It’s the same sort of day as most of the other days here in Seattle, I suppose. I’m sitting at a coffee shop, next to a woman who appears, at a brief glance, to be editing a Swedish-Chinese dictionary.
I’ve started working again, three days a week. Sitting down at Herkimer, my body remembered all the right moves—sidling into a seat before getting coffee because the line was long, shyly sneaking my yogurt snack into the corner of my little bench seat, tuning into Basia Bulat. I even remembered my favorite barista’s name.
It all seems amazingly simple: I had a certain life. Then I had a child. Now I have a different sort of life, and I also have a child. Life’s changed, but then again, it hasn’t.
I can’t imagine anything better, for me, for now.
At least, I couldn’t, until we got a new dishwasher.
A new dishwasher, people, really does change a life. It’s not that we didn’t have one before. We did. It was white and dirty, rusty inside and cranky. It didn’t clean dishes particularly well, and our dinner plates didn’t fit inside. I consider myself neither a dishwasher snob nor a connoisseur, but clearly, fitting one’s dishes inside and getting them clean should be two of a dishwasher’s top attractions.
I actually learned a few things in the buying process:
a) a dishwasher should wash your dishes for you, not after you
b) putting rinsed dishes in the dishwasher with abrasive soap leads to cloudy glassware
c) with a new energy-efficient dishwasher, you really only need about a tablespoon of soap
The new one is named Darla. Yes, I named it. I mean her. But only after some thorough testing. She had to earn her keep, you see.
It turns out that the guy I bought our new KitchenAid from, Joe, has an appliance blog. Yes, he blogs about dishwashers and refrigerators and washing machines. When he told me, I tried to stifle a laugh. But then he challenged me: Try everything, he said. See if you can stump your dishwasher. Then tell me what happens.
So I did. I baked blueberry crisp, ate half of it, and reheated the leftovers, so the purple scrapies on the bottom burned right into the pan. I left the empty pan in the sink overnight, untouched, and Darla cleaned it right up.
Then I made Thanksgiving. I know that sounds crazy. It was mid-August and 85 degrees outside, but I was working on some recipes for a November issue, and I didn’t see any way to avoid it. Darla took on the sticky cranberry sauce ring, and a challinging kale gratin dish, and boy, did she shine.
Next I made little hand tarts. I let the fruit bubble up and over the cornmeal crust, right down into the baby brulee dishes I baked them in, and plunked the dishes right onto the top rack, berry crusties and all. The first time, they didn’t come quite clean, but once I moved them to the bottom rack, where the real business gets done, she came through.
Finally, I gave her cheese. I made a sausage- and vegetable-studded breakfast strata, and baked it until the top layer of cheese – the cheese leather, Jim calls it – was good and brown. We ate a third of it for breakfast the first day, then a third the second day, and the last of it on yet a third day, reheating it in the oven each time and cementing (at least we thought) layers of cheese to the dish’s topsides. Again: clean.
Darla darling, we love you for your cleaning ability. Joe was right. You can do anything.
Now, if you could only figure out how to dry the dishes, we’d be much obliged. Joe said you might not like our eco-froofroo dishwashing detergent. We switched to something that looks much more environmentally harmful, but you’re still not happy.
Darla. Oh, Darla. What should we do? We’ll have to call Joe again.
It’s easy to fold summer’s best produce into lunches and dinners, but I think we too often forget how good the garden tastes first thing in the morning. Here’s a make-ahead strata that shines with bright cherry tomatoes and zucchini. You can buy a baguette just for the occasion and let it sit out overnight, to dry it out, but I love to use up all the old bread heels that somehow end up congregating in the corner of my freezer.
TIME: 15 minutes prep time, plus 30 minutes baking time
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings
4 large eggs
3/4 cup half and half
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Butter (for the pan)
1/2 day-old baguette, cut into 1” cubes (or 4 cups cubes of assorted bread)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 small zucchini, chopped into 1/2” pieces
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 heaping cup cooked, crumbled sausage (from 1 large sausage, about 1/3 pound)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Whiz the eggs, half and half, milk, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper together in a blender until well mixed. Butter an 8” x 8” casserole dish (or similar), and arrange the baguette chunks in an even layer in the dish. Scatter the feta, zucchini, tomatoes, and sausage evenly over the bread, then pour the egg mixture over everything, turning and scooping so that all the bread pieces are moistened. Top with the cheddar. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
Before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the foil and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the top layer is toasted and melty. Serve warm.