059: What is Justice for Levar Burton?

Jewelry is normal. Plus, two desserts for a not so sweet news cycle.

(JS) Readers, it has been a week. Although your humble narrators have once again fled the city with the boyfriends of the newsletter in a half assed (on my part at least) attempt to unplug (from Bamarush Tiktok) and ~just write~, we find ourselves troubled by the same harrowing images and not so hot takes recurring across our timelines. While I hope that you may take some solace in our duo of easy summer custard-based desserts, I also realize the idea of cooking as escape or even distraction doesn’t quite hit the same as we approach our eighteenth month of the pandora, not to mention a decades long war. I’m not sure if reading really helps, but in my spare time I’ve been poring over the writings of Durkhanai Ayubi, the Adelaide restaurateur and Afghan migrant behind the acclaimed eatery (and cookbook of the same name) Parwana. This deeply personal collection of essays stems from a broader project to reclaim and celebrate Afghan identity, interrogate the meaning of displacement, and shift the conversation to what the ongoing war means for the people of Afghanistan rather than the invading forces. If you’ve come across other Afghan voices in food you think we should know about, we’re all ears.

Before we dive into the thick of it (… ugh), I’m compelled to ask: are you all feeling equally disappointed about the new Jeopardy hosts? Tf happened there? Anyway, here’s some of what I’ve been enjoying alongside Leon & Son warehouse sale potent potables:

  • Freestyle sweet corn soup with potatoes, onions, roasted garlic achaar, and coconut milk, finished with quick pickled shallots and fresh cilantro; full transparency, I intended to serve this hot, but enjoyed the bulk of the leftovers straight from the fridge

  • Yewande Komolafe’s spicy tamarind ribs and cucumber salad with lemon, herbs, and Cabot 10% yogurt (IYKYK)

(SB) Greetings sweet readers, and congratulations on making it through another week. Though we (believe it or not) do try to keep things relatively light and frothy over here, I can't help but start us off this week by just acknowledging how bad things are. You read the news, you know already, so I'll do my best not to belabor it but still feel the need to note that things feel sad and difficult in the world right now. As I assume is true for many of us who lived through (came of age even!) the Bush years, this week really felt like a wrenching reminder of the blood on this country's hands — an archetype of rocks, hard places, and terrifying beds made for other people. It has reminded me of both the inadequacy of our national public conversations about American imperialism and how little I have thought about our perpetual war during its second decade compared with its first. Since I have the luxury of staying off everyone's favorite hell-sites for a few days, I've been allowing myself a reprieve from the bad takes and good infographics in favor of simply spending some time thinking about the strange cultural legacy of the permanent conflict that has shaped all but two years of my American immigrant experience. Suffice to say, I urge you to do whatever you are able at this moment to encourage your elected representatives to allow more refugees into this country, to donate to refugee organizations, and to take care of yourself.

Like Jake, I find myself missing the comforting tones of our eternal trivia king Alex, and underwhelmed by his successors. In lieu of mainlining Jeopardy, I have instead been greedily trying to ring out the last few weeks of summer and and also absorb the fact that… we're moving! To Brooklyn! If any of our new followers want to sponsor my new kitchen redesign and restock, holla at your girl. I will make you look soooooo good on the gram. If any heartbroken uptowners want to raid my pantry, fridge or bookshelves, also please be in touch. Here's some of what I ate this week:

  • We've been trying in earnest to offset both our moving expenses and reduce the number of things we'll have to lug by eating our way through the pantry. Happy to report that I started the week making a big pot of the Rancho Gordo Bayo Chocolate beans I'd been hoarding with a little quinoa. Leftovers got refried with the duck fat from Christmas and served alongside zucchini quesadillas (JS: My/Deb’s impact).

  • I made a big, picnic-friendly freestyle farro salad over the weekend. It included halved cherry tomatoes in garlic and saffron salt, a few caramelized leeks, preserved lemons, feta mashed with lemon verbena I mistook for mint, and a white wine vinaigrette. Think Salad for President vibes.

