Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Perfect and Wild

bay window, 2010

One of my first words was butter. It makes sense. Members of my family are genetically predisposed to appreciate good fats. We also ate kishka, the Eastern European blood sausage type. But it wasn't the name of her book that drew me to Gabrielle Hamilton, it was a little piece about Christmas Eve she wrote for her sister's publication, Canal House Cooking. This raw and honest writing left me intrigued about the author.

Soon I was the owner of a nice new hardcover book. I don't buy hardcover books often, this was a special occasion, so I took my book to Vesuvio, found a nice table with a view, ordered an Anchor Steam, and began reading.

I finished Blood, Bones & Butter yesterday afternoon and today I am thinking of Gabrielle and all of her idiosyncrasies. Her book is not perfect, she is not perfect, and as I ponder the word this morning I'm starting to think there's something ugly about perfection. Who needs it.

I've realized the traits I liked and disliked in Gabrielle (the Gabrielle we see in her book) are in direct relation to what I like and dislike in myself. Her experiences highlighted the good and bad in my own life. Her self reliance as a wild young girl had me recalling the young driven and independent me and her later drama over small obstacles left me wanting change in my life today.

I was most moved by her haphazard pruning of a set of towering oleanders outside her mother-in-law's villa in Puglia. This vision of her balancing barefoot in the crotch of branches, resolved to cut through to a view of the sea, it left me craving the same feeling of wild determination. It also reminded me of something a former drawing instructor said to me.

It was the final day of class and each student pinned their first and last drawings to the wall, proudly displaying the improvement made after a semester of practice. Our instructor thoughtfully commented on each set. When she reached my drawings, the first very loose, almost feral, and the second more careful and well crafted, I sat tall awaiting her praise of the progress I had made. She did acknowledge my progress, but followed with but I kind of miss wild Denise.

Blood, Bones & Butter
Canal House Cooking, Volume No. 5
Anchor Steam

Monday, April 18, 2011

in the quiet

slipper in the park, 2011

I play the same song, over and over again. It takes me away, well, not away, back. I wonder what the neighbors think, but don't change a thing. The plants in my window are misshapen, so leggy, reaching desperately for the sun. They need more. It's supposed to rain soon, but I'm going out anyway. I won't wait. I don't feel like waiting. Why is this single white slipper still in the park? I first saw it in early March. Time keeps the same pace, but it's all relative. As life stretches time appears to move more quickly. Today is not moving at all. It is a pause, pressed down and smeared with a thumb. I can do anything I please and it won't count. I remember the sea lion in Biarritz, sleeping in the sun. He knew it wouldn't last.

Friday, April 15, 2011

She's at it again...

Rhubarb, 2010

Right around this time last year I became a little obsessed with rhubarb. Today at the market it all came rushing back to me when I saw my first crimson stalks of the season and quickly snatched them up. I turned the corner and saw Straus Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, my favorite vanilla ice cream, and it was on sale. Obviously, this was all very meant to be. When I returned home I looked back at my recipes from last year, Star Anise Rhubarb (including the Rhubarb with Juniper Berries recipe) and Rhubarb with Earl Grey Tea, Cardamom, and Orange Zest and then looked around the kitchen and found I didn't have the ingredients for either one. Let's be honest here, I rarely make the same thing twice, there always has to be a substitution here and spice change there, so as I mentioned before, this was all very meant to be. I made the following tonight.
Rhubarb with Blood Orange & Cloves
2 servings (+ a little bit more)

3 long thin ribs of rhubarb (roughly chop into 1" pieces)
2 small blood oranges (zest and then supreme, saving all orange juice -
1/2 of the zest will be added before cooking and 1/2 added after cooking)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 vanilla bean split, seeds removed (you will use only the seeds) save the scraped bean, bury it in some sugar, and enjoy vanilla sugar later
4 cloves (remove buds from stems
and crush buds only) save the stems for another recipe

1 small scoop vanilla ice cream per serving

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Place chopped rhubarb, orange sections, and all orange juice in a small casserole dish or oven-safe pot.

Add 1/2 of the orange zest, sugar, vanilla seeds, crushed cloves, and gently toss.

Bake uncovered for 15 minutes. Stir (It will smell so good). Bake an additional 15 minutes. Fruit should be tender and kitchen should smell even better than it did the first time you opened the oven door. Cool 5-10 minutes and then top with remaining orange zest.

Serve warm with a scoop of cold ice cream on top.
You must see the gorgeous photograph Sarah Shatz at food52 made of my Rhubarb with Earl Grey Tea, Cardamom, and Orange Zest last year. The woman knows how to photograph food.

Addendum: It is the next morning. After two servings, there is a little bit of my rhubarb remaining in the pot. I am tasting it cold, without ice cream, and it is very good, maybe even better than last night.

Addendum II: Last night I made a similar dish. I increased rhubarb to 4 ribs, no orange segments or zest, the juice of one Meyer lemon, upped the sugar to closer to 1/2 cup, no vanilla, 1 teaspoon garam masala. Yum.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Words of Others

I don't worry too much about the pith., 2011

The most common and popular North African dessert is orange slices sprinkled with a little orange-blossom water and cinnamon. Remove all the pith when you peel them, and slice them thickly.
-Claudia Roden

Truth. Sometimes we're tempted to create what we think a smart, popular, or "normal" person would make. But our work is best when we're just being our own peculiar selves.
-Sharon Olds

Omit needless words.
-William Strunk, Jr.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Know Thyself

Hello. How are you doing? Good I hope.

Today is a new day. There is sun and there is wind.

I appreciate your reading my indulgent entry yesterday. Having made my confession, I felt free. I moseyed over to the gym this morning, baked Heidi's cookies (an interesting and unique cookie - highly recommended) this afternoon, and am about to begin Betty's preface.

There is a lesson here.

A little off topic, but I have two heads of escarole and cannot decide what to do with them. Any suggestions? Thank you.

olive biscuit cookies via 101 Cookbooks

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I would prefer not to.

Breakfast in March, 2011

I believe my manifesto is deflating, shrinking, melting -- something like that. It was such a nice manifesto, accompanied by a pretty springtime picture. I just don't think I'm the manifesto type. Somehow, the moment I make the formal declaration, my excitement fizzles out. The grand plan shifts to chore. I begin to feel like Bartleby, and I've never even worked in a dead letter office. It's such a shame. Perhaps things would be different if I had an office boy named Ginger Nut. Or maybe I just prefer the messiness of life, and breakfast.

"I would prefer not to." -Bartleby, the Scrivener

Monday, April 4, 2011

p. 19

Not Iowa, 2011

I found hope on page 19, yesterday's paper, The New York Times. There it was, buried beneath the grief and the sadness. Good news. If you are patient you will find it, its roots in rural Iowa. Giovanni has found himself. It has taken time, a lot of time, heroin, and prison. Things are different now. He serves Italian food from the back room of a cafe. 50 people on Friday and Saturday nights, booked every weekend since he began. He has turned their noodles to pasta and introduced them to the beauty of cannoli without a fork. He's married a nurse he met in rehab. He'll celebrate 60 years of life in June, but in so many ways is really just beginning. This is good, right? Why do I wonder how much I don't know? What crimes were committed? Who has been hurt? How did this particular story make it into The New York Times? I fear the neat little 3 column package has left too much behind. Perhaps Giovanni's debt has been paid and this is a true case of reform, it is what I want to believe. It is possible.

p. 19