Saturday, September 22, 2012

Autumn Equinox

The day was a perfect balance of summer's warmth and fall's dry, crisp air. While my counterpart put a pot of chicken thighs on to stock, I paid a visit to my local pumpkin patch. I found one of those rare, perfectly round pumpkins that seemed to call out to me, whispering "Hey, hey, over here" as I wandered through. And it turned out to be a real beauty.

My counterpart seeded it and roasted both flesh and seeds with salt, pepper, and curry, adding honey to the seeds. And the chicken continued to stock until we had equal parts stock and roasted pumpkin. After letting the pumpkin cool near an open window, he carefully skinned it and diced it and added it to a pot of strained stock. A quick turn with the immersion blender, and the stock became soup.

Left on the back burner to simmer, he started on the meat. A boneless leg of lamb, also seasoned with salt, pepper, and curry, was quickly prepped. Once in the oven, he turned his attention to the veg.

A mash of white potato with leek, olive oil, and zucchini married the last of summer's squash with the longer-lasting roots of a winter diet. He carefully peeled and boiled the potatoes. While the potatoes were boiling, he drained some lamb jus from the roasting pan, combined it with a little butter, and sauteed the veg. Chunks of zucchini and potato were briskly mashed with milk and olive oil for a coarse, slightly bitter vegetable mashup.

The meat and veg complete, a little white onion and leek were added to the soup to simmer while the table was laid. A simple reduction of balsamic vinegar added to a roux was prepared to top our meat.

Our closest family - my counterpart's brother and his wife - provided the corn bread, a moist round that was both mild in flavor and coarse in texture. We prepared honey butter to go along with it, and it was a very nice pairing, as light and sweet as the day's weather.

Dessert was a fallback of Breyer's ice cream - one final salute to summer - as the time we should have spent last night on a cake or pie of some sort was taken up by the pleasure of each other's company doing nothing in particular.

And so the casual days of summer come to an end. Next week, we begin the last of the outdoor chores, wrapping up projects and preparing for the inevitable cold, dark days ahead.

Chicken Stock

Perfect Pumpkin

Pumpkin seeds ready for roasting

Fresh zucchini

Boneless leg of lamb

Potatoes in the sunshine

Placing peeled potatoes in cool water keeps them from discoloring

Roasted pumpkin

Minced leek

The table is set

Potato zucchini mashup
Autumn pumpkin soup

A mid-harvest meal: corn bread, pumpkin soup, potato zucchini mashup, and roasted lamb with balsamic reduction

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Mabon Meal

The days are getting shorter. The farmer's markets are winding down. The shadows grow long in the afternoon as the air cools and summer's brightness wanes. When we were still an agrarian culture and lived among our food, this was the middle of the harvest, and the very end of the growing season. We began preparing for winter, when our diets inevitably, necessarily changed from fresh produce to dried and preserved fruits, pickled and stewed vegetables, nuts and legumes and other foods that store well for months at a time.

The daylight and the night are nearly in balance, which is why we call this time the equinox. This is a time of gratitude, an opportunity to give thanks for life and health. The days in which we faced winter's chill with only the hearth fire and good planning to get us through are not so distant yet in human history. So this is also a time for community, for family, for coming together to face the cold and the darkness that is to come.

As the Autumnal Equinox approaches, my counterpart and I are making our preparations by planning a family dinner. Our menu consists of seasonal food and symbolize the transition from farming and domestication to hunting and gathering that our forebears practiced. What they did for survival, we observe in honor and homage. Life is fragile. Food and family are essential.

For our mid-harvest family meal, we are combining those robust, late-season vegetables - think roots and squashes - with earthy herbs and spices. We considered some variety of game for the main course but ultimately felt it was too early to switch to hunted meat and opted for something domesticated.

Here is our seasonal Autumn Equinox dinner menu for next weekend:

Pumpkin Soup (here is last year's recipe)
Corn Bread
Some variety of Lamb (here is my 30-Minute Lamb post)
Sauteed Zucchini, as a final salute to summer

Dessert could be a pie made from the last of the summer fruits. I think we will be serving cake. While a nice, spicy carrot cake is definitely appropriate for this meal, my counterpart has an almond flour cake recipe he would like to try out. Recipes and photos will be posted.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

If the Stores are Already Planning for Christmas, Why Shouldn't I?

Last night was the first really cool night of the season. I slept with the windows open and awoke cocooned in the comforter, my counterpart similarly wrapped in a blanket he pulled off the bed in the guest bedroom. Despite the 90-degree weather we saw yesterday, it was a bracing 55 when I got up this morning.

We felt the cool air moving in yesterday after a spate of thunder showers. We picked up some chicken, gathered all the miscellaneous veg from the fridge, and set about making soup.

And I started thinking about holiday baking in earnest. I feel this is justified because I did indeed see Christmas stuff out on display this weekend. If the stores are already planning for Christmas, why shouldn't I? After all, it takes me much longer to get it together than it does them.

Depending on what type of baker you are, the holiday baking season begins at different times and requires a varied amount of planning. If you bake all the time, the end of the year is an opportunity for you to showcase your best stuff. If you only bake during the holidays but have a set collection of specialties, you can adhere to the tradition you have established.

