I brake for Boiled Peanuts

I love boiled peanuts. Despite basically growing up in Virginia-peanut-central, where all elementary school social studies classes toiled under the watchful eye and impressive moustache of George Washington Carver year round (not just honoring the brilliant scientist, early environmentalist, and nitrogen-fixing-peanut-pioneer in February/if then! as in many schools), boiled peanuts were never a thing for me in childhood.

Hubbies—in the opinion of my mother highly superior to Whitley’s but don’t tell anyone—at a cocktail party, definitely. While my brother would be catting around stealing nips from abandoned drinks, I’d be innocently and judiciously polishing off the contents of an omnipresent cut-crystal dish of salty roasted peanuts placed exactly at childhood eye level.  But briny, wet, steamy-hot flavor bombs dipped from deep brown glistening waters of unknown origin full of mysterious spices into nested styrofoam cups? I didn’t discover that until I was grown and zipping around the backroads of the deep American south.

When native-New-Yorker Sweetheart and I drove to New Orleans many Decembers ago via the Natchez Trace, stopping in to visit Miss McKay in Oxford, Mississippi, he said to me “I thought when I moved from New York to Virginia ‘oh, it will be so wild and strange to live in the south‘ but looking around here… that’s not the south. This is the south.” As the legendary Barry Hannah said “In Mississippi it is difficult to achieve a vista.” And he’s right, the dun brown winter flatlands—pecan trees festooned with latent choking dormant kudzu—roll juuuust enough to prevent seeing above the next rise. Vistas notwithstanding Mississippi does, however, achieve many opportunities to spoon up a steaming hot cup of boiled peanuts from a roadside stand or ubiquitous gas-station slow cooker.

For me, boiled peanuts are the ultimate roadtrip snack. You get two styrofoam cups (one for the nuts, one for the shells) and sit them both in the cupholder and go to town. One hand on the wheel, one wet, three fingered claw dipping into the cup and wiping on your pants, driving into the sunset with your hands wrinkled from salt and peanut juices, trying make it to Savannah before the blue laws shut the city down for the entirety of Sunday.

Honestly, since they’re wet and drippy and tend to explode with their deeply-spiced-brown juices when squeezed, boiled peanuts are actually terrible for eating in the car. I am reminded of Bap’s wedding where they SERVED BOILED PEANUTS AS HORS D’OEUVRES AT COCKTAIL HOUR (expert level). Since I was pregnant at the time, I volunteered to drive everyone the three hours home as late as we could stand it. The plan was to meet at the car at midnight and at 12:15 our last buddy appeared out of the inky blackness with a six pack of Coors and three gallon ziplocs of boiled peanuts lifted from the buffet, the entirety of which the passengers consumed in the dark hours and winding turns of our late night journey home. The backseat of our car is still brown. #noregerts.

I suppose the reason that wanderlust and boiled peanuts go hand in hand for me is heretofore I have only ever had boiled peanuts on the go. Dueling slowcookers (one cajun, one regular) do not make an appearance at my local gas station. Roadside shacks featuring an unimaginably giant pot set over a turkey fryer do not dot the byways of my daily travel. So, like macarons or pintxos, boiled peanuts have always felt place-specific, suited for adventure, best when discovered in the wild, unicorn-style. Even though I literally say “I should make these at home” every time I eat them, I never do, never have.

UNTIL NOW. BOOM! Did you see that coming? To be honest, it was another wanderlust whim that led me to making my first (and second. and third) batch of boiled peanuts myself. Visiting Katie down in North Carolina a few weeks ago, she and I took the kiddoes to Cherokee to do what one does in Cherokee (namely: dip our bones in the sacred waters of the Oconoluftee river/buy moccasins). We were crestfallen when multiple hand-painted signs advertising boiled peanuts led us to an abandoned stall, with nary a goober pea in sight. I repeated my refrain…Mississippi vista…Bap’s wedding…scuppernong juice on the upholstery…one time my friend (who was also my boss at the time) responded with ‘boiled peanuts: get in my face!’ when I told her by text I was taking the week off to go to Georgia…I should make these at home… blah blah blah etc. etc. The very next day, tasked with getting groceries for our weekend adventures, LO what should I see on the shelf at the local Ingles but a 10lb bag of raw peanuts for $9.99. Not on my list, but into my cart it went! 24 hours and the valiant labors of a  tiny vacation-house-crock-pot later and, my friends, magic was made.Like most great things, this isn’t a recipe, per se, more like general instructions that you can tweak to your liking. Also like the greatest things, you can’t really mess this up. Just make sure to keep your peanuts hot after you cook them or fridge/freeze ’em before they get funky. I just keep mine in the slow cooker on low for dayzzzz until I finish them and it’s been hunky dory*.

