If the slide into bourgeois bohemian middle age is signaled by weekly farmer’s market visits and excessive zeal for new kitchen gadgets, I am the avalanche. Unable to consume one more raw cherry and compelled to make a cobbler to address our bounty, I found myself without a cherry pitter. A quick trip to Sur La Table later, I was redecorating my kitchen in fuchsia splotches. I chose the OXO version, which while handsome, I can only partially recommend on account of the splattering and the fact that my husband nearly broke a tooth on the many pits I failed to remove.
On a side note, is totally disturbing to me that the employees at our neighborhood Sur La Table know me by name, thanks in part to our wedding registry last year. Consumer capitalism gets you good when you get hitched—I’m still receiving an unsolicited, unwelcome copy of Brides magazine each month. Little do the power that be know, I was the most disappointing participant in the wedding industrial complex of all time. This county courthouse bride didn’t even manage register for a cherry pitter!
You probably already have a go-to cobbler recipe, but I thought I’d tap out mine. At some point my recipe was essentially a Joy of Cooking/Betty Crocker hybrid, one I cobbled together, wink wink. But it’s enough my own now that the specifics may be worthwhile if you find yourself with an excess of cherries, sweet or sour.
4 cups of pitted fresh cherries (I used sweet, but you could use sour and up the sugar)
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4.5 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons sugar
2-½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk
Heat oven to 375º.
Pit those damn cherries. Bemoan the fact that your kitchen now looks like a shocking pink Pollack painting. Realize that you don’t have a lime. Steal a lime from your neighbor’s lime tree down the street. Mix cherries with 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch, lime zest, and vanilla extract. Pour into ungreased baking dish that will fit the whole damn things with a few inches to spare for biscuit.
Cut room temperature butter into flour, 3 teaspoons sugar, baking powder and salt in medium bowl using a knife, until mixture look like fine crumbs. Stir in milk. By the spoonful, drop dough by onto filling mixture.
Bake 35-40 minutes or until topping is golden brown and fruit juice is oozing up and appears to have thickened. Eat with vanilla ice cream. And cobbler for breakfast is the bee’s knees, duh.
Some dark clouds have gathered Chez Bear-Garden, as my amazing 95-year-old grandmother is in the process of passing away from this world to whatever lies on the other side. There aren’t really any wise or clever words to dose out in this situation. All I can say is that she has lived a long and interesting life and raised a great family in the process, and I am still sorting how much emptier the world will be for my family without her in it.
Juanita is the most fiercely independent person I’ve ever known, and if I had to describe her in two words or less I would say “elegant mettle.” Originally raised in a Southern Colorado/Northern New Mexico Hispanic farming community that can trace its roots there to the early 16th century, she married into a family of Sicilian immigrants who had settled into the San Francisco Bay area. The fusion of those two culinary traditions — roasted green chiles, queso blanco, and blue corn on the one hand, salted anchovies, Cioppino, and homemade raviolis on the other — is what my family considers comfort food of the first order. All of us cook the way we do because of the way my grandparents cooked, and one of the ways I will always remember Juanita is through the culinary traditions that she and my grandfather started and that I hope will be shared with the generations to come in our family.
As a small tribute to her, I wanted to share one of my favorite of her recipes. An inveterate sweet tooth, my grandmother would always have a cake, a pie, or a loaf of famous banana bread for her visitors. Her banana bread is perfect, simple solution to that bunch of rotten bananas that you might have hanging out in your kitchen right now. My mother would always bake some for parties or for a sick neighbor, and today I often make a loaf at the beginning of the week for easy, yummy breakfasts on the go.
Juanita’s Banana Bread
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of butter or vegetable shortening
3-4 very ripe bananas (we’re talking brown, shriveled, and fruit-fly ready)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup walnuts or pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease loaf pan well with butter and sprinkle with flour. Cream together sugar and butter. Add eggs and bananas to butter and sugar mixture and mix well. I find that a potato masher works excellently for smushing up the bananas. Add flour, baking soda, and walnuts or pecans. Mixture will be stiff. Pour into pan and bake for one hour or more until toothpick comes out clean from the center of loaf when inserted.
Second generation modification: My mother used to serve slices of banana bread topped with cream cheese and black olives at her wild parties of the 1970s and 1980s. It’s not my cup of tea, but a lot of people reading this blog might have fond memories of those days.
