I just dug a waist-high path to my grill. The inspiration: these grilled pork and pineapple tacos al pastor. I’m going to try them out in the freezing cold tonight. Wish me luck!
Okay, it’s official. I think I speak for everyone in the Northeast when I say we’re done with winter. Done with snow shoveling. Done with ice dams. Done with the wind and the freezing temperatures. Done with driving thru too-narrow streets and ripping the side-view mirror off my car. Done with arguing with college kids about parking. (This isn’t college math. There are six of you next door who are half my age. Go grab a shovel and dig out your own goddamn spots.) And we haven’t even gotten this weekend’s exciting freezing rain, yet, which will soak into all that snow like a sponge and collapse roofs and flood basements. Yay for arguments over insurance claims!
God, I can’t wait for spring. I’ve already placed my seed order for the school garden in anticipation. I even mapped out the whole rotation plan. Usually there is no plan. None at all. That’s how desperate I am to see some green.
And speaking of healthy food, it’s hard to get back on track with sensible eating during the winter doldrums, but here’s some salad inspiration anyway. You can make the dressing with that big jar of tahini in the back of the fridge that you bought to make hummus that time. This dressing really brightens up a winter salad and seems to make it heartier, which is something you need on these frigid days. Try it with mixed greens, some sliced cucumber, shredded carrots, a little chopped grilled chicken or pile of chicken salad, and some torn-up mint leaves or cilantro. You could even add some cubed avocado or sliced Asian pear.
The original recipe also called for 1 Tbsp. Asian chile oil, which I didn’t have, but I thought the dressing was plenty flavorful (and already had a decent kick) without it. Add back if you see fit.
1/4 cup tahini
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tsp. chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 tsp. sambal oelek or Sriracha
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine the tahini, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and sambal oelek in the bowl of a food processor. Puree until blended. With the machine on, slowly drizzle in the oil until incorporated. Transfer to a half-pint jar and season with salt and pepper.
I bumped today’s exciting salad post in favor of something sweeter. What can I say, Cupid wasn’t really feeling the greens. He tried to shoot a head of lettuce at my face with his bow, but it bounced right off.
Anyway, it’s snowing again here in Boston. Another day, another blizzard, and I’m going to need something more powerful than love to help me heave all of this snow over the existing 10-foot snow banks. Something that will give me the strength and agility to do so in subzero wind chills while simultaneously dodging all of those dagger-like icicles hanging from the rooflines.
So consider this toffee recipe my form of blizzard insurance. With any luck, it’ll get me out there and back inside in under three hours. That it might also pass for something Valentine-y is purely coincidental.
Sometimes I add 1/2 tsp. of vanilla to the toffee if I want a stronger, more butterscotchy flavor.
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Pinch or two of coarse sea salt
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, sugar, water, and salt. Stir constantly until the butter and sugar melt, and then stir occasionally until a candy thermometer reads 300°F. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture into an ungreased 13x9-inch pan.
Let the toffee sit undisturbed for 3 to 5 minutes until it stiffens a bit (don’t touch it with your fingers—it’s hot; you just want it stiff enough to hold the weight of the chocolate chips—set one on top and see if it sinks). Once the toffee has cooled a bit but still radiates heat, scatter the chocolate chips on top. Let them sit for 5 minutes to melt, and then spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee, all the way to the edges. Scatter the nuts on top, pressing gently to adhere. Sprinkle with sea salt. Let cool completely for several hours.
To remove the toffee from the pan, stab it with a butter knife near the corner to crack it and remove a piece. Continue to break off irregular pieces with your hands or remove the whole slab to a cutting board. Store the pieces in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
My fling started with a salad disguised as dessert (my favorite kind). It had ripe slices of persimmon, creamy burrata cheese, crunchy homemade sesame brittle, and pomegranate seeds over arugula, dressed with a maple-balsamic vinaigrette. It was very tasty (you can find the recipe from Food & Wine here). We've been eating the leftover pomegranate seeds ever since: just plain, with Greek yogurt, and sprinkled over the remaining burrata.
A few words about burrata. I didn’t have a full understanding of what this Italian cheese really was before I bought a container from Maplebrook Farm. I knew it was a soft, mild cheese, one that was vaguely mozzarella-like, but apparently I was confusing it with bocconcini, the little balls of fresh mozzarella. So I was surprised when I opened the container to find one large ball of mozzarella.
When I removed it from the container with a spoon, it seemed to quiver like a water balloon. I was perplexed, but I forged ahead. I placed the cheese on a board and cut right into it, which caused an explosion of cream and runny cheese curds to spray forth all over the counter, running down my kitchen cabinets. Turns out it was a water balloon! Just one made out of cheese and filled with creamy goodness. (If you’re as interested in how they make it as I was, check out the process here).
I learned three things from this experience. One, maybe ease up on the stabbiness when it comes to portioning out burrata (and do it over a shallow bowl to catch all the exploding cheese). Two, that I love burrata. And three, that I love burrata with pomegranate seeds. The tart, juicy pop of the seeds against the soft, milky curds is just wonderful. It would make a totally indulgent Valentine’s Day dessert that’s very fresh and not too sweet.
How to Seed a Pomegranate: If you look at a pomegranate, you’ll notice it has fat ridges that run from pole to pole like thick longitudinal lines. If you cut gently just through the skin down one of those long ridges, and then again down another one of the adjacent ridges, you can pull a wedge of mostly intact seeds out of the fruit. Then you can just loosen the seeds gently with your fingers, pulling out the thin white membranes that enclose them. I store the remaining fruit in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge until I need to cut another wedge. If you need a lot of seeds at once, it’s often more efficient to submerge the wedges in a bowl of water so you can move a little quicker without the seeds squirting juice all over you. Then you can drain off the water and scoop out the seeds.
Wait, where am I? Do I have a blog? Oh yeah!
Sorry about the uncharacteristic absence. It's just that I’ve been very focused on this new book. I can be a little obsessive at times, don’t know if you’ve noticed. Once I get involved in a project, I don’t want to do anything else. But then the kids get hungry, so I have to stop and fix something. And then right when I get going again, my bladder refuses to hold on for just one more second, even though I’ve only been holding it for the past 3 hours, come ON, so then I have to get up. And then everyone’s hungry again. And then the peeing. And then I accidentally fall asleep on the toilet. Those are the highlights anyway.
As far as blog-worthy material, what can I say, I’ve got nothing. I made some excellent clam chowder last night, but I already posted that recipe. Husband made his amazing blueberry pancakes for dinner the night before that, but I’ve posted that recipe, too. Before that, it was chicken noodle soup all week for the little one with the flu. Again, already posted. You know what? Maybe it’s time to revisit some of those favorite recipes, especially because all three go so well with blizzard conditions.
Stay warm and safe, everybody. See you on the other side of the Blizzard of 2015.
Our friend B is from Albuquerque, New Mexico. That means not only does he recognize all of the landmarks in Breaking Bad, but he also makes a mean posole. He makes this spicy pork and hominy stew every year for the holiday caroling party that he and his wife host, and every year they have to tear me away from the crock, even the times when it’s so spicy that my eyes burn and turn bloodshot and I break out into hives. I may look like a meth addict, but, fear not, it’s just a pepper problem. Half of my taste buds say yes, and the other half (along with my entire immune system) say nooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
This is my toned-down gringo version of posole. It has all the authenticity of the traditional dish with none of the pain. I add half of the pepper paste in the beginning of the cooking time. Later, I taste and tailor how much more I add at the end depending on how potent my particular peppers are. Then I serve more pepper paste at the table for people to customize their own bowls. Feel free to increase the peppers even more if you enjoy the sensation of a thousand Africanized bees attacking your face.
Hominy is a type of hard-kernel white or yellow corn that is precooked in an alkaline solution to remove the hull. The resulting kernels swell up to the size of garbanzo beans and they're equally tender. They add a mild, tortilla-like flavor to the stew. You can buy hominy in cans (Goya is one brand) in the ethnic section of the grocery store. You can also buy it frozen or dried. If dried, you will need to soak it overnight and expect a longer cooking time.
