Thousand Flowers Tart

Thousand Flowers Tart

When Jennifer from The Burley Hen purchased a tiny vial of millefiori a year ago, putting a single drop into her pancake batter, she somehow knew, at first taste, that I should have it instead. And so it made a short trip from Queens to Manhattan, a single drop less, and waiting. Most likely waiting for me to turn on my poet-brain. This entire recipe, from thinking it, being frustrated with it, to tasting it multiple times, brought me back to those days I’d fuss over a single poem.

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While I was super excited to have this flower concentrate in the house, I also had no idea what I wanted to do with it, as there are not too many recipes online. Mostly a lot of Pastiera; an Italian Easter cake. (That’s another thing I miss about writing a poem. The researching that comes with it. I do hope that we all take the time to know and understand the roots of the thing that we are making.)

It wasn’t until receiving sunflower flour from Tory that this idea for a tart came to, well, you know, blossom. Not to sound cheesy. As she handed the bag of flour to me, along with a spankin’ new tart pan (my FIRST in 2019! I have now bought myself some mini tart pans newly pictured here), it was a no-brainer. I wanted everything about what I create to somehow be about flowers, but in subtle ways. The crust, the filling…and what about toppings? I spent an entire day looking for edible flowers the first time I tested out this recipe and found not a single one. Mind you, they were EVERYWHERE at the greenmarkets of NYC during that time. But then it hit me.

FIGS. Inverted flowers. The loves of my life.

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Developing a recipe out of ingredients that were all gifts makes this special to me. The sunflour, which is darker than flour, adds depth to the crust. The crushed graham sweetens it, but also tones down the possibility of a bitter and very dark crust. Look at this color contrast! Fast forward to 2020, and I’ve come across other sunflours that are lighter. But still. This is magic.

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for the crust of a 9″ tart pan or 3 4″ tart pans with removable bottoms

– 1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
– 1/4 cup sunflower flour (I use Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils)
– 1/4 cup brown sugar
– few pinches of salt
– 7 tbs unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 225 degrees. (We’re just gently toasting the crust.)

In a medium bowl, whisk your dry ingredients til well incorporated and, using a fork, stir in the melted butter. In a 9″ tart pan or 4″ tart pans with removable bottoms, press mixture with hands or the bottom of a measuring cup til everything is nice and compact. Bake for about 8 minutes, til fragrant.

Cool down 1 hour before use.

for the filling (if you have some left over, no worries! have yourself a crustlesl tart)

– 2 cups half and half
– 3 long strips of orange zest
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 4 egg yolks, from large organic eggs
– 1/4 cup cornstarch, sifted
– pinch of salt
– 1/4 tsp millefiori (flower concentrate)
– 2 tbs unsalted butter, cut

1. Under medium heat, scald milk with orange zest and pour into a measuring cup. Set aside for 10 minutes so that the orange lightly infuses the milk. Stir in the flower concentrate.

2. In a medium pot, whisk together your eggs and sugar and then add your sifted cornstarch and salt. Whisk whisk whisk for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture becomes light in color.

3. Remove orange zest from the milk and gradually pour into the egg mixture, whisking continuously. At this point you’ll turn on the heat to medium and whisk whisk whisk til the mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Let it cool down a couple of minutes before stirring in the butter.

4. Place in a heat-proof bowl and cover with plastic wrap. The plastic wrap should make direct contact with the top of the pastry cream so that a skin does not form. Let it cool down 15-20 minutes more and then put it in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours, or up to 2 days.

5. When ready to assemble, smooth out the pastry cream into the cooled-down crust, and decorate!

topping suggestions

– figs
– edible flowers
– any berry in season

After you take your photos, “pour on the fruit” as my mother would say. For 2020, there was no going to union square for the fruit or the flowers. I haven’t been there since the beginning of march and I don’t think I’ll head there any time soon. I waited an entire year to reshoot this tart. When I saw that my local market was not bringing in edible flowers, I ordered them online from FarmOne, and I ordered gooseberies and blueberies from OurHarvest. But really, get what you can right now and I promise you the taste of late spring and deep summer.

