Syrian Meatball Stew with Baby Zucchini

When a friend goes out into his garden to harvest seeds just for you, the gratitude is unreal. I happily carried a small jar of fresh coriander plucked right before my eyes from their cilantro-flowers, from Corona to the Upper East Side, thinking of all the dishes I’d love to add them to.

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This Syrian stew, for starters. Even though the seeds are not something you have to have to make this stew happen, it’s something I did have and it made beautiful, floral sense to use them alongside orange peels and fresh tomatoes and delicately spiced meatballs.

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Let’s not act surprised to see orange peels in this pot. The combination of spiced tomato broth with citrus and floral undertones will always be my thing. You can omit them if you’d like, but why not give it a try? I’ve seen you over there skipping that part in 90 percent of my recipes (I’m laughing). And as for the zucchini, I usually stuff them with this meat and rice mixture (hashu), but look at how tinyyyy these are.

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Baby zucchini is not only adorable, but they are adorable, less watery, less seedy, less all-the-things I don’t really like about zucchini, and sometimes they come with their blossoms attached. You don’t even have to core them! What? But please, using the full-grown guys is also okay for this recipe if you’re not stumbling upon the babies at your local farmers market. I actually found some packaged at Trader Joe’s the other day, and see them often at organic grocery stores. Now on to the recipe:

for the Hashu (spiced ground meat with rice)

-1 pound grass fed ground beef
-1/4 c dill, chopped
-1/4 c parsley, minced
-1/3 c basmati rice
-1 spring onion/scallion, sliced then chopped, or 1 sm onion finely chopped
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-1 tsp allspice or baharat
-1/2 tsp aleppo pepper
-1/4 tsp cinnamon

for the stew

-1 tsp cumin seeds
-1/2 tsp fresh coriander seeds, crushed (optional)
-olive oil, enough to lightly coat pot
-1 1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped
-3 long strips of zest from an orange
-fresh sprigs of oregano (optional)
-1/2 tsp tomato paste
-8 oz can tomato sauce
-about 2 1/2 cups water or stock*
(this thickens into a stew-like consistency so if you’d like a loose broth, add more water)
-baby zucchini or core larger ones and slice
-1 large potato, peeled and diced

1. Make your spiced meat mixture, being careful not to overmix.

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2. Shape them into small balls, which will give you about 25-28. Set aside while you start up the sauce.

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3. Under low heat, gently toast the cumin seeds for about a minute, then add a long drizzle of olive oil. Turn up the heat to medium and add your chopped tomatoes, orange peels, tomato paste, fresh coriander seeds, oregano, Aleppo pepper, and saute for a couple of minutes before adding your tomato sauce and water/stock. Let simmer for 5 minutes.

4. Add your meatballs, gently stirring occasionally. After about 15 minutes, add your potatoes. 5 minutes later, before you turn off your pot, you’ll add your baby zucchini. The meatballs cook through within 30 minutes, any longer and they’ll be tough.

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The sauce thickens with time and I think a piece of bread to sop it all up would be magic. Add some fresh herbs and enjoy. Let me know if you end up cooking with orange zest so I can hug you from here. It doesn’t take much to make my day. ❤

citrus green bean salad & Tuscan-style beans

citrus green bean salad & Tuscan-style beans

If you can find me competing with squirrels for my neighbor’s figs, then you best believe I was found, on vacation, taking the neighborhood’s oranges from trees bustling with these thick-skinned globes.

As if I didn’t have enough of them, I purchased honeybells, meyer lemons, and tasted a variety of oranges at the farmers market. They made a wonderful addition to a refreshing green bean salad that I made not once, but twice.



Inspired by a meal I shared with Victoria Anzalone in Astoria at Milkflower right before heading to Englewood, Florida, I fell in love with it’s simplicity. The green beans were kept crisp, tossed in a vinaigrette, and topped with sharp cheese, orange segments, slivered almonds, and quick-pickled radicchio. That’s it.

