Saturday, June 28, 2008

Lard: A Brief Interlude

This morning I woke with a mission, and that mission did not include a steamy kitchen or sticky pans.

In the space of 24 hours, no fewer than three people--a chef at Pizzeria Delfina; my hairstylist Camilla; and Thy, a writer for KQED--insisted that lard is the only way to go for an expert pie crust. Because I was ramping up to bake around 50 pies for a benefit event, I was in need of solid advice.

"Lard is my mom's secret weapon," said the chef, who hails from Iowa. Camilla, also a native Iowan, can't attend but insists she'll send her husband with lard-laden pie. Thy, another Midwesterner, agreed.

So the day was spent researching recipes with lard and then hunting down a good local source. Avedano's, my friendly neighborhood butcher shop, doesn't carry lard, but said they'd find it for me. The butcher's assistant wrote "Colleen: lard for 30 pie crusts" on their special orders notepad.

Social media tools like Facebook recognize the need for connection and power of social networks. When I first considered organizing a gathering of people and pies but didn't have a location, I posted a query to my Facebook profile and responses filled my inbox.

And there's a lot of value in that connection, particularly if you move a lot, as I have. It's not until recently, when I hit my three year mark in San Francisco, that I appreciated the living, breathing networks in my everyday life: the hairdresser who bakes cookies for me, the cook who doesn't know my name but sent a pane pomodoro because I looked hungry, the vegetarian butcher I bumped into on Valencia when I walked home late last night.

Farmer's markets pulse with that same sense of connection and relationship, an acknowledgement of the forces that bind us. Each of us breathes, dreams and dies, but there's nothing so pleasurable as eating to discuss, fuss over, and pause to enjoy.

If you're in San Francisco the afternoon of July 13th and have $20 burning a hole in your pocket, come to the pie social at the Women's Building on 18th at Guerrero. It would be nice to see you.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Promised Day is Come

Waiting for the figs to ripen on the tree in my yard was more difficult than I supposed.

It was less like anticipating the presents under the tree on Christmas morning and more like if each present started as a pea-sized knot on the carpet and grew incrementally over the course of two months while an impatient child hissed "But WHEN WILL IT BE AN X-BOX 360?!?"

So this week I saw figs at $2 per basket, reduced from $3 because they were a bit mashed up, and I bought them, despite the fact that $0 per bushel figs will drop softly from the waxy-leafed tree in a few weeks. Mommy, I want them now.

Sean Timberlake's recipe from last year was a huge hit, so I made it again. Early season figs were a bit less sweet and more liquid, so I used the full cup of sugar and a bit less than 2 c of water.

And now in my cupboard I have three half pints of fig jam set by, which fills me with an enormous sense of well being.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Better-Than-Apricot Apricot Jam

Blackberries, raspberries, peaches, nectarines, blueberries--no tayberries yet, but I'm looking.

Roving through the market this week, it's clear that summer produce is abundant. Admittedly, it was hard to select this week's victim. Of the concoctions I've concocted over the past year and some months, only two ran out more quickly than I'd like: apricot and fig.

Fig mostly because I made Marco's basic pizza dough with fig jam, rosemary and dolcelatte blue cheese--it's even better with the truffle salt Alison recommended. I saw a couple of early figs at one stand, but they were overly dear. Plus, in my new apartment I have a fig tree, and from the looks of things I'll have ready fruit in a few weeks.

And apricots? I don't even like them. (Record screech.) Yeah, I know. 90% of the time the texture is mealy, the flavor one note. But connect the fruit with sugar and a bit of lemon and you have something exceptional: a counterpoint to tart, creamy rugelach dough; the start of a marinade for fatty roast duck; a sauce for french toast that blows maple syrup out of the water.

So this year I'm setting more by, preparing for midwinter feasts, fresh-baked bread with a layer of butter and a spoonful of jam.

Better-than-apricot apricot jam
4 pounds apricots (makes about 2 1/4 c chopped fruit)
1 cup sugar
Juice from 2 lemons

  • Shock the skins off the fruit by dropping them into a pot of boiling water, quickly fishing them out, and pulling the loosened skin off.
  • Pit the skinless apricots and cut into quarters. Drop into a nonreactive pot with sugar and lemon juice.
  • Run at a low boil until the texture thickens and pulls together, about 30 minutes. Process in sterilized jars.