Knish Just Got Real

Last November, I declared the oncoming season “The Winter of the Knish.” Little did I comprehend at that time how seriously this knish-worthy winter would kick my tuchis: the coldest February on record and ungodly amounts of snow have rendered any outdoor activity, with the possible exception of shoveling  (So. Much. Shoveling.), nigh on impossible. Keeping our old drafty house warm challenges our middle-aged boiler. Even the cats burrow under the bedcovers or hop into any available lap to ward off the chill.

Leave a bed unmade for five minutes and this happens.

Leave a bed unmade for five minutes and this happens.

In short: this ain’t salad weather. In fact, any food served at less than mouth-singeing temperature simply won’t do. It’s stick-to-your-ribs, warm-you-from-the-inside-out food weather. The frigid temperatures call for starch, meat, salt, fat.

So, yeah: knish just got real.

A knish doesn’t just fill the belly. It fills the soul. It brings together nuggets of slowly caramelized onions, robust chunks of potato, and anything else you crave, snuggled in a blanket of savory pastry. It’s the Snuggie® of the food world. Eat a knish and plop yourself on the sofa in front of endless episodes of Dr. Who*; soon you will cease to concern yourself whether or not spring will ever arrive. As my friend Nina explains, “A knish is a hand-held mashed potato delivery system. What’s not to love?”

*Full disclosure: I still like the Ninth Doctor the best.

I would be willing to bet that the Doctor would have enjoyed the odd knish or two.

I would be willing to bet that the Doctor would have enjoyed the odd knish or two.

I used the better part of two snowy days to do some deep knish exploration. The dough is a dream to work with: fatty and pliable; the caramelized onions and mashed potatoes fill the house with an aroma that holds forth a umami promise. Plus, I considered the activity as housekeeping: my knish-making gave me the opportunity to use up lots of bits of stuff taking up space in the fridge and freezer.

For example;

Smoked pork belly, bacon-braised collards (left over from an attempt to recreate a meal I had last month at Sean Brock’s restaurant Husk in Charleston, S.C.):

Smoked pork, bacon braised collards, mashed potato.

Smoked pork, bacon braised collards, mashed potato.

Braised veal breast (dug out of the freezer, a remnant of our Christmas dinner), braised cabbage, and sautéed mushrooms:

Veal breast, sauteed mushrooms, braised cabbage, mashed potato.

Veal breast, sauteed mushrooms, braised cabbage, mashed potato.

I also made some with braised lamb shank meat (the result of an experiment with my combo pressure cooker-slow cooker) and roasted carrot, but I forgot to take a picture of the filling.

Not the pretties knishes, but freshly baked.

Not the prettiest knishes, but freshly baked.

Did I mention I made about a million of these over two snowy days? Did I also mention that I tried, with as much delicacy as possible, to foist knishes off on anyone whom I thought might be remotely interested? Do you know how hard it is, in these carb-eschewing times, to find a good home for a knish?

With an abundance of knishes, and since I’m the type who likes to take advantage of guests in my home, I served many of these dumplings to the lovely ladies from my book club on an evening in which we discussed the new Nick Hornby novel, Funny Girl. (NB: I liked but did not love the book, but I still love Nick Hornby.) I think there’s something badass about a woman who can throw down on a knish.

The Very Fine Ladies of Book Club, ready to dish on some knishes.

The Very Fine Ladies of Book Club, ready to dish on some knishes.

The star comestible of the evening, though, was this delightful Furmint, a great balance of acidity, fruit, spice, and minerality, and an excellent value at under $15 a bottle. It stood up well to the richness of the knishes, but I imagine it would also do well with sushi.

Delicious and thrifty!

Delicious and thrifty!

I’ll sign off this post with three things:

  1. Thank you to the lovelies in my book club. You ladies rock in the most profound way.
  2. I still have a freezer full of knishes. Free to a good home!
  3. This song, off Costello’s 2009 Secret, Profane and Sugarcane, which speaks to me now more than I wish it did.

Hugs & knishes!

Posted in Elvis Costello, Food, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Texas Whiskey Glazed Pecans

(Not in the mood for my drivel? I don’t blame you. Scroll down for the recipe.)

