We’ve decided to foster a couple of puppies for the next 6 weeks, with the idea we’ll adopt one permanently at the end of that time. So, hey! Big news for us. Obviously we’re ready to get moving on all the life changing. Expect profuse puppy posts.

Anyway, this decision has had us pouring over our substantial collection of dog-training books. I’ve been reading up on Culture Clash, which we enjoyed so much the first time around that our copy sports large wine stains. I wanted to share this paragraph from the introduction, describing why it’s silly to think that dogs are going to behave the way you want just to please you:

My dogs’ brains are continuously and expertly checking out the behavior of humans, working out to eight decimal places the probability at any given second of cookies, walks, attention, Frisbee and endless hours of deliriously orgasmic games with the latex hedgehog. They appear devoted to me because I throw a mean Frisbee and have opposable thumbs that open cans. Not to say we don’t have a bond. We are both bonding species. But they don’t worship me. I’m not sure they have a concept of worship. Their love is also not grounds for doing whatever I say. It is, in fact, irrelevant to training. To control their behavior, I must constantly manipulate the consequences of their actions and the order and intensity of important stimuli.

In addition to being right on, as far as I’m concerned, this reminds me how similar I found dog training and managing a classroom full of 8th graders to be.

essential spanish

After realizing last fall that my Spanish has atrophied completely—I have removed “Spanish minor” from my resumé, no matter how technically accurate it may be—I’m listening to Pimsleur’s first three Spanish courses on iTunes to refresh my memory. Bryan and I had good luck learning basic German from them and like their approach to language teaching: few explicit rules, lots of repetitive but realistic conversation.

Maybe a little too realistic. In the first ten lessons I have been reminded how to order beer and insist that the other person pay. A favorite exchange:

“How much time do you have?”
“Eight minutes.”
“What do you want to drink?”
“Three beers.”
“Three beers in eight minutes?!”
“I like beer.”

I may have participated in this precise conversation in real life.

the ethics of eating meat

The New York Times issued a call a few weeks ago for essays making an ethical case for eating meat. I couldn’t think of a single ethical justification myself, so I’ve looked forward to the results. Out of thousands of submissions, the panel of judges (including Michael Pollan, Peter Singer, and others) selected six finalists—all brief, engaging, and worth a read. The winner will be selected by reader votes, and if you do vote, you can see where the entries stand among the readers so far.

[Spoiler alert.] For the sake of good survey methodology, I hope that they are varying the order in which the submissions appear when readers visit the site. The results show the first entry (“I’m about to eat meat…”) far ahead in votes, which could be due to readers only reading for and voting among the first few entries. But surely the Times knows better.

history trivia

I’ve been doing a lot of reading during my spare time (yes, all my time is spare), including old text books. This nugget from Europe and the Middle Ages just floored me.

[table id=1 /]
(This is in Europe as a whole, apparently.)

I mean, yes, wars and disease and childbirth and such (and Satan, I guess, and demons), but I’d have guessed that at least a third of people who survived the perils of childhood actually made it to age 60. Nope. Another reason to be happy about living today. Maybe later I’ll tell you what I’m learning about the Dust Bowl (damn).

fried chicken

I took a short break from the frantic cooking last week as we exploited some frozen leftovers and actually ate out TWICE. Perhaps I was just saving my energy for exploring a new cooking frontier: fried chicken. That’s right, it turns out you can make something that’s almost as good as KFC for only loads of effort. Tempted?

chicken frying

from Bon Appetit’s February issue, lots of other material here

2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 3–4-lb. chicken (not kosher), cut into 10 pieces, backbone and wing tips removed
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Peanut oil (for frying) [I used a combination of canola and safflower, no problems.]
special equipment:
A deep-fry thermometer [I don’t know if this differs from a candy thermometer, which is what I had and worked fine.]

Whisk 1 Tbsp. salt, 2 tsp. black pepper, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, and onion powder in a small bowl. Season chicken with spices. Place chicken in a medium bowl, cover, and chill overnight.

Let chicken stand covered at room temperature for 1 hour. Whisk buttermilk, egg, and 1/2 cup water in a medium bowl. Whisk flour, cornstarch, remaining 1 Tbsp. salt, and remaining 1 Tbsp. pepper in a 9x13x2″ baking dish.

Pour oil into a 10″–12″ cast-iron skillet or other heavy straight-sided skillet (not nonstick) to a depth of 3/4″. Prop deep-fry thermometer in oil so bulb is submerged. Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350°. Meanwhile, set a wire rack inside a large rimmed baking sheet.

Working with 1 piece at a time (use 1 hand for wet ingredients and the other for dry ingredients), dip chicken in buttermilk mixture, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Dredge in flour mixture; tap against bowl to shake off excess. Place 5 pieces of chicken in skillet. Fry chicken, turning with tongs every 1–2 minutes and adjusting heat to maintain a steady temperature of 300°–325°, until skin is deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 165°, about 10 minutes for wings and 12 minutes for thighs, legs, and breasts.

Using tongs, remove chicken from skillet, allowing excess oil to drip back into skillet; transfer chicken to prepared rack.

Repeat with remaining chicken pieces; let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

chicken, plated
(more photos here; scroll down)


Also last week, we ate some gumbo from the freezer, first documented here. (Matt and Amanda, remember when you lived in California?!)


My favorite thing about being on sabbatical may be the way I feel on Mondays. Instead of anticipating five days of drudgery and a hard slog until the next weekend, I look forward to a week of possibilities. Which projects will I focus on? What will I accomplish? I hope that whatever I do next feels more like this, and less like the other.

who’s on twitter?

