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Posts Tagged ‘Nat King Cole’

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Maybe 30 years ago I read Katherine Paterson’s brilliant Bridge To Terabithia*. There was a note at the end which said the illustrator drew the pictures while listening to the music of the Beatles. (To see one of Donna Diamond’s beautiful drawings from that book, click here.) Her work was so ephemeral and dreamy, and I was not surprised to learn of the particular musical influence. I’d bet you aren’t either.

In my Advanced Studio Art class in high school we always had the radio on, set to a local station, while we drew. My work was inevitably co-authored by Mister Mister, Heart, and Dream Academy. By college I’d graduated to Belinda Carlisle and MC Hammer.

lady speed stick

This is a Lady’s Speed Stick. Hammer would be proud.

Sometimes I listen to music while doing busy work like cutting and freezing produce. Once I wrote to Gourmet Magazine** and told them I spent the afternoon slicing organic strawberries while accompanied by Led Zeppelin. It was a solid choice, I thought. Gourmet agreed. They printed my letter.

But back to the vein of Donna Diamond, Bridge drawings, and the Beatles; and me, my drawings, and late ’80s power ballads: I think the music I’m listening to when I’m creating has a hand in the product. That includes cooking. This past few weeks I’ve needed some deep rest—soul-core rest. Aside from sleeping, that means comfort food; and in my case, making it.

First I went to my farm and bought some local, low-spray, ripe peaches. Then I sliced them and tucked them into a butter crust, latticed and sprinkled with demerara sugar. My co-author was The Carpenters. I felt like I was moving not through air but through Karen’s exquisite honey-colored contralto. That was a mellow-tasting pie, indeed (there it is above).

A couple of days ago I became oddly obsessed with a recipe I’ve had for years but have never made: blackberry brown-sugar cake. I took some liberties, since it was to be a breakfast or teatime cake for me, not a celebration cake for others. Omitted the buttercream and jam and half the sugar, swapped in some olive oil for part of the butter and whole-wheat pastry flour for some of the all-purpose. The recipe also called for ground walnuts and a little sugar at the base of the pan, but I didn’t have any walnuts, so I used hazelnuts instead. They were so heady and delicious that going forward I’ll never use walnuts. I topped the cake with tangy, organic plain yogurt and blackberries I’d just picked at the farm. The result was subtle and moody and surprising.

Nat ‘King’ Cole made this cake with me. You might not be able to tell by the photo, but you’d know for sure when you ate a slice.

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*The movie is rubbish.

**Requisite whimper that they’re gone. 😦

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Much can be said for everyday pantry and fridge staples, the Monday night spaghetti and meatballs, the Thursday night chicken tacos. Who hasn’t sunk gratefully—heart, soul and tummy—into a warm bowl of alphabet soup? Like old Nat King Cole standards, these mealtime standards soothe, comfort, and never let you down.

Which is great.

But there comes a time, I hope, when you’re ready to shake the dust off, to get out of the comfy chair and try something new. And by new I mean something off center. Way off center is even better.

To wit, the llama burger above.

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to the NOFA-NJ (Northeast Organic Farming Association of NJ) Winter Conference at Princeton University as a representative from Edible Jersey magazine. There I met some truly fascinating folks, including Linda Walker and her son, Brent. At their farm, WoodsEdge Wools Farm in Stockton, NJ, the pair raise llamas and alpacas for fiber and meat.

…Meat? That threw me. But when Brent grinned and his eyes lit up describing the flavor, I knew I wanted in. Two pounds of ground meat was snatched up on the spot, and the next night I was in my kitchen, a hefty patty sizzling in a hot skillet, an earthy, rich smell saturating my place. It was such a mild night that I opened my back door, sending the aroma wafting over Loch Arbour and tormenting the neighbors. (Sorry, folks. The website link’s at the bottom of the page here. Order away.)

As much of a treat as the smell was, the flavor and juiciness were astonishing. Imagine the best hamburger you’ve ever had. Got it? Now imagine it made with filet mignon. That’s the best descriptor I can come up with. Since it’s fat that makes meat tender, and Brent told me it’s much leaner than beef, I can’t explain why it’s the tenderest burger I’ve ever had.  But some things are just fine left as a mystery, and this is one of them.

From Stockton to Scotland, now, for the next food adventure. A breathtakingly beautiful country, it doesn’t typically come to mind when one thinks of wonderful food. But you can eat very well in Scotland (and most anywhere on the planet, I believe) as long as you do two things, and never waver from them:

1) Eat what the locals eat. You wouldn’t order pasta bolognese in Mexico, would you? Ask a country to do what it doesn’t do, and you’re asking for disappointment.

2) Be curious. Words to live by, but especially when you have the opportunity to try something new. Go ahead and have a bias or two (I will never eat a worm, delicacy though it may be on some remote rock in the Pacific) but try to keep that mind opened.

In Scotland, I ate what Scotland does best: heaps of pub food and seafood. Not surprisingly, they were consistently stellar. I’ve never much liked shellfish, but I wanted to learn to appreciate it; the country, a peninsula, knows it intimately. Tiny mussels harvested from the waters surrounding one of the nearby islands burst with briny flavor, and now I love mussels. Salmon has always been a favorite, but the poached local salmon I had in Scotland was unlike anything I have had before or since, so whisper-soft that it almost dissolved on my tongue. It was like eating an entirely new food.

One misty day, on the road to St. Andrew’s, I stopped in Anstruther (pronounced Enster) to try fish and chips, something I’d never had before. (Heck, no, I don’t count Arthur Treacher’s.) I’d read that the locals are the best source to go to when looking for the best food, and almost as if I had dreamed him up, a stout policeman with friendly blue eyes and chubby cheeks appeared as I rounded a corner.

He blushed and smiled, jotting down the name of a tiny shop at the water’s edge. All at once he became very serious, and leaned in conspiratorially. “Don’t go to the place next door, the one with all of the signs saying it’s the best. Be sure to go to the place next to it.” The woman behind the counter handed me an order of cod, along with chips and malt vinegar. I found a bench next to the boats and tucked in. The enormous filets were delicately breaded and fried with no frills at all, and they didn’t need it. It’s full-circle beauty, sitting by the sea while tasting something from the sea.

Back to the country’s interior—Dunblane, for dinner.

Haggis (come on, you knew I was going to bring it up), a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs mixed with oatmeal, onions and spices and cooked, is loathed and feared by many outside the UK. Many, I should clarify, who might never have tried it. It’s among the humblest of peasant foods, fitting in with pasta e fagioli or the aforementioned tacos. Because of my love of peasant food, and because haggis is so well-loved in its homeland, it deserved a try.

Although the pub I visited didn’t serve it the traditional way, stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and served with turnips, it was still wonderful—almost overwhelmingly rich, but full of heady, pungent flavor. Here I am, holding a nugget of haggis the size of a tater tot, fried and dipped into garlic cream sauce.

I’ve cooked for people who have looked warily down at their dishes and I say, “Try it. Try it and hate it, for all I care, but try it.” If you in fact hate it, you’re no worse off than you were before. If you love it, your world gets bigger.

http://www.alpacasllamaswoodsedge.com/

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