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Posts Tagged ‘roving locavore’

Meatballs are comfort food, but they can also form the center of a sumptuous meal. Luxury and refinement meet in the meatball when it is handled with care, swaddled in a blanched leaf, braised in aromatic broth, and served in a white dish. Making these fragrant pork meatballs, delicate and gigantic at once, teaches you to handle them like egg yolks. The flavors in Lion’s Head meatballs are tame as well, in spite of their ferocious name. Ginger and warm spice, green onion, a touch of salt.

My first encounter with this traditional Shanghai dish was in the now closed, but fondly remembered Fountain Court, in the Richmond district of San Francisco. Peter and I lived up the hill to the east, just past the fog line, in a one-bedroom with a sliver ocean view. We would make a long evening of it with our poet friend, starting at the Plough and Stars —empty except for us at 6:00. After getting into the groove of our usual hilarity, we’d amble down to Green Apple Books with its countless rooms of used books and music. Soon overwhelmed by the poetry, theory, novels, history, and philosophy I wanted to read, I’d find myself in cookbooks, flipping through recipes and pictures. Finally, we’d find each other and continue down Clement St. to the Fountain Court, where our friend was greeted like a long lost puppy by the owner.

Because it was so good, so particular to that place and time, so perfectly accompanied by sweet roasted eggplants and a platter full of sauteed pea greens, I didn’t consider trying to make this meal for years. A decade, even. But meatballs are simple, aren’t they? They like to be cuddled and coddled like babies, and it’s hard to go wrong.

So, I rounded up a recipe on Epicurious (not very scholarly, I know) and used it as an outline for my own composition, which included a dash of five spice powder—whether authentic or not.

Here are the sweet morsels browning:

Here are two beautiful Japanese eggplants:

Here are the browned meatballs wrapped in blanched Savoy cabbage (the store was out of Napa):

They simmered on the stove for an hour or so, becoming more tender than you can imagine meat to be.

*          *          *

And, to follow up on other culinary adventures in my household… here’s Lizzie enjoying some butternut squash spinach puree I whipped up for her:

And here’s the delicious pot of mayonnaise I whisked up last week, which makes the perfect condiment for just about everything!

Believe it or not, I made it the day before Melissa Clark published this mayonnaise recipe in the NYT Dining section. Must have been some kind of seasonal urge. Now, I’m a total amateur, although I did work for a moment in a restaurant kitchen where they had me prepare the béarnaise, so I know a tidbit about whisking. That said, I was really surprised that she didn’t know about the drops of water… In any case, homemade mayonnaise is worth every second of wrist ache it takes to make it.

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Today was the first day that really felt like fall. It was in the 50s when we ventured outside this morning to water the plants, and the clouds overhead were rushing by. Because of these early signs, I got it into my head that apple picking would be the perfect thing to do. It’s a little early, but there are some varieties ripening or ripe by now.

In the early afternoon, we made our way through the suburbs and exurbs of the Twin Cities to Aamodt’s Apple Farm in Stillwater, MN. We had read online that kids who colored in a printable map of the farm would get a free cider doughnut, so Jack had come prepared with a diligently colored map. When we got there, we went first to the Apple Barn and where he was given his free doughnut. I have a special nostalgia-enhanced weakness for cider doughnuts, so I had to get one, too. (The last time I was pregnant, with Jack, we lived in Berkeley, CA, and I had my mom overnight me some cider doughnuts when the season rolled around.)

Then we went picking. Because it’s only September 3rd, we were too early for Macintosh or Honeycrisp. We were limited to Paula Reds, but that was fine with us. It was just the experience we were after, and a serviceable apple for crisp.

For dinner tonight on this cool evening, we had a perfect peasant meal. I made a rustic frittata with thinly sliced potatoes and onions and two sprigs of thyme, and, of course, an apple dessert.

Apple Crumble (adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion)

Filling:
3 lbs. apples (I used 8 Paula Reds)
1/4 c. rum or apple cider (I used lemonade)
2 tbs. butter, melted
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3 tbs. flour
1/4 tsp. salt

Streusel Topping:
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. oats
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 stick butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Filling: Peel, core, and cube the apples. Stir together with other filling ingredients. Spoon apple mixture into a 9 x 9-inch baking pan.

