Last night our whole family went to a party, and we danced. My oldest daughter danced with her dad. My little son danced with me. The girls danced with each other, and with their brother, and we all danced together. What did you guys do right, asked a friend, and how did you do it? Beats me. I can tell you a lot about where I think I missed the mark, including several times yesterday afternoon. I can sometimes tell when I have hit the mark, or gotten near it, but even saying that makes me wonder where and what the mark even is. All I can tell you about the dancing is I don’t know how or why it’s possible, but I definitely felt the happiest I have felt in recent memory while it was going on.
This is not going to be a Mother’s Day post. It is also not going to be a Why I Hate Mother’s Day post because there are plenty of good ones about that, and I don’t really hate it, exactly. I don’t think you can take up an I Hate Mother’s Day position while you have little children under your roof whose school hours are occupied in early May with making you little boats and watercolor paintings. It’s unreasonably and unnecessarily confusing, and since life (and one’s mother) are often enough sources of unreasonable levels of confusion that are not elective, I don’t see any reason to opt to confuse my children any more than I unintentionally confuse them already. See? Poor lambs. And unlike you, they are stuck with me.
So this is a post about early May.
One thing that is nice about early May is that a landscape that was recently very grey and brown can suddenly, in the space of a few days, take your breath away like this:
Or you can turn a corner and see a crab-apple tree laden with such a profusion of frothy blossoms that it is almost embarrassing to look at. The most gorgeous ones in our life are on the route to school, so I never have time to take a picture of them, but I do, to my daughter’s occasional exasperation, always take the time to thank them, as we whizz past in the hope of making it before the second bell.
The nettles are up.
After the long winter food doldrums, the yard suddenly is full of things to nibble on.
My son and I picked and picked the other day, for no good reason other than that we suddenly could. We threw the violet blossoms and their slivered leaves into our salad, as pictured up top.
We plucked the petals off some dandelions and kneaded them into Laurie Colwin’s flatbread along with a little of that toasted and crushed coriander seed.
I picked nettles and put them in a frittata.
There are lessons to be learned in picking nettles, if you pay attention. Actually there are more lessons to be learned if you don’t. I don’t really like to wear gloves when I pick nettles, forcing myself to do it carefully and attentively–which works 98% of the time. It is in the 2% where I get schooled.
In the space of about a week, we have gone from barely any nettles up and you can eat the whole thing to an abundance of robust plants whose tenderest tips only are still delicious. They are almost savory on their own, without any salt, and are really friendly to garlic. Blanch them in plenty of boiling water, then drain and chop and sauté in olive oil with some minced garlic and enough salt or tamari or anchovy to make you happy. That became the basis of the frittata above, along with a cubed & fried potato and some feta, but the greens themselves are well worth eating on their own. (The blanching liquid makes a nutritious stock for soup).
Anything I know about why it is good to eat violets and their leaves, and dandelions, and nettles, I learned from Susun Weed, who was to my life as a wild food eater as Laurie Colwin was to my life as a cook. In her Wise Woman Herbal, she writes a kind of character reference for each plant, and try as you may for the rest of your life, dandelions will always speak to you in a kind of guttural French accent once you read it.
My sister once sent me an article about Susun Weed that she has posted on her website, which could lead us into some of the things we might be talking about if we were talking about motherhood here. We might head from there over to Dash & Bella, who always paints a true to life picture, damn your greeting cards and torpedoes. Certainly we would pause by the Laundry Line.
But I really just came to talk about weeds.
Well, it has been quite some time since my last confession. There is this little project, which now that spring has sprung is really heating up the family to-do list. It’s spring everywhere, of course, so there are the winter clothes to be dealt with, and the pruning of the blackberries so that, come summer (and come it will! I hear it gaining on us now!) a pint of blood need not be exchanged for each quart of berries.
There are the sheep to be shorn.
And then a good amount of wool to be handled.
Spring is full up with cleaning and weeding and pruning and sorting.
And then there is grief. Grief is its own season.
All in all, there has not been a whole lot of intentional cooking going on. Survival cooking has more been the theme. I have been wondering if maybe I forgot how to cook, or how to enjoy it anyway. I have certainly been a bit dull in the tastebuds.
But then, suddenly, there was this chocolate bar, which a friend brought home from here, a place I wrote about way back here, and to which place I urged said friend on her recent trip to that calorie-dense city. I like to share, generally, but I do not like to share this chocolate bar. And other than a dark 7 months when a migraine turned me right off the stuff (it’s normally my drug of choice), I like to snarf up a good amount of chocolate, too–but this one I have been meting out in tiny bites to myself. I have never made a bar of chocolate last this long.
The friend, who is the same friend who happens to have a pipeline of exceptional Greek olive oil running into her house, wanted to recreate the little mind-blowing combination of flavors in that chocolate bar for her husband’s birthday, so she googled her up a recipe.
One nice thing about this dessert is that you don’t really have to make it. You can take a little hunk of fine chocolate and some great bread dipped in superb olive oil and a flake of fine salt and achieve more or less the same heart-fluttering taste explosion. But another nice thing about it is that it is not very difficult, and is quite special, and only a little bit of it needs to be eaten by anyone, and they will more than likely stand still and swoon with their eyes closed if you give it to them. It is one of those things that demands that you buy the absolute best possible versions of each of the few things it contains, and it rewards you well for the expense.
It has a lot going for it.
The chocolate mixture you create here is kind of like a ganache, and kind of like a dense chocolate mousse that you don’t bother to whip and aerate. Any old ganache would probably do the trick, if you can’t be bothered with egg-stirring.