  • Friend of the letter Jessie is in town, and we've been eating (and drinking) at a scale befitting the joy of our reunion. Highlights include excellent watermelon and tomato margs from Yellow Rose (I also enjoyed my buttermilk donut quite a lot), pickled mussels and a tasty bottle of La Bamboche from Wildair, and the eternally classic Bloody Mary from Mermaid Inn.


USE A CONDIMENT: Pickled Watermelon

(JS) Have I told you about my seasonal depression lately? As the sun sets a smidge earlier with each passing day, I’m eagerly on the hunt for ways to trick my body into thinking we might enjoy some sort of endless summer. (SB: This is why we connect.) It’s never too early to worry about an unavoidable future (cc: The UN Climate Report). Haha! Anyway! This week I’ve been revisiting Olia Hercules’ Summer Kitchens, a stellar compendium of regional Ukrainian recipes for stretching ingredients and preserving peak season flavors well into the darker months. What better way to stave off my early H2 sads than with a funky late summer ferment? Flipping through the book, I was immediately taken with a photograph of a table laden with fermented watermelons – half of a melon lay exposed to the late afternoon sunshine next to a bowl of drippy, hacked up hunks and a platter of more delicately styled slices. I found myself strangely comforted by this present day bodegón, memento mori overtones and all. Plus, the fact that you can enjoy this pickle as a chaser for either fatty meats and/or vodka is the type of versatility I cherish.

In Ukraine watermelons are often fermented whole, prepared in massive wooden barrels or perhaps a spare bathtub – while I’ve previously Macgyver’d solutions for rustic recipe cosplay (real fans may recall the “fridge mummy” aka duck prosciutto), this time I chose the practical over the Petit Trianon route and cut my fruit to fit it into canning jars. These are pretty simple as quick pickles go – prepare a basic brine by diluting apple cider vinegar with water, then add a couple tablespoons of honey, sea salt, and whole allspice berries – these add a subtle bit of warmth, but you could probably play around with the spicing or omit them if you prefer. Bring everything to a simmer then allow it to cool. Slice your watermelon into small triangles, removing the green rind but leaving most of the white flesh beneath, then add these to a sterilized vessel – Olia calls for a 3-quart glass jar, but we went with three single-quart jars instead, sizing our triangles accordingly. Pour the brine over the watermelon, filling the jar(s) nearly to the top. Screw on the lids, then invert the jars and leave them to stand at room temperature, making sure the fruit is submerged. After a couple of days, you can taste your pickles – expect something sweet and sour, rather than mouth-puckering. They should keep in the fridge for at least a couple months. So far we’ve enjoyed these alongside slow roasted lamb shoulder and a quick marinated feta, but I’m keen to blend it into a cocktail.


GLD: Peach Almond Clafoutis

(SB) Even before this pantry-panic inducing pandemic, I have been known to flirt with an organic online grocery store. Thrive Market? Imperfect Foods? Nuts.com? Sign me up, sign me down why don't you. Anyway, it should come as no surprise that I have found myself with quite the stash of almond flour to make my way through in these next few weeks. While turning on the oven in our apartment during the summer is a non-option, I brought my almond flour stash upstate for a few days rather determined to cook with it. Initially inspired and intrigued by this almond, peach, and cream confection by our unproblematic queen Melissa Clark, I found myself seeking something a little more rustic that I might be able to whip up using just a whisk rather than the full food processor. It wasn't long before I stumbled across Belinda Leong's take on a Cherry Clafoutis, adapted here with peaches.

While clafoutis — basically fruit baked in batter that I have trouble spelling — traditionally shuns almond flour, Leong's version uses half all purpose and half almond flour to add a little texture and taste to the dish. In my humble opinion, it's a smashing success. The recipe is also pretty simple: whisk together a cup of sugar, five (! we're going custard, baby) eggs, and vanilla (I used extract not seeds.) Then, add in sifted all purpose flour, almond flour, and a little salt until incorporated. Next, add in your dairy — Leong calls for equal parts milk and cream, but I used two cups of "light cream" because we have so much. Whisk vigorously, being sure to get some air in there, and pour into a greased 10-in gratin or pie pan. Top with whatever stone fruit you have on hand; Leong used cherries, but I sliced up some peaches and arranged them artfully. Put it all in a preheated oven and bake for about 40 minutes.

