Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Formosa Mingjian Osmanthus Guihua Oolong

Unfortunately this tea wasn't as good as its name is long. However, the fault was probably my own.

The tea hails from Aura Teas, who being located north of the border are currently offering a Boxing Week sale. They suggest a one minute steep for the first flush, and since that's longer than I usually do, I put it out of my mind until twice that much time had passed. As a result the brew was dark and somewhat bitter, and subsequent ones were just the opposite: light in color and flavor. Again, my fault.

But what I really want to know is whether the tea actually contains osmanthus. I would think that it did, because it's a popular herb to blend with tea, yet the ingredients on the tin say "100% tea leaf." True, osmanthus is a type of tea in the generic sense of the word (as is peppermint), but I have a feeling they mean tea the tea made from tea. Also, one usually finds osmanthus in flower form, so it's unlikely that the "leaf" refers to it.

To confuse things further, teas are often named for stuff that they don't actually contain. For instance, Honey Orchid Gold Medalist #2 contains neither honey, orchids, gold medalists, nor "number two."

But I have a feeling that a tea wouldn't be named after something that is often found in tea. Therefore my conclusion is that the ingredients label on the tea is incomplete, but I'm not going to let that ruin Boxing Week.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Clam and Celeriac Soup

Doesn't sound good, does it? Well it was.

Like most things I cook, this dish was born out of necessity. I was hungry to the point of headache, needed to use the clams, and had celeriac on hand thanks to my winter CSA.

For those who still struggle with the question of what to do with celeriac, here's my advice. Think of a dish that usually has both celery and potatoes, and just use celeriac instead, thereby killing two birds with one root vegetable. (Hmm, two birds and one root vegetable - that sounds good...)

Hence the pairing with clams, which are often served en chowder with both celery and potato. But the headache prevented me from thinking of any additional steps, so I went with a simple, clear soup.

As you may know by now, I'm a big fan of Mark Bittman, aka "The Minimalist," and this soup couldn't be more in the vein of his stripped down treatments. With only two ingredients, clam and celeriac, it was shockingly good, not to mention local, seasonal, and sustainable.

I sat down fully expecting a mediocre meal birthed from necessity and shellfish on the brink of freshness. What I got instead was one of the absolute best things I've tasted in recent memory. The pairing was unbelievably complementary, and the flavors rich, clean and bright. I slowly slurped spoonful after spoonful, completely absorbed in the marriage of surf and turf, almost in disbelief and how much there was to taste. Clams were clearly meant to release their liquor into soup, thereby creating an instant broth that you can catch every drop of.

And I'm glad I didn't spoil it with milk or other superfluous ingredients. It couldn't have been easier, and it couldn't have been better.


Recipe: Clam and Celeriac Soup

clams (about a pound)
celeriac (about 1/2 of one)

Dice the celeriac, or celery root, into bite sized pieces.

Simmer in barely salted salted water until almost tender, at which point you add the clams, cover, and continue to simmer until they've opened.

When ready, some of the clams will have slipped out of their shells and some of the celeriac will have ended up in their place, which looks very funny. Garnish with coarsely chopped black pepper.

Serves two, or one with a headache.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Noshing Nature

See here for my latest article, an exploration of the connection between Judaism and foraging. Hey, it's all kosher.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Last Day to Tell the Government What You Think About Organic Milk

Click here to tell the USDA that you think organic milk should come from cows fed at least 30% from pasture.

If you disagree with the proposed change, then you don't like organic milk, you like "organic" milk.

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Have It Their Way

Like many, I want to throw down about the offensive nature of the latest Burger King ad campaign. Unlike others who are doing so, I will refrain from commenting on the details, which would thereby accomplish one of the company's goals: free marketing.

Burger King is evil, but not stupid. My hunch is that they're just abiding by the notion of no-press-is-bad-press. In describing the particulars of the offending ads, and in linking to them, those who have written on the subject have also unwittingly spread the message. In doing so, they have become pawns of the Burger King.

So I'm not going to make it any easier for them. I'm just going to say this: Burger King is doing something bad. When you think Burger King, think "bad."

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Bittman Meets Dunlop

An enthusiastic reader recently equipped me with a copy of Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuan cooking guide, Land of Plenty, as well the ingredients to get started. He recommended that I start with one of the chicken appetizers. I did, and I can't imagine an easier or more inspiring introduction to the cuisine.

