Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Savory Corn Pancakes with Pickled Chiles

Hello, my darlings! I am writing you from smack-dab in the middle of my least favorite month. Even under the best of circumstances--e.g. all the other years, when my beloved firstborn child has not left our home for college--I hate September. As you can imagine, this one sucks indescribably.

If you have miserable, bereft dogs, I really don't know how you're coping. Birdy and I only *pretend* the cats miss Ben, and still end up making each other cry.
I mean, literally indescribably. I haven't written anything about it, save on Facebook, where I wrote something like, "It's hard to grieve something while simultaneously being forced to reckon with how incredibly lucky you are," and mostly I was carried up with love, but some folks thought to scold me for not appreciating how incredibly lucky I am. Believe me, I know. I really do. And yet! A very lovely friend referred, in an email, to the "Ben-shaped hole" in our lives, and that was it exactly.

Who? Whatever.
So, yeah. If you're in it too, please know that I feel you. It's been a little rough on all sides, this transition, especially after I seemed to be quite happy spending the entire month of August myopically focused on Ben's bedding--"What's a mattress topper? Do you need a mattress topper? Does the mattress topper need to be twin xl, or only the fitted sheet?" It reminded me of counting and recounting the little socks before the baby's born. And then, boom, there's an actual baby, and fuck the socks. "Would it work to have a twin xl fitted sheet and then a regular twin top sheet? Do you need a mattress cover on top of the mattress topper?" And now he's gone. I can say in all honesty that I abstractly hope Ben is comfortable in his dorm bed, but I don't actually give more than a shit or two.

A pretty nice g-damn bed.
There. I wrote about it. Birdy is great. We are surviving. Ben is adjusting. We are very lucky, we really are. The world is a flawed and beautiful place, and I get to work with my beautiful, badass political girl on a state ballot question protecting trans folks, which is, yes, heaven on earth. (Vote Yes on 3, Mass folks!)

Plus, these corn pancakes. I am obsessed with them. They are so absurdly, outrageously savory. Yeasty and cheesy. A little spicy and tangy and bursting with sweet corn kernels. All in all, the perfect way to use up the last ear or two of summer corn. Summer! Those were the days. Love to you.

This was the leftover batter. The big batch I fry on the griddle, for the sake of expedience.
Savory Corn Pancakes with Pickled Chiles
This recipe, like pretty much everything I want to be making right now, is inspired by the “Corn Fritters with Pickled Chiles” in the marvelous Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables cookbook. In that book, these are deep-fried dough balls, kind of like hush puppies. Here, you’re arriving in medias res, recipewise, because I started off shallow-frying these in vegetable oil, kind of like latkes. But at this point, I just cook them in a little slick of oil, like pancakes. It is so much easier, and—despite my great love of fried things and crispy edges—I don’t think the taste or texture suffers enough to return to the deeper oil with its attendant oil-smell kitchen and the oil-smell hair. But you do what you want! Because I’m pancaking these, I add egg and buttermilk to make a very liquidy batter. Note: I have only made these with fresh corn, but I’m sure enough they’d be fantastic with frozen too that I include that as an option.

This makes lots. Like, enough for 4 to 6 people to eat for dinner (or breakfast).

1 teaspoon yeast
1 cup all-purpose flour (I use gluten-free)
1 cup cornmeal
Kosher salt
½ whole-milk yogurt
½ cup lukewarmish water (more if you’re using Greek yogurt)
1 egg
½  cup buttermilk (plus more to thin the batter)
The kernels from 2 ears of corn (or 1-2 cups thawed frozen corn kernels)
½ cup finely chopped pickled chiles (I use mostly mild pepperoncini, but with some jalapenos for heat. I also stir in a spoonful of Hoagie Relish, if you happen to have such a thing in your fridge)
3 scallions, slivered (include an inch or so of the greens)
½ cup grated sharp cheddar
Vegetable oil, for frying
Sour cream and/or maple syrup for serving

In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast, flour, cornmeal, and 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt. Whisk in the yogurt and water to make a smooth batter, adding more water as you need to to make a moist batter. Cover the bowl and put it in a warm place for an hour or two, until it is puffed and bubbling.

Beat together the egg and buttermilk and stir this into the batter with the corn kernels, chiles, scallions, and cheddar. The batter should be quite thin—more pourable than pasty. If it’s not, then stir in more buttermilk.

