25 June 2014

Kitchen Tools: Nutmeg Graters

My traditional nutmeg grinder, and my new one, a little blue puff fish.

The year we rented an apartment in Paris was the year I learned that one does not need cabinets and drawers full of gadgets to cook delicious meals. The kitchen in our apartment was half the size of my own and was stocked with only the basics. Still we ate well, thanks to the availability of fresh produce at the markets on Rue Cler.

Our Paris kitchen was stocked with a nutmeg grinder and a small jar of whole nutmegs, and when I made apple crisp, I made it with freshly ground nutmeg. It was wonderfully layered in flavor, but I'm not sure it that was a function of the nutmeg, or because my husband and I were eating it in Paris. Both, I suspect.

At any rate, when we came home I dug up an old-fashioned nutmeg grater at a flea market, cleaned it, which took a great deal of patience, and have been using it ever since. But recently I found this cunning little little puffer-fish-shaped nutmeg grater at Tellus Mater on State Street in Madison, Wis., the city I think of as my second hometown. It reminds me of this tool, which is attractive as well as useful.

I like this nutmeg plane and this charming little video, which makes it look so easy: no knuckle grazing.

Nutmeg pairs well with apple, pumpkin and squash dishes as well as spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage dishes. (However tasty nutmeg is, apparently it has a somewhat dark history.)

Like mace, nutmeg is a product of the nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans), a large evergreen which grows in the Spice Islands, also known as the Moluccas, in Indonesia. Nutmeg is the kernel of the seed, while mace is the leathery flesh of surrounding it (its composition compares to the apricot). Mace is milder and more expensive.

Read more about nutmeg here and here.

There are many different nutmeg grinders on the market, from this updated classic to this more elaborate model.

Then there is this one, which is almost a work of art.

Wordless Wednesday: At the Menominee County Farm & Food Exchange

24 June 2014

Light and Lower-Carb: Graham Flour Muffins (Raisins Optional)

Graham Flour Muffins

My paternal grandmother, Laura LaBrie Diamond, was the antithesis of Grandma Annie.

While Annie wore plaid or checked house dresses at home, Laura sported capri pants and sleeveless blouses. Annie wore sensible brogans around the house; Laura slipped her feet into ballet flats. Annie wore pearls and navy blue with a demure cloth coat, while Laura wore diamonds and furs. Annie read women's magazines that focused on housekeeping while Laura subscribed to movie mags.

They were a fascinating contrast. I adored them both.

Both women were children of French Canadian immigrants, and both loved to bake. We remember Annie for her Lady Baltimore cakes and Laura for her raisin-graham bread.

23 June 2014

Meatless Monday: Cucumber Salad with Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Cheese

Cucumber Salad with Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Cheese

I read "Gone with the Wind" when I was 11 years old, renaming my recently-cast-off Barbie doll Scarlett, and constructing elaborate dresses using embroidery hoops in the skirts. I read and reread the book all that year, and once forced myself into sleep by mentally naming all the characters, major and minor.

A bookish, somewhat solitary child, I memorized entire passages, and lived the book as much as a young girl can in the second half of the 20th century. I recall asking my father (who read everything) to name his favorite part of the book, and I recall his reply verbatim, "When they were grubbing for food at Tara - that was my favorite."

Ever my father's daughter, I have to admit: I love that part of the book, too. I love being forced to do a lot with a little. I am always up for a challenge.

These days I grub for food in my own larder, and I am rarely disappointed in the outcome of my food pairings.

21 June 2014

Herbed Mashed Potatoes with Boursin

Herbed Mashed Potatoes with Boursin
It feels strange not to be planning a trip this year.

Instead of traveling, we are sticking close to home and working on our own turf. We have a 118-year-old carriage barn that needs some major attention. It's not a big barn - about the size of a garage - and it's rather charming, but it's old. I'd like to build a greenhouse on the back of it, but that might have to wait for another year. We'll see.

We're also involved in some inexpensive but time-consuming projects around the kitchen and other parts of the house. We're about a quarter through our to-do list: The book room is done, the new shower head is installed upstairs and the powder room has a new faucet. But when you have a house, especially a old house, the work is never done.

Traveling has made me extremely frugal around the house, especially in the kitchen. I keep thinking of the conversation I heard on Boulevard St. Michel two years ago. Two American women were talking about another family, when one said, "They live simply so they can travel more often."

That's become my credo. So when I splurged on but did not finish a small package of Boursin, and then noticed I had some redskin potatoes to use up, I tried something new. New for us, that is.

20 June 2014

What to Do with Eggshells: Feed Your Garden

Eggshells soaking in water.
Life has gotten in the way of blogging lately. I have new admiration for those who manage to post something daily, even weekly.

Life is not allowed to get in the way of eating, however. I just haven't had time to eat anything blogworthy.

What I have been eating: Eggs. I've been eating baked, over easy and sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast about four times a week.

And they have been delicious. For the most part, I buy them organic from a jovial and friendly farmer named Jeff and his wife, Jo. I can taste the difference.

I can't bear to waste eggshells, however, so I follow Grandma Annie's practice of soaking the eggshells in water that I can use to keep my indoor plants moist and give them a dose of calcium. After a few days, the water begins to smell a bit eggy, if you know what I mean. And you do.