Mine was inspired by Florida and everything I fell in love with at Englewood Farmers Market.

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Wild orange roasted nuts, which were handed to Dan and I with the promise that we’d pay this kind man a week later because we ran out of cash. We paid Ashley Gray, suitcases in tow, an hour before hopping on the plane heading to NY. The cheese we used was a creamy asiago aged with raspberry ale from Stamper Cheese Company. The oranges were sorta-kinda stolen, and used for a citrus vinaigrette to toss the beans with.

Citrus Green Bean Salad

Directions:

We’re using a pound of green beans, trimmed, boiled in salted water for 2 minutes, placed in ice water, then drained. The color of your beans should be bright and glorious. Toss them with a citrus vinaigrette (juice from half a small orange, couple of splashes of apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar, little bit of olive oil, salt and black or red pepper.) Keep in fridge marinating in this dressing for at least 30 minutes before serving. Plate the beans, top them with orange segments, crushed nuts of your choosing, your favorite sharp cheese.

I love seeing them on the plate. When I returned home, I made this again but with blood oranges, feta, no nuts, and golden raisins. The dressing was a fig balsamic. Use what you got, I always say!

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I served this with brothy, Tuscan-inspired beans with greens. A beautiful lunch made with ingredients I bought from a Korean farmer at Fresh Harvest who is head-over-heels in love with everything she grew. She handed me the perfect cherry tomatoes, long beans, chinese broccoli. The leafy broccoli and colorful tomatoes were perfect for this.

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Ingredients


for the beans
– 1 cup dried baby lima beans, soaked over night
– 1 large garlic clove, smashed gently
– half a small onion
– bay leaf or sprig of rosemary
for the “soup”
– 4 garlic cloves, chopped
– 1 small onion, diced
– 1 large carrot, diced
– cherry tomatoes, chopped
– fresh thyme
– dash of white wine or rose, optional
– parmesan rind
– 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
– 1 cup variety of greens (parsley, chinese broccoli)

Directions

In the morning, drain beans after it’s over night soak, cover with fresh water in a medium saucepan along with 1 garlic clove, half onion, and bay leaf. Let simmer for 2 hours or til tender. Time varies. In a pot, drizzle olive oil and saute garlic, onion, carrot, tomatoes and thyme for a few minutes. Add the cooked beans and everything but the greens. Cook for 30 minutes more and then add your greens. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve with garlic crostinis and salad.

New Years celebration involved a cheese platter with everything from the market, including a Pear Habanero Jam and a Strawberry Chocolate jam. I smuggled these onto the plane and have been using them like crazy.

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Dessert was kept simple, thanks to Jamie Oliver’s New Years advice: frozen grapes with chocolate bark. 

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2019 started off beautifully and, I might say this every year, but I think it’s going to be a good one. I’m moving out next month. I’m getting a shout-out in Edible Queens magazine for the Swedish Meatballs I recently shared on my Instagram. My friendships and family remain fiercely solid. I’m going to live about 30 minutes away from my job, which gives me more time in the kitchen and even more time to do personal chef side jobs in the summer. I’m finally listening to Danny: no more maybes, much more doing, a whole lot less self-induced anxieties. I hope your year started off on a good note as well. We need a good one, don’t we? 

 

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.

HELLO, DOT COM!

HELLO, DOT COM!

So here’s the thing about having expectations during a planned trip, or, hey, even a planned blog.

Don’t have them.

For our third Glasbern Inn visit, we were expecting a snow storm that would want us to cozy on up to the fireplace for the totality of our time there. We got spring instead. We got more spring than actual spring right now. Mid-60-degree weather in February. It’s April 12th and I’ve yet to feel such a warmth as that.

We were also expecting our usual breakfast and dinner prepared by the chef we fell in love with a few years ago. Instead, we got ourselves a new chef. With new (affordable!?) prices to match. Hello, Executive Chef Ralph Edmonds! Mornings are still precious. We sit by sunlight and firelight, basking in both. And the food? Still farm fresh and locally sourced so, still pretty amazing.

