Tuesday, May 29, 2012

relentlessly emotional container gardening

* I'm an idiot and accidentally deleted my May 2102 post on 'relentlessly emotional container gardening' while trying to update the link for the Jesus & Mary Chain video embedded below. The Blogger platform did save a draft of it, though, and I think it's a good read for all the weirdo gardeners out there, so I'm reposting it (more or less) as it was.

yours in springtime,
April 2016


Again? Yes because my last post on this subject focused on the stuff I've grown to date and this one's about what I'd like to grow. It's a long list but many of these plants are for next year. I've been quite restrained about my plant ambitions lately. Yes really! My apartment faces south and I get good light, but with the recent addition of a large pot of cinnamon basil and the seed germination projects described below I've run out of window sill and fire escape space. I have hanging plants too but I can't have too many of those, and I nearly have too many of those now.

Casa Hortícola, a seed and bulb shop in Porto, Portugal,
from World of Interiors July 2011. It's been in its location 
in the Bolhão market since 1921. See more photos here.

Items on my to-grow list:
  • Pineapple grown from old pineapple parts. I mentioned this a couple weeks ago. I've tried it before, a couple times actually, but things kept happening, things that distracted me during the crucial stage of planting the pineapple parts after they've dried out a bit and before they've dried out too much. This is entirely my fault and not an inherent difficulty; the instructions for growing "a healthy, attractive pineapple for your home" couldn't be simpler. I'm going to make another attempt. I only want to use organic pineapples for growing (and for recipes that use the peel, like making tepache) and they're kind of hard to come by. If you live in NYC, Fresh Direct has a reliable supply of them. Commodities on 1st Ave. next to Momofuku has them too sometimes.1
  • Oyster leaf (mertensia maritima), as shown looking totally fascinating here. This is a plant that grows wild in the Hebrides and reportedly has a briny, oyster-like flavor. It is of great interest to my semi-secret subcommittee for the development of oceanographic snacks, which has become curious about the idea of icy cold oyster-y lemonade accompanying an elaborate beach-going packed lunch.
  • Radishes. I understand they grow quickly and without torment to the gardener, and I love them fresh, pickled, or in a soup. I'm starting two varieties from seed right now: Jaune D’Or Ovale Radish, a French heirloom variety, and German Giant Radish ("I think it has just the right amount of spice to it, perfect for eating with salt & a beer," says a reviewer I'd like to have a beer with). I've got another variety of seed on hand, Chinese Green Luobo, but the instructions say to start them nearer to autumn because they only grow well in cool weather. (Summer has barely arrived and already I'm thinking about how nice it will be when I need to put on a woolly sweater for my fire escape radish-harvesting . . .). Radish sprouts are delicious and beautiful but I think they need to be germinated from a different type of seed (e.g.). I'm not growing them right now because I don't want to go apeshit with the whole radish thing.
  • More chili peppers. Now that I've put my foot down on the obstinate (at times, truculent) mismanagement of my pepper plants I'm kind of excited about growing more varieties. On my wish list to start very early next spring: Tunisian Baklouti (I don't think I have ever met a Tunisian foodstuff I didn't like); Shishito (a favorite for eating grilled or broiled, but sometimes expensive and less-than-perfectly-fresh when bought in Japanese groceries); Bulgarian carrot peppers (bright orange, fruity and hot); Pequin peppers (my favorite store-bought dried pepper flakes are Pequin and I'd love to try them fresh); and Black Hungarian peppers (attractive little things with reportedly very good flavor, and interestingly they sound as temperamental as actual Hungarians, which I partially am so I can say that). I've also been eyeing these lumpy, pendulous, purple Cajamarcas, "a beautiful fruit that begins a vibrant violet unique to C. chinense and then changes to a rich red. The wonderfully fragrant aroma of ‘Cajamarca’ captures your attention with an intense, spicy-citrus fragrance and the classic habanero fruity undertone. Very Hot," according to The Chile Pepper Institute, which is selling the seeds.
Cajamarcas from The Chile Pepper Institute
  • Black sesame. Is it madness or genius to grow yr own sesame seeds? I can see something going terribly wrong at the harvesting stage in particular. Like, a strong gust of wind. But I love, love the flavor of black sesame in both sweet and savory dishes and I'm not likely to have a chance to taste their leaves unless I grow my own, am I? 
  • Cucumbers. I'm so intrigued by these brown Russian cucumbers ("hands down the best tasting cucumber I have ever tasted" says the seed store cucumber-eater) and these bright green Parisian Pickle (Improved Bourbonne) ones, but sadly I don't think cucumbers are a good container crop. I'd only give them a try if I had more space for bigger containers. Do you have such a space and would you like to experiment with Skype gardening? I would provide advice and instruction in my uniquely dissolute lo-fi gardening technique and you would send the cucumbers. Think about it. 
  • Osmanthus.  I bought a jar of sweet osmanthus sauce in Flushing on impulse a couple years ago and have been crazy about its sweet, salty, floral flavor ever since. I'd love to have a supply of fresh osmanthus flowers for experimenting with. TopTropicals.com says "it is a slow growing medium size shrub or smaller tree that can easily be kept in container as a compact plant for years. You can create your own little Fragrant Valley . . ." I'm out of window sill space but if I can get a suitably large hanging pot I'll try that. I couldn't help but notice the same seller also carries something called Popcorn Cassia, which "smells like fresh cooked, buttered popcorn when you run your fingers through the leaves" but has "the distinct scent of peanut butter" when flowering, but it's a shrub and there's no more room on the fire escape for one of those. 
sweet osmanthus sauce
sweet osmanthus sauce

