January has been up to its usual crazy hijinks. Thaw! Freeze! Snow! Repeat. So basically what we have is a thick layer of ice that will probably not melt before August (this is the kind of despairing idea that takes root in mid-winter), slip-covered (and I mean that) in a topcoat of snow. I actually kind of like winter, but I could do without the luge-track conditions here on the hill, conditions that turn every jaunt to the car or chicken coop into a dance with fate. I did a triple toe-loop last week trying to bring the chickens some water, magically escaping knocking myself unconscious in either of the two ways that immediately came available (bonking head on ice; braining self with metal water pot that went completely airborne and landed a few feet away), giving the dogs (the only mammalian witnesses) a little case of PTSD, and doing my already-ailing back no favors. I begin to comprehend why people of a certain age de-camp to warmer climates, and their more reliable walking conditions, when the snow begins to fly.
it is pretty, though
January has also been a month of high-energy pantry-busting. I am trying to blast through ingredients I have on hand, trying to shop only for the perishables that will make that happen palatably and keep us from succumbing to scurvy. Oddball cuts of meat in the freezer and 37 jars of exotic grains, legumes and weird flours: I’m looking at you. Top shelf of refrigerator with your battalion of pastes and condiments: also on notice. I am not alone in this approach to the first month of the new year. It’s gratifying on multiple levels: a nod to the liberating effects of tidying up; an acknowledgement of the massive food waste we all engage in, no matter how enlightened we may consider ourselves; and as a glamorous bonus, a means to a trendy end. It’s chic now, finally, to use stuff up. Bone broth is the new goji berry (and whatever you may think of his heretical use of tomato paste, Michael Ruhlmann officially sanctions the Olympic-level nose-to-tail practice of using gnawed bones off the family plates to make it), and low-cost, low-impact beans are another hot topic among the groovy.
I am a pantry-stocker by nature. OK, yes, fine, My name is Porpoise and I am a hoarder, fine fine. The New York Times ran a story years ago that chronicled what happened when a small group of up-and-coming restaurant chefs were sent into a handful of regular people’s kitchens and instructed to make a meal out of only what was in the larder. It was pretty hilarious. I think a rillette de two slices of bologna was one of the outcomes. At the time I was single and living in an apartment in the city (how long ago was this? this was so long ago that we read the newspaper on actual paper) and one of my good friends had the following in her fridge: club soda, limes, champagne, lipstick. Like to see you make a rillette out of THAT line-up, Mr. Top Chef! I’m not trying to provide for the preparation of frozen parmesan air or some other molecular treat at any hour of the day or night. I just like to have, you know, options. But then again, this happened: once my nephew was visiting and ran down to the auxiliary cabinetry in the basement to grab something for me, and came up a little wide-eyed and asked if I was preparing for nuclear winter.
So it makes me a little edgy to blow through the stash, but it’s probably time to reach deep into the shelves and move a little inventory.
I read about (and immediately began craving) these very tasty-sounding Indonesian rendang-style potatoes, cooked in a spicy coconut milk broth, in a book called Big Vegan. This turned out to be loaded with irony. First of all, I couldn’t find any coconut milk even though I ALWAYS have coconut milk. Confronting! I like to keep that on hand. And then, because I now had to have these damn potatoes, I made them with chicken broth, which is not especially vegan.
Full disclosure: there was so much stuff on the shelf that it turned out I did have coconut milk. So in the interest of offering you, my loyal reader, a really complete picture, I made them again. This was not exactly a selfless act, because these are really good potatoes. This just in: totally delicious either way.
gorgeous limes, from my CA connection
If, like me, you have never once thought “ooh, a bit too lemony for me!” and you are not a vegan, then make these with chicken broth (or I guess you could use water, which is pretty vegan). If your tastes run less tarty than mine, either reduce the juice by half or go with coconut milk, which calms the acidity down a few notches, or both. Or use a mixture of broth and coconut milk. Use, you know, what you have on hand.
