Gemelli with Corn, Tomatoes & Canadian Bacon

Leila and Chris were due for dinner last night. Tuesday looked very different when I extended the invitation the week before, but I am learning that the consulting life comes with an ever-evolving calendar. I texted from a client meeting at 4:30 to suggest that they come around 7:30 and rushed back to my neighborhood to pick up this week’s CSA bounty. I made it home around 6:30, but still didn’t have a clue what I was going to make.

Luckily, I had some Flying Pigs Farm Canadian bacon in the freezer to complement Farmer Ted‘s peak summer vegetables. By the time I had stashed the last of the onions and washed and dried the gorgeous purple lettuce, I’d hatched a plan. This is a meal that comes together fast, so you’ll want to have everything prepped and ready to go before you start sautéing.

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Gemelli with Corn, Tomatoes & Canadian Bacon

  • 1 pound good quality gemelli or other short pasta shape
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 garlic scape, cut into long segments and sliced down the center (or 3 cloves regular garlic)
  • 4 ounces Canadian bacon, cut into 1″ strips
  • 2 ears sweet corn, niblets stripped
  • 2 handfuls roughly chopped kale
  • 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • salt and pepper

Place a large pot of salted water over high heat. When the water in your pot is boiling, add the pasta and give it a quick stir. Cook 8 minutes or until just before al dente. (If you game this right, you should be able to transfer the pasta straight from the pot to the pan. If not, no worries. Just be sure to save some of the cooking liquid when you drain the pasta.) Meanwhile, heat a large skillet up to medium with the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring continuously for a few minutes until you pick up the smell of toasted garlic. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the Canadian bacon and cook until most of the fat is released but before it gets crispy. Add the corn and cook for a couple more minutes. Add the kale and cook until wilted. Add the tomatoes and cook another couple of minutes. Then add the pasta plus about half a cup of the cooking water. Crank the heat up to high and cook for two more minutes, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the basil off the heat.

I failed to get a shot of last night’s meal, which included a salad with the aforementioned purple lettuce, yellow tomatoes and crumbled ricotta salata in a classic red wine vinaigrette plus hunks of crusty baguette. But I just polished off this bowl of leftover pasta for lunch and am surprised to report that it was even tastier served cold the next day. (I suspect this has to do with the pig fat having some time to permeate the pasta.)

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Champagne, Sour Cherry & Rhubarb Preserves

There is nothing like a chilled bowl of perfectly ripe cherries on a hot summer day.

Last year was a bust for stone fruit in my area owing to a nasty and ill-timed hailstorm. I do confess to breaking down and purchasing some Washington State imports in a moment of weakness after a sweaty bike ride out to Brighton Beach. They were good, but nothing like the ones I picked myself up at Fishkill Farms a few summers back.

That day called to mind strawberry picking with my mom as a small child. Why anyone would choose to let me wear white for such an activity, now or then, is beyond me. Based on my empty bucket and the stains down the front of my shirt, the folks at the cash register would have done well to weigh me upon entering and exiting and simply charge my mom for the difference.

But I digress. Last week’s CSA share brought a quart of honest-to-goodness local cherries. Alas, they were more tart than I had hoped and so they sat in my fridge for a few days while I mulled what to do.

A lovely pork blade chop from Flying Pigs Farm founds its way into my bag at the farmers’ market on Saturday morning. I’d stopped by with the intention of buying bacon to complement the first promising tomatoes I’d spotted this year. But one thing lead to another and, suddenly, I was tucking 12 ounces of beautifully striated pork into my bag. (It turns out I’m a sucker for a handsome man who speaks of pork the way most people talk about their first love.)

I had a small bundle of rhubarb that had been sitting in the back of the crisper for a couple of weeks. I imagined that the cherries and rhubarb would make a lovely sauce for my chop, but that would only make a dent in my fruit stockpile.

Then I remembered the previous night’s booze crime…

Louis and I had a date for a screening of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. We met up for dinner beforehand—mussels and frites for me, couscous with merguez for the gentleman. It was a lovely night, so lovely that I found myself declaring, “It’s such a lovely night!” as we swanned out of the café. Halfway down the block, with no awnings in sight on this lovely brownstone-lined side street, the skies opened. Within a matter of minutes, Louis and I looked as if we’d jumped in a pool fully clothed.

