Golden Years: Our Anniversary and a Bowie Tribute

The Unit and I recently marked our twenty-eighth year of getting hitched. I don’t ask for any accolades on staying put for almost thirty years because, frankly, I’ve had it pretty easy in this relationship. Despite my multiple complaints about his stick-in-the-mud-ness, the Unit is a pretty open-minded guy. He appreciates a good debate and will concede a point when confronted with a cogent, logical argument. He doesn’t storm off in anger or slam doors. He’s funny, insanely smart, and kind.

So damn young.

So damn young.

If you know me, and you probably do if you are reading this, you are aware that I am mercurial, cranky, and vindictive. Cynical on a good day; caustic on the others. I let the garbage overflow the bin and I buy a lot of shoes. I’m not a lot of fun to live with (unless you’re a cat: then I’m awesome). Nutshell: The Unit got the short end of this deal.

We never make too much of fuss about our anniversary, coming as it does on the heels of the holidays. No gifts, no parties, but generally a nice dinner—sometimes in, sometimes out—and a lovely bottle of wine.

rev biblia chora

This year we did both. A dinner at home, focused on a lovely and aromatic bottle of Assyrtiko/Sauvignon Blanc that he brought back from Greece this summer. This wine offered powerful SB aromatics of citrus and stone fruit, with a bracing minerality and refreshing acidity. It ticked off lots of boxes on the “Jamie Samons List of Desired Wine Attributes.”

We drank this with hummus and chicken shawarma, and the combination positively sang.

Chicken shawarma in a pita. Not as good as Mamoun's, but OK considering it was a first try and I lack proper shawarma infrastructure.

Chicken shawarma in a pita. Not as good as Mamoun’s, but OK considering it was a first try and I lack proper shawarma infrastructure.

Hummus topped with crispy chickpeas, toasted pumpkin seeds, and fried chicken skin.

Hummus topped with crispy chickpeas, toasted pumpkin seeds, and fried chicken skin.

That night we also watched a favorite Star Trek episode, “City on the Edge of Forever,” a classic featuring a young and altruistic Joan Collins, decades before she donned her signature Dynasty shoulder pads.*

*When The Unit and I first married, he was shocked to learn that I had never seen the original Star Trek, so we spent the first eighty days of our wedded life watching the oeuvre (seventy-nine episodes plus the pilot) on our ratty rabbit-eared TV. “Amok Time” is still my favorite.

Photos courtesy of Oberlin. I can't say it enough: go eat this food and drink this wine (or any wine on their menu: they're all fantastic).

Photos courtesy of Oberlin. I can’t say it enough: go eat this food and drink this wine (or any wine on their menu: they’re all fantastic).

The next night we betook ourselves to Oberlin, the inspired new restaurant from Heidi and Ben Sukle, who also brought us birch. We feasted on raw lobster, roasted beets, pork sugo with hand-made pasta, roasted scup, and a deliriously good apple tart. Basically, if something is on the menu, I urge you to eat it. Chef Ben has obviously sold his soul to the devil to create such stick-in-your-head-for-days deliciousness and Heidi has created an atmosphere that is at once fantastically comfortable and seamlessly elegant. The wine list boasts dozens of gems, including the above-pictured gloriously bizarre and funky rosé, which co-ferments red grapes and white grapes, bringing some real tannins to the glass. It’s cloudy (all natural!), tangy, and a real stand-up partner with food. It’s also of limited quantity, so get into Oberlin to try it—and everything else—soon!

The day we dined at Oberlin was also the day we learned of David Bowie’s death. Like many Bowie fans, I always appreciated his weirdness, his “aesthetic promiscuity” (his words), and his panache. In these days of manufactured pop stars, adolescent lyrics, and auto-tuned everything, Bowie’s genius stands in stark contrast.

My Bowie tribute: glittery Beatrix Ong Mary Janes and skinny leather pants.

My Bowie tribute: glittery Beatrix Ong Mary Janes and skinny leather pants.

 

To draw a connection between the two nights of anniversary celebration, in “City on the Edge of Forever,” the Guardian of Forever tells Kirk and Spock (Starman!!), “Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway.”

Bowie, also, was a gateway.

The etiquette cognoscenti designate every anniversary between 25 and 30 as “silver.” I’m going to take a detour and declare this one golden.

Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere.

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No Package January

The new year (and a new decade for me) has arrived and I’m trying not to be stupid.

jan_1Experiments with resolutions in the past have met with limited success; Chinese No Year, for example, was a worthwhile, albeit difficult year, while Wearing All My Weird Vintage Clothes Year fizzled out by the second week of January. In an effort to learn from past experiences, I plan to avoid resolutions this year that deal with either the size of my ass or the condition of my soul. Instead, I will look squarely into the dual abysses of my garbage can and recycling bin.

