Sunday, August 31, 2014

Not Going to the Fair: Fried Dough at Home!

champlainvalleyfair.org
I love the fair, and it's happening now! But this year I am not going. (Sad face.) I decided to take pass on it this year to save some money, because unfortunately it can get expensive for a family of four. Just getting parked and through the gate is about $50. (Is that typical of other county fairs out there?)


Photo from rexwordpuzzle.blogspot.com
Also contributing to this decision was last year 's very unfortunate, vomitous incident involving Christian, the Tilt-A-Whirl, and some bad karma over... let's just say a less-than-legitimate unlimited ride bracelet. I thought he might like a break from revisiting that!
champlainvalleyfair.org
Our local fair is the Champlain Valley FairEven though it's essentially the same every year I do enjoy the atmosphere and the endless wandering around. 
champlainvalleyfair.org
It is brimming with all the delights you'd expect to find: rides, animals, midway games, craft exhibits, cooking shows, giant produce, pig racing, high-wire acts, a Grandstand for the big-name entertainment (my favorite was taking Haley and her friends to see the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato in 2008,) and of course the endless array of delicious fair food. 


Since the food is one of my favorite parts of the fair and I'll not be getting any, I'm making some of that fair food at home! 

This post is dedicated to: Fried Dough!

Ah, is there anything better? It's just dough. Fried. Served hot, slathered in melted butter, and waiting to be smothered in confectioner's sugar or honey or maple syrup. 

I didn't have a recipe for Fried Dough... I hoped it would be as straight-forward as it sounded. I made a sweet dough in my bread machine, fried it up one piece at a time, and it came out great! I don't have a deep fat fryer, I just did these in batches on the stove. 

How easy it would be to sell these out of my front window for $6.50 a pop! (And my house would smell like fried paradise.)

Fried Dough
Ingredients:
2 eggs
2/3 c. milk
1/2 c. butter, softened and cut into chunks
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. granulated sugar
3-3/4 c. all-purpose flour, unbleached
2 tsp. yeast
4 c. vegetable oil
Confectioner's sugar
Cinnamon-sugar mix

Directions:
Add the ingredients from eggs through yeast to the pan of your bread machine (add wet and dry ingredients in the order recommended by the bread machine manufacturer.) Set the machine to the "dough" setting and let run.

Once the dough is finished, remove it from the bread machine pan to a floured work surface. Punch down the dough, adding a light sprinkling of flour if it's sticky. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough thin, to about  1/4" thickness. Leave the rolled out dough pieces on the work surface and cover with a barely damp cloth. 

Heat the oil in a large frying pan until it begins to shimmer. Place a cooling rack into a rimmed baking sheet and place a few paper towels or a paper bag on the rack. Bring one of the rolled out pieces of dough to the pan and carefully set it in the hot oil. Allow it to cook or about thirty seconds. Use tongs or a metal spatula to carefully turn the dough over. Cook on the other side for another thirty seconds. Be careful not to let the dough get over-browned or burned. If it's cooking too fast, lower the heat under the pan.  (The oil in my pan was about 350°.) When done, remove the fried dough to the paper-lined cooling rack. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes and then brush the top with melted butter. Add toppings of your choice: I recommend a dusting of confectioner's sugar and a dusting of cinnamon-sugar. Other great toppings are chocolate syrup, maple syrup, honey, or cooked fruit. 

Fair tidbit: My favorite part of the classic children's book Charlotte's Web is when the family takes Wilbur to the fair. Wilbur gets to have a buttermilk bath and win an award, Fern gets to ride the Ferris wheel with Henry, and Templeton the rat gets to gorge himself on discarded fair food! 

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: 'Cards on the Table' by Agatha Christie


This month I pulled an Agatha Christie off the shelf. It was fun to find one that I had not yet read, and this turned out to be a great mystery. It features her Belgian, mustachioed detective Hercule Poirot and all of his funny little quirks. 

In this story, Poirot meets a mysterious Mr. Shaitana. (Shortly after meeting him there is a funny inner dialogue shared where Poirot compares Shaitana's mustache to his own, and determines his own mustache to be superior!) Eccentric and dramatic, Shaitana is giddy to share with Poirot that he is a great fan of murder, and a collector as well. Not, as Poirot assumes a collector of items used in murders, but of "the human beings who commit them." Anxious to impress Poirot, Shaitana arranges a dinner party and invites eight guests: four sleuths (Poirot being one) and four perfect murderers.  They are perfect murderers because their crimes have gone undiscovered, known to no one but Shaitana himself. At the end of the evening and after several hands of bridge, Shaitana is found dead - stabbed to death just a short distance away from one of the bridge tables. It is left to the four sleuths to determine who killed their host. 

I have learned with Christie's books that I have to pay close attention throughout, because clues are carefully and quietly scattered along the way. Poirot's unusual methods, observation of seemingly unimportant details, and character analyses leave me feeling as confounded as the police investigators in the books. I'm alright with constantly being two steps behind as long as the finish is a spectacular one. The twists and resolution of 'Cards on the Table' were very satisfying! I found that my conclusion/guess about the murderer was right - and was also wrong. Delightful! A great deal of importance was placed on the hands of bridge that had been played. This worried me at first because I know nothing about bridge, but the games were just another way of observing and predicting human behavior. 

There is an 'Agatha Christie's Poirot' television series starring David Suchet, episodes are available right now on Netflix. 'Cards on the Table' is one of the episodes and I'm looking forward to checking it out, to compare it to the book!