8-10 dried New Mexico chiles (look for big bags in the ethnic aisle of the store)
2-4 cups hot water
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 lb. pork shoulder (with or without bone)
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
3 cups chicken stock (or two cups plus one cup of beer)
1 bay leaf
1 29-oz. can hominy, strained and rinsed
Salt and black pepper to taste
Diced avocado, fresh cilantro, and sour cream for topping
(Other options: shredded cabbage, sliced radishes)
Place the dried chiles in a large bowl and cover them with hot water. Set a small plate on top to weigh them down if necessary. Let them soak 15-20 minutes until softened.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large Dutch oven. Dry off the pork shoulder with paper towels and season it with plenty of salt and pepper. Brown the pork on all sides over medium-high heat, letting it sit on one side without moving until browned, then repeat on the next side, then the next, etc.
While the pork is browning, remove the peppers from the soaking water (reserve the water). Pull off the stems and remove most of the seeds from the hot peppers. Be careful not to touch your eyes or any other sensitive areas with your hands while working with hot peppers. You only have to learn that lesson once. Add the peppers to a blender and pour in enough of the soaking water to allow the mechanism to puree the mixture smoothly. You want a fluid reddish-brown slurry with no chunks. Pour the pepper mixture into a small bowl and set aside.
Remove the pork from the pot and place it on a large plate. Reduce the heat to medium and immediately add the chopped onion. Sauté until the onions are translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cumin and oregano and stir briefly. Then add the chicken stock (and beer, if you like). Drop in the bay leaf. Stir in about half of the hot pepper paste. Add the pork and its juices back to the pot and increase the heat. Add enough of the reserved pepper soaking water that the cooking liquid comes halfway up the side of the meat. Reserve the rest of the soaking water in case you need to add more later. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a low simmer. Cook until tender, turning the meat occasionally, for about 3 hours.
Add the hominy and continue to simmer, uncovered, for another hour or until the pork is practically falling apart. Remove the bay leaf. Transfer the pork to a cutting board and pull it apart into bite-sized chunks. Return the meat to the pot. Taste to determine if it needs more pepper paste. Add as much as you want, reserving some for the table. If the broth is too thick, you can thin it with some of the pepper soaking water. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the stew with the toppings of your choice. I like cilantro, diced avocado, and maybe a bit of sour cream.
[To make this dish in a crockpot, you can brown the meat on the stovetop (or skip that part). When you get to the fourth paragraph, just add all of the ingredients to the slow cooker. Cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions, adding the hominy during the last hour or two of cooking. Pick up at the fifth paragraph where it says: Remove the bay leaf.]
One of my New Year's resolutions for 2014 was to write another book. Obviously that didn't happen or else you would have heard ALL about it, I'm sure. But I did manage to write two book proposals over the course of the year, and one of them just went under contract in December. I'm not sure if that still counts, technically, since the book isn't done, but I did write the first sentence before the ball dropped on 2015. I didn't say I'd "finish" a book in 2014, I just said I'd "write" one. What percentage was to be written, I wisely never specified. (My case is still under review by the International Resolutions Board.)
Consequently, my resolution for 2015 is to finish what I started, bookwise. Well, that and keeping on top of the laundry situation better so we don't end up with an entire mountain range composed of clean-but-still-unfolded laundry. I'm optimistic about my first resolution, less so about the second if history is any indication. Though now that I'm rationing out episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee to be watched only when folding laundry, there might be hope. That is, until the episode ends and I look down to see my progress and find just one lone sock neatly folded without its match.
Anyway, this new book is a dramatic departure from my last project. It's not about food at all, or at least not much. Sometimes a girl needs to step away from the food for a few minutes so she can crumple into a weepy heap and then come crawling back with a renewed sense of purpose. I've always enjoyed puzzles. Long-time readers may remember a cute little sparrow that was hanging around these parts some years ago with his pithy word games. Well, codeSparrow is finally going to have his own puzzle book featuring the funniest folks on Twitter. His cryptograms are projected to be the next puzzle craze to sweep the nation. They're the word nerd's answer to sudoku. At least that's what all the sparrows are saying. Blue jays scoff at that assertion, but what do blue jays know? They're the trolls of the bird world. Nobody listens to them.
The book will contain hundreds of secret codes to be cracked. Your job: to prove that the internet hasn't turned your gray matter into mush by solving the puzzles. Hack the comedic stylings of social media sensations Tim Siedell (@badbanana), Jason Sweeney (@sween), Alice Bradley (@finslippy), and many others, including stand-up comedians, authors, behind-the-scenes TV writers, as well as my favorite everyday funny people. Maybe you! These are not your typical newspaper cryptograms. These solutions will actually make you laugh out loud. And by that I mean audible sounds of unbridled mirth. None of this silent LOL crap.
codeSparrow can't wait to get started. He's been pooping on everybody's car all month in anticipation. The book is expected to be released in late 2015. codeSparrow has asked that all bird feeders remain fully stocked between now and then.
It's Christmas Eve! Also known as the time you finally remember all the people you forgot to buy gifts for!
Wow, that many? You're almost as disorganized as me!
Well, don't fret. And don't even think about going to the mall at this point in the pouring rain. Are you totally out of your mind? That's the single fastest way to lose all of your holiday cheer. Instead, rummage around in your cupboard and find some chocolate, preferably bittersweet. Do you have any dried fruit, like cranberries or apricots? What about nuts? Bacon? Do you have bacon? Of course you do.
Now get cracking on some holiday bark. The process is simple. Melt some chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Stir in some mix-ins, reserving some for the top. Spread the mixture thinly on a parchment- or foil-lined pan, and then sprinkle with more goodies and maybe even some sea salt on top. Let the chocolate slab cool and harden in the fridge, then break it into asymmetrical pieces. Put some in little baggies and slap on a few bows. There.
Christmas is served!
Deborah Madison has a great recipe for apricot, pistachio, and cardamom bark I make every year. She also recommends trying it with dried figs and fennel seed, which I'm trying next time. There's the white chocolate, dried cranberry, and almond version you can find in my book on p. 125. Feel free to sub in pistachios for the almonds if you want the whole red and green thing going on. And then there's the new version of chocolate bark I made up this year with candied bacon with hazelnuts.
Bacon in your chocolate? You bet!
Happy holidays, everyone!
Dark Chocolate Bark with Candied Bacon and Hazelnuts
If you don't have any chocolate, you can just make the candied bacon all by itself. It is absolutely delicious, especially dipped in Nutella, which I learned from TeenNiece. Quadruple the amount of bacon and brown sugar in that case.
5 slices high-quality bacon
3-4 Tbsp. light brown sugar
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (35-60% cacao)
1/3 cup blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lined a rimmed sheet pan with foil. Set the bacon on the pan about an inch apart. Sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of brown sugar. Place in the oven for about 10 minutes. Flip the bacon with tongs and sprinkle remaining brown sugar on top. Bake for 5-10 minutes more until the bacon is cooked and taking on some toasty color, but isn't burned (some of the sugar that melts off the bacon may burn on the foil, which won't hurt anything except maybe your pride, but you don't want the bacon itself to burn). Remove the bacon to a plate where it will crisp as it cools. In about 10 minutes, snap the bacon into small pieces.
Line another pan with foil or parchment paper. Bring an inch of water to a simmer in a small pot. Chop the chocolate into small pieces with a sharp knife and slide them into a metal bowl large enough to easily sit on top of the pot of water. Set the bowl over the pot and stir the chocolate until it is completely melted and smooth. Remove the chocolate from the pot and wipe the condensation from the bottom of the bowl with a dishtowel. Stir in a little over half of the bacon and hazelnut fragments. Spread the mixture in a thin layer on the prepared pan. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining bacon and hazelnuts, as well as a few pinches of sea salt. Refrigerate until hard, at least an hour. Break the slab of chocolate into pieces.
