Sour Cherry Gin Jings

My friend Amy is an awesome person to have a cocktail with because she’s funny and smart with a big heap of sass spooned in. We knew of each other through a mutual friend and then when finally we met in person, on a food styling job of course, we just clicked. We don’t see each other all that often because well, I’m up here in Massachusetts and she’s down in the big bad Apple or across the pond on a job in merry old England. Thank goodness for the smörgåsbord of ways to stay in touch. One thing, among many, that Ms. Lord and I have in common (besides food styling, being Moms, and our sassy attitudes) is our mutual love of good food and gin.

Amy Lord by John Moloney

In last week’s post on Sour Cherry Crumble I mentioned that I’d been sipping on a quick and easy cocktail I called Sour Cherry Gin Jings. Up to my elbows (literally) in sour cherries, at the end of the day I’d grab a handful, pit them, muddle with some simple syrup, mint, a shot or two of gin, and top it all off with a splash of seltzer and a few ice cubes.

Sour Cherry Gin Jings

Imagine my surprise last Saturday when I went to see my sour cherry dealer farmer and he unbelievably had a few boxes of those glowing red orbs tucked between the baskets of plums and blueberries. When he looked up from making change for another customer and watched me making a determined beeline towards his booth, he smiled and said, “I wondered if you’d show up today.”

Truth was I almost didn’t. After all he’d told me the week before that the season was over, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to torture myself or not. Sitting on his counter were less than a handful of boxes of sour cherries for us hard-core addicts. We chatted about pitting (he doesn’t use a pitter, just squashes them like my friend Marisa does), then got into a philosophical debate about gin vs. vodka in summer fruit libations. I think he’d like this wacky watermelon margarita Todd Porter and Diane Cu whipped up, even though it has neither vodka nor gin in it.

Pitting Sour Cherries

When I got home I decided to try out this super simple technique Marc Matsumoto featured on his blog No Recipes during strawberry season. After all these really were the last few boxes of sour cherries for this season and they deserved some special treatment. To remove the pits I plunked down a layer of sour cherries in a pie plate, topped them with a slightly smaller pie plate, and squished those pits out. Then all the cherries and juice went into a plastic bag, and spent the night in the freezer. The next day I popped the frozen cherries and juice into a large jar, added a bit of sugar, gin and waited.

Making sour cherry gin

Since the amount of sour cherry gin or vodka is directly limited to the amount of sour cherries you have access to (I’m guessing that most of my readers do not have a tree in their backyard), my advise is to consider who you share these cocktails with. Limited supply and all. Though of course to look at if from a different perspective this would certainly be a way to make some new friends.

Sour Cherry Gin or Vodka

1 1/2 – 2 quarts sour cherries, washed and pitted

1/2 cup turbinado/raw cane sugar

5-7 cups gin or vodka, enough to cover the cherries

Place the sour cherries and any juice you captured into a plastic back and put the freezer overnight. The next day put all the frozen cherries into a large clean jar, sprinkle with sugar and cover with gin or vodka. Let sit in fridge for 3-6 days. Drain alcohol into a clean jar that has been sterilized. Store in fridge. you can save the remaining fruit (which will have lost most of its color) by zapping in the blender with a few tablespoons of sugar. Freeze into cubes and add to adult beverages as the mood strikes you.

Sour Cherry Gin

Sour Cherry Gin Jing

Splash a jigger of sour cherry gin into a glass with some ice and a bit of the leftover marinated sour cherries. Add a spring of mint and some seltzer.

Sour Cherry Vodka Sparkler

Splash a jigger of sour cherry vodka into an old-fashioned glass, top with seltzer and a squeeze of lime.

Sour cherry vodka cocktail

Any other suggestions? The possibilities are only as limited as your supply of  Sour Cherry Gin or Vodka. Drinks on the deck anyone?

Beautiful day in Whately

Photo Credits:

Amy Lord by John Moloney
All others by Cynthia Allen
And no, the vista pictured above is not a view from my deck, though it is a short walk from my house. I think a thermos full of cocktails might be arranged…

P.S. Amy dear I am saving you a batch of this gin-based elixir for when we next meet up! Hopefully it’s soon~

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100 Pounds of Cherries

Clouds over WhatelyI have to say it’s been a delightful summer so far. Beautiful days with blue, blue skies full of enormous cumulus clouds, and nights cool enough to need a light blanket. It’s almost as if I’m in Maine not Massachusetts, and I like it very much. Of course Mother Nature has had a few bitchin’ days here and there. It’s as if she morphs into a menopausal menace who forces everyone to live through her horrendous hot flashes made up of 98º F which she then combines with 98% humidity; because you know if Mamma suffers, than everyone has got to suffer. Fortunately those nasty days have been fairly limited, and for the most part I get to start each morning listening to the birds sing and the bumblebees buzz in my hostas. A few days ago I was treated to a viewing of the proverbial birds and bees when I watched a pair of hummingbirds fly from my nasturtiums to my morning glories and then on to the hostas, fighting as they went of course since that is what hummingbirds do, while dozens of bumbles sedately moved from one hosta stem to the next, occasionally stopping by the other flowers to test their tastiness. It was actually thrilling to see both birds and bees seeking nectar and pollen from the same plants.

