hit by lightening

sparkly 2

I am reading a novel in the middle of the day.  Now there’s something crazy right there.  It’s Ali Smith’s How To Be Both (so good! SO good!), and when I read, therein, the phrase ‘hit by lightening,’ I realized that it describes exactly the feeling that results from performing a magic vamoose out of negative temperatures and icy pathways and long lists of things to do, to a place where reading a novel in the middle of the day, in a t-shirt, near a palm tree, is not only possible but actually happening. CRAZY. No layers to pile on, no strategies or routes to plot to get from house to car intact, and nerve-feeling restored in even the outermost extremes of all extremities.

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If I remember correctly, right before we got out of Dodge, I was making lemon cookies. I had seen a recipe pinned up on what my daughter refers to as “Tumblr for old people,” and I followed the link to find the instructions were in Italian.  I can hedge my way around in Italian when circumstances demand it but I don’t trust myself to parse out a recipe, so I engaged our pals over at Google Translate, who are always good for a few laughs.  My favorite part of the translation, hands down, was “leave to cool and then spolverizzali with icing sugar,” with spolverizzali being the best English equivalent that they will offer for the Italian word spolverizzali.

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This made me tired, all this translating–too tired to chill and roll cookie dough.  When any plans to leave the house must take into account a five minute Clothing period, then even if you love winter to bits there is a baseline level of fatigue that wants a drop cookie more than a fussy rolling-pin-based experience. But I was intrigued by the backwards ‘beat the butter into the eggs’ thing, and vaguely reminded of some lemon cookies my mother used to get in Little Italy, which I am always hunting for.  So I punted and made drop-ish cookies instead, which I rolled in sugar so they would be sparkly, just like the pretty snowflakes are when it is so fricking cold that the snow squeaks under your boots as you mince across the tundra and tears freeze on your eyelashes.

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make sure your butter is plenty soft, like so

These were chewy and cakey in very pleasing ways, and though not at all like the cookies of my tender youth (still hunting!), really tasty.  I made them with various flour combinations and found, not surprisingly, that eggs and butter are pretty capable of carrying the day here.  If you lack sweet rice flour or arrowroot, then fine white or brown rice flour work as subs for those. The texture was a little grittier when I used straight up rice flour, but the almond meal and overall lemony-ness made that OK. And if your rice flour is the regular kind, not the fine kind, a trip through the blender or spice grinder can set that to rights.

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sparkly lemon cookies

inspired by il fior di caperro

  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 2/3 c sugar, plus more for rolling
  • 10T unsalted butter, very soft
  • zest of one lemon, finely grated
  • 2t lemon juice
  • 1 c sweet rice flour
  • 1 c almond meal
  • 1 c arrowroot
  • large pinch of kosher salt

Heat the oven to 350 and line two pans with parchment (although note that you can make the dough and chill it for later baking).

Beat the eggs and sugar in a mixer until quite light and fluffy.  Beat the butter into this mixture in three additions, followed by the lemon zest and juice. Combine the dry ingredients, and also in three additions, stir these in at low speed or by hand.  You can proceed at this point or chill the dough for later fussing.  Roll scoops of dough between your palms until you have a smooth ball (mine were about ping-pong ball sized); drop these into a small bowl of granulated sugar and press lightly.  Place the cookies sugar-side up on the parchment, with about an inch between them. Bake about ten minutes, until they have puffed and set.  The tops will not brown, so don’t wait on that.  Cool on a rack.  These stayed cakey and soft for days, which was a lucky break for the college post office that couldn’t seem to unite my daughter and the care package.

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launch date

prep

When my sister’s firstborn left for college, she called me and wailed “but I’m not done!”

I reassured her (correctly, as it turns out) that my nephew was a super guy and well-situated for a nice life.  But I was talking out my ear, as we both well knew in that moment, because in that moment how fine he was going to be was not at all what she was getting at.

the proportions of nephew to aunt have been adjusted since this time

My own children were mere tots at the time that I was giving hollow reassurances to my sister, and as they get larger and more capable and closer to the door (one of them even got loose, I’m afraid–flew the coop for college in September while I had my back turned), I become more acutely aware of what I have and haven’t gotten around to teaching them, and how as a result they are (or aren’t) prepared for what will come their way.  I am fully aware, thank you very much, that efforts to prepare them undertaken by myself and others may have an inverse or otherwise skewed relationship to the anticipated preparedness.  But there’s stuff that has been addressed, in some either misguided or intelligent fashion, and stuff that got skipped.

