Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.
~Julia Child

BLUEBERRY CLAFOUTI (CLAFOUTI AUX MYRTILLES)

This is just a riff on an earlier clafouti take that appeared on a May 9, 2009, page but now is directly aimed at blueberries only, a perpetual fav. A more historical and geographical glimpse of clafouti is found there.

(As always, reference can be made by simply typing in clafouti in the “Search” box found on nearly the upper right of the main page; just below the Categories and just above the Recent Posts.  It is the means by which damned near everything can be found on the site.)

Blueberries, a super food, are considered one of the healthiest, both low in calories and high in nutrition.  From the genus Vaccinium, it is a perennial flowering shrub that produces berries that are hued blue to purple — indigoed — with a flared crown at the end and covered in a protective coating of powdery epicuticular wax. At first, the berries are green in color.  There are two most common types, highbush, which are most common and lowbush, which are smaller in stature, synonymous with wilder, and more fecund with antioxidants.

To my chagrin, it seems blueberries have adapted titles that resound like a female grooming brochure or study.  To somehow even think that hair “down there” is somehow contortedly unhygienic or those who inexplicably opt for that prepubescent look or those who urge their mates to do the same…quelle honte, quel dommage.

Blueberries contain fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, antioxidants (improving brain function), flavonoids, anthocyanins, reduce DNA damage, neutralize free radical damage, improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, have anti-diabetic effects, prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), lower blood pressure and protect LDL lipoproteins (the “bad” cholesterol) from oxidative damage.

Need I say more?

Well, have a happy 4th.  Whatever that means — so few years this republic, this democracy, this oligarchy or otherwise and so much violence over our time. Really, exactly When Was America Great — name some dates (even an era), bro?  Your ongoing silence, M. Donald, speaks volumes as does your silly red hat, under that asinine red/white/grey/orange comb-over that can tweet something irrational at a moment’s notice in the middle of the night. I await your prompt response — it has been days now, almost a fortnight, likely more. Apparently, you have no answer.

2 T blueberry eau-de-vie or 1 T cognac or brandy
2 T light brown sugar

1/3 C granulated sugar (divided)
1/3 C turbinado cane sugar (divided)

1/3 C unsalted butter, softened
2 lbs seasonal blueberries

3 large, pastured eggs
6 T heavy whipping cream
6 T whole milk
1/4 C cornstarch or all purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 F

Combine the blueberry eau-de-vie and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a bowl to dissolve along with the light brown sugar.

Add the blueberries and butter and toss to blend. Transfer to a baking dish and place in the oven. Bake until the fruit is hot, and set the blueberries aside to cool to room temperature.

Lower the oven to 350-375 F

Whisk the eggs until frothy with a mixer, adding the remaining sugars. Then add the cream, milk and cornstarch (preferably) or flour and mix until well blended. There should be a smooth waffle-like batter.

Place the blueberries in a baking dish in a single layer. Slowly pour the batter over the fruit, filling just to the brim. Bake until until golden, some 35-40 minutes. Set aside, and turn broiler to high.

Sprinkle the confectioners’ sugar on top sparsely yet evenly.  Place under the broiler until the sugar is caramelized.

Serve the clafouti directly from the skillet in preferably in wedges or actually unmold and place on a platter. To unmold, make certain that the clafouti is free from the sides of the pan, and if necessary, run a sharp knife around the edge to release it.  Serve warm.

Lemons — Oval Bliss

April 17, 2016

When life gives you lemons, ask what life is suggesting.
~Unknown

Sunshine globes, lemons often peak in May through August.  Along with their cousins limes, lemons munificently have flavonoids, antioxidants, oxalates, folates, and limonoids boasting anti-cancer auras and also are a sublime source of vitamin C and free radicals.  So many tidbits for you.

Plus clamorous flavors — the tartness of lemon curd with a shortbread base, then finished with averse sea salt and sugar.  Something just like Mom used to create, well except for the sea salt (but, little doubt she would adore that touch and savor).

