Thursday, August 31, 2006

A pie for a poem

Sometimes friends know exactly what you need to hear.

The Poet's Occasional Alternative - by Grace Paley

I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft a poem would have had some
distance to go days and weeks and
much crumpled paper

the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor

everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it many friends
will say why in the world did you
make only one

this does not happen with poems

because of unreportable
sadness I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership I do not
want to wait a week a year a
generation for the right
consumer to come along

(from Begin Again: Collected Poems, 2000)

And many thanks to Jen from Manic D Press, for taking me to the ocean and the many farmstands of Springs, and for knowing all the best poetry at just the right moment.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Woke up to the sound of rain splashing down through the fire escape--the morning glories are finally blooming their hot-magenta blooms and the basil, gnawed to near-death by pigeons, are slowly, cautiously, putting out tiny new green leaves. Went down to Added Value Farm yesterday to shovel wet compost into wheelbarrows for a few hours, coming home with eggplants, kale, and tomatoes, all grown there in long rows of lovely dirt mounded up over the asphalt in Coffey Park. And 2 pounds of apricots from Red Jacket Orchards, which means...apricot jam! But not just any apricot jam. Today is the day to wonder, "Can I successfully reproduce Sarabeth Kitchen's fabulous Apricadabra preserves in my very own kitchen?" I'm thinking some combo of fresh and dried apricots will be required, along with dried currants and crushed pineapple. Some experimentation will be in order. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Can Can!

I didn't do much to celebrate the blogosphere's Sugar High Friday--unless you count that big chunk of watermelon and half of Bakerina's chocolate-Kahlua flan, but in honor of the fine lady hosting this month's SHF deal at pretty German site Delicious Days, I'll be givin' y'all a little sugar from my bowl this weekend. Something sweet in a jar, for sure, and you should too, since this month's theme is CANNING. Plum jam? Red currant jelly? More apricot jam? Blackberry? Peach chutney? Sticky spoons all around...

Elsewhere in the news, the revived, all-online CHOW magazine is up now, with the PQ's snappy commentary on what's up in food posted in the "Grinder" section (under my actual byline instead of this nom de pie). You'll have to do their quick n' easy free registration before you can access it, though, because it's still in soft-opening beta mode.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Brooklyn Girls!

All my pals on both coasts know they can count on getting some jam from the Pie Queen's kitchen when birthdays and holidays roll around. And that's still true...unless they'd rather have an I HEART BROOKLYN GIRLS calendar this year. Besides being true to my borough, these lovely b'klyn ladies are HOT. And having been a bit of a pin-up myself (all you Croatians who got here for the saucy ice-cream picture, you know who you are), I've got to give a shout-out to my glamour sisters--and these girls have it! 12 months, 12 real femmes, 12 re-creations of pinups from years past. You've got the cigar-smoking 30s moll, the cupcake-baking 50's gal, the Camarro-washing 80's babe, the naughty 20s flapper, even the tattooed 90s Billyburg grrl. Produced completely by women, and a percentage of the profits goes to the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. Get 'em while they're hot!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

light in August

Ooofff! It's a scorcher out there.

Just back from watering the garden--my own, finally tomato-producing plot, the community veggie box, and all the ugly shrubs in the communal planters. As I hauled the huge snaky hose around and watered my flip-flops, I got upclose views of the bees slurping on the magenta coxcombs while a big orange butterfly swooped and flitted and circled all around the garden, as happy as a clam. For supper, definitely something involving basil and tomatoes. At the Grand Army Plaza farmers market yesterday, everything was ripe--okra, eggplant, corn, tomatoes in every color, peaches, plums, even the new crop Gingergold apples and red Clapp pears. I would have pictures of all this, if only the crucial camera-to-computer usb cord hadn't gone AWOL this evening.

Otherwise, coffee and the crossword at Hill Diner, unavoidable lemon ice from Court St Pastry (now also serving good, if very sweet, coffee Italian ice), a cool shower, sitting naked by the AC reading about twilight picnics and bat-watching in Prospect Park, and thinking of last summer, when K. and I were tripping around the farms and waterfalls of upstate NY, putting our money in roadside coffee cans for bags of tomatoes and eating blueberry pancakes in Watkins Glen.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Cheese, books, and apricot jam

Today's three good things:

--Daniel (aka Lemony Snickett) Handler's new novel Adverbs, definitely worth getting out of your fine local public library for a fast, fun read,

--Ten-year-old Wisconsin cheddar, sold at Smith Street's new Stinky Bklyn cheese store (and nowhere else in the metropolitan area), especially paired with Mazzola's killer garlic loaf and some of Chestnut's homemade pickles, all waiting to drop into your hot little hands chez Stinky,

--Homemade apricot jam! You can make this, yes you can.

