Preserving Traditions and Creating New Ones

Our 800-year old friend and neighbor

I’m sitting here at the kitchen table at Andrew‘s family’s cabin in Big Bear, reflecting on the year that’s drawing to a close.  We’re gearing up to celebrate the 18th annual Big Bear New Year’s Eve bash.  I’ve been present for three of them and consider this time up here to be one of the best weeks of the year.  It’s a time to gather with friends–some of whom we haven’t seen since last year’s party–cook big meals, enjoy our friend’s amazing home brew, and read and relax in front of the fire.  I’ve also been considering lately what it is about preserving and pickling that I appreciate so much.  I think the idea that something can last longer and take on great flavors in the process is a pleasure both in the kitchen and in life.

This year’s party is a little smaller and mellower than some in the past and definitely includes more children–we’re all enjoying the presence of “the next generation” in Knox (9 months) and Jillian (18 months)–and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I can only imagine how it feels for those who’ve been coming since the 90s to see how it’s evolved over the years.  Back in the day, most of the time was spent downstairs in the game room, shooting pool or playing foosball for hours on end; nowadays we sit around the table on our laptops or take a midday nap after a mug of vin chaud.

I started pickling (and blogging) nearly two years ago and had a blast this fall and winter making different kinds of conserves, pickles, and infused vodkas for holiday gifts.  Paging through one of my trusted pickling sources, Ellie Topp’s The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving, I discovered conserves, which are basically fruit preserves with nuts.  I decided that they would make great gifts and got to work doing some of my holiday shopping at the market.  Apricot Grand Marnier with Almonds was a particular favorite, with Maple Blueberry with Walnuts coming in at a close second–though I opted for pecans instead that my mom had sent me from South Carolina.  The apricot recipe called for two pounds of dried apricots, the blueberry two cups of frozen or fresh.  I appreciated how simple they were to put together, yet how delicious and complex they seemed spread on some toast in the morning.  Earlier in the fall I’d made some classic garlic dill pickles to which I added some chipotle I happened to have on hand for that extra kick.  And courtesy of a good blogging friend we had a Buddha’s Hand that was a perfect citrusy addition to a bottle of Tito’s.  All found happy and appreciative homes, and I confess to holding on to one or two for our own enjoyment.

Apricot conserve about to be processed

This past year has brought many changes for us and our friends–some good, some not so good–as will the next.  By the end of 2012, Andrew and I will have been married on the grounds in Big Bear and we will once again welcome our friends to come play in the snow.  Rather than making any resolutions and promises of changes to be made, my mind is drawn to thoughts of gratitude for how things are.  I love that Andrew’s friends are now my friends and vice versa.  I am grateful that certain friends are getting the care they need and feeling healthy and that others have found a home in the most unexpected places.  I appreciate the simple pleasures of homemade gifts and the ability to find ways to make good things last.



Eating Rules! And so does Kimchi

Today I’m guest posting over at Eating Rules as part of October Unprocessed.  Click through to check out my Easy Kimchi Recipe and read about all the fun of wilting cabbage and spicing it up.

The best things come to those who wait

Sometime in the beginning of the summer, I was flipping through a back issue of Saveur magazine when I stumbled upon a delicious cocktail, the Maple Rye Sour.  The recipe is apparently based on the Prospect Park Sour, created by Brad Farran, at the Clover Club in Brooklyn.  I’ve yet to try the original but I was certainly eager to try this adaptation.  Anything with a base of rye whiskey is a friend of mine.  But as I read on, I felt like I had to wait.  Maple syrup, rye, Luxardo Amaro Abano–Amaro means “bitter” in Italian, and refers to a kind of herbal Italian liqueur–are all in the mix and don’t exactly suggest “cocktail by the pool.”  And so I waited.  Patiently.  In all honesty, the summer seemed to fly by so I hardly gave it much thought until we turned the corner on September and I started to feel that familiar autumnal tinge in the air.  Of course in Los Angeles that’s usually replaced quickly with a familiar Santa Ana which makes it feel more like summer than summer does.  But I digress.

We invited another couple over to dinner one Saturday–it happened to be just after the official start of fall–and I decided this would be our house cocktail du jour for the evening.  It’s got a terrific and complex flavor and surprisingly isn’t as “heavy” as I’d imagined, yet it was perfect for a night with a slight chill in the air.  The citrus blends so nicely with the maple and rye, and amaro brings out the earthiness.  I’d like to experiment a bit with the ratio as I felt the maple was too subtle.  I’d waited all that time, after all, I deserved a bit more of that woodsy goodness.  Maybe I should jump in a pile of leaves after for added effect.  That might have to wait awhile.

Maple Rye Sour

(Thanks to Betsy Andrews of Saveur for this interpretation.  Note: she prefers Rittenhouse Rye.)

2 oz. rye whiskey (I used Bulleit)

About 1/2 oz. each, fresh lemon and orange juices

1/4 to 1/2 oz. maple syrup, depending on your preference and affinity for Vermont

1/4 oz. Luxardo Amaro Abano liqueur

In a shaker, combine your ingredients and shake as long as it takes you to retrieve a freshly chilled cocktail glass from the freezer and to hum a verse or two from Autumn in New York.  Strain into your glass, garnish with a twisted orange peel and put on a scarf.

What I did [ate] on my summer vacation

Hard to think about pickles when I’ve got all this amazing house-made guanciale to wrestle with. Thanks Skillet Diner in Seattle for the worthy distraction.