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fig and orange-zested cake

fig and orange-zested cake

How’s everyone this Sunday?

I planned on not doing anything for Easter, but I needed to lift the spirit of the house, and some figs and oh-so-buttery cake sounded like just the thing we needed . Am I right?

Think pound cake, but not measured out the way a pound cake traditionally is made.

-180 grams (1 1/2 cup) AP flour
-150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
-3/4 tsp baking powder
-pinch of salt
-200 grams butter, unsalted, softened
-3 large eggs, room temp
-3 tbs warm milk
-1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
-zest from one medium orange
-6 figs, sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease and dust with flour your loaf pan. Mine was 9×13.

1. In a large bowl, whisk together your flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

2. In a separate bowl, use a hand mixer to whisk your butter, eggs, milk, vanilla extract, and zest til light in color, about 4 minutes.

3. Add half your wet ingredients into your dry and gently fold. Add the other half and keep folding til well incorporated and no lumps appear.

4. Transfer half the batter to the loaf pan and layer the top with thin slices of fig. Add the rest and repeat. Bake for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Happy Easter everyone!

Aleppian Stew with Dried Figs and Apricots

Aleppian Stew with Dried Figs and Apricots

When I don’t want to make Syrian stuffed grape leaves but still want the sweet and tangy tamarind flavors that are smothered all over them, this is my go-to. Let me tell you: it is DEC-A-dent. You can serve it with rice and lentils, a generous amount of salad, or even some of my spring greens kibbeh (Autumn coming soon *wigglingeyebrows*).

Aleppian Stew with Dried Figs and Apricots

-2 lbs oxtails or short ribs
-1 heaping tsp tomato paste
-3 garlic cloves, chopped
-2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
-6 pearl onions (optional)
-10 dried mission figs, 8 dried California apricots
-1 bay leaf
-1 1/4 tsp allspice
-1 tsp ground cumin
-1 tsp aleppo pepper
-pinch or 2 of cinnamon
-3-4 tbs tamarind concentrate*
-water, enough to cover a quarter of the way
-medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
-salt and pepper, to taste

Using a dutch oven drizzled with a little oil, you’ll want to brown your meat in batches under med-high heat.

Stir the tomato paste into a pool of oil left in the pot, being sure to caramelize it for about a minute. Add all spices, carrots, garlic, onions if using, and 3 tbs of tamarind. Stir together, then cover with water.

Allow it to lazily simmer for at least 1 hour on the stove-top with lid on before adding the sweet potatoes and dried fruit. While it simmers, preheat oven to 350. Taste it when the hour is up. If it’s not tangy enough for you, add another tbs of tamarind.

Pop it in the oven for another 45 minutes, uncovered. The meat should be very tender, and sticky with all that tangy goodness.

Syrian-inspired roasted figs and grapes

Syrian-inspired roasted figs and grapes

Before we started cooking for my brother’s engagement party, I made this platter to try later on after the dinner was over and everyone had gone home.

It was an idea for a recipe I had for awhile, playing with flavors we use for stuffed grape leaves, with zero intention of making it part of the dinner (especially if it were a fail). I figured why offer it to such a picky crowd, anyway? I already heard my brother from another room ask, “what the hell is this? Who roasts grapes? Such a weird-ass thing to do.” I rolled my eyes, as I forever do when my ownly sibling’s goal in life is to annoy his big sis.

I stepped out of the kitchen after cakes and coffee were served. My introvert butt needed a moment. When I returned, everything but one damn fig on the platter was left.

So, I guess it’s a weird-ass keeper.

Preheat the oven to 400.

You’ll need a sheet pan covered with parchment and:

-8 figs, halved or quartered
-2-3 bunches of grapes (I used tiny Tim’s), on their stems

for the dressing

-1 tbs pomegranate molasses
-1 tbs fresh lemon juice
-1 tbs walnut oil or olive
-1 tsp allspice
-pinch of cinnamon and salt, pepper too

Whisk all together and brush the dressing onto all sides of the figs, and whatever grape is exposed. Pour the rest over everything and pop them into the oven for about 20 minutes, or until surfaces have caramelized a bit. Feel free to broil for a couple of minutes to get it extra browned on top.