I do not like washing my jeans. I haven’t yet tried the cleaning by freezing method (probably because among the various butchery and charcuterie projects, I have no spare freezer real estate), but I do try to squeeze as many wears as possible out of my denim before chucking them in the wash.

Jeans (and boots) in Paris.

Jeans (and boots) in Paris.

I feel only the tiniest bit of shame that I find great pleasure in the supremely unattractive bagginess that my two three favorite pair of dungarees garner on second or third wearing—so much so that I can pull them over my hips without unzipping or unbuttoning: my own version of elastic-waist pants (though not great, I guess, if someone decides to pants me). They’re roomy, comfy, and accepting. But, those same jeans, just out of the dryer? Make me feel like I’ve got calves the size of mature oak trees, a butt the size of an SUV, and render me unable to properly move my knee and hip joints. They’re inflexible, confining, and judgy.

Can I fit in them? Yes. Do I feel like they fit? Certainly not.

I struggle with the feeling of fitting in versus fitting every time I go to Texas. I spent many of my formative years in that crazy place and I could not wait to get out. With age and time, I realize that a good seventy percent of what I hated about Texas came with me to New England (wherever you go, there you are, right?), but there’s a good thirty percent of stuff that still bugs the crap out of me about that state. An endemic small-mindedness still gets my goat —and I’m not talking about political ideologies; I’ve known and loved conservatives, liberals, libertarians, fascists, Marxists, Trotsky-ites, Austrian economists, tree huggers. (My chief concerns are (A) Are you kind? And (B) Are you funny? And I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of (A) for a lot of (B).) It’s primarily the prevailing concept that “Texas is the greatest! There’s no place better than Texas!” (Truthfully, this also bugs me about Manhattanites—and I love Manhattan. I just want to say, “Really? And you know this because you’ve been everyplace else?”)

Do I sound bitter?

Do I sound bitter?

 

On the other hand, I discovered after I left just how astounding my Texas family is. Three brothers, three sisters-in-law, eight nieces and nephews, five nieces-and-nephews-in-laws, nine (soon to be ten!) great nieces and nephews: all with fantastic tastes in music and astonishingly generous with their love.

(My parents, bless their hearts, taught me that it was essential to be polite to friends and strangers but that is was OK to treat family like shit. My siblings (who had all pretty much grown and moved out by the time I came along) and their truly open-hearted spouses taught me how to be kind to the people I love. NB: my poor husband is still waiting for me to master this lesson.)

I can fit in in Texas. I can walk the walk: I love my vintage cowboy boots and beef cooked for hours over a low smoke and I love George Jones. I can talk the talk: my y’all’s and all y’all‘s and fixin‘s can hold their own in a room of born and bred Lone Star tallboy drinkers. But I don’t fit in Texas. Despite the state’s behemoth and dizzyingly flat land mass, I suffocate. Okay, occasionally, in the early spring when the bluebonnets have bloomed, driving alone west on I-20, maybe playing some Explosions in the Sky, I feel a little freedom, but for the most part, Texas is the just-out-of-the-dryer jeans, snidely pointing out with raised eyebrow everything that is wrong with me. But unlike my favorite 501s, these jeans never give. They never relax.

TX landscape

***

On my most recent visit, I took an afternoon field trip to the Firestone & Robertson Distillery, just twenty minutes from my dad’s house in Fort Worth. F&R operates out of an old office in an in medias-gentrification part of town. Exposed brick and reclaimed wood form the backdrop for massive copper stills. One thousand barrels of aging hooch limn the distillery floor and the aroma of sour yeast spills out the door to greet visitors.

Just one barrel of 1,000.

Just one barrel of 1,000.

I first tasted their TX Blended Whiskey about two years ago. Is it fantastic? No. Drinkable? Totally. A little sweet, with big coconut overtones provided by the new American oak barrels used in the aging process. Retail product thus far has been limited to the blended stuff, but the first batch of bourbon is coming to an acceptable age (three years in new oak barrels, by law) and will likely make its way to liquor store shelves in the next eighteen months.

The proprietors’ commitment to producing a place-based spirit compelled them to culture their own yeast for the fermentation process. Yeast grows on and in everything, but most distilleries in the US (even the fancy ones) purchase commercial yeast to turn their grain sugars into alcohol. It’s easy to understand why: commercial yeasts are reliable and have a consistent flavor profile (yeast accounts for up to 25% of a whiskey’s flavor). But that consistency has a downside: it gives a distiller less bandwidth with which to create his own taste.

