Category Archives: vegetables

The hardest thing to write

Photo by Lara Ferroni

Dear Parents,

Wait, that’s too formal.

Hi there! It’s Jess and Jim, fellow preschool parents . . .

Too campy.

Hi parents,

Better.

Now I have to tell them my son has cerebral palsy and explain why he uses a walker.

By now, you’ve probably noticed that there’s one spunky, silly 3 1/2-year-old who doesn’t quite match the rest.

But wait, that’s putting Graham’s differences before Graham, isn’t it? Can’t I start the email by showing how normal he is?

This morning, our son Graham threw himself onto the ground, kicking and screaming, because I didn’t use my maternal ESP to divine exactly which way he wanted me to design his breakfast plate, and the pomegranate seeds were totally in the wrong spot.

Ugh. Now he’s also a brat.

This might be the hardest thing I’ve ever written. It’s an email to the parents of all the kids in my son’s new preschool classroom, detailing what’s special about our child and why, and laying out some tender ground rules for their kids to learn—no pushing his walker down the stairs, etc. I’ve had it started for a good week or two, but procrastination has gripped me hard.

Everything feels hard all of the sudden, for some reason. It’s hard to get myself and my kid and my stuff into the car, hard to make coffee, hard to motivate. It must be the rain. Yes, that’s it. I’m suffering from shock after Seattle’s 85-day streak of gorgeous weather has (quite spectacularly) ended.

Months ago, I agreed to be part of The Oxbow Box Project, an effort on the part of Oxbow Farm to get the word out about their CSA box. In theory, it’s easy: They give me one of their weekly CSA boxes, brimming with produce, and I see what happens with it in my kitchen. Only, my pick-up day was the first day of The Rain. Stars crossed. The parking gods frowned. I dragged a cantankerous child to the pick-up, and the contents of that boisterously-colored box went into the fridge without a smidgen of ceremony. The next day, I painted mascara over my bad humor, got on an airplane, and flew to New York, hoping the vegetables would remember me when I returned.

Here’s the good thing about fall vegetables: They’re very patient, and they don’t hold a grudge. They don’t mind if you skip the warm reception, or if you go out of town. When I got back, the squash was still firm, and the collards and chard were still bright and perky. I sliced long radishes for a snack, and twirled pasta up with softened leeks, bacon, and shaved radicchio. This morning, I had roasted yellow beets for breakfast, like it was the most normal thing in the world.

There are still squash and potatoes and chard waiting for me, but last night, before I sat down to finish the email, there were carrots. To me, carrots always seem easy. Split in half lengthwise, tossed with whole-grain mustard, and decorated with fresh dill, these are a favorite from Dishing Up Washington. Save them for Thanksgiving, if you want, because they’re unfussy. (A dish like this is happy waiting on the counter, uncooked, for a few hours, and they taste perfectly lovely at room temperature.)

Or roast them soon, on a rainy night, when things feel hard but you know they really aren’t. (Tell me I’m not the only one who gets all dramatic when it rains.) You can float the back of your hand over your forehead and pretend you slaved over them. You can make up something complicated about what you did to get them to caramelize, dark and sweet, on each cut side. But you’ll know, deep down, that they’re just roasted carrots with mascara on–carrots with a mustardy little kick in the pants that elevates them from random root vegetable to elegant success story.

It’s just what we all need sometimes, isn’t it?

Roasted Carrots with Mustard and Dill (PDF)

Nash’s Organic Produce in Sequim is known for its sweet, crunchy Nantes carrots, which grow particularly well in cool climates and the alluvian soil that covers the northeastern portion of the Olympic Peninsula that Nash’s calls home. Roasted, they become even sweeter.
You can cut the tops off the carrots entirely, if you’d like, but I prefer to leave about ¾ inch untrimmed — I like how the little green sprouts look, and they’re perfectly edible.

4 servings

8 medium Nantes or regular carrots (about 1¼ pounds), peeled and halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Mix the carrots, oil, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste together in a casserole dish large enough to hold the carrots in a single layer. Turn the carrots cut sides down, and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, until tender.

3. Sprinkle the dill on top, pile the carrots into a serving dish, and serve immediately.

4 Comments

Filed under Dishing Up Washington, gluten-free, recipe, side dish, vegetables, vegetarian

Late Bloomer

Quinoa and Lentil Salad with Mint, Feta, and Cauliflower 1

When it comes to the vegetable world, cauliflower is a bit of an underdog. Not in a chubby turnip way, or even in a dread-headed celeriac way, but in a could-have-been-greener broccoli wanna-be sort of way. It doesn’t have the drama of an artichoke or the diva personality of spring’s first asparagus. (It would never dare to be bunched up with 15 of its closest pals and put on display at the front of the grocery store, Rockettes-style.)

Not cauliflower. Cauliflower is modest. Cauliflower got her ears pierced at sixteen. She’s been sheltered all her life—in so many places, in that suffocating plastic wrap—and shoved into step beside more pedestrian vegetables like carrots and celery. But oh, people. This girl’s got hidden talent.

It’s not that I never wanted to get to know cauliflower. I met with her occasionally, pureed for soup, or pickled for a salad, or perhaps roasted, with raisins and garlic and pine nuts and lemon. But only today, after a run-in with grilled cauliflower showered with homemade almond dukka, did I realize she’s a natural-born star. And she was discovered late enough that she’s somehow still classy. Still genuine. Full of flavor, but not one to flaunt it. She keeps her right leg to herself, this one.

Maybe you’re a step ahead of me. Maybe you’ve been downing cauliflower all this time—since before your son discovered that if you squeeze lemon juice on it and let it sit for a bit, it turns pink, the same way the greener, more svelte vegetables turn brown in the same situation. (This girl’s used to adversity. She lasts a good ten days in the fridge, if you insist upon it.)

But suppose all that isn’t true. Suppose you’re still walking right by (like my husband, who refuses to believe she’s just a late bloomer, like me. He thinks she plays Bingo in Velcro shoes with eggplant, but we’ve agreed to disagree.) In that case, you’ll need to stop, the next time you see her, and bring her home, along with some quinoa and two handfuls of little green lentils. Grab some feta and fresh mint, while you’re at it; you’ll be making a giant salad that tastes as good spooned out of Tupperware in the ski area parking lot as it does warm, sitting at the dinner table. You’ll notice the cauliflower is still herself here, despite all the other things going on.

Yup. She’s a keeper.

Quinoa and Lentil Salad with Mint, Feta, and Cauliflower 2

Quinoa and Lentils with Mint, Feta, and Cauliflower (PDF)
Lentils have never made me swoon the way, say, chickpeas can. Ditto for cauliflower, an underdog of the vegetable world. But my friend Dan taught me that if you pair the two with crunchy quinoa, bright mint, salty feta, plus a swirl of olive oil and the punch of white vinegar, and you’ve got a main-course salad that puts the words “quinoa bowl” to shame. If you’re making this salad ahead, let the lentils and quinoa mixture cool to room temperature before folding in the cauliflower, mint, and cheese.

I suppose a can of lentils would work here in place of the home-cooked kind, but like most beans, they require very little actual work time.

Makes 6 servings

For the lentils
3 cups water
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 cup green lentils
1 teaspoon salt

For the quinoa
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup quinoa

For the salad
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets, steamed until tender
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground pepper

First, cook the lentils: combine the water and vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the lentils, return to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer the lentils until tender, 45 to 60 minutes, adding the salt after about 30 minutes. Strain the lentils.

While the lentils cook, make the quinoa: combine the broth, water, and salt in another small saucepan. Bring to boil, then add the quinoa and cook over low heat, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Stir the hot quinoa together in a large bowl with the shallot, vinegar, and olive oil. When they’re done, add the lentils, then the cauliflower, feta, and mint. Stir to combine, and season with salt and pepper, if necessary, before serving.

4 Comments

Filed under cheese, egg-free, garden, gluten-free, grains, Modern, recipe, soy-free, vegetables, vegetarian

This is what I love.

Nothing is more useful in defining what foods you love to eat than writing a cookbook. I’m weeks away, if all goes well, from finishing Dishing Up Washington. (Lots of them, but weeks.) Leafing through my little booklet of recipes, the one that lists the details of each chapter in twelve smudged and scribbled pages, is becoming a habitual guilty pleasure. I tatter them every time I set them next to me on the bench at the coffee shop, and when I page through to cross off the testing and writing and retesting of each recipe. I’m reaching the point where I have to pick favorites. Do I axe the blackberry oatmeal bars in favor of two-pound espresso brownies, made with a full pound each of butter and dark chocolate? Or do I talk my editor into including both? Do I show off my favorite potato producer, Olsen Farms, in the refined, ramp-infused version of vichyssoise I made last spring, or in their family’s rustic, basic, delicious version of chunky potato soup? These are awesome choices. This is my favorite part of writing a cookbook–the arranging and headnote writing and imagining and menu designing part. It’s like reorganizing a closet full of only clothing you love (if you’re that sort of person, like me), only everything you like fits. Sure, there are annoying parts. I hate fact-checking. The holes where I’ve written “TK” in place of the perfect word make the thing look like post-war London. But soon–24 recipes from now, to be precise–I’ll fold all of those little files into one big manuscript, and the holes will start disappearing.

But first, the 24.

Mostly, the recipes that are left fall into two categories: those that come from chefs I’m still wrangling, like you do, and those I’ve been putting off because the ingredients are particularly expensive, or time-consuming to prepare, or so breathlessly exciting that I keep putting them off in the hopes that I have just the right dinner guests when I actually get around to making them. (Spring Hill‘s chicken-fried veal sweetbreads come to mind for the latter.) It’s appropriate, I think, that I save these recipes for the end of this whole process, when (I’ve learned) I’m most critical of my own recipes, and even more so of others’. If I’m going to make you plunk down a few Jacksons for a pot full of crab, the dipping sauce had better be damned good, right?

So yes, the pace of testing has slowed. And suddenly, I can cook a little without a book in mind for the first time in what feels like years. Last night, I made a simple chicken and wild rice soup. It was the simplest thing, just fat, dark grains simmered in homemade stock greasy enough to give the lips a good gloss. My son ate out all the carrots, and my husband loaded it with sriracha, and I ate it like a normal person, with my bum glued to the chair, instead of hopping up and down to make notes on a piece of paper, like I usually do with whatever it is we’re eating. And I remembered, because I wasn’t navel-gazing over the amount of this or that in a recipes, that this is what I love–the eating, and sharing, and slurping together.

There was a time in my life when I had extra recipes floating around me all the time. With Dishing Up Washington, though, I can’t share all those recipes. Not just yet, even if they end up as extras in the end. This week, at my computer, there will be planning and organizing and listing and calling and all those things that make folks without OCD squirm. There will be Picnic’s kale and white bean salad, and a razor clamming trip to plan, and perhaps those sweetbreads, but I might also just cook. We’re having 30 people over for an event for my husband’s work on Wednesday, and I’m not going to write a single thing down, before or after. There will be pork tacos, probably, and whatever else Wednesday afternoon decides there should be.

You, though. I know you. You’re the one who panics at the thought of preparing more than one dish at a time, lest things all come out of the oven at different times. I’ve heard you muttering, in the aisles of the grocery store, about how much this season stresses you out. I haven’t forgotten you, which is why Hannah Viano and I have decided to share the recipes from our winter recipe card set here. You’re not into the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to holiday entertaining. (You would never leave tacos for 30 for the last minute.)

And do I have the plan for you. Hannah and I were giggling the other day, plotting, hoping you’d try it. Here’s how it works: You buy our recipe cards (or just print the recipes out, if you so please) and send one to each of five friends. You make dessert. (Goodness knows there are plenty of options these days, but if it were me, I’d make cranberry-oatmeal streusel bars, because I have about a quart of cranberry relish leftover still.) You set the table. And your friends bring dinner.

Now that’s a holiday party. Have fun.

