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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Write With Me: Traveling with a Fleerd of Shepherds

An imagined encounter in the hills of Languedoc, Tsabones Land, near Olargues, France 

Each is good for one night only.
What is?
You're walking in the land of the Tsabones.
The what?
Cute little places to stay as you walk the path, you'll see them where you see shepherds.
Sounds like you're saying Xylophone.
You can't play a Tsabones, but some you can move, if the wind gives you permission.
Oh. Like those things that glide over the ice at hockey games?
That's a Zamboni.
It's 25 km today, so I guess we'll get started.
Say hello to the shepherd if you see him or her. But its not likely.
Why not?
They're thieves and tricksters.
And so I left with a caravan of pilgrims on my heels.

We walked all morning, noon, and almost as far as night. Sometimes they stayed behind, other times they disappeared as if birds flying over the trees. I walked closer. What a cute cozy wooden bed on wheels! The three pilgrims returned from nowhere, pushed me aside and climbed into the gypsy wagon. Tsabones!

There's still enough room for you.
Thanks. But shouldn't we leave the candelabras outside?
Our sleep problems are solved forever.
We can take this one with us.
Only if the wind says so..
Pulled by our flock.
You mean our herd.
No, our flock.
We just found the Tsabone, aren't you ever satisfied?
Even idiots know flocks are strictly birds.
You're the crazy one. Ever heard of a flock of sheep?
Open your eyes, there's birds and sheep around, let's just call it a fleerd.
As long as there's sleep and sheep, we're good.
Now wish for wind.
Excuse me.
That's not the kind of wind he meant.
Is anyone hungry?
Who's got the bread and cheese?
That's all that's left?
Build a fire, and umm. We hear the cheese melting and crackling into the fire.
What a perfect night, look at the stars!
In the flickering light something appears. What's that shadow? Yes that one.
It's staying still anyway.
Now its moving closer.
What glowing eyes!
Is it shepherd?
This must be his tsabone.
We rush inside and close the door.
Will he steal the fire?
We hear knocks outside all night.
Dear Milky Way, please keep us safe from wolves, other pilgrims, and mostly, shepherds.

We toast cheese, honey and chive tartines over the fire! Recipe below..

As dawn rose I slid open the door, and stumbled out on a crowd of pilgrims huddled around our smoking pit of dirt. The shadow of a shepherd we had seen at starlight had transformed into a simple outcropping of a few hundred rocks. 

We'll never get our Tsabones past those rocks. 
It's not ours anyway.
I'm not leaving my beloved Tsabones behind! 
It will take most of tomorrow to move them. 
What about today? 
Our traveling troupe gathers berries for first and second breakfast, being careful to stay close, lest we run into the strange shepherd who visited us last night. 

Georg, always the adventurous one, runs back breathing heavily. It's a good thing, I found him. There.  He points, his finger quivering.
We run to to the other end of the field. A shadow quickly departs into the trees. 

The new Tsabone looked small outside, but actually all 39 of us fit inside pretty well. Pretty well. Though some of us had to sleep on our sides. Especially after two breakfasts of berries. Our afternoon nap passed by rather suddenly, and when we woke the rest of the berries were gone, smears of purple washed the stones outside. Stolen by the sly shepherd we saw last night. How did he sneak in so silently? With such stealth? He must be part of a roaming fleerd of shepherds. 

Turns out this is the back door. 

And this is the Front Door

We run to the back again. Looking inside. But how strange, the door that appears  
is neither the front door or the back door! 

We open the disappearing door of the shepherd, slowly. 

Tartine of Cheese with Honey and Chives

serves one shepherd

2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 ounces gruyere cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon fresh snipped chives
small baguette, sliced lengthwise

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix goat cheese, gruyere, honey, and chives. Spread half on each half of the baguette. 

Place baguette halves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until cheese is melted and bread is golden. serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cook With Me: Nothing Ventured, Nothing Grained. Freekeh

I started off the morning thinking that before I worked on Chapter 23 of Psomi, I would write a simple and wonderful (and quick) post to share the freekeh dish we made at our wood-fired class last Friday, but with each phone call the fable-like adventure grew, to finally involve Dan Barber, Chef and Author of the James Beard Award Winning Book, The Third Plate, and picking up a 25 pound of freekeh at Stone Barns in NY this weekend.

Yes, this little one pound bag of freekeh started it all.

