Month of July: “Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume” Recipe: Creamy Feta and Caramelized Leek Borek

“You want to perform a miracle? Forgive yourself.” Rune Lazuli

I have to get organized in this new kitchen. It’s taking more time than I had planned to get it stocked and outfitted. I am shuttling food processors, mixers and utensils back and forth between two kitchens. I am not complaining! I love this space and I love being all alone with no one to disturb me. No loving husband, no grumpy teenage stepchildren, no needy thirteen year old pug, just me and my thoughts. Can I just say how desperately needed this space is for me?

On my way to find fresh oregano for these absolutely delicious savory treats, I realized at the end of my new street a sign commanding no turn on red but I did (twice!) Would have been no big deal if it wasn’t for a glaring traffic camera I somehow missed both times. Arrrggg!! Why do I always learn things the hard way? I thought about patience while driving and wondered why I have been such an impatient person my whole life.

Later when I was making these filo boreks I noticed how forgiving they were to make, easily covering imperfections with each twist and turn. And then I thought, why am I always so hard on myself?? It was a real moment of awareness, me alone with these triangular pastries revealing tiny wordless glimmers of newfound insight. Inwardly I smiled. My world is small and protective right now and I have no need to explain it to anyone. Damn that feels good!

Ingredients: 3 leeks white and pale parts finely sliced, 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, 3/4 cup chicken stock, 1 bay leaf, sea salt and freshly ground pepper, 7 ounces of feta crumbled, 2 tablespoons of fresh oregano (don’t substitute dry if you don’t have to, the fresh gives such a lovely floral note), 8 sheets of filo thawed, melted butter for brushing and seeds such as poppy, hemp or black sesame.

  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Saute the leeks, garlic and sugar in the melted butter and olive oil for about 5 minutes on medium heat stirring constantly. Add the stock, bay leaf and seasoning and cook for about 10 minutes until leeks are tender. Remove bay leaf, cool and add cheese and oregano.
  2. Spread a sheet of filo dough on a work surface and cut lengthwise in three sections. Keep the remaining filo covered under a damp kitchen towel. Each strip will make 1 borek.
  3. Brush the filo with melted butter and place about a tablespoon of filling in corner and fold this corner up to form a triangle. Fold over again and continue until you have a triangular pastry. I watched some YouTube videos that were quite helpful to get the idea. Repeat, makes up to 20 or more.
  4. Arrange the boreks on a baking sheet and brush with more melted butter and sprinkle with seeds. Bake for about 20 minutes, checking at 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Month of July “Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume” Recipe: Lamb and Spinach Yogurt Squares

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” Cicero

Getting out of the car with my bags of groceries to start today’s project I was forced to wait for a funeral procession to pass by before being able to cross the street. I am not joking. Never have I seen such a sight on a side street….ever! I watched the black hearse slowly pass by me, the closely following cars with their headlights on in the brightness of day, the leading officer on a motorcycle. Inside my head I could hear my inner voice saying…”this is truly fascinating.” Why now? I feel I am being played with! It was a real moment. And then it was gone.

So here I am back in the land of the living. Do you know what else I find fascinating? So many things but today, the variety and utter deliciousness of the eastern Mediterranean region. Apparently sumac is a key ingredient for these recipes and is the inspiration for the title of the book. Today I am making a recipe from a collection that is called mezze, a style of dining in the Mediterranean and the Middle East made up of small plates meant to stimulate your appetite. But unlike appetizers, mezze often makes up an entire meal, combining both cold and hot, vegetarian and meat items. I like it very much.

This recipe, I will confess, was a little fussy. I struggled with the pastry. It wasn’t pliable and I had to add more water knowing it would make the dough tough but what else can a cook do? Start all over? Nah. Not on a hot humid day with no air conditioning and the oven up to 400F. Next time I would use less flour. The filling is super yummy, rich with lamb and eastern spices. I would definitely make these again probably changing it by making the filling a day ahead and I think I would prefer these in the colder months when extra fat is needed.

