I know: it sounds weird. I thought the same thing the first time I encountered grapefruit pudding. It was at a cookbook club meeting, one that I’d helped plan, around The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook. The meeting was in October, which made Apple Upside-Down Cake the logical choice for dessert. To me, at least. “But that’s so expected,” my planning partner lamented, “let’s do the grapefruit pudding.”
“It’s a seasonal cookbook,” I insisted with my trademark self-righteousness. Self-righteousness never wins. It’s a clinically proven fact.
I was a little miffed about the grapefruit pudding, to be honest. But then I remembered that the whole point of joining a book club is to stretch and grow, to expose yourself to ideas and viewpoints and preferences that are not like your own, to challenge your beliefs and assumptions, to become A Better Person. Plus, I ate that grapefruit pudding and it was damn good.
I think of it often at this time of year. Of all the seasonal transitions, winter to spring is the weirdest. Last weekend we got 18 inches of snow — big, fat flakes of heavy wet snow that knocked down trees and power lines. On Monday morning when I left for work, it was 0°F; driving home on Wednesday evening the thermometer read 57°F. Then more snow, and now back to balmy. She’s a fickle creature, that Mother Nature.
I, however, remain steadfast in my devotion to grapefruit as a bridge from winter to spring, and grapefruit pudding is especially lovely for these fickle in-between days. It’s soft and warm and comforting, with a reassuring richness that’s beautifully balanced by the refreshing zing of grapefruit. The top bakes up light and airy, and the tender, cake-like crumb gives way to a bright citrus-y custard with a pleasant — almost amusing — springlike jiggle.
recipe from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, by Michelle & Philip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson with Catherine Price
My soufflés fell. They fell, I’m fairly certain, because I insisted on peeking at them repeatedly through the cracked oven door to make sure they were puffing up nicely. And they were, at one point. But when I pulled them all golden brown and fragrant from the hot oven, they’d fallen flatter than a pancake, concave even. “Shit, now what am I gonna do,” I thought, not out of any real concern for dinner but because I needed pretty pictures for my blog.
I like taking pictures of the food I make. It’s a meditative thing for me, being in the kitchen and behind the camera, but sometimes it gets away from me. I had a whole story mapped out around this grits soufflé, a story about homesickness—- deep, achey, ever-present, adrift-at-sea homesickness. Grits help with that sort of thing, because food—- the kind of food we care about—- is never really about just food. So I thought I’d make grits, and then I thought, “good lord, who wants to look at a picture of grits?” Within a matter of hours I’d managed to transform my antidote to homesickness into a source of anxiety over blog-worthy photographs. And just as I was beginning to fret about how I’d find the time to remake the soufflés and the light to re-photograph them by my self-imposed weekend deadline, I stumbled upon Brian Ferry’s beautiful post about honesty and the creative process. Before I was even halfway through, I’d decided not to revisit the soufflés.
I spend an awful lot of time thinking about photography, and the photographs that most interest me are those that capture things as they are—- un-staged, un-styled, of-the-moment sorts of photos. That’s not exactly the honesty that Brian was talking about, but it’s what I was reminded of as I read his post.
It’s true, I could make the soufflés again, but I’d only be doing it because I needed a photo of them, and then the things I do for pleasure—- cooking, photographing, writing—- would become a chore. Instead, I give you the soufflés as they were, along with the recipe, which I’ve successfully made for occasions both special and ordinary and which I can assure you do puff up light and airy, creamy and pleasantly gritty, with a whisper of piney rosemary and the sweet, mellow nip of roasted garlic.
recipe adapted, ever-so-slightly, from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, which I love to pieces
In the garden there are chives. I noticed them a few weeks ago on my way to the basement, tiny tendrils of green struggling to break through a tangled mass of weeds. I don’t deserve these chives. Last summer I planted nothing. I watched as weeds licked tentatively at the edges of the perennial bed and then swiftly claimed it as their own. I renovated my kitchen. I planned an August wedding. I neglected the garden and let the weeds go to seed. They grew so thick and consumed the garden so completely that I was stunned to see the chives emerge this spring, perennial though they are. “Oh my goodness, chives,” I whispered in wonder. I’m like this in the garden sometimes. You plant things; they grow. Despite the simple logic inherent in that process, I continue to be amazed and humbled by the divine beauty of it all.
And so, thusly bowled over by the presence of chives, I abandoned whatever task had sent me to the basement in the first place and knelt beside them on the newly-thawed ground to free the chives from their suffocating tangle of weeds. I yanked weeds from the cold, loamy soil until my fingers were nearly numb. I wrestled with tap roots and rhizomes and perniciously creeping root systems until the entire perennial bed was clear. I might have accidentally uprooted some asparagus. Also, I was wearing my pajamas at the time. If you had asked me even five years ago if I could envision a future in which I did yard work in my slippers, I would have laughed you right out of town. And yet there I was, dirt-streaked and be-flanneled in the gathering dusk. For the love of chives.
