One Year Later

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been a year since Brian’s fire. I’m relieved to report that everyone is doing well. Except for some scars on Brian’s neck where they did the skin grafting, you’d have no idea that he’d been on fire. As for his friend, Eric aka Jellyboy the Clown, he toured the world this year, performing in Europe and Asia. And, in recognition for his bravery and heroism, Captain James F. Hay of Ladder Company 163 was awarded the M. J. Delehanty Medal by the New York City Fire Department this past spring.

Still, the anniversary (or “burniversary” as Rich has taken to calling it) brings me back to the days after the fire. We heard the news on July 3 and spent July 4 driving down to New York to the hospital. There are little things about visiting people on a burn unit you don’t know about until you get there. Before going into any rooms, you have to cover yourself, head to toe, in hospital gowns and cap, to prevent infection. If you want to leave the room and go to the bathroom, you have to remove the gown and cap, put them into the laundry, and put on a new gown and cap before reentering the room.

Even though the burn unit preferred to keep the visitors down to one or two at a time, there were some afternoons where I’d find myself dragging chairs in from up and down the hallway to provide seats to the piles of people who wanted to see Brian. Someone even asked one of the annoyed nurses if Brian was the most popular person they’d ever had on the unit. She thought about it for a second, then responded that the Shah had had more guests.

There were a few quiet moments when I would sit in a chair by Brian’s bedside, reading, and he’d get to rest in between the afternoon rush of visitors. I found this recipe in the July 11, 2011, issue of New York Magazine. I had my fingers pinched and was about to rip it out but stopped myself. “Brian?” I whispered quietly. “Yes, darling?” he answered, with his eyes still closed. “There’s this recipe in this magazine. Do you think it’d be OK if I clipped it? I mean, I don’t want to take it if…” Brian laughed: “Well, since most of the fire was in the kitchen, oh, and because I burned down my entire apartment, I don’t think I’ll be doing any cooking anytime soon.”

The recipe calls for Panisse Lettuce, which it describes as “frilly lime-green” and “an oak-leaf and a butterhead…with a tender but sturdy-enough leaves and a bittersweet flavor that fairly cries out for a zingy dressing like the pistachio vinaigrette Greenmarket guru Dan Kluger has concocted over at ABC Kitchen.” I know, pistachio vinaigrette? How could I leave that behind?

When I went to the farmer’s market this afternoon, I was told panisse lettuce wouldn’t be available for another week or two. She suggested I substitute a deer head lettuce for something a little different, which I gladly did. It cost me a dollar. I don’t own Champagne vinegar and just used red wine. It was still very delicious. The radishes I had on hand are the ones that came in last week’s CSA; I don’t think you need to go out of your way to find French breakfast ones. And I always keep the garlicky lemon green olives from Whole Foods in my fridge, but if you come across the Sevillano or Manzanilla olives, then definitely use those.

Dan Kluger’s Panisse Lettuce with Pistachio Vinaigrette

Ingredients

For the dressing:

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons raw pistachios

½ Thai chile, seeded and minced

4 teaspoons lemon juice

3 Tablespoons Champagne vinegar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

2 heads panisse lettuce (or Boston, or Bibb, or Butter)

2 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons oregano, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons mint, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons tarragon, finely chopped

8 French breakfast radishes, thinly sliced into rounds

½ cup Sevillano or Manzanilla olives, pitted and chopped

Directions

For the dressing: In a small pot, heat olive oil and pistachios together over a low flame until warm. Place warm pistachios in food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Immediately pour pistachio mixture into bowl with Thai chile, and let sit for ten minutes. Add lemon juice, Champagnes vinegar, kosher salt and ground pepper.

For the salad: Honestly, I find lettuce from the farmer’s market incredibly gritty, so I’m not going to give you the directions provided about slicing the heads in half. Clean the lettuce leaves by soaking them in a large bowl of cold water. Change the water if you think the lettuce still looks a little gritty. Remove the leaves from the bowl and spin dry in a salad spinner. Rip the leaves and place them on a platter. Sprinkle with the radish and olives. Spoon vinaigrette on top of platter. Make sure to bring the dressing to the table so people may apply more if they really like it.

