Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cross Dressing

The weather always seems to change dramatically the day after Labor Day, right on cue; wind and drizzle and an absence of sun, it's also the day the 'summer people' leave except for a few stragglers. After the hustle and bustle of summer Tumbleweed Tuesday marks the beginning of quieter days and a blanketing calm throughout our hamlet, but for me there's a hint of sadness too, especially as I rummage through the sock drawer to find that forgotten garment, once you put the socks on there's no turning back, it's the same with the heating. Maybe the summer days are really behind us? Did we have our 'last swim' in the bay? Did we drink our last glass of summer rose? As much as I love everything about the fall and winter months here in Montauk, it's a very long, teary farewell to summer.

Most of our meals have been cooked outside for the past few months and more often than not the grilled component has been accompanied by a fresh tomato salad and a big pile of arugula. But there is a change in the air and I am drawn to the coziness of our kitchen. I have kale that I picked from the Montauk Community Garden, the kale in my own garden is a long way off picking.....that's if it manages to survive all the bunny-munching that appears to be going on.

The earthiness of kale and mushrooms along with roasted red peppers and buttery arborio rice makes this risotto the perfect match with our Stonecrop Pinot Noir (which by the way we have been drinking all summer long with grilled salmon, caramelized scallops.....the list is long). This is a dish to gently introduce the changing season; a combination of summer and fall; an elegantly comforting dish and if you really want to knock your socks off add Colatura di Alici - this golden syrup (essence of anchovy) can be used to add flavor (just a sprinkle will do) to pasta, it's exceptionally good with kale and gave my risotto a delicious richness. 
I chose light cotton dress-socks from Erica Tanov rather than the full-on fluffy possum/merino mix from NZ, it's too soon to be donning woollies!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Eating Flowers And Leaves

Another summer of shiso; I am giving away big bundles to friends and sushi joints in Montauk and swapping recipes with my shiso-loving pals. Even though we were having inferno like temperatures a few weeks ago we fired up the bbq, the most I could muster in the kitchen was a pot of boiling water for some noodles. I chopped some parsley and cilantro from the garden and in my own particular slap dash fashion made a 'made up in the heat of the moment' dressing of mirin, rice vinegar, plum vinegar, soy sauce, a little bit of brown sugar, sesame oil and olive oil, of course I didn't measure, but my rule of thumb is to use about the same quantity of oil (sesame and olive combined) and mirin and about a tablespoon for the rest of the ingredients but of course you can adjust the amount of each to your own liking. The addition of shiso leaves made this noodle dish extra exuberant; cut the leaves into fine long strips chiffonade and toss with the noodles, dressing and the other herbs. I used udon noodles but any will work, even spaghetti or linguine and as an alternative omit the dressing and just simply use lemon juice and olive oil with the shiso.
We had chilled chunks of iceberg with the same dressing drizzled over and of course striped bass caught by the NZ'er.

Plums and shiso go together so well (umeshiso is a japanese paste made from pickled plums and shiso leaves). A salad was concocted; I did have some plums which I had intended to use for for frozen plum souffles but that would have required more of my time not to mention my concentration on such a steamy Montauk evening. The black plums were thinly sliced and then I fried the shiso in olive oil until crispy and sprinkled some mirin, rice vinegar and soy to finish.

The Harvest restaurant here in Montauk makes a special appetizer much loved by locals of bay scallops served on a bed of deep fried spinach and come Fall I will be craving this seductive dish, but I am also going to try my own version of deep fried shiso with our delicious local bay scallops. Public restaurant in NYC has deep fried oysters wrapped in a shiso leaf, I had them (again) just the other night with a glass of champagne; heavenly.

Rose geranium leaves are wonderful for flavoring sugar which can then be used in cakes and biscuits or they can be used to flavor syrups and to make jellies. I also like to place them on napkins at the table, it's fun to watch folks rub them between their fingers and enjoy the fragrance of the subtle but intoxicating scented pelargonium. 

I used borage flowers and rose geranium leaves to decorate a trifle, actually it was more like whim wham as there was no custard and I made a simple cake using ground almonds in place of the usual sponge fingers and of course I used loads of booze; splashes of cassis and limoncello on the cake and a splash of chardonnay in the whipped cream. Rose geranium leaves are used just for flavoring but borage flowers are edible and I usually put them in salads, they have a vague hint of oysters which is a little bit disconcerting with cream and cake, but oh so pretty.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rhubarb, Rhubarb

Spring is making its mad dash, the garden is rapidly unfurling and it's a wonderful symphony of mostly green with enthusiastic bursts of magenta and yellow. The noisy unwrapping of spring is exciting after a long period of dormancy and I am keeping a close eye on the usual perennials as well as some new emerging faces. My rhubarb makes a dramatic entrance every year and this year was no exception. I have already harvested some of the fat pink stalks and stewed them up with ginger and sugar. I really need another plant as I am less than generous with my crop; I made a clafoutis for Memorial Day and whilst it had ample blueberries the rhubarb was scant.

