July 2011

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photos by gluttonforlife

7.29.11 Summer Roundup

The corn and tomatoes are in, signaling high summer. My refrigerator is ridiculous, bursting with cucumbers and chard from the garden, and okra and padrón peppers from the farmers' market. Never refrigerate your tomatoes, it ruins the flavor and texture. Just leave them out on the counter in a cool spot. (This is a tip I learned from Martha Stewart many years ago and I have never forgotten it.) On Monday, August arrives, and with it my last post for a while. Time for a little vacation—staycation, really, as G's leg is still healing and travel is not yet a possibility. We may take some local trips, inspired by this recent article on great spots in the Catskills from the most recent issue of Travel & Leisure. Here are a few more ideas for things to make, see, do and get (oops, sounding a little like Goop) as the mercury rises...
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photos by gluttonforlife

7.28.11 Wings & a Prayer

Just a month ago, I was waxing poetic to you about wings. If you still haven't made a batch, I want to urge you to give it a whirl. They're delightful as an hors d'oeuvre or snack, but they're also great as the centerpiece of a meal. I know my way is more involved than simply coating them in barbecue sauce and sticking them in the oven, but that doesn't begin to do them justice. To get the perfect combination of rich, silky meat and crisp, sticky skin, you really need to add in a couple more steps. You don't need to get all crazy like David Chang, who brines his wings, then poaches them in duck fat, then smokes them and then grills them. Although they're sublime. I'll let you skip the smoking step. But brining, poaching and grilling is the way to go. None of it requires much attention, but you'll snap to when you bite into your winged masterpiece.
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photos by gluttonforlife

7.26.11 Condimental: Jam Session

I've been in a canning frenzy, record heat wave be damned. Blueberry jam, gooseberry chutney, sour cherry jam, strawberry-chile preserves, raspberry fridge jam, and there are yellow plums and peaches impatiently awaiting. (I'm hoping for apricots soon!) At a certain point, when things are boiling away and the sweat is trickling down the insides of my thighs, I do feel a little deranged. But I try to channel my grandmother, making jelly with the loquats from her tree on a sweltering San Diego afternoon. If you're a cook, there are some things you just tolerate. And among the many rewards are beautiful jars of jam, destined to deliver sweet memories of summer when Christmas rolls around. In the middle of winter, I'll pop open a jar of sour cherry jam to plop onto my morning bowl of yogurt, and it will hold the vivid intensity of this July day in its sticky red soul. If you are daunted by the idea of canning, may I suggest you cook up a small batch of something and simply store it in a jar in your fridge? Now, while all this summer fruit is at its peak. No extra steps involved, just a very easy process that leads to some very blissful moments.
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7.25.11 Condimental: Taco Belle

I grew up eating Mexican food, in Mexico and in California. Although my mother was raised in California, her family was from New Mexico, so her version of Mexican cooking betrayed subtle influences of that, and of Sunset magazine, the bastion of California living. In a sad twist of fate, she became paralyzed for the last 14 years of her life, which put a definitive end to her reign in the kitchen. On visits, I cooked quite a bit, but we also had our local sources for good Mexican takeout. Christmas Eve meant tamales from El Paisano, and no trip home was without at least one visit to Tacos Moreno, where the choice between al pastor, carnitas or quesadillas often resulted in an order of all three. I associate fish tacos more with Southern California, where the competition for who has the crispiest batter or the best sauce is quite fierce. I do love fried fish, but when summer rolls around, grilling makes this dish even easier. The real trick with fish tacos is not to get lazy. Don't just shove a bunch of unseasoned fish into a limp tortilla with some raw cabbage and a glug of bottled hot sauce and expect it to be sublime. What really takes it to the next level are a combination of flavors—you guessed it: hot, sour, salty sweet—and textures that complement each other.
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photo by gluttonforlife

7.22.11 Up To Here

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.These lines from T.S. Eliot's The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock come to mind whenever I bite into the first peach of the summer. Food is memory, is love, is comfort. The peach evokes summers past, Augusts at the beach, the steady thrum of the sea like the beating of my own heart. Only one of these will go on forever. With age comes introspection, but I sometimes wonder these days if solitude of mind at any age has now become a willful act. There is so much stimulus around us, everywhere at least one screen conveying essential information at all times. With the touch of a finger we are connected to thousands of people, opinions, conversations, comments. Is there any escaping this feeling that we are missing out if we aren't constantly checking in, tweeting, reporting, connecting? My old college pal Bill Powers has written an eloquent book, Hamlet's Blackberry, that looks to great thinkers of the past—Plato, Shakespeare, Thoreau—for ways to approach the digital dilemma and, ultimately, to disconnect. But there really is no way back; Pandora's box is open. And out of it, along with the demons, have emerged wonderful tools to enhance our lives.
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7.21.11 Creature Feature: Flying Colors

