O Easter Egg Radishes, with your multitude of colors and strange bulbous shapes, how delicious you are pulled right from the garden, thinly sliced, and put on a plate with thick dutch cheese, bread, and mustard (and a nice cold beer). We felt very European, and also, even though the chilly spring and our beginner-gardener-flailings means we aren’t pulling our radishes until mid-June, pretty proud of ourselves.
1000 feet of vegetable garden. Perfect row upon row of standing onions, winter savory, bulbous dark cabbages, the beginnings of carrots the ends of broccoli, each variety labeled in a slanting hand with common and latin names (some of the heirloom types the very same varieties that we ordered from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for our own tiny-by-comparison plot), some under clay bell jars, some just noticeable from the brick and glass garden-flourishing observation gazebo, the spring-ready plants drawn out with compost-dark soil which, in this Albemarle clay you just KNOW took, well, about 300 years to look this good. That is what Thomas Jefferson has set up at Monticello. Oh Man. Talk about Garden Envy. We’ll just cross our dirt stained fingers and say “someday”…
That’s what the ancient woman in the white dress said: “In New Orleans, you’re never hungry and you’re never lonely”. A motto for the luscious crescent city where I’ve spent the last woozy week, certainly, but crystallized there could be my own personal motto. Never Hungry, Never Lonely. My heart vibrates on that powdered-sugar dusted string. On that resonating note, our incredible hosts told us that if you love New Orleans she’ll love you back, and I think that’s absolutely true. The wet-hot afternoons and perfect spring-chill evenings, the orange blossoms, azaleas, and bougainvillea, the endless strains of music, the big dusky river wind in your hair, the endless flavor and constant cocktail, the ease of it all, never hungry, never lonely. I have a lot to share, so I’ll just start now with some greatest hits:
From top: The incredible beignet choux rolling machine hiding secretly around the back corner at Cafe du Monde, the actually-better-than-Cafe-du-Monde beignet at Cafe Beignet (don’t be fooled into thinking that I had a single morning without a chicory-coffee-and-beignet breakfast at several different locales), Preservation Hall, a tray of 50 cent oysters that we devoured with Sazeracs like good tourists/brilliant geniuses, One of infinite glorious balconies in the French Quarter. That’s some hits, tomorrow, the adventures.
Secret Best Thing Ever: Cane Syrup from Ravenel’s family farm. Dark and sweet and funky in the rummy way of Molasses (which makes sense since this is what molasses is before it gets hot, boils down and goes rogue), but with the lightning quick pour of hot Aunt Jemima. Sugar Cane juiced by mules (named Molly and Weezer) in the ancient manner, bottled in an old Hurricane (with the label drawn by Rav’s dad) perfect on buckwheat cakes. Secret Best Thing Ever.
The best places are always on the side of the road. Like the infinite honey-charred stick-meat shacks of so many Caribbean islands, the baskets of cactus flower fruits of Morocco, the boiled peanuts in styrofoam cups of the American South. Just pull over, make a u-ey, turn a little dust, get your perfect bananas. Your local honeys that taste like sweet sage flower and smoke. Your steaming tamales cooked over wood fires. Carry a small knife, ask for spice or pickled anything or sauce, and definitely eat whatever they give you.
This is what it looks like when you’ve just eaten a raw oyster from your home waters. Very, very good. Growing up in the Virginia lowlands, of water stock, I actually never really understood the sense of place in an oyster. They just tasted like oysters. It wasn’t until I was long out of Virginia, a New York veteran of a few years, meeting McKay and Cakes at Marlow for one of those hours long dinners that meeting those girls at that place requires, that I saw a James River oyster on the menu and ordered it. Oh man. Just the taste of that dusky brine and I was immediately transported to summers on the Mobjack bay, wearing white rubber watermen’s boots and traversing the mudflats like they were my kingdom. Tidewater, in an instant, a taste. I bet the old salts around the bar in Montauk feel the same way about their super saline Long Island Blue Points, but the fact is they’re the exact same oyster species as my fat and sweet-salty Virginia half-shell, they’re just tempered differently by the water they’re in. Per usual, a parable. Back in Virginia, for my big birthday, I was lucky enough to have two bushels brought to me directly from the coast, just a little over 400 oysters. The plan was to roast most and shuck some. Lucky for me, my dear friend Rob came straight from the banks of the York river bearing his oyster knife, super shucking skills, and intimate knowledge of the oyster crab. The little yellow-orange jewel here is a tiny soft-shelled crab, a lady, who is symbiotic with the Virginia oyster. They are friends, and are only found in the best and healthiest oyster beds. The New York Times wrote two separate articles in the early 1900’s on the little buggers- here and here. The Times suggests frying them or covering them with a mayonnaise lightly colored pink with beet juice, but Rob told me to just eat it raw. Incredible. It was the first one I ever found, and I felt so lucky to have had it in Virginia, on my birthday.
