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Berry Picking at Johnson’s Farm

26 Jun

A few weeks ago Martin, Bella and I drove 45 minutes outside of the city to pick strawberries.  After years of failing to get my act together in time, I managed to get the family out to Johnson’s Farm in New Jersey on the last saturday of the strawberry picking season.  Johnson’s Farm was also picking snap peas, cherries and early season peaches and blueberries.  We picked a bit of everything, but really focused on the strawberries. Martin and I positioned ourselves on separate rows, a few hundred feet apart. Isabella ran between us. Ferrying empty containers to me and carefully taking my full containers back to Martin. We ended up with hundreds of tiny, deep red, jewel- like berries.  The kind of fruit that you take a bite, your eyes widen at the intensity of flavor, deep red juice dribbles down your chin and silently you reach for another, and another.

Once home I set out to make jam from our strawberries.  I envisioned opening a jar sometime near the end of the year, when berries are few and far between, perhaps snow would be gently piling up on my window sill and with one taste I would be instantly  transported to early summer.  The end result wasn’t exactly what I had hoped.  Anyone who has preserved anything knows that there is a delicate balance that much be reached to both preserve flavors and freshness and create the desired consistency in your end product.  Jams and jellies rely heavily on the dance between sugar, pectin and fruit.  Too much sugar and you mask the flavor of the fruit, too little and you don’t have jam, but a sauce or compote.   There was so much sugar in test batch that I couldn’t taste the beauty of the berries.  I knew I was playing with fire but I didn’t just pick pounds of beautiful berries to make a sugary spread devoid of the experience of eating the berries fresh from the farm.  I reduced the sugar.   It didn’t set.   However it was incredibly delicious, transportive even, so I froze my strawberry sauce.  I will spin it into vanilla ice-cream, spoon over yogurt in the morning, pool under wedges of cheesecake and  spread it  in-between cake layers.  I did a bunch of reading about jams and jellies after putting my jars in the freezer (maybe I will do this beforehand next time) and learned that there is a pectin on the market made specifically for low sugar recipes.  Let’s see if I remember that for the next time I decide to make some jam.

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Little Cayman

2 May

My family went to Little Cayman to celebrate my 30th birthday.  We spent most of the time fishing, cleaning, prepping and cooking. Followed by eating and eating and eating and drinking.  A quick snack.  Repeat.  This is what passes for relaxation in my family.  When I pause to consider the backdrop to all these activities, the impossible quiet and solitude of Little Cayman. The tangle of sea grape trees, the carpet of turtle grass, coconuts and conch shells.  Iguanas and solider crabs.  The layer of salt in your hair and on your skin and the shower under the bright blue sky to temporarily remove it.  And the sea.  Everywhere the sea.  When I stop and think of all this, I am overcome with gratitude.  Gratitude to my family who organized and traveled and celebrated.  Gratitude for the soul and salt and beauty of my tiny country.  Gratitude and joy.

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A Taste of Cayman

26 Apr

I had plans to write in Cayman.  I sat down a few times to describe the things that we did, the places we went, the things we caught and picked and ate.  Then I would look through a window and see my family or pick up the phone and call a friend.   I decided to just wait until the trip was over to write.   It was a good plan.  I enjoyed every minute I was in Cayman.  Now I am back in Philly and I have thousands of pictures of the trip to wade through and multiple posts to write about our time down there.  Until then I will leave you with a little taste of Cayman.

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Saturday morning at the grounds

8 Apr

Every Saturday morning The Market at the grounds opens at 7am.  My father gets there by 6:30.  The light in Cayman at that hour is soft and warm; a hazy other-worldly glow.  It isn’t hot yet.  The grounds are busier than usual.  It is Easter weekend and a church group has pitched tents in the dusty red soil, a long weekend of fellowship and food.  Large groups of children mull around the parking lot and run through the grounds.  The red birch trees seem to be on fire, the early morning sun filtering through their translucent bark.  We buy callaloo, green mangos, tomatoes and a single custard apple.  My father moves quickly through the stalls, shouting out to friends.  I exchange greetings with people I haven’t seen in over a year.  On the way home we stop to get coconuts and start cooking Easter brunch by 8:30 am.

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2 Nov

There is nothing like eating a meal prepared by a skilled cook, paired with wonderful wine or beer in the company of friends and family.  Great meals, whether they take place at a table set with fine crystal or gathered around a kitchen island, are one of life’s great luxuries.  The warmth of good company, the laughter, the sharing, the pure pleasure of the food and drink.  A great meal is more than the sum of its parts.  A great meal is akin to a work of art or perfect poem. I am a very lucky lady.  I have beautiful family and wonderful friends scattered all over the world.  I have been fortunate enough to travel widely and eat many memorable meals with incredible people.

This August my husband, daughter and I flew west for a cousin’s wedding in a small town outside of Santa Cruz.  We went three days early with the idea to spend the extra time exploring Sonoma County.  We tasted extraordinary wine and inspired food.  We enjoyed magnificent views and the peace and beauty of the area. In Sonoma I met some of the people who manipulate the raw materials to make those extraordinary meals possible.   Winemakers, tasting room staff, olive oil makers, chefs.  Every person I spoke to was doing exactly what they always dreamed of, exactly where they dreamt of doing it.  It was the kind of inspiration that changes you, re-focuses you and lights a little bit of a fire under your ass.  Thank you Sonoma.

If you are planning a trip to Sonoma do yourself a favor and stop in at DaVero.  If Colleen is there ask her everything about everything.  Her olive oil is one of the most amazing things I have ever tasted. Period.  Another great experience was Porter Creek Winery.  The tasting room is a small utilitarian building with one large window and one gruff gentleman.  Exhibit some genuine curiosity and you will be rewarded with lessons in winemaking, weather and politics.

Beautiful British Columbia

2 Aug

Bells and I have spent the last week visiting my parents and grandmother in Crescent Beach.  I spent my summers up here as a kid and it is great to be here with my own little one.  Between trips to the beach to look for crabs and blowing bubbles we have been cooking.  My father and grandmother are world-class cooks.  The more I cook, the more I learn, the more I call on their knowledge.  It is rare that we are all in the same place, so to be able to cook and eat with them every night has been a real treat.  It doesn’t hurt that British Columbia has some of the finest produce and seafood in the world.  I am too pre-occupied thinking about the big meal we are cooking tonight to welcome my aunt – halibut with tomato & caper jam, panzanella salad, blueberry pie with ice cream – to write out the techniques and recipes but they will follow over the next few weeks.  Happy summer!


6 May

I just came back from two weeks at home.  Home being the Cayman Islands.  I know, I know.  What am I doing in Philadelphia?  How do I stand the cold?  I didn’t know that people could actually be FROM the Cayman Islands!  All that is for another post.  I came back inspired.  It is nice when home does that.  My family pulled out all the stops.  Preparing my all of my favorite things.  Amazing feasts plus a new camera equal the photos above.  Officially inspired.  Hopefully this inspiration leads to posting a little more frequently.

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