Favorite Things: Fall 2009

Ah, favorite things. As a compulsive list-maker, I thought I’d share with you the things I really love this fall.

– Fried Garlic: I first discovered this ingredient while shopping at Golden Pacific for the ingredients for tod mun plaa. While not an ingredient in that particular dish, I was intrigued by the little plastic jar with the bright red lid, priced at ninety-nine cents, so I added it to my basket. A product of Thailand, my jar was produced by a company named Prateepthong Best Food Co. The label is multi-lingual, in English, French, Thai and what I think is a Cyrillic language. And who knew garlic fried in a little palm oil had so many uses! It has all the tang of fresh garlic and the subtlety of roasted garlic – making it the perfect ingredient to add to pasta sauces, stir fries, mashed potatoes, pizza, etc. Anywhere you’d use garlic, but want a little extra depth of flavor – fried garlic is the perfect ingredient.

– Dim Sum: Ah, tasty treats. I like small-dish meals – tapas, antipasti, and dim sum. The varieties of dim sum are nearly endless – steamed meat and vegetable filled buns, fried buns, egg rolls, spring rolls, tempura, bite-sized nuggets of fried fish or shrimp. Xiao long bao, jaozi, dahn guen and char siu bao (see my previous post Apartment Farm Goes East for definitions of these dishes) are some of my favorites. I also like the Americanized mini vegetable egg rolls and fried wontons (our local takeout place serves chicken/shrimp stuffed fried wontons with a sweet and sour dipping sauce) as well as other dim sum friendly accompaniments like cucumber salad, yakitori and chicken satay with peanut sauce.

– Mead: I’ve long been fascinated by mead – honey wine – but only tried it for the first time very recently. I thought it would be excessively sweet with the consistency of bottled cough syrup, but I was wrong in every way. While it tastes distinctly of honey, it’s not sugar rush sweet. And it’s got the consistency of a subtle dessert wine – you can really feel it on your tongue, but it’s not as thin as table wine is. It would pair nicely with an apple tart and vanilla ice cream or a simple baklava for dessert, but I think it can also stand up to the palate-opening task of being an aperitif drink. It’s slightly heady, but refreshing and leaves you expecting more, which is what every good aperitif strives to accomplish. We’re fortunate enough to have a local producer that makes mead from honey bees that live right here in the city – Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery – and I’d encourage you to seek out a local producer as well. Local honey is going to produce the mead that tastes the best in your area. And mead doesn’t have to break the bank – we paid under $15 for the bottle we bought.

– DIY Pantry Items: Nothing better than having high-quality home-produced stuff to work with. Staples in my pantry that I like to put up myself include canned quartered tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes marinated in chardonnay, dried mushrooms, flavored olive oils, flavored vinegars and roasted red peppers.

– Mini Candles: Tiny orbs of light illuminating an autumn evening say fall like few things can. A row along the windowsill, tucked into the planters on a patio, stuck into the sand around a picnic blanket, or lined up in the center of the dining table give just enough light to enhance the fading daylight that lasts until almost nine. Miniature candles are unobtrusive and romantic. This season, I favor candles molded into gem-like cordial glasses and egg cups – tiny, portable, each one unique and easy to make. See the post Mini Fire: Make Your Own! (coming soon!) for easy instructions on how to craft them yourself.

– Artemisia: This is one of my favorite wildflowers. With small compact blossoms in several shades of red, pink and white, Artemisia is the ultimate floral bargain buy. It’s aroma is sweet like a meadow, and a giant bunch can be had for $5.00. And the best part about Artemisia is how long it’s lasts – six days between the market and it looks as fresh as ever on the table. Available for nearly the entire season, it’s one of the earliest and latest flowers to bloom.

– Family History/Genealogy: Knowing where you come from is almost as important as knowing where you’re going. In fact, knowing your roots can very often inform you future. And it’s fun to dig around in the dirt of personal history. We hail mostly from Wales (with a little French bred in) on my mother’s side – the first to immigrate to the United States were three brothers from Wales in the late 1700’s. Eventually, the family settled into the southern Indiana/Kentucky region and were mostly subsistence farmers and sawyers. My father’s family was also Welsh/French, with some Cherokee thrown in, and eventually settled in the same region, which is how my parents came to be in the same time and the same place, more or less. My husband’s family hails from Norway – nearly full-blood Norwegians, from Trondjeim. My husband is only a third-generation Norwegian American – his great grandfather sailed here in [1913?] aboard the [ship’s name] with his wife and children. It’s fascinating to think about all of the events between those first moments and the ones we experience today – and how that will influence all of the moments of our families’ futures.