Over Yonder

I’ve been going through a Southern thing lately. I was offered a near-free subscription to Garden & Gun magazine, much to the dismay of Rich, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The articles are interesting, the writing is excellent and the recipes are creative. He grumbles about it, but I point out that some of the best American writers of all time are Southerners. (Not counting John Grisham, and I say that having gobbled up four of his novels 20+ years ago.)

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When I was in college Sylvie and I went on a road trip to Graceland. We actually didn’t make it — there was a dental emergency in Nashville — but the scenery was breathtaking. Honestly, if you’re looking to see some of the best of what the United States has to offer, visit the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, and drive the Shenandoah Skyline. The beauty of Appalachia will make you weep.

Over the past few months I’ve borrowed a number of Southern cookbooks from the library. Truth be told, there wasn’t a thing I could eat in Edward Lee’s Smoke and Pickles. My Two Souths also relied heavily on things that oink and creep and crawl on the bottom of the ocean, but there were some gems in it. Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard was a good book, but too sprawling; she could have spread all those recipes out across two or even three books. Sean Brock’s Heritage is excellent, although there’s still a ton in the book I can’t eat. (If you’re curious about what Jews can and do eat in the South, definitely check out Marcie Cohen Ferris’ Matzo Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South.)

So when I was offered Fruit, A Savor the South cookbook by Nancie McDermott, I jumped at the opportunity: A Southern cookbook based on foods I could actually eat. Well, sort of. There are some fruits I just can’t find up here, and some I’ve never even heard of, like mayhaws, scuppernong grapes, and pawpaws. But for the fruit I can get hold of, the recipes are terrific: fresh peach fritters, watermelon-rind pickles, Okracoke Island Fig Cake with Buttermilk Glaze, horchata made with cantaloupe seeds.

The recipe I decided to share with you is the strawberry shrub. I figured most of you have best access to strawberries. A shrub is a fruited drinking vinegar that has its roots in the sultry climates. The root of the word is from the Arabic sharab, which means “to drink”.

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As Nancie puts it, “Shrubs are a lovely means of preserving summertime berry goodness for sipping on the porch while lightening bugs flicker or by the fireplace come winter. Vinegar adds a tangy kick to the ruby fruit, making a syrup that can be added to club soda or sparkling water to make a homemade soft drink, or stirred into a champagne, white wine, or cocktail for a spirited refreshment.”

We cut ours with seltzer from the Soda Stream and it was refreshing and delicious on a warm July night. It’s a bit like having a homemade Italian soda, now that I think about it. Rich put some in a beer, and said it was a little like a Berliner Weisse, a sour wheat beer often drunk with raspberry syrup. In this case, the tartness comes from the syrup instead of from the beer.

The recipe calls for the jar to be set aside in a cool, dark place for 24 – 48 hours and to make sure the jar is not exposed to heat or light. I tucked mine away in the basement for two days. But since I found a snake in the basement last night, I’m never going back down there again. I’ll have to find another place to age my shrubs.

To sterilize the jars, I used the method from Artisan Preserving:

Wash in very hot soapy water. Do not dry the washed bottles or jars, but put them upright on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart, and put in the oven. Turn on the heat to 350F and once the oven has reached this temperature, leave the bottles or jars in the oven for 20 minutes to ensure they are completely sterilized. Wear protective oven mitts when handling hot bottles and jars.

Strawberry Shrub from Fruit by Nancie McDermott

Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients

3 cups apple cider vinegar

3 cups trimmed and quartered fresh or frozen strawberries

3 cups sugar

Directions

Prepare a large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid as directed.

In a medium saucepan, heat the vinegar until it is just about to break into a bubbling boil and remove it from the heat. Place the strawberries in the prepared jar and pour the vinegar over them, making sure they are covered by an inch of vinegar. Let cool to room temperature and then cover tightly. Set aside in a cool, dark place for 24 – 48 hours (be sure the jar is not exposed to heat or light.)

Strain the vinegar into a medium saucepan and discard the solids. Add the sugar to the vinegar and bring to a rolling boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. As soon as the sugar is dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and let the shrub cool to room temperature. Pour the shrub into a clean, sterilized jar and cover tightly. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

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Lemonade was robbed.

Returned to my office after a short meeting this morning to discover that my colleague, who’d made the mistake of offhandedly remarking that there was too much rhubarb in her yard, had hung an enormous bagful on my door knob.

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With the temperature today and tomorrow soaring into the 90s, it’s far too hot to crank up the oven for the rhubarb spoon bread I’d bookmarked. But, as luck would have it, I stumbled across the perfect hot day recipe for rhubarb: Rhubarb lemonade.

