March 2010

Turks1 790 xxx
photo by george billard

3.31.10 Island Girl

Blindingly white beaches. Pale turquoise waters. Enormous lobster tails. Relentless sunshine. Balmy breezes. The occasional piña colada. Room to breathe. Toes buried in the sand. The nostalgic scent of suntan lotion. Salty rasta curls. Family dynamics. Herbal steam and massage. Tan lines. Poolside lunch. Kids splashing. Mangoes. Hours of reading (yea, Kindle). Naps. Freedom. Moonlight romance. Early nights. Bliss.
Thieves 790 xxx
photo by george billard

3.28.10 Clean Slate

My friend Scott recently gifted me with an interesting bottle of cleaning solution. I’m very into using natural products like baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar for cleaning (see more here), but I also want something that smells naturally good, so I often add essential oil of lavender or geranium to these concoctions. Looks like the people behind Thieves products have something similar in mind. They make a special blend, combining oils of cinnamon, clove, lemon, eucalyptus and rosemary for a fresh and rather medieval scent. Turns out they took a cue from some 12th-century thieves who were able to rob the dead victims of the Plague without becoming infected. How? By rubbing themselves with a concoction of aromatic herbs, including cinnamon, clove and oregano. Needless to say, Thieves products work wonders on airborne bacteria, helping to fight mold, mildew and musty odors. Check out their website for great tips on cleaning, and to learn more about their products, which can also be used for cleaning your own insides.I'm off to Turks & Caicos tomorrow for some fun in the sun and I'm very excited to have a little vacation time. G and I have not left the country since our trip to Southeast Asia last winter. I'll probably post a few times from there but you'll have to forgive me if I'm not quite as prolific. Even gluttons need a break now and then...xoxo
Dyed 790 xxx

3.27.10 Eastover Celebration

Raised between 2 religions and 2 cultures, I have retained some of both and all of neither. Dyeing Easter eggs is a tradition I hope never to relinquish. This year I will be heading to Turks & Caicos for a beachy holiday that will most likely obviate both Passover and Easter, but I may still find time to dye some eggs when I return home. And maybe even cook the meal we've begun calling Eastover, a funny hybrid that might start with a ham and finish with macaroons. Would it surprise you to know that for dyeing eggs I no longer use anything artificial? Yep, I'm going to try to get you to make your own dyes from natural ingredients! We have the ODG (Original Domestic Goddess) Martha Stewart to thank for these great instructions. I followed them last year and look at the gorgeous bowl of eggs I got out of it. I still have a big jar of beet juice in the fridge. I thought I was going to dye some piece of clothing but I never got around to it. Just like those geranium sachets I was going to make for Christmas presents. Maybe next year. Inshallah.
Rice 790 xxx
carnaroli rice

3.26.10 Fit for a King

Risotto is one of those dishes that have been made to seem intimidating: all that stirring! the right rice! the stock! Newsflash: it's overrated. Not its deliciousness, that's indisputable, but its difficulty quotient. Simply assemble the right ingredients, have the patience to hang around the stove for 25 minutes or so, and you wind up with a rich, creamy bowl of goodness that works with so many different flavors. As for the right ingredients, it's really about the rice. A long-grain white rice is what you need for a classic risotto (although farro and barley make interesting variations), such as Arborio, Vialone Nano and Carnaroli, known as the "caviar of rice." Riso Acquerello is a kind of Carnaroli grown in Piedmont, and the one used exclusively by Le Cirque for its famous risotto. In a unique process, it's aged for at least a year to develop its structure and ensure that the grains are polished to perfection. A high starch content allows it to absorb liquid beautifully, so the rice retains a toothy "al dente" quality while acquiring a creamy consistency—the two hallmarks of the ultimate risotto.

There are so many different possibilities for risotto: with saffron for a classic Milanese; with the first peas and asparagus of spring; with pureed squash stirred in; with porcini; and on and on. The recipe, below, is inspired by the Italian master chef Nino Bergese, whose Riso Mantecato is decadent with butter and requires absolutely no stirring at all. I've called my version Risotto da Re (The King's Risotto), because it's fit for royalty: unctuous, luxurious and taken to new heights with a spoonful of rich meat stock ladled on top. It was selected as an Editor's Pick on Food52, an honor of which I do not tire.
Bar 790 xxx

3.25.10 Craft Services

I've never gotten into reality TV, never seen Top Chef, so I can only judge Tom Colicchio on the basis of his food which I think is pretty damn good. It was over a luxurious dinner at Craft in 2005 that G requested permission to officially court me. I still remember coyly nodding my head as I stuffed in a mouthful of roasted chanterelles. This was a man who knew the way to my heart. (Which one? you're asking...) I've also been a loyal fan of Craftbar over the years, especially during the reign of Akhtar Nawab, when you could sip some delicious Campari cocktail at the bar while noshing on fried sage leaves stuffed with sausage. These days, in its new location on Broadway, Craftbar is still a fun spot—and a good deal—for lunch. During the abbreviated run of Craftsteak, I had one of the best steaks of my life, a flatiron. But I remember being rather appalled at the blasting air-conditioning (for all those sweaty, rib-eye-eating Wall Streeters) and the equally affronting price tag. Now this huge, wood-filled space has been reincarnated as Colicchio and Sons—a more modest but also more ambitious restaurant. As Sam Sifton of the Times said in his 3-star review last week, "A lot of testosterone has been drained off, and a combination of flowers and a Grateful Deadish soundtrack do much to counter the boom-era feel of the restaurant’s towering ceilings and soft leather seats." I took a friend there for her birthday lunch yesterday but arrived early, so decided to perch at the bar while I waited. Of course this led to a cocktail (at noon!), a wonderful combination of thyme-infused vodka with lemon and ginger ale called the Hard Thyme, accompanied by a teensy bowl of chile-roasted nuts. When my friend arrived, I was pleasantly loose and ready for anything.
Lichen 790 xxx
photos by george billard

