FF Salad slide

Food Friday : Salads – Hold the Lettuce

Is there anything more boing than a lettuce salad? It is nothing but tasteless, crunchy water, slathered in oleaginous dressings, dotted with hot house tomatoes, sprinkled with stale croutons. Do you remember Bac’n Bits – those leathery maroon soy flakes that purportedly tasted like bacon? I am much happier now that I fry my croutons in bacon fat, and then crunch that real bacon up and scatter it on my salad, not overlooking a smackeral for my constant, dogging companion. How about orange French dressing? Now we can hurl a garlic clove into a bowl, douse it with good oil and vinegar and salt, and there we have it, the best salad dressing ever. Holy smokes, the times they are a changing, and everything salad-wise keeps getting better.

Personally I could never understand the appeal of the iceberg wedge salad. Whack a wedge out of a head of iceberg lettuce, dribble it in bottled blue cheese dressing, serve it on a minimalistic square plate and charge $9 for it. I could do that at home, except that I wouldn’t. I would rather eat something a little more flavorful and deelicious. How about you?

True confession: I violated my summertime rule about shunning the kitchen, or at least the hot stove, earlier this week. Once I had rooted around the internets looking for interesting salads, I must admit to you Gentle Reader – I boiled water. It is shameful, I know, but my cause was good and just, and ultimately, I got three meals out of that half hour of steam heat. I think it is a healthy ratio of time spent cooking compared to time spent eating nice, cool leftovers.

Spy Summer Farm Stand Salad

3 cups fusilli (or any macaroni product you have on hand – fusilli is very attractive and super hard to draw)

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil – or what you can approximate from the grocery store

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 cup diced cukes (I still like the seedless English variety, but use your fave)

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (or just chunk up some tomatoes from your kitchen windowsill)

1 ear of cooked corn – slice the kernels off, please

1/2 cup chopped peppers

1/2 cup snow peas

1/2 cup fresh green beans

1/2 cup asparagus tips

1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, cubed, or a handful of feta, or shavings of Parmesan

1/4 cup roughly chopped Vidalia onion

1/4 cup chopped celery for lots of crunch!

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Maldon salt

In a large, large bowl: add the crushed clove of garlic, and whisk it with the olive oil and vinegar. Add the red pepper flakes, and some Maldon salt.

Boil the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain in a colander, rinse with cool water, and shake the water off like a good dog. Add the pasta to the big bowl of garlic and oil. Toss the pasta until it is evenly coated with the good garlicky oil. Set aside.

Boil up another pot of water and toss in the asparagus, peas and beans for a minute or two, just until everything looks as bright green as the first grass in spring. Drain in the colander, and quickly dump them into another bowl filled with ice and ice water, to halt the cooking. Kazaam! Crunchy, green vegetables ready to mingle with your delicious pasta.

Now toss everything together, tear into some French bread, and have a fortifying glass of cheap white wine. You can repeat this as a side dish tomorrow night, and then have it for lunch the day after that. Feel free to embellish – you can add chicken, shrimp, salami, olives, artichoke hearts, sprouts, roasted red peppers, basil, flat leaf parsley – you name it. You can even serve it on a bed of lettuce.

“Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures.”
-M.F.K. Fisher

Food Friday: Cherry Pie for the Fourth of July

Hooray for the Fourth of July!

Are you getting excited about the Fourth of July? I am. I ready for a four-day weekend, sleeping late, fireworks, swimming, languidly of course, and generally enjoying some summertime. No computer for me! I am still steering clear of the kitchen, too. If something needs to be cooked then it has to go on the grill. That will free up some of my valuable time for books and blockbuster movies. Surely Independence Day: Resurgence can’t be all that bad. Dana Stevens of Slate magazine thought it was a delightful summer movie, after all.

For our old neighborhood’s annual Fourth of July extravaganza we decorated our bikes (and the dog) with crepe paper streamers, bunting and flags. More importantly, everyone brought a covered dish to share. We would all admire one friend’s trademark handiwork every year: the ceremonial red, white and blue cake. She baked a simple vanilla sheet cake and decorated it with a bucket o’whipped cream, a precise arrangement of blueberries and some snappy red waves of strawberries, sliced with surgical skill. It was a crowd pleaser. We’d light a couple of sparklers and feel patriotic. And then we fall on the cake like a pack of wolves. Forget about always having room for Jell-o, give us Red White and Blue Cake, even though we had already stuffed our suburban bellies with all the standard cookout goodies. You know the drill: potato salad, cole slaw, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, watermelon, beans, weenies…

We grownups would all stand in the back yard, swatting at the mosquitos, waiting for it to get dark enough to go to the fireworks downtown. The sun never seems to set fast enough on the Fourth of July. Can you remember the joy of writing your name, in newly mastered cursive, with the glowing tip of a spent sparkler? Some bright spots never diminish with time.