The menu:

Caramelized Onion-Fennel Jam with Patience (PDF)

Cumin-Scented Hubbard Squash and Apple Soup (PDF)

Roasted Pork Tenderloins with Kale, Leeks, and Hazelnuts (PDF)

Greek-Inspired Slow-Roasted Onions (PDF)

Vinegared Beet Salad (PDF)

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Filed under gluten-free, pork, recipe, soup, vegetables

Stung

Bucatini with Garlicky Nettle Pesto 2

Stinging nettles taste green and earthy and wild, like cooked spinach would in a teen Goth stage – not surprising, considering they’re usually foraged in the wild and eaten relatively young. But as I’ve told you before, they come by their name honestly. Resist the urge to touch them or play with them as you dump them into a pot of simmering water to tame their poisonous attitude. When they’re raw, they sting.

Cooked, though. Cooked, a tangle of nettles whirls up into a beautiful pesto, more deeply flavorful than its basiled cousin and a better bed buddy for four large cloves of garlic. Last night, I made a fairly traditional pesto, only with the nettles, and smeared it on a marinated, roasted leg of lamb, so each bite had two punches of spring. Today, when I found myself standing at the stove, hands shoved deep into my back pockets while I slurped long bucatini directly out of the cooking pot I’d used to stir them with the leftover pesto, I knew I had a recipe to share.

That was yesterday. I wrote all that – what you see above there – and then I found out that dear Kim Ricketts had passed away. There will be no more writing about nettles.

Kim was the mama of Seattle’s food scene, a literary powerhouse who brought people together for the love of food and books. I can’t say I knew her well, but I knew her well enough to be touched by her energy and her kindness. And now, the morning after the news, yesterday’s recipe seems so appropriate, because what I really feel is stung. I feel scraped raw. And I don’t know how to begin mourning someone whose soul and spunk was so immortal.

So scratch the pasta. I mean, it was good, but scratch it. Make this pesto, and take it to someone you don’t see that often, someone whose light and effervescence makes the world a better place. And thank them for being alive.

Pot of pasta with nettle pesto

Garlicky Nettle Pesto (PDF)
Although most Seattleites find nettles at farmers’ markets this time of year, they’re also often available at Whole Foods Markets. Buy a bunch when you can, and double or triple this recipe, as needed, and freeze some, because my fortune-telling powers tell me you’ll want to twirl the pesto up with long pasta again long after the season has passed. If you have time to be thoughtful and a bit patient, you can add toasted breadcrumbs, for a bit of crunch, or chopped sundried tomatoes.

Time: 25 minutes active time
Makes: 1 generous cup

1/2 pound nettles
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer for the nettles. Add the nettles directly from their bag and cook, stirring continuously, for 2 minutes. (This denatures their sting.) Dump into a colander to drain. When the nettles are cool enough to handle, wrap them in a clean dishtowel and wring out as much moisture as possible, like you would for spinach. You’ll have about a cup of cooked, squished nettles.

In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the paddle attachment, whirl the garlic, pine nuts, salt, and pepper to taste until finely chopped. Add the nettles, breaking them up as you drop them in, and the lemon juice and whirl until finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and process until smooth. Add the cheese, pulse briefly, and season to taste with additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice.

20 Comments

Filed under farmer's market, grains, Lunch, Modern, Pasta, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

A Cookbook Snapshot: Pike Place Market Recipes

Photo by Clare Barboza

Last Thursday, I caught a Keta salmon. I don’t mean I caught it, as in I put a fishing line into the ocean and it bit down something fierce. I mean a large man threw a fish at me, and it didn’t hit the floor.

I probably should start by telling you that I’m not exactly known for my hand-eye coordination. But when you step behind the counter at Pike Place Fish, the purveyor at the heart of Pike Place Market that’s world-renowned for the fishmongers’ salmon-throwing antics, there’s not all that much to learn. Not at first blush, anyway: You put an apron on. You turn one shoulder toward the fish, as if you were a batter anticipating a pitch. A guy in orange guides your hands into position, placing the back hand higher than the front hand, so that when the fish swims through the air toward you, head high, it lands between the thumb and forefinger of each of your outstretched hands. You clamp down like your life depends on it.

So that’s what I did. Only, I have to tell you, I was sort of cheating. The salmon I caught was tiny, for starters, and since it was destined for an afterlife of tourist abuse, it didn’t matter if my fingers bruised its delicate flesh. The guys in orange, though? They’re not cheating. They catch those fish like they’re catching newborn humans, tender and gentle. I don’t know about you, but the difficulty seems to me like it might stretch beyond the coordination issue. I can’t imagine wrapping my brain around the combination of yelling at the top of my lungs and treating something with such intimate care.

Catching a fish at Pike Place Fish

Thursday was a good day. I also took my first Savor Seattle tour of Pike Place Market, and learned that initially, when MarketSpice (the market’s oldest vendor) opened, its tea was technically illegal because the cinnamon oil used to flavor it was banned; it’s too dangerous to touch in its purest form. I made a cake using milk spiked with the tea, and topped it with an orange tea glaze, so the whole cake smacked of orange, clove, and cinnamon. I bought a smoked ham hock from Bavarian Meats and braised it into an ever so gently smoky German split pea soup over the weekend. I bought the biggest white beans I’ve ever cooked, from The Spanish Table, to stir into an unusual but refreshingly simple Spanish paella. Then I tied my hands behind my back, because spring’s bounty is still coming.

This, friends, is what writing a cookbook looks like. It’s a life I could get used to: peruse one of the world’s best markets for food I’m crazy about, take it home, and make it more delicious. Occasionally, I get to gussy up my favorite things for a quick modeling stint (Clare Barboza is the book’s fabulous photographer), and things start to look more real.

"Public Market," by Kevin Belford

Only, like anything, it takes work. Today, I walked into a coffee shop, feeling overwhelmed by the whole wheat cinnamon pull-apart bread I’m not quite satisfied with, and by the organizational task ahead of me. I was stalling. The photo above, part of an exhibit at Fresh Flours by Kevin Belford, loomed over the only empty chair. Really?, I thought. You mock me so.

I love how the book is divided by provenance—so the chapters group recipes based on ingredients that come from Puget Sound, for example, or the mountains, or Pike Place Market’s specialty shops. But from a writers’ perspective, it’s sometimes difficult to maintain the balance intrinsic to a book with a more traditional course-by-course layout. I’m trying to decide what tips to throw into the book’s introduction, which purveyors to interview for little sidebars, and how to capture the magic of the market in relatively few words. And as I get closer and closer to its end (the book is due May 15th), the number of recipes left to test for the book dwindles, and I start getting weepy about the recipes I might have to leave behind, like a recipe for sweet-hot mango pickles that I make again and again because I simply can’t get enough. (That chapter’s full, my brain says.) There’s work to do, but when it comes right down to it, I’m not dragging my feet because I don’t want to do it. I’m procrastinating because I don’t want it to end.

But seriously. The world is in this state, and I walk out of my house thinking Oh God, how did I write 80% of a book with only two chicken recipes? Buck up, Jess. You’ve got a book to finish, because (shhh) there’s another one coming.

Pike Place Market Recipes is going to be gorgeous. It’s going to be delicious. It will taste like blackened salmon sandwiches and chickpea and chorizo stew and French-style apple custard cake. (Not all at once, of course.) It will smell like a good story, and fresh-baked sour cherry-oatmeal cookies with huge chocolate chunks.

And with any luck, it won’t bruise too easily. I’ll teach you how to catch it.

Sweet-Hot Mango Pickles (PDF)
Here’s an unusual snack, similar to the cucumber chips I posted before, but sweeter – and for Seattleites, a needed burst of sunshine. For another variation, try grating the mango in a food processor instead of cutting it into spears, soaking it in the marinade, then draining it and serving it as a sweet-and-sour slaw, over salmon tacos or grilled chicken.

Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 servings

2 large almost-ripe mangos, peeled and sliced into 1/2” spears
1 cup rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce

Combine all ingredients in a bowl just big enough to hold all the mangoes. Let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes for flavors to blend, stirring occasionally, then serve.

10 Comments

Filed under appetizers, fruit, gluten-free, Modern, recipes, snack, vegetables

Soup for the masses

Pasta e fagioli 1

This here’s just a crack-diggity soup recipe that you’ll need to cook if you have a) a vegetarian at the table, b) a certain someone in your life (it might be someone you sleep next to every night) who whines and roars and gnashes when anyone says anything about eating vegetarian, and/or c) a faint desire to stick with the Meatless Monday thing. It requires porcini powder, which I buy at DeLaurenti in Seattle. (It’s available online here.)

Pasta e Fagioli with Controne, Kale, Carrots, and Porcini Powder (PDF)
Made with a few special ingredients that may take a hunt but take really no more work to cook than what you find in a regular grocery store, this vegetarian version of pasta e fagioli, the traditional Italian pasta and bean stew, has an unctuous, meaty flavor that comes from porcini powder. Also called porcini dust, porcini powder is made from dried porcini mushrooms. Used like a ground spice, it adds depth and a rich background flavor—perfect for someone who might not be too keen on eating a vegetarian meal.

If you can’t find small, round controne beans, which don’t need to be soaked, use about 1/2 pound of other dried white beans (except soak them overnight and only simmer them for 60 to 90 minutes), or stir in two (15-ounce) cans of drained white beans (with the liquid) instead.

Time: 1 hour active time
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

One (300g) package controne beans (or 10 ounces other dried white beans)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4” coins
4 stalks celery, cut into 1/4” half moons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons porcini powder
Bay leaf
6 cups vegetable broth
1 bunch dark, leafy greens, chopped (kale, collards, or chard work well)
One (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup small pasta, such as macaroni or ditalini
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Place the beans in a large saucepan and add water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 to 3 hours, or until the beans are tender, adding water as necessary to keep the water level just above the beans. (You can salt the water as the beans cook, if you want.) When the beans are tender, drain off enough water for the water level to remain just at the top of the beans. Set aside.

Heat a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic, carrots, and celery, season with salt and pepper, and cook another 5 minutes, covered. Stir in the tomato paste, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and porcini powder, and cook, stirring, for another 3 or 4 minutes, until the mixture begins to darken a bit. Add the bay leaf, broth, greens, and tomatoes, as well as the reserved beans. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the vinegar, then season to taste with additional salt, pepper, and vinegar, if necessary. Serve hot, garnished with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

6 Comments

Filed under garden, gluten-free, Italian, recipe, soup, vegetables, vegetarian

A Clean Start

Carrot Hummus with Harissa 2

There’s something about the concept of the Western world’s New Year that never sits quite right with me. Until now, I thought I was simply anti-diet. The New Year’s pooch is a symbol for me; it represents the cookies and cake I’ve consumed, and also the people I’ve shared them with. If I pour my energy into dieting on January 1st, like half this country seems to do, I effectively cut myself off from the biggest soul-quenching time of the year, because food connects me to memory. It’s like ruling out bright sunlight in August. (Sure, we could all use fewer UV rays, but what would August be without sunburns?) I usually start the year out bingeing on soups and stews, precisely because so many other people are avoiding them.

This year, for the first time, I figured out why January 1st seems so meaningless: Here, it seems like the same new year every time around. We’re supposed to create a resolution to battle whatever it was about the previous year that left us feeling unsettled, but there’s no rhyme or reason to what’s intrinsically needed. Every year, there’s basically the same expectation: This year will be better. Why?

2010 was kind of an outrageous year for me. There were months with no appetite, followed by an experiment with eating gluten-free. In the end, the culprit was something close to kidney failure. Then there was chemotherapy, crazy complications with my son’s health, and (surprise!) two cookbook deals. It was a roller coaster, for sure. As December faded to January, I had trouble resolving to do anything but make sure 2011 was a little more calm.

This past weekend, my parents visited, and I was somehow able to drop everything. (Not my son, of course. I didn’t drop him.) We played human-sized chess at the Pacific Science Center, and gobbled soup dumplings, and watched humans pretend to be dogs driving cars, and it was all light-hearted and boatloads of fun. Last night, as I read Graham a book before bed, my eyes fell to the Chinese zodiac hanging in his bedroom. Now there is the right approach to the new year thing.

Chinese zodiac

2010 was the Year of the Tiger, right? In my world, certainly. The Chinese zodiac called for unpredictability, recklessness, and aggressiveness, but also generosity. My year couldn’t match more perfectly. Last night, as I looked down the chain of animals, I realized that long, long ago, someone realized this next year is just the year I need.

