Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A vegetable love

A simply sublime little nibble, inspired by an appetizer served by Craig Stoll at Delfina, recreated on the spur of the moment at Diane's cooking class on Monday night.

Fava Bean Crostini

First, the favas. Buy a big bag of favas. Many more than you think you need. Think of each fava pod as a Gulfstream jet--ample, cushy, and much too large for the three or four fat-cat beans reclining inside. Now, put a pot of water on to boil, and crank up something you really like to listen to. Take your bag of favas and strip off all those foamy pods. Don't worry about their pallid little raincoat skins yet. When the water boils, dump favas into water. Let come back to a boil and simmer for a minute or two. Drain and drop into a bowl of ice water. Now, pick up each bean and pinch off the rubbery white outer skin. Drop the pretty bright-green bean halves inside into a little bowl. Yes, a little bowl. That's all you'll need, trust me. When you have your half-cup or so of peeled favas, slide them into a small skillet with a little olive oil, a few tablespoons of water and a pinch of sea salt.

Cook them, stirring, over low heat until tender and nutty tasting--probably around five minutes, maybe less. If you have one of those cute little mini-food-processors, scoop your favas (and whatever liquid might be around them) into the processor, add a squeeze of lemon juice and maybe a little more olive oil and/or water, and pulse to a rough puree. Otherwise, use one of those waffle-grid potato mashers. I think if you tried to chop them they'd just go slithering off in every direction all over the counter, and after all this work, you don't have any to waste. Add some fresh ground pepper, and taste. Does it taste creamy and nutty and green? Good. Only add more salt/lemon if it tastes flat; lemon can really jump right out at you and that's not what you want here. Set aside.

Strip some mint leaves from their stems. Lay the leaves one on top of the other in a little leaf stack. Roll up like a cigar and cut into very fine strips. Ah, mint chiffonade. A word like the tinkle of clear ice in a tall gin and tonic on a summer afternoon--the two words Henry James considered the most lovely in the English language. (No, not mint chiffonade, nor gin and tonic, more's the pity, but summer afternoon. And this from a man wearing a high collar and tie in the middle of July.)

Get out your vegetable peeler and a chunk of pecorino Romano cheese, a firm, salty sheep's milk cheese similar to parmesan. You could use parmesan instead, but in that case I'd look for a young parmesan, one that's still got a little sweetness and elasticity to it, rather than being all stark and aged and granular.

Now, cut some very thin slices of baguette. Toast lightly--best done in the oven at around 350 for about 8 to 10 minutes. Rub very lightly on both sides with a clove of garlic, or (better) a juicy little chunk of spring garlic. Drizzle with olive oil. Return to the oven to continue crisping up and browning. You don't want it much more than golden brown, but you do want it nice and crunchy all the way through. The oven is better for this kind of slow crisping than the toaster, which will give you fast brown edges but a chewy center.

Once your toasts are ready, spread a spoonful of fava mixture onto each toast. Don't be stingy, baby--swirl it on nice and thick, like icing on a Magnolia Bakery cupcake. Strew a few mint strips over the favas. Using your little vegetable peeler, add a sheer curl of pecorino or parmesan cheese. Nicest served while the toasts are still warm, but that's a frill.

All this work and you will probably end up with anywhere from 6 to 12 toasts, depending on how many favas you could bear to peel. Which means, as with fried zucchini blossoms, these should only be served to those people you really, really like.

What you need:

Fava beans
Olive oil
a lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
About a third of a fresh baguette
Spring garlic or a garlic clove
Some fresh mint
A hunk of pecorino romano cheese

Monday, June 27, 2005

meat and more meat

Meat meat meat. That's what I have to think about these days, not really by choice in this sultry summer heat, when watermelon and ice cream sodas seem ever so much more appealing. But I'm editing/writing text for a meat and poultry cookbook right now, so it's all about lamb shanks and Peking duck and stir-fried beef. Tapping out rhapsodies about Italian proscuitto di parma and French pate de campagne, I think instead of the time when, biking in France as a teenager, I'd just taken a mouthful of chunky, unidentified pate bought in thick cheap slices from a small-town charcuterie when one of my brattty little fellow cyclists hazarded a guess as to what had gone into it. "Hamster pate!" he chirped, and I just about heaved into his lap.

In one of John Thorne's illustrious volumes, he contributes this priceless gem about headcheese (what the French would call tete de veau, and of which he is, of course, a fan): "The world is divided into two kinds of people: those who have never heard of headcheese, and those who have and wish they hadn't."

