I start writing on an ordinary day. I put it down with the hope of finishing later, and then in that time in between, the New York Times starts yelling at me from my phone. I check the news, I check Twitter (which on the whole I don’t love, but it’s always where I go when I try to figure out what’s just happened), and already people are yelling at each other about not being sensitive, not having the wherewithal to unschedule tweets about sales and cookie recipes and whatever else they’ve planned for the day. It seems that something horrible has happened, again. And again, no one knows what to say.
So I call Joey, who’s already on the Mass Pike heading out to a little studio outside of Boston to teach comic books for the week to a bunch of little boys. I tell him what I know, that something has happened. That if things seem different as he heads across the state, this is why. I myself am at this very moment heading in the opposite direction to New York for a meeting. The girls are home with my sister, all of us like the arms of a star heading in different directions. Next to me on the train is a woman about 20, furiously texting. She switches over to the phone, and loudly as if she’s talking to someone who can’t quite hear, says “IT’S OKAY, MOM. I’VE JUST TALKED TO HER. SHE’S SAFE. THEY’RE ON LOCKDOWN, AND SHE’S PROMISED TO STAY AWAY FROM THE WINDOWS.”
She hangs up and we half-smile at each other.
“My sister is right there.”
I don’t have anything to say. “Crazy.” is the best I can do.
She agrees with me. “Crazy.”
There are so many ways to communicate these days. We can tell people how we feel a dozen different ways in the span of five minutes through images or tiny pithy statements or creative curation. But there is no recipe for the right words when a good day goes to shit. At least, I don’t have it. And whether it’s a shooting, a bombing, or a hurricane, there seems to be a collective effort to use all these words we have at our disposal to help. We direct people to give blood, money, prayers. We share inspirational quotes. And those of us who usually talk about food often talk about food, maybe because food is such a good vehicle for love and support. Because even when things go terribly wrong, we still have to eat. Because when we have nothing to say, sometimes making food is how we feel useful.
This past weekend, my friend, Lisa, gave me fifteen kumquats from the tree she keeps in her living room. It was such a gift! They sat on my counter for a day, the little filled bowl looking like the sun itself. And then on Sunday, I chopped them up, picking out the seeds as I went. I put them in a pot with a little honey and water and cooked them till they thickened, and then I layered bread, ricotta, and this sweet gold. Not really much of a recipe there, either. But to make it sound like one, let’s call it a tartine.
Kumquat Ricotta Tartine
(If kumquats are a new friend to you, I’m happy to introduce you. The skin is the most wonderful part, as it’s nearly candy all by itself.)
Roughly chop 15 kumquats, picking out the seeds as you go. Transfer the kumquats along with any of their juice that’s escaped on the counter to a small but heavy pot. Add two tablespoons of water and two tablespoons of honey. Bring to a low boil, stirring often, and let it cook over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 1o minutes. Now you’ve made marmalade. (You can no longer say you’ve never made marmalade. Who knew it was so easy?) You’ll have about 1/2 cup, and so there will likely be some left over for tomorrow’s yogurt.
Let the marmalade cool a bit. Then, toast some good bread, slather thickly with ricotta, and top with the marmalade. Serve for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or just when needed.
Thank you for this, Alana. My thoughts are with all in Massachusetts. I live 20 miles from where the Sandy Hook shootings took place. I wonder when the madness will stop, when the “crazy” will stop. I baked for my boys today, because that is what I knew how to do. Feeding ourselves and our loved ones, and gathering at the table together seems more relevant than ever.
I still cannot find any words for Boston, but my heart aches. Your kumquat marmalade is a nice spot of sun, and sounds delicious.
Thank you for the recipe…I have to admit that I take comfort in things like marmalade when everything else seems so complicated and without explanation.
Katie L says
I’m right here in Boston and was on the T about to get off when everything happened. Thankfully, I was asked to do an errand (before begrugingly and now thankfully accepted) which kept me from getting off the train and being in the area at exactly the moment. Crazy. You’re right.
