Posted tagged ‘Food’

The Saddest Shopping

February 11, 2017

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Today when I arrived at the grocery store some nursing students from my school were handing out shopping lists for Project Backpack. I was surprised because on the island we have Project Backpack, but it’s in August and it’s all about getting school supplies for students that need a hand. But here we were in Walla Walla, on the first sunny day since I can’t remember when, in February. It couldn’t be about school supplies.

The nursing students explained to me that they were collecting food for elementary school kids who depended during the week on the breakfasts and lunches they got at school. They said that those kids have teachers who will put food into kids’ backpacks for the weekend, because otherwise the kids might not eat anything until Monday.

Then it got worse. They handed me a shopping wish list, consisting mainly of non-nutritious carbs-bordering-on junk. Instant oatmeal, mac and cheese, crackers, granola bars, Cup’o Noodles soup, and a couple of more promising things like peanut butter and little fruit cups. On the island, when I bought food for the Food Bank, I always carefully chose the food for the most nutrition, especially protein, per dollar that I could find. So naturally I thought “This is a crap list! I’m going to upgrade this food. At least I’ll be one person who’s donating some actual nutrition.”

But then I stood in the cereal aisle,looking at the list for a long time, and I realized that all of the foods on the list required, at most, the addition of hot water. The rest could be eaten out of the package. If there were no adult to cook something. If a kid had to eat snack food out of her backpack all weekend until she could get something more substantial in her school meals on Monday.

And so, in the end, I filled my cart with those mostly empty-carb foods, because anyway that’s what the kids are used to eating and spending three times as much for Annie’s Organic mac and cheese would probably result in a kid tossing the weird hippie food and going hungry altogether.

I handed several bulging bags to the young nurses and then I walked through the brimming produce aisle, and went to the local butcher, to do my own shopping. All the while thinking how unbearable it is that kids in this country are going hungry. But then I decided that I had to be honest about it. It’s kids in my small town that are going hungry. Kids just a mile from me that are living out of their backpacks for the weekend. Living on the kind of food that only the most desperate of parents would feed her children. In my own town.

Something Good From Russia

January 23, 2017

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We’re all up in arms about Russia these days, and with good reason. However, when I recently posted a picture of this delicious cake on Facebook people were content to forget all about politics in the interest of pastry. I made it with homemade apricot preserves, which is why there are such large pieces visible, but Bonne Maman is a good substitute.  And as you can see, I don’t decorate with the chopped walnuts called for in the recipe, because I like the look without them.

I’ve had this recipe since Putin was in diapers. No, not really, only since 1991, when it appeared in Bon Appetit, but that sounds better than saying that I’ve had it since Putin was in the KGB. Every time I’ve made it people have been ready to forget all about the cold war and embrace our Slavic brothers and sisters. Maybe we should rename this World Peace Cake. Try it and see whether you don’t get a yearning to dust off your passport and visit its homeland.

RUSSIAN WALNUT TORTE WITH MOCHA CREAM

CAKE
2 cups toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
7 large eggs — separated
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon minced lemon peel
MOCHA CREAM
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee
powder
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate — chopped
1 1/2 cups chilled whipping cream
2/3 cup powdered sugar — sifted
2/3 cup apricot jam
Chopped walnuts
FOR CAKE: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch-diameter
pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line bottoms with parchment. Dust
pans with flour. Finely grind toasted walnuts with 2 tablespoons
flour in processor. Using electric mixer, beat egg yolks and 1/2 cup
sugar in large bowl until pale yellow and tripled in volume, about 5
minutes. Mix in fresh lemon juice and vanilla extract. Gently fold in
nut mixture, breadcrumbs and minced lemon peel.

Using electric mixer fitted with clean dry beaters, beat whites in
another large bowl to soft peaks. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup
sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Gently fold whites into yolk
mixture in 2 batches. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake
until tester inserted into centers comes out clan, about 45 minutes.
Transfer cakes to racks and cool completely. (Cakes will shrink
slightly as they cool). (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover cakes and
let stand at room temperature.)

FOR MOCHA CREAM: Combine 3 tablespoons water, rum and
espresso powder in heavy small saucepan over low heat. Stir until
espresso powder dissolves. Add chopped chocolate and stir until
melted and smooth. Cool.

