Inkling of Spring

This morning I woke up to several glorious things.

Light streaming in the window, which indicated that it actually was morning.

And a small sound from the room one door down, a little voice chirping “Mama, mama.”

An amazing sound when you’ve spent the last 1.5 years week being awoken at all sorts of ungodly hours to crying, whining or just plain screaming. Gonna be honest here friends, night weaning is a bitch.

Even when your kid is the most adorable thing ever.

And then I started dreaming of it being warm enough to picnic. A semi-decent nights rest after weeks and weeks of nights where you only get, on average, 5 hours of sleep a night can make you think crazy thoughts.

I really love a good spring picnic, and pretty much can’t wait for spring days that are sunny enough to enjoy from outside the windows and doors of my house. Maybe bundled up enjoyment, but enjoyment nonetheless.

Until then I’ve been making loaves and loaves of bread to be eaten with too much butter (which is a misnomer because there is no such thing as too much butter) and also salad.

Salads help me pretend that Spring is already here, especially ones like this one.

Take some veggies just barely painted with color, like fennel and endive:

Add several fruits that signal how near the end of winter is:

Next, a modest splash of color:

And pretty soon you have a salad that will, if need be, feed 8 adults and 2 kids and still leave leftovers. Leftovers that hold up admirably well for a salad, slightly dressed even. Or you could just make 1/2. Or eat more. It’s salad after all–no limits.

You could serve it next to little fried beet chips, like I did, if it seems too healthy. Fried food is a good antidote for “too healthy.”

But, no matter what you serve it alongside (We also ate this, for a big family dinner on Friday.) it will be delicious and give you a little taste of spring.

Shaved Fennel and Watermelon Radish Salad with Meyer Lemons
makes about 10 side servings, or 4 larger lunch servings

1 bulb fennel, fronds removed and reserved
3 meyer lemons
4-5 large watermelon radishes
2 small heads endive
2 Tbsp olive oil, or to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Line up all the endive leaves and chop into 3/4″ bite-sized pieces. Spread out on a large platter and cover with a damp paper towel while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Supreme the lemons, and chop the supremes into little bitty bite sized pieces, about the size of your pinky nail. Set these pieces aside in a small bowl. Do not wipe off your cutting surface, you want the fennel to sit in the lemon juice that’s left on the cutting board.

Remove any tough or bruised parts from the outside of the fennel and slice very thin using a mandoline. Pour any extra juice that has collected in the bottom of the lemon bowl over the fennel and toss just lightly. Add the shavings in one big heaping layer on top of the endive. From the reserved fronds, take the just best looking two or three and chop them finely, saving to use as a garnish. Cover again with the damp paper towels.

Peel any tough spots from the outside of the radishes. If you can’t find watermelon that’s ok. You can use any radish here. Slice them as thin as you like using the mandoline. I didn’t slice mine as thin as they could go because I wanted them to stay pretty crunchy. Add them as the next layer in the salad.

For the last layer, add the lemon bites over the top. Follow with the chopped fennel fronds. Next pour the olive oil over the whole thing slowly working over the whole salad. If you feel like you need more, by all means add it. I deliberately left this a very lightly dressed salad. Sprinkle some salt and pepper, and call it done!

If you, like me, are preparing this salad ahead of time for an evening dinner, leave it in the fridge without the oil, salt, and pepper, covered with the same damp paper towels you used throughout.

Marmalade Mash-up

One time I went to three or four different hole-in-the-wall asian markets looking for green papayas to make green papaya salad. It was probably the only legitimate craving I had the entire time I was pregnant with Lilli.

It wasn’t even that much of a craving, really. More of an “I think I want to make this” and then it got more and more important the harder I had to look for those stupid papayas.

Anyway, last week Lilli and I took another journey down to those hole-in-the-wall asian markets, this time with two important differences. One, she was an actual kid and not just a zygote, or whatever. Two, we were looking for citrus, preferably weird varieties, but not with anything too specific in mind. Unfortunately we didn’t find anything that weird.We did come home with a couple of huge pomelos and about 3 pounds of kumquats, all for about 8 bucks.