I made Hot-and-Numbing Chicken Slices from the "Four Ways of Dressing Cold Chicken Meat" portion of the appetizers section (p.141). Essentially you poach a chicken and then dress the meat with a highly flavorful and extremely easy to make sauce. It's amazing, and you'd work harder on meatloaf.

Looking at the broth leftover from the poached chicken, I thought back to Bittman's column/post/video on Hainanese Chicken and decided to merge the two recipes. This meant cooking rice in the water from the chicken and serving the meat on top of it.

Really the whole thing is just a vehicle for the Sichuan peppercorn, the flavor of which is often described as "numbing." (Can numbing be a flavor? "Timmy, what kind of ice cream do you want?" "Numbing!!!") In this dish the peppercorns, which are really the berries of the Chinese prickly ash, are lightly toasted before being ground.

Since I don't have a mortar and/or pestle, I used a jar on a cutting board, and it worked fine. While you're toasting the peppercorns, your kitchen fills with a tantalizing and baffling aroma that lies somewhere between juniper and marijuana. Maybe that's why I'm so hooked on the stuff.


Recipe: Hot-and-Numbing Chicken Slices (ma la ji pian) meets Hainanese Chicken

Adapted from Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop (W.W. Norton) and Bittman's Hainanese Chicken.

For about 1 pound sustainably raised, cooked chicken meat (about 1/2 a chicken), cooled.

salt to taste
4-6 scallions, white parts only (I used onion)
4 teaspoons white sugar (I used honey)
3-6 tablespoons chili oil with chile flakes
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2-1 teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan pepper (I used 3)

Poach the chicken, then cook rice in the remaining liquid.

Cut or shred the meat, sprinkle with salt.

Thinly slice the scallions diagonally, 1 1/2 inches long, to form "horse ear" slices. Alternatively, thinly slice 1 small onion into whichever kind of ear you prefer.

Stir the sugar or honey into the soy sauce to dissolve it, and then add the oils.

Serve the chicken atop the rice and the scallion or onion atop the chicken. Sprinkle liberally with the ground "pepper" and serve the sauce on the side.

Get the munchies, repeat.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

In Defense of Persimmons

The Times Op Ed section didn't want this piece, so now it's yours:

I was surprised to read this sentence in a recent NYT article on persimmons:

"Their mild, undistinctive flavor, vaguely reminiscent of pumpkin, means that it is hard to find a leading role for them."

While I'm a regular reader of the author, the enlightening Harold McGee, I do find his perspective on persimmons somewhat lacking. My most obvious objection is that I think persimmons do have a distinctive flavor, and thereby occupy a valuable niche in supermarkets that might otherwise carry only mealy, tasteless, red "delicious" apples and pithy oranges.

The sweet, musky taste of a persimmon is unusual and complex, and the gooey texture unique amongst the miniscule variety of fruits commonly available in the U.S. A supermarket persimmon is often the best fruit in the supermarket.

When ripe, persimmons are wonderful to eat raw, and require no adulteration, even to serve a "leading role." If you have your own tree and are simply up to your ears in the fruit, then make a pudding, and consider your position extremely enviable. If not, I suggest you enjoy them au naturel.

Besides the issue of taste, what concerns me most about the article is its failure to mention the indigenous American persimmon. While the author does describe the commonly available persimmon as an "Asian species," there is no reference to the native species which can be found growing even in Manhattan.

Of course it isn't possible to include every last detail in a piece subject to a deadline, set length, and the whims of an editor, but the article's failure to mention the persimmons growing right under our noses is indicative of a larger disturbing trend: our society's ignorance of its native foods.

We Americans have a serious handicap when it comes to utilizing our indigenous, edible flora. When Europeans arrived on this continent, they encountered a wealth of delicious biodiversity never before experienced in their homelands. Some items, like chocolate, tomatoes, and turkey, became all the rage.

Others, like persimmons, were generally disregarded as soon as settlers had grown enough of the stuff they'd brought from home. As a result, the plants that had fed indigenous populations for thousands of years were plowed under to make room for cauliflower.

Thankfully, Americans are finally grasping gastronomic concepts such as terroir and the emphasis of simple preparation to showcase the quality of a well grown ingredient. As a result we can begin to see how foolish it was to replace plants that had evolved perfectly to survive on this soil with those which often require genetic alteration, pesticide, chemical fertilizer, and the razing of native habitats. When you eat such a food, you can taste that it belongs here.

