Sunday, October 30, 2016

Happy Halloween!

Here is this year's selection of Halloween produce art! 

I can't help but notice some trends. Spooky non-pumpkin squashes are getting in on the action as snakes and goblins.  Some artists seem less inspired by Halloween than by the novel medium of pumpkin. And it turns out carving isn't even essential if the setting is eerie enough.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Long live the new fig tree

I have seldom been accused of excess optimism, but how else could you explain my purchase of another fig tree?

To recap: when I was a lass growing up in the Rockaways, my next-door neighbors had a lush fig tree whose bounty spread to our side of the fence. They were happy -- and we were even happier -- to share. As an adult with an apartment and a balcony, I succumbed to a somewhat improbable hope to grow a fig tree on my balcony. I bought a sapling from the Union Square Greenmarket, kept my hopes up and watched the tree grow taller and sprout more leaves. My little tree didn't bear fruit, but that was fine. I still harbored hope. At the end of the season, I carefully wrapped it in the loving manner of New York's Italian and Greek immigrants who tended to their fig trees in Williamsburg and Astoria circa 1920.

But no matter, Fig Tree I bit the dust, a victim of a frost that massacred many other tender young fig trees. My little guy seemed more vulnerable as a balcony baby, but my sister's fig trees, one a native Brooklynite and the other a companion to mine from the Greenmarket. both planted in in an actual garden, also died.

In a recent column that featured fig recipes, the New York Times food writer Melissa Clark wrote that her figs were store-bought, because her own fig tree had been felled by frost. Oh no! I remember an earlier description of an enviably hardy and fecund tree, which she had raised from its beginnings as a scrawny specimen.

And if the legendary Clark fig tree had succumbed, shouldn't I pull the plug on my own fig tree dreams?

Despite my misgivings, a small fig tree caught my eye in the Greenmarket this summer. It had two small figlets growing at its base. "I'm guaranteed at least two figs even if this tree dies too," I thought, justifying the purchase. Once relocated in a nice big planter, the fruit promptly dried up and fell off the tree. 

The tree itself, however, continue to grow. It's now double the height and triple the width it was at the time of purchase.  I'm already planning its super-duper winter wardrobe to guard against murderous frost.

There are no signs of fruit, but I am vowing to take the long-term perspective. Once fig trees start producing fruit, they can bear fruit for decades.

Besides, succulent fruit aren't fig trees only offerings. It turns out that the leaves, with their "fruity flavor and distinct coconut aroma" have many fans too. You can find recipes for hunks of protein grilled and baked in fig leaves and Tuscan potato torta baked on fig leavesFig leaf ice cream. (And fig leaf ice cream, Hungarian style.) Fig leaves used as a seasoning ingredient for preserves or liqueurs. Fig leaf dolmas and koubebia (the dolma's Cypriot counterpart) made with fig leaves. Rice simmered with a fig leaf on top won this accolade:
Brilliant. It was one of those things that had never occurred to me. Added to a pot of simmering grains, the fig leaf imparts a subtle flavor and perfume to the entire pot. The best way I can describe it - a bit green, and a bit nutty. But more like raw pepitas than walnuts. And coconut, but green coconut. There are some of those notes as well.

And if none of these ideas inspire, Halloween is around the corner. Maybe some of my friends would want to go as Adam and Eve.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Greetings from a Parisian market!

Paris is a fantasy food destination, and its many markets are both a key source of fresh ingredients and a stamping ground for the country’s finest producers. Your shopping visit could be a lazy Sunday wander on your way to brunch, a dedicated food shopping expedition or a gastronomic tour – but no matter what, the sights and smells will make you hungry long before you’re back in the kitchen.
                               --- The Best Paris Food Markets, Time Out magazine

My lucky friend Bethanne has hit the road again, this time visiting her friends Marie and Diego in Paris. I was delighted to receive a large cache of market pictures from her. Amazingly, I didn’t even have to beseech her before her trip! (I probably have beseeched my friends enough to last several lifetimes, much less several trips, so they are now self-policing.)

Some of Paris’ markets originated over 1,000 years ago. The Saxe-Breteuil market, featured in Bethanne’s photos, offers "the city's most chic produce,” according to Time Out.  The market is held twice a week, Thursdays and Saturdays, from 7 am - 2:30 pm, on the Avenue de Saxe in the 7th arrondissement in the Left Bank. 

I chanced upon a website Paris Perfect (one of those glamorous apartment rental websites that makes you moan softly as you read about various lovely neighborhoods with cobbled streets and charming shops), which described the market in these appropriately drool-inducing terms:
Among the many markets in Paris, the Saxe-Breteuil market is often regarded as the most beautiful. There is no more lovely setting, as it is framed by the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides. Farmers and producers come from all over France to sell their specialties and this market is known for its high-quality organic foods.

I immediately searched for sales of the wonderful Charentais melon, which is sometimes known as "French melon" in gourmet stores. (Charentais melons are basically very fragrant and sweet cantaloupes, and apparently contain some super-duper antioxidant, superoxide dismutase, for those folks who prefer to ingest their produce in pill form.) No disappointments here! 

Also expected and found: tributes to luscious end-of-summer tomatoes.

A little more surprising: the inclusion of fruits that are obviously not locally grown – pineapples, kiwis, mangos, bananas - which wouldn’t fly at a typical US farmers’ market.

The Union Square Greenmarket, for example, touts its credentials as “producer-only market with rigorous “grow-your-own” standards… selling directly to customers means farmers, fishers and their children can keep doing what they love and feeding growing cities.” Farmers markets in Washington DC have similar rules

But upon further thought, I realized that the French covered market (marché couvert) isn’t like these Johnny-come-lately markets. The Union Square Greenmarket began in 1976, not the 10th century --- when many of the Parisian markets began. Consequently, the French markets are much more fully integrated into daily life and provide a wider range of essential range of essential foodstuffs to their customers.

And if, for whatever strange personal quirk, you’re not interested in the produce – well, it’s still Paris. Rumor has it there is other beauty to behold.