Monday, April 11, 2011

Kim Boyce's Focaccia and Easy Steamed Artichokes

Two weeks ago, as I entered the restroom at Movement Research for the first time, before settling onto a handmade cotton mat and letting all my bones and muscles drop into the creaky wooden floor for an hour and a half long Alexander Technique class, I saw a poster hanging on the wall that, as if by divine inspiration, had flown in through the cracked window and adhered itself to the opposing wall the moment I turned the knob.

The poster appeared to be a block print, black and red ink on a rectangle of pure white, with roughly four images printed at the bottom. First, a bowl of cherries with stems intact, second, a bowl of pits and stems, third, a bowl of pitted cherries ready for a pie, and above the bowls, a set of hands were engaged in de-stemming a single cherry.  At the top of the poster was written: Process.

Not only was it a reminder to engage in the process of the class I was about to take, but it also rang out as a message for the year, a message for life. Take it one step at a time. Don't get ahead of yourself. Engage in the process of things, the result will follow. There is joy in work.

I have been wanting to bake bread in my toaster oven for over a year now and I keep chickening out at the last minute. I attempted a loaf several years ago in my Brooklyn apartment and it came out a heavy brick of whole wheat flour that dropped like a rock into the trash can, so I wasn't so sure baking bread without a kitchen would be any more successful.

But Saturday afternoon, determined to get over my fear, I went to the market, bough a packet of yeast and some spelt flour, smoothed open Kim Boyce's cultish new cookbook, Good to the Grain, carefully read and re-read the recipe and got to work. 

My first packet of yeast didn't bubble like it should so I started another bowl, with slightly warmer water and a fresh packet, and now able to compare two attempts, noticed a delicate bubbling on the surface of the second bowl indicating activity. Step one done. Then I added the dry ingredients and olive oil which came together almost effortlessly into a soft, scraggy ball and then kneaded it for ten divine minutes like the recipe says. Soft, yeasted dough, gently pressed under the palms is like taking a long, mind-clearing stroll by the beach. I'm not exaggerating. Nice and elastic, I nestled my dough into an oiled bowl, covered it with a clean dish cloth and two hours later discovered a plump, doubled mound ready for a punch and the next step. Cut into thirds, two of them reserved in the fridge for later, and pressed into a 9 inch, oiled cake pan, I gave it one more rise, then a glug of olive oil and into the oven. Twenty minutes later Chris and I sat down to a supper of steamed artichokes, garlicy greens, sardines in tomato sauce, calamata olives and hot, crusty focaccia.

I did it. And so can you. 

Making focaccia from scratch may seem like too much work but one days work yields three days of bread. So, on night two I stretched my dough into a rectangle, topped it with sauce, chopped broccoli rabe, mushrooms, goat cheese and olives, and we had homemade pizza in under half an hour. I think I'll do the same tonight.

It's all about the process.

Kim Boyce's Focaccia from Good to the Grain, 2010

Olive oil for the bowl and pans
1 package active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
11/2 cups spelt flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
1 tbs. kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs. olive oil
Herbs, spices or other toppings of choice

1. Lightly rub a large bowl with olive oil. Add 1 1/4 cups warm water, the yeast and sugar to another large bowl. Stir, and allow the yeast to bloom for about 5 minutes, until it begins to bubble. (If it doesn't, it may be inactive; throw it out and start over with a new package).

2. Add the flours, salt, and 2 tablespoons olive oil to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface and begin to knead together, adding 1/2 cup of flour to the dough as necessary to keep it from sticking. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, or until it is supple and elastic.

3. For the first rise, put the dough into the oiled bowl, turning it so that the top of the dough is coated with oil. Cover with a towel and leave for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size. (A dough is proofed once it has fully risen. How can you tell if a dough is proofed? Gently push a floured finger into the dough. If it springs back the dough needs to proof longer. If a dimple remains, move on to the next step.

4. Generously oil a baking sheet or 3 9-inch round pans with olive oil. 

5. For the second rise, place the dough on the baking sheet or divide the dough into 3 pieces and put one piece in each of the oiled pans. Stretch the dough out with your hands so that it covers the surface of the baking sheet or pans, and dimple it with your fingers. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and leave to rise for 1 hour.

6. Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven (or put a single rack in the middle  if you're using one baking sheet) and preheat to 400 degrees F.

7. After the dough has completed it's second rise and has puffed up on the sheet or in the pans, top it with 1/4 cup of olive oil and sprinkle it with salt, herbs or spices, or the toppings of your choice.

8. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Allow the bread to cool slightly in the pan before slicing and serving. Focaccia is best eaten the day it's made.

9. If you wish to store the focaccia dough for future use, after the first rise is complete, wrap the dough tightly in plastic and and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Pull all or part of the dough out when you wish to use it; bring it to room temperature before shaping the dough and continuing with the recipe.

Easy Steamed Artichokes

Cut off the tops and stems of your artichokes (large). Fill a large pan with an inch of water and either rest your artichokes on a steamer basket or on their stems sliced in half lengthwise. Cover with a lid and steam for forty minutes. Melt some butter or just eat them plain. When you get to the heart, scrape off the fuzzy part, drown in butter and enjoy.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Yogurt Parfaits

When I was little I wasn't allowed to have sugar. And so I obsessed about it. 

During the first few years of my life, my mother made recordings of me talking at various ages, using her 1980's plastic tape recorder. Several of the tracks are of me telling stories about candy, a little lady in particular who, when she went out shopping, only bought candy and it was always red.

This was my ultimate fantasy. A pantry full of cherry flavored suckers and candy bars. But at my house sweets were for ultra special occasions, like angel food cake for a birthday, and for several years I thought that rice cakes were indeed cake and that a sundae was plain yogurt layered with honey and wheat germ. A parfait my mother called it, served elegantly in a wine glass.

