Thursday, December 13, 2012

What did we eat this week? It's been cold, seasonably cold, so the wood is stacked and ready to go in the stove, and the oven has been doing its thing. Although I didn't make the gingerbread house below (it was from my son's preschool class--each kid got their own house to decorate!), I did suddenly decide to make fruitcake after decanting some boozy cherries. Usually I forget about my fruit in booze, sitting and steeping in the basement, which is just fine for the booze, but the fruit suffers. After about two or three months, the fruit will go from boozy delight to shriveled and desiccated, depending on the fruit. I caught these cherries in time, and once the brandy was free --gorgeously red and full of cherry and almond flavors--I pitted the soaked cherries and thought: fruitcake. I also used some local, and home-dried apricots and prunes. At the moment the cake is being basted with cherry pit liqueur. I can't wait 'til Christmas!

Home dried prunes. 
I used the first recipe I saw, this Free Range Fruitcake from Alton Brown. Yeah, yeah, I know Food Network whatever, but it was a very honest and easy recipe. Speaking of bashing things, people are over their weirdness about fruitcake, right? Because fruitcake is really very special. Especially with brandy soaked cherries. And all local fruit. If I don't say so myself. But it's still special even if it's not all local fruit, for goodness sakes! Make some fruitcake! I liked using a round spring form pan for mine, instead of a loaf. Someone made a suggestion that I eat it for breakfast with mascarpone on it. That sounded like a good idea to me.
The fruitcake.

The other night we had braised short ribs followed by apple pie for desert. The short ribs were gifted to me from a friend--do my people know me or what? Grass-fed local beef, big huge blocks of meaty short ribs. My quandary: no red wine in the house (gasp!), which if you do a search on short ribs you will see that few recipes don't ask for at least a bit of red wine. The two just go together. No worries though, I'm not big on requirements. The ribs came together nicely with red wine vinegar and red wine syrup--two homemade things in my pantry. I also added tomato paste and very reduced pork stock, both of which were frozen in cubes, handy in the freezer. The ribs cooked, after browning in cast iron over a flame, in a slow cooker for about six hours on high. They were perfect when I came home, and we had them on mashed potatoes. (It looks like I'm not the only one with these kinds of ideas: Michael's beef stew sounds perfect, though I think I'd really like to make his rouladen recipe.)

Apple pie with leaf lard crust.
We had this apple pie for dessert, and it was made with leaf lard using this recipe. I have decided that the best leaf lard pie has four ounces of leaf lard in it. Any more, as in this case there were equal parts butter and lard, the finished product in my case was crumby, fell apart easily, much like a soft shortbread. Still we ate it all up!

Bananas with chopped cashew-date-cocoa truffles.
Yes, lots of baking this week. This is the beginnings of the banana bread recipe from Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. It's an incredible recipe, especially if you happen to have four very ripe bananas hanging around. You can see the recipe here (pretty much exact same ingredients). I chose to put mine in a cake tin (and nested it in another cake tin, as Laurel suggests to keep it from burning at the edges). I also added chopped up cashew-date-cocoa truffles instead of nuts. This took it to a really stellar level, I might add. Plus a thick layer of crunchy sugar on top, that I'm pretty sure took this quite away from the healthy bread that Laurel intended. But I'm okay with that.

Laurel's Bread Book Banana Bread

Friday, December 7, 2012

Soup Season

A rich broth with udon and pork.

Eat more soup! When the cold weather comes around my house, soup season begins. It's, in most cases, the quickest, cheapest, and healthiest thing for breakfast, lunch or and/or dinner.

The soup above came about from some extreme frugality. A bag of bones came with my half-pig order. Because the freezer was so full, I immediately made some stock from the meaty bones. I roasted the bones until browned, picked the meat off them, and then made the stock with the bones. With two large quart containers of wiggly stock in the fridge and a pint of picked roasted meat, I was armored against the new war on winter. One night, craving a pho-ish kind of dish, I poured one of the quarts into my soup pot, and added a good pour of tamari, and some fish sauce. No spices, instead, once boiling I threw in some sliced scallions and dried udon noodles. While this was happening, the shredded leftover meat sizzled in a hot cast iron pan, making it crispy and chewy. A bowl, some broth and noodles, topped with that sticky meat: and it was just what was needed for dinner. Taking all of fifteen minutes. Soup!!

