Winter is magical. I generally have to be reminded of this. Often. Having grown up south of the Mason-Dixon line, I don’t have a natural affinity for things like ice and snow and frostbite, but other people do, namely my Midwestern husband and his Midwestern friends. We had company last weekend— friends from Chicago who came up to ski. And they did ski a little, but mostly I think they came up to open our back door, take deep breaths of frigid northern air and shout, with arms outstretched, “Who wants to go walk barefoot in the snow?” (no takers)
On Sunday afternoon while everyone skied I made après-ski cocktails. I stood by the windows in our cozy kitchen absentmindedly squeezing grapefruit juice as I admired the sparkle and shimmer of soft winter sunlight on freshly fallen snow. When the skiers returned, flushed and exhilarated, I mixed the grapefruit juice with rosemary-infused honey and the warm, comforting notes of bourbon and set a jug out on the counter. And the skiers said, “Oh thank you, but I like my bourbon straight,” and, “Hmmm, I’m not really a big fan of bourbon,” and, “Oooh, that looks great; I think I’ll have a beer.”
Midwesterners. I tell you what.
So I’ve been drinking Brown Derbys all week and reveling in the vivid sparkle of late winter. Grapefruit and bourbon and rosemary would taste perfectly nice any time of year, but the bright, herbaceous sweetness is particularly lovely against the bracing chill of February. This is a late afternoon cocktail, a sipping sort of cocktail, a cocktail to enjoy with friends. And if you decide to go tromping about barefoot in the snow, you’ll want a few of these in you for sure.
recipe adapted from Bridget Albert & Mary Barranco’s Market Fresh Mixology
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.
There’s absolutely nothing local about grapefruit, but you know what’s available locally right now? Turnips. There might still be a couple winter squash in my basement, but mostly it’s turnips. I’m not even sure I like turnips, so when a coworker mentioned that her daughter’s school was having a fruit fundraiser I succumbed to the siren song of citrus and ordered twelve pounds of grapefruit. Twelve pounds sounds like a lot of grapefruit, but it’s really not. The fruit was delivered last Friday and when I arrived at work the following Monday eager to chat with my friend and fellow grapefruit enthusiast Katie, she’d nearly run out. “What did you do with them?” I asked, hoping for a brilliant recipe I’d not yet discovered. “I just ate them,” she answered.
Oh. That honestly hadn’t occurred to me.
Whenever I’m called upon to feed a crowd my thoughts turn to slaw. Truth be told, my thoughts turn to slaw — with its delightful crispy, crunchy freshness — far more frequently than any social engagements require, but the point here is that slaw is the perfect thing to take along to a picnic or a potluck or any sort of food-related festivity. It’s easy, inexpensive, and it can be made from whatever vegetables happen to be in season. Although it’s a great do-ahead dish because the longer it sits (within reason) the more the flavors blend, it can just as easily be thrown together at the last minute for an impromptu gathering without sacrificing a great deal of yumminess. Plus slaw looks pretty, tastes fabulous, and is a hell of a lot better for you than pigs in a blanket. In fact, I whipped some up earlier in anticipation of Academy Awards revelry.
You know those furrowed-brow-type people you see in the grocery store picking up packages of this or that, frowning at labels and then returning the offending products to the shelf with a disgusted little shake of their heads? I am one of those people. I like to think I’m not the only one of those people, but it stands to reason that if there were more of us the labels wouldn’t be quite so full of unpronounceable bullshit. Which brings me to the puff pastry.
Unless you live near a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods (I don’t) and are comfortable spending six or seven dollars on a sixteen ounce package of crap-free frozen puff pastry (I’m not), your choices are limited: Pepperidge Farm in all of its partially hydrogenated glory or nothing at all. I’ve generally gone with the nothing at all option, but after years of rejecting scads of perfectly delicious-sounding tart recipes, I had a puff pastry epiphany. “How hard can it be?” I thought, and set about gathering the necessary ingredients.
I’ve never been especially good about New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I’m opposed to self-improvement, it’s that I have trouble equating newness with the barren bleakness of January. I tend to make my resolutions at the beginning of the school year, when the world seems as new as a freshly sharpened pencil or a class roster filled with unfamiliar names. The arbitrary New Year in January, then, is merely an excuse to drink champagne.
However, in the weeks preceding the advent of this particular new year, I’d given a lot of thought to leafy greens. I frequently resolve to eat more greens, often going so far as to purchase lovely, crisp bunches of them and then watch them wither away in my refrigerator for lack of inspiration. But then I met Alice Waters. Well, I didn’t so much meet her as I read a biography of her, which prompted me to buy a few of her cookbooks and experiment with a bunch of her recipes, as a result of which I really started to get this whole leafy greens thing.
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.