Whip cream in bowl to soft peaks. Gradually add sugar and beat to
medium-stiff peaks. Add chocolate mixture to whipped cream and
fold together.

Place 1 cake on platter. Spread half of jam over. Spread 3/4 cup
mocha cream over. Top with second cake. Spread remaining jam
atop cake. Spoon 3/4 cup mocha cream into pastry bag fitted with
medium star ti. Spread remaining mocha cream over sides (not
top) of cake. Pipe mocha cream decoratively around edge of cake.
Sprinkle with walnuts. Cover with cake dome and chill at least 30
minutes and up to 4 hours.

 

And The Livin’ Is Easy

June 26, 2016

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Oh summertime. Those sweet early summer days when it’s hot but not suffocating, when all I want to do it be in the garden and the vineyard. And put things up.

I’ve been having a sweetly old-fashioned weekend, making vin de noix, then raspberry jam from my garden raspberries, then French-style apricot jam with fruit that was a gift from a friend. Americans like their jam set up, firm, jam that behaves itself on a piece of toast. Hence my raspberry version, seeds and all, cooked to 220° to ensure a firm set. The French like their jam runny, oozing off a buttered baguette or spooned over yogurt, with big chunks of fruit, and so my apricot jam macerates overnight, cooks to only 210°, and has mouthfuls of succulent apricot flesh. Chacun à son gout, to each her own, and I’m pretty sure that both are delicious, containing, as they do, noting but fruit and sugar. My friends and family will have to tell me, since I won’t be tasting either of them.

Nor will I drink the vin de noix, since it too contains plenty of sugar. It’s funny, this compulsion I feel, to make things with beautiful summer produce that I’ll never taste. I do it for the pure joy of working with the ingredients, all jewel-like and filled with sunshine, and for the pleasure of giving and serving my creations to others. Weird, huh?

But I’ve also been harvesting kale and chard by the armload, as well as what I fear will be the last of the broccoli, lettuces and arugula for the season, and those I do devour happily. My tomatillo plant is covered with baby fruit, the cucumbers are scrambling up the trellis and flowering like mad, the beans are twining, and the tomatoes are just beginning to flower.

That’s life in the garden, one luscious things appears just as you’re mourning the passing of what came before. If you’re lucky, that’s life on Earth.

 

An Easter Birthday

March 27, 2016

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You know how it can be, the kids are grown, there’s no reason to fill an Easter basket or cook springtime food. No chocolate bunnies hop your way, ho hum, just another day.

But today my classmate Kelly was kind enough to have an Easter birthday, and to tell me that her Mom always used to make her an angel food cake with confetti color dots inside. Yippee, an Easter project! I wasn’t too sure whether the color would run all over the cake or stay in nice dots like it used to do in those long-ago funfetti cake mixes, but lo and behold, it worked just as it should. I can’t show you the inside of the cake, because between the squishy nature of angel food, and the billowy soft frosting, the cut slices were a mess. but you can make it for yourself, and you’ll have a fun and fluffy cake to serve when whimsy is called for. I used this angel food recipe, omitting the chocolate and adding 1/4 cup of colored sprinkles instead. Then I used this recipe for fluffy pink frosting, a recipe unlike any I’ve used before. It remained very soft and never set up, although it looked like a sort of unicorns-and-rainbows confection on the cake so that didn’t matter.

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It wasn’t a total sugar-fest, though. Guests brought a beautiful fruit salad and fragrant raspberry sour cream muffins, which, derelict hostess that I am, I neglected to photograph. I made an egg casserole with asparagus, artichoke hearts, cheeses, and ham, that was pretty darn good and used up the 10 extra egg yolks left behind by the angels. But the star of that plate, to me, was the salad.

A composition of bitter leaves, endive, radicchio, and arugula, it had a beguiling preserved Meyer lemon and crème fraîche dressing that will definitely become a staple in my kitchen, and went exquisitely with a rosé of pinot gris made by one of the guests. The salad recipe is here,  and although I always make preserved Meyer lemons when they’re in season, if you don’t have homemade, you can buy them in a jar. To add to the merriment, we had three different wines made by guests, the rosé, a chardonnay, and a cabernet sauvignon, a definite perk of living a life surrounded by winemakers.  I look forward to the day when every wine on the table is made by one of us, and I thank Kelly for requesting such a delightfully eccentric birthday cake. It’s one of the most fun treats I’ve baked in quite a while, and I recommend it to you as a sure-fire cheerer-upper.

