A humble dinner for a rainy autumn day
by Danielle Charles
Mesclun greens with apple, pinenuts and walnut oil
Creamy cauliflower soup with gorgonzola and pear relish
Individual blackberry ginger upside-down cakes with cream
I am a collector of menus. I have notebooks full of them, clipped out of magazines or scrawled out messily on scraps of paper at the kitchen table, piles of cookbooks surrounding me. When I read back over them, they seem to describe periods of my life in ways that I don’t think anything else quite could. Soba noodle salad with fried tempeh, wasabi dressing and hibiscus tea is Boulder in the spring. Jasmine tea and French toast with bananas and almonds is Seattle in the winter when it rains. These menus catch that distinctive aroma which is so fully of just one place and one time – immediately recalling that intangible feeling of a closed chapter in your life.
There is almost something akin to story telling in making menus – the creation of something with a clear beginning and an end, a distinctive style and feel, a theme pulling everything together. Indeed, food in itself is really like a story. A story of who we are and what we like, where we live, where we came from, how we live. I try to imagine what it might be like to see all the meals I have eaten strung out in a line before me. What stories would I find there? What themes?
I think it has almost become therapeutic to me, creating these menus, some odd way of creating a sense of completion and resolve in a world that doesn’t often provide those things in neat, delicious little packages. Each menu takes infinite possibility and direction and creates from that something that is concise and simple and profound. Each menu is like a little organized snapshot of the infinite divine.
My newest obsession is the creation of menus attached to very specific happenings – a picnic for an afternoon in fall, a meal for eating around the fire, a dinner for the coldest day in winter, a soup for the first thunderstorm. I think of them as little poems documenting the flavors and seasons of our lives. As though the first drizzly day in March when the snow starts to melt really does taste like split pea soup and soda bread. And July tastes of corn and tomatoes.
The other night, the rain was falling hard on the roof top making it’s soothing rhythm of pitter pats, and the house was just a little chilly. And so I created the menu for the first rainy autumn day. It tastes like the warmth of the oven, the crispness of the air, the drumming of the rain, the sweet and sour realizations of fall. Of all of these recipes are based off of those found in A year in my kitchen by Skye Gyngell, an absolutely beautiful and inspiring book that I highly recommend.
Individual blackberry and ginger upside down cakes
Make your desert first, so that you can whip of the rest of the meal with the cakes are baking. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F, and butter 4 small ramekins. Cream together 1/2 cup softened butter with 1/2 cup sugar. Add 2 organic free range eggs, one at a time, beating well with each addition. Sift in1 cup flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt. When everything is well combined, fold in 1/4 cup well chopped candied ginger, 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root, and the zest of 1 lemon.
In the bottom of each ramekin, place enough blackberries to cover the bottoms (anywhere from 3-10, depending on the size of the blackberries and the ramekins).
Drizzle a little molasses over the blackberries, and then spoon the cake mixture on top, filling to about a 1/4 inch or more from the top. Cover each ramekin loosely with foil, place on a baking tray, and bake for 35-45 minutes, until a knife stuck in the center comes out clean.
Run a knife around each pudding, and turn them out onto a warm plate. Drizzle a little organic cream over each one, and eat with a spoon.
Creamy cauliflower soup with gorgonzola and pear relish
While the cakes are baking, filling the house with delicious aromas, make the soup. Remove the outer leaves from a medium sized head of cauliflower, and then break it into small florets. Melt a few good tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan, and add 2 small or 1 medium yellow onion, chopped roughly. When the onions begin to sweat a little, add the cauliflower, 4 thyme sprigs, 2 bay leaves and some salt and pepper. Pour a quart of chicken or vegetable stock over everything, then bring to a simmer. Cover, and let simmer for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the pear relish. Chop 2 pears and 1 apple (I used a gravenstien) into small dice. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, and add the fruit, cooking for about 5 minutes or until it begins to soften. To the fruit, add 2 tbsp dried cranberries, 1 tbsp dried currants or raisins, 75 ml apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp sugar, 3 thyme sprigs, a cinnamon stick and a little salt and pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until the relish has a shiny, jewel like texture. Remove the cinnamon and thyme and the relish is complete.
Back to the soup, crumble in about 250g of gorgonzola (or any blue cheese of your choice), and stir until it has melted into the soup. Add 1 cup of creme fraiche, and stir to combine. Remove the bay leaves and thyme stalks, then tip the soup into a blender, or use an immersion blender, and blitz the soup into a smooth, velvety consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Mesclun greens with apple, pinenuts, and walnut oil
To make the salad, place a generous few handfuls of mesclun greens into a bowl. Add 2-3 medium sized shallots, thinly sliced, and 1 sweet-tart apple, thinly sliced. Toast a good handful of pinenuts in a pan until they become fragrant and browned, and add to the bowl. Mix everything together a bit with your hands.
For the dressing, combine 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar with a tablespoon or two of maple syrup. Drizzle the walnut oil slowly into the vinegar, mixing constantly with a whisk or fork. Add a pinch of dried ginger powder and a little salt if needed.
Place the salad on the table with the dressing in a little jar with a spoon, so each person can add their own preferred amount of dressing.