I can’t compete with Lisa’s annual patriotic confection, but I can appeal to a different crowd: a large pitcher of sangria. The founding fathers would have enjoyed this during that hot July in Philadelphia.

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2012/08/stone-fruit-sangria

Even though I am in my summertime kitchen denial, I do like to have a few things up my sleeve and sitting in the fridge. Sometime between the end of our latest Orange is the New Black binge and bedtime, someone I know will want a dessert-y snackum. Even if it doesn’t have any chocolate, this is a sweet summer treat. And the fresh tangy cherries are so lush and tempting and ephemeral

Just a Little Bit of Time Spent Slaving Over a Hot Stove Cherry Pie

Pre-fab pie crust
4 cups fresh cherries, pitted
1 cup white sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water

Take the pie crust out of the packaging. Recycle the plastic, please. Bake as per directions.

Pit the cherries (very important!) and arrange most of them in the baked crust. Reserve about 1/3 cup.

Mash remaining cherries, and combine with sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.

In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Gradually stir cornstarch mixture into the boiling cherries. Reduce heat and simmer mixture until thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Allow the cherry mixture to cool slightly and then pour it over the cherries in the pie shell. Canned cherries never tasted like this!

Chill for several hours before serving.

This is one I am going to make for the Tall One when he next visits. Ever since he discovered Walker’s shortbread biscuits while on walkabout in Scotland a couple of years ago and brought them back to the intrepid colonists here he has had a fondness for shortbread.

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/06/sweets-cherry-amaretto-tart-recipe.html

Now I need to go supervise the our the ritual grilling of the hamburgers, brats and ears of corn. Have a wonderful, and safe, Fourth of July! Walk away from the computer!

“Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation and freedom in all just pursuits.”
-Thomas Jefferson

Food Friday: Blueberries for Dad

Just in time for Father’s Day, June is busting out all over, summer is almost here, and if you listen carefully you’ll hear the blueberries ripening. Little globules of vitamin-rich blue goodness! ’Tis the season to revel in local blueberries!

A great Father’s Day weekend activity might include visiting a farmers’ market or a farm stand, to spend some quality intergenerational time together. Our children never ate blueberries except in muffins and pancakes until we visited a blueberry farm in Maine, and they got to fill both their buckets and their greedy little gullets with blueberries that they hunted and gathered themselves. Now they are confirmed blueberry aficionados. I should have started with spinach. Hit the farmers’ markets near you on Saturday to pick up a nice fresh pint or two of locally grown blueberries. And if it is early, satisfy your yen with strawberries or blackberries. Yumsters.

You can start the Father’s Day’s celebration off with blueberry muffins at breakfast! http://www.onceuponachef.com/2014/07/best-ever-blueberry-muffins.html Mr. Friday starts each day in a healthy manner – unlike me – who still yearns for those good old days of cold pizza for breakfast. No. Mr. Friday has always set a good example, and manfully tosses a handful of glistening blueberry goodness on top of his bowl of leaves and twigs every morning. So I imagine he will like the next suggestion. For a more health conscious father, you can exhibit some restraint and be oh so au courant with this smoothie treat: http://www.blueberrycouncil.org/blueberry-recipe/blueberry-green-tea-smoothie/ You can probably even sneak in some kale or trending broccoli rabe and he will never notice. Take that, Mr. Friday!

Here’s an easy one for getting out of the house quickly in the morning, yet still getting some nutrition inside your busy dad: http://www.southernliving.com/food/kitchen-assistant/fresh-blueberry-recipes/blueberry-soy-shakes

What are you doing for lunch? How about a colorful salad? For a delightfully cool lunch salad, try pairing blueberries with cucumbers and some feta cheese. The weekend promises to be steamy, so plan ahead. http://www.blueberrycouncil.org//blueberry-recipe/blueberry-cucumber-salad/

Cocktail hour! John Derian is as stylish and clever as folks come, and this is his recipe for a Blueberry Smash. Deelightful! http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/blueberry-smash

I thought this drink was a little sweet, which goes to show the dedication I have toward providing you with accurate food info: https://marlameridith.com/blueberry-martini-recipe/ .