The antidote to such typical American squeamishness is, one, reading (and cooking from) Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating (more on that here), and two, going shopping at the Fatted Calf table at the Berkeley Farmer's Market. I haven't been there, not being (sigh) a West Coaster any more, but their weekly newsletter is enough to sharpen the teeth (and appetite) of even the most dedicated tofu-eater.

OK, I have to go finish this project, today. More to follow!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Flaming June

This week's blueberry obsession continues, as do looming deadlines for real work. So, mindful of my duties to both the world's editors and you, dear reader, I'm going to cannibalize the archives and reprint a piece written in June 2001, for the Gay Pride issue of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Happy muffining!

Is this really June? These blazing blue days, these whipped-warm winds and fleece-free nights? Coming out of the dark cave-coolness of the Roxie Theater at six o'clock, girls were spilling out into the streets everywhere you looked, wading through the heat in their apricot-tinted sunglasses like they were dipped in butterscotch. We're here, we're queer, it's hot outside and the Go-Go's have a brand-new album out. How cool is that? Belinda, Jane, Kathy, Charlotte, Gina: You're beautiful, we love you, you rock!

Maybe it's this summer flashing me back to high school (Republicans! Camouflage pants! the Go-Go's on the radio!), maybe it's all the lines --for movies, for popcorn, for beer and Skyy vodka martinis and chicken-on-a-stick--but this Pride frenzy feels like prom night as it should have been. Fabulous outfits, lots of flirting, all your friends in one place staying up all night. And once you've stayed up all night, there's only one place to go: out to breakfast for French food--French fries, French toast, and endless cups of coffee.

Of course, this is also the month when all your friends and lovers (current, ex, or most likely, some messy combination of the two) hop in the car and road-trip to your door. This is as it should be: part sleepover, part 24-7 party, equal parts high drama and low camp. Or it might be high camp and high drama--it just depends on the trouble-making potential of your friends. But no matter what's happened the night before, everyone needs breakfast. Just pointing your friends in the direction of the bagel shop and java hut may work for a day or two, but why subject them to commerce (and yet another line) so early in the morning? No, what you want is everyone in various states of deshabille, lounging in the kitchen or smoking on the steps, passing along juicy gossip while you pump up the coffeemaker and fill the whole house with the sweet, buttery scent of baking muffins.

This recipe came from a morning like that, back when Sunday morning meant three pots of coffee and a dozen eggs scrambled with leftover shrimp, half a package of cream cheese and a bunch of scallions, dished out not much before noon for four roommates, three sleepover girlfriends, two cats and always a couple of houseguests. Two of the women who lived there were bakers at Sally's over on DeHaro, so crumpled white bags filled with cookies and crumbling brownies were always there for the taking. The first morning I woke up there, the girl I'd gone home with brought me a cup of coffee in bed. It was strong and hot and dolloped with half-and-half. After six months of dating another girl who never drank coffee, I was primed to fall in love at that very moment. It was a good place to wake up.

Well, girls [and boys--it's equal-opportunity here at PQ Castle] come and go, but the really good ones leave recipes for remembrance. Heartbreak heals, t-shirts fade, but a good muffin recipe lasts. I know this first recipe came from Denise, one of the bakers. The other one is evidence of years of recipe sluthood. Like a mysterious pair of pink panties lolling unclaimed under the couch, this one appeared one morning, neatly copied into my recipe notebook under the heading "Very Best Blueberry Muffins." Whose best? Who knows? But they'll both make everyone happy to wake up with you.

Chase the Blues Blueberry Muffins

3 cups unbleached white flour (or a half-and-half combination of whole wheat pastry flour and white flour)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
4 eggs
1 cup orange juice
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup blueberries, rinsed and patted dry

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease the cups of a 12-cup muffin pan. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat eggs, honey, orange juice, and melted butter together. Add to dry ingredients and stir lightly until just mixed together. Batter should look rough and lumpy. Don't try to beat the batter smooth; just make sure any very obvious patches of flour are mixed in. Add blueberries and stir in lightly. Drop spoonfuls of batter into muffin cups, filling each cup 3/4 of the way. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until muffins are round and golden. Let cool in pans for 5 minutes, then loosen from the cups, let cool briefly on a rack, and serve with plenty of butter to whoever's sleeping in the living room.

