Inconvenient Citrus

I signed up for a weekly veg and fruit box from this local CSA called Freshness Farms.  Let me be clear, the produce is beautiful and delicious – I have no complaints.

Isn't it lovely?

Isn’t it lovely?

The thing is, well…I’m overwhelmed by the citrus.  Where I grew up on the east coast in the mountains, I could only dream of so much citrus.  In California, I can go to the back yard and pick a lemon off a tree – any time I want, any day of the year.  This blows my mind.

The fruit box comes heaving with citrus fruit – bags and bags!  Not just safe fruit, like oranges, but tiny things I had to Google – kumquats.  You eat them whole, apparently.  The peel and everything!

Citrus is taking over the fridge.  I can’t eat it fast enough.

“Look,” I tell my family, “I’m instituting a Citrus Quota.  Two pieces, everyone, every day.”

I expand my culinary horizons, throwing citrus into every meal – orange salad, a lemon in every cuppa tea, blood orange sangria, kumquats in stir fry.  Sal whips up a dish with black rice and candied orange peels.  We’re trying.

Blood orange sangria

Blood orange sangria

At last count we have:

– 4 oranges

– 20 mini oranges (maybe clementines?)

– 2 grapefruits

– 57 kumquats

– 2 lemons

– 1 mystery Monster Citrus

The citrus is winning!

I pull the Monster Citrus out of the bag.  Sal says it’s a lemon.  I scoff – no lemon could aspire to be so large!  I declare it a grapefruit, and tackle it for breakfast one morning.

I cut the thing open and take a bite.

“Oh my God.”

“What?” Sal calls from the dining room.

“It’s a lemon!”

“Do I get any ‘I’m right’ points for that?”

It takes a gallon sized plastic bag to store it.  I stand a moment at the fridge, staring at it with awe mingled with trepidation.

Monster Lemon must be cut with a bread knife

Monster Lemon must be cut with a bread knife

Dear Lord, California.  What citrus mysteries to behold!

Monster Lemon showed some antisocial tendencies. He was quarantined in the fridge after this incident.

Monster Lemon exhibited some antisocial tendencies. He was quarantined in the fridge after this incident.

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How do I love thee, Purple Sprouting Broccoli?

Let me count the ways.

1. Your fragile beauty inspires haiku 

broccoli sprouts

shy purple trees –

spring breathes.

broc4

2. You look great in stir fry

broc5

What’s in it:  leeks, peas, Jerusalem artichokes, spicy red pepper, chard, bit of carrot, and purple sprouting broccoli. Soup with pumpkin, ginger & rice noodles (gluten free, bought on a whim from Persepolis in Peckham).

What to do:  stir fry the veg with fresh minced ginger + garlic in sesame oil, touch of chilli oil, add soy sauce, some veg broth, noodles.  Simmer until done.

3.  You jazz up my pasta

broc2What’s in it:  mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, and purple sprouting broccoli.  Cooked in a white sauce with risoni (again, bought on a whim from Persepolis).

What to do:  Cook the risoni in veg broth to strengthen the flavor.  Thin the white sauce with the pasta water if you like.

4. Beef bourguignon loves you too

broc1What’s in it:  beef (like braised steak) in wine sauce with mushrooms and shallots, bundle of herbs (like marjoram and rosemary), whole garlic cloves.  Purple sprouting broccoli cooked separately with slivered almonds and added as an afterthought.

What to do:  Cook the beef bourguignon tenderly and slowly.  Serve with broccoli to add a touch of color.

The Pheasant Experiment

“I’d like a little bird,” I tell the man at the Camberwell Green Market.  “There’s just two of us eating it.”  He’s standing behind a table littered with quails and pheasants and ?pigeons, and sausages made of alternative animals, such as venison.

“I’ve never cooked any bird beyond chickens & turkeys,” I confess.  “And I’m not great at turkey.”

“Pheasant!”  He seems sure about this.  “Rub it down with loads of butter and cover the breast ridge with bacon or a strip of kitchen foil.  Then just pop it in the oven at 190 for an hour and a quarter.”  He chirps on for a few minutes with the enthusiasm of a lonely market man on a slow, rainy Saturday morning.

I balance my umbrella to pay for the bird.  Market Man repeats the instructions a few more times, ignoring another customer clearly trying to get his attention.

“Tell me how you get on!” he calls after me.

For the next several days I build up anticipation for the experiment.  “What are you doing for Christmas?” a work colleague asks at the office Christmas party.

“Oh, I’m roasting a pheasant,” I say with the casual offhandedness of one who’s roasted many a game fowl.  Swirling Merlot in my wine glass, I add, “With chutney, you know.”

Christmas mid-day, I can barely contain my excitement as I unwrap the fowl.  I glance over Market Man’s instructions and hum a little Christmas tune.

Something isn’t right.

There are tiny, black, prickly things jutting out from the bird.  Why didn’t I notice this at the market?  Is the bird defective?  I call in Sal for a second opinion.

Feather covered leg - looks like hoof

Feather covered leg – looks like hoof

We lift a tiny leg – it’s covered in them.  “Feathers!”  I gasp.  Sal leaves me to pluck the black hairy bits, muttering as I do.

“This is a little too natural, maybe.”

Glob of butter in hand, I reach in the small hollow of the bird – something red and gleamy comes out.  “They left the guts inside!”  I call to Sal, who makes a sympathetic noise from the living room.  They’re tiny.  Pheasant guts.  So tiny and strange, I’m not sure I got them all, but I am past caring.  I cover the breast lovingly with a sliver of foil and pop it in the oven.

This can't be right.

Um.  Is this how it’s supposed to look?

Cooked, the pheasant is even smaller.  One doesn’t really ‘carve’ a pheasant, though I try.  It looks like a crime scene when I’m done sawing all the odd, stringy meat from those intricate, wily bones.  Finally, we sit down to feast on our bird for two (with chutney, of course).

“What do you think?” I ask Sal anxiously.

“It’s – what’s this?”  He spits something into his hand and holds it up.  “That’s a buckshot.”

Sal finds not one, not two, but three tiny bullets in his dinner.

Buckshots!! Plus a 20 pence coin for scale.

Buckshots!! Plus a 20 pence coin for scale.

“Wow,” I say, shaking my head, “This is really, really organic.”

Later, I relay The Pheasant Experiment to my dad over the phone.  He’s sitting by his cookstove, drinking a cup of pressure cooker coffee.

“Pheasant, huh?  They good eatin’?”  He asks.  His voice is hoarse and crackly from tobacco smoke and cold mountain air.

“It was kinda sweet.  I don’t know.  I guess.”

“That’s a game bird, I reckon.  I’ve had quail.  But you gotta eat three or four of them just to get any meat.”

Hmmm.  Quail…..

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