Viewer discretion is advised: Sunday Bloody Easter

For Easter dinner my family met out in Wales halfway between Madison and Milwaukee, at my sister Ann’s house. I made the main course for about 18 people. It was crispy skinned chicken and potatoes with lemon, rosemary and thyme. She was going for a Greek theme because my sister Mary K made spanakopita. 

The method for making the chicken is to brown it skin side down put sliced potatoes in the bottom of the pan, put the chicken on top and then roast it all uncovered. I cleverly used a splatter screen to prevent a lot of splattering (hence the name splatter screen). And I sharpened the mandolin before I began the potatoes. This was probably not that good of an idea since about halfway through the second (of five) potato I also sliced through my thumb. If I were to say that it hurt like a son of a bitch it would not be adequate enough to describe my horror. You cannot just leave potatoes lying around turning black whilst you scream various profanities and then attend to wounds. 

It took me a few bloody minutes to figure out what to do. But I got out my latex gloves (a trick I used more than a few times in the restaurant) and finished the job. It was not fun.

The dish turned out fine but it was no match for the spanakopita or the traditional bunny cake my niece made but I unfortunately did not get a picture of.




Sauerbraten

On the flip side of the irish thing, there’s my German heritage. I imagine that I like German food. It is the food of my grandfather and theoretically I like all the heavy cream sauces and gravies, the dumplings, cabbage, the dark winter dinners laden with long roasted fatty meats, potatoes and lugubrious side dishes. My mother, Loralyn, my sister Ann and her husband, what’s his name, and I had dinner at Pandl’s. I didn’t recall that it was such a GERMAN place. Rouladen, schnitzel, and god knows what else was on the menu, all of it heavily teutonic except for maybe the cobb salad or some such thing.

Sauerbraten was the evening special. Mit dumplings and red cabbage. So I imagine that I like German food, in reality it wasn’t so great. But maybe that was Pandl’s problem. There was a vague nod to my German forebears on the plate but in my memory sauerbraten has a far more deliberate impact on my taste buds. More sauer and less braten. The dumpling was nice and who can resist red cabbage? (OK, I cannot. Most people can. Realizing that I could buy a jar of red cabbage and eat it all myself was one of the rites of my adulthood along with some other things not quite as doofus-y.)

Below is my grandfather’s hand-written recipe for “instant” sauerbraten. It appears to have been provided by somewhere called The Blue Dot. Not so German sounding. It hangs on the wall in my mom’s kitchen. She’s never made it that I am aware of.

Rehearsal dinner

My sister Ann got married last weekend and we had the rehearsal dinner at our family cottages. I thought it would be something very informal sitting around having beers on lawn chairs. The morning of, Ann brought out some tables and chairs. It was lovely.

I made mango sangria, scalloped potatoes on the grill, a couple of salads and grilled chicken for 30. I only had a little difficulty with the flashover in the grill when the chicken fat caught fire.while I was making it. Unfortunately I took no pictures of food but someone got me with the fire.

Grand Bouillon Camille Chartier Racine or something

The name is way too complicated but I totally love this place. It is glorious inside and out. Very Belle Epoch. The people who work here are completely and totally nice and so is the food, well maybe not as nice as the people but good anyway. I ate here with my sisters, Patty and Ann, two years ago and at that time we just walked in (and everyone was wonderful in every way) but mostly you need to have reservations. Ashish made them well in advance and thank god he did. It was packed, turning-away-people-at-the-door packed. When it appeared we were going to be seated downstairs Ashish begged the maitre d’ (same one we’d had 2 years ago) to sit upstairs. 

I’m not sure if his whimpering oh please helped but the host made a-just-a-minute face (in a nice way, not like I might do), looked at his book and then took us up the stairs into the glorious and grand upstairs dining salon. But before we had a chance to even sit down, a flood of twenty-three (and I heard the server say vingt-trois) American teenagers came bounding loudly up the stairs about to be sat . . . guess where. And not just at one table. At many, all around us. LOL!

