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May 29, 2011

REMIX: Lemons (Recipes, sources and stories in The Perfect Pantry)

Lemon zest

Lemons need our help.

For generations, we've named our faulty cars and appliances after them, a metaphor for a bitter experience or a general state of disappointment.

I don't know about you, but I've never met a real-life lemon that caused anything but squeals of joy; the aroma and flavor brighten up even the most uninspired dishes, everything from fish to salads to yogurt cake. In high school, my friends and I rubbed cut lemons on our hair, to add highlights. (It worked. Sort of.) Lemons never let me down.

So, I propose we let lemons off the hook. No more negative connotation, no more Peter, Paul and Mary tunes. From now on, when I end up with a toaster that always burns the toast, or a lawn mower that doesn't mulch, I'm going to call it a cauliflower, because that's what personifies a bitter experience for me.

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May 8, 2011

REMIX: Red pepper flakes (recipes, stories and sources in The Perfect Pantry)

Red pepper pesto pasta

Ten years ago, my husband Ted and I bought our log house in the woods in Rhode Island. At the time we didn't know much about this part of the state, or the village where we now buy our milk and bread.

Rhode Island has its share of quirks, like any small place. And though I'll never be a native, I try hard to fit in.

I keep Autocrat coffee syrup in the pantry, to make the official state drink (coffee milk). I eat clam cakes and clear clam chowder (I know, I know, but I'm trying to do the right thing here). I smile when I pass the Del's Lemonade trucks on every street corner in the summertime. I haven't yet been able to manage New York System hot weiners, but I love Stanley's burgers, mixed with sauteed onions and so thin you wonder whether the Del's truck ran over them.

And I keep both hot and mild red pepper flakes on my spice rack at all times, a badge of honor in a state where every pizzeria puts a shaker jar of red pepper flakes on every table.

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March 27, 2011

REMIX: Garlic (recipes, stories and sources in The Perfect Pantry)

Stir fried garlic lettuce

This morning, I stepped off my front porch into the muck that, two months from now, will be my herb garden.

From a distance, it doesn't look beautiful. Several feet of ice and snow piled on for the better part of three months didn't blanket the garden; it smothered every living thing, leaving behind broken foliage, blackened patches of exposed soil, and thousands of rotted acorns rejected by the squirrels.

Nothing appealing. Or so I thought.

On closer inspection, I found a few things of beauty. Whisper thin tips of chives. A strawberry plant on the edge of the path that survived, miraculously, the constant stabbing of snow shovels.

And garlic! Real, honest-to-goodness new shoots from the seed garlic I planted and forgot three summers ago. I must have garlic heads the size of boulders by now.

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March 17, 2011

REMIX: The long and short of white rice (recipes, stories and sources in The Perfect Pantry)

Shrimp and asparagus risotto

On our last trip to Hong Kong, we made a pilgrimage to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery (Man Fat Tse), in the village of Sha Tin. I call it a pilgrimage not for religious reasons, but because it's a long hike from the train station followed by a challenging uphill trek to get there. Believe me, it's worth every huff and puff.

No monks live at the monastery, but more than 10,000 statues of Buddha do.

If you find a Buddha that looks like you, it's supposed to bring good luck. While finding a short, round Buddha was easy, I didn't find a single one that looked like a grey-haired Caucasian female with glasses.

What, you're wondering, does this all have to do with rice?

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March 10, 2011

REMIX: Cinnamon (recipes, stories and sources in The Perfect Pantry)

Greek yogurt parfait

In the best democracies, people enjoy freedom of movement, freedom of association, and freedom of expression.

My spice rack operates on the same principles. In fact, I'd venture to say it's the ultimate democracy. Except for salt and pepper, which have an assigned easy-to-grab-without-looking place on the shelf, everything else is free to hang out wherever, and with whatever, it wishes.

A spice like cinnamon needs its freedom. Some days, it wants to cuddle up with its baking friends, nutmeg and cloves and ginger. Other days, it prefers the company of the savories: paprika, turmeric, pepper.

No matter where it goes, I can always find it. I buy spices in bulk and transfer them to recycled jars of all shapes and sizes, from mustards and marmalades and mayonnaise. Cinnamon has its own uniquely-shaped jar with little winglets, from some fancy French condiment we received as a gift, so it stands out, wherever it is. The spice is a standout, too.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my tiny kitchen in Boston's South End, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives. Thanks so much for visiting.

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