osmanthus flowers
  • Borage. Little blue flowers with a nice cucumber-ish flavor, and bees like them too so it's a good plant for the whole gardening area. Borage has been on my mind since I found some atop a memorably beautiful and delicious plate of sashimi I ate last summer. (I didn't feel a need to snap a photo until after I'd eaten the most beautiful parts, sorry). I'm starting some from seed now.
Innocent Beauty borage from Kensitas Flowers
(1930s cigarette cards) from the NYPL.
  • Mint. A must-have for people who like the way it tastes, or who have people over for drinks. I didn't think I had any more room for plants but I brought home some Swiss mint anyhow — chosen  from the Stannard Farm stand at Tompkins Square Park greenmarket for its clean, icy smell and taste — and created a spot for it in The Hanging Mint Garden of Harlem. (A big, light-weight hanging planter with a built-in drainage system, found at Saifee Hardware).
Swiss mint
my Swiss mint
  • Lovage. I've been banging on about how much I love lovage for a while now. Sadly my efforts to grow it at home haven't worked out for me in the past. The plants I've brought home have withered in the sun before I could even manage to re-pot them. In hindsight I think it was a combination of neglect and . . . honestly it was probably all neglect. I'm trying again and this time I'm starting my lovage from seed. By the way, my borage and my lovage live in the same bag planter. (I've read that lovage improves the health of everything it grows with so I'm not worried about the borage). I thought those planters were a great find because they're only $15 and they're very light in weight. I'm using them to grow the radishes too, and some secret salad greens I'll show you another time.
The Jesus and Mary Chain, "Sowing Seeds"
  • Purple tomatillos. I keep missing the window for starting these. They're meant to be started six to eight weeks before the last frost. Next year, etc.
organic purple tomatillo seeds
from Etsy seller cubits
  • Sorrento lemons. I mentioned Sorrento lemons recently and I was very sad when Manhattan Fruit Exchange said they didn't have any more and weren't sure when they'd get them again. They're a special variety grown on the Amalfi coast and the ones I bought had such a beautifully bright and true lemon flavor. I've loved lemons all my life, ordinary grocery store lemons, but I don't want to go back to them after having tried these. I want to say they were perfectly tart without being acidic but that would probably sound strange. Anyhow, I saved all the seeds I could (which wasn't many because they had relatively few) and ended up with eight or nine to try to germinate. Unfortunately I'd already planted them according to these instructions when I discovered that other people recommend peeling the seeds first, but I remained hopeful, and for at least two weeks I gazed at their little pot daily with tremendous concentration and affection. I got so impatient that I considered gently exhuming and peeling them, but then I found one more Sorrento lemon in the bottom of my refrigerator, elderly and denuded of its peel, and got an additional four seeds from it. I peeled them carefully as per the new germination regime and tucked  them away under a layer of damp paper towels, and covered their plate tightly with plastic wrap. The exciting news is that after one more week of waiting, an exceptionally humid week here in NYC, both batches of seeds have sprouts! I'm going to give them a little more time, and if more of them succeed I'll seek a good home for the seedlings here on my blog and on the food bloggers' mailing list. For now I'm going to keep making encouraging eyes at what I've got. I'm not sure if anyone else would want them anyhow. Trying to grow Sorrento lemons in Harlem is right down the narrow, bat shit-splattered alley where my container gardening takes place.
Sorrento lemon seed sprouting

another Sorrento lemon sprout

another Sorrento lemon seed sprouting
my Sorrento lemon seeds sprouting

1. For the record, I take exception to that link's description of the "fairly large selection of organic, freshly-spritzed vegetables and unbruised fruit" at Commodities; it's expanded over the years and they now have a large selection, period. I've bought all kinds of great produce there, things like fresh tumeric root and little red bananas and seasonal oddities such as ramps and fiddleheads.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The adventure of the late-night duck

late-night roasted duck

I apologize for the small and cramped photos in this post but do you have any idea how much trouble glistening duck skin and artificial lighting pose for my mercurial {expensive!} food stylist Marjorie "the finger-licker" von Mushing? I roasted a duck very late at night due to the sort of grocery-fuckery that has troubled my cooking for years: I got excited about an idea I had, while trimming my pineapple sage plant, to cram its leaves under the skin of a whole duck, and the next day a lovely 5-pound Long Island duck appeared in my kitchen in addition to all the other things I wanted to eat that week. Not only did I already have enough food to eat without the duck, I'd forgotten I had a medical procedure coming up and could count on feeling too tired to cook in the days to follow. The label on the duck said it could be frozen but it seemed too moist not to suffer badly from freezer burn and too special a thing to put in there anyhow, so . . . I had to cook the duck, pronto. As in, after dinner, which also had to be cooked that night. 

