Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Life is What Happens When You Aren't Paying Attention

   Time has a horrid tendency to slip away from me. As I figured it inevitably would, my "life", or whatever you call it, sent me a postcard from the future, saying, "Hey sucker, thanks for the flesh vehicle transport...oh by the way, it's fall!"
    Yes, blog fans, I've lost my entire summer. In between this catch-up posting and my last (in - shock - May!), I've nearly completed a seasonal cooking position, wrote countess recipes for my adoring friends at Fernbrook Farms CSA, spent a lot of time on my hands and knees weeding veggies and rescuing my own garden from squirrels, collected dozens of our own fresh eggs, and , alas, gotten absolutely NOWHERE on my writing projects. Including this, my neglected, deprived, dust-bunny-collecting little blog site.
  Blog, I sincerely apologize. But, I'm back now!

So much has happened while I was occupied...my little angel, the muse for my cookbook, has started first grade (!) and is losing her first tooth (double !!). Our wee chicks are now nearly full-grown hens, and are reliably laying fine brown eggs, while their brother found a breeding home in upstate NY. The monsoon season of late spring/early summer led to a long, dry spell of late...whod'a thunk it - to the point where I actually HAD to water my plants; although the moist start gave my lemongrass and Thai roselle a jump on life, and they look fabulous! And the vegetables, oh the vegetables...they are fat, delicious and forthcoming, courtesy of our workshare at the farm. More veggies than I know what to do with. My crisper drawer and freezer are vomiting green things.
   Note to self: Invest in chest freezer.
As I look out now, to my surprise, the leaves have already begun to drift earthbound, and I realize that November is a mere few days away...my favorite season, laden with winter squash, apple picking, and warm fires, hot cocoa in hand, chicken stock bubbling merrily away on the stove, intoxicating the whole house with its bone-sticking perfume. These are the days of the year I look most forward to, and spend the rest of the year dreaming about. Fall is a truly dreamy season. The colors spring forth out of paintings. The temperature is perfect for light sweaters and open windows. The sun dapples through amber branches onto still-green lawns, and sets at a reasonable hour in time for after-dinner viewing from the front porch. The earth smells of green hay, smoldering leaves, and apple pie, cold soil and the promise of next year's spring garden. Which I have already begun  - shallots and garlic are in the earth, mulched and prepped for a snowy slumber.
   Yesterday morning, I plucked the last of the year's plum tomatoes from my singularly surviving plant, and what looks to be the last butternut squash from my "surprise" vine that exploded out of a compost pile and grew into the neighbor's yard....seems I grow better things when I don't try so hard! Looking forth to warm, rib-sticking foods and crusty sweet pies, I want to share this recipe with you, so that you might also enjoy the beginning of the season in one sweet, succulent bite (or several, depending on your mood!). Enjoy!



Acorn Squash Crostata (makes 2)

Ingredients:
2 ½ c. white whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur)
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. granulated sugar
2 sticks plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter (18 tbsp.), cut into small cubes and kept very cold
1/3 c. ice water
2 small or 1 large acorn squash, washed
¼ c. heavy cream
½ c. brown sugar
Turbinado sugar, for garnish

Method:
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, allspice, sugar and salt to combine. Add in the cold butter cubes. Pulse for 10 seconds to form a coarse meal. With machine running, drizzle in the ice water until the dough just comes together, about 10 seconds more. Turn out onto the counter and knead in any remaining flour, forming a large ball. Flatten into a wide thick circle, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the sides of the squash off into large pieces (4 per squash) and remove any clinging membrane and seeds. With a sharp, heavy knife, thinly slice the chunks 1/8 to ¼ inch thick, stacking the slices in order to keep them together. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Divide the chilled dough in half; keep one refrigerated while working with the first. On a floured board, roll the dough into a large circle about ¼ inch thick; transfer onto a baking sheet. Brush the middle of the dough with heavy cream thickly, roughly in the shape and size of the pie you want. Spread with half of the brown sugar. Working in order, use the largest acorn squash slices first and begin to shingle the in a pie shape atop the cream and sugar, from the outside in, overlapping slices to cover all of the bottom. Use a small piece to finish the center. Fold the outer edges of dough in and around the squash to form a crust, pinching together with your fingers (crostata are very rustic pies, so don’t worry about perfection!).

