ponderosa pot de creme

Ponderosa pot de creme

(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.

The crowd on the sidewalk grew larger.

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.


Ponderosa elixir

You’ll need a few big chunks of Ponderosa pine, or Jeffrey pine bark.

Brandy

Honey

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.

black tea white fir cake

Black [tea] and white [fir] cake

Today marks the shortest day of the year, where the sun, our source of warmth and light, is furthest from us. Living in a city, in the modern world, with electricity and lights and all kinds of noises blocking out the silence, it’s easy to forget that we still live in bodies that have cycles, on a planet that has cycles. Years ago, before all of that stuff existed, as the nights grew longer, and the cold grew deeper, imagine what a blessing that marker would have been: a turning point! The beginning of winter!! I imagine how, even though the coldest months are still to come, that little bit of light that’s growing in the sky is not just a marker of the passing of time but a beacon urging us forward when the darkness and cold might cause us to despair.

Winter is a time for nourishment. For relaxing and sleeping and taking care of yourself. For walks in the cold with a hot drink in our hands and for the smells of things baking to fill our houses. Winter is time to get back to our roots. Literally. To feel our feet on the earth and follow them underground and maybe even curl up for a nap, right there, wherever we are.

This morning I went for a walk before dawn. The poplar trees across the street are shedding their leaves- every minute one does its little death dance, falling to the concrete. I pressed my face against their bark, and inhaled a deep breath, and felt like I was being pulled into the earth by their roots, and the falling of leaves. It was intensely nourishing, like my body was drinking in the earth, and by the time I was ready to leave, the sun had emerged, casting orange light over the world around me. I wandered back inside and made myself a coffee, then leafed through cook books for a while, trying to decide what to make today.

Which brings me to fir. Kiva had sent me some of her white fir needles, and I had a bunch of Douglas fir branches sitting around being lovely and delicious, and I was desperate to bake something with the two combined. Since today is the most dense day of the year, and marks the first day of winter, I figured something dense and coniferous tasting would be perfect. A sweet stodgy elf bread that one could wrap up and take on a long hike if needed. I’m happy to say that it turned out just as I’d hoped. Dense, not too sweet, with a coniferous flavour that isn’t entirely overpowering, but is most definitely pronounced.

Where can you get your own fir needles? Look around you. Check on the internet to see what grows in your area. If you don’t have white and Douglas fir, try spruce (also delicious!) or pine. Taste the needles: each tree has a different flavour, and this flavour varies throughout the year too. Not only that, but if you gather extra, you can grind them up to make tea, which is one of my favourite things to sip on all winter. It’s really high in vitamin C, as bright and beautiful as (and even better tasting than) green tea, and each citrusy sip connects you to a forest out there. With each sip, you’re drinking in the nourishment that you get from resting your weary bones against a tree for a while, or curling up against a big gnarled root to take a nap. With each sip, and each deep breath, you’re connecting to a cycle that is older than we can possibly fathom. The darkest of days can be lit by the brightness in each cup. And that, to me (and you?), is a comforting thought to take into my wintery slumber.

Black (tea) and White (fir) Cake

Adapted from Home Made

4 tb butter

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/3 cups flour

1/4 cup really super finely chopped conifers (I dry them first, then give em a whiz in the blender or coffee grinder)

1 1/2 cups strong black tea

1 1/2 cups dried fruit (I used half sultanas, and half candied citrus peel)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 egg

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

 

Icing drizzle:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/8 cup finely chopped conifer needles

1/4 cup water

 

In a saucepan, heat up the black tea. Add the dried fruit, and half of the chopped conifers. Simmer on the stove until most of the tea is absorbed, and the fruit is nice and plump (about 1 hour). Remove from the heat, strain the raisins, and set aside the tea.

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a bowl, beat the butter, then add the sugar, then the egg, plus about 1/4 cup of the remaining cooking liquid. Stir in the raisins, then add the rest of the chopped conifers, the baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Then add the flour. It should be quite a thick batter.

Pour into a greased loaf pan, and bake for 1 1/4 hours, until a knife inserted comes out clean.

While the loaf is cooling, prepare the drizzle. Mix the ingredients together in a saucepan, and heat until the sugar is melted. Remove from heat, and allow to cool for a few minutes, then, using a spoon, drizzle it over the cake.

Can be served slightly warm, in slices, with a pat of butter. Can also be wrapped up and taken on long winter walks, to be eaten under a tree.

eggnog

Eggnog. In a mug.

