Lemon Curd

 

Where I grew up in Los Angeles, we had lots of citrus trees. Most mornings my mother would take me to school. As we’d walk through the garden to the driveway, I’d see pieces of orange peel everywhere. The squirrels loved our oranges and frequently left their spongy remains scattered across the lawn. Our lemons were so large and yellow and knobbly, they looked like they belonged in an Arcimboldo painting. Every summer we’d use them to make the most refreshing lemonade.

Friends of ours had a meyer lemon tree and their neighbour, an old Scottish woman, would make delicious lemon curd out of them. I’ll never forget the first time I tasted it–cold, tart, sweet, custardy, creamy, and refreshing. I had been swimming with friends on a sweltering day when we emerged from the pool and were offered lemon curd with blackberries for a snack. It was bliss in a single bite.

Not until I moved to London did I try making my own. Rather silly, I know, as it’s really quite simple. Recently, it’s become a family favourite. My daughter has it in yoghurt for breakfast. We eat it with buttermilk biscuits or scones for elevenses or afternoon tea. It’s also divine in tarts or used as a filling for cakes. This weekend, it will top an Easter pavlova.

Below is my recipe and I hope you like it. Be sure to use the best lemons and eggs you can get. I like Burford Brown eggs because of their golden yolks which lend their colour to the curd.

I know lemon curd is British, but for me its flavour will always be California.

 

Ingredients:

the zest and juice of 4 unwaxed lemons

280 g caster sugar (more or less depending on how much sweetness you like)

100 g unsalted butter

4 eggs lightly mixed

 

Method: 

Whisk together the juice, zest, sugar, and butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat.

Once it begins to boil, remove it from the heat.

Let the mixture cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs. If you don’t, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs in your lemon curd which is disgusting. You’ll also have to start the recipe again. I usually wait until the mixture is just hot enough to touch.

Then slowly whisk in a bit of the egg. Then a bit more. Whisk, whisk, whisk to incorporate.

Heat the mixture once again over low heat. Keep whisking. Once it bubbles and thickens enough to coat a wooden spoon, it’s ready.

Push the mixture through a sieve to remove any lumps or eggy bits.

Finally, pour the lemon curd into sterilised jars and seal. This recipe makes about 2 jars.

Lemon curd will last about two weeks in the refrigerator.

 

Watercolor Wisdom

“As for me, I am watercolor. I wash off.”

This last line of an Anne Sexton poem sucker-punched me one evening in the tenth grade. Until then I was filled with a child’s ego and content in the knowledge confirmed by my parents that I was a forever-burning star. Years later, I look at this passage and see the line of demarcation between my childish fantasy and adult reality.

Imagine the shock. My life was a temporal treat to the universe offered up to the gods as a situation comedy—mildly amusing, minorly offensive and over before your clothes in the dryer are done. I welcomed this revelation as one would the stuffy air of one’s own coffin. Could it be that I wasn’t remarkable? Was the watercolor painting I called my life so easily washed away like someone spraying a hose over sidewalk chalk drawings? I needed to investigate.

I came to my own defense citing the positive relationships in my life. Surely those would last forever—like my kindergarten friendship with Olive who would later develop schizophrenia. I remained a true friend when everyone else had long abandoned her. That was honest and altruistic of me. Surely that situation was worthy of a hearty oil based paint, was it not? Then a heat began to burn in my neck and my face flushed. I couldn’t remember her last name. It had been erased from my memory like old voice mail. So much for relationships that last forever.

One hundred years from now,all the funny stories of my life will be accredited to other people and with me long dead I will never have the chance to correct them. My talents, hopes, dreams, and desires will be given to newborn children whose parents will convince them, like mine once did, that theirs too is a special place in the universe. And this will make me smile from beyond because I get the joke.

“As for me, I am watercolor. I wash off.” I temporarily color my world and stain the hands of those that I have touched. I feel my colors strong and deep and I watch my steamy bath dilute them every night. So there I soak, a small freckly me, dreaming of a safe place behind complimentary matting and a cool protective shield of glass where the watercolor of my life can live forever.

Perhaps this is why fleeting pleasures are my favorite. There is something magical about the blossom that lasts for only a day or the cup of tea that provides perfection for a mere few minutes.  Let it brew too long and the magic disappears.  Don’t steep it long enough and there will be no evidence of magic at all.  My favorite at the moment is Bouddha Bleu by Mariage Frères which is a delicate green tea with cornflower petals. Its bouquet is heavenly, a delicate balance of fruit and flowers. If I could distill the scent, I’d wear nothing else.  Unlike black tea which can leave you with too frenetic of a buzz, Bouddha Bleu imparts a feeling of clarity and acuity I find invigorating.  Even if or especially because the magic washes off as quickly as watercolor.

