Thursday, June 28, 2012

pitty party

Perhaps you already know how to say “cherry pitter” in Italian.  If so, skip down a few lines.  If not, let me be the first to tell you that the word is snocciolatore.  Meaning, at least to my way of top-level linguistic thinking, that one would be correct enough to call the instrument, in English, a “snoculator.”  It’s a handheld device for pitting a single cherry or olive.  I forgot I had one.  Then I remembered. (For the record, in case you are clicking over to fact-check this story on Google Translate, you will be told that “snocciolatore” in Italian translates to “stoner” in English, but if you ask GT to translate “stoner” to Italian, it remains primly mum on the subject.  If you just google up “snocciolatore,” the first thing that will happen is you will see some images of pitting devices, and then the second thing, if you are anything like me, is that you will begin corrupting the lyrics to the Three Stooges version of Bizet's “Toreador” song in your head to accommodate this word.  If you are not anything like me in this regard, count your lucky stars.)

With only a few pounds of cherries to show for my second pass at the trees this week and plenty of snackers in the house, the stock was dwindling for that clafoutis adventure I said I would tell you about.  Before the last pound vanished, I set the youngest offspring to work with the snoculator.  Twenty minutes later, we had one boy, obscured by cherry juice from fingertips to elbows and from ear to ear, and maybe a half pound of neatly pitted cherries. (It’s important to taste every fourth or fifth one that you pit, to compare it to the three or four with pits that you are eating every two minutes to keep your strength up.)

When I was a tot, my mom often cooked from a book called “How to Grow And Cook It.”  I am pretty sure the clafoutis of my youth came from there.  It was a dandy.  We ate it all the time, with all kinds of fruits.  It whips up in a moment and satisfies all kinds of desires.  Years later, when my thoughts ran back around to this custardy dessert that rhymes with "patootie", I turned to a recipe in Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook, and I loved that one pretty much too.  And then, once again, I took some years off from clafoutis-making.  But last Friday’s clafoutis was made from that recipe, and wouldn’t you know it but the bloom was off the rose.  The texture was not quite as I hoped, and the flavor only so-so.

Two of my heroines have made clafoutis recently, and their takes—quite different—intrigued me, (here's one, and here's the other) as did a Food52 version.  In the end I triangulated, and what a triangle it was.  If you have never clafouted, think of something along the lines of a dense cake, or a sweet version of Yorkshire pudding, or a popover that has failed in all the right ways.  Think of eating it, as Laura suggests, with a little mascarpone or creme fraiche on top, or think of eating it, as I just did, standing up at the counter.

A classic version gives the snoculator the day off and claims that extra deliciousness results from baking the thing with the pits in place.  I knew someone here would break a tooth, so I sacrificed that element of flavor.  But try it if you feel brave.  If you lack cherries, rest assured a peach or apricot clafoutis will rock your world just as profoundly.

fruity clafoutis

about half a pound of cherries, pitted and halved
a good scraping of lemon zest
a nice splash of white wine
1/3 c sugar (divided)
1/4 c heavy cream
3/4 c whole milk
fat pinch of salt
3 eggs
1/3 c all-purpose flour (I used a gluten-free one and the result was tasty)
2-3 T almond flour or meal (this is probably optional, but it was quite yum)

Mix the cherries, lemon zest, white wine and 1T of the sugar in a small bowl, and let them settle while you mess around with the rest of the tasks.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Generously butter a 10" glass pie plate or ceramic baking dish.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining sugar and all the other ingredients.  Whisk or blend (with an immersion blender, say) until perfectly smooth.  

Pour the cherries and the juice they have accumulated into the prepared pie dish. (I won't tell anyone if you taste this mixture.)  Now pour the batter over the fruit, and pop that bad boy into the hot oven.  Bake until puffed, set in the center and browned at the edges, about 30-35 minutes--but keep an eye on it after 25 minutes, as ovens vary a lot.

