Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer 2016

Oh, my darlings. The summer is upon us! I hope that this means, in your house, some time for fun and games, and not just a big, hot slog through an impossible scheduling nightmare shadowed by a terrible feeling that the world is going to shit. Fingers crossed.

Here it means that we never see Michael, because he is picking berries. Strawberries first, and then, in a little while, blueberries. 

This is Smitten Kitchen's perfect little Raspberry Buttermilk Cake, but made with strawberries. Easy and delicious.
He's been making chocolate-covered strawberries and they are so gorgeous and good.

He shows up somewhere with a box of them, shrugging, like, "Oh, these old perfect things?" and everyone is stunned into gorging. Here's his recipe: Melt 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. Dip the strawberries into it. Chill on a parchment-covered tray.

You can dip banana slices instead and freeze them, and then you make these
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But honestly? If you live near a Trader Joe's, just buy them. They are $1.99, and so, so good.

Another June thing, while we're at it: pickled radishes. So easy, and so good to add to your nachos, quesadillas, and salads. Thinly slice some red radishes and put them in a mason jar. Bring to a boil 1/2 cup each white vinegar and water with 2 teaspoons of salt, and pour this over the radishes (double or triple it if you've got a lot of radishes). Done! They're excellent after a day, but good immediately. They smell very, very bad. Like, peculiarly bad.

And before we move on to the kindss of summer fun you don't put in your mouth, one last thing: the kids got miracle fruit tablets in their Christmas stockings this past year, and they are so much fun.  They have some weird compound in them that obliterates the taste reception of sour on your tongue: after you eat one, sour things taste strangely sweet. It's not a cheap thrill by a long shot. But you can make a really fun afternoon of it by setting up little dishes of tart things (lemon and lime wedges, plain yogurt, cheddar cheese, orange juice, strawberries) and then having a tasting party. That's what we did.

Okay, onto the fun and games. First up:
Kubb. We got this game one or two years ago, after playing it at a friend's house, and it is completely delightful. It's a lawn game, and you're basically trying to knock over wooden pieces with other wooden pieces, and we are forever mailing the link out to people who've played with us and want to get it. It's simple and fun and always hilarious. It's also weirdly expensive, and I truly believe that if you had a penchant for sanding, and access to some lovely hardwood, you could make it yourself.
Hands to the head: The universal Kubb sign of "I knocked over the king by accident!" What I really wish I had a photo of is my mom flinging a piece into my dad's shin and the ensuing purple lump. It's not the safest game!
More outdoor fun: we got Michael a Log Flume water jousting set for Father's Day. 

I will report back after we play with it, but I think we're going to like it a lot. We were inspired to get it because another current outdoor favorite thing to do is jousting. This is a great idea we got from friends, who made a jousting pole for each of their four children. 
Michael copied their design, using PVC pipe, pipe insulation, and upholstery foam covered in fabric. If you can hit someone with a huge, padded stick and not end up laughing hilariously, then you might be made of stone. It is an especially fun thing for large groups of teenaged boys to do, even if someone's weird mom comes out in her nightie to take a turn, cackling like a crazy old lady.

Lest you think we are all about the great outdoors, we also have some indoor game recommendations for the summer. The children above are playing the beautiful tile-laying game Lanterns, which is a current favorite of ours. 

It's a matching game crossed with a set-collecting game and, like all good games, every time you play it you feel like you're finally hitting upon the one true strategy--only to find, the next time you play it, that you weren't. It's super-pretty too, and not as hard to learn as some board games (how's that for some abstracted relativism?).

Another great game we've been playing is Cathedral. It's in the game family of Quoridor and Quarto and Gobblet--the games we refer to as "the wood games," as in, "I don't know. Maybe one of the wood games?" when someone asks you what you want to play, and there are only two of you playing. I extra-treasure this game, and if you're the dear lovely person who gave it to me at my reading in Wentham, then you know why. [Heart.]

More summer fun, at least for me, is this book:

I have mentioned Alabama Chanin's books before (here, for example), because I love her ideas and patterns. Also, even though she no longer officially recommends it, I still sew everything from fabric I cut from vast thrifted t-shirts. This wrap skirt, for example, I made from two double XL t-shirts. (Total cost: $2.)

The cat hair and flour dust are my own additions to the design, but all the little fancy stitches and beading and applique and reverse applique is well-described in the book. I've been sewing by hand again, and loving it so much. One thing, though: the book comes not with paper patterns, but with a CD. She recommends taking it to a copy shop to print out the patterns you want to use, but I (cheaply) have been using Adobe's tiling option, which means that the patterns prints as 16 or 20 or 36 pages that you then have to trim and tape together. I don't mind doing this, for some reason, but I don't imagine everyone will feel that way. Improv Sewing is another favorite of mine: a less fussy book that is full of great, inspiring ideas for sewing clothes from thrifted fabrics.

And, for actual reading, I have gotten way, deep into the Elena Ferrante books. I'd tried the first one a year ago and put it down again. Maybe it was too soon after the death of my own brilliant friend? Or maybe the style--like your obsessive friend who tells you about the guy who made her latte, only it takes her four hours just to describe how he winked at her or maybe didn't wink at her--wasn't striking me right at the time. But now I'm all in. I'm saving the fourth book for the trip we're taking in July.

