Tuesday, June 29, 2010


The garden expansion is not 100% done yet, but it's close enough to photograph. All of the light-colored beds (along the back and right sides) are new, and the metal fence posts show where I expanded outwards in two directions. There's a new 4x12' bed hidden behind the hydrangea in the near right corner, bringing the total to 20 beds (Milo gets a 3x6' spot for himself, to plant, weed, and tend on his own). Another one (4x9') is planted to scorzonera and salsify, which John wanted since he has no garden and they're not easily found in stores. The others I've begun to seed with various things, though for most of them I'm going to wait until the end of July so all the brassicas don't bolt.

The lavender bed left of the gate with the iron shelves in it was the happy result of a neighbor's gift of the shelves. I'm going to be planting or mulching the outside perimeter to keep the lawn and field from invading the garden. The cedar fence posts I pulled up make excellent edging for perimeter beds, and haven't rotted at all after being buried. Where the lavender used to be, I'm going to plant prickly pears since they're super-hardy and can handle the dry spot under the eave. After I prune the hydrangea back, I'll be making a flower bed on the other side of the gate. Or maybe more asparagus.

It feels good; I should have listened to my inner farmer at the outset when we put this in four years ago. It's a good size now for something approaching year-round vegetable independence, though far from full subsistence. Careful succession planting will be the key, as will getting a viable root cellar up and running this fall in the crawl space under the house. Down the road I'd like to build a greenhouse attached to the South side of my studio, but the way I want to do it will cost more than I can spend right now.

This fall I'll be planting some fruit and nut trees out in the field, and I might make a smaller garden out there too so winter squash can run amok without smothering other crops. But for now I'm content and have room to stretch out a bit, even planting some flowers just for fun. The fruit bushes (currants: red, white, pink, black, clove; raspberries: red, black, yellow; blueberries, gooseberries, lingonberries, strawberries, blackberries, grapes, hardy kiwis, cherries, and prickly pears) are coming along nicely. Combined with the garden expansion, it's been a productive season so far. And I've been reminding myself that I have actual jobs other than this, so I need to cut myself some slack when it comes to the self-sufficiency thing. I do wish I'd put some of these plants in the ground right when we moved in, because they'd be that much farther along. But we have plenty to eat, and much to look forward to. And that's really all there is to it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

I taught a class on meat-curing here on Saturday (we covered gravlax, guanciale, lardo, bresaola, duck prosciutto, and then had a tasting of everything, plus some bacon). It was well-attended, and I think people enjoyed it and took away some useful knowledge. And hoo boy is there a lot of salty meat in the fridge. I gave the curing salmon to some Boston friends to take home with them, but come dinner time there was an alarming lack of actual food ready to eat. So I took the big beef eye round (16" or so) and cut 6" off. This did two things: it meant that I could fit the remainder in a much smaller pyrex loaf pan to finish curing, and it gave me a pre-seasoned hunk o' beef with which to make a quick and wondrous meal. The cure was salt, a bit of raw sugar, rosemary, garlic, thyme, juniper berries, and smoked paprika.

See that dark ring around the outside? That's how far the cure penetrated in the few hours it sat after class. I very nearly just sliced it up like this and called it a night. But instead, inspired largely by the skillet still full of rendered duck fat from Friday's searing (see previous post), I reheated it and gave the roast a good browning all around.

Having abandoned carpaccio, I put the meat in the oven for a bit to cook some more while I sliced and fried some potatoes in the same duck fat.

The meat came out looking good, and I sliced it fairly thinly to at least allude to the carpaccio I'm now sort of wishing I had made.

There was some leftover escarole-walnut pesto, so I dolloped it around with reckless insouciance, garnishing the platter with a nasturtium flower. And we tucked in. Given today's heat, I truly can't believe that I cooked all of this. And I have an industrial-strength hankering for carpaccio. But Saturday was cool, and roast beef and duck fat potatoes fit the bill. The cure gave the rounds of beef a salaciously salty crust and a rich herbal flavor. And the rest of the beef will be ready to hang in a day or so.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


John's birthday party was Friday, and it was to be an all-finger food potluck. I didn't have a ton of time to plan or shop, so I made do with things around the house, centering on two forms of duck from the freezer. I defrosted a moulard breast and two pieces of foie gras–both local–and went outside to pick currants. The pink and white currant bushes I planted last fall have taken off, loving their new environs and fruiting prolifically. I got just shy of two pounds of fruit from them both, doing a not very thorough job so there will be more to enjoy in the coming days.

