Thursday, July 23, 2009

July in the Southern Hemisphere

As proof that it´s actually freezing in Buenos Aires right now and that is lying to me when it tells me that it´s 42ºF outside, the natural peanut butter (courtesy of my suitcase, 2 jars down, 3 to go) stored in a drawer in my kitchen is congealed, refrigerator-style.

A couple of weekends ago I had promised the bassist of a Jazz quartet that I would go to its debut. I had also promised said bassist that I would make dinner that night because one of us had a rehearsal until 9, and the other had nothing more planned than a brief skype teleconference with her university cohorts to go over the final corrections in a group report. Fast forward to 10 o´clock, I´m still skyping (I still don´t know how I feel about "skype" as a verb but "teleconferencing" sounds far too corporate, and for that matter far too organized, for what was going on) because the supposed almost-final draft was nowhere near final, but at this point I had moved to the kitchen, headphones and all, to finish dinner, because no one knows better than me how horrible at is to arrive, cold, hungry, and in a rush to what you think will be food, to find your supposed cook a stressed-out mess, and no dinner. So I finished the ratatouille, stirred (and made a mess all over the stove with) polenta, and made a fennel and orange salad, all while editing a health-analysis report with three other people over Skype. In Spanish.

Our friendly bassist arrived, ate, and tried to wait for the interminable unexpected editing to end but finally had to leave so he wouldn´t be late to his own gig. We didn´t finish editing until almost 12, which means that someone didn´t eat dinner until almost 12 and therefore was cranky, and I put too much rosemary in the ratatouille, because I love rosemary and when I´m cooking sometimes I forget how much it can overwhelm things, so I was annoyed about that, and the polenta was cold, which is gross when you haven´t spread it out in sheet form. The fennel salad, on the other hand, was great, which was rather remarkable given how simple it was. It´s a good thing, too, because after eating it, I spent one freezing cold hour waiting for the bus to take me to the show, because I arrived on the opposite side of the street just to watch my bus pull out and the lovely bus driver wag his finger at me, to arrive at the show just in time to hear the final song. It took 2 hours for my legs to warm up. It´s a good thing that at least among the jazz musicians I know, salsa and Fernet are considered entirely acceptable after-activities.

Fennel, or anise more generally speaking, is one of those flavors that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. I actually find that rather strange given the frequency with which it shows up as the preferred national drink (pastis, aguardiente, sambuca, raki etc.) When I was travelling with my friend Caroline in Europe the summer after college, we spent a lot of time eating together and in turn influencing each others´ likes and dislikes. When we started out, I thought marzipan was a weird tasting crumbly waste of sugar, and she (more tactfully) avoided anything containing anise, but after a (budgeted) tour of chocolate and confectioner´s shops I fell completely in love with calisson, and after much pastis, with socca, with mussels, and by itself on the beach in Marseille for 3 euros, Caroline was more or less good to go with anise, at least in beverage form.

I love it in any form, though I admit that I´ve had my share of blunders in learning how to cook with it. This salad is really simple although its deliciousness (and I think that of most fennel salads) depends on the fennel being sliced very thinly and the olive oil being very flavorful on its own.

And my stomach is now starting to hurt from eating too much peanut butter out of the jar with my finger (the one I´m not typing with) so I guess I should put it back in the fridge, that is to say, my kitchen.

Fennel and Orange Salad

1 small of 1/2 large bulb fennel (with the fronds)
1 navel orange
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Cut off the top of the fennel with the fronds and reserve it. Slice off the very bottom of the bulb and any other damaged part, and then slice the fennel very, very thinly. Using a knife, remove the peel and the pith (the white part) of the orange so that you have a still whole but completely peeled orange, and then manuever the knife inside each section so that you cut out the meat part of the orange while avoiding the transparent skin (the skin and the pith are bitter.)
Toss the orange and fennel together, dress with the olive oil, vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Chop up 1-2 tbsp. of the fennel fronds and mix those in as well, then taste for salt.

Esta ensalada es muy facil de hacer pero su exito (y el exito de las ensaladas de hinojo en general pienso) depende de la delgadez con que se corta el hinojo y a que uses un buen aceite de oliva.

Ensalada de Hinojo y Naranja

1 hinojo pequeño, o medio de un bulbo grande (con las hojas)
1 naranja de ombligo
1 cucharada de vinagre de vino tinto
1 cucharada de aceite de oliva extra virgen

Quita la parte arriba con las hojas del hinojo y guardala. Haz un corte muy fino de la parte de abajo del hinojo y botalo junto con cualquier otra parte dañada, el resto cortalo en trozos lo mas finos posible. Con un cuchillo, quita la cascara y la corteza blanca de la naranja, dejandola entera pero completemente pelada, y saca la carne de cada seccion evitando la piel transparente (la piel y la corteza blanca son amargas.)
En un recipiente coloca el hinojo y la naranja, echa el aceite, el vinagre, y una pizca de sal. Corta una o dos cucharadas de las hojas del hinojo y echalas tambien, mezclando todo, prueba para saber si hace falta sal.

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