Very Best Blueberry Muffins

2 cups unbleached white flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup blueberries
2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease 12-cup muffin pan. Mix dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, buttermilk, butter, and vanilla together. Pour wet ingredients into dry, and stir lightly until just mixed together. Batter should look rough and lumpy. Stir in blueberries. Fill muffin cups 3/4 of the way. Sprinkle each muffin with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool in pans for 5 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Blueberry Solstice

Happy Solstice! Woke up early to pristine blue skies and a cool morning freshness—a perfect morning for blueberry pancakes and coffee out on the fire escape. I love blueberries in anything—muffins, pancakes, on top of a bowl of Grape-Nuts. We’re not really getting the local South Jersey ones in yet, but still. Today’s a blueberry day.

Easy Morning Pancakes

1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup whole-wheat or white flour
1 tsp baking powder
big pinch of salt
1 TB sugar, honey or maple syrup
1 egg
3/4 cup milk, or more, depending on how thick you like your pancakes
1 TB (or more--more is better) melted butter
blueberries, rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel (not that I actually bother with the drying part)

Mix up dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In another small bowl, beat egg, milk, and butter together. Dump wet into dry and stir until JUST mixed—don’t beat. Throw in berries and cook on a lightly greased griddle or frying pan. Makes enough for two.

I was down at Lillie’s in Red Hook (46 Beard St, a very cool bar with an excellent outdoor garden, well worth the trip down to the tip of the Hook on the B61 bus) and happened to be browsing through one of the freebie papers scattered around. And there was a front page full of good news—it seems the South Brooklyn Local Development Agency is putting in a new community garden at Smith and 3rd Sts. Yay! It probably won’t be finished and ready for planting til July sometime, but I am overjoyed at the prospect of getting some dirt of my own, and possibly giving my tomato plant what it really wants, which is to get its feet into the ground and its leaves into full-time sunshine.

More strawberries coming from the CSA today (along with the requisite Unfamiliar Ugly Knobby Root Thing—this time, it’s burdock. Sigh. It can join the Jerusalem artichokes and salsify, still in my fridge from the past two weeks). The strawbs aren’t really that great so far; they haven’t hit that real red-to-the-core sweetness and perfume yet. But when they do, make jam! All you jam virgins out there, take heart. Making jam is like making pie crust—not a big deal, yet people are terrified and amazed when you can do it.

I inherited my jam fearlessness from my mom, an ace strawberry-jam maker, but I learned technique from Helen Witty’s excellent tomes Good Stuff and Fancy Pantry. The trick is to macerate the fruit with the sugar beforehand. Sugar is hydroscopic, which means it will pull the moisture out of whatever it touches. Instead of having to boil the fruit endlessly trying to get out the excess water, you mix the fruit and sugar together first and let the sugar do the work. In just a few hours, you’ll have a big bowl of syrup and some very deflated berries. Boil down the syrup, then add the berries at the last minute, cooking them just until they look translucent and begin to break down. This way, you keep that fresh-berry taste. For particulars, go here.

OK, off to buy some potting soil so I can finally get the tri-basil (lime, thai and Italian) and nasturtium pot going.

Music for Pancakes and Planting

1. Donovan, “Sunshine Superman”
2. Michael Jackson, “Got to Be Starting Something”
3. Spoon, “Stay Don’t Go”

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Lemon Tart

Lucky I have a nice recipe on hand to post here (the tasty blueberry lemon tart promised a few posts back) because otherwise this would degenerate into a pissy rant full of real estate lust and free-form lower-life-form snuffling. Partly it's the weird gloomy cold weather (I know, I know, last week it was a bitchfest about the heat. Never satisfied....), partly it's the pile of not-very-exciting, not terribly renumerative work I'm plowing through right now, and partly it's the choppy lopsided too-short haircut that the otherwise swell Jessica at Beehive gave me last week. But mostly it was seeing a lovely, gorgeous, wonderful apartment for sale in my building--in fact, right across the hall. For $459,000. For a one-bedroom.

I wanted that apartment. I wanted the apple green dining room and lemon yellow living room with its high ceilings and Victorian detailing and massive bookshelves, the bedroom with more bookshelves and French doors and the bathroom with the clawfoot tub.

