Sunday, January 29, 2017

Pomegranate and Raspberry Chutney in In the Orchard, the Swallows // Cook Your Books

And now for entry #2 in what appears to be a longform series. 

In this Cook Your Books series, I have chosen 15 books to read in 2017 based on somewhat arbitrarily chosen categories. My theory (bogus it might turn out to be) is that all 15 of these books will somehow connect to food. And I plan to write about that food. This second installment is a book with fewer than 150 pages. (Here's your second warning:  It turns out these entries on Cook Your Books are long ones. Time to settle in.)

 In the Orchard, the Swallows  by Peter Hobbs appears on this list simply because of its length. My arbitrary category dictated a book with fewer than 150 pages, and a quick Google search for "Best Books under 150 Pages" launched this one to to the top of my possible books to read. 

And what a book it was.

The book opens with an unnamed narrator who has been thrust back into the world after having spent the last 15 years in a Pakistani prison. His crimes? The unblemished connection to Saba, the daughter of a powerful politician, and the defense of his own life. While in prison, he endures torture, sexual abuse, malnutrition, disease, and overcrowding--all of which Hobbs writes with a painful, spare clarity. His survival in prison is dependent on his memory of love and of freedom embodied by Saba; and once out of prison, his survival is due to the generosity of a scholarly poet Abbas, who discovers the narrator unconscious by the road and saves him from certain death.  

In the present day, the narrator daily visits his family's former pomegranate orchard----his father's labor of love and the place the unnamed narrator spent a chaste night with Saba so long ago.  Now he sits beneath neglected trees, watching as the blossoms grow into crowns of fruit with "slim and green" flesh (26). The summer passes, and we watch as he composes a letter to Saba and the pomegranates ripen.

This seems simple enough. Indeed, Hobbs' story is simple and its telling straightforwards, but it is also haunting in its spareness. For this is not just a tale of a young man falling into middle age after his youth is stolen from him; it is also a political tale of Pakistan, as corruption takes root while war grinds on in Afghanistan.

However, Hobbs' focus always is on this love story, not because it supersedes war in terms of importance. No, it's because it helps to contextualize hope in the face of such devastation--both within prison and without. 

Fifteen years ago, the unnamed narrator, then only a teenage boy, gave a gift to Saba while in the fruit stalls of the market:
I bent down to my bags, and took from one of them the finest pomegranate I could find. Then I walked up to you, and waited for you to look at me. Your stopped talking, and stared at me curiously. Then I held the fruit out at arm's length. I placed its weight in your hand--which you had put out almost in surprise--and then I walked away. I gave you a pomegranate, then I walked away...And that was our first meeting. (30)
I love the simplicity of that: "I gave you a pomegranate, then I walked away..." His sweet simplicity and the seriousness of the gesture. 

And she returned the gift with her name, which the narrator carries with him, "the most precious thing [he] owned" (31) and he is careful not to speak it often. However, later, in the dark of his imprisonment, he whispers her name so that "something of you would be restored to me, and something of myself would be saved" (31). Fruit for a name. A name for a life. Sure, this could almost smack of sentimentality: however, in such a pared down book that does not shrink from spare descriptions of torture and neglect, this focus on a simple pomegranate in exchange for a name seems transaction enough to sustain both narrator and reader. 

Upon the narrator's release from prison, we watch as he details the process of learning to read and write with the poet Abbas. Daily, he sits beneath the ripening orchard, remembers his short time with Saba, and speaks of endurance and healing. Later we learn that he is writing this to Saba, and we hear him describing not just the pomegranates, but himself and the healing he is undergoing beneath these trees:
Among the branches the pomegranates are ripening. The last of the petals from their flowers has fallen. I was tempted to take one, but they are not yet at their best, the colour of their skin not yet warm, and so I will be patient. The promise of a fruit freshly opened, its juice running from broken arils, is exquisite, and will enable the walk to come easier still. I have longed to taste one again. The thought of it is enough to cause my mouth to water, my stomach to gurgle. The memory of that taste is no less than the memory of my childhood. Whenever my sisters or I suffered an upset stomach we were given a cup of juice morning and evening while we were ill, to settle our bellies once again. We were given pomegranate to soothe cuts and grazes, to ease coughs, to cool fever. (108-9)

