Whew. Sorry for the hiatus. Between NewWifey(tm)’s lingering Flu-pocalypse and then her overly generous sharing of it with me, I’ve had my hands – and lungs – full with many things that did not involve typing. My apologies also to bloggers I normally read but couldn’t during this time. I know how you pine for my comments, poor souls. To make up for it then, here comes a supremely over-long and stupidly pedantic, almost cooking-centric Norse epic of an entry! With diarrhea!
Oh, before we start I need to post some Sewing Machine Porn for the weirdly obsessed with them Jane:
That’s a vintage Italian “Necchi BU” sewing machine that our local historical society set out in the trash the day they were ordered to vacate the premises post-haste because their building was in danger of collapse. Everything they couldn’t fit into one covered wagon they had to discard, including this beauty. It works, although it needs a new main drive belt. The little blue “Gurlee” thing on the left is some kind of miniature sewing machine that NewWifey(tm) found at an antique store. I think she had one in her youth, but I fell asleep midway through her story so I’m not absolutely certain. I just know it works, and she paid 20 dollars for it. Behind that a basket filled with antique sewing bobbins or something.
Yep. I’m married.
Ok, back to bizniz.
There are only a few things NewWifey(tm) won’t put in her mouth. (And no, that’s not one of them. I heard that.) She’s neither squeamish nor unadventurous, and she doesn’t profess any sort of weird gluten/MSG/kiwi/BPA phobia. But she does have three really wacky food allergies. In order, they are:
1. Raw lemons.
3. Something they put in the taco salad at “Taco of the Town” in Sussex, NJ. We’re not sure what.
Whenever she has even the tiniest taste of any of the above, and I mean the tiniest taste, her tongue swells to the size of a rugby ball and develops a series of cracks and crevices across the surface. Because the cracks form in a series of concentric circles, her doctor calls it “Orbital Tongue Syndrome”. But NewWifey(tm) just calls it, “mfmmmmmmmgrrrlmmmmff!!!”
This has made for some rather exciting dining out moments over the years. One grab of a water glass without spotting the decorative lemon slice could end her meal before the menu even arrives. (I myself will still order and eat, but very sadly.) A stray walnut accidentally mixed in with the pistachio filling of some Middle Eastern confection means dessert is an exercise in pain, not pastry. You get the idea.
At home she’s safe, of course. You won’t find Avgalemono soup on the menu, and I don’t top my Boozy-Woozy German Chocolate Cake with decorative walnut halves. The only time I, er, “slip up” is when I want a little peace and quiet. But that’s a last resort. I’m not cruel.
Sadly, this makes it tough on me. I love lemons and walnuts. I could live on walnut cake and lemonade. I have lived on walnut cake and lemonade. But no more. The only time I get to include those two treasured ingredients is when she goes away, or it’s my birthday.
The end of January was my birthday. However, if you recall, NewWifey(tm) was laid low with some sort of Hantavirus or something that weekend. The celebration was postponed until she could stop vomiting blood and hallucinating sandwich gnomes coming to steal her hoagie. That took a week. So last weekend we finally held the deferred celebration, drinking and bonking, then bonking and drinking. (Or is it “boinking”? I always get them confused.)
And eating. Lots of eating.
I pause for a moment here to recount something that will be instantly identifiable to anyone who’s been married long enough to have celebrated their wooden anniversary:
On my first birthday after we were declared Man and Chattel, NewWifey(tm)looked lovingly into my eyes and said, “You can have anything you want for your birthday dinner. It’s your day, my love.” (With the caveat: no lemon or walnut of course.)
So I made the meal I’d want before being sent to the guillotine: a terrine of duckling, billibi soup, a roast leg of lamb, and a tureen filled with Peanut M&M’s. I opened a special bottle of wine from my collection and we tucked in, NewWifey(tm) looking lovingly across the table at me the entire time.
It went over so well I repeated the menu the next year.
And the next.
By the fourth year I noticed that NewWifey(tm) was taking slightly smaller portions, particularly of terrine and lamb. In fact, her terrine plate was starting to primarily consist of bread rounds and cornichon pickles, which were supposed to be the garnishes. And Casey the Wonder Corgi was spending almost all his time sitting right against her chair, head cocked way back. And her loving gaze was starting to look a little…forced.
Year 5 she dropped the pretense. All she ate was M&M’s. And drank wine. Lots of wine.
Year 6: “For godsake, will you make something other than duck and lamb this year? I hate duck and lamb. And I’m sick of that stupid soup, too.” Oops. So I make an Ethiopian “Doro Wat” with chicken, taking pride in mixing my own berbere and even making injera bread from teff flour that I ground myself and fermented. That was the year I found out NewWifey(tm) does not like chicken, very spicy foods, or injera. But she liked the “tej”, the Ethiopian honey wine I managed to score. In fact, that was pretty much her entire meal.
I got the message. After that meal I asked her, “What do you think would be a good meal on my birthday?”
