good gravy!

dscf3882Oh dear me, yum.  There’s an column in the works about small local meat farmers, but I had to share this one teeny picture of our Biancalana Pork Growers pork shoulder roast the other night.  Dave and Cody Biancalana are a father and son team (dad owns a popular Eugene garage) who started raising a pig as a hobby on their land in Springfield, and suddenly, they had a pork growing operation.

The pork is available at the tiny Saturday farmer’s market in the parking lot shared by Mazzi’s and Hideaway Bakery, and it’s delicious.  Their pepper bacon? I can’t even think about it because my drool will short out my keyboard.

Retrogrouch and I are working on all the cuts of meat they have, including a pancetta cured by Mazzi’s.  So far, so good.

But this is more about the gravy.  Graaaaaaaaaaavy.  I made the easiest, most delicious gravy the other day with pan drippings and sour cream, of all things.  Here it is:

Creamy Mustard Pork Gravy

Remove your roast and look at those beautiful drippings left behind.  Loosen the roast drippings by adding a cup or so of water.  Just plain water.  Put it back in the oven until it boils, and loosen up any stuck pieces with a wooden spoon.  Let it sit for a few minutes, then strain out the solids with a fine mesh strainer.  The liquids can go into a small saucepan.  Add a bit more liquid if it is really salty and a glug of verjus, vermouth, or white wine.  Bring to a boil.  Then, and this is the magic, take it off the heat.  Add a healthy glob (2 tablespoons?) of a stone-ground mustard.  Using a clean, large whisk, dip it into your sour cream container until you have about 1/3 cup.  Sure, you could use a spoon, but we’re being magic here.  Then whisk it into your drippings juice like mad until the white bits are incorporated and whole thing thickens.  Taste, and add a bit more sour cream if you like.

You can thank me later.  I accept gifts of bacon.

happy paczki day 2009

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It’s that time of year again, that donutty time of year which falls on the day before Lent begins.  Many Polish-American Catholic families round up the fats and flours in the household and use them to make paczki, the jam-filled donut, and call it Paczki Day.  Others go out and celebrate in the streets.

Me?  Each year, I desperately launch into a Google project to find a Polish bakery, a single Polish bakery on the West Coast, that might sell them to me, and celebrate by going to a crummy donut shop when I fail. Then I write to a bunch of people and wish them a Happy Paczki Day, with my wishes that the next year will bring fat fortune.

Yesterday, as I was celebrating in my traditional way, I was pleased to see there is at least one confirmed place in the PNW that sells paczki: a market in Seattle.  It then occurred to me that we have a new donut outfit in Eugene.  Holy Donuts makes organic, vegan donuts in novel flavors.  I had seen the donuts at our local Friendly Street Market, the Saturday Market, Market of Choice, Sundance, New Frontier, The Kiva, and other places around town.

So I gave owner Karen Nunley a call and asked her to make me a dozen paczki-style donuts, filled with raspberry jam.  They arrived on my doorstep this morning, and we are finally celebrating Paczki Day in style.

The donuts are fresh and cakey, with a filling that tastes of real raspberries and a vanilla glaze.  They are very sweet, but I forgive them that, since a non-sweet donut would be ostracized in the donut community.  I believe the filled ones need to be special-ordered until Holiday Market rolls around.  Karen told me that she’s planning to open up a shop in midtown in the near future.  Stay tuned…we might be able to go out for Paczki Day next year!

Thanks, Karen, and Happy Paczki Day to all!

garden progress and baking

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I’m still struggling to proof something for my day job (the picture above is a visual pun on proofreading and bread dough proofing, get it? ha).  I apologize for posting so few recipes here lately; it isn’t for lack of desire, believe me.  I’ve been allowing myself little blobs of time here and there to do gardening and research for the food column, but I haven’t had the time to try out some delicious new ideas that are brewing.  But I can tell you that I got my peas planted this weekend (two varieties, the good ol’ Oregon Sugar Pod II and Waverex, a petit pois), and fertilized ’em well with a healthy dose of fish bone meal.  I also got suckered into buying a tayberry bare root and a couple of formidable chunks of rhubarb rhizome (Crimson Red and Victoria).  Poor me.  ;)

On the carb front, it was my great pleasure to spend a couple of hours at the Master Food Preservers bread baking class on Saturday.