This is awesome because unless you happen to live in california and have some sort of citrus tree (that actually produces fruit, unlike the one in my dining room) somewhere within, oh, say, 200 miles of your front door, those little babies will cost you an arm and a leg. I knew I wanted to make some sort of marmalade so it really didn’t matter what we found, as long as it was cheap. I have also been collecting other citrus. By the time I was getting ready to go to work on this marmalade, I had a bevy of grapefruit, a small stash of Meyer lemons and more oranges than I could count, of several varieties.

So I set to work reading a ton of awesome posts about marmalade. I read some over at Food in Jars (Whose kumquat recipe I followed…the whole thing. Which is unlike me.), and there’s been tons of good ideas for citrus in general on Punk Domestics. I wanted to make a batch that had just one fruit and also one batch that was a medley. I peeled an orange for Lilli and then set to work chopping everything up.

And then I decided that I am a total crazy person. Making kumquat marmalade is like making strawberry jelly where the first step is taking out each individual seed with a pair of tweezers before you cook the fruit. It’s ridiculously time consuming. As good as it tasted, I recommend you find a crazy-person friend to make it for you instead of attempting it yourself. Unless you’re crazy too, in which case you have my blessing.

The other batch I made was the medley and I kind of just made it up using the rule of thumb that says you should add about 3-4 cups of sugar for every pound of fruit. Marmalade isn’t like other jam. Since it contains the peel of the citrus you kind of need to let it soak and soften and then cook for a really long time. It’s better that way. There are ways to get around it, but not with kumquats.

I used the way around when we made the lemon marmalade back in San Francisco. When I cut up the pomelos I followed this “way around” too. You can basically make supremes of the fruit. First, use a vegetable peeler to take off all the zest in big strips which you then chop into very thin slices. Next, cut the flesh from the membranes, and chop it into smallish pieces, setting aside the seeds and membranes like you would if you had cut them whole. For the pomelos it was kind of the only way to go since there’s so much peel and the membranes can be kind of tough. I added one delicious pink grapefruit, mostly just to give it a little more rosy color than the pomelos would bring and also cut up 5 Meyer lemons. And I let it soak the entire 24 hours, even though I’ve never done that part before.

When I got around to cooking it, I realized I had probably added too much water, because it boiled forever. It boiled for probably over an hour before it hit the jelly point (220ºF), which is sort of on the ridiculous end of the spectrum.

In the end, it was kind of on the bitter side. Not inedible, just a little bit not sweet even though I knew it had plenty of sugar in it. So, I’m not going to share the recipe. I hope you don’t mind. I think it will be excellent as part of a sweet cookie or made into a sauce to go over ice cream…Why don’t I have any ice cream?

Well, good thing the kumquat marmalade was delicious. I guess I’ll have to eat that first.

One thing I did deem a success was the pomelo sugar I made using the rind from one of the pomelos. I had decided that since they’re such a big fruit, I only needed to add part of the zest, and was pretty glad about that later. To use it up (because I hate to throw stuff out if I can help it) I ground it up very very fine in the food processor and then dumped in a couple cups of granulated sugar to absorb all the oils from the rind. The sugar also serves as a medium for the zest to get into whatever it is you want it in.

You can just mix any sort of citrus zest in with some sugar. About one orange or lemon per cup of sugar, or two of each fruit it they are pretty small. Mix it up and then store it in an airtight container. I went the wacky route and physically cut up the zest, but a microplane style grater is the best tool for the job. You can use it anywhere regular sugar would be called for but a hit of citrus would be welcome.

A San Francisco Treat

(Sorry, I couldn’t help that one)

While we were in San Fran last week I got the chance to do something I am totally jealous of my past self for getting to do, which is eat and cook with very fresh citrus fruit.

