I love snow day cooking. I love the way the oven heats up our chilly house and the complete lack of guilt I feel over putterring in the kitchen on a weekday afternoon during which I would normally be in the office or at the gym. After all, if there’s a freaking foot of snow on the ground, I refuse to bow to society’s expectations of either my productivity or my ass size.
During a February snow storm that paralyzed most of Providence, I rummaged through the cabinets and fridge in search of inspiration. I found an embarrassing number of opened bottles of hot sauce, some of which I probably cracked a quarter decade ago. I ended up using a good bit of them to make sweet & spicy popcorn, slathering popped kernels with a hot sauce caramel and baking in the oven until crisp. On first bite, it presented as sweet, but then the heat hit on the finish. It was darn tasty with a Negroni (me) and a martini (The Unit), but I think it would really sing with some bubbles: maybe a Crémant d’Alsace or a Prosecco.
Sweet & spicy popcorn.
Coincidentally, a day or so later, Jenni and Monika presented me with a bag of cheese orphans from their fridge: adorable packages of bleu, havarti, and a citrus-ginger fontina that J & M feared would go bad. I knew with a little foster-cooking, these cheesy foundlings could make someone happy. As I cooked, I had the idea that we all have odd, unused things in our fridges and pantries. Why not try to put them to good use?
And thus the Orphan Food Challenge was born.
The Facebook post that started it all.
Once the call went out, Monika and Jenni again responded with a wee, unopened jar of chili paste. The inspiration for the paste’s makeover hit me while grocery shopping: I saw tiny bags of flavored, roasted chickpeas for $6 a piece. That’s highway robbery! My red chili roasted chickpeas came in at just $1 for twice the amount of chickpeas, not including the jar of chili paste (and there’s still 2/3 jar left, so: still a bargain).
Thank you, Monika and Jenni for playing along!
Red Chili roasted chickpeas.
Maddy, another early adopter of the challenge, presented me with a tin of spicy squid and a can of hearts of palm. These proved a little more difficult than the chili paste because cans can do horrible things to food, most notably making the food taste like cans. The squid was particularly aromatic, so I braised it in white wine and garlic before adding it to a stew with confit-ed pork belly, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, and herbs. I even threw a few homemade sourdough croutons on top.
We have Maddy to thank for these ingredients!
Squid & pork belly stew.
The hearts of palm went into an agrodolce salad with roasted red peppers, pine nuts, golden raisins, picked shallots, capers, and a healthy dose of sherry vinegar. I love how the hearts of palm almost look like squid rings.
Hearts of palm salad.
I’m looking for the next challenge, so scour your pantry and hit me up and I’ll try to make you something delicious!
And, speaking of delicious, please check out the new album from The Old 97’s, perhaps my favorite Texas band ever. The video for the lead single “Good with God,” is hilarious, featuring Jenna Fischer and Fred Armisen, and the gloriously gorgeous vocals of Brandi Carlisle.
I ask myself this question almost every time I hang around my crazymessydelighfulloving family. How did I end up among this truly stellar, undeniably awesome, generally hilarious, and always big-hearted crew? If you are reading this, you probably know me and my cranky ways and therefore reasonably may ask the same question. It is surely one of God’s miracles that I managed to attach myself as the caboose of this family considering (a) they had an excellent train to begin with and thus no need of another rail car and (b) I’ve got a couple of ill-fitting, wobbly wheels from another manufacturer so I’m often messing up the works of the rest of the train.
How did I land here?
The question had even more weight last week at my eldest brother Mike’s funeral. Surrounded by people who reflected the enormous love my brother radiated—love so massive even death couldn’t shut it down—I didn’t know whether to curse God for taking my brother so damn early or rejoice because I had been so blessed to know him at all. I still haven’t figured it out.
Cousins in the snow. Mike is the tall one.
Mike graduated high school and moved away the year I was born, so as a kid I only knew my brother from the photographic evidence left behind: faded black and white Kodak prints of a bundled cherub, often in a group of equally bundled and equally cherubic cousins, playing in the New Hampshire snow; his high school yearbook, which chronicled his prowess as an athlete and a scholar; and one washed out Polaroid of him looking over me at my baptism, his serious visage bespeaking his trepidation about yet another sister and his role as godfather.
My christening, in which my godmother dotes and my brother/godfather looks as if we wants to hurl.
Because of college and his service in the Air Force, I didn’t really get acquainted with my brother until nine years later, when he brought his bride-to-be to meet our family. Mike and Janice were the most glamorous people I had ever known: young, good looking, well-traveled, and in possession of a sports car with red leather interior. In what is surely one of the most positive influential experiences of my young life, Janice would let me shift the manual transmission of this sporty beast from the passenger seat as she drove and pressed the clutch. What a thrill!
