Friday, October 31, 2008

Victor, Meet Spoils

The show is not up, but the hard part (painting the wall piece, building the frames for and framing the drawings) is done. I don't love hanging shows on the day of the opening, but that is often the way it works out happening. I missed out on the big town Halloween event, but it was worth it, and I ended up making dinner too- two whole days earlier than I thought would be possible.

It was super-simple, but oh so good. The first red meat I've had in two weeks, and the first wine also. You betcha, gosh darnit, also. And worth the wait. A fat top sirloin, rubbed with salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence, seared hard on both sides in a little butter and then covered, on low, for a couple of minutes more (there was no time to sous-vide it) and served atop our own potatoes steamed and mashed with whole local yogurt, olive oil, parsley, and truffle oil, plus a flourescent green mash of frisée and endive with lots of garlic, lemon, and more truffle oil. I drooled the pan drippings around the plate to finish it.

And the wine... I rummaged through the boxes I liberated from the cellar in Vermont, and happened upon a bottle of 2000 Château Giscours (two, actually.) So to celebrate, I opened one. And a humble yet refined meat and potatoes meal like this never cavorted so sportingly with vinous escort as did this one. I don't buy Bordeaux any more- my taste has moved on, and the stash will keep us in special occasion bottles for a good time to come- but for sheer grapey, cedary, boisterous steak-humping hedonism, nothing else delivers quite the same level of elegance and impact. This one has the lovely stony Margaux quality, and the tannins are soft but can clearly go for years more. Delicious. I got out the big glasses to amplify every nuance. It's a 3ème cru, but punching above its weight.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's Funny Cause It's True

The chuckwagon is off the rails until after the show opens, so for your further edifitainment I offer another little dollop of the funny...

...and another entreaty to give all you can to deliver unto President Obama a place to stand, and a congress that will be a lever long enough to move the world.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

November 4th: Black Eye For The White Guy

One week to go... if you haven't donated yet, or recently, remember that besides Obama there are many downticket races across the country where the margins will be tight and the results will make the difference between mere defeat and an abject, total humiliation and repudiation of the policies, politics, and abuses of the last 8 years. This site has excellent information about these races.

Let's leave the Republican party broke, discredited, and evermore the party of ignorant, hateful God-bothering bigots, doomed to screech from the sidelines while the grownups actually get some work done. C'mon! It'll be fun, mkay? And watch this video; it's brilliant, and hysterical.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Driving

I've been keeping it pretty clean lately, taking a break from red meat, alcohol and other things as required by my occasional shamanic tune-ups. Some of the limitations- especially on soy and all fermented things- make cooking interesting food a challenge. The key has been to go the small-plates route, and let variety compensate for the quieter flavors. And I LOVE multi-course meals. Love them.

First up, the finally-ready duck prosciutto, with perfectly ripe local pears. I trimmed the fat, so it didn't take months to dry like the last batch, and tweaked the cure a little to make it a tad spicier. It's insane. The texture, saltiness, depth of flavor- it's the best yet. Earlier today we gave a few slices to some friends who stopped by and they got really quiet for a few minutes, and then kept looking at the empty plate suggestively.

Next, we had made some teff in the rice cooker last night, and then forgot about it, so I popped out the solidified disc (it sets up just like polenta) and stamped little circles out of it with a cookie cutter then crisped them up in oil. I had a bunch of red, black, and rose-heart daikon radish greens (the radishes are going in the next batch of kimchi) so I cooked them in a little chicken broth with mustard and fenugreek seeds and then puréed and strained them. I caramelized shiitake with garlic and deglazed with more of the chicken broth. They made for nice little layered dishes with good flavor and texture contrasts. Aren't the radishes pretty? And the way the green sauce is the same color? I totally meant to do that.

Last, adzuki beans cooked slowly with herbs, garlic, beet greens (which are deep red) and tomato paste. I roasted the beets and sliced them with oil and lemon juice for a little side dish, and made a salad of galia endive as well. This approach to eating always leaves me more perfectly full than the one big plate kind of meal, though it dirties the holy hell out of the kitchen. So it kind of evens out, I guess. This coming week is going to be very busy for me; I'm installing a show that includes a large wall piece, so I'll be in the gallery all week painting. If I make anything other than one-pot wonders or pre-fab copouts I will post them. But otherwise, after the opening we've got some eating (and drinking, again, finally) to do. See you then.