Third generation modification: To make this a bit healthier for weekday breakfasts, I like to substitute 1/4 cup of flour with 1/4 cup of ground flaxseed. I also omit one banana and add instead a cup of frozen blueberries when I add the nuts.
Now that we no longer live three blocks from Pozzetto, we’ve been forced to improvise for our quotidian ice cream needs. Upon returning to the States I hit commercial gelato brands like Ciao Bella and Talenti pretty hard, hoping to find something approximating the lifestyle to which we had become accustomed. No dice. In fact, I was pretty disappointed in the quality-to-price ratio of those particular brands. If I’m going to drop six bucks on a pint of ice cream, it better make me see God.
My big revelation came when I was staying in California for a week this fall and my lovely hostess J oh-so-casually busted out dishes of her homemade Mexican chocolate ice cream on my first night in town. Oh man, it was good – creamy and light and deeply chocolatey with just a kick of chile to round the whole thing out. And instead of pretending that it was an impossibly difficult task to make one’s own ice cream at home (like I would have likely done to my own houseguests), J took the modest route and said it was totally simple and encouraged me to get an ice cream maker to try it myself.
Fast-forward to Christmas, when B’s parents sweetly gave me an ice cream attachment for my new Kitchen Aid stand mixer (birthday present from B to Clarence, aren’t we predictable?). Our first go at the basic chocolate gelato recipe from the Silver Spoon wasn’t exactly a roaring success – our custard didn’t set properly, we burned the chocolate ever so slightly, and the final product was decidedly crumbly and grainy. It wasn’t terrible, but it definitely wasn’t worth the time and effort. B and I turned to the amazing wealth of information about ridiculous things on the internet and discovered a few tricks for making ice cream at home more successful. I think the biggest improvement came from beating the eggs yolks and sugar together until they were extremely light yellow and made ribbons off the wisk – no small effort but this is what live-in boyfriends are designed for.
Our second batch of ice cream was a riff on this Epicurious recipe for sour cream ice cream. I had heard tall tales of Momofuku’s sour cream ice cream with lime but it was impossible to track down the recipe on the internets and I was too lazy to do my usual Barnes and Noble camera phone trick. Plus B had been nursing an idea about rosemary ice cream. Put all those fat kid yearnings together and the result was one hell of an ice cream:
Rosemary and Lime Zest Sour Cream Ice Cream
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup sugar
8 large egg yolks
2 cups (1 pint) sour cream
2 stalks of fresh rosemary, removed from stalks and roughly chopped
zest of 1 lime
In heavy saucepan combine sour cream, half-and-half, and 3/4 cup sugar and bring just to a boil. Remove pan from heat, and then put the hot cream mixture into another bowl. In a second bowl whisk together egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar. I mean, really wisk it. Wisk it until your arm aches, and then switch arms and wisk some more. Then slowly pour egg mixture into hot cream mixture, wisking all the while. Don’t worry, you can skip the gym today. Return the incorporated ingredients to the saucepan, then add rosemary and lime zest. Cook over low heat, stirring, until a candy thermometer reads 170°F (though we didn’t have a candy thermometer and used a meat one instead and everything came out fine, so take that Williams Sonoma). Remove from heat and strain through a fine sieve into a bowl. Chill custard (or “batter,” as they say in the biz) until cold (we find our wintertime porch works excellently for this task), then freeze in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. While the soft-serve consistency of this ice cream was delicious right out of the churn, this guy really hit his stride after about three hours of setting in the freezer. I’d serve it with a salty caramel pine nut tart at a fantasy dinner party.
Any home ice makers out there? What are your favorite recipes? What about store brands that tickle your fancy?
I just arrived home from a great trip with B’s family to Ireland and Scotland. Sneek peek: you’re about to witness a big ol’ UK offal mess up in here. I ate haggis people! And loved it! It’s taking me a little while to compile everything, however. In the meantime, I think you should spend some quality time with some new blogs made by lovely people I happen to know in real life too. Foodies should head directly to my friend A’s amazing food blog The Secret Menu, where she has been writing knockout accounts of her cooking adventures, complete with some seriously yummy recipes. I’ve riffed on a few of her terrific ideas recently and let’s just say that this blog is most hilarious way to get yourself out of a cooking (or dissertation writing) slump. Her entries are getting picked up all over the place and I think she’s just about to blow up big. Now you can say you were following her before she went viral.