I can’t separate my love for Mike from my love for Janice, and by extension, their glorious children, and now the generous spouses and shining personalities of their children’s children. So, while I feel sad and angry at my brother’s death, I also recognize how profoundly and palpably his love is still present. Here’s one thing I will miss, though: every time I saw or talked to my brother, he would end the conversation with, “Love ya, buddy.” In person, he always added a hug, a kiss, and probably another hug.
This family, y’all! Their Easter/4th of July photo from 20 years ago was featured as being awesomely awkward.
When I was 13, I was babysitting Mike and Janice’s eldest daughter, Meagan, then an infant. It was a Saturday night in the spring of 1979 and I counted on them getting home early so I could catch a new movie called “Roller Boogie,” starring Linda Blair and Jim Bray. I really wanted to see “Roller Boogie.”
Admit it, after watching this trailer you kinda want to see it, too.
Unfortunately for my temperament at the time (but with great fortune for my aesthetic development), Mike and Janice arrived home too late for me to make the movie (NB: I never actually saw it, but I understand it lives in its entirety on YouTube, so I guess there’s still time for me). When they came through the door, well past 10 PM, I was watching Saturday Night Live with arms crossed tight around my chest and my foot tapping very judgily in a Church Lady type of way.
“I missed ‘Roller Boogie’!” I whined.
“’Roller Boogie’?” Mike asked. “Why do you care about ‘Roller Boogie’ when Rickie Lee Jones is singing? She’s amazing!” He pointed at the TV.
Sure enough, that episode of SNL introduced America to the Duchess of Coolsville. I listened with Mike and Janice to Rickie Lee sing about some guy named Chuck E, and eventually I, too, fell in love with her weird cadence and her limp beret.
The song is filled with interesting word play and slightly uncomfortable timing. The truly tasty drum fill at 1:59 comes, as I am schooled by The Unit, from Steve Gadd, a drummer’s drummer if ever there was one. As a whole, this song still sounds fresh and innovative thirty-eight years later.
A lot like my brother’s love, which will continue to inspire and comfort for the rest of my life.
Mike, to me, you’ve always had this kind of cool and inspired sorta jazz when you walk.
We’re at the second to the last vegetable box for the season which almost prompts me to ask, “where has the time gone?” However, I’ve spent almost every post bemoaning my own procrastination and sluggishness, and I know, on my rarely-used rational level, that to ask such a question would be dishonest and foolish. So: we’re at the second to the last vegetable box for the season, full stop.
And let’s get right to it:
It was an autumnal affair, replete with gourds and tubers and apples and fungi.
Herbs, chard, kohlrabi, squash, sweet potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, and apples.
In the midst of cleaning out the pantry, I found a bag of sorghum grains and attempted to concoct a grain salad with the sorghum, roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli, some sesame and sunflower seeds, and a miso vinaigrette. It was a C- dish at best. Sorghum’s funny; it never achieves the nutty chewiness that farro does and although I like the flavor, the texture’s a bit of a miss for me. Still, I took it to the gym in the hopes of pawning it off on hungry athletes.
Sorghum salad with roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli, toasted seeds, and a miso vinaigrette. Not wonderfully delicious, I must admit.
The chard and squash went into breakfast burritos.
Breakfast burritos: roasted squash, sauteed chard, eggs, and cheese.
I sauteed the cabbage and mushrooms as a bed for a perfectly fried egg (I love a crispy edge on a sunny side up egg, but I know that’s considered UGH by egg experts).
Sauteed cabbage and mushrooms, under a perfectly runny egg and a moderate (for me) amount of hot sauce.
I chopped the herbs finely and whizzed them into a good amount of butter and roasted garlic. I’ll pop this in the freezer and hack off bits in the future to use on roasted chicken or vegetables.
Herb butter with roasted garlic.
And the apples went into a deliciously moist and boozy cake.
Bourbon apple cake.
Now, about the title of this post: when I started this blog a gazillion years ago, I planned to call it “Semaphore and Gibberish,” referencing the lyrics of Elvis Costello’s “Pidgin English” from his aesthetic tour de force (and my favorite album of all time) Imperial Bedroom. I remember, upon first hearing the song, that I had to look up “sempahore” in the dictionary (and since it was the 1980s dark ages, I had to flip ACTUAL PAGES in a ginormous and faintly odorous book). It was one of many words my relationship with Costello taught me. Ultimately, I decided to title this heap of rubbish with just my name: a wise decision in retrospect because, while I have certainly filled these posts with gibberish over the years, it hasn’t been of the quality to merit an EC-derived moniker.
