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Posts Tagged ‘basil’

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I needed to be in the kitchen today. Too much work and too much abject crazy in the world made it absolutely, crucially necessary; and thank the universe, it chilled me right out (and fed me very well at teatime today).

The above is a sausage bread. I’ve never made a stuffed bread before, and looked online for a good recipe, but all I could find were recipes that started with a tube of Pillsbury. Then it occurred to me that a stuffed bread is a lot like pizza dough with, you know, stuff in it. So I used Bon Appetit‘s recipe and added anything I thought would taste good.

First I crumbled up 12 ounces of hot Italian sausage and grated about a cup and a half of mozzarella. Then I made the dough, adding some Parmigiano-Reggiano and dried basil and rosemary. (I’ve noticed when you buy stuffed breads, the bread’s flavor itself is somewhat neglected; the focus seems to be on the filling alone.) Then I let it rise, and worked it into a ball the way I learned when I did a brief stint at a restaurant. (I was one of two people who, on weekends, rolled 250 balls of pizza dough per day. It was strange rolling just one!)

Then with a rolling pin I rolled it into a disk, loaded it up with the cheese and sausage, then treated it as I do my chocolate-cinnamon babka: I rolled it up jelly-roll style, pinched the ends, twisted it, and coiled it. It got an egg wash and I popped it into the oven, figuring 350 degrees F would do. It did. Took Julia Child’s advice and took it out when I could smell it.

I sat down with it, hot, the whole thing, at my dining room table and pulled off steaming little pieces. Nibbled and looked out the window and was soothed. Sending all of you the same wishes, with or without a sausage bread.

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In Louise Fitzhugh’s brilliant, mouthy Harriet the Spy (1964), the heroine insists on a tomato sandwich every day for lunch. In her case, she likes it plain. In my case, I like thick-cut, sweet Vidalia onion, salty cheese (Cotija or feta), extra virgin olive oil, a leaf or two of fresh basil if you can get it (I couldn’t), and an heirloom tomato. If none, or only a portion, of an heirloom is to be had, a tomato from a local garden is a worthy pinch hitter. The above sandwich was supplemented by my friend Charlie, who left an upended crate of tomatoes for me on a bench by his back door.

Tomato season lasts from mid-July through September—a painfully short duration for the addicted.

For the past few days this sandwich has been lunch, or dinner, or lunch and dinner on the same day. If you’ve never tasted a local, ripe, sun-warm heirloom tomato, this admission will come across as lunatic. If you have tasted one, it will come across as utterly sound…and in fact, you’ll wonder what keeps it off my breakfast table. I’m beginning to wonder myself.

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Midsummer, and we’re all starting to ooze into the fabric of our beach chairs (but today temps hit 90 again, so full disclosure: I’m oozing into my sofa as I write this).

A hazy, dreamy list of the not-to-be-missed—summer delights,`a la me.

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Beach rose in early evening light.

1. Go to the beach between 4 and 6p. The shadows are long, the sand has a golden glow, and the crowds have cleared. It’s the most beautiful time of day.

2. Or go to the beach between 7 and 9a when the ocean is sparkling in the morning sun. It’s the other most beautiful time of day. Dive in. You’re swimming in a big splashy tub of glitter.

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3. Eat locally grown fruit, picked perfectly ripe. To get the full flavor, resist refrigerating it. Trust me on this one.

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Sticky ripe plum.

4. Don’t put fresh basil in the fridge, either. Treat it like the plant it is: Trim the ends and stick the bunch in a jar filled with water. Use as needed. If flowers start to emerge, pinch them off to keep the leaves from getting bitter.

5. Go barefoot. Feel the differences between the textures of this or that sand, or this or that grass. Don’t freak over rough patches forming on your feet; they’re giving you the power to explore the summer world further.*

6. Make a pie. Any sensible pie crust comes together in the Cuisinart in 10 minutes, I promise, zip zip zip, and it won’t have any weird stuff in it. Then you can add anything summer gives you—blueberries, blackberries, late-season cherries. Doll them up or leave them alone.

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Peach custard pie.