Bourbon, aging. Tagged by TCU fans.

Bourbon, aging. Tagged by TCU fans.

To their credit, the F&R boys worked with some yeast experts and the chemists at Texas Christian University to sample over 150 local bits of stuff (leaves, grasses, rocks, flowers, etc.) to find the one yeast strain that would give them the flavor they sought. The serendipitous winner hails from pecan shells (the pecan is the Texas state tree) gathered fifty miles south in Glen Rose (also the home of some impressive dinosaur fossils).

The mash, fermenting corn, rye, and barley.

The mash, fermenting corn, rye, and barley.

The corn and rye in the mash both come from the Texas Panhandle (barley doesn’t grow well in Texas, so it is sourced from the Midwest), and bottle caps use recycled cowboy boot leather from a storied bootmaker in the Fort Worth Stockyards.

I enjoyed my time at the distillery, especially because I was joined by several mature, gentlemanly cowboys in town for the annual stock show and rodeo, who happened to be big whiskey fans.

Cowboys and a for-show-only still at Firestone & Robertson.

Cowboys and a for-show-only still at Firestone & Robertson.

*****

Finally, to deliver on the promise of the title of this post, I decided to go full Texas and glaze some pecans with the TX. I added dried peaches (peaches: also a big deal in Texas) for a bit of chew, cayenne for kick, and bitters for…bitterness. Orange zest brings to mind the citrus-rich Texas valley. I think these would be great as a nibble with a peachy spin on an Old Fashioned (maybe this one).

Simple ingredients, big flavor.

Simple ingredients, big flavor.

Texas Whiskey Glazed Pecans (2 cups)

  • 1/4 cup TX Texas Blended Whiskey (or bourbon)
  • 1/4 cup dried peaches, diced
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/ 4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (Like it spicier? Add more. Like it waaaay spicier? Try habanero or ghost chili.)
  • 2 cups raw pecan halves
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2-3 dashes citrus bitters
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  1. Combine the peaches and whiskey in a small bowl; set aside. In other bowl, mix the sugar, salt, and both peppers; set aside.
  2. Toast the pecans in a large skillet over medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until they get toasty. Add the butter and swirl it around until the pecans are delightfully buttery.
  3. Add the sugar and spices to the pecans and give it all a good stir. Off the heat, add the whiskey and peaches—stay away from the flame while you do this if you want to keep your eyebrows.
  4. Back on the heat, continue to stir until the whiskey thickens into a glaze, maybe another minute or so. Take the pan off the heat and add the bitters.
  5. Pour the pecans onto a Silpat or a parchment-lined pan. Separate those buggers as much as you can; they’re going to want to clump together.
  6. When they’re cool, sprinkle with the zest.

Ready for snacking!

Ready for snacking!

Maybe Texas has changed a little since I left. Maybe I have. Perhaps we can hope for a detente sometime soon. In the meantime, I’ll just listen to George Jones.

Posted in Drivel, Food | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

This Winter is Pistachio-ing Me Off!

There’s a blizzard outside and a flurry in the kitchen.

Yep. We got another blizzard in New England. The eleventeenth this month. Oh, and there’s another on tap for the day after tomorrow. And another next weekend. At this point, only a miracle will save one of us in the house (and I include the felines in this) from going completely Jack-Nicholson-in-The-Shining before March hits.

No bueno.

No bueno.

Puttering in the kitchen saves my sanity during these bleak days (seriously: is anyone else feeling very Ethan Frome-ish?). My desperate attempts to find inspiration will leave no cabinet unexplored on a day like this. Today, this bag of pistachios played the role of muse.

Snow day inspiration.

Snow day inspiration.

Last week, I read about a cast iron skillet focaccia on Serious Eats featuring pistachios, olives, and rosemary. It’s a no-knead dough, so there is only about 10 minutes of hands-on time. It also smells like heaven when it bakes.

Olive, pistachio, and rosemary foccacia.

Olive, pistachio, and rosemary foccacia.

Yes.

Yes.

I also ran across a recipe on The Kitchn for salted pistachio brittle; such great payoff for such easy work, but one must be patient. This brittle goes through an awkward adolescent phase before ultimately becoming a swan.