I’m ditching the packaging, my friends. Because, although I love to assemble things from scratch for other people, when it comes to feeding myself, I too often resort to a can of soup, a bag of lettuce, or a manufactured nutrition bar. Shameful. Icky. Super convenient.

Yes, that is a candy wrapper next to the quest bar wrapper. #shame

Yes, that is a candy wrapper next to the quest bar wrapper. #shame

Obviously, some things are exempt from the “no package” goal.

IMG_2031

Awesome bottle from my dear friend Nick!

Awesome bottle from my dear friend Nick!

And another fine bottle from Jenni & Monika. BTW, have we talked lately about what truly generous and stellar friends I have?

And another fine bottle from Jenni & Monika. BTW, have we talked lately about what truly generous and stellar friends I have?

With any luck, this attempt will require me to cook more for myself, or—at the very least—eat food that has been prepared by real hands, and if the experts are to be believed, this is the way to living a healthy-ish and happy life.

More updates soon. Wish me luck!

 

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A Christmas Carol

On December 24, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, Carol Larsen made her way into this world. I didn’t meet her until about sixty-five years later because she happened to be the mother of my dearest friend Anastasia, but I can guarantee that none of her youthful snap and effervescence had diminished. From the instant I met her, I loved the way she gave her opinions (forcefully, and often with incredulity that anyone could possibly disagree) and I loved the way she gave her love (generously, but not blindly).

Always stylish, always a New Yorker.

Always stylish, always a New Yorker.

Broadway musicals, baseball, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, the Catholic Church, her children, their spouses and her grandchildren: all these things lit sparks in her eyes. Because my bestie Anastasia is such an amazing and giving person, The Unit and I spent much time with Carol (and the rest of the gorgeous Luby/Freymann clan) over the years: Thanksgiving dinners, Christmases, summer evenings on Squam Lake, holiday parties, 70th and 80th birthday bashes. We got to see Carol dance and sing and glow with pride in the presence of her family.

On December 13, Carol died, surrounded by her family. Anastasia told me that in the evening they all sang show tunes together and listened to vintage Brooklyn Dodgers games (God bless the internet). At the risk of sounding maudlin, it seems like a great party.

Emilio Pucci for Formfit Rogers, a gift from Carol's personal collection.

Emilio Pucci for Formfit Rogers, a gift from Carol’s personal collection.

If you’ve ever talked to me for longer than seventeen seconds, you know that I had a, ahem, complicated relationship with my own mother. In Carol, I found a friend with motherly overtones but also with a healthy dose of cynicism. She and I shared a birthday and a love of vintage Pucci (Carol even gifted me one of her Pucci slips from the 1970s when the designer did a line of underthings for Formfit Rogers), but that didn’t keep her from giving me a good “snap out of it!” talking-to when I acted like a nincompoop. She loved my husband, too. Together they took on matters of great doctrinal and sociopolitical importance in conversations that lasted hours.

At Carol’s funeral mass, her son Tim read a glorious Scripture from Proverbs that described her perfectly:

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. (Proverbs 31:25)

Strong, stylish, and appreciative of a good party.

When I am sad or confused, I often bake. The precision required for measuring, mixing, and cooking distracts my troubled mind and often calms me. During Carol’s service, I tried (unsuccessfully, I might add) not to sob like a baby by wondering what I would bake for her. I thought it should be something Irish to honor her heritage. Maybe tart and snappy. A little bit decadent, but not pretentious. At home in diverse situations.

nuts butter cheese

I decided, somewhere between my second and third crying jags (seriously, it was the Irish prayer that got me), upon a savory shortbread. Ina Garten’s recipe was my guide. Later that day, I gathered Irish butter, blue cheese from Jasper Hill in Vermont (where Carol lived for a while in the 1970s), and walnuts. I weighed, measured, blended, and baked. The house smelled glorious.

These biscuits have a delicate crumb but a stealthfully assertive flavor—the oomph from that Bayley Hazen blue plays nicely with the creamy butter and slightly bitter walnuts. They would go great with a cup of strong tea, but I chose to pair them with a tipple of Redbreast Irish Whiskey*, named after the robin redbreast, a songbird so loyal to what it loves that it refuses to leave even in the harshest of conditions. Again, a lot like Carol.

Carol called the Irish vase an "OBG" gift: oldie but goodie.

Carol called the Irish vase an “OBG” gift: oldie but goodie.

(*Anastasia gave me my first bottle of Redbreast! Score another one for the Lubys!)

single pot still

We cannot thank Carol’s family enough for letting us trespass so brazenly on their family time to visit Carol while she was in the hospital and hospice. To all the Lubys: we acutely appreciate your generosity of time and spirit. We see Carol’s love reflected in all of you.

