Alban Elfed

2008.Mar.26 Wednesday · 1 comment

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

 The egg standing myth was born with an article penned by Annalee Jacoby in the March 19, 1945 issue of Life magazine. Ms. Jacoby was on assignment in China at that time, when she witnessed a peculiar Chinese ritual. In China, the first day of spring is called Li Chun, and they reckon it to be roughly six weeks before the vernal equinox. America is odd in that we say that Spring begins on the equinox, since a season is three months long. According to Chinese legend, it is easier to stand an egg upright on what they call the first day of spring (which, remember, is in early February for the Chinese). Ms. Jacoby was in the capital city of Chunking on Li Chun when a crowd of people came to balance eggs. It must have been quite a sight, and so she wrote about it for Life. Ms. Jacoby evidently reported that the event occurred on the first day of spring, but it was never said (or else it was conveniently forgotten) that the first day of spring in China is a month and half before the first day of spring as recognized by Americans! The legend now states that you can only stand an egg on end at the equinox. The biggest blooming of the legend happened on March 20, 1983, when Donna Henes, a self-proclaimed “artist and ritual-maker”, got a hundred people in New York City to publicly stand eggs up at the vernal equinox. This event was covered by the New Yorker magazine, and the article was published in the April 4, 1983 issue. At 11:39 p.m. (the exact time of the equinox), Ms. Henes stood an egg up and announced “Spring is here.” Even the New York Times was duped; a few years later, in an editorial on March 19, 1988, the headline “It’s Spring, Go Balance an Egg” appeared. Two days later, the Times ran a picture of people standing eggs up at the World Trade Center.”

– Lady Dairhein, April

Buenos Aires – We balanced no eggs (though some got quite evenly distributed within a cheesecake) on the equinox, which for us, here in the southern hemisphere, is the autumnal rather than vernal, i.e., the “official” start of fall, not spring. Known to the druids as Alban Elfed, it’s also called the Autumnal Equinox, Chumash, Cornucopia, Feast of Avalon, Festival of Dionysus, Harvest Home, Harvest Tide, Mabon, Night of the Hunter, Second Harvest Festival, Wine Harvest, Witch’s Thanksgiving; and the first day of autumn. For us, it was an excuse to showcase some fresh produce that has just come into the markets.

We started off the evenings with a Harvest Moon cocktail (we’ve started adding cocktails during that awkward milling about getting to know each other period at the beginning of the evening – we’re keeping them small, as we already know there are five glasses of wine coming up – little shots of something fun, an idea for which I thank Diego Felix), the cocktail a blend of tequila, orange and pineapple juices, triple sec, and a splash of grenadine. From there, we sat down to a little started of a roasted Williams pear – peeled, cored, cut in half, some slits cut along the fat end so the halves could be fanned out, then coated in butter and a little coarse salt, roasted in the oven, with a finish under the broiler to lightly brown them, and served with an arugula and walnut pesto.

Smoked Salmon and Watercress soup

Next up, a dish that gave me a little trouble the first night – and I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled with the way it turned out – the flavors were all there, but the texture of the soup was… stringy. I’d made a nice batch of white chicken stock flavored with dill seed, and to that I’d added and cooked handfuls of fresh watercress and a good amount of smoked salmon. Then I’d pureed the whole thing, and to serve it, added a bunch of chopped green onion. Very simple, but the watercress just didn’t puree well – too much of the stems left in, and the salmon, while providing flavor, just disappeared – plus, the whole thing turned an odd shade of grey from the pinkish orange of the salmon blending with the green of the watercress. On the second night, I made a fresh batch of stock, and then off the heat dropped in a large quantity of watercress – leaves only, not a speck of stem. I then used the immersion blender to just cut the watercress into small bits. I hand chopped the smoked salmon fairly finely, and simply mixed it in. No additional cooking – just the heat of the stock more or less poaching the watercress and salmon. I also added a splash of cream at the end, just enough to give the broth a lighter, whiter color in contrast. It comes out much prettier, the texture is delightful, and the flavor is still there. Oh, and seasoned with white pepper and smoked salt.

Mushroom Cocoa Springrolls

Don’t ask me where the idea for this came from. I was sitting there thinking about doing something with a whole bunch of fresh portobello mushrooms that had come into the market and got to thinking about flavors that go with them. Somehow or other, chocolate came to mind – and I started thinking about the Portobello and Aztec Chocolate soup I made way, way back at the beginning of Casa SaltShaker’s existence – and then the hit of the mushroom strudel that graced our Transnistrian dinner – you see where these things come together, right? Then it became a matter of thinking about various flavors, and looking over various recipes, and then, well, I ended up chopping and sauteeing the portobellos in butter and olive oil with some finely chopped dry rosemary and a handful of sunflower seeds, more for texture than anything else. When cooled, I wrapped them in phyllo dough that was brushed with… cocoa butter. Now, not the cocoa butter that you slather on your body when you want to brown up all beautiful like you’ve been on the grill, but a mix of melted butter, unsweetened cocoa powder, and salt. The wrapped packages went into the oven (a little more of the butter brushed atop), baked until golden brown, and then served atop a “paint stroke” of the cocoa butter and a squiggle of some basil oil (fresh basil pureed with a neutral oil, left to infuse, and then strained). Let’s just say that all that worked… really well.

SquashesNot to give shortshrift to the rest of the dinner, but, I baked some fresh trout fillets in butter and served them up with a roast tomato and wine sauce, pretty much a dish I’ve done before – though the trout were not crusted with pumpkin seeds as they’d been the first time around, and the sauce was flavored with fresh tarragon which has just come into season – I threw that into the blender while the rest was pureeing. On the side, some beautiful fresh squash, or pumpkins… I’m not sure exactly, but when I told my vegetable guy I wanted to slice them and fry them up, he highly recommended these – so I peeled them, seeded them, sliced them into thin wedges, and sauteed them in butter and green onions, and served that alongside the trout. And, finally, we finished up with a delicious sweet potato cheesecake, though instead of topping it with whipped cream, I dusted it and the whole plate with a mix of cinnamon and sugar.

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