Sunday, July 31, 2005

On the hook

Another warm dreamy day, even as the thermometer crawls upwards again this week. Swung by the farmers market for fuzz-rasped, sweet juice-dripping peaches and more tomatoes, and then another long walk to the garden to gaze contemplatively at the salvia and the purple basil. The people walking by on the other side of the fence must think I’m a little, well, strange, since mostly what I do in the garden is roll back on my heels and simply stare at my little plants. With a box that’s maybe 2 feet square, once you turn the hose on for a few minutes, there’s not much to do, really. Pinch up the odd teeny weed, fret over the browning nasturtiums (which actually produced one blazing orange flower, even as the rest of the plants, all pale and feeble, looked like rapidly sinking sanatorium inmates from The Magic Mountain), will encouragement to the stumpy pepper's fistfuls of tightly clenched flower buds. After that, I just ogle and bask.

But not for too long, because it was time to slide into one of those hot-weather H&M dresses (this one the sweet but slinky black chiffon number with skinny ribbon edging) and head down to Red Hook for Amy’s birthday dinner at 360. The place was sunny and empty when we arrived for our 15-person, 6pm reservation—narrow banquettes, wood-paneled walls, French dishtowels for napkins, a small sign reading "life is just a bowl of pork chops" next to some anti-Bush stickers. Orange chairs? Maybe, or I could be making that up. The menu is short and yep, seasonal, with three choices in each category on the $25 prix fixe menu, plus a bunch of a la carte options, including a green salad from the very local Added Value city farm, a Red Hook greens-growing operation that uses youth from the neighborhood to grow and sell mixed lettuces at Brooklyn farmers markets.

The food reminded me very much of San Francisco—lovely ingredients unfussed-with, with the results pristine if a smidge underseasoned. As with a dinner at Fort Greene’s Ici last year, 360’s offerings were lovely, but a little more recklessness—and quirky genius-- in the kitchen could lift it from good to partytime in your mouth. Carrot and radish soup was a gorgeously bright orange but tasted more of radish than sweet carrot, with an overwhelmingly rooty radish bouquet that gave a certain, less than appealing eau-de-vegetable-drawer to the cool liquid. A chunk of wild sea bass had a fantastic crunchy browned skin and a pleasant-enough light broth around it, dotted with green and Romano beans and slivers of artichoke and fresh basil. Nice, but white food compared to the beefy, salty, excellent onglet steak. Slightly dry-looking slices of pork loin came with tangy plum chutney and a tangle of shiny but completely unseasoned collard greens. But the wines are excellent—a short but really cool list of mostly French, organic and biodynamic small producers for prices that rarely exceed $20-$35 a bottle. Service --unsmiling and perfunctory from one slightly scruffy guy in an orange T-shirt, and pleasant and almost friendly from the big bearded guy.

Then we strolled through the very quiet cobblestoned streets to Lillie’s to sit outside in the funky back garden (a lot like an East Coast version of SF’s El Rio, only with a tiny pond and tiki bar and without a lemon tree). Across the street was a tall brick warehouse wall decorated with what looked like graffiti but were actually delicate, lacy paper cutouts of the flora and fauna of spring put up by local artists on the first warm day earlier this year, when an impromptu vernal parade wound through the streets. “That’s where the Ikea’s going to be,” a guy outside the bar told us as we gazed at the flock of hawks and bees and dragonflies flitting across the brick. “Right there.” Wandering through the streets on an impromptu tour of the waterfront later that night with warm arms of silence wrapped around us...into the warm summer darkness, with a dusky gold curve of moon hanging low over the silhouette of an abandoned sugar factory, we could hear nothing but crickets. On the other side of a flaking, vine-twined fence drifted the faint clank and chime of the buoys rolling in the shimmering flat river.

Now, the girls up at cripple creek 'bout half-grown, jump on a boy like a dog on a bone...
Roll my britches up to my knees, wade old cripple creek whenever I please...