Brittle cooling. Supremely unattractive.

Brittle cooling. Supremely unattractive.

Brittle glamour shot.

Brittle glamour shot.

However, since the Spousal Unit is decidedly not a candy guy, I took some of the brittle, gave it the good mortar and pestle treatment, and sprinkled it on top of simple shortbread cookies*. I even drizzled half with bittersweet chocolate.

Shortbread cookies with pistachio brittle. Some with bittersweet chocolate drizzle.

Shortbread cookies with pistachio brittle. Some with bittersweet chocolate drizzle.

(*NB: these are 1-2-3 cookies from Michael Ruhman’s genius book Ratio. If you own no other kitchen book, own this one. It will teach you more about the fundamentals of cooking than any other book out there.)

Now, I just want an enormous scotch and a promise that spring eventually will come.

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Mammaw’s Fruitcake

Lillian Varnell made me fall in love with fruitcake. Actually, I fell in love with her fruitcake at about the same time I fell in love with her grandson. I often wonder if those two things are related.

The people of Malvern, Arkansas, knew her as a woman of deep faith, a keen wit, and great strength. Many in town called her “Aunt Lil,” but the luckiest of us called her Mammaw.

Mammaw, on March 8, 1988, holding her great-granddaughter---our adorable niece---Loren.

Mammaw, on March 8, 1988, holding her great-granddaughter—our adorable niece—Loren.

She consistently used one’s full nomenclature in her address. Mammaw was totally a first name-last name kind of woman. Jay took particular delight in her charming cadence and would often imitate her.  His examples:  “Jamie Samons.  MMMMMMMM. That is delicious.  Now, let me tell you something about Jay Samons.” “Wilbur Varnell loved his television and eating at the Shack.”  “Jay Samons, it is good to see you.” She spoke with great enthusiasm and great love. One of her great paradoxes was that Mammaw loved almost everybody, yet I knew that to be loved by her was something very special.

Mammaw was the mistress of a true Southern kitchen: her black eyed peas, cornbread, collard greens, and fried chicken knew no equal. Her pear preserves—tender slices of pear swimming in glistening syrup— still haunt my dreams. (Those preserves on a freshly-baked, buttered biscuit? Grab the smelling salts: I’m swooning.)  And, at Christmas time, her care packages of Southern treats provided warm comfort to the two of us as we hunkered down through the New England winters. She sent candied pecans, peanut brittle, party mix, and, most anticipated of all: her fruitcake.

Clumsy cook = Cherry + Tony Lama.

Clumsy cook = Cherry + Tony Lama.

Mammaw’s fruitcake definitely was more “fruit” and less “cake.” Assertive chunks of dried dates, pineapples, and cherries snuggled tightly with opulent pecan halves in a traditional pound cake batter. Ample amounts of apricot brandy encouraged the fruits and nuts to play nicely together.

Shortly after we married, Mammaw shared with me her fruitcake recipe. She sent me two 4×6 index cards, on which she transcribed it from the 1946 edition of The Progressive Farmer Cookbook in her perfect penmanship. At first, I treated it rather cavalierly. In the hubristic haze of my twenties, I unabashedly mashed parts of Mammaw’s recipe with recipes from Martha Stewart and Rose Levy Beranbaum, seeking to develop my own signature fruitcake. The culinary cross-pollination proved utterly disastrous on more than one occasion. Even weeks of soaking those bitter cake-bricks in booze barely rendered them edible.

Mammaw's recipe.

Mammaw’s recipe.

Luckily, I matured a bit and recognized that one shouldn’t mess too much with a wonderful thing. Since then, I have followed her now-smudged and batter-splattered hand-written directions almost to the letter (my only divergence is to pre-toast my store-bought Yankee pecans in an effort to approach the robustness of her Southern gems).

Mammaw's recipe makes either 2 large tube pans or 6 little cakes. We like to share but we're not that generous, so I generally make 1 large cake and 3 wee ones.

Mammaw’s recipe makes either 2 large tube pans or 6 little cakes. We like to share but we’re not that generous, so I generally make 1 large cake and 3 wee ones.

