Thursday, November 21, 2013

Instant Shrub

Oh, goodness. I've been sick three times already this fall! They were all more of the fighting off kinds of sickness, not full blown luckily, but still, I've been battling and it takes the energy out of you. Is it kindergarten? Is my child bringing me home all sorts of strains of viruses? The last few days I've been battling a bit of a stomach bug. I don't want to talk about food just yet, you know? I'm trying to hydrate. I haven't wanted anything sweet, so now that I'm feeling better I'm sort of craving it. A little toast with jam hit the spot. The last of the raspberry jam, which is my favorite. After I scraped the jar almost clean, I stashed the jar on the side of the sink, because as we all know, a little water or seltzer in the end of a jam jar not only cleans the jar, but affords a frugal and refreshing drink. And you don't have to waste a spot of those precious raspberries that you hand picked in September. My only problem with jam-water (what is it called, anyway?) is that it needs a little brightening. A splash of apple cider vinegar does the drink and boom you have instant shrub. Instant shrub is going to get you, you know.

One of my favorite drinks in the fall is apple cider, a splash of apple cider vinegar topped with seltzer. When I was in Seattle last year, I was lucky enough to be taken to Bar Sajor and they had so many drinking vinegars! It's a big west coast thing. Did I have a rhubarb? I can't recall because there was so much good food eaten, but take a look at their lunch menu, it's all amazing stuff. I don't think I've seen any shrubs up in these parts, but I'm sure Brooklyn is all over it. Do you like shrubs? Or a vinegary drink? I love them!

Friday, November 15, 2013

An Ax to Grind

You know, I've never picked up an ax and split wood before. The other day I tried it out. We had some logs that were small, but they had nice cracks in them and looked like they could be split in half easily. Granted, it was oak, which is a hard wood, but that was some tough business!! I think I split 6 logs. My arms were all weak afterwards, and it messed with my quince prep (as I mentioned yesterday). What people used to have to do to survive always blows my mind. I am so thankful for my comfortable life! Comfort aside, there's always something to work on, and things to feel anxious over, and things that don't get done.

With that said, I am handing in my NaBloPoMo badge. I'll still write every day, but I think I'm going to  keep it in my personal files. It didn't use to bother me, but now just hurriedly writing something just to post it is starting to wear thin. I wonder why it was decided to hold this writing event in November, when everybody is starting to freak out about the holidays? Why not February, when there's absolutely nothing to do? Ah well, it's been fun! I'll see you next week, with something I've worked a little harder on.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Quince Slices in Light Syrup with Cardamom and Clementine

Let the quincing begin! Today I worked with 7 pounds of quinces, slicing them down into twelfths in order to can them in a light syrup. I do believe quinces, though heavenly, are a difficult fruit. They do not yield, and they're tough as a winter squash sometimes. After I peeled them all--with an apple peeler that worked quite nicely, see above--I cored and sliced them all. My hands were trembling with exhaustion afterwards. I'm usually not that delicate, but my arms were a little tired from chopping some wood the other day. Now there's some really tough work.

First I poached them in a gallon of water with a tablespoon of lemon juice, letting them simmer lightly with the lid on. When they were just tender I let them sit while I readied the water boiler and brought the syrup to a simmer. Into the syrup went the zest and juice of two clementines and about twenty cardamom pods, half of them whole and half opened so the little seeds swam could swim about. When the syrup was at a good simmer, I skimmed the slices of quince from the water bath and dropped them in. When they were all in, I let them simmer for about 5-10 minutes. Into pint jars they went, to be processed for twenty minutes.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


These beauties came in my life the other day, and I must attend to them. I will be coming back to post about how I've prepared them! Do you get quinces in your parts? If you are local, there is a wonderful small orchard overlooking the Hudson river in Milton that has an orchard of old quince trees, among many others things. They are called Locust Grove Fruit Farm. They also sell at Union Square Market, and have been for 35 years! I hope you get some of their gorgeous quinces before they are all gone.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On Writing

A funny thing happens when you do NaBloPoMo. As you rack up ten or so days, you start to realize the absurdity of it all. It's like a marathon or contest, and one wonders, why do it? Or at least I do. For me it's not to prove my writing prowess (ha!), or certainly not to compete with other bloggers (again- ha!). It's more for the practice of it. So, what do you take away from that practice, that staring at the page, that reaching within and maybe coming up with something sadly imperfect?

