8.04.2014

Hubris.


The most amazing thing has happened. And even though, for eight and a half months I knew it was inevitable, it was going to happen, nothing could have prepared me for that exact moment when it did. The moment Emerson was born. The moment I became a Mom.

I'm not sure that I'm one of those people who always knew I would be a mom some day, or dreamed my whole life of having a baby. To tell you the truth, it was never something that was all that important to me until it was. And that was not all that long ago. And now there is absolutely nothing that is more important. Not even close.

Though it's been just four short/long/short weeks since Emerson was born, one minute it feels like yesterday and I'm lost without a clue, the next it's like I've been doing this, like I've known her forever. Time has never expanded and contracted at this level for me before. And don't even get me started on the hormonal scatting my body has been performing. I was recently talking casually about the weather or some such thing with Fred as tears streamed down my face for seemingly no reason at all. Pay no attention to any tears you see. Unless, of course, you disregard the wrong tears. The real tears. How dare you be so glib about how I'm feeling – what I'm going through?! I don't understand. Everything's changed!*

I constantly vacillate between “What am I doing?” and “I got this.”

Regardless of the tears, legitimate or absurd, and whatever side of confidence I happen to be on at any given moment, every droplet of me knows I have never loved anything like I love this little person. And every part of me knows that I will do anything and everything I possibly can to keep her safe and happy for as long as I live. That yes, everything's changed.* And that I would not want it any other way.

That alone is enough to put someone through a ricochet of emotions from pure, ethereal bliss to sheer, paralyzing fear. And don't even get me started on the hormones... again.


Fred says I'm like a shark; I must constantly be moving and doing. He's right. Though I have spent countless still and quiet hours just staring at Emerson in awe, disbelief and appreciation, it has been a challenge to be so motionless in all of the exterior elements of my life. Work, friends, chores, errands, cleaning, reading, emailing, crosswording, gardening, phone calling, self-grooming, cooking and writing have all had to be put in the back seat. (I do pat myself on the back for being timely and up to date with thank-you cards. I am a good southern girl, after all.)

I have learned am learning to stop, let go and rely on the kindness of family, friends and neighbors - and have been overwhelmed to the point of tears (of course) by all of the thoughtfulness, selflessness and generosity (and food!) that have poured in for me and my family (family!!). Fred who has continued to do so, so much – has added witnessing his partner in life morph into Sybil meets The Excorsist... and still manages to say I'm beautiful and strong and that he loves me (#keeper).


The other day we decided it was time to do 'something normal.' You know, like cook something new and fun and take pictures of it, normal. I was pretty sure I wanted to play with this extraordinary, ginormous burgundy okra we have growing in our garden. Considering I haven't done much of it, pickling was the obvious choice. On the weekend before the okra pickling was to take place, Paz came over for a practice session. We used squash, cucumber and red onion (also from my garden) to make a bread and butter pickle in addition to a standard dill pickle. They turned out pretty great with a couple of little tweaks I would make the next time – like peel the squash.

With my new pickling confidence, I began to think about the okra and what exactly I wanted to do with it. It occurred to me that I had recently had some pretty memorably delicious pickles prepared by Travis Milton, chef de cuisine at Comfort here in Richmond. Coming from rural Southwestern Virginia with the culture of Appalachian food, Chef Milton is known for preserving and furthering the foodways of his old stomping ground and is heavily involved with the Central Appalachian Food Heritage Project, and the Appalachian Community Table. He was even featured in the most recent issue of Garden & Gun Magazine for his Cast-Iron Green Tomato Pie.

So I emailed him and got his Grandmother's recipe for pickled okra. Booya!

Being back home in Richmond has not only brought me back to my mom and dad, but also the other people that I call family. One of these people who I am so grateful to have back in my life is Mary. Mary is Sam's mom and she is family to me. Her house is one I know very well - one overflowing with wonderful, euphoric memories of youth. Now I can add to that a recent Christmas Eve filled with just everyone, a beautiful ladies lunch (just the two of us), an al fresco early Summer dinner in the yard with friends of Sam near and far and new memories we are adding all the time. Speaking of new memories, Mary is pretty excited about little Emerson, too. Oh, and Mary also has one of my all-time favorite kitchens. 


So Fred, Emerson and I packed up our okra fixings, camera equipment and diaper bag and headed to Mary's house for the afternoon. While I pickled, Fred photographed and Mary happily looked after Emerson (though I did find myself scurrying out of the kitchen to peek in on my baby every so often). In a way, I think Mary, Fred and I all got to do something that felt kind of normal. Comfortable. Happy.

But as a thank you for the use of her kitchen and for looking after Emerson, we left the pickled okra in Mary's fridge. Maybe for her to enjoy – or maybe we'd find it there on the next visit, for us all to snack on together.**

Look at me, I so got this.


*A favorite line from Raising Arizona (among so very many).

**Mary ate the okra the next day and said it was delicious!


Pickled Burgundy Okra
(Recipe by Chef Travis Milton)

Okra is one of my favorite things to pickle or can, as it's insanely simple. A lot of people try to over complicate it with different ways to get rid of the "snot", I don't bother with any of those methods and it always comes out great. With burgundy okra you will loose some of the color in the pods, but it will color the vinegar nicely.” -Chef Milton

Ingredients
5 Pounds of okra, trimmed at the cap
2 Red cayenne peppers, de-seeded and sliced into thin rings
1 1/2 Tablespoon dried dill
6 Cups of apple cider vinegar
1 Cup chardonnay
1 1/2 Cups water
4 Shallots, thinly sliced
2 Heads of garlic cloves (about 20 cloves) sliced thin
2 Tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
2 Tablespoons yellow mustard (By mustard I mean just straight up yellow mustard. It may sound weird, but its something my great grandmother did.)
3 Tablespoons black peppercorns

Directions

Place okra in a large metal mixing bowl.