One of the most productive people I have ever known, she always said she wanted to walk to her grave. And on March 9, 1998 she did, lucid and active until her last days, doting on great-grandbabies and certainly debating the merits of the latest Winston Churchill biography or studying Old Testament scripture.

Out of the oven, ready for 2+ weeks of soaking in apricot brandy.

Out of the oven, ready for 2+ weeks of soaking in apricot brandy.

When she passed along her recipe to me, Mammaw not only shared her legacy, she also set a standard for cooking and for love that I will certainly never reach. My fruitcake, a feeble reflection of hers, is my pale attempt to pay her homage.

This song, my favorite Christmas/not-really-Christmas tune, off 1984’s Learning to Crawl, soundtracked my holiday baking this year. I love its combination of grit and strength and tenderness (Mammaw qualities, to be sure). “Outside under the purple sky/Diamonds in the snow sparkle.”

Wishing you all a magical moment of sparkle this year. Merry Christmas!

Posted in Food | 4 Comments

Playlist: 11-14

I had the distinct pleasure to sub a couple of hard core spin classes this week. My athletes rode hard, sweated buckets, and finished the workouts with fist bumps and smiles.

The music was fun, too! The playlist is a bit poppier than my usual, but the music provided all the right oomph in all the right places. I am unashamedly in love with the entire Bleachers oeuvre. That Jack Antonoff is on to something.

playlist 11-14

Also, mark my words: this Fall Out Boy tune will be the workout song of the season.

How about some free music? Nab the super-slick remix of Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me” here.

Happy riding!

Posted in Music, Spinning | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Knish-ish

Full disclosure: I grew up in a big Irish/Welsh/Catholic/Protestant family, emphasis on Irish and Catholic. These four descriptors—and ensuing emphasis—mean that, growing up, I (almost) never received a nutritionally-sound, much less delicious, meal. I include the parentheses because sometimes a neighbor would invite me to eat at her house. It didn’t help matters that I was a maddeningly picky eater and for the entire year I was nine, refused to eat anything that wasn’t white. I consumed a lot of potatoes that year, which, come to think of it, I was probably genetically programmed to do.

I like to congratulate myself that things have changed considerably since then.

Still, when my latest craving hit me, brick-like, a couple of weeks ago, I was nine years old again. I wanted a knish. I wanted mashed potatoes wrapped in pastry: the ultimate all-white food. And, let me tell you: once the word “knish” gets implanted in your brain, there’s no shaking it. Knish. Knish. KNIIIIIISH!

Here’s the weird thing, though: I’d never eaten a knish. I had no idea what a knish actually tasted like. But, the heart (belly) wants what the heart (belly) wants. And mine wanted a knish.

Softball-sized knishes, ready for the oven.

Softball-sized knishes, ready for the oven.

The knish is surprisingly uncomplicated to make…and by uncomplicated, I do not mean quick. Give yourself an entire afternoon (although not all hands-on time) for full knish production. Be prepared to swoon over the aromas of caramelizing onions for much of that time. Ready yourself for nibbling bits (and bits and bits) of mashed potato and moaning audibly.

I followed the recipe on Smitten Kitchen pretty closely (borrowed from Joe Pastry), but I used duck fat instead of vegetable oil for the pastry dough and I added in some of my homemade lamb pastrami with the potatoes and caramelized onions. I’m not sure if this means what I made wasn’t truly a knish, but I will venture that it was knish-ish.

Lamb pastrami!!

Lamb pastrami!!

And if knish-ish is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Friends, we were in knish nirvana (knirvana?). Salty, peppery lamb. Hearty potatoes. Tender, savory pastry. We added some zing with coarse mustard and horseradish, and had pickled green beans and peppers on the side. It was a damn fine way to fight off the bitter chill that blew through New England this weekend.

Knish, with potato, onion, and lamb pastrami.

Knish, with potato, onion, and lamb pastrami.

I still have no idea what a proper knish tastes like, but I can’t wait to find out. This might require some field research on the Lower East Side. In the meantime, I’ll keep nibbling on the leftovers of this experiment and plan for another go. Next time, though, I will likely not make them so huge. Honestly: these things weighed a ton. I blame my Texas rearing for the bigger-is-better tendency.

A knish, with its tenacious stick-to-your-ribs quality, calls for cold weather; this is polar vortex food. Therefore, I officially declare the next several months as the Winter of the Knish.

