Thursday, December 27, 2007

South by West

Happy day-after-Boxing Day! Hope you had a wonderful Christmas time, as the song goes. Used a nifty Zipcar to go up the PQM's house, where my aunts and uncle were gathered for the usual family hilarity. I went toting 2 kinds of biscotti (the zuni cafe cookbook's cornmeal-and-almond jobs, made sans anise and avec orange and lemon zest, and some quite fabulous double-chocolate-and-pistachio ones from last December's issue of Food & Wine, the one where I modeled for Julie Powell's holiday-party story but ended up figuring only as a headless torso holding a plate of pork and salad) and multiple jars of strawberry jam, apple butter, and green-tomato relish from the farm jam kitchen. And came back with about 2 dozen pairs of socks, a plate of christmas cookies (summarily dispatched with K. to spread the cheer among the soldiers in her Nat'l Guard unit), and lots of yummy Clarins face creams to make me smell French and expensive.

Spent Christmas Eve with B. and his new wife and her family,eating wine-soaked cassoulet and playing scrabble. A new invention, though, for the non-meat eaters: pomegranate squash. A butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed, roasted with olive oil and salt, then tossed with carmelized onion, some good glugs of pomegranate molasses, and a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds. Can be served warm or room temp, quite delicious all around and very festive looking.

Then, post-xmas, much lying around on the couch in my new flannel pjs, printed with crossword puzzles! no actual clues, alas, but plenty of the familiar black-and-white squares. Park Slope being as cozy and bougie as it is, these are the best selling item at our local lingerie boutique.

But soon, we'll be departing from NYC--first for a week in sunny 70-degree Florida, then back to California! While K. goes for more training, I'll be returning to the BEST coast, to live in Bernal just a stone's throw from the Liberty Cafe (home of the best chicken-pot-pie and apple turnovers in the city), ready to bask in the meyer-lemon-ness of it all. Yippee!

Until then, come say hi to moi, your sauerkraut girl, at the Hawthorne Valley Farm stand on Saturdays at the Union Square Greenmarket from 8am to 6pm.

Double Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
4 tablespoons soft butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1 TB strong coffee
3 eggs
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pistachio nuts

Whisk flour, cocoa, soda, and salt together (sift if cocoa seems very lumpy). Set aside. Cream brown sugar and butter together in a large bowl. Beat in extracts and coffee. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in cocoa mixture. Stir in chips and nuts. Form into 2 long, flattish logs on a nonstick or lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 min at 375 degrees F. Remove from oven and let cool. Slice into thin cookies on the diagonal and place cut sides down on the baking sheet. Bake slowly at 250 degrees F for 20 minutes or so, until firm and crunchy. Let cool, then store in a tightly covered container.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Union Square Hello

Brrr! Baby, it's cold outside. Thank heaven for the long, lovely clawfoot tub in our temporary digs in Park Slope...And speaking of chilly, I'm working the all-day shift at the Hawthorne Valley Farm stand at the Union Square Greenmarket tomorrow, Saturday. Stop by and say hello!

We'll have loads of organic breads, cookies, rolls, and sweet treats, plus pasture-raised beef and pork, organic cheeses, and fabulous lacto-fermented sauerkrauts, including my favorite, ginger-carrot. And biodynamic mache and celeraic, too.

We're on the left side, near the far northwest corner of the park, more or less kitty-corner from Coffee Shop. The farm itself, a complex comprising a livestock operation, dairy, vegetable farm, and bakery, is located about 130 miles north of the city, in Columbia County. The whole place is both certified organic and biodynamic. More about the farm here-- they also have groovy-sounding internships, school programs, and farm-camp programs.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Stop the Insanity!


Step...away...from...the icing....(Poor Mr. Bill and his candy cane, stuck to the wall with lightning bolts of icing excitement.)

Book Nerd had a birthday brunch/holiday decorating party. Blame the champagne mojitos at Park Slope Frenchy bistro Moutarde (on Fifth Ave and Carroll), but a small posse of bookish types ended up in the BN kitchen, making bourbon balls and Christmas/Chanukkah cookies, and assembling and decorating this little gingerbread house. OK, let's be honest: I contributed nothing useful to the bourbon ball/cookie endeavor, except for licking the chocolate bowl and cutting out a few dreidel shapes.

But the gingerbread house--oh, the joy! What soul can't be satisfied by a plastic pastry bag oozing royal icing and a bottle of glitter sprinkles? Left to my own devices, I would have buried in the whole house in a snowy avalanche of icing swags. More icing! More!! Luckily, though, BN eventually wrestled the bag away from me, a good thing.



This was a bit of a cheater's house, because the gingerbread pieces came already pre-baked and pre-cut, so all we had to do was stick them together and then get onto the fun part. Theinstructions on the kit said ridiculous things, like that you have to wait 4 hours between sticking on the roof and decorating the house. Made from meringue powder, water and tons of confectioners' sugar, the icing set nearly immediately into impenetrable cement, so we got on with the peppermint and gumdrop action ASAP.



You can also roll the icing into little balls and create a turban-wearing Sikh snowman, if you're so inclined. Next year, a satellite dish on the roof!



Truly, though, fun (and hot buttered rum) was had by all.



Music for Gingerbreading:

"Back Door Santa," Clarence Carter
"Do the Funky Penguin," Rufus Thomas
"Baby It's Cold Outside," Ann Margret
"Santa Baby," Eartha Kitt
"Santa's Back in Town," Elvis Presley

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Winter wonderland

Snow! Number #7 on the Good Things for the Holidays list arrived this morning. As I was standing around in the kitchen, filling the coffee pot and wondering why it was so cold in there, I glanced out the (partially open) kitchen window to see...SNOW! on the fire escape, frosting the trees, sifting down over the backyards outside. It's grey and quiet out there, and December has officially begun.

More later on Bakerina's lovely surprise party, Julie's smashing walnut torte, a long walk through the city with K., and working at the Hawthorne Valley farm stand at the Union Square Greenmarket...all that and more, soon. Why not now? Because half my head is still throbbing with the migraine that will not retreat, now in day #2. but soon, hopefully, I'll be back, with much to report, in snowboots!

Monday, November 26, 2007

nutcracker sweets

7 Good Things for the Holidays:

1. Bahlsen's Contessa cookies. Candied orange, ginger spice, almond perfume, chocolate. With a cup of cinnamon-orange Christmas tea, late winter afternoon perfection.

2. Free (if you bring your own skates) ice skating to Glenn Miller swing at the seasonal ice rink in Bryant Park.

3. June Taylor's English Christmas cake. Bring me this luscious brandied fruitcake for Hanukkah, along with a tea table in front of a fireplace so as to enjoy it in the appropriate setting. And perhaps a maid wearing this to serve it.

4. Latkes, latkes, latkes. With sour cream and applesauce, borscht and rye bread and raisin pumpernickel from Orwasser's to make them a meal.

5. Roast chestnuts on the street. Hot-pretzel vendors used to add these to their wares in the winter, sending a distinctive smoky-sweet aroma into the chilly air. You paid a couple of bucks and you got a little paper bag shoveled full of warm roasted chestnuts, their skins half peeled back so you could get into the hot, mealy-sweet nuts without having to take off your gloves. In Bologna, it was common to find little old men roasting chestnuts over drums of coals in any public square during December. Lately, though, they've been all but replaced by those noxious sugary nuts. We're going to look hard on our way to the Bergdorf's windows, though.

6. Clementines.

7. Snow.

post-pie posting

Some pie queen I am, going AWOL right in the midst of prime pie season. Well, I hope you all enjoyed your desserts nonetheless, and no one resorted to those nasty crumbly frozen shells.

K. and I left NYC behind and jetblued it down to Florida for t-day with her many relatives. Luckily my suitcase was searched on the way back, not on the way down, since what would TSA have made of the open container of Flying Pigs Farm rendered leaf lard I was carrying, not to mention the bag of cranberries, the packets of Knox gelatin, the two foil-wrapped cranberry breads and the 5 lbs of New York State Northern Spy and Winesap apples from NettieOchs Orchards. Yes, I was on apple-pie duty, and I brought my own lard and apples, plus fresh cranberries and unflavored gelatin for the very tasty and PQ-traditional cranberry-walnut pie.

Florida was warm and humid and full of Spanish moss hanging from the oak trees. Driving home with the pie and turkey leftovers sliding around in the back of the car, the neighborhood was already in full plastic-snowman display, complete with flying Santas, inflatable chimneys, and yes, those nodding-head reindeer. It was still a little weird to hear "Winter Wonderland" piped out onto the sidewalk as ladies in sparkly flip-flops and skinny-strap tank tops walked by with their fluffy little bug-eyed dogs. On Saturday, since the Zora Neale Hurston museum was closed, we took a canoe down the spring-fed Wikiva river, to wave at the swimming turtles and a great blue heron.

***
And to Crate & Barrel, this season's Unclear on the Concept/Capitalist Chutzpah Award, for this fine item, a Christmas-tree ornament in the shape of...a dreidel! In the catalog, it's pictured alongside a handful of six-pointed star ornaments, also in blue and silver, which look awfully like Stars of David. Both of which, last time I checked, were, you know, pretty Jewy. You can't blame C & B for trying to make a buck off assimiliation, but somehow, I don't think this is the way towards mixed-marriage harmony in decorating.

***
Everything Bee Movie says about bees is wrong. Especially the part about the pollen guns! Romance and Cigarettes, however, is hot.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Vegetables aren't free

It's weird to be living back inside. On one hand, a big clawfoot bathtub instead of a single grubby shower shared with 40+ people (and the occasional raccoon): very good! On the other: vegetables cost money! No more ripe figs and avocados straight off the trees, or big boxes of organic Early Girl tomatoes and fancy fingerling potatoes begging to be eaten up. It was sad to go to the Grand Army Plaza farmers market--a place I've always liked--and fight the crowds for carrots and brussels sprouts. The produce had no soul, somehow, even though I did come home with some pretty good apples and my new favorite squash, the sunshine kambocha, which really does taste like chicken--or at least the tasty drippings that puddle around a chicken while it's roasting in the oven. And speaking of something in the oven, Flying Pigs Farm is still selling their fabulous lard at the market, $6 for 8 oz., and mighty tasty pie crust it made. Check out their amazingly good sausage, too, while you're there.