It’s from the Sqirl cookbook, one of my Christmas/Chanukah gifts from Rich. I’d set the book aside in late December when I was annoyed to discover that every recipe that piqued my interest called for a food processor. I took the book out over this weekend in anticipation of my missing piece being replaced by Cuisinart. And yes, it finally came this week!

(Speaking of food processors: Do yourself a favor and put five ripe bananas in a large Ziploc bag and toss that in the freezer – I have a terrific dairy-free, gluten free pie coming your way. Peel them first!)

I have a lot to say about this cookbook, but I honestly can’t give it a fair shake until I test a few more of the recipes. But for now, let’s have pink lemonade.

The recipe calls for ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, from about 3 lemons, although two did the trick for me. Most of the prep time is hands off. The rhubarb syrup simmered away on a back burner while I made dinner. (Yay induction stove not heating up the kitchen!) The drink is sweet and refreshing and not at all tart.

Rhubarb Lemonade from Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking by Jessica Koslow

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups (200 g) chopped rhubarb

2/3 cup (135 g) sugar

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon (135 ml) fresh lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)

Directions

Put the rhubarb, sugar, and 1 and 2/3 cups (400 ml) water in a pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so that the syrup simmers. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring every once in a while, until the rhubarb has fallen apart and imbued the liquid its color.

While the syrup is still hot, pour it through a fine-mesh sieve into a large measuring cup or bowl. Use a rubber spatula to really press on the rhubarb mush and squeeze out every last drop. Let cool.

There should be about 1 ¼ cups (300 ml) rhubarb syrup. If there is more, save it for adding later on. Pour the rhubarb syrup into a 1-quart (1-L) jar. Add the lemon juice and 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon (495 ml) water into a large jar or pitcher. Stir our shake well.

Serve chilled over ice.

Makes 1 quart.

Sick Days

Sorry to disappear there for a few weeks. We’ve been sick. All of us. No real diagnosis, except the girls’ coughing still sounds pretty terrible, and we always need to have tissues close at hand for little noses. (Update: Lilli was up all night with what clearly is a stomach bug.) The best way to describe how I’m doing is that I sometimes feel hungover, which is pretty frustrating as I cut out all alcohol last year. The migraines aren’t worth it, but boy could I go for a gin and tonic this week.

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When I feel a cold coming on I cook up a different sort of tonic. It’s one from my childhood friend’s mom. This and her Salad Olivier are pretty essential to my life. My friend is originally from Latvia; I think her mom is from Lithuania, so I guess we can call it Baltic? Soviet? Eastern European? From the Old Country?

Despite being tasty and having magical healing powers, it hadn’t occurred to me to even share it here. But I was reading one of my new cookbooks given to me over the holidays – Small Victories by Julia Turshen – and she totally shares her “Cold Elixir” on page 255! I skip the cinnamon and cayenne pepper and use lemon, instead. She makes a big batch of it then keeps it in the refrigerator for up to two days and heats it up as she needs it. I make mine one glass at a time, though I see the benefit of cooking up a large batch. But I promise you, if you drink this right when you feel a cold coming on, it stops it in its tracks.

When I woke up last week feeling meh, I made myself a mug of this and settled down with a pile of my cookbooks. “Be careful, please,” Rich said as he saw me with a hot liquid and all the new books. Obviously I spilled my drink within 35 seconds of that. The books were fine, and Lilli actually jumped up from the couch, saying she would refill my glass. I heard her pushing her Kitchen Helper around the kitchen, turning on the faucet and collecting the ingredients; granted I was a little nervous for her to be using the microplane, but I knew she was psyched to use the reamer for the lemon. When she brought it to me, my heart basically melted all over the floor. It was quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever had in my life.

I made her the same drink the following week, but skipped the vinegar because I thought it would be too bracing. Her reaction? “Yuck!” Which is the same thing her sister said when she licked the cat a couple days ago. But that’s another story.

I measured this out so I could share the recipe here. As always, I recommend keeping your fresh ginger root in the freezer; just use a microplane to grate it into the hot water. If you have access to local honey, use it; among other things, like supporting a local business, you will be ingesting local pollen and lessening any allergies you might have to your surroundings.

Brigita’s Cold Elixir

Ingredients

8 oz. boiling water

Juice of ¼ lemon (or half of one if you think it’ll help)

½ or up to 1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, grated or chopped

1 Tablespoon honey

A splash, or up to 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Directions

Combine the water, ginger, vinegar, honey and lemon in a mug and stir until the honey dissolves. Drink soon as it’s cooled down enough to sip.

