My father is obsessed. This is his usual state; what varies from time to time is the object of his obsession. For a while, it was bread, and conversations centered on flour, yeast, and baking stones. Then he turned his attention to fermenting, and mastered kosher pickles so rapidly that his rabbi persuaded him to teach a pickling workshop at the Jewish community center, where he was billed as a local pickling expert, and attracted nearly 100 attendees.
Having conquered the pickle, he turned his attention to olives, announcing he intended to learn how to cure them. I replied, That sounds great – please send me some olives.
I was thinking, He’ll send me a jar of nice olives, and I’ll make a bowl of nice tapenade with them.
He was thinking, My daughter also wants to learn how to cure olives.
This is how, one Wednesday afternoon, I found myself opening a box filled with twenty pounds of fresh black olives.
I examined the unexpected treasure trove of lovely, plump little black olives, but learning to cure olives, or anything really, isn’t on my To Do list. I decided to simply eat them. Biting into one, I received my first and most important lesson in olive curing: If you don’t do it, olives aren’t edible.
This is why I spent part of a Sunday in December baking cookies, but not as many as I normally would, because I needed the rest of the day to weigh and measure olives, sea salt, and water into various containers, where they will soak together until the olives become, hopefully, edible.
In case you are wondering how many containers it takes to brine twenty unexpected pounds of olives, the answer is six: A cookie jar, three Tupperware juice pitchers, a French porcelain serving bowl, and a plastic Folgers coffee tub. Yes, I’m aware that I’m violating some Seattle code, making and drinking Folgers pre-ground coffee. But the coffee police haven’t come for me yet, and the big plastic tubs are awfully handy when large quantities of unexpected olives appear on one’s doorstep.
Like father, like daughter; he has his obsessions, I have mine. I have discovered maple syrup – not the stuff that comes in a squeeze bottle shaped like a lady, but the real stuff, that comes in a bottle with a tiny, useless handle on it.
The handle, I have learned, once served a purpose, and the syrup itself still serves many purposes, all of which I am determined to explore, and soon. I discovered this when I received a digital review copy of the Maple Syrup Cookbook, by Ken Haedrich. It’s a book I never would have picked up on my own, since I tend to view cookbooks focused on a single ingredient more as kitsch than cuisine. In this case, my preconceived notions were completely incorrect, much to my delight: Nothing about the recipes in this pretty book feels like a stretch, and I found myself attaching digital sticky notes to more than a dozen pages, as well as learning a little by reading the side notes.
For my first recipe, I intended to make the Maple Spice Cookies for a holiday cookie exchange, but The Child insisted I make my traditional Eggnog Cookies – It Isn’t Christmas Without Them, she said – and I succumbed to her flattery. Instead, one evening when I had no particular plans for dinner, I made the simple roast chicken with a mustard-maple glaze. It isn’t fussy, and required no trips to the store.
It was lovely, with just a hint of sweetness from the maple syrup and a bit of bite from the mustard, lemon juice, and garlic. The flavors balance perfectly, and even The Child, who normally avoids any sort of mixing of sweet-and-savory on her dinner plate, pronounced it A Keeper.
The original recipe calls for the chicken to be grilled or broiled. I baked it, but felt it would have been better broiled, so I’ve included those directions. I used chicken thighs, rather than the cut-up chicken called for; use three or so pounds of chicken pieces, whichever sort you prefer, and adjust the cooking time accordingly. This would be wonderful cooked on a grill in summer.
I probably won’t take my obsession as far as my father might; you won’t likely read about me having a maple sugaring party or learning to tap trees. Then again, if the olives turn out, who knows?
- 3lbs chicken pieces
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
- juice of ½ small lemon
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- ½ tsp ground pepper
- Combine the maple syrup, mustard, lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, and pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and cook for about a minute. Remove from heat.
- Rinse the chicken parts and pat dry. Brush each piece of chicken with some of the sauce, using about half, and place in a bowl. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.
- Broil the chicken about 6 inches from the heat, about 15 minutes on each side, basting with the remaining sauce from time to time. Total cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken pieces; be sure the meat is tender and juices run clear, or check for doneness with a thermometer.