Roasted butternut and celery root soup, with savory bread pudding.
Then, there's this one: a soup that turned into a meal, and then the meal turned back into the soup. A full circle, if you will. Roasted celeriac and butternut squash, pureed and married to turkey stock (I'm pretty sure there wasn't even an onion in this) turned into a velvety soup topped with rosemary olive oil. (Here's my plug for a Vitamix: I love immersion blenders, to be sure, but it really has nothing on the velvet-making power of the Vitamix.)

The next day, I had a leftover baguette (which always makes me happy--I buy more than I need because the benefits of day old bread are many) that I wanted to make into a savory bread pudding. I used the leftover soup, buttermilk, some cheese and eggs--the standard bread pudding mixture--and within less than an hour (that's mostly baking time) I had a main course to be served aside a salad. Seemingly healthy, but I made a warm bacon dressing for the salad. Oops.

Fish chowder.
And fish chowder. May a winter never go by without fish chowder. And to think that dark thought is not so far-fetched! Sad, but true. Aside from the fish, this is a "pantry essential dish," like many other soups. That is, you can make it with what you have in the house. An onion, bay leaf, a potato, butter and some milk. This is a traditional New England-style chowder. (Say it! Chowdah!) to be sure. There are a million variations. And we will get to them. It's only December. We have plenty of time.

p.s. I feel compelled to apologize for the shoddy pictures; when I am about to eat my concentration goes out the window!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Wintry Mix

Today I finished sugaring the Meyer lemon peels I candied, and I started making the next batch of candied peels, those being sour oranges. I almost gave up on them for being too bitter, but the fourth dip in boiling water did the trick and most of the bitterness is gone. But not all! I must say, I do prefer the Meyer candies--they are so sweet and lovely, I was snacking on them constantly. The sour oranges I am seeing as more of a cocktail garnish, not really a sweet. They have a bit of a bite. I might even just can them in their syrup, instead of drying them. We'll see where I am when they are done with their sugar baths.

What kind of day did I have today? Well, the above picture looks so tranquil, doesn't it? I'm sugaring candy while my docile child plays. What a lovely image. But it's really not what happened. It happened for about ten minutes, which was dreamy, and then it abruptly ended. That's why I love all these kitchen tasks that take days and barely any attention. I can put the candy away and be there for the incessant question: "what's next" which will one day very soon turn into, "I'm bored!" 


We did get an advent calendar today from a friend of ours. Lucky us! It has toys instead of candy, which I like a lot. Advent calendars are a lot harder to explain to a four year old than you would think, but he was very patient when I explained we didn't open it until tomorrow, and even then it's only one door a day. Patience is a virtue, as they say.
White whole wheat buttermilk pancakes.
We made some pancakes. And chocolate chip cookies. They are required on a frozen day filled with little flurries buzzing down from a gray forbidding sky. I used coconut oil in the chocolate chip cookies for the first time. That is the ticket, I want you to know. Coconut oil in any kind of chocolate-y dessert is a good thing in my book. Then you can tell yourself it's good for you!

Toasted buckwheat is kasha. 

Lest you think all we eat are sugary treats, I did toast these buckwheat groats to make a recipe from Food in Jars' cookbook. Well, I guess it was for granola, so maybe I don't eat anything healthy. Actually, now that I think of it, I had breakfast all day long today. Steel cut oats with maple syrup for breakfast, the rest of the oats with parmesan cheese and pepper for lunch--oh, wait, I had turkey noodle soup for dinner. There's something not breakfast-y. Whew!

In the afternoon, we had a pre-cookie tea party which ended up with a broken teacup. This is what happens when you use real glass (and nice vintage ones, at that) for tea cups for a four year old boy. I knew what I was up against. In this picture, I was setting up a shot in which life would look so easy and wonderful: some tea, some cookies, a cozy kitchen. My little fantasy turned into a crying boy and a harried woman vacuuming the grimy floor, making sure no slivers of glass remained to cut little (or big or feline) feet.

The cozy life of a stay at home mom looks pretty idyllic from the outside, doesn't it? But really you go a little insane from the incessant tedium. The pretty tea parties belie broken cups, the endless trains make you a little crazy, and cold days are your nemesis. That's why you see so many of those crazy craft blogs by mommies who are trying to fill a freaking day! I sometimes find myself wondering how some people do it: three kids and not a day goes by without gorgeous pictures documenting it all. I guess humans like the glossy ideal or the train wreck, and the in between dailies aren't often as appealing, whether you are taking the pictures or viewing them. And that's the beauty of photos. A snapshot of a train set looks so inviting, but five hours of it can crush your soul, and leave you a gasping for a few minutes of frosty outside air. 

