January 14th, 2013 § § permalink
Sometimes, a falling leaf is like a butterfly. On its way to its respectable death it dances and twirls, peaking into and out of the setting sun. I saw this very thing on a winter walk.
The image was so haunting, I still dream about those deadly butterflies. In my dream, I was walking into a forest full of those fluttering wings – beautiful moths and butterflies moving unnaturally slow. The trees were made of them and I could see them clustering and fluttering like butterflies do. When I came upon the butterfly laden trees, I could see them attempting to escape. They struggled but could not move. A giant spider crawled up to them and began weaving its fatal trap. All the butterflies were slowly succumbing to their doom. I woke up.
Last autumn, I went with my boyfriend to watch him film monarchs. They are quite splendid creatures and they cluster like heavy fruit on trees, if fruit could quiver. In the coolness of the last moment of sunlight you can see them moving their wings in order to warm up. A foreign tourist was going about collecting the dead butterflies and hiding them in his plastic tupperware.
My dreams seems so unfamiliar to me now but I can trace a lot of their imagery from my recent past. I wake up in sweat and confusion. I wished they felt less consequential.
For the past three years, I’ve made floral arrangements for my boyfriend’s mother on New Years Day. It’s a treat for me, and I enjoy it immensely. I love flowers and plants and I surround myself with them so infrequently. This year I made a series of small arrangements out of fresh kumquat stems and purple artichokes. I collected the kumquats after the arrangements were in need of refreshing for another event. I couldn’t bear throwing them out so I candied them and sealed them in my new Weck jars.
Preserving & Candying Kumquats
Adapted from Tart and Sweet
3 lb of kumquats (halved*, deseeded)
1 vanilla bean
2 c sugar
2 c water
+ Sanitize your glass vessels of choice by boiling them in hot water for 10 minutes. You should be able to make 5 half-pints with 3 pounds of fruit. Place 1 star anise and 1 cinnamon stick into each jar.
+ Boiling kumquats helps to remove the bitterness of the inner flesh. In a small pot, placed your 3 pounds of halved kumquats and cover them with water. Bring the water to a boil and then drain the fruit of the bitter water. You need to repeat this two more times to properly remove the bitterness and soften the fruit. Divide your fruit into the five jars.
+ Meanwhile, prepare your simple syrup. Scrape the beans from the vanilla pod and boil it with the water and sugar for two minutes to dissolve the sugar.
+ Pour the syrup into your jars, leaving 1/4” headspace. Seal and process* for at least 10 minutes.
+ Serve on ice cream, creamed oats, or just eat from the jar with a large spoon.
+ I was tempted to make beautiful coins of candied kumquats but they all fall apart after boiling for three times. All of the delicate rounds fell apart. I recommend keeping your kumquats halved.
November 28th, 2012 § § permalink
I like the idea of sending away Christmas Cookies and Summer Jams in the fall… I find it’s generally well received and I select new recipients every year based on some random equation I have in my head. It is that time of the year after all – but I’m not talking about Christmas per se… but the magical cusp of Thanskgiving and Christmas that makes sparkles appear in the air, nearly everyone is kind and loving and happy to one another. It makes the winter and general cold weather maladies a bit more bearable.
Sending a package across the country is akin to sending off a little piece of oneself. For me, this little act takes a lot of time, mostly in meditation about the various alchemy of materials, the perfect proportions of jars to one another on a bed of shredded Aspen, or their intended recipient and the way they might react when in holding that particular jar.
I’m highly affected by these imaginary thoughts and the shipping task consume me a bit more than necessary because I insist on making the gifts I ship. On few occasions I will buy some small items – like local honey or a bag of walnuts. For this particular package, I chose two Bay Area honey varieties for a good friend of mine in hopes of moving her here in the near future. Honey is a good thing for bribing. I also make my own labels using a cute stamp set of an evergreen, a tiny owl, and letter sets. They appear all over my jars and gifts, though my new found treasure in gift packing is the use of real nuts and aspen shavings. They give it a special warm touch… rather than synthetic packing peanuts or plastic wrapping bubbles. They cost a little more, but the nuts are edible, and you can compost/recycle the aspen. They also look great.
