June 2010

Shrimp curry 790 xxx
photo by george billard

6.30.10 Curry Improv

We all experience that moment of truth when the dinner hour rolls around, nothing has been planned and it's just you and the fridge in a Mexican standoff. These days, the problem is often that there's so much in my fridge I can hardly maneuver around the jars of whey and pickles and stock; the mounds of just-picked kale and lettuce; the stockpiles of lemons and radishes. This particular evening, I dove in and emerged with a pound of shrimp, a jar of red curry paste and some wild lime leaves. There were snow peas, pea greens and shelling peas from the garden, and with that and a can of coconut milk, a curry seemed possible.
Breadbutter pickles 790 xxx
photos by george billard

6.29.10 In a Pickle

I'm excited for the 4th of July! Looking forward to our 3rd annual Pulled Pork Fest. We'll be smoking three Boston butts this year (plus a few kosher chickens) and we always have all the requisite fixings on hand. For North Carolina style, that means cheap white buns (I'll pass), cole slaw (two kinds, with and without mayonnaise), and pickles. Bread-&-butter are my favorites, though we'll also have dills since this is a New York crowd. This year, the pickles are homemade, and I've already gotten started because they're best when they can sit around for a few days, acquiring more flavor. I decided to make the bread-&-butters with alternative ingredients, and then I got all insecure and thought they came out too salty, and not sweet enough, and I got another 4 pounds of kirbys to make a new batch. But two independent taste testers convinced me otherwise, even after a side-by-side tasting with a jar of commercial pickles. Too sweet, they said. Not as interesting as yours. So here you go, bread-&-butter pickles made with a relatively small amount of rapadura sugar, raw cider vinegar and some traditional spices. I'm making the dills today, a lacto-fermented version, so I'll let you know how those turn out.
Mozzarella with balsamico 790 xxx
photo by george billard

6.28.10 Artisanal Cheese

G and I signed up for a mozzarella-making class at Artisanal, the center for all things cheese, located on the West side in Manhattan. It was originally an offshoot of Terrance Brennan's restaurant of the same name, though I'm not sure the two are still affiliated. At any rate, they have state-of-the-art cheese caves there and a staff of knowledgeable affineurs (cheese "agers") and educators, and a fun range of classes. We took a cheese & honey pairing class there last year that put a bee on our bonnet about raising our own bees...but that's another story. Now that I'm all up on curds and whey, what with making my own fresh cheese and all, I thought the next logical step would be making my own mozzarella. Somehow I thought we would be starting from scratch—with fresh milk and some rennet. But it turns out that making curds is a rather more involved process than they want to take a classful of cheese novices through in a 2-hour course and, like many perfectly respectable cheese-makers, they start from pre-made curds. I confess, I was a little disappointed, although at least Artisanal purchases its curds from DiPalo, the venerable cheese shop on Grand Street in what used to be New York's Little Italy. If you've never been to DiPalo, you must pay them a visit right away. They import amazing cheese, salume and pasta from Italy, and they make their own delicious mozzarella fresh every day. The people at Artisanal said that DiPalo will sell you a pound of fresh mozzarella curd if you know to ask for it. Once you've got the curd, making the mozzarella is a walk in the park. Of course, you know me: I will make my own curd one of these days, and you'll be the first to know all about it. Maybe I'll even get my hands on some water buffalo milk to do it...
Ketchup 790 xxx
photos by george billard

6.26.10 Condimental: Playing Ketchup

I love all the trappings of an American summer barbecue—pickles, ketchup, chips, mayonnaise. But now that I've become so conscious of what goes into the industrialized versions of these classics, I will never set out a bottle of Heinz again. It's loaded with high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup, salt and "natural flavoring," which could easily mean MSG. So sad, considering the origins of this wonderful tomato condiment. The word "ketchup" (also "catsup") derives from the Chinese ke-tsiap for pickled-fish sauce, a widespread condiment since ancient times. (See here for my reference to its Roman origins.) The English added mushrooms, nuts and even oysters to it; the Americans added tomatoes from Mexico. So ketchup was originally a lacto-fermented sauce, full of nutrition, enzymes and good bacteria, and not the sugar-laden, heat-processed junk we consume to the tune of half a billion bottles annually. Guess where I'm going with all this? Straight to making our own ketchup. It's easy, really good and keeps in the fridge just like your Heinz. But plopping it on your kids' burgers won't send their blood sugar through the roof or rot their teeth. You can also modify this ketchup to suit your own tastes: add a little curry, or a couple of minced jalapeños, or some toasted, ground fennel seeds. The basic recipe tastes pretty close to the bottled stuff, though it's a little funkier, more complex in a palate-pleasing, umami way.
Front in progress 790 xxx
photos by george billard

6.25.10 Garden Update: Plantation

By some miracle, I think all our landscaping will be complete by the time guests arrive for our annual 4th of July bash! A lot of planning and hard work went into a series of new stone paths that divide up our little property into new beds for planting. We also added a second, fenced-in raised bed for more vegetables; it encloses my medicinal herbs as well (angelica, lady's mantle, borage, bee balm, catnip, anise hyssop, rosemary, lavender) which were rabbit fodder last year. We are so happy to have found Mike D. from Catskill Native Nursery in Kerhonkson to oversee the design and installation of a gorgeous selection of native plants that have already brought us more bees, butterflies and birds. Some highlights: a berry patch with raspberries, blueberries, elderberries, gooseberries and red and black currants; honeysuckle; aromatic sumac; native grasses; a bed of sunflowers; wild roses. As things settle in and spread out, I'll get G to take more photos, but just wanted you to see the work in progress.
Front paths 790 xxx
new front paths
Front plantings 790 xxx
front plantings
Planting 790 xxx
Mike D. surveying his handiwork
Back garden before 790 xxx
getting started on the back (note just one raised bed)
Back garden overhead 790 xxx
new paths in back
2nd raised bed 790 xxx
second raised bed
Tomatoes 790 xxx
G's tomatoes staked in new raised bed

