Dark and stormy

It was a dark and stormy night. At least that was the case at the Jazz Standard where we were holed up waiting out the long hours until our early morning plane would take us safely home to our loved ones who were, I am certain, desperately waiting for our arrival.

I know what you’re saying – “How can it be dark and stormy inside a legendary Manhattan jazz club?”

Well, you’ve obviously never been to the Jazz Standard if you have to ask a question like that. The Dark and Stormy is a beguiling mix of dark rum and ginger beer and is the national drink of Bermuda and the Jazz Standard, where it is served in tall glasses that just seem to keep coming and coming.

Anyway, there we were “stuck” in Manhattan, my two friends and me,  one Friday night last March. We called our lonely families and told them not to worry, we’d make do. We bivouacked at the W Hotel on Lexington (I know, Midtown – the hardship. We were strong) and trekked  all the way down to Prune in the East Village for a little sustenance.  (we  survived, I swear,  almost entirely on marrow bones and perhaps a roasted chicken and a litre or two of red wine.) Afterwards, we beat a hasty retreat.

But, then what to do? It was dark and, if not stormy, scary. We were like babes in the woods or, at least, the mid-40s. We decided to hide out some where and wait it out. But where?

Thank God for Google. We were finally able to find refuge at the Jazz Standard under a place called Blue Smoke (order the ribs). We breathed a collective sigh of relief and settled in for an evening of  James Blood Ulmer and the Memphis Blood Blues band (featuring Vernon Reid)I know, I know – so much blood.

But, seriously, we got through it and I give all the credit to the Dark and Stormy. So, for my friends stuck in New York as Hurricane Irene bears down on this dark and stormy night, a little something to get you through. It worked for me.

Dark and Stormy

2 ounces Gosling’s Black Seal rum

8 ounces good ginger beer

Lemon or lime wedge (optional)

Pour rum and ginger beer in a tall glass over ice. Try to enjoy, despite the weather

Maple baked beans

As I don my rugged field coat, I know I am prepared for the arduous journey before me. I am heading upriver to check my trap line. I have packed provisions for the trip and my trusty canine is by my side, eager to start. I am prepared for the rough trail and I am determined to live off the land, alerted to game by my dog’s low growls. As I embark, the harsh wind whips at my face, the landscape is enveloped in a strange, discomfiting silence. But, bravely, I push on…

My adored, if somewhat nosy, wife, L, is reading that paragraph over my shoulder and insists that I “come clean.” So, for the sake of matrimonial harmony, let me start again:

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Caramelized corn with mint

Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.

– Garrison Keillor

Hmm. I think maybe Garrison Keillor has been spending too many lonely nights up at Lake Wobegon or, perhaps I just need to find a different farm stand to buy corn from next summer.

But, without going quite as far as Mr. Keillor, I will admit that there is something special about fresh sweet corn, prepared the day it was picked and eaten outdoors with friends and family, good barbecue and just a few wasps buzzing around to remind you that nothing this side of heaven is perfect.

I don’t know who buys  the “fresh” corn available right now in those little cellophane-wrapped packages of anemic, plasticky cobs, which were definitely not picked today or yesterday or, maybe not even last week. Desperately lonely people, I suppose, if Mr. Keillor’s hypothesis is to be believed.

For those of us who choose to wait, there is something to get us through till summer and it too comes wrapped in plastic. When I first read this recipe for frozen corn, I was dubious. It wasn’t till I finally made it that I realized just how good frozen corn can be.  Luisa Weiss of The Wednesday Chef was pretty confident it would change the way I think about corn. And she was right. Here’s what she said:

“But that corn. That corn! It was the star, the bright and shining thing on my plate that actually made me smile as I ate, because it has been far too long since something as wonderful, as cheap and quick and as special as this unassuming little side dish came along, and in one fell swoop that corn made me fall in love – in love! with frozen corn!”

Now that I think of it, she sounds a little bit like Garrison Keillor.

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Make your own preserved lemons

Maybe it’s some atavistic need to fight off mid-winter scurvy or just a bright yellow middle finger to the bleak and frozen landscape, but I crave the taste of lemons these days.

Nothing brightens up a winter meal more than a jolt of citrus and, believe it or not, the most intense lemon flavour comes out of a jar. People around the Mediterranean have been using this simple method to preserve lemons for millennia and, once you’ve tasted them, it’s easy to see why. A month marinating in nothing but salt and their own juice gives lemons a supercharged lemony punch.  Use them with roast vegetables or make a roast chicken that will become your new standard  or, with any number of North African dishes. Here are some more uses of preserved lemons.