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for serving

-toasted almonds or walnuts, eyeballed
-feta, to taste

Feta is not optional. I loooooove the saltiness that comes with sweet and tart fruits, made even sweeter from getting roasted.

Fig and Orange Chicketta

Fig and Orange Chicketta

The problem I’m having nowadays with my market haul? I want to serve every sunchoke, beet, radish, asparagus, artichoke, and green alongside my Chicketta. Think about it. Chicken that’s marinated in fresh lemon juice, olive oil, with a fig-orange jam whisked in. Then more fig-orange jam brushed on top as it roasts in the oven as if it were BBQ sauce…chicken that’s stuffed with a layer of roasted garlic, basil, pancetta (or prosciutto!), mozz…then served with all the spring things I CAN’T EVEN.

Here’s a spring thing for you: braised baby artichokes.

Purple baby artichokes. Lavender nearest to their hearts. You asked for the recipe, but sadly, I did not write a single thing down as I made it (I will some day!) but if you ever make a lemon-wine sauce, let’s consider that a seriously good start. Sear them, then braise them in that lemony goodness.

But if you’re not in the mood to get all fancy, even a spring pilaf or a salad will do. Chicketta don’t ask for much.

Porchetta-style chicken is where simple meets elegance, and I would gladly serve it during the holidays coming up. The stuffing variations could be endless. Leave it in the hands of your current season. Mix up the herbs, and the jam. Use fresh or store-bought. A variety of veggies. Maybe smoked mozzarella next time. Or just honey with extra red pepper.

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It’s got sweetness from the jam, earthiness from the rosemary, heat from the generous amount of red pepper, and very fresh ingredients layered up inside. Cheese oozes out of it in a classy fashion, and you seriously can’t dislike something that has roasted garlic inside of it…can you?

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You cannot. When roasted for over 40 minutes, it becomes nutty and sweet. My hands end up smelling of the stubborn cloves I squeeze out of their tiny homes and, guys, I ain’t mad at it.

CHICKETTA (PORCHETTA-STYLE CHICKEN)

  • large head of garlic, roasted
  • 2 boneless chicken breasts*, butterflied, pounded semi-thin
  • 1 sprig rosemary, leaves only, minced
  • juice of 1 large lemon or 1/2 cup white wine
  • few TBS good quality olive oil
  • 1 heaping TBS fig-orange jam or honey
  • salt and generous amount of red pepper
  • about 10 fresh basil leaves
  • 6-8 thin slices of prosciutto or pancetta
  • thin slices of fresh mozzarella, about 4 oz
  • kitchen twine, for tying
  • more jam to brush on top

*If you can find the chicken breasts with skin-on, even better! I usually ask the butcher for boneless two breasts attached with skin-on, but I know pre-packaged is easier for everyone to get.

1. Place chicken in a ziplock bag or medium bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the lemon juice (or wine), olive oil, rosemary, jam (or honey), salt, and pepper. Pour the marinade into the bag or bowl, moving the marinade around so that the chicken is well coated. Seal/cover and let it marinate for 30 minutes. Any longer and things might get weird.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay one butterflied chicken on a working surface and pat dry. Rub half of the roasted garlic paste onto the entire length of the chicken, then add a layer of basil leaves, a layer of pancetta, and a layer of cheese. From one long side, roll the chicken nice and snug and secure it tightly with kitchen twine. Repeat for the next butterflied chicken.

3. Sear both sides in a cast iron grill or skillet for about 3 minutes on each side. Brush more jam on top, maybe even add more red pepper. Roast in the oven for about 35-40 minutes. Let it sit for a few before slicing them into semi-thin pieces.

Serve with all the spring goods.