Or call me. I can probably set you up.
anti-doldrum, scurvy-busting lemon potatoes
inspired by and with apologies to Big Vegan, by Robin Asbell
- 1 fresh jalapeño or similar chile pepper, seeded and quartered
- 1″ fresh ginger, chopped or (if you’re like me and you ALWAYS KEEP A KNOB OF FRESH GINGER IN THE FREEZER) finely grated on a microplane
- 1 tsp ground turmeric (or 2t fresh, which freezes just as well as ginger root, so snap it up when you see it and let the two live in harmony in the same ziploc bag in the freezer)
- 1-2 shallots, peeled and quartered
- 1-2 cloves garlic, peeled
- zest and juice of 1 lime (use half the juice if you want less pucker)
- zest and juice of 1 lemon (as above)
- 2T coconut or canola oil
- 1 15-oz can of coconut milk OR
- 2c chicken broth (or a mixture)
- 1/2-1 tsp salt
- 5-6 medium size, smooth skin potatoes, cut in eighths
- one or two fresh lime leaves (fresh lemongrass would also work)
- handful of fresh cilantro and/or a handful of fresh Thai or regular basil, coarsely chopped, to finish it off
Put the chile, turmeric, ginger, shallot, garlic and citrus in a blender or food processor and make a smooth paste. Heat the oil in a skillet that has a lid; when the oil is quite warm, carefully pour in the paste. Cook for a minute or two, until the raw smell abates a little, then add the coconut milk and/or broth. Stir this together and add the lesser amount of salt. Put the potatoes in the pan along with the lime leaves, if you are using them, and toss to coat. Bring the whole mess to a simmer and reduce the heat as low as possible, covering the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally and gently, until the potatoes are tender and the sauce has thickened. If the sauce thickens before the potatoes are done, just add a little more water. When the potatoes are tender, fling the fresh herbs on top.
Need more lemony love? Head over here. And watch your step outside! It’s damn slippery.
In 2004, our family was a bit worn by a run of fairly epic events: illness, strife and woe, though strangers for the most part up until then (lucky us!), took up residence in our solar system with a vengeance. When the dust settled (for good, we innocently thought) my husband and I did a hugely greedy thing: we had another baby.
It was greedy by planetary standards, and that gave me some major pause. But it was also greedy for joy. I can run circles around most circular thinkers—but this! But that! But this and that!–and though I continue to visit and revisit many of my big decisions, I feel pretty confident that the joy grab was a sound move.
Illness, strife and woe have not been as strangers since then. But the boy continues to compound the happiness of those around him. This week Vitamin A turned 10, a noteworthy milestone.
We always have his Party after the holidays, when his school chums are more available, and mark his official day with a quieter bit of family-based hoopla. He made a detailed dinner request, but all he said about dessert was something plain-ish, possibly involving jam.
My mom used to make a thing called a sponge omelette, which came from a Viennese pastry cookbook that she got some serious mileage out of when we were tots. It came to me in a blinding flash as I was mincing and roasting things; it obligingly required only ingredients that I already possessed, mixed up in a trice and was easily made gluten free, if that’s of interest to you.
Partly because I burned the bottom of it a little bit last night, and partly because it was so tasty and easy to make, I had to make it again for breakfast this morning. It tastes just like childhood happiness, and just like I remember, and is a simple method for fomenting a little joy in your orbit.
I made last night’s omelette for a crowd, in a 12” skillet using 6 eggs. I made this morning’s version in a 10” skillet using 4. Thanks to this recipe, which was not what I was after but was certainly helpful, I discovered the handy calculus that what you want is about a tablespoon each of flour, sugar and butter per egg. Meaning you could make a one-person omelette without much trouble (I’ll leave you to calculate how large that omelette would need to be). I bumped up the flour a bit more, as you’ll see, but the math basically held up for the two versions.
If you want jam on it, and it certainly plays well with jam, go for apricot. If you want your lily gilded further, try my friend Peggy‘s insanely delicious whipped cream (details below). There is no going back to the plain stuff, though. Consider yourself warned.