Bacon: Chestnut Farms, Hardwick, MA
God, I love those things. I remember pocketing more than one at a time as a kid—a secret, bonus dessert on my way out. You don't really see them much anymore, though locals will note that the Chateau in Waltham still has them, individually wrapped instead of in an open, shallow bowl as in the days of old.
I recently came across a recipe for homemade buttermints in the latest issue of Organic Gardening magazine, and I was all, wait a minute, you can make them yourself? Apparently I was holding on to the childhood notion that they were made by fairies in some mystical realm, that these were something mere mortals could never achieve. Luckily (and dangerously) for me, they are easily achievable, and I had all four ingredients in the house.
The flavor of these buttermints is spot-on, but the texture is a little different than what I remember. Even though the technique involves setting the mints out to dry overnight, mine never got hard and chalky. They tasted like little bits of peppermint frosting that had crisped delicately on the outside, but stayed soft on the inside. They literally melt in your mouth. I guess if you left them out in the open air long enough, they would harden eventually. I tried to do an experiment to see how long it would take for them to harden fully, but I kept eating all the experimental ones. And then all the controls. (My scientific method has some flaws.)
You can tint these whatever hideous colors your heart desires with drops of food coloring, but I like mine the color of butter.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
4 cups confectioner's sugar
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract, plus a few extra drops to taste
Line two large baking sheets with waxed paper. In a large mixing bowl, whip the butter with an electric mixer until creamy. Blend in the confectioner's sugar 1 cup at a time on low, adding the cream and peppermint extract with the last cup of sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, increase the speed, and whip until well mixed. Taste and adjust the flavoring if you like.
Dust the counter with confectioner's sugar. Divide the dough into golf-ball-sized pieces and roll each ball into a long rope about 1/2-inch thick. Use a sharp knife or a bench scraper to cut the rope into small pillows. Transfer the mints to the baking sheets. Let the mints dry in a cool, dry place overnight. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 200 mints.
Boy, is time getting away from me these days. I blame the piano. I'm supposed to be holiday shopping and planning the school bake sale on Friday, but instead I'm trying to learn Vince Guaraldi's Christmas repertoire on the piano. Needless to say, things are not going well in any of these departments. *Cue wistful Charlie Brown music played by someone who's not me
So instead, I thought I'd share with you a list of Christmas ideas for the food-lover, the food-lover in question being me, mostly. But perhaps there might be some overlap with you. Could happen. Here are a few awesome gifts one might like to find under (or on) the tree this year:
1. Morel Mushroom Ornaments: I want you all to focus on the sheer awesomeness of finding one or more morel mushrooms hanging on your Christmas tree quite by surprise. Huzzah! It's not even mushroom season! Let's put aside the hefty $16 price tag for a minute and take a look at the detail. They look like actual morels. See? These ornaments are totally blowing my mind right now. What's that, Internet, you don't want any fungus hanging from your Christmas tree? Well, I don't even know what to say to you anymore.
2. Whisk Necklace: I'm not really into jewelry, but the simplicity of this silver whisk on a chain really spoke to me. It also strikes me as handy to always have a tiny whisk on your person because you never know when you might need to whip up a tiny batch of vinaigrette.
3. Pig Shirt: Somebody needs to be wearing this T-shirt right now. Is it you?
4. Pie Box: This is just a good practical gift. I recently got one for my birthday and it enables me to not smash every pie dish I own while transporting my desserts all over creation. Everything is good and protected and stackable. I do wish the box was maybe an inch taller for the deep-dish pies with the domed tops, but that's a modification for Pie Box 2.0.
One last reminder: my book is still awaiting a place on some of your kitchen counters. Don't let another holiday season pass you by without checking it off your list. You can purchase it at Amazon - B&N - and many indie bookstores. Thanks again for your support.
Last week I bought a piano. It was a bit of an impulse purchase. By that I mean I agonized over whether to buy it for a period of weeks rather than months/years. An 800-pound instrument is maybe not the best thing to buy on a whim, I admit, especially when you live on a steep ledge passable only by Sherpas, but you don't get to choose the form of your midlife crisis. Some people buy fancy cars, some people buy 100-year-old pianos off of Craig's List. (Husband wishes that, just once, I could end up in the regular category of person.)
The 9YO is the piano player in the house. He's been taking lessons for more than two years and has a real knack for it. He practices at home on a keyboard, which is fun but has its limitations. Lately, I've been playing, too. My doctor thought it might help with some of the memory problems I've been having. Retrain your brain and all that. I haven't noticed much improvement, but I'm having fun and it's amazing how my fingers can remember where the notes are even when my mind doesn't.
I started trolling the free piano listings months ago, fantasizing about owning our own, but it turns out that most free pianos don't sound very good. Some keys might not work, or they stick, or the whole piano is so out of tune you can't even imagine that it's tunable. And then free pianos aren't really free. You still have to pay to move them. You don't want to pay hundreds of dollars to move what could turn out to be a gigantic piece of crap.
This is when I was supposed to dismiss the whole idea as ludicrously impractical. But then I saw a listing for a piano for sale in the next town over, and practicality went out the window. The piano was the old upright style I like, simple but classy. It would look perfect in our living room. The price was reasonable. Not free, but still a bargain. The only question was how it sounded. The 9YO and I went over to try it out one night and we fell in love immediately. Well, "in love" is maybe overstating the 9YO's reaction. He smiled, but that's really something coming from him. I was the one in love. The tone, the look, the feel, everything was just right. And, as we all know, once I fall in love with something, it's nearly impossible to talk me out of it.
Here's a photo from my perspective, looking down from the front door, wringing my hands with worry as the piano movers wrestled that monstrosity out of the truck, into Wednesday's pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm, and up the 31 stairs to our house in the treetops. I'm not a religious person, but I might have said a little prayer on their behalf. Then I pounded a shot of tequila as soon as they left to calm my jangled nerves. I don't think that piano's going anywhere for a while. Luckily, the 9YO hasn't stopped playing it since it arrived.
I hope the folks at Allegro Piano Movers had extra pie at Thanksgiving because they really deserved it.
I hope everyone had a great long holiday weekend. Above is the 40-pound turkey we had for Thanksgiving. I didn't know turkeys came that big. I only just woke up yesterday from all the tryptophan. Many thanks to the Ms for being the hosts with the mosts.
Now that the holiday shopping season is officially upon us, here are a few local holiday-themed events coming up where I'll be signing books:
Concord Museum, Monday, 12/1, 5:30-7:30pm: That's tonight, folks. The Concord Museum is opening up its gift shop to give you first dibs on their unique selection of gifts, including jewelry, ornaments, books, and accessories. Refreshments will be served, and I'll be signing books and serving samples from WINTERSWEET. Gift-wrapping is included.
Well Within Holiday Sip & Shop, Sunday, 12/7, 7pm: For folks in Newton and the surrounding area, come support local women in business at Well Within's holiday shopping fête. For sale will be massage gift certificates, handmade soaps and candles, Stella & Dot jewelry and accessories, Indian-spiced chocolates, prints by local photographer Rachael DuMoulin, and signed copies of WINTERSWEET by a certain local author. Enjoy lots of tasty treats and raffle prizes, too. Conveniently located near the Newtonville Whole Foods. For more information, click here.
Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Wednesday, 12/10, 6-7:30pm: Worcester peeps, come on out for a pie-making demonstration by you-know-who with a very special guest assistant, my dad. You'll also have the chance to wander around the beautiful indoor conservatories and outdoor winter gardens lit up with 12 miles of lights, as well as do some holiday shopping in their lovely gift shop. If you've never been to Tower Hill, it's amazing in all seasons. The pie-making demo is included with the price of admission. For more information, click here.
Make a dent in your holiday shopping while simultaneously supporting the work of these great local institutions preserving history, art, and horticulture. Thanks!
Every time I get a request to give a lecture or demonstration to promote my cookbook, I die a little inside. It's not that I don't want to talk about my book—I love my book! It just means I have to contend with one of my more troublesome personal demons: my terror of public-speaking.
