Saturday, October 26, 2013

New Home!

Dear Readers,
Buckwheat To Butter has a new home! After many months of hard work I am delighted to announce that my Health Coaching website is finished and standing on its own two virtual feet. I am taking new clients so please feel free to reach out if you or a loved one is interested in learning more about my work. I won't stop blogging, but from now on you can find new posts (and old) here

In other news, I just had the privilege of working as a private chef for a couple of weeks for a client. You can find pictures of that adventure on my Instagram feed.

Look for new posts very soon! Thank you so much for reading and for all of your support.

And so begins the next chapter.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Grown Up Rice

Confession. I love white rice with ketchup mixed into it. It's a dirty secret from my childhood. It's comfort in a bowl--slightly chewy, soft, hot, a bit sweet. I eat with a spoon. It's even better topped with a fried egg. Nutritional value of said dish without the egg? Yeesh. I won't even try to quantify it. 

I grew up eating grains and have always loved them as a food group. But when I try to conjure up a more grown up rice dish that I really love, nothing rises to the top of the pack. I know that brown and wild rices are great for me and can be delicious, but when I look at my jars of grains and pulses on the shelf I almost always pass over the rice in favor of quinoa, millet, amaranth, lentils.

Last week I had my nose in Yottam Ottolenghi's great cookbooks, Plenty and Ottolenghi. I spent a week making his recipes--green gazpacho, sesame and harissa marinated chicken thighs, burnt eggplant with pomegranate molasses. In Plenty, I came across a recipe for rice with herbs, which he describes as "actually, herbs with rice".
His cooking method is pretty intricate and involves things like making "chimneys" in the rice to allow for proper steaming and what seemed like constant "drizzling" with water and different oils. Steaming chimneys seemed more labor-intensive than necessary for a working night's dinner but I loved the idea of a heavily herbed rice dish. I chose red Wehani rice over Ottolenghi's call for white, ** and decided--at least this time--not to add his called-for yogurt and sour cream. To make it a one-dish meal I sauteed shallots and delicata squash, stirred it into the cooked rice, and added some sriracha hot sauce. It was hot, easy to eat with a spoon, toothsome, intensely flavorful. It would be great with an egg on top. And this time, no ketchup necessary.

** White rice is the whole grain stripped of its hull whereas brown rice (and Wehani rice) is the grain with its hull in tact. The hull contains most of the B vitamins, minerals, fiber and fat and 10% of the protein. While white rice is not completely devoid of nutrition, it doesn't provide as many nutrients as its brown or wild counterparts. Think of it as white bread versus some kind of seedy whole grain bread--it's not evil, it's just doing less good.

Grown Up Rice
serves 4 as a side dish
adapted from Yottam Ottolenghi's book Plenty
1 cup red (or brown or wild) rice
2 1/4 cups water
1-2 cups finely chopped herbs (dill, parsley, cilantro, basil, mint, oregano)
1 shallot
olive oil
1 small delicata squash
sriracha or hot sauce of choice
egg (optional)

Put the rice in a sieve and rinse under cold water. Put it in a pot and cover with the water. Bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium-high heat. Once water boils, throw in a pinch or two of salt, cover the pot and reduce heat to low. Set time for 20 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, halve the delicata lengthwise and use a spoon to remove the seeds. Halve each piece again, lengthwise, and slice crosswise into slices about a 1/4 inch thick. Set aside.

Peel the shallot and chop. Set aside.

Choose the herbs you like in the amounts you like (I go heaviest on mint, basil and dill, personally) and chop finely.

When the timer on the rice goes off, remove the top, add the herbs in one big pile and replace the lid. Se the timer for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a small pan. When glistening, add the shallot and stir. Cook for a couple of minutes then add the delicata and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium high heat until the squash is tender and browning at the edges. About 10 minutes. 

When the rice is finished, remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork, stirring the herbs into the grain. Add the delicata and shallot to the pot and mix well or spoon the rice onto a plate and top with the squash. Top it all with an egg (fried or poached recommended) and a generous amount of hot sauce. Salt and pepper to taste as always. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Pepitas

There is no stillness here. The wind is in the trees and the leaves are on the ground and all day I walk with a stirring inside. I imagine under my skin, in the dark hollow beneath my rib cage, no organs but an echoing chamber and a pile of dried leaves lifted by a wind and spun and swirled around and around and around. My heart beats like a hummingbird and even my thoughts seem somehow vaporous. Nothing lasts. That which goes unwritten is rootless.
The kitchen is my anchor. My hands stay busy. My mind moves freely from place to place and the wonders of muscle memory set in: peeling, chopping, stirring, salting. The cucumbers and tomatoes in my garden suddenly hold little appeal--fleeting sun fruits of a passing season. I am drawn to the golden orbs of pumpkin hunkered under canopies of vine. Even raw the flesh is substantial, absorbent. The pumpkin is earthly, lasting. It is designed to store in a cellar or on a shelf for months after it has been harvested. It lies in wait, steady, sustaining.
The deep smells of roasting--garlic, pumpkin, sizzling oil--level me. Then again the routine motions: scrape, stir, blend, stir. As night falls I ladle myself a bowl. Each velvety bite is a dropping in, a slowing down. I can feel my feet against the rag rug and the ground against my feet. If only for a moment, the quiet comes. I am still.

Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Pepitas
serves 4
About 3 lbs pumpkin or winter squash of choice
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4-6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 a sweet onion, chopped
1 jalapeno or other hot pepper, chopped with seeds
3 cardamom pods (or 1/2 t ground cardamom) 
dash of nutmeg
1 T coconut oil
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
olive oil
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Quarter or halve your pumpkin(s) depending on the size and place skin side down on a baking sheet. Place each garlic clove in the hollow of each piece of pumpkin. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast until a fork goes easily through the flesh of the pumpkin, about an hour. Once the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh away from the skin with a spoon. Discard the skins.

Leave the oven and on and keep the baking sheet handy.

In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, hot pepper and the nutmeg and stir. Gently crush the cardamom pods with the flat side of a large knife and add to the pot. Once the onion is wilted, add the squash and stock. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 more minutes. 

While the soup is cooking, drizzle about 1T of olive oil on the baking sheet and pour the pumpkin seeds on top. Sprinkle generously with salt and pop the tray in the oven until the seeds get brown and plump, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Turn the soup off, remove the cardamom pods with a slotted spoon, and let the remainder cool enough to put into a blender. Working in batches, blend the soup until smooth and return to the pot. Heat when ready to serve, topping each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a spoonfull of pepitas.

This is extra delicious with buttery rye toast.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sister Fish

My sister, Susannah, was skilled in the kitchen long before I realized that I loved to cook. While I was traipsing around the backyard choreographing dance routines for an audience of stuffed animals, Susannah, age 10, was perfecting tomato quiche, a dish I pretended to be bored of as a matter of jealous principle. We each took our roundabout ways to get back to the kitchen and now, Susannah owns her own cafe, Bread & Circuses, in Barcelona, turning the Catalonian crowd onto the virtues of the American sandwich.

On the rare occasion that Susannah and I find ourselves in the same country and in the same kitchen, true to Taylor-family form, we spend breakfast talking about what to eat for lunch and spend lunch discussing what we'll have for dinner. Cooking together has become part stage, and part classroom for each of us, an opportunity to show off but also to see what dishes the other has come to love. Our palettes were trained on the same food for much of our lives, but our takes are different--let's just say I tend more towards "buckwheat" and she towards "butter". From time to time, each of us produces a dish that could just have easily sprung from the other's brain.

A few weeks ago Sus did just that with this incredibly simple fish dish. It combines many of my favorite flavors in a single roasting pan--lemon, olives, fennel, peppers-- and it only takes about 15 minutes to cook. For those of you who are intimidated by cooking fish, which can seem complicated, this is a great way to test the waters. This time I can't feign boredom and must give credit where credit is due. Sister fish is delicious.

Sister Fish
feeds 4
One 1.5 pound very fresh cod filet (or four small filets)
1/2 bulb of fennel
1/2 a red onion
4 cloves garlic
1 small red or orange bell pepper
1/2 a cup good green olives
1 lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, carefully juilenne the fennel, peppers and onion. Place them in the bottom of a roasting pan.

Add the peeled garlic cloves and olives to the pan along with a glug of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables well until they are somewhat evenly mixed and coated, and make a thick layer in the bottom of the pan.

Again, using the mandoline or a knife, slice enough paper-thin rounds of lemon to form a single layer over the vegetables.

Place the fish filet(s) in a single layer on top of the lemons. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Salt and pepper the fish, place in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes, until the fish is just cooked through. It should flake easily away when prodded with a fork but should still be moist. The vegetables should be soft and starting to let their juices into the bottom of the pan. 

Using a metal spatula, divide the filet into four even pieces. Distribute the vegetables evenly among the four plates and top each with a piece of fish. Add a bit more salt and pepper to taste and serve with a wedge of fresh lemon.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Summer Fruits: The Bounty Continues

