Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sun Salad

This salad was part of the July Feast and is a wonderful example of spontaneity and creativity with food. The guests were due at 5:00 and we had a great menu already planned. The first guests were our farmer friends from Red Tail Farm. They came laden with stew chickens for the chest freezer, already thinking of winter, and Sungold tomatoes from their hoop houses.
By the time I came up from putting the stew chicks away, Craig had this gorgeous, glorious creation on the table. If I am honest I will confess that my astonishment had a tinge of irritation. Looking at this platter of golden and purple, my jaw gaped and I felt awe co-mingle with a feeling of "What? Are you kidding me? He just whips that up?" But my joy coursed over and around this irritated awe, and I was simply amazed, again, by beauty.
Absolute, true creativity: a response to the environment, what is around, in reach, catching your eye, making sense to your unspoken, intuitive senses. This level of spontaneous creativity is where, I believe, you can see the amount of sheer time and work, the discipline that comes before the beauty. The work that is in fact what enables the beauty to ever come to be.
Enabling beauty to come to be. That makes work and passion and discipline sound pretty important.
Sungold Salad. And the blueberries are the sun spots!
Frame a plate with zucchini blossoms torn into wide pieces along petals. Edible Marigold petals would also look nice and have a similarly sweet, fleshy presence.
Halve the sungolds and toss with:
olive oil, lemon, tiny bit of white wine (Chardonnay) vinegar, salt, pepper, all to taste. Not too much dressing, just a sheen.
Add blueberries and lightly toss.
Add very thinly sliced basil, just a bit, and toss.
Mound, in a sun like fashion, into the center of plate, within blossoms.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A July Feast

A July feast. To celebrate: blueberries, birthdays, new albums, losing baby teeth, friendships, family.

Green Salad

a green salad

a cucumber peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1/2 pint fresh peas, shelled
fresh mint leaves slivered
parsley leaves roughly chopped
a fresh shallot finely diced
a fennel bulb (or two depending on size) sliced thinly across the bulb. as well chop a bit of the fennel greens as well.
salt/pepper/lemon juice/red wine vinegar/olive oil
an avocado sliced

make a dressing by letting the shallots, lemon juice, red wine vinegar (i do roughly 1-2 lemon juice to vinegar…sometimes 1-1. depends on taste), salt and pepper in a bowl or cup. after the shallots have macerated for about 10 minutes add olive oil, stir to combine. adjust seasoning if needed.

in a mixing bowl combine all (except the avocado) the other ingredients and the dressing. gently mix with your hands. plate, arrange the avocado and serve.

Languid Rabbit

Languid Rabbit
About the only time a you will find a rabbit looking languid is when you are cooking one. Looking at this little wild creature on the grill I was surprised to notice how graceful the shape of the rabbit body was, what lovely lines to the arching back and tiny yet sumptuous, muscled legs. The famously frenetic animal suddenly looked so relaxed.
These bunnies are pretty wild. The couple that sells these rabbits at the market raises them in a fairly controlled yet natural bunny habitat: they forage for nearly all of their food. Of course we like the taste and idea of this production model, but it is was our older daughter who originally motivated us to eat more wild, or at least not completely un-wild, animal protein.
When Colby was about a year old and we were wide open to any ideas to help her intensely fragile, erratic neurology, I was talking with her acupuncturist. It was she who suggested wild animal protein, animals with real muscles who had roamed and foraged, on land or sea. It made intuitive sense to me when she said it, and then the evidence pored in when we gave Colby her first taste of red meat, very free range Bison. She was ravenous for it and slept solidly for the first time since her seizures started. She had more energy than ever the next day, despite the monster dose of anti-convulsants she was on.
We kept exploring: sardines, wild salmon, rabbit, duck, venison, anything we could find that was raised or grew in relative wildness. The question we asked in making choices was simple: does it, this animal, actually have muscles? And not just from standing. Has it had to run for its life, been rained on, felt the sunshine?
This lovely, languid bunny had certainly felt the sunshine. And in its honor we sat in the sunlight outside, on the grass, feeling half wild ourselves. Colby tore into the sinuous protein with gusto, and slept well that night.
To make:
Line the bottom of a skillet or roasting pan with pancetta (or smoky bacon) sliced about 1'16" thick. Rinse, pat dry a large rabbit (3-4lbs) and put in pan on top of pork. Massage the rabbit with olive oil. Salt liberally. Crack black pepper all over inside and out. Stuff fresh rosemary, thyme, savory and a sprig of oregano in the cavity. Roughly chop 5 cloves of garlic and toss around the rabbit and in the cavity. Throw in a handful or two of green, briny olives. Add some duck fat (if you like) and a generous splash of dry white wine. You may also put a whole head of garlic to roast at the same time, if you like.

