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Peach Pancakes

I’m not a big texter, so I surprised my husband Sunday morning when I sent him a text. “Pancakes prepped.” He appeared in the kitchen within minutes. “And they’re going to be peach pancakes,” I said. We’d never had peach pancakes before, but it’s an excellent idea.

The pancake recipe came from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham. It’s a basic batter with lots of melted butter. I cooked them in a big cast iron pan. First, I followed the instructions to make four small pancakes at one time, but it was too hectic. Pouring one decent size pancake gives enough time to place pieces of peach as the bubbles form on the surface.

And flip.

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Serve them up with maple syrup and bacon.

Have seconds.

Plum Upside Down Cake

Plums call out for being cooked into something sweet.

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Last night it was an upside down cake for the yellow plums I bought at Sport Hill Farm Market in Easton, CT.

First, cut the plums in half and remove the pits.

IMAG3811Then let brown sugar and butter bubble in a 9-inch cast iron pan, until it becomes syrupy, and place halved plums in pan in one layer, round side down.

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Next, the light, buttery batter. Pour over plums. Put the skillet in the 350 F oven. Bake 35-40 minutes.

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Remove from oven. Let sit for 5 minutes, loosen edges of pan. Look for a large round flat cake platter and realize you don’t have one. No worries. Rectangular platter to the rescue.  Flip the cake onto the platter.

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The cake is light, rich, and the sweet layer of caramelized plums has a tart note. Even though I’m not a “dessert person,” I had two slices because how often do you have something this good?  This cake is dangerous.

What We Do Sundays

I’ve lived in many places, but I’ve always come back here to southern Connecticut. It’s a beautiful place, and a maddening place, filled with interesting people, and overlapping circles. One group of circles is people who care about food.­

Sunday, I drove from my house in Fairfield to Sport Hill Farm in Easton. As soon as I stepped out of my car, I saw my neighbors. Their four-year-old daughter was talking to the chickens, and their baby boy gave me a shy, lopsided smile from his perch in his father’s arms.

“We just bought a loaf of Michael’s bread,” Kate said, referring to my husband’s Fairfield Bread Co. “We came back for more apricots because they were so good.”

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It’s a great year for apricots, and Sport Hill has “imported” lovely ones from Red Jacket Farm in New York State. Plump, golden and rosy, their flesh is sweet, skin tart, and consistency perfect, like a childhood memory of the way fruit used to be.

Inside the barn, Michelle was behind the counter, and I hope that meant that farmer Patti Popp, the hardest working woman I know, was able to slip away from the farm for a few hours. I told Michelle, “Those nice people who were just in here are my neighbors.” She didn’t seem surprised. It probably happens all the time.

Shopping at Patti’s is exciting; the bins are filled with so many delicious, freshly picked vegetables that I find myself hopping about trying to figure out what to get. First things I put on the counter, a dozen eggs and two pints of apricots. Then I filled my bag with brilliant yellow zucchini, deep purple-black eggplant, a basket of multi-colored cherry tomatoes, and a pint of blueberries.

While standing in line, Laura Downey and I recognized each other at the same moment. She’s co-owner of Fairfield Cheese Company (and Greenwich Cheese Company.) Hard to believe it’s nine years since Fairfield Cheese opened and elevated the local food scene with artisan American and classic European cheeses. She talked about the American Cheese Society conference in Pittsburg, and consolidations in the artisan cheese business. I thought of the wonderful smell in her shop, and the amazing cheeses that I’ve had there.

Laura headed out the door (a loaf of Fairfield Bread’s multi-grain country loaf among her provisions) and I, buoyed by the everyone-knows-your-name friendliness of Sport Hill Farm, turned to the person standing in line behind me. “You look familiar too,” I said. “I’m Rob the electrician,” he said. It didn’t ring a bell. I felt a little embarrassed, but Rob was good natured.

Back home, I told my husband about running into our neighbors and Laura. Then I mentioned the electrician.

