Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cookies and Hari Merdeka

Today I bring you a reminder of a favorite recipe. These cookies are a success everywhere I take them, not just because their flavor can be adjusted to suit every palate, but because the dough bakes into a crumb that melts away in your mouth. I'm telling you, these unpretentious little treats never disappoint.

Do you know what day it is today? It's Hari Merdeka! Okay, I didn't know what it was either, until today, when I gathered around picnic tables with a smattering of Malaysian students who brought together the most delicious food to celebrate the day of their country's independence. Apparently, the official proclamation of freedom from British colonial rule was delivered on August 31, 1957 .

Over rice, curry, fruit, and chocolate chip ginger cookies rimmed with sesame (there was no way I was cooking Malaysian food for Malaysians!), we enjoyed the warm late summer evening. Not that the intense spices or nibbly grains of rice before us needed any help, but it's undeniable that food always tastes better in good company.

I am so grateful for my Abilene friends, old and new. Wish you could have been here too.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Happy Weekend

Phew, I made it through the first week back in classes and managed to post on this blog three times. I generously rewarded myself with a nap Friday afternoon and an evening with two of my favorite people. Actually, the evening stretched into a late night, including two grocery store runs, plenty of Sondre Lerche, waiting for pita bread dough to rise, sipping away at coffee while matching our personalities with cities and countries, and finally sitting down for dinner at 11:15 P.M.

We tore apart pieces of pita, weighing them down with hummus, and picked away at chunky tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions in a Greek salad, then went to bed.

Today began with coffee mugs around an ever-welcoming dining room table and plenty of giggles and shrieks (girls dominated the company, can you tell?). Our size shrunk, and four of us transitioned to one of Abilene's few coffee shops for conversation and the feeling of hot mugs in our hands.

Shortly after nooon, two old lunch buddies and I sat down together and, with drippy burritos before us, marvelled at the different places and decisions we now faced after one summer apart.

I came back to my familiar apartment that, gratefully, hasn't changed since last semester. The same dear people live here, and the kitchen continues to be the place to bond. Though it's small, three of us crammed around the counter, oven, and stove and made a beautiful, necessary mess.
The sun disappeared early tonight, thanks to the low lying thunderclouds that are hanging over Abilene. Now, I'm about to settle into some studying so that I can make the most of my day tomorrow.

Hope your weekend is slow and peaceful.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bewitched by Color

I have always been easily bewitched by color. And by color, I really mean any and every color. Whether it makes me cringe or draws me in, I am fascinated by the human attraction to color and lack there of (black and white).

My sophomore year of high school I did a research project on color psychology and played with the idea of going into color/art therapy. Then, junior year I encountered Mark Rothko and have been yearning to see one of his gigantic color block paintings ever since.

I can walk into a store like Anthropologie and be entertained for hours by the fabulous colors and diverse textures on display. And then I can walk into a room made up simply of "shades" of white and want to never leave.

All this brings me back to the color of food. Don't things look ten times more delicious in color? Okay, maybe those who prefer steak or chicken fried steak and potatoes can't agree with me, but every once in a while, aren't you dying for some color on your plate? Thanks to the food my mom raised me on, color is mandatory, and while in Japan this summer, I couldn't help noticing how much people valued attractive looking food, which often meant there was plenty of color.

I was wowed by the pure greenness of this salad dressing before I even tried it on a pile of bright veggies, but I can assure you that my love only grew after tasting its fresh medley of herbs married with maple syrup, mustard, and garlic.

I don't remember where my mom came across this recipe...I think it was a newspaper clipping from several years back, but she adapted it into our family recipe collection and dubbed it "Lael's Tangy Garden Salad Dressing."

Without an herb garden, I always get a bit anxious when I acquire this many fresh herbs, hating to see them go bad, but this recipe is so worth it. Just look at your leftovers as a reason to make dill bread or snip chives into tomorrow morning's omelet, or make a batch of hummus with a generous drizzle of parsley oil (hm, possible future posts?!). I mean, having plenty of herbs on hand is hardly something to complain about.Tangy Garden Salad Dressing

2 green onions, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
4 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1 /2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

Feel free to adjust according to taste once you've given it your first good whirl. I had mint in my fridge, so I threw some of that in and added more parsley and dill until it was just how I liked it. Oh, and poppy seeds. Why not? I have an almost full jar of poppy seeds that's not disappearing anytime soon, so I shook about a teaspoon into the dressing. Yum.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Not Quite What I Was Hoping For

My habit of simply scanning recipes finally caught up with me. My eyes grazed the first few steps of my latest baking endeavor, then I scrolled through each picture and jumped in, thinking that the sooner I started the better because it was likely going to take me till 10:00 P.M. to pull this bread out of the oven. If only I had known that my rising and shrinking ball of dough would keep me awake until 2 A.M....And yet I can't quite get upset with these squares of focaccia bread sitting on my kitchen counter like I think I deserve to be.

