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May 15, 2008

Hammy English Winter Vegetable Stew with Ale and Stilton

This is part of my experiment with incredibly non-vegan foods. Since itâs non-vegan and non-non-alcoholic, itâs of no use to most of the people I know. But nevertheless, I invented it a few weeks ago as I was wandering around Eastern Market in a torrential rainstorm, and I want the internet to recognize that I am a genius when it comes to warm and comforting fat and booze.

Hammy English Winter Vegetable Stew with Ale and Stilton

 lb. disturbingly named âham endsâ (can also use hocks, other cheap ham pieces designed for stewpot)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
2 small or 1 large carrot(s), diced
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
5-6 small red potatoes, diced
4-5 cups vegetable stock
 - 1 cup ale (any kind, not too dark, not flat)
 head cabbage, cored, rinsed & chopped
 cup Stilton or other blue cheese, crumbled
Butter/olive oil, for sautÃing
 c dry elbow macaroni
1 c frozen lima beans, carefully inspected
Thyme, dried or fresh
Dill, dried or fresh
MAYBE salt, but not until very end when youâve tasted the stew with everything else added!

Sautà garlic and onion in olive oil and/or butter until just fragrant and soft, stirring to make sure garlic doesnât burn. Add ham pieces and stir. Itâs easiest if your ham ends, hocks, or whatever are in big chunks at this point. At any rate, stir them in for a minute or two until fragrant, and just searing on the outside. Add diced celery, carrot, parsnip, and potatoes and stir to coat in oil/butter for a minute or two.

Add your veg stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, add ale, and simmer 40 minutes or so until the ham is tender. Pull the ham chunks out of the pot, get the meat off the bone, dice, and return to pot.

Add cabbage and simmer 10 minutes.

Add lima beans, elbow macaroni, and 2 sprigs each thyme and dill, if using fresh; otherwise, a pinch or two each of dried or to taste. Cook a further 10 minutes or until macaroni are cooked.

Last thing: Add crumbled Stilton and stir in. Remove from heat and check seasonings. I found that between my vegetable stock, which had salt in it, and the salty ham, and the salty Stilton, I didnât need any additional salt. And I like salt. So make sure you check your seasonings after adding the cheese and before auto-salting. Also, depending on how much you like blue cheese, you could go up to 1/3 c or so.

Makes a fucking ton of stew. As it sits in the refrigerator, your leftovers will turn from stew into a casserole as the macaroni absorbs all the liquid. Delicious, particularly if you're on vacation from veganism.

Posted by katie at 09:34 AM

May 03, 2008

TSOTC: Monticello Field Trip From Hell

Itâs unfortunate that I canât sleep right now, since I have to be up at the crack of dawn to chaperone my second field trip for the students at the Center, although the word âchaperoneâ is a rather overinflated term here. Since the students are all adult college students, my only real job as chaperone is to carry around a list of names and make sure nobody gets on the bus who didnât pay for the trip, with the exception of myself, since I get to go for free. My second job is to make sure that the trip stays on schedule, and to remind the students that since we are a public university without money to spare for bus overtime, anyone whoâs late gets to take the train home. Iâve gone on one trip thus far, to Monticello, the tranquil and gracious mountaintop home of Thomas Jefferson, and for awhile afterward I was undecided about chaperoning tomorrowâs trip to Gettysburg, the notorious scene of 3 daysâ carnage and mayhem in 1863.

The Monticello trip was several Saturdays ago. I arrived in the lobby to meet the students at 6:45 AM, and things started unraveling immediately. First of all, the trip was to be accompanied by Professor Difficult, a faculty member and general hanger-about the Center who had already deeply endeared himself to me by calling my advisor back home and telling him that I need to work harder on my dissertation. When he arrived in the lobby, the first thing he did was to make a beeline for me and kiss me on the cheek, a sweet and courtly old-man gesture that I particularly and uniformly despise.