This New Year – the one that started this week, for me, with a calm mind and my son emerging happy and clear-sighted from eye surgery on the first day of the Chinese New Year – will hopefully be more rabbity. I want the year to be soft-spoken and flexible, creative and gentle. Luck would be good, but it’s not necessary.

In this kitchen, the Year of the Rabbit means clean food. It means being kind to my body – more Zumba, less zeppole. (Yes, I tried Zumba. It’s like a dance party for those of us who can’t stay awake past 9 p.m., and it’s fabulous, even on days like today, when the average participant age is about 103.) Anyway. For some reason, I’ve been all hopped up on the idea of eating a little less meat. Crazy, I know, but for some reason, right now, it feels right. It feels clean.

Clean Start

It started with a book. Clean Start showed up on my doorstep, and I thought, Really? Do I need a book to tell me how to eat well? But it had an orange cloth cover, and if there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s the color orange. I opened it, and fell in love with the photographs – tahini-glazed heirloom carrots, sautéed greens with sesame seeds, and this wacky Carrot Cashew Miso Spread (PDF) I immediately wanted to dip my fingers into. The concept of a carrot spread made my brain whir.

I realized, as I started listing out all the recipes I wanted to try, that not a single one had meat. It took me a good day or two before it registered that the book is totally vegan, which I thought was a good sign; my body seems to be craving what’s in those pages regardless of the ingredients. Well, almost regardless.

See, I’m sort of in a carrot phase. Last week, I made a carrot and chickpea tagine for the cookbook (which will most likely be called Pike Place Market Recipes, but more on that another time). Then, when my parents were here, there was an Indian coconut curry with carrots and chicken, and a mysteriously carrot-heavy tom kha gai. On Superbowl Sunday, neither the television nor the tacos held much appeal for me (only the latter is really a mystery), but I was all about the raw carrots. I might in fact be turning into a rabbit.

This morning, when second breakfast seemed inevitable, I simmered up some carrots, and whirled them into a hummus rich with olive oil inspired by that spread in Terry Walters’ book, and flavored it with lemon juice and harissa. Healthy? Perhaps, but not intentionally. Just what I happen to need right now, that’s all. The harissa (an African chili paste) gives it a touch of heat, but because it’s still a bit warm after you being pureed, it feels soothing soothing. I think it should be the new snack du jour in preschools, because its effect is somehow calming.

Please don’t be surprised if I appear to have a slightly orange hue next time we see each other. I’m sure I’ll get over it. I just hope my teeth don’t start growing first.

Carrot Hummus with Harissa 1

Carrot Hummus with Harissa and Lemon (PDF)
Made by whirling cooked carrots, chickpeas, lemon juice, olive oil, and harissa (a North African spice paste) together, this simple spread is healthy and a little addictive. Adjust the spice level as you see fit.

Time: 10 minutes active time
Makes: 4 servings

1/2 pound carrots, chopped (3 large or 2 big handfuls baby carrots)
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Juice of 1 large lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
1 tablespoon harissa, or to taste

Place the carrots in a small saucepan. Add water to cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until completely tender. (Time will depend on the size of your carrots, but about 10 minutes should do it.) Drain the carrots, then transfer them to a food processor with the remaining ingredients. Blend until completely smooth, then transfer to a bowl and serve warm.

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Filed under appetizers, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

These chips are good for you

Marinated Cucumber Chips 1

This, friends, is a cucumber dish with an identity problem.

It started as an appetizer. I’ve been eating these mini English cucumbers by the bagful – locally grown they are not, but they’re adorable, which is almost as good – and at the top of the list, just above the variation on a Greek salad, there’s been a quick pickle. I’ve been salting, rinsing, and sprinkling with rice wine vinegar. This time, I wanted to jazz it up a bit, with a good dose of garlic and a bite from red pepper flakes, but I didn’t want to wait. So I didn’t. I just chopped the cucumbers up, threw them into a bowl, and mixed them together with the garlic, pepper flakes, ginger, rice wine vinegar, and a sliced shallot. The idea was to set them aside until friends came for dinner.

Trouble came when I picked one up, five minutes after I made them. Even though they’d brined for such a short time, the flavors sang – so I ate, and ate, and ATE, the way you eat a salad, until I had to chop more cucumbers and remake the salad, because there weren’t enough left to actually fill the bowl.

Later, with friends, we agreed they’d be right at home on top of a flank steak flavored in a Vietnamese-style marinade, made with maybe some rice vinegar, fish sauce, ginger, and cilantro. Or atop a pate-smothered cracker. Or even in a taco, with spicy seared salmon.

I hesitate to call these pickles, because none of the things I associate with making pickles – boiling, sometimes salting, and usually waiting – are applicable. “Salad” is too boring. But “chips” – in one word, that encapsulates ultimate snackability, addictiveness, and deliciousness. So chips they are. (But I swear they’re healthier.)

Baby Cucumbers for chips

Garlic-Marinated Cucumber Chips (PDF)
Dunked in a mixture of garlic, red chili flakes, ginger, shallot slices, and rice wine vinegar, sliced baby cucumbers become infinitely snackable. Eat them alone, serve them in tacos, or use them to top a simple salad.

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: 4 snack servings

5 baby English cucumbers, cut into 1/2” rounds
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 small shallot, very thinly sliced
Big pinch red pepper flakes (to taste)
Pinch salt
Pinch sugar
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Let sit at least 10 minutes, and up to 4 hours. Serve at room temperature.

Marinated Cucumber Chips 2

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Filed under appetizers, recipe, salad, side dish, vegetables

Phoenixed

Vinegar-Braised Onions 3

Madame Jacqueau, the woman I lived with in Paris my junior year in college, used to say that things always come in threes. She used it when talking about almost anything—short waits for the metro, major avalanches, well-roasted chickens. Literally, in French, she was saying that there’s never a second without a third. Today, I do hope she’s wrong.

I have agreed to write two cookbooks.

Wait, let me try that again: In the last six weeks, I have agreed to write and have written one cookbook. I have agreed to write another book, which is completely unrelated, by May.

The first, which I literally just submitted, is a book I’ve been working on in conjunction with Mark and Michael Klebeck, the owners of Seattle’s Top Pot Doughnuts. It will be published by Chronicle Books next fall. It’s a doughnut cookbook, with fifty recipes and loads of great tips. Suffice it to say that over the past six weeks, I have tricked neighbors and friends into believing I started a doughnut factory in my house. I have worn pajamas more than anyone should. I have purchased more powdered sugar (for glazes and icings) than any human should see in one lifetime. Finally, for at least a week or two (until the edits come back), I can turn off the deep fryer. In fact, I’m feeling like I might be on the precipice of a health kick. (Okay, starting soon. We made wings and onion rings last weekend.)

It was hard, writing a book in six weeks. But it’s done. And it was actually a little thrilling.

I’m most thrilled, though, about the next one: I’ll be writing a cookbook with a big handful of essays about Seattle’s Pike Place Market, to be published by Sasquatch Books in the spring of 2012.

More than anything, it just seems fitting. The week my husband and I flew to Seattle for the first time, in March of 2006—me for a conference, him for a job interview—I decided Seattle was right for us in front of that iconic market sign. Then I walked into the market with a friend, and my husband called, telling me he’d been offered a job. I wandered around aimlessly, probably looking a little bewildered. This will be my home, I thought.

When I moved here, and started Hogwash, I picked Rachel, the market’s pig, for my masthead, because she’d been there that day, the day I became a Seattleite. Just sketching out the chapters and brainstorming recipes ideas, I feel like it’s suddenly 100% true: Seattle is my home.

I’m admittedly just as excited about the essays as I am about the recipes. (More so, maybe.) I think it could be difficult, without getting too mundane and repetitive, to communicate the magic of any place people habitually give up describing, instead saying “it’s really amazing,” or “you just have to go,” with a big, body-slumping huff. These will not be wedding toast essays. They’ll be wicked fun.

You could say it’s been a busy few weeks.

But there’s more.

Last week, my piece on preparing to live gluten-free (which, as you know, it turns out I didn’t have to do), from Leite’s Culinaria, came out in Best Food Writing 2010, a yearly collection of fantastic food writing by people I admire and ache to emulate. I was thrilled, and seriously humbled, to be in the same pages. My mailbox also brought a copy of the November issue of Cooking Light, where my recipes appear for the first time. (Side note: Make the posole. It should appear online soon.)

Basically, I’m being blasted with good things from all directions, and it feels fabulous.

I’d have to say, though, that despite all of this writing stuff, the highlight of the last few weeks has to be last Saturday morning. I participated in a fundraiser for lupus—the goal was to raise awareness and money, and to get the word out that there hasn’t been a new drug developed specifically for lupus released to the market for more than 50 years—and instead of doing the fun walk, I did the fun run. I ran a 5K.

I’ve never been a great runner, or even a good one. But in college, I used to do it, just for exercise, and as a way to spend time with friends. Since being diagnosed with lupus, I’d sort of lost the running thing. It made my joints ache, and it took the kind of mental stamina I didn’t have, when I had to think positively so often when it hurt to walk, or open a jar, or hold the hairdryer. But since starting a new drug after my kidney scare last spring, I’ve been feeling remarkably buoyant. So somewhere along the line, I decided to run.

Of course, they kind of tricked me into the 5K. The website advertised a 2.5-miler, which, if you’re mathematically inclined, you’ll realize is almost three quarters of a mile shorter than a 5K. I “trained,” if that’s what you want to call it, by running a total of about ten times in the two months preceding last Saturday, culminating the previous Sunday with a nonstop two-miler. The morning of the run, I happened to check the website, and balked at the increased length. But it was too late to back out.

People came from all the corners of my life: My parents flew in from Boise. My grandmother took the train up from Portland. My sister (the one who ran a half marathon two weeks ago) showed up with matching purple-and-white headbands she’d crocheted the night before. There were writer friends and editor friends and my husband’s work friends and college friends and mommy friends and just plain friend friends. And they all came for me. When I said “I think I can,” they came to tell me that I could. And I did. Their presence felt, in a word, warming. And being able to run that far (with a weensy bit of walking, I’ll admit) was extremely heartening. I think it feels better to run again than it ever felt to run when I’d always been able to do it.

My sister, incidentally, also introduced me to a new verb this weekend: to be phoenixed. According to her sources, that eyeball-searing burst of roasted air you get when you open a hot oven with your face too close to it—you know how it burns almost unbearably for just a second or two, and makes your necklace hot around your collarbones?—is called a phoenix. So, grammatically, one turns one’s head to avoid being phoenixed.

It’s fantastic, isn’t it? And completely new to me. It’s the hot version of the way your nose hairs freeze when you step out in to the snow on a -20 degree day. (Why didn’t you tell me about this word?)

I think it’s the perfect way to describe the run. There was so much warmth coming my direction that I almost had to look away.

I’m so glad I didn’t.

Here’s a recipe perfect for when there’s just too much going on. They started with inspiration from Gluten Free Girl‘s recipe for Balsamic Onions, from her new book, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. But the original recipe required stirring, and let’s face it, there are days when stirring seems like an awfully energetic and time-consuming activity. (Really, it’s the simplest recipe. But I needed a nap.)

My version is just onions, braised slowly in the oven with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and water—but after hours on low heat, they’re blasted in a hot oven, so all the excess liquid evaporates and they morph into sweet, tart caramelized onions that you never really had to stir or watch in any way. (I did indeed get a nap.)

Be careful, though: For that last little bit, they’re in a very hot oven. Turn your head when you open it, or you’ll get phoenixed.

IMG_3927

Vinegar-Braised Onions (PDF)

My first instinct was to call these Candied Onions, because when they emerge from the oven, they’re sticky and sweet, but the idea of putting candy on a sandwich deterred me. However, they do go with just about anything. Thus far, I’ve eaten these slow-roasted beauties with chicken, in an omelet with goat cheese, on toast, in a sandwich, and with a spoon. I can’t imagine there are many things they won’t improve.

If you have a casserole dish that looks too new, this is what you need to make in it.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 large servings, if eaten as a side dish

1 giant yellow onion, peeled, halved, and cut into 1/2” slices
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Arrange the onions in a heavy baking dish. (I found it worked well to keep the onion slices together as I cut them, then shingled the slices in the pan, keeping the individual sections of each slice together.) Drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and pour the vinegar and water over the top.

Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, then bake for 2 hours. Remove the foil, stir the onions, and bake another hour or so. Increase the heat to 450 degrees and roast another 10 or 20 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are dark and sticky. Serve warm.

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Filed under gluten-free, lupus, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

The Thoughtsorter

IMG_3552

Imagine, if you will, a large, round lampshade with tons of tiny holes in it. Now imagine that there’s a picture in each one of those holes, with a light behind it that projects the image onto a screen, like the little microfiche films you used to look at in public libraries for junior high research papers. With me? Now put the lampshade on your head, and let each one of your thoughts shine out a little hole, so that together, the snapshots narrate all the different things happening in your brain.

The thing on your head is called a thoughtsorter. (I invented it myself.) I use mine when my (good) multitasking skills can’t quite keep up with what I intend to do in a day, or with the things I want to think about. It’s not so fashion-forward, but it’s quite helpful as an organizational tool.

I haven’t needed my thoughtsorter in about three weeks. (Have you noticed? I’ve been gone about that long.) See, I’m working on two Big Projects—things I hope to tell you more about very soon—and it’s pretty much been me, my kitchen, a lot of dishes, and an increasingly dirty computer. I’ve had my proverbial head in the sand, which eliminates the need for said hat. It feels really good not to need all the little holes.

Today, I’ve come up for air, and I’m thinking about my hands. They’ve been white all day. They get this way sometimes (medically, it’s called Raynaud’s Syndrome, and for me it’s part of having lupus), mostly in the fall, when the weather turns. My body’s watching the calendar, it seems, and this year, Seattle’s snapping into late September with alarming punctuality. When they turn white, my fingers remind me of those strange whitish carrots, all wrinkly and not quite as pretty as they might otherwise look.

No one has ever been able to tell me why I have lupus, or how long I’ve actually been affected by it, but it’s clear to me that the side effects became serious when I lived in La Jolla, California, during the fall of 2003. I suppose we all want something to blame for the less desirable things in our lives, and for lupus, part of me always accused this unrealistically sunny, plastic-peopled paradise of making me “sick.” Shortly after I moved away and was diagnosed, La Jolla became the source of all evil.

I’d been married just a few months (in sickness or in health indeed) and had moved there to be the cook for a team of research scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution—one of whom happened to be my husband—who were working in conjunction with oceanographers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

About a month into our time there, I started noticing funny things. First my back ached, my fingers blanched every time I walked into air-conditioning, and my feet and hands hurt. I attributed it to spending hours cooking every day, and plenty of time grocery shopping, in addition to my normal active lifestyle. Then it was hard to tie my shoes, and hard to open doors. I remember sitting in a Whole Foods parking lot in my rented Ford Focus, deciding whether the fact that I physically couldn’t get the trunk open without using both hands was a good reason to cry.

One day, I went to pick up my coffee cup, and my hand sort of crumpled sideways, like it had lost all the bones. I went to the ER the next day.

The rest, as they say, is history. I have lupus. It’s relatively well managed, if you don’t count random bouts with possible kidney failure. (My kidneys are much happier now, thank you.)

But for whatever reason, I could never really put that time in La Jolla behind me. I was literally afraid of the place. I have a hard time pinpointing exactly what I was afraid of—that things would get worse if I stuck a pinkie toe into southern California? Hardly realistic. That all the emotions and fears surrounding finding oneself being consumed by an autoimmune disease would come flooding out uncontrollably? Maybe that. No one likes public displays of hysteria.

I’ve always known I’d have to go back. You know, back to the wolf’s den.

I planned a trip for last May, just after two of my closest friends moved to the area. Three days before departing, I was told I needed a quick round of heavy IV drugs for that kidney thing, and that I wouldn’t be leaving Seattle. Figures, I thought. I rescheduled my trip for Labor Day. But this time, instead of going with my family, I’d go alone.

Looking back, I think I did expect something of a turbulent, rollercoastery reentry, but it was nothing of the sort. I went down to La Jolla Shores with my friend Michaela, who’d arranged for us to go snorkeling with leopard sharks for my birthday. (Nothing eases the nerves like swimming with sharks, right? “Really, they’re harmless bottom-feeders,” she’d said. She was right.)

So much came back. I remembered driving the Focus, and the weirdness that is SoCal. I retraced my driving route to and from the Scripps research pier. I visited the little sandwich shop I’d loved. (I’d forgotten how ludicrously large they make their sandwiches.) I remembered the women, those falsely curvy, Juicy-clad glitterati that prowl downtown La Jolla, trying to look important, but (I always thought) actually just looking like they need something better to do.

We shopped. We people-watched. We ate cupcakes.

But at no point was I overwhelmed, or even touched, by emotion. It sort of surprised me, to be honest. I thought I’d be a wreck. My time there changed my life, and not necessarily for the better.

I flew back to Seattle that night feeling stunned. For years, I’d put off going back to La Jolla the way people avoid exes, for no reason. There was just no part of me that needed to do any forgiving (or forgetting, for that matter). Quelle bonne surprise.

It did make me wonder, though, how I was able to separate La Jolla from all that happened when I was there, and whether other people in similar situations can do the same thing. Maybe—just maybe—that’s when I invented the thoughtsorter. Maybe I was somehow able to separate all the little things that bothered me about being diagnosed from all the fun stuff in my life, so that my friendships, my relationships, and some of my everyday habits could avoid the inevitable cloud that medical issues can often cast over one’s life. It’s just a theory, but if it’s true, I’d bet there’s a good market for thoughtsorters in the medical devices industry. (Hey, you research types—give me a call, and I’ll send you the specs, for a small fee.)

I don’t actually expect researchers—even the best ones—to find a cure for lupus anytime soon. But finding anything new, even the slightest improvement on previous knowledge, might give hope to someone just being diagnosed, and to me, hope is the goal. I function just fine with lupus because I know, in my heart, that there will be ups and downs, but that overall things will be just fine. One of my lights has always been hope. It kills me to think of people going through those first uncertain stages of diagnosis without it – not knowing whether they’ll ever feel normal again, or go for a run again, or have children, or whether they’ll be okay if in fact it turns out that they can’t do any of those things.

That’s why about month from now, I’m participating in a lupus research fundraiser, called the Mad Hatter Walk and Roll. It’s one of those little walk-a-thon things. (Believe it or not, I’m planning to run it, with the highfalutin’ goal of finishing before the walkers.) Everyone wears funny hats, and eats lots of doughnuts, and for one day, everyone who has lupus struts around feeling like their medical status makes them a bit of a rock star. I can’t wait.

And you know what? I think I have just the hat.

(If you’re in Seattle, come join me! Or donate to my team, lupus minimus, if you’re so inspired. The info is here.)

IMG_3557

Hot Honeyed Carrots

Made with fresh garden carrots, this is more of a concept than an actual recipe. Top and scrub the carrots and place them in a pan large enough to hold them in one layer. Add water to cover, along with a good pinch of red pepper flakes, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the water has evaporated, partially covering the pan once the water reaches only halfway up the sides of the carrots. When the water is gone, drizzle with honey, sesame oil, and soy sauce, and cook and stir until the sauce has reduced to a glaze, just a minute or two. Serve immediately.

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Filed under garden, gluten-free, lupus, recipe, side dish, vegetables, vegetarian

A perfect use for mustard seeds

Pickled Red Sandwich Onions on a fork

I am on the precipice of a love affair with mustard yellow.

It started in Spain. I got hooked on the idea of going home with a sunny-colored watch, and on our last day in Haro, I spied a square-faced yellow number—something to be worn as an accessory, rather than out of habit.

Since then, I’ve worn it cautiously, but my annual shopping pilgrimage to Freeport, Maine with my mother-in-law last week encouraged me that if there’s any time in my life to embrace a color that society so deeply dislikes when it’s out of favor, it’s now. There is yellow everywhere.

Wearing mustard yellow requires a deep commitment, which can be challenging, especially if, as is the case with me, it is under no circumstances to be worn near the face.

For roughly the next three months, you’ll be able to recognize me by my new yellow corduroy skirt, or by the yellow belt I just got for my birthday, which sort of makes me look like I got in a fight with a hot dog vendor with very precise aim.

But here’s my big secret: I don’t actually like the taste of mustard all that much.

It’s okay if you disagree. I hear mustard can be pretty good. But aside from salad dressings, sauces where it’s not so detectable, or the occasional sandwich smear—or when its application is beyond my immediate control—I don’t really eat it. I put ketchup on my hot dogs. (My neighbor Bob says that makes me un-American, simply un-American.) I’m happy with plain pretzels. I eat my pate with just the pickles.

But sandwiches! Sandwiches are a problem. I’m not a huge fan of mayonnaise, either—not because I don’t like eating it, but because it’s one of the few foods I feel guilty eating if it’s not homemade—which means that when I get a loaf of dry bread, like the whole wheat sourdough I picked up last week, I can’t make a quick sandwich without either drinking a lot or getting very creative very quickly.

Soaking onions for pickles

So over the weekend, when I went on my very first canning binge, I concocted jars upon jars of sweet pickled red onions made with mustard seeds—they’re addictive enough to eat right out of their brine, but spread on sandwiches, they add not only bite, but also the perfect amount of extra moisture. They’re soft enough to bite through, so you won’t pull them out from between the meat and the bread with your teeth, but still firm enough to give a sandwich some extra crunch. They have a touch of mustard’s spice, but none of whatever it is about it that offends me.

And, as it turns out, they’re also great on sausages. Better than mustard, even, if you ask me. And the juices look way better with my skin.

Pickled Red Sandwich Onion in jars 2

Pickled Red Sandwich Onions (PDF)

Since you’ll be slicing up five pounds of onions, consider borrowing a mandoline slicer, which makes the process go much, much faster, and moving the whole operation outdoors, which cuts down on the eye stinging.

The onions are ready to eat right when they cool because they’re softened ahead in the vinegar brine, but you’ll have extra brine leftover. Instead of throwing it away, use it to make refrigerator pickles: bring it back to a boil and pour it over fresh, clean baby carrots, green or yellow wax beans, or cooked, sliced beets, and refrigerate for a few days before eating.

This recipe makes enough for 8 pints pickled onions, but you can do whatever combination of large and small jars works for you and your canning set-up.

TIME: 30 minutes, plus canning
MAKES: 8 pints

2 cups sugar
10 cups apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
5 pounds red onions, cut into 1/8” slices with the grain
Dill blossoms
Peppercorns
Mustard seeds

Combine the sugar, vinegar, and salt in a large pot and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally as the sugar dissolves. Place the onions in a large bowl (or two), pour the vinegar mixture over the top, and let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In each (squeaky-clean) canning jar, place a few dill blossoms, a few peppercorns, and a big pinch of mustard seeds. When the onions have softened and turned bright pink, stuff each jar full. Add the brine until it comes to 1/4” from the rim. Wipe rims, add lids, and process (20 minutes once the water returns to a boil).

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Filed under appetizers, cocktails, Etcetera, gluten-free, recipe, sandwich, snack, vegetables

The Best Pork Stew You’ll Never Make

If I were to give you the perfect recipe for a Mexican-inspired pork and black bean stew, it would look like this:

Wilbur 1

1. Find some friends willing to buy an entire pig, haul it six hours from home to a remote cabin without electricity or hot water, and cook it in a homemade “Cuban microwave” for hours and hours, until swarms of toddlers are melting under the pressure of a hard day’s play in the wild, the keg is kicked, the sun is finally going down, and the pig’s skin is crisp. Make sure the friends are food literate, but not food snobs. (Some make a point to only eat animals that have read Virgil, but I think too much enlightenment makes for tough meat.)

carving the pig at curlew

2. When the pig is roasted, volunteer to carve it in the dying light, even if you’ve never done it before. A 37-pound animal is large, but still only has two cheeks, which means that if you want to dig the fatty, tender cheek meat out with your fingers, you’ll want to be the one hovering near the head. (The whiskers, by the way, become quite sharp when roasted.) As you slice into it – surely with a knife you’re completely unfamiliar with, wearing giant barbecuing gloves that make you feel as awkward as Edward Scissorhands and only slightly more coordinated – combine just the right amounts of selfishness and laziness. You should cut enough meat off the bones to fill plate after plate with steaming flesh and satisfy any nearby vultures, but not so much as to strip the bones naked. (The meat left on them will be critical to your stew.) Pack obscene amounts of leftover meat and bones into coolers, neatly divided into “meaty,” “fatty,” “bones,” and “Neanderthal” containers, regularly offering diners feet or a snout from the last category, lest they miss what might be their only opportunity to munch on a pig’s toenail. Leave the coolers outside in the sun, with questionable amounts of ice, until the next morning.

