Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Molasses-Roasted Fig Salad with Arugula, Early Pears & Chèvre

{Or, What We Ate After the Storm}

I'm not going to tell you all the reprehensible things I uttered while trying, in vain, to get our antique generator started during the past three days of Hurricane Irene-inflicted power outage. I'm not going to tell you about bailing out the basement water by hand, slipping in the dark in my stupid rubber boots and falling one flight of stairs into six inches of basement flood-sludge. Or the bad corgi who went *swimming* in the six inches of basement flood-sludge just for corgyn kicks. Instead I'm going to tell you about this really killer salad my sisters and I made tonight with what was left over from the spoils of the fridge, because there's nothing like roasted figs (or a stiff drink) to make a grump feel chipper again.

Fact: figs are in season here in the Northeast. Fact: Irene blew down our beloved, ancient, hybridized some-sort-of-Asian pear tree, which was laden with fruit and a mere week away from being ripe for the picking (I cry. I cry). Fact: goat cheese, surprisingly, lasts a lot longer than you'd think without adequate refrigeration (I know you think that's gross/dangerous, but you should see the Mongolians and their gleeful consumption of non-refrigerated dairy products). Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful salad, right? And tonight, it was just what the doctor ordered: roasting the figs in molasses, cider vinegar and olive oil makes me weep it's so decadent, and you can't go wrong with baby arugula (unless you're one of those people who Doesn't Like Arugula and Doesn't Want to Talk About It). Thinly sliced sweet Asian pears ("early" pears in our case) give the salad a satisfying, jicama-like crunch, and the goat cheese rounds out all the flavors with a tangy zing. Yum, people. Try it out, don't be fussy with measurements, and give it your own twist. Then report back so we can gush about roasted figs together.

Molasses-Roasted Fig Salad with Arugula, Early Pears & Chèvre
Like most of my favorite meals, this really doesn't require exact measurements; taste as you go and trust your instincts. As for figs: you can't go wrong with black mission figs for gentle sweetness, but brown turkeys are a close second. And you lucky ducklings on the West Coast (and beyond) have plenty other marvelous varietals to choose from. This salad will feed three to four people.

1+ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
cracked black pepper to taste
12 ripe figs, quartered
2 medium-sized Asian pears, peeled and thinly sliced
arugula (also called rocket in some places)
1+ teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon good orange juice

Heat oven to 425. In a large bowl, beat first four ingredients with a whisk. Add figs, turning over gently to mix with liquid. With a thin slotted spoon, transfer figs to oiled, rimmed baking sheet, reserving liquid in bowl, and bake about ten minutes, or until juices around figs begin to caramelize.

While figs roast, slice pears (I put slices in a small bowl of cold water to keep them from browning).  Add brown sugar and orange juice to bowl of reserved liquid, plus a crack or two or salt and pepper if desired, and whisk again. Remove figs from oven and set aside to cool; immediately add liquid from bowl to hot baking sheet and whisk in brown caramelized bits stuck to pan. Pour back into bowl and season to taste; that's your vinaigrette. If eating immediately, toss arugula with vinaigrette and arrange in center of white plate. Top with figs, followed by crumbled chèvre, and rim with pears. For appealing presentation, drizzle last dregs of vinaigrette over pears, and crack entire plate with black pepper. Voilà, my dear salad-lovers. Voilà. Hope you all survived the hurricane none the worse for wear.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dahlias! Dahlias!

{A Late-Summer Garden Celebrity, Plus A Few Paintings Whot Match}

I'm home on the farm for two days to take care of the animals while my parents go on a belated 30th wedding anniversary motorcycle trip across Utah/Idaho/Montana/Wyoming. (My dad hopes they'll be camping in the wilderness. My mom hopes they'll be staying at the Four Seasons. We four daughters are ve-ry curious to see how this all pans out.)

And so I did what every responsible oldest child does while house-sitting and raided the overgrown garden for my favorite late-summer treasures: dahlias. Every year for Christmas I give my mom a new dahlia tuber from the D. Landreth Seed Company, and I'm not sure who gets more joy out the arrangement, me or mom. This time last summer, when I was freshly transplanted to India and a world away from her garden, my mom sent me pictures from her iPhone each time a new dahlia bloomed. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get little mother-daughter-flower tears of homesick-garden-love when I opened up those precious emails. Needless to say, for romantics with a propensity for period dramas and a soft-spot for Edith Wharton, dahlias, with their dinner-plate-sized petticoats and lavish ruffles, are pretty much the cat's pajamas. And a word about Landreth Seeds: their website could use an overhaul, but don't be fooled; they are the BEST. The. Best. The oldest heirloom seed company in America, they've been selling the most luxurious seeds, bulbs, tubers and corms since 1784. And if you actually call them, a little old lady will answer all your dahlia questions and then some. You will hang up the phone elated, and then you will promptly forget about the whole thing until a marvelous little box of humble dahlia tubers arrives in early spring. Then you plant them and wait patiently, maybe forget about them entirely (this is an ongoing theme in our house, the forgetting of dahlias), until late August rolls around and BOOM! Suddenly you have filigreed color-bombs exploding all over the place like a garden game of holi. Ours, above, fell victim to a host of voracious slugs before I rescued them, but still. They make my heart swell just looking at them. Some favorites: Kogana Fubuki, Firepot and Clara Huston.