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The class seemed like great fun; students were busy making artisan loaves all day long at the wonderful commercial kitchen at Food for Lane County.  Recipes included  a free-form pain à l’ancienne (see picture below), whole wheat bread, ciabatta, a no-knead boule, and traditional Italian loaves. Each group had their own station, set up with a standing mixer and other tools to blend, knead, and form the loaves, and by the time I headed out, I saw many smiling faces with daubs of flour on their cheeks.

The instructor, Laura Hindrichs (above), is precise and nurturing, a wonderful combination of qualities in a teacher, and she can bake like it’s no one’s business.  There is one more class in the series, and I’m not sure if there is space, but it’s worth calling the MFP office if you’re interested.  The topic is flatbreads, and it will take place on Saturday, Feb. 28, from 9-2, cost $35.  Laura says it is her favorite of the series.

Again, thirty-five bucks.  You will never be able to get such excellent, hands-on instruction anywhere else, at any time, for this price.  I think it would be hard to find at even double the price, frankly.  This is one of the many wonderful programs sponsored by OSU Extension, and one of the reasons I’m such a strong supporter of keeping Extension alive.  Oh yeah, and a homemade lunch is included.  Seriously, Eugeniuses, if you are interested in cooking, check it out!  There are links to future MFP classes to the right.   I’ll be pimping the full Master Food Preserver course in a post in the near future…stay tuned.

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…and the winner of the great dry bean giveaway of 2009 is…

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Veronica!

Thanks for playing, everyone.  This was really fun, and I think I’ll do more giveaways in the future.  I’ll be in touch with the winner via email.  I also drew a runner-up, in case Veronica decides not to take the grand prize of two pounds of local Stalford Seed Farm legumes, but I have a feeling this won’t be an issue.  :)

The winning drawing entry suggested this idea for using pinto beans:

My mom cooked Mexican food when I was growing up, so she always had a pot of beans on. I cook beans the way she taught me. My favorite way to eat them is right out of the pot when they’ve just finished cooking. I spoon some of the beans in a bowl, add a generous amount of broth from the pot, then add chopped tomato, onion, a little chopped jalapeño, and a sprinkling of cheese on top. Simple yet so satisfying!

Yum!  I’d love to hear what else Veronica decides to make with the beans…perhaps a guest post?

to do: gardening and giving away beans

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I don’t know about you, but I’m going to get in a bit of gardening today before the rains return.  I’m on a strict schedule of only doing two gardening tasks a day, or else I’d spend all my time out there.  Yesterday, for example, I pruned my raspberries and grape vines. Today, it’s roses and ornamental quince.

So I’m just popping in to say…

Don’t forget to enter The Great Dried Bean Giveaway of 2009 — tomorrow is the drawing!  You can win two pounds of delicious, fresh Willamette Valley legumes from Stalford Seed Farm’s 2008 bean trials.

Take a look at the comments section for some great recipe ideas.  I’m really intrigued by the smashed chickpea salad, the Spanish stew (olla gitana), involving garbanzos, pork, pears (!), pimenton, picada and chard, and all the dishes made by grandmothers, mothers, and other loved ones.  Thanks for sharing those ideas, and good luck!

nam myo ho ren ge kyo: lotus root pickles

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I’ve been so busy lately with writing and teaching that I haven’t been cooking much.  We’ve been living on quick meals and take-out, which in Eugene is a sickening prospect after a day or two.  My biggest foray into new dishes was a delicious Peruvian ceviche the other day, but the photos make it look like a jumbled mess, so I won’t bother posting.

The acidic zing of vinegary dressings has captured my attention again, obviously.  Great for mid-winter blues and the heavy, thick food we eat when the weather’s cold.  One quick pickle I’ve been snacking on — lemon and yuzu citrus lotus root.

The lotus root is a rare creature in the vegetable kingdom.  If you have access to fresh lotus roots, the buff-colored segmented plain jane that reveals its gorgeous creamy white flower pattern when you cut it, they’re beautiful to add to stir-fries.  They do need to be kept in acidulated water after you peel off the buff skin, though, and blanched until slightly softened before stir-frying or making pickles.