Bring all the other ingredients to a boil and pour over okra. Let the okra sit for 45 minutes.

Pack in Mason jars and cover with liquid up to 1 1/2 inches below the lip of the jar.

Process or not at this point.


Printable recipe.

One year ago: Fried Green Tomato Benedict with Smithfield Ham & Pimiento Cheese Hollandaise
Two years ago: Anuradha Rice
Three years ago: Yerp: Part 7 - The End.
Four years ago: Great Balls on Tires
Five years ago: For the love of TOMATOES!


7.05.2014

My Americana.


It was hot. Very hot and very humid. In those dog days of summer at Dad's house, we would turn on the one air conditioner window unit we had downstairs and pretty much camp out down there. I can remember Wimbledon playing on the tiny TV that traveled around to whichever room my dad, barefoot wearing cut-off denim shorts and a perfectly worn in red Adidas t-shirt, was situated in. In the kitchen, also barefoot, with the back door open the sound of the cicadas and the smell of the 30% chance of afternoon thunderstorms through the screen door, I would be standing over the sink with a tomato sandwich in my hands and the magical mixture of salty mayonnaise and the seedy, juicy mess of the perfectly sweet and ripe tomato running down my face and wrists.

After wiping my face with the back of my hand and throwing on some flip flops, I would run out the front door to meet up with neighborhood friends and roam around streets, parks, alleys or the river until the light began to shift, the cicadas got ear-piercingly louder, and the fireflies began to light up the dusk, signifying the end of our day. All of us kids, with our hands and feet brownish-black, covered with dirt and muck, would scurry home for baths and dinner. And in those beautiful, nasty, hot, humid dog days of summer, the deep red, ripe tomatoes would most assuredly be on the plate at dinnertime as well. Perhaps served in chunks with some raw sweet corn kernels, in a mixed salad or most often, simply thickly sliced and generously sprinkled with salt and pepper.


I couldn't tell you my favorite color. I couldn't tell you my favorite ice cream flavor or my favorite band. Shockingly, I couldn't even tell you my favorite dish or meal, though sea urchin and extra salty movie theater popcorn would invariably be in the running (but not together). But I can tell you this: the tomato is my favorite food. I will eat a tomato any way it can possibly be made to exist, even in jam form. And unlike my dad, if I'm desperate, I will even eat a wintery, mealy out of season tomato. I just can't turn one away.

The perfect tomato – at least in Virginia - is a singular yet fleeting experience. Its prime season is short and very sweet. Even after spending more than a decade in Southern California, with its vast array of year-round beautiful and amazing produce, I never came across a tomato to rival the ones in Virginia in July and August.


It's 4th of July weekend – America's birthday – which harks to a lot of tradition and nostalgia for many of us. With all of our senses: smells, sounds, textures, sights and tastes in overdrive, we think of apple pies cooling on the windowsill, hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling on the grill, baseball, parades, picnics on the grass, music and fireworks. But for me, my Americana, though it can and does include those things, is really that tomato sandwich and its gorgeous juicy mess running down my face and wrists as I triumphantly devour it over the kitchen sink as the cicadas sing and I can smell the 30% chance of afternoon thunderstorms just outside the screen door. 


The Perfect Tomato Sandwich

Makes 2 sandwiches

The perfect, transcendent tomato sandwich is so extraordinarily simple that it requires considerable restraint to not mess it up, to not gild the lily. There is a place and time to add the avocado or to toast the bread - or to even go full BLT - but that is a different thing entirely. For the sandwich I speak of you will need only five things and napkins and plates are not on the list.


Ingredients:
4 slices of soft, white bread
1 large, perfectly ripe tomato, sliced about 1/4” thick (the quality of the tomato is 99.9% of what makes this sandwich great, so select yours wisely)
Duke's mayonnaise
Salt & pepper (no need for the fancy stuff)


Directions:
Go ahead and be decadent with the mayo. Smear it liberally on each piece of bread. 

For that matter, go ahead and be decadent with the salt and pepper as well. Salt and pepper each slice of the mayo-laden bread.

Ideally the tomato is large enough that you will only need one, maybe two slices for the whole sandwich. Put the tomato on one side of the bread and place the other piece of bread on top.

The mayo and the juices of the tomato will quickly create a beautiful pink, milky liquid that renders the sandwich a drippy, wet mess. Embrace the mess but eat fast and deftly - I suggest over the sink. While the last bite is still in your mouth, slurp juices off hands, wipe face with back of now 'clean' hands and promptly run outside to play with your friends.


Five years ago: Pimiento Cheese


6.15.2014

The Legend of Jammin' Raku


I have wanted to publicly share the story of Jammin' Raku going on a solid fifteen years - waiting semi-patiently for just the right time and place. And I've found it with my first Fathers' Day back home with my dad. So he can berate me in person once he reads it.

This story began back in the mid-nineties - an era where I primarily listened to and consumed all things hip hop. I was living in Atlanta at the time, and vividly remember the phone call from Dad asking, rather excitedly, if I had heard “the new, hip rapper, Jammin' Raku.”

As my eyes rolled out of my head and down the block, I replied that I had not.

Well, you would love him,” he told me. I was dubious to say the least. I thought I was extremely cool – cutting edge, even, with my musical tastes. Considering I was listening to Organized Konfusion and my dad, Alison Krauss, well, that kind of nailed it for me. Let's just say I didn't exactly follow up on the Jammin' Raku tip.