I was threatening to call the entire thing a flop this morning but got enough compliments on it that I'm trying to keep an open mind and see the whole long ordeal as a learning experience.

Do I still sound a bit disgruntled? Well, the issue isn't really with the length of time it took to make the focaccia -- I love the process of kneading, waiting, rising, kneading again... -- though I wish I had sat down with a calculator and figured out that starting my ferment at 5:00 P.M. would not allow me to be in bed by midnight. The issue is more with how difficult it was to work with the dough and how off my converted measurements felt.

You see, I selected pastry flour for this recipe because Fanny over at Foodbeam had used a superfine French flour and it seemed like a good substitute. However, I did not realize until I was researching flour types on Cook's Illustrated halfway through the process that I had not made the finest choice involving a yeast-based recipe. Also, I failed to notice on the flour packaging that "whole grain" was written vertically on the side of the label. I assumed I had bought a white pastry flour and was planning on using half white and half wheat flours. When it dawned on me that I was already dealing with a whole grain flour, I did not have any white flour in my cupboards to temper the density of the dough.

So, what I ended up with this morning for breakfast was a thick slab of flat bread, slightly sweetened, and flecked with apricots and pine nuts. For a whole wheat bread, it actually had a decent crumb to it and a few humble air bubbles inside, despite the fact that it was more willing to rip than stretch as I worked through the last stages of folding around 11:30 at night.

The thing is, I was fixated on this recipe from the moment I saw it on Foodbeam and wanted to take a stone fruit approach, still maintaining a nuance of olive oil and brown sugar. I ended up being far too modest with my deposit of fruit on top, though at the time it looks like I had covered the surface quite generously, which is another thing I would fix.

All that to say, I stand before you humbled and educated by this experience, and not at all at a loss because, even though I didn't make the focaccia of my dreams, I have had a homemade gift to pass around to friends today, plus leftovers to nibble on as a hearty breakfast bread for the next few days.

With all Fanny's helpful steps and descriptions, this recipe is certainly worth a try, and after all her raving about Dan Lepard, I made sure to add two of his books to my ever growing Amazon wish list.

Fruit Focaccia Bread Recipe

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Perfectly Fit

I have always loved receiving recipes from people. A well loved recipe really is a perfect gift. And that's one thing I've come to enjoy so much about the food blog world. Each recipe posted is a conversation as well as a gift to others.

Though this recipe wasn't handed directly to me, I feel like it was. Simply reading the title of Deb's post at Smitten Kitchen, I knew I had been handed something good. It was a recipe perfectly fit for me...and, of course, everyone else out there who shares my good taste.

The thing about fresh herbs is they can keep a recipe simple while making it extraordinary. Take for example, Molly's three ingredient lunch featuring snipped fresh thyme. Or the basil leaves tucked into my broiled figs. In this dish, the fresh mint combines beautifully with a few other simple ingredients and makes for a quick, delicious lunch or side at dinner (though I would have been completely satisfied with it as a light dinner if I could have gotten my hands on some crusty bread to mop up the leftover capers and mint bits in my bowl).

Obviously, I was sold on these flavors from the start, so I didn't tamper with the recipe at all and was completely satisfied. The vinegar was strong, which I never mind, the olive oil was smooth and fragrant, the mint dominant to a perfect degree, the capers crunchy, and the eggplant soft enough and subtle enough to let the marinade's flavors shine through. I am looking forward to the leftovers sitting in my fridge, begrudgingly waiting to be eaten at lunch tomorrow.

Marinated Eggplant with Capers and Mint Recipe.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Welcome to Texas

I couldn’t help it. As our headlights illuminated the “Welcome to Texas” sign on the side of the dark, lonely highway, I let out the words dear Lord, help me. We had just stepped foot into the state I have been vacillating between dreading and anticipating during the past month. Confused butterflies have constantly been in my stomach.

