Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ottolenghi-style Chickpeas with Mint, Caraway, and Greek Yogurt (and Quinoa)

My friend Lydia is a therapist, and whenever I launch into this or that lament—inevitably something she’s heard 100 times already—she says, simply, “This is not new information.” Which really kind of puts a cork in it, if you know what I mean. And so I will tell you that my problem is never with cooking, it’s with having something to cook—but I will know that this is not new information.

Thanks to my breathtaking laziness, this was a one-pan dish.
The same way that every month I am suddenly bleeding all over my pants and couch or skirt and friend’s car or underwear and bed, and I’m like, “Blood?” every night it is suddenly six, and I’m like, “Dinner?” It just comes around and comes around, and I open the fridge and cabinet and peer in hopefully, as though the cartoon dinner fairies will have arrived to turn my life into a Disney movie of chicken breasts and broccoli and fresh mozzarella. But the fairies do not come. They never come. They are over at Rachel Ray’s and Giada De Laurentiis’s house, gossiping about my food moths and the filthy stove top, and I understand.

Birdy, wearing one of Ava's fabulous shirts. Support our young artist friend, please!
All of which is to say that I will often start cooking something from my tragic pantry, without a very clear sense of what it might become. Hence these (fabulous) chickpeas, which started as dried chickpeas in the pressure cooker, with a light bulb over my head that had yet to be illuminated and was slowly, instead, filling with beer. So I sat down with my Ottolenghi cookbooks. Not because I have the wherewithal to procure ingredients and follow an exact recipe and drizzle it with the tears of a pomegranate, but because his seasonings and combinations can knock me out of my ruts of chipotle/cilantro/lime or garlic/smoked-paprika/sherry-vinegar or soy/scallion/ginger, not that there aren’t worse ruts than those, believe me. Ruts like those, who needs smooth roads, right? Except, I’m also always arranging the same set of pantry ingredients into different constellations, and I’m so bored of myself I could cry.

Guess whether the child featured here does or doesn't like celery. #paininmyasshole
Those three paragraphs could have been summed up simply with the words caraway and mint and olive-oily yogurt. Because that’s what the Ottolenghi recipe offered me. Sure, I didn’t have the dark leafy greens—only this ginormous green cabbage that I’ve been sawing away at for weeks. And I had celery instead of carrots, and I added a big handful or arugula because I couldn’t resist, and also served it with cooked quinoa. But I would never have thought to use the brilliantly fragrant, complicated seasonings he suggested. They turned out to be so fresh and delicious, it was almost like we were eating something new. It really was.

It helps that the mint is coming up in the garden. At dinnertime, I think: "Mint!" even though I know that that's not really dinner.
Ottolenghi-Style Chickpea with Mint, Caraway, and Greek Yogurt
Makes lots

The original recipe is from the book Plenty and comes together quickly. It calls for carrots, which would surely add a lovely sweetness here, but I used celery, which is nice and aromatic. You could use only one of the herbs, if that’s what you have, but both make the dish quite spectacular. And, finally, he uses chard and blances it first but a) I didn’t have chard and b) I’m too lazy to blanch anything first. Here (and everywhere), salt is your friend. Don’t be shy.

For sauté:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot or ½ small onion, minced (optional—not in the original)
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
3 stalks celery with their leaves, sliced (or diced carrots)
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
4 cups slivered cabbage (or 8 cups greens)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups (or 2 cans) chickpeas, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped arugula (optional)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (if you’re making the quinoa, grate the lemon zest before juicing and reserve)

For yogurt sauce, whisk together:
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon of your best olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For serving:
Arugula, harissa, olive oil, and quinoa (below)

Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet. Add the shallots or onion, caraway, and celery and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 3 or 4 minutes. Add half the garlic, the cabbage, and the salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is just barely tender, around 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and continue cooking for 5 more minutes, stirring gently from time to time. Now add the lemon juice, the herbs and arugula, the rest of the garlic, and a large grinding of pepper, and remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and/or lemon juice and/or herbs if it needs a kick. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, over the quinoa if you like, with a spoonful of yogurt sauce, a drizzle of olive oil, a handful of arugula, and, for the unfaint of heart, a nice, big dollop of harissa.

This is a less fussy than the one I used to use, which involved briefly steaming the drained quinoa over boiling water. Now I just let it steam briefly in the empty pot, covered with a dishtowel.