The little peach tree in my parents' backyard is easy to overlook. It sits at the edge of a field, not quite part of the lawn and not at all part of the ancient apple orchard.  It's a little scrawny, slightly lopsided, a wallflower amidst the blousy peonies and brazen dahlias. For a couple of years it bore no fruit at all. Last summer it was partially run over by a reversing tractor. I wondered if it would make it through another winter. My mother, on the other hand, never lost faith in the little tree and did what she could to nurture it and coax it into good health. Whatever she did, worked. During my last week in Maine as autumn made its first chilly pronouncements, the peach tree put forth more fruit than we could eat.
And what fruit it was! Beneath the slightly-too-furry skin of each small peach was golden flesh, soft and sweet and perfectly tart. We ate them in granola, made them into crisp, piled them on top of cardamom cake and pancakes. One late morning I decided to marry the fruits of our seemingly endless bounty. I can't recall ever eating tomatoes and peaches together before but suddenly it made sense. Both fruits, in season and at their best, are juicy, textured, and tantalize the tongue with flavors that shift as you chew, from sweet to acid and back again.
I toasted a few pieces of Tinder Hearth bread (no other bread worth eating if you live in the state of Maine), spread them with a thick layer of ash-rind chevre, and topped them with spicy arugula from the garden, yellow tomatoes and thin slices of peach. Though I am home now in California and without said peach tree, I am not without peaches, tomatoes and very delicious bread. I've got this one on repeat. For another week or two, as the east and west coast growing seasons mystically align and the same produce is found most anywhere you go, I recommend eating tomatoes and peaches--together or separately--while you still can. Savor those last bites of summer.

Tomato & Peach Sandwiches
Delicious crusty bread
One ripe but slightly firm peach
One ripe medium sized tomato
Handful of spicy baby greens
Good, slightly stinky chevre
olive oil
salt & pepper

Cut four slices of bread, each about an inch thick. Toast.

While the bread is toasting, slice the tomatoes and peaches into thin slices. Once the bread is ready and while it is still hot, spread a generous amount of chevre onto each piece of toast. Layer greens, peaches and tomatoes in whatever order you prefer. Salt and pepper generously and drizzle with really good olive oil.

Eat. Repeat.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Slow Roasted Gigante Beans with Tomato and Artichoke

There are few things I love more than a summer garden bounty. A unique excitement comes over me when I step out of my door and walk a few feet into the garden to determine what I will eat for my next meal. The part of my brain that requires tangible results, proof of patience or of hard work or of quantifiable value, really loves gardening. The carrot patch is full of weeds? Hours later it can be picked clean, thinned out and tidy, leaving only the cheerful froth of carrot tops, breathing more easily in their newly spacious soil. The thinnings become a snack or pesto or compost. When it all goes well, nothing is wasted. But bounty is not without its challenges. I remember Sandor Katz saying in an interview that no one told him when he first started gardening that everything would ripen at the same time. What do you do with all that produce? Katz's solution was fermenting and preserving.

As you know, this is not the first time I've confronted the issue of overabundance in the backyard. After swearing off zucchinis, the problem is easier to deal with. The plants that won't stop producing this year are the Sungold tomatoes. We harvest them daily and still, within hours of picking the vines clean, I look outside and see the sweet, orange little orbs that I missed or that have suddenly ripened, taunting me, reminding me that there is work yet to do. Luckily, the fruit is delicious raw, right off the vine. But when the counter is covered in overflowing bowls of tomatoes, some processing is required. 
Slow-roasting tomatoes is a great way to preserve. The flavors get concentrated, richer, full of that ever elusive umami quality. They are delicious spread on sandwiches, made into a dip, or added to pasta sauces and stews. Roasted tomatoes easily last a week in the fridge. It's also nice to throw them in the freezer and pull them out in the winter when grocery store tomatoes are nothing more than hard and tasteless imposters.

A happy accident brought me to this next recipe. I wasn't long into roasting a pan of tomatoes when I realized my timing was off and I needed to leave the house before the roasting was complete. I pulled the tomatoes out after about an hour and left them to cool on the stove top. They were soft, bursting out of their skins, full of the bright, sweet flavors of the raw fruit, but with an added complexity and a slight richness to them.
Hours later, hungry and out of patience for a slow roast, I turned to improvisation for inspiration. I had gigante beans in the fridge from earlier in the week and a couple of cans of artichoke hearts. I threw the artichoke hearts, tomatoes, a few cloves of garlic and the white beans into a roasting pan, covered it all with some chicken stock and threw it in the oven for an hour. The result, topped with pecorino and basil, was a hot dish of comforting, savory beans, hearty enough to be a meal alone and with all the lightness of summer time food. I have recreated this with slight tweaks, every week since the first try. Fingers crossed, this bounty lasts a few more weeks.

Gigante Beans with Roasted Artichokes & Sungolds

1.5 cups gigante beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
2 cans artichoke hearts, rinsed & halved
2 cups sungold tomatoes (halved if very large)
1/2 cup chicken stock
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
olive oil
handful purple basil
fresh grated Pecorino Romano to garnish
salt and pepper to taste

To cook the gigante beans pour the beans and soaking water into a large pot. Add more water to cover if needed. Bring the beans to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook until a fork goes easily through. You want them to still have a bit of firmness. This takes 45 minutes to an hour. This step can be done the day before.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. On a rimmed sheet tray spread the tomatoes in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and toss gently to evenly coat. Roast about 45 minutes and remove the tray and increase the temperature on the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the beans, garlic, tomatoes and artichoke hearts in a roasting pan. Add the chicken broth, a generous dash of salt and lots of cracked black pepper. Stir everything together well and return to the oven. Let bake for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. If the pan dries out, add more chicken broth. The longer you can let the pan go, the softer the beans become. 