Some time passed, a few months or so, and Dad came to visit in Atlanta. “So did you ever find that Jammin' Raku I was telling you about? No? Well, I'm really surprised. He's really hip right now and I know you'd love him.” During his visit he would ask my various friends if they had heard of the hip, new rapper, Jammin' Raku to no avail. Then, much to my horror, he wanted to go to the local record store to get to the bottom of the mystery. I'm sure you've read or seen High Fidelity? Criminal Records was like that. I never went in not knowing what I was looking for and I certainly never went in if I was going to buy anything less than cooler than cool.

I hustled Dad straight to the hip hop section to look under the Js. Nothing. Then the Rs nothing. Then that sinking feeling when I heard him say, “Well, let's just ask someone who works here.” After my dad, quite audibly (and, in my opinion, shamelessly) asked a staff member behind the counter (the back of the counter was elevated about two or three feet so that the staff literally looked down at you) about the new, hip rapper, Jammin' Raku. With no results, we moved on. But not before I bought an actual new, 'hip' album that I thought would redeem me from that excruciatingly uncool moment.

I thought the matter was dropped.

About a year later, I was visiting Richmond and having lunch with my dad when I heard those words again: “So did you ever find anything out about that rapper, Jammin' Raku?” If only the three little letters existed together then – OMG.

No, Dad,” I said, and tried desperately to change the subject. “Well, let's just drop into the record store here and try one last time. I swear you'll thank me. This guy is right up your alley.” So, of course the record store he was referring to was essentially right up there with the one in Atlanta on the High Fidelity cooler-than-thou scale. Christ, I had spent my entire youth trying to establish my coolness with the staff there, going as far as wearing my Gwar-blood-covered white v-neck tee shirts whilst perusing Fishbone vinyl throughout high school. I still had a crush on a boy that worked there!

Do I even need to tell you that it was the exact same story as in Atlanta the year before? I was even more mortified that even IF there was a new, hip rapper, Jammin' Raku, he couldn't possibly still be new or hip an entire year later.

Once again, I thought the matter was dropped.

Back in Atlanta, another six months or so passed when I received a care package from Dad. With a CD in it. There was also a note: “This is the guy I've been trying to tell you about!”

I looked down at the stark white CD with a silhouette of a cartoonish figure of a man in the familiar large, fuzzy hat with horns. No, not new, not hip (sorry Dad), and certainly not a rapper. Jammin' Raku?

It was Jamiroquai.

That's my dad. And that's the story of Jammin' Raku.

And today is Father's Day. The first Father's Day I have been able to actually spend with my dad since before the Legend of Jammin' Raku. So we are going to do lots of stuff together. With Fred, too. One of the events is, of course, cooking.

From left: Dad, Janie & Uncle Doug
For a long time now I have been hearing about my dad's favorite meal that his mother, Janie, used to prepare. She made it for the whole family often, but when Dad first came back come from the Navy to visit and she served it, he told her it was his favorite of all meals. She then made it for him every single time he came home.

It's pretty weird sounding and has a host of seemingly disparate layers together on a plate: green beans (snap beans) with pinto beans cooked forever with ham hocks, fresh creamed sweet corn, cucumber and green onion salad in iced vinegar, thick slices of ripe tomatoes and cornbread. Oddly, I have never been served this meal. I sort of thought it was a myth, actually. It's very southern and very summer.

Over lunch with my dad and his brother, my Uncle Pat, recently, the two of them chatted about this meal. Pat remembers it well. He ate his with all of the components on the plate together but separated. My dad liked to pile everything on top of everything, in his own special order, in the form of a gloppy strata. This meal was always served with the sweetest of iced tea.

So, tonight, on this momentous Father's Day reunited with my dad, back in the south and knocking on summer's door, we will have his Favorite Meal. I will get to hear wonderful stories of his childhood, family and Janie while we chop and stir and eat.

And maybe we will listen to some of that new, hip rapper, Jammin' Raku's music, too.

~~~~~~~~~~

I love you so much Dad. You have always been and still are my hero. I couldn't be happier to be spending this day with you again. Happy Father's Day.


Janie's Summer Harvest

This meal was probably so frequently seen on the dinner table in the summer months because Janie, and I imagine many southern cooks, could harvest nearly all of the ingredients in her backyard garden. The entire meal is compiled essentially of five side dishes. Serve them family style and plate them separately or, like my dad, all piled on top of one another (from bottom: green beans, creamed corn, cucumber salad, tomatoes and then cornbread).

Let me add that all dishes are heavily salted and peppered.


Everything serves 4


Green Beans with Ham

Ingredients
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed & rinsed
1/2 pound of pinto or cranberry beans soaked
4 cups water
1/4 pound diced salt pork or 1 ham hock
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions
Put water in a 2-quart saucepan; add pintos and diced salt pork. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add green beans, salt, and pepper; cover and cook green beans over medium heat for about 45 minutes, or until green beans are tender.

~~~~~~~~~~

Creamed Corn

Ingredients
8 ears of corn
1 1/2 cup of whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions
In a large saucepan, melt butter on medium heat.

Remove the kernels from the corn. Stand a corn cob vertically on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, use long, downward strokes of the knife to remove the kernels from the cob. Add corn to saucepan. Use the edge of a spoon to scrape the sides of the cob to remove any remaining pulp into saucepan.

Add milk and bring to a low simmer, reduce heat and cover. Cook for 30 minutes until the corn is tender.