Secondly! My dear friend S, who I’m sure you remember from this here blarg, has started a smart tumblr called Techno-Utopias. S is basically the super-hip art history professor that we all wish we had had in college, but didn’t. Instead we ended up with Professor Cobwebs and his recycled lectures from twenty years ago about neoclassicism. Snooze. Predictably, S’s cannily curated images are always surprising and guaranteed to leave you thinking.
So kick off your shoes, make yourself an Aperol Spritz, and hop over to these fantastic blogs. You won’t be sorry. They take “Smarter than me” to a whole new level. I’ll be back in a jiffy with pictures of organ meats in a variety of delightful contexts.
Ugh, what a mess we are over here at the ranch. B admirably fought off my vicious übervirus for nearly two months, no small feat given our four foot square apartment and our luxurious two star hotels in Portugal: “Hey! Is that your foot or the shower head?!” But he has finally succumbed to the beast. Our home has turned into a contest as to who can cough the loudest. He’s trying his best, but his weakling four-day-old cold is absolutely no match for my mature demon. Having completely exhausted my supply of mucus and lung tissue, I’ve begun coughing up lost elementary school biology papers, pieces of swallowed gum, and lead paint I chipped off a desk and ate when I was seven years old. I’m digging deep, dear reader.
I must be a seriously miserable sick person to live with. I spend most of my time surfing the web, looking for alternative diagnoses, and coming to the conclusion that my swollen lymph nodes actually indicate that I have tuberculosis and spleen cancer. I inherited this charming case of hypochondria from my mother, who once concluded from an errant lab result and an afternoon spent on Web MD that she had early onset Alzheimer’s, which she announced to me right before we attended a production of Madame Butterfly. Fortunately, you are allowed to sob through the opera. Needless to say, she didn’t have Alzheimer’s, nor do I have tuberculosis or spleen cancer. The internet is an ugly place for people of our disposition. Let’s just say that B has begun to lose his patience with sentences that begin with “According to Wikipedia, gallbladder failure begins with a faint sense of doom…”
Yet despite our cacophony of coughs and my rabid internet-fueled death fears, we had a pretty lovely Valentine’s Day, if you happen to care. I know you didn’t ask about my Valentine’s Day, and barf to hearing about other people’s romantic holidays, am I right? But one particularly cool thing transpired, namely that B bought and killed his first live lobster! I guess sometime in the past six months I said that the most romantic thing I could think of was someone making me lobster bisque from scratch. I don’t even remember saying it—I have a brain like a sieve for anything other than pop song lyrics—but B remembered my weird little request and filed it away, likely on an Excel spreadsheet that he maintains for this very purpose. On Monday, he left work and tracked down this amazing creature:
I was still teaching rather late into the evening, a rather brutal graduate class I’ve been assigned in the school of education in which my students are twice my age and seem to arbitrarily resent about half of the things I tell them about the English language. Still, a steady stream of text messages from home kept me duly entertained:
Success! That fishmonger on Rivoli had a lively selection. What a beautiful boy!
He’s watching me chop the vegetables for the bisque! A great kitchen companion!
Can I touch it!? YES! [If this doesn’t ring a bell, scurry over here immediately and promptly make your own day.]
Goodbye my lobster friend!
OMG escape attempt! Thwarted!
OMG, he actually changed colors!! Why didn’t we charge the camera! Can I use the photobooth on your computer??
OMG, HE is a SHE! EGG SACK!
I came home to Sade and Stevie Wonder on the stereo, a perfect bouquet of orange tulips, a box of fancy chocolates, and fragments of lobster shell mysteriously shellacked to the walls of our kitchen. The bisque itself was a labor-intensive, resounding success. I often describe things as “sex on toast” (no idea where I got that one), but this was even better. It was like sex on a fresh blini. Always a stickler for the correct word, B explained that it less of a bisque and more of a chowder, as he decided to submerge a half-lobster’s worth of meat in each bowl upon serving (insert heaving sounds of joy here). He cobbled together his masterpiece from a mixture of French and English recipes, so I’ll try and convince him to give me the recipe to post here. There really is nothing like the slaying of a live animal to really let your lover know you care.