Also: DID YOU KNOW BABIES LOVE BOILED PEANUTS? Talk about a snack! For babes who are too young to eat hard nuts but who love flavors, these are incredible. While certainly salty, since these are, in fact, nuts, they have much more staying power in the belly than your average serving of goldfish. Interesting nutritional facts on BP’s here. Antioxidant Isoflavones! Who knew! Older kiddoes also have a blast peeling and eating them (and that sensory, tactile barrier to entry means they also last way longer than a pouch etc.). Of course, THESE ARE PEANUTS. So peanut allergies and all that jazz applies.

boiled peanuts

  • Raw Peanuts in the shell.
  • 1/4 c. Salt
  • 2 tbsp. Ball’s Cajun Seasoning (I use Ball’s because it has an alligator on the label and is also delicious…but you could literally use anything… keep in mind that many spice blends also contain salt, Ball’s does. If yours does- or doesn’t- you might want to adjust the amount of salt you use up or down)
  • Water
  • Slow Cooker (I have a 6qt)
  • Time

Fill your slow cooker with peanuts. Fill your slow cooker with water. Add salt + spices. Cook on low for 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Eat a few at 16 hours. Pretty damn good. Let ’em keep going. If water level dips below peanuts, add some more. When peanuts are to your desired level of softness, ladle out with a slotted spoon. And you don’t eat the shells, darlings.

* a note on food safety from Dr. Rob, resident dobro player/medic/boiled peanut aficionado who brought me a frozen gallon bag of spicy and delicious BP’s to the beach this summer: botulism is real and dangerous! If you put your slow cooker on “warm” instead of “low” pop a thermometer to make sure yer peanuts stay at at least 156° . 

* another note from Dr. Rob about peanut water: You can use the same water forever, it just gets spicier and weirder and more wonderful. When the peanuts are gone, fridge or freeze the water, and bring it to a rolling boil again before using the next time.

Because discussing botulism and recommending salty peanut snacks to babies other than my own makes me nervous:

*I am a plebeian layperson. While the information herein is carefully researched and checked for accuracy, the author makes no warranty regarding the content of this website and will not be liable for any loss, damage, or injury arising from the use of any information on the site.

I am not a medical professional and the advice on this site should not be taken as such. It is not the business of the author to render professional opinions or medical advice. Readers should always seek professional medical advice from their pediatrician, OB/GYN, or midwife, blah blah blah.

Thanks to lucieslist for the language.

 

 

 

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A Cold Brew Revolution

coldbrewcoconutwater

Let me now interrupt the regularly scheduled summer programming of not writing new blogs, but yes swimming in new swimming holes, picking new peaches, and stockpiling new honeys to bring you a quiet revolution you didn’t even know you needed until this very moment:

THE COLD BREW COCONUT LATTE

I was up visiting Miss Rav in Cleveland (what what, Cavs!) and her miraculous twin babies, taking them for afternoon strolls on the town, hanging out with my favorite fatty bear dog (above right), and of course, getting coffee. Rav’s favorite place, Phoenix, is like a perfect version of the classic hipster-Brooklyn coffee joint, except that it’s in Cleveland so the baristas are sweet and funny and kind and know her and the babies by name and are super friendly and cool and everything is, like, $4. IS THIS SHANGRI-LA? Considering the following revelation, maybe.