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A Syrian Menu for Two (with leftovers)

A Syrian Menu for Two (with leftovers)

Do you love sweet and sour dishes? I didn’t til I sat at my love’s Syrian-Jew-But-Also-Italian table.

Traditionally made with apricots, I noticed how Dan’s mom, Lori, would also add an equal amount of prunes to her Yebra (stuffed grape leaves), which are smothered, gently, with a tamarind sauce. It’s a beautiful, vibrant-tasting dish. When I decided to challenge myself by making these for my love (or making these at all–I didn’t want to ruin a gorgeous recipe!) a light-bulb struck. Why not use another dried fruit that I adore?

Figs.

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Let me tell you. Eating this made me want to buy fresh figs and roast them in this sauce–which actually might be a recipe coming soon–but I digress.

Did I eat more figs than grape leaves? Probably. But mostly because I wanted their to be enough of the leaves themselves for Lori to try. When I told her I was making Yebra, I received a stream of expected texts, “did you rinse them first? Dry them? Did you soak the rice? Make sure you lay them vein-side up.” I didn’t have much time to reply (because..yes..I was doing all those things!) I have made these a few times with her and my confidence in the kitchen that morning sang through the window on the 5th floor of my mom’s tiny UES kitchen. Upon the first bite (I swear it!) my guy teared up. All I heard was “…babe.” And he then came at me for a bear hug and a hundred kisses. Next day, I received a text from Lori that said it tastes just like Aunt Sara’s. Which, BTW, is the ultimate compliment. For as long as I’ve sat at their table, Dan has always said “Please make it taste like Aunt Sara’s.” I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her, but here’s to you, Sara.

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Stuffed Grape Leaves with Figs and Apricot in Tamarind Sauce

1 lb hashu, recipe follows
8 oz jar of grape leaves (about 30-36)
10 dried mission black figs
8 dried California apricots (do not use Turkish here)
juice of large lemon, plus more to taste
5-6 tbs tamarind concentrate
pinch of brown sugar
pinch of salt
4 cups water (plus more)

Hashu (Meat and Rice filling)

1 lb beef
1/3 cup basmati, soaked for 15 minutes, drained
1 small onion, finely diced
1 heaping tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cardamom
1 tbs vegetable oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt

1. In a bowl, gently mix by hand all the ingredients and spices for hashu and set aside. *Set oven to 350 degrees unless you plan on cooking these babies on the stove from beginning to end.

2. Drain grape leaves, carefully taking them out of the jar. In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add the grape leaves, carefully turning them with tongs, for about a minute. Then quickly get them into a big bowl of ice water. Pour them over a colander and begin to dry each one, while cutting off their stems. Make sure you lay them vein-side up when done.

3. Take a heaping teaspoon of hashu (more or less, depending on the size of the leaf), and place the spoonful at it’s center closest to the stem. Fold in the sides and roll them semi-tightly.

4. In a dutch oven or pot, drizzle a little vegetable oil on the bottom and start arranging your stuffed grape leaves and dried fruit, creating about 2 or 3 layers of them, depending on how many grape leaves you were able to stuff. (Some come torn up in the jar). My pot ended up with only two layers–about 32 grape leaves.

5. On med-high heat, cover the pot and let steam for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, make your sauce. In a medium bowl, add your lemon juice and tamarind. Whisk in about two cups of water and a pinch of brown sugar and salt. Pour over the grape leaves. Add another 2-3 cups of water so that it almost reaches the top layer of grape leaves, about 3 quarters of the way. A lot of the liquid will decrease as it cooks, and you’ll want some later. It’s the good stuff. You don’t want it soup-like, though.

6. Place a heat-friendly plate directly on top of the leaves to keep them from unraveling (or don’t. I didn’t. But if you’re making a lot it might be wise to.) Simmer up to 45 minutes on the stove or in the oven, covered. Spoon sauce over the top leaves occasionally. When some leaves have caramelized, turn them onto a platter and serve with all the things.

Syrian Menu for Two (with leftovers)

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Yebra served with homemade Za’atar Flatbread.

