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Cooking Per Tutti 2021 The Best of the Season

Ready for a new beverage? Mine as of late is a tumeric chai latte sweetened with honey and vanilla. It would astound some of my longtime friends that I have finally changed it up with the beverage menu. I've been a chai tea latte girl for eons and never had a reason to move on. Simply put the complexity of the spices and the sweetness just worked for me. Michael loves his cappuccino and espresso as do I but I have been working on getting back to tea lately. It really has to do with going back to work with the public on a part time basis and all about staying calm when my senses are already heightened by a new environment and new people.

A warm beverage to me is comfort and a reminder of friendship - a time when people were content to sit in a cafe and just enjoy conversation and each other's company. Something we still enjoy although admittedly we make those toasty beverages at home more these days. So why would I start a cookbook with this particular entry? Well it is a part of the foundation of what brought Michael and I together. And we know we are not the only ones as many others out there have shared. Its a heavenly and peaceful morning ritual and an afternoon date.

When Fall rolls around Michael and I are ever so aware of the gifts of fruit we've enjoyed all Summer long. The berries, the melons, not soon forgotten. Just when we are feeling the crunch of what remains available in the fresh outdoor markets in terms of fruits we seem to discover a new friend or neighbor with an orchard in full swing or at the very least a fruit tree layered in abundance. That's exactly how it went this Summer- the neighbor who's yard faces our backyard has a spectacular pear tree that must be over 60 feet high and is swimming with fallen pears at the trunk. The scent of pear wine has already taken shape as my nose detected once I was properly invited to come and partake in the fun of picking pears. With a rake at the ready it was a joyful moment to tug until the pears fell to the ground. I loaded up my bicycle basket and a couple of grocery bags and was on my way to dreaming of pear tarts and a warm pear salad with goat chees and walnuts. It wasn't just the pears that made the experience special but the meeting of a next door neighbor who is as interesting as she is charming. The stone house that is now her own has a family history having been her Mother's house until her passing. So much family history, walls loaded with books (she is a self professed writer) collections of colonial glass in cupboards and displays of a bold blue glass collection that sits in front of the window allowing the light to pass through it so astoundingly. What a back drop for her writer's studio. The house is laden with papers and art and a piano stands at the ready. Into the yard there are loads of plants and thoughtful spaces where one can sit and contemplate the garden. The roses bloom tall and all Summer long into November as we are fortunate to witness as we sip warm beverages on the back patio. The truth is that before this generous invitation came my way I had admittedly to my host rode my bike past the house the previous week just to see if I might spy a glimpse of the home's owner and properly introduce myself and humbly request to pick pears from the divine tree.

I love these overhead images lately in the kitchen. Mostly because they like us simply tell it like it is. It's not a neat process for us to create a meal, process food from the garden and bring a dinner party together. Truth is its more like an art studio- with chaos mingling with the objects of beauty. Organic meets industrial so to speak. There is prep work and there are tools and while we do our best to constantly mop up the mess that grows around us there is a process that requires many elements and resources to succeed at its productivity. I know this sonata well and I stay in the moment in the kitchen because if I do I notice so many small details that truly make the most of the meal at hand and for the week ahead if not the month. It never ceases to amaze me how the making of food begets more ideas for the making of food. It's an endless steam of inspiration that seems to come to me while I am cooking. Dividing, reserving and prepping starts the flow of recipes and dishes that come to me out of nowhere. Sometimes they are the obvious go to meals but more often the ingredients remind me of a recipe I read recently and with a little effort I realize I can get close even if not EXACTLY the way it was conveyed to me. I make no bones about this from a puritanical or purist viewpoint but instead delight in the fact of another meal or dish planned. Never am I more grateful for these gifts than when I am dividing my time between work that takes me away from home.

What's happening in the garden in the Fall has much to do with what happens in the kitchen. I recently harvested about 1/4 of the basil that has threatened to go to see fully. That harvesting of basil produced a whopping 7 cups of the beloved herb and ice cube trays of pesto were made. I like the process to be enjoyable rather than overwhelming so I purposely did not pick all that was available to me. About 5 cups of mint that could be shared with my new lovely neighbor along with the basil and okra will be turned into a sweet chutney/pesto type of concoction that I can also break off at will to add to fruit dishes, and other dessert dishes.

