Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thursday morning No. 2.2.

Bircher muesli and tea
We have a Swiss friend visiting this week. He arrived Tuesday with a seemingly never-ending supply of cheese and chocolate -- cheese and chocolate he assured us we could not find in the United States (no, not even in New York City). He surprised us after dinner the other night with a bottle of absinthe I wish I'd had last fall. Always charmed by a good accent (or even a bad accent, for that matter; Massachusetts, anyone?), I giggle inside when he says things like "It would be a great pleasure" in complete earnest. He's mixed up the routine of our little commune in the quietest of ways, which might explain why the other day, while running through my daily required reading, I took a special interest in this post over at The Blue Hour (one of my favorite blogs, by the way; I encourage anyone with an interest in food, men's fashion, photography and rock of the indie variety to explore it).

Bircher muesli: a staple from my past when I lived on Nantucket Island and pretended because I was so goddamn different than everyone there I was from Europe and not simply Oregon. My roommate then and now, Michael, would make it with berries and grapes, and after hearty bowlfuls we would ride bikes from one end of the island to the other, often with a stop at Miacomet Beach, where I'd adorn myself in seashells and play mermaid. Last night, I prepared my muesli with the winter ingredients I had on-hand: apples, cashews, organic oats, plain sheep's milk yogurt and whole milk. I used the tiniest amount of sucanat. This morning, after another quick stir, I topped my bowl with some pitted dates. And since I know you're wondering, yes, I had two cups of tea.

Between my new Swiss friend, the muesli and the snow, I felt like I was someplace else. Homemade meals don't often inspire that feeling in me, and it caught me off-guard, like a good surprise. Maybe it was the muesli all along. Maybe it's my active imagination. Either way, I look forward to tomorrow, another helping and whatever memory -- distant or future -- it may bring.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Scenes from a dinner party.

It wasn't meant to be a party per se, but what started as an intimate and relaxed meal at home with friends turned out to be one of the finest nights I've had in a long while. There were cocktails and chit chat while I finished cooking, followed by lively conversation and laughs and a Vietnamese feast. I made braised tofu in caramel sauce for the second time, along with a chili and cucumber salad that simultaneously burned and soothed my lips in the best way possible. We drank Riesling and Pinot Noir. After dinner one guest, who is Swiss and arrived in New York yesterday afternoon, shared cheese and chocolate and a very good bottle of absinthe. We left the dishes and retreated to the living room, where we listened to The Mamas & the Papas on vinyl and let sleep set in. And it was a fine sleep, full of aquamarine dreams inspired by a good day's work and some damn good tofu. Below, some scenes captured by Tracy.

Cucumber and chili salad
Place setting
Tofu and wine key
Plated tofu and onions
Table scene

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Variations on pesto.

Almond and pepper pesto 1
We eat gluttonous amounts of pasta in my house, especially in winter, when local tomatoes are a distant memory and our bodies don't seem to mind a few extra pounds. Our favorite dish, which we've come to refer to bluntly as "crack pasta," is a simple combination of either rigatoni or spaghetti (we prefer De Cecco brand), marinara (Rao's is a favorite) and Tofurky Italian sausage browned in extra-virgin olive oil. Sometimes my roommate Gregory (our in-house pasta expert) will doctor the sauce with fresh garlic and dried herbs. Other times, he'll skip the browning of the sausage and toss it directly into the cooked and sauced pasta to warm. Any and every way, it has a drug-like effect on the mind and body, pleasing to dangerously high levels of elation, relaxing to the point of sedation. I just can't get enough.

Then a few weeks ago, walking home from the subway in the blistering cold and craving that thing only pasta seems to satisfy, I thought of something different. Recalling a summer favorite -- spaghetti al limone with toasted almond pesto -- I kicked off my snow boots and ventured into the kitchen. The dish requires very few ingredients, and all of them are staples: garlic, fresh lemon juice, raw almonds, extra-virgin olive oil and pasta. Simply toast a cup of almonds and purée them in a food processor with a few cloves of garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and salt. Then, while your pasta cooks, warm a little more oil and fresh lemon juice in a large skillet. To this, add the finished pasta and pesto, stir, and eat your winter blues away!

Pesto, tossed.

For sure, the meal was success, but it was the pesto that stuck with me. An easy solution for not just pasta but other whole grains, as well, I even thought it'd make a nice salad dressing. So, a few days later I recreated it, this time adding a random hot house pepper I'd picked up at the market that was threatening to go bad. Instead of pasta, I made quinoa, and while that cooked I quick-pickled a shallot and chopped a bunch of raw kale. I tossed the kale with the pesto and shallot, the heat from the almonds actually wilting the raw kale ever so slightly. On a plate, I smeared a little more pesto, added a spoonful of quinoa, then added my salad. The taste was exhilarating: earthy and fresh from the raw kale and full of strong flavor from the shallot. Again, the almond pesto delivered: toasty and sweet and the prettiest of colors. There was just enough left over for a single helping of spaghetti. It is, after all, still winter.

Kale and shallot in pesto

Kale and pickled shallots in toasted almond and pepper pesto


1 bunch kale, washed and dried
1 medium shallot
1 red pepper, seeded
1 cup raw almonds
1-3 cloves garlic
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Sea salt, to taste
Juice of 1 lemon

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove skins from shallot, and thinly slice.