Or you can cheat like me, since I don’t have any other options here in Eugene, and buy a fresh, refrigerated package of already sliced and acidulated lotus roots at an Asian market.  Don’t buy the canned ones.  Trust me.

Drain the water in the package, then add the lotus root slices to a wide, flat, glass or plastic container with a secure lid.  Mix together a solution of 2/3 rice vinegar and 1/3 water, add a few long strips of lemon zest (or yuzu zest if you have it, yuzu being a Japanese citron with a lovely scent), a small scoop of salt, an even smaller scoop of sugar to balance the flavors.  Pour over slices, and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few days.  Eat as needed, preferably within a month.  Breathe deeply as if you’re on a mountaintop temple, zen up your apartment with bamboo shades and an Amida Butsu candle, and throw around Buddhist lingo like a nirvana-attaining badass.

the great dry bean giveaway of 2009

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As the final (I think) leg in my bean adventure, I’d like to host my first food product giveaway here at Culinaria Eugenius.  I’m a little suspicious of companies that infiltrate blogs to market their products, but I do like the free food sharing idea.  Plus, I was generously given these beans to spread the word about relocalization efforts in the Willamette Valley, so why wouldn’t I share the love?

The Great Bean Giveaway of 2009:

a pound of Willamette Valley pinto beans and a pound of Willamette Valley garbanzo beans for you.

These dried beans will yield around 12 cups of cooked bean pleasure.

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These little lovelies were raised on a transitioning-to-organic field in Tangent, Oregon, by Stalford Seed Farms. They come fresh from the 2008 crop, and are cloaked in the dark, rich soil from which they were born.  (That is, they need to be sorted and washed).  They plump up and cook beautifully, yielding tender, sweet, creamy, tasty flesh in a fraction of the time it takes to cook their tough, chalky supermarket cousins.

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Stalford Seed Farms (along with the project’s visionary Harry MacCormack of Sunbow Farm) is taking part in the Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project.  On their 9,000 acre farm in Linn County, they grow mostly grass seed, but have devoted some of their resources for the past three years to experimenting with food crops, staples such as beans and grains.  The 2009 Project report, from which I’ve taken all the figures below, notes that 130 acres have been converted to food crops on the farm (and I believe these are the ones that will be certified organic next year).  400 more acres are being converted, and 1,200 acres were planted with conventional soft white wheat in 2008.

Why is this important?

  • The Willamete Valley farm acreage (it is estimated) could provide food for all its residents in the valley, including the Portland metropolitan area;
  • Instead, this farm acreage is now about 60% grass seed production;
  • Food crops are only about 18%;
  • We once produced miles of produce and staples for commercial canneries and markets, and our soil is now being depleted with monoculture crops;
  • It is more costly to grow food, even with the benefits of crop rotation and diversity, and without visible and vocal demand for a relocalized food network in our area, farmers may be unwilling to make the shift.

dscf3659When I visited the farm a couple of weeks ago and spoke with Gian Mercurio, farmer, organic food promoter, and mother-in-law to the farm’s owner Harry Stalford, she shared with me some emails that gave glowing reports of the beans from local chefs and home cooks.  I am hoping to share my successes with her, as well.

So here’s the deal:

Please comment below if you’re interested in being considered for the bean giveaway drawing with your name, email address (won’t appear on comment field), and your favorite way to cook pinto or garbanzo beans.

I’ll write down your name on a slip of paper and do a random drawing a week from today (2/22/09), then contact the winner.  You don’t need to live in Eugene or even the Willamette Valley, but I can’t afford shipping costs overseas.  The beans will be shipped to you in the finest Ziploc-style bag money can buy.

cool beans in the eugene weekly, with appendix

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Some of you may have noticed I’ve been kind of bean-crazy lately.

My latest food column, an exposé of the heirloom bean craze, is out in this week’s Eugene Weekly!

