From the Market

 

PartridgesPart of the thrill of living in another country is never knowing what you might find at the local market.  There is no way of predicting what people in the countryside are cultivating or catching, and often, when you see something interesting, it is a one-time opportunity.  If you don’t grab it, it will be gone.

As Allan and I were leaving with our food purchases last Sunday, we spotted this breeding pair of Barbary partridges in a small homemade cage.  We loved them instantly.  They are beautiful,  but also, there is something about their personalities, calm and a little shy.  We’ve got them all set up on our terrace, now, right outside the kitchen, where we can watch them while they watch the garden and enjoy their gentle chucking.

That same morning, we had grabbed about a kg of these hand-harvested mini chanterelles.

MushroomsI had been planning to make a risotto anyway, so these quickly became the focal point.  I won’t go into the recipe for risotto; the process is fairly standard, and you can easily search it.  I included the mushrooms, leeks, some homemade chicken stock, and a good amount of grated parmesan, so it was loaded with umami.

Risotto 2Now, remember last spring when I was in Sicily and going on about the best arancini in the town of Taormina?  I then vowed to get into the arancini-making business, but hadn’t made a single one, yet.  As my friend, Peggy, advised me at the time, you must use leftover risotto.  The gluten in the rice transforms, so they form up perfectly a day or two later.  She was exactly right, and it was a quick process to form the balls, rolling them in a sequence of flour, beaten egg, and seasoned bread crumbs.  We then pan-fried them, in olive oil,  over very low heat until they were golden.  These freeze well.  Reheat them, right from the freezer, in a 350 degree oven.

Arancini

 

The Food Language of Love

Aloo GobiWe had two weeks in Spain with our 20-something sons over the winter break.  When we would ask them what they wanted to have for dinner, our youngest son would almost always yowl, “Indian food!”  Yes, in Spain.  We tried to get it in when we could, but we had to really hunt for it.

One night, over found Indian food, I  commented that this obviously seemed to be his favorite cuisine.  He reminded me that living in SE and South Asia from the ages of 9-18, we had eaten Indian food at least weekly if not daily.  It might seem obvious to you as readers, but I had not actually formed the awareness, in so many words, that this was the food he had eaten most often during the formative years of his palate.

Yes, I had been right there with him.  I, too, remember Sundays in Singapore when breakfast was roti paratha, a South Indian lamb curry, into which we dipped chunks of chewy, griddled flatbread.  Sunday nights, we often ordered from Dial-a-Curry, an astoundingly consistent restaurant that delivered anywhere on the island, by motorcycle, in all kinds of weather.

We then had four years together in Kathmandu.  Our kitchen there always smelled of curry spices.  Our cook, Hari,  didn’t cook Indian style food for us everyday, but Anton would go over to the little tea shop just off campus, after school with his friends, for dal bhat, spicy soups, and momos.

One of the things he finds most disappointing about living in our home town of Bellingham, Washington, is that the Indian restaurants aren’t top notch.  He is used to dynamite spices and authentic preparation.  What he finds in the restaurants there is watery, and it all tastes the same.

It occurred to me that when the four of us are together, his memories for these flavors is stimulated.  He remembers our family homes in these places and comforting, cozy meals.  There were trips we took together, to Rajasthan, to Sri Lanka, to Bali. And then there were school friends with whom he shared hundreds of little street meals.

I remember all of this, but it wasn’t the same for me.  I already had my food foundations set before I went there.  My food love language is Mexican.  I grew up on a pinto bean farm in the Southwest, and I admit I have at times grown frustrated at not being able to access those flavors I crave and associate with family in my overseas life.

So I’ve learned to cook food the way I want and need it to taste.  And this is where I hope to hook Anton.  He needs to start cooking, but so far, there isn’t anything he wants to eat badly enough to go to the trouble of cooking it.  I wonder, though, if he might be willing to try cooking Indian food if he is able to make it taste like what he remembers.

I am going to send him a small kit of spices and I will start with this recipe, which is dead easy.  You just wash and chunk up the vegetables, toss them with the spices, then cook them over low heat until tender.  Better yet, toss them into a slow cooker on low heat before leaving for the day, then come home to a comfort dish of Asia.