We took refuge in a nearby bar, ordering a round while we hatched a plan (and dripped all over the floor). Having determined that Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte was available for streaming, we headed back to my apartment and traded our drenched clothing for sweatpants and T-shirts. The previous week’s cat sitter had left a nice bottle of bubbly, which seemed like just the thing for such a festive occasion.

Fifteen minutes after the pop of the cork, I was asleep on the couch, my head resting on my dear friend’s shoulder. While Louis managed to stay awake for the whole movie, he didn’t do much better than me at drinking the wine, which I guiltily shoved into the fridge, uncorked, on my way to bed.

And so I give you this delightfully decadent dish…

Champagne, Sour Cherry & Rhubarb Preserves

  • 1 cup chopped rhubarb, tossed with 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 quart sour cherries, halved and pitted
  • 1 cup pink champagne (or whatever leftover bubbly you happen to have on hand)
  • 2 tablespoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons calcium water (see instructions in the pectin box)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Bring the bubbly to a boil in a medium heavy-bottomed pot. Combine the sugar and pectin powder in a separate bowl. Add fruit to your pot and bring back to a boil. Add sugar, cardamom, almond extract and vanilla, stirring vigorously for 3 or 4 minutes. Take off the heat. When the preserves are cool enough to handle, ladle into a couple of 1.5-cup mason jars (or whatever you have on hand). Let cool most of the way on the counter. Then screw the lids on and pop them in the fridge.

Cherry Rhubarb Champagne Preserves Hot

Don’t panic (as I did) if the preserves seem loose at first. This is what mine looked like after eight hours in fridge. The internet tells me it can take up to 48.

Cherry Rhubarb Champagne Preserves Set

Have it on toast. Serve alongside a soft, creamy cheese. I’ve been dropping a generous spoonful of these preserves into plain yogurt as an afternoon snack and can report that this is also a good strategy.

Strawberry-Ginger Whiskey Sour

Summer and its bounty are finally here. Three weeks into CSA season, I am proud to report that I’m keeping up. My new consulting lifestyle means lots of breakfast salads and home-cooked, vegetable-laden lunches.

I was in New Orleans for work most of last week, but my cat sitters were good enough to pick up my weekly share. Mysteriously, they had not followed my instructions to demolish the strawberries, so there were two quarts waiting in the fridge when I got home. They weren’t quite as sweet as the last batch. But that’s no bother when you’ve got whiskey on hand.

Strawberry-Ginger Whiskey Sour

  • 8-12 strawberries, rinsed and sliced
  • 1-2 tablespoons ginger syrup (depending on how sweet your strawberries are and how sweet you like your drinks)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1-2 ounces rye whiskey (depending on how rough a day it’s been)
  • a few dashes of rhubarb bitters
  • ice
  • seltzer (optional, perhaps best if it’s a hot day and cocktail hour is starting early)

Muddle the strawberries and ginger syrup in a cocktail shaker until the berries get nice and mushy. Add the lemon juice, bitters, and a few ice cubes. Give a vigorous shake and pour into a glass. Top with seltzer if you’re going easy.

Strawberry Ginger Whiskey Sour

This cocktail is just fine when batched and smuggled into an outdoor concert venue in a water bottle. Or so I’ve heard. Just pack a can of seltzer separately and assemble on-site.

Celebrate Brooklyn

Cheers!

Chorizo, Chickpeas, Clams & Potatoes

Time is galloping. My thesis is plodding.

I have two days left in which to spit it all out on paper–or, rather, onto the screen. This is an internal deadline, but one that is crucial to my mental health. I have promised myself that, if I can bang out a serviceable rough draft by the time I make my presentation on Tuesday, I can take a couple of days off to reconnect with the world before I buckle down and finish my damn degree.

I started this blog five years (minus six days) ago, when I had been admitted into the master’s degree program in Food Studies at NYU. I was giddy, impatient and somewhat terrified at the prospect of being back in the classroom after 16 years. Would I be the oldest one there? Did I remember how to write an academic paper? How would I find my classroom? Had my study skills miraculously improved over the past couple of decades? Did I need a new set of crayons and a protractor? Would I ever figure out the newfangled computer systems?

