October 2013

Ingredients 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

10.31.13 Good Grief

I have a daily meditation practice. Me. She of the get-up-and-go mornings. I rise in the dark (hotly anticipating the end of daylight savings time) and sit on a yoga blanket on the chilly floor of my office, neck wrapped in a scarf to ward off evil drafts, legs folded like a pretzel, hands in my lap, eyes closed. And there I sit for the better part of an hour, trying to empty my mind of thoughts or at least to avoid following the relentless train of them that wants to threaten this early peace. It's not easy but occasionally, as I focus on the rise and fall of my breath, the past recedes entirely and so does the future. Then I am left with the moment, which is inevitably free of...everything.

And yet. More often than not, the second I close my eyes and begin, an enormous wave of grief rises from deep inside, as if from some bottomless well of sorrow. It is not attached to thought but more like an involuntary spasm. Tears stream down from my closed lids. I sit with it. Keep my breath steady and calm. Because that is what we are learning to do in this MBSR course. To abandon thought, to relinquish judgment, simply to observe. It passes but when I am done meditating my mind often returns to this grief that dwells within. Will it follow me forever? I picture it like a vine that has grown over the bronchi in my lungs, like the Virginia Creeper that twines around the trees upstate. They coexist, but sometimes it looks like a contest to survive.

P. J. O'Rourke —
A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money.
Fuzz 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

10.29.13 Low-Hanging Fruit

There are few things more magical than a quince. With a little kitchen alchemy you can transform this forbiddingly astringent and fuzzy fruit into something silken and sublime. The tip-off is the fragrance. When ripe, a quince will lose any hint of green, turn golden yellow and emit the most extraordinary aroma, like a candied combination of guava, pear and vanilla. I've heard that, left to ripen on the tree until late fall, they can actually become sweet enough to eat out of hand, but I have never encountered such a specimen. So I've always cooked them, generally poaching or roasting them in sweet preparations, or braising them with savory meats. If you've never tried a quince, now is the moment to look for them at your local farmers market. You'll have to look hard, though. Even at New York City's Union Square market, I found only one vendor with quinces. I wrote about this beguiling fruit here, way back in the very early days of the blog, and then again here, where I included recipes for making quince paste and for Alice Waters' mouth-watering quince and lamb tagine. This week I found a recipe for a hot lamb and quince salad from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall—he of the River Cottage and the exceedingly long name—and it really struck my fancy. Maybe it will strike yours, too.
H. L. Mencken —
I go on working for the same reason that a hen goes on laying eggs.
Egg1 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

10.24.13 Set the Timer

The minute you turn 50, I mean almost to the day, you begin to get mail from the AARP. Nowhere does it say what the acronym stands for, not even on their website. Only by going to Wikipedia will you discover that this is the organization formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons. I guess the idea of retirement is not what it once was. I know I'm not planning on retiring. Ever. So now the mission of this nonprofit, nonpartisan organization is "to help people 50 and older improve the quality of their lives." But can it teach me how to boil an egg successfully? How did I get to be 50 years old without learning that? A properly boiled egg—one in which the white is not rubbery and the yolk is golden and tender—is essential. The technique is so elemental: water + fire + time. Yet how often is my yolk leaden and tinged with grey? And, worse still, the shell almost always clings mercilessly, turning the peeling process into a living hell. 

Moroccan proverb —
A stone from the hand of a friend is an apple.
Skillet 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

10.21.13 Out of the Frying Pan

Another skillet cake. Because this one was so good. And because anything that helps dispense with a surplus of apples is welcome around here. The recipe was given to me by a kindred spirit I met at Haven's Kitchen, during a preserving class with Kevin West, a handsome Southern gentleman and the author of Saving the Season, blog and book. His demonstration included a simple applesauce, a very basic sauerkraut, a lovely cranberry jam and a golden-hued cauliflower pickle with raisins and Indian spices that I will definitely be making. I arrived armed with a very pressing question: Why, regardless of cooking time, do my preserves rarely make it to the 220-degree temperature that is always specified as the desired setting point? Kevin told me to pretend that the wooden spoon he was wielding was the candy thermometer I use at home. Then he set it on the ground and mimed stamping on it. In other words, forget the thermometer. He recommends the traditional wrinkle test. But back to the cake, which was a real windfall...
Mae West —
I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it.
Cake 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

10.15.13 Easy Bake

Today would have been my father's 89th birthday. He died when he was 64 and I was 26. A long time ago. Of stomach cancer. He collapsed on the tennis court, where he was known for the scrappy form he had acquired playing handball on the streets of Brooklyn. He had a leather jumprope that he used his whole life. It kept him fit. He could do this extraordinary trick of hoisting his body absolutely perpendicular to a lamppost and holding it there for an impressively long time. His hands were warm and tanned, with raised veins; they always reminded me of walnut shells. He had a beautiful singing voice and as a youth he earned money singing at weddings. His mother told him to stuff food in his pockets before he came home. They took in a border who was a page-turner for the Metropolitan Opera and he would give my father a nickel for every classical piece he could identify whenever they listened to the radio. Needless to say, my dad knew his Beethoven from his Borodin from his Bartok. He didn't go in for sweets so much, preferring to nibble on Spanish peanuts or salted almonds or cashews while he worked at his desk. Though he did have a weakness for chewy black licorice. And, paradoxically, sugary pecan pie. (I think it was the nuts.) He would have liked this simple cake. Not too sweet, not too fussy.
Henry David Thoreau —
None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.