And soon the descriptions become those of pleasure and care, even when both have been denied the narrator for so long:
Today I broke open a pomegranate. I have been watching them carefully, and the earliest among them are beautifully ripe. I know I should not take one, but I could not resist. Its absence will hardly be noticed, and my body has been so thirsty for the taste. Eat of their fruits when they ripen, says the Qur'an. I spent a long time choosing the finest one I could find, whose skin was firm, glowing like your cheeks in the morning light. I picked it carefully, so as not to disturb the other fruits around it, and then I held its weight in my hand, gripping it with my palm and fingers, skin against skin. To test its ripeness I held it to my ear and tapped it, and was regarded with that strange and perfect sound, almost metallic in its tone. (115)
The pomegranate that was once given as a gift to Saba becomes a gift to himself, a gift of remembering her childish cheeks, her innocence, and as such his own innocence in a world that can be known through the simple tapping of the fruit. The pomegranate is something solid, knowable, and to be held dear, yet it is sacred, unknowable, and a precious vessel for faith.  He continues:
When we were young my mother told us this hadith: that the pomegranate was among the trees grown in the gardens of paradise, and that all such tress are descended from it. So within each fruit is a pip that belongs to that original tree, and when we eat, we must not miss a single aril, in case it is the sacred one. (115-6)
Within each pomegranate holds the potential for the sacred, for precious care. During the mornings, Abbas and his daughter teach the unnamed narrator to read and to write in Abbas's back garden. And so he writes, directing this slim book as an apostrophe to Saba. He compares his writing to her as to eating fruit: "I have had so much to say to you, and had wondered for a long time how I might do so. In person, it would come in a rush. I would have too much to tell, and no way to begin. This way, I have not needed to tell you everything at once, but just one piece at a time, measured out in bites, as though you were eating a fruit" (126). The act of writing slows him down, ensures he savors each word, each moment, including the torture, the imprisonment, the neglect, for it is as much his story as is the gift of her name, the night spent beneath the pomegranate trees, and the confrontation with her father. 

In the present day of the book, the war in Afghanistan escalates, and the Taliban move in, bomb girls' schools, impose sharia, and kill teachers. Corruption infiltrates and some men exploit the US desire for an easy justice: Pakistani men claim that other innocent men are terrorists and sell them to the US.

And still the unnamed narrator writes his love story to a girl who is now a woman, who may not even know he is alive, who has probably married and created a life of her own, separate from him. Still he writes and tells his story to her. To us.

This is a deeply personal book about a boy who innocently loved a girl and a man who watches as his country divides itself on a political and communal level in order to appease those who do not fully understand. I hate to be reductive, but reading these kinds of political books, where the personal is profoundly political seems important right now.

So then Hobbs comes back to the food. Mostly pomegranates. Almost always the pomegranates.  As the book begins to wind down to its close, the narrator sees the potential for devastation as the farmer neglects his crop:
In the orchard the pomegranates hang ripely on the trees, their red skins darkening by the day, turning to crimsons and purples. They should have been picked by now. Every morning I arrive expecting the branches to be emptied, but still they are full. It is clear that the owner is neglectful of his crop. Perhaps it is simply that he does not know what he is doing or perhaps he does not need the income, and the orchard was indeed merely a gift he did not want, a payment for some service rendered or some loyalty proven. It would make me terribly sad to think so, to see land that was tended for years with love given over to greed and waste. The fruit will begin to split if it is left for much longer. Soon, the touch of rain on its stretched skin will be enough to cause it to swell and open. A storm will devastate the crop (123).
 Time is beginning to ravage this fruit, and if nothing is done--if the fruit is forgotten--it will be destroyed.

In the final pages of the book, the pomegranates are finally harvested but done so carelessly (127). Here, among a ground littered with wasted and neglected fruit, pushed aside out of negligence or greed or waste, the narrator imagines that Saba will find him again in the orchard and he will give her his notebook: "He will stand, and carefully, like a child offering a piece of fruit, he will hold out the book to you. 'Here,' he will say. 'Take this. It is for you. It is finished'" (137). 

He imagines that he will pass on the preventable loss of innocence that was based on the whims and desire of her father and his captors--those with an unexamined power. She may never return to him. He may never be able to give her the notebook. But in the act of our reading this notebook, we can see that he was once able to give the gift of the fruit with each aril holding the possibility for the sacred, and that now he can give the gift of this notebook with its ability to name things as they are, carefully and sparely.


Pomegranate and Raspberry Chutney

"I dug my thumbs together to break the outer rind, and then prised the fruit apart, opening it into two halves, watching the inner cells tear away from the soft, bitter tissue that holds them. My hands shook as I raised it to my mouth. And the taste of the juice on my tongue! It was so sweet my lips quivered, but with that faint dry sourness in my mouth afterwards. It was wonderful. I gulped the pieces, careful not to miss a single aril" (In the Orchards, The Swallows 115).

Adapted from Summaya Usmani's Summers Under the Tamarind Tree: Recipes and memories from Pakistan.  

This is a gorgeous little recipe from a delightful cookbook that focuses on Pakistani cooking. With the brightness of the raspberries next to the acidic dryness of the pomegranates, you're working with what would otherwise appear to be a sweet chutney. However, the cumin seeds and the black pepper blast this into a sauce that is perfect alongside lamb kofta, which is how we ate it.  Bonus, Summaya Usmani is a blogger at My Tamarind Kitchen, although her site seems a little quiet these days. That still won't keep us from looking at gorgeous older posts.