LEMON BARS

Preheat oven to 325 F

1 1/4 C all purpose flour
1/4  C granulated sugar
3 T confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 t lemon zest
A pinch of sea salt
10 T cold unsalted butter, cold and cubed

1/2 C fresh lemon juice
2 T lemon zest, freshly grated
1/2 C granulated sugar or 1/4 each raw + granulated sugars
2 local, large eggs
3 local, large egg yolks
1 t cornstarch
6 T unsalted butter, cold and cubed

Confectioners’ sugar
Sea salt, coarse

For crust, line 9″ x 9″ heavy baking pan with parchment paper hanging over edges. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the flour, both sugars, zest and sea salt together. Pulse or use fingers to cut butter into the flour mix until a crumbly dough forms. Press dough into papered pan with fingers and bake around 30-35 minutes, until slightly golden.

For curd, whisk together lemon juice, zest, sugar, eggs, egg yolks and cornstarch in a medium heavy saucepan. Stir in butter over medium heat, whisking frequently, until curd shows marks of whisk and bubble appears on surface, about 6 minutes.

Refrigerate in a glass bowl covered with plastic wrap until chilled.

Remove the crust and pour the curd onto the base. Return the pan to the oven and bake until curd is just set, 10-15 minutes more. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate before cutting into bars.

Lightly sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and coarse sea salt right before serving.

Nutrition

April 10, 2016

In many cases, it was the woman’s stomach — not her heart — that fell for her man.
~Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Perhaps we should heed Michael Pollen’s words when he opines:  “Eat food.  Not too much. Mostly plants”  and “(d)on’t eat anything your great-grandmother would not recognize as food.”  

But, what to do with an omnivore like me, even though I do crave and consume more greens? A ruffian who also savors pork butts, steaks, hamburgers, lamb shanks and the like.  So many of which should be moderately grazed even if it does shorten life span some. Little doubt, the great-grandmother (well, grandmother) advice is revered here.

Also, constant solitary food research should be coveted, even strongly urged, as those that don white jackets with names emblazoned below the heart who pretend to be scientists should rarely be trusted.  Pseudoscience, while dabbling in dogma and ideology, should ever be confronted with educated skepticism.

There is no desire here to live on greens with aims to meet our 90’s-100’s suffering from dementia in a walker, adult stroller, wheelchair, canes, at a nursing home or hospitalized with “visitors” shuffling about, etching out lives of quiet desperation on a big pharma weekly or daily plastic diet drug box, bereft of most gypsy sense of ado.  It seems so egotistical to exist that way, merely seeking to live until those ripe ages with so little exploits.  Just so you know, one cannot live forever.

Thankfully, life has been a truly exquisite and ambrosial ride.  There are so many fecund stories to bespeak and reveal, even some late night cartwheels in a skirt sans panties.

I rebel, therefore we exist.
~Albert Camus

Another resplendent sweet, sort of, well really, actually — a Middle Eastern snack made with phyllo and nuts and drenched throughout with a honey glaze. The textures and tastes are flat supreme.  It is opined by many that Baklava was first savored around the 8th century B.C.E. in northern Mesopotamia, when Assyrians layered thin pieces of dough with nuts, baked the pastries in wood burning ovens, and added honey for sweetness.

But, first let us briefly digress to World War I (1914-1918) الجزائر, Algeria, vast, diverse, luxuriant, and often stark lands in what is known as the Maghreb region of North Africa, somewhat west of today’s Egypt. For baklava has been and is relished in Algeria as well.

The French viewed Algeria (Algérie) as just another “decadent state,” given to sins such as slavery, piracy and tribal anarchy. So, the Code de l’indigénat was a “lawful” scheme creating an inferior legal status for natives of French colonies from the late 19th century to the mid 20th century – making discrimination legitimate and actually legally dispossessing natives. Denizens were never afforded rights as citizens of overseas departments and were assimilated so to create in the colonies integral parts of France.

The Code de l’indigénat has been at the center of now revised thinking about French policies — colonial “indirect” rule.

The loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in 1871 led to pressure on the French government to make new land available in Algeria for thousands of Alsatian-Lorraine “refugees” or colons who were resettled there.  Pied noirs (“black foots”) they were called and later slaughtered likewise.

The colonial regime imposed greater taxes on Muslims than on Europeans yet the colons controlled the revenues which would be spent. As a result, colon towns had graceful buildings, paved avenues lined with trees, fountains and statues, while Algerian villages and rural areas benefited little. For an example, take a gander at Le Cathédrale du Sacré-Cœur d’Alger which towers over Algiers.

The school curricula were entirely French and afforded zero places for Arabic studies, which were deliberately downgraded even in Muslim schools. Within that generation, educated, gallicized Muslims, les évolués (the evolved ones), were created.

The colons who ran Algeria maintained a condescending dialogue only with the beni-oui-ouis (“yes men”). Later, they deliberately thwarted contact between the évolués and Muslim traditionalists on the one hand and between évolués and official circles in France on the other.  So, no genuine communication existed between the communities — probably only underlying, then direct enmity prevailed.

The first Code de l’indigénat was implemented by the Algerian senate on July 14, 1865 (on Juillet quatorze? in 1865?  Perhaps no one knew, right?). The first article stated:

The Muslim indigenous is French, however, he will continue to be subjected to Muslim law. He may be admitted to serve in the terrestrial and marine Army. He may be called to function and civil employment in Algeria. He may, on his demand, be admitted to enjoy the rights of a French citizen; in this case, he is subjected to the political and civil laws of France.

The Code distinguished two categories of citizens: French citizens (ethnic metropolitans) and French subjects, that is to say black Africans, Algerians, North Africans, et al., who lived there.

French subjects submitted to the Code de l’indigénat were deprived of much of their freedom and their political rights and only retained their personal statuses, religions or origins. As is too often the case, the colonialism practiced in Algeria resembled a kind of slavery of indigenous peoples as they were stripped of their identity.

The Code allowed Muslims to apply for full French citizenship, a measure that few took since it involved renouncing the right to be guided by sharia law in personal matters and was considered a kind of apostasy – a rejection of Islam. The Code de l’indigénat was a bitter anathema to Islamic tenets.

In a sense, World War I has never ended as many Arab peoples are still living its historical, religious, tribal and geographical consequences.  This is a short story, but there is some truth to it.  Blogs.

Baklava (Farsi for “many leaves”) consists of layers of phyllo filled with nuts and spices and drenched in a honey syrup.  Almost seems metaphorical.

BAKLAVA

2 C raw sugar
1 C honey
1 1/2 C water
2 T lemon juice
2 T light corn syrup
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves, whole
1 t cardamon, ground

1 lb pistachios and walnuts, in equal parts, finely chopped
1/4 C raw sugar
1 lb phyllo dough
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 F

Stir the sugar, water, lemon juice, corn syrup, cinnamon sticks, and cloves over low heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Halt stirring, then increase the heat to medium, and cook until the mixture is slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks and whole cloves.  Allow to cool.

Combine all the nut and raw sugar ingredients.  Grease a 13″ x 9″ glass baking pan with a stick of butter.

Place a sheet of phyllo in the prepared pan and lightly brush with melted butter. Repeat the butter treatment with more sheets. Spread with half of the filling. Top with more sheets, again brushing each with butter.  Spread with the remaining nut mixture and end with a top layer of several sheets, continuing to brush each with butter. Trim any overhanging edges. Ne pas oublier la beurre!

Just before baking, lightly sprinkle the top of the pastry with cold water to inhibit the pastry from curving upwards. Bake for about 20 minutes. Then, reduce the heat to 300 F and bake until golden brown, for about 15 additional minutes.

Score to form diamond shapes, and then cut through the scored lines. Drizzle the cooled syrup slowly over the hot baklava and let cool for several hours, if not overnight.  Try with some strong coffee.

