Plum Ice Cream

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It was a spring evening in 1997. There I was, with my boyfriend at the time and four of our friends, all gay men, sitting around a TV in a suburban living room, somewhere in northern New Jersey, waiting for the world to change. We knew this was coming. Everyone knew. But it didn’t make it any less monumental for us.

Our conversation stopped as soon as the show started. We watched with the cautious anticipation of those whose hopes had been dashed too many times before. But there she was on the screen, leaning over a podium microphone and pronouncing those words “I’m gay,” accidentally broadcasting them over an entire airport. We laughed nervously, not quite ready to feel relief. She had done it. Ellen had come out on TV. The first time a main character on a hit TV show came out as gay (along with the actress who portrayed it).
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It’s been eighteen years since that night. We knew then that Ellen’s coming out was just another brick in the house we were all building. A seemingly small one (it was, after all just one character in one show that ended up being cancelled after one more season). But it turned out to be much bigger than we had thought. It was the beginning of us being seen and heard, in TV shows and books, in songs and movies, and eventually, in towns and neighborhoods where we had been all but invisible. It was the start of a movement that said: here we are, we are people, who live and love and die like you, who stress over who will take the kids to soccer practice or agonize over what to wear on that first date, who want to reach out and wipe with our thumb the drop of plum ice cream that’s stubbornly stuck to our lover’s lower lip but we are afraid to do so in public. We are like you.

Eighteen years ago, six gay mean watching TV in New Jersey could not have predicted (and they did not) that one day relatively soon, they would be witnesses to the Supreme Court (or at least most of it) saying yes, your love matters as much as anyone else’s. That they, some of them by now married with kids, would finally see the roof finished over that house they and those that had come before them had been building for decades. There are still things left undone, without a doubt, and there are others who still vow to tear that house down, but for now, that roof has finally made that house a home. 

DSC03200Plum Ice Cream – From The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments

Ingredients:

1 lb (450 g) plums
1/3 cup (80 ml) water
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (180g) sugar
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon kirsch

Directions:

Slice the plums in half and remove the pits. Cut the plums into eighths and put them in a medium saucepan with the water. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sugar until dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.

In a blender, purée cooled plums with cream and kirsch until smooth.

Chill mixture in refrigerator until very cold and freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Johnnycake Bread

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I took a two-week break from the blog because Steve and I were on vacation. We took 10 days off and spent five of them in Paris and five of them in Norway.

Paris was lovely, as always. We had incredible weather the entire time (as well as in Norway). We saw our good friends who live there and we explored some new restaurants. One night they took us out to Claude Colliot for my birthday, where the meal was beautifully prepared, with fresh ingredients and unfussy preparation. On another night we went the the Frenchie wine bar, where we had “bar food” that was better than what most restaurants serve. On our last night, our friends introduced us to Le Sergent Recruteur. The meal was fantastic. The service exceptional. The first course alone, a mix of tomatoes with a licorice-like herb (not tarragon), covered by a disc of frozen tomato water, was worth the price of the whole meal.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was our lunch at Lafayette Gourmet, the newly renovated high-end food market in the center of Paris. We found the whole market a little too sterile for us, the food displayed like jewels, the walls pure white  and pristinely clean. But we ate lunch at the butcher stand (all of the different stands also serve as restaurants). We both had steak and it was one of the tenderest, most delicious pieces of beef we’ve had in a long time.DSC03940

Next, we flew to Oslo, Norway. Norway is a beautiful country. We took the train from Oslo to Bergen on the west coast and hit a fjord cruise on our way back to Oslo, the steep slopes of the mountains on both sides of the boat watching us as we dodged the hordes of screaming kids that had joined the cruise with us. The train ride to Bergen was almost better than the fjord cruise. Our train went from sunny Oslo up to completely snow covered mountains (at 2,000 meters above sea level) and down to cloudy and cool Bergen in the span of seven hours.

We ate some good food in Norway and some not so good (like the hot dogs we ate on the train because nothing else looked good). In our hotel in Oslo, we were surprised to find out that our room not only included breakfast, but also included a “light dinner” every day, which was a full dinner with soup, appetizers, a main dish, and dessert, all for nothing. Given how insanely expensive everything in Norway was, this was very welcome. The breakfast buffet every morning was huge, with everything from eggs and “Norwegian paté” (no idea what was in it, but it was tasty), to fruits and muesli, pickled herring, breads and cheeses, including traditional Norwegian brown cheese, or brunost.