Stock on the curlew stove

3. Make pork stock: Combine the meatiest pork bones, chopped onions (with the skins), and (unfiltered, from-a-real-spring) spring water in a large, unwashed roasting pan. Straddle the pan over two burners on an ancient stove, pausing to appreciate first that you know how to light your own stove at home, and second, that you weren’t the one to haul the propane tank currently responsible for cooking your stock up to the cabin on cross-country skis last winter. Bring the stock to a strong simmer, turn the burners off, cover the stock, and go to a rodeo.

rodeo queen at the chesaw rodeo

4. Here, to make the stew taste better, you should eat at least half of a corn dog, or possibly try the 68th Annual Chesaw Fourth of July Rodeo’s version of taco salad: one snack-sized bag of nacho-flavored Doritos, crushed, opened, and topped with taco meat of unclear provenance, shredded cheese and lettuce, and an unconscionable quantity of sour cream. (They do make it in small bags for little buckaroos, in case you were wondering.)

high class husband at the chesaw rodeo

5. Drink Budweiser in the sun while you watch toddlers chase chickens, small boys get stomped on by small (but still quite large) calves, teenage girls race horses around barrels, and grown men make their best attempt at roping and milking wild cows. Drink a little more; you need to sate your immediate hunger but open your palate to the possibility of a great deal of stew.

Boys playing on porch in Curlew

6. Get back to the cabin, bring the stock back to a simmer, and feed and entertain all children in the immediate vicinity. Snoop around the premises for anything that might make for a good stew – onions, garlic, carrots, and celery would be a fortunate start – and chop the vegetables, taking note as you work next to another person that it is neither the size of a kitchen nor its fanciness that makes it functional. (A kitchen qualifies as “good” if the space is well used, of course, with plenty of chopping room near the stove, but also if those working therein are happy bumping elbows without apologizing, and comfortable injecting cooking questions into unrelated conversation without losing one’s place in either the chopping or the conversation.)

Curlew kitchen 1

7. In a large (preferably tippy) soup pot, sauté the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in (possibly) three-year-old olive oil, then season heavily with cumin, chili powder, dried oregano leftover from seasoning the pig, salt, pepper, a pinch of ground cloves, and a little bit of luck. Add the remaining salsa from two separate, open-but-unrefrigerated jars of salsa (their spiciness will have a lot to do with how your stew turns out), three cans of black beans (along with their liquid), and enough stock to let all the ingredients swim around freely. Simmer until the carrots are soft, roughly one hour, bossing anyone near the stove into giving it a quick stir so you can appreciate just being where you are.

dogs begging for pork stew

8. Meanwhile, clip most of the cilantro from the newly planted herb garden just off your porch. (If you can arrange for your dog to fall off the porch while avoiding a curious tot and land directly on the cilantro plant, do so, as the cilantro will be easier to cut that way.) Grate cheese and find some sour cream. Intend to slice the avocado in the fruit bowl, then promptly forget about it.

Curlew cabin front

9. Ask someone else to chop a good deal of what’s probably tenderloin and shoulder from the “meaty” bowl of pork in the cooler, and add it to the stew. Simmer another 10 minutes or so, so the pork fat melts into the broth. Season to taste again with salt and pepper, and serve hot, in mismatched bowls with shredded cheese, sour cream, and spoons that make you feel like you’re Goldilocks, minus the part where she finds the spoon that’s just right. (Feel free to continue forgetting the avocado.) In your mind, call it Curlew Stew, if you’re into that sort of thing. Pretend you aren’t surprised when it seems like the best stew you’ve ever tasted, and make a mental promise to make pork stock again someday soon. When it’s cooler.

dividing pig meat

10. Mop the last of the soup up with plain sliced sandwich bread. Commence a conversation about recipes – why and how we use them, how some people must cook from them while others simply can’t, where we record them, etc. Remember some recipes, like Hannah’s grandmother’s Goat Curry for Fifty, whose re-creation is so entirely unlikely that you might as well call it impossible. Think first, to yourself, that you wished you’d written the stew recipe down in some way, or snapped a photo before the last carrots were scraped from the bottom of the pot and fed to your child (who, with his first tooth, now seems to be able to eat cooked carrots). Then reconsider, and note that perhaps anyone interested in recreating Curlew Stew should probably not be relying too heavily on a recipe in the first place.

That’s it. That’s the whole recipe. Just ten quick steps.

If you live in the United States, chances are very good that you have recently suffered, are currently suffering, or will soon suffer an unbearable heat wave. (The definition of “unbearable” may differ from region to region; 90-degree heat broke records in Seattle a couple days ago. Likewise, the definition of “suffer” may be flexible; I was forced to make cold iced tea and wear a dress yesterday. It was awful.)

I thought that perhaps this heat thing, combined with the likelihood that you have a cooler filled with roasted pig parts on your porch, might make Curlew Stew an unconvincing proposition for your dinner this evening. But I promise: It’s the best pork stew you’ll never make.

But if you really want to taste Curlew Stew, I know a guy who makes a mean Cuban microwave; he says he’s willing to lend his to me when I’m ready to roast a pig. Swing by my driveway sometime around Christmas, because I now know I’ll be going whole hog, as they say, for our next holiday party. I’m sure there will be pork leftover.

Tonight, you should just make skirt steak kebabs.

Spicy Skirt Steak Kebabs 2

Spicy Skirt Steak Kebabs (PDF)

Marinated in a mixture of lime juice, garlic, fresh oregano, and red pepper flakes, these skirt steak kebabs pack a punch, but don’t take much time to prepare or grill. Instead of tomatoes and zucchini, feel free to substitute other vegetables—broccoli florets or crimini mushrooms would also be great.

Be sure to soak the skewers for the kebabs in a pan of water for a good 30 minutes (or longer) before you thread the meat and vegetables on.

TIME: 15 minutes prep time
MAKES: 4 servings

Juice of 3 limes
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (the fresher, the better)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 pound skirt steak, cut into 1” cubes
2 zucchini, cut into 3/4” rounds
2 dozen large cherry tomatoes
12 wooden skewers (12” long), soaked

Blend the lime juice, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, oil, salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl. Add the steak, stir until all the steak is coated with the marinade, then add the zucchini and tomatoes. Refrigerate, covered, about 1 hour.

Prepare a grill for direct cooking over high heat, about 450 to 550 degrees. Thread the ingredients onto the skewers, alternating ingredients, piercing zucchini horizontally (through the skin on both sides) so that all the ingredients lie in a flat plane.

Grill the kebabs for 3 to 5 minutes per side, until the zucchini is marked, the tomatoes are beginning to burst, and the steak is cooked through. Serve hot.

Spicy Skirt Steak Kebabs 1

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Filed under Beef, dog, gluten-free, husband, kitchen adventure, pork, recipe, travel, vegetables

Why does your garden grow?

Garden Carrots

When we lived on Cape Cod, we had friends with a huge tomato garden. I remember a cantankerous gate, and in the heaviest part of the summer, the vines, which didn’t seem too prone to organization, spiraled up and around each other, racing toward the sunlight in one big viral, vegetal tangle. I remember how when we walked among them, picking and tasting, the strays popped beneath my flipflops.

Toward the end of one summer, these friends decided they needed help eating tomatoes. One Tuesday, they had us over for a tomato-themed happy hour. The idea was to munch and chat and have a beer, but with the help of some good Parmesan cheese, a tub of sea salt, and a dipping bowl of great olive oil, we frittered the whole evening away, eating our body weight in ripe, warm-colored fruits, feeling the beer melt our day away.

From then on, when convenient, we celebrated Tomato Tuesdays. It was the sort of thing that became a tradition well before we had done it long enough for it to deserve “tradition” status, like when you vacation somewhere two years in a row, and it becomes The Mother’s Day Place, or The Memorial Day Place, or whatever, simply because you enjoyed yourself so much. But Tomato Tuesdays ended, for us, when we moved to Seattle.

Truthfully, I don’t miss very much about Cape Cod. I’m not particularly fond of the ocean, or of sandy beaches, or of grey hair or bad hats or bad drivers, but when we moved, I did miss Tomato Tuesdays, almost immediately. But just weeks after we arrived in Seattle, a guy from a couple houses down knocked on our door. He introduced himself—here, I call him The Tomato Neighbor—and foisted two manhandfuls of sunny jewels upon us. At the time, our belongings were caught in a painfully long moving truck fiasco, so these glorious, colorful tomatoes, which required nothing more than the knife and cutting board and table and chairs we’d borrowed from other neighbors, were just the thing. I remember eating them alongside burritos from the freezer section from Trader Joe’s, thinking that even though Tomato Tuesdays couldn’t reinvent themselves in Seattle, we’d most likely find something equally terrific here.

Tomato Line-Up

Summer after summer—this will be our fourth here—the Tomato Neighbor plants his tomato garden. In a space about as big as our living room, with a carefully crafted vine-rigging and watering system, he plants upwards of 20 varieties each year, more than 50 plants in all. Each May, as little fuzzy, weak-leaved starts appear at the farmers markets, he brings home infant Black Krims and Mortgage Lifters, Purple Cherokees and Green Zebras, little children to be fostered and spoiled throughout the summer. As they grow, we tell the histories of the ones we know, like the tomatoes are actually people—what, you hadn’t heard that a guy actually paid of his mortgage selling seeds for his new tomato variety?

What I’ve noticed, over the years, is that our relationship with The Tomato Neighbor ebbs and flows with the tomato season. All winter long, we hardly speak. (It’s not that much of a coincidence, really. We don’t have a lot in common.) But when the days get longer, and the sun starts peeking out a little more, we see each other. He’ll show me the start he’s about to put in the ground, or tell me which new variety he’s testing this year, and I’ll promise, like I did last week, to give him some of my leeks and show him how to clean them. In a way, when he plants his tomato garden, he plants a little community for our neighborhood. As the fruit comes forth, we see each other daily, the Tomato Neighbor and I, and Vicki, and Gail, and whoever else happens by—maybe Susan from across the street, or Kris, or whoever. There are lots of shouts through open windows, and slices to try, and people stop knocking on doors.

The other day, when The Tomato Neighbor popped in to tell me he’s got 44 plants in the ground already, I realized that as much as I love the food that comes out of his garden, it’s not the tomatoes I miss in the winter. It’s the community his tomatoes bring. It’s calling a different neighbor to show her the Greek salad I’ve done with his tomatoes, and explain to her why it would be perfect for her mother’s birthday party. It’s having friends from around the corner, and their two dogs, over to taste the tomatoes, with salt and olive oil, the same way we did on Cape Cod. It’s having a garden of my own, but also knowing that in a way—and I hope not a selfish way—the gardens on my street are all mine, in the same way that my garden belongs to all of them.

So when I went to plant a garden this spring, I started by asking myself a question: What do I want to get out of this square of land, besides food? Not How does my garden grow?, but Why does my garden grow? Okay, so actually, I cheated: I asked you on Facebook, too. You’re good. You said yours give you really dirty fingernails, and healthy dandelions, and an excuse to spend money, and—my favorite—a “forgiving place to remind me that mistakes are how we learn.”

But me? My garden grows because it gives me a sense of community. It feeds my second most immediate family, this little group of people on First Avenue, in a way that’s much more tangible than anything else I do. My garden’s problem—or my problem, really—is that I don’t feel like I have enough to give. I mean, is knocking on someone’s door with four blueberries really an act of kindness? I rarely have enough lettuce for a salad, and beets come out two at a time. I’d be kidding myself if I thought my little city space could produce enough food to feed us (or, ahem, if I thought my limited gardening skills could actually make that much food grow), much less have enough to really share, the way the Tomato Neighbor does. So this year, instead of planting a little of this and a little of that, I decided to plant mostly one thing: carrots. In September, I want to have enough to share with everyone.