As I heated the milk, I sort of accidentally went down to the basement and hunted around in the cabinet until I found my jar of dried guajillo chiles and then dropped one of those into the milk. It is lily-gilding. Not even a little bit necessary. But highly recommended. If I could tolerate the combination of orange zest and chocolate, which I really don’t like but am willing to concede brings pleasure to others, I bet it would gild the lily nicely too.
chocolate, olive oil & salt: a little dance for the mouth
serves many; adapted from here
for the chocolate:
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 6 T sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2/3 c whole milk
- 1 dried guajillo chile pepper, optional, torn open
- 6oz fine dark chocolate, chopped
to assemble & serve:
- excellent olive oil
- sea salt flakes
Beat the egg, egg yolk and 3T of the sugar in a medium bowl until well-combined and smooth. Set this bowl, a Pyrex measuring cup and a small strainer near the stove.
Bring the milk, the cream, 3T of sugar and the chile pepper to a simmer in a heavy pot. Simmer briefly, abusing the pepper with a spoon so it releases its heat into the milk. Increase the heat slightly so that the mixture reaches a boil and turn off the heat. Strain the mixture into the measuring cup, but hang on to the pot.
Slowly drizzle the hot milk into the egg mixture, stirring all the while. When it has all been added, pour the combination back into the pot and dump the chocolate into the now-vacant bowl. Return the pot to a low heat. Heat, stirring, just until the mixture thickens slightly. If you have a working thermometer, you are aiming for about 180 degrees; if you don’t, just watch for that slight thickening. Either way, do not stop stirring even for a second and DO NOT let it boil. This heating step takes about two minutes, for reference.
Pour the hot egg mixture over the chocolate, let it stand a moment, and then stir, baby, stir. A grubby-looking milky mixture will transform before your eyes into a silky bit of loveliness. Once that happens, cover it and chill it completely; at least a couple of hours and this is certainly something you could make a day or more in advance of when you plan to eat it.
At serving time, use a soup spoon to scoop up about a tablespoon of the mixture, and do a little cha-cha between this spoon and a second one until you have a nice oval (that’s a quenelle you have there). Set one or two ovals into a tiny dish, and let them stand at room temperature to get the chill off (they will taste better); then carefully pour about a tablespoon of olive oil around (but not over) the little dumplings, and drop a very few grains of salt on top.
I’ll say one thing about moping. You can turn up some interesting stuff on the internet. Let’s not explore how it is that I came to see the story about the fake poodles:
Let’s also not, for the moment, delve into how anyone could need a veterinarian to tell them that their ‘poodle’ was a ferret. Let’s furthermore leave aside what the woman who was in the market for a chihuahua (a notion which in and of itself raises more questions than it answers, frankly) actually went home with. OK–it was also a rodent. SHE COULDN’T TELL THE DIFFERENCE. I’m just saying.
Let’s instead focus our attentions on how the people (there must be some–it’s a big wide world) who are actually in the market for a ferret on steroids could be duped right here in my yard:
It’s striking, isn’t it? Anyone ready to buy? We take Visa and MasterCard.
If, instead, you are ready to eat granola, which I am at most any time of day, get busy with this excellent version from Marisa McClellan’s highly motivating Food In Jars cookbook, and follow her blog, too, if you don’t already. I was going to say that I made her granola as written, but then I realized (a) I almost never make anything as written because (b) it’s usually the case that I lack some item in the pantry and wing it regardless. This was no exception. I had no sunflower seeds, which she called for, so I increased the almonds. But what I did do as written was measure the honey she called for (1/2 cup) and the oil, (1/4 cup) and keep the dry ingredients in the same proportion to the wet. It was a little sweet for me, but this did not stop me from eating almost the entire batch before trying the recipe again with a little less honey. In the name of science. The second batch was not as shiny and gorgeous as the first (that was movie-star granola, ready for a close-up), but it was otherwise in all ways stupendous. There is something ridunkulous about the buckwheat in there. Tastes of virtue, for one (how can a “groat” not be exceptionally healthy?) and tastes mysterious and addictive, too.
If you happen to be in possession of a jar of grape and fennel jam (thank you, Glutton) and some plain Greek yogurt, then Bob is your best uncle. That is why I had to unsweeten the granola–to make room for the jam.
adapted from Food in Jars
- 2 1/2 c rolled oats
- 3/4 c chopped or slivered almonds
- 3/4 c toasted buckwheat groats*
- 1/2 c coconut ribbons
- 1/4 t sea salt
- 1/2 t ground cinnamon
- 1/3 c safflower, canola or other neutral oil
- 1/3 c honey
- Optional: 1/2 c dried cherries, apricots or raisins
Heat the oven to 325.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, buckwheat, coconut, salt & cinnamon. Mix well.
Measure the oil and swirl it around the measuring cup; pour it over the oat mixture, then use the same cup to measure the honey. Pour that in the bowl too, and mix everything very well. Spread the mixture on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until it is toasty, about 30 minutes, stirring two or three times over that period to ensure even browning. Bear in mind that granola hardens as it cools, so don’t bake until crisp–just watch for a nice even toasty color.
Remove it from the oven and stir in any fruit you may be using. Marisa says the granola will clump (making it easier to snack it out of the jar and save washing a bowl and spoon) if you mound it up on the baking sheet to cool. When it is completely cool, eat it all or pour it into an airtight container.
*If you have only have access to raw buckwheat groats, toasting them is a matter of one to two attentive minutes stirring them in a heavy dry skillet.