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And hummus topped with warm chickpeas that simmered in it’s own broth with toasted cumin seeds, then got tossed in an olive oil and lemon dressing, topped with za’atar and Aleppo pepper.

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And a very fresh, colorful market haul salad made of very finely chopped parsley, red cabbage, scallions, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. I suppose all that’s missing is the bulgar!? (There was bulgar, guys. But since it was so fine (I bought it to make kibbeh), it turned to mush.) Kitchen fails are welcomed here. This salad was beautiful and simply wanted to be without.

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On the table, which is actually the gorgeous cheeseboard my guy got me years ago sitting atop a radiator by the windowsil (because good lighting!), is a precious tea towel Tory gave me recently. It has a Syrian recipe of anise bread printed throughout. I love it so!

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I sent over a grape leaf question to Kathryn from Cardamom and Tea the other day, and she responded with absolute kindness. I might have an opportunity to learn how to forage for fresh leaves and I do hope to meet this amazing woman whose food speaks to my soul. Lori already said she’s coming with! A day out with new friends and family in spring sounds like just the thing.

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When Farms Give You Jewels (New Paltz, Part 1)

When Farms Give You Jewels (New Paltz, Part 1)

A fallen nest. A single, big-headed dandelion for one adult wish. Plenty of wild onions and flowers. The silhouette of Mohonk Mountain and it’s house. A field of corn, and then a single tree in a field of thousands of corn. These are only some of the things we eyed on a roadside in New Paltz.

We were either walking to the farm a half mile in, into town two miles in, or to a strawberry field we never actually found. Long story short–we walked and we ate. We walked in the rain, sharing a small umbrella. We did this often. We walked under the sun and pointed to all the beautiful roadside things, and sadly, the not so beautiful. We toyed with the idea of someday doing a catering business, using local ingredients only, maybe from a town like this. Maybe I’m not even toying around at this point. But what I do know: walks with my best friend have healed the part of my brain that was loud with awful news, social media, worry. While I can’t get rid of what’s happening, I can do more and be more ready to give my all, for myself, and for others.

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Only a half mile away, Wallkill View Farm had everything I needed, stocked full of local preserves, pastas, cheeses, sauces, spices, and allllll the produce. Every fruit and vegetable was minutes-ago-picked. On our first day, I bought generous-looking figs, raspberries which were on the tart side but immediately made me think JAM, plums, peaches, cherry and plum tomatoes, a banquet of basil that looked too beautiful to put into our next few meals. I bought creamers (baby red potatoes) that hold ridiculously true to their name. Applewood smoked bacon that lasted us 5 days, to be served alongside farm fresh eggs. My sweet guy made us breakfast every morning.

We bought prosciutto that ended up on one of our homemade pizzas. A single eggplant that was sweet and fed us for two days. Cinnamon raisin bread and a cinnamon crunch ice cream from Jane’s creamery in Kingston. Perhaps I’ve never been happier. I did not plan this trip whatsoever. This was all Dan with the help of Aunt Donna, whose beautiful home felt most like the grandest escape from city life.

What more did I do with this market haul? Guys. I could cry while telling you how each ingredient made me feel the most comfortable in my own skin. I made pesto out of some of the basil, pistachios I found in the fridge, capers, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. I tossed creamers with a few spoonfuls of this and roasted them. They were crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside. Easily the best roasted potatoes I’ve ever had. I served the rest of the pesto with sliced cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. This was our lunch before we went to A Tovola, where we ordered hand-rolled pasta reminiscent of the pasta-making class we recently saw at Eataly.

One night we made pizza so good that we swore we could open up a restaurant. I made sauce out of the plum and cherry tomatoes. I woke up early to work on the dough so it could rise while we walked into town. We topped one pie with prosciutto. It was thin, sturdy, crisp. It was everything. Dan even made panko-breaded eggplant, which we decided is the only way to bread these babies.

Now let’s talk about the fruit. You gotta know I made jam, right? And you must know it was THEE BEST small batch jam I’ve ever made. While we couldn’t find the destination for picking strawberries, we ended up at the Dressel Farms market itself to buy the small, jewel variety.