I cook duck breasts kind of a lot to the extent that I cook any meat "a lot," being a former vegetarian who has never been all that excited about cooking creatures at home — because they're easy and delicious and produce floods of flavorful fat that can be strained and used to cook all sorts of interesting things, from eggs to baked goods to what-have-you. I'd never actually roasted a whole duck before and felt a little intimidated by the process. How much fat might come out of it and where would it all go? Must the thing be cut into pieces to cook properly? Should it be cooked one way and then another? I have a Chinese cookbook with an intriguing recipe for duck that I've been eyeing sporadically for years and that was the one I planned to rely on, but when I consulted the book I remembered that what intrigued me about it is that it calls for unusually robust interaction with one's duck:

click on any image to enlarge

Someday, maybe, but it was too damn late and I didn't feel up to breaking any bones. (I've seen ducks like that for sale in Chinatown, by the way, festively hung up for passers-by to sneeze on, though I think they look more like duck-pillows rather than "badly carved wooden duck[s]"). A brief search led me to a simple and quick recipe from Saveur. All I'd have to do was cram my herbs under the skin, cram some oranges into its tummy — I thought that would be nice  and roast it for about an hour and a half with minimal attention. I skipped the trussing step because I don't mind slatternly birds sprawling about in my oven (also because I can never find my twine), and I skipped the soy sauce rub-down because I'd be giving it a herbal one instead. I'd already rinsed the duck and patted it dry and seasoned it well with salt and pepper inside and out in the morning. I always have better luck with birds when I leave them to chill in the refrigerator all day before cooking, uncovered so they can dry out. 

As one sometimes does when cooking late at night, I let out a brief, internal shriek when I got to the middle of the recipe. How idiotically romantic it is the way one's eyes glide over that part before getting started! In this particular recipe that part is where the cook turns the duck over. The half-cooked duck, resting in a pan of plentiful and furiously hot fat. How, exactly, had I been thinking I would do that? How would I do that? I don't mind asking for help when I really, really need it — I once shut myself in the bathroom and called an ex-boyfriend about a waterbug, for example — but I felt personally responsible for this duck. And there's nothing one can do in such moments besides grab the tongs and move decisively to do what has to be done. A fork in the other hand for luck and stability.  This step, happily, turned out to be not a big deal at all: the duck really wasn't that heavy, my tongs are good and strong, and I kept my range of motion small, lifting it only as much as needed and keeping it centered over the rack it was to rest on. Voila, right-side-up duck, ready to be basted and shoved back in the oven all casual-like.

a peek inside my duck
Look, Aladdin's cave! No, this is just where I keep my oranges.

Of course it tasted good when it was finally done. Having a freshly-roasted duck for a past-midnight snack is a welcome novelty, and it wasn't over-cooked inside the way it sort of looks in the photo. (Ms. von Mushing demurs at this suggestion and reminds me that my "incomprehensibly crass" kitchen lighting needs a blog-friendly overhaul). I don't think the pineapple sage did much for it, though; the bites I had without a bit of its greenery didn't taste herbal at all, and the bites that did were only gently pineapple-ish. Pineapple sage does taste and smell like pineapples but it's much less aggressive than regular sage, much less capable of shouting over the other flavors around it. It had been a long time since I'd tasted it and I foolishly did not nibble on any leaves while trimming it, despite my belief that cooks should taste their ingredients whenever possible to do so without threat to health. Sometimes it's just not the sort of thing one remembers to do unless reminded by a bossy but smart recipe-writer. In the future I'll find ways to add it raw at the end of cooking and I'll urge you to do the same.

pineapple sage plant
my pineapple sage plant

this many oranges and pineapple sage leaves
I used this many oranges and leaves

another peek inside my duck
a peek inside my duck

If you're wondering how much fat I did get out of my duck: an entire 14-ounce jar full. (I'm linking to the type of jar because I like to see other people's jars and these ones have good lids). So much nice, golden fat to cook with. I'm a big fan of duck fat popovers in particular (e.g. these ones) but they don't seem right for this time of year. Do any of you have ideas about what I should do with my big jar of duck far? I'm thinking pastry for a savory picnic pie but I don't need quite so many pies.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

food couple

Madame Gougousse
Hot Titus

Madame Gougousse and Hot Titus. I don't know if these two are a new thing or just new to me. They live in the same aisle of the Fine Fare on Lenox Ave. near 116th St. and are obviously doing it. Madame Gougousse has caught the eye of other bloggers, who've seen her looking gorgeous on some rice, but none of us know where she comes from. Hot Titus is Moroccan and unfortunately is known for leaving his lovers with a mouth full of scales.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

foodmusic no. 1

The Fall, "Eat Y'self Fitter"
recorded in Austurbæjarbíó, Reykjavik, Iceland, May 6th 1983

