Search results for 'shakers'

Shaker Your Plate

7 Aug

It’s been a long time since I’ve mentioned the Shakers, but they’ve been on my mind lately.

Especially on Saturday as I pulled out tomato plants, which had all (but four) succumbed to the blight.  I pulled up Cream Sausage, and Persimmon, and the beautiful fluted Ceylon, Big White Pink Stripe, Black Prince, Palla de Fuoco and perfect little Ropreco.  I lined them up on the lawn, pulled off all the green tomatoes that were worth saving and packed the vines into garbage bags, and then bagged them again.

It was really sad. But it was Large Red that really hurt.

Large Red is the one tomato I decided to plant not based on its name, or because of a promise to keep me in sun-dried tomatoes through the winter, or because it would taste good in sauce.  I chose Large Red because it was a favorite of the Shakers and they grew it exclusively just a few miles from our house.  I reasoned that if it was bred for this area, it would be a survivor.  I was wrong, this summer was just too much for Large Red.

I first came across Large Red in the Shaker Gardener’s Manual.  Before the Shakers, there were no little packets of seeds available for the home gardener to buy at the local shop.  Seeds were sold in bulk for the large-scale farmer, or seeds were saved from the previous year’s garden.  But the Shakers saw an opportunity and sold their famous seeds in little packets in little boxes all over the country. And to help people succeed in their kitchen gardens, they offered a little manual.

The manual is chock full of tips, tricks and hints, many of which are still applicable today.  The Shakers were organic gardeners before the term was coined.  They believed the best way to grow a healthy plant was to make it strong by planting it in good soil, protecting it from weeds and watering it with moderation. The manual also offers a list of the vegetables and fruit grown just a few miles from where my garden is.  The only tomato they grew was Large Red.

It’s not all doom and gloom around these parts, I swear! Because who can be sad when there’s pie around? Head below the jump for the recipe for Shaker Blackberry Pie.

Lost & Found

20 Nov

I found a key on Sunday.

It was shiny and bright amid a sea of gray gravel and dank, drab leaves.  It was just the latest in a series of tiny, buried things I’ve dug up since we bought the house in August.  Yet oddly enough, this lonely, forgotten key, proved to be the least mysterious thing I’ve found so far.

It wasn’t lost years ago by a traveling magician; it didn’t unlock a hidden passage; it wasn’t hand-crafted by an orphan raised by Shakers and it never served as a clue in a great mystery.  Once I had finished with my yard work, I walked to the front porch, fished the key out of my pocket, stuck it in the front door, turned it, and walked straight into the house.

I had been weeding when I found the key.  I got an idea into my head–I have no idea if it’s right or wrong–that, at this time of year, when most vegetation has died back and is turning brown, that anything remaining green and vibrant after multiple killing frosts and a few flurries, is a weed and should be removed from my gardens.  I started with the Queen Anne’s lace in the perennial beds then moved around to the front of the house where I fear I might have yanked out some wild bleeding hearts.

There were some funny, round leaves growing up through the little glacial moraine of gravel that helps to drain the stone foundation of the house (it’s built into the side of a hill).  I decided they had to go.  They came up easily, and I soon had a healthy pile of them in my weed bucket.  And then i grabbed one and pulled.  And pulled a little harder, and then with a gritty, metallic pop, out came the weed, and a rusted over latch.  The weed’s root had grown right through one of the nail holes that at one time held it onto the side of our house.

I’m so pleased that our house is providing the mystery I had hoped for.  It’s what I love about old houses.  They remind you that you’re not the first one to own them.  Was the latch abandoned because it no longer worked, or did someone drop it, cursing his cold, fumbling fingers?  When did ConEd stop using glass insulators for their wires?  What can I find out about …ock & Co. from …lem England?  Who left the key there, and were they coming back for it? (Okay, I’d actually rather not know the answer to that last one…)

These are fun little mysteries.  They serve as things to mull while doing dishes or pulling weeds.  But there do exist two larger puzzles that have me vexed.  One: How did a beautiful piece of Pueblo Indian pottery get into the garden?  And two: What is that strange building in the woods with all the crockery? (And only tangentially related: Why is my forsythia blooming?)

I found the pot one of our first weekends there, buried in the corner of a garden bed.  I knew what it was immediately.  My mom is a long-time collector of this sort of pot, and this example, though broken into a dozen or more pieces, is a beauty.  The burnished glowing auburn surface and deep-cut decoration means this pot was made with love by someone very talented.  Sadly, its been under the dirt just long enough to make the signature unreadable.