Serves 3-4


1 pint of raspberries
½ pomegranate, de-seeded
½ tsp freshly ground black peppercorns
½ tsp black or pink salt* 
½ tsp dry-roasted cumin seeds
juice of ½ a lime

*black salt is quite sulphurous to me; I used pink salt


1. Put the raspberries and pomegranate in a bowl and crush them using the back of a fork until mushy and the juice from the pomegranate mixes with the crushed raspberries.

2.  Add the spices, the salt, and the lime juices, and stir.  Serve cold and eat within 24 hours.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Roasted Tomato Bisque

It's winter, and I want tomatoes. This always happens.

So what's a tomato-fiend to do? 

Coax the flavor out of winter tomatoes, that's what.

In Sarah Copeland's Feast, she presents a lovely mid-winter tomato soup (that, yes, would probably be even better if it were a late-summer soup) that guarantees satisfaction of any tomato craving. 

Roasting tomatoes puts your taste buds on full blast: think intense, sweet, and smoky. Think perfect for pairing with rosemary or paprika or thyme. Think the perfect tomato on steroids. 

Yes, yes, I hear you that one should roast tomatoes in the summer when they're at their peak. And I agree with you. But, even in the winter with mealy Romas or hefty greenhouse tomatoes, you're going to get good results. Now imagine roasting tomatoes alongside some sweet red bell peppers, hearty onions, and pungent garlic? 

People, we're talking full-on, umami heaven.

How about some tomato roasting tips?

  • Roast flesh-side down. This helps trap the pulp and seeds and makes for easy skin removal. Plus it lends a nice char to the skin.
  • You can choose to remove the pulp and seeds, but your roasted tomatoes will be drier and, perhaps, a little less intense. For this soup, you don't need drier tomatoes, but you might have other needs on other days.
  • You can also remove the skins at the end of the roasting. I didn't for this soup because I wanted a little more texture in the soup. But most times, you're going to want to peel the skin off of the tomato at the end. 
  • Don't be afraid to roast more tomatoes than are called for here. Just put the leftover roasted tomatoes in the fridge. They won't last very long anyway. Because you're going to eat them as midnight snacks.

After a quick purée and a splash of dairy, you've got yourself a tomato bisque. Top this soup off with some fat--really green olive oil and a shaving of Parmesan cheese--and we're all set no matter the season.

What more do you need? I think just a hunk of bread on the side. Maybe even rub a garlic clove all over the bread. Maybe slather some butter on that bread. Maybe not.

People, we're having tomatoes in January. 


Roasted Tomato Bisque

Adapted from Sarah Copeland's Feast

4 Servings

Olive oil, for the baking sheets and veggies
5 large tomatoes, quartered
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp paprika, plus more for seasoning
1 red bell pepper, seeded and quartered
2 large yellow onions, quartered
4 garlic cloves, smashed
2½ cups veggie or chicken broth
½-1 cup milk (or cream or ½ and ½)
Olive oil and Parmesan cheese for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush two rimmed baking sheets with olive oil. Spread the tomatoes out on one of the baking sheets, season with salt, black pepper, and ½ tsp of paprika. Add 2 garlic cloves to the baking sheet. Toss the bell pepper, onions, and remaining 2 cloves of garlic with olive oil in a large bowl, season with salt and black pepper, and spread out on a second baking sheet. Roast the tomatoes and veggies for about 30-40 minutes, stirring the veggies about halfway through.

2.  Transfer the tomatoes and vegetables to a blender or food processor and add the stock. Blend until smooth, about 3 minutes. (If you have an immersion blender, by all means, go to it in a large stock pot.) Transfer the blended veggies to a large stock pot. 

3.  Add ½ cup milk and stir to combine. (Or you can use cream or half and half. You choose how thick you want your soup. Or maybe you want almond milk instead to keep this vegan.) Taste and add up to ½ cup more milk, and season with salt and more paprika, if needed. Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.

4.  Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Shave some Parmesan over the top.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe

Let's make a really tasty Tuesday-night dinner, shall we?

This one is happily simple, and definitely something you can whip up after a long day at work. While it does take a certain palate (so, you say you like chile peppers? Ha. Let's try them paired with the bitterness of rapini!), this comforting pasta dish satisfies during the winter months and you're hankering for some greens.

This dish a pretty traditional one from the Southern Italian region of Apulia (think: heel of the boot). There, this veggie goes by a whole host of names, including raab, rapini, friariélli, broccoletti di rapacime di rapa, and simply cima. 

Sure, there's a lot to make you think it's closely related to broccoli--what, with the color and the little flowering buds reminiscent of our favorite standby, broccoli. While they are both brassicas, that's where the family tree branches. This bitter green with serrated leaves is much more closely related to that pungent turnip than it is to broccoli.  