I carried the bag home from our recent trip to NYC and our special day with Jeremy Salamon which began at the Union Square Greenmarket. Then, I halted in my tracks to see the GrowNYC table and all their offerings. It was like the mother-lode to me as I am working on a novel about ancient grains, France, and the Fertile Crescent to name a few of the plot points. But though the excitment stayed wit hme and the little bag, it wasn't until after the class and writing this post, that I learned even more about the chain of hands involved in getting the freekeh to our little table in North Carolina that I want to shake and thank, all of the hands.

Grow NYC Table in the Union Square Greenmarket

The Freekeh

I went back to the GrowNYC page and the Greenmarket page where I bought the freekeh.There the freekeh was listed as a product under Champlain Valley Milling in upstate NY.

I called Champlain Valley Milling, and forgot in my excitement to tell them I was in North Carolina..and though they were kind and generous enough about my lack of logic, they still insisted I could not order any from them and suggested politely that I call the Grow NYC folks, and the Regional Grains Project folks. Good-bye and good luck.

While I wiped my tears away, I uploaded the photos, and saw (barley) that actually the freekeh, was green spelt, and it came from Lakeview Organic Grain in Penn Yan, NY.

Thank you, Mary-Howell Maartens, who is the go-to Mama at Lakeview. With her husband Klaas, they have been producing freekeh for the last seven years. I also learned that freekeh is more of a method for processing grains (sometimes wheat, but not always) when they are still immature and at the milk stage. In this case, their spelt is harvested and roasted in a soy-bean roaster at 360 degrees farhenheit, and then is "steeped" in that smokiness for 24 hours in a truck, and then dehulled. What I had bought was from the 2014 harvest, and the next harvest making of freekeh would be in July. We spoke about Dan Barber, and I mentioned that my husband - and I - were so excited after watching the Netflix Chef's Table episode that he thought he might stop by Stone Barns on his foray from Pennsylvania where he was right now.

Still persistent and wondering if  I could find any distributors here, Mary-Howell suggested I call Regional Access a food distributor out of a place called Trumansburg, NY. She advised me to reach out to Dana Stafford who, as I learned on their website,  just happens to be the President. Instead I ended up on extension #32 and spoke with Jane. She asked if I wanted to order a 25 pound bag and have my husband pick it up at Stone Barns, thus avoiding the shipping..charge.

I laughed and said, sure. Nothing Ventured, Nothing Grained.

Now I just have to tell Rich.

So, here's the recipe and anyone want some Freekeh?

freekeh tabbouleh

the traditional lebanese salad of tabbouleh uses bulghur wheat, a cracked mature wheat, but we made this with freekeh, a roasted green wheat, or actually spelt in this case! incredible!

1 pound freekeh, from Lakeview Organic Grain
water, salt, cracked black pepper

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ cup white wine vinegar
handful each of fresh dill and parsley, washed and chopped
salt and cracked black pepper to taste

cook the freekeh as you would rice. Add water till it measures one finger joint above the surface of the grain. Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer, for 20 minutes, checking then for doneness. It should still be a little chewy, but tender enough.

drain the freekeh into a large bowl, and pour over the vinaigrette.

add the fresh herbs and mix thoroughly, taste and adjust with salt and pepper. cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Cook With Me: A Wood-Oven Is Like a Sea Turtle, right?

There's really nothing quite like feeding a fire and feeding people, food that you made together in the fire. It's primitive and basic. And feeds your hunger for tellingstories. And leaves your hair smelling fabulous!

With C'est si Bon!'s wood-fired oven class tomorrow, May 8th, I hope to share this ancient story as we slide our pizzas into its inferno. I'll post some photos and our recipe then! 

You can barely see Zip, who with his son, 
built the oven while I slid the stones in place. (yeah, right..:) 

