Ignoring the Rules (or: Mexi-terranean Burritos)

Before I move on the the vegetable box, I must again offer thanks for all your good wishes and healing thoughts. Both cats continue vigorously on their way back to tip-top kitty health, the Unit arrived safe and sound (albeit a bit cranky after twenty hours of travelling) from Greece, and I am re-learning what it’s like to sleep six hours at a shot. In short, life is getting back to normal.

***

The latest box finally contained the joke of summer produce—zucchini—as well as a canary-colored pattypan squash, a trio of magenta onions, kale, celery, tarragon, green bell peppers, and several ears of plump-kernelled sweet corn.

Kale, celery, pattypan squash, red onions, tarragon, bell peppers, zucchini, corn.

Kale, celery, pattypan squash, red onions, tarragon, bell peppers, zucchini, corn.

I also had a stowaway.

Interloper in the box!

Interloper in the box!

And here’s what I did:

The squashes, bell pepper, and one of the onions joined with garlic, tomatoes, an obscene amount of olive oil, and loads of herbs to make a faux ratatouille: a not-tatoullie, if you will, due to the lack of eggplant. I love the silky texture all the vegetables take on when you cook them to death. There’s not an al dente bite in the entire pot (I think we should overcook our vegetables more often, but more on this another time). This stuff is great as a base for a poached egg or two or plopped on a piece of toast, but ultimately this batch played a supporting role in a burrito. I took a Mexican approach to some Mediterranean ingredients to create a totally disrespectful-of-culture old-world-new-world dinner.

  • Tortilla→Lavash
  • Rice→Couscous
  • Braised chicken→Braised chicken (kudos for my creativity on this one, right?)
  • Salsa→Not-tatouille
  • Jalapeno→Spicy harissa
  • Sour cream→Tahini-yogurt sauce
Lavash, couscous, braised chicken, harissa, not-tatouille, feta, tahini/yogurt sauce.

Lavash, couscous, braised chicken, harissa, not-tatouille, feta, tahini/yogurt sauce.

Winner, winner, (Mexi-terranean) chicken dinner!

We've got a freezer full of these now.

We’ve got a freezer full of these now.

Dinner! Accompanied by tomato and avocado salad,

Dinner! Accompanied by tomato and avocado salad,

The spicy harissa was a gift from my delightful friend Sally who knows my love of all things tongue-numbing and constantly surprises me with new ways to feed the addiction. This stuff is magical: plenty of heat, but not so much that your head will explode. Plus, the complexity of the spice and the acidity of the sauce makes this interesting enough to eat off a spoon (not that I would know anything about that).

Dope everything and buy this harissa. Thank you to lovely Sally for this wonderful gift!

Drop everything and buy this harissa. Thank you to lovely Sally for this wonderful gift!

The kale I braised with white beans and artichoke hearts, along with a couple of Parmesan rinds. In its first iteration, I served the beans under a piece of slow roasted wild salmon (it’s salmon season!!); I used the leftovers to make a white bean, kale, artichoke soup.

White beans braised with kale and artichokes, topped with slow roasted salmon.

White beans braised with kale and artichokes, topped with slow roasted salmon.

I took the corn off the cobs and used the cobs to enrich some chicken stock with their corny flavor. I used the stock to make risotto, into which I added the sweet kernels. Truthfully, it was a bit sweet for me, so I tossed on a decent dousing of olive oil and sherry vinegar. I also crisped up some lardons of my homemade bacon, because bacon + corn = yum. We had a ton of risotto left over. I think I may make some arancini, subbing out bits of goat cheese for the mozzarella.

Corn sobs simmering in chicken stick.

Corn cobs simmering in chicken stick.

Corn risotto, dressed with a decent glu of olive oil, some sherry vinegar, and loads of black pepper.

Corn risotto, dressed with a decent glug of olive oil, some sherry vinegar, and loads of black pepper.

Home cured. home smoked. Really bacon-y.

Home cured. home smoked. Really bacon-y.

The celery I ate in sticks at work with blue cheese dip. Sadly, no spicy chicken wings.

The other onion endured a slow cook in oodles of oil and butter until it got brown and sticky. I plopped it on top of some focaccia with a mess of black olives I had marinated in with orange, garlic, and basil.

Black olive and caramelized onion focaccia.

Black olive and caramelized onion focaccia.

And the tarragon flavored some pickled mustard seeds. I will giggle like seven-year old when I get pickled mustard seeds at a restaurant. I will never share. They always seem so exotic and luxurious, like caviar without the whole lining-of-a-fish-belly thing. Thing is, pickled mustard seeds are dead simple to make. Who knew? And now I have my own supply! Sorry: not sharing.