Salt & pepper to taste.

~~~~~~~~~~

Cucumber & Spring Onion Salad

Ingredients
1-1 ½ cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and cut in half width-wise
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup of ice cubes
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions
Toss cucumber, onion, vinegar and ice cubes in a bowl and let sit until well chilled. Salt and pepper to taste.

~~~~~~~~~~

Thick Sliced Ripe Tomatoes with Salt and Pepper

Ingredients
3 large, ripe tomatoes
Salt & pepper taste

Directions
Slice tomatoes about 1/4” thick

Arrange on plate and salt & pepper to taste.

~~~~~~~~~~

Classic Skillet Cornbread
(recipe adapted from Deep South Dish)

Ingredients
1/4 cup of oil, shortening or bacon fat
1-1/2 cups of all purpose white or yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
2 cups of buttermilk, more or less
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Directions
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Add the fat to a well seasoned 10-inch cast iron skillet and place the skillet into the oven to melt the fat and heat the skillet. In a bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Remove the skillet from the oven and swirl the hot fat around to coat the skillet.

Pour the fat from the skillet into the cornmeal mixture; stir. Stir in half of the buttermilk and add the egg; add more buttermilk as needed to make a thick but pourable batter. Depending on the grind of your cornmeal and the type of buttermilk you use, you may not need it all. Fold ingredients and don't beat the batter. Pour the cornmeal mixture into the hot skillet. Place directly into the oven and bake at 450 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, then very carefully turn the cornbread out onto a plate or platter to preserve the crust.




Two years ago: An Evening in Gruissan.
Three years ago: Shiso Leaf Butter

5.25.2014

For Those About to Cook, I Salute You.


I've been at this blogging thing for six and a half years now, and it's been good to me. It began as a whim and, yes, my timing was pretty perfect. The whole food blogging thing was becoming... a thing. I didn't know anything about blogging, or even what the word meant exactly. I knew I loved food. I loved to think about it, talk about it, read about it, make it, eat it and share it. My friends couldn't help but notice the interest-turned-obsession and one in particular urged me to start what has become F for Food.

I read many other blogs and have become enmeshed in the blogging community. Many of my closest friends, even now, are fellow food bloggers. There are quite a few different flavors of us: the restaurant bloggers and the recipe bloggers are the two broadest groups. I fall more into the recipe category with the occasional restaurant discussion. Some of us recipe bloggers like to flex creative writing and storytelling with our recipes and some write the straight dope about the recipes, the seasonality, the use of ingredients. Again, I fall more into the creative writing/storytelling camp, with some dialogue about The Food.

For the dishes I share on F for Food, I use some of my very own brainflowers, but I also pool from the world-wide world of recipes; cookbooks, online references and, often, other bloggers. I frequently read a recipe that I find alluring and then riff on it in my kitchen. If it works, I will likely share the results. I often tell the story of how I found the recipe and from whom it originated. I have written consistently about Alice Waters, Marion Cunningham, Suzanne Goin, Melissa Clark and Molly Wizenberg (funny, all women) to name a few - their food, and their influence on my own. Usually in the paragraphs leading up to the actual recipe.

In some instances, Fred and I create a dish from nothing and then research to see who has also created the same dish, or something similar, in the past to use as a recipe model. As it would appear, very little is truly original or not inspired by something that has already been thrust into the world.





Here's what I have not done. I have not properly transformed the instructional parts of the recipes. And more importantly, in the proper instances, I have not placed the attribution under the title of the recipe – resulting in not giving credit where credit is due. For example, when I rambled on about hearing an episode of The Splendid Table where Melissa Clark tells the beautiful memory of her childhood and the pan bagnat (though I included hyperlinks to both The Splendid Table episode and Melissa Clark), I did not type 'adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark' at the top of the recipe.

First, I would like to apologize for this oversight and, second, let you know that I am in the process of going back through the archives of F for Food to make certain the appropriate due credit is given. I have nothing but respect and admiration for chefs, food lovers and recipe creators of all kinds. My blog began as, and continues to be, a testament to my reverence, love and appreciation of everything about food and those who feel the same way that have come before me, are here now and those who will pave the yellow pound cake road of the future.

So this is Memorial Day weekend. Let's go outside, drink cold adult beverages by a body of water of some kind and eat some sort of thing from a grill – or, in my preganant-self's case, enjoy some cold, refreshing popsicles in my back yard with Fred. Let's all get to it, shall we?


Watermelon-Mint Popsicles with Lime
(This recipe is a Fred + Elliott original)

Makes 10 popsicles

Ingredients
4 cups of watermelon cut into 1-inch cubes, plus 1 cup 1/4-inch cubes (seeds removed)
3 tablespoons chopped mint leaves, tightly packed
Zest & juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt

Directions
Puree 1-inch cubes of watermelon & run through sieve into medium bowl. 

Muddle mint & sugar together, add to watermelon liquid along with lime zest & juice. Stir well. 
Refrigerate mixture for about 30 minutes to allow sugar to melt and let flavors infuse. 

Divide the 1/4-inch watermelon cubes evenly between the 10 sections of the popsicle mold, then using a pitcher with a spout, carefully fill molds, leaving about 1/4-inch of room at the top as the popsicles will expand as they freeze. 

Insert popsicle sticks and freeze away (approximately 3-5 hours, depending on your freezer). If you are using wooden popsicle sticks and your mold does not have a guide, freeze for 1 hour and then insert the sticks.

*FYI - We used this type of popsicle mold.




4.30.2014

Call Me When the Shuttle Lands.