I know, however, that spending half-a-MILLION dollars for 800 square feet of space (and no garden!) is NOT NORMAL, even if I had it to spend, ha ha. When E. and I were tooling around Maine a few years ago, we kept finding listings for lovely quaint houses with ponds and waterfalls and barns that between us, we could have bought for CASH. Of course, we'd have then been in rural Maine, with perhaps limited career opportunities, and no chance of going off to Europe for E's graduate degree, etc., etc. But then again, maybe we'd be married and having clambakes and raising a couple of little New England kids named Nathaniel and Eziekiel by now. Sigh.

Instead, my plants are getting thrashed in the chilly winds and not-enough-sunlight on my tiny fire escape, growing scrawny and starved-looking as they strain towards the indifferent sun. Advice? Anyone? I know there's still great art and music and philosophy out there, that excellent painting of Joan of Arc in the Met and the smell of hot coffee first thing in the morning, but jesus, if someone wanted to kiss me these days I'd probably pay him.

But since it's better to bake than to burn, here's the lemon tart recipe. And if you've got a sweetheart, real estate, or money in your mattress, count yourself lucky.

NOTE: All the whining above is a bad introduction to a really fantastic tart. Having wrestled mightily with various lemon curd recipes, I have to say that this version is boss. I made this tart for my aunt's big 70th-birthday party and it was a big hit all around. My 7-year-old nephew, who loves to suck on those plastic lemon-juice thingies, was particularly enamored of it. But the grownups liked it too.

Lemon-Blueberry Tart

The filling and crust for this tart can be prepared ahead of time. To keep the crust crunchy, assemble as close to serving time as possible. You can also make the lemon filling recipe by itself, to serve with fresh scones or biscuits at teatime. The crust is made like a sugar cookie, and is sturdier and crunchier than a regular pastry crust—it’s very tasty and a good choice for those intimidated by the usual pastry routine.

Lemon Filling

1/2 cup lemon juice
grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
6 TB butter

Heat lemon juice, butter, and 1/2 the sugar to a simmer, whisk for a minute, then remove from heat. Using a mixer, beat eggs, yolk and rest of the sugar until thick, pale and doubled in volume—mixture should form a ribbon when beaters are lifted. Slowly add hot juice and zest while beating and beat for 3 minutes until fluffy. Put back in pan and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, for a few minutes until thickened. Let cool and chill until needed.

Crust (this makes enough for two crusts--refrigerate or freeze what you don't use)

14 TB butter (1 3/4 sticks)
2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
2 tb ground almonds or pistachios

Beat butter and sugar. Add egg, salt, and vanilla, and beat well. Stir in flour and almonds. Chill well. Press into tart pan with removable bottom. Bake at 350 until golden brown (you may need to cover edges with foil to keep from browning too fast). Let cool.


Lemon filling
1 pint blueberries, rinsed and dried well
Red currant or beach-plum jelly, or apricot jam

To make glaze, heat jam or jelly until melted and runny. Add 1 TB water. Just before serving, spread lemon filling over tart. Top with blueberries. Brush with glaze. If not serving right away, refrigerate until serving.

OK, six good things from today:

1. Meatball-parmesan sandwich, on Sullivan St. Bakery pizza bianca, at Frankie's 457 (Court St at 3rd St, Carroll Gardens)
2. A free Bloody Mary (sans vodka, as requested) from the cute bartender, above.
3. Amazing, almost-black hollyhocks growing along Clinton St, their silky flowers filled with golden pollen like magic fairy dust
4. Canning five jars of homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam this morning, and finally boiling down and re-canning last winter's too-runny orange marmalade
5. Six p.m. sunshine!
6. Shuna's happy pie post, on Eggbeater, here.

Monday, June 13, 2005

All Nutella, All the Time

This just in, from my pastry-chef pal in Paris, David Lebovitz.

"If you happen to be in Paris before June 22nd, I urge you to
stop by La Table Nutella, a temporary restaurant set up to
celebrate 40 years of Nutella! The restaurant is only open for
40 days, monday through friday, 7:30am to 11:30am, and
saturday 8 to 3pm. With the throngs of people lining up
you should get there early if you want to get in.
Recently I had a 2-hour breakfast, completely
with Nutella croissants, Nutella and Apple Crisp, and Nutella
Brownies (yes, for breakfast). All proceeds are going to charity."

And more drool-worthy descriptions over at Moveable Feast.

La Table Nutella: 46, rue de Sevigne, Paris, 4th Arr.

