Spaghetti squash with cauliflower, anchovies, pine nuts, and currants

May 10, 2012 § 14 Comments

For much of my adult life (starting, even, when I was more adult-ish, than adult), I’ve wanted to have a restaurant or cafe where I was recognized.  All Cheers-like, where everybody – or, more realistically, at least somebody – would know my name, and I would know theirs.  I’d be a regular.

Perhaps it comes from my small-town girl core, which craves to be situated in a community small enough where you can’t help but bump into someone you know on every grocery store visit.  Perhaps it comes from the more universal human desire to belong, to be part of something, to be known.  Either way, it’s been a borderline compulsion for years, but mostly just an internal one.  I’ve never really intentionally played it out.  Either my tendency to explore and try new places would thwart my quest to become a regular, or a high turnover rate in the staff would.  (Technically with the latter, I guess I still was a regular, but it doesn’t count if there is no one that greets you with that smile of the eyes that says, ‘hey, I know you! I’m glad you’re back. How’s the family/kids/dog…?’)

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Mango, avocado, and crab spring rolls

May 7, 2012 § 141 Comments

When you think about it, it’s remarkable, really, just how many opportunities we have every day to do something new.  Much of the time it doesn’t feel like it.  Our days follow patterns.  We have baskets full of habits and well-worn ruts that we comfortably cruise along in.

And actually, a certain amount of repetition and stability in your life turns out to be really important and healthy.  Which makes perfect sense.  Nature is full of rhythms and patterns.  We reside within them, and if completely rhythmless we feel jostled and jarred and seriously uncomfortable.

But if we don’t keep our eyes open to all the myriad of tiny dips and swerves within the patterns, it can be easy to feel trapped in some sort of mold that looks a lot like same-old-same-old.

I forget sometimes, that I’m the one making the decision to walk down the exact same street to get to the subway every time I go, when in reality, there are dozens of paths that run there.  The destination is the same – rhythm – but I can switch the route up – discovery!

Same with cooking.  We need to eat.  Pretty darn regularly, in fact!  And it’s easy to find ourselves making the same things over and over again.  Of course, I’ll be the first person to sing the praises of old weeknight standbys (did somebody say spaghetti?!).  They’re lifesavers.  But, it’s also remarkable to me just how very many things I’ve never made before, or techniques I haven’t tried.  Even with a decent number of years of cooking under my belt. « Read the rest of this entry »

Tartines of pear, parsnip, and blue cheese

April 7, 2012 § 14 Comments

My childhood was filled with snowy Easters, the ground washed out with dirty grey snow banks punctuated by brown splotches as taupe as a suburban housing development.  We would collect barren branches at the start of Lent and put them in a vase, and by Easter tiny leaves would be peeping out from the buds.  This was the only green to be seen.  The only flowers were those in the colorful plastic wrapped pots we brought home from the grocery store.

This is my way of asking forgiveness if I prattle on and on about spring for the next couple of weeks.  It’s a bit hard to think about much else right now.  Spring in these parts can be a little in your face.

If appearances are anything to go by, the trees have hired the same decorator that did Barbie’s Dreamhouse.  The cherries’ branches are waterfalls of tiny pink blossoms.  The magnolias are bedecked with large drooping flowers as soft and swishy as ballerina skirts.  I always find the pastel palate that industry breaks out for spring to be terribly cheesy, until spring actually rolls around.  Then I remember that it’s just honest. « Read the rest of this entry »

An even better broccoli (grilled with pickled shallots)

May 24, 2011 § 20 Comments

Wedding season has begun around here, and it’s going to progress with a vengeance.  It’s possible that I can count on one hand the number of weekends we’re going to be home this summer!  Not that I’m complaining.  I love the opportunity it brings to see friends that you rarely get to see otherwise and to spend more time with those you do, raising toasts with them and cutting a rug on the dance floor.

However, at these kinds of events I have a terrible habit of getting nostalgic for the present.  Wishing that every day were spent with friends from all over gathered around us.  I suppose it’s not unreasonable to wish for this.  But if you get too nostalgic for the present, you actually miss out on it!  So, I’ve been trying simply to bask in it, and soak it all in instead.

This weekend was especially great because the wedding we went to was in this area.  This meant we got to have dear friends staying with us at our house, there to spend the precious in between moments with us.  The moments of of not doing anything in particular, or groggily grabbing a morning cup of coffee, or watching the bird building a nest on the neighbor’s roof.

