Last week was not my week in the kitchen, friends. I had great, ambitious designs on a rhubarb meringue tart that would be pink and pretty with a scalloped tart-shell edge and a meringue that looked like piped roses that had toasted petal tips. But as the week went on and as various really non-torments in the greater definition of the word but nonetheless tormenting to me mounted — thin curds, too thick curds, beige (you know, the color of pink rhubarb + multiple yolks) curd, slumped tart shells, wet meringues, useless broilers, blowtorches so close to empty, they emit the useless wisps of sleepy dragons, refill canister AWOL — my enjoyment of the project plummeted. But, because I’d like to teach my kid one day that he should follow through and finish what he started, I did, and lo, it was good, you know? Maybe I’m just not a meringue pie person and I forgot? None of this matters because the finished pie slid off the plate flopping face-down into the open fridge as I tried to put it away and then, as I crouched on the floor in front of the open fridge scooping fistfuls of meringue and curd into a garbage bag and questioning my life choices, my son walked in and asked what I was making for dinner.
I think we should all go to a party. And we should all eat this. I know, it doesn’t look like much. I am sure you’ve seen cheese spread on a slice of baguette before. It probably looked prettier than this too; less blue, more smooth. But please, lean in anyway, because I have to tell you: this is brilliant. And I can’t believe I’ve gone most of my life without knowing about it. Don’t let it happen to you.
You know that thing that happens when you have friends over? No, I don’t mean the Santa Baby sing-along or red-wine-on-the-white-sofa thing or the ow-my-head-hurts thing the next day, though all of those are grand too. What I mean is, what we usually do is stop by a cheese store or counter and pick up a bunch of wedges of this and that and put them out with wine and bread and at the end of the night, there’s always one sorry little glass left of wine left and a few nubs of cheese. Maybe they end up in the trash. They shouldn’t. And they won’t anymore because let me introduce you to (drumroll, Oprah voice, please)… fromage fort!
I know what you’re thinking; you don’t even need to say it: It’s time for a fritter intervention. A frittervention? Here, I’ll go first: My name is Deb Perelman and I have a fritter problem. And I really do. I pretty much want to fritter all the things, all the time — broccoli, zucchini, apples, parsnips, an Indian medley, leeks (here), and potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, I actually have to hold myself back, and try to evenly space my fritter episodes throughout the year, so not to pique your concern about my fritter consumption. It’s not easy because no matter how many times I talk it out in a circle of understanding peers, I fear I will still think that fritters are the answer to most food dilemmas, most of the time.
They’re the ideal toddler vegetable delivery method. Aside a bowl of lightly dressed mixed greens for the lunch I’m supposed to be having (not, cough, leftover pizza), a couple fritters make it all worthwhile. Alone on a plate, dolloped with a creamy yogurt sauce, they’re a happy afternoon snack. And formed intentionally tiny, they belong at a cocktail party. As do you.
A few summers ago, I discovered what I consider to be one of the greatest things that has ever been placed over oiled grill grates on a beachy summer evening, preferably while a glass of rose trickles condensation down your hand: grilled haloumi cheese. Maybe you’re
Greek Cypriot or better versed in the world of grill-able cheeses than me and are nodding silently right now, lucky enough that this is old news. Or maybe you’re confused because I just said grilled cheese and really? There is nothing new about two slices of white bread fried in butter until the gooey orange runs over the crusts and your freak-of-a-toddler won’t touch it. But, of course, this is an entirely different kind, no bread, no butter and absolutely better in summer than any other time.
Haloumi, the star of the saganaki show, is like the hardest feta you’ve ever seen, and quite rubbery when cold. I bet that made you really hungry, right? But the thing is, when heated, it becomes tender in the center but not runny; it doesn’t fall apart, just blisters and sighs. The easiest way to eat it is sakanaki-style, with lemon juice, black pepper and pita bread. But my favorite way is finely chop a salad of fresh tomatoes, olives or capers, red onion, olive oil and red wine vinegar and spoon it over the grilled haloumi slices. You dig in immediately and wonder where it has been all of your life.
One of the things I love about my city is the way we jump at the chance celebrate local events as unofficial, illogical holidays, just because. I get redorkulously excited about the Mermaid Parade, as well as the dapper sea of white uniforms all over the city during Fleet Week. I still haven’t convinced my (Russian! it’s in his blood and everything, I tell him) to do a Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge with me on New Year’s Day, but I did get him to stand on a center median of 14th Street looking west on Wednesday night at 8:16 p.m. (along with such a confusing cluster of people that a second crowd formed to scratch their heads at us) to catch a glimpse of this season’s Manhattanhenge. The events are random and even a little absurd, but NYC is no place to miss a chance to let your goofy flag fly.
I have another, smaller, day that I add to this list, which is the day that the mini-Farmer’s Market in my neighborhood opens each May. (Were you to dig through the archives, there’s a clear day every May when the site switches from pantry-raiders like soup and pasta to fresh new happy things.) Like a hopeless nerd with a shiny apple for the teacher on the first day of class, I show up the minute it opens and make a beeline for the broccoli, spinach and baby watermelons. I buy too much. I come back later and buy more, anyway. After six months of brown vegetables, you can’t blame me for overdoing it at the prospect of pearly stalks of rhubarb, lawns of asparagus, and strawberries that are red all the way through.