Lee is back in England, after a nice (although short) break back here. It’s actually been three weeks since she went back, which feels totally wrong, because it seems like both 1) three days and 2) 3 million years, at the same time. Soon enough, though, I’ll get to go to Europe to visit her, and then she’ll be back just in time for us to get married, and I might even have something to wear for it, beyond the overalls (and/or whale costume. Long story.) I’ve been threatening if I can’t find a decent dress.
And look at that, I’ve just taken us from May through to the end of summer. Let’s back it up a bit. For the next several weeks, it is still May, and Lee is still across an ocean, and I am still here, trying not to mope, and trying to remember to cook decent meals for myself. “Decent meals” very often end up meaning popcorn. Although I figure if I put some cheese on for protein and pair them with a smoothie (or let’s be honest: wine), that’s basically a balanced meal, right? Right.
Greetings from England(!!)
I’m here visiting Lee, who’s over here getting her Master’s this year. I didn’t move with her (very, very sadly), for a variety of reasons, but I’m getting to visit her for a month, and it’s making me pretty happy, as one might expect.
I brushed up on my Anglophilia before coming, but apparently obsessing on the internet still leaves out a thing or two. I’ve been calling my fries “chips” and my chips “crisps” as a good Brit should, but I’ve been stymied by the shopping carts, which are locked together my a weird little device. After poking, prodding, and trying to surreptitiously watch other people use it (no one came in), I ended up carrying a week’s worth of groceries around in a handbasket. As I was loading them into the bus, someone finally explained to me that you put in a pound. Grocery cart rental. Magic.
There was also my inability to find the potatoes in the farm stand down the road. Confusing, since the English really love their potatoes. After wandering around the entire stand, twice, I finally realized that the reason I hadn’t seen them because they weren’t sold by the potato, or even by the kilogram. The potatoes, you see, were tucked over in the corner, in their 15 kilogram bags, which were not going to be easy to carry back down the road with me.
In honor of England, I have a custard for you. (It’s actually a pot de crème, but shhhhhh.) I told Lee the other day that I think I might be a little bit English, somewhere, somehow, as evidenced by my love of manners, British comedy, and both kinds of puddings: the custard kind, and the soggy bread kind. (Actually, I think that’s much more likely to make me a middle-aged English person. Whoops.)
Vanilla Pots de Crème
From this recipe. Makes 4-6 servings.
A note on the vanilla: you could definitely do like the original recipe and use vanilla beans. If you do this, split them, scrape the seeds into the cream, and heat the cream until steam rises. Let it all steep for 15 minutes, then
2 cups heavy cream or half and half
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or two vanilla beans
6 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
If using vanilla beans, cut them in half length-wise and scrape the seeds into the cream. Put the beans in there, as well. Heat the cream until it steams. (Keep a close eye on it. If you over-heat, it will develop that gross milk-skin.) Let it steep/cool for fifteen minutes. After steeping, remove the beans. (Don’t throw them away! Rinse them off and use them in homemade vanilla extract, or vanilla sugar.)
If you’re using the vanilla extract, just heat the cream until it’s warm.
While the cream is cooling, beat the egg yolks and the sugar together until they are light in color (about four minutes by hand). Pour in just a small amount of the cream, and whisk until it’s completely mixed in. Repeat until you’ve used about ¼ of the cream, and then you can start adding more like 1/3 of a cup at a time. If you’re using vanilla extract, whisk it in now.
Divide the custard between 4 or 6 ramekins (or stoneware/porcelain teacups!), depending on how large you want your servings. Cover the ramekins with tinfoil (to prevent a skin from forming), and place ramekins in a larger baking dish with sides. Pour hot water into the baking dish (about halfway up the outside of the ramekins).
Place the baking dish in the oven, and bake for 30-45 minutes. (The original recipe notes that cream sets fastest, and half and half sets slowest.) In order to get perfectly-cooked pots de crème, you want to take them out when the edges are set, but the center is still jiggly.
Chill, then serve, topped with whipped cream, if desired.