But maybe your dad has a sweet tooth. In which case, maybe you should just concentrate on a really good, old-fashioned dessert. And try to be a good baker, and roll out your own pie crust. Imagine your pride swelling as Dad enjoys the juicy goodness of a slice of your home-baked pie. There is no better way to indulge the fathers in your life than with a nice home-baked blueberry pie. http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12654-blueberry-pie-filling?smid=fb-nytdining&smtyp=cur

Or should you be more restrained (and less blue) and try this lemon blueberry poke cake? http://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/how-to-make-homemade-lemon-blueberry-poke-cake-article

Be careful not to try any of Willy Wonka’s magic Three Course Meal Chewing Gum on your dad. Mr. Wonka is still working on the getting the kinks out of the formula. You do not want your dad to blow up and turn into a giant blueberry like Violet Beauregard did: “’Blueberry pie and cream!’ shouted Violet. ‘Here it comes! Oh my, it’s perfect! It’s beautiful! It’s . . . It’s exactly as though I’m swallowing it! It’s as though I’m chewing and swallowing great big spoonfuls of the most marvelous blueberry pie in the world!’’
-Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

“She picked three more berries and ate them. Then she picked more berries and dropped one in the pail-Kurplunk! And the rest she ate. Then Little Sal ate all four blueberries out of her pail!”
-Robert McCloskey, Blueberries for Sal

Chestertown Farmers’ Market: http://www.chestertownfarmersmarket.net/
St. Michaels FreshFarm Market: http://www.localharvest.org/st-michaels-freshfarm-market-M625
Centreville Farmers’ Market: http://marylandsbest.net/producer/centreville-farmers-market/
Easton Farmers Market: https://avalonfoundation.org/easton-farmers-market
Lockbriar Farm 10051 Worton Road, Chestertown, MD 21620. http://www.lockbriarfarms.com/u-picking-at-lockbriar/
Redman Farms 8689 Bakers Lane, Chestertown, MD 21620. http://redmanfarms.net/

Food Friday: Rooting for Radishes

I have always associated radishes with sitting on the back porch on summer evenings when I was little, watching my father transform pink hamburger patties into charbroiled hockey pucks on the hibachi. We would snack on the raw, red-skinned radishes that my mother served to us in little clear glass Pyrex bowls, filled with bone-chilling ice water. How could anything so cold have such a spicy kick? Such were the summery mysteries I contemplated back then, waiting for the dusk to fall, and the fireflies to rise from back garden.

Luke the Wonder Dog and I saw some fireflies the other night, so I imagine that summer is almost upon us. Can we resist the lure of fresh radishes? This summer I am going to be a little more adventurous and try radishes in new and different ways. I have started to branch out, by using radish slices as a garnish when we make tacos. You can never have enough crunch, and radishes provide it reliably.

For the data driven – radishes are high in fiber, riboflavin, and potassium. They are low in calories, and have lots of Vitamin C. They are a natural diuretic, and have detoxing abilities.
http://foodfacts.mercola.com/radish.html

I prefer to dwell on the spicy flavor and the crunch.

Have you tried sliced radishes on buttered bread? They will jazz up your next tea party the way cucumber sandwiches never have. Although, if you were French, you would have been eating radishes on buttered slices of brown bread for breakfast for years. Mais oui! http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125066665

And if you’d rather not be picking up disks of radishes escaping from your sandwiches, try this easy peasy radish butter. Yumsters! https://mykitchenwindowsill.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/radish-butter/

Martha suggests adding radishes to corn salad – what a great idea, Martha! The bright red color of the radishes will make a heaping bowl of cooked corn quite appealing. And the subtle addition of jalapeño gives an extra spicy kick. This is a perfect summertime backyard cookout menu item.
http://www.marthastewart.com/319260/corn-and-radish-salad

Consider the summer cocktail, and how easy it is to add some sliced radishes to your favorite Bloody Mary recipe. I’m not sure that I would go to all the trouble that this recipe stirs up – I would have to make a separate trip out to buy sherry, after all. http://www.sofeminine.co.uk/drinks/summer-cocktails-d40795c601836.html

For your next book club meeting, here is a cocktail with literary aspirations: http://www.tastingtable.com/cook/recipes/radish-gin-cocktail-recipe-spring-vegetables-the-red-cat-nyc I haven’t been able to find the Cocchi Americano at our liquor store, though. So I have left it out, and no one seems the wiser. Nor has it been noted by my well-read blue stockings that I also used Bombay instead of the requisite Dorothy Parker gin. (For the crowd that is used to extremely cheap white wine, this is an eye-opener, just like Uncle Willy’s in Philadelphia Story. It packs a punch.)

