When you pulled a 14-hour day on your feet (during which you broke down an unfathomable number of cardboard boxes, donned a dress and lipstick in a public restroom, and talked to no less than 400 people), slept five fitful hours, and awoke thinking there’s no way you could possibly leave your house, reach for those week-old potato rolls left over from your birthday barbecue. Dip them in a mixture of egg, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, and a pinch of salt and fry them up over medium-low heat in a combination of butter and neutral cooking oil. Maple syrup is the obvious topping choice, but a little homemade pear, cranberry, habanero, and ginger chutney wouldn’t hurt. You just might survive this day.
I first moved to Sterling Place in January of 1997. Come spring, I was delighted to discover that the trees on my block did, in fact, have leaves. Even better, they exploded into flowers just when you needed it most.
There is a tree I am particularly fond of in front of the church at the end of my block. When we first met, this particular tree was an awkward adolescent–its gangliness heightened by what I take to be a grafting error. One branch of the tree flowers pink while the rest flowers white.
I pass this tree at least twice nearly every day. Shorter than the other trees on my block, it demands a certain attention that I suspect is somewhat irritating to those taller than me. As I passed under its branches on Thursday morning, It suddenly occurred to me that those red things dangling down looked an awful lot like cherries. (The fact that it took me 19 years to have this thought likely has something to do with the coffee shop being on the next block.) And so, like the compulsive foodie that I am, I snapped a shot and posted it online in order to crowdsource edibility.
The verdict? Yep, you can eat it!
I had thought I might wait until dark to do the deed, but was overcome by the urge on my walk home from the train. I was a bit worried that someone would come out of the church and chastise me, but people mainly seemed amused. A few brave souls even joined me in a nibble. The lower branches were easy work, but the upper branches proved more challenging. I did manage to get a few more by balancing on the tree pit guard (probably not what the block beautification committee had in mind), but eventually had to accept that the rest would be left to the birds and those standing taller than 5’4″.
After whipping up a quick salad with this week’s gorgeous red leaf from Sang Lee Farms, I set to work prepping my cherries. Oona offered to help, but her lack of opposable thumbs proved a challenge.
Turns out it doesn’t take as long as you might think to stem and pit 529 (not counting the ones that went straight into my mouth) sour cherries. Within half an hour, I was preheating the oven and assembling my crisp.
Sour Cherry Rosewater Crisp
- 529 sour cherries (about four cups)
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 3 tablespoons corn starch
- 3 tablespoons rosewater
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- 1 cup flour
- 1/4 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 stick butter
- Rinse the cherries, place them in a large bowl, and find something to watch on TV. Stem each cherry, transferring it back to another bowl as you do so. Grab stemmed cherries one by one, squeezing with your dominant hand and popping the pit into your other hand. (Under no circumstances should you be wearing white while performing this task.) Drop the pitted cherries back into your first bowl.
- Preheat the oven to 375. Stir 3/4 cups of sugar, the corn starch, the rosewater and the lemon juice and zest into the cherries and let sit while you make the topping.
- In another bowl, combine the remaining cup of sugar along with the flour, rolled oats, salt and baking powder. Cut all but one tablespoon of butter into small pieces and drop into flour mixture. Using your hands and pinching the butter with your fingers, combine until it forms a nice crumbly texture.
- Pour the cherries into a small baking dish. (If you happen to have a heart-shaped pie tin that you bought years ago at a stoop sale, now would be the time to deploy it.) Layer the flour mixture on top and then dot with small pieces of the remaining tablespoon of butter.
- Bake for 45 minutes or so until the fruit is bubbling around the edges (you’ll know because it will be oozing onto you oven floor unless you had the foresight to lay some foil on the lower rack) and the top is golden brown.
Among the many charms of my new workplace is the Just Food Citrus Buying Club. A couple of weeks ago I replied to an email, indicating that I was in for ten pounds of certified organic citrus from Beck Grove in Fallbrook, California. (It seems even diehard local eaters need a little dose of sunshine come mid-January.)