It would appear that this whole hippie thing's pendulum has swung its groovy way again. Read, it's in. This could be attributed to many things: a disenchantment and exhaustion (or sheer anger) with current politics, climate change (save water, shower with a friend), the way we view and approach our food, or just the wave of fashion. Everything comes back around, you know.

Though I was born in a particularly pointedly hippie period with hairy, bell-bottomed parents (who named their daughter Elliott), the whole hippie thing, with its ins and outs in my lifetime, has had little effect on me. In high school and even college, while many of our peers donned the gauzy, flowy shirts and floor-length paisley skirts, Birkenstocks, and the god-forsaken patchouli, Paz and I were listening to NWA, drinking 40s and seeing how much cleavage we could get away with.

I had an old friend back in LA, a real meat and potatoes guy and proud Texan, who had a saying when I – or anyone for that matter – got a little, er, out there, a little too magic-y or feel-y or granola-y (think Anne Heche's 4th dimension circa 2000, or just Gary Busey, in general).

'Call me when the shuttle lands,' he would say wryly.


Regardless of the dude's generally great deadpan, comedic timing, this was always hilarious and perfect to me. And so, of course, I have long since, and with much frequency, adopted the comment.

I, for the most part, am pretty even-keeled and pragmatic when it comes to social politics. I understand the motivation for going green, buying local, being responsible with my carbon footprint, etc. But I equally understand that it is a very high maintenance and prohibitively expensive lifestyle to adapt. Go ahead, buy a week's worth of groceries at Whole Foods and a week's worth of groceries anywhere else, and tell me the price difference. How much did you spend on kombucha or fair trade coffee last week?

I'll never forget a photo assignment I had when I first moved to LA and was working for the LA Weekly. I was in my twenties and really struggling financially. I was asked to photograph a woman (married to a extra, super, mega famous actor/comedian) whose personal crusade it was to abolish Hummers and the like and get everyone to drive a Prius. She actually threw stones at people's environmentally cruel vehicles. Needless to say, I parked my banged up gas guzzler far, far away and lugged my photo equipment on foot to her house for the shoot. Oh, her house that was a ginormous manse in the famously richer than rich Pacific Palisades neighborhood (Steven Spielberg was her neighbor). Parked in the driveway were a minimum of five various hybrid and electric cars.

My point is: I appreciate that she wanted to share the gospel, so to speak, but COME ON. And by the way, I still can't afford a Prius. I try in other ways. I have a vegetable and herb garden, I recycle, I buy seasonal and local – when I can, I read, I think, I don't drive a gas guzzler – actually, I hardly drive at all. So keep your judgment, your stone throwing (literally) to yourself, step down from that fancy-ass high horse and, hey, call me when the shuttle lands.


Here's the funny thing: the same girl that would steal Paz's sister's hippie outfits and dress up in them to poke fun at her, the same girl whose eyeballs roll out of her head when she hears a little too much about whatever this acai berry is, and the same girl who knows absolutely nothing about your or her own astrological sign has turned in a decidedly bizarre direction whilst pregnant.

And here it is: currently I have my own doula, a small troupe of midwives, and a tiny library of books with such titles as Spiritual Midwifery (where the vagina is sometimes referred to as a Yoni and contractions are called rushes), and am having an entirely natural childbirth. Like, no drugs. And in water. And now that I am large and in charge at seven months pregnant and counting, I'm pretty much wearing the exact clothes I would have derided twenty-five years ago: long, flowy maxi dresses (if we're going to call a spade a spade, muu muus), colorful, decorative scarves – around my head, and even the Birkenstocks. You should see all my wicker and canvas totes. I'd like to think I'm channeling Elizabeth Taylor in the Sandpiper.

I've also been listening to Van Morrison's Astral Weeks on repeat for, well, weeks.

If I knew me and heard all of this from me, my response to me would, without a doubt, be, 'Elliott, please, PLEASE call me when the shuttle lands.'


Fortunately, thanks to Portlandia, Pinterest, all things DIY - pickling, craft beers, chickens in the yard, salad greens 'foraged' from the vacant lot, Mason jars and twine, I feel the pregnant, muu muu-wearing me has just so happened to luck out in the roulette of current fashion. This whole hippie thing has returned. Again. Sort of. With a twist. It's more lumberjack-self-reliant than bongs and tapestries, more sweat than patchouli, more Airstream than school bus. It's far more conscious, I suppose.

Fred and I have a lifestyle that adapts some of this ethos. Like I said, we have our garden. We sometimes shower together (though I'm too large for shower sharing these days). Fred sort of looks like a lumberjack. But we also live realistically. We enjoy our creature comforts. We watch our shows on HBO. We pay taxes.

But one major do-it-yourself that we, Fred in particular, has been super keen on for a few years now is making ice cream. In the ice cream-y months he likes to make a different batch each week, always experimenting with new ideas. And, while some aren't as successful – conceptually (coconut milk and Sriracha, for example) – his actual ice cream is undeniably delicious.

In the spirit of this post, we picked up some local, just-in-season rhubarb from our local, green grocery and got to it: a rhubarb-swirl ice cream. While Fred usually takes the reins with the ice cream, we collaborated for this one. He prepared the ice cream part and I made the swirl part. It was our first swirl (well, in the ice cream department - how do you think I got pregnant, after all?).

In the end, we made a beautiful and tasty new ice cream. I need to tweak the swirl method I chose but otherwise we were very pleased with the outcome. Even better than the local farm eggs, milk and cream used was that the ice cream matched the tie-dye pattern of my muu muu...

Oh, Jesus. Call me when the shuttle lands, right?


Rhubarb-Swirl Ice Cream
(recipe adapted from The Faux Martha)


Makes 1 ½ quarts

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups half and half
2 cups whole milk
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
Dash of sea salt
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Rhubarb Swirl
4 cups rhubarb, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice

Directions