Mid-pickling.

Mid-pickling.

Pickled mustard seeds!

Pickled mustard seeds!

While cooking, I listened (a lot) to Leon Bridges. Have you heard his record? Listen to it. I promise you will love it. If you don’t I will personally come to your house and do your laundry. Seriously: it’s that good. He croons with the passion of Sam Cooke, plays guitar with the tightly executed song structures of CSNY, yet possesses a completely modern sensibility along the lines of Usher or John Legend. Bridges lives in Fort Worth, on the same street as my brother. The two ran into one another at the Newport Folk Festival—where Bridges knocked everyone’s socks off—and celebrated an “only in Rhode Island” moment.

My brother Steve and Leon Bridges at the Newport Folk Festival.

My brother Steve and Leon Bridges at the Newport Folk Festival.

Happy listening!

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Plans, schmans

I love a list. A list promises forward movement, improvement, goals to achieve. So, when the Unit left for five weeks abroad at the end of June, I sat at my desk, gel pen in hand, and put to paper my BIG PLANS FOR JULY. I admit, the three entries don’t look horribly ambitious at first glance, but each line required me to push past some physical, mental, or emotional hurdle that I had been heretofore avoiding.

Hubris or just plain foolishness?

Hubris or just plain foolishness?

Before I hated Woody Allen, he said some funny things, including, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.” I guess God had His share of chuckles during the month with me.

Grout shower. After watching a few You Tube videos on regrouting a shower, I knew the task was beyond me, so I called in an expert. It took the handyman six hours to complete a job I had nudged the Unit two years to do. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

So: BIG PLAN #1 – check.

I love the smell of fresh grout in the morning.

I love the smell of fresh grout in the morning.

Cut hair. My hair has taken a Hashimoto’s-induced beating over the past few years; the damage has resisted the work of my incredibly knowledgeable and caring stylist (Brian Richards in Franklin, MA) and every conditioner sold on Sephora or in the aisles of Whole Foods. Still, I hesitated to cut it because (a) the Unit hates short hair and (b) the last time I went short, in 1999, I ended up with a mullet reminiscent of John Stamos as Uncle Jesse on Full House (NB: I have only love for Stamos, but I cannot rock the mullet the way he could). I cried for two days after that haircut.

I just don't have the smoldering Greek good looks to pull this off.

I just don’t have the smoldering Greek good looks to pull this off.

The week before my scheduled salon visit, things started to go south with the cat and I was an emotional, sleep-deprived wreck. Not, if you believe all the lady magazines, the perfect headspace for making a major hair decision. Still, I needed a change-your-hair-change-your-life moment, so I told Brian to chop it off. After the first snip, I felt ten years younger and ten pounds lighter. I can’t believe I waited so long to get rid of that dead, damaged mane. Yes: another lesson (or perhaps the same one).

BIG PLAN#2 – check.

Get fit. My desire to “get fit” in truth was my desire to run a fast half-marathon on the island of Islay at the end of July. I’ve been looking forward to this race for a year, since I ran San Francisco with Steve and he told me about this tiny half on the island that produces my favorite whiskies. I planned to fly to Glasgow, take the prop plane to Islay, run, and then spend a few days exploring distilleries before heading to Edinburgh for a day to visit Steve, and then to London for a week to visit butchery and cheese shops. I ended up cancelling the trip; the Unit wouldn’t be back from Greece for several days after I was scheduled to leave, and there was no way I could, in good conscience, leave two sick/recovering kitties alone, even with our beloved pet sitter checking in every day. Chet would likely still have a feeding tube (although never, thank God, necessary for food) and Whiskey is on daily allergy meds.

Even before I made the decision to cancel, I had let the running go. I was down to two runs a week, nothing even longer than six miles. I had, maybe, two track workouts the entire month, and I was abysmally slow. Getting up every hour or two overnight to check on cats (Is everyone still alive? Is he breathing fast? Slow? Has Whiskey scratched her nose off again?) left me with little energy and even less willpower to hit the road at 6:00 AM. (I’m sure right now every parent in the world is rolling their eyes so far back in their heads that they can see their own amygdalae, and saying, “Tell me about it, cupcake.”)

My fitness saving grace during this time was teaching (and taking) GRIT sessions. This alchemical 30-minute workout brought me to exhaustion and failure every time and helped prevent me from completely losing my mind (and my muscle) over the month.