The garden is literally teeming with life. This is the time of year when I must be diligent about going out every few hours to pick the Japanese beetles off the plants. One year they decimated the yellow dogwood in what seemed like one day. Now I watch for them as soon as true summer hits, and I am ruthless in my pursuit of these shiny winged creatures. They're not the only ones cluttering up our airspace. The bees can't seem to get enough of the honeysuckle that lines our front path, and they also love the wild raspberry flowers and the bee balm, naturally. So distracted is everyone by the intoxicating pollens and nectars around, that I was able to get close enough to snap a few portraits. (If you're a subscriber and got a weird "Test Post" email today, my apologies. We're trying to fix a few glitches on here and it's a little frustrating. Bear with me!)
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7.20.11 One, Two, Three: Dinner

Have you been trying to follow Michael Pollan's edict? "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It's easier in the summer when amazing produce is practically falling at your feet. Even you city folk have access to farm-fresh vegetables—corn, actual ripe tomatoes, baby lettuces... Just the other day I was reading the new issue of Lucky Peach and laughing along with Wylie Dufresne as he made fun of "farm-to-table" and "ingredient-driven" cooking, but I had to eat a little crow along with last night's dinner. Because all I did was take a few farm-fresh ingredients and let them drive the bus. It was nothing fancy, really. I just used only what was straight from the garden (mine or someone else's) and let those pure flavors shine. Not a whole lot of technique was involved, and yet it was such a satisfying meal. I haven't even written out real recipes for you, because I want you to have that feeling of creating as you go, putting together dishes from your imagination according to what's in front of you. I'll walk you through what I made and maybe you'll be inspired to do the same with your freshest ingredients. Which will probably include a whole lot of sweet green peas right about now...
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7.19.11 Say Cheese

I think I've already mentioned Julia Moskin's D.I.Y Cooking Handbook for the New York Times online right? It's where I got inspired to make vin d'orange. (Which turned out great, incidentally.) She's got a bunch of useful recipes there, including a few that overlap with some of mine. Like one for making your own ketchup; and preserving lemons; and this one for making your own fresh cream cheese. Hers is a slightly shorter process because she uses rennet, which causes your milk to curdle right away. I learned my technique from Nourishing Traditions, where you simply let milk sit out on the counter for a few days until it curdles on its own. Actually, some good bacteria helps it along. You separate the curds from the whey (reserving the latter for making pickles and sauerkraut, and stirring into soups and smoothies), then drain the curds so they come together in a light, creamy cheese. It's kind of magical.
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7.18.11 Extremely Cordial

I find that summertime requires its own repertoire of refreshing drinks. Bubbles or not, with or without alcohol, thirst-quenching coolers are essential for those moments by the pool, when you come in from gardening and when you're relaxing on the porch after a long, hot day. I love the idea of taking what you have on hand, what's around in your garden or at the farmers market, and transforming it into something far better than bottled sodas and syrups. (As you reach for your Pepsi or Diet Coke, never forget that it's loaded with sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or the artificial sweeteners that essentially trigger the same insulin response; it has zero nutritional value; and it causes tooth decay.) Sun tea is a great alternative. You just fill a big jug with water and add a few tea bags (herbal, black or green) along with whatever flavorings you like—rosemary and lemon, mint, pineapple sage, ripe strawberries—then let it brew under the hot sun. Try this without the tea for a delicately flavored, herbaceous water.I'm also a big fan of infused simple syrups, which you can easily make with honey or organic cane sugar. I recently came across a recipe for elderflower cordial in The River Cottage Preserves Handbook, a genius book by Pam Corbin which I've been consulting for jam recipes. I gathered elderflower blossoms from along the back country roads and brewed up a batch of this citrusy, floral syrup. It's delicious over ice, topped off with some seltzer and a slice of Meyer lemon.
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7.15.11 Peach Buzz

Speaking of noodles, have you gotten your hands on David Chang's new magazine, published in collaboration with McSweeney's? The first issue is thick and jam-packed with everything you ever wanted to know (and more) about ramen—the dish with which Chang first took the food world by storm—and some other things, like Chang's travels in Japan, how to make his bacon-dashi broth, and a few interesting ways to cook eggs. This quarterly publication is available on newsstands, or you can subscribe here, and a companion app will also be available, although it's still in the works. If you're not already a fan of Chang, this might convert you, or it could send you running screaming in the opposite direction. There's definitely a macho-badass-hipster-cognoscenti vibe you can't escape, but if you can embrace that shit in all its fucking awesomeness (are you feeling it?), there's an assload of fascinating information in Lucky Peach. Which is, incidentally, what Momofuku means in Japanese.
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