As I write this, I have my back turned on my office and kitchen, both of which have been completely devastated by my tornado-like working methods, which go something like this: ‘start one thing then another then another then another then forget what you were doing, make a snack, then decide to write a blog post and if you don’t look behind you then the mess doesn’t exist, right?’. I might not be the most efficient person in the world, but I don’t think that was ever a question.
(Spiced conifer infused apple tart with a bonus tea recipe to boot!)
As I write this, Los Angeles is [relatively] quiet, the afternoon winter sunlight is streaming through the windows, through the incense smoke that clouds the air, onto my legs which are half covered by a very fat cat (actual fat cat, not metaphoric rich person fat cat). As I write this there is a tart in the oven, which will be left to cool and sliced up and wrapped in foil and hiked deep into the mountains early tomorrow morning, while Jam and I hunt for mushrooms and picnic.
In my morning stoop sessions, lately I’ve been thinking about arbitrary dates, and what an arbitrary date our ‘new year’ is. As we were falling asleep last night Jam and I decided that in future our new year will fall on the solstice, as that makes the most sense. A [sweet, lovely, beautiful and insightful] friend pointed out to me this morning that the fiscal new year starts in January and so between the solstice and the fiscal new year is a kind of free-fall; a timeless zone, where presents are given and puddings are eaten and wine is drunk and merry is made. And I like it that way. The last couple of weeks have been timeless in a good way. I’ve taken long walks in the desert. I’ve watched storms round the top my favourite mountain, and snow coat the peak over a couple of hours. I’ve gone searching for chanterelles on an almost daily basis, climbing and resting in my favourite tree, wandering out in the now green rolling hills, following deer tracks, picking up hawk feathers and animal bones and other earthly treasures. I’ve woken up before dawn and done yoga practice in a cold living room as the light slowly creeps back into the world, and I leave you with that picture: of the world waking up from a dream. Freefall is about to end. Happy arbitrary fiscal new year even though the real new year (as I’ve decided) actually happened on the solstice. More importantly, thank you. For existing. Thank you for reading and commenting on this little corner of the interweb. For providing constant conversation and inspiration and support. I hope the next year is bigger, better, more nourishing, more exciting, more adventurous, more prosperous and more restful than ever before. I’ll be back with recipes and adventures in a few days. Until then, here’s a tart.
Spiced conifer infused apple tart
**edit** Have recently remade this putting half a bag of frozen blackberries over the middle of the tart before drizzling the caramel. Inspired decision; you must. try. it.
Spiced conifer brew:
1 cup conifer needles (I use a combination of white fir, pinyon pine and jeffrey pine. You can use what you have around, which might even be a Christmas tree)
1/4 cup juniper berries
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
pinch ground ginger
Mix all the ingredients together. To serve as tea, for a tablespoon of tea, pour over 1 1/2 cups boiling water and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and add honey and cream. Serve hot.
Spiced conifer caramel:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 tb conifer tea
5 tb butter
5 tb heavy cream
big pinch salt
Bring all the ingredients to a slow simmer for 30 minutes. Strain out the plant matter and return to the stove. Bring to a boil and reduce to a thick syrup- about 20 minutes. Add the salt. It’ll be a rolling boil and quite thick at this point. Throw in the butter, let it melt, then remove from the heat and stir in the cream.
Conifer-spiced apple tart.
1 portion sweet tart crust
apples. Forgive me I don’t know how many you’ll need. Let’s say 3 big granny smiths to start; that’s about what it took for my 9-inch tart pan.
Peel the apples, and cut the flesh into thin half-moon slices. Roll out the tart crust and lay it over a 9-inch tart pan, and prick the bottom with a fork. Lay out the apple pieces in a pretty pattern, I do concentric circles. Pour about 3/4 cup of the caramel sauce over the top, then put the whole thing in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Heat the oven to 350, and bake the tart for 30 minutes, or until the apples are golden and soft and the tart crust has taken on a golden brown colour. Serve hot or cold, drizzled with heavy cream.
There are two thymes in the world. There’s the thyme that that carries on a warm summer breeze, flowers waving in the wind. It’s the thyme that hangs in bunches from rafters, and that scents chowders and stews. It’s the thyme that intoxicates you when you least expect it. The other thyme– thyme number two– sits in a bottle with a corked top on my shelf, surrounded by other bottles with corked tops, with masking tape labels that have lots of latin on them. This thymus. spp. bottle contains a pretty strong elixir, extracted in everclear and honey, and it sits around in all its potential, waiting for someone to start coughing.
