Friday, April 29, 2011
Ramps are a tender and beloved spring plant. Part pungent garlic flavor, part sweet leek, they are fresh, green and wild. While the farmers market stalls are still mainly full of crops carried over from winter, or from the green house, the ramps arrive as the first absolute evidence of spring.
The past few winters have been my first east coast winters where I lived in a rural setting. College in Northampton was a quiet town life, and then it was the gorgeous chaos of New York City. These two environments combined with my California upbringing had me always thinking of spring as the season that transpired from the effects of the sun shining down onto the plants and earth.
Living through these Northeast winters has shifted my gaze, my very sense of spring, from the sun and towards the earth itself. Long before it gets warm or the days are any noticeably longer, the earth gets spongy and muddy and does not freeze as readily.
The ramps are a similar evidence of the earth itself shifting in season and toward the sun, before the air is any warmer, before the Robin Redbreast has returned, before we've shed even one layer of winter clothing. And we relish them, we find ways to use the greens and the bulbs and not waste one millimeter.
Coral walked around the house with them today, calling them her bouquet. In the early evening, the sun shone broadly through the windows. Coral asked if she could take off her sweater and socks and before I could say no I realized with a feeling of heavenly relief that yes, it was miraculously warm enough, and she could take off her sweater. I took mine off too and we basked in the sun and smelled the dirt and green of the ramps.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Winter is everlasting. Those pink buds on the apple tree? Still closed up, tight little buds facing each 30 degree night and saying no way is it time to bloom. The rain has been endless. The farmers describe their days as pacing and restless, they need to plant, want to plant, but in this driving rain it is muddy and impossible to proceed. They tend to the seedlings in the green house and hope they do not become to root bound as the rain pounds on and on.
For the market customer this means...more carrots, more parsnips, more potatoes, more winter fair. Punctuated here and there by tender greenhouse greens, arugula, micro greens, confetti's of baby lettuces. And ramps, wild and plentiful ramps.
And out of no where, Craig invents and new, spectacular dish from the very, very familiar, and loved, parsnip. How does he do it? Is it the fact of spring, however suppressed by this rain and cold, driving him to newness and invention? We ate this one with our fingers, straight from the plate, all of us noticing that in the spring light the parsnips look so white. In the candlelight of winter they appear so golden. Parsley root is new to us. We found it at Wegmans. Craig, ever resourceful, thought parsley, plus root, looked like a better deal than just buying a bunch of parsley. Turns out, it is delicious. We like it grated raw in a carrot salad, or roasted, as it is here. And the scallions, as big and juicy as you can find, are essential to this recipe.
What you'll need:
Some parsnips and parsley root peeled and split into relatively equal pieces.
Some large scallions.
Salt, pepper and olive oil.
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees.
Cut the white part from the scallions and finely sliver the green part.
Put the prepped scallion whites, parsnips and parsley root in a large bowl. Splash in a tiny bit of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and gently mix with your hands to coat.
Spread out on a heavy baking sheet, roasting pan or a skillet and put in oven and roast until tender and kind of crispy at the edges.
Sprinkle with a little greenery and serve. This photo has ramp greens, the beautiful leaf from above the bulb. Parsley or scallion greens would be great too.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Sometimes just making a cake can make a party. The same way a real party dress can make you feel like a beautiful dancer, so to a party cake can make a dinner party into a party party. We had some good friend with whom we had been trying for about six months to have a dinner, and when the time at long last arrived, no spouses traveling, no kids sick with strep, two birthdays had also recently passed. It was time for a cake.
I, however, am not the most confident or experienced baker. In the realm of flour, I am easily intimidated. But love is a supreme motivator for getting over our fears, or getting over ourselves as the case may be.
There is a line in A HOLE IS TO DIG, by Ruth Krauss, pictures by Maurice Sendak, "A party is to make little children happy." Since having kids we do have more parties and I think it is for that poetic observation, it makes them happy.
Turning off the dining room lights and lighting the cake candles, the mood deepened, the kids gleeful, attentive, and beaming their excited smiles at each other. We all sang and were glad. Glad for the sweet, budding friendships among our children. Glad for the smart and compassionate company of our peers. And I was quietly very glad that when I sliced the cake, it was golden and crumbly, and baked all the way through.
We have the brilliant Edna Lewis to thank for this recipe. If you follow her directions it really does absolutely work. And if there is any left, it is delicious in the morning, with coffee or tea.
1 cup cold, unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 large eggs at room temperature
2 1/4 cups sifted flour
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
for the glaze:
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
Decorated with lovely, tender Meyer lemons sliced as thin as possible.
To make the cake: Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tube pan. Put the 1 cup of butter into the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on medium-low speed for 5 minutes, until it becomes waxy and shiny. (I do that mixing by hand and it is very laborious but possible.) With mixer running slowly add the sugar and salt, and continue mixing until sugar and butter become light and fluffy, about 5-7 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition, making sure that each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next (very important!). After incorporating the third egg, add 2 tablespoons of flour to keep batter from separating. Add remaining eggs, one at a time. On low speed, add remaining sifted flour in four parts, do not overmix, kind of like with pancake batter, you loose the wonderful texture if you overmix here. Once flour is all gently incorporated, gently blend in the vanilla and lemon juice.
And the baking is the key to this recipe: spoon batter into buttered floured tube pan and gently fop pan on kitchen counter to deflate any large air bubbles. Put cake into COLD oven and turn the temp to 225F. Cook for 20 minutes. Increase temp to 300F and bake another 20 minutes. Finally increase temp to 325F and cook 20-30 min, until your cake tester, inserted into center comes out clean. Start testing after 20 min at 325F.
Remove the cake from the over, and cool for 5 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool on cooling rack. While cake is cooling, make the glaze: Put lemon juice, sugar and butter and salt in a small nonreactive saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 1 minute. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and spoon the warm glaze over cooled cake.
Pound cake will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.