Another thing that suits a cold, crisp night is this fantastic Mike Doughty tune, “I Hear the Bells,” off the divisive (but to my ears lovely) 2005 album Haughty Melodic. The song speaks with an aching hope for joy and love.

I hear the bells, they are like emeralds, and
Glints in the night, commas and ampersands

Any song that can use “ampersands” in the lyrics is all right by me.

Finally, mega-massive thanks to my dear (and exceedingly groovy) friend Nina Insler, who gave me lots of knish tips during the intermission of the Mike Doughty show last week at the super-hip Columbus Theater in Providence. Nina not only has impeccable taste in music and literature, she’s fantastically generous and she knows her knishes!

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Chasing Pear-fection

I’m subtitling this post: I’m Not Pear-fect. So sue me.

In a recent, not-regular-enough review of the contents of my freezer, I discovered six white-wine-poached pears, with some poaching liquid included. I think I remember making these as a back-up dessert for a dinner party a few months ago, but as I recall Plan A didn’t fail, so I was stuck with a mess of leftover pears. Worse things could happen, right?

The discovery coincided with growing yen to try making pâte de fruits, those intensely fruity, French jellied candies that are like the high-falutin’ cousin of a jelly fruit slice. Since pâte de fruits consist only of fruit purée (or juice), sugar, and pectin, I figured it’d be a confectionary slam dunk. I even fantasized about friends swooning on first bites, lavishing praise on me for the purity of the candy’s fruit flavor and my extreme resourcefulness in turning sad frozen poached pears into such a delightfully sweet nibble.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

Puréed pears, poaching liquid, sugar, and pectin went into a pot (I used roughly a 1:1 ratio of fruit to granulated sugar, in this case, about 1000 grams of each; 100 grams of liquid pectin; and because I like things on the tart side, about 30 grams of citric acid) and I attempted to bring the mixture up to 220° F for 3-5 minutes. At about 210° F, the stuff looked like pear-ish lava and at 220° (which took FOREVER), it became magma (say that with your best Dr. Evil accent, please). MAG-MA. Let me tell you: you haven’t lived until you’ve had pear magma splat you in the face a dozen or so times.

Wine-y, pear-y magma.

Wine-y, pear-y magma.

Pour that ooze into a tin, let it set up, cut into perfect squares, roll in sugar, and voilà, right?

Hardly. Apparently my idea of boiling FOREVER at 220° was somewhere under 3-5 minutes, which is required to convert molten magma ooze to solid candy. Less that that leaves you with just cool ooze. Lesson learned.

Not to be defeated by a lousy batch of leftover pears, I boiled it again. I even talked a bit of trash to it once it reached 200°. I may or may not have called it my bitch.

Pate de fruits! Cute paper cups from Stock, of course.

Pate de fruits! Cute paper cups from Stock, of course.

OK: so it finally worked. And the pâte de fruits were delicious and tasted intensely of pear. The spousal unit (“SU” or “Unit”) deemed it, “Like, the best gumdrop ever.” Ostensibly, a success. But, man: I made a ton of that stuff. Even after foisting tins of candy off on anyone whom I thought might be remotely interested (or, at least, too polite to refuse), I still had an obscene amount of the uncut, unsugared candy left over. It vaguely reminded me of membrillo, the quince paste often served with cheese in Spain, so I thought it might work in a grilled cheese. I consulted the lovely and authoritative-in-all-things-cheesy Katie McManus, and after careful deliberation, she suggested a sharp cheddar.

I admit, the grilled cheese concept excited me much more than the candy. I used a sharp raw milk cheddar from Brookford Farm that I procured on a day trip to New Hampshire to see the fantastic Molly Connors and her adorable cat (my god-cat) Abigail; well-buttered Seven Stars multi-grain bread; smoky bacon; and a slice or two of the membrill-faux (sorry, couldn’t resist). My first bite was heaven. I loved the interplay of sweet, salty, smoky, and fatty. I prepared myself for accolades from the Unit.

