Digging for (Writerly) Gold

IMG_5488

This is what writing is: I need to take a shower but I have to get this down first. I’m wearing my painting sweatshirt and old pants, and I have on two pairs of socks which never feels totally right. The house needs to be cleaned, maybe even painted here and there, but if I miss this thought, I’ll never get it back. And the dingy house will still be here, being dingy, and soon I’m going to want to be outside all the time, so who cares? I have emails to return. But I’d rather be moving crates around in the basement so I can get to that photo of the time I’m writing about. It’s research!

I started working on a story about my trip to Mexico in 1996 and it’s bloomed (not like a flower, more like a mold) into a much larger thing. First I delved into my journal, which I couldn’t put down even though it made me cringe many times. An added bonus has been all the flowers I had dried in the creases of my book: bougainvillea mostly, see above.

I’ve also been enjoying all the meals I’ve recorded: camarones and pulpo, so much papaya doused in lime juice, mango and cream cheese pastries, beans and eggs. Eggs and beans. Lots of Wonder bread.

Here’s a poem about that from my journal:

Wonder, Wonder Toast

Having white toast (with jam)

in Zihuatenejo (of all places)

makes me feel odd.

Here’s a piece of home for you, they say.

The wonder bread forlorn;

without substance.

We would have preferred a native bread.

I had put this morning aside for writing and by the time 10 a.m. rolled around I was in the basement digging through milk crates trying to find some old photos from that trip. A picture of papaya perhaps? But all I uncovered was one measly roll. How could that be? At that point I still hoped to be a photographer, and I know I brought my Pentax and lots of rolls of film. Did I lose something? I was inspecting my negatives to see if something was there and then I remembered: it was probably in the file cabinet with all my BW negatives! In there I hit gold, even though it was all black and white. It’s like an archeological dig of my past, feels like I’m peeking into an alternate reality. So now, armed with the past, I’m going back to write.

IMG_5556

 

P.S. On keeping a journal.

Freezer Burn

IMG_5501
Black and blue.

Freezing is one of my favorite ways to preserve food. I’m sure I like it best because it’s quick and easy. I just throw things in, especially when summer is at it’s peak of abundance. However, this leaves me with a chest freezer full of strange stuff. Like last week’s post talked about using up the jars in the pantry, it’s also my goal to use up everything in the freezer but soon. I swear I’m going to do it by end of April. Because last year I forgot to defrost the freezer. Bad preserver!

I started in earnest yesterday, and you can see what I’m doing via Instagram. There’s some mass preserving going on. Lots of fruit is finding it’s way into jam jars (making my earlier pantry conundrum a little more complicated!). I have a few jams prepped; one of them is the above blueberry-blackberry. I am really excited for this one. It’s surprising to me to think of a jam I haven’t made, but it actually happens a lot!

I had quite a few bags of citrus peel that I had intended to make into candied peel, but I just didn’t have it in me. I pulled them all out of the freezer. Some of them are now in the basement steeped in white vinegar to make citrus cleaner. And some, these lovely rangpur lime skins below, I decided to dehydrate. They came out so gorgeously orange, and retained their smoky citrus-y smell. Sometimes, when you are faced with the urgency of figuring out what to do with your food, you come up with some great ideas. I am thinking an herbal tea blend with these beauties.

IMG_5503
Helen platter by Mondays.

Canned Pear Cake

IMG_5183

This time of year the empty jars start piling up, and the full jars start to disappear. The jar management game, if you’re a canner,  begins. I might be a little early this year. I tend to be somewhat of a hoarder, which means that by the time asparagus and rhubarb starting producing in the garden, I’m still using up pantry items. This year I want to have a clean slate by that time. And to defrost the freezer! Big plans over here. This cake was a success on all fronts, even though it’s name sounds dull. Not only was it delicious, but it used up almost two jars of pantry goods. And it’s a healthy breakfast cake to boot. Success!

Success feels good. Of course, I don’t post failures, but don’t be fooled, they are legion. I’m never truly bothered by a kitchen fail. It’s disappointing, sure (especially when I think something is going to turn out great and spectacularly fails), but it never deters me from forging ahead. I’m so matter of fact about the failures: huh, that didn’t work. Guess I’ll try this. I wish I could be that forgiving with the rest of my life. I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately after reading this article on Brain Pickings about fixed  and growth mindsets; in particular I liked the quote about how growth mindsets  instill “a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.”  People with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, “see risk and effort as potential giveaways of their inadequacies, revealing that they come up short in some way.” My cooking life definitely has a growth mindset. The rest of me? Not so much.  I think my personal life could learn a lot from my cooking life–the biggest lesson being: keep going in the face of failures (big plural!).