BIG PLAN #3 – fail.

Two out of three. What did Meatloaf say about that? It ain’t bad. It also ain’t great, but I’ve got no choice at this point but to be okay with it. I may not have completed a respectable half-marathon (and followed it up with a scandalous amount of whisky drinking), but I’ve got a nice shower and two cats well on their way to recovery.

I’ve also got loads of folks to thank, who lent support over this crazy month: my friends at Fore Court (especially Melissa, who managed to get my classes covered at the last minute on way too many occasions when a cat needed to be rushed to the hospital; and Laura, who ran a freaking Ironman and was always a source of inspiration); my running partner, Sally, who even though she was not running in July due to fasting for Ramadan, continued to check in on me and the cats over the month; my brothers, whose social activities with me during their visits to Providence this month were sharply curtailed, yet they were still cool about everything; my dad, his desire to help is so humbling; my colleagues, who gave me oodles of occupational flexibility; and especially Jenni Huelsman and Monika Wright, who offered so much professional veterinary wisdom, loads of their own time, and words of comfort on every occasion. They also gifted Chet with a very dashing red bow tie.

Sartorial splendor courtesy of Jenni & Monika.

Sartorial splendor courtesy of Jenni & Monika.

August is here, and I don’t have a new list. Maybe that’s a good thing. September is a much better list-making month, anyway.

I’ll sign off with one of my favorite songs of all time. The opening lyric says it all: “I’ve been talking to the wall and it’s been answering me.”

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A Balancing Act

First off, I thank all of you who expressed so much concern for the cats and me after the last post. I have been overwhelmed with words, prayers, and gestures of kindness. I always prided myself on my choice of friends, but, DAMN, did I ever hit the jackpot with you people. You rock in the most profound way and I am very grateful.

Both cats are home and on the mend. Chet has a feeding tube which, thankfully, we haven’t had to use for food yet, as he has eaten pretty robustly on his own, and Whiskey is relegated to wearing the cone of shame several hours a day to ensure that she doesn’t scratch herself silly in an allergic fit. For a week, they were both on daily pain medication, so it was a bit like living with Cheech and Chong.

My less-than-fancy medication checklists. I probably should have made ax Excel spreadsheet.

My less-than-fancy medication checklists. I probably should have made an Excel spreadsheet.

The Unit’s situation in Greece has stabilized as well, thanks to some hand-waving by the ECB and the Greek Parliament, so with any luck, he’ll be back in the States before any other crises hit.

And while we had some ups and downs with the felines being home from the hospital (almost entirely caused by my own tendency to freak out), I approached this week’s vegetable box with a slightly lighter attitude.

Shelling peas, parsley, onions, cucumber, chard, blueberries, tomatoes.

Shelling peas, parsley, onions, cucumber, chard, blueberries, tomatoes.

This box hit the entire ROY G. BIV spectrum, with shelling peas, parsley, sweet onions, a cucumber, more Swiss chard, golden and red cherry tomatoes, and indigo-dark blueberries.

And here’s what happened:

The cucumber joined a green apple, a carrot, a lime, and a handful of mint in a pretty darn healthy glass of juice.

A much oranger juice than expected, considering I only used one carrot.

A much oranger juice than expected, considering I only used one carrot.

After two weeks of consistently forgoing dinner (it’s funny how stress will make you think that a whisky—or two—and a handful of peanuts is an acceptable dinner), I decided to cook a proper meal for myself, using the fresh peas, onion, and parsley for a vibrant soup, topped with some minted yogurt and a pink shrimp.

Fresh pea soup with minted yogurt and a beautifully poached shrimp.

Preppy-looking pea soup with minted yogurt and a beautifully poached shrimp.

The chard joined a couple of eggs for a “desperation dinner” after a particularly tough workout (by the way, have you tried GRIT yet?). After this photo was snapped, I added what was probably an inadvisable amount and multicultural combination of hot sauces.

My desperation dinner: brasied chard, sliced olives, eggs, hot sauce.

My desperation dinner: brasied chard, sliced olives, eggs, hot sauce.

The tomatoes and parsley garnished a couple of cast iron skillet focaccias (or is it focacciae?). I used the no-knead method on Serious Eats. It works like a dream every time.

Herb and tomato focaccia.

Herb and tomato focaccia.

And the blueberries became jam, because jam and toast are my favorite foods in the world, and if I could live off crusty bread, acidic jam, and whisky for the rest of my life, I would be a happy lady. Half of this blueberry jam I spiked with St. George’s Botanical Gin; the rest got a stiff shot of lemon.