It will deflate rather quickly on its way to a temperature you can safely eat it at, but do not fret.  Still delicious, either gilded with a tart dairy product on top, or eaten as is.  Makes a superior breakfast snack, if you have any left over.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

picky picky picky

I went picking again, trying to atone for the largely-missed strawberries. I picked some more cherries, on which I will test out all the pitting methods proposed to me in your comments the other day, plus this dandy one that I just ran across.  And I picked a couple of pounds of black raspberries.  I have two quart bags tucked away in the freezer, and I feel pretty happy about that.  Like, for instance, about as happy as you might think I'd feel if I had said, I have two quart bags of gold doubloons in the freezer.  Last year was a boom year for almost everything that grows here in our zone, and my hoarding instinct didn't kick into high gear until late summer.  Before that, I was too busy eating.  But thanks to our funky spring weather, it looks like it will be slim pickings for those later fruits like apples, pears, peaches and plums, so I am trying to be more ant than grasshopper in these early summer days.

Which is one kind of picky.

As for the other, I know people who will not eat any white food, and people who will not eat cold cheese.  I know people who are avoiding (or favoring) certain foods because of beliefs about their health-giving (or -sapping) properties, and others whose diet is ruled and limited by bona fide allergies.  I know people with rigid and apparently impermeable, possibly quite wrong-headed and often nonsensical ideas about foods that upset their stomachs or other body parts, or disturb their emotional equilibrium.  I cook for people like this, some of whom are me, regularly.  Sometimes some of them go hungry.  Sometimes I'm a pandering enabler.  So sue me.  I like people to eat.

All things considered, I suppose we are a pretty good set of eaters under this roof, by many standards.  But there are always personal tastes and aversions to consider, especially here in America, and if you multiply that by five you get a pretty long list of considerations.   I get pretty excited here at the home table when I make something new and slightly insane, given the confines of the in-house preferences, and everyone eats it.  Despite being informed by one of my housemates that I was "ruining" perfectly good roasted potatoes as I transformed them with the various ingredients called for here, despite an almost universal anti-radish sentiment among the under-18 set, despite one house diner's long-held dubious stance regarding things that are very mixy, and despite the fact that my radishes were a little mature, everyone ate this.

I hope it works in your house, too.

warm roasted radish and potato salad
adapted from gingerroot's recipe on Food52

3-4 not-bigger-than-your-fist-sized Yukon gold potatoes, diced
8-10 radishes, ends trimmed, diced
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
2 tablespoons Greek sheep yogurt, or any whole milk yogurt
2 tablespoons finely minced green onions
a handful of finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons lemon juice mixed with 1/2 t salt and 1/2 t sugar in a small bowl, until salt and sugar are dissolved

Preheat oven to 400. In a medium sized bowl, combine potato pieces with a glug or two of olive oil, a good sprinkling of sea salt, the mustard and cumin seeds, and a few grinds of black pepper, tossing evenly to coat. Roast potatoes in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 15-20 minutes, stirring and flipping them after the first 10 minutes, until they are almost but not quite done.

Meanwhile, using the same bowl that you tossed the potatoes in, combine radishes with a little additional olive oil, sea salt and black pepper; mix well to evenly coat.

Increase the oven heat to 425. Push the potatoes to one side of the pan (it's OK to crowd them now, as they are mostly cooked), and add radishes in a single layer to the other side. Continue to roast for another 7-10 minutes, or until potatoes and radishes are tender, stirring them gently midway through.

Remove pan from oven and allow vegetables to cool. Transfer to a bowl. Add yogurt, cilantro and green onions, folding with a spatula to combine. Add half the lemon juice mixture and taste.  If the salad stands more than ten minutes before you serve it, you may want additional lemon/salt to punch the flavor back up.