Figuring these would make a good sauce for duck, I simmered them with a little honey until they were all exploded and undulating, then I strained the liquid (more of a thick purée) into a bowl. The pink and white currants have a very different flavor than the black; this sauce almost resembled apple sauce in flavor and color. I added a drop of blackcurrant brandy to fortify it.

Meanwhile, I cooked a beet in some water, stick-blending it into a smooth sauce with some cider vinegar when soft. I made tart crust, and picked a few things for garnish. Stamping circles out of the crust with a small glass, I pushed the rounds into a small muffin tin and baked them until lightly browned. Sometimes I like to put a quarter in the bottom of each one to keep it flat, but this time I just let them puff up into appealingly irregular little pastry cups. Into each on I put a squeeze of beet purée, a morsel of seared foie, a dollop of currant sauce, and then a mâche flower and a nasturtium petal. I dropped a chunk or two of big Celtic sea salt on each one to finish it.

The duck breast got scored and seared to rare, and I brought it over to their house to serve with escarole pesto and a combination of the leftover beet and currant sauces. Sliced, on crackers with pesto and the lurid fuchsia purée, it made for a nice companion to the little foie tartlets. But I didn't bring the camera, so you'll have to imagine it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rosé FAQ

I was at an extraordinary wine dinner recently, and in chatting with the very expert guests I sort of stumbled on an interesting consensus: almost everyone I talked to about the subject agreed that a well-made rosé was as good a choice as any to match with a wide variety of foods, especially in the warm weather we're enjoying. One professional specifically told me that at a recent tasting of big-name juice, he returned to a simple rosé as one of his favorite wines of the night, refilling his glass with it rather than some over-hyped behemoth. Everyone nodded knowingly when I said that summer is my time to save some wine money by buying cases of affordable pink, keeping precious powder dry for bigger cold-weather reds to match with rich stews and braises later on. When it comes to the most basic ratio of pleasure per dollar, good rosé is about as rewarding as wine gets. So here's a little primer for the novices among you.

I'm referring to the style I like best (and just about only): bone-dry and lightly colored, and almost invariably from the South of France. I'll use Provence as shorthand, but that can be extended into several neighboring regions; what matters to me is the style and the irresistibly tasty garrigue (wild herbs) that perfectly balances the fruit and acidity in a well-made example. If you're not familiar with it, or have only ever had white Zinfandel (oh, the horror. Seriously, end-of-Apocalypse-Now HORROR) then this post is for you.

Q: How is it made?

A: Red grapes are crushed, but then the juice is drained off of the skins after a short time, taking only a fraction of the color; this method is called "saignée" or "bled," as the juice is bled off the skins before picking up enough color to make it red. The result has mainly characteristics of a white, but with a subtle and seductive complexity in the form of red fruit flavors and a gentle grip of tannin that help it stand up to sturdy food.

Q: What does rosé pair well with?

A: Pretty much anything you would normally eat in hot weather, from vegan lentil salad to barbecued chicken or even burgers. It's superbly food-friendly.

Q: Is there a certain kind of glass I should serve it in?

A: It comes in a glass.

Q: Rosé is pink. If I drink it, will it make me gay?

A: While at first blush (heh) rosé can resemble such extremely girly beverages as the cosmo, when it comes from the right part of the world and/or is properly made it can in fact be defined principally by masculine flavors like woody herbs and minerals. And strawberries, pretty often, but in a good way.

Also, if it bothers you so much, drink it out of an opaque mug. And maybe talk to a professional about why this is something you worry about so often.

Q: Is it expensive?

A: It's cheap; most bottles sell for under $15 retail and that money is well spent; quality is high across the board from good producers. Ask your local reputable seller which he or she recommends, making sure to specify that a Provençal profile is what you're after. Syrah, Grenache, and Carignane are all widely used down there, along with other varietals (Bandol rosé, made from Mourvèdre, can be special. Tavel, the only appellation in France that is only rosé, is unique and often beautiful). Some bottles can get up into the $20 range, and in some cases there's more complexity to be found there. Again, talk to your store and try a few. Use the case discount to your advantage; toss a couple bottles of $6 red and white in for cooking with, and enjoy the ten or fifteen percent savings on the whole case. It's easy to walk out with 10 very drinkable bottles for $100.