Kosher salt
16 ounces quinoa, rinsed if that’s what the package tells you to do
2 tablespoons olive oil
The reserved lemon zest (see above)

Bring a medium or large pot of water to a bowl over high heat and salt it heavily. It should taste as salty as the sea, so we are talking a fair amount of salt.

Add the quinoa, stir, turn the heat down to medium-high and cook it for 10-15 minutes, uncovered, until it is just tender and the grains have spiraled open.

Drain it really, really well in a fine sieve—I mean, really shake it around to get the water out—then put it back in the pot, stretch a doubled dish towel over the top of the pot, and put the lid back on. Leave it to steam for 5 or 10 minutes, then gently stir in the oil and lemon zest. (For other dishes, I might use butter instead of oil, and skip the lemon.)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bread Boards (aka the dinner trick)

Have you ever seen *Triscuits* masquerade so successfully as dinner?  
I'm not offering you a recipe today. In fact, what I'm offering is a non-recipe. And it's this: make, or acquire, a stable of pretty little bread boards, and you will always have dinner. Or perhaps I should say "dinner," because the point here is to use the bread board the way fashion people might use a nice, big belt: to pull the disparate elements of your refrigerator together into a dinner-type outfit. 

Odds and ends of good cheese and bread, crackers, fresh or dried fruit, a sprig of some or other fresh herb, a dollop or marmalade or honey, pickles or mustard, a nice piece of salami for the meat-eaters, maybe a salad on the side. This is the way we eat a great deal of the time. Birdy especially, since this is what I make her instead whenever we're having something of the meat persuasion. 

bread, cheddar, brie, dates, apple-rosemary jelly
She is never not happy to have a bread board. In fact, nobody is. Nobody is never not happy. Are you following? WTF? I'm trying to say that everybody loves the bread boards. It's a little like our famous bean feasts, the principle being that dinner-eaters often like to assemble there own lovely little bites and arrangements of food, rather than being served a big plate of a thing. It also makes for great conversation, since everyone has to tell you about their favorite combination (cheddar + spicy mustard + grapefruit marmalade) or force you to try it (twist my arm). I should mention that we got this idea from a former favorite restaurant of ours (it has since burned down but is reincarnated here) that offered a bread board on the kids' menu: a $5 selection that included a couple slices of bread, some artfully rolled-up turkey and ham slices, a little of this or that cheese, and a tiny ramekin of mustard. It was a real pleaser.

cheeses, bread, marmalade, bad flash photography
Michael made our boards for Birdy's twelfth (sob!) birthday, and I can tell you how. He sawed a 1- by 8-inch pine board ($8.57 for a 6-foot board at Home Depot) into 12-inch lengths, then sanded them and rubbed them well with beeswax. He drilled the holes with a 1-inch bit; they are purely decorative, since we don't actually hang the boards, but I love how they look. (For what it's worth, Home Depot will cut the board for you for free! At least the first four cuts, I think. Then you have to blow somebody.)

But you could also buy nice little boards, like these 5-dollar ones at IKEA. Or these fancy bamboo ones from Amazon. Oh, and these little spreaders too.

Speaking of bread, I wrote a little bit about it at The Mid. And speaking of The Mid, I wrote a little bit about the 80s there too.

Take care, my lovelies. xo

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Rad Winner + Courage Banner

Wake me when there's ham.
Thank you so much for entering the contest so enthusiastically! And for your fantastic book recommendations. I have already requested This Is Where I Leave You and The Miniaturist from the library (yay!). Meanwhile, the winners of this awesome book

are Hanna (the first commenter), Doña (who is building a feminist library), and Karen T, who wants it for her sons. Please send me your address via email, and I will send you the book! Rad.

Just a small offering today, and it's this:

I had occasion to make this banner recently for some friends in need of courage, and I loved it so much. It turned out that the very act of making it gave me exactly the courage I needed myself.

1. To make one, print this out full-size (8 1/2 by 11) on the color paper or card-stock you want your letters to be.
2. Use a combination of scissors and x-acto knife to cut out the letters (the printed side will be on the back once you glue them down).
3. Cut out the triangle and trace it onto colored cardstock 7 times (you can line it up so that they alternate up and down, like jack-o-lantern teeth, to get more triangles from the paper). Cut out the triangles.
4. Stick the letters to the triangles. (I used an extra-strong glue stick.)
5. Sew the triangles to a nice, long piece of ribbon, bias tape, or, like I did here, old sweat-pants string. I actually just lined up each triangle on the string, arranged so that the string was on the front side of the triangle, and sewed them on one at a time, going nice and slow. If you are already having a panic attack about bobbin and presser foot and you've already poured yourself 4 glasses of wine, just hole-punch the triangles and thread a nice piece of cord or twine through them. Or tape them to the fucking wall, who cares? Easy peasy!

