Archive for December 2009

cold house? bake cookies.

December 31, 2009

Following recipes is not really my thing, therefore baking is not really my thing. But I’ve learned that biscotti can take a fair amount of experimentation/abuse. Once I accidentally doubled the butter (measurements aren’t my thing) and they were fine. Actually, better than fine—as one might expect on any occasion that includes double the butter.

I still have a pile of kumquats from my recent travels, so I thought I might try making some sweet-savory biscotti with candied kumquat and coriander.

I used Mark Bittman’s recipe… more or less. I substituted extra virgin olive oil for the butter and cornmeal for some of the flour. I interpreted “pinch salt” quite liberally. I added a bunch of sliced almonds and chopped candied kumquats with (lots of) coriander. I skipped the whole business about buttering and flouring the pan—lining with foil is much simpler and also allows you to easily lift out the logs for slicing.

Cook’s treat: leftover coriander-kumquat syrup is very nice with gin.

in the bleak midwinter

December 31, 2009

black, black, black is the color

December 30, 2009

Ever since my college days, I’ve had an appreciation for dried beans—at a dollar or so a bag, they provide a creative outlet for a cook AND a week’s worth of meals.

After growing them myself, I’ve moved on from appreciation to something more like reverence, and not just because they taste better when they’re only a few months old. Now I look at a 1-quart bag and I see not just a staple foodstuff but an entire row of beans that has been cultivated, harvested, hulled.

When I think of the times when I didn’t finish a bean pot before it turned—or before I just got tired of it—I’m astonished. It’s taken me this long to break into this year’s harvest because some part of me has been waiting for a special occasion—as though dinner is not occasion enough.

This is my third year planting Cranberry Beans. I also added Marfax Brown, an heirloom variety that’s supposed to do well in rough northern climates, and—on a whim—Black Turtle Beans. I didn’t expect much from the latter, as black beans are so associated with southwestern cooking. But they turned out to be my heaviest producer of the summer.

The problem with black bean soup is that the inky beans turn any other vegetable an unappetizing gray. I suppose this is why so many black bean soups in restaurants are pureed. But somehow pureed soups seem too fancy for Roseboom. I considered supping on beans alone, but then I found some purple potatoes in my pantry… the perfect solution!

While I was in Baton Rouge for the holidays, I raided my Granny’s backyard kumquat tree. (Yes, Virginia, there is citrus to be picked in Louisiana this time of year.) I used these to make a kind of chutney of sliced kumquat, onions, coriander, honey—just right for brightening all that dark earthiness.

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming, from tender stem hath sprung

December 30, 2009

This time of year, there isn’t a lot of tenderness in this landscape—vegetation tends to either toughen or collapse in the hard, cold air. We know from experience the greens and pinks will return, but if you look around and try to imagine this happening, it takes a mighty effort to suspend your disbelief. Cyclical or not, the coming of spring is pretty incredible if you stop to think about it.

Gardening is full of little miracles. I had been in my house two summers when a funny-looking sprout appeared in the narrow bed along the front of my house. Something about it looked distinctly non-weedy, so I decided to let it go and see what happened. The next time I looked, it was not only unlovely but large and forbidding. If I were not so lazy, that would have been the end of that experiment, but I just wasn’t prepared to put on my gloves and dig out the thorny thing that afternoon. Or the next or the next or the next. Which is a good thing, because when the next year rolled around, the messy mystery plant revealed itself as a rose. 

Furrows be glad, though earth is bare,

one more seed is planted there.

Give up your strength the seed to nourish

that in time the flower may flourish.

After spending the last year or so getting up close and personal with my dirt, I’ve been hyper-aware of botanical content of so many Christmas and Advent carols. Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown. Winds through the olive trees softly did blow.  Then down came the tallest branch—it touched Mary’s hand. And the first tree in the green wood, it was the holly. The tree of life my soul hath seen, laden with fruit and always green.

For department stores and five-year-olds, Christmas 2009 is already a memory, but according to the liturgical calendar there are a few days left to enjoy those once-a-year tunes. Here’s one of my favorites.