Another helpful fact: if you find yourself paying upwards of $40 for a bottle of Domaines Ott, then you are a complete asshole.

Q: Should I serve it cold? Cool?

A: Chilled is good, but I like to let them warm up a bit over time. The color and flavor imparted by the grape skins also means that some of the rich and volatile compounds that make red wines so interesting end up in rosés. Letting them come up to near room temp by bottle's end can be an interesting exercise in teasing apart the strands of flavor in a given wine. A good bottle can almost work like three different wines: ice-cold, it's pretty much a white; in between, it's rosé; approaching warm, it's almost a light red. Now that's a bargain.

Q: Isn't there good rosé made in other parts of the world?

A: Yes, but to me far too many of them taste like candy or soda. If you're trying to seduce a high school student, something like that might be right up your alley. If not, and you're a complete newbie, start in Provence so you learn what it's supposed to taste like.

Q: Do they age?

A: Surprisingly well, in some cases. Lopez de Heredia from Rioja is famous for easily lasting 10 years and developing all sorts of sexy nuance along the way. There's a Tavel I like from 2005 that's drinking beautifully right now, and which matches with all sorts of surprising things. For the most part, though, they're meant for quaffing soon after purchase. Drink them.

Q: Are you going to suggest some good ones?

A: I can, but there's no guarantee your local store will carry them. The three stores near here where I usually shop for such things have selections that overlap hardly at all. Also, if you actually read this blog then you'll know I often mention bottles that I enjoy with dinner. You can use the handy "search" feature to find posts that feature such mentions. I do think that people learn more when they buy a few to see what they like rather than buying a name because somebody told them to.

I hope this helps. Honestly, there's nothing besides a first-rate local microbrew that offers so much versatility and pleasure in the summer drinking category. And since summer is officially under way, you should all get to it. A good bottle will make your next meal better, whether it's a simple BBQ or a fancy dinner that you spend three days preparing.

Also, chicks dig it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I haven't really been feeling the cooking urge lately. I'm just too busy outside making space for and planting food to be bothered to make very much of it. That will change, though; we have a couple of potlucks coming up, and I'm teaching a class on meat-curing on Saturday, and as the garden gets up to full speed there will be much that needs freezing or otherwise eating. But for now, I'm getting busy with the shovel and such, and then looking around sort of bewildered when I come in at the end of the day, as if dinner is something that I haven't really considered at all. Because I haven't.

Today was just such a day. The garden expansion is just about done, so today I did other things: prune the willow tree back so it's much more open and friendly underneath and not shading the asparagus any more. Cut the branches into pieces and compost them/save the fat ones for burning. Rip out a strip of lawn against one side of the garden fence and replace it with all of the lavender which I dug out of its previous bed where it wasn't getting enough water (since it was partly under the eave of the screen porch). And weed both sides of that piece of fence, mulching it hard, to keep the lawn from encroaching upon the garden. Weeds are bad enough without letting grass grow right up against the fence. The new design has buffer zones of heavy mulch or plantings around the fence to further exclude grass and weeds.

All of this will make a lot more sense when I post pictures, which should happen soon (I promise). In the meantime, how about another half-assed dinner? This one has the virtue of being almost entirely local from top to bottom. To begin, grass-fed stew meat from the freezer. I cut the stew-sized chunks into much smaller cubes, trimming off any tough bits as I went. I browned the meat in butter, removing it when nicely colored, adding diced onion (the only non-homegrown vegetable), green garlic, brocoli, kale (2 kinds), fennel, chard, herbs, peas, and carrots, and let it all get contentedly tender before splashing in a bit of wine and the rest of some beef-chicken stock with soba noodles in it (first straining out the noodles and other solids). And I let it simmer for a minute, thickening it with a dollop of beurre manié flavored with mustard, while the first-rate local polenta arrived at a doneness.

I poured the meaty mixture into a gratin dish, and topped it with polenta into which I whisked a goodly portion of leftover green mash made from escarole and endive. And popped it in the oven under the broiler for a few minutes to color and bubble the topping. I threw some minced fennel fronds at it as it cooled.