croissants

tots & bread

Under the heading “Possibly Skipped,” it seems that I may have overlooked teaching my children how to cook. They certainly know how to eat, and I don’t mean just that they hoover up large quantities of food, which they do.  I mean that they are successful eaters, and I am really happy about that.  They can tell good food when they see it, and even when perhaps ever so slightly overindulgent in the latter, know the difference between healthy food and treats.  They know when their bodies want vegetables, and they have favorites and know where they come from.  They all have their quirks as eaters, to be sure, but even the one who spent several years governing her plate according to a lengthy No-Fly list and traveled with a hip flask full of tamari can now pass for a regular diner at home and abroad.

the Great Twinkie-Torching Incident of 2010

the Great Twinkie-Torching Incident of 2010

They have all been coached through school baking projects and, thanks to helping in the kitchen, each excels at certain prep tasks (my oldest can mince garlic so fine it could pass through the eye of a needle; her sister is the guacamole master), but independent meal preparation is a separate consideration.  One of them can fly solo through the preparation of a salad and a quesadilla. That’s about as close as we get.

The thing is, I don’t remember being taught to cook.  My mother was a serious cook when I was younger, and my sisters and I undoubtedly learned to cook thanks to that.  But I don’t remember my mom giving actual lessons.  My two sisters took cooking classes when they were teeny from a Brooklyn Heights neighbor, and we still have the yellowing mimeographed recipes in an Age of Aquarius folder to prove it, but I don’t think that alone could be the secret because I never took those or any other classes and yet we all left the house as capable cooks.  We just ate and helped and learned and cooked, as I recall it. (There was that one sister who twinked off to cooking school in Paris and kind of leapfrogged over the rest of us, but that was later).  And I suppose I thought the same osmosis would happen for my own children without my having to think too much about it, but it would appear that it hasn’t, and as sure as eggs is eggs we know who can take the fall for that.

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Mercifully, there is a resource for this.  Someone has thoughtfully written a book aimed directly at persons who know good food when they see it but have fledged without learning, at home or anywhere else, how to prepare it.  The book is Twelve Recipes, by Cal Peternell, and I am going to stock right the hell up on copies because if there were ever a timeless and perfect housewarming gift for first apartments, this is it right here. Also, he is a chef at Chez Panisse and he has a gorgeous, artful, sunlit life in a gorgeous, artful, clean house (the pictures prove it!) AND HE FORGOT TO TEACH HIS CHILDREN TO COOK ALSO. To simplify the arithmetic: Makes Me Feel Better = Good Book.

onions

If you can cook, Twelve Recipes is also a nice way to be reminded, on days when you feel at a total loss, that there are both things you do know how to do and new ways to engage them. The book feels like how I would teach my children: assume they know what we are talking about–that they don’t need to be convinced, e.g., that a crispy roast chicken or a spicy bean soup is worth wanting– and that they just need the steps laid out to get from here to there.  Plus, Mr. Peternell shares my total repulsion when it comes to browned garlic and is (in my humble and incontrovertibly correct opinion) exactly as decisive as a person should be in making it clear that all available measures must be taken to avoid this unfortunate time-travel rocketship to the late 1980’s.  “Don’t Brown The Garlic” will be on all my children’s Valentines this year.  Not going to take a chance they leave my house as garlic-browners, and I am happy to have Cal Peternell on my side. (Agrees With Me = Good Book.)

If you have not yet toodled around the exciting happenings of Bean Month (brain child of Samin Nosrat, the creator of this gorgeous site) and now drawing to a close, you really oughta.  It’s not how I got to Twelve Recipes, and this bean soup, but as it turns out the world is tiny and webby and it could have been.  Bean Month is certainly how I got to many other delicious pantry-busting things I have recently made, and fed to children who have no earthly clue how they were prepared, and I commend its rabbit-hole to you. You can also look up #beanmonth on Instagram, if you lean that way.

This recipe looks long but that’s just because I do a lot of babbling about beans and tomatoes before I get down to brass soup tacks. Also: honesty compels me to let you know that he serves it with poached or hard-boiled eggs on top, and I am not fond of either, so I didn’t.

soup 2

leblebi

adapted from Twelve Recipes, by Cal Peternell

First of all, you are going to need to cook some chickpeas. Chickpeas in cans, like all beans in cans, are a staple of the pantry.  Eat them with my warm encouragement to do so (as if you needed it!) and know that I do the same. But beans you cook yourself are tastier.  They just are.  When you have time to make them, do it.  Make a huge pot and freeze them in can-of-bean portions, even.  A big pot of beans is the best thing you can do for your mid-week self on a weekend aside from booking a massage or plane ticket, and it is way cheaper in every respect. Among other benefits to wallet and planet, you get the cook’s privilege of skimming off a bowl of warm beans and eating them with lemon and olive oil and salt and pepper, and there is not much that is better than that.