 

I’ll sign off with a Christmas song I think Carol and I both enjoyed: she for Bing Crosby, I for David Bowie, both of us for the joy promised in the lyric.

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Frying pan, fire, and the smell of sulfur from a freshly-lit match

Do you ever feel like life is a constant merry-go-round of frying pan and fire? This is where I am now—and the most shameful part of it is that I’m the one holding the match. I don’t know how much of this ennui corresponds to run-of-the-mill seasonal stuff (as I am wont to experience) or to my recent visit to Texas (which is also par for the course for me), but I certainly feel stuck, restrained, and uncomfortable, like I’m wearing a too-tight jacket or a poorly-fitting bra. Or maybe that whole Mercury-in-retrograde situation just hit me particularly hard.

Anyway, the penultimate box arrived shortly before my departure for the Lone Star State and I scrambled to tend to everything before I left. What I did was quite uninspired (see previous paragraph on ennui).

The box contained:

Kale, watercress, thyme, acorn squash, red potatoes, shitake mushrooms, various-hued carrots, and a cracked watermelon.

Kale, watercress, thyme, acorn squash, red potatoes, shitake mushrooms, various-hued carrots, and a cracked watermelon.

And here’s what I did:

I confit-ed the mushrooms in olive oil with shallot and thyme (a la Mrs. Wheelbarrow). These little nuggets will enhance an omelet, a pizza, or some risotto in the future.

Shitake mushroom confit.

Shitake mushroom confit.

I roasted the squash and combined it with crisp apple, spicy radish, and crunchy pecans in a salad. I’m ashamed I didn’t have any lovely bleu cheese to add, as that would have improved this salad immensely.

Salad of roasted acorn squash, shaved apple and radish, greens, and toasted pecans.

Salad of roasted acorn squash, shaved apple and radish, greens, and toasted pecans.

Some of the potatoes and the orange carrots went into individually-sized chicken pot pies that I stowed in the freezer. I believe the Unit ate all of these while I was in Texas.

Chicken pot pie.

Chicken pot pie.

The yellow carrots became a lovely soup, to which I added only one tiny piece of crispy bacon. The wheat and oat bread I nabbed from Smitten Kitchen. It’s a chewy, yummy, dead easy-to-make loaf. I highly recommend it.

Golden carrot soup, with homemade wheat/oat bread and a crispy slice of bacon.

Golden carrot soup, with homemade wheat/oat bread and a crispy slice of bacon.

I steamed the kale and watercress and then froze the leaves in ice cube trays for future use in smoothies.

Steamed kale and watercress, frozen into cubes.

Steamed kale and watercress, frozen into cubes.

The watermelon, sadly, lacked flavor (maybe it escaped through the crack?), so I cubed the flesh and froze it. Maybe sorbet or granita in the future?

So: only one more box, and already I regret that I didn’t exhibit more ambition with this fine produce. Frying pan, fire, and the smell of sulfur from a freshly-lit match.

****

Moment of cuteness: While in Texas, I got the opportunity to meet my new grand-niece, Harper. Harper is the latest in a long line of completely adorable spawn of my nieces and nephews. For a cranky, barren-wombed old lady like myself, it is a comfort to me to know that my family keeps cranking out legit good-looking kids. It also confirms that my decision not to muck up that gene pool was a good one.

Harper Halliday

Harper Halliday

This precious little peanut made me think of the song “Harper Lee” by the Irish band Little Green Cars. The song is subversive, yet sweet; moody, yet melodic; a wry meditation on To Kill a Mockingbird. LGC’s duo, Stevie Appleby and Faye O’ Rourke, constantly charm, snatching rotten darkness from its lowest point and giving it a triumphant new slant, somewhat in the way a cute baby can turn a gloomy cynic into a pile of mush for a moment or two.

Enjoy the fall, y’all!

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New Playlist

It’s been a while since I posted a legit playlist, but this one rode well, so I’ll pass it along.

The intervals were fierce and the heart rate soared, but my fine group of GRRL cyclists at CORE came, saw, and crushed the workout.

