mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

“Food Nirvana!” . . .

DSCN8599

This blog has been leaning towards food and recipes for a long time. I enjoy cooking because we have to eat and it might as well be creative and fun at the same time, right?

I live in a Central Massachusetts town. Mostly working class but there are numerous academic institutions and universities too. I used to drive an hour to buy Asian groceries in Burlington – but they didn’t have barbecued pork or roast ducklings. That required going further to Allston/Brookline to the 88 Asian Grocery Store which I would visit about 4 times a year. Then, I heard this week about a huge Asian emporium located in our town about five months ago.

So, all of a sudden, I don’t have to go farther than ten minutes drive from our home to buy roast duckling at the Asian Market in Webster Square and fresh fish, still swimming around in tanks underneath the fishstand. There’s thin sliced beef for sukiyaki and best of all to me, very small heads of napa cabbage and strips of winter melon that are good for a single meal instead of 3 or 4; single Japanese eggplants and so on.

During this same timeframe and with much fanfare, a brand new (literally!) Whole Foods opened ten minutes away in Shrewsbury two months ago. It’s more of a foodie boutique than anything else with a fresh pasta stand, a wonderful butcher and seafood counter and delectable baked treats that are hard to resist! They also carry wine, beer, French macarons and Japanese mochii – you get the picture, right?

For Easter, I bought a fresh semi-boneless leg of lamb from Whole Foods that came out beautifully even though it took a lot less time to roast it than I thought. Did you know that the bone emanates heat so it takes less to cook than a boneless roast? I didn’t either. But I did happen to take a peek and pulled it out so that it was medium-rare – just right for yesterday’s Easter dinner.

I feel like I have an embarrassment of riches with the opening of these two stores within a short drive from our house. In addition, I can also choose to drive 20 minutes to a Market Basket in Sutton where water is 50 cents rather than a dollar a gallon. Even the local Shaw’s and Stop and Shop have decent salmon fillets, so fresh that you can serve it for sashimi, most of the time.

All this thinking and writing about food illustrates how much it is part of my life. Now, procuring fresh, inspiring ingredients is no longer a long-distance chore, but a hop, skip and a jump every day. Wow, aren’t we lucky?  Thank You, Universe!

“rebirth” . . .

People think of Easter as being a time of rebirth – after all, Jesus ascended from the dead; Lazarus stories abound and we’re all aware of snakes shedding their skin and starting to grow a new one.

What does “rebirth” mean anyhow, I woke up thinking this morning. Especially in America, it seems, we live in a culture where we are constantly trying to reinvent ourselves. We live in MAKEOVER USA. That’s fine, I guess, but is it really necessary? I mean, what’s so wrong with us that we have to keep adding to the patchwork quilt that we’re sewing together of our lives?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for makeovers. I love rearranging the furniture, for example. Especially when I find an antique table that’s nicer than the one I have. Or bring in a blanket chest that I have little room for but delights my spirit nevertheless.

Oh, and also hair. Women love to redo their hairstyle – or color it or wear it up or down, depending on our moods. But, I am getting far astray from the idea of “rebirth.” Let’s face it, we can alter our perspective about things, make amends and hold out our hands to others but we can’t really be reborn. Not even born again you-know-whats. I mean, you’re born and then you die sometime. In between, you can take shifts at different kinds of lifestyles and attitudes. You can change the way you look: lose weight or don’t, already.

We are a culture of changing ourselves because we constantly think that we need to IMPROVE. Well, that depends upon how much energy you have from doing the best you can when things are down. So, where are we? The French don’t seem to feel that they have to have makeovers all the time. Somehow, they seem to get it right the first time!

HAHA, so maybe we can resolve ourselves to do our best, whatever that happens to be at any given time and shelve the idea of improving ourselves constantly. Instead we can enjoy being bystanders of the entertainment world where making comebacks and reinventing image is their profession and life’s blood. Maybe ours is good enough. At least for today.

Easter dinner redux . . .

IMG_6808

IMG_6803

IMG_6828I thought I might post a few details about the recipes for preparing our Easter dinner in the previous post.

The carrot-orange cake is one that I have made for decades. One April Fool’s day long ago, I iced a brick with cream cheese frosting and served it to one of my daughters. She was rather non-plussed at the time that it wasn’t a real cake, but her sister remembers it with glee. I thought again about doing it because today IS April Fool’s day in addition to it being Easter. But I didn’t. I searched for our old recipe because the current one on the internet is different. It calls for buttermilk and dark rum of all things. Ours has fresh Navel orange juice and zest in the cake and zest on top of the cream cheese frosting.

