Friday, August 13, 2010

New site!

I've switched to a new blog address: keep up with me here!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When in Branson, do as the Bransonites do.

Someone had described Branson Missouri as being 'the Christian Las Vegas.' With that in mind, I had very low expectations. I'm happy to report that it isn't that bad at all, though I have been avoiding the strip of constant traffic and congested junk shops full of crap.

I'm here for our Sly Family Reunion, a tradition started when I was about four and has continued every two years ever since. Our family is large and ever growing. We live all over the country.

Why Branson, you ask? It's (relatively) central to where everyone lives (Phoenix, many parts of Texas, Michigan, Virginia Beach, Wisconsin...I could go on...). My Dad and I flew here, but several of my cousins drove.

Of the traditions that we've held over the years, the 'white elephant gift exchange' has been the highlight every time. Every adult that wants to participate brings a 'gift' purchased for around $5. Gifts need to be brought wrapped and put in the middle of a big table. There were 24 contributions this year, and we each drew a number from a hat to determine what order we choose a gift. When it's your turn, you can either 1)choose a gift from the table and open it up for all to see or 2)opt for a gift someone else has already chosen and take it from them. The second option has the stipulation that gifts can only change hands twice- once a third person claims it, it's no longer available.

Some of my relatives use it as an excuse to empty out their closets. I contributed a coon-skin cap that I found in the "Hillbilly Nut Shop" down the road. I don't even remember who first got that cap, but it was a hot commodity. There were a lot of fart or burp themed gifts this year- someone ended up with a keychain that made the sounds of various sounds of burps. My Uncle got a coin bank in the shape of a butt, and when you put a quarter in it makes a fart sound. We're talking high humor here.

I had drawn the last number, and knowing that the last unwrapped gift was brought by my Dad, I opted to take a book of 'brain teaser puzzles' that my aunt got. She then chose to take some windchimes from her sister, and her sister took the burping keychain from her niece. My poor niece decided to choose the remaining gift, the one that my Dad had provided. The room was silent as she unwrapped it, and then burst into laughter: it was a (very large) pair of mens underwear, sewn closed at the bottom with handles on the top, labeled as a 'hillbilly briefcase.'

If you're interested in acquiring your own hillbilly briefcase, you can get one at the Hillbilly Nut Shop up the street. It's bound to impress!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mid-July in the garden

The mamouth russian sunflowers have gotten to be about 8ft tall, and have halos of buzzing honeybees circling around them- so much so that it seems as thought they hum.

On the left are charentais melons. The 17th century Saint-Amant wrote that "This melon is firm to the centre, with few seeds like grains of gold," and it's inspired poems and webpages dedicated to it's flavor. I've never had one, but am about to have a lot. I read that they sometimes cut them in half and fill the center with a sweet wine such as Barsac, Marsala, Port or Madeira as an hors d'oeuvre.

There are also some summer squash, and a few small eggplants that I'm not holding my breath for- they never really took off, but have recently started to flower, so there is a glimmer of hope.

In the back are the sunflowers. In front of them are the tomatoes and carrots. Then several pepper plants. The big purple plant in the middle is a red cabbage, which has amazing water-resistant leaves that puddle water (my dog loves to drink from them). A rogue sunflower stands to the right, surrounded by brussel sprouts, a few different types of kale, sugar snap peas, onions and lettuce.

My dog is a regular fixture in the garden, and actively fulfills her (self imposed) post of 'watch dog.'

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Sweet Corn Soup

I was looking forward to posting photos taken in my garden yesterday, but I accidentally ran over my iphone charger/usb cord while vacuuming and it is no longer amongst the living. I hope to have it remedied soon, and photos will appear shortly thereafter.

It's been very enjoyable to walk home with a bag full of salad greens, tomatoes, carrots, onions and peas. Meals of late have been fantastic. I've never felt a closer connection to the food that I've been eating, and I find that it's comforting and rewarding at the same time.

Yesterday I made a sweet corn soup from a recipe so simple, I felt compelled to add a bit more to it. Instead of straight corn, onions, butter and water, I rehydrated some dried matsutake mushrooms that had been sent to me at work as a sample. I saved the water that I used to rehydrate the mushrooms with and used it as the base for the soup, which worked out well.