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Quick recipe for my small batch berry fig jam:

You want about 4 cups total of chopped fresh fruit, which makes about 2 cups of jam. I used:

  • 2 cups strawberries, hulled and chopped
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • about 5 big figs, diced
  • 1/2 cup sugar (more if your fruit is not sweet enough)
  • tsp lemon zest
  • fresh squeeze of lemon

Put all berries and figs in a pan over medium heat. Break them down with a masher and add your sugar and zest. Let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, stirring often. I like to leave my jam a bit chunky but feel free to mash some more or use an immersion blender. Add a fresh squeeze of lemon (or orange!) towards the end to brighten up the flavors.

Sometimes I add other things, like mint, thyme, or freshly cracked black pepper, or even booze. But I wanted this to be all about the fruit and nothing more. BECAUSE:

It was also meant for pop tarts. You heard me. Pop tarts. Dan has been asking me to make these hand pies and I thought this was the perfect time to do so.

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For the pastry, all I used was:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temp
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp salt

In a big bowl, cream your butter and cream cheese together with sugar, salt, and extract til light and fluffy, about 3 minutes in your stand mixer with a paddle attached. Slowly add in your flour, continuing to mix for another minute or two til well incorporated. On a floured work surface, divide this into two equal parts, pat both into rounds and individually wrap them in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 1 hour, or longer.

Dan rolled one out and used a pizza cutter to cut rectangles out of them. Then we filled em up with a big tbsp each of jam. Used a fork to seal the edges. We made a quick glaze of confectioners sugar, squeeze of lemon, dash of vanilla extract, and a tsp of jam. It was delicious!

The morning before our last day, I remembered I had a second dough chilling in the fridge. I also had 2 peaches, 1 plum, and a handful of strawberries. I sliced them up so they could take center stage of a galette. I topped it with a cinnamon, brown sugar and pistachio crumble, and served it with cinnamon ice cream. No regrets.

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This post did not even begin to touch all the wonderful stores we walked into, or the restaurants we ate at. One truly needs to be talked about, but I think I’ll save that for the next one. For now, I leave you with desserts and love. Next might contain soup, and more love. And definitely more support of local farms, with recipes to go along with it. I bought this book at Wallkill View Market and am feeling very, very inspired.

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Plus, I returned home to find that my purple tomatillo plant grew a foot, and it’s tiny little husked fruits are beginning to grow. Heirloom beets are almost ready to be pulled out. Cherry tomatoes are about to debut their flowers. Dan’s are already blooming! There’s so much beauty to what’s to come.

 

My 30th Birthday Picnic + Recipes

My 30th Birthday Picnic + Recipes

I had it all planned out. Homemade ricotta, not too firm, still warm, spooned onto a white, long platter. Then, I was to gently place beautifully roasted cherry tomatoes on the bed of cheese, it’s vine still attached. As a finishing touch, fresh herbs and edible flowers scattered all around it, and a long drizzle of good olive oil. I handpicked young, lemony basil for the occasion and dandelion yellows from the farmers market. In my mind, it’d make for a beautiful sight.

The fact that I never made cheese before didn’t worry me. It seemed simple enough. Buy THE BEST whole milk dairy you can find. Full fat. Not ultra-pasteurized like the milk or heavy cream we tend to find. Use fine sea salt or kosher salt. Heat til right under a boil and stir in your freshly squeezed lemon, or vinegar. Wait til curds form, about 30 minutes. Then slowly pour into your cheesecloth that is nestled in mesh, over a bowl. Wait another hour. Then voila! Ricotta. Right?

Connie walked into my kitchen and found a frustrated me with furrowed brows over the sink, shaking the contents in the cheesecloth, quickly losing a lot of whey. I must’ve looked like this:

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Barely any curds made it. It needed more time, maybe more lemon. We had to go, though. Whatever seemed thick enough I placed into a container and we headed for the picnic.

