How To Human: Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta And Fresh Basil On Toast

I may have eaten twelve of these.

Look, I know you’re busy.

You have places to go, people to see, and lots of stuff to do.

That’s cool.

But can you stop for just one minute? Maybe two, if you read slowly?

I just saw this on the interwebs, Purveyor of Many Things Great and Terrible, and I feel like maybe you (yes, YOU), need to read this today.

You will, of course, need a snack.

It is, as you may realize, the tail end of citrus season. When I was growing up, my parents would ship my brother and I off, solo, to family in Miami over the holidays. We would leave a cold, sleety, dark place and be discharged from an airplane into balmy, breezy air and a week of (often) unchaperoned adventures in either my grandparents’ development or my cousin’s apartment complex.

There was a kumquat tree in the front yard of my grandmother’s house.

Kumquats. Even the name is exotic and unusual and complex and way sunnier than this past week has been, and I’m not just talking about the weather.

They are the strangest citrus; you eat the whole thing. Nearly every website that talks about kumquats has a click-baity title like “The one astonishing thing about kumquats,” or “The strangely counterintuitive thing to do with kumquats,” as if kumquats are somehow built into our intuition about things in general.

But I digress.

Kumquats start out mouth-puckeringly tart, with less bitterness in the peel and pith (sweetness, even), and end up with a marvelous caramelly sweetness that spreads over your tongue and completely erases the initial tart flavor. even slightly unripe or slightly over-ripe the process of flavor is pretty much the same, with minor variations in intensity.

I don’t know that we gorged ourselves on these, but I do remember eating my fill whenever I felt like it, or just mindlessly reaching up and grabbing one as I passed by the tree. Kumquats were as much a part of my childhood as any other memory I have that was good and innocent and as sweet and beautiful as the nighttime Miami breeze on my bare shoulders in December, a thousand miles away from home.

I saw kumquats again in the grocery store this week and finally grabbed a few after years of passing them by. As my birthday fell on the snow day, and I happened to have the will, the time, and the ingredients, this lovely concoction came about and emerged, damn near perfect, on the very first try. So simple and complex and utterly delicious.

Today’s assigned reading is below the recipe. For those of you in tl;dr mode, there will not be a test on the reading, and maybe you don’t want to hear some of what I have to say (beyond the food). So if you take it upon yourself to skip the reading and just make the snack, that’s cool.

I know you’re busy.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta on Gluten-Free Whole-Grain Bread

Note: Hell, YES, I made all of this. Not. Hard. Full disclosure: I was trying to just link to the bread recipe from America’s Test Kitchen How Can It Be Gluten-Free cookbook, but it’s not published online. Which sucks, because now, just for you, I have typed it all out. This took awhile. If you are gluten-free, you can send your appreciation in the form of good old American dollars because it was a royal PITA. If you are not gluten-free, you can skip the recipe and use any old crusty bread you like.

Unlike other recipes on this blog, each component is written out completely, and they are organized in the order in which they should be made.

Ingredients

GF-Whole Grain Bread (this takes awhile, so maybe start here)

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons honey

11 1/2 ounces (2 1/3 cups, plus 1/4 cup) gluten-free all-purpose flour (I used my own flour blend, but see recipe notes)

4 ounces (3/4 cup) Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal

1 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) nonfat dry milk powder (in the baking aisle)

3 tablespoons powdered psyllium husk

1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Optional: 2 tablespoons unsalted sunflower seeds