Aloo Gobi

Adapted from The Indian Slow Cooker, by Anupy Singla

  • 1 large cauliflower, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium tomato, diced (optional)
  • 1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 3-4 green chiles, stems removed, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon red chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

1.  Put all the ingredients, except the cilantro, in a slow cooker or heavy bottom Dutch oven.  Mix well.

2.  Cook on low heat for 3 hours in a slow cooker or until the vegetables are soft on the stove top.  Mix once or twice during cooking, especially in the beginning.  Eventually, the cauliflower will release enough liquid to prevent anything from sticking to the sides of the slow cooker.  If needed, add about 1/4 cup water to the pan.

3.  Add cilantro.  Mix well but gently so as not to break up the cauliflower.  Serve with basmati rice or naan with a side of onion and cucumber salad.

Slicing Thinly

Dried VeggiesIf people ask me what I did this weekend it was this:  I sat and sliced vegetables, very thinly.  I am convinced that micro-slicing vegetables gives them entirely different characteristics.  I love to then put them into salads or dehydrate them, like I did this time, to sprinkle on salads and other dishes.  These feather-light bits melt on your tongue and give dishes the slightest crispy texture and rooty flavor.  Shown here are carrots, beets, and a few turnips.

I also listened to the audiobook All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, mesmerizing and beautiful.  The paperthin slicing and the deep listening were a restorative meditation after the holidays spent in very close quarters with loved ones, making all decisions in a block.  It was wonderful, but this was nice, too.

With some super-thin eggplant slices, I made up an eggplant lasagna.  This has meat, but no pasta.  You could easily add or subtract either one.

Eggplant Lasagna

Adapted from Utterly Delicious Simple Food, by Belinda Jeffery

Meat Sauce

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 heaped tablespoon sun-dried tomato pesto (or 3 large sun dried tomatoes, chopped)
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 2 cups tomato passata or crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 heaped tablespoons thinly sliced oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

Warm the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, for 10 minutes or until they are translucent and pale golden.  Stir in the tomato pesto and let it cook for a minute or so to release its flavor.  Increase the heat a little and add the ground beef.  Cook it for a couple of minutes until it changes color, breaking it up with a spoon.  Mix in the tomato passata, red wine, and nutmeg.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Adjust the heat so the sauce bubbles gently, and let it cook for about 10 minutes until it is thick but moist.  Stir in the oregano, then leave the sauce to cool a little.

For the Lasagne

  • 1 lb. fresh ricotta*
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6-8 small to medium Japanese eggplants or zucchini, cut lengthwise on a mandoline
  • 1/2 lb. mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 lb. freshly grated parmesan
  • Olive oil, for brushing

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly butter a medium-large, deep ovenproof dish.  Set aside.  In a medium-size bowl, mix the ricotta, eggs, salt and pepper, and nutmeg.  Set aside. Cover the base of the baking dish with a thin layer of the meat sauce, then lay down a layer of eggplant (about 1/3 of it) with the slices slightly overlapping.   Spoon half of the ricotta mixture over the eggplant and spread it as well as you can.  Top this with half the mozzarella slices and sprinkle with half of the parmesan.  Spread half of the meat sauce over the cheeses and spread evenly.  Repeat the layering with half the remaining eggplant (save your most uniform slices for last), the rest of the ricotta mixture, the remaining mozzarella, and most of the parmesan, reserving about 2 tablespoons.  Spoon the remaining meat sauce evenly over the top.  Finish with an arrangement of the reserved eggplant slices, brushed lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with the reserved parmesan.

Bake for approximately 45-50 minutes or until the contents are bubbling and the top is browned.  Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes, once removed from the oven, to settle and cool.

Serves 6

*Beer brewers:  A recycled grain bag left over from brewing makes an excellent strainer for making homemade ricotta, saving the cost of expensive cheese cloth.

Eggplant Lasagna

And Then It Was Thanksgiving

Last I remember, I was writing a Labor Day reminiscence of summer and now bang, the Thanksgiving holiday is in my forecast.  Is it my age or a symptom of our lifestyle, but I just don’t have time to yearn much for future events, anymore.  I feel most often that I am scrambling to keep up with the present week and have to be clear with myself, and others who will be involved, that yes, Thanksgiving is going to be a thing again this year, get ready, and then we just have two weeks of school after that.  It is all cued up very tightly.