Here’s one for Mr. Friday to perfect: grilled steak with grilled radishes. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/grilled-steak-and-radishes-with-black-pepper-butter
It makes me sad, though, to cook a radish. There are some vegetables that are meant to be eaten gloriously simple and raw – like fresh peas, carrots, green beans and celery.

I think I will just mosey out to the kitchen now and cut the tops off some fresh, rosy red radishes. Then I’ll slice off the root ends, pretend that I can carve the little globes into beauteous rosettes, and plop them into a small bowl of ice water. Then I will sprinkle some crunchy Maldon salt flakes over the clumsy rose petal shapes I have created, and eat one of my favorite root vegetables. Ah, summer. It is good.

“Plant a radish.
Get a radish.
Never any doubt.
That’s why I love vegetables;
You know what you’re about!”
Tom Jones – The Fantasticks

Kiss the next 5 minutes of your life away! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Jf9HQl8qv0

Food Friday: Artichokes for Streaking

How are you getting ready for May Day? Are you practicing your May pole dance? Have you shaken out the dust and the bells on your Morris dancing costume? Are you looking for love? Are you going to participate in the much-loved rite of spring: streaking? If you answer “Yes!” to any of those questions then you might want to buy some artichokes in preparation.

Long considered an aphrodisiac, the artichoke is technically a flower bud that has not yet bloomed. Such a potent symbol: prickly on the outside, soft and yielding on the inside. In 1576, Dr. Bartolomeo Boldo wrote that the artichoke “has the virtue of … provoking Venus for both men and women; for women making them more desirable, and helping the men who are in these matters rather tardy.” Stock up on equal opportunity artichokes, they are good for everyone!

Greek mythology gives Zeus the credit for creating of the artichoke. After he had been spurned by a beautiful woman, Zeus turned his love object into a thorny thistle, the artichoke. The ancient Greeks and Romans thought the artichoke was a rare and delicious delicacy. What better time than the beginning of May to celebrate the artichoke, particularly when it is at the peak of its season? And Sunday is May Day, so you should get off on the right foot.

After the Greeks and the Romans the artichoke spread to Spain. Catherine de Medici was supposed to have brought the artichoke to France when she arrived to marry the future Henry II. Catherine was known for her voracious appetites for both food and romance, and she scandalized the French court by eating lots of artichokes, and enjoying the sexy reputation that resulted. Shortly thereafter the artichoke crossed the Channel, where Henry VIII, he of many wives, was thought to be quite fond of them.

The French brought the artichoke to America. George Washington grew them at Mount Vernon. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery contains a 17th-century recipe “To Make Hartichoak Pie.” At one point in Hamilton, the current Broadway show, it is remarked that Alexander Hamilton was a serial philanderer, and “Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after him.” One wonders if she ever served Alexander Hamilton Harty Choak Pie, too.

From Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery:

To Make an Harty Choak Pie:
Take 12 harty choak bottoms yt are good & large, after you have boyled them, take them cleere from ye leaves & cores, season them with a little pepper & salt & lay them on a coffin of paste, with a pound of butter & ye marrow of 2 bones in bigg pieces, then close it up to set in ye oven, then put halfe a pound of sugar to halfe a pinte of verges [a sauce made with green herbs] & some powder of cinnamon and ginger – boyle these together & when ye pie is halfe baked put the liquor in & set it in ye oven againe till it be quite bak’d.

Most artichokes sold in the United States today are grown in Castroville, California. In keeping with the artichoke’s somewhat sensual reputation, it should be noted that in 1947 Marilyn Monroe, then Norma Jean, was crowned Castroville’s first Artichoke Queen.

If you are going to get up to corporeal mischief this weekend, here are some helpful pointers:
This is a useful video of Jacques Pepin prepping an artichoke:
http://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/prepping-artichokes-versus-buying-artichoke-hearts-article

I have a fantasy life where on the weekends we are visited by our sophisticated and witty friends, who are stealing time away from their fascinating and glamorous careers in the arts. The only breakfast I could dream of serving them would be this:
http://www.marthastewart.com/356430/steamed-artichokes-poached-eggs-and-smoked-salmon

It never hurts to have elegant imaginary friends.But if I expect a little romance myself this weekend, I had best up our breakfast game. I am going to give this a whirl: http://artichokes.org/recipes-and-such/recipes/artichoke-frittata Sadly, the Saturday morning reality is just Mr. Friday and me sitting blearily at the kitchen table, reading the papers, and considering our list of weekend chores while shoveling sticks and twigs into our gawping mouths. On Sundays we add bacon. This weekend I will throw a some inspiring artichokes into the mix and trust to fate!