Fast forward to last week, when I saw the man himself live at the Orpheum in Boston, performing Imperial Bedroom (and Other Chambers). Apologies to those of you who encountered me in the 48 hours after the show; I’m pretty sure I was insufferable in my post-concert giddiness. Suffice it to say that thirty years after I first fell in love with Imperial Bedroom, I now have even more appreciation for the verbal gymnastics and the dizzying perfection of the musicianship. It seems silly, at my age, to have such devotion to one aesthetic statement, but when one looks at the primary artistic influences on my life, it makes a bit more sense.
In keeping with my theme of produce procrastination, I have two boxes to report on. Rest easy: I have no grand emotional scrimmages to agonize over, nor any lightning bolt revelations about BIG and IMPORTANT things. Just food: the glorious bounty of that time when fall shingles over summer in New England.
The first box:
Kale, mint, fennel, butternut squash, onions, radishes, an enormous melon, a trio of zucchini, and a tumble of crisp apples.
The apples became undocumented apple butter, which then became a filling for a dozen or so undocumented brioche-y donuts. The radishes garnished an undocumented tray of waffle nachos (yes: you read that correctly). The melon went into an undocumented fruit salad. Sensing a trend here?
I let the onion and fennel spend a nice long time in a pan with some butter getting brown and sticky together. Then, they joined that bunch of kale, some fontina cheese, and a potent amount of hot pepperoncini in a stromboli that served as post-workout snacks at the gym.
Is it a stromboli or a mummy?
Stromboli, filled with caramelized fennel and onion, kale, fontina, and hot pepperoncini.
The squash became soup, aided by Thai red curry paste, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, and coconut milk.
Butternut squash soup with Thai red curry.
The zucchini I roasted, along with some tomatoes, and added to a salad of couscous, feta cheese, and the mint. I slathered this with the tahini dressing that I use to make all things delicious. This, also, got foisted on the gym family.
Couscous salad with roasted zucchini, tomato, mint, feta, and a tahini dressing.
The second box:
Purple, red, and green peppers; cilantro, lettuce, cabbage, mushrooms, turnips, and romano beans, in orbit around an eyeball-ish li’l loupe melon.
In a rare bit of efficiency, many of these lovely vegetables went into a soup pot.
Chicken and vegetable soup with cilantro mojo. A tiny slice of bread and an obscenely large hunk of Twig Farm washed rind on the side.
The cilantro mojo has become my favorite condiment. Bright and sharp with garlic and sherry vinegar, this green stuff enhances anything that needs a little kick (it would even be good on a spoon, not that I would know anything about that).
Before I go on, let’s chat a bit about that cheese and that bread. I have struggled for the last six months or so to produce a good sourdough loaf. I clung to the notion that I could accomplish this using a no-knead method for the bread. WRONG. I was horribly, horribly wrong. I finally had to give in and pursue a relatively fussy method of using three different types of flour and building a levain and an autolyse and then babysitting the bloody thing with turns every thirty minutes and then sticking it in the fridge overnight and on and on and on. But…BUT, I finally achieved a beautiful loaf with a gorgeous open crumb and a fantastically delicious flavor. I mean, look at this:
Gorgeous, but kind of a pain in the ass.
The cheese is from Twig Farm in West Cornwall, VT. I’ve written of my love for Michael and Emily’s cheeses before (here and here), and it continues, unabated. Please, go get this cheese. It is quite frankly, some of the finest cheese I’ve ever eaten produced by really nice people. Win-win, right?
Twig Farm triplet: square, tomme, and washed rind.
This wine was a delicious accompaniment. The Unit is not much of a Beaujolais fan, but I was in need of a Gamay intervention, so I frankly didn’t ask his opinion.
I love a Brouilly. This one exhibited a delightful perfume of blueberries, cherries, raspberries and currants.
The peppers became a piperade, heavily spiced with pimente d’esplette. I bucked tradition by putting it under, rather than on top of, my egg, because I’m a rebel that way. I also completely overcooked the egg, because I’m an idiot that way. I ate the overcooked egg anyway, because I’m hungry that way.
Overcooked egg atop piperade.
The mushrooms lent their umami-ness to some mega-chain-style lettuce wraps for the gym-fam.
PF Changs-ish lettuce wraps with chicken and mushrooms.
I was feeling kind of bad about all the procrastination, but then I listened to the first track off the new Kings of Leon album, “Waste a Moment,” which encourages me, in a very shiny and over-produced way (but still featuring Caleb Followill’s amazing caterwaul), to not worry about it too much. Plus: they name-check Waco, Texas. Officially exonerated, y’all.
See these people? These sweaty, wonderful, generous people?
This is my GRIT team. My gym family. The people who put up with my truly juvenile humor, my aging and creaky bones, and my often tenuous grasp on choreography. The people who show up, day after day, willing to get breathless and battered. It takes a delicious sort of craziness to do what they do.
