Foodie Tuesday: Purple Pudding

Post-winter craving happens. Everything seems to have been a little monochromatic and bland comfort oriented for a while, and suddenly I have the urge for something bright, wild, exuberant. Even in my eating. Colorful stuff.

Photo: Grape Expectations

Yes, I do know that green grapes are not Concord grapes, nor purple. But I liked this photo of mine and its purple background better than any picture I had on hand of Concords, so use your imagination. Wink-wink.

It doesn’t take much to make a richly rewarding, intensely violet (but not violent), dessert. What’s not to like about a Purple Pudding! Two vibrant purple ingredients: grape juice (2 cups of dark purple Concord + goodness) and a big heap of fresh or frozen blackberries (1 pound or about 4 cups). Add in a couple of essentially colorless ingredients. Some dried tapioca (6 T of the instant or ‘minute’ variety) and some elderflower syrup (1 cup). The process is equally easy. Put the blackberries and syrup together in a (nonstick) saucepan and bring them to a boil, stirring all the while. Once this is boiling, turn down the heat and keep it simmering until it’s reduced by about half. Fabulous jam! Soak the tapioca in the grape juice for at least 5 minutes—or, if you’re preoccupied with lots of other things like I was, overnight!—and then bring it to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Remove it from the heat. You can easily mix the two juicy gems together, grape and blackberry, at this point and serve it as one dish, whether hot or (as I like it) chilled, or you can serve them separately and let people spoon up whatever blend of the two they prefer.

And, if one would like it to add just a little kick, a splash of elderflower liqueur goes down nicely in it as well. But only a tot. I’ll admit that I was strongly considering using a bold red wine for part or all of the liquid in either portion of the recipe, but I decided this would take the dessert in a boozier direction than even I wanted. The fresh, lively flavors of the purple fruits should dominate, and the added attractions be lightly applied. Robust and vivid. Edible ‘dotted Swiss‘ textured by the tapioca bits and the blackberries. Light and happy. Seriously refreshing, playfully simple. Mighty tasty.Photo: Purple Pudding in Two Movements

Why would I make this? Because I’m craving something fruity besides citrus and other wintry imports by now. Frozen berries can do the trick pretty neatly, if well-preserved. And blackberries are a decidedly delectable choice at any time. Their flavor has long seemed to be marvelously complemented by elderflower and rose, for some reason, so as I have the former on hand in a couple of quenching forms, it seems destiny to combine these friendly flavors. The bumpy texture or the blackberries is also amusingly paired with the softer bits of bumpy texture in good old tapioca pudding. And aren’t grape juice and blackberries both supposed to be superfood-ish-ly antioxidant and Good for Me? Surely, yes, as they make me wildly happy.Photo: Vividly Violet

Foodie Tuesday: Artful Eating

Another pleasure of travel—of getting out of my familiar paths and habits—is discovering not only new things to eat but new ways of preparing and presenting foods I might have known all along. Whether there’s some entirely unforeseen ingredient or the known ones are combined in a completely unfamiliar way or plated more exotically or beautifully than I’ve seen before, it’s all, well, food for thought. And a danged fine way to assuage the hunger pangs brought on by wandering and exploring in new territory.

The time we spent in Europe in July was yet another happy example of this truism. So much so that I’ll just give you a few tantalizing shots for your contemplation and not go further. You’ll be wanting to dash off for lunch before I have any time to go on further anyhow, don’t you know.Photos: Artful Eating (Series) 2014-08-05.2.artful-eating 2014-08-05.3.artful-eating 2014-08-05.4.artful-eating 2014-08-05.5.artful-eating 2014-08-05.6.artful-eating 2014-08-05.7.artful-eating 2014-08-05.8.artful-eating

Foodie Tuesday: Buried in Berries

Photo: Raspberry BonanzaOne of the joys of the warmer seasons is the abundance of fresh produce, not least of all, those little jewels the berries and close cousins like the aggregate fruits. Having grown up in a region known for fabulous berries, in a valley renowned, in fact, for farming them in its fertile volcanic soil in the Evergreen state, I know well enough the labor that it takes to successfully farm, pick, process and sell them, never mind shipping them intact anywhere, given their tender sensitivity and fleeting prime. But I certainly found my way past the sweaty, low wage, arm-aching, thorn-scratched, and slug-tormented frustrations of a short-time field hand to renew my love of fresh berries.