It’s strange to look back at those first entries and glimpse an earlier version of myself. A lot has happened in the intervening years. I passed 40 and kept right on aging. I left my job as Executive Director of one nonprofit organization in order to lead another. I left that organization and struck out on my own as a consultant and teacher. I lost the tiny and impossibly sweet cat that had been with me since my early years in New York City and gained a bolder, fluffier model. I wrote a lot of papers. I took an unexpected departure into art and performance. I chalked up more than my fair share of learning experiences on the romantic front. I overcame my fear of public speaking. I learned that I could, in fact, love a second nephew just as much as I love the first. I broke an ankle and an indeterminate number of toes. I raised upwards of five million dollars. I made lifelong friends who may actually be more food obsessed than I am. I read so many books that the wall nearest my dining table is an endlessly rotating literary staging area. I took a few epic trips–to Argentina, to Paris, to India, and to Nahunta, Georgia to see a man about a grill. I finally mastered the poached egg.

Tonight I declared the research phase of my thesis over and got serious about writing. But first, I made dinner.

Chorizo, Chickpeas, Clams & Potatoes

  • 24 small clams
  • 12 new potatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil.
  • 2 links fresh chorizo, uncased
  • 1 large leek, rinsed and chopped
  • four cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas (If you didn’t happen to reserve some chickpeas from the massive batch of hummus you made this afternoon, canned will suffice.)
  • 1 cup white wine or rose
  • 1 handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper (maybe)
  1. Sort through your clams, making sure that any that are open close back up when tapped. Give them a rinse and place in a bowl covered with cold water for at least 20 minutes. I added some cornmeal and a hefty dose of sea salt, but suspect neither is actually necessary to the purging process. The goal here is to get the clams to spit out any sand they may be harboring.
  2. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil and toss the potatoes in. Cook just until tender and then drain.
  3. Bring a large cast iron skillet up to medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil. Then add the chorizo, breaking it into chunks with a wooden spoon. Stir frequently. When the sausage has started to give up its fat, add the leek and continue to stir frequently. After a couple of minutes, add the garlic. If the pan gets dry, add some more olive oil. When the leeks have softened but aren’t yet brown, add the paprika, thyme and potatoes. Stir to combine, positioning as many of the potatoes as you can cut-side down. Cook without stirring until the potatoes start to brown. Stir in the chickpeas and wine. 
  4. Rinse the clams under cold water, taking care not to stir up any of the sediment at the bottom of the bowl. Nestle the clams in the pan and cover. If you don’t have a lid that fits, foil will work just fine. Check them after five minutes, giving a quick stir to move any that haven’t opened toward the boiling spots. When all of the clams have opened (or you’ve given up and discarded that stubborn one), remove from the heat.
  5. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with some crusty bread to soak up the juices.

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The Lonely Thesis (A Cocktail)

It’s been almost a year since I’ve found fit to write something here. There are many reasons for this, some of which I imagine I’ll eventually unpack with a paid professional and a box of tissues.

I’ve been writing and I’ve been cooking, to be sure. In fact, I’ve been writing and cooking so much that someone decided that I should teach a course about just that. This past semester I taught a food writing workshop for undergraduates in NYU’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies.

I also taught a graduate course on food manufacturing. In total, we visited 22 facilities, including Tortilleria Chinantla in Bushwick, where each day half a million tortillas make the four-minute journey from flour and water to bagged, boxed and ready to sell. We toured an artisanal chocolate maker just blocks from a large-scale industrial dumpling and noodle factory. We even got to see how the sausage gets made (literally!) at the Sabrett factory in the South Bronx, which produces a million hot dogs a day.

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But the single best class, at least in my mind, was the morning we toured breweries along the Gowanus Canal. Naturally, we sampled as we went.

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Stop 1: Travis Kauffman of Folksbier Brauerei serving up classic European-style beer 

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Stop 2: Joe Harer and Peter Salmond at Other Half Brewing, in the shadow of the BQE.

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Stop 3: Emily Elsen of Four and Twenty Blackbirds (A little pie to soak up that beer!)

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Stop 4: Jason Sahler of Strong Rope Brewery, a New York State licensed Farm Brewery

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Stop 5: The aftermath of the canning line at Threes Brewing

As you might have guessed, stop 6 for me was a nap.

The semester is winding to a close. I taught my last class on Tuesday. My graduate students presented their final papers last week and my undergraduates are probably procrastinating on theirs as I type this.

My graduate school journey is also coming to an end. After five years, the only thing that stands between me and the title Master is a heavily theoretical treatise on the place and potential of food in a museum setting. My dining table is piled high with books and articles and scraps of paper filled with cryptic notes. My limited social engagements inevitably devolve into me babbling about the ephemeral nature of food and the democratizing power of an immersive sensory experience. My dream life is simply a rehashing of the day’s research.