Keep the crostata cold in the fridge while you repeat with the second dough ball.

Before baking, brush the edges with remaining cream, and sprinkle the tops and edges with turbinado sugar. Bake at 400 degrees until the crust is deep golden and crispy, and the squash is tender and browning, about 20-30 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly, and serve warm with ice cream or at room temperature.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ruminating

  


Pokeweed from the Backyard
 The hungry gap of spring, that in-between time when a night frost is still possible, but green things are emerging, really pisses me off.
  Sorry, just being honest. Maybe to a farmer, this is LATE for me to be quibbling, since fresh lettuces and the last of the cabbages are being consumed, but for me and my tiny garden, things are progressing very, very slowly. Like watching the grass grow  (or, in my case, watching the peas grow). I diligently go inspect every morning, replant the infant seedlings the squirrels marauded, and crouch low to the earth, beging them to go faster! Damnit, I'm hungry for veggies!
   Last night, we thought it would be fun to eat chicken nachos for dinner. I used a hothouse tomato and jalapeno from God-knows-where. It was so bland and depressing, I quit eating and took a shower to cleanse my soul. No fun.
   Today, yet again, it's in the low 60's. While there are signs of life...pea shoots, bean tops, and perennial herbs...there was nothing of signifigance to cut and eat. I bristle at the idea of picking my pea shoots before the fruit sets; I'd much rather eat the pea. My asparagus are creeping up...so...slow...I can't in good conscience cut any stems, for fear of killing the entire plant. My first rhubarb stems have been cut and converted to a delightful compote, but I can't eat that as a meal (can I? It's really dessert...) And I let the fiddleheads go, because the ferns needed to be moved to a happier locale and needed leaves to grow and establish.
   It's days like this, waiting out the cool spring mornings and refreshing rainstorms, that I respect the ingenuity of the homesteader/pioneer food consumers. I know that I could eat dandelion, pea shoots, fiddleheads, if I so chose. Instead I complain and eat stuff from the freezer.
   But no, not today.
   Maybe it's because I've been home for over a week, waiting on a new job to get going. In that time, I cleaned the entire yard, and found reasons to be hopeful about food, and decided that today is the day I'm going to eat the opportunities nature has thrown at me.
   I found my first small radish, a French Breakfast, whch survived weeks of rodent assault. I also found juvenile pokeweed, which most Northern gardeners may be familiar with as an invasive, monster weed, but my Southern friends may know as a tasty spring veggie. Make the most of what you've got, right?
   I decided a warm bulgur wheat salad would make a fine lunch..hot food, but not stick-to-the-ribs winter food like I've been eating. Rather, it felt right for the day, for the weather. For my spirit to stretch its arms and embrace that for the first time in years, we're having a true spring here in New Jersey.

   OOOHHH, so that's what spring was! I simply forgot. This is actually, ecologically, meteorologically, correct for early May!
   The pokeweed is going to make a fine addition to buttermilk biscuits, to accompany my experimental manicotti tonight. Can't wait to eat!

Warm Bulghur and Egg Salad with Radish (serves 2)

1/2 c. cracked bulghur wheat
1/2 c. brown chicken, vegetable, or beef stock
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 fresh pastured eggs
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 small to medium French Breakfast radishes, with tops
flaky sea salt, for garnish

In a  small saucepan, bring the stock, coriander, pepper and salt to a simmer. Pour over bulghur, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 30 minutes to absorb. Meanwhile, slice the radishes very thinly using a mandoline or knife. Reserve refrigerated, keeping tops separate.
 Heat a small nonstick saute pan on medium high. Melt 1 tbsp. of butter, and add bulghur to pan, stirring to heat through; transfer to two serving bowls. Wipe out pan, and place back on heat. Melt the remaining tbsp. of butter, and when it bubbles, crack the eggs in whole. Cook for 45 seconds, then gently flip and cook another 45 seconds. Slide one egg on top of each bulghur bowl. Top each with sliced radishes, and drizzle with any butter that remains in the saute pan. Garnish with fresh radish tops, sea salt, and a sprinkle of pepper and ground coriander.