If the first thing you thought of when you read that header is the 1940s-era Abbott and Costello routine, you, like me, have probably not fully engaged with the social media bonanza that is WEB 2.0 (insert sparkles). If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me whether I saw “those pictures” on facebook (answer: no), I could probably buy a steak dinner…in 1940, to eat while chuckling over “Who,” “What,” and “I Don’t Give a Darn.” Point is, I’m a curmudgeonly 31. But as our cross-country move draws closer, it has occurred to me that perhaps I should explore this “social networking” business for the purpose of not losing all my friends.

And while YOU GUYS, the six of you who occasionally stop by or subscribed to the RSS feed back when blogging was all the rage (OH, 2005) are of course my most beloved friends, I do feel a little like I’m writing in a closet here, my little dusty corner of the internet, plugged into nothing, connected to no one. And anyway, how will the advertisers of the world know what to send my way if I don’t provide them with some data to mine? How will the poor corporations survive if I don’t create some exploitable content?

So, I am trying to decide which of my social media alternatives are a) the best tools for keeping in touch with good friends and b) least philosophically repugnant. It’s a tough call. Everyone is on facebook, but it’s almost too crowded. Any updates I’m genuinely interested in get immediately drowned out of the feed by news from people I barely knew in high school, who* I friended promiscuously in the run-up to our 10-year reunion. A friend of mine (@ElAitch) convinced me to sign up for twitter, so I tiptoed into that big party yesterday. While Alton Brown is a riot—he’s dieting, apparently, and tweeting elaborate fantasies about hunting, killing, and mating with cinnamon buns—I’m not sure how many people I actually know are in the room. And I didn’t come to hang out with strangers.

*Does anyone else feel a little twinge of grammar guilt when they replace “whom” with “who” because only douchebags say “whom”? (Is this the sort of question that one tweets? (Is “one” any less douchy than “whom”?))

So where are you guys? Or where are you most inclined to explore? Should I just suck it up and do the twitter/facebook combo thing? Is ANYONE using Google+? Or is this whole thing just a giant circle jerk, and I should just call you on the goddamn phone?

UPDATE: I’d never shut down lulu—I like to hear myself think in long form. Just considering cross-posting options. And if you care to connect with my still-never-used twitter account, I’m @LesileHall (yes, that’s LesILE, just to ensure no one can ever find me; also there were already 12 LeslieHalls).

a week of meals

Another week, another menu.

Monday: pumpkin and shrimp bisque
Tuesday: the rest of the bisque, with some vegetables
Wednesday: murgh makhanwala
Thursday: various leftovers
Friday: galician tuna empanada and caesar salad
Saturday: red beans and rice with asparagus

Monday’s meal was a triumph on several levels. I chose the recipe specifically to use up a giant can of pumpkin, which, in a fit of fall madness, I’d bought in a 3-pack from Costco (what person who does not like pumpkin pie really needs 6 pounds on hand?) and cracked open to make pumpkin bread for our recent ski trip. It just so happened that I had every other ingredient already in our pantry or freezer, which thrills me. It’s not quite as good as finding the perfect recipe to use up the last bits of ingredients purchased for sundry other meals, but it’s close. And if all that weren’t enough, the soup was extremely tasty. It caused me to make a squash-specific resolution to never again dull knives and risk fingers breaking down a whole butternut or acorn into half-inch cubes to puree in a soup when I could simply open up a can of pumpkin for equally delicious results.

Wednesday’s murgh makhanwala, an Indian recipe clipped from Saveur maybe a year ago, was complicated and fun and turned out well—if virtually indistinguishable from the chicken tikka masala you could get at basically any Indian restaurant in the western world. I enjoyed cooking in a different cuisine and learning how the dish comes together, but I’ll probably leave this one to the restaurants in the future.

The dish I want to share with you this time is Friday’s tuna empanada. Granted, you must have screwed up pretty royally to not love a dish you wrapped in puff pastry,* but whatever. This was flat delicious, quick to make, and I’m positive it helped Bryan’s performance as a driver in the Lemons race the next day. The pastry is crispy and rich, and the filling sort of merges together into hot, savory fabulousness.

*calories in one sheet: 1700


[Note: I halved the recipe; it worked great.]

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium plum tomatoes, seeded, finely chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound high-quality canned Spanish tuna packed in olive oil, drained, coarsely flaked
2 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled, sliced
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
2 ounces thinly sliced Serrano ham or prosciutto [Our Whole Foods recently started carrying a brand called La Quercia, which is better than any other prosciutto I can recall.]
1 large egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)

Heat oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, pepper, onion, and garlic; sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté until vegetables are soft, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Add tuna and sliced eggs; toss gently to distribute evenly. Season filling with salt and pepper; set aside to cool completely.

Spray rimless baking sheet with nonstick spray. [I just plopped the empanada on some parchment paper.] Roll out 1 pastry sheet on floured surface to 12×16-inch rectangle. Transfer to baking sheet. Arrange ham over pastry, leaving 1-inch border. Spread filling atop ham, leaving 1-inch border. Brush pastry edges with beaten egg. Roll out second pastry sheet to 12×15-inch rectangle. Place atop filling, pressing on edges to seal. Fold 1/2 inch of bottom pastry edge up over top pastry; crimp edges to seal. Brush top with beaten egg. Cut eight 2-inch slashes in top pastry. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover; chill.)

Preheat oven to 450°F. Bake empanada uncovered until crust is browned and crisp, about 25 minutes. Slide onto platter.

I’m not sure this photo does it justice, but my mouth started watering just looking at it and remembering, so I’ll leave it up. Photos of most of the other meals are posted in my funemployment album.

[Recipe source: Bon Appetit]