Tuesday, December 22, 2015

rather a burger

A big gray ghost of a pumpkin has been lurking around this household for several weeks if not months. Foisted on me by my friend, RuthieAnnie, as a doorstop or a centerpiece, it has taken legs and moves from the center of the dining room table to the center of the porch and has even been glimpsed out on the deck. I expect, given time, it would be haunting the beach or down by the ponds.  It was a ghostly jack-o-lantern on Halloween; then, a few weeks ago, I said to my dotter, I think we should celebrate Thanksgiving by breaking open this big, gray squash. Her exultant answer was “Yes”. Turns out, though, that she thought I was talking about shooting it or using a sledgehammer, not making Thanksgiving more difficult by actually butchering and then cooking it. 
Few nights ago I decided to break into it in a civilized manner, if that was even possible. Finally, thinking I might lose a finger or even an arm, and just short of disemboweling myself, I put it in the sink over the drain, to keep it from rolling and to get it down to my level, and with the help of an ice pick, a cleaver, and a hammer, finally extricated two lovely crescents. They were a rich orange, moist but not mushy. Wiping the sweat off my brow, I was pretty proud of myself, still breathing hard while trying to listen to Leo, whom I had not seen all day but who had chosen those moments of physical extremity to talk to me about, oh, I don’t know, something about what to do with the Costa Rican coffee he gets from the Audubon Society: should he freeze it?
Why don’t you just do what you’ve been doing with it for the last year or so, I said. Why are you asking me?
Hurt, he said, “I’m just trying to include you in the decision-making process.”
I give you that it is excellent coffee and I will back you up in whatever decision you make, I said. But, Excuse me, I add, do you not see what I’m dealing with here, this monster I’ve managed to break into?
“Yes,” he says, “I hope you win.”
Well, I’d better, I tell him, because this is dinner. Or, if you want something else, you can order it. I was thinking pizza, of course.
“...order it...,” he muses.
Or scramble it yourself, I mutter, disturbed that my squash butchering heroics have gone under-recognized. I was thinking eggs, of course.
“No, that’s fine with me,” he says. “I’d rather have a hamburger, but...pumpkin’s fine.”
A hamburger! How long have I lived with this man. No matter how good it sounds, deciding to have a hamburger at 6:30 on a Saturday night, without prior thought, is pretty impossible. In the olden days (but even then not on a Saturday evening), having a hamburger would involve no more than dashing up to the locker by 4:55 at least and buying a pound, then grilling it. But those days have been gone a good 5 to 7 years, and now the only hamburger I buy is frozen, from the farm. It needs to be planned on in the morning because it needs to be thawed.
It’s only 6:30, maybe you can get a hamburger from Evie at the Wallingford Deli, I suggest.
“No. No,” he says, holding up a brave, forbearing hand. “Squash it shall be!”
I melted a very good chunk of butter in the cast iron frying pan, placed the squash crescents in the butter, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, added 4 very large whole cloves of garlic with the skin on, a couple of bay leaves, threw over all some sliced shallots, put the top on the pan and put it in the preheated oven. About 400°. Baked it for about 20 minutes, took the pan out, turned the crescents over – they were tender – sprinkled with more salt and pepper, basted with the pan juices, scraped a bit of nutmeg, then drizzled a few drops of maple syrup over, put it back in the oven, uncovered, for another 15 minutes.
In the meantime I garnished two plates with the most exquisite little ruffled leaves of baby kale that I’d got from Josh and Meadow Squire at the Farmers’ Market, then placed a squash crescent on each plate, garnished with a neat creamy scoop of chèvre, poured the pan juices over the whole thing, added the roasted cloves of garlic, and we did, I have to say, feast.
Half way through I said, Oh, look at this, it’s a spaghetti squash. That rich burnished, orange flesh was indeed separating itself into the spaghetti texture, a fact that I don’t see mentioned anywhere in reviews of the squash, which goes by the name of Jarrahdale.

“I noticed that,” said Leo.
I noticed that he was treating those precious roasted cloves of garlic as plate-detritis and I asked him if he knew how to eat them, treating them like artichoke leaves, scraping out that unctuous paste from the husk with his teeth.
Not only could we each not clean up our plates of maybe a tenth of that humongous squash (good thing Dakity dog loves squash), but there the rest of it sits on the counter grinning at me like a mal-formed jack-o-lantern, and after I steam enough for a pumpkin pie, I do believe I know where the rest of it’s going to appear next:  in the compost bin!
One must choose one’s battles in this festive season, and mine will be wrapping presents not exploding pumpkins.
Copying a farmer making her last appearance at this winter’s Farmers’ Market on Saturday, I say to you all,
Happy Everything
And thank you ever so much for reading.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