The unexpected warm weather led to long walks, greeting the new calf, and a spontaneous winery visit where I could sit with my love, celebrating the moment I purchased this blog. HELLO, DOT COM!

We had Vyncrest Winery to ourselves and it easily became one I’d love to return to. After 12 free tastings (what!?) and the purchase of a bottle of their traminette, Dan asked me what I want others to get out of this blog. The truest answer I can come up with is this: to have you not follow my recipes so closely, eventually. They are ideas and contain flavor combinations I’d love for you to toy with in your own way, differently during each season. I want you to get to know an ingredient so intimately that you’ll find ways to use them creatively. If you ever do choose to use them, I’ll always encourage you to do so loosely (unless it’s baked goods, in which case you should follow loosely after following it the first or second time–just in case!).

Many people already view recipes this way. I have a binder full of them and they are mainly there for inspiration. In all honesty, having to write down “exact” amounts of everything is a struggle for me. I don’t cook this way. A part of me wants to tell you I sprinkled this and that into a pot and threw in a few orange peels and hoped for the best. Which would be true. But then I still am asked for exact measurements and I do want to be able to give you those answers. Which I happily will continue to do so! Just a little differently, and in a way that I am comfortable with.

From here on out, recipes I share will contain a variations section. Just quick notes on what other ingredients and spices work well with the main recipe. And each recipe will finally be printable! But this is as far as planning as I’ll go, for now. I’m still trying to redesign. Create a logo and header. Work on bio. Edit past recipes. Create a recipe index. I expected all of this to be done before reintroducing the site, but, having that expectation has honestly prevented me from actually working on this entirely. This is a journey I’m on and I think I’d rather you see the process and the changes as they come, instead of something close to “perfection”, which is an expectation I’d rather not have! There will still be photos, of course. Like of cows.

I’m still experimenting in the kitchen and learning new things about me in relation to food. I’m even spending a lot of time learning about flour and having a silly relationship with my first ever sourdough starter. (More to come on that). I don’t think Cook on Your Nerve will solely be a recipe-sharing home for me. I’m eager to cook more seasonally, be more hands-on in the garden and at farms, and even more eager to explore the politics of food itself. Who knows what this will become. I just know it will become, and currently is, exactly what it is in this very moment–a Home, where many things can happen. And that’s perfectly okay. This trip, and this guy, helped me to see this. And if anyone ever wonders why this our go-to destination, it’s really because it clears the mind and fills the heart. And tummy.

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Back to Basics

Back to Basics

When the new year arrived, I didn’t do the things I’d normally do, or the things I intended on doing. No lists. No thought-out resolution. In fact, while Danny and I were with his family waiting patiently for the countdown to reach midnight, like we always do! someone glanced at their phone and noticed it was thirty seconds past. We were watching a recording of the countdown happen. We all laughed, calling it a typical Frank Pizzarelli moment, but I do think it meant something.

We spent a lot of our time in New Paltz at his aunt’s beautiful home, nearby this castle. The day we were supposed to leave ended up being a snow day, one of my favorite days out of our vacation. After walking to the castle and working up an appetite, Dan and I made reservations at A Tavola Trattoria, an Italian farm-to-table that reminded me there’s a reason why Glasbern Inn’s farm food made me cry with pure joy: there is nothing better than a locally sourced meal. Nothing. There is nothing more passionate than how it is sourced, prepped, cooked, and delivered to the table. It’s all done lovingly; full of an awareness you can only get from such a place. And to share that with my best friend is beyond words. BTW: citrus-marinated olives, pickled watermelon rind arugula salad, charred brussels sprouts, and this crostini with house-made ricotta, rosemary salt, and truffle orange honey was a beautiful way to start this meal.