Morning Glories and Nastursium

A bonus to this pleasant weather is that I’ve actually felt like turning the stove on to cook. Unlike summers past where it has been so hot I’ve felt like I was melting (and as a result of that heat I whined about the temperature a lot – like here and here and here), it has actually been okay to bake things. Which is good because I have been on a sour cherry binge. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I have been going to the farmer’s market every Saturday and bringing home baskets upon baskets, and then case upon case of sour cherries from Outlook Farm.Outlook Farm cherries

Some of the things I’ve done with this massive amount of sour cherries has not needed any heat. My Sour Cherry Gin Jings which are made up of muddled sour cherries, a squirt of simple syrup or maple syrup, a shot or two of gin, sometimes juice/sometimes not, all topped off with some seltzer and mint are made on the counter or sometimes out on the deck as the sun is setting. Quite refreshing and no heat required.

Sour Cherry Gin Jings

Mostly I’ve been working on a pretty stellar Sour Cherry Crumble. I know, I know you want to get our your tiny violin and play some sad songs for the suffering I’ve gone through this past month taste-testing six I mean seven, well actually nine sour cherry crumbles. I also whipped up a batch of Sour Cherry Hand Pies to pack in a picnic Isabelle, Russell, Vivian, and I took to The Clark Museum*. They were lovely, but needed more filling according to my intrepid taste testers and myself. Basically it’s been a month of sour cherry feasting.

What I’ve come to learn is that while most berries are juicy, sour cherries seem to explode with juice. This juiciness necessitates a few alterations to how one would normally approach a berry dessert. If you treat the sour cherries like a blueberry for instance, and just toss them with some sugar and flour, then sprinkle with a crumb topping you’ll watch in fascination and horror as the cherry juice first bubbles up and over the pie plate (more so than any blueberry ever could). This juice-ifying can be at times so violent that it will even eject whole cherries from the pie onto the baking pan (which you hopefully put under your pie plate because if you didn’t you’ll be scrubbing the bottom of your oven for a week). As the cooking continues the cherry filling proceeds to swallow the crumb topping like a molten sea of red lava before the topping ever has a chance to brown and crisp up. The first time I watched this happen it reminded me of the cheesy special effects of a Godzilla movie.

My solutions to this sour cherry juiciness are two-fold – first use a bigger (or at least deeper) dish and second pre-cook the filling a bit before proceeding with the pie or crumble making. I can already hear the whining, “But do I really have to take this extra step?” To which I answer, “Read the paragraph above.” Do you really want to deal with sour cherry ooze?

Making sour cherry pie filling

The other thing to note about cherries, sour or otherwise, is that they have pits, and you must get rid of said pits before you make a pie or crumble or cocktail. This is a tedious job which can be made less tedious by listening to a book on tape. Something like Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice or whatever book strikes your fancy (I certainly don’t expect everyone to be an Austin fan, but trust me when I say a book or podcast will help the process go faster). Our library system now offers ebooks and audio books which you can download onto your tablet or computer. This means you will never be without a book to read or listen to as long as you can charge your device, which is cause for a happy dance in my opinion.

I’ve written before on this blog about not wanting to own kitchen tools that only serve one purpose. One hundred pounds of cherries later I do wonder if I should break my rule and invest in a cherry pitter. My knitting group certainly recommended I think about it as they scoffed down multiple helpings of a gluten-free sour cherry crumble I made for them (everyone in my knitting group is GF, with the exception of moi). Maybe next year I’ll invest in a pitter. Or not.

Sour Cherry Crumble PieSour Cherry Crumble

Filling:

1 quart sour cherries, pitted

3/4 cups sugar

juice of 1/2 small lemon

1/2 – 2  Tablespoons corn starch

Topping:

2/3 cup flour (or same amount as cup4cup GF “flour”)

2/3 cup old-fashioned oats

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

3 ounces (3/4 stick) margarine or butter

If you’ve already pitted the cherries you can start with the recipe.  If not turn on your book on tape or favorite CD and pit away. Don’t bother wasting the energy of preheating the oven while you pit.