Monday, June 25, 2012

goes down easy

Yesterday I went somewhere I do not like to go, physically and metaphorically speaking.  I went, physically, to a shopping mall.  I loathe and detest shopping malls, with their crushing quantities of crap and recycled, doughnut-flavored air.  My daughters, who have grown up wearing mostly creatively-sourced clothing, are intrigued by them.  Facing down this classic parental dilemma--outright ban or informed avoidance?--with both girls in the last couple of weeks, I went with informed avoidance.  As in, let's go and see it then, if you want to.  It's a complicated dynamic, a mall.  Stuff upon stuff upon stuff, laid out in its flirtiest and most enticing manner, crooning its message of buy me, buy me, buy me and be happier and more beautiful than you have ever to this point even imagined being, with the very appalling abundance of it all only serving to make it all seem so unappealing even as it tries its hardest to woo you.  

After an hour or two of that, we exited to find our car window smashed in and my GPS and iPod stolen, and wasted over another hour of a beautiful day dealing with mall security, the local police and the quarter-starved vacuum at the gas station up the road.(One smashed window produces a prodigious amount of glass bits, and those little buggers FLY--it was in every crevice.)

I don't like to go to the mall.  Its morally confounding sensory overload leaves me feeling cheap all over.  I also don't like to go to the place in my head that is totally disgusted with humanity.  If the mall's excesses hadn't hammered that home for me and my girls, the vandalism and thievery certainly did.

So for today, here is a little of the best of people, because I need to meditate upon it.  Here is the cordial I made from the strawberries, picked by my children, that were arrayed on the counter in the kitchen when my husband and I rolled in after a long day on the road this weekend.  They were end-of-season berries, so they were runty and small and not beautiful, but the flavor was off the charts, concentrated and sweet.  They taste like the love I have for my children, who picked them, and for the nice friends who took them picking while we were away, and for the organic farmers who lovingly tend the fields we pick in.  I also have love for my kumquat connection, whose largesse we are still enjoying.  It all amounts to a powerful antidote to incident reports and insurance claims, one whose brilliant ruby color is not done justice by the photo here.  Cheers!

strawberry kumquat cordial

about a quart of strawberries, halved if large (mine were tiny, and I did nothing to them, not even take the leaves off)
a handful of kumquats, chopped
the fresh juice of 2-4 lemons
1 c sugar

Combine everything in a bowl and stir well. Leave to macerate, stirring occasionally and kind of abusively, until the berries begin to look exhausted and a good amount of liquid has accumulated--as long as overnight (in the fridge), or anyway for at least several hours.  

Place a fine-mesh strainer over a clean bowl, and dump this mixture in. Place a smaller bowl, partially filled with water, on top of the fruit mixture to weight it and aid in the extraction of every drop of the elixir you have created.

We are drinking it over ice with some sparkling water, and I imagine it would make a fearsomely delicious cocktail, too, if that's the way you roll. If kumquat eating is a sport you enjoy, you can bet that the strawberry-infused chunks o' kumquat left behind in the strainer will be a treat.  If you lack ready access to kumquats, adding a chopped lemon or lime, I reckon, would end up working just as well.

Friday, June 22, 2012

pits stop

Strawberries still elude us, and the clock is ticking.  But we did make it to PYO cherries this week: fifteen pounds of delight.  I become a little driven, let's say, in the presence of fruit-laden trees, but because it was scorchingly, broilingly, miserably hot and there were children in the picking party, I had to stop.  Though it sounds sad, in fact this turn of events was fortunate, because the cherry pitter we were using turned out to be fatally flawed and we did not discover this troubling detail until after the local cherry-pitter emporium had shuttered for the evening and we were in a stare-down with the buckets of cherries.  My younger daughter was trying to operate the pitter as I made a quick, salty, cold dinner to restore us after the hot day.  She was muttering and swearing and slamming things around, and making a hell of a mess in the process.  I said soothing things.  She grumbled and huffed in fitful exasperation.  Cherry debris became airborne.  More invectives were uttered.  Now that's enough, I said.  It's a cherry pitter.  Relax.  (Hold that thought a sec, dear reader.)