The success of this recipe is that it’s adapted one of my favorite recipes from The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, a simple one for banana bread. My spin is that I’ve used some pears canned in light syrup, and a pear jam. I also like date molasses (try it!) for this, but maple syrup or honey would both be fine. Keep in mind the honey will be sweeter, so maybe use 1/4 cup, and maple perhaps 1/2 cup? It also depends on how sweet your jam and pears are, so adjust for that.

Canned Pear Cake

Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8×8 pan.

2 cups canned pears (this can be pear sauce, or canned pear halves that have been mashed)

3 tablespoons of oil or melted butter

1/3 cup of date molasses (or 1/4 cup of honey; 1/2 cup maple syrup–see note above on sweeteners)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon of lemon juice

2 cups white whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup pear jam (mine was a chunky style with no embellishments)

1 tablespoon of sugar for topping (optional)

Mix the first five ingredients well. Whisk the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Mix them together. Smooth in prepared pan. Spread the top with jam, and sprinkle with sugar for a little crispness, and bake for about 40 minutes. Look for the sides to be golden, and the very tips of the jam beginning to brown a little. You can also check with a toothpick inserted coming out clean.

Even a few days out, this is still good. I put a slice of cold butter on a untoasted piece of this, and it was heavenly.

Bloomington, NY

Onigiri

IMG_5086

Last week I made vegetable sushi for dinner. A new and inspired filling I discovered was  bok choy which I sautéed with ginger, garlic and soy. I guess I was hungry so I made an extra large batch of sushi rice. After we were done, and so full, there was a lot of rice left over. Now, the world over will tell you to throw out leftover sushi rice. That is utter crazy talk, in my opinion. I’m here to tell you that throwing out sushi rice is not necessary.

I made onigiri (rice balls) by tossing the rice with sesame seeds and a bag of those Trader Joe’s Seaweed Snacks all chopped up with a scissor. I saved some wrapped in the fridge for the next day. Heated up a touch, they were fine with a little soy and sweet chili sauce. I also froze them, wrapping them individually (which was wasteful, and sort of a pain), and again they were just fine, heated up a little, if maybe a touch more crumbly.

I love this Onigiri FAQ.

Next time I make extra, I will make these crackers.

Frozen Yogurt with Boozy Figs

IMG_5073

I don’t want to forget this one! I’ve been on a bit of a frozen goodies tear, because according to my son, the winter is the best time for ice cream! I’m sure he’ll say the same thing in summer, but I’m going with it. We made raspberry sorbet for Valentine’s Day–he’s more of a fruit-loving kid than a chocolate one (the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree). But this one here was just for me. And what’s best about this dessert is that it came together with leftovers.

The figs: There were some dried figs that I had been meaning to use for a long time, so I soaked them in some hot water for about thirty minutes, before draining them and then covering them in a mixture of bourbon and nut liqueur (Pisa, a mixed nut liqueur). I picked these two liquors because they were taking up valuable real estate in the liquor cabinet, with only a finger or two of booze left in them.

The yogurt: Lately, I’ve been putting cream in my yogurt; say a fifth of the milk gets replaced by cream. The last batch I put a touch too much, making the mistake of using a carton of cream up. What could be wrong with yogurt that’s too creamy? Well, it ended up being a bit too rich for breakfast, but not for dessert. I thought it would be perfect for frozen yogurt.

The details: 

1 1/2 cups of full fat yogurt

1/2 cup of milk

1/2 cup superfine sugar

some boozy dried figs, about a 1/4 cup, drained of the booze and chopped

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 teaspoon of the bourbon/liqueur mixture

1/2 teaspoon of almond extract

Mix the (very cold) ingredients gently. Put in an ice cream machine and run for 20 to 30 minutes. I found that this stayed a perfect texture after being frozen, I’m guessing due to the alcohol.

The side benefit? The leftover bourbon/nut liqueur mixture is a great nightcap to sip by the fire. Happy weekend!

IMG_5076

Lemon Olive Oil and SAD

IMG_5009

I think that Seasonal Affective Disorder has finally landed. I was feeling like I had dodged it, but no. February is usually when it happens, especially after several snow storms drop a couple of feet of snow on you, like it has here. I had been feeling mildly surprised that my spirits have been so even keeled. One of those feelings that you are quiet about, internally knocking on wood, when you wake up and check your inner mood barometer: depressed? No? Great!

But just yesterday, the low feelings started to swirl around me like a sand storm, making it hard to see clearly. In the evening, I was sitting watching my son play with his trains, and somewhat suddenly, this swarm of darkness descended upon my head. I can’t help but to wonder if he felt it too because for some reason he immediately stopped playing and decided to go to sleep a half hour earlier than normal. That NEVER happens. EVER. Unless he’s sick, and of course I began feeling his head searching for fever. But maybe he knew that I needed to check out, watch some TV (Top of the Lake–finally watched the first episode. Wow.) and sip on a little liqueur. And then fall in a deep deep sleep, bones weary from so much heavy snow shoveling. (Only to be disturbed  in the middle of the night by a cat struck by cabin fever and a full moon who was alternately meowing and chasing imaginary mice. I glared at her all morning, and she knows it.)