In a medium size saucepan stir together the cherries, sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Heat over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, more towards the end than at the beginning, for 14 – 20 minutes or until mixture starts to thicken and has bubbled away for several minutes. Don’t let the mixture burn, because it will if you don’t attend to it, and you did after all just spend a whole heck of a lot of time pitting those cherries, so burning would be bad.

After the mixture has been started to bubble around the edges of the saucepan preheat the oven to 400ºF. Once the mixture has thickened and cooked a wee bit scrape it into your pie plate. As I said before I found it helpful to use something slightly larger than you’d normally use for a fruit pie. An 8″ square Pyrex pan is a good choice. So is a 12″ round pie plate. All my pie plates are glass or ceramic, so I don’t know if the acidity from the cherries and lemon juice would react to a metal pie plate. Better not to find out is my advice. Set your pie plate on a jelly roll pan which has been lined with parchment paper or a silpat mat. Even using the bigger pie plate/dish there will still be some spill over.

Pop in the oven for 45 minutes and then start to make your topping. Do this by rubbing the margarine (if you’re serving people who have dairy allergies or are vegan) into the flour/oatmeal/sugar mix with your fingertips until it is crumbly and had lumps the size of peas. If the cherry pie has been in the oven about 10 – 15 minutes carefully sprinkle the crumble over the top, making sure you do not dump too much in any one spot. If you like less crumble that this recipe makes simply sprinkle on what you like and freeze the rest for another pie or to put on top of muffins. Continue baking the pie until the topping is nicely browned and the sour cherry goo has bubbled up (hopefully not over too much) around the edges of your topping. When everything is brown and bubbly and smelling divine remove from the oven and cool.

Sour cherry pie

Here’s something I learned from SCC #8 – if you try to eat this right out of the oven it will be like soup. Plus chances are very good that you will burn your mouth, even if you try to eat it a là mode. So be patient and wait for it to cool down, then enjoy.

Sour cherry pie about to be gobbled up

*If you are around western Massachusetts this summer it really is worth your time to take a trip over to the The Clark Museum. They have a lovely Van Gogh exhibit, along with James McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 which I was thrilled to see, plus they are showing the winning Super Bowl art wager (on loan for three months from the Seattle Art Museum) – Albert Bierstadt’s Puget Sound on the Pacific Ocean. Oh, and they recently finished an exquisite renovation of their building so that it now has this series of gorgeous reflecting pools, plus plenty of picnic tables for enjoying your lunch outside at.

Vivian at Clark Art Museum

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Adding Some Color

Pink field flowersTwenty seven days is a long time. Not in relationship to a lifetime, or even when considered in the context of the 365 days that form a year, but for my family the past 27 days marks the longest time we’ve neither seen nor heard from Isabelle since the day she was born. Black eyed SusansMostly things seemed pretty normal around here during the month of June. The lawn mower decided to take an extended vacation so we’re seeing what our yard looks like without being mowed – it’s rather pretty. Shawn went out to Chicago to celebrate the 100th birthday of a friend. The septic system needed emptying, which is a job I’m sure the guys driving those honey trucks do not get paid enough to do. DaisiesOliver the dog decided to tell a visiting buck whose yard it was, only to be sprayed with something pretty nasty (I didn’t know that deer could do that). He came yelping back to the house for a bath. The deer got to spend the night bedded down in our pink flowers. Deer bedFor Isabelle though June meant Air Force ROTC Field Training month (well 27 days to be exact). Which, in this age of being in touch 24/7, dialed the clock back to the pre-cell phone, pre-texting, pre-Skyping, pre-Facebook, pre-Instagram, even pre-phone calling days. In order to communicate we had to take pen to paper and let the USPS shuttle our missives back and forth.Radishes and carrotsWe did get some letters, which were read again and again. Then an actual call last night after her graduation ceremony. It was lovely hearing her voice, and reassuring to find out she hadn’t melted into a puddle in the Alabama heat. I’m sure there are stories, some which can be shared, and others which cannot. The main thing I’m grateful for is that she made it through and came out smiling. Vegetables from the farmer's marketAfter nearly a month of military food I thought our Cadet could use some color in her diet. So before driving down to pick her up from the airport we stopped by the farmer’s market to get some vegetables and fruit. It should make a change from MREsCherry tomatoes and peasThe other touch of color she requested was to stop for dinner at our favorite local vegetarian restaurant Paul & Elizabeth’s on the drive home, followed by ice cream at Herrell’s. I guess she’d been dreaming about ice cream a lot while down in the south, can’t imagine why. Herrell’s was super sweet and had a free sundae waiting for her. Here’s to a summer filled with rainbows of color and no more MREs. Celebratory sundae at Herrell's

 

P.S. Here is the pile of mail she received while at FT. It’s incomplete as there were many letters which hadn’t arrived by the time she left. We’re expecting they’ll be forwarded to us or returned to sender. All in all a huge stack of happy mail.

