We are like travelers using the cinders of a volcano to roast their eggs.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Now, as is the French inkling, I started by doing claufoutis with cherries and blueberries, so they would become desserts.  This time, they tend to go more poignant.  Apparently, I adore eggs in most forms.

I began reading (unlike the Donald claims to actually does read, but really does not) The Barbarian Nurseries by Héctor Tobar just the other day in part because Trump has assaulted Mexicans so many times in the past, calling them without any knowledge whatsoever “rapists, drug dealers, murderers, criminals.” Sometimes, we are goaded by others to look at someone who feigns to read, and yet who continues to make outlandish, deplorable, and unfounded statements about other cultures.

The Barbarian Nurseries is a rare, inspiring and sprawling novel that brings the city of Los Angeles (and even Earth) to life through the eyes, flesh, dreams, reveries, solitude, ambitions of a Mexican immigrant maid, by the name of Araceli.  The first chapter is called The Succulent Garden about how a lawn mower would not start for the angry and frustrated landowner, Scott the techi, whose maid watched from the window, apart — but Pepe, an earlier magician of gardeners, now since fired, had no problem with the same mower starting ever so sweetly with a wily, deft touch, sweaty and brown, sinewy and glistening biceps.

SAVORY CLAFOUTI, FLAN, CUSTARD (YOU NAME IT…)

3/4 C whole milk
3/4 C crème fraîche
4 large or 5 medium farm fresh, local eggs, preferably laid by hens raised on pastureland
2 1/2 T all purpose flour
2 T fresh parsley leaves, chopped
2 T fresh dill leaves, chopped
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 C Gruyère cheese, grated

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh leeks, white and light green parts (cut off ends and leaves)
2 C fresh corn kernels
1-2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh bunch Swiss chard leaves, stems removed, coarsely chopped
1/4 C Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

Honey, a dollop
Cayenne pepper, dried
Thyme, dried

Heat oven to 375 F

In a large bowl, whisk together milk, crème fraîche, eggs, flour, chopped parsley & dill, sea salt and pepper until smooth. Whisk in 3/4 cup Gruyère cheese.

Heat olive oil in a heavy oven safe skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and sauté until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in corn, garlic and a pinch of salt and cook until garlic is fragrant and corn is tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add chard leaves and cook until they are wilted and tender, about 4 minutes. Season the mixture with sea salt and black pepper.

Pour crème fraîche admix over the corn and chard mixture, and then sprinkle the remaining Gruyère and the Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until the “egg custard” is lightly set, about 40 minutes.

Serve sparsely topped with a dollop of honey and a pinch of cayenne pepper and thyme.

The American poultry industry had made it possible to grow a fine-looking fryer in record time and sell it at a reasonable price, but no one mentioned that the result usually tasted like the stuffing inside of a teddy bear.
~Julia Child

Shall the talk be about food or something else? I am torn now.

Peut être, since my youngest son is now in France, it is time for me to talk about Julia. Each day I am graced with awakening early and each night bedding late to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes I and II, and times in between with each one bearing the name on top of Julia Child. Each tome stares me in the face close to my laptop screen and always smilingly so — thank you, Anastasia. By her writings and intervening WGBH television appearances, the 6’2″ Julia Child, with her warbly tongue and sometimes maladroit gestures was ever tactful and frolicsome. Julia and her cohorts Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck, Paul Child (whom Julia met at the OSS and married) and always had a couth palette (and Jacques Pépin) simply changed cooking in America. They forever altered my mother and others and somehow randomly permeated me.

Thank you to all and others.

MOROCCAN CHICKEN WINGS (AILES DE POULET MAROCAIN)

4 lbs chicken wings, wingettes and drumettes intact

1 T coriander seeds, slightly heated and ground
1 T mustard seeds,slightly heated and ground
1 T cardamom seeds, slightly heated and ground
1 T cumin seeds, slightly heated and ground

1 T sea salt, finely grated
1 T freshly ground black pepper
1 T turbinado or raw sugar
1 T light brown sugar
1 T pimenton
1 T turmeric
1 T cinnamon powder
A touch of vanilla extract
1/2 T cayenne
2 limes, juiced
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

2 T apple cider vinegar
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 C fresh jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/4 C honey
3 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Preserved lemons, at least 2 or 3, insides spooned out gutted), sliced

Heat the coriander, mustard, cardamom and cumin seeds in a dry medium heavy skillet over low medium heat, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally, until they become aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Allow to cool, and then coarsely grind in a spice grinder devoted to the task. Transfer to a small glass bowl and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

Then, put those 4 (coriander through cumin seeds) and the following 12 ingredients (sea salt through extra virgin olive oil) on the wings in a large ziploc bag and refrigerate overnight, turning a few times.

