Thursday, August 28, 2014

Warm and Fragrant and Sad Carrot Salad

I wish I could write something cheering and funny. I want to model a nice, brisk end-of-summer attitude for the kids, for you. But I am just boringly, wiltingly sad. I don’t have anything interesting to say about it. Just the dial-toney hum of missing Ben, who started high school, of counting the minutes until Birdy starts sixth grade. There is a big gangly-necked blue-jay baby at the feeder outside my office window, and his mom is coaching him about how to eat, and he is moving his beak in an awkward caricature of chewing, seeds falling out all over the place while he cocks his fluffy, baffled head.

Craney will never leave us! 
Ben is making his own school lunch. He spends a lot of time with his friends, whom I adore. I cannot always guess what he is thinking. The kids leave us in increments, I’m starting to understand. It’s all right and good and perfect. We are so lucky! And I could just cry. I will.
I've got to start growing again.
Still, there is the consolation of being invited to dinner, which is, I think I’ve mentioned, one of my greatest pleasures—and one of my greatest skills, the getting us invited. Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but this carrot salad? It’s the same one from the famous carrot-salad-in-the-car story. The one that goes: one time Catherine's family was invited to their friends Lee and Meredith’s house to do some cross-country skiing. And when Meredith later invited them to stay for dinner, Catherine said, “Oh, we’d love to! I actually happen to have a carrot salad in the car. Which I brought, you know, just in case.” Our friends like to remind me of this story at least every time we see them, which is, thank God, a lot. (If not quite enough.)

Last night we were actually invited to dinner ahead of time (yay!) and I made this. If you’re getting lots of sweet, delicious carrots from your garden or farm share, this is a lovely change of pace from the usual rawness and crunch. 
Another of my carrot-season favorites: escabeche, with jalapenos and onions, which makes me feel like I'm back at Tacos Vallarta in Santa Cruz, gorging on carnitas loaded down with pickled carrots. I  can as much as I can can. Some jars are called ahead of time.
The carrots in the salad are tender but, thanks to the vinegar, still firm. The seasoning is bright and unexpected, herby and fresh and mellow all at once. Good hot or cold. Delicious. Even though Ben did not, I notice, choose to pack the leftovers in his lunchbox. (WTF?)
Gardening is not my area of expertise. I had to pick the mint from underneath the sprawling tomatoes and volunteer grape vine.
Warm and Fragrant Carrot Salad
Serves 8

This is my expanded riff on “Carrots, Roman Style” from the lovely Deborah Madison book The Savory Way. Above the recipe I have written “simple + yummy,” but then, weirdly, I have made about a million notes. Don’t be dismayed by the long cooking; this happens largely unattended. You can used a teaspoon of dried mint if that’s all you’ve got; also, ground cumin is fine, but use a bit less.

1 ½ pounds nice, fresh, sweet carrots, scrubbed
¼ cup olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon (or more) chopped fresh mint
1 heaping tablespoon (or more) chopped celery leaves (or, if you’ve got it, lovage—but less of it)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 smashed and peeled garlic cloves
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
3 cups water
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (and more, for later)
Black pepper
More herbs for garnish

Cut the carrots into 2-inch lengths, and then cut these into quarters, sixths, or eights, so that they are all nice and even(ish). (I don't see why you couldn't slice them into the usual coins, unless you are obedient like me.)

In a Dutch oven over low heat, warm the oil and add the herbs, cumin, and garlic, and cook just until you can really smell them. Add the carrots and toss them with the oil and aromatics, then add the salt, water, and vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes. Deborah says, “By this time the liquid should have reduced to almost nothing, leaving the carrots nicely glazed. If the pan becomes dry before the carrots are done, add more water in ¼- or ½-cup increments until they are sufficiently tender.”