On my way back to Boston from a Thanksgiving road trip to Missouri, I traveled with a disposable baking tray full of the fruit in question. I had gathered these outside of St. Louis, and happily handed them out to wild persimmon virgins along the way. Everyone who ate one was converted, their eyes crossing in pleasure, and there was nary a pudding in sight.

I have no doubt that, given the opportunity, McGee would have the same reaction.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sassafras Tea

Sassafras: it's a hard word to spell, but it makes a great tea. And just like any wild edible, it's free, local, and, if you pay yourself for it, fair trade.

I harvested the sassafras that went into this cup under the guidance of Wildman Steve Brill in Central Park, even though doing so has previously gotten him arrested.

The plant, which is responsible for both file powder (leaves) and root beer (root), has the distinctive feature of bearing three different leaf patterns. Harvesting the root does require killing the tree, so make sure you do so where plenty of others are growing (they can't all survive to maturity anyway). Pull it out of the ground, sniff the root, and you'll swear someone just cracked open a Barq's.

This single root made about a quart of tea, and I've been told that I can keep using it for future brews. The flavor is quite rich and reminiscent of caramel, birch, and to be blunt, root beer. In this day and age it's tough to wrap one's mind around the fact that something can taste like something else through natural means.

I'm sure it must be good for you in all kinds of witchy ways, but some refrain from consuming sassafras because of purported links to cancer. However, everything I've read suggests that's only the case if you drink lots of it and are a rat.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Poached Quince

For anyone who was ever called "fruity" in middle school, if quince was there, it would have beaten that bully up. Quince is fruit, but it's tough.

But while a fresh quince is as tough as wooden apple, with a little heat and sugar, quince can turn into a real peach. Well, not a real peach.

The fact that quince is a fruit that can't be eaten raw has always intrigued me, and some gorgeous specimens at the Union Square green market in NYC convinced me to finally give it a go. The smell alone was worth it: just from sitting out on the kitchen table, they made the whole apartment smell like perfume.

It would be wise to familiarize yourself with quince, as I'm sure we're going to see more of them as heirloom fruits and vegetables continue to reemerge from the shadows of our past. And what sounds like a better winter fruit fix: fossil fuel guzzling imported oranges or succulent, locally grown, poached quince? Unless you're a member of OPEC, I think I know which you'd prefer.

Always eager to find ways of preserving without using sugar, I poached a few in just water. These sucked. When I used sugar, the syrup turned a gorgeous, rosy color, and the fruit was fantastic.


Recipe: Poached Quince


Peel, seed and quarter as many quince as desired. Be prepared for them to be much tougher than you think fruit can be.

Dissolve a little less than 1/4 cup sugar per each fruit in as much water as needed to cover the quince.

Simmer until the quince becomes tender, reaching the consistency of a poached pear. Enjoy warm with toasted walnuts and a splash of the cooking liquid.

You might be able to can them at this point, but mine didn't stick around that long, so I can't say for sure.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Quote of the Day

Lionette's is Boston's only all-local meat market. These are people who are deeply concerned about the world's food supply, especially when it comes to duck fat. This hails from their always awesome monthly newsletter:

"Local and sustainable food does not cost more, the price tag on local and sustainable food is the real price for food, and there are no hidden costs."

577 Tremont Street
South End
Boston, MA 02118
ph: 617-778-0360

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The Homework Salads

Last week I asked readers to follow in the footsteps of my radicchio and napa cabbage pairing, using something out of the ordinary in a salad of their own. The clear winners were Seth D. Michaels and Sean Mcleod, because their creations fit the bill, and because they were the only ones to respond.

The god-awful photo above was taken with Seth D.'s cell phone camera, and I have included it not because I like it, but because I want to publicly humiliate him by making his lack of skill known. Hopefully this will shame him into taking a better picture for future submissions. Regardless, here is his unusual salad:

I cut up garlic and onions, and cooked both in sesame oil. I then cut a slightly-smaller-than-fist-sized block of tofu into squares, and fried it in the oil I already had going. While it was frying, I tossed in some crushed red pepper.

I fried it kind of hard on both sides. At some point, I threw in a few sesame seeds. At the stage depicted in the photo, I added a little soy sauce and rice vinegar, then a handful of spinach and green onion. Finally, I added about half a cup of noodles, which I tossed around with a little more soy sauce. Once plated, I put basil leaves atop the whole thing.

