A Momentary Lapse Of Season

It’s been cold for so long that I forgot what an astonishing difference good weather can make to my level of inspiration. Tuesday was glorious: warm, sunny, smelling of spring—everything I needed to get my own sap flowing. Also, the happy arrival of some new vessels for eating and drinking helped thaw my previously frozen kitchen mojo; besides the box of my grandfather’s glasses that I finally unpacked, I brought a few pieces home from the pottery studio. I make ceramics to inspire me to cook better, and they do, and this batch worked perfectly.

I sometimes make a green papaya salad but using sweet potatoes instead of green papayas: the same dressing and seasonings, but thin curls of orange spud spun on the rotary slicer. It’s good. Try it. This time around I grated it instead, thinking to mess with the different texture and see what happened. I tossed a little salt in the bowl and kneaded the result for a bit to release a bunch of liquid, then wrung it out hard in a towel to dry it. The soft, pulpy texture changed to a firmer but not crumbly consistency that I then dressed with cider vinegar, fish sauce, black pepper, sesame oil, olive oil, grated garlic and ginger, clementine juice (left from making that cocktail) and then fat handfuls of chopped scallion and cilantro. A few toasted sesame seeds on top did no harm.

It looked so much like salmon tartare that I decided to roll it into balls and serve it in butter lettuce leaves. It suited the warm sunshine, and allowed the sticky balls to become finger food. Which, you know, some people enjoy.

The next course was a risotto made using yogurt whey instead of broth, and then beating in a roasted and puréed acorn squash towards the end. This set up a nice sweet/sour dichotomy that I further enhanced with a garnish of well-caramelized onions into which I stirred a big spoonful of some kumquat-absinthe mostarda that I made a few days ago. Besides the fruit and booze, it also has some lemon peel, clementine juice, maple syrup, mustard oil, and a healthy dose of funky fermented Chinese hot pepper sauce. Think spicy marmalade with a sinusy finish. It wins hard on a variety of different platforms.

It pulled both the sweetness of the squash and the acidity of the whey from the shadows and made them dance out in the open. Like dinner is supposed to.

There’s a little pitcher that sort of goes with the bowl. I imagine it holding broth for a fancier presentation than this one or maybe just milk for oatmeal. It was a cylinder that got away from me on the wheel; I coaxed the very uneven top into a nice pouring spout, and made two dents in the side for gripping it. It cleaned up decently during trimming, so I kept it. While I’m sick of the snow, it makes a nice background for the bluestone wall where I have been known to take pictures of ceramics and occasional al fresco dinners.

I like the way they nest. OK, show and tell is over. It was ten degrees outside when I woke up, so I’m uninspired again and need to go throw more bowls.

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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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