“Rob the electrician,” Michael said, “He’s the guy that hooked us back up after Hurricane Sandy.”  We’d been out of electricity for 13 days, the last section of Fairfield to be restored, and Rob came to our rescue. He’s a friend of our friends Tara and Pat, who also live in Easton.

This is why I live where I live. Because of places like Sport Hill Farm. Patti and Al Popp do more than grow vegetables. They bring people together in an old-fashioned, small town sort of way, over fruit, vegetables, bread and cheese. As Rob the electrician said as I was leaving, “This is what we do on Sundays.”

 

Bailey’s Backyard in Ridgefield

Never forget what’s in your own backyard. In Ridgefield, that’s Bailey’s Backyard, a cozy restaurant that’s been preparing farm to table for 20 years.  Bailey’s is the kind of place where you can get a sandwich (pickled peach and ham grilled cheese, pressed Caprese, or a classic New England tuna melt) or contemporary, sophisticated starters and main. Max Ex, the restaurant marketing group, recently invited me to join a group of food enthusiasts, instagrammers, bloggers, and magazine editors for lunch at Bailey’s Backyard.

IMAG3469Farm Greens, with peas and favas, dressed in fermented grape vinaigrette, and topped with paper-thin, crisp apple rounds. I really liked the apple crisps, sweet, tart and appley.

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Starter of scallops in rich lemon cream and caper sauce with shitakes, topped with a ruffled crisp of prosciutto. I loved the thinly sliced, yet meaty mushrooms, and the rich sauce, with just the right amount of lemon.  Apparently there were sea beans in this dish too; executive chef Zachariah Campion was appropriately judicious.

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Spanish octopus served over a brush stroke of squid ink, with pickled onions, chorizo marmalade, daikon, and salsa verde. This dish had a lot going on, and it all worked with the lightly charred, softly chewy octopus. This is a staff favorite. And mine too.

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Trout served over fava and white beans, almonds and watercress, served with “charred” orange buerre blanc.

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Tender rib eye, with rich, creamy potatoes, crisp onion rings, and, according to the menu though I didn’t notice, cauliflower rice. Blue cheese fondue, drizzled over the meat, added a sharp rich note. Deep purple-blue Borage flowers garnished the plate. It’s a terrific dish.

We also sampled brunch dishes.

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Shakshuka was my favorite, eggs cooked in a spicy, cuminy tomato sauce, with toast to dip into the egg yolks, and scoop up the sauce.

To drink, I enjoyed a Radler Snake, Jack’s Abby Blood Orange Radler, spiked with tequila and mezcal, sweetened with agave, and spiked with chile. The Patio Punch—rye, lemon, Lillet, black current liqueur—is grounded by black tea. Bailey’s also has a good beer list.

I’m keeping Bailey’s Backyard on my list.

 

Growing and Cooking Asparagus

There’s nothing like asparagus that has been picked within hours of cooking. They are so sweet and juicy. Asparagus is at its best right after picking, because the sugars start converting into starches, and the longer it sits around, it loses flavor and toughens. Which is why we started an asparagus patch years ago. Growing asparagus is a bit of an investment, in time (the plants start producing two years after planting) and space (the patch will be fallow from July to April). But so worth it.

 

I never know how many I’ll find. On a good day, a dozen, on an average day a few.

IMAG2939The spears range from thick to thin, and I’ve observed no rhyme or reason why. I like the thicker ones because they are juicier and meatier. But the thin ones have their own concentrated flavor.

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The way I cook them is like this:  First, peel the bottom third of the stems.  I don’t snap or cut the ends off because the asparagus are so fresh and the stems aren’t woody. If you’re buying them in the store, cut off the woody ends rather than snap them. You’ll get more edible asparagus. Peeling the lower third is essential. You can save the peelings, adding them to a bag in the freezer to make stock for asparagus soup.

I cook them in a large stainless steel saute pan, wide enough so I can lay the spears in the pan. Saute a clove of garlic in olive oil.  Add the asparagus, and over high heat, saute them in the oil, sprinkle with salt, then add a little water and cover.  Cook until tender. I like my asparagus cooked. Neither crunchy nor mushy.