Method

  1. Spray 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ (or 8″ x 4″) loaf pan with cooking spray. Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil that will fit around the loaf pan. Fold it so it is double, lengthwise, then forma  collar around the top of the loaf pan so that a double thickness of aluminum foil rises at least one inch above the top of the loaf pan. Staple to keep collar in place and set aside.
  2. Whisk water, eggs, oil, and honey together in a bowl.
  3. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix flour, hot cereal mix, milk powder, psyllium, yeast, baking powder, and salt until combined.
  4. Slowly add water and mix on low until dough comes together, about one minute. Increase speed to medium and beat until sticky and uniform, about six minutes. If using sunflower seeds, reduce speed to low and add them now, mixing until combined.
  5. Scrape dough into prepared pan and use wet fingertips to smooth dough into pan. Smooth the top of dough and spray with water. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to rise at least 90 minutes in a warm, non-drafty place.
  6. Adjust rack in oven to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and spray loaf with water. Bake until top is golden brown, crust is firm, and sounds hollow when tapped (Side Note: I cannot tell when bread is done by tapping it. If you can, more power to you. But that’s the direction America’s Test Kitchen gives, so I am reporting for you. #YoureWelcome), about 1 1/2 hours, rotating pan halfway through (Side Note the Second: I forgot to rotate. Bread still fabulous.).
  7. Transfer to wire rack and let cool in pan for ten minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely for another two hours.
  8. Bread can be double-wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for 3 days, or you can slice it all up, wrap in plastic and store in a freezer bag in the freezer.

Recipe Notes

  • Flour substitutions America’s Test Kitchen recommends (but that I did not test myself) include King Arthur’s Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour and Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Baking Flour, but King Arthur’s makes the crumb of the bread denser and Bob’s Red Mill is drier with a bean taste. Seriously, people. Just send me a note on the Let Me Cook For You page and I will give you a price for some of my flour.
  • Please, if you are a gluten-free baker, buy a scale. The best $20 you’ll spend.

Homemade Ricotta

1 cup whole milk (see Recipe Notes)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (or any white vinegar)

Method

Bring milk, heavy cream, and salt to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar. Let sit until it begins to curdle, about 2 minutes, then pour into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Strain at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. For thicker cheese, twist the cheesecloth into a tight ball to get even more water out.

Recipe Notes

  • Milk can be pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized milk doesn’t work. #AskMeHowIKnow
  • You can discard the whey (the liquid that drains from the solid ricotta), use it to bake bread with, or give it to your dogs or chickens.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats

Kumquats, sliced in 1/4″ rounds, seeds removed (see Recipe Notes)

4 tablespoons champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

Method

Slice kumquats and place in a bowl with vinegar and honey. Macerate for at least 30 minutes and up to four hours.

When you are ready to eat, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray.

Place kumquats on cooking spray and roast for about 20 minutes until honey begins to caramelize. I didn’t flip them over, but I suppose you could if you like.

Recipe Notes

  • I used  kumquats that are approximately the size of a ping-pong ball if that ping-pong ball was more of an oval. There are also smaller varieties with different variations of flavor. For this, I used about six kumquats, but honestly? I could have eaten eleventy million more. So there’s that.

ASSEMBLY

You need bread, ricotta, kumquats, fresh basil, freshly cracked black pepper, and maybe honey and fleur de sel.

Slice bread and toast lightly.

Slather ricotta on toast.

Place fresh basil leaves on ricotta, then top with roasted kumquats. Add a few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper, and if you want a little more sweetness, just a wee drizzle of honey and a flake or two of salt.

Assemble your toasts, have a seat, and get to reading.

RULES FOR BEING HUMAN

1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period.

2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school, called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant or stupid.

3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error – experimentation. The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately “works.”

4. A lesson is repeated until learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.

5. Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.

6. “There” is no better than “Here”. When your “There” has become a “Here”, you will simply obtain another “There” that will, again, look better than “Here.”

7. Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.

8. What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.

9. Your answer to life’s questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.

10. You will forget all this.

11. You can remember it whenever you want to.

These are not my rules; I am just reporting on them. What would you add?

Gratitude, Day 1: Mushroom Galette For My Particular Friend

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

Last week I drove to Pennsylvania to visit my nearly-98-year-old grandmother. It was the day after a particularly difficult therapy session (yes, we can talk about this: it’s mental health, y’all), and the drive out of the city was a welcome escape.

There is something about sunny, crisp days when the trees are outlined in black against the clearest blue sky and golden-hued leaves fall like rain from the trees that fills me up with a complicated mix of emotions.

On this particular day, I had a very clear sense of myself and what it is I am trying to do.

Let go.

Give in.

Lean in.