Jam on buttered toast. Is there anything better?

Jam on buttered toast. Is there anything better?

Over the past two weeks, I’ve listened extensively to Lost on the River by the New Basement Tapes. The T. Bone Burnett-produced album came out last fall and features Elvis Costello, Riannon Giddens (of the Carolina Chocolate Drops), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), and Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons) as a supergroup of sorts performing a series of tracks based on recently discovered lyrics handwritten by Bob Dylan, most likely in 1967. Undiscovered handwritten Dylan lyrics? It sounds like something out of a novel or a movie, right?

This record is a gem, and the performances, across the board, amaze me. This track, in particular, is delicate and beguiling, with a weary melancholy that enhances Mumford’s jugular-scratched voice. Fun fact: Costello couldn’t make it to the video taping below, so Johnny Depp (yes: that Johnny Depp) sat in for Elvis on guitar.

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Can I Just Crawl in the Damn Box?

So, the box came and I have done almost nothing interesting with it. Emotionally, I haven’t the wherewithal. Chet has been in and out of the hospital four five times and we face the gravest concerns about his health. Whiskey, not to be outdone, has developed some health issues of her own. And, the Unit, of course, is still in Greece, where the economy is imploding. The worry has pretty much sucked the creativity out of me, so instead of eating out of the box, I just want to crawl in it.

At this point, I must note how utterly fantastic the emergency veterinary staff is at Ocean State Veterinary Hospital and at Povar/VCA, my regular vet. Drs. Huelsman, Trow, Worhunsky, Svilek, and Wash have all bent over backwards to help me and my sweet cats.

Back to the box. It contained swiss chard, beets, fennel, jewel-like yellow and red cherry tomatoes, garlic scapes, kolhrabi, and an adorable purple basil plant, whose heady aroma thoroughly infused my car on the ride home.

Snap peas, fennel, chard, beets, kohlrabi, purple basil, garlic scapes, and tomatoes.

Snap peas, fennel, chard, beets, kohlrabi, purple basil, garlic scapes, and tomatoes.

And here’s what I did:

The scapes and chard went into a chicken soup, along with a few carrots and an onion. I love the bitter greens in brothy soup. Much like our beloved collards in the South, these greens improve with the addition of salt, acid, and heat. It’s one of the reason collards are cooked with a ham hock and served with pepper vinegar. I added a healthy dose of my most recent acidic obsession, the Serrano Honey vinegar from Olive del Mundo in my neighborhood, but I also would have enjoyed this with a glug of the brine from a jar of pickled jalapenos.

Chard soup, nose-tingling vinegar.

Chard soup, nose-tingling vinegar.

The beets and fennel I roasted and then slathered with the same miso-tahini sauce I used on the roasted vegetables in my last post. That stuff is like crack. I’m pretty sure I would eat that on an old running shoe and it would still taste great.

I brought the tomatoes, kohlrabi, and snap peas to work for a few days of lunches and snacking. The colors remind me of Skittles.

Nature's Skittles.

Nature’s Skittles.

And the basil went, julienned, with garlic and orange zest into a jar of marinated olives. The plant still grows, so perhaps I’ll revisit it in a future post.

My Nessie soup ladle.

My Nessie soup ladle.

 

If you don’t mind, I’ll beg your indulgence and ask for prayers and good intentions for my sweet boy. With any luck, by the time I tackle the next box (this week—eek!), I will have some good news to share.

I’ve been listening to a lot of old Bellx1 over the past weeks. I’ve always loved this song, which features the genius lyric, “Why is my ass the perfect height for kicking?” It’s a sentiment my poor cat must be feeling right about now.

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Back to the Box

Note: I meant to post this last week, but got sidetracked by Chet’s medical situation. Many, many thanks to all of you who sent best wishes and cat prayers. I hope to give a positive progress report soon!

 

The box has returned, and with it my obsessive compulsion to use everything in it for delicious results. My challenge increases this summer, though, because I am emptying it solo. The Unit, you see, has carried himself off to Greece for five weeks in a futile noble attempt to educate the philhellenic youths of Boston, whilst concurrently avoiding increasingly-certain economic doom. So, while he is feasting on Greek salad, stuffed tomatoes, and French fries (washed down, no doubt, with a healthy amount of Assyrtiko, paid for with the last euros remaining in his pocket), I’ll be tending to the cats and foisting ugly but delicious vegetable creations on those friends and acquaintances of mine who are too polite to say no.

