Archive for the 'All Spice' Category

Pain Relief

In times of stress and heartache I turn up the heat in my cooking. I hadn’t really faced this until recently, when on my third consecutive day of fiery red curry I paused to consider as I rubbed an ice cube over my chile-scorched fingers. Stress and spicy food seem to have a long-term relationship in my life: in high school I carried a tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce in the breast pocket of my coat at all times, as an antidote to angst-ridden lunchtimes. Years later, in the throes of romantic despair, I became a prolific baker of very, very hot pepper-spiked cheddar muffins.
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Still Life

A favorite book of mine, Alexandra Stoddard’s Gift of a Letter, points out that one should never begin a letter by apologizing for not having written sooner. Having said that, I’ll share a bit of what has filled the many days between right now and that last bowl of soup: Still Life Painting in Southern Europe, 1600–1800 and Botanical Imagery in European Painting, published on The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Timeline of Art History.

Inspired by the startlingly unidealized still lifes of Caravaggio and his followers, I filled a bowl with this week’s haul of veggies from my local CSA (here including kale, fava beans, cucumbers, and a zucchini) and snapped away without primping, spritzing, or overly arranging. I realized what incredible pleasure there is in not choosing the most beautiful specimen or the most flattering angle, but simply depicting what is. This summer my kitchen is overflowing with greens, more than I’ve ever cooked with or eaten before, and the more time I spend with things that come out of the earth the more singularly beautiful I find them for their imperfections.

Soup Therapy

I’d like to send a virtual pot of soup to all the people I love who are currently unwell, sad, overworked, or otherwise stressed out. And to you, dear stranger, if you find yourself similarly afflicted. I sat awake one night recently, thinking about this; before long, I was in the kitchen, peeling carrots at midnight.
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Thumbelina Carrots

I had never seen or even heard of Thumbelina carrots before today, and when I saw them I had to have some. They’re in fact the nicest thing about today–my today, at least–because they reminded me of Hans Christian Andersen and the tale of a tiny girl who became the Queen of Flowers. I still love reading about Thumbelina’s adventures with beastly beasts, of her tulip-petal boat on a bowl-of-water lake. I may love even more dearly the 1952 film Hans Christian Andersen–also a complete fairy tale–with the dreamy Danny Kaye as Hans Christian.

Back to the carrots. They’re sweet, squat, and somewhat radish-like in stature. They’d be perfect for pickling, but mine are going to be eaten raw, now, with a sprinkle of Cassina Rossa’s Sweet & Salt, pictured above in my birdbath salt-cellar.

The Chocoholic Porcophile

Last Saturday night, my dinner date invited me to sip from his glass of Young’s Luxury Double Chocolate Stout. As it’s my wont to sip from my companions’ glasses even without invitation, I was happy to oblige. It’s an intense drink: very rich and very chocolatey, in fact, but nicely bitter as well. What I noticed most of all, though, was a smokiness that reminded me of…bacon.
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Never Too Cool for Yule

Every year about this time I start thinking about Christmas. It must be a psychological cooling device, because I stop thinking about it the moment the heat breaks. When I was at school and had summers off, this preoccupation took the form of various projects: one summer I latch-hooked a rug with Santa Claus heads on it (yikes!), another I spent festooning a foot-high Christmas tree with tiny ornaments (one of my better efforts), and another I devoted to the production of worry-doll ornaments vaguely resembling characters from history and fiction (only I could identify them).
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Rosemary Olive Oil Ice Cream

I’m obsessed with ice cream; I can’t stop making it. It’s because I’ve had ice-cream-maker envy my whole life, and now I’ve finally got one (thanks, Dad and Teryl).

This rosemary olive oil ice cream is my favorite recent concoction, and my contribution to Meeta’s July Monthly Mingle over at What’s For Lunch, Honey?. It’s inspired by an olive oil gelato on the menu at Babbo in New York City. There is a recipe for this in the Babbo cookbook but, cynic that I am, I can’t imagine that Mr. Batali has handed over his own precise formula. (This is a cynicism born of recently reading Bill Buford’s “Heat”.)
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Hope Springs Eternal

In a rare moment of horticultural optimism encouraged by my mother–who has green thumbs, toes, and elbows–I’ve purchased pots of lemon verbena, rosemary, and thyme for my sunny-ish office windowsill. At the moment they’re happily hanging out on Mom’s backyard deck, and I’m already worrying about whether I’ll be able to give them the lifestyle they deserve.

If anyone has windowsill herb-gardening advice, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, I have big, hopeful plans for these guys, including a dessert inspired by one I had the other night at Babbo.

Chocolate Pear Cake

Another beauty from Piero Polloni, whose tomato sauce and gazpacho recipes I shared with you on Tuesday.

This is rich and bittersweet and textural heaven. I especially love the crust, which starts out very soft, like a butter cookie dough. It’s made with “00″ flour, a finely milled Italian flour typically used for pizza and pasta doughs, which makes for a very tender crust. If you can’t find it, use unbleached all-purpose flour.

Piero’s recipe calls for Abate Fetel pears, a favorite in Italy. They’re tall, yellow and russet, white-fleshed, juicy and sweet, in season late August through early September. I used Forelle pears for mine: they’re firm-fleshed, sweet, excellent for cooking, and have an alluringly scarlet-freckled countenance.
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A Little Bit of Effort

I’m back in New York, where the mercury’s rising. Everywhere are scantily clad people dining al fresco, sipping tall muddled-fruit drinks, and flip-flopping around with cones of gelato which they probably went to the Upper West Side to get. The first really hot days of summer are usually my cue to call it a holiday and hang up my potholders until the weather breaks, and dinners during this period are usually “cooked” at the cutting board.

But this year I can’t take my eyes off a big pot of tomatoes slowly and continually simmering on the stove, because I’m haunted by an amazing gazpacho that I tasted in the south of France.
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