Friday, September 14, 2007

Thomas and the rat

Returning to the States after a long time away, I'm rediscovering some sweet American delights. Along with eating bagels and a sense of confidence in the postal system, I was a little surprised at how excited I was to sit inside a movie theater again. On a good recommendation, Bowden and I recently spent a rainy afternoon in the theater watching Ratatouille. It's charming, funny, and about good food. What's not to enjoy?

Without trying very hard, I've come across several articles about the movie and the dish lately. One included the recipe Thomas Keller developed for the film, a fancily-plated ratatouille-inspired dish he calls confit byandi. With all the coverage and a recipe in hand, making the dish didn't seem like a very novel idea, but it sure did sound like a tasty one.

At the downtown Indy farmers market, we picked up the ingredients and set to work as soon as we got home. Total cooking time for Keller's recipe exceeds 2 hours so we knew we'd be eating late.

The ony annoying part was trying to peel the roasted peppers per Keller's instructions. After several frustrating minutes and tasting the delicate pepper skins, we decided Keller probably only suggested peeling the poor peppers because he had a commis army to do the deed for him. So the peppers went in peels and all. I don't remember feeling any toothsome pepper skins in the final dish, though next time I will peel the sliced tomatoes that go on top.

We layered the dish just like it looks in the movie and popped it into the oven for a long, slow bake. The result was colorful and savory, though we both agreed that the next night's leftovers were so much better that we'd make it a day ahead on purpose next time.

Cookies were on the dessert menu both nights. Along with the veg, we picked up cookies from Rene's bakery at the farmers market. Between the chocolate chip, toffee, dried apricot & cherry, and molasses ginger, Bowden and agreed on the toffee as a favorite (even though we also agreed that it didn't really taste like toffee). I'm usually partial to Rene's molasses ginger gems embedded with big sugar crystals, but the ginger tasted more like expensive perfume in the particular sample we had that night.

The next night, leftover (and better) confit byaldi was followed by chocolate ginger cookies fresh from the same oven that did the leftover's reheating. Also better a day older, these cookies are one of my favorites to make (and eat).
How do you say "sweet tooth" in French?

~ Corrie

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


The backpacks have been rarely empty over the last several months. After Bowden and I returned from Italia, we were on Hoosier ground for barely a week before we piled the re-filled packs into the car and headed toward California.

Given the time, we did little preparation for the trip. At AAA, we bought a new road atlas, and I borrowed four guidebooks from the library (Rough Guide to the USA, Let's Go USA, National Geographic's Guide to the National Parks, and Jane and Michael Stern's Roadfood.)

Three of the four served us quite well. The Rough Guide's place descriptions were rich in history and perspective. The Let's Go USA guide made to-the-point suggestions for cheap accommodations and go-to eateries. National Geographic's National Parks guidebook was concise with neat summaries of the details. I was hungrily disappointed in Roadfood, though. Sure, I had high expectations, but nothing beyond what was promised from the book's own cover.

We tried to eat at two of the places recommended in the book. One was closed for business and the other had changed names and affiliations. Completely excusable occurrences...things change.
That the recommendations focused almost exclusively on barbecue, hamburgers, and colossal portions, we could forgive. It wasn't exciting reading -- seeing the same adjectives used over and over and over -- but descriptions of the same foods can only be so diverse. And it was only a little annoying (and unfortunate) that quantity seemed to represent quality when grand portion sizes became the feature of many reviews.

The most frustrating aspect of the Roadfood guide was that its recommendations weren't particularly helpful for travelers actually On The Road. Pages and pages of eatery advice are allotted to the major cities between here and there. Allora, aspetta! It's the major cities (along the major highways) that almost any hungry traveler could navigate easily. I thought a road food guide would offer insider tips to the places along the roads between the big cities.