Field Training happy mail

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Owning It

Sometimes I come up with the absolutely, bestest ideas for other people, and I’m trying really hard to stop doing that. Or at least reign in my inclinations. A classic example is when Isabelle was about to enter 10th grade and I thought it would be amazing if she made a Periodic Table of Elements for her Chemistry class at the Academy at Charlemont. Not just a drawing of the elements, but a painting of all one hundred and thirteen of them, each on its own miniature canvases. When I come up with an idea for someone else it’s usually a doozy!

Periodic tableUnfortunately Isabelle initially said yes to my grand idea so I went down to the Guild Art Supply and ordered 113 – 2″ square canvases. A color scheme was come up with, and at one point in the year Belle and a friend painted the backgrounds for most of the series (there may have been some prodding on my part, I don’t really remember). It took her most of 10th grade for her to finally got up her courage and tell me she didn’t want to do this project since it was, as she truthfully informed me, “your idea Mom.” Gulp. She then asked if she could use a few of the canvases to keep so she could paint some pictures for her friends because they were, after all, pretty cute. As I was feeling somewhat deflated that she didn’t think my grand idea was quite so grand, I said yes.

A few years later Russell, who by 10th grade was much better at saying no than his sister, didn’t even let me finish my sentence when I suggested he take over the project. He just gave me the “you have got to be kidding me” face and I stopped mid-sentence.

Nothing is square

So the project sat in a small box in the back of Isabelle’s closet until last year when Russell decided to skip his senior year of high school and go to college a year early. It was time for me to finish my great chemistry class idea and paint individual canvases of the Periodic Table of Elements. So as my son was finishing up the spring semester of his junior year I spent the evenings and weekends painting and hand lettering the metals, non-metals, alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, halogens, and chalogens. Unfortunately I’d forgotten about the canvases Isabelle had borrowed, plus there was that pesky element 116 Livermorium, which had been added to the table since I’d first conceptualized this little project, which resulted in my having to make a desperate last minute trip to the Guild to get a few more canvases. Unfortunately they were sold out. There is a reason everyone tells you not to procrastinate. The clerks at Guild took pity on me and scoured the store for sample mini canvases, which someone had painted on for display purposes. They let me have those samples so that I could paint over the micro landscapes and finish up my PTE.

Working late into the night

There was also the very large reality of how to place 114 elements, all nicely painted on miniature canvases, onto a background. That was a pretty big mistake of mine, since a background was not something I had conceptualized at all when I was dreamt up this wonderful idea. My poor husband, as so often happens, was asked to come to the rescue. He can think in 3D and spatially understood that while the canvases might have fit into a box slightly bigger than a gallon sized paint can when stacked on top of one another, they were going to take up a heck of a lot more real estate when spread out into the Periodic Table of Elements. He also realized that those cute little canvases were not square. Not a single one of them, which meant the background had to be even bigger. Fortunately he has the brain of an engineer, the skill of a master carpenter, and the patience of a saint. He even calculated the maximum size this background could be so that it would still fit into my car, thus saving him the job of transporting the PTE to the Academy in his truck.

Not so small periodic table of elements

Just before the end of the school year I finished it. Five years and two chemistry teachers later. By some miracle the whole thing fit, by a few millimeters, into the space in the chemistry room designated for the Periodic Table of Elements. Hopefully I have learned my lesson when it comes to thinking up epic ideas for other people.

Mike Cardozo the PTE and me

Also I think that for the foreseeable future my involvement with chemistry will be solely through food and cooking.

Periodic Table of Elements

Photo credits: drawing of Periodic Table of Elements courtesy of Middlebury College. All other photos by Shawn Allen.

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Mother’s Day Celebrations

Tiny blue flowers

Last weekend was fantastic because not only did I get to have a pre-Mother’s Day celebration with my own Mom, I also got to spend Mother’s Day itself with my two kids. Neither of those things would have happened if our friends Rick and Thomas hadn’t decided to get married.

The weekend was a whirlwind of logistics, and I felt like the commanding officer, which is a good thing because as anyone who knows me knows I like to be in charge of things. Something about being a Capricorn and a first child I guess, though my younger brother would chalk it up to my being a “bossy boots”. To get us all to the wedding I first had to pick up Russell at Simon’s Rock after his last class on Friday (do not ask me why a lab gets out at 4:45 on a Friday afternoon). Since I would be that far west in Massachusetts it didn’t really seem much further to hop over the New York border and see my folks who were working that weekend at our family’s art gallery in Hudson, New York. I arranged a pre-Mother’s Day lunch with Mom and Dad prior to scooping up my boy young man.