I know I was terribly remiss in blogging about the farm, so here's a little taste of tent living, and the reasons behind it, written for this otherwise
annoyingly smug publication.

What else is up? Taste of the season: organic pumpkin ice cream (served in biodegradable paper cups!) at Boerum Hill's new Blue Marble ice cream shop, where they even have organic sprinkles on your organic cone. Someone out in the blogosphere compared them to ball bearings, though (the sprinkles, not the ice cream), so watch your fillings.

Friday, October 26, 2007

October Morn

It's a beautiful autumn morning in Portland, and I'm in the happy, artsy ladyland known as Alberta. Very exciting to be surrounded by golden autumn leaves again, with a nip in the air and yes, accordian music drifting down the street. Accordians are very popular in Portland, it seems, along with Stumptown coffee and groovy woolly hats. Off to Tin Shed (breakfast) or Random Order (coffee and big pies!) and more, in the company of Emma the bat-eared dog.

More soon about graduation (yes, I am the proud recipient of a Certificate in Ecological Horticulture, thank you very much) and the crazy, completely unexpected and amazing surprise birthday party, aka Operation 40 Candles. And that, thanks to K's unflagging persistence in the face of the many flakezoids of Craigslist, we now have a place to hang our hats, just a hop, skip, and a jump from Al di la and Brooklyn Fish Camp.

Ridin' that train

Oh, I'm sleepy! To no one's surprise, the train up to Portland is running an hour or so behind schedule, so I'm camped out in the waiting room of the Emeryville station, a large ,clean but dull place. During the daytime there's a nice little Peet's coffee station, but in the evening, it's nothing but rows of grey molded chairs and across the room, a bunch of vending machines. I'm crouched in a corner next to the industrial-sized fan that I've unplugged so as to power up my laptop. For a little while there was a random wireless connection floating around, but just as I was about to check my pal Shuna's blog for all her good Portland recommendations and musings, the connection got sucked back into the ether. So I'll have to wait. Don't think trains can have the wi-fi, though.

I am D-O-N-E, done, with all this travel and stumping around in the cruel shoes all over the city to get from here to there, dragging my life in suitcases around with me. It's time to settle back down in a real house of my/our own. I want an address, my own coffee cup, my own bag of decaf on the shelf. I've woken up on a lot of other people's couches and guest beds over this last six months, and I'm really done with this peripatetic life. The most rooted I've felt was that 2 weeks where I was house-sitting on Olive St, with the record player and the purring kitties, the apple tree, the quilts, the familiar books and my own civilized dinner parties, with cloth napkins and roast chicken and cake plates. Apple gingerbread , lard-crust apple pie, mmm.

Pig salad! That was the best thing I had today. It came from San Francisco's South Park Café: Frisee lathered up in a pungent mustard-and-horseradish dressing, layered with sliced apples, and then tossed with crunchy-chewy deliciouso pork chunks. If carnitas ever craved a salad, this would be it.

Other good things: banana-chocolate-chip and pear-and-fig muffins from the bakery-café behind Liberty Café, in Bernal Heights. And a bite off Jen's orange-spice Dove dark chocolate bar, pretty darn good, in that cinnamon-spicy-orangey way, like Jacques Torres' Wicked Hot Chocolate with a shot of Grand Marnier.

Ah, le train est arrive! Off to ride the rails...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

In search of Laurie Colwin's Corn Relish Recipe

Ok, faithful readers, I need your help! I know someone out there has Laurie Colwin's books, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. Could someone, anyone, post or email me the recipe for the Blue Ribbon Corn Relish? Here on the farm with corn and peppers, longing to preserve, but I don't have my books with me. Many thanks, and I'll even send you a jar if you want one....

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Chard Lovin' Mama

A new blog, from a real farm wife. Chard Girl is the nom de blog of Julia of Mariquita Farms, a fantastic organic farm in Watsonville. They have a website (see the links list at right) and a CSA under the moniker Two Small Farms.

Right now, she's talking elderberry pie, made by chef James Ormsby, late of Bruno's, PlumpJack, and numerous other very good places. I've picked wild mushrooms with him, and eaten his incredible backyard spit-roasted pork, and I can attest that anything he cooks is something you'll be very happy to put in your mouth. So I'm considering that elderberry pie, since we've got piles of shiny eggplant-purple elderberries ripe for the asking here. And I am on 'snack duty' for the garden crew these week...

Elsewhere in the farm-to-table adventures, my little kitchen-garden plot yielded half a dozen very groovy Suyo Long cucumbers, now languishing as four jars of bread-and-butter pickles (two of the cukes were too huge to pickle; the cooks made them into something vaguely Chinese for breakfast instead.) Very, very simple, and people who like this kind of pickle really love these, especially with a burger or a grilled cheese sandwich. If you're not getting all locavore-ish by using your own garden cukes, nice little Kirby (also called pickling) cukes are your best option, since they don't have the wet seedy middles of your average cuke. This recipe came from a back issue of Simple Cooking, John Thorne's excellent food newsletter.

Bread & Butter Pickles

[makes 4 pint jars]

6 cups pickling (Kirby) cucumbers, sliced
1 red onion, peeled
1 green pepper
1/4 cup fine sea salt

2 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon whole mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon celery seed (optional)
1 teaspoon ground hot red chile pepper
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cider vinegar

4 pint-sized glass canning jars, with two-part tops (rings and lids)

Wash the cucumbers but do not peel. Cut off the ends, and then slice cukes into thick slices. Peel the onion and chop into bite-sized chunks. Seed, core, and shred the green pepper. Toss all these with the salt in a nonreactive bowl (glass, enamel, ceramic, stainless steel, NOT aluminum), cover, and let stand 3 hours.

Meanwhile, put 4 pint canning jars (without rings or lids) into a large, deep pot. Fill with water to cover by at least an inch or so. Bring pot to a boil and let simmer for 10-15 minutes to sterilize the jars. Turn off the heat, drop in metal rings and leave jars in the hot water while you prepare the pickles.

Drain cukes thoroughly in a colander, rinsing well with cold water, and set aside. Put all the syrup ingredients to a large pot, bring to a boil, and cook, boiling, for 5 minutes. Then mix in the pickle ingredients. Bring the syrup back up to just below a boil, stirring occasionally.

Pack into the pint preserving jars, leaving 1/4-inch of space at the top of the jar. Wipe jar rim with a paper towel dipped in hot water. Using tongs, dip each flat lid into the hot water from the jars’ boiling. Then place lid over jar and screw on metal ring until it is finger-tight.

Replace sealed jars in pot of hot water (you may need to bail out some excess water from the pot.) Bring pot back to a boil and process jars for an additional 10 minutes. This is not a crucial step but helps ensure a good seal.

After processing, remove jars from hot water with tongs and set on a towel or cooling rack. Do not move until completely cooled. When jar is cool, test seal by pressing down on the middle of the lid. If it pops up and down, it didn’t seal properly; it’s safe to eat but must be stored in the fridge like an opened jar. Jars that have sealed can be kept in a cool dry place for up to a year. Pickles are best if you let the jars sit for a few days before eating.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Cause that's how we roll

It's just me and Oscar the dog, housesitting this weekend--aka sleeping and showering INSIDE, doing laundry without the long walk with a duffle on my back, watering the tomatoes, drinking pink wine left over from the wedding, teaching Lanette to knit, and wallowing in farm vegetables, which are in high summer abundance right now--peppers, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and tomatillos, potatoes, basil, beans and more. Much canning to be done--dill beans, corn relish, bread and butter pickles from the cukes growing my little kitchen garden patch, plum jam, pear butter...

But this morning I'm on the biscuit production line for brunch with Catherine and her visiting Dallas family. Making a really fluffy biscuit is life-long quest of mine, so wish me visitation from the Southern biscuit angels. Thinking of making half plain, half pepped up with grated cheese and minced rosemary, a particularly felictous combination.


Music to Roll By:

"Hollywood", Collective Soul
"Rehab", Amy Winehouse
"Don't You Fall", Be Good Tanyas

Monday, July 30, 2007

Wedding Bread

Christina and Sally got married! At long (12+ years) last, these two hotties have finally tied the knot in public, with white roses, Bellinis, and Billy Idol's "White Wedding" as the recessional..

It was a lovely, lovely Northern California day under the oak trees in San Rafael, clear and sunny with a long, long view over the undulating lion-colored hills. Everyone dressed up and drank champagne dolloped with honey and peach puree, the peaches picked by PQ herself the day before on the farm. Lots of organic farm produce made it up to the wedding, for platters of roasted summer squash, baby potatoes, cippoline onions, carrots, and red peppers, and crudites of cucumbers, green beans, broccoli, and even more peppers and carrots. There were beautiful dips galore made by Susie and Heather, and ravishing plates of leg of lamb. Being on the veggie bean-mush farm diet has turned me into a raging carnivore--how much of that lamb I packed away all on my very own, I wouldn't like to say. Shar made the special love-juju hummingbird cupcakes and peaches-and-cream cake, Sally's old pals Tess, Reggie, and Carol dressed up in sequins and lip-synched and danced for Christina, and both the Lucys (ages 4 and 10) had a bang-up time.

Love was in the air, and if only K. had been there, all would have been perfect. But she's on her way to California soon--just a week! And she'll be here, ready to be wined and dined and relaxed among the redwoods, far from the chiggers and poison ivy. And I'll be off the farm, which, lovely as it is, one really needs to get a break from every so often, back into the land of non-shared everything and soft clean inside beds.