Our first night there we walked up to a lookout point in the neighborhood were our friends live, Cole Valley. I never caught the name of the lookout, but it had truly breathtaking views, especially since most of the time we were In San Fran we had very clear and sunny weather, and that evening was warm to boot. The perfect antidote for what the weather’s been like here in Seattle.

On our way back down the hill to order dinner (awesome and easy Thai, because Thai is never wrong.) I spotted something you would never in a million years see in Seattle, even if we did have actual summers and decent autumns: a fruiting Meyer lemon tree. Though by this point it was quite dark, I peered in among the branches and felt out some of the fruits that looked yellow in the glow of the streetlight. I tried to twist off a fruit I thought was ripe, but it wasn’t quite there yet, or so I guessed since it didn’t easily come off. I left it alone and went on my way with an added spring in my step.

I am going to share with you something about myself that you might not have know. I am a shameless urban fruit “forager” and while mostly I only take fruit that is on public or abandoned land, I will occasionally venture onto the more private side of things and pick fruit that is very obviously going to waste. These lemons were just at the tip of someone’s yard. A very very wealthy person’s yard. The tree was very well pruned, in a yard that looked pretty well manicured, and it was chock full of fruit that was ripening or ripe. Clearly, I told our hosts, they were not going to miss a lemon or two. Or a dozen. Right?

The next morning I went to the lookout by myself, early, in the fog, to take some pictures and see the city in a different light. I scoped out the tree again, this time with the sunlight on my side, and found that there were indeed quite a few ripe lemons hanging out in this tree. Hooray!

The day before we were set to leave was pretty busy. There were two very small earthquakes (exciting!) and it was the start of the Jewish holiday Simchat Torah (awesome!) which we celebrated by dancing with Torah scrolls and drinking tequila in a Baha’i Temple (drunky!). We ate dinner at a food truck gathering to make the food trucks in Seattle blush with inadequacy (yummy!) and had an awesome burrito in the Tenderloin of all places (wacky!).

We were supposed to pack for home and then be at a friend’s house for breakfast the next morning at 8, before tooling around and then heading to the airport by 1. So of course, it was the perfect time to go steal forage lemons and then start an involved canning project which we maybe didn’t have all the right ingredients for.

Aviva and I bundled up a bit (it finally was a little chilly in the evenings) and decided to take a trip up to the lookout one last time. And we took with us a cloth sack, “just in case” we found something worth bringing home. Maybe we would get lucky and there would be enough ripe ones to make a quart of preserved lemons. I maybe got a little carried away and we ended up with quite a few lemons, all without even a soul finding out what we were up to. It was slightly exhilarating, or maybe that was just the heady smell of the fruit wafting from the cotton bag as they jostled around in there while we practically skipped back home.

Anyway, we ended up having enough fruit to make a quart of preserved lemons, and a batch of ginger lemon marmalade. We cheated and used a couple of oranges and some lemons that were sitting around getting old. But we had a few fruits that were still sort of green so we sorted those out to ripen and use later, and there were even enough that I got to bring a couple home. As I peeled the zest from the fruit to make the marmalade, I couldn’t help but taste the fruit itself. If you’ve never had fresh citrus like this, I highly recommend it if you get the chance. It made me insanely jealous of those Californians, even if I do love my hometown to pieces.

I don’t own a copy of the Ball Book of Home Preserving, but that is the book we took both recipes from. We followed the marmalade pretty closely, substituting a couple of oranges for part of the lemons and halving the ginger, since that’s just what we had on hand. We also used raw sugar instead of the usual white, which I think played off the ginger very very nicely. I have to remember that trick for other jams.

For the preserved lemons we substituted the bay leaves for fresh basil, and added a star anise. Basil and lemon are so nice together, and while this makes it a bit less traditional, I’m confident that the flavors will work well together and be great. I just hope the basil doesn’t overpower the delicate flavor of the Meyer lemons. We’ll see!

P.S. We live tweeted our canning adventure, but if you missed it and are using twitter, you can follow me @kernelsandseeds and get updates for future adventures!