Grind on some pepper, then taste for seasoning, adding more salt or a splash more of vinegar until the carrots taste very bright and delicious. Serve with a scattering of more herbs. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Instant Pickles, Beach-Rock Rainbows, and Endless Summer

Man, oh man. Even as I write this, I'm watching maples leaves flutter and drift, watching the plums darken and blush, watching a roly-poly woodchuck fattening up. ("I really like the blobby animals," Birdy just announced from the window. "Woodchucks and manatees. You know. The fatties." Me too.) This is all I can say about it. Because I love cool nights, I do. But the end of summer? Kill me.

We have been having such a good time.

We made Jiffy Pop at our campsite. Jiffy Pop wants you to know that they don't recommend popping it over a campfire. Just saying. I wonder what they imagine people are doing with it.
We played Acquire in our miniature Wellfleet rental. Birdy took this photo from the spiral staircase.
Ben and Birdy made drip castles.
I laughed in a pond. 
We arranged dozens of rock rainbows on various Cape Cod beaches.
Speaking of summer, which we are still in the middle of, I reposted some of my very, very favorite recipes here. Including the pasta that I am making tonight, the peach jam that I am making as soon as I hit "publish," and the dill pickles that I am not currently making:

The only reason I am not brining any of those pickles right this minute is that I invented something I'm calling Instant Pickles, and I make them all the time because we keep needing pickles for picnic lunches, and I keep not having made any. 

This used to be a full jar.
Here's how you make them: fill a quart-sized jar with sliced pickling (or regular) cucumbers. I cut the cukes in half lengthwise, and then cut the halves into fairly thin slices. As you stuff the cukes into the jar, add a couple of heads of dill (or sprigs if you've got no heads), 2 garlic cloves peeled and smashed, and, if you like, a hot pepper or a pinch of pepper flakes. Add a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 cup of white vinegar, and shake the jar well. That's it. They're ready as is, but they'll get better as they sit in the fridge (shake the jar  as you think to). Plus, as they sit, the salt will draw the water out of the cukes so that they'll end up in a fair amount of brine in the end. Unless you eat them all right away. Which you might.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer Links


Oh, happy late July, dear ones.

We actually own our own tubes, which makes this activity #1 on the free thrills chart. Also: good beer in a can has changed my river life forever. Photo courtesy of the amazing Chris Perry, of deviled-egg photography fame.
I’m posting some summer links—the quick version because we are (seriously) tubing again today. 


Judith Frank’s big, beautiful novel All I Love and Know will make you laugh and cry. And I mean laugh in big loud snorting gasps, and also cry in the choking, snot-everywhere kind of way that makes your partner say, “What are you reading?” (Full disclosure: when I read this book, it was in manuscript form and was called “Noah’s Ark.” Because Judy’s my friend in real life.) The book has become weirdly, sadly timely, given that it starts with a terrorist act in Jerusalem, and a couple, Matt and Daniel, on their way to Israel; Daniel’s twin brother and his wife have died in the bombing, and they’re going to fetch the baby and 6-year-old they’ve inherited. It’s a political book in an excellent, stirring way, but of course the part I loved the most was the domestic: these two hip, young people returning to Northampton, Massachusetts with a pair of messy, grieving children. The kid scenes are completely hilarious and heartbreakingly real. Every detail is perfect: "At night, the upstairs hallway was lit up like an airport runway with night-lights." Perfect.


I also want to recommend one more to the grown-ups: Rufi Thorpe’s The Girls from Corona del Mar. (Full disclosure: I don’t actually know Rufi Thorpe!) I reviewed it for More magazine, and this is what I said: This is a ravishing, stay-up-all-night-reading kind of novel—a sad, funny, almost impossibly good debut about a decades-long friendship that spans decades and continents, teenagerhood and motherhood, unwanted pregnancy and addiction, dark secrets, fate, and, almost improbably, joy. How well we can ever know another person? The book seems to ask. How known can we ever be ourselves? This is rousing, high-impact prose: every sentence is like a ringing buoy or a slap in the face. Rufi Thorpe can write. Let’s just hope she can write quickly so we can read more soon.


