On Fathers and Condiments.

I'd swear I was raised in a gypsy caravan in the English countryside. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth but as a child my imagination ran rampant with stories told by James Herriot and Roald Dahl. One of the first books I remember reading aloud with my Dad was Danny the Champion of the World, and that is where I turned from a tomgirl with waist-long braids into a full fledged boy living in a gypsy caravan with my Dad, bathing standing up in the sink (to avoid sitting in my own dirt) and drugging pheasants with spiked raisins so we could poach them, cook them, and dine like kings.

Both of my parents are really something special, people that I consider my friends as well as my life-givers. Many children naturally seem closer to their mothers, and now that I am a mother I can see why. The bond that forms when a life lives within you is really something indescribable. Mothers are the driving force of the family much of the time, certainly not in every case but often I'd say. In my world, my Mom did the cooking and stayed home with us, eschewing her own ambitions for what was best for the family, making soup from a pork chop when times were tough.

My Dad worked regular banker's hours for as long as I have known him, but always had time to take each of us fishing, mushroom hunting, on imaginary trips to England. He was the one to make us wild before bedtime, take us on bike rides and teach us about cars and trees and birds. It still seems to me that my Dad knows all of the answers, and I know that he would be able to point out a Spruce tree at a distance - something I wish I could boast as I painfully envied Peter cooking with Spruce tips this Spring. He understands plumbing and electricity, has built garages and other structures by hand, can understand and repair clocks and knows just what bird is singing when I don't even hear a bird at all. My Dad is the ultimate condiment to my life, and someone that I admire most in the world.

my first garden radish, ever. it's only the size of a marble so I have to wait a bit longer.

My Dad loves growing a garden, and I think I call him every year to ask him some question regarding planting or cultivating. This year, I called to ask him about thinning which I never really did before. I never really direct-sowed seed before, save a few peas that never really produced last year. My Dad also loves to eat, though not really to cook. It's well understood that my Dad likes to grill and make eggs, but other than that his hands slip into his pockets and he likes to observe. (He's also really great at washing dishes, but if you ever make the mistake of saying "I'll do that, Dad", he'll quickly say "OK!", and rush out of the kitchen!)

Since I seeded those radishes, I have seriously been hawk-eyed over them. I swear I'm out in the backyard 3 times a day, crouched over them, seeing if I can will them into growing faster. I'll bet even as an old woman, I will still be as excited about waiting and watching something grow from the ground, from something so small as a needle's head. Even more is my excitement since I can't seem to satiate the radish fixation I've had since about March. Yesterday when I saw beautiful local bunches for sale at my co-op, I bought one to pickle using this method from Eugenia Bone. I didn't intend to give them away, but after a taste, I knew I'd have to give them to my Dad for Father's Day.

All of a sudden, I seemed to be planning an all-food gift which is pretty much my favorite thing to give. The rest of the day I spent organizing and planning my attack.

I made bagels over the course of a day and froze them. I cooled them about an hour before slicing them almost all of the way through and freezing them.

I saw this recipe for BBQ rub at Well Preserved, another great blog that I never really read before, and before I knew it, I had a Pulled Pork Kit:

The spice rub is a blend of mustard powder, bay leaf, coffee, celery seed, garlic and onion powders. I added some cayenne, since we like spicy stuff, and kept tasting it to see if I thought it would be good. After I was happy with it, I decided that I should really make some kind of BBQ sauce to douse the pork with. I altered an Emeril recipe I found to use (my favorite condiment ever) Marisa's Tomato Jam, and I should mention that it is insanely good. It's vinegary and much thinner than corn syrup laden commercial sauces. Tasting them both together and using a bit of imagination confirms to me that this will be a good kit for making some pulled pork.

BBQ Pork Spice Rub (Well Preserved's ratio, a few minor adjustments from me)
yields about 1 c. spice rub
  • 2 T. dry mustard
  • 2 T. chile powder
  • 4 T. onion powder
  • 2 T. garlic powder (I used granulated garlic)
  • 1 T. celery seed
  • 1 T. kosher salt
  • 1 t. (maybe more) cayenne pepper
  • 2 T. ground coffee
  • 3 ground bay leaves (I ground them with the coffee beans, and it smelled herby and almost floral. I was almost curious enough to brew some into a beverage...)
Blend all together.