And we're all the better for it.

No matter what you call it, the green is a perfect blast of bitterness against the simple pasta known as orecchiette--which means "little ear" in reference to the shape of the pasta. 

Domed with ridges on the outside and a smooth bowl on the inside, this is the perfect pasta for scooping up a chile flake or an astringent veggie leaf.

I love broccoli rabe--I love its boldness. This is not a sit-in-the-background kind of vegetable. This is no layering veggie that adds subtlety to a dish. Oh no. This is a robust green that demands attention. Which is why it's perfectly paired with chile peppers and anchovies (and if you want, why not throw in some garlic?). 

Some people blanch their broccoli rabe before sautéing it. The argument is that the water and salt will bring out some of the sweetness.  I say do that only if you want to tame some of the bitterness. I, however, do not want tame. I want lip-puckering sharpness that pairs so well with the creaminess of ricotta salata or parmesan. People, be bold here.

And this dish comes together in about the time it takes you to boil a pot of water and cook the orecchiette to al dente status. So, about 20-25 minutes. Not bad for a Tuesday, huh?


Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe

Very Liberally Adapted from The Country Cooking of Italy

3-4 Servings

8 ounces orecchiette
½ cup olive oil
Chile flakes
6 anchovy fillets, minced (optional)
½ lb broccoli rabe, finely chopped
Ricotta Salata, Pecorinio, and/or Parmesan
Toasted bread crumbs

1. Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. When it is boiling, raise the heat to high and add the orecchiette. Cook until the pasta is al dente, about 10-12 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a medium pan. Add the chile flakes and anchovy (if using) and cook until just fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe, and cook until wilted, about 5-7 minutes. 

3. When the pasta is ready, drain and transfer to a warmed serving bowl. Mix in the greens. season generously with pepper; if necessary, add a little salt. 

4.  Grate or thinly slice some cheese over the top and sprinkle with bread crumbs.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Real Chai Made to Order

It has been dark and cold and rainy here lately.  In other words, it has been perfect. 

And when it is perfectly dark and perfectly cold and perfectly rainy, what's the best thing to do? Make a hot beverage and curl up with a good book.

So I turned to David Tanis, whom I adore, and I made my own chai. Come with me on a journey far, far away, will you? A journey to the exotic land of Eugene, Oregon circa 1997.

I was a 22-year-old graduate student on a vacation to see a dear friend whom I had met while abroad. She was (is!) funny, urbane, and left-coast. She looked like Rachel from Friends. At a time when everyone wanted to look like Rachel from Friends. (Let's face it: we all still  want to look like Rachel from Friends.) She could drink a pint and she could dance well into the early morning. She was game for adventures at Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland, and she dragged my tipsy butt home from bars in Edinburgh. She hiked with me through bogs in Connemara (and we complained the whole way through) and she indulged my unrequited crush on a German exchange student whose name I never knew. She was perfect, and when we returned from our time abroad, she meandered back to Oregon, and I landed in Salt Lake City.  Enter summer road trip to Oregon. 


I had never been to Eugene or Portland or Florence or Corvalis. All places she took me in a whirlwind tour. And while I remember playing basketball in the Portland moonlight as we waited for our dinner reservation and hiking up the Columbia River Gorge to see rainforests and waterfalls, I also remember our trip to some unnamed strip mall kiosk, where she said, "I think you'll like this." For, you see, I was an indefatigable tea drinker in Ireland. From morning to night, with or without milk and sugar, I could suck down a cuppa. And she presented to me my very first cup of chai. 

Remember: this was the mid-to-late 90s. The company Oregon Chai had been founded in 1991, but took three years to come up with its flavor profile. By 1997, masala chai could be found at every Northwest neighborhood coffee shop but had only offered its tendrils into the Wasatch Mountain Range market. We may thank (or curse, your choice) Starbucks for the introduction of this fabulous beverage to world-naive young adults. I was one of them. 

And so I ended up at some kiosk with my darling friend and she offered the drink, certain of my affinity for it without questioning. I was Alice in this Northwest wonderland, and she was saying, "Here drink this." And I did. 

And I was ruined.

Nowadays, I am particular about my Masala Chai. Not too sweet. Definitely heavy on the cardamom, please. (In fact, one of my favorite chais can be found at the Goodlife Cafe and Bakery in Mendocino (oh, that heady and floral note of cardamom!)). I prefer my chai hot in a good earthenware mug on a cold and rainy day, but I will take it even iced on a sweltering day if need be.  

But David Tanis taught me a little secret. It's so much better if you make it yourself. This recipe has all the expected flavors--cinnamon, cardamom, cloves. But it's the toasted quality that knocks this little drink well out of the realm of any kiosk, cornerstore, favorite coffee shop, or big chain bakery. This is the way to have chai. This is the made-to-order chai that I have been aching for ever since that fateful 1997 day. And I can make it in my own kitchen. 

