Monday, October 30, 2006

More apples

You'd be surprised at the little outposts of agriculture that can find their way into a big city. On Friday, I went down to the dirt-heaped pavements of Added Value Farm, in Red Hook, to demonstrate how the cider gets out of the apple. About 40 shrieking first graders from the Brooklyn New School elementary showed up, paper nametags roped around their necks, to run around the pumpkin patch (stocked, actually, with pumpkins and a few squash from the Park Slope Food Co-Op, since the farm's own pumpkin harvest was sold out at the previous weekend's harvest fair), play King of the Hay Bales, commune with the compost's wiggly worms, eat flowers (as part of a raw, made-on-the-spot "veggie burrito" that showcased every part of the plant--carrot roots, kale leaves, seed-filled tomatoes, and edible calendula flowers), and yes, grind, press, and drink apple cider.

The beautiful hand-powered wood and cast-iron press came from the fine folks over at Wyckoff House, and it was remarkably easy to use. With a Macintosh, Gala or Crispin from upstate's Red Jacket Orchards bulging in each hand, the kids lined up to feed their fruit into the iron hopper. As each kid took his or her turn spinning the big side wheel, a wooden spool marked off with rows of sharp metal teeth spun around inside, chewing the apples into pulp. Once the mesh-lined bucket below was filled, we topped it with a thick wooden lid, and the kids took turns winding the crank that pressed down onto the lid, squeezing the juice out of the apples, through the slats of the bucket, and down into a waiting tub.

It was russet-brown and frothy, and just about every kid loved it, asking for seconds and thirds and even fourths. I got hoarse and sticky, some yellow jackets met sweet and untimely ends by drowning in the cider bucket, and a great time was had by all.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How do you like them apples?

Ravishing East Coast autumn weather out there, with blue skies and nippy breezes. My kitchen smells like a Concord grape vineyard, all warm and winey, and little purple spatters are everywhere. 3 pounds of Concord grapes made less than a pint of jelly, alas, but I'm very excited to try a grape jelly that's not corn-syruped and kiddie-sweet. Also on the grape-season agenda--the schiacciata d'uva over at Sullivan St Bakery (no longer on Sullivan Street, but way over on 47th St near 11th Ave). This is a thin (the name means "squashed") foccacia covered in champagne grapes and anise seeds, sprinkled with sugar and glossed with olive oil. Heaven in a greasy brown paper bag, and only made this time of year.

What else? I did make apple butter chez PQM, which cut my apple haul considerably, so I only had to lug one heavy backpack full back on the bus and subway (this was, of course, the afternoon some nut job decided to tie up the entire Port Authority with suspicious-package threats, so I had to stagger down Eighth Avenue for 10 blocks with a bushel of apples on my back, in order to get to the next 2 train stop. Thanks, dude.) The apples, unpeeled, were quartered (I took out the cores, after having a sudden pang wondering about the cyanide in the apple seeds) and thrown in a big pot with a few splashes of apple cider. Once the apples had simmered into pulpy softness, I cranked them through my cheap little plastic food mill to make a gorgeous lipstick-pink puree. This was mixed with a cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, salt, a splash of apple cider vinegar and a bit of sugar, then spread into a heavy metal hotel pan. Baked in a slow oven (250-275F) for 3 or 4 hours, stirring occasionally, the mixture thickened and cooked down into a rich spread. Half of my huge bag of apples made 8 or 9 half-pints.

I'm going to do another batch this week, and will come up with a recipe with more specific measurements and times. And yes, close readers might know that the Pie Queen had a birthday on Monday. Chocolate cupcakes and beautiful pink roses from K., venison at La Goulue and Germain-Robin XO cognac (made in Ukiah, California, despite the Frenchy name, and as close to drinking sunshine and silk as you can imagine) at the Brandy Library with B. (and thanks to Bucky for being on the spot when I called California to ask the name of a bar in Manhattan), and best of all, family and friends singing happy birthday in person and on the phone from many places. Cake and candles are nice, but feeling the love is even better.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Apples, apples, apples! Seeking fresh air and autumn leaves, I hopped the bus out to Orange County (no, not that OC--the one with the cows and the onion fields, near the Jersey border northwest of NYC) to see the Pie Queen Mother. More roast chicken and roasted vegetables (mmm, buttery parsnips and sweet potatoes with cinnamon and allspice), a fire in the fireplace, and Sergei Eisenstein's stirring black-and-white 1938 film Alexander Nevsky, scored by Prokofiev. Now that's my idea of a Good Time.