I mentioned the beans pictured above, the red anasazis and the yellow-eyes, in the article, but we weren’t able to fit a recipe.  Never fear, my friends, for clicking will easily conjure up recipes for my Tuscan bean and tuna salad with yellow-eyes and drunken pot beans with anasazis.  We’ve also got a thick, hearty, Triestine bean, sauerkraut and ham soup with borlotto lamons, and a smoky yellow-split pea soup with kale.  And don’t forget my Willamette Valley version of three bean salad with hazelnuts, made with dried kidney beans.  And my almost plebian chili recipe, likewise.

I also wanted to share some more information about local beans and some of the great resources now available if you wanted to take part in the great bean adventure of 2009.  Amy at Our Home Works, my friend and fellow Master Gardener trainee, is a Eugene food blogger who is very invested in all matters locavore, and she has a great resource page for beans and grains in Oregon.  This page includes links to her excellent posts on the Southern Willamette Bean and Grain Project and Rancho Gordo, plus information about Ayers Creek Farm, all mentioned in the article.

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The picture above features samples from the 2008 crop of one of the farms in the Southern Willamette Bean and Grain Project.  Stalford Seed Farm grew a handful of different types of beans; these are their delicious pinto and garbanzo beans.  I recently served them at our Master Gardener training course in dips for 60 or so hungry gardeners.  Roasted Red Pepper Hummus and Spicy Green Jalapeño Bean Dip, mmm….

If you are interested in purchasing Ayers Creek Farm beans, you’ll want to head up to the Sunday Hillsdale farmer’s market as soon as possible (n.b., this weekend the market is closed; see the comment below).  Anthony Boutard, the owner of the farm, who was quoted in my article, grows extraordinary beans, grains, vegetables and fruits.  He was kind enough to email me a letter about his heirloom beans and other staple crops.  I wanted to share one part of it with you:

All of our beans are hand-harvested because it is hard to fully dry beans at the 45th parallel, especially on the west side of the Cascades.    Our extra care makes a better bean.  About four years ago, a couple approached our stall.  The wife was leading, with her husband following reluctantly.  She had heard that we sold very good beans, and want try them because they wanted to eat more beans.  The husband scowled, and told us he thought it was crazy to pay $5/LB for beans, when he cold buy them for 99¢/LB. I explained that we carefully fertilized and harvested the beans, and, no, we were not getting rich from growing beans.  She purchased one package, zolfinos on my advice, and they left.  The next market, he was in the lead and loading up on beans.  This scene has been repeated, in some form, time and time again.

Eugenia Bob sez check ’em out.  They’re worth it, and oh so achingly lovely.  You may find two dried fava bean recipes of Anthony’s in the Portland food blog, Good Stuff NW.  Here are his borlotto lamons, which I used in my Triestine bean soup:

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And last, but not least, I am almost heartbroken I couldn’t add my friend and extraordinary cook Trillium’s bean recipes to the article.  I realized immediately that I couldn’t edit down these suggestions; they’re too magnificent as is.  Trillium even gives notes on local sources for accompaniments.  Enjoy!

  • White beans (such as cannelloni, zolfino or bianchetto) simmered with a bit of shallot, garlic and sage, spooned hot with their cooking liquid over a rustic arugula dressed in red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper with grilled grass-fed beef from Knee Deep sliced and fanned alongside.
  • Chestnut-flavored borlotto lamon with my homemade pancetta for the classic pasta e fagioli.
  • Sturdy and meaty tarbais, oven-braised with duck (from Raven’s Feather Farm), lamb shoulder (from Anderson Ranch) and garlic sausage (from Otto’s in Pdx).
  • A brothy stew of potatoes, chanterelles, onions and purgatorio (very thin skinned and dainty white beans) served under broiled black cod with crispy skin (I get Newman’s to leave the skin on a fillet of black cod and give me the fish frame to make a simple fumet for the cooking liquid).
  • Lastly, any sort of red, pinto or soldier bean cooked with a smoked ham hock (Long’s), sauteed onion and plenty of winter savory. Cook them until the beans break down and their starches turn the soup thick and glossy. Cornbread alongside is mandatory.

I hope I’m not embarrassing Trillium, who is shy, but I couldn’t resist posting these ideas.  Amazing, no?  I feel it almost an ethical obligation to show everyone in Eugene that we can have a stunningly delicious and original food scene here.  And as the local food crops diversify because we show there’s a demand, it’s well within our reach.