We weren’t charged for our cocktails (courtesy Aunt Donna and Uncle Richie, who called in from Florida to let them know two kids in love with food would be there), and they tasted of summer, garden days. Hints of cucumber, mint, house-made pineapple jam to be spooned into gin. Dan and I toasted to the year we were about to leave, and being hopeful about the one we were about to enter.

Donna recommended their Chicken Under a Brick and I can see why. Served with fingerling potatoes that were clearly roasted with the chicken, and charred escarole, we were in heaven. The lemon flavors popped. I was obsessed with the charred greens soaked in all that lemony goodness from the beautifully cooked chicken.

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The town itself seemed as if it was tailored to my dream lifestyle and dream kitchen. There’s a Handmade shop that has beautiful wooden spoons, cheeseboards, handpainted pottery BRIE BOWLS, Y’ALL. I could cry just thinking about all the things I could’ve gotten, but didn’t, simply because I don’t have my own space to fill in such a way that is Me. But I will get there, of course. This year, I’m carving out the path that will get me closer to home.

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In the meantime, we are hoping to return between our birthdays, just in time for strawberry season and spring blooms and spring menus. I’d love to visit the local farms, and spend the warmer months hiking. All we can think about is eating in New Paltz again. At this farm-to-table and their one-and-only Indian restaurant I wrote about in a previous recipe post.

Much gratitude to this beautiful family who I love making cheese platters for BTW. As soon as we arrived, Frank said, “you doing a cheese thing with some meat and maybe a tomatuh?”

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One thing I know for sure for 2018–there will be plenty of cheese, bread, and jam. Strawberry jam from what we pick with our own hands in New Paltz. Fig jam for Aunt Donna, as a thank you for the warm stay but also an apology for devouring the fig jam she left in her fridge. There will also be way more bread and other baked goods.

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I started reading from this recipe book I purchased from our trip when we got back, and that’s when I decided that I must begin the new year by strengthening my relationship to flour and the preservation of every season, with the intent of eating better and feeling better. I also need to drink way more water. Basically, I need to go back to basics. Take a tiny step back in order to move forward more fluidly.

The first thing I baked this month were these Orange Cardamom Crumb Muffins, inspired by a recipe in Toast & Jam.

I paired them with a fig and orange jam Lori bought me from New Paltz. It’s the most delicious thing EVER. The next day I toasted them, buttered them, added more jam and ate them with chunks of cheese. They are wholesome. My favorite thing about these muffins was watching my young niece work a bite of one in her mouth. She looked unsure. But then she said, more, after a brave gulp and I knew I made a worthy muffin.

When Friends Ask You to Pick Up Their CSA Share (Part 2)

When Friends Ask You to Pick Up Their CSA Share (Part 2)

You wonder if there is a poem out there that celebrates this moment. Between friends and between yourself and all the veggies, is there a poem? If not, perhaps you could write one, in the same breath as Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, about every saturated-in-color vegetable and fruit that comes home with you on the first Saturday of September–this year and last.

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But if there is a chance you’ve been feeling less like a poet these days, meaning, you haven’t broken a line in a long while for the sake of sound, silence, and meaning, then you become–you are–a poet in your kitchen, roasting tomatoes with whole cloves of garlic. The woody scent of thyme and rosemary from your garden when met with high heat can make you long for the long, deliberate drizzle of rosemary-infused olive oil, and flaky salt, which you know your tomatoes love. You’ve a mind and heart towards Tory and Jon, who shared their share with you as they made their big move into Corona. Think of all the dinner parties and PICNICS, and sneak peaks into their first garden out back.

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Your first thought, after all this gratitude and daydreaming, was roasted tomato sauce, which you learned to make in Valerie’s kitchen a couple of summers ago. This is the way you will make sauce forever. The flavor is tomato multiplied by tomato, on the savory-sweet side. But as you peel each one, you begin to crave soup.