Birdy wants to recommend Cammie McGovern’s absolutely magnificent YA novel Say What You Will. (Full disclosure: Cammie is our neighbor and one of the loveliest human beings on the planet.) “I liked the characters and the way the plot keeps changing,” she says, in what is not, I’ll admit, the most sparklingly worded review ever. That said, she basically lay in bed with the book, reading frantically and breath-holdingly, until she had finished. And then I read it too, and loved it almost as much as she did. Heads up: grown-uppy things happen in this novel about friendship, love, and ability.

Birdy also wants to recommend This Book Was a Tree: Ideas, Adventures, and Inspiration for Rediscovering the Natural World, by Marcie Chambers Cuff (a stranger!). It got the full Birdy Post-it-note treatment, and she got very busy making a terrarium, ASAP. 

She has plans to tackle many more of the lovely, sweetly illustrated projects. Meanwhile. . .

Is this too visually confusing, with the Munchkin lid? Note: you don't need the lid from Munchkin to play Qwixx. 
Our number-one game of the summer, for when we don’t have time for Catan, is the easy card/dice newbie Qwixx. It is somehow the perfect mix of strategic and untaxing, like Yahtzee crossed with Shut the Box crossed with Blackjack. We have played in clam shacks, at home, in our tent, and even at the Laundromat while we were waiting for our bedding to dry after a campground thunderstorm. On the very off-chance that the rules confuse you, here are the two issues we clarified (geek alert): 1) The active player can take the initial white dice. 2) The active player can take only one combination of white and colored dice.

Happy reading and gaming, friends! Please do weigh in with your current favorites. I can't tell you how much of your advice we've taken over the years.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mac's Mai Tais

Sorry, sorry. I know. That was mean. Here it is, right here. I would have posted it sooner, but I was camping. With a giant jar of Mai Tais in the cooler. Mmmm.

I don't know how to explain what's so good about this cocktail. I'm not even really a cocktail person, being a die-hard IPA-loving beer drinker. But these drinks. . . I don't know.

You will have to buy some weird kinds of booze, if you don't already have it. I felt nervous about posting this, and then remembered that it's because I used to food-blog for Disney.
Nobody hasn't loved them.

They're really subtle, even though they're crazy strong; you can't even figure out what's in them, if you don't know. Everyone guesses pineapple. Or cherry something. I think it's the almond mixed with the citrus. Crazy. Happy summer. xo
I've been juicing something like 6 limes to get a cup of lime juice.

Mac's Mai Tais
This is a copycat recipe that I recreated from the ingredients listed in the Mac's Shack cocktail menu, which says only, "Flor de Cana rum, orange curacao, amaretto & lime." I added simple syrup because the drink seemed both too tart and too strong without it. When I made these for a bunch of people, I used a 1-cup measure as the part, and mixed it all in a 1-quart mason jar. If you're making a single drink, you're probably looking at. . . what? Maybe 2 ounces for a part? Did I just turn your summer cocktail-making into a weird math problem?

1 part golden rum (I used Flor de Cana, because of being obedient)
1 part fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 part amaretto
1/2 part orange curacao
1/2 part (more or less) simple syrup (equal amounts of sugar and water, heated together until the sugar dissolves)

Mix together and serve over ice. Garnish with a fresh cherry, if you like.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Perfect Grilled Tofu

If I hadn’t started making copycat Mai Tais from Mac’s Shack in Wellfleet, and if they hadn’t turned out to be the best thing ever, this tofu would be my most-requested recipe of the summer.

I have been making it all the time, for groups both vast and small, and it is tangy, smoky, and perfect. Always good and always loved by all. Plus, easy-peasy. I cannot recommend it enough.

Happy fourth, my lovies. Stay cool (Ponyboy). xo

Perfect Grilled Tofu
This recipe is very easy to double, and you don’t really need to quite double the marinade: about 1 ½ times the recipe is perfect for 4 packages of tofu.

