There are some kitchen activities that lend themselves to metaphor. Even if you are not a cook, you will likely know what I mean if I tell you about someone getting roasted at work. Or how I steep in the silence of the early morning before anyone else is up. Or how I have an idea percolating on the back burner.
But then there are other activities that only come to mean more through seemingly endless repetition. Whether specific recipes, chores, or rituals, these processes tend to become very personal symbols that are hard to communicate to anyone else. It goes beyond dog eared cookbooks and even beyond consciously recalling a recipe from memory. The process becomes some kind of psychic extension of yourself. You do them not just to have food in the fridge but because the making feeds your soul.
Making lemon curd is like that for me.
Every winter I not so patiently wait for the email notice from Local Harvest that meyer lemons and blood oranges are in season. I quickly order several boxes, always afraid that my favorites from Beck Grove will be sold out before I get any. It’s how I imagine the people camping in line for the newest tidbit of technology feel. About a week later, I hear the boxes thud by the door. For the next several weeks my time is spent processing 20 pounds of meyer lemons and another 25 pounds of blood oranges. Dried orange and lemon rings, citrus vinegar, “bloody” marmalade, limoncello… each year I seem to run out of fruit before I’ve finished preserving.
I love everything about preserving these fruits. From lining them up on my window sill against the steely winter sky to the blood red stains on my counter.This year I had the privilege of sharing that joy with one of my favorite people. Theodore helped me haul the heavy boxes up the steps and into the kitchen. He helped open the boxes and wasn’t the only one that squealed when the glowing yellows were revealed. It was with a small sense of loss that I let him carry one around the house, knowing that it wouldn’t be salvageable for any recipe after he was done with it. But the loss was recuperated as I got to watch his curiosity lead him to knead, squish, poke, roll, and taste that lemon. Now whenever he sees the lemons sitting on the counter, he insists whoever is at home come smell them, even the cats. I hope to be the kind of parent that will protect and foster that pleasure into his adulthood. Someone who sees such a gift in just the scent of a lemon would truly be a gift to the world.
But the part that speaks to my soul is making lemon curd. Somehow, I become the eggs that break. The lemons that are squeezed so hard they bleed. The butter that finds itself melting away with no way to come back. And I feel the whisking. Endless whisking. As I stand over the pot, I feel the flame a little to close to my hand, but I keep whisking. I feel the disturbance in my soul. Beaten to a froth and then beaten some more. Constant constant motion. Never reaching equilibrium. Ceaseless whirling. I begin to wonder when it will end. How long? How long? I don’t know how much more I can take.
There’s a thickness that wasn’t there before. The whisk moves more slowly, disturbing less with every stroke. Things become still in the center of the pot. I can see the tracks of where I’ve been. The heat is removed. I can almost hear the curd take in its first breath. And I breathe more deeply too.
Is it any wonder that the result of this process is a food that I can’t seem to get enough of? Though it may be possible to point to all the good fats in the butter, the selenium in the pastured eggs, or the vitamin C in the lemon juice, I think there is more going on here than mere nutrition. It is soul food of a different dimension.
Meyer Lemon Curd with Cardamom
makes 2 pints
6-8 Meyer lemons
1/3 cup honey
1 stick butter
2 tsp ground cardamom
Zest the lemons and reserve the zest. Juice them into a measuring cup until you have one full cup. If you are on the cusp of 1 cup, go ahead and juice another lemon. It’s better to have a little too much than too little. Whisk the eggs and honey in a medium pot. Pour the lemon juice through a fine sieve into the mixture and whisk until it’s the color of the first sunny day in spring. Slice the butter into pats and drop into the mixture. Turn the heat to medium high and whisk in the melting butter. Keep whisking almost constantly to avoid the eggs cooking up into chunks. When it suddenly thickens and coats the back of a spoon, turn off the heat and stir in a generous pinch of zest and the cardamom. Pour into jars. Eat one jar straight with a spoon. Tell your family the recipe only made one pint. The curd keeps in the fridge for at least a week and freezes well, though it looses a bit of it’s satiny texture upon thawing.