Wedding to-do list

I packed a pretty basic lunch –  carrot soup, a few oatmeal banana cookies, and the ingredients for some cheesy baking powder biscuits. All in all a safe, easy lunch. Except for the part where I misread the recipe as I was throwing the biscuit ingredients together at 6 am before jumping in the car. What has my friend Rick told me for years?

Read the recipe!

Turns out I spooned in a few too many teaspoons of baking powder. The biscuits looked delicious as they came out of my parent’s apartment oven, nicely browned, with a sharp cheddar cheese melted on top and oozing out on the sides, but one bite and your eyes started to water as your tongue curled up from the bitter, salty taste of excess baking powder. So much for my “simple” pre-Mother’s day lunch. The good part was that since it was family we just peeled off the cheesy tops and dipped those into our soup. I was a bit embarrassed but the good news is my family loves me despite the occasional mess up in the kitchen.

On a trip out to feed more quarters into the parking meter I popped into Talbott & Arding to see if they had some decent bread my parents could eat with their leftover soup (the biscuits were definitely off the menu). T & A had some delicious looking focaccia. I also spied a just-out-of-the-oven Lemon Olive Oil Cake amongst their baked goods, as well as little glass jars of Lemon Curd stacked in the refrigerator. I knew Mom loved lemon curd and I’d been wanting to try an olive oil cake for a while now so I added a slice of cake and a bitsy jar of lemon curd to my order and trotted back upstairs.

Olive oil lemon cake with lemon curd

The double whammy of the cold, creamy, super-tart lemon curd with the subtle lemony moistness of the cake was divine. A match made in culinary heaven. So one bust (the awful biscuits) and one boom (the lemon/lemon dessert), and if you’re paying attention I’ll say it right here – we had two desserts that day (remember those banana oatmeal cookies I mentioned above). Life is short and I love dessert.

Olive oil cake

After catching up with my folks I drove to Great Barrington with Olive Oil Lemon cake on my mind, picked up Russ, and headed home. We packed up the tuxes and fancy duds, searched for cufflinks and studs, and made sure the dog sitter had the keys so that bright and early Saturday morning we could zoom down to UNH and get Isabelle. As per usual with our family we were off like a herd of turtles on Saturday morning, but we made it down there. With everybody squeezed into the car we headed over to the train station and caught a train into the city just six minutes after parking the car.

It’s been twenty-five years since I lived in the NYC, but  find that I slip back into the grove of city life instantly. After a moment to orient myself to the North-West-South-East of Manhattan we were off weaving our way past pretzel vendors and tourists pointing their cell phones at everything, behemoth skyscrapers and little tiny shops barely wider than a doorway. While I didn’t love many of the midtown odors wafting our way, I did enjoy walking through the various businesses districts as we went from Grand Central to Penn Station. Being back in New York really is like riding the proverbial bicycle – you don’t forget how.

Selfie at Saint Marys

The wedding itself was fabulous, a true celebration of two people I hold dear. It was a chance to catch up with old friends and folks I hadn’t seen in ages, as well as finally meet some I’d only previously heard about. We were well-fed, the champagne and conversation flowed, and I even got to bust out some of my old dance moves. In a toast to the newlyweds Tom’s cousin said, “One of the great things about Tom and Rick is that they show up. In a world where people seem to be busier than ever, sometimes the simple act of showing up is the greatest thing you can do.” He’s right, and it was such a pleasure to be able to show up for their special day.

Thomas and Rick ready to cut the cake

While Saturday was all about Rick & Thomas, the boys (as I fondly think of them) had conveniently chosen Mother’s Day weekend to tie the knot, which meant that I was able to be with my own two munchkins. Had it not been for the wedding Isabelle and Russell would have been at their respective colleges getting ready to present final projects, as well as studying for finals and exams. So a big thanks guys for my (inadvertent) Mother’s Day present!

Olive oil lemon cake

I didn’t ask for the Lemon Olive Oil cake recipe when I was at T & A so after I got back from the wedding I played around with testing different Olive Oil cakes. Some have yogurt in them and some don’t. I think the one we ate didn’t have any dairy, but who knows, I guess I’ll have to go back and try another slice. Of the ones I baked here is my favorite*, along with the recipe for Rose Levy Bernanbaum‘s lemon curd, a true classic.

Mother’s Day Olive Oil Lemon Cake

4 eggs

1 cups sugar

1/2 cup olive oil (fruity is good, but not too zippy)

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Zest of 2-3 lemons

Juice of 2-3 lemons (about 1/2 cup)

Powdered sugar for sprinkling, optional

Preheat the oven to 350ºF then lightly grease and flour a 9″ cake pan, lining the bottom with parchment paper. You may think it isn’t necessary to line the bottom, but trust me that you will come to regret it if you skip this step.