Which is why:
Year 7 – Present: I make Cream of Roast Butternut Squash Soup, Châteaubriand, mashed potatoes, some veggie prepared however I feel at the time, homemade bread product of some sort, and wine. Strangely enough, this is also the menu I invariably produce every year on HER birthday. What a coincidence, huh? For dessert, as I mentioned a couple of entries ago, I get my cassata. That, at least, I never tire of.
Back to the story.
For Christmas this year NewWifey(tm) gifted me a 3 pound bag of shelled walnuts that she found on sale and told me I could go nuts with (so to speak) on my birthday so long as she got her Châteaubriand. Three pounds! My eyes boggled. Usually when I spring for walnuts it’s one of those little 4 oz. Diamond tins. All month long, from December 25 to January 27, I planned my attack. It was gonna be…well, you know. Nuts.
Because I had so many, this year I didn’t have to confine my nutty gormandizing to just one day. From Friday afternoon until my alarm clock went off Monday morning to go back to work I had free reign to whip up as many walnut laden dishes as I wanted.
I won’t bore you with the entire list, but I must describe one of the concoctions because it’s germane to the story.
I’ve occasionally seen in food forums some person or another describe how orgasmic the Honey Walnut Shrimp at the chain restaurant Panda Express is. I’ve never been to Panda Express, and some of those aforementioned forum dwellers seemed more than a little suspect, but I like honey, I love shrimp, and I adore walnuts. So I decided to go out on a limb and whip it up for my Saturday dinner. Watched a few YouTubers make it, got the ingredients, and was good to go. Frankly though, it sure didn’t look Asian to me. A sauce of mayonnaise and evaporated milk? Seriously? Oh well, dozens of forum comments can’t be wrong. Can they…?
I had at it anyway.
The first thing you have to do to make Honey Walnut Shrimp is candy a bunch of walnuts. That’s easy enough, despite some of the instructions I read from…idiots. Seriously, people waaaaaaaaay over think things when it comes to cooking sometimes. If you want to make candied walnuts, just pour some water in a pan (I used a wok), heat it up, dump in some sugar, stir to dissolve, then toss in your walnuts. You don’t even have to measure anything. (Btw, I blanched my walnuts first if you must know.)
Now just keep it over high heat, stirring now and again, until all the water evaporates (that’s why you don’t have to worry about measuring – no matter how much you put in, it’s gonna evaporate eventually). At that point you have candied walnuts. You can cook them a little longer for a deeper caramel if that’s your thing, but otherwise you’re good to go now. Just spoon those babies onto wax paper or a silicone sheet or the like (NOT PAPER TOWELS, FOR GODSAKE ARE YOU CRAZY? THEY’LL STICK!) and let them cool.
At this point some recipes call for frying the coated nuts, so I did…and didn’t like them. I put that batch aside and candied another half pound or so, not frying them this time.
After that you just fry off some coated shrimp and mix them with honey, mayo, and condensed milk. Lastly, sprinkle over the walnuts.
It was awful.
The final product was sweet but simultaneously bland, with a pasty, slick sauce that masked any other flavor. Completely unbalanced. If it weren’t for the crunch of the walnuts I’d swear I was eating a bowl of hot mayo and honey. A real waste of a pound of shrimp.
Which meant, of course, that NewWifey(tm) LOVED it. Having been weaned on those gloppy, viscous, artificially flavored “Cream Of Whatever” based casseroles in the midwest, this dish was like mother’s milk to her. She begged for a taste before I added the walnuts, and I almost had to stop her from eating the plate when she finished.
Don’t get me wrong, despite my disdain I still polished off two bowls of it myself. It had walnuts in it after all. That trumps everything. What was left after that I packed in a Tupperware and threw into the fridge.
So that was my dinner Saturday night. But that only accounted for 1 pound of the 3 pound walnut haul. Outside of that I also made a few other dishes, and the remainder – including the fried candied walnuts mentioned before – I just ate out of hand. By Sunday afternoon they were all gone. I ate three pounds of walnuts in just over two days.
Did you know that eating three pounds of walnuts in just over two days has a laxative effect? I sure didn’t. Not prior to Sunday afternoon, anyway.
Shortly after finishing my fourth (fifth?) bowl of homemade maple walnut ice cream, something…odd….started happening right behind my belt buckle. It felt like snakes, or maybe very small ponies, were racing around inside my abdominal cavity. And they wanted out.
They did come out. Explosively. Uncontrollably.
I managed to make it to the bathroom just in time.
The first thing that hit me was the smell. It was pure, unadulterated nut extract. It’s what I imagined squirrel poop smells like.
Then there was the sound. Oh my god, what sound. We’re talking cartoon tuba blasts, amplified by the parabolic reflector of a porcelain bowl.
And it would. Not. Stop. For a solid hour, at least.
After a while it became kind of funny. I mean, it wasn’t like I had to go anywhere. And as impressive as the various bodily emanations were, there was no pain associated with any of it. On reflection I supposed I should have known this would be a potential consequence, but…so what? I, for the first time in years, ate my fill of walnuts! I literally started to laugh while sitting there.
But then I had to stop laughing. NewWifey(tm) was pounding on the door.
