Feeds:
Posts
Comments

homegrown

IMG_6596

A planned life is a dead one. –Lauren Bacall

The Greens

I left on a walk today with no plans on where to go. Like none. Headed a few blocks west and thought, well…I don’t have enough spinach left for my salad tonight. I’ll go pick dandelion greens. So I went to a spot that’s: 1) untended public lands (pesticides unlikely) 2) away from sidewalks (and their attendant leaky dogs).

And did well, as you can see above. Dandelion greens are tenderest and the least bitter when no longer than a finger—shorter, if you can get them. And I have little fingers.

The Visit Home

Then, since these lands are opposite the ballfield where I spent most of my childhood, I decided to poke around a little and see what was new in the old haunt. We kids owned that place, and it was our home. No hyperbole.

There’s a batting cage and a tennis court, plus sometimes people tee off just for fun, much to the irritation of the cops. And apparently the aim of today’s suburban athletes hasn’t improved from days of yore; there were as many balls in the woods as there were old sycamore branches. You could open a Sports Authority.

IMG_6597

Okay, a kiosk.

And I see kids still have offline fun. Kind of heartening.

IMG_6598

‘Kinda loud’ JUST DOESN’T CUT IT.

I wandered to the northeast corner of the ballfield where we used to play an outdoor version of house, on the rough grounds that straddle the gully. It was usually dry, but got muddy when it rained a lot. The spot is overgrown now, and backs up against new houses. But in the day…it was a freaking kingdom.

IMG_6599

New Jersey’s version of Terabithia.

The Poultry

Right up against this corner is a house that—wow—now has a chicken coop? In Interlaken? And here comes a blonde woman to feed them, and—*resist passing out from shock*—I know her?

‘Hi! What are you doing?’ she asks.

‘Foraging.’

‘Oh, okay.’

As if she’s just asked where I got my pants, and I’d said, ‘L.L. Bean.’ But she does raise chickens in the tidiest, sweetest little suburb in the Western hemisphere. So her chill reaction makes sense.

Leslie’s husband makes hot sauce for a living. She’s trained in herbal medicine, grows a lot of that sort of thing, and raises these Rhode Island Red chickens. She ran inside for a dozen fresh-laid eggs for me.

And that’s how I came to carry a fistful of rapidly wilting greens and a dozen eggs through a town that has no stores of any kind. Well…I have had weirder moments in that town.*

The Last Surprise

I was stunned to see white violets (Viola sororia) growing a month earlier than usual. Here, these are May belles. Then I was further knocked out to see a variety I’d never seen before…and I know every flower in this one-horse town. It’s a violet, but can’t figure out what kind. Does anyone know? White with Pollack-esque purple speckles.

IMG_6603

More Poultry

Near the flowers I saw a Canada goose chomping away on grass, and called his attention to the violets. I told him that some varieties taste like mint, but he ignored me. Nice.

IMG_6604

Oh, like plain grass is so good.

The Dinner

Tossed the dandelion greens in with my smidge of spinach. That’s avocado you see in there, too, since I’m still inexplicably obsessed, plus a little bit of cheese, plus red onion, plus olive oil and salt. Didn’t have an egg yet. Tomorrow.

IMG_6605

I ate a massive chocolate chip cookie before this.

*Once I sold blue-tinted 7-Up with my friends from the edge of their driveway. It was roughly the color of Ty-D-Bol. Some tennis players came over for a drink, saw the color, and one of them said to the other, ‘You first.’

IMG_6537

I made an awful lot of honeysuckle syrup last June. Drank up a bunch with vodka over ice, drizzled more in mini ladyfinger trifles, and am now baking up the rest.

One of the tenderest, loveliest pound cake recipes I know comes from Martha (http://www.marthastewart.com/315016/cardamom-pound-cake-with-roasted-late-su). I thought I’d guild the lily one step further and soak it in honeysuckle syrup. So I did.

Do everything she tells you to do, but hold the cardamom and cut way back on the sugar (your syrup wants to be the diva here). I put my batter in an 11″ springform as well, and put it on a rimmed cookie sheet. When it comes out of the oven, dock the top of the cake with a fork.

IMG_6538

Like this. Martha’s would have been more even.

Then pour a cup or two of the syrup over the whole cake. The hot cake will slurp it up, and the little holes will help to facilitate that. (Since the cake contains almond flour, I added a splash of Disaronno to the syrup as well. Almonds and honeysuckle are such a good combo platter.)