Recipe for 1 Care Package
1 Jar of Ginger Peach Butter
1 Jar of Maple Apple Butter
2 Tiny Jars of Honey
1 Jar of Vanilla Infused Sea Salt
A handful of walnuts
a Box of Shaved Aspen
I also like this list of ideas for wrapping all of those gifts I need to make/buy.
August 27th, 2012 § § permalink
Shall I invoke yet another ode to the humble peach – that fuzzy southern institution that heralds the serum of interminable summer heat; a metaphor for scrumptious, petite things; a term of endearment for lecherous love…
There was only one peach tree in my youth and we did vile things to its graceful limbs – we trimmed, chopped, and tended them until the extremities of bulbous growths sprouted obscene spindles, unable to hold their heavy, luscious burdens. In retrospect, this did not seem judicious for when the peaches came in a sudden gluttonous orgy, there followed a cascade of fallen fruit that painted the ground in its orange hues of sugary overload. I recall with clarity traversing the yard towards our miniature orchard amidst a reverse-rain of departing birds, a sudden interruption to foul-filled picnics, a veritable feather and fruit haven. The birds and I feasted but their appetites never waned, while I gradually grew tired of the orange stone fruit in all of its weary transmutations. Perhaps if that tree was not as generous in its fruiting, I might be constantly pining for orange stone fruits.
These days an acquired polite indifference yields to bargain bins and dollar bags filled with thrifty fruity odors that confer a longer life to peaches in the forms of preserves and jams, a celebration of summer’s fecundity that fits tidily into tiny jars. I made a ginger peach butter for the thrill of it – a cheap memento of a bargain shopper’s Sunday forage and ravenous hoarding. I really like this butter. The subtle ginger peach combination is growing on my palate like a second skin, akin to San Francisco scarves in cool, foggy summers. Wrapped in these chilly sea mists, it’s no wonder that I yearn for the comforts of warm fruity delights. That, and the coziness of a cup of tea.
The ginger peach butter has proved itself versatile. I dilute it with hot water to dress French toasts. I eat it on cheeses. I’m giving some of it away for gifts. I’m also enlisting it in my quest for more hand pies. It’s a slow journey, but I’ve already made this and this with delicious consequences.
This pie has a more cake-like texture than others, reminiscent of Fig Newtons, or rather what Fig Newtons aspire to be: declared the boyfriend. I found these hand pies delightfully straddling cake and pie territory… comfortable in their non-declaration of genre, while playfully enticing in their righteous Lilliputian style. Moreover, the dough is made using a hand mixer. Strange, right? This recipe yields a fortuitous abundance – an easy, casual gift with many more to spare.
Sweet Hand Cake-Pie Dough
Dough Recipe Adapted from Martha Stewart Pies and Tarts
3 c. pastry flour or all purpose flour
1/4 ts. baking soda
1 ts. baking powder
1/2 ts. salt
2 ts. lemon zest, finely grated
1/2 sweet cream butter, @room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 large egg
3 oz cream cheese, @room temperature
2 TB buttermilk
1 ts. vanilla extract
Fillings for Peach Hand Pies: Martha’s recipe was for an apple butter filling, so I adapted it for a summer treat with my ginger peach butter.
1/2 c. Ginger Peach Butter*
1 Peach, finely diced
dusting: 1/4 c. granulated sugar & 1/8 ts. ginger powder. Mix well.
+ Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, zest.
+ In separate bowl, use a hand mixer to beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and mix, followed by cream cheese, milk and vanilla. Mix until well combined.
+ Form dough into a ball and flatten into a disk 1″ thick disk. Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or until firm to the touch. This can be kept frozen up to 1 month.
+ Once dough is chilled, roll dough out to a thickness of 1/8 “. Cut out 2″ *** rounds and refrigerate until firm (1 hour).
+ Have a glass of ice water and a pastry brush. Fill half the rounds with a small bit of peach butter and diced peaches, leaving a half inch radius around the edges to press the dough together. Brush the edges with ice water and press the two firmly together. Brush the pie tops with ice water and sprinkle a bit of ginger sugar on top.
