Sunday, February 28, 2010

The China Cabinet

For the longest time I've had a sort of live and let live attitude towards my tableware. Since I've never really had a table to set, I've never been all that concerned about the dishes that might adorn one. I've been happy to inherit sets of dishes (however witless I find them), supplement them with the odd incredibly cheap find at Fishs Eddy and the odd designer plate that I might pick up at the Barney's Warehouse Sale or what have you.

But lately I seem to be hosting large groups of friends for meals with increasing frequency. It is a delightful development yet I'm finding that the more often I am called on to cobble together more than four place settings, the more frustrated I have become with my options.

But what is it that I'm looking for? I think that unless you have some truly beautiful china (Royal Copenhagen still has my heart) identical place settings can be a bit serious, especially when one doesn't have a table. But I'm not sure that I'm adept enough with that whole aristo-bohemian look to do a truly stylish mish mash. So when I came across Sarah Cihat's collection of plates on the always chic website Horne, it felt as though she had heard my pleas and answered them.

The creative Brooklynite scours the earth (or at least her part of it) for tired porcelain dinnerware and rehabilitates it with cheeky designs and a bit of strategic glazing.

I adore the bright colors and unexpected silhouettes. The plates are standard in size and shape, thus avoiding that whole do it yourself styling nightmare, but individual enough to make for a seriously chic table.

Although admittedly I might be somewhat reluctant to serve someone a meal on the skull and cross bones plate. It seems that it might be interpreted as questionable hospitality?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Over The River And Through the Woods

In my youth I was quite a keen skiier. Growing up in the Bay Area I was always close to pretty good slopes and my grandparents, who were quite avid skiiers themselves, always had a home near a mountain for the family to use.

But about halfway through high school I joined the crew team and for the next six years or so I had no free winter weekends. And then when my grandfather turned 80 he decided to stop skiing, concerned that irreparable bodily damage could be done if he were to take a bad fall. And as my parents are relatively lukewarm about skiing, I got out of the habit of going. Before I knew it I hadn't been on a chairlift in 15 years.

But this past weekend a free house in Berkshires was on offer, so how could I refuse a ski trip with friends?

After a somewhat tortuous drive, we all arrived late on Friday night, and were greeted with this lovely setting:

Bookshelves stacked with some of my favorite books filled the wall space upstairs...from their selection alone I felt that I could be friends with the owners of this house.

I went to bed exhausted but excited for my downhill comeback the next day.

I got to the resort and, as I looked around at the equipment, I began to feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle. Today people wear helmets, the skis are short and oddly shaped and no one wears neoprene leggings anymore!

(friends who ski more frequently than I do)

The day was largely successful, as I seemed to have sufficient muscle memory to get myself down some decent inclines. It looked a bit rough, but I got to the bottom (mostly) intact.

We came home that night and kicked off our boots,

lit a fire

and settled in for a big family dinner. There is something inherently comforting about sitting around a table (something I rarely do due my lack of a dining room table) eating a home cooked meal with a group of joyful, mirthful friends.

The next day started out beautifully

(the snowy back yard)

but presently turned cold and windy. My legs were quite tired from the unusual amount of activity (for me) of the previous day, which resulted in multiple stumbles and one rather spectacular fall. Currently the inflection points on the right side of my body are varying shades of black and purple.

But it was nothing that a beer at the end of the day couldn't cure!

(Christiansen's Tavern, Jiminy Peak)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bread In An Instant

I thoroughly enjoy exploring new cookbooks, especially the ones that give me a new perspective on familiar dishes or techniques. I am just as happy today with my trio of British cookbooks as I was when I bought them two weeks ago, especially with Mr. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

My lunches for the past two weeks (I am a very dedicated brown bagger) have come from his River Cottage Everyday, and his recipes have even made it into friends' dinner parties after a few dishes caught the eye of my various visitors as they idly flipped through the book as it lay about in my living room.

But the real revelation that he has facilitated for me has been regarding of my favorite subjects...soda bread to be exact.

As the dear Mr. F-W points out in the preamble to the recipe, sometimes when the bread box is empty, all you want to is replenish it quickly. No rising, no waiting, no starter, no proofing. Just immediate fresh bread. His solution of soda bread is one I would never have thought of.