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, combine half and half, whole milk, heavy cream, 1 cup of sugar, and salt. Whisk to combine. Taste for salt.

In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Over medium-high heat, heat milk mixture until sugar dissolves and begins to simmer. Slowly pour about one cup of the simmering milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to temper the eggs. Add egg mixture to sauce pan, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Turn heat off. Add vanilla extract.

Pour mixture in a large bowl over a fine mesh sieve to catch any clumps. Cover and place in fridge to cool, about 3 hours. To speed up the cooling process, place bowl in an ice bath in the fridge, or place in the freezer sans ice bath.


Rhubarb Swirl:
Place rhubarb, sugar, and orange juice in a sauce pan. Cover and cook over medium heat until rhubarb is soft, about 10 minutes. Puree mixture in food processor until smooth. Once ice cream mixture is cold, make according to your machine’s instructions. Add rhubarb in at the end, swirling through the ice cream (here's what I did). Place in freezer again for ice cream to become hard enough.



One year ago: Belmont Food Shop
Three years ago: Classic Tuna Salad

4.19.2014

Emancipate & Resurrect the Kitchen.


This week means a lot of different things to a a lot of different people. This is the week of both Passover and Easter. And whether you are commemorating an enormous emancipation, celebrating a significant resurrection, really excited about warm weather, flowers and sunshine, or need an excuse to watch The Long Good Friday again, it's a pretty big stretch of celebration with lots of food involved.

Me, I fall into either of the latter two. But I do love a holiday. Fortunately, timing is really in my corner with this observing and reveling happening right when all of the new, beautiful food stuffs are literally popping up, out of the ground and into our markets to grab up and play with in my kitchen, to serve and share with my friends and family.

Peas, rhubarb, arugula, asparagus, strawberries, mint, Spring onions, tatsoi greens, radishes, fresh horseradish, fennel, ham and, of course, farm fresh eggs, milk and cheese, are just a few of the things I want, and crave, this time of year – holidays or no. To tell you the truth, I really wanted to make a rhubarb ice cream or a rhubarb lemon pound cake for Easter. But after talking to Paz, whose parents are hosting Easter brunch, I hear there is already an over abundance of sweets. One person in particular has apparently already dropped off five cakes for the occasion (*show off*).

So I guess I'm going savory. 


Paz has been needling me because I've never made an actual quiche before – that I can recall. I've made loads of frittatas and plenty of pies, but I guess I've never put the egg stuff into the pie crust. So I scurried off to my favorite, local green grocer and got to hunting for inspirato. And found it. I have to say, however, their eggs are quite difficult to crack open – because they are so, so beautiful. But crack I did. And what resulted was a stunning Spring dish, that would befit a brunch, lunch or dinner, to delight and impress using a lot of those different things for a lot of us different people. Especially the dude that brought five cakes.

Happy Easter!


Spring Vegetable Tart with Chévre & Ham

Makes 1 10” tart

Ingredients
All-purpose flour (for surface)
1 medium bulb fennel
5 spring onions or 12 scallions
16 medium cremini mushrooms (about 1 pound)
10 ounces cubed ham
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
8 ounces soft fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
4 eggs


Directions
Preheat oven to 350° F. Roll out pie crust on a lightly floured surface to a 12" round. Transfer to 10" tart pan with removable bottom and press onto bottom and up sides. Line the chilled crust with a piece of foil, leaving a little overhang all around. Fill with pie weights of some kind and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the weights and foil. Bake until dry and set, 5 to 8 minutes more. Let the crust cool completely before filling.

Raise oven temperature to 425°F.  Trim fennel top and root end, reserving fronds, and cut into quarters from top to bottom, then cut fennel into paper-thin slices.

Trim green onions. Toss fennel and onions in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Place in a single layer on prepared sheet; roast, turning once, until onions begin to brown and fennel is tender, 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F.

Meanwhile, clean and slice mushrooms. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add ham. Cook, stirring often, until ham is browned and slightly crisped, 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Heat remaining butter in skillet over medium-high heat; add mushrooms and sauté until they release all their liquid and most of it boils away, about 5 minutes.
Let cool slightly before spreading ham and mushrooms evenly over bottom of tart crust.

Whisk cheese and next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in eggs. Pour over vegetables. Scatter fennel and onion over.

Bake tart until edges of crust are golden brown and filling is set, 20-22 minutes. Let cool in pan for 20 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Remove sides of pan. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.




Two years ago: The Pikey

4.14.2014

Good Grief.


This is hard, but I feel important to write.

My first baby and longtime best friend, Besito, passed on a few weeks ago. I have thought of little else but have not been able to articulate how to write about it as each day has brought with it a new crop of emotions and realizations. I am confident Besito's life was filled with love, affection, stimulation, beauty, enrichment and loads of snuggles and fun even in the face of the inordinate amount of health issues that were prominent in the later years of his life. I'm also confident that it was, as they say, his time. He was comfortably swaddled in my arms and against my heart when he went to sleep forever. But I am still having such a rough time reconciling it all.

And I realize this is a very natural, very common, way to feel.

People have been telling me that time is our saving grace, that it heals all wounds. But what I fear more than feeling the grief is not feeling it any more. And that, of course, is inevitable. But for now, my tears seem to keep him with me. In a way it's good grief.