Get a roaring wood fire (hardwood, hardwood charcoal or a combination) going in a grill with a top, like a Stoke or Weber. When the fire is about 400 degrees put the pan (open) on the grill and close the top. Periodically baste the beast. Turn it over in the pan every 20 minutes or so. Depending on the size of the rabbit, it should take an hour or so. Don't let it get overcooked. You can also take the rabbit out of the pan before it is too cooked and finish it directly on the grill for a variation.

Serve with green beans and potatoes (tossed in olive oil and lemon juice) with the pan juices and olives. Spread the soft, roasted garlic on country bread.

Fried Young Artichoke Hearts

Thanks to the curiosity and intelligence of a few local farmers, we have a brief season to tiny artichokes. These are not the huge dinosaur artichokes of my childhood, the ones my parents would surreptitiously pick from the fields along the coast between Moss Landing and Monterey. The prickly, ancient plant spread for as far as the eye could see, hearty in the cold fog and craggy, sandy soil, from the valley floor to the sand dune edge of the bay.
Those were the artichokes you could steam and sit down with, taking an hour to methodically peel and dip in dad's homemade aioli. All but the largest outside leaves had a tiny meaty bump of buttery flesh to scrape savoring-ly between your front teeth. As you got closer to the sacred heart, the meaty bumps got bigger, until finally the softest inner leaves you could eat all but the thorny tip.
Not so these Finger Lakes artichokes, annual output about 100 pounds. These leaves are scrappy and wooden, their sole job seeming to be protecting the tiny heart. Climate, leaves and size all being so different, it is astonishing and beautiful to find that the heart is exactly the same. Well it is also smaller, but the taste, that buttery, incomparable flavor that sits on your breath for several long minutes, is the same and transports me utterly to being a girl, around the table, with my artichoke, the ultimate finger food, lost in thoughts of dinosaurs and how they must have eaten artichokes too.
At the table as a child, we scraped away the choke, the furry part, with tiny silver spoons and then dipped our large disc of heart into the aioli. All these food memories played through my mind as I watched Craig clean, batter and fry our tiny artichoke hearts. He used egg, flour then Panko as the dredge. All else is your typical fry process. Those are a few fried sage leaves on the platter in the top picture, a very nice flavor combination, and another sensory reminder of life on the Central California Coast.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

On the Seventh Day, Tortillas

And on the seventh day of Grandma Vi's Festival of Feasts, Auntie Maria made tortillas. I would like to say it was inspiring to watch her make tortillas and that I learned so much, but the truth is I saw only that I have about one thousand hours of practice ahead of me. In a choice between practicing for Carnegie Hall and practicing for a beautiful tortilla, I will most likely choose the tortilla. Like all insanely skilled people, Maria made it look so easy, seriously deceptively easy. Her directions were literally this:
Put some flour in a bowl.
Add some lard
Put a small palm full of baking soda
And a little salt

Ummmm....how much, exactly? To which she said, "Oh you know, you can just tell. If you need flour, add flour. Fat, add fat." So off we went. She made this stack of 25 tortillas in 15 minutes. Start, to finish. And did you know tortillas have a top and a bottom? All my life, I never knew that. Good luck. I know I'll need it.

Entertaining Time Warp

It proves what loving and lovely readers and friends I have when a long, very long, pause in posts inspires concern about what might be going on with the family and are we all alright. We are. There was a rough patch of seizures during a serious heatwave that had Colby seizing for about two weeks solid. But then the heat lifted and she went back to school and camp and it has been fun ever since. So where has the time gone? To entertaining. I can count on one hand the number of nights it has just been the four of us around the table, since June. It has been one raucous, colossal love fest of family, family, and friends. We are so lucky, and so loved. And have had a lot of feasts (and dishes, and laundry) to show for it. Here comes the photographic evidence. Exhibit one, July 1st: Night One of Grandma Vi's Ten Night Feast, in honor of her 80th birthday. Glory be to our elders.

Eating Al Dente, I Mean Fresco

A fellow writer friend and I were talking about all the "mommy blogs" with their endless talk of being tired, brain dead, feeling fat, blah blah blah. We like to think we write about more interesting things than how tired we are, or how our clothes are always covered with other peoples food and snot. But, I fear, I am guilty on all fronts of dull complaining.
And we find, of course, each others' tales of sagging boobs and misspoken words absolutely, truly hilarious. Like this one: our first night eating outside (back in June), I give a deep exhale and announce, "How glorious it is to finally be eating al dente." Long pause...Craig and babysitter looking at me a little sideways...did that sound right? "I mean, al fresco."
I suppose the infinite supply of writing about all the ways our lives and ourselves change with motherhood speaks to the universality of the experience. Another universal: the sublime feeling of elegance in setting a table with a tablecloth, getting out some silver, and eating outside, under the trees.
So, to eating al dente, or what ever word comes to mind when you are deeply enjoying the moment.