I get this way each time I come back to Abilene, and I don’t know why I build it up to be such a difficult task for myself. But, right now, as my sleep-deprived body is sitting in the back seat of yet another car on yet another stretch of highway, I’m quite looking forward to my bed in Abilene, and I’m getting closer by the minute. Even though it sits in an empty bedroom with scratchy white walls and a desk with a summer’s worth of dust, and I’ll need to put stilts back underneath the legs and tuck sheets around the corners of its mattress, it’s the most familiar bed I know.

Along with the image of my bed come visions of faces, faces I have missed dearly in my time away, faces I only get to see when I’m in Abilene.

And notice the picture below? Yes, that is my window that I got to come back to. The view of tangled branches, whether dressed in leaves or stripped of green, is a little bit of beauty the Lord has given me to get me through.

Road Trip: Part 2

I had no idea what I was getting into. When I heard we were camping one night at a national park and going to be doing some hiking, I thought, great, isn’t that what road trips are for, anyway?

Well, I walked into Mesa Verde National Park, completely unaware that this place was so much more than hiking trails and nice views. In fact, I was surprised to encounter at least as many Europeans as Americans on our tours because, as a resident of this country, I had never heard about the ancient cliff dwellings located in the alcoves below this expansive mesa, so I was surprised to find it such an international attraction.

Without getting too deeply into everything I saw and learned, let’s just say they were pretty amazing, and the whole experience made me even more regretful about my lack of knowledge of Native American history. Oh, and you should definitely go see them too.

We spent a freezing cold night in the park’s campgrounds and, after much needed showering, headed toward Durango, Colorado for a mid-afternoon lunch.

We all decide we liked Colorado very much, and kissed it a loving goodbye as we passed over New Mexico’s border and turned east toward our ultimate destination of Wichita Falls, Texas.

During this leg of the trip we resumed a neglected task of finding cowboy hats to wear in the car, and stopped at a dollar store and mall, but had no luck. By this point, the high of road tripping was beginning to fade, anyway, and I was happy to save a couple bucks. We kept our pact to stop for a midnight meal, though, and pulled into a Denny’s in Tucumcari, New Mexico, around 11: 30pm. The whole idea was a fun one, but the cheap, greasy food weighed heavy in my stomach as I drifted off to sleep in the backseat, hugging a massive sleeping bag to me and tucking my legs up against the car door.

At five o’clock in the morning, it was my turn to drive, and, minus a few yawns, I was refreshed enough to take us all the way to our destination, my friend’s parent’s home outside of Wichita Falls.

I’m sure you’ll understand, when I say the rest of the story is we promptly crawled into bed and slept until noon.

[The pictures above and below are from a gorgeous sunset we caught at Park Point in Mesa Verde on Friday night.]

Road Trip: Part 1

When I left you on Wednesday morning I was feeling a bit hung over from a night without sleep but made it through a drive to Seattle and then on to Cheney, in eastern Washington, on only a half an hour nap. I had spent the previous night with scraps of paper spread before me, glue sticking to my fingers, and, when my mind got too worn out for that project, taking the stairs up to my mom’s office where my suitcase contents were spread across the floor and sorting through them to make a small pile of necessities to put in a suitcase to take to Texas. Every nook and cranny of that baggage was filled to a hefty sixty pounds, and finally around six o’clock in the morning my scrap pile had shrunk and thanks to the help of scissors, glue, markers, thread, and needle, I had the semblance of a story about Japanese cuisine.

Fast forward to eleven o’clock that night and my eyelids sagged irresistibly shut on a travel-size pillow, nestled in the top of a sleeping bag on a new friend’s futon in Cheney.

…did I mention that I decided to accompany two strangers on a road trip to Texas? I don’t think I did, but now you know. I opted to save a couple bucks and joined a guy a barely knew along with a female friend of his, who I had never met, to reach a common goal. As I weighed the options of buying a plane ticket and making my journey across country short and sweet (or at least shorter), my curiosity won out, and I hopped on board this mystery trip, at least counting on a good story to tell...

So, three of us set out from Cheney the next afternoon with sandwich fixings, trail mix, homemade molasses cookies, and enough luggage to keep the person in the back seat comfortably squished for seventeen hours. Our all-night route took us through Idaho, into Montana, back down through Idaho and Utah, and into the southwest corner of Colorado.

I assumed my shift at the wheel around 2 o’clock in the morning, winding along a dark highway and only able to imagine what was beyond the reaches of my headlights, here and there making out silhouettes of rocky hills as we rumbled by.