Then, add the 6 next ingredients (apple cider vinegar through preserved lemons) to a heavy sauce pan and allow to very slowly work to a simmer reducing to 1/2 or so and, after cooling to room temperature, allow this to marinate with the wings for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 F at the lower part of the oven and prepare a well foiled pan.

Pour off most of excess marinade. Cook the entirety — the chicken wings + marinades — turning a couple of times, with the exception of the yogurt sauce, scallions, jalapenos,and cilantro (see below), of course, for about 30-40 minutes or so, until nicely yet slightly browned.

Scallions, cleaned and chopped
Jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, membrane removed and thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves, stemmed and chopped

Sauce
1 1/2 C plain Greek yogurt
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 T fresh cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 T honey
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Then, top the wings with chopped scallions, jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, membrane removed and thinly sliced, and cilantro leaves, chopped.  Drizzle very lightly with, then dip in yogurt sauce.

Now feed (with toppings and yogurt sauce in a bowl) to les enfants and the elders — in the proper wing way, whatever that may be.

…(A)nd many such good inventions are on earth like the breasts of a woman: useful as well as pleasing.
~Friedrich Nietzche

Speaking of hanging fruits, what is the story with a woman’s boobs and nipples?

Milking mothers either have to cover their functional breasts to avoid stern stares or, more rudely, are sometimes summarily banished or even ashamedly depart from rooms while lactating with child. Maidens and cougars must hide their bazookas on the beach, but man boobs or not, men do not.  Just another example of our boorish species, we are even more concerned when female breasts do not belong to young women or do not appear globule, ample and nips ever pert. Nubs and warts are out and gazangas, not hangers, are in. Real women’s bodies — not sculpted babes apparently those with guts, boobs, and butts. Oh, the hoi polloi. Are there any reasons for such degradation? Prejudices? Fears? Anxiety? Oppression? Obstinacy? No freakin’ idea.

Chests should always be treated similarly — women’s bared nipples are forbidden, men’s are now not, even though some 75 years ago almost all states prohibited “shirtless” men. So sad and disgraceful, women and men are still not considered the same in so many states and in so many ways. An almost vitriolic form of sexual censorship.  Second class treatment for such beauteous females. Much like women’s suffrage (1920) and a $10 or $20 bill (Harriet Tubman or Alexander Hamilton or Andrew Jackson?). And the backside of whatever bill? In my opinion, an insulted woman’s glaring bare buttocks would prove à propos. Womansplaining is in need.

Apparently, women’s naked breasts can even be unleashed almost like unholstered weapons. Consider Lady Godiva who convinced her husband to lower the taxes of medieval England by traipsing naked through the streets on horseback or even Marianne, the revered symbol of liberty who was depicted by Delacroix bare breasted hoisting the flag in one hand and a bayonet in another, leading others over fallen bodies…images and tales both before and thereafter.

The motion picture association (MPAA or CARA) has imposed its suppression and righteousness over history, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17, the current supposed “rating” system.  A woman’s buttocks or breasts are apparently cool, but a man’s full monte seems verboten. Some chaste actresses even go to the extremes of donning merkins (undercarriage wigs) to cover their unveiled vulvae.  A bizarre planet to inhabit.

Now, there is Free the Nipple, an open breast equality movement which attempts to address the scenes where a woman may not allowed to be topless, sparking some dialogue. Why should we have such discourse? Breast freedom on all tips seems so completely au naturel.

Even more concerning is the Blur Man Group from of all cable channels, Naked & Afraid, whose staff covers and opaquely blurs crotches and women’s breasts/nipples entirely, frame by frame, to make the contestants suitable for broadcast. Recognizing a nipple from several football fields seems rather strange. Up close and personal is more the norm. C’mon, man, the title of the show is Naked & Afraid, connoting “naked” directly. How disappointing, as nakedness should reign supreme.

So far, this article makes meager mention of genitals, female & male — as this writer simply wholly detests bathing attire and adores nudity. (This is in a land where some 70-80 million dogs and some 90 million cats are household pets buck naked year round — these numbers do not even include so many undomesticated scavengers.) There are so many secluded venues where yours truly has been gratefully denuded. Some say we all have nipples and genitals, right? There should be no shame at baring all, as one should be used to “private” parts. The cows are out of the barn, thankfully.

DUCK BREASTS WITH PORT, COGNAC, CHERRIES & HONEY

2-3  duck breast halves, 6 ozs each
2 T unsalted butter
2 fresh garlic cloves, smashed

1/3 C shallots, peeled and minced

1/2 C chicken broth
10 fresh sweet red cherries, halved & pitted
2 T port
2 T cognac
2 T local honey

1-2 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Place duck breast halves between plastic wrap. Pound with a mallet to evenness (about 3/4″). Score skin in 3/4″ pattern. Cover, again with plastic, and refrigerate for a few hours, perhaps overnight.

