Monday, January 23, 2012

The Beautiful Simplicity of Carbs (Carburetors and Freshly Made Pasta)

Funny, I have not one post about disassembling the carburetor of the Kawasaki into all its tiny pieces. The first time was quite the learning experience, but I’d gotten pretty quick about it in my later Kawi ownership years.  Should the day come when I need to do so on the Yamaha, it’ll be twice as efficient, no doubt, as it has half the cylinders (and bodywork).   That being said, I'm not looking forward to the day I stare down the Ducati, with its computerized fuel injection and desmodromic valves.  Perhaps sometime soon I’ll simply take off the gas tank, peek at the sophisticated machinery hiding beneath, and then put it back together again, quickly, before anything bad happens.  I love the Monster, but I’m secretly thrilled to own Eeyore, the slow but sturdy Yamaha, a bike I’m not afraid to work on.

Fresh pasta is another example of beautiful simplicity, this time in carbohydrate form, even more so when making the pasta of southern Italy.  With a few exceptions, the pasta of northern Italy, all about seductive silkiness, is formed from delicate sheets of finely milled white flour rich with eggs.  The pasta of the south is what I make when there are no eggs in the house.  Semolina and water alone, manipulated with kneading and deft finger work (no fancy Italian machinery needed) come together into highly effective sauce trapping shapes full of lively springy chewiness.

While videos of motorcyclists riding barely hold my interest (shrug, it's just not the same, yanno?), I can lose myself for hours watching Italian nonne magically spin out pasta shapes or Jacque Pepin debone a chicken (I adore this man).   I’ve included the pertinent youtube links in the captions.

Trofiette - the name doesn't mean "twisted little string beans," but that's certainly what they look like.  Eat these with Pesto Genovese, and you shall be transported to Liguria.  (This pasta is the exception: Liguria is a bit too far north to be in the land of semolina.)

Orecchiette ("Little Ears"), from the heel of Italy's boot, are inside out cavatelli of sorts.  The rough surface is no accident, it serves to hold the sauce.  Serve with olive oil, broccoli or rapini, garlic, chile, and just enough mashed anchovy to give it all a mysterious savory quality.  Or grated butternut squash, walnuts and ricotta salata.

Busiati, or fusilli al ferro, hail from the deep south (Sicily) and were traditionally rolled around thin knitting needles. (I use a bamboo skewer; knitting is definitely not in my skill set.)  Delicious with with rich meat or fish sauces or the tomato almond pesto of Trapani.

Recipe (of my usual vague sort):

Per smallish Italian sized serving:
generous 1/2 c. semolina
3 tbsp water (or more, or less)
Combine then knead for 5-10 minutes until you get a soft, smooth but not at all sticky dough.  Form the shapes according to the youtube links.  Or however else you feel like it.  Have fun!  It's play-doh destined for your dinner plate.
Cook them in boiling water salty enough to make you reminisce about the ocean.
Although you can  dry this pasta, it's better eaten the day it's made.  It's thick enough that if cooked from dry, by the time the inside is done, the outside is overdone.
For the record, factory dried pasta is neither better or worse (although it's certainly easier.)  It's a different beast entirely.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reuniting with Old Friends: Texas Hill Country on the Kawasaki

Here I am, astride my Kawasaki for the very first time.

It sure looked a lot more shiny then.  And not an inch of packing tape (my secret repair weapon) anywhere to be seen.

I was in Texas, picking it up after what seemed like an eternity.  I bought it in off of Craig’s List in November of 2005, but didn’t have the time off to pick it up until Jan of 2006.  During that lengthy interim, it was held in safekeeping by the very person who piqued my interest in motorcycles in the first place.

True, I’m not wearing much in the way of safety gear, but this moment was strictly a photographic opportunity.  My first lesson on my new-to-me motorcycle was not riding it, but learning to pick it up.  I do have a photo of the baptismal (for me and the bike) voyage around that neighborhood, and even some video footage, but the borrowed suit I was wearing is just the outfit I’d need if I was auditioning for the kick line dance number of “Star Wars: The Broadway Revival.” You can't exactly blame me for not sharing it with you.