Part of their ceremony was a ritual sharing of bread and honey. The honey came from a black-lava beach where they did their own private wedding ceremony last year; the bread I was honored to make that morning. So we call it a

Sweet Wedding Moon Bread for a Feast of Love

1 cube fresh yeast, or 1 packet dried (fresh is nicer, if you can find it in the refrigerated section of your market--it's often on a little shelf near the butter and yogurt)
1 1/2 cups tepid water
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil or soft butter
2 cups unbleached white bread flour (with more as needed to make a soft dough)
1 tbsp salt
2 1/2 cups whole wheat bread flour
Add-ins:
chopped pecans, diced dried figs, golden raisins, pumpkin seeds

1. Dissolve yeast in tepid water, and let stand 5 minutes.
2. Stir in honey, olive oil, and 2 cups white flour. Sprinkle on salt and whole wheat flour.
3. Stir in additional white flour to make a soft dough. Knead well for 10-12 minutes, until smooth and springy.
4. Let rise to double in bulk. Punch down, knead briefly, and pat into a flat rectangle. Sprinkle on nuts and dried fruit, folding the dough over and kneading gently to incorporate. Shape as desired. I made this into a flat oval, then made diagonal cuts in the middle of each side to make a fougasse shape. But you could also make a regular loaf, or a foccacia-type flatbread.
5. Let rise 30-40 minutes.
6 Bake at 400F until nice and golden brown. Let cool to warmish, then eat with butter and honey.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Farm Fashion, Part 1


Friday was Farm in a Skirt Day, no exceptions, and everyone did it, even the farmboys from Texas and Arkansas. On Wednesday, a couple of the guys hit the thrift stores, and by Thursday breakfast a row of skirts was hanging from the ceiling with a note, "Skirts $4, boys take priority." I didn't have a regular skirt that I wanted to get farm-dirty, so instead I dug out this sparkly hippie caftan, property of the late PQ grand-mere. Note the belt, holding both my pruning shears and harvest knife, and yes, capri pants underneath, so I could tuck the ground-sweeping skirt up into my belt without wowing my fellow farmies with the sight of my undies.

Putting everyone in a skirt made the day just terribly festive, somehow. And nearly all the dudes commented on how free they felt. Okay, actually they talked about their balls, but we're about the pies here.

And yes, as mentioned earlier, apricot galettes were made in the up-garden chalet kitchen. Quite simple, really--2 1/2 cups flour, a tablespoon of sugar, a tsp of salt, 2 sticks (8 oz) butter, ice water with a splash of cider vinegar, mixed and cut in and tossed together the usual way. Then up the ladder to pick a bowl of sun-freckled little apriums, pitted and tossed with sugar, a little cornstarch, a pinch of nutmeg and allspice. I remembered too late that you have to roll out the dough and put it onto the baking pan before you start piling in the fruit. Thus getting the fruit-heavy, tippy thing off the counter without tearing wasn't easy, requiring an offset spatula and some muttered pirate-worthy language.

So roll your dough into a rough circle, slap it onto a baking sheet, then pile up your nicely sugared fruit. Lap the edges of the dough up over the filling, leaving an open space in the middle to show off the color. Bake at 375 or 400 degrees until the fruit is softened and giving up juice and the pastry is deep golden. Let cool as long you can stand; it's best warm rather than boiling hot.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Friday is Galette Day

It's a perfect beach day in Santa Cruz. Maybe you can imagine me there, laying on the warm sand with the sparkly blue water and sea gulls edging up the sand to eye my lunch. Or put me next to a swimming hole surrounded by shady redwoods, or under a tree anywhere, watching the fine clouds etch lace over the high blue.

Whatever you do, don't put me where I have to be, sitting next to a concrete pillar in an atrium adjacent to the library, typing away. For well-paying work, so I shan't complain, although that sunshine does look mighty pretty, and there's a moonlight hike I'm going to be skipping too, for the sake of a job to do. But at some point tomorrow, the Green Zebra tomatoes and sweet Thai basil will get planted in my freshly-dug bed in the kitchen garden--a rough little plot behind the kitchen where we can have our own private plots. I didn't even mind heaving a wheelbarrow full of compost all the way from 'compost row' this morning--not usually my favorite job, but it's amazing what a little private ownership can do to one's incentive. Living here has made me appreciate many things, and having my own space is one of them.

The 'up', or Chadwick, garden, where I'm working for the next six weeks, is a maze of fruit trees and organic roses, with beds of lettuce, onions, and many many peppers squeezed in higgledy-piggledy wherever there's room. Passing the heavy-bearing aprium trees every morning on my way to the greenhouses, I resolved to use the little farm kitchen for a spot of galette-making come Friday. And it worked: during our two-hour break from noon to 2pm, I whipped up a batch of dough, picked a bowl of not-quite-ripe but tasty fruit, assembled two galettes and got them in and out of the oven. They were gone too quickly for photos, but recipe to follow...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

pies for a birthday

When the fruit is ripe

I will bake you pies all year long,

apple



strawberry


peach


and



lemon meringue


Happy birthday, K.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On the Farm



All last year, I used to log onto the "daily farm photo" over on Farm Girl Fare and feel wistful. Now every morning I'm walking through a new day on the farm--fog over the ocean, sun on the strawberries, spider webs strung through the kiwis. This is the sign leading to the back farm entrance as well as to a university housing complex known as The Village. But I love this sign; it always makes me think that the road will lead to a Bruegel scene with haystacks, thatched roofs,and women with little caps and long aprons.



This is part of the main field, where I'll be learning irrigation for the next 3 weeks. Lots of greens growing here, plus flowers, beets, carrots, cauliflower, and garlic.


The plum orchard, with a huge fruit set that we've been diligently thinning.

And did I mention that the farm's open to the public daily from 8am to 6pm? Or that we'll holding a fund-raising strawberry shortcake festival, made with organic berries harvested right here, on Wednesday, May 23rd, from 3 to 6pm? I'll be the one in the pink hat and pink-striped apron, handing out bowls of cream and strawberries.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother Earth Day




The ingredients for Saturday's dinner, foraged from the garden and farm. The last of the spring rhubarb and a few broccoli leaves from last winter's bolted plants, three small artichokes and a handful of purple-stalked asparagus from the perennial beds, plus new spinach and a head of red-leaf lettuce. And for dessert, sun-warmed berries from the strawberry patch.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

You Are Horribly, Horribly Old

What I wouldn't do to swap my 39-year-old smarts for the knees (and backs) of my 23-year-old fellow farmers... Weeding baby onions and planting long, long rows of peppers in the sweltering sun yesterday, I felt beyond creaky.

But the best moment was lying down in one of the just hip-wide furrows of earth between the rows. Cradled in the clods, I did feel nutured by the earth. Or maybe it was just the joy of being stretched out instead of folded up.

Later, there was an impromptu dance party in the farm center, with everyone rocking out to "Come on Eileen" and "Just Like Heaven" and I realized I was the only person there who had personally danced to that stuff when it was actually on the radio, in my assymetrical haircut and silver shoes. And then I pulled a muscle in my hip and have been limping around the farm all this morning, feeling even more old and gimpy, if that were even possible. Or worse, like the fake-young man at the beginning of Death in Venice, the one foreshadowing von Aschenbach's eventual transformation and downfall.

Making fresh cornmeal waffles helped, but still...I need to find a way to reconcile my brain and body with the 20-something crew around me.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Carrot Salad for a Heat Wave

Sitting in the excruciating hip Ritual Roasters on Valencia and 22nd Sts right now, drinking an iced decaf americano (first proof of hipness: no decaf drip. Clearly, in this setting, decaf is as uncool as your mom's 5 lb can of Folger's) to chill out during this unexpected but blissful Bay Area heat wave. At the counter, displayed under a sign reading "Because you're not the selfish bitch everyone thinks you are," are little red gift cards emblazoned with chipper slogans like "You're an asshole without coffee." On the sound system is a violin-drenched Canto-pop remix of the James Bond theme. It hurts a little, really.

But then again, really good coffee, couches, wireless and all the soul patches you'd ever want to see! After a late night and early morning making lemon-poppyseed muffins (white flour! no quinoa! naughty, naughty!) and farm-produce frittata (spinach, arugula, tarragon, spring onions, and mint, all picked fresh by moi, sauteed with local eggs from Everett Farms), followed by homemade whole-wheat pita (really fun to make, and they actually puffed into useable pockets) with hummus, falafel, carrot-mint salad, more spinach, and peanut butter cookies both straight up and vegan, I got the heck outta Dodge and came up to to a happy, sun-drenched Cinco de Mayo San Francisco. Every tattooed girl and boy and all their dogs were celebrating by drinking Tecate and eating chips in Dolores Park; Lanette and I hit the worth-the-hype Bi-Rite Ice Creamery for mint-chip and butter-pecan scoops first, then joined the throngs basking on the grass for mimosas with her pals.

I had good intentions for boosting my farm fashion quota with cute and useful t-shirts and overalls from Buffalo Exchange and Thriftown. Which means, of course, that I am going back to tentland with a fabulous rhinestone-studded 50s party dress, bought at a Valencia Street fence sale for $5.

Of course, I had to make big bowls of mango salsa and guacamole, my favorite California foods, to go with the mojitos at Shar and Jackie's. These are so easy that they hardly garner actual recipes. Mango or avocado, lime juice, salt, red onion, cilantro, minced jalapeno, mixed up together to taste. Don't skimp on either the lime or the salt.

What you do need to make, however, is that carrot-mint salad, a made-up dish that was the hit of the plant-sale picnic, at least in my mind. Sort of vaguely Moroccan, and much better than that boring carrot-raisin salad that everyone makes. Because the flavors are concentrated, this works best as an addition to a sandwich or as one of several dishes, rather than as a stand-alone itme. The mint is really wonderful, and adds a nice zing that balances the carrot sweetness. No measurements, since it's dependent on the number of carrots you have and how much salad you want. The mint shouldn't overwhelm; you just want lots of nice green flecks among the orange.

Carrot Mint Salad

carrots, peeled and grated
mint, stemmed and finely chopped
a couple glugs of olive oil
a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice
a splash of mild vinegar, like apple cider or rice
salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients up; the dressing should lightly coat the carrots without sopping. Taste and adjust. Chill if not eating right away.

