hot oranges

Remember when M.F.K. Fisher warmed tangerines on the radiator?  Well, less elegantly and inadvertently, I just invented a new snack for myself: hot orange.  I decided this morning to make that  orange-scented olive oil cake again, and, attempting to multitask, I popped an orange in the microwave to take the chill off and proceeded to quarter three oranges, forgetting that 10 seconds goes by in a flash.  Oops! 30 seconds later, I heard the beep and took out a hot, sweating, fragrant orange.  The peel came right off, the sections were steaming, and the flavor was intense! I’m going to do this more often….

The cake, then. It is a perfect cake: crumbly, moist, full of flavor, and, in fact, healthy!  The only fat in it is olive oil (and egg), the sugar is not too high.  And it’s an any-occasion cake: dinner-party dessert, breakfast, tea-time, or mid-morning little smackerel of something.

(It would be good with honey.)

I also love the process of it.  First, three successive boilings of the orange quarters to temper the acidity, then a slow simmer of orange in simple syrup.  The drained oranges are then pureed and mixed into the dry ingredients with eggs and olive oil.  The cake is finished with an orangey glaze that soaks into the crumb structure through the top and the bottom edges where the glaze puddles.  The process also fills the house with the most wonderful aroma of tropical warmth.

In just under a month, we’ll be moving from Auburn to Minneapolis. Quite a change.  We’ve been soaking up the summery May weather here by spending time in the big backyard.  We found blackberry bushes in the corner near the wren house.  The nasturtiums we planted are blooming in spite of the drought. It sounds silly, but these nasturtiums have given me one of my most satisfying gardening experiences.  They pop up in no time, they’re colorful, they’re edible, and their vine-like stems grow into beautifully negligent nests (a good description of my garden-style).

For a dinner party the other night, I made the orange-scented olive oil cake I’ve written about here before, and decorated it seasonally.

And here are Jack and Jordan the other day.

For Jack’s birthday party last month, also on the deck in the backyard, our little geography buff wanted a map cake, so I made two layer cakes decorated as the eastern and western hemispheres.  Jack drew the continents.


This is the name of a little cafe in Norwich, Vermont. They make really good food.  They actually know how to bake. This doesn’t sound like a compliment or even a recommendation, but it is.  The perfection of their pastries always inspires deep respect, gratitude, and even awe in me, because there are so few towns that have real bakeries that don’t take short cuts with vegetable oil, that eschew muffins, that use time-tested recipes and forms—such as the Swiss honey-walnut-stuffed engadiner—and that don’t inflate their pastries to size of a toddler’s head.  I always look forward to their almond croissants, which sell out quickly because of their perfect flakiness, not-too-sweetness, delicacy, and pure yumminess.  I was lucky yesterday that there was one left when we got there as late as 9:40.  It was 16 degrees outside. I sat in the sunny corner and enjoyed my moment of marzipan and toasted butter bliss, and watched the Christmas cookies sparkle and turn on their branches.

The other night, we had the richest meal I’ve had since, I think, that osso bucco last year.  The main dish, pork braised in milk, was followed by Sharyn’s rendition of sticky toffee pudding with custard, a signature dessert of the Lake District, where our friend Leanda, who just happened to be one of the guests at dinner, is from.  (She demonstrated her approval by having a bit of seconds.)

Sharyn has become something of a co-conspirator on this blog; if she weren’t so materially real she would seem to be an imaginary friend.  But every time we cook a meal together, which is frequently lately, I’m inspired to write it up, to share it, to record it.  We both love to cook, to talk about cooking and food, to plan meals, and to eat them together.  Our husbands and children join us quite willingly.  Jack and Mimi crack each other up, and Jim and Peter enjoy the chance to catch up.

Pork braised in milk was one of the memorable meals from the American Academy in Rome.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to duplicate it, but with the help of Marcella Hazan’s recipe, I thought I might come close.  I started in the early afternoon by browning a Boston butt.  I have no idea why it’s called a butt, since it’s a shoulder, and what it has to do with Boston. I was hoping that Sharon Tyler Herbst’s indispensable Food Lover’s Companion would clarify this question for me, but I was disappointed.  Her pork-cut chart refers to the cut as a shoulder, and as a “picnic shoulder,” which speaks to the description Wikipedia begins with:

Boston butt is a cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg and may contain the blade bone.[1] This pork cut, from the shoulder, combined with the way it is prepared and served, makes it a distinctly American dish. Smoked or barbecued Boston butt is a southern tradition. As a mainstay of Deep South cuisine, particularity in Alabama and Georgia, it is often smoked and sold as a fundraiser on road side stands by charities and local organizations.

