6.20.2009

Tradition



veszprem, hungary

I’ve always envied the food traditions of other cultures, like the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve. For years I adopted the culinary traditions of others, until I realized one very simple thing. I have my own.

Tradition is anything you’ve done more than once, and cherish. It’s the chocolate layer cake my mom bakes for each and every family birthday, or the Swedish pancakes we ate every Sunday after church among the Johnsons, Swansons and Larsons of Rockford, Illinois. One of my favorite new traditions is the welcome meal Anya, András’ mother, has waiting for us as soon as we arrive in Hungary. No matter the season or the hour of the day, it is always the same: A light broth made rich with the flavors of carrots, parsnips, potatoes and onions pulled straight from the ground; thinly sliced cucumbers marinated in their own liquid with garlic and salt; two hearty slices of her wheat-rye bread with cool slabs of butter; and bodzavirág (elderflower) syrup sodas made a'la minute with her homemade bodzavirág szirup and sparkling water from Balaton.

The meal is followed by the deepest, most relaxing sleep side-by-side in András boyhood bedroom, until Woody (as in Woody Allen), their feisty adopted stray dog, barks and wakes us. When I emerge, groggy but relaxed, Apa, (András’ dad) and I tour the backyard as I recount the location of every fruit tree, gauge their stages of ripening and how well we’d timed this visit around the season of choice.

We speak in our broken garden Magyar, our common language, and reconnect over the simple words we speak of each other’s mother tongues.

Alma. Apple.

Szilva. Plum.

Figue. Fig.


Those are easy for me.


málna.Strawberries

Szedrek. Blackberries

Cseresznyék.Cherries


Bigger challenges for my sleepy tongue, but I’ll get there.


If veggies are abundant in our community plot back in New York, this is the land of endless fruit. He shows me the tiny black raspberries that will ripen in fall, the fig tree that rebounded from our visit last May, grape vines that have doubled in size, and the new hazelnut tree that’s already producing fruit. Immediately, I start thinking about which season I’ll plan our next trip around.

For the moment, I’m quite pleased with myself. My plan worked out perfectly—we would arrive for cherry season, so that bowls of sweet and sour cherries would line our wedding table next Saturday. The cherries are everywhere—dark, firm cherries the size of walnuts, tiny black cherries with just a hint of sour, and Hungary’s famous meggyes, soft sour globes that make you pucker and smile. But Saturday is a whole week away. I’m sure the tree can spare just a few for me now.

6.19.2009

Mulberry Crush

l.i.c., ny

On nights like this, when New York City is covered with a beautifully eerie Sleepy Hollow mist, it's impossible to leave. And the thing that makes it even harder, is the fact that mulberry tree in the park down the street just began to ripen, a conflict deepened by the fact that the leaving in question is for a trip to Hungary, timed entirely around peak cherry season. Life is full of difficult choices.

I can't tell you exactly where this tree is (a good forager never reveals her sources), but I can tell you that I've spent a shameful amount of hours worrying about the fact that the tree might ripen just as we were leaving, and wondering what lucky, surely less deserving couple might get our mulberries.

Last summer, when our neighborhood was less "discovered" and said park less frequented, we had the entire harvest to ourselves. Whatever wasn't lost to the mulberry crush on the sidewalks was ours for the taking. We invited friends from Brooklyn for a mulberry picking, made countless batches of shortcakes and picked until our nail beds were a semi-permanent shade of deep blue. But now that the elbow between Long Island City and Astoria has become home to all sorts of New-York-Times-reading hipsters, who may have read Wednesday's foraging story, there's no chance. Thanks a lot New York Times.

So, tonight when I came home just before dusk, and caught András emerging from the East River with his kayak on his back, I persuaded him to postpone packing and come picking with me, in the dark, in the rain, in case God forbid someone clean out our tree while we're away.

He did, thank goodness, since he's a better climber than me. We came home with a box full of white, deep purple and the occasional pink mulberry that, if I'm lucky, András will turn into whole-wheat waffles with mulberries, and (because the man has no boundaries at mealtime), chocolate chunks before we head JFK. Not a bad way to bid New York adieu.