Naturally, I’ve been doing a little procrastinating of my own. Much of it has been in the form of ensuring that I am properly fed. For breakfast this morning, I whipped up chilaquiles verdes. Lunch brought Sichuan roasted king oyster mushroom and BBQ baked tofu summer rolls with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce.

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In a desperate bid to focus, I have logged out of my social media accounts. This means that, if I want to see what the rest of the world is up to, I am forced to stand up and walk across the room to retrieve my phone. Today’s feed is full of smiling people digging into plates piled high with nachos and exhortations to think about what Cinco de Mayo is actually about. (Hint: it doesn’t involve a margarita machine.) Me, I’m still in the sweatpants I put on when I got home last night.

But a girl’s gotta eat. Again. Having forbade myself from leaving the house until tomorrow’s sole outing (to the farmers market to drop off my compost and pick up more provisions), I’ve been winging it based on whatever I can find in the fridge. I just polished off a round of sausage, ramp and spinach tacos and a conciliatory cocktail. Imagine my surprise when I returned to this blog, ginger mezcal margarita in hand, and found that my last post, way back in July, was about…a ginger mezcal margarita.

And so, I offer you a variation on a theme.

The Lonely Thesis (a.k.a. Ginger Mezcal Margarita, again)

  1. Grab your retro fabulous 1970s shaker, the one your cocktail snob friends mock you for.
  2. Squeeze half a lemon into the shaker. If you want to be fancy about it, you could do this in a manner that strains the seeds, but I’m not even sure I brushed my teeth this morning. Fortunately, the cat has yet to complain.
  3. Dig out that exorbitantly priced ginger syrup you bought four years ago and, despite repeated and escalating attempts, haven’t been able to reopen since. Find some inappropriate kitchen tool with which you’re likely to injure yourself. Dig and squeeze until the cap explodes, sending black shards of plastic around your kitchen. Pour an ounce or so of the syrup into your shaker. Recap with some plastic wrap and a rubber band.
  4. Add a shot of mezcal. Add a little more.
  5. Fill the shaker with ice that’s taken on a funk that makes you suspect cleaning one’s freezer is a thing. Shake as best you can given the fact that you have yet to put on a bra today.
  6. Stack some more of that questionable ice into a highball and strain your cocktail into the glass. Top with some cheap bubbly left by a cat sitter, noting that it’s old enough to have lost some sparkle.
  7. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a liberal dose of existential dread.

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OK, back to the books. This thesis ain’t gonna write itself.

Ginger Mezcal Margarita

It’s been a while since The Drunken Fig published a cocktail recipe, which is not to say that I haven’t been living up to my moniker. The opening of an awesome beer bar a mere block from my apartment last year may have something to do with it. In any case, I’ve been feeling the bug this week. Last night brought a Watermelon Cucumber Margarita which, while just as pretty as could be, didn’t quite make the cut (though I did manage to guzzle it down).

Watermelon Cucumber Margarita

I’ll have to spend a little more time figuring that one out. I suspect it involves having the energy to dig out the immersion blender.

Tonight I turned my attention to that bottle of mezcal that’s been sitting on the shelf. Rooting through the fridge, I found some organic lemonade that I bought in a dehydration delirium at the tail end of Saturday’s very long and very hot walk to buy a bike. (My new wheels are on back order so, after a few glorious spins around the block on the floor model, I had to make my way back up the hill on foot.)

But I digress. There were limes left over from last night’s cocktail experiment. There was candied ginger from a recent bender at the Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights. There was extra spicy ginger beer because, somewhere along the line, I decided that it’s a pantry staple.

And so, I give you, the Ginger Mezcal Margarita, a drink worth repeating.

Ginger Mezcal Margarita

  • 2 ounces lemonade
  • 2 ounces mezcal
  • 2 ounces ginger beer – the spicier, the better
  • 1/2 lime plus 1 wedge
  • 1 piece candied ginger
  • salt and ice

Drop some ice into a cocktail shaker. Add the lemonade, mezcal, ginger beer, and juice from half a lime. Give it a few gentle shakes. Run the lime wedge around the edge of a highball glass and dip the glass into some salt. (If you have guests over, you could get fancy and do this on a saucer. I went for sticking it directly into the salt cellar. It’s that kind of week.) Plop a few more ice cubes in. Strain the cocktail into your glass and garnish with the lime and candied ginger.

I recommend pairing this with Let It Bleed, turned up loud. No dinner necessary.