The spinach shrunk more than I thought it would, making it less salad-y and more stir-fry-y. In the end it looked like the attached photo, but less blurry.

I'd say the most unusual thing about this salad is that it wasn't a salad, but it does sound good. Here's Mcleod's take:

Salad is one of those things that I always think that I want to eat more of, though I usually end up cooking a vegetable instead. I buy romaine or arugula every week, and I only think to make salad when I peer into the vegetable drawer and say to myself, "Better use that while it's still good."

Last night's dinner included a spinach salad from a bag of still-edible baby spinach along with a head of endive, cold roasted beets unused from Thanksgiving, and hakurei turnips thinly sliced (also bought for Thxgiving).

The secret ingredient was pomegranate seeds, which were like beautiful jewels mixed into the greens. Served a simple dijon vinaigrette, I put out one of the simplest dinners I've done on a Sunday in a long time: rotisserie chicken, microwaved spaghetti squash (dressed with the same vinaigrette), and the aforementioned salad.

The most striking component of this salad is the harukei turnip, which neither I nor google image search have heard of.

Thanks to all those (two) who contributed, and happy weird salads to everyone else.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Repurposed Goat

Last night I made these goat shoulder chops from Codman Farm. And by made I mean "screwed up."

With a choice cut I can make a great steak, I do wonders with ground meat and sausage, and I can braise pretty much everything else with excellent results. The common thread is that all three preparations result in tender meat. It's the only way I want to eat meat, when I do. But if I'm in possession of an unfamiliar cut, as I am more and more from buying locally raised meats, and I don't want to slow cook, I'm often stumped.

I had planned to braise these goat shoulder chops for a few hours, but when I saw how tender they were, I decided to broil. If I had trimmed off everything that shouldn't have been there, it might have worked, but as is they were too much of a wrestling match to enjoy. So I got out the crutch and did some low and slow simmering, and the result was a rich, flavorful stew.

For lunch today I browned the remaining meat and bones left over from our picking at them the night before. At the same time I browned garlic cloves and red onion, then added cumin, bay leaves, a whole dried pepper, leeks, and a can of tomatoes and let it go for about an hour.

The bones, fat, and connective tissue that had made these such bad chops made for a great stew.


Recipe: Goat Chop Stew

1 chop per person
1 can tomatoes
1 tbsp powdered cumin
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 whole, dried chile
2 bay leaves
2 onions
3 garlic cloves, whole
the juice of 1/2 a lemon

Note: The only essential ingredients are the goat and tomatoes, the spices are completely variable (cinnamon and clove are excellent with this or lamb).

Broil the goat chops. Try to eat them, get disappointed, and put the remaining scraps away for later.

Brown those remaining scraps in a splash of olive oil along with the onion and garlic.

Add all remaining ingredients, except the lemon juice. Stir once to combine, then let cook on high for five minutes, giving the tomatoes a chance to slightly caramelize. Stir again and reduce heat to a simmer.

When the meat is tender and the leeks are soft (45 minutes in my case), add the lemon juice. Serve over rice.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Constant Comments

I've received some excellent comments recently and wanted to liberate them from the shadows of the individual posts they dwell in. But first, the official dog of T&F experiencing ice for the first time:

And now, some highlights:

"Refrigeration is for sissies!"

"You MUST make persimmon pudding. The flour makes it a fluffy, brownie-like thing, and it is way better when you use those found in Illinois or central Indiana."

"Aaaaaah! Fermentation!"

"Your dog is very cute, and i am going to eat him."

"The hunter's pride in bagging his moose should not stop after the kill, but continue through to the excellent steaks and roasts he or she can serve to guests as they listen spellbound to the tale of the hunt."

I also received a great recommendation for goat kidney (which is still in my freezer) and this dog food review site. Speaking of which, here are things that people said their dogs like to eat:

-kale, spaghetti squash with butter, roasted cauliflower, sliced cucumber

And here are things that people said they like to eat in their savory oats:

-soft French cheese, smoked provolone and salami, almond butter and tamari, schmaltz

And here is a video someone sent in of a pug eating a green pepper:

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Roasted Rotating Root Veggies

If you aren't doing so already, start eating this.

This year roasted root veggies are making up a large part of my winter diet. Partly because we're getting a lot from our CSA, and partly because they seem like the most perfect cold weather food. There's something about this season that just makes me want to eat things that grow underground.

