#FEEDGREECE

fdgshare

 

When I was 6 and first moved to Los Angeles, my mother and I were hungry.  The kind of hungry that qualified me for two free meals a day at school and made her say things like “Sweetheart, I’ve had enough.  You eat it.”  I remember my grandmother sending us a box of food from Hawaii and never feeling more grateful for Top Ramen and Kraft macaroni and cheese.  After my mother’s first proper acting job, she came home with food she had taken from craft service at lunch but not eaten.  She had saved it for me.  Though we were never starving, we were certainly poor and while our hungry days didn’t last long, they lasted long enough for me to remember and always be grateful.

Which is why I just helped #FEEDGREECE.

“Parcel Broker have teamed up with Greek charity Desmos to allow you to send care packages completely FREE. The campaign is designed to enable people to send a package of food weighing up to 10kgs to Greek charity Desmos. The charity will then distribute the care packages to families in need of them. We are sending up to 500 parcels so if you want to take part in this be sure to get your parcel together quickly and follow the steps below to be a part of the project.” 

I am sender #60.  You could be the next.

*I should add this project is only available to those living in the U.K.

 

Food for a Summer Cold

Being sick in summer is the worst.  Especially if you live in England where blue skies and sunshine are rare.  When my Casablanca lilies are in bloom and the berries out back are ripe, I want to be outside.  Not tucked up in bed surrounded by Kleenex, wearing socks,  and smelling of menthol.

To me, summer means swings on which to swing.  Or if you’re Southern, swangs on which to swang.  A boat pond begging for paper schooners to sail across its surface.  Berries for crumble and cobbler that won’t pick themselves.  Bubbles to blow, daisy chains to make, and roses that I want in my cheeks instead of just in a bedside vase.

That’s why this weekend I said chest colds be damned and made a delicious lunch to heal all the family.

If you’re like me you might not think much of celery on its own.  Sure it’s great for adding depth to things like chicken stock or bolognese, but by itself I’m never tempted.  Unless it’s in a soup.  Which is exactly what I made.  My recipe is as simple as it is savory and equally delicious.

The other thing I made was a drink I call Hot Ginger & Dynamite.  It’s a potent hot lemonade with a fiery kick that’ll burn whatever ails you.  Ginger to heal, honey to soothe, and lots of lemon for vitamin C.  Cold medicine’s never tasted so good.  Except maybe at night when I like to add a splash of whisky to it.

Below are my recipes.  Though they have healing powers they’re also great to make when you just want to eat something good and clean.  I hope you enjoy them.

Celery Soup

Ingredients:

2 bunches of celery (with leaves–that’s where the flavor is), washed and chopped

1 onion, chopped

chicken or vegetable stock (or just water)

2 Tbsp olive oil + 1Tbsp butter

Marigold stock powder (optional)

Method:

Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.  Sauté the onions and celery until soft.

celeryonion Sautéing

Here is where I stir in a tablespoon or two of Marigold powder for a extra depth, but you certainly don’t have to.

Add the stock or water.  I put in enough to cover the celery by half an inch.  Simmer for 20 minutes.

Lastly, blend until smooth then serve.  If you haven’t used Marigold powder, do be sure to season with salt.

simmer bowl of soup

Hot Ginger & Dynamite

Ingredients:

the juice of 3 lemons

1-2square inches of freshly grated ginger

2 mug fulls of water

1/4 cup honey and then some to taste

Method:

Bring the lemon juice, ginger, and water to a boil.  Turn down and simmer for at least 10 minutes.  Stir in the 1/4 cup honey until dissolved.  If you want it sweeter, add more 1 tablespoon at a time to suit your taste.

