Thursday, March 14, 2013

My Life in France

Thanks to spring break, I have had some time to read books of my own choosing.  Now, people commonly make the mistake of thinking, "oh, you are a professor, you must read intelligent, informative literature."  Not so.  My first choice is fluff that will allow me to escape - the kind of thing ladies read in the bath with bonbons, etc.  I also love travel and food writing, so on a recent visit to the Cambridge Public Library I finally checked out Julia Child's "My Life in France."  Knowing I would love it, my friend Anne has been pestering me to read this book for years.  She will be pleased to know that I finally read it - rather, I became obsessed, could not put it down, and finished it in a day and a half.
This book is truly about local eating and utter devotion to food, science, and writing.  Julia and her husband Paul Child lived in France for many years, starting with Paul's foreign service work after World War II.  They continued to spend significant time in France by building a small house in Provence until they grew too old to visit.  Julia had a remarkable life: she met the most famous French chefs, traveled the world, and found fame through her "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and television.  While this was fascinating, my favorite portions of the book were her descriptions of her food routine, not the fame and glamor.  She describes how she set up the kitchens in her many homes (from Cambridge, MA to Oslo, Norway), how she found the local markets and made them her second home, the vendors she befriended, and why the food she loved was so memorable.  This is much more than thinking about our food as "local," it is an anthropological perspective of cuisine that changed Julia Child's life course.  Her book could be a travel guide, though I am certain that many of the places she treasured are gone or changed forever. 

The first thing I did after reading this was to flip through my own copy of "Mastering the Art" and realize that this book was meant for someone exactly like me.  I love French food more than any other cuisine, I love to cook, and she will guide me through the recipes I want to make.  As she would say, it's "fool proof!" 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On the ragged edge...

I opened the blog today only to find I haven't posted anything since October!  I am a bit shocked that I have let it wane, given that I am still eating three square meals a day, but I realize that most of those meals have been pretty dull.  Boring.  Not exciting enough for a blog post.  Case in point: the only picture I could find of recent food adventures was this fried egg on sauteed potatoes and leeks.  All of these ingredients come from New England and made a delicious, comforting feast, but not one I could write about in much detail...

Now that I am on spring break and not slogging to the office in sub-zero temperatures and snow, I will make it my mission to find better eats!  We made carnitas last weekend, but it was so popular that I never had a chance to take a photo - only this sad shot of the pork before it was boiled and fried into submission.  We head to England tomorrow, where delightful local foods await...stay tuned.

I have spent years in New England searching for good carnitas.  While living in California, I became addicted to this heavenly pork dish (usually in tacos) and I am now ready to admit failure.  I have not been able to find it here, so I have taken inspiration from my friend Cristie, who helped me make it at home using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder or pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice (from about 2 to 3 limes)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste
Corn tortillas, for serving and avocado slices, cole slaw (Andrew makes his with a touch of tequila), and other fixings of your choice.

Place the pork in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot. Add the orange juice, lime juice, garlic, cumin, salt and enough water to just barely cover the meat. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for two hours. Don’t touch the meat.

After two hours, increase the heat to medium-high and while occasionally stirring and turning the pieces, continue to cook for about 45 minutes, or until all of the liquid has evaporated, leaving only the rendered pork fat. Let it sizzle in this fat long enough to brown at the edges, turning pieces gently (they’ll be eager to fall apart), only as needed.

When pork has browned on both sides, it’s ready. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve on warmed tortillas with fixings.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


So, to balance out yesterday's vegetarian post, I have some equally lovely pictures of meat.  Last spring, I went to Memphis, Tennessee for the first time.  Cristie (yes, the same one who gave me the vegetarian cook book) and I met there for the Society for American Archaeology meetings, and we stayed with friends right in the heart of Memphis.  We had a blast!  Among many memorable moments - including visiting the Lorraine Motel and running into a high school friend at the local beer festival - was a visit to Central Barbeque.

Now, I respect my vegetarian friends for their dietary choices...but who can go to this part of the world and resist the ribs?  The collard greens swimming in pork fat?  The barbeque sauce?  All accompanied by live music and good, Tennessee beer!  Cristie and I sure couldn't, and we have John and Kristin to thank for throwing us right into the deep end.  My mind boggles when I think Cristie and I were able to finish this entire rack, but I wish I could go back for more.  Can't get these kind of ribs in New England.

