Sunday, December 25, 2011

persimmons ready to roast, the whole shebang, Juliana.

The Christmas Ham

                                       Here is what she looks like so far, the first basting
mike called this week to tell me he butchered a pig and would i want a ham for my christmas dinner?
So on Friday I drove over to Windfall Farm, and even in the late hour of the day, there remained a fine frost along the banks of Shit Creek.  A gaggle of duck and geese busily feeding on small bugs and worms, the goats and sheep out at pasture and the purring fluttering sounds that wings make by the startled quail. The orchard now bare, with a few errant apples left hanging on leafless limbs, the sun dipped down behind the hills, the farm dusky and serene.
I picked up my ham from the barn and left mike an envelope with thirty bucks  inside and brought her home to brine.
i made the brine of french sea salt , dark brown sugar and thyme, and laid her to rest  in it for the 36 hours before glazing.

This morning i rose early and went out to light the brick oven, building the fire with the southern sky ablaze in crimson and the air sharp and cold. 

I made a glaze of dry mustard, dijon, balsamic vinegar and The Apple Farm's wonderful Apple Cider Syrup , shook a handful of fresh thyme and chili flake, scored the ham and brushed liberally with the glaze, then added a punctuation of whole cloves in each of the crosses of the scoring.

I put the ham in one of my La Chambre black clay pots. The Le Chambre pots are made by hand in Columbia and are burnished black , practical and handsome and i love the earthiness they impart to the meat. i covered it in parchment paper and then foil, which i'll remove later to brown.
I think the ham will take about 6 hours to cook, and we'll enjoy it with my pink pearl pomegranate apple sauce, potato latkes and green beans with crispy fried shallots and cream.
                                                                     in all her glory

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Offering: My Salt Altar

this is my palette, where I turn for inspiration, spice, magic & flavor.... a collection of different salts and chilis.

The Gathering of Light

"When you die, only three things will remain of you, since you will abandon all material things on the threshold of the Otherworld: what you have taught others, what you have created with your hands, and how much love you have spread. So learn more and more in order to teach wise, long-lasting values. Work more and more to leave to the world things of great beauty. And Love, love, love people around you for the light of Love heals everything."
— Fran├žois Bourillon
 My dear friend Elaine Kalantarian posted this quote on her recent essay on this Capricorn Winter Solstice, a beautiful tome for this most magical day

Monday, December 19, 2011

Obsession: Cactus Pears

As we speak, the large nopales cactus in my garden is in her full fruiting cycle. Since the beginning of November, she has been producing pounds and pounds of cactus pears.
Could any fruit be more beautiful and treacherous? They are so exquisite with their bright magenta exterior and the lucious, sweet , intoxicating fruit inside, but should one dare to just grab one off the plant, you'll pay a terribly painful price.
the pears are covered in minute, nearly invisible glochids or needles, that imbed in your skin and are nearly impossible to remove. So should one want to partake, here is my advice...I wear TWO layers of gloves, the old rubber kitchen gloves work great and under them I wear a thinner latex kind. When holding the fruit, you can grab it on the top and bottom where there are no needles. When peeling and cutting make sure to wash your cutting board and knives right after or they'll be covered in the needles as well.

Now for the yummy part... this last Thanksgiving I made a wonderful cranberry sauce with them. I added equal amounts of diced cactus pear to my cranberries, adding a wee bit of sugar, the zest of two oranges, and a couple of cups of pure pomegranate juice. A squeeze of half a lime. The color and texure was spectacular and the flavor complex and full bodied. Not your usual cranberry sauce, but a delightful variation that is surprising and original. I also put up several jars and gave them as gifts, more jewels for your collection! The added benefit of this fruit is it has wonderful anti inflammatory properties so while the cold days of winter are aggravating your arthritic spots, this is a magical and helpful support for healing.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lamb pizza with goat cheese preserved lemons and fresh mint

Obsession: Preserved Lemons

There are many gifts of winter. citrus being one of them. Isn't it amazing that during these cold, short, often dark days the seasonal fruit is so optimistic and cheerful? Isn't nature so perfect! I am obsessed with preserved lemons. I put them in nearly everything, with the exception of my morning coffee perhaps.
Their origin begins in North Africa though the preserving and drying of lemon and limes is evident in the Middle East and Southern India as well. They add complexity , texture and livliness to any dish you grace with them. They will render a chicken sublime. I recently made pizzas in the brick oven with preserved lemons, lamb, fresh mint and goat cheese. I prefer to use Meyer lemons as their skins are thin and they have that beautiful golden yellow color and the faint hint of orange. 
I am a lazy cook, and prefer to let my ingredients do the work , letting them be the star of their own show and tend not to mess too much with them. You can find many recipes for preserving lemons on the web and there are some interesting variations that add to their dimension such as a cinnamon stick, or a bay leaf, or a soupicon of red and pink peppercorns. They are, like pickled beets, jewels in a jar and make a noteworthy gift or offering. Here is my lazy version of the process.... You basically halve or quarter several pounds of Meyer lemons ( regular ones will do as well) put them in a bowl and cover them liberally with a good sea salt and a bit of sugar, place them in jars and fill half way up with fresh lemon juice. You can also add the different ingredients at this point. If you are being greedy and do not want to give them away, you can do this process in one large jar, hoarding, if you will. Leave them out where you can admire their beauty and intelligence and give each jar a daily shake up (with love, of course).... after about 7 days you can top the jars off with extra virgin olive oil, and then refrigerate...they keep quite a long time, if you don't eat them all up quickly, which you may!

Mike's beets

Back in the days when I had the restaurant, I would arrive to my kitchen very early in the morning to start the fire in the brick oven and begin the daily bread. Very often there would be a box at my back door filled with beautiful red beets
still fragrant and covered in fine black soil, barely roused from their previous life in the ground at Mike's farm up on the ridge.
Every so often he would give me a trophy beet, the size of a small child's head, leaving me with a somewhat macabre and uneasy feeling as I cradled the beet, washing , then cutting and preparing to roast.
Mike claims the beets come into their finest flavor and maturity after the first frosts. As if the coldness and tiny ice particles imbue and inspire the beet to rise to the peak of it's qualities. I have to say he's right. Even when the beets are large, they still are smooth and rich, pungent and sparked.
Last year Mike and his partner Karen bought a strip of land in downtown Point Arena, it runs parallel to Mill Street and flanked by rolling pastures and Shit Creek. There, on this narrow strip of fertile and gentle land
he raises Muscovy ducks, Nubian Goats, sheep, rabbits and chickens, all for food and feeding them from the orchard and bounty of the farm. He collects and uses compost from the nearby co-op and restaurants, and is devoted to the practice of sustainability and bio dynamic farming.
The beets at Mike and Karen's 'Windfall Farm' are one of his signatures. Deep red Lutz, the whimsical Chioggias, thriving in the cool microclimate of Point Arena.
Just a few weeks ago I went down to the farm and bought a basket full of beets and brought them home to pickle. After roasting them in my brickoven I tossed the warm beets in toasted cumin seed and paper thin slices of elephant garlic and preserved Meyer lemon, the toasted cumin seed and peppercorns crackling and hissing as they made contact with the beets, filling my kitchen with a fine and fragrant incense. I then topped off the jars with a sweet brine and processed for about 30 minutes. After I had processed them I lined them up on my stove top, admiring the jars glistening like huge rubies, more luminous than gem , more precious than treasure.