The fact that these people give 100% in the gym isn’t the point. They are all overly generous in every aspect of their lives. They look out for one another: babysitting, family needs, shoulders to cry on (and professional veterinary advice) when your cat is sick. That’s what kicks me in the gut. They’re this good all the time. And when people this good not only tolerate me but also are unabashedly wonderful to me, I think maybe I don’t suck as a human being quite as much as I’ve convinced myself I do.
Thanks to this magnanimously zany group, I have a new mixer: a sexy stainless KitchenAid* to replace my 28-year old model that has served me well but certainly deserves retirement at this point. I won’t go in to how I turned into a gloopy puddle of mush upon receipt of this glorious machine, but know this: the white-knuckled relationship my middle-aged face has with gravity lately? Gravity totally won.
(*As if the KA didn’t blow me away enough, said mixer had in its company lots of gift cards for food and drinks at delightful places. Oberlin, watch out.)
#mixerselfies Thank you, Melissa Rector, for snapping these!
Last Saturday, we held a naming ceremony for this intoxicating device with a small party at the house. We cast votes based on the four sexiest beings (real and fictional) I know.
The winner, by a wafer-thin margin:
World: Meet Elvis. Like his namesake, whose intricate and arcane lyrics have challenged me emotionally and intellectually, I feel certain that this Elvis will enhance my culinary acumen (or at least my aspirations) beyond belief.
To my dear gym family, my draw to Elvis has always been his cynicism, bitterness, and extensive vocabulary (traits I try to embody myself!!), but for you, I dedicate this sweet and hopeful song, not written by Elvis, but brilliantly performed by him. Elvis could find the peace, love, and understanding he’s looking for in our sweaty little rooms!
I’ve contemplated (and complained, because I’m a complainer) quite a bit lately on failure, and how it plays such a constant and ever-growing role in my life. Wah, wah, wah. Grumble, grumble.
But then today, I read an interview with Andrew Bird on the KXT website*, and then I remembered that Andrew Bird is coming to the Columbus Theater in Providence on October 15 (which is a delightful venue and if you have never been there you most certainly should go), and I also remembered that I never really gave his latest album a nuanced listen. Wouldn’t today be a great day to do that? Couldn’t I NOT FAIL at that?
*KXT, based in Dallas, is, hands down, the best radio station ever: listener-supported, giddily-eclectic, and not so far down at the end of the dial that you feel weird listening to it.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love Andrew Bird: the ectomorphic precision of his music, the literary introversion of his lyrics, and how he uses a violin, a gramophone, and (of course) his own whistling to reach straight into my spleen and MAKE ME FEEL. His music is good stuff.
Andrew Bird, Are You Serious
The latest record, Are you Serious (no question mark), rocks harder than those of the past. I think Stacey Anderson at Pitchfork nails it: “It’s deceptively straightforward at first, unfolding genially as more guitar-driven rock than he’s attempted before, almost a sidestep of ambition with freewheeling frayed ends. But it’s still got all of Bird’s standby elements—the esoteric wordplay, the many stratas of strings—subtly edited into economy.”
My favorite track this time through is “The New Saint Jude,” and although it reminds me of Graceland-era Paul Simon with its Soweto-influenced pep (something of which I am generally dubious…yes, I’m talking to you, Vampire Weekend), I am besotted with the lyrics:
So here’s a mighty revelation
That’s sure to cure what ails ya
That everyone’s just a disappointment
And everyone’s a failure
And the delightful chorus: “And ever since I gave up hope I’ve been feeling so much better.”
Thank you, Andrew Bird, for providing me some cover for my abysmal performance with the vegetable box this week.
Baby bok choy, dill, potatoes, mushrooms lettuce, a good quarter of the color wheel in peppers, leeks and broccoli.
I admit right off the bat that I didn’t use the mushrooms soon enough and they turned into a slimy, soggy, shameful mess (FAIL). I also made fried rice with the bok choy and broccoli and pizza with the roasted peppers and potatoes that I delivered to my gym family without taking pictures (FAIL). Gym peeps, back me up on this, K?
Steamy blistered peppers.
Here’s what else happened:
Pork schnitzel with creamy leek sauce.
Tender buttered potatoes with dill and flaky sea salt.
Some of the peppers made it into a hearty dish of migas: stale tortillas, homemade bacon, onions, and peppers, scrambled up with eggs, and slathered with cheese, avocado, hot sauce, and sour cream.
Migas, with a decadent dollop of sour cream. Delicious even without a hangover.
We countered the artery-clogging nature of the migas with the artery-clearing properties of a hand-harvested red wine from Ballard Canyon’s Saarloos and Sons. Saarloos names all of their wines after members of the family; this one was Big Brother. It was an in-your-face grenache, but not a fruit bomb. This wine is very well-balanced: in addition to the cherry and red fruit one generally associates with warm climate grenache, there was a good amount of cedar and herbs on the nose and palate. The bottle is also really cool. I mean: look at that bike.