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat and, when it’s hot, add a big glug of vegetable oil. When the oil is shimmering, pour tablespoons of batter into the pan to make small pancakes. Cook until they’re pocked with yeasty holes and you can see that the undersides are nice and golden-brown, around 2 or 3 minutes. Flip them over and cook another minute or two.  Add a little more oil to the pan between batches.

If you want to make all the batter at once, keep the pancakes warm on a heatproof platter in a 250 oven until they’re all cooked. You can also store leftover batter in the fridge for a day or two and cook it another time.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Lime-Scented Watermelon Juice

When my friend Ali was sick, she got on this crazy watermelon kick that was a little mystifying to me at the time. "What can I bring you?" you'd ask over the phone, and she rattle off some things and then say, "Did I already say watermelon chunks?" and you'd say, "You did." And then she'd lower her voice, like when your great aunt used to ask if this or that person was *gay*, and she'd say almost in a whisper, "Did I already say watermelon juice?" And you'd laugh and whisper back, "You did." When you brought her the watermelon, she would eat it in the style of a person in a movie about drug addicts shooting up: the frantic opening of the container, the shaky shoving of cubes into her mouth, the slumping over in relief, the sleeping of it off afterwards.

+ ice, and that's it
We theorized that it was the potassium she was craving, and maybe it was. And maybe it is the potassium that I am craving now, but I really can't say because when I drink this watermelon juice, I think of the word elixir. It is, very frequently, the only thing I can imagine eating, even though I do understand that "eating" is not really the proper description of sucking it down.

A watermelon lover.
It's cold and delicious and perfectly quenching and I feel great during and after the guzzling of vast quantities of it. Plus, it's dead simple, and you can even make it in a shitty blender without too much trouble, which I found out in our eensy Wellfleet rental, where I made lots of it.

College-bound! But first. . . the eensy Wellfleet rental. 
Please make watermelon juice. I'm sure it would be an incredible base for a cocktail, too, but as it is, it's like some kind of magical soul refresher. Which you need if it's a bazillion degrees out every second and you're busy pretending that your beloved (watermelon-hating) kid isn't about to leave home.

P.S. Do you need a great book for the end of summer? I cannot recommend this enough. I loved it.

Lime-Scented Watermelon Juice
We've been making this with and without a small handful of fresh mint leaves, but I think we've concluded that it's better without. You should try it both ways, though. This makes about 4 normal-sized servings, or 1 serving for a giant who is fee-fi-fo-fumming around demanding watermelon juice.

Enough seedless watermelon chunks to fill your blender, around 1/4 of a melon (if you've got a powerful blender, feel free to use a watermelon with seeds, which add tons of nutrients)
The juice and grated zest of 1/2 a lime
A large handful of ice cubes

Put the melon and lime juice and zest in the blender and blend a little to lower the volume (you may need to tamp the fruit down and/or add a splash of water to get it started). Once there's room, add the ice and blend until smooth. Guzzle.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Cold Tofu with Fragrant Oil

Hello, my darlings! Are you having a wonderful summer? A too-hot and too-much-work summer? A fuck-you-Trump summer of despair? Some combination of all of these, like me?

If you are a longtime reader, then you know that summer is kind of my family’s peak season. We only have Ben on and off—he’s with friends, he’s working, he’s moving into the world as his own person—but he’s joined us for our two trips, and it’s been so lovely and precious to be together, all four of us.

First we went to Niagara, not only to eat a fabulous horseradishy something called “beef on weck,” but also to see the falls, which blew us away with their power and majesty.

Then we went camping. And it was pretty much the best week of my life. Also, I had to read a book about the Amish (in my pajamas on the beach) in the hopes that it would explain why all the Amish people in the world were at Niagara Falls, and how they got there, but it didn’t come up.

I did, however, learn that Amish men wear a little bow tie with their Sunday best, but then they grow their beards long enough to cover it, so as not to seem vain. Somehow, this feels like a metaphor for my entire life.
But mostly I am here to share this recipe, because it is just the thing you want to eat on a hot summer night, when you feel like your family actually needs more nourishment than you can cram into another smoothie, but nobody wants to cook or eat cooked food.
Cold tofu, raw carrots, roasted cashews, and flash-fried bok choy.
It is pretty much perfect: creamy-bland cold tofu with a burstingly fragrant hot oil that sings a sputtery song of ginger and scallions when you first spoon it on. Plus, it takes about 5 minutes to make, which is just the right amount of time. Everyone in my family loves it.

This oil would be great with cold chicken or salmon, but I am feeding a vegetarian still, and also I am still cheap.