Perhaps you will recall my obsession with Cold Brew, we started drinking it almost a decade ago (wtf), before it became gloriously ubiquitous, its inky goodness our primary weapon in the war against central air being waged in our old tenement and continuing in our old farmhouse. I’ve made and drank it religiously every summer since, only upgrading my metal-bowl-multiple-seive-mess-making-factory to the Toddy system when I received one as a wedding present (it is totally worth it). My usual get down is: insulated cup (like this one), full of ice, 2-3 fingers of cold brew, milk to the top. I didn’t think there was anything really wrong with this set up, though I don’t really love drinking tons of milk, but the cold brew is too strong to drink straight. Jitters for dazzzeee.

On the menu at Phoenix: the aforementioned Cold Brew Coconut Latte. It was INCREDIBLE. I asked lots of questions and upon returning home immediately got the goods to make it for myself.

COCONUT COLD BREW OF DREAMZ

• cup full of ice
• 2-3 fingers of cold brew coffee
• CHILLED COCONUT WATER almost to the top
• A splash of half and half (Rav prefers Almond Milk)

The result is subtly sweet and fresh and lovely and refreshing and non-jittery and non-heavy-dairy. Sweetheart says it tastes like a milkshake.

Time to go make myself one.

That’s all.

The Larder

IMG_0466A little while back, having just moved in with t.l.o.h.l.* darling Miss Molly wrote asking me for a “quick list of your kitchen essentials…what ingredients do you have to have on hand at all times…maybe a blog”. Dearest Motown and t.l.o.h.l. are both excellent cooks and t.l.o.h.l. is possessed of a fabulous apartment in what just might be the last-real-building-in-New-York-full-of-squatters-who-turned-their-squat-into-a-co-op-just-by-staying-there-for-a-few-decades-and-who-haven’t-been-bought-or-driven-out-yet. This apartment also boasts an appropriately authentic tiny kitchen. The fact that Miss Mo considered that I might be a resource in this land of ever-precious-pantry-real-estate is both an honor and a privilege. One that I’m not 100% sure I’m worthy of…Sweetheart and I do cook all the time and, like many people I know, we talk about food and cooking constantly and joyfully. Our favorite thing to do is to talk about what we’re going to eat for lunch while we’re eating breakfast and then talk about what we’re going to make for dinner as we’re eating lunch. We aren’t fancy cooks, we aren’t precious. We’re good at it because we like doing it, the act itself is a pure pleasure, and making good food for yourself and for those you love is the exact definition of sustenance. People have written a lot (and better) than I can or could about this most simple and glorious of human truths. So I’ll just say: Cooking is just the best. Apron on, glass of wine, some sweating onions and I’m happier than pretty much anywhere. I also really love my pantry. And the idea of stores. Ever since the existential dilemma of one’s chosen “Oregon Trail” career path dictating how much you had allotted to spend in the beginning on salt pork and cornmeal and ever since Manzo’s bad sisters ate the whole barrel of store-bought white sugar when their parents are out of town in “Farmer Boy” I’ve been enamored of the larder. The mere existence of the concept of “provisions” dovetails exactly with my desire for comfort, certainty, security, order, and beauty. Does this qualify me to wax poetic about basic kitchen necessities? Perhaps…

*the love of her life

IMG_0463Our old farmhouse has a pantry. A separate room the size of a walk-in closet with its own door and an ancient porcelain door-knob and whitewashed beadboard walls and exposed beams and an old schoolhouse light-fixture and walls full (full!) of glorious, glorious shelves. I didn’t build this pantry, but if I was going to build one, I’d build it just like this. It is the stuff of dreams. When we first moved down to our farmhouse from our Brooklyn apartment (which, by New York standards actually had a MASSIVE kitchen but still, le sigh) I used to go into the pantry and shut the door behind me and simply marvel at the thing. The rows of orderly jars and tiny bottles and places for multiple ice buckets and fermentation crocks and braided-tail hanging garlics and mysterious tonics steeping in a “cool dark place” and whatever else my strange new-witchy-barefoot-country self could imagine. I guess in this sense I am worthy of making a list of my “pantry staples”, in that sometimes I literally go into the pantry and stroke my stores of meals and flours lovingly and am constantly taking stock of the cans, jars, pickles, honeys, vinegars, oils, sauces, and spices to make sure that the world can be our oyster, whenever we decide to make them. My sister-in-law was telling me about this terrifying book she was reading where everyone in the world suddenly goes blind and everyone freaks out and starves because nobody can find any food and the first thing I thought was “I’d probably be ok for a while with the pantry and all”.IMG_0468

So, I’m by no means an expert, but, for Miss Motown and my own personal edification, here’s my pantry get-down. Lots of this stuff is super personal, but why not, here we go!