In another fortunate development, my West Coast Fruit Angel took it into her head, as she often does, to make sure we were not suffering from scurvy here in the East.  She loaded up some USPS cartons with a healthy portion of the citrus that flows as water from pipes in her yard.  This box of magnificence awaited us here when we rolled in with the cherries:

and I am here to report that apple cider over a ton of ice with crushed mint and mashed kumquats is a powerful restorative.  The working title for this cocktail is the Flat Rate Love.

After the cold supper (and more on that in a moment), I took my turn at the cherry pitting.  WHAT a piece of JUNK that "pitter" was--miserable, non-functional crap.  Pure torture to use. Cherry PULVERIZER, more like it.  Fricking cherry juice EV AH REE WHERE.  In my eye.  On my clothing.  Pits and cherries flying like shrapnel all over the kitchen.  "Mama," said my daughter.... But we persevered, and after swaggering to the freezer under the twin weights of our loot and our tremendous self-satisfaction, we swabbed the decks.  Clean as a whistle.

This morning, my older daughter came downstairs kitted out for ballet (to which she was en route), sat down to her bowl of cereal at the counter, and came away with a neat blotch of cherry juice on the one pair of clean ballet tights she owns. It seems it had escaped the clean-up efforts and over-nighted under the countertop. Which reminds me to tell you, if you don't already know, that boiling water, poured through the fabric from a good 8" up, erases fruit juice like magic.  And that wet tights worn in hot weather are cooling.  And also, though it is not related to this twist, that cherry pit water is almost as nice as strawberry hull water, and is prepared by the same laissez-faire technique.

There will be a cherry clafoutis later on today, and on Monday I'll fill you in on how that turns out.  Meanwhile, about that cold supper.  It's kind of like Thai summer rolls without the rolling, and it goes a little something like this:

cold supper for hot nights

1 # tender asian noodles of any type that amuses you (we used cellophane noodles last night, but have used lo mein and soba and various types of rice noodle in the past)

1 block seasoned tofu*, cut into strips 
a nice pile of grilled or broiled chicken, fish, steak or other cooked meat that lurks in your larder

A large pile of greens (chard, spinach, tender kale), chopped

1 tomato, thinly sliced

1 recipe of the following dressing:

1/4 c each finely chopped fresh basil, mint and cilantro
1/4 c fresh lime juice
1/4 c thai fish sauce
2T rice vinegar
2t grated fresh ginger (or more, to taste)
a handful of finely chopped chives or scallions
1 tsp chili paste (less or more, to taste)
1T vegetable oil
1t sucanat or brown sugar (entirely optional but it does balance things nicely)

Cook the noodles until tender and drain, then rinse with cool water and toss with a splash of neutral oil until not sticky.  Set aside.

Blanch the greens until tender, refresh in cold water and drain thoroughly. Also set aside.

To assemble:  Each dish gets a wad of noodles, topped to one side with a small pile of greens, next to a little colony of tomato pieces, next to a few strips of tofu, next to a portion of the other protein.  Pass the sauce.

* you can buy seasoned tofu wherever fine tofus are sold, or you can take a block of firm tofu, cut it into little 2" x 2" x 1/2"squares, oil it lightly and season it with some salt and pepper, and bake it on a parchment-lined sheet at 425 or so until it is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, like an igloo. (I am pleased to report that I can't post a link to that cartoon, but polar bears are involved.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

