rotten garbage redux

Posted in Uncategorized on 02.27.13 by nnista

2.26.13

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I have not posted here in an embarrassing amount of time. Mortifying, really. 2 plus years, during which much has happened. Children have grown–there are no more babies in my house, just little boys. And my house is just that–an actual house. After 14 years we left New York City last summer and moved as far into the northern reaches of Westchester County as we could go.

It’s a lovely place. A place where I have been able to do a lot of cooking, and to begin to attempt a long-held dream of having a kitchen garden. I am completely novice. I kill house plants as a matter of course. And yet I am determined to grow vegetables in my hilly little yard this summer.

Step one is to make some compost. A little silver Oscar the Grouch can arrived in the mail today and is now living in the corner of the kitchen counter by the cooking utensils. It has its first batch of banana peels and coffee grounds and onion skins from today. And, as my sister-in-law said this weekend, I am all excited about rotting garbage.

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how can i miss you if you never go away?

Posted in Uncategorized on 09.08.10 by nnista

Ah, it’s a nostalgic day. Yesterday was Labor Day, still summer, Jones Beach: sand castles and hot sun and big waves; one last ice cream in the car on the ride back in to the city. Tomorrow is the first first day of school for the first baby: still my baby but not really a baby anymore. I’m aware that life is, and will be, and always has been a series of these moments, and I usually try not to get weepy, but rather just recognize, appreciate, and make something good to eat in celebration. Honestly, without the transitions, would everything else in life be as sweet? I’m certain August tomatoes would not taste as good if i could get them in February. I’ve never wanted to live anywhere that didn’t have 4 distinct seasons, at least not for any real length of time. I’m acutely aware that all the little details of life feel more lovely when they come and go. So our summer in Maine came to an end a little over a week ago. It was hard to leave, but now that we’re back at home in New York I am looking forward to every new thing coming our way with the kind of excitement and anticipation that can only exist in September. This is maybe a holdover from those long gone back-to-school days when I was a kid, and also precisely why it has always been my favorite month. So many good things to come.

But before I get too far ahead, there’s some unfinished business from the summer:

1. Those blackberries & blueberries.

The blackberries kept coming at the edge of my mom’s yard right up until our last week there. I spent so many cool Maine mornings after breakfast shredding my arms and legs picking them while my younger son crawled around in the grass (yet another change: he started walking only days before we left). Before the wild blueberries disappeared from the markets I made one more lazy man’s dessert (which again passed for breakfast with a hot cup of coffee one day, and got my berry-phobic 4-year-old to eat large amounts of the stuff, with minimal sugar added).

Black & Blue Turnovers

Defrost 1 package frozen store bought pastry dough according to package directions. Mix rinsed & drained blackberries & wild blueberries (about one pint wild blueberries to 2.5 cups blackberries) in a mixing bowl. Add the zest of one lemon, and sugar to taste. On a well-floured surface, roll out each sheet of pastry dough to roughly standard cookie sheet proportions. Cut into equal quarters. Place roughly 2.5 Tbsp of the berry mixture into the center of each dough square, folding the dough over and matching the edges around the filling. Press edges closed with a fork. Brush the top of each turnover with a beaten egg, and dust with turbinado sugar. Slice 2 small ventilation holes in the top of the turnover. Bake in a 375 degree oven for roughly 20 minutes, or until tops have browned, pastry has puffed, and fruit filling is bubbling.

2. Summer Birthdays

Both my mother and husband celebrated milestone birthdays this summer, and I spent some time at the stove for both of them. Keeping in the Maine theme (and still using up those berries) I made this Blueberry Hill Cake for my mother’s birthday in August. I split the batter among two layer cake pans for the cake and just doubled the frosting.

For her birthday dinner I made this Marcella Hazan Pork in Milk recipe I first saw on my friend Jenny’s amazing blog, Dinner: A Love Story. (I should take the opportunity to mention that it was Jenny who first inspired me to start this blog, incomplete and disorganized as it is in comparison). I served it with a Simple Corn Tomato Basil salad and roast fingerling potatoes with fresh rosemary, roasted garlic, and lots of olive oil, salt and pepper.