Friday, May 04, 2007

How can you keep them down on the farm?

Much bustle here on the farm today, as we get ready for the big fund-raising plant sale this weekend, at the Barn just past the main entrance to UC Santa Cruz. After making many, many wheelbarrow trips back and forth from greenhouse to truck, I drifted off down the slope with a bucket to thin the extra fruit off the apple trees. A wet and meditative job, deciding which of the five or six baby apples in a given cluster will live to become fodder for this fall's pies, and which ones will hit the bucket, destined for compost.

My plant sale job, you may be SHOCKED to learn, is cooking breakfast and lunch for my fellow farmies (yes, we're called that for real--they've even made a great army-green t-shirt with F*A*R*M*Y across the front) as they work the sale. So I'll be on duty from 5:30am (to get breakfast toted down by 7am) to about 2pm, and then....up to the city!!!

I actually didn't get into San Francisco during the couple of days between arriving on the west coast and heading down to tentland, so I'm very, very excited. And even more excited to sleep inside where it's warm, and have a bath! And eat MEAT, instead of kale n' beans n' beets. And maybe even a hot tub at Osento, and ice cream from the new Bi-Rite Ice Creamery. Two days of city glam, without farm boots or flannel! Except, of course, my fabulous psychedelic-pink flannel pajamas, courtesy of Queen Christina.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

a poem for a huge pink moon

The stars will come out over and over
the hyacinths rise like flames
from the windswept turf down the middle of upper Broadway
where the desolate take the sun
the days will run together and stream into years
as the rivers freeze and burn
and I ask myself and you, which of our visions will claim us
which will we claim
how will we go on living
how will we touch, what will we know
what will we say to each other.

- Adrienne Rich, Dream of a Common Language

Last week, I asked for poetry, and Jen happily complied (see the comments below for 3 swell poems). But this one turned up in an email from my old college pal Christine, currently living in London with her husband and son.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The First Rule of Pie Club...

is, bring your own butter. Living with 45+ people, butter goes fast, and by Sunday night, there's not a whit of dairy in fridge, nary even a drop of Almond Breeze for morning coffee.

Besides the butter (which we brought in from Trader Joe's), Sunday's teaching pies were almost all home-grown. If we'd had the time, we could have ground the flour from wheat grown here last summer. The rhubarb was pulled from an overgrown patch down near the quince trees, while the strawberries came from the sweet and juicy rows next to the garlic and leeks. With a paper bag full of rhubarb, I kept foraging, slicing a few late-season purple asparagus, nipping off a couple of baby violette artichokes, and pulling up some thumb-sized purple potatoes that had volunteered in a spare uncleared bed. Everything was purple!

Anne had never made pie before, but before the end of the night, she'd been anointed a true Pie Princess, for fearlessness in the face of lattice. The diehards who stuck around til 11pm were rewarded with hot-from-the-oven strawberry-rhubarb pie. Another pie was surreptitously brought out at breakfast, mmmm. A proposal for an every-other-Sunday night pie club has been bandied about, with plans for Meyer lemon tart next up.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

but this one is just right....

Many things are in abundant supply here on the farm: quail; pocket gophers; gopher snakes to eat the gophers; and of course, the aforementioned kale, now making an appearance at every meal, even breakfast! But glamour, alas, is not one of these things. Not until this morning, however, when former apprentices Daryl, Matthew, and Doron showed up to make our breakfast much more fabulous than usual.

You'd be surprised how much more alluring oatmeal can be when it's spooned into a waiting bowl just for you by a guy in a red feather boa, mardi gras beads, and a kimono jacket. The oatmeal was divided into 3 vats, descriptively labeled "Lumpy", "Smooth but Runny", and "Mortar". Chopped kiwis (from the farm-yes, they grow here, on long vines), walnuts, raisins, and brown sugar were on offer, and even if you'd never had an opinion about oatmeal before, the outfits and ceremony cheered everyone up. And at dinner, there was tempeh mole, tortillas and hot sauce, yellow rice, sauteed kale, even warm vegan chocolate cake.

But what I want even more than lumpy oatmeal and chocolate cake is poetry. Send me your favorite poems! Especially if there's some kind of nature component. Ok, to be honest, a real bed is what I want most, but showering in the outdoor solar shower this afternoon, with the blue sky and green leaves visible above the hot shower spray almost made up for 2 weeks of damp and chilly sleeping on the ground.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I can't give you anything but kale, baby

It's chilly out here on the top of the hill! Not 6 inches of snow on the car chilly, as it was in Lake Snowbegone last week, but living outside all the time is taking some getting used to. Going inside one's tent doesn't raise the temp any, a fact I'm still not quite adjusted to. And going from work clothes to pajamas--and then back again in the morning-- well, it takes some teeth-gritting for this steam-heated city girl.

But the farm and the view over the fields of Monterey Bay is just crazy beautiful, and it's very peaceful to wake up to birds (and my fellow farmie's alarm clocks) instead of trucks and cars revving by. I'm achy from chopping down the cover crops (bell beans and oats) with my brand-new spade and fork, but the reward is all the steamed kale and chard you can eat. Next week, I'll be on "bread duty" with Ben from Pt. Reyes's fab Brickmaiden Breads, so expect plenty of good tips on working with sourdough and making 20 loaves in a couple of bakings.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Westward Ho!

Today is my last day in the tiny apartment in Lake Snowbegone, soon to be replaced by an even tinier tent on the top of a hill in Santa Cruz. So, in honor of using up the stuff in the kitchen that K. wouldn't (like lard, yeast, chickpeas, and poppy seeds), I went on a bit of a cooking binge yesterday, making stuffed eggplant with onions, tomatoes, chickpeas, and feta, followed by a puffy loaf of whole-wheat-oatmeal bread and a big apple galette. Mmmm.

The bread was completely made up and thrown together. One packet of dry yeast, dissolved in about 1/2 cup water and thrown into the quart-size empty yogurt container doubling as my whole-wheat flour cannister. There was maybe a cup of flour in there; I mixed in the yeast and water and added enough water to make a goopy batter. Let it rise as a sponge for an hour or so, then stirred it together with more water, a teaspoon or two of salt (honestly, I just poured out some into my hand and dumped it in), an egg because our supermarket carries good marigold-yolked local eggs, about half a cup of rolled oatmeal flakes, a good glug of the Cobble Hill honey Amy gave us as a leaving-Brooklyn present, and enough white flour to make up a smooth dough. Kneaded it, let it rise, rolled it into a ball, let it rise again, then glazed it with egg yolk and sprinkled with poppy seeds, to bake until brown at 350F.

Once you've made bread a bunch of times, you realize that there's no real need for measuring. As long as you have a rough idea of the proportions of water, flour, and salt, you'll get a nice loaf. You can do with a lot less yeast than you think; I usually use one packet for 2 loaves, about half of what most recipes call for. Yes, the rise is slower, but you don't get than beery-yeasty taste that can plague some homemade loaves, and the bread stays fresher longer. I still use recipes when I want to be sure of a particular result, or when I want to try out a new method or combination, but it's relaxing to know that there's no need to get out the cookbooks and teaspoons just to make an ordinary toast-for-breakfast loaf.

Why bring this up? Not to toot my own bread-making horn, for sure. But to encourage all you bakers out there to loosen up in the kitchen. Bread is remarkably forgiving. Short of killing the yeast with too much heat (dissolving it in hot water or using a really hot rising place--for example, don't leave the bowl full of dough on top of the stove when you're preheating the oven), your bread dough is more friendly and flexible than you think.

And the galette was a happy, not really measured treat too. Not having a pie pan or a rolling pin up here, I made do with a Grandma's molasses jar and a cookie sheet. The dough was 2 cups of flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 TB of sugar, with 4 oz of Flying Pigs Farm lard and 4 TB (2 oz) of salted butter cut in. Enough cold water to make a just-holding-together dough, flattened and wrapped in plastic wrap and chilled in the fridge for a few hours. Rolled out into a rough circle on the counter, then slid onto the cookie sheet. Peeled and sliced a half-dozen Empire apples, then tossed them with a little raw sugar, some crumbled maple sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and a few shakes of salt. Heaped the apple slices in the middle of the pastry, then flapped the dough over the apples, leaving a hole in the middle. Glazed with an egg yolk beaten with 1 TB of water, sprinkled on some more raw sugar, and baked until the crust was deep golden and the apples tender at 400 degrees.

Thanks to the lard, the dough was lovely and flaky, and not as hard to work with as a shorter butter crust.

Now, back out the best coast, and life on the farm!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Je me souviens les neiges d'antan

Snow on Easter. That's not the only reason I'm fleeing Lake Snowbegone for California come Friday, but it's certainly one reason I'm happy to be kissing upstate NY bye-bye. Actually, though, the fact that we were dodging snowflakes on Sunday may have had something to do with being in Canada. Yes, who knows why, but we went north last weekend, to a place even grayer and colder than this one: Montreal!

It was freezing when we arrived, and as we shivered down the street we did look at each other to wonder why we weren't in Florida, K.'s warm and lovely home state. When K. called her mom on Sunday, she said they were having a bit of a cold snap, so it was only 70 degrees. If she weren't such a nice lady, I'd have cussed her out.

But, weather aside, Montreal was as close to Europe as we could get driving. We didn't have too much time, but we did see lots of old stone buildings, the inside and out of the Basilica Notre Dame, carriages drawn by horses wearing bunny ears, and the gay Timmie's in Le Village.



What did we drink? Vin chaud, hot chocolate with cinnamon and cardamom at the hip, cute Au Festin de Babette tea salon and chocolate shop, locally brewed beer with polar bears on the label. And we ate maple everything, from the divine "danoise" (that's danish to you, mate) pastry smeared with pale maple cream at the Patisserie Premiere Moisson to chewy maple taffy poured out on snow and rolled around a stick (known there as tire d'erable, or what we'd call sugar on snow). There were maple products everywhere: tiny ice-cream cones filled with maple syrup, maple sugar hard and soft, even maple liqueurs. Maple syrup in a can was in every shop. The Quebecois maple obsession makes the maple-makers of upstate New York look like pikers, I can tell you.