Return Again

We lost my Great Uncle Harry this year. He really was great. He always had a fun story to tell, or a perfect song to sing. He was a vegetarian and for decades built these wonderful, multilayered Dagwood sandwiches for Shabbat breakfast. We were all lucky enough to visit Uncle Harry and Auntie Julie about two months before he died, because we went to a family reunion in London right around New Year’s. We flew in from Boston; Sylvie, Miriam and Leo flew in from DC; my Cousin Larry and Ashley flew in from New Jersey; and my dad came in from Jerusalem. It was Sylvie’s idea, really. She wanted the kids to meet the British relatives before it was too late — a good call on her part.

Weinbergfest

We were only in London for a couple of days, but we were able to score a table at NoPi. We ordered every vegetable dish on the menu, and a perfect piece of fish. I had a kumquat and passionfruit mocktail and rhubarb Eaton mess. It was everything I wanted it to be. Pro tip: They only have two high chairs in the whole restaurant, and no changing table in their amazing mirrored bathroom, so plan accordingly.

Lilli and I caught something on the plane on the way over, and because I was 20 weeks pregnant and had no immune system, I couldn’t really do much touring. Or stand. Or make conversation. But Rich did get to see a real football match with my cousin Jonah. By the time I made it to my doctor’s office on New Year’s Eve, my temp had spiked to 102.8F. But the trip was still well worth it, and I really miss my Cousin Jenny. Hopefully we’ll get to see Jonah soon; he is in Philadelphia for the year studying at Temple and drinking American beer.

Nopi

It was never the right time to talk about finally eating at Ottolenghi’s restaurant, because it never felt right to talk about Uncle Harry. But it’s Day of the Dead on Sunday, and I’m looking forward to joining my friend Tania and her family for her holiday, so it seems appropriate to honor Harry, as well Rich’s Uncle Tommy and Auntie Ruthie and his professor Svetlana Boym, all of whom we lost far too soon this year.

If I find my blanched almonds in time, I’ll be making this horchata for the occasion. It’s a traditional Mexican sweetened rice drink, and it has become my litmus test of whether a Mexican restaurant is worth my time. Aleza introduced me to the beverage when we stumbled into a real hole in the wall in Williamsburg. This was in 2002, back when there were still holes in walls in Williamsburg.

mirrored bathroom

This particular recipe is from the Ultimate Nachos cookbook, also the cookbook for these pickled red onions I use all the time. The drink is vegan, and you need a blender and an overnight to make it work. Sure, it’s really meant for a hot summer’s day, but I think it will also work at the ofrenda.

Horchata from Ultimate Nachos by Lee Frank & Rachel Anderson

Ingredients

1 cup long-grain rice, rinsed and drained

1 cup blanched almonds

4 cinnamon sticks

1 quart water

¾ cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups ice cubes

Ground cinnamon, to taste

Ingredients

Put the rice, almonds, and cinnamon sticks in a blender. Blend the mixture into a powder.

Add the water, sugar, and vanilla and blend for 90 seconds.

Chill the mixture overnight in the fridge.

Strain the liquid into glasses over ice cubes and serve, sprinkled with ground cinnamon to taste.

Fizzy Lifting Drink

Among my mother’s many kitchen talents, right up there with her potato salad, is her knack for choosing a good melon. I have not inherited this skill, which means things are often hit or miss in the melon department. If it’s a hit, or good piece of fruit in general, I’ll call Sylvie, and vice versa. Our phones pretty much ring non-stop during stone fruit season, and yes, we have had actual conversations about: 1. Mom’s potato salad, and 2. The way she just knows when it’s a good melon.

Cantaloupe agua fresca

Last week I bought a cantaloupe. It, like the one from the week before, was pretty meh. I nibble on bits of melon while I clean it, chop it, and stash it in cleaned out yogurt containers. (Fact: Half a cantaloupe always seems to fits in a large-sized yogurt container.) This week’s melon was sweet in parts but completely dull in other bites. A decent enough snack, but certainly not call-Sylvie amazing.

Not wanting to eat the cantaloupe on its own but not wanting to toss it either, I started searching my cookbooks for a recipe. For the past few days Boston’s been in a bit of a heat wave, and heat waves just call for a refreshing beverage, at least in our house. So I opened the artisanal soda cookbook I received last year and found this recipe for fizzy cantaloupe agua fresca, which was easy, delicious and extremely refreshing.

So delicious!

Lilli was very helpful in looking for a recipe to use up the cantaloupe.

Some background on the whole “artisanal soda” thing. This year, I some used my birthday money to renew my membership to the Museum of Fine Arts and to purchase a Soda Stream. (As Rich quipped, “Who said nothing good has come out of the settlements?”) Syl has had a Soda Stream for a few years now, so when I was sent the artisanal soda cookbook last year, I passed it to her. When I joined club Soda Stream last month, she kindly sent the book back to me.