“Tra la! It’s May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month when ev’ryone goes
Blissfully astray.”
-Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, Camelot

Here is a nice Maryland variation on the artichoke theme that Food52 suggests we try: https://food52.com/recipes/4382-crab-stuffed-artichokes

Food Friday: Hamburger Helper!

It really doesn’t get any simpler than this: ground beef, salt, pepper, and a cast iron skillet. With a little practice, you can have an excellent bar burger at home without lighting up the grill, without baking your own buns, and without paying for overpriced beer. Yumsters.

I have always believed that hamburgers cooked outside over a charcoal grill were manna from heaven. American fast food manna, for sure. When Mr. Friday switched from charcoal to a gas grill, I was disappointed in the flavor of my burgers. Those carcinogens emitted by the charcoal were very tasty. And I would never venture outside to grill my own hamburgers if Mr. Friday was away, as he often is. The gas grill was intimidating with its buttons and gauges and whooshing and the inherent explosive nature of the gas tank. No, thank you. Instead I would get take out at the local drive through – which has excellent onion rings, as well as a good, cheap cheeseburger.

I expect an excellent burger when I go out to a sit-down restaurant, and mostly I get served merely adequate, formerly frozen, blocks o’meat. But if they are served with crispy, blisteringly hot French fries, I tend to nibble around the burger, eating the well-done bits, and I try to feel as if I have had a satisfactory dinner. There have been expertly cooked, gold standard bar burgers in my past, and I savor their memories, but present day, my local burger dining experiences have been disappointing.

Enough of that nonsense! I have discovered a burger I can cook on top of the stove, without fear of explosions, without carcinogens, without getting into my car and having to share with Luke the wonder dog on the ride home. Thank you, Sam Sifton of the New York Times. You have allayed my cooking fears, encouraged bad behavior in smashing the cooking beef, and given me home-cooked hamburger independence.

I am always searching for the perfect French fry prep, and have found that Crispy Crowns are perfect temporary accompaniment. Heresy for sure, but they are hot, crunchy, crispy, and deelish, and all they need is a couple of shakes of Lowry’s Seasoning Salt. And they fend for themselves in the oven while you are performing your rapid-fire maneuvers with the burgers. It is hard to juggle a vat of boiling oil and a couple of searing hamburgers. Trust me, the gas grill is less dangerous.

Mr. Friday was not convinced about using cold meat, right out of the fridge until I showed him the video graphic evidence – so take a few minutes to watch the video. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/25/dining/how-to-make-a-great-burger.html?_r=0 He enjoyed squishing the hamburger with a heavy spatula, and you will, too.

And here are the steps, courtesy of the New York Times.

1. Add oil or butter to a large cast-iron or stainless steel skillet and place over medium heat. Gently divide ground beef into 8 small piles of around 4 ounces each, and even more gently gather them together into orbs that are about 2 inches in height. Do not form patties.

2. Increase heat under skillet to high. Put half the orbs into the skillet with plenty of distance between them and, using a stiff metal spatula, press down on each one to form a burger that is around 4 inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Cook without moving until patties have achieved a deep, burnished crust, a little less than 2 minutes. Use the spatula to scrape free and carefully turn burgers over. If using cheese, lay slices on meat.

4. Continue to cook until meat is cooked through, approximately a minute or so longer. Remove burgers from skillet, place on buns and top as desired. Repeat process with remaining burgers.

We tried cooking our two burgers, a thin, bar-style for me, and the larger, thicker hamburger for Mr. Friday in our relatively new, only slightly seasoned cast-iron skillet. What an excellent addition to the pots and pans assemblage that pan has become! It is perfect for so many kitchen essentials: corn bread, bacon, fancy pan-seared steaks à la Mr. Friday, fried chicken, cobblers, hash browns; you name it. The clever folks at Bon Appétit have dozens of ideas: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/cast-iron-skillet-recipes

I topped up with cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickles. Mr. Friday used catsup, spicy brown mustard, and lettuce. I find catsup an abomination, and much prefer a nice slice of a room-temp local tomato. Inevitably, at this time of year, it is an overpriced organic heirloom ugly tomato that I have carted home from the grocery store. But tomato season is rapidly approaching!

Served with Crispy Crowns which I always overcook slightly (by design) and a pleasant, inexpensive plonk, we had a fine meal, topped off with many calories from a raspberry fool.

