Ginger Peach Jam

Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring,

and because it has fresh peaches in it. 

~Alice Walker 

Ripe peaches are among my top reasons for living.  Soft, sweet, lightly floral, and full of juice.  They are a testament to the fact that perfection can be found in the simplest things.  First cultivated in ancient China, peaches were believed to have magical properties like immortality.  Emperors loved them.  Thousands of years later, so did western royalty.  Plantagenet King John is said to have perished after consuming a surfeit of peaches.  In T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, the main character asks himself, “Do I dare to eat a peach?”  Perhaps it’s a metaphor for taking a bite out of life.  Perhaps it’s a metaphor for having the woman he desires.  No matter the interpretation, Prufrock’s peach definitely represents what my husband refers to as the English danger of having too much fun.  For Roald Dahl, a peach was the vehicle that whisked James away from his two cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge.

No matter how you cut it, a ripe peach is magical.  Though perfect on its own, I like to try to capture its fragrance and keep its magic a little longer than just the summer season.  That’s why I have been making buckets of ginger peach jam.  As peaches can be so sweet, I find the ginger adds a bit of fire and also refinement.  It provides structure for what could otherwise be a cloying mess.  Also, I like the idea of adding Chinese ginger to my peaches, even if my fruit happens to come from Kent or Spain.  Below is my recipe.

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Ingredients:

peaches (I use about 2 kg)

caster sugar

preserving sugar (as peaches have a really low pectin content)

the juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup freshly grated ginger

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Method:

Peel and slice the peaches. Weigh them.  Set aside in a large jam pan.

Add 60% of the peaches’ weight in sugar.  I use a mix of caster and preserving sugar–only about 200g of the latter.  Be sure to taste your mixture.  You don’t want it too sweet but it won’t set if it doesn’t have at least 60% sugar.

Next stir in the lemon juice and ginger.

Mash everything lightly. Warm over a low heat.  Once the sugars have dissolved, turn up the heat and stir constantly.

Never let the temperature pass 104F which is the setting point for jam.  Test for a set with the cold plate method.  When the jam has achieved your desired set, stir in the butter (it’ll help keep your jam from looking scummy), and let cool for a few minute before putting in sterilized jars.

Serve on toast, pancakes or over vanilla ice cream for a real treat.  I must say if you want this as an ice cream topping, it’s best to not have a really thick set.  Runnier is better in this case.  Also, this jam is delicious if used in the middle of shortbread thumb print cookies.

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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

Yo Soy Paddington (A Warming Marmalade Recipe)

Just before Christmas, I took my three year-old to the cinema for the first time.  We saw Paddington and were equally charmed.  It was funny and darling and the calypso band that played throughout was fantastic.  Helena clutched her stuffed bear, chomped on popcorn, danced in her seat and shrieked with delight through most of it.  I, on the other hand, cried through at least 20% of it.  I am not sure if it’s because I was still waiting to hear about my Indefinite Leave to Remain status or what, but the telling of this tale about a little Peruano immigrant bear really tugged at my heart strings.  I love Paddington.  I am Paddington.  Yo soy Paddington.

CUT TO: JANUARY 2015

Though the UK Border Agency had until March to process my visa application, I received it the first week of the new year.  I have no idea why it’s called indefinite leave to remain when ILR status allows one to remain in the UK for ten years.  Ten years is very definite, no?  Anyway, I was thrilled.  I studied for my Life in the UK exam like my college degree (or my residency) depended on it.  Go ahead.  Ask me anything about the Divine Right of Kings, The Pale, The Hundred Years War, 1066, Robbie Burns, or sticky wickets.  I know it all.  Or at least I did last August when I took the test.

While my heart’s all American, something in me changed when I received my residence permit.  It’s not that I felt British.  Anyone who reads Chagrinnamon Toast knows that I ache for home and wish I could see my family more than I do.  That said, I am so grateful for all that England has offered me.  What’s changed is that for the first time, I don’t feel like just an American.  I feel like an immigrant full of love for my homeland yet equally full of thanks for my adopted country.  Like I said, I am Paddington.

