Monday, November 27, 2006

Write it down

All kinds of sweet holiday events coming up:

Sat, Dec. 2, 10am-6 pm; Sun, Dec. 3, 11 am- 5 pm. Small Press Book Fair, at the Small Press Center, 20 W. 44th St, between Fifth and Sixth Aves in Manhattan).

Mon., Dec. 4, 7 pm. My pal and fellow Brooklyn author/blogger Ayun Halliday will be doing a reading/cookie swap at Bluestockings on the Lower East Side, in the company of Anna Lappe, author of the recent Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen. Bring yourself and a plate of your fave holiday cookies, munch away, and then swap your extras for a bunch of other people's cookies.

Tues., Dec. 5, 6 pm. The first annual Brooklyn Bridge Park tree lighting. They're promising (hopefully free) Jacques Torres hot chocolate, music from Bargemusic, lighting installations by local artists, and all the sparkle you can handle. At Brooklyn Bridge Park, Main Street Entrance, in Dumbo.

Sat., Dec. 9, noon to 9 pm. And since you're down with shopping local, you can go super-local and spread your wealth with the hip chicks of Bust Mag, who are sponsoring a CRAFTACULAR of local artisans--meaning everything from felt purses sewn in Bed-Stuy to chocolate truffles made in Greenpoint will be on sale to stuff your stockings.

And just in case you bought too many bags of cranberries last week, here's a tasty morning cranberry bread. Right now one of these is en route to Afghanistan, hopefully surviving the week-long trip. Meaning, it keeps well, even just sitting wrapped up in wax paper in your kitchen.

Cranberry Orange Bread (adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook)

2 cups flour (can use whole-wheat pastry flour, if you're so inclined)
1/2 cup sugar
1 TB baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Sift together in a big bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in:

2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup orange or tangerine juice
grated rind of 1 orange or tangerine
4 TB butter, melted

Stir gently until just mixed. Then stir in:

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted if you have the time
1 1/4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

Spread into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool. Serve sliced and toasted with butter.

The crust report

Have you (and your kitchen) recovered? I still have a dusty sprinkling of flour under my dining room table but otherwise all traces of last week's baking marathon have been devoured.

The only problem with bringing pies to other people's houses is that it's a bit gauche to ask for the leftovers back--meaning that, like last year, I didn't get to have any leftover apple pie with my coffee the next day. Oh, well. Jane had a houseful of family guests in town for her swell day-after-thanksgiving dinner, so I don't doubt that the extra apple and cranberry pies (and whipped cream) were appreciated over the weekend. And I've still got some scraps of leftover dough in the freezer, waiting to be transformed into apple turnovers just for me.

Now, the lard crust report you've been waiting for! Much to my cute-little-piggies chagrin, that free-range, pastured-pig rendered lard from Flying Pigs farm produced the best crust I've ever made in my life. Using about 10 TB butter to 6 or 7 TB lard in a mix of 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 TB sugar, it had a disconcertingly meaty aroma when raw and smelled like a roast beef in the oven. On the plate, though, it was beautifully light and flaky, with a rich, buttery flavor. While my crusts have always been pretty tasty and tender, this was the first that was stunningly flaky, with the pastry gently shattering into long flakes and shards under the fork. So now I'm hooked. Leaving out the sugar and possibly reversing the butter-lard proportion would made a fabulous crust for a savory pie. Should I ever get the impulse to whip up a steak-and-kidney pie or something like, this is the crust I'd use. It was a little tricky to get an exact proportion on the lard, as it was very cold and firm as I was chipping it out of the tub with my tablespoon measure. Just don't be stingy-- it's good stuff.

Marvellous Lard Crust

2 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 to 2 TB sugar
10 TB (6 oz) unsalted butter, chilled
6 to 7 TB rendered pork lard
1 TB cider vinegar mixed with 5 - 7 TB ice water

Sift flour, salt, and sugar together. Cut in butter and lard to a mixture of oatmeal-flake and pea-sized bits. Drizzle in about half the water, tossing with a fork. Add more water as necessary, until a handful of dough just sticks together when squeezed lightly. Divide into two portions, flatten into rounds, and wrap tightly or put into zip-loc bags. Refrigerate for 2 hours before rolling out. Because of its high fat content, this is a pretty sticky dough, so be patient.