Ingredients:

Pastry: 2-2.5 cups of self rising flour, 6 tablespoons cold unsalted cubed butter, 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, 1/3 cup of yogurt, 1 large egg yolk, 1 tablespoon cumin seeds

Filling: 12 ounces ground lamb, 1 cup coarsely cut pine nuts, 1 Granny Smith apple cored, peeled and grated, 4 finely chopped shallots, 2 garlic cloves minced, 3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon of Pomegranate molasses, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, sea salt, ground pepper, 8 ounces of fresh spinach stems removed.

To make the pastry:

Pulse the flour, butter and salt to coarse crumbs in a food processor. Add the yogurt, egg yolk, 2 tablespoons of cold water and cumin seeds and pulse again. Turn the mixture into a bowl and knead into a smooth dough. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To make the filling:

Combine the lamb, pine nuts, apple, garlic, shallots, cilantro, pomegranate molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in a bowl, season to taste, Meanwhile bring a saucepan of water to boil and blanch the spinach for 1 minute. Drain immediately, let cool and squeeze dry. Chop coarsely, add to the meat and combine.

To cook the pastries:

Preheat oven to 400F. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Divide the pastry into 3 pieces. Roll each into a 1/8 inch thickness and cut into approximately 3 inch circles. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle and pull up the 4 edges of the pastry to create a square and pinch corners closed, Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Mix a beaten egg in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of water. Brush the pastries with the egg mixture and bake 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.

Abby Irene Larson

July 25, 1964-May 19, 2018

first and foremost artist, natural beauty born in the sign of the lion, don juan’s reckless daughter, mississippi river lover and all things fish, wicked smart, loyal sister, kickapoogian, slave to tobacco, witty captivator, cabin dweller, tattooed adventurer, back to the earth nature girl, cannabis partaker, blend of ricki lee jones and tom waits, wildcraft basket weaver, apple picker, van living loblolly pine tree planter, true blue friend, phenomenal letter writer, deep dive philosopher, fun stepsister, head scratching risk taker, extraordinarily generous, south american traveler, hard working mother of two, wife, vegetable and flower grower, woods woman, ginseng and morel mushroom hunter extraordinaire, best company with an electric smile and authentic laugh, catcher and smoker of trout, fabric weaver, sculptor, painter, regretful nurse, playful aunt, backpacker, hiker, caregiver, partner, stain glass creator, pontoon owner, dreamer of tropical fruit and turquoise blue waters, devoted grandmother, greatest gift giver, keeper of my secrets, deeply loved, eternally missed.

Month of June: “My Berlin Kitchen” Recipe: Rote Grutze with Vanilla Sauce

“The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.” Louisa May Alcott

Not much to say here as I am overflowing with gorgeous berry joy, something that takes over me every summer during New York state’s fruit season. This pudding is as beautiful to look at as it is easy to devour! The sweet sour deliciousness of the currants, sour cherries and raspberries captures the long awaited sun ripened berry in a fancy looking but so simple to make dessert. I used currants from my garden mixed in with a few black raspberries for good measure.

Ingredients: For the pudding; 1/4 cup cornstarch, 2 cups of cherry juice with no sugar added, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 cups raspberries, 2 cups sour cherries pitted, 2 cups red currents destemmed. For the vanilla sauce: 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 vanilla bean split (I used 1 teaspoon extract), up to 1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)

Pudding or Rote Grutze

  1. Put the cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk in 1/4 cup of water to make a lump free slurry. Set aside.
  2. Pour juice into a 4 qt saucepan and add the sugar. Set over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolved. Add the fruit to the pot and bring to just a boil.
  3. Give the slurry another whisk and pour into the pot just as the fruit starts to bubble. It will thicken almost immediately. Bring back to a boil and then remove from the heat.
  4. Pour the hot pudding into a large serving bowl or into individual dishes and let cool completely before refrigerating overnight. Serve with a jug of vanilla sauce for pouring over. See below.

