Archive for the 'From Memory' Category



Zucchini Soup, Easy-Peasy

This lovely, light soup is full of summery flavors. The meatiness of the vegetables lends a velvety texture without the addition of cream: so delicious, so virtuous.
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The Most Gracious Season

I love the peacefulness of August. The springtime makes me restless, full of nervous energy and anticipation. With everything in nature expanding and pushing upward, it’s harder for me to find my own stillness. But about a month after the summer solstice, I can feel a shift. It’s that sweet, languorous moment of the year when the earth seems drowsy under the weight of its fruit, ready to offer it up and slip graciously back towards the darkness.

For some of my ancient predecessors (the Irish ones), August 1 was Lughnasadh, the first day of autumn and a celebration of the first grain harvest of the year. In Celtic mythology it was the funeral feast of the harvest goddess Tailtiu (see last year’s First Fruits). Though it’s a happy, hopeful time, the underlying theme is sacrifice, as the grain is cut down so that humans may be bountiful. For me it’s a quiet opportunity–free of the pomp and fanfare of Thanksgiving–to be grateful for my own plenty, to honor the changing season, and to prepare for the journey back towards darkness, where new things grow.

For Lughnasadh this year I’ll be making the beautiful, earthy Rosemary Diamante Bread I discovered at Waverly Fitzgerald’s site, School of the Seasons. The recipe is itself adapted from Carol Field’s The Italian Baker. Because I had so much rosemary, I pressed a sprig into the loaf you see above. As it’s the herb of remembrance, it seemed particularly appropriate.

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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Zeppole for a Golden Holiday

Cooking is a creative activity–no matter how closely you’re following a recipe–and as such, it’s never an un-emotional experience. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m excited, relaxed, terrified, frustrated, meditative, often more than one of the above, and always because of what I’m cooking. I think it’s possible, too, to every once in a while have a truly spiritual experience in the kitchen: a brief but perfect communion with your food, a moment in which you realize that you and it are an intimate part of each other’s history.

I had this experience in my mother’s kitchen, two days before Christmas, as I made zeppole, the sweet and savory doughnuts my late grandmother once turned out by the hundred at this time of year. Zeppole are a specialty of southern Italy, where they’re traditionally made for the feast of Saint Joseph on March 19th. Nowadays, they occasionally turn up at carnivals and street fairs. They come in many shapes and sizes: some are simply balls of dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar or stuffed with jam, others are ring-shaped, like a conventional doughnut. My grandmother’s–and mine, I’m proud to say–are fabulously twisted, gnarly things, made from a leavened yeast dough and, of course, deep-fried.
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Paul’s Maryland Stuffed Ham

Below is a third outstanding entry to our recipe contest (now closed–thanks to everyone who participated!), a beautiful and bittersweet tale in which magic occurs in the heart of the beholder.

Mike wrote:

I HATED the smell and taste of my father’s creation, Paul’s Maryland Stuffed Ham. The combination of cabbage, kale and onions, and the 4 hours cooking time saturated our house every Christmas with an odor that I found so very unappealing. But like the yin and yang in life, the Maryland Stuffed Ham represents childhood memories of magical holiday seasons.

My parents went their separate ways when I was six. Mom and I moved to Grandma’s dilapidated three story house in a railroad town in central Pennsylvania and Dad remained in our year round summer cottage in southern Maryland. He worked as a butcher and always cooked for anyone who would let him. Continue reading …

First Fruits

I made my first batch of flapjacks at the beginning of August, as a small observance of Lammas, a folk festival of the British Isles marking the first harvest of the year. The holiday coincides with and may derive from Lughnasadh (pronounced LOO-neh-seh), an ancient Celtic festival sacred to the god Lugh, who is said to have declared a day of feasting in honor of his foster-mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plain of Breg for planting.

At Lammas, which literally means “loaf-mass”, tithes of wheat and grain were paid to landlords, and in Christian communities, loaves made from the harvested crops were brought to church for a blessing. I think I first encountered this holiday and its forebear in a Celtic mythology class at school, and it stuck with me. It’s a holiday of thanksgiving–it’s often called the Feast of First Fruits–and of hope for a bountiful harvest. I like marking it in some small way: it’s nice to say thanks to the earth, to celebrate a particularly important moment in its year, and to look forward to a new, fruitful season.
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Pretend it’s a Dark and Stormy Night

There was a story in one of my primary school readers about three English siblings, suffering from collective insomnia very late one stormy night, who converged in their kitchen and conspired to make potato cakes from a bowl of mashed potatoes that their mother had been saving in the fridge. So carefully did the children erase all evidence of their nocturnal cookery that on the following morning, their mother was convinced that there had never been a bowl of potatoes in the fridge to begin with.
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Pizza Chiena

It’s been years since anyone in my maternal family has partaken of Lenten fasting; nevertheless, when Easter rolls around, we manage to eat as if we’ve all been subsisting on gruel for forty days. This enormous savory stuffed pie is the centerpiece of our Easter table, and perhaps the greatest treasure of our inherited family recipes.
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The Miss Scarlet of Risottos

Speaking of things to eat with a spoon, there’s risotto. It’s possibly my favorite thing in the world to cook (all that peaceful stirring). It’s tea-and-sympathy in starch-and-fat form. And every time I have it I’m ready to leap into bed afterwards and sleep for eight hours.

So in the last week of Lustful February I’ve tried to come up with a risotto that speaks of passion, that excites the eye and strokes the palate for the sweet hour (if that) between dinner and deep repose. The result is a flaming red beet, red onion, red wine concoction that’s pretty sexy if I must say so. I added a bit of dry-cured duck breast for a tinge of smokiness (actually, I felt compelled to buy it after an elderly gentleman at Fairway saw me holding the package and complimented my taste in cured meats). You could substitute a few slices of pancetta, or bacon, or leave it in vegetarian bliss.
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Chocolate Sambuca Cookies

I don’t know what it is about Sambuca, the colorless anise and elderflower-flavored liqueur. The ancients believed anise to be an aphrodisiac, but I don’t set much store by such things. For me, a sip of Sambuca is something of an amorous madeleine, causing scenes of love both chaste and profane (profane but profound) to unfold in memory. Of course, to have such a Proustian moment, one needs the original experience. Without risking further indiscretion, I’ll say only that I’ve made these cookies for my family at Christmas and for one or two very small, very successful dinner parties.
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