Sending love. And courage if you need it.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Spring Things (+ a Give-Away!)

Miriam Klein Stahl's illustrations are sublime.
Rad American Women A-Z. Can I be proud without sounding like someone’s disgusting old paternalistic grandpa? Because I am. Twenty years ago, the outrageous Kate Schatz was a student of mine at UC Santa Cruz—in both my creative writing class, and in my section of Wendy Brown’s life-changing Feminist Theory class. And look! Look what she’s doing! Feminist writing! Right? This book is buoyant, brilliant, gorgeous, badass, heroic, and totally, unapologetically rad. Just the very fact of it, in my house, makes me happy every day—to say nothing of all the times I walk past Birdy intently reading about Temple Grandin or Dolores Huerta or Angela Davis. 

Angela Davis, who was teaching at Santa Cruz when Kate and I were students there. Was it a constant thrill to glimpse her on the wooded walkways of that campus? Guess.
Yes, it is a (brilliantly) illustrated alphabet book—but make no mistake. This is a book for boys and girls of any age, including grown-ups. It is my new go-to baby gift, as well as my new go-to teenager gift. If you want to win a copy of this book, leave a comment here. I’m going to use some of our Amazon credit (generated from this blog’s holiday shopping) to send the book out to three happy readers. But please don’t let the give-away stop you from ordering a copy, either from Amazon or, preferably, directly from City Lights. (OMG: It is currently out of stock. HOW RAD IS THAT? Pre-order it, okay?)

Our friend Maya, modeling.
More bragging. Our dear friend Ava (known to long-time readers variously as “Ben’s best friend, Ava” or “Nicole’s daughter, Ava” or “Birdy’s idol, Ava”) has opened an Etsy shop. Currently on offer: t-shirts printed with two of her incredible designs. These are stunning. Plus, when she is crazy-famous one day, you can produce your thread-bare Ava original, and blow people away. Don't you want to support a young artist, and be wicked cool at the same time?

A few other things. These three books, all written, suspiciously enough, by middle-aged white mothers (?), are among the best I've read, despite my current lack of imagination. 

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. When my friend Ali was dying, and I couldn't bear to read anything that wasn't perfectly crushing and hopeful, this book was perfectly crushing and hopeful. And also just so funny and kind-hearted and profoundly human (maybe because Toews is Canadian?). We love, we try hard, we are deeply flawed. It's a novel, but is almost exactly autobiographical, so brace yourself. And "All My Puny Sorrows" is taken from a Coleridge poem, of all perfect things. Oh, really. I only envy you for not having read it yet.

Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe. Also perfection, in a different way: a crazily funny, irreverent find-Mom-a-husband story told by a completely delightful English 9-year-old. It sounds YA-ish (not that there's anything wrong with it!) but it is actually comically full of sex and drinking and darkness and depression, and in the Venn diagram of "pleasure" and "reading," the circles would overlap completely, and it would be this book. There was not a single page from which I didn't want to read aloud (and I only stopped myself because every time I said, "Oh my god, listen to this," Michael, putting down the paper, would sigh) If you haven't read Love, Nina yet, her nanny memoirs, read that too.

Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny. I just finished this last night, even though I tried and tried to make it last longer, but wolfed it down instead, and then lay around feeling full and kind of greedy and sad because it was all gone. Don't let "stories" throw you if you're not a story person: the voice is continuous, and it reads like a novel. A novel that is mostly about women having sex with men who are mostly not the men they should be having sex with. It is so funny and good-natured and true: there is passion and tedium, like in real life, and, in my favorite story, a child's birthday party that is so profoundly stressful and boring that I wondered if it wasn't, perhaps, the very best representation I'd ever read of parenting. 

Now I need a new book. I welcome your thoughts below, even if you're not entering the give-away! Speaking of: enter by Monday April 6th at noon, winners announced soon after.


p.s. One last recommendation: this documentary. It blew us all away, kids and grown-ups.