Tomato Jam BBQ Sauce (adapted from Emeril Lagasse)
yields about 2 cups
  • 1/2 c. tomato jam
  • 1/2 c. ketchup
  • 1 c. Bragg cider vinegar
  • 1 T. yellow mustard
  • 1 T. molasses
  • 1/2 t. crushed red pepper
Mix everything together. That's it. Store in a glass jar.

For a good primer on what to do to make stellar pulled pork, check out Well Preserved's tips. I have even had good results doing this type of pulled pork in a slow cooker, just rubbing a spice rub into a dry chunk of meat and not even bothering to brown it. But, I have also made a charcoal grill into a "smoker", and soaked wood chips and let it go all day and that was pretty fantastic. I'm going to make this sometime this Summer for us. I'll even go ahead and say that I'll bet it works fine for a pulled beef application too.

Continuing the theme of condiments, I knew that I'd have to make a mustard. A few weeks ago, I saw a recipe for Kombucha Mustard on the Cultures for Health facebook page. I do not have a bloated amount of information on my facebook, and I love it as a resource for updates from just my favorite places. Soaking mustard seeds in kombucha? How easy, and I would never have thought of it. Of course, I had to wake up my kombucha first.

I had put it into hibernation during all of the vinegaring, and let a new mother grow out of some plain tea. I think since our weather has been so wonky, it seemed to take forever to get a suitable batch of tea finished, and I bottled up what I didn't use to soak the yellow mustard seeds yesterday.

I only soaked the seeds for a few hours, since they seemed to swell easily and were soft when I bit into them. I added a glug of cider vinegar, some salt and pepper, a couple teaspoons of turmeric and some honey. It was so thick, I added some water as it spun in the food pro, and also a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. I kind of like the thick consistency, I think I'll use it on salmon since I once did that with non-homemade mustard and it was pretty great. Since I have more than 3/4 lb. of thick yellow mustard, I will have plenty to share and experiment with, and since it seems well fermented (mustard is a natural preservative itself as well), I'll be in no hurry to use it up. I'm considering taking some for a trip in the Vitamix with additional kombucha tea to make a runnier version too.

So it looks like a good food gift is taking shape. I'll probably also make a little something sweet later today since that seems to be one of my trademarks, though lately I have been doing better at cutting back on the sugar. I think that my parents are some of the best people to give gifts to. They are difficult to shop for because they don't really need anything, so I almost always end up making something for them that is consumed, which in turn makes me insanely happy.

I do wonder if the gypsy caravan in the English countryside is still there, and if I showed up with this gift basket would a sandwich made on a bagel with some poached pheasant, a spread of mustard, a tangle of pickled radish would emerge as we sat around a campfire enjoying our food fit for kings. I never stop being thankful for my Pop, his steady and unwavering demeanor, his expertise on all manner of things. The way he was when I was young and the way he still is as I'm aging: a dreamer who never once put his dreams ahead of his family, a traveler who gave us all roots in the most important things. For all of the enhancements you have made to my life: I love you, Dad.

Nigella-Style Lacto-Ferment Salsa

Ah, Nigella Lawson. When I saw her new cookbook at the library I had to pick it up. I was shocked at it's weight, promptly ran home, and set it on my kitchen scale. 3 lbs, 12 oz. (1710 g.) of reading material, kitchen preferences, and generally good photography awaited me. I actually like reading Nigella, since she seems to be a person who writes exactly as she thinks, not pondering too long over the usage of particular words since she's hungry and wants to get to the point. I tend to like the ideas in her cookbooks as well, many of them are highly adaptable and quick since she famously loves to eat well but not too involved.

Reading through the introduction and her "batterie de cuisine" one night before bed, I couldn't help but notice the differences she and I share. She dislikes cast iron for it's heft (calling herself a "lazy wimp"), I grow to love it more every day. She sings the praises of her local canola oil (which - I'll bite, she makes me want to try - calling it's flavor "gorgeously mustardy and nutty"), I have been using olive or coconut oil religiously for over a year. But peppered in among the differences are the things that I also can't live without: the cast iron enameled Dutch oven, the bottle of vermouth, the box of vinyl gloves that protect my sensitive skin from such kitchen demons as lemon juice, chile pepper residue, raw corn and potato believe it or not...