We went through a lot together, me and that guy. Some of my twenties and all of my thirties, a life in Atlanta and a life in LA, with a road trip to get us there and all sorts of other journeys throughout. We went everywhere together until it was simply too difficult for him, physically. But he saw more places and met more people, and animals, than most folks I know. He was there to accept my new relationships; friends and boyfriends, happily – welcomed them right into our family. And he was also there if those people left. I can remember, more than once, feeling heartbroken - everything broken, really – and so alone, but having Beso right by my side and thinking, “We've got each other you and me. We take care of each other.” And we did. And we knew.

Besito skirted death quite a few times in his thirteen years. Some from illnesses, some from being adventuresome and defiant, and one time from swallowing a peach pit. I often joked that he had nine lives. After one of his surgeries to repair paralyzation from the neck down, he was on bed rest for three weeks. So I cancelled everything and stayed home for three weeks, too. We entertained in, ordered a lot of delivery and marathoned multiple seasons of Gossip Girl.


He was, without a doubt, a huge personality. He could sing – harmonize even. We loved to sing together. He would match my volume and pitch. He loved clothes, warm and fresh from the dryer. He would frolic in them like a child in a pile of fall leaves. And his all-time favorite food (though he would eat any and everything) was eggs. If he so much as saw me pull the egg carton out of the fridge it was over. Whenever I would have eggs for breakfast I saved some for Beso and let him lick the plate clean. But the most important thing to Beso, and I don't mean to boast, was me. And I felt it every single day. His eyes followed me everywhere I went, and when I would come home from being away, he greeted me each time as though I was one of the Beatles. And every, single night Beso slept curled up in my arms. He was the littlest spoon.

Beso was also like an alarm clock. He was so food obsessed that each day, both at exactly eight in the morning and at six at night, he would start yelling at me for dinner. And he would continue to do so until the food was in front of him. He always made quite clear what he wanted, actually – up on lap, pet me, no not there, yes, there, I want down, I need to go out, I hate wind, and rain, where's the sunspot, this would be a good time for a treat, give me your eggs.

As Fred said on a recent morning, when everything felt so still and quiet without Beso waking us up and screaming for breakfast, “He was the fizz that made the soda bubbly.”

And I couldn't have put it any better.

In the weeks I have been trying to write this, I've gone through many stages. But some interesting factors have been in play and continue to pop up during this time that I simply cannot ignore. As I mentioned, Beso was ill. He had a half dozen close calls, real nail biters, in the last year that I wasn't sure he would come through. It was very important to me that he at least make it back to Richmond. I wanted him to know home, be home. With me. And once we all got here, I really wanted him to make it to one more Christmas... and his thirteenth birthday. Which he did all of, gracefully. But now, so immediately after his death, what I can't help but notice is how poetic it is that Spring is suddenly in full force. New colors and new life are everywhere. There is a little bird's nest in a fern on my front porch and a baby squirrel nest in the tree in my backyard that I can clearly see from my window. The squirrels even used paper from our recycling bin to build their nest – which, a few weeks ago, I had thought Beso was doing to get into scraps. And most poignantly, I'm going to have a baby. Soon, now. In fact, he was laying on my shelf of a pregnant belly as drifted onward and upward.

I'm not a very spiritual or religious person. I know we all create signs and gods and heavens, really, to cope with the difficulties of understanding that which is death. But I can't help but look at Beso's timing, how well we knew each other, how unconditionally and ginormously he loved life, and me. And, though anytime I see something little and cute I think of him, how could the baby birds on the front porch and the baby squirrels on the back porch and the baby girl in my belly not also be a little bit of Besito saying, “It's okay Mom. Really, after all we've been through, all of that love, we're together always. What lives must die. Life is death as death is life. Plus, I really don't like babies anyway. They get all the attention - and it's time to give yours to her, now.”

So I will.

Fred and I will be planting a tree in our yard, hopefully a fruit bearing one, in the coming weeks, and we will scatter Beso's ashes there. That way he will always be home with me, with Fred and our family. He will see seasons and life and change and growth. I look forward to sitting by the tree and sharing stories with our baby girl all about Besito Ysidro and our many adventures together.

And all of this, I know he knows.


Besito Ysidro Shaffner
2001-2014


I haven't cooked much since Beso died. I especially haven't been able to make eggs, yet. But Fred and I did make this beautiful fish dish recently. It was so, so simple and very apropos for the warmer weather, and even dining al fresco. We made a fish stock out of the carcass that would have surely been incorporated into Beso's meals. Our other pups, Eduardo and Byron, enjoyed the stock in their own kibble!


Whole Oven-Roasted Fish with Lemon & Rosemary

Note: Trout, red snapper and loup de mer (branzino) are great choices; wild striped bass and rockfish work fine too. Cooking times vary with size.

Serves 2

Ingredients
1 whole fresh fish, cleaned and rinsed
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 lemon, sliced thinly & seeded
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Sea salt and pepper

Directions
Remove the fish from the refrigerator 10 minutes before roasting.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix garlic and olive oil and let sit to infuse for 5 minutes. Strain and discard garlic; set aside the oil.

Season the fish inside and out with salt and brush inside and out with the garlic oil. Place lemon (save for 2 or 3 slices) in the cavity with the sprigs of rosemary.

Arrange the remaining lemon slices and small rosemary sprigs in slits on top of the fish and sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Roast until a knife easily penetrates the flesh and the top fillet begins to lift easily, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Carefully transfer the fish to a warm platter and serve.



Four years ago: Ludobites 4.0

3.12.2014

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.