A sentimental choice for me to begin this series with; I fucking love the Fall. The amount of Fall in my iTunes is measured in days rather than hours. I'm not sure what to point you towards if you're not familiar with them. The band's Wiki page isn't bad; it succinctly explains, for example, that Mark E. Smith's lyrics are "abstract poetry filled with complicated wordplay, bone-dry wit, cutting social observations, and general misanthropy." This interview with Smith in the Independent last year is really good, actually, as reading and as a snapshot of what the band is about, but it's long. Likewise this Taylor Parkes essay in the Quietus about his lyrics. This review from Sasha Frere-Jones is relatively short and actually pretty good. (Smith "apparently imagines that the Fall is the only band that matters, and it’s a view that bears examination.") The best thing I've recently read about the Fall is this interview from Wire in the mid-90s, which opens with a quote observing that MES's "constant love-battle with his goblin-muse always leaves him stronger." 

I'm not going to have recipes accompany all of my foodmusic posts, I don't think, but I'm going to be very literal with this one and use it as an occasion to discuss home-made granola, which I've just started making. (There must be something in the air). It's granola-ah when the Fall is playing in the background. (Cf. Mynah (n): "Belonging to Mark E. Smith."). It's got to be the most un-Fall thing one can eat, this shit breakfast for soft middle class barley-bothering assholes, unless that dubious honor goes to the quince aioli I'm making later this week. 

What do your new running friends put in their granola?

I got all ascetic about my first batch of granola and cut way down on the oil. It's generally made with a lot of oil, both store-bought and home-made, but I'm reducing for summer. I've also tucked away some portraits of tubby food bloggers in my attic for good measure. Do you know what happens if you're stingy with the oil in your granola? Your granola is dry, dry and healthy-tasting. It's not quite mean granola but it's an acquired taste, like the Fall. I'm kind of into it right now but I'm assuming you won't be, so there's an alternate choose-your-own-granola-adventure quantity of oil in the recipe below. My dry granola is too dry to eat happily on its own but for me it's fine with yogurt because I tend to add wetter things with it: fresh fruit and a squeeze of sorghum syrup or a spoonful of honey.


If you're using coconut flakes in your granola,
add them before the last 5 minutes of baking.

The recipe is an adaptation of this one from Hungry Hippie (what kind of hippies do you get your granola recipes from?) and as I mentioned above I used way less oil. As in, half of what the original recipe called for. That's why mine didn't clump in that clumpy granola way. If you want clumps, double the oil. Note too that I left out the nuts — I cook with nuts a lot and always have different types on hand, and I prefer to add whatever needs using up when it's granola-eating time. If you have nuts you want to use, by all means, add them along with the other dry ingredients. I left out the dried fruit as well. Sliced apricots, figs, and dates are particularly nice, alone or in combination, but as I mentioned I tend to eat my granola with fresh fruit. If you want to use dried fruits add them at the end, after your granola has cooled and is ready to be transferred to the granola jar. I used coconut oil in this batch because it's rather a hip grease and I like the way it boosts the flavor of the coconut flakes, but my next batch will be coconut-free and made with olive oil like this.

homemade granola

makes 1 big jar of granola

1 cup whole rolled oats
1 cup barley flakes (I get mine from these people)
1/3 cup red quinoa (any kind of quinoa is OK)
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup (I like Grade B for cooking because it's got a stronger flavor)
2 tablespoons agave syrup
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 teaspoons cinnamon
a generous pinch of fine sea salt
a generous grating of nutmeg
parchment paper for lining your pans, or a bit more coconut oil for greasing them

Heat your oven to 225º F. Stir the dry ingredients together in a large bowl except the coconut and the cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Add the coconut oil and the sweeteners — feel free to use either one singly instead, or honey — and stir well until the dry ingredients are thoroughly coated. Only then should  you add the spices and the pinch of salt. Reserve the coconut flakes until later. Give everything in the bowl another good stir to make sure the spices are evenly distributed. Bake the granola on two sheet pans lined with parchment paper (or lightly greased with more coconut oil) for approximately one hour, rotating the pans and stirring the granola half way through. Five minutes or so before the end of the baking time, scatter the coconut flakes over the top of the pans. (The coconut would burn if baked along with the rest of the granola.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