For the record, they are *actually* the same thing. Thyme is good food, good smell and good medicine alike. Like all the aromatics, it has oils that kill bugs, stimulate digestion, and affect your nervous system in one way or another. Like all the culinary aromatics you buy at the grocery store, it has its roots in some other country’s food tradition (unless you’re reading this from France or England). And like all the culinary aromatics, it’s easy to get hold of and therefore great to know how to use as medicine. Because unless you’re like me, and actually enjoy traipsing mountain sides, pulling up roots, and building an apothecary, being able to pop to the grocery store and buy something useful is probably an important thing (amIrite?).
When someone is having lung grunge issues–racking cough, tons of gunk– I reach for the second thyme: the bottle on my shelf. I mix it with mullein and yerba santa and mallow or cherry bark. If they’re having clogged sinus issues, I mix it with horseradish or yerba manza, because its a medicine, and a potent one at that. For getting rid of grunge in general (let’s call it ‘spiritual grunge’) I’m likely to use the first thyme. The wild, fragrant, spirited thyme that hasn’t yet been bottled. Bunches of it are always hanging to dry in my kitchen, for good reason- just as the wind tickles its face and carries that scent upon the air outside, it does the same inside, and that scent contains the oils, and those oils get rid of stuck stuff, of stagnant stuff and of heavy, cold, wet stuff. A sprig in a cup of rose petal tea is as welcome for a grieving guest, and I am firmly convinced that absolution can be found in a mug of thyme tea or two.
Use it in tincture form for the lungs, or a steam for lungs and sinuses, or, if its the magic you’re after, drop the flowers in a bowl of water and leave that by a window on a moony night. Use that water, for drinking, for sprinkling, for dousing people as they come through your door*.
Or just keep a bunch of it hanging in your kitchen at all times, and do random things like adding it to crunchy crumbly oaty flapjacks.
The British flapjack is an oat bar that is at the same time crumbly, crunchy and gooey. Its perfection is in its simplicity, though I did get a bit crazy and throw thyme in and melt chocolate over the top. For the record, a flapjack is NOT a granola bar. Granola bars are crunchy; flapjacks are perfect. Granola bars are a substitute for breakfast or real meals; flapjacks are an actual breakfast or afternoon snack or post-dinner snack or a hiking snack. Flapjacks you can serve to people as they walk into your house on a rainy afternoon; if you serve granola bars to people as they walk into your house on a rainy afternoon they will think you’ve not been to the store all week. See, different!
That said, give them a try. They’re ridiculously easy, and most of us have the ingredients lying around already. From idea to eating in about an hour, 50 minutes of which is waiting time. You’ll go up a pant size from eating so many and then I’ll start receiving hate mail to which I’ll reply that I’m just the messenger and throw some thyme water in your direction. Worse things have happened…
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is the following:
1tb thyme syrup
2/3 cup sugar
2 cups rolled oats (ground up a bit)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp thyme
7 oz chocolate (optional, but recommended)
3 tb cream
Make the thyme syrup: take one cup sugar and one cup water, bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and add a cup of fresh thyme (half cup of dried). Steep for an hour, until strongly flavoured. Strain out the thyme and bottle. You can use this for cooking or for adding to things or for coughs, or just bottle it prettily and give it away for the holidays.
Heat the oven to 350, meanwhile, in a pot on the stove, melt the butter. Add the syrup, sugar, vanilla, thyme and salt. Incorporate well, then remove from the heat and dump in the oats. Stir it all together, then pour into a 9×9 square dish. It’s buttery enough that you shouldn’t need to pre-grease it or anything.
Put this in the oven and cook for 23 minutes. It won’t be set when you pull it out, but it should be a golden brown colour.
Remove from heat and leave to sit at room temperature until completely cool. It should be quite firm. Now, melt the chocolate in a double boiler with the cream, and as soon as its all runny and melted, spread it over the top of the hardened flapjacks with a spatula. Refrigerate until its firm, then cut it into squares and serve.
*With regards to dumping water on people as they walk through your door, I do not exactly recommend this practice as it is often met with shock and/or anger and such people will be unlikely to cross your threshold again. If that is your intended result, however, then douse away!
