May and June 2011
Those huge cabbages (see yesterday’s post, below) were too gorgeous to pass up, so I made a coleslaw to go with our crab feast. I didn’t want to make my normal mayonnaise-free Moravian slaw with sweetened vinegar because it needs to cure overnight, but I also didn’t want to use mayo, which several of last night’s diners don’t care for. The very old-fashioned “boiled” dressing is no more boiled than so-called boiled custard, but it’s an old southern classic from days before refrigeration.
I began by finely chopping the cabbage, adding a chopped purple onion and about 8 grated radishes (Sparkler White Tip variety), also freshly dug from the garden. As with most average size cabbages, I ended up with about 8 cups of slaw. Normally I would add a bell pepper, but I didn’t have one. Or a jalapeño. Instead, I added some cayenne. You can season the slaw any way you want, but celery seeds and mustard are traditional. I used dry mustard in the roux, but you can use prepared mustard at the end if you prefer.I made the dressing as follows:
To dress 8 cups of slaw:
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vinegar
salt, pepper, cayenne to taste
1 teaspoon celery seed, more or less, to taste
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, sugar, and mustard, whisking constantly, and continue to cook until you have a perfectly smooth roux.
Beat the yolks into the milk, then beat in the vinegar. Don’t worry if it seems to curdle. Begin adding it a little at a time to the roux, stirring constantly. Cook until the dressing is completely smooth. When you drag a spoon through the sauce, it should make a path that remains for several seconds. It will coat the back of the spoon and when you drag your finger through it the path with remain. Season to taste then add it to the slaw, stirring vigorously and making sure every piece of the chopped vegetables are covered. It may seem that there isn’t enough dressing, but if you stir well, there will be.
The slaw is better the next day, so the more in advance you can prepare it, the better.
Makes 8 generous servings.
Alas, we were too soon for the blackberries, too soon for the pears, too soon for the figs, tomatoes, and peppers. But the greens were wonderful, the blueberry bushes were covered with ripening fruit, and the company could not have been better. I better stop writing before I start to cry.
June 18, 2011 Final goodbyes…
We’re out on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at the home of our friends Chuck and Bruce, where so many of my blogs have been based. Their gardens are stunningly beautiful and fecund. Check out the enormous cabbages, above. Tonight we’ll celebrate Father’s Day with Bruce’s parents and his sister’s family. Baltimoreans that they are, they’re planning a classic Chesapeake Bay crab feast tonight.
Earlier this week, our friend Betsey Apple had a dinner party for us to introduce us to her friends Avis Bohlen, the former American Ambassador to Bulgaria, and to Jurek Martin, the Financial Times writer. Bulgarian Ambassador Elena Poptodorova joined us, along with Betsey’s son John Brown. Betsey prepared her famous quail egg and caviar appetizers, and I made cheese straws to have with drinks before our dinner that began with Betsey’s also-famous crab salad. I Googled “Betsey Apple’s Crab Salad,” because the recipe was published in Rick Stein’s Seafood from the early 90s (on the page following mine for Frogmore Stew!), and I thought I might find it online. I did, with no credit to Betsey, Stein, or the photographer! The plagiarism continually astounds me.
We served a lovely 2009 Saint Joseph (mostly Marsanne) throughout the meal. I made shrimp gumbo, cornbread, and peach cobbler (with gorgeous South Carolina peaches), all of which I blogged about shortly after I first started blogging 4 years ago, in August 2007.
The meal was a no-brainer because I had duck fat roux (see photo, right) and shrimp stock in the freezer. Betsey and I went to her country house for the weekend while Mikel was in South Carolina to see his mom one last time, and we shopped at the Korean market in the suburbs, where we found beautiful okra. It was one of the best gumbos I’ve ever made. Fresh okra, and lots of it, really makes a difference.
I got up with the sun this morning and walked around the beautiful property. I’m really going to miss this place; moreover, my sweet friends.
June 6, 2011 Our new lives begin….
After a month of vacation, Mikel and I have moved into a hotel in downtown DC where we will live for a month (without a kitchen!!!) while he goes through overseas staff training for Peace Corps. For the past five days, we’ve been staying with our dear friends Ann and Larry Cove, with whom we traveled in Provence last fall. (See link to article about our trip, below.) Ann is one of Washington’s great natural cooks and they both are two of the nicest, brightest, funniest people I’ve ever known — not to mention their gracious hospitality and heartfelt generosity.