cook's privilege

Peternell suggests you add a T of baking soda to the water when you soak the beans and I am not going to argue.  These were some tender little devils. Whey, a dash of lemon or vinegar–I’ve heard about (and tried) all those acidic additions, but the basic did make a garbanzo of superlative texture. Whatever you do or don’t add to the water, soak a minimum of 2.5 cups of dried chickpeas in abundant water overnight.  Sometime the next day, drain that water off and put the beans in a big pot with fresh water to cover by a few inches. (Some people like to toss a strip of kombu seaweed in with the beans, too). I use a big Le Creuset pot, and bring it to a low boil on the stove while I warm the oven to 350.  Then I cover the pot and slide it into the oven and whack the heat down to 25o and go on about my day.  Within the hour, towards its end, I check back with the beans.  If the first one I meet is not tender, back goes the pot as before.  If that bean is tender, use the “test five” method. All tender: pot is done.  An overcooked bean is better than an undercooked bean, and don’t you forget it. An undercooked bean is unpleasant to chew and to digest, but as long as there has been abundant water and nothing has burned, an overcooked bean is just that much closer to soup. You’ll need six cups of cooked beans for the soup. So if you want an additional bowl of beans for your present or future self, soak more than 2.5 cups to start with.

If you use canned beans here, drain them and rinse them and use water in place of the liquid they came in.  But really: make the beans.

tomatoes roasting

The tomatoes: He calls for roasted tomato puree.  One of my perennial late summer activities is to trade my soul and other expendables (up to but not including the children, as you can see, because I need them to work) for large baskets of tomatoes and roast pan after pan to stash in the freezer, so when I got to this line in the recipe I could draw on that stockpile, but even if you are not similarly equipped, you can replicate easily by roasting a box of cherry tomatoes from the grocery store.  Cherry tomatoes still taste kind of like actual tomatoes, even in the winter, and roasting concentrates what tomato-ness they possess even further.  Halve them and drizz with some olive oil, shake on a little salt and pepper, and cook in a hot oven until they wither and slump a little.  Spin them in the blender and you are set to jet, unless you eat them all and have to start all over. Peternell says you can make the soup with a chopped regular tomato in place of this, but I don’t believe it would be as tasty.

THE SOUP, after all that:

  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 t salt
  • 1.5 t cumin seed, toasted and lightly crushed if you are feeling up to it
  • 1 t paprika
  • pinch of red pepper flakes or cayenne
  • 1/2 c coarsely chopped cilantro stems and leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 c roasted tomato puree
  • 6 cups cooked chickpeas, with their cooking liquid (from 2.5 cups dried; see note above)
  • to serve: big rustic croutons, and/or fried capers, or just a drizzle of good olive oil and ABSOLUTELY a squeeze of lemon.

Heat the oil in a big soup pot over medium high heat; add the onion and the salt and stir. Lower the heat and cover the pot.  Check and stir periodically, lowering the heat if there is any browning, and cook in this manner for about 15 minutes, or until the onion is tender.  Add the cumin, paprika, pepper, cilantro and garlic and stir for about a minute more.  Toss in the tomato puree to STOP THE GARLIC BEFORE IT BROWNS, and stir all this together for a few minutes.  Add the chickpeas and enough of their cooking liquid (or water) to cover by a generous inch or even two, raise the heat and bring to a boil.  Lower to a simmer and continue to cook for 20 minutes so the flavors meld and the house smells good.

Puree about two cups of the soup, either in a blender (using all venting precautions to prevent explosions and injury) or by hitting a spot here and there with an immersion blender.  The best course of action at this stage is to let the soup sit off the heat for at least a few hours or even refrigerate it overnight.  Like all bean soups, the flavor and consistency improve after a rest.

Garnish with at least the olive oil and lemon, if none of the other options. Peternell also suggests harissa as a topping, and even offers a simple recipe for making your own, but I think I’ve gone on quite long enough at this point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

staple remover

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January has been up to its usual crazy hijinks.  Thaw! Freeze! Snow!  Repeat.  So basically what we have is a thick layer of ice that will probably not melt before August (this is the kind of despairing idea that takes root in mid-winter), slip-covered (and I mean that) in a topcoat of snow. I actually kind of like winter, but I could do without the luge-track conditions here on the hill, conditions that turn every jaunt to the car or chicken coop into a dance with fate.  I did a triple toe-loop last week trying to bring the chickens some water, magically escaping knocking myself unconscious in either of the two ways that immediately came available (bonking head on ice; braining self with metal water pot that went completely airborne and landed a few feet away), giving the dogs (the only mammalian witnesses) a little case of PTSD, and doing my already-ailing back no favors.  I begin to comprehend why people of a certain age de-camp to warmer climates, and their more reliable walking conditions, when the snow begins to fly.

wintry

it is pretty, though

January has also been a month of high-energy pantry-busting. I am trying to blast through ingredients I have on hand, trying to shop only for the perishables that will make that happen palatably and keep us from succumbing to scurvy. Oddball cuts of meat in the freezer and 37 jars of exotic grains, legumes and weird flours: I’m looking at you. Top shelf of refrigerator with your battalion of pastes and condiments: also on notice.  I am not alone in this approach to the first month of the new year. It’s gratifying on multiple levels: a nod to the liberating effects of tidying up; an acknowledgement of the massive food waste we all engage in, no matter how enlightened we may consider ourselves; and as a glamorous bonus, a means to a trendy end. It’s chic now, finally, to use stuff up. Bone broth is the new goji berry (and whatever you may think of his heretical use of tomato paste, Michael Ruhlmann officially sanctions the Olympic-level nose-to-tail practice of using gnawed bones off the family plates to make it), and low-cost, low-impact beans are another hot topic among the groovy.