And, lo!, here I am, almost six years later to the day!

Sporting not just my old bike, but my old jacket, kevlar jeans (first time I've ever ridden more than 2 miles not wearing full leathers - kinda gave me the heebie-jeebies) and a really old helmet, not worn since before I even knew how to ride. But there's only so much you can pack in a carry on.  Not quite so shiny now, but my Kawi is a faithful machine, and I love it for that.

I hadn’t ridden (under my own power) in Texas since that very first day, although I have enjoyed Texas Hill Country more times than I can count from passenger seat.  My old Kawasaki recently moved back to its homeland, so now, when I visit, I have wheels!  Last week, I got to enjoy hill country on my own for a few hours.  I still haven’t dined at the Grey Moss Inn, or seen the spring time blooming of blue bonnets, but I got what I was after that day.  The legendary “Twisted Sisters”, aka “The 300’s,” aka TX 337, 335 and 336.  Knowing what I know now, I’m not sure they deserve the adjective legendary, (the turns are wonderful to be sure, but perhaps a little too few and far between to be classified as top tier riding, although I don’t hesitate to recommend them if you’re in the area), but then again, I’m awfully spoiled with good motorcycle roads at my disposal.

Hill Country is loaded with deer.  I mean, just look at them here at my gas stop.  Seriously, it's not unusual to see 10 or 20 just walking to the mailbox, so be careful out there, fellow riders.

And what fun to be on the old Kawasaki again! It was feeling good with a sorely needed new chain and sprocket set (installed by its new caretaker – even better!), and I found myself enjoying all its modern conveniences.  A center stand!  A sensible diet of regular octane fuel!  An old fashioned analog dash! (In my opinion, they give so much more info at a glance than the silly digital read-outs of 21st century vehicles.  I’ve found the rev-limiter on the Ducati more than once, but I still couldn’t tell you where indeed the red-line actually lies.)  Functioning turn signals and horn!  (No, I haven’t solved the Ducati fuse blowing problem, not that I’ve tried all that hard.)  A clutch lever that fits my little hand! (I can barely reach the friction zone on the Duc, despite its adjustable levers, and even now, it’s rather disconcerting in certain situations.)  An ergonomic-to-me gear shifter!  (The one on the Duc is raised, since I tend to scrape it when cornering aggressively, which really isn’t ideal at all.  Which means I can give myself a Charley horse shifting the Duc from first to second.  I actually DID that yesterday.  Ow!)  There is one thing on the Ducati that fits me better than the Kawi, though.  The throttle.

300 mile day trip to ride the "300's Loop."  Wish I had had time to repeat the loop and explore other areas.  Next visit!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year! (Triple Chocolate Cake)

I spent New Year’s weekend with good friends in Scottsdale, AZ.  Of course, I was hoping to ride the motorcycle. I’m always looking for an excuse to ride Oak Creek Canyon or the Apache Trail, two of my favorite day trips from the Phoenix area.

But instead, I drove this…
Yep.  My new-to-me wheels after this debacle.

…so I could bring this…
Have kitchen, will travel

…to make this!
Triple Chocolate Cake*:  chocolate genoise soaked in a Frangelico syrup, frosted with chocolate ganache, and decorated with free form chocolate praline sheets that shatter as soon as you cut the cake (or sooner, if you move the cake, even as carefully as you would move plutonium), leaving your creation resembling the Roman Coliseum.

Also on our community project menu:  Midwestern Relish Tray, Dungeness Crab with assorted dipping sauces, Cream of Mushroom Soup, Roast Beast with Potatoes, Spaghetti Squash and Basil Gratin, Freshly Baked Bread, Green Salad with Toasted Hazelnuts and Gorgonzola, and freely flowing champagne.

*From Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible.  A tricky cake (a few misleading points in the recipe, in my opinion), with tricky decorations (knowing what I know now, I would handle the chocolate praline sheets a little differently), and undoubtedly the most delicious chocolate creation of all time, as far as I can tell.  If you get a yen to give it a try, leave a comment, check back, and I'll give you the details.  Well worth the indignity of taking the car.