3.24.10 Signs of Life

We're eagerly awaiting spring up here in the boonies. Of late we've been snowed in, buffeted by gale-force winds, and now deluged with driving rains that have brought waterfalls literally gushing out of the woods. The vernal pools are forming and bits of green glow like sea glass on the forest floor—hardy moss and ferns that have somehow weathered through.
Vernalpool 790 xxx
Branch 790 xxx
In our own yard, the blush of new life can be seen on the ripening buds of the lilac bush and in the emerging colors of the succulent garden. We have been in the city for the past couple of days where the magnolias are threatening to burst into bloom at any moment. I'm about to have lunch at the newly lauded Colicchio & Sons (3 stars in the Times) and will soon head back to my own kitchen. For now, I'm turning my face to the sun with high hopes for the new season.
Succulent 790 xxx

Towels 790 xxx
photo by george billard

3.23.10 Dry Spell

Flour sacking towels are truly indispensable. I like these from Williams-Sonoma which I doubt are cut from actual flour sacks any more, but are made of a very absorbent unbleached organic cotton that is lint-free. They have an almost gauzy quality that I love and makes them very handy for myriad household tasks. I'm sure our great-grandmothers were doing all sorts of things with kitchen towels like these: drying dishes, polishing glassware, straining foods and covering rising dough. I also love to tie one around my waist as a makeshift apron. When they get a little dingy, torn up or stained, I transfer them to the "rag basket" under the sink and use them to mop up spills, for dusting and general cleaning. I use fewer paper towels this way, and find that these simple towels are super functional and incredibly handy. Get you some.
Butter 790 xxx
photo by george billard

3.22.10 Condimental: Whip It 2.0

They were all out of the organic whipped butter I favor at Whole Foods the other day and, on a whim, I decided to try making my own. I had read somewhere recently about how easy it is—you just proceed as if you were making whipped cream and keep going! I had no idea how much cream to get so I erred on the side of too much, as usual. But I was remembering how when you make paneer, it takes 2 gallons of milk to get one measly portion of cheese. I guess because cream is fattier it doesn't release so much liquid. In the end, I wound up with more than a pound of butter! I added sea salt and froze about three-quarters of it it as I don't really use all that much butter. Why bother with all this? It was easy, it was fun, it was interesting and, in the end, I wound up with delicious, creamy and golden organic butter. If you have kids, I bet they would get a kick out of joining you in the kitchen for this one.
Celeriac3 790 xxx
photo by george billard

3.21.10 Rooting Around

I love staring into the fridge and trying to make sense of its sometimes overwhelming contents. All those ingredients are like a puzzle that, with a little clever thinking and some inspiration from the muse, can come together into something beautifully cohesive. Remember that corned beef I made for St. Patrick’s Day? Well, I was left with a lot of gorgeous beef broth that I had strained and stuck in a jar. And I had a beautiful large bulb of celeriac from our trip to the farm last weekend, and a hunk of smoked Gouda from the smokehouse. (Actually too intensely smoky to eat plain!) I could have made a gratin—celeriac is great like that—but with all that good broth I decided to make a soup. The result was incredibly easy and velvety-rich. I recommend you give it a try before we move on to the asparagus and sorrel soups of spring.
Market 790 xxx
photos by george billard

3.18.10 Adventurous Eating

Over the Christmas holidays last year, G and I traveled to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with our friends Lisa and Philip. We saw beautiful temples, explored the overgrown wonder that is Angkor Wat, took a boat ride up the Mekong, strolled through the art galleries of Saigon, ate countless bowls of pho, slurped down many coconut frosties, and bought way more Cambodian silk than anyone has a right to. Among the trip's highlights were the many markets we visited. The gorgeous fresh produce, the delicious food being cooked on the spot, sparkling seafood on display and, yes, plenty of other, less appetizing things—like roasted roaches (Philip ate some and said they tasted like nuts), snakes on a stick and a few unidentifiable substances in varying states of decay.
Snakes1 790 xxx
We were pretty restrained about eating on the street like that, having picked up assorted parasites on other trips (and having all become violently ill on this one after eating the homemade paté de foie gras of a French expat at his tiny bistro in Siem Reap). But thanks to the fabulous Australian Luxe guides we were turned on to a fantastic restaurant with branches in both Hanoi and Saigon. I think they were both called Quan An Ngon, but since the guide described them as being as big and packed as "Pam Anderson’s bra," that's how we referred to them.