April 10, 2013 § 23 Comments
I have been having an absolute love affair with raw fennel lately. Every night and/or every time I’m at the market my little conversation with myself goes, “what kind of vegetable should we have with dinner? Broccoli? Nah. Cabbage? Not today. Kale? Meh. Ooh, how about a salad with shaved fennel. Oh, yes that sounds perfect.” And it keeps happening. Over and over. So what if I just ate a whole bulb? More fennel please.
It could just be one of my recent cravings. Or perhaps it’s because it’s the closest we’re getting to spring here right now. Still. (Not talking about the weather. I’m not talking about the weather. I’ll just put on another sweater, and not mention the weather.) But, on the whole, I’d say the jag started with this salad.
Fennel salad with burrata? Sign me up, and then give me seconds! Anything that includes buratta tends to be my dream meal. But, the fennel, with its sleek coat of lemon and olive oil and the icy cool of mint leaves was no second fiddle to the burrata’s main act (or what I thought would be the main act, before I sat down to eat).
And, that, in sum, is why I can’t stop eating fennel. I mean, a) I get to use my mandoline, which is always an exciting process because you flirt with losing your fingertips but then get parchment thin delicate sheets of fennel, all in a noodle-like tangle, out of the deal. And then, b) the 15 minute waiting period where the fennel bathes in a lemony dressing ever so slightly softens its crunch and freshens its flavor with the brightness of the lemon – both in juice and zest form – bolstering the anise notes of the vegetable. I fall for lemon-in-both-juice-and-zest-form’s show every time.
This salad, with grapefruit and curds of soft goat cheese is my most recent use of lemony fennel. There is nothing new about combining fennel’s sweetness with the juicy bittersweet of grapefruit. I feel like I have seen it in many a restaurant in past years at this very time of year, the transition time where we start picking up spring while still trailing a few threads of winter along with us. (Once I even had it as a fennel grapefruit salad with pine nuts and chunks of salted brittle candy. That was pretty tasty.) But, look at the word “marinated” there. Marinated makes it different! And new! « Read the rest of this entry »
March 30, 2013 § 56 Comments
I went a little insane this last week. I went for a walk with the dog and didn’t need to wear a hat. My face didn’t feel cold at all. I knew intellectually that was possible, but I had actually kind of forgotten what that felt like. And I was like, “SPRING!!!!!”
So then I decided we were going to celebrate both Passover and Easter – Joel’s background is Jewish and mine is Lutheran, so I figured we were allowed. We (ok, really it’s me, but Joel goes along with it so well) are extremely attracted by events, holidays, and meals steeped in symbolism, and both Passover and Easter are ideal for this. In addition to planning big meals for each holiday, I also decided it would be best if we made all of our own matzoh and Easter candy homemade. No problem, right? Ha. I feel like my every spare moment has been in the kitchen, which I don’t really mind. But, then my advisor finally sent me comments back on one of my dissertation drafts, so I was supposed to be editing that too. Oops.
But, so far, it’s all been totally worth it. And as long as the lamb cake I’m currently baking comes out of the mold without its face falling apart, then I feel like we’re ready to rock and roll.
It feels amazing to have my energy coming back because I’ve been pretty exhausted for the last couple months…Which brings me to our very big news. It, as you may have already guessed, has everything to do with an entirely different sort of, shall we say, baking project, with buns in ovens, and all. And I don’t mean the hot cross kind.
That is to say, come late September we’re expecting a new family member to join our little family!(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) We couldn’t be more thrilled. Or terrified, of course. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 19, 2013 § 20 Comments
I wasn’t kidding about the soups (I even made another one today for lunch. This one, in fact, but with kale instead of cabbage). And, as you can see, I definitely wasn’t kidding about the spinach and pine nut soup. Actually, I used the soup and my desire to make it as an excuse to have an impromptu St. Patrick’s/St. Urho‘s day dinner for a few friends. Clearly there is nothing very Irish (or Finnish for that matter) about spinach and pine nuts, but check out how green that soup is! I decided that with a side of soda bread and some good Irish butter and cheddar it would suit us just fine.
And it did. It’s actually quite a wonderful soup. No wonder I used to make it as a starter for dinner parties all the time! Come to think of it, I think I first served this soup (or a version of it) at the first serious dinner party I ever hosted. That was back in the day, back during my sophomore year of college, if I remember correctly.
