Sometimes it rains and when the weather clears you see that you have a puddle in your yard. This is a good thing. Sometimes it hasn’t rained and you have a puddle in your yard and you think cool, a puddle with no rain, that’s interesting. But then you start to wonder where this puddle came from. This mysterious puddle right outside your bathroom window… Wait, the pieces are coming together… no rain, puddle, bathroom, the shower drain was a bit slow this morning… dear crap! Puddle of sewage in the side yard!! Brad called the landlord, the landlord called the plumbers, the plumbers dug a trench diagonally through my garden. This trench also went from corner to corner of the back yard, sparing the giant maple tree but turning most of our grass to mud. The plumbers put down grass seed and straw before they left so the view out the kitchen window is a bit barnyard. But I’m not really worried about the yard; it’s the garden that I’m fretting over. The peas, lettuce, onions, and radishes we had already planted were spared, but a good half of the garden is a churned up mess. Everyone had been telling us how great the soil is in our back yard, and they were right, when we dug up our garden last fall we turned over this beautiful rich dark brown crumbly loam, soft, sweet smelling and perfect for growing. All this soil is now packed around our new sewer pipe at the bottom of a 4-foot deep trench. We will be planting corn, cucumbers, and tomatoes in greasy black clay that smells cold and dead. This was not exactly the plan. We spent last Saturday with our garden partners, Andrew and Adrianne planting cabbage, broccoli, beets and turnips in the bit of the garden the plumbers hadn’t touched and trying to figure out what to do with the rest. Get a couple of truckloads of old horse manure and till it into the clay? Cover the clay with leaves, compost and whatever organic matter we can find and plant in that? Just poke the seeds into the clay and hope for the best? I’m focusing on the bright side--the peas look good, the cabbage plants are in the ground, and the toilet works.
Easter in Cleveland means lamb (which I hate) and dry biscotti and fiadone (which I love). It use to also mean the whole family squeezed around the table eating my grandmother’s ravioli, but we have gotten older and it’s harder for us all to make it to the table, anyway Grandma Argie doesn’t cook much any more. This Easter my mom made the biscotti, usually they are dry little lumps of dough that must be covered in icing and dipped in coffee before they can be swallowed, but mom cheated and added a cup of sour cream to the dough and lemon juice to the icing and they were unexpectedly moist and lovely, nearly a miracle. I considered attempting the ravioli but instead made the fiadone while Grandma Argie watched. We quickly discovered that we had nothing to zest the orange and lemon with and I had to resort to using some weird cheese grater from the 1950’s but that was to be expected, making fiadone never goes as planned. It’s a finicky recipe; every time it has passed from generation to generation something has been added or left out. Did we always use lemon and orange zest, should we double the crust—last year there was extra filling and we had to throw it out, where are the pans we usually use, these are the wrong size. In all the hard-to-read hand written recipes the ricotta is measured in pounds but no one ever has a scale and after some discussion we usually demand that the men in the living room tell us how many cups are in a pound and they laugh at us. Then we must beat the egg yolks longer than anyone thinks is reasonable while remembering to not over beat the whites, the kitchen must be cleared while the fiadones bake because the slightest jar fill make them fall, and opening the oven to see how they are doing before they are done baking? Don’t even think of it. Making the fiadone isn’t easy, but the reward… sitting at the table and watching everyone taste, consider, remember, look at the piece in their hand then nod and say, “It came good this year.” I’m including my version of the recipe but I make no promises, as Uncle Dennis said this Easter, “It’s got a good flavor but it’s so flat, didn’t you beat the eggs?”
Fiadone (makes enough for 2 pies, sometimes more…)
Preheat oven to 350°
Crust 3 eggs 2 tbls sugar 4 tbls oil 1 ½ cups flour plus more to make a soft dough 1 tsp baking powder
Beat eggs with sugar until sugar dissolves, then beat in oil. Mix the baking powder with the flour and then add to the egg mixture. Stir and add additional flour as needed until very soft dough is formed. Cover and let rest while you make the filling.
