Tuesday, September 27, 2016

This and That: The Fall Version (plus a Give-Away! or three)

Cheerful decoy.
My loves. You are registered to vote, right? If not, please go here and get it done. Because we need you! If you watched the debate last night, you were doubtless struck by Trump's reduction of everything in the world to business, to profit. Every single thing we care about: economic and racial justice, the livelihood of human beings, the earth itself. But his accusation that Hillary had prepared for the debate? In that moment he reminded me of every boy who had ever accused me in elementary school of being smart. That boy, that insecure, misogynist, bullying second-grader--is that someone's president? My god. Not mine. Please vote, and vote for Hillary, even if she's not your dreamboat candidate. She's brilliant, human, and fit for the job, and there is too much at stake to do anything else.

Did we camp in the cold? We did. Did I bring bacon to Ben in the hammock? Guess. #motheroftheyear
Anyhoo. Meanwhile. I have been making some fall favorites. Plum cake and granola and oven-roasted tomato sauce and fried eggs with sizzling vinegar and chewy oatmeal cookies with chocolate. I have a post over at Tastebook about eating sandwiches for dinner (everything I've written over there is here). And I wrote a little more about the Yay, It's Wednesday Cake! cake for Jenny, over at Dinner: A Love Story, where I was honored to be a guest. If you don't have her brilliant new book yet, it's another love story--this one about celebrations large and small, classic and imaginary--and you should get it. How to Celebrate Everything. I mean, interfaith sliders! How much do I love her? Let's do a give-away of her book! Comment here if you're interested, and I'll pick a winner on Friday.

There's a little fall camping photo essay running parallel to the blog, and it has nothing to do with anything! How odd.
Speaking of books: I have the new Ann Patchett, but haven't started it yet because then I'm worried I'll finish it and be sad. But I actually bought it. (I know!) I also read, and couldn't put down, We Love You, Charlie Freeman by the amazing Kaitlyn Greenidge. So, so good. If you want either of those books instead, just say. Let's do a bigger give-away! I'll give away one copy of each of the three books.

For long-time readers: A bonus Ava sighting!
Finally: Santa Cruz and Bay Area Folks, I am coming your way! I'm reading at Bookshop Santa Cruz on October 9th at 7:00, and I'm reading in San Francisco as a guest of the tremendous CPS Lecture Series on October 10th at 7:30. The latter is a free event, but it requires registering, which you can do here.

Have a safe and sane week, my darlings. Treat yourself gently. xo

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Easy Enchilada Casserole (your new go-to dinner, I swear)

What happened? It was summer and summer and summer and then it wasn't summer anymore.

"This would be so good with bacon!" I thought to myself, with a lightbulb over my head.
As you now, this is not a graceful time of year for me and my family. Everybody is sad and lies in a sad pile and staggers around frowningly or pretends to be sick and reads in bed all day. Okay, that last thing was just me, and I was reading this, which was fantastic, but still.

Birdy wanted to eat half a watermelon with a melon baller, and did. #goalsetting
Birdy is in 8th grade and is, accordingly, 8 feet tall. After the door shuts behind her, the cat runs to me, depressed, and sits in my depressed lap all morning.

Ben grew cucamelons, which are a cross between cucumbers and melons, neither of which he likes. Don't worry, that's my old-lady hand, not his.
Ben is a junior. He is about to get his driver's license, which I have been joking about for so long, as a way of hamming up the passage of time, that now I am out of jokes. The fact that I do not cling to him crying and also crying, "Never leave us!" every second of every day is a huge maternal victory for me.

I made wild grape soda. If you find the grapes, it's easy to do. Just cook them in a pot with a splash of water until they're soft (about 15 minutes), mashing them up as they cook. Strain them and add sugar, stirring to dissolve. Then put a few tablespoons in a glass and top with seltzer. 
The only silver lining, really the only one I can think of at all, is that once school starts I stop dreading the fall, if that makes sense. Then I can enjoy the full fallishness of it--the wild grapes and turning leaves and cooling nights and mushrooms everywhere. Last night Michael and I walked on the golf course near our house as the darkness was pulling down over the sky, and bats were diving and swooping near us, and I kept saying, "I'm not even scared!" But then I was screaming and covering my head with the paper bag I'd brought in case we found mushrooms, and it turned out I was scared, but in a good way. That, for example, was not the worst 15 minutes of my life. I offer that grudgingly.