Oh my god, the brown cheese! Shaped in a cube with the color of dulce de leche or caramel sauce, it didn’t look very inviting. But I took a slice and as soon as I put it in my mouth I was hooked. The cheese is made with milk, cream, and whey which are boiled until the milk sugars caramelize. This gives it a sweet, caramel-y taste and a wonderful stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth texture. It’s like cheese made out of caramel. I went crazy with it and had it every morning. I don’t know where I can find it in the U.S. but I’ll look for it. I think it will be fantastic on top of a slice of this johnnycake bread.
DSC03918Johnnycake Bread – From Bon Appétit

Ingredients:

¼ cup vegetable oil, plus more for pans
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cornmeal
¼ cup granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup mild-flavored (light) molasses
1 tablespoon maple sugar or raw sugar

Directions:

Heat oven to 325°. Lightly oil two 5×2½” loaf pans (or one 8½x4½” loaf pan). Whisk flour, cornmeal, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, add eggs, milk, molasses, and ¼ cup oil, and whisk in dry ingredients. Divide between pans. Sprinkle with maple sugar.

Bake breads until golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 40–45 minutes for small loaves (50–55 minutes for large loaf). Transfer pans to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes before turning out.

DO AHEAD: Breads can be made 1 day ahead. Store wrapped tightly at room temperature.

Marinated Sweet and Sour Fish

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The words “sweet and sour” have a special place in my heart. Sweet and sour chicken was one of the first Chinese dishes I ever tasted. It was when I was a kid and my parents splurged one night to take us to the only Chinese restaurant in our town. It was an upscale place, with lazy suzan tables that my sister and I couldn’t get enough of.

The combination of sweet and sour is not found in Greek savory dishes. So, for us, sweet and sour chicken was incredibly exotic. It was a main dish and a dessert all in one! Eventually, my mom found a recipe for a version of it and she would make it often enough that it became a little less exotic, though it still remained a favorite.DSC04044

When I came to the U.S. to study, there were several food trucks on campus, and one of them was Chinese. At least once a week, I would pay them $5 and they would hand me a white styrofoam clamshell container, heavy and warm. I would open it as soon as I could find a place to sit. Inside it, waiting for me, was some white rice, topped with battered and deep fried nuggets of chicken, and smothered with that golden syrup, of sweet and sour fame. It was divine.

So, when Steve and I were going through the Jerusalem cookbook for a recipe to try out a couple of weeks ago, we were intrigued when we saw the name of this particular one. The colorful photo didn’t hurt either. So we gave it a try and, as with everything in this cookbook, we were not disappointed. The dish really is better after it sits in the fridge for a day or two, and is best eaten at room temperature. I did make one change though. I reduced the amount of coriander. It overpowered the dish and took away from that perfect combination: sweet and sour.DSC04039Marinated Sweet and Sour Fish – Slightly adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2 inch slices (350 g)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed in mortar and pestle
2 bell peppers (one red and one yellow or orange), cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch strips (300 g)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or grated on microplane
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
2 cups (320 g) of dice tomatoes in juice (from two 14.5 oz cans, some will be left over)
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons cider vinegar (or sherry vinegar)
1 lb (500 g) white fish fillets (such as cod, halibut, pollock, etc.)
all purpose flour for dusting
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large ovenproof deep pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and crushed coriander seeds. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add peppers and cook for another 10 minutes. Add garlic, bay leaves, curry powder, and tomatoes and cook for another 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sugar, vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and some black pepper and cook for another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a separate frying pan over medium high heat. Sprinkle fish with some salt, dip in the flour, then in the eggs, and fry for about 3 minutes, turning once. Transfer fish to paper towels to absorb excess oil. When all fish is cooked, add to pan with the peppers and onions, pushing the vegetables aside so that the fish is at the bottom of pan. Add enough water just to immerse the fish in the liquid.

Place the pan in the oven for 10-12 minutes until the fish is cooked. Remove from oven and let it cool to room temperature. The fish can be served now or put in the fridge, covered, for a day or two to let the flavors combine. Before service add salt and pepper, if needed.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars

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When I was a kid, strawberries were really exotic. They’d appear briefly in late spring, early summer and they were very expensive. So when my parents would buy some, we’d cherish them, eating them slowly and savoring every juicy bite. Before we knew it, they were gone until the next season. This scarcity of strawberries must still be in the back of my mind because strawberries are the first fruit I gravitate to in a breakfast bar or salad bar. And right after chocolate desserts, strawberry ones always catch my eye on a restaurant menu.