The iconic Lorraine Motel.  While it may not belong on a food blog, this was the highlight of our trip to Memphis and one of the most powerful places I've ever stood.  Visitors can stand inside the motel and look out over the balcony.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thanks to Cristie

Ooof.  I have just emerged from the first seven weeks of a very busy semester.  While I was searching for a new recipe to cook farmer's market carrots this evening, I opened my brand new, shiny, hefty cook book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.  I feel a little flutter of joy every time I pick up this book because I have yearned to own this cook book for many, many years.  Long ago, I had a roommate who had this book and I have always thought it held important secrets that would unlock the mysteries of vegetarianism...or, at least help me to eat better vegetarian meals.  For some reason I could never bring myself to buy it.

Isn't she lovely?  Maybe it's the seductive colors, maybe the earthy decor...something about this book speaks to me.
Well, not only do I own this cook book now, but it was a total surprise:  a couple of weeks ago, I left the house to do errands and found a package waiting on my porch.  Turns out, my dear friend Cristie remembered how much I covet this book and sent me a surprise package!  Oh the joy!  This book is a wonderful resource for several reasons:  1) Madison's recipes require few ingredients.  I love my Moosewood cookbooks, but I rarely have all the ingredients for their recipes.  2) She has a lengthy section organized by individual vegetables, which I love for inspiration.  Need to cook carrots 8 ways?  Done!  3) She provides a lot of basics: dressings for simple salads, easy soups, creative salads.  I can find easy-to-assemble meals from what I have in the fridge, with a tasty twist.

It's the small things in life that keep us happy.

Glazed Carrots with Mustard and Honey
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison

1 1/2 pounds carrots, scrubbed (I used little ones and kept the tops on - so fetching)
1 T butter
1 T honey
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and fresh pepper to taste
Chopped parsley

Prepare the carrots how you like them and steam or boil until tender.

In a medium skillet, melt the butter with the honey, then stir in the mustard and carrots and season with salt and plenty of pepper.  Cook over medium heat for several minutes until well coated and bubbling, then toss with chopped parsley and serve.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Newfoundland Adventures

St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada
When considering where we wanted to go on vacation this year, Andrew's first suggestion was...Newfoundland!  Newfoundland?  I was shocked because he hates cold weather and I thought going 1500 miles northeast into Canada would be a nightmare - packing warm clothes, keeping him happy in the dreary, foggy north.  However, this turned out to be a dreamy vacation, full of adventure, cozy pubs, good food, traditional music, and relaxation...and a sunny heat wave to make Andrew happy.

Local food?
 Since food is normally the center of our lives, I had one thing on my mind: to eat as much cod as possible.  Andrew had something a little different on his mind: to sample as much local brew as possible.  Luckily, these products go hand in hand, especially in a pub's fryer!  As is reported in the news frequently, the Atlantic cod fishery suffered a massive crash in recent decades, putting northern fishermen out of work, changing international law, and pitting locals against scientists and government officials. While the cod stocks have not significantly improved (nor the lives of the fishermen) despite aggressive management, there was plenty of fish to be had on the island of Newfoundland (pronounced "Newfin-Land"). This region is surrounded by some of the most famous fishing banks in the world.  If you're interested and think it's incredibly cool that the Basques visited North America in the 16th century to harvest this fish, I highly recommend "Cod" by Mark Kurlansky - a fascinating read! 

A view of the city
I enjoyed cod poached, fried, pan-fried, and in chowder.  For those who haven't sampled this delicacy, it is slightly oily, but extremely sweet and buttery when freshly caught and properly cooked.  I vote for poached: it helped the fish maintain the sweetness and moisture, and I was in absolute heaven in Petty Harbour on the waterfront with my poached fish.

As for the beer, we sampled Quidi Vidi, a local brewery in St. John's, which actually makes beer from melted iceberg water!  How "cool"!  We also visited the Yellow Belly brew pub in downtown St. John's, a cozy brew pub with tasty beer and friendly staff...and central enough to shuffle home afterwards.