(on perfect pairings)
Lets talk about first world problems for a minute. There are some that I am ill-equipped to help with: things like ‘oh no, my new smart phone has a glitch’ or ‘I have too many computers’ or ‘my shiny car is sooohoooo last season’. But then there are areas where I can be quite useful. Things like ‘I don’t know what to wear’ or, in this case, ‘oh no, I have too much rhubarb’. Yes, friends, too much rhubarb is an area where I can be useful indeed. You see in the last two weeks alone, I have made rhubarb syrup, rhubarb compote and rhubarb fool (then all of these with rhubarb and strawberries combined, though I will admit to preferring rhubarb alone where you can taste all of its rhubarby glory, unadulterated with the sweetness of the strawberry). All of these I could gladly share.
But my crowning glory, the barb on my rhu, would have to be rhubarb, elderflower and custard tart. For what two things go better together than rhubarb and custard? Apples and blackberries? Lysander and Hermia (which would be the worst name ever, given its similarity to hernia)? Barbecues and beer? No, rhubarb and custard is one of those matches that, in my opinion, is star-crossed from the beginning. Were I the type of person who thought that the natural world existed solely for our disposal, I’d be inclined to also believe that rhubarb exists solely for the purpose of being paired with custard. But that’s like saying that a woman who is a good cook exists solely for the purpose of feeding her husband. As in, outrageous.
Over the past couple of years, my friend Butter and I must have sent each other close to a thousand emails. Some short, some long, the majority discussing food, herbs and foraging. It was a fated friendship- both of us were looking to broaden our horizons a bit- she to learn about how to her use foraged food for medicine, and me just starting to realise that wildcrafted herbs could also be edible. It spawned a Wild Things roundup, that Butter still does monthly, and countless ideas being tossed back and forth, of interesting and delicious ways to use wild foods and herbs, and a friendship of immeasurable value. Where Butter knows food, I know medicine. Where Butter is reliable and steady, I’m like a bouncy ball (ie. not very steady). Where Butter has almost unlimited stamina (like a turtle), I need a nap after a sprint (like a hare). We, in my opinion, make a really good pair. In one of those many emails last week, we discovered that we were both making a similar dessert (please re-read treatise on perfection of rhubarb and custardy things for explanation of how such things happened) and decided to post them together. A reunification of forces. Which makes me extremely happy. So here’s to friendship, and good ideas, and perfect pairings. Here’s Butter’s Rhubarb Elderflower Sour Cream Pie .<3
ps. If you do anything this week, make this tart. Your stomach and all your neighbours will thank you. Promise.
Rhubarb and Elderflower-Infused Custard Tart.
1 portion basic sweet tart crust
1 lb rhubarb
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh elderflowers, or 1/4 cup dry
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1/4 cup tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla or a pinch of vanilla powder
Make up the tart crust in advance, placing it in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours before you roll it out. Roll it out and drape it over a 9″ tart pan, poke little holes in the bottom with a fork, then bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, until golden brown and beautiful.
Meanwhile, start the custard. Put the milk and elderflowers in a saucepan, and heat up the milk gently until it’s hot to the touch. Switch off and leave to steep for 30 minutes to an hour. The flavour of the elderflowers will infuse in the milk. Strain out the flowers, and return the milk to the pan. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt, then start to heat again, until the sugar is dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the eggs until smooth. Add a couple of big spoonfuls of the warm milk to the egg mixture, give it a stir, then add back to the saucepan and return to the heat. Bring to a boil, slowly, stirring or whisking constantly- don’t let anything stick to the bottom. It’ll start to thicken. Once boiling, stir vigorously for about a minute, then remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Put it in a bowl, cover with cling film, and allow to cool completely.
Cut the ends off the rhubarb, and cut each piece so that its about 5″ long. More or less. Put all the rhubarb in a big pan, dust with the sugar, and sprinkle with water- about 1/3 cup for the whole lot. Put in the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes, until the water is gone and the sugar has gone caramelly and the rhubarb is looking cooked but not mushy yet (if you have a distaster and it goes mushy completely, it doesn’t matter, just make a different design). Allow to cool.
With all your pre-cooked and cooled ingredients, assemble the tart. Spread the custard in a thick layer over the bottom of the tart, then decorate the top with rhubarb. You can serve it immediately, though I think it tastes better after a few hours.
In an ideal world, there would be a separate court system for left-brainers and right-brainers, so that the left-brainers could show up on the appointed date, at the appointed time (or ten minutes early) with all their paperwork in hand, and us right-brainers could show up when we feel like it, having forgotten most of what’s important. In an ideal world, however, everything would be relative, like ‘ah, young lady I see you holding your mobile telephone while driving, but I also acknowledge that you aren’t texting, merely looking at a map, and that the streets are empty so you are a danger to nobody’ or ‘ah, young lady, I see you are going fifteen MPH above the speed limit, but it’s also an empty stretch of freeway and your car is built to withstand such speeds beautifully’. In this ideal world, very old trees would be respected as would very old people. In this ideal world, a woman’s body would be her own, not the State’s, and in this world, nobody would have come up with the silly idea of calories. Yes, calories.