Reading a detailed list of what people like and why is actually one of my favorite things to do. It highlights exactly why I like someone or why I should continue reading their book to get to the recipes. It lets me know why the book will be valuable to me as a resource long before I ever get to the one thing that is indispensable to me, the one thing in the book that I'll be addicted to for a long time, maybe even forever.

Early on in the book, under the heading of Easy Does It, comes a recipe for Jumbo Chili Sauce. Calling for red peppers and 3 1/2 cups of cilantro leaves, it piqued my interest. If there is one out of season thing I buy regularly all Winter and Spring long it's cilantro. Trucked in cilantro never lasts as long as the stuff grown steps from the kitchen, or picked up at a farm market, yet it beguiles me every time I stand amongst the produce thinking about what looks good, what's the cheapest, and what I have a taste for. Cilantro it seems, no matter the cost, always makes the cut.

It goes without saying then that I usually have some that needs using up, when the leaves around the edges start turning yellow 48 hours after their arrival home, reminding me always of the brevity of life. I am hopelessly addicted to this fermented raisin cilantro chutney, which I just made another small batch of the last time I was in this predicament, so I thought I'd try lacto-fermenting up some Nigella-style sauce. I cut the recipe in half, using all the half bunch of cilantro clamoring for my attention on the counter. I also blended the sauce on the well-combined side, masking all the bright red of last year's red peppers. It may not be the prettiest thing I've ever made, but the flavor is indeed it's saving grace.

I used already roasted, seeded and peeled red peppers that I had in my freezer, you can use canned or roast some up fresh yourself. You can play around with proportions to what suits you - after all that is the way of Nigella. I only let the ferment go about 24 hours, but when I make it again (and make a larger batch), I'll let it go 3 days at room temperature before transferring to cold storage. You can also blend it more on the chunky side, it may be a more attractive red instead of a muddied mustard yellow...

Nigella-Style Lacto-Ferment Salsa (adapted from Nigella Lawson, Nigella Kitchen book)
  • 6 oz. roasted red peppers
  • half small bunch cilantro, thick stems removed but some stems ok
  • half a lime, plus half a lime's zest
  • 3 chiles de arbol, rehydrated in boiling hot water for 10 minutes or so to soften
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 T. whey
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 small garlic clove
Blend everything except cilantro in a blender or food processor until as smooth or chunky as you like it. Add in cilantro, and blend (pulse) until chopped or blended to desired consistency. Pack into a clean jar (I left too much headspace in the photo above, but didn't worry about it since I knew I was going to eat it all right away!), and let sit at room temperature for 3 days in a more appropriately-sized container to ferment before transferring to cold storage.

Eat it on everything.

In classic Nigella fashion, I began thinking of all the stuff I could eat as a vehicle for this condiment. Yesterday, I had to pack a lunch for the Boy-O and I to eat at the museum we were going to after I picked him up from school. I knew I needed this sauce, and at the same time eyed a leftover half block of silken tofu in the fridge. I used an immersion blender to mix a heavy few tablespoons of my new favorite thing, the tofu, and some cashews for thickening and delicious sandwich filling was born. I wished I had some fresh sprouts to go with it, but made do with the butter lettuce that also called my name last time I shopped. The spread was so good, I could also see making some pasta and adding some height of the season cherry tomato halves, but sadly I'll have to wait awhile for that.

dip/sandwich spread.

I love kitchen projects for things like condiments. It allows me to eat the way I want to, without subjecting the boys to super spicy and fermented flavors if they should choose against it. I've been known to make a leftover lunch for myself using up spoonfuls of numerous half-filled jars with minuscule amounts of whatever I ate for dinner the night before. I like to hoard things I love with the best of them, but for some reason, I don't find it necessary with condiments. The next batch will taste different, and be as addicting I'm sure. I may even add more chiles, and it could then be worthy of scrambled eggs.

Nigella-Style Lacto-Ferment Salsa on Punk   Domestics