Why does this strike me as funny?  Maybe because they don’t explain that it’s “pulled pork” they’re talking about.

Wikipedia then led me to two Boston-based food authorities, Sheryl Julian, of the Boston Globe and Chris Schlesinger, chef and author of How to Cook Meat. Julian offers this explanation, along with a tasty sounding recipe for pulled pork:

the cut was named early in American history. In Colonial times, the shoulders were packed into “butts” – the word for barrels – for shipping or storage.

Anyway, the four kids, between the ages of 3 & 5, who came to eat the Boston butt got a huge kick out of the name.  And the grown-ups were pretty happy with the braise as well. We ate every bit, and even sopped up the nut-brown sauce (made with whole milk from a local small dairy) until the platter was clean.

holy holidays!

Once again, we’ll be traveling during Christmas, so we got a small, manageable, multi-purpose, potted tree: a rosemary bush.

Saturday was an interesting amalgam of holidays, of kitsch and authenticity, peppermint sticks and latkes.  In the morning, we joined some friends at the local John Deere dealer for a picture with Santa and to climb around on tractors.

Oh yeah!

This event reached a height of absurdity when the hay wagon took us on a circuit through the parking lot of the Lakeview Baptist jumbo-church.

We ended the day at little Mimi’s house eating latkes and lighting the menorah. To celebrate oil, I once again made the orange scented olive oil cake I wrote about recently.  This time, though, I had confectioner’s sugar so was able to make the glaze and to dot the top with coarse fleur de sel.  The oranges I used were a variety of blood orange from Florida, just in, which gave the cake a peachy hue.  It was deeply moist and tangy.

All and all, it was a satisfying weekend for the little ones. On Sunday, I bought my first wreath, strung up lights, and lit all the candles in the house. We’re having a spell of 30-degree weather, so it feels pretty cozy.

Today after school, it was time to turn that frozen disk of sweet pastry dough into cookies.

(Those crispy critters out front are my favorites.)

post- post

What a week of cooking it’s been.  At this point, all I have energy for is posting a few pictures.

Two days before Thanksgiving, our friends Charles and Monika and their puppy Djuna (after Djuna Barnes) stopped on their way to Atlanta for the night.  Earlier in the afternoon, Jack and I made egg noodles to go along with the cabbage-wrapped meatballs.

I toasted coriander seeds in my cute little skillet.

For dessert, I made a chocolate-espresso-Irish whiskey bundt cake that was so rich and moist it came out almost black and was a heady thing to eat.  I made it again the next day, to bring to Thanksgiving at the McKelly’s.  (But failed, both times, to take a picture.)

Thanksgiving was a meal Sharyn and I had been planning for awhile, and everything came out beautifully.

I cooked these sprouts up with pancetta and walnuts.  I made a cranberry tart, and Jack helped me—gleefully—mix up the crumble topping.

Here—later—is Jim carving the ras-al-hanout-rubbed turkey.

And here’s Mimi almost beside herself with party-anticipation.

Sharyn, with her usual elegance, had set two tables with simple, seasonal, but always tasteful decoration.

And the kids had fun at the kid table while the adults’ conversation wound its unpredictable way from raising llamas to running to the love of chocolate to Turkish coffee.

Sharyn, Jim, and Mimi: we’re thankful to have such good friends as you!


I do love cooking projects that require days.  No-knead bread. Gravy from scratch. I’ve done both this week.  The no-knead bread was for dinner at Matt & Christina’s, where we had a delicious, mostly local meal that unfolded at a nice relaxed pace.  First, Christina cooked up some little pizzas with Indian-spiced tomato-mustard green sauce topped with goat cheese.  The unusual combo worked beautifully.  Meanwhile, Jack followed Matt in and out as he went to fire up the grill, check on the rabbits and chickens out back, and then grill some home-raised rabbit. There was salad chock full of peppery arugula from our Red Root CSA, and for dessert, creme brulee with local persimmons. Jack didn’t want any, until he saw that dessert involved flame! A spectacular, sustainable meal.

The next day, I started the gravy, using Julia Moskin’s recipe from the NYT.  You start by roasting 6 turkey legs basted with butter every 20 minutes.  The house was filled with the most wonderful aromas.  Then, you make the stock, the most elegant detail of which, I think, is the peeled onion stuck with cloves.  I have two cold bowls of fat-topped liquid in the fridge at them moment: the stock and the deglazing liquid, which will all eventually be combined, after I make a rue with the fat and some flour.  I made this gravy two years ago when my in-laws came to hot and sunny Alabama (from cold and leafless Massachusetts) for Thanksgiving.  It was heavenly.