2 (12-ounce) packages extra-firm tofu
½ cup sherry vinegar (This is not the same as cooking sherry. I want to say, "Or a different kind of vinegar," but cannot bring myself to. However, if you try it with a different kind, please report back. I'm sure it will be great.)
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder (or 2 cloves garlic, pressed)
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or ½ as much table salt)
½ teaspoon cayenne (or not, if you don’t want or have)
½ teaspoon dried marjoram or thyme (or not, if you don’t want or have)
Black pepper

Begin by pressing out the extra moisture from the tofu: remove each slab from its aquarium, wrap them in a clean dish towel, and put something heavy on them. I like to use a baking sheet with a full tea kettle on it. Leave it like this for, oh, 5 to 45 minutes. Longer is better, but shorter is totally fine.

Meanwhile, mix together the remaining ingredients.

Cut each piece of tofu into 6 slabs, and put it all in a dish or Ziplock bag for marinating. Pour the marinade over the tofu, cover it, refrigerate it, and leave it to marinate for 30 minutes to 48 hours, turning it occasionally to get all the surfaces saturated. Longer is better, but shorter is totally fine; I probably average around 4 hours, but when I’ve done it for 24, it was amazing.

Oil your grill, preheat it at high, and then turn it down to medium (or do whatever the equivalent is, if you’re using charcoal or a fire-breathing dragon). Put the tofu on the grill (reserve the marinade) and cook it, turning, until it’s well browned, but before the grill marks get black (10-15 minutes total). This from Michael: “There’s a time when it goes from white to beige, but it’s still not done, even though it has grill marks. It needs to get really dark brown before it seems cooked.” (What? I don’t know.)

Now put the tofu back in the dish, and pour the reserved marinade back over it, and eat hot, warm, room-temperature, or cold. Sometimes, and I know this is annoyingly vague, I reduce the marinade a little by boiling it in a small pot, but sometimes I think that’s just so I have something to do while Michael’s cooking it. It is great either way.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp (gluten free!)

Need more rhubarb recipes? The round-up is here.

This dessert is such a lovely surprise, I wanted to give it a glammier name. Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Buttered Oats or Brown-Sugar Crisp with Strawberries and Rhubarb or Sweet Butter Nuts Summer Fruit Heaven. But what it is is a perfect fruit crisp that just so happens to be gluten-free! Okay. It doesn’t just so happen to be anything. We were charged with bringing dessert to a gluten-free household, and so I did a little research.

Don't you want to invite me over so that I can bring dessert and then proceed to stage an elaborate photo shoot with your pretty dishes? It should be noted that this is the same family whose daughter's bat mitzvah we recently hijacked with mandolin, ukelele, guitar, kalimba, and our heartfelt, if not entirely traditional, rendition of REM's You Are the Everything. (You're welcome, again, guys! We love you.)
To be clear, I love a dietary challenge of any type. I like an excuse to buy xanthan gum as much as the next person, and I like. . . what? The way that making something special exaggerates the way that cooking is already an act of caretaking. Of love.
My brother’s kids spent a week with us in April, right after one of them went gluten-free, and it was a daily adventure. “I just love that you made it for me!” was about all that could be said, and was, about the lumpy, misshapen excuse for pizza. Gluten-free waffles, on the other hand, were terrific, and I even kind of liked the beany aftertaste. (I am nothing if not a bean-loving caricature of myself.) Many cookies were made and enjoyed. And next time I will make this rich, buttery dessert.

The inspiration. We love you, Brookfield Farm.
Use whatever fruit comes into season, and just adjust the filling accordingly. 
Pretty much anything will need less sugar than the rhubarb does, unless you have access to those nice plump horrible slap-in-your-face gooseberries to which my (English) mother is partial. 
Cherries and apricots are a lovely combination (and I am reposting that classic crisp here), as are peaches and strawberries, nectarines and blueberries, and, when the leaves start whispering about autumn, blackberries and apples. The cornstarch can stay more or less constant—although you could add a little more or less if you sense that your fruit is a little juicier or not.
Happy summer, my darlings. xo

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp
I started with this beautiful recipe over at The Minimalist Baker, and then added, oh, you know, more butter and sugar. And salt. And fruit. Also I added cornstarch to thicken the filling. Vary the fruits as you like.