(a phrase I hate but which is utterly appropriate here)

On a day like this, I feel like every step I take is a step towards the person I have always wanted to become in this lifetime and away from the person that I was becoming, the child who experienced trauma but had never looked it square in the eyes as an adult. It is difficult to imagine doing work like this on a clear, sunny day, and yet this is one of the few times when I feel at peace with myself.

I cannot always talk explicitly about the things I am dealing with; it’s not a fit for this blog, and it will be hurtful to some who are still on the earth. But it is important work for me, and as I drove the two hours to see Grandma, I kept returning to one person with whom I have been able to talk explicity, slowly unwinding the knotted threads of decades-old hurts and haunts.

In this endeavor, I have been supported this past (nearly) year by someone who has previously only been known as my “particular friend.”

I am 45. “Boyfriend” sounds dumb at my age.

“Partner” could be many different things.

“Lovin’ spoonful” is silly and applies but is often dismissed.

“Lover” just doesn’t work in mixed company.

In light of this, I will start my 30 Days of Thanks by introducing Khristian Weeks, my particular friend.

#Happiness
#Happiness

I introduce him here, this first day, because he has been in the 11 months I have known him a source of tremendous joy, love, and support.

Khristian is an artist. He loves children and has decided to love my dogs, even though he isn’t, himself, actually a dog person (and they love him sloppily back).

He brings me coffee in bed.

I cook for him, and he loves it.

We go for long walks.

We kiss in public, quite a lot (sorry, everyone in the freezer section of MOM’s in Hampden).

He talks to me about creative things and wants to collaborate with me, a first for me in all of my time as a writer (and with a host of other past artistic boyfriends who maybe never saw me as an artist).

Khristian has made me happy and given me hope for everything that is to come in this life.

So for all of this, I am making him a mushroom galette.

Khristian is a newly-minted pescatarian, and he loves all things vegetable.

Except mushrooms.

So why in hell would I decide to make a mushroom galette for this person who means so much to me? Isn’t that sort of shitty?

Well, here’s the thing.

I like a challenge. Khristian hates mushrooms; I want to make him something with mushrooms that he loves.

When my friend Laura posted that she had foraged some maitake mushrooms (also known as hen of the woods) from Druid Hill Park, I swapped her buttermilk mashed potatoes, two types of slaw, and a roasted chicken thigh for a huge bag of maitakes and a smaller bag of chicken of the woods mushrooms (which I am planning on frying like chicken and slathering in barbecue sauce. #Trust).

#GoodTrade

The recipe below uses my  gluten-free galette crust from my butternut squash and caramelized onion galette. The filling is a combination of red chard harvested from The Friends School (where Khristian works), mushrooms from Druid Hill Park just two miles away, and ricotta cheese. This is the kind of hyper-local food that is bound to taste good.

Hopefully dedicating a recipe to someone isn’t like getting their named tattooed on your body (as in, that it pretty much instantly dooms the relationship).

Khristian, my love, on my first day of gratitude in November, this is for you.

galette

Maitake Mushroom and Swiss Chard Galette

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour (regular flour works, too)

pinch of salt

1 stick of very cold butter, cut into bits (or frozen and grated)

1/4 cup Greek yogurt (or sour cream, or regular yogurt)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup ice water (seriously. Ice water. Don’t skimp. Cold tap doesn’t work.)

1 cup ricotta cheese, seasoned to taste with salt and pepper

1 cup (ish) maitake mushrooms, torn, or crimini mushrooms, sliced

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 large bunch of red chard, cut into bite-sized pieces (I do not remove the ribs, but you can if you like)

1 egg, beaten

1 cup fresh mixed herbs (I used all parsley because that’s what was in the Friends’ School garden, but any combination of cilantro, chives, or dill would be lovely)

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Method

Make pastry first, as it needs to chill. You can even make it the day before.

Method one: Combine flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to mix. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and lemon juice. Add butter to flour and salt in food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add sour cream mixture and pulse to combine. Slowly add ice water until dough comes together.

Method two: Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and lemon juice. Using a pastry cutter or fingers, rub butter into flour until mixture resembles cornmeal. Add sour cream mixture and mix well. Add ice water and mix until dough comes together.