Now polenta is neither mashed potatoes nor a flaky pie crust. It doesn't cohere into something other than that which it covers, allowing for textural contrasts and the like. Serving it made both layers into one, resulting in a glorious porridge of grain and stew that glistened seductively while smelling like pure and comforting nourishment. It started out sunny and hot today, but clouded over and then began to rain by midafternoon–perfect weather for exertions and transplanting. And stewy things that involve turning on the broiler. Tomorrow it's going to be stinking hot and humid again, so I'm thinking about turning the leftovers from this meal into popsicles.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ghost, Or Goat, Or Ghost Of Goat, Or Both

I haven't been hitting the blog with due dilligence of late, I know. First, I had an article due, but now it's done. Second, I have been outside. A lot. The garden expansion is coming up on finished, and will result in a big increase in bed space. That post should be up next week. In related news, I have a major farmer's tan, only with flip-flop lines on top of my feet. It's been seriously hot. Now after last summer I am just about the last person you'll find who will go on record complaining about this, the most perfect spring ever. But the raging heat has fucked up my salads in a big way. "How?" You may ask–and well you may–and here I am, helpfully, to share with you a heartbreaking tale of the ravages of climate change. (I'm not as fat as Al Gore, so you should listen to me).

Normally I succession-plant my salady-type things up until about the solstice, then relent for a bit until mid-august or so. This year, all our favorite greens shot pretty much straight up after about May 15. Keep in mind that our normal average frost-free date is a couple of weeks after that. So the salad bed is full of raging, verdant sun-boners, and we're moving on perforce to other things, except the other things aren't fully (or at all) ready. Basically, this should be primo salad time, but we're puréeing all the greens to make bitter mash and pesto, which we love, but which are not the same as big, squeaky-fresh bowls of leaves.

There's no question that I have a bunch to learn as a gardener. But it would be a lot easier if we weren't being whipsawed by such meteorological extremes. Having said that, the nightshades and curcurbits are going crazy, and we've got fat carrots and beets. And peas, though my half-assed trellis needs a major stimulus package right about now (the Democratic kind, involving infrastructure–not the Republican kind, involving rented cock).

So the other day was the farm market, and we went over to scare up some protein for dinner. It manifested itself as a couple of pounds of bone-in goat meat, cut up for stew. I browned the cubes in a bit of fat in the pressure cooker, then removed them and tossed in onion, carrot, and herbs to color, and then returned the meat with enough of the chicken-beef stock from before to cover it all. Sealed up and hissing contentedly, I left it for about 45 minutes. Once cooled and opened, I added in the rest of the lovely fuchsia soup from a few posts ago, plus a fat handful of minced herbs, and served it all on brown rice. Looks kinda drab, especially given my plaintive whining about how hot and summery the spring has been. But sometimes you need goat stew to set everything right, and the taste was far from drab.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Honest Goodness

The stock I used to make the pink soup (from the last post) was a mixture of roasted and stewed chicken bones plus raw T-bones and trimmings from two local, grass-fed steaks. Sometimes a big, juicy steak-on-a-plate is just what you need, while other times something a bit more refined is called for. In the latter case, I like to trim the meat off the bone, and then trim away anything that does not make for beautiful eating. I sliced the resulting steaks into thin slices and marinated them in sake and gochujang at room temperature for about an hour while I dealt with the other parts of the meal.

There were some bell pepper pieces left from a crudité sort of thing at Kindergarten, so I sliced them thin. I peeled and steamed some sweet potatoes, tossing the slices in yuzu juice and olive oil. I took a few bunches of frisée and spun them with cider vinegar, mustard, and garlic to make a sublimely gorgeous mash. And I took some leftover quinoa and tossed it with salt-kneaded cucumber, baby carrots sautéed with peas and guanciale, herbs, vinegar, and oil to make a pilaf type assembly.

We grilled the peppers and meat on the shichirin–charred and rare respectively– slathering it all with mash and mooing in appreciation at this amazing plate of food. When the spuds and peppers are our own, we'll do this again; it was a big tortilla away from unbelievably high quality street food.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Le Potager

We're very slowly getting to the place where more than greens are regular parts of the daily grazing–where what I bring in from the garden is sufficiently varied in color and texture that I can make almost anything I can think of entirely from our own produce. With the new expansion, this should be even better next year, but for now we're off to a good start.