I've been thinking about writing a lot, well, actually I've been thinking about writing all my life. Lately, I'm fascinated by novel writing. How the hell do people do it? It's such a huge amount of work, it seems to me. How do novel writers keep going? Why don't they quit? My biggest qualm is with a question that often plagues me when I start a piece of fiction: is this worth it? Is this the right story to be spending my time on? That's why writing a food blog is (somewhat) easy for me. It's comforting. Here's a topic, write about it, there's a picture here for you to focus on if you stray. There are clear steps, tidy beginnings and, best of all, endings. The question I have when I write fiction is the same question that starts to bubble up now that I'm writing here every day and that is: why am I doing this? That question is really a lesson in faith.

Those words make me pause and stare out the window at a school bus driving by. At the smoke trailing from my neighbor's chimney. At the russet oak leaves still hanging on at the top of the trees, waving in the sky. I begin to feel as if I may be biting off more than I can chew with this post. I like order, and when things start to veer off into chaos I get a little nervous. This is when I choose to close the laptop and head out into the chill wintry day. Thankfully, it was time to pick up my son from school. Now, I'm back, it's after dinner, the table is clean, the sink full of dirty dishes, and I'm here at the computer again. Staring at the "page." What was that about faith? I want to go read by the fire!

Right now I want to push this post to the middle of my queue of posts, and drum up something else, like a post I have sitting around for such emergencies on home made gifts for the holidays. It's making me feel a little wiggly. Do I have faith in my writing? I must, seeing as how I'm still writing. But to be honest, it doesn't feel like how I think faith should feel. I still question the writing. I still question the page. Maybe that's what faith is. Maybe I've had it wrong all these years thinking faith makes you impervious to questions. Maybe faith helps you ignore the whys, so you can keep on moving forward.

Monday, November 11, 2013


After a couple of years of making yogurt, I finally feel the groove. I tried all sorts of ways to find that sweet temperature that yogurt cultures need to thrive, finicky little things that they are. I've evolved from mason jars sitting in a little Playmate cooler filled with warm water to using a yogurt warmer that you plug in.

My yogurt "maker" is a Cosmopolitan Yogurt Maker by Salton. I bought it in a thrift shop for $4. I see on eBay it's vintage! What's funny is that for years I was collecting these little white glasses that I thought were antique milk glass, but when I bought the yogurt maker, I found that all along I had been collecting yogurt warmer jars. I still love them, and actually they are more useful to me now. If I ever break one, I have back up. For the record, the Cosmopolitan is a champ, although I do start plug it in when I start heating the milk. It needs some time to warm up, like most things born in the seventies.

I've found that my favorite yogurt is thick and tangy. The texture I like is achieved by whisking a little milk powder in the milk before heating it. The tangy part comes from a long sitting period: 24 hours. I used to always pull the yogurt at 8 hours, until a friend, who makes excellent yogurt, tipped me off. It also firms up a little more, and I hear tell is necessary if you use yogurt as a starter and you don't buy cultures, which is what I do.

Yogurt was on my mind today because, like buttermilk, I start making it again when the temperatures plunge, and I'm back inside. It seems silly, because yogurt seems like such a summertime thing, right? But summer is so busy, I find I have to let go of some things to make room for others. I'm glad to have these things back in my life!

Yogurt with Cray-pas. Don't you love Cray-pas?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pumpkin Purée

Now that local sugar pumpkins are on sale, I've been trying to store them up in the freezer. Of course, I cook it first! Just cut one in half, scoop out the seeds, and roast it cut side down until it's tender. After taking it out of the oven, let it sit and cool for a while. Then the skin peels right off. Basically, it's a such a little bit of work for so much return. I ended up with 6 cups of purée from this medium-sized pumpkin. And it freezes beautifully. I put it in ziploc bags in 2 cup amounts.

But what to make with all this lovely pumpkin purée?