Topping: Stir together flour, oats, salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, and baking powder. Chop up the butter and blend it in with your fingers until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over filling

Bake for 1 1/4 hours, or until it’s bubbly and a deep, golden brown.

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My dissertation, that is, is done.  Sadly, so is our packing.

We’ve been saying goodbyes to good good friends here in Rome, and will leave on Thursday.  It’s an anticipated sadness and loss, so it’s one that ebbs and flows, comes and goes at unexpected moments.  Life goes on, too, as do the food and wine discoveries. Why did it take 9 months for me to learn about this vino vivace I’m sipping right now?  Monsupello, an off-white slightly fizzy wine made with Pinot Nero grapes (skins taken out), from the Pavia region in the north of Italy.  The reason I didn’t know about it sooner is that Jeannie and Valeria, friends and moms of Jack’s friends, discovered it at our local enoteca—wine shop—and bought it all up.  But with the new season, new caseloads have come in, and we’re all drinking it.  I had it first on Jeannie’s balcony in Trastevere while Jack and Nico “went fishing” with coat hangers over the edge.  Then I had it two nights later at Valeria & Andreas’ apartment.  Two Roman veterinarians, they told us about their dreams of opening a restaurant in London or Berlin that serves good basic Roman cuisine.

Late, too, I found out about Necci, a wonderful little cafe that does everything from breakfast pastries to toy-swaps for the kids with aperitivi for the parents.  Jeannie, Sarah, and I went to Pigneto, a Roman neighborhood outside of the city center, last week, on a mission to taste the artisanal cornetti (Italian croissants).  The chef, a British guy named Ben, is one of those admirable chefs who uses only local and seasonal ingredients and who is reviving old ways of making things.  Jeannie and I had chocolate cornetti and agreed that they were the best we’d tasted in years.  Light crunch to the pastry flakes—dark, warm chocolate within.

Necci is a fun place with great deck seating, kid-friendliness, a sense of humor, and delicious food.  Some pictures.

Jeannie & Sarah

banana flush pull

After a long, leisurely hour and two cappuccini at Necci, we walked down a central neighborhood street that has an open air market during the morning.  I bought a melon, a bagful of cherries, and susine plums.

Then we wandered with our fruit-heavy bags back to Sarah’s car, stopping in little shops along the way.  One of them was a funky second-hand store, with everything from a vintage Singer sewing machine—from the 1910s—to Pokemon cards.  Now, if I had known then what I know now, I would have bought a huge handful of those cards.  For the past few days of goodbyes Jack has been cathecting all of his mixed emotions onto his carte di Pokemon.  I buy a pack for him (and they’re exploitatively expensive!) and he gives them all away as regali.  Or his more cunning friends convince him to trade 4 for 1.  I tell him I won’t buy him anymore, and he cries and says he doesn’t want to go to school or see his friends again.  I say, “I know you’re sad that we’re leaving. Let’s talk about what you like about Rome” and he’ll say, “I like the buses and the carte di Pokemon.”  It’s been a sad time for him, because he’s had such a wonderful year.  He learned Italian and finally feels comfortable with his Italian friends and teachers. He loves his school.  He loves life here at the Academy where there are always friends available right next door. So he channels his emotions into the things he can grasp at and consume until we go away (friends are too complicated for these operations): Gormiti (little Italian elemental action figures), Pokemon cards (which, he doesn’t know, are everywhere), and ciambellini (the mini doughnuts they make at the Kosher cafe we stop in almost every morning before school).  We all do it.  I’m drinking more coffee because I know I won’t taste coffee like this in the New World.  I’m putting one more slice of mozzarella on my plate because it might be my last for years. I’m getting a cup of pistachio gelato even if Jack doesn’t want any.  We’re trying to squeeze in one more coffee-date, playdate, late-night conversation with the wonderful friends we’ve made here.  And I’m trying to drink in the views and sounds of Rome so that I won’t forget any of it, so that it won’t become muted and hazy when we get back to “real life.”