Friday, October 24, 2008

New Plates

I just picked these up today, though they got fired last week. I had a hard time deciding how to glaze them; there's a big tension between my desire to play with colors and patterns and my desire to have simple dishes that allow the food to shine. This batch is sort of an attempt to split the difference. Some I love, some not so much, but they all inspire me to keep pushing ahead with the ceramics side-project- and there are a couple of designs that I definitely need to make more of.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

First Drafts

I went to buy some fish, since I had scallops on the brain, but they had some good ahi, so I got both. The challenge then became how to turn four scallops and a smallish tuna steak into enough dinner for all three of us. I had intended to tea-smoke the scallops in the wok, but when I was ripping out the frost-ravaged basil stalks in the garden, I realized how aromatic they still were despite being completely brown. So I smoked the scallops over dead lime basil stems and flowers for a couple of minutes, or just long enough to completely fill the house with smoke (our hood sucks as badly as our stove.)

I juiced some carrots and red pepper (our nightshades are kaput as well) and reduced the juice with saffron and black pepper. Sautéed diced red pepper, added back in, gave the sauce a nice textural component. I seared the scallops quickly and garnished them with the foam from the juicer plus some chervil and paprika. They did the smoky-sweet-earthy thing really well; I was shooting for the essence of paella, and got pretty close. To really get there, I would add a little shrimp broth to the juice, and sear the scallops in chorizo oil.

For the tuna, I was trying for essence of salade Niçoise, but I took more liberties. We were out of eggs, so that part went away. The other problem was that the idea arrived late, after I had already started cooking. In place of potatoes, I steamed red and black radishes and a chioggia beet, then puréed them with the grain/nut/mushroom broth from the other night, plus black olives and tomato paste. I wilted chard and sorrel with garlic and lemon, and dressed some frisée with oil and lemon. The tuna just got a sear with salt and pepper. As with the first dish, next time I do this it will be a winner; this one tasted good, but now I know exactly how to make it perfect. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Pendulum Swings

After the decadence of the steak frites, we were in the mood for something cleaner. I had a bunch of ideas swirling around, so I got to work and let them take shape around the ingredients at hand. To begin, I wanted to make a simple broth to warm us up at the end of a raw fall day. So I simmered some soba-cha, dried shiitake, and toasted walnuts in water for about an hour. Strained, and with a drip of soy sauce and a garnish of chives and truffle oil, it tasted not a little like beef tea, which is what I was shooting for.

There were mashed sweet potatoes left over from the shepherd's pies from last week, so I turned them into gnocchi with a little flour and an egg yolk. I sliced and apple, and sautéed it gently with sage leaves, then browned the gnocchi in the same pan. I crumbled the leaves over the plates, and hit them with a little maldon salt. I've made this before, in different versions- boiled first, sautéed in duck fat instead of olive oil- and it's always a winner this time of year. Last year I paired it with duck confit, cranberry-wine reduction, and nettle purée for the "main" course in our insane 11-course Thanksgiving dinner. It's quick, easy, filling, and delicious.

Next, I cooked some beets sous-vide at 83˚ C for a couple of hours- that's the magic temp for vegetables, giving them the perfect al dente texture and rich flavor. I served them like sushi on brown rice, with a soy-balsamic sauce and lemon thyme. And to follow, kidney beans that I pressure-cooked with onion, garlic, herbs, tomato paste, spices, and their soaking water. I forgot to take a picture. I do love multi-course meals- even though they tend to dirty a lot more pots- because the variety eliminates fatigue with the same flavors, and I find that I end up feeling more satisfied with less food.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fire On The Mountain

We went to Vermont for one night, which wasn't enough, but will have to do for the time being. Driving up we got to experience the steepening gradient from still-luminescent foliage in our area to the more austere landscape that latitude and altitude combine to bestow upon the Green Mountains at this time of year. The bases of most mountains still had some color, but it faded up to the browns, greys, and dark greens of bare branches, rocks, and conifers, all of which were overlayed with the purples and oranges of the late afternoon sun. It's the kind of sight, especially with a sharp edge to the breeze and the shade, that makes one want to light a fire and tuck into some serious comfort food.