Cold Tofu with Fragrant Oil
If you don’t have or like Chinese fermented black beans, you can skip them, of course. But they add a kind of chewy umami funkiness that is both hard to understand and hard to replace—like raisins infused with soy sauce and blue cheese. Try them! Or don’t. The tofu will be delicious either way. In fact, I’ve made a way pared-down version with just the oil, scallions, and chile flakes, and even that was delicious. Please note that I am kind of cheating, adding the vinegar, which turns this into something more like "Cold Tofu with Fragrant Vinaigrette," which just sounds kind of weird.

¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely slivered ginger
3 scallions, cut into 2-inch sections and then slivered (or, more simply, sliced into rings)
½ - 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 teaspoons Chinese fermented black beans, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 (12-ounce) package firm tofu, drained and cut in half lengthwise, and then crosswise into slices 1/3-inch thick
¼ coarsely chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in your smallest pan over low heat. Add the ginger and scallions and fry for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is browning at the edges.

Add the chile flakes and the black beans and stir just until fragrant (about 15 seconds—you don’t want the chile to burn), then add the vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil (I measure these into a small bowl before I start cooking), and boil for a minute or two until just slightly syrupy.

Arrange the tofu on a plate or platter and pour the hot mixture over it, then top with the cilantro and serve.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

What? Oh, nothing much.

While I have your attention, with this INSANE / WTF? picture of Ben's graduation, about which I have been joking--What if he was ever actually going to graduate from high school, since he's still sucking his thumb and hanging onto a hank of my hair from inside the back pack?--for nearly two decades, won't you please sign up for my mailing list? I promise I won't email you more incessantly than is strictly necessarily. In fact, it is actually possible that I will, sigh, *never* email you. That's kind of how we roll. Also, it's entirely likely that I've set the email harvester thingy up wrong. 

("Bennnnnnn! Can you please help me with the email harvester thing?" I'll yell in a second. Once he wakes up from the blessed sleep of the newly-graduated-not-quite-yet-employed-for-the-summer.)

Meanwhile, the world. Sigh.

Warm, buttery lentil salad with or without bonus kielbasa. So effing delish.
But also, I have been making a lot of food and, oddly, keeping all of it a secret from you! This is related to the potential that I will never email you, and I think the word for the umbrella category of thing that this falls under is inertia or maybe technolaziness. 

The only better chicken recipe I know than these long-roasted thighs is, perhaps, my own chicken wing magic. Forgive my immodesty!
Most of these recipes are over at the diaTribe (making sense of diabetes) website, which I get to write and develop for because it's the enormous project my beloved friend and college first-year roommate Kelly Close. It's a wonderful site, and I'm giving them some of my best-ever recipes, so I hope you'll visit! There's a low-cost, low-carb series of recipes here, and a straight-up low-carb one here. Also lots of other recipes. And if you aren't managing diabetes, please understand that these are all just my normal sorts of recipes, spun this and that direction to fit the categories, if you know what I'm saying. In case you're picturing, like, those xylitol hard candies in the diabetes section of your 1978 supermarket.
I have gotten more fan mail about these cottage cheese pancakes than about, possibly, anything else I've ever written, including crack broccoli and the open letter to the guy who harassed Ben in the men's room of a ski lodge.
I've also been making lots of seasonal recipes from this very blog. The Ben and Birdy blog that you're reading right now! This rhubarb cake (I sub in gf flour), these stuffed grape leaves, this smoothie (which I've been sweetening with dates), this tabouli (I sub in quinoa for the gluteny bulgur, and I've been adding feta, pickled red onions, and loads of slivered pepperoncini), this strawberry-rhubarb crisp, this cold brew iced coffee, this granola (I seem to use more and more pecans, coconut, and almonds, and fewer and fewer seeds, because life is so perilously short).

Oh, there is more, my darlings! Books to recommend. Rites of passage to describe. Cats to celebrate. I am going to write a summer update soon. I know that lots of you are in the same life moment as me, what with the driving and the graduating and the plummeting estrogen. Sending love to all of you.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Quick update! Popsicle book winner!

Shannon, I can't stand that you've had the book in your cart for 2 years! You're the winner! Send me your address, please. Thank you all for chirping in and playing. You are rhubarb lovers and popsicle lovers and lovers period. And I love you so. xo

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Vanilla-Rhubarb Popsicles (plus a buried spontaneous give-away)

These are an almost opalescent green-pink. So beautiful and achingly delicious that it's worth the delayed gratification of needing to wait for them to freeze solid.
It is all I can do not to rush outside into April’s slushy mud to yank up the first stalk of rhubarb and crunch into its juicy pink-and-green silk and strings just to feel slapped awake by spring. But I am a hoarder of the early stalks. I wait until there are enough to make something with: a speckled cake or an oozing crumble or these popsicles or, really, anything that brings the rhubarb into my home and cramps my jaw with the tingly smell of it.