Posted 3 months, 2 weeks ago at 10:15 am. 1 comment
I was in denial about Nutella for quite awhile. It held great emotional significance for me. Capped under that white lid was countless sleepy mornings in the dorm packing my brown bag lunch next to my roommates. Swirled amidst the chocolate and hazelnuts was a rooftop picnic in Italy with crusty bread and fresh fruit. Sticking to the sides of the jar next to the reduced minerals whey….
I told you I was in denial. Even though I’m an obsessive ingredient list reader, I refused to check the Nutella label for about two years. I didn’t want to know. In this one instance, I desperately wanted to believe the front of the label with the bright cheery apples and oranges next to toast spread with Nutella.
One day I took the plunge. I turned the jar around and read this label:
(For those of you who can’t read my jiggling-baby-on-hip-camera-phone-quality picture, the ingredients are: sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, reduced minerals whey, lecithin, vanillin.)
Just as quickly I stuffed that memory down into my subconscious with miscellaneous childhood humiliations. I bought several more jars of Nutella over the next several months in this state of forced forgetfulness. Finally I had to be honest with myself; this was not the kind of food-like substance I wanted to eat.
While I’m sure if I looked hard enough I could find an artisanal chocolate hazelnut spread that some guy makes using nuts from his backyard and chocolate imported from his Swiss grandmother all packaged in a vintage heirloom glass jar, I have too strong of a DIY gene for that nonsense.
A quick check with Uncle Google revealed that homemade Nutella is nothing new. Still, none of the recipes were quite up to my real food standard. They either included massive amounts of sugar or dry milk powder, a product that gives me the heebie jeebies. Was it not possible to make a chocolate hazelnut spread that contained only whole fresh ingredients- ones that I’d eat separately anyway?
Happily, yes it most definitely is. With soaked and sprouted hazelnuts as a base, real cream, and no sugar other than what’s in the chocolate, this recipe is genuinely nourishing without sacrificing tastiness. Soaking and sprouting the nuts increases the availability of protein, vitamins, and minerals while decreasing the effects of nutrient inhibitor phytic acid. The resulting spread is not as creamy as store bought Nutella. Little nibbles of hazelnut remain, which I find quite enjoyable. If you’re seeking imitation perfection though, strain the spread through a fine mesh sieve before storing it in jars.
Homemade Three Ingredient “Nutella”
adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe
2 cups hazelnuts
12 oz of your favorite chocolate
2 cups cream (or leftover whey)
Pour hazelnuts into a large bowl and cover with warm water. Let them soak overnight in a warm place. I put it in my gas oven over the pilot light. The next morning, drain the nuts in a colander. You may stop here and proceed to roasting them, or you may choose to continue rinsing them every few hours until they just barely sprout.
Preheat your oven (or toaster oven) to 350°. Spread the nuts out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for about 10-15 minutes or until toasty brown goodness wafts from your kitchen. Stir or shake the pan occasionally to make sure they are browning evenly. Take the pan out of the oven and let the nuts cool slightly.
While the nuts cool, place a heatproof bowl on top of a pot filled with a few inches of water. Or use a double boiler. Place your chocolate in a bowl and allow it to melt over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it is smooth throughout.
Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it is just above blood temperature (about 100°). Don’t be a perfectionist; just stick your finger in there and if it feels like bath water, you’re golden.
Gather your nuts into the middle of a large tea towel or in a pillow case. Rub the towel over them vigorously until most of the skins have been removed. Don’t be a perfectionist.
Place the nuts and a two generous pinches of salt in the bowl of a food processor and whirl away until they almost become a nut butter. (Be sure to warn any toddlers in the house that there will be a loud noise.) Add the chocolate and whirl again until evenly incorporated. You might have to stop to scrape down the sides a few times. With the motor still running, slowly pour in the warm milk. (Again, stopping if necessary to scrape the sides.) Once the mixture is smooth and homogeneous, pour it into two pint jars (or two jars you’ve saved from previous Nutella indulgences). You may strain the spread through a sieve to remove the bits of hazelnut. Personally, that’s too much work and I quite like the chunkiness anyway.
chocolate hazelnut spread in the fridge for about a week to ten days. Freeze it for up to a few months.