  • The lead off track is from the new Passion Pit album; it’s chime-y and full of exuberance. 1985 was a good year, indeed.
  • Track 4 is new from The Struts; it’s got some nice nervy tension in the verse (the hand-clapping!) with an anthemic chorus. Luke Spiller’s lead vocals are very obviously informed by his predecessors of the mid-00s “The” bands (Strokes, Libertines, Killers), with a little Freddy Mercury wannabe swagger in there as well. I predict it will be on the soundtrack to something.
  • I used the Jauz remix for Ed Sheeran’s “Sing.” Find it if you can, (Spotify doesn’t have it). Jauz’s remix adds some grit and dubstep to the tune, which is welcomed against Sheeran’s falsetto.
  • Grace Potter is now sans Nocturnals with her new album Midnight. I thought her voice was in fine form until I read the Chrissy Hynde autobiography last week and then listened obsessively to the Pretenders for several days. Chrissy’s voice spoiled me for anyone else; Potter sounds positively anemic in comparison. Still: “Look What We’ve Become” is a perfectly fine song for grinding out a steep hill.
  • “Alive” was reportedly written by Adele and offered to Rhianna, who refused it. Too bad for you, RiRi. Sia performs admirably on this and provides a good reminder for the cool down: we may feel positively battered after the ride, but we’re still alive.

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Inanimate Objects Are Out to Get Me

NB: The first few paragraphs are full of Jamie-drivel. Skip past the Mousetrap video for vegetables!

I have decided to stop fighting with inanimate objects. The problem is they’re not honoring the truce.

I spend too much time every day fighting with the purse strap that always (ALWAYS) gets stuck on the manual shifting stick, the grocery cart with the bum wheel, and the toilet paper roll that won’t go all the way around, leaving me with a handful of single sheets. SINGLE SHEETS!

A couple of months ago, I vowed to struggle no longer. When faced with an uncooperative IO, I would employ passive resistance, like social or political protesters who go limp to hinder the process of carrying them away.

I’ve tried. Instead of yanking on the purse, I stop, relax, breathe. I calmly unhook the strap from the gearshift. But then, doncha know, the other bloody strap gets hooked on the parking brake, and the contents of the purse spill out onto the floorboard.

And this doesn’t even take into consideration the Mousetrapean attacks the IOs wage on the daily: the lemon that rolls across the counter and knocks over the salt cellar; the salt then changes the course of the rolling lemon until it can bash into a half-full cocktail shaker, sending it bouncing off the kitchen floor (did you know cocktail shakers BOUNCE? They do, with great Tigger-like properties), spewing finely-mixed Manhattan and bits of ice everywhere. In an unsuccessful attempt to catch the projectile shaker, my foot will hit the cat’s water bowl, at which time the laws of physics will go topsy-turvy because the amount of liquid to come out of that bowl—and into all corners of the kitchen—FAR exceeds the capacity of the bowl.

Friends, it goes on and on. I’m trying to take the moral high ground, but the IOs are pugnacious bullies and they have physics on their side. I need a Treaty of Versailles; I’ll settle for a Yalta.

*****

At any rate, that is my manifesto for the day and it has almost nothing to do with this week’s beautifully-hued vegetable box.

The box contained dill, fennel, a trio of slender leeks, a melange of peppers, adorable tiny eggplants, husk cherries, and a wee watermelon.

The box contained dill, fennel, a trio of slender leeks, a melange of peppers, adorable tiny eggplants, husk cherries, and a wee watermelon.

Starting ambidextrously, with both the left and the right at the same time, the dill went into a tzaziki that garnished a pile of grilled eggplant.

Grilled baby eggplant with olives and tzaziki.

Grilled baby eggplant with olives and tzaziki.

With the fennel, I riffed on Chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s recipe for a shaved celery, fennel, and radish salad. She serves hers with a slab of obscenely decadent Valdeon cheese on lavishly buttered toast. We served ours as a complement to an almost equally decadent cheese board, featuring the star players from Twig Farm. You’ve heard me prattle about Twig here, and with the full knowledge that I am repeating myself: go get some of their cheese. Now. Even the Unit, who generally does not love soft, “aromatic” cheeses, loves everything Twig produces.

Shaved fennel, radish, and avocado salad. A riff on Gabrielle Hamilton's recipe.

Shaved fennel, radish, and avocado salad. A riff on Gabrielle Hamilton’s recipe.

Four types of goat-y goodness: the Twig Farm line-up, plus some fresh dates, and a slab of rabbit pate from Formaggio.

Four types of goat-y goodness: the Twig Farm line-up, plus some fresh dates, and a slab of rabbit pate from Formaggio.

We washed all that down with this bang-for-your-buck sparkling wine from Southwest France. Legend has it that Le Berceau was produced via méthode champeniose years before Dom Perignon came along. Several people have told me that the legend lies, but I choose to believe it anyway.

Hands down, one of the best sparkling wines out there under $15!

Hands down, one of the best sparkling wines out there under $15!

One of the jalapeños joined the husk cherries in a fruity, spicy salsa.

Husk cherry, mango, and pepper salsa. We ate this on chicken tacos.