It’s one long week of parties. Tonight, our good friends from Berkeley (who now teach at U of Southern Mississippi), Charles and Monika are stopping in for the night on their way to Atlanta.  These are the kinds of friends with whom you laugh so hard you strain your diaphragm.  I’m hoping to make a meal conducive to good times. We’ll start with something basic and salty: pistachios.  This will be followed by braised cabbage-wrapped meatballs made with semi-local, all natural pork.  (I’m hoping there’s a cabbage in my Red Root bag today when I pick it up with Jack, after school.)  Roasted carrots, pasta (I’m hoping to get to home-made), and for dessert Nancy Silverton’s Irish Whiskey Brownies with walnuts and currants.

Thursday, we’re doing Thanksgiving with Sharyn, Jim, & Mimi.

A good week.

sugar cane

Whoa!  This week, along with all of these rich greens, we got a long stalk of sugar cane in the CSA haul.

I don’t know what to do with it!  I immediately googled it, and here’s one piece of advice I found on the endlessly entertaining internet:

“To eat it you have to chew it like gum or like a cowboy (straw).” [Wikihow.]

My friend Chantel, whose family we share the CSA with, exclaimed “guarapo!” a Cuban pure sugar drink made by grinding and pressing the sugar cane.  Well… sounds good, but I don’t have one of those grinders handy.

You can use sticks of it as skewers for kabobs, for pork or shrimp.  But that seems like a waste.

Kheer, which requires sugar cane juice. But how to juice it?

This guy made some interesting discoveries.

But I’m still not sure what I’ll do with it. It makes an interesting accessory…

Red Root green bounty

We’re deep into our CSA season with Red Root Farm, in Banks, Alabama, and we’re knee deep in big leafy greens: kale, collards, mustard, cabbage.  The first three I’ve cooked many times before, and know that with some pancetta, garlic, or walnuts tossed into the saute pan, you can’t go wrong.  But I’m not big on cabbage.  Cole slaw stayed behind in my childhood.  Braised cabbage has appeared infrequently on my table.  What to do with a beauty like this?

(Cinnamon bear is looking on dumbstruck, as you can see.)

So, since the red ones are my lentils of choice lately, I was pleased to find this yummy recipe on Smitten Kitchen, under the heading “recipes from a cumin junkie.” Love it.

Another veggie that I’ve… um… rediscovered is the humble turnip.  The other night I made a hot pan of braised and glazed turnips and carrots to go along with the chicken I’d roasted while my family was visiting.

But I’m also a sinner when it comes to foodie pleasures.  Total locavore, I am not.  As you know, I take great pleasure in my Bialetti, and am even a bit fanatical about it.  The new one I have, the Brikka, makes an actual crema through the use of a pressure valve.  Check it out:

The best accompaniment to an espresso?  The thinnest, spiciest little gingersnaps on earth, from Sweden, and purchased at World Market.

paella party

My friend Sharyn, of Still Life with Whisk, had been turning over the idea attempting the perfect paella, until it became a passion.  (ok, why is alliteration so tempting with the letter p?) So, we decided to get together and make a big Spanish-themed feast.  While Sharyn went shellfish shopping, I went to the wine store for a nice bottle of cava, some Albariño, (and some Tempranillo in case anyone wanted red).  Gus also popped a bottle of this dessert wine in my box, explaining that he was giving them away because “it’s an odd little wine.” We all thought it went pretty well with the tart orange olive oil cake I made for the occasion.

Wine and appetizer shopping done, I proceeded to make the cake, with Jack’s help.  Traditionally, this cake is made with preserved oranges, but the Saveur recipe provides a great shortcut for this ingredient that most American pantries lack: successive boilings.

The cake came out beautifully.  It’s meant to have an orange-syrup glaze, and a sprinkling of chunky sea salt.  We didn’t have confectioner’s sugar, and went without the added sweetness, which resulted in a restrained, fruit-dense crumb with a delicate breadiness.  I’ll make it again.

We started with tapas: manchego with slices of dried Turkish figs, marinated white asparagus and peppers, thinly sliced cured ham that deepened in flavor when smooshed into bread, and lupini tossed in harissa and lemon juice.  Not all Spanish, but all uncommon and delicious.

Eventually, we got started on the paella, cooking it with ambition on the grill.

The final picture doesn’t do it justice, taken as it was in a dark kitchen, but the meal was delicious. Saffron and seafood, sausage and spices, and plenty of riso, riso, and vino.