After a stop at a good farm stand, and a local market that has good meat, we were well-equipped to do just that. I cut russet potatoes into fries, and set some broccoli to steam. The fries, cooked in two batches twice each, were pretty insane; I had to use a few different oils since I had forgotten to buy any. So I combined canola, hazelnut, and olive, and cooked each batch a little differently, so half were super-crunchy and the other half were still meltingly tender in the middle.

Christine had the idea to caramelize onions as a garnish for the steak, so we did, and then seared up a couple of lovely ribeyes in the same pan with a little added butter. I deglazed it with a little soy sauce and balsamic vinegar and poured that over the meat and onions. Drool. Now normally I would use a splash of red wine for the sauce, but I was not going to part with even a drop of the 1999 Lisini Brunello that I pulled out of the basement; the 99s are gorgeous right now, and I put all the rest (along with other treats) into the car to help get us through the cold months ahead.

Friday, October 17, 2008

No Curry For Old Men

Lousy with leftovers, and more than annoyed that I couldn't take a walk this afternoon- it was another perfect fall day, with an impossible cerulean sky making all the crimson, yellow, and vermillion leaves pop like mad- I cobbled together a two-course fake Indian meal that ended up better than I expected and used up most of the various remnants in the fridge. Besides soup, which is clearly the best leftover vehicle there is, I'm a big fan of frittery things as the new bodies in which to reincarnate past meals. We had lentils that I made for lunch the other day, some of the mustard/kabocha ravioli filling from the TNS post, and a bit of the celeriac/butternut soup from yesterday. I took the lentils and ravioli filling and mashed it all together with an egg yolk, various spices, and a little flour, then formed the paste into little patties and rolled them in panko. Meanwhile, I heated the soup with a few cardamom seeds, 5-spice, and yellow curry, until it thickened, then strained it to get that luxe velvet texture. And that was it: a fritter with soup sauce and a little of the peach-habañero chutney we canned the other week.

Then, some wild Alaskan salmon cooked gently with zucchini from the Plant That Will Not Die, shredded collards, tomato paste, more various spices, and minced lemon peel, then baked as little shepherd's pies with mashed sweet potatoes on top. And more panko. Because when I remembered that I had some, I pulled it out, and now it's going on everything. Milo dug the appetizer, but this got him into one of those eating zones where he just focuses on putting it away. He ate two. I would have so loved to pop a Riesling for this, but the only one I have on hand is a 1990, which is too special. Plus, I have to get up early tomorrow.

Whackity Smackity Doo!

I did another guest post over at TNS last night, so go there if you haven't been yet. For the sake of some content over here, and because Zoomie asked nicely (and gave me my first and only blog award a while ago) I'm putting up a shot of the sunflower labyrinth that I did at a sculpture park in upstate NY this summer. It's 82 feet in diameter, so if you draw a square around it that's just a little outside the circle, the square would enclose a quarter acre. This shot was taken in late August, when most of the flowers were between 6 and 7 feet high. There were morning glories, too, climbing the sunflowers, but I planted them a little late in order to give the sunflowers a head start, so the vines didn't get quite as big as I had hoped.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I finally got around to turning the chicken carcass from Sunday into broth, and turned half the broth into risotto. The other half I froze. We got a call from Sirkka, so we invited them over for dinner since Chris just left for another tour. And risotto is nothing if not scalable. To begin, since Milo was hungry and it was going to take me a while to get everything ready, I tried a recent snacketizer idea: smoked duck fat/maple syrup/togarashi popcorn. Win. Smoky, sweet, a little hot- it's the cracktacular bar snack you've been waiting your whole life for.

For the risotto, I baked half a butternut squash until it was good and soft, and cut half of the other half into small (1 cm) cubes. This particular squash was a volunteer from the place we get our manure for the garden; last time I was there, I got a car full of cowshit AND a complementary squash. Country life suits me. Here's the view from our front door, to underscore the pleasure of this place right now:

I also crisped the squash seeds up in a pan with a little more of the smoked fat for good measure, then salted them. After softening the soffrito, I added the cubed squash and began ladling broth. The squash and rice both got to al dente at the same time (hence the careful cube size) and I stirred in the roasted squash mashed with a little yogurt, truffle oil, and parsley to finish. It made for a nice squashy bite, with good depth of flavor and gently contrasting textures.