Garlic scapes 790 xxx
photos by george billard

6.24.10 The Great Scape

You’re probably seeing garlic scapes at your local farmers markets right about now. They are those unruly shoots that spring from the tops of garlic plants (much like hair springs from my head most mornings). A beautiful, bright green, scapes have a garlicky fragrance flavor that is milder, fresher and more grassy than garlic bulbs. (The scapes are cut in order to strengthen the growth of the bulbs underground.) Try them raw, or lightly cooked in a stir-fry. This pesto recipe shows them off nicely, and is great as a dip, stirred into hot pasta, eaten with cheese or spread on a sandwich.
Site 790 xxx
the house site (photos by george billard)

6.23.10 This Land is Your Land

We're seriously considering buying this piece of land that was brought to our attention by a guardian angel up here in Sullivan County. The idea would be to build our dream house on it one day. It's a nice-sized 5-acre lot that starts with a gorgeous meadow and rolls down a hill to a breathtaking reservoir. The best thing is that across the reservoir is all state-owned land that is a protected sanctuary for the bald eagle. We put the canoe in there the other day and it's absolutely stunning. The prospect of being able to live in such a place seems almost too good to be true.So you can imagine how my heart broke when I watched Josh Fox's gripping documentary, Gasland, on HBO the other night. It was a hit at Sundance and I imagine it will get theatrical distribution at some point, but I urge you to see it now; you can watch it on HBO On Demand. Hot, bitter tears rolled down my cheeks during most of the film, which is about fracking—the hydraulic fracturing process that is being used to free up natural gas from within vast shale deposits. Natural gas is being touted as the ideal "transition" fuel that will take us away from fossil fuels and toward alternative energy sources. In fact, this extraction method is entirely unregulated, thanks to a loophole created by Dick Cheney, that evil and calculating sonofabitch. He even convinced the Bureau of Land Management, an agency that is supposed to look after 264 million acres of pristine public land—that's OUR land—to allow drilling.
Radishes 790 xxx
photo by george billard

6.21.10 Relish the Radish

A radish is a beautiful thing, something like a baby turnip with a bite. I'm sure you're already familiar with the classic European way of eating them with slightly softened butter and a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. What could be better? In his seminal cookbook, Nose to Tail Eating, British chef Fergus Henderson suggests that you eat your radishes in this manner and then follow that with a light salad made of their greens tossed with a vinaigrette. Sort of a vegetarian nose-to-tail approach, no? Thin slices of dark bread, buttered and layered with radishes and sea sat, make a fantastic sandwich. And I love an early summer salad of sliced radishes, blanched English peas and chopped preserved lemon, tossed with a couple of tablespoons of creme fraiche and maybe a chiffonade of mint. BUT, perhaps you have an aversion to radishes. Too strong you say; or maybe even too watery or too strange. For those of you in this camp, and any others who would like to branch out in new radish directions, may I recommend the delicious braised radish?
Banana 790 xxx

6.19.10 Bananarama

I know, I know. Another creamy, icy, indulgent treat. Don't be mad at me. It's that time of year. Besides this rich and delicious ice cream is completely dairy-free and can be made with no added sweetener. Its secret ingredient? Bananas! I happen to be a huge fan of banana ice cream, so when my sister-in-law forwarded me a year-old link to this recipe on Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn, I was excited to try it. Theirs called simply for frozen bananas whipped in a food processor, but I added a few extra ingredients in very small quantities—maple syrup, lemon juice, crème fraîche and cinnamon. Feel free to customize it according to your own flavor fetishes, but consider peanut butter, chocolate, cardamom, coconut milk and lime (but probably not all together). And remember, bananas are a great source of potassium, magnesium and vitamin C. They're also full of fructooligosaccharide, a prebiotic that helps colonize your intestine with good bacteria. As if you needed another reason to try this...
Homemade 790 xxx
photos by george billard

6.18.10 Condimental: From Scratch

Welcome to my 200th post. (Although my site didn't go live until December, I had a backlog of posts dating to last July.) Those of you who frequent other blogs may notice that I update quite often. I've really been enjoying pouring my passion out on this page, and sharing with you all my recent nutritional discoveries. It's as though the scales have fallen from my eyes and I see the world of food in a new way. I find it a little challenging to write about things like fats, raw milk, lacto-fermentation, grass-fed beef, etc. because I imagine some of you don't have access to these things—or may not be ready to incorporate them into your lives. But as I move closer to the earth and closer to the traditional way of using what nature offers us—without the tyranny and destruction of industrialized agriculture and mass processing—I am compelled to tell you about how wonderful it is! I fervently hope I can continue to pique your interest and your palate. This shot of my fridge, above, and the ones that follow, are as good an indication as any of the transformation of my kitchen. I am so much more in control of what goes into my body, because I'm making my own mayonnaise (from farm-fresh egg yolks and cold-pressed olive and peanut oils); and my own stocks and syrups and nut butters and pickles.