July 29th, 2013 / Comments 0
May 6th, 2011 / Comments 0
“If you’re ever in a jam, here I am,” is a line from the song “Friendship” written by Cole Porter. I know he wasn’t thinking about jams or jelly when he wrote that line but I have been. My most uncomfortable jelly moment occurred at a chic, cocktail party in Washington, DC. Waiters passed trays of hors d’oeuvres, conversations were peppered with dropped names, it was a party for ‘the movers and shakers’ on the political scene.
There was caviar, pate, platters of unfamiliar cheeses and even an oyster bar. I was twenty-five years old and impressed. In the midst of this exotic spread, there was a chafing dish filled with sweet and sour meatballs that were irresistible. I asked a fellow meatball-spearing guest if she knew how the meatballs had been prepared. “Oh,” she said, “these are always served at Peter’s parties. He’s related to the Welch’s, the grape people, and this is his favorite way to eat grape jelly.” Trying to keep up my side of clever party banter I added, “Yes, of course, and the meat balls are filled with peanut butter.” With an un-amused shake of her head she said, “Actually, the sauce is made by combining equal portions of Heinz chili sauce and Welch’s grape jelly, the culinary merger of two important families,” and walked off.
Jam unexpectedly came to my rescue when I was a passenger on a Russian train traveling from Mongolia to Siberia in the mid 1980’s. I was weary and homesick and craved a pot of freshly brewed tea flavored with a squeeze of lemon and a bit of sugar. I went to the dining car and asked the waiter, chef and busboy (all the same person), for a pot of tea.
The tea came in a small, dented metal teapot, along with a chipped mug, a spoon and a small pot of strawberry jam. I asked why he had brought me a pot of jam when there was nothing to spread it on. He explained that there were no lemons on the train or probably anywhere else in Siberia and, more importantly, real Russian tea was flavored and sweetened with jam rather than with lemon and sugar. I put half a teaspoon of jam into the mug, he shook his head, took the spoon and added a very rounded spoonful of jam to the mug, filled it with tea, stirred it vigorously, handed the mug to me with an expectant smile and hovered as I sipped. The tea was very strong and quite smoky, the addition of the strawberry jam made it palatable and a few hours later we parted as friends when the train pulled into the station in Irkutsk.
It was a jar of peach jam in my pantry that saved the day last summer when I was preparing the dressing for a brown rice and papaya salad for a potluck picnic. I had forgotten to buy a jar of mango chutney and had no time to make a trip to the market but I did have a jar a peach jam in the pantry. Combined with spices, vinegar and oil, it provided the sweet note that made the salad sing. Since then I always use peach jam rather than mango chutney when I make this salad. Here’s how I did it: … read more
April 20th, 2011 / comments 6
Ortigia, our island home in Sicily for two months each winter, is filled with unexpected treats. Sitting in the cafe in Piazza Duomo, I saw a bride and groom send balloons, confetti and doves into the air in celebration of their marriage. In front of the Chiesa Ste. Lucia, a puppeteer entertained a crowd, including a curious dog, with a marionette that sang like Frank Sinatra. There are courtyards filled with flowers, ornate iron balconies and pastel motor scooters waiting to be discovered in the narrow lanes. The most unpredictable treats for me have been the friendships we have formed with fellow travelers and the meals we have shared with them.
We met Michelle and her husband Burmese husband, Soe, at the Cafe Minerva. I invited them to sit with us and in less time that it takes to figure out how many c’s there are in cappuccino, Soe and I were talking about food. We finished our coffees and decided to walk to the market together.Michelle and Charles walked together and talked about the challenges of speaking Italian and as I shopped, Soe talked about what he would cook if he had a kitchen in Ortigia. I had a kitchen. He had a menu in mind. We decided to have dinner together. It would be a Burmese dinner with shrimp, orange salad and green beans and Soe would be in charge.
When Soe and Michelle arrived, he began by trimming and slicing.
He cooked like a classically trained French chef. I tried to stay out of his way as I watched him assemble a tray of ingredients for each dish.
We made the savory orange salad first. Here’s how we did it: … read more
April 13th, 2011 / comments 7
I couldn’t ignore the colors of the fruits and vegetables piled high in boxes and baskets at the open-air market in Ortigia. I shopped as if I were in an art supply store choosing tubes of paint.
I bought a deep violet eggplant,
a sweet pepper that was sap green on one side and cadmium orange on the other, white cippolini onions with forest green leaves, a bunch of celery with chartreuse leaves attached to leaf-green stems,
blue-black olives cured in oil, a scoop of grey-green salt cured capers, six Windsor yellow lemons and two kilos of blood oranges.
I created an ad hoc still life as I unpacked the market bags and thought about what I would cook. The caponata I had eaten in Taormina earlier in the week came to mind. Considered a Sicilian classic, caponata, like pasta, couscous, oranges and lemons, was brought by the Arabs when they conquered Sicily in 827 AD. The Arabs, then called Saracens, also introduced sophisticated methods of irrigation that made vegetable farming possible. Making caponata, a salad of cooked vegetables with a sweet and sour sauce, is an opportunity to combine colorful vegetables and Mediterranean history. Here’s how I did it:
April 7th, 2011 / comments 3
I’ve begun gathering souvenirs to bring back to Vermont from Ortigia. Not the usual tee shirt or piece of pottery, rather souvenirs in the form of memories of Sicilian food – some simple, others complex, some easy to recreate and others impossible.
The glass of blood orange juice that Charles makes for me with four fresh Tarocco oranges is my favorite way to start the day. Tarocco oranges grow in the fertile soil surrounding Mount Etna. They are sweet, less acidic than other oranges and have the highest vitamin C content of any orange variety grown. The juice is orange in name only, it varies in color from peachy pink to rose dore to nearly garnet red. I love it freshly squeezed and thick with pulp. Although there are blood oranges in the markets in Vermont, I’ll miss watching the sun shimmer on the Ionian sea as I sip the sweet juice. Unfortunately, blood orange juice at the edge of the Ionian Sea must be put into the impossible to recreate category.
Salt cured capers are sold by weight at the market. They are about the size of lentils and have a sharp and sour taste that is lovely with chicken or fish and are a crucial ingredient in the tomato/potato salad I tasted on a recent trip to Marsala. Although it isn’t easy to find salt-cured capers in Vermont, there are jars of vinegar-cured capers in the pickle aisle of every grocery store. Here’s how I made the tomato/potato salad when we got back to Ortigia. … read more
September 1st, 2010 / comments 4
Last Tuesday, Election Day, I spent the morning in front of Town Hall supporting my candidate and greeting friends and strangers as they came to vote. On this perfect summer day, the people I talked to were thinking more about food than about politics and the most popular topic was peaches.
I was intrigued when I heard Honey and Elizabeth talking about a peach and tomato salad that Honey had made for a dinner party. Luckily, they were willing to tell me about it and I made my version on Wednesday. Here’s how I did it: … read more