Husk cherry, mango, and pepper salsa. We ate this on chicken tacos.

We pulled out a bottle of the MacLeod Sauvignon Blanc to accompany the tacos. We love the MacLeods.

This year's drought has diminished the 2015 MacLeod harvest by 30-40%. Thankfully, we have a supply of the 2014 and it drinks beautifully.

This year’s drought has diminished the 2015 MacLeod harvest by 30-40%. Thankfully, we have a supply of the 2014 and it drinks beautifully.

I roasted the other peppers and added them to a smoky chicken tortilla soup.

Chicken tortilla soup, with lots of surface fat and bits of spice clinging to the edge of the bowl.

Chicken tortilla soup, with lots of surface fat and bits of spice clinging to the edge of the bowl.

Finally, the watermelon we just ate because one should not go through a summer without getting sticky-faced from watermelon juice.

And now some music!

About a million years ago, I religiously read Thomas Bartlett’s music column for Salon (if you ever received a mix CD from me around 2003, it was filled with liner notes that read “Thomas Bartlett says x,” or “I agree with Thomas Bartlett on y.”). Bartlett left Salon much too soon, but I followed his musical career as a part of The National (loooove), his partnership with Sam Amidon, and his solo effort as Doveman. Now, he and Amidon are backing the truly lovely Glen Hansard (whose jugular-popping vocals for The Frames and soft croon as half of The Swell Season have equally transfixed me) on his second solo album, Didn’t He Ramble.

“Grace Beneath the Pines” is the lead single. It’s pretty special.

 

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Help Us Name this Cocktail!

Before I get into a discussion of the latest vegetable box, I call upon you, friends, to help us name a cocktail.

A little backstory: while I sat in the ER a couple of weeks ago waiting to get my shin sewed up, my delightful friend and running partner Sally came to visit. And, in what will surely be known henceforth as the coolest get-well gesture of the year, she brought a pint of figs!

image: westoftheloop

image: westoftheloop

I love figs. The Unit’s paternal grandmother, Thelma Naomi Samons, had many, many exemplary qualities: she was a poet, a teacher, and a terrific storyteller. She also made the best fig preserves on either side of the Mississippi, and if you say differently, I’ll fight you about it. Each fall we would fist pump with excitement when she sent us jars of tiny figs from her backyard tree, glistening in honeyed syrup. A few years before she passed away, her beloved fig tree stopped producing fruit. Her final shipment contained a single half-pint jar, which accounted for all the figs she had harvested that year. If you make jam or preserves, you know how grand a labor of love it is to go through the preserving process for one jar of product. Grandma’s love was that great.

I had never tried preserving figs myself until Sally’s sweet gift inspired me. I ended up with several jars of not-quite-as-yummy-as-Grandma’s figs and a whole mess of fig-flavored syrup left over from the process. On merely a whisper of a suggestion from me, the Unit set about to fashioning that syrup into a cocktail. He paired the syrup with rye, lime, and fig bitters, and plopped a preserved fig into the bottom of the glass. I gotta hand it to him: it’s delicious.

We're still arguing about the name of this cocktail: rye, fig syrup, lime juice, fig bitters, and a preserved fig in the bottom of the glass.

We’re still arguing about the name of this cocktail: rye, fig syrup, lime juice, fig bitters, and a preserved fig in the bottom of the glass.

We are, however, flummoxed on a name. I proffered the Fig Leaf, which he decried as too prosaic. He suggested the Adam’s Apple, to which I took exception, claiming it’s too metaphorical.

So, friends, I put this to you. Can you help us name this poor orphan cocktail?

*********

And now, on to the box.

Here’s what the box contained:

Melon, tomatoes, peaches, mushrooms, kale, cabbage.

Melon, tomatoes, peaches, mushrooms, kale, cabbage.

And here’s what I did:

Those beautiful mushrooms went on crunchy rye toast with some sunny side up eggs and aged Gruyere. Kale salad with avocado and pecans on the side.

Seven stars French Rye, sauteed mushrooms, fried eggs, aged Gruyere.

Seven stars French Rye, sauteed mushrooms, fried eggs, aged Gruyere.

Kale salad.

Kale salad.

We accompanied that meal with a truly stellar Reisling.

Still bits of the packing material clinging to the bottle!

Still bits of the packing material clinging to the bottle!

The Unit had a birthday recently, so I used the peaches in a birthday galette. I almost dislocated my own shoulder patting myself on the back for this homemade puff pastry.

Birthday tart for a peach of a guy.

Birthday tart for a peach of a guy.

Much of the cabbage went into slaw, but I grilled some wedges over high heat and drizzled them with pomegranate molasses and sprinkled with salty toasted pumpkin seeds.

