Recipes like shopping lists

fried chicken
That’s my mom, second from the right (yes, with the saddle shoes).

My mother had a photo album – with black pages and adhesive corners – filled with photos from her childhood. I loved to go through it, staring hard at the photographs to try and piece together a story about her life, and the photo above was a great favorite of mine because I found in it some vague resemblance between her face and my own (I don’t look much like either of my parents, but I never gave up trying).

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Upon reflection, I think I may have lacked some of her poise. That’s me and my dad up on our roof in Brooklyn circa 1982.

However, I chose that photo of my mother not to illustrate that the only thing I inherited from her was her teeth, but to show that this is a woman who has always enjoyed a good piece of fried chicken. One of her favorite birthday treats was to go to KFC or Popeye’s for a messy meal of fried chicken that would end with scrunched up paper napkins strewn across the table and a tray stacked with bones. But the best fried chicken of all was her sister’s, and we used to try and make it at least once a year.

Fast forward to a few weeks back, when we culled two chickens. They were young, so much so that their skin was fragile and ripped if we weren’t gentle as we plucked. I began to think out loud about how nicely they would roast – we rarely roast our chickens, as we tend to kill them on the older side, when they’ve had an athletic, outdoorsy life that leaves them muscular (i.e. tough) and with unappealing, thick skin. “You could fry them,” Ali offered.

It was like fireworks going off in my head; I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d fried a chicken. From that point on, plucking was a breeze, gutting, butchering, all no problem – there was fried chicken in my future. Time to summon the Recipe.

The Recipe lives in this box. It’s from roughly the same time as that photo of me and my dad, hence the stickers.

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Because the recipe is my aunt’s, it’s on the vague side. Probably every family has an ultimate culinary authority and in our family, it was definitely my aunt. And like most ultimate culinary authorities, she appeared to rely very little on recipes, at least where the dishes from my mother’s childhood were concerned. (Cookie recipes were very precise.) This is probably why her directions and measurements were so skimpy on the details – she really did just put a little bit of this and a little bit of that in. My favorite recipe of hers for pigs’ feet – a dish that I loved so much that she made it (along with her famous fried chicken) every time I went to visit her. They are cooked in black vinegar, and my uncle had to leave the house while they were on the stove because he couldn’t breathe from the fumes. Despite this, once they are well cooked, the dish is sweet, sticky, and gingery. Her recipe reads: pigs’ feet, sweet black vinegar, ginger, slab sugar.

Here is the recipe for her fried chicken. (Her name, by the way, wasn’t Ga – that’s “elder sister” in Cantonese. Her name was On-Ye but I never actually heard anyone call her that. I called her Auntie Ga – not logical, maybe, but it worked for us.)

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Frying chicken is a pain, but my mom had a handy shortcut – she would fry the chicken until it was brown and crunchy on the outside and then finish cooking it in the oven (I use my instant read thermometer to figure out when they’re cooked inside). Also, a cast iron pan is a great help as it retains heat well and keeps the oil nice and hot provided that you do not put too many pieces of chicken in at once. And I like to fry chicken in schmaltz if I have it handy, although it feels slightly vindictive.

When we eat fried chicken, we also make coleslaw and there’s a recipe for that too. It goes like this: cabbage, mayo, cider vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar to taste. My mother always made it ahead of time so the flavors could meld and really get into the cabbage. Plus, she loved her coleslaw very cold. I never think that far ahead, so my compromise is risk my fingertips and use the mandoline to slice the cabbage nice and thin. I toss everything in a ziplock bag, squish it around, and stick it in the fridge until it’s time to eat. I go heavy on the pepper and vinegar, but that’s just me.

Everyone was hungry that night, so there was dead silence around the table as teeth tore into that fried chicken. I always think that the less talk there is around the table when the eating begins, the better the food must be, so I chalked it up as a success.

 

Compote

A recipe for compote:
You’ll need some

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peaches,
And some

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apricots.
Peel them if you like, and cut them up. Put them in a pot with water to cover and sugar (or honey, or stevia) to taste. Toss in:

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Herb flowers- these are oregano. They grow wild in the garden and are a great favorite with the butterflies.
Simmer for five or ten minutes and let it cool. Compote is nice chilled- it’s quite refreshing on a summer day. Bits of cooked fruit in a light syrup- it goes down pretty easy. It might seem like food for invalids, but since an invalid would require comforting, nourishing fare, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
Thyme flowers would be nice, in fact that’s what gave me the idea: I was reading a book called Mes Tartes by Christine Ferber, whose book, Mes Confitures, is my current favorite jam book (although the titles are French, these are English translations, by the way).
Her tarts are quite intimidating sounding and I have not attempted one yet. (I’m sure I’ll do it when my mom is with me in the kitchen this summer.) She had one tart, though, involving apricots and flowering thyme. That thought stuck with me.
When Ali brought a handful of the last, almost overripe apricots from the tree at the bottom of the garden, I mixed them with peaches from the tree by the kitchen, which have been falling even though they are slightly underripe (the whole kitchen area smells like peaches now,as the fruits ripen). I thought the result was quite tasty. The flowers taste like oregano, of course, but there is also a distinctly flowery flavor to them as well. It has made me curious about other herb flowers. I’ve not cooked with lavender much, for instance, but I’d like to.

smells and squeaks

The garden is full of scents! A honeysuckle that we planted in the outdoor kitchen is in full bloom, and the scent of it wafts about, making kitchen work positively dreamy.

The stinky and the sweet: fresh garlic and the honeysuckle by the kitchen.

As I worked on lunch, Ali wandered over with a flower from the white peony. It’s got a scent that reminds me of lily of the valley, but the scent of it in say, a talcum powder.

Can you spot the spider? Who could blame it for choosing such a sweet smelling home.

I was working on getting some lunch together — bubble and squeak and rarebits. My dad was a great fan of bubble and squeak — I think he liked to say it as much as he liked to eat it. There’s a nice article in the Guardian that breaks it down into a simple formula (equal parts potato and cabbage by volume not by weight, fry well). I thought it would make a good lunch for Kaya as well.

At the table, Kaya happily submitted to eating a few bites of the bubble and squeak that I had pureed for him, before making a lunge for my rarebit. I broke off a piece and gave it to him, and he tore away at it with his new front teeth. He demolished about half of it, eating it as fast as I could give it to him. It was a minimalist sort of rarebit (no beer, for instance), but as he liked it so much, I thought I would share the recipe. It’s a nice thing to make to go alongside a soup or a vegetable dish.

Bare bones rarebit:
1 1/4 c. milk
1 bay leaf
pepper
2 T butter
2T flour
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 t mustard
Worcestershire sauce
2 slices bread (you may have enough sauce for more than two, depending on the size of the bread)

Put the bay leaf in the milk with a few grinds of pepper and heat to boiling then shut off and let them get to know one another. In the mean time, melt the butter in another pot and add the flour to form a roux. Let it cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the milk in three installments, stirring well to keep things from getting lumpy. Cook the resulting sauce for another two minutes before removing from the heat. Add the cheese and stir vigorously to melt it. Then stir in your mustard and add a bit of Worcestershire sauce as well if you like.
Heat the broiler and toast the tops of your bread under it before spreading a thick layer of cheesy sauce on them. Set them under the broiler, but not too close, and let the sauce get hot and brown.
Keep out of reach of babies, or else make a helping for any babies present.

Hands off my rarebit!

And while I am on the topic of food that Kaya loves, I have to also make special mention of a wonderful recipe I found at one of my favorite blogs, From the Bartolini Kitchens. It’s for polpettine (diminutive meatballs), a new staple in my kitchen. We had them the other night, and Kaya was jumping up and down in his seat for more (even Baki, the world’s pickiest eater, tucked in happily). What’s so interesting to me about this is that the blog is dedicated to sharing family recipes, many of them tied to wonderful memories and stories. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day Kaya learned to make polpettine so that he could bring back his memories of eating them under the garlic braids in the garden kitchen.

Have your roses and drink them too

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I was talking to my mother as I weighed the sugar to add to the rose sherbet. We will be visiting her in NY in a month, so there always seems to be plenty to talk about.
“Okay,” I said, “the sugar is weighed and I can add it with the water.”
“Are you going to taste it??”
“Oh wait a second, mom, I can’t find the camera. Maybe I left it in the truck…”
I got Kaya and went out to the truck, but no camera.
“Aren’t you going to taste it now? Oh, we’ll have to serve it in tulip-shaped tea glasses.”
“Sorry, can’t do it now. I have to take pictures.”
(The camera appears to have been left behind in the garden, but I did manage to find the iPod.)
After week one, with the rose petals steeping in lemon juice, I ended up with about two cups of ruby juice, redolently rosy. I strained it into a ceramic pot and added half a kilo of sugar. Then it sat for another week.
It was a bit warm here, so I put the liquid in the fridge once in a while. Probably nothing would have happened if I hadn’t, though.
So now it was time to add yet more sugar:

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A liter of water also went in, and after much stirring I managed to get it all to dissolve. Then, the moment my mother had been waiting for. Mixed with cold water, the sherbet became pale pink. Its flavor was sweet of course, but the lemon juice gave it a pleasant acidity. I think the proportion of syrup to water is quite important- too much syrup, and it would be too sweet.
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The rose flavor literally bloomed in my mouth as I drank it. Have you ever smelled a rose and wished you could put it in your mouth so the smell could fill your head? Well, get out your glass jars and dig out the lemon squeezer; this is a way to smell your roses long after the last bloom has faded.

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Roses you can drink

The roses growing on the side of the house are the most fragrant ones we could find (Etoile de Hollande is the name of the variety) and let me tell you, they are real floozies. They flop open and let out a scent that could hypnotize you. They smell good enough to eat, but when I thought of bottling that smell this year, I wanted roses that I could drink – rose sherbet, or gül şerbeti (ş=sh). Sherbets are like cordials- sweet syrups flavored with fruit, spices or flowers that are mixed with water and can be served cold or hot.
Sherbets were once quite important social lubricants here in Turkey. If social convention frowns upon alcohol, you can ply your guests with the next best thing- sugar. From the palace to the street corner, sherbet kept conversations cordial. It is still among us, though today it is more common on special occasions; I have fond memories of lahosa şerbeti, the sweet spiced drink served to new mothers, as well as to any well wishers.
Rose sherbet is not to he confused with rose water. Rose water is a by-product of the production of rose oil and is made from the pink Damascus rose. Rose sherbet is made from scented red roses and the process, unlike that of rose oil production, is quite simple.

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You will need:
200 grams (7 oz.) rose petals
1 kg (2.2 lb) sugar
1 liter (4 cups) water
400 ml (1 2/3 cups) lemon juice

1. Gather your roses. This is probably best done early in the morning or on a cloudy day so the flowers will be at their best. (I did neither of these.)It took about 30 roses for me to get enough petals.
2. Remove the petals. You will want to shake your roses out as you do so, to evict any critters. I dislodged a number of small spiders from mine, as well as some very tiny mite-like insects.
3. The petals of the rose are tasty, except for the yellow bit that attaches it to the flower. This should be removed, making this step the fiddly part of the recipe. Get out your scissors and pretend you are a palace kitchen lackey.

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4. Wash the petals under cool running water. It will bring to mind laundering silk hankies.
5. Stuff the petals into a jar.

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6. Squeeze the lemons juice and pour it over the petals. Mix it around a bit with your hand to cover them all, then cover the mouth of the jar with a cheese cloth and tie it tightly. Leave it in a shady spot (or in a cupboard) for a week. During this time, the scent and color of the petals will be transferred to the lemon juice.
7. Take out the rose petals and add half of the sugar. Let this mixture sit for another week.
8. Now add the remaining sugar and the water and mix well. Strain the liquid and bottle it.
To drink, pour a finger or two of syrup into a glass, top with water and add ice. The syrup should keep a good long while in the fridge.
(Recipe adapted from the booklet, Osmanlı şerbetleri, published and distributed by Konyalı restaurant, Istanbul)

I have to admit that I am only halfway through this process myself, so I can’t attest to how well this recipe works (but my cupboard smells marvelous). My jar, after four days, looks like this:

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Updates will follow…

Roses and a recipe

Spring is wonderful because it is full of flowers that are brave enough to push up and bare their faces to the chilly days. They dare us to forget the dark winter months, and how could we not in the company of daffodils? Some flowers, though, wait until the season is well underway, even turning slightly sultry. When I see roses, I know that things have finally started to heat up and Summer is on its way.Image

Then I begin to panic at the number of seedlings still in the greenhouse, and I wonder how much longer I can grow lettuce without it wanting to bolt immediately.

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We have a more or less year-round gardening season, because our winters are quite mild. The summers, however, are relentlessly hot and dry, so they are the real challenge. There are many plants that will just grind to a halt when it gets much over 90 F, and lettuce won’t even germinate once the soil gets too warm.

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Now that we have daytime temperatures in the 80s, it feels like the clock is ticking. In a couple of months, we’ll be hoping for anything under 100! These days are a bit of a scramble.
When we’re very busy in the garden, I like to make food I don’t have to think much about. Curried Beef and Tomato Noodles is a great favorite of Baki and Ali’s, and it’s a great way to stretch a small amount of meat (as I discovered when it turned out I had one small steak to feed three people). My mom used to make it all the time, and I’m pretty sure this is more or less how she taught me to do it.
You need:
Noodles- wheat flour noodles, egg or not. (if you’re in the Pacific NW, you can get my family’s all-time favorite, Rose Brand noodles)
Neutral tasting oil for frying
Soy sauce
A steak
A bunch of green onions
1 cup chopped tomatoes (I used canned because tomatoes are meaningless at this time of year)
1 to 2 T curry powder (I like Sun Brand)

Here’s what you do:
1. Put the steak in the freezer.
2. Cook the noodles. If you can do this in advance, it helps- a few hours us fine, and overnight works too. Rice and noodles fry better when they’re not all hot and starchy.
3. Stir fry the noodles in batches in a big hot wok. To do this, get the wok hot and add about 2 T oil. Put in a third of the noodles and stir to coat in the oil. Let the noodles sit a while, so they get a bit browned. Stir them up again and then let them sit. Repeat a few times, then add about 1T soy sauce and stir it in for color. Put the noodles in a big bowl as you finish cooking them.
4. Get your steak out of the freezer and slice it really thinly- freezing it first makes this easy. Then toss it with the curry powder.
5. Chop the green onion into 1/2 in slices, greens and whites. Chop up your tomatoes too.
6. You are about ten minutes from done now. Get that wok hot again and add 1T oil. Stir fry the onions and add them to the noodles.
7. Put 1/3 of the seasoned meat in the wok and cook. Don’t forget to let it sit a little to brown it. Add to the bowl and repeat with the rest of the meat, adding oil as necessary.
8. By now the wok is probably a bit crusty. So tip in the tomatoes and stir them around to get all the bits off the wok. Let the tomatoes cook until they are saucy, then tip the whole big bowl of noodles and meat and onions and all back into the wok. Stir it all up and you’re ready to eat.

These instructions may be a bit verbose, but it’s easy and it goes fast (frying the noodles is the longest bit).

Kaya made a lunge for one of my noodles at the table, so I gave it to him and he frantically opened and closed his hands when he had finished. Baki took more than he could eat, so I let Kaya have his bowl. When he was done meticulously picking every noodle out, he stuck his whole face in.

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Another noodle fan in the family.