I also tried to make a terrine of some leftover roast chicken meat that they brought over by cooking it in some pork stock, adding chopped garlic-stuffed green olives, a dab of peach-basil jam from our last guests, and herbs, then packing it into a terrine and quick-chilling it in an ice bath in the fridge. The flavor was excellent, but it didn't have quite enough time to gel properly; it unmolded all right, but did not slice very obediently. It was particularly good with the salad and some mustard, though we lacked crusty bread. It is most definitely rillettes season, and I'm going to get on that toute de suite.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Moonlightin' Like I'm Al Wilson

I just put up a post over at Thursday Night Smackdown; Michelle, the proprietor, is out of commission for a bit so some of her blogger pals are filling in. It's fun to try to assume someone else's voice- especially when that voice is very funny and even more profane. Go check it out.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Long Weekend

There was much food, drink, and merriment- we had two couples come stay with us for the weekend as we all attended Debi and John's wedding. The weather was perfect, perfect, perfect, and everything unfolded at a tranquil pace that made for lots of refined hedonism and good time with good people.

Only one of the four- Andrew- was with us for dinner on Friday, after a not-so-successful mushroom-hunting walk; it's been really dry here and not much is up right now. I got some organic ribeyes and cooked them sous-vide for about an hour at 52˚ C while I made a bunch of complementary sides out of the garden's still-opulent bounty. These included: fingerling potatoes sautéed gently in duck fat, more green mash (this time of radicchio, endive, and sorrel) grated raw black radish, celery root purée with yogurt and truffle oil, and wilted radish greens with garlic. We enjoyed the hell out of a 1998 Tignanello, which further strengthens my conviction that Italian wines- especially the Super-Tuscans- taste the way California wines wish they could. As we tucked in, Milo said "Dad, you forgot to take a picture of the dinner."

The next day was the wedding, so we primped and prepared and piled in the car. It was a beautiful ceremony outside on a hill, followed by lunch and dancing. John did not sit in with the band, which is a pity, but he had promised Debi that he wouldn't. He played our wedding, though, and that's what matters. I didn't take a picture of Gerard's fabulous catering, distracted as I was by Milo dancing like a mad monkey to the badass sounds of (Grammy™-nominated) Sex Mob featuring Dave Tronzo and DJ logic, but I did get this plate's-eye view of Logic and Swami Bruce (Bruce owns the Temple where the wedding took place, and officiated.)

Then, on Sunday, a fabulous brunch at Liz's house, for which I cured a Sockeye salmon (courtesy of Gerard) into gravlax using salt, sugar, 7-spice, lime zest, and fennel seeds. Process shots follow:

The fillets.

After 24 hours on the cure, I flipped them over.

After another 24.

The finished product, sliced and served with fennel, dill, chervil, and lemon.

And then, after all our guests headed back to Boston, I made a simple roast chicken with rosemary-garlic red potatoes, green mash, steamed broccoli, and lemon-herb gravy. All
in all, the ideal way to spend a glorious Fall weekend.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Close Enough For Jazz

I joined the local mycological society in the spring, but they evidently had some staff shake-up and never contacted me due to lack of organization. Since I was hardly around this summer, it's probably no great loss. But next year I hope to go on some of the walks. And a mycologist friend of ours is coming for the weekend, so with any luck we can go hunting. In the meantime, one of our local stores sells wild-foraged mushrooms from the local woods.

Christine got some maitake there, and some salmon, so I made a quick dinner that was gloriously autumnal in color and flavor. A huge sweet potato got peeled, steamed, and mashed, and I turned some frisée into a flourescent green mash. The mushrooms, which had a fair amount of dirt in their nooks and crannies, needed to be chopped fine as a result of all the dirt-removal surgery. I sautéed them with a little guanciale, garlic, and parsley. I baked the salmon dusted with salt, 5-spice, pepper, dried sudachi zest, garlic, and ginger. And that was it; in a perfect world I would have made a little more of the sumac sauce, or a little red wine-soy reduction, but as it was pretty great even without it. Green mash is as much of a condiment as most meals need- especially those centered around a piece of animal.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Fast, Cheap, And Out Of Control

I finally got to spend some quality time in the studio, and finished a drawing. This is important because I have a show coming up in 3 weeks, and I've lost a lot of time. I knocked off early enough to make another beautiful jar of sambal, cure the sockeye salmon for Sunday, and bust out some more peasant food for dinner.

