Sunday, September 25, 2011

Skillet trout

I guess I'm not ready to give up on blogging entirely. I am thinking, though, of morphing The Hungry Dog into something broader,  posting less frequently but about more things, not all food-related. Don't worry, nothing too heady--just stuff occupying my brain.

The first is trout. While grocery shopping a week or so ago, I stopped to admire the whole butterflied trout in the fish case. They were very lovely, with that silver-iridescent skin. Also, cheap. I got one wrapped up to go.

Once home, I had to decide what to do with it. Sometimes I can be very creative; sometimes I'm a total blank. What I decided on was a little on the blank side: lemon slices and rosemary. But actually, it was lovely! I opened up Mister Trout, stuffed him with the goods, and baked him in a skillet at high heat for 12 or 13 minutes. Delicious!

I only have a "before" picture because the after ones didn't look that different and I was in a hurry to eat it.

A few nights later I was talking to my sister on the phone about trout and we started reminiscing about this dish my dad would make sometimes, pan-fried whole trout with brown gravy, Chinese-style. I have no idea what was in that gravy, except I do remember green onions being part of it, which I confirmed with my mother. However, none of us know where the recipe came from.

I've have been mulling over how I might recreate this trout. I'm actually hoping some of my cousins that read this might chime in if their parents--my dad's sibs--ever made something along these lines. Pete, Carole, Tracey: I'm talking to you guys.


The second thing that's been on my mind for a couple of weeks is The Catcher in the Rye. While at my favorite bookstore a few weeks ago, I picked up a used copy of the classic. I found one with a cover I liked, a real old-school edition.

Now, of course I have read this book. I read it before high school, in high school, and quite possibly at some point afterward. But, reading it now, as a fully formed adult, was a totally different experience. Man, this book killed me. I just wanted to cry every 5 pages. I mean, it's funny, too--there's a lot of stuff that made me laugh out loud. But reading it from an adult perspective, I just felt like I wanted to save Holden. His depression is so clearly linked to the death of his younger brother Allie...and isn't this crazy, I didn't even remember he had a brother that got leukemia and died.

The book made me think about all kinds of things: Are there singular events that determine what kind of an adult you will be? How do you learn to face the future? Why are some people able to let the sadnesses of the world slide off them, while others find them debilitating?

One thing that I ended up really thinking about in the end was how glad I was the book was written, published (in 1951!) and that it is/was taught in schools. Sometimes I get so frustrated with the conservative dive this country is taking, it makes me worry that books like this won't get taught anymore. (Re)read it awhile you have the chance, before all the phonies have it banned.


The third thing on my mind is something I've been doing recently. One of my clients is a wonderful organization called Family House. They provide free, temporary housing to low-income families whose children are being treated at UCSF for life-threatening illnesses. They are a fantastic organization and I am honored to work for them.

I recently started volunteering there with Sophie, as part of their therapy dog program. Once a month, we visit the kids, who range from infant to teenager. Many of them are undergoing chemotherapy; for some of them, this is not their first round. Some are part of exciting but exhausting clinical trials. All  of them--and their parents--need a bright spot now and then, between treatments, appointments, and test results.

Here's Sophie about to go into her first day of therapy. Family House is located right next to Golden Gate Park, so I took her for a long walk first to get some energy out. Now she's getting focused.

The kids really love Sophie. There was a teeny girl there the other day--only two--whose father told me she was generally very afraid of dogs and would cry when she saw them. Not so with Sophie. She's extremely docile, you know. The little girl petted Sophie's head, fed her a biscuit, and even let Sophie lick her face.

Another boy, about 13, who was rather shy, hung out with us for the whole hour. He told me that Sophie reminded him of his four dogs at home, who he missed very much. He just wanted to be around her.

There's something about this experience that makes me happy, in spite of it being rather difficult. Not for me--I don't mean to imply that I'm suffering. But, you know, I wish I could fix these kids. No one should have to go through this kind of pain when they are so young. But, I'm glad I can do this one thing for them. It's not a lot, but it's something.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Buttermilk spice cake with cream cheese frosting

I'm a sucker for a good piece of cake. But sadly, like a decent man, this can be tough to find. Some cakes are absolutely gorgeous but underneath dry or flavorless. Some taste fantastic but look homely. Others lack frosting. Worse, some have bad frosting.

So when I come across a good cake--one that's moist and delicious, pretty to look at, easy to make, keeps well, and requires no special equipment--I get pretty excited. This lovely cake, courtesy of The Hungry Mouse, is all that and more. It's super simple and comes together in a snap. Inside, there's buttermilk (sheer magic), and loads of spices, like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and two tablespoons of ground ginger. Swoon!

I pretty much followed the recipe, even though the order of assembling ingredients was strange (mix the dry stuff together, then cream in the butter and buttermilk, then the eggs and vanilla...weird, right?) 

I did bake it in an 8-inch round pan instead of a square one, 'cause I think round cakes are cuter than square ones. And I skipped the spraying-with-oil-and-parchment business. I just buttered and floured the pan, old-school-style, and the cake popped out perfectly. And the third change is that I reduced the baking time. Hungry Mouse recommended 50-55 minutes, and I started checking mine at 40. At 46 it was borderline, and I made the mistake of putting it in for another 3 minutes. At 49, it was a little on the dry side.

So, as always, adjust the timing for your pan and oven, and, most of all--pay attention.

The cake turned out pretty rockin', though, even being a shade on the dry side. This was entirely my fault, not a reflection on the recipe. And you know, dry cake is an instance where frosting can play a practical role, adding a little (buttery) moisture.

Would you like a closer look? I have limited photography skills but I know my way around the Macro setting. Check it:

On a different note, you may have noticed I took a little hiatus from The Hungry Dog. It wasn't exactly intentional, it just sort of happened. I've had a lot of work to do, plus other stuff--fun stuff. I also haven't been cooking new and wonderful things, or even new and terrible things, which often make better posts. But basically, I sort of forgot about my blog. And when I remembered it, I didn't feel like posting anything. Sad, right?

And then I came across this post by good old cookiecrumb, and it really resonated with me. I'm starting to wonder if blogging isn't working for me anymore. It's starting to seem kind of repetitive, and sometimes like, well, a chore. As a result, my posts aren't as good. As a result of that, it appears my readership has really dropped off. If no one's reading this, what's the point?

I don't imagine The Hungry Dog will shut down overnight. But, I think I'm ready for a change.

As I ponder this and what the hell I'm doing with the rest of my life, I do have one problem you might be able to solve, which is what to do with an excess of cream cheese frosting. This cake made waaaaaaaaay too much, and that's from someone who slathers frosting like Ina Garten on steroids. Seriously, I have a ton left over. Is it freezable? Help me.