360, 360 Van Brunt at Sullivan St, Bklyn. 718.246.0360
Lillie's, 46 Beard St at Dwight, 718. 858.9822

Friday, July 29, 2005


Ahhhhhh...the heat has finally broken, and sleep has returned. Went down to the garden to find half of the new nasturtiums I'd just planted looking crappy and half-dead. What's up with that? I know the soil in the box isn't so great--this heavy, clay-ish cheap top soil that the garden got for free, but I did mix in lots of perlite and a few bags of humus/manure, so it shouldn't be all bad. Oh well, if they die, they die...more room for something else.

Went to see "Dr. No" last night at Brooklyn Bridge Park and it was a lovely, lovely night--perfect weather, a stunning orange-and-pink sunset behind the bridge, popcorn, a mellow crowd and actual room to put down a blanket, and once it got dark, sparkly bridges and a ravishing skyline view.Everyone cheered the first time the deeply foxy Sean Connery looked up from the chemin-de-fer table and burred "Bond...James Bond." The Dumbo restaurant Rice had a stand set up selling snacks, although it seemed like most people brought along a pie from Grimaldi's around the corner. With a fridge full of farmers market/CSA veg, though, I made a salad instead--blanched green beans,roasted beets, potatoes,fresh radishes, tomatoes, and corn, all tossed with olive oil and the pink chive-blossom vinegar I made a few weeks ago, plus lots of basil on top, thanks to another mint-and-basil haul from B.'s thriving fire-escape garden. Packed in a tupperware box, this made too much even for me to eat, so now there's a nice veggie salad in the fridge for dinner, along with a giant, incredibly attractive eggplant just daring me to turn her into a batch of caponata. Don't tempt me, baby.

More thursday night movies all summer... info at Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy site.
See you there!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Too Darn Hot cook anything, although I answered the call of the Jam Goddess this morning and made four jars of blackberry jam and two of Hedgerow Bramble Jam (so Beatrix Potter!), a mix of red currants, raspberries, black currants, and more blackberries, all picked during last weekend's outing to the pick-your-own fruit farms of Bucks County, PA. The heavenly winey smell was well worth the steamy heat...

But now all I want is a blenderful of Ladybugs, from the recipe kindly sent by Susie.

Ladybug Cocktail

1 lime
1/4 cup sugar
4 cups watermelon, cut into 1-inch chunks and frozen
1/4 cup vodka

Remove zest (just the green part) from lime with a vegetable peeler, grater or microplane (the best, super easy and no nasty bitter white pith to contend with). Throw zest and sugar into a food processor or blender and buzz until mix is pale green with bits of zest still visible. Squeeze the lime juice into the blender and add watermelon chunks and vodka. Blend until smooth and slushy. Taste, add more lime juice if necessary, and serve.

Makes 5 drinks, unless it’s as hot as it is today, in which case, pour the whole thing into a pint glass and call it dinner (or breakfast).

And over on Gawker (you'll have to scroll down a ways, past the usual celebrity trash), a brief heat-addled snark break for a wistful gaze at two happy guys chiling out in their driveway "pool"--who knew the back of a pickup was watertight?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

95 in the shade

It's hot as, well, a hot place today...a really, really hot place. Steamy and blazing out there...but the gardens are happy, both my new community-garden plot and the little fire escape wonderland. Three kinds of basil are lush and fantastically scented just outside my window, and the much-maligned tomato plant has now hit its stride, with more than thirty little grape tomatoes hanging greenly off its branches. In the new plot, purple basil, rosemary, lavender, nasturtiums, blue salvia, dusty miller, sunflower seedlings (which popped up in less than a week from a scattering of seeds), lemon balm, and a little cluster of blue balloon flowers. Best of all, the pepper plant that got broken in transit has rebounded. Instead of being a sad little three-leaved stump, as it was when I planted it with little hope, it's now burgeoning, lusty and just short, with tons of new leaves and flower buds everywhere.