ginger lemon tincture

La Tupina, Sheep’s Cheese, and Cherry Jam

Off the quai in Bordeaux, between St. Michel and Ste. Croix where George is still slaying a dragon, there exists a street called rue Porte de la Monnaie.  At the top of it is an arch and down it a restaurant that is now my favorite in France.  Its name is La Tupina which means the cauldron and how fitting as the place is filled with many of them. george pont de pierre Several Sundays ago I stood under gray skies on the edge of the Garonne taking in the Pont de Pierre and picking wildflowers along the banks to compliment my outfit.  Sure, it was lovely pretending to be Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face and hearing Fred Astaire on a loop in my head, but mostly I was killing time with my husband before a much anticipated lunch. hotel room We didn’t know what to expect.  The reviews we read had been so mixed.  In Fiona Beckett’s 2012 review, she said she detected a slight sense of ennui in Chef Jean-Pierre Xiradakis.  She also described “the kitschness of the place” by saying “If Disney were to recreate south-west French food, it would look like La Tupina.”  Then again, former restaurant critic for The Times, Jonathan Meades, loves the place and has named it his favorite restaurant. When the clock at the local church struck one, my husband and I looked at each other.  Neither of us asked for whom the bell tolled.  We just took each other’s hands and then a chance on lunch at La Tupina. arch After crossing the street and passing under the arch, we saw an old man walking a white cat on a leash.  If black cats are bad luck then this sighting had to be good.  The old man smiled at us and tipped his hat just as my husband opened the restaurant door. outside window From the moment I entered, I saw everything La Tupina had to offer.  Literally.  As the heart of the restaurant is laid bare for all to see.  A giant chimney for smoking, an enormous hearth for roasting, a generous countertop laden with meat and baskets of produce that would be used up by closing time. Many restaurants open up their kitchens to give an element of theatre to their diners, but I always feel it’s a bit contrived.  Not at La Tupina.  Nothing about it evokes the high pressure of a celebrity chef’s kitchen or a televised cooking competition.  On the contrary, the mise en scène there was warm and welcoming.  Like walking into the kitchen of a French friend’s grandmother.  It was charming and not at all like anything I’ve ever experienced at Disneyland. waiter2 Once seated, we ordered glasses of champagne.  They arrived with the silkiest most savory rillettes.  Next we had white asparagus with vinaigrette.  For the main course, my husband had duck breast that had been cooked in the chimney.  I opted for the Noir de Bigorre, which was a plate-sized chop from a black thoroughbred pig whose history in the region can be traced back to Roman times.  This tender fatty pig was served perfectly pink with a single roasted garlic clove on top, salad and mashed potatoes on the side.  It was so delicious I stopped caring about the couple next to us who were making fun of us in French for having ordered a half-bottle of wine instead of a whole.  NB: Just because I’m American and my husband is a plummy Englishman does not mean my schoolgirl French isn’t good enough to know when you’re mocking me.  But like I said, lunch was so good their rudeness didn’t detract.  At least not much.

For pudding I had walnut ice cream.  It was served with walnut liqueur that tasted of the best amontillado sherry.  My husband indulged in a plate of local ewes’ and goats’ milk cheeses.  They were served with strawberry jam.  After the consumption of which, he couldn’t refuse our waitress’ offer of armagnac.  “Higher alcohol content is better for aiding digestion,” she said. wine henry cannele fraises The food at La Tupina could never be called haute cuisine nor nouvelle.  It’s better than that.  It’s classic and nothing about its legacy is as ephemeral as foam.  Dishes of the region are its specialty.  They are tried and true and as old and delicious as the pigs of Roman times.  Lunch at La Tupina is history on a plate.

Jonathan Meades has noted the “ewes’ milk curd with berry jam” among his favorite dishes at La Tupina.  Having tasted it myself, I see why.  It’s the perfect marriage of sweet and savory.  The book he’s presently working on, The Plagiarist in the Kitchen, includes Chef Jean-Pierre Xiradakis’ recipe for Poulet à l’oignon.  I hope it will also include a few more.  Like that jam recipe.  Until then, here is my recipe for cherry jam.  It’s wonderful on toast and also with sheep’s cheese from Southwest France.  Serve it on a Scottish oat cake with a slice of Ossau Iraty and there you have the flavors of the Auld Alliance.  A snack worthy of Mary, Queen of Scots and a marriage far happier than her own.  I hope you enjoy it.

Cherry Jam

Ingredients: 

2 kg cherries (I used 1kg from spain and 1kg from Kent.  I like to mix mine for different flavor notes.)

the juice and zest of 2 lemons

1.3 kg sugar

a candy thermometer or a cold plate in the fridge (I use both)

Method: Wash and dry your cherries.  Then pit them and cut them in half.  Macerate them slightly with a bit of the sugar.  I use a few tablespoons.  Next, transfer them to a large maslin pan. Add your thermometer to the pan.  Cook the cherries over low heat until they are tender.  When they are, stir in the sugar and lemon.  Keep the heat on low and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Once it is, bring the fruit mixture to a rolling boil.  Be sure to stir it so the fruit doesn’t stick and also be careful about bringing the heat up too high.  You don’t want to burn your fruit.  When the mixture thickens and goes glossy or when it is about 102ºC, test the setting point.  Pull your cold plate out of the fridge and put a small teaspoon of jam on it.  Wait a minute before pushing it with your finger.  If it wrinkles like jam, then it’s set.  If it doesn’t, give your mixture a few more minutes of cooking time.  Do not let your mixture pass 104ºC.  This is the setting point of jam.  If you pass this temperature, you’ll end up with glue.  Nobody wants to eat glue.  When your jam is ready, take it off the heat and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes.  Finally, pour the jam into sterilized jars and store. 2kg cherries jam fairy jars jam close up toast cheese and jam