You see, I have recently discovered that you cannot, in Los Angeles, get anybody to take a jar of Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread*. People back away, terror sticken, holding their hands out in front of them to prevent you coming any closer. I usually pawn off my baked goods with the preface ‘it’s healthy’ or ‘it’s gluten-free’ after which people eat it gladly (note that I fail to mention the butter or sugar content for aforementioned reasons) but with something so similar to Nutella, everybody knows that it’s not healthy, and that you can’t just have one bite and put the jar away. No, there is no putting this jar away. It might be physiologically impossible.
And for the record, I think this backing away is utterly stupid behaviour. Because I firmly and fully believe that if something is eaten without a single shred of guilt, then it doesn’t end up stuck to hips and jowls and places we don’t want them. And that a stick of celery, when eaten stressfullythinkingaboutcaloriecontent will likely make you go up a clothing size, whereas an entire pizza and soda will not, if eaten properly**. Things eaten with pleasure in mind are usually hard to over eat. Relishing the aroma, flavour and texture of something, you actually experience it fully, not in the background while your brain does battle with your will. No. Battlegrounds are not for eating. In many herbal traditions, people are told to not eat while stressed or angry. It makes sense– all that mental stuff churning, not only do you not experience your food at all, but oftentimes your digestion isn’t even working properly when your body is in high stress mode. And a mental battle is stress mode.
So, my friends, if you are likely to feel nothing but immense guilt over indulging in something this deliciously fatty and sweet, it’s better not to make it at all. And if you do make it, promise me that you’ll eat it somewhere quiet, with closed eyes and ‘mmmm’s and ‘ooooooh’s and smiles and twinkling eyes and holding hands and warm blankets and glittering stars and all the good things in the world.
And it’s perfect. Perfect for spreading on toast and eating with a spoon and playfully putting on someone’s nose when they lean in to smell it. Perfect for mid-afternoon snacks and ‘oh, I’ll just check what’s going on in the fridge because it’s been a good hour since I last checked’. See, perfect.
ps. How nice is the word ‘filbert’. I have been saying it over and over again, all day, because it rolls around in the mouth so nicely.
Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
1 cup hazelnuts (filberts)
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup whole milk
4 tb sugar (I use sucanat)
1/2 tsp salt
2 oz milk chocolate
3oz dark chocolate
Preheat oven to 350. Lay out your filberts on a baking tray, and roast for 10 minutes, until the papery shells come off easily when you rub them. You might not be able to get all of them off, and it’ll be fine, just try and get as much as you can.
Meanwhile, in a double boiler, melt the chocolates.
Put all the ingredients into a blender at the same time, and blend until very smooth.
Store in airtight jars. Use within 10 days.
*Eventually the lovely Amelia took one, because she’s not scared of food. Yay.
**by ‘properly’ I mean with attention and enjoyment
(on livers, and letting go a bit)
I was standing in my friend Alysa’s back yard smelling the desert air– with snow falling up in the mountains, and rain clouds billowing their way across the valley, the smell was electric, and cold, and wet. She’d gone to work already. I was packing up, getting ready to head back to LA, and I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia.
This nostalgia, I’m used to it. I fall in love with places and then move away, leaving communities and friends and patches of earth that I’ve grown very fond of. I miss the streets of London and the hills of Scotland and the desert mountains and the Mediterranean sea and not just the places but everything that comes along with them. No matter how clean a break I try to make, there’s always a part of me that will miss wherever I was. Sometimes it feels like I’m even missing where I AM, because I know that it won’t stay there forever.