For just one hungry example, as a appetite-aware traveler, I already know that Kansas City has great barbecue. There are tons of books that recommend the best bbq places in Kansas City. Sitting in the passenger seat, I was hopelessly turning the pages looking for a recommendation of the best bbq place in the southwest corner of Colorado, where we were driving through fields and fields of tasty-looking, happily grazing beef cattle. We were On The Road -- not meandering through city streets -- and were left unfulfilled by the Roadfood guidebook.

So, I didn't spend any pre-travel time on the Stern's Roadfood web site, and a new edition of Roadfood might clear up some of my frustrations, but overall, I'd be inclined not to use up valuable luggage space with the Roadfood guide again.

Instead, Bowden and I started accumulating our own recommendations for grub along the way. I'd like to write soon about CK's Homestyle Restaurant in Horse Cave, Kentucky, and The Mad Greek in Baker, California -- two fine establishments that are on the road but not in Roadfood.

~ Corrie

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

a Hoosier home again

Despite my LONG silence (no good excuses), the last year or so has been a string of (allora, aspetta!) adventures. Meeting my Love, living in Italia for almost a year, and attending a graduate school where "studying" meant, mostly, eating and drinking were just the magical background for all sorts of good stories. I should have been writing all along and trying to summarize it all now seems too daunting a task. So instead, I'll beg forgiveness and just start over...

Happy belated Birthday to Jackie! Bella celebrated her birthday and arrived in Indiana just as I was leaving (but still thinking of her). Hope you had a wonderful birthday, Jack. I'm really sorry to have missed you and...I miss you!

I was leaving Indiana around Jackie's birthday to begin the long drive to Santa Monica, California. Bowden's family lives there and we aimed to visit them and lots of country along the way. Some car troubles made the return trip far from what we planned, but overall it was an amazing experience. His family is friendly and very dear. The Southwest is dramatic and incredible diverse. There is never a good time for timing belts to wear out.

So, as a Hoosier home again, I'm having fun reacquainting myself with Indy and thinking over the last month on the road. Here are a couple short lists to help record our journey...

Campsites: We enjoyed the state parks for their more affordable camping fees, splendid amenities (like free showers), and convenient and scenic locations. (We would have liked to add more to the list, but those car troubles kept us in unscenic but cheap hotels in San Jon and Tucumcari, New Mexico; Shawnee and Roland, Oklahoma; and West Memphis, Arkansas.)
Clinton Lake State Park, Kansas
John Martin State Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Buckboard, Manti La Sal national Forest, Utah
Horsethief BML Campground, Utah
Escalante State Park, Utah
Bryce National Park, Utah
Snow Canyon State Park, Utah
Kartchner Caverns State Park, Arizona
Brantley Lake State Park, New Mexico
Ute Lake State Park, New Mexico
Nolin Lake State Park, Kentucky

Non-bird Animals From the Trip: Bowden kept up the bird list, making several new additions to his "life list," but here are some of the non-bird species we saw along the way.
desert and/or mountain cotton tails
Kaibab or Abert's and golden mantel squirrels
prairie dogs
prong horned antelope
mule deer
Vinta chipmunks
coyote (actually, we only heard them)

Some lessons we learned along the way: Things we'll remember for next time.
1. Stake the tent whenever possible. We returned from a hike in Pine Valley, Utah, to find our poor tent blown over and pinned (thankfully) under the picnic table at our site in Snow Canyon State Park.
2. Take advantage of camping in state parks (see note above).
3. Think before packing the car. We learned to use valuable car space by packing like items together and in order of frequency of use.
4. Bring a dishpan for gray water. Some campsites requested that water used to clean dishes (aka "gray water") be dumped in special drains.
5. Have plenty of 10s, 5s and 1s on hand to pay for camp site fees. Self registration is a popular method in many of the parks we visited. Exact change is required.
6. Bring a calling card. Some of the camp sites had courtesy phones available and cell phone service is hit or miss on the road.
7. Rent a car to drive across country. It was the second of three mechanics we met on the trip who shared this bit of advice with us. If we don't rent a car the next time, we'll definitely have the timing belt checked.

~ Corrie