This is what came in the other day:

And this is what it became, with the help of some superlatively flavorful stock made from a mixture of stewed chicken bones and raw t-bone steak bones and trimmings simmered for hours, then strained. I added the vegetables and a shake of Lebanese couscous:

The beets turned everything an appealing hue and the taste was a wonderful mix of super-fresh and deeply savory. The garden makes dinner such an easy pleasure. Once the expansion is finished, there will be more hot amateur farmer porn. Watch this space.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Felonious Gelatinization

I've been kind of on a gelling kick lately, due to the combined influences of hot weather and a clamorous child with a vivid culinary imagination. When made using judicious restraint with the proportion of gelatin and fresh, mostly local ingredients, the result is a world away from the ghastly neon cubes and quivering, striated, molded "salads" that have stigmatized the genre so thoroughly.

Using minimal gelatin makes for a silkier, more giving texture, and sheet gelatin is superior to powdered. I took whole local strawberries, puréed with a splash of limoncello (made by friends) and pushed them through a strainer; whole fruit adds a wonderfully rich texture to the bite. And the flavor is stunningly clear. Making this a treat that appealed just as much to grown-ups as to the mouthy enthusiastic originator of the strawberry gel idea was a layer of puréed (non-local, obviously) lychees that I blended with a drop each of vanilla and maple syrup; it seemed that the combination would do something dusky and mysterious to the bright lychee flavor. Once both layers were set, I cut small rectangles and served them garnished with lime thyme leaves and thyme flowers, pouring a bit more of the limoncello around them in the adult bowls.

First off, lychees and strawberries get all kinds of busy together. Second, the maple-vanilla notes combined with the lychee mixture were chock full of unctuous, jammy win. Herb flowers and lemony booze added elitist, America-hating notes of effete sophistication and smug self-satisfaction. What else could you ask for from dessert? Also!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Variations On A Theme

This all began with a High School friend posting on Facebook that she was smoking a pork butt as a precursor to making pulled pork for dinner. "Hmmm," I said, "I have some pulled pork in the freezer, already smoked, braised, de-fatted, and pulled–ready to go, in other words." So I defroze it, and made corn muffins, using the very same local coarse polenta that I used to dredge the quail. This polenta is going places; I had the chance to chat wth Don, who mills it, yesterday at the farmers' market, and he told me some exciting news that is going to bode well for this region and the farmers thereof.

I've made this before, and it's unbelievably good. Wilted greens on the side (in this case, the last of our spinach; the unseasonable heat made it all bolt, so I've replanted its spot with summer lettuces and escarole) do their part to add balance and some semblance of healthiness to the plate. And the leftovers are wicked rolled up in whole wheat tortillas with eggs, beans, avocados, and pretty much anything on the tasty side of the Sunday Times. Honestly, the accrued flavor equity that goes into this bowl of gorgeousness is hard to beat when it comes to subsequent meals.

And speaking, coincidentally, of subsequent meals, why, here's one from this very evening.

Imagine that.

See, Milo made this "mixture," as he likes to call them, last night, and it was a keeper, so we did. Sometimes he gets a little too enthusiastic with adding stuff and it goes horribly wrong, but this time around he kept it pretty harmonious. He ground fennel seeds, 5-spice, ginger, some sort of curry powder, and flour together in the small suribachi until it was a nice smooth paste. I put it in a container, thinking that it would make an excellent flavored flour for samosas the next day (today) since we have so very many peas right now.

In that pan are the last of the pork, onion, green garlic, red potato, shredded kale and chard, cilantro, Thai basil, peas, vindaloo paste, flour (to roux-ify the oil), sake, and some tomato purée. I mixed his flavorful mixture in with flour and cold butter and spun it into a good tart crust.

I punched circles out of it, and pushed them gently into the lasciviously greased compartments of a muffin pan, then filled them with the thickened meat and vegetable preparation. I pushed circular caps down onto the little pies, crimping them tight, and put the tray in the oven.

While they baked, I picked a salad. I do like to pick my salads at the last minute; it makes a noticeable difference in the freshness and quality of the greens come eating time. I thought to myself "How do you make salad taste Indian?" There aren't so many raw salads on the menu at your typical Indian restaurant–since, according to several friends who have traveled extensively over there, eating uncooked greens in that part of the world can result in a serious gastric apocalypse–I just tossed the greens with a mixture of olive and pure mustard oil with a bit of good local red wine vinegar. And I made a heretically quick fake sauce with tomato purée, hoisin sauce, tamarind paste, and passion fruit juice.

