Francophony

Chickpea Crêpes with Peppery Dijon Crème Fraîche, Mushrooms, and Egg

mushroom galette When I was 16, I went to France for 10 days, living, speaking, and breathing the language and culture with a family of strangers in the Loire Valley for the first five days. I celebrated Easter with the family and enjoyed escargots. I ate aligot. My toes touched the sea at both Île de Rhé and La Baule. I bought a treasured tin of salted butter caramels in Brittany. I snuck into the discothèque without an ID (though I was old enough), stayed up until 5am and slept in until 1pm. I rode the bus and went to Nantes with my “sister” and her sophisticated, older Blonde, anorexic-skinny, multiple-pack-a-day-smoking, herb-taking, porcelain-skinned, ripped-jeaned cousin. I was now cultured. Right.

My love of all things French endured, and I studied the language and culture (and la gastronomie, bien sûr!) through college. Now, I’ll occasionally listen to French music. I’ll read Le Monde every once in a while. I’ll flip through a French cookbook a couple times a year. I can help with French culinary terms at work. But a francophile? Well, I’m posing. I am many years removed from my time in France, when I was confident about my language skills and up on current events. I am a phony. But I have my memories. And by recalling them, I might have the motivation to reconnect.

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This Might Help

Roasted Pears and Chardonnay Ice Cream with Olive Oil and Pine Nuts

olive oil pine nuts
How can a world so white seem so dark? This isn’t the first time I’ve asked this kind of question in this space. But walking through endless walls of winter white so tall I can’t see beyond them has gotten old and contempt, depression, and illness is brewing in our apocalyptic (no longer hyperbole) city. Weak. Tired. Done.

We have limited means of transportation. We’ve suffered through arctic blasts of ice-cold air. There’s nowhere left to move the white. We just continue to pile, hoping the sky is as far away as it seems.

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Five

Roasted Persimmon Yogurt Parfaits with
Burnt Lemon Honey and Pistachios

burnt honey
I avoid writing about the subject of a new year with each passing one because it just seems so big. I lack the hearty optimism of those who can expound on the year that passed and the one to come. But the number five holds a lot of weight. A number with a five in it automatically seems more important than others. So for some reason, in 2015, I’m attracted to the idea of embracing a “clean slate” mentality, which I’ve typically ignored since I measure my time not by years but by accomplishments. I’m looking at the new year with a slight sense of urgency. Urgency to do what? I don’t know. But there’s a little spark and, at the very least, it’s kept me from hitting the snooze button in the morning, even though I had no intention of stopping that.

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Road to the Recipe

Browned Butter Almond Torte with Pears and Cranberries

torte serving
My memory had always been laser sharp—a gift I received not from my mother or father but perhaps from my grandmother. So it’s unfortunate that I can’t recall when I got my first cookbook that wasn’t a kid’s picture book. It must have been a Christmas gift—Christmas is the only time I receive cookbooks from family. I wish I remembered what title it was so I could know how all of this started.

This Christmas, I hope to see a couple cookbooks under the tree like this one and this one. Because lately I feel like I haven’t treated cookbooks as I used to. It’s been some time since I’ve flipped furiously. I don’t hold them as close; I don’t study them. I’ve been too wrapped up in my own cooking to take pause and keep up with newer works.

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Inspiration

Savory Pumpkin Chickpea Pancakes with Crispy Aleppo Chickpeas, Lemon, and Maple

pumpkin-apple

Normal people—those who do not fit squarely in either the “eat to live” or the “live to eat” categories but rather fall somewhere in between—enjoy going to restaurants. Savoring a meal that you didn’t have to make, perhaps in good company, is a universal pleasure. These normal people can appreciate a meal and think about it long after the waiter clears the dessert plates. Food musings are not reserved for the live to eaters.

Well, all of this is mere speculation because I am not normal. I am instead one of the group, an ever-growing population, of folks who can sit back and enjoy a nice meal out (again thankful that someone else labored over it for me) but who has the magnifying glass out. I don’t look for flaws; I’m not a critic or reviewer. I want to learn. I’ll pick apart a dish with imaginary tweezers to find within the creamy center: a flavor combination, a chef’s vision, a beating heart. I’d be a liar if I said that my own cooking doesn’t take inspiration from past restaurant meals; I think most would be if they affirmed the same.

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Apples, Cheddar, Slides

Apple Cider Ice Cream with Cheddar Tuile Cup and Pickled Apples

ice cream cup
I swear that the fall months were warmer when I was a kid. I remember wearing jean shorts and a light sweatshirt each year on my annual trip to the Brookfield Orchards with my mom. The orchard was a 45-minute drive from our house. We had orchards just a couple of towns over that we frequented, but driving a ways to get to one felt like an adventure. We’d navigate through orange, red, and yellow tree-lined back roads, our car engulfed by the fiery hue so that nothing green or grey was visible. We were probably singing in unison along to the Top 10, my soprano an octave above her alto.