“You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars.”
― Charles Kuralt

Helpful cast iron pan hints: http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/11/the-truth-about-cast-iron.html

Food Friday: April Fools

Sadly, I am not clever enough to come up with a brilliant idea like the BBC’s famous spaghetti farm for April Fools Day. You have to watch this little video even if you have seen it before. ‘Tis the season to enjoy something silly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVo_wkxH9dU

I have my humble, little container garden of basil and greens, and earlier this week I planted some sprouting garlic to start my Middle Street Garlic Ranch. All I need now are tomatoes, and the fabled spaghetti harvest, and I will be in business. I’ll need some breadfruit, too, I suppose.

I thought we could test drive some fruit fools, and decide for ourselves which would be the tastiest way to spend April Fools Day. This cannot be a choice which we make lightly – do we want whipped cream, custard or yogurt? Do we want to add meringue bits or crumbly crumbs to give the mixture a little texture? Do we stew the fruit, or crush it? We will have to don our aprons with open minds and mouths. It is time for the fool smack down.

When I was growing up we had a couple of rhubarb plants in the lower garden by the corner of the old barn cum garage. perennials, they were spectacularly lush every summer, with huge rain forest-worthy leaves; their growth fueled by being the plants closest to the compost pile. I am sure my mother kept the plants just for their appearance, because she never cooked the pink stalks. They were attractive, just not food-worthy in her judgment. She grew plants purely for their ornamental value, rarely for harvest. We did grow tomatoes every summer, and there were the few times my father tried to introduce a green pepper crop, but mostly we had flowers for their beauty alone, and their ability to lure butterflies or hummingbirds.

The rhubarb I see these days in the grocery store does not live up to my memories of the rhubarb in the back yard – the strong, stringy batons that were wildly sour when we tried to nibble them. (“Don’t eat the poisonous leaves,” we were warned, so we assiduously removed all vestiges of the dangerous green as diligently we avoided the three forms of poison ivy.) What I see at the market these days is rhubarb that is far from it place of origin, and has gone all limp and sad. Therefore, we must restore this herbaceous vegetable that aspires to be a fruit, and is the center of our April Fools Feast, with a fluffy whorl of cream and sugar greatness.

Here are several ways to prepare rhubarb for a delicious smackeral of a fool – by stewing, boiling or puréeing. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/apr/12/how-to-make-perfect-rhubarb-fool

If you want to venture beyond your own back garden harvest, (or the farmers’ market crispy fresh rhubarb) you can always try soft berries, which you only need to smash a little, before blending with the cream, custard or yogurt. I am always partial to raspberries, with strawberries being the more practical and economical choice, in a heady mixture of whipped cream. If I could swirl the berries in Devonshire cream I certainly would, but a nice big bowl of fresh homemade whipped cream is perfection unto itself.

There cannot be a simpler recipe to follow for a delectable dessert: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9592-strawberry-fool

But if you add some meringue to strawberries and cream, you can puff out your chest and announce that everyone is eating Eton Mess, which sounds grand, and tastes even better:
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/eton-mess-103204 We like to promote recipes that include gratuitous dollops of alcohol, as you can tell.

And once you have mastered Eton Mess, a strawberry Pavlova is destined to be your next dessert accomplishment. This is most impressive, but it requires a slightly steadier hand than the Mess, so cut down on the cooking sherry. http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9641-strawberry-pavlova

But once again I have strayed from the footpath. Now that we are enjoying a beautiful flower-filled spring, let the joy we have felt watching the cherry blossom petals waft onto the lawn extend to whipping up some cream and crushing some fruit. Enjoy a fool’s paradise.

“Compromise is a stalling between two fools.”
― Stephen Fry

Food Friday: Rabbit Food

At Easter I like to haul out my dear friend’s lemon cheesecake recipe, and reminisce, ruefully, about the year I decorated one using fresh nasturtiums from the garden, which unfortunately sheltered a couple of frisky spiders. Easter was late that year and tensions were already high at the table, because a guest had taken it upon herself to bring her version of dessert – a 1950s (or perhaps it was a British World War II lesson in ersatz ingredients recipe) involving saltines, sugar-free lime Jell-O, and a tub of Lite Cool Whip. The children were divided on which was more terrifying: ingesting spiders, or many petro chemicals?

I am also loath to remember the year we hosted an Easter egg hunt, and it was so hot that the chocolate bunnies melted, the many children squabbled, and the adults couldn’t drink enough Bloody Marys. The celery and asparagus were limp, the ham was hot, and the sugar in all those Peeps brought out the criminal potential in even the most decorous of little girls. There was no Martha Stewart solution to that pickle.

