Thursday, April 16, 2015

The waiting game

All that is left of the daffodils are its slender flat leaves. Pink, red, purple and white azaleas are just past their peak. The lettuce and radishes are still a week or two from harvest. Nascent green specks are uniformly taking root in the garden. But my cupboard is bare.

These weeks from last frost to first harvest are emotionally trying. I long for the profusion of summer’s largess and the variety I crave and the ease in obtaining it. Yes, ramps, fiddleheads and asparagus excite me to dizziness; their flirtation in the kitchen is short lived (and, in part that is why I love them so, they never overstay their welcome). The jar of pickled ramp stems will garnish Blood Mary’s and pulled pork sandwiches latter this summer in all probability. I am by no means ungrateful for their return, but their presence just heightens my desire to move it along.
I am ready now, to be overwhelmed by the day’s haul of zucchini and cucumber, and babysit a maturing watermelon in order not to grab it too soon. I get like this every year at this time – chomping at the bit for the full expression of summer.  

While I seem to display very little patience with Mother Nature it is my childlike enthusiasm for foods coated in dirt from the yard and farmer’s markets buzzing, just hours after the sun has risen, cures me of any culinary block/rut I might be experiencing; waiting is the only option. In the meantime, my freezer needs to be fully depleted of the vacuum-sealed bags that got put into suspension late-last summer into the autumn. There are enough tomatoes, sun-dried zucchinis, black-eyed peas and husk tomatoes to keep me busy until the red, purple and white shoulders of the radishes displace the soil out in the yard.

Husk Tomato Tea Cake – yields 10-inch cake
1-pound husk tomatoes (fresh or frozen)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1-cup sugar
4 eggs
½-cup sweetened condensed milk
1-tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1¼-teaspoon baking powder
⅛-teaspoon salt

Buttered and flour a 10-inch cake pan.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a standing mixer mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

In another bowl beat the eggs, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla together to combine.

In a separate bowl sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Then on a low speed add the flour to the butter mixture. Once the flour has been added to the butter pour in the egg mixture, and mix well.

Place the husk tomatoes on the bottom of the cake pan, and pour over the batter. Bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely before un-molding.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

a helping mouthful

I don’t consider myself a novice garden any longer, perhaps more of a journeyman at this point. I have a few years of successfully germinating seeds and getting them to supply me with enough to work. I don’t believe I have had to purchase tinned tomatoes in almost five years. Though this is the first year, after trying for several, that I actually have ready a sufficient amount of compost. The house we bought last year came with a compost heap, and all last summer it was fed kitchen scraps, grass clippings and countless eggshells, which gets company everyday. The contractor who was renovating the kitchen tried to convince me to install a disposal – Are you crazy, and lose all those vital nutrients.

Now, this is the largest mound I have had to tend it to date. And, I will confess it was not turned with any frequency. So, finally the other day, after which I hope was the last frost, I climb into the rotted mass and started pitching. Skimming the top to one side I discovered moist, dirt. This dovetails perfectly with my present need. During the winter fair amount of trees got cut down around area that was once used for a garden. The hope is to remove the shading canopy over the plot. Given the profusion of mint in the area I know something is going to grown there, and I also recognize that I have a few years ahead of me in trying to get rid of the mint. I like to sink my mint in a large pot in the ground just to thwart its meandering nature. The spearmint that got planted in another garden spot has in informed me, that a container will not always stop the march of this determined herb.

Not only am I tracking its roots to the nodes, and beyond, I am digging up wheel-barrel full of tree roots that have moved in deep within the soil. All winter long, when the weather allowed, I went out digging up sections knowing, hoping spring will come. As I started finishing up my churning of the earth ready for one last push, the incorporation of that massive pile of compost I have discovered that this plot of ground is flush with earthworms. What a great sign for this rebirthed garden. Earthworms consume decaying matter and aerate the soil something I definitely want in the hard clay base I live on. I was ever so vigilant to make sure that I covered them up after uncovering them. I mean I love the fact that a pair of Blue Birds has decided to make a home in the birdhouse, but I will not intentionally share my earthworms with them. So, after discovering I had a very alive piece of land and squishing countless lavas between my fingers I am anxious to see how well things thrive in this new land I will be tending. The hardest part is not the backbreaking shoveling on the dirt, but rather, the waiting.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Taste of Peace

