When I lived in Chicago, during my brief stint as an art handler one of my colleagues hipped me to Bari Italian Subs west of downtown. It’s an unassuming deli, with the usual assortment of Italian groceries and a deli in back. The thing that makes it so special, and the reason we would often drive many miles out of our way (on the clock, of course) was their hot giardiniera.
Front yards are overrated. Sure, it’s good to have some grassy space to kick a ball or toss a disc with the kid, but otherwise lawn is a waste of square feet and resources, especially water. Rip out the grass, run a nice fence around it, and build some raised beds, though, and you’ve got yourself a one-stop shop for food, physical activity, neighborly sharing, and epic curb appeal.
I decanted last fall’s vinegar crop over the weekend, and it was a good one. Three kinds, all fully fermented and super sour: straight cider, made from biodynamic apples, cider macerated with sumac for a few days and then strained, and blackcurrant. Half a gallon of each should last us a while. The cloudier bottle of cider was from the bottom of the jar; it has settled now and is quite clear.
Paneer is one of the easiest cheeses to make at home, and it’s superbly rewarding because A) there’s almost no waiting and B) if you live, say, in an area that has no good South Asian restaurants, you can make yourself a steaming bowl of saag paneer whenever the urge strikes. And you can make a lot of it, because as we all know Indian food is even better the next morning for breakfast.
Espelette peppers, named for the town in Basque France that made them famous, are a unique food. Dried and ground, they have a particular aromatic quality: earthy and yet bright at the same time, with a fairly gentle but insistent heat that represents (in general, based on my own anecdotal experience) the upper limit of most French palates’ tolerance for spiciness. The great hams of Bayonne are cured with copious pepper, and it gives them a gorgeous flavor and tint. It’s not really a cooking spice, but rather a finishing one, especially given how much money a small jar commands. A pinch sprinkled on top of fish, chicken, or potatoes (or a hundred other things) adds an irresistible trebly zing and a not insignificant coloristic bump.
For the last entry in this here contest, I received a bag of clams (already cooked and eaten here) and some ground lamb. Half the ground lamb became the kofta from a few posts ago, and the rest was the basis for this extremely gratifying dinner: 100% homemade gyros.
As regular readers know, I’m a fan of from-scratch standards (often sandwiches, for some reason) as an ideal format for drilling down into the essence of food while following it up the supply chain as far as possible. It helps me understand cooking better. More often than not it also tastes really fucking good, so there’s also that. In this instance, to celebrate the ninth anniversary of our fun summer wedding (we had the legal one the previous December while my Mother was still alive), I prepared what was by any measure a simple meal. But it technically took seven months to make it.
We were in Vermont for a few days over Spring Break, during which time we visited Taylor Farm, as we always do when we’re up there. In addition to their excellent Gouda–their aged is my favorite–they also sell raw milk, and sometimes cream. For whatever reason, Milo got it into his head that he was going to make butter, so he did. I guided him through the process, but the work was all his doing. I’m all about better living though child labor.