Monday, September 8, 2014

Roasted purple tomatillo gazpacho

I've always found the start of a new academic year to be an exciting time. Since I go out of my mind too easily when left to my own devices, I've always appreciated the school year better than the summer. The freedom and unstructured days and particularly the weeks and months on end without interaction with other souls is a bit too much for me to deal with. So, I prefer the busy-ness that the school year brings. I don't know, maybe some people just focus better amidst chaos rather than in quiet solitude?

The opening of a new school year brings with it lots of fun events that I love, too. The ritual of first-of-the-year all-department/hands-on-deck meetings, the handing out of syllabuses at first classes: like, what are we going to learn this year? What new knowledge are we going to discover? The meeting of new people, the catching up with old people. This year, I'm particularly excited about things like attending my first faculty meeting as ... well... faculty! I'm sure I'll grumble about meetings in a few months' time, but right now, it's new and shiny and an exciting hallmark of "leveling up."

One tradition coming back now that school is in session is our lab ladies teas! (Previous teas here and here.) A few of us are no longer in the same lab (or university, for that matter), but luckily, we've all managed to stick around within 50 miles or so of each other, so continuing the wonderful tradition of our teas is possible. It's so wonderful to get together with fellow female scientists outside the lab, catching up about our new positions, our research, our summer travels, our new school year plans. There's something so beautiful and joyous to me about hanging out with these incredibly brilliant people over a shared love of linguistics, tea, and delicious food. I can't help but to be inspired.

Our teas are potlucks, but we've gotten so comfortable that no one really ever announces what they're going to bring ahead of time. Yet, we always manage to end up with a delicious spread from savory to sweet, which I really appreciate. This time around, we had berry-lemon-pecan coffeecake, jam-mascarpone almond tarts, challah cheese rolls, drop biscuits with cabernet-macerated plums, black currant tea, chai tea, oolong tea. My contribution was a bit off the wall for a tea: roasted purple tomatillo gazpacho, with cotija cheese. I wanted to bring something to share that was really inspired by my new location, and Mexican food ingredients are a big thing around these parts. Until moving here, I'd never even see purple tomatillos before, and the cotija cheese is so much better here than what I'd had back in Berkeley. The gazpacho was so refreshing and satisfyingly savory (the roasting lending the flavor a nice bit of depth), with squeaky bites of crumbled cheese on top. The tomatillo taste is sort of reminiscent of a salsa, but nicely tempered by the coolness of the cucumber. ... perfect for these still-hot days at the beginning of the fall semester.

Read on for recipe....

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fig Pistachio Tart

Life right now is boxes. Cardboard boxes upon cardboard boxes, and tons of filler paper. My new job had me professionally moved, which (I've never done before and) involved three guys showing up at my front door one day, basically packing my entire life into who knows how many cardboard boxes and driving off with it in their truck. Then, the next day, they delivered and piled the boxes up to the ceiling, and here I am, nearly a week later, still opening boxes and attempting to figure out why DVDs and brown sugar ended up in the same box, and where in the heck is my salt?

In the midst of excavating myself out of seemingly endless Everests of cardboard and paper, there was a ring of my doorbell at 9am on Sunday morning.... which totally caught me by surprise, since I ... sort of don't really know anyone here yet? I open the door in my crappy these-are-the-clothes-I've-managed-to-unpack-and-I-also-haven't-brushed-my-hair-for-two-days-because-one-doesn't-have-to-look-good-for-cardboard-boxes state, and there I find a old lady with a fantastic blue and yellow caftan flowing in the breeze looking at me.

"I'm your neighbor! The previous tenants wrote to me to tell me I was getting a new neighbor. --So, here.", and she holds up at me the most gigantic bag of plump, overly juicy, bright neon green and dark, dark bluish-purple figs that I've ever seen.

It turns out that my new neighbor is this fascinating woman who not only has friends with over-flowing fig fruit trees, but also used to be a gourmet cook in SF who has cooked with the likes of James Beard before. Like, whaaaaa? Cooked with James Beard?! She then proceeds to walk into my house and look at my piano, and then she turns to my vibraphone--which everyone always annoying and very mistakingly calls a "xylophone"--and comments, "Oh! A vibraphone!" Then, she goes on to talk about her love of Chinese antiques and cookware and how she used to have a 300-strong cookbook collection....  You guuuyyys, I can't believe this is my new neighbor. She had me at figs.

Of course, the natural reaction when presented with an enormous bag of plump, nearly-overripe figs is to bake with them.... amiright? At that point, I had managed to unearth a few tart pans and my food processor, and some nuts and flour, and one of my pepper grinders, so a fig pistachio tart with a black pepper crust, it was! The insides of the figs were so beautifully ripe that they sort of made the tart taste as though it was laced with caramel. The pistachio lends the tart a savory tinge, as does the spicy kick of cracked black pepper in the crust. For a glaze, I used some ginger jam I had in the fridge, which helped to brighten up the whole affair--the more traditional, apricot jam would work as well. If desired, serve with a heaping scoop of whipped cream.

A few hours after my neighbor's first visit, I did what good neighbors are supposed to do. I returned a few figs to her--in tart form, of course.

Read on for recipe....
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