(on the warming magic & merits of cinnamon)

For a week we experimented with keeping the heating on all the time. It was nearing 40 degrees in Los Angeles and living in Southern California for any length of time does something to your temperature tolerance. That is, it destroys it. But having the heating on all the time didn’t work. Not one bit. We’d both wake up every morning with dry skin and sore throats and stuffy noses. So after that week, we went back to putting it on for a few hours in the morning. While the rest of the world is still asleep, I’ll wake up, and shiver my way downstairs to throw the heating on then run back upstairs and jump under the covers until the house is a little warmer. When it’s an acceptable temperature I’ll resume my morning activities which include hot drinks, fluffy blankets and cold doorsteps.

At times like these, spices comes in really handy. Because having something bubbling away on the stove sending the scent of cinnamon and spice and sweetness into the air is a really nice way to warm up a space without getting dried out. Not only that, but it makes it feel like winter when it’s sunny outside and doesn’t look like winter at all.

I was chatting on Skype with my teenage sister in law the other day. She was asking about cinnamon and what it does medicinally, as it’s her favorite smell. I told her about how cinnamon warms the body. How it helps with circulation issues like cold fingers and toes. How it helps with the ups and downs of too much caffeine and too much sugar. And how it’s astringent– it stops bleeding, stops leaking, balances out imbalance. She laughed and said that it sounded like exactly what she needed, and I pointed out that people often gravitate towards what they need…

Sometimes with cinnamon, I feel like having it in the air, it works this way on spaces too. Mulled wine bubbling away on the stove warms up the cold corners, and halts the cool breeze from sneaking in under the door. A dash of cinnamon in your coffee in the morning both helps you respond to the caffeine better, and also helps with the mucus-y feeling people often get from too much dairy. A sprinkle of cinnamon on your blueberries and cream help to balance out your blood sugar. Considering the big creamy lattes I like to drink and my nervy-body, I’m really grateful for cinnamon most mornings…

And in the evenings lately, I’ve been making a quick-nog. Admittedly, until about a week ago, I’d never had eggnog before. I didn’t know until a few days later that most people drink it cold. I can’t fathom the idea of drinking something creamy and iced when it’s so cold outside, so I carried on making mine warm. Eggnog, my friends, is my new favourite thing. Between the creaminess and the spices and that dash of rum, it feels like sipping on a thick milky delicious cloud. I said ‘dash’ of rum, because my alcohol tolerance is like that of a child, and I don’t like being drunk, I just like the taste of it. The first night I added what was more like a glug, and I woke up with a headache the next morning. Now, I remind myself that it might LOOK like a warm milkshake but it is an alcoholic drink and that if I keep drinking them with a glug every night people might start getting worried, especially if I end up on Facebook telling everyone how much I love them (this happens, pretty much every time).

One more thing. It’s very nutritious. If this information will ruin it for you, stop reading here and just go make it (or wait till 5pm and make it?). But between the milk and cream, the egg yolks and the spices, you’ve got yourself a nutritional powerhouse, made from superfoods that you don’t need to import from Brazil or a small Pacific Island. Considering how worn out, stressed and exhausted most of us are at this time of year, I’d even go so far as to say that it’s medicinal :). So go and take your medicine please, and then get on Facebook and tell me how much you love it.

Eggnog. 

Serves 1. Multiply quantities for more.

1 egg yolk

1 cup milk

1/2 cup cream

1/4 tsp of grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp cinnamon and cardamom combined

1 tb sugar (I use sucanat- it adds more flavour I think, but you can use regular sugar in a pinch)

2 tb spiced rum (if you’re like me make it 1-2 tsp)- see below, or just buy it

Warm the milk and cream on the stove. Don’t bring it to a boil or anything, just very hot. Remove from the stove, add the spices, the sugar and the booze. With a whisk, whipping it steadily, add the egg yolk, then put it back on low heat until it thickens just a tiny bit.

Serve in a big mug with a fluffy blanket and maybe even an elf hat.

 

Make your own spiced rum: 

1 bottle of golden rum

1 cinnamon stick

2 vanilla beans

1 tsp black pepper corns

2 tsp cardamom

peel of 1/2 orange

Throw the lot together in a jar of some kind. Leave it for 2-5 days, shaking when you remember. Strain. Easy peasy!!!

