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Posts Tagged ‘enamelware’

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One thing about having a blog is that people happily point out how deficient you are on the clue front. As a result, you acquire several more clues than you had before. This happened most recently when I posted about rhubarb.

Little Miss Food Authority: Oh boy! Try this marmalade!

Planet Earth: It’s COMPOTE, Genius.

At least I knew how to title this post.*

I have a mulberry tree branch that stretches right alongside my upstairs balcony. There is it above. The tree itself is in my neighbor’s yard. The rest of the branches hang over the no-man’s land between our properties and over the firehouse roof next door. All winter I looked forward to seeing the berries emerge, then turn green, then red, then inky purple.

In mid-June they did. Every morning for three weeks, I took a big plate outside to the balcony and reached over the railing to pick the mulberries. Once I had a handful, I dropped them on the plate I had put at my feet.

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When their season ended I had filled a gallon-size Hefty zip-up bag with berries, all from that single branch. Here they are below, immersed in water. Most are so ripe that they dye the water, as you can see. I also picked the occasional reddish berry. My readers pointed out that unripe fruit tends to have more pectin, which helps to gel the jam I planned to make. Or compote, fine.

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I had this loopy idea a few months back of making some sort of gooey concoction of mulberries and red wine and spices. I’m not much of a wine drinker—I mean, I can tell a quality wine from one I got at a wedding**—so I got some direction from Facebook friends and one very helpful blog reader/vintner from South Africa. I wanted something red, fruity and not dry. Settled on a Bogle Vineyards Petite Syrah, 2010, a California wine.

Yesterday, two hours before I had to leave to work a matinee performance, I decided to bite the bullet and make this. Dumped the whole bag of frozen mulberries into my old enamelware pot, turned the jet onto medium high, and stirred in 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar. I left the stems on, as you can see. But I’ve eaten these berries with their stems for years and I’m not dead yet.

Once the berries had defrosted and started giving up some of their juice, I poured in about 1 1/2 cups of the wine. I also have a huge crush on cardamom, so I threw in a tablespoon or two of that. I measured nothing. Then I turned the heat down to medium and stirred from time to time.

The result was somewhat runny, and then cooled to somewhat oozy and sticky. I didn’t taste it at all until it cooled a bit. And you would think a random recipe idea thrown together and stirred as I was zipping around getting dressed would either crap out on me or taste like nothing special. But it knocked me out.

A year or so ago in a blog post for Edible Jersey magazine I talked about fresh, local black raspberries. I said they tasted like a raspberry’s first cousin, who moved to the Left Bank in Paris and spent much of her days looking wistfully out of her parlor windows. This is similar, but the wine gives it an edge. In this case, it’s as if it also sings jazz at a half-empty nightclub in Le Havre. It’s dark and sweet and complicated, rich and addictive. No one was more surprised than me.

Now how to consume? You’d think a food person like myself would be more original and less lazy than just to eat it right out of the container with any available clean spoon, but I’m not. This time, though, chocolate called out as a worthy match. I had just made lots of itty bitty Nutella cupcakes, with homemade Nutella in the batter, for the cast of the show I’m doing. I sliced one of the leftovers open, filled it up with the mulberry goo, and popped it.

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It was a win, in the vernacular of today. In my own vernacular: I have a dozen more baby Nutella cupcakes in the freezer that have their fate spelled out for them pretty clearly.

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*Since you’re so curious: Marmalade is only made with citrus rind. My ‘marmalade’ had chunks of orange in it—the fruit—but that’s Not Good Enough. Someone decides these things.

For the extra curious: Jelly is made from fruit juice. Jam is made from macerated fruit. Preserves are made with macerated fruit plus big happy chunks of fruit as well. Compote is stewed fruit. It’s much looser than the others and good for ladling, etc. It’s one of the nicest things you can do to a pancake.

**Swell for scouring burnt caramel out of the bottom of a Calphalon 2-quart pan, or the tub, after you’ve washed your Bernese Mountain dog.

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Vintage Pyrex bowls.

Goodness, this was a lousy week.

Even before the tragedy in Connecticut on Friday I was overwhelmed, disheartened and in need of some peace—proper peace, the kind that soaks into the bones. The song ‘Where Are You, Christmas?’ has never been a favorite of mine, but I have to admit that lately I have been wondering the same thing. Here it was the middle of December, and I should have been happily knee-deep in the fun and joy of Christmastime. Instead, stress seemed to have formed a Plexiglas case around me, isolating me from the season I love so much, allowing me to see it but not feel it. It was as if I was watching it all on television.