Vanilla Sauce

  1. Prepare an ice bath.
  2. Put the cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk the 2 tablespoons of milk until no lumps remain. Set aside.
  3. Pour the 2 cups of milk into a 2 quart saucepan, add sugar and vanilla. Set over medium heat and whisking, bring to a boil.
  4. As soon as milk boils, whisk in the cornstarch slurry very slowly. The sauce will start to thicken immediately. Whisk until smooth and remove from heat.
  5. Put the pot in the ice bath and continue to whisk until the sauce is cooled. You can add a little cream if you want it thinner. My sauce came out thin so I didn’t need to add any more cream.
  6. Serve the vanilla sauce at room temperature with the pudding or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Month of June: “My Berlin Kitchen” Recipes: Peperoni al Forno Conditi and The Best Nicoise Salad

“It’s not down in any map; true places never are. ” Herman Melville

A feast fit for a queen! This picture just doesn’t do justice to the beauty of all these vegetables. The roasted pepper salad was such a complex flavor blended with oil cured olives (a newly discovered favorite!), capers and anchovies. The homemade bread crumbs sprinkled on top added a contrasting crunch. My pairing choice, The Best Nicoise Salad proved my culinary instincts correct. I really was surprised by the lovely added sweetness of the roasted fennel bulb and tomato on the vine. Don’t underestimate the tomato on the vine, it’s absolutely worth the trouble finding it.

Right now I am reading an autobiography/spiritual quest called “Comedy Sex God” by comedian Pete Holmes. In it he introduces a character by the name of Duncan whose words strike me about some people. He calls them “vampires”. The vampires he warns will keep you “stuck in the harbors of sorrow.” Abby was no vampire. Abby didn’t “drain life from people, (she) infused them, resuscitating their awe and brought color back to their cheeks.” She was the most generous human I have ever known, generous to every person she was involved with, not just with me. Generous to a fault it could be said. But the fault harmed the giver over time, not the receiver. Ironically the cause of her death was cardiomyopathy, a complication from her long history of Lyme disease. In other words…. an enlarged heart.

Her gift to me now? I can hear her in my quiet moments. “I am with you always. Life is so brief. Learn to love yourself for real this time and then wait to see what happens!”

(below is postcard I sent to Abby of Helen of Troy)

Peperoni al Forno Conditi

Ingredients: 2 to 3 slices stale white peasant bread, 3 red bell peppers, 3 yellow bell peppers, 1/4 cup oil cured black olives pitted and chopped, 3 anchovy fillets finely chopped, 1/4 cup salt cured capers drained and rinsed, 1 cup minced flat leaf parsley, 4 tablespoons olive oil, flaky salt such as Maldon

  1. Cut the stale bread into rough chunks and pulse in a food processor until course crumbs. Spread crumbs on plate or paper towel and set aside to crisp up and dry out.
  2. Heat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash and dry the peppers and arrange on baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes turning the peppers every 10 minutes with a tong. By the end they should be all blistered and soft with juices escaping.
  3. Remove peppers, allow to cool until able to handle. Remove plug, seeds, skins. Tear or cut the pepper flesh into bite size strips or pieces.
  4. Put the salad together: Arrange peppers on platter or plate, sprinkle the plate of peppers with breadcrumbs, olives, anchovies, capers, parsley and drizzle with olive oil. Mix gently or just layer, and add a few pinches of salt to taste. Serve right away or let sit at room temperature, covered, for up to 4 hours before serving. If you’re not serving the peppers right away, don’t sprinkle on the breadcrumbs until the last minute, that way they will retain the crunch.

The Best Nicoise Salad

Ingredients: 1 large fennel bulb sliced very thin, good quality olive oil, maldon flaky salt, freshly ground black pepper, 1 pound cherry tomatoes on vine (don’t skip the vine type), 3/4 pound green beans, 4 large eggs, 1 pound fingerling potatoes, 1 tablespoon dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, can of tuna preserved in oil, fresh lemon juice and 1/2 cup of nicoise or kalamata olives

1.Heat the oven to 250 F and roast the sliced fennel tossed with a little olive oil and seasoned well for about 40 minutes. Drizzle oil and season the tomatoes (leave vine on) and roast 1.5 hours.