 

Rosemary lavender black pepper polenta cookies

Rosemary- lavender- black pepper polenta cookies

(the magic of rosemary)

During the winter, I cook with rosemary a lot. Partly because there’s a big bush outside the front door, and partly because I think it’s the perfect remedy for the winter blues. Its presence alone can light up a space and get things moving again, when it feels like the cold has ground it to a stagnant halt. Sometimes I picture it as if it weren’t a plant at all, but a little person, created out of mist. And when I do, I see a little old lady who has more energy than most teenagers. She wears her hair pulled back tightly, has knobbly fingers and sharp black eyes and usually dresses really simply. She keeps a meticulously tidy house, and is ready to smack you with her broom (which she always ALWAYS has) at any time. I think she speaks with an Italian accent and might be someone’s nonna… Except the house that she keeps isn’t her house, it’s your body, and when you take a sip of rosemary tea, she gets to work sweeping out all the crud, getting the circulation going, clearing out all the stagnant stuff. I mean, picture how your eyes open wide when you take a deep whiff of a rosemary bush, and imagine that action going on in your whole body. In getting all that crud out, it does things like strengthen the heart and stimulate digestion. Rudolph Steiner went so far as to say it strengthens the sense of self in a person, which I think translates well to ‘clearing out all the crap’ and also making you stand up straight the way a strict old knobbly-fingered lady would, lest you get spanked with a broom on your way out the door.

In my steamy little kitchen, I’ll brew up some rosemary tea if I’m having trouble concentrating or getting stuff done, especially if its because I feel sluggish. I’ll put it in a pot and let it bubble away when I want to clear the air a bit- when things are a little too dusty and the heating’s been on for days and the windows have been closed and it’s suffocatingly still. Rosemary goes on the stove in a pot of water, while I dust and vacum and throw all the windows and doors open. And then I throw the water away, because I’m convinced that’s where all the stuck-ness goes. When people stop by and have that downtrodden look, a kind of pastiness and dullness to their complexion, and that ‘everything is sliding down towards the floor’ thing going on, accompanied by slow movement and general sluggishness, they get a sprig of rosemary and a squirt of sunlight in their tea. Because the two to me are never far away from each other. Rosemary grows in sunny places, and the warmth of sunlight makes it resinous and sticky. Rosemary, as far as I’m concerned, carries the sun in its pocket.

For slow circulation, try a rosemary footbath. Or if you’re feeling really brave and don’t mind smelling like a lamb roast, make a strong rosemary infusion and add it to your bath, and you’ll feel all tingly and like dancing afterwards.

Or if you don’t feel like drinking it in tea or bathing in it, then maybe try just cooking with it.

Rosemary cookies. More specifically, rosemary, lavender and black pepper polenta cookies. These, for the record, are now PRIZE winning cookies as it was voted by the people at a party the other night. And I make them gluten free, though if you’re not gluten intolerant then by all means use regular old white flour. I combined the rosemary with lavender because they’re a perfect pair- complementary in so many ways. And they grow right next door to each other. Both of them clear stagnation really quickly, but while rosemary is heating, lavender is cooling.

Which brings me to one more quick point: If you have labile blood pressure or high blood pressure, rosemary tea is not your friend (as Kiva Rose kindly pointed out to me). You’ll end up with roaring pulse in your ears and a headache and cursing the day you ever set foot in my cyber space. Which I would hate to be responsible for. If you’re not sure, give the leaves a rub and a smell first, and listen to yourself: does it smell and feel good? If not, then maybe try lavender instead: it’s very similar, but won’t make your head feel like it’s being hit with a sledgehammer…

Rosemary, lavender and black pepper polenta cookies

3 sticks room temperature butter
1 cup sugar
1 tb minced rosemary
1 tb minced lavender
1 tb black pepper

2 cups gluten free flour plus 1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1 cup ground cornmeal (polenta)
½ teaspoon salt

In a mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the herbs, then add the dry ingredients in three batches. As soon as they’re incorporated, turn off the mixer, pull it all together into a ball, wrap it up and refrigerate it for 24 hours if you have time- it’ll pull all the flavours together really nicely. If you don’t have time, you can just roll them out and cut them out into cookie shapes.

Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. They’ll be softer when you pull them out, and firm up within ten minutes or so. And they’re good in an airtight container for up to a month.

 

apple blossom

Kitchen herbalism

(a little bit of magic goes a long way)

Waking up before dawn makes me happy. Lately, I’ll put some fuzzy socks on because it’s cold, and will pad downstairs quietly, while the cat weaves her way around my feet. I’ll brew a cup of California Mountain Tea (a blend of rose petals, white sage, black sage and wild mint), add some cream and honey, and then wrap myself in a blanket and sit on the front steps thinking about things and watching the light change.