Anyhoo. In compensation for how lame I've been about posting, I am offering you not any of the summer recipes I had been documenting and planning to post here (I am no longer in the mood for gazpacho, waah waah waah) but this humdinger instead, my ace in the hole, the famous Enchilada Casserole. It is in the oven ten minutes after you first think about making it, and everyone loves it every time. Which is a lot, because it's easy and we always have the stuff to make it. And, weirdly, it's not only a great desperation dinner, it's also a great dinner-party dinner because it is so crazily delicious and crowd-pleasing. Like enchiladas, minus all of the work and mess. I don't even grate the cheese myself!

Tortillas sprayed with oil (ew) and cut in half.
Exact science.
More layering. The thing I don't mention in the recipe that you don't recognize is called "chicken mushrooms" and I found them on a stump. Just ignore them. 
I try to make the top layer neater. #fancy

Easy Enchilada Casserole
Serves 6

This is not only delicious and crazily easy—it is also easily doubled! Make it in a regular-size lasagna pan, and use roughly twice the amount of everything. Please note that while I am using homemade greenenchilada sauce, this is good with any color or storeboughtness of enchilada sauce! It would probably even work fine with salsa, but then it wouldn’t taste like enchiladas. Oh, also, you can add shredded chicken to this—pulled off of a rotisserie chicken or leftover or whatever—and it’s great that way, if you have chicken-eaters in the house.

Olive-oil spray (or olive oil)
1 ½ cups enchilada sauce (this one, or another homemade or store-bought one of your choosing)
8 corn tortillas
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained
1-2 cups corn kernels (fresh, or frozen and thawed)
10 ounces shredded cheese ( I use the better part of a 12-ounce bag of Trader Joe’s shredded 3-Cheese Blend, which is cheddar, Monterey Jack, and mozzarella. If what you have is an 8-ounce block of something, that will be enough.)

Heat the oven to 375 and grease a 7- by 11-inch or equivalent sized (equivalently sized? what?) baking dish. Please note that this is not a full-size lasagna dish, but the, like, half-sized one.

Do the tortillas. So, if you fry each one in a little bit of oil, the way you would if you were making real enchiladas, the casserole will be sublime. Sometimes you will do this, and sometimes you will be lazy. When you’re lazy, which I 90% of the time am, simply spray each tortilla, back and front, with the olive oil spray (or brush them with oil). Stack them and cut them in half.

Layer the casserole: pour ½ cup sauce in the bottom of the pan and tilt it to distribute. Arrange 5 tortilla halves so that they more or less cover the bottom without overlapping. This is not an exact science. Distribute half of the beans and half of the corn over the tortillas, then sprinkle with a third of the cheese.

Now add another layer of tortillas, top these with ½ cup of sauce, then the remaining beans and corn, and half of the remaining cheese.

Top with a final layer of tortillas, then the remaining sauce and cheese, and a seal with a piece of foil that you’ve sprayed with olive-oil spray so that all the cheese won’t stick to it and pull off.

Bake for ½ hour, then uncover and bake 10 minutes longer, until the casserole is bubbling and browning. Let it rest 5 minutes before you cut it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Green Enchilada Sauce

Green Enchilada Sauce
Makes 6 cups

This is what you can do with a glut of tomatillos, if you're not making this salsa. It's what we use in this wonderful casserole, which is why I freeze it in 1 1/2 cup measurements. If you have more or fewer tomatillos, just scale the recipe roughly up or down. You can add chopped cilantro just before blending, if you like. It will make the sauce greener and more vibrant.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons flour (use gf flour to make this gf, which is what I do)
2 heaping quarts tomatillos, husked and quartered
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Salt / sugar / white vinegar / more garlic powder

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat, and sauté the onion until it is translucent and getting golden, around 10 minutes. Add the spices and sauté another minute, then add the flour and cook, stirring, until the whole thing looks kind of pasty. Add the tomatillos and the broth, bring to a boil over higher heat, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the tomatillos are tender, around ½ hour, stirring occasionally.

Blend in the blender (very carefully, in batches), or with a stick blender (which is what I do), then simmer it for another ½ hour, stirring occasionally. Now taste it: it should be salty, tangy, sweet, and rich. Add salt, sugar, vinegar, and/or more garlic powder to make this happen. I usually add a teaspoon, salt, around 2 tablespoons of sugar, and another teaspoon of garlic powder--but if the tomatillos are really sweet, I skip the sugar and add a splash of vinegar.

Can it, or else cool it and freeze it in measured portions.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Escabeche (Pickled Carrots, Onions, and Jalapenos)

This should be, but is not, a picture of the magnificent Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, and Simone Manuel, with all of whom I have fallen deeply in love.