Oh, Nutella, how I love it! I must say, though, that the Italians have it all over the Parisians in this department. When we lived in Bologna, our apartment was right around the corner from the bright-red Nutelleria caffe. Everything there came with Nutella on it--croissants (or rather the leathery pastries that passed as croissants there), piadina, gelato, rolls--there was even Nutella pizza.

If you poke around in some gourmet and/or upscale health food stores, you can sometimes find all-natural chocolate-hazelnut spreads that are even more delicious and not so full of corn syrup and other junk.

Lebovitz will also be leading a chocolate tasting at the American
Library in Paris this Thursday, June 16th, with selections from Michel
Cluizel, one of the world's best chocolate manufacturers. Cluizel's chocolates are dreamy, and Lebovitz is a very funny, very informative speaker, so check it out if you're lucky enough to be in Paris this week.

OK, that's it for now because I'm in deadline hell for actual paying work. More soon, including a fabulous blueberry lemon tart recipe that was the hit of my aunt's 70th birthday party.

Music for typing in front of the fan

1. White Stripes, "My Doorbell"
I'm thinking about my doorbell, when you gonna ring it, when you gonna ring it...Funky bounce from the snappy Jack White, off their new album Get Behind Me Satan
2. Magnetic Fields and Belle & Sebastian, "Sunset City"
3. White Stripes, "Blue Orchid"
Snarly bump and grind from Jack and Meg. If I were a stripper with a motorcycle and lots of tattoos, I'd dance to this. And you'd pay up and like it.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Three ways to beat the heat

Oy, I'm shvitzing, and so are you. What is this, August? Jesus. You don't even want to know what the West 4th St subway station smelled like this afternoon. But three ways to keep cool, short of covering yourself head-to-toe in Tasti-D-Lite:

1. Hit the Gel'Otto cart, in the far NW corner of Washington Square Park, at the corner of Wash. square West and Waverly Place. Walk almost out of the park and you'll see it, a little green-and-yellow cart serving four flavors of gelato from Otto, Mario Batali's pizza place nearby. The sweet but disgruntled guy working the cart is cranky because the Otto folks keep giving him the same four flavors: chocolate, vanilla, coconut and lime sorbet. Sympathsize with him, but secretly pray that he keeps that lime sorbet all summer, because it's insanely, naked-on-a-Thai-beach refreshing. They have girl portions for $3.50, but hey, it's lime juice and water. Get the bigger $5 cup, trust me.

2. Buy a bunch of cute cheap sundresses at H&M. normally, I loathe H&M, because they never, ever have enough dressing rooms or cashiers, and you could wither and die just waiting to try on some piece of beaded turquoise $24.99 crap. But today I walked in and miraculously walked out with three cheap-o dresses that actually fit on the first go-round and made my cleavage look a couple of scoops of really tasty gelato. Of course, the very best, most gelato-y dress (bias-cut black linen with a halter top) was only available one size too small. Damn.

3. Watermelon margaritas at Pacifico, on Pacific between Smith and Court Sts in Brooklyn. Sit at the bar all the way inside, where there's some AC, not on the too-sweaty patio (or at the oddly diner-ish formica-topped tiny tables). Then get as many pink juicy drinks as your wallet will allow (since they're cash-only.) Plenty of the Chowhound folks sneer at this Mexicali joint, but when you want a girly drink and some snacks, they're better than they need to be. Good huge quesadillas stuffed with carnitas, decent guac, and my fave, the grilled-salmon-and-shrimp stack, which mixes up salmon and shrimp and corn and guac and lots of lettuce and tomatoes and other salady stuff over and between a couple of warm flour tortillas. It sounds sloppy, but it's not, and just right for a summer night.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Down in the dirt

Gardening Day! Out on my tiny black firescape went a green plastic pot planted with 2 marigolds and a tomato plant (marigolds being pretty and also good at fending off tomato-loving bugs); a yellow coffee can with chive seeds waiting to sprout, and the miracle Hanukah poinsetta that has lived for a year and a half now, transforming itself from a holiday throwaway to a leggy houseplant. Soon to follow: the three stemmy little sunflower seedlings that are growing taller by the hour on my windowsill, and perhaps some more herbs.

B.'s fire-escape garden is growing like wildfire, too--he threw a bunch of sunflower seeds around last week, only to come outside a few hours later and find most of them split open and devoured by the resident birds and squirrels. So he figured, well, nuts to that and planted a whole slew of other things in the same pots. however, the birds clearly missed a few, because as of 4pm today there were 13 little sproutlets and counting popping up all over the place. Since each of these flowers can grow 10 or 12 feet tall, this is, as Jimmy Stewart would say, an interesting situation.