I spent this morning thinking about creativity. My whole life has been, in some ways, a jump from one creative pursuit to another, be it writing or drawing or dancing or cooking or herbalism. And while the side effects of herbalism might be that people get healthier and happier and more connected to the earth and the universe, to say that’s my primary goal would be lying. I do it because I need to create. To weave a bit of magic into the every day. To make things that affect the world around me. And herbs are a beautiful outlet for that: a little bit of this, a dash of that, a sprinkle of something else. Depending on the person you can add things to make a heart light up or to make roots set deep in the earth, or to make lungs open or simply just make someone go to the bathroom. What is it exactly that makes it work? I don’t quite know. There are chemical constituents and there’s the whole plant and its place is in the biosphere, and then there the intention of the person GIVING the herbs, and then there’s that little bit extra. That little bit extra, I like to call it magic.

When I’m in my kitchen, mixing up a tea or a salve, or pouring brandy and honey over some recently gathered plant matter to make an elixir, or stirring a pot of soup, or putting a few leaves in a cup to make tea for a friend who’s having a bad day, I feel like I’m doing the same thing- weaving, creating, and making things happen. Sometimes I’ll whisper things over a cup of tea or a tincture, things like ‘it’s going to be ok’ or ‘this is a liquid hug’. Sometimes I can even see basil as if basil was a cute little creature made of foggy air, and basil jumps into action, rearranging himself into ‘it’s all going to be ok’. And while it might seem silly, it still works: people realise that it’s going to be ok, or smile as though they’ve been given a hug. There is magic in the world, even in a tiny kitchen in the middle of Los Angeles.

One of the things I love about herbs is that a lot of them taste good. This seems pretty elementary, but people often cook with herbs (like basil, rosemary, sage, parsley) and people pass the herbal aisle at the Health Food store, but I think that the vast majority of people don’t realise that when they’re cooking, they’re using plant medicine. One might assume that, because we use them so often, culinary herbs are weak, but that’s not true at all. Some of the herbs I use most often medicinally are boring old culinary herbs, like garlic, basil, sage, rosemary and thyme.

Sometimes I feel like things are a little disjointed around here. One day I’m writing about cookies and another I’m writing about herbal medicine. The two are not really that separate. So if you guys don’t mind, in the coming weeks I’d like to start talking about herbs that we all have access to. Things you can find at the grocery store or in your back garden or in your neighbour’s back garden in the middle of the night while they’re sleeping. Things that you can tincture yourself or hang to dry and make tea with yourself and then maybe next time you add basil to a stew you’ll smile mischievously because you know that you too are putting a little magic in there.

In the mean time, my recipe for you today is something you can pick for yourself. We’ll call it ‘Herb Garden Tea’.

Herb Garden Tea

What herbs do you have lying around in pots or outside or in a bag in your fridge? Basil? Rosemary? Thyme? Sage? Mint? Rose petals? Peach leaves? Pick a few leaves (or a variety of them!) and drop them into the bottom of a mug. Top with hot water, steep for ten minutes, then stir in a little bit of honey. Add cream if you like. There. You made magic too.

IMG_2955

Elf Bread

I used to like complicated recipes. I don’t know why. Maybe because they gave me a sense of achievement, or maybe because I liked being kept busy by intricate details, or maybe simply because taking complicated things and turning them into things that make sense in my head and are easy to execute is something that I actually enjoy. Because underneath it all, I’m an organiser of thoughts and theories. Like a robot, only squidgier.

One of these complicated recipes that I used to like was this dense nutty sourdough rye bread with a flavour remniscent of grape nuts. I found it on the Weston Price website, long before I got sick in Mexico and stopped being able to eat gluten, and long before I decided to start a business and stopped having time for complicated recipes. Jam brought it up the other day, and I thought that maybe the extra long fermentation would make it more easily digestible for my wrecked GI tract. So far, no major reactions, which is a good sign. This bread recipe takes 4 days to make. That’s after you’ve got a good sourdough starter bubbling away. Yes, you read that right. By the time it’s finished cooking, you have to start another batch straight away because you’ll have polished all of it off in 4 days, and if there’s not another one on the way, you might cry.

Not only that, but you might start to plan social events around your bread. Like ‘well we’ve been invited to a party on Sunday night at 7 but I have to feed the starter around 7 so we’ll have to just go late’. Or ‘We can’t go away this weekend! What about the BABY [starter]?!’