Ok, for those with space limitations, here are the absolute barest bones of what I think every kitchen must be stocked with at all times for the bare minimum of doable cookery. Oil, Vinegar, Salt, Pepper, Onions, Garlic…Wine.

Olive Oil: I just use Extra Virgin for everything. If someone wants to give me a $30 bottle of hubba-hubba finishing drizzling oil, I’ll definitely take it (seriously), or if you prefer a lower quality oil that smokes at a higher heat, I get that, but I think of Extra Virgin like the Goldilocks of cooking oils. Juuust right. I keep mine in a plain, refillable bottle with a speed pour on it at hand near the stove.

Vinegar: If you only have room for one, I’d pick… Champagne (surprised?). A light enough acid to counter greens (cooked or fresh) without the heaviness of a balsamic or the specificity of cider.

Salt: Cooking and finishing.  For cooking I use Diamond’s Kosher Salt (though I try and use salt less and less during the actual cooking and add on the necessary zing at the end with the finishing salt…). Kosher salt is great for cooking, but not all kosher salts are created equal. My chef friend taught me: DO NOT USE MORTON’S. It is often the only “kosher” salt on lots of grocery shelves, but the rabbi has nothing to do with what’s actually in it. Morton’s Kosher Salt ingredients: Salt, Yellow Prussiate of Soda, Anti-Caking Agent. Diamond’s Kosher Salt ingredients: Salt. Nuff said. Finishing salt is a matter of super preference. My favorite is Le Saunier de Camargue Fleur de Sel.

Pepper: Get a grinder.

Onions + Garlic, always on hand, always. Any recipe that doesn’t start with these old pals in a pan sweating it out together in a little hot oil is immediately suspect (not to say that those recipes can’t be great, but it’s cause for pause). When Mama would start to make dinner when I was little I remember coming downstairs following the smell and say “WHAT are you making!?” and she’d say “It’s just the onions and garlic”.

Wine: for yourself, always, for the dish, sometimes.

THAT’S IT FOR THE ABSOLUTE BAREST NECESSITIES EVER.

Now. You know that can’t be it. That’s all well and fine if you’re living off the grid or with a single hot plate or in The Scamp. But, like everything worth a damn, the good kitchen contains multitudes. I contain multitudes. Here’s a second pass at things you should really consider having on your shelves. Quick, dirty, off the cuff, true for me, maybe not for you:

Fats
Coconut Oil: Perfect for cooking down Indian/Sub-Continent/Asian/Jamaican/Caribbean-flavor-profile hard greens and the best possible thing for popping popcorn at home.
Vegetable Oil: For frying. Latkes especially, or Okonomyaki and the like. Perfect for any kind of “cakes”. Except crabcakes, which get fried in butter.
Butter: Unsalted. As the chef friend says, why let the butter company pick the quality of salt you’re going to eat (see: Morton’s)
Cooking Spray: For greasing the grill or for easily greasing/flouring baking sheets/cake tins.

Acids
Balsamic Vinegar, Apple Cider Vinegar, Red Wine Vinegar, White Wine Vinegar, plain White Vinegar, Champagne Vinegar, Rice Wine Vinegar, Ponzu, Lemons, Limes.

Dry Goods

Baking: White flour, rye flour, stone ground corn meal, masa harina, white sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, cocoa powder.

Pantry: White rice, wild rice, arborio rice, basmati rice. Rolled oats, quick oats, Irish oats, granola. Pecans, walnuts, almonds, cashews, sesame seeds, popcorn, peanuts, pine nuts. Raisins, craisins, crystallized ginger, figs, dates. Dried red chinese chiles, dried adobo peppers, dried mushrooms. Red lentils, green lentils, french lentils. I have never had luck with dried beans.