You’ve been duly warned.

The box: berries, greens, tatsoi, cilantro, rhubarb, behemoth parsnip, and wee sweet potatoes.

The box: berries, greens, tatsoi, cilantro, cabbage, rhubarb, behemoth parsnip, and wee sweet potatoes.

The kick-off box contained rhubarb, strawberries, mixed greens, Napa cabbage, tatsoi, adorable tiny sweet potatoes, the parsnip that ate New York, and cilantro.

And here’s what I did:

I went strawberry picking last weekend with 10-year old Emma, the fantastically cool daughter of my equally cool friend Laura. Between the two of us, we picked almost six pounds of strawberries (full disclosure: Emma out-picked me by 1.14 pounds), some of which we turned into pie and many of which we ate, so I decided to take a more grown up route with the pint in the box: strawberry liqueur. I soaked the berries, along with a couple of sprigs of tarragon, in some Tito’s Vodka (we went to college with Tito! His name isn’t really Tito!) for several days, added some simple syrup and let everything mingle for another several days. I think it will be nice with some floral gin (Hendrick’s?) and club soda, or maybe added to sparkling wine.

Emma, exhibiting excellent hulling skills.

Emma, exhibiting excellent hulling skills.

And her garnishing abilities ain't so bad either.

And her garnishing abilities ain’t so bad either.

I stewed the rhubarb in sugar and water, and saved the resulting pink syrup for cocktails. I added the cooked rhubarb to a couple of diced peaches and used this to fill a half dozen hand pies, the rich crust of which I made with my friend Lucy’s beautiful eggs. I followed the example of Hugh Acheson and tossed some rice wine vinegar and black pepper into the filling for an acidic, nose-tickling kick.

Rhubarb syrup and strawberry liqueur. Time for cocktails!

Rhubarb syrup and strawberry liqueur. Time for cocktails!

Rhubarb and peach hand pies.

Rhubarb and peach hand pies.

The arugula I separated from the rest of the greens (we used those in salads) and sautéed it in bacon fat with garlic and a little jalapeno pickle brine, for a riff on collards. I served these with sautéed soft shell crabs and buttered Anson Mills grits (by the way: when Sean Brock instructs you to soak the grits overnight before you cook them, SOAK THE DAMN GRITS…I cooked these in dashi and they were the best grits ever).

Soft shell crabs with smoky almonds, Anson Mills grits, arugula.

Soft shell crabs with smoky almonds, Anson Mills grits, arugula.

The cilantro went into guacamole. The tatsoi went, sautéed, onto some toast with fried eggs and loads of hot sauce.

If you are a guac purist who is anti-tomato, my sincerest apologies.

If you are a guac purist who is anti-tomato, my sincerest apologies.

And, the sweet potatoes and parsnips joined broccoli, cauliflower, soy/ginger marinated chicken thighs, and quinoa in a somewhat healthy version of a grain bowl. I roasted the hell out of those vegetables until they got crispy and brown on the edges, and bathed everything in a lick-the-bowl worthy sauce of miso, tahini, ginger, garlic, and other goodness, stolen directly from Smitten Kitchen.

Quinoa, grilled chicken, roasted vegetables, miso-tahini sauce, and sesame seeds.

Quinoa, grilled chicken, roasted vegetables, miso-tahini sauce, and sesame seeds.

We drank this lip smacker from Southwest France: bone dry, with flavors of Golden Delicious apple, pineapple, and lemon rind. We also detected some salinity. The wine is made primarily with biodynamically-grown Gros Manseng, a grape I know nothing about. Fermentation occurs in 90% neutral oak (10% new French oak) until bottling. I only bought four bottles of this, an oversight for which I now kick myself. It’s that good.

jurancon

The napa cabbage fermented into two tiny jars of pungent kimchi, luckily avoiding the horrific outcome of the Great Kimchi Explosion of 2012.

 

Newton's lost universal law surely concerned cats and boxes.

Newton’s lost universal law surely concerned cats and boxes.

 

I listened to the entire back catalog of Nada Surf during these cooking adventures: what an aurally delightful band. I particularly enjoyed their covers album, If I Had a Wi-Fi. I think the Kate Bush cover may have been my favorite, although Depeche Mode came in a close second.

Do you like vegetables? Do you want some of mine? Let me know!

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Letting Go and Limoncello

I have decided to make some changes in my life, starting from the ground up.

Super cute suede Pucci color block Mary James. Arrividerci!

Super cute suede Pucci color block Mary James. Arrividerci!

