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.

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 Morning Sky by Radio

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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

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 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.

Pollen

2014beepollen1This has been our first bee-winter, and, as the weather channel fear mongerers/anyone with eyeballs can tell you, it’s been a real beast. Weeks at a time stretched with the hives covered in snow, with me just watching from the kitchen sink, hoping it was like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The Long Winter” when they live in the rickety store-bought-wood house in town which, unlike Pa’s hand chinked log cabin in the Big Woods, was always drafty and freezing UNTIL the huge snow, when the drifts rose to the top windows and the girls were finally snug as bugs in rugs… or snug as bees in a hive? Aaaanyway, when the temps slowly started to rise, we saw them making forays out of the hives, sweet bumbling little flights on wobbly wings, proof that they had made it through their own long, hard winter. And, bless them, they would return to the hive, woozy, riding low in the water, laden with pollen. Full saddlebags of bright yellow alder and maple’s greenish grey or dun. In the spring, this pollen is used to make bee-bread, a heady ambrosia of pollen’s protein, a little bit of honey, and some probiotics from the bees themselves that is the stuff that baby bees are nursed on to rear them strong and mighty in time for the coming nectar flow. So, seeing our bees heavy with pollen, we knew that the Queen was holding court, and that the next generation of honeybees are being groomed to flourish. Signs of spring indeed.014beepollen32014beepollen2

It takes guts

ittakesgutstobegentleandkindYesterday was my birthday. I spent gloriously long days celebrating with my dear ones, playing music, getting snowed in, having big candlelit dinners with Sweetheart’s homemade pasta, exploring the snowy woods and hiking upupup into the gusting mists off of breathtaking icy waterfalls, having surprise cakes baked for me, champagne delivered to me, fielding multiple phone calls from people singing to me, playing games, reading books, baking bread, having breakfast in bed, receiving small parcels of mulling spices, special ancient bottles of wine with Cyrillic labels, feather birds, and talking poetry and unicorns into the wee hours, and and and…like always, I almost can’t believe my good fortune to have these bold and brave, gentle and kind folk surrounding me. Another sweet year passed honestly and kindly, and celebrated well. And that takes guts.

The Ice Storm Cometh

iceberriesOur winter beekeepers meeting canceled, and Mama having left early in anticipation of its arrival, the ice storm blustered and blew and dripped and dropped and chilled and gusted and fogged and fell as I stayed nestled snug as a bug in my little old house, stoking the stove with wood fetched by Sweetheart before he left to go to the great north, and stowed, safe and dry on the covered porch for me, each trip outside to refill the rack that lives next to the old Jotul blowing in gusts of freezing wind to gutter the candles, the power flickering on and off every now and again, the radio crackling school closings, and the great everything spinning away out there in the cold wet dark and me cozy, safe, and dry under a quilt. In the morning, the world was covered in ice. A thin layer of it coating everything and bringing the branches of the trees down to kiss the ground, almost to breaking, but luckily still wick with Autumn’s sap, lithe and strong, and tiny icicles off of every roofline, the old birds nest I just discovered in the hedge, full of snow, it all already starting to melt in the morning’s quiet sun. But for a moment, a silent iceworld, holding its breath, waiting for turkish delight.

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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