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Entertaining : A holiday for two

April 25, 2012

Easter, for me, is a strange holiday. It has never been particularly meaningful to my non-religious family, and despite the ubiquitous baskets, Easter has usually come and gone without much remark. In recent years, however, I have begun to pay more attention. It’s hard to ignore the special feeling the arrival of Spring brings with itself, and I have begun to see Easter as a celebration of the change of seasons (which, of course, it has always really been) rather than a Christian holiday.

I had planned to celebrate this Easter like I had the ones from the last two years: with a ham roast, a carrot cake, and friends around my dining room table. A week before the day, it became clear that K was working a late Saturday night and then again Sunday afternoon, and we decided hosting would be too stressful. Determined to never to waste an occasion for a feast, we still wanted to celebrate, and decided on a decadent brunch for two.

We used what we had: a bundle of my mother’s parsnips from a recent trip north to visit my family; a bottle of homemade orange wine we had brewed from satsuma seconds; three special cheeses from Rubiner’s Cheesemongers in Great Barrington. The day before we had bought a 5 lb duckling from the local co-op, and I had spent the evening mixing up a too-large batch of ginger currant hot cross buns while K was at work.

On Sunday morning, we breakfasted on buns as we rubbed the duckling in a vanilla-orange marmalade, which had come out too bitter for spreading but just right for rubbing on meat. Roasting the duckling in our cast iron skillet, we prepared sides of parsnip/celeriac mash with cinnamon, a baguette from a bakery up the road, and those awesome cheeses from Rubiner’s.

When the duckling was a beautiful, crackling brown, we laid it upon a bed of fresh kale and collards, letting the heat and fat it exuded wilt the greens. The skin was crispy and sweet with the marmalade, and the meat was tender, moist, and dark.

It can be hard to plan a celebratory feast for two. While a duck offers very little meat and is therefore perfect for two-person meal, many roasts, whether chicken, ham, or rib, are meant for a larger crowd (or for left overs), and it’s a tricky balance to stay circumspect and serve a reasonable amount of food while remaining festive and maintain an air of abundance. And it’s hard to shake the idea that a celebration or a feast necessitates a crowd—the more the merrier, as the saying goes.

But I recommend trying it. Two is something a crowd can never be: intimate. Somethings can be best shared by a pair, such as the few hours between work, rest, and work again; the sound of your own wine uncapped and poured into a glass; the aromatic steam rising from a fresh meal into the afternoon sunlight. And, of course, the few pounds of meat a Long Island duckling offers.

in the garden: starting the tomatoes

March 21, 2012

Last week my partner Kyle & I started some of our seeds. Mostly those in the nightshade family—tomatoes, peppers, eggplants—as well as a few salad mixes (for micro greens), basil, and leeks. Because of an awesome deal at work, and also in part due to seed swaps, we have a lot of free seed. As in, hundreds of packets. And all organic, mostly heirloom. How lucky we are!

And we’re also lucky with this weather. I started with the tomatoes. All 31 varieties of them.

…31.

Since Kyle & I don’t use any grow lights or heating implements, I wanted to start our seeds a little earlier this year to give them a better head start. And I’m glad I did—after a cloudy week hovering in the 50s, we’ve moved on to nearly 80 degrees every day with plenty of sun. And our seeds are finally responding. The first to shoot up (they popped the surface and grew about half an inch in 4 hrs!) were, appropriately enough, two of our Sub-Artic heirloom variety. Shortly following, and taking its time, was one Japanese Black Trifele.

One thing I love about starting seeds (as opposed to buying starts) is the sheer variety you’re faced with. Your tomato options aren’t limited to Better Boy, Big Girl, Patio, or Rutgers, and your kale isn’t limited to purple or green. And you can grow weird things you didn’t even know existed, like shiso, warty thing pumpkins, or banana melons.

And, of course, there’s also the fun in watching something grow, in nurturing a living being, in propagating a new life. Starting seeds (or keeping houseplants, for that matter) feels a lot like having a pet to me. You have your responsibilities to keep them watered, warm enough, protected from harsh environments, but what a rewarding task—the joy of watching your little seeds grow, and reaping the fruit of your labor.

enjoying a homegrown melon

March 21, 2012

in the garden: remembering gardens past

March 21, 2012

This warm weather has got me living simultaneously living in the past while planning the future. Between categorizing, documenting, and starting this year’s seeds, I’m flipping through old photos of gardens past. This summer-like March has whetted my appetite to get growing—I’m imagining flowers, herbs, and especially vegetables, grown by very own two hands, gracing my bedroom window sill, my kitchen counter, my dining room table. And it’s within reach!

I thought I’d share these images (of which I am especially fond) of last year’s container garden at my boyfriend’s hill town home, and of my mother’s (much larger!) produce garden in New Hampshire.

And a few from two years ago, in my community garden plot:

in the kitchen : homemade goat’s milk chai

March 20, 2012

Earlier this month, when the weather was merely warm (50s) and the skies were gray, my body was still clutching to its winter cravings. Warm comfort food, spiced, thick and flavorful. Stews, hamburgers, mashed root vegetables. On my way to work nearly every day last week, I succumbed to those cravings and stopped by the cafe on my block to order a chai.

One thing that you learn by eating out a lot is that there are many, many things that you can buy which are sub-par, and just as many things that you could quite easily (and cheaply!) do better. I have found that chai is almost always one of those things.