Now, some caveats. Yes, ordinary commercial packaged lard (manteca, in Spanish) is available in some supermarkets and grocery stores, especially in places with decent-sized Hispanic/Latino populations. However, this stuff is often jacked up with preservatives and additives, and can have off flavors, I'm told. I haven't used it, and can't vouch for its effect in your crusts.

If you do find a source of good fresh lard, be sure to check whether you're getting rendered or unrendered lard; although I got the rendered (meaning ready-to-use) stuff from the Flying Pigs' farmstand at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn (they also sell at the Union Square Greenmarket), their website seems to imply that the lard they sell online does require at-home rendering. Although rendering is a long, slow process (basically, you're liquifying the lard for a long time over low heat to render out any impurities), you do get those extremely tasty cracklings (put 'em in your cornbread!) for your trouble.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Baking Don't Stop

Crazy baking going on chez PQ...I came home from the country at noon, only to start baking again for Jane's Day After Thanksgiving Dinner. Cranberry pie, which worked like a charm, once I'd tweaked the recipe yet again (changes have been added to the recipe below),but more importantly, the Flying Happy Pig Lard Pie is in the oven, smelling like the collision of a rib roast, a baked apple, and a whole lot of browned butter. It looks beautiful, even if the mondo-fatted crust was one of those doughs that loves nothing better than to stick to every little thing. You don't want to see my kitchen/living room right now, trust me. But what made it all worthwhile was puling out the autumn-leaf cookie cutters to decorate the top, and playing these cute songs by my new fave band, The Raveonettes, really loud over and over again.

Music to Bake By:

Dirty Eyes (Sex Don't Sell)--the Raveonettes
The Christmas Song -- the Raveonettes
Just Like Heaven-- the Cure
Release It-- Prince
Rip Her to Shreds-- Blondie

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Piegiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! Here are the pies from the PQ Mother's house...PQM's apple pie, made from hand-picked apples from my birthday apple-picking extravaganza, and sweet potato made by PQ. Styling courtesy of PQM, including the season's first Beaujolais Nouveau.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


OK, then, enough about the crusts. Let's talk filling, or what the settlers & pioneers called pie timber--the good stuff that gives the crust a reason for living. The Thanksgiving must-have pies in my house are apple, pumpkin, and cranberry, so that's what we'll be discussing here today.

First off, the cranberry, since it's the least well known. The original recipe came from Martha Stewart, way way back before she was such a big deal, and seems to pull in elements of her Eastern European heritage--a buttery crust similar to Polish walnut cookies, and a tart berry filling topped with whipped cream that's an American version of kissel, the Russian fruit-and-cream parfait. Tweaked around, it's become a family fave for several reasons. The glistening ruby-red color is simply gorgeous. Since it needs to chill ahead of time, it can be made the night before and tucked out of the way (always a plus). And finally, it's the best excuse I know to eat a lot of whipped cream, which balances the tart-bitter of the cranberries perfectly. The walnut tart crust is a crunchy and pleasant change from the usual deal, and adding a hit of tangerine keeps it from tasting too much like cranberry sauce in a crust.

1 cup finely chopped walnuts
3 TB sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 stick (4 oz) butter, softened
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1-2 TB water (optional)

Mix walnuts, sugar and flour together in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, mix and mash in the butter (this is more like a cookie dough than a typical pie crust). Stir in egg yolk and vanilla to form a dough, adding water as necessary. Chill dough for 1 hour.

Press into a pie pan. Preheat oven to 350F and bake until light golden and firm, about 20-25 minutes. Let cool before filling.


1 envelope (1 TB) unflavored powdered gelatin (like Knox)
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (cranberries freeze like a dream, so I'd advise stocking up now while they're plentiful so you can enjoy them all winter long)
1 1/4 cup sugar
rind and juice of 1 tangerine (you may not need all the rind--add half first, then more if you want a stronger orange flavor)
2 TB water
a splash of good orange liqueur, if you like (Grand Marnier or Cointreau, not the cheap stuff that tastes like baby aspirin)

Whipped cream for serving

Soften gelatin in 1/4 cup water. In a saucepan, combine cranberries, sugar, rind and juice, and water, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes, until berries have popped and mixture is thick. Remove pan, cool slightly, then stir in gelatine and liqueur. Let cool to room temp, taste for sweetness (adding more sugar or liqueur as desired) then spread in pie crust. Chill. Served with fresh whipped cream.