7. Find a funnel cake and dive into that, too. Any will do, but I like ’em puff-tastic.

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From the very nearby Asbury Park, NJ boardwalk. I’m not 300 lbs., and it’s miraculous.

8. Slurp up an heirloom tomato—and go local on this one as well, too, for best flavor and price. All other tomatoes will seem like the soggy tube socks they are. Slurp at room temperature. A ripe uncut tomato will live happily on your kitchen table for a few days, if you can restrain yourself longer than I can.

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9. Ride your bike. It’s just as you remember—like flying.

10. Go to a playground and swing on the swings. Go at night. Even better.

11. Find an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and order something retro. The one near me, in business since 1901, offers a really sweet, really kaleidoscopically colored soda called a cherry-lime rickey. Or go back just as far as the boomers, who order butter pecan, black raspberry, and cherry vanilla.

12. Collect wildflowers and let them brighten your counter or night stand. Tiger-lilies, false Queen Anne’s lace, and many others grow in profusion in meadows and along roadsides. If you pull the latter up fully, smell the roots; they smell like carrots (a cousin). Cool, right?

13. Buy a melon from a farm stand. Be sure it’s local for best ripeness. You can eat it in slices or chop it up and make a smoothie or an agua fresca out of it. Use a knife; a melon baller wastes too much fruit.

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I inserted a sharp knife one half-inch into this Sugar Baby and it cracked itself right open. That’s ripe, my dear friends. That’s how melon should be, and taste.

14. Sleep with the windows open. Falling asleep and waking up to a breeze is beauteous.

15. Find something yummy growing somewhere wild and have a little snack. Then tell me about it. Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.

*Gabrielle Reece, pro beach volleyball player, has said she isn’t ashamed of her weight—she is grateful for it, because she needs every pound to play with the force she wants. I feel the same about callouses on my feet; I’m proud of every one because I need every one.

 

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My mom’s potato salad with mayo, salt, black pepper, sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, toasted pignoles, and fresh minced garlic.

Last week I dropped my old PC and new laptop off to the kids* at the Microsoft store to do a data transfer. I wasn’t worried about system withdrawal. So I’d be without a proper keyboard for a few days—so what. So substantial agita ensued, that’s what.

That’s the bad news. The good news, which came as a total shockeroo, was that suddenly I was wild with energy and ideas. I needed to be creating something, producing SOMEthing, all the time. So I hit the kitchen. When I was 90% finished with one recipe, I’d start thinking about what I was going to make next. I’m not saying it wasn’t manic, but I sure ate well.

I note, with some dismay, that I didn’t take pictures of too much of what I made. I don’t remember what happened all that clearly, but best guess, I was too busy eating it all. My reputation precedes me.

Here then, a list. Made all of this within 2.5 days.

-Watermelon-lime smoothie

-Carrot cake with a blop of yogurt cheese on top that I stirred some cinnamon sugar into

-Panzanella with local, organic vegetables: basil, onion, cucumbers, and tiny heirloom tomatoes

-Bourbon-spiked jalapeno ketchup (which has already graced many a turkey burger, and I have lots more)

-White-peach vanilla jam

-Fried zucchini blossoms (going back for more because I have a delirious crush on them, not least of which because I didn’t torch them this year, and am obsessing even as I type)

-Potato salad

I have my units back now. But I have more peach jam to make, as well as a quart of beach plums to pit and jam up as well.

The beat goes on.

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Carrot cake. I bought the carrots from the teenager at Silverton Farms who had just pulled them out of the ground and washed them–she handed them right to me.

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Local organic heirloom tomatoes, Red Bank Farmers’ Market.

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That red stuff between the onions and the cheddar? That’s my ketchup!

*The unvarnished truth.

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I read that in some communities you don’t dare leave your car unlocked in high summer or you risk finding your backseat packed to the ceiling with your neighbors’ surplus zucchini. Hit-and-run altruism. Or desperation, take your pick.

Despite the myriad uses people have come up with to use this prolific squash*, a favorite of mine today was a Sunday morning staple when I grew up, simply called zucchini, onions, and eggs.