Melt unsalted butter and garlic in large, heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Sprinkle duck with salt and pepper. Discard garlic, and do not burn. Add duck, skin side down, to skillet and cook until skin is browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Turn duck breasts over, lower heat to medium, and cook until browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to board or platter, tent with foil, and let rest 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour off most of drippings from skillet, but keep hot. Add shallots to skillet and stir over medium heat, about 30 seconds, and again do not burn.

Add broth, cherries, port, cognac, and honey. Increase heat to medium high and cook until sauce is reduced to glaze, stirring often, about 3-4 minutes. Whisk in butter. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Thinly slice duck and fan out on plates. Spoon cherry sauce over and serve (preferably over creamy polenta, noodles or rice and perhaps fresh sweet peas as an aside).

Vietnam was a country where America was trying to make people stop being communists by dropping things on them from airplanes.
~Kurt Vonnegut

Ursa major is a visible “constellation” (actually, an asterism — a prominent pattern of stars often having a title yet a tad smaller than actual constellations) which is seen in the northern hemisphere.  Fairly linear roads lead to Polaris, a yellow-white super giant and the brightest cephied variable star that pulsates radially and forms the very tail of ursa minor. Take a gander at the Alaska state flag to get a general feeling of how to envisage Polaris.

Both ursa major and ursa minor resemble ladles, pans, cups or bowls even though they tend to be translated as the “larger and smaller she-bear(s)” likely due to their northern latitude locations or some zany look at the Big Dipper picture.

On spring and summer evenings, ursa major and minor shine high on in the sky while in autumn and winter evenings, the asterism lurks closer to the horizon.  If one travels from lines of the Merck (β) to the Dubhe (α) stars of ursa major (from the outer base to the outer tip of the pan) and then go about 5x that distance and, Polaris, the north star, will be notably recognized. Polaris, and other pole stars, are relatively steady and stable.

Ursa Major was catalogued by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century. Polaris has often been used as a navigational tool having guided sailors, ancient mariners, even escaping slaves on underground railroads.  It is circumpolar, meaning that it never sets in the north or never disappears below the horizon.  However, given that the Earth’s axis moves slowly, and completes a circular path at some 26,000 years or less — so, several stars take turns becoming the pole star over eons.

FLANK STEAK VIETNAMESE

½ C nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce)
2 T nước măn chay pha sản (chili soy sauce)
1 lime, zested
1/2 C fresh lime juice
3 T light brown sugar
2 T fresh, local honey
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
jalapeños, stems and seeds removed, minced
1/2 C ginger, peeled and grated or finely minced

1 flank steak (about 2 lbs)

Rice noodles, just cooked al dente

Sesame seeds, for serving
Mint leaves & cilantro leaves, chopped, for serving

In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, chili soy sauce, lime zest, lime juice, honey, brown sugar, garlic, jalapeños and ginger. Pour the mixture over the flank steak in a ziploc bag in the frig and let marinate overnight.

Light the grill to medium high, and wipe the steak with a paper towel.  Cook until done, about 3-4 minutes per side for rare to medium rare. Transfer steak to a cutting board and let rest for 10-15 minutes tented in foil while simmering the leftover marinade.

Thinly slice steak across the grain on a bias (perpendicular to the grain) and serve over al dente cooked rice noodles gently drenched with reheated marinade. Garnish meat with sesame seeds and mint leaves and cilantro leaves.

Fools make feasts and wise men eat them.
~Benjamin Franklin

Provence — a poetic, mystical southern land which extends from the French Alps on the upper edge, bordered by the bank of the lower Rhône River on the west, abutting the Italian border on the lower east and finally falling into the Mediterranean Sea to the south.

Where villages-perchés seem to cling to bluffs, where marchés quietly demand that you explore serendipitously, and where the sun kisses you throughout the year. The clarity of light, the luminosity is nearly unsurpassed…not to mention the sprawling vistas, microclimates, cobblestone streets, earth tones tinted in brilliant ochres, sparse yet gentle landscapes, lavender fields, from squat olive to narrow pine and cypress trees, an achingly azure shimmering sea with pristine shores and grottoes. There is a feeling of isolation there. An evocative feast for the senses.

Grande destinations include Nice, Cannes, Antibes, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Carcassone, Gordes, Arles, La Camargue, Eze, Grasse, St. Tropez, Cassis, St. Raphael, La Luberon, Vence (to name a few). Remember, the papal capital was in Avignon and seven successive popes were housed in France, not Rome. Provence only joined France in 1860, so think Italy too.

Then again, there are some places like the Marseille ghetto with its infamous high rise slums and notorious drug related violence and gang wars. Best avoid (or repair) those.