Somehow I manage to force a smile and say, yes, of course, I’d be happy to stand up in front of dozens of complete strangers and try desperately to win them over with my disputable charms. Then I try to plot a way to be out of the country that day. It never works out.
During the past year, certain patterns have emerged in terms of how I prepare for my execution these types of events. Here’s the basic low-down:
1. STAY OUT OF THE WOODS
A month before the dreaded talk, I start limiting my trips to the woods so I don’t end up with poison ivy all over my face again. (Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, WTF? Fool me thrice, well, I haven’t thought up a suitable punishment for myself yet, so let’s hope that doesn’t happen.) While it would definitely be a unique character-building experience to give a presentation with my face cracking open and oozing mysterious liquids, this is not exactly a recipe for booming cookbook sales.
2. WRITE MY SPEECH
A week or so before the event, I start typing up the whole talk word for word. Notes are probably a better practice, but I’ve found that I need to have the whole script in my hand like a safety blanket just in case my mind goes totally blank. Which it can and will. In that case, I need a full sentence to fall back on, and I never know which sentence I’m going to need. Best to have them all at the ready just in case. With enough practice, I don’t need to refer to the script much at all, but I still need to have it in my hand to keep the panic at bay. (I also have notes in my phone in case I lose my script.)
3. FIND SUITABLE CLOTHING
Several days beforehand, I make sure I have a complete outfit ready and try it on. I don’t dress up very often, so this is harder than it sounds. I’m always missing something obvious, like shoes, and I need time to make a hasty, frantic shopping trip. Normally I don’t give a crap about what I’m wearing (hello, jeans that I’ve worn three days in a row), but if I look like an idiot, I’m going to feel like an idiot. And I don’t want to feel like an idiot right out of the gate.
For several days, I practice my talk in front of a mirror to make sure my written words flow naturally when spoken. They never do. I rewrite sentences and entire sections as needed and try not to panic. Then I time myself to make sure the talk fits within the expected parameters. People have suggested that I practice my talks in front of a few supportive friends. I don’t do that. The only thing more horrifying to me than getting up and speaking in front of a bunch of strangers is getting up and speaking in front of people I know.
The day before the event, I go to the gym. I plan a hard workout, but no so hard that I’m incapacitated the next day. Just enough to exhaust me to the point where I don’t have enough energy to rile myself up into a manic frenzy.
I make sure I have a printout of the directions to the venue in my purse. I usually use my phone’s navigation system to get there, but never underestimate the many ways your phone can betray you, including running out of charge halfway there when you forgot to bring the cord. Punctuality is not my strong suit, but in this case, I make an exception.
The night before the event, I make sure to get a good night’s sleep. I am a rare breed of person in that I can fall asleep under almost any circumstance. My Circadian rhythms are so deeply ingrained, even abject fear can’t interrupt them. This may be the one thing I have going for me. I also check my clock about 25 times to be sure the alarm is set to a.m., not p.m.
8. POWER POSE
The morning of the talk, I take a shower, eat breakfast, check the traffic, get dressed, and then strike a Power Pose. You can learn more about this concept here, but basically it involves standing in a Wonder Woman-like stance: hands on hips, feet shoulder length apart, head high. The idea is that if you look confident and powerful, you eventually start to feel that way, too. Sounds kooky, I know, but whatever will keep me from vomiting all over myself is fine by me. (Wearing my Wonder Woman underroos under my presentation outfit also helps.)
Once I get the car all packed up with what I need (cases of books, business cards, speech, baked good samples, napkins, toothpicks, rubber gloves, boxes of cooking equipment, signs, pens, water, phone, directions, SPEECH), it’s time to fill up the gas tank and hit the road. Once I’m on the highway, I turn on my music LOUD. Then I start singing. Actually, it’s more like shouting than singing. It’s shout-singing. I don't shout-sing loud enough to actually lose my voice, but loud enough to release a lot of the psychological pressure I'm feeling while also getting some practice projecting. I don’t have a very strong voice normally so this works well to get my vocal chords properly primed. I’m sure it looks completely ridiculous to any passengers riding by who might happen to notice me. I’ve seen kids with their hands and faces pressed against the back windows of their cars, necks craned in my direction. Nothing to do but wave.
10. BATHROOM BREAK
Ideally, I’ve gotten to my destination with plenty of time to spare so that I can chat “leisurely” with my host and set things up “calmly,” all while mentally trying to talk myself out of a nervous breakdown. During this period, I visit the bathroom a ridiculous number of times. No, I’m not snorting cocaine in there. Anxiety renders my bladder unable to hold even a milliliter of water. And yet anxiety also makes me incredibly thirsty. See 11.
11. GET WATER
Water is not only a refreshing thirst-quencher, but also a way to pause during a talk to catch my breath, gather my thoughts, and generally get a grip if nerves are getting the best of me. Maybe you might prefer coffee, or Scotch, but water is my drink of choice. A few sips here and there have saved me. Not too much, though. See 10.
12. REVIEW NOTES
By now, I’ve already exhausted how much time I can hide in the bathroom, and subsequently I’m standing at the makeshift dais as people are filtering in for the talk. Sure, I have my script, I’m looking at it, I might even be seeing some of the words, but really what I’m doing is trying to breath calmly, smile at people once in a while to assure the audience and myself that it will all be over soon, but not so wide that they think I’m a serial killer in a dress. Then the host will indicate we’re ready to start and that’s where the adrenaline kicks in and I don’t remember anything else that happens after that.
Needless to say, after all this hand-wringing and preparation, I'm grateful when people actually buy my book!
This Anglo-Indian beef stir-fry is a good dish to know: a quick sauté of shaved sirloin and sliced onions flavored with apple cider vinegar and turmeric. I like to serve it over rice with a side of aloo gobi (Indian-spiced cauliflower and potatoes). I have it on good authority that this stir-fry is also good with leftover, reheated Five Guys fries. (Never mind who told me, a journalist never reveals her sources.)
This recipe is an especially good use for grass-fed steak. I love my meat CSA, but I've had a tough time adapting to grass-fed steak, I'll be honest. The flavor is great and I know pasture is better for the cows, but the texture of the meat can be so chewy sometimes. It instantly activates my TMJ causing horrible popping and grinding noises to emanate from my face like some kind of rock tumbler wearing away at the joint's protective cartilage and polishing my jaw bones to a smooth, painful shine. Such is my commitment to sustainable meat.
But when you shave beef very thinly across the bias, there's not enough muscle depth to tense up appreciably. And then if you marinate those slices in something acidic, like vinegar, that helps break down the muscle fibers further. The result is tender, tasty meat in less than 20 minutes. It's a meal my whole family loves.
Other tricks for tenderizing super-lean grass-fed beef:
This recipe evolved as a fusion between Indian and British colonial influences. Though I tend to serve the meat over rice, it's more traditionally eaten with crispy potato wedges and ketchup.
1 pound beef sirloin or other tender cut of beef, sliced very thinly against grain
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. turmeric
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
1½ Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
Cayenne pepper to taste
In a shallow bowl, rub the beef slices with the vinegar, salt, and turmeric. Set aside to marinate while preparing the other ingredients.
Heat the oil in a large skillet until hot. Fry the onion and ginger until slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add the cayenne and then the marinated beef. Stir-fry over high heat until cooked but still tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Source: Adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate
Talk about dramatic. I mean, it's just a bunch of Brussels sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, blue cheese, walnuts, herbs, and some kind of weirdo healthy looking whole grain also known as farro. What's not to like?
The kids have suggested that I just copy and paste all of the above ingredients into this next paragraph to save time. They don't like any of it. Or so they say.
But you have to give credit where credit is due—they did eat it. The mountain of Halloween candy is very compelling and easily visible from the kitchen table.
Last I checked, we're all still alive.
This is the kind of dish you either love or hate. You know who you are.