Up there, near the fork, a little spoonful of smelt caviar to go with my eggs and toast soldiers
Shopping Saturday occurred last weekend – that’s the first Saturday in December, on which my favorite bazaars and Christmas fairs occur, when I get my wreath for the front door, usually at the school Christmas Bazaar, but this year from a selection across the street at St. Patricks church – it was a short walk to bring it home to hang on my front door. Too, that’s the weekend that the Rutland County Farmers’ Market has its holiday fair at College of St. Joseph, and I have to stop by there before or after the Winter Farmers’ Market simply for old times’ sake if nothing else. Remember the years it was held at the Unitarian Church, all the farmers united, so colorful and chaotic? Well, it’s different now but I always find several dear people to catch up with.
I make discoveries, like just how oblivious I can be. I stop to look at the knitted items that Wendy Cijka (pronounced Chicka) of High Pond Goat Farm has for sale. A few years ago I bought a gorgeous black shawl from her for a nice amount of money to be spending on myself with Christmas just around the corner, wrapped it up and put it under the tree. I opened it Christmas morning to my utter delight! This year I emerged from my oblivion an eensie bit to realize that she offers a delicious fresh chèvre made from her goats’ milk. It’s a family operation with her husband, Stephen, son, Joseph, and daughter, Emma. You can find it at Gourmet Provence in Brandon and the Middlebury and Rutland Area Food Co-ops.
I could have eaten the whole container of it, and that in spite of being fresh from the Winter Farmers’ Market, on West Street, where I’d scarfed up quite a large Vietnamese steamed dumpling from Good Karma Kitchen. This was a pale, pillowy thing drizzled with just the right amount of soy sauce and dabbed with the perfect sear of  red pepper. I wish I had one of those right now, but Oh!, I do have some chèvre. Excuse me a moment...
All right, I’m back. I’m a little scattershot today because I had meant to write about butter, as usual, so best to get going on that subject, right? Because butter makes everything better, as does wine, and, come to think of it, egg yolks, especially when there’s a prune filling involved. Damn, the french are good with these things. What other country would dare to boast prunes. I learned of their luxness from my grandmother, who simmered them with a little water then put them into a sauce dish and doused them with fresh heavy cream and ate them for breakfast, delicately slipping the pits back onto the spoon. Now, of course I’d never do that! Would I? Way too lux, wouldn’t you say?
Last August I wrote about clafouti, some of you remember – an eggy, buttery, fruity dessert, somewhere between an omelet and a cake. That set off a round of different versions of clafouti among me and friends, including the one in Larousse  Gastronomique, that was clearly the loser, until finally I tried David Leibovitz’s Far Breton, which in my opinion was clearly the winner, with its prune filling and eggy batter.
Not to mention ease. These sweet things are so simple to make, not what you think of when you think  ‘French’ at all. Shame on you, Julia Child, for inculcating the idea of difficulty in our French food consciousness.
So when I came upon Melissa Clark’s recipe for Gâteau Breton in the New York Times cooking newsletter, I had to make it. Why? Because, usually simply a butter cake from Brittany, this one, along with lots of butter and egg yolks, has a filling aux pruneaux.
Clark mentions a soft, buttery crumb, but I found it had a crisp bite. Both of us thought it resembled shortbread, however. She bakes it for 50 minutes or until golden. Mine was a little browner than golden at 45 minutes. I’d go maybe 40 next time. For prep, factor in the time it takes to chill the dough, about an hour, although I found myself dealing with two hard hunks so I might try not refrigerating them at all next time. I don’t pie crust, which no one can believe.  
I didn’t have superfine sugar so I just put granulated sugar –  with the flour, as it happened – into the blender and processed it fine. Maybe that fine flour made my finished product crisper. I used a tart pan with a removable bottom and didn’t use parchment paper, just buttered it well. I might spray it with pam next time. And then butter it.  And finally, you know, if you don’t have a kitchen scale, think about gifting yourself one. So much easier and much more precise. Mine is a Mira digital, about $17.
Gâteau Breton
adapted from Melissa Clark in the New York Times.  Outrageously easy and so so good.
  • 2 ¼ cups plus 2 1/2 tablespoons/300 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup/200 grams superfine sugar
  • scant teaspoon of flaky sea salt
  • 8 ½ ounces/240 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon), diced, more for buttering the pan
  • 5 plus 1 extra-large egg yolks
  • 16 nice sized pitted prunes
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons water
In a food processor, pulse to combine flour, sugar and salt. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add 5 egg yolks and pulse until mixture comes together as a dough. Divide in half, form into disks, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least 2 hours or until firm.
Meanwhile, in a small pot over medium heat combine prunes, rum and water. Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed (about 5 minutes). Use a fork to mash into a thick purée. Let it cool.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper. Between two sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap, roll one of the dough halves into an 8-inch circle. Transfer dough to prepared cake pan, pressing into edges. Spread prune or apricot purée across dough, leaving 3/4 inch border around outside edge. Roll the second piece of dough into an 8-inch circle, transfer to cake pan, press around outside edge to stick the pieces together and seal in fruit purée.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water and beat lightly. Brush over top of cake, then use a fork to score a crisscross pattern into the dough. Bake until golden brown, about 50 minutes (cover with foil if cake is browning too quickly). Cool in pan 15 minutes. Flip onto a plate, then invert onto a wire rack and let cool completely.
I did not let mine cool completely but sliced it when quite warm into 4 quarters, then cut each quarter into half-inch slices. Half slices of this would fit easily among cookies on a platter.
unfortunately, I did not remember to take a photo of it. It was gorgeous, though. 
I guess that just about covers my food fortnight. Well, I didn’t touch on the caviar I made out of Donna and Hunky’s smelt roe, nor Zoe’s incredible scalloped oysters, nor even Robert’s lovely venison, not to mention the fact that if you do make the Gâteau you’ll have 6 egg whites needing to be made into meringues, but we’re out of space!
Enjoy this holiday season, okay? Relax, and Bon Appétit!