057: Space Jam Found To Have Mold

Jeff Bezos: "I did it for the Dippin' Dots (the wage theft helped)"

(JS) Friends, I write to you from the breezy hills of Kefalonia, where I’m enjoying a lovely post-graduate vacation with part-time archaeologist, full-time nonmedical doctor, and boyfriend of the newsletter David, who was once again in Greece “for research.” It’s been a lovely few days of sleeping in, followed by a questionable regimen alternating beach naps with espresso freddos and eventually, some dry enough wine in unlabeled bottles that was probably made in our neighbor’s bathtub. Jet lag? Never heard of her. We’ve been cooking a fair amount, but it’s been a lot of remarkably unstrategic (and often admittedly infuriating to read about) “getting whatever looks good” from the market and then figuring something out. Turns out with enough olive oil, fresh herbs, and the aforementioned village brew, you can really do a lot.

I’ll spare you the play by play but a few highlights included:

  • A whole grilled sea bass, stuffed with lemons, garlic, and a bunch of oregano

  • Razor clams with white wine, garlic, and parsley

  • This brown butter nectarine cobbler/cake from Melissa Clark, which can in fact be made in an Airbnb kitchen without a scale, measuring cups, or even a proper baking dish

(SB) Happy midweek, sweet summer readers! Here in New York City, the humidity is hovering around 95%, with my energy levels waxing and waning in the remainder of breathable air. Willis and I spent a long (though, not long enough) weekend upstate, feasting on local produce and reveling in the stillness of nature. It was a weekend featuring lots of bird song, a little bit of writing, and a fair amount of Law & Order SVU on cable. It was just enough peace and quiet to imbue my recent return to the bustling metropole with a sense of frenetic purpose: I am in full to-do list mode, eager to make the most of the remaining weeks of stultifying bliss. Nearly twelve years in (!) and I’m still getting the hang of trying to squirrel away enough joy into the months of the year where the days are long to make it through the tragedy of winter

In the interim, I’ve finally been feeling excited about both cooking and writing again. Despite a series of unfortunate events — namely, an archival trip up to New Haven that was for naught due to some byzantine COVID bureaucracy and later falling flat on my face on 28th street — it’s felt possible to make lemonade out of these lemons recently. I’m feeling generally grateful for those vibes and hoping the influx of Vitamin D holds, since it’s working for me at the moment. I’m also eager to make plans to eat tasty food and drink wine in the park (or on the beach) while we still can. Text me! Let’s reunite! 

Here’s what I ate this week:

  • This Hetty McKinnon spin on cold noodles, with Dr. Turmeric’s wares instead of soba and lots of crispy green veg: snap peas, brocclette (I said what I said), scallions!

  • A great deal of fresh-produce inspired freestyling upstate led to loosely interpreted shchi soup and  a fresh tomato and basil pasta.

  • Cold lunch salads, often on sandiwches: tuna salad! egg salad! Lots of pickles! I won’t be stopped.

GLD: Lavender Syrup

(JS) I don’t know when or how I became the unofficial advocate at this newsletter for recipes and ingredients loosely gesturing toward the south of France, but suffice it to say we’re here, we’re queer, we’re cooking with lavender this week. While both my co editor and myself are certified Gulabi Girls™, positively jazzed for a hint of jasmine, and over the moon for a splash of orange blossom, we recognize that not everyone feels the same when it comes to these ingredients. In the wrong hands, floral flavors can overwhelm a dish, particularly when working with distillates and extracts rather than fresh buds. Add too much and your gay lil’ dessert may find itself firmly in grandma’s powder room territory (and like, not in a campy way). When it comes to lavender, however, you can easily make your own sugar or syrup at home, offering true flexibility in terms of potency.

Preparing lavender simple syrup is, for lack of a better term, simple. Add a small handful of fresh or dried lavender buds and a cup of water to a small saucepan, then bring to a boil. Stir in two cups of sugar to dissolve and simmer the mixture for fifteen minutes, then remove from the heat. Steep for at least an hour – the longer you steep, the deeper the flavor, so taste as time elapses and pull when things feel sufficiently floral for you  – then strain and store in a jar. The same method works for herbs, both woody (rosemary, thyme) and leafy (dill, tarragon), so feel free to experiment and/or combine. You can also sub some of the sugar for honey, if you’d like. Your syrup will keep for at least two weeks in the fridge. 

We’ve been experimenting with riffs on lavender lemonade, mixing freshly squeezed lemon juice with a hefty pinch of salt and lavender syrup in lieu of regular sugar – make a concentrated version and serve over plenty of ice, diluted with water or seltzer to your liking (gin or vodka would also be most welcome). It’s great in iced teas (particularly green or mint), adds something unexpected to granitas and paletas (perhaps these yogurt ones?), and makes a fun soak or drizzle for snacking cakes. (SB: I am into a lavender cold brew or a lavender espresso fizz… both things I discovered at East Rock Coffee, I’ll admit it.) I’m particularly intrigued by the possibilities of a honey lavender syrup for some baklava.

