9.30.2009

Pickle Your Fancy



south boston, va
Do you ever wake up wishing for pickles? I admit it’s a funny craving for the morning, but it’s exactly what I wanted when I woke up today. Not just any pickles, the pickles from my wedding, almost 1 year ago. The pickled apricots, watermelon rind, okra, green tomatoes and bread and butter pickles in this picture were made by the local ladies down in South Boston, Virginia, where we wed last October at Berry Hill. We served them the night before we walked down the aisle along side ham biscuits and barbecue chicken and tomato pie and watermelon, watercress and feta salad. We topped it all off with a cobbler of blackberries picked on the Berry Hill grounds, and served ala mode in cast iron skillets. Then we all settled in on cozy blankets and pillows with peanuts and popcorn to watch A Knights Tale on the lawn on a big screen under the stars. These pickles were shot by our friend and photographer James Bowman, and it serves as a beautiful reminder of one of the most memorable meals and nights of my life.
Since the sun is going down on summer, it’s high time you and I start thinking about putting up some pickles for our next memorable meal, which is fortuitous, since today is Farmer’s Market Day in my neighborhood and there are still plenty of okra, peaches and cukes to be had. I’d be quite happy to stay home today and pour spicy, vinegary broth into jars packed with my favorite summer flavors. There’s only one problem. We’ve got the March issue of Food Network Magazine to finish up, and our readers are counting on me. That puts me in quite a pickle.
Let’s make a deal—I’ll give you the recipes, and you make the pickles. Over the next two weeks as we approach my one-year anniversary, I’ll give you these and all the recipes our friends and guests have been asking for from our wedding menu so you can celebrate all the big events in your life.
In the meantime, the test kitchen calls.


9.24.2009

The Language of Fireflies


l.i.c., ny
Summer officially ended this week, but don’t tell that to my garden, or the kids on my block who are still outside on the sidewalk catching fireflies well past dinnertime. It is during that hour, the just past dinner hour, that you’ll find me in the garden tempting the sun to dare to go down on me before I’ve pruned the tomato plants that hang heavy with fruit, or picked the last of our lively beans that creep where they will.
One such night this week, András came to the garden with me, and pulled up a perky bunch of bright orange carrots with one golden misfit. Like almost everything that comes out of our garden or goes on to our plates, I wanted to take their picture, particularly when he dangled them by their tops in front of his vibrant orange shirt. But he wasn’t having it, sticking out his tongue and making funny faces. Luckily, our Hameeda came to his rescue.
Hameeda is the spirited four year old who lives next door with her two brothers, her older sister Fahmeda, her parents, two cousins and her aunt and uncle. The family, but in particular the kids, have become our constant companions on summer nights at home. At first, I was the garden lady, always passing in front of their gate with haphazard bundle of something green, which all six children would gather around to touch or taste.
But Hameeda isn’t satisfied with casual encounters. Ever since I met her last summer, she almost seems to wait for me to come home, leaping into my arms as soon as she sees me, grabbing onto any part of me until she is up close to my face staring into my eyes where I stare back, loving her happy eyes, her baby skin, her childish mixture of Bangla and English that makes perfect sense to me. If ever my arms are too full of vegetables to lift her up, she’ll accept a taste of what I’ve picked as a love offering instead.
“What’s that?” she asked reaching for the carrots in András’ hands. And before long they were hers, András was inside in his Lazy boy and I was in heaven shooting pictures of my little friends.
Although the kids are no stranger to my camera, Hameeda stood stiff against the brick wall, trying to pose pretty and perfect with her carrots. Fahmeda, always quick to leap to her role as big sister, called out instructions in Bangla, after which Hameeda would turn her head or smile bigger or lift the carrots a certain way. I snapped a few photos, then I pulled her into my arms and whispered in her ear “go wild,” after which she handed out the carrots one by one to her playmates and raced down the street, panting and laughing with the unabashed joy and wonder of a four year old for whom a summer night on a sidewalk is a magical and mysterious thing, full of endless possibilities.


These were the moments just before grown-up-dinner hour, before the carrots softened into the subtleties of butter, shallots and garlic in a sauté pan, before they were married with the pot of simmering summer beans and served in return for the unabashed joy and gratitude of a hungry city farmer.