moves like rumpelstiltskin

There are a number of ninja moves one can pull off in the kitchen, but the kind that make me happiest involve innovative re-purposing.  Hang on a second while I run this thread through my neighbors' trash.  My house pets--the ones that are supposed to live in the house, the canines, not the invading chicken--are so devoted to my well-being that they rarely miss an opportunity to provide creative distraction from my cares and woes.  Just as recently as last week, when I had already driven to the dentist myself, 90 minutes there and back RIGHT PAST THE VET, they said to themselves, "more--she needs more soothing driving time," and valiantly rammed their faces into the business section of the nearest porcupine.  And as a measure of their commitment to my well-being, this was not the first and not even the second but the THIRD time (oh, the devotion!  the care!) that they have sacrificed their own comfort by having dozens of porcupine quills run through their lips, nostrils and tongues. I must lay my burden down on these occasions, and drive with two frantic, drooling, whimpering numbskulls who are desperate to climb into my lap in their mindless (there, I said it) pursuit of relief. You try driving with a writhing pincushion smashing its slobbery self into your elbow--see if you can recall any care or woe outside the vehicle.  It's effective, is all I am saying.  If I could have simply applied the $200 directly to their faces to save the fun of the drive, I surely would have.  If I could have arranged to have a brain transplant (installation?) performed as long as they were under anesthesia, you can bet I would have done that, too.  But I digress.  Just before L'Affaire Porcupine, prior to hitting on that masterful plan to redirect my attention, they punted with a trip to the neighbors' house to root through the garbage.  I am here to report that you should always have rubber gloves handy, and that you can learn a lot when you handle, personally, all the items from two bags of trash that have been spread on a lawn. 

People throw away a lot of food, is my point.  Eating a lot of trash can keep a dog up at night with thirst and indigestion--that is another point I could make.  Any disturbance of my rest by nightmares or the difficulty in finding a comfortable sleep position was thoughtfully circumnavigated by the Rescue Hounds, who moaned and whimpered and panted and so forth at regular enough intervals that all risk of sleeping was removed.  

But the throwing away of food--that was where I was going.

I like to avoid that, when I can.  I like to make stock from bones and peelings.  I like to infuse the stems of things I have cooked the leaves of.  And I really, really like it when with almost zero effort, I can turn something I would have previously overlooked into something supremely tasty.

The arrival of the real strawberries here is big news.  It comes astonishingly quickly after spring gets underway (I can never understand how a strawberry plant gets organized to leaf out and produce a ripe berry before I have even remembered where the summer hats are stored), overwhelms us with its magnificence, and passes by even more rapidly.  It is my fervent hope I'll get to the PYO field this week before the season is totally over, as we muscle through a lot of frozen strawberries over winter (by which I mean a lot, oh yes, a lot.)

Meantime, I have forked over the cash for these beauties:

and while carving them up for table use, I employed a trick my sister taught me.  As you pare and hull, toss the trimmings into a large carafe, pitcher or jar instead of the compost or trash.  Fill the pitcher with water, and stow it in the fridge.  When it is totally chilled, you will have one of the more refreshing beverages known to humankind.  You can sweeten it if you like, but I find that is not required.  The satisfaction of the whole straw-into-gold thing is sweet reward enough.

Kind of like the devotion of a loving pal.

Monday, June 18, 2012

salad daze

A hundred years ago when I lived in New York City, there was a French-Japanese restaurant in sort of the Murray Hill area that was stupendously delicious, marrying two detail-minded cuisines with some nice balance that brought out the best in each one.  This was before Fusion Cuisine was big news all over, and long before it passed from cutting-edge to its present state of horrific overuse.  I can amuse myself for hours (Food Nerd over-share!) inventing or merely cataloging foods I categorize as Confusion Cuisine.  It's an excellent distraction if you are stuck in an airport somewhere, both because you will be bored and because you will see a higher proportion of examples roaming all around you.  Airport food courts are a rich natural habitat for Confusion Cuisine.  Think Wasabi Hummus on a Parmesan-Sundried Tomato Wrap with Feta. Think Cajun Shrimp Alfredo with Pita.  Think Grilled Chicken Breast with Kung Pao glaze and Pineapple Pico de Gallo. 

But borrowing a little here and a little there can work out, if a light hand and steady eye on digestibility are brought to bear.