Grilled cabbage with pomegranate molasses and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Grilled cabbage with pomegranate molasses and toasted pumpkin seeds.

I puréed the melon with lemon and honey and froze into popsicles with a few blueberries in there for good teeth-staining measure.

Melon pop studded with blueberries.

Melon pop studded with blueberries.

And the tomatoes we ate in caprese salads, but I also did a little juicing to make a spicy Bloody Mary, garnished with pickled green beans from the last box, a couple of tomolives, and a sliver of pickled habanero.

Spicy Bloody Mary, garnished with last week's pickled green beans as well as tomolives and picked serrano.

Spicy Bloody Mary, garnished with last week’s pickled green beans as well as tomolives and picked habanero.

********

In honor of the publication of Chrissy Hynde’s autobiography, I’m signing off with a classic Pretenders tune. Rock on, friends!

 

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Is This @#$%ing Summer Over Yet?

I’m late with the account of the vegetable box. Life did its thing by getting in the way: the cats continue to struggle with various health issues (the saintly Jenni is convinced that they are both dope fiends) and I managed to lose a fight with a park bench and ended up in the ER for three hours, emerging with two small stitches and a tetanus shot (a combination that made me pretend to be Beck, following it up with “Where it’s at.”).

Still: some really nice farmers grew these vegetables and I don’t want to be the a**hole who lets them go rotten in the crisper drawer.

The haul: carrots, lettuce, eggplant, parsley, chard, apples, cucumbers, string beans.

The haul: carrots, lettuce, eggplant, parsley, chard, apples, cucumbers, string beans.

And here’s what happened:

The chard, I braised and ate with fried eggs and loads of jalapeños AGAIN. The lettuce went into salads. The apples I either ate out of hand or sliced with cheese (Cato Corner Hooligan, to be exact).

The perfectly ovoid eggplant became moussaka. Y’all, if I ever want to make moussaka again in the summertime, stop me. This should be confined to cold weather cooking: frying, roasting, making sauce, baking. OY. Still : it was delicious and a good portion of it remains in the freezer for other days.

Moussaka: delicious, but a complete PITA.

Moussaka: delicious, but a complete PITA.

The parsley went atop another focaccia. My culinary creativity these days suffers like California.

Focaccia, again. Are you sick of focaccia pics yet? I'm going to call this photo-caccia.

Focaccia, again. Are you sick of focaccia pics yet? I’m going to call this photo-caccia.

The green beans and carrots I pickled because I love pickles. I also love cute jars.

Pickles

Pickles

And the cucumbers became cucumber gimlets. I had one of these dangerously refreshing drinks a couple of weeks ago at Persimmon. Kevin at the bar is a mad genius; he tops his gimlet with a splash of sparkling wine and the combination of herby gin and nose-tickling bubbles with rock your palate into next Tuesday. Kevin used Ford’s gin; our home bar lacked that, so I used Uncle Val’s, although I imagine Hendrick’s would be good as well.

So much goodness.

So much goodness.

Have you listened to the new album from The Tallest Man on Earth yet? They played Newport this year (sniff) to great acclaim. Being the curmudgeonly, misanthropic sort, I have always appreciated the doleful nature of Kristian Mattson’s songwriting. On this song, the first single off Dark Bird is Home, he sings of heartbreak, but with perhaps his most lush orchestration to date. Violin, mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar, castanet punctuated percussion, and haunting backing vocals join in the soul-searching quest.

And so here I go again
Say I want my freedom sure
But it’s like end of all the dreams
Like in my life I needed more

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Ignoring the Rules (or: Mexi-terranean Burritos)

Before I move on the the vegetable box, I must again offer thanks for all your good wishes and healing thoughts. Both cats continue vigorously on their way back to tip-top kitty health, the Unit arrived safe and sound (albeit a bit cranky after twenty hours of travelling) from Greece, and I am re-learning what it’s like to sleep six hours at a shot. In short, life is getting back to normal.

***

The latest box finally contained the joke of summer produce—zucchini—as well as a canary-colored pattypan squash, a trio of magenta onions, kale, celery, tarragon, green bell peppers, and several ears of plump-kernelled sweet corn.

Kale, celery, pattypan squash, red onions, tarragon, bell peppers, zucchini, corn.

Kale, celery, pattypan squash, red onions, tarragon, bell peppers, zucchini, corn.

I also had a stowaway.

Interloper in the box!

Interloper in the box!

