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Bouquets of Freshly Sharpened Pencils, and Tomatoes

10 Sep

Yes, it’s that time again.  New clothes, three-ring binders, pencils, red pens, and those annoying snap-in three-hole punches that leave perfectly little round paper confetti all over the industrial carpeted floor.  The kids are back tin school, and my feet hurt.

It has been three years since I’ve been in a self-contained classroom, and while having worked as a single-subject teacher, a specialist, and then an instructional coach have all been incredible, and memorable, learning experiences, I’m so glad to be back with the kids.  Each day is different, and frankly, kids are cuter than adults (usually).

But getting back on the horse of the day-to-day-is-completely-different expectation has limited me on some of the things I have loved doing.  Such as waking up at 7:30 and watching the Today Show.  Taking long walks, catching up on food blogs, and reading cooking magazines.  And more than anything, spending most of the day in my perfectly L-shaped kitchen, making tomato jam, blueberry sauce, and tomato sandwiches.

In the August edition of Bon Appetit magazine, Adam Rapoport did a little blurb on Hellman’s Mayonnaise – it’s tang, it’s smoothness, simply it’s perfection.  Especially paired with a still-warm-from-the-sun tomato.  Finally, to read from someone who agrees with me about eating that mayo from the jar (well, I guess I learned from the best: Mom and Uncle Tom).  That little written oration, almost so easy to miss through the early pages of the mag, speaks passion and more than anything, a real summer taste.  Tomatoes, mayo, period.

Until now.  I have been playing with tomatoes for weeks now, and refuse to let one succumb to the overripe gods of the compost pile.  During the bitter, rainy winter/spring months, there’s sans a tomato in sight in our kitchen, so now is the time for indulgence.  I’ve even brought them to school and eaten them like an apple, brushing off my colleagues’ I’m-trying-not-to-look-at-you-but-it-seems-a-little-weird stares.  But the sauce I made, not originally intended for tomatoes, has made the lycopene-laced fruit speak loudly and with force: Peach and Fig Butter.  It’s sweet, tangy, subtle, and giving tomatoes a run for their money.

A friend’s mom was visiting from NorCal (where almost every fruit, veg, and leafy green has the ability to flourish wildly), and brought some Adriatic Figs to share.  These figs were so ripe they were about to pop – their bright green skin thin and stretched, like a, well, tomato ready to pop.  Adriatic figs are milder and less holiday tasting than the common black Mission Fig, and pair well with many summer flavors.  Two of my favorites being tomatoes and peaches (which I mix often), I imagined the perfect combination of a thick, smooth fruit butter to spread on tomatoes speckled with a creamy Gorgonzola.  Paired with a crisp Oregon Pinot Gris, can’t you just taste it now?

It was fabulous.  I took a shortcut with the butter by immersion blending the fruit after it had been simmering for a bit (rather than starting with a puree), shortening the thickening process drastically.  Despite the name, fruit butters don’t actually contain butter, but get their name from the thick, smooth quality the long simmering process renders.  Thick this was, and tasty.  The figs cut the sweetness from the peaches, and the subtle “warming” spices rounded out the fullness of the flavors.  Slathered on a tomato, our taste buds sung.

I teach 6th graders this year.  They are a lot different from the 4th, or even 8th graders I’ve grown accustom to teaching.  They, unlike my 4th and 8th graders, don’t care so much about my cooking stories.  They think talking about Fig and Peach Butter on a tomato is weird.  Maybe it is.  Not much is cool, unless you have a knack for really dry, overly intended sarcasm, which I, unfortunately, remember exuding all too well.  Call it the hormones, or maybe just the “transition year,” but I’m hoping they will come around to understanding the idea of having a passion for something as much as they understand an author’s voice in writing, or variables in algebra.  Having a passion is cool.  It made Adam Rapoport write about mayo.  It made me pair unlikely ingredients.  Hopefully, they will realize the coolness, too.

Fig & Peach Butter (makes 1 pint)

  •  5 large Adriactic figs, very ripe, diced
  • 2 large yellow peaches, peeled and diced
  • ¼ + 1/8 c organic sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  • ¾ c water

Heat all ingredients in a pot over med-high heat until bubbly and liquidy. Add the ¾ c water, and blend well using an immersion blender or spoon into a stand blender.  Cook over low heat until very thick (when running a spoon through the butter, it should leave a trail).  Note: the butter will sputter when cooking; use a deep pot unless you want your stovetop to get covered in random, sticky, Jackson Pollock looking splotches. 

Let cool (it will thicken even more), and slather over tomatoes, toast, dollop on oatmeal, or whatever your heart desires.  Enjoy! 

Not Just for the Holidays

26 Jan

Back in high school, way back when, I had a boyfriend that was often a main figure at our dinner table.  He acted as an older brother to my sister, Jenn, messing around with her like any good brother would do.  I specifically remember one instance where they were throwing a nerf ball back and forth in the house, and my mom happened to come in between a pass, thus receiving a clean shot right to the behind.  “Nice block!” Zach exclaimed leaving my mom open-mouthed and laughing at his reaction to hitting her in the butt with the ball.