Turn dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press together into a ball. Wrap tightly and chill for an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large pan to prevent overcrowding, heat oil and add mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. If mushrooms are crowded in the pan, they will steam rather than crisp. If you only have a small pan, saute in batches. Crispy mushrooms take about five minutes over medium-high heat. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add garlic to the same pan and saute without burning, then add red chard. Season with salt and pepper, then cook until the chard begins to wilt. I like to keep mine slightly crispy, but it’s up to you. Four minutes and your chard will be completely wilted. I cook for about a minute less than that.

I use a piece of parchment paper to roll out my crust, as this makes for super easy transfer to a baking sheet.

Place chilled dough on parchment. Place plastic wrap on top of the dough (this keeps pastry from sticking to the rolling pin without adding extra flour, which can dry pastry out) and roll out into a circle roughly 12″ in diameter and no more than a 1/4″ thick.

Spread 3/4 cup of ricotta over the pastry, leaving about 1 1/2″ around the edge without filling. Top ricotta with chard, then pile mushrooms on top of that. Spoon remaining ricotta over vegetables. Season once more with salt and pepper.

Fold the edges of the pastry over and pinch to seal any gaps. I use a bench scraper to pick up the dough so that I am not warming it up by touching it more than I have to.

Brush edges of pastry with beaten egg.

Keeping galette on the parchment, transfer to a baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes (check at 20) until the edges are golden brown.

Remove from oven and let stand for at least five minutes before serving. To serve, mix fresh herbs, lemon zest, lemon juice, and one tablespoon of olive oil together. Top galette with herb mixture and cut like a pizza.

Serves six.

Fall Food: Butternut Squash And Caramelized Onion Galette

That shit is so seasonal.

I am familiar with the phenomenon of not knowing what you have until it’s gone.

See also: sudden accidental death of husband.

But I am also familiar with another phenomenon that is a result of that first, very common phenomenon.

Sometimes, just sometimes, I know EXACTLY what I have, exactly when I have it.

Take, for example, my yoga community.

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you may have gleaned that I am also a yoga teacher. I just earned my 500-hour yoga teacher training certificate, and after some delay at the end of the actual course in August, my cohort and teachers at Baltimore Yoga Village got together to discuss ethics, eat some food, and sit around a fire, looking up at the moon, this past Sunday night.

I have been on this journey to become a yoga teacher for two years; I got my first level of certification in 2015 and decided to dive deeper and keep going. Some of the people around the fire last night did the same.

I have shared my grief, openly, with these near strangers in the first year.

I have watched them change their lives – new job, lost loves, old job, sickness, new love.

I know what I have in these people. I appreciate and value them for their support, their beautiful spirits, and their vastly different paths. I realized from the very first weekend, two years ago, exactly what I have in this community, and I am very grateful to have it.

Spirituality is a tricky thing, though, and I won’t attempt to delve into it here. The language of it is mostly useless, and often it turns into so much chatter with no real meaning.

But suffice it to say, over the past two years, this group of people has helped turn in and tune in. To my vibration, if you want to use the vernacular (which I don’t, but #OM). And for that, I am deeply grateful. To a person, they are exceptional humans. and I am grateful to have spent such intense time with them.

But you can’t really talk about spirituality without a sense of humor. At least I can’t. If you get too serious then it gets a little douche-y and fundamentalist, which I cannot abide.

Thankfully, humor is abundant in this group also.

I met Elaine in 2015 when we started our second level of training. Like me, she is a writer and a teacher. She is a great lover of pie, the eating and the making, which one might think would translate for her into other forms of cooking.

Not so.

Around November of 2015, Elaine shared with me that she had in the trunk of her car a butternut squash that had been rolling around in there for several weeks.

She mentioned this squash again and posted the following picture on Facebook, FOUR MONTHS LATER.

Apparently, the squash is Jamaican.
Apparently, the squash is Jamaican.

She confessed that she had no idea what to do with a butternut squash. I urged her to bring it to teacher training the following month, and in April, she finally did. Minus the floppy hat.