But it’s ok. If you do proceed, then you’ll be rewarded with something so complex and nutty and sour and strangely delicious that you will want to give it a name. Which brings me to the whole ‘elf bread’ thing. It wasn’t originally elf bread. It was originally somebody’s family recipe that had been handed down over the years and ended up on the internet. But in our house it has no family history, and when it comes to bread that is heavier than a rock and tastes like a complete meal and is the kind of thing you want in your bag on a long journey, it looks and tastes more like something you’d imagine elves making and eating* than humans.

Elf bread. 

For the flour: I do a mixture of about 2/3 rye and 1/3 spelt or kamut. If you’re not allergic to wheat, then by all means use that.
The starter should be bubbly and strong.

 

Day one. Morning. 

24og sourdough starter

300g flour

300g water

Mix the whole lot together in a bowl. Cover with a towel and leave somewhere at room temperature for 24 hours.

 

Day two. Morning. 

400g water

600g flour

Add the two to the flour mix from the previous day. Stir it all together, cover, and leave for another 24 hours.

 

Day three. Morning. 

30g sea salt

1 tb ground coriander seed

2 tsp ground black pepper

260g water

700g flour

Mix the salt, pepper and coriander seed in with the water, then pour the lot over the doughy mass you’ve had fermenting. Add the rest of the flour. At this point you can either put it in a machine to knead (for 1 minute), or knead it by hand for a couple of minutes. Let the dough rest for 30 mins, then knead it again for another few minutes. Place the massive ball of dough in a greased bowl, and cover for 12 hours.

 

Day three, evening. 

Rice flour, for dusting the counter and sprinkling in your bannetons or makeshift bannetons.

Remove 240g of the dough from the big mass you now have. This will be your starter for next time. If you’re not going to do it immediately, then you can do as I do, make up the whole lot, and just get another good starter going when I want to make it again.

Divide the ball into 3. If you have bannetons, use those, if not, I line three big-ish bowls with tea towels, and sprinkle the towel with rice flour. With each ball of dough, stretch it out to a square, then fold it, like you’d fold a piece of paper to fit into an envelope, into thirds, then do the same lengthwise so that you’re left with a compact ball of dough. Pat it together nicely so that there are no seams visible, then plop it, smoothest side down, into the prepared bowls. Cover with plastic wrap and put into the fridge overnight.

 

Day four, morning. 

Cornmeal, for sprinkling.

If you have a dutch oven: 

Remove the bowls from the fridge. Place your dutch oven in the cold oven, then turn the heat up to 500. When the dutch oven is hot, remove it, sprinkle cornmeal. Tip the dough out of its banneton, and place it, with the side that was facing down in the bowl now facing up, into the dutch oven. Score it a few times along the top (about an inch and a half deep), put the lid on the pan, then place it in the oven. Turn the heat up as high as it’ll go for 10 minutes, then reduce to 450 for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and pull the loaf out- give it a knock with your knuckles on the bottom of the loaf. If it’s hard and makes a hollow sound, then your loaf is ready. If it’s not hard, then put it back in and test every five minutes until it IS ready. Then… remove from the oven, place on a rack, and try not to eat it till it’s cool (it’ll be gummy if you cut into it before it’s cooled down).

If you don’t have a dutch oven: 

Remove the bowls from the fridge. Preheat the oven to as high as it’ll go. Turn the first loaf out onto a baking sheet. Score it three times, and then place it into the hot oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 450. After another 15 minutes reduce to 350. After another 10 minutes, pull the loaf out and give it a knock on the bottom. If it’s hard and makes a hollow sound then your loaf is ready. If it doesn’t then put it back in for 5 mins at a time until it’s ready. As above, try not to cut into it until it’s cool or it’ll go gummy!

*For the record I DID bake it with my pointy elf hat on, and I’ve eaten a couple of slices like that too.

white sage and pine nut biscotti

White sage and pine nut biscotti

Southern California has a smell. It smells of the sea, and of desert rains and of redroot blooms and mesquite blossoms. It has a certain quality of light that is slightly dusty and slightly orange, unlike the light in San Francisco which is blue and in Tuscany which is yellow-er and in Britain which is silver. And it has a flavour. Of dust and of rose petals and sages and mugwort and cottonwood leaves and sweet everlasting.

And I love using those flavours in the things I cook. It should never be overwhelming- in the way that rosemary on your lamb shouldn’t be overwhelming. More like a subtle hint, a reminder of place. Italian and Provencal cookery books are great for those of us who are lucky enough to live in a Mediterranean climate. These people have been doing it for a really long time, using the herbs that grow near them, and in a similar climate, it’s really easy to make substitutions.