I am have been craving falafel. It is not like an anticipated hunkering for pizza, which was the foundation of my juvenile food pyramid. I do not remember having falafel until I was eighteen on my first big adventure. It had to be the messaging I got for watching the Israeli prime minister address Congress in the weeks leading up his national election, and all the post election analysis. I have always been fond of the foods and flavors of the Middle East, and made regular forays into Brooklyn to sample mezze plates of Syrian, Lebanese and Egyptian restaurateurs who set up in the borough.

I was raised to be a Zionist (what a disappointment I turned out to be), and every year the synagogue we affiliated with held an annual drive to plant trees in Israel – I still don’t understand that one. And, the Passover Haggadah, which celebrates liberation and freedom closed with the proclamation, “Next year in Israel.” I was well schooled in our ancient, and more recent history, and living in the New York area it was frequently impressed upon me that our people are only about 3% of US population. So, we are in fact a minority, and should therefore embrace all the other minorities that made up the US. Isn’t there strength in numbers?

I always viewed the people of the Muslim faith as a first cousin. Our stories started in the same part of the world; the opening chapters of our scared books share a plot line until that horrid family dinner when two brothers quarreled. Never again has the family sat together to break bread. Yet, as I have dined in restaurants and in friend’s homes of various Middle Eastern backgrounds there is great commonality to the meal. I could not trace back when my family followed the diaspora out of the Middle East into northern Europe, and subsequently the US but the mezze table, in my own family, can be seen in the array of pickles, chilled radishes and celery stalks along with chopped liver that ran down the length of our dining room table. Dinner at an Assyrian friend’s the table was crowded with herbs, cubed feta, pickled beets amongst other nibbles that I immediately understand. You may go into a church, mosque, temple or dance rhythmically to the changes of the seasons in order to connect to an idea greater than ourselves. We can all recognize the divinity in the labor and love in a meal laid out, and offer up. Perhaps, it is time we started going to dinner together again and talk just of the quality of the pita bread; the creamy, smokiness of the hummus or, the magical lift a bit of anise hyssop adds to a za’atar blend. 

As the vernal equinox descends lets celebration more than the liberation from winter’s grip but that fact we are one people in a multitude of incarnations with a hunger to feed our souls and our families.  Invited a cousin to dinner this season.

Falafel – yeilds 12pieces
1-cup dried chickpeas
1-teaspoon ground cumin
1-teaspoon ground coriander
½-teaspoon ground anise seed
1-teaspoon ground black pepper
3 scallions – roughly chopped
2- garlic cloves – roughly chopped
½-cup cilantro – roughly chopped
1-tablespoon salt
¼-cup chickpea flour
1½-cup oil for frying

Soak the chickpeas in 4-cups of water for 14 to 16 hours, at room temperature.

Drain the chickpeas through a sieve, and then rinse the chickpeas. Transfer the soaked chickpeas to the bowl of a food process, fitted with the steel blade. Add the cumin, coriander, anise seed, black pepper, scallions, garlic cloves, cilantro and salt.

Process the chickpea mixture until well brokendown, not so much so that it becomes a creamy, smooth paste.

Transefer the chickpea mixture to a work bowl and incorporatre the chickpea flour. Let the mixture rest at room temperature for an hour or two.

Form the chickpea mixture into 12 balls, which will be slighlty smaller then a golf ball.

Heat the oil in a wok to 325 degrees. If you don’t have a candy/frying thermometer use the dool end of a wooden spoon – inserted in the heat oil the oil will immediately start to bubble around it.

Gently place 6 of the falafels into the oil, and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, until crisp and dark golden. Remove to paper line plate to drain. Fry the remaining 6 falafels. Serve warm with pita bread and Tahini Sauce.