EDITED TO ADD TEXT OF ARTICLE, SINCE LINKS ARE UNRELIABLE:

Eugene Weekly : Food : 2.12.2009

Article | February 24, 2012 – 12:42am

Cool Beans

Why you should be crazy for heirloom shell beans

By Jennifer Burns Levin

Who knew beans would be the reason for the season?

Heirloom shell beans are all the rage, part of the local food movement that will only get bigger in 2009. And it makes sense. Because beans provide a filling, economical source of protein, fiber and B vitamins, they are served in traditional and rustic dishes all over the world. Furthermore, the push for recovering local heirloom seeds has stimulated a resurgence in crops native to the Americas.  Farmers — and consumers — are rediscovering how to grow and use myriad beautiful varieties.

In the past few years, Napa-based Rancho Gordo has created an almost cult-like following in dried heirloom shell beans, with a zealous group of followers that storms the weekly San Francisco Ferry Building farmers’ market in search of exotic varieties. Rancho Gordo’s yellow-eye and speckled anasazi beans (pictured) are only some of heirloom varieties they offer, with each bean having its own flavor and texture. Yellow-eyes are traditional in New England baked beans. Simmered with bacon, onions and jalapeños, then lashed with tequila, anasazi beans make a winter staple nothing short of transcendent.

Transcendent? Beans?

Indeed. Eugene food blogger Amy McCann was recently spotted with her arms full of legumes at the Hillsdale farmer’s market. “Who would have thought people could be so passionate about beans?” she wonders.

The farm that produced those love beans, Ayers Creek Farm, is an Oregon Tilth-certified organic farm located in Gaston, 30 miles west of Portland. They offer their bean bounty in winter at the Hillsdale farmers’ market. On a recent weekend, this included a selection of hand-harvested dried beans with evocative names such as purgatorio, a delicate white bean; black Basque; the chestnut-flavored borlotto lamon; the red-eyed Soldier; and Tarbais, the classic French cassoulet bean.

Owner Anthony Boutard sees his beans as a part of a systemic shift in producing staple crops. The great demand is less of a trend than an unmet need for well-grown, high-quality staples. His farm has offered unusual varieties of staple crops, such as grain corn, barley, sweet potatoes and potatoes, for the past eight seasons. “We are surrounded by wheat fields, and we wanted to find a way to bring debased staples such as wheat back into scale of the market farm in a profitable and interesting way,” says Boutard. “We wanted to scale down a cheap commodity and make it a high-quality food in the same way we manage our other crops.”

Eugene gourmand and longtime Ayers Creek customer Trillium Blackmer uses at least a pound of Boutard’s beans a week, especially in the winter. She stresses that high-quality beans are crucial. “I think part of the problem is that many people experiment with beans that are just not very good, get frustrated, and give up. Most beans, if they are fresh and dried with care, do not require any presoaking before cooking, and don’t get tough with early salting.”

Beans are also an important part of efforts in surrounding counties to recreate a local and sustainable food system. The Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project has been holding field trials with two local farms interested in transitioning their crops from grass seed to food sources. Farmers Harry MacCormack of Sunbow Farm and Harry Stalford and Gian Mercurio of Stalford Seed Farms have had moderate success at growing popular legumes in Linn and Benton Counties in the past few years. Garbanzos, pinto beans and lentils grow well on the valley floor, they report, but the cold weather in 2008 created smaller yields.

But consumer desire for beans will surely motivate more farms to consider legume crops. “We have people calling us to get our product,” says Gian Mercurio, “it’s a farmer’s dream.” If the creamy, plump garbanzo beans I recently sampled are any indicator of the quality of beans that our valley can produce, the phone will start ringing off the hook.

Jennifer Burns Levin writes about local food at culinariaeugenius.wordpress.com, where you can find bean recipes from local cooks and links to the Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project and McCann’s food blog, Our Home Works.

my staples: drunk on beans

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I’m now experimenting with the local pintos, grown by Stalford Seed Farms in Tangent, OR, as part of their bean trials to help relocalize our food network in the Willamette Valley by converting grass seed crops to beans and grains.  See the smiley face?  That’s what they look like.  The flavor of the beans are great.  They come in quite dirty, and the sizes are not as uniform as they would be in a facility with a larger (or more fastidious) processing method, but I don’t mind the rustic feel.

