Spontaneous

Chris and Sirkka had a long day coming back from his gig at the Montreal jazz festival, so I offered to make them dinner to make things easier. Christine is in the city for a couple of days, so I wasn’t able to shop, and thus made do with the garden, fridge, and pantry. Poppadums kept the kids happy while I made more summer rolls (from now on just assume I make them every time since I’m completely addicted to them) with the same almond butter-ponzu based sauce as last time. I soaked and then cooked a bunch of chick peas with a variety of milder curry spices so the kids would be able to eat them, and Chris made endive mash and picked more salad- last time they were here we made a walnut oil-sherry vinegar dressing, and it really let the greens shine through, while still having a ton of flavor, so he made it again. They also brought homegrown/made radish pickles that rounded out a rich, varied and clean meal very nicely. This kind of food really gets the taste of the road out of your mouth, as does a sparkling Vieux Pressoir Saumur rosé followed by a 2003 Selbach-Oster Spätlese riesling.

Week in Review

The lemon tarts were so well reviewed, especially by Christine, that I was pleased to have saved the unused pie dough in the fridge. We had some of the sweet potato salad left, and a few of the blue potatoes, and tofu that I didn’t throw in lunch’s fridge soup because I wanted to make more summer rolls. So I made a tart in the small pan, just the same as last night, and summer rolls with mint, greens, tofu, and noodles with an almond butter-ponzu sauce, green mash from radicchio this time, sweetened a bit with an ume plum, and so arranged a nice plate that kind of reprised the highlights of our last few meals in fine style. I had wanted to open a sparkling rosé with the fancy feast, but neither of us felt like drinking tonight.

John’s Birthday

Phillipe and Lea hosted a party for John, and several people brought some food and wine. Phillipe made fantastic boeuf bourgignon and a sublime gratin of cauliflower; Liz curated the perfect salad from her garden and made her signature cashew cream to pour on gorgeous fresh berries for dessert (there was also cake.) I made the raw sweet potato salad, twice-baked tiny blue potatoes with fromage blanc, chives, and truffle oil mixed in and baby chioggia beet chips to garnish, sautéed scallops with a red wine-butter sauce, and last little Moroccan-inspired savory lemon tartlets that I thought up recently. It’s basically a zabaglione style lemon tart, but with salty preserved lemon in the custard, a dollop of cumin-enhanced tapenade on top, and a drop of homemade harissa to finish. I baked the crusts in the muffin tin and filled them after they cooled.

We drank many things: my last half bottle of Sine Qua Non “Pagan Poetry” rosé, Pleiades XI and XV, Liz’s 2002 Kistler pinot noir, a 2002 Joblot Givry, a 1998 Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus (I know it’s one of John’s favorites, so I dug it out) and Gerard brought an insanely good double magnum of 1990 Le Pergole Torte. Then we had champagne, Billiot and a grand cru rosé I bought that afternoon and failed to write down for posterity. It was very good. We never made it to the 1967 Barolo that we gave him. I also forgot to bring the camera.

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

We went to Providence for a night for a wedding, where we saw some family, met some great people, and ate very well; the wedding was catered by Smoke & Pickles, and they did a bang-up job with giant striped bass and copious smoked chicken, plus smoked bluefish, ahi tuna and beef tenderloin as appetizers. I LOVE a well-catered wedding. Food is the music of love, so play loud and often.

So we returned tired and hungry today but with all the ingredients for another eggplant parmigiana cleverly staged in the fridge by Christine. I had used the shiitakes with the short ribs the other night, so to replace them I pulled up the last of the spinach and wilted it in a pan, while the eggplant roasted with salt and oil and I chopped many herbs with garlic to add to canned tomatoes for the sauce. Layered with the spinach in the middle, and baked, then finished under the broiler, it was a hearty, bubbly welcome home that made me doubly grateful that I hadn’t bought any crappy road food when we stopped for gas. As for the Thackrey Centaur- the name the Aquila sangiovese briefly had until he had to change it for legal reasons, and which was shipped without capsule or label (I just found a sixpack of it in Brooklyn when I was organizing the basement, so naturally we had to have one) it’s so damn sexy and luscious that we should have brought a bottle or twelve to the wedding.

Another Dinner Party

But this time back home, after thorough provisioning at Sahadi and in Chinatown; we’re set for exotic staples and condiments for quite a while. Chris, Sirkka, and Nissa came, so I had defrosted some short ribs, and combed through the garden for baby vegetables; this bowl is honestly one of the greatest things I’ve seen in quite a while. I blanched everything separately to perfect al dente tenderness, and rubbed the skin off beets and carrots to let the pure color show.