A hearty portion of veggies like these goes a long way. I'm finding that a big dose of tubers and bulbs takes the place of both the starch and vegetable in a given meal, thereby compromising about 80% of what I feel the need to eat. A plate of these plus a drumstick or a slab of tofu and you're in business. A slice of bread and some salad? Superfluous.

I used to think of this dish as a specialty item, but I recommend that everyone bump it up to staple status. The key to not getting bored with it is to keep things in rotation. Thanks to the CSA, I have turnips, sweet potatoes, unsweet potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, parsnips, and some stuff I can't identify but which looks great. Any three of those will do, so you can imagine the possibilities and varying degrees of sweetness.

My advice is to buy a bunch of different kinds of root veggies and then make them in different combinations. They'll last forever, plus you don't need much of any one of them at once. When you take a little from each root, your pan is often too full. And like the price of olives at an olive bar, the roasting temp for all of these is roughly the same, so mix and match with abandon.

Filling veggies may sound like an oxymoron to anyone who hasn't experienced them, but I could almost live on these alone.


Recipe: Roasted Root Veggies

1 tbsp coarse salt
3/4 tbsp rosemary (more if fresh)
3 twists of a pepper grinder
oil to coat
Equal parts of any of the following: beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, onion, parsnip

Pre-heat the oven to 400.

Cut the veggies into bite sized pieces - they smaller they are, the faster they cook.

Note: I only peel the parsnip and beets.

Toss well with the remaining ingredients.

Roast at 400 for 45 minutes to an hour, tossing three times to ensure equal oil coverage. Toss gently, with two metal spoons, to avoid breakdown.

They're done when a fork meets little resistance from each variety of veggie.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

My Latest

In Phoenix and the Forward.

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Finally, The Pawpaw

As I write this, the outdoor thermometer reads 14 degrees. Inside, I'm eating fresh, local pawpaw. How? I don't quite understand it myself.

At long last, my search for this remarkable fruit has come to fruition, and I thank those who have helped along the way. I had all but given up until last week, when I received a hot tip from where else but Ithaca, the Kansas City to my Fats Goldberg. There pawpaw were for sale at the Cornell Orchards store.

In addition to growing heirloom apple varieties with names like Sheep's Nose, Cornell has also raised pawpaws since the 1950's. By some accounts, the pawpaw season doesn't last longer than September, so you can imagine my surprise when the woman working the counter handed me several fresh specimens for fifty cents a pound. Pawpaws are equally famous for being delicious and perishable, so the fact that I got them this late in the season is truly confounding.

The fruit itself was everything I had hoped for. Just as I'd been told, despite the fact that the pawpaw is native to North America, everything about it seems downright tropical. It looks like a mango and tastes like a combination of banana and guava or cherimoya. Yet the pawpaw grows right here, in a region where the temp regularly dips below freezing, as it has at this very moment.

Through the ice on the windows I can see barren trees swaying in the wind, but I've got sweet, ripe pawpaw for my mid-morning snack. I'm certain that these are the only pawpaw still available anywhere in the world. If you live in Ithaca, rush to get the last few. If you live anywhere else, rush to Ithaca.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Winter Salad

When it comes to salad, if you have the courage to walk away from the iceberg, you'll be richly rewarded. Even if you're a fan of romaine or red leaf, there's plenty of new ground to explore.

Like silly putty, this salad was invented by accident. Well, more by necessity: I wanted salad, and this was all there was. If we'd had arugula or spinach, I don't think I would have ever thought to combine raw napa cabbage and whatever this red stuff is from our CSA (radicchio?). But I'm glad that I did.

The sweetness of the napa offset the bitterness of the _______, and its succulent crunch was a nice pairing with the waxier leaves of what I now know is a variety of radicchio, having google image searched it between typing the first half of this sentence and its conclusion. Together these two veggies tasted much better than either did on its own.

It's no wonder people drown limp, tasteless lettuce in dressings chock full of fat and corn syrup. But with leaves as flavorful as these, your only goal should be not f*cking them up. I did a simple drizzle of homemade apple-scrap vinegar and olive oil, and it was one of the best salads I've ever had.

Your homework for tonight: make a salad with something you wouldn't ordinarily put into it, and let me know how it goes.

