The Uncommon Yellowthroat
Sings of every other color.
Her shiny weeping plumage
The indifferent chill
Of your unfeeling heart.
Make sure you have ice cream in your freezer because your mouth will be mad at you after you eat this, and you will have to make amends. Then again, you don’t have to add as much cayenne as I do (which is to say, enough to char and wither your lips and tongue). You can be scant with it, or pass altogether, using only pepper for heat and flavor. I’m the kind of girl who travels with a bottle of Sriracha, hot is the way I role. Anyway, it’s August, corn season, and my friend Adam, who frequently travels to Mexico, turned me onto a Mexican street specialty that’s caught my gastronomic heart this summer. It’s simple, delicious, quick, and flexible. I’ll admit the way I do it is probably an abomination compared to the traditional version, which I’ve never had… so please forgive me, those of you who know and care. It’s just that I’m too busy to do it right, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still great.
This is what you do. Have ready some grated hard cheese (I like Italian ones for this purpose, Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano for example, cheeses that don’t melt so readily). Cook as many ears of corn as you and your people want to eat. I keep it real simple: I heat up 1-3 ears in the microwave for a minute or two. It’s great to eat corn raw, steamed, or boiled. No matter how it’s cooked, it barely needs any time to cook, 1-3 minutes tops. The more salient point is that it is as fresh as can be, which is why a north eastern person like me can only make this in August. So now you’ve got hot ears of corn. Set them on a plate or platter. Spread them with butter, then mayonnaise. Yes, mayonnaise on top of the butter. Sprinkle with salt, freshly ground pepper, and if you are using it, cayenne pepper. Sprinkle with the grated cheese. Eat. Follow with ice cream if the desire demands it.
I call this recipe “fast and loose” because in Mexico the corn would be grilled, the cheese would be cotija anejo, and you’d be eating it on the street in Mexico, not in the Freer Hollow Family Lab.
My apologies for the dark photo. It was a spontaneous shot on the heels of making the Elote this evening, where in the moment I just knew I had to share this with anyone who didn’t know about it already. And maybe I am the only person who did not know about Elote. I will also admit that for the first few weeks after Adam introduced me to it I continually called it “a-HOO-pa”, to much chortling here at the lab. I could not remember the name for the life of me. That’s enough rambling, go make this dish.
These muffins became an instant family favorite long before I even had a family. A long time ago Professor Incredulous and I went to a wedding in Rhode Island, staying at a lovely, homey bed and breakfast. The house-wife/hostess presented an unusually generous breakfast, but what totally captured me were these delicious, everything-in-the-pantry muffins. She kindly shared the recipe, and I’ve since tweaked it to my liking (reducing the sugar considerably, adding more nuts, replacing some of the white flour with whole wheat, and in the summer replacing half the carrots with zucchini.) Now is a good time to make them, as carrots and zucchini are in abundance in the garden.
SPICED CARROT-ZUCCHINI MUFFINS
Preheat oven to 375º.
Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners, or alternatively grease them with butter.
In a large bowl, mix together
1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbs baking powder
1 Tbs cinnamon
¼ tsp each of cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and salt
To this mixture add and mix in
¾ cup packed dark (or light) brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
1 ½ cups grated carrot, OR ¾ cup shredded carrot and ¾ cup shredded zucchini
1 cup raisins
1 small apple, peeled, cored, coarsely chopped
¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
In a separate bowl, whisk together
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 Tbs vanilla
Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring just until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Scoop into the muffins tins, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until done. They will last for several days, and also freeze well.
Here at the Lab, we attempted to make the much beloved children’s classic: a Lollipop. It was a failure. First batch stuck to the wax paper, unrecoverable. The next batch looked good but never completely hardened, the lollipops stayed profoundly sticky. The lab children had no complaints and found the lolli’s to be a grand success, though I spent a good deal of time extracting it from the mini lab assistant’s hair, and at one point a lolli stuck with such determination to junior lab assistant’s teeth we headed for pliers in the toolbox until it abruptly popped loose. They functioned moderately effectively as fly paper in my summer kitchen, as the bottom photo demonstrates. We feel that we are close to success, we are determined to make this work. We agree to try the recipe again in the cool, dry winter months, thinking that the high humidity of the past few days led to a molecular meltdown.