What else? We went to the wonderful Jean Talon Market, indoors for the winter, and lined with shop after shop selling veal, pork, lamb and sheep's milk cheese, fromage cottage in numerous flavors, sticky Moroccan pastries and hot mint tea, rabbit sausage, live spiky-legged crabs from the Gaspe peninsula, and fabulous French-language cookbooks . After sampling everything in the market, we didn't have the appetite to brave the trotters and blood puddings at Au Pied de Cochon; instead, we ended up with cheese and beer and apples in our room, watching Charlton Heston perform all his own miracles.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

NYC

Just back from a speed-dash down to NYC for Passover. Sharing the horseradish and charoset with my old college pal Mike and his family was the ostensible reason for hopping on the Jetblue express to JFK, but I was really there to walk, eat, walk and soak up as much culture as I could, after a month without any up in Lake Snowbegone.

I was a little too hopeful as to how spring-like NYC would be in comparison to the North Country, and so I ended up underdressed and chilled for three nasty cold, rainy days. But the flowers were out--daffodils, frilly tulips, crocuses, hyacinths, magnolia buds on the trees overhead. Arriving mid-afternoon on Sunday, my pal (and former neighbor) Amy and I headed out to always-open Bocca Lupa (ok, not really, but they do offer lunch from 11:30am to 5, then dinner til late-ish, so by a freelancers' sleep-in standard, they're always available). Amy got the zampone-piave-pickled peppers panini (say that 10 times fast) that she'd been craving, and I went for my comfy fave, the roast chicken with arugula and provolone. Lovely, as always--such a great little place to have in the neighborhood. Then, oh bliss, it was just a few blocks' walk over to Cobble Hill Cinema for the stunning Lives of Others, the German flick that won the Best Foreign Films Oscar. A great film.

The next day, perfect-as-always pear danish at Almondine, and a spin through the Easter candy offerings at Jacques Torres. Dark chocolated matzoh for the Jews, rows of chocolate-dipped marshmallow Peeps (in the bunny shape) for the gentiles. Oh, and carrot-shaped tubes of chocolate-dipped Cheerios for those of you who, sadly, have had your taste buds surgically removed. They were offering free samples of the cocoa-rolled chocolate almonds. Resisted the urge to tip the whole bowl into my purse.

Then, into the city for a slice at Joe's Pizza in the Village, followed by a French movie (Avenue Montaigne, a dull movie for old people, despite its Amelie aspirations) and a spin through the genteel rooms of the Neue Gallerie, whose dark wood-panelled walls always look carved out of chocolate. A robust crowd in town for the Van Gogh and German Expressionists show, which was small but potent. Followed, of course, by the last slice of topfentorte in the house at a marble-topped table in Cafe Sabarsky, where I would happily live if only one could get a glass of Riesling for less than $14 (and a cup of coffee for less than $5). But ah, that topfentorte-- fluffy quark filling, light layers of genoise, melting slices of pear on top, lovely.

On to Central Park West for eggs in salt water, horseradish and brisket, four kinds of kugels and a platter of asparagus, chocolate-chip macaroons and next year in Jerusalem, amen.

Matzoh brei and leftover cheesecake for breakfast, then onto the bus out to Nyack to see my aunt for lunch at the elegant Restaurant X, with nosegays of roses on the tables and a pastoral view of just-barely-greening willows around the pond.

That night, back in Brooklyn, Amy and I had just enough energy to walk around the corner to the new Japanese place, Hideno, which looks better than it is. Warm housemade tofu comes in a little glass pot with a pitcher of soy sauce and a tiny spoon; it has a gentle, silky texture but tastes, as I guess we should have expected, like nothing. Or more exactly, nothing with an aftertaste of masking tape and chalk. A bowl of rice will run you $3, a pot of tea $2. Tuna tataki, with a small mound of avocado-topped salad, was too salty to eat.

The next morning, high hopes of checking out the new feminist-art wing and Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum. But alas, cold rain and boring errands ate up the morning, and then there was only time for a quick bowl of lamb soup (a brown, intensely lamb-y broth with bits of onion and green herbs, $2) at the Yemen Cafe on Atlantic Ave, and a plan to come back for the grand platters of roasted lamb and rice ($8) being shared by tables of men around the room.

Woke up this morning to several inches of snow on the ground, and more falling. Welcome back to Lake Snowbegone...but we're off to Montreal for Easter tomorrow. Any Montreal tips, please let me know!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Maple Weekend, Now with Pictures!


We celebrated the arrival of spring in Lake Snowbegone by heading to the woods for the running of the sap. Yep, it was Maple Weekend up here last week, and the tiny towns were jumpin', what with all the pancake breakfasts and the steaming evaporators and the smiley lady from the Cornell Cooperative Extension handing out little paper cups of maple-walnut candy and stapled-together handouts full of recipes for maple-glazed sweet potatoes and maple-nut pancakes.

There was still soft snow under the sugar maples, but the temperature had poked up just enough over the past few days to start the sap running. Not by much, though; at Yancey's, they'd only started tapping the day before, and there wasn't enough sap yet to keep up with the syrup demands. But I digress.

We started out at the Golden Maple Shanty, where steam billowing out of the chimney did give the whole scene a nice IHOP smell. Inside, a big stainless-steel, oil-fired evaporator was bubbling busily, the hot sap flowing in channels labelled with digital temperature readouts. Talking to the proprietor, I found out that this machine was still a bit of a newcomer to the shanty. "I boiled sap over wood fires for 40 years," he said, then admitted the new oil-fired machines were trickier; they needed a continual flow of sap to keep from overheating, and you had to keep a close eye on the readouts, rather than watching the size of the bubbles on the roiling sap or gauging the heat of the fire. The room was cheerfully crowded, with not much difference between the look of the maple-makers and those come to buy their wares.

On a tip from the Cornell lady, we followed the directions on the Maple Weekend brochure through the woods out to Yancy's. On the way, we saw "Maple Syrup for Sale" signs tacked up in front of numerous farmhouses; once we got into the woods, plastic buckets once used for spackle and plaster were getting another go-round as sap collectors. Any house with a few trees around it was engaging in a little sugar-making.



Yancey's sugarbush, owned by the same family for over 150 years, is spread out over several hundred acres of old maples. The sugarhouse is still a large wooden shack, stacked with logs from floor to ceiling for firing up the long wood-fired evaporators.



Sap comes to the sugarhouse in a wagon hauled by a team of draft horses, to be poured down a chute into a boxy wooden storage tank that can take some 1500 gallons.



Warm near the fire, cold near the open doors, awash in billows of steam and lit only by the pale, snow-reflected afternoon light outside, this was syrup making mostly unchanged as it had been in New England for generations on end.



As one of the Yancey boys heaved more logs into the firebox, another scooped up boiling sap with a long-handled flat shovel. As with testing jelly, the syrup is done when it "sheets" from the edge of the scoop, hanging in a clear, glassy ridge from the metal edge. A hydrometer helps too, bobbing in a tube of boiling syrup to measure its density and decide when the sap's cooked down enough to be judged quality syrup.

The only thing not cooperating with the old-time vision were the trees themselves. The still-chilly days meant the sap was barely rising. Outside the door, metal buckets hung from the surrounding trees, each suspended beneath a thumb-sized spigot. I held the tip of my finger under the tap as a clear drop slowly swelled and fell. The taste was something more than clear water, a hint of wild tang, a bosky woodsiness.



But tang or not, the trees were still mostly sleeping, and with it taking around 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, the line to fill metal jugs over at the hot syrup vat was long and barely moving. So we took our little pint jug and went back to town to get educated at the Maple Museum. The American (and Canadian, as the nice front-desk lady was careful to point out) Maple Museum tells the story of New England sugaring, with an emphasis on New York State. There's a maple hall of fame, full of photographs and plaques honoring achievement in the maple industry. There's a room dedicated to old logging and ice-cutting gear,with a huge proto-snowmobile and giant cast-iron prongs for lifting blocks of ice. There are bark baskets used for sap collection by local Oswego tribe members, and a sternly worded nutritional and economic-welfare comparision between real syrup and fake maple-flavored "table syrup", with an emphasis on how buying real syrup supports local family-run industry.

And although we now think of maple syrup as the main maple product, grainy tan blocks of solid maple sugar--which provided a much better work-to-money ratio for the sugar producer--used to make up the bulk of a sugarbush's output. In The Maple Sugar Book, Helen and Scott Nearing's entertaining little tome about their time working a small sugarbush in the 1930s and 40s, the Nearings point out the role maple sugar played in fighting the slave trade. In the mid-1800s, at the height of the abolitionist movement, many New England thinkers and activists promoted maple sugar as a cruelty-free alternative to cane sugar, which they saw as tainted by the suffering of the slaves used to produce it on the sugarcane plantations in the American South and in the West Indies. English abolitionists begged their countrymen to start planting maple trees, so as to have a source of sugar that could be cultivated by free men on native soil.



Back at Yancey's, we finally got our jug filled and headed home. The next morning: buckwheat pancakes with lots of syrup!

Buckwheat Pancakes

1/3 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/3 whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 TB maple syrup
a few shakes of cinnamon (opt)
1 egg
3/4 cup milk, or as needed
2 TB melted butter
chopped toasted nuts or chopped apples or pears, or berries
Maple syrup, warmed

Lightly grease a wide frying pan or griddle. Heat over medium heat. Stir or sift dry ingredients together. Beat egg, milk, and butter in a cup, then stir in gently. Add more milk as needed for a proper batter consistency; thick batter will give thicker, fluffier cakes; thin batter makes thinner, more delicate cakes. Add chopped nuts or fruit, as desired. Pour onto hot griddle and bake over medium-low heat until browned and small bubbles are popping on top side of cake. Flip and cook until browned. Serve with plenty of warm syrup

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sunshine and Apple Fritters

Happy Spring! Up here in Lake Snowbegone, it was 7 degrees at 6 am when K. left the house. Some spring morning...

