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.

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Things I didn’t even tell you

findsHoly Moly, fizz bang oh gee oh wow here we are January, the new year fresh and slick and new and bold and damp and chilly and begging us for a little introspection and respite, a rest from the rest (which I think technically means DOING), the ever-so-slightly-longer twilights an invitation to remember what takes me by surprise every year, the full-against-the-skin feeling of Spring that you get when you can finally sleep with your windows open. But I’m getting ahead of myself, that’s still a long ways away. Darling Rav reminded me today of our joint resolution, the one that we made hand in hand last year at midnight in Cleveland, just the two of us in the fat falling snow drinking bubbles out of impossibly tiny pink glasses. Not a New Years resolution, per se, but a general resolution buoyed by January’s optimistic fresh-startness. The resolution is one you might hear a lot around here: Just Say Yes. Say Yes when it’s easy, Say Yes when perhaps you ought to say No, The world needs more Yes. The world also needs more of this polaroid of me and sweetheart on a ferry in Delaware three days after our wedding. polaroid

Just sayin. This year has been an incredible one for the yes-saying. The doing. The VALHALLA of it all, the grabbing onto the reins and holding on for dear life (which is dearer every moment). And in light of it all, in the trying to do and breathe and live it all the most, I just feel like there are just SO many things I haven’t even told you. For example: did you know Sweetheart and I bought a 1978 tow-behind 13 foot Scamp Travel Trailer for our Honeymoon?scamp

We used it as a photobooth at our wedding. Then we took it on the road. It’s amazing. Details… to follow? Also, did you know: if you get married some people will give you money as a gift? I didn’t know this and was incredibly surprised. But lo and behold, after our wedding we had a small nest egg and that we wanted to do something awesome with it (like, not just pay our bills with it). So, we bought a special Japanese woodstove and a 300 gallon tank that you use to water cattle and built ourselves a wood-fired hot tub and put it back in the woods by where we got married. I don’t have a good picture of this because we only soak in the witching hours of night by the light of the moon (or the fairy stars of the disco ball that our dear Jay hung in the forest for our wedding before he up and married us). But here’s a dark picture of my very pink post-soak feet in Rav’s hobbit shoes and my tie-dyed bathrobe and my so-curious-he’s-blurry-cat (or maybe that’s bigfoot):woodfiredfeet

Also also also, I made fire cider, a crazy herbal remedy that made my mouth sweat but cleared my sinuses, and I made boiled apple cider syrup, and I made gold leaf oyster shell salt cellars, and also also also did you know we harvested FIVE GALLONS of honey from our bees this year? And did you know (unrelated to the honey harvest) we also lost one of our hives? And I sprained my ankle and got a new pair of work boots and gloves. And I fell in love with my littlest cousins. And my oldest cousins. And Sweetheart and I dressed as Annie Hall for Halloween. AND BONIN’ (which is its own story). And I also learned how to shoot a bow and arrow and how to fix a trailer hitch and how to make a flower crown and how to smoke a turkey and how to wire a battery and how to make ramen from scratch and how not to stall out driving a stick shift at a boite diabolique aka toll plaza (ok I only kind of learned that) and how to order a crepe and how to navigate using a baguette and how to cook piquillo peppers and how to get to South Carolina the slow way and how to sell smoked trout and how to pour txakoli from very high into a glass and how to bone a chicken and how to make peach jam and how to tie dye and how to bless a day and how not to cry when you’re singing in someone’s wedding but it’s just so everything you cry anyway but how to hide it pretty good I guess and how to replace studs and rebuild a floor and just how damn good the movie Mannequin is and how to light a menorah (not all at once, one candle each day) and when to plant a peach tree and how to show up and how good my people are and how to do a medicine card reading and consequently that I need to get my frog buns submerged into water every day if at all possible (see: wood fired hot-tub) and how to stay on the chair when you’re actually in a horah dance (knowledge never to be needed again) how to really shuck an oyster and how to write wedding vows that are so true and electric they make your heart swell up to bursting with pride and fierce passion and how to try and live that way forever and and and… Well I guess I’ve been saying yes. Success. Here’s to another year of it. And. I’ll try and share better, yes?