To be honest, I wanted nothing to do with the ricotta when I started to arrange the cheeseboard. Connie saw this and decided it’d be best if she gave me her gift early. A handmade, round serving platter, dipped halfway in a finishing wax. It is beautiful. I knew exactly what to do with it.

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Directions

Leave your cherry tomatoes attached to the vine. Put them on a sheet pan, drizzle good olive oil and balsamic over them. I used basil-infused olive oil and fig balsamic. Salt and pepper them to your liking. Add fresh herbs. I used thyme sprigs and some of the young basil. Roast at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, or just til they are about to burst and have reached that nice charr we all know is where the flavor is at.

The tomatoes, along with the edible flowers, spread onto beautiful pieces of bread that Malvina bought, was my favorite picnic experience in the mouth. It was jammy, rich, salty and sweet. Perfection. I also had more on the vine and decided to pair it with the peppery, smoked turkey and herb-crusted soppressata. My tiny charcuterie board for my very few meat-eaters present.

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The cheeseboard itself was a satisfying and very sentimental experience for me as I was putting it all together. You have to keep in mind where everything comes from. What farm? How local is this considered? How seasonal? And from who/where? The fig jam, olive spread, and cheeses (prima donna extra aged gouda, sweet Irish cheddar, and smoked cheddar) were a gift from Danny’s mom to me. I wanted to share this with them as well but knew they had family emergencies to be a part of. Silent prayers and gratitude were on my brain. Every beautiful friend who spent their day with me were on my brain.

The cashew cardamom brittle, topped with lava salt, was made by Jennifer Dean of The Burley Hen, a new friend I’ve made that I’ve yet to meet, but who I already feel a bond with from afar. Not TOO far! She is a fellow local Queens food lover and maker. ❤

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My homemade Onion and Date jam had strong notes of oranges and thyme and paired well with both cheeses and meats. The recipe is inspired by Sarah Owens.

Directions

img_20180425_103434_5137319913938805768703.jpgThe night before, take the seeds out of about 13-15 Medjool dates and dice them. Soak them in a couple of tablespoons of meyer lemon-infused vodka or bourbon. I used meyer lemon vodka! Next day, thinly slice one, large Vidalia onion (makes a little over 4 cups). Set heavy-bottomed pan or dutch oven under medium heat with a little bit of oil, and saute the onions til they only slightly caramelize. Add 2 sprigs of thyme, the dates, 2 cups of water, tbsp of orange blossom honey (or any mild honey), zest from a small orange, a few cracks of pepper, simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring often. It’ll turn a darker, caramelized color. I added more pepper and a dash of more meyer lemon vodka. Fresh squeeze of orange juice.img_20180425_120406_4844056692902780502767.jpg

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There were a few other items on and around the board: fresh figs, a bowl of olives, mandarins with their branches and leaves still attached, long rosemary sprigs, sweetly blushed moscato grapes, multi-grain crackers and bread. Hot honey! Hummus with smoked eggplant from a local farm, served with all sorts of chips and veggies.

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Tory made fresh radish and cucumber sandwiches, a brightly colored carrot, quinoa, and chickpea salad which was beautifully dressed.

Megan made a cake that she should totally be proud of. It involved blood oranges. Almond flour. CHOCOLATE. Insanely moist.

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The gifts that were given to me showed me how KNOWN and loved I am by these beautiful people. Recipe books dedicated to chickpeas and ginger. Bee-themed gifts. Tea blossoms. Artisinal coffees. Floral purse. Every single thing was very much me and very much love.

Let’s not forget the flower arrangement made by a parent from my center! Franz James Floral Boutique knows art the way my chosen family knows me. What everyone brings to the table is the perfect recipe for each picnic thrown. This one felt like autumn reaching for spring.

Birthday Picnic: cheeseboard, strawberry fig jam + poem(s)

Birthday Picnic: cheeseboard, strawberry fig jam + poem(s)

Red blooming on green
Spring’s mother sends a runner
I run, red-handed

A very young green was my part of the earth (Queens, NY), late-April. I was turning 28 and all I wanted was to be sunning and eating with my loves, surrounded by a landscape dramatically punctuated with big-headed dandelions.