Before sunrise I traded positions again, and a few hours later our driver veered off to the side of the road, waking the other two of us from a restless sleep, and leaving me quite delirious until I leaned across the driver’s seat and my eyes followed his path up a steep salmon colored rock. The rock continued to gradually rise until on top I saw a majestic arch encircling a patch of blue sky.

As soon as I was awake enough to find my camera, I followed my fellow travelers, and slipping off my sandals, walked up the rock’s surface and through its fine orange sand, breathing in the fresh air and enjoying the gentle feeling of the sun, tempered by a cool morning breeze. I took a few pictures, but mainly turned around and around, allowing my eyes to take in the surrounding vista.

From there we all remained awake as we passed through the rest of Utah and into the southwest corner of Colorado, munching on granola bars and dried fruit for breakfast.

Our next stop was Mesa Verde National Park.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Blueberries for Breakfast

I am nabbing a recipe from my mom. It's my last opportunity before I leave town (today!), and I know she won't mind. I don't think you'll mind a bit either because this blueberry breakfast cake is so good.

Technically called a "buckle," the difference between this and coffeecake is the amount of fruit it calls for. It is loaded with more blueberries than batter, which is precisely why my mom and I love it so.She made the buckle on Friday night while a friend and I were walking along the edge of the water at Boulevard, enchanted by the disappearing glow of orange behind silent silhouettes of sailboats, and the next morning we all had it for breakfast before heading to Seattle for the day. See? You don't even have to get up earlier than usual.

As I sit here writing this the change in temperature outside seems to have suddenly seeped inside and concentrated itself on my wet hair and exposed toes. Brrr, a hot cup of tea and slice of blueberriness sounds delicious right now.
Blueberry Buckle Recipe*

If you do not have access to the above website, email me. I'll see what I can do.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Perfect Trio

After going on about my mother's ability to make fantastic salads, it only seems appropriate that I leave you with one more of her recipes before I, myself, leave.

This is one of my favorites (even receiving a "for Lael" tag in the family cookbook) because I love the combination of cheese and fruit and this salad consists of just that, as well as my favorite leafy green: spinach. It is a perfect trio. Instead of a strong cheese, like feta or gorgonzola, and sugary berry, this salad creates a more mellow flavor. The ingredients are simple, and the dressing is very fragrant, and I crave it year round. But now that late summer has rushed upon us, ripe red grapes are in abundance, and I've been watching our fridge slowly fill with all the necessary ingredients for one reason or another over the past week. Today all we needed was a fresh bag of spinach.

I got my spinach this evening and shared a bowl of salad with my mom for dinner. We were pressed for time, but I had no problem whipping this combination up, even considering the time taken to step outside onto the back deck and get some decent shots.

So, with a bit of sentimentality, I am passing on a recipe that is very dear to me. I request it every time I come home, and I long for it when I can't bring myself to spend money on two cheeses at once while at school (or when I'm standing in front of the cheese section in Abilene, and wondering how on earth they have the nerve not to carry fresh mozzarella--did I mention how unexcited I am to go back to Abilene's grocery stores?).

On a happier note, let's all dine on bowls of fresh mozzarella, grapes, and spinach while we can and at least savor what we're given (I know I'll be using up the leftover dressing for tomorrow's lunch).

Mom's Italian Salad

Fill a salad bowl with spinach.

Diced Mozzarella (preferably fresh)
Red Grapes, halved
Minced Red Onion

2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3 Tablespoon Parmesan
1 1/2 teaspoons basil (or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil)
1 clove garlic, minced
Dash of salt and pepper

Drizzle dressing over salad mixture and toss.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Plus Salads

I have been in a blissful state of living in a house I do not have to pay rent on and eating from a fridge I do not have to fill. In less than a week, I return to the real world.

I love the independence of managing my own budget, buying my own grocery, and deciding my own bedtime, though I must admit it's nice to get to put a few things in someone else's shopping cart once in a while, or hear a caring voice remind me around midnight, "You should get some sleep, Lael."

These are the benefits of hanging out at Mom's place come summertime and Christmas. These generous gestures and gentle nagging habits define my seasonal stays with her, plus salads. Lots of salads. My mom is a master at coming up with so many different salad recipes that I never ever get bored.

Salad was being dished onto my plate from as early as I could stomach it, and I remember that if there was ever a standoff between me, my brothers, or my sister and our vegetables, the vegetables would always win. My mom saw to it.

So give me a salad, and I'm a happy girl. (Just make sure the lettuce isn't iceberg and the dressing isn't Kraft.)

