Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Winter Watermelons

The Watermelon Radish. I love these radishes so much. How much? So much that I feel like they literally help me to thrive in the winter months. They are crunchy and watery, sweetening as the winter months crawl along, but their most astonishing, uplifting quality must be their color. Their bright magenta purple, outlined by bright white, is like a gem. And they are copious! We've had them all winter at the farmers market, a staple along with cabbage, carrots, potatoes and onions.

Color is hard to come by in this climate this time of year. On the landscape, the wild turkeys gleam if you see them in just the right light. Red Cardinals flit through leafless shrubs. White snow, evergreen trees, ice blue creeks, mud. Canned berries and fruits on the morning toast. And in the evening, a plate of shining, crisp, watermelon radishes in vinaigrette, our eyes as hungry as our bodies for their dense ruby color. And their color could be as easy to miss as a darting Cardinal. They are white, they look just like a turnip. I passed them by in the market until a farmer friend placed one in my hand and said, Try it.

I could not believe the color when I sliced it in half at home. And it makes me wonder, as I come to live and know this climate, what other jewels of the earth are waiting to be discovered?

Here is a sublime winter salad using Watermelon Radishes:

First make dressing in bottom of salad bowl:
Shallots, white wine vinegar (Chardonnay), olive oil, salt

Slice red cabbage into ribbons
Slice Watermelon Rasish into matchsticks
Cut Nori seaweed (comes in sheets) into little ribbons
Chop a handful of flat leaf parsley
Stack them in the bowl as pictured. Toss directly before serving and add black pepper. If you want to bring out a little more of an Asian aspect to the salad with the Nori, add a little sesame oil to dressing, and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Rice a 'Roni

This one is directly from Craig, both the writing and, obviously, the recipe. Sadly, there is no picture of this delicious meal. We were too hungry to pause. Instead, a view from out the window earlier the same day.


The windy, winter night was perfect for a risotto but it was too frosty to venture out for a key ingredient...there was not enough arborio! Thinking to make a smaller batch, a stock was made using what was around; left over scraps of beef from trimming beef cheeks and hanger steak, a leek, an onion, a carrot. A duck confit leg added to rice for flavor and to add a bit of heft to so little rice. Then, remembering the Rice-A-Roni that seemed to be a weekly event growing up, the thought to extend the dish with some broken spaghetti. There was a small amount (not enough for a meal on it's own) in an open bag on a shelf. It would cook in less time than the rice, so it was only a matter of timing.
Worked like a charm!

rice a 'roni

1 1/2 cups arborio rice
a small amount of high quality italian spaghetti (semolina or faro) broken into pieces about 1" long
some dried morel mushrooms
a couple of shallots finely chopped
a leg of duck confit
broth (chicken, beef anything!)
about a cup of dry white wine
some chopped fresh parsley
olive oil
Parmesan cheese

Soak the morels in hot water until rehydrated. Brown the confit and shred the meat. Scrape off and save any of the crispy bits on the bottom of the pan! Heat the stock to a slow simmer.
Finely chop the shallots and soften them in a large skillet with a splash of olive oil. Remove the morels from their soaking liquid and slice. Add them to the shallots. Add the rice, stirring to coat them in the oil. Add the wine and continue to stir.
You can use the liquid from the morels (making certain that you do not let the sediment at the bottom get in) followed by the stock, about a cup at a time, stirring occasionally. Keep adding liquid as it becomes absorbed.
When the rice is just losing its hardness, add the spaghetti and continue adding stock. As the rice begins to finish cooking (it should still have some "tooth") toss in the confit.
Before serving let it sit for a few minutes. Toss in the parsley.
Plate, finish by grating a bit of Parmesean on each serving and putting a bit of the crispy confit bits on top.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Roast Chicken, and a Bouquet to Baste

Roast chicken is my comfort food, more precisely, a home filled with the smell of roasting chicken is my comfort. Like a fire in the fireplace or a thick wool blanket on a cold night, roast chicken is deeply reassuring. When the girls and I all fell sick, the thought of finally being better, being hungry and roasting a chicken sustained me through the aches and pains of a dual bout of Strep throat and the flu.

We ate a lot of chicken in our house growing up. Chicken, pan roasted vegetables, salad and thick cut Sourdough bread was a weekly, or twice weekly meal. My parents were very popular with our friends for many reasons, among them, they let us eat our chicken with our fingers. To this day I rarely order chicken in a restaurant because I want to pick up the drumstick and eat it like a happy little savage.

In the world of farmers markets, there is a resurgence of very fine, well raised chickens of interesting breeds. Here in Ithaca, one of our favorites is the Poulet Rouge, raised by Kingbird Farm. As a parent I am glad to be able to feed the girls the crunchy, fatty skin of the bird and know that it is full of good fat from the bird's foraging based diet.