In a small bowl, whisk together apple cider vinegar and sugar. Add shallot and allow to marinate for 20 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. Shallot will turn pinkish in color.

Chiffonade kale leaves -- removing stems -- and set aside in large salad bowl.

Toast almonds for approximately 12 minutes, remove. Using a food processor, purée toasted almonds, garlic, pepper and 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Mixture will be fairly thick.

Add pickled shallot (including remaining vinegar) and half of the pesto to the bowl kale. Toss, adding lemon juice and remaining olive oil. Salt, to taste.

Serve over quinoa. Use remaining pesto to garnish.

Serves 4.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday morning No. 2.1.

Lentils with yogurt
Holmegaard egg holderBroken egg in lentils
Yes I still keep a Thursday routine, although lately it's been surprisingly unconventional. Is it the "dog days" of winter that have me tired of eggs and oats? I never thought I'd bore of either, but this documentation process has me thinking an awful lot about variety. As much as I'd like to eat pancakes every day, I pride myself on eating fairly healthfully. With locally grown fruit scarce because of the season, it's a challenge. I like to sauté kale in extra-virgin olive oil with a clove of garlic and red pepper flakes. Or, make an apple salad. But today I wanted something different. It's no wonder that after several cups of PG Tips, I was inclined to indulge in a sort of brunch.

I made a pot of lentil soup yesterday, and like all soups, it tasted even better the day after. While it reheated, I set an egg to boil. I also boiled a little more water for a fresh cup of tea. Sheep's milk yogurt has become a staple in my house, and I thought a spoonful would brighten and add tang to the earthy and sweet lentils (which I'd cooked in water with carrot, celery, onion and potato and spiced with coriander, cumin, nutmeg and tumeric). It did, and the egg added nice texture. I forced myself to pause mid-meal to snap the photo above at bottom right. I wanted to remember the meal just like that: healthy, hearty and oddly beautiful (at least to me). Hours later, I am still satisfied, and happily distracted by future possibilities.

* Note: Snazzy egg holder was a gift, and is made by Holmegaard.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hail the pancake!

One cup pancakes
This isn't an excuse. I've already given plenty of those. This is simply an account of my Tuesday, thus far, a day in which none of the following was intended.

I woke early, at dawn, smelling faintly of bourbon and sweat. It wasn't a dirty smell, but rather a sweet one, swollen with the ache and satisfaction of a long -- long isn't even the right word, I'll say epic -- weekend at work. I tip-toed to the kitchen and downed a glass of orange juice, then I remembered it was snowing when I ended my shift last night. In the living room, outside the giant south-facing windows, I could see bare tree tops weighted with white, the skinny arms of their branches struggling to reach the heavens. I stood there for what seemed like hours, in fact it was minutes, then I returned to my nest to sleep some more. I've been giving into sleep this year, embracing the body's inclination to hibernate. I cannot begin to tell you how good it's been, the strength it's given me.

But this morning, despite being exhausted, I could not fall back asleep. So, I went online for a bit (that always makes me tired), and in my aimless wandering I learned today is Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday. Growing up, I knew today as Fat Tuesday, but Pancake Day is so much better. Because pancakes are incredible. Pancakes are like people, always fascinating and endless in their variety. Some are big and fluffy. Others and small and thin. I like medium-sized flapjacks, the kind I can eat dozens of without feeling guilty. Pancakes, I realized as I lay there restless, deserve celebration. I giggled at the thought of my later breakfast, my dreams sent my heart aflutter. I awoke ravenous.

I'm not the pancake expert in my house. That distinction belongs to my roommate Michael, who has mastered a vegan recipe that I love not only because it's delicious but because I tend to think of vegan food as being healthy. The pancakes I made today were not vegan, and I'm sure most of their health benefits were emotional. They were neither fluffy nor thin, but dense and enjoyable to chew, like a fresh corn tortilla. They were buttery, and they were bright and sweet from the lemon juice and powdered sugar I dressed them in. Best of all, they were incredibly easy to make; the name says it all: one cup pancakes. I ate them like a woman possessed, by winter and snow and a hunger I have been neglecting, a hunger to cook and nurture my body and my soul. In the last bites, I went crazy, smearing soggy pieces of cake in orange and ginger yogurt.

I called everyone I knew, but no one could join me. Perhaps tomorrow. Pancake Day should be celebrated often and with reverence. Pancake Day is worth getting out of bed for.

One cup pancakes with lemon and powdered sugar
Adapted from Jamie Oliver


1 cup flour (all-purpose or self-rising)
1 cup whole milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 lemon
Powdered sugar

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together flour, milk, egg and salt. Batter will be fairly thin and runny, but smooth.

Heat a small cast iron skillet on medium heat, add 1/4 of the butter.

Once butter has melted and pan is hot, ladle batter into the pan. One ladleful will fill the skillet and yield 1 pancake.

Cook for several minutes until the edges start to brown and small bubbles appear on the surface. Flip, and cook for another minute.

Transfer to a plate, carefully wipe the pan, and start again.

Upon serving, finish with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

Serves 2-4.