Now, pumpkin. You know what's coming here, don't you? Put away that can opener! I don't know what kind of large, watery, fatuous squash they use over at the Libby's factory, but you can make any pumpkin pie instantly better by using butternut squash.

Just poke your squash with a few good holes (so it doesn't explode in the oven), stick it on a baking sheet and bake at around 350F until it's soft and nearly collapsing. Let cool, then slice in half and scrape out the seeds and goo. Put the flesh into a colander and let drain for a little while. Then push it through a strainer (an annoying task that will make you start thinking fondly of those orange cans), crank it through a food mill (much more fun!) or buzz it in your food processor. Whatever--get it smooth and bob's your uncle. Now you can launch into your fave recipe--usually some variation on a custard, with eggs, cream/evaporated milk, spices, and brown sugar/white sugar/molasses. I usually like to parbake my bottom crust a little, to prevent sogginess, but don't bake it too long, otherwise the second baking will turn it into cement. Also, underbake the pie a little. The center should still have some jiggle, since it will continue baking as it cools. Giving it a little wiggle room for this will keep your finished pie from looking like Olema after the 1906 earthquake.

(Have I mentioned how boring I find pumpkin pie? I take pride in making a less-sucky one than most--the fresh squash really does add a fluffy lightness--but I agree that the best pumpkin pie isn't that much different from the worst. However, many people seem to go insane without it. But if you're all pie-ed out, skip the whole crust deal and just bake the filling in a souffle dish popped in a baking dish of hot water--the bain-marie method--and serve it as pumpkin custard.)

And now, finally, the piece de resistance, APPLE. Most important are your apples. You need fresh, tasty, non-mush-disintegrating apples. Macintoshes--too soft. Granny Smiths--too hard. Northern Spies, Rhode Island Greenings, and Pippins are all longstanding East Coast pie apples, but really I like to stand at the farmers markets bins and mix and match. I would say Galas, Fujis, and Red Delicious are all way too bland and watery for pies, but otherwise, suit your own taste.

My one apple-pie trick is to toss the apples (peeled, cored, and sliced) with some raw sugar, spices, and a pinch of salt, then let them stand for 30 minutes. The sugar will draw the excess water out of the apples, so you can avoid an excessively juicy pie without having to use tons of thickener. Drain off the liquid and boil it down with a good pat of butter until it's nearly syrupy. Sprinkle the apples slices with a little cornstarch or flour, toss to mix, then add the syrup. Mix all together and pile into your crust. (I adore raisins in my apple pie filling, but that's because it's tradition chez PQ). Bake until crust is well browned and filling is spattering and bubbly--here at PQ Castle, a pie's not done until the bottom of the oven is smoking.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Pie Queen Planet

Thanksgiving is really the most pie-centric holiday on the American calendar, the only holiday that is truly incomplete without a pie or three. Even people whose familarity with their oven doesn't get closer than eating cookie dough straight from the tube find themselves strangely drawn to the idea of baking their very own pie.

Or maybe that's just my romantic notion; probably most people who Do Not Bake don't bake on the third Thursday of November, either. Or they hit the bakery, or the liquor store, or the Mrs. Smith section of the supermarket freezer. But woe to the Thanksgiving hoster who doesn't, somehow, provide pie of some provenance. Remember how Peppermint Patty freaks out at Snoopy's popcorn-and-toast dinner? "Where's the cranberry sauce, Chuck? Where's the PUMPKIN PIE???" Don't let that happen to you.

One of the tenents of Pie Queen Planet is that ANYONE can make a homemade pie without using canned filling or one of those crap-ass premade crusts. Even if you've never made your own crust, you can. How come no one ever freaks out about making the filling? Crust strikes fear in so many hearts when it doesn't have to.

First, yes, shortening is easier to deal with. But here on PQ Planet, we make butter crusts, unless we're at someone else's house and there's already an open can of shortening lying around. I can't deny having dipped into the Crisco on occasion. But butter should always predominate. Remember, hydrogenated vegetable shortening is a freaky industrial product (even if it's the new trans-fat-free kind) and tastes like greasy nothing. Why eat fat if it doesn't even taste good? Yes, a butter crust is a little fussier. But it tastes a million times better, and it's a natural product, not something cooked up in a lab.

