Monday, June 24, 2013

Mid-Summer's Eve (+ Lemony Chive Dip with Sugar Snap Peas)

My family likes to make fun of my fickleness: First I am certain that April is my favorite month, in the same way that Thursday evening is my favorite part of the week--with everything stretched out before you, the trees just barely fuzzy and gold, Friends and Seinfeld on, because it's still 1995. Oh, but then May, with its riot of lilacs and dogwood! Who can resist? Forget it though, because it's really June, the year's big TGIF, with its peonies and endless days, the kids tumbling joyfully from their school year, the evenings so long it's like you get a whole other day attached to the end of the one you just had.

So we had a little Summer Solstice party to celebrate. And really, we were cheating, because Ben isn't even done until today, while all the other kids were out on Friday. Who cares, though.
Although if you're the only one still in school, take precautions so you don't get screwed out of your fair share of the summer fruits that everyone is lying around gorging on while you finish up various probability graphs.
Birdy and I got loads of (cheap) flowers from the beautiful u-pick place.
I pickled shrimp.
We served a lovely lemony dip with sugar snap peas. Half raw, half blanched, as per various preferences around here.
And we made flower crowns, using twine as a base, and attaching the flowers and ivy leaves with short lengths of coated floral wire. Ava was, as in all things, brilliant and meticulous.
Make sure to pick sturdy flowers--the kind that don't drop all their petals in a fright when an ant breathes on them. Daisies are ideal. We used the crown-making method here.
Ben, 164 months.
Ben, 8 months. I thought this was the party with the flower crowns, but it appears to be the one with the dragonfly wings. Ah, Santa Cruz.
Flower crowns and sugar snap peas! What could be better?
Sublime or ridiculous? You decide.
Birdy experimented with a grass version, which was extremely fetching. Put a flapper dress on that girl, and she'd be good to go.

Happy summer, dear friends!

Lemony Chive Dip with Sugar Snap Peas
This is the same dip I was making for asparagus earlier in the season, and it’s a current favorite: light and lemony, easy-peasy, with just a little punch from the chives. It is also very good with tiny boiled potatoes and/or radishes. In another few weeks, it will be good with blanched green beans.

Sugar snap peas (or any other veggies!!!)
½ cup each mayo and sour cream (you could also use yogurt or buttermilk instead of some part of the Fatty McFattersons)
Zest of 1 lemon and the juice of half of it
½ teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 tablespoon finely slivered chives

“String” the peas by snapping off each which will tug along with it the tough string down its side. If you want to blanch them, bring half a large pot of water to a boil and drop the peas in. Drain them after 30 seconds, and run them under cold water until cool, then lay them on a dish towel to drain and dry.

Whisk together the dip ingredients, then taste for salt and lemon, adding more as needed. Serve with the peas.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Rhubarb Crumb Bars (Redux)

If the same recipe is posted again in a forest, and everybody sighs irritatedly, can you still hear them? Not if it’s an online forest. Although I can sense the sighing, and I’m sorry. But here’s the thing: I figured out how to make this without the weird syrup-making stage and with the ease of the mixer, and so I must share again. Because these bars? They are conversation stoppers. Truly. People will take a bite and say, “Oh my God, how much butter is in these?” “This is the best thing I have ever eaten. What is it?” And what they are is buttery-rich and sticky-edged, rhubarb-pink and caramel-sweet. There’s some oaty warmth, some jaw-cramping tartness, a lot of ooh-aah perfection. You will be a hero for one day. And you will have to generate a kind of humble rhubarb schtick, so that it won't seem like it's going to your head.
We are not cooked yet. That's why you're not drooling.
 I have made them three times in ten days. So I have actually been a hero for three days. ("These old bars? Pshaw.") At a weekend potluck, at which other people were given vague directions towards salad or side dish, I was assigned this specific thing, with lots of Ha ha, but only if you don’t mind making them again, but bring the rhubarb crumb bars or else. So I did.