In keeping with the ultra-local theme of late, everything in this dinner was ours or from nearby (minus the standard exemptions.) I dug some red potatoes and steamed slices until just tender. I browned guanciale with onion and garlic, and layered potatoes with the soffrito in the iron skillet, then poured in 8 eggs beaten with thyme and rosemary. Fixed on the stove, and finished in the oven, it perfumed the entire house. While it was baking, I steamed sliced black radishes then tossed them with olive oil and rice vinegar, and washed and spun a salad.

I'm not usually a big fan of eggs for dinner, and this meal was honestly better suited to a Summer lunch- but I made it because I could; with eggs in the fridge, everything else was ours, and I didn't have to go to the store. And it worked out fine, and tasted good. But I've got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane, and with any luck I will find time in the coming days to work on some of these more interesting combinations. And make bread.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Yes We Can

Funny how my prediction came true and today was completely- and I mean all the way- devoted to dealing with Fruit Mountain. 18 quarts of applesauce (ingredients: apples) and 21 pints of wicked hot spicy peach-habañero chutney that also included lime basil, red onion, and cider vinegar that I infused with cinnamon, pepper (pink & black,) cardamom, star anise, bay, fenugreek, and mustard seeds. I also added some honey to balance the vinegar and let the peaches be all peachy-like.

I could write a bunch of breathless paragraphs about how primal and satisfying it is to put fruit up, and funny lines about how peeling 200 peaches (even with a little blanch) is roughly as enjoyable as removing my own upper lip with a wire brush, or wax eloquent about the healthy purity of the applesauce and the kick-ass multi-purposeness of the chutney. But I won't. Because I am TIRED. So tired that I ordered dinner from the vegan place in town (which is a 2-minute walk from here, and our best takeout option by far.) And I popped another Bret Bos. Pouilly-Fuissé to elevate the perfectly decent food to a richer gustatory stratum. And it was good.

I will say that we now have a winter's worth of pleasure stored up, and all this fatigue and grouchiness will soon be replaced by months of pleasure as we steadily open little jars of sunshine. And you should see the kid put away this applesauce. I'm also going to post a picture of the grape jelly canning from mid-September, because it's very purple and drippy, and the smell might be the single most evocative food smell in the world for me (given that I'm from Concord, MA, and this was what we did every year.) Because I was away, I waited longer than I otherwise would have to pick and can the grapes; as a result, they were super-ripe and needed almost no sweetener- just a gloop of agave syrup.

After dinner, John dropped off a salmon, courtesy of Gerard, that I'm going to cure into gravlax tomorrow for the Sunday brunch following his Saturday wedding. And I have to make nasturtium butter for that too. And sambal for us, before the peppers freeze. And dinner. It's getting ridiculous.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Reality Check

Christine finally caught The Cold, so Milo and I let her sleep and went apple picking. It was another perfect, crystalline Fall day where the impending doom of Winter sharpens our appreciation of the bounty that still surrounds us- and makes us load a metric ton of fruit into the back of the car. And then we get home and realize that we have to do something, sharpish, with said fruit or it will rot, and tomorrow is Monday, after all, and rhapsodically bittersweet autumnal romanticism combined with the inherited obsession for stockpiling massive amounts of produce have once again collided with the realities of life in a most unfortunate way. I left it all in the car for the night, and so it's looking like tomorrow will not be the studio day I have been waiting a week to jump into, but instead a day of applesauce, peach chutney, nasturtium-sorrel pesto, and sambal. Unless I put it off again. Damn. It's a good thing the plums were finished, or hoisin would be on the list too.

also, there were cider donuts.

Upon return, I needed to find the sweet spot between sick, unhungry wife and ravenous menfolk back from the hunting and the gathering. Two courses did the job, with a minimum of effort: miso soup and fried rice. The soup was straightforward dashi and miso (added after the broth was strained and taken off the heat to keep all those beneficial microbes from boiling alive) with cubes of tofu and scallion. I used a mix of red and white miso, because there wasn't enough white left. It looked particularly fetching in my best effort thusfar at wheel-throwing (which isn't saying much.)