Light Pasta Lunch

Once when I was home from college for winter holidays, my mother served the most delicious green beans I’d ever tasted.  I asked her what the sauce was.  She laughed and said “butter.”  Growing up in Los Angeles, I wasn’t raised eating butter.  It’s not that we never had it in the house, but if we did it was for cooking.  It was because a recipe called for it, not because anyone in our family ate buttered toast with jam.  The other thing we never ate was bacon, proper pork bacon.  I specify as I, like many children in Southern California, was raised on turkey bacon.  Not until moving to London five years ago did bacon become part of my diet.  I confess.  I went a little pork crazy.  That said, I still love the wholesome flavors of home.  I genuinely enjoy the slight nuttiness of whole wheat and I love a light lunch especially as summer approaches.  Below is a pasta recipe from my California days.  I hope you enjoy it.

Ingredients:

whole wheat pasta

1/2 kilo plum or cherry tomatoes

3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 avocado

a handful of ripped basil leaves

olive oil

salt and pepper

 

Method:

Make your pasta according to the packet instructions.

Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on a roasting dish.  Rub them with olive oil and some salt.  Place them under the broiler/grill until they start to blacken a bit.

Add the chopped garlic to the tomatoes and put back under the heat for no more than a minute.

Remove them from the broiler/grill and set aside.

Cut the avocado into chunks.

Smash the tomatoes with a fork.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the tomatoes to the pasta.  Mix thoroughly then add the avocado and basil.

 

avocado tomato basil pasta

Rigatoni Alla Vodka for the Mean Reds Revisited

It’s been over a year since I wrote a piece called Rigatoni Alla Vodka for the Mean Reds.  The post was about anxiety, motherhood, and losing one’s sense of self.  The response I got was overwhelming. It seemed to have touched a nerve. There were clearly lots of women who felt as I did/do. Which is why I distilled that piece (sans recipe) and pitched it to a magazine.  It’s been a long time coming, but I’m proud to say it’s finally online and on Sunday it’ll be in print in Stella Magazine.  You can read it here.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

I don’t eat rhubarb though I’m sure one day I will.  Kind of like “when I am an old woman, I shall wear purple.”  Or as Holly Golightly said about diamonds,”It’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re 40; and even that’s risky … they only look good on the really old girls … wrinkles and bones, white hair and diamonds.  I can’t wait.”  My sentiments exactly.   With diamond tiaras and crowns of rhubarb in my stars, I look forward to being a woman of a certain age.

My Great-Grandma Sorensen grew rhubarb outside the back door just off the kitchen of her home in Harlan, Iowa.  She loved it, especially with strawberry.  Each summer, she would stock her pantry with strawberry rhubarb jam and cover her windowsill with strawberry rhubarb pies.  My Great-Grandpa had no objections.  For her, strawberry rhubarb was the most winning combination.  For him, he was the biggest winner.  This year, in memory of her, I’m going to pick up where she left off.

Though the distance between what used to be Great-Grandma Inez’s house in Harlan and my in-laws’ in Buckinghamshire is 4,219 miles, there is one thing about these places that’s exactly the same.  The summer rhubarb.  At the far end of my in-laws’ English garden, past the flowerbeds and my daughter, the Weekend Primrose Fairy, who conjures magic with camellias for wounded ladybugs. . . beyond the bramley apple tree laden with blossom that will (fingers crossed) bring us a bumper crop this September. . . after the greenhouse sheltering sweet peas and cherry tomatoes . . . next to the squash, sorrel, and kale. . . is a row of regal scarlet rhubarb.  This weekend I made several crumbles.  Below is the recipe.  I hope you enjoy it.  Actually, I hope my Great-Grandma would have enjoyed it.

Sorensens

primroses

11150390_10153345332766204_8353851400698632507_n

garden bramley apple tree

best blossom rhubarb in the garden rhubarb growing

Ingredients:

fruit filling:

2 stalks of rhubarb, chopped into 1 1/2 – 2 inch pieces

1 1/2 cups strawberries, washed, hulled, and halved

1 teaspoon crystallized ginger, chopped

3 tablespoons brown sugar

crumble topping:

1/3 cup Demerara sugar

1 cup oatmeal

1/4 cup flour

4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

a pinch of salt

Method:

Preheat oven to Gas 5/375ºF/190ºC.