So, when I saw the picture of these strawberry rhubarb crisp bars on the excellent food blog Smitten Kitchen, I was immediately, well, smitten. I’ll admit, rhubarb is still a bit of a mystery to me. Sometimes it really works, adding a grassy acidity and a mildly fibrous texture to desserts. But most of the time I just don’t know what to do with it. Here it works well. It cuts through the richness of the crust and as always, pairs perfectly with the strawberries.DSC03965Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars – Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:

1 cup (80 grams) rolled oats
3/4 cup (95 grams) plus up to 2 tablespoons (15 grams) extra all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (95 grams) light brown sugar
Heaped 1/4 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon cornstarch (optional, but helps firm up the filling)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) lemon juice
1 tablespoon (15 grams) granulated sugar, divided
1 cup (125 grams) small-diced rhubarb (from about 1 1/2 medium stalks)
1 cup (155 grams) small-diced strawberries

Directions:

Heat oven to 375 degrees F if using metal pan (350 degrees if using glass pan). For easy removal, line bottom of 8-by-8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper leaving overhang on two sides.

Place oats, 3/4 cup flour, brown sugar and salt medium bowl and mix. Pour melted butter over, and stir until clumps form. If the clumps feel soft or look overly damp, add the remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons flour. Set aside 1/2 cup of the crumble mixture. Press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the pan.

Spread half the fruit over the crust. Sprinkle it evenly with cornstarch (I use a tea strainer to do this), then lemon juice, and 1/2 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Spread remaining fruit over this, and top with second 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Scatter reserved crumbs over fruit and bake bars for about 40 minutes, until fruit is bubbly and crisp portion is golden.

Let cool in pan. Remove using parchment paper and cut into squares. Alternatively, you can place them in fridge to chill and crisp up, before cutting. These are best eaten the day made. Store leftovers in fridge.

The Sommer

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“What did Steve get you for your birthday?” my sister asked me on the phone. It was a beautiful morning a few weeks ago and I was indeed celebrating my birthday. “A few gifts,” I said to her, “but I will open them tonight, though I did get to open one this morning.”

“What was it?” she asked eagerly.

“Vinegar,” I replied.

We both burst out laughing. “Is he trying to tell you something?” she asked jokingly, which made us laugh even more.

No, this wasn’t a symbolic gift. It was a thoughtful one, since I had expressed a desire for this vinegar for a while. It’s a Thai drinking vinegar that I was very curious to try. Steve knew that and got me the pineapple version. As it turns out, it’s irresistibly delicious. As in, when you taste it you want to chug the bottle (which you shouldn’t). As soon as we tried it, we knew this would have to be an ingredient for a cocktail.

I’ve tried inventing cocktails before, but I’ve never been successful. My ability to create food recipes does not seem to translate to cocktails. But this time, I got lucky. After the first try, I came up with a cocktail that we both loved. In fact, we may have to order a second bottle of the drinking vinegar soon.
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The Sommer

Makes 2 drinks

Ingredients:

3 oz gin
3 oz Pimm’s No. 1
3 oz Pok Pok Som Pineapple Drinking Vinegar (you can buy this from many stores or online from places like Amazon)
2 maraschino cherries (optional)

Directions:

In a shaker, add gin, Pimm’s, and vinegar.

Add ice to above the level of the liquid. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds.

Strain into chilled coupes and garnish with a maraschino cherry in each coupe.

Blueberry Lemon Frozen Yogurt

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Once in a while, I stumble upon a book that burrows into my brain and lays a bunch of little eggs that hatch at random times, sometimes long after I’ve finished reading it, bringing back scenes and words. There was “The Confessions of Max Tivoli,” by Andrew Sean Greer, with its achingly beautiful sadness. And “Embassytown,” by China Mieville, that still makes me think about the complexities of language, humor, and sentience. I’ll never forget the three main characters or the idiosyncratic language of “Plays Well with Others,” by Allan Gurganus, its eggs still hatching in my brain, years after I finished reading it for the third time.

