I recently returned from the Allied Media Conference in Detroit. Along with sharing the multimedia curriculum developed by the Palestine Education Project, I was there helping Chef Walter Whitewater with his session entitled “Cooking As a Form of Media: Stories & Experiences of a Traditional Native Chef.” After five days away from home, the first thing I did was drop my bags, grab all of the pitchers I have, fill them with water, and climb out my kitchen window, excited for a hydrating reunion with “my girls.” Thanks to the careful, loving attention of my sister Shalva, my plants were looking better than they ever have when left in someone else’s care. Yet they still seemed to perk up even more after a day of my talking to them and touching them (rubbing leaves, pinching off dead flowers, checking for bugs). They missed me! Coming home from being on the road and communing with my plants was so grounding. And I harvested my first basil! Isn’t she gorgeous?
Excited about my lil herbs and inspired by a delectable little dish at The Village Cheese Shop in Mattituck, Long Island, involving tiny new red potatoes topped by dollops of pesto and crème fraiche, I pulled together this brunch for my parents and dear fellow food traveler and friend, Sonny:
Bring a pot of water heavily salted to boil and add little new potatoes (I used about 20).
After about 10 minutes, check them by sticking a fork in them – as soon as you can easily poke it in and pull it out, they’re done! (You don’t want them too soft and mushy so just keep checking them – better safe than sorry.)
Drain them and cut them in half.
In a food processor combine:
- 2 small cloves of garlic or one big one
- 1 cup basil, 1 cup parsley, and ½ cup mint
- about a teaspoon of sea salt
- a few pinches of black pepper
- ½ cup pine nuts or walnuts
- 1 cup olive oil (or drizzle in until it’s the consistency you want)
I used fresh stone ground “quick grits” from Farmer Ground. Farmer Ground – which is farmer grown, owned, and ground – is part of a larger effort to restore grain growing to New York state. Upstate New York once grew so much grain that Rochester topped the nation’s flour production in the mid 1830s, giving it the nickname “Flour City.” Federal subsidization of agribusiness in the Midwest undermined that once thriving local industry.
And I use my mother’s recipe for making polenta:
1.5 cups cold water
1/3 cup cornmeal (more or less course or fine depending on the consistency you want- the finer, the creamier)
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cheese
1/2 tablespoon each of chopped thyme, sage, parsley, and/or basil (or whatever herbs you like)
1 or 2 tablespoons butter (depending on how rich you like it)
Bring the water, cornmeal, and salt to a boil in a thick bottomed pot.
Reduce the heat and stir in the herbs.
Stir consistently, making sure to scrape the bottom, for about 15 minutes.
When it’s creamy and thick, remove from the heat and stir in the butter, cheese, and add salt and pepper to taste if needed.
You can serve it warm and creamy or spread it in a square pan or casserole dish and chill for an hour, cut into squares, and serve.
(Stay tuned for my sister’s upcoming posts entitled “Gritty City” exploring polenta and grits throughout NYC.)
Early Summer Veggie Sauté
To be honest, I make these things up as I go along. So here’s what I can remember about how I made this:
I sliced up garlic greens and shallots and started sautéing them in olive oil.
I like to sprinkle some dashes of paprika on my garlic/onions/shallots while sautéing them before adding the extra veggies.
I then added a couple of handfuls of summer squash (zukes and yellow) sliced thinly into half-moons and a handful of chopped asparagus (it was late May when I made this dish and the asparagus abounded here in NYC).
I sautéed them covered for a couple of minutes and then lifted the cover, added some chopped thyme, parsley, and maybe oregano and then a few pinches of this honey-lemon-saffron blend called Mishmish N. 33 that my mother gave me from La Boite a Epice.
(I hope that this Israeli-born chef’s commitment to “the spices our ancestors used” is indicative of his respect and support for the indigenous peoples of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa from which he draws his inspiration and makes a living.)
When the veggies were soft, I added a dash of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
I used to be so freaked out by eggs but now am enchanted by their magic – how many forms they can take and how many nutrients they contain. Of course, fresh, free-range eggs contain around four times as many nutrients and taste infinitely better than eggs from factory farms full of miserable, unhealthy, over-crowded chickens who never see the light of day.
For this breakfast, I simply fried an egg in black truffle oil and tossed a pinch of salt and a sprig of fresh thyme on top.
As you can see in the above photo, I plated a healthy portion of the polenta next to a mound of veggies. Then I laid out the halved little potatoes, drizzled the green sauce on them, and topped them off with a drizzle of Liberté Goat Fresh cheese. I then added the egg to each plate and we dined on the deck amongst the plants from which the flavors of our brunch were derived.*
*As with all great culinary efforts, I had invaluable assistance provided by my mother. So really I should be saying “we…” when referring to the preparation of this meal. Here’s to all of the kitchen tops like mother who are humble and generous enough to be kitchen bottoms when called upon!