Peanut satay.

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A couple days ago my mom, Kelly, flew out from Atlanta to hang out with the peacocks and me in Santa Fe. And since she has arrived we haven’t stopped cooking. Let me tell you, this woman is an excellent cook; Michelin would rate Chez Kelly with three stars and then go on to justify the honor with ebullient descriptions like “ingenious!” “unassumingly irresistible” and “a bright take on Thai, French, and Latin flavors!” If the Red Book’s tasters could try this lady’s roast chicken au provençal, they would be eternally enchantées.

Growing up, my mom never used recipes. When I left home for Davidson, I asked for a catalog of her most famous recipes. She spent a year on that thing trying to nail down how much cumin I should add to spice her enchiladas or yogurt to add to her almond-cucumber gazpacho. When I make those recipes with her today, she always ends up re-altering something.

Kelly, the gardener-chef, with her beloved chickens

sharing the famed Lemon Meringue Pie at Harry’s Road House

The most recent result of our culinary collaboration is a simple peanut Thai satay sauce from her recipe book. We didn’t follow the recipe (surprise!) because we had to omit several things she has in her well stocked kitchen that I don’t have here. Yet the result is a sauce that is just as warm, spicy and addictively peanut buttery as I my mom’s satay. We tossed the satay in a chard, ginger and beef stir fry and served it with purple sticky rice and cucumber mint salad. It was so good our usual rapid mother-daughter banter ceased and we ate in amicable silence.

Peanut Satay

serves 4. adapted from the kitchen of Kelly Blount.
3-4 Tbsp peanut butter
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 lime, squeezed
1 clove finely chopped garlic
1-2 tsp red chile flakes
1 Tbsp anchovy paste
cilantro, if desired

Whisk ingredients together until sauce is emulsified. Serve over vegetables/meat or store for up to a week (this sauce definitely gets better with age).

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Table for one.

The other night I went to my favorite French bakery and restaurant, Chocolate Maven, for un petit dîner du café. The hostess asked me how many I was. Although I was caught off guard by her philosophic question, I responded simply, “it’s just me.” The hostess began to count out three menus. “No, just a table for one,” I insisted. The hostess looked up at me. Her forehead creased and she gave me a look that suggested sympathy. Wait staff around her averted their gazes and clucked their tongues seeming to say too bad.

Despite the wait staff’s grave response, I had a fantastic diner. Alone. I started the night with a piece of warm brioche from the bakery smeared in red and black sea salt dusted butter. I silently savored crisp and cool French-Vietnamese Spring Rolls in a lavender vinaigrette. I privately applauded my chicken dish’s Chimayo Chile blackened crust and the melted layer of Gouda cheese underneath. Unashamed, I sopped up the chicken’s spicy tomatillo-lime sauce with the last of my brioche. I experienced this gustatory bliss in complete silence. I was an piously indulgent nun pursuing flavorful salvation.

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I noticed that the diners near my table were significantly more uncomfortable with my solitude than I was. Sharing a meal with another human being is great; it’s a culturally rooted and deeply meaningful medium for interpersonal connection. Yet why is it wrong to enjoy food only to please oneself? I was intimately connected with my meal because I ate it alone. I didn’t need to make conversation with a person across the table. Instead, I was happily obliged to converse with the plate in front of me.

Apricot sauce and french toast.

Monsoon season has announced herself in the desert. It rained all day last Sunday. The temperature dropped to the low 60s and hazy, mist-shrouded mountains demanded Santa Fe’s inhabitants to don their flannel and pull out mugs of hot mint tea. When I woke up last Sunday morning, the air was crisp and fresh. The fountain was full and I turned it on for a sensory addition to my morning yoga. With such abundant water and light, it seemed appropriate to give thanks. And so I did. For breakfast.

I looked in the fridge and pulled out local whole milk so creamy it leaves a film reminiscent of butter and cheesecake on your tongue, Irene’s green and brown farm eggs, and bowls of bright red-orange apricots. The apricots’ skin was soft and sinfully fragrant at the touch.  They begged for a little self preservation. I found a couple stale slices of crumbly Orno bread from Wednesday’s market and added the slices to my ingredient pile.

While listening to little apricot pleas, I cracked eggs, spilled milk, and scraped out the seedy interior of a fresh vanilla bean pod. I pitted over 250 apricots and set them at a simmer on the stove. When finished, the kitchen could’ve been declared a national disaster zone, yellow caution tape and all.

The french toast was creamy with a delicate golden crust. I drizzled fresh apricot sauce over my slice’s eggy interior and watched it saturate with ethereal tartness. The tastes, the smells, the moment of absolute contentment: it was water in the desert.

Apricot Sunday French Toast

from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. And yes, Molly is correct; use the amount of oil she calls for in the recipe.

for 6 slices bread, serves 3.

