Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Raw Broccoli Salad (With cherries! And parmesan!)

He was already wearing that green sweatshirt, I swear! (Not that I wouldn't have art-directed him into it.)

 I am so totally not a raw-food person. If you say the words “raw cashew crust” to me, for example, I am not going to want a bite of your pizza, and I don’t want any sprouted-sunflower “brownies.” Plus—I think I may have mentioned this before—I had a raw-food housemate in Santa Cruz who alternated chewing grains of brain rice, which he soaked overnight, with chain-smoking Marlboro reds. “Maybe cook your food and quit smoking?” I suggested, and he (fair enough) gave me the finger.


And yet. And yet, once I fall in love with something raw, the cooked version starts to seem off to me, debased. Sushi is a great example: raw salmon is, to me, the epitome of silky, luscious perfection, after which a piece of cooked fish suddenly tastes like the oily smell of cat food. Likewise, once we started eating kale raw, in the salad that this one is based on, cooked kale started to seem so limp and sulfurous—like all its vim and vigor, its robust green kaleness, had gone up in steam. And now broccoli.


I’m not saying I’ve given up my crack addiction. But a funny thing happened: we were testing an idea I’d had for ChopChop (it will be in the summer issue), whereby kids try out four different cooking methods with the exact same ingredients to better appreciate the fact that how you cook something really affects the way it tastes. Our ingredients were broccoli, salt, olive oil, and lemon: we roasted the broccoli, we sautéed it, we steamed and then dressed it, and we tasted it raw—with the oil and salt and lemon, still—just as a control. And, to my incredible surprise, the raw won my kids over. “But doesn’t the roasting really bring out the sweetness?” I asked them, and yes, it did, they could see that. Steaming brought a clarity of flavor, sure. But they just really liked the freshness and sweet crunch of the raw vegetable—the same way they’ll more happily eat a carrot right out of the ground than a cooked one. “Also,” Ben noted sagely, “I used the really good olive oil.” It was true; he did. But still.

And so I made this salad, in which the broccoli, like ceviche, is sort of cooked a bit by the vinegary dressing and turns bright green. It is completely delicious—garlicky, sharp, tender, crunchy, and vibrantly green-tasting—and, if you’re afraid, quite unlike the large, punishingly raw florets that might accompany the ranch dip at your work functions. The cherries add just the right amount of sweetness and chew, while the cheese contributes a little funky, salty richness. Yum.

"Honey, you don't have to eat all that--I was just faking it out for the photo." "I know. But can I?" (As seen on That's Incredible! Vegetable-Eating Children.)

Raw Broccoli Salad
This salad is great after an hour and even better the next day. Lightly fried sliced almonds are a delicious addition. My family has decided to hate walnuts, but they’d be good too, as would something like fried garlicky breadcrumbs. Be sure to cut the broccoli small so that it gets well coated by the dressing. And please note that the recipe calls for sherry vinegar--not sherry or cooking sherry.

2 pounds broccoli
½ cup olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic, smashed, peeled, and finely minced
4 tablespoons sherry vinegar (or wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar)
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup freshly grated parmesan 
2/3 cup dried tart cherries (we get ours at Trader Joe’s)

Cut the broccoli into very small, but distinct pieces. I cut the crowns off the stems—but very close to the stem, so that they fall apart, or can get pulled apart, into very small florets. Then I peel the tough skin of the stems and chop the stems fairly fine. Put all the broccoli (except for the peels, which you can toss out) in a large bowl.

Now, in a small pan, heat the oil over medium heat and fry the garlic in it until fragrant and just on the verge of coloring (which you will need to intuit, given that it won’t have colored yet). Add the salt and vinegar, and stir for another minute as the vinegar sizzles furiously and the whole thing becomes outrageously fragrant. Pour the hot dressing over the broccoli and toss very thoroughly with a pair of tongs. Stir in the cheese and cherries, taste for salt (and, while you’re at it, for vinegar and oil), then cover and allow to sit for an hour at room temperature. Stir, taste again, re-season, and serve.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Gratitude, for the millionth time

I am a little bit at a loss for words about your response to last week's open letter. This heart-stoppingly aggressive thing happened to us, only the net result was, crazily enough, buoyantly positive. Because not only a) did I get to see Ben angry for the first time ever, but then b) by the time we were in the car, he was already laughing that the whole thing had been worth it for the good story we'd be able to tell. (Plus, the next morning he said, brushing his hair, "Now I don't even want to trim my split ends!") And also c) the wagons circled fast and tight. And d) our people near and far, known and unknown to us, expressed their empathic outrage in, literally, hundreds of ways. Thank you, oh thank you. 