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You never made tomato bisque. I don’t think you ever had tomato bisque so you’re not entirely sure where to begin, but to begin. It started as your favorite sauce, with the addition of chicken stock, cream, carrot and celery, pureed til silky. Doesn’t the same happen in writing a poem? You never know how a poem will end til it begins to unfold itself, line by line, and if it ends on bisque with warm slices of bread instead of tomato sauce, then you take slices of your warm, roasted garlic ciabatta and you dip dip dip it into the creamy broth.

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It almost looks like your favorite carrot soup, which you’ll write about another day. The local farm feta, and micro-cilantro which was part of the share, didn’t just provide this bisque with good looks. It went amazingly well together. Having had Brooklyn Grange’s micro-greens quite a few times, you think you’ll just start picking your cilantro from the garden earlier than usual, because after a week, you honestly want to give up with their eagerness to bolt.

Then there is the tenderness of toy choi, which you just discover and are fond of.

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But with something so tender, you need to put it to use almost immediately. By 9PM the first day, they were wilting. So the next morning, without getting all fancy and having a panic, you whip up a fine breakfast in which you sauteed their small, cabbage leaves, along with their flowers, with smoked kielbasa and red onion. Served it with egg, heirloom tomato salad with local feta, and a blueberry muffin your mom made.

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Everything else will come together, slowly, as the week goes by. You’ll think Jen was making use of the fairytale eggplants because the bowl was getting emptier and emptier as days went by. You’ll soon find one in almost every corner of the house, courtesy your cat, Loonz.

You’ll take what’s left of their most adorable selves (you make a note that you’ll grow them next year, seriously this time), and you roast them with warm spices (garam masala) and garlic.

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You’ll want to stuff the beautiful, red peppers but never find the time to, so you add them in salads and stews. You do the same with the two onions.

You’ll blister shishito peppers, finishing them with smoked salt.

You’ll share arugula with mom, because everything about this is about sharing.

You’ll eventually find the time to write it all down. You’ll feel exactly as you feel when a poem has ended. Which is the same feeling you’ll get when every tomato, herb, oil and cream came together in your pot one afternoon, and again when the last bit of bisque is gone.

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a summer harvest put-together

a summer harvest put-together

I am found in the kitchen most mornings, no later than 9AM. Not only because I get home pretty late from work (8:30-9PM!), but it’s truly my favorite way to spend any morning. The house is quiet. I water my lucky cross tomatoes, a bi-colored beauty which grew slowly from seed (in a 20-gallon grow bag, mind you) but sadly only had a chance to produce a single, blushing fruit. There were a few green ones, but end-rot took over. When your babies become calcium deficient, you begin to question your parenting, eh? I consider every season a learning season, and next year I’ll have plenty to share with friends, you just watch.

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When I get to watering my Sicilian eggplants, which are still producing, I stare alarmingly long at their bashful flowers. That is what you do when your favorite color on earth is found, growing happily in a container. Dan told me he’s only growing eggplants and tomatoes next year. A whole lot of them. I can’t say I blame him.

I harvest what’s ready. Usually thyme and basil, as well as arugula, is waiting to be clipped more than anything else. I toss the harvest in a pan. If my garden wasn’t plentiful this summer, Dan’s was (still is!), and he always made sure I went home with the day’s harvest in my tote. Gratitude for every cherry and roma tomato that entered my kitchen, and for every eggplant my cast iron enjoyed. Zucchini, large and small–thank you.

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I want to highlight one of my morning put-togethers because it has been the most satisfying to me. One evening, Dan handed me two, long Italian eggplants, two zucchinis, and cherry tomatoes. Next morning, I took out my cast iron and wooden spoon and got to work. This meal was so simple and true, I will make this many times more. Dice eggplants and salt them for about a half hour. On high heat I sauteed the eggplant and zucchini, along with thyme from my garden, in the pan with very good olive oil, salt and red pepper. I added the tomatoes and put dollops of ricotta on top with some of my basil, drizzled a little more olive oil, then popped it in the oven for about 20 minutes til the tomatoes were about to burst. I tossed some with pasta that night, and next day I spread the rest on bread. It was beautiful.