We laughed, I told her I would make something, then I brought it to my house, stuck it in my kitchen, and mostly forgot about it. I said I would make something when teacher training ended, but then I missed the last weekend potluck. I thought the opportunity had passed.

Plus, at this point, the squash was over  a year old. It was covered with a thin white-ish film, like dust but not dust. Its smiling face was fading along with the color of the peel.

But then the hunter’s moon rose, a get-together was planned, and I had to figure out a dish to bring.

So this happened.

Murdilated.
Murdilated.

I am not a big pastry maker. Gluten-free crust should be easy, but it’s not. Straight-up pie crust doesn’t generally require regular flour, as gluten is more of a hindrance, but for some reason, up until about a month ago my crust was always pitiful. Dry without being flaky. Flavorless.

So I approached this galette in the way I approach every uncertain baking situation: I made a recipe for the first time to take to a gathering, which is dumb, but I also made a back-up yellow squash casserole, just in case (I also just sort of made that recipe up, too, having never made a squash casserole. Also dumb).

Turns out, all you need is a little Greek yogurt (or sour cream) to make a crust that will make you weep (okay, maybe not weeping). This galette was delicious and easy and fed many people I love.

Sadly, not Elaine, who was unable to make it. But Elaine, this recipe is for you, with so much love and so many blessings upon you.

Butternut Squash And Caramelized Onion Galette

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour (regular flour works, too)

pinch of salt

1 stick of very cold butter, cut into bits (or frozen and grated)

1/4 cup Greek yogurt (or sour cream, or regular yogurt)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup ice water (seriously. Ice water. Don’t skimp. Cold tap doesn’t work.)

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon of salt

pinch of sugar (OPTIONAL)

1 medium onion, sliced in half moons

cayenne to taste

2 cups butternut squash in 1/2″ dice (about one medium squash, peeled, seeded, and diced)

2 teaspoons dried sage

1 cup shredded provolone cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Method

Make pastry first, as it needs to chill. You can even make it the day before.

Method one: Combine flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to mix. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and lemon juice. Add butter to flour and salt in food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add sour cream mixture and pulse to combine. Slowly add ice water until dough comes together.

Method two: Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and lemon juice. Using a pastry cutter or fingers, rub butter into flour until mixture resembles cornmeal. Add sour cream mixture and mix well. Add ice water and mix until dough comes together.

Turn dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press together into a ball. Wrap tightly and chill for an hour.

Melt butter in a hot pan and add onions, salt, and sugar (if using). Turn heat down and slowly cook onions until caramelized, about 30 minutes. Once caramelized, sprinkle with cayenne and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with foil (for easier clean-up. #Trust).

Toss butternut squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread in a  single layer on the baking sheet. Roast squash in oven until soft, stirring once. This will take about 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine squash, onions, cheese, and sage. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside while you roll out the crust.

I use a piece of parchment paper to roll out my crust, as this makes for super easy transfer to a baking sheet.

Place chilled dough on parchment. Place plastic wrap on top of the dough (this keeps pastry from sticking to the rolling pin without adding extra flour, which can dry pastry out) and roll out into a circle roughly 12″ in diameter and no more than a 1/4″ thick.

Pile butternut squash mixture in the center, leaving about 1 1/2″ around the edge without filling. Fold the edges of the pastry over and pinch to seal any gaps. I use a bench scraper to pick up the dough so that I am not warming it up by touching it more than I have to.

Keeping galette on the parchment, transfer to a baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes (check at 20) until the edges are golden brown.

Remove from oven and let stand for at least five minutes before serving.

Recipe notes

  • This pastry works for sweet fillings as well. Apple galette is in our future. Sprinkle the crust with turbinado sugar before baking.
  • If your edges rip (as mine did), just make a patch with some of the other pastry.
  • If you happen to be in the grocery store and happen to buy those pre-cut butternut squash cubes and decide to use those instead of peeling and dicing a whole squash, consider that a win. Butternut squash can be a bitch.
  • An alternate method of roasting a squash is to cut it in half and remove the seeds. Brush flesh with oil and place flesh-side-down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast in oven at 350 until skin is easily pierced with a fork. Scoop flesh out of the skin and proceed with onions and cheese.