In the morning, after scones (by PQM) and apricot jam (by PQ--the PQM is a demanding customer), we went out to Nettie Ochs, a local orchard (the site of much raspberry picking earlier this summer), where we frolicked around searching for Empire apples, picking away and filling (on my part) an enormous bag in what felt like just a few minutes. I could have spent all afternoon up there with the crisp breezes, plucking massive apples off the heavily laden branches and crunching away. As it was, I did end up with a mixed bag of Stayman Winesaps, Cortlands, and Empires, while PQM stuck with Empires. Then, hiking in Wawayanda State Park, where the PQM finally got an upclose vision of a bunch of nice people camping, with their little tents and grilling hot dogs and cartons of spring water and Coleman stoves.

My mild prediliction for car camping--I like to wake up outside, but I'm hardly the super-adventure-driven, bear-defying backcountry type; I like a hot shower, even if I have to walk to it, and a minimum of Spooky Unidentifiable After-Midnight Noises--has caused much amusement in my family, none of whom are campers themselves. I actually don't think my mother has even walked through a campsite, so the site of real grownups--not Boy Scouts--doing this for fun has hopefully made this little occasional pastime of mine seem less strange.

Then, back home to peel apples and make applesauce. I have high hopes for finally making apple butter from my enormous bag of apples, if only because there's simply no way I can haul them all back to NYC on public transit. It takes a whole lot of apples to make not very much apple butter--in this case, a good thing.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


It's raining here, there's a chicken & a bunch of root vegetables tossed with rosemary and garlic all roasting in the oven, and I'm laughing over the butch cupcake recipe posted by Esther, my Aussie blog-pal. She posted this back in June but I just discovered it, under the heading "Cupcakes for the Ladeez." Cause it's not just the femmes who bake to get into a girl's pants.

Um, yes, anyway, let's look at the calender and see what fun things are coming up. A launch party for the good folks at on Wednesday at Public--I'm looking forward to this, but I'm a little nervous that those Aussies in the kitchen are going to slip me a kangaroo kebab.

Then this Saturday, come down to Red Hook for the Added Value harvest fair--(walking-around, not roasting) chickens, cider-pressing, cuddly animals, fresh vegetables, and lotsa pumpkins, all growing in Red Hook's only farm. Even wanted to know how to grow vegetables on pavement? Here's where to find out.

And Saturday night, Danielle from Habeas Brulee is hosting a get-together of local Brooklyn food bloggers. I always thought it was a sign of food-world braggadacio never to admit to any food issues--weren't you supposed to swagger through the barbecued alligator and spit-roasted guinea pig? Not here, apparently, where nearly everyone on the RSVP list has thoughtfully provided a list of their picky-eating provisos. Luckily, I'm making dessert, and even the olive-haters and bacotarians can usually get through a slice of apple pie without drama.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Oatmeal Cookies

What's going in the wider world of food: Michael Pollan's column in this week's NYT magazine is a must-read. It's a distillation of his recent book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and sums up many of the issues facing all of us as a result of the dominance of industrial farming. Yet another arguement for buying local--which I try to do as much as I can, except when Fresh Direct seduces me with a $50-off card. It's split into $25 on two orders, and each order has to total at least $40, with a $5 delivery charge. So really, I'm only getting $40 worth of free groceries, but it sure was nice to make oatmeal cookies still in pajamas this morning, thanks to the 10:30am delivery of butter and eggs.

According to K., the oatmeal cookies served in the dining hall are among the few tasty (or even halfway edible) things served there. These are what you bring your friends stuck on guard duty, or anyone you want to cheer up or owe you a favor. So we'll see how mine stack up, after a week in a tupperware box en route. The recipe came from the Silver Palate's Good Times cookbook, an old favorite, and makes a nice crunchy cookie.

Silver Palate Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick/4 oz) butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 1/2 TB honey
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup flour
2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in egg, honey, and vanilla. Sift salt, cinnamon, and flour together in a separate bowl. Using a wooden spoon, stir flour into butter mixture until smooth. Stir in oats, raisins, and nuts, if using. Drop in spoonfuls on baking sheet, flattening each spoonful. Bake until golden brown, 12-15 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Pie on the Farm

So the rain cleared up, the sun came out, and my pie won 3rd place at the UCSC harvest fair. Of course, with half a pound of fabulous Marin-raised Straus organic European-style butter (that is, butter with MORE fat and less water in it) in the crust, and lots of beautiful organic greening and jonagold apples in the filling, well, maybe the judging was rigged.