My mom made a salad this past week that made me particularly happy. It helped that the beans were crunchy and slightly sweet and there was plenty of fresh mozzarella. Add to that tomatoes, olives, Parmesan, and a mellow Italian dressing, and I like to think that my taste buds were welcoming these flavors by the age of three.

Italian Green Bean Salad
Adapted by Rachael Jewel (don't ask me where it from; as usual, it's copied onto an index card)

1/2 lb. green beans, barely steamed and cooled
1 c. grape tomatoes, halved
1 c. black olives
6 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 t. red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper
Toasted pine nuts and Parmesan, to garnish

Toss all ingredients together, sprinkle pine nuts and freshly grated Parmesan on top, and serve.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Good Idea

I was smitten from the start. When I saw him and knew I had to have him, my mom was easily swayed.

Okay, enough with the fake love story. I know if those few sentences had continued any longer I would be getting phone calls right and left from friends and family anxious to hear about how my status was, finally, no longer "single." Finally isn't really the right word, but neither is smitten, I'm just getting carried away.

However, that handsome carton of figs did immediately catch my eye, and my mom did readily agree to buy it, and I have been enjoying the little seedy fruits for a few days now, but that's the extent of the story.

Well, almost.

You see, as much as I love fresh raw figs (especially picked ripe off a tree), with the amount we brought home, I knew there would be plenty to play around with too. So I immediately started browsing around my usual recipe sites and blogs to find something that sounded just right. This was what I had decided on, but then a dear friend came into town and easily changed my mind with the proscuitto* and broil.

We were already thinking along the same lines, pairing the figs with goat cheese, and she had been dying to try a recipe her friend had shared with her. When I tried retracing the passage of the recipe through conversations, my friend said that it was likely from The French Market, a cookbook sold where she works, the glamorous and whimsical Anthropologie.

So, this simple appetizer is just too delicious to keep to myself. The concept isn't new, and the ingredients are not highly unusual, but everyone needs help with a good idea now and then. So here's one for you.

Broiled Figs with Goat Cheese and Basil
Adapted from The French Market by Joanne Harris

Turn on broiler.

Snip stems off figs (however many will fit on your cookie sheet). Slice each partially to the bottom to form quarters that create a flower-like opening in the middle. Arrange on cookie sheet.

Spoon a small amount of goat cheese onto the middle of each fig, and tuck one to two basil leaves between the cheese and the fig.

Drizzle desired amounts of balsamic vinegar and olive oil over cheese and into crevices of fruit. Season each fig with salt and pepper.

Broil in oven until cheese has begun to melt and tops have slightly browned. Remove and serve.

*We did not end up buying proscuitto. While the recipe turned out just great without it, I'm sure it would be a nice touch.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Blankets Instead of Tablecloths

I can't stay mad at Bellingham for very long. In fact, very rarely do I find any reason to harbor anger against this little eclectic city sandwiched between the Sound and the Cascades. But in June I found reasons for resentment because the brief one and a half weeks I spent here were freezing, literally sweater-and-slippers freezing.

Not any more.

The Northwest sun has been shining brightly almost the entire time I have been back and has provided fantastic picnic weather. After all, isn't that what summer's all about? No studying and lots of picnics.

Today included yet another picnic, and it was perfect in so many ways: the soft wedge of buttery cheese, the silly faux fur blanket, the nutty beer, the sea breeze mellowing the heat of the sun, and the fresh crab salad.

The cheese and beer automatically went in our basket when we were picking up picnic supplies, but the crab was a complete surprise. Generous friends shared their fresh catch with us, and just a few simple ingredients helped bring together a simple salad to pile on top of crackers or spoon into lettuce.

The delicious combination of chopped celery, minced white onion, cumin, paprika, mayonnaise, lime juice, crushed pepper, and sea salt mixed into a bowl with the crab meat made for a subtle flavor that played up the creaminess of the crab and did not smother its own delicate flavor. We really just searched through the refrigerator and spice cabinet for what was on hand, and this recipe could have gone a dozen different directions.

Whether or not you can get your hands on a crab or two, if you are in the northern hemisphere of the world right now, try to find a little corner of your outdoor world and enjoy a picnic! It makes even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich taste ten times better.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Essential Ingredient.

Often the best recipes are the simplest. A few classic ingredients, of fine quality, with a single unexpected ingredient can be found utterly satisfying. For example, a lavender infused cupcake. Fennel in buttery cookies. Apples in a ham (and brie) sandwich.