Eat it with a spoon. Or fingers. Your prerogative. Leave the guilt in the fridge.
*So I realize that the salt technically makes it four ingredients. But let’s not quibble over details, a’right?
Posted 9 months, 1 week ago at 7:57 pm. 7 comments
Have you ever happened to walk outside alone on Christmas Eve? It’s something of a private tradition of mine. On some pretext I leave the gathered family… must get something from the car…. anyone checked the mail?…just a moment. In that moment I step outside, the cold and the silence are indistinguishable. The chill cuffs my nose and swipes at my fingers. (I am inevitably under dressed, mistaking the warmth of good company for warmth of weather.) The silence thumps against my ears as the door closes behind me. Everything is muffled, from the boisterous sounds of family inside to the thrum of traffic. There aren’t even any summer insects to break the silence. It is still. And cold.
In that moment I am aware of the weight of tradition. I feel the presence of Christmases past, both those I’ve been a part of and those that aren’t mine to remember. So much expectation, merry-making, disappointment, loneliness, and hope bound to one night hangs heavy in the damp dark air.
I know the mysteriousness is mainly an invention of my own mind. Perhaps that the same stillness could be felt on other nights if only I were to take notice. But still.
This cake reminds me of that moment I seek out every year. It is combines the warm spice of gingerbread decorating, the stillness of dark chocolate melting on your tongue, and the malty tang of a stout drink enjoyed with friends. And it is most mysteriously dark. Because I used part coconut oil instead of all butter, this cake will stay moist for several days. I like it iced with a frothy whipped cream cheese icing. The cake seems to need it, just as we need to celebrate the light during the darkest time of year. However, neither the cake nor the frosting are extremely sweet. If you’d like a sweeter rather than tangy frosting, feel free to add more honey. I made my cake in a angel food cake pan, but I’m sure this would be beautiful baked in a more decorative bunt mold or even a simple loaf pan. (Note that this recipe makes 2 loaf cakes. If you just want one, cut the recipe in half.) Though if you do use a decorative pan, you might want to consider leaving it unfrosted and instead dusting it with some powdered sugar or even finely shredded coconut.
Christmas Eve Cake
Inspired by Nigella Lawsons’ Chocolate Guinness Cake
and the Stout Gingerbread Cake in The Last Course: The Desserts of Grammercy Tavern
For the cake:
1 bottle of dark spicy beer, such as Guinness extra stout
1 cup dutched cocoa powder
1 T baking soda
1/3 cup sugar honey
1/2 coconut oil
1 cup butter, softened
4 cups white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour, as you wish
4 T ground ginger
2 T ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp ground grains of paradise or freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp ground cardamom
4 T freshly grated gingerFor the icing:1 package of cream cheese, softened
a drizzle of honey (1/8- 1/4 cup, as you wish)
1/2 cup heavy creamPreheat the oven to 350°. Generously butter your pan(s). (See note above.) In a large saucepan over medium high heat, bring the beer, honey, and molasses to a boil. Seriously, get a really large pan. Beer is volitale and boils over easily, as my kitchen floor can attest. Once it’s boiled, take it off the heat and add the baking soda. Stir very very gently. Let it sit as the foam settles itself down. When there is enough space in the pot, add the butter and coconut oil, using the residual heat to melt. Let it cool to baby bath temperature.Meanwhile, mix together the flour, cocoa, and spices, except the fresh ginger in a large bowl. In another large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the molasses mixture to the eggs and mix well. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the liquid into the dry ingredients. Mix until just blended. Add the fresh ginger and mix gently.
Pour the batter into your pan, gently tapping it on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake in the oven for 60-90 minutes for bundt pan, and slightly less for loaf pans. It’s done when the top springs back gently when pressed. Though it can be hard to see, if it smells like it’s getting too dark, cover the top with foil until the rest of the cake is done.