There is nothing like it—the way rhubarb smells. I was just stirring it at the stove, thinking about trying to describe to you, and words failed me. It’s so sharp and strange, like grapefruit-scented bubble bath but with bright green leaves in it, and also a fist that sproings out of the bottle to punch you in the mouth.

This was on our after-dinner walk two nights ago. Couldn't the seasons, I don't know, kind of divide up their treasures a little bit? I'd be so mad if I were one of the seasons that wasn't spring.
Spring is such a relief this year. I feel the way the cats seem to feel, watching the squirrels from the back door in a kind of ecstasy of hunger and excitement. 

Imaginary hunting is very tiring.
The bright mornings! The peepers peeping and the red fox yelling from the woods for a mate! The fresh-faced violets and dandelions! The flying ants in my bedroom! Okay, not so much the flying ants. I have always loved spring, only I used to also tell a story about how I love winter too—the coziness and candlelight and stews and sudden-onset nighttime so you can get early into your pajamas with a very small little glass of whiskey—only I’m not sure it’s true. I mean, I do love all those things, but winter! My god. Except I couldn’t bear to wish it away because our Ben? He is leaving us at the end of the season after this one. I am willing time to pass slowly. Take your time, time! No rush.

Where was I? Rhubarb popsicles! Because not only is it spring, it is actually suddenly the dog days of summer and everyone is broiling and cranky at the end of the school day. At least yesterday they were. So I popped these in the freezer this morning to be ready by the time those poor schoolkins return home. Like every popsicle recipe I post, this one is from the brilliant People’s Pops recipe book, and if you still haven’t bought it on my recommendation, after all these years, then you should buy it now. It is just so strangely brilliant: every popsicle is the perfect flavor and sweetness and texture. You’ll wonder what you were thinking, waiting for so long. (Hey, spontaneous give-away! Comment to enter and I’ll pick a winner next Thursday and send you the book! You’ll love it.)

The only two rhubarb recipes in the book are kind of *perfumed*--one with jasmine tea and the other with elderflower—which is not something my family can deal with. My family who gags and chokes and cries out that they’ve bitten into a seashell-molded bar of guest soap if someone serves them so much as a spoonful of lavender ice cream. (Okay, they don’t actually complain. But they don’t like it.) So I just went with vanilla, which is my favorite flavor pairing with rhubarb, even more than strawberries. I know! That might be the most shocking thing I’ve ever written here. I happened to have a semi-pent vanilla pod in a bottle of homemade extract, so I used that, but you can just use vanilla extract. 
Shoulda saved some for a vanilla whiskey sour, ammiright?
Or skip it. Or sub in some strawberries for the rhubarb, ya animal.

Vanilla-Rhubarb Popsicles
Makes 10 popsicles
Adapted from the brilliant People’s Pops cookbook.

1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and sliced (this will be 3-5 stalks, depending on how robust they are)
1 cup vanilla simple syrup (recipe below)

Pour about ½ inch of water into a shallow, heavy, non-reactive saucepan and add the rhubarb. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally and then more frequently, until the pieces have mostly broken apart into a thick puree, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir until smooth then pour into a large measuring cup with a spout. (And if you don’t have a 4-cup measuring cup, get one for god’s sake. You will use it all the time and wonder why you cheaped out on yourself all these years.) You should have between 2 and 2 ¼ cups of rhubarb mash. Stir in the vanilla syrup, pour the mixture into your popsicle molds (leave a little room), insert sticks and freeze until solid. The recipe says 4-5 hours, but I find it takes more like 6-8 for mine.

Vanilla Simple Syrup
Makes 1 cup

2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
½ a vanilla bean, sliced open or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is transparent. Turn off the heat and add the vanilla bean or vanilla extract. Once the syrup has cooled a bit, fish out the vanilla bean and use a pointy little knife to scrape the seeds into the syrup and then use your fingers to swish the pod around into the syrup and then put the spent pod in your ice coffee, because why not.