Once everything is cooked to your liking, remove the baking dish and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve alone or as a side, topped with chopped basil, fresh grated Pecorino Romano, more pepper and maybe some lemon zest too.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


To know the paleness of the sky at dawn. To watch a storm build on the horizon and smell a rain before it hits your face. To be bug-bitten and scratched raw by scrub oak.
To stand in a grove of ancient trees and to feel profoundly that you are very small and very new on this earth. To feel a river wash over your feet. To ride the heaving arc of a wave.
To lie in a field or in your own backyard and watch the tiniest of creatures scale a blade of grass. To summit great columns of granite or walk a carpet of pine needles to the crest of a ridge.
To draw a breath of air that does not feel shared but feels new, pure, like the first breath you have taken in so long.
To stare at a night sky until perception of depth loosens, and it seems the black punctuates the light and not the other way around. To know the smell of a place, the light of it, the sounds that rise in the deepening dark.When you are anxious, when you are fearful, when you are lost, to move outdoors is the best medicine.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer Ades

Here are some things people think about juicing: it's expensive; it's messy; it's not as good for you as eating the whole vegetable or fruit that you are juicing; and above all else, even if it's "good for you" it tastes gross. 

While I can't say that I have held any of those opinions myself, I do understand why people are more drawn to smoothies than juices. Smoothies are creamy, sweet, filling, and for the most part do not involve things like parsely and kale. They are easier to philosophically stomach. Plus, you only have to clean a blender. But once you buy a juicer, and adapt to scrubbing pulp out of all its parts with a toothbrush, you may find your blender collecting dust in the corner and smoothies falling to the wayside.

Here are some things that I like about making fresh, organic juices at home: it's a great way to use oversized or overabundant produce (like carrots, cucumbers, apples, herbs); it's way cheaper than buying fresh squeezed or pressed juices at grocery stores or juice bars; you get several servings of fruits and vegetables in a single glass; you get to experiment and play with ingredients until you find the perfect combinations of flavors that you love so nothing is ever too sweet, too bitter, or gross. Plus my juicer has never popped its top while running at high speed, covering me and my kitchen in a pulpy mess. It's just not built that way.

Lastly, and perhaps best of all, it is an amazing way of essentially bathing your digestive system from the inside with minerals and vitamins. When you make a fresh pressed juice you remove nearly all of the fiber allowing your body to almost immediately absorb the nutrients and minerals from the ingredients you juiced and put them to use. This removal of fiber is one reason not to replace ALL of your vegetable and fruit intake each day with juices. You need fiber too. But adding a fresh pressed juice to your day will majorly bump up your vitamin and mineral consumption without adding tons of calories overall. 

I am an advocate for a green juice first thing in the morning so that no matter what else happens, you know you got some good stuff into your body. But I also love a quick, hydrating, sweet treat of a juice, especially in the summer months. I like to think of these juices (and spritzer) as gateway juices. They are simple to make, delicious to drink, taste sweet without being high in sugar, and don't even require a juicer. You can make them in the blender and strain them through a fine mesh sieve or drink them as a thick juice/thin smoothie to get the fiber content as well. I particularly love them after a sweaty workout or as an afternoon pick-me-up in place of coffee. Who knows, after a few weeks you may find yourself chucking a handful of kale in there too. 

p.s. check out some cool nutritional info on these ingredients below

*Note: It is always important to choose organic vegetables and fruits whenever possible and I think even more so when juicing. Think of it this way: do you want to bathe your organs from the inside with pesticides? Enough said.

Pineapple, Ginger, Cucumber Juice
about 2-4 cups pineapple, cubed
1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
If using a juicer, start with the pineapple, then the cucumber and finish with the ginger. You always want to start with the softest ingredient and end with the hardest or most fibrous. There shouldn't be much pulp left over but if you really want a thin juice then pour it through a sieve into a glass. 

If using a blender, pour all the ingredients in at once, blend at high speed until liquified and strain (or not).

Watermelon, Lime, Mint Juice
1/2 seedless watermelon, cubed
1 lime, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup fresh mint
If using a juicer, start with the watermelon, follow with the lime and end with the mint. Strain or enjoy as is. This one is also really good over ice.

If using a blender, place watermelon and mint in the blender and instead of peeling the lime just cut it in half and squeeze both halves over the melon and mint. Blend at high speed until liquified. Strain (or not) and enjoy as is or over ice.

Apple Cider Vinegar Spritz
2 T Raw, unfiltered, apple cider vinegar
8-12oz sparkling water
juice of 1/2 a lemon
No blender or juicer needed for this one. Just place ice in a large glass, add the vinegar, squeeze in the lemon juice, and top with sparkling water. 