This was also the first delivery day for the Cobble Hill CSA. What's a CSA, you ask? Well, first off, the acronym stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Think of it as the real Fresh Direct: a co-op farmer's market that comes to you. You pay your money up front, usually a few hundred dollars for the growing season (in this case, June through November) to a specific farmer, who then has cash in hand to buy seeds and equipment for the season. The farmer then delivers boxes of whatever's growing that week to a central drop-off point once a week. What's cool is that you never quite know what you're going to get, which can be great for getting out of that broccoli-and-string-bean rut. You're also supporting small farms and eating locally. And damn that stuff is fresh! Poke around a little on the web or ask at your local farmers' market and you can probably find one in your area.

Today we got deep green delicious full-grown crinkly spinach leaves that had some chew to them, fat purple chive blossoms (good for making pink chive vinegar), feathery bunches of upland cress (like a cross between carrot tops and watercress), a rather stingy little bunch of succulent asparagus, and a bag of whaddya-do-with-these Jerusalem artichokes. I'd like to say I whipped up some fabulous recipe, but really I just did what I do most often when I'm at home alone: threw it all into my big skillet and sauteed it with olive oil and garlic. OK, not everything: first some scallions and a fat link of Aidell's green chile chicken sausage, then the spinach and the (blanched) asparagus, then a little cress and some homemade, very limey pico de gallo on top. Sat outside soaking up the sudden summer heat with a glass of leftover Riesling from the fridge, listening to the music from West Side Story on the radio and eating the sausage chunks with my fingers. Happy summer, everyone.

Purple Chive Blossom Vinegar
Adapted from recipes in Gayla Trail's You Grow Girl and Pam Peirce's Golden Gate Gardening--which is an invaluable resource for anyone trying to grow in the fog and trippy microclimates of the Bay Area

Chive blossoms look like chubby purple puffballs. They're supercute and will pop up all over your chive patch, and they make a great garnish and vinegar. Take a clean pint mason jar and pack about a dozen or so big fat chive blossoms into it. Fill the jar with white-wine vinegar, about 2 cups. If you've bought a pint bottle of vinegar, save the empty bottle to refill later with your finished brew. Screw on the lid, turn it upside down once or twice, then stick it on a sunny windowsill to steep. Let steep for a couple of weeks, shaking jar occasionally, until vinegar is a pretty shade of pink. Strain through cheesecloth and discard blossoms. Decant into a clean bottle and refrigerate.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Go ManGo

Well, it's empty-brain night after three days inside the Javitz Center at BEA (Book Expo America), tirelessly promoting the books of Manic D Press, trolling the aisles for free books and chocolate, shooting the breeze with the Brooklyn neo-noir dudes of Contemporary Press (who shared our booth and provided both nightly cocktail hours and a table full of little black buttons reading "Fuck Literature"), and reading, over and over again, In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot along with Good Advice for Young Trendy People of All Ages, two stars of the current Manic D list. Once the gin and tonics came out, we became the little party booth--much to the chagrin of the suit-and-tie guy from Arizona Highways across the way, where it was so quiet you could hear tumbleweeds rolling across the carpet.

But staring at those majestic pictures of orange deserts and weird cacti all day long did make me smile, because way back in the day, I used to date this Elvis impersonator from Arizona who regarded Arizona Highways' books as her personal porn stash. We'd lie in bed and she'd take me through them page by page, pointing out all her favorite landmarks. She was very proud of her home state.

Anyway. It was fun and mind-numbing and exhausting. After two-and-a-half days living on chocolate espresso beans, black-and-white cookies and bialies with camembert cheese cribbed from Manic D foundress Jen J., it was bliss to meander home in the sudden summer warmth, have a shower, throw on a sundress and make a big bowl of black beans with mango salsa, which I could happily eat every day for weeks on end.

(I once inadvertently ended up teaching Paula Wolfert, Mediterranean food expert extraordinaire, how to make this salsa at a dinner party--one of my small culinary claims to fame.)