Let me recap a little from the fall, however.  Work has been busy, busy (Three busies wouldn’t even be overkill.)  First, I have a group of seventh graders who are challenging all of my 30 years of behavior management strategies, so days and nights blur with that strategizing.    I also directed a middle school play in October, and anyone who has ever done that will know how time consuming it is.  How did it go?  Well, the first act I was saying to myself, My God, they are pulling it together.  Then the second act began.  Lines started being skipped.  One student stood with his back to the audience and mumbled line fragments sending his fellow actors scrambling to pick up the dialogue.  There were awkward, long pauses, with darting glances between actors and dead time between scenes where the spotlight circled the closed curtain waiting for some action, any action.  One scene was repeated, and it was a death scene.    It didn’t turn into a full fiasco (listen to This American Life for how bad it can get.)  They kept in character and didn’t start fighting right on stage, but it ceased to be a story about a young bat hero and turned into a reality play about middle schoolers trying to bring a play to an end.  Which had its own fascination.  When we debriefed the next day, at a little cast party, they all seemed to feel pretty good about the experience.  One girl asked in a confidential tone, “Do you think anyone noticed we skipped some lines?”

“Oh, no,” I could answer in all honesty.

We took two incredible trips this fall.  One was to the south of Tunisia.

S. Tunisia

Pomegranates and Dates

Men, Dominoes

I will have to write more, very specifically about it.  I will just say that it was rare and precious, and I wish we had gone our first year here.  It won’t be our last time.

We also just got back from close to a week in Seville, Spain.  We were there for a school conference (I know), but we considered it a preview as we are going back to Spain for two weeks with Gabe and Anton over the Christmas break.  Obviously, there will be more to come about Spain, as well.  I adore it and can’t wait to go deeper.

Freshest in our minds, however, are our singular trips this week to the underworld of the stomach flu.  Allan was sick all last weekend, and I puttered around doing what people do to care for the violently infirm.  Then, on Wednesday night, the Grim Reaper came for me.  I scrawled some barely decipherable substitute notes, much like what you would write if you were being kidnapped, and then 24 hours were lost from my life.  If I wanted to look on the bright side, I guess it isn’t bad to have a complete purge diet right before the beginning of the holidays.  We’re both on our feet again, but our appetites are still a little peevish, so I’m sticking with some clean flavored comfort dishes.

I am back to reading David Tanis recipes, who I’ve written about many times before.  I like him so much because his cooking philosophy is about making something delicious using just what is lying around on your counters.  Really, in his newest book, One Good Dish, he begins with several recipes for using bread in successive degrees of staleness.  It is exactly the thing I find enduringly intriguing about French cooking.  Here is a recipe using precisely what I have on my counters, or elsewhere in my refrigerator and garden,  today.

 

Garlic Soup 2

Save-Your-Life Garlic Soup

“Like chicken broth, garlic soup is said to have all sorts of medicinal properties.  It apparently can both prevent and cure hangover, and even aid digestion…”  David Tanis

  • 2 heads garlic, preferable new crop, separated into cloves (about 16 medium) and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 12 sage leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 slices bread, lightly toasted
  • Chopped parsley, scallions, or chives

Slice or roughly chop the garlic cloves.  Warm the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the garlic and sage and let them sizzle a bit without browning, about 2 minutes.  Season with about 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Add the water and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower to a brisk simmer.  Cook for 10 to 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Ladle about an inch of the soup into a skillet and bring to a brisk simmer over medium heat.  Carefully crack the eggs into the pan and poach for about 3 minutes.

To serve, place a slice of toast in each soup bowl and top with a poached egg.  Ladle the soup over the eggs and sprinkle with a little parsley.

Serves 4

 

 

It Was the Summer of…

Sheep

I am reminded by posts on Facebook about capturing the “last gasps of summer” that it is Labor Day in the US.  Here on the Mediterranean, we expect to have several more weeks of warm weather.  In fact, today, I’m just putting a hem in a pair of white pants that I plan to wear quite a bit this fall.  But mentally, it is the turn of the calendar and I, too, am feeling nostalgic for last summer.

Since the boys have been in university, our summers have had a consistent pace, but this summer, some things changed.  We aren’t pulling them off to be with us in our overseas life as much, anymore.  They have their own involvements and responsibilities, now, and they can’t just up and leave for several weeks like they used to.