Or, a typical peculiar day? Everyone has a day now and then, with the following sorts of sightings and events and observations, right? A bewitching mix of the beautiful and the profane, the ordinary and the rare…
Morning fog over the decaying barn across the street from the lab.
The vagina tree.
Dead fawn on our road, less than 12 hours after it passed over. Or, more accurately, a car passed over IT.
Is one of my chickens having a problem I should know about?
A baby went through the lab’s laundry? How did I not notice that? And since it’s been through the wash cycle, do I now naturally put it in the dryer? What to do… (I opted to let her dry in the sun.)
Distracted by the baby, I burned the lab’s freebase.
Half-pint Lab Tech sees an alien head in the spill.
It’s only 2pm. What else lies in store for this enchanting day?
Notes from the rest of the day:
Admittedly a crappy photo, of crap in a bag. I just wanted to document the quirks of the day. The youngest lab tech shat herself in the woods. She can’t be blamed; she’s new to the technique of recognizing the onset of poo and finding a good spot to direct it. We all suffered this peculiarity at one point in life.
Dead fawn, Part 2. The turkey vultures have made strong headway, little is left. I wasn’t going to visit it again, but youngest lab tech insisted. Now I wish I’d come every hour since fawn’s decease to document it’s vanishing.
Junior Lab Tech felt it important that this mashed potato sculpture be documented before being eaten. It was accompanied by the following observation, unrelated to potatoes: “I seem to have lost my symmetrical gesture habit, you know, where if I itch one side of my face I then have to itch the other side of my face to be even? It’s been replaced by a fear of pointy things that can impale me. Like that lollipop stick, I have to turn it away. And that pencil, can you please move it?”
We bounced on a trampoline, giggled, tidied up, and closed the lab.
What a cool discovery… albeit common to anyone who has slaughtered female birds of laying age. Here you see a gorgeous (lab partner says “gross”; to each his own) collection of pre-developed eggs found inside one of the female ducks, varying in size from microscopic to nearly fully developed. How long will it be before you see pre-developed eggs on Ferran Adria’s menu? I’m just saying, this seems like exactly the sort of thing an avant garde chef would propose. And you saw it suggested here first. I’m just saying.
Please note: tender viewers may not appreciate the blunt photos that follow.
The ducks enjoying the “living” part of their life. My boy and I grew to heartily dislike our formerly adorable ducks. They lacked curiosity, were perpetually scared of us despite our efforts to be friendly and subservient to their needs, and they repeatedly demonstrated outstanding stupidity. A daily request we posed to the lab tech in charge of the slaughtering of the ducks, was, When we can finally kill these things? They’d become a real bother without any reward aside from food on the table. Let’s get on with it.
Carefully crated, to bring them to the slaughter site.
Our neighbor’s homespun “abattoire” facility, which they kindly loaned to us.
Hanging the ducks to bleed out after a quick, merciful kill. Using the buckets intended for chickens was a disaster. It was an extraordinary struggle to fit the ducks in there in a way appropriate for the job at hand.
This is the fowl spinner. After you’ve dunked the bird in 160 degree water for a minute or two, the feathers are amenable to being plucked with fair ease. The spinner makes quick work of this task.
Even a feather plucker device can be artful and beautiful, it seems to me.
The spinner leaves an unholy halo of feathers below it, somehow poignant in its statement of what once was.
The bird, hanging to be further plucked. Waxed and scraped, actually; not unlike how many women treat the hair on their bodies. There are always more feathers to pull out. Endlessly. Interminably.
After draining and plucking is complete, the next stage is pulling out the innards, also a challenging task for us neophytes. Choice organs were kept- heart and liver- the rest discarded for the dogs or compost heap. Now to rinse and chill the ducks, then eat or freeze. It distressingly took us an entire day to process only nine ducks. Economic value: disastrous. Educational value: priceless.