But how did it get there? Obviously someone buried it.  Was it because they felt remorse for breaking something so lovely?  Or were they trying to put it to use as a home for beneficial animals in the garden, figuring, well, if it’s broken, it may as well do some good?  How did it get broken?  Did a dog or child run into it?  Was it thrown at the wall in the midst of a heated argument?  Regardless, I’m keeping most of it in the garden as a decoration, and two fine pieces grace my kitchen’s windowsill as an aid to daydreaming.

I’ve got my own fanciful ideas about the strange building behind the house.  I discovered it over our four-day weekend when we went out back to gather kindling.  I was first drawn to it by the pattern of walls made discernible by the cover of fallen leaves–it’s a little, rectangular building.  And then I noticed the little blue teapot, and then a big spattered enamelware bowl, then a huge crock, a wooden bucket and more and more and more.

Dozens of vessels of every shape, size and material imaginable scattered in the woods near a little hut, just up the hill from a beautiful, cold, clean stream.  My mind raced.  Might it be an old moonshine still from Prohibition days?  I can’t wait for Spring, when the leaves have settled and deer hunting season is over, so I can venture back into the woods to do a more thorough investigation.  Until then, I’ll just have to do some research online to see if I can date any of the crockery to around the 1920s.

I have no culinary mystery to leave you with, but perhaps all this thinking and contemplating and pondering has left you hungry.  I know it has me.  So might I suggest some spätzle? The latest issue of Saveur has a wonderful recipe for käsespätzle that includes roasted garlic in the dumplings.  Given my undying love for these little German dumplings, I had to try it.

As with most recipes for spätzle, Saveur’s tells you to use a spätzle-maker to make them small and uniform.  Bah! I say.  Just drip the batter into boiling water off your spoon.  The spätzle will turn out bigger, more toothsome and hence more delicious.  Cook them until they rise to the top, then sautèe with a little butter and chopped garlic, sprinkle with cheese and broil until golden and delicious.   Serve with some braised sauerkraut and sausages, and you’ve got a meal fit for ein Königen.

No mystery there.


29 Oct

“Are those people eating butter?”

City Hall Fountain

It was a forthright question, spoken in a unmistakable voice, with a tinge of theatrical horror and a dash of impish glee. I turned to look at the people, and yes, it did appear that they were eating butter, with gusto and glee, in many different flavors and varieties.

I turned to the man who had asked the question and was a little shocked to see a certain gentleman known for his way with lardo, pancetta and other fats, wearing his signature clogs, laughing and looking a bit scandalized. Then the proprietor of the stand put us all at ease. He said that no, in fact, they were not eating butter, rather that it was finally cold enough for him to put out samples of his farm’s ice cream for the masses.

Battery Park Irises

The Boy and I (still giggling) payed for our dairy products and began scouring the market for something to star in the evening’s risotto. We had initially planned on a roasted mushroom and blue cheese risotto, but, alas, the mushroom guy wasn’t there. So we made a few passes through the stalls, me searching for something a little different, the Boy, bravely restraining his annoyance with the crowds and the rain. Finally, I settled on some ugly, grungy roots. Salsify.

Salsify looks like a cross between a dirty parsnip and a gnarly mandrake. It’s long and thin, can have legs and noses and other anatomical protruberances and is a bitch to clean. The cleaning is worth it however, as once it is cooked, it has the most delicate, etheral aroma and a silky smooth texture.

Salsify is otherwise known as Oyster Plant and was very popular in early American cookery (the Shakers were especially fond of it). But why Oyster Plant? Because some people think it tastes like the briny bivalves. Me? I think it’s got more of a jerusalem artichokes meet hearts of palm thing going.

Bay Ridge Waterlillies

To accompany the risotto I had settled on Melissa Clark’s Tuscan kale salad from last week’s NY Times dining section. In fact, I had settled on making this salad on Wednesday morning, but apparently so had many other commuters, because by the time I arrived at the greenmarket every single stand had sold out of lacinato kale. I was not to be thwarted on Saturday though, and so I hedged and went to the super-bodega aka Gracefully on Avenue A where I knew I could find lacinato kale.