Every now and then my father would slip me a candy bar followed by, "now don't tell your mother", but I always did. How could I hide my exuberance over such divine confections!

I am still obsessed with sweets, so is my mother, but I have to say that yogurt parfaits are still among one of my favorite snacks. For breakfast, an afternoon snack or after dinner, rather than satisfy a gnarly sweet tooth, they divert it to something better.

Sunday morning we had one cup of yogurt left, one banana, a couple tablespoons of shredded coconut at the bottom of the bag, some leftover canned apricots in the fridge and some toasted pecan bits left from the night before. Not very impressive on their own but gently layered in a glass and served with a cup of coffee and some popovers, which only require eggs, milk, flour and butter, we had a splendid Sunday brunch.

Next time I'll even break out the wine glasses.

Elizabeth is blowing out her candles, but I'm sizing up my first slice.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Chris, my wonderful husband, has a tendency to overdo things. 

He once dumped a half a bottle of eucalyptus oil in his bath water producing a toxic cloud of eye watering, cough breeding eucalyptus fumes that filled our small room and gave him hours of tingly skin despite numerous showers. He applies giant mountains of pimple cream on his chin and forehead at bedtime which crack and fall off before the lights go out. He eats too fast at dinner a couple nights a week which predictably turns into a fit of rage inducing hiccups. And he once insisted I remove my red nail polish before going to a Yankees/Indians ALCS game after we'd already locked up and started towards the subway because the Indians have the color red in their logo. 

But I was aware of these tendencies from the start.

When I first met Chris he was mostly subsisting on cans of Progresso soup, turkey sandwiches from the 24-hour bodega across the street, free beer and wine at art openings, cereal and coffee. His coffee pot was a small, stained Mr. Coffee that had traveled with him through undergrad, into grad school and down to NYC. It was the saddest, dirtiest little coffee pot you have ever seen, and beside it always sat a stack of limp paper filters and a can of Chock Full O'Nuts surrounded by a light dusting of coffee grinds. 

During the first year we were dating, Chris was working part time out in Queens, giving him time to work on his art, so there were days when he just stayed home, writing, reading and sketching.

On one particular day I came to meet him for dinner in the early evening and when he answered the door, I was met with a sheepish look. 

"I'm a little jittery," he apologized. 

"Oh no, why?" I said, "are you okay?"

"Yeah, but I think I may have had too much coffee."

"Oh, how many cups did you drink?"


I don't think Chris slept very well that night.

This happened more than once but over the years Chris has cut back. He now drinks mostly tea and I stick to my one cup in the morning. His Mr. Coffee didn't last very long either, I think Santa brought him a Cuisinart programable coffee maker that Christmas. But when I got rid of my Brooklyn apartment we decided a hot water boiler was more useful so I switched to a Chemex coffee carafe, which I now think makes the best coffee period. No wires, no settings or programs, no filters and pots and lids to wash or moldy hidden corners, just a clean hourglass shape with a paper filter to toss when you're done.

About a month ago a high school friend of Chris', Keith Hamrick, sent us a variety box of his freshly roasted coffee. He and his wife, started Northbound Coffee Roasters up in Northern California and now we're spoiled for life. Chock Full O'Nuts was the choice all through college, cheap and okay, but now that I have a little more money in my pocket, I've become a fan of Irving Farm, Stumptown and other New York roasters. But I have to say, Northbound is awesome. Chris and I discuss what cup we'll have in the morning like we're selecting a fine wine. The Kintamani from Bali and the Yirgacheffe are my favorites. Spoonbender is a delicious classic French Roast and the Shakiso and Sibereon Bourbon, light and complex, are perfect afternoon roasts. 

I must say though, for all of Chris' overdoing, I am equal parts klutz and this morning after a lovely breakfast of popovers, as I raised my mug of northbound coffee to my lips (it was room temperature by now), I let out a little cough and didn't spill but dumped coffee all over myself. My pajama bottoms were soaked, coffee was dripping down my front and after the initial shock I scanned the floor and was relieved to discover I hadn't gotten any on the carpet.

"How did you do that?" Chris asked "You just threw coffee all over yourself."

"I have no idea. No idea." I said laughing as I shuffled to the bathroom. 

Bent over the bathtub washing out my pajamas in a dish bin, Chris called from the other room, "How about another pot of coffee?"

What Keith Sent us:


Inspired by the powerful forces around
the mountain that get us all bent, this 
blend is roasted on the dark side to bring
the fruit and earthiness of the cup to light. 
A classic Northern California French roast.

Siberia Estate Bourbon, El Salvador

Four Generations of the Silva Family have
tended this farm since 1870. Bourbon refers
to the cultivator, named for the Island of
Bourbon (now called Reunion) where it was
originally cultivated. Creamy nut tones with 
ripe orange underneath, and cinnamon 
accent highlight this light roast.

Shakiso, Ethiopia

A wet processed coffee that is grown in the 
Guji district of South-Eastern Ethiopia. The
cup has a clean and clear sweetness, like 
a light brown sugar taste with a mild citrus

Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia

Produced by the Oromia Coffee Farmers
Cooperative Union, the largest fair trade
coffee producer in Ethiopia. This washed 
coffee is prized for its rich floral acidity and
deep chocolate undertones. Medium Roast.

Kintamani, Bali

This coffee is a unique one. Bright, wild fruits
rule this cup. Berry-Like aromatics and flavor 
hit the senses like a fruit bomb. Earthy and 
Spicy flavors create a backbeat of body. Take
a chance on this one. You will be left wanting 
more. Medium Dark Roast.