Late last summer while snipping some parsley for dinner, I was startled to find what seemed like hundreds of bright green, yellow and black caterpillars blanketing the plants. The sight had me both repulsed and fascinated - totally transfixed. I remembered having bought a little pink butterfly cage in the ‘impulse-buy-cheap-things-for-your-children’ section of Target that spring and decided to adopt a couple of them for Emerson to observe.
Not unlike Eric Carle’s, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, these two buggers ate so much parsley I couldn’t believe it. I had to replenish their favorite herb a couple times a day. And there was lots of poop - not mentioned in the book.
Then one morning I noticed one of them was attached to the ceiling of the cage, sort of curled up a bit and not moving. I assumed I killed it, but since the other one was still eating away, I decided not to disturb the environment and leave everything be. A couple of days later the first caterpillar had formed a cocoon and the second caterpillar did the same hanging thing that the first one had done days earlier.
I began to research. I read that caterpillars that go into chrysalis so late in the summer may well stay that way until the following spring. So I cut out all the mesh of the cage except where the little pods were (just in case), put the whole thing on the mantel in our bedroom and decided to let nature run its course.
And then pretty much forgot about the whole thing.
Days and weeks and months passed. School started for Em, Halloween, Thanksgiving, trips out of town came and went, and then, a few weeks ago, late one afternoon, the first snowfall began. And it was beautiful.
The next morning, I just happened to open my eyes much earlier than usual. Everyone was still sound asleep. For some reason my sleepy blinky eyes looked up to see two little bright black, yellow and blue wings begin to flap. I screamed and woke up everyone to witness this amazing feat of nature that seemed so impossible, so improbable, it brought tears to my eyes. Emerson named her Snowmary Rose.
That’s right. Remember the snow? Throughout the night it had accumulated to about a foot of the stuff and continued to fall.
I began to research. Kate brought over a bouquet of flowers she had in her kitchen, Fred made a nectar from warm water and sugar on a sponge and we put her on the fern in our bedroom with the other elements close by. I couldn’t let her out or she would die instantly. From what I could tell, her lifespan would be anywhere from 7-14 days.
What came next was even more impossible and more improbable than you may believe. But it’s true. Snowmary Rose and I, well, we connected. She (was actually a he I discovered after more research, but I didn’t want to tell Emerson) would immediately fly to me when I came into the room. She would then proceed to walk all over my hands, up and down my arms and finally perch on my sleeve. It sounds crazy, but she seemed happier when I was in the room. I would stare at her endlessly, marveling at her elegance and beauty. I talked to her.
On day 7, Snowmary wasn’t quite herself. She was happy to be on me, but was listless and quite still on her plant. She stayed close to the window, seemed to look longingly outside. I wanted to set her free, but I knew she would die in the winter chill.
On day 8, I could tell things weren’t good. I mentioned it to Fred before I went over to Kate’s to prep for a job the following day. That night while at Kate’s, Fred called and told me I might want to come home. It was Snowmary. When I walked in, I could see she was dying. I wanted to take her outside to at least have one flight in the sky before she passed, but she was too weak. And so I held her in my hand outside and I told her how beautiful she was, how amazing her life, her catharsis, had been and thanked her for all that she taught me. And then I set her on a little herb plant outside as she lay on her back, curled her legs in and went into the position of flexion.
Somehow everything about Snowmary Rose felt significant. Of course I’ve always known caterpillars turn into butterflies, but to actually witness it is an entirely different story. Then, of course, this draw, this connection I felt with her. I don’t know…
I guess I’ve become my own butterfly the past couple of years - was in a state of chrysalis of sorts as well. I certainly don’t feel as beautiful as Snowmary Rose, but I feel alive and free, I love and am loved, rich with extraordinary loyal and true friendships, close family, a healthy, happy, breathtaking little girl, a partnership which, in more ways than one, inspires and challenges me daily, and a career that grows and morphs and expands with each season.
Which brings us to this post. I was tasked with creating a special holiday meal to be paired with Rioja wine. I tasted 3 different wines and came up with duck confit topped with a cranberry-Rioja mostaza, hundred-layer duck fat potatoes and blanched haricots verts topped with burrata and toasted hazelnuts. And with close friends, we all prepared and ate the meal. Together. We were full and tipsy and laughing and there was nowhere else any of us wanted to be. I even wore my Santa hat.
Oh, remember caterpillar number 2? Still in chrysalis. I’ll keep you posted.
Special bonus: instead of the usual one recipe, today I give you three! And I am here to attest that each thing here pairs excellently with Rioja!
Cranberry-Rioja Mostaza (to go over duck)
Recipe adapted from Food & Wine
3/4 cup Rioja wine
3/4 cup sugar
1 large bay leaf
1 bag cranberries (12 ounces)
1 1/2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 Tablespoons dry mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper
In a large saucepan, combine the wine, sugar and bay leaf and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil until syrupy, about 9 minutes. Add the cranberries and cook until they begin to break down, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar with the mustard, then whisk the mixture into the cranberries. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon over duck confit or seared duck breast.
Haricots Verts with Burrata and Toasted Hazelnuts
2 pounds haricots verts, rinsed and ends trimmed
⅓ pound hazelnuts
4 lobes of burrata
2 Tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake until toasted, about 7 minutes. Let cool slightly, then rub with a towel to remove the skins; roughly chop and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the haricots verts and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Drain and immediately transfer to the ice bath; let sit until cool, about 2 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
Portion onto plates and top with ½ lobe of burrata drizzled with olive oil, sprinkle everything with toasted hazelnuts and a bit of sea salt.
Hundred-Layer Duck Fat Potatoes
Recipe adapted from Food & Wine
5 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1 cup duck fat, melted
1 Tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
Vegetable oil, for frying
Preheat oven to 300°F. Line an 9X13 baking pan with parchment paper, allowing 2 inches of overhang on all sides. Toss together potatoes, duck fat, and 1 tablespoon salt in a large bowl until well coated.
Place a single layer of potatoes in prepared pan. Top with a second layer of potatoes, covering any gaps in first layer. Repeat layers with remaining potatoes. Drizzle remaining duck fat in bowl over top.
Cut an 9X13-inch rectangle of parchment paper, and press directly onto surface of potatoes. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake in preheated oven until potatoes are tender (removing foil to test with a wooden pick), 2 to 3 hours.
Transfer pan to a wire rack, and remove foil, leaving parchment sheet on potatoes. Set a second 8-inch square pan on top of potatoes in pan, and weigh it down with unopened canned goods. Let cool to room temperature.
Remove weighted pan and top parchment sheet; discard parchment sheet. Run a knife around edges of pan to loosen potato cake. Cut potatoes into brownie-sized small squares.
Heat 1 1/2 inches of oil in a fry daddy or Dutch oven over medium-high to 375°F. Working in batches, fry potato pieces, turning occasionally, until golden brown and crispy, 5 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer potato pieces to a brown paper–lined rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle fried potatoes evenly with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Serve immediately.
Two years ago: Oyster Stew
Three years ago: Butter Balls
Five years ago: Marshmallows
Six years ago: Kathy's Deviled Ham Salad
Seven years ago: Sunday Cassoulet
Eight years ago: Linguine with Pancetta Mushroom Cream Sauce
Nine years ago: 2009: The Year of the Food Truck