Heresy or no, these were terrific. Sauce and salad also pulled their weight. A fitting send-off to the luscious quart of pork from last fall which fed us for most of this week.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Pheasants Were Too Expensive

I love quail. Especially the semi-boneless variety, since my fine-detail butchering skills wouldn't do anywhere near this good a job without mangling a whole lot of cute little birds. And they defrost really fast in a bowl of tepid water, making a four-pack an excellent choice to grab from the freezer on an evening when time is fleeting. Once mostly thawed, I put the quail in a container full of goat whey to which I had added some salt. It's a nice alternative to buttermilk, and was just sitting there waiting to be useful. As we start making more cheese, I have no doubt that finding uses for whey will become a consuming passion.

From the garden, I picked a bucket of peas and pulled some baby carrots and herbs. I diced a couple of red potatoes and the carrots, sautéeing them in a pat of butter with garlic, onion, and a bunch of marjoram, then added a splash of white wine and let it steam, covered, for a couple of minutes. I dredged the quail in coarse local polenta seasoned with salt and smoked paprika and fried them until brown and crisp. Drained, cut in half, and seasoned with shredded oregano, they made for a pretty wonderful late-spring dinner; comforting, yet still somewhat light, and served warm, the result was a good fit to the cooler weather we've been having lately. Another thing to love about quail: they're so small that there's not much chance of over-indulging, which can be a real issue when it comes to fried birds.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Talkin' Bout My V-V-Vegetation

The weather lately has been amazing–hot, sunny, and alternating between oppressively humid and perfect. Last night we finally got the rain we've been needing, making this year so far the polar opposite of last "summer." Besides the vegetable garden, which is doing well, I've been doing some simple landscaping with fruit-bearing plants to establish low-maintenance, high-yield beds that will provide us with lots of food in years to come. The marginal strips around the edges of our almost acre are pretty scruffy, and inhabited by some pretty scrappy and tenacious weeds. Previous attempts to dig them out and plant have failed, except with big things like lilacs or aggressive things like day lilies. So this time around, for fruit and flower beds alike, I'm just sheet-mulching.

The blackberries going in.

It's a popular technique in permaculture, and makes for much less work and a much better success rate for the new plantings. All you do is knock down anything tall, put down cardboard or layers of newspaper, and cover it all with compost. Then you plant what you want directly into the compost and mulch hard around it all. By the time the barrier degrades, the weeds underneath are dead, and your new plants are established. It gives the favored plants an excellent head start, and ideally requires only light weeding with new applications of compost and mulch every spring. So far, it's working quite well.

The blackberries mulched and edged with a fallen tree from the field. On the left, blackcurrants, a clove currant, and the mint.

The blueberries (three 20-year-old plants from Lee) and currants (pink and white, also from Lee) that I put in last fall have taken famously to their new home and have flowered and fruited prolifically. The raspberries from last summer (three kinds of red and a yellow) that I planted between my studio and the herb garden have also exploded with growth, and are laden with ripening fruit. All three of the cherry trees I planted are thriving, and two bore some fruit this spring, though the birds got just about all of it. Inspired by this success, I've been getting all kinds of busy with the fruit this year. So far, besides the blackberries, I've planted some rare Russian blackcurrant varieties plus a clove currant at the end of the bed, interspersed with the spearmint that was already there. This spearmint grew in our window box in Greenpoint, Brooklyn back in 1997, and has followed us ever since. It will spread around the currant bushes and be a useful and aggressive ground cover to help keep the weeds in check.

The blueberries are going off like crazy.

I put a row of nine little lingonberry bushes in front of the blackberries, so they'll spread and add visual interest and a very underrated fruit to our arsenal. I put a prickly pear next to the driveway in one of the hottest spots we have. They're indigenous, and spread, and their fruit is quite good, so I'm happy to have it. Next to the pink and white currants I added a red and a jostaberry (a cross between currant and gooseberry). The deer love the jostaberry leaves, so it's not going to fruit until next year. I've been making some real progress with the deer fence, so we'll likely be getting a lot less traffic in future.

The deer-mauled jostaberry bush, the white and pink currants, and the tiny little red currant on the right. June-bearing strawberries all around, with three rhubarb plants and two kinds of native grapes along the fence. I'll be raising this fence up to deerproof height and trellising the grapes on it.

