It's None of Your Onions

Suffice to say the crazy August sun must have finally got to me: and fried my very last brain cell clean off my frontal lobe. I’ve been doing things that are so out of character lately. If I were counseling a friend, I’d rationalize that by making these decisions she is challenging herself. That her actions mean she is alive and among the living. But mostly, it’s just been unsettling.

I took a long, hard look at the recent path I was on and wondered if it was helping me get to where I wanted to go. The answer was, no, it was not: unless I wanted a vacation in a nice white room with padded walls.

I needed something to redirect me. I needed some food I could believe in. Something with bite, that could hold up to 'the crazy.' Pickled peppers and onions did the trick, that and booking an impromptu trip to Paris.

The French know how to eat and—not surprisingly—how to live. They have known for a very long time that food and life are both better when intertwined. And so it comes as no surprise that their idioms often involve food.

Take their expression, c'est pas tes oignons; it’s literal translation: “it’s none of your onions.” What those crazy French folk are saying is it’s really none of your business, if you please, merci beaucoup.

Only the French can make sounding huffy sexy. And only Boston-based chef, Barbara Lynch, can do the same for a recipe for pickled onions. You may be saying, but there is decidedly nothing sexy about pickled onions. Oh, but there is. These pickled onions are fantastic underneath poached eggs, partnered with cured meats, sandwiched between slices of pan integral; they are even seductive eaten straight from the jar while standing barefoot in your kitchen.

Trust me. The woman can pickle. Her bread and butter pickles appear with many of her entrees at B & G Oysters. If you need further convincing of her culinary prowess, Bon Appetit recently voted her new restaurant Menton (named after a small French village, naturally) as one of the top 10 best new restaurants in the country. But what I love most about Barbara is that she does not mind her own onions in the kitchen.

Some chefs can be hesitant to give out recipes. I recently saw her give a talk and she freely, happily—with abandon even—gave out not one, not two, but nine recipes to everyone in the audience. There will definitely be more Barbara Lynch recipes to come, so be sure to thank her for not minding her pickled onions if you see her.

As for me, the onions and hot peppers at the farmers’ markets are FANTASTIC right now, so I’ll be pickling and planning my trip to Paris through September. Truth is, this is one crazy ride and sometimes the rollercoaster goes off the tracks. But you have to give yourself permission to let it happen and then know how to get yourself back: and maybe even tell people to mind their own onions about it, though perhaps not if they are pickled.

Pickled Peppers and Onions
Adapted from Barbara Lynch's recipe for pickled onions in Stir

3/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp sugar
6-8 pink peppercorns
Pinch anise seed
A few sprigs of oregano
1 large white onion
1 hot pepper

Heat vinegar, salt and sugar in a sauce pan; add peppercorns, anise and oregano and bring to a boil. Slice the peppers and onions and place in a heat-proof bowl. Pour hot vinegar mixture over peppers and onions and let sit until it comes to room temperature. Refrigerate.

Makes about 2 cups.

At first it seems like there isn't enough vinegar for the peppers and onions, but once they sit overnight they give up some water and swim happily in the vinegar. They also stay nice and crisp.

Lynch recommends saving the vinegar to use as a salad dressing or marinade base. She is right. It is killer poured over tomatoes and cucumber slices and tossed with a little oil.

I used a lime-green hot pepper solely because of how it looked (it's okay, you can judge). I think it made the mixture (and life) even better.

You could use a mandoline and thinly slice the onions (which is what Lynch recommended). I was feeling lazy and a little troubled and so a mandoline was out of the question.


The Brownies Abide

I love a good tradition.

Traditions work wonderfully as mileposts, measuring the distance you’ve traveled; acknowledging changes as life speeds along, while providing assurance that you have something constant amid the chaos to look forward to.

Whether it is glass pumpkins from MIT in September or lobster buoys from the Cape in June, certain objects and events help me punctuate the months and seasons. And in August, I get a little help from “the dude.”

For the past four years, I’ve attended The Big Lebowski movie screening and pre-show bowling party extravaganza at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. (I thought long and hard about whether I should even admit any of this.) Like most traditions, it’s a little odd and perhaps a little sad, as occasionally you lose attendees along the way.

This year was no exception on both accounts. Sometimes you lose a rug that really tied the room together. Sometimes you lose a million dollar ringer. Sometimes you lose a friend. And if you can’t learn to accept this, you are entering a world of pain.

Luckily, where there is tragedy there is often chocolate. And so yesterday we ate brownies from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook. We drank white Russians. We honored the dude. We lived. And for a moment, we believed in nothing; it was exhausting.