Place the rhubarb and strawberry pieces in a small ceramic baking dish.  Add the brown sugar and crystallized ginger.  Gently stir to mix.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the butter, flour, oatmeal, sugar, and salt.  Rub with your fingertips until it forms a coarse meal.

Sprinkle the topping over the fruit and bake for an hour or until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling.

Serve with creme fraiche, Greek yogurt, ice cream or whatever you like.  And to eat it like my Great-Grandma did, be sure to have it with a game of Scrabble.

windowsill crumble

South Wind Through My Kitchen

Clarissa Dickson Wright once likened taking a call from Elizabeth David to “answering the phone to God.”  Prue Leith who won David’s kitchen table at auction also compared her to the celestial.  “I used to take her en primeur vegetables.  It felt like an offering to a goddess.”  Considering this, it is not unreasonable to liken David’s writings to The Book of Common Prayer.  Her recipes and writings are our liturgy.  If we follow them, we bask in her grace.

The first time I read one of David’s books, I was nine weeks pregnant and on holiday in the Languedoc.  One morning, between bouts of being ill, I found a copy of South Wind Through the Kitchen: The Best of Elizabeth David  in the house library.  At first glance, it appeared to be nothing more than the posthumously published greatest hits of a writer that I, as an American, did not know.  After devouring it, I realized it’s a touching eulogy compiled by those who loved her.   Each piece was selected by someone close to David.  Most contributors included a personal post script.

From page one, I felt like I had entered conversation with a friend.  Though I now know many food writers have likened Mrs. David to the divine, at the time I didn’t have any preconceived notions.  I found her accessible, human, and wry.  Her prose entertained me and her loved ones’ anecdotes endeared her to me.  I also identified with her as she wrote about the same thing I did since leaving Los Angeles for London five years ago–flavors from faraway shores.  Elizabeth David was no distant goddess; she was a kindred spirit.

Many food writers begin their careers when they leave the land of their birth.  For Mrs. David, it was not leaving home but returning to it that inspired her.  From 1939 to 1945, she lived in Marseille, Antibes, Corsica, Sicily, Yugoslavia, Athens, Cairo, and Delhi.  When she returned to England, she was greeted with grey skies and food rations.  Imagine her horror at having to trade fresh fish and ripe mango for SPAM and powdered eggs.  No wonder she chose to ruminate on the flavors of years past.

South Wind Through the Kitchen is a surprisingly emotional read and not just in your first trimester.  While it contains recipes from France, The Mediterranean, and The Levant, the book is really a collection of Mrs. David’s memories of those places.  When she was first published in 1950, the transportive quality of her prose took readers out of dreary post-War London and deposited them on sunny sands.  Today, her words still resonate.  In deepest winter if I can’t find my way back to the warm shores of the West Coast, I read her essays with a cup of hot tea and immediately my insides begin to thaw.

Mrs. David née Gwynne was the daughter of landed gentry and attended many a debutante ball where it was assumed she would meet a husband, if not the man of her dreams.  When this didn’t happen, she spent a year abroad that changed her life.  In the 1930s whilst studying history and literature in Paris, young David lived with a food conscious family that loved to cook.  Upon returning to England, she wrote “forgotten were the Sorbonne professors and the yards of Racine learnt by heart . . . what had stuck was the taste for a kind of food quite ideally unlike anything I had known before.  Ever since I have been trying to catch up with those lost days when perhaps I should have been profitably employed watching Leontine in her kitchen.”

The title South Wind Through the Kitchen came from an essay David published in 1964.  It is a reference to South Wind, a novel by her much loved friend, Norman Douglas.  He reinforced what Leontine practiced and instilled in David an appreciation for simplicity that is omnipresent in her writing.  “Good cooking is honest, sincere and simple and by this I do not mean to imply that you will find in this, or indeed in any other book the secret of turning out first class food in a few minutes with no trouble.  Good food is always a trouble and its preparation should be regarded as a labour of love.”  I think of this whenever I eat her daube de boeuf provençale.  Lucky for me, it is a dish my husband loves to cook and yes, it makes me feel loved.    

Docteur Édouard de Pomiane was another hero of David’s who championed simple food.  He invented gastrotechnology and was known for his disdain of haute cuisine.  David wrote about him in an essay called Pomiane, Master of the Unsacrosanct.  This piece includes a recipe for Tomates à la Crème, a dish de Pomiane credited to his Polish mother despite the French name.  Only three ingredients are required–butter, tomatoes, and thick cream.  It’s laughably simple.  A child could make it.  Yet the marriage of these basic flavors yields a dish that is equal parts sophisticated and subtle.  Therein lies the magic Mrs. David prized.