I was happily cuddled up under the covers with a bowl of oatmeal and a hot cup of coffee when she came back at 7:30am to resume the sleep that was so rudely truncated by the alarm some two hours before.

But there are red-and-yellow tulips in the blue marble vase on the kitchen table and salmon and asparagus in the fridge, so that's a couple of sure-fire signs of spring, at least. Two loaves of whole wheat/cornmeal bread are in the oven, too, courtesy of a fifty-cent copy of Beard on Bread that I picked up at the library's Book and Cookie Sale a couple of weeks ago, along with a mixed dozen of very tasty homemade sweets--molasses cookies, chocolate-chocolate chip, toll house, lemon shortbread, snickerdoodles, a tiny pecan tart. There were chocolate-chip cookies dyed green, too, but that was too freaky for me, even with St. Patrick's Day around the corner.

Just last week, it was really looking like spring. The thermometer was up, the snow was receding, pink Peeps and green asparagus were on display. My old San Fran pal Queen Christina (aka the Red Meat Ranger, for all you old-school Bay Guardian fans) called to say that she was a mere 8 hours south, brushing up on her Sanskrit down the shore in pretty Spring Lake, NJ. Well, that's all the invitation I needed. With a couple pairs of socks, a toothbrush, and the little half-knitted toddler hat that I've trying to finish for the past 8 months stuffed into my backpack, I jumped on a bus to NYC and then a train to Jersey.

Robins were strutting across the lawns of the big Victorians with their wrap-around porches, and whorls of tulip leaves were prodding up through the black earth. We headed towards the beach and then met our downfall in Linger. Now, when it comes to lingerie, QC stands firmly in the matching-set camp, while my quest leans more towards something--anything!-- fabulous sans underwire, the invention of the devil. And after many, many try-ons and entertaining chat with Robin, the owner, we both found scanties to make ourselves look gorgeous.

Later, we drove to Edison with Goda, one of QC's classmates, and several of the other students. This town has become the Jackson Heights of central Jersey. The strip malls are packed with subcontinental supermarkets, restaurants, DVD and music shops, and jewelry and sari stores. With Goda as our guide, we cruised through a Pathmark-sized store stocked with huge bags of rice, boxes of ground pomegranate powder, dozens of spicy-salty-sweet snacks, and wonderful produce, from thumb-sized fresh turmeric rhizomes and green mangoes to eggplants the size of marbles, stalks of fresh sugarcane, and four kinds of fresh ginger. Having worked up an appetite, we slid into a booth at the busy Saravanaa Bhavan for fluffy idli in sambar and arm-long dosas. (More details to follow).

The next morning, I found myself rooting through the rented-house cabinets for something to bake. But while there was sugar, steak sauce and many, many batteries, there was no flour to be had. But there was a half-used box of Cafe du Monde beignet mix, the sort of thing that, like a Nora Roberts novel, can linger for years in a summer house cabinet. Next to the beignet mix, just enough vegetable oil for deep-frying. Voila! Beignets for the masses! As I was pouring water in the mix, QC pulled a couple of apples out of the fridge. Could we add these to the beignets, she wondered. (Did I mention how healthy she is these days? All vegetarian and stuff, corned beef hash--more on this later--notwithstanding.)

Well, no. We couldn't put apples into the beignets, but we could put the beignets around the apples, by turning the beignet dough into fritter batter. What a hit! The plain beignets were cute but rather spongy and bland, especially once the fresh-fried heat had faded. But the apple fritters were fantastic, and so easy.

How to do this, should you have your own half-used box of beignet mix:

Throw the mix (about a cup's worth) into a big bowl. Add a tablespoon of sugar and 1/4 tsp of cinnamon (more or less to taste). Add enough water to make a very gloppy batter. Core apple (no need to peel) and divide into wedges, approx. 3/4" thick. Over medium heat, heat about 2" inches of vegetable oil in a medium-sized saucepan, until a bit of batter sizzles when dropped in, sinking to the bottom and then rising quickly. Line a plate with several layers of paper towels for draining the finished fritters. In a shallow bowl, stir 1/2 cup of granulated sugar with cinnamon to taste.

Now, dip the apple slices into the batter. Some of the batter will coat the apple, some will run off in a gloppy mess. Don't stress! Just try to keep a reasonable amount of batter on the apple. Drop each slice into the oil after dipping. With a slotted spoon, flip the slices over once they are golden on one side. Scoop out as soon as they are golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels, then quickly roll through the cinnamon sugar (the residual oil on the outside will help the cinnamon sugar to stick). Put on a plate and continue frying until you have as many fritters as you can eat. If the oil gets too hot and the fritters start scorching, turn it off for a couple minutes, then reheat and continue. Use the fan/vent over your stove if you have one, so your house doesn't smell like a Krispy Kreme for hours afterwards.

A big hit with any Sanskritini you might find in your kitchen at 8AM!

To Come: A Huge Storm Arrives! QC teaches PQ How to Crochet. We Find Sublime Corned Beef in Belmar, Then Suffer the Slings and Arrows of the Mean Yarn Lady. All this, and Mango Ginger Lassis, Too!

But in case you were wondering just what this whole equinox thing is, anyway, it's all explained in this poetic little science article. As Natalie Angier writes about this year's March-20-or-March-21 confusion,

"Whatever the date, go on and celebrate, for the vernal equinox is a momentous poem among moments, overspilling its borders like the swelling of sunlight it heralds."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Chicken Soup for Spring

Life is better up here today. It's warm, it's raining, and thus all the decrepit piles of dirty snow are finally slinking away, down into the mud where they belong. And, the nice DSL people finally showed up, so yes, I can write and post from home now. It's the small things...

So, on the cooking front, this week's excitement was the re-fashioning of two styrofoam boxes of leftover Jamacian curried chicken into a swell variation on mulligatawny. Out along the highway, one of K's Army buds had recently taken over a small soul-food and Caribbean restaurant, and we went on their opening night. As their first customers, we got not only massively heaped portions but the same thing again to take home with us. So double-wides of curried chicken sat in our fridge all weekend, until K. suggested turning them into soup. I mulled this over for a while, and what we ended up with was a thick orange potage, filled out with a handful of red lentils cooked to slush and cubes of sweet potato, and sparked up with a whole lot of fresh minced ginger--a kind of island-influenced version of mulligawny, itself a curry-spiked lentil soup invented by Indian household cooks during the Raj for their Anglo employers.

This was good stuff, and you could make it yourself even without Caribbean-restaurant leftovers. Just add some curry powder to the veg as they're sauteed, and either leave out the chicken altogether, or shred it in at the end.

Caribbean Chicken Turned into Mulligatawny

Amounts are approximate; fiddle around depending on what you've got in the house and how much soup you want at the end of the day.

1 TB olive or vegetable oil
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 or 2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
2 or 3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, ditto
1 to 2 tsp curry powder, or to taste (if not using already curried chicken)
2 to 3 inches of peeled fresh gingerroot, finely chopped or grated
2-3 TB tomato paste (you could also diced canned or fresh tomatoes, maybe half a cup or so)
2 to 3 cups chicken broth
1 cup red lentils (because the color matches the soup, and also because the red ones fall apart into sludge better than the green or brown ones)
1 large sweet potato, diced
2 to 3 cups shredded leftover cooked chicken (optional)
1/4 cup half and half (optional)
lime wedges and chopped cilantro for garnish, if desired

Saute onions, celery, carrot, and garlic in oil until onions are translucent and veg are starting to brown lightly. Add curry powder, if using, ginger, and tomato paste. Saute, stirring frequently, for a couple minutes. Add lentils, broth, and potato. Add water as necessary to bring it to a soupy consistency (the lentils will absorb some, so use a bit more water than you think). Bring to a gentle simmer, stir, then partially cover and leave on a very low heat for at least an hour. Stir occasionally.

After an hour, check and see how soft the lentils are. You want them totally sludgy and falling apart, which may take another 30 minutes or so. When you like the consistency and it tastes all nice and blended, add the chicken and simmer for another five minutes. Pour the half-and-half into a cup and spoon in some hot broth to temper it. Keep stirring in hot broth until you've filled up the cup. Turn off the heat and pour in the cream, stirring gently.

Sprinkle each bowl with chopped cilantro and serve with lime wedges on the side.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Better than me

It's 1 degree out there ('feels like -14F!' says weather.com, and hey, thanks, I really feel better now) and I have bubkes to write about, maybe because California's still a month away (and because I know they have tangelos and blood oranges and soon asparagus and artichokes there, while we have crappy shriveled lettuce and Fruity Pebbles up here in freezing snowland). I could go on about how it's Triangular Food Week chez PQ (hamentaschen! spanikopita!) but the muse has decamped to someplace less bone-chilling for the moment. So read someone funnier than me here. I, too, stand squarely behind the restorative value of food paid for by other people-- the secret reason for all those cheerful years as a restaurant critic!

Plus, this part just killed me.

At brunch, Brooke and I took full advantage of the wealth of drugs being offered us in the form of chocolate croissants, Bloody Marys, French toast, all things “benedict,” and, surprisingly to me, salmon. Brooke is Jewish, and of the many differences we share (her killing my savior, etc.) the one that I was having the most trouble with was eating fish for breakfast. I was taught that fish were strictly dinner food. Maybe on the weekends you could eat fish sticks for lunch, but by and large if it came from the ocean you couldn’t partake until after 6:00. I imagine if my family was ever stranded on a desert island and my father caught a fish to cook for lunch my mother would suggest maybe coconut instead. Or perhaps a turkey sandwich, because I also don’t imagine my mom understanding how desert islands work. But never fish.