USE A CONDIMENT: Saffron Salt

(SB) At many (smaller) South Asian grocers, one purchases saffron by approaching someone sitting behind some sort of counter and asking to be shown your options. It feels a little more akin to purchasing jewelry than spices. At Kalustyan’s, for example, the keeper of the golden thread(s) sits in the back corner upon entry, wedged next to the two hallways stocking Ayurvedic herbs and dried fruit leaves. Closely guarded for its fragrance and expense, the process of obtaining a little, preciously packaged saffron prompts the same questions that I’m sure are endemic in the shadows of the drug/spice trade writ large: am I being ripped off? Is this the actually good stuff? Do I even want to know about the ethical quagmire that surrounded its procurement? I remember doing this most often at the Indian grocer before trips to India, and the irony and geopolitical predictability of a spice trade that weaves from the subcontinent to Culver City and back again was not lost on me. 

Given the mild anxiety surrounding this pageant of spice arbitrage, I was surprised and wickedly tempted when I spied a little jar of Spanish saffron on sale at Trader Joe’s for a mere eight dollars a couple of years ago. Surely it couldn’t be “the good stuff” — but could it be bad? Should I take a chance? Would diving in here spare me the hand-wringing scarcity mentality that kept me from actually using saffron? I bought the bottle, and have since used the majority of it in things like frittatas and to scent creamy pastas. I was sparing, and the little strands lingered, chiding me not to get wastefully ahead of myself when Diaspora Co. dropped their own ethically-sourced Kashmiri saffron. Then, this week, I ran upon a packet of “Saffron Sea Salt '' at Kalustyan’s and was inspired to try my hand at using the rest of my stash in this low-key preparation — perfect for seasoning and flavoring. 

After doing a little light research, I mostly winged it, placing about a quarter cup of fleur de sel and  20 saffron threads in my food processor. I sprinkled a scant quarter teaspoon of water atop it and blitzed until combined. Then, I laid out the salt and left it overnight to dry out a bit. The result was a brilliantly yellow and fragrant sea salt. So far I’ve sprinkled some on sliced tomatoes, punched up a little gazpacho, and flaked it atop a (freestyle) cardamom, brown butter and marshmallow popcorn treat… and can’t recommend it highly enough. 


TMYK: Ciabatta or Something Like It

(JS) My favorite sandwich spot growing up was called Cosmo and Alex Pisano Bro, a small salumeria serving Mamaroneck since 1965. At Cosmo’s, the men and sole nonna behind the counter pile rolls and heroes with freshly sliced mortadella, capicollo, provolone and the like - not so high that you can’t comfortably take a bite, but with enough heft that a sandwich could easily tide you over for two meals - plus a plethora of marinated and pickled veg varying in heat. As a youth I was partial to their fried chicken cutlets, either tucked into a Kaiser roll or eaten straight from the fridge, though now in my middle age I tend toward the Calabrese (hot sopressata with mozzarella, green peppers, oil and vin) or the Renato (grilled chicken, melted mozz, and broccoli rabe with a slick of mayo). My preferred vehicle these days, no matter the filling, is the ciabatta — apparently a fan favorite, these are always the first bread to sell out. One might assume such a creation — flour dusted and slightly misshapen, with an airy crumb and distinct chew— was, much like the other ingredients found throughout the shop, a historic treasure brought over from the old country. Much to my surprise, Wikipedia claims that ciabatta was in fact invented in 1982 (and a slightly more authoritative Eater article suggests 1985). Of course, “historic” is relative, particularly if your brain (like mine) automatically calculates temporal distance from the year 2005 – say what you like, the 80s will always be about twenty years ago. TLDR: we, ciabatta and myself, are both millennials, and with that, we are subject to millennial trends. (SB: Officially considering writing a dissertation chapter about ciabatta, watch this space.)

Usually ciabatta is prepared with biga, a yeasted Italian preferment offering just a hint of sour, but with an active starter on hand you can easily prepare a naturally leavened version with just bread flour and a sheet pan. I happened upon this recipe from Alexandra Stanford a few weeks ago and would be so bold as to suggest it’s the easiest homemade bread I’ve tried since not-quite-Jim-Lahey’s non-recipe. Mix your ingredients, perform a few stretch and folds, bulk ferment, and “shape,” meaning cut your dough blob into eight small rectangles. No need to worry about tucking, scoring, or rolling – as I said, we’re aiming for a rustic misshapenness, if only superficially (think gen Z tiktokers mining the delia*s archive, but make it bread). Rest on a sheet pan for an hour, then transfer to a 475° oven for ten minutes. Lower the temperature to 450 and bake for another ten minutes, until they start to take on a bit of color. Cool and slice for sandwiches – we enjoyed ours with roast beef, arugula, and a swipe of horseradish mayo, but I imagine even a mere drizzle of olive oil and perhaps even some balsamic – thee cool condiment of the late 80s Mediterranean dining craze – would kind of slap.


PERMANENT ROTATION: Micheladas. I (SB) have been mixing them up with fresh tomato juice, lots of jaljeera, and a healthy dose of tajin.


WISH LIST

(JS) I’ve been curious about Rufina Patis, the Filipino fish sauce, ever since I learned it was Woldy Reyes’ favorite in the latest issue of Lunch Rush. I’m kind of obsessed with the branding and would consider storing it on my bar cart for all my houseguests to see.

(SB) I’m on a real accessorizing kick these days (it’s nice to look nice, you know?) and the colorful leather offerings at Scandinazn have caught my eye. Plus, I’m a sucker for a portmanteau. 

(JS & SB) We and a waitlist of others have been eyeing these cute little stacked-stem glasses from Misette. What is Instagram if not a mall with ears in the walls?


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