Every morning I take out a half cup or so of extra syrup and pour it over my slice of breakfast cake because I love it all soaky.

Right now tax accountants across the country are busy closing out America’s 2014 fiscal year. I’m doing the same…but with honeysuckle. The 2015 season starts this June. I’m standing by with my collecting bucket.

IMG_5332

beneath the veil

IMG_6492

A couple of weeks ago I read about a grandmother who, when covering her rising bread dough to hold in moisture, called it ‘veiling the bowl.’ And this is where it gets bizarre. From then on, I kept seeing veils everywhere.

A reader posted a photo of blue-veiled Indian women. I saw more veil references in my reading. One described illusion as a type of veil. Another called tears a veil. Still others discussed the role of veils throughout history. A woman in a veil is often a woman in transition—in mourning, in travel, about to be wed. She is in a liminal state, poised in a soulful world of her own, all the while walking in the topside world. There’s a certain power held by a woman who wears a veil; she stands among us, but is to a great extent untouchable. Everyone who beholds a veiled woman senses this power. It’s a silent warning that she is not to be disturbed, much like dough rising. She has work to do. And it can be mesmerizing to behold.

I spent a good portion of the winter under the throw that I mention often, writing, snoozing, thinking, and generally being soothed. It’s a fleecy sanctuary…and another veil. There’s more: I’ve felt most comfortable with my hair almost entirely down. (Another.) I’ve felt compelled to stand at the ocean’s edge and dip my fingers in the salt water, much like my own tears, and run them across my cheeks. (Yep.)

But then, it’s been a long and tough winter. From old to new thinking, from cold to warmth, from illusion to the not-always-comfy chair of reality, I’ve been incubating. For good, I hope.

There’s a Puritanical and misguided rule among many women (and men) that to allow time and peace to incubate is wasted time, or even more damning—frivolous and self-indulgent time. No. It’s in these moments that we can discern what works in our lives and what doesn’t, dispel truth from illusion, administer medicine to the hurt places, and cultivate strength for what’s ahead. The topside world can and will dry you out. Don’t ever apologize for going under the veil.

Last Friday I baked Easter bread, a three-generation tradition. There it is incubating, above and just below. This was one of my more successful years, despite my own liminal state. With a veil (a well-used cotton cloth), some warmth, some moisture, and some peace, the bread became just what it was meant to be: tender and spicy and resilient—quite the revelation, if I say so myself.

And there I am, incubating far below. Shooting for the same result.

IMG_6499

IMG_3010

 

 

 

 

avocados

IMG_6455

I used to hate avocados. Now I crave them. Who dreams about chicken salad sandwiches with avocado, kosher salt, and fresh garlic, I ask you? Short answer: Me. Long answer: Meeeeeee.

Okay, I guess it didn’t happen out of the clear blue. One of my theatre colleagues makes homemade guacamole. Now, normally that ubiquitous dip is an under-seasoned, nauseous-colored mush, dense enough to crowbar into a plastic jug and sell as spackle. His is tender, if that makes any kind of sense, and he’s liberal with the fresh garlic. He also brings it to post-show bacchanals, leaves it right in the big charcoal-grey mortar where it was made. People go crazy. Actors tend to be hungry as it is, and they descend upon this like…well, like hungry actors. And one day I grabbed a chip and muscled my way in.*

Last week I bought two avocados. One went toward the aforementioned chicken salad. I stuffed it into a really fresh, smooshy pita** and it was incredible.

Today I tried a friend of a friend’s idea: avocado smeared on whole-grain bread, with kosher salt and sliced red onion. Also a win. Crunchy sea salt would probably be addictive.

What should I make next?

*It took a while.

**I live in an area with a large Syrian Jewish population, they eat a lot of pita, and they would never put up with the dreck on supermarket shelves.

lucky

IMG_6433

For the past few Marches I’ve made soda bread. Wildly delicious breakfast.

I started out using traditional recipes from Gourmet Magazine* and Linkedin, tender, buttery, raisiny ones. Then last year I decided to get all cocky and do riffs off the usual recipes.

The below is last year’s oeuvre, with a big handful each of dried cherries and dark chocolate chunks. It worked. I’d do it again. And, no, I never slice these dudes.

IMG_5045

Pulled-off chunks taste way better.

