Cough Syrup

Just a quick thought: Goji Berry Liqueur smells exactly like what you remember from childhood as the slightly poisonous aroma of cherry cough syrup. Remind me to think twice before ever using it in a cocktail!



Sometimes the old, simple recipes are just what the doctor ordered. For me, that often begins with a trip to the farmers' market. This time of year in the pacific northwest is known, with some rue, as Juneuary - for those who don't know, spring and summer ar rather relaxed about when they decide to arrive. It's the time of year when from day to day it could feel like winter, spring, or summer, and so it's the right time of year for food that incorporates flavours and textures from all of these seasons. And it's at this time of year that we start to get tender young asparagus and the first morel mushrooms of the season. Asparagus, in some ways, is the very symbol of spring: the first energetic shoots of a plant that fly from the ground just when the weather is warm enough and the days long enough to spur the first imaginings of summer picnics. At the market this week the asparagus were particularly fine and fresh and so I bought a small handful. A old reliable spring dish is blanched asparagus with Hollandaise sauce - tangy, bright, aspirational. Though to me, Hollandaise is also very much a winter food; it's a part of big breakfasts on cold, rainy Sundays and its cousin, Sauce Béarnaise, is peerless as companion to a fine steak, preferably cooked over a fire and eaten while watching at fresh snowfall. So you see, I already had the makings of a lovely Juneuary dish. And then I passed the wild mushroom stand. And saw (and smelled) this year's first morels.

Morels taste of the loam and forest - at once reminiscent of both musky, humid summer and also earthy, hearty winter food. The first morels are exciting - as asparagus ushers in spring, so do morels usher in summer. The fact that these milestones appear simultaneous here in western Washington, well, I suppose that's Mother Nature's sense of humor. But it does allow for some delicious combinations. In short, this evening for dinner I had fresh asparagus with morel Hollandaise sauce. Simple, easy, but it almost defines luxurious eating. Warm, beguiling, at once crunchy and velvety, tangy like the spring weather, rich like a winter feast, and bright like the summer sun. You may have heard of truffled Hollandaise before - this similar, but not as wintery. The only thing you have to do is cook the morels in the butter you melt for the sauce and then whisk them along with the sauce as you slowly thicken it. I used the Joy of Cooking recipe for "Whole Egg Hollandaise" as the base.

Happy Juneuary, everyone!
The Plate


Oh, the joy...

...of extra Blueberry Cream Cheese Frosting!

Yesterday, I made a cake. It was a very special cake, but a cake for which you all will have to wait (so I can do it justice!) But today I find myself studying away on a grey and blustery afternoon, in dire need of a little snack. I should note that, upon completion of the aforementioned cake, a glorious amount of frosting remained, unused, in the bowl. And I was then given a particularly valuable piece of knowledge which I shall now share with you: "Eat leftover frosting on graham crackers."

And so I did! (Well, actually, as I'm doing right now...) The graham crackers are cinnamon-sugar. The frosting is Blueberry-Lemon Cream Cheese. The combination should not be legal. Mmmmmmmm......Imagine tart blueberry yogurt, made thick and creamy and then sticky-sweet. But it's still blueberry tart, (I think that's where the lemon helps out a bit.) On the cake it was almost too much. On the graham crackers, however, it makes the afternoon lovely, cozy, and sweet as the cracker crumbles and blueberries dance through your mind. (I swear it's not actually hallucinatory, though it is purple.)Afternoon TeaOh, and rose tea happens to pair particularly well.