Coffee, sweet moses, coffee.

A note on jars. Putting all of your stuff in jars isn’t some hipster affectation (though it does end up looking mighty swell). All it takes is one round of those terrible little pantry moths all up in your crumply bag of flour (and then, subsequently, in everything else) to make decanting all of your ingredients into jars make, like, the most sense. Also, then you can see everything you have at a glance. To maintain this system, a wide-mouthed canning funnel is an absolute necessity (Mama gave me mine a decade ago and I just gave my dear friend with a new pantry of her own to stock one for Christmas). It’s one of those things that once you have one you don’t know how you lived without it. For dry goods that all kind of look alike (confectioner’s sugar or rice flour? masa harina or cornmeal? rye flour or buckwheat?), once I put the contents of whatever packaging into the jar, I trace the jar top over the label, cut it out, and put the label between the lid and the ring.

Spices

Whole seeds/spices: cumin, fennel, cardamom, caraway, nutmeg, cloves, saffron, bay leaves, peppercorns.

Ground spices: cinnamon, coriander, turmeric, curry, ginger, oregano, crushed red pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, celery salt, and (the absolutely weirdly necessary/perfect) Rendezvous-branded seasoning from the rib joint in Memphis.

Fancy extras: aleppo pepper, smoked paprika, sichuan peppercorns, pink peppercorns, garam masala, ras al hanout, herbes de provence, Spike…any spice blends anyone awesome gives you.

Sauces: molasses, cane syrup, pomegranate molasses, maple syrup, honey. Tabasco, Sriracha, Crystal/Trappey’s Red Devil.

Man, oh, man. This could go on forever! I HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED ON CANS. Or weird Asian sauces. Or mustard. Or mayonnaise! Or pickles. Molly, is this adequate? A moment of calm quiet after Christmas and before New Years and I’ve fallen down the presumptive rabbit hole of virtually counting all of my jars… what a pleasure. But the truth is, I’ve got to go start making dinner this very minute. What on earth should we have?

 

 

ps. Diced tomatoes and bullion cubes in the pantry (or homemade broth in the freezer), eggs, carrots, and celery in the fridge + all this other jazz and you can pretty much literally make anything, ever. Maintaining a pantry like this makes trips to the grocery literally just be cruising the produce + protein sections and picking what’s fresh and/or cheap.

pps. secret best ingredient of all time: Chiles in Adobo Sauce. Found in a can with the Goya stuff/international aisle in every supermarket. Chop them in a soup. Add them to onions and garlic at the beginning of a braise. Beef up some beans. Take some of the sauce and mix it with mayonnaise for the best, spicy, smoky, easiest “secret sauce” ever. And the La Morena brand has a badass, vaguely suspicious, sassy (naked?) woman on it who is kind of like my personal kitchen spirit animal.

ppps. ok gotta stop.

Le Petit Déjeuner Sur My Lap

petitdej
After we piled the insane amount of things we brought across oceans into our absolument tiny Fiat Canc Cent (yes, people of Cannes, we too travel in a Yacht, a Fi-Yacht), our very first stop in France was one of those crazy-Euro-mall compounds that sells absolutely everything. Though these stores are sort of nightmarish and not at all the authentic-ancient-crumbling-stucco-boulangerie feel you hope for in France, they also have everything you need in one place (excellent if you require camp stove gas AND saussicon) and boast 500 foot long aisles of nothing but rosé.rosefordays

Our first shopping list was this: camp stove gas, corkscrew, sausage, cheese, bread, peaches, a strange spicy watercress, water, wine, and 4 small tin mugs for morning coffees and sodas de route. Armed with our tin cups, the corkscrew, and my trusty opinel, we proceeded to picnic our way across the countryside, spreading the tie-dyed towels Rav had sent us in a gay ladies care package to precede her arrival, breaking out the bread and covering absolutely everything in a fine scrim of baguette crumbs and sausage ends. Slanted sunset mugs in the backseat full of champagne and an antire wooden plateau of honeyed peaches in les Hautes Alpes, brimming with funky cider at 10 am, the perfect breakfast with the three cheeses in ascending pungencies (le goute!) purchased straight from the farmer in Erveden, dusky red wine with the hazelnut sausages of Dordogne, and all the beautiful baguettes we could stuff in our baguette holes. Nage tous le jours y Vive le pique-nique.cheesepeppercornsresearchpeachplateaucarchampagnefromagethreecheesemountainbreakfastpicnic2baguettedejunerdegorgeabbeypicnic