Our friendly maitre d’ who, at this point, had begun walking down the stairs against the rush of pandemonium coming up, turned and looked balefully up at us amid many shrieking variations of This is so, like, ADORABLE!! Granted it is adorable, but it was going to be considerably less so with a morass of American teendom surrounding us. Ashish then changed his mind about his seating preference.

Like I said, they are the nicest people, and the maitre d’ took us downstairs before you could say Justin Bieber.

Our meal was great. As a starter Ashish had foie gras, for the umpteenth time. And I had bouillon. After all that’s what it’s famous for. The place is named after it. Seriously. But it turns out bouillon is just bouillon. It wasn’t bad. It was just, well, bouillon. With sliced green onions and cilantro crowding the surface of it. Ashish had tournedos accompanied by some sort of potato thing that I’d have been happy to eat all day (and fully plan to recreate, make your reservations now). I had the Belgian specialty carbonnade. With sauerkraut, no potato anything. Ashish ordered an additional plate of french fries, I’m not even sure why since he already had the potato thing, he lives in the land of the french fry and the entire time I was in Belgium I didn’t have even one (count ’em, 1) french fry and he was quite unconcerned by that, taking me to one Italian restaurant after another. 

As I’ve said, the place was packed and they were turning people away. But we knew there was a vacant 2-top upstairs and so when another gay couple wandered in looking for a table, we watched them mount the stairs and clinked our glass at our good fortune. 

At about the end of our main course the whole upstairs erupted in a rafter-shaking round of Happy Birthday, the entire downstairs fell silent for it. I really have no idea what the French might think of that but I thought it was really charming. Though I was relieved not to be sitting near it.

Food for thought, or something

When my sister Mary Kay and her husband were nearing Vail last Saturday she texted me and told me she was stopping to buy groceries, did I need anything. I replied that we have coffee (which in my mind is all one needs). She and Peter arrived with 5 bags of groceries (and a pound of coffee). I can see now, when I look back at my text, that by saying I had nothing here I was not saying I want nothing here which is what I was thinking. My bad. They were here 4 nights, 3 full days.

I do not cook on vacation, OK, I made ratatouille that one time, still. I don’t eat breakfast much. I eat lunch on the hill. I don’t like to have food on hand because I am on the lifetime-diet-plan and if I am hungry I will eat nearly anything, so best, no food in the house.

When I returned from skiing today I discovered that my sister Ann and her fiancé who left today had surreptitiously (and thoughtfully) left a box of food at my door. I should have known there might be trouble two days ago when we stopped on the hill for a break and Jay, like the Banana Man, took a completely full bottle of water out of his jacket, and then a bag of sesame snack stuff, power bars and a full package of landjaeger. Who carries dried sausage product in their pockets? The landjager was on the top of the box of food.

This refrigerator was empty. There was no food in this house. I brought none of it in here myself. Nothing. Nada. You don’t even see the stuff on the top shelf in this photograph. The yogurt is full. There is an unopened jar of mayonnaise. Two jars of salsa. three half gallons of milk or soy-based, milk-like products. Three quarters of a pound of butter. Cheese, lettuce, peanut butter, girl scout cookies, jelly, eggs, orange juice, awful organic cottage cheese, two unopened bags of tortilla chips.

I have only 3 more days here. I’d better get eating.

Near death skiing

This glorious and sunny morning in Vail my sister Peggy lured me onto a run called Showboat. It is a blue run, and therefore considered intermediate. I would like to meet the person who decides on this. And punch him. 

To say I was fearful on this mogul hill, I mean hell, would be an understatement. Technically I was not screaming as I cartoonishly fumbled my way down the hell, I mean hell, 10, OK, 15 minutes after Peggy. But then we had lunch with Ann and Jay. 

 I had the falafel burger and pickled vegetables. I also had the bloody Mary and glass of wine. I took these photographs shortly after. Courage is easily imbibed. The Wizard of Oz should have given that lion a beverage. 

The first pic is looking up, the second, down. The little dark spot in the in the second is Peggy. I joined her moments later, gracefully shushing my way down to meet her. Well, graceful might be an overstatement but I deserved a medal for my courage.

Tuesday from hell.