something for your intriguing-restaurants-that-no-longer-exist file

Zoological Gardens Restaurant

London's Zoological Gardens Restaurant, 1937. Old-fashioned zoos with animals living in cages rather than habitats were terribly sad places but probably far less so when floodlit, by the sound of things. This efficient little description is from the July 8, 1937 issue of Night and Day magazine, a short-lived English take on The New Yorker edited by Graham Greene. I wrote about it on my other blog recently and plan to do a follow-up post or three because there are so many wonderful things about it I left out. It was vividly, admittedly, affectionately New Yorker-ish, though not officially affiliated, and had many of the same features The New Yorker still has, as will be apparent to any "Goings On About Town" readers whose eyes turned into cartoon question marks upon noticing the "London by Night and Day" scans below. A list of "philanthropic shareholders" in a footnote to the introduction in the 1985 Chatto & Windus Night and Day anthology includes one Mr. William Maxwell but I have no idea whether it was that William Maxwell. I read his correspondence with New Yorker contributor Sylvia Townsend Warner last summer (The Element of Lavishness, highly recommended) and don't recall any mention of it, but they didn't start writing to each other until July 1938 and Night and Day folded in December 1937.

London by Night and DayLondon by Night and Day cont.

The restaurant listings above were presumably written by Night and Day restaurant critic and Corvo biographer A.J. Symons, who deserves his own separate post or three sometime soon-ish. I've got a crumbly old Penguin paperback of his Vegetable Grower's Handbook on my desk right now because I'm hoping to grow radishes suitable for bon vivants on my fire escape.

The bottle parties are possibly even more alluring than the zoological table d'hôte, no? Particularly those "English and Hungarian bands alternat[ing] in a South Sea Island setting" at the Cocoanut Grove. Maurice Richardson — unfamiliar to me, but almost certainly the same "manic-depressive, ex-amateur boxer and journalist who hung out with a pretty low-life crowd" mentioned here — wrote about them in the July 1, 1937 issue of Night and Day ("The Bottle-Party Belt") and they do indeed sound like a good time. Frisco's, for example, was decorated with "some livid red globes which may remind you of what your eyeballs will be like next morning," while The Nest was "full of minor curiosities, like a provincial museum," and had an atmosphere "very friendly, quite democratic, very international. Left-wing poets can be guaranteed a dusty puff of afflatus here." The Nest was open as late as 7 AM on Sundays, in high contrast to "the dreamiest, most swelegant places" with their "lobster-pink old men and half-tight old women in funny dresses." Richardson's two-page distillation of London nightlife is almost painful to read for someone who remembers pre-Bloomberg NYC, long before the tweeting mixologists slash consultants with theme facial hair. If I had a time machine I'd send him straight to Kokie's and Save the Robots.  The latter was a bit before my time but the former was not. 
Many of these clubs may be shut down at any moment, but each will figure in somebody's individual history as a landmark of the middle thirties. For many people some club or other in the Belt will be so closely connected with love affairs and sexual adventures that its image will linger in the mind, however blurred with drink. Outside in the street, alley cats are raking over the muck in the gutters with their expert paws. You buy the Daily Express and try to read it with hot eyes in the taxi. Meanwhile that very silly fat woman who had been mixing gin with brandy has slipped off her chair onto the floor. The two good-timers with her are tugging frantically at her arms, giggling a little. Always end on a moral note.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

a use for the grubby, late-season ramps hanging round your vegetable drawer

salmon with key lime and pineapple sage gremolata + ramp and sorrel fried rice

My suggestion: fried rice with ramps and sorrel next to roasted salmon with key lime and pineapple sage gremolata. This was a late (11 PM-ish) dinner at the end of a tiring and hungry-making day and it really hit the spot. I wanted nothing more / nothing less than a pile of protein and carbs and this was an appealingly fast and easy pile to make. Better still, the bright, citrusy flavors made it all feel light and vibrant and a bit celebratory, which was particularly welcome considering that the friend who came over to have a late dinner with me had just bought a very cool Vespa and couldn't wait to zip around on it.

new (used)!

I hope it doesn't seem high-handed to suggest throwing sorrel into your fried rice. I love its tart flavor and would be happy to encounter it anywhere and everywhere while it's in season, but it can be frighteningly expensive to buy (and maddening to find) if you don't grow it yourself. Having never grown it myself, I've never felt that I've been able to eat my fill of it. In NYC this year it's about $10/pound. I tend to buy a little bag or box of it whenever I see it and just use it however I see fit rather than coming home with a mound of it and looking for a recipe for $40 sorrel soup or whatever.

You need to have cold rice to make the fried rice with. Everyone says so. Here, for example. I've never bothered trying to make it with freshly-cooked rice so I can't be contrarian. It makes sense, anyhow, that the texture would be all wrong that way, that the rice would end up overcooked rather than heated through.