Friends, he HATED it. Hated it in that way where he actually opened up the sandwich, scraped off the membill-faux, and plopped the mass in a sad heap on the side of his plate. Hated it in that way where he turns to me with incredulity and whines, “Why did you put candy in my sandwich?” Hated in that way where he—a declared opponent of soup that is (a) smooth or (b) remotely exotic—ate his bowl of Thai red curry butternut squash soup first…and then went back for more. After dinner he popped himself an obscenely large bowl of popcorn, dousing it with olive oil and salt to assuage his lingering hunger.

He hated it.

The offending sandwich.

The offending sandwich.

The saving grace of the meal was this amazing wine, a gift from Heidi and Ben Sukle. Heidi and Ben know how I gravitate toward flinty, acidic, and mineral-driven white wines. This one? HOLY COW! I love a Fiano; the grape is from Campania and very often it exhibits honey, nutty, and spicy overtones with bracing minerality. And, since these wines are often aged on the lees, they carry some weight, but aren’t ponderous the way so many oak aged wines can be.

Gorgeous, gorgeous wine. Thank you Heidi & Ben!!

Gorgeous, gorgeous wine. Thank you Heidi & Ben!!

This wine, though, was a revelation. I have never experienced a Fiano as complex, smoky, and, indeed, savory as this bottle. Heidi and Ben are pouring this wine now at birch. Get yourself there and experience it before I drink all of it.

This isn’t the first time in my life I have said, “Thank God for the wine,” and it certainly won’t be the last, but this bottle made the angels sing and helped to wash away the shame of the offending sandwich.

I often tell my cyclists that we need to work hard and fail spectacularly; that failure is the most important part of the process of improving. All in all, I found at least two new ways to fail in this endeavor, which has got to count for something, right?

Other important parts of the process are recognizing grace when it smacks you in the face (or in the wine glass, as the case may be) and being grateful for the influence of talented and generous friends. So: thank you Heidi, Ben, Katie, and Molly for inspiration and example!

Signing off with an ode to improvement, by the quirkily awesome Jack Antonoff.

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Eating Out of the Box: Last Hurrah

The final CSA box weighed a ton. Seriously: I needed a Gatorade after I lugged that thing into the house. The combined heft of a ginormous squash, a healthy noggin of cauliflower, apples, peppers, delightful baby turnips, potatoes, and lettuce challenged my muscles as well as my cooking skills this week.

Corn, lettuce, Harukei turnips, peppers, apples, onions, potatoes, and cauliflower.

Corn, lettuce, Harukei turnips, peppers, apples, onions, potatoes, butternut squash, and cauliflower.

The corn, onion, and potatoes became a rich chowder, with stock made from the corn cobs and onion skins. We topped this with a confit of duck necks (more on that project later).

Corn chowder with crispy duck neck confit.

Corn chowder with crispy duck neck confit.

I fell victim to the persuasive powers of the Paleo-obsessed internet and made cauliflower “fried rice,” adding some of the roasted hot peppers from the basket. I had this for dinner topped with two sunny side up eggs (look at those yolks!) and a healthy squirt of Sriracha. Hot peppers + hot sauce for the win.

Cauliflower "fried rice" with roasted hot chiles and Pat's Pastured eggs.

Cauliflower “fried rice” with roasted hot chiles and Pat’s Pastured eggs.

I used the butternut squash and the apples (plus a handful of pecans) as a stuffing for these wee bacon-wrapped quail, which I served on a bed of fresh corn polenta. The remaining apples I ate sliced with almond butter and sea salt. (Does anyone else like to put salt on fruit? I can’t be the only freak, right?)

Pan roasted quail, stuffed with butternut squash, pecans, and apples, over fresh corn polenta and a sherry vinegar pan sauce.

Pan roasted quail, stuffed with butternut squash, pecans, and apples, over fresh corn polenta and a sherry vinegar pan sauce.

Because the squash was massive, I had enough left over to make a pot of Thai-influenced soup, bumped up with red curry paste, ginger, lemongrass, fish sauce, and coconut milk. I brought this jar to work for lunch and had all sorts of curious noses sniffing their way to my office. The fish sauce gets ‘em every time.

Thai-scented butternut squash soup.

Thai-scented butternut squash soup.

 

The lettuce became several salads and the baby turnips I sliced thinly on the mandoline and pickled on a whim with a star anise. We’ll see how those turn out.