POULET PROVENCAL et SALADE DE MESCLUN

6-8 bone in, skin on, chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour
3 T olive oil
3 T unsalted butter

Herbes de Provence (see below)
1-2 lemons, quartered
10 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled
12 Niçoise olives, depending upon size
4-6 medium shallots, peeled and halved
1/2 C chicken stock
1/2 C dry white wine
1/4 C pastis

1-2 T fresh local honey

8 sprigs of thyme, for serving on each plate

Preheat oven to 400 F

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a shallow bowl, and lightly dredge the chicken, shaking the pieces to remove excess flour.

Heat and swirl the oil and butter in a large roasting pan on the stove, and place the floured chicken in the pan, skin side up. Season the chicken on the skin side with the herbes de Provence. Arrange the lemons, garlic cloves, olives, and shallots around the chicken, and then add the chicken stock, white wine and pastis to the roasting pan.

Put the loaded roaster in the oven, and cook for 25-30 minutes, and baste several times with pan juices. Continue roasting and basting for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, adding the honey scantily during the last 15 minutes in a slow drizzle — until the chicken is quite crisp and the meat shows yellow juices when pricked. Allow to rest for about 8 minutes before serving.

Serve on plates or on a platter with warmed pan juices spooned over the chicken, garnished with thyme sprigs. Present with a mesclun salad with blueberries, French feta cheese, hazelnuts (June 28, 2010) and champagne vinaigrette (see below again).

Herbes de Provence

No doubt you can find herbes de Provence with your spice monger or even at the market. But, you can always and ever easily prepare your own.

3 T dried thyme
2 T dried savory
1 T dried oregano
3 t dried rosemary
2 t dried marjoram
1 T dried lavender flowers

Combine herbs, and store in an airtight container at cool, room temperature.

Champagne Vinaigrette

1 C extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t local honey
1/2 shallot, peeled and minced
1 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper

In a glass bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, honey, shallot, salt and pepper. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil in a narrow, steady stream. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days. Taste for seasoning, not with your finger, but with whatever greens (ideally mesclun) you are serving.

As you may recall, mesclun is a varied amalgam of dainty salad leaves which originated in Provence.

‘Tis an ill cook who cannot lick his own fingers.
~William Shakespeare

Breasts may receive all the attention. But, boring breasts candidly need a rest. On the other hand (so to speak), thighs should take home the praise in terms of sublime flavor, savory succulence, delectable simplicity, forgiveness, and even economy. Dark meated, myoglobin rich, luxurious thighs are the shit — sweet temptresses, in my humble. Plus, ’tis the season for figs.

THIGHS WITH PAPPARDELLE, FETA AND FIGS

4-6 boneless chicken thighs, free range

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
White pepper, a pinch
Cayenne pepper, a pinch
Fresh rosemary leaves, diced
Fresh thyme leaves
Fresh sage leaves, diced
3-4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Extra virgin olive oil, to just cover

2 T unsalted butter
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh, garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

3/4 C feta cheese
1/2 C capers, drained

Thyme leaves
1/2 C red wine
10 fresh figs (whether Brown Turkey, Black Mission, Kadota or Calimyrna), diced
1 1/2 T local honey

Artisanal pappardelle

Bring a large, heavy pot of water to a rolling boil and then liberally add sea salt.

Place the chicken between a thick wooden cutting board and plastic wrap. Firmly yet gently pound each thigh until thinner but also uniform in thickness. Season with salt and black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, rosemary, thyme, sage and garlic. Cover with some olive oil and place the chicken in a large ziploc bag for about 2 hours, turning a couple of times.

Remove chicken and discard marinating garlic. Add two pads of butter, a touch of olive oil and smashed garlic to a large, heavy skillet and once sizzling, but not brown, discard garlic and add chicken thighs and saute about 5 minutes per side. Early on the second side, add the feta until it becomes warm at least and tent well or place in a low preheated oven. Right before serving thighs, add capers.

Then, to the same skillet add red wine, figs, and later honey until cooked. Meanwhile, cook artisanal pappardelle noodles for until tender, about 3 minutes, in boiling water. Carefully strain through a colander.

Serve chicken thighs plus feta and capers over pappardelle with cooked figs on the side on plates. (Feel free to eat the thighs with your fingers.)

Handle a book as a bee does a flower, extract its sweetness but do not damage it.
~John Muir

It has been been propounded by neuroscientists and philosophers that insects, like bees, have consciousnesses, but not much in the way of ethical consequences. But, that they are aware, feel.

This is a sad tale of nearly epic proportions – a saga about vanishing honeybees and what their errant plight means to our agriculture and dining tables; a story of science, politics, threatened livelihoods and jeopardized crops; and a legend about environmental research and chemical imprints. Finally, it bespeaks even more than a tragedy about our species which so rarely pays attention until some brink is reached.

Just imagine. During the balmy weather in summer, honeybees are quite active, foraging through local flora sources for nectar while meticulously maintaining their hives and producing honey. To survive the winter, bees usually cluster together inside their cubist apiaries for warmth, enduring the cold on their own surpluses and food furnished by keepers. All seems so soul soothing, almost serene, over the years.