This year’s idea clocked me upside the head while in the car, just a few minutes from my place.** I’d thought I’d go with a tropical theme, with dried pineapple or mango, toasted coconut, and rum. It’s a solid idea, and it’s still in the running for next year. Stick around.

Then I thought, no, I’ll stay really, really close to the heart, soul, and fisherman sweaters of the Irish, and use Baileys Irish Cream somehow. I toyed with making a glaze out of it. When I heard a howl of brogue coming from across the pond, I got a mite shaky and poured this lovely stuff right into the dough—halved the buttermilk called for, and made up the difference with Baileys.

The broguey howl mercifully shifted in character and pitch, and sounded a lot more appreciative.

I also threw in a cup of raisins that I had soaked in a combination of hot water and my homemade vanilla extract*** until they plumped up, and dark chocolate that got a very rough chop. Shamelessly big chunks. If you’re gonna do it, you know.

IMG_6437

Do I seem obsessed with chocolate?

Warm out of the oven, this quite knocked me out—vanilla and chocolate in such a grownuppy way, with creamy, boozy, mesmerizingly fragrant undertones. It worked.

OH, and kindest regards to my #1 Irish fan. Brendan, hope I did you proud! :)

IMG_6432

*God rest its soul.

**Most accidents happen near the home. Look it up.

***Because I was out of Jameson.

the rules (2)

No preliminaries from Little Miss Chatterbox this time. Let’s go:

1) Be skeptical of any dessert served with an amorphous heap on top—whipped cream, raspberry sauce, spark plugs, whatever. It usually means the kitchen is trying to distract you. Remember: if the dessert could stand on its own, it would.

2) Smile at your restaurant server even if he or she doesn’t smile back.

3) If you loved your meal, send your thanks to the kitchen. It’s not pretentious or old-fashioned; expressing appreciation will never be thus.

4) If your Filipino friend invites you to an authentic Filipino meal made by her mom, say yes.

IMG_6144

Lumpiang shanghai—homemade spring rolls filled with ground pork, carrots, and onions. Piping hot and crisp. I couldn’t stop eating them, which was rude because my hosts and friends kept trying to engage me in conversation, but I got a little delirious with these.

IMG_6147

This is is monggo, and lovely comfort food. Beans, broth, shrimp, and vegetables. Again, I needed to exercise better portion control and likely didn’t.

5) If a friend who grew up in Wisconsin tells you that a local ice cream place is fantastic, go.

6) Never refuse a cookie made from scratch.

7) When in a burger joint or chain restaurant, don’t order the pasta. Doesn’t matter if the place has an Italian-sounding name.

8) It’s okay to hate marshmallow Peeps and Cadbury Creme Eggs. Get in line with me. We’ll hang out.

9) Always pull over to buy lemonade from kids selling it in front of their houses.

10) When trying an exotic dish for the first time, make sure the people preparing it know it like they know how to inhale and exhale.

11) Own a copy of The Joy of Cooking. Every single standard dish is in there, and it’s plainly written.

12) Eat fruits and vegetables when they’re in season and you’ll find out how they’re really supposed to taste. Watermelon delivered to New Jersey in March is, for example, a disgrace. In August, purchased locally, it’s celestial.

IMG_3520

Organic Sugar Baby.

13) Shop at farmers’ markets. Ask questions. The guy behind the fold-out table most likely grew those sweet grilling peppers himself and loves talking about them.

14) Recognize that your tastes can change. Something you used to hate might taste very differently to you today—or you simply might learn that you hate broccoli when roasted, but love it when steamed.

15) Put your hands in soft bread dough at least once. Making bread is easy. Really really.

IMG_4307

Babka dough…on the rise.

16) Just because a recipe looks difficult to make doesn’t mean it is, or that you won’t enjoy every second of making it.

17) When traveling, eat where the locals eat for the best value and flavor. If you want fancy, ask a local butcher where to eat; he or she will know which restaurants buy the best cuts. If you want simple and hearty, ask a policeman where to eat.

18) Along the same lines, try foods that the place is known for. Taste an artichoke in Rome, heather honey in Scotland, flying fish on Barbados, sharp white cheddar in Vermont.

19) Go strawberry picking. Go anything picking. Wear decent shoes. Flip flops aren’t.

IMG_5269

20) Own a proper set of knives. They should be weighted evenly, with the metal running straight through the handle. I firmly maintain that if you own cooking equipment that you don’t have to fight, you’ll enjoy cooking far more.