I've always considered soda bread to be a component appropriate strictly for the breakfast table, as the versions I've had generally seem to have currants, which somehow makes me think of scones, which in turn makes me think of early morning pastries. But this does not have to be the case! Raisins may be omitted, savory elements may be added, and you have a bread appropriate for any time of day.

Simply combine flour, baking soda and yogurt (along with a few other choice ingredients),

stir like mad, but not for too long!

Knead for a few seconds at most, cut a hot cross bun like cross in the top (although perhaps not so deep as I loaf opened up a bit dramatically) and voila, you have your daily bread in less than an hour.

Classic Soda Bread
from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Everyday

500 g flour (or enough to make a sticky but not too sticky dough)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
400 ml buttermilk or yogurt thinned with milk
A little milk, if necessary

Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and stir in the salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk, stirring as you go. If necessary, add a tablespoon or two of milk to bring the mixture together; it should form a soft dough, just this side of sticky. Tip it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly for about a minute, just long enough to pull it together into a loose ball but no longer--you need to get it into the oven while the baking soda is still doing its stuff. You're not looking for the kind of smooth, elastic dough you'd get with a yeast-based bread.

Put the round of dough on a lightly floured baking sheet and dust generously with flour. Mark a deep cross in it with a sharp, serrated knife, cutting about two thirds of the way through the loaf. Put it in an oven preheated to 200 degrees C and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.

Cool on a wire rack if like a crunchy crust, or wrap in a clean tea towel if you prefer a soft crust.

Varition: Six-seed soda bread

Mix together 2 tablespoons each of sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, poppy and linseeds (I just used whatever I had in the house, which did not include this full list!), plus 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds; set aside. Follow the main recipe but use half white flour and half wholemeal flour. Add all but 1 tablespoon of the seeds to the dry ingredients before proceeding as above. After cutting a cross in the top of the loaf, brush it with buttermilk or ordinary milk and sprinkle with the remaining seeds. Bake as above.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jams and Jellies

Good jam is one of life's great (small) pleasures. I discovered this first as a child, in the kitchen with my parents, boiling down the literal fruits of our labors after trips to the you-pick-it orchards in the California Central Valley.

(2009 stocking stuffer from my parents)

We would stir and bubble and toil for a few hours on a warm summer afternoon and end up with jars and jars of blackberry, apricot, plum and peach jam to be stored on the shelves under the house until their moment of glory would come.

But a New York City apartment is not the place to be preserving. No room for the massive cauldron necessary and no room for the jars. So I must turn to other sources.

I will forever adore Fortnum and Mason jams and jellies, not only because they are delicious but also for the whimsical flavor combinations and adorable label designs. But they are not so easy to come by here in the US, and when I do make my way over to London I nearly send myself to the poorhouse gathering up too many jars to reasonably take back in my suitcase.

So when I was having brunch the other day at Gottino, my latest new favorite spot (and apparently everyone else's as well...I've gone from having to wait zero minutes for a seat to thirty minutes in the span of two months) I was thrilled to discover that, along with their fluffy steamed eggs (it is absolutely essential to try the eggs with the roasted have never tasted such a tomato, I promise!), they have fantastic jam. I was enjoying it with a healthy smear of butter on an already buttery scone and simply could not stop marveling over the sheer fruitiness of it.

I simply had to know...where does it come from? The answer, happily, was from about three blocks away, at one of my favorite shops, Buon Italia.

I dashed over to pick up some Agrimontana jam...blackberry, raspberry, orange, lemon, sour many as I could reasonably carry.

After all, at $5.95 per jar I was more likely to break my back before my bank account.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Big One

Much has been made of the weather lately. The local meteorologists have been thrilled to have so much to talk about. First there was the "blizzard" which was more of a dusting. I personally was devastated, as I had been looking forward to a Saturday blanketed with snow. Then there was extreme cold, and then, finally, we got a taste of the violent snowstorm we had been promised.