6.13.2009

Ode to Watermelon {and Julia}


My favorite food in the world is Watermelon, and since today is my birthday, I would like to eat only my favorite foods. Since I woke up in a home without watermelon, I had to ask my favorite husband to make a run up to the local Trade Fair to bring me back a prize melon. {What? It's not like I asked him to bring me back an edelweiss}.

I've had three decades to build my watermelon expertise, so I took the liberty of sending him off with a few tips for picking the perfect one, which turned into an essay, which became the perfect opportunity to take the advice of writing coach Don Fry and adopt the voice of someone I admire as a writing exercise. I think it’s a nifty little exercise, and a perfect opportunity to pretend that I’m Julia Child, preparing my dear Paul (or a studio audience) to pick me the perfect birthday watermelon.

In honor of my birthday, and the pending release of the film Julie & Julia, I’ve “donned” the voice of Julia here for you:


{How to Carve A Watermelon}

Watermelon is the perfect summer food. You know in the middle of the summer I just love to serve my guests, and my husband, the most perfectly juicy watermelon. I hate to think that not everyone knows how to pick just the right watermelon. I’ve become an expert in picking watermelon, and I’m going to share my secrets with you. To pick a watermelon in its prime, you must first thump the outside of the melon firmly, listening for a distinct thud, which sounds as if the melon is hollow. This thud will tell you that it is filled with wonderful juices! Another marvelous way to tell if it is ripe is to swing it up and down in your arms like a baby. It should feel very heavy, which is another way to know that it is filled with scrumptious liquid.

When you get your melon home, you must first carefully wash the outside. You can never dismiss the many hands that have handled the fruit. Then, place the melon in the center of a sturdy wooden board and, using your longest chef’s knife, dig the point of the knife into the center of the flesh and rock back and forth until you split the melon wide open. If the melon is perfectly ripe, you should hear a crack, like the splitting of a tree branch in the quiet woods. This is a very good sign.

Inside, you should find firm pink flesh, and many little black and some smaller white seeds, which can easily be removed with a fork. I just ignore them and eat them right along with the melon. They won’t hurt and they certainly won’t cause a watermelon to grow in your belly (ha ha ha). Of course you want to taste it, and make sure it’s just exactly right. If you approve, slice it any way you like, and bring it to the table on a little tray for your guests. With it you could certainly serve a fine bottle of chilled, crisp rose.

That’s all for today. This is Julia Child, Bon Apetit!


To write this, I used my best “memory” of Julia Child but as I finished, I realized that although I’ve read her biography and often heard her imitated, I had never watched her show. Thankfully, YouTube has many clips of Julia at her best, and I thought this one, Chafing Dish Dinner, was quite a dandy. If you’re having trouble hearing her voice while you read, watch this first, then go back and re-read it (I had fun reading this to András aloud in my best Julia imitation)

As I said at the beginning, I think this is quite a nifty little writing exercise, and I really agree with myself. I hope Julia would too.


6.08.2009

I Was Told There'd Be Garlic Scapes

Have you read Sloane Crosley's book, I Was Told There'd Be Cake? If you haven't, you might want to. It's hilarious. I think if someone could channel her humor into writing about gardening or cooking, it could be really funny. But I don't think I'm that person. Gardening makes me feel like Pollyana or Donna Reed. It makes me giddy and gay {in the 1960s way}, and feel like running home to cook something nurturing and scrumptious for my husband.

I'm the kind of girl Sloane would probably hate, or at least write a funny essay about, which is too bad, because I think I'd like to be her friend.

My friend Carrie, who is probably Sloane's neighbor on the Upper West Side and the one who gave me Sloane's book, is a much more likely candidate. She has blazing red hair and wears pink books and drove the weiner mobile and rides on the back of her boyfriend's 1970s BMW bike and plays the guitar. She doesn't even know what garlic scapes are, and I bet Sloane would love that. Sigh.
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New York City, United States
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.