And as far as the questions about the guy and what his problem was or might have been, his problem was--to put it plainly--masculinity. Although Birdy, when I was saying aloud, in response to a particular strand of comments, "Is this guy autistic? This guy's not autistic--this guy's an aggressive dick!" Birdy, maddeningly fair-minded Birdy, said, "But Mama, isn't your whole point that you don't know who people really are, what their whole story is, just from looking?" Such a pain in my arse, that kid.

And what, my darling girl, would our yelling friend have to say about *your* particular style of self-presentation? 
With love and gratitude and the promise of the regular good stuff soon, like tasty vegetables and holiday crafts, I swear.


Monday, March 18, 2013

An open letter to the guy who chased my son out of the men’s bathroom after mistaking him for a girl

I just want to start by applauding your decision to shout at us right off the bat. “She was in the men’s room! Your daughter was in the men’s room! A girl in the men’s room!” For one thing, how else will we learn? For another, how else will we be covered in spittle? Plus, I think it’s good, if you see something unexpected, to proceed with violent certainty rather than with, say, wonder or even doubt. Like the time I found that slightly darker O in my bowl of Cheerios and freaked out because I knew for sure that it was a wheel from the landing gear of a miniature UFO that was going to abduct me and probe my anus; if it were cereal, it would look like the rest of the cereal. Likewise, if you see a doll with short hair, even if it’s lying next to a pair of scissors, you should think, “Ew. When did Ken’s boobs get so big?”

It made sense, too, to continue to insist that he was a girl, even after he calmly explained that he had been in the men’s room because he was a boy. (“It’s Ken! But Ken has boobs!”) And your distress over imagining that a preadolescent girl saw your man parts—“I was naked in there! She saw me naked!”—makes such an important point about the prevalence of peeping-Tommery in young girls, and the ways that middle-aged men are vulnerable to them.

To answer your question, “Are you its mom?” more unambiguously: Yes. But you’re smart to ask, because maybe the whole family is a transgendered house of mirrors and I’m really “its” dad! (Last laugh—i.e. my having it—alert!) Certainly, though, it made a lot of sense to imagine that I had colluded in the perversion of sending a girl into the men’s room because, after all, what parent doesn’t want their daughter to be in a tiled room full of urinating men?

In conclusion, thank you for your valuable input. I can only hope that my son will leave behind his girly days of placid confidence and grow into somebody as manly as you—with the kind of balls it takes to scream at a child in public.

yours truly,
Its Mother

Friday, March 15, 2013

Contest Winner / Daylight Savings

You guys, I had to reread through my contest announcement to see if somewhere I had, by mistake, asserted that the contest’s subtheme was Catherine Newman Lovefest 2013: “Only the most doting and affectionate comments will be considered!” Maybe you just sensed that I was thinking that? I love you too, so much.

Drum roll . . . random number generator. . . 157!

Pick me! Must read the profanity-laced, potato-peeling scene!

I only put in from 1 to 216 because I subtracted my own name, one of dale’s comments and, one of Beth’s comments, and, yes, my good friends at Zuupdesign. As always, the winner--Stacey, I'm talking to you--should email me (address at right!) with (his or) her address.

Meanwhile, while I am loving the bright evenings, I must complain that the time change is killing me softly this year. I am so tired that all I can talk about is tiredness, and how the tiringness of mornings and afternoons makes me really tired, and also how tired I am and feel. AND NOT ONLY THAT (sigh), but if you have the kind of insomnia that means you wake up at 4 every night to read for an hour, the time change means that now you’ll wake at 5, which means that an hour later it’s 6 and there’s no time to go back to sleep. 