 We capped off the trip by camping in a National Park for several days and watching whales and puffins on the coastline.  We feel like we got just a small taste of what Newfoundland has to offer, and we will be back to explore more of this amazing place.

Okay, so maybe a little Molson made it in to the mix - seemed appropriate at the time, eh?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Growing potatoes

Growing potatoes.  I have always wondered what it would be like.  It's a bit silly, but gardening is a constant mystery to me.  My jade plant is currently in distress, so it's unlikely I can have a home garden - or so I thought!  No thanks to me, our Maine garden is flourishing.  Andrew has nursed it carefully during our few summer visits, and we are hoping to find a good harvest waiting when we return at the end of August.  One of his more inspired ideas was to plant all the potatoes I accidentally let sprout in the pantry.  After preparing the soil, he cut the potatoes in pieces, dug holes, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  We were rewarded during out last visit to Maine when Mom suggested we dig one up to see!

Andrew thrilled with his harvest - a sign of things to come.
Inspired by our growing crop, we visited the Orono farmers market and purchased a bucket of beautiful, quarter-sized new potatoes.  Mom remembered buying these while camping in Nova Scotia on her honeymoon 40 years ago and cooking them Foster Style - this means my Dad mixes these with sliced onions, olive oil, and a splash of oil (or butter) and throws them on the grill in a foil packet.  They were, I can say with utmost confidence, the best potatoes I have ever eaten in my entire life.  Stay tuned for news of the autumn harvest!

Beautiful new potatoes - after cooking, they melted in our mouths like butter.  Like butter!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Breakfast on the farm

Our membership to the Waltham Fields Community Farm brings us so much joy and the farm is now a central fixture in our lives.  While we visit the farm weekly to pick up our CSA share, we try to participate in other activities when we can - tonight we're off to gaze at the stars with member Andrew West! 
Waiting in line for breakfast on the farm!
Recently, we attended a fundraising breakfast hosted by the farm.  The stupendous meal was made entirely of farm veggies cooked by a local restaurant, Kitchen on the Common.  For a modest donation, we were treated to creamed kale with eggs, swiss chard fritters, pickled veggies, and cole slaw.  I know, I know.  We were skeptical about this selection at breakfast-time, too, but it proved to be a revelation!  The kale was softened by the cream sauce and the eggs, and the creaminess was balanced by the pickled veggies (though I don't think many guests to my home would welcome pickled beets at any time of day, let alone early in the morning).  While we were settled in a corner of the field sampling these goodies, we all agreed that it was the swiss chard fritter that beat out the competition.  It was flavored with scallions and had a little crunch, with the softness that comes from pancake batter.  I have tried to make this since, with varied success, and was thrilled when the farm sent out the recipe this morning.  So, now I share this fabulousness with you, fresh from the farm:

Swiss Chard Fritters

This recipe was provided by Chef Joh Kokubo of Kitchen on Common restaurant. He made these fritters for our 2012 Breakfast on the Farm event and they were a big hit! Recipe serves 8-10 Fritter Batter Ingredients
  • Half cup All Purpose Flour
  • Half cup Cornmeal, finely ground
  • Half tsp Baking Powder
  • 2 Eggs, beaten
  • Quarter cup Milk
  • 1 tsp Butter, melted
  • Salt & Pepper
Garden Ingredients
  • 1 bunch Swiss Chard
  • Chopped Fresh Herbs, your choice - parsley, thyme, scallions, etc.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal and baking powder. Add the eggs, milk and melted butter all at once and whisk to combine. The batter should be about the consistency of a loose pancake batter. Wash and dry the Swiss chard, remove the ribs, and cut into quarter inch ribbons. Using a spatula, fold the Swiss chard and fresh herbs into the batter until well coated. Cook the fritters in a pre-heated saute pan over medium to medium-high heat until lightly browned on one side, then flip and brown the other side. The fritter can be cooked in individual portions using spoon-sized amounts or in a larger pancake size and then cut into wedges to serve. Note: Smaller sized cooked whole grains like quinoa and kaniwa make a very nice addition to the fritter batter. I have not tried flax seed or cooked amaranth, teff, or millet but if you are feeling adventurous I think they would work equally as well!