My local farmers market at Borough Hall has undergone a similar transformation in the last few weeks. Before I left, it was lettuce and strawberries and a few hothouse tomatoes; all of sudden, the tables are covered in field grown Jersey beefsteak tomatoes and ripe peaches and corn, corn, corn. Had a juicy ear just raw for lunch, with a plate of sea-salted chopped tomatoes...mmmm. Eat more raw corn, I say!

Spent the weekend being a Fresh Air Fund child, thanks to several friends living out of the city and my, it was fun. A giant golden moon rose through the trees on Friday night, challenged only by the sporadic twinkling of the fireflies. In the morning we went berry picking at Solebury Orchards in New Hope, PA--enormous blackberries, blueberries, and a few handfuls of red currants and raspberries. Right now, 10 cups of blackberries are sitting in my fridge, waiting to become jam, although the thought of boiling anything, especially a whole lot of sticky fruit and sugar, fills me with dread.

Then up to Boscobel, to picnic al fresco and see a lovely open-air production of The Tempest. If there's a better place to be on a summer evening than sitting in the grass overlooking the river with old friends and a glass of prosecco to hand, I haven't found it.

The next morning: Ladybug cocktails, scrambled eggs with piperade, and mascarpone-nectarine tart. (Did I mention that Susie did all the cooking? The rest of us just sat around admiring the dog and drinking quart after quart of cold seltzer). I could live on those Ladybugs alone, a kind of sunset-pink granita/slush made from pureed frozen watermelon chunks, vodka, lime rind, lime juice, and sugar. The key is the frozen watermelon, which gives the drink a marvelous sorbet-ish consistency. And of course, you could leave out the vodka and just slush around in it all day long.

Finally, last night--Sicilian cooking at Diane's, with heavenly caponata, smoked sea bass over potatoes and favas, eggplant parmigiana and almond-kissed apricots. Recipes to follow...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Beautiful Dreamer

It's cool and grey and heavenly out here on the West Coast, and the avocados grow on trees, as do the oranges and Meyer lemons and the jasmine and rosemary. OK, not the last two, but it's so beautiful here. When I was packing late last Thursday night (after a swell Bastille Day dinner in the pretty back garden at Gavaroche on 14th St)I couldn't imagine coolness, even after 12 years of cold SF summers. So I threw in sundresses and sleeveless linen and now I'm huddled in the same sweater and sweatshirt every day. But it's still bliss.

Going to my all-time fave restaurant Delfina tonight, yay. And with perfect timing, Delfina's also just opened its new pizzeria next door--yet another gourmet addition to the food-lover's row of 18th St between Guerrero and Dolores--Tartine, Delfina, Bi-Rite, Dolores Park Cafe, and that's not even counting the other side of the street. Although I do miss Anna's Danish Cookies--not that I ever went in there, but I loved knowing that someone was actually making those Danish butter cookies from scratch, proof that not all butter cookies were born in those big blue metal tins. And Kim from KQED's Bay Area Bites blog gets the She's On It scoop award for eating, musing, and posting the very first night they opened for dinner. Check it out (with pictures!) here.

On Sat. morning, C. and I hit the Lakeview farmers market in Oakland, which was a shady riot of heirloom tomatoes and fantastic white peaches and organic strawberries. Lunch was tomatoes from Eatwell Farms' Tomato Wonderland, a few stolen basil leaves, Afghani spinach bread, sun-dried tomato pesto, half a corn-fed Sonoma chicken cooked on the rotisserie, and the best chewy chocolate-brownie cookies ever. Went down to Santa Cruz on Sunday to walk on the beach, look longingly at the sailboats, let the chilly Pacific lap round my ankles and eat avocados at every opportunity. Monday morning Shar and I went to the Wharf to commune with the sea lions and their whiskery dog faces and eat fish and chips away from the thieving seagulls upstairs at Stanganaro's, which Shar loves for their Marina Mary, a Bloody Mary served in a pint glass adorned with 2 huge prawns. It's dinner in a drink! Then back up to SF and a glass of super-tasty McPrice central coast Syrah at the wine bar in the Ferry Building.

I might just get too happy to ever come back to Brooklyn....