I left work on Friday with as many blood oranges and Meyer lemons as would fit in my purse. The rest would have to wait until a night that did not include a meeting followed by swanky cocktails and an even swankier dinner. I took great pleasure in producing fragrant reminders of warmer weather for the people who swirled through my busy weekend, but did manage to retain a little fruit for myself.
All of that socializing didn’t leave much time for sleeping. And so Monday found me sitting at my dining table desperately trying to focus on a backlog of work.
The right music was essential. It being Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I went with Forever Young, Gifted & Black: Songs of Freedom & Spirit, an excellent compilation of Nina Simone songs from the Civil Rights Era–including a devastating 13-minute version of “Why? (The King of Love is Dead)” performed just three days after King’s assassination.
While the music soothed my brain a bit, my stomach was still unsettled by my efforts to substitute coffee for sleep. Rooting through the fridge, I found my recently acquired Meyer lemons, a giant knob of ginger and some fresh turmeric left from a fall apple picking trip to Fishkill Farms. A quick Google search led me to the New York Times’s Meyer Lemon and Ginger Infusion with Turmeric and Cayenne. Color me obsessed–and productive.
I logged eleven hours at the office today. This included the first of two days of all-staff training, which was a great experience, but also exhausting–so much so that I boarded the wrong train home, overshooting my destination by 45 or so blocks. Mercifully, I had some curried pumpkin, tofu and kale left from Sunday night’s dinner. I consumed this cold and straight out of the container, standing at the kitchen counter.
While I ate, I contemplated whether I still had the energy to deliver on the sweet treat I had promised for day two of our training. There was no way I was trudging back outside. Whatever baked good I made would have to be limited by the ingredients I had on hand. As it turns out, this is not a terrible fate when you’ve got Meyer lemons and ginger in the fridge.
Meyer Lemon Gingerbread
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 12 ounces butter, softened
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup molasses
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 1 golf ball-sized knob of ginger, peeled
- 3 Meyer lemons
- 1 cup confectioners sugar
- Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9 x 12 (or thereabouts) baking pan with butter. Whisk flour, baking soda, spices and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Cream the remaining butter, sugar, molasses, vanilla and eggs in a large bowl. Using a fine microplane, grate three-fourths of the ginger and the zest of two lemons into the bowl and stir to combine. Slowly work in the flour mixture.
- Juice the two zested lemons and add enough water to make a cup of liquid. Heat this until just before boiling and then add it to your batter, stirring to combine. Pour this into the pan and pop in the oven for 30 minutes or so. (This is a fine time for a yoga/State of the Union interlude.)
- When the bread has pulled away from the edges of your pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes while you make the glaze.
- Zest and juice your last lemon into a small ramekin. Grate the remaining ginger and add that along with the confectioners sugar. Stir briskly with a fork, adding water if needed until you get a syrupy consistency. Drizzle this over your gingerbread and spread evenly with a spatula before allowing to harden.
This recipe yields enough gingerbread to feed a dozen bleary-eyed staff members and still leave a little treat for the neighbors to discover in the morning.
(Alternately, you could polish it off yourself.)
The squash situation has gotten a little out of hand. This week’s CSA share, the last of the season (sniffle), brought the count up to a dozen–six delicata, one butternut, one acorn, one turban, one pumpkin and three kabocha squash to be specific.
I also had some fresh sage that was threatening to turn to dust after three weeks in the crisper. (It’s been a busy month.) The sage was grown at La Finca del Sur and purchased at the South Bronx Farmers Market, which Lily Kesselman and her neighbors started this year to bring farm fresh fruits and vegetables to their corner of New York City. I spent a delightfully sunny fall afternoon learning what it takes to start a community-led farmers’ market and chatting with Freddy in between sales of his collards, fresh herbs and late season tomatoes.