For K’s birthday I broke my cardinal rule of always baking for family from scratch on their birthdays (the return-to-Brooklyn week chaos got the best of me), and went to Baked in Red Hook for some Sweet & Salty cupcakes. Skipping the baking allowed me to focus on the main course, though, so I locked the kids in their room for a few minutes, humanely dispatched a few lobsters on my kitchen table, and put together Barefoot Contessa’s Lobster Corn Chowder. It took most of the day, but with a simple heirloom tomato salad, some homemade garlic bread and an Ommegang Hennepin, it was a solid birthday feast. He almost didn’t notice the bakery box.

3. Nunan’s

There’s more to life than blueberries, lobster & tomatoes, just not much more to my life sometimes. Every year since I can remember we’ve gone (at least for the day, and when I was a child sometimes as long as a week) to Cape Porpoise, Maine, and our favorite Goose Rocks Beach. After a day on the beach we always have dinner at Nunan’s Lobster Hut, and I don’t think there could possibly exist a purer setting in which to eat Maine lobster (except maybe on the beach, but unless you’re up for digging a pit and hauling seaweed, this is about as good as it gets). The place looks impossibly tiny from the front, with stacks of traps behind the parking lot (I found out after graduation that one of the Nunan boys went to Syracuse with me…which is probably good because I may have tried to marry him and then never met K), but the building stretches straight back into the marsh on stilts. The tables have raised edges and there are sinks with rolls of paper towels in the dining area: the only sort of ambiance a serious shellfish eater needs. Always, always a giant plate of steamers to start. Always the double lobster dinner (with drawn butter, a little bag of Lay’s potato chips, some dill pickle chips, and a roll with butter). Always a local beer (Geary’s, Allagash White), always wild blueberry pie for dessert (although this year we tried the cobbler, which was pretty great, too). Always the best meal of the year. And just that much sweeter because it only comes once.

simplest summer pasta

Posted in Uncategorized on 08.16.10 by nnista

It doesn’t get much easier than this pasta dish that my husband started making a few years ago. Perfect for a summer night when you’re feeling lazy or pressed for time, or just want to use up the cherry tomatoes in your garden. Boil the pasta until al dente (we like penne or ziti). Rub the inside of the serving bowl with the cut edge of a fresh garlic clove. Toss hot pasta in bowl with halved cherry tomatoes, torn fresh basil, plenty of olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh mozzarella (this time we used the tiny “pearl”-sized bocconcini, which were great, and eliminated a step in tearing or chopping the mozzarella). Good leftover as a room temp salad the next day at the beach.

cornbread, just because

Posted in Uncategorized on 08.16.10 by nnista

In theory I love cornbread. In practice, not always so much. It can be pretty dry and tasteless sometimes. But I found this nice Skillet Cornbread recipe from Gourmet when I needed to bring some to my dad’s for a chili dinner, and it was simple and delicious. I like to brown the butter, add 2 or 3 ears worth of fresh corn kernels cut from the cob into the batter, and double the sugar (I used turbinado for a little bit of crunch). Perfect, and a good use for leftover corn on the cob this time of year.

a cook’s dozen (#5)

Posted in Uncategorized on 08.16.10 by nnista

#5: Spinach Egg Loaf

This recipe came into our family from a wonderful woman named Frances Reicken, who owns a house on Kezar Lake in my hometown where she spends her summers. When I was a high school student I wrote an article on Frances and her gorgeous and extremely unique pottery for the local newspaper. I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with her learning about her techniques and watching her prepare pots for the large kiln built in her backyard. Frances is probably in her eighties or maybe even nineties now, I haven’t seen her for years. The few pieces of her pottery that I own are among my most treasured possessions. Along with her pots she often included a recipe, and this particular bowl, or “loafing pan” as she calls it, of which my mother and I each own a version (my mother’s is pictured here), came with a recipe for Spinach Egg Loaf. It’s a sort of crustless quiche, and is fantastic for brunch (I’ve tripled the recipe and made it in a lasagne pan for a brunch party) or also for dinner, served with a long grain white rice.

