The thing about early spring, at least here in the Hudson Valley, is that it basically looks and feels exactly like winter. For most of March and even into April, it’s cold and damp, and nothing in the garden will grow. During these dog days, a bright and zingy citrus salad feels like a life-saver. And it’s simplicity itself: juicy, sweet blood oranges (and a few mandarins for variety’s sake), tossed with crisp endive and some quick-pickled red onions. Toss over a little peppery mint and pistachios for crunch and that’s it. A drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkle of flaky salt is all the dressing it needs.
We’re very fond of our herb garden. A few years ago, we built a step stand on the back deck, and this holds enough aromatic greenery to pinch for the kitchen all summer long. Having herbs so close to hand means that it’s easy to get inspiration for a food or drink recipe. Herb pots are easy to set up, don’t require any digging, and can be positioned wherever you have a sunny spot. A few years ago, in our garden-less apartment in Brooklyn, we’d sneak herb pots out onto the fire escape in defiance of the landlady. When Emily lived in an industrial loft building, the roof was always the sunniest location and where herbs thrived. The pride of our raised bed garden is always late-summer tomatoes, but there’s a hero of the herb garden that brings us delight from early summer onwards. To paraphrase T S Eliot, we can measure out our summer in basil leaves.
Our ruby-hued blood orange and hibiscus curd makes a delicious and luscious filling for this beautiful seasonal tart. The crust is made from crushed gingersnap cookies, and couldn’t be simpler. With a great balance between sweet, tart and spicy, this is a real showstopper of a dessert.
When blood oranges are in season, we just can’t get enough of them so when we found a local shop selling a big bag of them for under 5 bucks, we knew we couldn’t pass them up. But what do you do when life gives you lem… oranges? Make curd!
We are legit curd crazy in this house. Curds with knives, they call us (no one calls us this). Lemon curd is pretty much a bi-monthly event in our kitchen. We’ve made blueberry-lemon curd, strawberry curd, even rhubarb curd. In fact, it was our experience with rhubarb curd that led us to add an extra ingredient, hibiscus, to our blood orange version (more on this later in the article).
One of my favorite words of all time is the French word for grapefruit: Pamplemousse.
Say it! Pamplemousse. It’s hilarious, right? It sounds like it should be Liberace’s favorite color. “Why yes, we had the whole living room done in pamplemousse and mauve. It’s divine.”
I also love that it’s a pretty effective insult in French, meaning an annoying, pesky, person who is immature. And of course, it also means boobies. So many uses!
Of course the best use for un pamplemousse, as it is for most citrus in my opinion, is to juice that thang and mix it with some spirits. In this case vodka and elderflower liqueur.
February, as a rule, is a hard month to love. January, at least, has the benefit of being a FRESH NEW START to the year; we can, if we’re lucky, coast on hopes, and dreams, and the sugar high from Christmas, all the way through to the 31st. And then, the next morning, we wake, mentally done with winter and ready to see the sun again, keeping our eyes closed for a few blissful seconds of ignorance before opening them to find … February. Ugh.
It’s no coincidence that Groundhog Day is right at the beginning of February. If summer is a season of Sundays, February is a month of Februaries. TS Eliot had it wrong: April would only be the cruelest month if it arrived at your door dressed as a spring maiden only to rip off its mask and yell “surprise! April Fool, motherfucker! It’s February again!”.
But it’s not all bad. If you can make it exactly halfway through, to the month’s hump-day, so to speak, you’ll hit Valentine’s Day. (Any sensible editor would absolutely forbid me from using the phrase “hump-day”, but fortunately, this blog doesn’t have one.). We’re not teddy bears and roses kind of people, but we do like a colorful drink with zesty flavors. So that’s what we wanted to blog this year: a good, tasty Valentine’s Day cocktail that you can share with a loved one, or just make for yourself. (Because YOU, my blog-reading friend, are a loved one. Yes you are, and don’t you ever forget it.)