Courtesy of my first year of college, I developed such an aversion to the food at the school’s dining hall, I convinced the school to let me not be on a meal plan at all, and I started cooking for myself in the tiny – and usually disgusting with other students’ crusty leftover midnight macaroni and cheese pots and half eaten bags of microwave popcorn – dorm kitchen down at the end of the hallway.
That was pretty much my start of cooking seriously for myself, though in this context “serious” meant a lot of chicken breasts with steamed broccoli interspersed with granola or Special K bars for dinner. (The Special K bar dinner was the saddest.) I also discovered how very lonely it can be to sit and eat dinner in silence by yourself every single night. I suppose that must have contributed to my passion for sharing meals, and I started devising ways to coax others to dine with me. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 14, 2013 § 24 Comments
I’ve been going through a spate of soup-mania lately. Vast quantities of soup have been making their way from the kitchen to my lips. It’s practically all I want to eat.
I mean, I always like soup, but right now something about the world, the liminality of so many things – not the least of which being the season – is making soup particularly appealing. When you’re in between winter and spring as well as all sorts of projects, just waiting (and waiting (and waiting)) for people to get back to you about pesky little things like edits and comments, what better to do than a little slurping? Soup is there to oblige all slurping needs. Also, I have a private theory that I’ve been dehydrated because of the dryness in the air, and my body is trying to make up for the fact that 10 or so cups of water a day just isn’t quite enough by steering me towards eating liquid food as well. Is that even possible? Not sure.
Anyhow, I’ve had avocado soup for lunch for about 5 days in a row. We’ve had sourdough tomato soup, and Norwegian fiskesuppe (with some extra parsnip and tiny arctic shrimp added), and creamy squash soup, and pho. To name just a few. I also just had the sudden flicker of a memory of a spinach and pine nut soup that I used to make for dinner parties in college (because I hosted dinner parties in college. With no kegs or even drinking games. Because I was that cool.). I’ll have to make that some time soon because doesn’t that sound good?
This soup, though, I consider the culmination of sorts (though not the sort of culmination that signals the end. No way. More soups to come, so if you’re a soup person you should come on over…). The soup to rule all soups, you might say. A soup so filled with wonderful things that it is a considerable stretch to call it a soup. It should be eaten with a fork. Indeed, it should be so thick a fork should stand right up in it. « Read the rest of this entry »
June 12, 2012 § 13 Comments
Do you all already love risotto? I feel like most people do. Like it usually comes naturally. I’m pretty sure I’m the odd duck in this one, but for me, well, it took me a while to hit my risotto stride.
When I first heard of risotto back who knows when at this point, I was immediately enticed by it. It looked like the rice version of creamy macaroni and cheese or maybe the rice version of pasta Alfredo. My impression of it was that it was a bowl of super cheesy, creamy rice. And how could that be anything but delightful? Right?
The first time I ever actually tried risotto was at the dinner we went to to celebrate my college graduation. It is a well known fact that a college graduation merits a celebratory dinner at a snazzy Italian restaurant wherein the graduate also gets to choose the wine. At least, I felt it ought to be a well known fact, and made sure our plans reflected this.
I wasn’t actually the one who ordered the risotto. I ordered lobster ravioli because at that time lobster ravioli was my culinary grail. The ultimate in fancy food (I don’t think I’d ever actually had lobster before that, come to think of it. What a dinner of firsts!). It was one of my best friends who came along and who ordered a vegetable risotto (she was being vegetarian at the time, I believe). I was delighted with her choice because it meant I could steal a few forkfuls.
June 8, 2012 § 25 Comments
So, I think I might have had more to share with you. Some further reflections, maybe a recipe, and many many thanks for your wonderful, kind response to my post about my feast. But it’s going to have to wait. It will have to wait because my consciousness has been completely and irrevocably subsumed by this soup.
It’s like a secret that’s just too good. It takes on a will of its own, growing and pushing and elbowing until it burbles out to be shared, whether or not you meant for it to be aired. I do want to share this soup with you, and it has decided that it simply can’t wait any longer.
When we ate it for supper a while back Joel exclaimed, “this is the first soup that I can say without qualification that I love.” Myself, I would count it among a very small handful of soups that I have truly loved. But it is the only one of said soups that does not also contain more than my week’s allotment of cream in a single bowl.
