Sesame + peanut butter

Growing up, this dish was known at home as "Chinese Chicken Salad" (sometimes it was a lot more salady than this). And though it was not a frequent guest at our dinner table, it was a loved one, possibly made even more special due to its sporadic visits. Honestly, though, there is nothing not to love, and I don't doubt that even if I were forced to eat these chewy, creamy, oh-so-satisfying noodles every day of my life that I would not love them any less.

The name - Chinese Chicken Salad - ceased to be an accurate description for this heap of noodles and peanut sauce when I began to make it in my own kitchen - sans chicken. Instead it became "you know, those peanuty noodles, the ones that taste like takeout but better." So much better. Everyone always said yes! oh yes! upon its mention as a dinner prospect.


Flowing with milk and honey

Israel, I was always taught, was known as the land flowing with milk and honey. Nothing against Israel, but for me, the land where milk and honey run freely was Argentina. 

It was there, at Cynthia's, amidst daily jugs of Margarita's milk and cans of home-harvested honey, that I was first introduced to honey vanilla ice cream. I have remembered this ice cream often, but it is only now that I look back and realize how central ice cream was to experience in Argentina.
You see, ice cream is a thing down there. It was what I had for lunch on my first day, and what I looked forward to every weekend during my excursions into El Bolson. I've mentioned the weekend routine before, but left out the ritual of Jauja, pretty much a gem of an heladeria in Argentina. Jack Johnson songs were always playing inside, while outside messy lines decorated Jauja's patio where fifty flavors crowded the menu board. After my first visit and several samplings I began to plan my choices days in advance.


Soup made for summer

I'm not sure what it was that tempted me so. I had never made or even tasted corn soup before. But there was something about it and I knew that I really wanted to do both.

And so, in between sending off a monster load of applications, make corn soup is exactly what I did. Perspiring over the pot, as the air outside raged at a muggy 90-something, I questioned why any sane person would dare attempt this in the summertime, but as the local potatoes began to blend with the local tomatoes and the corn brightened to a fragrant and brilliant yellow, it became clear that summer is the only time to make this.
Often potatoes flounder in soup; tomatoes are dull. Even corn, frozen in the dead of winter, loses its crunch. But this August, it seems soup - kernely corn soup - is precisely what these veggies were harvested for.


The lure of lore

When we made jam with Cynthia at the farm she sterilized her jars by slowly heating them in the oven at 100º C. Her oven didn't have any gauge of temperature. Sé mi horno, chicas, she told us, grinning, an invitation to share her secrets. Just as Cynthia knew her oven, and when it was going to rain, she knew how to make jam, bread, ice cream, beer, and champagne. All without a recipe. Without anything but her plastic kitchen scale and her contented smile. She just knew.

Cynthia started with recipes. Every so often she'd pull out her penned catalogs - pages of loose leaf with happy notes from former apprenticeships and classes. She brought them out to share with us. She no longer needs them; her work in the kitchen has become her friendly routine.

With Cynthia as our guide the volunteers and I voraciously jotted down partially translated scripts from our days spent learning in her kitchen. I flip through mine and find the menu for Christmas dinner, stick figure-like sketches reminding me how to shape bread into braids and pretzels, recipes for butter and empanadas, but the dulce recipe, the one for jam, is missing.

Finding dozens of recipes for apricot jam - each a variation of the one that came before - I turned to another guide, Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking-the Science and Lore of the Kitchen. I recall Cynthia as I read his explanation. With every recipe she served a story, an elaboration, an explanation. McGee knows the true science of the kitchen, but Cynthia, with her magic kneading hands and dulce de leche marbles, knows the lore.

Apricot Jam 

about 5 cups of apricots, halved and pitted
about 1/4 cup of water
3 3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

A little bit about jam making (learned from Mr. McGee):
  • Jam making is a process that involves  cooking fruit to extract its pectin. The combination of heat and acid will eventually break down the fruit. 
  • Once the fruit has broken down, sugar is added and the mixture should be rapidly brought to a boil to remove the water and cause the other ingredients to concentrate, forming the jam. Boiling is continued until the temperature of the mix reaches 217-221º F or 103-105º C. 
  • McGee explains that a fresher flavor is produced when this cooking is done at a gentle simmer in a wide pot with a large surface area to allow for greater and quicker evaporation. 
  • At last, an acid is added, and the readiness of the mix is tested by placing a drop on a cold spoon to see if it gels.
So. Stick a spoon or dish in the freezer.

Place the apricots and water in a large, wide pot. Cook at a medium heat, stirring frequently, until the fruit has mostly broken down. Then add the sugar and raise the heat to bring the mixture to a boil quickly, still stirring frequently. Once boiling for several minutes, reduce the heat until the mixture is at a gentle simmer. When the mixture has condensed and most of the liquid appears gone (if you have a thermometer, the temperature of the mix will be 217-221º F or 103-105º C) add the lemon juice and mix to incorporate. Test the readiness of the jam by placing a drop on the chilled spoon or dish. If when you push the mixture gently with your finger it wrinkles instead of sliding back to its original position, the jam is ready.

Can or store accordingly.


A Canadian dressing

Though I lived in Montreal for four plus years, very few particularities of Canadian cuisine managed to seep into my repertoire. That's why I keep my Toronto-born friend Aviva around - to give me a little taste of what I've been missing.

The day after I returned from my trip this summer I met a visiting Aviva in Brooklyn and hauled her back here for a home-cooked feast. We celebrated my return home and her stateside visit by stocking the fridge and soiling the counter with a mess intended to be tortellini. While I hunched over oozing and tearing pockets of dough my dear friend located a little bottle of one of Canada's finest offerings - pure maple syrup - and converted our salad into one delicious bowl of expat.

Aviva's Maple Dijon Vinaigrette 
Drizzle over greens or any basic salad. The dressing is sweet, not mapley. Cover and refrigerate surplus.

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

In a small glass or mug combine mustard, syrup, olive oil, and vinegar. With a small whisk or fork whisk or stir quickly until the ingredients have blended into a thicker, cohesive mixture. Taste, and if desired, add salt or pepper.