1 cup farro
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
2 oz. walnut halves
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 Tbsp. minced shallot
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar (or balsamic)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Boil the farro in salted water for 15 to 20 minutes until tender but still al dente (this may take longer for some varieties of farro). Drain and set aside in a large bowl.
Meanwhile, roast the Brussels sprouts and shiitakes in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, stirring every ten minutes or so. I keep them on two different sides of the pan, taking the mushrooms out after about 20 minutes and letting the Brussels sprouts go a little longer until they're done, 10-25 minutes more depending on their size. Add the mushrooms and Brussels sprouts to the bowl of farro.
Stir in the walnuts, herbs, and blue cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk the shallot, vinegar, and oil together and fold into the salad. Taste and add more salt as needed. Don't be stingy with the salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Brussels sprouts: Wilson Farms, Lexington, MA
Herbs: School garden, Waltham, MA
Cheese: Great Hill Blue, Marion, MA
Shallot: Waltham Fields Community Farm, Waltham, MA
Here's my advice: stay inside and make something warm, sweet, and cozy. If that sounds good, click on over to Baking a Moment where Allie featured my recipe for apple walnut bread pudding with cinnamon-cider sauce from a book you may have heard of. It's just the thing for a day like today: not too hard to throw together, and it makes the house smell amazing. I'd also like to thank Kylie at Portland's The Baking Bird for featuring WINTERSWEET in her Fall 2014 Cookbook Preview. Go check out these awesome bloggers and get some recipe ideas while you're there.
Local folks, take note, I'll be at the Waltham Farmer's Market this Saturday 11/8 signing books and giving out free samples from 9:30 am to 2 pm. It's the last outdoor market of the season, so be sure to stock up on local storage vegetables and apples. The market has moved this year from its usual location at Moody St. and Main to 119 School St. There's parking in the back. Hope to see you there!
(The apples pictured above are, from left to right, Cox's Orange Pippin, Rhode Island Greening, and Ida Red from Autumn Hills Orchard in Groton, MA.)
I received a huge quantity of quinces a few weeks ago from the Quince Lady (who I wrote about in my cookbook). This was great news because homemade quince paste is one of my most favorite things to eat in the whole wide world. I'm always raving about it to anyone who will listen (proof: my gushing quince segment on NPR's All Things Considered).
After cooking up a new batch of unbelievably good quince paste, I was casting about trying to decide what to do with the remaining quinces. I settled on a tarte tatin, a French fruit tart traditionally made with apples and cooked upside-down in a skillet. After baking, you flip it over to reveal an open-faced pie with the crust on the bottom and glossy, caramelized fruit on top.
These particular ornamental quinces are extremely tart, and require vast amounts of sugar you can't even imagine. Mountains of sugar. So I went ahead and cooked everything down in a cast iron skillet, letting it simmer low and slow until the fruits took on a rosy tint which eventually deepened to the color of black cherries. I even made my own puff pastry for the occasion, laying it on top, tucking in the edges, and baking it until golden-brown with the juices bubbling thickly around the sides.
When it cooled down enough, I flipped it onto a plate. It was beautiful. I took a few pictures and then I cut a small piece from the edge. But the first bite was terrible. It tasted strangely bitter and metallic. I used the same proportions of sugar to fruit as I had for the quince paste, and yet the result was radically different. It should taste good, I insisted, so I kept tasting. And tasting. But it never got any better. Something was wrong. I threw it all in the trash.
I was disappointed and perplexed, but that's how experiments go sometimes. Hours later when I walked into the bathroom, I froze when I saw my reflection. My teeth were blue. You know how sometimes when you're at a party with red wine, you'll notice that some people's teeth and lips are a little purply. It was like that, only five times worse. I dropped whatever I was holding right onto the floor. Without breaking eye contact with my hideous reflection—lips peeled back and frozen into a skeletal grimace—I fumbled around for my toothbrush and toothpaste, praying this wasn't a permanent condition. It wasn't just a couple of teeth, it was ALL of my teeth, top and bottom. It reminded me of the time my sister attempted to dye her dark brown hair blond in junior high and it turned out alien-green, requiring an emergency trip to the hair salon.
Luckily, thanks to the magic of baking soda and/or my frantic brushing, it all came off. Later on, when I was washing the dishes, I noticed that the "pre-seasoned coating" on my newish cast iron pan had corroded away on the bottom and partway up the sides of the pan. Normally, I prefer to season my cast iron with years of bacon fat and love, but I needed that size pan on that particular day and all the store had was one with some kind of shiny coating. I bought it against my better judgment. My hypothesis is that the acidity of the quinces caused the coating to dissolve right off the pan and into my tart. And presumably also into my digestive tract (ain't nothing gonna be sticking in there for a while, I can tell you that).
No wonder it tasted so godawful!
Now I look at that photo of my pie with entirely different eyes. As Husband remarked, it looks kinda creepy. Like it's covered in assorted blood clots and small organs. Husband watches too much Walking Dead, but, nevertheless, that's exactly what it tasted like. Platelets. Vampires, take note.
So, no, I won't be sharing any recipes today. I'll stick to quince paste, thank you very much. If you want a bloody pie, blue teeth, and a non-stick colon for Halloween, you'll just have to go about it some other way.
This year's school garden saw a mix of success and failure. Many things thrived. The herbs flourished. The sungold tomatoes produced well. The nasturtiums blossomed all summer long. We had at least five pumpkins, though a couple were found smashed open. There were a wide variety of plants that we successfully started from seed. But it soon became clear that at least one deer family made the garden its primary food source for the summer. Here's what I learned.
Things Deer Love
Apple trees: leaves and bark
Cherry trees: leaves and bark (and fruit)
Strawberry plants: everything but the stems
Swiss chard: ditto
Green beans: ditto (with a strong preference for haricot verts)
Sweet potato leaves
Melon plant leaves
Pumpkin plant leaves
FYI, it's hard for a plant to grow without leaves.
Things Deer Don't Seem to Care For
Tomato plants, thank god
Herbs of any kind
The biggest tragedy was the plight of the apple trees. I had dug several deep holes and planted the rootstock, then lugged five gallon buckets of water over to their location every week all summer long because the hose didn't reach. They seemed to be thriving. Then I went to water them one day and found that all the leaves were stripped off and a lot of the bark. I strung up strong-smelling dryer sheets to dissuade the deer, changing the scent every few weeks to throw them off. A couple of leaves grew back, spotty and discolored, but then the deer came back and ate those, too. Both trees promptly died. It was heart-breaking after all that work.
Now I understand what I'm dealing with. I have to somehow learn to coexist with these eating machines. I have a few ideas, starting with this hoop-like structure with poultry netting that I built for what will be next year's greens bed.
Any other ideas are most welcome!
Remember how much I hated black walnuts, the wild relatives of regular English walnuts? And how I couldn't imagine anyone putting such a strong, weird flavor into dessert?
Well, look what I did: I turned them into dessert!
Don't blame me, blame the library sale. Last weekend, I grabbed my newly acquired copy of The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking, opened it up, and this was the first thing I saw:
I had planned to make dinner, but instead I made cake. I mean, just look at that recipe headnote. A more enthusiastic endorsement I can't imagine (especially considering that all the other desserts in the book sounded a lot more delicious).
My family was away on an overnight, so there was no one around to stop me from stirring a bunch of funky nuts into an otherwise perfectly acceptable cake batter. The recipe called for baking the cake in two layers and frosting the whole thing with boiled icing. The cynic in me was still convinced that this concept couldn't possibly work for a nut that tastes like the inside of a toolbox, so it was just a question of how far I wanted to take this little adventure. Not as far as frosting, apparently. Instead, I baked the cake in a loaf pan figuring if things turned out badly, I could always try to pass it off as some kind of (disgusting) savory nut bread.
I was very skeptical, my friends. Verrrry skeptical. But you know what? It's actually really good. I've been eating this cake for breakfast all week.
I was wandering around the local library the other day following signs for a book sale. When I finally found it, the woman at the table was apologetic: it was the last day and pretty picked over. She seemed worried I wouldn't be able to find anything I'd like. But I knew better. There's always something strange hiding away just for me.