What kind of butter? If you can get "European-style" butter, go for it. This is the butter you've been waiting for--butter with more fat. This butter has less water in it than regular butter, making crusts browner, crunchier, tender and more delicious all around. If you're lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, try Straus's organic European-style butter. Fantastic, and made by a really nice family dairy up in Marin. Milk from happy cows--I've seen 'em.

Your piecrust's biggest friends are cold and time. Keep your butter very cold and your water iced, and be sure to allow enough time for your dough to chill before and after rolling.

Do you have to do a lot of fancy things involving freezing and rolling the butter? Many hotshot cookbook authors, like Shirley "Cookwise" Corriher and Rose Levy "Bible" Bernbaum, go through these extremely elaborate hoo-has around piecrusts, wherein they tell you to freeze half the butter, roll your butter out into long shards and so forth. I've tried these methods, and honestly, they didn't make a piecrust any better than the standard method. All they do is convince once-a-year bakers that pie crusts can only be made by those with advanced baking degrees from Pie Crust U. I'm a big believer in tradition in this case. Simple works. As long as your butter is cold and you don't completely maul the dough, you're going to have a lovely crust.

Actually, more than fancy butter, what you really need is good music, a decent amount of clear space for rolling, 2 quart-size zip-loc plastic bags for chilling the dough, and a nice heavy rolling pin (although I have rolled out many a pie with a wine bottle--even better if you get to drink the wine afterwards). Listening to Arlo Guthrie singing Alice's Restaurant, Hank Williams and a particular Poi Dog Pondering album has become de rigueur for my Thanksgiving pie making, and I've got to burn a CD of said songs to take to the PQ Mother's house right now. A wide, long offset spatula (which looks a bit like a long, flexible palate knife, with a stepped handle) is also a great boon for getting the dough off the table without tearing. I've heard good things about Silpat mats, but they seem bizarrely expensive for something so ugly, so I've never used one.

So, the recipe. You can really make your own decision about how much butter you put in. It's up to you. In general, a crust with the larger amount will be very rich and delicious, and correspondingly trickier to work with. Less butter will be a little less insane and mellower. If you're already wound up with holiday anxiety, use less and don't stress. I am going to try out a butter-lard crust at some point this holiday, but probably not before Friday, because I don't think my quasi-vegetarian veterinarian sister wants pig fat in her pie. (I'm now also feeling really bad for buying that lard, once I'd taken a look at the incredibly cute piggies on the Flying Pigs website. K. has suggested starting a pig farm that uses only liposuction, but I don't think that was the fat-removal method in this case.)

Basic All-Butter Pie Crust

Now, I'm not going to reassure you and call this "fool-proof" or anything comforting like that. Sometimes this crust is a right pain in the arse, sticking to everything and hating to roll out smoothly. Other times it's just ducky. But luckily, no matter how much drama it puts you through beforehand, it does always taste really good once it's baked. So hang in there. This makes plenty for a 9 or 10 inch double crust, with some extras for cute little cut out leaves or whatever. Extra dough also freezes well.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 sticks (6 to 8 oz, 12 to 16 TB) butter
6 to 8 tablespoons of water, maybe a little more or less; you can also replace 1 tb water with cider vinegar
Glaze: 1 egg yolk mixed with 2 TB water

Whisk flour, salt, and sugar together. Chop your butter into cubes and toss into the flour. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut or rub the butter into little flat chips coated with flour. Do this until the mix looks like dry oatmeal flakes with a few bigger pebbly bits. Sprinkle in water, a few TB at a time. Lift and scoop with a fork to moisten all the flour. Stop adding water when you can gently squeeze together a ball of dough in your hand without it falling apart when you open your hand. You definitely don't want it wet and gloppy, but it does need to stick together.

You can also use the food processor; use the pulse button to chop the butter in short bursts, and make sure not to overprocess. Leave the butter a bit chunkier than you think you should.

Divide the dough in half. Put each half into a zip-loc bag, and press down with the heel of your hand through the plastic to make a flat round. Squeeze any excess air out of the bag and seal. Toss into the fridge and let chill for a few hours, if possible. Otherwise, put into the freezer for 45 minutes or so and hope for the best.