If I had eaten this alone, I might have wondered if it was worth telling you about.  But wrestling over the bowl was observed at the table.  Maybe families all share a skewed tastebud. Let me know.

food-court-here-we-come tomato salad

handful of dried wakame seaweed
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded (if the seeds are large) and coarsely chopped
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
large handful of basil leaves, chopped
dash (or more) of sriracha chili sauce
3t (or to taste) tamari or soy sauce
1T EV olive oil
dash toasted sesame oil
squeeze of lemon or dash of rice vinegar

Soak the wakame in cool water to rehydrate; drain, pressing excess water out.  Toss everything together and taste to adjust seasoning to your liking.  Improves with ten minutes or so of resting time, which will mellow things a bit.  This is also true of people.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

seedy indeedy

We re-homed four of our eleven roosters this week.  Thanks to the miracle that is Craig's List--who is Craig?  the patron saint of loons who know there are other loons out there who want their stuff?--I found a lady who would take as many as we were willing to give her.  That number, for me and my husband anyway, was nine.  Roosters are useful, but not in the concentration we are presently hosting.  When the numbers get too high, it's just a big frat party and the feed bills go up while the poor beleaguered hens go bald and form unions.

Posting something on Craig's List definitely opens your world up to some chaffy emails, but the woman we ended up with seemed like the real deal.  She and I made a date.  Here at the homestead, we prepared to load the boys up.  I wish I could give you the entire transcript of my younger daughter's litany as we considered the menfolk of the coop.  (Not him--he was the little brown chick we loved so much!  Not HIM, for goodness' sake--he is Fern's brother!  Not him--he is too old to have to get used to a new place. And so on.) In the end, we parted with four, because it was very clear that four was as many as we were parting with peacefully in one day. Maybe you know that look that children can develop, around the edges, when the needle on their main gauge is jumping towards "overload."  

I drove with four quiet roosters to an exit on the highway halfway between the lady's loony home and my own.  I stopped at the appointed meeting place, having arrived first.  Quietness ceased.  Mad, competitive quadrophonic cock-a-doodling commenced.  It was pouring with rain, so I sat in the car with the windows up and let me tell you, sound accumulates quickly in a space like that. Mercifully, this decibel level prevents deep introspection.

Per my husband's suggestion, I frisked the lady for marinade, large casseroles and recipes for coq au vin.  She came up clean, so I transferred four roosters from my kennel boxes to hers without, I am pleased to say, releasing any live birds into the Friendly's parking lot or onto the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Four down, five to go.  It's a process.

Today, it's not raining anymore. It's a nice day, and someone left the door open... you-know-who was discovered in the dining room.  I think it's sweet that she shares my interest in cooking.

Food news, you ask?  

Hmm.  When I am operating under an appreciable but manageable amount of stress, I try with varying degrees of success to take the whole "body is a temple" approach to self-care.  Here, dear carriage of my being--here is a green juice for you.  Here is a yoga class.  Here is some balanced nutrition, served at regular intervals on a plate while you sit in a chair.  Perhaps this is just me, but when the going gets tougher, when the needles on my gauges are heading for the red area, that strategy goes out the window faster than whatever it is that comes to your mind that defenestrates quickly.  (Suddenly I cannot think of a thing, other than the flaming log my uncle threw out onto his suburban lawn in 1972, shortly after lighting a festive Thanksgiving fire, when it became clear that the fireplace in his home was more decorative than functional, but that mental image may not speak as directly to your mind's eye as it does to mine. Trust me: he did it rapidly.)  

When I need it most, when my weary self would derive the greatest benefit from that good nutrition and tender care I spoke of, then what I begin to crave runs more to gummy bears and whoopie pies and I have to watch myself very carefully.

Things like sugar and wheat, which I can flirt with to a degree when all is right with my world, are things I need to steer quite clear of when I am taxed.  But I am a big believer in comfort food.  A dilemma.  Enter pudding!  I love things on a spoon, and despite my devotion to spicy food, I loooooove things like tapioca--gloppy and gummy and mild.  My friend Laura turned me on to chia seed pudding a while ago, and it is just absolutely the ticket at the moment. Here is her sophisticated version, and below is how that panned out in my kitchen.