Sweet Corn Soup
(adapted from Alice Waters)

4T butter
1 diced onion
5-6 ears of sweet corn, shucked
1/4 cup dried mushrooms (more or less depending on desired strength)
1 cup boiling water
3 1/2 cups water
fresh herbs for garnish, like dill or oregano

-Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour the cup of boiling water over top to cover them. Allow them to soften for 20-30 minutes.
-Meanwhile, cut the kernels from the corn cobs.
-Once soft, remove the mushrooms from the water, and reserve the water for the soup.
-Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat
-Add the diced onion and chopped mushrooms and cook until translucent, stirring enough to keep it from browning
-Season them with salt, then add the corn kernels.
-Cook the kernels with the mushrooms and onions for about 3 minutes, then add all of the water.
-Bring it to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to a simmer. Allow it to cook for about 5 minutes, or until the corn is done.
-Remove from the heat and puree in small batches in a blender, being careful not to splash hot soup on you when you blend it.
-You can pass it through a medium-mesh strainer to achieve a smooth consistency, or enjoy it a bit more rustic.

Serve it warm, and have salt and pepper nearby so you can season it to taste. Tear a few fresh herbs over top, or add a drop of creme fraiche to finish it off. It occurred to me only after eating that a crispy fried piece of prosciutto might be the perfect accompaniment....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Banana Sorbet

Banana sorbet is one of the easiest, fail-safe desserts I know of. It has the double advantage of being a great use of bananas that have gotten too ripe to eat. Their ample starch content results in a fluffy, creamy texture.

This is a very basic recipe with only three ingredients. You could enhance it in many ways (a little orange zest, infuse a spice (star anise, cardamom) into the simple syrup, a small splash of dark rum).

*The simple syrup should be a mix of equal parts water and sugar (though often I use a little less sugar), heated until dissolved and cooled. You'll likely have some left over- I usually start with 3000g of water and 2500g of sugar.

You'll need this simple syrup, ripe bananas and the juice of 1/2 freshly squeezed lemon.

Peel the bananas and weigh them. The ratio of bananas to simple syrup is about 1:1.2 by weight. For example, if you have 4 bananas they will likely weigh about 400g. Add 480g of the simple syrup and the lemon, and puree it all together in the blender.

Don't delay: put it in your ice cream machine right away or it'll start to oxidize.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

All tied up in a pretty package

Between a wedding and a death, traveling internationally and a trade show for work, there was Tchaikovsky by the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. The soloist Mikail Simonyan was mesmerizing.

The two biggest trends at the fancy food show seemed to be ‘local’ and ‘smart foods’ (aka, foods to prescribe to cure your ailments). And lots of truffles, though that trend has been riding high for a few years now.

Pastificio dei Campi, and Italian pasta company from Gragnano, has gone to great lengths to connect the pasta makers with their customers. Their website features a 'total tracking system' where you can enter the expiration date from your box of pasta and see not only when it was made, but when the grain was seeded, the date of harvest, the faces of the farmers and the field where the grains were gathered, and where the mill and pasta factory is located via google earth. The packaging is really nice- all in boxes (several different serving sizes) with a cover that slides off for easy opening and closing. Their goal was to make it easy for chefs to open a drawer under their station and reach into the pasta box and grab what they need. Though I'm not sure how practical the commercial kitchen idea is, it'll work great for the hope cook who doesn't want to use an entire box all at once.

I also got to meet Susannah Trilling, from Seasons of My Heart in Oaxaca, Mexico. They produce mole pastes and chili jellies. She published a great book back in 1999 about Oaxacan food, which is now out of print. I'm glad I asked about it- they have a stockpile of copies, so I'll be able to get some.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Le Salto de Nogada

In the sky there was a
deep causeway of black, brightening the white.
The rain was coming.
It blew and blustered and wets itself into rivers in the streets.

We traveled into the country in a car resembling a sewing machine.

It bobbed its way unevenly down the rocks and stones.
We passed eucalyptus trees and cacti,
a small town and the road we were supposed to turn on with
patayas for sale in leave covered baskets,
dogs sleeping or wandering, children holding their parents hands.

The end of the road: a car graveyard. And two confused guards at its gate.

The second day we attempted the same journey, though we made the right turn.
The buena vistas and burros and curious construction made up for our map reading skills,
which were more of a conversation than an outlined directive.

We waved at everyone we passed, and they waved back. We shared the road with
cows and seemingly impassable puddles, but our sewing machine forged on.
We stopped and played charades with a man
to make sure we were headed on the right path
and he implied that our car wouldn’t make it,
to which we responded as if his logic was also in a foreign language that we didn’t understand.

Over a cow grate, down a steep, uneven rocky path that continually brought us to the left:
the end of that road lead to two men and no visible waterfall.

It would be a twenty minute hike on an unclear path.

We thought about the wedding in a few hours,
thought about that decent that we were not sure we could ascend
stopped to stretch, smoke and pee,
and decided that we had seen enough.