21) On the other hand, don’t spend much for ordinary things. An aluminum muffin tin has a design that’s hard to foul up. I bought a few sets for something like $7 at an ex-boyfriend’s sister’s garage sale in 2006. I also bought a hand mixer for five bucks. Both were at least 10 years old when I got them and they’re still chugging along fine.

22) Try different ingredients together, different textures together. If you don’t like it, so what? You can always chuck it if it doesn’t work out. Or you might come up with something wildly groovy.

IMG_5570

This was a weirdo idea I had for a breakfast sandwich: roasted local peaches with my fresh ricotta, basil leaves, and a drizzle of honey. It was too sweet. Next time I’m going to try balsamic vinegar instead of the honey.

IMG_5343

My honeysuckle syrup. One to one with plain vodka over ice was OUT of this world.

23) Eat with your hands. Not at a posh spot with your district manager, but as often as you can. It will taste differently. It’s grounding.

24) Find out what’s growing wild in your backyard, research it, and be clear on it. I’d bet there’s something edible there you can throw into your salad.

25) Eat good-quality chocolate, pure maple syrup (Grade B!), fresh garlic. Spread Irish butter on your English muffin. (Sure, they’ll be fighting in spirit, but in your mouth it’ll be divine.)

26) Try making pumpkin muffins with fresh-baked pumpkin at least once.

IMG_6063

Above: Cinderella pumpkins; below, cheese pumpkins. Highly recommended.

27) When at a Jewish deli, order the hot pastrami sandwich.

28) If you ever come across a cold bottle of sarsaparilla, try it.

29) Ditto for homemade hot chocolate. Ix-nay on the blue packets.

30) Adding a little sprinkle of sea salt to the top of homemade brownies, truffles, chocolate-dipped figs, and peanut butter fudge gives them a happy little punch.

IMG_4574

the running of the sap

IMG_6397

In late winter into early spring, the warmer days and cold nights cue maple trees to get their sap moving up into the branches for bud production. It’s also the brief window of time in which maple syrup producers work night and day to get sap extracted from trees, boiled down into syrup, and bottled. They’re scrambling this year, because the extended cold weather here on the east coast of the USA has pushed off the season. Once spring weather hits, it’s over for the year.

Yesterday I went with my sister and brother-in-law to the western end of New Jersey where maple syrup collecting is a hobby; we don’t have scads of sugar maples (the variety that produces the sweetest sap) the way our northern states and Canada do. Shame, because I could totally see myself doing this for a profession, despite the fact that I was crap at science.

In the meantime, groovy class. Bundle up.

IMG_6381

Allison the instructor showed us three pots of sap in various stages of reduction. You want to get the water out, to get down to the essence of this stuff. This is the sap after just a bit of boiling; it’s faintly tinged with brown.

IMG_6382

Here’s another pot of sap after longer boiling.

IMG_6383

This one’s almost ready to rock.

IMG_6384

Next we headed out to the sugar bush, the name for the cluster of tappable trees. Although, a woodpecker got to this tree first.

IMG_6386

A 100-year-old sugar maple, with ancient tapping scars.

IMG_6389

Another old tree. Sap running down its bark many years ago stained it black.

IMG_6391

Sap bucket.

IMG_6392

The sap is clear, icy cold, and very faintly sweet. We got a taste of it coming right out of the tree. Bloody awesome.

IMG_6393

A bucket lid keeps out random things that float in the air. Wild coincidence that Canadians made these, huh?

IMG_6395

An old-fashioned hand drill. Far cooler, although much less efficient, than a power drill.

IMG_6396

It has a wooden handle and knob. How cool is this thing?

The syrup in the jar at the top is the product of trees tapped right on the property; it’s single-origin (from one region) syrup. It was offered for comparison along with a commercially-sold brand of pure maple syrup and a popular brand name featuring brown-tinted corn syrup and a woman in a babushka. I thought the syrup made on the property was the best. But admittedly I gave the babushka the snub.

IMG_6399

Oh, and then since we were only 20 minutes outside of Princeton, we hit the bent spoon, which, as I posted to my friends, kicks every ice cream ass there is. The proprietors do their own tapping of local resources whenever possible, supporting local farmers and growers. This is chocolate Port and coconut ice cream. A knockout.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 237 other followers