We have two bathrooms, so she couldn’t have been desperate for a toilet. On top of that, I’ve made it very clear that a Man’s bathroom time is sacred and not to be intruded upon except under the most dire of circumstance. So this must be a dire circumstance.
I gave one final grunt, hitched up my pants, and opened the door. On the other side stood NewWifey(tm). Her mouth was wide open, and sticking out of it was what I had to assume was her tongue. It sure didn’t look like a tongue, though. It looked like a chunk of tread cut off a truck tire, all black and run through with deep treads.
“Oh my GOD! Honey! What happened??”
She started to grunt some kind of answer but suddenly stopped. She looked over my shoulder into the bathroom, then at me. The color drained from her face as she brought her hand up and covered her nose.
“Yeah, yeah” I said. “It’ll simmer down in a day or two. I think. C’mon, let’s go into the kitchen.” I grabbed her arm and led her down that hall.
In the kitchen she tried to make herself understood with interpretive dance. Either that or she was stricken with sudden onset cerebral palsy. After a series of seemingly random limb movements and head jerks elicited no expression of comprehension from me she threw up her arms and grabbed a Sharpie and a paper plate.
“I ATE THE LEFTOVER WALNUT SHRIMP” she wrote.
“Yeah, that’s what I figured” I said.
She stared at me, then wrote furiously “WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T YOU JUST SAY SO?!”
“It was fun watching you imitate Michael J. Fox.”
She gave a muted scream and threw the pen at me.
Fortunately when NewWifey(tm) gets hit with these episodes it doesn’t last long. It’s not like some shellfish allergy where she risks going into anaphylactic shock if she even watches an episode of Spongebob Squarepants. She just had to put up with me pointing and laughing at her cracked and distended tongue (in between bathroom stints) for a little while before her anatomy returned to normal and she could scream at me to her heart’s content.
All in all then it was a pretty rockin’, if belated, birthday celebration. I mean, it was nuts!
****** BONUS FOODIE FOOTAGE ******
Might as well give the Valentine’s update while I’m here.
NewWifey(tm) and I decided last year that the whole flowers/chocolate/stupid card thing was a bogus money grab by the Hallmark people, so we resolved just to get drunk and have sex like we do every night instead. But I cheated a bit and made some little treats to have between boink sessions.
One of my favorite food/wine pairings is blue cheese and almost any good sweet wine, like Port or Sauternes. Usually with pears, but it could also be apples or just good bread.
Two weeks ago I picked up a half case of an inexpensive sweet wine that I think is one of the better values out there: BV “Muscat de Beaulieu”. It’s no Chateau d’Yquem or Taylor Fladgate vintage, but on sale for 6 bucks a half-bottle you gotta be crazy to pass it up. I had it with one of my birthday dishes, with extra walnuts.
I had so many bottles that I splurged and turned one into a sauce. I reduced a bottle in a pan down to about half it’s volume then added it to a bechamel sauce. Then I pulled it off the heat and added the remainder of the blue cheese from the night before. Viola! A blue cheese muscat sauce, that went perfectly over whatever the hell else I made that night. I don’t really remember, I was pretty drunk.
So anyway, I had plenty of that funky sauce left last night when I started making Valentine’s dinner. I didn’t want to just make something and cover it with the same sauce, so after mulling it over a bit I decided to make a Brazilian snack I’d had once years ago and really liked. It’s called “Pão de Queijo”, and it’s kinda like little cheese balls. It’s not a cheese puff, like you make with choux paste, but rather a dense, baked ball that uses tapioca starch instead of flour. They’re really good.
Normally they’re made with milk and Parmesan cheese, but I decided to use that sauce instead. It had milk in it, after all, and cheese too. Just a different cheese. And sweet wine. Welcome to Home Cooking 101!
And you know what? They came out GREAT. I mean, GREAT. The sweet/salty thing was going on in spades, along with the delicate perfume of the muscat in the background. NewWifey(tm) couldn’t get enough of them.
And finally, have you ever had this stuff?:
That’s exactly what it says it is. It’s chocolate red wine. I bought a bottle of it last Valentine’s Day, but after drinking half of it NewWifey(tm) and I decided that chocolate and red wine was best consumed separately. I put the half empty bottle in the fridge and forgot about it until last night. Spotting it in a back corner, curiosity got the better of me. I tried it.
It was still good! Take that, First Growth Bordeaux’s!
Of course, I still didn’t want to drink it as-is. But I thought I should probably do something chocolate-y given the day.
Long story short: I turned it into pudding. Mixed corn starch and sugar, added the Cacao-Grape Chimera wine, egg yolks and butter, and…it turned out great! Again! A real alcoholic kick, too, but not harshly so. Just whipped up some heavy cream as a topping, and it was quite the treat. NewWifey(tm) bolted that one down, too.
Here’s the pudding and my Brazilian balls, ladies, just for you:
Hmmm. Doesn’t really look like much, does it. You’ll just have to take my word that you’d do me too if I served you them. You guys, too.
Ok, gotta scoot. Hope you all had as great a week as I did…although perhaps not as nutty.