I’d been eyeing these pine nut and rosemary biscotti from the American Academy in Rome Biscotti book for ages. One of those books that I’ll flip through, bookmark another recipe, and then forget about for another few weeks. I’ve never been the type who finds the recipes and then goes out for the ingredients; rather I’ll be inspired by something I have, and then want to make something that’s a little bit like a recipe I saw somewhere. Then ensues the process of pulling out all the cookbooks I have trying to remember where exactly I saw it, and by the time Jam makes it downstairs to see what’s going on, it looks like a tornado has ripped its way through my office, into the kitchen. The other day, as I came in with a big crop of white sage and dropped it on my desk, the aroma wafted up around my head, as aromas do, and the first thing I thought about was biscotti.

These biscotti are delicious. Perfectly crunchy and the sage cuts through the sweetness ever so slightly without overwhelming. If you have white sage on hand, I encourage you to try it. But if you don’t, it’s ok. The original recipe calls for rosemary. You could also try regular garden sage, or lavender, or another aromatic herb of your choosing.

White Sage and Pine Nut Biscotti

Adapted from “Biscotti

 

3/4 cup pine nuts

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour (I used my own all purpose gluten free flour blend, substituting white rice flour for 1/4 cup)

2 tb fine cornmeal

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 tb white sage, minced (or aromatic herb of your choice- the original calls for rosemary, I think it’d be amazing with lavender too)

5 tb butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup + 2 tb granulated sugar

1 tsp lemon zest

1 egg

2 tsp marsala

 

Preheat the oven to 300. Spread the pine nuts out on a baking sheet, and roast for 10 minutes or so, until they’re golden brown.

Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar in a mixer on high speed, until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat for another 30 seconds or so. Slow down the mixer, add the marsala, sage and lemon zest, then stop mixing.

In a blender, pulse the roasted pine nuts a few times until they’re about a quarter of their original size. Combine with the rest of the dry ingredients, and add to the batter in two batches, mixing at slow speed to incorporate. As soon as the flour is mixed in, stop mixing and turn it out onto the counter (by the way, if you’re using gluten free flour you don’t need to worry so much about this, but using a regular wheat flour, don’t overmix or the texture will be weird).

Press the mixture together, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Raise oven temperature to 350.

After 15 minutes, split the dough into two chunks, and press each one into a long log-shape- about 1 1/2″ high in the middle, tapering out towards the edges.

Bake them for 20-25 minutes, then remove them from the oven and allow to cool completely. Then, slice each log into biscotti-shaped pieces, about 1″ wide. Standing them upright, bake them again for 6-10 minutes, until they’re slightly golden brown. They’ll harden up as they cool.

Will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

 

 

 

cheese polenta

Polenta

(a trip to San Francisco in which I cook for my brother and his roommates)

I drove up to San Francisco last week. I’d never actually been for more than a few hours, passing through, so I was excited to spend some time exploring. And luckily, there’s a Twitter-verse, in which you can do things like say ‘hey folks, where should I go in San Fran” and folks will reply with things like ‘Tartine, you fool!” or “Incanto” or “GO TO THE HEATH CERAMICS SALE” and you will do these things (except Incanto which was closed) and be grateful that you didn’t end up somewhere less than perfect…

It’s the perfect city for wandering. After I got home from yoga in the mornings (I was there to visit one of my favourite people who is teaching here until December), I’d set off on exploration adventures. I went to the Haight, and walked through the park (Golden Gate park is bigger than Central Park!), and explored the Sunset area, and went to little cafes, and had the best chocolate ice cream with smoked sea salt, and wandered around Bi-Rite grocery store wishing that all grocery stores in my area were like this (I mean it’s a canola-free establishment and they have a massive cheese collection. Hellooooo.), and went to Tartine 2 times even though there’s not actually a single thing I can eat on the menu (and the owner’s wife is gluten intolerant!)*.

I also drove over the Golden Gate bridge. Twice. And it’s huge, and orange, and very very exciting. I actually screamed and bounced up and down the entire drive over. The way back was less exciting, I didn’t bounce around as much, though I did squeal a couple of times… and on the other side of that big orange (not gold) bridge was the Heath Ceramics sale and my friend Gina (and her son Bennet who has the biggest bluest eyes I’ve ever seen). We drank hot chocolate and looked at pretty ceramics and I bought the most perfect coffee mugs which I swear make my coffee taste better just by the power of looks alone…

(Check out ma new coffee mug! And the cat and Ganesha, viciously guarding it…)

Later, I went for a walk in the park, and gathered some herbs along the way: redwood leaves, juniper leaves, lavender blossoms, black sage leaves. By the time I got back to Alex’s house, I had taught five hippies (who were trying to sell me pot) how to ID juniper, and had a pocket full of plant matter. I made this roast lamb recipe, using the herbs I’d gathered and a quarter bottle of rose that I found in their fridge (Alex, if you’re wondering where the wine went, you ate it on lamb). All atop some cheesy polenta.