Books were $5 per giant box. Over the course of an hour, I managed to fill up my box with all kinds of wonderful things and a few questionable ones, too. There was a mint condition Calvin and Hobbes book. Was this some kind of mistake? Who passes up a perfectly good Calvin and Hobbes book? There was a hardback copy of Robinson Crusoe with only a little water damage to the back end. I've started reading it to the kids before bed. The 11YO, who's already read it along with every other book in the library, interrupted to tell his brother the beginning is super-boring, but it's about to get awesome, just wait.
For me, there was a hardcover copy of Feasts for All Seasons by De Groot, a collection of fantastical menus with seasonal recipes like roast venison with chocolate sauce. If I ever get around to making this dish, I know just the deer for the job (more updates on him later). I found a gardening book I sorely need, an untouched copy of The Best Food Writing 2011, and A Little Treasury of American Poetry published in 1948. I snapped up Barbara Kingsolver's debut novel The Bean Trees, which I'm enjoying. And then there were all the old, unphotogenic cookbooks, including The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking, which has not one, not two, but three recipes for Shoo-Fly Pie (recipes contain no actual flies, but do involve copious amounts of molasses and lard and therefore will be occupying my oven immediately).
There were books I judged purely on their cover, like The Hills at Home. I have no idea if I'm going to like this book or even read it, but I can stare at the cover art for hours.
I kept running across this one really old book with a blue fabric embossed cover and broken binding that I just wanted to hold. I couldn't even read the title it was so faded, and I couldn't find a title page, either. I put it back three times, but it kept jumping out at me so I finally just put it in my box. I didn't take a closer look until I got home and realized it's called Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes. Great. Just what I need. Romance.
There were a bunch of other books, too. Only time will tell if they're worth keeping. Like the book of duets for saxophone and piano. Each kid plays one of those instruments, and even I've been known to tickle the ivories once in a while, if by tickle you mean pound them unmerciful when they don't do my bidding. I can tell you already, it's going to be one hell of a Christmas concert this year. Brace yourselves, grandparents!
But I'm so excited to keep exploring my box of books! I'm already marking my calendar for next year's library sale. I'll just have to make sure I go on the last day again so everybody goes through and gets rid of all the crap I don't want!
The other day, my eldest son asked me to teach him how to cook. Come again, I said? He repeated that he wanted to learn how to cook.
My first thought, of course, was drugs. My god, he's only been in middle school for two weeks and already they've recognized his knack for science and dragged him into some kind of peer pressure underground meth lab type of situation. My eyes must have gone all big and scary because he slowly backed over to the refrigerator, opened the door, and pointed to its stacked contents.
Oh, wait. He means food.
In order to understand my reaction, you need only take a quick glimpse into my childhood where you would find me pretty much anywhere else but in the kitchen. Did I want to help peel the carrots, shuck the corn, wash the potatoes? No, I did not. At the first sound of pans clanging, I was halfway across the neighborhood. It wasn't until late high school and into college that I realized, hey, wait a minute, who's going to feed me when I turn 18?
Now I have kids of my own. Ideally, I would have been teaching them how to cook all along so they don't end up in the same situation. Just make it part of the ole routine. And I did do that to some extent when they were younger, supervising the usual baking projects and such. But as the kids got older, homework and activities and, yes, their earned hour of screen time coincided with my dinner prep. They weren't clamoring to help and I wasn't going to force it. Let kids be kids while they still can, I thought. Plus, I enjoy cooking alone. It's my me time. What about all those hours that the kids are in school, you ask? Isn't that my me time, too? Well, aren't we cheeky today, Internet. Pipe down or I won't share this recipe.
I taught the 11YO how to make scrambled eggs over the summer. I'm not a morning person and this was a skill that was going to work out well for everyone. Now he makes scrambled eggs with cheese pretty much every weekend. Dinner is more of a commitment, though, and this was the first time he expressed interest in helping out. I was very excited. I was also afraid he'd change his mind.
Quick, to the stove! Let's make some shrimp!
The 11YO can eat his weight in shrimp. As luck would have it, shrimp is also very easy to cook, mere minutes. If you can make scrambled eggs, you can make shrimp. I made the first batch and he watched and helped. He did the second batch by himself while I fried the tortillas on the burner next to him. The 8YO hovered nearby offering to add pepper to anything that needed it. We already had some corn and bean salad left over from the night before. That just left the lime crema, a quick combination of sour cream, lime zest, lime juice, salt, and a couple of drops of honey.
This meal is absolutely delicious. I eat the tostada with my hands, breaking off shards of crispy tortilla and devouring everything that comes with it. The kids like everything separately, shrimp in a pile on the plate, crispy tortilla in hand like the world's biggest chip. My camera didn't pick up on the golden tones of my fried tortillas (jerk), but you want them to be golden brown, puffed, and crispy. Even if you don't have the patience to fry tortillas, the shrimp and the lime crema together are not to be missed.
Shrimp Tostadas with Lime Crema
We made 2 pounds of shrimp for this recipe because we love shrimp. The recipe below is for a more virtuous serving size. Adjust as you see fit.
3/4 cup sour cream
1 medium lime, zested and juiced
1/2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus 1 Tbsp. for shrimp
4 to 8 corn tortillas (I prefer local Cinco de Mayo brand)
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. cumin
1 large avocado, cubed
Chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and black pepper to taste
In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lime zest, lime juice, honey, and salt. Set aside.
Line a plate with paper towels. In a small frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp. of oil. When shimmering hot, fry the corn tortillas, one at a time, until crispy, golden, and puffed, about two minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.
Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. of oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, sprinkle the shrimp with paprika, cumin, cayenne, salt, and black pepper. Add the seasoned shrimp to the hot pan and sauté until the shrimp have coiled and turned from gray to pink, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
To serve, place a tortilla on a plate, slather with lime crema, top with shrimp and avocado, and sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Serve with corn and bean salad and additional lime crema on the side. Dig in.
On the second day of our Cape Cod vacation, a note was deposited on our windshield. It informed us that the beach we were walking to—the beach we've always walked to—is a private neighborhood association beach and we're not allowed to use it. The neighborhood stops at our rental house. We're also not allowed to walk down the dirt road in that direction.
It's true that there's a sign on the weathered split-rail fence that says the area towards the beach is private. The neighborhood both before and after the sign is modest and quiet with shingled Capes tucked in with scrubby oaks and beach plum shrubs, houses becoming more stacked and cantilevered as you approach the shore. Over the past decade, we've rented a house within that boundary as well as our current one just outside it. We've always walked the same five-minute route to the beach out of habit. There are no boundary markers on the beach and we've never had a problem. The sign seemed more like an attempt to keep people straight off of 6A from treating the little neighborhood like a public parking lot. Surely it didn't matter if a couple of kids and their parents flip-flopped their way in that direction, buckets and shovels in hand. The note indicated otherwise.
I'm nothing if not a rule-follower, so we lugged all our stuff in the opposite direction of the ocean, as per the notice, and then hung a left to get to the officially sanctioned beach associated with our property. It took twice as long, the whole time muttering stuff under my breath:
Think they're too good for us.
Don't want our footsteps sullying their dirt road.
They think they can own the beach. YOU CAN'T OWN A BEACH!!
Actually, they can, interrupted Husband, who will always put a technicality ahead of marital harmony. Why do you think waterfront property is so expensive?
Yeah, well, do they own the air hovering over the beach? Do they own the wind???
I smiled as I imagined fanning the smoke from our grill over the fence in that direction come suppertime. (Real mature, Tammy. Maybe this is why they don't want you there.)
Deeded beach rights means they own the land all the way up to the water line, he continued.
God, he can be so infuriating sometimes! I envisioned myself standing exactly at the water's edge, back to the ocean, water lapping my heels, directly in front of whomever put that note on our car as they tried to enjoy their now-obstructed view. Just standing there. Staring quietly. For hours.
If only I had the stamina for revenge.