But then you come back in and breathe in the warmth, and it's all okay again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Candied Meyer Lemon Peel

Back in the early spring, when I was flush with citrus, I squirreled away a large ziploc of Meyer lemon peels. I had juiced many lemons for curd and was left with perfect cups scraped clean of flesh and pith. I put them all in a good freezer ziploc and froze them for a wintry day to turn into candied peels. It's certainly a winter time task, especially before the holidays when you may want to dole out the candies dipped in sugar. Or to fold them into a special dessert. And if there is any left over, to brighten a February day. 

Candying citrus peel is really very easy, it just takes a long time. Basically, you are infusing the peel with sugar. How can you go wrong? Well, it's possible. There are also about a million different recipes out there, which confuses it further. I'm still figuring out my particular method, so until I have it down pat, I won't be writing it down here!

It's possible to make a mess with just about anything, even if it's something you've done a million times. Today, even though these candied peels came out great, I had a stellar fail when I scorched some apricot jam. It's the first time I've pretty much ruined a batch of jam. It could not be saved. And my pan suffered, too. I also boiled the syrup from the peels a little too much, and I believe I have canned some lemon candy. Sigh. Things could be worse, of course, but it's days like this that have me going to sleep a little earlier with a good story. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Apple Pie Bakery Café

Vanilla Sugar Brioche Doughnut
I won't lie. I really liked taking the weekend off. Actually, I needed to take the weekend off from writing. I had no time to do so on Saturday (preparing for a party), and no ability whatsoever on Sunday (recuperating from said party). And I've finally gotten to the point in my life where obsessions are recognized for exactly what they are and are treated accordingly. That is, they are indulged when possible. Like this trip to the Culinary Institute of America. There are a few restaurants there, but for now, with four-year-old in tow, I have to settle for their bakery, which is really one of the nicest little cafés in the area. And not to mention, a pretty spiffy setting.

We walked all over the campus, the blustery winds whisking in from the dull greenish-gray river that the buildings look over. We talked about the young chefs walking all over in their checked pants and white jackets, with various accessories, like ear buds, phones and knit caps. There were so many young women! And it smelled amazing right outside the main building, but as we walked towards the dorms the smell changed dramatically. Laundry detergent, cigarette smoke and the smell of junk food, like potato chips and cheap bowls of ramen (and not in a particularly good way). Still students!

We had fun running through the gardens by the Ristorante Caterina de Medici. (Did you know my middle name is Caterina? Now you know.) Last time I was here I saw a fat woodchuck nibbling on some lovage here. He was gone, but this time we found an old staircase that led to nothing. My favorite kind of staircase!

We were happy with our small, but filling, meal of doughnut, a savory spinach and goat cheese turnover and sweet apple turnover. We could have done so much more damage. See below. I think I enjoyed looking at these beauties more than I would have eating them. Maybe?

The serious pastries.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sandwich Discoveries

Bark Friday.
That people are out today, on their day off, in a consumerist frenzy just boggles my teeny tiny mind. What the heck is going on? As a child, we never went to the Macy's parade. Actually, I still have never gone, and I'm perfectly fine with that, being a person who hates crowds. But as far as traditions go, it's an okay one. Outside in the brisk city air watching silly balloons float by? Okay. We also never, ever watched football, unless it was what you call soccer in the U.S. And certainly not on Thanksgiving. To be perfectly fair though, my childhood Thanksgivings were not a treasured memory. They were slightly stiff and maybe even austere. So, parades and football, okay, at least everyone was hanging out together and having fun. But getting up at 5 a.m. to shop? People, that's just the craziest thing I have ever heard. 

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, so I will end my rant there. Tonight it's now finally raining after a long stint of perfect weather. Like today, we hit one of our local hikes at around 3 p.m. and that sun is slanting hard already.

I made two sandwich discoveries this week. (Not while out hiking, though.)

1. Avocado-Sauerkraut-Greek Yogurt Whole wheat toast, on one side spread half of a perfectly ripe avocado (that in itself is pure beauty), on the other side spread some Greek yogurt (yes, with fat please!). Drizzle rosemary olive oil, salt and pepper on the yogurt. Put a few forkfuls of sauerkraut on the other (cabbage, carrot, apple in this case). Put the two together, chomp, and then probably if you are me: repeat.

2. Sausage and Kale on Parker House Rolls Brown your (homemade garlic) sausages in a pan, then pour in a half cup of white wine, let it sizzle, lower the flame, add chopped kale (from the garden), roasted pearl onions (from Thanksgiving leftovers) and cook for about twenty minutes. Heat up the rolls (again, T-day leavings),  stuff them with the sausages, kale and onions, a smear of good mustard. Repeat often. Those rolls were small!!

