Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pucci dresses are the subject of one of my favorite blogs, Eat, Drink and Garden by Valerie Rice. In her April 11th post, Val discusses her friend Justine's obsession with Emilio Pucci's vintage creations, Pucci Inspired Flowers.  According to Val, Justine puts her friends to shame by wearing her designer dresses when picking up her kids from school and at other equally informal occasions. This reminded me of my dear sister-in-law Ricki, who also has a penchant for Pucci. She is pictured above in her Pucci attire, walking on Baker Beach with BJ and her dogs Ella and Petunia (out of view). Her daughter Leah, visiting from New York with her beau BJ, took this stunning photo with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Ricki originally bought the dress for a trip to Rome, but here she is in her finery, strolling on the beach with her pooches.

Pucci designs are out of my price range at this point, but in the psychedelic sixties I owned some purple and white undergarments, a towel set designed by the master, and some bright paisley Pucci-inspired bloomers, pictured below. Of course, at this point, all my Pucci's are vintage!

Thanks, Valerie, for your reminder of all things Pucci; and to Ricki for her inspiration, and to my mother, Isabelle, who lovingly snapped the picture of me in her garden in the summer of 1967.

Here I am in my Pucci-inspired pants in the Summer of Love

Monday, April 22, 2013

Cranberries in April

Last year on November 12th I wrote:
Hooray! Cranberries are back. Since they are my staple winter smoothie fruit, I've been waiting for them for months. I absolutely love cranberry sauce as a condiment with holiday fare, but my dependence on this tart red berry goes way beyond that. Although there is an abundance of delectable fruit from late spring to mid-autumn to perk up my morning drink, when the last peaches and strawberries disappear there are no fresh fruits to replace them until cranberries come along.

Thanksgiving cranberry sauce
Now it's April, and I've just pulled out my last bag of cranberries from the freezer. This year I timed it right, because delicious early strawberries have now popped up in the markets, ready to replace the last spoonfuls of cranberry sauce in my fridge. Last December, when the markets still had an ample supply, I bought five extra bags to freeze and, sadly, I have just now exhausted my winter store. Because they are harvested in the fall, and are perishable, fresh cranberries are only available in November and December for the traditional holiday sauce. In early January  they completely disappear from market shelves. So, I've learned to stock up while I can. Even Trader Joe's, which sells an acceptable canned sauce, runs out shortly after Christmas. Am I the only one who needs cranberries all winter?  So now I buy extra bags and store them in the freezer to keep my supply going til spring. I prepare two bags at a time into flavorful sauce and keep dipping into my stash until it's used up... which is now!

Native Americans were the first to eat wild cranberries in North America. They added them to their preserved meat staple, pemmican, and used them for dye and as medicine for healing wounds. They probably introduced them to hungry English settlers who called them crane berries because the stem and blossom resemble the head of a sandhill crane. Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water. This dark red perennial plant  (vaccinium macrocarpon) grows on low-running vines in sandy bogs and marshes in the northern U.S. from Maine to the prairies. They are the largest fruit industry of my home state Wisconsin, which produces 4.5 million barrels annually and is the No. 1 cranberry producer In the U.S.

crane-like cranberry blossoms

Even in Berkeley, it's difficult to find organic cranberries. Sprays have traditionally been used to kill swampy weeds and brambles that compete with the fruit, and without resorting to sprays, organic growers must painstakingly weed by hand. This practice is costly and time-consuming, so non-organic cranberries, sold in plastic bags, prevail.

Yogurt, cranberry, soy milk and banana smoothie—my winter breakfast

Including cranberry sauce in my morning smoothies also bolsters my antioxidant and phytonutrient intake, according to The Cranberry Institute website. One of the most impressive health benefits of this plump, red berry is that it contains proanthocyanidins. These PACs, as they are called, prevent  adhesion of certain bacteria, including E. coli, to the urinary tract wall, thus alleviating bladder and other urinary tract infections. Cranberries also contain more antioxidants than nineteen other fruits, so I'm even more disappointed that my supply has run out.

Although the season is over (even for me), I'd like to share the recipe I use for cranberry sauce. It's unique because it uses a whole orange, rind and all, pulverized in the food processor. My dear friend Doris Wecsen developed the recipe when she was teaching cooking classes and buying lots of cookbooks at my store, Cookbook Corner. She assembled a collection of thousands of cookbooks which she used for her research and reading pleasure. Her recipe appears below, but over the years I've  simplified it, eliminating the wine and orange juice. I simply combine one package cranberries, one scant cup sugar, one and one half cups water, one whole orange or tangerine ground in the food processor, a bit of lemon juice, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. I simmer the mixture about fifteen minutes, chill it and then store it in the refrigerator for use in smoothies or as a condiment. I've never found a sauce to compare to this one. And fortunately, orange season coincides with cranberry season.

Doris Wecsen's original typed recipe for cranberry relish

My last batch of  cranberry sauce
  • According to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, cranberries are ingredients in approximately 1,000 food and beverage products on the market, and only 5 percent of Wisconsin's cranberry crop is sold as fresh berries.  I guess not everybody likes fresh cranberries as much as I do!