Raw Lacinato Kale Salad

Sadly, I hedged wrong. I paid nearly $7 for two bunches in the East Village when I could have gotten those same two bunches at the greenmarket for $3. Sometimes it pays to hedge, sometimes it doesn’t. But you know what? I don’t care. Because I’ve still got another bunch in the fridge waiting to be made into this salad again tonight, because you know what else? It’s that good. She’s right, ugly is beautiful.

Raw Lacinato Kale Salad, Salsify Risotto

Oddly enough, upon finishing the risotto and testing it for seasoning, I swear I tasted the faintest whiff, just a hint of blue cheese, without my having added a single crumble. I was worried that the cheese, a real stinker from Cato Corner, might be too much for the delicate salsify, but no, not at all. It turned out to be exactly what the dish needed to elevate it from comforting, yet bland, into the lofty echelons of what could become a classic dish… On any other evening.

Salsify Risotto

Saturday night, the salad was truly the evening’s star. Raw kale? Who woulda ever thunk it!

Head below the jump for No-Oyster Risotto and Raw Kale Salad.

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1 Oct

Over on My New York, I dedicated a post to “The Other Bridge.”

Birds On A Wire

You’ve seen her around these parts a lot lately. She’s a beautiful bridge and is often overshadowed by her more glamorous and famous sister the Brooklyn Bridge.

There’s a few recipes and dishes that I keep meaning to write about that are beginning to feel a bit like the Manhattan Bridge; worthy, beautiful, simple and yet, overlooked. The glamorous dishes and serious cooking have been hogging the spotlight.

Like the two bridges the good story gets all the glory. But, do you know where to get the best view of the Brooklyn Bridge? Why from the middle of the Manhattan Bridge of course!

Dumbo Pebbles

And so, without further ado: A salad, bread & cheese, a juice and dessert.

Michael’s Onions

Michael's Onions

I first tasted these onions at my friend’s poker game a few Fridays ago. Our host had planned to make them on the grill, but due to a series of unforeseen mishaps he ended up cooking them in the oven. They couldn’t be easier, or tastier. Just thickly slice a sweet onion, dot it with a little butter, season with a shake of Lawry’s and then roast in the oven until soft and wiltingly tender. We ate ours with sausages.

Two nights later I just had to make them to top a salad. Equally as good. I don’t keep seasoning salt in the house, so I used various spice mixes my mom has given me over the years and a little salt. They come out so soft and delicious, like the inside of the very best onion rings.

Bread & Cheese

No-Knead Bread

Yep, it’s back. What’s back? No-knead bread season of course! While I conquered my fear of kneading last winter, I’ve been craving Bittman’s magic bread. (As an aside, thank you NY Times for finally removing the asinine Times Select thus allowing home cooks everywhere to access timeless recipes again.) It has a yeasty flavor and magical texture that I haven’t yet been able to capture in my kneaded loaves.

Fromage Blanc & No-Knead Bread

This loaf was 2 cups AP flour plus 1/2 cup white whole wheat and 1/2 cup extra fine semolina. I love the flavor and texture the semolina added, a slight nuttiness, a little extra browning on the bottom and a gorgeous crust on top. We christened autumn’s first loaf with homemade fromage blanc flavored with herbes de Provence.

Fromage blanc is a cultured fresh cheese from France that closely resembles cream cheese. It can be drained to a thicker consistency or kept a little liquidy for use in cooking or making sauces and can be flavored anyway you see fit. You can order the cultures here.

Concord Grape Juice

Concord Grape Juice

Have you ever thought about making your own grape juice? Neither had I, until yesterday. On Saturday I had been seduced by the aroma of concord grapes wafting through the breezes at the greenmarket. Seriously, it’s a heady, addicting aroma. So I bought a quart of them, got them home, smelled them and then looked at them and said, “So, now what do I do with you?”

No, the grapes didn’t answer, but I did finally come up with a solution, I turned to the Shakers. Up at the Watervliet site there’s grape vines everywhere, so I figured they’d have some recipes for them, and I was right. I settled on making some juice for use in a pork roast (more on that later).

All you do is pick the grapes off the vine, wash them, add them to a pan with a scant amount of water an let them boil until the pulp has broken down completely, stirring often. Be warned. If you use a wooden spoon, it will be permanently stained a striking (and attractive) shade of shocking violet. Once the juice has cooled slightly, strain it through a colander lined with cheesecloth. That’s it. You can then use the juice in cooking or dilute it with a little seltzer for a refreshing beverage.