Neither of these recipes depend on precision, which is good because you probably don't just happen to have a pineapple sage plant in need of a haircut. It feels a bit wrong even calling them "recipes" because both were incredibly simple and straightforward to prepare. They're more assemblages.  Use them as guidelines and let me know how it goes if you try something(s) else. Both serve two people.

fried rice with ramps and sorrel

peanut oil
a bundle of ramps, sliced into ribbons — keep the bulb-ends and the green parts in separate piles for cooking
a good handful or two of sorrel, sliced into ribbons (hopefully around 1 cup)
1 egg, beaten
enough cold cooked long-grain rice to feed you and your friend
salt, pepper, soy sauce

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a wok or heavy skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the bulb ends of the ramps until they start to soften. Add the green parts and cook for another minute or two. Add the rice and give it a good stir, making sure it's evenly coated with oil. Let it cook for a few minutes, stirring every so often. When the rice seems to be heated through and you're just about ready to eat, stir in the sorrel — it will wilt right away — and push the rice to the edges of the pan, clearing a space in the middle to cook your egg. Add a bit more oil if desired, and quickly cook the egg while stirring to break it up. Stir the rice over it, stir a few dashes of soy sauce into the rice, and stir everything some more to combine all the ingredients. Serve right away while nice and hot.

ramp and sorrel fried rice

roasted salmon with key lime and pineapple sage gremolata

Note: Do not substitute regular sage for the pineapple sage because it has a completely different flavor and strength. If you need a substitute try a mixture of parsley and thyme instead (and omit the additional thyme).

2 salmon fillets
5 or 6 key limes (or 2 regular limes)
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh pineapple sage leaves, sliced into ribbons
2 to 3 teaspoons thyme leaves
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
olive oil, salt and pepper

An hour or so before you want to eat, pat the salmon dry, season it with salt and fresh ground pepper, and zest a key lime over each piece. (The zest of one regular lime over both pieces should be plenty if that's what you're using).

When you're ready to eat, take the salmon out of the refrigerator and let it come down in temperature while you heat the oven to 425°F. 

While the oven is heating, zest and juice your remaining key limes over a bowl. (Use the juice from the two you denuded earlier). Stir in a couple tablespoons of olive oil, the garlic, the herbs, and a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Don't worry about it not emulsifying because you're making a gremolata rather than a vinaigrette. Which means that as soon as it tastes good, you're done and can set it aside.

Roast the fish on a lightly oiled baking sheet according to the ten-minutes-per-inch-of-thickness rule. When it's done, spoon the gremolata on top.

Friday, May 11, 2012

grow yr own

Plant Music
I've been experimenting with urban container gardening for many years now, with what is commonly referred to as "limited success." Meaning that I am perpetually enthusiastic about trying to grow edible stuff, in a series of NYC apartments ranging from ridiculously- to moderately-unsuitable for that purpose, and I tend not to research my little gardening projects before I get started. I don't know why but this is how it's always been. I happily research other things, probably over-research at times, but when it comes to plants I just get emotional. I fervently want to grow something, or I don't. I've written on my other blog that I find people's ambitions for their plants weirdly touching — e.g., the sort of little old ladies who call in to Gardeners' Question Time wanting to know how to grow bananas in Dorset — but I am so emotional about plants that I truly did not have any sense at the time that I may have been referring to myself.

componibili would-be mushroom farm
I don't have a desire to grow bananas (well, not a serious one, apart from these pink ones, which surely you can understand) but I was dead set on growing mushrooms in componibili. I was going to have a whole mushroom farm inside my componibili and then, eventually, a very good excuse to buy more componibili units. The problem is it's damn hard to remember the mushrooms are in there and need tending. I ended up with a little box of mushroom dust. The accidental kind, not the kind one invites beardos over to sample.

My experimentation started with pots of herbs and for years I remained focused on those rather than attempting to grow any vegetables or fruits. I love herbs and will never have too many around for cooking with, but I wish I'd branched out sooner. My experience has been that a lot of herbs are actually rather fussy about how they are cared for especially the ones I was most eager to have a steady home-grown supply of, like lovage and za'atarwhereas fruits and veg are maybe more tolerant of an inept, pale green thumb than I thought. 

So, Alpine strawberries in Harlem, why not? So far they're thriving, more so than anything else I've ever grown. I ordered six varieties of "quick start" plants from The Strawberry Store and planted them in a white window box filled with organic soil. (My understanding is that strawberries don't like it if their roots get hot so a dark-colored planter should be avoided). They spent two chilly weeks on my fire escape while I worried about them being rained on too much, not rained on enough, and tormented by strong winds before the first berries started to appear. Hooray! 

Alpine strawberry growing
An updated shot of the same berry I showed you earlier this week.

