Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Life and Goose Barnacles

Last night I had goose barnacles for dinner.

Actually, that's like, the slang term. Percebes, which I couldn't quite pronounce correctly, are an expensive and delicious delicacy in Northern Spain and Portugal - from which these particular intertidal organisms you see in the photo were shipped. Goose barnacles. They looked like funky asparagus tips.

My host (who happened to be from Northern Spain) explained to me the particular magic of seafood from Northern Spain and Portugal in this way: "You get the sea from the East, and the Atlantic ocean from the West..." and then he clapped his hands together in one sweeping grandiose movement. I understood. He also explained the high price tag for these particular percebes - people risk their lives between the tides that slam into the rocks on the coast, just to collect these little guys. They sell for about $125-$150 a pound. And most of that is shell that gets discarded. I peeked at the barnacles again and felt like I was staring into a pot of gold.

I was very privileged to be a guest for dinner. It was so fascinating trying them for the first time, with people who were truly excited and overjoyed because they had been waiting years to eat them once again. And they shared them with me. Food is magical in so many ways. The tastes and smells of something new, the cultures and stories, and lives, behind everything. The people who invite you to their home and feed you. To steal a quote from Nigella Lawson, "When I am talking about food, I am talking about life."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


So, about once a week / once every other week, I volunteer at a cooking school in my neighborhood. I assist the chef, help the novices, do minor clean-up stuff. Last night the class was "The Ultimate Burger" and these burgers were ultimately delicious. They were all accompanied with a special sauce, which elevated the burgers to a whole new level.

A spicy green sauce that accompanied the black bean burger is my new favorite discovery. It tasted amazing with the smokey adobo-flavored black beans, but you could also serve it on all kinds of dishes. I especially think it would be great on a flank-steak sandwich. Mmmm. The smooth sweetness of the honey, combined with the spicy bite of the jalapeno, fresh cilantro, with walnut to give it some body, makes for an interesting combo.

Recipe for Cilantro Sauce (courtesy of chef-instructor John Scoff):
  • One bunch cilantro
  • 1/2 cup of walnuts
  • 2 jalapenos, stems removed, sliced into rounds (and, if you want to control the spiciness, scrape out and discard the seeds for less heat)
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1 cup of canola oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Puree all of the above ingredients in the blender. Taste. Enjoy. Impress someone.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

It's a Cherry Pie Kinda' Day

I don't know if you've heard, but the weather in NYC has been sucking pretty consistently for the -so far- whole of June. It is my first summer here, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I know I wasn't expecting Seattle. The absurd amount of rain has not only been garnering national news coverage, but has been bringing down the city's collective mood, that's for sure. Thank God for homemade pie.

Especially cherry pie. That was the first pie I ever made, and it will always be my first, and most intense, pie love (to the extent that one can be in love with pie). I'm rushing cherry pie season a little bit, but with all these April-like showers, I need me some summer lovin. Some rum-soaked summer lovin.

Door county in Wisconsin is the ultimate "pick 'em yourself" cherry destination. But google "cherry farms," along with the name of your state and see if anything pops up. I'm going to try to hit up a farm or two along the Hudson River Valley before the season escapes me.

Recipe for Rum-Soaked Cherry Pie (the real breakfast of champions):

Make the pie crust according to your preference. Some people prefer to buy a pre-made pie crust. I can make an honorable attempt to respect that. But no promises.

For the filling:

  • 4 cups of drained and pitted tart (aka sour) cherries. Thaw, if frozen.
  • 2 generous tbsp of dark rum
  • 1 tbsp lime juice, plus the zest of half a lime
  • 2 tbsp + 2 tsp of potato starch
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • Butter, and an egg for egg wash

Mix together all the ingredients above, except for the butter and egg. Spread the fruit filling onto the bottom portion of the pie crust. Dot the top of the fruit with little pinches of butter, and place the remaining pie crust on top, crimping the edges to seal. Brush the top of the crust with egg wash (1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp water) and bake for 45-50 minutes at 375 degrees. Make sure the top of your crust has a few slits or gaps for the steam to escape from the middle. Enjoy with your morning coffee.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Good. The Better. The Stuff.

It seems I have forgotten how to write.

I think I am still capable of forming complete sentences. But putting those sentences together in my head to form a cohesive story has proven to be extremely challenging as of late. I am hoping that it is, in fact, my head that has been causing a temporary dilemma, and not a permanent disabling of my actual writing functionality. It is not for lack of stories; I have been cooking and eating (and sleeping) up a storm. What I think is really going on is that my mind is overly cluttered lately with The Stuff, and therefore, has been too exhausted to help me out with story formation.

I really hate it when I can’t get past The Stuff. We all have The Stuff. It’s The Stuff that causes slight disruption to pleasurable activities and small responsibilities. The Stuff is usually what is hindering me when I forget birthdays, neglect to say my prayers at night, and, relative to my blog, forget to take pictures and write down recipes. The Stuff is distracting me right now, because I am having a hard time going forward when all I keep thinking about is how funny the word “Stuff” is.

The Stuff is anything stuck in your head that demands your attention, however important, or not, it actually is. Currently my Stuff includes, but is not limited to, bills and household items (a frequent Stuff offender), winding down my old job, preparing to start my new job, real estate/rental negotiations and politics, the health of two pugs, the health of my herb garden (which my two pugs have decided is a salad bar, and mom I swear if you nag me one more time to get a fence, you will also be Stuff), upcoming weddings, and these vampire books I can’t seem to stop reading.

I'll have to try to negotiate with The Stuff for brain capacity, because I have so much to share with you. For one, I finally got to tag along with my husband to one of his fancy benefit dinners! And you know what? I really was not impressed with the food. I know, right? What gives?

Whenever my husband goes to a work-function-gala, he fills me in on the wonderful meal that was presented as a part of the glamorous evening. It always sounds fabulous. In this case however, I actually thought my dinner I had prepared the night before was much better. He disagreed, but that’s okay with me.

At the event, we had a small plate of Fettuccini Alfredo to start, followed by about 1 lb of beef (I wish I could say that was an exaggeration. It was an embarrassingly large portion of beef) and polenta (too dry) with roasted veggies. I have to admit, the dessert was wonderful - I had a poached plum with cinnamon ice cream, and Nathan had a slice of chocolate cake that I didn't try but looked good.

My dinner the previous night consisted of a skirt steak that I marinated in lots of garlic and olive oil, and served grilled, smothered in Chimichurri sauce, a sauce made with fresh chopped parsley, garlic, jalapeno, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and red wine vinegar (I didn't write down the quantities, I'm sorry; I blame The Stuff). I also had some farmers market veggies - radishes, beets, carrots - that I tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and roasted at 475 for about 20 minutes. I think the carrots were Thumbelina carrots - they were very small.

Sometimes I just like my own creations better. That is, when I can sift through The Stuff and make myself some dinner.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Strawberries are Ready for Their Close Up

I apologize for the extended absence. It seems I have writer's block of the very worst kind. I promise: as soon as my brain resumes normal functionality (and I'm not exactly sure when that will be, nor do I really know what "normal" means), I will be back in full force.

Don't worry though; I am still eating. And cooking. And, of course, exploring. Yesterday I spent the majority of the day searching the Hudson River Valley for farms, historic sites, farmers markets, haunted sites, and most notably, farm fresh strawberries.

Nathan: "Let me get this straight. Of the whopping five pictures you took yesterday, you only took one of the Vanderbilt Mansion, not even close up, yet you took two pictures of strawberries, extremely close up?"

Me: "uh... Yes."

Nathan: "Yeah that sounds like you."