What I Didn’t Do On My Summer Vacation

Cook, that is. Christine is in the city for a week so I’m making next to nothing, letting the garden and Milo determine what I have to do. Tonight he had black beans (canned, to my chagrin) plus leftover sweet potato and fresh endive mash which he loves and eats by the handful out of the suribachi while I try to make it. I had tofu tossed with most of the above and some quinoa and pickles. Tomorrow, probably pasta with pesto and salad. I want to make bread, but it’s stinking hot (although the nights are cool and perfect.) I’m not even drinking much wine. It’s like vacation in Bizarro World- in that I’m not actually on vacation- but it’s nice to not cook much for a while and just coast.

Chops

As I mentioned yesterday, our 1976 Clos des Mouches was cooked, so today I marinated pork chops in it with garlic, herbs, salt, 5-spice, and a pinch of brown sugar. They went on the grill after a sliced zucchini got a nice char (I don’t grill veggies with oil any more; the flare-ups are carcinogenic) and then got tossed in oil, salt, and thyme. I also steamed a sweet potato and made an endive mash. Given the once-in-a-lifetime luxury marinade, I opened the other one, figuring I’d make a reduction for a sauce, but it was lovely, subtle, and still fruity and tart. Amazing. Considering I got these for 20 bucks a piece, it’s not surprising that some of them are bad, and it’s like found money when they’re good.

Dessert was a big yellow watermelon:

It’s so easy being green

Liz had yet another dinner party, and I had a hankering to make paté again. So as before, ground pork, rendered bacon fat and the bacon plus spices, garlic, and this time cream, Calvados, and stale bread went in a terrine and into the oven. For some reason it broke- the fat separated out- so once cooled a tiny bit I puréed it all back together again and pressed it in the fridge for four hours. It worked really well, becoming basically rillettes, and the key was to let the food processor really go at it for quite a while, which obliterated the crispy lardons and pink peppercorns I had added, but made it very creamy and smooth, with no grainy aftertaste. Unmolded (I lined the pan with parchment to make it easy) onto nasturtium leaves with a side of pickles, it made for a decadent appetizer.

For dinner, everyone’s gardens contributed an emphatically color-coordinated array of dishes. David and Judy brought a huge slab of halibut from the city, John made shiso pesto for the fish, green mash, a green bean-butter sauce for Liz’s potatoes, and braised zucchini. We brought an enormous green oak-leaf lettuce that fed 12 people, and Liz made shredded pan di zucchero with pine nuts. We drank a White Barn “rosé” which is made, per the winemaker’s instructions, by mixing one bottle of his grenache with one bottle of his viognier (it’s tangy, complex, and insane) followed by 3 bottles of 1976 Drouhin: 2 delicious Clos de Vougeot and a sadly exhausted Clos des Mouches (I’m going to use it to marinate pork chops this weekend), a 2000 Aquila sangiovese, and a 1985 Chianti that I forget the name of. Dessert was 2 crazy vegan pies Liz made, vegan chocolate-cashew pudding I froze in the ice cream maker, and some local gelato from the new place in town.

Pickles

Here’s a quick shot of the crock (note the trough around the lip for water to seal it) and the resulting giardinera; everything but the salt is from the garden and they’re tangy, crunchy, and delicious. We’ve given away or eaten all but one jar, so in a couple of days it’s going to be time for round two. There is nothing they don’t complement and enhance, and they’re as healthy as food gets.

Open Source Cuisine

Some dishes are pretty sacrosanct; the lack of even one ingredient will cause me to change plans since it’s not worth it. Others are more malleable by nature, or I haven’t yet honed my understanding of the definitive version (relatively speaking, of course) and so I feel license to experiment. In this case, Ma Po Tofu, which we love, gets done differently every time as long as pork, tofu, and peas around- although I did make a version of this plenty often during my 18 years as a vegetarian. In this case, the pork was leftover paté mixture that didn’t fit in the terrine, and thus already seasoned. The peas couldn’t have been fresher, since Milo and I picked them about 10 minutes before dinner, and the tofu was my favorite- really tangy and rich. With some fresh ginger, Shao Xing rice wine, brown rice vinegar, sesame oil and lime basil to finish, it anchored the other dishes quite well: red quinoa, sautéed galia endive, and Chris’ beet greens and turnips from last week. The beverage to accompany this rich yet healthy feast, and the welcome rain: a 2005 Latour Montagny 1er Cru “La Grand Roche” which worked very well, since as usual I didn’t make it spicy even though I really wanted to.