9.16.2009

Toadstools A Plenty







jamaica, vermont
On Sunday, after the wedding, we woke up in the Three Mountain Inn in Jamaica New York, an inn I picked not only for their plush featherbeds, but for its proximity to Jamaica State Park, one of Vermont’s finest. After breakfast, we took a little walk down to the park for some exercise before hitting the road for home, and within minutes inside the park, we found a path lined with plump, fresh mushrooms. Fat white ones with conical caps, brown speckled ones, and lots of LBMs {little brown mushrooms}.
Normally, one has to hunt for mushrooms. They must have a nose for these things, uncovering blankets of pine needles and rotting logs to discover their treasures. I couldn’t believe how easy this was!
But we had just begun our hike, so I left our loot behind as we hiked along the riverbed with a promise of plenty of fungi waiting for us on the way out. When we circled back, I found our stash and gave them a deeper look. I had never seen this variety on a plate before, but the fat stems and meaty caps promised something rare and scrumptious.
“We could make a fortune in this forest!” I announced. I bent down to take another look, and a local whizzed past on a bike.
“Don’t eat those!” she called out.
“See, I told you,” András said. “We can come back and pick when we know more. I’ll get you a little mushroom book for our anniversary.”
A mushroom book was not what I had in mind for our first anniversary, but I appreciated his appreciation for my interest in foraging.
“But, who knows when we’ll get back up here.” I said. “Let’s just take these, and we can get them examined by an expert. It’s not like they are purple or oozing poisonous puss!”
To my surprise and delight, András gave me the hat off his head to use as a basket. “You’re right. Let’s take a chance.”
We picked heaps of mushrooms, carried them back and drove straight to the Three Clock Inn to find Serge, who I knew from our conversation the night before to be an avid forager. We found him in the kitchen with young Francoise next to him, perched on the countertop, decapitating haricot vert.
I placed the hat full of mushrooms under his nose.
“Aha, excellent!” He exclaimed passionately through this thick moustache.
“Come, come, you must sit,” he said. He shooed us out of the kitchen and to the nearest table set for two out in the yard under a tree. A half an hour later, Serge presented us with a local trout topped with creamed mushrooms with a meaty flesh that gave between our eager teeth. This followed with sirloin and crispy roasted mushroom caps more woodsy than anything I’d experiences before. It was a magical little slice of life, an experience our curiosity had unearthed, rewarding us ten-fold. We ate like Louis XVI, proud and headless, before…
----
“Sarah, are you listening to me?” András said, snapping me out of my mushroom high. “I said, we can come back and pick when we know more. For now, let’s live another day.”
“Awe, you’re no fun,” I said. “You never let me take mushrooms from the woods!”
And that’s how it really happened. We didn’t pick those mushrooms.
We spoke to the local ranger who assured us that there were delicious mushrooms in these woods, along with hundreds of dangerous ones, but unfortunately, she couldn’t tell them apart.
On the way out, we munched on handfuls of sour-sweet green apples we found hanging off a wild trees. Then we drove ourselves to Manchester and ate ourselves silly on Mrs. Murphy’s Donuts and Stewarts insanely delicious Peanut Butter Pandemonium ice cream and Vermont Grafton Cheddar cheese. After our feast, we headed south, stopping at every farm stand in hopes of satisfying my agrarian urges.
Just past the Vermont border, we hit the town of Hoosick, NY where across from the local country deli, I spied a house hidden by overgrown shrubs and a sign on the barn behind it that read “Dog Ear Book Barn.”
The barn belongs to a crotchety gentleman who sat buried beneath hundreds of dusty rare and out-of-print books. He virtually ignored me while I made myself at home among cookbooks, children’s books, and storybooks, piling my arms with a first printing {1906} of Heroes Every Child Should Know, and the 1960’s cookbook Cooking with Love and Paprika. As the stack in my arms outgrew my budget, I tempted my wallet with one request.
“Do you happen to have any mushroom books?” I asked.
“Eh, I can’t hear a darn thing. Did you say Mushrooms?” The gentleman said. “I have hundreds upstairs, but down here I just have one.”
That one book, a 1970 copy of Blandford’s Mushrooms and Toadstools In Color appeared before me, a tiny 5 X 7 guide with the loveliest illustrations inside and out. I would have bought the book for the illustrations alone, especially considering its $3 pricetag, but what the illustrations told me were far more valuable. I flipped through, page by page, noting the hundreds of colors, textures and shapes, until I found them, on page 59 listed under, Lactarius Vellereus.
205 Lactarius Vellereus
cap 4- 8 in. across, convex at first, then depressed and funnel-shaped, downy-woolly, margin inrolled at first. Gillis distant, uniting to form a network, slightly decurrent. Stem white wooly, short, thick. Milk white, later reddish, taste burning sharp. Grows in beech-woods. August-November. Fairly common. Poisonous.
I suppose I learned quite a bit from this little experience, but mostly I learned that I loved old books, and that I may enjoy writing fiction. After all, the fictional version of this story was quite delicious.
P.S. I’m rather proud of my little $3 mushroom book, and I thought you might like to see it too, because it has such pretty little illustrations.


