Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Nearly Perfect Day


Yesterday was a nearly perfect day. Not because I finished knitting my shawl (I didn't). Not because I planted tomatoes finally (I didn't). And not even because I finally got my copy of David Lebovitz's new book, The Sweet Life in Paris (I did, but I have to wait 3 weeks to read it!).

No. Yesterday was nearly perfect because I ate my first stone fruit of the year. It's a tricky time, the late spring. Warm days, long evenings, farmers markets, and plants blooming riotously throughout town make me think summer's here. Until it's time to buy fruit. It's been nothing but citrus on their last legs and storage apples. Sure, there was the rhubarb respite, but have you ever tried packing rhubarb in a kid's lunch? It doesn't quite work.

But yesterday I had a nectarine. Nice little ones, not heavily irrigated. It wasn't perfect, but it was promising. A little crisp still, but heavenly perfumed. I am excited for the summer.

But first I'm off--to the Netherlands for 3 weeks! I'll be seeing my daughter graduate from college, taking a walking trip, eating lots of herring, and enjoying those little cookies they always give you with your coffee.

Hopefully I'll check in now and again.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Raw Rhubarb


Friday afternoon I was running late (what else is new?), throwing together a rhubarb compote while a cake baked. I forgot that earlier in the morning I'd also started a raw rhubarb compote. In fact, I forgot about it all the way 'til Sunday evening, when my mother asked how it turned out.

The recipe came from a new book, Rustic Fruit Desserts by Julie Richardson of Portland's Baker and Spice, and Cory Schreiber. Organized seasonally, the book is full of recipes for grunts, buckles, and bettys (or is that betties?). And it has 9 rhubarb recipes!


This afternoon I finally tasted the raw rhubarb compote. How interesting. After sitting for 3 days (the first day at room temperature, and then tucked into the refrigerator), the rhubarb takes on enough sweetness to temper its acidity, but somehow still keeps its crunch. The flavor seemed different than a cooked compote: maybe slightly more herby? And with each bite, the last taste reminded me of blackberries. I always like to be reminded of blackberries.

Incidentally, I'm always a little intrigued by Plexiglas book holders to protect your cookbooks. And by the people who carefully cover the page they're working from with a piece of plastic wrap. I'm on the side of using a cookbook to death. For one thing, if you're not very good about noting which recipes you've tried and liked, an oil spatter does just as well. And if you splash liquids about while cooking, the pages become pleasantly wrinkled, falling open to the pages you've used the most. Or where you were the biggest slob.

As you can see, there's no honeymoon period for books in my kitchen. Here's Rustic Fruit Desserts, after one use. Squeezing oranges can be messy:



Raw Rhubarb Compote
from Julie Richardson's Rustic Fruit Desserts

2 1/4 pounds rhubarb (about 1-1/2 pounds prepped)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 1/2 orange)

  • Trim leaves and ends of rhubarb, and de-string it
  • Dice the rhubarb into 1/4-inch pieces (cut into strips, then cut crosswise
  • Put rhubarb into a bowl, add sugar and juice, and stir to combine
  • Cover and let sit at room temperature at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, the compote will keep for up to 3 days.

Note: As you perhaps can tell from the photo, I am a shoddy dicer, and my pieces are more like 1/4 by 5/8 inch pieces. I recommend you chop neatly and properly. I would if I could. Also, as noted, I ate it 3 days old, and it seemed fine to me! We'll see how it is tomorrow. If you don't hear from me....

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mothers Day


It's a strange thing. Technically, I don't like breakfast in bed. Really, I hate it normally. I love breakfast; I love bed. But the crumbs! So I was kind of surprised this morning when Pavel brought me breakfast--in bed.


But just look at that beautiful runny-orange yolk! With a generously buttered piece of toast on the side (more than I would have spread--thanks Pavel!) of the perfect soft-cooked egg, I think I'm a convert. Hear that, Pavel? Hear that, kids? I'm ready to receive breakfasts in bed (provided there's toast and eggs).

Now I just wonder what the rest of the day will bring. Lots of laziness, I hope.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Happy Birthday, James Beard

I've been thinking of seeing a hypnotist. I remember huge numbers of food-related details from my early life. For example, when I was 13, I went to Europe for the first time. Soon after we landed in the Netherlands we stopped at a cafe by the freeway, where I had a black currant soda. Later, I ate rhubarb sauce on the side of pork--I'd never had it outside of a pie before. I ate frogs legs at Chez La Mère Blanc (now Georges Blanc). They didn't quite taste like chicken, and I was mesmerized by the large woman wearing a skirt over her swimsuit, with a dog on her lap. I also stayed at the Auberge of the Flowering Hearth , and still remember the green Chartreuse soufflé (and not being used to wine with dinner, and passing out after). At my distant relatives in Chiomonte, a village in the mountains outside Torino, I was served two crostatas the morning we left--one was with chunks of chocolate, the other with jam.