We interrupt this late-summer heat waving and Olympics binging and Donald Trump cringing and canned seltzer drinking to bring you this: In 1992 we moved to Santa Cruz, ate at the magnificent Tacos Vallarta, gorged on their (free!) escabeche, and were never the same again. After we left California, I missed (our friends and) that escabeche terribly: spicy, vinegary, barely crunchy, vaguely herbal carrots and onions and jalapenos, all ready to spoon onto your carnitas or scoop up with chips or just eat, with a fork, like a salad, while you waited for your food and cried because it was so good and you were pregnant and life was just so beautiful and sad and delicious.

Money in the bank.
So, this recipe. Partly because the canned stuff is decent on the jalapenos front but not so great carrots-wise.

And the crowd goes. . . something less than wild.
And partly because in late summer we get loads of carrots, jalapenos, and onions in our farm share, and this is what I do with them. My goal is to make enough to last the whole year. I usually get to about May with it, which, given how much of it we give away 
Some jars are reserved in advance.
and how incredibly much of it we eat, isn't too bad. 

This is a double-batch, and made 8 half-pint jars. I eyeball the amounts, which is not so great for recipe-writing, I realize. I like a lot of carrots, which is why I use so many. In the cans, there are hardly any carrots! What? But at Vallarta, it's more like this.
What do we do with it, you're wondering? I'll tell you. We eat it with the famous Bean Feast
Bean Feast
which we eat at least once a week year-round. We put it on nachos

And chips. 

And we put it inside quesadillas. It is always exactly what whatever you were eating was missing.

At first. . . 

and then. . . 
These are rough amounts, because I am always eyeballing it. As long as you keep the brine strength (the ratio of vinegar, water, salt, and sugar) the same, you can play with the amounts of vegetables you use. Lots of people add cauliflower, and I'm sure that's great, but I never add it because. . . Tacos Vallarta purist.

1/3 cup olive oil
1 pound onions, peeled, halved and sliced lengthwise 1/3-inch thick
2 pounds carrots, scrubbed or peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick
½ pound jalapenos, stemmed and sliced into rings
1-2 cloves of garlic per jar, peeled
1 bay leaf per jar
1 teaspoon dried oregano

For the brine:
3 cups white vinegar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Heat the oil in a heavy pot or deep skillet and add the onions. Cook them over medium heat until they are just starting to go translucent, then add the carrots, jalapenos, garlic, bay leaves, and oregano, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Add the brine ingredients, raise the heat, and bring the pot to a boil. Boil until the jalapenos turn from bright green to khaki green, and until the carrots are crisp-tender to your liking (around 10 minutes).

This will keep in a big jar in the fridge for a long time—months, even. It doesn’t freeze well, but if you want to can it, then follow your own knowledge about canning, filling boiling-hot jars with the hot vegetables before ladling in the brine, wiping the rims, and putting on the hot lids. (I don’t process these after because, if something dangerous can grow in that amount of vinegar, then it was going to crawl upstairs and kill me in my sleep anyway.)  If you run out of brine, simply make some more, following the proportions given, and bringing it to a boil before adding it to the jars.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Waiting for Birdy

Someone got a facelift! Or at least a, you know, lift. Thank you, Laura Tisdel, beloved editor. And I will be back soon, I swear, with useful things. But in the meantime, read this if you haven't--especially if you've ever worked in a restaurant and/or love food.

My family drew me. (Speaking of facelift, and not getting one!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

AWOL / Nachos

You guys! We are camping and board gaming and summering and protesting. But I thought you might want to be having nachos for dinner! I have a kind of a trick recipe over at the Tastebook blog. I've been writing a bit over there, and if you click on my name, I think you can see the other columns.

I hope you're eating well and staying cool, and speaking up about racial injustice. Also: if you recommended the game Patchwork to us? We got it and LOVE it!!! (Thank you, kb.)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer 2016

Oh, my darlings. The summer is upon us! I hope that this means, in your house, some time for fun and games, and not just a big, hot slog through an impossible scheduling nightmare shadowed by a terrible feeling that the world is going to shit. Fingers crossed.

Here it means that we never see Michael, because he is picking berries. Strawberries first, and then, in a little while, blueberries. 

This is Smitten Kitchen's perfect little Raspberry Buttermilk Cake, but made with strawberries. Easy and delicious.
He's been making chocolate-covered strawberries and they are so gorgeous and good.

He shows up somewhere with a box of them, shrugging, like, "Oh, these old perfect things?" and everyone is stunned into gorging. Here's his recipe: Melt 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. Dip the strawberries into it. Chill on a parchment-covered tray.

You can dip banana slices instead and freeze them, and then you make these
Add caption
But honestly? If you live near a Trader Joe's, just buy them. They are $1.99, and so, so good.