What These Foods Do

Pineapple: Detoxifier, diuretic, helps cool the body when overheated, helps expel mucous, full of acids which closely mimic human gastric juices and which greatly aid in digestion.

Cucumber: Alkaline, cooling, diuretic, rich in minerals that neutralize acidosis in the blood, help dissolve uric acid accumulations (kidney & bladder stones), contains the digestive enzyme erepsin which helps digest proteins, very high in potassium which helps regulate blood pressure, aids in calcium absorption, high in vitamin A.

Ginger: Virtues extolled here

Watermelon: Some info here

Apple Cider Vinegar: When unfiltered and unpasteurized, contains up to 50 different nutrients, amino acids and trace elements. Helps counteract lactic acid buildup in the blood, is rich in potassium, helps alleviate joint pain, fluid retention, and sodium retention. Contains malic acid (from apples) which is a digestive stimulant. So basically, drink it daily. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Gluten Free Nut Butter and Jam Sandwich Cookies

Rarely do I feel the urge to bake, and much to my annoyance, when the mood strikes it is usually late at night, or in the middle of a blizzard, or when I am just downright too lazy to go back into town to the store. What this means is that I often find myself ill-equipped for following a recipe as it's written. I'll have baking powder but no baking soda, brown sugar but no powdered sugar. A 1/4 bag of chocolate chips will be wallowing in the cupboard along with 2 tablespoons of oatmeal and more shredded coconut than I can ever remember buying but I won't have enough of any one thing to make even a half batch of a single recipe. So I improvise. Often the substitutions and tweaks end up being delicious but there have been some real train wrecks too. I remember one particularly abysmal carrot cake cooked in a tiny cottage at the end of a dead end road during a snow storm in Maine with my best friend after too many bottles of wine. I confess, we ate half of it anyway. Maine in winter can call for desperate measures.

On an unusually peaceful Sunday afternoon last week I suddenly wanted nothing more than to make cookies. I knew I had the basics for something as simple as a sugar cookie, and then I remembered all the half eaten jars of jam in the fridge. With no toaster in the house and bread only making a rare appearance in the kitchen, we suddenly have a glut of jam and no vehicle. I started searching the web for simple, gluten free, thumb print cookies. Instead, I stumbled upon a recipe for peanut butter and jam sandwich cookies. Of course! What goes better with jam than good, old PB?

True to form I had barely a quarter of the peanut butter I needed and it was of the chunky variety, not the called-for smooth type. But when has something as silly as having the necessary ingredients stopped me from trying a new recipe? I mixed the chunky stuff with smooth almond butter and followed the rest of the recipe to the letter (though I did add twice as much salt as suggested and cut out a little of the sugar).
These were by far, the easiest, fastest, yummiest peanut butter cookies I have ever made and they are definitely going to be a staple now. I slathered a few with raspberry jam, a few with Lingonberry jam, and the last with fig preserves. The cookie is light and airy and not to sweet and it actually gets softer a day later making it even more like the best PB&J sandwich--chewy, and with the perfect ratio of PB to J. You can easily swap the peanut butter for another kind of nut butter, though if you use cashew or walnut butter I would add even more salt to the recipe. This would also be a great cookie for making ice cream sandwiches. Just saying.

Nut Butter & Jam Sandwich Cookies
adapted from Haut Appetit
makes about 10 sandwiches

1 cup natural peanut or other nut butter (smooth or chunky or mix of the two)
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar
1 T almond or other dairy free milk
1 T brown rice or other gluten free flour
1 t baking soda
1 t salt (or more if using a sweeter nut butter)
favorite jam or jams

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper

In a large mixing bowl beat the egg and sugar together until creamy and frothy. Stir in the almond milk. Add the nut butter and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined.

Mix in the flour, baking soda and salt until well combined. Taste a little bit and adjust salt as needed.

Using a tablespoon, scoop the batter onto the cookie sheets. Dampen a fork in water and use the back of it to flatten each ball of dough, leaving a criss-cross mark on each one.

Bake 15 minutes or a little longer. You want the edges to be just slightly golden.

Let the cookies cool slightly. Spread a generous layer of your favorite jam onto the flat side of one cookie and place the flat side of another cookie on top of it, pressing gently to seal the sandwich. Repeat until you run out of cookies.

These cookies will keep really well in an airtight container for several days, if you can keep your hands off them.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Heritage Food: Smoked Salmon Sandwiches with Dill Butter and Marinated Turnips

I think you might be way more into salmon than I am. So my sweetheart told me as I suggested for the third time that week that perhaps we should have salmon for dinner. I admit, I love the fish. I chalk it up to my Norwegian roots, and I like it in almost any form. Salmon sashimi is one of my all time favorite foods. The fatty fish at its best when raw is rich and silky and practically needs no chewing. I like salmon out of the can in place of tuna salad or added last minute to pasta with peas and herbs. It is equally delicious seared, poached or grilled, and perhaps best of all, smoked.

