America is named after a Pickle-Dealer

Overnight-Pickles-with-Fennel

I had a little get together with some friends last week to carve pumpkins. My friend Meredith Urban, designer and owner of De La Mer 1981 clothing, brought to the party her grandmother’s sweet pickles. They’re honeyed and buttery with a tang, sliced thin and so so delicious (Grandma Rita we need that recipe!). My husband is a pickle fanatic. I had to hide them in the back of the fridge so he wouldn’t eat the jar in one sitting (gavone!).

Grandma’s Rita’s pickles reminded me of a recipe for overnight pickles I used to make. Unlike Rita’s pickles that will last years in the pantry, overnight pickles are made for eating the very next day. With all of us being so busy, overnight pickles is a nice alternative to canning.

Meredith-and-Grandma-Rita

Meredith and Grandma Rita

According to the googleverse, pickles are native to India, dating back thousands of years. Pickling was a necessity for survival, preserving foods for migrants and households to use over the winter months. The word “pickle” comes from the Dutch word pekel or German pókel, meaning “salt” or “brine. Appropriate.

Before the advent of steamships, pickles were used on long journeys as non-perishable food that helped to prevent scurvy. All of the early explorers of the Americas were pickle freaks basically, and according to The History Channel: “Before he was an explorer, Amerigo Vespucci worked as a ship’s chandler in Seville, Spain—meaning he supplied ships with goods like preserved meat and vegetables. Known as the “Pickle-Dealer,” Amerigo Vespucci even helped stock Columbus’ ships on his later, less successful voyages across the Atlantic.” So in a way, our country is named after a pickle salesman? I’m okay with that.

My husband’s friend Todd Galloway gave us this recipe that I would like to share with you. The pickles are delicious and easy to make. On first bite there’s a sense of sweetness, immediately followed by the bite of vinegar, finishing with blasts of  annise-y goodness. Also, the pickled fennel chunks are just as good as the cucumbers, so don’t cut the chunks too small!

What I enjoy most besides eating the food I cook, is experimenting with it. Try the above recipe with garlic and/or dill. You can use this recipe and modify to pickle other vegetables too. Try cauliflower and carrots or onions and  beets! Autumn is the season for pickling!

Ingredients:

4 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon fennel seeds
2-3 teaspoon celery seeds
4 kirby cucumbers
1 bulb fennel coarsely chopped
Water

Directions:

  1. In a large mason jar (8 cups), combine cider vinegar, water, sugar, salt, fennel seeds and celery seeds. Stir in kirby cucumbers and chopped fennel.
  1. Cover and chill overnight. For maximum flavor, keep them in the fridge for 36 hours

 

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Grams of the Week – Oct 23rd

Here’s a recap of the best instagrams of last week. If you want the day to day follow me here!

Pumpkin-Carving

I had some friends over to get creative and carve  pumpkins this week!

finger sandwichces

The Beach 91st Street Community Garden had a fall harvest party. I made these Italian style finger sandwiches. Everyone brought yummy treats and wine. It was also a beautiful 75 degrees out. Fun day!

Fort-Tilden

I went on a tour of Fort Tilden with The American Littoral Society. Our guide, Mickey Maxwell Cohen was knowledgeable and fun to explore with. I’m hooked. There’s another event in a few months in which Mickey will take us on a walking tour of Breezy Point.  More information on the Littoral Society here. And on their FB page here.

rockaway-raw-bar

EGGGS!!! I had brunch after the Fort Tilden tour on Sunday at The Rockaway Raw Bar, now located at the Rockaway Beach Brewery. The vibe is always fun there and now we can have a wonderful brunch too. Pictured is the egg sandwich on a buttery biscuit with fresh greens. It was so tasty!

 

 

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Giacomo’s Escarole Soup

Escarole-and-Bean-Soup.

Previously published in The Wave.

I was selling some stuff on eBay last week, and in a little slip of the tongue, I asked my husband if the money was “in escarole”, which sent him into a hysterical laughing fit. “I think that might be the Sicilian-est malaprop possible.” he said. In any case, it gave me the idea to share with you an old family recipe for Zuppa di Scarola e Fagioli, or escarole and bean soup.

“Uhh, but what’s escarole?” you ask? It’s a leafy green that sort of looks like romaine lettuce, and is part of the chicory family which includes endives, dandelions, and radicchio among others. It has a light bitter taste. It’s most commonly served sauteed or in soup but it can be eaten raw. Like many Sicilian foods, escarole was foraged for in the homeland. It was a peasant food – used because it was free.

Today we go to the supermarket to find what we need, but not all groceries carry escarole.  When available, it’s often camouflaged among the greens. One thing to look for is that the leaf has a gradation from white to green, curly and dark green at the end, and on the whole, it’s shorter and wider than bundles of lettuce. As my Grandfather taught me, just taste it. If it’s more bitter than what you normally have in a salad, you found it. If you see the white band label, check to confirm, although sometimes there may not be one. To make matters worse, the signs in front of the produce are often in the wrong position because (unless you’re shopping in Howard Beach, Dyker Heights or Staten Island), know one knows what the hell escarole is! It’s in season, so you’ll have the best luck finding it locally now.

