Liminality & Thanksgiving Recipes October 26th, 2023 I have written endlessly about the liminal spaces in my life when the ambiguity …
It’s New Year’s Eve Day, I’m in Miami, Florida where I have traveled with my pets for a little 45-day snowbirding experience (and possibly the subconscious desire to travel to the source and unravel some deep seeded and complicated emotions I have been carrying for far too long). It’s currently 80 degrees and I’m in my swimsuit outside by the pool near the beach with my pets. I have a sweet little menu prepared for a dinner tonight and was just lollygagging a bit when I got a text asking me for the recipe for that cold weather chicken congee I made during the recent artic chill. You remember, the congee recipe that I had labeled one of my best dishes. The one I was supposed to have posted the recipe for already, the one I keep getting asked for. Here you go. I’ll warn you, my congee recipe is a little different. But what do I know, I had never made congee before. But different is who I am and what I do and staying authentic to who I am is a constant goal, New Year or not.
I make really good moles, and I don’t think it’s because of my connection to Latin America. Despite the fact that I learned a lot of my flavors in my travels there starting even before I traveled there at 10 years old. I think it’s because, as a cook, I embody what a mole really is: a melting pot of ideas and concepts that continuously evolves. It has no real recipe, no real beginning, and no real ending. I cook, like a mole is. My first mole was a Cherry & Duck Mole for a special Taco Party event at my old cooking school in Brooklyn. From there I went on to create such masterpieces as my Passion Fruit Pork Mole, which came to be while I lived in Ecuador where passion fruit practically dropped from the sky. That recipe is also where I came to use carrots as a source of natural sweetness and a thickening agent (moles generally use a myriad of ingredients as thickeners). I even make mole cocktails and once made a recipe for a Cherry Mole Manhattan. The mole-making process delivers immense pleasure for me and reminds me of the importance of openness in cooking. It reminds me that even in what most consider traditional and culturally specific there is diversity.
As you are probably aware, brining helps create a more succulent meat. I am a big fan of the dry brine when it comes to cooking a turkey or even a chicken. The dry brine is easier and less messy than wet, and it delivers moist meat and a crispy and flavorful skin, which I happen to be a fan of. Adding herbs and spices to a dry brine (salt) adds flavor, texture, and a joie de vivre by creating an aromatic and flavorful experience customized to your palate. The salt on the skin draws moisture from the turkey and then comingles with the herbs, spices and salt and gets re-absorbed back into the turkey, creating flavorful, succulent and juicy meat. The salt and air dries out the skin which allows it to become extra crispy when roasted, and the herbs and spices add extra flavor as they cook and get embedded into the chicken skin by means of chicken fat. If you are lucky enough to get a jar of my Chipotle Cranberry Mezcal Herbal Brine in time for Thanksgiving, you will need to know how to use it. And if you didn’t get one (which is likely because I made limited quantities this fall), you can still make one using the same formula.
Unbeknownst to most people, an herb garden on the verge of disappearing into a cold winter offers some of the most potent flavors imaginable for making culinary magic. The same herb garden that appears to be dying an unceremonious death is alive and rich with potency. The metaphor is strong: life cycles carry the essence of transformation and change, and change offers something new; in this case new flavors, aromas and textures that we might not expect. My herb gardens tend to be wild, not surprising I suspect. Most try and control gardens, I go with the flow my Missouri garden is pretty wild. Part of this wildness is because, I’m lazy, in the way that I don’t like to exude effort that’s not needed, and in my Blue Eye abode I have had to grow many herbs in subpar conditions: too much shade, too little water, soil that is too acidic or in spots Inca (my dog) wont pee. This is real and herbs thrive in realness, which is likely why I have always been drawn to them. I have found great beauty (and flavor) in my wild herb garden here in Missouri.
