Thursday, October 6, 2011

Death and Transfiguration

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bina Osteria for Boston Magazine

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Portrait of the Artist

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cherry Grappa Jam

I'd been waiting all winter for the fruits of spring so that I could make something other than marmalade and I really had my sights set on strawberry season. I envisioned a bucolic day of picking at a farm with the girls, but somewhere between diapers and tantrums and tears, it just blew right by. That left me scrambling. Luckily, I caught the tail end of cherry season. After a consultation with the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, I came up a concoction with grappa, star anise and cherry pit kernels. Cracking cherry pits is about as tedious a task as you can imagine, but Rachel swore it was worth it. And since this is one the best jams I've ever had, I'm not about to start arguing. Cherries macerated in grappa is what they do in Italy so that seems like a good enough excuse to me.

Cherry Grappa Jam
modified from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook

3 pounds plus 1 pound pitted red cherries, pits reserved
1 3/4 pounds plus 7 ounces white cane sugar
6 ounces strained freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 ounces grappa
2 star anise

approximate yield: five 8-ounce jars

Place the cherry pits on the ground or a heavy, solid counter, between two clean towels and tap them with a hammer until they crack. Carefully remove the tiny almond-like kernel from each pit until you have enough kernels to to make 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped. Discard the shells and remaining pits. Place the chopped kernels and the star anise into a fine-mesh stainless-steel tea infuser with a firm latch and set aside.

Place a saucer with five metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the jam later.

Place your perfectly clean jars and lids in a preheated 250˚ oven.

Combine 3 pounds of the cherries with 1 3/4 pounds of the sugar in a large heatproof mixing bowl. In a glass measuring cup, combine the lemon juice and the grappa and set aside.

Place the remaining 1 pound of cherries and 7 ounces of sugar, along with 2 ounces of water, in an 11- or 12-quart copper preserving pan or wide non-reactive kettle. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula and inching the heat gradually up to medium, until the mixture boils, then cook 7 minutes more, or until the cherries have shriveled and the liquid has become thick and syrupy. Immediately pour the hot cherries into a metal strainer over the bowl with the raw cherries and sugar, pressing down on the cooked fruit and draining until every last drop of liquid goes through. Discard the cooked cherries. Add half the lemon juice/grappa mixture to the uncooked cherry mixture, stir well to combine, and transfer the mixture back to your copper preserving pan. Place the mesh tea infuser into the mixture, pressing down on it to be sure it has submerged.

Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, gradually increasing the heat to high. Boil rapidly, stirring every minute or two with a heatproof rubber spatula, for 10 to 15 minutes. Monitor the heat closely as you stir; if the jam begins to stick, decrease the heat slightly. Between stirrings, use a stainless steel spoon to skim the foam carefully off the top of the mixture. After 10 to 15 minutes, remove from the heat. Do not stir. Let the mixture rest for a moment, then carefully scrape all the white foam off the top of the mixture and discard. Stir in the remaining lemon juice/grappa mixture. Return the jam to the stove over medium-high heat and continue to cook, stirring frequently. If necessary, gradually lower the heat to prevent scorching.

After 5 more minutes, your jam should be close to ready. To test for doneness, remove the jam from the heat. Do not stir. Carefully transfer a small representative half-spoonful of jam to one of your frozen spoons. Replace the spoon in the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes, then remove and carefully feel the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return to the freezer for a moment. Tilt the spoon vertically to see whether the jam runs; if it is reluctant to run, and if it has thickened to a near-jelly consistency, it is done. If it runs very quickly, cook it another few minutes, stirring, and test again as needed.

When the jam is done, remove the mesh tea infuser and pour into your preheated jam jars. Screw the lids on, not overly tight, and put back into the oven for another 15 minutes to ensure they are completely sterilized.