Marshmallow Magic

July 5, 2015

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Do we ever outgrow s’mores? I can’t eat them, but even I can’t imagine camping without them. So for this year’s camping trip, I decided to really up the ante in the s’mores department. I bought Annie’s Organic graham crackers, Lindt chocolates in milk, dark, and chili. And then I made the marshmallows.

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Now I’ve made marshmallows before and wasn’t very impressed with them. Mostly it was just the wow factor that saved them, and not any real flavor difference from Jet-Puff. But then I made this epiphany of a recipe, and the confection turned marshmallow-rejecters into dévotés, and the s’more-indifferent into ravening, s’more-scrounging beasts.

This marshmallow toasts, it melts, it smooshes, like a marshmallow should. The real big deal is that it also tastes wonderful, addictively so, judging by the fact that after the camping trip Eric and Jessica insisted that I show them how to make marshmallows, and were likewise adamant about the fact that we should have more s’mores around the chiminea as we watched our neighbors’4th of July fireworks.

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And the secret? In the most improbable way, they’re made with Lillet. Quite a bit of Lillet, whose haunting flavor I love. The recipe for Lillet Marshmallows is here, and I didn’t change a single thing about it. The recipe works perfectly if you follow the instructions exactly. The marshmallows hold their shape, cut nicely, and of course, make the best s’mores anyone’s ever tasted. There’s lots of summer left, don’t miss your chance to bedazzle your friends and family with this treat.

Oyster Emergency

October 21, 2014

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These oysters don’t look distressed, floating as they are in a fragrant bath of butter, lemon juice, and hot sauce. They look downright gobble-able, in fact, which they were. The distressing part is that these are just a paltry handful of the many, way too many, oysters from our garden that are ready to be eaten, and deserve to be eaten before I head back to France and leave them to grow even larger, perhaps taking over Puget Sound in my absence.

Because we had several shellfish harvesting closures during the unusually warm months, oysters that were ready to slurp in summertime now make a pretty huge mouthful, and are better suited to grilling, frying, chowder-ing, and heaven only knows what else-ing. Or perhaps you know. Help me out here – what’s your favorite recipe for larger oysters? It’s a problem I’ve never had before, a plethora of oysters insisting on either growing to gigantesque proportions, or being summarily and deliciously dispatched. Please share your best recipe, in the name of oyster population reduction!

What It’s Like

May 25, 2014

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At the Farmer’s Market last week I found a beautiful pork roast, island-raised, well-marbled. Frozen. So I set it to thaw, and then sort of ignored it. It seemed too big, too substantial, until today, when I realized that if I didn’t cook it the pig might have given her life in vain.

So I rubbed it with pink peppercorns, black peppercorns, fennel seeds, garlic, and roasted it all afternoon, ever so slowly. Made a sauce of vermouth and cream and pan drippings, utterly delicious. Based on this recipe, only slow-roasted, pulled into chunks, doused with the sauce. Absolutely delicious.

And then I put some on my plate, with nothing else, because I’d had radicchio for lunch and felt that I’d had my vegetables for the day. A glass or two of Hendrick’s before dinner, with seaweed snacks, a favorite light apéro, a surprisingly great combination.

Sat down at the table, took a couple of bites, and couldn’t eat. Had to put down my fork and not pick it up again. Because, you know, it was way too good to eat alone. The salt in my tears added to the salt in the sauce, already perfectly seasoned. Making something really good, to eat all by myself = does not compute. Even at the end, when Shel could only eat Mint Milano cookies, he was there with me, at the table. He would have taken a bite or two of the delectable pork, for old time’s sake.

Everything I’ve read about grief tells me that it isn’t linear, it lies in wait, pounces with claws bared to shred the most peaceful moment. A simple dinner, roast pork in a fragrant sauce, reminds me of all I’ve lost. It’s not just losing Shel. Now I don’t have a husband. Now I’m not a wife. I hate death. I don’t want to have given my life in vain.