Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Think I need help!

 Where have you been all my life? I use to define dirt as the collective soot, dust and urban debris that would collect on my windowsills and moldings. Now, it has become this concoction of earth, aged manure and compost being haul from here and there to fill in freshly turned spots. I am rabid about gardening – I cannot stop myself. And, as we sit in that desperate period of transition before much can be borne from the ground, and the first asparagus and ramps, I find myself grabbing a shovel and digging. A new spot here, it is the future home to cumin. And, new spot over there; expanding into ornamental cuttings with foxglove, larkspur and Gerber daisies. I don’t have much in the way of weeds to pull or plants to nurture so a five-tiered cutting garden has taken form. Unfortunately, the nasturtiums will burn out too quickly in this newly excavated plot – but in my minds eye I see them cascading down a level or two. I do fear that by April I will have completely uprooted the entire yard, and transformed it into a wild English-style garden that has long been the fancy of my imagination.

 I think I will hunt down organic deep red roses, snap dragons, peonies and scented geraniums as they all can be considered culinary as well as decorative. I am trying not to completely lose my focus and want to bring most of what is grown into the kitchen – though there is an on-going discussion about the merits of just pretty in the house. Tinctures, seasoned salts and sugars, libations and vinegars will all benefit from this expanded program not to forget the salads and iced beverages that will brighten the summer table. I just hope I recognize the moment to stop.

Friday, February 24, 2012

My Blank Canvas

The debauchery of Fat Tuesday is behind us. I am not in pain from too much drink and gyrating until dawn. No, rather, I am in pain (mostly my back) from rising with the dawn and grabbing my shovel to prepare some earth. I have a spot that received a heaping load of aged manure, and now that that pile of nutrients have been dispersed about I am left with an unanticipated garden spot. So, I dug, and shook dirt free from invasive grasses and their roots then dug some more.  This unexpected square of prepared earth is going to be home of future sunflowers – I adored their leggy beauty last season, and the cardinals appreciated the feed. Not to mention the add space I now have where I planted them last year. Seed shopping I will go this weekend.

Part of yesterday’s chores was to sow seeds that where frost tolerant, or preferred a cool soil to germinate in. This was a something I learned last year when I planted English peas in late May, a seedling that I bought from a favorite farmer in Union Square. I flew that nascent plant down south to its new home. They took, started to climb and even sprouted delicate, pale lavender/white flowers. A few of the blooms actually set and become pods filled with snuggling peas – then summer’s heat set in putting the kibosh on this springtime treat. Those peas were the most expensive foods I ever ate – I think I got a total of two-dozen peas. That would have been about $20.00 a pea if I amortized the cost of the flight but I was in NYC on other business as well.  They say, live and learn and hopefully don’t repeat the same mistake.  We know new ones are on their way.

As the country has enjoyed a mild winter, and we had only few days where the temperature did not climb above freezing I am feeling cocky and hopeful that those seeds sprout and climb. Can you give up the possibility of frost for Lent? 

Red Bean and Pork Stew – yields 8 servings
2-cups dried kidney beans  
1-1/2 pound boneless pork shoulder – cut into large chunks
½-pound smoked sausage – such as Andouille or Chorizo – cut into 1-inch pieces
3-leeks – cut into 1-inch pieces
4-stalks celery – cut into 1-inch pieces
1-red pepper – seeds discard; cut into 1-inch pieces
2-poblano peppers – seeds discarded; cut into 1-inch pieces
3-medium carrots – peeled; cut into 1-inch pieces
5-garlic cloves – chopped
1 dried chipotle chili
1-tablespoon coriander seed
3 black cardamom
1-teaspoon annatto seed
1-teaspoon cinnamon
5 whole cloves
2-teaspoons cumin seed
28-ounces canned tomato
1 plantain – peeled; cut into 1-inch pieces
1 butternut squash (1-1/2 pounds) peeled and seeds discarded; cut into 1-inch pieces
2-teaspoons salt

Soak the beans in about six cup of water for 8-hours. Drain the beans, and place in a 2 to 3 quart pot and cover with about 8-cups of water. Bring to the boil, and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the beans for an hour. Drain.