I've loved salmon since childhood, and though it wasn't exactly a staple food in our house it was something we ate each year at certain times--smoked salmon on Christmas Eve and Day at my grandparents' house, and poached salmon in the summer after my parents had fished them from the Upsalquitch River on their annual visit to a friend's cabin in Canada. They would come home with the beautiful fish stacked in a cooler, their scales still luminous, bellies sliced to show the clean flesh inside of a pink hue so deep it bordered on red. As my Norwegian grandmother wrote in her memoir/cookbook, "Until you have eaten a fine, firm, freshly-caught salmon like this, poached and served with a little melted butter poured over it, and plenty of chopped parsley or dill (that ubiquitous herb so appreciated in Scandinavia), you have missed one of the great gastronomical treats of the world: top quality, fresh-as-possible food, simply but perfectly prepared."

Salmon is pretty easy to find these days making it an option to eat in any season, but not all fish are created equal. Farmed salmon (one response to overfishing of the wild variety) has become ubiquitous but doesn't appeal to me at all. It lacks flavor, has more fat, is colored an odd orange-ish with dyes, and is often full of hormones and antibiotics. Even sustainably farmed salmon doesn't seem right. It is somehow too removed from that beautiful beast of a fish I used to see each summer, a seasonal meal we looked forward too each July, a meal eaten with relish and satisfaction because some primal desire to seek a source of food in the wild, kill it, clean it and feed it to your family had been met. They were healthy fish and we were healthier for eating them. That wan hunk of flesh sitting on ornamental kale behind a glass counter just doesn't seem the same, energetically speaking.

Still, at times, the Scandinavian blood in me starts calling for salmon and I have to heed its cry. I had such a craving in the middle of our recent heat wave. With each day soaring into triple digit temperatures I had little desire to turn on even one burner of the stove. I bought a few slices of wild smoked salmon from the fish counter, some dark rye bread and a big bunch of dill. I chopped the dill into good salted butter and slathered a thick layer of it onto the bread.
The fish was wild caught, never frozen, smoked in Santa Barbara, and of that same dark hue as the fish from my childhood. I topped it all with thinly sliced baby turnips from the garden, marinated lightly in rice wine vinegar and olive oil, and a big squeeze of lemon. I dined on the cool tile floor with my back pressed against the sliding glass door to the garden. A while later, sated, I looked at my empty plate and without thinking said aloud Takk for maten, which in Norwegian means Thanks for dinner. Sometimes there is just no fighting your roots.

Smoked Salmon Sandwiches with Dill Butter and Turnips
serves 2
2 pieces of dense rye bread, ideally sprouted
4oz wild caught smoked salmon
2-4 T good salted butter, at room temperature
2-4 T dill, finely chopped 
2 small turnips or one large one
2 T rice wine or champagne vinegar
2 T high quality olive oil
1/2 a lemon cut in two wedges
flaky sea salt

In a small bowl stir together the butter and dill until well combined. Set aside. (You could use an entire stick of butter and as much dill as you like and save any unused in the fridge for later use in vegetable dishes or melted on top of fish or a steak or anything else you like to eat with butter and herbs.)

Using a mandoline or a very sharp paring knife, slice the turnip into paper thin petals. In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar and olive oil. Add the turnips and stir until well combined. Let sit at least 15 minutes. The turnips can sit in the liquid for up to 2 hours before use.

Slather each piece of bread with a thick layer of dill butter. Be sure to go edge to edge. Leave no centimeter of bread uncovered. Trust me.

Place a couple of pieces of salmon over the butter on each piece of bread, again try to cover the bread from head to toe, edge to edge. Cover the salmon with a single layer of turnip slices. Squeeze lemon over each sandwich and sprinkle with flakey sea salt. 

I ate mine with an iteration of Maggie's Salad. For a heartier meal, add some steamed or roasted new potatoes with more dill butter melted over them.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Smashed Chickpeas with Sumac & Cumin

Chickpeas are having a moment. Have you noticed? It seems as though everyone has caught on to the deliciousness and versatility of the lowly legume all at once. Mark Bittman wrote about its varied uses lately (and he's right, chickpea fries are sinfully easy to make and incredibly satisfying). I recently ate a beautiful dish of grilled octopus and chickpeas with house made chorizo at a local restaurant, and hummus is practically as easy to find as a carton of milk these days. Well I say it's about time! I grew up eating chickpeas--or "garbanzo beans" as I was taught to call them--straight from a can, by the handful. Unadorned they are nutty and rich with a slight sweetness and a wonderful, dense texture. Dried chickpeas definitely have a superior, earthy flavor and hummus made from the dried bean will blow any you buy in the store out of the water. But since I am still prone to eat handfuls of the wrinkly little beans, I buy them by the can, usually three at a time. The other night I had a couple lamb chops in the fridge and little else. In the cupboard I found two cans of chickpeas, some San Marzano crushed tomatoes, and a box of organic chicken stock. While the gardener of the family harvested greens from the backyard and started the grill, I cooked the chickpeas and tomatoes with sumac and cumin and, at the last minute, smashed them with the back of a wooden spoon. They were perfect with the lamb chops--hearty and darkly savory but simultaneously light, the sumac and tomatoes lending an almost lemony-brightness to the dish. Somehow we resisted cleaning the whole bowl and I ate the leftovers the next day with a salad of paper-thin slices of cucumber with mint, lemon, and olive oil. I don't know how long the garbanzo will stay in favor but I hope it's a while. And when its fifteen minutes of fame have passed, it will still have a place center stage in my kitchen.

