Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Farmers Market Bounty #2: Rhubarb

I've always loved rhubarb, that curious fruit/veggie that whose stalk resembles red celery. I always think of both my parents when I buy rhubarb as my dad loved growing it in our small garden in Pittsburgh and my mom made wonderful rhubarb-strawberry sauce as well as pie.
This year I came upon a recipe on the Food52 site for a wonderful summer cocktail made with Rhubarb simple syrup, called Rhubarb and Rose Ramos Gin Fizz. I don't use their recipe for the simple syrup though, finding another that I prefer (though I can't remember which site I found the syrup recipe on).
The drink is a perfect sip of summer! Enjoy.

Rhubarb Simple Syrup

makes between 1-2 cups liquid

  • 4 cups rhubarb, washed and trimmed and cut into 1/2 pieces (about 4 medium large stalks)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  1. Combine the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a saucepan and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. 
  2. Add the rhubarb and simmer on medium-low heat for 20 minutes covered, stirring occasionally. The rhubarb will break down into thin fibers.
  3. Remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer, pressing with the back of a spoon until all the juice is released. You can save the remaining solids and serve them over ice cream or stirred into yogurt. The juice is the simple syrup. I store it in a mason jar in my refrigerator, though I'm not sure it has to be refrigerated since this recipe follows the method I've given earlier (long simmer time and cream of tartar) that has an extended shelf life.

Rhubarb & Rose Ramos Gin Fizz Food52 link to recipe

The Food52 recipe recommends serving this in a tall glass but I prefer either a martini glass or my grandmother's lovely cut glass goblet as pictured above. Also the recipe says it serve one, but if you serve it in a martini glass it will serve 2 as written.
  • 2 ounces London dry gin
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 2 ounces rhubarb syrup
  • 1 ounce heavy cream
  • 1 or 2 drops rosewater (Wegmans carries this)
  • 1 egg white (I used the pasturized refrigerated egg whites, using 1/4 cup for one egg white and it worked fine)
  • ice
  • soda water
Combine all the ingredients except ice and soda water in a cocktail shaker (mason jar works well too!) and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Then add ice to shaker and shake another 30 seconds. Strain into chilled glass and top with a bit of the soda.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bon Voyage, Billy!

Billy overlooking the Forbidden City
It's been nearly six months since I've seen my oldest son, Billy. Well, I guess that's not entirely accurate since we've Skype on a near weekly basis. But I haven't been physically in the same place since January 6th, when we returned home from our holiday vacation in Asia. He's been in Guangzhou China for a year as a Luce Scholar having an incredible experience working at a university and traveling throughout Asia.
His program is winding down, and for the next 3 weeks he will be traveling throughout the western provinces of China and then going to Myanmar for 2 weeks for the program wrap up and then 5 days in Japan as he makes his way finally home.

We were fortunate to have a close friend meet up with Billy in Hong Kong and bring one of Billy's duffel bags home so he wouldn't have to lug it on his travels. This afternoon, I emptied the bag. It was full of winter clothes, lots of Chinese tea and tea making accoutrements, books, Chinese watercolor paintings that Billy created and the odds and ends that he picked up over the course of his year living in Guangzhou.
It's funny, but as I unpacked his things, I could smell his scent, and feel his presence in the items. In a strange way it made me feel his absence more acutely than I have all year. Of course as his mom, I'm worried about his travels over the next 3 weeks, as he goes into areas where there is some unrest in China. I know he will have an incredible experience but at this point I just want him safely home. Though as a 23 year old young man, I know he probably will never be home for extended periods of time again. (But it would be nice to at least have him on the same continent for a change!)
It's hard to let go of your kids, but when they are half way across the world you are forced to. At least physically. Emotionally, you never do. Distance doesn't matter, it just makes it more of a challenge. We are so lucky to have the technology available that shrinks the world. But for the next few weeks, we will be incommunicado for the most part. So I'll have to hope that he can text message when he's at transportation centers to let me know he's okay, and learn not to worry too much. Yeah, like that's going to happen!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Farmers Market Bounty #1: Cucumbers

I think I will do a series of posts this summer with recipes featuring something that is plentiful at the farmers market at this specific time. Today it is cucumbers.
Now, I know many people just consider these as salad fillers but I have two recipes that I adore featuring cucumbers. The first is a chilled soup that I eat all summer long...think of it as a cucumber gazpacho. I can't eat tomato gazpacho as I have reflux (GERD) and it is way too acidic for me. But this cucumber soup is wonderful...loaded with herbs from my garden, using up a whole large cucumber from the market and balanced with some low fat buttermilk (or greek yogurt if you like). It's low calorie and low fat and tastes like a cup full of summer!
The second recipe is from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and was mentioned in the Julie & Julia book...baked cucumbers. It is fabulous; who would know that cooking cucumbers could turn them into a succulent, sublime sensation! (how's that for alliteration?). They are great served with any meat and since you are baking them, saves space on the grill for your meats.
So here you go, two outstanding uses for farm fresh cucumbers!

