Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Drugs, data, and gnocchi

SBB logoMaastricht’s law enforcement authorities did swoop in on the re-opened drug shops, as promised, on Monday evening.  The café’s promised to sell to tourists from outside the Netherlands, marking Liberation Day on Sunday, and the police predictably arrested three foreigners on-premises.  They were quickly released, but the city council is threatening the drug boat, Mississippi, with a three-month closure.

Mississippi is one of three boats moored along the river near Kesselskade, and the only one that I ever toured. It’s kind of  dark and seedy inside, disagreeably hazy, but the people were nice enough.  The owner gave one of my visitors a tour of the shops (but no cannabis), explaining the supply chain and business model; it put a human face on the whole thing.

I’ve never been too bothered by the trade through the shops: apart from the occasional youth asking me if I know where to find the boats (and do I look like the sort who would know?), they don’t seem to degrade the neighborhood.  It looks like most of Limburg will move towards “discretionary enforcement” of the ordinances, but I’m sure that the debate is not over.

BoulderThis week that I plan, no, I promise, to finish Big Jobs.  These are the perennial elephants squatting on my schedule, needing a day or two to complete and never rising through the smaller, quicker tasks that make the day feel accomplished.  Each has a constituency who is increasingly concerned about the delays, and that makes me feel guilty each evening when I relax for an hour instead of making an hour’s progress.

So, I’m determined to clear out the backlog.  Marking of 25 papers and presentations from my Cambridge Medical Device class assessment six weeks ago.  Compilation and analysis of 30 patient’s EMG data to support a presentation by one of my physicians in Japan at the end of this month.  Pulling in the background data from bank accounts and receipts to get the 2012 tax preparation rolling.  Completing 20 questions for a re-branding project for Stone Bridge Biomedical.

That which does not kill me….

Gnocchi 2I’ve been experimenting with recipes from Saveur magazine,  which has lots of intriguing ideas from around the world.  I’m focusing on the basics: a stuffed pork loin, a flaky pastry crust, gnocchi.

Especially gnocchi

Most come out well after a couple of tries: the prosciutto/pork loin was wonderfully moist and flavorful after minor variation to the stuffing, a foil cover, and less cooking time.   My fondant potatoes are great (this BBC Recipe is a particular winner).  But gnocchi is persistantly touch, despite trying wildly varying directions from Saveur, BBC, and NYT cooks.

It’s easy enough in principle:

Thoroughly cook potatoes (boil or bake). 

Mash (rice) the potatoes, then cool

Add a bit of (plain, whole-wheat, superfine, semolina) flour to hold them together (and maybe an egg (yolk)).  Knead gently, don’t overwork it.

Roll out in 1-inch thick ropes, cut into 1-inch (4-inch) thick slices, (press with a fork). 

Gnocchi 1Drop into boiling water (both); when they rise to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon.  Splash in cold water (fry in butter) to firm the surface.

Keep warm, and serve with a sauce and parmesan.

Mine no longer come out like tiny fondant potatoes, heavy flour dumplings, or rock-hard little potato crisps.  But I don’t (yet) have the pillowy-light, slightly-chewy consistency of Italian restaurants.  I think that my current batches are still too wet going into the water.

The problem is that there are so many variables, and it takes a couple of hours to try any one experiment.  I think the answer is to talk with an Italian friend and just spend some time in the kitchen with their grandmother.

I’ll report back when I find success.

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