Monday, October 13, 2014

Jam


In retrospect, my love of jam making seems inevitable. It combines my love of seasonal fruit, gift giving and preserving (pun intended!) memories of picking fruit with my sons. 

But I actually just arrived here. It started when I hoped to emulate an incredible blackberry jam that my brother picked up in Ireland. He actually bought it for my mom, but I confess, I ate almost half before I caught myself! After a bit of on-line research and obsessively reading as many jam-making books as I could, I realized that what I loved most about that jam was its lack of pectin. In fact, "European style" jams are often made with less sugar and lemon juice. So, instead of an almost jello-like jam, you end up with a spread that tastes like the essence of fruit.

So, after my sons and I picked pounds of blueberries and peaches, together we began to mix and stir. I relied most heavily on the Blue Chair Jam cookbook by Rachel Saunders. I made thick preserves from wild plums at the farmer's market and a delicious spread with sour cherries at Russos. My favorite, to my surprise, has been a simple, thick rhubarb spread as well as blackberry that was close to the Irish jam that started it all. 

Soon, the kitchen was piled high with small ball jars filled with luminous jam. I have been giving it away to friends and family as thanks for all their incredible support during the challenges of the past two years.  My sons and I have been savoring it, too, feeling lucky to be together and to enjoy this. 


Monday, November 5, 2012

When Life Hands You Lemons, Candy Them

These days my staple foods are ginger, lemons, smoothies and mashed potatoes. I haven't cooked a full meal in over two months. And for now I can only wait patiently to eat a nice dinner out.

The truth is is this: after a complicated few years I was positive that my sons and were finally settling down as we moved into our cozy new home (which I wrote about here and here and here.)  But then I found a lump. And for the last two months I have shifted from FoodieMommy to Mommy with Cancer.  I will spend this year in treatment which entails chemo, surgery, radiation and even more surgery. The good news is this: there is a chance that after one incredibly difficult year, I may be okay. While the chances I am cured are almost minimal, the chances are very good that I will be around to write more FoodieMommy posts for many more years.

From the first week I found out, Tammy of Food on the Food was one of my inspirations. I remembered that she, too, was diagnosed at a young age and with two young children. I also recalled how she handled the experience with her typical wit and honesty.  And I knew that at some point, I too, would be ready to share the news with my readers.

The "Foodie" part of me lurks since each day.  In my first treatment I was so ill that I had to force myself to drink. An individual smoothie maker did and still helps me to get protein and liquid simultaneously.  At that point mashed potatoes, tapioca pudding, raspberry sorbet, and glass upon glass of homemade lemonade were my staples.  I continue to struggle with the fact that water tastes awful-one of the weird quirks of chemo. So I am still trying out everything from apricot nectar to pomegranate syrup.

Luckily, my amazing doctors figured out how to manage my nausea, so now I am constantly hungry but often queazy, making for an odd combination.  I perpetually crave Japanese food, though I am banned from eating raw fish. So I take out ebi and tamago and inhale bowls of warm sushi rice from Oga's, Oishii and Oishii, Too.  My Foodie self is trying to come up with creative smoothies and low maintenance meals.  I have finally introduced myself to the plethora of mixes (love the King Arthur muffin and scone mixes!) and prepared meals.  Although I have temporarily lost my taste for coffee, I am becoming reacquainted with the world of tea.  When I am not at my doctors, I am typically resting at home, exhausted, longing to cook. But my energy level rarely provides enough to both cook, clean and care for my two sons. So instead I am fed by an amazing community who provide my family meals 3 days a week.  I am deeply appreciative, though the loss of control over food is just one more adjustment I need to make.

My kitchen, which I intended to renovate, frustrates me more than ever.  Each caretaker for me and the kids has to knock around the low cabinets, the tearing floor, the minimal counter space. I enter each sweepstakes and contest hoping I can get a chance to create the heart of my home. At least I have time to gaze at kitchens on Pinterest.