I was so busy being indignant that I almost missed all the beautiful beach roses growing along the side of the road on this new route. Scores of rose hips, too, brilliant red- and orange-colored fruits the size of squat radishes swelling from thorny stems among the splayed, rosy blossoms. I've been wanting to make rose hip jelly for years, but never had a plentiful source. Maybe this would be the proverbial lemonade?
We emerged from the path to take in the new coastal view. We were surprised to discover that it was the exact same beach. The other path was literally a stone's throw away, and I don't even have a very good arm. All that extra walking to get to the same place? It basically brought us to the other side of the family that had camped out by the original path.
Really? Is this what things have come to? Making a big goddamned deal about petty rules that amount to nothing? Who has that kind of time? (Says the girl who guards her parking spot like a vigilante.)
Anyway, whatever, we needed the exercise. All those vacation doughnuts weren't going to work themselves off, so I took that opportunity to ask around about the rose hips (I had already reached my quota of windshield admonishments for the week). One guy said he used to own property along the path and all the houses on it were rentals. Probably nobody would mind if I took a few rose hips. So I did. A few stuffed in a pocket here, a few more tucked into the beach bag there. By the end of the trip, I had a small sack filled with the fruits while making no dent in the supply whatsoever.
When we got home, I made two sweet little jars of rose hip jam, and that has made all the difference.
(For the basic technique and ratios, go here.)
1. Follow me on Pinterest!
I've been pinning some of my favorite recipes and photographs from all over the web onto my pinboards, and it always makes me super-hungry. It's a good way for me to keep track of the recipes I want to try and also reminds me of what I want my photography to look like. Eventually. Someday.
If you like what you see, then follow me here.
2. Read some new blogs.
Here are a few that have made me smile lately:
3. Take a nap.
Need I elaborate?
I went over to the Fine Cooking web site to peek at the reviews of my dessert recipes in the August/September issue of the magazine. I was pleased to see that the chocolate mousse pie got six stellar five-star reviews. (Although I did get one angry email telling me it sucked and he could do better with one hand tied behind his back. To which I replied, go ahead. What's stopping you? I'm not the chocolate mousse enforcer!)
Then I jumped over to the blackberry lime dulce de leche terrine. Two five-star reviews. Woohoo, I'm getting pretty good at this, I thought! So I clicked over to the peach almond icebox cake recipe. And then I wanted to die.
You can read the scathing comment here, but basically the reviewer hated everything about it. She threw it out, people. Into the trash!
I know people have different tastes and, therefore, it's impossible to please everyone, but I always feel badly when a recipe disappoints. Ingredients are expensive and time is precious. I want people to love it. I want them to love the recipe and, therefore, love me. If someone hates the recipe, then I start wondering if maybe they're right. Maybe I've lost the ability to discern pleasing flavors and textures from repulsive ones. Because peaches and cream are always good together. Always. How the hell can you ruin peaches and cream to the point of inedibility?
Then I go outside and take a deep breath and remember the plight of the polar bears. Not everyone has to like my stupid cake, for crying out loud. I better toughen up before I go writing any more books.
So now that we've learned that Tammy doesn't like criticism of any kind (this is not news to Husband), let me concede one point to the reviewer. She said the recipe needed some almond extract. There was a long list of other things she thought it needed, too (mostly a time machine to bring her back to the period before this cake ever existed), but I'll at least concede the almond extract. My original recipe called for 3/4 of a teaspoon, but there was much discussion in the FC test kitchen about the strong feelings people have about almond extract. Some people love it and want to bathe in it (me!). Other people hate it with every fiber of their being. It seems to be a 50/50 split. I understand the divisiveness because that's how I feel about horrible, horrible coconut extract. I mean, you can't even compare the two. Horrible coconut extract isn't even in the same league as the heavenly elixir that is almond extract, but it just seems like a similar phenomenon. Regardless, the almond extract was axed and I was sad.
I mention this so you guys can make your own choice: add back the almond extract if you happen to like it or keep it out if you don't. And if you're going to use the almond extract, then you don't need to use almond cookies for the layers. I'm sure they're good, but that's not what I used. I used Biscoff speculoos instead, which added a nice gentle spice flavor. I really liked that version of the cake. Maybe not for a wedding, but, you know, certainly for a backyard barbecue.
Hopefully those tweaks will bump the recipe's rating up to at least three stars. Maybe four. But if not, I guess you can't win 'em all.
As I mentioned, we were vacationing at our friend Red's remote lake house last week. No bats to report this year. No unsightly poison ivy rashes, either (but rest assured that Poison-Ivy-Face will rear her ugly head again, just when you least expect it). The weather was unseasonably cool for July, but pleasant. We did our usual swimming, boating, reading, fishing, jigsaw puzzling, thrift shopping, nature walking, cocktail drinking, and chip o'clocking.
On one of those walks around the lake, we came across these:
Oyster mushrooms! It was a new flush from the rain the night before. By the afternoon, when we came around again to get them, they had doubled in size and the bugs were honing in. We picked a small basket of the newest, most pristine specimens, and then I cooked them up for dinner, having made certain that they truly were oyster mushrooms, not some poisonous look-alike. I double-checked their attributes (decurrent gills, growing on wood), took a spore print (white), and triple checked my work. They were delicious sautéed up in butter and a little garlic. I was 99.99999999% sure they were oysters mushrooms. They looked like oyster mushrooms, smelled like oyster mushrooms, tasted like oyster mushrooms. But that .00000001% margin for potential error kept me up all night wondering if I'd poisoned everyone. I refused to cook up any more mushrooms for the rest of the trip. Not these slug-eaten chanterelles:
Nor these possibly-but-maybe-not King Boletes found under some hemlocks and nibbled on by the local chipmunks:
Instead, we had lots of regional meats (Lupo's spiedies, Snappy Grillers) expertly grilled by Red's husband, and tons of veggies from our CSA shares from Waltham Fields and Lindentree Farm.
Dessert consisted of multiple cartons of ice cream at each sitting. This year's crowd favorite: Ben & Jerry's What a Cluster and Talenti's Sea Salt Caramel gelato.
One night I made a blueberry pie.
Yes, I remembered the cornstarch this time.
The only downside to the visit was the devastating discovery that the Wegmans in Binghamton no longer offers beef on weck sandwiches. We drive an hour and a half round-trip to shop there every year, not just for a more varied shopping experience than what the tiny town grocery has to offer, but also for the shaved roast beef on sea-salt-and-caraway-crusted kummelweck rolls smeared with horseradish. Now where are we going to get our fix? Don't make me drive all the way to Buffalo? Or maybe this is my cue to start making these delicious sandwiches myself? Perhaps I'll start here.
Last week, we were on vacation at our friend's lake house on the New York- Pennsylvania line. Everyone got lucky with the fishing this year. We must have caught at least 20 fish, mostly sunfish and various basses (largemouth, smallmouth, and rock). All six kids caught one or more fish under Husband's patient tutelage.
I enjoy fishing, but I'm in it more for the relaxation aspect. The prospect of dinner used to be a big draw until I realized how long it takes to catch an actual fish, and how small and bony river and lake fish tend to be. So now I'm just happy to spend hours casting about with no real action until my hook inevitably gets wedged between some rocks or tangled in a clump of water weeds. That's my cue to call it quits.
This year, though, I caught two fish, including the large-mouthed bass pictured above. It was quite unexpected. I mean, just look at what I'm wearing. That is not the outfit of a serious fisherman. I assumed I was foolishly trying to reel in another rock because my rod was bent so severely, the weight so heavy and unyielding, but then an actual fish jumped out of the water as I struggled to reel it in. It was the biggest fish of the week and by far the biggest fish I've ever caught (if you don't count this one). We removed the hooks and put our catch into a kiddie pool filled with lake water on the dock so the kids could observe the different species and build shelters for them out of rocks. By then, they're almost like pets. We let them all go before dinner each night.
Our lakeside fish-fry will have to wait another year.
