Thursday, October 29, 2009

Twenty years

by June

Today marks two decades since Birch and I stood under a blazing maple in Brooklyn and promised -- in front of family, friends, and little kids biking to Prospect Park -- to share our lives. A courtship sparked when Birch made me a raspberry chocolate mousse cake came full circle in a wedding with a tiered chocolate cake filled with raspberry jam and swirled all over with white-chocolate curls.

Birch has a very good imagination, but I'm sure when we shared our wedding cake he could never have imagined where life with me would take him. He had circumnavigated the globe three times before his ninth birthday, and when I met him, he was living on cosmopolitan 57th Street (in an apartment sublet from his snowbird grammie). For me he gave up that posh (and cheap) sublet to move first to Park Slope and a house in Maine that was so remote we couldn't see other lights at night. We were beyond the reach of newspaper delivery; he had to special order the Sunday Times and drive into the village to pick it up.

It's true that you can take the boy out of the city but you can't take the city out of the boy: When we moved at last into our 1890s house in the dead of winter, and the plumbing was resisting his best efforts to fix it, and he was getting up in the middle of the night to hold the girls over a bucket so they could go tinkle, he let the truth slip out: "I told you I was a condo-in-Boca-with-a-super kind of guy!"

Birch misses our old super, Arvin (but now Birch can rival Arvin in fix-it skill). Birch misses H&H bagels (but we've learned to bake our own amazing bagels). He would give anything to take the subway to Raffetto's for fresh ravioli (but even he would admit that what we make at home is wonderful). Friday nights, he longs for pizza under the Brooklyn Bridge (but he would never have made that wood-fired oven of his very own if he still lived within reach of a New York pie). Creating New York for the homesick is a lot of work, but, hey, at least the Sunday Times shows up right at the end of our driveway now.

On his better days (and what's not better than January in Maine with no working toilet?), Birch embraces our country life. Every day of our marriage, I know our life on the four green acres is his daily gift to me. So it seemed superfluous when, to celebrate our anniversary, he made me one of his chocolate specialties. Not that the cake tasted superfluous. It tasted like it was filled with love. Which it was.

See how pretty it looks on the cake stand
I won in the giveaway at dear Lisa's Cutting Edge of Ordinary!

Here's to decades more, my dear man! Bring on the chocolate...

For the rest of you who might be busy on a special occasion, here's our adaptation of a recipe from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells. She calls it Marie-Claude Gracia's Chocolate Cake. We call it...

Celebration-in-a-Rush Chocolate Cake:

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate (high quality)
2/3 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs, separated (thank you, Littles)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
About 2 teaspoons confectioner's sugar (if you wish)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 1/2 inch springform pan.
2. Combine the chocolate and butter in a glass bowl. Microwave on low until it melts to the point where you can stir it together.
3. Mix in the granulated sugar until it dissolves. Set the mixture aside to cool.
4. Whisk the egg yolks into the chocolate. Whisk in the flour.
5. Beat the egg whites in a large bowl just until they form firm peaks; do not overbeat.
6. Add one-third of the egg whites to the chocolate batter and mix vigorously. Gently fold in the remaining whites. Do this slowly and patiently. Do not overmix, but be sure the mixture is well blended and that no streaks of white remain.
7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is firm and springy, 35 to 40 minutes.
8. Cool on a rack for several hours before unmolding and dusting with confectioner's sugar.

Enjoy with someone you love!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Taking comfort: Ice chips and ginger porridge

By June

We've been laid low by an invisible force. Poor Blossom got us rolling with an overnight trip to the ER, where she was disappointed that the "cat scan" did not involve an actual kitty but relieved that the machine debunked the theory that she needed to have her appendix out immediately. Since it was Saturday night when we arrived, Fern got to observe the behavior of a really belligerent and quite bloody drunk.

Whatever germ had hold of Blossom's tummy was equally as belligerent, and it kept rabble-rousing right through the rest of the family.

We have needed lots of ginger to survive this week. Fortunately, fresh ginger root is something we always have in stock (and something we've been meaning to grow; anybody done that?). Early on, I made a ginger infusion by slicing about two inches of the root into quarter-size rounds, then mashing them a little. I poured boiling water over the ginger, then let it steep. I kept a jar of this elixir in the fridge for easy access.