Pokeweed Buttermilk Biscuits with Pepper and Cracked Coriander (makes 10- 2" biscuits)

1 c. loosely packed young pokeweed leaves
3/4 c. cold buttermilk
1 1/2 c. AP flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/8 tsp. garlc powder
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1 stick (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter, cut in small cubes and kept frozen
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp. cracked whole coriander
1/2 tsp. pretzel or coarse sea salt

 Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil, and add pokeweed, Reduce to a low boil, and blanch 15 minutes. Drain, and repeat twice more for three blanchings. Chop finely, and add to buttermilk. Keep cold.
 In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, ground coriander, onon and garlic powders. Pulse to combine. Add cubed butter, and pulse for 10 seconds to form coarse crumbs (most butter will remain whole-ish; this is ok). With machine running, slowly add buttermilk/pokeweed mixture until JUST combined - the mix will look very wet.
  Heavily flour the counter, and turn dough out onto flour. Using floured hands, press the dough to about 1/2 inch thickness. Fold in half twice, press again. Repeat this twice more for a total of 6 folds. Do not allow dough to stick to the board - flour as needed. Press dough into a circle about 1/2 inch thick. Using a 2" floured biscuit cutter, press out biscuits and place on ungreased baking sheet.

Press remaining scraps together gently to use all the dough; you should yield 10 biscuits.
Brush the tops with the beaten egg, and sprinkle evenly with the cracked coriander and coarse salt.
Bake for 20 minutes, until tops are golden brown and beautiful.

Serve warm, with a pat of butter, or use as a biscuit vehicle for yummy sandwiches!


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hunger

I am hungry. Sooo very hungry.
   The sunny arcs of springtime air drew me off my couch, where I was happily napping away with the cat, to go outside. Yawning, stretching like a bear coming out of hibernation, I began scouring the yard, for anything growing. I wasn't necessarily looking for something in particular, but the more I walked, the more I stared at my barren, moist garden bed impregnated with seeds that have yet to sprout, the more I tripped over thick hairy clumps of wild garlic sprouting from the lawn...
...the hungrier I got.
I wanted something, something green and fresh, to rip from the soil and shove into my mouth. I can't explain the visceral urge. Maybe I'm not as far removed from Neanderthal humanity as previously thought. Maybe the small pleasure of warming sunlight hitting the back of my head, even as winds still give me a chill for fleece, tick off the timer in my primitive brain centers.
    Tick tock, time for greens, tick tock, time to eat, clean out the body..
 
 I find the first flower of the year, a Siberian iris, peeking above leaf mold and smiling. At me. At spring sun. I smile back, then scowl, thinking that I could certainly not eat this flower, and right now it''s of no use to me. Damn.

 
What I was truly looking for was more like this:
 
Which I did not find. Not yet. On hands and knees, I uncovered the ostrich ferns from their wintry leaf mulch, and counted budding fiddleheads. At least 15. Maybe I could get a small meal next week...(stomach grumbling)
   My eyes pored over the damp green earth. Nothing, nothing at all. Not even a dandelion to rip up. I became depressed, then angry, then just hungrier (aren't these the stages of loss acceptance??) WHY is nothing growing yet?
   Wandered back to the garden, and scratched the earth around my asparagus corms. No, not even those bastions of spring were ready to awaken from winter slumber. Ugh. I gave up.
   My want of fresh green things not satiated, I ate a handful of ham (don't ask) and ripped open a bag of snap peas from the Asian market. At least I could pretend spring had come, right?
   Of course today, as I woke, the rain was pouring down in torrents. Outside my bedroom window, I counted four more irises, and noted that the perennial flowers grew probably another inch overnight. Maybe tomorrow I can have asparagus. And maybe pea tendrils next week. Just maybe.
   For now, I'm going to murder some wild garlic for dinner, and probably that baby dandelion I found growing along the patio too. For good measure.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tasting Spring