I haven't yet gotten around to presenting K. with the full-on Jewish breakfast experience (lox! coleslaw! kippered salmon! bialys! green tomato pickles!) although I have shamelessly angled for baking-Jew points by making garlic and poppy-seed bagels at home. But next time we're in Brooklyn, a trip to Russ & Daughters is on the list. Now if only someone else would pay for it...

Monday, March 05, 2007

missing you

Much to report, since, yeah, the PQ must of been having way too fun to post for, what, the past 2 weeks? Now that we're back up in the little upstate NY town that K. has rightly described as "the mouth of hell where the snow comes out", there should be plenty of time for recaps of the excellent cooking at Chestnut and 360, recipes for the mocha-whiskey cake and cider-braised pork that we fed to K's art school nevvie, and some culture-clapping for Julie Taymore's Magic Flute at the Met and MTT's Shostakovitch symphony at Carnegie Hall.

But right now, well, tut, tut, it looks like snow, so I'm going to leave the library (my sole source of Internet connection) and get home to make spanikopita and Greek salad before it dumps. More to follow!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Back in Civilization

Yay! We're back in Brooklyn, where the temperature's a balmy 27 and the residual curbside snow piles can be climbed easily even in high-heeled suede boots. K. and I blithely left our snowboots upstate, and so far, the sunny weather is as happy as can be.

Lucky for you, the wifi was down in the Syracuse airport on Thursday, otherwise you'd still be digging out of a mountain of hour-by-hour commentary on the hell that was JetBlue air travel that day. The flight: 45 minutes. The wait: 10+ hours. K. was sanguine, though, having been through much worse during the past year. "At least we're not carrying rockets," she pointed out, and I couldn't disagree.

But now we're here, and oh joy, I can walk to the supermarket, walk to the all-night diner on Smith St where we ended our traveling ordeal with 2am eggs and toast, walk to Chestnut, where we had our welcome-back dinner and where we got not only Daniel's off-the-menu grandma cooking (split pea soup with ham) but also the tasty leftovers from Wednesday's Valentine tasting menu, including smashing fresh Dungeness crab (rolled with cilantro and shredded red cabbage in translucent, Vietnamese-style rice-paper rolls) in tamarind-peanut sauce and a dessert lagniappe of four chocolates (meyer lemon, hazelnut, blueberry in white chocolate and meyer lemon again). The standout was the Turbodog special, spoon-soft short ribs braised in brawny Abita Turbodog ale, served over a rutabaga-potato mash with Satur Farms (Long Island) baby carrots (actual small carrots, that is, not the carved-up little supermarket fingers) and a dusting of horseradish.

B. and his pal Gaby stopped by for dessert, and we all slurped down cups of thick Mexican hot chocolate with freshly made, feathery light cinnamon-sugar churros. Churros became the topic du jour for a while; turns out a guy sells churros down in the bowels of the 6th Ave subway station, near the L train, according to Gaby. You can also get them at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Northern California's Coney Island.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ice Cream in Winter

Maybe because it's 15 degrees out there, with all-day every-day lake effect snow warnings on the radio every hour. Or maybe it's the sauna-hot temp of our steam-heated apartment. Whatever the reason, what I'm thinking about right now is...

Ice Cream! Specifically, the burnt-caramel ice cream being served up at the Bi Rite Creamery in San Francisco. The Bi-Rite Market, nearby, is one of the best places in my old neighborhood, a tiny but excellent gourmet market with everything you'd want to eat jammed into it, from organic blood oranges, Acme walnut levain bread, and Green & Red zinfandel to Scharffenberger chocolate mini-bars and fresh wild-caught salmon. And flowers, fancy booze, and loads of good juices and cool sodas. It also didn't hurt that it was right next door to my favorite restaurant and equidistant from Tartine Bakery and the Dolores Park Cafe.

Because I'm, like, old, I can still recall the pre-gourmet days of this stretch of 18th St, when Tartine was the danish-and-birthday-cake Carl's, and the rest of the businesses were junk shops, barber shops, and old-lady beauty parlors. On the corner was a dingy health-food restaurant called Real Good Karma, aka Real Bad Karma, because everyone had a really bad date/breakup story from that place. Across the street was Anna's Danish Butter Cookies, a 50-year-old place decked out with a cheery red-and-white striped awning. Yes, Anna was making from scratch the kind of cookies usually found only in pleated paper cups inside that big blue metal tin. You know, the grandma container, last filled with cookies in 1973, now a receptacle for old buttons, ball-point pen caps, and broken crayons in perpetuity.

But that was, oh, 1992 or so. You can't buy a beat-up Campbells Soup Kids commemorative bicentennial mug for 50 cents or a huge cherry danish waxed with squiggly white icing here anymore. My second San Francisco girlfriend no longer lives just up the street across from the huge cocktail glass sparkling with pink neon bubbles over the corner dive. The dive that advertised "Open at 6AM" on the sign outside, and actually was, the Sunday morning when we were getting a cab from a long Saturday night in SF General's emergency room, and the driver refused to make change from our single $20 bill. There was the dive, and yes, very early on a Sunday morning, they were open and willing to break a twenty for a woman wearing a leopard fake-fur coat, a black rubber halter top, and blue surgical booties. The same girlfriend who, when I finally had to cop to the fact that I was ditching her for a glamorous, if drunken, local Elvis impersonator, hissed miserably at me over mushroomy brown-rice slop at Real Good Karma. As Jen would say, small city, long life (see "like, old", above). But I digress.

So the sleepy, low-rent charm is gone, but it's still very much a neighborhood strip, at least during the day. And Bi-Rite now has an ice cream store! I haven't eaten there yet (although I'm heading there as soon as my California-bound plane touches down in mid-April) but word on the (Chowhound) street is already very thumbs up. We'll see; can Bi-Rite truly rival Paris's Berthillon in the satiny caramel ice cream taste test? Stay tuned, or tell me what you've eaten lately down on 18th St.

But sometimes I crave egg creams more than ice cream, and this place is making them:it's called the Soda Shop, owned by the guy behind Anglers and Writers and the Bespeckled Trout, both now-closed Village spots. The BT was a candy-shop-cum-soda-fountain in my old Hudson St West Village nabe. I wanted to like it, although as a business it didn't seem to have much going on; it was more a stage set for a olde-time candy store than a place where you could actually purchase things. I think I got one of their much-vaunted egg creams once; it wasn't memorable, except for the cranky lady who really didn't seem to want to be bothered to make it. But maybe they're doing better at this new location; if nothing else, the fabulously scavenged decor (black walnut paneling from the Plaza Hotel! Marble from old banks!) sounds worth a look.

What? You ask what is this egg cream of which I speak? According to E., it's an ice cream soda without the ice cream, aka completely pointless. But he's from California, a great place but not one that knows from egg creams. Egg creams, like bialys and black-and-white cookies, are a New York City thing. Chocolate syrup (traditionally, Fox's U-Bet), milk, and seltzer not poured from a plastic bottle but shpritzed in forcefully from the cartridge-loaded nozzle of a heavy glass soda siphon. It's sweet and chocolatey and fizzy, a little like a homemade Yoo-Hoo.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Chicken Soup for the Snowbound

Lake-effect snow: I know what this means now. What it means in this town is huge out-of-nowhere dumps of white, drifts higher than your head, cars slipping and sliding and nosing head first into the giant lumpy piles on the side of the road. We spent Sunday holed up in the apartment after one white-knuckled foray down the street to the gas-station store. Frozen pizza was our friend that night, as was the Sunday Times crossword.

But I was finally able to cook for real last night, using the blade on K's Leatherman tool to chop onions, garlic, parsnips, and carrots, whenever K. wasn't using it herself to put up shelves or do other useful tasks around the house following our afternoon in the lumber and screws aisles of Home Depot. The chopped veg and a couple of chicken thighs and drumsticks all simmered in the one beat-up enamel saucepan that I'd brought with me from the Old Country, meaning Brooklyn, to make a batch of cold-fighting Jewish pencillin, aka Matzoh-Ball Soup. Apple crisp in the oven, and toast and butter on the table. We were sated and happy, and somewhere, so is my round little Jewish grandma, whose own soup can never be surpassed.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Up in Snowland

There's a lot of snow in upstate New York at this time of year. White, gray, and dirty white are the colors of the landscape, and there's not much to do here except go to the mall. Farmland and dairy ranches are more profitable paved over and turned into sprawling parking lots for big-box stores and Dunkin Donuts.

But I'm so, so happy to be back with K. now. Even if she wakes up at 3am every night, ready to start her day on some spun-around circadian rhythm. We do crossword puzzles, make fun of Saveur magazine's "Saveur 100" list, eat pop tarts (well, she does, at least; I don't have an excuse) and toss the pillows around until it's time to nap again just before dawn. Thanks to some kind of market-researching as to What Do People Want in their chain-hotel room, everything in the room tells you what it is or what it does. The pillow cases are monogrammed "soft" or "firm"; the soap is imprinted with the word "cleanse"; the lotion and mouthwash are marked "soften" and "freshen", respectively. Good to know the verbs are earning their keep here.

This town is generally a restaurant wasteland; if you like fold-out laminated menus with glistening full-color photos of every dish, you're in the right place. But last night we trekked to a nearby town that's quainter and more historic, and ended up having the best food I've had in this area, including haddock with fresh spinach, sweet-potato cake, and red-pepper coulis and filet with bacony mashed potatoes and gorgonzola sauce.

And now, we have an apartment! Smaller than this hotel room, but our first together nonetheless. Off to Sally Ann's for plates and lamps...

Monday, January 29, 2007

on her way home

Yes, K. is coming home, in just a couple of days now. Unfortunately, some of the people she's spent her last year with won't be, at least not for another 4 or 5 months. It's bittersweet--we're both so happy that she's coming home after this long year, but it's also very sad to know that other people's family and friends won't be so lucky, because their kids/spouses/partners have been given orders to stay put until the summer.

Not much else to report--just wishing her luck on her 16+ hour flight home. Her warning: "I'm going to smell really bad when you see me." Mmm, sweat, diesel fuel, and a slept-in uniform....