And here’s what I did:

The squashes, bell pepper, and one of the onions joined with garlic, tomatoes, an obscene amount of olive oil, and loads of herbs to make a faux ratatouille: a not-tatoullie, if you will, due to the lack of eggplant. I love the silky texture all the vegetables take on when you cook them to death. There’s not an al dente bite in the entire pot (I think we should overcook our vegetables more often, but more on this another time). This stuff is great as a base for a poached egg or two or plopped on a piece of toast, but ultimately this batch played a supporting role in a burrito. I took a Mexican approach to some Mediterranean ingredients to create a totally disrespectful-of-culture old-world-new-world dinner.

  • Tortilla→Lavash
  • Rice→Couscous
  • Braised chicken→Braised chicken (kudos for my creativity on this one, right?)
  • Salsa→Not-tatouille
  • Jalapeno→Spicy harissa
  • Sour cream→Tahini-yogurt sauce
Lavash, couscous, braised chicken, harissa, not-tatouille, feta, tahini/yogurt sauce.

Lavash, couscous, braised chicken, harissa, not-tatouille, feta, tahini/yogurt sauce.

Winner, winner, (Mexi-terranean) chicken dinner!

We've got a freezer full of these now.

We’ve got a freezer full of these now.

Dinner! Accompanied by tomato and avocado salad,

Dinner! Accompanied by tomato and avocado salad,

The spicy harissa was a gift from my delightful friend Sally who knows my love of all things tongue-numbing and constantly surprises me with new ways to feed the addiction. This stuff is magical: plenty of heat, but not so much that your head will explode. Plus, the complexity of the spice and the acidity of the sauce makes this interesting enough to eat off a spoon (not that I would know anything about that).

Dope everything and buy this harissa. Thank you to lovely Sally for this wonderful gift!

Drop everything and buy this harissa. Thank you to lovely Sally for this wonderful gift!

The kale I braised with white beans and artichoke hearts, along with a couple of Parmesan rinds. In its first iteration, I served the beans under a piece of slow roasted wild salmon (it’s salmon season!!); I used the leftovers to make a white bean, kale, artichoke soup.

White beans braised with kale and artichokes, topped with slow roasted salmon.

White beans braised with kale and artichokes, topped with slow roasted salmon.

I took the corn off the cobs and used the cobs to enrich some chicken stock with their corny flavor. I used the stock to make risotto, into which I added the sweet kernels. Truthfully, it was a bit sweet for me, so I tossed on a decent dousing of olive oil and sherry vinegar. I also crisped up some lardons of my homemade bacon, because bacon + corn = yum. We had a ton of risotto left over. I think I may make some arancini, subbing out bits of goat cheese for the mozzarella.

Corn sobs simmering in chicken stick.

Corn cobs simmering in chicken stick.

Corn risotto, dressed with a decent glu of olive oil, some sherry vinegar, and loads of black pepper.

Corn risotto, dressed with a decent glug of olive oil, some sherry vinegar, and loads of black pepper.

Home cured. home smoked. Really bacon-y.

Home cured. home smoked. Really bacon-y.

The celery I ate in sticks at work with blue cheese dip. Sadly, no spicy chicken wings.

The other onion endured a slow cook in oodles of oil and butter until it got brown and sticky. I plopped it on top of some focaccia with a mess of black olives I had marinated in with orange, garlic, and basil.

Black olive and caramelized onion focaccia.

Black olive and caramelized onion focaccia.

And the tarragon flavored some pickled mustard seeds. I will giggle like seven-year old when I get pickled mustard seeds at a restaurant. I will never share. They always seem so exotic and luxurious, like caviar without the whole lining-of-a-fish-belly thing. Thing is, pickled mustard seeds are dead simple to make. Who knew? And now I have my own supply! Sorry: not sharing.

Mid-pickling.

Mid-pickling.

Pickled mustard seeds!

Pickled mustard seeds!

While cooking, I listened (a lot) to Leon Bridges. Have you heard his record? Listen to it. I promise you will love it. If you don’t I will personally come to your house and do your laundry. Seriously: it’s that good. He croons with the passion of Sam Cooke, plays guitar with the tightly executed song structures of CSNY, yet possesses a completely modern sensibility along the lines of Usher or John Legend. Bridges lives in Fort Worth, on the same street as my brother. The two ran into one another at the Newport Folk Festival—where Bridges knocked everyone’s socks off—and celebrated an “only in Rhode Island” moment.

My brother Steve and Leon Bridges at the Newport Folk Festival.

My brother Steve and Leon Bridges at the Newport Folk Festival.

Happy listening!

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Plans, schmans

I love a list. A list promises forward movement, improvement, goals to achieve. So, when the Unit left for five weeks abroad at the end of June, I sat at my desk, gel pen in hand, and put to paper my BIG PLANS FOR JULY. I admit, the three entries don’t look horribly ambitious at first glance, but each line required me to push past some physical, mental, or emotional hurdle that I had been heretofore avoiding.