Next up will be two hardy kiwi vines, a male and a female, which need a trellis so I have to build one. And I got two Nanking cherries as well, which, though small, will grow into beautiful small trees with lovely flowers and tasty fruit. I'm still thinking about where to put them. And hazelnuts–at least two–are going to be the first plantings in the field, which I brush-hogged but good last week. Cutting the field was a win/win/win: it put a big hurt on the poison ivy, robbed the deer of food and camouflage, and gave me a workout like I haven't had since I rototilled the labyrinth back in 2008. Seeing it all clean-shaven is really helping me visualize where everything should go in the fall. There will be more fruit, but I'm also thinking about a pond, a bridge, a tea house/gazebo sort of thing, and lots more. Now all I have to do is earn a living.

Friday, June 04, 2010

An Education In Every Bite

So herewith day three of our ocean-derived sustenance. It's telling–and extremely wonderful–that the scallops we received on Wednesday, cooked tonight, were sweeter and fresher tasting than anything we've ever bought from a store. Anybody who reads this and happens to live in the Hudson Valley would be well-advised to seek out the Fishmonger and get themselves the royal hookup. It honest and for true does not get much better than this unless you're a deep-sea angler. I cut these circles out of square wonton wrappers with a jar and a knife because I couldn't find my biscuit cutter.

To begin, shu mai. There were a few raw shrimp left over, so I combined them with an approximately equal weight of scallops, plus some ginger, the last of our ramp bulbs in the fridge, and cilantro leaves fresh from the garden and blasted them all to oblivion in the processor. Both shrimp and scallops have lots of albumen, making them ideal for this sort of steamed dumpling application; they firm up ever so nicely.

After much crimping, into the steamer they went. I made a dipping sauce with soy, this insanely good local vinegar, and a drip of sesame oil.

As a side, a quick bowl of the freshest escarole, tossed in a very hot pan with a smashed garlic clove and finished with... wait for it... soy and the very same vinegar.

Then, the scallops. I dumped them into a bowl of kimchi brine about an hour before dinner to season and firm up a bit, Then drained, dried, and seared them in the iron skillet. Once I removed them, I quickly dumped in the remains of the kale soup (strained, cooked in homemade beef-lamb stock) from a few nights ago and the rest of the beech mushrooms from last night. Scroll down and read it... we'll wait. So sweet, so oceany, so umamitudinously rich and meaty from the stock and mushroom reduction–this was a winner. (I should mention here that the shu mai did not suck).

Last, a dessert of sorts in the form of the rest of that acorn squash (remember? With the cute concentric rings from the saladacco)? OK, we'll wait again.

Sigh. (Looks at watch. Picks up phone, hoping for interesting email. There aren't any. Taps foot). I puréed the squash with ginger and 5-spice, then dissolved three bloomed sheets of gelatin in the warmed mixture, whisking in the last of the coconut water gel I had made last weekend. Again, knock yourself out. It's in the same post as the kale soup. We're not going anywhere. FYI, it does help to keep up with the leftovers around here; they do tend to figure rather importantly in subsequent meals.

And the result, given my guesstimate of the quantity of gelatin required, was just shy of fully set, which turned out to be a bonus, making the result extra silky and smooth. The ambient heat also helped to soften it; the coconut water gel I took out of the fridge softened to liquid without being heated at all on the stove. I garnished each square with a sage flower, possibly the most complexly flavored and beautiful of the herb flowers.

It's funny- fish almost automatically makes me think in this kind of multi-course way, emphasizing subtlety and finesse. Meat, on the other hand, usually makes me say "Hey, look! A big hunk of meat! Let's eat that shit!" There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

In The Pink

With a pornucopia of freshest seafood in the fridge, dinner this evening was pretty easy. That's not to say that I didn't make an unholy mess of the kitchen, of course, because that is the manner in which I roll. But the actual food was pretty easy. To start, because the family was deep into "My Side of the Mountain" (my absolute favorite book when I was about 7 or 8), a couple of quick salmon hand rolls for the cook.

See how easy that was? The scallions I planted in March are getting pretty fat, which is nice. Next up–and I did include them in this part–a nice little tartare of the same wild Alaskan salmon. Minced fine with chives, cilantro, and baby fennel fronds, I formed it into balls with an ice cream scoop and sauced it but good with some organic tamari into which I beat a local egg yolk and a splash of some local artisanal vinegar which is truly superb. I returned from my interview yesterday with some vinegar mother, so homemade is on tap.