Chilled Cucumber Soup with Avocado Toast

Note: this recipe was from the NYTimes.
To keep it low fat, I generally do not make the avocado toast or garnish with the corn, but if you want to make it special or serve as a starter for company, I encourage you to do it as written.
Serves 4
  • 1 pound cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 2 cups buttermilk (or use 1 1/2 cups plain greek yogurt plus 1/4 cup water) I use lowfat buttermilk and only use 1 1/2 cups, plus 1/2 cup water
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and smashed
  • 2 anchovy fillets (Recipe says this is optional, but don't be a adds a "umami" flavor that really enhances the recipe and doesn't stand out as anchovy explicitly)
  • 2 small whole scallions, trimmed
  • 1/2 jalapeño, seeded, deveined and chopped
  • 1/2 cup packed mixed fresh herbs (like mint, parsley, dill, tarragon, basil and cilantro)...I use fresh mint, basil, oregano, thyme, chives and parsley, basically what grows in my herb garden
  • 1/2 teaspoon sherry or white wine vinegar, more to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt, plus more to taste
Garnish (optional)
  • 4 slices baguette or other bread, toasted
  • 1 avocado, pitted, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ear of corn, shucked, kernels sliced off
  • Fresh dill, for serving

1. In the bowl of a blender or food processor, combine cucumber, buttermilk, garlic, anchovy, scallions, jalapeño, fresh herbs, sherry vinegar and salt. Blend until smooth and adjust seasoning as needed. I usually stop here.
2. Smash avocado slices on the toasted bread. Sprinkle with crumbled feta, squeeze the juice of the lemon half over the top and finish each with a drizzle of olive oil and some pepper. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
3. Distribute soup between 4 bowls and garnish with raw corn kernels and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve avocado toast on the side.

Julia Child's Cucumbers with Butter (Concombres au Beurre) 

Note: The cucumbers have to sit in a salt and vinegar combination for 30 minutes before cooking so give yourself the extra time. They can sit longer, so you can do this earlier in the day if you like.
Serves 6
  • 4-6 cucumbers (depending on size)
  • 2 Tb wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp sugar
  • 2 1/2 qt non-plastic bowl
  • 12" diameter baking dish
  • 3 Tb melted butter
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil 
  • 3-4 Tb minced green onions (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp ground pepper
  1. Peel the cucumbers then cut them in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and cut into lengthwise strips about 1/4" wide. Cut these strips into 2" pieces.
  2. In the bowl, toss the cucumbers with the vinegar, salt and sugar. Let them stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to draw out the moisture. Then drain and pat dry with a towel.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  4. Toss the cucumbers in the baking dish with the butter, herbs, onions and pepper. Set uncovered in the middle of the oven for about an hour, tossing 2 -3 times if you remember, until the cucumbers are tender but still have some texture. 
  5. Bon Appetit!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Adventures in Wine...

We spent 5 days tasting wine at the most wonderful places you've never heard of. That isn't so difficult these days with around 600 wineries in Napa Valley alone. The wineries we visited were mostly small batch, boutique operations selling anywhere from 800 to 5000 cases per year. And though we were in Napa valley, for the most part with a few exceptions, we spent much of our time in the mountains that range on either side of the valley: Howell Mountain, Diamond Mountain, Pritchard Hill and Spring Mountain. 
We started at Gamble Family Vineyards, where we were lucky enough to be staying in their guest house just north of Yountville because we had won this as part of a charity auction. We were welcomed so warmly: they came out to meet us as we pulled up to the winery, holding wine glasses already filled with their Heart Block Sauvignon Blanc. There was a recurring theme amongst nearly all the wineries we visited that they were producing Sauvignon Blanc that was made in more of a French White Bordeaux style rather than the tart New Zealand fashion. We had the opportunity to meet Tom Gamble, the owner, as he took us into the vines and began our education. 
We learned how the vineyards on the valley floor practiced dry farming, where they didn't water the vines, and let them draw whatever moisture is retained in the soil. This soil sits on a higher water table due to the Napa River. However for the growers that sit high in the mountains, the rain is not held in the soil so irrigation is a necessity. Peter Thompson, of Andrew Geoffrey, told us of bringing a water witch in to help site a well. The water was right where Peter was told to dig….over 800 feet below the surface! We even learned how to spot Cabernet Sauvignon vines, with their distinctive "hole" where the segments of the leaves meet.
One of the interesting facets of this trip was meeting the diverse group of owners of the wineries. Some came across as farmers who really loved and had grown up on the land, others had purchased their property back in the 60s or 70s and gradually evolved into the business, some were newer entrepreneurs who had made their money and wanted to live their dreams of owning a winery. All shared a passion for making their gorgeous, unique wines that took advantage of the micro-climate and terroir of where their grapes were grown. 