Today I removed nineteen pairs of shoes (including the ones pictured above) from my closet. NINETEEN!! I sent them away for consignment, which sounds a bit like I sent them away to military school for bad behavior. I assure you, though, none of these shoes has ever exhibited antisocial or narcissistic tendencies, which is more than I can say for their current/soon-to-be-previous owner.

These shoes represent about 16% of my non-athletic shoe collection. In all honesty, I haven’t worn most of them more than once and some never at all. They all still rest in the original boxes, toes stuffed with tissue paper, sleeper bags carefully folded beneath them. I estimate half of the nineteen pairs I bought on a whim; the rest I gave consideration and indeed chose them based on a distinct aesthetic rubric. I do, in fact, still love them all.

Moschino, Marni, Pucci, and others.

Moschino, Marni, Pucci, and others.

So why must they go? Well, number one: I have too much stuff. We all probably do, but I have a predisposition to gather. Once gathered, I tend to stack things until the stacks fall over (usually the act of a feline). Then, I generally ignore the toppled stack until I trip over something and get annoyed and curse hideously.

Number two: At some point, I need to recognize that I purchased those shoes for a type of life that I will never have and a type of person I will never be. I think we all probably make aspirational acquisitions from time to time (“This suit will make me look powerful!”), but I, embarrassingly, invest my shoes with all matter of transformational significance. I admire their architectural qualities and I believe—not that the shoes will make me look powerful, but that they will make me powerful. Confident. Grown up. Capable.

Regrettably, this has never occurred.

Dangerously high LAMB platform booties. They're going, too.

Dangerously high LAMB platform booties. They’re going, too.

Number three: These shoes represent hours of craftsmanship by shoe makers all over the globe. The shoes themselves deserve to be worn, loved, and shown to the world, not shoved in the corner of some early-20th century closet gathering dust and cat hair.

OK: I admit. Number three doesn’t really matter to me at all. I just put it in there to sound less like a whiny brat.

Camilla Skovgaard, two pairs from one of her first collections. Cheerio!

Camilla Skovgaard, two pairs from one of her first collections. Cheerio!

Obviously: I’m no shoe-sacrificing saint, here. I still have approximately 84% of my lifelong obsession sitting in the closet. Lots of red soles and pointy Prada toes and matchstick-slender stilettos continue still to occupy ample wardrobe real estate.

But hopefully—fingers and toes crossed, and eyes closed to make a wish—this tiny purge will mark the beginning of the end of things in my life that just don’t work. Big order, right?

In the meantime, I’ll take a minute to focus on something that does work every time: limoncello. It’s as sweet and as stern as your best friend who, in your time of wallowing in self-pity, gives you a hug and then slaps your face and says, “Get it together, already!” And limoncello is simple. You need very few things to produce a consistently excellent tipple:  lemons, alcohol, sugar, and time.

I ordered 10 lbs of late season Meyer Lemons from The Lemon Ladies and every bit of them went to use. The rinds infused this delicious limoncello.

I ordered 10 lbs of late season Meyer Lemons from The Lemon Ladies and every bit of them went to use. The rinds infused this delicious limoncello.

I used Meyer lemons for this batch, which gave it a vibrant yellow hue. I welcome the brightness in the rainy days of early spring: the limoncello is the booze equivalent of daffodils. The Kitchn gives a great run-down here (http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-limoncello-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-197694). I collect funky bottles (see previous discussion of gathering), but you can always get nifty swing top numbers at Specialty Bottle.

Here’s something else that always works: happy, shiny pop music, like this stellar cut, “The Bleeding Heart Show,” from the New Pornographers’ excellent 2005 album Twin Cinema. If you can be unhappy during the last two minutes of this song, when the “Hey-la” bit hits, we need to have a talk.

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Happy Easter!

For the past few years, on my birthday, Jay has gifted me a beautiful bottle of French wine. As a gift, it’s a pretty selfless one, something for my enjoyment alone (although I always share). You see, we have profoundly different palates: he loves tannins and fruit, I like acid and minerals. As a matter of fact, he once told someone, “Jamie doesn’t like a wine unless it’s punishing.” So, on second thought, maybe this gift isn’t so much a gift as it is a form of clever sadism? A tool for self-flagellation? A birthday gotcha?

Yikes. Well, whatevs.

Because I have almost no self-control, I can usually only make it until Easter before cracking open the cellar-worthy bottle. At least, though, I can use the holiday as a raison d’être for creating a wine-worthy meal. Last year, we had a stunning Premier Cru Chablis, which I paired with escargots, poached fish with a gribiche, and blanquette de veau with a wild mushroom fricasee. The fish-gribiche combo won the pairing war. Plus, it’s just fun to say “gribiche.”