Ideally, your clafoutis should rise into sweet puffy little peaks around the peaches. Despite using a pie pan that was a just a hair too small for this task, my first sign of the promise of this dish came when the overflowing batter puffed up beautifully on the oven floor before becoming singed and smokey. In the future, I might divide up my batter into two pans and add even more fruit-- but I'm certainly not complaining about my rustic results. Served warm, this clafoutis was comforting and custardy. Plus, baking with summer stone fruit is basically like pitching for the Astros* —  you can’t go wrong. Cooled, it makes a great accompaniment for afternoon coffee. 

  • *You like what I did there, sports hive?


HOT IN HERRE: Blackberry Semifreddo Pie

(JS) Traditionally, semifreddo is made in loaf pans lined with parchment paper or saran wrap, but due to a rather packed freezer, I opted to make one in a pyrex pie plate lined with graham cracker crumbs and a bit of melted butter. Technical considerations aside, this “half frozen” treat eats a lot like a lighter version of ice cream cake, and with a few basic ingredient swaps, I think we could easily make a semi Fudgie the Whale, Carvel Crunchies and all. But for today, we’re keeping things fresh, seasonal, and most crucially, oven-free.

In terms of both method and ingredients, semifreddo is really quite simple, requiring little more than eggs, cream, sugar, and your choice of flavoring – I opted for blackberries, since the wild patch behind this house was ripe for the picking, but you could easily swap for your preferred summer fruit, nuts, or both. I mostly followed Mark Bittman’s recipe, but I’m intrigued by this version from Stella Parks that subs in honey and doesn’t separate the eggs. (Technically further afield but no less interesting are Gabrielle Hamilton’s lemon version at the center of this Baked Alaska and Nicola Lamb’s parfait, seemingly semifreddo’s French cousin.) A hand mixer is ideal here, but if you’re up for a serious arm workout, you could probably make it work without one. 

Begin by whipping your cream to soft peaks, then place it in the refrigerator while you prepare your custard. Separate your eggs, then whisk the yolks with a half cup of sugar over a simmering double boiler until the whole thing turns glossy and thick, about 4-5 minutes. Continue whisking off the heat until the mixture roughly doubles in volume, then set aside while you tackle the whites. Combine the whites and another quarter cup of sugar, whisking once again over a simmering double boiler until fluffy, then continue whisking off the heat until you form stiff peaks. Blend your fruit with a pinch of salt until smooth and strain if you’re especially concerned about seeds – I didn’t really mind them. Carefully fold your yolks into the whipped cream, then fold in the whites, and finally the fruit until combined. Transfer this mixture to your prepared pan, lined with saran, parchment, or your choice of crust. Smooth the top and cover with saran wrap, then freeze. My pie was good to go in about four hours, but a traditional loaf preparation will take a bit longer to firm up.


PERMANENT ROTATION: Renee Erickson’s harissa-rubbed roasted lamb, technically written for leg but equally delicious with shoulder if you lower the temp. Since the following page is missing from Google books, basically: marinate your meat in harissa a day or two before cooking; remove from the fridge an hour before cooking and salt generously, then cook over a gas or charcoal grill until the lamb is well browned and the meat begins to fall apart. This is peak late summer dinner party fare (SB: I’m so jealous I’m crying). Bonus points if you serve it with the yogurt sauce from the Yewande Komolafe cucumber salad above.


WISH LIST

(JS) Amidst this garbage news cycle, I was pleased to see at least one “cause for celebration” grace my timeline this week: Mariah Carey debuted Black Irish, the elusive chanteuse’s premium Irish Cream. I’m mostly here for the art direction (the brand? strong), but could probably think of a few frozen desserts to make use of the product within.

(SB) I’m a fool for native advertising and a good “throwback” Zeitgeist and am thus eyeing these retro coolers from Igloo.

(JS & SB) We’re frankly not the authorities on how to best help with the refugee crisis in Afghanistan or the earthquake and impending tropical storm in Haiti, but we found these Twitter threads from Bushra Ebadi and Ashley Yates helpful places to start.


PS: We are, in fact, on Instagram and also run a biweekly advice column on this very newsletter! Send us your questions at askdigestivo@gmail.com