Remove from the oven and let the jars cool overnight on a steel cooling rack.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Honey toast & Iced coffee

Since returning from the Dominican Republic, I've been thinking about the tropics and the trips I took to SE Asia and an iced coffee is like Proust's madeleine–it invariably makes me think of Cambodia. Drifting back over the better part of 12 years into the wet, heavy heat and the pungent, indecipherable smells and the sad, brown, beautiful faces.
The morning was the only time of the day that was comfortable. My moto driver, Koy, would pick me up before first light and we would sail through the cool morning air towards Angkor. The routine was always the same–honey toast and iced coffee in the massive grove of trees that face the main entrance to Angkor Wat. Most days we would drive on again to another temple further away–Banteay Srei or the Bayon or any of the dozens of other temples hidden in the jungle–but always toast and coffee in the growing light and heat in front of Angkor Wat. Once or twice I would let Koy sit on with his moto friends and walk off, alone, in the rising light over the causeway into Angkor Wat, the air alive and dancing with a million dragon flies. Perhaps pausing in the arcades of the second or third level as a massive thunder storm dropped all the heat and humidity and rain which the air could no longer hold. And then climbing again, through the concentric levels of the temple, ascending faster and steeper into the soaring central sanctuary and finally looking out over the thick, green landscape and the strange, dense, white noise of cicadas and birds rising up out of thin, evaporating mists.

But after days and days of temples, I told Koy I wanted to go out into the countryside, to see the people–to see the real Cambodia. He leaped at the idea, said it was what he had always desired to do but that his clients only wanted the temples. Thus began one of the great turning points in my photography–shooting people. We would see the most amazing and beautiful people: a shirtless grandfather holding the tiny hand of his grandchild, young boys fishing with curving, sculptured traps, women with huge bundles of kindling on their heads, walking down the road in peaceful resignation. And for the first time I had the nerve and courage to stop people, to proactively make the picture. Up to that point, my photography, much like my personality, was invisible–like a fly on the wall. Taking a picture was simply the choosing of a moment or a view of which I couldn't interfere–to some degree wasn't even present for. But out in the endless, exposed, flat expanses of rice paddies and floodplain surrounding Angkor, I began to fall in love with photographing people. Just a twin-lens Rolleiflex, a pocket full of Tri-X and the courage to stop a stranger, move them, arrange them–to create an image rather than just taking a snap.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Cacao Road

My conception of this blog, from the beginning, was to be a window into and an outlet for the things that go on in my life outside of being a professional photographer
- cooking, gardening and raising two kids. In my mind they're co-mingled anyway. Most photographers, of course, use their blogs as a marketing tool–marketing in the social mediasphere. That seemed a little redundant (what's the point of the website?) and I'm admittedly not the most social media savvy person in the world.

But I'm just back from a truly amazing trip to the Dominican Republic with Alex Whitmore of Taza Chocolate and I thought, what the hell, let's mediasphere this sucker. I've been shooting for Taza for many years now and think we all realized, at some point, that the growers and producers of the cacao beans was about all we were missing to tell the complete story - from "bean-to-bar" as they say.

A special shout-out to Alex for making it all happen and assisting me in my attempt to drink all the ice-cold Presidentes in the western Dominican Republic. And to Kate Cavallin and Emily Stone for much the same reasons. Lastly to all the farmers and cacao plant workers who were unfailingly kind and patient and generous.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

One Last Gingerbread

It snowed again. I couldn't believe that one. I had to go digging in the back of the coat closet to find my Sorrel boots and ski gloves so that I could go outside and shovel. I swear to God I've shoveled enough snow this winter to cover a small state, like Rhode Island or West Virginia. So you can imagine my frustrated surprise and smoldering anger as I banged around the basement trying to remember where I had put the snow shovels. Of course I've already planted the peas and fava beans, which should both be fine. But the patch of spring mesclun mix that's just beginning to germinate-is that going to make it? I'm about to fly into a gardener's rage. Are gardeners supposed to fly into rages? I'll wind up in gardener's anger management:

"My name is Michael and I began yelling at the garden in 2011. No, wait–it was 2010 with the Japanese garden beetles and the cut-worms. Or was it 2009 and the lead-contamination in the soil?" Then an elderly lady in a wide-brimmed straw hat and canvas tool-apron leans over and gives me a long, firm hug of support.

If it's going to keep snowing then I'm making gingerbread and that's all there is to it. I've got all these apples left over from a photo shoot, so it's going to be an apple-ginger bread. Try and stop me.

Apple-Ginger Bread
adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 pounds (about 4) apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter @ room temperature
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon micro-planed fresh ginger
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup molasses
4 large eggs

In a medium saucepan, combine the 1/3 cup sugar, lemon juice and apple chunks and cook over medium heat until the apples break down (5-10 minutes). Cover and continue to cook another 5 to 10 minutes until the whole thing looks like applesauce. Let cool.

Preheat the oven to 350˚

Butter 2 loaf pans and line with parchment paper.

Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and all the dry spices.