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I made this again once I got home from Florida, but this time I added green beans. I also added a little bit of chicken broth and it came out even better. I am obsessed with cooking with thyme and broth these days. Almost as obsessed as I am with Dan’s cherry tomatoes which, kissed by Brooklyn sun, tastes loudly of savory and sweet. This meal was featured on Edible Queens’ Insta BTW! What!?!? That made me super happy because within the next few months, I hope to be submitting some work their way.

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One thing I know I’ll be growing again next year is arugula. Mine tastes like GARLIC and pepper. I ended up putting them in everything, from scrambled eggs, to stirfrys. I dressed them with fig balsamic and sicilian lemons for salads to sweeten up their spice. It grows very quickly from seed and thrives most in cooler weather. Next year, I’ll be growing at least 6 herbs, more lettuces, and I need to get my hand on some fairytale eggplant seeds! They are super container-friendly. I’ll leave all the bigger plants to Dan.

I also grew curly kale, no longer with me as bugs took a liking to them. But before bugs, it was strong and plentiful, and the best thing I did with it was put their chopped leaves in a white bean parmesan soup. The broth was delicate and nutty, entirely healing. The one thing that’s gotten me super excited about Autumn is all the soups and stews I plan on making.

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Most of September was warm. Cool weather has finally reached us and you know that it has because I came home yesterday with a 1/2 bushel of apples and zero plans for them (send me your favorite apple recipes?) Even Loonz wants to know what I’ve gotten myself into. 

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Happy Autumn, everyone! Let’s welcome all the warm spices into our homes, make soups that are the tightest of hugs.

What I Got Out of Glasbern

What I Got Out of Glasbern

OKAY. I am ready to talk about the farm-to-table meal that was so good, I cried. It has only taken me seven months. But before I get there, let me start from the beginning.

After I had my birthday picnic late-April, I wanted a quiet getaway with Danny, with green, with all the flowers. I desperately wanted OUT of a city that I haven’t left in YEARS.

And so we ended up on a farm.

Glasbern Country Inn had everything I needed, and still does. The air so clean; it’s green in Spring punctuated with big-headed dandelions. These were meant for big-time wishes let me tell you. Walking trails, garden, a few ponds, cows that are free to roam around, and what I really wanted: a farm-to-table dining experience. The room? It included a fire place (which Danny and I kept lit the moment we entered the room), Jacuzzi, plush robes, a desk, a beautiful view.

We had about an hour and a half  before our 7PM dinner reservation, so we decided to explore the land a bit. We went the Garden Way which is a lovely way. There were sweet bird houses lined up in a row. Happy bees at work. Danny had on the sort of bright, boyish smile he did during our first date, when there was really nothing but us.

Several times I was close to tears. Close to the pond, we stumbled upon hundreds of fallen leaves that the child in me wanted to pick up.

Every fallen leaf turned to skeletons, all completely intact. All unique. This particular spot must’ve been untouched for quite some time and all I wanted to do was collect every single one and build some sort of structure out of ‘em like I was roaming around Glasbern in the spirit of Andy Goldsworthy. It felt so good to be hands-on with earth again. This, right here, was the moment I fell into immense calm. Transitioning from city to THIS was work. I needed to let go of my to do lists, the voices of my boss(es) and co-workers and family, responsibilities—everything. It wasn’t too difficult, though. I was with my love and I knew I was “here.” More here than I’ve ever been. When we moved on, I told myself I’d return to this same spot to collect more leaves tomorrow morning. I thought they would still be here considering they had been for two seasons now. They weren’t. And this was the first lesson/reminder I got out of our time here: while there’s a spark in you–an idea–go with it NOW. Don’t wait for tomorrow. It’s a lot like putting ourselves in a cage, really. Though I’m glad Glasbern leaves theirs always open.

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By the pond, Danny was photographing a hissing duck. Yes. Hissing. We couldn’t figure out why the drama, until I started photographing the surrounding area by the pond and found a lady duck seated inside this enormous tree. Hissing in the name of love. I get it.