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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.

Recipes from The Rabbit Hospital (Lemon Raspberry Muffins and 5 Bag Chamomile Tea)

Photo on 2013-06-11 at 08.38 #3

Recently, I was quarantined at The Rabbit Hospital.  The Rabbit Hospital is the bed where my husband and I sleep, but only when it is full of all our daughter’s plush toy bunnies.  Particularly when she is, or they are, feeling weak and in need of extra love.  A state my husband calls broobly.  Brooble rhyming with ruble.  The Rabbit Hospital came to be one evening when our one year old, who has slept in her own bed in her own room since her second week of life, was feeling extra broobly and wanted extra cuddles but only in our bed and only if all her toy rabbits could join.  Well as of Friday afternoon, I’ve been The Rabbit Hospital’s resident invalid.  The reason for admission?  A virulent stomach bug.

I blame the baby germs from the cesspool of toys at my daughter’s playgroup and England’s damp foul summer weather.  For the past few days when I have not been sick, I have been asleep or generally pathetic.  The only thing that hasn’t got my morale completely down is thinking how much svelter I’ll be post-illness.  It’s true.  I’ve not been able to eat a thing.  Until today. . .

I made lemon raspberry muffins based heavily on Joanne Chang‘s raspberry rhubarb muffin recipe from her cookbook, Flour, which bears the same name as her famous Boston bakeries.  If you’re not familiar with her and you love baked goods, buy her book and remedy that situation right away.  She is an Honors graduate of Harvard with a degree in Applied Mathematics and Economics who left the world of business for that of baking.  I mean really, with what and with whom would you rather spend your days?  Puffed up bankers or perfectly puffy profiteroles?  I would choose the latter, but then again I am a Chubby Princess.

And in the tradition of all sick bunnies, I had a soothing pot of five bag chamomile which seems to have set me on the road to recovery.  After all, if this daisy-like herb was what Peter Rabbit’s Mother used to dose him upon returning home from his famously frightful adventure in Mr. McGregor’s garden, then it’s good enough for me.

Ingredients for Lemon Raspberry Muffins:

3 1/4 cups flour

1 tablespoon cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1 1/3 cups sugar

1 1/4 sticks butter, melted

1 cup whole milk at room temperature

1 cup of Greek yogurt

2 teaspoons of vanilla bean paste

2 tablespoons lemon zest

the juice of one small lemon

2 cups fresh raspberries

Method for Lemon Raspberry Muffins:  

Position a rack in the center of your oven then preheat to 350°F/176.7°C/Gas 4.

Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cornmeal, and salt.

Then in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolk until thoroughly mixed.  Slowly whisk in the sugar, butter, milk, yogurt, vanilla, lemon juice, and zest until well combined.

Now pour the wet mixture into the dry and use a spatula to gently fold the ingredients until they are just combined.

Lastly, fold in your raspberries.

Spoon the batter into the cups.  Be sure to fill them to the rim.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the muffins are golden brown and the tops spring back when pressed in the middle with a fingertip.

Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes then remove the muffins from the pan.

*This recipe yields 18 muffins for me.

To Make 5 Bag Chamomile:

Warm a tea pot then add five bags of chamomile and fill with boiling water.  Let steep for a couple of minutes then stir in 2 teaspoons of honey to taste and a splash of milk.  I promise it will not only help you sleep but it will make you feel like the bunny in Goodnight Moon.

Darjeeling with Dogs: Whole Milk and Andy Warhol on the Side

SarahAndyWhen I was 11, my family moved into a 1924 Spanish style house in Laurel Canyon.  It was an oasis in the hills with a history steeped in Old Hollywood.  The yard smelled sweetly floral like orange blossoms on a hot summer’s night.  Or the lingering perfume of a silent film star’s ghost.  Clara Bow lived on our street and Louise Brooks in the neighborhood.  Bougainvillea cascaded down the hill like a waterfall of jewel tones washing over the dusty succulents.  Squirrels were fat from gorging themselves on the fruit of an avocado tree.  And the coyotes were fatter still from eating the squirrels.  Deer, opossums, owls, quail, rabbits and raccoons all lived in our backyard.  It was so charming, but not at the time.  At the time I was 11.  I had curly hair, ill-advised bangs, braces, and a bad attitude exacerbated by the fact that I was a competitive figure skater who wanted to be Moira Kelly in The Cutting Edge.  The 76 front stairs made me feel sorry for myself whenever my parents made me take out the trash.  And the fact that they bought me a pair of Lightning Rollerblades that I wasn’t allowed to use because my mother said our street was too steep, made me feel sorrier still.  How as a child in 1993 was I going to have any fun?