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dolls and custard

Any minute now--okay, next week-- my life as Lonely Girlfriend of a Faraway Soldier will be officially over. Yippee! No longer will my 12-inch camo-clad Sgt. K. doll-- um, action figure-- have to pull girlfriend duty at dinner parties.

But speaking of action figures and parties, check out the fabulous wrestlers' wedding cupcake tower, made by vegan-punker cupcake queen Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I particularly like the topless wrester dudes positioned as both cupcake guards and flower girls. A thought for our own festivities after I get back from the farm...

Not much on the baking front these days, and I was sadly remiss on National Pie Day. I did cook that day, but only a caramel custard for the ladies of book club. I tried to explain how easy this dish is to make, but pal Diana, mother of four (including 2 7-month old twins) was having none of it. Especially when I mentioned the part about infusing the milk and cream with cinnamon sticks and orange rind.

That said, it IS really, really easy, and people are very impressed, always, thanks to the groovy caramel sauce that makes itself while the custard bakes. Plus, it requires only the most basic of fridge-and-pantry ingredients--just milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. The infusing is fun, but it's also perfectly tasty just made with a little vanilla extract.

Super Easy Creme Caramel, Flan, Whatever

3 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
1 cup sugar, divided
2 tsp vanilla (leave out if using vanilla bean, below, or use brandy or something fun like grand marnier, instead)

Optional flavoring things: orange rind, cinnamon stick, 1/4 cup whole coffee beans, or half a vanilla bean, split

If you're going to do the flavoring-with-whole-things deal, bring the milk and cream to a bare simmer (just until little bubbles form around the edges of the pan). Add flavoring (you could combine the orange and cinnamon, or cinnamon and coffee), remove from heat, and let steep for at least 1 hour. Bring back to a bare simmer again, then strain out solids. If using vanilla bean, scrape out tiny seeds into milk, then discard bean husk.

Preheat oven to 325 F. Place a large baking dish half-filled with hot water into the oven.

In a small, heavy pot, melt 1/2 cup sugar. Swirl and stir occasionally to make sure sugar melts evenly. Watch closely, and remove from heat as soon as sugar is completely melted and copper-penny colored. Watch out --the caramel is REALLY hot and will stick to and burn your skin in a really unpleasant manner. It will also start to thicken and harden as soon as you take it off the heat. So, using hot pads, pick up the pot and immediately pour sugar into a high-sided ceramic baking dish (like a souffle dish). Swirl around so caramel splashes an inch or so up the sides. Set aside. It will get glass-hard and glossy as it cools.

Beat eggs and yolks with remaining sugar. Slowly pour in milk mixture. If not using vanilla bean, add vanilla extract. Pour mixture through a strainer (this catches any milk "skin" or random lumps of eggy gunk) into caramel lined dish. Place in baking dish--water should come halfway up the sides of the dish. (This water bath, or bain-marie, keeps the eggs from getting rubbery, as they would if you baked them by regular direct heat.)

Bake for 45 or 50 minutes, until surface is gently jiggly and a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean. Remove from water bath and cool on a rack. When close to room temp, refrigerate for several hours until well chilled. (Warm custard is disgusting, in my opinion, but if you're into it, hey, jump in.)

To unmold--this is the cool part--find a dish big enough so that you'll have room for at least a one-inch moat of sauce around the custard. Run a butter knife around the edge of the custard to loosen it from the pan. Place the dish, top side in, over the pan. Holding pan and plate together, flip the pan and plate over. Custard should fall onto the plate, with caramel sauce oozing down to form a lovely lake all around.

Fill the empty dish with hot water while you're eating dessert and all the extra cooked sugar will float right off.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

snow!

Snow! Well, it's about time. Here we are, sitting around in Brooklyn while the rest of the country gets snow days and the National Guard towing their cars, thinking, hey, what are we? Chopped liver?

Just tiny little flurries right now, but it's nice to get a teeny taste of winter, at least.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Countdown

10 days and K. should be on a plane heading home! Of course, the only thing certain about the Army is that nothing's certain...and there is a lot of snow where she is these days, so it's not 100% sure that she'll be leaving on the day as planned. And it will probably take at least 2 days, maybe more, for her to get all the way back to the States once they leave. But every day crossed out on the calendar is one day closer to seeing her.

If all goes well, we'll be dividing our time (until I head out to the farm in mid-April) between Brooklyn and the little town way upstate where she'll be stationed for the next few months. Besides the bright lights of NYC, just going to the grocery store, having friends over for brunch, not being separated by a time-zone difference of 9 1/2 hours, not having to travel 6 hours+ to see each other (as we had to do before she left) on the weekends all seems very exciting... As does walking over to Chestnut or Brooklyn Fish Camp for dinner, or cooking fish, grits, and greens at home.

But right now, it's finally chilly out, and that means, cookies!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Duck Redux

So, where do the ducks -- or at least their legs-- go in January? After a mad rush to bake bread, tidy up the house, and roast the butternut squash, I hopped on the subway to the Union Square Greenmarket, all set to patronize the big stand that's always there, selling venison and pheasant and wild turkeys and yes, duck.

Except that it wasn't there. There were plenty of stands selling pastured lamb, bison, beef, and pork, but duck I had promised, and duck it would be. So back over to Brooklyn, to pop into Staubitz on Court St at 4pm, to a butcher who was not at all sure that they had any duck. Into the back he went as I eyed the rest of the meat case, thinking, well, who doesn't likes a nice roast chicken? Luckily, though, some 10 minutes later he emerged, holding aloft a package of 4 duck legs. "Just put this into a bowl of cool water, and they'll thaw out in about 40 minutes or so."

Ah, frozen duck. I hadn't counted on that. The Zuni recipe, as I remembered it, seemed to call for at least 2 1/2 hours in the oven, and I had no hors-d'oeuvres planned. Well, then. Into the kitchen and into the water with the sealed plastic packet of duck.

And into the oven with four sweet potatoes while some milk warmed on the stove, infused with a few branches of thyme and sage. As the duck thawed, I rapidly boiled down an entire bottle of cheap Chilean Merlot to 1/4 of its volume, spattering a fine purple mist all over the stove. In a big white pot on the other side of the stove was chicken stock in process--2 chicken legs, a chopped leek, a chopped carrot, some salt and another branch of thyme.

Trying to bisect a butternut squash without a huge cleaver means my knife inevitably gets stuck in the side of the squash like a bad outtake from The Sword in the Stone. Luckily, there is another option: just stick the whole thing in the oven!

Ha! Take that, sucker!

Poke it vigorously so the steam can get out, slip it onto a baking sheet (so the inner drool won't burn and smoke), and bake at 325F until soft, a long time. Remove from the oven, slash in half and let it cool. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the seeds and strings. Scrape out all the flesh and let it drain in a colander for a couple of hours. Put the chunks through a food mill to make a smooth puree. Slash your roasted sweet potatoes open and let cool, then do the same scrape and mill. Mix the purees together, then dribble in enough herb-scented milk (or cream) til you have a smooth and gently enriched puree. Add a knob of butter, salt and pepper to taste. Smooth into a baking dish and slip into the oven while the duck bakes, just enough to heat through. Of course, orange is always suitable with squash and sweet potatoes, but there was enough citrus going on in this menu, so I opted for winter herbs--thyme, sage, or rosemary--instead.

Then, the winter salad: julienned fennel, turnip, and endive, a mixture of three crunchy whites, scattered with pomegranate seeds and a handful of arugula, in a light dressing of wine wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, good green olive oil, and a drop of honey. Three bunches of collards rinsed, ribbed, rolled, and sliced into chiffonade, ready to be steam-sauteed in a ladleful of chicken stock, then tossed into hot garlicky, lemon-zested olive oil, spritzed with lemon juice just before serving.

But back to the duck. Not thawed through, but softened enough to separate, the duck legs were patted dry with paper towels, rubbed with a little salt (according to Zuni, the well-salted legs should have sitting in my fridge for two days by now, loosely covered and thinking their own thoughts, but nuts to that) and tossed, skin down, into a hot cast-iron skillet to hiss and brown on both sides.

Much fat rendered, the legs did get crisp and browned, just as promised. Then, pour off the fat into a spare coffee can (mmm, duck-fat home fries, anyone?) and swirl the boiled-down red wine into the pan. Replace the duck legs (fatty skin side up), tuck in 3 large onions, cut into wedges, a handful of whole garlic cloves, a dozen fat unpitted prunes, and a few slivers of orange peel. Add a cup of reduced chicken stock (start with 2 cups, then boil down to half its volume) over the top, then bring the whole thing to a simmer. Cover tightly, and pop into a 300-degree oven for about 40 minutes. The liquid should come halfway up the duck legs; add more chicken stock if needed.

Timing is completely dependent on your oven and the size of the duck legs. Mine were smallish, and my oven runs hot, so everything went faster than I expected. After 40 minutes or so, I uncovered the pan, flipped the legs over, and sloshed the prunes around. A little while later--maybe 30 minutes, more or less-- I uncovered the duck again, which now looked well-browned and shiny. 10 more minutes, uncovered, and the sauce reduced a bit and the duck got even better-looking. Out of the oven, onto a platter with the mostly cooked-down onion sludge and the plump prunes. The sauce went into my new gravy strainer, there to sit for a couple of minutes so all the fat could rise to the top. You definitely want to do this, gravy strainer or not, so you're not serving a sauce that's half straight-up duck fat.

So, finally, hot greens in a bowl, squash-potato puree in a dish, sauce in a pitcher, sliced polenta bread in a basket, and duck on a platter. A fine winter meal all around. And as usual, I completely forgot about the salad, until I was opening the fridge to get dessert. Whoops! So we had salad before dessert--not chocolate cake as I'd planned (too heavy and brown after the duck), but a buttery Meyer lemon pound cake, with a chilled compote of navel and blood orange slices, pomegranate seeds, a few tablespoons of Grand Marnier and a sprinkling of orange-flower water. Very good for breakfast, too.