Which is why I felt it my duty to learn to make marmalade, not that I even like the stuff.  I just thought it should be in my repertoire especially as Helena and Henry love it.  The recipe I used was from The Breakfast Bible by Seb Emina & Malcolm Eggs.  I cannot lie.  My first attempt was a failure.  It smelled nice, tasted nice, but had the consistency of epoxy. Apparently, when boiling marmalade, one cannot turn one’s back even for a minute.  Otherwise the temperature can quickly climb too high and leave you with mucilage instead of marmalade.

My second attempt was with the same recipe.  This was much better.  I gave some to Blake Pudding, one of the contributing writers of The Breakfast Bible, who said my marmalade “tasted like it was made by someone who didn’t have the weight of the empire sitting on her shoulders and who didn’t know the disappointments of being British.”  He went on to describe it as “Fresh and juicy.  In a word, Californian.”  Keeping California in mind, I began experimenting with my own recipe.

Second Attempt

Second Attempt

What is it I really want in cold dreary January?  To bask in the sunshine.  Sadly as that’s not an option here in London, I’ve tried to capture the warmth of the West Coast in a jar instead.  Below is my recipe.  I call it Winter Gold as it consists of Seville oranges, lemons, and ginger which look like flecks of gold when set in jars.  While it’s not sunny Malibu, it is warming and coming from someone who doesn’t like marmalade, it’s delicious.  All the glow of an orange, but with very little bitterness.

Misti’s Winter Gold Marmalade

Ingredients:

1 kg seville oranges

3 juice from lemons

100 g fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks

750 g caster sugar

1 liter of water + 125 ml or 1/2 cup

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Method:

First, place a small plate in your refrigerator.  You will use this plate to later test for a set.

Next, remove the stems from your Seville oranges and give them a  good scrub.  It’s really important they be nice and clean.

Quarter each orange and put it in a large heavy bottom pan.  Add the liter of water.  Boil with a lid slightly off for an hour and a half or until the skins are tender.

oranges pre-boil boiling oranges

Drain the oranges but make sure to keep the water in which they were boiled.  Allow the oranges to cool.

Use a teaspoon to scoop the insides of each orange quarter.  Put the seeds, pulp, and pith into a large pan.  Cover with the 1/2 cup of water and bring to a boil.  Stir frequently to avoid sticking and burning.  Allow this mixture to boil for about ten minutes.  The purpose of this boil is to extract pectin that will help your marmalade set.  Remove from the heat and place in a cheesecloth or fine sieve to strain.  I use a spoon to stir the mixture within the sieve.  This presses out some of the pulp which is thick and sticky.  Retain all liquid that comes through the sieve.

boiling for pectin

straining scooped bits

Rinse the orange peel and drain.  Cut into shreds.

shred

Peel the ginger and slice thinly.  Cut each thin slice into matchsticks.  Chop the matchsticks into even smaller pieces.

Prepare your jars and lids.  Wash them with warm soapy water.  Dry completely and place on a baking tray.  Put them in the oven at about 275°F/140°C/Gas 1 for at least ten minutes.  This will sterilize them.

Place the orange shred, the ginger, the sugar, both sets of liquid, and the lemon juice into a large pan.  Stir to mix.  You want everything to incorporate.  Over a medium flame, heat the mixture.  Do not allow the sugar to burn.  When the sugar has melted (you’ll be able to tell because the mixture will no longer feel gritty), bring everything to a boil.  Bring out your candy thermometer and watch it like a hawk.  Do not allow your mixture to go above 220°F this is roughly 100°C.   I take mine off at about 219°F.  Test for a set using the plate in the fridge.  Do this by spooning a little of the marmalade onto the cold plate and putting it back in the fridge for a few minutes.  If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it’s set.  Whatever you do, do not repeat my school girl error and allow it to surpass 220°F.  If you do this, you might as well keep boiling it even hotter and just make candy.

marmalade cooking 220F

When you have achieved your desired set, take the marmalade off the flame and allow it to sit for a few minutes.  Stir in the butter.  This will keep your marmalade from going scummy.  Spoon/funnel the mixture into warm jars leaving enough head room.  Tightly screw on the lids and allow to cool completely.  For me, this made three and a half 280 ml jars.  Enjoy on toast, cakes, cookies, or tarts.  Even use it as a glaze for roasting ham.  Most importantly, bask in its gingery glow.

