NEW YEAR'S EVE
(new year's eve, 2014/15. number 56.)
The dove whispers, and diminishes
Up the blue leagues. And no doubt we heard wrong–
Wax of our lives collects & dulls; but was
What we heard hurried as we memorized,
Or brightened, or adjusted? Undisguised
We pray our tongues & fingers
Records the strange word that blows suddenly and lingers.
- John Berryman,
excerpt from: New Year's Eve
This was the SIXTH TIME we've served a meal using these same ingredients at New Year's Eve.
My original inclination was to sort of go back a few steps; have the focus of the meal be the plate of gnocchi. Lucas and I had two drives down to Eugene for holidays where we talked about it at length. But no conclusions were really set in stone, and when the week of the dinner approached I decided we'd fly with whatever felt right. That turned out to be all over the place, and exciting. We hadn't done experimental/ fusion/whatever in a long time. We hadn't even had a regular sit down dinner at my house since May!
We had two guests, Ariela and Dave, who randomly stopped by the chestnut stand earlier in the month, found my contact info, got in touch, and ended up joining us for New Year's! These kind of happenings send us o'er the moon.
Yes, the above is a photo of me tying Lucas's bow tie in the mirror. Don't worry, we'll save it for engagement announcement you readers and Portland grocery clerks have been waiting for.
Potato garlic cheese puffs
In our early plans for this year's NYE dinner, I'd completely forgotten the roasted garlic and melty Cambozola cheese appetizer! The day before Christmas Eve, I ate at Beppe & Gianni's Trattoria in Eugene with my family, the place where Lucas and I were exposed to this appetizer as children, and arguably the first restaurant where I tasted world class cooking. We had the dish, and I knew it had to make it into our menu again.
Sofie got me an aebleskiver pan in advance of the holiday season. She'd seen it, all rusty and stuff, at Goodwill, and nursed it back to health. Later, we figured it out it is probably a takuyaki pan (for making Japanese octopus balls). Either way, a few days before this dinner, we were making aebleskivers and the idea occurred to use the pan to fill our "remixed gnocchi" requirement. We'd done the giant gnocchi steam bun before, so: why not? We could stuff them with roasted garlic and cambozola!
Thankfully, on the day of the dinner, we had the helping hands of Russell Melia, who is of real Norwegian descent, and knows his way around an aebleskiver pan. We made potato pancake batter. At the 3/4 turn point, we stuffed each ball with a large clove of roasted garlic and a dab of cambozola. They hung out in the oven on a low tempt for a while before service, so the cheese was melty, and each puff toasty warm.
We had some leftover roasted garlic and cambozola, so Sofie whipped up a sauce with them (thinning it a little with heavy cream. Hey, it was a celebration!).
Salad of the future
Tarragon white wine vinegar & meyer lemon vinaigrette on curly endive, frissée (S.G.) - yep! I have some stuff still going in the garden! – radicchio, spiraled kohlrabi, pomegranate seeds, tenderized meyer lemon peel, and chopped roasted chestnuts. Was really excited by and proud of this one.
In all my excitement over the recently released Bar Tartine cookbook, I was soon drawn back to the food recipes in the first Tartine Bread book. As much as I love studying cookbooks, there are very few I have actually cooked my way through. Tartine Bread, however, I've made about 75% of, and the experience was really influential on my cooking.
There is this Garbanzo Breakfast Soup in there, inspired by a Tunisian worker's bowl (called Leblebi), which I'd never made but always really wanted to. We had to fit garbanzo beans, fish, capers, loads of herbs, and so on into the meal…and here was a recipe we could approximate with a few substitutions. Lucas understandably had issue with serving garbanzo beans in a bowl as a New Year's Eve dinner. We both grew up in Eugene, and perhaps associate this too much with the takeout bar at famed small Natural Grocer Sundance, or the 'burritos & indian food' placed called Holy Cow, or something.
