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myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

Babies? Or just little?

It was a sunny summer’s day in a hilltop village somewhere near Florence, Italy, when they were sighted: Tiny little skewered birds being served at the next table, and at a lot of tables.  As bizarre as this appeared, the locals were loving it, so it was a “must try”.  I learned later that these were actually wild songbirds, a traditional dish whose vital components – the birds – are now completely illegal to trap and serve commercially.

It was an interesting glimpse into the past, when people had to trap whatever they could to feed their families.  I was reminded of this when the Greenwich CT Historical Society presented an exhibition of artifacts and photographs documenting the lives of immigrants who came to this country from another part of Italy. Determined and hardworking, these were folks whose families were in poverty and hungry. They sought, and found, new lives here for generations to come. http://blog.ctnews.com/serra/2013/03/29/from-italy-to-america-at-the-greenwich-historical-society/

Quail

Quail

Another memorable mini bird encounter was the day I arrived in Paris for the first time.  Shopping for lunch with my hostess, Madame, after an overnight flight (with too much time spent talking and not enough sleeping), my gut reaction as she completed the purchase of quail was to be aghast that we would be eating these tiny, helpless things.

Needless to say, myMEGusta got over that silliness after the first bite, and after realizing that these were just small, fully grown birds, raised for the table.

On the other hand, little vegetables usually are just that, immature babies which be costly and cute, and only sometimes worth the bother.

Deep Fried Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

Deep Fried Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

Zucchini flowers are a personal favorite, lightly stuffed with cheese and deep fried.

Snap Pea Shoot

Snap Pea Shoot

Snap pea shoots, fresh from the backyard garden, often including the emerging pea flower and flash sautéed are best, although pea shoots are available in Asian markets.

My first sight of a loofah was in a household goods catalogue of some sort, and I eventually came across loofah seeds, quite an interested thing to grow, I thought, but how many loofah sponges does one need?

Loofah Sponge

Loofah Sponge

Then came the discovery of baby loofah prepared Szechuan style, one of my absolute favorite vegetables. Who knew? “Baby” shrimp aren’t babies, by the way, they are just  species which happens to be little.

Baby Loofah with Dried Baby Shrimp

Baby Loofah with Dried Baby Shrimp

On a related topic, tiny garden pests, chipmunks are as cute as can be, but not so amusing when they invade the garden, a behavior one would expect from deer and rabbits. My most recent encounter with this was when attempting to grow cherry tomatoes on my urban front porch (too high for the bunnies and that’s one area the deer don’t bother with). The plant was just on the verge of starting to yield dozens of beautiful, red orbs, when most disappeared overnight. The next day, I viewed the culprit: a chipmunk earnestly climbing up the vine and making off with one that had ripened overnight. So much for that gardening idea and thank god for the farmers’ market.

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A Toast to Autumn (and Winter and Spring and Summer)

Cider at the Market!

Cider at the Market!

Cider is the type of year  ‘round beverage that has a special place in myMEGusta’s heart in the fall, when jugs appear in farmers’ markets and at the supermarket, and thoughts go to a heated cupful steeped with a little cinnamon.

Seattle’s Pike Place Market has a really special way to enjoy cider: Frozen Granitas!

Apple Cider Granita

Apple Cider Granita

You’ll find two kinds of cider in those large, seasonal displays: treated (longer shelf life!) and untreated, which means there’s living yeast in that bottle. If you keep it long enough, it will start to ferment, making an adult beverage, not such a bad thing so long as the right people (not the kids) enjoy it at the right time (not before driving). In history, it was the original “home brew” in countless cottages wherever apples grew.

Home Brew

Home Brew

Hard cider, always popular in Europe, particularly in Great Britain and France, is only recently becoming a major libation in the United States, and it is produced with the same care and science as any other fine beverage.  For example, producers control the strains of yeast which inoculate the sweet apple juice, very much like vintners assiduously select the type of yeast added to their must, or grape juice.

Like Belgian beers, some of today’s modern ciders are made with flavorings, such as citrus or lavender to name a few.

Delicious!

Delicious!

One very well known and otherwise brilliant chef had, in the folly of her youth, gone on a gourmet adventure in Normandy and didn’t pay a lot of attention to what she was consuming. Only after arriving back in the States did she find out that the cider she had enjoyed so much on her trip had been the alcoholic type. And that that probably accounted for all the daily impromptu afternoon naps. Fortunately, she was too poor to have a rental car.

I had the huge pleasure of attending a cider and cheese tasting recently, led by the owner of Finnriver Farm/Cidery located on Washington’s Olympic peninsula www.finnriver.com a small, family operation which is becoming a leader in fine cider production.

MyMEGusta’s favorite factoid was that just as there are different grapes produce different wines, so do different apples, the higher acid varieties being the best. Did you know that throughout the country, with the exception of the Northeast for some reason, many cider apple orchards were destroyed during Prohibition? They are now being replanted, particularly in the Pacific Northwest .

Apple Ciders! Fruit Ciders!

Apple Ciders! Fruit Ciders!

But any apple will work.  In 2012, Finnriver sought donations of fallen apples, especially the odd and misshapen, from whoever will deliver them to the farm, blending them into their special Farmstead cuvee. Ten cents per and with 10% of the proceeds went to the local Food Bank, very creative alchemy turning bruised apples into dollars for nutrition.

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