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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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.

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.

My Kind of Muffin

My Kind of Muffin

These savory, cheesy muffins are my go-to for picnics, brunch, getaways, but sometimes I make a batch just for Danny who can’t get enough of ’em. (Don’t tell him I said that.) Have them fresh out of the oven or much later. Slather some of my strawberry-fig jam on ’em and be smacked with savory-sweet goodness.

This Ham and Cheese Muffin recipe is adapted from Lee Bailey’s Portable Food book. I’ve toyed with it a bit and encourage you to do the same once you’ve nailed down the basics. While he uses only cheddar, I love a bit of the smokier cheeses as well. I’ve always made a batch with smoked gouda but tried smoked gruyère the other day and it was just as lovely. Adding fresh herbs is my favorite way to consume them, though it is optional. I was growing lots of thyme and rosemary during the summer and decided to toss them into the flour. Best. Decision. Ever. Though I think Dan can go without. Cracked pepper adds the spice I always prefer in a savory thing, add as much as you want! Also feel free to play with whatever variety of cheese you want. I haven’t omitted the ham in this recipe, but if you do, let me know how it comes out. Add a bit more cheese and I’m sure they’ll be perfect.


Ham-N-Cheese Muffins

  • Servings: 12 muffins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
freshly cracked pepper
1 tbsp fresh herbs, minced
1 egg room temp
1 cup buttermilk room temp
1/4 cup oil
8 oz smoked ham or other smoked meat, finely diced
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/4 cup grated smoked cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, stir flour, salt, pepper, and herbs til combined. Add grated cheese and toss into the flour til evenly distributed. In a smaller bowl, whisk in the egg, buttermilk, and oil. Stir in ham. Stir egg mixture into dry ingredients and try not to over mix. Spoon fully into greased muffin pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, til they’ve reached their golden-ness. All done!

These muffins turn crisp and golden on the outside and remain soft in the inside. Dan told me they are almost biscuit-like. These were my latest batch, enjoyed with Dan while pet-sitting at mom’s. Let’s just say Peanut, her Cockalier, went mad for the smell of them.

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Reconnect(ing) + Boozy Jam Recipe

Reconnect(ing) + Boozy Jam Recipe

Instead of setting goals for the New Year, I’ve chosen a word, or hell, it has chosen me.

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Reconnect.

It came to me Saturday afternoon during the Winter Solstice Celebration. Guys, the Irish Arts Center does it for me hard-core. ALWAYS festive. Full of stories and gut-laughter. Full of a history I love to hear about through song and foot-stomping.

Tamar Korn played a set in yiddish, not without translating first. It was the sort of poetry sung that brought me Home. It begins with a child sleeping on his pillow, then moves to the feather in the pillow, then to bird to nest to branch to tree to root and circles back again. Over and over again. I couldn’t stop crying when the word struck me and of course it struck me then. The more the lines were repeated, the more it felt like a chant, the more it felt like easy-breathing. I need to go back to my roots. Roots that I, alone, had put down and raised. I’ve felt such a major disconnect for longer than I even realized. A year? Longer? My computer even experienced it’s own disconnect–AKA CRASH. A few days before this, I reconnected with a gentleman friend from college, who I am now traveling to DC with mid-January. The word itself is manifesting in many forms and I don’t think I want to ignore it. With that said,

IT IS ALMOST CHRISTMAS.

I am finally in the holiday spirit. THANK YOU, VALERIE. I was a grinch up until this weekend and WHO wants a GRINCH cooking up Christmas dinner!? Not I.

So being IN the holiday spirit, I wanted to give the gift of boozy jam for my three, very beautiful friends, who I was to meet in Long Island for brunch. Unfortunately, LIRR was in the middle of an investigation, so we ended up having us an Irish brunch in Queens, without my beautiful Megan, while she had hers with her loving fiancé. Brunch, clearly, needed to happen for all of us. And I still needed to give out the boozy jam.

If you’re running out of holiday gift ideas, this is a good one. I received feedback from Malvina a few hours after we parted, saying that this jam paired well with her pork chops. So, really, just put it on everything, folks.

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Spiced Raspberry Rye Jam (small batch)

4 cups of raspberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup sugar ( 1/4th more if you like it on the sweeter side.)
about 2 tbsp lemon juice (fresh)
Zest of orange (to your liking. I zested a whole)
2 tbsp fresh mint, minced
2 ounces rye whisky
cracked black pepper, to taste

Follow this recipe loosely, it’s all about what YOU like. More spice? More mint? More booze? Keep tasting it til it reaches a level of Helllllll YES.

I put the raspberries in a deep pan and let it break a bit over med heat before adding the sugar. About 5 minutes. Mashing is not necessary. Add sugar, lemon. Simmer a bit, stirring often. Add orange zest, pepper, some mint, one ounce of whisky. Simmer. Then add fresh mint and a little more booze, plus a squeeze of fresh orange towards the end. Make whatever adjustments you see fit. It’ll be slightly thick after about 20 minutes of it simmering. This should take no more than 20 minutes total. But it’ll thicken up some more once cooled and canned.