Into a small bowl, combine the milk, vanilla.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, 1 3/4 cups sugar, molasses and fresh ginger on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition.

With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk mixture; beat until just combined after each addition, being careful not to overmix. Add the applesauce and mix to combine again.

Divide the batter between the two loaf pans and bake until a skewer or cake tester comes out clean - approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes and then run a knife around the edges and invert the pans to release the loafs. Let the loafs cool completely before slicing (if you can wait).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bitter Marmalade and English Tea

I worked for a Scottish photographer in New York many years ago who summarized the difference between the Americans and the English with the simple observations that Americans had better teeth but the English made a better cup of tea. He attributed the former to better health care and the latter, I think, to superior character. Anthony Burgess puts it more bluntly: "The Americans, just like the French, do not know how to make tea." In all the time that I worked at this photographer's studio there was nothing in the manner or technique of his preparation that spoke of some mystical art or tea freemasonry – hot water from an electric kettle and a standard-issue bag of one's tea of choice dunked into a Crate-and-Barrel mug. Was I missing something? I always chose Earl Grey which he pronounced with wry, mocking authority to be for "old ladies." And then there's milk and sugar. Did the English use milk but the Chinese didn't? Or was it the other way around? Did anybody use sugar or was that the sure sign of a rube? I despaired of ever being able to make a proper cup of tea.

But I've been on a bit of a marmalade-making binge lately. So sooner or later you find yourself hankering for a cup of tea. And not just any tea – English tea. "But what is English tea?", I ask myself. What makes it English? They certainly don't grow any tea in England. English Breakfast Tea?

As it turns out, English tea is fermented black tea from India (or Ceylan.) Back in the good old days, when the sun never set on the British Empire, they tried a number of tactics to get the Chinese to supply their growing appetite for tea – coercion, infiltration, addiction and finally armed conflict. In the end they decided to eliminate the middle-man and just plant tea in India instead. They owned it after all.
The stronger, darker tea went well with sweeter foods and its bitterness could stand a little "milk and sugar", as opposed to the lighter more elegant green teas drunk in China and Japan.

Whichever way you look at it, it goes great with marmalade.

Orange Campari Marmalade
adapted from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook

I've been enjoying a Campari and soda in the evenings lately – always with a slice of orange. The bitter and the slightly sweet really hits a spot deep in my Italian soul. So once I started thinking about making Rachel's Bitter Orange & Cinnamon Marmalade I couldn't get the idea of adding Campari out of my head. Luckily she has a lemon marmalade recipe that uses limoncello which I took as her blessing. I substituted cardamom for the cinnamon because I'll add it to anything I can reasonably get away with. I can honestly say this is the best damn marmalade I've ever had in my life - hats off to Rachel Saunders. Special thanks to the folks at Blue Chair for letting me reprint this recipe almost verbatim.

1 1/4 pounds Seville oranges, cut into eighths
3/4 pound lemons (preferably Lisbon), cut into eighths
2 3/4 pounds seeded Seville or other sour oranges, halved crosswise
each half cut lengthwise into quarters and sliced thinly crosswise
4 pounds white cane sugar
3 to 4 extra Seville oranges, to make 6 ounces strained freshly squeezed juice
1/4 cup Campari
1 1/2 tablespoons green cardamom pods, crushed lightly in a mortar to release their seeds

Makes approximately twelve 8-ounce jars

Day 1
Prepare the cooked citrus juice: Place the orange and lemon eighths in a large nonreactive saucepan. Add enough water to cover the fruit by 1 inch. Bring the fruit to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium. Cook at a lively simmer, covered, for 3 hours, or until the fruit is very soft and the liquid has become slightly syrupy. As the oranges and lemons cook, press down on them gently with a spoon every 30 minutes or so, adding a little more water if necessary. The water level should stay consistently high enough for the fruit to remain submerged as it cooks.

When the oranges and lemons are finished cooking, strain their juice by pouring the hot fruit and liquid into a medium strainer or colander suspended over a heatproof storage container or nonreactive saucepan. Cover the entire setup well with plastic wrap and let drip overnight at room temperature.

Meanwhile, prepare the thinly sliced oranges. Place the slices in a wide stainless-steel kettle and cover amply with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat and cook at a lively simmer for 5 minutes. Drain, discarding the liquid. Return the orange slices to the kettle and cover with 1 inch of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium and cook, covered, at a lively simmer for 2 hours, or until the fruit is very tender. As the fruit cooks, stir it gently every 30 minutes or so, adding a little water if necessary. The water level should stay high enough for the fruit to remain submerged as it cooks. Remove the pan from the heat, cover tightly, and let rest overnight at room temperature.

Day 2
Place a saucer with five metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the marmalade later.

Place your perfectly clean jars and lids on a baking sheet and put into a 250˚ oven to sterilize while you finish the marmalade.

Remove the plastic wrap from the orange and lemon eighths and their juice and discard the fruit. Strain the juice well enough through very fine-mesh strainer to remove any lingering solids.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, cooked citrus juice, fresh orange juice, the Campari, and the orange slices and their liquid, stirring well.
Transfer the mixture to an 11- or 12-quart copper preserving pan or wide nonreactive kettle. Place the cardamom into a fine-mesh stainless-steel tea infuser with a firm latch and add to the mixture, pressing down on it to be sure it is submerged.

Bring the mixture to boil over high heat. Cook at a rapid boil over high heat until the setting point is reached; this will take a minimum of 20 minutes, but may take longer depending on your individual stove and pan. Initially, the mixture will bubble gently for several minutes; then, as more moisture cooks out of it and its sugar concentration increases, it will start to foam. Do not stir it at all during the initial bubbling; then, once it starts to foam, stir it gently every few minutes with a heatproof rubber spatula. As it gets close to being done, stir it slowly every minute or two to prevent burning, decreasing the heat a tiny bit if necessary. The marmalade is ready for testing when its color darkens and its bubbles become very small.

To test the marmalade for doneness, remove it from the heat and carefully transfer a small representative half-spoonful to one of your frozen spoons. It should look shiny, with tiny bubbles throughout. Replace the spoon in the freezer for 3 or 4 minutes, then remove and carefully feel the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for a moment. Tilt the spoon vertically to see if it runs; if it does not run, and if its top layer has thickened to a jelly consistency, it is done. If it runs, cook it for another few minutes, stirring and test again as needed.

When the marmalade is finished cooking, turn off the heat but do not stir. Remove the tea-infuser. Using a stainless steel spoon, skin off any surface foam and discard. Pour the marmalade into the preheated, sterilized jars. Wipe the rims clean and screw the lids on just until they are snug and put the whole lot back into the 250˚ oven for 15 minutes to ensure they are sterilized, then set aside to cool.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Of French Copper & Blue Chairs

Santa Claus brought me a French copper preserving pot for Christmas this year. Confession or admission? I'm afraid I'm becoming a jam person - like a cat lady or a jazz fanatic. One should have a healthy distrust of such narrow obsessions and secret societies. But since I own a cat and listen to jazz I'm beginning to see a disturbing trend.

Jam making, while relatively simple, is fraught with subtle and nuanced potential disasters that are rarely, if ever, addressed or articulated in preserving cookbooks. They're pretty consistent in this regard. I'm not sure if it's a lack of thoroughness on the authors' parts or a smug presumption that you already know the arcane tricks of the trade–as if to say, "If you have to ask then you're obviously not one of us."

But fear not! I have found my guru and her name is Rachel Saunders. The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook is my bible (my wife has started referring to her as my "jam girlfriend" as compared to my eldest daughter who is simply my "girlfriend" or my youngest daughter who is my "new girlfriend.")

Although I'm determined that this blog won't review books or restaurants, I'm going to make an exception in this case. For anyone interested in making preserves or who, like me, just likes collecting beautiful cookbooks–stop what you're doing right now and run as fast as you can to your local book purveyor and get a copy. Every aspect of jam-making is explained in clear, thorough and beautiful detail, from process and equipment to the stages of cooking and the dreaded "setting point." There are neat tricks for sterilizing, seasonal recipes and a whole back section that just talks about fruits. In fact the whole book has a quality I find irresistible in a cookbook–it's a great read. (Note: when you start taking cookbooks to bed for your evening reading you can rest assured you have a problem.)

I am now armed and dangerous and heading to the kitchen to make Orange Campari Marmalade.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Winter's Garden

"Even in winter an untidy garden is an eyesore. Keep mulches of straw and leaves well held in place."

"Between now and the first of March prune your grapes."

-Richardson Wright

The snow falls and falls
The mountains and meadows sleep.
Only an old mill
Stays awake.

-Okakura Ichijitsu