But still I need to see a hypnotist. Because what I can't remember, no matter how hard I try, is my breakfast with James Beard. I was on a family road trip, returning to California from Canada. We detoured to Gearhart, where we had somehow been invited to breakfast at Beard's house. I remember entering the house, and being introduced. My Dad mentioned that I'd been teaching myself to cook from his book, The Best of Beard, Great Recipes from a Great Cook (it had been a Christmas present the year before). The last thing I remember of that morning is James Beard looking fairly unimpressed.

I have a few other scattered memories of that trip. We stopped at the Portland farmers market on a rainy morning. It was a ghost of the market Beard describes in his book, Delights and Prejudices , and a ghost of today's market. But it was new to me--I don't remember seeing a farmers market before then. It was (I think) somewhere along SW Yamhill. This was in 1975, so probably before the Yamhill Market Place existed. I wonder if the market we visited was a remnant of the Farmer's Cooperative Market (a rival to the grand--apparently the world's largest in its time--Portland Public Market on Front Street) at the site of the original Carroll Market? Or was it an early attempt at restarting the market tradition here?

Of course, I had no idea then that in only 12 years I'd be moving to Portland, nor that I'd end up living a few blocks from the site of Portland's first municipal market, the Albina Public Market.

But back to Beard. I so want to remember that breakfast. What did we eat? Did he serve his mother's cream biscuits? What did we talk about? But I'm thinking instead of seeing a hypnotist (God only knows what other things he might dredge up--best let sleeping dogs lie!), I'll revisit my first cookbook and cook some early favorites (I remember especially liking the chicken braised with green olives). Then I'll explore James Beards' Portland and Oregon a bit more, with Delights and Prejudices as a guidebook. I've never eaten at Huber's, though I've enjoyed their Spanish Coffees more than once. Perhaps immersion will jog my memory, and my breakfast with James Beard will slowly return.

What remains of my book

Friday, May 1, 2009

Buttermilk Soup

'Buttermilk soup' may not stir up a mouthwatering image for many. How about Kærnemælk Koldskaal? Still nothing? Oh well. In our house, it's one of the dishes that we eat every year, but not year-round. Buttermilk Soup is something my family always looks forward to welcoming back in the spring.



The soup is made with nothing but buttermilk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and lemon (rind and juice). Whipped to a froth, it's chilled until suppertime, when you top it with butter-and-sugar-enriched oats.



The oat topping is made by melting butter (a lot), adding sugar (a fair amount) and then toasting oats in it. Kind of like granola. But you'd be pushing it to consider it a breakfast (though your kids might try to convince you).

There's a small window of time when Meyer lemons are still available in stores (or on the trees of visiting Californians) and the days are heating up, that is perfect for buttermilk soup. Today is that window. I wouldn't exactly call it hot--with a little luck we'll get to 70 today--but I won't have Meyer lemons much longer, and buttermilk soup is especially good with them.




I first ate Buttermilk Soup 30 years ago, as an exchange student on a Danish dairy farm. My family had pretty fawn-colored Jersey cows, whose milk had an exceptionally high fat content. I'd been a nonfat milk drinker, but quickly adjusted to drinking large quantities of the creamy milk--I never looked back. In the summer, my host mother made Kærnemælk Koldskaal. This refreshing dish was usually served as an after-school snack; sometimes it was a light dessert. I believe many Danes eat it (ate it?) as a light supper.


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Now I usually make it for a dessert on a hot day. But I've been known to serve it for supper.



A couple weeks ago at the farmer's market, I came across Jacob's Creamery's stand, offering local Jersey milk. That next week I received a twitter from the market, reminding me to order buttermilk. What could I do?

Their buttermilk, incidentally, is delicious. It seems to keep its frothiness long after it's shaken up.



And the recipe, for any brave souls who would like a light, satisfying supper.

Buttermilk Soup
serves 4 for supper, 6 for dessert
adapted from The Art of Scandinavian Cooking by Nika Hazelton

3 eggs
juice and rind of 1 lemon (a Meyer lemon is especially nice!)
5 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 quart buttermilk

  • Beat the eggs well
  • Add the lemon juice and rind, sugar, and vanilla to eggs, and beat until pale and fluffy
  • Whip the buttermilk until frothy (I often just shake the carton vigorously)
  • Slowly beat buttermilk into egg mixture
  • Chill until serving
Traditionally the soup is served with oatcakes, but sometimes also with whipped cream. Newer recipes suggest such things as crumbled biscotti or amaretti cookies. I imagine crumbled gingersnaps might be nice. But I especially like the oat topping.

Oat Topping

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups oats

  • Melt butter
  • Stir in sugar
  • Stir in oatmeal
  • Fry over medium heat until oatmeal is golden brown.
If you want to be fancy, you can pack the mixture into moistened custard cups, and chill. I prefer to not be fancy. We just put the pan of oat topping on the table, and let people load up their bowls.
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