These are the varieties I'm growing:

  • Madame Moutot: The Strawberry Store describes these as "[a] tried and tested French variety that was released in 1906. . . . The delicious red fruit of this variety doesn't ship well which is one reason commercial acreage has decreased in Europe. Gardeners in Europe still consider this to be a standard." Which all sounds very nice, but it was the name that drew me. I want Mesdames Moutot snuggling in my breakfast yogurt. It looks like I'll have that happening sooner rather than later because this variety has been the first to set fruit.
  • Yellow Wonder: I'd been eyeing these on other people's blogs for years but kept missing the window of time for germinating seeds, so I was really excited to find them in starter plant form. The Strawberry Store people say that "[i]f you are going to choose one non red variety, this is it." I hope mine turn out to be long and pointy and shaggy-looking the way other people's yellow ones are.
  • Fragola di Bosco: These are "one of the two Italian varieties [they] carry. The plants are vigorous and day-neutral and everbearing. They produce a nice quantity of larger than usual red fruit." Vigorous berries appeal to the beginning berry-grower. Italian strawberries are chic and appeal to everyone, no?
  • Reine des Vallees: These sounded like a must-have too. "The name of this very popular variety in English means 'Queen of the Valleys'. This one was very difficult to find. This variety is the commercial standard in Europe and has been for a number of years. . . . 'Reine des Vallees' is very productive and produces red aromatic fruit. We are impressed with this variety and think it should become the American standard."
  • Deesse des Vallees: "French for Goddess of the Valleys. To my knowledge this variety has never before been made available in North America. It is a patented selection of 'Reine des Vallees' which translates to Queen of the Valleys." Clearly I needed these for comparison purposes.
  • Regina: "'Regina' is an excellent variety. It is known in Poland as Poziomka 'Regina' and is a standard variety there. The vigorous plants produce aromatic red fruit." I just have a feeling that Poles know their strawberries and would not deem an undeserving variety to be the Regina of all the other strawberries. People who make fluffy butter lambs simply would not do such a thing.

 Canadians have developed a monster of a strawberry, probably
using the same technology they grow their beards with, 
but I'm sticking with little Alpine ones

The only vegetables I've grown with any success to date are chili peppers. Meaning that I have two pepper plants and last summer they produced one pepper, which I harvested and ate with the ponderous, quasi-mystical regard the occasion seemed to call for.

fried egg with one lonely home-grown chile pepper

What the hell to do with one lonely chili pepper? I thought, I waited, I considered making a spicy cocktail, and then late one night I decided it was harvest time and sliced the thing over a couple of fried eggs, which I topped with home-grown (and far less troublesome) marjoram leaves. It was hot enough to be proud of and lovely to eat. 

My pepper plants are one mystery variety (said to be habanero when purchased, but in actuality probably serrano) and one rocoto (which I started from seed, and which is actually two plants co-habitating in one pot). The mystery plant is the one that produced the pepper I ate, but it looks like I'll finally be able to harvest some rocotos this summer. I only recently realized that I should have re-potted the poor plants long, long ago. I was ignoring them (a long, depressing story involving love trouble, obviously) and now that they're in a bigger pot they seem much happier, growing rapidly and flowering with enthusiasm.

 my rocoto pepper plant is flowering
a rocoto pepper flower

The flowering part can be tricky because flowers need to be pollinated. I suspect the reason I only got one pepper out of my mystery plant last summer was because it spent all its time indoors, away from sexy insects, dependent on my amateurish little attentions with a watercolor brush. Other people on the internet will tell you that gently doing stuff to your pepper plant flowers with a brush is sufficient, but I don't think it is. This year my peppers are both spending some quality time outdoors on the fire escape, and getting some extra action from me too. I can't believe I'm telling you this, but . . . I have been rubbing their flowering parts together Barbie-and-Ken-and-Barbie's-friend-style, if you know what I mean. I'll be sure to keep you posted as to whether or not they seem to be into it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Another music in a different kitchen

Thus begins my tardiest blog post ever. Those of you who use RSS readers are probably wondering whether you have been personally apprehended by Father Time. Did you know that I've been blogging on my other blog the whole time I've been letting this blog grow an inscrutably bushy and unkempt beard? I'm going to continue blogging about books and music and trees over there, but I'm ready to pluck the crumbs out of my HTML, do a thoughtful bit of trimming, and get Tiny Banquet Committee back to being a food blog about town.

It very nearly charms the pants off of me that even while this blog has been dormant, you people have gone on doing the sort of things that the nice readers of an active food blog do, i.e. visiting and subscribing and sending me the occasional email asking interesting questions about recipes, which I secretly enjoy answering. One of you even sent me a recipe you thought I'd like, a bread made with a cup and a half of whisky. Yes I'm into that! So please keep doing that.

Coming soon / coming later:

  • Ice cream mania. There is at long last an ice cream machine in my kitchen. I'm excited about trying other people's ice creams (particularly pistachio, sesame, celery, Vietnamese coffee, and rum raisin) and about devising my own ice creams. Right now I'm working on a May wine ice cream, which is something I've wanted to make for a long time, long before I made an impulse decision to try my hand at growing Alpine strawberries.  They're doing surprisingly well, and with a bit more luck should ripen in time for me to bring you May wine ice cream with home-grown strawberries right on time in the month of May. While sorting out the best way to get a lot of wine into ice cream and waiting for my berry crop to mature, I'm making a lemon ice cream with thrillingly tasty Sorrento lemons, a key lime sorbet with maddeningly small key limes, and an orange blossom honey ice cream with translucent orange chunks of baked quince. I've also got some salep a friend brought back from Turkey for me, so there will probably be an attempt at Turkish stretchy ice cream at some point. Before that happens I want to make a whole pile of tea-based ice creams, including a pine tree and forest fruits hikers' ice cream made with the Italian tree tea I wrote about on my other blog.
ice cream notebook for collecting psychedelic 
tutti frutti ice cream thoughts from Heavy Eyeliner

Alpine strawberries in Harlem
how much longer from here? 

