The Fruit Fly: A Cocktail For Life

Light and refreshing. Becuase you might need a lot of drinks.

I am writing this on July 4th. The house is still quiet because The Child worked late and is still sleeping, plus in the summer-sleepy holiday neighborhood very few people are moving around yet. The heat is sluggish and heavy, even before the sun is fully awake itself.

This is weather for contemplation. I have written recently on my lack of belief system, but sometimes it seems like there is some kind of message that is trying to come through from somewhere/thing/one. These past few weeks have been a series of minor disasters, in my life and in the lives of the people close to me.

And when I say “minor disasters,” I mean a cluster of annoying events that are like pesky fruit flies: hard to swat away, lasting usually for a few days, and coming out of nowhere.

To wit:

  • A stand mixer dropped on my toe, resulting in an epic bruise and a toenail steadily rising up off the nailbed. #Barf
  • A neck injury…from sleeping…that is persisting over several weeks.
  • A cat with a broken wrist, right after the dog with tumor surgery.
  • Another dog with a suspicious bump.
  • My particular friend’s beautiful moss garden vandalized by a person with mental illness, at a time when my particular friend could use some stability.
  • A friend whose job has suddenly turned on her, using her as a scapegoat for something she has no control over.
  • The watermelon I bought yesterday was completely rotten inside this morning. #ThatsAFirst
  • Likewise, a bag of small, sweet, organic peppers I bought were moldy and rotting also.
  • And I nearly killed my family by using an obviously bad batch of pickled green beans in today’s slaw.

Sounds like life, yes? Like the things that just happen? Nothing deadly here, nothing permanent.

But still.

And then the dreams.

  • Dreams of teaching again, three in the past few weeks.
  • Dreams of loss, specifically of my beloved horse, Sadie.
  • Dreams of people I haven’t seen in a long time, crossing through my mind and interacting with people I see every day.

Plus writing work, very little of which has made it onto a page/screen but is floating in my brain.

Crazy-making. Anxiety-producing.

I am trying to pay attention to these things – the accidents and mishaps as well as the thoughts of my unconscious mind. I think this is what creative people in any field are: noticers. People who think about connections and the ways in which the world – all of the world – works.

But I get the sense over the past few weeks that we are not any of us in control of anything. Not even our own selves in a sense; my brain has made it very clear that it will have its way with me while I sleep, producing intense overnight emotions that have set the tone for each day of the past many weeks. It’s deeper than not sleeping; it’s literally like I have been wrestling something overnight, which perhaps explains my neck injury.

In these instances, I get the feeling that really all I can do is hang on. Make lists. Ground myself. Go to water.

I write lists of the things I have to worry about, and then methodically proceed to worry about just the one thing at a time instead of allofthethingsatonce.

I write lists of all of the things I need to do, make categories, and then attempt to do something about them. This includes mostly writing work, either paid or my own, and if you are a regular reader of this blog you will notice that my own writing has not been at the top of the list, which is a shame and probably not helping my overall psyche.

Usually also I do more yoga, but between my neck and my toe the most I have managed in the past three weeks is two Kundalini classes and maybe a bit of stretching here and there.

This is hanging on. This is getting by.

This ain’t living.

It’s a slog. A trial. An awareness that even though I am so much better off than much of the world, hanging on isn’t really “living my best life.” #ThanksOprah

It’s not particularly socially acceptable or fashionable to ask “Why bother?” on a food blog. This may not be the medium.

“Just get to the damn recipe,” you say.

I will. Spoiler alert: It’s a cocktail.

As Janis Joplin would say, it’s all the same fucking day, man.

Is that enough? The same fucking day, every day?

Maybe the pesky fruit flies are designed to wake us up out of our stupor, to remind us to stop living in such a rote fashion, to help us stay awake and aware and in the world, not dazed and living in a creamy-filmed soporific filter of simply putting one foot in front of the other every day without ever really questioning why beyond adding to our 401k and getting the kids the fuck out of the house as not-too-horrible adults.

It’s the 4th of July, and I need a drink. Specifically a drink that allows me to go all day, thinking about the things that matter without getting morose.

My particular friend and I did a lot of research on this drink. It started out as a variation on a Dirty Shirley (without the Sprite) but he didn’t love how sweet it was, and I didn’t love the plain vodka.

So here we are. I made my own fruit-infused vodka, which is really all for the best, but that could take weeks, so if you want it now, skip the flavored vodka.

You can drink this and not get hammered, perfect for a hot, humid day. It also has very little sugar, so should you miss the mark and end up getting hammered, your hangover shouldn’t be too bad. Plus, the seltzer keeps you hydrated.

The Fruit Fly

Ingredients

2 oz. fruit-infused vodka (see Recipe Notes)

2 dashes cherry bitters (or any bitters you like, really)

Lemon seltzer (not sweetened, or use plain seltzer)

Lime/lemon for garnish

Method

Fill a pint glass with ice. Add vodka and cherry bitters. Top with seltzer. Garnish with lime or lemon, as you like, and maybe a few springs of fresh mint.

