Monday, May 23, 2011

The Competative Nature of Honeysuckle

Competition is a natural part of life.
Animals compete for food.
Plants compete for water and sunlight.
Toddlers compete for tiaras.

My kids are no different.
Everyday there are passionate debates over who is the fastest, the smartest, the funniest.
As a parent, I try to reign it in and teach them to work as a team.
Somedays are more successful than others.

I was a proud mama when recently, they burst through the door the bearing fistfuls of flowers, pockets full of roly polies and huge smiles on their faces after an afternoon escapade at the creek by our house.
Teamwork, I thought.
They are finally getting it.

With the exuberance found only in someone who claims single digits in their age my boys grabbed my hands and eagerly led me to the creek.
Tripping over their feet and skinning their little knees, each was determined to be the first to show me their newest discovery: Honeysuckle.
"We are a team, guys! It doesn't matter who gets there first." I counseled.
This ultimately fell on deaf ears.
It was impossible not to find their excitement contagious and so as we headed out the front door I snatched my camera to document the adventure.

First they showed me what is was and where to find it.
Everywhere, apparently.
Then they had an intense discussion over the best place to get it, and convinced me that the vines highest up held the most succulent flowers.
I was handed a pair of painfully dull scissors and given 3 differing sets of detailed directions on the best way with which to procure it.
Attempting to further teach the benefits of teamwork, I took one helpful tip from each of them.
I explained to them how by working together with many ideas and teasing out the best ones, we, as a team, could create a better, more efficient outcome.
The oldest pointed out that we'd already have the honeysuckle by now if I hadn't held everything up with a lecture.

Moving on...

Next they carefully demonstrated how you break off the bottom tip of the flower and carefully pull out the stamen.
A delicate touch is imperative to coax the tiny bead of sweet nectar that is released.
On this technique, everyone was in agreement.

They gathered as much as they could, argued over who had the most and whose was the sweetest.
J. had the biggest pile.
A. had the most flowers.
N. had the scissors.
After that was sorted out, they settled in amongst their piles with their little fingers diligently working.
Sucking away.

J helped N with the scissors.
A gave J some of his flowers.
N surreptitiously pilfered loot from my stash.

We all agreed it was well worth the effort.

And I am not the only who thinks this.
Last night my husband, N, and I went to Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham where they had a Honeysuckle Martini on the menu.
Nectar of the Gods is what it really was.
Afterwards I had dreams about it.
A testament to the amazing creativity and talent of Chris Hastings and his team.

I snapped some photos and posted them  here  and here .

I have no intention of recreating that luscious libation at home.
Some things are better left as memories.
But I do intend to tag along with my boys and seek out honeysuckle when it's growing nearby.
I figure now that we have a game plan this team is invincible.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Karma and Orange & Honey Sorbet

It gets hot quickly here.
Which is great if you like ice cream.
Or ice pops.
Or sorbet.
Or anything cold, really.

Also, my neighborhood smells like heaven now with all the flowers and trees in full bloom.
Step outside, inhale and follow your nose.
Magnolias, honeysuckle, and some other white flowering tree that smells so amazing I almost bought the $4.99 app to figure out what it was.
But I didn't because I'm cheap frugal.
If only there was a scratch and sniff button on your screen...(now that would be an app worth buying)

Heat + aromatic bliss = ??
All I could think of was this wonderfully fragrant sorbet.
Reminiscent of a tea my mom used to drink made with ginger and orange,  I find it simultaneously nostalgic and exotic.
I can still picture her drinking it from these delicate blue and white porcelin teacups she loved so much, and smiling at me.
Until my clumsily little hands let one slip, and it dropped. And I watched as it smashed on the floor.
In slow motion.

Karma will follow you. And years later I found myself in my own kitchen, happily enjoying a cup of coffee when my 6yr old, A, eagerly wanting to help, dropped my favorite bowl.
A wedding gift from a dear friend.
He was so upset that I couldn't possibly reprimand.
Afterall, it was an accident.
So instead, I told him how happy I was that he broke it because I hated that bowl.
Naturally, his little brain did the obvious calculations and he proceeded to break 2 more before I could stop him.
That's karma for you.

Normally I'm rather lazy, but this time I decided to squeeze my own orange juice, which can be a labor of love if you're making this for a party.
But if you just want enough for 4 (or 1 depending on the size of your spoon) go the extra mile.
However,  I'm sure it would taste great with regular orange juice.
Out of the carton.
The way Mother Nature intended.

I chose to serve it up in the scooped out orange rind.
And not a porcelain teacup.
Take that, Karma.

Orange and Honey Sorbet
*adapted from Bon Appetit

3 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon finely grated orange peel
1 tablespoon peeled & chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon anise seeds
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 fresh bay leaf
2 cups orange juice
juice of 1 lemon

In a large saucepan (and let's face it, ALL my sauce pans are large) combine the water, sugar, honey, spices and bay leaf. Reduce to 2 cups. Strain liquid through a sieve. Discard bay leaf.

{I had to use cheese cloth in my spaghetti strainer because the boys were using my fine mesh strainer in a science experiment.
I'm fairly certain I saw some slugs and earthworms go in there along with a generous helping of my paprika...
I think I'll consider it a donation to science, and let them keep it.}

Add strained syrup to orange & lemon juice and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
Label it: SPINACH.

Pour into an ice cream maker and in about 45 minutes you'll know what I'm talking about.
Freeze leftovers.
If you have any.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Capellini gratin

My all time favorite comfort food is Mac & cheese.
And not that plastic garbage that comes out of a box.