And of course, when we weren’t off at wedding related events, I couldn’t stop myself from cooking up a storm and feeding everyone until we were all ready to burst.  It can be such fun to have a full table.  The camera stayed tucked away in the corner though, so I’m going to go ahead and share something else with you.  Something that I cooked last week and pretty much haven’t stopped thinking about since.

I believe at some point last year, I claimed that I had made the best broccoli ever.  A bold claim, but I felt fairly convinced at the time that it was (at least mostly) vindicated.  I should have known better.  I don’t actually believe in the idea that we can have never ending growth and progress, including in the area of cooking.  I think some things are best left unimproved.  They are already great.  But, it turns out broccoli still had a couple of notches left for taking it up.  Back then, I had only made the best broccoli ever yet.  But now, now I would say that I have made the best broccoli ever…Okay, fine, ever yet.

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Pea soup with coconut and ginger

May 19, 2011 § 12 Comments

Alright, so since we’re talking about favorite children’s books (or at least, I am, and I really do think you should be too), let’s talk about peas shall we?  If there is any better vegetable for a snippet of action in a children’s book to center around, I’m sure I can’t tell you what it is.  Peas have it all.  They have a funny name.  They look funny, all green and rotund.  They come in pods…It’s the ultimate trifecta of catchy vegetable characteristics!  Of course, mostly peas are the subject of disgust in children’s books, especially if they’re in soup form.  Though, I distinctly recall that the girls in the Little House books loved peas porridge (hot or cold!).

But, when I think of fresh spring peas, I think of a scene from one of my all time favorite books, The Ordinary Princess.  In this scene, having run away because she hated how boringly proper she had to be as a princess, Princess Amy is hiding and has gotten work as an assistant kitchen maid in the kitchen of the royal palace of the neighboring kingdom.  Amy and her friend Belinda (who really is a kitchen maid – rather than a princess pretending to be a kitchen maid, you see) are sitting shelling peas for a royal banquet and discussing what it might be like to be a princess.  Wonderful situational irony.  All the while Belinda keeps absent-mindedly popping peas into her mouth as they shell them and talking in a thick dialect.  When she gets excited, she drops her Hs.

Anyway, it was this jolly image that I had in my mind as I prepared the peas for this soup, listening to the pop, pop, plop, plop of them tumbling into a bowl.  I had peas leftover from making my spring vegetable jumble, and I had quite simply fixated on making a soup of them.  I wanted to keep it light and fresh and was at first planning to let the flavor of  the little peas carry the dish. But, then I remembered that I had some leftover coconut milk from the sauce for the lamb.  Waste not, want not!  Why shouldn’t this work just as well as cream for stirring into the soup for body and depth and, well, creaminess?

The coconut milk then compelled me (perhaps compelled is a bit strong, but it did drop a rather strong hint) to grate in just a little gnarly knob of ginger to tie the pea and coconut flavors together.

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Spring vegetable jumble with lemon tarragon butter

May 13, 2011 § 5 Comments

There is a little restaurant a quick stroll down the street from us that serves a ridiculous brunch on the weekends.  You might be tipped off to the fact that they have some tricks up their sleeves when, come Saturday at 10am, you see the line of chipper people trailing out their door and down the sidewalk, drinking coffee and chatting as they wait for a table.  Your suspicions would be further aroused by the amazing technicolor underwater scene painted across their bathroom walls.  It’s ebullient, playful, borderline garish, but oh so enticing, just like their food.

They make waffles so large and airy you could raft them down a river (of maple syrup, at least), their pancakes piled with enough fruit to fill a decorative bowl on a coffee table, and they have been known to make a popover the size of your head and fill it to overflowing with creamy eggs, sausage, vegetables, and hollandaise.  That last one is something I’ve been thinking about recreating at home, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.  I think you might need to get a special permit to make popovers that big.

Their suppers, I’m afraid, don’t quite live up to their brunch standard.  We’ve tried twice, giving it the benefit of the doubt, but both times the food was fine, but relatively uninspired.  It had a couple things going for it anyway, though.  One was the extreme and helpful frankness of the servers.  All of our questions were answered fully and honestly, and then some.  The crab cakes were fine,  we were told, but they were more cake than crab.  The burger was more worth getting, we were counseled.  And the enchiladas, it was explained, would be good if what we were looking for was the extremely-gooey-cheesey type of Tex-Mex (Joel was, in fact).