Sprinkle a big clean surface lightly with flour. Rub your rolling pin with flour, too. Take 1 dough bag out of the fridge. Let it warm up for a few minutes, then take it out and flop into onto your work surface. Starting in the middle, roll out to the edges. Imagine little arrows pointing outward, and follow them. Don't roll back and forth like you're paving a road; radiate outward like you're making sun rays. Every few rolls, slide your spatula under the dough and give it a quarter-turn to keep it from sticking, adding a little more flour underneath if necessary. This is key, so don't skip this step. Also, try to expand your round evenly, so it will fill your pie pan properly.

When your dough is about 2 inches bigger around than the bottom of your pie plate, loosen it gently one more time. Working quickly, fold it in half, then in half again. Drape the quarter-folded dough into the lower quadrant of your pie pan, and unfold. Patch any tears and press gently into the pan, and trim off the excess dough. Wrap in plastic or foil, and stick back in the fridge or freezer while you get your filling together and roll out the top crust.

Once you're got your filling in the crust, drape your top crust over and trim off any excessively drapey bits. If possible, tuck the excess top crust under the edge of the bottom crust (between the bottom crust edge and the edge of the pie plate, if you get my drift.) Or just pinch them together. Now, you can make pretty scallops by gently pinching the crust edges together between your thumbs (along the outer edge) and forefingers (inner edge), or pinch harder to make little tight peaks. Cut some steam slits in the top crust. Brush with glaze and sprinkle with a little extra sugar for a professional-looking shine. Slip into a preheated oven with a cookie sheet underneath to catch the drips. Keep an eye on the pie as it bakes, and be sure to drape foil over the edges if they're browning too fast. Make sure to bake until the crust is a nice golden brown; no one likes a pallid crust, and everyone will think you just chickened out and used that cheap shortening that stays limp and pale no matter what.

Take out and let cool for at least a couple hours, to give the filling time to cool down and firm up. Don't refrigerate leftover pie, as the crust will get flabby.

Tomorrow: Filling!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

(No) Knead to know

So, vast amounts of virtual ink have been spilled regarding Mark Bittman and Jim Lahey's 'no-knead' bread recipe. Being a sucker for fabulous bread, especially if it comes out of my own kitchen, I had to try it, and now, by loaf #3, I think I'm getting the hang of it.

In case you've been following other news (Iraq, the TomKat wedding, where to get lard for your Thanksgiving pie crusts*) the deal is very simple: a really wet dough made from 3 cups (15 oz) of flour, salt, yeast, and water, stirred up and left to rise without kneading for 12-18 hours. The dough is shaped on a floured towel, left to rise for another 2 hours. Meanwhile, a heavy pot with a lid (like cast iron or enameled cast iron) is heated up in a 450 F oven for at least 30 minutes. The dough is flung into the hot pot, the lid clapped on, and the bread baked for 30 minutes lid on, and another 15 minutes lid off. The combo of wet (or slack) dough, a very long, slow rise, and a very hot, enclosed baking environment results in a bread that's very close to a typical "artisanal" loaf, with a moist, open, holey crumb and a thin, crackly crust.

I still haven't tried making it with all white flour, since I prefer whole grains, but here's what I've learned:

More salt. The original recipe calls for 1 1/4 tsp, but that's not enough, and the bread tasted flat. I've gone up to a scant 2 tsps of fine-grain sea salt, which seems to be perfect.

A little less water. 1 1/2 cups is great, and makes a dough that's slack but can still be handled without tons of excess flour.

Active dry yeast, rather than instant yeast, is fine. I dissolve mine in the water and let it sit for a few minutes to wake up. After reading that instant yeast was more potent, I increased my yeast to 1/2 tsp; however, this made a dough that was so lively (relatively speaking) that I had to stir it down after about 9 hours, and let it rise again for the second 6 to 8 hour stretch. I did another loaf with 1/4 tsp, and it still rose very well.

Rubbing the rising towel with rice flour works very well, as the dough doesn't stick like it would to regular flour. If I had a peel, though, I'd let it rise on the peel, as getting the dough from the heavily floured towel onto the baking stone or pot meant flinging flour everywhere, and deflating the risen dough somewhat.