Alysa has a Meyer lemon tree. The boughs were so heavy with fruit that they were bent over with the weight, almost touching the ground. I picked a few. And then a few more. And before I knew it I had a bag full, and it occurred to me that I wasn’t just gathering fruit from a tree, but gathering a moment in time, and a specific place in that moment. I thought about how being connected to our food source isn’t just about knowing who our farmers are or what chemicals are sprayed, but on being connected to a place on the earth. And that each time you eat food from a specific place you’re taking that part of the earth into your body too- the raw minerals of it, but also the more subtle things about it like the wind and the light and the smells and the general mood of a place. I wondered about what happens to us on a subtle level if we eat fruit from Chile and meat from Wisconsin and Avocados from Mexico…
But immediately after that, it occurred to me that if you can unintentionally eat lots of different places, you can also intentionally put a place into your food, just as you can put your emotions or intentions into food. Maybe somehow eating food of a place means a part of you will be there always*. And then maybe, if there’s a place you have a special connection to, then eating of that place can connect you to it, regardless of where you are. I’ve had this happen, you know– a few weeks ago, when, I was gathering branches from one of my favourite trees, up in the Santa Rosa mountains. When I got home, I set about to process them, remove the needles, steep some in olive oil, others in honey, and by the time I was done, I was in such a dream-like state that I could have sworn half of me was back under the tree I’d harvested from, sitting against its trunk, feeling the cool breeze in my hair, smelling that mountain air.
Sometimes the weight of missing things is quite heavy. I see it primarily taking hold in the liver; it’s an inability to let go completely. Sometimes it’s as though it’s all of time that is being clung onto, and then sometimes it just feels as though it’s moments and places. Sometimes a liver will let go and relax a bit and allow things to move on, and then like a frightened cat, it will seize up again. ‘Liver, my friend, you’re not fooling anyone’, I say to myself, absent-mindedly. Time carries on. Movement carries on. Change, it happens. As does sadness, and missing things, and death, and age. But liver reacts to emotions, not to rational thinking. A tense liver can’t perform its functions properly- to filter things and break things down and make sure everything is running smoothly. A tense liver gives you headaches. A tense liver isn’t really something to strive for.
I arrived home in the late afternoon. The light had started to go orange again, and as I flung open the doors and windows to let in all that light, the afternoon breeze picked up and I was struck in the head by a cloud of the scent of lavender.
It’s one of the first plants I put in when I move places. Because, as far as I’m concerned, having a lavender plant by the front door is excellent luck. Having a sage plant right next to the lavender makes for protection, good health and delicious tea. But that afternoon, the lavender was licking my senses. And I smiled; nobody can be a nostalgic grouch when there’s lavender on the table. This, my friends, is a little known fact of kitchen witchery. Because lavender tickles things. Not just things, but livers. Your liver. My liver. It’s like rosemary’s playful younger cousin- where rosemary is a little old Italian lady who smacks you on the bottom with her broom, lavender has purple hair and colourful skirts and a sparkle in her eye and just when you think you’re going to explode a blood vessel because you’re holding onto things too tightly, she reaches out and tickles you, and you start to forget why you were holding on to it all in the first place. It’s not the weight of the world in worry and sadness- there are different herbs for that. No, it’s the weight of the world in tension. It’s a clenching on the right side of the body. It’s fear of loss of control, and nerves that are tightly wound because of it. Sound familiar? Maybe you need a tickle too…
What happened next was a bit magical. I picked a few lavender sprigs, and they found their way into the drizzly sauce of the lemon cake entirely (ok maybe not entirely) of their own accord. Lemon juice and lavender bubbling away in a saucepan, while a lemony polenta cake cooks in the oven. It smells of the past, of the Southwest, and of distant hills somewhere in the future. It confounds your senses, and tickles your smile reflex, and although you’re supposed to wait for it to cool to eat it, if you can manage such a thing then you’re stronger than me, and stronger than Jam, because we devoured a quarter of it standing up, at the stove, before dinner. And what occurred to me, as I was standing up at the stove eating things from one of my favourite places and from the spot right outside my front door, was that clutching on to everything for dear life might be missing the point entirely. Maybe it isn’t possible or preferable to have a clean break.Maybe the whole point isn’t to not miss places, but to experience them with every fiber of your being, and then when (if) you move on it will be without regrets. Maybe the pain doesn’t come from being away, but from trying to hold on to what is no longer there. From the tension created by trying to be everywhere at once instead of exactly where you are, wherever that might be. And with that in mind, with the nuances of my garden hanging out with the lemons from the desert, I understood: you can be somewhere and let go at the same time. Love it without holding onto it. And each time you do, you get just a little bit bigger. Maybe even a little bit wiser. And that, to me, right now, is what it’s all about.
Lemon-lavender polenta cake
(not adapted at all from Nigella Lawson’s recipe except for the addition of an extra lemon and the lavender)
200g soft unsalted butter
200g almond flour
100g fine corn flour (masa)
1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
zest of 3 meyer lemons
For the drizzle:
juice of 3 lemons
2 tsp chopped fresh lavender (or 3 tsp dried lavender)
Preheat the oven to 350. Mix together the flours, salt and baking powder. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing thoroughly, then one egg. Repeat until all the flour and eggs are gone, then scrape the batter into a 9′ pan, and bake for 35-40 minutes. It might not look entirely set in the centre, but the edges will have started to pull away from the sides of the pan.