 

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.
~Albert Einstein

So, tomorrow is Pi Day which will not happen again until 2115 — and the date also just so coincides with the birthday of Albert himself. Pi (the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet) represents a mathematical constant, namely the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter or approximately 3.14159265 (3.14 for short). The diameter of a circle is the distance from edge to edge, measuring straight through the center point, and the circumference is the distance around the circle. By measuring circular objects over time, it has always turned out that the distance around a circle is a tad more than 3x the width.

Ergo: pi equals the circumference divided by the diameter (π = c/d). Conversely, the circumference is equal to pi times the diameter (c = πd).

Being a constant number, pi applies to circles and spheres of any size. To Pi aficionados, this number has even been calculated to over a trillion digits beyond the decimal point, and this irrational number happens to continue infinitely without settling into a repeating pattern.

So, join this zany worldwide celebration of all mathematical enigmas by creating and relishing something round.

BLUEBERRY PIE (PI)

Dough (Pâte Fine Sucrée)
2 egg yolks
6 T ice water

2 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/4 t salt
3 T granulated white sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1″ bits

Filling
4 C fresh, plump blueberries
1/2 C granulated white sugar
1 T ground cinnamon
2 gratings fresh nutmeg
Small dash, vanilla extract
2 T cornstarch
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T lemon zest

Unsalted butter bits, chilled and cut into 1″ pieces

Egg Wash
1 fresh local egg, beaten with 1 T water

Gently whisk the yolk with the water until it is well blended.

Place the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10-15 seconds. Pour water and yolk mixture through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 seconds. Knead the dough for less than one minute and your work surface and then gather into a ball.

(Alternatively — place the flour, salt, and sugar in a round bowl and combine. Add the butter and work with your hands, mashing it through your fingers to have everything blend together. It will form into small lumps or a cornmeal like consistency after 1 or 2 minutes. Pour the yolk mixture into the round bowl and mix vigorously with your fingers until all the ingredients are assembled together into a round ball.)

Divide the dough in half, flattening each half into a thick round disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour before using. This will chill the butter and relax the gluten in the flour.

After chilling, unwrap and place one dough on a floured surface and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour too. Roll the pastry with light pressure, from the center out. To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, add some flour and keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll from the center of the pastry outwards. Turn the dough over once or twice during the rolling process until it is about 11″ in diameter and less than 1/4″ thick. Fold the dough in half and gently transfer to a 9″ pie pan by draping it over the rolling pin, then moving it onto the plate and unrolling it. Once in the plate, press the dough firmly into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the excess dough to about 1/2″ all around the dish, then tuck it under itself around the edge of the plate. Brush off any excess flour and trim the edges of the pastry to fit the pie pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.

Then, remove the second dough from the refrigerator and roll it into a 12″ circle (also think about a lattice top). Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

In a small round bowl mix together the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest. Place the blueberries in a large round bowl. Add the mixture to the blueberries and gently toss to combine.

Remove the crusts from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for a few minutes so they can become pliable. Carefully pour the blueberry filling into the chilled bottom pie crust. Strew the butter pieces over the blueberry filling. Moisten the edges of the pie shell with a little water and then place the top crust over the blueberries. Tuck any excess pastry under the bottom crust and then crimp or flute the edges using your fingers. Brush the top (or lattice) with the egg wash and cut slits from the center of the pie out towards the edge of the pie to allow steam to escape. You may wish to cover edge with 2″ strip of foil to prevent excessive browning. Cover the circular pie with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill while the oven is preheated.

Preheat the oven to 425 F

Place an oven rack at the lowest level and place a baking stone or sheet pan on the rack while it preheats.

Set the round pie on the baking stone or sheet pan lined with parchment paper or foil about 2/3 of the way down. Bake the pie for about 20 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Continue to bake the pie for about 35-45 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown color and the juices are bubbly and thick. If the edges of the pie are browning too much during baking, cover with foil.

Remove the round blueberry pie from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 2 or so hours before slicing. Resist cutting the pie immediately and then serve warm or at room temperature with round globes of vanilla ice cream.

