Mar 31, 2013

Rosemary in Italy

Seeing as it's Easter today I'd like to reminisce about one of the most beautiful Easters I've experienced so far during my time on the planet. I was 18 and working on a farm outside of Siena, Italy, where I was given partial responsibility for a herd of 70 pigs, 2 horses, 1 donkey and a half dozen pure-white heirloom breed cows who loved escaping their pasture to wander the woods like something out of a bucolic oil painting.
I was part of a group of interns who had signed up to work on the farm in exchange for room and board. We all lived in a stone building called "Pulcinella," an Etruscan style building that used to be used as stables but had been converted into living quarters. The stones the building was constructed of made it quite chilly in the evenings, so as spring began to creep in, the stones would warm and, much like the pigs who slept in piles at nighttime to keep warm, we welcomed the temperature shift gladly.

Mar 23, 2013

Comet's Tail Pepper

This spice has me thinking about outer space. And not just because of the word 'comet' although that has something to do with it. Also there was this event yesterday that made the evening news. It's true: our planet is being bombarded by solar objects at all times of day and night, just as I am bombarding you with odd facts about spices.
A comet is a solar system body that has a tail created by solar wind. This pepper has a tail that is the stem of the fruit. It is also commonly called 'Cubeb' pepper after its Latin name Piper cubeba, or Java pepper, for being grown mostly on the island of Java. But the word 'Comet' interestingly comes from the Greek "kometes" which translates to 'long-haired,' so I suppose the logic goes that anything that looks like a head with a ponytail of hair (spice or celestial object) can be called 'Comet.' But unlike the orbiting ball of stars, the spice has a delicious flavor that is quite different from traditional black pepper. Comet's tail has a citrusy, allspice flavor with a hint of pine. It pairs particularly well with lemon.

Mar 15, 2013

A Pair of Leaves

Outside on the porch it's humid and the orchids stare with stalwart pleasure at the cityscape dotted with turquoise gems of swimming pools and the neon glow of bougainvillea-draped massage parlors.

The flavor of kaffir lime leaves brings me to Bangkok, Thailand, where my older brother Colin lives with his wife Anna and their baby, Mirabelle on the eighth floor of a Bangkok apartment building. When I visited them last summer, I discovered that one of my favorite dishes was called tom yum, a hot and sour soup that is common throughout the country, and has such a fresh and uplifting flavor from the crushed lime leaves that I found myself wanting to eat it all the time, even for breakfast, accompanied by a cup of coffee and the happy squeals of my niece.

Even though I'm not presently in Bangkok, I am dreaming of warmer days, dreaming of evenings on the porch after work drinking a big glass of lemongrass iced tea and reading a book. In the interim, I must wait, and cook, and be glad for the tilt of the earth and the sun that breaks through the cold March cloud-cover, and for kaffir lime leaves.

Kaffir lime leaf has the unexpected fragrance of the first days of spring; it has an uplifting freshness, a clean sweetness like the smell of the color chartreuse. A quiet perfume, a limey familiarity, a comforting exoticism—all the things I need to help me wait for the first gorgeous days of summer.

And for some reason, these leaves always come in pairs.

Mar 8, 2013

Shimmering Silver Cardamom

I have had a strange week. No reason for it, but nonetheless out of nowhere I woke up this morning feeling like my life had been reduced to small pieces of paper with indecipherable things written on them. My purse is filled with lipsticks, open bottles of Excedrin Migraine that spill their contents everywhere, bits of chocolate, pens, paperwork and mail including at least ten credit card offers and at least ten receipts scribbled with lists of important things I needed to accomplish, including "bake banana bread."

I'm glad I didn't lose that one receipt with that important to-do item on it, because I must say, despite everything else falling by the wayside, the banana bread turned out very well, and I'd forgotten what a comforting smell it creates while baking.

            But in the meantime, while organizing all my receipts and credit card offers and accomplishing absolutely everything (which is to say, nothing) I also got very involved with cardamom.  
            Falling asleep some nights I brainstorm which spice to dive into next, which rabbit hole to tumble into, indeed like Alice in Wonderland, down down down, curiouser and curiouser, or maybe like Jennifer Connolly in the Labyrinth, when she tumbles into the chute of blue hands that imitate faces and a spooky voice from one of the hand-faces asks her "Which way? Up or down?"
            Choosing the next spice to write about feels like this, like I am making a crucial decision that will alter the rest of my life going forward. 

            A whisper from somewhere, ethereal and ghostly, like the sound of bat wings overhead, or a distant rainstorm beginning, or a musical saw being played in a far off room: Cardamom, cardamom, cardamom.

Mar 2, 2013

Ode to the Orange Blossom

Winter Haven, Florida is home to some of the oldest American orange trees. Winter Hill, Somerville is home to the notorious 'Winter Hill Gang'  of the 1960's.  Each are special in their own way. But so far as I can tell the only thing these two places have in common is the word 'Winter' and the fact that I've spent significant time in both. While I sit writing at my kitchen table next to a jar of dried orange blossoms, I can't help but be flooded with memories of Winter Haven.