Ice Cream & Pretzels

My grandmother grew up in Bucks Co. Pennsylvania. Her favorite dessert, that she claims everyone ate, was peach ice cream eaten with Amish hard pretzels. It was always the treat she gave me when I would visit and I crave it often. While my grammy’s still around, she can no longer remember much of her past, so I keep at least a little part of it alive in this dessert.

Peach ice cream can be difficult to find, luckily the pretzels are a snap. Martin’s, who sell at the Union Square greenmarket, are the real deal, exactly like the ones I remember her brining back from her annual visits to Bethlehem. If you love the combination of salty and sweet, this is the treat for you. I especially like it with vanilla goat’s milk ice cream as a stand-in for the peach. Enjoy!

Learning To Cook, Bay Ridge Style

7 Feb

New York City is a city of neighborhoods. This may come as a surprise to some non-New Yorkers, but yeah, there’s some truth to the way TV shows and movies portray us; we do stop and talk to our neighbors, ask about the grand-kids and pet the puppy next door.

The other thing about New York neighborhoods is that each one has its own distinctive rhythm and flavor that, much like my personality, is as much a product of it’s past as it is of it’s present. To me, the easiest way to spot these pasts and presents is, of course, in the food.

Fish Stew

The Lower East Side was giddy, transient, loud, brash, hopeful. It was the place for new immigrants to stop first, be they Eastern European Jews, Puerto Ricans & Dominicans, a diaspora of Asian cultures or college graduates from Ottumwa, Iowa. There were tons of bars, tons of places to get great Cubanos and haute cuisine, Asian groceries, Jewish delis, yuppie bodegas and nerdy wine shops. I could get nearly anything I wanted at nearly any hour of the day.

And Bay Ridge? Yeah, not so 24-7.

It may be too soon to be drawing grand conclusions about our new home, but I’m a bit of a impetuous ass at times and will do so anyway. Bay Ridge reminds me of my childhood. Stores are closed on Sunday. When they’re open on Saturday, you can’t be sure for how long they’ll remain so, as it really does depend on what the proprietor feels like doing. Thursday is the late-night shopping night. The fish guy stays open later on Friday. This is one traditional little neighborhood. Might it have something to do with it’s Italian, Scandinavian and Irish heritages? Yeah, I’m willing to jump to that conclusion.

I’ve quickly marked five spots as my “go to” locations for quick eats that are really, really Bay Ridge.

There’s a Scandinavian grocery that sells the most wonderful multi-grain rolls, veal and pork sausages, everything lingonberry, and yes, Hamcheese In A Tube.

Hamcheese In A Tube

There’s Polbridge (the only one who’s name I can remember) conveniently located next door to Polonica, that carries, bestill my beating heart, Podravka Liver Pate, the very same stuff we ate the hell out of while in Croatia. That right there was worth all the pain and suffering the move entailed!

There’s the Italian fish market (open late on Friday) which is just down the block from Cangiano’s, the Italian grocery that has everything except vegetables (and fish) and makes so-so fresh mozzarella.

And finally, directly across the intersection from the Italians is a Korean grocery of the most wonderful and classic sort; reasonably priced and full of diverse fruits and vegetable that, since they’re the only game in town as far as produce goes (as far as I can tell) is always really fresh because of their high turnover.

Brasciole and Bitter Greens

See? Quite the little United Nations of food! And I haven’t even begun to try parsing all the different Middle Eastern, Turkish and Egyptian groceries that blanket the hood!

And so what have I been cooking? Mainly Italian. It’s comforting, easy, warm, quick and a cuisine I know like the back of my hand (despite not having a drop of it in me). Our first real meal in the house was a thrown together fish stew. The second, my first experience ever with pre-packed, grocer-prepared “convenience meat,” a take on brasciole.

I can’t wait for this weekend when we actually have the weekend to ourselves. No Time Warner, no movers, no shakers, no noones but us. I’m hoping to do some bread baking, some stewing and maybe some exploring of those Middle Eastern delis!

Oh, and can you tell I’ve found a new blog that I love? Dave, the guy behind Eating In Translation is eating his way through the Five Boroughs and taking us along for the ride. This is really great stuff! Dig in, explore and enjoy!

Head below the jump for recipes for Bay Ridge “Caciucco” and Brasciole With Bitter Greens.

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