P.S. Those paintings pictured above are the last pieces available from my Indian grain silo series. If you're interested, email me for details! Some recent happy customers: Lisa from Privilege, here, and Meg from A Practical Wedding, here. A humbled, delighted thanks, ladies!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Perfect Heirloom Tomato Sandwich

{The Ultimate Minimalist Summer Snack}

Now that tomatoes are finally at their zenith here in the northeast, P. and I have been indulging in an old-fashioned, can't-be-improved-upon classic: just-off-the-vine tomato sandwiches. This year on the farm we have a smorgasbord of marvelous heirloom varieties and rainbow cultivars with names almost as colorful as their flesh, like Cherokee purple, Brandywine, black krim, green zebra, Mr. Stripy- the list goes on and on (as do the garden pests that have discovered these ripening beauties, but never mind).

The key to a memorable tomato sandwich is, of course, locally-grown, just-picked tomats (i.e. forget the ethylene-ripened ones from the grocery store) and really good bread. After making these puppies probably a dozen times over the past two weeks I decided thinly-sliced rye from our local bakery is the way to go, but a bosomy sourdough boule is a close second. Good ole' Hellmann's mayonnaise (or Best Foods if you're west of the Rockies) adds a hint of lemony sweetness that subtly boosts the flavor of the tomatoes, and don't be shy with the salt and pepper. (Fleur de sel, although pricey, is absolutely worth the investment; you wouldn't put diesel fuel in a Ferrari, so why put cheapo table salt on your heirloom tomatoes. Am I right? I'm right.) I know this is incredibly simple, but DAMN, I wouldn't waste your time if it weren't worth sharing. So go forth, get thee some Brandywines, and maketh this sandwich.

Perfect Heirloom Tomato Sandwich
Let late-summer heirloom tomatoes steal the show, but be generous with the salt and pepper. Eat while the toast is still warm.

ripe heirloom tomatoes
fresh bread, thinly sliced and lightly toasted (I love rye or sourdough for this sandwich)
good mayonnaise (Hellmann's or Best Foods, or if you make your own all the power to you)
freshly-ground black pepper
fleur de sel (or other fancy finishing salt)

While bread toasts, slice tomatoes. Spread mayonnaise thinly over both pieces of bread, layer one side with tomato slices, sprinkle abundantly with salt and pepper. Top with second slice of bread, cut in half. Serve immediately. Bon Appétit!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dog vs. Llama

{In Which We Visit Friends on A Farm in New Hampshire}

We needed a shower. And an opportunity to finally settle a long-standing debate: in Celebrity Deathmatch Corgi vs. Llama, who would win? So we cruised across the Vermont border into New Hampshire to the farm of P's longtime family friends, who are in possession of both showers and llamas. P. has told me countless stories about visiting the farm when he was a wee lad, and as we explored the old cow barn and the nooks and crannies of the ells and sheds, I could just imagine a ten-year-old, tow-headed P. jumping from a rope swing into heaps of loose hay. I not-so-subtly coveted the resident chickens, and as we pulled the Scamp out of the driveway, sorry to leave but eastward-bound, we were given two eggs as a parting gift. That night we built a little campfire somewhere in southern New Hampshire, finished off the wine and fried up the farm eggs. The Scamp still smelled like hay. Like New England, like summer.  I fell asleep dreaming of Rhode Island reds, barred rocks and banties.

And oh, corgi vs. llama was a draw; Mac has herding skills and cunning, but llamas have serious attitude and scimitar-like hooves and we intervened before they made a trampled snausage out of him. Totally the best day of his little corgyn summer though. I've never seen an old dog so happy. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

There Sleeps Titania

{Vermont Woods via Scamp}

If the National Park system is a big, rule-enforcing, highly-organized Catholic school with a strict curriculum, then the Forest Service is Montessori: there are very few rules, and as long as one plays well with others and doesn't litter, one is pretty much free to do whatever she pleases. This all makes for very good Scamping, so P, Mac, the Hound of Love and I sped north to Vermont's birchy, beechy, old-growth Green Mountain National Forest, chugged down an old logging road for thirty miles and, just as dark was setting in, found an idyllic, mossy clearing next to a stream. We unhitched the Scamp and rolled her into a majestic little spot overlooking a series of small cascades (made of fiberglass, she weighs less than a mule and can be maneuvered by hand by two idiots in flip-flops). We heated up two cans of Amy's organic soup on the Scamp stove, opened a bottle of excellent Côtes du Rhône, made up the bed with crisp ironed sheets and fell asleep to a chorus of sylvan trills and chirrups, the rush of mountain water over granite stone. In Scamplandia, one can live large while living small, it seems.

Ours must have been the very spot Oberon described in A Midsummer Night's Dream; see midpage, here