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The perfect — and I’m resisting saying ONLY — pinto bean recipe is a big, juicy, bacony, spicy, tequila-laced pot of simple Mexican beans.  This recipe, adapted from one in Rick Bayless’ cookbook Mexican Kitchen, is so good you’ll want to pick up the pot and drink it.  It outshines most chicken preparations in burritos and tacos, and makes a simple, delicious partner to rice.

The recipe works well with any dried pinto-type bean, or you could substitute the black beans grown in Veneta, available at several local markets.  But if you can, try it with nutty, gorgeous speckled anasazi beans from New Mexico, one of the most popular heirloom varieties.  Anasazis cook up pink, and they contain only a fraction of the substance responsible for making beans unpopular at parties.  I’ve seen anasazis in town at both Sundance and Market of Choice.  The picture at the top of this post is how the anasazis look when cooked (indeed, a bit overcooked).

If you are using this year’s crop of dried beans or an heirloom variety, you will not need to pre-soak the beans for very long or at all — your call.  I soaked my rather fresh Rancho Gordo anasazi beans for one hour, and they were already swollen and splitting.

Drunken Beans with Bacon and Cilantro

Adapted from Rick Bayless’ “Frijoles Borrachos

  • 8 thick slices raw bacon
  • 2 cups dry Anasazi beans (see introductory note)
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped coarsely
  • 1 jalapeño, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tequila
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • salt to taste (start with 1 teaspoon)

Pick through beans for debris and rocks and rinse well.  If you are using supermarket beans, pre-soak the beans in cold water overnight.  If your beans are more fresh, soak until there is no dry core remaining in the center of the bean when you cut it in half.

Place beans in a 4-quart or larger pot.  Add water to cover beans by at least two inches.  Add half (four slices) of raw bacon and a quarter of the onions.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, cooking beans partially covered until tender, anywhere from 1-3 hours, depending on the freshness of your beans.

Stir the beans occasionally and check that the liquid keeps the beans covered by about an inch.  Add more water if necessary.

As the beans are cooking, fry the remaining four slices of bacon in a skillet until crisp.  Crumble the bacon in a small bowl.  Fry the remaining onion and jalapeño in the bacon grease until golden brown.  Set onion mixture aside in another bowl.

When the beans are almost soft, add the onion mixture to the beans.  Salt to taste after the flavors have settled, about 10 minutes, then cook for 20 more minutes to blend the flavors.  Try to boil down the liquid at this point, so it barely covers the beans, on medium high heat.

Just before serving, add the crumbled bacon, tequila, and cilantro.

Makes about 6 cups of beans.  Beans can be frozen before the last step.

another star blinks out: blossom dearie

You had never heard anything like her.  Wait, you had, but you just didn’t know it.  You heard her long ago on Schoolhouse Rock singing about figure 8s and adjectives:

Maybe that’s why she appealed to you so immediately and so deeply.  She was a beloved guest at your dinner parties — an almost unbroken attendance for the past 15 years since the moment you (re)discovered her in your early twenties.  She sang, sang like no one else with that weird little girl voice over the chill piano and rush of the brushes.  She sang your favorite interpretations of some of your favorite songs.  She got you through your terrible tongue and your temper for two.  She was raised in a lion’s den, and her nightly occupation was stealing other womens’ men.  She was with you on the Friday evening cocktail, the moment you were too tired to write another word.  She made you cry when she sang her wistful “Manhattan” and the “isle of joy” after the terrorist attacks in 2001.  She guided your kitten dance around the living room to “I Won’t Dance” (Monsieur, you are so light on your feet!  Vous êtes gentile et je vous aime, c’est vrai!).  And she made you LOL, recognizing your own Playboy-reading, “Mack the Knife”-singing, suede shoe-wearing, swinging aliveness in elitesville, in her mockery of hipsters:

They say it was May that made her daft as a daisy, that gave her whole world this crazy, heavenly hazy hue.  She was a lark, a wing, the spark of a firefly’s fling.  And we loved her.

Blossom Dearie, rest in peace, 1926-2009.  Tout doucement.