With a dog.  For my 12th birthday, my parents got me a Maltese that I named Bailey Jane.  She looked nothing like Elizabeth Taylor’s Maltese that appeared in her White Diamonds commercials.  For starters, Bailey’s hair was kept short in a puppy cut.  Sure, she was an animal of privilege but she was still a dog.  A canyon dog.  She had trouble to get into.  The likes of which she would have never found if we had been constantly getting her groomed.  Like the baby coyote she discovered with the broken leg in the muddy underbrush of my mother’s hydrangeas.  A dog just can’t have those kinds of expeditions with silky floor length tresses.  That’s not to insinuate that the hair Bailey did have wasn’t silky.  It was.  So much so that I took to using her puppy shampoo.  I adored her.  I wore zip-up hoodies so I could walk around carrying her.  Her ears smelled like cookies and her dirty paws of stale popcorn stuffed in old socks.  She was my best friend.  But that didn’t mean I was hers.  At least not her only.

Bailey Jane

Bailey’s best fur friend was Patches, the black and white cattle dog who lived next door.  Despite their size difference they really enjoyed each other’s company.  Patches would mosey over to ours and paw at the door like a child asking if her friend can come out to play.  Bailey would look at my parents and me longingly.  We’d open the door and the two of them would chase each other outside.  One day, Patches came over and I noticed a piece of paper tucked into her collar.

“Would your family and Bailey like to come over for tea?”  I showed the note to my parents.  We wrote back.  “Yes.”  I tucked the paper back where I found it and sent Patches on her way.  She returned a few minutes later with another note.  “Great.  See you at 4 o’clock.  Gary & Sarah.”

Gary and Sarah were Patches’ parents.  We didn’t know much about them except that they had been in the canyon for a long time and that Sarah once scolded my father for speeding up the hill.  “Dogs and children live here!  Slow down!”  But that afternoon, we were going to do what people in L.A. never do.  We were going to get acquainted with our neighbors.

Where our house had shades of Norma Desmond’s in Sunset Boulevard but on a much smaller scale, the Legons’ house had shades of Tom Wolfe’s “The Pump House Gang.”  It was magnificent, modern, and full of Pop art.  And tea.  Not Snapple Peach, but properly brewed hot tea in the middle of the day.  Darjeeling, Lapsang Souchong, or plain English Breakfast.  I loved it and I loved them.  Each time I’d go to theirs, it was like taking a field trip. Like going to Pooh Corner in the 1960s with Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell as your chaperones.

Bailey and I would often go without my parents.  Over time and cups of tea and slices of Stilton on raisin toast, I would learn about and develop an appreciation for art.  Sarah came to New York from Southampton when she was 13.  There, she and her older brother, David, fell in love with the art scene.  She told me the Leo Castelli Gallery was one of their favorite places and that the manager there took them under his wing.  And that one day he took them to a party hosted by art director, Art Kane, which is where they met Andy Warhol and forged a friendship that would change their lives.  While still children David and Sarah became Andy’s assistants.  And what most people don’t know is that it was young Sarah who taught him to silkscreen.

Sarah is the real Edie Sedgwick–except she had class and she never cared to be famous. For instance, there is a photo that some paparazzo snapped of her with Andy and she’s wearing a dress from his FRAGILE HANDLE WITH CARE series. She is identified as “unknown woman,” because her mother taught her it was tacky to give your name to the press.  No young gorgeous girl standing next to an icon would do that these days.

But it wasn’t just Sarah’s history or the Rauschenbergs that hung on her wall that interested me.  It was how she was genuinely interested in 12 year old me.  I’d tell them about Justinian’s Corpus Juris Civilis.  I’d tell them about making crêpes in French class.  Sarah would help me conjugate verbs in the passé composé using être as opposed to avoir.  I’d tell them about the Lichtenstein exhibit I’d seen downtown with my parents.  We’d discuss his Ben-Day dots and how they related to Seurat’s pointillism.  We’d talk about Clueless.  I’d show them my latest figure skating tricks. They were like the cool eccentric relatives I didn’t have in town.

We all know the African proverb made famous by Hillary Clinton: It takes a village to raise a child.  I am so happy Patches and the Legons were my villagers.  I think of them fondly whenever I hear “Our House” and remember afternoon tea parties at theirs with Bailey Jane whenever anyone offers me a good cup of tea or a toasted Stilton sandwich.  Now that I’m a mother, I wonder who will my daughter’s villagers be?  And more importantly, what kind of dog will we get?