Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sarah and Derek Go to Asheville

Sometimes even Derek and I get tired of cooking. Sometimes we get hot and bored with our entertainment options. It is too hot to do so many things we enjoy outside. I know we are wimps.

We just had to get out of the Piedmont this weekend.

On a whim we decided to head west to Asheville. I figured Asheville offered the whole package, mountains to hike in during the day and delicious food to feast on in the night. We were right.

You know that phrase, "dance like no one is watching"? There were a lot of people in Asheville doing just that, literally and figuratively.

This woman is dancing. By herself and for herself.

There was live music on the corners, a drum circle in the square, art galleries, and interesting restaurants. There were people just dancing to the music. Just because they wanted to.

Largest drum circle I have ever seen. I don't seek them out, so there could be larger.

Now, I am pretty sure Asheville has embraced this reputation and the tourism department loves it. The city manages to seem real and very livable regardless of all of the tourists.

This is the hike we set out to do.

Plus the town is sitting right in heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Great hikes, beautiful vistas, you know, that kind of thing. Derek and I have a record of bad hiking decisions interesting adventures. Maybe our most epic adventure will be another blog post. Let me just say here that on Saturday we turned a 3 mile meander to see some waterfalls and have a picnic lunch into a 7.5 mile climb up 2,000 feet (trust me, I know, I brought my GPS and calibrated the altimeter before we started).

I conquered that valley and I am proud.

Derek on a cool little bridge. He is mad 'cause we are lost.

Most of our lunch was Appalachian grown, except for the chips from Virginia.

Lunch. Best sourdough ever (I don't care if you live in San Francisco, your bread will not taste this good unless it is eaten on a mountain top)

It was fun, we saw some pretty stuff, had the trail pretty much to ourselves, and felt we earned our dinner. Fortunately, after that one time (information to be disclosed at a later date), we had plenty of water.

After hiking we went to a delicious dinner. Then we went and had some tasty beer. Then we got some chocolate cake. Yes, it was that kind of weekend.

Cats climbing a light post on the "Cat Walk"

It ended the next morning with us sitting outside and sipping coffee and eating freshly baked bagels with cream cheese.

This place no longer had shoe shines, but nice sign!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What, I Thought this Blog was About Archaeology?

It has occurred to me recently that I have not written about archaeology in a long time. People might visit to this blog and say to themselves, "she says she is an archaeologist, but she offers little evidence to support this claim. Mostly she seems to eat and spout nonsensical philosophy."

That is, if anyone actually visits this blog.

I was just a baby archaeologist in this picture (taken 6 years ago) not much has changed since then. I even still wear that vest. Maybe I am smarter?

I have actually been doing a lot of archaeology lately, one might say I spend roughly 40 hours a week "doing" archaeology in some fashion. Actually, it is probably more than that 'cause I often read about archaeology in my spare time. I went to Charleston and looked for people in a cemetery using GPR (see this post for an explanation of that GPR stuff). I have been writing a bunch of reports and making some pretty maps. I am good at making maps, it is kind of one of my things.

The problem with an archaeology blog is that we archaeologists are kind of a secretive bunch. We are also not that trusting. I do not trust the people of the great internet world to not use my work for evil.

What is evil you ask? I will make a list:

1.) Looting. Looting is very evil and a huge problem. Not just a huge problem for people in far away places and at famous sites. It is a huge problem in places like central Tennessee. Back in the day (I mean about 1,000 year ago), people were often buried with prestige items such as jewelry and ceramics. These are apparently valuable for resale. Just look on ebay, it is sickening. Bearing in mind, that many of those things for sale on ebay involved the destruction of a grave, that was somebody's great, great, great, great, great-grandparent. Looting is happening in your backyard. Looters are organized, they are contributing to an unethical global trade in antiquities, and they use legitimate archaeological work to help them achieve their ends. My secrecy is in part to avoid inadvertently helping looters.

That pile of rocks in the foreground is a huge site in southeastern Utah.