Many cafes use some version of a prepackaged chai concentrate, which is a pre-blended mix of black tea and spices, heavy on the sugar and on the vanilla. Other cafes may take the trouble to brew their own, and these results are mixed—some are horribly bland and over sweetened, others are over-brewed and bitter, and while some are very nicely balanced and tasty, they are all expensive.

Luckily, chai is very easy to make at home, and cheap too. Especially if you buy your spices and tea loose and in bulk. Another great thing is that chai recipes vary in concordance with taste, which means you can’t really go wrong. If you know you like a spicier chai, add more black peppercorns or ginger. If you like a sweeter chai, toss in more honey or add vanilla bean. I like mine on the spicier side, with a strong accent of cinnamon, and the recipe below reflects that. I also love the tangy taste of goat’s milk, which, for any one who has a slight dairy intolerance, has the added benefit of being a bit easier to digest than cow’s milk. You can, of course, substitute any type of milk for the goat’s—cow’s milk, soy milk, hemp milk, etc.

Homemade Goat’s Milk Chai

1 tbsp loose black tea//tea bag

3 whole cloves

1/4 – 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns, to taste

2 tsp dried ginger chunks, more if using chopped fresh (don’t use ground!)

1/2 tsp cinnamon flakes

2 or 3 cardamom pods, crushed

3/4 c water

1/2 c goat’s milk

honey, to taste (I like 3/4 tbsp)

In a small sauce pan, combine all ingredients except milk & honey. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes. When tea is a dark color and all of the spices have infused, add the honey and stir to dissolve. Add milk to the pan and just bring to a boil, then remove from heat and pour through a strainer into your glass. Drink warm or cold over ice.

featured home : carol’s pond, new hampshire

March 11, 2012

Carol’s Pond is the home of homesteader-types Carol and Mike. Having previously lived in the suburbs of central New Jersey, they moved to the Lakes region of New Hampshire in the summer of 2005 to pursue a dream of solitude, land, and horses.

As Carol is retired and Mike works from the home (and his office in the barn), they have spent their recent years working the land, caring for their animals, and maintaining their Yankee Barn Home style house.

The house is circa the 1970s, and is built from reclaimed material from local barns, mansions, and monasteries. 

Carol: “My favorite thing to do at home is garden, walk in the woods, or bake bread. I love the way bread smells…”

Carol: “My favorite things about my house are the funky doors and beams and the light coming in.”

Carol: “The philosophy I like to keep at home is the same as my philosophy on what makes a home: Home is where the love is.”

in the kitchen : preserved lemons

March 5, 2012

Like so many other folks here in New England, I’m getting a little tired of winter. Not that it’s been harsh by any means; its the lack of fresh food that’s bringing me down. That, and the lack of sun — on a sunny day, when the weather hits the forties and a few birds are singing, why, its enough to make my whole body react with Spring! Spring!

Citrus does a pretty great job of standing in for that feeling. Bright flavors, bright colors, and such scents — luckily for us, it’s in season during our dreariest! And, luckily for me, my farm share includes citrus fruits from kindred farms in Florida, so I’ve been hoarding about 10 grapefruits a week for a few months now. And such grapefruits!

I’ve been obsessed with grapefruits. But after eating two a day for months, infusing my own pompelmocello, and perfecting my gin & grapefruit juice cocktail, I have to admit, I’ve become a little uninspired. It’s not that I’m bored with these big pink citrus—oh no. In fact, just two days ago I canned some grapefruit-heavy mixed citrus marmalade with Mediterranean sea salt. But during that jamming session, I rediscovered — the lemon.

The lemon is such a little star. Commonplace, to be sure, but just because you see the moon every night doesn’t mean you could go for days without her. Lemons have such a clean, bright flavor. The smell of their zest alone is enough to make me smile!

I’ve been wanting to try preserved lemons for awhile. I discovered them by accident while browsing through a natural foods store, and have since only come across them by chance. Although curious, I never wanted to risk the purchase — What do you use them for? Could I use up a whole jar? Is the taste worth the price? So, I came to the only logical conclusion I could come to : make them myself, and make three times as much. Obviously. Well, it turns out they are pretty simple, and the cost is so cheap and prep time is so short it would be hard to say its not worth it. I left one jar plain, added whole black peppercorns to another, and I pushed some juniper berries, fennel seeds, and a bay leaf into the third. The only downside is that they’ll take about a month to ripen — but once they do, they’ll last for up to a year, and, as it turns out, you can use them endlessly : in Moroccan food, as a garnish to fruit desserts, with fish, or as the flavor for a homemade soda.

Preserved Lemons

3 – 4 md size lemons, washed
5 tbsp kosher or sea salt, approx
spices of your choice
pint size mason jar, wide mouth, with tight sealing lid

Cut the stem tips off the ends of the lemons. Cut the lemon almost in half length-wise, leaving about one half-inch of the base intact, and do the same again on the other axis so the lemon is almost in quarters.

Using about 1 tbsp per lemon, fill the cavity of each lemon with salt, rubbing slightly to moisten and incorporate. Add a bit of salt to the bottom of the jar, and push the lemons in, trying to release as much of their juice as possible. Add any spices you may chose. Cap the jar and store over night.

In the morning, press the lemons again. If the juice in the jar hasn’t yet risen to submerge the contents, add enough lemon juice to completely cover the fruit. Cover, and store in a dim, draft-free area for 3 – 4 wks, or until the rinds are soft and the fruit flavorful.

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