"It arrives in two weeks by sea container from Livorno into the port at Wilmington." Paolo Migno, our Tuscan connection reported by e-mail. Even though his words weren’t spoken, I could still hear his booming Italian accent.
"How much does it weigh?" Never mind the nuances, my husband, Rich, wanted the details.
"A lot." I tried to think of a number that sounded big, but not frightening. None came to mind.
And so it was on a steamy Friday morning in June of 1998 that Rich and I borrowed our kitchen re-builder, Ramon Garcia’s, great white dump truck to take us to Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh to search the warehouse which was supposedly holding our Tuscan oven hostage.
Bouncing along route 40 outside Chapel Hill I wondered whether Ramon would trade his funky dump truck for my mother's Toyota Corolla. "Everyone sure gets out of your way." I said as we narrowly missed a U-Haul headed to Georgia. If I had filled our orange water cooler, bungied it in the snug bed of the truck, and hijacked a few orange cones from a construction site we might not have appeared so obviously inexperienced. 
At the Crabtree Valley Mall security office we paged our oven contact, Charles Foster.  He alone knew where our oven was hiding. We followed him in his forklift around the parking lot, our dump truck lurching every once in a while at the tight curves, his forklift seemed so little and so yellow I feared we might not be enough in control and roll over him, crushing any hope of ever finding our oven. He stopped at Kanki's, a  Japanese restaurant on the Other Side of the mall. 
Paolo had said the "sea container" he sent from Livorno also contained marble slabs, and the rubble of reconstruction and the sushi buffet on the way out made me nostalgic for the days of our own kitchen construction.  We nearly mistook a most beguiling silvery wrapped hood as our oven, incognito.  Once again we follow the yellow forklift.  In front of the warehouse, Charles unhooked his belted security two-way radio. I was thankful, as his pants were about to fall off from its weight.  We squeezed through the warehouse, piled sky high from the door to the back with styrofoam wrapped and unwrapped marble slabs in pink, gray, and black.
          "No, tavolo means table, not oven," I reminded Rich. Al forno?  Al forno? Where-forno- art-thou?
"There it is!"  I screeched, hemmed in on all sides by white marble. It looked like an orange plastic cryovac'd bee-hive. Will it ever be safely in my arms?

"We'll have it out in no time." Charles strapped his radio belt back on and made a call for help. “Its only about six loads of stuff in the way.” I couldn't bear to watch, so I stepped outside for a slug of ice water. And sit in the bed of the dump truck. And slip my sandals on and off.
Finally Rich gave the thumbs up. Time to stop the flow of traffic outside the warehouse. As soon as he backed up Ramon’s truck and Charles loaded it, the truck suspension sank under the weight.  Would we be pushing the truck and the oven down route 40? Nothing seemed broken. I swear the truck burped as we pulled out on 70, passed the Angus Barn, regretting that we couldn't stop immediately and celebrate with a charred side or two of beef.

Rich threw the truck into fifth or six, or whatever gear it takes to get Italian ovens home. I wrapped my arm around the back of his seat. He drank down a Perrier, the bottle sweating profusely, and I twisted open a Dr. Pepper. The inside of the cap said play again and it felt like good news to me. When we parked the truck in our cul de sac, the clay oven seemed to welcome the blazing midday sun, getting ready for fires of its own.
Rich retreated inside our house to collapse.  Erick, Jaryd and I went out in search of the proper dinner ingredients to christen the evening and the oven with Ramon and Kathy.  We carried home five lobsters, four dozen clams, and a beef tenderloin locked inside a box labeled Cajun Seasoning.  Sun retreated, beef marinated, lobsters claws unlocked, Rich rested.
When Ramon and Kathleen arrived, they laughed and said we could keep the tow truck and we took our wine glasses outside. All was silent when we broke the great orange plastic shell and finally saw the oven.

The scent of crisp crusts of roast pork
and sweet dark figs 
meeting sweet pastry 
filled the air. 

Curved slabs of clay, rested, and nested inside each other.  Piece by piece we lowered the oven to the ground near our newly planted white rose.  We assembled the oven on the ground.
It seemed fitting that it resembled a giant sea turtle. I imagined the turtle floating across the sea, journeying all the from the port at Livorno. And with that we broke a bottle of rose wine from Gasconywhich was just as hard to find as our oven, over the clay, and as the wine soaked into the terracotta, I knew, and I whispered the rhyme.  
tortue de bienvenue!

My, oh my! 
By the fall of 2006, 
See how our oven has grown! :) 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Novel Food with Italo Calvino: Hurricanes Served with Minestrone

The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino is a little weird, fantastic, and strange adventure!

Why did I take so wildly to Calvino's captivating story world in the trees? I had to sit down at the base of chestnut tree to figure it out. Trees have been both my friend and my enemy. They scared the ever loving crepe myrtle out of me during Hurricane Fran. But once we cleared away the gracious and terrifying fallen oaks, we built C'est si Bon! Cooking School.

So good things and cooking schools can come out of the trees, hurricanes, and other tragedies.

If you have ever wanted to abandon your life and just escape, keep reading, though some might argue that escape is not the terrain of the Baron In The Trees.

I have been through those kinds of time. Haven't you?

But, maybe I should back up a bit, this love for Italo goes back -- for years I had a fable by Calvino posted above my desk, The Distance of the Moon. It inspired my return to explore and gave me permission to return to wondering. It was a deeply personal story too as it spoke to the drowning tragedy of my brother, Jeremy, in a way I could understand; in a fable.