After this walk, hunger hit us like mad and we rushed our way to the restaurant. We sat close to a fireplace.  I think we both viewed the menu skeptically. He wanted a burger and there was none. In fact, there were few things to order, accompanied with big prices. But we don’t get out much so we tried our best not to care too much about what we’re spending.

We began with beer. Mine real dark and his a crisp white called Wicked Hijinx. Our waitress came out with a small white plate in which she drew an S with roasted garlic paste, then filled up the curves with a glorious olive oil that tasted both fruity and herbal. She lit up the plate with the tip of freshly cut rosemary, then sprinkled sea salt over it. This was served with soft, hot bread fresh out of the oven. Danny looked at me and said, this place is really winning me over.
And I was won.
Maybe even one.

Our salads came out first which we immediately devoured–not without discussing what was in them first. A raisin from his accidentally ended up on my heirloom beet salad w/ goat cheese and it was a spectacular moment for me. I wanted to give them a heads-up on this beautiful discovery but decided I’ll simply revise this recipe in my own kitchen and share it with you. Part of the reason it went so well together is that the beets themselves were surprisingly tart but so entirely earthy. The sweetness of the raisin brought out what was missing for me from these (still beautiful!) red and yellow beets. They tasted as if they had just been plucked from deep-bottom, scrubbed clean and cooked minutes before serving, and I appreciated that most. Danny was surprised to see me finish an entire salad for once.

I’m getting to the part were I lose my shit. For the main course, he ordered their free bird chicken breast w/ leg confi over a bed of sauted greens, red pearl onions and fingerlings. I, a grass-fed beef tenderloin with port reduction over whipped potatoes, a side of green and white asparagus, topped with swiss chard micro-greens YES.

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FIRST of all, who the hell is the chef of Glasbern because this meal made me want to quit my job, move here, and cook by this being’s side.

Every bite of every thing on our plates was precious. I chewed slowly. That beef was like buttuh. The asparagus was perfectly tender with a crisp bite. And I have to say, as I was eating from my dish I did not think Danny’s chicken would be WOWing. It actually wowed me to tears. In that one bite I felt that free bird was a very happy bird…I felt it was truly taken care of because how the hell could it taste this wonderful. It was tender and juicy and contained a perfect, crisp skin around it. I became hyper-aware of the farm vs. my city. I became hyper-aware of the man sitting across from me who I have always loved eating with. I could think of no other sitting across from me at that moment, sharing this beautiful experience with. It was the first time I felt we were seriously moving towards the right direction, and for the moment, we were both okay asking ourselves if we could imagine our lives in a setting like this. We were excited at the idea that we can plan more trips, discover new places, eat more delicious things together wherever we go. I wish I could’ve lived in that moment.

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Next day made me realize we’ll be eating Spring during the rest of our stay here. Breakfast included more fingerlings (I adore these babies.) And after some more exploring of the area, we came back for dinner and cared even less about money.

This time our bread came with smoked sea salt, which was nice, though I totally wish they roasted up some more garlic for us. For starters, we had a cheese plate and a beautiful bowl of pea soup. It tasted so YOUNG. So fresh. Was there mint? I’m trying to remember. Then he ordered scallops which were seared to perfection, and duck, and I, a good ol’ fashioned meat loaf with mash.

We ended that meal with cappuccinos and three scoops of their gelato. One really stood out to me..it was a Jack Daniel Dark Chocolate scoop and I almost died of happiness.

Next day we were in a mood. It was in part because we were leaving Glasbern and about to enter the hell that is Times Square, and, I think, in part because it was back to reality. Back to our jobs we kinda didn’t like. Back to working out our stuff (individually but also together), which I didn’t think needed too much work anymore but, I don’t know. I just know that this trip made me realize that when you take out all the other outside noise that leads to certain, personal anxieties, you can achieve peace with anyone, anywhere, most importantly in yourself. I left Glasbern wanting to remember this, wanting to work on this, wanting to protect my love from NOISE because that’s all it really is, a certain negative buzzing we develop in our brains due to the stress of being a social being who has to figure shit out on the daily… because, really, whatever problems we did have, we didn’t have them in each other’s company. Never when eating together. Never with our first hug and kiss after a week of not seeing each other. Never in bed or in a park or during a walk or while cooking. I am always astonished when an argument arises, because they only do when a part.