FoodieMommy, then, is on a detour for now. But I promise, she will be back. She has to be-for me and my sons.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sunbird: A New Wellfleet Stop

We have our standbys in Wellfleet. We start at Arnold's for the fried shrimp, steamers and heaps of onion rings.  Mac's offers scallop burritos and a view.  PB Boulangerie means rich breakfast each morning. And the Wicked Oyster is sufficient for that one nice dinner. But each year I am on the lookout for some place new. And this year it was a food truck of all places, set right on Route 6 after the Wellfleet Post Office and before PJs.  The Sunbird Food Truck is having its first summer as a fast "slow food truck."
And, it is absolutely my style of food: local, fresh and with a menu that changes daily depending on what is available.  Each time I drove by, I longed for the Slow Roasted Porchetta sandwich. Of course, on the one day I went, the porchetta wasn't available!
But I was saved by the recommendation of chef and co-owner, J'aime Sparrow who led me to the market sandwich. On that day, the sandwich had fresh grilled zucchini, tomato, greens, proscuitto, a fried egg and, the best part, citrus ricotta. Together the citrus was the best compliment to the rich sandwich. Other treats included a gourmet hot dog on brioche or fresh fish tacos.  I could have taken the sandwich to the beach, but my impatience got to me and I shared one of the tables that sit alongside the truck.
I didn't want to keep J'aime and her crew from cooking for too long, but in a brief interaction I learned that she had spent 10 years in San Francisco before heading back to the east coast to open the truck with her husband, Christian.  The truck is currently open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 to 3. As for the porchetta, her plan is to try to have it on Thursdays and Fridays.

The Sunbird Food Truck is officially located at 2520A State Highway, Route 6, Wellfleet, MA

Sunday, September 30, 2012

PB Boulangerie: Still Dreamy

If I close my eyes while waiting in line at PB Boulangerie, for one minute I can pretend I am in Paris as the smell of butter wafts through the door.  Returning to a summer retreat is risky. Often the memories of routine places can be misleading. But in the case of PB Boulangerie, the treats and breads were as good as I remember. I tried to beat the lines this year by embracing my sons' early wakings (6 am.) I would get in line by 6:45, and if it was a good day, be driving away, full of pastries by 7:10.  The croissants were as flaky as I remember and even better warmed in the toaster for a few minutes.  The lemon tart, touched with creamy meringue was as heavenly as I had hoped.  And the pain au fromage et lardons was still smokey and cheesy.  I also tried their apple tart which combined a tender apple compote with roasted apples and a bittersweet chocolate filled chocolate eclair. But the two highlights this year were also new. The first was a dark chocolate and candied orange bread.  One slice, heated for a minute in the toaster brought the best of breakfast and dessert in one meal.  It also freezes beautifully, perfect for stocking up for the fall.  Then, the "Wellfleet Brioche," was a sweet dough, topped with butter and sugar giving it a crumbly crunch. But the best aspect was the red hazelnuts that sunk into the surface adding a nuttiness to each bite.   While the service is faster, the lines are still slow due to a only having two cashiers (at most) and the need to make cappuccinos.  At its worst, I waited 30 minutes while others had to stand in line for an hour. As I noted last year, I try to embrace my chance to read a book or the paper, to shmooze with the other excited customers and to inhale the sweetness to come. It is vacation after all!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Scampo at the Liberty Hotel: Of Cracklings, Beets and Homemade Pasta