I am a pantry-stocker by nature. OK, yes, fine, My name is Porpoise and I am a hoarder, fine fine.  The New York Times ran a story years ago that chronicled what happened when a small group of up-and-coming restaurant chefs were sent into a handful of regular people’s kitchens and instructed to make a meal out of only what was in the larder.  It was pretty hilarious. I think a rillette de two slices of bologna was one of the outcomes.  At the time I was single and living in an apartment in the city (how long ago was this? this was so long ago that we read the newspaper on actual paper) and one of my good friends had the following in her fridge: club soda, limes, champagne, lipstick.  Like to see you make a rillette out of THAT line-up, Mr. Top Chef! I’m not trying to provide for the preparation of frozen parmesan air or some other molecular treat at any hour of the day or night. I just like to have, you know, options.  But then again, this happened: once my nephew was visiting and ran down to the auxiliary cabinetry in the basement to grab something for me, and came up a little wide-eyed and asked if I was preparing for nuclear winter.

So it makes me a little edgy to blow through the stash, but it’s probably time to reach deep into the shelves and move a little inventory.

speecyspicyI read about (and immediately began craving) these very tasty-sounding Indonesian rendang-style potatoes, cooked in a spicy coconut milk broth, in a book called Big Vegan. This turned out to be loaded with irony.  First of all, I couldn’t find any coconut milk even though I ALWAYS have coconut milk.  Confronting!  I like to keep that on hand.  And then, because I now had to have these damn potatoes, I made them with chicken broth, which is not especially vegan.

Full disclosure: there was so much stuff on the shelf that it turned out I did have coconut milk.  So in the interest of offering you, my loyal reader, a really complete picture, I made them again. This was not exactly a selfless act, because these are really good potatoes. This just in: totally delicious either way.

limey

gorgeous limes, from my CA connection

If, like me, you have never once thought “ooh, a bit too lemony for me!” and you are not a vegan, then make these with chicken broth (or I guess you could use water, which is pretty vegan).  If your tastes run less tarty than mine, either reduce the juice by half or go with coconut milk, which calms the acidity down a few notches, or both. Or use a mixture of broth and coconut milk.  Use, you know, what you have on hand.

Or call me.  I can probably set you up.

coco tato

anti-doldrum, scurvy-busting lemon potatoes

inspired by and with apologies to Big Vegan, by Robin Asbell

  • 1 fresh jalapeño or similar chile pepper, seeded and quartered
  • 1″ fresh ginger, chopped or (if you’re like me and you ALWAYS KEEP A KNOB OF FRESH GINGER IN THE FREEZER) finely grated on a microplane
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric (or 2t fresh, which freezes just as well as ginger root, so snap it up when you see it and let the two live in harmony in the same ziploc bag in the freezer)
  • 1-2 shallots, peeled and quartered
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • zest and juice of 1 lime (use half the juice if you want less pucker)
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon (as above)
  • 2T coconut or canola oil
  • 1 15-oz can of coconut milk OR
  • 2c chicken broth (or a mixture)
  • 1/2-1 tsp salt
  • 5-6 medium size, smooth skin potatoes, cut in eighths

optionally:

  • one or two fresh lime leaves (fresh lemongrass would also work)
  • handful of fresh cilantro and/or a handful of fresh Thai or regular basil, coarsely chopped, to finish it off

Put the chile, turmeric, ginger, shallot, garlic and citrus in a blender or food processor and make a smooth paste.  Heat the oil in a skillet that has a lid; when the oil is quite warm, carefully pour in the paste.  Cook for a minute or two, until the raw smell abates a little, then add the coconut milk and/or broth.  Stir this together and add the lesser amount of salt. Put the potatoes in the pan along with the lime leaves, if you are using them, and toss to coat.  Bring the whole mess to a simmer and reduce the heat as low as possible, covering the pan.  Cook, stirring occasionally and gently, until the potatoes are tender and the sauce has thickened. If the sauce thickens before the potatoes are done, just add a little more water.  When the potatoes are tender, fling the fresh herbs on top.

Need more lemony love?  Head over here.  And watch your step outside!  It’s damn slippery.