Escarole

With many of my family recipes, there’s a story that goes along with it. This one is a real whopper. I heard it from my mother as she remembers it from her father. My grandfather’s uncle, Giacomo Sanfilippo, lived with his wife Joe (I’m guess Josephine?) and their daughter Vinny, as they called her, in their modest but very well kept apartment in Bushwick. It was around this time of year, and Giacomo hadn’t been feeling well. His wife decided to make him escarole soup, the Sicilian equivalent of chicken soup. But Giacomo was giving his wife grief. He wasn’t hungry. She, being an overbearing but loving Italian woman, forced her husband to eat the beautiful soup she and her daughter had so lovingly made. He took a few sips, and then fell head-first into the bowl! Uncle Giacomo was dead at the dining room table, submerged in the bowl of escarole soup he hadn’t even wanted. For almost a whole generation afterwards, it was taboo to eat escarole soup because it killed Uncle Giacomo. (Or congestive heart failure. But why take the chance.)

Time heals all wounds, as the corny memes tell us, and these days, the DiGioia family looks forward to the fall season so we can start cooking the big pot of steaming escarole and bean soup. Now we joke about the story. If there’s a family member or friend we’re pissed off at, we’ll say  “Oh wouldn’t it be nice to bring them over some warm escarole soup!” Mangia!

Giacomo’s Escarole Soup

Ingredients:
Serves 6-8

A healthy poor of extra-virgin olive oil (5 tablespoons)
5 large garlic cloves, sliced lengthwise
1 pound escarole, roughly chopped (2 bundles)
32 oz container of low-sodium chicken broth (use vegetable stock for vegetarian)
2 cups water
1 (13-ounce) can kidney beans, don’t drain (cannellini beans are more commonly used but we use kidney beans)
1 hunk of pecorino romano cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Directions: Heat the olive oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté – about 60 seconds. And the beans with the liquid. Don’t discard the can. Add the chicken broth and then the escarole. Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to add the escarole in twice, waiting for the first batch to wilt down. Use the bean can to add the cups of water. Cut off the hard/larger end of the cheese – put that piece in the soup (about 4oz.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 1-2 hours on low. Top with romano cheese and serve.

Traditionally small meatballs are added to this soup but over time my family has omitted them. It’s so fast and easy to make escarole soup without them and it still tastes delicious. This soup is often called Italian wedding soup when meatballs are included.

Got’em!

An-angry-LJ-after-sugery-in-his-holding-room

Living in Rockaway means sharing our space with our feline friends. I didn’t make a conscious decision to get involved with cat rescue and fostering, It happened out of necessity. It all started with a tuxedo cat named Obama. Rumor on the block has it  that people moved out across the street about 4 years ago and left him behind. He made himself at home when our house was under renovation. We were residing, so there were plenty of openings for him to get inside.

He’s a good cat and excellent mouser, but at the time had a deep and abiding love of spraying (urine marking) everywhere. I learned at the Trap Neuter Release (TNR) classes held at the Queens Library at Arverne that male cats will spray less frequently if they are neutered. So it was his time to be “TNR-d”.

ASPCA-mobile-clinic

This first trapping mission was crazy stressful. After catching a few very angry community cats that had already been fixed, and a raccoon (scary as hell!), I finally got the cunning Obama!  Trapping needs to be done before midnight, the night before your appointment. This is so the cat(s) don’t eat 8 hours before surgery. You trap in the dark, then hold the cat(s) overnight. They need to be at the  ASPCA by 7am the next day. It helps to have another person on trapping missions! Eventually, we trapped him and transported him to the veterinary clinic run by the ASPCA. (In addition to being neutered or spayed, cats may also receive vaccinations, flea/tick treatment and get a general health check.)

Over time, the hardest part for me about TNR  became the  “R” part – releasing. That’s how I ending up adopting Lil’ Lefty. It was winter and he was only a few months old. Vulnerable and adorable, I couldn’t return him to the cold streets.

I bring all this up because I just lent a hand in another successful mission. Last winter,  here and there I would spot a young tom. He was quite elusive. Come spring he reappeared stronger and less recluse, he was a survivor.  We named him Lefty Junior, or LJ for short, because he looks a lot like our Lefty, also an orange tabby.  

This summer my neighbor Eric and I started plotting. LJ lets Eric pet him, so he offered to trap and bring him the the ASPCA but he didn’t have a holding room for after-surgery recovery, during which you keep an eye on the trapped cat, making sure he’s eating and using the bathroom normally. So I told him “If you can git ‘im, I’ll hold im!”

This past week the ASPCA spay/neuter truck was in Arverne. I got the call! Eric had successful trapped LJ. The wheels were in motion. The next day I was expecting LJ around 5pm. I had the room in the basement all ready for him. When my neighbor dropped him off this cat  was pretty pissed! Overnight, he calmed and slept mostly. The next morning I came in to check on him. He started growling! It felt like a long to 48 hours for me and to him as well, I would imagine. He was eating, using the bathroom, didn’t show swelling or abnormal walking – LJ was ready to be freed!

He darted out, then stopped and looked back for a split second. Maybe a thank you?

LJ's-release!

Okay, now bring me my soapbox!: The goal of TNR is to reduce the feral cat population, feeding cats that are not fixed is doing the opposite. Each cat that is neutered/spayed by the ASPCA, and has their left ear cut, it’s called an ear tip. This is how you can tell if the cat you want to care for has been fixed already and received a rabies vaccine. Once you know your cat(s) have been neutered/spayed you can feed and start sheltering them worry-free. I can’t’ stress enough the importance of first making sure the cats you are feeding are  neutered or spayed.

If you’re interested in helping the ferals and stray cats in our neighborhood the first step is to take a TNR (Trap Neuter Release) class. I took mine with Animal Alliance NYC (animalalliance nyc.org). After taking the class you receive certification and benefits from the ASPCA — discounted fees for neuter/spay; you can apply for free cat food; you can sign up for free transport on trapping days; and you can meet a network of cat lovers to help as you begin trapping and caring for ferals.

 

tagged in cats, cats of rockaway, tnr