Here's the short version: pit and quarter some apricots, mix them with sugar, let sit for a few hours. Pour fruit into a pot, add lemon juice, bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Pour back in the bowl, let stand again. Boil up a second time, simmer a few minutes until thickened. Pour into clean jars. Let cool, then eat. Simple as that!

What you need: 1 quart box of little ripe fresh apricots (alas, I didn't have a scale to weigh them, and the farm stand was selling them by the quart, not by the pound. But enough to fill two strawberry pint boxes, if you can visualize that); 3/4 to 1 cup sugar, juice of 1 lemon.

If anyone at your local farmers' market is selling Royal Blenheim apricots, you MUST thank them profusely for growing these, buy a lot and make jam. Royal Blenheims (aka Royals or Blenheims) are small, freckly, greenish-orangey-red apricots that ripen from the inside out, so that the outside may not look quite ripe while the inside is pure jammy goodness. Hard to find, since they've mostly been shouldered out by the big, bland, standardized Pattersons (your typical solid-orange supermarket apricot), but they have a fantastically pure, deep apricot taste when cooked and make the best jam by far.

Wash, pit, and quarter the apricots. Put them in a ceramic or glass bowl and stir in the sugar. Put a plate on top and let sit at room temp for several hours, or overnight in the fridge. (Room temp is better, because the sugar dissolves faster.) When the sugar has dissolved and formed a bunch of syrup around the fruit, add the lemon juice and dump the whole thing into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn down the heat when it starts to froth up and make a fuss. Let simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Pour back into bowl, cover and let sit for another few hours. Wander off, go to the library, eat some cheese.

When you are ready to finish the jam, make sure you have 3 clean empty jars available (old jam, honey, or mayo jars work well). My batch made about 2 1/2 cups of jam, so pick your jars accordingly. To make sure the jars are super-clean, run them through the dishwasher or submerge them completely in a deep pot filled with water and boil them for 10 minutes.

Pour the jam mixture back into the saucepan and bring to a gentle boil again. Let simmer for a few minutes, stirring often. When the syrup is still liquid but thicker than it was and the fruit pieces look translucent, start picking up a spoonful of syrup and letting it run off the long side of the spoon. When the drops of syrup run together into one or two sticky-looking drops, it's done (it will thicken up further as it cools). This isn't a hard-gelling jam; it's more like a soft, chunky preserve. Turn off the heat and scoop the hot jam into the jars. Put on the lids and let cool at room temp. When the jars are cold, store in the fridge and eat within a month.

Actual work time on this jam is less than 30 minutes overall, with only one bowl and one pot to rinse out. And it's heaven on toast or stirred into yogurt.

You can, of course, "can" this jam for longer storage, using proper canning (aka Mason or ball) jars, the ones with the two-part lids-- a flat metal circle with a ring of rubbery sealing compound inside the rim and a wide screw-on band. Follow the same instructions for sterilizing the jars, rinsing the lids with boiling water as well just before use. Fill jars with hot jam to within 1/4" of the top. Wipe top rim of jar with a paper towel dipped in boiling water. Drop on lid and tighten band until it is just finger-tight. Return filled jars to pot of boiling water and boil for 10 minutes (this is to ensure a tight seal). Remove jars from water and let cool without disturbing the jars until they are stone cold. Press down in the middle of each lid to make sure it has sealed properly--if the lid pops up and down under your finger, it didn't seal and should be stored in the fridge. Otherwise, sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dry place for several months. Once open, store in the fridge and eat within a month.

Canning jars are sold in most hardware stores and many supermarkets. Half-pint (8 oz/1 cup) jars are the most useful for jam. Remember, you can re-use the jars and the metal screw-on bands, but you must use a brand-new flat lid for each batch. The flat lids can be purchased separately in small packs of a dozen each.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


The Pie Queen has been a travellin' country girl this summer, and what a happy thing that's been. Alas, due to family issues, I had to fly home from Portland last Friday rather than continuing on to Vermont to see Joyce Carrol Goats and friends, but the up side was spending several days out in the lovely rural environs of Orange County, NY, a couple hours west of NYC, where the Pie Queen Mother resides. As anyone who's read the sides of the trucks at the Union Square Greenmarket knows, Warwick, Pine Island and the surrounding towns are home to many of the area's best farms, thanks to the region's unique "black dirt"--a loam so rich and productive that it really is chocolatey-black--perfect for onions, carrots and other root vegetables in particular, but good for lettuce and basil and flowers too. Orchards dot the area, as do dairies. Up the road from the PQM's house is Nettie Ochs, an apple orchard with acres of trees and swell cider and cider doughnuts, along with the most jigsaw-puzzle-perfect view of American farmland that's you'd ever want to see. In the summer, they offer pick your own peaches, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and tomatoes--a siren call to the fruit-hunter's heart that beats dark and fierce in the breast of PQ.