Without further ado…

PROFITEROLES AU CHOCOLAT

2 ozs hazelnuts, roasted, raw and shelled

1 C cold water
1/4 lb unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/4 t sea salt
1 C all-purpose flour

4 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

1 C heavy whipping cream, chilled
1 t honey
Small pinch of ground cinnamon

1 qt vanilla bean ice cream

1 C bittersweet chocolate sauce, warm (see below)
Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast until almost dark, about 10 minutes. Let cool slightly, then use a clean towel to rub off skins, discarding them. Crush nut meats coarsely with a mortar and pestle, rolling pin or meat mallet and set aside.

To make the puffs, put water, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture comes together and forms a sticky ball. Lower heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring, for a minute or more.

Transfer dough to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix at medium speed to cool dough slightly, then increase speed and begin to add 4 eggs, one at a time. Make sure each egg is fully incorporated into dough before adding the next. When all eggs have been added, scrape down sides of bowl and beat again until dough is smooth and glossy.

Line a pair of baking sheets with parchment paper, and put dough in a pastry bag or cut gallon ziploc bag to form mounds that are spaced evenly, 2 1/2″ in diameter (around 12 mounds per sheet). Brush each mound with the beaten egg, smoothing the tops with fingers. Bake for 10 minutes at 425 F, then reduce heat to 375 F and continue baking until puffs are nicely browned and crisp, about 25 minutes more. When done, the puffs should be light and airy inside. Cool to room temperature, preferably on a rack.

Meanwhile put cream and sugar in a chilled metal mixing bowl and whip to a soft, light consistency.

To assemble profiteroles, cut puffs in half transversely. Divide softly whipped cream on the bottom half of each puff, then a scoop of ice cream and replace the tops. Transfer filled pastries to chilled dessert plates or bowls.

Drizzle with warm chocolate sauce and sprinkle with reserved crushed hazelnuts. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve promptly.

Chocolate Sauce

1/3 C brown sugar
3/4 C heavy whipping cream
4 ozs bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao or so), chopped
2 T unsalted butter

2 T Grand Marnier or Cointreau

Place double boiler over medium heat and bring water to a simmer. Put sugar, cream, chocolate and butter in top part of double boiler. Let simmer, without stirring, for about 15 minutes, until cream is hot, sugar is dissolved and chocolate has completely melted.

Add Grand Marnier and whisk until glossy and smooth, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Las cosas claras y el chocolate espeso. (Ideas should be clear and chocolate thick.)
~Spanish proverb

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment and federally funded activities like education, became law on July 2, 1964. On this fiftieth birthday, the Act should be celebrated for purportedly halting our version of apartheidism and for overtly outlawing Jim Crow laws in some parts. A “child of the storm,” as the Rev. Martin Luther King once noted. It would not have been enacted without the support of strange bedfellows — House and Senate Republicans who were vying for black votes. Passage of the Act took centuries of oppression and racism, murderous lynchings and shootings, pernicious shackles and floggings, Birmingham bombings, vile Klansmen, the assassination of a youthful president, fierce legislative battles, egregiously bigoted medical policies and care, vicious attack dogs unleashed and batons wielded on citizens, and a bloodied, sometimes slain, army of protesters filling our streets. In remembrance, we must remain vigilant about erosion or even quiet eradication of the Civil Rights Act.

Take, for instance, the 1965 Voting Rights Act which the Roberts’ Supreme Court gutted last year when federal enforcement was invalidated in many states with histories of discrimination against minority voters. Nine states, mostly in the South, were allowed to change their election laws without advance federal approval. The Supreme Court, in a majority opinion (5-4) authored by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., naively ruled that “(o)ur country has changed…(w)hile any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” See Shelby County, Alabama vs. Holder, et al., 570 U.S. ____ (2013). This ruling effectively ended the use of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which required any changes to voting rules in covered jurisdictions be endorsed by the Justice Department in advance. So, voter identification laws that had been blocked would become effective promptly, redistricting (gerrymandering) maps would no longer require federal approval, and southern states will no longer have the burden of proof in showing that voting changes do not have a racially discriminatory effect.