But then dating back nearly a decade, swarms of bees begin almost suicidally fleeing some of their beehives, with many dropping dead, and the rest having almost disappeared. Bees inexplicably abandoned their colonies en masse, leaving behind brood, food and bewildered beekeepers. Apiculturalists were perplexed. These otherwise marvelous eusocial critters began to flee confusedly, aimlessly, at epidemic rates, devastating apiaries and both smaller independents and larger commercial bee operations. Bees and keepers soon sadly and suddenly have discovered that hives have very few adults left in a colony, and the bodies are often not found. Seemingly healthy bees were and are leaving, some forever gone in this death spiral. The widespread collapse of so many colonies of this otherwise resilient species is a particularly vexing problem for these darlings, beekeepers, farmers, honey aficionados, scientists, environmentalists, and politicians alike.

While such disappearances have occurred throughout apiculture, and were known by varying names (disappearing disease, spring dwindle, May disease, autumn collapse, fall dwindle disease), etymological researchers have dubbed this current global epidemic as Colony Collapse Disorder. This is a continuing, drastic trend of honeybee losses that should not be countenanced and regulatory agencies and often irrational politicians should take note.

The culprits offered up for the syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) have formed a sometimes bedraggled landscape:

1) Systemic and toxic neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides, with the compounding exposure applied to fields (even when non-fatal) such as clothianidin and imidachloprid, as well as pesticides applied directly into hives to control mites;

2) Fungal, bacterial and viral pests and diseases such as varroa and tracheal mites (parasites) and pathogenic infestation, such as nosema ceranae – a gut fungi;

3) Nutritional deficiencies such as a lessening of genetic biodiversity (monocultures) that lack flowering plants and native pollinators and encourage immune suppressive GMO species; and

4) In the United States, beekeeping practices which disrupt colonies by moving massive numbers of bees in trucks across the country to pollinate crops.

Until now, a direct link was not directly found between neonicointinoids and Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees and other pollinators. However, a recent study published in the Bulletin of Insectology in May, 2014, from Harvard’s School of Public Health has linked neonicointinoid pesticides with distressing Colony Collapse Disorder. Two widely used neonicotinoids appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies particularly during harsh winters, according to this study. There was a nexus made between low doses of imidacloprid and Colony Collapse Disorder, in which bees abandon their hives over the winter and perish. Researchers also found that low doses of clothianidin had the same negative effect.

Although other studies have suggested that die-offs in honeybee colonies may come from bees’ reduced resistance to mites or parasites as a result of exposure to pesticides, this Harvard study found that bees in the hives exhibiting Colony Collapse Disorder had almost identical levels of pathogen infestation as a group of control hives, most of which survived the winter. Stated otherwise, bee populations in the control colonies began to increase as expected, but populations in the neonicotinoid treated hives continued to diminish. These findings suggest that the neonicotinoids are causing an unhealthy biological mechanism in bees that in turn leads to Colony Collapse Disorder. While scientists rarely speak in absolutes, many across the world, including members of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides have labeled neonicotinoids more toxic than DDT. The bottom of the food chain is disappearing. Now, there is some emerging evidence that neonics impact human health.

More recently, after a meta-analysis of systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids which reviewed some 800 peer reviewed reports a scientific board found that there is clear evidence of harm from neonicotiods to trigger regulatory action. Now published in the journal Environment Science and Pollution Research, finds that neonicotinoids (neonics) pose a serious risk to honeybees and other pollinators such as butterflies and to a wide range of other invertebrates such as earthworms and vertebrates including birds.

Neonicotinoids (neonics), a nerve poison, were first registered for use in the mid 90’s, are systemic chemicals absorbed vascularly into plant tissue and are often present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to pollinators, such as honeybees. These systemic pesticides are derived from nicotine and target insects’ nervous systems. There are some six types of neonictinoids with the most common one being imidachloprid. Neonicotinoids, which are the most widely used insecticides on the planet having been applied to vast swaths of farmland and home acreage. The residue often reaches lethal concentrations and persists in soil for months, even years, after just a single application. Honeybees exposed to sublethal doses of neonicotinoids can experience problems with flying and navigation, increased susceptibility to disease, diminished fertility, reduced taste sensitivity, and slower remembrance skills, which all impact their foraging abilities.

A honeybee colony often contains residue from nearly hundreds of human pesticides. Alone, each represents a benign dose. But, remember synergy: where the accumulating interaction of elements is greater than the sum of individual parts. Together, these chemicals form a toxic medley which can substantially afflict the bees’ immune systems, making the population more susceptible to diseases.