For the topping:
1 cup oats (if gluten-free is your angle here, make sure to use oats labeled gluten-free)
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans
½ cup almond meal (Purchased, or grind raw almonds in the food processor or blender; I like it to be rustic, with the skins still on, but go with your preference.)
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces

For the filling:
3 cups sliced rhubarb
3 cups sliced strawberries
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch stirred into a slurry with a similar amount of water

Heat the oven to 350.

Stir together the dry topping ingredients, then add the butter and rub it all together with your fingers, lifting handfuls of the mixture and letting them fall rubbingly, until the butter is evenly distributed and the topping has turned pebbly. Pop this in the fridge while you make the filling.

Make the filling right in the dish (something 8 X 8 or 9 X 13 or in the middle will work—the dessert will be deeper or shallower accordingly). Toss the fruit with the sugar, then drizzle over the cornstarch slurry and use your hands to mix it all well.

Top the fruit with the crumble mixture and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and caramelizing and the topping is as brown as it can be without burning.

Serve hot, warm, room-temperature, or cold, with vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer Favorites


Even though Ben is still slogging through another week of school, summer is really here. I say this not just because last night was the first night that I alternated complaining about the suffocating enervating heat with complaining about the horrible teeny bugs crawling all over me. Not just because of the fireflies and mint or because we eat dinner at 8 and it still feels plenty early or because we eat only cold things and take only cold showers. But because it looks and smells like summer, and when the thunderstorm finally crashed in late late, I felt that enlightening lifting of heat and mood, that wild flashing happiness. Summer! Plus, the baby animals are everywhere, big-eyed and trusting: bunnies, deer, squirrels, goldfinches. Yesterday a tiny chipmunk stood on its hind legs to look through the glass door at the cat, who went insane, chittering and clacking at him, and I teased, "You're going to get in trou-ble! Don't let your Mama see you talking to a pussycat." And not ten seconds later, a big chipmunk appeared on the wood pile, yelling and scolding, and the baby scampered off.

Meanwhile, I am sharing some perennial favorite summer recipes here. Because I know you want to eat cold things too.

Since originally publishing this chicken recipe, I have taken to often skipping the first marinade altogether, and simply salting the chicken as early in the day as is possible. But then do I have to call it "Single-Delicious Grilled Chicken"? 
Double-Delicious Grilled Chicken. I make this all summer, every summer. It's so good, and it's my favorite way to turn a giant plate of lettuce into a dinner party. You can make the dressing however you like: this past Sunday we had some friends over, and I had this vision of a kind of falafel-themed salad, so I made the chicken with lemon and lots of mint, then I added it to a giant bowlful of lettuce, cucumbers and falafel-seasoned fried chickpeas (just before they were done cooking, I added lots of coriander, cumin, paprika, and granulated garlic and they were insane). Heaps of parsley leaves too. And mint and feta. And tahini dressing, even though I claim to hate tahini. But it was so, so good. (I based it on this recipe, but used only 1/4 cup of water). I wish I'd taken a picture.

Cold Noodle Bowls. Someone requested this recipe. Was it you? It's another one that I make over and over every summer, with many variations. The ginger-scallion dressing here is a total favorite, but last night I made a variation on cold noodle bowls with brown-rice noodles, loads of steamed spinach, tofu strips, and a delicious peanut dressing. Oh, wait, basically it was noodles and tofu with Japanese Restaurant Spinach.  I added lime juice, garlic, and ginger to the dressing, and also a spoonful of sambal oelek (sriracha would be good too). So perfect for the hot end of a hot day. (I couldn't help noticing that I was the only person who helped myself to a nice big spoonful of pickled turnips to crunch up the bowl a little. Losers.)

If you wanted to share any summery thoughts, I'd love that so much. Recipes, outings, books, games, anything.