It’s hardly a recipe, really; like most memorable dishes, it was invented with what happens to be around. Right now in New Jersey it’s this.

Slice zucchini into rounds and saute over medium-high heat in a pat of butter or a good drizzle of olive oil. Turn them when you can start to smell them; that’s a sign they’re speckled with brown underneath.

Chop up some onion and throw it in with the zucchini, stirring often until it’s lightly browned. Hit the mixture with a little salt.

Whisk together some eggs and pour them over the veggies. Add freshly ground pepper and some Italian seasoning, or any variation of fresh or dried basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary.

If you want to get fancy and have good wrist skills, by all means flip that dude over and call it an omelet. Or just stir gently until set through. I like it lightly browned as well.

There, you’re done. Wait! I just thought of this—a shaving of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano would be incredible.** That’s new.

I upped my game with the dish this year by using local ingredients and it was so good: zucchini and ‘candy’ red onion from Silverton Farms in Toms River. I also sliced in some of their sweet uncured garlic.

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The eggs were from Wyman Farms, from in county. Then I dressed it up even more by making fries with some of the first of Silverton’s itty bitty fresh-dug potatoes, oven roasted with olive oil and tossed with salt. This is breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

I don’t have a garden. But if you do, let me know and I’ll leave my car unlocked for you.

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* I also read people use them as baseball bats—good for precisely one hit, I’m guessing. I need to stop reading so much.

**Caveat: if you’re at all tempted to use anything that started in a green can, please disregard entirely the above suggestion.

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Overblown saplings–a miniature Terabithia.

When I was a kid, people took care of their yards, made them look nice, but not to obsession. No one was shooting for the front lawn of Versailles. What was the point? People had better things to do, and besides, they had four kids and eleven nieces and nephews and consequently were going to host barbecues and egg hunts. You mowed your lawn, maybe you planted a few flowers or a vegetable garden, but that was it.

In our yards we’d tear around under the sprinkler a lot. We played Hide and Seek behind the azalea and rhododendron hedges and climbed the Japanese maples*. We played Red Light Green Light, Midnight, and Mother May I. In the fall we once mapped out leaves in a grid on the grass to make pretend rooms, and played house. At my aunt and uncle’s place we’d amble out to the ground cover at the southern end of the yard where our cousins said little men lived, and they told us stories about them. It’s one of my earliest memories.

Ubi sunt, a motif in medieval literature, comes to mind.** The Latin translates to ‘where are?’ As in, ‘Where are the people we used to hang with, where are the places we used to love to visit, where did the old times go? Why does everything have to change? What gives?’ This brand of nostalgia is just as applicable in the poems of our daily lives as it was in Beowulf. Some days I feel the old chain mail rattling on me a lot.

It’s true that much is different today; and back to yards, when it comes to them, I can’t imagine that those differences are good for anybody. I mentioned in a recent post that the current owners of my cousins’ house ripped out almost everything—the sour cherry tree, the loosely growing hedges, the tree house, even pulled the patio right off the back of the house—and covered the holes with Astro-Turf green sod. It’s as soulless as the eyes of a Rodeo Drive mannequin.

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Woodland strawberry leaves, early winter.

I know a couple whose yard is a self-imposed leaf-free zone. I mean all year. I mean in a town with enormous, century-old trees. The kind with leaves on them. To put it plainly, keeping the yard free of leaves is a combo platter of futility and insanity. One time the wife spotted six insurgent leaves in the front flower bed and asked her husband to get rid of them before company came that day ‘because they didn’t look good.’ I swear to you I’m not making this up.

Forsythia hedges, meant to grow with extravagant wide shaggy yellow arms every spring, are now often shaved into somewhat unnerving spheres. At the school bus stop across the street from the house where I grew up, another massive hedge, covered in spring with sweetly perfumed white blossoms, has been chopped down to a waist-high nub.

Why does it seem everything these days has to be senselessly tidied? Prettified? I’ve talked about this a lot—with food and otherwise. It seems to be pervasive everywhere, this notion of showboat over substance. Creeps me out, quite frankly.