Pumpkin Cake Doughnuts: I made these today, and because I don't have a doughnut pan they didn't really come out looking like doughnuts. But everyone ate them up fast. They were light and moist, and I didn't feel so bad about letting my son eat two. I'm not sure if they really count as doughnuts though…

Pumpkin Ice Cream: I've been craving this lately and who to turn to but David Lebovitz?

Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi: I love gnocchi, and each winter I make a squash variety with a sage browned butter. I usually use the Joy of Cooking's recipe as a guide. But this one featured on Simply Recipes by Hank Shaw looks like a winner.

Pumpkin Granola: When I made Quinoa-Nut Granola, Kaela from Local Kitchen said she was going to try it with pumpkin instead. I like that idea! (I think she made pumpkin beignets the other day…hmm) And then that makes me think of these Pumpkin Butter Oats from Food In Jars.

There's pumpkin bread, pumpkin custard, pumpkin pie, of course. Pumpkin purée (or squash purée) is always good in mac and cheese. Pumpkin soup. What are you making with your pumpkin (or squash)?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Buttermilk Bread

I must admit how pleased I am when my kid says he's hungry and asks for toast with jam and says, "Make sure it's that bread you made!!" I don't really bake much over the summer, and so just yesterday I finally baked off some loaves. I was indifferent to the idea initially, but once the bread came out of the oven it clicked in me as it does every year: oh, this is so worth it! This buttermilk bread recipe came from Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, which is one of my favorite bread books.

This picture below was my Friday night still life. And the reason why I didn't post yesterday. I'm amazed that now that I have time (my son is in kindergarten--there's so much time now!) I can't get my act together and post everyday. But when he was home with me all the time, somehow I did. I think it's because this blog was all I had to make me feel like a human being, and I kept this space sacred as a place where I could hold onto my identity. Now it's not so pressing, which is nice. So, last night there was warm bread, and some red wine, and a fire going in the wood stove and I thought: you know what? It totally doesn't matter if I throw something up on the blog. And I promptly watched some terrible show on Netflix, then fell asleep. It wasn't heroic, but it felt nice.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Volunteer Cilantro Bed

Oops! I missed a day. Usually it takes a while before I miss a day, but this year I went and did it early. I sort of forgot and sort of didn't. It was one of those: I-don't-really-feel-like-doing-this-thing-I-said-I-would-do-and-it-doesn't-matter-if-I-don't-do-it-so-I'm-going-to-forget-about-it-conveniently. How's that? Do you ever do that? I bet you do.

Do you love this little cilantro patch? Probably not as much as I do. (I still can't understand the cilantro haters---obviously, I'm not one of them.) The cilantro I purposely plant is never this lush. This little bed is so happy, and I really didn't have much to do with it. This is how it happened: some seeds got mulched in this rich spot that I used to compost in. It's a sunny spot so it stays warm, and these tender greens have now made it all the way to November! Granted, with a little help from a cobbled green house: an old piece of plastic floor covering (the kind my grandmother used to cover the high-traffic areas on her rugs) draped over some wire fencing and covered at night with one of our "ghost" sheets.

This is one of my favorite things about gardening: the small discoveries that you make all the time. It's watching life bounding up heedlessly, with or without you. It's this relationship with green things that I've been cultivating all my life. It's a friend of mine, wherever I go, that I always learn from.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Elderberry Vinegar

I think this year was the year of the fruit-infused vinegar for me. Partly because of my laziness. Every time I had something starting to molder, I would toss it in some vinegar and that would be it. One of my favorites of the season was elderberry vinegar. Usually, I save all the precious elderberries for syrup. But there was an errant pint of them sitting in my fridge a little too long, so I poured some cider vinegar on top of them. They sat in the vinegar for a while. I forgot about them. Then I drained the vinegar off when I got around to it. It sits in a jar in my cupboard with no further ado. And now a splash of the vinegar (drained of the berries) in a cold glass of cider is my tonic for the day. Especially since I'm fighting off this horrible bug. Wish me luck that I can get outside and enjoy this brisk fall weather soon!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Quinoa-Nut Granola

Here's my latest master granola recipe. It changes every so often, and this new incarnation features quinoa. I'm not sure if I've ever posted a granola recipe before. I always felt that there were too many in the world. It's such a simple thing! Why do we need so many recipes? Well, just like many simple things the slightest adjustment does change things. And we all like to have things just so, don't we?

