Deep Summer, Suburban Style
It is summer that sows the sleeper cells of nostalgia—memories quickened by a scent, a taste, a spark, a sight, a sound—each vivid and poignant enough to carry a lifetime warranty. My own childhood summers were strictly suburban. Family vacations included splashing around a motel swimming pool after dark, then padding streaming wet into the icy blast of an air-conditioned room, trying to peel a bathing suit off my shivering flesh. The bookmobile showed up at the shopping center on Mondays, and I could choose a big stack of books with padded plastic covers and a nice musty smell deep in their bindings. The ice cream truck melody signaled that hour in the afternoon when our mother’s rest was over and my brother and I could go outside for something cold and sweet. A whiff of lighter fluid promised barbeque. Murmurs on a transistor radio predicted the crack of bat on ball and ecstatic or expletive-rich outbursts from my father. A bag of tickly sun-warmed peaches from an outdoor stand meant our mother was in a good mood.
Fairly prosaic, as I look back. It doesn’t matter, though. What matters is that however trifling, glorious, or boilerplate the memories that summer collects may be, they hold a sharp pang that feels uniquely authentic and real.
High fly ball DEEP to center field! Back . . . back . . . back . . . back . . . GONE!
A simple oat drink? When you look at avena recipes, oats are often included to add a thickening bounce to a sweet spiced liquid, but not much more. (In South and Central America, avena often goes by the name “quaker.” No joke.) Some South American versions of avena have near-pharmaceutical properties and call for a blizzard of rare herbs. In Central America, avena is wedded to a tart fruit called naranjilla. The naranjilla juice, not the oats, dominates that particular avena’s flavor. Looking across both South and Central America, we find an occasional dairy component in various avena recipes, but with all the other ingredients included these concoctions stop just shy of outright milkshakes. Here in the United States, avena receives passing attention from TV food-show celebrities who extoll the qualities of refrescos de avena. None of them expresses disappointment with the less-than-amazing commercial rolled oats called for in these recipes. With their various add-on fruits, spices, herbs, unique sugars, and so on, avena recipes on TV food shows pursue their constructs to lend culinary character to flavorless industrial rolled oats.
We present Anson Mills avena, a drink of real flavor dimension with oats full forward and no distractions save a sweet lingering note of cinnamon. The basis for this simple recipe could have come straight from one of our heirloom oat fields (nine ancient varieties!) a month or so before harvest when the individual green oat kernels are in “milk.” If you pick one green kernel and cut it with a sharp knife, you will find oat milk inside the hull. This real oat milk is honeyed, complex, and, we would bet, the ur-inspiration for avena since all cereal farmers check their crops in this manner. Anson Mills avena, made with our 18th Century Style Rustic Toasted Oat Flour and served chilled (avena can be served hot as well), captures this unique field flavor. Perfection! Oh, and if you have to be fancy, toss some fresh peeled peach slices in a bowl, flood with avena, and eat with a spoon—it’s that time of year. But please taste your avena in its birthday suit first.
We took our inspiration for this beautiful main course dish from ingredients associated with Thai green curry, transposing them into a bright, mesmerizing pesto-like sauce with a subtle green chile sting. The supporting actor in this sensory play, brilliantly portrayed by our lowcountry Laurel-Aged Charleston Gold Rice, unites the sauce elements with trace sweetness from lobster and mango, a furtive trail of coconut milk, and the suavity of homemade fish stock—clean, not cloying, beautiful, and so delicious each bite calls for the next. Call it backstage lighting which, as you progress through the dish, becomes something akin to sunlight.
Which one would you choose as a dredge for Japan’s fabulously crisp, soy-marinated fried chicken known as chicken karaage?
• A crisping ingredient that involves hydrocyclone separation and chemical modification
• A crisping ingredient that is heirloom and sustainably grown, and requires only ancient stone milling to be made into flour
Seems pretty obvious, yes?
Potato starch and cornstarch were developed in the 19th century and involve extensive manipulative processing. Karaage, though it can be consumed as easily and rapidly as a box of chicken nuggets, is not a modern-era food. Industrial ingredients weren’t staples in any Japanese kitchen when chopsticks fished the very first karaage morsels out of hot oil. Yet many recipes prefer these modified starches.
Choice #2 is freshly milled-to-order new crop heirloom rice flour. Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice Flour fries to a thin, crisp coating that manages to magnify the umami factor of the salty-sweet boneless crust-on bites at the same time.
Deliciously addictive, chicken karaage can be enjoyed either hot or cold, and travels with a pleasantly tart ponzu dipping sauce as accompaniment. A killer combination with potato salad—and beer is pretty nice, too.
We confess jitters when we contemplate adding our personal signature to a classic bread of prodigious pedigree already burnished to a high gloss by at least a dozen outstanding bakers. Peter Reinhart, Maggie Glezer, Rose Levy Beranbaum—such names (and they aren’t even French!) make us sit up with fresh agitation over our toaster strudel crumbs and ask, “Can we seriously contribute anything meaningful to a French luminary like brioche?” Then we remember the ingredients we have the privilege of working with, and, “Hey, damn straight! We’re in!”
Celebrated for so long that its reputation precedes it, brioche has every right to consider itself the grande dame of French breadwork. But that’s part of the problem. Whereas brioche should be memorable, often it is not. We’re won’t run down the list of its typical shortcomings, but we could point to more than a few occasions when menu items that feature brioche—whether toast, crouton, or sandwich—heighten our expectations but leave us underwhelmed.
It turns out that brioche is better made at home, where you have an opportunity to serve and eat it within five or six hours of baking, its crust and crumb still truly incomparable. Brioche doesn’t demand a temperature-controlled proof box or steam injector oven to produce gorgeous crust and crumb. It needs time and a stately pace—nothing rough or racy. It needs to be consumed as close to its arrival in your kitchen as possible, and it needs a couple of high performance pre-industrial flours to make all that happen. That’s where we come in. Anson Mills French Mediterranean White Bread Flour was a natural for this recipe: it offers strength, which brioche requires for a gluten matrix that holds despite its high quantity of butter, and it offers fine crisping factors and subtle top note perfume that tells you the flour is alive. Brioche is not a bread in which the term “crispness” usually factors, yet one of the most striking achievements of this formula, we feel, is the micro-crispness of its cushiony crust the first hours after baking—a quality we have never before experienced eating brioche. The second flour we chose is our Artisan Fine Cloth-Bolted White Lammas Cake Flour, which produces a truly luxurious crumb and throws beautiful cream and honey effects into the fermentation flavors of this lovely bread.
Happy Summer, y’all, and Good Food!