As I was shooing away Professor Difficult and checking students off my list, I saw a man board the bus and make what appeared to be a lively speech to the students already on board, waving his arms. Then he got off the bus and came into the lobby. âWell,â he said, apparently to me, âI told âem I canât go on the trip. So you got to talk to the driver, âcause he ainât never been there before.â

His peculiar communication turned out to mean this: this man was the owner of the bus company, who was himself supposed to be driving our bus down to Monticello, a roughly 2-hour drive into Virginia. But, according to various accounts I later heard, it was either his 50th anniversary, or he wanted to go to a baseball game. Either way, he had made other plans. So he had assigned us a replacement driver who combined a maximum of age with a minimum of experience: a palsied octogenarian in a Coast Guard cap who had never driven to Monticello, or to the nearby town of Charlottesville, or to the rather out-of-the-way town of Manassas, or, as I later discovered, anywhere in the Washington DC area. For all I know, this man had flown out from the West Coast to visit his grandchildren and had been shanghaied into driving our bus.

All of this was imparted as I continued to check students onto the bus. In the middle of this, Professor Difficult began barking directions at me, directions which I failed to write down the first several times he yelled them, because I certainly wasnât going to be driving any bus, and I assumed that he could re-deliver the instructions to the bus driver as and when needed. Except, as he then told me, he was planning to drive down separately. The given reason for this was that he needed to spend the night in Charlottesville. The actual reason for this, of course, was that he was clearly going to have more fun driving his shiny silver convertible than riding on a tour bus with a bunch of college students. So the third time he barked directions at me, I dutifully scribbled them down on a corner of my list of names. The directions I got read, in their entirety:

66 to 250 to 28 to 64E to 20? to Monticello (look for some signs)

Anyone familiar with Washington and Virginia will immediately see what was going to happen. Unfortunately, neither the bus driver nor I had any experience with the area, and so we were unable to identify what was happening even while it was happening. To wit, rather than taking Highway 29 toward Charlottesville, we took Highway 28 to, and well past, Manassas. For those of us educated in the North and/or West, this is where the two famed Battles of Bull Run took place. For those of us on the bus that day, sadly, it was very much not where we needed to be. In short, what should have been a two-hour bus ride took nearly four and a half hours. I took some comfort in the fact that by Hour Three most of the students were asleep on the bus and therefore unable to witness the bus driver repeatedly having to pull over and ask random drivers for directions.

Professor Difficult, who had smuggled a friend of his along for the trip, arrived at Monticello a full two hours ahead of us. Someone in the Center had leaked my cell phone number to him, which he used to call and let me know exactly how remarkable he found it that the completely uninformed bus driver and I had managed to get lost, how pissed he was that we were late, and how generally incredulous he was that I was unable, from my position as a passenger, to cause the bus to move any faster in the right direction. According to my phoneâs call log, he called to berate me at:

10:11 AM
10:27 AM
10:33 AM
10:38 AM
10:47 AM
10:58 AM
11:03 AM
11:10 AM
11:13 AM
11:15 AM
11:16 AM

The last call came as the bus was pulling into the parking lot of Monticelloâs Visitor Center, which was hailed with cheers by all aboard. I answered the phone and said, âWe just got to the Visitor Center. Where are you and your friend waiting?â

âWhat do you mean youâre at the Visitor Center?â he said. âI mean, I just donât understand it, Katie. What the hell would possess you to go there?â

So we started the bus back up and followed the directions that Professor Difficult had barked at me over the phone, which led us up the hill to a community college. Then we turned the bus precariously around, went back down the hill, then up another hill to a gated community. Then we turned the bus around, went back down that hill, and randomly picked another uphill route, not the one Professor Difficult had prescribed but which nevertheless got us to Monticello itself, or at least to its parking lot, whence one takes a shuttle up to the house at the top of the hill.

Only 2 Â hours late for our tour, and in one piece, which I thought was pretty good. Students made a beeline for the restrooms and the food concession, and I got on the phone with the Centerâs events coordinator to let her know what was going on. While we were on the phone, I watched in total horror as Professor Difficult started pulling my students out of line and ordering them onto the shuttles. âThis man is insane,â I told the events coordinator. âI am going to beat him to death with a replica colonial butter churn.â

When I pointed out to Professor Difficult that I wanted to make sure the students got a chance to grab water and food, he punched me in the arm. âOh, relax,â he said.