Well, we're off on vacation. As always, I've booby-trapped our home with poison ivy, both inside and out, so steal our junk at your own risk.
Before I go, I thought I'd leave you with a quick summer dinner that got the thumbs-up from the kids. It's from the book Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. I can't find a single thing wrong with it. Enjoy!
You can grill the salmon, too. Your call.
6 4-ounce salmon fillets
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used Green Mountain Greek yogurt, which isn't too thick)
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
Squeeze of fresh lemon
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Place it in a baking dish and roast in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until flaky but still moist.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, mustard, dill, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the fish with a dollop of sauce and perhaps some green beans.
Source: Adapted from Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach
We were at my in-laws' down the Cape over the weekend when I was suddenly overcome with the urge to make pie. I'm usually a total sloth once we cross over the Sagamore bridge, burying my nose in various books and sleeping late, only emerging for the sweet promise of doughnuts. My in-laws are very forgiving.
But nothing motivates me like pie. Maybe it was the peach trees over by the garage, fruits rosy from a distance but still teasingly green up close, or the blackberries growing on prickly brambles under the deck, sweet as strawberries. Or maybe the salty air demanded a buttery counterpoint. Whatever it was, I needed pie and I needed it now. I had already gone down to the local farm stand and gathered up as many ripe peaches and nectarines as I could find, so I got right down to the business of making pie.
Cooking in someone else's space is always interesting. Despite the many similarities between all kitchens, there are always some unpredictable elements. Like the location of the blade for the food processor. Where was it? My in-laws were out at the time so I couldn't ask. I checked every conceivable cabinet and drawer I could think of, but I couldn't find it. That's okay. I didn't need a food processor for the crust, I could just cut in the butter by hand. But where the heck was the butter? There was no butter in the refrigerator. There was no butter in the freezer. I take for granted the constant presence of butter at my house, so I never bothered to check. Did I really want to get back in the summer traffic queue on Rt. 6 just for butter? How badly did I want this pie?
Husband rummaged around in the basement freezer and located two sticks of unsalted butter like the hero that he is. But cutting in frozen butter by hand wasn't going to be easy. I dug around in the drawers for a pastry blender, which was a long shot but worth a try, until I found a small box grater. Perfect! I shredded the frozen butter on the large holes of the grater until it threatened to scrape all the flesh off my knuckles. That was my cue to stop. (So if my in-laws find two little knobs of butter in the fridge that look like they were attacked by tiny beavers, that's why.)
From there, I mixed the butter, which now bore a striking resemblance to mozzarella cheese, into the flour, sugar, and salt, drizzled in the ice water, and tossed the fluffy mixture with a fork. Then I kneaded it several times to develop flaky layers, formed the dough into two disks, wrapped them in plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge to rest while I made the filling.
The rest of the pie construction went very smoothly. Rolling out the pie dough on their nice marble countertop was a pleasant change. I was feeling pretty good as I slid the whole beautiful, egg-washed, double-crusted pie into the oven. That is, until about 10 minutes later when I was cleaning up and noticed the box of cornstarch over in the corner, neglected and untouched. I wasn't working from a recipe but rather a mental accounting of things. A mental accounting that had included sugar, vanilla, and a little cinnamon, but had conveniently forgotten the all-important thickener that I had set out earlier. Now my filling was getting soupier by the second in the oven, sealed between my two hard-earned homemade crusts.
So this is what I did. I removed the pie from the oven. I made a large incision between the pie plate and the crimped edge of the crust along the circumference of half of the pie. I flipped the top crust over onto the other half of the pie (the dough was still bendy at this point). Then I stirred in a whole bunch of cornstarch, I don't know how much, maybe 2 tablespoons? I was muttering angrily to myself the whole time and not really paying attention. I added the cornstarch only to the half of the pie where the filling was exposed hoping that, at best, some sort of starchy equilibrium would be achieved during the baking process, or, at worst, half of the pie would be soupy and half would be a gloppy mess. I didn't care at this point. I just wanted my pie. I quickly flipped the crust back on top. It looked sad and droopy on one side, but whatever. Pie is pie. It slumps once you cut it anyway. Then I put it back in the oven.
Now, I'm not a religious person, you know that, but there must have been some kind of divine intervention going on with that pie because, despite all of its technical challenges, it came out fantastic. Deliciously peachy with a smattering of blackberries. Okay, maybe there was a little extra liquid on one side, but it held together fine and tasted great. It didn't even look that bad in the end. Also, when I put the cornstarch away, I found the food processor blades. Aha! They were in the far side of the cabinet with the baking ingredients.
Next time I'll make the pie properly, but there's no guarantee it will come out half as good!
I hope cherry season isn't over, yet, because you have got to try some of this cobbler! I made it for the Fourth of July, but it would be equally delicious on the Fourteenth of July, say, or even the Fortieth of July if you live in another dimension not subject to our earthly calendars.
I made this cobbler with a bag of sweet Bing cherries and a half pint of black raspberries I picked in the park. I couldn't find my cherry pitter, goddamnit, so I pitted the cherries with a knife, slicing off one side of each cherry and then mashing the cherry against the cutting board with the side of the knife to eject the pit. It made quite a mess until I learned to angle the cut-side of the cherry down a bit so the juice squirted at the cutting board. Mostly. Wear an apron. Once you get into the rhythm of it, I think it's almost as fast as a cherry pitter.
If you don't have access to black raspberries, you can substitute blackberries, red raspberries, or just add an extra cup of cherries.
5 cups sweet cherries, stemmed, pitted
1 cup black raspberries
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for topping
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice from 1/2 small lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch ground cinnamon
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup milk, plus 1 teaspoon for topping
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.
Combine the pitted cherries, black raspberries, cornstarch, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir well.
Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture forms a coarse meal, 15 to 30 seconds depending on the size of your cubes. Dump the mixture into a medium bowl and add the milk. Mix with a fork until a scrappy dough forms. (If you don't have a food processor, you can cut the butter into the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl with a pastry blender, fork and knife, or your fingers, and then add the milk).
Turn the dough onto the counter and knead three or four times, folding the dough over on itself, until it comes together. If the dough seems too dry, drizzle a tiny bit more milk over the dry areas and knead again once or twice. Press the dough into a disk about 1/2-inch thick. With a biscuit cutter or a jelly jar, cut straight down into 10 or 12 shapes, enough to cover the cobbler (recombine the scraps to make extra biscuits). Arrange the biscuits on top, brush with a little milk, and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.
Bake uncovered until the biscuits are golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool at least 10 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Other cherry recipes you might like:
Cherry Crisp Ice Cream from The Live-In Kitchen
Cherry Clafouti from Simply Recipes
Frozen Cherry Mojitos from My Baking Addiction
Sour Cherry Preserves from Food on the Food
We walked into the orthodontist's office last week to two pieces of good news:
1. The 11YO gets his braces off in three weeks; and
2. I have a pie on the cover of Fine Cooking magazine!
The issue was sitting on a table with a bunch of other magazines in the waiting room, and I thought to myself, that pie looks familiar. I didn't know the editors decided to put it on the cover. I had to resist waving the magazine in everyone's face as I walked by (Pie! Wanna see my pie??). Instead, I made a nuisance out of myself by co-opting a corner of the room so I could take photos of each page of my article multiple times. Orthodontic lighting is not flattering, as it turns out (nor is orthodontic carpeting.)
The piece is about no-bake, make-ahead, retro summer desserts to keep you calm, cool, and collected. It includes three recipes. The pie is adapted from the chocolate mousse recipe in my book WINTERSWEET. It's the best chocolate mousse pie ever and cannot be confined to a single season, hence its appearance here as a summer dessert. There's also a recipe for peach almond icebox cake and a blackberry-lime frozen terrine with pockets of dulce de leche tucked inside. I love the bracing tartness against the sweet caramel. It's my new favorite frozen treat.
Fine Cooking subscribers should see a copy in their mailboxes shortly, if not already. The rest of us will have to wait another month or so before it hits newsstands. It's the August/September issue. Keep an eye out!