This was the summer of girlfriends.  Having significant others hanging at the house with us was a completely new development, and we really liked it.  It was fascinating to watch our sons attend to women they have chosen to have in their lives,  and I was proud to see their consideration and more grown-up ease with themselves.

This was the summer of full-time jobs. Most parents, I’m sure, would agree that it is enormously satisfying to send your able-bodied young person off for a big ol’ day of work.  This was, at the same time,  the summer of baby animals.  Gabe has a real gentleman’s  farm in operation on the island.  He took in a menagerie of Craig’s List babies last spring:  lambs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks and then there is the biggest handful of them all, his beautiful preschooler dog, Geist (he just turned 1 so he’s technically not a baby anymore).  Allan and I became quite enchanted by the whole free-ranging brood and were perfectly happy to send Gabe off for a 12-hour work day in exchange for tending the animals.  I could have and now think should have taken so many more pictures of them as we watched them grow.  It was fascinating how they made choices and communicated to each other,  everyday, about where they wanted to go on the property and what they wanted to do.  They were so silly sometimes, but my heart was happy seeing them have completely natural, stimulating lives.

Turkeys

This was the summer of nieces.  I think the generation of my siblings and me has shifted slightly and our children are stepping up to be our friends and to provide us with authentic support.  Through this season of the passing of our mom, my nieces, in particular, came forward to not just cook and help arrange things, which they did capably and creatively, but they made us laugh and amazed us at all of their adult involvements.  I know that my mom would have been so happy to know how her passing strengthened and even changed our relationships in many wonderful ways.

Finally, this was the summer of home-town affirmations.  Allan and I have had our wonderings, over the years, if our plan to eventually repatriate back to Whatcom County will be the right choice.  We have other overseas friends who are building their retirement nests in farmhouses in France, condos in big cities, someplace warm.  We love Lummi Island, but we haven’t always been sure that we could fit back into the culture we left, now, 15 years ago.  This summer, though,  we had encounter after encounter, often by chance, with people we have known in the past, but didn’t know so much about presently.  We were astounded, first of all, by what positive lives so many old friends are pursuing.  Many have lost unneeded pounds and as a result, feel fantastic.  Many have become incredibly active, riding bicycles, taking strenuous hikes.  Many have let go of negativity and are living in grateful places.  Several have completely stopped drinking.  I found myself becoming genuinely excited thinking of living in community, in the future,  with these old friends and our Lummi Island neighbors.  Of course, lots of conversations turned toward our bounteous summer provisions in the Northwest and how we were preparing and/or preserving them.  I am really looking forward to sharing cooking when we can.  One of the cookbooks I read cover to cover this summer was Monday Morning Cooking Club, and I can picture that sort of get-together with old and new friends to learn more about and from each other and to enjoy the cooking skills so many of us have been honing these long years.

Gabe
Gabel, after a Sunday of preserving. He put away 4 gallons of blackberries (slated for blackberry wine-making in the fall), 4 pints of beets, two bags of blanched beet greens, and a crock of sauerkraut, all from his own garden and yard.

One friend and I already got the conversation going when she and her husband came out to spend an evening of crab-eating, sunset watching,  and visiting with us.  Even though she had worked that day, she had, because she’s just like this, baked off a heavenly loaf of artisanal bread in the morning to bring out.  She swore that nothing could be easier than making up this no-knead bread, developed by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City, and once I tried it, I became a devotee, too.  It is also a wonderful dough to form into foccacia or pizzas.   I am not going to retype the recipe.  Go to this link because you will also find some short videos that will illustrate a couple of the finer points involved in the process.  Peggy, I hope that this is the beginning of a long and delicious conversation.

Recipe: No-Knead Bread

 

Artisan Bread

One Pot Pasta

One Pot PastaI can’t live in denial much longer; school is starting soon.  I don’t mind starting my work, but I had such a luxuriously,  long summer that it was almost like I got an extra season in there.  I even got to go the the NW Washington Fair, which I haven’t been to in approximately 20 years.  It hasn’t changed much, but that is a good thing.