On Tuesday, as New York City schools closed and various friends began to receive the news that they too would have a snow day, my childlike anticipation only grew. I went to bed smiling, as I was assured to wake up to mounds of freshly driven snow. I suppose, having grown up in a warm climate, I will always look forward to snowstorms in this way, as they are still, to this day, exotic for me.

I nearly leapt from my bed the next day, and was greeted with this sight:

No drifts quite yet, but it was certainly looking promising.

I felt like a lone soldier as I made my way to work...despite the fact that the subways were running and the streets were plowed, people seemed to be hunkering down. As I walked from the subway to my office I was one of a handful of people on the sidewalk, and cabs seemed to be the only vehicles about.

Attendance at work was a bit thin. Understandable of course, as not everyone has as easy a commute as I do. Eventually an early dismissal was called and the siren song of a wintry Central Park became too strong to resist.

Just out of the subway at the southern edge of the park, I was greeted with this softly eerie vista:

I made my way down the stone steps, thankful for my very sturdy hiking boots. They made me much less prone to disastrous slips than my fellow snow bunnies!

I made my way down enchanting paths,

admiring the work of some budding sculptors.

Don't you love the Grecian head gear and the happy countenances?

And then the piece de resistance, the mall. In any season walking through this arboreal archway gives one pause, but in the snow it is particularly breathtaking.

But the light was going, the cold was seeping in and the view wasn't going to get much better. So I hopped on the subway and headed back home, content for the snow continue to fall outside.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I've long been intrigued by halloumi cheese. I think I first learned of it when Nigella prepared fried halloumi on TV as a party snack years ago, and I was fascinated by this curious Cypriot cheese that would never melt. In the intervening years I would confuse it at various points with havarti (a semi soft Danish cheese) and halva (not even a cheese) but it finally came back to the forefront of my mind over a breakfast table in the Dominican Republic.

A couple of years ago I, along with several friends, was eating the most delicious breakfast at my friend Vivian's family home in Santo Domingo. The staff at her house had prepared quite the spread, but it was the fried, unmeltable cheese that squeaked against my teeth that I could not get enough of. I briefly considered buying some and bringing it home, but soon realized the flaw in that plan and opted to settle for those versions available in New York.

I was in Murray's Cheese the other day and came across this:

Good memories came flooding back and I immediately picked up a package to be tucked away until breakfast time, when I would fry up a slice or two.

Over a medium flame in a cast iron skillet I fried these porcelain white slabs to a crisp golden brown. They are of course perfect on their own but I could not resist gilding the lily at least slightly...with some strawberry balsamic preserves that I had put up over the summer, a drizzle of honey and some sriracha sauce.

Not quite as lovely as a meal eaten in warm weather under a veranda in a tropical locale, but blissful in its own small way just the same.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Welcome Additions

There is a certain sort of Anglophile that I can't help but make fun of. Those who have spent precious little time either in England or in the company of the English, for instance, as they have little concept that certain imperfections accompany those beguiling pubs and charming accents. Or those who feel that being American is somehow shameful and believe that the English are a more respectable people, and thus simply cannot bring themselves to shower anything but praise over the island and its inhabitants.

But that said there is a lot that I adore about England and I love many of its inhabitants (my dearly beloved most of all). Despite the invariably dodgy plumbing that the country is plagued with, the English do music festivals like no one else can, their members clubs are, as a rule, much more enjoyable than those in New York (prime example: Soho House here and there) and I find there is something a bit magical about their cookbooks.

I like that they tend towards weights rather than measures, and although the food is not hugely exotic, I do find that it is just different enough from American food to be exciting. So I was thrilled with the gift certificate that I received from Paul's parents at Christmas, as it meant I had an excellent excuse to add to my burgeoning collection of "cookery books".

I've now got three new additions

...and so far they've brought me no end of joy.

When I first cracked open Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Everday I felt a bit as if I had somehow come home. Although the great Mr. F-W usually writes more intense cookbooks covering subjects like nose to tail butchering/cooking/eating and the like, this one is considerably more whimsical.

I felt as if I was reading the musings of a kindred spirit.

I adore rhubarb compote, just as he does...

and homemade yogurt...

and pan con tomate...

and Scottish oakcakes!