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Potato and leek soup

Slowly but surely, as the years whiz by, I am learning a thing or two. For example, I think I have finally driven into my thick skull the notion that making a grocery list first will prevent me from having to go back to the store for more ingredients. Three times.

I have also learned that it is not wise to paint your stairs the same colour as your cat. Cats are noble beasts and do not feel compelled to get out of the way.

And, it has finally dawned on me that Saturday is not really a day off, it is simply a day when you work for free. Mostly, my Saturdays are spent as a grocery delivery boy, a cranky chauffeur and a superbly unqualified handyman (though I am proud to announce that the cat flap was successfully installed and with minimum bloodshed, not that His Royal Highness The Cat is the least bit grateful).

Recently, it has occurred to me that days spent lining up at cash registers, cursing a conspiracy of stop lights and pretending to be qualified to operate electric saws are not days to be contemplating complicated lunches. Which is why the recipe below isn’t for, say,  lobster bisque. See, I’m learning.

Fortunately, I have also discovered that a little cream, like a little bacon, can elevate the simple into the sublime. And a little cream is just what’s needed on a hectic winter weekend. This busy-Saturday soup is fast, filling and full of flavour (and just a little cream).  Just remember to pick up the leeks on the first trip to the store. And, be careful on the stairs.

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Easy barbecued pork ribs

Part three of Super Bowls and Plates.

This year’s football feast:

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Grilled chipotle chicken wings, blue cheese dip

This is Part One of Super Bowls and Plates, a good excuse to have a party.

Once a year we pretend to like football so we can have a mid-winter gorge on tavern fare. Last year I made Scotch eggs, a crowd favourite.

This year’s football feast:

So, enjoy! And remind me again who’s playing?

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Tomato ketchup

I’ve been on the road so much lately that when I come home the first thing I do is look around for the check-in counter.

Like all seasoned business travelers, I have my fair share of horror stories – roller-coaster plane rides, maniacal taxi drivers who scare you to death and then won’t take credit cards and hotel rooms where I have been positive I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.

This week it was L’s turn to travel and mine to stay at home with the kids so they could avoid all contact with their father for a change and, though I’m not quite sure why, her travel-gone-awry story is more disturbing than most.

“How was the hotel?”

“Bad.”

“How bad?”

“So bad that when I ordered breakfast in my room it came with one of those little room-service ketchup bottles and it was half empty.”

Yuck. Like I said, I’m not really sure why that’s so off-putting, but it is. Those little ketchup bottles are supposed to be personal-sized and they are supposed to have that little hermetically sealed plastic wrapper that takes forever to get off until you finally break down and use your teeth. Or, they are yours to take home just like the little personal-sized bottles of shampoo or the little personal-sized bars of soap (we have about 40 pounds of soap under our bathroom sink. I’m thinking of a yard sale).

You shouldn’t have to share your personal-sized ketchup bottle with anyone, let alone a stranger.

It’s not like there’s a ketchup shortage. Every fridge door on the continent is home a giant plastic jug of the stuff just waiting to rescue that experimental meatloaf you’ll end up regretting or, the vulcanized scrambled eggs the kids will make for your birthday breakfast-in-bed surprise. North Americans consume hundreds of millions, if not billions, of pounds of ketchup every year. According to one source,  McDonald’s alone uses 250 million pounds of the stuff every year just in the United States (made with roughly 57 million pounds of sugar, by the way).

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M&M cookies

The holidays are over. Our decadent vacation in the sun is over. New Year’s resolutions are still in full effect.

Oh, well. L made these and I can’t resist. Happy Sunday!

M&M Cookies

Adapted from a recipe at mms.com

1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup M&M’S (mini or regular) milk or dark chocolate candy

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Try not to eat all the candy before you make the cookies (this is hard).

Mix flour, salt and baking soda and set aside. Cream butter with both sugars in a large bowl until mixture is light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat to combine.  Mix in dry ingredients. Stir in candy. Using a teaspoon  and drop a heaping spoon of dough two inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes or, until edges are just starting to burn. Don’t over bake – you want them to remain soft in the middle. Cool for a few minutes on a wire rack and enjoy! You can store them in a covered container, but there won’t be any left.

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