School start up always has a particular tension about it.  Gone are the leisurely days when one can see how the day reveals itself before deciding what to cook.  You now have to have a plan.  To keep eating well on work nights,  you have to have already cooked the food ahead of time, or you need a meal idea that is a quick prep without creating a bunch of dishes.

This Martha Stewart recipe is going around the food websites and it works; it really works.  I like it for August, especially, when we will be having multi-colored tomatoes, warm from the garden, and fresh basil, more than we know what to do with.  This cooking method also stands up well to whole wheat pasta, building in additional fiber and nutrition.  Sure, it’s not the most complex pasta dish we’ve ever eaten.  I immediately started thinking about roasting the vegetables first, which you could easily do ahead of time, to bring up some additional complexity.  But don’t bother.  Make this as is.  Feel happy that you’ve had a healthy, low-fat dinner, using garden produce.  Pack the leftovers for your work lunch the next day.  Wash up the one pot.  Then, have a few minutes to enjoy some more of a waning summer evening.

One Pot Pasta

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces linguine or other long pasta (whole wheat works well)
  • 12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 large onion, thinly slices (about 2 cups)
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • Course salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions

Step 1

Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red-pepper flakes, basil, oil, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and water in a large straight-sided skillet.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil mixture, stirring and turning pasta frequently with tongs, until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.

Step 2

Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 4 bowls, and garnish with basil.  Serve with oil and Parmesan.

Pickled Blueberries and Shallots

Pickled Blueberries and Shallots

I didn’t set out with a summer goal to jar 17 quarts and 8 pints of cucumber pickles.  It came about when our friends were out visiting last week.  They are smack in the middle of the most fun summer of record, beginning with riding their brand new touring bicycles to our house, and then regaling us with stories about their sailing trip in the San Juan Islands, Shakespeare in the park in Vancouver, concerts at wineries, and on it went.  We recounted our own stories about painting our living room.  No. Don’t feel sorry for us; we are living the life we choose.

But while they were here, they got the phone call that their custom-ordered box of perfect pickling cucumbers was ready to be delivered.  Now, they have never canned before and only had a passing interest in making pickles this summer.  In fact, I think they had forgotten all about it.  They were about to go to town and plop down a hefty investment in canning supplies when I made an alternative proposal.  I suggested that I take the cucumbers and use my plentiful canning supplies, and the assistance of Gabe, an experienced pickler, to make the pickles, and they continue with their mad summer.  And that was quickly agreed to.

So,  what was delivered was a lot of cucumbers and I had to do much multiplication to prepare enough pickling brine, but I still got the salt wrong and had to make four gallons of liquid instead of two.  Fortunately, we brew beer and have a 6 gallon stock pot.  In the end, I had extra brine left over, and I stored it away in the refrigerator.  Now, the brilliant thing about this is that I am ready, in a moment, to pickle anything.  Quick pickling only requires an hour or so in brine so the commitment is small and involves no true preserving.  I began today with 1 1/2 cups of organic blueberries, a large shallot, thinly sliced, 1 small cinnamon stick, and 5 whole cloves.  These are going on top of a grilled steak salad for dinner.  If you’re interested in what else you could quickly pickle, take a look at this link from Saveur magazine: Perfect Pickle Recipes.

Here is the basic cucumber pickle recipe I used, also from Saveur.  Just save the brine from the salt, sugar, and vinegar for other uses.  Also, I recommend you buy a smaller box of cucumbers.

Cucumber Pickles

MAKES 2 QUARTS

1/2 cup coarse kosher salt
16–20 small kirby cucumbers, tips trimmed, well washed
1 tbsp. sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
12 black peppercorns
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 bunch dill with seed heads
1–2 horseradish, oak, or grape leaves (optional)

1. Dissolve 1/4 cup salt in 2 1/2 quarts  water in a large bowl. Add cucumbers and set aside for 12 hours. Drain and rinse.

2. Combine 1/4 cup salt, sugar, vinegar, and 2 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add peppercorns, garlic, and bay leaf and boil for 2 minutes. Fit cucumbers upright in 2 hot, sterilized quart jars. Tuck in dill. Pour hot vinegar mixture over cucumbers to cover. Add leaves, if using. Put lids on jars, screw on bands, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Remove jars from pot and cool. Store in a cool, dark place for at least 3 weeks and up to 1 year.

Cucumber Pickles