Tuesday was the day I was to meet my sister Ann’s friend Annabelle in Lille, France. It is a short train ride, maybe 45 minutes. (If Gent isn’t perfect enough, it is just 45 minutes to the gloriousness of France!) I had planned on leaving on the 1:30 train, walk around the city for a few hours, meet Ashish at 6 when he would arrive after work, and then we would meet Annabelle at 7 at Le Petit Barbu a restaurant she had suggested on the edge of the old part of town. And then we would catch the last train back. Right.

But in the morning I had to take the tram and then a bus to IKEA to return a window shade I had bought for Ashish that was the wrong size (I am an idiot). So I arrive at IKEA bright and early thinking it opened at 9. But it didn’t open until 10. Froze my ass off. Returned the shade, stopped for coffee in the ultra groovy cafeteria there. Went to check out with the new shade and it turned out I didn’t have my credit cards. Hm. Left them at home? Dropped them in the store? Pick pocketed? I had enough money in my pocket to pay for the larger shade so that was no problem but rather than go to lost and found right away (I am an idiot) I decided to get back to the apt (have I mentioned 5 flights of stairs?) and find the damn thing — the “tram/bus” thing to and from IKEA is not something I am really familiar/comfortable with and it requires a hefty walk through a construction site in the middle of the route — I get back to the apartment and no wallet. I call Ashish who calls IKEA (really nice nice people, not like France) and they have it.

So fine, back to goddamn IKEA on the tram/bus. It’s getting late but I think I can make the 1:30 train to Lille. Yeah, the tram is behind a garbage truck. You cannot imagine what a hoopla garbage is. People have to argue with the g-men to get their crap picked up. And they do. And I’m on the tram to IKEA and I’m gonna be late because there’s a lady arguing about a box they won’t pick up. Eventually they do. The tram ride continues to its stop. I sprint through the construction site, catch the bus that actually goes to IKEA and get to customer service only to be in a line with people needing to discuss every single nut and bolt on the blésterfløçt aan keuken they are having difficulty with. Watching people compare nut sizes is really fun.

So I get my wallet, thank you very much, bolt for the bus/construction site/train station. I had to get a ticket for the rain to Lille. Again, line, people talking about God knows what, Dutch is incomprehensible, possibly nuts and bolts. Made my train with minutes to spare. Had to change in Kortrijk. Anxiety provoking. I was seriously sweating.

I made it to Lille but I had not had the time given the mess I’d made of my morning to recharge my iPhone. Do you realize how helpless I am without an iPhone??? So I had about 20% of a charge. This is a crucial issue since I would have to find Ashish and then Annabelle who I don’t really know that well and we’ve already had some difficulties with email.

Lille is a lovely city. People speak French so I can actually communicate which is nice. I look at the old city, visit a few churches, resist the urge to use my phone, my sister Ann calls chewing up precious battery time. Anxiety gnaws at my feet. Ashish shows up, his phone is dying too, fer chrissake, he’s a molecular frazzmologist at least I can blame my problems on my tenuous relationship with technology.

So we walk to the absolutely adorable Petit Barbu and meet Annabelle (also absolutely adorable). We had a lovely meal, which I won’t describe since this is too long anyway. But three bottles of wine and one kir royale (guess who drank that) later we were on our way to catch that last train. Annabelle drove us (like something out of James Bond) and we just made it. Really, catching trains and trams and busses could kill you.

Finally, I was happily on the train heading back to Gent after a freaking long, arduous and adventurous day. But then 15 minutes into the trip at the Belgian border the train stopped. Train strike. Just like that at the French border (Belgian strike though) Seriously!!!!!! No phones. We were in Mouscron. Have you ever heard of Mouscron? NO, because NO ONE has ever heard of Mouscron!! They made everyone get off the train. The station was closed. It was 10:30 at night. There was nothing there, Mouscron might roughly resemble a Belgian version of Genesee Depot without the cute stores or signs in English.

Did I mention the candle I lit in the Cathedral of St Maurice earlier that day? When we walked out onto the street there was a cab. Sure it cost 120 euros but he drove us back to Gent.