Hubris or just plain foolishness?

Hubris or just plain foolishness?

Before I hated Woody Allen, he said some funny things, including, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.” I guess God had His share of chuckles during the month with me.

Grout shower. After watching a few You Tube videos on regrouting a shower, I knew the task was beyond me, so I called in an expert. It took the handyman six hours to complete a job I had nudged the Unit two years to do. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

So: BIG PLAN #1 – check.

I love the smell of fresh grout in the morning.

I love the smell of fresh grout in the morning.

Cut hair. My hair has taken a Hashimoto’s-induced beating over the past few years; the damage has resisted the work of my incredibly knowledgeable and caring stylist (Brian Richards in Franklin, MA) and every conditioner sold on Sephora or in the aisles of Whole Foods. Still, I hesitated to cut it because (a) the Unit hates short hair and (b) the last time I went short, in 1999, I ended up with a mullet reminiscent of John Stamos as Uncle Jesse on Full House (NB: I have only love for Stamos, but I cannot rock the mullet the way he could). I cried for two days after that haircut.

I just don't have the smoldering Greek good looks to pull this off.

I just don’t have the smoldering Greek good looks to pull this off.

The week before my scheduled salon visit, things started to go south with the cat and I was an emotional, sleep-deprived wreck. Not, if you believe all the lady magazines, the perfect headspace for making a major hair decision. Still, I needed a change-your-hair-change-your-life moment, so I told Brian to chop it off. After the first snip, I felt ten years younger and ten pounds lighter. I can’t believe I waited so long to get rid of that dead, damaged mane. Yes: another lesson (or perhaps the same one).

BIG PLAN#2 – check.

Get fit. My desire to “get fit” in truth was my desire to run a fast half-marathon on the island of Islay at the end of July. I’ve been looking forward to this race for a year, since I ran San Francisco with Steve and he told me about this tiny half on the island that produces my favorite whiskies. I planned to fly to Glasgow, take the prop plane to Islay, run, and then spend a few days exploring distilleries before heading to Edinburgh for a day to visit Steve, and then to London for a week to visit butchery and cheese shops. I ended up cancelling the trip; the Unit wouldn’t be back from Greece for several days after I was scheduled to leave, and there was no way I could, in good conscience, leave two sick/recovering kitties alone, even with our beloved pet sitter checking in every day. Chet would likely still have a feeding tube (although never, thank God, necessary for food) and Whiskey is on daily allergy meds.

Even before I made the decision to cancel, I had let the running go. I was down to two runs a week, nothing even longer than six miles. I had, maybe, two track workouts the entire month, and I was abysmally slow. Getting up every hour or two overnight to check on cats (Is everyone still alive? Is he breathing fast? Slow? Has Whiskey scratched her nose off again?) left me with little energy and even less willpower to hit the road at 6:00 AM. (I’m sure right now every parent in the world is rolling their eyes so far back in their heads that they can see their own amygdalae, and saying, “Tell me about it, cupcake.”)

My fitness saving grace during this time was teaching (and taking) GRIT sessions. This alchemical 30-minute workout brought me to exhaustion and failure every time and helped prevent me from completely losing my mind (and my muscle) over the month.

BIG PLAN #3 – fail.

Two out of three. What did Meatloaf say about that? It ain’t bad. It also ain’t great, but I’ve got no choice at this point but to be okay with it. I may not have completed a respectable half-marathon (and followed it up with a scandalous amount of whisky drinking), but I’ve got a nice shower and two cats well on their way to recovery.

I’ve also got loads of folks to thank, who lent support over this crazy month: my friends at Fore Court (especially Melissa, who managed to get my classes covered at the last minute on way too many occasions when a cat needed to be rushed to the hospital; and Laura, who ran a freaking Ironman and was always a source of inspiration); my running partner, Sally, who even though she was not running in July due to fasting for Ramadan, continued to check in on me and the cats over the month; my brothers, whose social activities with me during their visits to Providence this month were sharply curtailed, yet they were still cool about everything; my dad, his desire to help is so humbling; my colleagues, who gave me oodles of occupational flexibility; and especially Jenni Huelsman and Monika Wright, who offered so much professional veterinary wisdom, loads of their own time, and words of comfort on every occasion. They also gifted Chet with a very dashing red bow tie.

Sartorial splendor courtesy of Jenni & Monika.

Sartorial splendor courtesy of Jenni & Monika.

August is here, and I don’t have a new list. Maybe that’s a good thing. September is a much better list-making month, anyway.

I’ll sign off with one of my favorite songs of all time. The opening lyric says it all: “I’ve been talking to the wall and it’s been answering me.”

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