And I am deeply indebted to this dear friend of mine. For chai is, indeed, a great pleasure of my life, especially on a perfectly rainy day.


Real Chai Made to Order

Adapted From David Tanis' One Good Dish

2 Servings

½ tsp fennel or anise seeds
4 green cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
½ tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups milk
1 Tbsp black tea leaves (Assam or Ceylon)
Sugar, brown sugar, or honey

1.  Lightly toast the fennel seeds, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, and bay leaf in a small dry pan over medium-high heat just until fragrant, about 1 minute.

2.  Crush the spices in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. Then transfer the spices t a stainless steel saucepan. Add the ginger and pour int he milk. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Add the the leaves. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and let steep for at least 5 minutes

3. Strain the chai into warmed cups and sweeten to taste.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Vanilla Citrus Marmalade (Liberally Adapted from Marisa McClellan's Three Citrus Marmalade)

I love a good challenge and the husband loves a good marmalade.  This is a match made in heaven.

Marisa McClellan from Food in Jars has set forth a Mastery Challenge, and I could not resist. Her intention? Get as many people as possible canning and preserving and get them feeling confident about it. And so, for the next year, she set forth this calendar:

  • January – Marmalade
  • February – Salt Preserving
  • March – Jelly
  • April – Quick Pickles
  • May – Cold Pack Preserving
  • June – Jam
  • July – Hot Pack Preserving
  • August – Low Temperature Pasteurization
  • September – Fruit Butter
  • October – Drying and Dehydration OR Pressure Canning
  • November – Fermentation
  • December – Fruit Pastes
Aren't you excited? I know I am.

While I am growing in confidence with fermentation, see here, I still feel like a novice in all other categories. And while I have been trying to up my canning game (see here, here, here, and here), I definitely could use some gentle direction, hand-holding, and from time to time some no-nonsense guidance.

McClellan posted recently a short primer, How to Make Small Batch Marmalade, which I somewhat ignored, and I instead turned to her wonderful book Food in Jars, which has not yet led me astray. She had a recipe for Three Citrus Marmalade, and I had a bowl full of citrus--grapefruit, navel oranges, lemons, clementines--and two vanilla beans burning holes in my pocket. So I dabbled and changed and played, and I came up with Vanilla Citrus Marmalade. 

People. People, are you listening? 

Go make this.

Before I wax on about the end product, let's walk through the (somewhat labor-intensive but totally worth it) steps.

1.)  Zest your citrus and cut it into strips (and squares and shards). Boil these up to make 'em tender and then drain (save the water).
2.)  Supreme your fruit.  This is the most time-consuming part of the process. You need to separate the fruit from the pith and membranes and seeds. I am going to admit, I did this for about half of the fruit. Then I gave up and juiced some of it. Don't tell. But I do recommend doing this while listening to the rain and to Ella Fitzgerald. It's a lovely way to spend a morning. 
3.)  Sterilize jars and lids. 
4.)  Cook and cook and cook and cook the zest with the fruit and juice and vanilla beans. And then cook a while longer. Get it to 220 degrees. This takes forever. But the moment it gets to 220 degrees, there is a noticeable change in texture and the smell turns caramel-y and rich. Don't stop at 215. Don't do it. You'll be tempted and you will not be rewarded. 
5.)  Fill and seal jars.  
6.) Consume. 

Close. But not quite there. Don't give up.

Try to give some away. But really, you're going to consume most of it. We both know it. And there is no judgment there. I have eaten some of mine with a spoon. Sure, McClellan speaks of using it with chicken to make a fast and "healthier" sweet and sour chicken. Sure, you could put it on an English muffin. But really, a spoon is fine.

Oops. Looks like we'll have to eat the one on the left immediately. What a shame.

What a wonderful way to spend a very rainy Sunday. And these little pots of marmalade are so sunshiny and bright. 

I gotta say that I love this marmalade. The vanilla deepens the taste, making it almost like caramel. The almost buttery and warm quality of the vanilla tempers the acidic citrus. With no dominant citrus flavor--I do like the tangerines, though!--this marmalade feels decadent and heady and rich.

Now to make myself give some away.


Vanilla Citrus Marmalade

Very Liberally Adapted Three Citrus Marmalade from Marisa McClellan's Food in Jars

3½ Pint Jars

4 pounds assorted citrus (I used lemons, tangerines, oranges, and grapefruit)
5½ cups granulated sugar
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped (seeds reserved)

1.  Wash and dry the fruit. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the fruit. Cut the zest strips into a confetti of varying sizes. Combine the zest in a pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce temperature to medium high and simmer for 30 minutes, until the zest is tender.