And then when you by accident made oatmeal. Sigh. My rhubarb has too much green in it to stay pink, but I swear it is gorgeous-tasting.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Perfect (cough *GF* cough) Banana Bread

Where does the time go? Honestly. Forgive me. Because I know there is nowhere else on the internet you can go for recipes! [crying-laughing emoji] Life sure gets busy, no? We’ve been marching for gun control and packing lunches. Despairing over injustice and reading excellent books. I have been awake more than usual in the night and also going religiously to zumba. I have been an asshole and a good friend, mortified and happy and compassionate and irate in equal measure.

We’ve been watching America’s Funniest Home Videos before bed, in the hope that it will help us all sleep, and we laugh, because the people and animals are so wonderfully crazy, everybody getting hit in the crotch because of  piƱatas, and also some of it is so depressingly sad and weird, and people actually get hurt, and I never know what to think anymore. Or sometimes, maybe, I still do.

Anyways, as many of you know if you’re been following along, we are dealing with an Extreme Gluten-Free Situation in our household, and I am doing more baking than ever, trying to nail certain favorite things and create certain other new favorite things. This banana bread is the former, and it’s absolutely perfect: tender-crumbed and moist without being gummy; deeply browned and crunchy-edged without being gritty. 

Only other GF bakers will understand why I need to praise this bread in reverse, by listing its un-negative qualities. There are just so many pitfalls! Like the thing where a loaf or cake comes gloriously out of the oven looking glorious? Only then what it really is is a gorgeous shell filled with a kind of treasure trove of inglorious raw batter.

If you are not catering to the non-glutens, then use whatever mix of flour you like, and it will be delicious! Still totally worth making, because it is actual good banana bread, I promise, not some weird diet loaf. Unless you’re on a weird diet! And then make it with apple water and aloe dust, or whatever you need to do. I am with you 100%. Believe me.

That is an insanely delicious product called "vanilla creme fraiche" that arrives in vast donated cases at the soup kitchen where I volunteer. Soup and vanilla creme fraiche for all! It is crazily good, but cream cheese would be a fine thing to spread on your already-moist banana bread, if you found it just needed a certain something.
Perfect Banana Bread (that is gluten-free—or not)
I think I already said everything I wanted to say up top. xo

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup sugar (I use ½ white sugar and ½ coconut sugar, but you could use a mix of white and brown sugars, or whatever you like. It doesn’t really matter.)
2 ripe bananas (you could use a 3rd banana and skip the sour cream, but I wouldn't)
Sour cream (around ½ cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 ½ cups flour (see note below)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
¼ cup small gluten-free oats—the instant kind—or regular gluten-free oats buzzed briefly in a blender

Heat the oven to 350 and grease and flour a loaf pan.

Cream together the butter and sugar in an electric mixer, and leave it creaming while you mash the bananas. Measure the bananas and add enough sour cream to make 1 ½ cups. Stir in the vanilla.

While the butter and sugar is STILL creaming, sift or whisk together the flour(s), baking soda, and salt. Stir in the oats.

Now add the eggs, one at a time, to the creamed butter, beating each one in well. Add the banana mixture and beat well again, then add the dry ingredients and beat just until mixed. (I’m never sure, if you’re using gf flour, if it even matters if you overbeat something! I mean, there’s no gluten to develop, so who really gives a fuck? But still I err on the side of caution because #goodgirl.)

Scrape the batter into the pan and bake for 55 minutes, or until the loaf looks done and a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs on it. Cool briefly in the pan—3 minutes?—then tip onto a cooling rack and really, really try to cool it completely, or for at least ½ hour, before slicing.

Note about the flour: I use 1/3 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour (from Trader Joe’s), 1/3 cup coconut flour, and 1/3 cup of this crazy and delicious whole-grain flour I mix up to make the beautiful breads from this book. That blend is equal parts brown-rice flour, teff flour, sorghum flour, and (gf) oat flour. I know. I might as well add bone meal and pine starch, but what can I tell you. It’s a blend I love. And it has xanthan gum in it—around 1 teaspoon per cup of flour, I think, is how it works out. What I recommend is using either ½ cup of a flour with xanthan gum in it, or adding 1/2 teaspoon to the recipe if none of your flours have xanthan gum. Does that make sense? (I just drank a beer really quickly.)

You could just use 1 ½ cups of your favorite GF flour, or try a mix of almond, oat, rice, whatever you think would be good. Please report back!

A note about oats: Oats are only gluten-free if they say they're gluten-free, and this is for one of two reasons: some oats are grown in fields where wheat seeds blow in and grow companionably alongside, everyone harvested all together to the bellyache of unsuspecting celiac folks; other oats grow unaccompanied by wheat, but are processed in gluten-contaminated facilities. Gluten-free oats are safely unmolested by other sneaky grains.