I have something to say

Jonathan is upstate with the car, so Ferdinand and I have been riding bikes to school. I would say it’s about just under 2 miles. The trick is, for a major chunk of the ride we go down Vernon Boulevard, which carries mac trucks, delivery trucks, city buses and your classic car on four wheels from one end of Queens to another, past a major power plant, stone cutter, salt pile up, under the 59th Street Bridge and then we make a quick turn through the heart of Long Island City and onto the school. Bike lanes are a recent addition to the streets of New York City, and most of the time, there is a buffer of about two feet between you and traffic. I appreciate the bike lanes, I would stand up in front of the mayor and give a shout out about the world is a better place because of bike lanes, but I am not putting my child on a bike in the street in New York City. The man at the bike store where I bought the helmet said, “It’s the law. Cars have to respect the bike lanes.” Let me just say something; what the Law is and what the Truth is, are two different things, and you can wish, hope, speak to and ticket according to the Law being the Truth. But I am going to keep my son on the sidewalk.
I just finished two cups of iced coffee, which gives me an enthusiastic edge on expressing my feelings.
Fill a moka pot (traditional Italian coffee pot that goes on the stovetop) with cold water, so that it comes right below the nut on the inside of the bottom of the pot. Drop in the metal coffee filter, and spoon espresso into the filter to a peak. Gently tap the coffee down with a spoon so that it is level with the top edge of the filter. Screw on the top, wait for the coffee to come through the spout, and as soon as the coffee starts to foam and spurt in a stutter, remove from the heat. Pour the hot coffee into a small cup and add sugar to taste (or skip this step.) Fill a glass with ice, pour whole milk over, about half way up, and then the espresso to the shade of coffee you prefer.

Recipe: Chocolate Pudding

I woke up at 3:30 this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I started to think of all the things I had forgotten to do, and all the things I could have done better.  Then I was convinced that tiny pieces of paint from the ceiling were dropping onto the floor by the bed.  This has happened before.  I live in a building over a hundred years old, that had the supporting beam cut by a third in the 70′s when they put the bathrooms in.  Typically I shake up my husband awake and ask him to explain the warning signs of a ceiling about to cave, but I didn’t have the heart.  He didn’t get home from work until nearly midnight.

Have I mentioned how much I love sugar?  In the form of a deep dark chocolate pudding, sugar is my go-to BFF when I’m in no place to lay the stress on the table and figure the whole thing out, when what I’m looking for is an ace bandage of Creamy Comfort.  I have gotten jobs based on this recipe for chocolate pudding.  When everyone else was building leaning towers of pastry, my signature dessert was a little puddle of chocolate pudding with a square of rich, moist chocolate cake sitting in the middle, fresh and hardly whipped cream on top of that, and a circle of bittersweet chocolate fudge sauce around the whole thing.  If you really want to go crazy, dip two walnuts halves in caramelized sugar, allow to harden and then dip in chocolate to nest on the side.

In a very heavy and non aluminum saucepan, heat 3 1/2 cups of whole milk (this is not time for skim) to a scalding (teeny bubbles will form around the edge of the pan.)    Whisk the milk into a mixture of 3/4 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of cornstarch, and a pinch of salt.  Put the mixture back on medium heat, and allow to thicken, stirring constantly.

In a heatproof bowl, whisk 4 large egg yolks to combine.  Pour a little of the hot milk mixture, into the eggs, and whisk.  Add a bit more, and whisk again.  This is to temper the eggs (heat them up slowly.)  Now add all of the milk mixture, whisking the whole time, and then pour everything back into the pan.  Allow it to come to the boil, and as soon as you see the first bubble, remove from the heat.  Pour the mixture through a strainer. Whisk in 2 ounces of finely chopped unsweetened chocolate, 6 ounces of finely chopped bittersweet chocolate and 1 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract.  The better the quality of chocolate, the better the pudding.  I like (love) Belgian.  You don’t want to use chips, because most have wax added to them to help them keep their shape.  If you like to guild the lily, add a tiny pour of heavy cream. Transfer to a bowl and cover with a piece of plastic wrap.  This is a beautiful thing with organic whipped cream.  If you can get your hands on organic sugar, do it.