Winter Gold

Winter Gold

Yo soy Paddington

Yo soy Paddington

Indefinite Leave to Remain

Indefinite Leave to Remain

Masala Chai for Afternoon Ennui

When life is too colorless to continue and like Dorothy you’ve clicked the shit out your ruby-bottomed Louboutins to no avail, forget Starbucks.  Make your own chai instead.  With one sip you will be transported to the shores of French Colonial Pondicherry where life smells of jasmine, desserts taste like roses, and sounds from the Bay of Bengal lull chubby princesses like myself to sleep.

Ingredients:

2 cups water

1/4-1/2 cup milk, depending on your preference

2 Ceylon cinnamon sticks

1/2 vanilla bean sliced down the center or a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste

the contents of 6 cardamom pods

2 twists of a pepper mill

2 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger

3 black teabags without bergamot (a strong English breakfast would do nicely)

2 tablespoons Demerara sugar ( more if you prefer it quite sweet)

Method:

Bring the water to a boil.  When it does, add all ingredients EXCEPT for the sugar and milk.  Let bubble for three minutes then simmer for two.

boiling up close boil

Next, turn the heat down to low and add the milk.  Stir often to avoid scalding and also to prevent the milk from forming a skin.  After a couple more minutes of stewing, take off the heat and stir in the sugar.  Now strain your tea into a small pot (my favorite strainer is the top hat model from Fortnum & Mason) and pretend you never tasted the “chai” at your local coffee bar.

straining pouring chai

Post scriptum: The word chai means tea in Hindi so when coffee shops have “chai tea” on the menu they’re being redundant.  Now you know two things they don’t.  1.  How to make proper chai.  2.  The definition of said word.

Orange and Purple Summer Salad

Summer happened overnight.  Which is really rude when you consider how unready I am for summer clothes.  All I’m saying is perhaps a milder spring could have cajoled me into running around Greenwich Park a few more times before it became so hot you just want to walk around with as little on as possible without getting arrested for indecent exposure.  No matter.  All this heat and humidity will make me sweat my way to my target weight in no time.

That said, Sunday lunch needed adjusting.  A traditional roast just ceased to be weather appropriate.  So after I finished my first run of the season, my family and I headed to our local Farmers’ Market and bought the makings of a proper summer lunch.  A dressed crab (we named him Jeff on the walk home), avocados, a German seeded loaf, and the ingredients for my favorite salad–red cabbage, carrots, ginger, and sesame seeds.  While I fixed the salad, Helena enjoyed a homemade blueberry banana popsicle and played with a bucket of water on our balcony, as children with no pool do.  Henry read with his feet up in the shade.

playing in water popsicle smile

Below is my salad recipe.  It’s so simple and incredibly fresh.  I especially like the palate cleansing ginger.  Really nice with something like crab.  It’s also a really pretty salad, provided you like purple and orange.

 

Ingredients:

3 carrots

1/2 head of a small red cabbage

3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

3 tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

2 teaspoons honey

1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

Method:

In a large bowl, grate the carrots and cabbage together.  Next, toast your sesame seeds over a low flame just until their oils release.  Add those to your vegetables.  Finally, mix the last 4 ingredients together in a small bowl.  Flavor to your taste.  Pour over the salad, toss, and serve.

salad lunch

laughing jeff the crab horned snakey

Noilly Prat and Bacon Fat and Apple-Berry Crumble for Boys Who Are Humble

Oscar is my neighbor.  He is twelve and despite the ten and a half year age gap, Helena adores him.  Frankly, so do I.  More Dickon Sowerby from The Secret Garden than Glen Bishop from Mad Men, he has a sweetness about him (a quality I think he inherited from his mother) and an interest in me, the lonely foreign outsider, that’s really endearing.

When Helena and I are out back picking berries he comes to the balcony to chat.  Today, like last weekend, he came down with thick gloves and a pair of secateurs to help.  For an hour and a half he and I collected blackberries while Helena sat on a gently sloping hill eating them and trying to fish out her Thomas the Tank Engine as well as her wooden clown toy she had stuffed down a fox hole.