The other thing the place had going for it was the vegetables.  I get irked when I go to restaurants and all the more vegetables they provide you with are 3 elegantly plated green beans or a thimble-sized nest of micro-greens.  This place was much more my style.  That style being the, “why yes, my meal will consist of 2 servings each of 4 different vegetables perhaps drizzled with a delectable sauce, thank you,” style.  Each dish came with a riot of seasonal veggies, a mountain of veggies, a jumble of veggies…

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Lasagne with asparagus and mushrooms

May 6, 2011 § 9 Comments

For some reason I want to tell you all “quick, quick, make this lasagne!”  I have an odd sort of urgency about it, and I have no idea why.  Maybe it’s that I think the asparagus is going to go scurrying off into hiding before too long, or that soon it will be too hot to even consider baking something 45 minutes, let alone having that something include a creamy sauce.  Or maybe it’s just that it’s delicious and we should all hurry up and make it so we can eat it (or eat it again, if you’re me).

Not that lasagne is something you can really hurry.  Its architectural layers require some care and engineering to assemble if you want it to come out with beautiful, colored striations, which you do because then it looks a bit like a cool white, green, and brown sandstone cliff.  And, it takes some time to bake, no way around that.  But, all the more reason to get right to it, and not wait around hemming and hawing about whether lasagne should be on the weekend agenda!

I love lasagne.  It feels so pleasantly familial to eat it.  Yet, I don’t make it very often, and I’m not sure why.  Wait, scratch that.  I do know why.  It’s because much of the time there are just the two of us here at dinner, and lasagne is the food of the large crowd.  The family reunion potluck, the ski-team dinner, the 13 kids are coming for a sleep over what on earth am I going to make, occasions.  Often it doesn’t seem quite worth it for two.  And though it makes splendid leftovers – I always think lasagne tastes even better the second day – well, if you make a really big one, it can take a little uncomfortably long to work your way through it.

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Scrambled eggs and asparagus

April 29, 2011 § 6 Comments

Devastating tornados in the south, royal weddings, the state of the world is as complicated as always, and my poor little mind just doesn’t always feel like it can process all of it.  So, at the risk of seeming out of touch, I’m trying just to concentrate on what’s right here, right now, and that is flowering trees.  Flowering trees are the best part of spring. Hands down.  The best.  Don’t you think?  (Maybe you actually don’t thinks so, but humor me for the moment.) The supple, soft velvet of their perfect petals shimmer so lightly as breezes waft through and pick up their perfume.  The colors are delicate and diaphanous, as if they had been chosen by a young girl in love with the Impressionists.  And there is simply nothing more giddily romantic than standing under a blossoming cherry or crab apple tree, gazing through the branches as petals flutter down around you and the occasional robin cocks his head at you curiously.

The second best part of the spring is slightly harder to determine. It may be the dandelions sprouting up everywhere (I know it’s weird, but I just love dandelions).  But, I think it’s more likely that it is asparagus.  Asparagus is so delicious and so ephemeral, around about this time of year my hoarding nature kicks in and I find myself buying bundle after bundle of the slender spiky stalks and eating them practically three meals a day.  Frankly I’m a little surprised I haven’t started getting up in the middle of the night to fix myself a midnight asparagus snack, just so I can fit in one more plateful each day before the season is over.  Haven’t started yet, that is.

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Asparagus with lemon and mustard

June 8, 2010 § 3 Comments

I just love the misty purple and green of asparagus stalks.  It makes me think of the colors of a high school sports team, or maybe some atrocious yet gorgeous wall paper by a trendy design company.

Some things in life are meant to be ephemeral.  They only work because they don’t last. Like a streak of lightning snaking through a stormy sky, or the rose and coral glow of a sunrise, or your relationship with your middle school boyfriend…ahem.  I, quite romantically, have been used to thinking about spring in this way as well.  But, I’m reconsidering.  Actually, I’d like to submit an official request for a change of opinion.  Spring!  Come back!!  Just a few more weeks!  Please!

The balmy days, and profusion of lilacs have evaporated like a morning fog and given way to sweltering, thick, lazy heat.  Summer came early this year – and I’m considering moving back to the artic circle.  (I’m a terribly obnoxious whiner when it comes to heat and mugginess, I hope you can forgive me.  Also, I can’t complain too much, given that today happens to be spectacularly lovely, but it won’t last.)

With the sudden onset of summer weather has come a rapid transition in the growing season, and spring vegetables have phased themselves out, practically before we even had a chance to greet them.  Goodbye to the ramps, and the rhubarb, and the favas, and the fiddleheads, and the asparagus. « Read the rest of this entry »

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