2.  While the zest cooks, cut the white pith away from the fruit and supreme the fruit (separate the fruit from the membranes). Collect the fruit and any juices in a large bowl and set the membranes and any seeds aside.

3.  When all the fruit has been broken down, bundle the reserved pith and seeds into a length of cheesecloth, tying the cloth well so that no seeds can escape.

4.  Drain the now-tender zest, reserving the cooking liquid.

5.  Prepare a boiling water bath and 4 regular-mouth 1-pint jars (see To Sterilize the Jars below). 

6.  In a large stainless steel or enameled cast iron pot, combine zest, citrus fruit, 4 cups of zest cooking liquid, 5½ cups of sugar, 2 vanilla bean pods, vanilla seeds and the cheesecloth bundle.

7.  Bring to a boil and cook vigorously until the mixture reaches 220 degrees (this takes between 30-60 minutes).

8.  When the marmalade reaches 220 degrees and sustains it for one minute, remove the pot from the heat. Stir for about a minute off the heat, to help the zest bits become evenly spread throughout the preserve. Remove the vanilla bean pods.

9.  Fill prepared jars (see To Seal the Jars), wipe rims, apply lids and screw rings. Lower into a prepared boiling water bath and process for five minutes at a gentle boil (do not start counting time until the pot has achieved a boil).

10.  When time is up, remove jars from the pot and let them cool completely. When they are cool to the touch, check the seals by pushing down on the top of the lid. Lack of movement means a good seal.

To Sterilize the Jars:
1.  If you're starting with brand new jars, remove the lids and rings; if you're using older jars, check the rims to ensure there are no chips or cracks.

2.  Put the lids in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring them to a simmer on the back of the stove.

3.  Using a canning rack, lower the jars into a large pot filled with enough water to cover the jars generously. Bring the water to a boil.

4.  While the water in the canning pot comes to a boil, prepare the marmalade (or whatever product you are making).

5.  When the recipe is complete, remove the jars from the canning pot (pouring the water back into the pot as you remove the jars).  Set them on a clean towel on the counter.  Remove the lids and set them on the clean towel.

To Seal the Jars:
1.  Carefully fill the jars with the marmalade (or any other product). Leave about ¼-inch headspace (the room between the surface of the product and the top of the jar).

2.  Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp paper towel.

3.  Apply the lids and screw the bands on the jars to hold the lids down during processing. Tighten the bands with the tips of  your fingers so that they are not overly tight.

4.  Carefully lower the filled jars into the canning pot and return the water to a boil.

5.  Once the water is at a rolling boil, start your timer. The length of processing time varies for each recipe; for the marmalade, cook for 10 minutes at a rolling boil.

6.  When the timer goes off, remove the jars from the water. Place them back on the towel-lined counter top, and allow them to cool. The jar lids should "ping" soon after they've been removed from the pot (the pinging is the sound of the vacuum seals forming by sucking the lid down).

7.  After the jars have cooled for 24 hours, you can remove the bands and check the seals by grasping the edges of the jar and lifting the jar about an inch or two off the countertop. The lid should hold in place.

8. Store the jars with good seals in a cool, dark place. And jars with bad seals can still be used, just do so within two weeks and with refrigeration.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Classic Frisée Salad (Salade Lyonnaise)

This one is a no brainer. Especially if you have vowed to eat healthy this winter.  (Yes, we're calling this healthy. It's salad. Go away.)

Let's face it, the combination of bacon and eggs is almost always the answer to life's questions. Cobb Salad, Spaghetti Carbonara, and (let's face it) Egg McMuffins. All divine. All bacon and eggs. Coincidence? Nope. But this one, at least, can claim to be a smidgen healthier than all of those. 

But if we follow the narrative that France brings us the best in (or at least the foundation of) the gastronomical world (a narrative espoused by many of my own culinary heroes, including Alice Waters), then we need turn only to Salade Lyonnaise, or a classic frisée salad with poached eggs and salty lardons. I say, let's follow that narrative. 

With its creamy, tangy, smoky, and umami-based flavors, this little salad(e) hits all the right spots. Let's break it down, shall we?

  • Egg--you have to have the perfect poached egg.  And it doesn't have to look perfect to be perfect. It just needs to have a good, runny yolk so it can coat the salad. The warmth of the yolk wilts the frisée just the tiniest bit and you get the extra little jolt of fat. Yes, please.
  • Lardons--It's bacon, my friends. Salty and smoky all rolled up into one. Where can one go wrong with bacon? Nowhere.
  • Croutons--put a little garlic on that bread. It's the only proper way.
  • Frisée (or curly endive)--a member of the chicory family,  frisée boasts a bitterness that can stand up to the assertive dressing and a crunch that can withstand the warm yolk. This is a strong little fellow.
  • Dressing--This is the most important part. The tanginess from the vinegar, the sharpness from the garlic, the unctuousness of the oil, the bite of the mustard. Yes. Yes. This is a way to dress any salad but the only way to dress a Salade Lyonnaise.