I don’t know why people get freaked out about polenta. I’m a careless cook. I never use double boilers (I hate having extra things to clean), and get so distracted that I forget about things (sometimes the kitchen sink overflows and floods downstairs because I forget I’m filling it with water), and yet I can make polenta. Believe me, if I can do it, then you can too.

And I make a lot. Because having leftover cheesy polenta is a true joy. You can have it for breakfast with poached eggs on top. You can slice it into squares and stick it under the grill and make it go all crispy on the outside and cheesy-polenta-y in the middle. And you can have it by the spoonful out of the fridge, just like a savoury corn and cheese flavoured ice cream. Ok, nobody else really seems into the latter like I am…

By the way, can anybody tell me what the difference is between polenta and grits? I had grits for the first time when I was in Tulsa earlier this year, and it was just like polenta. What’s the difference?

(This looks lumpy because it is lumpy. That’s because it’s my ‘quickly reheat for breakfast’ version not the ‘fresh out the pot for dinner’ version. The latter is smoooth, promise.)

Cheesy polenta

serves 4

6 cups water

2 cups polenta

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 1/2 cups mixed cheeses (I used parmesan, fontina, asiago)

1 stick butter

 

Bring the water and salt to a boil in a heavy bottomed pan. Throw in the polenta and stir until all clumps are gone. Turn down to a simmer, and simmer, stirring every 5-10 minutes, for 35 minutes**. If it gets too dry, add more water. For some reason sometimes it seems way thirstier than others… Then after 35 mins, taste for consistency and salt (you might need more). Are there hard grains still? Cook a bit longer. Is it all soft and lovely? Then remove from the heat, stir in the butter, cheese and pepper. You can make it in advance then heat it up later (just add a bit more water). Voila. Easy cheesy.

(Shoes, waiting patiently for feet.)

*Note, if you find yourself meeting someone there and can’t have gluten either, there are 3 options: 1. muesli which contains spelt but no wheat- it’s still gluten but depending on why you can’t eat it it might be ok. 2. A sandwich without the sandwich. Not available until 11am. 3. Go next door to Bi-Rite and get crackers and cheese and an apple.

** You might get a crust on the pan. It’s worth it to me to not have to stand over it constantly. For said crusty pan, I cannot recommend Barkeeper’s Helper enough. It’s one of those things that I won’t even look at the ingredients for because I can’t imagine how I’d live without it and seeing how toxic it all is would make me feel like I should give it up…


Acorn cookies

acorn chocolate chip cookies

Gathering acorns is dangerous business. Upon finally finding a tree that actually HAS acorns on it, I started gathering un-holey ones off the ground. After a few minutes I felt something whiz past my head. I looked around, couldn’t see anything, went back to collecting. Another thing whizzed past my head. I looked up. A squirrel was throwing things at me. We made eye contact and he threw a tree branch. A TREE BRANCH. It missed my head by a few inches. Luckily, I made it out unscathed. Be warned: any person with visions of gathering plant matter being like Snow White dancing through a forest with birds and squirrels dancing in your wake will have their fantasies smashed to pieces really fast. You fight squirrels for their bounty, get whacked in the face by tree branches, scuff hands and knees and generally emerge looking like a scratched up tree-urchin more than a Disney princess.

A funny thing happened when I was preparing to make these cookies. Hank posted something on Facebook about how all acorns need to be leached and I said, “no, no, our local quercus lobata is sweet as can be”. He responded with a variation of “are you on crack?” and I thought the same thing about him and carried on shelling a big bag of acorns. As I popped them in the oven to roast, I thought back to what he’d said, and popped one in my mouth for a taste.

And emitted a loud YEUGH right before I spat it out. Really. Seriously. Bitter. I guess the tree I was using before had sweet acorns, which, according to Hank, are extremely rare. I lucked out in it being the first acorn tree I ever used!