Well, I’m not poopy by nature. Bash on, regardless! as the English say. So. Below, my personal recommendations.

Mind you, now, I am not suggesting you stifle your creativity. If your yard is your proverbial canvas, have at it. But…I am gently but firmly asking that you don’t create yourself into a box—a predictable, restrictive, limiting box. Creativity is supposed to make the world bigger, not smaller. Hint: If you routinely call out things to the kids like, ‘Don’t touch the hydrangeas,’ ‘Stay away from the garden arches,’ ‘No Aquasocks near the day lilies–you’ll elevate the pH in the soil,’ you’re in a box. Take a note from my boy Jim Morrison and break on through.

How To Keep A Yard

1. Let it be a little rough here and there. Let the hedges get a little overgrown. They’re hiding places. They’re necessary.

2. Let the paint on your deck steps be imperfect. Rough spots are the scrapbook pages of stories told there, after-school cuddles, lunchbox parking spaces, jumping games.

3. Teach the kids how to apply bug spray, show them what poison oak and ivy and sumac looks like, and then leave them alone.

4. Value the romance in the edges of a yard, where the cultivated meets the wild. They are the places where the wondrous and the scary and the huge and the tiny and the improbable can dance. I don’t believe there is anything in the universe—even the universe—bigger than a kid’s imagination. Spending time in the shadowy crevices, in those places where human order bumps up against natural disorder—that’s where imagination can spin, that’s food for the soul. The best kind.

5. Let kids have a little patch of earth that’s all theirs. They get to choose what’s on it. A pizza garden with basil, oregano and any vegetable they deign worthy of eating, or just a dusty tableau to imagine onto, with or without props. And when it rains it’s mud. Tell me what’s better than that. Want to create? Want them to create? Start with mud.

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Happily, ubi sunt holds off from time to time. It’s a relief. I visited the nubbed-down hedge at the bus stop today. There are flower buds on it. Only about 16, but I’ll take it.

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And the ground cover at my cousins’ house remains. When I walk past I think about what my cousins said, about the little men who lived in it. Who knows? Maybe they did. Or still do.

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*Oops. Just outed us after 35 years 🙂 Sorry, Mom.

**I love how a literary motif I learned in 1989 will never be lost to me, but I couldn’t tell you the license plate number of the car I’ve driven for 11 years.

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I had a be-in with a plum a few weeks ago. It was sweet. After that I canoodled with a muskmelon, some pickles, and more than a few heirloom tomatoes. I register my guilt here in this photo essay.

You can’t blame me, can you?

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Softball-sized muskmelon. The innermost center tastes like honeydew, and the deeper you dig, the more it tastes like its cousin, the cucumber. The spoon is at the best part.

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Local, organic strawberries. The jelly jar is foreshadowing. But you probably guessed that.

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With organic vanilla yogurt—an unbeatable breakfast or teatime snack.

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Cupcake with homemade Nutella (guanduja), both in the batter and straight up as a topping.

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Morning glory, late summer.

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My cousin’s sangria, with raspberries, strawberries, lemons and limes.

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Surfers backlit by sunset.

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Cobblestones near train station, Hoboken.

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Fresh peach custard pie made with local eggs.

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Really ripe heirloom tomato.

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My summertime obsession again, here on a whole wheat bun, with local basil, fresh mozzarella, olive oil and salt. In short, breakfast.

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Tiny lemon square.

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Mulberries picked from a branch hanging by my balcony, simmered with sugar and some Petite Syrah.

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S’mores made for my friend Laura’s 5th of July party.

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A spoonful of late-summer flowers.

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Bread-and-butter pickles made from a 100-year-old or so recipe.

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Assemblage of toasty artisanal bliss, Porta National Park, Asbury Park, Labor Day.

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Nutella sandwiched happily between two thin discs of homemade pizza dough and doused in powdered sugar. The smears below showcase my brother-in-law’s determination to get every last bit. Porta National Park.

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And of course, the pan in which I shamelessly assassinated a quart of olive oil. The summer wasn’t all pretty.

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