IMG_6824

Here’s the recipe:

Bon Appetit’s Carrot-Orange Cake Recipe (November, 1995):

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. With a mixer, beat together: 1.5 cups of vegetable oil; 1 cup of packed medium brown sugar, 1 cup of sugar.
  3. Add four eggs, one at a time and beat well in between each one.
  4. Add 1/3 cup of fresh squeezed Navel orange juice and 1 tablespoon of zest.
  5. Add 2 cups of flour – not packed (be careful) and 2 teaspoons of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of baking powder.
  6. Add 1 teaspoon cinnamon (Penzey’s Indonesian cinnamon), 1 teaspoon ground ginger,  1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  7. HAND-GRATE on medium hole side of a box grater, 3 cups of fresh carrots. I leave the skins on and cut off the tops and bottoms. This is a lugubrious task and tiring to do. Don’t be tempted to run them through a food processor because it grinds the carrots too small. When they are ground too finely, they are heavy, believe it or not, and sink to a thick layer on the bottom of the pans. The hand-grated carrots “float” in the batter –which I found out the hard way one year. BTW, I also add a handful of golden raisins because we like them but you don’t have to – walnuts are sometimes nice too.
  8. Stir the carrots in by hand, lightly folding them in the batter until they’re mixed in.
  9. I used two aluminum foil 8.5 inch cake pans because it makes 2 layers – 8 inch is too small and 9 inch is too big (sad but true!)
  10. Bake on middle rack for almost an hour – start testing with toothpiks around 45-50 minutes in and don’t be tempted to take it out until the toothpicks come out clean.
  11. I turn off the oven, pull the cake shelf halfway out of the oven and let them cool.
  12. Take them out and let them set on the counter for about 15 minutes and turn out the cakes onto plates. Let them cool COMPLETELY before frosting them.
  13. CREAM CHEESE FROSTING: In a bowl, combine 2 large Philadelphia cream cheese to 1.5 sticks of unsalted butter. Let them come to room temperature. Beat with a mixer and add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of fresh orange juice. Beat and then add about 1/2-1 cup of confectioners sugar. We like it not too sweet so if you’d like it sweeter, add a little more confectioners sugar to taste. You won’t be able to resist tasting the frosting as you go along. It’s the best part of making this recipe!
  14. When the cakes are completely cooled, they are inverted so spread some frosting on the first layer; then gently turn the other one over and put flat side to flat side down. Frost the top and sides of the cake so that it will absorb the frosting while it rests.
  15. Put the cake into the refrigerator and cover with plastic wrap. I like to sprinkle on some fresh orange zest in a circle on the top. Hope you will enjoy it as much as my family has for over 20 years!

POPOVERS! 

It’s traditional to have popovers with our holiday meals. Couldn’t be simpler to make if you follow a couple of tricks: Mix 2 cups whole milk at room temperature; 4 eggs at room temperature – beat them in; add 2 cups lightly packed flour and 1 teaspoon of salt. Mix by hand until blended – no problem if there are lumps in the batter. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and put in your popover pan (I have one with 12 cups) DRY. When heated, take it out carefully with a potholder and spray with Pam inside the cups and around the edges of the top. Fill the popover pan cups with batter almost to the top. Place a sheet of aluminum foil underneath the popover pan to catch any drippings that might smoke up the oven (!). Bake for 40 minutes exactly without opening the door of the oven. Even though they may look like they’re popped and ready to eat, the insides of the popovers still need time to cook. 40 minutes it is. If you sprayed it well enough, they should come out easily just by lifting them. If you didn’t spray enough, then they may need to be cut out with a sharp knife. We like to eat them with unsalted butter and honey drizzled on them.

IMG_6783

JULIA CHILD marinade/prep for roasting leg of lamb:

This recipe can be found in her classic book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” It consists of combining Grey Poupon Dijon mustard, crushed garlic, chopped fresh rosemary, soy sauce and olive oil. The leg of lamb is inserted with small pieces of garlic and then covered with the mustard glaze. I use her method of roasting also: sear by roasting at high heat 425 degrees for about 20 minutes and then roast slowly at 325 degrees until a meat thermometer registers around 135 degrees (20-30 minutes per pound.) It will continue to cook after it’s taken out and we like to take a cut to see if it is medium rare when we take it out. Most of the time, I err on the side of it being too rare rather than over-cooked. But it’s easy to put it back in the oven to cook longer when that happens.IMG_6795