Over a high flame heat an 8 to 10 quart pot and add the pork and sausage. Cook the meat until browned, and then remove from the pot into a work bowl. Into the pot add the leeks, celery, red pepper, poblano pepper and carrot, cooking the mix for about 10 to 15 minutes wilt down and lightly brown.

While the vegetables are wilting crush all the spices together. It is fine if it is not a fine powder.

Once the vegetables have cooked mix the spices and garlic. Then add in the reserved pork sausage and beans, and canned tomato plus one cup of water. Lower the heat to medium low and cover. Cook for about an hour.

After an hour add in the butternut squash, plantain and salt. Replace the lid and lower the heat to low. Cook for an additional two hours. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

With my love

That box of chocolates hastily grabbed on the way home, an assortment of rainbow colored macaroons and a vanilla scented candle burning; expectations high.

The cynics decry this day for should we not show
our love everyday, but what is wrong with a moment dedicated to the expression of appreciation? A robin’s egg blue bag is lovely to find perched on the kitchen counter next to your morning coffee as is bouquet of your favorite flower, but for me these synthesized lyrical messages are not necessary. No, what I need is time together.

Love is the collective effort put into something or someone, and is not a purchased feeling and does not have to be manifested with a red laminated heart. I want the sweat of the relation to be the present and not just due to the slick remnant of an embrace (though I would snub that). In ruminating how I wanted to spend our day of recognition I made the request we spend it together building and prepping for the future…in the garden. It may be the dead of winter and every little is growing, but spring will be here tomorrow and life’s bed must be made. So, my gift will be a three-day rental of a 5-horse power roto-tiller, delivery of 12 buckets of aged manure, and me and my partner spending time the days together toiling away and re-committing to the future.

Many may view a whole weekend of rising early and working in the cold not very romantic though for me it is quite the opposite. Sharing life, creating memories and planning for the future is deeply touching to me and reinforces the commitment I am in, not to forget the hope for a bountiful harvest months after the FTS flowers have died and that box of chocolates is still requiring a regular spin class visits to offset that Valentine largess. 

Mango Lobster Salad – yields 4 servings

1-small red onion – thinly sliced
1-lime – juiced (approx 1/3-cup)
1-1/2 pound lobster
1 mango
1 avocado
1/2-cup thinly sliced heart of palm

Bring a wide 6-quart pot filled with water to the boil. Place the lobster in the water and cook for 16 to 18 minutes. Remove from the water, and allow the lobster to cool.

In the interim, toss the sliced onion with the lime juice, and a pinch of salt in a small work bowl, and let it sit at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes.

Peel and slice the mango and avocado into 1/8-inch thick strips.

Next, breakdown the lobster by carefully cracking the lobster’s shells and removing the tail and claw meat. Ideally, you want to remove whole sections of meat. Slice the tail meat into sixths on a slight angle. Slice the claw, as well on an angle, in fourths.

Assemble the salad by placing a ring mold (a tuna can opened on both sides works as well) on the center of the plate. Lay down a layer of avocado, then mango. Fan a layer of lobster meat, and then repeat with the mango and avocado. Top each mold with a layer of heart of palm. Gently remove the mold, and garnish each mold with a bit of the red onion. Drizzle each salad with Mint-Cilantro Dressing (recipe follows).

Mint-Cilantro Sauce – yields approx. 1 cup

1/4-cup soy sauce
2-tablespoon champagne vinegar
1/8-teaspoon fennel seeds
1-teaspoon orange zest
1/2-cup mint leaves
1/4-cup cilantro leaves
4 scallions – green portion only
1/4-cup olive oil
1/8-teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Place all ingredients into the container of a blender, and process until completely smooth. Taste and correct seasoning.