2.) Client confidentiality. The people who hire us are often private corporations. Sometimes they are planning projects that are not public knowledge. We are often one of the first consultants on the site. I would not want to distribute knowledge about a project before it is made public by the people who pay the people who pay my bills. Insider trading is bad, just ask Martha Stewart.

3.) Intellectual property. Often I am doing work for someone else's research. They pay me. They get first dibs on publication. End of story.

Secretive bunch, like spies, only without guns or spying.

Just doing my part to fit in with the locals (note the 10 gallon hat).

Technically, some information about archaeological sites are excluded from freedom of information act requests because they are sensitive. Looting is bad.

We also cook a bunch and I like to write about that, because food is..... well, delicious. I also have no ethical qualms talking about making BLTs.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Perfecting the BLT

Remember Platonic forms from college?

Plato talked about how the things we see in the world are really only mimicking the true Form (yeah, apparently we do capitalize that word in this context). These Forms are the blueprint of perfection. Perfection exists in theory and we recreate it imperfectly in the physical world.

I know, I sound like a crazy person. I am probably totally misusing Platonic philosophy... I think about true forms of food a lot. For example, in Platonic philosophy there is a true Form of the tomato. When I eat a really good looking, delicious tomato in August I think to myself, "This is pretty close to that Platonic ideal."

Really, I do think this. I know the honors program in undergraduate was a bad thing for me...

I think Max the cat is very close to the perfect feline Form.

I think a lot of food people think like this though, striving for the perfect dish or ingredient. I know that perfection is relative, but whatever! Allow me my musings.

Derek and I have a group of friends who have been pursuing some ideal food Forms together. By this I mean we have met a couple of times trying to perfect classic dishes. By classic, I mean those things you can get in any American diner.

Earlier this summer we collectively made hamburgers. We ground our own meat, made our own ketchup, buns, etc. They would have made Plato smile from whatever cave he sits in (hahaha, philosophy humor).

Those are some good looking hamburger buns, what they have bacon in them? Those are some GREAT looking buns...

This week we tackled the BLT. The acronym indicates bacon, lettuce, and tomato are the primary ingredient of this sandwich. We actually varied from this a little bit, so I am not sure it is a true close to perfect BLT, but we did make a close to perfect sandwich.

I cannot really post a single recipe up for our BLT spectacular. Each ingredient has its own little story. I think I will just put up pictures of the festivities. Sorry if the pictures are a little yellow. It was kind of dark in there.

The Crew

Derek (also known as my true love)


and me of course.

The Beer and the Lettuce
This is red leaf lettuce and that beer is from Fullsteam, a one year old Durham brewery that Derek and I are obsessed with. To be fair Jono provided lots of other beer and Aaron brought wine.

The Bread
Actually, Derek and I made Pizza Bianca. Sliced in half this is a delicious sandwich bread.

Maybe we also lightly pan fried the inside in bacon fat.

The Bacon
David made this! I feel like such a bacon proselytizer.

Fried on low heat until just starting to crisp, not too crispy though.

The Tomatoes
I actually have no idea what kind of tthese are. They came in our CSA, so the red kind...

Condiments and Sides
Aaron and David made Aioli

Aaron's ratatouille

David's Green Bean Salad

Yes, those are roasted Hatch Green Chiles in the foreground.


Do not judge me for my glass of wine and glass of beer. That is totally normal. Do you ever notice how many of my food photos have some sort of alcoholic beverage slightly in the frame? Oh dear...

Thanks guys!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gnocchi and Comfort Food for Dark Days

We will all have terrible days. To clarify, I do not mean days where you spill your coffee, are late to work, and spend an hour on the phone with the credit card company.

I mean those days that are so dark you wonder how everyone around you is proceeding with their everyday lives. Days where you just want to curl up in a room and cry alone. Days that are never forgotten. Usually these days start normally and then you get a phone call. Then it seems like nothing will be normal again.

I am young and am fortunate to have a fairly limited experience with tragedy. I do not know anyone (of adult maturity) who has been untouched by dark days.