Another June thing, while we're at it: pickled radishes. So easy, and so good to add to your nachos, quesadillas, and salads. Thinly slice some red radishes and put them in a mason jar. Bring to a boil 1/2 cup each white vinegar and water with 2 teaspoons of salt, and pour this over the radishes (double or triple it if you've got a lot of radishes). Done! They're excellent after a day, but good immediately. They smell very, very bad. Like, peculiarly bad.

And before we move on to the kindss of summer fun you don't put in your mouth, one last thing: the kids got miracle fruit tablets in their Christmas stockings this past year, and they are so much fun.  They have some weird compound in them that obliterates the taste reception of sour on your tongue: after you eat one, sour things taste strangely sweet. It's not a cheap thrill by a long shot. But you can make a really fun afternoon of it by setting up little dishes of tart things (lemon and lime wedges, plain yogurt, cheddar cheese, orange juice, strawberries) and then having a tasting party. That's what we did.

Okay, onto the fun and games. First up:
Kubb. We got this game one or two years ago, after playing it at a friend's house, and it is completely delightful. It's a lawn game, and you're basically trying to knock over wooden pieces with other wooden pieces, and we are forever mailing the link out to people who've played with us and want to get it. It's simple and fun and always hilarious. It's also weirdly expensive, and I truly believe that if you had a penchant for sanding, and access to some lovely hardwood, you could make it yourself.
Hands to the head: The universal Kubb sign of "I knocked over the king by accident!" What I really wish I had a photo of is my mom flinging a piece into my dad's shin and the ensuing purple lump. It's not the safest game!
More outdoor fun: we got Michael a Log Flume water jousting set for Father's Day. 

I will report back after we play with it, but I think we're going to like it a lot. We were inspired to get it because another current outdoor favorite thing to do is jousting. This is a great idea we got from friends, who made a jousting pole for each of their four children. 
Michael copied their design, using PVC pipe, pipe insulation, and upholstery foam covered in fabric. If you can hit someone with a huge, padded stick and not end up laughing hilariously, then you might be made of stone. It is an especially fun thing for large groups of teenaged boys to do, even if someone's weird mom comes out in her nightie to take a turn, cackling like a crazy old lady.

Lest you think we are all about the great outdoors, we also have some indoor game recommendations for the summer. The children above are playing the beautiful tile-laying game Lanterns, which is a current favorite of ours. 

It's a matching game crossed with a set-collecting game and, like all good games, every time you play it you feel like you're finally hitting upon the one true strategy--only to find, the next time you play it, that you weren't. It's super-pretty too, and not as hard to learn as some board games (how's that for some abstracted relativism?).

Another great game we've been playing is Cathedral. It's in the game family of Quoridor and Quarto and Gobblet--the games we refer to as "the wood games," as in, "I don't know. Maybe one of the wood games?" when someone asks you what you want to play, and there are only two of you playing. I extra-treasure this game, and if you're the dear lovely person who gave it to me at my reading in Wentham, then you know why. [Heart.]

More summer fun, at least for me, is this book:

I have mentioned Alabama Chanin's books before (here, for example), because I love her ideas and patterns. Also, even though she no longer officially recommends it, I still sew everything from fabric I cut from vast thrifted t-shirts. This wrap skirt, for example, I made from two double XL t-shirts. (Total cost: $2.)

The cat hair and flour dust are my own additions to the design, but all the little fancy stitches and beading and applique and reverse applique is well-described in the book. I've been sewing by hand again, and loving it so much. One thing, though: the book comes not with paper patterns, but with a CD. She recommends taking it to a copy shop to print out the patterns you want to use, but I (cheaply) have been using Adobe's tiling option, which means that the patterns prints as 16 or 20 or 36 pages that you then have to trim and tape together. I don't mind doing this, for some reason, but I don't imagine everyone will feel that way. Improv Sewing is another favorite of mine: a less fussy book that is full of great, inspiring ideas for sewing clothes from thrifted fabrics.

And, for actual reading, I have gotten way, deep into the Elena Ferrante books. I'd tried the first one a year ago and put it down again. Maybe it was too soon after the death of my own brilliant friend? Or maybe the style--like your obsessive friend who tells you about the guy who made her latte, only it takes her four hours just to describe how he winked at her or maybe didn't wink at her--wasn't striking me right at the time. But now I'm all in. I'm saving the fourth book for the trip we're taking in July.

Birdy DEVOURED Keris Stainton's book Starring Kitty. What did you love about it? I said, and she said, with annoying but enthusiastic vagueness, "Oh, everything." Keris's books are not widely available in the United States, but they should be. 

Okay, my loves, your turn. Summer recipes, games, books, activities? Shoot!