Thursday, July 9, 2015

Uncle Clarence's Cukes

Chinese Cucumber Side
Back in the day, and I mean really way, way back - my Uncle Clarence would make Chinese food at Aunt Maddy’s camp when he was “up” in Vermont. It became tradition.

Other than that one time when my second cousin’s shellfish allergy made things ‘interesting’ (or dire, depending on perspective) – the occasion was looked forward to by all of us Vermonty Anglos.

My favorite dish was a simple one of vinegary cucumbers.

But, perhaps – I should back this story up.

My mom’s older brother, Clarence, was something else. And I mean that with a proud, familial fierceness – he was totally himself, instead of what others expected him to be.

He was (to my knowledge) the first in the family to go to college. And I might be just remembering it that way – but when you are 8 years old, and suddenly 50, things go fuzzy.

Who else hailing from a subsistence farm on Mill Pond Road in Colchester would become an interpreter for the US military? My Uncle!

Not for French or Spanish culture, but for the Chinese language! 

Later on, he was a museum curator on the West Coast and once retired, became a freelance authenticator of museum artifacts worldwide.

I remember his stories about driving through Burlington in a fancy convertible and getting “hit on” by young femmes; buying wines at vineyards that have only bin numbers, visiting a native American reservation and being recognized as “brother” - assembling an earthquake kit, a home break-in (they stole wine, the fiends!) and experiencing severe water rationing in San Francisco.

I spent some summers in Bakersfield with his children, Lin and Lea.  I could write volumes on those adventures…

This past weekend, when Lin and his wife Sarah visited, I made a Chinese-style menu to honor his dad’s memory.

Though, I don’t think I nailed the dumpling dipping sauce – because another family tradition is leaving ingredients out of shared recipes. (Which I personally don’t adhere to.)

While many celebrated the Fourth of July with chicken, burgers and dogs, we ate a variety of grilled meat on sticks, marinated shrimps, potsticker dumplings, and this cucumber dish.

All because of you, Clarence Shangraw. Thank you, sir.

Uncle Clarence’s Cucumbers
Serves 6-8

1 Cucumber, skin on, sliced thin
1/4 Cup Rice Wine Vinegar
1 TB Maple Syrup

Optional garnish: sesame seeds

Assemble all before service or a day ahead.

Taste and adjust the vinegar – it should be refreshingly tart.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Cranberry Curd

Vermont Cranberries
Cranberries came jellied, fresh from the electric can opener when I was growing up.

That jiggly tubular lump was plopped into a CorningWare cereal bowl every Thanksgiving.

That was the day set aside for hosting the relatives on my father’s side. I came to associate it, and certain other holiday foods with arguments, general unpleasantness and yelling.

I’ll never understand why my parents insisted on that ritual
or expect that “this time” was going to be the one golden moment they could be civil to each other.

If any food deserved derision, cranberries had it coming.

You may have noticed by now, I am not the type to gloss over personal memories with cherubs and roses; I am someone who associates food with –– everything.

Thank goodness, I matured and developed a new respect for the cranberry.

I eat those produced in Vermont by “Cranberry Bob” Lesnikoski.

We met so many years ago, I can’t pinpoint the exact moment; but we eventually wound up vending at the same farmer’s market in Burlington’s City Hall Park.

Real fresh cranberries, and cranberry stuffs!

I first had them in cranberry bread (which I made for a holiday gathering -- yeesss, don’t judge). 

I use cranberry vinegar in salad dressings, and pair cranberry compote with game.  My husband Dan eats dried crannies with breakfast cereal in the mornings.

Most recently I’ve made cranberry curd.

What’s that curd thin? 

It‘s an intensely flavored soft pudding/spread that can be enjoyed with scones and crepes, dolloped on slices of angel food or pound cake, and devoured as the sweet/tart topper of baked meringues.

So, here’s a heartfelt humble tip of the hat to a fellow Vermont farmer that I fully credit for returning cranberries to my menus.

Cranberry Curd

Cranberry Curd
Adapted from a recipe by Land O’Lakes
Makes about 1 Cup

1 Cup Fresh or Frozen Cranberries
½ Cup Water
¼ Cup Brown or White Sugar
2 Egg Yolks, lightly beaten
Pinch of Salt
2 TB Butter, cut into 2 pieces

Place water and berries in a microwave-safe dish.

Heat until berries burst, about 1 – 2 minutes.  Cool to room temperature.

Fill a medium saucepan with 1 - 2 inches of water and bring it to a simmer; reduce heat to low.

Place all ingredients except the butter in a large heatproof bowl and whisk to combine.

Set the bowl over, but not touching, the simmering water and whisk constantly until the yolks thicken and the mixture forms ribbons when the whisk is lifted from the bowl, about 10 -15 minutes.

(Check to make sure the water does not boil. If it does, remove the bowl so the eggs do not curdle and allow the water return to a simmer.)

Remove the bowl from the heat; whisk in the butter one piece at a time, waiting until each piece is incorporated before adding another.

Set a fine-mesh strainer over a small bowl. Strain the curd and discard any solids.

Refrigerate until set.  Keeps for xxx

Wild Lawn Pesto

Dandies, Lamb's-quarter, Daisy, Oregano, Wood Sorrel, Garlic Chives, Dame's Rocket 
There are apple, plum and pear trees living on my lawn.

Songbirds nest in maples and bring their babies to the seed feeders, who in turn do the same.  An occasional bunny, turkey or quail, stops by. 

I consider this a success, but it hasn’t been all roses and kittens.

There was the double-down disaster that was the first two lilac hedges (wrong species for our sub-climate).

Peaches and sour cherry starts were run over twice in two years by the lawnmower. 

Gooseberries, blueberries, elderberries? We have the wrong type of soil.

Nowadays, there’s heavy shade to contend with and I didn’t divided the irises or lilies in decline.

Plants thriving at this level of neglect are hostas, weeds, and wildflowers.

This week, garlic chives busted out all over.  A twenty-year old oregano patch struggled to make it just one more season; wood sorrel (sour grass) and Lamb’s-quarter (pigweed) came up. *

Each became an ingredient in my lawn-pesto recipe.

My mother’s reaction to this news, ‘You’re eating weeds now?’

Yes, yes. I am.  And, they’re delicious!

*Lamb’s-quarter tastes like mild spinach and can be used fresh or cooked.

Weed and Wildflower = Pesto
Lawnmower Pesto
Makes about 1 Cup

1 Packed Cup Mixed Greens (Lamb’s-quarter, Garlic Chives, Wood Sorrel, Oregano)
¼ - ½ Cup Sunflower Oil
2 – 4 TB Grated Hard Cheese (I used Comte)
1 TB Hemp Seeds (or pine nuts)

Wildflower Petals: Dame’s Rocket, Dandelion, Garlic Chives

Wild Lawn Pesto
Pick and wash your greens.  Let them drain in a colander to give any hitched-a-ride insects the opportunity to vacate the premises.

Place all ingredients (except oil and petals) in a food chopper fitted with a blade.

Slowly drizzle in oil with the motor running until you have a serviceable paste.

Process, taste, adjust for salt.

Stir in flower petals. 

Store under refrigeration.