So far I have tried a couple of the recipes, with mixed results. The brown sugar banana soda needed more oomph, and although I liked the taste of the lemon thyme syrup itself, I thought it lost its zest and tasted a little musty once the carbonated water was added to it. Fortunately, this particular recipe was easy, delicious, refreshing, and make excellent use of my not-so-excellent melon.

The recipe calls for agave nectar, but feel free to substitute – a simple syrup or even a ginger syrup would also be great. Also, you don’t need a Soda Stream to use this recipe. You can use store-bought seltzer, or even still water for a more traditional agua fresca. Or you can do what Rich did with the leftover syrup when he came back from his run tonight: make a slushy with some ice and orange juice in the blender.

Fizzy Cantaloupe Agua Fresca from The Artisan Soda Workshop by Andrea Lynn

Ingredients for Cantaloupe Juice

2 ½ cups cubed cantaloupe

1 Tablespoon agave syrup

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice (The recipe book says lemon juice up top but lime in the directions. I went with lime and was pleased with the results.)

Directions

In a food processor or blender, combine the cantaloupe, agave (sweetener), and lime juice. Blend until all the cantaloupe is puréed, 1 to 2 minutes. Then, fit a bowl with a fine-mesh sieve, and pour the juice through the strainer to catch the pulp. Make sure to press the puréed fruit against the strainer to extract as much liquid as possible, and discard the pulp. (Note: If by discard you mean eat; it was light and refreshing.) Refrigerate the cantaloupe juice in a covered container (used mustard or jelly jar) for up to 3 days.

To make Fizzy Cantaloupe Aqua Fresca: Add 3 to 4 Tablespoons of cantaloupe liquid to a glass, then add 8 ounces of cold seltzer. Stir and enjoy.

Slosh Hashana

Wednesday night marks the beginning of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana. Many of the traditional foods for the holiday, like apples dipped in honey, are sweet, symbolizing our wishes for a sweet new year. But my favorite food moment actually comes on the second night of Rosh Hashana. Not all Jews celebrate a second night, but those who do usually make a point of eating a “new” fruit – one that’s just come into season and we haven’t gotten to eat yet — so we can make the blessing shehechiyanu, giving thanks for the new and unusual experience.

Now my mom takes this as an opportunity to serve fruits that are well out of ordinary, like the golden star fruit or the dimpled passion fruit. But no matter what exotic produce she finds, there is always a pomegranate which my sister will have expertly deseeded in a bowl of water. Pomegranates, or rimonim as they are called in Hebrew, are in season right now in Israel, and have popped up in Jewish thought since Biblical times. They are ripe with symbolism; tradition holds that each fruit contains 613 seeds, which is the number of mitzvot, or commandments, in the Torah.

Most blog posts I’ve seen for Rosh Hashana offer a good apple dish or honey cake, but in honor of our second night tradition, I’m sharing a tasty cocktail featuring pomegranate molasses, honey and rum. You can find the molasses at most Middle Eastern shops for just a couple of dollars; I’ve heard that Whole Foods sells it as well. And while the rum isn’t exactly a symbol of the Jewish new year, it is sweet. Besides, if you’re hosting guests for both nights of Rosh Hashana, you might be ready to say shehechiyanu over a stiff drink.

Pomegranate Cooler for Rosh Hashana (with help from Martha Stewart)

Ingredients

1 ounce dark rum

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses

5 mint leaves

Ice cubes

4 ounces seltzer

Directions

Stir together dark rum, honey, pomegranate molasses, and mint leaves in a small glass, crushing mint with the back of a spoon. Add ice cubes and top with seltzer.

A Summer Shandy

I never developed a taste for red wine; I blame it on the migraines. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy myself a tasty beverage when we were in Spain, the land of Rioja. When in Madrid, I fell in love with clara con limon, or simply, clara. Otherwise called a shandy, it’s light beer mixed with a citrusy soda, poured over ice.

I hadn’t really thought about clara since we got back from our trip. But when Rich came home from a bachelor party this past weekend with a leftover case of Narragansett, it all came back to me.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler: Pour half a can of macro-American lager (‘Gansett, PBR, even Amstel Light, etc) into a glass with three ice cubes, then top it with an equal amount of lemon-lime soda. We used a lemon Italian soda from Whole Foods, but some recipes call for plain old 7-Up.

The only tricky part is the ice: sometimes Rich forgets the recipe and we have empty trays in the freezer. Ahem.