Beat the eggs and sugar on high with a heavy duty stand mixer for about 5 minutes or until very light and fluffy. If you are doing this by hand you’ll be able to skip the gym for the day because it will take you soooo much longer. With the beaters on low drizzle in the olive oil, zest**, and lemon juice. At this point you may need to switch to incorporating things by hand, because you don’t want to deflate the eggs/sugar too much. Sift the dry ingredients over the mixture and gently fold until all the flour is incorporated. Pour into prepared pan and bake 42-47 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10-20 minutes then carefully make sure the edge is free by running a knife around the edge. Pop out the cake and finish cooling on a rack, then store in an air tight container.

*I found and modified the recipe for the cake on this blog as I meandered around the internet, and she got it from the Vegetarian Times Mediterranean cookbook.

**When you zest a lemon the oils want to sprintz all over which, while it will make your kitchen smell great, means those oils do not end up in your cake. The solution (thanks to Food52) is to grate the lemon over the olive oil or even the oil/sugar mix. That way those yummy  oils sprintz into the cake batter adding to the overall lemony-ness of things.

Extra Tart Lemon Curd

Very Tart Lemon Curd

6 egg yolks

1 light cup sugar (measure out a cup then remove a Tablespoon or so)

zest from 3-4 lemons (depending on size)

5 ounces fresh lemon juice (which should be the juice from 3-4 lemons)

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

In a medium size stainless steel pan whisk together the yolks and sugar together. Once they’re well blended stir in the zest, juice, salt and butter. The butter won’t completely mix in, so don’t worry it will melt as you put it on the heat.

Why does it have to be stainless steel? Well it doesn’t, it could be glass if you have a glass pan that works on your stove top. It’s more important that you don’t put the acidic lemon juice into a pan that it could react to such as cast iron or aluminum. Now you know.

Keep whisking the whole lemon-sugar-egg-butter mixture over medium low heat and it will start to thicken up and turn glossy as the ingredients emulsify. If you don’t keep whisking you’ll end up with a pan of sweet/tart scrambled egg yolks. The goal for lemon curd is thick enough to coat a spoon, while still being loose enough to pour. Remember this mixture will continue to thicken as it cools.

When you’ve gotten to the point of thick but not too thick, pour through a very fine mesh strainer. This will separate out the lemon zest bits as well as any stray blobs of cooked yolk. Cover the curd with a piece of plastic wrap so a skin does not form on the top and let cool. Once cool you can store it in the fridge for a week or so.

Extra Tart Lemon Curd

Here’s to happy marriages, all things lemon, Mother’s Day, and showing up!

Ready to go to the wedding

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When is it Truly Spring?

PansiesAccording to the calendar spring showed up almost a month ago. Just not at our house. Instead, on the supposed first day of spring, it snowed. A little over two weeks later we didn’t even attempt to have an Easter egg hunt because the snow in our north facing yard had only melted three feet from the house. Plus in some sort of twisted joke Mother Nature decided to send us another dusting of snow on Easter.

Snow on Easter

While I admit I’m no weather forecaster, this is how I judge if spring has truly come:

  • The maple syrup run is over
  • We’ve turned off the furnace
  • The town notifies you that street sweeping will commence
  • Shawn has put the screen doors on
  • Somebody wins our Last-Day-of-Snow-Melt bet

Yes our family has an annual pool, betting on which day of spring will be the day that the very last pile of snow will melt. Winner gets dinner of their choice.

2015 Snow melt predictions

I admit I secretly thought that between the mountains of snow we had this year and the endless snowstorms dumped on New England week after week, I had picked the winning date for 2015. Alas, while I was puttering in the yard yesterday planting pansies and raking up last of the previous year’s leaves, I noticed the one remaining pile of snow had become just a wet spot on the driveway. Which makes Shawn the 2015 Snow Melt winner with his pick of April 19th!

Last spot of snow melt

The last spot of snow melt from the winter of 2015.

My husband is such an egalitarian that he’s chosen to postpone his winning dinner until the kids come home from college next month. So I decided to make him a little precursor treat that sings of sunny days and warmer climates – Homemade Fig Newtons.

Black and White Fig Newtons with Wings

 

I started making these cookies last year while I was teaching a studio block at The Academy at Charlemont on the Foods of Massachusetts. This was an in-depth cooking class based on a curriculum I came up with 2005* where we explored and made all the official state foods of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, along with several of the foods invented in or grown in the state, and (just to be fair) the contenders for what went on to become the “official” state foods.