A vernal landscape and the fresh, youthful breeze of June brings forth the desire for lamb. We know all about lamb in our house and chops are champs. The NZ'er barbecues them after they have overnighted in a rosemary bath and we have many tasty side dishes to accompany them; puttanesca is a favorite - tomatoes, anchovies and capers love lamb, sometimes I'll throw in some kalamata olives and vibrant red peppers and of course parsley, I often omit the pasta, this is one of those you dishes you can play around with and at a pinch you can put it together with stuff from the pantry which is great for last minute. Pasta alla puttanesca 'whores pasta' a dish made by girls with busy schedules on the Island of the story goes, in any case we all find ourselves not able to get fresh produce at some point and we are not breaking any rules by using things in tins. I do however use parsley from my garden and if my tomatoes are ripe, they will be put to good use in this easy but vibrant looking dish with a salty punch.

Another springtime favorite is a minty pea puree, our 'house' dish is made with peas (fresh when I can get them) and frozen fava beans, leeks from the garden and my secret ingredient is maple syrup. This is very popular with our pals and it's perfect with the lamb.

The bowl of pink tarty fruit is sitting in my fridge waiting to become either chutney or friands. Friands (also known as financiers) are very popular in New Zealand and Australia, they're made with almond flour, egg whites and a truck load of butter and finished off with some fruit on the top, I like to make them with the tart rhubarb. Here is a simple poached rhubarb recipe, which can be used for making friands, clafoutis or as a base for chutneys and jam, or you can just eat it like this with ice cream.

Poached rhubarb with ginger
Adapted from Stephanie Alexander's recipe - The Cook's Companion

Only use young pink rhubarb stalks, avoid green and thick stems which will taste coarse. Rhubarb has so much moisture it requires hardly any water when poaching. Remove all the leaves as they are poisonous, remove the flat brown part from the bottom of the stalk and cut into 1 inch lengths.

Put the prepared rhubarb into a heavy saucepan with with a generous quantity of sugar and two slightly smashed slices of ginger plus a couple of spoonfuls of water. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until tender when tested with a knife.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Caravan Jam

We parked the 'Anglo' in between the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir rows near the shed. It was quite a roomy caravan even had a wee stove but the fridge was non-refridgerating, that was alright because for most of our two week stay at the vineyard it was cold enough at night to keep the butter and feijoa juice quite cool, not to mention our extremities. Good for the grapes though; cool nights and hot dry days, well for the most part it was dry but we did have rain which had many Martinborough vintners nervously watching grey clouds with patches of blue turn to dark steely grey and then just plain old fog-grey. We had a couple of sleepless nights in the caravan listening to the rain on the roof which sounded like ball bearings falling from the sky, then it would fade out to a tinkle and just as we began to nod off it would start pounding steel balls again, not sure I will be able to recapture the soothing sense of calm I felt as a child on holiday in Scotland with the rain tap, tap, tapping on the roof of our caravan at night, all tucked up and cozy in my sleeping bag with a torch and an Enid Blyton novel. Romance and rain are for people without vineyards. 

Our caravan days at the vineyard began with feijoa juice, a fry up of Parkvale mushrooms and Wairarapa eggs followed by Vogel's toast; a hearty breakfast before a day in the vines. At the end of a day's picking I gathered some pinot bunches that were left dangling and made some jam in the caravan, not quite the jam I expected; a little runny but really good flavors, best part was the making of it standing at my teeny station in socks and flip flops (jandals) stirring the bubbling purple pot; pinot aromas wafting through the mustard/orange interior with all the windows steamed-up. As I looked down at the (60's/70's hard to say for sure) linoleum flooring I saw it in a new light; it was almost 'Moorish'.

Jam made in a caravan with 
Stonecrop Pinot Noir grapes

a quantity of pinot noir grapes
one meyer lemon from my father-in-law's garden
some water
some sugar
be sure to wear flip flops (jandals) when you make it 
socks optional

Sitting around the brazier enjoying the last rays of the day we barbecued green-lipped mussels and kumara, one evening we had a special treat; bluff oysters which were even more delicious (is that even possible?) with our 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. When the evenings became too chilly to sit outside and dine beside our glamorous mobile abode we took off in the ute down the Dry River Road to the Martinborough Hotel a local pub with a good pubby vibe, great food and fire that's always stoked.

Back in Montauk everything looks the same except for a few splashes of yellow on the landscape, each year when I am away picking grapes on the other side of the world I think I will 'miss' some monumental happening in the garden. There are weeds, I see them everywhere, soon I'll be cursing and breaking my back to tame them. Just around the corner (well more like just down the road and around the corner) is summer......sushi and a glass of Stonecrop at the bar anyone?