Hello, all. It’s been a while. It’s been months, in fact. There are many reasons (aren’t there always?), but. I think the biggest has been a crisis of faith about this blog.
Going back to the beginning: I started it out with all these intentions and plans. Write about important issues! Bring attention to politics! Save the world through blogging!
It sounds a little naïve now, to my ear and probably yours, but damn, did I care. And with the five billion cooking blogs out there, who needs five billion and one? Guiltily, though, over the months that came, what I found myself writing about was my experiences with food. The flavors, the remembrances, the process of coming home and chopping methodically until all my other thoughts drop away.
I felt so conflicted about it, and nothing sucks the motivation out of someone like a loss of joy. So I just stopped writing. I had to write for my job eventually, though, and over the summer I developed a love for fiction, but I still felt this crushing guilt about this space. “Am I a bad activist?” I wondered, “a traitor to the cause?”
With time (and fretting) comes wisdom, however, and as I’ve turned my thoughts over and over again these past few months, I’ve come to realize:
Food isn’t fickle. It’s delightful, yes, but it’s also deadly serious. It literally creates the life force in us. It’s nourishment. It links us through history and reminds us of who we are. Writing about it, I’m learning, isn’t a guilty pleasure. It is essential, and it is writing at its very best, pulling together the ultimate human experience into something far-reaching and at the same time, deeply personal.
Who cares if no one else needs a billionth cooking blog? I need it, and I think that’s enough. So hello, again. I’d like to fill this space with some more stories, and some more recipes. Here’s a start.
Spiced Pumpkin Soup with (Turkey) Bacon
Streamlined from this Nigel Slater recipe.
a small pumpkin (about 2 pounds), or 30 ounces of canned pumpkin
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 teapoons ground coriander
1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chipotle or chili powder (or more if you like things spicier)
1/3 cup coconut milk
12 pieces turkey bacon
If using whole pumpkin, halve it and remove the seeds and stringy bits. Place it in a pan with sides, fill with an inch of water, and roast it at 400 degrees for 30 or so minutes, until a fork goes into the flesh easily. Check periodically to replenish the water if needed. Wait until it’s cool, then remove the outer skin.
Melt the coconut oil and cook the onion and garlic in it until they’re soft and translucent.
Add the coriander, cumin, and chili powder, and cook for a minute or two. Add the pumpkin (either the stuff you roasted, or from the can), and stir well. Cook for a minute or two.
Add the stock. Simmer for twenty minutes. Cool slightly, until you feel like it won’t melt your food processor. Process it in the food processor until it’s smooth. Return it to the pan, and add the coconut milk. Season with salt to taste (I used about two teaspoons).
Return the soup to a near-boil. While you’re doing this, fry the bacon. Serve the soup with pieces of bacon crumbled on top. Nom.
Two pieces that have been stuck in my mind lately: “getting off the aspirational treadmill,” and the new homeownership: buying a house not as a dazzling, incredibly high-return investment, but for the pleasures it can give you.
In my mind, they tie together into this thing, this idea of slowing down, and making the most of the life you have, as it is. Truly inhabiting where you live, getting to know your neighbors, and other “medium chill” pursuits. Drinking coffee while staring out your window and getting to know your yard throughout changing seasons. Canning produce from your garden and tucking it away in your pantry, giving it away to loved ones who come for potlucks in the backyard. Enjoying small household tasks, because they’re small household tasks.
I’m disgustingly taken with this overly-romanticized idea, as you might have noticed.
It might have something to do with being a few years out of college, when we start to realize that making friends isn’t as easy as getting to know the cool girl from two dorm doors down. Putting down roots is hard, and community, it turns out, is something you have to nurture, torturously slowly, through years of meeting new people and asking them on awkward friend dates and trading secrets and shared experiences, and finally weaving them together with others into a cohesive group.
I’ve always been a traveler, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Recently, though, a friend of mine told me about how her parents have a group of friends that’s incredibly tight-knit because they’ve all lived in Boston since their 20s, going to drinks and parties together for decades. That idea appeals to me, and I’ve started to realize that those kinds of strong bonds take time.