Teeny tiny carrot plants

I think carrots are the perfect garden vegetable: You can plant them early, when the digging itch strikes, but you can’t really put them in too late (in Seattle, anyway). In fact, you don’t even have to plant them, if you don’t want to—last year, I just flung the seeds into the patch and walked away, and everything turned out fine, except for the fact that my carrots came up in a sort of semicircular spray of green, like a bad eyeshadow job, instead of in neat little rows. In any case, the seeds morph into waving little green feathers almost immediately. You can thin the little sprouts, to make them grow bigger, but you don’t really have to. They grow below ground, instead of above, so my dog doesn’t eat them. They don’t go bad if you don’t pick them at just the right time, the way tomatoes do. And if, hypothetically, you’ve been known to forget all about them and leave them in the ground for, say, six months too long, they’re quick to forgive you.

I know. You garden people are balking, but you can keep your comments to yourself. I plant. They grow. I’m doing it right enough for me.

(Well, okay. They usually grow. I might have gotten a little bold and planted carrots in late February, but only a few came up. Mistakes are how we learn, right? So last weekend I planted again.)

Anyway. Last weekend, I announced to The Tomato Neighbor that I’d planted enough carrots for everyone, thinking I was doing my share. I’m proud of my carrots before they’ve shown even the smallest sign of success.

“Oh,” he said. “I got a whole bunch of carrot starts to put in, too. I meant to tell you that.”

So. I suspect we’ll have a few carrots around this fall. This little salad is my mental preparation.

Carrot & Hazelnut Salad 2

Carrot and Hazelnut Salad (PDF)

I’m not normally the kind of girl who eats a bowl of carrot salad and calls it lunch. (I make fun of those girls.) Tangled together in a mixing bowl, though, this combination of freshly grated carrots (the pre-shredded kind really won’t do), spunky vinaigrette, and earthy, crunchy hazelnuts makes me think twice about adding a sandwich.

Use good-quality sea salt, vinegar, and oil for this recipe.

TIME: 25 minutes (including toasting nuts)
MAKES: 4 servings

1 cup hazelnuts
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup hazelnut oil
1 pound carrots, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh parsley

First, toast the hazelnuts: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roast the nuts on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes, or until the skins begin to darken and peel away from the nuts themselves. Rub the nuts in a textured tea towel to remove the skins, roughly chop, and set aside.

Whisk the mustard, vinegar, and a little salt and pepper together in the bottom of a mixing bowl. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until the oil is fully incorporated. Add the carrots, hazelnuts, and herbs, along with additional salt and pepper, if needed, and toss to coat.

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Filed under garden, gluten-free, Lunch, radio, recipe, salad, vegetables, vegetarian

Time change

Black Chickpea and Carrot Salad 3

Time baffles me. My father, an engineer, always said you need three things to conquer a new math concept: milk, cookies, and two hours. The first time he told me that, when I had to really study for a math test once, two hours seemed like an ocean of time. I’m pretty sure I cried before the clock started ticking, scared that my little boat of concentration wouldn’t make it to the other shore. But I’ve just spent two hours – that same increment – trying to sweep the debris off my browser and get to the screen now in front of me, and it hardly seems like I’ve had time to breathe, much less take a drink of milk.

Almost two weeks ago, I had lunch at Picnic, a little “food and wine boutique” near me in Seattle that sells mean European-style sandwiches, great soups, and a variety of creative little deli salads. I was with my oldest Seattle friend (someone I went to college with) and my newest Seattle friend, a woman I’ve only recently started getting to know. In round numbers, I’ve known one for ten years and one for ten weeks. Yet somehow, cuddled around the end of the table together, the difference, and the fact that they were meeting for the first time, didn’t seem to matter. We bantered and relaxed like we’d been having lunch together, the three of us, for years.

We all ordered soup, but before it came, one of Picnic’s owners, Jenny, came out with a little tasting plate of the curried chickpea salad we’d all been eying. “New Dehli salad,” said the sign, which made me laugh right out loud. It was spot-on – you certainly wouldn’t find a bright yellow legume mixture studded with golden raisins in the old-fashioned deli of my grandmother’s childhood.

It was the kind of salad that sits in the middle of the table and beckons, its little carrot arms waving wildly. Me, they say. Pick me. Every time my fork wandered toward the plate, I had a little moment of decision anxiety, a tiny panic over which scoop looked tastiest. (The truth: they were all pretty much equally delicious.) I’ve been meaning to tell you about it this whole time, but it’s taken until today – with a green tea latte, a muffin, and two hours – to get it all down.

My own version came together with a bit of serendipity, as we were pulling out of the driveway on our way to Portland, Oregon last week. Jill had sent me a bag of sexy black chickpeas from Montana. They’d been flirting with me the entire month of February, all pearly and exotic-looking, from behind the pantry door. I also had two pounds of gorgeous carrots from my garden – carrots I’d planted last June, forgotten about in September, remembered in November when they were hibernating under two inches of mulch, fretted over in January, and pulled just that morning – waiting patiently for the just the right use. (Carrots are pretty much the perfect vegetable for my current lifestyle: Can’t harvest today? Wait six months. They won’t mind.)

Quite literally, my husband was buckling our son into the carseat while I sautéed shallots with ginger, and yellowed them with curry. I stirred the mixture into the cooked chickpeas, along with toasted pine nuts for a bit of texture (because I didn’t think I had time to soften the raisins in hot water), fresh chives, lemon juice, and those carrots, all grated up.

“We’re ready,” said my husband. “We need to go.”

“Wait. Just a sec. I have to take a photo.”

He stood in the entryway watching me shovel the salad in, not 30 minutes after breakfast. Time stood completely still for three or four bites. I felt the chickpeas rolling over my tongue, and imagined their black skins cracking opening my mouth, revealing creamy insides really not much different from the interior of a regular chickpea. I felt the chives scrunch between my molars, felt the pine nuts collapse beside them. It was a snack for pressing pause.

“Are you going to take one?”

Right. The photograph.

“Yeah,” I muttered, foggy. “I’ll be right there.”

(And yes, of course regular canned or dried chickpeas work fine for this. I used the same amount you’d find in a can.)

Black Chickpea and Carrot Salad 2

Curried Carrot and Chickpea Salad (PDF)

Based on the “New Dehli” salad at a Seattle food and wine boutique called Picnic, this snacky salad combines chickpeas (regular, or black, if you can find them) and carrots with curry, ginger, chives, lemon, and toasted pine nuts. Either canned or dried chickpeas will work.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon coarsely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 cups cooked chickpeas (rinsed and drained, if canned)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the shallot, season with salt and pepper, and cook and stir until very soft, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the ginger and curry powder, then the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and let bubble for another minute or two. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.

Combine the chickpeas, chives, pine nuts, lemon juice, and carrots in a mixing bowl. Pour the curry mixture over the top, stir to blend, season to taste, and serve at room temperature.

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Filed under garden, gluten-free, Lunch, salad, side dish, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

The F Word

Hot and Sour Soup and Pike Place Chinese Cuisine

Click here to listen to me talking about hot and sour soup on KUOW.
Recipes are down below.

Hot and sour soup isn’t the prettiest, or even the second-prettiest soup there is. In fact, if I had to curate a list of beautiful soups, it would be miles below pho and chicken noodle, pasta e fagiole and tom yum. Hot and sour soup looks like dirty nothing in a bowl.

At least, that’s what I thought, before I got to know it. I guess it’s a soup like some people, that way – it’s easy to pigeonhole and walk away from, if you don’t know any better.

I grew up “hating” hot and sour soup, which means I’d never tasted it. (I hated a lot of things, including, but not limited to, anything with spice, foreign flavors, or ingredients whose entire preparation I didn’t personally witness from start to finish.) At Chinese restaurants, my family ordered a big bowl to share, and I ordered egg drop soup. The waitress would rattle her cart to our table and hold my lone bowl up accusingly, as if to ask Who ordered the boring soup?

Me. It was always me.

A few weeks ago, I came very close to doing the same thing, because I enjoy the simplicity of egg drop soup, and because it’s what I’ve always ordered. But for whatever reason – perhaps because I wasn’t really paying attention, or maybe because I am now An Adult Who Likes Things – I hopped on the hot and sour bandwagon, along with the rest of the table. And I tasted my new favorite soup for the first time.

I know. That f-word. It’s a bit of a shock to see it on the screen, even. I’m not a big fan of favorites. I go for change, and variety, and different every time. But this soup, people. If I count correctly, I’ve had hot and sour soup nine times in two weeks. Nine times. (Obsess much?)

The thing is, it’s worth obsessing over. Don’t look at it; taste it. Sip a spoonful, and the first thing you’ll notice is the texture – a bit of cornstarch makes it silky, almost satiny. It glosses over the tongue in a way few Western foods can, every drop somehow fatter and smoother. If you’re lucky enough to get a bit of soft, ribbony egg (and were lucky enough, in the first place, to pick a soup whose preparer got the egg to bloom up just right, like in the photo above), it glides across your palate. Then there are the cloud ear mushrooms, which don’t really taste like much, but have a lovely crunch, like some sort of terrestrial seaweed. (They supposedly improve circulation, too.) There are lily buds, with their vegetal, almost artichoke-like flavor. (Bet you didn’t even notice them the first time.) And then . . . then. . . there’s the clean, astringent hot of white pepper, and the brisk, bracing vinegar flavor.

Of course, there are endless variations. I tried rice vinegar and apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, and a mixture of various vinegars. (I think I like white vinegar the best, because its flavor is stronger than rice vinegar but not too fruity.) There’s also whatever else the cook feels like adding – little gifts, like chunks of tofu, or pork, or carrot, or chili. I’d been tasting soups everywhere, trying to figure out, since I’d never been down the hot and sour soup road, what I liked. More tofu? More pork? More hot? More sour?

Then, gazing out the windows at the rain on the Sound at Pike Place Chinese Cuisine one day, slurping the bowl above, I had a BFO: I could probably make hot and sour soup myself. At home.

Hot and sour is, after all, a rather homey thing. Traditionally made with the most humble ingredients – dried staples, small bits of meat  - it’s a soup made with leftovers. They just might not be the leftovers you have in your kitchen.

I scurried around Pike Place Market, collecting ingredients. (You can get everything there.) I made a few traditional versions first, relying on recipes from Grace Young, Mark Bittman, and Susanna Foo, until I learned what combination of flavors I liked.

As it turns out, I’m sort of greedy. I like a healthy combination of tofu and pork – more than one usually finds in restaurant versions of hot and sour soup – and more than anything, I like a soup made with good, homemade stock. I like to tinker with the pepper and vinegar, until I get it just right. And I like to eat my hot and sour soup right when it’s fallen just below scorching, screaming hot – which is to say, immediately.

I also like the version I made using what’s available now at farmers’ markets here in Seattle – Northwest leftovers and pantry staples, if you will, like dried porcini mushrooms, and kale, and carrots.

Only problem now is deciding which one’s my favorite. Time for bowl number ten.

Homemade hot and sour soup

Hot and Sour Soup (PDF)

Northwest Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup (PDF)

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Filed under chinese, farmer's market, gluten-free, Lunch, pork, radio, recipe, soup, vegetables, vegetarian

How to Defibrillate Dying Kale

Spaghetti with Kale, Lemon, and Garlic 1

It’s not a pretty picture, so you’re not going to see it. But open your own refrigerator, and chances are good you could find the same thing: a few little kale saplings, melting into the produce drawer’s back corner, so long ago forgotten that they must now pretend they don’t exist.

Our refrigerator is only 5 days old. But I bought the kale well before its predecessor was wheeled off to the morgue, and unfortunately, a new refrigerator cannot act as a defibrillator for oldish produce.

Truth: Buying a new appliance is much easier than cleaning out an old one. But I didn’t have the heart to leave the kale behind. It always strikes me as The Thing That Can Be Saved.

Kale, in its market prime, is physically spunky, and stubborn enough that it often refuses to be tucked into whatever space I assign it. Two weeks past its peak, it’s a little less sexy. It sags. But really, I promise you: You don’t need to throw it away.

sauteing kale and garlic for pasta

First, it might be worth mentioning that I’m on a pasta binge. Perhaps it started when I was working on a story about healthy pasta alternatives—quinoa, spelt, whole grain rice, and soba noodles sure do make a gal crave the old fashioned kind—or maybe it’s just this winter thing. In any event, I could eat plain white pasta three meals a day right now. Paired with the insanely peppery olive oil Jim’s aunt schlepped back from Italy for us, and maybe a little Parmesan cheese, spaghetti fits my current definition of the lip-smacking perfect food. (I tell you this with corroboration from my 9-month-old, who keeps imitating me chewing when I eat it.)