Then there are the rest of us. We who only bake during the holidays, yet feel we need to have a new and exciting theme each year. Which means new and exciting recipes each year. Many that we are trying for the first time. Typically I start baking around Thanksgiving. Things go awry. Recipes don't work out right. I invariably end up baking chocolate chip cookies and butterscotch brownies on December 20 in the hopes of filling the cookie tins with something edible.

This year, I am getting a jump start. I have my theme - Old Timey Holiday Favorites.

I have my recipes. Most of these are from the Gourmet cookbook but also appear on Epicurious. I've added the links for the recipes I could find there:

Penuche - I will not be using the recipe from Gourmet. I tried it about a month ago and it really didn't work.
Anise-Scented Fig and Date Swirls
Chocolate Sambuca Crinkle Cookies
Five Spice Ginger Snaps
Pistachio Dark Chocolate Crisps
Ginger Honey Cookies

These are all new recipes for me, so I will need to start trial runs fairly soon and adjust my plan for anything that doesn't work out.

And, even though I am starting the holiday baking season before the autumnal equinox, please feel free to join me and provide any baking recipes you'd like to see me try. Email me at

Friday, September 7, 2012

Lunch Will Never Be the Same

Though it was a four-day work week, by the time I woke up this morning, I felt as if I had already worked a full week. When lunch time rolled around, I knew in my heart that the only way I would make it through to the end was with a Bistro Burger from Bagby's TenTen and an IcedGems cupcake. It was a lunch reminiscent of former bad dietary habits and unfortunate weight fluctuations. But dammit I earned it.

I have indulged in the Bistro Burger a couple of times. It is indeed a perfect burger. It's a little large at 8 ounces. (That's, like, half a pound. And, every time, I'm, like, really?? Half a pound?? Remember when McDonald's launched the Quarter Pounder like it was a lot of meat? That was 30 years ago. What happened??) But it is local beef decked out with the classic trimmings of bacon and cheese from local sources; lettuce, tomatoes, and onions from their own farm, and an extra bite from their own crispy onions, lightly battered and fried on site. Plus they will cook it for you rare. Not medium. Not medium rare. Rare. Served on their amazing brioche rolls, this is truly the burger you must be worthy of. And today I ate the whole thing. Really.

They will also give it to you with a side salad if you like. This is usually the wise choice to avoid the afternoon drowsies as fries are the best sedative I know, especially when consumed in the middle of a hellacious day. The TenTen side salad is a thing pf beauty. Consisting of the standard side salad mix of lettuce, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and tomatoes, theirs is executed in a manner that makes you realize why someone thought this combination was a good idea in the first place. The lettuce is a bed of mixed baby greens, including frisee and spinach (two of my favorites). The cucumbers, radishes, and grape tomatoes are cut into a manageable size. (Why anyone would drop a whole grape - or worse, cherry - tomato directly into a salad with nothing for the diner to manage with than a dull butter knife is beyond me. And don't get me started on the dreaded tomato wedge.) The salad is topped with a crown of freshly grated carrot that still snaps. Their house dressing is a light, tangy, brown vinaigrette. It balances out the salad and even makes the radishes taste good, one of the few veggies I have a long-standing negative food bias against. The TenTen house dressing tames the most offensive flavors of this root and leaves only a slightly bitter after flavor it its wake.

Dessert was obtained at the IcedGems truck, long a fixture on Fleet Street on Fridays, if now reduced to every other Friday due to their ever-increasing success. I got the Caribbean Coconut, a coconut cupcake with lime-flavored butter cream icing and a candy lime wedge. The cake was a very nice white cake with shredded coconut and a very natural flavor that was complemented by the tangy lime in the icing. But, after a few bits, I noticed that it was too sweet. 

Wait, what? Was it the icing that was too sweet? Maybe..... My preferred method of eating cupcakes is to separate the iced crown from the base. This makes the whole thing so much easier to handle, plus it provides the hedonistic pleasure of the dietary equivalent of mainlining the icing with very little cake to disrupt the direct delivery of butter and sugar into the bloodstream. So, I abandoned the crown, took a drink of water to cleanse my palette, and tried the base.

Yes, the cake that had tasted so refreshing just a few bites ago had become sugary-sweet. When I returned to the icing-coated crown - usually my favorite part - it was too much. I had to quit. Even the gummy lime wedge was too much.

This is nothing against IcedGems. I think I have been away from cupcakes for so long that I have lost my sweet tooth.

Well, not entirely. I still like the caramel sauces I get at home. But maybe that's it for me now. Maybe this is the natural progression of things. Back in 2009, as my father lay dying and I comforted myself with Ferrero Rocher conveniently provided by a niece, I realized I no longer liked chocolate. Not just Ferrero Rocher, but almost all chocolate. Except for what I get at home. Maybe it just doesn't taste right to me unless Gareth makes it. Maybe this is true for all sweets. This is a revolutionary concept for me and one I will explore in greater detail at some point in the future.

The only other remarkable feature of today's lunch is the introduction of my new phone. I finally gave up the iPhone for a Samsung Galaxy Note. Yeah, that's that big phone that's half-way between a phone and a tablet. I used it for my Honey Pig post, and our 17-year-old Korean busboy said it was cool, so I feel as if I have some sort of street cred on this. It also has an 8 MP camera with a flash and actual depth perception. I'm quite pleased with it. Here are the shots of today's lunch.

Is that the project file for my 1:00 meeting under there?

Depth perception

A close up of that burger