Thursday, November 22, 2012


I thought my table looked rather pretty even with all the mismatched chairs and uneven tables. We had about twelve people here in our little dining room, and it was just lovely. I was slightly disappointed in the turkey---next year I will most certainly brine again. This year I didn't, and it just wasn't as succulent and seasoned as a brined bird. And I do believe I made the best apple pie--scratch that---best pie I've ever made in my life. It's all about the crust. Two words: leaf lard! And we were lucky to enjoy some Quady North Syrah that came all the way from Oregon, made by more family. Isn't that cool?

I kept on trying to explain to my son, who kept on wondering what Grandma would bring him, that Thanksgiving was not about presents (neither is Christmas really, but we'll get there soon). And it was sort of nice to repeat to him, and therefore myself, what Thanksgiving is about. 

It's about being thankful for what we have, that is, our family, our friends, the roof over our heads, the food on our table. This feels especially poignant right now, as our family is now living on their second floors (thankful for a second floor even!) due to Hurricane Sandy. They are driving an hour to buy brooms, rebuilding their homes, and watching others who are still more unfortunate themselves. And yet they are still the same people, having fun with us, talking, jibing, joking, eating and drinking. I wish I could offer them a cozy dining room every day.

I'm often thankful for what I have, but I still think it's important to spend this day remembering that specifically. Isn't it nice to know that a large portion of the country are at some point on this day feeling thankful? Maybe they are not doing it the exact way you are, but in some way they are sharing their life with friends and family, and that's really very huge.

Happy Thanksgiving! And thank you, always, for reading.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

T Minus One Day

Another egg!

Everybody gets a little riled up for Thanksgiving, huh? Yes, as a confident home cook, the food part of the day is not hard at all. Roast a bird, mash some potatoes, make some gravy. I think what makes everyone so stressed out is that it's a larger meal than they usually do (it takes some planning to figure out where to cook everything if you have a large bird or small stove, or both), and then timing is important, and it's more dishes than they are used to. But there's just the stress of family getting together. The other day, I told my mother that I refused to give into anxiety anymore. What could possibly go wrong with the food that no one forgive? Just focus, do the best you can, and make sure to drink a glass of wine early. It's only taken me forty years to get to this place.

I don't stray too far off the traditional meal course because I rather like the T-day meal. Isn't that trashy of me? I have a strong attachment to home-y foods, as I'm sure this blog can attest to. When I was a kid, processed foods were so not a part of our lifestyle that I craved them. When I got allowances, I would buy food. Cheap, crappy food. Like Chocodiles. Or super mayonnaise-y potato salad. Or the pizza at school. Or the turkey dinner.

How I longed for that horrible turkey dinner! The perfect ball of mashed "potatoes" released from the click of an ice cream scoop, the thin, flabby slices of processed turkey laying on a soft white bread bed, covered by congealed gravy and sidled up to some kind of vegetable: corn, green beans? Everything a similar poultry-based saltiness. And a wiggly slice of cranberry jelly if you were lucky.

I can remember the menus that Southdown Elementary School handed out. I would study them avidly, knowing I would have only a cream cheese and jelly sandwich (and not understanding that I was, in this circumstance at least, the lucky one). I would quickly dismiss the chicken chow mein, (which looked absolutely revolting, but still, it had those crunchy noodles on top) and look for the turkey dinner day. It wasn't long lived, my desire for the imposter-food. I guess I was just making sure that what I had was the real thing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Orange Lentil Soup

Orange lentil soup.
The weather has been extra special beautiful lately. Sunny every day, with temperatures hovering in the high 50's. Which, to my family in Florida, is ridiculously cold. But to us folks in the Hudson Valley, it's just perfect. Or at least to me. I am loving this weather. And the winter time lighting is so wistful, isn't it? This anise hyssop makes for a good winter bouquet as well as for good shadows.

Anise Hyssop.
Do you buy beautiful dried grains and legumes, and then forget them in your pantry? I do. I remembered these pretty orange lentils and made soup of them yesterday. This is where I don't understand the "I don't have time to cook" theory. I think mainly, it's "I don't feel like eating lentil soup" theory. Or whatever peasant-y food that's hearty and easy and good for you. I cooked some lentils until tender, then transferred them to the Vitamix. Then I sauteed an onion (with a sprinkle of cumin) in olive oil (in the pan I cooked the lentils in--one pan!). Once the onions were golden, I added them to the Vitamix with the lentils. I pureed it for maybe 20 seconds, until it was thick and velvety. A swirl of rosemary olive oil, a scattered pinch of harissa, and dinner is served.