In a pan on the stovetop, bring the lemon juice, lavender and sugar gently to a boil. Remove from heat immediately. Prick tiny little holes over the top of the cake with the point of a sharp knife, and drizzle the syrup over the cake (strain it first if you don’t want lavender bits everywhere). Try to allow it to cool before eating….
*Which reminds me of the stories you hear about the land of faerie: never, ever eat anything while you’re there, or you’ll never be able to leave.
(Because sometimes the herbalist needs some nourishment)
Around 330am on Thursday morning, I was awoken by a commotion in my neighbours’ apartment. Ten seconds later, to the sound of footsteps thundering down their stairs and their front door flinging open, I sat up in bed and said “Jamie, there’s a fire.” Then came the banging on the front door, and Pam shouting “YOUR CAR’S ON FIRE”. Jam leaped out of bed and vaulted down the stairs and out the door. I grabbed clothes first and followed suit. Turns out the extra minute didn’t really make a difference- my car was engulfed in flames. I watched, in shock, as Jam helped the neighbours move their cars out of our shared driveway (very quickly, and very carefully, as there’s nothing like approaching a flaming car that is going through a number of small explosions), away from the burning mass.
I whispered to Jam to go and put some clothes on. He looked down and realised he was only wearing boxers and was shivering.
I pulled my sweater more tightly around my neck.
It took twenty minutes for the fire department to arrive, as there had been fifteen similar fires that night, and resources were stretched thin. When the fire was finally out, the smell of burnt rubber and acrid smoke hung in the air, on our clothes and in our mouths. Some of us (Jam) went back to sleep after a few hours. I sat awake, staring out the window at the light changing, thinking of all the possible ways that events could have unfolded differently.
The few days that followed (until the arsonist was caught, really) were a blur. Not because of the car- it’s just a car, albeit a car that I really really liked- but because of the shock and how poorly I handle stress. An arsonist firebombing your car is a high stress situation. And high stress events send me into a tailspin of Piglet-like behaviour. Sympathetic overdrive could be my middle name (though luckily my parents were much more tasteful than that). Luckily, I’ve been here, on the Piglet feedback loop, before, and so I know how to handle it.
Extreme stress, for me, calls for my own version of Martial Law. Sleep, sleep, more sleep, take nourishing herbs, and do things that make me feel relaxed and happy, while eliminating all unnecessary commitments. Thus, I haven’t been on the computer much, and I haven’t gone out much, choosing to be asleep, up the tree in the back garden, doing yoga, or in the kitchen baking.
Two days ago, I made candied ginger, ginger snaps, and these little pots de creme, all in one afternoon. It was a great afternoon. By evening the dishes were piled high in the sink and I put on some music and did them without stressing about it, and then I went and sat on the stoop and ate a pot du creme, savouring every single indulgent bite. It was good. And it was nourishing- all those egg yolks and the cream are so good for rebuilding a worn out body, and the flavour of ponderosa forest is grounding in ways that delicious smelling forests always are.
I had meant to come back here on the first, wish you all a happy new year, and show you some pictures from the time I’d spent in the desert last week. But if you don’t mind, I’m going to do that tomorrow. And in the meantime, here’s the most delicious thing to grace my lips since I met mr. Ponderosa while visiting Butter in Colorado. Do you have access to Pinus Ponderosa? If not then Pinus Jeffryii bark (since I can’t tell the bloody difference anyway) would make an equally delicious elixir… and if you have neither then maybe just add one tb. of brandy and some vanilla extract instead.
You’ll need a few big chunks of Ponderosa pine, or Jeffrey pine bark.
Break the bark up into smaller pieces, and then stuff them into a jar. Fill the jar, half with brandy, then top up with honey. Leave it to sit and stew for about 4 weeks, though it will start to taste delicious after a week or so. Strain, and bottle. It’s also delicious in hot chocolate…
Ponderosa-butterscotch pot de creme
6 egg yolks
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
2 tb ponderosa pine bark elixir
Preheat the oven to 325, and put about 6 ramekins, or oven-proof cups of some kind, in a roasting dish. Pour boiling water into the roasting dish (but not the ramekins) up to about an inch high on the little dishes.
