When it comes to farmers’ market visits, I’m ashamed to say that I hibernate like a bear. I stay indoors, hunkered down in front of my laptop, ordering butternut squash and broccoli crowns from Fresh Direct and pretending I’m OK with it. I do love the farmers’ market, but for most of the winter, it’s just too cold and dreary to head outside for the predictable assortment of apples and root vegetables.
But this weekend, the skies parted, and we were gifted with one of those glorious near-spring days. The kind of day that puts a bounce in your step and jumpstarts you out of your bad habits. It’s such a treat to live near the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City. Not only do I love to walk around the many stalls, but the kids also have a blast checking out all the crazy produce. Purple carrots, candy cane-colored potatoes, and of course the massive containers of their favorite Honeycrisp apples.
I’ve seen these guys go by a number of different names. I saw them first as husk cherries at the farmers’ market last summer, so that’s how I now refer to them. But other names include groundcherries and Cape Gooseberries. They look and feel a little like tomatillos with a papery outer skin that reveals a slightly sticky berry. I love the flavor- if a cherry tomato, pineapple, and banana were to get busy, this is what you’d end up with.
ME: “Husk cherries anyone?”
What does it feel like?
LAUREN: “It looks like there’s a present inside.”
SAM: “Mine has a meatball.”
ME: “A meatball?”
ME “DON’T EAT IT! That one’s moldy. Let’s find you another one.”
What does it smell like?”
LAUREN: “I think it smells like bananas.”
SAM: “I’m going to roll it like a pizza.”
What does it taste like?
LAUREN: “I don’t like it.”
ME: “You haven’t told me why.”
LAUREN: “I don’t like the seeds. And it’s too sweet.”
SAM: “I don’t want to taste it. I think it’s a ball that can bounce on the ground.”
I love lamb. It’s not an everyday food for us, so maybe that’s why I like it so much – it always feels like a celebration. Especially lamb shanks. Although lamb does grace our presence every so often, it’s usually in the form of stew or sausage. The tiny little chops, while delicious, aren’t usually my thing. Too much work, too little time.
My kids like lamb too, although I’ve always been cautious around the subject of what they’re actually eating. “What’s this?” is usually answered with a look in the other direction and the short but factual “lamb-it’s-like-beef”.
God forbid they actually mull the concept over in their minds. I’m nervous that I’ll turn around one day and my daughter is going to shriek “AS IN MARY’S LITTLE LAMB?!!!”. But for some reason the connection hasn’t been made….that is, until some kid in her class, probably the same one who’s discovered the truth about Santa Claus, is going to blurt out that yes, it’s actually Mary’s little lamb that your mother has been feeding you all these years. Thank you in advance little one.
But back to that special occasion lamb. This weekend, I’m cooking for my brothers who are both in town for some well-needed time with their nieces and nephew. I want a crowd-pleaser, one that will make the house smell like heaven, and is low maintenance to prepare. I want to hang out when they’re here, not be trapped behind my stove. Searing the shanks and letting them roast for hours on end tends to be my favorite preparation. It’s flavorful, foolproof, and gives me tons of flex time in case anyone is running late. I can just turn the oven down low and let the lamb hang out until their presence is needed.
Instead of my usual polenta, I fell in love with some beautiful springy green leeks that I spotted at the grocery store. Next to stuffing on Thanksgiving, there is almost no better cooking smell than leeks and butter getting to know each other. Sautéing them low and slow made them extra creamy, which combined with soft white beans, made the ultimate bed for the lamb.
I love this big orange. Whoever decided to combine the easy peel-ability of the mandarin orange with the size and juiciness of a navel is clearly some kind of fruit goddess. It’s not the prettiest fruit, definitely not the kind you’d want to have on display in your kitchen in a big glass bowl. It’s like the shar-pei of the fruit world, so ugly that it’s actually kind of cute. Its deeply textured skin makes it look more like an old man’s nose than something you’d want to eat. But once you get past that gnarled exterior, heaven awaits.
ME: So this crazy thing is called a sumo mandarin. It’s a cross between a navel orange and a mandarin.
What does it look like?
SAM: “Round and round and round, like a volcano. On the top it looks like exploding fire.”
LAUREN: “It looks like a balloon upside down.”
What does it feel like?
LAUREN: “Thick. It’s thick when I scratch it.”
What does it smell like?
LAUREN: “It smells like a real orange.”
Who’s ready to try this real orange?
ME: “First I take off the volcano top. The cool thing about it is that it peels like a mandarin orange….”
I’m trying to get my kids more involved with dinner prep, primarily to peak their interest in food, but also to train them. I figure if I can get them to work a chopping board, I’ll free up some time to kick back on the couch, glass of wine in hand, and catch up on some much needed Downton Abbey. Seeing that my ambition is still a long way off, I figure an interest in food is still a solid goal, and no better place to start than a quick and easy pizza.
The last thing the blog world needs is a basic pizza recipe, but I actually struggled with this one – making a homemade pizza that my kids could help prepare and that I wouldn’t mind digging into either. A few months ago we tried make-your-own pizzas with pita bread but it was a huge disappointment. Somewhere in an exhausted corner of my brain I thought, “hey, they like pizza, I’m feeling lazy tonight, why not this?
After Lauren squinted and picked up a corner of the pita pizza with the edge of her fingernail, I knew the effort was doomed. I should have known better. Back in college, pita pizzas were the dirty step-child of the pizza world. We were always hard-pressed to find alternative lunch options in our dining hall, aptly called “the Ratty”. Someone would inevitably grab a little of this, a little of that, microwave and voila! “Pita pizza guys! Yum!” And it was never yum, or anything close to yum.
So despite my desire to lovingly mix together some combination of olive oil, water, flour and yeast and let it gently proof in a warm nook on my counter, it wasn’t happening. I’d spent the day sprinting from one appointment to the next, in heels, cursing why I hadn’t worn sensible shoes or, preferably, combat boots. No dough for our evening pizza-building activity? No problem, I grabbed the next available thing, which so happened to be a decent all-natural premade crust from the market. Sometimes I have to let go of my food-from-scratch obsessions just to get the gist across, even if it’s not all out pillowy perfection. And that’s often what a weeknight dinner is all about.