This year, because he knows I’m a slut for the Loire Valley, the bottle was a Sancerre, with a delightfully minimalist label.

Damn.

Damn.

Claude Riffault grows 10.5 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc in the north of Sancerre; less than one hectare is dedicated to the rarified soils of Les Chailloux.. The flint soils here derive from a geological fault formed during the Eocene era of the Tertiary period, forty million years ago if you believe carbon dating. The winemaker vinifies and matures in barrel for less than one year, leaving the mineral character of the grape to shine.

On the nose, this wine is clean…like a wet rock or laundry on the line. On the palate, though, that minerality morphs into just under-ripe stone fruit. So, imagine licking a rock and then biting into a cold peach. Sounds delicious, right? This wine had my name written all over it.

Seafood would have matched beautifully, but it was Easter and I wanted rabbit. A few weeks ago, I took a class at Al Forno in which we deboned a rabbit, stuffed the legs and loin with a forcemeat of rabbit, herbs, and wild mushrooms, wrapped the pieces in pancetta, and pan roasted. I decided to give that a go as our Easter main course.

But first: chicken fried rabbit “wings” (I had the oil too hot to start, which is why they are very brown) and smashed avocado on Seven Stars olive bread with Greek olive oil, crushed pepper, and sea salt. The salt and fat contrasted well with the razor-sharp acidity in the wine. Bronze medal in the pairing competition.

Avocado toast, chicken fried rabbit "wings."

Avocado toast, chicken fried rabbit “wings.”

Second, and not pictured: April Bloomfield’s Ricotta Gnudi with brown butter and fried sage. Click here for the recipe. So, so delicious and very, very ugly (my fault, not April’s!). The gnudi matched the wine brilliantly; the fried sage brought the fruit qualities in the wine into beautiful relief. Even Jay loved the wine with this course. Gold medal!

Third: the rabbit leg, stuffed and wrapped, served over roasted asparagus with glazed carrots and a rabbit jus. The silver medalist of pairings. The thyme served a similar role as the sage in the gnudi course and the salty pancetta played well with the delicate fruit in the wine.

Pancetta-wrapped stuffed rabbit leg, roasted asparagus, glazed carrots, rabbit jus.

Pancetta-wrapped stuffed rabbit leg, roasted asparagus, glazed carrots, rabbit jus.

And finally: lemon cake, lemon curd, and toasted meringue. Exempt from the competition. Also: blow torches are fun.

Lemon cake, lemon curd, toasted meringue.

Lemon cake, lemon curd, toasted meringue.

As I chopped, butchered, whisked, and roasted, I listened to Matt Pond PA’s excellent 2005 album, Several Arrows Later. The entire album is intimate and yet somehow epic, with a heart-on-sleeve approach that is tempered by the restraint of the music. I find this song, the first on the tracklist, full of melancholy and world-weary beauty (I gasp every time I hear the fingers scraping on the guitar string at the beginning of the first song). My favorite lyric: Heard it’s modern to be stupid/You don’t need a thought to look good. Matt Pond (no longer PA) has a new album, State of Gold, coming out in June. The advance tracks are lovely, so I have high hopes.

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Ear Candy

Back in the day (like, five years ago), I consumed music avidly. I bought CDs, I went to shows in crappy dives, I read music journalism (really!), and I created annoyingly intense mixes for friends, complete with verbally diarrheal liner notes about why X or Y song was worth the three minutes of your life it would take to listen to it.

For example, this came from a mix I made in 2007:

Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe | Okkervil River
The lyrics are a bummer, all about how the real world can never live up to the drama of the silver screen. (“It’s just a life story, so there’s no climax.”) But the music! It’s the way the floor tom hits at the :26 mark and then at :40 when the entire band comes in, backed by gospel-like whoops. Very exciting! But perhaps the most touching part, for me, is right around 2:20, where this freaky thing happens with the piano and some weird electronic knob-turning, and then the song cuts to a sparse verse that includes the phrase, “From the speakers your fake masterpiece comes serenely dribbling.” I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing the first time I heard that.

So, yeah: I’m sorry if you were one of the friends whom I subjected to that.

Then, bit by bit, all the seedier local clubs closed, the cool music sites folded, Paste magazine started covering video games and craft beer, and music started to get pretty boring for me.