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Right now, it’s “Preparation for the Next Life,” by Atticus Lish, that’s filling me with wonder. Its plot is minimal. Two people, an illegal Chinese immigrant and a damaged Iraq war vet, meet and fall in love in a contemporary New York city that many of us never see, away from Manhattan and gentrified Brooklyn.

Not much happens in this book. But it’s the words. The language is so deceptively simple and unadorned. The sentences are mostly short and direct, with the occasional small flourish. Put together, they convey places and feelings like a punch in the gut, sudden and jarring. The words are like water, flowing around distractions, coming together into a stream of experiences. The simplest things, describing a dinner at McDonald’s or working out at the gym, become compelling in this book.

I want to be able to write like that. Even if it’s about something as simple as a bowl of blueberries, blended with sugar, yogurt and lemon, to make frozen yogurt. So, for now, I’ll just keep writing.

DSC03073Blueberry Lemon Frozen Yogurt – Slightly adapted from The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments

Ingredients:

1½ cups (360 g) plain yogurt (whole milk)
¾ cup (150 g) sugar
3 cups (340 g) blueberries
2 teaspoons kirsch
3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
finely grated zest of half a lemon

Directions:

In a blender or food processor, blend yogurt, sugar, blueberries, and zest. Stir in the kirsch and lemon juice. Chill for 1 hour.

If it solidifies, give it a good stir with a spoon. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Chicken Ttavas/Τταβας (Chicken Stew with Cumin and Onions)

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We decided to drive to Platres, a village resort up near the highest point of Cyprus, on the Troodos mountains. Even though it was mid-April, the weather was wintery. Low clouds played hide-and-seek among the mountain tops, coming down enough to envelop our cars in a thin fog. The sun triumphed occasionally, only to be followed by a short hailstorm and then rain and then back to sun again. Above us, we could see that the highest peaks were snow covered from the night before.DSC03982

We reached the village around noon and parked at its center. Unlike other villages we had seen, with their disorganized chaos of delapidated shacks, restored old houses, and construction garbage everywhere, Platres was pristine. Beautiful houses were dotting the landscape, with tended gardens and flowering trees. “Platres was a popular upscale resort during the British colonial times,” I explained, “and it remained so after independence.”DSC03977

It started to drizzle. “Lunch?” I asked. Everyone nodded. We walked into the closest restaurant, doubtful it was even open. The whole village was quiet and empty. This was Easter week and much earlier than the crowded tourist season. The door to the restaurant opened and we walked in to a dining room empty of any customers, except for three men at a table, with a laptop open. “Come in,” one of them said, the apparent owner.

We sat down and he explained what was available for the day. It was a limited menu but there was enough there to entice us. Steve and JC ordered ttavas, a lamb stew, cooked in onions and tomatoes with a heavy dose of cumin. Traditionally cooked in clay pots in outdoor wood-burning ovens, I always remember it from my childhood, tasting of sweet earth and smoke. When it arrived at our table and Steve took a bite, his eyes lit up. “This is amazing,” he said. JC nodded in agreement.

Last week, back in New York, I decided to create a version of it, tweaking my mom’s recipe and using chicken instead of lamb. No clay pots or wood-burning ovens are involved, but it will get you as close as possible to a cold spring afternoon in Platres without leaving your home.

DSC04012Chicken Ttavas/Τταβας (Chicken Stew with Cumin and Onions)

Ingredients:

½ cup olive oil
1½ teaspoons of salt, divided
2 lbs onions (about 4 medium onions), peeled, cut in half and sliced crosswise in ¼-inch thick slices
6 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed with back of knife
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds, lightly crushed in mortar and pestle
One 14.5 oz (411 gr) can of diced tomatoes in juice
¾ cup white wine
¼ cup rice vinegar
2 bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper
1½-1¾ lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325° F.

In a large oven-safe pot with lid, heat olive-oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft but have not turned brown, about 15 minutes. Add cumin, and cook, stirring constantly for another minute.

Add diced tomatoes and their juices, wine, vinegar, bay leaves, an additional 1 teaspoon of salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine well. Add chicken thighs and nestle them in the onion mixture to cover them. Bring back to a gentle simmer, cover pot and place in oven.

Cook covered for 60 minutes. Uncover pot and return to oven for an additional 20 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper, if necessary

To serve, use two forks to separate chicken thighs into large pieces. Serve in shallow bowls with chunks of bread to sop up the onions and tomatoes.