Monday, November 30, 2009

Made At Home

Christmas is only a few weeks away and I am thinking about the gifts that I am going to make and how much time I need. Last year I made a John Derian style plate for a friend, it took weeks to put the layers and layers of varnish on top of my decoupage, but it was so much fun to make a personalized plate and it did look rather beautiful, and my red headed friend from the Emerald Isle was tickled pink with her gift. The NZ'er has quite a collection of handmade gifts; a red and green tea cosy, an assortment of knitted scarfs, a quilt made out of his old t-shirts, many photo albums, and our favorite; a draft excluder that I made to look like our dog. 

I spent long holidays with my Grandparents, I called them Nanny and Poppy, they lived the ultimate self sufficient life, everything was made at home, Poppy had a large allotment where he grew all of their fruit and vegetables, he spent all day tending to his plot, Nanny would ring a big bell out of the window to get him in for mealtimes. Bread and cakes were baked, jam was made, vegetables were pickled, when they went food shopping the list was simple, flour, eggs, milk and butter. They recylced everything, old rags and shirts were made into tea cosies and draft excluders, and there were many draught central heating and very draughty! 

Evenings were spent mending stuff, socks were darned, can you imagine anyone darning a sock these days? actually I do darn my favorites from Erica Tanov, they have the best socks and I want to keep them for a long time but I have very pointy feet and I make holes easily. Poppy had been a cobbler so he would fix up all of their old shoes, I think Nanny had the same pair of navy shoes for decades. They knitted and crocheted and sewed together, I will always remember the lovely crocheted milk jug covers with beads. They were resourceful because they had to be, they never went out to a restaurant, maybe once, with my family, I remember........they were a bit uncomfortable, picnics were more their style of 'eating out'. They had a huge influence on me and the way I live my life, I may not have appreciated it at the time especially the teen years, when my focus was on platform shoes, flares and disco, but the desire to 'make things' has always stayed with me and they taught me that those quiet times when you are so fully engrossed in the process of making stuff are the best times......the simple pleasures. 
My book (tee hee) is going to be called 'Living Like Nanny and Poppy'.

This is another draught excluder I made for friends last Christmas, I owe them a tail! 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Feast With Friends

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, I haven't missed one in eighteen years, I enjoy this special time of the year when we celebrate the gift of food, warmth and good company. This year, as with most years, we are going to be celebrating with good friends, we will have a spectacular view of the ocean and our hosts will serve up a veritable feast, and then we will sing and dance. One year I decided I would treat everyone to a performance of Pokarekare Ana, unfortunately I only know the music, and not the words, so I did a terrible thing and made up Maori, nobody was any the wiser and I got a standing ovation, meanwhile the NZ'er just stared at me in horror.

Everyone brings a dish, haven't decided on mine yet, I am thinking maybe an apple and cauliflower puree (Dish magazine NZ) or a mushroom stew, I made the stew last year when we had TG at our house and everyone seemed to like it, that was the year I also served up Chinese dumplings as an appetizer, they weren't so popular, but I did make a spicy cranberry (hand picked) sauce to go with them, I thought it was a creative use of the ubiquitous cranberry sauce, come to think of it I still have some in the freezer, hmmm a little bit of chilli and a pinch of five spice powder. 

I am going to attempt to go cranberry picking tomorrow in the dunes, it may be a futile hunt, it's getting kind of late in the season, the pesky deer have probably scoffed bog loads, and I heard that someone is doing tours of the walking dunes and showing people where to pick cranberries! Our secret places revealed! Ooh, now I am starting to sound like a Montauk surfer. 

There's nothing quite like a day out groveling on your knees in the bogs, returning home with a bulging red bag of berries. My dear friend Hilary Ostlere took me on my first cranberry picking expedition about three years ago, she knew the spots, and she made a great cranberry pie, it was an old New England recipe, I must it dig it out again. Hilary was a Brit too and had lived here since 1961, she embraced every season out here at the very end of Long Island, and she would walk the beach at Ditch in all kinds of weather, I can see her now, sun behind her down by the cliffs; a confident dancers' stride and always a swing in her step.......we will go to Ditch on Thanksgiving day, a brisk walk is always good before the feast, and we'll remember the good friends that are no longer with us.....some of them brought so much to the party.

A fishing trip normally takes place on Thanksgiving day if weather allows, it can be chilly out there but once you start hooking up a bunch of herring on the sabiki rig things start to get exciting and with any luck there's a Striper for dinner, ahhhhh glorious Montauk, wouldn't want to be anywhere else. 

