Man, has it been nice here. Sunny, well into the 50s, and simply pummeling winter's stiffening corpse into oblivion. I got a full bed of early, salady things planted, raked, pruned, hacked, and generally kept my heart rate up doing myriad useful things. Yards of primo compost are on the way, with fruit-bearing plants to follow soon behind. Now I know that climate change isn't real, because braying jackasses like Sean Hannity have pointed out that it actually snowed during the winter, but nonetheless we comfortably had dinner outside on March 10. When winter is actually three months long it's pretty enjoyable. As long as it doesn't rain again all summer I think we're in for a good year. We have some friends not 5 miles West of us who still have lots of snow on the ground, but we're down to a few dirty piles where the big banks used to be. Bulbs are erupting. It smells different.
So once I decided that we'd be eating outside, my thoughts quickly turned to the shichirin we haven't used all winter. I considered it a couple of times, but it seemed like too much trouble, and besides it's a bit tall for use on the table. But on the ground outside, with cushions? Perfect. I marinated some quail in miso, sake, honey, and ume vinegar while the fire got going, and added shredded fennel to the carrot-daikon dish I made on burger night (previous post) and woke it up a bit with salt, pepper, mustard oil, and ume vinegar. And, also like burger night (which was last week, actually) I sautéed some pak choi.
Where things got interesting was with the garnish. There were some kumquats in the fridge, left from the marmalade I made for some duck, and I knew we were grilling, so I poked around for something that would work with them, settling on a jar of (very good) mango chutney. It's pretty thick, and not without chunks, so in the interest of getting it easily into the painstakingly hollowed out kumquats, I thought to thin it with some local absinthe. It seemed like they might do fun things together flavor-wise, and probably work with the fennel in the salad.
Once the shichirin gets hot, things cook extremely fast. Since we were outside, I just used regular hardwood charcoal; the smokeless binchotan stuff is pricey so I saved it for inside use. The clay of the stove heats up to a glowing orange, radiating tremendous heat up at the food. These little birds were done in about three minutes.
We made little nests of garlic chives–the only wild edibles growing so far–for the kumquats, and there was brown rice as well as the greens and salad. The kumquats were even better than I suspected they would be; it's a wonderful combination, and grilling them adds even more. Milo was dubious, so he grilled a couple whole, with no chutney. Once he tasted these, though, he asked if he could eat all of them.
For dessert, we tossed apple slices in honey, cinnamon, and local pear brandy, then grilled them to make use of the still-hot fire. It's going to rain for a few days coming up, but that's good; it will give everything the juice it needs to explode upward and get this vernal party started.