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Pickup Artist

Again, duty and deadlines call. It's not really quite tomato season yet (although my much-maligned fire-escape tomato plant now has at least twenty tiny green marbles hanging from its skinny branches, hurrah) but this column, originally from the Bay Guardian, seems ripe for an airing at this moment of picnics and potlucks. Enjoy!

When it comes to literature and recipes, I'm a slut. I'll pick up cooking advice, suggested combinations, and the names of favorite authors from just about anyone, anywhere. My favorites are scrawled on wrinkled-up scraps of paper stuffed into a grubby turquoise binder. That's where you'll find my grandmother's carrot cake recipe (itself copied off a recipe scribbled on the endpapers of one of her own cookbooks, and available, slighting adapted, in the posting "San Fran Smackdown"), my mother's barbecued shrimp recipe and my own reconstruction of same, created as my mother was en route to London and a sudden craving hit before I could track her (and her New Orleans cookbook) down. There's the penciled scribble that brings back memories of the gooiest, most wonderful cinnamon sticky buns I've ever had, courtesy of a long-distance call my best friend made back to her own mother in Minneapolis the day before we hosted a lavish birthday brunch.

That's the joy of recipe sluthood: instead of glossy pictures and perky marketing copy, recipes collected like this come tried and true. Never would I have tried a printed recipe calling for Karo syrup, instant vanilla pudding mix, and frozen bread dough. But when my friend brought out those cinnamon buns, every other tasteful-organic-seasonal brunch item was practically kicked under the table in the guests' mad rush to devour them hot from the oven. And if I could decipher her scrawled shorthand of that recipe, I'd make them again in a minute. Give the people what they want, I say.

This is particularly true at potlucks and picnics. There's no point in knocking yourself out when you're just one among many. And when Saturday afternoon follows Friday night, just ungluing your eyelashes from the pillow might take most of the morning. Your saving grace? What one party-girl pal calls Hangover Salad. "You were on a table singing 'Volare' at four a.m., and now it's time to pay," says my Anti-Bride Guide co-author Caroline. "Your best friend's bbq is in three hours, and you're still in bed groaning. But you can't show up with another bottle of corner-store merlot. You're family, and you're expected to cook. Have no fear: faster than you can say 'Cala Foods' you can whip up a Martha-impressing salad with just one quick trip to the nearest fruit and vegetable stand."

Get a big bag of Roma tomatoes, she advises, two balls of mozzarella (the shrink-wrapped kind is fine), a bunch of fresh basil, a big jar of marinated artichoke hearts, a head of garlic and two small red onions. Chop the tomatoes and mozzarella into chunks, mince the onions and garlic, rip up the basil ("use a lot!") and toss it all together with the artichoke hearts into a big Tupperware bowl. Coat it all with red wine vinegar and olive oil, add a few pinches of oregano, salt, and pepper. Then "stick the lid on and shake the whole mess up. Put it in the fridge for 20 minutes. Have a Bloody Mary while you're sitting in a hot bath. Strap on your platforms, apply your lipstick and go!" Of course, if you have ripe juicy fabulous tomatoes and milky-fresh mozzarella, it will be even better.

Or, if you have a stale (but not yet rock-hard) loaf of Italian bread lying around, you can use almost the same ingredients to make panzanella. This is another recipe that reappears every summer from the stained pages of that turquoise binder, courtesy of a farmers' market demonstration done by former Vivande chef Carlo Middione ages ago. In most restaurants, this Italian bread salad is made like bite-sized bruschetta, cubes of toasted, crouton-like bread sitting next to cubes of cucumber and tomatoes, the bread distinct from the vegetables, all there in separate pieces on the cold plate like the husbands and wives in a John Cheever story.

Middione did it differently. Using his hands, he tore six thick slices of dry (but untoasted) white Italian bread (not sourdough!) into bite-sized chunks in a big bowl. Then, the bread was drizzled with cold water and tossed until lightly but thoroughly moistened. Two large, ripe diced tomatoes, a little minced red onion, a small handful of chopped fresh basil leaves, two tablespoons of red wine vinegar, and a third of a cup of olive oil were mixed in, plus plenty of sea salt and fresh ground pepper. A plate was put over the top of the bowl, and the whole was set aside for an hour so the tomato juices could soak into the bread.