The Thanksgiving winter bouquet.

Monday, November 19, 2012

After the Molt

My chickens are at the tail end of their molt. It's not very fair of me, but I often have an ungrateful attitude during this time. I buy eggs at the store. I buy chicken feed. What's wrong with that? I think: where are my eggs? So ungrateful. I should instead think, good job, chickens! Enjoy your nice leisurely molt! Poor things, they do it in the freezing cold. My chickens don't lose their feather entirely, and I often don't even realize they're molting until the eggs stop coming and the coop is filled with their feathers. Some chickens get completely naked, but not mine. They are demure.

I was thrilled to get this egg a few days ago, but I haven't seen another one yet. In the meantime, I'm feeding them well and making sure they get to grub around in the late afternoon. There are some industrious hawks around here that have been making dinner of the neighbors' chickens. Lately I've been giving the hens safflower seeds, because they are high in fat and apparently squirrels don't like them. The chickens eat the safflower seeds so fast, I don't think the squirrels have a chance. Big fat squirrels have been dining in the coop daily. I throw pine cones at them, but they are not phased.

I also gave the chickens some suet the other day, thinking people feed wild birds suet in the winter, why not my chickens? After researching to make sure this wasn't harmful, I sprinkled some chopped suet in their pen. I have never seen them go crazier for anything excepting scrambled eggs, which they LOVE. Funny, right?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Bright Day

Today was another glorious late fall day. That would be: blue sky, no clouds, a bit brisk, but warm in the sun. Sadly, my son has been ill, and we've been staying and playing a bit indoors. I'm sad he's sick, but also sad to be indoors on such glorious days! Thankfully, I was able to run around a little bit. We went to the Rhinebeck Farmers' Market in the morning for their last day before Winter market starts. I bought a few packs of their lovely linocut card packs, designed by Gina Palmer, in preparation for gift giving for the holidays. I'm trying my hardest to shop small and local. I picked up a growler of Breezy Hill Orchard's Hard Cider for our Thanksgiving day meal. It's going to be hard not to break into it. I also bought some of their pesticide-free cranberries, because right now I want to put cranberries into everything.

Can you believe this cherry tree? Why is it blooming in November? It's not even warm or anything. And look at the blue of the sky! I love winter for this kind of blue sky. I'm not sure you can tell in a photo, but there's a certain "crisp" quality to the blue of the sky in the winter. I guess it must be the way the sun hits us. I hate to ruin the moment, but it was right when I was getting caught up taking pictures of this pretty tree that I stepped in some dog business. Grrr.

I'm not good at taking pictures of vistas while driving, and you know what? I shouldn't be. I took one quick picture and stopped because, I realized I was being an idiot. But it's one of my favorite views, driving West over the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge. This doesn't capture the half of it---the magnificent outline of the Catskills, the Hudson River on either side, and the Shawangunks far to the South, and the Marlboro Ridge closer in. I used to work in Dutchess county, and this was a daily drive, so I've studied this view extensively. No wonder all the big estates were built on the East side of the river, so they would have this magnificent view. I would often think looking at this view upon driving home from work: I love where I live! Because sometimes you forget.

But not today. Later in the afternoon, I was able to sneak off to the Rosendale Pickle Fest where I felt like I was on a mission to get in and get out with my goods without getting trampled or getting stabbed with a toothpick. I usually go in the morning, and it's much more leisurely. The quality of the pickles over the years has really gone up. Don't mind the flea-markety stuff, just go right to the pickle pavilion. I visited Sour Puss Pickles and got their prize-winning pickled ramps that I missed out on last year. And they had shrubs for sale! How cool is that?

I was also really happy to see local gem, Gomen Kudasai selling their wares. I wanted to buy everything, but I was already out of cash. There was a beautiful daikon kimchi that I really need. The owner grew the daikon, she told me. No matter. It just means I have to go and eat at the restaurant.

Then I drove home in the slanting sunlight, to stack wood and make dinner.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Preparing for Thanksgiving

I'm so excited for Thanksgiving! Usually we spend it with just our immediate family, that means the three of us, but this year we are having a big number of folks, and I'm really looking forward to it. I am working out my table plans this morning, and unearthed this beautiful linen tablecloth from my grandmother. The embroidery is silver on an ecru linen. It's so gorgeous, especially in the morning sun.

