In like a lion . . .
Summer and winter are sovereign seasons. Spring and fall, on the other hand, possess restless, inchoate natures. It is their great charm to be on the verge. Fall drops by like chewy toffee, but ends as brittle and bittersweet as a bag of horehounds. The perfect spring climbs out of a damp, heavy chill to toss tender shoots and pale fluttering petals into a little bowl of sunlight. One gorgeous gift after another.
New England, where I have lived much of my adult life and reside currently, knows no perfect spring. In New England, spring breaks winter’s grip only by riding through on a cold, raw wind like a witch on a broomstick. “I’ll be back by Memorial Day! Enjoy the daffodils!”
It is the very essence of spring to be caught in a back and forth between summer and winter, warm and cold. I breathed the scent of lilac floating on an April mist as it mixed with wood smoke one evening in Berlin. I watched a silvery drizzle turn to giant snowflakes upon a May morning in Cornwall, Vermont, the flakes swirling around the blossoms of a dwarf apple tree—a May-December romance adorned in white. So stunning, ephemeral, and unforgettable were these two episodes that over the years I’ve come to rely on spring’s paradoxes to produce its finest moments.
Once you make your way past their prickly sides and into their hearts, artichokes are the most playful vegetable of all: fun to undress one leaf at a time and dip into a delicious bath; fun to pull between your teeth; and most fun, we think, to eat their meaty bottoms with knife and fork. We’ve been sitting on this fabulous recipe since the fall when artichokes were last in season, and are delighted to share it with you now. Developed by our friend and editor extraordinaire, Dawn Yanagihara, the artichokes are smothered with a farro filling whose numerous subtle ingredient agents create a flavor nothing short of phenomenal. With a buttery dipping sauce dripping with garlic and anchovies (that’s right, bagna cauda), this is one killer dish.
We heard Olamaie, the hard-charging restaurant in Austin, Texas, had an intriguing item on their menu featuring our Carolina Gold rice. Come to find out, the item in question is a salad dressing! At this point, despite the apparent oddity of the concept, I had a pretty fair idea what my next task in the kitchen was going to be. Rice fanatic Glenn put in a hasty call to the restaurant and spoke with one of the two chefs, Grae Nonas, who told him that the dish had evolved from Anson Mills Carolina Gold left over at the end of service. Grae said it was too good—and too pricy—to throw out. And thus did Olamaie craft a fine dressing base with rice, water, a blender, and a strainer. The dressing, which is clean, velvety, and has a beautiful drape or nap, reflects the way a talented chef makes the unexpected familiar, unpretentious, and delicious. Once you’ve got the rice milk base, you can take this dressing anywhere. See what we’ve done here—with benne croutons thrown in for good measure.
This winter I had a moment with a maple-oat scone from a bakery down the road from me. In truth, I had several. Dozen. The painkillers prescribed to get me through weeks of physical therapy after knee replacement surgery may have compromised my judgment. Then there was the frosting, a simple maple syrup, confectioners’ sugar, and butter concoction that grew firm on the surface but stayed soft inside. I had the great pleasure of licking it off the back of my front teeth! As for the scone itself, the crumb was moist and unsullied by excess baking powder and the crust very brown with pleasing flavors associated with the complex set of reactions created when proteins and starches brown during baking. What the scone didn’t have, and could have used, frankly, was a truly forward oat presence either in flavor or texture. I thought, “I can do this. I can give an oat scone its rightful sense of place among the Celts.”
The scones we present here use Anson Mills oat flour and toasted oats in their formula. Rustic in appearance, ruggedly tawny of color and possessed of exceptional oat flavor and a moist, nubby oat interior, the top and bottom crusts of these scones are blessed with the crispest crunch and toastiest oat-intense flavor imaginable. I skipped the frosting, but did favor each scone with a brushstroke or two of reduced maple syrup. You will want to make these.
Glenn says he “saw stars” when he tasted this cake. And there is something sparkling in the conversation between the testy rhubarb; sweet, smoky caramel; and soft vanilla crumb. The special appeal of an upside-down cake is located in that chewy-sweet intersection of cake, sugar, and fruit that runs along the cake’s shoulders. It is unique to this genre of cake and utterly irresistible. Here rhubarb, in the role of the cake’s requisite fruit, offers its unique gift of tannins and tartness to the cake’s sunny brand of sweetness and light. Let us not forget to mention the flour. We think our White Lammas cake flour represents one of the most—if not the most—striking examples of superior flavor and performance of any Anson Mills product. Whatever cake it touches, touches the memory of an old-fashioned cake. You may see stars, too.
Happy Spring, y’all, no matter what its temperature, and Good Food!