Public apathy, misinformation, myopia, “legal” ploys, and a conservatively bent Supreme Court with justices ironically clad in black political robes have put our revered Civil Rights Act in jeopardy. How tacit empathy rules in that ivory tower acronymed SCOTUS.

Perhaps some vanilla ice cream cloaked in chocolate is apt, as some things have not changed.

VANILLA ICE CREAM

2 C heavy whipping cream
1 C whole milk
2/3 C granulated sugar
1 small pinch, fine sea salt
1-2 vanilla beans, sliced lengthwise or 1+ t vanilla extract

6 large egg yolks

In a small to medium heavy saucepan, simmer cream, milk, sugar, salt, scrapings and seeds from vanilla bean and add pod or add vanilla extract. Bring mixture just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. If using vanilla bean, cover and let sit 30 minutes.

In a separate glass or metal bowl, whisk yolks until pale yellow. Whisking constantly, slowly whisk about a third of the hot cream into the yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the pan with the cream. Return pan to medium low heat and gently cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2-3 minutes. Strain custard into a medium bowl set over a bowl of ice water and let cool, stirring occasionally, until it reaches room temperature.

Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve directly from the machine for soft serve, or store tightly sealed in freezer until wanted.

GANACHE

14 ozs fine, bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), broken into pieces
3 T espresso
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 C sugar (granulated + light brown)
3/4 C heavy whipping cream
1 pinch coarse sea salt

In a heavy saucepan, combine all ingredients and melt together over very low heat, stirring.

Just before all the chocolate is melted, remove from heat and stir until chocolate melts and mixture comes together. It may appear curdled, but keep whisking vigorously, as it will smooth. If too thick to pour, whisk in hot water a tablespoon at a time. Taste for salt and adjust the seasoning.

Liberally drizzle ganache over the ice cream. Swoon as you spoon.

Never ruin an apology with an excuse.
~Benjamin Franklin

My failure not to write here for a short while was not inadvertent. Over the last several months, I have been poring over texts, tomes, papers, memoirs, etc., while my fingers have been pecking feverishly on another project. So, a tad bleary eyed and a bit weary handed with little mention made of a littered mind & brain — time just did not permit work on both. My brief leave should not suggest that our kitchen went fallow, though. To the contrary, creative yet humble eats (sometimes at strange hours) have been the rule in this urban galley. My apologies to you readers. Enough said?

The ampersand emerged in the first century from the Latin word et meaning and, ultimately giving rise to the ampersand shape. Latin cursive scribes often connected the two letters “e” and “t” to form a ligature. In the more flowing New Roman cursive, ligatures became quite routine. However, with the development of Carolingian script in the 9th century the use of ligatures began to diminish even though the “e” + “t” continued to flourish, becoming even more stylized and less revealing of its origins.

Fanciful versions of the ampersand abound. For instance, the Frenchman Claude Garamond’s 16th century character depicted a clear indication of the form’s Latin origins. On the left side appeared the “e” and on the right the “t,” and the stray letters were linked by a cradle that begins weightily, then thins out, with inky globular endings at each end of the crossbar on the “t.” Comme ça:

garamond ampersand<

The actual term did not appear until the early 19th century when “&” became the 27th letter of the English alphabet. The mark concluded the alphabet with “X, Y, Z, and per se and” with “and per se” meaning and and by itself. This final phrase was slurred and reborn as ampersand.

E.g. Gilbert & Sullivan, Jules et Jim, Mumford & Sons, Flammen & Citronen, Abbott & Costello, De rouille et d’os, Ben & Jerry, Bouchard Père & Fils, This & That, Proctor & Gamble (P&G), & a slew of law firms. Its shape has evolved continuously since being introduced, and while some ampersands are still manifestly e/t ligatures, others merely hint at their past, sometimes in oblique ways. Now, the ampersand is often sadly about that inane word “branding” & seemingly apt logos that are given so much bland thought.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

1 C old-fashioned rolled oats
2 C all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
1/2 t sea salt

2 sticks (16 T) nsalted butter, room temperature
1 C light brown sugar
1/2 C granulated sugar
2 large eggs

1 t vanilla extract

2 C bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa) cut in 1″ pieces or semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 F

To the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, add the rolled oats. Pulse the until most of the oats are somewhat ground, but they should not be ultra fine like flour. (In some respects, this is an optional move as many like the texture of full bore oats.) Add the pulsed oats to a large mixing bowl. Set a fine mesh sieve over the bowl, and add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Sift the flour mixture over the oats. Whisk the dry ingredients together.

