Friday, June 1, 2012

Reap What You Sow

My garden, my ears and my traveling shoes have been abuzz with activity these last few weeks as we’ve fitfully begun to reap what we sowed. Mr. Mix has finished his first year of classes, which feels a bit like getting our life back. To celebrate, we skipped town for a weekend in NYC to see old friends, meet new babies, and taste all of the city in one sitting at The Great GoogaMooga Festival. Erbear and her man joined in on the fun as we danced along to New Orleans jazz, made one too many visits to the sherry tent, and ate ourselves silly. Afterward, Mr. Mix treated me to a late night showing of Sleep No More, where I got as close as I ever will to my dream of seeing Billie Holiday sing.

Back in Boston, our garden was hankering for attention. After resorting to chicken wire to keep out the critters at no small cost to my pocketbook or sanity, my once quaint courtyard has since taken on the appearance of a barnyard workshop. No matter…I imagine this to be but the first of many tests to try my agrarian vanity, patience, and dabbling DIY skills. We harvested our very first crop and transformed its leaves into a mustard greens salad packed with pickled watermelon radish and dressed in a homemade honey-Dijon vinaigrette. The spicy-sweet taste of success! The rest of our holiday weekend was all about biking along the beach, lobster boils and backyard BBQs. We spent Memorial Day out on Plum Island, returning to shore only when we heard the electronic hum of our Radiohead concert tickets calling. Spring has sprouted. Eat it Up!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Matzo in May?

Photo Courtesy of 614

Memorial Day is hot on our heels. Summer has been seeping into our wet spring weather in bits and spurts, but will be playing for keeps in just a matter of weeks. That means beach days, air-conditioning and matzo ball soup? Actually, yes. Matzo is seasonally malleable and a perfect conduit for summer’s essential flavors: tomato, basil, corn. You needn’t wait for fall sniffles to boil up a batch of stock; just roll your balls with a blend of summery herbs and spices and sit down to a dinner that does more to memorialize the varied cultural tapestry of our collective heritage than most backyard barbeques will do this weekend.

I’m proud to announce the release of my first Boston-based publication in 614 HBI eZINE. Charged with sparking thoughtful conversation among Jewish women, in the hot-off-the-presses pages of this Brandeis University publication, I’ve adapted a story I’ve told here before about my Mamma, her cancer, and the matzo ball soup recipe that binds us both to generations of women who have faced down hard times in our family’s history. This holiday weekend, I encourage you to memorialize your own family traditions and seek out the tastes of home. If you’re in need of inspiration, you can read my article here to find out how best to prepare a steaming bowl of Jewish medicine soup for all seasons. Matzo in May? Eat it Up!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Seven Signs of Spring

From my little corner of the world in cute-as-can-be Charlestown, Mass, spring has most definitely sprung. We’ve got the rain, the budding blossoms and the long lines for pedicures to prove it. Baby carriages crowd sidewalks while competitive cyclists and runners whiz by them, adding to the hum of the season’s anthemic bird song. I’ve recently discovered a tiny nook of tiny homes built in the eighteen hundreds just east of Bunker Hill. Winding my way through a cul-de-sac off Chestnut Street with unabashed voyeurism, I spot a young lass setting up shop for her seventy-five cents per plastic cup lemonade stand; she pours me her first sale. Commuters in dark suits and white sneakers are about to flood train platforms a fifteen minutes walk from here, ascending the San Francisco-esque hills of Chucktown to make their way home. If she’s lucky, they’ll do so sipping lemonade.

The signs of spring abound in city streets this time of year, but so do they in farmers’ markets, CSA bins and backyard vegetable gardens. It’s the taste of spring that most excites me, and it’s the ease of eating homegrown, seasonal, real foods, that really makes me hunger for the harvest that is but a few months away. Winter on the East Coast (however mild) makes eating locally tough. But by mid-May, edible causes for celebration have sprouted from the ground, and with a little ingenuity, you can serve them for supper.

My list of the seven surefire signs of spring includes vegetable harbingers that herald the coming of the harvest season. These early, most often green, crunchy, earthen,  veggies make a locally sourced real foods diet plausible, but their esoteric nature too often makes them unidentifiable. What to do with gobs of garlic scapes and heaps of fiddlehead ferns? Here are but a few ideas for how to bring a dash of spring to your supper table; just click through the links below for vegetable histories and recipes and Eat it Up!

Seven Signs of Spring

1) Asparagus – soups, salads, grilled sides

2) Fiddlehead Ferns – penne, frittata, sautéed sides

3) Garlic Scapes – pesto, mayo, mushy peas

4) Radish – pickles, finger sandwiches, crudités

5) Ramps – omelets, whole fish, linguine vongole

6) Rhubarb – pies, chutneys, fools

7) Stinging Nettles – tea, ravioli, martini

With Mother’s Day right around the corner and my ever-growing hunger to find Boston area restaurants I can lay claim to frequenting, I thought it only appropriate that I review Hungry Mother. On several occasions since moving to Charlestown some eight months ago, dinner and a movie has meant a farm-to-table feast at Hungry Mother, followed by an indie flick across the street at Kendall Square’s Landmark Theater. It’s an easy progression from meal to movie with the restaurant just a two-minute walk from the cinema, and one I wish I could treat my own Mamma too this Sunday.