1 cup milk
4 large eggs
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract or fresh vanilla
¼ tsp salt
Mild-tasting vegetable oil, such as canola
6 slices bread (a bias-cut country French loaf, orno bread, etc…), about ¾ to 1 inch thick

Whisk together the first five ingredients in a wide, shallow bowl. Place a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, over low to medium heat, and add enough oil to just cover the bottom of the skillet.

Two or three at a time, add the bread slices to the egg mixture in the bowl, allowing them to rest for a minute or two on each side. They should feel heavy and thoroughly saturated, but not be falling apart. When the oil is hot, place the slices in the skillet. They should sizzle a bit, and the oil will bubble lightly around the edges of the bread; take care, however, that the oil is not too hot or the egg mixture will burn. Cook until the underside of each slice is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn the bread, and cook until the second side is golden, another 2 minutes or so. Remove the bread from the skillet to a plate lined with a paper towel, allow to rest for 30 seconds, and serve immediately. Top with greek yogurt, stewed prunes, apricot sauce, cinnamon, and honey. Cherries on top are always welcome.

Verlet’s apricot tartlettes.

Apricots have consumed Santa Fe. Every farmers market I visit for work is awash in them. Vendors push apricots like crack, practically begging customers to “please. just take a bag.” Apricot trees laden with their succulent, orange Christmas ornaments line major roads. Tourists smash them under their white New Balances on Canyon Road and at the Plaza. Birds fly like they just returned from a Carnival cruise with an endless apricot buffet line.

And I am in heaven. Pure, saccharine heaven. I have at least 2 pounds of apricots in the adobe at all times. I acquire them from a multitude of sources: friends, desperate farmers market vendors, orphaned bags on the doorstep, clandestine nightly harvests of apricots along the road. Wherever they come from, these fresh apricots taste like sunshine and sweetarts. One bite and their tart skin yields way to a creamy, surprisingly indulgent interior. To experience Santa Fe’s fresh apricots is to live both the opulence of Versailles and the court’s consequent, sour revolution.

In honor of La Révolution à l’abricot and France’s upcoming Bastille Day on Saturday, I adapted this recipe from Café Verlet’s Parisienne apricot tarts. Leave it to the French to perfect the flawless fresh apricot with lusty flavors of almond and vanilla.

Verlet’s Apricot Tartlettes

adapted from “Bastille Day Desert Party” Bon Appétit 1999

makes 12 tartlettes

Ingredients

For pastry

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons finely ground unblanched almonds (a Cuisinart is perfect for this job; make sure to grind extra almonds)

 For filling

1/2 cup crème fraîche or heavy (whipping) cream (I prefer the former)
1 large egg lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons full-flavored honey (I used used Mountain Wildflower from Chama, NM)
1 tablespoon flour
About 1 1/2 pounds (750 g) fresh apricots, pitted and halved (do not peel)
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter the bottom and sides of a muffin tin. Set aside.

Make the pastry:
In a large bowl, combine the melted butter and the sugar, and using a wooden spoon, stir to blend. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to form a soft, cookie-like dough. Transfer the dough to the center of the buttered muffin tin. Using the tips of your fingers, evenly press the pastry along the bottom and up the sides. The pastry will be quite thin.

Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until the dough is slightly puffy and set, 5-8 minutes. Sprinkle leftover ground almonds over the bottom of the crust. (This will prevent the crust from becoming soggy.)

Meanwhile make the filling:
In a medium-size bowl, combine the crème fraîche, egg, extracts and honey and whisk to blend. Whisk in the flour.

Pour the filling evenly over the pastry. Overlap the halved apricots, cut side up, at an angle in the creme filled tartlettes.

Place the baking sheet in the center of the oven and bake until the filling is firm and the pastry is a deep golden brown, 25-30 minutes. The apricots will shrivel slightly. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Place the tart on a rack to cool. Sprinkle again with confectioners’ sugar just before serving. Voilà!

Souvenirs, peregrinations, ever-smiling.

To peregrinate. The namesake of my old blog. It means to travel or wander with the intention of returning to the same place you start. I have in no way completed my wanderings, but I have returned to where I started: Santa Fe, New Mexico. It took me 13 months to get back here. Within that time, I mastered headstands at an Indian ashram, hiked to remote Western Nepalese villages for food insecurity research, and bought a pair of Goodwill overalls to outfit a  new gardening obsession back in Davidson. Over the course of these adventures, I went by several titles. In India, I was dubbed Maa-Aarti by my white linen-clad guru. In Nepal, I was strictly “the ever-smiling foreigner” खुसीमा बिदेशि (khushi bideshi). In Davidson, I became the girl who goes to class in dirty overalls. I realize I’m not the same person I was a year ago, but yet I am still somehow me.

Thus I decided to restart this blog. I intend it to be a chronicle of life through food. As Molly Wizenberg writes,

“When I walk in to my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It’s also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be.”

I hope that the stories and recipes I share here will nourish you. I hope that we can, together, eat our way toward the light. Aarti.