So when Lee and I started talking about buying a house, and when we bought one last month***, it didn’t seem terrifying, like settling down forever before I’ve finished exploring, but rather like setting up a framework that I can return to, leaving if we have to for school or jobs, but always returning to see the neighbor kids growing up, the plants I’ve put in get bigger, and to have dinner with friends.
And while we’re on the topic of dinners with friends, and potlucks, and grilling in the backyard: I recently re-created a mainstay of summer potlucks from when I was a kid. My friend Miah’s mother always brought the most amazing pasta salad to dinners, and after some begging, she taught me how to make them. I started thinking about those salads again, after more than a decade, and started to wonder if I could make them without the store-bought “Italian” dressing and processed cheese shreds. Shockingly, I got it on my first try, and unless my memory is failing me, it bears an uncanny resemblance to those Kraft pasta salads of days gone by.
*** Yes, this is an announcement that we have bought a house. Yes, yes, yes.
Non-Kraft Pasta Salad
For the vinaigrette:
¼ c. vinegar
¼ c. olive oil
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon honey
pinch of thyme
pinch of celery salt
pinch of dried basil (or a pinch of minced fresh)
½ teaspoon of dried parsley (or 1 teaspoon of minced fresh)
1 teaspoon salt
several grinds of black pepper
For the salad:
1 lb pasta (2 cups dried pasta/8 cups cooked)
2 cups chopped broccoli (I used a combination of florets and peeled stem)
½ cup oven-roasted tomatoes or 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
¾ cup finely grated parmesan
3.5 tablespoons capers or ½ cup black olives (the basic kind, like the ones you stick on your fingers when you’re five.) (Or twenty-five.)
- If it’s not already cooked, cook pasta until it’s al dente. Drain, and rinse in cool water. Toss with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking, if desired, and set aside.
- Rinse broccoli, and steam it: Bring about an inch of salted water to boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add broccoli, cover, and reduce the heat to medium. Steam it for about 5-6 minutes, or until it turns a bright green (after this, it will continue cooking until it turns that dark green-brown color of overly cooked, soggy broccoli known in cafeterias the world over). Drain, and rinse with cold water.
- While the broccoli is cooking, make the vinaigrette: whisk all the ingredients together (or put them all in a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake) until the oil and vinegar have emulsified.
- Combine the cooked pasta, cooked broccoli, tomatoes, parmesan, and capers/olives. Mix until they’re all friendly with each other. Add the vinaigrette, and stir until all the salad ingredients are evenly coated.
- Chill and let the flavors mingle for at least an hour or two (preferably four or five, but to be honest, I ate it immediately after finishing it, and it was still good, un-mingled and lukewarm).
Summer is this awesome time full of fresh food, sunlight, and (for me at least) the temptation to pick pounds and pounds of amazing fruit. In past years, the produce has overwhelmed me, and left me slaving over a canning pot at four in the morning in a desperate race against time and rotting berries.
This year, I went in with a plan, and triumphed over the u-pick strawberries. In case you’re still engaged in that battle I know so well, here’s my blueprint for 26 pounds of strawberries.
At least four pounds went into our hands and mouths.
Another four pounds went into jam.
A pound went into strawberry ice cream, and another into strawberry and cream biscuits.
A whole lot, like ten pounds of a lot, got flash-frozen and are now tucked into the freezer for next winter. And the rest went into strawberry daiquiris. Six pounds worth of strawberry daiquiris.
I get that daiquiris might not be the most fashionable drink. Which is a shame, and I wonder if it might have something to do with the fact that these days, they’re often made with sugar syrup and no fruit to speak of.
But these might change your mind.
Makes four or five drinks, depending on your pouring.
4 cups sliced strawberries
1 cup white rum
3 ounces frozen limeade
1 cup crushed ice or 12 ice cubes
whipped cream (optional)
Combine the first four ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. Taste, and adjust to your preference. Top with whipped cream if desired.