Eating Flowers

Call them what you will: fleurs de courgettes, fiori di zucca, or the coarse English "squash blossoms." They're flowers. They're edible. They're delicious. FreshI was introduced to them in France, in the simplest preparation possible in a restaurant whose menu was scrawled on a chalkboard, the back of which read "Pas de telephone, pas de cartes de crédite, pas de problème." Feel free to go - it's La Merenda in Nice, France. But don't expect fleurs de courgettes because they'd only be on the menu if they are in the market down the street. The blossoms are extremely fragile - if you see them at a market they were picked that morning and if you don't use them that night or by the following morning at the latest, you might as well toss them. But if you find them, rearrange whatever plans you have to make the time to cook and eat them. The simplest way to cook them, which admittedly takes some finesse, is to lightly batter and fry them. Use the light flour-and-water batter called pastella which I found in Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Italian Cooking." In short: well-mixed 2/3 cup of flour to 1 cup water. This batter is awesome - thin, light, and crispy, it turns golden and slightly toasty brown when done, forming a nice shell around the battered food.

There are two kinds of squash blossoms - some have mini-squash instead of stems. You can do anything you like with these mini-squash - I sliced my up and fried them as zucchini fries. They're meatier and moister than potato, and I think I like them better. Still crispy, but not as bland and starchy. Some recipes call for doing fancy things with these squash-stems, which can be very pretty. Baby Zucchini FriesThe blossoms themselves are a little awkward to handle because they're delicate and floppy. First you have to clean them gently (cold running water is good) and remove the stamen from the center of the flower. If you're frying them, drag them through the batter to coat them all over and then let excess batter drip off before frying. Fry them in enough oil that they are half-submerged, hot enough that the oil bubbles and hisses energetically immediately when they're put in. When one side is golden brown, flip and repeat. FryingDrain excess oil and eat as soon as possible. The challenge with these blossoms is that they can carry enough batter and take long enough to cook that they get a little lost. Cooked well, they're light and crispy, but still have some substance. Their flavour is typically very mild, slightly earthy but also clean and fresh and crisp and green. In fact, many recipes call for stuffing them with goat cheese fillings because they function very well as wrappers that complement the flavour of fresh goat cheese while not disintegrating under heat like other leafy vegetables. I prefer them plain - I think the cheese makes them overly heavy and rich and drowns the delicate flavour of the delicate flower.

I love the simplicity of fiori di zucca - it's a flower, like so many others. It displays the intent of the plant to produce a fruit. And in this case, we get to taste that remarkable evanescent potential for fruit. It's like eating a crispy golden moment in time.

Perfect Pita and Palestinian Pizza

In Jerusalem, in the old city, there are bakeries. As you walk down the narrow, roofed-over streets, occasionally you'll catch a wafting smell of fresh baking. Follow your nose. Most of the bread being baked is pita - puffy and dusty-sweet. If you can see into the oven, you can watch as the dough goes from a raw, flat, white round to a toasty-tan balloon in about 30 seconds, before either it tumbles from the oven's mechanical conveyor belt or it is yanked skillfully from the brick oven and tossed onto a large wooden tray to cool. Pita!The bakeries were of all sorts. A basement of a basement with what looked like a kiln built into the back wall at the very bottom - stacks of trays of dough on one side and fresh pita piled high being hauled up and out onto the street for delivery as soon as the tray was piled high enough. Or a one-room workshop on a side street with an ancient (though not on the middle-eastern timescale) mechanical pass-through oven with a metal-plate conveyor. Pita Machine And that doesn't even consider the semi-industrial operation I saw in a Jordanian bakery where the pita oven was on the upper floor and the pitas cooled as they whizzed down a chute to land on the counter next to a man who had to package them up in equal-sized bags - very quickly, I should add. Pita FaucetI found the baker with the conveyor-belt oven because of the trays he had arranged outside his workshop from which he was selling fresh pita and what he called Palestinian Pizza. Basically pita dough topped with stuff and sent through the oven, he had two kinds: a "normal" pizza with tomato, cheese, and olives, and "the real thing" topped with a paste of za'tar and olive oil. Pizza, Pizza, Calzone The real thing, reheated briefly in the oven, was sweet, salty, oily, hearty. And hot. It tasted like a hot day in Jerusalem - dusty, and even a little gritty, but with that perfume of eucalyptus and olive. It tasted old. And it was just right.Ancient Palestinian Za'tar Pizza