The cat is also very, very tired. He’s like one of those Salvador Dali clocks, melting onto every surface. Or like Tom, after he gets run over by Jerry driving a steam roller, and then he slides down the stairs.

ALSO (almost done) it’s nice that it’s not so cold, but then the heat doesn’t kick on, so then while you’re reading in bed at 5-really-4, your shoulders are freezing. Did I ever tell you about Michael’s solution to the conflict between my cold night shoulders and his accessible-boobs requirement? How he cut out a groping window from the front of a long-sleeved shirt of mine? I know. He’s a problem-solver.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: Give Away!!!

My sweet vegetarian girl's birthday dream dinner. Seriously. "Oh my God, you got white bread! Mama, thank you so much!" "You're so welcome, Oliver Heidi Birdy!"

Oh my darlings, thank you for sobbing down memory lane with me your sweet birthday wishes for Birdy. It really has been a decade, and so I am wishing you a happy anniversary, and I remembered to get you flowers, they just didn't come yet. Look out your front door, in May. That blooming tree? That'll be from me!

In real life, the cover is not pixelated at all. In fact, it is exceptionally lovely and boasts the fancy detail known in the business as "spot gloss." But don't take my word for it!
Meanwhile, if I told you that I secretly think of food as an idiom for love, you’d roll your eyes, I know. It’s about as secret as the fact that I drive with Scotch tape on my forehead to prevent squinting wrinkles, i.e. not very secret. The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family & How We Learn to Eat is, therefore, my perfect book. Because every story in the collection understands that food is always so much more than food: the way we put it on the table or don’t manage to put it on the table, or the way we love it or (!) hate it, or the way it stands in for memory, like Proust’s madeleine, only more like Proust’s buffalo chicken wing or Proust’s macaroni and cheese (or Proust's blackaroni and cheese, Deesha Philyaw’s name for her family’s heart-stopping take on it). Also, the book has recipes.
Somewhere is a picture of Birdy with sweet potato in her hair, but this isn't it.
I am proud to have a story of my own in this anthology, “Talk with Your Mouth Full,” about dinner-table conversation, including current goings-on as well as a bit of reminiscing from the sweet-potato-hair days. I am also proud to be in such ridiculously talented company. I have to tell you that Karen Valby’s story, “The Hunger Shames,” actually made me cry three separate times (page 133, page 137, and, when you turn the page and see that the recipe is for Doro Wat, page 138—if you’ve got the book handy). Or this, from Jen Larsen’s story, “Food Hater”: “‘Some people cook food,’” is what my mother should have said, followed by, ‘instead of shaking and baking, or hamburger helping, or cranking open a tin can of carrots and boiling the stuff inside until it can be used as spackle for the cracks in your heart.’” And Phyllis Grant’s story, “Recipe,” which includes Step 3: “Lean over the sink to peel potatoes. Say fuck fuck fuck fuck over and over again. Try to untangle depression from fatigue from clumsiness from failure. Remind yourself that sleep deprivation is a form of torture.” (Who is this Phyllis Grant? I wondered to myself. I see she has a blog, dash and bella, I said to myself. Ah, I notice she has 11 bazillion readers! I really have my finger on the pulse. Of a tortoise.)


I actually don’t know why I started singling stories out. They’re all so absurdly good, and the editors, Caroline Grant and Lisa Harper, are just the loveliest people in the world. So you should buy the book. But first try to win it here! That’s right. Simply type in a comment to enter. I’ll pick a winner at noon (12 EST) on Friday. Good luck! Thank you for playing! xo

Monday, March 04, 2013


O knees upon knees! O elbows upon elbows! Birdy is 10: diminished, but beloved still. This March light! The light of her downy-headed emergence. She is the girl of my dreams.

Happy birthday to all those new ten-year-olds out there. So glad we're not still on babycenter together, weeping about the nighttime and the daytime and our nipples tugged out past neighboring zip codes. Unless you're back on babycenter because you have a new baby. And then I am too envious for words.

Yours, gratefully.