Roasting a chicken is barely a recipe, but there are two great ideas that Craig uses: one is trussing and the other is a Bouquet Garnis baster. Trussing sounds more fancy and complicated than it is. There are a lot of Youtube videos and long instructions, but I find if you cut yourself a long piece of kitchen string and just think about tucking the bird's legs up into a tight somersault, you can intuit your way. Trussing evens out the timing of your bird cooking, so the legs and larger breast all cook more evenly, resulting in moist meat throughout. No more dry legs and perfectly done breast!

The homemade Bouquet Garnis baster is so beautiful! Even after such frequent use, every time I use one I find them breathtakingly pretty. No more suction basters and their odd plastic-y smell. No more trying to pick off the tiny fibers from the paint brush style basters that always shed. The herbs soften in the heat of the pan juices as you baste and release a steady, delicate aroma.

Whether recovering from massive illness, or just need of a cozy, sustaining meal, find yourself a great chicken and give thanks for its diligent, foraging life. Golden fat and nourishing meat on another cold winter night.

Roast Chicken:

Pre-heat oven to 425.
Wash and pat bird dry. Rub with olive oil. Rub outside with salt and pepper. Inside cavity put a few smashed garlic cloves, a bay leaf, herbs, if you wish, and 1/2-1 onion (quartered). truss the legs (or not)and put in a roasting pan.
Sit the bird on a few strips of bacon.
Put in oven for about 15 minutes, then turn heat down to 350. A 5lb bird should be about an hour to an hour and a half. Juices will run clear and the skin will be brown.
Put any vegetables (carrots, potatoes, onions, brussel sprouts, celery, leeks, parsnips, rutabaga) in about 1/2-3/4 of an hour into the process. Or, you can slightly pre-cook them and throw in the pan near the end. Rub butter into the skin as it starts to brown and the baste the bird in pan juices every 15 minutes or so near the end.

Bouquet Garnis Baster:

In the spring and summer, use any and all fresh herbs: sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley. This time of year, we buy fresh parsley and wrap that around dried oregano, thyme, and rosemary.
For the stick, get a set of the very large chopsticks that are a basic Asian cooking utensil.
Tie your herbs securely at their base to the stick with kitchen string.

And for extra decadence, Pan Fried Bread:

Cut French or Sourdough bread in thick slices. Dredge through the pan juices. Fry in hot cast iron skillet. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

To Love

The tiredness that overtakes us continues to surprise us, we comment on it every time. Every time she has a phase like the one right now. My shoulders go into spasm, a deep pain with sharp edges. I can feel now the map of stress, our small, familial post traumatic stress disorder.

We, Craig and I, have this war, these maps, these fears, together. A tiny war for two. The words we use to describe the battle of Colby and her brain: beat up, battered, destroyed, wasted, worn out, zoned, gone. This is our little girl. The list of words, looking at them, not just saying them, our sadness and tiredness makes sense. We use the words in an attempt to acknowledge the severity, not to define her but to define the events, the repercussions: her state, not her being.

I start with a general sadness, quickly riffling through the day’s plans to see what will need changing, modifying. Then, without fail, I turn to smiling, happiness, positive meditations and visualizations. I feel like it might help her, to see the radiant love that I feel for her when she comes through the seizure. Then if they continue, as they have lately, I feel a greater sadness, it arrives slowly. The sadness is like watching a set of headlights appear over the horizon on a straight, flat desert road. They are tiny at first, but they steadily approach, and then suddenly they are upon you, blinding you, filling your vision completely. That is how the sadness is. And it might swerve off and disappear as quickly as it arrived. But while it is here, it is all I can see.

I think because Colby becomes so very remote - we wonder aloud: where does she go? - I let myself also go down, descend or ascend into emotions, reactions, far beyond the initial reaction of expressing and giving love. I don’t think the love goes anywhere, but I do not demand of myself that I stay in the calm, smiling phase. I let the rockier thoughts have a voice.

Today I held her in the bath and I wondered who else in her life might hold her on a day like today. Having a child who will always be defenseless is to always have a child. We will never put her through college and say we did the best we could. She, her body, her seizures, her precious life, will always be our responsibility. I do not try and conceive of a literal plan, in the bath, her passed out against me, long hair curling in the water like a mermaid.

I try and conceive of an emotional path. I send out prayers, urgent notes, tied to arrows that I shoot from my heart and into the heavens, “Let the love of our hearts find a community of care that will always surround and protect Colby Rose.” As I lay there breathing, I shoot these arrows, over and over, enough for every star in the sky. Urgent, vigilant, magical thinking. For our girl is a mystery, so I reason and I hope that there must be magic to help us find our way. Help us find our way from the deep wells of worry, from the evil things people do. Let her life be safety and joy, let it be what every child deserves, forever.