While in the communal garden Oscar refilled his bird feeders and introduced us to his friend, Mr. Greedy, a chirpy robin red breast he’s been feeding for years.  We talked flowers and fauna and woodland creatures and pest control–a trade he’s learning from his dad.  But they never kill the animals he wanted me to know.  They only trap them then release them into the wild.  Well, maybe except for rats.

After some time Helena was much too stained and sticky and grumpy to remain outdoors.  So we took her and her wooden toy inside.  Thomas, it seems, has gone missing.

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As a thank you for all his fruit picking help, I told Oscar and his mother that Helena and I would bring him a crumble of his own.  But first, I’d have to cook Kleine Maus some lunch.  So here is what we had–chicken legs cooked in bacon fat and Noilly Prat.  Below is the recipe.  And below that is the recipe for the apple-berry crumbles I baked.  I hope you enjoy them both.

Bacon Fat and Noilly Prat Chicken Legs:

Knowing that I had chicken legs for lunch, I purposefully left this morning’s bacon grease in a pan.  I reheated it over a medium-high flame then added the chicken pieces that I had rubbed down with Maldon salt and freshly cracked pepper.  I sautéed them and constantly shook them around, so as to avoid sticking, for about 10 minutes.  Then I added a quarter cup of Noilly Prat and allowed everything to sizzle.  I waited until the liquid evaporated and the chicken skin was crispy again.  The result was sweet, salty and aromatic.  It was also stupidly delicious and probably too good for a toddler.  But what can I say?  I love her.  I put truffle oil on her scrambled eggs and cook her nice things.

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Apple-Berry Crumble Ingredients:

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C/Gas5

For the fruit mixture:

blackberries (I used about 6 cups worth)

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced  (not too thin!  otherwise, they dissolve)

the zest of 1 lemon + half a teaspoon of its juice

1 3/4 cup sugar (a mix of Demerara and caster)

1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract

about a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger

Combine all ingredients except for the berries.  Those you gently stir in once everything else is mixed.  Take care not to bash them otherwise you’ll have soup.

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For the crumble topping:

1/4 cup flour

1 cup sugar (I use a combination of soft brown and Demerara)

1/2 cup dried coconut

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

6 tablespoons of cold cubed butter

Put all ingredients in a large bowl and use only your fingertips to combine it until it looks like fine meal.  Sprinkle liberally atop your crumble.

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Now bake for about 50 minutes or until the topping is crisp and golden brown and the fruit is viscous and bubbling.  Serve with Greek yogurt, whipped cream, or a nice vanilla bean ice cream.

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Big Girl Sippy Cup (an a.m. remedy for when you just have to get the taste of “What the fuck?!” out of your mouth)

The cause for needing this drink can be romance related, work related, family, foe, or in-law related.  Now before leaving the nest you created out of 600 thread count comfort, grab whatever clothing is within reach radius of the bed and put it on.  If you’re lucky, it’ll be a silk kimono.  Apply a smear of puff-reducing cream to the luggage under your eyes and let marinate under the protection of some Jackie Onassis sunglasses.  Slide your feet into some cozy slippers and ne worry plus about whatever troubles your pretty head.

Now a blending we shall go!

Ingredients:

Half a bag of frozen organic blueberries (being frozen thickens consistency)

A crudely chopped 1/4 cup of peeled ginger root (cures nausea and is a proven anti-inflammatory)

The contents of 4 large cardamom pods

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1 tablespoon of flax seed oil (to keep your nose wet and your coat shiny)

1 splash of orange juice

½ cup plain nonfat yogurt (use Greek, Russian or Bulgarian for best quality and extra tang)

Honey is optional (I like this recipe best when it is sour.  However, some of my friends don’t as they don’t have quite so sour a disposition.)

Blend on high until uniformly smooth.  Not soupy, but smooth.  If the blender whirs like a Cessna in your ear, add more liquid (orange juice, soymilk, vanilla rum from St. Barth’s—I leave it to your discretion to deliver whatever your good doctor orders) and blend again.

Pour into a tall glass and sip through a straw.  Let the ginger cleanse your palette and invigorate your weary soul.  Then get thee to a salon and wash whatever ails you right out of your hair!  No hurting woman should have to have hair that looks as bad as she feels.  Not all day at least.