The unexpected ingredient I have been delighted to include in so many memorable meals during my summer days in Bellingham has been good company.

This afternoon we took apples and cheese to the park, so the sweet yet crazy kids I was babysitting could cool off in the water.

Earlier in the day, I sat down for lunch with a lovely view of Bellingham Bay on my left and a dear friend across the table.

Last week we couldn't resist the waterfront either, so my sister and a friend and I went to Boulevard Park, carting along hummus, pita, a cucumber, and plums. The sun was so brilliant that every single picture was washed out, even for being taken at 6 o'clock, but that didn't affect the taste of the food or the enjoyment of the conversation.

Fortunately an ingredient like good friends can be found almost everywhere. Sometimes a person just has to look harder, but that's the wonderful thing about food...someone's always looking for a meal, and sharing one makes it taste twice as good.

Oh, and did I mention dinner tonight? It was one of my favorite simple dinners: homemade pizza. We sauteed mushrooms and layered them on top of pesto along with sun dried tomatoes and plenty of fresh mozzarella. The pizza dough was hurriedly picked up at Trader Joe's though my mom has a fabulous twenty-minute from-scratch recipe I often use. Nibbling at that pizza with an open bottle of wine and three lovely ladies around the table was a perfect finish to a sun-soaked summer day in the Northwest.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fondue Fiasco

I wish you were looking out the same window I am right now. I wish the picture I'm about to paint for you through words could actually create the same hushed exhilaration I feel inside.

Beauty does this to me, and there's nothing more beautiful to me right now than looking at shades of blue and green taking the form of grass, mountains, and sky. I am staying at a friend's house just north of Bellingham, and one thing I love about this place is what exists just beyond its wraparound porch. Bushes and trees, many of which bear blooms, proclaim the richness of the soil and the generosity of the rainclouds in the Pacific Northwest.

I had to get away to realize this is not the norm everywhere, to learn how to respond when beauty isn't at my fingertips. It's a good lesson, and I'm still learning. But I do hate to leave this place.

And this particular place, this home, is one of my favorite places to visit since my parents sold our property in the country last summer. I've spent the last few days here helping transform the gardens into a wedding site. We set up and take down chairs, tables, umbrellas, tents, and arbors, and then squeeze around a cozy breakfast nook with plenty of cheese, crackers, wine, and chocolate.

Not too shabby, eh?

In fact, the latter makes the former hardly seem like work at all. Especially when our cheese obsession turned into a conversation last weekend about a fondue party, and we all marked our mental calendars for this past Friday, prepared to bring our contribution of pots, forks, or appetite (that was me, having never eaten fondue before and thus having no equipment to share).

So, Friday afternoon we saw that the bride and groom and their guests had happily transitioned into the reception portion of their celebration and then started our own party.

We had no idea that by the end of the night we would have a long list of "what NOT to do" when making fondue.

1. First of all, you are NOT supposed to light a foil tin of blue jelly type fuel without a cover to guide the flame and keep it from leaping beyond the bottom of the pot it is heating.

2. And you are NOT supposed to let cheese melt and then begin to cool (because pot has been removed from out-of-control flame) and then try to melt it again.

3. In fact, do NOT even expect a pot purely of shredded colby jack cheese to come out in proper fondue form.

4. And, lastly, do NOT simply melt down your chocolate bars and then add a splash of alcohol. Unless you prefer fudge.

My best advice is to do research. Obviously, with all these blunders, I need to gather some information before my next attempt. Have any pointers? Do you know any websites I must use as references in the future? I just searched "fondue" on and got twenty-nine results. That's a start.

This afternoon I told a friend about our fondue fiasco, and she was appalled and embarrassed for me. Thankfully her husband was not there, or he probably would have insisted we sit down right then and there so my image of fondue could be redeemed. These friends both have trustworthy palates, so I'm going to pass on a tip they gave me for when you're really in a fondue crunch...

Trader Joe's apparently has a delicious fondue available. All it requires is a microwaveable container and loaf of lovely bread. Even these self-proclaimed fondue snobs praised it! So until I find a fondue pot to borrow from someone, that is what I'll be trying.

[8/14/08] I must amend this post by saying that I visited Trader Joe's this evening to pick up fondue and was told that they no longer carry it! Maybe this is not the case in your neck of the woods, but, alas, I will have to continue to wait for smooth, creamy, gruyere-y fondue.