There are few things that I love more than things stuffed into dough. Pierogies of course but also dim sum delicacies, ravioli, blini, empanadas, crepes, tamales, calzone, samosas. I could go on for days. Once, I told a friend that I had a great idea for a cookbook – Dumplings of the World! I passionately explained, bright eyed and gesturing wildly, that every culture had a dumpling of some sort, a delicious filling or tidbit encased in a moist dough and baked, boiled or fried to perfection. Dumplings are universally wonderful and feed the world! He smiled, bemused, then turned around and pulled this off the shelf. Dammit. I still think it’s a great idea; so what if someone beat me to it?
Archive for the ‘seasonal’ Category
Many cultures start January 1st with various rituals meant to bring luck and good fortune in the coming year. It’s no surprise that my favorite of these traditions involve what some consider to be lucky foods. The Italians have their lentils, usually served with a delicious sausage called cotechino. The lentils round shape represent coins, signifying wealth in the New Year. Many think that eating pork is lucky with the pig symbolizing progress and the rich fat content signifying wealth and prosperity. The Chinese enjoy very long noodles to ensure a long life usually with shrimp, whose curve is said to resemble the hunched back of an elderly person. The Spanish eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight for luck, each grape representing a month of the year. It’s not as easy as you’d think. Round foods are also common as the shape is said to signify a complete cycle or a complete year. And hey, if I can eat my way into some good fortune in the New Year, then why not?
Sour cherry season is notoriously short – blink and you miss them – but this year it was even shorter. Due to devastating weather including an unusually warm winter and a late spring cold snap, it’s estimated that 90% of the annual cherry crop, along with quite a bit of orchard fruit were wiped out. My favorite farmer and friend Pete had a depressingly low amount of sour cherries on his market tables for exactly two weeks, about ½ the typical season. I was there both weeks, picking up a half flat of Montmorency and Baletons the second week. Good thing too … the next weekend they were but a mere memory. He’ll have gallon buckets of frozen cherries for a while but I prefer to pit and freeze my own. I’m funny like that.
What the hell are ramps anyway? For most of my life I’d never heard of the things and then about five or six years ago, they started popping up everywhere. The way folks go on and on about them you’d think they’d cure cancer, world peace and the international debt crisis. How can something possibly live up to that hype? Then I tasted some. Huh. Oniony, garlicy with an ever so slight funky edge that is so much more interesting than a scallion or straight up onion. Worth it? I think so. They’re also a sure sign that spring has arrived, even more so than the season’s first asparagus or rhubarb. I think that’s what we’re all really looking for after a few dreary months so maybe a little crazy behavior is expected.
Just when I thought we’d get through winter scot-free, along comes spring frosts, lowering temperatures and yes, the need to wear socks. The other day I saw a man walking to work wearing a winter-ish coat and flip-flops. Not too sure what that was all about but it pretty much sums up the general feeling around here – confusion. Coat or no coat? Should I bring a scarf? Flats or boots? I was so looking forward to the harbingers of spring– strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus – at the market. Oh wishful thinking! The asparagus has made it’s initial showing but for Easter, I had to make due with grocery store strawberries. Weak in flavor and pale in color, they are never my favorite. Something had to be done to give them a little boost, so I turned to a neat little trick I learned last summer during my stagiaire in France.
How we Americans spend St. Patricks Day and the traditions we associate with it have very little to do with the Emerald Isle. I came to this realization after spending one fine Chicago St. Patrick’s Day with an Irish friend and he was pretty much baffled yet highly entertained by the spectacle. The morning started with the beloved Chicago tradition of dying the river green, followed by a rather drunken parade dubiously honoring a Saint whose origins are unclear to just about everyone present, an afternoon full of sketchy green beer and delicious pints of Guinness (and more pints and pints) followed by a dinner of corned beef and cabbage. The typical St. Patrick’s Day stuff. At the end of a very long day, he looked at me with a big loopy grin and said “I don’t know what any of that has to do with my homeland, but it was great fun!” Precisely.
I’ve been in a bit of a bind with this blog thing lately. I’ve got about 14 half written posts that make no sense. I’ve got potentially great recipes that I can’t quite perfect and even better ideas I haven’t had a chance to make. My files are a half-thought out, note filled disaster. I’ve got miscellaneous ingredients and dated dairy spilling out of my refrigerator and a freezer full of good things with the potential to be great things. What I don’t have right now is time. I know, cry me a river. It’s a repeating theme lately and a situation I promised myself, while relaxed and happy deep in the French countryside, that I wouldn’t get myself into again. Yet here I am. With the holidays approaching, it’s only going to get worse. So what do I do in these situations? Make cake.
I wore a coat for the first time this week and wasn’t too happy about it. Fall is definitely in the air and though it is my favorite time of the year, I’m not quite ready give up summer. It’s inevitable, I know, but I’ll stretch it out as long as I can. Mostly, I don’t feel that I had my fill of sweet corn yet so I’ve done a few things to help that – I froze a ton of it. I also made some soup, pure essence of corn flavor that is like sunshine in a cup. It might be getting chilly but I’m going to be in full denial for quite some time.
I have a long running obsession with French cantaloupes. The memories of a chance encounter in the south of France nearly 15 years ago are as strong today as they were then. The bright orange flesh, the heady scent and the intense flavor still sends me over the moon on those rare occasions then I can find these beauties. Occasionally, for just a few weeks every year, my friend Pete has them at his Green City Market farm stand. And that time is now. I picked up two last week and another yesterday but the truth is, I was lucky this year. Since I spent a good portion of my summer in France, I had these gorgeous melons nearly every day for breakfast. I’ve never been happier.