9.15.2009

A Vermont Country Wedding





south londonderry, vt
On Saturday, András and I were invited to a country wedding in Vermont. The betrothed were our friend and my colleague at Food Network, Morgan Bennison, and her dearest, Jim Hass. Since Morgan joined us at the Food Network, first as our intern in the text kitchen, and now as one of our talented food stylist, she’s been talking about Serge Roche, the chef owner of Three Clock Inn where she used to work, in her native Vermont. When Morgan got engaged, about the same time I did, she knew Serge would be the man behind her wedding meal. She also knew that the tiny Chapel of the Snows in Stratton, VT, where she took her first communion, would be where she would say her vows.
My own wedding wasn’t so easy to plan. We thought about a sophisticated city affair right here in New York, or an orchard wedding at Edward’s Apple Orchard where I picked apples every fall of my childhood or a tiny ceremony in Hungary in the chapel where András spent his boyhood summers with his nagymamma {Grandmother}. We even considered celebrating at a vineyard in Illinois {yes, they exist}. We landed on a quiet affair on a 600-acre estate called Berry Hill in Southern Virginia, which was perfectly us.
What was easy about planning my wedding, was deciding what to wear on my head when I said I do. It just so happens that Morgan is not only a talented culinarian, she is also a gifted milliner, and came to her delicate touch with food through studied hat-making for the Victor Osborne label. And it just so happened that our wedding fell on the year of my parent’s 40th anniversary, and that my mother so graciously saved a tidbit of the lace she had made her own veil with, which Morgan used to make me a delicate little French bird-cage veil for my wedding day. But that’s another story for another day.
Today I want to tell you about Morgan’s very delicious Vermont country wedding. On Saturday morning, András and I drove north toward Vermont, munching on garden veggies, stopping at farm stands and driving deeper into an idyllic land of town halls and handsome homes built in the late 1700s. When we finally arrived at the chapel, five hours later, we were famished. After a sweet and simple ceremony, we gathered at the Three Clock Inn in South Londenderry, where the Southern French borne chef-owner, Serge, gloriously lived up to the praise Morgan had given him over the years. He and Morgan's Papa had prepared duck rillettes and roasted rabbit legs, escargots and port-poached pears, roasted artichokes and mini lobster roll sandwiches. The tables were laid with farmstead Vermont cheeses and salami and homemade grissini and marinated olives and enough flavor to ignore the delicate drizzle that fell all around us. The cast-iron fire pit and Viognier gave warmth as we waited for the bride and groom to arrive for toasting and tucking into a meal of braised short ribs and chicken with chanterelles and roasted beets and green beans and rabbit with preserved lemons, served family style around long tables lined with fresh breads baked in tiny terra cotta pots.
Everything about the meal was superb, and the atmosphere, French auberge meets small town America, was charming. And, as if perfectly cast, Serge’s beautiful young daughters, Charlotte and Sophie would flit to and from the kitchen, restocking crackers and sampling cheeses and smiling in that sweet, sophisticated French girl way, already mastered at the young ages of 9 and 12. And then there was Francois, his youngest, who toddled always near his mother with his petit juane cheveux pulled into a coiled ponytail at the nape of his neck.
If there were a story I’d like to insert myself firmly into, it would be this one. A young boy is born in Alau, France, one of twelve children. He gathers food in the fields with his siblings, and cooks alongside his mother. He becomes a chef, working in Geneva, France, England. One day, he’s working diligently in Marseille, when he gets a call from a restaurateur in midtown Manhattan. Come to New York, the caller says. Yes, the young man replies. He comes, he works his way around a grand big city, and falls in love with a lovely American girl. She’s not only beautiful, but also brilliant, and begs him to run away with her to the countryside where she can attend medical school. He finds a spacious white clapboard house in Vermont that reminds him of the auberges of France. He buys it, and begins the business of creating beautiful menus that highlight ingredients grown in Vermont’s fertile soil, and they live happily ever after with their four perfect children.
I’m not sure exactly where András and I would fit into this story, except as we did that night, as guests on the lawn of Serge’s auberge, eating fine food and drinking fine wine, toasting to another story beginning around us, and feeling very lucky to be a part of it.