I have long since confessed to you that, despite their being among the easiest to farm and to pick, blueberries remain my most hated fruit, and I dislike pretty equally their flavor, smell and texture despite all attempts to convince me they are Superfood and worthy of desire. I am not a big fan, in fact, of any of the round, popping sorts of berries that are similar in my mind to blueberries in any way—currants, gooseberries, huckleberries, and so forth. I’m not that egalitarian. But the berries that I do enjoy, I gladly indulge in enjoying in quantity when they’re at their peak. I seldom tire of strawberries or of those magnificent rose relatives, the blackberries, raspberries, salmonberries, black raspberries and all of their delicious ilk. Ahhh, berry good!Photo: Blackberry Burst

One of the nicest things about really fine, fresh produce, of course, is that it tastes so good whether you do anything to or with it, or not. Straight out of the field, straight into my mouth. Bright, juicy, flavorful little pieces of heaven. Much as I happily enjoyed that dessert combination of my youth, angel food cake with berries and whipped cream, I think I might consider the berries the angel food part more than the cake. Berries in cream, whipped or not, are also a spectacular treat when I can get my hands on a dish, with or without a cake foundation.

The berries are marvelous as individual sorts or in happy combinations. Whole or mashed, sliced or diced. Superb in jams and sauces or salsas. Fabulous in smoothies. Outstanding when added to salads. Unbeatable in pies. One of the most delicious accompaniments to savory foods, especially something like some magnificent wild salmon or game, whether processed in some recipe or just eaten fresh alongside the fish or meat. Sweet and bright.

Oh, and berries make dandy liqueurs. Berries, sugar, vodka. In that order, in declining quantities, in a sealed jar or bottle. Bunch of weeks or months, shaking it up gently from time to time, while keeping it in a nice cool, dark spot between stirrings until the time seems right; strain the niceness and enjoy. Of course, it works fine without booze, too. Berries, some nice sparkling water and some sweetening.

These little gems are delicate. They are so fine in their pristine state that it would be wrong to over-process them. Don’t be a killjoy. There’s really no recipe here for success; in fact, the best so-called recipes for using fresh berries mostly leave them unsullied by cooking and doing much of anything other than stirring them in with other good things. What are you waiting for? If the season’s on, get thee to the nearest farmer’s market and stock up on glorious fresh berries. If they’re not in season, I apologize for your sorrow, but I must encourage you to make the most of preserves and frozen berries. Yep, they freeze well when properly treated. But my friends, do not slouch. Run, quickly, and get some berries. You can thank me later.

Photo: All Sorts of Berries

If It’s Wednesday, This Must be Foodie Tuesday Deja Vu

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Why, yes, if you are a fresh berry. Those sweet little nuggets of juicy goodness are the very epitome of summertime’s joys, and the longer we can extend the berry adventure by means of preserved, frozen or baked goods, the merrier. I’ve already rhapsodized about my mother’s justly famed raspberry pie (the mystic quality of her ethereal pie crusts a deservedly notable part of the equation, in the interest of full disclosure), and she made many a jar of equally brilliant raspberry jam over her wildly productive years of canning and preserving. I will never be her equal in either of these arts.photo

I do, however, have enough fondness for some berries that I will gladly binge on them while their season lasts, and far beyond, in whatever forms are available, because I can practically feel the vitamins rushing into my cells when I do, and more importantly, because they taste so fabulous and are such great utility players on Team Food. On their own, they are magnificent and refreshing. In salads, a divine break from any leanings toward excess of greens. Think, for example, of a marvelous mix of butter lettuce, Romaine, toasted sliced almonds, shavings of fine Reggiano cheese and a generous handful of raspberries all happily commingling with a light creamy fresh thyme dressing. Transcendent! Fruit salad melanges practically insist on having a handful of berries gracing them when the season is right. And I’m told by those who eat blueberries that no berry surpasses them for muffin or pancake making. Me, I’ll gladly stick with Swedish pancakes piled up with whipped cream and fresh strawberries when it comes to the breakfast berry-ations. And of course there are endless possibilities in the universe of fruit smoothies when it comes to berries, whether you’re in the camp that must strain out the seeds or among those who appreciate the fiber therein.