The Tree Farm

ChristmasTreeGeese Back in the sun-drenched wilds of August, I met my dear friend Jennis at the brewery just up the road for a beer. It was one of those slant-light-hot-in-the-sun summer’s end late afternoon that feels endless and magical and lovely and surrounds everyone who basks in its light with an aura of possibility. Jennis had brought a friend and her partner and we spoke passionately about the proposed natural gas pipeline that will probably be destroying our valley soon and about history and land and watersheds and adventure and how to ride in a truck with dudes so they’ll take you seriously (good advice to have in one’s dungaree pocket) and somehow the conversation wound its way around to the family business in the wilds of the valley west of us: a Christmas Tree Farm! What an enterprise, what a place to grow up… what magic! So, we sat in the setting sun surrounded by good vibes lifting our glasses and saying: when it comes time for Christmas (which is most certainly impossibly far away) we’ll have to go to your farm to get our tree this year. And, as time moves ever swifter, this past weekend the moment was nigh, with a chill drizzle in the air, for us to hit the roads and head to the great river’s headwaters and grab bow saws, hanging all in a row from wooden pegs, and walk the fields full of soft-needled, bushy white pines (my favorite, and somewhat of a rarity), Jennis and her sweetheart and two excellent children, adept with saws and ideas and silent stalking like ninja-elfs (see below), discussing the necessary merits of the ideal tree: must not have too many holes (but cannot be too perfect), must be somewhat scraggly (but not too scraggly), must have adequate spots for larger ornaments, must also have adequate room for many presents, bonus points for a birds nest. Geese overhead, the air grey and misty and magical and lovely in its own blustery right, merry Christmas, and god bless ye hairy gentlemen, it’s time for hot toddys.

TreeFarmDoorTreeFarm ChristmasTreeLurker

The Morning Sky by Radio

bls710mine

Every morning Sweetheart makes his way downstairs before me, puts on coffee, stokes the woodstove, blends a thick green juice the color of cedar boughs that is undoubtedly very good for you, and then he puts on the radio. WNYC streaming at us live from his hometown, just like we used to do in our Brooklyn apartment every day (except for the part about having a downstairs, a woodstove, and space for a blender). We are such oldballs. We love the radio. One of Sweetheart’s most mystically endearing qualities is his utter mastery of the radio in modern times. Using the TuneIn Radio app he mines for hours of perfect programming. Weekends it’s music. We spend Saturdays with the Rhythm Revue (WBGO, classic soul and and motown from 10-12), then WKCR funk + soul from 12-2 with Across 110th Street, then Sunshine Daydream on WTJU (the Grateful Dead Hour) at 6pm. On Sundays we take WKCR’s Moonshine Show (old time bluegrass), into The Tennessee Border Show (Early country), and then onto WFUV, which has American Routes into Rich Conaty’s Big Broadcast. For us, because we’re pretty much 137 years old, Sunday nights mean making dinner listening to big band music and doing the Sunday crossword. We pretty much live by the radio like it’s 1923 and we really like it that way. Weeknights, it’s cooking to WWOZ out of New Orleans. Weekdays, it’s talk. Move over, Ira: We LOVE Brian Lehrer. Today he did a thing (that got me thinking about how much I love the radio, see above) where he asked all of his listeners to take a picture of the morning sky wherever they were at 7:10 am and post the shot with the hashtag #BLS710 (Brian Lehrer Show 7:10 am). What a simple pleasure to capture that moment, all of us, radio lovers under the same sky, what commonalities we share, and what perfect evidence of what a great humanizing (and unifying) force the radio is. Lest we not forget. My shot started out the post and here are just a few of the hundreds of shots taken this am at 7:10 (beginning with Sweetheart’s):BLS710Sweetheartbls71013bls71011 bls71010 bls7109 bls7108 bls7107 bls7104bls7106   bls7103 bls7102bls7105bls7101

Times of Quiet…

mistymountain

Strange and marvelous and dark and still and starry like last nights new-moon-ness this last month has been. The most exultant, extroverted, celebratory, look-at-us (no, literally, we require you to actually witness this thing) show-me period of my entire life followed up immediately on its star-spangled-coattails by the most quiet, peaceful, introverted, don’t-even-think-of-leaving-the-farmhouse country respite of a month. Like nothing has changed: we make the broth, we bake the bread, we stoke the stove, we don’t leave the one room that holds its heat, we lavish attention on the cat when his woodstove-fired-stupor yields exceptionally impressive languors. BUT like everything has changed: namely the absolute electric thunderbolt of telling the guy at the Stihl workshop that “my husband dropped off the chainsaw, I’m here to pick it up” which tingles to my very fingertips with strange wonder and that Tony in the shop doesn’t even notice. Having a husband isn’t something to tingle over, I guess, Tony? Except that IT IS. And. Is this what it’s like to be married? Well, I suppose it is for me at this minute by virtue that it is. That everything is. What does this MEAN? Every winter begins with me figuring out how to live within its quiet confines again, yet this one is hugely different, and, of course, eternally changeless. Luckily, I’m not in it alone.