9.14.2009

Out Of Order




l.i.c., ny

People who find time to cook and write and take photos and post on their blogs regularly inspire me. Actually, they annoy me. How do they get it all done? I’m good with the cooking, the writing, and the photos, but then I often find myself in front of a pair of empty plates, deliriously satisfied and utterly uninterested in my computer. Thus, here I am, shamefully behind.

Many of these moments happened on the road on big and little trips that filled me with stories that I’m dying to share. Notice, if you’re a regular reader, that there is a gaping hole in my July Archives. Those are the weeks I was in Hungary, getting married again {to the same guy}, restoring a 200-year-old farmhouse and hosting my family. It was no time for posting blogs, but a lot of delicious things happened then that I’d still like to tell you about.


And there were two incredible weekends in Vermont, with mushroom hunting and duck confit and pretty little pastries that I can’t forgo sharing with you simply because time ran out.

There were dozens of harvests and simple suppers and meals with people we love that I hope might inspire a more delicious life for some of you. So, you’re going to have to forgive me. I’m going to begin posting my stories and photos all out of order.

If you’re a subscriber, this may cause some confusion. Don’t worry. You’re not going crazy, or going back in time. I am. If you don’t subscribe, you’ll probably never notice, since I feel compelled to back post them on the date they actually happened lest I be accused of lying or misleading my readers or worse, cooking out of season. Never.

I know this is not the point of blogs, but really, this is a collection of stories, essays and images that I hope transcend our cultural fascination with instant information. And besides, I needed time to digest lest I get the hiccups.

So, forgive me. Pretty please?

9.08.2009

Say....


...cheese.

Glorious Dutchess Sara Cheese. Lovely name.

Buttery, nutty, golden goodness. You may even find yourself having a nibble on the subway, on the way to a picnic.

9.07.2009

The Odyssey {and a Jar of Jam}


veszprem, hungary

I arrived Saturday in Hungary on a 48-hour solo mission to collect my residency papers, a process András and I started on our last visit back in July. It was my first trip to my husband’s homeland alone, two and a half days poised purely for a 1 hour Monday  meeting on which my future citizenship resides.

My trip began at András’ parents house, where I am greeted by his mother's traditional welcome meal, and a backyard brimming with the fruits that were only promises back in July—füge {fig}, alma {apple}, dios {walnuts}, birsalma {quince}. My head spins with possibility. There are purple grapes to turn into pies,  figs to jam, quince to preserve and elderberries to make into deep, black syrups.

But that’s not why I’m here. So, I rest and let Anya, his mother, spoil me in the love language we both speak— thick kokoa {cocoa} and fresh kenyer {bread} and warm palicinta {crepes} smothered a summer’s work of preserved apricot and plums. Anya’s jam, or lekvar, tastes more like fresh fruit than anything we get back home, the luscious whole pieces of fruit just sweet enough to melt on the tongue and remind me why András can make a whole meal of nothing else.

In two short days, we plant cherry trees and visit my favorite winery in Csopask and eat ice cream on Lake Balaton. And every few hours we return to the kitchen where I dip back into her jars, spooning decadent portions of preserves over her homemade bread and the kefir she has curing on top of the fridge. With each bite I regret first that András is not here with me, and second, that I can’t eat enough for us both. I regret most that I can’t possibly bring back enough flavors from home to take the place of actually being here. But I can try. I clasp my hands in front of me and say his name, a gesture Anya rewards with two giant jars of jam, wrapped tightly in paper for travel home.

Monday arrives too quickly, and Anya wakes me at 6 AM for reggeli {breakfast}, a cup full of her kefir with apricot lekvar and a bowl of peeled kurta {pears} from Porva. I pack, tucking my treasured lekvar into my little bag, and head to the office of immigration with Apa, András dad. I’m greeted by a friend of András who works there; she triple warns me what to and what not to say. If I am asked why I didn’t come sooner, I am not to say it’s because I live in America. I am to say I was on holiday. I’m not so say why András wasn’t there with me. I am to say he's off playing sport on the other side of the country. I’m not to say I’m leaving on a plane bound for New York within the day. I am to say the address of our little house in Porva, which I know, but practice saying in Hungarian over and over again in my head as the gravitas of my accuracy sinks in.