Lately, though (thanks in no small part to my stellar niece and god-daughter Rachel and her super-cool musician husband John, plus the exceedingly nifty James Uden), I’ve started to hear bits of things that intrigue me again. I find myself streaming KXT, the listener supported radio from Dallas, and noting song titles and artists.

(NB: I rag a lot on growing up in Texas, but that place has THE BEST end of the dial radio.)

Here’s a bit of what’s been tickling my ears for the last few months. I’m hoping to rein the pretension-level in from my past missives. Not all this stuff is brand new, but what strikes me as I listen to them together is that none of these songs would have been out of place on an episode of The O.C.

(Another NB: Oh, man, say what you will about the soapiness of The O.C., the music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas, broke some great ground for soundtracking television shows. She is a game changer.)

Let it Go, James Bay

Bay sounds to me like Brendan Benson, the non-Jack White half of The Raconteurs, and whom I declared very vehemently to be the real genius in that group after I saw Benson perform in Paris. (Also: sorry if you knew me in 2009.) This track, thankfully, bears no resemblance to the omnipresent Frozen ditty that shares its name.

Rollercoaster, Bleachers

I’ve written of my love for Jack Antonoff’s oeuvre before, so I’ll abstain now. Still loving this album and “Rollercoaster” is just a great pop song.

The Promise, Sturgill Simpson

Simpson came to me courtesy of Rachel and John. The entire album is great old-school country music. This particular track is an outlier, a cover of the 80’s song by New Order knockoff band When in Rome (you might remember it from the closing scene in Napoleon Dynamite). Simpson’s stripped down version made me truly appreciate these beautiful lyrics.

Queen, Perfume Genius

My musical-savant friend James Uden gifted this song to me as a part of a much-coveted 2014 year-end compilation. I love the Brian Eno meets Portishead feel of it all (indeed, Portishead’s Adrien Utley co-produced the album). It’s all very spacious and atmospheric, but also glittery and glam. Bowie could have done this song, which is always a plus in my book.

All I’m Saying, James

You may remember James from their super-catchy 1993 song “Laid” from their awesome eponymous album. James Uden included this song on his 2014 year-end compilation as well. The first time I heard it, I was on a plane and I started crying at this stark expression of loss and grief. So raw, so beautiful.

Gimme Something Good, Ryan Adams

Actually, the whole new album is pretty excellent, and I say this as an unapologetic Ryan Adams fan, so…grain of salt and all that. Rachel and John turned me on to this, too! This reminds me of early Tom Petty in the best possible way (as if there is any other way, right?).

Happy listening!

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Texas Whiskey Caramel Sauce

We got a taste of summer over the weekend (and by “summer” I mean that the temps hit 40 degrees). To celebrate the practically-tropical temperature, I made ice cream. I conceived this sour cream ice cream on Saturday in an attempt to use up an almost full container of sour cream in our fridge and to serve as a tart foil to the buttery, boozy Texas Whiskey Caramel Sauce (using the TX Texas Blended Whiskey from Firestone & Robertson) I whipped up earlier in the day. Together, they sang—like Willie and Waylon, or Conway and Loretta, or Emmylou and anybody (because Emmylou Harris is the secret ingredient that makes music good).

Sweet, salty, tart, boozy.

Sweet, salty, tart, boozy.

Sour cream ice cream

  • 4 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 c whole milk
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 1 c sour cream
  • 1 t vanilla extract

Beat the yolks with the sugar and salt in a medium sized bowl. In a small saucepan, scald the milk and cream (be careful: it’ll go from scaled to huge milky mess in a matter of moments). Gradually add the scalded milk to the eggs and then transfer it all back to the pan. Heat, whisking constantly over low heat until the custard thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl, whisk in sour cream and vanilla. Cover with plastic and chill until completely cold.

Freeze in an ice cream maker until solid-ish, then pop it into the freezer for an hour or so to firm up.

Texas Caramel Whiskey Sauce

  • 8 oz unsalted butter
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 2 c brown sugar
  • 1 c heavy cream
  • 1/4 c TX Texas Whiskey (substitute bourbon)

Heat butter, sugar, salt, and cream in a larger-than-you-think-you-need saucepan, stirring until it reaches a boil. Boil for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in whiskey. It will bubble up like mad and at this point you can thank me for advising you to use such a large pan. Let the sauce cool a bit and pour into a jar for storage. Store in the fridge, but warm gently before serving over sour cream ice cream (or just a spoon) with a sprinkling of sea salt on top.

Signing off with this Texas classic combo:

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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!

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