So you’ll pardon me, I hope, when I tell you that this kale saver actually seems like the complicated version. But there’s not much to it. You sauté very finely chopped kale in great olive oil, with a little spice, until it’s threatening to crisp up on you. Stir in some garlic, then some cooked spaghetti, Parmesan, and a squeeze of lemon, and sit down.

It’s important, though, that you take a seat away from your computer, and away from any reading materials. You’ll need your full mental capacity (at least, I needed mine) to focus on the little bite-by-bite cross section of spicy, sour, and earthy. And then you’ll need some more kale. And time, perhaps, although I’d be willing to wager this would work with a brand-new bunch.

Spaghetti with Kale, Lemon, and Garlic  3

Simple Spaghetti with Kale, Lemon and Garlic (PDF)

Made with a few sprigs of leftover kale, great olive oil, and a touch of spice, this simple lunch for one is quick and reasonably healthy. Double or quadruple the recipe as needed, piling the extra kale on top at the end.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 1 lunch

Spaghetti for one (a bundle about the diameter of a dime)
2 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
5 sprigs lacinato kale (droopy kale is fine), very finely chopped
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon wedge
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta al dente according to package directions.

When the pasta is almost done, heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the kale, red pepper flakes to taste, and season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir for 3 or 4 minutes, until the kale starts to get a bit crisp. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add drained pasta, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese, and stir to combine. Serve immediately.

Spaghetti with Kale, Lemon, and Garlic  (gone)

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Filed under Lunch, Pasta, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

Telephone

Ingredients for holiday dinner
To listen to the version of this story that aired on KUOW, click here.

I recently played the most ridiculous game of telephone. It started when I called my grandmother to cook her dinner.

I know, it sounds all wrong, doesn’t it? You can’t cook for someone over the phone. I didn’t think so either. I’d planned a trip to Portland to do it in person. My grandmother, June, called her sister, and a friend, and molded an entire day around a trip to the grocery store for about ten ingredients. They scrummed around the produce department guy, battering him with questions about fennel and kale. Then they hit the fish counter, where, June told me, she knew not to order the wild salmon because it’s bad for the environment, and knew she could have told the fish guy where to cut, but didn’t have to. I smiled over the phone, not caring what she bought, because she was going to cook. (This woman eats, but she does not, in contemporary lexicon, cook.)

Then my cat got attacked by a raccoon. He was oozy and insulted and very much upset about being left alone indoors, so at the very last minute, I cancelled on my grandmother. She was devastated. She used that word – devastated – and I could hear the truth of it in her voice, weighing her down like an age. (She’s not usually dramatic.)

So we made a phone date. She’d invite her friends back over, and I’d call “on the cellular phone,” and we’d do it all that way, ear to ear. I’d talk, and she’d chop, and it would be like I was right there in the kitchen.

Of course, there was a little catch. The point of cooking for her, that night, was to demonstrate for her a holiday entertaining menu that even she could master – a whole dinner that would take me a heaping ten minutes to put in the oven. There would be roasted salmon with a lemon-cumin raita (she loves yogurt sauces), Dijon potatoes (she’s a mustard fiend), roasted fennel with sherry, and creamed kale – just the right balance of familiarity and foreignness. I figured ten minutes for me meant 20 or so for us together. But on the telephone?

But they’d already purchased the food.

Dinner at Grandma June’s house is a five o’clock affair. I called at 4:15, and June answered on the first ring.

“We’re here,” she sang. “Mary’s had her cigarette, and Verna has the knife.” Taken out of context, I might have been worried, but in this case, I knew that meant they were ready.

“I’m just going to hand the phone to Verna, and you can tell her what to do, okay?” said June.

“Not so fast,” I said. June will do almost anything to not cook. “How about you hold the phone while she chops?” I figured processing the instructions counted for at least half.

And so it began. My dinner plan echoed from Seattle to Portland, from me, to June, then invariably Verna and Mary:

Jess: Okay, let’s start by turning on the oven.
June: Verna, turn on the oven.
Verna: How do you turn on the oven?
June: Push in the dial.
Verna: Okay, how hot do you want it?
June: How hot do we want it?
Jess: 400 degrees.
June: 400 degrees.
Mary: How long is this going to take?

And on we went. I learned, over the next (honestly) 40 minutes, to give extremely specific instructions. We started with potatoes, then fennel, then kale, then salmon. But we started everything slowly:

Jess: Is your white square ceramic pan nearby?
June: Yes, right here.
Jess: Okay, I’m going to tell you how to cut the fennel, then you’re going to put the fennel slices in, drizzle them with olive oil and roll them around a bit. Ready?
June: (To Verna, excited) We’re going to get the fennel ready now. (To Jess) Okay, what do we do?
Jess: Okay. Pretend the fennel is a hand. You see it, with the fingers sticking up?
June: Verna: Pretend the fennel is a hand, with the fingers sticking up.
Verna: I don’t see it. A hand?
June: We don’t see it. What do you mean?
Jess: Can you pretend that the white part is your palm and the green sticky-uppity parts are fingers?
June: Oh, yes.
Verna: What. What? (June explains.)
Jess: (Hems, haws, then decides not to trim the bottom.) Okay. You can eat all of it, but for tonight, we’re going to cut the tops off. Cut the long green stalks off where the rings would be, if the fennel was a hand.
June: Cut the long green stalks off where the rings would be . . . what?
Jess: If the fennel was a hand.
June: If the fennel was a hand. Isn’t it were a hand?
(Chopping sounds.)
Jess: Okay, now cut it into slices through the core.
June: Now cut it into slices through the core.
Verna: I have to talk to her about the center.

Verna washed her hands, and June handed her the phone. I explained how to cut the fennel bulb into wedges right through the center core, so the layers of vegetable stick together, and promised her that it would roast up nice and soft. She handed the phone back to June, and got to work. And on we went, for potatoes, kale, salmon, and the sauce.

Overall, though, it worked quite well. Since it took us (collectively) longer than it took me alone to prepare the ingredients, I had them cut their salmon into smaller filets, instead of roasting it in a big slab, and unless they were lying, it came out perfectly.

From my end, it was sort of a grueling half hour or so. But it also made my heart melt, they same way it does when a kid says something so entirely wrong it’s cute. I’d say, “Squeeze the lemon over the fish,” and June would say, “How do you squeeze a lemon again?” and Verna would say, “June, I know how to squeeze a lemon,” and Mary, more kitchencaster than participant, would say, “What’s the lemon for? Why aren’t we putting it on the fish later?” And since I was there, they’d ask me, to make sure, and we’d spend 25 seconds – watch the clock, it’s a long time – talking lemon-squeezing.

But my goodness, they giggled. There were three of them, but even so, sometimes they were so overwhelmed by the collective energy it took to, say, find the cumin, that they’d abandon me on the counter, and I could hear them twittering, one to the next. It was like listening to a recording of a pack of teenagers in 1939.

And after they’d called back to report that yes, dinner was sensational, I imagined them gathered in front of her giant new television, watching the World Series, picking kale out of their teeth, and wished I wasn’t such a sucker for Whiney McWhiskers. But if anyone understands coddling a cat, it’s June.

Over Thanksgiving, she told me again how much fun she’d had. “But fennel,” she said. “I wouldn’t be too sad if I never saw fennel again. I’m a carrots-onions-potatoes kind of gal.”

Fair enough. I’ll cook the fennel here.

Holiday Dinner 2

The Ten Minute Holiday Meal: Roasted Salmon with Lemon-Cumin Raita, Caramelized Fennel with Sherry Vinegar, Simple Dijon Potatoes, and Creamed Kale (PDF)

The holidays are a time to put the shine on your best silver, if that’s what suits you, but it doesn’t suit everyone. Me? I didn’t always save the pasta-making, reduction-simmering, and bread baking for other times of the year. It used to make sense to stand in the kitchen for hours, talking and stirring. But these days, with an 8-month-old, I’m lucky if I can boil water in one try at 6 p.m. So this year, having guests over will mean simplicity, so there’s a chance – even the slightest, skinniest chance – that I’ll get to talk to the people hanging out with us in our home.

The following simple menu was designed with a 4-person dinner party in mind, to be prepared in a bit over 10 minutes (with dinner about 20 minutes afterward). It doubles easily, but if you do double it, keep in mind that it will take you longer to cut the vegetables, so the salmon might go in later. Luckily, it’s hard to overcook the potatoes, fennel, and kale, so let the salmon determine dinnertime – just add the sherry to the fennel right when you start taking things out of the oven, so it has a minute or two to sizzle.

If you can’t find Olsen Farms’ “Spud Nuts,” which are basically ridiculously small potatoes, quarter golf ball-sized potatoes and use them instead. Potatoes simply halved (per the photos above) don’t quite cook enough in the time allotted.

And, as always, please READ THROUGH the directions before beginning. The directions assume all produce is washed.

*

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

MAKE THE POTATOES: Grease a shallow roasting pan with a teaspoon of olive oil. Toss 1 1/2 pounds Spud Nuts (or quartered small potatoes) with 2 heaping tablespoons Dijon mustard, transfer them to the pan, and put them in the oven on the bottom rack.

MAKE THE FENNEL: Cut the long green stalks off a 1 1/2 pound fennel bulb and save to slice into a salad. Cut the fennel in half vertically (with the stripes), then cut each half into 6 or 8 wedges, so the core keeps each wedge intact. Pile the wedges in an ovenproof pan big enough to fit them in one layer, drizzle with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and mix with your hands until all the fennel is coated. Add to the oven’s bottom rack.

START THE KALE: Cut 2 small bunches (about 3/4 pound) lacinato (also called dinosaur) kale crosswise into thin ribbons. Heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a large, deep pan over medium heat. Add a crushed, chopped garlic clove, stir for a few seconds, then add the kale, and cook, stirring occasionally while you continue.

MAKE THE SAUCE: Stir together the contents of an 8-ounce container full-fat Greek yogurt, the zest and juice of a lemon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, salt and pepper to taste, and if you want, a chopped clove of garlic. Set aside to let the flavors marry, as they say.

MAKE THE SALMON: Center a 1 1/2 pound (roughly 1 1/2” thick) salmon filet on a parchment- or baking mat-lined baking sheet. Smear with 1 teaspoon olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes or so, or roughly 10 minutes per inch of thickness, until the salmon just begins to exude small white beads of fat (but really not much longer, please).

UPKEEP: Add 1 cup heavy cream and a quick grate of nutmeg to the kale, stir, and walk away. Come back in 10 minutes, stir the kale, pour yourself more wine, and sit back down. (The kale is done when the cream’s gone, but it’s very happy to sit on low heat until you’re ready to eat.)

WHEN THE SALMON IS DONE: Add a big splash – about 1 1/2 tablespoons – sherry vinegar to the fennel pan, and return to the oven without breathing in too deeply (watch those vinegar fumes). Take the salmon out, and transfer it to a serving platter, along with the sauce. Transfer the kale to a serving bowl. Snuggle the potatoes in next to the salmon. Shake the fennel pan to release the wedges, and add them to the platter, too.

Serve hot.

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Filed under farmer's market, fish, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, media, radio, recipe, side dish, vegetables

Many thanks

Bourbon Sweet Potato Crisp 1

Six years ago, Thanksgiving meant lying on a hotel room couch in Park City, Utah, wondering what was wrong. I couldn’t see how and why my body had morphed from strongstrongstrong to something I simply couldn’t recognize. Six years ago, I admitted to myself that I was sick. It took me months to admit the same thing to the people close to me.

Thanksgiving means a lot of things, in my heart: It means food, and family, and the eggnog we age in the garage for three weeks. It means balancing cooking and relaxing and drinking and eating – have to do them all in the right amounts, in the right order, you know. And increasingly, it means a small, soft moment or two, when I sit back and remember that there was a time when I didn’t have lupus, and didn’t wake up on the easy mornings – the ones with good, greasy joints – and feel thankful, just to be walking comfortably. Despite all the physical and emotional hubbub that surrounds an autoimmune disease, sometimes I feel almost a little lucky to have lupus. It’s made me much, much better at giving thanks.