Recipe Notes

Fruit infused vodka: I packed a pint jar with overripe strawberries and blueberries and covered them with vodka. Steep for at least a week, then strain into another clean jar.

Bitters are, in my mind, largely a matter of preference. Cherry bitters give this drink a sweetness without adding sugar, which keeps it light and not syrupy.

 

 

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?

Sophie’s Choice: Strawberry Bread Pudding

Really, the only decision you need to make today.
Really, the only decision you need to make today.

The start of things is always challenging.

Especially when the thing you are starting is somewhat of a secret, kept that way so it can be a big surprise when it’s all done.

But it starts today, no foolin’, and already I am stuck.

Anyone who reads even a blog or two of mine knows that motivation and I have not always walked well together.

This reminds me of the story about Jesus walking with someone on the beach (two sets of footprints) and when times got tough there was only one set of footprints because Jesus was carrying the person. This story makes me a little nauseous (and only a little nauseous because I would like to have a long conversation with Jesus, for real, not praying, like hang out with the man and say what the fuck, Jesus.), but it would be super awesome if motivation would just swoop down and cradle me in loving arms.

Motivation for me is more like a sharp, pointy stick. Or a cattle prod. And that’s no day at the beach.

Especially perceptive people who have read even a blog or two of mine might even recognize that this here blog post itself is really just a clever avoidance tactic. Or maybe not so clever.

Regardless. Here we are. At an impasse.

Sometimes, as right now with The Secret Thing, the issue is just too many choices.

I could literally go in 100 different directions with This Secret Thing, but if I commit to one, 99 of them fall away and become impossible.

And I am on a deadline, so I have basically this weekend to commit.

And anyone who knows me well knows that commitment and I are also not always walking together on the beach either. And commitment is too fucking lazy to pick me up. And super heavy for me, even with all of the yoga.

The answer to this is very, very simple: off to market.

Not only does this allow me to procrastinate, but it also gives me a great excuse to check out the new MOM’s that opened up this very morning in The Rotunda in Hampden. It was, as expected, a madhouse, so much so that any designs of leisurely strolling the aisles looking for inspiration fell away when the doors opened.

The samples. And the fresh mozzarella. And Greek yogurt. And bulk section. And the sheer number of people who really should all be at work and not shopping right now so that I can have the store to myself. #OtherPeopleRuinEverything

But THE STRAWBERRIES.

If we were still in Georgia, I would have already been harvesting the first tender shoots of asparagus and small, juicy strawberries, but here in Maryland not much is coming out of the ground beyond greens and brassicas, and even then only for really good garden planners.

These strawberries weren’t local, but they were organic and sweet and deep, ruby red and sexy as hell.

And on sale.

I bought two clamshells, planning something with the aforementioned Greek yogurt (so thick like vanilla-scented crème fraiche) but then came home to other choices.

Quickly staled gluten-free bread, optimistically baked a couple days ago and not consumed. Four egg yolks leftover from the bread’s mother, also still quietly growing delicious in the ‘fridge. Vanilla beans to spare. Almond milk, bought for another purpose and then forgotten, but still good and unopened.

Sophie’s choice: strawberry bread pudding. Christ on a bike, this was good. The perfect bridge between the sunny, spring-like weather of this morning and the 30-degree temps and flurries forecast for Sunday night. Dollop of the Greek yogurt on top.

Perfect for ignoring the other choices I am avoiding. You’re welcome.

Strawberry Bread Pudding

Hey, man. This is totally unfussy. I am putting amounts here, but really, go with what you have. Leave the strawberries out, or add chocolate chips and a touch of cinnamon. Or maybe dried fruit. Or no fruit. Or whatever. Regular milk. Less sugar. Two eggs instead of just yolks. Whatever. No real choices need to be made until you are damn good and ready.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups milk (cow, almond, soy. Whatever. Whole milk is the more reliable choice, to be sure, but don’t let dairy hold you back.)

1/3 cup sugar (or more. Or less.)

1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract)

pinch of salt (or 1 teaspoon if you like to measure)

2 T. butter

2 eggs (or 4 egg yolks if that’s what you have in the ‘fridge)

one leftover loaf of gluten-free bread, cubed into maybe 3 cups (or stale, gluten-filled french bread, brioche, challah, or….)

1 cup chopped strawberries (or a handful of chips, or nothing)

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a ceramic baking dish big enough for your bread and berries. Set aside.

Heat milk, sugar, vanilla bean scraping, salt, and butter until the butter is just melted. Cool if you have that kind of patience, or, if not, slowly, slowly, slowly – whisking constantly – drizzle the hot milk into the eggs in a large bowl. If you do it too fast, you will have vanilla-flavored scrambled eggs. Drizzle slowly, slower than you think, while whisking frantically.