But since there was salmon left over, all minced up and fancy-like, I decided in the interest of both Science and plate fatigue to make little burger-type things out of the remainder and sear them on one side to create that most luscious of gradients from crisp to raw. Honestly, do you see what lengths I go to for you people?

I reused the same plates, because there were already enough dishes to do. And the sauce was ridiculously good. Between the two salmon dishes, I made a quick bowl of wilted mixed greens (chard, spinach, escarole, and frisée) with garlic, and a gorgeous clump of beech mushrooms caramelized with fish and soy sauces.

To drink, a 2009 Domaine Costeplane "Arboussède" Rosé. Organic, and a lovely salmony pink that matched beautifully with the fish for both eye and tongue, it's up there with my current favorites. Having said that, though, I recommend letting the last glass of rosés come up to room temp; the characteristics of the red grapes (Syrah and Grenache in this case) emerge, and can be both pleasurable and instructive. The cold, herbal acidity with a topnote of red fruits is replaced by a tepid rush of volatile and exotic scents. Candied solvents, specifically, which got to be a little too much as the glass reached the currently very warm ambient temperature. In between was best, striking a balance. The moral: unfridge your rosés before serving if they're very cold. The color and qualities that the skins have imparted will awaken and enrich your drinking.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Wait! There's Chreemps!

I had a pretty interesting meeting and interview today with the subject of my next article, and Jen (who was driving) kindly agreed to make a detour on the way home so we could pick up my fish order. It's great that the fish is back, and we took excellent advantage of its return: wild salmon, scallops, and–most interestingly, because of a long hiatus–shrimp. We haven't bought shrimp for a long time, because they're mostly farmed in horribly destructive ways or wild-caught in horribly destructive ways. These, from Laughing Bird in Belize, are raised in inland ponds with filtered seawater and vegetarian feed. The company has received approval from the World Wildlife Fund.

So with these treasures in mind I returned home and groped the garden for some of the peas that are coming in with wild abandon right now. There were some chicken bones in the fridge, and a funny sort of mini doughnut of beef gristle that I pried out of the meat grinder after making burgers last night, so I tossed them in a pot with some water and made a quick stock while I minced and sweated half an onion. Then I added rice, then white wine, then began the process of ladling in stock and stirring.

When the rice was just al dente, I added the shelled peas, the shrimp, and some chiffonaded radicchio and oregano, stirring until the shrimp were cooked through and bright pink. I poured the last of the broth in to lubricate the risotto for serving, having guessed pretty luckily about the quantity needed for the random amount of rice I dumped into the pot. And dusted the bowls with Espelette pepper for a much-needed lift; this really could have used some saffron for that extra something, but the hour was late and it's not normal for me to have the stock power-cooking while I'm already soffrito-ing the meal itself, so I forgot. Sue me. Better yet, tell me you wouldn't hit this:

I thought so.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Grind Your Own

What do you do when "burgers" is the request for dinner and there's no ground beef in the house? Visit the chest freezer, for starters, to grab a bag of local, grass-fed stew beef. Then, because it's so lean, a goodly portion of homemade prosciutto fat, and because a custom grind clamors to be bespoke, a handful of herbs (lime thyme, chives, oregano) and a clove of garlic.

The result (plus a pinch of salt and a generous grind of pepper) is pretty perfect burger material.

After I formed the meat into patties, I busied myself breaking down an acorn squash. Peeled, eighthed, and spun through the saladacco, it made lovely thin spirals of squash for frying and left a whole bunch of concentrically etched shards for minestronification at a later date.

They fried up very nicely, forming a crisp, sweet, and highly addictive tangle.

The meat, cooked medium, sat on simple whole wheat bread (crusts removed because "buns" shouldn't be too stiff or crunchy) with gochujang, ketchup, and baby lettuces from the garden. I would have added kimchi, but I had finished it at breakfast. We had a jar of cucumber pickles (not, sadly, homemade–though they're up in the garden and should be flowering soon) so I added one to each plate. And there was a big bowl of the same salad, with baby carrots added for color and crunch.

To drink, another of this summer's favorite rosés: the 09 Diamarine Cuvée Spéciale Coteaux Varois en Provence. Cold, bracing acidity, herbs that got extremely snuggly with those in the meat, delicate fruit, and just enough of an elegant tannic spine to handle this semi-burly meal. Everything you need, nothing you don't, though I'm thinking at this juncture that maybe it should come in magnums with a handle on the side.