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Dear Readers,

Thanks for sticking with me in my absence. I’ve been busy finishing my dissertation, and am finally down to proofreading, formatting, and double-checking footnotes.  I’ve also been eating well, and enjoying as much time as possible with our good friends here during our last weeks in Rome.  And I’ve been having fun with this little guy, who had a wonderful year at the amazing Scuola Arcobaleno making countless kinds of art, learning to play the violin and piano, running in his first track meet, and, most importantly of all, speaking Italian so well that he corrects his parents’ pronunciation and grammar.

I’ll return to blogging in a few weeks….

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Not a mis-spelling of burrito, no.  Something much, much better.  Exquisite, even.

While I sit here waiting for my Byron chapter to print out, I find my mind drifting back to dinner last night with Tess and Jessie (interns at the Rome Sustainable Food Project and co-producer—that’s Tess—of the must-see Food Inc.) and David (a documentary filmmaker and husband of Jessie), at a tiny table in a teeny apartment in Trastevere, where, while we sat around the burrata like worshipers at a sacred font, Jack jumped on the bed in the other room.

http://danamccauley.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/burrata.jpeg?w=325&h=251

Oh, my!  This is how burrata, a soft, fresh mozzarella with liquefying cream in the middle, looks at the store.  When you take it home to serve, our Italian associates in food-loving tell us, you put it in a bowl, pour a bit of your best extra virgin olive oil over it, slice it with a spoon, and eat it—preferably with a spoon.

Burrata is my new love.  It’s better than gelato.

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We’re in Florence.  Today’s my birthday.  Yesterday we went to the famous gelateria Vivoli.  I know I should have tried the cinnamon-orange, but I can’t give up an opportunity to savor one of the nutty flavors I love so much.  Yesterday I went for the classic nocciolo—hazelnut.  Jack had a puckering cup of limone mixed with fragola (strawberry, but the word always reminds me of “Fraggle Rock”).  Jack also got a big kick out of the address of the gelateria, in Isola delle Stinche.  Stinky—ha ha ha! (He’s just about five, so that’s the height of humor.)

Last night we took a chance on a restaurant, and it turned out to be an enjoyable meal.  The highlights were the antipasto dish of fagioli con bottarga, and the Florentine steak, which my mom, Peter, and I all ordered.  It was rubbed with rosemary, grilled rare, sliced thin, and served on a bed of arugula. Perfect.

Pictures will come….

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It was actually pretty chilly, and the sky was gray, but the fruit trees are blooming, the kids are antsy, and everyone just wanted to hang around in the big back garden yesterday.  The grill was going from 11 to 7.

There were pork sausages of all kinds, veal chops, pork chops, lamb shoulder, lamb leg…. Most of us ate bites right off the grill, with our fingers. Yes, it was greasy and brutish and washed down with plenty of beer and 3-Euro wine.  I brought a salad of romaine, treviso, pears, fennel, and walnuts.  No one ate it. Some of the foods were local and artisanal. Others were, well, hot dogs and cream-in-a-can.

We played ping pong, bocce, kickball, and frisbee.

For more pictures, go to my Flickr page.

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Last night, Chris and the kitchen crew cooked a delicious meal which included Tuscan beans slowly braised in terra cotta pots in the fireplace.  The beans had an extra depth of flavor that was set off by the sprinkling of fried sage leaves the cooks put on top before serving them.  A perfect, woodsy combination.

Chris, tending the coals

low-tech crock pot

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This one, led again by Pina Pasquantonio, the administrator here at the Academy and a sommelier, took us up several levels from the last one.  We got to taste what I’ve only ever read about, and never expected to taste: “Super Tuscans.”

We began, again, with a spumante: Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Anna Maria Clementi, 2002, named by the current owner for his mother, who founded Ca’ del Bosco, and containing a blend of chardonnay, pinot blanc and pinot noir.  Having spent about six years in the bottle, it was zingy with minerals, fresh and chewy at once, and mouth-cleansing with its vibrant little bubbles.