Rhubarb Crumb Bars (Redux)
Serves 12
Active time: 20 minutes; total time 1 hour and 10 minutes.

6 cups sliced rhubarb (about 2 pounds before trimming and cleaning)
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole-wheat or whole-spelt flour (this is not a health concession: it actually makes it better)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 cup butter (2 sticks; I use salted), slightly softened and sliced into small pieces
1 cup rolled oats

Heat the oven to 375 and heavily grease a lasagna-sized (11- by 7-inch) baking dish. I confess to using that unholy Pam baking spray--the kind that comes out of the can like foaming extraterrestrial phlegm but really keeps everything from sticking.

In a large bowl, stir together the rhubarb, white sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla.

Stir together the brown sugar, flours, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. Now add the butter, and beat it together until it just looks clump and fairly amalgamated. Add the oats and mix until they more or less disappear—just a few more spurts of mixage.

Reserve a heaping cup of this mixture, and press the rest of into the baking dish, breaking it up to distribute it, and patting it down firmly to form a bottom crust.

Pour in the rhubarb mixture, and spread it evenly over the crust. Sprinkle with the reserved oat mixture, breaking it up to dot it evenly over the fruit. Bake until the top and bottom are deeply browned but not burning—40-55 minutes. Serve in squares, warm or at room temperature, with or without whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Brown Rice Salad with Asparagus, Feta, and Lemon

I am not an animal! I am rice salad.
Have I really never posted a rice salad recipe before? I know I’ve done the dauntingly magically expanding spelt salad (Summery Whole-Grain Salad sounds better!) and the really really good Minted Cherry Tabouli, but I just googled my name and “rice salad” and got nothing. Well, technically I got to this old blog post, which did indeed mention rice salad, and did indeed fill me with nostalgia, but did not, in fact, offer an actual recipe. And that’s strange, because I make a lot of rice salads, including a kind of muddledly Asian one, with the scallion dressing from here, and loads of chopped radishes, slivered cabbage, baked tofu, and peanuts. That’s a good one. And then there are the many random ones, with odds and ends of veggies and cheeses, herbs, good vinaigrettes, and gratings of citrus zest, and me saying, “Is this good enough to take to a potluck?” And usually, yes, it’s fine.

Have a already lost you at "rice salad" and you're asleep now, dreaming of pork chops and skirt steak and the kind of Brazilian restaurant where a hundred meats come by on a stick and you just grab the ones you want along with a tantalizing dish of chimichurri? Sorry.
Remember the Vegetarian Times scandal? When it turned out that the vegan ribs looked so tasty and alluring because they'd photographed actual pork ribs? That was kind of funny. This really is real rice salad!
But this is a really, really good rice salad—a “company” rice salad, if you will. The recipes uses my current favorite rice-cooking method (boiling it like pasta, which, festively, removes more of the arsenic). And it also offers a bonus excellent pan-roasting asparagus method. Plus, the dish is so perfectly balanced with the trifecta of salad ingredients: something rich (feta), something crunchy (toasted almonds), and something bright-tasting (lemon zest). Also herbs. You could add mint here to good effect, and you could add something sweet, such as dried cherries or slivered sundried tomatoes. Every bite is creamy and crunchy, sweet and bursty, lemony, balanced, and delicious.

Brown Rice Salad with Asparagus, Feta, and Lemon
Serves 8-10

This is adapted from this month’s Cook’s Illustrated. I tinkered with this and that, increased the rice from 1 ½ cups to 2, added a cup of green peas for their bursty sweetness, used feta instead of fresh goat cheese, added more parsley, etc. Also, the chive blossom garnish perfectly picks up the specks of purple from the shallot, which is just kind of subtly magnificent. If subtle magnificence is possible.