 

And then there was Thanksgivukkah

susthanksgivukkahAnd as you probably know by now, this was the first and last year in our lifetimes (and for another few lifetimes yet) that Hanukkah and Thanksgiving overlapped. Hanukkah has always felt exactly like a time of miracles. By virtue of timing, it was one of the first Jewish holidays I spent with Sweetheart’s family, where I rode the Staten Island ferry for the first time (and drank a beer on the way, because a) you can, there’s a bar on it! b) I was a little nervous). It was raining that day and I wore a scarf tied over my hair, and when he picked me up from the ferry, Sweetheart’s Uncle Bill said “You look like you belong”. Always a bustle of sisters in the kitchen, I volunteered to fry the latkes. This, I know now, is the most detestable of tasks, uniformly disliked by all mamelahs, so that ended up a point in my favor, but all I knew then was that though I might not know all of the traditions, I at least knew how to fry. One of my best, earliest memories of Sweetheart’s divine Aunt Sheila is her coming into that Staten Island kitchen like a ship, peering over my shoulder and giving me the benediction in her wonderful storyteller’s voice I love so: “You’ve fried before”. This, the exact center of the Southern-Jewish venn diagram: deep fried potatoes and the honor of the matriarch. This year, we took it down south, Sweetheart consulted the oracles (his mama, his aunt, and Mimi Sheraton) and made and cooked the latkes (a point in his favor) in lieu of mashed potatoes, we had a brisket, we lit the candles, we said the words, and we had this electric menorah that made it through the flood and still worked. A season of miracles, a year of family, a feast of thanks.

Thanksgiving in Snapshots

thanksgivingcidergravyYou know it was a good time if you literally only took one picture of the whole shebang and it was this total WORK OF ART (I suppose I decided that the vision of dear sweet Ravenel deglazing a skillet of aromatic and reducing roux that becomes the base of her incredible cider gravy while a boozy put of mulled cider bubbles in the background and Nick tears bread for apple and herb stuffing and a pecan pie cools off slowly by the woodstove was worth saving for posterity’s sake, and I suppose I’m not wrong). Out here in the world of the internet, though, while one hand laments decorative gourd season and the other pins gilded pumpkin tablescapes that could/should never exist outside of Martha, I sort of like that this was the only snapshot I thought to take. When you’re dancing in the kitchen, there’s no time to stop and stage photographs. But, because you asked, here are a few shots I scooped up from a few dear ones who thought to take a moment and capture some loveliness while I was making sure everyone had enough wine. And that the bird was ready at the same time as my hairdo.susturkeysuspieIMG_1276thanksgivinglatkeshooraykitchen

To thanks…

mountainsTime flies when you’re having fun. And time also flies when it’s being blown along at a blustery clip accompanied by a 20 degree windchill. Thus this incredible week of my dreams begins. A whirlwind trip of wine and laces up to New York and back down to sweet, cold Virginny, where the leaves have been blown off the mountainsides and the hills look like brushed velvet somehow in the deep pile of their bare branches, and where 22 people are coming to our house for Thanksgiving. Today. It will the best possible time, one marked in between full moons on my almanac calendar, what seemed to be years away back in balmy September, and is now just here at the doorstep like an early guest and I feel like my hair is still in curlers. It’s what I’ve been waiting for…all of my favorite things- dancing in the kitchen, the noise of pots and pans and soul music and laughter and plenty of wine and dear friends aligned on the compasses of time and memory and family reunited-and-it-feels-so-good and pretty plates and feathers and, of course, about a million ham biscuits. And on this never-to-be-seen-again Thanksgivukkah, I’ve just got to say: infinite thanks and mazel tov, y’all. My heart is full.