The ribs browned, got aromatics added, and wine, and simmered for about 4 hours. I strained the liquid and poured it back over them on low while I steamed a giant sweet potato, caramelized shiitake, braised pak choi, and made summer rolls with tofu, lettuce, mint, mustard greens, and bean thread noodles for an appetizer (with tangy peanut sauce.) Chris made a mash out of the galia endive, and picked a killer salad while I finished the plates with jus and parsley:

We drank their gorgeous 1990 Batasiolo Barolo “Vigneto Bofani,” and our 2000 Hilberg-Pasquero Nebbiolo d’Alba. It’s always interesting to compare two wines, and having the same varietal a decade apart from two different producers in adjacent regions shed a lot of light on how many variables can influence a wine.

Dinner Party

Another city trip, and finally we were able to schedule a dinner at Kris’ house. Mary came, and Sujit and James, and Sujit’s Mom, and Susan. Kris made many courses, most very high-end riffs on simple comfort food. The amuse bouche was a tiny bowl of puréed chard atop a dollop of parmesan cream- like creamed spinach but super refined. Next came ham and eggs- a poached egg with super fancy jamón and a red pepper sauce. Then crab, mango, and avocado in an apple juice-moscato syrup followed by an octopus and potato stew, rich, sweet and oceany, then macaroni and cheese with gorgeous lamb bits and deep Indian spices that took it to a whole other level. Finally, poussin with cabbage and carrots, then cheese, then cake since his birthday was a few days before.

Roughly in order, the wine highlights of the evening were as follows: a 2005 Selbach-Oster Wehlener Sonnenuhr, my 98 Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco and 1983 Drouhin Bonnes Mares, Mary’s 98 Gros Richebourg, and Sujit’s 86 Jayer-Gilles Echezeaux. Pretty fantastic.

Zuppa del Frigorifero

Somewhat presciently, last night after dinner I thought to make fridge soup for tonight since I suspected I’d be working late. This one was a continuation of last week’s, via another iteration we made in Vermont containing the leftover sausage and garden greens (yes, I brought the soup with us to Vermont.) This time around I browned 3 strips of chopped bacon with half an onion, deglazed with wine, and dumped in the earlier soup, a beef bone from takeout night, tricolor orzo, and fresh herbs. Simmered for an hour or so, it gained a whole new depth and direction of flavor and got to sit overnight which always helps. I love these soups; normally more of a winter thing, the availability of fresh or leftover things from the garden plus random meat scraps make the summer version even better. As long as you bring it back to a boil every couple of days, they can keep going indefinitely. This one approaches the two week mark if you count all the way back to the pulled pork which started it all, and there’s enough left to add more to tomorrow.

Clean

As if by fate, no sooner had I extolled the many pleasures to be had during and after drinking Thackrey’s Andromeda but the email announcing the new release arrived in my inbox. Hooray! We’ve been waiting for the 2004 for a long time and are most excited to try it (and then leave the rest alone for as long as we can stand it.)

Tonight, a really healthy vegan meal to get us centered after some heavy eating; last night, exhausted, we ordered takeout from the Bear, which was very good, but still meat-o-centric and which left us craving clean green food. So another variation on the faux green papaya salad, this time using japanese yam with serrano chile and homegrown scallion in a peanut/lime/ume/agave/tamari dressing accompanied the last of the tatsoi, (cabbage and cauliflower will go in the empty rows) sautéed, and wok-seared tofu in a hybrid tahini-guacamole sauce: tahini, avocado, lemon and lime juice, truffle and olive oils, and salt. A few black sesame seeds, garden cilantro, and the rest of the scallion to garnish, and another Marques de Cáceres Rioja rosé hastily chilled in the freezer later we were happy and feeling much healthier.

Havin’ a Meatwave

A de rigueur trip to the farmer’s market was different in one notable way this time around: we bought no vegetables. Our garden provided salad and cooking greens, plus herbs and radishes to last the weekend, so all we needed was cheese, jam, bread, snacks to get us through the market, and of course some of Pascal’s mighty sausages. He has recently reopened in a new location, and his charcuterie is as good as ever. We bought the duck crepinettes, plus merguez and pork with cabbage and bacon, and threw them on the grill. I chopped the mixture of greens we brought- chard, radicchio, endive, tatsoi, and spinach- and gave them a quick sautée with garlic and lemon while some couscous cooked. Served on a big platter, with a decanted 1998 Beaucastel CDP, it was a simple yet sublime late Spring meal.

Vermont Weekend

We arrived later than planned, so a quick dinner was required. 4 chicken legs, only partially defrosted, went in the big enamel pan with oil and onion to caramelize a little bit. Then wine to deglaze, and Japanese yam, carrot, zucchini, grape tomato, a quartered lemon, and a mix of Moroccan spices followed by enough water to safely leave it alone to simmer for about 45 minutes. Normally I would have added everything at different times so all was perfect, but this way it attained a certain stewy charm and was dead easy. To celebrate our arrival, and my organizing of the cellar, we opened a 2003 Thackrey Andromeda, which remains a gorgeous paradox; it beats every other California pinot we put it up against, and yet seems to taste hardly at all like pinot noir- it just tastes like Thackrey. It’s also a well-documented fact (and not just by me) that ladies LOVE the Andromeda.

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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