Friday, August 05, 2005

Odds and Ends

I was all set to declare victory today. Or last night, even. If you look back over the relatively short time that I've been blogging, you will see that on two occasions, I have complained loudly about the lack of a long-promised stuffed grape leaves recipe from a website that shall remain nameless. But my efforts to obtain the recipe have not, in fact, been limited to my semi-public whinging here on my site. There have been top-secret negotiations at the highest levels. There have been envoys back and forth. There have been six-party talks that we thought were leading towards a successful resolution of this issue. In fact, as recently as two evenings ago, a source who has hitherto been extremely reliable and who may or may not be (we will reveal neither sources nor culinary operatives; we have standards here) a highly placed member of the Hungry Tiger administration tipped us off that a stuffed grape leaves post was imminent. Yet there is still none to be seen.

The anapestic diplomatic corps are, as you might expect, demoralized by this failure. We were able to accept philosophically our defeats on universal health care and the Kyoto Accord, but the inability to obtain a recipe is not something that we are accustomed to, and we don't like it very much. There are some, of course (what would the world be without naysayers), who would be so impertinent as to note that we don't actually have any grape leaves to stuff at the moment, and while there may be some factual basis to that claim, it is entirely beside the point. A principle is at stake here, and if we begin abandoning our principles (without first extracting the requisite bribe of a pound of m&ms [plain, not peanut], of course), then we are little better than Godless anarchists. (Again, the fact that we are, in essence, Godless anarchists is completely beside the point.)

But we haven't given up. We have a few diplomatic tools left at our disposal.

I have probably mentioned, at least once, that I used to sing quite a bit, and that I'm pretty good at it, or at least I am when I've been singing for a couple of weeks and my voice has had a chance to recover from months of neglect. I mainly sing in church. Because of my intense schedule during the tax filing season, I sing in the choir in the fall, through Christmas, and then hang up the vocal chords, until the next season. In order to bribe me to sing, the music director at church will normally ask me to provide the music on one Sunday when the choir isn't singing, and this lets me do three or four solo pieces.

Unitarian Universalist churches (at least the one I attend) are not big on dogma, and as a result, they tend to have fairly liberal policies on what you can sing. Because of what sounds good with my (very rich, very powerful: modesty only goes so far) bass baritone voice, I will often choose something classical (Handel is often a good choice for me), a hymn from my youth (I was raised Southern Baptist, but most of the UUs are kind enough to ignore the lyrics, and the rest were raised in similar traditions and enjoy the nostalgia), and a spiritual.

I have several books of spirituals. The best known composer/transcriber of spirituals is probably HT Burleigh, and I have his book of spirituals for low voice. Mr. Burleigh transcribed a large number of spirituals, but he only transposed some of them to a lower key, and, inexplicably, no one thought to transpose the rest before publishing the volume. There is a note, easily missed, about two-thirds of the way through the book (for low voice) that says that the remainder of the spirituals are in the original, higher key.

I mention this because once, six or seven years ago, I was taking a voice lesson from the same music director, and she thought that I had sufficiently mastered "Every Time I Feel the Spirit," and should therefore try another, and, apparently at random, she flipped to the back of the book and asked me to sing "You Hear the Lambs A-Cryin'." And I did my best, and it's a beautiful piece, but it was just too high, and since neither I nor she had seen the note about it not having been transposed, we were puzzled.

I have always wanted to sing the song, though evidently not enough to transpose it myself (I know how to transpose, but I don't really ever transpose music, so it would take me an inordinate amount of time). But perhaps the song will prove useful for other reasons. "You Hear the Lambs A-Cryin'."

(I apologize to the bulk of my readers for the preceding few paragraphs. They were, however, necessary for diplomatic purposes. We were, in fact, sending a message. You may rest assured that if it is seen by the right eyes, it will be interpreted correctly and may yet result in the achievement of our ultimate diplomatic goal.)

On a more immediately culinary note, I stopped by Trader Joe's last night to procure some supplies for the upcoming dinner party. I am fortunate enough to work just over half a mile from a Trader Joe's, and if the weather were not as utterly beastly as it has been in the DC area, I would just have walked over during lunch, but in any case, I did stop by on the way home. As I was picking up some dried fruit (apricots and sour cherries), I noticed some packages of Almondias, which I have heard, from sources hitherto considered highly reliable, are very good. But upon inspecting the packages, I could not convince myself that they were anything more than thinly sliced biscotti. As I had already determined to make some biscotti for Saturday's dinner, I passed them by.

I posted my biscotti recipe about a week ago, so I will explain what I made last night by saying that I followed that recipe, with the following additions and amplifications: I used pistachios (you can use any nut, really), I omitted the grated orange zest, and I added a packed cup of dried fruit. In my case, this was some dried apricots that I had julienned (you could dice them, but they already get sliced up when you slice the biscotti, so why bother?), some dried cherries, and some of my preserved orange peel that I first chopped up. For the detail-oriented reader, I will say half a cup of dried apricots and a quarter cup each of dried cherries and candied orange peel, but of course, I didn't measure the exact proportions: I just packed stuff into a one-cup measure until it was full. Add the fruit before the liquid ingredients.

Because I wanted these biscotti to be very thin, I got out my V-slicer. If you're going to slice them very thin, by whatever method, you need to make sure that you do the first baking until they are a light brown, and you need to let the logs cool at least 25 minutes before you try to slice them. If the logs are not sufficiently cooked, they will tear when you try to slice them, in which case you will end up with a bit of mess that is extraordinarily tasty. Even when the logs have been cooked just right, using the V-slicer on biscotti is not a process for the timid: you have to accept a certain number of imperfect pieces, which you may either eat at once or go ahead and toast. In any case, if you make one diagonal cut with a knife halfway through each log, you will then be able to run your pieces through the V-slicer (the thicker setting, which is about an eighth of an inch) and end up with a large number of thin biscotti. Put these on sheets and bake them until they are nice and crisp and brown. If, by some bizarre chance, you have trouble getting the first baking right and have to put the logs back in the oven a second, third, or even fourth time because you were doing this process for the first time and trying to work all the kinks out (not that it's ever happened to me, you understand), and it's after midnight by the time you finally get to the second baking, and you have to go to sleep (not realizing that in an hour your entire house is going to lose power and you're going to be up wondering what time it is anyway, and what the hell is up with that, PEPCO?), you can let them bake the second time for fifteen minutes and then turn off the oven, without opening the door, and leave them in until the next morning, and they will be very crisp indeed. But still very good. When they've fully cooled, put them in a tin or ziplock bag and keep them out of sight so that you don't eat them before the dinner party.


Anonymous lindy said...

I am not sure I know what a v slicer is. Is it a mandoline relative?

2:43 PM  
Anonymous anapestic said...

Exactly so. It has a plastic body with very sharp blades, and it costs about $20. Here is an example. Some day I would like to have a real mandoline, of course, but since I only use the v-slicer twice a month, on average, a mandoline seems an extravagance.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous lindy said...

aha! I have a similar object, similar price, called a "japanese mandoline," or something to that effect. Mine just has a straight blade though. I love and fear it. It is always washed and put out of reach immediately after use. I think I may be too graceless for a real mandoline, and they do take up a lot of space.

12:43 PM  

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