Got no check books, got no banks.  Still I'd like to express my thanks - I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.  ~Irving Berlin

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fire Power

When it starts to get chilly out we pull out the woks along with the socks......couldn't resist, (we have a restaurant here called wok and roll......need I say more) Wok cooking brings a lot excitement to the kitchen; there's fire and steam and loud sizzling, heat is the key to good stir fries, we have two woks, one strictly for stir fries and one for more soupy dishes, I seasoned my woks with Chinese chives following the instructions from our favorite Chinese cookbook - The Breath of a Wok, written by Grace Young. I feel vey connected to my woks after preparing them for cooking using this ancient secret recipe, the subtitle of the book is 'unlocking the spirit of Chinese wok cooking through recipes and lore' and the book is so much more than a cookbook, Grace Young will take you on a captivating journey, I had the privilege of meeting her in New York, she is an expert and passionate guide.

Chinatown is one of my favorite spots to hit when I am in the city, I load up on bok choy and choy sum and the delicate Shanghai bok choy, and if I am lucky pea shoots ( dou miao ) from my secret stall. The curly tendrils are delicious stir fried with ginger and garlic, but they have such a fresh pea like flavor that I also like to serve them as a salad, just slightly wilted. They are considered a delicacy in Chinese cooking, and are often not listed on the English menus in Chinatown, you have to ask if they have 'dough meow'.

The dish in the pic is an adaptation (honestly there is something wrong when a person can't follow the recipe exactly!) of Mary Chau's Shanghai-style Snow Cabbage and Edamame, (from Breath of a Wok) my version was heavy on the five spice tofu. If you know someone who likes to cook Chinese food this would be a fabulous Christmas gift, I would have been over the moon if I had been given this book, (or anything by Madhur Jaffrey, hint, hint).

There are so many great restaurants to chose from in the bustling, strangely exotic and sometimes smelly corner of downtown, I have a feeling we might be hearing about Cobocan soon, I really hope not. One place I haven't tried but will next time I am city bound is Amazing 66 which I read about on serious eats. When I lived in  London we used to go to Wong Kei (we called it the wonkey, I'm ashamed to admit) for the best wonton noodle soup, the waiters were so exceptionally rude it was part of the experience of dining there.

A great place in Nolita with wok action is - Lovely Day - on Elizabeth Street, serving very fresh and flavorful food, AND it doesn't cost an arm and a leg. It's fun to sit in the red booths listening to the clatter and chatter and the occasional fiery burst from the kitchen. Ironically Lovely Day has been closed for over a year due to a fire in an apartment in the building, the regulars have been bereft without their 'Lovely' (including the NZ'er) but it's now open again, and they can take their places at the bar once more and enjoy the tasty delights. 

And another thing....if you're looking for good provisions and a one stop shop go to Dynasty Supermarket (I had a friend living on the Bowery, she called it Dienasty) I love this place, I get my black and white sesame seeds for my bread, and udon noodles (that are made in Australia..huh?) and a whole bunch of other weird and wonderful stuff that I bring home to my Montauk kitchen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Snap! Crackle! Pop!

These strange but delicious squares are great served with champagne at a festive party, I like to make them for Thanksgiving; cranberries are such a big part of the celebration, and I like the addition of the dried bog berry in this recipe. Actually last year for Thanksgiving I made chinese dumplings as an hors d'oeuvres, it didn't go down well with some of my more traditional guests, I thought it was a creative use of the ubiquitous cranberry sauce, I spiced it up a bit with some five spice powder and ginger, AND I picked the cranberries. Hmmmm now I think about it though, dim sum was rather a strange choice, and we had Pavlova for dessert.

The other thing I like about these sticky treats is the sweet and savory element, I think I may have mentioned on numerous occasions that I am more savorily (is that a word? spellcheck thinks so) inclined, but when I make these I cannot stop scoffing them, I am not much of a snacker either, but I am like a crazy addicted fiend when these are in the house, it must be the combination of the sugar and the spice, the crunchy and chewy texture, the seed and the berry.

Curry Rice Krispie Squares

3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp curry powder
10oz package of marshmallows
6 cups puffed rice cereal
2 cups toasted, salted sunflower seeds
1 cup of dried cranberries

In a saucepan, melt butter. Add curry powder. Stir over low heat until fragrant. On medium heat melt in marshmallows. Slowly pour rice cereal and sunflower seeds into saucepan while stirring. Gently fold mixture with spatula unti rice cereal is coated. Pour directly into a buttered baking dish. Cut when cool.

Serves 20

This recipe was adapted from a recipe by Justin Large of The Violet Hour in Chicago,

I added the cranberries, and I've also been thinking about other versions with chopped dried apricots and almonds.

They really are exceptionally good with champagne, so get cracking and pop that cork!