The Teacup Chronicles

Category: Spring

Minty Pea Pesto

There are so many things to love about June.

There are the long days of bright sunshine to spend laying in a hammock with a book or swimming in a lake or taking long meandering walks. There are the warm rains that make everything smell fresh and the passing thunderstorms to watch from the porch when the rain comes down in torrents.

There are the evenings that seem to stretch on forever, sitting outside with a glass of wine watching the twilight settle down. There are the fireflies at dusk.

There  is the perfume of a thousand different flowers carried on the breeze. There are irises and roses to admire, elder flowers to simmer in pots full of lemon and lime zest for elderflower cordial. Peonies to place in old glass mason jars and set on the table.

There are strawberries – juicy and crimson through and through – and rhubarb that is fragrant and tart and lovely. There are tender young lettuces and spicy radishes to crunch into, peas so sweet you could eat them by the handful.

There are friends who come to visit and friends to go and see.

There is the scent of cut grass and the hum of lawnmowers in the distance. There is riding in the car with all the windows down. Cold glasses of lemonade that taste so amazingly good and summer dresses that are cool and airy and make one feel pretty.

And there are the meals eaten outside – the picnics, the backyard barbecues, the lunches in the leafy shade and the late late dinners on the porch when the sun is going down and the fireflies and starting to twinkle. I would eat every meal out-of-doors this month if I could. Everything tastes better when it is eaten under open sky with the wind in your hair and the birds singing all around you. It really does.

Because I love the opportunity to bask in the gentleness of June as often and as long as I can, I try to make meals that are light and fresh,  intended to be eaten slowly, nonchalantly, lazily – designed more as an accompaniment to being outdoors than as the sole purpose.  I put out bowls of salad from the garden and let people make their own.  I make pesto with all of the wonderful herbs coming up in the garden to slather on crusty pieces of bread with fat slices of mozzarella or fresh tart goats cheese to crumble. Bowls of fresh strawberries with lightly whipped cream for dipping them in. All the sorts of things that taste exactly of June.

This is a pesto I made the other day using fresh peas – sweet and tender and wonderful – and mint from the garden. It is refreshing and light and just the thing for a warm and hazy day that requires something light. I served it with my favorite oatcakes baked into wedges, fresh mesclun greens from the garden and a handful of hot peppery radishes.

Minty Pea Pesto

Serves 4

  • 2.5 pounds peas in their pods – or about 1 pound freshly shelled peas  (you can use frozen in a pinch, but it won’t be nearly as good!)
  • 1 small bunch of fresh mint, leaves removed from stems
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 3-4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces finely grated Parmesan (optional)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • a good pinch each of salt and black pepper

Place the peas, pinenuts, garlic and mint leaves into a food processor with a pinch of salt and about half the olive oil. Pulse until the peas are broken up but still have some chunk and texture to them. Add the cheese, lemon juice, another pinch of salt and black pepper and pulse again, drizzling in more olive oil as needed until you have the consistency you want – it should be about the consistency of a thick hummus, with slightly more texture to it.

Check for salt and pepper and acidity, adding more of each as you see fit.

Serve with toasted crusty bread, oat cakes or a crisp, hearty cracker. Torn fresh mozzarella would be a good addition, along with a nice fresh salad – to make this more of a meal.

A cake of citrus and teff

It feels so nice to sit down at the computer for a moment. To breathe. To sigh. To let things sink in just a little. It’s been a difficult week. I’ve spent most of every day sitting in the hospital with my Dad and my family. Watching him sleep. Watching him trying to eat and not being able to. Cleaning him up when his meals come back up.  Encouraging him to walk, to get out of bed, catching him when he collapses. Wondering what is going through his mind. So many emotions. I wouldn’t k now how to begin to describe them.

I made this cake several weeks ago, before things had gotten bad. It feels like a different time, even a different life when I made it.  It was such a pleasant day, one of those days where everything has a sense of harmony to it, things click along with ease. I woke up to the rain pounding down on the roof and I decided to make a cake. I made coffee, turned on a CD of Garrison Keillor stories and started baking. The falling rain, the smells of burnt sugar and citrus wafting through the house, the warmth of the oven – made everything feel like a happy dream. What I remember most from that day is hearing Garrison say, in one of his many Lake Wobegon stories, that friendship is a thing that comes about when you discover a mutual need in another. It stuck with me.

And now, several weeks later, those words have taken on a deeper meaning for me. In all of those moments when I discover all the ways that I need and am needed – when I hold my Dad’s hand and I know it says more than words; when I walk with my Mom while he’s sleeping and we laugh and vent and comfort each other; when my sister and I stay up until midnight talking – I feel that need that ties us all together.  Because I think that need that Garrison was speaking of – that dependency people feel, the sense that another fills some requirement of your spirit that you just can’t survive without – I think that’s what creates the feeling of family too. Knowing that you are needed, and knowing that you need.

So here is the recipe, a perfect cake for sharing with the people you need (and love) most.

A Cake of Citrus and Teff

I used a few Seville oranges I had left over from marmalade making, but lemon would be perfect too since not everyone has Seville oranges knocking around. This is what I like to call an afternoon cake – not too sweet, a little more on the wholesome side – something you could snack on with a cup of tea.

Topping:

  • 1 lemon, sliced thinly into rounds
  • 2 tbs demerara sugar
  • 4 tbs water

Cake

  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup teff flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup demerara sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup)

Preheat the oven to 4oo degrees F and line a 9 inch springform pan with parchment. (Or use a 9 inch loaf pan).

Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan with the lemon slices. Simmer until most of the liquid has been evaporated (about 5 minutes) and the lemons are sticky and delicious. Set aside.

Sift all the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix till combined.

Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the citrus zest and vanilla extract and stir to combine.

Add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time, and mix until well combined

Add the flour mixture, the milk and the lemon juice and stir until everything is incorporated.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan and arrange the sticky lemon slices over the top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before taking out of the pan and serving.

 

Update 5/26/12: My mind must truly be more out of it than I thought because someone quietly and sweetly pointed out to me this morning that there was no sugar listed in the ingredients but there was in the directions. Whoops! I’ve fixed that in the recipe now, but I truly apologize for any confusion or unsweet cakes that have resulted from that mistaken omission.

Japanese style pickled burdock

In the past several years, I have become addicted to preserving things. I can’t seem to help myself. The thought of all those little jars full of goodness accumulating in my pantry  fills me with the warmest feelings of happiness and contentment. It’s like having money in the bank, those jars. Things to look forward too. I find myself mapping out the year in what preserves I will make – rhubarb jam in May, Strawberry in June, bread and butter pickles in July.  I have an endless list.

And I’ll tell you, that deep down, what I’m really drawn to about the whole thing is the idea that somehow, I can capture time in a jar. Does that sound mad? I believe it though. There is more than just strawberries in my jam. There is June sunshine, long lazy days of blue skies, lightning bugs and warm muggy afternoons when the thunderheads roll through. All of that is in there too.  When you preserve something,  you also  preserve a little bit of time, a memory, a thousand sensations. And then you open it up months later and all that is there to taste. June sunshine on a dull February afternoon. It’s a thought that makes me happy.

I was making my spring list of things to pickle, jam and capture in jars, when my good friend Iris called. Iris is one of those truly remarkable people that seem never to be phased by anything. While I am panicking and worrying and over-reacting to just about everything that is ridiculous and unimportant , she goes about in her gentle and easy way, handling the most horrendous of happenings as though they were nothing at all.  This is saying something too, as she is a single mother and the owner of her own herbal products company, which she runs single-handedly.  A remarkable person, as I said. Just being in her presence makes one calm, as though the world has just slowed down a few paces and grown far less complicated than it was before.

Anyhow, Iris called me up to ask me if I might like to collaborate with her again on her seasonal herb share program. We did one back in the winter – packed with elderberry syrup, echinacea, immune soups and the like – which turned out quite a success. So she wanted to keep going with a spring theme this time. I want you to make something that falls more into the food category she said (doesn’t she know me well?). Maybe something with spring greens, or something rooty. It just has to be shelf-stable. 

Well, it didn’t take long for me to pick. Burdock pickles. I make them every year in early spring, and they, along with all my other favorite must have jams and pickles, are an important marker in the succession of the year. There is burdock pickle time just as there is tomato sauce time and canned peaches time. It’s a time of shoots rising, leaves unfurling, damp earthy soil and roots to be dug.

Burdock, to give you a little background,   is a common garden and wayside weed with remarkable medicinal qualities. Herbalists like to call it a “tonic” because it does just that – gently tonifies and strengthens the body, from the digestive tract and liver to the immune system and lymphatics, when used over a period of time. For this reason, I love to consume a little burdock each day at the change of the seasons (spring and fall) to support my body as it adapts to the seasonal transition. In Japan it is touted not just for its medicinal benefit, but as a delicious food as well – a crisp, nutty root with a distinctive sweet flavor that can only be described as burdock. These pickles are my favorite way to get my daily burdock dosage and savor its delicious and unique flavor.

So burdock pickles it was. I headed out with my shovel for an afternoon of root digging, root scrubbing, root chopping and root pickling that ended in a half a dozen glittering glass jars packed with burdock roots, ginger, chile and garlic. Four of them went off with Iris for the  spring herb shares (and to be sold at the Montpelier farmer’s market this Saturday – look for the Grian Herbs booth) and two of them have joined the many other jars of deliciousness in my pantry. And of course, burdock isn’t all you’ll find in those jars.  The damp earthiness in the air, the feelings of mud between your fingers, the unfolding of leaves, the rising up of shoots. It’s all there too. You just have to open it up and taste it.

Pickled Burdock Root

You can also find burdock (or Gobo) in Asian markets or well stocked grocery stores, if you haven’t the chance to go dig some up yourself.

  • 4-5 medium-sized burdock roots
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • a two-inch piece of ginger, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 red chili sliced thinly (or 1 – 2 tsp red chili flakes)
  •  apple cider vinegar
  •  tamari
  •  sake

Scrub the roots well to remove any dirt and then peel away the rough outer skin. On larger roots, the outer layer can simply be peeled away by hand though on smaller roots you will need to use a vegetable peeler.

Cut the roots into 1 inch long segments, and then julienne them into matchstick size strips. Alternately, you can slice the roots into thin rounds, about 1/8 inch thick if you prefer a larger sized pickle.

Place your prepared burdock into a pan and just cover with water. Bring the water to a boil for 2-3 minutes (just enough to soften the roots slightly) and then remove from heat. Remove the roots using a slotted spoon and place them in a clean bowl, reserving your cooking liquid.

Add the ginger, garlic and chili to the burdock and mix well. Then divide this mixture into 2 or 3 sterilized pint size mason jars, filling them to about an inch from the top. In each jar, you will fill 1/4 of the volume with apple cider vinegar, 1/4 with tamari, 1/4 with the burdock cooking liquid and 1/4 with sake. Cap tightly. At this point you can refrigerate until ready to use, or place them in a pressure cooker or water bath to seal and make them shelf-stable.