One rotten thing about modernity is how the word ‘friend’ has been pilloried and debased. Oh, I friended her but she unfriended me and now he’s my friend but not my FRIEND-friend–we’re just, you know, friends. Air-quote, Air-quote.
I love my friends. One unfailing measure, to me, of friendship–the real kind, minus the air quotes and other paraphernalia–is whether I know something about what or how this person likes to eat, and vice versa. It’s a marker of having spent some time, paid some attention. Loves cilantro, hates cilantro, allergic to potatoes, can’t stomach white food, will not eat citrus with a meal, dessert first, no green salad in the winter, not crazy about squash. Those are some of my peeps.
Once I have some curious little fact of this nature to file away, I realize me and this person have moved past the opening event.
A couple of benefits of friends (not the same as friends with benefits, so don’t you start): they expose you to new things to eat, and they often lead you to more friends, who will do the same.
I don’t mean to brag or anything, but Alana is my friend. Marisa is her friend. I’ve had dinner with Marisa and registered how she responds to fried chicken and hot sauce. Now I have a new friend.
This has plenty of benefits. One of them is that I have never had to say “full disclosure” before, but now I can: I received a review copy of Marisa’s new book, with all its handsome new pathways for tasty things to eat. Watch for the R&P plug in the headnote for quince chutney!. It’s like Hollywood, this food blogging business. Limos and swag and webs of influence.
Friends or strangers, Marisa is a hot one to follow, even if you are not (yet) into canning. She gathers up amazing links from all over creation and I always end up cooking something new when she posts them. She’s quick to point out ways to engage mason jars for purposes other than canning. And her canning 101 is a great resource, so you’re in good hands if you do decide to start canning (or take it to the next level) once you fall under her spell.
In my ongoing quest to find something to make eating feel like fun again while we wait for the food to come up, I made a few batches of her herb salt. The total investment was about 5 minutes of active time per batch, and the results were outstanding, something you can play with endlessly and tailor just to your liking.
Basically you mix minced fresh herbs with aromatics and salt, and either let them air dry for two days (her method) or zatz them in a slow oven or food dehydrator (my impatient solution), and then Bob is your uncle. I lightly pounded it all in a mortar and pestle when things were dried out, to even out the consistency. Popcorn, roasted brussels sprouts, my new favorite mixy mixy one-bowl meal, eggs and other items have not been heard complaining when they were dusted with the stuff.
adapted from Preserving By The Pint, by Marisa McClellan
version #1: 1 bunch of fresh cilantro, 1 bunch of fresh scallions, 1T freshly grated fresh ginger, microplaned zest of two limes, pinch of cayenne, 2T good quality coarse salt
version #2: two handfuls of fresh shiso leaf (available in Asian groceries, and in a few weeks as a weed around my chicken coop, hard as that may be to believe now), 2T toasted sesame seeds, 2 cloves of garlic, 2t freshly grated fresh ginger, 1t korean red pepper flakes, microplaned zest of two limes, 2T good quality coarse salt
Mince everything up as finely as possible, then add the salt and mince it all together some more. Spread it on a plate to air dry, stirring occasionally, for a day or two, or put it in an oven, set as low as possible, or dehydrator for a few hours. Pound it lightly with a mortar and pestle if you like, to grind out anything chunky, and fling with merry abandon over anything you like to eat.
It is possible that cautious optimism that it will not always be winter is warranted.
The daffodils are ready to commit. The robins are back. The pesky birds nesting in the eaves outside the window by my bed are hard at work at sunrise every morning, 7 days per friggin week.
This is the time of year that I find I have grown entirely tired of eating, and cooking, and especially shopping for food. Before spring begins in earnest, here in the north east we are down to the bottom of the barrel of foods that have overwintered, like apples and squash, and despite our global economy (surely it is not winter all over the world?) all the produce in the market looks like it was dragged here behind the truck instead of inside it. Nothing imported looks good. Nothing local is up. We are sick of soup, and do not want to hear anyone talk about “seasonal eating” because this is the season when there isn’t much to eat.
It’s a good moment to clean the slate and clear the system out. The change of season always is. But every time I reach for the re-set button, I find myself pretty quickly in a lather of confusion. Go whole grain? Go paleo? Go vegan? A juice fast lasts about a day before I become homicidal, plus it can bankrupt a person in this zip code at this time of year. Between the plethora of philosophies and the lack of tempting ingredients, my virtuous plans often go astray.
I was happy to see this piece in Bon Appetit about making yourself a tasty lunch, for a couple of reasons. One, it reminded me that the road to table happiness for me often leads through the territory of some kind of inspiring condiment. Two, it has some groovy suggestions for simple, appealing ways to eat well. Three, it reminded me that I have often wondered if one could make a savory granola. (The world never tires of pointing out that there are no original ideas anymore.)
I set to work immediately leaving the useful launching pad of their recipe behind, and made two versions that were appealing enough, and different enough, to help me see that it is pretty hard to go wrong and a good amount of fun could be had. One batch used their notion of an egg white as the glue, and that does produce a handsomely shiny product. For my egg-intolerant sister, whom I like to feed, I subbed a chia-seed slurry to hold every thing together, and it worked just fine, though it was less shiny to gaze upon. One batch engaged their same oaty base, and one (hello, Paleo houseguest!) employed coconut instead. This seems like a handy concoction to have around, to toss on top of salads or rice bowls or empty hands seeking snacks.
