Cheap Eats

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Recipe For An Off Day


On Sunday, it was beautiful. People go a little wild when the cold abates. An Irish friend of mine once described seventy degrees in Dublin finds offices empty, streets filled with pasty Irish folk sprawled half-undressed on parks and medians. Central park was somewhat similar, only more barelegged runners and such.

I walked through the park to the Met, which had a show of a number of Bonnard’s interiors. Bonnard lived in his own world, a vision that included his own Lolita (nee Marthe), a bath, many windows and baskets of fruit. Shadows in vermillion and lemon.

On my way out, I passed through the medieval hall, where they have incredible tapestries and illuminations. I have a thing for the tiny drawings that decorated the letters in books, little men and women patterned within Os and Ms. Many of them are saints, and within the drawings are scenes of decapitations, holy births, and little tortures. The colors have survived brilliantly, and there, ghastly and bleeding and oddly serene, are the saints in all their glory.

At any rate, my original plan for the day was to make something to bring to a Sunday dinner—a classic pear tart or this or even this, a recipe I came across that sounded a bit different, from a Brooklyn restaurant. I thought I had all that I needed, and then, of course, I did not. No tart or springform pan. That would have been manageable but for the lack of flour. This, my friends, was troublesome. I began to run late and lazy, and nothing baked materialized at all. A small blessing, in the end, for they had planned ahead and bought the incredible chocolate cookies from Levain. Good god. I have a cookie recipe to share at some point, but these, fat and rich and coma-inducing, were delicious.

So instead I have for you something I tried earlier this week—almond milk—inspired by an age in which people were boiled and milk often soured. I love foods and their stories, and the best often come by accident or necessity (pain perdue, par example). In medieval times, animal products could not be kept for long without spoiling, nor could they be eaten on “lean days” (Friday through Sunday) or Lent. The enterprising cooks of the time therefore devised ways of using vegetable products to stand in (it appears it wasn’t the crunchy vegan types that started all of this). Oats, walnuts, but mostly almonds provided a base for a milky substance whose thickness and richness could be adjusted as a stand in for milk or crème.

The other day, I got a craving for these banana smoothies that my friend Anna and I fell in love with on a trip to Spain. Down a set of stairs off the street, the place was dark, and often empty, and the stone basement refreshingly damp and cool in the summer heat. The drinks were incredibly simple, yet so good, and when I bought the cookbook from Rose Bakery and saw a version of them there, I wanted to go back.

Originally made with whole milk, the drinks are meant to be served rich and in small doses. I didn’t know what I would do with an entire container of whole milk, so I thought I would take the opportunity to try out the almond milk thing. With some honey or dates blended in, and a little cinnamon, the almond milk is a drink in itself. Or blend it with half of a ripe banana (or, I suppose, other preferred fruit) for a frothy bev. In the summer, this could be great with oversoft peaches or apricots.

There are several approaches to making nut milks, which appear to take varying degrees of time and effort. Here is a low-impact version. You can also add vanilla, vanilla bean, or other flavorings.

Almond (or other nut) Milk
1 cup raw almonds
2 cups water
2 dates or 1tbs honey, or adjust to taste
Other potentials: vanilla, rose water, vanilla bean

Take raw almonds, place in a container, and cover with water, preferably but not necessarily overnight.

The next morning, drain the almonds, blend with fresh water. By adjusting the amount of water, you can make it as thin or thick as you desire. I hear you can use this milk as a substitute for all different recipes that call for milk. Unconfirmed…

You can drink this as is (if it’s in a smoothie, I wouldn’t bother straining) or pour through several layers of cheese cloth.

Banana Smoothie 1 cup whole milk or almond milk
1 banana
1 tbs honey, or other sweetener, adjusted to taste
1-2 tbs apple juice, if you have it
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