water squeezed out

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine corn muffin mix, butter, eggs, cottage cheese, onion and broccoli.

3. Spread in baking pan and bake until cake tester comes out clean and edges are lightly browned, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Chili and Corn Bread

Notes and Modifications
• Don’t be afraid to overcook this one a bit. It’s extremely moist, so it’s nice to have a crunchier crust.
• Toby’s cousin Alex joined us for dinner. Alex likes corn bread!!

And for dessert, Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 cups warm milk (or water)
1 box yellow cake mix
3 eggs
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup strawberry jam

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.

2. In a large bowl, combine the peanut butter and warm milk or water with an electric mixer until well-blended. Add the cake mix, eggs and vegetable oil. Beat 2 minutes, until smooth.

3. Spoon the batter into the lined cups. Drop a teaspoon of jam on top and in the middle of the batter in each cup. Press down on the jam slightly with the back of the teaspoon.

4. Bake 20-25 minutes, until the centers are firm. (Do not underbake.) Cool in pan for at least 5 minutes before removing

Nutrition information per cupcake: 199 calories (percent of calories from fat, 44), 5 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 10 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 25 milligrams cholesterol, 209 milligrams sodium.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

Notes and modifications
• Let’s be frank. (And slightly not safe for work.) If you put too much batter in the cupcake cup, the batter doesn’t completely surround the jelly and you wind up with cupcakes that look a bit like this. I mention this on a practical note, in case you don’t want lady-bits cupcakes at your next office party. If, on the other hand, that suits your purposes, I highly recommend them.
• The recipe insists you need paper muffin tin liners, but you don’t. I thought the jelly might seep through the bottom if you didn’t use them, but that wasn’t a problem.
• We used Pillsbury yellow cake mix because it was on sale, and it worked just fine.

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Is there interest?

When Toby and I began this project, I wondered if there would be any interest whatsoever in the history of food reporting. I mean, I knew there are a lot of random, niche research topics out there, but I didn’t know what to expect. (That shoutout’s for you, Franny. Sorry I couldn’t find a better comics link.)

With that, I’d like to thank the person yesterday who ran the term “the history of sesame steak” through their search engine and stumbled upon our site. I don’t know if they found what they were looking for, but at least they were interested.

Sesame steak. We didn't cook this.
Sesame steak. We didn’t cook this.

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Published in: on February 26, 2008 at 8:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Chicken Sunday

My mom and dad always joke about the years when my dad would visit Grammy’s house on Sunday afternoons and join the Beltowski family for a chicken dinner.

Mom and Dad, 1972
Mom and Dad, 1972

The chicken got a bit tiresome. And so Chicken Sundays became a bit of a joke in our family.

This year, I belatedly discovered the amazing children’s author/illustrator Patricia Polacco (a fellow Michigander). Her version of Chicken Sunday is quite a bit more touching (and tasty) than ours.

Both these anecdotes are relevant because Toby and I have recently been having Chicken Sundays of our own. Our most recent version of this featured a recipe that ran in the Washington Post in 1999. It’s from an article with the headline, “First you take a chicken breast; one way to saute and 13 ways to sauce a weekday dinner favorite.”

Reporter Pam Anderson supports a pared-down approach in the art of saute:

“There’s no need to pinch, prod, poke or push around the chicken. If the oil temperature and pan size are right, the breasts should be done with one turn in about six minutes.”

She gets straight to the good stuff (at least for me, because I need such basic instruction):

Over time, I’ve learned that to saute chicken breasts properly, you must start by heating the pan before you ever touch the chicken. Since neither oil nor butter is ideal, use a combination of the two. Butter for flavor; oil to increase the smoking point. As soon as you turn on the burner to low, add the butter and oil. Slow, steady heat keeps it from wildly sizzling, spitting, smoking and burning.

This was a pretty basic recipe, from what Toby tells me.

Toby makes the meal
The cook at work.

Without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Sauteed Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

(4 servings)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, trimmed of fat
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour measured into a pie plate or other shallow pan
Lemon wedges or pan sauce (see following recipes)

1. Pull the tenderloin–the flap of meat attached to a boneless, skinless chicken breast–from each breast half and saute them separately. Some brands of chicken breasts come with their tenderloins already removed.

2. Place the breasts between 2 sheets of wax paper and pound or roll until even in thickness.

3. In a 11- or 12-inch skillet over medium heat, melt the butter in the oil.

4. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken breasts and tenderloins with salt and pepper to taste. Dredge the chicken in the flour. Set aside.

5. A couple of minutes before sauteing, increase the heat to medium- high. When the butter stops foaming, turns brown and starts to smell nutty, transfer the chicken breasts and the tenderloins to the skillet. Cook, turning only once, until the chicken breasts are golden brown, about 3 minutes per side (tenderloins will be done a little sooner). Remove the chicken from the skillet.

Orange-Dijon Pan Sauce With Rosemary

(4 servings)

1/2 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon butter

1. To the drippings in the skillet, add the orange juice, mustard and rosemary and boil over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup.

2. Carefully tilt the skillet so the liquid collects at 1 side of the pan.

3. Whisk in the butter until the sauce is smooth and glossy.

4. Spoon a little sauce over each sauteed breast and serve immediately.

The meal.
This week’s meal.

Notes and Modifications
• Per serving: 43 calories, trace protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 8 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
• Toby said, “I just followed the recipe to a tee.” So apparently that’s all you need to do.
• Recipe taken from: First, You Take a Chicken Breast; One Way to Saute and 13 Ways to Sauce a Weekday Dinner Favorite. Pam Anderson. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.:Sep 22, 1999. p. F01

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Published in: on February 24, 2008 at 6:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Related to kitsch, newspapers and food, but not recipes

The Taj Mahal of Ballard has been saved, local news agencies reported yesterday.

City Council voted 6-3 to declare the 1964 “Googie” style building (you’re reading correctly, it’s not Google, Seattle’s other business juggernaut) a landmark.

We used to eat here after pulling costume shifts until 2 a.m. at Display and Costume during the Halloween season. People are making fun of the fact that such a ridiculous building is being saved, but as a recent transplant, I agree with those who are saying it’s one of the most defining features of Ballard (at least when you approach it from 15th and Market St.).

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Published in: on February 21, 2008 at 7:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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