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!

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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