I want at least  four different types of cheese:
something aged,
something new,
something gooey,
something bleu.

And baked with crackers crumbled on top.

My second all time favorite is fried spaghetti.
I know, I'm weird.
I'll throw some leftover spaghetti in a pan with some olive oil and saute it up until it's brown and crispy.
Top it off with some freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano and cracked black pepper and I'm in heaven.

I don't make these nearly as much as I'd like to because my crew does not share my passion for fat and carbs.
My tastebuds feel neglected, but my waistline secretly thanks me.

Then I came across this recipe from Frank Stitt's cookbook Bottega Favorita: Capellini Gratin.
It was like he knew.
This so simple.
In fact, you can eat it with your hands if you like.

 Capellini Gratin
*adapted from Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita

olive oil
1 lb capellini (angel hair)
1 cup half & half
2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
a little hot sauce (I love Temporary Insanity)
salt & pepper to taste

Spread some olive oil on your cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Cook the spaghetti until al dente.
{Side note:
always salt your water BEFORE putting the spaghetti in.
And use A LOT. }
And save some of the water after you drain the pasta. This is always a good idea. You never know when you're going to need to stretch a sauce.
In a large bowl mix together the half & half, cheese and hot sauce. Add the pasta and season with salt & pepper. If it looks like it's not cheesy enough, add a little of the reserved pasta water.
Form in into a block a cookie sheet. (mine took up about 1/4 of the space)
Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown on top.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Twist of Fate

Not all storms are created equal.
Last week Alabama was devastated by massive tornadoes leaving record death and destruction in it's wake.

I'm finding it difficult to put my thoughts into words because my thoughts are linked to my emotional state.
My emotions are fickle and my vocabulary, poor evolving.
Everyone in Alabama (and the other states that were unfortunate enough to lie in this storm's path) was affected, whether you simply lost power (like in my neighborhood) or your house was blown away and loved ones lost.
That's what makes digesting this so difficult.

Growing up in rural Connecticut a Nor Easter could easily dump 3 feet of snow in as many hours; claiming power and freezing pipes instantly and for days.
No power.
No hot water.
No way of getting out your front door without a shovel in one hand and a load of determination in the other.
Everyone in the same boat.

But tornadoes are different animal, mercurial in nature.
They play favorites.
They pick and choose.
Change their mind.
Then change it again.
My little neighborhood simply got a good soaking and some lawn furniture rearranged. While just a few miles away entire subdivisions were swept away. Cement slabs providing the only evidence there was once a thriving community.

When the storm was approaching, my husband, N, was 32,000 feet in the air en route to New York City. A combined business and pleasure venture.
A friend of mine was staying over with me and the kids.
The winds blew.
and blew.
and blew.

And we sat in the kitchen and watched through a wall of windows as the earth flipped turning the sky into the ocean.
To the left: clear blue sky.
To the right: black as night. Tempestuous clouds forming quickly. One set moving one way, another the opposite.
A smarter person would have sought safety in a room without glass.
I was too curious to be that smarter person.

Eventually, the storm passed, moving on to claim notoriety in some other unfortunate place.
Then everything went black.

A melange of thoughts peppered my mind.
'Thank God we are safe"
'Man, that was amazing!'
'It's so dark outside.'
'Can silence be deafening?'
'Where the hell are the flashlights? What you mean you needed them for parts??!!'

Without power we were cut off.
We had no idea what had happened in other neighborhoods.
FaceBook and Twitter were useful, but only when the signal was strong enough.
N was frantically texting and trying to get in touch. Not believing me when my text would eventually reach him, assuring him we were fine.
And for us it was. Besides, what could he possibly do? Fly back home and restore power to Northern Alabama?
He would if he could.

It was the days that followed that I will remember forever.
The neighborhood banded together. We unloaded our fridges and freezers and made potluck suppers. All the kids were out in the streets; running around like the characters they pretend to be when sucked in by the wii.

One neighbor dropped of a block of dry ice to keep my fridge cool an extra day. Even more amazing...he had offered it to another neighbor first, and she asked that he bring it me.

Kids spent full days outside in the creek digging up worms and finding treasures. Bright red necks and arms replacing the pasty whiteness of former winter skin.
New friendship were forged.
Old ones cemented.
And when the sun retreated and the day ended we all fell asleep before our heads had the chance to hit our pillows.

Somehow we were able to procure a generator AND and electrician to install it. I secretly suspected N of having Connections (if you know what i mean) but who am I to ask questions.
We threw open our doors and invited anyone and everyone to come take a hot shower and charge their phones and laptops.

I learned a lot about my fellow neighbors.
Who likes Tequila, for example. (She may be my new best friend.)
Kids who I thought were shy became animated and outspoken. Telling stories of past storms and recent catastrophes.

What's difficult about coming to terms with a tornado is that it's colossally unfair. One family will lose everything, while another will simply be inconvenienced for a short while.
I am thankful for my safety, and grateful that nobody I know lost their lives.
But I feel guilty for not having suffered more when those who did lost so much.

There are heartbreaking stories about people being stuck in a building which was ultimately swept away. A pile of ruble the final statement.
And amazing tales of people who made it to shelter in the nick of time. Young babies saved by total strangers.

I suppose that is what makes us human.
And humane.

It's the yin and the yang.
The good and the bad.
The joy and the sorrow.

We must contend with these everyday of our lives. It's in our cells. It's the building block of what makes us different from all other animals.
A disaster such as this one simply removes the grays and makes everything crystal clear in black and white.
Wake up.
Look around.
Take note of what matters.
Everything else? Fuhgettaboutit.
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