Our waiter at Scampo sold us on the pasta by insisting that he loved the dish even though he "really didn't like beets."  I actually adore beets. Roasted in the oven and topped with olive oil and salt they are a perfect meal. Even for a beet lover, the egg pasta with beets and summer truffles at Scampo were a revelation.  The tender noodles were tossed with diced beets, slivers of beets and baby beets, as well as melted butter, lemon and so many slices of earthy truffles. It was topped with roasted seaweed, adding a subtle saltiness to the dish. Together the dish was a sweet and savory delight.  It is the dish that would woo me back to Scampo.
That wasn't the only pasta dish that we were still recalling the next day.  The simple sounding spaghetti with cracklings was over the top. Little fried cubes of porky goodness were nestled in olive oil and hot peppers. Each smoky, crunchy, chewy bite was heavenly. I would have loved the dish even more with ziti or shells that could easily hold the cracklings.
Another dish hit the mark as well.  I had read many positive review about the pork chop. But I was dismissive: how good could a pork chop really be? Well, it was that good: juicy, tender and burnished by the wood grill. I haven't eaten a pork chop in years and this just converted me. It was so huge that it lasted through dinner that night, and lunch the next day.  The only downside? The accompanying apple risotto was undercooked, too sweet and reminiscent of breakfast porridge. The dish would have fared far better with a seasonal green, like broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic.
That being said other dishes also offered tasty elements.  The green bean tempura was delicious and sweet having been blanched before frying.  We also loved the fava bean dip that came with salty, homemade Parmesan bread sticks as we sat down.
While we didn't love the almond milk dressing, the tender fried eggplant was perfect with the sweet homemade mozzarella.  This was one of many dishes that you can get from their mozzarella bar.
We also tried the famous lobster pizza.  The crust was reminiscent of a simple flatbread and coated with a creamy, sherry infused sauce. On top of that, chunks of sweet lobster.  It was good. But, truth be told: I am a lobster purist, craving a steamed lobster or a chilled lobster roll.
Desserts were...fine. The most memorable part? The freeze dried lemon (intended as a garnish to our lemon semifreddo!) that was tart and bitter and contrasted the dinner.  The semifreddo itself was too sweet, reminding me of the inside of a chilled key lime pie.
The chocolate dessert was also underwhelming.  It consisted of a chocolate mousse coated with a chocolate ganache and chocolate sprinkles.  Unfortunately none of the elements were calorie-worthy.  However, I couldn't stop spooning up the Guianduja ice cream. Creamy, nutty, not too sweet: it was lovely.
We enjoyed our starter drinks.  My companion had the Gara with bourbon, ginger liquer, lemon and mint while I had the Pompelmo with tequila, grapefruit, agave, lime and mint.  I loved my glass of red wine, a Supertuscan Querciabella Mongrana, which was tasted of berries.
Scampo is located in the Liberty Hotel. Ultimately the restaurant walks the boundary between the safety of a hotel restaurant and taking leaps of faith in the customers.  Tossing chunks of sweet beets on pasta and twirling them with lemon and seaweed was unique.  A chocolate mousse....simple.
Will I return? Possibly. The truth is that the pork chop was $36 and the lobster pizza was $26, which, at least in my world, is serious money.  I am incredibly grateful to Scampo for treating me and my dining companion to this meal.  I could, though, see myself heading to Scampo after a walk on the Boston Common or by the beautiful Charles. I could also envision a stop in for a bowl of the pasta or naan baked fresh in the wood burning oven while sitting at the bar.  I would also love to return on a Friday night for more pork as Scampo offers a WHOLE. SUCKLING. PIG!!!  While the atmosphere is too boisterous to qualify for a romantic, quiet evening, I will recommend Scampo to friends who want to head out for an evening of good food, an engaging scene and a perfect location.  Clearly, Scampo is a popular place for many people. The night we were there I saw a huge range of people, some clearly hotel guests and others locals, stopping in to share in the pasta, pizza and creations of Chef Lydia Shire. So, go, enjoy and save room for the cracklings.

Scampo, 215 Charles Street, at the Liberty Hotel in Boston.


Monday, August 13, 2012

I Went to Ikea and Left with Chips!

I always feel like Alice in an anti-Wonderland at Ikea in Stoughton. Do I want chrome or plated cabinet knobs? Birch veneer or matte white? Do the floor arrows ever end? How many uncomfortable but really cheap couches can one person really sit on?  Will any of this even look remotely decent in my new home? Shopping as a single woman means, yes, I get the pleasure of making all the decisions, but it can make Ikea-land even more overwhelming.  So, before I moved and actually had to buy Ikea furniture, I went to just do an Ikea-scan. I arrived as they opened at 10, armed with a camera, a notebook and my realtor's floor plan of my new house. 4 hours later (!!!) I felt that I had conquered the whole Swedish mega-store. I came home. I pinned my new finds on Pinterest.  Ultimately I did return to buy a towel rack and kitchen shelves and a living room lamp. On that day, though, I spent my money on the more important matters: food. First, despite bringing a fruit, I was starving by 11. So, for lunch I had a not-terrible bowl of pea soup with knackebrod, otherwise known as relatively tasteless crackers. By 12:30, I needed SUGAR and CAFFEINE.  For $1.75 I got a gooey, calorie- and sugar-laden and shockingly tasty cinnamon bun and an acceptable cup of coffee. But the best was at the end when I raided the Swedish food mart.