 

 

 

The Art of Colossal Failure: Gluten-Free Baking Edition

Looks can be deceiving. This was a big fat failure.
Looks can be deceiving. This was a big fat failure.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to be an influencer.

It’s the new trend now to sell yourself as an influencer when you are applying for writing jobs; employers want to know how many Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook followers you have before they even want to talk to you (hence the rise in the market for fake followers on all social media).

As an influencer, I make a pretty good dogwalker. Although I often claim to my friend Kerry’s husband Mark that I know 10% of everything, we all know that it’s actually closer to 7.5%.

Just kidding.

(Or am I?)

Anyway.

When I develop a recipe, and share it with you, I’m not trying to influence you.

At least not yet. I have a few things in development that I may run by you eventually, but I won’t put them on my site unless they’re amazing and I think you’ll love them and if you don’t want to buy, make, or use them it’s no skin off my nose because you know what you want better than I do and I am a wretched salesperson in that regard but have no desire to get any better.

No, when I put something on this website, I do it because I made it and it’s delicious and I think you should know all about it and make it for your family so that they can tell you how delicious it is, too.

I put stuff on this site so that you can see that cooking gluten-free doesn’t mean tasteless and horrible. It doesn’t even mean health food. All of these recipes happen to work well with regular flour, too. That’s on purpose so everyone can eat good stuff.

I cook because food is one of the most wonderful things that you can share with another human being.

I cook and I write about it to share a little bit of my life. It’s an instinct and an impulse that I can’t quite explain, but it’s part of the deep down core of the person that I am. I have cooked as a creative outlet since I left home at 17, and I have been writing since I could hold a crayon. This blog brings those two things together in a way that is deeply satisfying to me.

I post. Sometimes you click on the link in your email or on your Facebook wall, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes the fact that you don’t hurts my feelings a little bit, but I continue to post anyway. And here’s why.

I’m not trying to get you to change your life or steer you in a different direction. All I want to do is share what I know. I want to share the things that work for me in my kitchen, and I want to share the things that have gone wrong and wonderful and incredible and amazing in my life. It’s the way that the (predominantly) introverted part of me can reach out and really connect with people.

I write because I love it. I cook because I love it. I continue to learn about cooking because it’s fascinating, and it’s the one thing that everyone can access. Everyone has to eat. It might as well be delicious.

Sometimes, though, it’s really great to see the failures. One thing that really chaps my ass is seeing perfection on every food blog I come across. The food is perfectly cooked and beautifully plated, shot with perfect lighting and accessorized with happy, well-dressed, and obviously prosperous folks gathered with friends or their impeccable family.

Turns out, not every recipe works out. And not everything tastes great. And definitely not everything looks beautiful.

You wouldn’t know that by Instagram with its glossy pictures of perfection. But here’s the thing: perfection isn’t real, or even real desirable. Sometimes the food isn’t even real or is enhanced with non-edible garnish (that enticing steam may be a microwaved tampon. #TrueStory).

I just got this new tart pan that I’ve been wanting for a really long time. The first tart I made was delicious. The second tart (pictured above) leaked and the crust was horribly soggy and fairly tasteless.

If I was 100% living the dream, I would have posted a picture of my soggy bottom, but that might be a whole other type of blog (#CueLovemakinMusic)

Cooking and writing for me are more about the process, and less about the flawless product (although HOT DAMN I like it when it all comes together). Failure is infinitely more valuable as a learning tool than success, but failure is a taboo subject. When I mentioned to a couple of people what I was writing about today, they were minorly horrified at the thought of failure. A standard response, I think, but the instinct is misplaced.

Fear of failure holds us back.

Fear of failure stops us from trying.

Fear of failure makes failure inevitable.

It’s not the failure that’s the issue: it’s the fear.

So today’s blog isn’t about the failure that is the soggy-bottomed tart pictured fuzzily above. It’s about the fact that in spite of this failure, I will try again. And maybe the next time won’t work out either. But I won’t be scared that it will taste bad or you won’t read my recipe.

Because there is a lot of fear in the world, but moving through fear gets to the other side of failure. That’s what we are all about here at Charm City Edibles (in a shaky-kneed way at times, but still).