As was making the brownies; I had to use every ounce in me not to deviate from the recipe. It is simply not in my nature to follow a recipe. But these brownies had to be baked. And baking is much different than cooking. As our good friend Walter Sobchak would say, this is not ‘nam. This is baking. There are rules. And so when Thomas Keller called for 61-64% cacao chocolate I did not question why; I simply abided.

Per usual, Thomas Keller can do no wrong. The brownies were amazing: thick and chocolaty and rich. Having them with white Russians was a grown up milk and cookie experience.

In the end, a tradition—be it brownie or bowling based—is a great way to stop, look around, and reflect on where you've come from: and where you are going. And if you’re really lucky, life may even throw you a new brownie recipe to help get you to the next milepost.

Ad Hoc Brownies
Adapted from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home

3/4 cup flour
1 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
3/4 pound butter
1 tsp kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
6 ounces 61-64% cacao chocolate, chopped into chip-sized pieces

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour a glass baking dish. Sift together flour and cocoa powder; add salt. Melt half the butter in a sauce pan and then pour heated butter into a bowl with the remaining butter; stir to melt. There should be small bits of butter remaining.

In another bowl, or bowl of a kitchen aid, mix the eggs and sugar on medium until very thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Mix in vanilla. On low speed, add about 1/3 of your flour mixture and then 1/3 of your butter and continue to alternate until both flour mixture and butter are fully combined. Stir in chocolate. Pour into floured baking dish and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out with only a few moist crumbs. Let cool until room temperature.

Makes 12


I used 2 bars of 62% semi-sweet Scharffen Berger chocolate. It's hard to find exactly 6 ounces of chocolate with 61-64% but Scharffen Berger has it. And thank goodness. Lord knows, I don't need extra chocolate hanging around.

Mr. Keller used 1/2 tsp vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract. I'm sure it's delicious, but I didn't have it. I figured the paste was probably more concentrated so I used more vanilla extract. Also, I just like vanilla. So okay, there was a tiny bit of recipe shenanigans.

If you like Thomas Keller, you should check out French Press Memos. Andra has a great food blog with bunch of Thomas Keller recipes to work your way through.

You can also order Ad Hoc at Home from the comfort of, well, your home from a variety of traditional online stores.


Take A Vacation From Your Problems ... With Sparkling Wine Gelatin

Gelatin. How can I put this delicately: it’s weird. Though its quirkiness is part of its charm. It’s like the slinky of the dessert world. And who doesn’t love a slinky? Life would probably be better with more random slinkies bouncing down stairs. Likewise, I probably don’t eat enough gelatin.

And I don’t know why. Whenever I have some form of the stuff, it’s like a mini vacation from my problems. There are a few other things that draw out similar feelings. Watching Audrey Hepburn movies is one. Champagne is another.

Recently, I found myself with a strange urge to make fruited gelatin. I ended up with something you might suppose Bill Cosby, Martha Stewart and F. Scott Fitzgerald would make, if they found themselves together on a lazy Sunday with some time to kill. Though, I am not confident that even Fitzgerald could have justified buying champagne for such a purpose. It turns out sparkling wine was even gilding the lily.

If you like your wine with a side of whimsy, tuck this recipe away in your ‘ace in the hole’ files. A woman has to have her go-tos. She needs a dress that fits like a glove, a fail-proof recipe, and at least one party trick. Since I can’t tie cherry stems with my tongue, I had better bring the gelatin.

I doubt anyone will object. Depending on the circumstances, it may even be necessary. To quote Betty Davis’s character in Old Acquaintance, “there comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.” I’d like to amend this quote: “there comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a pan full of fruit-studded sparkling wine, eaten in cubes.” Eating said pan while watching Audrey Hepburn on a breezy summer Sunday? Now that’s gilding the lily.

Summer Fruit Sparkling Wine Gelatin

1.5 cups white grape juice
Pinch of salt
4 packages of gelatin (I used Knox Gelatine)
2.5 cups sparkling wine, divided
1/2 cup raspberries
1/2 cup blueberries
1/4 cup white currants

Heat grape juice until just about boiling. Add pinch of salt. Meanwhile, let the gelatin soak in 1/2 of the wine for a few minutes. Stir grape juice into the wine mixture until gelatin is dissolved. Add in fruit and remaining wine. Pour into 11 x 7 baking dish. Refrigerate for a minimum of 3 hours, ideally 5 or more.