Children on Love + Time

1974.08.24

40 years ago this week, these amazing children were married. Eight years and four months after this photograph was taken, they became my parents. I say they were children because Mama was just 22 and Daddy would turn 22 in November after, and when I think of myself at 22 I think what a child I was. Barely able to keep an orchid alive or make rent much less “hold-hands-with-the-love-of-my-life wearing-kid-gloves-clutching-a-bottle-of-champagne-and-walk-through-a-hazy-scrim-of-thrown-rice-into-a-certain-future”. Children they were, perhaps, but there has always been a feeling with them, a sweet electricity that they put out, like the subtle hum of a vast star-crossed-machinery with all of its tiny parts in harmony, a feeling that they know. That’s the thing: we are all still children, and, to be honest, I think we always will be. The only thing that hints that we may be being grown-ups (and that they have in this picture and every moment afterwards) is this: knowing what you want and taking its hand and walking heart-full with it into the great unknown. I will get married in 43 days, and, though I feel I am still a child in many ways, thanks to these kids, I know what I want and I’m going to hold onto it like a comet’s tail into the future. Thank you for that, sweet children, and congratulations.

The Spark(plug)

IMG_1254Sometimes all it takes to get you back on track is for you to grab your Sweetheart, pull on your working jeans and steel toe boots, take the little white pickup truck over the mountain (max speed 45mph), put the windows down, turn Hitkicker Country on the radio up, and get a new sparkplug for the chainsaw. Take a deep breath, notice this everything, feel that spark. Then go cut some shit down.

The Wild Loveliness

WildBouquetIt has been a wild time. The winter that wouldn’t end ran headlong into spring, stopping only for a moment to catch its breath, send out some delicate green shoots, and deliver some crushing news. Everything here springing up wild and wick, the bees finally hitting their honeyed stride, just in time to get left in a hurry, coffee still on the stove, the needle poised above the record, the bounding radishes and collards and kale unthinned… to head south and attend loss. Then a quick accounting, a slapdash suitcase, and a whirlwind trip out west, full of joy and light and adventure. A perfect time. Then home again, which, after weeks of absence, looked like something out of The Secret Garden or Grey Gardens or Mrs. Havisham or Miss Honey’s House… some lovely testament to elegant decay, but also probably garnering some judgment from the neighbors. Vines and blooms and ripening, peonies bent over double, canary roses full of promise, about to burst, irises sprung up seemingly overnight, grass in the meadow at hip height. Just enough time to gather this hasty bouquet, improbably, the pale yellow broccoli that bolted into unruly flowers in the unexpected heat, the wild spreading white Cherokee roses that make me repeat my grandfather’s mantra (“it’s only a weed if you don’t want it there”), and the sweet buttercups in the yard that I knew would be falling under the scythe in a few day’s time. A funny wild bouquet plucked accidentally, almost out of necessity (leaving the fancy flowers where they were), delicate and dropping petals and perfumed with a sweet fragrance that, for essentially zero reason, always makes me think of Emmylou Harris. Put in the center of the table with a happy sigh. Just in time for more crushing news. And again, we leave the coffee on the stove, the compost in the bin, the laundry on the chair (at least clean and folded if not put away), the bees in the clover, the cat in the window…all to head south and attend loss. It’s what the living do, care for each other in this great yearning, and rejoice together because we must, absolutely, celebrate this wild loveliness that is the. thing.

Time Flies

snowypathI started keeping a 5 year diary at the beginning of this year (the topic of its own post, certainly), and I told Sweetheart that looking back on this month, at least, the days are beautifully, brilliantly similar: a series of good books, many long dinners, most of them just the two of us and that giddily more than enough, the desire to plant, the thwarting of yet more snow, the killing of a snake, the tireless hijinks of squirrels, the beauty of the birds, the bees coming in with new pollen (red maple and alder), the first stirrings of daffodils and crocuses and the buds coming on the lilacs, the thwarting of yet more snow, burning, burning, burning—the last of the cord wood, the first of the burn pile, the long lingering rays of the now-late evening sun, lots of plaid, long baths, good work-sore bones, and coffee and fresh juice waiting for me in the morning. Time flying, but on golden wings. Forgive the radio silence, the music here has been too sweet.

Lucky Spring

4leaf

Found this little guy in a patch of dark rich soil that had accumulated at the corner of the woodshed, in theory from years of sawdust and leaf mold and right in the spot where the badger knocked over the grill last summer. Maybe that was the tipping point. Ash and leaf and earth and dirt and dust become soil. It takes a while for the hard clay of this ground to turn into the kind of fertile anything that will encourage growth beyond wild asters, but, like most things, with the right combination of work and the fortune of circumstance small wonders can spring forth. Can you call it luck? I’m not sure what is more miraculous, that a tiny patch of delicate clover sprung from the nothing of a cool and shady previously inhospitable corner of my world, or that I noticed the little shoots yesterday in the midst of my big-doing-striding-purposefully-around the domain rehanging a broken clothesline and picking up the wreckage of winter… and that the tiny majesty stopped me in my tracks and I turned around to bend over the patch and take in its sweet small gentleness, and among them, there was this: a tiny four leafed clover. Good things are happening and good things are going to keep happening.