One of my favorite meals is a combination of Mediterranean dishes- tabouleh, hummos,

stuffed grape leaves, baba ganoush, mixed with pita, feta, olives and fresh veggies. We often make much of this meal from scratch and admittedly it is a fair amount of work but of so worth it when its time to nosh.

Ricotta Cake is one of Mike's favorites and it requires 3 recipes- one for the cake, one for the filling and one for the whipped cream frosting. I often use a bit of orange liquor or juice to the cake to flavor or I'll add a hint of orange zest to the whipped cream. The filling is mascarpone, ricotta cheese and mini dark chocolate chips. It is a decadent cake but usually a crowd pleaser.

Fresh oranges make their way into everything from smoothies to cocktails, cakes and salads. Fresh squeezed , zested peels or eaten as whole fruits they pack a lively punch.

Mike likes to tease that I hate to waste food and there is SO much truth in his jest. Perhaps its because I've grown my own food for years and as a gardener I recognize how precious it is when the yield comes. How easily the process can be disrupted if the stars, climate and the soil are not well-aligned. This year was particularly prudent on this topic because we were gardening in a new climate altogether (subtropical) and we knew we were late to the game of planting in the Spring so it was hard to know what would edibly make it out of the garden. Because I'm not one to waste; when an Ahi Tuna gets slightly overcooked, I intuitively know its time to add some mayo, cucumbers, celery and dill and moisten the dry texture of the tuna. Its just too precious to waste.

In The Kitchen

Our home cooked meals come together in a myriad of ways and the food on our table does as well. Sometimes it’s from our own garden, backyard or community, local farm markets, a neighbor’s yard, local grocer, or a warehouse club. Below is a series of photos taken in our kitchen as a meal or prep is coming together. Because I’ve learned that staying as present as possible while creating is of particular importance to me and has an overall impact on the end result, I do what I can to keep it simple when I document. After years of watching food stylists and photographers labor over the making of food photography in studios; this was an exercise in efficiency. A simple overhead shot intended to communicate and capture what goes on in our process of making a meal.

Green beans and tomatoes Pasta Salad Feta and pesto stuffed chicken breast Pears waiting to be roasted

You can see that once the pesto/feta mixture was stuffed into the breast I used the bowl with a bit of the pesto mixture reserved to make the tomato and green bean salad. Since the bowl is already seasoned it only makes sense to toss the salad there. One less bowl to wash.

This was taken in the morning as I was assembling Michael’s daily sandwich for lunch. Yes, he still takes his lunch to work to this day. You can see the green beans and tomatoes have not yet been made into a salad but their presence gives me the idea for dinner as I prep breakfast and make Mike’s lunch. Breakfast is a bit of yogurt with cashews almonds and a purée of mixed berries, mango, pineapples and watermelon. A nice combination of tart and sweet packed with good nutrition.

Later Dinner prep with Michael preparing a lightly floured Baccala (Cod fish) which he frys in vegetable oil. I decide to add green beans and tomatoes to the leftover pasta salad to “stretch it” reserving the bulk of the veggies for another meal. Yes, I actually do think practically and creatively when I’m in the kitchen.

A pan of roasted okra, onions, garden jalapeños and bell peppers in diced tomatoes. A sprinkle of bread crumbs added before serving. Noted the okra was more tough than edible. Admittedly I’m still learning my way with this vegetable.

Some of those pears find their way into the oven for a dark chocolate and pear tart. A recipe inspired by Athena Calderone’s Eye Swoon recipe which includes hazelnuts. I had cashews on hand so in they went.

Mike was ready for a Cowboy steak which we served with the pasta salad and a glass of Pinot Noir because it’s what we had on hand.

Putting the rustic pear tart together.

An image that sums up the goodness of the season. It’s such a treat to discover red tomatoes ripening on the vine on October 26. After so many short Summer seasons In my life I don’t think I will evlet take this for granted. It’s also a photo that brings the old and new together as well as family and friends. A trio of bowls was a gift from my brother and sister in law Jill and the pears a gift from a new neighbor friend. Basil seeds collected in a brown paper bag will get stored away until Spring. What’s left in the garden- cilantro just sprouting, mini bell pepper, Basil, mint, tomatoes, okra, watermelon, cantaloupe, garlic, arugula, calabrese broccol, rapini, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano and Parsley.