To the bowl of a electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Beat the mixture on medium low until combined. Then, increase the speed to medium high and beat until airy and pale in color, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium low again and add 2 eggs. Once the eggs are well incorporated, stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract, then turn the mixer back on to medium low briefly to assure a good mix.

Then, reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour & oat mixture until mostly combined. Turn off the mixer and remove the bowl. Add the chocolate chips and stir with a spoon until combined, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl throughout.

Use a large spoon to divide the cookie dough into pieces about the size of a rounded tablespoon, rolling the dough in your hands. Set the cookies about 2″ apart on a parchment paper lined, rimmed baking sheet and bake for 5-6 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and bake until golden brown around the edges and still soft in the center, about 5-6 minutes longer. Many oven temperatures differ, so try not to overcook.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the cookies cool there until set, about 5 minutes. Use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to the wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough. Then serve these delectable morsels and savor — whatever time of day or night.

Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.
~Alice Walker

August is National Peach Month.

Prunus persica, a deciduous tree which bears an edible juicy fruit, was first cultivated in China several thousand years ago. Peach trees are considered the trees of life in their native land where peaches are symbols of immortality and unity. Peaches traveled west via the silk road to Persia, earning them their botanical name. Peaches belong to the genus Prunus which includes the cherry and plum, all from the Rosaceae family. Once discovered by Alexander the Great, they were introduced to the ancient Greeks. Ancient Romans referred to the peach as malum persicum (Persian apple), which later became the French pêche, which then morphed into the English word peach. Spanish explorers initially brought peaches from Asia to the New World as the fruit could be grown in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Columbus brought peach trees to America on his second and third voyages. The French introduced the fruit to Louisiana while the English imported them to Jamestown and Massachusetts colonies.

While there are over 700 varieties, the two basic types of cultivated peaches are clingstone (the flesh sticks to the stone) and freestone (the stone easily separates from the flesh). They can have yellow or white flesh, which is sweeter and less acidic than its more traditional golden counterpart. The downy skin of the peach is splotched with red hues and are usually round with a pointed end, but they can also be flat and disc-shaped. The donut peach, which is flat with rounded sides that draw in toward an indented center, like a doughnut without a hole, is a descendant of the flat Chinese peach.

Even though farmers’ markets are now flooded with this divine fruit, in a couple months a good peach will be hard to find as they are distinctly seasonal. These efficient reproducers are harvested in late summer and early fall because they tend to ripen simultaneously. Peaches are pruned after most of the other fruit crops are done since they can be injured if pruned too early. It is unusually difficult to ship this fruit as microbes like fungi and bacteria can invade the thin, permeable outer skin and feast on the sugars inside, causing decay. Bruising can occur while handling and travelling. Storage also creates issues with delicate peaches. Unlike apples which can be stored up to a year in a low oxygen controlled environment, finicky peaches have a much shortened lifespan.

So, get it while you can — make good of this narrow windowed season and buy these luscious local gems, sink your teeth into the sweet fuzz and let those ambrosial juices freely dribble down your chin. Grin knowingly, then repeat.

Peaches should be stored at room temperature as refrigeration curtails flavor and fragrance. They are climacteric, meaning they that have high respiration rates during ripening and emit large amounts of ethylene gas, so the fruit will continue ripening after harvest. A large peach has fewer than 70 calories, contains 3 grams of fiber, and is also a good source of vitamins A and C.

By now, it must be quite obvious that I love the far from banal rustic nature of crisps. Below is a peach version followed by a basic grilled peach recipe.  At the end is a simple concotion of chilled wine and peaches.