Honeybees are simply critical to the grub supply as some 1/3 of what humans consume benefits directly or indirectly from pollination. Crops that would not grow without honeybees include apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots, avocados, almonds, and so on. Honeybees account for some 80% of all insect pollination. Some $15 billion of crops in this country alone depend upon these long heralded angels of agriculture. Some have even espoused that the honeybee may allay our world hunger crisis. Yet, honeybee populations are in steep decline as nearly one-third of colonies in the states have vanished with some percentages even much higher in some regions. To continue losing bees at such levels would prove catastrophic.

Seems demand should be made that regulatory authorities require studies on how exposure to low dosages of combined compounds may affect bee (and human) health before blithely approving toxic chemicals. As has been done in the European Union, the states should adopt a ban on some neonicotinoids on crops that attract bees and other pollinators. This prohibition could readily be revisited within a couple of years if there is a showing that bee health has not improved. This is at the core of the differing approaches to environmental regulation between Europe, Canada, Australia and others and the United States. While Europe, et al., is willing to remove products from the shelf until proven safe, the United States often allows industry to sell poisons until shown almost beyond a reasonable doubt they are harmful. The latter process can last years, even decades, while casualties mount and marketing/lobbying ploys run amok.

Colony Collapse Disorder is just another reminder that human society often threatens habitats and breeding patterns. Reducing exposure to pesticides and promoting the genetic diversity of honeybees, crops and expanding pollinators are critical steps toward sustainable agriculture and providing for posterity, not directed toward the short term profits of agribusiness. Reassessing the risk and curtailing the use of neonicotinoids should be promptly considered. Again, corporate “humanity’s” avaricious hand has sadly transformed our world.

Last but not least, ask more of your gardens. Promote and protect by cultivating varieties of pollinator plants that lure and encourage a diverse abundance of bee, butterfly, bat and bird species (et al). To create a more fecund life for critters, choose productive native species. The internet has numerous sources for local habitat and planting suggestions — for instance, http://www.pollinator.org.

The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.
~Henry David Thoreau

Honeybees likely evolved from hunting wasps which acquired a taste for nectar. Fossil evidence is sparse, but they probably appeared in tropical lands about the same time as flowering plants in the Cretaceous period, about 130 million years ago. Some opine that honeybees were domesticated some 4,500 years ago in Egypt.

Apis mellifera, our current honeybee, is a species native to the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa and but was later introduced by humans to North America shortly before the 17th century. Europeans fleeing wars, poverty, intolerant laws or religious persecution brought thorough beekeeping skills here. Before crossing the pond, Apis mellifera had to adapt to a broad array of habitats ranging from harsh winters, late springs and hot summers, through alpine, cool temperate, maritime, Mediterranean rim, desert and tropical environments.

Honeybees are segmented in most body parts: three segments of thorax, six visible segments of abdomen while the other three are modified into the sting, legs and antennae. Honeybees are invertebrates, having an exoskeleton, which is covered with layers of wax. The main component is chitin which is a polymer of glucose and can support a great deal of weight. The wax layers protect bees from losing water and the chitin prevents bees from growing continually. So, during larval stages, bees must necessarily shed their skins. Bees also have an open circulatory system, meaning that they do not have veins or arteries, but rather all their internal organs are bathed in a liquid called hemolymph which is a mix of blood and lymphatic fluid. Bees breathe through a complex structure of network of tracheas and air sacs. Oxygen is vacuumed into the body through openings on each segment by expansion of the air sacs, then the segments are closed and air sacs are compressed to force the air into smaller tracheas until individual tubules reach individual cells.

Adult bees are divided into a single queen, female workers and male drones. The queen will leave the hive only once to mate with several drones, storing sperm in her spermatheca to last her lifetime. In order to rear and defend the eggs lain by the queen, worker bees develop stinging mechanisms, pollen baskets, dance languages and labor divisions. Tasks are divided according to age and colony needs. Younger worker bees tend to the queen, and older worker bees forage, construct wax cells, convert nectar into honey, clean cells and guard the hive. Ideally, a healthy hive is a collection of overlapping generations.

Honeybees provide essential pollination for crops, orchards and flowers as well as honey and wax for food, sweeteners and cosmetics. Nectar is a clear substance with about 80% water and complex sugars, produced by some plants to attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Bees amass nectar to produce honey and while collecting the nectar, they inadvertently yet scrupulously transfer pollen from male to female flowers. Pollen is a fine powder of microscopic particles from the male flower that can fertilize the female flower to produce seed. It is produced by anthers, the male reproductive organs found in pollinators.

Since last year marked the hundred year anniversary of the abundant and cherished passenger pigeon dying in the largest scale human extinction of a species seems eerily paradoxical.

Now, on to a recipe for lamb, honey & herbs, among others. I am an unabashed honeyholic, so this is not only a natural, but often honey is used as a sugar substitute in these pages. Honey truly is the bee’s knees — it has a sublimely long shelf life, comes in varied infusions, has seasonal varieties and even unprocessed forms. Divine like fine wine (or better yet…).