Taking notes on menu ideas. Here’s a sneak peek at my “chicken scratching”. The process continues to evolve but it has included old school recipe cards, 3 ring binders stuffed with tear sheets and hand written scribbles, apps, and photos which I find easiest to capture and serve as writing inspiration for cookbooks and magazines. For me the ideas are endless.

Harvest Season calls for wild floral arrangements; it’s as if the last blooms of the season are screaming for that last bit of attention. Here is zebra grass almost gone to seed which lends an ethereal texture to the display and colors that range from purple to cranberry to fuscia with a mix of russets that range from deep copper hues to sunflower yellow and a burst of pumpkin in between. I chose marigolds, roses, daisies, velvety cockscomb and magnificent blushing burning bush. A low arrangement that sits high on a pedestal is the perfect way to keep sight lines open during dinner conversation.

Michael whips up a Sicilian style pizza. Known for its bread dough Mike likes to say that it’s 20% focaccia and 80% pizza. Comes out very tasty and a crowd pleaser when you need to feed a large group.

The holiday season always has me handmaking gifts often by repurposing what I have on hand. It takes me back to Little Women one of my absolute favorite childhood books. Since times were lean for the March Sisters during wartime, they were found doing their handiwork, crafts and art as a way to GIVE during the Christmas season. Often these gifts were a secret and had to be made on the sly to escape the watchful eyes of their family members. Thankfully my reasons for hand-making a gift differ from the young ladies in the storybook but the intention of the greater good remains. A time to be thoughtful for others and in our oh so busy modern lives what could be more thoughtful than the gift of time it actually takes to handmake something for another human being. Instead of our hobbies becoming lost arts to all of the gadgets now available to us; I still find some peace in the creating of things with my hands. It's not to say that every gift need be homemade or handmade we need not hold ourselves to impossible standards during what is for most the busiest time of the year. But for me the peace of the hustle and bustle of this season when we are not in service to others is to make time for the solitude it takes to make something. It is the gift that I give to myself while giving to others. it's also a lovely way to express gratitude, friendship or to honor someone in a way without putting undue pressure of the thoughtfulness of gift giving. It's another way to get to know something about someone you may not have guessed prior to them sharing a piece of their craft with you. Another way is simply by sharing a holiday experience with someone whether it's a simple eggnog or a visit to the theatre to see a holiday classic like The Nutcracker.

This has been a year for appreciating the Goat and all that it has to offer. During the farm market I met the owner of Francois Creek Farm and was inspired to make my first Goat Milk Bath. I found the goat's milk bath to be so moisturizing for the skin that I made a couple bottles of it and would pour it into the tub before bath time. The addition of essential oils gave the milk bath an exceptional spa quality and alleviated the need to use body lotion after the bath. As a long-time fan of lotions with shea butter I was truly impressed with the hydration provided by taking a milk bath. It gave me a whole new perspective on the high-quality products Francois Creek Farm was bringing to market. Whether you try the soap, lotion or both, I'd recommend the rosemary mint and lavender scents as a place to begin. Here's the story of Francois Creek Farm which is owned and told by Larry and Roni Bowman. Larry and Roni moved to the land that eventually became the farm in 2000. The land has been in Roni's family for over 100 years. The farm is actually on the land that at one time had Roni's grandfather's barn and garden. Roni spent many hours as a child playing in the barn with her cousins. After a stint in the Air Force Roni came back to Arkansas where she met and married Larry. In 2000 after graduating with a Masters in Social Work Roni and Larry moved to the farm. Having grown up at the farm Roni began to dream of starting a farm but with a different flair. Roni had always dreamed of having chickens as a child however other than the little colored chickens that were available at Easter that was not a dream fulfilled.

Roni began to talk about having chickens and goats with Larry; who was not opposed so starting out in 2012 with 5 chicks and a dream to own goats. Their humble beginning of raising livestock has grown from 5 chicks to 45 chickens, 20 ducks, and 20 goats. They sell the eggs and make goat milk soap from the milk they get from their goats. Their dream continues to develop as they have added a new shop and are working to build a milk barn to be able to sell the milk and make cheese. To follow along on the expansion check them out on Instagram at #francoiscreekfarm


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