We know why citrus is so good for us during these winter months. Sunny and full of vitamin C, we sun-deprived northerners understand we’re on a ship out to sea and the only thing that will get us safely to shore is citrus. Even though I just discussed my reigned in stance on citrus, it doesn’t stop me from buying a few beauties from the store. Two little Meyer lemons, perfect and smooth, the size of a medium egg when cupped in your palm. This recipe from Saveur immediately rang the gong in my head; I was seeing steamed vegetables drizzled with it, among other delectables. Of my two precious Meyer lemons, this is where one is headed.

IMG_5046

I halved the recipe, because it seems you will have quite a lot using two lemons. I used one small Meyer lemon, 1/3 cup of good extra virgin olive oil, and a hearty pinch of salt. It blended up nicely in the Vitamix, although I am sure the food processor would have been fine, too. I didn’t strain it because it seemed fine–nice and thick. It also seemed like it would take a while; I started straining it, and I could tell it was going to take forever. Why bother? A thought for future incarnations: I will bet that throwing in a half of a can of anchovies wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

I will bet that along with dipping or dressing for raw or steamed vegetables, this lemon olive oil will also do nicely on greek yogurt for a savory breakfast, or over feta to serve with crackers and olives. It would also be delicious drizzled on a nice steak or pork chop.

Pro tip: I’m extremely frugal, and I was sad to see so much lemony goodness clinging to the sides of my Vitamix. So I blitzed up a quick vinaigrette in the container with some oil, a garlic clove, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper to make a bright dressing.

Having all these sunny, lemony dressings on hand makes me cheer up, if only just a touch.

IMG_5090

Citrus and the Long Winter

IMG_4420

What have I been doing lately with citrus? Really just eating it out of hand (Cara cara navels have been very good, clementines as I mentioned earlier haven’t been so great), and drinking pressed juice (3 temple oranges from Florida yield an impressive full cup of juice). Last year I didn’t get with the citrus frenzy, and it worked out just fine. My mother sent me a small bit sour oranges and limes, if memory serves, and I still have candied peel, and frozen peel in the freezer. And a full quart of triple sec! This year I declined her offer. No, says I, I will resist the siren song of the winter citrus deluge. Though I do love being a voyeur and seeing the picture parade of gorgeous Meyer lemons on Facebook (so many from the amazing Lemon Ladies Orchards), piles of peels on Instagram, and all the lovely recipes lined up in my Feedly page. I will have to live vicariously.

You need certain things to find your way through winter. Citrus is one of them. After getting so much done on Tuesday, I allotted myself a half hour to go for a walk. Seeing as how we intend to get another foot of snow on Thursday, and might be snowed in for two days, I saw it as a necessity, and I will do the same today.  The sky was that stark winter blue, and at 2:30 the sun was at a perfect slanting angle. It was sharply cold—18 degrees?—but half way through the walk I was perfectly warm in my puffy apple-green down coat.

Winter blue.
Winter blue.

The hiking trails are dented and frozen, not to mention treacherous with ice, so I went for a neighborhood walk for ease and speed.. All the houses looked sleepy under their fat caps of white, some with a full set of sharp looking toothy icicles. The juncoes and the sparrows were pipping around on the sides of the roads where slashes of dirt and dead grass were exposed for them to search for seeds. I swear I heard a red-wing blackbird, usually a harbinger of spring to me, but it might have been a grackle or starling. I’ve been seeing flocks of bluebirds all over my yard. I know everyone is complaining about the winter—you can’t avoid talking about it anywhere you go, just like heatwaves in summer—but I really think we’re close to spring. The snow doesn’t mean a thing.

Here’s some citrusy links to cheer us winter-bound folks up:

Happy to see Laundry Etc. writing again, giving us this Blood Orange, Rhubarb and Cardamom marmalade.

Which reminds me of Hitchhiking to Heaven’s quince-orange-cardamom marmalade, which is stellar. First hand knowledge.

The translucent orange of Local Kitchen’s Kumquat habanero marmalade is like stained glass. Don’t forget her citrus peels page!

Mixed citrus marmalade from Cakewalk. Gorgeous!

Buttermilk cake with Meyer lemon from Hip Girls Home.

Love this simple citrus salad from Eating From the Ground Up, and all the writerly links.

This picture from Food in Jars was one of the photos that gave me a pang of citrus envy. I also love the link to parsnip cake, which I need to make!

I’ve been meaning to make this cake from My Pantry Shelf for a few months now…

This cake from White on Rice Couple just looks ethereal.

And some sunny music:

Love Love Love

Who Loves the Sun

Summer’s Cauldron

IMG_4958
Cara cara navels.

Staying Hungry

%d bloggers like this: