Condimental

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1.5.17 Bottled Up

The year 2017 is upon us! I'm a January baby, so this month always feels like a fresh start. I'll be turning 54 in a couple of weeks; well past the halfway mark, which is a bit startling somehow. I think about death a lot—have done ever since my father died when I was 26 (he was 64), and then my husband died when I was 40 (he was 41) and my mother died that same year (she was 76). For me, a big part of living is preparing to die and I don't feel this is morbid or maudlin. I want to die in peace and without regrets and this means striving to live in a state of grace. For those of you who haven't yet made it to this age and are curious about what lies ahead, here is what I can report: I have plenty of energy, dreams and plans. The world continues to be full of surprises and challenges. I am never bored. Slowing down is something I do to improve the quality of my life. There is always something new to learn, including about myself. The longer I live, the more I turn to nature for guidance, nourishment and wisdom. Any time I can be outside or interacting with plants is a source of joy for me and making bitters is an extension of that. 


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12.21.16 Bitters/Sweets

How about we start with the sweet and move on to the bitter? Nothing would please me more than being able to send every one of you who commented a bag of my caramels, but I just can't swing it this year. (The postage alone is prohibitive!) But I do have three bags and they are going out to randomly selected Diane, Teresa and Jack. (I will email you separately to get your snail mail addresses.) Thank you to all for sharing your beautiful traditions and thoughts on celebrating at this time of year. I am very moved by how thoughtful and graceful you are and feel lucky that I am part of this ad hoc community.

 

And now, for the bitter. Or, actually, bitters—a new project of mine. I gathered a number of roots late this fall and decided to make a few different varieties of bitters. (If you'd like to learn more about how I got into foraging, here is I piece I wrote for a recent issue of Edible.) My witchy work is still in progress...


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12.14.16 Holidaze (& a Giveaway)

Have you been sucked into the December vortex? Standing in long lines, eating too much sugar and feeling like a loser because you can't afford to buy all the presents are some indications that the holidays are getting the better of you. Resist! I say. Go simple. Stay true. Be calm. It's a challenge, I know. Just the other day, as I sat wrapping gifts, I was overcome with sadness. Both my parents are gone, what little family I have lives on the West Coast and most of my friends are far away. I never had children. I live in a tiny cottage and my home doesn't overflow with several generations. My life suddenly seemed very thin to me and, I confess, I felt a little sorry for myself. And I start every day with a gratitude practice in which I carefully review all my many blessings! What is it about this time of year that preys on our vulnerabilities? I didn't really snap out of it until my husband came home and took me in his arms and talked me through the realities: I am healthy. I am safe. I am lucky. I am loved. There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.


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9.21.16 Poverty Food

My friend Mirena Kim is such a superb creature. We met more than 20 years ago and instantly bonded over our love of food, crafts and wicked giggling. Through life's ups and downs, I have watched her handle whatever came her way with grace and humor. She has always been there for me: totally supportive, never judging. Her aesthetic is flawless; everything she makes and keeps around her is quietly beautiful and highly functional. In the last few years, she has dug deeper into her ceramics practice and the world has taken notice. (You can read more about her here and here, visit her website here, and watch this video my husband made about her.) Her bowls, platters and vases are fully integrated into my home life and will be forever. This summer, Mirena flew in from Los Angeles for a spontaneous visit and spent a few glorious days talking, hiking, swimming in the lake and teaching me to make kimchi straight from the garden. 


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7.31.16 Hitting the Sauce

July almost got away without a single post from me but here I'm squeaking in under the wire! It's been a busy summer so far and I'm not going to pretend it was exclusively devoted to perfect moments like these (thanks for the reference, Janet), though I have swum in the lake several times, cooked pulled pork for 80 friends, eaten way too many ice cream sandwiches, served drinks at the first Fish & Bicyle pop-up and, thus far, avoided Lyme disease. As in years past, my plan is to take a break from social media—including Facebook, Instagram and my blog—for the entire month of August. It's hard to believe that starts tomorrow. Maybe you'd like to do the same? I can't guarantee it will mean more time in the hammock for me, but it just might. Let me know how you're planning to spend your August. I'm hoping you'll find time to make this ginger-scallion sauce. It comes together quickly and sits in the fridge waiting to be spooned over poached chicken, steamed fish or dumplings; stirred into hot rice; slathered on grilled anything; or smeared on a summer roll. 