Melt the sugar, butter, vanilla and salt. Cook over a low heat until the mixture gets really bubbly, and turns a caramel colour. Carefully, stir in the milk and cream. The mixture will bubble and look like it’s very very angry, but keep at it, it’ll smooth out. Add the ponderosa elixir.
Whisk the egg yolks together, in a bowl, and add a ladle full of the sugary cream mixture, whisking constantly. Add another ladle full, then pour the whole lot back into the pan and whisk it all together. Strain through a sieve, and pour into the individual ramekins, in the roasting tray.
Now, put the whole lot in the oven for about 35 minutes. Until you can jiggle a ramekin and the whole custard is solid.
Remove from oven, and allow to cool. They’ll be ready to eat in about an hour and a half. You can decorate them with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, or just eat them as-is.
We’ve been busy round here. Next Wednesday is my 30th birthday, and we’re throwing a Dia De Los Muertos party in the back yard. I basically wanted to recreate the graveyard in San Miguel De Allende that we spent my birthday in last year, and I’m one of those annoying people who will try and make everything myself, so we’ve been building Katrina statues and gravestones and hanging paper cut outs and gathering flowers. No mariachi bands or actual dead people, but the former we can simulate and the latter I don’t ACTUALLY want at my birthday party…
And it’s been cold. Cold enough for central heating and for steaming mugs of coffee and wrapping up in blankets. Cold enough for the light to get crisp and bright. Cold enough for tarts that are piping hot and fresh out the oven after a roast dinner.
I call things like this mid-week tarts. Because they’re delicious and rustic and the kind of thing that’s nice to have around in the fridge for snacking on or in case guests come over. It could be diner party food, or leftovers-for-breakfast food, or lunch, or afternoon tea break, or anything you want really. And, yeah, I know, it’s fall. And that rhubarb and fall go together like beer and liqueur. But I live in Southern California, where I can get rhubarb at the farmers market. And rhubarb pretty much always excites me. There are tons of things that ARE available that would be delicious in a galette- pears (drizzles with brandy!), apples, persimmons…
What are you guys doing for Halloween or Day of the Dead? Dressing up? Parties? Switching all the lights off and hiding?
Rhubarb galette with an almond crust.
This crust recipe comes from Sarabeth’s cook book. I modified it a bit, switched in gluten free flour, changed the quantities a touch, but that’s it.
For the almond crust:
1/2 cup sliced almonds (or 1/4 cup almond meal)
1 cup plus 1 tb all purpose flour (or gluten free flour)
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
8 tb butter
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 tb very cold heavy cream
For the tart:
1 lb rhubarb
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
To make the dough:
Grind the almonds in a blender until like a coarse meal. In a big bowl, dump the flour, ground almonds, sugar and salt. Break the butter (very cold butter) into chunks, and start to mix through with your fingers. Start pinching the butter into the flour, quickly and regularly, until the butter is in pea-sized chunks, and the flour is looking quite grainy. Then, mix together the egg yolk and cream, then pour over the mixture. Using your fingers, quickly bring the mixture together, without working it too much. If it’s too dry, add a tiny bit more cream. It should barely hold together. Roll into a ball. Flatten with the palm of your hand until it’s a disc, then wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 mins.
To make the tart:
Roll out the pastry dough into a big round on a Silpat or similar. Chop the rhubarb into appropriate size- I laid them out over the round and made little marks where I was going to cut each one. Then lay them out. Mix the sugar and vanilla together, sprinkle liberally over the rhubarb, and fold the edges over. If you’re not going to bake it immediately, stick it on a solid board of some kind in the freezer- mine often hangs out there for a few hours till I’m ready to cook it, that way I’m not frantically making dessert while dinner’s cooking. A chef friend once explained this to me- something about the water in the butter not getting the dough all soggy, and when it cooks it expands quickly, or, er, something. There’s a chemical reason for this. I also like that it’s out of the way. And it does seem to make the crust deliciously flaky. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350. Plop 4 dabs of butter (about 1 tsp each) over the rhubarb, and slide into the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the rhubarb is very tender.
Cut with a sharp knife- that rhubarb has lots of stringy bits.
My first school in London was called St. Helen’s School for Girls. It was a Catholic school, where we learned things like how to hold a knife and fork properly, and how to eat like civilised human beings. Our lunches were different every day of the week, and we’d all walk to the cafeteria together, holding hands, and sit at long tables, where we’d be served, and expected to finish everything on our plates.