Place bread and strawberries in the buttered dish (I used a high-sided white ceramic baking dish). Pour milk-egg mixture over the bread, soaking thoroughly.

Allow the bread to sit in this mixture for 30 minutes in the ‘fridge. Longer, if you like. This is to soak up some of the liquid so the custard does not “break” (scramble the eggs) in the heat of the oven.

Bake for 30-45 minutes (seriously. Big range), until the custard is just a little tiny bit wobbly (but not raw. GROSS). For more gentle cooking, cook the pudding in a bain marie.

Again, cool slightly if you can, or grab a spoon and eat IMMEDIATELY with unsweetened whipped cream, crème fraiche, or super thick Greek yogurt.

 

 

 

 

Sunshine In The Rain: Candied Oranges

Pilfered produce. Felonious fruit.
Pilfered produce. Felonious fruit.

My grandmother is 97, and she steals fruit and vegetables from the cafeteria and gardens of her assisted living facility.

Perhaps I should backtrack a bit, lest you get the wrong idea.

My grandmother is, in truth, 97. I am not going to add that “years young” bullshit. Irene Kalman is 97. Sharp and witty and mentally all there but still every bit of 97 with Meuniere’s disease and vertigo and odd, fussy habits that the elderly seem to develop. She gets dizzy if she stands up too quickly and has recently conceded to a walker, only to store her keys and various bits and bobs that she travels around the facility with.

When The Teenager and I visit, she talks about being surrounded by “old people.” Obvi, she does not number herself among their ranks.

Every day she gets up and does her hair and puts on makeup. Her hair is that particular kind of spun white floss that envelops her skull like clouds and I always want to touch it but I don’t because #boundaries.

She wears sweaters from 1982 and shoes that may be at least as old as I am (44, if we are keeping track. Forty-five on March 14th, and, yes, appropriate tributes are accepted. #PleaseAndThankYou).

Our visits are always the same. We update her about all of the things we are doing, keeping the more challenging or troubling times out of our narrative and focusing on how busy, active, and healthy we are (even if that means we left the cheese off our tortilla chips when we sat on the couch and watched football all day). My grandmother has that Depression-era peculiarity of dwelling on bad news and glossing over it, concurrently. You wouldn’t think this was possible, but don’t get her started on the Dust Bowl or cooking when you have no money.

We avoid this tendency to fret by ignoring troubling topics and keeping everything light. Sometimes it’s unavoidable though, like The Unfortunate Time My Husband Died and The Fact That Donald Trump Exists In The World. When this happens, we shake our heads ruefully together and bemoan the fates while looking resolutely towards the future. There is no dwelling, although my grandmother and I are Champion Worriers, so we each of us dwell in our own private ways later. #SleepingPillsForHer #AnxietyMedsForMe

I think the hardest thing for my grandmother is the fact that she cannot really extend the basic hospitality of feeding her guests. When I was growing up, the main feature of a visit to grandma’s was the food. Fried chicken, lasagna, even once a homemade struedel that took up the entire table in the making. My grandmother is an excellent cook, both personally and professionally, and I think it pains her to be able to offer nothing to those who come to visit.

So she steals fruit from the cafeteria, hoarding it in her room until she has a guest, at which point she unloads her bounty on them, concealing it with wadded up grocery bags so the people who aren’t watching and don’t care won’t catch her.

I figured out awhile ago that this makes her feel good, so I accept whatever she wants to give me.

Unfortunately, this means that I often return home with a thousand navel oranges in the winter.

Citrus and I have an uneven relationship. I don’t even quite regard it as a food, which haz the dumb, I know, but it seems so…liquid. Great as a garnish or in a glass with champagne.

I will occasionally eat an entire box of clementines, mostly because I can’t get over how easy they are to peel and I don’t want to waste.

But still.

This past visit sent us home with ten oranges. And no juicer. And no one in this house who wants to peel them.

But guess what? CANDY. Orangettes, to be precise. Orangettes dipped in dark chocolate, even better.

The next time I visit my grandmother, I will tell her that we ate each one of the oranges and they were so sweet that it was just like candy.

Orangettes

Ingredients

3 cups simple syrup (DIY: combine a one-to-one ratio of sugar and water)

ten oranges, sliced into 1/4″ rounds and then cut in half

Optional: more sugar

Optional: melted chocolate

Method

Bring simple syrup to a low boil. Place oranges in the syrup and simmer for 30-45 minutes. You are looking for a slightly translucent flesh and the pith to be heading that way, too.

Remove from syrup and transfer to a cooling rack placed on a cookie sheet. Place in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes or so, just until the orange peel is dry and the flesh feels a little tacky. You should certainly flip them over halfway, and no one would fault you for trying one at this stage. Turn off the oven and let cool, or keep them in there overnight.

At this point, you can toss in sugar, leave as they are, or dip in melted chocolate. I like to toss them in sugar and then dip them in bittersweet chocolate because DELICIOUS.

 

 

 

 

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