Picked and sorted and purple fingernails; another great Harvest at Stonecrop, same time, same place next year. I do miss those rolling Wairarapa hills and the magpies in the morning and whitebait fritters.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Zealand 2011

The wind still had a mighty bite the day I left Montauk for NZ, I wore possum socks and boots and a coat. When I arrived the possum socks were immediately relegated to the bottom of the suitcase and the flip flops were retrieved. It's that time of year again; Harvest at Stonecrop and fingers crossed so far the weather has cooperated, decisions about picking the grapes will all depend on rain (or not) but the bunches look healthy and the fruit is tasting great. On the way back to my Father-in-Law's house from the airport we stopped to pick up groceries; such a plethora of vegetables and fruit to be found especially at this time of the year and just stuff that is out-of-the-ordinary for us, such as feijoa juice which me and the NZ'er guzzle by the gallon and I always load up on green-lipped mussels, they can be found in nearly every supermarket and are inexpensive, same with cockles. We throw them on the barbecue, they make a tasty little appetizer before the often more meaty main course. 

We had some Montauk friends come visit us in Martinborough, we showed them around the vineyard, the kids rode in the tractor, we barbecued and drank wine on a big porch surrounded by olive groves, a good time was had by all. It's a blast to be able to share the Stonecrop/Martinborough experience with our Montauk friends, these guys will miss the harvest but we may have convinced them to come back next year and help pick. It just so happened that the weekend they were in Martinborough it was the Run Around the Vines half marathon, a course that crosses normally inaccessible vineyards with stunning views of the surrounding countryside, me and my friend Sue did the walk with the kids in the stroller, what a fun event; lots of folks in fancy dress, live music, big piles of cold watermelon, a favorite with the kids, our friend Jan from Providore makes a mean (and popular) venison burger, there were fish vans and fresh fruit and veggies stands and of course wine. Ed came third in the race and Caroline came fifth, these guys don't mess around.

P.S. We bottled our 2010 Pinot Noir on Monday - Today we picked some of the Pinot (dijon clone 115) tomorrow we pick dijon clone 777 - busy time at the vineyard. We opted for budget accommodation this year; a classic New Zealand caravan, photos to follow.....

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Gong Hey Fat Choy

Long time no blog has become smog; a sleeping log; a hibernating blob. Time to get get off the couch of inactivity and get back to my table of contents with gusto! Excuses? I have a few: Christmas; seasonal sickness; Stonecrop Wines; milestone birthday to consider.......however the Winter has kept me (and my fellow Montaukers) housebound for weeks on end and add to that a shin splint......the ideal conditions for writing a post or two, you would think.

So here goes with the first of 2011. I was fortunate enough to celebrate Chinese New Year with friends at Ping's Seafood Restaurant in Chinatown, the entire menu was selected by Kev and Viv and we were seated at two huge round tables with about 12 people at each. Plate after plate of delectable dishes kept on coming, it was noisy and busy and it was a wonderful feast! I had the privilege of sitting next to one of the menu makers which made the evening's dining even more special.

My family has a long tradition of celebrating Chinese New Year sometimes at restaurants in London but more often it would be spectacular banquets at my friend Cheng's house in Wivenhoe. Major birthdays were also celebrated at Chinese restaurants such as my 18th when I choked on a mouthful of Blue Nun, in those days it was the only wine you could find in a Chinese restaurant. Going to see a film (we never said movie) at the Odeon in Colchester followed by a meal at the Lotus House just down the hill was an exciting night out for two young gals from Wivenhoe, we always had the sweet and sour pork balls, shrimp toasts, beef chow mein and a shrimp chop suey. I learned how to use chopsticks at the Lotus House at age thirteen, the music was exotic and the wallpaper flocked, the waiters always outnumbered the diners and wore ill-fitting suits, I don't believe it's there now but I can still hear us (me and my childhood friend Jackie) laughing and crunching on prawn crackers. Then there was the run up the hill to get the last bus home.

When I lived in London we (me and NZ'er) used to go to Wong Kei (we naughtily called it the Wonkey) for the best wonton noodle soup and a heavy helping of abuse from the waiters, for a romantic dinner we would go to Cheng Du in Camden but one of my favorites was a tiny place on Lisle Street (one of the most deliciously curvy streets in London) it was the most uninviting looking restaurant; spartan with hostile lighting and awkwardly arranged tables, there was always much screeching of chairs as people would try and 'fit' in, but the food was excellent and I swear every time I went there to dine David Yip (The Chinese Detective) was also there (a very good series by the way) I cannot remember the name of this place with the harsh lights and the orange slices at the end of the meal, but I fear a gastropub may have taken its place.

Chinatown New York; I love it, I get my bok choy and choy sum at the very end of Elizabeth Street and when they have pea shoots (dou miao) I rather greedily load up on them. Then I head to Dynasty to get my udon noodles and whatever else grabs my fancy, sometimes I can linger/loiter for too long in the spice section.......the privet berries have me thinking.

Run rabbit run!