They say adding applesauce adds a clump factor to granola, but I'm not sure if I entirely buy that. I do like adding it for sweetness and texture though. I think the best thing to do to induce clumping is to let the granola sit after baking until it cools. I usually add a mixture of honey and maple syrup to my granola; honey for sweetness and maple syrup for a deeper flavor. Keep in mind that if you use just honey it will be a tad sweeter than maple. And of course, you can use sugar if you want, which will put the sweetness power somewhere in between the two. I've taken to adding a bit of almond extract to almost everything these days because I love it so much. FYI to quinoa lovers: I have tried to up the quinoa in this recipe and it gets too birdseed-y. You might like that, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Speaking of things being just so, I don't put any fruit in my granola anymore; I like straight-up nuts. This seems silly to admit, but it had never crossed my mind until I tried this guest-post recipe at Eating Rules from Winnie at Healthy Green Kitchen. The post contains not only good advice on saving money on unprocessed food but a very reliable granola recipe to boot that has only nuts. Aha! I do like fruit with my granola, however: my favorite breakfast these days is a bit of yogurt sprinkled with this granola, with a spoonful of concord grape jam. It's amazing how happy it makes me!

Quinoa-Nut Granola

3 cups rolled oats
1 cups uncooked quinoa (I used equal parts red and white)
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2+ cups of nuts (I like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and slivered almonds)
½ cup applesauce
½ c. oil (olive, coconut or vegetable)
1 teaspoon vanilla (and/or 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract)
1/3 cup maple syrup or honey or sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Spread in a cookie tray lined with parchment paper and bake in a 300 degree oven for 45 minutes, turning every 15 minutes until golden brown, and fragrant. I like to grind a little sea salt on top before it cools. Remember: let it cool fully!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Fall Findings

Fall findings showcased on a platter by MONDAYS.

I have noticed that even though the peak leaf change has long passed that the Japanese maples are just now at their peak. It's perfect because they really stand out against the trees that have lost their leaves or the other late changers, like oaks which are usually more muted in color. The colors were brilliant yesterday offset by the bright daytime blue sky. Fire orange, scarlet red, and deepest burgundy. On my drive into New Paltz yesterday, every where I looked was another stunning Japanese maple. It was a gorgeous day.

Last night the beauty continued at a friend's house. As the sun went down, the sky turned that winter-time cobalt blue, and Venus twinkled low on the horizon. Kids were running around (make them run around so they won't get up too early!), venison grilled on an open fire pit, and I served up the paté I made yesterday with sourdough toasts and grape mostarda. The zippy acidity of the mostarda cut the silky richness of the paté. We ate the tender venison sliced on a cutting board resting on a bench, just a piece of bread to wrap it up.

When it was fully dark (which is now 5 p.m. people!) a sky lantern was lit, and we all stared up into the night sky as it floated, tentatively at first, with determination as it got higher and further away. The baby, who was in her stroller was thrilled, her imperative shouts paired with pointing not gleeful, but serious and awestruck. The bigger kids all ran to follow the sightline of the lantern, standing at the edge of the road, until it was snuffed out.

Today we woke at 6 or 7, depending on whether you set your clocks or not. It's a quiet, homey day. If it wasn't already, it certainly is now the season to start hunkering down, and I'm still stuffing things in the freezer. Whenever I see late fall local produce, I buy a bunch and preserve it one way or another. The other day that meant blanching and freezing lots of broccoli. Today it means a pile of green Italian frying peppers. I've got caraway sauerkraut ready to be jarred and put in the fridge (I find that this is the best time of year for sauerkraut production) and a plum shrub (drinking vinegar) ready to be bottled. What projects are you working on for the winter?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Chicken Liver Paté

Watch out--I'm doing NaBloPoMo again! I was planning on doing it, but then yesterday suddenly was November 1st. What's up with that? Good thing I posted. I thought I had more time! Writing every day really jumps starts me, and a little extra pressure always helps. Every day I'll be talking about what's on the menu and other assorted things.