Rrrrrrribs

First, the carrot ice cream. All the kids came with me to the garden first thing in the morning and we pulled a nice bunch of different colors. Chopped and steamed with a pinch each of Vietnamese 5-spice and cayenne, then puréed, pushed through a tamis, stirred into a nice custard, and then frozen once chilled, the result was a really good accompaniment to the peach tart I made later when everyone was out sightseeing. Next time I will roast the carrots in foil rather than steam them, and use proportionally more; this batch was light on the carrots to keep it kid-friendly.

The rest of the meal was country ribs, with the house rub and house sauce, smoked for a little over 2 hours- less than I like, but good enough for full effect. Also mashed sweet potatoes, escarole with garlic and lemon, and roasted beets. To celebrate their visit, we drank a bottle of Billiot’s Brut Réserve Champagne, my new favorite. Champagne is wine, and his is very good wine, made mostly from pinot noir. Factory Champagne is usually garbage; go grower and taste the difference.

Pesto

Christine’s family is here for the weekend, and we made fresh fettucine with pesto from our basil, using walnuts as well because we were low on pine nuts and Nettle Meadow fromage blanc in place of parmigiano. Ethan, who is 10, rolled out most of the pasta and did a fine job. All the kids were excited to make it from scratch. We had a huge salad, and the sausages that remained from the night before- my Brother came down from Vermont with a huge bag of Pascal’s finest, including rabbit and fig crepinettes that were sublime. We drank a 1997 Tassinaia that had a lot going on, and seemed young at first, but was a little limp by the end. The kids and I went into the garden after dinner to pick carrots for dessert; they each pulled up a different color. Sydney asked to make carrot ice cream. “Tomorrow,” I said.

Nice One

Chris and Sirkka joined us after a nice swim and visit to the store for some fish- tuna and salmon. They brought beets, greens, and cooked turnips, and daikon pickles from their garden. We made a salad from ours. Sirkka quartered the beets and roasted them wrapped in foil; we tossed them in Banyuls vinegar, salt, and a little olive oil. Chris made beet greens in dashi with garlic and chopped cooked turnips. I made Lebanese couscous with peas, mint, shiso and chives, and Nobu-style sashimi from the fish with a hot garlic/sesame oil then sudachi/nama shoyu sauce drizzled over all, and finished with jalapeños on a bed of nasturtium leaves.

Dessert was a creamy Roquefort with a half bottle of Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Rutherglen Muscat- a great pairing that created an ethereal blue-veined panna cotta in the brain.

High-End Junk Food

This actually started in my studio, where I noticed that I need another large tomato can for paint thinner. So I decided to make pasta tonight, but we were out of pasta. Thus a trip to the store, where they have this stuff called cheese, in this case taleggio and the local fromage blanc that can become so very many things. And it was raining today. And so the ingredients spoke, and dinner was penne with a roux-based sauce of taleggio, fromage blanc, white wine, dried tomatoes in oil, many herbs from the garden, and a good dose of truffle oil, plus an epic salad of many leaves and a lovely bottle of 2006 Château de Parenchère Bordeaux clairet. I forgot to add peas. Best of all, no canned tomatoes ended up being harmed during the making of this meal.

Weirdly Cool

I try as much as possible to be open to the confluence of ingredients, influences, and the day in question when making dinner; the best examples of my cooking seem to reflect all three in equal measure and still remain original, nourishing, and yummy. Tonight was a decent example. Our friend Leanne emailed to thank us for the giant zucchini we gave them yesterday and said she had made fritters- latkes of sorts- with potatoes and the squash in question. Remembering John’s soup from a year ago, and having the smoked chicken bones on hand, I thus triangulated a meal I hoped would reflect all of the above plus the wet, cool day and our passage through it.

First, the chicken bones made a lovely, smoky broth. I chopped the zucchini, some garlic, shiso, and cilantro and let them sit until the broth was ready to strain. All then cooked for about 2 hours with a handful of pine nuts until very soft, then the stick blender made a smooth, velvety soup. I had planned to crumble feta on top, and it would have been great, but we’ll have to try it tomorrow since it was rich and creamy enough- especially with a dribble of truffle oil. While the soup was cooking, Yukon gold potatoes and a Chioggia beet, shredded in the food processor, plus an egg and a bit of seasoning became summer latkes, garnished with the last jar of the homemade applesauce from last fall. As we finally enter the blessed period of local fruit, it seemed fitting to use it up and make room for this year’s bounty.

I opened a 2001 Guigal white Hermitage to go with all these subtle yet wide-ranging flavors; it did pretty well but ultimately a riesling might have been better. The soup is a tricky match. Today also saw the planting of cabbage, collards, and turnips in the garden for fall crops.

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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