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Pastimes : Vegetarians Unite!

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To: daffodil who wrote (660)4/30/2003 2:42:36 PM
From: blind alley racer   of 2058
A Spring Repast for Pagans and Puritans Alike

April 30, 2003

WHEN I was in college I used to get up at dawn every May 1 to see the beginning of what we thought of as the first day of summer.

Actually, I should restate that. My friends and I would stay up all night and end with a full-blown breakfast, with the cheap Champagne flowing, to celebrate May Day. That is, May Day as in the ancient pagan festival, not the workers' holiday. Leaving aside the experiences of 1968, English students have not been known for their affiliation with the horny-handed sons of toil; they have much more in common with pagan carousers.

The full May Day festivities include Morris dancing, which, I'm afraid, still goes on in some villages in England. (It involves people tying bells on themselves and lolling about with ribbons and streamers around a maypole.) The reason you have been mostly spared that in the States is that it was quashed by party-pooping Puritans who were horrified by the wild abandon and made sure none of this was carried into the New World.

The only part of the ritual I remember going in for — apart from the general heel-kicking, eating and drinking — was the washing of faces in the dew. Not that any of us believed that anointing ourselves in the morning dew on May Day really was beautifying, but traditions are traditions. In the age of high-tech unguents and botox, I would not suggest returning to these superstitious practices, but I am happy to propose a May Day breakfast, which may be made just as well on the weekend as tomorrow.

Nor do I suggest you time this breakfast for dawn: sleep in and call it brunch. You don't need to buy Champagne, but make instead what I call a Fragonard, a mixture of any fizzy white wine and puréed strawberries. After concocting this drink, I found out that it already existed and is known as a Rossini. But I stick to my appellation, if only to appeal to the lyrical, blue-skied, swinging summeriness it invokes.

To make it, purée a pint of strawberries (adding a spoonful or so of sugar if the fruit is sour) and stir the fragrant red pulp into a pitcher of prosecco or any other sparkling white wine.

You do not need to be excessive on the food front, either, but a proper celebration of good humor and good weather needs more than a bowl of granola. If you can find young rhubarb, make a simple compote by chopping the rhubarb and roasting it with superfine sugar that has been scented with vanilla. If you act now, your sugar will be sufficiently fragrant by the weekend: just put some in a jar with a vanilla pod. Replenish the sugar as you use it and you will have the wherewithal permanently on hand. (Truth to tell, you do not need to use whole pods: if you ever need vanilla seeds for a recipe, store the scraped out pods in your sugar jar. In fact, every time I cook with a vanilla pod, I rinse it under the tap after use and pop it in.)

Failing that, scent the sugar with the finely grated zest of an orange. Either way, the beauty of cooking rhubarb this way (as opposed to stovetop with some water) is that the rhubarb retains its shape and its rosy lucent pinkness. And, since it is glorious eaten cold with a dollop of whole milk yogurt, you can make it in advance.

If all you can find is tough, redder rhubarb, cut your losses and instead serve a large bowl of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries (cut in two or in fourths). Sprinkle these with superfine sugar and spritz with an orange or, better still, with a few teaspoons of orange-flower water.

Kedgeree is a traditional English breakfast dish, which of course means that it is rarely cooked these days, but it is perfect for a breakfast that is meant to do the job of lunch. My version is a fairly low-effort take on the original: I poach smoked haddock in a dish in the oven, and then cook spiced rice in the water the fish was cooked in. Add lemon, hard-boiled eggs and parsley and you are done. There is something gloriously uplifting and mood-enhancing about the turmeric-tinted goldenness of it all. And if you are not a morning person, let me assure you this makes a perfect early summer supper.

And as the fish stays warm enough wrapped in foil somewhere in the kitchen while you get on with the rice, you have the oven space for a batch of maple pecan muffins, too. Sweetened and flavored with maple syrup and given texture with the addition of chopped pecans and wheat germ (which also makes you feel so inordinately healthful), they are a breeze to make.

By all means, use melted butter in place of the oil stipulated, if you like, and, if you feel sybaritically inclined, split the warm muffins and spread them with a little fine unsalted butter and perhaps even drizzle some smoky amber drops of extra maple syrup on top as well.

This is a celebratory breakfast after all, so why hold back? The bikini diet can start tomorrow.

Recipe: Rosy Rhubarb Compote

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

2 pounds rhubarb
1 1/3 cup superfine sugar (see note)
Finely grated zest of 1 orange.

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut rhubarb into 1-inch pieces and place in an ovenproof dish.

2. Mix sugar with orange zest. Sprinkle over rhubarb and cover with foil. Bake 45 minutes to an hour; fruit should be soft but still holding its shape.

3. Place rhubarb in another dish to cool. Compote may be made the day before and served cold at breakfast.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Note: Or infuse the superfine sugar with a vanilla pod for a few days before using.

Recipe: Maple Pecan Muffins*

Time: 45 minutes

1 cup pecans
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
4 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup corn oil
1 egg
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar.

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Chop pecans roughly, reserving 1/4 cup. In a large bowl, mix nuts with flour, wheat germ, baking powder and salt.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, maple syrup, corn oil and egg. Pour into dry ingredients and mix to combine; do not worry if mixture is lumpy.

3. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or foil baking cups. Spoon batter into cups. Chop reserved nuts a bit finer and mix with brown sugar; sprinkle a bit of this mixture on top of each muffin.

4. Bake for 20 minutes; muffins will be pale, not golden. Place muffins on a cooling rack, but eat while they are still warm, with butter or syrup drizzled over them.

Yield: 12 muffins.

*Sounds like a recipe made for Red-headed Texans if you ask me.
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