It's so good that you should stop what you're doing and go out and buy the ingredients right now. Put it on anything that stands still long enough--black beans, grilled salmon, grilled chicken, whatever. The proportions are up to you, but don't be shy--use a lot of cilantro, plenty of salt, and lots of fresh lime juice. Some people put hard crunchy things in their salsa, like cucumber or jicama, but I like mine nice and squishy all the way through. This is a good way to use up very ripe and pulpy mangos, and the colors--orange, purple, and green--are gorgeously summery.

Mango Salsa in Paradise

2 big mangos, nice and fragrant with a little give to them
1 or 2 fresh jalapeno or serrano peppers, diced
half a red onion, peeled and diced
handful of cilantro, stemmed and chopped roughly
at least 2 limes, maybe more

Stand the mango on its end and cut down vertically to slice off both "cheeks," leaving the pit in the center. Cup a "cheek" in your hand, and make several long vertical cuts down to, but not through, the skin. Then make some horizontal cuts across the first cuts, so you have a mango checkerboard. Now bend the skin so the little cubes pop up and look like a bright-orange hand grenade (did you know the word for grenade comes from grenada, the Spanish word for pomegranate?). Slice the cubes off the peel, and repeat with other "cheek." Take the pit and cut off the thin strip of peel around the edge, then cut off whatever extra flesh you can. Squish the mango cubes up a little, so the mixture's pretty pulpy. Add onions, peppers, and cilantro. Add salt and lime juice to taste--it needs more lime and salt than you might think to balance the intense musky sweetness of the mango. You can eat it right away, but it gets even better if you can chill it for a little bit.

Generally I just heat up a can of black beans, warm up a couple of tortillas and pour a whole lot of salsa on the top. But you could put this on top of grilled chicken or fish or whatever you like. If you have an avocado lying around, slice it up and put it next to the beans. Mmmm.

Tomorrow: a small, hopeful foray into fire-escape gardening. I spent a delicious afternoon last week up to my elbows in dirt on B.'s big fire escape/deck, planting marigolds and tomatoes and peppermint (for mojitos, natch) in a bunch of big pots. between that and reading Gayla Trail's fab little urban-gardening book You Grow Girl last week, I'm ready to plant! Four little sunflower seedlings are already growing inside on my windowsill. I poked holes in the bottom of a quart-sized empty Stonyfield yogurt container and planted them five days ago, checking the dirt eagerly every morning. Then I got busy and forgot about them, only to be surprised by the sight of four tender little green shoots, still bearing the husks of their black-and-white seeds, poking up through the dirt early this morning. Faith, hope, renewal, right there in a dirt-filled plastic tub.

Cool Stuff To Do, East Coast version

One of the benefits of BEA was swapping war stories and giving props to other writers, many of whom I'd admired from afar through their work. It was nifty to meet the baby-faced Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snickett, especially since after a nice little chat about poetry I had to go chase him down and retrieve our only copy of Justin Chin's Bite Hard, which he'd blithely stowed in his already-bulging tote bag, to which he responded "Oh my god, I pulled a Winona, I'm so sorry." But more fun was chatting with the always swell Michelle Tea and meeting Ayun Halliday, who writes a great little zine called the East Village Inky about her low-rent, hip-mama life, and recently published Job Hopper, a very funny account of her many bad jobs.Having spent much of my twenties finding my career opportunites in the the back pages of the free weeklies--leading to work as a cigarette-and-candy girl, a receptionist for an infomercial production house ("Mick, Victoria Principal on line three!"), a perfume spritzer, fetishwear salesgirl, and more-- I'm going to go give her lots of applause at her upcoming reading at the Park Slope library this thursday, and you should too. It's free, and she's promised cookies!

Thursday, June 9th at 7pm
Job Hopper Reading and signing by Ayun Halliday
Friends of the Park Slope Library 2005 Author Series
Park Slope Library
431 Sixth Avenue (Sixth Avenue between Eighth and Ninth Streets)

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Books Books Books, and Amy's Cookies

It's time for the big literary smooch-fest known as Book Expo America, and there are publishing things going on all over the city. Off to check out the City Lights' 50 anniversary party at St. Marks Church in the East Village, and then some other event at Galapagos in W-burg. Then Friday and Sat. I'll be working the promo table for Manic D Press, a fab tiny indie press from SF. If you're cruising the Javitz Center, come and say hi, and bring me some pie! (Note to other convention goers: the area around 11th Ave and 40th St is definitely food desert. Best lunch choice, by far: the grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate-chubby cookies at Amy's Bread, on Ninth Ave between 47th and 48th Sts.