I spend so much energy on my to-do lists and my tidying and my fretting about The Next Thing that I far too often fail to see the forest for the trees. For years now I have wanted to construct a different, idealized life for myself; one that would be simpler and, simultaneously, more fulfilling. A life that found me doing what I really want to be doing, where I really want to be doing it and with whom I really want to be doing it. And really, who wouldn't really want that stuff?

So here I am, almost forty years old, and less than six months ago I jumped off the high dive. I left my career and my friends and my home of most of my adult life to get back to it. To what I really wanted. But you know this.

What we really, really want. Funny thing. That's the hardest part, isn't it? Getting to the nut of it all, and figuring that out. It seems as though it would, it should, be the the easiest part. And for some it is. And then it's just a matter of aiming for the target, right?

But what if you should have turned right when you turned left? What if you choose to do this and you chose that instead? What if?! And therein lies the rub. Right there is why so often we end up doing what it is that we do (instead of where our major in college was to take us) and who we end up doing it with (instead of 'the one that got away'). Why, sometimes, our lives, our careers, our partners, find us rather than the other way around. And we can call it destiny. Fate. Something beyond our control, beyond our power.


Maybe I do or maybe I don't but I'd like to think I have a little more control over my past, present and future than to chalk it up to fate, destiny, 'shit happens' or 'c'est la vie' (which makes perfect sense coming from a consummate control freak). And that's why I'm right here, right now. I'm in Richmond, Virginia with Fred. We're having a baby girl this summer. I see my family and my Paz lots and lots. I'm eating, cooking and writing about food – and getting paid to do it. And I have to say that all of these things exist because I wanted them and I focused and worked to that end. And still, had Chris and I not had that conversation about 'that thing called a blog' six and a half years ago, there's a very, very good chance I wouldn't be here, doing this - writing this. With Fred. Had I turned right instead of left.

In my fifth grade yearbook, everyone in my class stated what they wanted to be when they grew up. I said Artist. So maybe all these years I've been staying the course. Hard to say.

One of the things I have always really wanted was to be in a creatively collaborative relationship with my significant other (think Frida and Diego, Anais and Henry, Virginia and Vita, or my favorites, Lillian and Dashiell) . Call it fate, call it destiny, call it finally locating that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but I definitely have found a true partner in both the intimate and creative spheres. There is no doubt Fred's photography has elevated this blog exponentially. And though, while we work together we squabble like two Tweens over a strand of Justin Bieber's hair, what we create is beauty and that makes me beam with pride and accomplishment.


Well, we have taken it all a step further. We have made it official and are expanding from just F for Food with a real deal food photography and styling business: Fred + Elliott Food Styling & Photography. And I'm unveiling the curtain here. The website is up, the business cards are printed and the phone line is active (we just love the design done for us by A for Adventure). We are ready. I keep thinking of Annie Pott's character in Ghostbusters when they get that first call.

But, not to worry, I'm not going anywhere. I mean, where else can I talk freely in this way? That reminds me of another thing: one of the fun parts of this whole pregnancy thing (at least the stage I'm in now), is that I can eat what I really want. In moderation, of course. I'm told that if I crave something specific, my body probably needs it. This likely explains the sudden and bizarre cravings for peanut butter and honey sandwiches with a glass of milk (the first glasses of milk I've had in over twenty-five years). I guess I need protein and calcium.

Well, last night I really, really wanted ricotta cheese. So Fred made it for me again. And I also wanted pasta (always). So we made that, too. And with the weather being close to eighty degrees and the sun shining mightily, I wanted to make a bright springy dish incorporating those two ingredients. Five months in, Fred now knows that the pregnant lady – come Hell or high water – is going to find a way to get her hands on the food that she really, really wants.

So together, collaboratively, we did it all: from foraging for the right ingredients, to making our own ricotta and pasta from scratch, to the styling and photographing the food, to eating it (and yes, of course there was the requisite amount of bickering). I'm not sure if it was the process behind it, but man alive, this dish was exquisite. I can't see why anyone wouldn't really, really want it, too.

Here is the recipe, so you too can manifest your destiny, my friends.



Fusilli with Fava Beans, Fresh Mint & Ricotta

Serves 4

Ingredients
2 tablespoons coarse salt, plus more to taste
1 pound fresh fava beans, shelled (you can substitute edamame or peas)
1 pound fusilli pasta
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint leaves, plus more leaves for garnish
Zest of 1 lemon plus juice of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions
Fill a large stockpot with water, add 1 tablespoon salt, and bring to a boil; meanwhile, prepare an ice-water bath. Place fava beans in a sieve, and lower into water. Let water return to a boil, about 1 minute; blanch beans, 1 minute more. Remove sieve from water, and place beans in ice-water bath. Transfer to a colander; drain. Peel and discard tough skins; set beans aside.

Discard blanching water; fill stockpot with fresh water. Bring to a boil, and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add pasta, and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine ricotta, lemon juice, lemon zest, and chopped mint. Just before pasta has finished cooking, add 1/2 cup cooking water to cheese mixture; stir to combine.

Drain pasta, and transfer to a serving bowl. Add olive oil, and toss. Add cheese mixture and reserved fava beans; toss to combine. Season with salt and sprinkle with mint leaves and a little extra lemon zest for garnish; serve immediately.



One year ago: Chocolate, Olive Oil, Blood Orange Cupcakes with Walnuts
Two years ago: Roast Chicken with Meyer Lemon & Thyme 
Three years ago: Roasted Parsnip-Carrot Soup with Crispy Bacon & Potatoes
Four years ago: Fresh Mint Pea Soup