In the end, this recipe is blisteringly easy to make although with many a steps. But the hardest part is the poaching of the egg. And, I'll admit, my egg poaching is not enviable yet. I am still working on it. My egg whites go zooming all throughout the water, and I have to gather them back into each other. But once corralled, the eggs still taste as good as a more picturesque one. And the sum of these humble salad parts is most certainly worthy it. Especially if you can commandeer someone to tear up the frisée while you herd an egg white. 

Even if we both know I am kidding myself on the healthy part.


Classic Frisée Salad (Salade Lyonnaise)

Adapted From David Tanis' One Good Dish

4 salads

6 ounces thick-cut bacon sliced crosswise into ¼-inch-wide lardons
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
½ tsp grated garlic
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
4 eggs
4 handfuls frisée
12 thin slices baguette, lighted toasted and rubbed with a garlic clove

1. Simmer the bacon in a little water for about 5 minutes in order to cook off a little of the salt. Drain. In a small skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until lightly browned and crisp. Blot on a paper towel.

2.  Whisk together the mustard, vinegar, and garlic in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil and then season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

3.  Fill a shallow skillet two-thirds full with salted water and bring to a gentle simmer. Crack each egg individually into a small bowl and then carefully slip each one into the water. Poach the eggs for 3-4 minutes, until the whites have set but the yolks are still soft. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, and place on a paper-towel-lined plate. 

4.  Lightly salt the frisée and toss with the vinaigrette, coating it well. Divide the greens among 4 plates, place an egg in the center of each, and add 3 baguette toasts. Scatter the lardons over the salads, add ground black pepper, and serve.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Blueberry Multigrain Pancakes in The Snow Child // Cook Your Books

Here we go... entry #1.

In this  Cook Your Books series, I have chosen 15 books to read in 2017 based on somewhat arbitrarily chosen categories. My theory (bogus it might turn out to be) is that all 15 of these books will somehow connect to food. And I plan to write about that food. This first installment is a book inspired by a fairy tale. 

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is a dark treasure of a book. 

Set in a harsh 1920s Alaska this book tells the story of two forty-something Pennsylvanians (Mabel and Jack) who have chosen to homestead. They are not young pioneers ready to forge their ways in the rough and tumble world of Sarah Palin. Instead, they are world-weary adults who have come to a darkened Alaska Territory for some quiet. 

In a novel that lusciously describes snow, cold, darkness, and silence, Ivey writes a love letter to Alaska, to magic, to possibility. But also to independence, (dare I say) feminism, community, and communion. And I loved it.

And while I somewhat arbitrarily chose this for my first book in my Cook Your Books series, it could not have been more perfect, as food plays a central role in this novel inspired by a fairy tale. (I know you're going to think I planned this, but I really didn't. I, too, was surprised by just how much food there is in this book.)

In the Russian fairy tale "Snegurochka," or "The Snow Maiden" (upon which this book is based), a childless couple creates a snow child, complete with mittens and a hat. Miraculously the child comes to life (à la Frosty, but minus the old silk hat). However, she has some conditions in that old Russian tale, mostly involving the promises we make to those we are indebted. 

For you see, in that original tale, a fox leads the snow girl home to her newly adopted parents after she loses her way in the forest. The old man promises a fat hen as payment despite his own poverty; however, he puts his hunting dog in a sack, hands it off to the fox, and in no time at all the dog devours the fox. The ultimate in betrayals. The snow child, who seemed so wanted and loved and adored, was not worth the chicken to the couple. Yes, the chicken is everything earthly to an impoverished couple, but the fairy tale suggests there needs to be something more than the earthly or the tangible when it comes to paying off debts. Especially when those debts involve those we profess to love.

And so it goes in this book. Mabel, aware of this version of the fairy tale, even makes an offering of a chicken for a fox that trots about with Faina (our novel's snow child). It is the essential recognition that even when something reeks of "dark winter's madness," when someone brings you something precious, you return the favor with your own cherished offering. 

In the end, that's where food comes in here. The food seems to be made again and again as offering. From moose steaks with boiled potatoes (people, we were this close to having to find someone to sell us moose steaks for the blog) to a Thanksgiving turkey, from lynx (!) and dumplings (252) to "fire-grilled salmon, potato salad, and an extravagant white cake with white frosting and candied rose petals" (356) and homemade elderflower wine at a wedding--food is offered to one another with care and precision. There's cranberry relish (149), ptarmigan (31), hot tea and bread in a Dutch oven after showing someone what "home" means to you (249), and cold sandwiches in wax paper on a fishing trip (312). And there is roast black bear and rhubarb pie in summer (271) and cranberry cordials sipped between just two women (253). 