By Wednesday I was stretched to maximum capacity and utterly exhausted. I crossed everything off my list for the afternoon, drove to the antique district in Red Bank and walked into the red wooden shop at Front Street and Bridge. My blood pressure went down to a simmer as soon as I opened the door of the old building, a mighty garage sale on two floors. It’s a good place to step out of yourself, out of the present, into what (at least) feels like a warmer time. The place even has a calming aroma; the mix of wood, vintage clothes, books and housewares all together in one spot is what I imagine 1958 or thereabouts smelled like.

This antiques shop relaxes me because the stuff within is not so much precious as homey. There are the odd mahogany end tables and gilded mirrors, but there are far more simple things, ones that waft good memories around me like a May wind. I love seeing the type of 1960s porcelain figurines my aunt used to display on her dresser, the ones of ladies with updos, wearing broad sweeps of black liner on their upper eyelids and real dangling earrings. I love seeing the same miniature Madame Alexander dolls I used to collect, and the kind of metal lunchbox my sister used to carry to school.

The vintage kitchen stuff soothes me most of all. The nooks and alcoves piled floor to ceiling with kitchenware are quiet places where you can step in and feel enveloped by women, long-gone, who imprinted themselves on the worn goods they left behind. Here the potato masher and wooden spoons with well-used handles, there the scratched ceramic bowl in which of hundreds of loaves of bread rose. Corningware dishes that saw countless Thursday night meatloaves, birthday-dinner chicken fricassees, heaps of peas from a carefully tended garden. Within these humble, common possessions were the spirits of generations of women who worked their whole lives to keep their families well fed and protected. I felt that spirit, decades later, and felt the safety they provided transfer to me.

Depression glasses and plates are stacked by color, and they make muted rainbows on the shadowy parts of the shelves. Utensils are in spatterware buckets and inside drawers of wooden hutches. The place is a mishmosh, granted; but there IS order, there IS a layout, and I found that comforting, too. What Holly Golightly appreciated about Tiffany, I appreciate here.

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I liked these as a kid, but my mom wouldn’t let us get them because she heard a rumor that they contained lead. Was that true?

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Jadeite vases, coffee cups and bowls.

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Rolling pins.

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Enamelware soup ladle, made to accommodate a deep stock pot.

Christmas decorations are all around the shop, too, most from 1960 and earlier. I loved peering into the cabinets full of candle choirboys, never lit so they would always stay perfect, and grinning Santas. My mom has Christmas things she loves putting on windowsills every year, and so do I. I imagined the sweet-faced angel below being someone’s mom’s favorite. And once again I felt enveloped and safe, even though it was through an image of someone I had never met, from a time before my time. It didn’t matter that it didn’t make sense on paper; it worked.

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Shiny Brite tree ornaments.

Many years ago I was at this very shop and fell in love with a tiny bottle brush Christmas tree. I came back a couple of days later to buy it and it was gone. Amazing how the loss of something that cost three dollars could have made my heart sink like it did, but it did.

On Wednesday I turned a corner and saw another bottle brush tree. At just two inches, it was tinier and even cuter than the one I lost all of those years ago. Three and change. Done.

I stayed for an hour and left the shop feeling much looser and calmer. Yes, the rest of my week got hairy from time to time, and I’m sure it will again. But I have my little bitty tree right here on my desk, and it helps to remind me of the joy and peace this season is supposed to have.

I’m not sure I believe in sweeping generalizations like great joy is all around us, if only we reach out and grab it. Would that it were. At times like this it seems even more implausible, and that’s coming from a pretty enthusiastic optimist. But I don’t think that’s how it works.

Instead, I think we should seek out any bright little glimmers of joy we can find. Those are all around us, and those we should grab. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmastime or any other time of year. Hang on to them and let them sink into your bones. They’ll fortify you. When necessary—before it’s necessary, really—I recommend taking a day, or an afternoon, or even an hour, to play hooky from the world.

And I figured this out: Maybe stress is best diffused just by seeking out anything or anyone that can help us to feel safe. Maybe that’s where peace comes from, too.

I hope you figure out a way to find it—all year long but especially now.

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