Did you notice that I drank NO WINE with any of these things? It’s sad, but true. I cooked all these thing while on a Whole 30, which meant NO ALCOHOL (and NO lots of other things, either). It also means that all of these items are Whole 30 approved (except for the fresh corn polenta, which has some Parmesan cheese in it), so you can eat any of them during your own Whole 30 if you are ever daft enough to do one. (My point here? Not a fan of the Whole 30.)

I’m quite sad that this challenge has come to an end. I have a new one in mind, though. which includes Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey. Three of my favorite things!

Stay tuned!

 

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New Playlist: Scotland on My Mind

I intended for the music in this morning’s spin class to pay homage to the incredibly kick-ass happenings in Scotland (“yes” or “no,” it was just thrilling to watch the process; this is how grown-ups do government). I’ve got cuts from some epic Scottish bands, including 1983’s “In a Big Country,” 1995’s “I’m Only Happy When it Rains,” and 2009’s “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning.” I wrestled with including some Belle and Sebastian or Teenage Fanclub, but I needed this playlist to enhance a workout, so the softer, more somber tunes didn’t make the cut.

However, much like the “Yes” campaign, my plans didn’t work out: the stereo receiver in the cycling room shorted out, so we rooster cyclists were left to only wistfully think about what might have been.

If I weren’t on this bloody Whole 30, I would raise a glass of Ardbeg Uigeadail to the Scots for truly expressing their democracy. I wish them well as they negotiate a new relationship with Westminster. Slainte!

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The Spotify approximation of my list is below (lacking the cool remixes, sadly). One track not on Spotify is Travis’s most excellent acoustic cover of Britney Spears’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” but you can watch that here:

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Eating Out of the Box: The Penultimate Edition

Kale, onions, tomatoes, plums, butternut squash, broccoli, golden beets, green beans.

Kale, onions, tomatoes, plums, butternut squash, broccoli, golden beets, green beans.

The Farmer’s Almanac predicts an early fall and a cold winter for us in New England. Already, chilly mornings mean that I pull out the long sleeves for running. Apples have arrived at the farmer’s markets. Darkness falls earlier and earlier.

In the fall my CSA subscription comes to an end as well; this week’s box is the second-to-the-last, so I unpacked some of late summer’s finest along with a squashy harbinger of autumn. (Don’t you love the word penultimate? I had never heard it before I took Greek in college…which is funny because it’s a Latin word. Those crazy ancients.)

Fall makes me want to eat soup. I resisted the urge to make four different soups with this box and instead settled for a duo. The broth for this chicken and kale soup is amp-ed up with Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard; the beet soup gets some extra zing from a healthy dose of ginger and garlic.

Chicken soup with kale.

Chicken soup with kale.

Golden beet soup.

Golden beet soup.

Last year, I ate a tomato salad at Farmstead (sob!) that was dressed with a kimchi vinaigrette. The memory of that dressing has haunted me, lo, these many months, so I tried to recreate it for a salad using the box’s green beans. I achieved moderate success: my version is good, but not lick-the-plate-clean good. More work needed here, obviously.

Green bean salad with kimchi vinaigrette.

Green bean salad with kimchi vinaigrette.

A chilly Sunday morning run led me to crave duck, which we ate with The Best Broccoli of Your Life and butternut squash (roasted and tossed with toasted pumpkin seeds and sage brown butter).

Crispy-skinned duck with roasted broccoli and squash, pickled cherries.

Hideous photo. Crispy-skinned duck with roasted broccoli and squash, pickled cherries.

And finally, the plums became (likely) my last canning project of the season: they simmered FOREVER with orange, cardamom, and cinnamon into a spicy plum butter. The house smelled like Christmas for an entire afternoon. Since I’m in the middle of a Whole 30, I had a schmear on an apple slice instead of toast (I MISS TOAST).

Spicy (sugarless!) plum butter.

Spicy (sugarless!) plum butter.

One more box to go. I’ll be sad to see these bi-weekly challenges come to an end, but happy to embrace a fall of charcuterie. Soppressata, here I come!

PS: Have you heard the new record from The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers? I highly recommend it. While I will always love 2005’s Twin Cinema best, this new record is a pop head rush. Bracing melodies, forceful bits of synth, and those voices. Those voices! The record manages to sound very futuristic while simultaneously paying homage to its eponymous hit-making structure. You can listen to most of it live in concert here.

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