Baking: I had very good results dropping the dough into my bitsy (2 qt) Le Creuset pot (except that, at 500F, the bottom crust burned) and even better results by using my baking stone and an inverted cast-iron dutch oven at 450 F. I also slashed the crust with a razor blade before baking, which seemed to help with oven spring. Plus, slashing the cross gave it a nice professional look that made up for the somewhat irregular shape caused by my peel-less attempt to scoop the risen dough off the towel by hand.

So far, I've used a 2:1 mix of whole wheat and rye, which made a rather flat loaf; 2:1 white and whole wheat, which rose well and had a great holey open-crumb structure; and 2:1 whole wheat and white, which rose well but produced a slightly denser interior with fewer holes. All of these had a fairly thin crust that was more chewy than crackly; I'm still pondering how to get that true crackly crust.

*Why am I such a sucker for things journalists say? But pie queen as I am, I've always hankered to try making a lard crust, and the Times' recent paen to Flying Pigs Farm's fabulous rendered leaf lard (the best kind, taken from around the kidneys) got me longing for the stuff. And then, after yesterday's trip to the Botanic Garden, I found myself browsing through the Grand Army Plaza farmer's market...and there was the Flying Pigs stand, with lotsa lard on offer. Having just come from a conference on Food, Ethics and the Environment down at Princeton (more on that to come), I was a particularly soft touch for any products coming from a small family-owned farm where the pigs get to run around and act like pigs like to act. So now I've got a tub o' lard in my fridge, waiting to be turned into pies for Jane's day-after-thanksgiving. Reports to follow...

hello there

Thankful for autumn rose hips....

Golden leaves and gurgling brooks....

Sunshine through the trees...

And NetZero, the computer-phone system that means I can now actually call K. in Afghanistan, and talk to her while I'm walking through the autumnal delights of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where these pictures were taken yesterday, and which is lovely even at this time of year (and now free on weekdays as well as Saturday mornings through February).

And if you're thinking ahead, they still have lots of excellent tulip, hyacinth, crocus, and daffodil bulbs for sale in the very nice Garden Shop; since the weather's been so mild, it's not too late to plant a few more bulbs for spring. Lots of calendars, cards, books, and classy garden-related tchotckes (flowery teapots! lavender hand lotion!) too--I think I'll be back to do a little holiday gift-browsing here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Giving Thanks

3 Good Things for Which to Give Thanks: Disco/Pizza/Artic Exploration Divisions
(an ongoing series for the week before Thanksgiving)

1. "Don't Feel like Dancing" by Scissor Sisters. A completely infectious, supremely danceable romp that refutes the very principle of its lyrics. I'm coming a little late to the soiree thrown by these party people, who shimmy like the Cockettes and sing like the Bee Gees, but this number still makes me really, really want to find a big gay dance party and shake it all night long. I defy anyone to listen to this without putting on glitter lipgloss and fan-dancing all around the room. "You'd think I could muster up a little soft-shoe gentle sway, But I don't feel like dancing, No sir no dancing today" And yes, that's Sir Elton on the piano.

2. Large pizza at Loucallie's, Henry and Carroll Sts, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. They play opera in the background at this cozy new pizza spot, but don't expect to hear it over the din of happy diners. The big wood-fired brick oven in the back was built by the owner himself, a guy from the neighborhood who took over a longtime sweetshop/soda fountain and (supposed) numbers joint. No menu yet, just pizza, and sometimes calzones.

This being the case, it wouldn't kill them to write the toppings down on the chalkboard, since our slightly surly waitress seemed a little cranky at having to recite them, and expected us to make up our minds on the spot. But no matter, the pizza's fab, the thin crust miraculously not soupy in the center and the cheese very very good. The slightly watery sauce looked like plain ol' crushed canned tomatoes when I went up the pizza-making counter at the back; a more concentrated, flavorful sauce would make this very good pie sublime. So far, BYOB, which seems to add to the joint's joy factor considerably--lots of bottles on the tables on a recent rainy Sunday night. Large pizza (8 slices), $18.