I have been toying with the idea of getting a physical space again for Ger-Nis Culinary & Herb Center, this time in Kansas City. I’m needing a commercial kitchen for making my herbal salts and other herbal products for Herbal-Roots, and it’d be nice to have another dedicated food photography studio and with that I’d likely have some in-person cooking classes and food events focused on fresh herbs and my usual- local, organic, sustainable, fairly traded food ingredients and artisans. During a chat with one of my business advisors highlighting some of the most popular culinary classes we offered back at Ger- Nis Culinary & Herb Center in Brooklyn one class stood out: part of our Fill Your Freezer series: Fresh Sausage Making. This was a class that I personally taught and a wave of nostalgia later I made a bunch of sausages and in the process updated many of my older recipes with more fresh herbs and spices as well as a few new tricks and techniques. I also created a few new recipes.
In my long herbal life thus far the question I have been asked most about herbs exposes a deep fresh herb hesitation: “How do I use them all up?” My answer has always sounded as smart-assy as I am, despite the sincerity. “You just do. You just use them up.” Transcend the conservatism. Learn at least a little about the flavor and potencies of the herbs you like, play and take risks. That’s how we grow as cooks and eaters. I have always had my work cut out for me in trying to encourage fresh herb usage in American kitchens. My herbal salts, which are all packed full of fresh herbs, are just one way to increase excitement about herbs.
I have to go back pretty far to recall how my herbal salts first materialized. While surely some form of fresh herbal salt has existed in my culinary repertoire for a long time, I know the first shelf-stable, oven-dried version started in Brooklyn while running Ger-Nis Culinary & Herb Center: one of the few Brooklyn-based businesses I started in my early 30’s. My herbal salts transformed and matured as I traveled the globe. I became a better, more skillful cook and ingredient finder as I traveled to each new place, my herbal salts reflected this growth and found more creative fuel for my artistry, more passion and more personal happiness in creating. The herb salts just kind of metamorphized, despite the irony to of me being a salt-hesitant cook, into what they are today, as I fed my mind, passion and artistry and I hardly even noticed it was happening. It’s been an incredible journey refining this herbal salt thing inside me, cultivating joy while doing it, all from the unlikely position of southern Missouri. But it is indeed here, in my Blue Eye, MO, kitchen that these herbal salts have culminated.
Something deep inside me lights up in the presence of fresh herbs. I am enraptured by them, as well as those who grow and use them. I hope I can inspire you to use more of them. Fresh herbs have been a symbol of my own artistry and creative spirit since I started growing them in my garden in Eugene, Oregon, in my early 20’s. Not only are they a staple in my cooking, but they have sprung up in every aspect of my life ever since. My Herbal Roots is the creative manifestation of everything herbal I have experienced along the way, and a projection of all to come. It’s a place for me to share my herbal passion indiscriminately, allowing me to document the herbal moments that light my path, providing a home to pause in celebration and appreciation. I have been conscious of my own innate passionate streak from an early age. Like many others, I remember coloring outside the lines as a child. What set me apart was the self-confidence I had that couldn’t be swayed by anyone telling me it was wrong. My inner strength carried me forward from the get-go, fearlessly driving me to where and who I am today. The Summer 2022 – The Fruit Series is a manifestation of my life in Missouri. I hope you enjoy.
Where do I belong when I am “different”? How do I belong in both the bigger world and in the smaller place I reside simultaneously? These questions have followed me around my whole life and feel fresh again as I carve out a real home for my fruity & weird self here in Missouri. The questions, the timing, maybe my age, and certainly the remote and wildly different-for-me locale I’m afoot in has been challenging everything I know about myself. But it is exactly here that my culinary and herbal creativity has produced some of my finest, most precise and innovative work yet. My creative visions are soaring despite the trouble I have finding my grounding here. My herbal concoctions – the herbal salts, most definitely – have always been a collision of everything I see and feel, flavors, people and cultures in ingredient form. Could Missouri be a place where I thrive in the ways I need to most? Is Missouri stirring my creative juices? Maybe, just maybe here is where I need to be: to learn more, to do more and grow more.