Makes about 15 squares.

-I was worried about maintaining the fizz, so I let the juice cool slightly before adding it to the wine. (It seemed reasonable to assume that heat might deflate the fizz.) This method seemed to work okay. I would have liked a little more fizz, but that said, I'd like a lot of things.

-These are essentially adult knox blocks. Don't feed them to the kiddies unless you feel like asking for it.
(How could I have forgotten how much I love Knox Blocks?)

-I pretty much add a pinch of salt to everything.


Keep Calm and Carry Rum

There is a lot we can learn from Hemingway. He wrote classics. He taught us that simplicity says so much. He drank. Hemingway’s scotch and lime drink: 3 ounces of scotch, with lime. (This is a man after my own heart.)

I have a friend that shares my fondness for Hemingway (and for strong cocktails). He is roughly 88% steel, 10% gin and 2% pixie dust. He also writes a blog for those of similar makeup: My Kind of Razzmatazz. If you are looking for tips on how to live like Hemingway, or other men of greatness, Razzmatazz is your bible.

Every so often we get together to cook and drink in a way that Hemingway might appreciate: these events are dubbed ‘the Hemingway Way.’ The meals usually involve some sort of grilled fish with lime. Always booze, typically rum. The man loved his rum.

And he loved daiquiris. Real daiquiris: not those glorified 7-Eleven Slurpees, with a splash of rum; you know, the kind you find at all-inclusive resorts and in bars with names like Tiki Dan’s. Hemingway’s famed daiquiri cocktail is the Papa Doble.

You may see it on ‘trendy’ bar menus. Be wary if it is served in a martini glass. In fact, be wary of any bar that serves cocktails—other than a gin or vodka martini—in a martini glass. Drinks should be served in a glass that best honors the booze, not for the simple sake of supposed sophistication. (After all, I’ve never known a drink to make you more sophisticated after you drank it.)

Hemingway was also particular with his drinks (as he was with most things in his life). It is said that while Hemingway loved daiquiris, he asked for double the rum ... with half the sugar. My kind of man: 66% rum, 30% discriminating, 4% lime/sugar. That’s 100% alive, if you ask me. While Hemingway is no longer alive, July 21st would have been his 101st birthday.

And so Razzmatazz and I celebrated ‘the Hemingway way’ in a way that Hemingway would have appreciated: we struggled. Much like the marlin from The Old Man and the Sea, my grill proved to be a worthy adversary: the grill's flames kept going out. We could not let the grill win.

We had harpoon-caught swordfish to cook. We had honor to uphold. We made more dark and stormy cocktails. We did not give up.

I realize that the dark and stormy cocktail probably wasn’t a Hemingway mainstay. The ingredients hail from Bermuda, while Hemingway was pretty partial to Cuba. Nevertheless, I am sure Papa Doble would have appreciated the simplicity of the cocktail. Also, I gave Razzmatazz the wrong shot glass to make the drinks, so we ended up with double the rum. It was like Hemingway was guiding us. We were even able to secure Barritt’s ginger beer; made since 1874 and notoriously hard to come by.

In the end—and after a few cocktails—we ate the fish of our labor. It was perfection. So much so that I bought harpoon-caught swordfish a few more times that week. Best eat it while you can; it is apparently only available for a short time. The fish are caught, one by one, from fishermen using time-honored harpooning methods.

As for the fisherman that harpooned the marlin in The Old Man and The Sea? He spent days dragging the fish back to land, only to find its carcass consumed by sharks along the way. I don’t blame the sharks. In fact, I sympathize if harpooned marlin tastes anything like harpooned swordfish.

If you are lucky enough to live in Boston, you only have to venture to Whole Foods to get it; though, how long it’s available is anyone’s guess.

If you don’t usually like fish: man up. Think of Hemingway. The man loved life, and he thrived on the raw moments.

“… there’s a whole big world out there full of people who really feel things. They live and love and die with all their feelings. Taste everything …” Ernest Hemingway (1919)

Taste everything.

The Menu

Rosemary-garlic potatoes roasted in bacon fat
Butter-braised cucumbers with oregano and red onions
Grilled harpoon-caught swordfish with lime butter
Dark and stormy cocktails (recipe follows)

The Dark and Stormy Doble

3 ounces Gosling's Black Seal Rum
Barritt's ginger beer
Lime slices, at will

Pour rum in a 10 or 12 ounce glass, filled with ice. Top off with ginger beer. Add lime slice(s).

Makes one (possibly makes one drunk, depending on your tolerance).


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