Smashed Chickpeas with Sumac & Cumin
2 15oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 15oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2-1 cup chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
6 garlic cloves, sliced
1 t ground sumac
1 T cumin seed
1 T coconut oil or olive oil

Heat oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seed and garlic and stir constantly until aromatic. Add sumac and continue stirring another minute or so. Add the chickpeas and stir, then add enough chicken stock to just cover the beans. 

Bring to a simmer then reduce heat to medium and let cook, undisturbed until almost all the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir. Again, let the beans cook undisturbed until almost all the liquid has been absorbed. About 25 minutes. 

Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. My chicken broth was rather salty so I didn't add any salt but you may need to. Once you have it seasoned as you like, smash the chickpeas with the back of a wooden spoon until you have a consistency you like. Delicious as a side with lamb or chicken.

And as soon as you can, follow Mark Bittman's recipe and make these:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Umeshu: How a Workshop Saved My Weekend

On Sunday I was in a funk. It was an unspecific funk, one that had me feeling anxious and a little trapped. I spent the morning drawing little pleasure from the rituals that usually feed me on weekends (moving my body outdoors, spending hours with the Sunday New York Times, cooking) and flitted instead from email to Instagram to Facebook in a part-communicative, part-voyeuristic media binge that left me feeling even more like a caged animal. Luckily, a friend had signed me up for a workshop on how to make Umeshu, a kind of Japanese plum cordial made from Ume plums. In my cantankerous mood I was half dreading the commitment and half relieved that I had such an event to anchor my day and get me out of the house.

I heard about the workshop through the Peko Peko mailing list.  I had never tasted Umeshu before but everything I had ever tasted or seen of Peko Peko was beautiful, and delicious. A class hosted by them was bound to be worthwhile. Plus they promised snacks.

I arrived at Peko Peko headquarters--a nondescript building in Oakland--to find Yoko, one of the owners of Umami Mart, waiting outside to greet the workshop attendees. At the top of the dark stairway was a large, virtually empty room with a stage in one corner, old church pews pushed against the walls, and a few booths where the other students of the day mingled politely. I circulated the room like a tourist, taking pleasure in the details: a hand drawn sign on a neighbor's door, the intersection of a painted floor and tile, a room full of strangers: a mix of farmers, avid Umeshu drinkers looking for a more economical way to slake their thirst, Japanese natives living in California who grew up with Umeshu but had never made it themselves, and curious home cooks.
Before long we were each holding a file folder with neatly printed sheets of information. Junko, a staff member of Peko Peko, instructed us on the Umeshu process from beginning to end. She gave us history of the fruit (brought to Japan from China in 6th or 7th century), an explanation of what Umeshu is (a fruit cordial or liquer made from Ume and some kind of high proof alcohol), and, with a pride akin to showing off one's children, showed us photos of previous batches she has made of Umeshu using different kinds of Ume, alcohol, and types of sugar.
Eventually we were each given a jar and a recipe, and with Junko's gentle guidance we went through each step of making Umeshu. We sterilized the jars with vodka.
We selected our fruit, which resembles an apricot despite being called a plum. We then carefully nudged the stems from the depressions in the top of each one, using bamboo skewers, trying not to puncture the fuzzy skins.
We layered rock sugar and whole ume in our jars and then covered it all in vodka.
Finally, jars filled, we tasted a batch of Junko's Umeshu from last year while we ate homemade tofu, yellowtail sashimi and salmon croquets. 