And don’t get me started about desserts! The natural affinity fruit has for sweet foods is showcased wonderfully in so many after-dinner or coffee-time treats that a mere post could hardly suffice to even skim the list. But some goodies do come immediately to mind: strawberries dipped in chocolate; cloudberry cream, as I learned to love it when prepared in the seconds-long fresh season by my brother-in-law’s late mother; blackberry tapioca pudding. Pies, tarts, and crumbles, oh my. A heap of berries and a gentle sluicing of vanilla custard atop a slice of toasted pound cake. Honestly, few ways to go awry.

Still, the berry, with its pristine, bright, zingy flavor, and the hints of sweetness underlying it, makes a superb foil for savory dishes too, not least of all meats and seafoods. One of those ways to slip berry-liciousness into the main dish is to pool any of the multitude of possible berry-enhanced sauces and purees under, over or alongside a portion of entrée. I’m fond of Beurres Rouges ou Blancs made with wine, butter and berries cooked down to dense, flavorful stupendousness. Hard to argue with, say, a blackberry-Cabernet sauce served with lamb or duck, and I can only imagine that a dry, red-fruity Rosé would pair gracefully in such a sauce with raspberries or, dare I say it, salmonberries, to accompany a roasted filet of salmon or breast of pheasant or grilled chicken. Champagne Beurre Blanc is hard to resist with shellfish; why not top that with roasted strawberries and a quick grind of black pepper?

As you can see, what happens when I get the mere image of a berry into my tiny brain is that it plants the seeds for extensive food fantasizing. And that is hardly a bad thing, my friends. Bury me in berries. I could do much worse.

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Ten Thousand Kinds of Green

 

photoIt takes very little time upon returning to the Pacific Northwest for me to be reminded of one of its central characteristics that became so imprinted on my heart and mindset through my many years of dwelling there as to be interchangeable with my entire concept of wholeness and well-being: the color green. The millions of colors that can be called Green, to be more precise. Having been born in the Emerald City of the Evergreen State, I can confirm that they have earned their titles both the hard way (rain–sometimes seemingly endless–rain–oh, and snowpack and glacier runoff in the spring) and entirely honestly. The city and the state are genuinely, deeply, exquisitely green.photoOther places may be green with envy. Yes, there are certainly other spectacularly green places on earth, some of which I have visited, among them to wit: Ireland, Allgäu, and the jungle that straddles the Panamanian border with Costa Rica (a tropical cloud forest) all rife with verdure and also with all of those forms of watery nourishment that bring about such burgeoning beauties in their respectively green-glorious regions. Each green place is unique in the character and flavor of its glowing, growing vegetation, and each gains its place in my heart as much through its variations of verdancy as by any other means.photoWhat it all comes down to is that these things grow on me as much as on the face of the earth, filling my senses and my emotional center in ways that few other things can. This recent return to my mossy, leafy, grassy, graceful green roots merely reminds me of what lies deep within me all of the time. The west coast is so rich in tints and hues and tones and shades and variations of green that I cannot imagine an existence without them and know that green will always be the color against which completeness and contentment and ecstasy are best measured.photophotophotophotophotophotophotoMourn the tiresome persistence of the rain at times, if you must, but once you have been drawn into the corridors of the green world you will likely find it irresistible, too. It bursts with the presence of renewal and strength, lures you with the dappled dream-world light that only a leafy and towering tunnel of trees can create, and makes the heart ache with that yearning form of delight best found in things that sing of secrets, promises and hope.