So on a recent hot afternoon, I greased up with SPF30 and went out to pick, hunting down each perfect raspberry and squatting down to separate the powdery dark-blue ripe berries from their purply sour cousins on the little blueberry shrubs. I came home with a bag of peaches, a bag of sweet orange tomatoes, a quart of raspberries, and a handful of blues. Everything will be riper in a week or two, but the pickings were still there for the taking, if you didn't mind a search. I'd hoped to come back with enough raspberries for a few jars of jam, but they were so sweet and delicious, we simply ate them out of hand.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I heart Jane

Two things you need to know about dining in Halifax: lunch at Jane's, and dinner at Jane's. That's Jane's on the Common, on Robie St bordering yes, the Commons, a big swathe of green used for multiple sports-playing. We stumbled upon Jane's in a morning coffee search, and then realized it had won numerous awards for brunch and customer loyalty in the 2006 Best Of Halifax put out by the weekly alternative newspaper, The Coast. We peered in at the chalkboard menu and saw pomegranate martinis, lemon-curd pavlova with blueberries, and more...and we liked it so much for lunch, we came back for dinner. More to follow, but if you're up here in the Maritimes, don't miss it--or Bud the Spud, one of the city's many roving chip wagons, or the amazing selection of British products--including mango-papaya Wensleydale cheese--at Pete's Frootique, which sounds like a smoothie joint but is actually a fabulous supermarket, the Canadian love child of Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Howdy from Halifax

Hello from Halifax, Nova Scotia, where it's cool and crisp and roving travelers can stay in dorm rooms at Dalhousie University for a mere $40 (Canadian) a night. Sure, you have to walk down the hall for the washroom, but the shower rooms come with actual bathtubs, a very civilized touch. Most Canadian universities rent out their dorms during the summer, and they are a great option for budget travelers--we stayed at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown a few days ago, and had a bang-up time--spotlessly clean rooms, laundry facilities down the hall, breakfast in the cafeteria, even a Tim Horton's down the street. Tim Horton's is the Canadian version of Dunkin' Donuts, essentially, although a little nicer, and is a Canadian obsession. They are everywhere, even at the air base in Kandahar, which is now run by the Canadians. Soldiers line up in front of the Tim Horton's trailer every morning, waiting for their coffee and doughnuts. In Charlottetown, though, we patronized Timothy's, the funky free-trade coffee shop with free wifi that calls their version of coffee with an espresso shot a "Canadiana." Much Canuck pride on display here, from maple-flag beach umbrellas to the cult of Anne of Green Gables.

More to follow, including Celtic folk dancing and Acadian meat pie in Cape Breton! Dining in Halifax, including the mystery of the donair! Gummy lobsters in PEI! And coming up, goats in Vermont!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Cool Enough to Bake

Don't hate me because I'm wearing a sweater right now. We've even got the woodstove cranked up this cool gray cloudy morning, up here on the coast of Maine.

Outside, it's the bloody,whining climax of When Mosquitos Attack, but behind the screen doors, all is peaceful, with the scent of spiced chai tea and salt air drifting through the knotty-pine lodge rooms. It is so beautiful up here, and NOT HOT, that I am grateful every minute for the convergence of luck and opportunity that brought me here. I've never been so happy not to have a day job as when my old pal Brian told me that one of the the writers at this little colony had flipped out and fled, and they now had a little 10x10 pine cabin just waiting for a chipper writer-baker like me. In gratitude, I have been baking like a piequeen, making coconut cupcakes, blueberry muffins (from wild berries picked just outside), chocolate chip cookies, and three kinds of pie--blueberry, raspberry custard, and last night, to go with the thanks-for-the-memories Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, stuffing, butternut squash, and gravy, good old all-American apple pie. Cool, peaceful, mossy and sprucey...we went out on the boat yesterday on a little excursion to the mile-long sandy beach on Roque Island, a beach lined with the best skipping stones ever made. On the way back, though Pig Gut (the narrow inlet running past Pig Island) and Ram Islands, we saw frolicking porpoises and curious dog-faced seals, leaping salmon (in salmon-fattening pens, out in the bay) and sleek black cormorants, maybe even eagles and herons in the distance.

Saturday or Sunday, we'll be leaving this little muddy paradise, on to the diversions of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, ending up at Brian's friends' goat farm in Vermont, where the most prolific milker has been dubbed Joyce Carol Goats.