Soup really is good food. Who knew?

The rice, as with last night's dinner, was perfectly mundane to look at, but tasted great; instead of lardo, I used the Asian-flavored guanciale that's been hanging for about a month so it's approaching ideal doneness. When I cured the four jowls, I put three in the traditional cure of salt, sugar, herbs, pepper, and garlic, but the fourth one got salt, more sugar, 5- and 7-spice, cardamom, ginger, and pink pepper. It's crazy good. The leftover brown rice used the guanciale, garlic, ginger, scallion, dried shrimp, egg, radish, kale, chard, sorrel, piquin pepper, tamari, rice vinegar, nam pla, and sesame oil. Again, the happy marriage of leftovers, garden, and a little artisanal pork made for a superbly enjoyable- if not at all photogenic- bowl of food.

 tasted good, anyway.

I popped a 2006 Max Ferdinand Richter Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett that proved, unsurprisingly, to be the papaya drink to this dinner's hot dog; since I went heavy on the homemade hot sauce and kimchi, the somewhat sweet, subtropical perfume of the wine set off the hot, slightly oily rice to excellent effect. To close, gratuitous cute-kid-climbing-the-hydrangea pictures, to distract you from the fact that this post may be somewhat less compelling than other recent efforts. Too bad I don't have five kids with weird names and haven't lowered your expectations; you'd think I was a genius right now.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Livin' La Vita Povera

Because of my still-new life as a hick, but also in part because of the economic high colonic we're all involuntarily undergoing at the hands of some creepy old unelected super-rich white dudes (who aren't even wearing rubber gloves) I've been fixated somewhat lately on wringing tear-inducing depth of flavor from the humblest of ingredients. Partly it's due to my nature; I've always preferred Italian cooking to French. The core difference as I see it- and having lived in both countries I am satisfied that this view is reality-based (unlike those of my new love, and taking as historical fact that the Italians taught the French to cook) is that French food is aristocratic; it requires someone spending all damn day turning a veal calf into a few cups of demi-glace as a sine qua non, while Italian food is at heart peasant food that can be made from scraps and leftovers, in short order, with the natural offerings of the simplest subsistence farm or garden.

In France, they will tend to take an artichoke or a fish and turn it into something utterly other than itself, while in Italy they will make that artichoke or fish be the most sublime and delicious artichoke and/or fish that it ever could have hoped to be, using only a few easily sourced ingredients and a minimum of fuss. Also, I find that especially in the more traditional French food, bacon, butter, and cream are more or less essential; while I enjoy those three things plenty, it is perforce in moderation. I also stipulate that the Sunday Times would be downright palatable with the proper application of those three ingredients. They are crutches. The trick is to get things to taste complete without bathing them all in those gorgeous fats.

Now I realize that this distinction is self-evident, and originated when the Pope first absconded to Avignon, and I am absolutely grateful that I have both traditions to draw on- as well as the hundreds of others around the world- in my own kitchen every day. But from the point of view of someone who doesn't usually spend all day making dinner (although I do spend most nights wishing I could) I find that the humbler traditions are more directly useful. And when you go deep into local ingredients, specifically your garden and your own cured meat, it is possible to attain the absolute pinnacle of culinary excellence without using copious cholesterol, servants, or exotic ingredients from the remotest corners of the world.

To wit: this dinner. To a cursory glance, it's a plate of pasta. Admittedly, though, it's really cool wheel-shaped pasta, and if you were honest with yourself you would wish that you had these bitchin' wheels in your pantry right now instead of the mini-van pasta that you currently own. The thing about this plate of pasta is that it took me six months to make it taste as good as it tasted this evening. And I bought the wheels today.

Last Spring, like millions of gardeners, I started lots of seeds indoors long before the growing season began. Among them were plum tomatoes and basil. Around the same time, I bought something like ten pounds of fatback with the skin still on from our beloved grass-fed, organic butcher. (His meat is, too.) I cut it in strips and cured it for three months on a mix of salt and herbs, then hung it to dry. The resulting lardo is intensely flavored, creamy, rich, and a little bit goes a long way; like the guanciale, a teaspoon tossed in a pan and rendered at the beginning of a sauce, soup, or pot of beans imparts the most amazing depth of flavor to the resulting dish.