At the desk, alone, I’m greeted by curt words I don’t understand. Angol?” I ask. Another agent steps in, half smiles and offers me broken English and a thick file with documents all baring my name or András’; banking slips, our marriage license, proof of property ownership. I recognize all of these from our first meeting here. She asks me to write and sign several declarations, and then, after much breath holding, she produces a passport-sized document with the Hungarian emblem and a photo of me in coiled buns taken back in June, looking decidedly Hungarian. She presses it into in the back of my passport and marks it with a final authoritative stamp, granting me resident status until 2014.

I beam. “Szep,” I say. Beautiful. She smiles. 


I meet Apa in the waiting room and convince him to help me celebrate with a quick trip through the piac {market} to get my last fill of local favorites. I fill up on barack {Peaches}, muskotaj {muscadet} grapes and rétes {strudel}. We polish them off during the two-hour journey to the Budapest airport where he drops me with a hug and a smile that matches the one that will greet me on the other side. I promise to give András their hugs, and feed him well.

Inside, I proudly display my resident’s sticker to the passport control, who flips past to the front page where a blonde and blue-eyed American girl smiles back at him. I ignore his disinterest in my pending countrymanship. I’m buoyant, thinking only of returning home to share my good news with András. I slide my bag through the security belt and glide through the metal detector.

“Open your bag, please,” an examiner asks. He hands me my bag.

I confess immediately. “I have lekvar.” 

“Do you know the rules about liquids?” he asks. “No liquids.”

“Yes, I know the rules. Lekvar is fruit and sugar, it’s not liquid.”

“No liquids.”

I proceed to explain that this is the only bit of home I can bring back to my husband, that it’s harmless, that it’s impossible for me to hurt anyone on the airplane with lekvar. Bombs have never been created from lekvar. He is unmoved. I begin to doubt the authenticity of his Hungarian accent. Certainly a Hungarian would know that I could not, would not, throw one’s mother’s jam away. I consider asking him to see his residency card, but instead I ask to see his supervisor. I tell my story again. I cannot throw it away. I will not throw it away. And besides, it’s not liquid, it’s lekvar.

“No liquids, no lotions, no lekvar.”

“Show me where it says no lekvar!” I demand. I recognize the desperation in my voice, and the fact that I’m treading on thin ground with a man who could make sure neither my lekvar nor me return to New York, but I’m unable to stop myself. He pulls the sign, points to lotion.

“But this is jam. It’s fruit and sugar. Fruit and sugar.” I repeat. My voice cracks.

“I’m sorry.”

Tears flood from my eyes as I lay the two jars of jam on the top of the pile of discarded water bottles and lotions, and pass out of security toward the gates.
On the other side, I stop, dropping my bags with my resolve, and cry. When I wipe my eyes, I see my gate directly in front of me with a flashing sign “oversold,” and in my hand a boarding pass that reads seat 35 E, the last row of the plane. It was more than I could bear.

I found a pair of soft eyes at the gate, and my tears come again. I’m not feeling well, I explain, asking to be moved up to bulkhead.

“Are you well enough to fly?” He asks.

“Yes. It’s just, I’m upset. They gave me a hard time at security.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that. What did they do?”

“They took my grandmother’s jam.” I said, embellishing the facts beyond my control. “It was just lekvar, just fruit and sugar. It wasn’t going to hurt anyone. ”

“No. No, of course not. That’s terrible,” said the man with the soft eyes. Finally, a real Hungarian, I thought. “How about we put you in first class, seat 6A.”

“Yes, that would be fine.” I say.

On the plane, I recline my seat (before take off), snuggle into my duvet and fall into a deep sleep on my feather pillow. I wake up to wine in a real glass, filet mignon and a cheese plate, which I pick at before reaching for the cheese and piros paprika {red pepper} sandwich on fresh bread Anya packed me. I admit, I enjoy the endless stream of movies and service, the infinite legroom and 9 hours in a fully reclined position. I admit this is the better way to travel. But I’m still not convinced that all the free mimosas in the world can make up for being robbed of a whole month of Anya’s jam. Luckily, Mr. tough guy missed a jar.

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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.