Guidelines below. Have at it.
inspired by Bon Appetit, April 2014
makes about 3 cups
- 1 c rolled oats, or coconut ribbons or flakes
- to this add a scant 2c c of nuts or seeds, e.g. 1/2 c each of three of these: sliced or slivered almonds, coarsely chopped pecans, cashews or walnuts, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, shelled unsalted pistachios, or pine nuts, plus a 1/4 cup of sesame or flax seeds
- 1 egg white OR
- 1 T chia seed, bloomed for a few minutes in 1/4 c water
- 1/4 c olive or coconut oil
- 1-2 t maple syrup, agave, or coconut sugar
the spice mix:
- 1 tsp kosher salt (or something salty, like the liquid from a jar of preserved lemons, or tamari, etc)
- about 1 T of mixed spices (see below for suggestions)
Heat the oven to 350. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a silicone sheet
Combine the dry ingredients. Combine the wet ingredients. Combine the two mixtures and toss well; taste and adjust the seasonings (I didn’t do that with my version 1, and ended up wishing for more flavor).
Spread it out on a rimmed baking sheet lined with baking parchment, and bake it, stirring a few times to prevent scorching at the edges and get a nice even toastiness, for about 25 minutes. Cool it, and store in an airtight jar.
My version 1 had pine nuts, almonds, cashews and sesame on a base of oats. The glue was the chia slurry and olive oil, with a teaspoon each of sesame oil, tamari and preserved lemon gravy added to it, and the spice mix was about 1/2 a teaspoon of black pepper, a pinch of cayenne, and a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger.
Version 2 used coconut as a base; the nuts were almonds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. I used an egg white and coconut oil, and added a teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and brown mustard seeds, along with 1/2 a teaspoon of fennel seed and a shake of ground fenugreek, and a scant teaspoon of korean ground red pepper which is very handy stuff to have around–lots of chili flavor with medium heat–and some fresh grated ginger. You can crush the seeds a little or leave them whole.
Sorry I’m late. I’ve been stuck at a four-way intersection, notorious all over the globe for short-circuiting sensible behavior. Mine was the place where a fresh wave of grief, my loony agreement to costume the 8th grade play, a very busy season writing and organizing, and a small farm animal in my kitchen all came together. None of these things could have been managed without friendship, and I am absurdly rich in this resource, but the pace of life has felt aerobic even so.
My friend Suzi once said to me, as I explained a day that seemed arduous but possible, “there’s the logistics, and then there’s living through it.” Meaning yes, it is technically feasible to drop your kids off at school, travel 2.5 hours to attend a one-hour event, get back on time for 2:30 pick up, then get dinner on the table and hit the class meeting at 7. But then there is the state of mind and body that will result, which ought to be part of the calculations.
As this past week unfolded, I did find a few stretches of time where I was not scheduled to be doing anything, and I began to interrogate myself about why I still felt so overwhelmed. A couple of days were a lot like the one described above, but others were not. It was the task of trying to yank my brain around to writing that revealed to me that time was not the issue. The problem was one of total mind saturation. So many separate tasks, mammals, timelines, calories and physical objects were milling around my cranium in need of tracking and monitoring that there was no open space to breathe into any creative thought.
This naturally leads us right to potatoes. Tamar Adler sings the praises of setting your week up right by roasting a whole bunch of stuff and stacking it neatly in the fridge. If you want to follow the roasting tangent, Melissa Clark wrote a similarly inspiring bit about the merits of roasting things to eat right away. Roasting, in my opinion, is the joint as far as making things tasty fast, but my tangent of the day is not roasting so much as little gifts that your idle self, when it is comparatively idle, can give your busy self when she comes around later looking for something to eat–and you know she will, probably with a few more hungry pals in tow.
So, if at any point you find yourself with the oven on for some other purpose, or just find yourself with a span of an hour or two that you can bookmark the end of, bake some potatoes. They can be baking potatoes or Yukon Gold potatoes or sweet potatoes or yams. I don’t care. Cool them down and tuck them away.
One subsequent day, when time is tight, get busy for about ten minutes with those potatoes. Split them and scrape them out and load them up with all kinds of nutritious tidbits, then bake them again.
Now you’ve done something pretty great. Now humans dashing through your kitchen at high speeds can grab one and be pretty well sustained. More inert persons can stumble down to the kitchen and get nourished while your attention (or your body) is elsewhere. With a salad and maybe some soup, seated people can call them dinner. They are tasty at room temperature and comforting when warmed up again, which they tolerate well, so you can even tuck the finished product away for another future crunch.
An act of sustaining friendship, from your self to yourself, with the attendant ripples of good effects for others that friendship always produces. I can hardly call this a recipe. Just an idea. Customize it to your market, pantry and taste.
Prick or X the potatoes, and bake them until tender. Even if you are planning to do all the steps in one go, do let them cool a little before proceeding. (Speaking of acts of kindness to the self, as well as acts whose lingering effects could be felt for some time.)
When you can interact with the potatoes without altering your fingerprints, slice them in half and scrape the flesh (leaving about 1/4″ in the peel) into a bowl.
Mash this up, and add to the mash any or all of the following that you have, or anything similar that you like from the list below (amounts are per potato):
- about 1/2 c finely minced greens (any combination of baby spinach, kale, chard, basil and other fresh herbs, etc)
- 1T golden flax meal (oat bran, wheat germ, sesame seeds…)
- 1/4 c buttermilk or plain yogurt (coconut milk, cashews whizzed with a little water, soy milk…)
- 1/4 c grated sharp cheese (parmesan, cheddar, etc)
- 1t olive oil
- Any little nubbin that seems savory and appealing: capers, olives, minced up ham or bacon, smoked tofu….
- Salt & pepper, paprika, cumin, chile powder to taste
Mix it all well, scoop it back into the waiting shells, and festoon the top with some more grated cheese, maybe a sprinkle of paprika or sesame seeds, and bake those bad boys until golden.