HONEYED HERBED LEG OF LAMB

One 7 to 8 lb. bone-in leg of lamb, room temperature

1/4 C rosemary leaves, minced
1/4 C thyme leaves
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 C+ Dijon mustard
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C unprocessed honey
1/4 C lavender honey

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de provence or ras al hanout

1 C chicken or vegetable stock

Sauce (optional)
1/2 bottle red wine

2 shallots, chopped
1/2 T unprocessed honey

2 C chicken stock/broth
2 T all purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Put roasting pan with drippings back on the stove at medium-high heat. Add wine and reduce by half, scraping up any bits from bottom of pan.

Strain with a fine mesh strainer and put back in pot. Add shallots and honey, then simmer until the shallots are soft.

In a small bowl, whisk together stock/broth and flour. Add to reduction and simmer about 10 minutes, or until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Leg of lamb
Preheat oven to 500 F, then reduce to 375 F just before placing the leg on the rack.

Pulse the rosemary, thyme and garlic until minced. Then, add the mustard, olive oil and both honeys to blend, forming a paste. Slightly season the honeyed herbed mustard with salt and pepper, making sure that both are well mixed into the paste.

Season the leg of lamb generously with salt, pepper and herbes de provence (for a French lean) or ras al hanout (for a North African slant), massaging all into the meat, and then rub, cover the lamb roast with the honeyed herbed mustard paste.

Set the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan. Add the stock to the outside of the pan. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 F and roast the lamb for about 1 1/2 hours, until an internal thermometer inserted in the center of the meat (not bone) registers 135-140 F or so, depending on your likes. In a lamb leg, the deep meat is the most efficient heat conductor, and using the bone to measure temperature is a “no-no” as the meat closest to the bone can end up significantly more rare than the rest of the meat. Remember, the lamb’s internal temperature will continue to rise by about 5 F as it rests.

Make the sauce while the leg of lamb reposes after transferring to a cutting board or platter. Let the meat rest for about 20 minutes, slice carefully and serve on dinner plates, ladling with sauce.

Pourboire: You may also wish to brine the leg in advance for about 6-7 hours. Afterward removing the meat from the brine and before apply the seasonings and paste, carefully wipe off excess seasoning and brine from the lamb. Simply use the brine solution outlined here in the roasted pork loin recipe dated November 24, 2010.

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!

Undoubtedly the desire for food has been and still is one of the main causes of political events.
~Bertrand Russell

Perhaps nothing arouses my appetite more than cheese, a passion that borders on the obsessive, even compulsive. Cheese stirs the nub of my food soul and plunges me into deep rooted, over the edge cravings. So, after so much luscious Asian fare recently, withdrawal symptoms are encroaching. A cheese binge is in my near future. Seems I’m now unapologetically and thankfully suffering a relapse. My yearnings demand that I seek out and indulge in those hedonic usual suspects like mac & cheese, pizza, gratin dauphinois, panini, bread gratin, frittatas, calzone, cheeseburgers and friends. Or those simple, divine pairings of bread and cheese. My lust is indiscriminate — blissfully indentured to cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milks, divergent origins, and differing textures.

These hankerings are just another example of how that enigmatic and insatiable gray matter controls impulse. Neural processes are directly linked to all things sybaritic, from whetting your appetite to quenching your thirst to sating sexual urges. When incited, the mind is motivated to search for those things we need, crave, and desire whether corporeal or intellectual.

The nucleus accumbens, a part of the primitve limbic system, plays a pivotal role in arousal, whether that high is derived from food, sex or drugs. If you ache for a certain food, if your urges are kindled, you are sparking the nucleus accumbens with a surge of electrochemical activity which courses throughout your nervous system. Then, you tend to act on that yen.

Each cerebral hemisphere is fitted with one nucleus accumbens, located in an area called the medial forebrain bundle (MFB) which is composed of a complex grouping of axons endlessly conducting nerve signals. Working in concert with other pleasure centers, this region plays a crucial role in the reward circuit, based chiefly on the release of essential neurotransmitters: dopamine, which promotes desire, and serotonin, whose effects include satiety and inhibition. Because it mediates punishment and reward, the area has been often studied for its role in addiction, as in cheeseaholism. Also coming into play are the amygdala (imparting agreeable or disagreeable colorations to perceptions), the hippocampus (the font of memory), and the insula (thought to play a role in active pleasure-seeking). A constantly firing cerebral amalgam of arousal.

The first recipe is tapas fare, and the second a basic which so depends on the bread and the cheese…so simple, yet ever so delectable.

FRITO QUESO (MANCHEGO)

1 C all purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 C fresh bread crumbs or panko
3/4 lb Manchego cheese, cut into 1 1/2″ to 2″ cubes

Canola oil

Sea salt
Honey or lavender honey
Pimentón agridulce (moderately spicy paprika)

Divide the flour, eggs, and bread crumbs into 3 separate dishes. Dip the cheese cubes into each ingredient to coat: flour –> eggs –> bread crumbs.

