Pickled Ramps (or Wild Leeks)

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Can I keep talking about how spring is just blowing my mind? There’s so much going on it’s hard to keep track of. As I went for a walk earlier, I had all sorts of ideas for what I was going to write. But now it’s gone–dispersed in a cloud of lost mind either. Right now it’s all I can do to keep my mind on the computer. I’m out on the porch, the screens are covered with ladybugs, and big fat bumblebees are lazily cruising by looking for flowers. And the flowers! They are out in full force. The Hansen cherry bushes are loaded and pulsing with buzzing insects of every sort. The forsythias are competing with the leafing-out trees in brilliance. As I drive around, all kinds of trees in flower catch my eye: big huge clouds of white or the most delicate of pinks. And then there is the green, of course!

I’ve been walking all over, almost every day, an eye always peeled for ramps. This is such a great time to walk because you can still see in the distance. As soon as the understory fills in, your line of sight drastically changes. That’s pretty much when you can’t spot the ramps anymore. Ramps are everywhere now in the stores and markets, even going so low as $4 a bunch. It makes me sad that I love ramps so much–I wish I could love invasive garlic mustard more dearly. When foraging ramps, I pick only one stalk from a large patch. Grasping it low at the bulb I pull, and the leaves and stem slip out, and the bulb remains. I know the bulbs are delicious too, but I’m happy with the stems and leaves. That way I know the roots remain to be more ramps next year.

These pickles are sweet and garlicky! They are amazing on a snack plate, or piled on a sandwich. I’m going to pair these with duck confit for a special lunch I have planned for early next week–I think their zippy acidity and sweet spice will be perfect for the rich duck.

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Pickled Ramps or Wild Leeks

Makes about a half quart jar.

1/2 cup white wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup (4 ounces) sugar

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/2 pound ramps, stems and leaves

Bring all the ingredients except the ramps to a boil, making sure the sugar and salt dissolve. Turn off the heat and let the brine cool just a bit. Then, pour the brine over the ramps in a large glass bowl. Let the ramps sit out for a few hours, and turn the leaves every so often. The ramps will wilt and let off moisture. Put them in a jar, and keep in the refrigerator.

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Tarts and Cakes and Joy

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The nicer weather has brought with it numerous things all resulting in joy.  It has brought the reddish-green rhubarb leaves poking up through cracks in the dirt. The pleated strawberry leaves unfolding from dark green to light, opening like tiny fans. The cherry bushes are holding onto their pink blossoms, waiting for the right moment to bloom. I am on constant asparagus and morel watch in my yard. The grass is so, so green. It twinkles in the dew when I walk my son to the bus stop at 8 a.m. Even with this morning’s almost frosty cold, and yesterday’s tiniest flurry of snow, the joy can’t be tamped down!

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With apologies to Robert Frost, in my neighborhood, nature’s first green is red. All the red maple flower buds cast a red haze as they swell, and soon they will drop and cover the streets with red as well. The understory, however, is gold–the spicebushes, the honeysuckle or lonicera bush, and the lilacs leafing out.  I am transfixed by all this beauty. It translates to instant joy and wonder. I am feeling so at ease. Every little thing is all right. Going to bed in the evening is joy–weary from hiking and gardening. Waking up early, and it’s requisite hot cup of coffee, are joy.

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You know what else is joy? Yes, you guessed it. Cakes and tarts. They are so full of joy. Lately, my son has been worried about whether what he is eating is something healthy or not. My answer is that most things are healthy in moderation. Having a mix of things is what is most healthy. It’s good to have a balance of all kinds of things. Even a little cake, which, yes, is not all that healthy. But emotionally, isn’t a little cake good for you? It imparts joy, and isn’t that nutritious? Do you like my philosophy?

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I made this jam tart the other day and it cheered my day, how pretty and easy and tasty it was. Instead of using 12 tablespoons of butter, I used 8 and added 1/4 cup of full-fat Greek yogurt. My son didn’t like it, because of the almonds on top, but I did. So much so that I froze half of it so I wasn’t tempted to eat it all. [Side note: the recipe calls it fregolotta, but the recipes I’ve seen for true fregolotta were much less dressed up and truly more a dry cookie, with much less butter. But I am no expert on fregolotta.]

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Other joys I have bookmarked (most of them from Food52, and many almond-y things):

Almond Coconut Cake (here’s my back of the box discovery: almond bars from Watkins Almond extract)

Almond Coffee Cake

Chocolate Mochi Snack Cake

Calabrian Walnut Cake

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Tamari-Ginger-Sesame Dressing for Greens

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It’s here! Spring is really and truly here, and it’s put a bounce in my step. Most exciting is the little ramp shoots coming out of the ground down by the barn–I planted these last year, and they are already rewarding me with their presence. Ramps are known to be fussy, so my slightly cool and damp spot was a good choice. It probably didn’t hurt that when I had chickens, that’s where their manure would go. The rhubarb is finally poking out, the strawberries are getting green, and the jostaberry bushes are leafing out. My heart is full!