Kabocha Squash & Sage Bread
- 1 medium kabocha squash
- 10 tablespoons butter (plus a little extra for greasing your pan)
- 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh sage leaves
- 2 cups flour (plus a little for dusting your pan)
- 2 teaspoons apple pie spice (or, if you didn’t happen to just get a free bottle of this in the mail because you inadvertently ordered a totally insane quantity of bay leaves and coriander seeds, you can use 1 teaspoon cinnamon plus a little nutmeg and whatever other baking spices you have on hand)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- Preheat the oven to 400 (or 205 if, two years on, you still haven’t figured out how to switch your oven back to Fahrenheit). Cut the squash in half and scoop the innards into a bowl. Cut the halves into quarters and place in a roasting pan. Cook for 40 minutes or so, until the squash is lightly browned and fork tender.
- BONUS RECIPE: While your squash cooks, remove the squash seeds from the guts as best you can. Rinse the seeds in a colander, which will help remove a bit more of the guts, but don’t sweat it if you don’t get them perfectly clean. Toss the seeds with a heaping tablespoon of coconut oil, a couple of tablespoons of sugar, a little cinnamon and cayenne, and a healthy pinch of salt. Spread the seeds onto a baking sheet (lined with foil if you’re lazy like me) and pop into the oven along with your squash. Make sure to check on these regularly, as they’ll go from toasted to burnt pretty quickly. (One suspects that a lower oven temperature would help, but we’re trying to be efficient here!)
- Meanwhile, melt 10 tablespoons of butter in a very small saucepan over low heat. Roughly chop the sage and add it to your melted butter. Let cook for five minutes or so and then remove from heat. You want the butter to get golden and give off of a sage aroma, but avoid burning the leaves.
- Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices in a small bowl.
- When the squash is done, drop the oven to 350 (175 Celsius, which you think I would have memorized by now) and remove the pan. Peel the skin from your roasted squash. (This will be infinitely easier if you let it cool first. But, if you made the ill-advised choice to start a baking project at 10:00pm on a school night, a large spoon should help get the job done with only minimal damage to your fingertips.) Drop the squash into the food processor and purée until smooth.
- Stir the squash, sugar, eggs and sage butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add the flour mixture in batches and stir until incorporated.
- Use the butter you failed to return to the fridge to grease a loaf pan. Swipe some of the flour spilled across the kitchen counter into your pan and shake to coat. Scoop your batter into the pan and pop it in the oven. Let bake for 45-50 minutes, until the loaf is nicely browned and a butter knife stuck inside comes out reasonably clean. (Another 5 minutes probably wouldn’t hurt, but damn, it’s getting late!)
In the interest of time, you’ll want to take care of the dishes while your bread bakes. I recommend starting with the spatula you used to scoop the batter out of the bowl.
By the time you finish cleaning up and write your blog post, the bread should be done. Let it cool for a bit and then gently pop it out of the pan. Not being much of a baker, I have no idea why there is a raised platform in the center of the loaf. I’d be ever so curious if yours comes out the same.
Odd protuberance or not, this bread will be very good–so much so that there will only be a small slice left on the office snack table by the time you get out of your morning meetings. Fortunately, this will be enough to ward off starvation during your next meeting.
I’m not a big dessert person, but last weekend I took a stab at a plantain tart as part of my Cinco de Mayo menu. I had purchased the plantains a few days ahead of time and left them (along with my avocados) in a paper bag with a couple of apples in the hopes that they would ripen. Not so much. The plantains’ disappointing starchiness was offset by some vanilla ice cream, homemade cajeta and a liberal dose of margaritas. (The guacamole, on the other hand, was perfection.)
After 10 days languishing on my counter, the last plantain had turned a solid black and was begging to be consumed. I took a small nonstick skillet and brought it up to medium temperature with half a tablespoon of butter inside. I peeled the plantain, sliced it an angle and dropped the slices into the pan. Once they had started to brown and crisp up, I flipped them. A few minutes later, a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar went in to deglaze the plan and steam the plantain. I tossed a pinch of salt in and flipped the slices a couple of times to glaze them with the reduced butter/vinegar mixture. They went onto a plate where I drizzled them with a tablespoon of the leftover cajeta. You could do worse for a Monday night dinner.