+ Refrigerate the pies for 1 hour or until the dough feels firm again.
+ Preheat the oven to 375°F and bake until golden. Mine took 20 minutes. The bottoms tend to cook really fast so I placed them on the oven’s top shelf.
* I think you could potentially replace this with a puree of peach, ginger, and sugar that’s slow cooked to a thick gravy-like consistency.
*** I find that the pieces fit better if you shape and stretch the top into a small cap. Or, just cut the tops a bit bigger. Also, you could make regularly sized 4″ hand pies, which would be faster.
August 20th, 2012 § § permalink
There’s hardly a more rewarding form of exercise than kneading dough in the dark of evening, for all that hard work is the prelude to a morning of fresh bread. After the first three minutes, my arms begin to tire but that’s when the shaping becomes rhythmic meditation: thoughts saturated with the scent of fermenting yeast and binding strands of elastic gluten. My short stature makes kneading much more difficult as I have to stand on my tippy toes. I use a timer so there’s no cheating – adding a few extra minutes to ensure that the dough gets worked extra hard. It is much easier to use a bread machine, but where’s the fun in that? Hand kneading is an imperfect art, like Wabi-Sabi.
Undertaking bread baking was the first step to absorbing the vast quantities of preserves I’ve accumulated, a residue of the season’s work – not to mention clearing out last year’s preserves to make room for new ones. The ratio of bread to preserves requires a lot of carb consumption. I can’t complain…
Then, there’s the dogged pursuit of artisanal bread on mornings when you wake up feeling famished from a night of heavy dreaming, the kind of soul-seeping hunger that devours a silo’s worth of grain if only that silo was bedside. It is the promise of bread that coaxes my sleep-heavy body out of bed towards the expectant loaf that ballooned in volume while I slept: I heat the oven and bake the bread as I shower, and by the time I’m dressed there’s a hot loaf coming from the oven, warming the kitchen with its comforting aromas of whole grain goodness. The first few slices are always euphoric, but for days I take intermittent pleasures in private Eleusinian celebrations, feasts of bread and butter accompanied by fresh berries and creature cups.
Suggested Literary Accompaniment: Six Thousand Years of Bread by H.E. Jacob. I’ve been slowly savoring this volume, and it’s nothing short of amazing. Then again, I’m a book fiend when it comes to culinary history.
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking
Beer adds a light sweetness and a beautiful brewery aroma to this loaf. It’s a sandwich bread but I like the flavor so much i’ve been eating it with my latest fruit butter.
3/4 c. amber ale/mild beer
1/4 c. orange juice
3 TB honey
4 TB butter, cut into small chunks
1 3/4 c. whole wheat bread flour
1/2 c. rolled oats
1 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/4 ts. salt
2 1/4 ts. instant yeast*
+Place all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead for at least 10-12 minutes or until dough feels smooth, elastic, and holds its shape. This is a sticky dough, so if you don’t like to knead by hand, by all means, use a bread machine.
+ Placed kneaded dough into an oiled bowl, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size (typically 2.5 hours). Gently, squeeze dough and deflate with oiled hands… there’s no punching needed. Shape dough into a bread pan and cover until doubled in size (another 2.5 hours).
+ Bake bread in a 350 °F oven until internal temperature reaches 190°F (about 30 -35 minutes, tent your bread halfway through to prevent overcooking the top).
*If you have active dry yeast, it must be proofed prior to mixing. Just heat up the OJ and honey until it’s warm to the touch (110-115 °F ) and pour the yeast into the liquid while you measure and mix together the dry ingredients. The yeast should start to bubble after 5 minutes. If it is not visibly bubbly, dump the liquids and use different yeast – old yeast will not proof and therefore should not be used.
Recipe for Ginger Peach Butter: http://bklynfoodie.com/?p=3120
I didn’t think this recipe was solid enough for a butter, but the flavor is beautiful. The boyfriend approves. I plan on making it into teeny bite-size hand pies with some fresh peaches.