Which was great on mashed potato day. And awful on chicken-pineapple casserole day. In fact, that I still despise cooked pineapple to this day is entirely the fault of the St. Helens’ cafeteria staff, and the torture of being forced to finish every single bite on the plate. It wasn’t till years later that I realised I could throw things under the table, and that was long after the St. Helen’s days, and when I was sitting at a restaurant in the hills of southern Spain with my dad who was in a bad mood and insisting that I finish the quail on the plate in front of me. But, as a 6-year old, I was relatively free of these kind of clever things, and so I ploughed though, week after week. The worst part about those pineapple casserole days was the dessert. Bread and butter pudding, or bread pudding as it’s called in the States, was the bane of my existence. That smell of curdled eggs, the little wrinkled raisins, the thick slices of crap white bread. It made my stomach turn. It STILL makes my stomach turn.
And so imagine my surprise last night when I got back from a long sunset hike, and the thought crossed my mind that “I want bread pudding”. Where this came from, I have no idea. I hate bread pudding. I’ve been given the ‘best bread pudding in the world’ and refused to try it because the trauma runs so deep. But last night I wanted it, and I’m not one to ever ignore these urges.
This is a bare-bones pudding. I hate raisins in anything except fudge and christmas pud and Cadbury’s chocolate, so there are none. I also hate cinnamon in anything other than coffee. I mean, really hate it. Cinnamon has no place in desserts as far as I’m concerned, and I haven’t eaten an apple pie that I liked since moving to the states, except for the ones at French restaurants that are tarts, with no cinnamon. So there’s no cinnamon. No cardamom. No raisins. It’s basically bread and custard, which are two of my favourite things in the world, so it’s pretty hard to go wrong.
Bread is important- I use this soft fluffy sourdough that’s the only glutinous thing I can safely eat. If you have challah lying around, or a brioche, then I can’t believe you haven’t eaten it all yet and I’m slightly disappointed in you. But you can use those, they’ll probably be even better.
Oh, and one more thing. Start to munchum, the entire process took 35 minutes. 5 minutes of which is prep, 30 of which is sitting around, playing on twitter, and running back and forth to the oven to check to see if it’s ready. Or, you can throw it all in a bowl and put it in the fridge overnight, then bake them up in the morning for breakfast…
The proof is in the [Bread] Pudding
4 ramekins or wee mason jars
3 thick slices of bread
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
3 tb butter, melted
5 tb sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350.
Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl. Cut the bread up into 1″ chunks and drop in the bowl of liquid stuffs. At this point you can refrigerate overnight, or just leave to soak for a few minutes. Spoon an equal amount of the mixture into the ramekins, and pour the remaining liquid equally over each one.
Cook for 25-30 minutes, until when pressed gently on top, no liquid comes out to burn your fingers. Serve with cream.
When I was growing up, we got chocolate mousse in yogurt pots. Creme caramel too, though we’re not talking about that today. I don’t think I had real chocolate mousse until long after I’d moved to the US. Of course, I didn’t realise it at the time. I only realised this morning, upon waking up with a chocolate hangover, that my first real chocolate mousse had been had at the age of 28 (at Hugo’s on Santa Monica Boulevard), and how sad that was. And that maybe I’d better make up for lost time by having it for breakfast as well.
Chocolate. Cream. Butter. Eggs. You cannot go wrong with a combination like that. And it might look fancy, but it’s not- the chocolate mousse is a humble dessert that can be whipped up in 20 minutes or so while your duck is finishing roasting (I speak from experience).
I decorated each little pot with a strawberry, but honestly, I might next time just chill it in a big bowl, then dollop it in each dish with a handful of little sweet berries. Because it’s delicious like that.
From the Bouchon cookbook. Kinda adapted.
3.5 oz dark chocolate.
3.5 oz milk chocolate (I use Green and Blacks for both and they’ve never failed me).
1 1/2 cup heavy cream.
3 tb butter
3 eggs, separated
2 tb coffee
3 tb sugar
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter, sugar, chocolate and coffee. If you’re at risk of burning it, use a double boiler. Remove from heat, and whip the cream to stiff peaks. Do the same for the egg whites. Refrigerate both until the chocolate mix is slightly cooler- like cool enough to dab on your bottom lip without uttering obscenities. Then mix in the egg yolks, one by one.
Gently fold in a third of the cream. Then half the egg whites. Then another third of cream. Then the other half of egg whites. Then the rest of the cream. Pour into individual ramekins or one big bowl. Chill for at least 2 hours- preferably 8. If you’re impatient like me you can eat it as fluffy pudding, but it’s not quite the same.