I don’t mean to rush things–this spring weather could last a really long time, and I’d be happy–but I am thinking ahead to summer, and it’s requisite small bits of clothing. Or maybe I’m just all too aware of the extra pounds winter has encouraged on my frame, and how it’s harder each year to shed them! What I’ve been doing is just eating better and moving more. That essential equation to losing weight, right? I make sure to have flavorful things ready in the fridge so I don’t end up frying eggs or making grilled cheese or doing any number of quick and indulgent things that seem to come to mind so easily when I’m hungry. When I look into the fridge I have cooked wheat berries, plump and chewy. On the counter is some cooked jasmine rice, which I leave out because it doesn’t really refrigerate well (unless you want to make fried rice). Other things I like to have on hand are tangy, salty, sour and crunchy fermented goodies, like kimuchi, (Japanese kimchi which I’ve been enjoying a lot lately), or sauerkraut. Rich components I rely on are hard-boiled eggs or avocado or a drizzle of sesame oil.

What else? Hearty greens like kale, collards and chard are my favorite. I wanted to have some greens that were easy to pluck from the fridge. I based this dressing on the Japanese seaweed salad that you find in sushi joints all over. That combination of salty-sweet-gingery-garlicky is my favorite thing! Roughly chop three bunches of greens, blanch them for a few minutes, drain and toss with this dressing. It’s great both cold in a rice bowl or hot in a bowl of broth. And it keeps in the fridge for at least a week.

Tamari-Ginger-Sesame Dressing

1/4 cup vegetable oil, like sunflower or safflower

3 tablespoons of tamari

2 tablespoons of rice vinegar

1 tablespoon of sesame oil

1 teaspoon to tablespoon of sambal oelek, depending on how much heat you want

2 garlic cloves, chopped fine or grated with a microplane

1 knob of ginger, grated

1 tablespoon of honey

Sesame seeds

Mix up all the ingredients. Pour over hot blanched greens and toss with sesame seeds. Keeps in the fridge up to a week.

Roasted Tomato Spread

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Spring has sprung here in the Hudson Valley, and no one is really believing it. Everyone is rubbing their eyes and wondering, is it really true?? Maple sugaring time is come and gone, and I hear tell of wild leeks, otherwise known as ramps, poking up out of the ground. I tell you, I missed the dirt. The smell of defrosting dirt is a lovely thing.

I just got back from a rejuvenating trip to southern Florida. I went with my son to visit my family for spring break. We swam in the ocean! We saw alligators! We walked, and we talked. It was just what I needed to make it through the tail end of winter. Coming home to temperatures above fifty degrees, the swelling buds of daffodils, and a garden with no snow in it has soothed my spirit.  Now it is time to appraise the pantry, filled more with empty jars than full, and the freezer, which is getting lower every day. There is still bounty though, and some things need to be eaten. Like tomatoes. So many tomatoes!

One of my standbys of preserving the summer bounty is oven-roasted tomatoes. It very well may be yours, too, it’s so simple and so good and so versatile. I like the slow method that Food In Jars’ uses, but I tend to be impatient and roast them at 350 degrees for an hour or two. They end up being a little caramelized around the edges, but I like that. Remember how many tomatoes I had at the end of the season in the fall? A lot of them became oven-roasted tomatoes, bags and bags of them are in the freezer. The other day I saw a glimpse of a bottle of sun-dried tomato ketchup on my Instagram feed. And I thought: aha! I immediately defrosted a bag of these tomatoes, whizzed them up with some more olive oil and a few other goodies. I have been slathering it on my sourdough pan-fried toast for days now. I see this being a new constant companion–on pizza, pasta, burgers, turned into a salad dressing, etc. I knew roasting all those tomatoes was a good idea!

Roasted Tomato Spread

Oven-roasted tomatoes, however you do them, about a cup or two

Roughly 1/4 cup of olive oil

About a tablespoon of good red wine vinegar, I used my home brew

some salt and pepper

I kept mine plain, but any kind of dressing up with herbs and garlic would be great. Just put the roasted tomatoes (about a cup or two) into a food processor or Vitamix, add the olive oil and vinegar and pulse until you reach  your desired consistency. For me, this was slightly chunky. This is all about your taste, so there are no set measurements. Add more olive oil if you want it thinner. I would keep the vinegar at a tablespoon, but by all means, taste, adjust and enjoy!