Sunday, December 24, 2017

“Are you dead?”

“Are you dead?”   That's what Tim, our friend and neighbor, asked me when he called last night.  What prompted that?  Well, it seems he drove by our place yesterday evening and noticed that I had not plowed the 2" or so of fresh snow that had fallen the previous night.  It seems, I discovered, that I have a reputation in the area for being the first guy to plow his driveway.  I never thought of it that way before, but it's true that usually I try to get the snow off my driveway as quickly as possible.  My main motivation for that is to prevent it from melting and turning into a sheet of ice.  Yesterday, however, I was so busy with our big meal that I decided just to let it go.

Tim was relieved to hear my voice. :)

Yesterday we had a whole lot of visitors, plus the UPS man.  I'm going to guess that 10 or 11 cars traversed our driveway, when the temperatures were around 30°F (about -1°C).  That had the effect of crushing and melting a lot of snow on our driveway.  This morning the temperature is 3°F (about -17°C), and all that crushed snow has frozen into what might as well be granite.  I just got back in from (belatedly) plowing, all bundled up and with warmers for my hands and feet, and it was a very different experience from the usual.  Mostly what I accomplished was to knock off any bits of ice that were standing up.  The sheet of ice covering my driveway was basically unaffected by the snowplow.  Furthermore, driving the tractor (which is 4WD) on the ice was an exercise in probabilistic steering: when I turned the wheel, the tractor might change direction as intended.  Or it might just keep going straight.  Or it might go sideways.  Or it might turn in circles.  Interesting, it was.

Now I'm back inside with a nice, hot cup of tea.  Shortly I venture forth again to shovel the sidewalk, then salt it, then feed the birds...

Chili, snowy dogs, and bearded brothers...

Chili, snowy dogs, and bearded brothers...  A few days ago, Debbie made a gigantic pot of chili, filling our 25 quart pan to within a few inches of its top.  It's a great batch: meaty, tomatoey, and not too spicy hot for my taste.  After it cooled down, and after we made two meals of it, the leftovers got vacuum-bagged.  This is what it looked like when we finished bagging.  That's a lot of chili!  If you're wondering what the “RTE” means, it's “ready to eat”, meaning no meat needs to be added (though Debbie may want to put more meat in anyway – my girl loves meat!).

A few days ago we let the dogs out into the back yard while it was still snowing heavily.  They went out and played in it without a care, of course.  I took the photos below when they came up on our deck to see me.  Note that many of them are blurred from motion: getting them to stand still was basically impossible!

That's my brother Scott at right.  I got a photo of him when he was (I think) unaware of it, concentrating on his game of Mexican Train in our kitchen.  Debbie is beating the crap out of us, of course.  We'll be finishing this game later today,  and I'm sure in the end Debbie will be victorious again.  She's running about 9::1 wins against me.  We had our big dinner yesterday mainly because the lobsters arrived on Friday.  We'd originally planned to have Scott here for Christmas Day (and his birthday) as well, but his new friends and neighbors near Newton had other plans for him.  He's been invited to spend Christmas Day with a family nearby him, people he's become friends with over the past year or so.  Today he's going caroling with a local group in the morning, and he's got some other activities this evening.  He'll be with us for a few hours this afternoon, for chocolate mousse and to finish letting Debbie whip our butts.  It's wonderful that he's finding so many caring and accepting people near him – he's got a support network already!

We got surprised yesterday ourselves by what seemed like a non-stop series of visits from friends and neighbors.  These ranged from people we see often to one couple we hadn't seen in two years!  What a delight it was to see all these people, unexpectedly!  Many of them brought gifts, too, we caught us completely by surprise.  It's plain these people know us well, as our gifts all fell into two categories: things for the animals, or food for us. :)  Our birds are getting two presents this morning: a beautiful new feeder for black oil sunflower seeds, and some “pears” made out of seeds glued together with a suet/honey mixture that was somehow solidified (not sure how they managed that!).

We love living here, in the postcard that is Cache Valley...

Ah, what a dinner!