A muscular 100% grenache from Saarloos and Sons: the big brother. Please visit their tasting room if you are ever in Los Olivos.
I also finally made it to Bucktown, the new (tiny) place on the West Side that serves Southern specialties. When you go, do not miss the fried green tomatoes (shatteringly crispy and not mushy at all!) or the collard greens (again, not mushy, and well seasoned with bacon). If you are lucky, as I was, this very friendly neighborhood cat may come visit you!
Kitty action shot!
The kitty definitely wins the post. For me, I’ll continue to contemplate my failure and listen to Andrew Bird.
Catching up (again) with two boxes on which to report. Frankly, I delayed posting on the penultimate box because I had neither a culinary, literary, nor emotional trope to conjoin the produce with the workings of my head. I’m in the same boat with the latest box, but at this point I’m burning daylight (how’s that for mixing metaphors?), so I’ll just take some good advice from Yoda.
What follows are random thoughts and random cooking projects with no distinct connection to one another. They are, in essence, small plates from my brain and my kitchen. And as with most tapas, I fear they are, both individually and collectively, profoundly unsatisfying. Maybe a glass or three of sherry would help.
First the food.
The second-to-the-last box:
Cabbage, onion, corn, tomatillos, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, and thyme.
Here’s what happened:
Cheater’s porchetta: pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon with young garlic and thyme.
Zucchini gratin: lots of bechamel and gruyere renders this vegetable considerably less healthy.
Lamb leg stuffed with garlic and thyme.
Gym-bound stack o’burritos with a tiny jar of mummy-like sauerkraut fermenting in the background. I did not share the sauerkraut.
Squash, corn, and bean burrito with tomatillo salsa.
Flaky biscuits and tomato butter.
Also, during this time, The Unit had a birthday, so although this tiny plum galette has no relation to the box, I’m posting because I am hideously proud of this pastry.
Pastry glamour shot: plum galette.
The more recent box resembled a box of crayons in its vividness.
ROY G BIV was here: Ground cherries, chard, tomatoes, celery, carrots, squash, slender eggplants, and a cantaloupe.
And then this happened:
Fish tacos with ground cherry salsa and lime crema.
A duo of pizzas for my gym family:
Fluorescent yellow squash pizza.
Pizza with grilled eggplant, Swiss chard, and fresh mozzerella.
The carrots and celery started to wilt, so I quickly diced everything up finely and sauteed with an onion to make a mirepoix. I blended it into a paste and froze into cubes. I’ll use these in the coming months to add long-cooked flavor to soups and sauces. They’re extremely ugly, though.
Frozen blended mirepoix, AKA nuggets of deliciousness.
This celery boasted copious leaves which I felt bad about discarding, so I dried the leaves and then ground them with sea salt to create the most gorgeous celery salt. If you need any for hot dogs or Bloody Marys, hit me up.
What to do with celery leaves?
Celery salt in beyond-adorable Weck jars.
We drank some lovely bottles, including five gems from California, an obscure Greek wine, and a spunky Gewurztraminer.
Three beauties from California: SB and Rose from the 2015 vintage at MacLeod and a 2008 Viognier from Kenneth Volk.
More yumminess. The Limniona, especially, was surprising: slightly rustic, with loads of fruit and excellent with lamb.
And now, my head.
I’ve been…well, I wouldn’t exactly call it meditating, but something between pondering and meditating…cerebrating, maybe? (And this makes me really wish Kool & The Gang would reunite and record a tune called “Cerebrate.” Can’t you just hear it? “Cerebrate weird times, come on! / There’s some thinkin’ goin’ on right here / A rumination that’s sure to bring some tears / So bring your weird times and your daydreams, too / We gonna cerebrate your puzzle with you.” What? Too much?)
Anyway, I’ve been cerebrating about failure a lot lately: about the pain and shame associated with falling short, repeatedly and chronically, with the goals that I’ve set for myself. And, it would make sense to feel less shame about hitting the skids with small goals (e.g., tackling sourdough bread) but certainly that’s not the case. In truth, each crappy loaf of bread bothers me more than the crappy—and only—novel I wrote ten years ago.
Further, it seems like everything I read these days tells me to quit being such a whiner and suck it up, Buttercup.
Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does the most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all.
There is no praise of a life in accordance with nature; no promise of freedom from social pressures and restraints by adopting the Cynic lifestyle; no sense of communion with other humans beyond national or ethnic borders. There is only the ability to endure the inevitable sorrows and hardships of modern life….
Maybe I’m not listening to enough Morrissey, but—switching gears—I’ve been listening a lot of Elvis Costello lately. I saw Costello at the Newport Folk Festival this year; he was wonderful, and that’s not (entirely) abject, slackjaw love talking. I’ve been known to dis his less-than-stellar work (North, anyone?) when called for. However, when I go on a Costello bender, it’s all-out. I’m pretty much, like, “We must follow this bizarre white rabbit and see where we end up.” This time, I landed on 1981’s Trust, a wildly eclectic collection of arguably mixed-quality songs.