Writing this is making me remember another important lesson I got out of our trip, and I’ve a sudden urge to go back just to learn some more. I want to taste what their Autumn is like. What their winter is like. I want the warmth of the fireplace. I want this right here, right now, in NYC which will forever be my home. I want that warmth inside me, always, Lit. That’s THEE home. Sometimes I forget I have such a thing. But I do. It blazes with a love that will never, ever, leave me. It kinda looks like the flower he captured so beautifully. And it probably grows just like that. With water, with care, with time.

cherry bourbon brownies and unabashed gratitude

cherry bourbon brownies and unabashed gratitude

This is how you enter July after a hellish June. You say Yes to whatever opportunity comes your way. You talk poetry with a stranger, with a friend, with new friends. On your way home, you think: brownies. But you don’t stop at thought. You run off the Q25 the second you see a grocery store and you BUY the stuff that’ll turn thought into chewy goodness and then you BAKE IT.

In between that will be the sort of rain an umbrella can’t do anything about, and you won’t care. Storm your way into July 2nd, into tomorrow, into next hour. Except, your husky cherry tomatoes and various herbs need protection, so you run out to move the containers, then run back in, feeling all heroic and shit.

Look at the way the storm leaves a sign that it has passed. They all do. They pass. It’s best you remember that the next time it pours.

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While brainstorming writing prompts for a Newtown Literary event at the Latimer House with Steph, I asked the caretaker, Joel, about split-ear, the beloved squirrel that I met last time I visited this historical home. She’s been missing and it’s a shame. She was as sweet as the watering can he holds to uplift the green that lives here. Look at this limb of a willow still working hard at life. I’m keeping this tree in mind, hoping mind alone will rid of the rot and carpenter ants that are getting to it.

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After talking squirrels and poetry, I said fuck it, Yes, when asked to be a featured poet at a Jamaica, Queens event Steph is working on. More info soon! Say yes when it feels right, and only then. While I aim to go on my nerve, I also know that pace is the trick.

I’m glad the storm came through on this day. It was windy and slightly cool, the very thing I needed to assure myself that it’s perfectly okay to turn on this damn oven.

Let’s talk ’bout these brownies. Let me note that the cherry bourbon was a wonderful accident. I ran out of vanilla extract and was like, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITHOUT VANILLA EXTRACT? Cherry bourbon is what imma do, and did, and will continue to do now that I know how beautiful it tastes.

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Cherry Bourbon Brownies

8 tbsp (1 stick) salted butter
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 tbsp cherry bourbon
1 cup sugar
2 eggs lightly beaten
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 all purpose flour
Pinch of kosher salt (I kinda wanna play with smoked salt next time)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter and flour your pan.

Melt butter along with the unsweetened chocolate til combined, remove from heat. Add the sugar and stir well.

Here comes the cherry bourbon. I know I said to use a tbsp, but I honestly eye-balled it. You can start off with a tspn and keep tasting it and add according to tongue. Stir in eggs til smooth, then add the chocolate chips, flour and salt. Mix well but try not to over-mix.

Bake for about 40 minutes. I like mine underdone. It stays wonderfully chewy, which is the most important part. (Besides the bourbon.)

I am filled with an insane amount of gratitude, and that feeling alone made me think of this poem by Ross Gay: Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. You’ll be seeing this poem again, especially when I start talking Honey. BTW: on this very day, while feeling all the things, a fellow poet sent me a recording of him reading this poem. And then I read it back to him. Here it is: Crystal reading Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

Thank you thank you THANK you, every day. 

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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.