Corn Dogs

What else is there after a ride on the Cyclone at Coney Island? There is a height requirement of 54 inches to ride the Cyclone; Ferdinand reached 54 and one half last week, so the three of us drove out to the far edge of Brooklyn. For the past two years he has tried to convince the lady at the whitewashed wooden booth that he was definitely big enough for the ride and wouldn’t fall out. The window where she takes the cash is strategically placed like a judge. For the past two years, it’s been a quick once over and a “You’re too short.” without losing an ash.
When we got about 10 feet from her perch on Saturday, Ferd stopped me and said, “Mom, this is a life event.” “You’re right,” I said, “for the two of us.” They have an excellent track record, but there is not a plank or a nail that looks safe on the Cyclone–not when you’re 20 feet from it or 5 feet from it. The lady made him stand against the mark 3 times before she let him through. He was checked again at the turn style, and once more before boarding. I checked to make sure that everyone from the last load was living and then got locked in to the seat next to Ferd. Ferdinand crossed a benchmark, and I let him do it. He was beside himself with happiness when he got off, even though at the bottom of each crashing fall he whispered to me, “Mom, I’m not sure I can do this anymore.” Then he wanted to have another go. Impossible for his teammates. We were trashed, wiped, leveled.
When we came home, I made him corn dogs. 1 cup corn meal, 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder and a little beaten egg, about a third of one maybe. Pack this around an organic hot dog, heat up an iron skillet, and give it a little pour of olive oil. Sear on all sides and serve on a stick–chopsticks from take-away are perfect. (Don’t forget buttered peas.)

Mascarpone Magic

I’m going to share with you–’cause that’s just the kind of girl I am–the little bit of Mascarpone Magic we made in Italy last week. This is for those times when you want the chicken to sing to you, to call you to the table in a hushed perfume of lemon, rosemary and creaminess. If you try telling yourself that the chicken doesn’t really need to be seared, yes it does. Sear the chicken. (on the bone with skin in either breasts or mixed parts.) The pan should be heavy and hot and the chicken dusted with a fine blanket of sea salt. Slick the pan with olive and lay the chicken pieces away from you without crowding the pan. Let them go over a medium flame so that they are talking, but not screaming from the assault of the heat. The color you are looking for is chestnut. Remove from the pan and cool slightly. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and for about 3 pounds of chicken, you are going to need 250 grams of mascarpone, about a half a twigs worth of rosemary, chopped finely, a tablespoon of flat leaf parsley, chopped, 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped, and the zest from half a lemon, with none of the pith. Stir it all together and taste for salt and freshly ground black pepper. Make neat little slices where the top of the skin meets the flesh, just to lift the skin and shove the mascarpone mixture underneath. Set in a sheetpan (jelly roll pan) and roast until when you stick a small sharp knife into the thickest part, it feels hot against your lip. (careful)

Serve with garlicky string beans and tiny roasted potatoes.

Sugar Crimes

One of the most important things you can teach your child is the difference between right and wrong.  When I was growing up there there was Right and there was Hell and if you had asked me what was I going to Hell for, it would nearly always have had something to do with sugar.  I did not share my Easter Candy, I did not share my Halloween Candy, I would take on the dare of cussing in front of my fifth grade teacher for Ho-Ho’s, and I ate brown sugar out of the box when my mother wasn’t home.

I am still committing sugar crimes.  There has been more than one note in Ferd’s backpack stating that there is no candy allowed in the lunches.  Not to me personally, but we know who we are.  Every morning in desperation to get Ferdinand to eat protein between the hours of 8 am and 4:30 pm, I pack gorp–organic peanuts, Paul Newman organic raisins and Ghiardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Is there anything wrong with that?  It’s better than Dorito’s.  Is it against the rules?  Yes it is.  And what kind of message is that sending my child? 

Chocolate chips don’t count.  If they came in a package of a cookie (with even more sugar surrounding the chips), they would be completely legal.

As a side note, when I was (close) to Ferd’s age, my desk was outside in the hallway.

17 Peaches on the tree

and it’s between me and the squirrels. Last year one peach made it to ripeness and we had to split it between the three of us.  It was the best peach that has ever crossed the border of my mouth and I want more.  I’m not spending a whole summer working my backyard farm in Queens just so the squirrels can have a fruit party.  So far my method of making it clear that my fruit is not their fruit is to yell at them, glare, and let the dog out the door to jump as far as she can up the wall of the building behind us.  Just to let them know who is who and what’s what.

They continue to twitter, tatter and just generally chew whatever is in their cheeks without any obvious fear or remorse. Respect for who takes care of the peach tree means nothing to them.  I may have to put a sign up to remind them that people grill squirell in Brooklyn.

Raining, Lunging, Grilling, Rolling, Stirring, Breathing and EATING!

We sloshed through Cortona, Deruta, Montepulciano, Montalcino, Pienza, Montevarchi, Assisi, Perugia and last but not least, Mercatale di Cortona.  We burned wet wood for fires, hung our clothes to dry in the barn and an unflappable few wore their cutest shoes the way a lady does, through the mud and uncut grass of olive groves.  For the love of Italy.  I have never seen so much rain.  We were undeterred.  Arms were enthusiastically outstretched for draping pasta over before we got it in the pot, and sauced with Bolognese.   Snowstorms of flour hit every inch of the table for cutting and rolling gnocchi, we whipped zabaglione, stuffed chicken, basted pork, diced, sliced, and grated a Springtime’s worth of fruit and vegetables and tasted everything we made.  It was accepted that the way to know when a dish was done is:  when you taste it, is it Beautiful?  And it was.  It was beautiful.