What do you think about failure? I’d like to know how failure (or fear) has influenced you (or not).

 

Living Simply: Candied Jalapeño

Cowboy candy.
Cowboy candy.

It may seem silly, but I miss David Foster Wallace nearly every day since he killed himself on September 12, 2008.

I “met” him first through his novel Infinite Jest, a 1,100 page tome with 150 pages of endnotes (give or take, depending on the edition you have).

I read this book three times.

The first time it took me three weeks, as I was taking notes, writing down vocabulary lists (for real, and I am an English major), and looking up definitions. I also referred when necessary to the endnotes DFW created, including the complete movie catalogue of one of the characters (with plot synopsis and everything).

It’s the kind of brain-based focus that has not really occurred in my life for the past several years.

The next two times I read Infinite Jest, it was for the simple pleasure of winding myself up in his beautiful prose. His complex characters, modeled on real life people, perhaps, or mostly on autobiographical bits of himself, are deep and complicated and sometimes downright unlikeable.

The plot unfolds at a snail’s pace, which explains the book’s length, but every word feels necessary and in service to the larger purpose. I read it as a marathoner might pop out and jog a quick ten miles  – to keep my intellectual muscles strong and engaged and with a type of joy that comes from already knowing what happens. In this way I could gather the little pebbles I missed along the way (which happens quite a bit, as I may already be a little senile, the most burnt out non-potsmoker one might meet).

Few books have called to me in the same way before or after. I don’t know what it is about the reward you get when you need to spend more effort on something to truly understand it. Infinite Jest was not an easy read any of the times that I read it. I read it at times when I was most preoccupied in my life (grad school, with a newborn, and when I started my school), almost as if the action of reading such a book pulled me out of the foggiest parts of my brain and made me sharpen my gaze, like honing a blade.

Sometimes, though, this steel-sharp focus is counterintuitive. Sometimes simplicity is what we really need.

Simplicity does not equal stupidity, although one could be lead to believe otherwise by the current state of everything in the U.S.

Simplicity can easily be achieved by allowing whatever is to be whatever it is without wallowing in it or reveling in it or otherwise complicating it with interpretation and reaction. Seems easy enough, right?

In another part of my life, I am a 500-hour certified yoga teacher, and one of the texts we studied during my training was The Splendor of Recognition. This is a study of 21 Tantric sutras (which, disappointingly, DON’T MENTION SEX EVEN ONCE).

Side note: One of my main issues with spirituality in general is that language is inadequate for its discussion, so I will keep it to a minimum here. 

The Splendor of Recognition posits that not only are we in the universe, but the universe is also in us. All we need to become as limitless and boundless as the universe is to recognize that truth.

The best part is that once that recognition happens, it’s always there. There is no backsliding. So you can still do the things you love (like drink and have sex and whatever else it is that you love) without thinking that your soul is in jeopardy. The universe springs forth from the heart, and you can dive into it whenever you want.

This is, of course, deceptively simple. It’s not so easy to truly believe that you are in the universe and the universe is in you. And we are all of us human beings (I think), and human beings like to react and interpret and make it ALL ABOUT OURSELVES. That’s the rub.

Putting up summer produce, however, is about as simple as it gets, and it’s also meditative as hell for those of you that wish to skip sitting down and thinking about nothing (HA. Good luck with that.) for 30 minutes a day.

In just three hours, I canned 13 pints of tomatoes, three 1/2 pints of cowboy candy, and an experimental quart jar of sauerkraut.

Some things that made this so simple:

  • I didn’t make more work than there had to be. The standard way to skin tomatoes is to boil a huge vat of water, plunge the tomatoes in there, and then plunge them in an ice bath to easily remove the skins. This is 100% effective. You know what else is 100% effective? Using a box grater. I turned 16 pounds of tomatoes into pureed tomatoes in less than 20 minutes by cutting off the stems, cutting the tomatoes in half, and rubbing them on a box grater until all I had in my hand was a little wisp of skin. Simple, and no messy boiling water or skinless-tomato chopping.
  • I used what I had. I had six cups of jalapeños, some sugar, and some vinegar. This is perfection for cowboy candy (recipe below).
  • I just thought about what was happening in front of me. For three hours, all I did was cook and can. I didn’t worry about the fact that I have not yet found mercenary writing work to replace the writing job that ended two weeks ago (I am for hire – FYI.), or about the dog who may or may not (but probably does) have an ear infection, or the kid many thousands of miles away, studying in France until June 2017 (2017, people. TEN MONTHS.).