Oh, and no yogurt covered raisins.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More on Cider

After traveling for the holiday, Elise just returned home and checked in on our latest batch. I had stashed it in Grolsch bottles, not quite sure what would happen. She had this to say:

Last night I drank a 1/2 bottle of cider and it was superb. It was still a little sweet, but definitely had become alcoholic and moved beyond the soda phase. It was the best of both worlds because while the alcohol had a warming, relaxing effect, the tonic qualities made me think I was doing something good for my body. I did lose a bit of it to the sink, however, when I opened the bottle to an excited POP and the foam immediately began to bubble over.

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Not So Hard Cider

I'm glad to see that hard cider is catching on again, nowhere more so than in my kitchen. It's by far the easiest homebrew, requiring no special ingredients or equipment and almost no effort. And if you start with good cider, the end result will be just as delicious (and intoxicating) as the $12-a-bottle variety.

The only trick is finding a cider that doesn't have preservatives. If it's been pasteurized, it should still work, but if you can find one that has not been, all the better.

In the past I've let cider go pretty far, allowing most of the sugar to be consumed by the natural yeast to yield a strong, crisp, dry brew. But lately I've been much more into half-fermented cider. I drink it sooner, as a bubbly, tangy, naturally carbonated sort of apple soda. The above photo doesn't quite do it justice, because in real life the stuff has a head like beer.

Maybe it's those friendly, naturally occurring yeasts, but I swear it has a tonic effect in the old fashioned sense of the word. This is the kind of food prep where you "let" rather than "do."


Recipe: Homemade Hard Cider

Acquire cider without preservatives, and ideally without pasteurization.

Pour it from its plastic container into something glass, like a large mason jar or empty wine bottle.

Cover the neck of the container with a piece of cloth and a rubber band. A snip from an old (clean) T-shirt makes a particularly fine barrier for dust and fruit flies.

Let sit until it has reached the desired level of fermentation. About a week for the tangy, natural apple soda, two to three for booze.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ginkgo Nuts

These ginkgo nuts were part of the bounty gathered from Central Park on my walk with Wild Man Steve Brill. I'd had them only once before, pan fried at Kaya in Porter Square, and have been on the lookout for these very un-nut like nuts ever since. Turns out I should have been looking down.

The orange, vomit smelling fruits of the ginkgo that contain the nut littered the ground in sections of Central Park. Since I've learned what they look like, I've seen them all over the country. To turn them from stinky sidewalk debris to an exotic delicacy, you just pop the nut out of the fruit, wash it and your hands, roast them for about 30 minutes at 300 degrees, and wash your hands a few more times.

Once you crack the paper thin shell, you'll see a steaming, Pernod colored soft nut. The taste and texture are unlike anything else I can think of, but seaweed bread pudding and hot boiled peanuts come to mind.

For a more detailed recipe, see Brill's site here.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Finally, Frank Pepe

The golden pizza fleece of eating Frank Pepe's has eluded me for years. I could never count the times I've driven past New Haven, but for a slew of reasons, I've never been able to stop in for a slice.

Some friends once brought me a white clam pie while in Amherst, but it had been out of the oven for hours, so I didn't consider it a valid test. Then, last month, the stars aligned for a quick dinner in New Haven while traveling from New York to Boston. It being a Monday, FP's was closed.

Flash forward to last week, if it were possible to flash forward backward. Elise and my first stop en route from Boston to St. Louis was none other than that infamous pizzeria. I'd heard about it for years, had been taunted by the sign for exit 2 on 91, and have craved the real thing ever since that cold, soggy tease. With such high expectations, of course I was disappointed.

That's not to say that it wasn't great pizza. It was. In fact, it was probably the best pizza I've ever had. Why, then, didn't I like it? First, pizza has a ceiling. I know this is a departure from my Trillinesque love of all foods, no matter how lowly or unsustainably grown, but the best pizza just isn't as good as the best braised goat stew or Tarte Tatin, like the excellent one I had last night at Dijon in Ithaca. The best pizza can only be so good.

The second reason, to be completely unfair to Frank, is that I wasn't in the mood. We'd hit traffic on the way in, gotten lost, had a hard time finding green space to walk the dog, and were anxious about the 1200 miles that lay before us. Being in such a state, even the gamiest wild persimmon could go unappreciated.

I owe Frank Pepe another chance. I'm going to go back, take my time, drink a beer before puzzling through the spreadsheet-like menu, and enjoy what I know is some fine pie. I just have to work on being the best pizza eater.

Only then can I share in the sentiment of this bathroom graffiti.

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