We decided to keep our final meal simple. Mikel and I were really tired from being with the movers for 4 days. I had fully planned to cook with Ann, but she did all the work: grilled asparagus and squash, a lovely salad of wild arugula (I gave her the plants that were in pots in my yard; I originally brought the seeds back from Puglia in 1994), local purslane, and endive; and fresh Alaskan halibut cooked in the covered grill and topped with reduced clam broth into which we tossed fresh local peas. Ann also always serves a (mostly local) cheese tray. Ann and I kept rejecting all the wines, finally settling on a Montepulciano. Yesterday morning we had a big breakfast of (my) grits, local bacon, eggs, fresh local berries, local hearty bread, and jam made by her niece.
It was a bittersweet weekend.
Mmmm… tangerine juice and really good tequila we brought back from Mexico! Our dear friend Gilson Capilouto just left after helping us sort through crap for several days. We ate the last of my duck confit. This is one of my favorite drinks of all time — a splash of soda isn’t a bad addition.
We move on Wednesday and will be in a hotel without a kitchen for a month, so I doubt that I will be blogging much until we get to Bulgaria. Happy Holidays!
May 22, 2011 I’m in Mexico but my article on Provence is in today’s Washington Post.
So here I am in Mexico and I meet the owner of a standard poodle at the farmers’ market and he tells me that my friend Diana Kennedy is in town signing cookbooks.
May 18, 2011 Between Trips
I am home for one day before leaving for Mexico. We have the best mailman in the world, and he brought us all our mail today and will stop delivering to us until we return again. He even called me to make sure I was home! In the mail was a personal note (left) from the brilliant, self-taught topiary artist, Pearl Fryar, whose garden in Bishopville, South Carolina, is world-renowned. He was thanking us for our donation. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it. It’s as though Dr. Seuss himself designed it. You can look at my photos here.
May 12, 2011 Meals at home in the South
I am often interviewed by journalists and reporters about the cooking of the South (even when I’m on holiday!), and sometimes I have a hard time explaining some of our traditions to folks “from off” (as we say). For example, one writer yesterday wanted to know how Shrimp and Grits fits into the creole culinary tradition, and when I told him that it was NEVER a restaurant phenomenon in Charleston until I moved back to town in 1986 and started writing about stone-ground, whole-grain grits (and ways to use them), that not one single restaurant in the entire state had the dish on its menu, and it was nearly impossible to find grits that weren’t degerminated.
He questioned my claim that the dinner table (which I had to explain was traditionally the main meal in the middle of the day) often boasted two meats as well as two desserts. Too bad he wasn’t with us for Mother’s Day at Mikel’s mom’s. (See photo, left.)
Dixie (yes, that’s Mikel’s mother’s real name) put a pond in behind her house a few years ago and stocked it with bream. Pronounced “brim,” these favored panfish have the sweetest, most delicious flesh of any fish I know — and I spent much of my youth on a boat. Members of the huge Perch order (Perciformes), bream are of several species of the genus Lepomis, the freshwater sunfish (Centrarchidae family).
Known by dozens of common names, the bream that I grew up catching (with cane poles baited with worms) were mostly “redbreasts” (Lepomis auritus) or “bluegills” (Leponis macrochirus). I fished while cooking Frogmore Stew (see March 10, 2008) for Mikel’s family on Sunday, and caught enough to bring to Florida with us for an old-fashioned fish fry (complete with hushpuppies, red rice, and Moravian cole slaw).
Here’s a video of the whole process, from cooking to table:
May 10, 2011 Ponte Vedra, Florida
Mikel and I are now in Ponte Vedra, where our friends Dana and Leigh and Dee have so generously allowed us the use of their home. Yesterday afternoon when we arrived, we stopped to get groceries, and there were some Royal Red shrimp at the local Publix. The Royal Reds are caught by local shrimpers in deep waters way offshore. They are my favorite shrimp and I have written about them extensively, both on the blog (See March 10, 2008, and April 3-4, 2008) and for the Washington Post. We also bought the first of the local tomatoes, corn, and Georgia peaches. YUM!!!
I began by peeling the shrimp and making a stock from the shells, some fresh herbs, onion, and celery. I strained the stock and placed it in a big pot on the stove and allowed it to reduce until it was almost a glaze, then I added the tomatoes and some garlic, the shrimp (which I had seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne, and a good squeeze of lemon — the lemon juice also there to provide the necessary acid to make the sauce bind), and a big wad of PluGra butter. I whisked it all around until it was a silken sauce and the shrimp were just barely cooked, then served it in bowls with crusty French bread.
May 6, 2011We are making a tour of the South, saying goodbye to family and friends. We are currently at Mikel’s mother’s farm in Florence County, SC. Yesterday we visited the remarkable Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden in Bishopville. I’ve posted a bunch of photos here.
For lunch we had a smoked Boston butt, deviled eggs, and marinated vegetables. On the sideboard, cake and cookies to have with ice cream for dessert. And we’re expected to eat supper as well.