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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Some things never change

We spent a spontaneous spring weekend in Hood River, not so different from a spontaneous spring weekend four years ago. Back then, we were just finishing college. We saw "Star Wars," drove up to Panorama Point, ate remarkable quantities of Katie's mom's eclairs, and, even with a stop at the outlet mall, made it back to Eugene in time for a Sunday-night barbecue. (Even then, our lives revolved around food.)

I stood at Panorama Point four years later and thought about how everything had changed. I thought about the girls of four years ago, how they had no idea of the places they'd go and the things they'd do. Nothing so special or unusual, really. People go to graduate school. They find their first grownup jobs, and then they find their second grownup jobs. They live by themselves and learn to cook and make new friends and lose old friends and pay off their cars and become indispensable at work and acquire their very own dogs. Hearts stop and start and stop and start again. All of these things happen to everyone in the world every day. And yet somehow, while we weren't looking, these very ordinary experiences had turned us into grownups.

But there we were, back in the Hood River Valley, as if a good fairy had given us the opportunity to revisit our former selves. And then I started thinking about how nothing had changed. We ate spaghetti and chatted with the parents. We spent hours sprawled on Katie's bed talking about boys and books and current events (even though the conversation was peppered with name suggestions for Leslie's next baby and discussions of what we would be wearing to various upcoming weddings). The songs were new, but we still rolled down the windows and sang along to the radio. We helped make the eclairs this time, but we still ate more than I would have thought possible.

Everything was different, and nothing had changed.

Maybe in four more years, we'll be planning our own weddings or picking out names for our own kids. Maybe, as we drive down Highway 35 or sit in the garden or race against the camera's timer to pose against that rock wall at Panorama Point, we'll think back to that spring weekend in 2006 and laugh about how young and silly we were. "Remember?" we'll ask each other. "We thought we were so grown-up."

But the important thing is, we'll be there. And some things, thankfully, never change.

Here's one:

Katie's Mom's Eclairs

For the eclairs:
2 packages (3 oz each) banana instant pudding (the original recipe calls for vanilla pudding with banana liqueur)
1 cup chilled whipping cream
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup all purpose flour
4 eggs
For the frosting:
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp light corn syrup
1/2 vanilla (Katie's mom uses rum and orange flavoring; she also doubles the frosting recipe but often uses less powdered sugar. "None of this has to be exact," she says.)

Prepare pudding, using three cups of milk; beat in whipping cream. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat water and butter in a three-quart pan to boiling. Reduce heat. Stir in flour. Stir vigorously over heat UNTIL MIXTURE LEAVES SIDES OF PAN AND FORMS A BALL. Remove from heat. Beat in eggs all at once, beating until smooth.

Shape dough by scant three tablespoonfuls (you can make them any size you want), three inches apart on an ungreased (Katie's mom uses a very light spray of Pam) baking sheet in fingerlike shapes 3/4" long and 1 1/2" wide. Bake 30-40 minutes in preheated oven (bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes and 375 degrees for 25 minutes). Cool away from draft. (The eclairs should be slightly browned. If you are unsure, remove one and cut it to make sure it is not too soft.)

Once eclairs are cool, slice off the top of each one and fill it with as much of the banana pudding mixture as you want. We used a lot.

Heat chocolate pieces and evaporated milk over low heat until chocolate is melted. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar, corn syrup and vanilla (or rum) until smooth. Katie's mom uses an electric mixer to avoid lumps of powdered sugar. Frost eclairs and cover. Refrigerate no longer than 2 hours. They are okay the next day, but will be softer. You should probably just eat them all right away.

posted by shan at 12:57 AM; 0 comments

Saturday, April 22, 2006

How to die fat, happy and sugar-high
Today while reading Dooce, I spotted a dessert smorgasbord, a real-life equivalent to those five-foot-tall cartoon sandwiches made with a bit of everything in the fridge. I won't divulge the ingredients, because for maximum enjoyment you should really read the step-by-step process through which this work of art came to be. I'm pretty sure it would send me directly into insulin shock after about three bites, but at least I would die happy.

Read on: How to Medicate with Legal Substances

posted by Katie at 10:16 AM; 0 comments

Monday, April 10, 2006

Spring has sprung!

A few weeks ago, the rhododendrons started blooming. This is my own personal notification of spring's arrival (kind of like I know it's summer when I have to start keeping my toenails painted so that I can change into flip-flops at a moment's notice). I shamelessly plucked a flower from a rhododendron bush owned by the State of Washington, stuck it behind my ear, and went along my merry way, with just the slightest of springs in my step.

Spring is rhododendrons blooming all over campus, but it's also opening your bedroom window for the first time in six months. It's walking in the rain with your mom and sister when they come up for a surprise visit. It's Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek" played on repeat, as loud as you can stand it. It's sitting in the Quad on a cloudy day, trying to read Leaves of Grass and giving up, because you're in the middle of a poem already.

This spring, I am also very interested in fruits and veggies. Orangette's chickpea-carrot salad is a new favorite. Arugula is popping up in every other meal. Last week we ate a plate of strawberries surrounded by Stilton with lemon zest. And then there's my new food du jour, Aunt Meg's lentil-couscous salad, which I've made three times in as many weeks.

There are many advantages to this salad. It's versatile, travels well, and if you manage your time well, you can throw it together in little more than half an hour. You can adjust the ingredients to suit your taste. Don't care for arugula? Erin, take note: spinach or basil would work just as well. Not an olive girl? Leave them out (I do). You could probably even substitute chickpeas for the lentils.

I suggest making this on a full stomach, which might dissuade you from eating half of the salad as soon as it's done. Then again, it might not.

Aunt Meg's Lentil-Couscous Salad
adapted from Aunt Meg

For the salad:
1 cup lentils
1 cup couscous
3 or 4 handfuls cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
1 small or medium cucumber
1 large handful arugula, torn
Feta cheese, crumbled (I use about half a 6-oz tub, but feel free to use more)
Kalamata olives, chopped

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
As much freshly ground black pepper as you want

Rinse and pick rocks out of lentils; cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until done (I can never get this just right, but about 20-25 minutes seems to do it). Bring one cup water and two tablespoons butter to a boil; stir in couscous, remove from heat, and cover.

While the lentils are cooking, make the vinaigrette. Whisk vinaigrette ingredients together, adding more Dijon, garlic, or pepper if you like. Next, chop up your vegetables. (I use the above-listed ones, with the exception of the olives, but you could certainly experiment. I'm guessing red or yellow peppers or some chopped red onion would be good additions.)

When your lentils and couscous are done, mix them together in a large bowl; add vinaigrette and mix well. Add vegetables and crumbled feta and stir until well mixed.

I don't know how many normal people this serves, but I get four or five lunches out of it. Enjoy! Spring has sprung, my friends, and this is the salad for the season.

posted by shan at 9:06 PM; 1 comments

Friday, April 07, 2006

To paraphrase Loretta Lynn

Dear San,

Fresh from Meg's kitchen. She made these on the last day of her spring break. Back to the salt mines tomorrow. Loads of keeeeeeeses!

Love, Mom and Meg

Oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies from across the miles: if that's not love, then tell me what is.

posted by shan at 8:52 PM; 0 comments

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