I felt it in my bones on Sunday, walking the misty side streets of University City on my way into work.
  It's kind of amazing where memories attack us, when we least expect it. The air was heavy with fog, a thick mist that coated my cheeks as I walked along. In the background, a whooshing noise, probably a generator inside some busy college building. But what I heard, what I felt, was a waterfall.
   I closed my eyes, and for a few short minutes, I was in the Pocono Mountains, atop our campsite, the one we visit every summer. It's early morning; the woodpeckers just stretching their vocals, the fire's embers smouldering gently from the night before, curly wisps of smoke rising from the ashes. I breathe deep. Sean and Colette still asleep in the tent, I pad over mossy earth to the outcropping boulder clinging to the mountaintop. I sit, hug my knees, and stare enchanted at the waterfall below me. The water is deafeningly loud, and yet so silent, a white noise that fills my ears and tosses me into deep mediation. Morning on the mountain, this mountain, our place - it is where I love life the most, where beauty surrounds me, my muscles aching with relaxation.
   This is where I went, for a few short minutes, on a Sunday morning in Philadelphia.   It was my first taste of spring to come, of renewal, of cool misty mornings that drag me into the garden, plunge my hands into cool dark soil, and being the creation of plant life that will sustain us for the season.
   As fortune had it, my boss gave me the next two days off, and as fate would have it, Monday was yet another fine misty mountain morning, fog hanging low over the treetops,earthworms exploring out of the humus. It had to be sixty degrees, at least - in January nonetheless! No mind - I was in March already. I let the dogs out to roam, grabbed my crocus bulbs and spade, and planted. I dug my columbine seed out of the crisper drawer, and planted those as well. With my mug of coffee chilling fast on the patio, I reveled in the deep, cleansing breaths of temperate air, and began to plot the vegetable garden. Even though I knew the coming week would bring a cold snap, I could not help to indulge my senses in this tiny snippet of spring weather. Even the frogs were out in the pond! The garlic chives are beginning to throw wispy growth out of the soil. The hydrangea is beginning to bud out. My Christmas tree is finally at the curb, and well, it's time. I'm ready for spring.
   I wondered what would come up first, my early forced lettuce or the rhubarb. Or maybe the asparagus? Sure, it's early, but never too early to plan for tasty things to come.I thought back to last spring, and a deliciously simple meal I prepared and shared with my dear friend Clara, one crafted from the spring produce in our campus garden. I decided this would be my first meal of the food year, a fitting tribute to all things fresh and new, to misty cool mornings in the yard and impatient earthworms and self-composting leaf piles.
SO ready for spring!

Spring Salad for Two
1/2 pound fresh asparagus
2 c. mixed lettuces
5 French Breakfast radishes (or whichever look delightful)
1 handful flowering chives (stems and flowers)
2 tbsp. Extra Virgin olive oil
2 tsp. white balsamic vinegar
4 pastured chicken eggs
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
shaved Parmigiano cheese

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add asparagus spears, sprinkle with kosher salt, and allowto blister on stems, about three minutes. Toss and continue to cook on medium heat until very crisp-tender, five minutes more. Divide between two plates.
Add lettuces, torn into bite-size pieces, into a bowl. Shave the radishes into the same bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and dress with olive oil and vinegar. Toss, and divide between plates atop asparagus.
Bring the pan back up over low heat. Melt the butter, and crack in the eggs whole. Cook gently until whites are set underneath, flip and cook to desired doneness, 1-4 minutes. Place two eggs on each salad. Garnish each plate with chopped and whole chives, sprinkle with cheese, and serve while eggs are still warm.