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6.28.16 Low-Hanging Fruit

Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971. It was a place where she and her friends could cook in the classic style of the French countryside, talk politics and drink wine. Since those early days, her commitment to organic, local foods, and to the communities of farmers and artisan producers who make them possible, has never waned. She has supported a return to the traditional growing and harvesting techniques that preserve and enrich the land for future generations. Her cookbooks, so authoritative and inspiring, are always in heavy rotation in my kitchen. Chez Panisse Fruit is a go-to for selecting, storing, preparing and preserving whatever's in season. It is filled with recipes both sweet and savory, but also with some of the simplest, most perfect ideas for enjoying fruit at its peak. (Another favorite, also highly recommended is Pam Corbin's The River Cottage Preserves Handbook.) This is my idea of summer fun.


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6.7.16 Root to Leaf

I've just come in from the garden. The weather is so glorious, sparkling fresh after Sunday's long, steady downpour. Hummingbirds zipped around me as I weeded the beds. Chipmunks chased each other around the rocky borders. The peony bushes are weighed down with tight buds about to burst open. Late-blooming lilacs perfume the silky air. June is busting out all over! Our farmers market is already offering us many delights: radishes galore, feathery fronds of tarragon, hardy stalks of green garlic, tart sorrel leaves and sweet little carrots with bushy greens still attached. From my own garden, the lovage, rhubarb and mint are faithful first responders, and tender greens—mustard, spinach, kale, lettuce—are ready for picking. I wake early to the complex melodies and syncopations of what sounds like a thousand birds and am filled with energy for the day ahead. Which is good because these days are coming at me fast and furious, requiring all my focus and creativity and determination.


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8.18.15 Lucky Seven

We read a lot these days about cooking simply—"ingredient-driven cooking" is a phrase that flummoxed me when I first heard it. What cooking isn't driven by ingredients? Since when are the ingredients not supposed to shine? But I think I was just being purposely obtuse because, of course, there are entire schools of cooking that are all about technique. Just learn to make this perfect sauce and the quality and provenance of your pork loin won't matter. That sort of thing. So, really, my cooking is entirely driven by the ingredients. But that doesn't mean I don't like to build layers of flavor in the dishes I make. One of my favorite ways is with finishing. I have an arsenal of powders, oils, salts and other garnishes and condiments that act as perfect punctuation marks, underscoring a particular note or adding an element of surprise. Although Maldon salt in all its crunchy salinity often suffices, sometimes I reach for something more complex, like this version of shichimi togarashi.


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3.11.15 Blini Meenie Miney Mo

Many great Russian writers, including Chekhov, Pushkin and Gogol, have dedicated plenty of ink to blini. These sturdy yet tender pancakes—originally made from oats but now also from wheat, rye, buckwheat and barley—were made for the pagan festival Maslenitsa, a celebration of the sun that heralded the coming of spring. The blini, round and golden like little suns, were eaten by the dozen in hopes of ensuring a rich harvest. Today, they are made for occasions both celebratory and pedestrian, topped with (or rolled around) a great many fillings, from mushrooms, potatoes and fish to fruit, cheese and honey. Blini are incredibly versatile, as welcome at the breakfast table as they are at the most sophisticated cocktail party. I think it's time to add them to your repertoire.


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2.6.15 Rock Your Guac (& a giveaway that's The Shizzle!)

You may remember that I was lucky enough to have spice wizard Lior Lev Sercarz create a custom blend for Glutton for Life and that it was duly dubbed "The Shizzle." And you may have entered last year's holiday giveaway to win a jar. And you may still be pining to try this deliciously piquant mix that is poised in flavor somewhere between Mexico and Thailand. I'm happy to be offering another 2 jars of this spectacular seasoned salt to my readers, so please leave a comment below by midnight on Friday 2/13 to be eligible to win. And to those of you who recently won a jar on Glutton for Life's Facebook page, read on for a recipe that makes great use of The Shizzle!


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