This song, “New Lace Sleeves,” is one of the very, very good ones. Generally, I am drawn to Costello for his lyrics (honestly: who’s better?), but this one drew me in with Bruce Thomas’s insistent start-stop bass hook. Then, Pete Thomas’s slightly arrhythmic drum line and Steve Nieve’s playful (and occasionally dissonant) keyboard trills transfixed me. And this is all before I even listened to Costello’s high-tension croon and positively poetic musings about class warfare and morning-after-hookup awkwardness:
The salty lips of the socialite sisters
With their continental fingers that have
Never seen working blisters
Oh I know they’ve got their problems
I wish I was one of them
Summer has arrived in Rhode Island, shoving her weight around with a thumbless grip. In other words: it’s freaking HOT. It shames me, having grown up in Texas, that I now crumple when the temperature hits 90, but what can I say? The truth ain’t pretty.
My soul sistah.
And, although it is thoroughly inadvisable (and even downright insane) to turn on the oven in this heat, I’ve done it. Several times. Each time, I questioned my own soundness of mind, but the contents of the box often demanded the craziness.
Here’s what came in the latest box:
Fennel, onions, lettuce, broccoli, celery, green beans, blueberries.
And here’s what I did:
I excavated some homemade garlic and herb sausage from the freezer and paired it with the slow-caramelized fennel and onions into chubby calzones. I used some of my sourdough starter in the dough, and achieved an impressive rise. I should probably mention that The Unit deemed these decidedly mediocre, and I can’t really fault him for that estimation. The ratio of filling to dough leaned decidedly toward the carb-y side.
Sausage calzone, with caramelized onions and fennel. Tossed salad with lettuce, avocado, tomato, olive, and feta.
Chubby calzone, pre-incision.
The green beans and broccoli I lightly blanched and then bathed with the lip-smacking dressing of miso, tahini, lemon, garlic, and olive oil that I seem to eat on everything these days. Pecans added crunch and Rancho Gordo’s delightful yellow eye peas added heft. These went to my gym family for post-workout snacks.
Salad with green beans, broccoli, Rancho Gordo yellow-eye peas, pecans, and a miso-tahini dressing.
And I whizzed the blueberries with some buttermilk, sugar, and Greek yogurt and plopped it all in the ice cream maker. I also juiced a watermelon to make a girly pink watermelon sherbet to play yin to the blueberry’s blue yang.
All in all, not a tremendous amount of creativity this time around.
You know what is creative (and cool, BTW), though? The Chvrches album that came out last fall, that’s what. I have my musical Yoda, James Uden, to thank for for upping my coolness factor logarithmically by introducing me to this album in 2015 and reminding me of it recently by including this track, “Leave a Trace,” on his 2016 “Best Of” compilation, of which I was a lucky recipient. (You will likely see more of James’s choices in the coming weeks as I am FULL OF his compilation CD the past few weeks.)
The most liberating aspect of this song to me is the indifference of lead singer Lauren Mayberry toward her scheming ex. “Take care to bury all that you can / Take care to leave a trace of a man,” she lilts, as if she knows he will try to continue the drama long after she has declared the end. “You talk far too much / For someone so unkind,” she says.
The song is rife with grey area, too; the sum of blame in a dying relationship always seems greater than the romantic value of the relationship itself. Emotional physics, I guess.
“I know/ I need/ To feel/ Relief,” she gasps, proclaiming that a BS-free life far eclipses the fleeting satisfaction of being right or wrong.
I am playing catch-up ball with this post, as I neglected to report on the last box. Although this missive will cover two boxes, the theme can be summed up in one word: raw. Summer’s bloody heat has arrived in full force, bringing along its hair-destroying playmate humidity, and seriously curbing my desire to stand over a hot stove. Therefore: salads. Leafy, slaw-y, shaved, chunky, elaborately swathed or simply dressed, because it’s just too damn hot for much else.
I first heard the term “salad days” in a Minor Threat song in the mid-80s (old lady alert!) and thought the connection of leafy greens with youthful exuberance was sooo clever. Several years later I found out that Shakespeare thought so, too, four centuries earlier. Thank you, American public educational system.
The Bard coined the phrase in Antony and Cleopatra, in a speech where Cleo expresses her regret over hooking up with Julius Caesar:
…My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…
I’m not really one for literary criticism, but I am one for snark. The funniest explication I have seen of this phrase comes from Fowler’s Modern English Usage:
Whether the point is that youth, like salad, is raw, or that salad is highly flavoured and youth loves high flavours, or that innocent herbs are youth’s food as milk is babes’ and meat is men’s, few of those who use the phrase could perhaps tell us; if so, it is fitter for parrots’ than for human speech.