I was beyond words. Opening and closing my mouth like a fish, I followed him onto the shuttle. My friend Michele, who I had smuggled along on the trip for my own comfort and sanity, punched my arm. âRelax,â she hissed, and snickered.

Thomas Jeffersonâs house is graceful and stately, overlooking a beautiful valley filled with greenery and slowly droning bumblebees. The house is magnificently filled with amazing objects of not-exactly his invention, and the grounds are beautifully maintained. I feel confident that it is the ideal sort of place for a convivial group to spend a relaxed afternoon, wandering the grounds and exploring at leisure. Unfortunately for that group, which on this particular day consisted of several dozen cheerful senior citizens, the 54 members of our group were marched through at grim speed, trailing thunderclouds in our wake. Tour completed, we stood at the top of the hill waiting for the shuttles back to the parking lot. Several students raised, not for the first time since weâd arrived, a plaintive chorus in favor of exploring the colonial-esque tavern at the bottom of the hill. The senior citizens beamed at the fresh-faced young college students. And Professor Difficult huffed and stamped.

At least, thatâs how it went for the first ten or so minutes, while the senior citizens stood graciously aside in the sticky heat and allowed strapping young university students to completely fill the first two parking lot shuttles. But when the third shuttle arrived, an elderly man, leaning on his wifeâs arm, tried to board. And then something happened which I have never seen before in my life: Professor Difficult came up behind the old man, took him by the shoulders, and pulled him off the shuttle. âWe need our students to stay together,â he barked. âYou can go on the next one.â

The next part of our itinerary was meant to include a leisurely lunch hour in Charlottesville before our afternoonâs architectural tour at University of Virginia. I had checked this with the events director because of the strict injunctions about keeping to the schedule. âDonât you worry about that,â she told me. âItâs not our fault the bus driver didnât know where to go and made you late. They can cover the overtime. You let the students have their day.â

But Professor Difficult overrode that immediately. âIf we hurry we can make it to the university in time for the tour,â he said.

âLook,â my friend Michele said. âWe need to make sure that the students get a chance to eat something.â

âAnd somebodyâs got to tell me where to go,â the bus driver quavered. âAnd how you want me to get there.â

âThe colonial tavern â" said one of my students, but he stopped when Professor Difficult, the ancient bus driver, and I all gave him The Look at the same time.

Finally, it was decided that the easiest thing would be for the bus to follow Professor Difficultâs car to the university, where there would be half an hour or so for the students to grab food and drinks before the architectural tour that, by this point, exactly none of them wanted to go on. I insisted on doing a head count on the bus, which evidently took longer than Professor Difficult wanted to wait, because he sat in his car honking until the bus pulled out behind him.

And then the Beautiful Thing happened. As we were pulling out of Monticello onto the main road, the bus slammed into the back of Professor Difficultâs shiny silver convertible. Hard. Leaving a big dent.

And that was the moment that the antique bus driver became my new best friend. Forget the rest of the day â forget getting lost again on the way to the university, Professor Difficult having to pull over and ask directions several times, the laborious and repeated turning-around of the bus, the inane architectural tour, the numbing neoclassical blandness of UVA, the fights over a final water and bathroom break , the fact that we ended up in Alexandria rather than Washington (easily remedied). It is true that after the accident the bus door didnât close right, and that we eventually drove the two hours back to Washington with air whistling in around the door. It is also true that the bus driver subsequently ran several red lights, and while I did not choose to turn around and look at the students, Michele did, and in her face I clearly saw reflected 54 pairs of very large eyes. The bus driver and I, cemented forever in our new bond, looked at each other and chuckled. âOops,â he said, lifting a hand to his mouth.

I punched Michele in the arm. âHey, relax,â I said, and frankly, I sniggered.

Posted by katie at 01:07 AM

May 01, 2008

TSOTC: What Our Heroine is Doing With Her Tax Refund


The glare on the picture kind of sucks, but can't you just smell the A&D ointment?

We're about 2/3 done. I'm so pleased.

Posted by katie at 06:26 PM