It takes some faith to make this salad. Although the ingredients should convince you that it will taste good in the end (tomatoes, basil, olive oil: what's not to like?), the first sight of the soaked salad will not be encouraging. Soggy and pink, it will look more like a bowl of pasta left out in the rain. But the bread grabs and expands all the flavors of the tomato and basil, and transforms its texture into a pillowy, fluffy mass. I don't know that I'd be able to resist this salad long enough to share it with a whole picnic; as it is, I have to take myself out of the house just get through the hour-long soaking stage. But it's worth it. Once you serve this, you can pass the recipe around yourself, just like a truly generous recipe slut should.


From today's NYT review of Alto, in midtown:
"...Italian staples and notions inform fanciful constructions like squid ink cappuccino, a kind of warm, frothy, petroleum-black soup, which is paired with ribbons of lobster."

Blurgh. I can't think of any description that would make me LESS likely to want to eat something. Unless it was "pickled tongue with cubes of fried mayonnaise" --a snappy menu item from the Lower East Side's wd-50. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I'd rather drink the blue liquid inside a Magic8 ball, like these nice boys here.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Cobbler Hill

There was a mix-up with the CSA delivery last week, and somehow dozens of flats of cherries were suddenly free for the taking. I came staggering home under the weight of a huge bagful, to split with my downstairs neighbor and CSA share-partner, Amy. I was toying with the idea of making a few pints of brandied cherries, but the next day Amy got invited to another Amy's birthday potluck picnic in Empire Fulton Park (same place as the recent mulberry-picking reported here), so instead I dug out my cherry pitter and we made two pans of sweet cherry cobbler.

Amy, new to the joys of cherry pitting, was an instant convert, and really didn't want to give up the pitter for a minute, even after pitting at least 4 or 5 pounds. Listening to Johnny Cash and early Elvis as huge black storm clouds suddenly piled up outside, we tossed the cherries with lemon juice, sugar, and a few drops of almond extract, then topped them with a buttery biscuit dough as a huge Noah's-Ark-worthy deluge teemed down. No thickening in with the fruit, which made for a slightly runny filling (although it did thicken somewhat as it cooled). But the pure cherry juice was so ruby-red and delicious, no one minded spooning it up. As we put the pans in the oven, we mused that they would have been even more fantastic with almonds added to the biscuit dough, so that's the variation I've listed here. By the time the cobblers were done, the storm was over, the sun was out and the skies were blue.

Photo to follow!

Cobble Hill Cherry Almond Cobbler

5 cups pitted sweet cherries (at least 2 lbs, with extra to snack on as you pit)
3 TB sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
a few drops (up to 1/4 tsp) of almond extract or a good sprinkle of Amaretto liqueur

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
6 TB butter, frozen in one piece
1/3 cups sliced almonds, lightly toasted
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla
a few drops almond extract
glaze: 1 egg yolk + 2 tsp water

Toss cherries, sugar, lemon, and almond extract in a square 8 x 8 pan (or whatever shape you like, but roughly that size, so you can make 2 layers of cherries), preferably glass or ceramic. Mix dry ingredients together in large bowl. Using the big holes of a box grater, grate the frozen butter into the flour mix (a great trick from David Lebovitz's wonderful fruit dessert book, Ripe For Dessert). Add toasted almonds and toss together. Add 1/2 the buttermilk and extracts. Stir lightly, then add additional buttermilk to made a soft dough. Dollop biscuit dough over fruit. If desired, brush with egg glaze and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375 until cherries are bubbling and biscuit dough is golden brown and cooked through. Let cool to lukewarm, then serve with vanilla ice cream.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Dill Bread

This is a pretty close approximation of the excellent cottage-cheese dill bread that the late lamented Tassajara Bakery used to make. Excellent toast, especially with cream cheese (or goat cheese) and tomatoes. You can throw in some other fresh leafy herbs too, and make it into herb bread--parsley, chives, a little thyme or oregano...whatever you've got.