But that's all I have to say today, I'm keeping it short and sweet. In the meantime, did you see this spread from Marisa at Food in Jars? It's a gorgeous display of holiday food for entertaining. It's how I want to entertain all the time. I want to live in those pictures!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Exploring Food

First chocolate ice cream cone.
This morning I woke up with a thought about what food meant to me as a child. I now have my own child, one who is just getting past the notion that he can refuse anything and everything and is just entering the stage where he feels empowered to explore food. That it's his choice. It had started a few weeks ago, this acceptance of eating dinner, easing my anxiety that he wasn't eating anything, after what seemed like fifty thousand peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I would watch with amazement: he's eating dinner! I had stifled myself for months, saying to myself that dinner wasn't really important and that he wasn't starving by any means, which were both true. But there's something about your child refusing food that  is innately disturbing, even if you don't like to cook.

I think that preschool added to the excitement that food might somehow be an exciting exploration. The other day they were blindfolded and given tomato and cucumber to taste. It was suddenly a mystery: what was it? Did you like it? What did it taste like? And yesterday they tasted cranberry sauce. Very sour, said my son with a funny, puckery face. So, I went with it. This morning I asked him if he would taste my new jam and let me know what he thought. (Not the toughest sale, I might add---he loves jam.) It was a rhubarb-cranberry-candied orange peel jam. We inspected the color, and the texture, and finally the taste. It was all approved of. We explored that jam and found we loved it.

We've also been cooking dinner together which has been a lot of fun. Last night we made breaded chicken tenders for the first time together. (What? you say, for the first time?? Yes, I was so scared of having a child that only ate chicken tenders (or fingers, or whatever they call them) that I have steered clear of them.) We dipped the tenders in beaten egg and buttermilk, and rolled them in breadcrumbs, and fried them up. Dinner was a success again (of course it helps that ketchup was involved). I am having so much fun watching him explore one of my favorite things, after a long period of time waiting for his indifference to subside.

All of these observations return me to my childhood. My parents both enjoyed my interest in food, and encouraged it. My mother in particular would always facilitate my newest interests. Once, when reading All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (during an extended phase in which I wanted to be a veterinarian, and was obsessed with all the books, and the TV show), I remember clearly reading a section that described a meal that was prepared for Herriot that included pickled onions. I pointed this out to my mother, asking what they were and whether we could try them. The next shopping day we bought some, and they would be an occasional presence in the fridge from that day forward. I loved the little white onions bobbing in salty sweet brine. Their resistant crunch as my molars pushed down on one.

Or there was the time when I discovered pomegranates. Or Chinese apples, as my mother liked to add, always giving spellings, different names, and provenance, herself also endlessly curious about new foods. I loved opening the red leathery spheres to reveal glittering gems studding the creamy, bitter pith. That soon became a winter ritual we looked forward to, along with boxes of candy-sweet clementines. There are so many other discoveries I made as a child, and hasn't stopped. I'm constantly discovering and exploring new foods, and new ways to make food, as evidenced by this blog. And I'm looking forward to rediscovering food through my son.

Going to a restaurant!

Thursday, November 15, 2012


My mother called me regarding my post about tomato sauce. She wanted to make sure everybody knew that she made sauce, too, and that she was a cook in her own right. Which you have to smile at, as I am. Indeed, this is all true. Although I did tell Mom that I didn't recall her making sauce, I'm sure she did make it at some time, probably many times. And, to make sure this is clear: my mom is an amazing cook, and cooked most of the time for our family, inexhaustibly. She has taught me a million things that I can't even catalogue here. I was by her side while she made pizza dough every week. She made pretzels, sourdough bread, currant jam, clear and perfect chicken stock, plum dumplings, cinnamon rolls and hot cross buns, to name a few.

Every year during the holidays I would stand at attention while she made apple strudel, a recipe of her German heritage. I loved mixing the bread crumbs cooked in lots of butter, and watching her stretch out the dough whisper thin on an old blue and white embroidered tablecloth that was only used for this purpose, and the resulting apple "candy" as we called it: the sugary, buttery, apple-y caramel ooze from the strudel when it was done. She would often make the strudels into the shape of a J, for me, or L, for my sister. An M for my brother would happen every so often, because it was so difficult to make. If we are discussing the holidays, there was also the croissants, the anise cookies, and the kartoffelkloesse for New Year's. We had no shortage of good food in our household.

Memory is an odd thing, isn't it? What we remember is often different from others memories for the basic reason of perspective. We all see everything a little differently, and that's a nice thing, in my opinion, because otherwise things would be rather dull, wouldn't it? Above is a painting by my mother rendered from a photo that she took of me. I guess you could say it was her perspective of me. There were a series of images (I will bet there are no more than 3 or 4 of them; this was from the days of film remember). The photo I used the other day in my post was an out take; was I getting tired of posing? That's what's nice about photographs: we see a pretty good representation of what was there. But still, that representation is still "opinionated," right? I'm not positive what I was thinking when the picture was taken, I can only guess.