Now, until I hike back to the sweet tree I, like everyone else, have to leach my acorns. *sob*

Acorns are labour intensive. It takes a couple of hours to shell a big bag, and then you have to grind and leach them and then I dehydrate them in the oven making it a whole ordeal that I wouldn’t dream about repeating every year if it wasn’t well worth it. But it is worth it. The nutty, sweet flavour is something you won’t find anywhere else, and it’s heavenly. Last year I made acorn gnocchi and almost cried when I ran out. This year I gathered more, and started out with cookies. Because, if you hadn’t yet noticed, I have a sweet tooth.

Acorn chocolate chip cookies

1/2 cup + 4 tb all purpose flour

1/2 cup acorn flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

4 tb sucanat or sugar

6 tb butter at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla

1 large egg

1/2 tsp salt

2 oz chocolate, chopped into chunks

 

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Then mix in the flours, baking powder and salt. Don’t overbeat- when it’s all incorporated, stir in the chocolate chunks then set the whole lot aside overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 350. Scoop out little balls (I use a tablespoon measure, or a mini-ice cream scoop) onto a baking sheet. Flatten them slightly with the palm of your hand, and bake for 12-15 minutes. They’ll be soft when they come out the oven but will firm up as they cool.

 

For more information about using acorns for cooking, here’s Butter’s post on the matter.

And if you’re wondering whether it’s worth it to try cooking with acorns, believe me, it is. Check back at the end of the month for our Round Up of acorn recipes.

IMG_2567

Dia de los muertos

 

I turned 30 last week. If you haven’t had a big birthday roll around in the middle of the week, I highly recommend you try it: you get a party the weekend before, a dinner out the day of, and then those who couldn’t make it to the party will take you out the weekend after, making it a birth-week instead of a birth-day!

Almost fifteen years ago, I went to Nogales for an interview at immigration. Driving through the desert in Tuscon was pretty, then there was a little town with a McDonalds, Ralph’s, Bank of America, you know- the same stuff you see in pretty much every town from San Diego to Maine. Yawnsville, USA. And then we crossed the border into Mexico and instantly there was COLOUR and NOISE. There were taxis blaring mariachi music and people shouting at each other, and murals on the walls, and people selling fruit by the side of the road. I know that Nogales isn’t the nicest place in Mexico, and that in recent years it’s gotten even worse because of the drug wars, but I tell you, that day, it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. I started to become a little obsessed with Mexican culture. Finding out that the entire country has a party on my birthday was the final nail in the coffin (no pun intended). We had a bunch of Day of the Dead cut-outs that I dragged back from Mexico last year, and I built an 8′ tall Catrina statue to stand at the back of the garden. Then we went to the flower market downtown and picked up 40 bunches of marigolds. Add some candles, a kick-ass playlist (Kinky and Mariachi El Bronx; try listening to this song without smiling) , awesome company, and 100 tacos, and it’s an instant party. An instant party that took about a week to prepare for because 8′ tall paper mache effigies take some effort…

Other things that made it brilliant included a gluten free skull-shaped birthday cake made by BFF and sister in law extraordinaire . An air sex show. No seriously; I think they heard our laughter in Hawaii. Almost all the people I love the most in one place. The scent of datura blossoms and marigolds filling our small garden. And not having to drive anywhere after drinking an obscene number (for me: 3) of watermelon-basil coolers.

My brother, Alex, lover of all things alcoholic, came up with a cocktail recipe for me to make. It was his contribution since he couldn’t come down from the Bay area. It involves watermelon, which you can still find at markets around here (can you still find it where you are?), and basil, which is plentiful in my garden as it’s one of my favourite medicinal herbs, and ginger, which you can get at any grocery store. I was going to try and come up with something cool made with wild ingredients, like a prickly pear cactus cooler or something fun, but my attempts at cocktail recipes in the past have been described as non-alcoholic sodas by others, so I figured I’d go with what the semi-pro has to say…

 

 

Of course I forgot to take pictures of the actual drink. But let it suffice to say that I ran out, twice, because it was so delicious.

Alex Altman’s Watermelon-basil Cooler.

2 oz vodka
3 basil leaves
1 2″ chunk of watermelon
1 .25×2″ piece of ginger (peeled)
.5 oz simple syrup
.5 oz lime juice (about half a lime)
Ginger Ale

Muddle together the basil, watermelon, ginger, and simple syrup. Add the lime juice and vodka. Shake it all together a la Tom Cruise. Top up with ginger ale to taste.

To make larger quantities, just multiply the numbers. I used a whole big watermelon and a box of basil and about a quart of simple syrup and a loooot of vodka.