I have absolutely no willpower. We’re not talking about food here. In between my baking sprees and food crawls come many a salad, servings of beans, and glugs of olive oil. A true test of my ability to just say “no,” though, comes when I walk into the mecca of home cooking that is Williams-Sonoma, the outlet. It’s a place where signs advertising “50% off all All-Clad cookware” read more like love notes from a secret admirer; where walls of gadgets cry out, “I need you more than you need me;” and where porcelain wares sit empty on shelves, calling to be filled with ladles of soup, slices of cheesy potatoes, and scoops of ice cream. I mean, I almost bought a $50 tagine a couple of months ago that I really can’t afford. But it was so pretty. And hand-made and painted in Tunisia…
I’ve always been enamored by apple orchards. An orchard outing serves as one last chance to be somewhat outdoorsy before the snow falls and I’m confined to a chair next to the radiator for five months. I missed out on autumnal activities last year; this year was going to be different. I craved a bite of a crisp, freshly picked apple (plain or enrobed in chewy caramel and nuts), I wanted to walk the open landscapes that put turning leaves proudly on display, since those leaves seem to come and die in the blink of an eye around here.
I was determined to find my ideal orchard. And of course, for me, the perfect orchard is not just the most picturesque, but the one with the best treats. And the most iconic treat of the New England orchard is the cider donut. Going into this, a little part of me knew that orchards could not keep up with the demand and used mixes for their confections, but the other part of me pictured little old ladies in hairnets making cake donuts and adding glugs of the farm’s pressed cider. The purist in me was disappointed when some snooping found the former to be true in most cases. Since all orchards are run by extremely passionate and hard-working growers, I knew that my favorite farm would probably be the one that sold a scratch-made donut.
Here’s a comprehensive account of my Orchard Crawl.
pumpkin whoopie pies with cream cheese filling
Fall is such a fabulous food season. In the heat of the summer, when farm-fresh zucchini, tomatoes and berries flourish, it’s easy to forget how soul-satisfying root vegetables are or how fragrant a fresh pear is. We get something in return for everything we give up, though. The juicy bite of a peach is traded for the crunch of an orchard apple and the tang of a buttermilk cake is swapped for the warmth of a spice cake (or an apple cider donut). This Fall, like a few in the past, though, we may experience a pumpkin shortage. And while representatives of my favorite canned pumpkin brand, Libby’s, assures that the orange stuff will be showing up on supermarket shelves soon, I’ve already started biting my nails. Although other varieties have a spot in my local markets, Libby’s will always be my pumpkin of choice.
What also begins with a “P” and is similarly scarce this season? Peanuts. So peanuts don’t conjure up any warm and fuzzy Fall thoughts, but they are equally essential to my cooler weather diet. I always have peanuts on hand, but my true vice is my peanut butter addiction. The disease is not uncommon, but I am one of its most hopeless victims. A peanut shortage has sent the price of peanut butter up and could really cramp my style. Many nights, I revel in dunking my spoon into the salty stuff before digging into some vanilla ice cream, the refrigerator light alone guiding my bite. And you thought I was a food snob? Au contraire! Ok, so maybe it’s organic peanut butter and homemade ice cream or Häagen-Dazs at the very least, but come on.
I had been anxiously awaiting the opening of Lumière Chef Michael Levitan’s new restaurant “concept,” Area Four. Never having ventured to the Chef’s “project”, Persephone, during its single year of service to hungry hipsters and haute-couturists, I had nothing to gauge the potential success of the Leviton-Krupps partnership. Taking its name from that technological epicenter between Kendall and Central Squares in which it resides, Area Four strives to be all things to all people. On paper, the idea of basing a restaurant around both a bakery/café and a bar/oven seemed intriguing, like a high bow, new-age Cheers for Cambridge denizens and the scientific intelligentsia.
almond flounder meunière
My favorite color is and always will be brown. Brown. Brown is neither dull nor dark. It’s neither one-dimensional nor ordinary. In grade school, I used to fake it. While the girls declared their love for purple and donned their pinkest duds for the first day, I would say I liked blue or something, my neutral and monochromatic ensembles pointing to another affinity.
Brown is the richest of all the colors. It’s the color of the tea that calms my nerves and its usual dark chocolate accompaniment. The French word, “brun,” is essentially an adjective used to describe brown or dark hair, eyes, etc. Coincidentally, it was one of the hardest for me to pronounce when I first started learning. Always having trouble with “r” in any language, English included, I couldn’t fathom jumping from the bilabial “b” to that distinct French “r” with much success. It took years and a French minor to perfect it. Now, I think it’s one of the most beautiful words in a beautiful language. It’s even the name of the only eye shadow that ever tints the lids of my green (unfortunately not brown) eyes.
Brown was the color of the fallen leaves when, two years ago, I suddenly found myself struggling to walk. The shattering crunch they made beneath my feet distracted me from each painstaking step. It was on those walks that I continuously questioned the path I was following. Now, I can run, but I still look forward to their beautiful sound and what thoughts they might provoke.
Now that I’ve been writing for this blog for over a month, it’s probably time that I get this out in the open. I guess I’m kind of an ingredient snob. Ok, I don’t like the word “snob.” I’m just very conscious of the ingredients present in the foods I buy and make. I grew up eating very fresh food. We skimped on other “less important” things in order to make meals that were, well, real.
When home cooked meals were swapped for dining hall duds (thank God that’s over), I really started paying attention to the quality of all things edible. I’m really not radical or preachy (although, my friends might beg to differ). Sure, I pass on preservative-packed supermarket slices of bread and cheese, but I also haven’t started substituting agave for corn syrup in the few dessert recipes that call for it. By subscribing to this philosophy, I feel like every bite I take is worthwhile and, frankly, more tasty.
For years, my candy consumption was limited to a few delicious goodies: Fran’s sea salt caramels, Green and Black bars, and anything homemade, of course. And when Halloween came around, I rarely indulged in those fun-sized artificial nuggets that I passed out. Then, I heard about Liddabit Sweets, a company, or should I say, a two-woman operation, working out of Brooklyn and selling creative confections and offering new takes on classic candies. Everything is scratch-made by pastry chefs Jen and Liz (along with a VERY small staff), and ingredients are organic when possible. I checked out their website and fell into a sugar comma before even having purchased and tasted anything.