I just grated tomatoes, chopped jalapeños, sterilized jars, and massaged cabbage.

You, too, can live simply.

Cowboy Candy (a.k.a, Candied Jalapeños)

Note: This makes three half pints but can easily be doubled. You can also mess with the ratio (1:2 vinegar to sugar) just a bit and make an even two full pints. #YouAreTheUniverse

Ingredients

1 cup apple cider vinegar

2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

4 cups jalapeños, sliced about 1/4″ thick (more or less)

Method

Before beginning, make sure you have your canning jars are ready to go. “Ready to go” means washed in hot soapy water and sterilized. You could kill many birds with one stone by washing them in the dishwasher right before you begin. Then they are clean AND sterilized. Otherwise, clean by washing by hand and then sterilize by submerging jars in boiling water for five minutes.

Remove with tongs, and for fuck’s sake be careful. That water is boiling.

If you are planning to be legit and can these to last for a year, use new canning lids and dip them in the boiling water for a minute. Set all of this aside.

In a large pot, combine vinegar, sugar, celery seed, and jalapeños. Stir to dissolve sugar over medium heat, then bring to a boil. Boil gently (not a rolling, vigorous boil) for five minutes.

Add jalapeños to the pot and simmer for five minutes. Try not to inhale the steam coming off the pot. You will be very, very sorry if you get a lungful of that, and you may cough until you puke. I did not, but this is also not my first rodeo.

Use a slotted spoon (or a fork or whatever is handy) to remove jalapeños from the syrup and pack into jars. Don’t push too hard, but make sure each nook and cranny is filled.

Return the syrup to a boil, and boil for six minutes.

Ladle HOT SYRUP into the canning jars, leaving space at the top (about 1/4″ or maybe a little more if you are making pints.).

Wipe the rims of the jars and place lids on top, screwing the metal band of the canning lid until it is just a little tight (not all the way – canning books sometimes call this “fingertip tight,” which I think is super odd, but whatever makes you happy).

At this point, you could let these cool on the counter before placing them in the ‘fridge and then waiting at least three days to start eating. This way, they will last about two weeks.

If you want to get old school, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil (the same pot you sterilized the jars in) and place your jars in that pot of boiling water for 15 minutes (with at least an inch of water covering the top of the jars) before removing them to a counter. Let them sit, untouched, until completely cool. If you hear a little “pop,” your jars have sealed and will be good on the shelf for a year.

If you don’t hear the pop, and the little button in the center of the lid still moves up and down, they have not sealed properly and should be placed in the ‘fridge. You could try to re-process, but that’s a pain in the ass and completely unnecessary since you will be eating all of these pretty much ummediately anyway.

Recipe notes:

  • Botulism is NO JOKE, but canning is not actually rocket science. I was trying to find a solid guide to link to, but honestly, lots of them are either trying to sell you something or to not get sued (that’s the USDA canning guide). A can lifter is helpful, as is a wide-mouth canning funnel (but strictly speaking neither are necessary). You do not need a special pot or anything fancy. The Serious Eats guide to canning is pretty good for method, and it links to the sites trying to sell you something or not get sued so you can make up your own mind.
  • Slicing jalapeños is also no joke. Wear gloves if you are very sensitive (which I am) or cheat (as I did) and just hold on to the stem while you slice them. If you touch the juice of the jalapeño, wash your hands immediately. Do not touch your face or, heaven forbid, go to the bathroom. #YouWillBeSorry
  • You can submerge a towel or a wire rack in the bottom of your pot of boiling water before you place your jars in the pot. This will keep the jars from dancing around and potentially cracking.

I cook when I need to be the universe. If you require some simplicity, what do you do?