2. Steam green beans and drain, running under cold water.

3. Hard boil 4 eggs and shell.

4. Cook potatoes and set aside (or use leftover German potato salad or make a fresh batch!)

5.About 30 minutes before you are ready to serve the salad make the dressing. Put mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl, add vinegar and whisk. Then add 1/4 cup of olive oil in a thin stream whisking continuously until you have a smooth creamy vinaigrette.

6. Put all cooled room temperature vegetables on a platter, arrange beautifully, open can of tuna and slice in quarters. Slice eggs in half and drizzle the salad with dressing to taste.

Month of June: “My Berlin Kitchen” Recipe: Kartoffelsalat (Potato Salad)

“Listen to silence. It has much to say.” Rumi

Quietly cooking today in the stillness of my room.

Ingredients: 2 pounds of yukon gold potatoes (I used petite golden), 3.5 tablespoons of butter, 2 yellow onions finely chopped, 1/3 cup of white wine vinegar, 2/3 cup of beef or chicken broth, 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, freshly ground pepper, 2/3 cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley, minced.

  1. Wash the potatoes and put them in a pot of salted water just to cover. Boil with lid on and reduce heat to medium and cook until just tender. Depending on the size could be 20-30 minutes. Drain and cool. Apparently Germans boil their potatoes the night before believing it helps retain a good shape. I might try that next time.
  2. Peel potatoes and cut in 1/8 inch slices (mine were bigger and they were fine.)
  3. Melt butter in 10 inch saute pan and add onions, mixing well and cook about 3 minutes. Add vinegar, broth, mustard, stir well making sure the mustard blends, about 3 minutes or less.
  4. Carefully whisk in the oil, pour hot dressing over potatoes and mix well. It takes a few minutes for dressing to absorb into the potatoes. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Finish with fresh flat leaf parsley.

Month of June: Book: “My Berlin Kitchen” Recipe: Ragu alla Bolognese (Beef Ragu)

“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” Harriet Beecher Stowe

I decided to opt for comfort today. What’s more comforting than a bowl of spaghetti with homemade sauce and grated parmasan cheese? This recipe for ragu bolognese will not disappoint but please be patient: it takes 5-7 hours to cook. The flavors all come together like magic in the end. Like the way our lives come together over time. Like the way it takes time, lots of time, to have a good friend.

I cried hard about Abby today. I still deeply miss her. She was so extraordinarily herself. I was so lucky to have known her and loved by her and to love her in return for 35 years. We were inexorably connected, yet comfortably separate. And by that I mean, completely free to be ourselves! Our connection was a beautiful precious priceless gift. I didn’t fully realize how truly rare it was and how much she really meant to me until after she was gone.

Ingredients: 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter, 1 large onion and 2 large carrots finely minced in equal proportions, 1 pound of ground beef and 1 pound of ground pork, 1/2 cup red wine, 28 ounce can of pureed and peeled san marzano tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of salt

1.Put the oil and butter in large cast iron pan. Add onion and soften about 7 minutes try to avoid darkening the onions. Then add carrots and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Stir.

2. Add the ground beef and pork. Raise the heat to medium high and using a spoon break of the clumps of meat until if breaks down uniformly. Cook until there is no pink, avoid browning. About 8-10 minutes. Add the wine and stir. Simmer 2-3 minutes.

3. Add tomatoes and salt, stir well. Lower heat to lowest setting, put on lid and let the sauce simmer for as long as you can. Per instructions, 7 hours is best, 5 is good, but nothing less than 3. The longer it cooks the richer it gets.

Month of June: “My Berlin Kitchen” Recipe: Poppy Seed Whirligig Buns.