Today is about this chicken liver paté. I bought these lovely livers the other day; couldn't resist the little half-pound containers from Bell & Evans at the grocery. Although I used a recipe from Jacque Pepin on Food and Wine, I used a tip from the pate recipe on Simply Recipes and soaked the livers in a little milk. Instead of pouring the milk down the drain before cooking, I gave it to my cat. She licked the bowl clean, and proceeded to sit around the kitchen waiting for more scraps. I don't blame her--the kitchen smelled fabulous from just the livers simmering with onion, garlic, salt, thyme, bay leaf and water. My only other deviation from the recipe, aside from the milk soak, was to use applejack instead of cognac or whiskey. Everything else I followed to a T. It tastes incredibly good.

It sounds glamorous, making paté on a Saturday morning, doesn't it? But it's really very down home. Especially when it's me, my hair in a sloppy pony tail, yoga pants on, and my son downstairs in the TV play room watching Bob the Builder giving me the 45 minutes to bang this out. But the richness comes later, when I'll be hopefully sharing this with some friends, alongside some grape mostarda and a good baguette.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Cabbage Gratin

It was a dreary and rainy Halloween. But I really didn't mind. I had the oven on with this gratin in it. Dinner was pork chops, tomato-apple chutney and this crispy topped goodness. There was apple cider (will it be hot, spiced or with rum? see below to find out what we did!*) and a lot of candy. This year we trick-or-treated in our own home. My son, who is now in kindergarten, was given the choice to go out to our friend's house to trick or treat like we've done for the past few years, or stay home. He picked home, and home it was.

It's funny how it takes you a while to really know who your kids is. I mean, you've always known, of course, but at this age they can talk and make choices, and they might even know themselves a bit more. I always find that my son knows himself so much better than I do. So I try to listen. After a few years of taking him out for trick or treating (and I'm not hugely into Halloween, but I thought that's just what you do, right?) he can finally tell me, "No, I'd rather stay home." So, we stayed in: put on the Monster Mash, carved another pumpkin, lit some candles, and yes, ate some candy! I got a huge bowl of all different kinds of candies, and we had our own trick or treating fun knocking on the porch door and then going to the front door for more. We had so much fun!!

This gratin was real winter time fare. So hearty! I used this recipe from the NY Times as a guideline. While I was searching for a recipe, I found this one that looks promising, as well, which had cornmeal and dijon mustard in it.

Cabbage Gratin
adapted from this recipe from the NY Times

1 head of cabbage, sliced
1/2 cup water
olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, smashed

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup brown rice
1 cup buttermilk
handful of chopped flat leaf parsley
3/4 cup (or .25 pound) shredded gruyere cheese
grated parmesan cheese
nutritional yeast flakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 3 quart glass dish. (It will fit in a 2-quart dish if you squish it in like I did, but I will now be shopping for a 3-quart dish.)

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil. Add cabbage and slowly wilt, adding the water as needed so there's just wilting and no browning.

In a separate bowl, mix the eggs with the rice, buttermilk, parsely and 1/2 cup of the gruyere. When the cabbage is looking good (to me this means a mix of really wilt, almost yellow-y cabbage, and some still crisp, bright chartreuse) add it to the egg mixture and toss gently. Put the mix in your prepared pan, and sprinkle with the rest of the gruyere, a liberal amount of parmesan, and the nutritional yeast flakes.

Bake for about 40 to 50 minutes, until browned and bubbly.

NOTE: This makes a large amount of gratin. It's great for a group, but it also works well in leftovers. We had it the next night fried up in the cast iron skillet, for a crispy hash that was served with some bratwurst and mustard. Then I used to riff on this recipe for Italian Cabbage Bread Soup. Instead of the veg and cheese, I layered this gratin on the bread. It came out really very good!

I hope you had a Happy Halloween!

*Note: We ended up having hot toddies. They were SO good. Heat two cups of apple cider with a cinnamon stick (a little orange zest would be good, but I forgot it!) When it's just simmering, turn off the heat and add 3 ounces of applejack and one ounce of the King's Ginger. Throw in some crystallized ginger, pour in a Liberty mason jar mug and cheers!