On July 9, 1997 the Toll-House Chocolate Chip Cookie beat out the Fig Newton for the title of official state cookie of Massachusetts. If I’d been voting it would have been a hard call because they are both great cookies. There is no denying Ruth Wakefield’s chocolate chip cookie is an American classic, but that said, the machine to make Fig Newtons is pure genius. It is basically funnel within a funnel which simultaneously extrude the fig-y center into the center of the biscuit exterior. The Massachusetts connection is the machine to make this happen was invented in 1891 by James Henry Mitchel. Mitchel sold his machine, along with the recipe for fig cookies, to the Kennedy Biscuit Works (later known as Nabisco). Kennedy Biscuit Works had a tradition of naming their cookies and crackers after the towns surrounding Boston, Hence the now-famous name of Fig Newton. You can watch the machine in action in this video of Paul Newman’s Fig Newman’s cookies.

Figs ready to poach

This recipe was inspired by Megan Scott over at Food52. I’ve doubled her recipe because I’ve learned that there is no such thing as enough homemade fig newtons. However many you make you will always wish you’d made more. Scott doesn’t say what kind of figs to use, but I’ve given you the option of making these with white or black figs – I usually make them 1/2 and 1/2. My experience is the white figs tend to be a bit softer and bigger to start with (less cutting up at prep time), but when I’m tasting the finished product side by side the black figs edge out the white by a smidge, at least for me. I also like to use the juice from the oranges to poach the figs in rather than water, which ads that little je ne sais quois to the recipe. Note: This really is a two-day recipe, you can’t really rush it. One day to make dough and filling then an over night in the fridge to chill it all down.

White figs

Finally I’d like to thank our friend Adam Gilbert for helping with the name. I was so frustrated when the dough portion would cook out to the sides instead of staying tightly wrapped around the fig filling that I was ready to jump up and down and say bad words. It’s the food stylist in me I guess. It really steamed my spatula that these fig newtons weren’t perfect. Adam just looked at me as I was vocalizing my frustration and said, “What are you talking about? I love the fact that they have wings.” Thanks Adam, for reminding me that food doesn’t have to always be perfect, it just has to taste good, and these wings are delicious.

Fig Newtons with Wings

Homemade Fig Newtons with Wings

Dough

3 cups flour, plus more for rolling out

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened (2  1/2 sticks)

1  1/3 cups packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

Zest of two oranges

Filling

2 pounds dried figs (black or white or a combination)

1 cup fresh orange juice, extra water if figs are dry

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a mixing bowl and set aside. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), beat the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, vanilla, and orange zest and beat until combined. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended. Scoop the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape into a log, and refrigerate for at least 2-24 hours. Longer is better since this is a very soft dough (see note above).

Combine the figs and juice in a medium saucepan. If you don’t have quite enough juice for the full cup you can top it off with a bit of water. Bring the juice to a boil, cover, and turn to temperature to very low, simmering for about 8-12 minutes. When the liquid has almost completely evaporated turn off the heat and allow them to cool for 10-15 minutes. Transfer the figs and any remaining juice to a food processor and pulse until the mixture is completely smooth. If things are too dry add a smidge of water. You want paste, not soup and not cement.

The filling mixture has to cool completely before you put it in the dough or it will melt the dough before you even get it into the oven. If you are in a rush you can pipe fig goo into lines on a sheet of parchment paper and pop in the freezer to cool faster. Once the filling has cooled down I put it into a sturdy disposable pastry bag and cut off the tip so I can easily pipe out 1″ lines of filling onto the dough.

Move oven racks so they divide space into thirds. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Place 1/3 of dough onto a sheet of parchment paper which has been sprinkled liberally with flour. Sprinkle more flour on top and roll into a long skinny rectangle, about 7” x 15”. You’ll want to move the dough every so often and perhaps re-flour to keep things from sticking. Cut the dough down the middle so you have two long rectangles. Place 1/6 of fig filling in middle of one rectangle in roughly a 1″ line. Wrap the dough gently over the filling and flip so the seam side is touching the parchment. Repeat with the second rectangle. Place the parchment on a cookie sheet and slide the whole thing into the fridge while you get another sheet of parchment and repeat with the next third of dough.

You’ll be able to cook two cookie sheets at a time, rotating shelves and giving each sheet a 180º spin midway through. Bake 20-24 minutes or until cookies are just browning along the edges. Don’t forget to flip and spin the cookie sheets half way through the baking process. Once the first 4 logs are out bake off the last two.

After letting the fig logs cool slightly (4-10 minutes) gently slice them into cookies with a serrated knife using a sawing motion. You may need to clean the blade of fig filling every so often.

If your dough was a bit warm when you were rolling these out, or your filling was too hot these fig newtons develop very intense “wings”. Don’t worry – as Adam says they’re delicious. Store in an air tight dry container. Makes 70-86 depending on how wide you cut them.