Franny Reicken’s Spinach Egg Loaf

1 large white onion, minced

2 Tbsp butter

3 large eggs, scrambled

1 10 oz package fresh spinach

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

1/2 cup large curd cottage cheese

coarse salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat the butter in the loafing pan or baking dish on the stovetop. Add minced onion and cook until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add spinach and cook just until wilted. While onion is cooking, scramble eggs in a medium mixing bowl. Add mozzarella and cottage cheese to the eggs and mix lightly. Toss with spinach/onion mixture in your baking dish. Add salt & pepper to taste. Bake for 30 minutes or until egg mixture is set. Serves 4.

black & blue

Posted in Uncategorized on 08.16.10 by nnista

Wild berry picking is an oddly satisfying activity to me. I can do it for hours until my back is aching and my arms and legs are torn to shreds. We’ve often hiked Blueberry Ridge near my mother’s house, in the summers. The steep but quick climb is rewarded with nearly 360 degree views of the mountains and lakes and, if you time it just right, carpets of wild blueberries. This year, unfortunately, we missed the high season on the mountain, so I’ve been buying them. Luckily the local farmer’s markets have had a decent supply. But even more luckily, the blackberry bushes in my mother’s yard have exploded, keeping a constant supply for breakfast and desserts, and the odd picking expedition any time of day. We literally have to keep up with them; every few days or so there is enough to make a dessert. I really like to make a crisp with wild berries. It takes no time at all and I usually have everything I need in the house without planning ahead. Pies are lovely, but pie dough can be such a royal pain. And there’s something about the oats in a crisp that makes it feel acceptable to eat for breakfast the next day, on top of a bowl of Greek yogurt.

Black & Blue Wild Berry Crisp

2.5 cups blackberries

2.5 cups wild blueberries

3/4 cup all purpose flour

2 cups old-fashioned style oats

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 stick of butter (I like to bake with salted, almost always: at room temp)

1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Rinse berries and mix together in the bottom of an 8×8″ glass baking dish. In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour, oats, sugar, butter & cinnamon with your hands, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Top berries with the crumb mixture. Bake for 30 mins or until fruit is bubbling and top is browned.

unapologetic maine junk food

Posted in Uncategorized on 08.08.10 by nnista

I consider myself a pretty enlightened eater. I buy local & organic as much as possible, avoid preservatives and hormones and GEI, dodge nitrates and pesticides and hydrogenated oils, put grass-fed milk in my coffee on a daily basis. But occasionally it all just goes out the window, and when I’m in Maine, my nostalgia for the treats of my childhood takes over and kicks my normal Michael Pollan-reading self out for a few meals a year. Rules were made to be broken, as they say.

The red hot dog is a Maine phenomenon. In concept it’s fairly disgusting: a nitrate-filled mess inexplicably shot up with Red #40 (which a quick Google search tells me has been shown to cause hyperactivity in children ….just what I need) that turns the water in the pot an unnatural shade of pink. But in practice it is pure hot dog bliss. Snappy casing, salty, slightly garlicky and sweet…we buy a big package at Hannaford every year as soon as we get to Maine. In a white flour bun, no less. I’ll make up for it by eating at Bark for the rest of the year.

Then there’s the aptly named whoopie pie, sort of the official Maine state dessert. Just like a hot dog, I’m sure there’s a way you can make a vegan, organic, gluten-free version of a whoopie pie and eat it with slightly less guilt, but why? We get chocolate or pumpkin versions from Sherman Farm Stand (technically in New Hampshire, but really just 30 seconds over the border, so we call it Maine) which undoubtedly count Crisco as a major ingredient, but if these babies are wrong, I don’t wanna be right. 4 for $5.