Let’s be real. A bad-ass cheeseboard I wanted, (too).

I am not taking full credit for the success of this board. My boyfriend at the time knew how stressed I was, and so he told me he “got this.” Indeed, he did. He picked out this slab of beautiful cherry wood, as well as purchased 94.6% of what went on it.

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The cheeses: (Alton Brown said 3 is enough for your cheeseboard. We went for 3.5.) We had manchego wrapped with prosciutto, a nutty/sharp, peppery Toscano cheese sold at Trader Joes (one of my faves!), a wedge of Parmesan, and a beautifully sharp and creamy cheddar aged pretty damn long.

The meats: besides the prosciutto? A soppressata made with syrah. Salami.

The Green: Tory brought tabbouleh, beautifully minting up the tongue.

Artfully thrown around the board: cherry tomatoes I got at the farmer’s market, dark chocolate pretzel bark with sea salt, sweet n spiced nuts, olives, grapes. Really good olive oil sold only at La Villa (Brooklyn), which found it’s way into the pores of the very camera  that took all these photos. It took two WEEKS for oil to seep completely out.

Desserts: my loves Valerie and Connie took care of that. Beautiful little pastries and a rustic pear & pistachio tart that Connie said screamed Crystal. It did. It screamed. ❤

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What were my contributions? Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread (I should’ve made two loaves), a jug of Pineapple rum from Puerto Rico that my pops had given me, most of the meats, and my very first, very successful (tiny) batches of Strawberry Fig Jam.

12973522_10154223040359729_5355946865464908475_oGeometry deals with properties of space. Figs
(a “multiple fruit”) are like strawberries

only inside out—its skin is
a receptacle.

–Nick Flynn, from Put the Load on Me

Strawberry Fig Jam

1 pound strawberries, chopped
mission figs, chopped (about 7-8)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 lemon, juiced
zest of orange, to taste
mint (fresh or dried)
Cracked pepper, to taste

Instructions
1. let the flavors of strawberry and fig marry over night (or 2 nights!), along with the sugar in a sealed container. it’ll LOOK like they’ve married when they’re ready, with time.
2. put it all in a skillet over medium-to-high heat, stirring often for about 5 minutes then turn it down to a long simmer. add the lemon juice which will be this jam’s natural pectin/thickener, about 8 minutes in.
3. you can stop here, but this is where I got very free with it. danny calls this my witchery. i added a pinch of dried mint my friend Tory had given me, (definitely feel free to use fresh mint!), a bit of cracked black peppercorn for heat, a little bit of orange zest and some of it’s juice for a refreshing, citrus taste. simmer til satisfied. i simmered for about a few minutes.
4. jar ’em (even a container will do). this was a small batch with the intention of finishing them ASAP so I left a container of it in the fridge. it can stay fresh up to a month this way.
5. put this jam on EVERYTHING!

I’m not even messin’ ’round here. Tory was the brave one to slather this jam on every cheese, meat, bread and chocolate to be found on this board. Once she gave us the GO, we went. (She even took one tiny jar home, which made me all kinds of happy.) Just so you know, this jam paired especially well with the creamy, sharp white cheddar.

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After getting our grub on, some of us went for a walk along the water, and others layed on the grass, talking and not talking. Sunning, definitely. I sat by this board like my life depended on it, while my love handed me a bunch full of dandelions. It was beautiful.

Here’s the aftermath. Sorta. We ate some more and there are people missing from these photos! Like Malvina, who gave us all the water we didn’t know we needed. BTW: 8 is a perfect number for a picnic. (2 more probably would’ve been ok, too). I don’t do well with big groups. I’m the sort who prefers one-on-ones, and having to dedicate my full self to each person can overwhelm me, just because I don’t feel I can really do that with all at once. Nothing about this was overwhelming. I don’t like to use this word, but it was pretty damn perfect. Thank you to my loves.