Thursday, August 23, 2012

Olga's Garden

Since Olga began her garden as few pots of herbs and tomatoes on her kitchen porch, I've been chronicling its growth here on Concrete Magnolia.  Follow her journey's beginning with a post on Where the Green Things Grow and posts here, here, and here on the garden's rebirth every spring and summer. Below are the latest photos from Olga's garden, a bonafide Eden in the heart of Albany.

This was the year of the root vegetable. Onions, garlic and delicate new potatoes were the stars.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Taste of Jamaica

Descriptions from right to left 
I'm just in from a week spent on the island of Jamaica visiting some of my family. Every trips results in some version of a culinary awakening. This year I was more eager to taste and explore and the island did not disappoint.  Here is a "taste" of Jamaica from our trip this year. 

Sprats: We bought these tiny oil fish at the market from a fishmonger that cleaned them for us. They are rinsed and rubbed with a streak of salt and pepper and fried till crisp. 

Jimbiling: Or West Indian Gooseberries. These bright green fruit grow on the trunk of a relatively small and delicate tree and are by far the tartest food I have ever encountered. They are used to make an equally tart sauce and are occasionally eaten raw with a generous sprinkle of salt. 

Snapper & Festival: This is beach food. The red snapper is caught and soaked in the ocean water to season, then shallow fried in oil. Festival is sugar-sweetened dough fried till golden. It's served with the snapper and escovitch – a simple sauce of white vinegar, onions, minced garlic and fiery scotch bonnet peppers. We ate this after the full moon trip to Hellshire Beach. I am sad to report there was not a mermaid in sight. 

Sugar Cane: My Uncle Derick harvested a piece of sugar cane from the front of the yard and broke it into pieces for everyone to eat. You chew the dense, fibrous cane until all the sugar is gone.

Fried Sprats: The finished product is surprisingly crunchy but you have to watch out for the little bones while eating these. My uncle says you have to eat fish in silence, because talking makes people careless about the bones. We ate these with a vinegary hot sauce and hard dough bread.

Festival: Unlike dumplings, festival is shaped into long, oblong forms. It's traditionally served with fish. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Nutmeg & Tea with my Father

When I was living with my parents my father would make me tea in the morning.  He’d ask if I would like nutmeg in it the way he took his. I’d always say yes and then, because I had always assumed them similar – even complimentary, I would ask him to add cinnamon as well. 

My father’s head would jerk towards me. “No ” he’d say with a touch of indignation. “You can’t have both.” His tone implying a sort of obvious knowledge about these two spices I was meant to have already developed.

I’d chirp back, telling him I wanted only the nutmeg then because no matter how many times I had the spice I still couldn’t describe it, so every taste was a fruitless search for the words to describe its taste. Also, my father took nutmeg in his own tea, and I was pleasantly happy to follow suit. He’d reach for the glass vial that contained the whole nutmeg and the small grater he kept nearby in a little bowl all its own. He’d shave a few strokes of the small fragrant spice into both of our teas. The little grated flecks would float on the surface, full of tension, never fully mixing into the hot liquid no matter how vigorously you stirred it. When you drink tea made this way, it's the nutmeg you always smell first.

When I am home with my father, and he asks me to make tea, I brew it until it’s impossibly strong but never bitter. Then I add the cream and sugar I know he likes so much, even under the judging eyes of my mother, until it reaches a creamy tan color I know to be right. I add the sugar and take a sip to see if it is sweet enough. He likes his black tea with cream and a little sugar, but always less sugar than I remember, so mostly I make his tea too sweet but even if he comments on this, I am never made to take it back to fix. 

My father and I are the only two who use nutmeg in my house. Solidarity is shared over this spice. I know to reach for the vile of whole nutmeg from the corner of the counter near the front left of the stove, tucked near the canisters of wooden spoons where it has always been stored since we’ve lived in this house. I am careful to select a piece that isn’t too small, but never whole. I never felt comfortable being the first to grate a new nutmeg. It always seemed to be the responsibility of my father and I am content to keep it that way.  I grate the tiny nut until the whole top layer of the tea was covered with a fragrant dusting of spice and bring it to my father. He tastes the tea, murmurs that it was “nice”— the ultimate approval — and says thank you as he settles himself to sit a bit taller in his seat. Then he tells me to bring my own tea to come sit next to him as he listens to the radio on the front porch. I bring my tea made in the same way, with less nutmeg, and only a tiny bit more sugar and sit next to him to listen to public radio, gossiping about the hosts, or a story and I think to myself as I sip my tea, how nice things are when they come full circle. 

Apricots & Chocolate

I really like to eat them together. Alternating between a nibble of dark chocolate and a bite of apricot. This little performance can go on for hours. 

Nibble, bite, nibble, bite....

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Strawberry Basil Ice Cream

Strawberry picking at Verril Farms this past weekend lead to ice cream making. The fruits of our labor  is Strawberry Basil Ice Cream, a treat that captures the essence of sun-ripened berries & sweet basil so perfectly you'll rethink that time you said you "exhausted yourself" with the number of strawberries you've been eating. Find the recipe and a great video on how to put it all together on how2heroes.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Radish Carpaccio

Here's to the radish, the jewel-toned gems we find buried in the dirt. Here's to their unassuming peppery bite, their translucent crisp flesh, their pungent smell and bushy green leaves. Pick the most colorful bunch. Slice them as thin as you can manage. Add a generous pinch of salt, a squeeze of lemon, and sit down to a humble mosaic of delicious proportions. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Farro & Cherries

It seems I'm becoming obsessed with fruit as it comes into season falling from the trees and vines, hopefully on its own accord. First it was strawberries, which I can't say I'm completely over, and now it's cherries.  I nibbled my way through a pound in two days. I did manage to turn a cup or so into a dish that is less likely to stain your lips and fingertips with their deep ruby juices.  It also made me quite aware of how necessary a cherry pitter is at a certain point in life.

Warm Farro Salad w/ Cherries & Gruyère
1 cup farro
1 ¼ cup chicken broth or water
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt + more to taste
Gruyere cheese to taste
1 cup cherries, pitted & halved
½ lemon, juiced
½ lime, juiced & zested
mint, finely chopped

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and stir. Once the garlic begins to sizzle add the farro to the pan, turn the heat to low and stir until the farro has been coated, about 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring the chicken broth or water and salt to a boil. Increase the heat of the farro to high and add the boiling liquid. Bring the farro to a boil, then cover and simmer, stirring occasionally.  Farro is done when all the liquid has evaporated and the grains are tender, about 20 minutes. While still warm add Gruyere cheese to taste and mix to combine. Next add the cherries, lemon & lime juice, the zest of the lime, salt to taste and chopped mint. Enjoy warm.


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Concrete Magnolia is the evolving anthology of my life; which almost always finds its way back to food.