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Embracing Fall with Grapes

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Bars with Oat–Potato Chip Crust
and Concord Grape

Peanut Butter Cheesecake
Concord grapes are a New England treasure, as they were developed in—go figure—Concord, Massachusetts. Now they are most widely grown in other regions of the country, but it’s nice to know that little old Concord was the birthplace not only of freedom but also of the grapiest of grapes. Concord grapes are so grape-y that they may even seem artificial to first-time eaters. They’re very sweet, yet tart as well; they are the fresh fruit incarnate of grape jelly (and, less virtuously, of grape candies and grape soda).

Like other grapes, Concords are in season now, which is a hard concept to grasp, as many do not have access to locally grown grapes. Probably thought of as simply a California thing (have you seen the commercials?), folks buy overly elongated and mutantly large grapes in bags at the supermarket. They’re tasty enough. But local grapes, at least in these parts, are very different: rounder and often with thicker and more flavorful skins, they’re complex, musky even. The green are not sour; the red are not bland. And the Concord grape has the thickest skin of them all. Biting into one (be careful of seeds) is like experiencing grape times infinity: taut squeeze, rip, POP. They’re juicy and packed with flavor.

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Obsession, Part Two

Five-Spice Spudnuts with Prune Plum Jam

potato donut crossection

We interrupt the usual beat and flow of this blog to present another dissertation on donut-making…

I kid. I will keep it very short this time, because I’ve reread my previous donut post—the one in which I explored the ways to make light yeast-raised donuts at home—and got a bit of a headache.

I mentioned that there would be more donuts. But I’ll spare you from too many words this time. Pie is my passion, but donuts, which I’ve also said I rarely eat, are, for some reason, my fascination. Or at least my fascination du jour. I knew immediately after posting the last donut recipes what my next project would be—five-spice spudnuts with plum jam; I just needed to wait until that project was in season. The clarity was a result of having given up testing iterations 10 through 25 of the yeast-raised donuts with the fancy fillings and toppings in the recipes (browned butter glaze, butter-toasted salty almonds, cardamom-sugar, coffee pastry cream). Instead, I rolled each batch in five-spice-sugar for ease and to save money. And I came to love it. Plus, given the popularity of apple cider donuts (I might tackle cider donuts that actually taste like cider and not just like warm spices next year), donuts would be the perfect summer-fall transition dish, especially when paired with a favorite summer-fall transition fruit, sweet but just tart enough and musky prune plums.

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My Peach Tree

Grilled Peaches and Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Coffee-Mascarpone Cream and Smoky Peach Purée

peaches and cream
I’ve written a tad more eloquently about having only picked or plucked, never grown or harvested, my own food. While I’ve not tested my thumb, I assume it’s black. But the real reason why I don’t plant is that I rent and lack space in the city. And the even realer reason is harder to admit: I’m lazy. Lazy when it comes to this, anyway. I enjoy supporting my local farmers—it makes my summer. But, really, I revel in being able to eat nourishing, soul-hugging, vibrant, delicious food without having to lift that finger, no matter what color it is. I love to sweat, I love the sun, I love produce, I love feeling satisfied. You’d think that I’d work for those things. Maybe one day, when I have the space, I’ll have the incentive to. Because I like most things (crème fraîche, almond milk, nut butter, granola, ice cream, mayo etc.) best when homemade; homegrown would bring things to a new level.

Despite having only an unkempt (but charming!) little swatch of backyard at my current apartment, which I’ve lived in for a bit over a year, I have a peach tree on the property. Yes, a flourishing peach tree, just there in a yard in Eastern Massachusetts. We do nothing and the peaches come. Nothing. It’s glorious. Well, it would be glorious if, in the two seasons I’ve shared a space with this tree, I’d climbed a ladder to pick even one of its rosy fruits. If I had, I’d eat it right there, fly-attracting juice staining my cheeks, my clothes, the ground.

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Rosé Real Talk

White Stone Fruit and Rosé Sorbet with Thyme Whipped Cream

thyme whipped cream

It wasn’t until this summer that I decided once and for all that pink is my favorite color wine. A bit embarrassed by my taste for easy-drinking rosé, I’ve stuck to super-crisp whites in the summer. And so, I know very little about rosé—the best makers, the proper prices, the connection between shade and taste or sweetness. I relied on the expertise of my local liquor store proprietor when I needed a special bottle for a gift recently. All I know is that I like it very cold and very dry and that it goes down very easily on a sultry summer night.

But rosé is so hot right now, and no longer just among rappers and large groups of socializing 20-something girls. Rosé has become downright respectable. I’ve eaten at quality restaurants with wine lists featuring more rosés than articles I saw this year that discussed why Beyoncé is/isn’t a feminist.

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