Offering a sustainable menu of locally sourced New England cuisine, Chef Barry Maiden uses French techniques to arrive at thoughtfully prepared dishes that do more than hint at his Southern roots. Not unlike the restaurant’s setting, its menu is at once sophisticated and comforting, inventive and familiar. The dining room is minimally appointed in a stark pilgrim style with flourishes of contemporary design features that lend an almost literary finesse to the space.

Having opened their doors in 2008, Hungry Mother was an early adapter in to the trend toward celebrating Southern cuisine. With a plethora of fried chicken and barbeque pits popping up in every direction, Chef Maiden’s menu brings to Cambridge an elegant alternative. Not that he doesn’t prepare his fair share of fried food! The menu at Hungry Mother changes seasonally, but do try not to miss the crispy-skinned cast iron chicken served with silken pillows of French gnocchi and seasonal vegetables, or the blackened lemon pepper catfish now served with a Carolina rice pilau of asparagus and fava beans. Start your meal with a smattering of small plates, including: the boiled Virgina peanuts finished with Maine sea salt, the country ham and pimento cheese plate, New Orleans style BBQ shrimp & grits, or for the more adventurous among us, the hot smoked braised beef tongue on toast. You’d be remiss to skip the sorghum butter cornbread or vinegared collard greens, but do also leave room for a slice of homemade pie and an espresso-spiked after dinner cocktail.

Admittedly, it’s a lot to squeeze in to just one meal, so I keep going back for more. Proudly flying my frequent diner flag.

Hungry Mother
233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave
Cambridge, MA 02142
(617) 499-0090
Neighborhood: Kendall Square/MIT

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Mayo de Mayo

There’s something about spring that makes me want to make mayo. Not the processed food dreck that for some god-awful reason doesn’t require refrigeration and can sit on supermarket shelves for years at a time, but the fresh, wet, eggy, almost pudding-like mayonnaise that the Italians call aioli.

Mass-produced and homemade mayo share nothing but a name. The latter requires but three ingredients you likely already have on hand–egg, oil, salt. You need nothing but a whisk, a bowl and a serious amount of elbow grease to whip these pantry staples into a silken spread to be smeared across sandwiches or served as a dip for spring’s crunchy crudités like asparagus and radish. From this base recipe, it’s easy to boost the flavor profile of your aioli by adding seasonal mix-ins that pair with whatever meal you make. Garlic aioli is an obvious choice, and requires only that you mash a few garlic cloves and whisk them into your egg yolks. You could also stud your garlic mayo with slivered rings of garlic scapes or throw in a few wild ramps. Anchovies and their paste add a salty brine to mayos made for seafood dishes, whereas the run-off from sautéing steaks or mushrooms lends an earthy overtone perfect for dolloping atop prime rib.

With Cinco de Mayo right around the corner, chipotle mayo may be the most apropos condiment for this weekend’s celebrations. Perfect to pair with classic Mexican dishes like elotes callejeros, fire-roasted corn salsa or my tequila-spiked mango guacamole, even Mr. Mix is a fan. Mayo is one of his five forbidden foods, but when made by hand (and referred to as aioli), he has been coaxed into conversion.

There’s something that feels inherently honest about busting out my mortar & pestle, grinding garlic cloves and spices, and whisking them into a slow, steady stream of oil. It’s a technique I first learned some years ago from reading master chef Alice Waters‘ recipe in the pages of The New York Times. But when short on time (or strength for that matter), or when making big ol’ batches of ailoi for The Dinner Belle, I simply make my mayo in a food processor. Either by hand or by machine, in under ten minutes tops I’m rewarded with a bowl of Mexican flavored mayo de Mayo that turns any feast into a fiesta.

Homemade Chipotle Mayo (makes 1 cup)

• 2 cloves Garlic (peeled)
• 1 hefty pinch Sea Salt
• ½ t Cumin
• ½ t Chili Powder
• ½ t Oregano
• 1 organic Egg Yolk
• 1 cup Canola Oil
• 1 TB Spicy Mustard
• ½ tin of Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce

Grind garlic and salt with a mortar and pestle until smooth (or whisk in a food processor). Add spices and grind some more. Add your seasoned garlic paste to a bowl with your egg yolk and mix well with a whisk (or whiz together in the bowl of your food processor).

Back in your mortar and pestle or in the bowl of your food processor, grind the chipotles, add them to your aioli with the mustard, and blend until smooth. Using a measuring cup with a pour spout, slowly dribble in oil, whisking constantly (if using a food processor, pour oil into the liquid lid attachment for a steady, self-released drip). As the egg and paste mixture absorbs the oil, your mayo will thicken, lighten in color, and become opaque. This will happen rather quickly. Then you can your add oil a little faster, whisking all the while. If the sauce is thicker than you like, thin it out with a few drops of water. Your mayo is ready when you are, but if you let it set for a couple hours well chilled before serving, the flavors will get even bolder.

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