To serve, spoon the garlicy, aparagus-y, oil from pan over the asparagus. Squirt with lemon or lime, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then eat the spears with your fingers.

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A friend asked for a Vegan Asparagus Soup. I’m not vegan, but I enjoyed the challenge. It turned out to be absolutely delicious. This is how I made it.  By the end of the season, I had a big bag of asparagus peels. I simmered them in a pot of water with a few wild onion bulbs and salt.  Then I turned the asparagus stock into a vegan béchamel, using olive oil in the roux instead of butter.

Two dozen fresh, cooked asparagus met their fate in a food mill. Remember to save some asparagus tips to garnish the soup.

 

It produced a lovely bright green puree.

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Added this to the asparagus béchamel. Corrected the seasonings with salt, pepper, and fresh lemon juice (I used lime cause that’s what’s usually in the house.)

Ladle into bowls, garnish with minced chives, chive blossoms, and the tops of asparagus spears.

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We savored every spoonful.

The Search for Santa Barbara Strawberry Pie

In the spring in Santa Barbara, I’d put off riding back up the canyon after school, and pedal the much flatter streets to a bakery on State Street.  I’d never had anything as delicious as their strawberry pie, whole fresh strawberries suspended in a strawberry glaze, topped with whipped cream.

For many years afterwards, Santa Barbara Strawberry Pie remained an elusive, happy memory. I never found a pie like that again. But strawberry season is here, so I tried to recreate this memory.  I used a recipe in the Fanny Farmer baking book (Marion Cunningham edition).

First I made a crust. Making pie dough in the food processor is so easy. That’s coming from someone who made it by hand for years and years. The other thing about making pie crust is that the more you do it, the better you get. That’s coming from someone who taught herself how to make pie dough, and had a tough time figuring it out.  but look at this, I rolled out this dough in a circle in about a minute. Best job I’ve ever done.

 

Baked it covered in silver foil for 6 minutes, then uncovered for about another 10.

 

The recipe called for slicing half of the berries and crushing the other half with a fork.

 

The smashed ones, mixed with sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch, simmered until translucent. Then the sliced berries were added.

 

When it cooled, I poured it into the shell.

How did it turn out?  It was very strawberry-y, like super fresh strawberry jam in a wonderful crisp crust. But the filling didn’t hold together. When I cut the first piece, the filling slumped into the void.  But the most important question is, did it recreate Santa Barbara Strawberry Pie. Ummm, no.  But my quest is not over. I’ve discovered the Cook’s Illustrated version of Fresh Strawberry Pie. There’s another pie coming soon.

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Flinders Lane: Australian Fusion in Stamford

 

Flinders Lane is a culinary destination in downtown Melbourne, Australia, filled with restaurants and cafes offering a range of ethnic and contemporary cuisine.

Summer street is a culinary destination in downtown Stamford, Connecticut. And that’s where you’ll find Flinder’s Lane, a contemporary Australian-fusion restaurant.

Immigrants always improve the food, especially if the culture has been dominated by English settlers. At Flinders Lane in Stamford, there are Asian and Mediterranean influences on the English food, too.  A classic sausage roll in puff pastry is jazzed up with sambal mayo.

Among the small plates, tuna tartar is accented with a plantain chip. Dumplings are filled with chicken and lemongrass.  Italian meatballs are filled with veal and pork, served with tomato sauce and grilled bread.

An Australian native species is represented by barramundi perch (the Aborigines have a legend about the fish), which is steamed in green chile lime sauce, and dressed with mint.

The other native species on the menu is kangaroo. I tried it in a salad, based on Thai Yum. It tastes like beef, with more of a gamey flavor. Flinders Lane also offer a kangaroo burger at brunch, and roasta kanga loin at dinner.

For dessert, Lambington, is the way to go. It’s considered the national cake of Australia, white sponge cake, filled with jam, covered in chocolate and dusted with coconut.

For more information, go to Flinders Lane.