Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Brunch and the Science of Mimosas Preventing Affordable Cultural Indugence

So I read somewhere that the Museum of Science and Industry is free this whole month. I've been there before, but that place is huge, and I could spend several free months checking it out. It's a great place, and during January, the price is right. So I got the word out to some friends and suggested it. They were excited about it. Then I got excited. Then I invited everyone to brunch at my house beforehand, thinking it'd be good to get everyone well-nourished before heading out into 10 degree weather to give the CTA 5 bucks for a round trip way down to the site of the world's first Ferris Wheel. This became an exercise of making brunch for 5 people on the fly with nothing in the fridge, as the plans were finalized at about 11:30 am, and they'd be at my place at 1:00 pm. So, with 2 hours and about $10, I trudged through the snow we'd gotten overnight and found some milk (organic, as milk is somewhat cheaper now due to the dairy surplus), eggs (sadly not organic, as they are, at least right now, super expensive), and butter (which, as shown in the photo, is available in whole cow form at the Iowa State Fair). I mean, brunch doesn't really require much more than this, does it? Okay. I got some potatoes and onions, too. Sometimes, you can get the big 5# bag for a lot cheaper. But beware--this is not always the case. The onions for example, were $2.49 for a 3# bag; loose onions, which can be pawed through to find the best and most ideal size, were $0.79/#. So yeah, loose was a little cheaper, and a lot less restrictive. I had spinach at home to bring something of a more vegetal and green element to things. Off I went, back home (after paying, of course, I'm not a thief...yet. INTERESTING SIDE STORY, OR MAYBE IT'S JUST INTERESTING TO ME: One time, a friend and I decided to indulge in a night of moderate to heavy drinking. "Meet me at the store," I said, the plan being we'd get some bargain beer or something like that. He 'forgot' his jacket in Michigan, so he'd been wandering around town without one. He asked that I bring him one, and I did, a great big huge Carhartt jacket, warmest and largest thing ever. When I met him, he had a box of clementines he had gotten at another store near his place. I gave him the jacket, he gave me the clementines, and we walked the store looking for the booze, finding an extremely minimal selection, as the store was being remodeled. Saddened by this, we left the grocery store without buying anything despite extensive walking around the store and handling things, carrying an enormous jacket that, for some reason, he hadn't put on yet, 2 DVD's he had also brought, and a box of clementines. Nothing suspicious about that, right? And of course we encountered no resistance when leaving. Worried about what we drank that night? Well, we invented (as far as we know, which is not very far) the Clementonic--clementines buzzed and infused into gin and mixed with Squirt, or Soda Water, depending on if you trust him or me more.).

ANYWAY, I got back, calculating that I had about 45 minutes to cook, or at least start to, do some cleaning (dishes, floors, and the all important and usually offensive litter box), and bathe myself. So I made a quick coffee cake, creaming flour and brown sugar and butter for a streusel filling/topping. I usually bake with recipes, and I bake this sort of thing in this great Le Creuset ceramic baking dish thing, which usually requires recipe conversion due to it's unorthodox size (3" deep, 10"x7" on the top, 9"x6" on the bottom, which makes the volume of it somewhere between a loaf pan and Lake Michigan). So I decided to convert the recipe by 3/4, and since I was in a rush, did it all in my head as I went, even though it's the kind of recipe that lists one amount for butter and sugar that is used in two places. A real brain buster and good way to wake up and "turn on" before a bunch of hungry, potentially hungover people (these are restaurant people, and it was Monday morning) in need of coffee show up. Somehow I made it through the conversions and got the beast into the oven before tending the the aforementioned domestic duties.

Stepping out of the shower, the reek of cheap soap allegedly from the pristine waters of Ireland was replaced by the always heavenly aroma of baking pastries, and a late-call from the friends due at 1:00 bought me about 15 minutes. I pulled the coffee cake out, started boiling water for coffee (I've got this great old green thermos that I pour coffee into when making more than one french-press of the proper - brew - and - storage - worthy Metropolis coffee), and sliced a few potatoes about 1/2" thick, tossed them with onions of the same thickness, some crushed garlic, really good olive oil, fennel seed, red chile flake, pepper, and this awesome Sea Salt from the coast of Brittaney. I threw this in the already hot oven and soon the smell of roasting onions and garlic, backed by a fainter ghost of anise, mixed with the coffee cake, and the apartment smelled like a place people would want to be. I put a bunch of whole eggs in a big bowl on the counter next to the cake for aesthetic effect (more pleasing than a gray cardboard box, right?) and sliced more onions into my big heavy cast iron skillet for caramelizing.

The friends buzzed my door, and arrived up the stairs in grand style with several bottles of champagne and a big batch of orange juice (they even brought some orange-pineapple juice to jazz things up). Mimosas were poured, coffee cake devoured along with the potatoes and onions and a big fritatta-like bunch of eggs with the caramelized onions and spinach, and the space was filled with good things. Time passed and passed, and we all finally admitted what we'd all been thinking since the brunch plan came up but were too nervous to say before a couple mimosas--there's no way we were going to the Museum of Science and Industry today. And it worked out. Because January is a long month, and I have a lot of time, and I need to have good big things like free museums in the bank for the days that the mimosas aren't flowing so freely.