Goodness. I don't know exactly what I'm getting at here--just randomly writing--and therein lies the flaw of NaBloPoMo. I should be writing this into a notebook, instead I am releasing this out to the world. At least you may scroll away if you want! So, in a vein of randomness, I will leave you with this funny bit that amused me today:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Yes, I'm still here

I can't tell you how hard I am trying to not complain about writing. Like I have any thing to complain about! If I want to quit this, I should just quit right? But this is what babies like me do, right? That's why we need trainers? I mean other people need trainers. I don't believe I could afford one, nor would I  probably do it if I could. Not that it's a bad thing at all. There's just something about it that doesn't quite work with my personality. Obstinate and sensitive to criticism are just some of the qualities that cause something like a trainer to backfire on me. 

Today was a brisk, wintry day, with a cold blue cloudless sky and a icy wind. It was beautiful, and I went for a quick hike just to get outside and sort my thoughts. Are you thinking about Thanksgiving? I'm trying to sort it all out in my head. I have a party of possibly 16 at my table, and though I'm excited about it, it does take some preparation and thought. I'm going simple and basic, as I usually do, but it's still a few people to feed. 

And really, it's not the food that really causes any anxiety for people before a dinner or party. It's the performance of it. The people of it. The timing of it. The uncertainty of it. It's in the future: will everything come together? Well, you don't really know do you? Instead of worrying too much about what I will make (which, let's face it, I will obsess about but hopefully in a healthy way) I try to instead focus on how nice it will be, and how (barring a true disaster of some sort) things will be just fine. If the turkey is dry or the pie gets burnt (those things won't happen, of course, but just as an example (ha!)) nothing is going to happen really. It's amazing that only at the age of forty-two am I able to quell my anxiety. And I still don't do it too well.

So, Thanksgiving talk aside, what did I eat today? It was another early morning that found my son helping me make black currant muffins at 6:20 a.m. I had toast with yogurt with a bowl of sauerkraut again for lunch. And dinner was a lovely hash of celery root, apples and onions with some pork chops on top. I had my helper for dinner as well; at 4 years old he really helps out. His new favorite thing is being a waiter and serving the table, which quite honestly is very scary if you are hungry for your meal. It can be a wobbly affair. Tonight, after we had all been served, he sat in his seat and gnawed on not one but two pork chop bones, which gave me deep motherly satisfaction. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


I guess I had my elevenses a little early today, but when you wake up (against your will) at 5:30 a.m. you are allowed. At 10 a.m. I had all sorts of goodies: a bowl of fresh sauerkraut, alongside two pieces of toast slathered in greek yogurt, drizzled with good olive oil, salt and pepper, and to finish, a piece (or two) of quince custard cake.

This morning my son went to preschool, and I was able to get a lot done. The sauerkraut that has been bubbling in a friendly manner and keeping me company as I write in the dining room is now done. I could smell that it was ready: pungent and sour, it smelled nothing short of lovely, and I couldn't wait to have a bowl of that crunchy goodness. I crave sauerkraut, and I do think it's the vitamin C in it. This time, I made so much of it, that I filled a few quart jars to keep in the fridge, but canned the rest. Which I feel ambivalent about. Canning apparently kills all the lively bugs in sauerkraut, and I generally don't do it, but space is at a premium these days so we'll see how it works. I usually make smaller batches of kraut to avoid this problem and stick it all in the fridge, but the head of cabbage I got was massive, and needed to be dealt with.

The toast I had was inspired by Instagram, specifically Inna Jam (@innajam), a artisan preserves company based in the Bay Area. I've always thought: why not use greek yogurt as a spread, but never really did it. So when I saw a picture doing just that with a golden pool of good olive oil on it, I was inspired. It's my favorite new snack!

The cake was also inspired by Instagram, this time by a few users: Autumn Makes and Does (@autumnmakes) and Belle Jar Canning (@tamikabellejar) who were in turn inspired by fellow baker, Apt. 2B Baking Co. (@apt2bbakingco) It's this quince custard cake, and I implore you to make it. I had this jar of quince preserves sitting around that was (shall I admit it?) maybe two years old. It was quince essentially poached in rosé wine and honey. I used that in place of the poached quince in the recipe. These folks are all accomplished bakers, so I can vouch for this essentially easy recipe that's going to make you look so good. Unless of course you eat it all yourself. Which I might do. Maybe I'll impress myself, that would be nice for a change!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pasta with Tomato Sauce

Making pasta, 1980.