June 1, 2012 § 17 Comments
If you page through my spiral bound notebook stuffed with recipes, you will almost certainly notice that it is spattered and worn and nearly fallen apart. If your eye is particularly of the sort that seeks out patterns, however, you may also notice that somewhere in the realm of 75 percent of the recipes in it are attached to someone’s name.
Beth’s chicken, Peter’s pancakes, Daim cake from Caroline, Liz’s shirley bars, Judy’s scones, Peach’s cardamom bread. And I’m fairly positive that, all around the world, many cooks have similarly labeled recipes, this one from grandma, that one from an old friend, and this one from that lady who used to live down the street. Remember her? She always made the best…
Even some of my cookbooks by acclaimed chefs contain recipes attributed by name to someone else – Lindsay’s sugar cookies or Rob’s famous coleslaw in Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Sally Schmitt’s cranberry and apple kuchen or Eric’s staff lasagne in the French Laundry.
May 29, 2012 § 18 Comments
The last of our guests left this morning, and I’m left with that funny feeling of slight relief and slight let-down after a big event and lots of social time. The apartment feels remarkably quiet and empty, and I have a lot of work to catch up on.
If you mapped out the trajectory of the contents of our house from Thursday through now, you would see how it arced parabolically, from the two of us (well, three, if you count Squid) to five, to fourteen(!), to nine, to four, and down to just two again. And now one, actually, as I sit at my desk at home with my reflections and the puppy for company.
The weekend was nothing short of epic. The belated Syttende Mai party topped the charts (I’ll tell you more about it later when I have both my photos and thoughts in order), but we did a great deal more excellent eating and exploring on top of that. Also, can I just say that Minnesotans (former Minnesotans included) make the best house guests! Sure it’s still work, but every time you turn around, someone has done the dishes for you or even gone ahead and scrubbed your stove top.
Anyhow, the odds and ends of a dozen delicious meals are sitting in the fridge, and I’m partaking in the joy of leftovers. Today, I’m particularly loving this pea puree. Its sweet pea flavor and sateen texture are so fresh, so spring, and oh so very, very green. Preppy green. The green of chinos that one might pair with a rather pink polo shirt and a cardigan draped over the shoulders.
May 24, 2012 § 28 Comments
What do you call a large group of guests about to arrive? A gaggle? A bevy? A pod? A platoon?
How about a gift of guests? I suppose one does not without fail feel this way about one’s guests. But, it’s how I think of our guests who are coming for this weekend, so let’s go with it.
We have a gift of guests on their way, trickling in throughout today and tomorrow. And, although it truly does feel like a gift that folks are coming to visit, let me tell you, I could be a circus act with my frenzy of activity today.
With my hands I’m juggling meal planning, cooking, and last minute cleaning (of course the dog would choose to shed her winter coat right now). With the right foot I’m fending off the lions of hostess anxiety, and with the left I’m stomping out a couple of little work/research fires. And on my head is teetering the rest of the to-do list. (Call the vet, water the garden, write that memo…) All I need is a flower that squirts water and a big red nose!
May 21, 2012 § 37 Comments
We spent this weekend in the vegetable garden. It’s hard to imagine a better use of a weekend, I think. You’ve got sun, you’ve got soil, water, and greenery. Those are the four main elements of life besides the ether, right?
My mom loves to tell a story about Pavlov (yes, the same Pavlov who was into studying dogs salivating in response to bells) who at some point in his adult life became severely ill. On the verge of death, he asked his assistant to bring him a bucket of soil from the river nearby. He buried his hands into this dirt, playing with it, and filling his mind with the memories of playing in the dirt when he was a child. The delight and strength this brought him helped him break his fever, and, miraculously, he recovered completely.
I’m rather fond of this story, myself, actually. Being in touch with the earth, quite literally, through the process of digging your hands into it does feel to me like it has this power to bring an unmistakeable sense of peace and wellbeing. I sure felt that way this weekend, crouched in the dusty, weed filled span of our garden plot, ferreting out weeds and replacing them with seedlings.
It was high time we got ourselves over there, for many reasons, not the least of which was that, because of some scheduling snafus and other everyday trivialities, we had neglected the garden right up until this weekend. We had neither weeded nor planted anything. I joked that we were going to leave it feral and use it as a foraging garden.