Filling 2 lbs ricotta 6 eggs, separated ¾ cup sugar 1 ½ tbls melted butter, cooled Rind and juice of an orange and a lemon
Beat egg yolks until lemon colored. Add sugar, butter, rind and juices to the yolks and beat until all the sugar is dissolved.
In a separate bowl beat the ricotta on high speed until it is smooth and creamy. Add it to the yolk mixture.
In yet another bowl beat the egg whites until they begin to hold their shape but aren’t still. Fold them into the yolk mixture.
Divide dough in half and roll each half out thin, stretching the dough as you roll it. Line the pie pans and let the edges hang. Fill each pan with half the filling and trim and tuck under the edges of the crust. Put into oven and turn heat down to 325°. Bake for an hour, no peaking or jumping, don’t let the fiadone brown.
We've spent a lot of time in our garden, and we have many tiny green leaves, but we have at least a month before anything is ready to eat. But it's spring and it feels wrong to buy my leafy greens from the store, so I turned to the yard. I've been told that the pilgrims planted dandelions as salad greens, and I like the thought of them crossing the ocean with a bag of dandelion fluff. You have to catch the plants before they flower, and pick them from a yard that is free of chemicals, but they are a lovely sour/bitter spring green. Brad and I used a trowel to pop the plants from our yard, and they do make a lovely popping sound when the root lets go of the soil and you end up with the whole plant in your hand. Two nights ago we had a dinner of bread, cheese (munster gerome, yum) and wilted dandelion salad. Last night we ate orecchiette with dandelions, ricotta, and pine nuts. Spring, spring, spring!
Wilted Dandelion Salad
Pick a colander full of unflowered dandelion greens, cut off roots.
Wash well to remove grit, pick out anything that isn't dandelion, dry and put in serving dish.
Melt 2 spoonfuls of bacon grease in a small fry pan, (What? You don't save bacon grease in a small jar in your fridge? Fine, use olive oil.)
Sauté 3 large crushed garlic cloves in bacon grease until tan, pour over greens, toss, salt and pepper and serve.
Did you know that the part of a rabbit between the front and back legs is called its saddle? Yep, you don't eat rabbit breast or rabbit back, you eat saddle of rabbit. To me, staring at the cutting board with a knife in my hand, it looks like the rabbit has a back but the cook book clearly says, "Cut the rabbit into eight serving pieces: chop the saddle in half and separate the back legs into two pieces each: leave the front legs whole." This rabbit is already cut in two pieces, it came that way, and I wonder if this helps or hurts my ability to create "eight serving pieces.” I'm making Sunday dinner for Mom, Dad, and Brad and it's spring so the menu is casseroled rabbit with thyme and mustard, creamed cabbage and mashed potatoes. I considered braised carrots but decided that irony isn't tasteful. After risking my finger tips a few times I called Brad in--he got the cleaver out. We ended up with the required 8 pieces without damaging any fingers--then I a cut a chunk out of my thumb while slicing cabbage....
I used a Mark Bittman recipe for dessert.
Vanilla Pots de Crème
2 cups heavy cream, light cream, or half-and-half 2 vanilla beans or 1teaspoon vanilla extract 6 egg yolks 1/2 cup sugar
1. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Pour cream into small saucepan. Split vanilla beans in half lengthwise and scrape seeds into cream. Put pod in cream, too. Heat cream until steam rises. Cover pan, turn off heat and let steep for 10 to 15 minutes. If using vanilla extract, just heat cream and let it cool while you proceed.
2. Beat yolks and sugar together until light. Pour about a quarter of the cream (remove vanilla bean pod) into this mixture, then pour sugar-egg mixture into cream and stir. If you are using vanilla extract, add it now and stir. Pour mixture into 4 6-ounce ramekins and place ramekins in a baking dish; fill dish with water halfway up the side of ramekins. Cover with foil.
3. Bake 30 to 45 minutes, or until center is barely set. (Heavy cream sets fastest; half-and-half more slowly.) Chill, then serve.