Tonight I didn't do anything special, and if you really want to know about it, I had pasta with some very plain tomato sauce. My son was perfectly happy with this, and almost finished his rather large bowl. Though that might have been because it was racchette pasta, which look like little tennis racquets. I was actually perfectly happy with it, too. It's one of the more comforting dishes I could list. Pasta with tomato sauce and a little bit of cheese sprinkled on top is something I ate two, maybe three, times a week growing up. On Sunday morning, my dad would start cooking the sauce. There was meat to be browned, wine to deglaze, herbs to disperse, and onions and carrots to chop finely.

(And no, we did not call it gravy. I never heard people calling tomato sauce "gravy" until I saw the Sopranos. Seriously. We also didn't call it "marinara." And we certainly didn't call it ragu, because you know, it wasn't ragu. I totally remember those stupid Ragu tomato sauce commercials though.)

Every once in a while we would have meat sauce, which was always exciting. If that happened, fresh pasta most assuredly was made, and it was usually ravioli or tortelli. It was a long day of cooking, and generally dad did all of it, as my mother cooked during the week. It was a ritual, passed down from his childhood, and I will admit, we kids pretty much resented it. We were always busy playing with friends, and no one could understand why you needed to be home at noon, to eat a huge meal at 1 p.m. For TWO HOURS. And you sat at the table until my dad finished his espresso. Who did that? Do you see my expression in the photo above? I always enjoyed being a cook's assistant, and even though I like to think that I was an eager assistant, I probably wasn't always.

Of course, it's now one of my fond memories.

I still like to make large pots of sauce. And I love to make pasta when I have an abundance of eggs, but right now the chickens are molting, and that means no eggs. We don't have a Sunday meal, either. I do make sure that we all sit down and eat together, though, which doesn't sound like much, but I do think it means something. It makes me realize how hard keeping a tradition is, if you don't have every one committed to it, or someone disciplining it. It also makes me think about how I didn't seem to care about losing this  and other traditions, until now, older, I realize they kept us together in a way.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Meaty Week is Now Over

Poet's Walk

Did you notice I hike quite a bit? Do you hike? Walking is probably one of my favorite things, aside from eating, which is a darn good thing. Today was so beautiful that I went on two hikes. One alone in the morning, and one with the family later in the afternoon. I would have walked all day in between those two hikes, too, but alas I couldn't. As we drove home from the afternoon hike, I said to Steve, "I look forward to one day hiking for as long as I want without looking at the clock and rushing back home. Or going on a hike that I know is going to take me hours." I do look forward to that day, but I wonder if I will really do it once that day arrives. Do I really want to hike all day, or am I just saying that because I can't? I do that a lot, you know. Want to do a thing because it is beyond my reach. Do you do that, too? Good. I'm not alone.

Bacon, and yes, skin.
 Today I finished the week-long meat curing and smoking marathon. Things are all now tightly wrapped in freezer paper, and snug in their ziplocs. (I'm going to admit that I love ziplocs SO much. Do you?) I'm going to stop posting photographs of large chunks of meat, I promise. Now they're all little pieces of meat in my freezer. I almost made salt pork, but I ended up curing the skin-on fatback I had as for bacon, and smoking it alongside the bacon. Now I have cured, smoked fatback cut into convenient chunks for all sorts of things, like chowders and stews. What I love about using these fatty pieces is that they flavor a dish so intensely, but with the most minimal use of meat itself. It's very frugal, very tasty.

Strips of cured and smoked fatback.
That said, I honestly don't want to look at another piece of cured and smoked meat for a while. I smell like bacon, which I'm sure some people would be delighted by, but honestly I'd rather eat the huge knobby celery roots I bought today at the market instead. Even though I didn't "dispatch" or "harvest" (that means kill or slaughter, but you may know this) this pig myself, by doing all the curing and smoking, and having all the parts to look at--the jowl, the feet, the tail--I see what I am doing. I am preparing half of a large animal. At one point, when I wrote "skin" on a ziploc bag, I felt rather grisly. And then let's not talk about the liver. I don't often feel that way, but after this week I do.

Actually, for dinner tonight, I made my family ham steaks with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. I tasted the ham, which came out very good, not very salty at all, but instead I had a big bowl of red skin potatoes, cut in large chunks, cooked to perfection, soft and creamy, and doused them with rosemary olive oil. It was SO good.