I have never felt like cooking on my few dark days. But food is a tangible reminder of life and eating has always been an important part of grieving. I believe a home cooked meal of comfort food is the best thing a friend can do for someone in deep grief. These home cooked meals do not have to be presented on the dark day, they can come at anytime. Most people who are grieving do not want you to forget about their loss. They want you to tell them you know they are in pain and that you love them. This might be a day after the original darkness or on the anniversary the following year or the year after that. They do not need to come with expectations of socializing unless talking is needed. Sometimes filling a fridge or freezer and leaving is all that a person needs.

A dear friend of mine just experienced a profound loss. I am going to skip the details, but I decided to show my love and support through dinner.

Comfort food is hard in the summer. I asked a bunch of friends what their favorite comfort food is last night and they almost in unison replied, "homemade macaroni and cheese." I have a hard time making something like that in August. I decided to run with the cheese and starch themes though.

The result is this ricotta gnocchi with pesto sauce. We have tons of pesto this time of year. Basil seems to be very happy in the August heat and I know of no better way to eat vast quantities of basil than with cheese, garlic, and pine nuts. These little gnocchi are actually pretty easy to make and feel a little lighter to me than the potato varieties. Then all my friend has to do is boil the pasta and toss in the pesto sauce. Dinner, comfort, and a reminder of how much she is loved.

I doubled the recipe and we had this for dinner tonight, just in case you are wondering where the pictures are coming from...

Ricotta Gnocchi
serves 3 to 4
modified slightly from Gourmet

2 cups whole-milk ricotta
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoons grated nutmeg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more flour for sprinkling

1. Mix the ricotta, eggs, parmesan, and nutmeg together until they are smooth. Then add the flour until you have a slightly sticky dough.

2. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface and divide it into two balls. With lightly floured hands roll each ball into a 1.5 inch diameter roll.
3. Put the rolls on half sheet pan covered with some parchment paper, cover those rolls and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

4. Cut the rolls into 1 inch gnocchi dumplings.

5. To cook the dumplings, boil a large pot of salted water. Add the gnocchi in small batches (about or a third at a time). Cook for 3 minutes, pull out using a slotted spoon and put them in a strainer until the whole batch is done.

There are a couple of ways to serve these gnocchi. We made a pesto sauce, but you could just brown some butter and and herbs in a large skillet and then toss in the cooked gnocchi. A simple tomato sauce would also be good (I want to try this one). Honestly, these would probably also be good with some olive oil drizzled on top.

Here is our adaptation of traditional basil pesto because it is summer, it is hot outside, and if we do not harvest our basil plants at least once every two weeks they get grumpy.

Basil Pesto
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

2 to 3 cups "loosely packed" fresh basil leaves (as much as you would like really)
3 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts (you can use less, we usually do because these can get expensive)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)

1. Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat. Heat until the nuts just start to get aromatic then remove from the pan immediately and allow them to cool to room temperature.

2. In your food processor* pulse the peeled garlic cloves until they are pretty fine. Add the pine nuts and pulse 2 to 3 times, just to get the pine nuts started.

3. Add the cheese and basil leaves (stemmed, washed and dried) and blend until pretty pasty in consistency. Do not blend until you have a syrup though.

4. Slowly add olive oil in a steady stream while the processor is running.

5. Scrape pesto into a bowl, taste it and season appropriately with salt and pepper. Stir in lemon juice if you want to make sure it does not brown. We did this for transport to my friend.

6. Stir in pasta, spread on bread, or eat with a spoon.

*We love our food processor, in the summer it is basically a pesto making machine. We have gone through about three different food processors over the past 6 years because I was too cheap to invest the serious money to get a Cuisinart full sized love machine. Let me say for the record, those big Cuisinarts are worth the cash. The little imitations do nothing for me anymore and have been discarded. However, if you do not have the funds or inclination to own a huge food processor you can chop your ingredients really small or use a blender. The little imitation things will do the job too.