I love their Lingonberry saft (think sweet-tart sugar syrup) to mix with lime juice and seltzer (and gin!) for raspberry-lime rickies. Their $.99 chocolate bars can end my chocolate fixes immediately.  I don't even like potato chips but their Potatischips with Graddfil and Lok (sour cream and onion potato chips) are perfect with my boozy ricky. (Can we say "stress eating?") And I can never pass up on their gorgeous chartreuse cloudberry jam. Good thing I walked around the whole store a few times!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ana Sortun's Chef Sets: Complex Meals in Minutes

The intoxicating smell of mint rose up as soon as I tore open the first of three packets. That alone surprised me.  Even better, in less than 10 minutes with almost no prep, I was sitting down to eat sautéed shrimp with quinoa, Greek herbs and raisins.  I was trying out the new Chef Sets, a collaboration of one of my favorite chefs, Ana Sortun (of Oleana and Sofra) and SetPoint Health in Newton.  When I was asked if I would want to sample the new line, I never hesitated. Easy to prepare meals? Vegetarian options? Complex flavors?  Sure!  As a working single mom I struggle to find ways to get healthy, interesting meals to the table in less than 15 minutes.  These kits easily fit that need. Chef Sortun and Set Point Health have created 4 different options.  Each set comes with 3 packets, easy directions and a vegetarian option.  I tried two with the protein they suggested, and two vegetarian style.
Quinoa with Greek Herbs and Raisins: This was the dish with the wonderful mint.  The herb shaped the dish, lifting it up and mixing gently with dried orange. In fact, I could have happily served this at a dinner party. The suggestion which I replicated, is to use shrimp and feta. I always keep Whole Foods' frozen shrimp in my freezer for an inexpensive and easy protein fix.  Ironically, though, I loved the broccoli and quinoa the most. In fact, next time I may try pan roasted tofu.  I never would have thought (or taken the time) to grate an orange and find good dried mint for a mid-week dish.

Quinoa with Crushed Pistachios and Za'atar Spice: I loved the quinoa preparation which involved mixing it with sautéed onions and peas before adding the spice mixture. In this set, you top the quinoa with salmon and spoonfuls of Za'atar, a mixture of thyme, sumac and sesame seeds.  My favorite part? The crushed pistachios that added a wonderful contrast to the tender salmon.
Couscous with Moroccan Spices and Almonds: With little in my pantry and exhausted from packing up  to move, I reached for this set. And this time I decided to try the vegetarian recipe featured on the Chef Set Meals website.  Instead of chicken, I tossed chickpeas in with the sautéed onions and Aromatic packet. I scattered the almonds from the Garnish packet on top of the chickpeas and couscous.  I wasn't quite as taken with this set as the others. In retrospect, cooking the couscous with broth would have added much more flavor. This dish was just much more subtle than the others. But I still ate it all. In fact, I loved it the next day, cold and tossed with a bit of olive oil and sherry vinegar for a salad.
Bulgar Pilaf with Turkish Pilaf and Pistachios: This was by far my favorite grain mixture of the Chef Sets.  By using Trader Joe's precooked lentils, I was literally able to prepare this set with less than two minutes of prep. And the bulgur pilaf cooks up in 6 minutes. The point? I had a fabulous vegetarian meal together and full of cumin, spearmint, sweet and hot peppers.  The pistachios added a lovely crunch while the pepper added warmth and color to the lentils. The cucumber sauce would be just as fantastic of plain burgers or falafel.

Overall: One of the great strengths of the Chef Sets is that even the most inexperienced adult could pull these off. Second, these are a quick dish for any of us who don't have the time or money to put together these spice mixtures.  No, it will never replace a delightful meal at Oleana or Sofra, but it is certainly quicker, faster, and, of course, less expensive.  For people who are counting calories or trying to stay healthy, by following the recipes exactly, the sets empower you with knowing exactly the nutrition and caloric breakdown of your meal.  They may not be an easy sell to kids or even adults whose palettes aren't quite ready to leap into sumac or cumin and mint. But for those of us who crave full flavored and complex meals in minutes, these are a great option.

The Chef Sets are now available at selected Whole Foods, as well as Sofra in Cambridge for around $6.00.

Thank you, as well, to Chef Sets and Chef Sortun for giving me a chance to try these out.