Oh, man: I love Fowler. My personal copy comes from the 1937 reprinting of the 1926 first edition. If you love words, or if you love cranky British invective, track down a copy of Fowler. You will howl with laughter at his acerbic dicta. Take, for example, his gospel on the split infinitive:
The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; and (5) those who know and distinguish. … Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are a happy folk, to be envied by the minority classes.
Due to the super-garlicky dressing on this slaw (owing to the garlic scapes in the aioli), I apologize to everyone to whom I gave this. I should have included breath mints. Yikes.
Kohlrabi slaw with garlic scape aioli and smoked turkey.
I spied fresh favas at the farmers market, so I sold one of my own kidneys (favas are expensive!) and bought a pound of pods, which yielded approximately 17 fava beans to blanch and peel. I braised them with tomato and garlic and served them over my box lettuce and a piece of salmon. Happily, no one showed up with a liver and a nice Chianti.
Seared salmon with braised tomatoes and fava beans over leaf lettuce.
I nicked the recipe for the chickpea and lentil salad directly from Smitten Kitchen, who nicked it from the profoundly delightful April Bloomfield. I added the kale and cukes from the box to freshen it even more.
Chickpea and lentil salad with kale, cucumbers, feta, and toasted pepitas.
Similarly, I followed pickling genius Cathy Barrow’s recipes for giardiniera pretty faithfully, adding farmers market cauliflower and peppers to the carrots and celery in the box. I made three hefty jars of this and I’m not sharing. #sorrynotsorry
Roasted beets and cucumber jumbled with mango, basil, and mint in a salad that curiously—and possibly disturbingly—resembles rainbow sherbet.
Roasted beet salad with mango, cucumber, goat cheese, macadamia nuts and a mint-basil dressing.
These bizarre breakfast sandwiches resulted from an experiment with 9-grain bread. Although not an epic fail, the bread needs more work for this application. The bacon jam and summer savory omelet were pretty good though.
9-grain buns with bacon jam, brie, and summer savory omelet.
I did turn on the stove to roast some of the beautiful baby carrots. I am quite batty for a slow roasted carrot, especially if that carrot is bathed in beef fat and sprinkled with flaky salt, as these carrots were. Ate ’em with my fingers, like candy.
Carrots roasted in beef fat.
The strawberries became a lovely, albeit wee, birthday tart.
Not shown: some squash tacos and my summer post-workout staple dinner of sauteed kale topped with fried eggs and an inadvisable amount of jalapeno peppers.
And finally, because all of this fantastically healthy food can only do so much for the sake of one’s soul. I offer you a ridiculously decadent, quite hideous chocolate cake, with not one redeeming nutritional quality.
Chocolate malt, peanut butter, and marshmallow cake.
Since my last post and its rather embarrassing meditation on my own lack of achievement (although: For the Love of Spock is available for pre-order now on iTunes; you simply MUST add this film to your collection), I have managed to achieve even less (woohoo: consistency!) and admire excellence even more. During a business trip in Denver, I saw kd lang, Neko Case, and Laura Viers in concert at the truly paradisaical Denver Botanical Gardens. While all three were fantastic, kd lang slayed the crowd with her cover of Neil Young’s Helpless. I’m not really a Neil Young fan (ducks to avoid being hit in the head with rotten fruit), but DAMN: this is a powerful song, rendered even more mind-blowing by the medieval cathedral-quality pipes on kd.
Full disclosure: this ish is lengthy. If you’re interested in the food, redirect your browser after the kimchi. If you are interested in the frantic musings of an intellectually-starved middle-aged lady, God bless your bravery. You may want to consider some professional help.
Presents come in boxes; gifts require a different delivery mechanism. This week, I received both.
The latest vegetable box burst riotously with green and red, a summery head-nod to Yuletide presents. Here’s what I unwrapped:
Green & red: Christmas in June! Fennel, rhubarb, cilantro, scallions, radishes, red Russian kale, arugula, Napa cabbage.
And here’s what I did:
I roasted the fennel with plum tomatoes to make a very tasty soup, finished with a pesto made from the fennel fronds, garlic, almonds, parsley, olive oil, and salt and pepper. I think this pesto will also be great with fish (it’s cheeseless), white wine steamed mussels, or a riff on bouillabaisse.
Roasted fennel and tomato soup with fennel frond pesto.
The arugula also went into pesto. I slathered it on a sourdough focaccia with tomatoes and olives.
Focaccia with arugula pesto and other stuff.
The rhubarb—I am always shocked at how many closet rhubarb fans are out there—joined another huge haul of rhubarb (thank you, Dave Morin!) and emerged as both rhubarb-strawberry sorbet and a batch of truly unattractive rhubarb pop tarts.