2 cups brown rice (I like short grain, even though they recommend long, because it’s sweet and nutty)
4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice

4 tablespoons good olive oil (divided use)
1 large bunch of asparagus, trimmed (I like the sweet, fat ones)
More kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, minced
The grated zest of 1 lemon, plus its juice (around 2-3 tablespoons)
1 cup frozen little green peas, thawed in a sieve under hot water
1 cup crumbled feta (or another mild goat cheese, or freshly grated parmesan, if you prefer)
¾ cup slivered almonds, toasted (or sautéed in a pan with a teaspoon of oil)
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
Chive blossoms for garnish, if you have them!

Cook the rice: Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the rice and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is just tender (around 25 minutes). Drain the rice well, then put it back in the pot, put a dish towel over the top of the pot, and replace the pot’s cover. Let the rice steam and cool for 10-15 minutes, then stir in the 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. (Cook's Illustrated has a, pardon, senselessly fussy step involving a rimmed baking sheet.)

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a wide pan over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering. Add half the asparagus with the tips pointed one way and half with the tips pointed the other. (This is the kind of Cook’s Illustrated detail that makes me smile—but if you picture trying to fit a lot of triangles together, it does make sense.) Cover the pan and cook until the asparagus are bright green and still crisp, which will take from 2 to 5 minutes depending on their size and/or freshness. Uncover them, increase the heat to high, season them with salt and pepper, and continue to cook until tender and browned, another 5 to 7 minutes, moving them around with tongs a little as they cook so that they brown evenly. Transfer them to a cutting board and leave them to cool, then cut them into 1-inch pieces.

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, shallot, lemon zest and juice, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper. Add the rice and the asparagus, and stir to mix, then add the peas, parsley, almonds, and feta and stir again. Taste for salt and lemon, and add more if it needs it.

Let it stand at room temperature for up to an hour (really try not to have to refrigerate it, or it will lose a great deal of its loveliness) then garnish with chive blossoms (or not) and serve.

I meant to take a picture of the asparagus in the pan, but I forgot!

You can get your handy Ben to fry the almonds for you.

and make the dressing.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Thank you. Also, games.

Friends, I showed some of your comments to Birdy, who loved them. Thank you. She is crazy about her own fuzz-head, but got a handful of (predictably) lukewarm responses at school. I loved balancing them with your enthusiasm.

Honestly, it's even worse than this. This is a 5- by 5-cube Expedit. If you know your Ikea furniture.
I am going to post an asparagus rice salad recipe later in the week. In the mean time, if you're interested, would you please click on the Master Games list over on the right, and let me know what you think? A number of readers have asked for it, only now I'm trying to figure out if the categories make sense, if the information is useful, and if it would be helpful to have more (or fewer) details. Or a key: average length of time, maybe, or the games that have the most staying power over time. Favorite two-person quickies, say. (!) Or games that have really been *the* all-time favorites. Should I say more about the word games that I mention only in passing? Or are there simply too many games and it's just overwhelming and makes you want to kill yourself with pity for us and our weird, sad gaming life? Because that's not what I'm going for.

More soon.


Friday, June 07, 2013

And the winner is!

Kristen, the 5th commenter, with a son named Ben, has won One Good Egg! (Look, if you want to win, you need to give your kids the same names as mine. (Kidding.)) Please email me your address, Kristen, and everyone else: thank you so much for playing along! Buy Suzy's books, or check them out from the library. You won't be sorry.

In the meantime, Ben and I have been stranded, alone, with our hair.

First this happened:

And then, shortly thereafter, this:

If you give me a picture of the pope, I *will* tear it up. I will.
I was trying to figure out why the sweet sight of Birdy's head was making me cry. And then I realized:

There is no story here, not exactly. (Although our friend Corn pointed out that Birdy might be doing it in solidarity with Strawberry. Whom she now looks almost exactly like.) Really, they're just a couple of people with a fairly whimsical relationship to their hair. Which is a good relationship to have to hair. Plus, our friend Khalid had clippers.

Happy weekend, dear ones!