One thing I've found is that this makes a really wet, sticky dough. Obviously, you could keep adding flour til it gets unsticky, but I rolled with having big gooey dough paws while I kneaded, and the resulting bread rose up like a huge cloud and was beautifully light. So err on the side of goopy, if you can. Use a dough scraper to turn the dough while you're kneading, or do it mechanically in a stand-up mixer with a dough hook.

Cottage Cheese Dill Bread

1 1/2 packets dry yeast
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
6-7 cups flour
2 TB oil
1 small or 1/2 large yellow onion, minced
2 TB honey
2 eggs
1/3 cup (or more) minced fresh dill or mixed fresh herbs
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 TB salt

Make a sponge with yeast, water, and 2 1/2 cups flour. Cover and let sit until very bubbly and doubled in bulk.

Saute onions in oil until translucent and soft. Let cool, then mix with honey, eggs, herbs, cottage cheese, and salt. Add to sponge, mix in, and then add enough flour in 1/2 cup increments to make a soft dough. Knead 5-8 minutes, then put back into bowl and let rise again until doubled. Punch down, let rise again, then punch down and form into loaves.

Put into greased bread pans, let rise and then bake at 350 until well browned and hollow-sounding.

I'm not giving rising times, because they vary greatly depending on how warm your kitchen is. But in general, this bread rises pretty fast, so keep an eye on it. The final rise should probably only take 30 mins or so.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Meme O Matic

Many thanks to Stef over at Stefoodie for tagging me on Nicky's cooking meme, The Cook Next Door, as part of a triumverate of food-writing Stephanies. All the answers for questions you never asked…

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?

Rolled butterscotch cookies from the Joy of Cooking, when I was maybe 8 or 9. They were those fussy ones, like tuiles, which you have to roll up while still warm. Everyone in the family liked them, but not me. This is typical; I’m my toughest critic when it comes to cooking. But I kept on; I was always angling to get the house to myself so I could cook. I still remember the injustice of my parents coming home early, when I was in the midst of baking a batch of herb bread. The kitchen was still a wreck—I wasn’t expecting them to come home for another couple hours—so I got in BIG trouble and got banished from the kitchen. Then everyone devoured the bread! Oooh, that still frosts me.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?

My mother and my grandmothers, definitely. My mom wasn’t a hippie by any means, but she definitely did the 70s make-your-granola thing; we had carob-and-acerola bars in our lunchboxes (which sucked for trading—no one ever wanted to give up a Ding Dong for a weird rosehip-jelly bar) and she baked her own bread and made homemade jam and mayonnaise. I loved hanging out in the kitchen with her, and so I grew up thinking that cooking was fun and that baking pie from scratch was no big deal. My family was also very adament about family meals; my mom cooked and we sat down for dinner together every night. Both my grandmothers were also good cooks and ace bakers. I have a lot of memories of frothing up egg whites with an old hand-held egg beater for waffles in my grandmother’s kitchen in the morning, and of her always adding a drop of almond extract to the batter. Being a good Jewish grandma, she never came over without a Saran-wrapped plate piled with homemade chocolate-chip cookies or rugalach, which may go far in explaining the number of times I’ve schlepped a hot-out-of-the-oven pie or batch of muffins on the crosstown bus.

Do you have an old photo as "evidence" of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?

My mom has an excellent snapshot, circa 1976, of me absolutely bathed in watermelon, in the middle of a watermelon-eating contest at the Miacomet State Fair, in Nantucket. It wasn’t how much you could eat; just how fast you could get through one big slice of melon. As you can guess from the rabid intensity with which I’m attacking my slice, I won. (Sorry, no digital version--we're lo-fi at PQ Castle).

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?

I can’t make brownies for shit, I don’t know why.