About her love for De Pomiane, David wrote, “This is the best kind of cookery writing.  It is courageous, courteous, adult.  It is creative in the true sense of that ill-used word, creative because it invites the reader to use his own critical and inventive facilities, sends him out to make discoveries, form his own opinions, observe things for himself, instead of slavishly accepting what the books tell him.”  This is just what I love about her.

David found extravagance in wasting nothing.  She taught readers how to use everything.   Per her suggestion that “Beautifully flavoured pork dripping is a wonderful fat in which to fry bread or little whole potatoes,” my fridge is now full of small ceramic dishes–each one holding a different kind of dripping that I top up like a sherry solera.  Even her most decadent desserts like chocolate chinchilla are thrifty.  “This is a splendid – and cheap- recipe for using up egg whites left from the making of mayonnaise, béarnaise, or other egg-yolk based sauces.”  Despite her upper-class upbringing, David’s ethos was waste not, want not.  Especially when it came to drink.

One of David’s most famous pieces, Ladies’ Halves, is about her dissatisfaction with wine waiters and their presumptions about ladies who lunch.  Her peeve was that waiters always brought her half-bottles when she really wanted a whole.  She comically wrote about about being told off by a steward on a rattling train.  “A bottle, madam?  A whole bottle?  Do you know how large a whole bottle is?”  David was the kind of woman who knew exactly how large a whole bottle of chablis was.  That’s why she wanted it.

In another wine related anecdote, April Boyes who chose an essay of David’s called Oriental Picnics included a funny story about her friend.  “String was a vital part of Elizabeth’s picnic equipment, and so the bottle of wine was lowered into the pool, and attached to the shrub. . . At the end of the morning we returned to the square and set out rugs and cushions, a tablecloth, and then the picnic.  Fortunately the wine was still in place, nicely chilled.”  I like to think Ms. Boyes continued David’s tradition of taking string on picnics in memory of her friend.  Even if she didn’t, I do.

Sometimes, for some people, food and memory blur.  When this happens feelings can develop flavors. Sabrina Harcourt-Smith recalled an afternoon at her Aunt Liza’s in the early 1960s.  “She was preparing scallops with butter and breadcrumbs on her large kitchen table.  These were the Coquilles St. Jacques à  la Bretonne which she had recently described in the shellfish chapter of French Provincial Cooking.  As she arranged the scallops in their shells, her little black cat sat on the table and patted her arm impatiently until she said, ‘oh all right, Squeaker,’ and indulgently gave her one scallop, followed by another.”  When I read this I wondered if scallops always reminded Ms. Harcourt-Smith of Squeaker and Aunt Liza much the way cinnamon toast reminds me of the first day of school.  My mother always made cinnamon toast for me at the start of the school year.  This year I found myself doing the same for my daughter.

Not only did David share her best recipes with her readers, but she also introduced them to colorful characters they may have otherwise never met.  Among the brightest was Colonel Kenney-Herbert, an officer in the Madras Cavalry, who wrote about cooking and living under the Raj in British India during the 1890s.  Upon returning to England, he opened a cooking school on Sloane Street.  Other favorites include David’s Greek friends, Christo and Yannaki, who were her neighbours when she lived in the Aegean.  They loved “picklies” (piccalilli) and Christmas cake which she made for them in exchange for fresh fruit, vegetables, and the use of their donkey for transportation.

Part of what makes David’s tales so intriguing is not just the delicious food she consumes or the vibrant characters, but the way she sets the stage.  She had the eye of an art historian and could describe venues like Old Master paintings.  Of the dawn’s early light on the Venetian fishmongers’ stalls she wrote, “It makes every separate vegetable and fruit and fish luminous with a life of its own, with unnaturally heightened colours and clear stencilled outlines.  Here the cabbages are cobalt blue, the beetroots deep rose, the lettuces clear pure green, sharp as glass.”

On 20 May 1992, David suffered a massive stroke.  She died two days later early in the morning, having enjoyed a good bottle of chablis and some caviar brought to her by friends.  She was seventy-eight years old.  On 28 May, she was buried at her family church, St. Peter ad Vincula in Folkington.  As tribute to her, someone placed a loaf of bread and a brown paper bag of herbs amongst the lilies, blue irises, and violets at her funeral.  In September of that year, a memorial service was held for her at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.  Across the street, there is a portrait of her by John Stanton Ward in the National Portrait Gallery.  Mrs. David’s service was fittingly followed by a memorial picnic in the Nash Room at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.  I like to think that even though the bottles of wine were in ice buckets somebody still brought string.  Elizabeth David said “There are people who take the heart out of you, and there are people who put it back.”  For post-war Britain and this American ex-pat, Mrs. David did and does just that.