The sauce for this bad-ass wheely pasta that you're now starting to really really wish you picked up on your way home today was nothing more than one broken-up organic hamburger patty left over from a recent phone-it-in-because-I'm-sick dinner plus minced lardo, garlic, dried hot pepper, herbs (dried herbes de Provence from the now triffid-infested Herb Jungle™ and a jar of the tomato sauce we canned a few weeks ago (made mostly out of those tomatoes and basil) simmered down until thick and wheel-coating. Apart from the beef, oil, salt, and black pepper, we grew (or cured) every damn thing in this dish I think. Oh, and the hot wheels. They're Italian. You know, like a Ferrari. I also picked a salad of lettuces, sylvetta arugula, and herbs (dill, chervil, and parsley) that was possibly the best salad I've ever eaten. The recent weather (wet) plus the late season has made our salad greens very happy. It was crisp, creamy, sweet with a bitter edge, and astonishing in its comfort-food richness. This was just a plate of leaves, after all, with nothing but a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

I finished the pasta like almost always with fresh minced parsley. I have to say that we were kind of speechless as we ate it. You can see in the picture that there was just enough sauce to barely coat the alloy rims you SO wish you had bespoked starch. And yet the flavor, the archetypal pleasure and satisfaction buttons that this pushed deep in our brains was such that I had an actual epiphany: that right now, in 2008, after 6 months of careful manual labor, I had managed to recreate something that people have taken for granted for centuries, and from which the touchstones of our taste originate. I had to go out of my way to make this dish possible. We are not smarter or better at our jobs or lives than people who lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago. It's good to remember that, however depressing it might be- especially given that we've just taken a third mortgage out on the next generation.

Friday, October 03, 2008

That Stripper- I Mean Hahkey Mahm- Really Liked Me!

Until last night, I was an avowed Obama voter. I felt passionately that the amoral cabal currently in power are the worst thing ever to happen to this country, and that they have truly pried open the gates of hell, lubed the tracks, and cut the brake lines in order to get us there as fast as possible, all the while pillaging the astonishing wealth of this nation so that their corrupt, greedy comrades can gorge ever more voraciously on our childrens' very future. I knew in my heart that the fear, hate, lies, torture, and murder that they have wrought upon this Earth have earned them the kind of eternal torments that they and their supporters fervently believe await those of us who believe differently than they do.

But then Sarah Palin winked at me. Winked. At ME. And in that moment (many moments, actually, plus she also wrinkled her nose in that adorable way she has) I realized that she likes me. She's into me. She wants me. Badly. So I'm voting for McCain. Because when he dies- and he will, either on account of he's decrepit, or she'll poison him- then she and I will rule the world together, along with our children Brick, Stud, Buick, Cretin, and Popover. And we'll show you all that jobs creation really is the what the bailout is about so that working families who you know share the values which we all share, especially the values like working families care that this economy which is certainly uncertainty and the American people have concerns like I do about all of these issues of course, and the other issues as well like where's that goddamn knitting needle so I can stab myself in the brain.

But in the meantime, I figured I should feed my first wife and current child, so I pulled some duck out of the fridge. Yesterday, returning from the duck-procurement run, I pulled over outside of town and grabbed three sumac bobs off a small tree and tossed them in the car along with a few walnuts that were on the ground nearby. I didn't get to the walnuts, but the drupe-a-licious panicles (Heather just got damp) set my mind a-whirling with possibilities. A-whirling, I tell you. I'm always annoyed that citrus has to travel from so far away, no matter what the season, and we don't have a giant greenhouse to grow our own. Sumac has lots of vitamin C, and a strong acidity that's almost citrusy, and yet it's considered a weed, growing by roads and parking lots and ignored by pretty much everybody. I remember when I was a kid we used to make sumac tea by infusing the fruit in jars of water in the sun and then adding honey, so I used that tea as a jumping-off point to make reduction sauce for the duck.

I stripped as much of the fruit off the sharp little branches as I easily could, and threw it all in the blender with about a quart of water. After a 30-second blast, I put the jug in the fridge overnight. Today the liquid was a deep garnet and had that lovely tangy taste. I strained it into a small pot and added a few pink peppercorns, a pinch of 5-spice, a pinch of 7-spice, a generous glug of maple syrup, and a spoonful of the plum "sauce" from last fall (actually a barely-sweetened jam that didn't jell properly, but turned out to be a genius duck and pork sauce.) I reduced it to a glaze.