That event in my life was so painful that I turned it into a fable, not in order to remember it, but to transform it, The Distance of the Moon. I'm sure I am not alone. Was it the tragedy that created the behavior or was the behavior and tendency always there, just activated by the tragedy? Of course I blamed myself for his death. Nobody but me knew I was actually mad at Jeremy that day. Why? Its ridiculous really, he asked me to tie back his hair every night. I was a little tired of this. I could tie back my own hair after all. I was taking care of myself. Why couldn't he? We were both eighteen. For years my emotions about the night before Jeremy drowned had a range no less than phenomenal. Guilt, rage, sadness, and despair. And what I wouldn't have given to be able to tie back Jeremy's hair today.

In our everyday life Jeremy had more practice being mad. Mad because no one would tell us the truth about who we were. Mad because things were not right at home. And the only anger I could muster up was being pissed that he asked me to tie his hair back? I had a lot to learn. Even though he's gone, he inspires me to tell the truth. Maybe I am entering my Jeremy phase.

But back to Calvino and the Baron in The Trees. Calvino writes about a world turned upside down. The story involves two brothers; Cosimo, the older, and Biaggio, the younger brother.

Battista, Cosmio's sister, is reputedly a gifted culinarian.

Pate Toast with Rat Liver
Grasshopper Claws Laid Out on a Tart
Porcupine Cooked till Rosy and Tender

Its her perverse delight in killing creatures of the forest that infuriates Cosimo, who is already aghast and finds the situation of his family deplorable.

But Battista didn't stop there, she also made jewelry out of cauliflower and hares ears, and pigs heads with lobster tongues.

Jeremy was a bit like Cosimo, the Baron in question. And as the younger sibling, I identified most with Biaggio, the one left behind to tell Cosimo, and Jeremy's story. After Cosimo refuses to eat a bowl of snails, that his sister had prepared in a revolting way, Cosimo takes his principles and makes his life in the trees. And there he lived until the surprising end of his life.

"Cosimo had raised his head too and was looking fixedly at the balloon. At the second when the anchor rope passed near him, gave one of those leaps he so often used to do in his youth, gripped the rope, with his feet on the anchor and his body in a hunch, and so we saw him fly away, taken by the wind, scarce braking the course of the balloon, and vanished out to sea.."

In that strange way of fables, just as the winds took Cosimo away, so it seems, the winds of Hurricane Fran brought Jeremy back to me.

Mentioned in the beginning of the novel is cold minestrone, but which you can serve hot, and I'm pretty sure you'll like much better than a macabre recipe of Battista's.

minestrone verde with red pesto

The Baron In The Trees is set in Liguria which is famous for its pesto. This red pesto, made with sun-dried tomatoes is good when basil hasn't quite come into season yet. Also, calling for leeks, fava beans and asparagus as it does makes this a perfect spring time minestrone.

2 oz dried haricot or cannellini beans, soaked overnight
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 celery stick, finely chopped
2 leeks, cut into rounds
3 canned san marzano tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped chives
4 oz French or green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 oz asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
5 oz shelled broad beans, or lima beans, defrosted if frozen, skinned
4 oz shelled peas, fresh or frozen
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
3 oz long-grain rice
6 oz fresh spinach
salt and pepper
2 oz parmesan cheese, finely grated, to serve

red pesto:
2 garlic cloves chopped
1 oz basil leaves

3 tablespoons pine nuts
8 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
4 fl oz extra virgin olive oil
1 oz grated parmesan cheese

drain and rinse the dried beans, place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes-1 hour or until tender. remove from the heat and set aside in their cooking liquid.

make the pesto.
place the garlic, basil, pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes in a food processor or blender and process until finely chopped. with the motor running, gradually add the extra virgin olive oil in a thin stream until blended. scrape into a bowl, stir in the parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper. set aside.

continue with the soup.
heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the garlic, celery, and leeks and cook gently for 5-10 minutes until softened. add the tomatoes with half of the herbs, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 12-15 minutes until the tomatoes are soft.

add the french beans, asparagus and fresh broad beans and peas, if using. cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the stock or water. bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 10 minutes. add the rice, the cook haricot or cannellini beans, and their cooking liquid and the spinach (and the frozen broad beans and peas, if using) and cook for 10 minutes. adjust the seasoning to taste and stir in the remaining herbs. serve each bowl of soup with a spoonful of pesto and sprinkle with the parmesan. 

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