I think that I just broke the world record in weekend cooking. And in weekend everything. Although, I am a bit too tired to think, so this has yet to be confirmed. Anyhow, the story goes like this. On Friday afternoon, Miss Pain and Dr. V departed for their annual two and a half week journey to the land of Taprobane, which, in case the name escapes you, is what Ptolemy wrote on his map to mark the island of Ceylon, also known as Sri Lanka. Hence, I am home alone. No Taprobane this year, because I pitched in all of my vacation days for our trip to Rome in the spring and our summer holiday in Greece and now I am left with nothing. Nothing, but the glorious photos of even more glorious, exotic places my family keeps on sending every minute. And let us not forget the curries. And mallungs. It kind of sucks. From the top of my head, this is the best way to describe the situation. And that is how I felt immediately after V and Miss Pain left, what I felt for exactly one nanosecond, until another, far more pleasant thought occurred.
I am home alone.
As in home alone. Home Alone. Do you know the movie? Yes. Well that’s another way to describe the situation.
I am on a spring break so to say. Having lived a good part of my young adulthood in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, I have no idea how a spring break might look; we did not have spring breaks in good old SFRY. And now I am about to discover the concept.
The concept feels good.
The first thing I did as soon as the family left is to go for a haircut. And a dinner with girlfriends to celebrate the haircut. (And have a glass of ever stylish Aperol spritz. It goes well with the haircut.) On Saturday morning, I doodled for about two hours. Then I went to the farmers market. Back at home, I photographed the market finds. More importantly, I cooked the market finds. And there was a lot to cook, since late summer is a dangerous time for food shoppers -- have you ever felt it, the need to buy all the produce you possibly can and even more, because the market is so beautiful in the ways that cannot be described in plain English.
I first made the maple zucchini relish. The relish is a discovery from our recent visit to Shelburne Farms in Vermont. Shelburne Farms are a 1400-acre wonderland of woodlands, pastures and gardens, together with a diary, garden, inn, restaurant, sustainability educational center, and a plethora of activities for kids. At the farm store we bought a jar of their maple zucchini relish. It stood there at the stall, right next to their lovely aged cheddar cheeses, and without giving it a serious thought, I just grabbed it. (On the second thought, I should have bought more, but now it is too late.) We ate the relish with a plastic spoon, in the car, on our way back to New York City. And what a blast of flavors it was! A summer explosion of zucchini, red peppers, onions, with a seductive hint of turmeric, gentle touch of maple syrup and festive dusting of spices. The only problem with the relish is that it is addictive, and given that Shelburne Farms are like six hours away from New York City, the hungry New Yorkers like moi, who would like to indulge in the relish more often have no other options left but to recreate it at home.
Having packed ten jars of the relish into the fridge, I then went to a hair saloon -- again (?!) -- yes, but this time to put some sun streaks into my hair. And I stopped by the Zabar’s to acquire more canning jars, since our supply at home could not keep up with my new production levels. I then came home and made a batch of Gourmet’s spicy red pepper jelly. Have you ever tried it? It is one of those recipes, that are like, bulletproof and beyond tasty, the kind of recipe that sticks with you forever, and lasts a lifetime, and probably many more lifetimes, because I am sure it will carry over effortlessly into the next branch of our family tree.
On Sunday, I doodled and photographed for another hour or so. Wildly. And read the Millennium Cookbook, my latest and very delicious acquisition. A kind of book that makes you think about vegetables in an entirely new way.
I then made pesto with leftover Swiss chard stalks we had in the fridge and leftover pepitas from the pantry. And I photographed the pesto, which, I must say is quite an undertaking, because pesto is one of those foods that do not photograph well. Imagine a green blob on the plate. But I prevailed. Consider it a tiny contribution to sustainable eating.
I also roasted some plums with cinnamon, nutmeg and Chinese five spice. And I ate the plums -- still fragrant with the aromas of Far East and Silk Road -- on top of a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I meditated as I watched the icecream melt under the warm hug of plums. After 12 years of yoga practice, that's probably the closest that I will ever come to experiencing nirvana. The cinnamon vapors (or was it the meditation) made me feel like taking a nap, but people on spring break do not take naps. We are the warriors. So I embarked on a project of making peach, red pepper and jalapeno jelly, while peaches are still around. Then I went for a window-shopping excursion to Soho.