We used the ginger infusion in several soothing ways, depending on where we each were in the whole nauseating...ahem...process.

Sweetened with maple syrup and thinned with water, we poured it over chipped ice: This homemade ginger ale (without bubbles) was perfect in the most acute stage.

The elixir also transformed into a wonderful ginger-maple-syrup tea if we added boiling water.

Once Blossom and Fern were well enough to want food, I made a big pot of rice congee, which is their most beloved Chinese comfort food. Their tummies were still too tender for much, so I added a little of the ginger infusion to each serving. As they began to recover, they craved a little more substance and flavor. Then, we added a spritz of soy sauce and sesame oil and stirred into the hot porridge a beaten egg that cooked instantly into long noodle-like ribbons.

Congee is a wondrous thing for recovering bodies. We hope nothing invisible visits your home this season, but should it, here's how you can make Basic Congee:

Rinse a cup of short-grain or Arborio rice. Put it in a pot with eight cups of water and bring it to a boil. As soon as it boils, turn it to a very low simmer and cock the lid on a little crookedly so steam vents. Cook for an hour, then add about a teaspoon of salt.

Take comfort.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

First egg from the Littles!

by June

We're not gone. And you're not forgotten. October has caught us up, and we seem to be whirling as dizzily as the bright leaves falling to earth. We have been eating harvest meals and will have recipes to share soon. The outdoor oven is filling the cold air with woodsmoke and our tummies with the most amazing pizza and bread. And our volunteer work is in full swing for the girls' beloved Chinese School.

Until we can check in with details, here's the biggest news. Our Littles are laying at last. Well, one of them is. And since the Bigs (Dottie and Stormy and Lemon Drop) are currently molting and not laying, this has sparked an especially big celebration! But, really, is there anything more perfect and amazing than a first egg? Isn't it as though you've never seen an egg before, never really seen it?

To read all about the big doin's in the hen house, check out Fern's and Blossom's latest adventure...a blog from the point-of-view of their favorite pullet. Rosie the Hip Chick was inspired by This Goat's Life, a darling blog which the girls have spent hours and hours reading (because you know we need a goat) ever since the wonderfully generous Jen at Under the Big Blue Sky told us we had to read it. We did have to read it. And read it. And read it. We hope you'll feel the same way about Rosie's report from our coop by the river. (Remember to read from the bottom up if you want the chronology to work!)

Don't you want to know what's going on behind that amber eye? I do!

Rosie, our family's newest blogger

Monday, October 5, 2009

Savoring the harvest: Heirloom tomato tartlets

by June

Far be it from me to go on and on and on about tomatoes. (I know, I know: I seem obsessed. I tell my daughters that the secret to happiness is wanting what you have. So why don't I heed my own words?) Truly the lovely, juicy orbs have taken up far more space in the blog this year than they have in the garden or in the kitchen. But here's the thing: When we have them, we are happy, and we do our best to honor their presence.

Ruby Gold tomato tartlet

The very best way I've ever found to honor an heirloom tomato (other than sliced and sprinkled generously with huge snowflake crystals of sea salt) is the tomato tartlet.

I take puff pastry and defrost it just enough so that a knife deals with it easily. I cut it in squares or rounds or whatever shape works for the tomato at hand. Then I spread ricotta cheese on the pastry, tear a basil leaf or three over it (thyme is good too), dash on ground black pepper (even red pepper if our spirits are spicy). Then I add a slice of heirloom tomato and some shavings of Parmesan cheese (though not enough to hide the lovely color of the tomato itself). Then I tuck the edges up around the tomato and make it nice and cozy. Then I repeat so I have one for each person around my table.

Into the 425-degree Fahrenheit oven the tartlets go for about ten minutes -- or just until the pastry puffs and crisps to a golden crunchiness. When they come out, I give them another bit of torn basil and some flaky salt.

It creates quite the sensation when dinner begins with each of us sitting down to a tart as bright as a Gauguin painting.

Some of you live in places where heirloom tomatoes are still ripe (or on their way to ripening; hello, Australia!), and some of us live in places where we are already entering what gardener-extraordinaire Daphne calls the season of dreaming: You know how it goes. We sip hot tea and pore over blogs and catalogs to find all the varieties of heirlooms that we might want to grow when the growing is once again good.