After a bit of bread with Pina’s homemade olive oil, we moved onto a dense white: Gravner Ribolla Anfora 2004.  Pina led into this wine with its story—which is also the story of its winemaker Francesco Gravner.  He had a successful high-production winery, and was making a nice income, but was dissatisfied.  He went on a research trip to Georgia, where he tasted the local wine made in clay amphorae, the way the Greeks and Romans used to do it.  He came back to his winery in the northeastern Italian Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, and began making wine in small batches, with only the best grapes, with the amphora method.  The grapes are gently pressed with an ancient press, and the juice drips through a screen into the amphorae which are lined with beeswax and buried up to their necks in earth.  The juice ferments for seven months underground, and is then decanted into large oak casks and aged for 36 months.  Gravner only decants the wine into bottles during a waning moon, when the planets are properly aligned.  This biodynamism comes through in the bouquet and flavor of this wine, which are vegetal, leathery, and earthy in the most interesting way.  The color of the wine was a gold verging on amber, like a dessert wine, but it was bone dry.

five stunning wines

The next wine, which Leonard exclaimed was “a legendary, rare wine!” was my favorite, but I’ll never be able to buy a bottle because of what is referred to as a prohibitive pricetag: €120.  This was the “Super Tuscan” L’Apparita 2004 by Castello di Ama, made from 100% merlot.  This is a wine that has me bowing down in worship before this much-used, much-maligned grape.  Its color was like a ruby, its bouquet full of leather, dark chocolate, earth, bread baking, sweat, spice, and wood—”sandalwood,” said Pina.  The taste created different sensations all over the mouth, but what made me close my eyes was the anise that lingered in a long, delicate line.

While we sipped and swirled in awed silence, Gianni, Pina’s partner in life and wine, poured out little sips of the two final wines: Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia 2005 and 2006, Bordeaux-blend Super Tuscans.  They were both completely their own wines.  The 2005 was nuttier, both were complex, but Pina seemed most inspired by the 2006, in which she smelled pine and salty sea spray.

Wow, what a night.

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At a junction of thoughts that represents some substance of my life right now: a chapter in Moby Dick; a talk about food in high art given by Leonard Barkan; the local-food-movement mantra know your food, know your farmer; swimming, during which activity my thoughts form folds with each lap and the thought that my son loves swimming connects to the porpoises on Planet Earth and in Moby Dick, which leads to another branch of my family, those Nantucket whalemen ancestors, who probably dined on whale at some point, and one of whom carved an incredibly intricate scrimshaw fan during those endless hours of calm water.

http://www.artunframed.com/images/boucher3/Are_They_Thinking_About_the_Grape.jpg

Leonard’s talk, “Thinking of the Grapes” (which refers to this painting by François Boucher) was about how food has an ambiguous status in high art, in particular (in this lecture) Renaissance and Baroque painting.  Food is both vividly, sensuously present in all of its particularity of detail, and is officially secondary to the main subject.  Gastronomy falls far below philosophy, theology, astronomy, or love, and yet it obtrudes itself into the artist’s imagination and into the picture and takes on significance as the too-muchness of what we desire and fear of appetite.  It is suppressed, Leonard suggests, because it is just too consuming.

Food enters art more or less smoothly or subversively depending on the culture, the age, the medium, the genre.  Novels—omnivorous gluttons of the details of everyday life that they are—might be expected to contain more food.  Moby Dick has none of the delicacy of Boucher’s lovers feeding each other grapes, and contains a smorgasbord of greasy, glistening, animal food and its bestial eaters.  But the discussion of eating in the chapter “The Whale as a Dish” is not simply a display of macho engorgement.  It has as much ethical, psychological, cultural, socioeconomical, and philosophical penetration as the best thinking about food today, and combines all of these elements in prose more musical, serio-satirical, and strange than anything I’ve read recently.

Here is the chapter.

“The Whale as a Dish”

That mortal man should feed upon the creature that feeds his lamp, and, like Stubb, eat him by his own light, as you may say; this seems so outlandish a thing that one must needs go a little into the history and philosophy of it.