Sorrento lemon
Sorrento lemons are less expensive than they sound at Manhattan Fruit Exchange
right now and I recommend buying as many as you can carry.

  • Eating Maine. I've always been really excited about this subject, any and all of it: the vivid yellow butter, the road-side chard, the clams, the early morning snacking walks. I've switched islands but otherwise nothing has changed in this regard. I'll be posting recipes from my last visit while scheming about ways to spend more time there this summer.
oysters that way

IMG_6248 IMG_6315

Turner Farm home-made crabapple chutney
from top: oysters that way, North Haven; 
new lobster friends; afternoon snack in situ;
seaweed cheese from Turner Farm; foggy morning;
Turner Farm, North Haven; crab apple chutney

  • Japanese Candy Quarterly Review. The Japanese Candy Quarterly Review will be published on a "whenever" schedule.
Hikikomori print by Naoshi on Etsy.

  • Lesbo Kitchen. I told a lesbian friend I'm planning a whole series of blog posts on lesbian cookery and she asked whether that's even a Thing. I am making my own Things here! First in the series will be a look at the gastronomic lives of the Ladies of Llangollen, a pair of Irish lesbos who ran off to live together and, when their families stopped supporting them, borrowed money from friends so they could hire a gardener, a footman, two maids, and build a dairy on their property.
Lesbo at left via Jhlahl Drut. At right, the ladies of Llangollen at table
via the NYPL.

  • Dinner and a movie. I'm going to continue doing posts on this theme (e.g. this one about The Trouble With Harry). Next in the series will be The Landlord, a 1970 Hal Ashby movie starring Beau Bridges as a young rich guy who buys a brownstone in Park Slope thinking he's going to evict all the tenants and fix himself a cool place to live. (I don't think I'll spoil the movie for you if I tell you he runs into a bit of trouble). If you have any suggestions in the meantime regarding Park Slope soul food I'd love to hear from you.

  • What I've been smoking. In my stove-top smoker. Pecan-smoked pecans are not redundant; applewood-smoked carrots are delicious. I'll smoke pretty much anything. If there is something you want to see smoked and it'll fit in my smoker, I will consider smoking it. Think about it.
carrots in my smoker

  • Foodmusic. Music about, for, and on special occasions emitted by food.

  • Pineapple mania. Pineapple is my favorite fruit and I've long been planning to grow a pineapple at home from discarded pineapple parts. I keep letting them dry out too long for that, but I remain hopeful that one day soon I'll get my act together. In the meantime I've been collecting interesting pineapple recipes (in anticipation of a bumper crop, obviously) and I can go through store-bought pineapples like no one's business. I'm feeling like now is a good time to start a batch of tepache, a lightly-fermented Mexican pineapple drink made with spices and beer, which Wikipedia helpfully tells us is "commonly made by inmates in Mexican prison" and is "sometimes" prepared by housewives.

Bromella ananas grows like this, whether in Hawaii or an apt. in Harlem
Illustration via the NYPL.

  • Unpiling my pile of books. I'll continue reviewing of out-of-print cookbooks like this one (The California Artists Cookbook) and that one (New York Entertains by the Junior League of the City of New York) but I'm excited about branching out a bit and writing about newer books too. Not just cookbooks but food-related books generally. 


In coming months I'll be blogging about my stack of vintage Time-Life books
from the series The Good Cook. There were some great contributors 
who worked on this series (e.g. Richard Olney and Jane Grigson) 
and they've got very chic endpapers too.

making notes in the hammock
Making notes on The L.L. Bean Book of New New England Cookery
which has to be one of Judith Jones's least-known books. 

Antidiets of the Avant-Garde: From Futurist Cooking to Eat Art

  • Other stuff. None of the categories above really reflect the way I've been cooking and eating and taking photos and making notes, mental and otherwise, the entire time this blog has been dormant. I've got a backlog that needs clearing! Don't worry, I won't try to make you eat Thanksgiving pies in August.
strawberry-black pepper cookie innards Barboncino leftovers

duck breast with gooseberry chutney herb-y popover

flaky biscuit delicious cranberry dessert
from top: strawberry-black pepper cookies; Barboncino leftovers for breakfast;
duck with gooseberry chutney; herb-y duck fat popover;
biscuit experiment; mystery cranberry dessert


* If the title of this post rang a bell that's possibly because you've forgotten you have the Buzzcocks first album on vinyl? First if you don't count that EP. Now is a good time to dust off either one and have a listen.