How brilliant is this: whenever my dear friend Kitty has a dinner party or an impromptu brunch or (in our case) a weekend-long carnivale of kitchen-and-wine goodness, she writes the occasion and the what-we-will-eat on a plain card, dates the back, and hangs it on a little hook for reference. Whenever the feast is over, she adds the card to the little stack of its brethren. Reference as a useful tool for the future, Good Meals as events of import worthy of record. As someone who loves list making and food making, ephemera saving, AND hanging-pot-open-shelving-situations, I think this might just be something I need to start doing.
New York is a pizza town. Allegiances run deep… One of Sweetheart’s high school friends once broke up with a girl because she ate her pizza with a fork. There’s the ancient Neapolitan battlegrounds (Lombardi’s, Grimaldi’s, Difara’s), Staten Island’s best-pizzas-you’ve-never-had (Denino’s, Goodfellas, Salvatore’s of Soho), the hipsters (Roberta’s, Paulie Gee’s, Speedy Romeo), the best sicilian/place to take a southerner on a date (L&B Spumoni Gardens), the local slice (Rays ad infinitum, in our neighborhood “Not Ray’s”)… With all of these rarified pies, harkening back to ancient traditions, earth vs. brick ovens, coal vs. wood burning, cheese vs. sauce, the consideration of pizzaiolo-as-master-craftsman, it would seem as though pizza might simply be one of those things beyond the scope of the humble home cook, off limits to one possessing nothing fancier than a standard electric coil oven and a pizza stone. To this, I say: fuhgeddaboudit.This weekend at the Kitchen Garden Cooking School‘s Pizza Making Class we proved ourselves capable of transcending pizza barriers. Like most wonderful things, it was truly simple. The Dough: a riff on the fabulous No-Knead dough that turns out such incredible boules, the sauces: simple classic tomato, creamy funky caramelized onion, sweet pungent red pepper, the cheeses: burrata, gouda, gruyere, chevre, fontina, taleggio, parmesean, the toppings: tomatoes, basil, garlic infused oil, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, red onions, ginger, lemon, sumac, artichoke hearts, olives, and pine nuts.
We each floured, tossed, topped, peeled, baked, and devoured our own tiny, perfect pies, and it was revelatory. An ancient skill for the ages to add to the home cook arsenal: food grower, fermenter, jam maker, bread baker, pizzaiola, and the time-spent-with-good-friends factor that is absolutely necessary for successful kitchen endeavors.
ps. This was the second Kitchen Garden Cooking class my mama and our dear town mouse friends have taken, if you find yourself in gorgeous Upper Black Eddy, PA, I highly recommend the classes. Check out the blog here.
Such Life! I can’t wait to share the utter loveliness of the Jubilee Cooking Class we took this past weekend, the exceptional noshes and ever-full glasses of studied wine, the discourse and lending of dear books, the sharing and playing of new music…but in the meantime I’m scrambling to put up what remains of my little backyard garden. After all, this weekend we had our first frost.
It’s been a pretty big week for pizza (when is it not a big week for pizza?): we went to Grimaldi’s new location in an unspoken celebration of Ann Marie’s return to the East Coast, and today I’m leaving to meet my Mama to take a pizza making class as part of her ongoing JUBILEE celebration. We’ll stay with our town mouse friends, have much wine and lots of food, and generally make merry in the best of ways. On a related note, did you know that a standard baking stone is, like, $30? I’ve been under the illusion that they’re hundreds of dollars and that’s why I don’t have one. GET THEE TO A CHEF SUPPLY STORE! In love and pizza, have a wonderful weekend.
Grimaldi’s image from here.