Meanwhile, in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, pour enough oil to fill the pan about a third of the way. Heat over medium heat until a deep-frying thermometer inserted in the oil reaches 375 F.

Add the breaded cheese to the hot oil, in batches, and deep fry until the cubes are golden and crisp on the outside, oozing on the inside.

Remove the cheese from the oil and drain on a rack or paper towel lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Transfer the cheese to a serving dish, drizzle with honey, and lightly dust with pimentón.

THE GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH

Unsalted butter, softened
8 slices artisanal bread
10 ozs Taleggio cheese, rind removed, at room temperature, divided into equal portions

1-2+ T unsalted butter

Spread butter onto one side of each slice of bread. Top buttered side of half of the slices with cheese, then arrange remaining 4 slices of bread on top, buttered side down, to make sandwiches.

Melt remaining butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, then arrange two of the sandwiches in the skillet. Cook until golden brown on the first side, about 3 minutes, pressing down gently with a spatula. Flip sandwiches, adding another tablespoon of butter to skillet. Continue to cook until golden brown on the second side, about 3 minutes more. Repeat process with remaining butter and sandwiches. Serve warm.

Pourboire: While the basic grilled cheese is my fav, you can add proscuitto, sliced apples, olives, caramelized onions, cooked bacon, sautéed peppers, capers, braised radishes, arugula, eggs, avocadoes, sautéed mushrooms, etc., are all welcome between the sheets. Just keep the fixings to a minimum.

Filial Wings

April 13, 2012

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.
~Unknown

This quote was first attributed to the revered, occasionally ornery, Mark Twain. But that credit now seems apocryphal as apparently Twain did not utter it. There is no evidence that links Twain to the adage, and the first version that appeared was in 1915–five years after his death. The son’s age in the quote has varied over time, and while it does not rule out a fictional biographical nexus, it should be remembered that Twain’s father died when he was eleven years old.

Scholars have not found this saying in Twain’s literary works, writings, notebooks or letters and relating this quote to him are skeptical at best. No version of this same passage has been ascribed to any other significant figure either.

Did Twain inherit the quote as a vestige from earlier mots justes? A subliminal post mortem tribute? Twain or not, I still love the quote (and the man).

This is game grub. The NCAA Tourney may be history, but the London Olympics, NBA Playoffs, French Open, UEFA Euro Championship, Tour de France, Wimbledon, World Cup Qualifying, MLB season, US Open, NFL season, to name a few, all await this year. The wings beckon too, most wondrous “children”–you know who you are.

CHICKEN WINGS

3 lbs chicken wings, wingettes and drumettes intact

1 T sea salt
1 T sugar
1 T light brown sugar
1 T smoked paprika
Juice of 2 limes
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

1/2 C sriracha
1/4 C chile garlic sauce
2 T apple cider vinegar
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/4 C honey
3 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Zest + juice of 1 lime
2 t sea salt

2 C duck fat
2 C canola oil
Sea salt

Scallions, green part only, chopped
Jalapeños, stemmed, and thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves

Combine the salt, sugars, paprika, lime juice, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil in a bowl. Place the wings in a large ziploc bag, pour in the marinade and toss to thoroughly coat. Marinate for 2 hours or even overnight, then remove from fridge and allow to reach room temperature. Discard smashed garlics.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by adding sriracha, chile garlic sauce, apple cider vinegar, garlic, jalapeño, honey, butter, lime and salt in a heavy medium saucepan. Place over medium high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and whisk occasionally until slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. The sauce can be adjusted by adding more chile sauce for spice or more honey for sweetness. Season with salt to taste and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F

Spread marinated wings out on a foil covered, rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with any remaining marinade, and roast until almost but not fully cooked, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

Place a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat and add duck fat and canola oil. With a deep fry thermometer, allow the fat to reach 360 F, add the wings and fry until golden and crispy. Using a large spider, remove onto paper towels to drain and promptly season with salt.

Meanwhile, reheat the sauce to almost a simmer. Place fried wings in a large glass ovenproof bowl, pour the hot sauce over, then mix well to coat evenly so the wings are nicely glazed.

Garnish with scallions, sliced jalapeños and cilantro. Serve with yogurt-blue cheese, barbeque, and chipotle sauces.

Pourboire: some prefer the wingettes and drumettes separated for more even frying and easier eats. Others favor lightly dusting the wings in all-purpose or rice flour before frying. Also consider a sauce with a Thai bend mixing sriracha, chile garlic sauce, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, dry sherry, soy sauce, garlic, bird chiles, peanut oil, lime and salt. Serve with red curry, gai yang, and peanut sauces.