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” C.S. Lewis

I thought I would start out the first month of this grief journey not with a cookbook per se but with a love story. This wonderful book was lent to me by a nurse colleague at just the right time in my life and it inspired me to create my own blog. My Berlin Kitchen is about finding romantic love with a recipe after each chapter. A Year at Portsmouth is a love story about a true friendship with a recipe after each post. No comparison at all. I’m just writing to share my story about her, our sisterhood and because I must, somehow, rediscover myself.

Ingredients for dough: 3/4 cup 2% or whole milk, 1/4 ounce of fresh yeast or 1 package dry, 1/4 cup sugar, 4 cups all purpose flour, 2 large eggs at room temperature, 4 tablespoons softened unsalted butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, neutral tasting vegetable oil

Ingredients for filling: 2 cups 2% or whole milk, grated lemon peel of 1/2 lemon, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/3 cup sugar, pinch of salt, 1/3 cup semolina plus 2 tablespoons, 1 cup poppy seeds

Butter for the pan, 1 egg yolk, 2 tablespoons 2% or whole milk

  1. First make the dough. Heat the milk until lukewarm (ideally 110-115F), add yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar to activate the yeast. Stir and let stand until mixture starts to get foamy.
  2. Pour the flour into a large bowl, add sugar, then begin to stir in milk incorporating with each stir, Add eggs, butter and salt. Begin kneading with hands within the bowl. It will be sticky, don’t worry. Dump onto a lightly floured counter and knead 3-5 minutes until smooth.
  3. Wash out bowl, dry and rub butter into bowl, add dough and let rise until double in a draft free area, about an hour or more.
  4. Make the filling: Put milk in 2 quart saucepan over medium heat, add lemon zest, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil and then slowly add semolina making sure to whisk while adding. Cook 1 minute stirring all the time. Then add poppy seeds and mix well. Important: Make sure you use fresh poppy seeds, don’t use the ones that have been sitting in your kitchen for years. Remove from heat and let cool.
  5. Punch down dough and knead again. Roll out into a large rectangle with rolling pin to 1/2 inch thickness. Spread the cool poppy seed mixture on top evenly almost to edges. Roll up dough lengthwise into a log and wrap tightly in aluminum foil and freeze for 1 hour.
  6. Butter two 9 or 10 inch cake pans or sheet pan. Remove log from freezer and discard foil. Cut the log into 1.5 inch thick slices. Place in buttered pans and let rise for 45 minutes with a towel to cover. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  7. Mix one egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of milk together and brush buns with mixture. Bake 30 minutes or until golden.
  8. Buns are best the same day they are made. If you want to keep them, wrap the baked cooled buns in foil, in a freezer bag, freeze. Defrost unwrapped in 300 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Welcome to 29 Portsmouth Terrace, Apt. 3

Welcome to a place that is born out of loss. In it, I will cook my way through grief. My name is Becca. On May 19th, 2018 my best friend Abby died suddenly and unexpectedly leaving me forever changed.

This solo exercise is an expression of love and sorrow. It is a way to honor her, remember our connection and heal my way forward through the comfort of a kitchen, a physical space where I feel at home. I am a passionate cook with a knack for finding exceptional recipes. The kitchen I will post from is in a studio apartment in a grand 19th century house that I leased for one year starting in June 2019 and ending in May 2020. I do not live there. I cook and contemplate there.

I have chosen twelve cookbooks from my library. I will cook, bake, photograph and share my way through as many recipes as possible each month. The plan: each recipe will be a first trial. Like in life, no practice run. The idea is to work with the books I have collected over the years but somehow didn’t have enough time or focus to explore. Also, it has occurred to me in this process of grief, the importance of practicing presence with whatever I am feeling. Feel the feels, so to speak. I really don’t need anything more than a beginner’s mind and an open heart. That seems like an authentic launching point. Abby would have been pleased.

  • June: My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss
  • July: Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe
  • August: Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown
  • September: 660 Curries by Raghaven Iyer
  • October: Market Cooking by David Tanis
  • November: Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
  • December: Eat by Nigel Slater
  • January: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
  • February: Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibanez
  • March: Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi
  • April: Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
  • May: Together: Our Community Cookbook: The Hubb Community Kitchen