We did our gift exchange at Snow Days and I received a gift of LUCK (cause I need it), a bracelet with my name on it, and a gorgeous necklace made of a London Plane leaf. Thank you so much, Tory! ❤ Being this loved is the greatest gift of all.

Last night, my boss took Kay and I to a French Bistro called Maison up in Harlem and OH MY. It was delicious. Had my first Duck Leg Confit in an orange cognac sauce, with a creamy side of Cauliflower Gratin. I HAVE TO MAKE THIS. I also tried snail for the first time but don’t want to talk about it. 😀 The wine, btw, was pleasantly fruity and smooth.

I’m still buzzing. I’ve been having a whirlwind of great conversations (and food!!!) these last few days and it’s certainly the very thing I need right now. I went from despising the arrival of a New Year, to being quite excitable about it approaching. I want the same for you. If the idea of setting goals for the new year is too heavy, try choosing a word. It’ll support whatever goals you generally do have throughout the year, and it’ll be a mantra of sorts. Thank you Nicole Gulotta, for the idea!

Poetry & Coffee Picnic: 8/21/16

Poetry & Coffee Picnic: 8/21/16
…I was gravy in judgment,
which might not mean much
unless you’ve taken a spoon
of it and poured it back over a dumpling
shaped like your heart
                       –Tomás Q. Morín
Once a month in Queens, NY, Valerie G. Keane has us talk poetry. Not our poetry, but poems written by poets we love and don’t love and/or don’t get. Poets whose name just popped up on our search engine once the month’s theme is established, too. I love Poetry & Coffee. If 15 people show up with a poem, I am going home with 15 poems I either never read before, or poems I haven’t had the opportunity to talk about, and that is pretty bad-ass, no? You cannot possibly be a better poet or HUMAN BEING without having read as much as you can read. You just can’t. I can’t. But it’s not just the reading part that triggers growth. It’s most definitely the sharing. I do not want to keep a good poem to myself and so I never do. Going to Poetry & Coffee is my way of doing more than just sharing a poem via Facebook or Instagram or email. I get to discuss these poems with people who genuinely want to be there. I always take home with me a feeling of hunger once the event is over. I want MORE poems. I want to write more. I want to connect.

I also wanted some freakin’ figs on my cheese board and in my mouth so Yes to this latest gathering!

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This month’s theme was food and we threw ourselves a picnic. I immediately saw this as an opportunity to whip out my slab of cherry wood where cheese can only belong. But I also went a little overboard on bringing poems. We are generally supposed to bring just one. I brought 4. One for reading. The others were given as small offerings towards the end.

As for the cheese board? I went simple, which brought me as close to Summer as I needed to be.

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For the board, I made a small thing of Tristar strawberry jam. I had to. During my latest walk through Union Square’s Greenmarket, these tiny, red loves were EVERYWHERE like new blooms.

I paired the jam with a creamy, sharp cheese that was a cross between cheddar and parmesan, and of course my favorite peppery toscano from Trader Joes. There were figs (there NEEDED to be figs!), heirloom and cherry tomatoes from Valerie’s backyard, ciabbatta, grapes. Simple. Valerie made a gigantic sandwich with smoked mozzarella and layers of summer vegetables. Others brought homemade brownies, cookies, a cherry tomato and corn bow tie pasta that I honestly want to make when I get home, and then there were poems. Delicious poems. A poem about the disrobing of artichoke (Robin Robertson, Artichoke.) A poem called From Okra to Greens that Connie felt spoke to my deep connection to cooking (she nailed it.) The one I read aloud was Dorothea Lasky’s poem about–and not about–canning. Some were funny. One, Parkinson’s Disease by Galway Kinnell, made everyone deep-breathe and cry.

There was one other poem that got to me right in the gut. Thankfully P&C offers a safe place for crying, though I don’t think anyone saw that I did. It was Salad Days by TOMÁS Q. MORÍN. (Thanks, Joan!) It made me think of the one thing I’ve been missing for weeks, which is the cooking I’d do with my love who is no longer with me. In fact, I felt him most when I was putting together the cheese board, and I felt him most in this poem, where the drizzling of honey onto turkey bacon comes into play with it’s sweetness, and when there was Light:

It’s all happening now,
you liked to say, and I agreed,
though it was not the news
from the outside I relished,
but the daily Extra! Extra! the light
of the morning brought to my attention
every time we woke in your house
or my house and my heart
— salty, risen — was warm
again in a way it hadn’t been for years.
Organ of passion, organ of righteousness
that has never had a single flavor cross its lips,
how could you know
how much I would miss the honey of those days,
her drizzle of it on the turkey bacon,
my cracking pepper up and down the pan,
the sweet meat of happiness
I would no longer let pass between our teeth.

This brings me to Frank O’Hara’s Having a Coke with You, the poem we did not get to discuss, but one I had given to everyone as a gift. It was certainly a gift to me many years ago, and today. It is where the 4 o’clock light in some of my poems comes from.  It’s the poem that ALMOST made me want to name this blog Eating with You. Because it’s my favorite thing to do, it is.

it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

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.