Since our children did not like hard-boiled eggs, I am happy to say that we were never a family that hid real eggs for them to find. Because then we would have been the family whose dog discovered real nuclear waste hidden behind a bookcase or deep down in the sofa a few weeks later. We mostly stuck to jelly beans and the odd Sacajawea gold dollar in our plastic Easter eggs. It was a truly a treat when I stepped on a robin’s egg pink plastic shell in the front garden later one year when I was hanging Christmas lights. There weren’t any jelly beans left, thank goodness, but there was a nice sugar-crusty gold dollar nestled inside it. Good things come to those that wait.

We won’t be hiding any eggs (real or man-made) this year, much to Luke the wonder dog’s disappointment. Instead we will have a nice decorous finger food brunch, with ham biscuits, asparagus, celery, carrots, tiny pea pods, Prosecco (of course) and a couple of slices of lemon cheesecake, sans the spiders, sans the lime Jell-O and Cool Whip. And we will feel sadly bereft because there will be no jelly beans, no melting chocolate and no childish fisticuffs.

Chris’s Cheesecake Deluxe
Serves 12

Crust:
1 cup sifted flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Filling:
2 1/2 pounds cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400° F

Crust: combine flour, sugar and lemon rind. Cut in butter until crumbly. Add yolk and vanilla. Mix. Pat 1/3 of the dough over the bottom of a 9″ spring form pan, with the sides removed. Bake for 6 minutes or until golden. Cool. Butter the sides of the pan and attach to the bottom. Pat remaining dough around the sides to 2″ high.

Increase the oven temp to 475° F. Beat the cream cheese until it is fluffy. Add vanilla and lemon rind. Combine the sugar, flour and salt. Gradually blend into the cream cheese. Beat in eggs and yolks, one at a time, and then the cream. Beat well. Pour into the pan. Bake 8-10 minutes.

Reduce oven heat to 200° F. Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until set. Turn off the heat. Allow the cake to remain in the oven with the door ajar for 30 minutes. Cool the cake on a rack, and then pop into the fridge to chill. This is the best Easter dessert ever.

http://food52.com/recipes/8103_horseradish_vodka_bloody_mary

http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/04/how-to-make-perfect-hard-boiled-eggs

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
― Michael Pollan

Food Friday: Salad Days

Sunday is the first day of spring! Hooray! The weather forecast for Sunday isn’t too spring-y; there seems to be a chance for snow, but don’t let that stop your rites of spring. It’s time to put away your turtlenecks, pack up your wool sweaters, store the Pendleton blankets and walk away from the winter recipes. It’s time to think about salad.

I got a jump on spring last weekend and bought some lettuces for my minuscule container garden. I bought four Romaine plants and four Bibb plants, and have nestled them into a couple of planters and I have been assiduously overwatering them ever since. My plants always get more attention in their first week than they will in the whole of July, sadly. I have not gone all Prince Charles on them yet – they do not seem to need me out there murmuring encouragingly.
http://www.epicurious.com/archive/seasonalcooking/farmtotable/visualguidesaladgreens

I wander out to check on their progress, hourly, it seems. I seem to need a lot of breaks. But at this stage, when everything is growing at the rate of a kudzu locomotive, it is an amusing diversion. The nasturtium seeds I planted two weeks ago have suddenly sprouted, and the morning glories emerged from the soil in just two days. I imagine that I will be giving the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum some real competition when it comes to nasturtium bowers this year. Mine will be humble, of course, since my staff is much smaller, as is my display space. And I am trying to focus on practical lettuce farming, anyway. http://www.gardnermuseum.org/gardens/courtyard/hanging_nasturtiums

While I will still have to patronize the grocery store and the farmers’ market, my little lettuce farm gives me a little frisson of radical independence. I am Laura Ingalls Wilder out on the prairie, making my way west; a rugged individual who can twist wheat into firewood, battle locust, win the spelling bee and serve up a salad of fresh tasty greens. When I take a pair of scissors outside to harvest some basil leaves I can comport myself as decorously as a Jane Austen heroine, with Mr. Knightley smiling benignly at my foolishness. I digress.

Lettuce can be the meal, or the bed upon which you, you madcap non-fictional character, can serve a more substantial ingredient or two. But you know what to pile on top of a salad. I like to rummage around the fridge and find leftovers. Tonight I’m serving up a little bit of steak from the other night. There isn’t enough to make a cheese steak sandwich, which would have been my first choice, though there is plenty to slice over some store-bought Romaine, with a slice or two left to give to Luke, the wonder dog.