When your time comes for dreaming, here are our entries into the parade of heirlooms you might consider. We've already reviewed Moskovich and Ruby Gold, and I just have to add here again that Ruby Gold fought off late blight better than any other variety; she produced. She is very dear to me.

And now the others...

Two different gardening friends insisted I grow Aunt Ruby's German Green tomatoes -- insisted to the point of sending me home with a plant each. Don't tell them, but I would have grown these just for the name. Who doesn't want an Aunt Ruby out in the garden with them? These 'maters are green (a little more yellowish green when they are ripe). Three-quarters of us loved the taste. It was leafy, almost as if you were eating salad greens and a tomato. (One-quarter of us thought it tasted like stinky feet. We are still trying to get her to tell us how she knows what stinky feet taste like.)

Aunt Ruby's German Green, whole and sliced

Abraham Lincoln is my favorite president, and I would have grown a tomato by his name even if it hadn't come recommended by Mildred Armstrong Kalish's grandfather. Have you read Little Heathens? Oh, my! I gave it to my father two Christmases ago with a note saying he would need to send it back to me after he finished reading it because I had dipped into it and couldn't stop but couldn't finish before it was time to wrap it for under the tree. When Grandpa Hickory returned it, he had annotated it with memories from his own childhood. (Did he really think I was going to return it with his hand-written treasures in the margins?)

Abraham Lincoln, in his glory

I don't even remember where on the Internet I tracked down the Abe Lincoln seeds. It was two winters ago, and hail destroyed my first crop last summer. Blight practically did in my second attempt. But I did get a few, enough to know I agree with the Mildred Armstrong Kalish's grandfather: A tomato that lives up to its name!

My great tomato love is Persimmon. The taste is mild and subtle yet deeply complex when conditions conspire for perfection. To me, it is the most beautiful tomato in the world. It should have been called Perfectly Ripe Cantaloupe; that's the most apt description of the color of its melting flesh. It is ethereal. I still cannot believe I can put a seed in a bit of soil and this comes of it. Persimmon is why I garden. I couldn't buy this tomato anywhere. And how could I live without it?

Persimmon, whole and sliced

So dream on these. And do guide me, please, to your favorite heirlooms. I am loyal, but I'm always looking for something that likes Maine weather as much as I do.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

If you were a girl who wanted a goat...

by June

If you were a girl who wanted a goat, a girl (or two) who wanted a goat not a little bit, not mildly, but madly and a lot, you would look forward to the county fair. You would squirrel away quarters all year. And then when the big day would come at last...OH!

You'd rush right past all those whirly-gig rides...right past the deep-fried pretzels and the maple-cotton candy...right past the guy hypnotizing a whole crowd of people. You would beeline for the goats.

Those goats right there with the chickens, don't they look as though they are waiting just for you? Hurry, hurry! And there's the machine with the little nibbly bits that you can buy for only a quarter. And look, you have a handful of quarters, don't you? Wow! Those nibbly bits drive the goats wild. They lick the last crumbs up with their sweet pink tongues. Oh, life is good when it's time for the fair.

When you run out of quarters, you consent to some of that cotton candy. You watch a big guy take off his shirt because the hypnotist tells the big guy that the temperature has climbed to 100 degrees.'ve been wondering about hypnotism and that is pretty fascinating. But, really, the fair is over for you. It's time to get home for supper.

Supper is the time when you can demonstrate how well you learned that new vocabulary word. Not only can you use it in a sentence, you can perform it by the paragraph: to wheedle. You've been wheedling for a while because you want a goat, maybe two (because one goat might be lonely though maybe not because you do have really really friendly chickens to be her friend). You say you'll milk her after you learn how (and luckily the Cottage Comtesse recently posted a how-to). You say you'll hook her up to a little wagon and walk through the neighborhood calling, "Fresh eggs, milk and cheese for sale!"

In fact, you promise to get your little egg business up and running as soon as the pullets start laying. You promise to save all your quarters this year too -- not to buy nibbly bits for the goats at next year's fair. Oh, no. You are going to save your egg money to buy yourself a whole goat, a real cuddly pink-tongued soft soft soft funny little mama goat.

Isn't that right, Blossom and Fern?