I was momentarily lulled into thinking that we create food of similar caliber. Until, of course, I came across this gorgeous and creative "thrifty" fish soup (thrifty gets me every time).

I adore all manners of bouillabaisse and cioppino so was completely taken with it.

And these "bacon" chops.

Unusual, easy and tasty from the looks of it.

And this neck of lamb stew is incredibly intriguing...

I do believe that neck is about to come the new "hip" cut of meat, I feel as though I'm starting to see it all over the place!

It was all too much, I needed a break so headed for Nigel Slater's Tender V. 1. Now I already adore this man's work...the Kitchen Diaries is just to die for. And this tale of man and his urban vegetable patch was too alluring to resist.

His backyard is so envy-worthy...difficult to image that this exists in London, no?

This seems like something out of the Hamptons...

Mr. Slater picks all sorts of luscious crunchy bits from his little patch of heaven and makes the most divine sorts of things with them. And none of it oppressively healthy, although none of it offensively artery clogging either.

One of my favorite things in life is deeply charred spring fresh eggplant...

and here it is elevated with a pungent greek yogurt sauce.

I adore fava beans (during the short time they are in season, there is nothing more disappointing than an off season fava) but do occasionally become bored with my repertoire. Now I shall be adding serrano ham to the mix on Mr. Slater's recommendation.

And of course I'm always up for a good stew, especially when pork sausage is involved...

and he has not neglected the morning baked goods either...

...pumpkin scones are making me long for fall!

But as we are currently in the depths of winter with nothing but potatoes at the farmer's market, I could not bear to read any more of all of the fresh recipes with fresh vegetables...I am months away from such bounty!

So I moved on to Ottolenghi, a cookbook which describes the dishes of these charming London food shops (and perhaps restaurant? I admit I don't know). The food is fragrant and light with a vaguely middle eastern bent, and all of the dishes seem to be something I could whip up in no time and still be thrilled with.

I could make this simple lentil and rice dish on a Sunday afternoon to take for lunch during the week...

...and this recipe is an excellent excuse to continue my tahini fascination.

I am not always so taken with the idea of making a dessert, but these beautiful confections had me at first glance.

Off to the kitchen now...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Advice from the Wise

Listening to a good speech by a wise person is one of life's great pleasures. They don't come along very often, but when they do I am invariably transfixed and the memory of the experience is hard, if not impossible, to shake.

Louis Menand's address at my sister's college graduation was the first truly good speech that I recall. I confess that today I remember little of the content, but I do remember that I found it to be original and especially difficult feat for graduation speakers I think, as most of the available ground has been covered by countless others.

And he opened with a joke that still brings a smile to my face: there's a knock on a man's door, he opens it. There's a snail sitting on his doorstep. The man picks it up and throws it away from his house. Four years later he hears another knock, and there is the snail again. The snail looks at him and says "what was that all about"? This is essentially a liberal arts education.

I've since seen a few other compelling speeches...the eminent David Gergen's talk on leadership at a graduate school conference comes to mind, as does Sally Krawchek's talk about her experiences in business, also in graduate school. But in the normal course (i.e. outside of an academic setting) these sorts of experiences are hard to come by.

But, as is so often the case these days, it turns out that the internet can fill yet another void in our lives. TED, a website that my dear friend (and devoted reader of and commenter on this blog) Rob turned me onto over bulgogi at Don's Bogam last week, compiles videos of noteworthy speeches to be viewed at your leisure.

Rob absolutely insisted that I look at Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford commencement speech.

His advice was certainly sound: your time is short, don't spend it living someone else's life. A wise sentiment indeed.

However, it was the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden's speech that I was truly drawn to.

His advice is I suppose somewhat basic, but in the context of our self-centered society it feels a little revolutionary. He counsels that you must believe that things will work out as they ought to assuming you do your best and act in the way that you ought to. This does not necessarily mean that you will be the best or the most successful, as not everyone can be the best or the most successful, but if you do the best that you can do you must be happy with that.

How fabulous to be able to find these little nuggets while trawling the web on an inclimate winter's night!
Blog Widget by LinkWithin