A story about my set of Agatha Christie books: my copy of 'Cards on the Table' does not have the illustration at the top, but is part of this set that used to belong to my grandmother. The volumes have black "leatherette" covers embossed with gold. After after my grandmother died, I helped my family at a yard sale of everything cleaned out of her house. The Christie volumes were among the treasures. At first I was not going to take them. It was emotional letting go of all of our grandmother's things. I felt like I could easily swing from wanting to take one thing to wanting to save EVERYTHING that was there. Near the end of the day the volumes remained. Just as I had made the decision to take them home a couple of high school kids arrived. They found the box with these books and started to look through. They were excitedly sifting through the titles, clearly not interested in all of them but searching for something. At last in triumph they pulled one of the books from the box and dashed over to us to buy it. It was "The Mousetrap". They were theater kids and had just done this play at their school. I was happy to let it be separated from the rest of the set. Their glee over finding this book was infectious, a warm spot in that otherwise cold, Fall yard sale day! 



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What is The Cephalopod Coffeehouse, you ask? Brilliant and well-dressed is the host The Armchair Squid who describes it thusly:

"The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers."


Visit The Armchair Squid and see what everyone's reading!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Garden Geek 2014, vol. 2

Pictures from the Spring and Summer garden.


Potted plants from Christian's classroom get to camp out in our garden for the summer. This ageratum took up residence in a pot with an aloe plant, and is winding its way around and out of the pot!


G'day, Daylily!


Feathery, pretty Astilbe.


We're getting lots of tomatoes this summer (despite the leaf spot visible here.) These are Early Girls.


Here comes Coriander!


And cukes! Cucumbers are this year's zucchini... our neighbors have brought armloads to us. 


I must pick up a field guide to dragonflies. I swear I see a new variety every day. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Salt Potatoes

 

I heard about salt potatoes for the first time at the beginning of this summer, from my good friend Meghan. Our conversation went like this:

Meghan: "I went to Hannaford's to see if salt potatoes are in, but they didn't have any. The guy there said he's never heard of them."
Me: "What are salt potatoes?"
Meghan: "You've never heard of salt potatoes?!?"

She explained that "salt potatoes" are small, white potatoes that come in a bag along with a packet of salt. The packet of salt gets added to the cooking water for the potatoes. "Then," she said, "you eat them hot with lots of butter." Sounds simple. Sounds delicious! 

Shortly after that conversation Meghan made a trip to Syracuse, NY where she grew up, and there managed find her salt potatoes. She also brought back an extra bag for lucky me! This bag was Hinerwadel's Famous Salt Potatoes, "Now with "Less Salt, More Potatoes". 
The "packet" of salt!
I cooked them up exactly to the original recipe on the bag. Those little, steaming potatoes with white rings and swirls covering the skins were sublimely salty and buttery! The skins on the potatoes had taken on a thin crust of salt, and the potato inside was soft and fluffy. Christian and I had them for dinner, nothing else, just those wonderful potatoes. 
Salty water boiling over
Wikipedia gave me this historical information about salt potatoes:
"The SyracuseNew York area has a long history of salt production. Salt springs located around Onondaga Lake were used to create consumable salt that was distributed throughout the northeast via the Erie Canal. Salinated brine was laid out to dry on large trays. The salt residue was then scraped up, ground, and packaged. 
Salt potatoes originated in Syracuse and once comprised the bulk of a salt worker's daily diet. During the 1800's, Irish salt miners would bring a bag of small, unpeeled, substandard potatoes to work each day. Come lunch time, they boiled the potatoes in the "free-flowing" salt brine."

I checked with other New York folks to see who knew about these potatoes. (Who else had been keeping them from me?) I started with my mom who grew up Hoosick Falls, NY, about an hour outside of Albany. She had never heard of them either, too far south. Next I checked with her brother, my Uncle Jack who lives in the Rochester, NY area as well as my cousin Meghann who lives over there with her family, too. Bingo! Though they had not heard of Hinerwadel's, my cousin said that there were many brands of potatoes that came packaged like that. They both agree that salt potatoes are yummy! My uncle said they're usually served at clambakes and lobster bakes. 

This seems to align with history of the Hinerwadel brand. Their website says that John Hinerwadel began selling salt potatoes at his popular clambakes in the early 1900's. One hundred-plus years later, and selling about a million bags each year they are still going strong! 

I'm very happy to now know of this method of cooking potatoes and will probably try to replicate it at home. More than that I just love learning of regional favorites like this, with their own little historical tale and devoted local fans. Hinerwadel's has the perfect formula figured out... it's not just any old potato with a dash of salt. It's small white potatoes, skins left on, scrubbed clean, and boiled in water to which 12 ounces of fine salt have been added. I'm sharing below the recipe right off the Hinerwadel's bag, and visit their website at Hinerwadels.com. And take it from my friend Meghan: Don't forget the butter, lots of it!

Who else out there has heard of salt potatoes? 


Hinerwadel's Salt Potatoes: Original Recipe
Ingredients (inside the Hinerwadel's bag):
5 lbs. small white potatoes
12 oz. salt packet (fine grain, like pickling salt)

Directions
Place 4 quarts of water in a pot with the entire contents of the salt packet, and bring to a boil. Add all the potatoes and cook about 20 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain and serve hot. Eat them plain, or melt butter or margarine on top. Leave the skins on though, they're the best part!