If your thinking about chia seeds, like mine, was stuck here:

then you might like to know that chia seeds, like flax seeds, are rich in a certain useful kind of omega-3 fatty acid that your body can use to reduce inflammation, and you might also like to know that very little time and few kitchen skills indeed are called for here.  This is a quick experiment. If you like tapioca, you are likely to like it.  You can customize the flavor as you wish and I bet you could use a packaged nut milk or coconut milk to make it--I just happen to vigorously dislike the packaged kind, and the home kind takes about three minutes to whip together and totally smokes the boxed stuff in terms of flavor and consistency.

I am not really sure how to weave it into the narrative here, but I feel you should also be aware that this exists, and so does this.  I would not want your errant googling to lead you there, and think I was holding out on you.

chia pudding

a scant cup of almonds (or maybe hazelnuts, or cashews if you lean that way), raw or toasted
a couple tablespoons of sesame seeds (optional, if you like the flavor)
1/2 cup chia seeds (for reasons I cannot explain, the dark ones are much easier to work with than the white ones, which are very prone to clumping)
3T honey or maple syrup or sorghum
dash vanilla
pinch of sea salt

Put the nuts and sesame seeds in the container of your blender with about 3 cups of water, and let them soak for a bit--I have soaked them for a minute, and for an hour, and seen recipes that suggest you soak them for 8-12 hours, and while there may be levels of nutritional difference between the various outcomes, they all taste the same to me).  Grind them entirely, and pour into a fine mesh strainer, or a cloth-lined one if you don't have the mesh one.  Press or squeeze the solids until they are as dry as you can get them. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of nut milk, maybe a little more.  [The paste that is left behind can be turned into nut butter (by combining it with some coconut oil and maybe a little flavoring of your choosing), used in baking, thrown into your oatmeal or smoothie, or be cast straight into the yard for whatever kind of bird dwells in yours.  You can also use a food dehydrator to make crackers out of it, but I am going to spare you those details for the moment.]

Put the nut milk and all the remaining ingredients into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake it like you mean it, until everything is well-combined and evenly distributed.  Refrigerate for a few hours, shaking periodically for the first half hour, until chilled and set.  You can garnish it beautifully with chopped nuts or orange sections, like Laura did, or you can sneak off with the jar and a spoon, like I did.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

the inconvenient truth

The fact of the matter is, I never did make it to my niece's graduation, nor to any number of other places I had a firm intention to be.  Where I have needed to be has been shaped, lately, by tending to someone I love who is very ill.  Consequently I have the frazzy brain and messy house of a person who is back-and-forthing under stressful conditions, and I don't have much to say about food.  It's a challenge to wax poetic about hospital yogurt.

If I had to pick a food thread out of the lint tangle that is presently representing my circumstances, it would be miso soup.  Miso soup is what this person calls for when deep hunger rankles her system, when she is feeling too hungry and unwell to imagine anything else she might want to eat.  After the soup, she can imagine plenty of things she wants to eat, but nothing but miso can move her from the one state to the other. In a hospital that is not in a Japanese zip code, the options for delivering miso soup on demand are slim, but worth knowing about.  In fact, I have sung the praises of these options before.  Don't leave home without one.

Ironically enough, while I was away this last time, my little son experienced a bout of what we have come to call Special Occasion Flu.  It goes a little something like this: on a day when the family has tickets or invitations to something, wake up, be uncharacteristically crabby.  Fall suspiciously back to sleep even though it is mid-morning; sleep fitfully.  Wake up, barf.  Turn alarmingly pale and greenish.  Repeat these last three steps while spiking a fever.  After exhausting household supply of clean towels, fall into deep, deep sleep.  Wake up and request large bowl of miso soup with a side of rice and ume plum. Be fine. Total down time: 8 hours.  Contagion factor: zero.