Birdy DEVOURED Keris Stainton's book Starring Kitty. What did you love about it? I said, and she said, with annoying but enthusiastic vagueness, "Oh, everything." Keris's books are not widely available in the United States, but they should be. 

Okay, my loves, your turn. Summer recipes, games, books, activities? Shoot!

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Lettuce Wraps Two Ways

A little out of focus to be the lead photo, eh?
Have I mentioned my children? The strict vegetarian and the strict carnivore both of whom I make dinner for every night? I have? Have I? No? Yes?

The carnivores.
Because I love these kids, I do. I love feeding them and eating with them, and they are gracious about meals, they are lovely. But the Venn diagram overlaps at, like, “corn on the cob” and “black olive pizza.”

My whole garden is peonies. Which is the best thing ever, for 5 minutes of the year.
The truth is that Birdy is easy. Serve that girl cheese and crackers every night, maybe a little pile of arugula, and she’s happy as can be. Ben, who is technically an omnivore, does not actually complain about all the tofu and beans we eat. Never. And we eat a lot of tofu and beans! But because he only lights up completely, all million watts of him, for a chop or roast or burger or steak, I feel slighted by his regular normal-strength smiling pleasure over a bowl of vegetable lo mein. “You don’t like it?” I say, and he says, “No! I totally do! Look, I’m having thirds!” And I sigh. Because I am practicing being a Jewish grandmother, guilt-tripping you preemptively for any thoughts or feelings you might have at some point.

Put this photo on my gravestone. (I almost never make two different things, but I sure do love to complain about it!)
Anyhoo, this meal is one that everybody adores, and it comes together quickly, even though, yes, you are making two separate things. But they use all the same ingredients! And none of it is hard to deal with! Obviously, if people in your house are all one thing or another, you can simply double that thing. Plus, if you’re feeding only small people whose legs and arms can’t stretch to the moon and back 5 times, you might be able to get away with only one thing not doubled. Annoyingly, the tofu version is probably Ben’s favorite tofu dish, even though there is actual meat on the table. when I serve it. I would make just the tofu, but it's not actually harder to make the beef too, and Michael likes it best too.

I keep a bed of weeds I like to call my "mint patch," which is why I'm such a profligate mint user. Obviously, if herbs are not a backyard proposition, it is fine to pick just one kind.
I make the beef and tofu a little ahead of time, so that they’re kind of room temperature and everything else is nice and cool, and that gives me a total summery salady feeling, whilst also not wilting the lettuce. You don't need to do this. And either way, the wraps will be crunchy, tender, salty, sweet, pickly, herby, and spicy. I could eat them every night.

Do "pickle" *something*! It's as easy as sprinkling seasoned rice vinegar on it! If you don't have seasoned rice vinegar, you can use half white vinegar and half water, with a little salt and sugar dissolved in it.

Lettuce Wraps Two Ways
This is based on a version of a kind of cheater bulgoki—a Korean beef dish that we all love, except for Birdy, who loves only the whole, live, uneaten cows. What I’m not in love with is the added sugar, but then it’s not as good without it. Feel free to never start using it, and then you’ll never know. If you don’t want to get involved in the whole lettuce-wrap situation, you can serve either of these with rice. Please note, if you’re making both, that the tofu takes 5-10 minutes longer to cook.

For serving
1 head of butter or Boston bibb lettuce, whole leaves washed and dried
2 cups fresh herb leaves, ideally mint, basil, and cilantro (or pick 1 or 2)
Carrots (grated) and/or radishes (sliced), and/or cukes (sliced or julienned), sprinkled with seasoned rice vinegar and referred to henceforth as “pickles”
Pickled jalapeno slices
Slivered scallions
Hot sauce

For the beef
If you are also making the tofu, add a tablespoon or two of the chopped water chestnuts to the beef for a little crunch. I add more of it to the tofu because I feel like tofu deserves a little something special.

1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sambal oolek or sriracha
1 tablespoon vegetable oil      
2 scallions, slivered
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef

In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and hot sauce.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds, then add the ground beef, raise the heat to high, and cook until browned, about 3-5 minutes, making sure to crumble the beef as it cooks. If there’s excess fat, drain it.

Stir in soy sauce mixture and simmer until it’s heated through, about 2 minutes.

For the tofu
Freezing the tofu and then thawing it gives it a crumblier texture. If you don’t have time for this step, skip it.

1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sambal oolek or sriracha
3 tablespoons vegetable oil    
2 scallions, slivered
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (12-ounce) package tofu, frozen and thawed if you have time, crumbled in a colander and all the extra water pressed out
1 (5-ounce) can water chestnuts, chopped
1-2 tablespoons Bragg’s liquid aminos (or more soy sauce)

In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and hot sauce.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds, then add the tofu and water chestnuts, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring frequently, until dryish and browning, 10-15 minutes.  

Stir in the soy sauce mixture and a tablespoon of Bragg’s or extra soy, and simmer until it’s heated through, about 2 minutes. Taste for salt, and add more Bragg’s and/or soy sauce.