Perhaps the ugliest rhubarb pop tarts on record.
The cilantro garnished a loose interpretation of a Vietnamese cold rice noodle salad.
Cold rice noodle salad with pickled vegetables, chicken, peanuts, lime, and herbs.
And the kale got friendly with some chorizo, potatoes, and eggs for a set of hearty breakfast burritos. I forgot to photograph the burritos, but my friends at the gym happily covered my butt by providing mid-bite burrito shots. Thank you, Dacia and Tonya!
Breakfast burrito with potatoes, kale, chorizo, eggs and cheese.
The radishes I pickled and the cabbage became a tiny jar of kimchi. Briny, funky food in jars #FTW.
Kimchi & pickled radishes.
Which brings me to gifts. This week I had the incredible opportunity, thanks to the insane kindness and generosity of my friend Morgan, to attend the Boston screening of “For the Love of Spock,” a new film by Adam Nimoy exploring both the life of Leonard Nimoy and his iconic role of Mr. Spock. Both man and character have transfixed generations of both super-cool and super-geeky people (one might—one should—argue that those two groups overlap significantly). I’ve written about my own history with Spock in the Bowie tribute, a relationship for which I give all credit to The Unit.
Here’s the thing about gifts: they don’t come from a wallet. They come from a brain, a heart, a soul. You can’t predict a gift, or even really wish for it, because you often don’t know you want it. Maybe you don’t want it. Maybe you just need it, which is far less glamorous. A gift requires sacrifice on the part of the giver and a gift is almost never deserved, so there’s a good bit of grace involved. And grace is a messy, messy thing.
Before I get involved in my own navel-gazing about how this film fascinated me, let me be clear: GO SEE THIS FILM. It should be out in September. Even if you have no history with Star Trek, GO SEE THIS FILM. It is a beautifully realized, artfully rendered narrative. Adam Nimoy’s film-making will make your Grinchy heart grow at least three sizes. The score, performed by The Macedonian Radio Symphony Orchestra, lends all the right emotional notes to a story of such depth and gravitas. GO SEE THIS FILM.
I know I drone on and on about how much High Intensity Interval Training has done for my fitness level. Well, this film was freaking HIIT for my brain. This film exhilarated me, gave me that deliciously painful, sweaty-and-breathless, endorphin-riddled high of a much-needed punishing workout. I stayed up all night emailing The (poor, long-suffering) Unit (still in Greece, and therefore not middle of the night for him….just sayin’) bouncing philosophical constructs off him, trying to fine tune the precise Greek words I needed to describe what I wanted to express. Then, the even more complicated task: trying to determine how to internalize this art that had riveted me so deeply.
In the opening scene of the film, Nimoy quotes his own poem, I may not be:
I may not be the fastest
I may not be the tallest
Or the strongest
I may not be the best
Or the brightest
But one thing I can do better
Than anyone else…
To be me
I know this resonated with many of us at the screening that night. For some it was a comfort, but for me it kicked the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee into full voice, and the following is a faithful rendering of the minutes of the committee meeting that occurred the following morning (I know, because my phone recorded it when I should have been recording my to-do list for the day):
What if the best you is just comically boring? Just fantastically, hideously inadequate? And, not even fantastically inadequate—because that might even be cool—but inadequately inadequate. Totally beige. No! Not even beige. That’s not giving beige enough credit, because there’s some nuance in beige. Whatever is more beige than beige. Ugh! I need a new word.
I think we now all know why I am not pursued by fancy New York literary types, asking me to write dialog.
The concept that continues to swim around in my head and in my gut involves the battle between mastery and excellence. I love mastering things. I can doggedly pursue a singular task or technique until I can do a passable job of it. This blog overflows with my avocational promiscuities: cultivating sourdough, St. John’s-style donuts, making jam, cutting up a pig, blind tasting a wine. But I inevitably lose focus once I’ve reached an acceptable level of competency. I never rise to excellence. Excellence requires more than skill; it requires inspiration—and endurance when inspiration disappears. Only the very strong can fight for excellence and only the confident can find it. To all this, add agility, discipline, and an open-mind. Excellence is not for weaklings.
Adam Nimoy focused a loving yet honest lens on his father’s life and career. Every frame of his film bespeaks painstaking craftsmanship, unwavering vision, and tremendous soul. Excellence lives in this exciting, provocative, subtle, captivating film. And it issues a challenge to the rest of us to rise up.
Thank you, Morgan. Thank you, Adam. Thank you, Leonard. I didn’t know I needed this gift and I certainly didn’t deserve it. But I’m thrilled (and a little scared) to have received it. The rest of you: GO SEE THIS FILM.
Morgan’s brother, Adam’s son, Jonah covered Bowie’s Starman for the closing credits with his band Furiosa. It’s also pretty damn excellent.