Ah, what a dinner!  Debbie and I started cooking around 9 am yesterday morning, and (along with my brother Scott) we sat down to eat at around 2 pm.  The menu had only three items: lobster l'americaine, peas, and creme brulee.  We'd made the creme brulee the day before, which meant it was in the refrigerator and nicely cold by yesterday.  Nearly all the cookery yesterday revolved around that lobster l'americaine: Julia Child's recipe, which we've made twice before with excellent results.

The first step was to boil those three lovely lobsters (photo at right).  We have a gigantic (25 quart) cauldron that Debbie uses for soup and chili; this made a fine boiling pot for our three ocean-going bugs.  Debbie had to leave the kitchen for this part; she's quite squeamish about executing lobsters for culinary purposes.  Generally her squeamishness is directly proportional to the cuteness of the animal involved, but that surely cannot explain her reluctance to off a lobster!  So that was entirely my job. :)  As usual, the lobster's claws were held shut with thick rubber bands.  I'd always removed them in the past, but it occurred to me that I didn't know if I actually needed to risk having a lobster pinch me (they can get you pretty good!).  So, being 2017, I googled it – and discovered that there is quite the debate about this on the intertubes.  One fellow waxed eloquent on how removing the rubber bands connected him with the lobster.  That article didn't help me at all.  Another, from a famous restaurant, revealed their dirty secret: they'd been boiling lobsters with rubber bands for years, and nobody ever noticed any odd flavor.  Another cook said she couldn't detect any rubber band flavor either, but that she just couldn't abide the thought of boiling lobsters with rubber.  I decided she had the right idea, and removed the rubber bands once more.  I escaped with all my fingers, despite the best efforts of the biggest one of the three.

The next step was the most challenging one: disassembling the boiled lobsters into their essential four parts.  Actually, this was less challenging than it was tedious.  It involved some muscles, though, and a few tools (tools - yay!).  The basic idea was to extract the four key components of the lobster for the purposes of lobster l'americaine: the meat, the shell, the coral (roe), and the tomalley.  If you've ever eaten a lobster, you know there's not much left after extracting those four elements: just the “guts”, which we discarded.  Some people use them in the lobster l'americaine sauce, too, but some of the intestinal tract is quite bitter and I prefer the milder flavor without it.  At left you can see the “parts” of our three lobsters after two hours of disassembly.  Starting with the big red bowl and going clockwise: the shells, chopped or torn into small pieces, the coral (roe) from the two female lobsters we had, the tomalley, and the meat.

The next step was very much like making soup stock from a chicken or turkey skeleton.  In our biggest frying pan I sauteed the shell fragments along with some celery, onions, and carrots.  After that I poured some cognac on the shells, and set it on fire.  Julia Child specifies this in her recipe without explanation; I'm not sure what that adds to the end result – but the end result is so good that I'm disinclined to mess with the recipe!  Then I simmered that mixture along with some vermouth, tomatoes and herbs.  The kitchen smelled wonderful during that process!  The frying pan didn't look very tasty, though, with all those shell fragments in there.  After about 45 minutes, we ran all the stuff in that pan through a fine-meshed strainer, squeezing out every drop of the juices that we could  What remained was an almost-clear broth that absolutely reeked of lobster.  We thickened it per Julia's recipe, with butter and flour paste, and colored and flavored it with some tomato paste.

After that, the rest of the recipe was really easy.  We sauteed the lobster meat in butter (a little bit of it accidentally fell into my mouth at that point), added the sauce, the coral, and the tomalley, got it nice and hot, then ladled it over some freshly cooked white rice.  We ate it immediately, and I forgot to take a photo of it.  Fortunately my brother Scott went back for seconds, and I got a photo of his round two.  The green herbs are a mixture of parsley and tarragon, and the white is grated Parmesan.

That was one heavenly main course.

For dessert we waited a couple of hours, then had the creme brulee that we'd made the day before.  We put some brown sugar on top, popped them in the broiler to caramelize the sugar, then sat down to eat them.  The custard was still cold while the sugar was hot, just as it should be.  This creme brulee recipe is one we got years ago from the Gastrognome restaurant in Idyllwild, California.   We'd had their creme brulee for dessert and loved it, and to our surprise they happily shared the recipe with us.  It's still the best we've ever had, even in my travels to Europe.