And with summer fashions rapidly approaching like an oncoming mega-death meteor, I should consider the salad option more often. This salad vending machine concept would be a great item to have in my perfect imaginary world. I bet Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jane Austen would both approve, too. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/the-inconvenience-of-salad/382613/
Mr. Knightley and Almanzo would both have benefited from more greens in their diets. Back here on Planet Earth, I would say that you should get yourself to a nursery or a hardware store and stock up on some edible green plants since those vending machines will not be coming to our towns any time soon.

I will keep you posted on the progress our plants are making out on the balcony. Right now we have basil (which we used the other night with some yumsters Burrata cheese and fresh tomatoes), thyme, chives, two kinds of lettuce and nasturtiums by the boatload. We also have a couple of planters of purely decorative flowers: hot pink petunias, white dianthus, fuzzy Dusty Miller, some trailing variegated vinca major, and I have planted three seed packets of morning glories. I am still on the prowl for some lobelia. Isn’t it great to be outdoors?

“I ate them like salad, books were my sandwich for lunch, my tiffin and dinner and midnight munch. I tore out the pages, ate them with salt, doused them with relish, gnawed on the bindings, turned the chapters with my tongue! Books by the dozen, the score and the billion. I carried so many home I was hunchbacked for years. Philosophy, art history, politics, social science, the poem, the essay, the grandiose play, you name ’em, I ate ’em.”
– Ray Bradbury

..

Food Friday: Penne, Please

Can Food Friday remain relevant when experimenting with a recipe that is decades old, doesn’t contain kale, and is a wee bit twee? I was rooting around the internets earlier this week, ostensibly researching food ideas for this column. Though sometimes when I roam through food sites it just to mollify Mr. Friday, and the goal that is to prepare something tasty and nourishing, yes, and also somewhat interesting for our evening meal. His idea of bliss is not eating leftover chili for a week, silly rabbit. While we are never really close to the cutting edge of food fashion, sometimes we like to experience a little zeitgeist and stardust, and be au courant. Sometimes I am decades late.

Mondays are hard. After an eventful and exhaustively festive weekend here I did not want to reinvent the proverbial wheel, and I am always inclined to prepare the easiest and most comforting pasta meals on Mondays. I stumbled across this Penne alla Vodka dish, which is supposed to be one of Nigella Lawson’s all time most popular recipes, and yet I had never cooked it. Perhaps, finally, now would be a good time to indulge. And I imagine it could be just as deelish on a Friday or Saturday night when you are entertaining your dozens of stylish friends as it was on Monday.

When I first heard about pasta alla vodka I can remember thinking how decadent it was because it included vodka as one of its main ingredients. It wasn’t continental like Chicken Marsala or frivolous like Baba au Rhum. You must understand that I carry the weight and guilt and preoccupation with sin of several generations of stoically stern and hidebound New Englanders on my bowing shoulders. I doubt if Jo March had ever heard of vodka. (True confession: we have a bottle of vodka stashed in the freezer for emergencies. I can’t imagine what kind of emergency would actually require frozen vodka, but we will be prepared. Let me know if I can ever help you out.)

Penne Alla Vodka

(I halved this recipe – 2 pounds is too much of a muchness for 2 people.)

Salt
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons garlic-infused oil
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes or 3 cups finely chopped fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 pounds penne rigate
½ cup vodka
4 tablespoons butter
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

1.Boil a large pot of salted water. Sauté onion, oil with a sprinkling of salt until soft and beginning to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juices, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Add cream, and remove from heat.

2.Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain it and return to cooking pot. Add vodka, butter and salt to taste. The air in the kitchen will be heady for a moment or two, as you remember your misspent youth. Add tomato mixture, and mix until pasta is coated.

This vodka sauce has gotten so popular over the years that you can buy jarred versions of it at the grocery store. My inner New England self frowns sternly at that notion, but the Monday me won’t narc you to your dinner guests. Although I think you will have fun putting it to the test, and actually cooking it yourself. And then you too will have a bottle of vodka in the freezer, and when Louisa May Alcott stops by for a chat you can make her a nice stiff Martini. I wonder if she would prefer a lemon twist to an olive?

As always, I would add a nice loaf of garlic bread, dripping with good butter and reeking and redolent with crushed garlic cloves, a nice tossed salad and a few glasses of plonk. Don’t forget to grate some fresh Parmesan cheese and light a few candles. It is still winter out there. Don’t let the early daffodils lull you into believing that spring is just around the corner. We have March lions sidling up, girding their leonine loins; waiting to catch us vulnerable, wearing shorts a couple of months early as we anxiously peer into the garden beds that get that little bit of extra sunshine every day, back by the garage, willing the crocuses up into pale violet blooms.

http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9347-penne-alla-vodka

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”
– Charles Dickens