Much as I did not have a gift guide, I also don’t have a major 2014 in review to offer. But if you haven’t seen them already, I think this sweeping biographical survey and this incredibly moving visual stunner are worth a look as we fiddle with the focus knobs in preparation for another turn around the sun.
Wishing you all a peaceful, healthy new year.
viennese sponge omelette
- 4 eggs, separated
- 4T sugar
- pinch of salt
- barest scrape of finely grated lemon zest
- 5T sweet rice flour (or AP flour)
- 4T salted butter
Heat the oven to 350. Put the butter into a 10″ oven-proof skillet, and begin to heat it over low heat. In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until glossy and peaked. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar and lemon zest until thick and pale, about 4 minutes by hand with a balloon whisk. Turn the heat up a little under the pan, and fold a little of the egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten. Now begin to fold in the remainder, and when it’s about half combined, add the flour. Gently fold until well blended, and pour into the waiting pan, where the butter should be foamy. Slide into the hot oven. Bake 16-20 minutes, until lightly golden on top and springy to the touch in the center.
Serve right away, with a dollop of jam and cream, or take it neat.
(my amateur version of) Peggy’s Whipped Cream of No Return
- half pint of heavy cream
- 4 oz creme fraiche
- 1T maple syrup
- dash of vanilla extract or 1/2 t of vanilla bean paste
Whip the cream with the vanilla and maple until it holds the softest peaks; fold in the creme fraiche, and beat a moment or two longer, until it has a nice dollop-y consistency.
Are you feeling it? Not the amnesiac impulse that leads to you to truly believe you can operate a sewing machine, pastry bag (or whatever instrument is your personal Martha Stewart Waterloo) like a boss, not the bubbly energy that suggests you can mingle cheerfully and with durably good hair at multiple holiday gatherings in a single day, not the vain hope that you can get to (and out of) the post office three days before Xmas with your dignity and errand timetable intact. Not those things. We are all (right?) grappling with those demons. I am wondering if you are feeling what Mrs Wroblewski, my sister’s college-era landlady, called “too much party.”
make ‘em tiny or don’t make ‘em at all. Photo by Julie Scott.
The tiny houses are done. This year I managed to avoid a 3peat of the ‘Bake Em Wrong First‘ fiasco, which is a significant advancement. But the process is not automated yet. It continues to be lunacy. This year it was lunacy in good company, as two friends
enabled joined me. Blessings on their heads.
So that’s done. And the little hoggies are done, too. Make those bad boys one year and you’ll find yourself on the hook in perpetuity.
The sewing and the parties continue to unspool, though, and so does the feeling–often a pleasant one! don’t get me wrong!–of Too Much Party.
Enter the chia seed. It’s always entering at this stage of the game. It entered here, and here, under similar conditions. But there is just something about four ingredients that get shaken in a mason jar, and which you can feel restored by eating (in a quiet corner, in your pajamas, preferably), that really fits the bill.
I am grateful that I picked and froze strawberries in June, when the world was green, but any frozen strawberry would do here. Are you curious about cashew milk? This is good reading, then. (I was wondering if I was missing something by not soaking before blending, and now I feel better; hence: good reading.) But really, just have at it.
for maximum pinkage, you can add a pinch of beet powder but it tastes good pink or not
strawberry chia pudding
- 1 c raw cashew pieces
- 2 c water
- 1-2 T honey
- 1 large handful of frozen strawberries (a generous cup)
- 1/3 c chia seed
- optionally: a dash of vanilla extract and/or a scrape of orange zest.
Blend the cashews and water until smooth (trust me that you’ll want to first verify that no spare blender parts or kitchen utensils are in the blender with the nuts). Add the honey and the strawberries and blend again. Pour this concoction into a one quart mason jar, and
drink it up add the chia seeds. Shake well. Refrigerate until thickened, about four hours (best) or overnight (still tasty).