I made your ricotta this past weekend for the first time (I’m a cheesemaker!) but I wonder something now that I’ve seen the same words used here again… how important is a “heavy pot” when making things like ricotta and marmalade. Unfortunately (and fortunately!) I’m still young and haven’t built my kitchen to include much more than the basic pots and pans (but I am adding gadgets whenever I can!) Is using a basic not-that-heavy pot going to affect the ricotta or the marmalade? I’m having a Spring Celebration party this weekend, and thought…hmm fresh lemon marmalade sounds good for biscuits. Thanks for any help! (PS, can I use the same instructions above for lemon marmalade?!) (PSS, thank you for your blog. It’s the first thing I check every morning when I get to work… your writing means something!)
I’m so happy to hear you’re safe. Sometimes the day works in mysterious ways, and hooray for that errand.
As for the heavy-bottomed pot, really- what that does is to help what you’re making not burn on the bottom. If your pot is not particularly heavy, just stay more aware of it, whether you’re stirring a bit more (gently, if it’s the ricotta!), or keeping the heat a bit lower than you would normally. Beyond that, it doesn’t make a huge difference. But as you build your kitchen, a pot with a nice sturdy bottom is a good investment! It doesn’t have to be nuts and expensive- even IKEA makes a decent pot.
This recipe won’t work with lemon- kumquats have the unique distinction among most other citrus of having sweet and delicious skin- you can just pop a whole one in your mouth. A lemon needs a little more processing to get that rind down. Try kumquats! They’re sweet and delicious and so easy to cook. But if you’re determined towards lemons (also wonderful, just more time consuming), just let me know and I’ll dig up a recipe.
Katie L says
Thank you for the response! Icing the pot seemed to help with the ricotta and with the yogurt I make so I’ll continue to do that and keep a watchful eye on it.
Due to today’s activity, I’m stuck inside all day. If you have a recipe to share for lemon marmalade, I’d appreciate it! Don’t know when I’ll have so much time again!
Margaret in MN says
Between the bombs in Boston and the blast in West, Texas, I’m more or less teetering on the brink of wigging out. Not the best option for a mom of seven! So instead, we’re having an unschooly day. We’re building card table forts in the living room and are making homemade toaster pastries & hummus from your cookbook.
In short, you’re my consolation today! Thank you for that.
Ah- sounds like just my kind of day :). And thanks so much for your sweet words, Margaret. Happy unschooly day.
Nicely put. Those kumquats are positively shining!
Last night I found myself making some sparkly Meyer lemon bars for Staff Appreciation day at my son’s preschool, even though I had a bunch of other things lined up to do, and I was tired, tired. As I made them, I got caught up in the activity, and it was the first time this week I started to feel a little bit calmer, and started to breathe.
I think lemon bars have a special power. I made 2 (that’s right, 2) batches last week alone. And that was before all this craziness, even.
I couldn’t agree with you sentiments more. Food seems to help me right myself when I don’t know what to do with the world. Boston has been particularly hard for me to stomach, the running community is so small in a way, and as a runner, it felt like a direct blow to the chest. So I’ve been making bread, which is what I always do when I need comfort and now we have something (other than LOTS of butter) to put on it! Thank you.
Jenny C says
Do you think this technique might work with Meyer lemons? I’m hoping with the thin skins, it would be tasty not bitter. Maybe a little more honey?
Hi Jenny! Meyer lemons need a little more processing and sugar- more like a traditional marmalade. Kumquats are extra special because not only is their skin tender and soft, it’s really sweet.
i love this.
and i love you.
and i think i would very much like some of this leftover for tomorrow’s yogurt.
I came across this post today while looking for cumquat recipes and wanted to say I hope that the community is starting to recover from this awful tragedy.
I love seeing how treasured cumquats are in America; in Australia they’re generally treated as ornamental (the potted cumquat by the door is a bit of a suburban cliché). Our little tree is laden with fruit right now, and I wish I could send you some through the ether. This year’s crop might have to go in the freezer (alongside summer’s surplus apricots) for the dreamt-of future day when I have the time and headspace (and absence of curious toddler) to make jam again.