But aside from the memories of the older bro role to my sister, the many, many football games, and the giggling effects of a silly high school romance, I remember our Hors d’oeuvre Dinners.  OMG, Zach loved them.  Anytime I told him that my family was having hors d’oeuvres for dinner, we would hear his old, rusty El Camino pull up the drive within minutes.

Even without Zach’s enthusiasm, I knew how fun hors d’oeuvres were – or “deserves” as Jenn called them.  Growing up hors d’oeuvres meant pigs in a blanket, fresh veg, nuts, hot crab dip, Ruffles chips, shrimp cocktail, and the ever-special A&W Cream Soda (when I become of-age, that cream soda seemed to get a bit stronger and was served in a martini glass… not quite sure what happened there).  Sometimes the food items would vary and change a bit but there were always the expected, and appreciated, staples to nosh on.

The best things about the Hors d’oeuvres Dinner were that 1) my mom was only cooking for a matter of minutes (thus able to enjoy in the fun), and 2) it meant we got to eat with little plates and fancy cocktail napkins crowded over the living room coffee table, usually during a great football/basketball game, movie, or previously agreed upon TV show.  Simply put, hors d’oeuvres for dinner was a treat, one we never took for granted.

Although now, I’ve put my own twist on the meal.  Rob picked up the love of the tradition in the first creamy dip into guacamole and first flaky bite of a pig in a blanket (both of which, surprisingly, he had never tasted before meeting me).  Keeping true to tradition, we always have our staples: nuts, good cheese, and sliced red peppers.  But I’ve started mixing it up a bit with doing things like spicing up the nuts, adding my BBQ spice to popcorn, making rustic crackers, boozing up olives, and marinating dried fruit.  We have even given degrees of intensity to our Hors D’oeuvres Dinners by labeling them as a “good spread” or a “European Dinner” (the latter is a lighter meal, consisting of a bread, some fruit, and usually some cheese with wine). A few days ago, I even jazzed up Rob’s favorite hors d’oeuvres staple – pigs in a blanket – by taking some sweet veal sausage (seen in the pictures to the right), wraping it in a mustard and caramelized onion dressed puff pastry, kind of like a sausage en croute.  But as far as I’m concerned, he can keep all the little piggies and their flakey outerware – my new fave, hands down, are my boozy olives.

Let’s go back to that martini that sneakily replaced my innocent cream soda.  Unarguably, the best thing about a martini is that last green olive left in the bottom point of the glass, perfectly balanced and macerated in the last sip of smooth, and by that time salty, vodka (I prefer vodka martinis over gin – Scandinavian, remember?).  That olive just sits there, waiting to be stabbed by the accompanying colorful plastic sword toothpick, and then devoured.  Seriously, is your mouth watering yet?

Well, with the pressure of the mathematical education of small people held in my hands, a Tuesday night isn’t exactly my ideal time for enjoying a martini.  But then, like a giant pimento slapping me across the face, I found the loophole!  I can still enjoy the olive without the drink!  So, I poured some vodka, lime juice, olive juice, and a few red pepper flakes into a dish, popped the concoction into the fridge, and awaited the tasty treat to work it’s marinating magic.

Two hours later, I had hit the jackpot.  The spicy, boozy, briny, tangy jackpot.  Let me just say, martini olives are not just for the holidays anymore!  But martini and hors d’oeuvres lovers beware: only indulge in a few (it would be a shame to get tipsy off of olives, though I can see why one may be tempted).

Though we have, and always will have, our Hors d’oeuvres Dinner staples and go-tos, it has been a blast coming up with new tastes that give us an indulgence during the week.  Rob and I still carry on the tradition of eating with small plates, fancy napkins, and sitting in front of a good flick, but we are still continually adding more to the menu.  Especially mid-week, when we feel we deserve it…. hey, maybe that’s how Jenn came up with the “deserves” phrase.  (Or maybe it really just was the speech impediment.)

Enjoy!

Boozy Olives (inspired by a recipe in Canal House Cooking Vol. 3, and the enjoyment of eating the last olive out of my martini glass).

  • 1/2 c green, pimento stuffed olives
  • 1/2 c vodka
  • 1 tsp olive juice
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Mix all ingredients together, and place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  Serve with a bit of the marinating liquid (and, of course, the little sword toothpicks).

Marinated Figs

  • 1 c dried black mission figs
  • 1/2 c white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 c champagne
  • 1 bay leaf

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan.  Bring to a quick boil, and then simmer on low for 15-20 minutes, letting the liquid reduce until syrupy.  Let cool (can sit at room temperature for hours), and serve with the marinating liquid.  And a fancy cocktail napkin.

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