But there was bluegrass music and loads of kids running between the hay bales, and fresh hand-pressed apple juice, and a wild diversity of pumpkins and squashes everywhere. We did our best to add a little tattooed glamour to the proceedings, even though we didn't get a chance to eat a piece of my award-winning pastry-- after the judging, the pies were sold by the slice as a fund-raiser, and by the time we got up to the head of the line, one lone apple slice and bit of crust were all that was left of my pie.

Thus, pie #2, made the following morning for Shar's birthday. We ate all the eggs in the fridge for breakfast (along with Papa Steve's killer sausage gravy, biscuits, and home fries) so I couldn't glaze the crust, but it still came out pretty cute. No one could find the birthday candles, so a tea light had to suffice.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

food for a rainy day

Indian pizza! Now, I know, I live in New York City, which means I don't have any right to complain about access to good, nay, mind-blowing pizza. But one thing a New Yorker can't get in the metropolitan area is Indian pizza--that is, mashed-up Indian food spread on a crust, globbed with cheese, and baked into mind-bending spicy goodness. That's why I have to keep JetBlue in business with cross-country flights whenever possible.

It was pouring rain way too early in a region where October means blissful Indian summer and the winter rains shouldn't kick in til after Thanksgiving. I was soaked and sniffling and trying to carry way too many bulky bags as I crawled up the street to Jen J's house. My bag of Williams-Sonoma swag (including four books from a series that I edited earlier this year) split right as I got to Jen's door while cold water sluiced my hair and fogged up my glasses. But all was forgotten when we got our pizza and chai from Zante's, the original Indian-pizza purveyor on Mission Street.

And now, just to taunt me when I get back to Brooklyn, I've got a little slice-shaped Zante's fridge magnet to take home.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Another pie!

...hates California, it's cold and it's damp....

Well, it has been rather drizzly up here in Marinwood, but Paige and I went out to Pt. Reyes Station anyway, driving under the redwoods and towering eucalyptus trees, past Nicasio (where they'll be holding their annual cute-as-a-bug harvest fair this Sunday from 10am-5pm) and all the cows grazing on the lion-colored hills.

And speaking of harvest fairs, the farm at UC Santa Cruz is having its annual harvest fair, with tours, hayrides, apple tastings, and yes, a pie-baking contest, from 11am to 5pm this Saturday, Oct. 7. So Christina, Sally and I will be heading back down south to bake up a storm and see if I can uphold my Gravenstein Apple Fair title. Steve, Shar's old buddy, a man with the words "homemade" tattooed on his knuckles, has promised to make a red-hot apple pie, based on his grandmother's recipe for apple butter sweetened with red hot candies. Me, I just want to make a big, beautiful pie that's as good as my mom's. Stay tuned for photos...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mauna Loa Cake

Cesare is two! My old, old friends Shar (pictured here with me & Cesare on the beach) and Jackie celebrated their son's second birthday with a Hawaiian-themed party down in Santa Cruz.

The showpiece was the Mauna Loa cake, a true group effort made by everyone in the house. A sheet of yellow cake was the base, topped with rain-forest-green cream-cheese frosting, dusted with a lava field of crushed chocolate cookies sloping down from a mountain of chocolate ice cream mixed with homemade almond praline and topped with an eruption of pink whipped cream lava and scatterings of coconut. At first, Shar questioned the presence of flamingos around a volcano, but we decided they were party flamingos (they did, after all, come from the party store), there for the celebration.

A huge hit all around. Pictured here is Cesare's cousin Eva, ensconced amid the decorative pineapples. The most delicious part was the almond praline, which was surprisingly easy to make, and super-delish when ground and mixed in with the chocolate ice cream. Toast a cup of whole almonds for 10-15 minutes in the oven at 325, until they smell toasty and are pale golden-brown when broken open. While the almonds are toasting, melt 1/2 cup of sugar with 3 TB of water in a small, heavy pot over medium heat. Cook syrup, swirling (don't stir), until copper-penny color. Stir syrup into almonds and spread out onto an oiled pan. Let cool--almonds will turn hard and glossy. Break up and grind briefly until sandy, or chop with a knife for a more pebbly texture. Let ice cream soften, then mix in praline to taste. Eat as is, or line a cone-shaped vase or flowerpot with plastic wrap. Pack ice cream into mold, freeze, unmold and decorate with as many flamingos as you can find.