Fig filling for homemade fig newtons

Rolling up homemade fig newtons

So hip, hip horay for true Spring, a husband who is willing to share his winnings, and remembering what is most important about the foods that come out of our ovens.

Homemade fig newton cookies

*State school curriculum requires all third graders in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts study their home state. I am so grateful to Isabelle’s third grade teacher, Pat Bell, who while she a rigorous and dedicated teacher, did not want to include cooking in her class. Her reticence on the culinary front gave me the opportunity to come in and teach an adjunct Massachusetts food class to her 2004-2005 students. Which I taught again when Russell was in third grade.

It turns out that my adopted state’s legislature has a passion for voting to make all sorts of food “the official ______ of Massachusetts”. We have an official beverage, fruit, muffin, dessert, vegetable, donut, and cookie. There has even been proposed legislature to declare an official state sandwich. Can you guess what they are (without googling the answers)?

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Stocking Up On Stock

The sunrises of and early morning skies of late have been stunning. Well worth waking up for. Here are a few of my favorites.

Sunrise March 1 2015

Sunrise March 10 2015

Early March morning in Whately MALater today I’ll go to pick up Russell for his Spring Break from Simon’s Rock College. His last text mentioned he had received my most recent Happy Mail packages, thought he’d done well on his Comp Sci midterm, and was looking forward to some much-needed down time from books, papers and exams. Okay it was a text and in reality it was much shorter than that, but since this is a blog and not a text I thought I could take some license and expand what was communicated via the little green bubble.

Cookies and Mini Simon's Rock School Mascot

Over break Russell won’t be going somewhere warm, though it has certainly warmed up around these parts considerably in the past week. Nor will he be doing any mission work, which I’ve noticed from several of my Facebook friends, is apparently the latest way to spend a college holiday. He probably won’t even hit the slopes to take advantage of all the snow we’ve had this winter.

Whately Winter Weather

Instead he will be having his wisdom teeth pulled out, what for many Americans has become a seemingly bizarre rite of passage. Both my husband and I did it when we were his age. Many of his friends have had it done. On Monday Russell will lose four more teeth, and trust me when I say the Tooth Fairy will not be stopping by to pay him for these fangs.

The doctor made a few recommendations – pick up the pain medication before you come in for the surgery so you won’t have to sit around at the drug store waiting for a prescription to be filled, and also stock the kitchen with soft foods such as soup, ice cream, puddings. His one iron clad rule was no straws! He said he’s had patients who pulled their own stitches out with a straw and a thick shake. So I have locked the straws away, have bought several pints of ice cream,  and have been making stock instead.

In our house stock almost always means chicken stock. There is usually a block or two of homemade stock in the freezer as well as bags of vegetable scraps and bones ready for the next stock pot. If you don’t know this already stock is the most delicious form of recycling for your food scraps. Every time you peel a carrot or onion, or top and tail a stalk of celery you pop those bits into a bag which then lives in your freezer. Likewise when you roast a chicken all the skin and bones end up living in a bag in the freezer until it’s time to make stock. This isn’t anything fancy – it is peasant stock. Rich and dark and flavorful. The perfect base for any soup. It will always be darker in color than what you will find in a box on the super market shelves. It will taste truer than a bouillon cube dissolved in water. Hopefully the resulting soups will give sustenance as he recovers.

Vegetable scraps for stock

Simple Stock

Carrot peelings

Onion skins

Celery scraps

Parsley stalks (optional)

Chicken or turkey carcass, including skin, fat and bones

I don’t measure anything for my stock, just fill a large pot with vegetable scraps, chicken carcasses (you’ll want at least one carcass and it’s even better if you have two) and water, then simmer for a few hours. Cover the pot and let it sit overnight then strain it the next morning.

Straining cooked stock

After that I let the stock sit in a large bowl in the fridge so the fat rises to the top and solidifies somewhat and can then be scrapped off. If I’m in a hurry I use a fat separator which is one of the best inventions ever (see picture below). I’m an Episcopalian so I call what I strain or scrape off chicken fat, if I were Jewish I’d call it schmaltz. This is not officially what one would call schmaltz, but it’s pretty darn close. If you want to make the real deal click here or ask your Jewish Grandmother how to make it. Anyway back to the stock. Once you’ve de-fatted it you can then either use it immediately or pour into freezer bags and save it for a day when you need some stock.

Chicken stock fat separator

Now you know it’s that easy.

What’s not so easy is my ability to not  taste test all the ice cream I bought. What can I say? I am weak and therefor will go back to the store before Monday to restock what I gobbled up. At least I can say that it did pass the taste test, so we can be sure of that much.

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