The Last Hurrah

Rich heard the clanging and crashing from the back room and came running. My guess is he was worried that a plate had fallen to the floor, or maybe a pot had slipped from its hook off the rack on the wall. The noise turned out to be the sound of a serving spoon scraping the last bits of the buttermilk dressing off the serving dish directly into my mouth.

“Oof. Yuuwersppdtuseethif,” I said by way of explanation. (For those of you who don’t ordinarily deal with people talking with serving spoons and platters in their mouths, what I said was “Oops. You weren’t supposed to see this.”) I swallowed, licked the spoon, and put the dish back on the table.

I couldn’t help myself. Really, I couldn’t. I saw this dinner as a final farewell for my tomatoes and peaches. Sure, I knew there’d be a few more to come in next week’s CSA box, but something had happened overnight in Boston. As soon as we’d turned the page on Labor Day, the sky grew dark, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees, and a near-constant rain started to fall. Summer, the clouds seemed to say, is definitely over.  All I had left to remind me of the season were some ripe tomatoes and peaches. These needed to be treated with utmost respect; something special for their last hurrah.

I’m not sure if it was the storm or a dream, but the night before I sat straight up in bed and whispered “buttermilk,” which had taken on a kind of reverence that perhaps someone’s childhood sled name whispered by a fireside might. The thought of buttermilk haunted me the next day, its creaminess, its twang. I wanted it to bathe my tomatoes in it. And, if I was lucky and found the right recipe, my peaches could enjoy a buttermilk treatment as well.

I found the dressing recipe I was looking for via Deb, who found hers via Gourmet. I changed mine up a little bit, using a summer sweet Vidalia onion instead of a shallot. I have leftovers of the dressing, and I plan on drizzling it on top of every vegetable in my crisper, then perhaps going out to the market and buying a plain old head of iceberg lettuce to continue the dressing-fest.

The peach cake came via the food community Food52, which was founded by Amanda Hesser, a food writer for the New York Times, and Merrill Stubs, a freelance food writer and recipe tester. The site’s first project was a crowd-sourced cookbook, and this recipe was one of their first contests winners: You submit a recipe, readers vote, and each week the winning recipe makes it into a cookbook, hence the name Food52. I think the tasting notes on this one sum it up:

The cake is chock full of juicy summer peaches, and the addition of ground almonds sets it apart from other simple butter cakes. It’s luscious and a bit custardy in the areas surrounding the peaches — a texture that works when the cake is either warm or at room temperature. Don’t be alarmed if the batter seems to curdle when you add the buttermilk, as it will come together again once you mix in the dry ingredients.

If you’re on the fence about purchasing an entire bottle of buttermilk, add 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk. In five minutes, you’ll have enough buttermilk for both these recipes.

Buttermilk Dressing

Ingredients

1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk

2 Tablespoons mayonnaise

2 Tablespoons cider vinegar

2 Tablespoons minced Vidalia onion

1 Tablespoon sugar

3 Tablespoons finely chopped chives

Directions

Whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, onion, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl until sugar has dissolved, then whisk in chives.

Simple Summer Peach Cake

Ingredients

3 ripe peaches

3/4 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg

1 cup sugar

6 Tablespoons softened unsalted butter

1 large egg

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Turbinado sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan.

Cut the peaches into bite sized pieces. Toss the peaches with nutmeg and 2 tablespoons sugar. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and remaining sugar with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add the egg, buttermilk and extracts, and stir to combine.

Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this flour mixture to the butter mixture, mix until smooth (some lumps may remain). Pour into the prepared pan.

Press the peaches into the top of the cake. They can be nicely arranged, but it made more sense to cram as many peaches as possible into the cake. Sprinkle Turbinado sugar over the top.