The Umeshu was delicious. It was sweet and plummy at first (like the best fruit roll up, one woman said to me), and as I swallowed it turned tart on the tongue and left the mouth feeling refreshed and clean. I felt rejuvenated. On the drive home, my Umeshu jar buckled into the passenger seat, I couldn't stop thinking about the trajectory of the day and how much power we have, as individuals, to change our own stories. Sitting in my booth, cleaning the fragrant fruit and chatting with a fellow student, my agitated morning was a distant memory. I was calm. My mind was engaged. I felt at once shy and emboldened by being in a new place, out of my element but not overly so. It reminded me of traveling.
When we travel to foreign places we are forced to be men and women of action. We have no choice but to try new things, new foods, new words, to experience new smells and sights and customs. The only other choice is to hide out in our hotel rooms and the sheer cost of a vacation is usually incentive enough not to do that. Why, then, do we so readily abandon that same sense of curiosity and courage in our day to day? Why do we rationalize ourselves out of new experiences? Why do we let the scope of our daily lives get small?
Umeshu saved my weekend, and probably the weeks to come. My unsolicited advice to you is this: That recipe you've been meaning to try? Make it. The person you've been friend-flirting with? Call and make a date. That town or museum or hiking trail you keep hearing great things about but haven't made it to? Go there. A family member used to exasperate me when I complained of having nothing to do by saying "Only the boring are bored." Harsh perhaps, but in a way, true. To be bored is to throw up your hands in defeat. To be bored is to assume that you have seen all there is to see, tried everything under the sun, stimulated every different part of your personality. To be bored is to pace the room like a caged animal. You may be the animal, but remember, you are also the zoo keeper.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Raw Milk

I have never been a milk drinker. I disliked milk as a child unless it was filled with Nestle's Quick. My mom tried in vain to get me to drink milk, worried as most mothers are about growing bones, but eventually she let it rest. It was chocolate milk or bust. The one time I can remember really enjoying milk was on a childhood visit to a farm in Penobscot, Maine, with my Nana to get raw milk and eggs from her cousin. I had heard my parents and grandparents reminisce about the days of milk delivered to their doorsteps, the glass bottles beading with sweat and the wide neck choked with a thick layer of cream. It sounded romantic, and the way they said the word cream made it sound exciting and special and utterly delicious.

When we arrived at the farm the last of the cows were being milked. They were quiet and massive. Their movements were cumulative, a collective shifting from hoof to hoof or a sequenced wave of tails flicking flies. I was shyer then and it took some coaxing, but eventually I sat on the three legged stool by my Nana and gingerly placed a hand around one of the cow's teats. I jerked my hand back. The udder was soft, coated in a light fuzz of hair, and it was hot! Nana laughed and wrapped her hand over mine, showing me how to squeeze and pull (no I wouldn't hurt her) so the milk would spray into the pail below. Try it, Nana said, when we had emptied the last cow's udder. She helped me lift and tilt the pail. It smelled of hay and of animal and of butter. I took a sip. It was hot still from the cow's body. It was rich and creamy but left none of the coating on my tongue that I hated so much. It had the faintest taste of field, the sweetness you find at the juicy end of a blade of grass, pulled from its leaves and placed between your teeth.

Dairy is a hot topic in the nutrition and health world. There are arguments that dairy isn't digestible by humans, that it is poisonous, that it causes and worsens allergies and increases mucus production and inflammation. That is only one facet of the debate which doesn't even get into raw dairy versus pasteurized. The raw versus pasteurized debate has the government and food safety activists on one side, arguing that unpasteurized milk is host to all kinds of dangerous bacteria and that pasteurization was invented and standardized for a good reason. On the other side of the fence is the Weston A. Price Foundation which is arguably the leading authority on, and proponent of the benefits of raw dairy. They make a convincing case for why pastuerization is the worst thing we could do to our milk. One piece of the argument that makes particular sense to me is the notion that the rapid heat used in pasturization warps and distorts the protein chains in the milk, making them unrecognizable to the body and thus difficult, if not impossible to digest. I hadn't ever thought of milk as having gone through a process in the same way "processed foods" do, but in a sense, if milk is pasteurized, it has. Over the years I have gone through phases of attempting to drink milk but find that it sits heavily in my stomach, as if my body can't figure out what to do with it. Perhaps denatured proteins is the reason.

It's a passionate debate and the claims on both sides are equally bold, defensive, frightening and propganda-ish. After reading arguments about the dangers of raw milk and the benefits of raw milk, I decided to try some raw milk myself and see what all the fuss is about. It isn't easy to get your hands on unpasteurized dairy in most states but luckily, in California, you can find it in a surprising number of grocery stores. I bought a heavy glass bottle from Claravale Farm. It was beading with moisture. I could see the thick inch of cream at the top. I was excited already. I barely got out of the store before I tore off the plastic top and took a swig. It was cold and creamy but clean and light. No coating of my tongue, and again, that slightly sweet, grassy taste. It was delicious. Over the next few days I ate it poured over berries, in my granola, or slugged straight out of the bottle. I did not get sick from a pathogen. I did feel like I was drinking something whole and complete and truly healthy.
So now what? Is raw milk healthier? Should we avoid dairy products altogether? Is unpasteurized dairy too dangerous a food to have out in the world? I don't know. It's a complicated and far from transparent topic. What I do know is that I am still not a daily dairy drinker. It's just not for me. But when the mood strikes, as it did today, to bake chocolate chip cookies, I'll go straight to the far end of the dairy cooler and, health debates aside, go for the one in the thick glass bottle, the one that tastes the most delicious, the raw milk with that beautiful layer of cream.

Do you have experiences with raw dairy? What side of the debate are you on? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!