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
Mostly, I'm of the one-knife/two-hands school; I love browsing through cookware stores but my kitchen is very low tech and mostly outfitted from garage sales. But I do have a deep fondness for a few weird little gadgets that do just one thing but do it perfectly: these big red jar-lifting tongs, made expressly for lifting hot jam jars out of boiling water; my cherry pitter, which makes pitting so fun that everyone wants to find something to pit; and my microplane zester--instead of the tasty citrus zest gunking up the little holes of the box grater and getting all dried out and crusty, now I can just glide a lemon over the microplane and produce lovely fluffy piles of shredded zest in two seconds.

The most glam thing in the kitchen is definitely my big wide copper preserving pan, which I splurged on after a marmalade-making class with the awe-inspiring June Taylor, Oakland jam queen extraordnaire. Besides looking gorgeous, its weight means the fruit and sugar rarely burn, and its width promotes rapid evaporation. On the other end of the glam spectrum is my cast-iron Dutch oven, which is old and homely but full of memories—my mom got when she was first married, and I learned all her recipes for split-pea soup and beef stew and spaghetti sauce using it.

For some reason, everyone likes to give me hand-held (stick) blenders. I know they’re swell, but I’ve never warmed up to them; they look too much like scary vampire vibrators to me.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like and probably no one else.

Peanut butter and cream-cheese sandwiches, on rye bread. These were in my lunchbox at least once a week, and I loved them. This was considered a completely normal sandwich in my family, but everyone I know recoils in shock and horror when I tell them this. However, that all-peanut-butter restaurant in Soho serves a variation—PB, vanilla cream cheese, Granny Smith apple slices—so I’m not completely alone in this weirdo fondness.

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don't want to live without?

Dark chocolate, apricot jam, and decaf Peet’s coffee (a bag of Peet's is the price of a bed at PQ Castle for all West Coast visitors). I also have a thing for odd, old-fashioned fruits and vegetables, especially if they sound like something out of a Beatrix Potter book—rhubarb, quince, nettles, red currants...But I sleep well as night as long as I know that I can wake up to a kitchen stocked with a box of Grape-Nuts, a quart of plain yogurt, bananas (for the yogurt), milk (for the Grape-Nuts), and on a good day, a a six-pack of Kozy Shack chocolate pudding.

3 quickies:

favorite ice cream Black raspberry; Mexican chocolate from Mitchell’s, in San Francisco (especially in a double scoop with their autumn-only pumpkin); caramel from Bertillon, in Paris; lemon granita, in Italy, anywhere

you will probably never eat Kangaroo. They’re too cute! And if at possible, I don't ever want to eat blue cheese, insects, or coconut.

signature dish Any kind of pie, especially apple. And cucumber sandwiches.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

pie lightning

Heat lightning is flicking outside the window. No rain, not a breath of a breeze, just these intermittent flashes of light. It's such a summer moment, like watching fireflies out on the lawn or licking a dripping cone of black-raspberry ice cream.

As for that pie, that blueberry-mulberry Independence Day pie...well, it was OK. It was homemade pie, after all, and there was a whole lot of butter in the crust. But I got all freaked out worrying that it was going to be berry soup that I added too much tapioca, and then I added cornstarch, and I didn't have any lemons, and oh, it came out like this sort of stiff blueberry gel. No one hurled it to the floor in disgust, but I'm going to tinker around a bit before I post a recipe.

Now, the heavens have opened up and it's raining, water teeming down, thunder grumbling and lightning flashing again.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Urban Foraging: Mulberry Division

Some people dumpster dive; I pick stuff off trees. You see, in my mind I live in a sprawling old farmhouse, with fieldstone fireplaces, a huge scrubbed pine table and deep stone sink in the kitchen, and a porch wide enough for a wobbly 5-year-old to ride a tricycle around. In reality (sigh) I've lived in apartments since I was twenty, usually with barely enough room for a toaster, much less a tricycle. Still, I believe in living the farmhouse lifestyle, even four flights up. So there's basil growing on the fire escape, cuttings of thyme and mint trying to take root on my windowsill, and homemade jam in the closet (along with a cardboard box labelled "jam supplies", which really weirds the urban types out, even though it's just a place to stash my extra Ball jars and wide-mouth funnel. OK, and jar-lifting tongs, two sizes of extra lids, and a muslin jelly bag. But really...). As you might guess, along with this happy delusion goes an abiding fondness for urban foraging.