3. The Last Gentleman Adventurer, by Edward Beauclerk Maurice. In 1930, when Maurice was a 16-year-old English schoolboy, he signed a five-year contract with the Hudson Bay Company as an apprentice fur trader in the Artic reaches of far northern Canada. His story, written some 50 years later, is thoughtful and shot through with a certain British dry humor, describing a snowbound world of desperate ingenuity recalled in tranquillity. Hunting for walrus, deer, polar bear, seal, whale, and ptarmigan features prominently (all are edible and heartily enjoyed). Because Maurice was so young at the time of his arrival, and because he quickly became fluent in the language of the native Inuits, his stories are refreshingly free of Kiplingesque paternalism. A perfect read on a cold, drizzly day.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Busy as a Bee

Do you ever get up in the morning and think, "I would be dripping in dates this week, if only I knew more about honey!"

Well, mister and miss, you've come to the right place. I used to be like you, thinking a little SueBee squeezy bear held all I needed to know. And was I going out dancing the twinkle on a Saturday night? No sirree Bob! But now I know the truth. And I want to share my knowledge with you.

If you want to get lucky and wow the ladies and gents, you've got options. You can buy my book, or you can come over and sit at my kitchen table and listen while I natter on about the bee dance, or you can go over to Chow and learn all about 10 very special varietal honeys, with recipes to match. Amaze your friends! Astound your relatives! Whip up a Bee's Knees or a batch of Buzzing Bran Muffins! And love will follow.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Thoughts on Gingerbread

What a beautiful week of autumn weather we've been having! Went to Prospect Park yesterday afternoon to kick through the crunching leaves and smell that wonderful scent of damp leaves, fallen acorns, and rich earth. Many kids, dogs, and soccer players were out on the main meadow, and Christina called as I strolled, to see if I could make up a cookie recipe involving apple-cider syrup, oats, non-wheat flours, and perhaps some flax seed. You know I like a challenge--we'll see what evolves. It's a season for gingerbread right now, especially for breakfast spread with apple butter. I'm in love with the homemade spicy apple butter in my fridge, and can rest easy knowing that I have about a dozen jars waiting in the closet for holiday gifts. Now, onto more pear butter, more grape jelly, and perhaps a try at crab apple jelly, or paradise jelly--I'm wondering if I couldn't make with crab apples, quince, and cranberry, rather than plain apples, which make too mild a jelly for my taste. Jellymaking always leaves me with a pang, though, when it comes to tossing out all that fruit pulp from the jelly bag.

Anyway, more gingerbread recipes to follow; I made Laurie Colwin's favorite gingerbread last week, using the Steen's Cane Syrup she recommends (part of the Southern-food haul brought back from the SFA conference last year). I'd made it before and remembered liking it, but this time, it was a disappointment--bland and buttery, and not nearly gingery-spicy enough for my taste, even though I'd added a couple of tsps. of fresh grated ginger in with the dried. However, the host at the dinner party to which I'd brought it adored it, and swore he ate the whole leftover half-cake for breakfast the next morning. I think I'm just used to the brawniness of regular molasses, and missed the darkness and richness of flavor it imparts. Perhaps I can save the rest of the cane syrup for a winter sticky toffee pudding for B., since it seems quite similar to the Lyle's Golden Syrup called for by most of the recipes for toffee pud. The next gingerbread will be my old favorite, an adaptation of a Martha Stewart Living recipe calling for dried, fresh, and candied ginger, and plenty of 'lasses. I don't have candied ginger on hand, but I do have knobs of ginger in syrup, which seems like an able substitute. And then there is John Thorne's Moosehead Lake Gingerbread, a Maine hunting camp recipe that uses black pepper, dry mustard, and bacon grease. Mmmmm. Now that's a breakfast to put hair on your chest and a deer on your hood.

FYI to Fresh Direct fans: If you're not going the fresh, farmers-market turkey route (and having had three different fresh, free-range turkeys last year during my three-day T-day redux, I can attest to the huge difference in flavor from a well-raised bird versus an unhappy factory-farmed supermarket one), grocery-delivery service Fresh Direct will GIVE you a frozen 10-12 lb bird, for free, when you buy stuff from them this month. I'm not sure how much you have to buy to get the giveaway, or what it says about livestock management in this country when companies can afford to use entire birds as loss leaders, but hey, enter in code "Frozturkey" during checkout and you'll git your bird.