Contrast with that refined food with the bounty found on the land itself: "Eskimo potato root, blueberries, tender spruce tips, grayling, and salmon, grouse and rabbits, which she skinned and cleaned and dried in strips on racks by the shore of the Wolverine River, where the wind kept away the flies. Sometimes she smoldered a green alder fire beneath the racks to lightly smoke the meat" (359). All offering. (And are we ready to move to Alaska yet?)

See what I mean about the abundance of food in this book?

But the food that stuck with me the most was a simple basket of blueberries. When Faina is beginning her tentative steps toward a relationship with Jack and Mabel, she brings a handwoven birch bark and root basket the size of two cupped hands. The basket is "heaped" with blueberries, and Jack picks it up from the doorstep, slowly becoming aware of what this offering means: communion and community with this fantastic child. Mabel worries that the little girl will be too cold in the wilderness, but Jack explains, "I think she's warm. And she must know how to get food. Look at the berries, and that little basket. She knows her way out there, probably better than either of us" (85). She is an independent girl. She does not need to come indoors. But she gives an offering, which is properly accepted.

This moment clarifies the connection with someone who refuses the whole of the book to be separated from her truest self--one that is independent and self -sufficient and clear. Even to the very end of the book. This book is not just about the commitment to one another--and it is about that (from Jack and Mabel to each other and to Faina, but also the commitment that they make to their friends and their friends make to them, and also the commitment that they all make to Alaska, even when brutal Alaska doesn't seem so committed to them). No, this book is also about the commitment you make to yourself. 

Sure, sure, this could dip into sentimentality in less deft writers' hands. But not with Ivey. She reminds us that a fairy tale (and all sentimentality) has a dark possibility. But it also has a reminder of hope and community and connection--if only for a moment. Those blueberries are just a little glimpse at that reminder. 

This is a sad book. A heavy book. This has no Disney ending and there is deep concern for the grief and loss that Mabel and Jack have faced and face again at the end of the book. 

But Ivey dances through this sadness with a lightness, a sense of possibility. With lush descriptions of ice skating and falling snow and two people huddling together--sometimes beneath a pine tree in a blizzard and other times together as they look out the window past their own reflections to two figures playing in the snow. There is a glimmering beauty in the midst of loss.

I could not have chosen a better inaugural novel for this series. To be clear, besides the book based on food (come on, you and I both knew I was choosing that as a category), none of these books have been (or will be) chosen because I think that they'll explicitly connect with food. I just have a hunch that in general most literature will bring us back to food and in particular the literature that I gravitate towards has an almost preternatural disposition towards food. And this book did not disappoint, either in its connection to food or in its narrative.

And so, I am beginning my Cook Your Books series with a lovely book. It's time for blueberry pancakes, my friends. And there's no one better than Heidi Swanson, author of Super Natural Every Day, to ensure that when we make pancakes, we're making them with health and happiness in mind. We need to commit ourselves to one another and to our own selves more than ever this year. We need more cherished offerings to one another.

Come. Join me. 


Blueberry Multigrain Pancakes with Blueberry-Maple Compote

"When [Jack] brought an armload of wood inside, Mabel was cooking pancakes. She dotted a few of the wild blueberries in each one, and they ate them at the table, the small basket between them" (The Snow Child 84-5).

Very liberally adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day

Swanson does not put blueberries in her pancakes and her original compote is with blackberries rather than blueberries. But I wanted a pancake that wasn't made solely from wheat flour. And so here we are. And this is a good place to be, for these pancakes are worth making again and again, regardless of your fruit options.

For the Multigrain Pancakes 

24-26 silver-dollar pancakes or 12 large pancakes


1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup spelt flour
½ cup rye flour
1½ Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
scant ½ tsp salt
2 cups buttermilk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
⅓ (3 ounces) butter, melted and cooled a bit, plus more for the skillet
2 cups blueberries

1. Combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.

2. In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk the buttermilk and eggs together. Add the butter, and then whisk again.

3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and then stir until just combined. Gently add the 2 cups of blueberries until they are evenly distributed in the batter.

4.  Heat a griddle until medium-hot, and brush with a little bit of butter. 

5.  Pour the batter 2 Tablespoons at a time onto the griddle (you can make bigger ones if you pour ⅓ or ¼ cup at a time). Cook until the bottoms are golden and the tops have started to bubble. Use a spatula to flip the pancakes. Cook the other side until golden and cooked through. Repeat with remaining batter.

For the Blueberry-Maple Compote 

1½ cups


2 cups blueberries
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp fresh minced ginger, plus more if needed
1½ tsp fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
Pinch of salt

1. Combine the berries along with the maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Gently simmer for 5-8 minutes. 

2.  Stir in the ginger, lemon juice, and salt. Taste and adjust with more lemon or ginger, if needed.