In California, I would stroll down to China Beach (within spitting distance from the cliffside mansions of Robin Williams et al) and rummage in the dense clusters of blackberry vines, the winey purple-black berries dropping into my cupped fingers as sun sparkled off the Pacific below me. Yesterday, I found myself browsing through the Sunday papers in front of a big mulberry tree at Empire Fulton State Park as the trains thundered overhead across the Manhattan Bridge. The ripe berries were there for the taking, and luckily I had an empty plastic container in my bag. After I crammed all the berries I could fit into my little deli tub, ripe berries suddenly started to spatter onto my shoulders, just like that scene in The Wizard of Oz when the angry apple trees start hurling their apples at Dorothy and the Scarecrow. But no--it was just a family shaking the berries down en masse into a picnic blanket held taut under the branches.

The rest of the day-- a peach ice cream cone at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, down next to the river, wandering back through the shady streets of Brooklyn Heights to see "My Summer of Love" at the Cobble Hill Cinema and then a glass of rose and a tomato-and-apricot salad at the bar at Blue Star. The last three days have been almost entirely solitary--everyone's out of town.

Tonight--a bbq with J. & M., to which I'll be toting a warm red-white-and-blue pie--blueberries, raspberries, and wild mulberries. Happy Independence Day!

Songs for Patriotic Pie Making
1. Lightening Seeds, "Pure"
2. Elvis Presley, "A Little Less Conversation"
3. Spoon, "Something to Look Forward To"
4. Magnetic Fields, "Tar Heel Boy"
5. Johnny Cash, "Train of Love"

Friday, July 01, 2005


At the abbreviated but bountiful Borough Hall farmers' market Thursday morning: glistening black-red sweet cherries, strawberries (buy 2 quarts, get one free!), local blueberries, fat raspberries, red currants, and ravishing black raspberries, source of the best lilac-purple ice cream ever. Now is the moment for summer pudding, that simple but (supposedly) marvellous sweet, a kind of stripped-down charlotte russe made from just bread and berries. You take a bowl, line it closely with thin, crustless slices of good white bread, then tip in a mixture of lightly sweetened strawberries, raspberries, and currants. Cover the berries with another layer of bread, put a plate and a weight on top, and chill overnight. The next day, unmold, and voila--a brilliant magenta-colored dome of sweet juicy pleasure.

Here at PQ Castle, all my strawberries have gone into another batch of preserves (since I'm trying to be more ant than grasshopper with regards to the holiday-gifts jam cupboard) while I muse over what do with the big bag of herbs bestowed upon me by B., thanks to the monsoon-weather bounty reaped from the overflowing planters on his deck. So far: lovely chilly lemon-balm-and-peppermint iced tea; crunchy Thai salad, full of shredded Napa cabbage, red peppers, mint, basil, tofu, peanuts, and lime juice; a scavenger hunt for the cottage-cheese-dill bread recipe from the Tassajara Bread Book; linguine with fresh chopped tomatoes, garlic, green beans, crumbled pecorino and more basil. Tomorrow, hopefully, will be all about PESTO.

Good things happening over at the Second Place Garden (which cracks me up--what, we're not good enough for First Place??)--as soon as some gravel, filter cloth, and perlite are bought, we're going to get the dirt into the planters for the individual plots. People at the meeting were already calling dibs for their favorite boxes. Can't wait to move my leggy tomato plant into the sunshine, along with the plucky little nasturtiums and maybe some sunflower seeds. Oh dirt! Oh joy! Plenty of room for more gardeners there, so email me or post a comment if you want to get added to the garden email list (or call the South Brooklyn Local Development Corp. for more info--garden is located at the corner of 2nd Place and Smith Streets, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn).