5.28.2011

Eating Around the Globe

Of all my titles, this may be the most misleading, because today's post is not about multicultural foodways or travel or the terrestrial globe at all.  It might have been titled, "When a Globe is Not a Globe," because today I am writing about artichokes.  Globe artichokes.

Whether I am in Pescadero, California ... or the hills of Tuscany ... or the produce section of Trader Joe's (which was the case today), seeing artichokes for sale makes me giddy for this harbinger of summer.  I mention Pescadero because it is famous for its rolling fields of artichokes, and that is where I had my first fried artichoke hearts at a roadside stand.  Scrumptious, but not exactly health food! I had my first whole steamed artichoke at the beautiful Hudson River home of my friend Bunny, and I was a little embarrassed that I had no idea how to eat them.  I survived with out too much chagrin and a love affair, that was already in progress, bloomed!

And Tuscany?  Well, almost everything tastes better in Tuscany.  It was there that we bought baby artichokes at the market and grilled them to accompany an evening's supper.  This coming September, we will be in Rome, famous for its carciofi alla Giudia - a Jewish-style preparation. I can only imagine how many times I will order them. Will I be sick of them after my travels?  I doubt it.  And now, in Tucson, Arizona, we even grow them in pots in our garden, although it is much more for the decorative aspects than anything else.  As you can see, we haven't harvested and we have let it bloom - quite the thistle, eh?

5.22.2011

Salad Days

Unlike Cleopatra's lament in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra - "... my salad days, when I was green in judgment, cold in blood..." - my judgment is clear and my blood is warm. Summer temperatures have arrived in the Tucson desert, and it is time for cold meals that do not weigh you down, yet are flavorful and satisfying.

Remember that fennel bulb I used last week with the pasta? Well, lo and behold, I bought two that day and there was one leftover in the fridge. Pair that with the carrots that my friend Laura gave me from her Community Supported Agriculture CSA (look for one in your area!), some Prosciutto di Parma and a lemon, and you have one of Mark's and my favorite salads of all time.

The original recipe came from Saveur Magazine and acalled for bresaola, but we have toyed with the recipe and have made it our own. To us, it signals the start of summer - the time when you sit back with a nicely chilled, crisp Vernaccia di San Gimignano, this salad and a good book - and happiness just happens.

5.15.2011

Double Dates

On a recent trip to Yuma, Arizona, I met a wonderful woman named Caroline. She has a date farm and strong ties to the University where I work. While at dinner, I told her that I stopped en route at the world famous Dateland while driving to Yuma from Tucson. "You like dates?" she asked. "I love dates!" I effused! "Well, I am going to send you some..."  I told her she was a saint and  canonized her on the spot! She asked what I would do with them and I told her the usual: date bars, fruitcakes, sticky toffee pudding and so on. It wasn't until I mentioned pasta with bacon and dates that she raised an eyebrow... She then shared her nephew's recipe for peppers stuffed with dates an chorizo sausage. She is always looking for unique preparations that include dates.

Dateland: just what is it? Dateland is a piece of history - a rest stop between Tucson and Yuma, but seen mostly by folks heading to San Diego. It has a gas station, a little gift shop, some military history and, now, an elementary school. The article I read online (linked above) neglects to mention one reason it is well known: the restaurant/rest stop serves date shakes. Talk about a milkshake that has great fiber! So, on this most recent trip I stopped in for my first date shake. I am not sure what I expected, buy 'cloying' was one assumption. Oddly, it was neither cloying nor too sweet, and it had an almost vegetable overtone as I sucked it down. So I, too, have become one of the converted masses; I love date shakes!

A little more than a week after my visit with her, one of the front desk staff at The Honors College came to my office with large package weighing in at about 5.5 pounds. A box of jumbo medjool dates from Caroline!

5.08.2011

Let Me Call You Sweet Tart

A million years ago - or perhaps it was just 30 - I was principal bassist for the Albany Symphony Orchestra. It was my first job - I was fresh out of the conservatory - and life was just filled with possibility. I had my fist apartment (half a small bungalow) and I was ready to be a grown up. The art on my walls would no longer include posters. My furniture would not be a futon. My bed would not have big wedge pillows so that it could double for a sofa. The food I ate would not simply be something that came from a can.

That, of course, meant cooking for myself. I had always cooked with my mother, so I had no fear of the kitchen. On my own, though, I made my share of mistakes - like the time I tried to cook Cornish game hens in the toaster oven for my first Thanksgiving. Disaster. Or when I made my first gnocchi from scratch and turned out like small rubber doorstops. Inedible. (Apologies still go to Susan, my former roommate, for that fiasco! She was kind, though, and kept saying, "But the flavor is really good!")

It was also the time when I began collecting recipes from family, friends and colleagues - inexpensive casseroles from my mother, one for frozen Grand Marnier soufflé from roommate Susan, various cakes from friend Bill, or scalloped scallops from my sister-in-law Lori.

After about a year of playing in the orchestra, a new employee came along - Lois. Lois was an amazing baker. (She didn't eat much 'real' food - but if it had chocolate, watch out!) Probably 10-15 of my favorite dessert recipes come from her recipe box - triple chocolate cake, Viennese chocolate pound cake, Black Jack cake, breakfast cinnamon rolls and more. But the recipe I make most often is hers for chocolate tarts.