Oh my, I get tired only from thinking about this weekend.
This was not a post I intended to write. I planned on writing a wonderful and evocative story about the weekend in Vermont last week, and my baking lessons with Heike at her BeeSting bakery. But the cooking extravaganza of such unspeakable magnitude had to be immortalized and instead, I wrote a different post. Let’s just say that I owe you the Vermont post. It will happen next weekend. If I survive next weekend, because, there are still fourteen days left until the family comes back, and I am not sure I can keep up with my spring break self.
Shelburne Farms Maple Zucchini Relish
* 1 1/2 lbs zucchini and yellow summer squash, each (for a total of 3 lbs of squashes. This should yield about 7-8 cups of grated squash.)
* 2 medium red bell peppers
* 2 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
* 3 tbsp kosher salt
* 2 cups medium or light amber maple syrup
* 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
* 3/4 tsp turmeric powder
* 1 tsp ground mustard
* 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
* 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
* 1/4 tsp nutmeg
* 1 tbsp cornstarch
First prepare the vegetables. Wash the squashes carefully and remove the stems. Do not peel. Grate the squashes on a coarse microplane, or in a food processor. Finely chop the peppers, either by hand or in a food processor.
In a large non-reactive bowl, combine the zucchini, onions and chopped sweet peppers. Sprinkle with salt, mix well and leave in the refrigerator covered for 6 hours or overnight.
In a large colander, drain the vegetables thoroughly. Squeeze the excess juice. Rinse with water to remove saltiness, then drain again, making sure to press out excess water. The vegetables should be very dry.
In a non-reactive pot combine the vegetables and the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, to maintain simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 35 minutes.
While it is still hot, pour the relish into sterilized jars. Wipe the rims with a wet cloth and seal the jars with lids. Let the relish cool completely. Store the relish in the refrigerator for about two months.
Makes about 10 half pint jars
Swiss Chard Stalk Pesto with Pepitas
Swiss chard is my favorite vegetable, I steam it, sauté it, stuff it, or use it as a stuffing, but no matter what, stalks are not exactly my favorite part. That is where the leftover police steps in -- the stalks might not be a desirable ingredient in creamed chard, but they make for a lovely vegan pesto.
* 6 oz Swiss chard stalks (from about 1 lb of Swiss chard)
* 3 - 4 medium garlic cloves
* 1/2 - 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
* 1 cup pepitas
* 3/4 cup (packed) parsley leaves
* 1 tbsp lemon juice (or up to taste)
* zest of 1/2 lemon, grated on a microplane zester
* 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
* 1/2 tsp ground cumin
* salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut off the very end of the stalks, as the ends tend to be dry. If your Swiss chard is fairly young and tender, the stalks will be tender too. The stalks of mature chard can be a bit stringy, and you may want to blanch them for a minute. The best way to determine is to snap a piece of stalk from the very end (the toughest part) and take a bite. If it has the consistency of raw celery, you are good to go. If it is tougher and stringier, you may want to blanch the stalks (but only for a minute).
To blanch the stalks, heat a large pot of generously salted water, until boiling. Add the stalks and blanch for one minute. Remove the stalks from the pot and put them in a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process. Cool the stalks completely before proceeding with the recipe.
In a food processor, process the pepitas with the fennel seed and garlic. Add the stalks and parsley, and continue to process. Add the olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice and process until smooth. (If the pesto is too thick, add a drop of water.)
Store the pesto in the fridge and use with pasta, sandwiches, or as a dip.
Makes one 1-pint jar
Roasted Plums with Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Chinese Five-Spice
* 4 lbs very ripe Italian plums
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* 1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
* 1/8 tsp Chinese Five spice powder
Preheat the oven to 300F.
Carefully wash the plums. Cut the plums in halves and remove the pits. Place the plums into a deep baking pan or Dutch oven, and cover with sugar and spices. Place in the oven, and roast for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Stir occasionally. The plums are done when you can draw a line at the bottom of the pan with a spoon.
Serve while the plums are still slightly warm with vanilla ice cream or Greek yogurt. Store the leftovers in a jar, for a about a week in the fridge, or freeze.