Remove it from the oven and let cool for a couple minutes before running a knife or spatula around the sides. Gently release the cake from the pan and let cool completely on a rack before frosting.
In a food processor of stand mixer, beat the cream cheese till it’s light and fluffy. Add the honey and cream and beat again until frothy. Frost the cake with a liberal hand. Dust the top with extra spices if you’d like or leave it immaculately white.
Posted 1 year, 5 months ago at 8:10 am. Add a comment
Sangria will always have a special hold on my taste buds. In my pre-married days I lived at a house where there was always a frosty pitcher of Sangria in the fridge. It was the accompaniment of many a weekend backyard cookout and afternoon share-more-than-you-meant-to conversations. To this day I cannot make Sangria without thinking of my much cherished roommates.
This summer, however, while a sangria pitcher is not a stranger to my fridge, I needed something different. I’d been itching to try some of Mark Bittman’s adult ice pops and given my penchant for sangria, figured that would be a good place to start.
Normally part of the appeal of sangria is the wine soaked fruit at the bottom of the glass. But I wasn’t sure that would work for an ice pop, so I blended the juice in with the wine. While I personally used blackberries for this recipe, any berries (or fruit for that matter) would probably work. Although, if it’s something like peaches, you can probably skip the straining step.
Sangria on a Stick
1 lb berries
1 cup dry red wine
a good pinch of salt
a couple swigs of brandy
Blend all the ingredients together until smooth in a blender or food processor. Press the mixture through a fine sieve, discarding the solids.(Compost or chickens!) Pour liquid into ice pop molds or paper cups. Freeze for at least 5 hours. If you are using paper cups, don’t forget to insert the stick once they thicken but before they are completely frozen. Take out of the molds as needed for summer afternoon pick me ups and incognito happy hours.
Posted 1 year, 9 months ago at 8:47 am. 1 comment
I feel like this post ought to start with some quip about the inferiority of Fig Newtons and Pop Tarts. But anything I think of either sounds lame or pretentious. “Fig Newtons are only a figment of your imagination compared to this!” or “Pop Tarts: the illegitimate child of a tart.” See? I told you– I somehow manage to be lame and pretentious (and slightly risque) at the same time. Continue Reading…
Posted 1 year, 10 months ago at 1:20 pm. 2 comments
Pie crust has always been a big deal to me. My dear sweet Grandma Rolf was a pie making goddess from crust to crumbs. A visit to her house was never complete without some sort of pie, though most commonly it was a sweet spicy-scented apple pie that came out of her oven. As a child I didn’t realize what a perfect slice of Americana I was as I sat at the table digging into my warm apple pie and melty vanilla ice cream. I only knew it was good.
She set the bar high. When my friends would scrape out the filling and leave the crust behind, I was confused. The crust was my favorite part! It wasn’t until I tasted a commercially prepared crust that I understood and empathized with their behavior. When I became my own cook there was never even the option of a store bought crust. To do such a thing felt on the order of building a cold, tough, mealy sidewalk over her grave.
While I hear tell that my grandma used lard and butter for most of her pie baking days, near the end she had switched to an oil based crust because it was “healthier.” While this is probably the crust I grew up on so I can attest to its goodness, ironically I’m too uncomfortable with the unhealthy aspects of low quality vegetable oil to make it. So I had to start from scratch finding my own recipe. Continue Reading…
Posted 1 year, 10 months ago at 8:23 pm. 4 comments
Olive oil and Gelato won’t make it. That’s what you’re thinking, right? They’re one of those couples that would rather bicker and roll their eyes at each other than anything else. They’re just too incompatible. One prefers to savor life, especially long leisurely meals full of good wine and even better conversation. The other, while sweet, prefers life on the go, rarely loitering around for anyone no matter how interesting. How could such a couple ever resolve their differences?
With some quality time in the freezer I say. Continue Reading…
Posted 3 years, 3 months ago at 8:17 am. 6 comments