PEACH CRISP

5 large ripe peaches, pitted, peeled (or not) and sliced
Juice from 1 lemon

3 T all-purpose flour
1/4 C tightly packed brown sugar
1 T granulated sugar
1 T raw sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
Slight pinch of sea salt

1 1/4 C all purpose flour
1/2 C rolled oats
1/2 C brown sugar
1/4 C granulated sugar
1/4 C raw sugar
1 1/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 450 F

Toss the peaches in a large bowl with lemon juice. Add flour, sugars, vanilla and salt and gently stir to combine. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the flour, oats, sugars, and butter. Using a pastry blender or fingers, blend ingredients until coarse meal forms — soft, tender and workable.

Spread the peach filling in a medium baking dish or casserole and loosely sprinkle with the topping. Place the dish on a sheet tray and bake crisp 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F. Bake crisp until fruit is tender and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

GRILLED PEACHES

1/2 C honey
3 T Balsamic vinegar
1 t vanilla extract

6 firm, ripe peaches, pitted and halved

Crème fraîche or plain yogurt, for drizzling

Whisk  together honey, balsamic vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl.

Prepare barbecue grill to medium high. Brush fruit generously with some honey glaze. Grill (inner flesh side down first) until heated through, about 3 minutes on the first side and less on the other, depending on ripeness. The idea is to create nice markings on the fleshy inside, but to have the fruit retain its integrity. Arrange grilled halves, cut side up, on plates or platter, then immediately drizzle with some more honey glaze. Ladle crème fraîche or yogurt over the grilled fruit to your liking.

Pourboire:  try a classic Italian libation during the warm months.  First pit, then slice a few ripe fresh peaches, with or without the skin (your preference).  Drop the sliced peaches into a cold glass pitcher and pour in enough medium to full-bodied red wine to cover the fruit.  Allow to chill for a couple of hours or overnight in the refrigerator.  Pour the wine and peaches into glasses and serve.  Cin-cin!

Pound Cake

July 13, 2012

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche! (Let them eat cake!)
~Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Les Confessions (Confessions)

Dense and moist, rich and buttery, pound cake was traditionally made with a pound each of flour, butter, eggs and sugar. No leaveners were used other than the air whipped into the batter. While the history of cakes dates back to ancient times, this was likely an early 18th century English or northern European creation. These days, recipes deviate slightly from the original formula to concoct lighter fare. But the nomenclature, in part from the Old Norse kaka, has persisted.

Whether eaten alone, or with coffee or tea, chilled, room temp, broiled or grilled, with a side or topping of sweetened fresh fruit or fine ice cream, glazed with sugars or merely dusted with powered sugar, as French toast, with savory friends, pound cake is for all times — breakfast, lunch, snacks or desserts.

Dad’s eyes always danced, and sometimes he damn near swooned, over this heavenly staple.

MEYER LEMON POUND CAKE

Unsalted butter
Sifted cake flour

1 1/2 C (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 C sifted cake flour
1 t sea salt
4 t baking powder
2 3/4 C sugar
8 large eggs, room temperature
1 C whole milk, room temperature
2 t pure vanilla extract
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon

Glaze
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
2 3/4 C confectioners’ sugar, plus more if needed
1/4 C fresh Meyer lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 325 F

Butter and flour two loaf pans and set aside.

Sift the flour with the salt and baking powder and set aside. With a stand up mixer, cream the butter, and then add the sugar gradually, beating until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk and vanilla. Stir only until thoroughly blended. Gently fold in the zest.

Pour batter into the prepared pans, making sure to divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Level tops with a spatula. Bake until lightly brown on top and a toothpick comes out clean, about 1 1/2 hours. Let the cake cool in the pan about 10 minutes, and then carefully remove to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

In a medium bowl, whisk all glaze ingredients to combine. If necessary, add additional confectioners’ sugar to desired consistency.

Pour glaze over pound cakes and serve sliced.

Pourboire:  to enrich further, use cream cheese (40%) and butter (60%) in lieu of unsalted butter only.