On the most recent day that I had to bolt out of here to the Bedside, my girls were in their end-of year-dance performance.  Calvin Trillin wrote of his beloved wife Alice's belief that if you missed any of your children's performances, even the special mid-morning dress rehearsal for the lower school, the State would come and take the child away.  Whatever my beliefs about the State's potential involvement, I have long tried to emulate this remarkable mother in this regard at least.  But circumstances are circumstances.  Because I had seen the two performances the day before, I was prepared to dash off and leave the menfolk to handle the applauding.  Until the barfing got underway.

I don't know what the State will have to say about the fact that I left anyway, but I do know that I missed not only the performance and the flu, leaving that all in my husband's good hands, but the Call For Miso that always, always follows this experience.  So when I returned, many envelopes of instant miso later, the aforementioned small boy--though apparently recovered--was waiting for me with his bowl and spoon.  He is just not set to rights until he has that soup.

Miso is an excellent restorative: as a fermented food, it is essentially pre-digested and readily available to your body; it is full of the electrolytes you may have thrown off (or up) while ill, rich in elemental forms of protein, and boasts plenty of other micronutrients and minerals to paste you back together.  There are legions of painstaking and complex and delicious ways to make a subtle, complex and elegant miso soup.  But when I have exhausted the supply of clean towels, or just exhausted myself, I do it like this.

the house miso, lazy-man style

1 strip of dried kombu seaweed
1 handful dried bonito flakes
1 clove garlic (optional), peeled but whole
1 handful dried wakame seaweed
1/2 block tofu (firm, or not so firm, or the kind that comes in the long-life pack because then you are always ready), in half-inch cubes
2-3T miso paste, or to taste
handful of minced scallions or chives, or not

Put the kombu and bonito and the garlic (if you are using it) into a medium pot with about 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer.  After about five minutes, use a slotted spoon or small strainer to take the bonito, which is likely in a clump on the surface, and the garlic should it happen to be in there, out of the pot.  Discard.  Remove the kombu to a small cutting board to cool slightly.  Roll it up from the short end, and slice the roll lengthwise once, creating two piles of long strips.  Stack them, and cut crosswise into thin ribbons.  Return to the pot.  Add the wakame.  Once it softens, turn off the heat and stir in the miso.  Taste to establish that you have added enough and adjust as needed.  Gently stir in the tofu cubes and scallions.  If you are feeding my son after a brief illness, serve this with a bowl of sushi rice on the side, and a dollop of ume plum paste.  Aahhh.  That's better.

Monday, June 4, 2012

the envelope please

for more of this side-splitting self-deprecation, visit handmade ryan gosling

Despite the fact that the above internet humor establishes that I now clearly fit some kind of profile for bloggers, crafters and possibly also people with lots of cats (even though I don't have any), I was really happy to hear from the twelve of you who shared your cooking stories with me.  I would be happy indeed to eat any of the things you all mentioned, so I will be right over.

I first thought of rigging up a way for the little chickens to pick the winner, but in the end I did everything on the up and up, plugging the number of entries into a randomizer.

I once read that the first time scientific instruments were used to measure the altitude of the peak of Mt. Everest, the number came out very even.  Worried that no one would believe them, they tacked a .00231 or something onto the end of the number.  In the case of our little sweepstakes here, the algorithm designed, I am sure, by the nation's top mathematical brains selected...wait for it...1.  

Really.  See?

To honor the spirit of the brave scientists who monkeyed with their data in order to make it seem more plausible, I ran the randomizer a second time, and that time it picked number 7, which indeed had a more believable ring to it.  In my heart I knew Emmy, who was commenter numero uno, had won fair and square, and that I could never live with myself if I pretended otherwise.  Ditto, as it turns out, re: my feelings for winner number two, Michele.  So treats are heading to both of you, as soon as you give me your physical coordinates; just send me an email at janetelsbach AT gmail DOT com.

As for feeding you today, I am just passing the buck.  Of all the foody posts I read over the weekend, this one hit me the squarest, right in the tender parts, and not only because she is making one of my favorite things to eat, and not just because I wish that I could do a handstand, but maybe perhaps because also, she is doing what I believe is referred to as "speaking her truth."