And all were incredibly hospitable. We had an unforgettable dinner on top of Diamond Mountain that started with sunset and ended under the stars, drinking a vertical of Andrew Geoffrey wines. Then a few days later, we enjoyed a lovely luncheon under the trees overlooking the vines at Clark-Claudon, sipping their fabulous wines and having amazing conversations. We enjoyed this so much we stayed and did clean up duty!
All of these producers prefer to sell direct, so if you are interested in experiencing some of the best that Napa has to offer, see the list of places we tasted below!
Wineries visited:
Gamble Family Vineyards
Marston Family Vineyard
Tamber Bey Vineyards
Chappellet Vineyards
Andrew Geoffrey Vineyards
Gemstone Vineyard
Clark-Claudon Vineyards
Dunn Vineyards

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Here's mud in your…..

The smell was the first thing that hit was a stinky dirt, slightly manure-like odor. Then the bath lady rather quickly stripped me of my robe, tossed me under the shower and ushered me into the tiled tub full of deep brown, oozing mud that was made of peat moss, volcanic ash and god knows what else. I was instructed to lay on top and then she began, with her hands, shoveling the ..."mud" on top of me. It was very warm, quite supportive and once I got past wondering what the heck was in the mix, soothing. She asked if I would like a mask on my face and I squeaked in alarm "of MUD???" "No, green clay" she reassured me as she added cucumber slices to my eyes and sprayed grapefruit scent to cover the other odor.
It was our 5th day in wine country, the third in Napa Valley and the women were ready to detox (or as one of the husbands said, “the ladies were getting mulched!”) so we headed to Calistoga for mud baths, mineral water soaks, blanket wraps and massages…we had a LOT of detoxing to do! Calistoga is known for their mud baths and ever since I'd visited this area in the '80s with college friends, I've wanted to try them.
After sitting in mud for 10 minutes, we (there were three of us sharing this experience)were instructed to slowly stand and slough off as much of the mud as we could. We rose, looking like creatures from the black lagoon, or as one of our party said, “I look like Medusa but I feel fabulous!"and wiped ourselves off. Then we were directed to the showers, where we vigorously rinsed. It was somewhat disconcerting to see the volume of brown goo coming off my body…particularly from my nether regions. I took the handheld shower off the wall and and aimed it strategically. Picture rivers of muddy gunk, flowing down your legs, splattering the walls in a Jackson Pollock pattern…not a pretty picture!
The mineral water soak was next, and we lay in our own claw tubs filled with the water, moved about by a bubbling apparatus that seemed destined to provide a happy ending.
From the bath followed the steam room, a small tiled, cave-like room into which they had tiny pass-throughs, to hand you your water. When the water magically appeared through the cubby, my friend yelled, "yeah! Dairy Queen” as that is what it felt like.
The “wet” treatments concluded, we were taken to our individual cubicles for the blanket wrap where we were literally swaddled in heavy cotton muslin sheets for 20 minutes.
A note here about the atmosphere of this place. It was built in the late 50s/60s and still retains the flavor of that age, a little kitschy but great. I had trouble remembering to be quiet in the common spaces as it didn't have so much a spa feel as a summer camp ambiance with concrete block walls and wall art of ladies swimming in bathing suits and caps which I could see as I was laying in my swaddled cocoon, peering under my cucumber slices. A persistent thought kept me from completely relaxing: had I gotten all that peat moss out of ALL my nooks and crannies?
We all ended our treatments with fabulous massages. Mine was with Jeremy, a shorter version of Mr. Clean. He beat and smoothed every knot out of me.
We emerged onto Lincoln Street, skin soft and free of toxins, muscles relaxed, and hopefully cleansed of volcanic ash and peat from all areas of our body.
As we described our experience to our husbands, there were a lot of creative suggestions for this blog title including: Mud Flaps, Triplets of Mudville, and Holy S#%t