I also roasted one of our kabocha squash, and in a bit of the rendered duck fat sautéed our last three little zucchini from the one plant that managed to survive the powdery mildew plague that put a big hurt on our cucurbit bed after a long wet spell in August. And I pulled up a leek and made crispy leeks in the duck fat because leeks crisped in duck fat. It all came together well, and the über-local sumac sauce was a hit. I will definitely be picking more throughout the winter. Ice cream might be next. We drank a 2005 Joguet Chinon "cuvée terroir" which has a fantastically compelling nose that wrinkles flirtatiously, but is kind of tight in the mouth, like it's frowning a little as it flips through a stack of index cards for an unused talking point.

PS When McCain dies, he'll be thinking of my darling Sarah, saying "I totally coulda hit that, if only Cindy hadn't cock-blocked me every step of the way; didn't she know I was a POW?"

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Food As Medicine Part 2

It's been raining for days now, but when the sun breaks through the smell of wet leaves on the crisp breeze is as pungent a memory tonic as I know of; it transports me back to myriad times during my childhood and burnishes an inexpressible longing for the wide-open joy and freedom of that period. Fall has always been my favorite season, and that feeling only grows each year. All of this nostalgia has been reinforced by watching Milo get to live these days in that way, and it got an extra boost this weekend since he was sick; to keep him entertained I dug deep into my long-dormant (yet still mad) lego skillz. He got some good new sets for his birthday, so we were well-equipped to make lots of cool vehicles.

Feeling mostly better yesterday, and with the weather having moderated somewhat, I made the kind of food that brings me back to life at its most profound and fundamental. While I love to get all fancy given the time or occasion, for day-to-day purposes I think it's all about giving high-quality humble ingredients the reverence they need to become delicious. And at the tail end of a cold, keeping it clean is the best way to go, notwithstanding any cravings for junky comfort food.

I spent a big part of the afternoon picking, washing, chopping, blanching, vacuum-sealing, and freezing about 8 quarts of mirepoix for use during the winter. I did this last year, and it was such a treat to toss some in a pan on a cold winter day (along with a little guanciale) to get a soup or stew going and have that beautiful smell waft up out of the pan. My custom mix includes fennel and leek along with the usual carrot, onion, and celery; I like the extra dimensions and depth they give. And since our guanciale is almost ready, the timing is perfect.

To celebrate, and reward myself for an uncomfortable few hours standing in the kitchen, I sliced some guanciale, rendered it a little in the pressure cooker, and added a hefty dump of mirepoix. Then a little wine, water, and some soaked heirloom lima beans, and the cover clamped on. While it was doing its thing, I made green mash with thinnings from the pan di zucchero in the garden (read about mash here) and steamed some sweet potatoes. I had put some of our big fat beets in the oven to roast (skin on, quartered, with salt and olive oil, wrapped in foil) so when they were done I rubbed the skin off, sliced them, and tossed them with balsamic vinegar, more oil, and pepper. I put everything on top of some steamed corn tortillas, quasi-Ethiopian style. The guanciale has such a strong presence- those few thin slices perfumed a big pot of beans with their exquisitely funky porkitude- and the two sweet vegetables offered wonderfully varying counterweight to the bitter mash.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Food As Medicine Part 1

Christine went out to get a chicken, and I mustered enough strength to convert it into soup. This is a two-stage process, because I always like to make a good broth and then strain and tinker with it more depending on what it's going to end up as. In this case, the chicken simmered with onion, carrot, celery, and parsley for a couple of hours. I reserved the "broth carrots" as Milo likes to call them (they're his favorite) threw the rest of the vegetables in the compost, and put the chicken aside to cool.

To the strained broth I added a smashed thumb of ginger and a bunch of smashed garlic cloves and let it simmer more. I pulled the meat off the legs and shredded it. In a separate pot, I blanched some kale, then dumped a bundle of soba in to cook. Noodles, done, went in bowls, broth followed, and then chicken and kale. With a little soy sauce and copious homemade sambal we had us some industrial strength cold medicine. And it was delicious.