The compromise was that we'd deconstruct leblebi, altering things (for instance tuna out/salmon in, or harissa out / tamarind grape-must sauce in) to suit ourselves, and plate it up differently.
We made garbanzo confit with olive oil and a cheesecloth tied with loads of delicious vegetables. Using those unctuous garbanzos, there was a green, herby purée and whole beans dressed with chermura (a Tunisian salsa verde, from the original recipe). Lucas sous vi-ed the salmon. We tore warm hunks of vivarais (current favorite offering from Philippe's Bread) and served it with fancy Italian sweet butter (the packaging even had metal rivets. Rivets!) .
The dish, as originally designed, has leftover bread soaking up chicken broth. We used the cooking liquid from the garbanzos (with some of the oil strained out) to make an extremely flavorful and rich clear broth, which was served in little demi tasse cups as a sidecar to the plate.
In Tartine Bread, there is also a recipe for an affogato made with coconut ice cream, called "Trouble Affogato" after Trouble Coffee. I have a special connection Trouble Coffee, due to the winter I spent living in San Francisco, in the Outer Sunset, before it was "cool." After missing the MUNI, I got a coffee at Trouble on their first day of service! They had a card table and a chalkboard manifesto and some coconuts and a coffee maker and a toaster. Seriously. It was amazing.
Anyway; we decided to make it our own. We scraped the fresh coconut, because the one we bought tasted off when we opened it up.
I made the ice cream using a cream base, like the Tartine recipe, but using coconut sugar instead of regular sugar, and infusing the whole deal with toasted coconut pieces. We'd learned from our friend Holly at 50 Licks about using agave syrup as a stabilizer; I didn't have any, so used Lyle's Golden Syrup, an english thing I keep around because I'm English and silly. Not sure if it works with the same chemistry as agave, but the ice cream certainly turned out luscious and I believe its flavor helped carry the strong toasty quality through. Lucas's fancy ice cream maker yielded a luxuriously smooth consistency. Everyone got pretty slim scoops, but it was wicked rich!
The toasted coconut pieces, instead of being discarded, were thrown into the (improvised) biscotti which was served with it (still warm).
Sofie made this amazing coconut milk caramel and some candied kumquats to serve on top!
We made espresso using three mokka pots and an aeropress, poured some in each cups. This coffee, Brazil Joao de Campos by Water Avenue (selected by Aaron Baker after being cued into what we were serving) was so freshly roasted that when we first went to pick it up, it wasn't even done yet. We went to do another part of the shopping rounds, came back, and a bag (still a little warm) was waiting for us. This was a new coffee on offer, so there's a chance our guests were the first people in Portland to taste it.
Clear Creek Mirabelle Plum Brandy
From the Clear Creek website: Our favorite Alsatian eau de vie is the Mirabelle. We looked for 20 years and finally found the fruit at King Estate near Eugene, Oregon. They are small, beautiful little yellow plums that make a very delicate and aromatic eau de vie.
“The power of the Clear Creek eau de vie of Mirabelle comes …from its ripe, heady fragrance, its penetrating plum flavor and its lingering freshness.” — Florence Fabricant, New York Times, August 25, 2004
K-Mel Bro Brandy
Russell's brother, Kevin Melia, was once a middle and high schooler who was known by the friends my age by the basketball gear he wore, the G-Unit he listened to, and the shrugging "I dunno"s he responded with whenever spoken to. He was known to his friends as "K-Mel"
Well, he grew up to be a cozy, kind, hard working FARMER! Kevin and his girlfriend are currently farm-sitting out Loraine Highway down by Eugene, and are going to start their own farm next season on a land trust shared with other farmers.
This year they made this apple brandy and gifted it to Russell for Christmas. Russell was also gifted the Clear Creek stuff, and as the stroke of midnight fast approached, he felt moved to share it with everyone around the table. A truly memorable conclusion to the season of feasting, memories, sentimentality, confusion, disappointment, joy, and new beginnings.