It is upon record, that three centuries ago the tongue of the Right Whale was esteemed a great delicacy in France, and commanded large prices there.  Also, that in Henry VIIIth’s time, a certain cook of the court obtained a handsome reward for inventing an admirable sauce to be eaten with barbecued porpoises, which, you remember, are a species of whale.  Porpoises, indeed, are to this day considered fine eating.  The meat is made into balls about the size of billiard balls, and being well seasoned and spiced might be taken for turtle-balls or veal balls.  The old monks of Dunfermline were very fond of them.  They had a great porpoise grant from the crown.

The fact is, that among his hunters at least, the whale would by all hands be considered a noble dish, were there not so much of him; but when you come to sit down before a meat-pie nearly one hundred feet long, it takes away your appetite.  Only the most unprejudiced of men like Stubb, nowadays partake of cooked whales; but the Esquimaux are not so fastidious.  We all know how they live upon whales, and have rare old vintages of prime old train oil.  Zogranda, one of their most famous doctors, recommends strips of blubber for infants, as being exceedingly juicy and nourishing.  And this reminds me that certain Englishmen, who long ago were accidentally left in Greenland by a whaling vessel—that these men actually lived for several months on the mould scraps of whales which had been left ashore after trying out the blubber.  Among the Dutch whalemen these scraps are called “fritters”; which, indeed, they greatly resemble, being brown and crisp, and smelling something like old Amsterdam housewives’ doughnuts or oly-cooks, when fresh.  They have such an eatable look that the most self-denying stranger can hardly keep his hands off.

But what further depreciates the whale as a civilized dish, is his exceeding richness.  He is the great prize ox of the sea, too fat to be delicately good.  Look at his hump which would be as fine eating as the buffalo’s (which is esteemed a rare dish), were it not such a solid pyramid of fat.  But the spermaceti itself, how bland and creamy that is; like the transparent, half-jellied white meat of a cocoa-nut in the third month of its growth, yet far too rich to supply a substitute for butter.  Nevertheless, many whalemen have a method of absorbing it into some other substance, and then partaking of it.  In the long try watches of the night it is a common thing for a seaman to dip their ship-biscuit into the huge oil-pots and let them fry there awhile.  Many a good supper have I thus made.

In the case of a small sperm whale the brains are accounted a fine dish.  The casket of the skull is broken into with an axe, and the two plump, whitish lobes being withdrawn (precisely resembling two large puddings), they are then mixed with flour, and cooked into a most delectable mess, in flavour somewhat resembling calves’ head, which is quite a dish among some epicures; and every one knows that some young bucks among the epicures, by continually dining upon calves’ brains, by and by get to have a little brains of their own, so as to be able to tell a calf’s head from their own heads; which, indeed, requires uncommon discrimination.  And that is the reason why a young buck with an intelligent looking calf’s head before him, is somehow one of the saddest sights you can see.  The head looks a sort of reproachfully at him, with an “Et tu Brute!” expression.

It is not, perhaps, entirely because the whale is so excessively unctuous that landsmen seem to regard the eating of him with abhorrence; that appears to result, in some way, from the consideration before mentioned, i.e., that a man should eat a newly murdered thing of the sea, and eat it too by its own light.  But no doubt the first man that ever murdered an ox was regarded as a murderer; perhaps he was hung; and if he had been put on trial by oxen, he certainly would have been; and he certainly deserved it if any murderer does.   Go to the meat-market of a Saturday night and see the crowds of live bipeds staring up at the long rows of dead quadrupeds.  Does not that sight take a tooth out of the cannibal’s jaw?  Cannibals? who is not a cannibal?  I tell you it will be more tolerable for the Fejee that salted down a lean missionary in his cellar against a coming famine; it will be more tolerable for that provident Fejee, I say, in the day of judgment, than for thee, civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy paté-de-foie-gras.

But Stubb, he eats the whale by its own light, does he? and that is adding insult to injury, is it?  Look at your knife-handle, there, my civilized and enlightened gourmand dining off that roast beef, what is that handle made of?—what but the bones of the brother of the very ox you are eating? And what do you pick your teeth with, after devouring that fat goose?  With a feather of the same fowl.  And with what quill did the Secretary of the Society for the Suppression of Cruelty to Ganders formally indite his circulars? It is only within the last month or two that that society passed a resolution to patronize nothing but steel pens.

Moby Dick (1851)
Herman Melville

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