This morning I snipped a handful of chives and folded them into scrambled eggs. I’ve been eating scrambled eggs all my life — the quick and dirty kind, whisked into a frothy frenzy and scrambled in seconds over high heat. I like those eggs, but these are not those eggs. These eggs are soft and slow and creamy, stirred more than scrambled in a satisfyingly leisurely process that results in dense, luxurious curds. The chives impart a delicate onion flavor and herbaceous springy freshness to the richly creamy eggs, and the whole thing comes together in a perfectly lovely homage to the perennial nature of nature.
1/8 tsp. table salt
pinch of white pepper
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. cream cheese, cut into small bits
2 Tbsp. chives, minced
Whisk together the eggs, salt, and pepper until just combined. Melt the butter over low heat in a medium saucepan (yes, saucepan). When the butter has melted, add the cream cheese to the pan and then stir in the eggs.
Cook the eggs over low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will appear that nothing is happening. Such is the nature of low and slow cooking.
After about 5 minutes, the eggs will begin to form small curds and the cream cheese will begin melting. Continue to cook over low heat, stirring frequently (maybe almost constantly depending on how hot the bottom of your pan is) to break up the curds and prevent any egg from sticking to the pan.
When the eggs are nearly cooked through but still runny, fold in the chives, reserving some for garnish. Continue cooking to desired doneness. Remove from heat and serve over toast. Sprinkle with reserved chives.
For nearly four months this blog has languished here, neglected and forlorn, half-heartedly attempting to entice passersby with embarrassingly out-of-season recipes for things like zucchini and raspberries and — good lord — rhubarb. It’s not the blog’s fault, really. In September I started an awesome new job and, awesome though it is, it required some settling in to. Then all of a sudden it was Thanksgiving, followed immediately by the inevitable Christmas craziness — a month-long stretch during which we saw our pizza dude far more frequently than I care to admit. On the rare occasions that I found time to make something worth mentioning here, I looked at my calendar and realized it would be weeks before I was likely to do so again.
But I have things under control now. For the past month I’ve managed to cook almost every night. Real meals. Made from actual food! Last week I signed up for Eat Your Books, a handy-dandy new website that allows me to search the index of every cookbook I own in a matter of seconds. As I contemplated a lone head of cauliflower yesterday, Eat Your Books informed me that my library contains 99 recipes for cauliflower — a whole world of possibilities. And from that world of possibilities I selected a recipe I’ve made a dozen times before. Hey, baby steps.
I’m rather fond of putting eggs on top of things. For a long time I merely slid them onto tried-and-true platforms like toast or hash browns, but these days I also like to scramble them into fried rice, crack them onto pizza dough, or fry them up with strips of stale tortillas and toss the whole mess with salsa and sliced avocado. I’m not alone in this enthusiasm; Bon Appétit recently predicted that anything with an egg on top would be 2009’s dish of the year.
Having spent the better part of my morning carefully poaching, breading, and then deep-frying an egg, I’d like to nominate this particular preparation for 2009’s egg of the year. Or something like that. Because a deep-fried poached egg rocks. I mean, you probably don’t want to have one every morning unless you’re on some sort of Homer Simpsonesque weight-gain regimen, but the combination of crispy crust, tender white and soft, runny yolk is fan-freakin’-tastic.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s the same thing Chris has been thinking — often aloud — for the past few weeks: squash again? And, well, yes. Because even the teensiest of winter squashes tend to weigh nearly a pound, which is rather a lot for two people, and one can only fit so much squash purée in one’s freezer. Extra squash is inevitable, and the unused portion will languish in the depths of your fridge, feeling sorry for itself and gazing forlornly at you each time you reach in for some fresh new food until eventually you think to yourself, “Shit, I should really use up that squash.”
I’ve developed a bit of a thing for this baked pumpkin. It all started back in October. We’d planned a Halloween party and I had my heart set on baking something — maybe soup — inside a pumpkin, mostly because I thought it would look cool. But really. Who wants to stand around at a party eating soup? So I scrapped the baked pumpkin idea and then, when Chris got sick, the party itself. Which worked out rather nicely, because you know what’s great for sick people? Soup.
I’d originally intended to fill the pumpkin with cream and gruyère, but my cheesemonger sent me home with three other fancy cheeses and this recipe in Gourmet persuaded me to add bread to the mix, making the resulting dish less a soup than a warm bowl of soft, gooey cheesy goodness.
I’ve been meaning to make fresh ricotta ever since I opened Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and read, “Yes, you can make cheese, and I strongly urge you to give it a try.” (Well, okay then, I think I will.) But I hadn’t gotten around to it for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was my suspicion that ricotta might be a gateway cheese: one day you’re happily boiling store-bought milk in your kitchen and the next you’re trying to convince your boyfriend that there’s really no reason not to keep just one or two small goats in the backyard.
Well, ricotta made; suspicions confirmed. Oh wait. Have I moved on to goats while you’re still back there wondering why anyone in their right mind would make something that’s readily available at even the lamest of grocery stores?