This week, I’m mostly thankful for the people who make it easier to live with lupus: For Kelly, who carried my groceries – not because I can’t, but because some days, it’s easier if I don’t. For our nanny, who came on her day off and schlepped all the heavy, awkward stuff out of the car for me. For a guy like Joe, who carried my skis on Sunday without making me feel like a sissy. For my neighbor, who walked my dog last week without knowing she’d picked the day when it hurt just to hold the leash. For my doctors, who tell me that my recent flare (honestly, the worst it’s ever been) can probably be abated by stronger medications and a lot less breastfeeding. For my friends, who told me it was okay to be devastated, and encouraged me to embrace what amounts to a huge departure from how I planned to feed my child. For my husband, who never knew “in sickness and in health” (or our own equivalent) would be a phrase he’d have to visit so often. And for all the people who help and support me, every day, without making me feel in any way handicapped. (That is a very impressive thing, indeed.)

You’ll also be thankful for Sarah, who came over for a gabbing and pie crust-making session and ended up staying to peel the sweet potatoes for this little crisp. (The real one’s bigger, but I’m saving it for the holiday, so you just get a snapshot of the baby version.) It seemed like such a nothing thing to both of us, I’m sure, but I’d broken my most hand-friendly peeler, and getting the job done with the normal metal peeler was somehow overwhelming. She just sat down and got to work.

I meant to come here days ago, for advice on what became my Thanksgiving conundrum of the year. I’d hit upon the idea of a sweet potato crisp – something done before, surely, but nothing my own taste buds had run across – and couldn’t decide whether to serve it as part of the meal or as a dessert.

Then Thanksgiving came cartwheeling in, before I could get my game face on. (There are eight here already, with eight more coming soon.) That crisp? It’ll slide in right next to the turkey, I’ve decided, as a substitute for the gooey-topped version found on so many tables. We’ll pile it onto our plates, along with Erica’s biscuits and a cornbread stuffing I’ve yet to invent all the way.

And when the meal’s over, and my husband’s salty, well-worked hands dig into the pile of dishes, I know I’ll be thankful for the way my family’s worked together to put everything on the table. When the pies come out, I’ll find a spot on the floor, because goodness knows where the couch will be by then, and wonder if it’s possible to teach a child to be thankful, just to be alive.

Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving.

Bourbon Sweet Potato Crisp 3

Bourbon Sweet Potato Crisp (PDF)

The recipe below makes enough topping to cover the crisp if the sweet potatoes are snuggled into a 9” square baking pan. You can also put it in a taller dish (like a soufflé dish) and use less topping, decreasing the crunch-to-potato ratio, or spread the sweet potato mixture out in a 9” by 13” dish, so each bite has more topping.

TIME: 30 minutes, plus baking
MAKES: About 12 servings

For the potatoes:
5 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2” cubes
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt (to taste)

For the crisp topping:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

First, start the sweet potatoes: Place the potatoes in a large pot, and add cold water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain potatoes, return to the pot, and mash with the remaining potato ingredients. Puree in batches in a food processor until very smooth, and transfer to a 9” square (or similar) baking pan.

While the potatoes cook, mix the topping ingredients in a medium bowl until well blended. Scatter the topping over the potatoes and bake for about 30 minutes, until the topping has browned. Serve warm.

Note: Both the sweet potatoes and the crisp topping can be made ahead and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance. To serve, bake the sweet potatoes for 20 minutes, add the topping, and bake another 40 minutes.

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Filed under lupus, recipe, side dish, vegetables

Little things, and a roasted vegetable chowder

Simmering Root Veg Chowder

Today, just a few quick links, and a recipe for an oven-roasted (mostly) root vegetable chowder…

That fried squash? You might have heard me talking about it on KUOW, Seattle’s NPR station. (If you didn’t, it’s here.)

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake close

Also, I’ve entered the maple-kabocha sour cream bundt cake in Bon Appetit’s holiday dessert bake-off. The winner is picked in part by popular vote, which – if junior high cheerleading tryouts are any indication – has never been my strongpoint, but what the hay. Head on over to vote. (Hint: It’s in the cake category. And while you’re there, look for entries from other Seattle food bloggers!)

And then – then – I’m done with squash. Promise. At least for a day or two.

Salty Marcona Almond Toffee 1

My recipe for Salty Marcona Almond Toffee – one of my favorite holiday treats – is being featured over at Saveur.com.

We’re having fifteen people here for Thanksgiving. Not much is decided, but I’ll certainly be making this pear-spiked cranberry jam, as well as these bleu cheese and walnut cookies, because a Thanksgiving elf just sent me a six pound wheel of Point Reyes. Today, I begin the hunt for an excellent sausage-studded cornbread stuffing recipe. And if you’re a geometry expert, I could use your help fitting a table for fifteen into our living room.

I’ve been on Twitter (@onfoodandlife) for a couple months now. For those uninterested in joining, note that you can now follow my tweets – and not learn a single thing about social media, if it’s not your thang – on the righthand side of Hogwash’s home page.

And oh, yes. Hogwash. She’s had a little bit of a face lift. What do you think? Is there anything you’d like to see more of around here?

For now, a quick chowder for two. For the days when you can’t sit over the stove and stir.

Mostly Root Veg Chowder 1

Mostly Root Vegetable Chowder (PDF)
Made with fennel, parsnips, kale, shallots, garlic, and of course potatoes, this bacon-studded, oven-roasted chowder is a break from the kind that cements you to your seat for the hours following lunch. And because the bacon and vegetables are roasted together in the oven, it takes much less active time than most chowders—and you get the same potato skin snap you get when you roast potatoes alone.

TIME: 20 minutes prep
MAKES: 2 large servings

2 fat slices bacon, diced
Half a (1-pound) fennel bulb, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced into 1” rounds
1/2 pound small white potatoes, quartered
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup chopped kale

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Scatter the bacon on the bottom of a heavy ovenproof pot, such as a Dutch oven. In a mixing bowl, toss the fennel, shallot, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, and thyme with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Roast 40 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are beginning to brown on the bottom and the bacon is crispy. Stir to release the vegetables from the pan.

Roasted veg and bacon for chowder

Add the chicken stock, cream, and kale, and stir again. Cook another 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if necessary, and serve hot.

Note: To double the recipe, switch to a wider pan, like a heavy roasting pan, so the vegetables have enough room to spread out and caramelize a bit.

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Filed under gluten-free, Lunch, media, pork, recipe, soup, vegetables

A cake to crush on

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake 2

I saw you at the farmers’ market this weekend. You picked up a kabocha squash – that big, tough-looking green one, with the woody stump – and fairly considered it. You turned it around and around, right side-up and upside-down. It wasn’t without effort, of course – the weight of the thing made your market bag trip over your shoulder blade and careen down your upper arm, at which point you wondered how you’d get the beast home. Then your buddy said, “So, how do you think you get it open?” And I watched you put that poor squash down.

I hate to be Debbie Downer, but you made the wrong decision, sister. A kabocha squash can be a big thug of a thing, but it is not (despite those witchy warts and scars) actually scary or difficult to use.

And I don’t mean to be smug, but I should know. These days, with sore joints, a can opener is my nemesis; I do not cut hard things. The thought of hacking into anything tougher than a bagel (much less quartering a big ol’ squash) brings tears to my eyes. But I love kabocha. So my choices are threefold: 1) stop buying squash and be sad, 2) let my husband finally buy the Samurai sword he’s always wanted, and pray he doesn’t hurt the counters or himself, or 3) skip the farmers’ market and buy pre-cut squash at the grocery store.

tired tanned kabocha squash

But oh, wait. WAIT. There’s a fourth. See, you don’t actually have to cut into a kabocha before you cook it, if you want soft squash. You can just put it in the oven, stem and all, and roast away at 400 degrees. It comes out like I do after a too-long day at the beach—tanned and tired, a bit stinky and maybe a little slumpy. But it’s as easy to cut into as a stick of room-temperature butter. I almost snatched your sleeve to tell you, right there at the market booth, but that would have been so awkward and stalkerish.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake close

See, if I’d grabbed you, I would have had to tell you about my kabocha-maple bundt cake, too. As if you needed someone yakking to you about a cake that went out of style five decades ago. As if you need more kitchen equipment. I mean really, who owns a bundt cake pan anymore? I certainly didn’t. But last week, after testing a donut recipe for my friend Lara’s upcoming book (it’s tentatively called The Doughnut Cookbook, now who could argue with that?), one with an addictive maple glaze, I had maple glaze on my mind. It tangoed around in my brain with all sorts of ingredients, until settling on—well, drizzling down, really—the sides of a bundt cake hued with the rich, sweet flesh of a kabocha squash.

Bundt pan

I broke into my neighbor’s house to borrow a bundt cake pan. (Okay, maybe there was a key involved, but rifling through her cupboards with no one in the house, it felt like a break-in.) I stirred and whipped and mashed, until I had a butternut-orange batter tinged with maple syrup and spunked with sour cream. Up it baked, in a meticulously buttered and floured pan – in 40 minutes, which was less time than I expected – then out it came, gorgeous and spongy and smooth in all the right places and, I daresay, almost sexy. Aside from the oft-abused line from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I’ve never given the bundt cake a second thought, but goodness, yes, they’re sexy, with all those curves. Add a quick maple-vanilla glaze and a sprinkling of nuts, and you’ve got a head-turner.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake TOP

But enough about the way she looks. I have to tell you this: She might be my best-tasting cake. Ever.

I’ve told you before that I’m not much of a cake person. I don’t like the way dry edges call out for frosting—in my opinion, a cake shouldn’t need frosting, and frosting shouldn’t need cake. Each should be delicious on its own, but they should complement each other when they’re put together. Like people, I guess. But like people, it’s not always as easy as it sounds. This cake is different. The glaze is diamonds on a woman too beautiful for jewelry: certainly not needed, but once they’re there, how could you take them off?

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake top

I love this cake because it’s equally appropriate for the plate at 8 a.m., 4 p.m., or 8 p.m. (and, I suspect, at 4 a.m., although I didn’t get the opportunity to try). I like it because I let it sit for two days before serving it to a crowd, and it was still perfectly moist. I like it because unlike a regular dessert cake, it’s hard for others to tell how big a piece you’re really cutting for yourself, so you can have ten little slivers, if that suits you, or one giant hunk, without looking like a princess or a pig. I like that it has a rich, dense crumb, all the way to the edges. I love that it’s easy to cut. And most of all, I love that nothing about making it hurts me right now.

The problem with kabocha, in my house, is that we never seem to have enough. Roasting up a soccer ball-sized specimen left me with about a quart of mashed squash, and I’m already panicking about how to use the last of it. Do I make another cake and freeze it for my mom’s visit next week? Or do I whirl it up in the blender with a bit of coconut milk and a dab of curry paste, for a quick lunch soup? Or do I sacrifice an ice cube tray, and freeze the rest into little cubes, for Graham to eat, once he gets past the initial shock of putting something besides milk in his mouth?

Oh, dear me. I might just have to roast another. I’ve actually just purchased my own bundt pan, so you can guess where the kabocha will most likely go. I want to try the cake with cardamom.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake CUT

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Bundt Cake with Maple-Vanilla Glaze (PDF)

Kabocha squash has a rich, yellowy flesh that mashes up soft and smooth (like canned pumpkin) when it’s cooked. To roast it, slice a kabocha roughly in half and remove the seeds with an ice cream scoop. Roast cut side-down on a parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheet (no need to oil it) at 400 degrees until the skin is easy to poke with a fork, about an hour. (Timing will depend on the size and age of the squash.) Let the squash cool, peel away the skin and any other tough pieces, and mash the squash like you would potatoes, until smooth.

If you’re afraid of cutting the squash, you can also put the entire thing – stem and all – into the oven, and bake it a bit longer. Just be sure to scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff before you mash the flesh.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: About 16 servings

For the cake:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter (at room temperature), plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream (8 ounce container)
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 packed cups mashed kabocha squash

For the glaze:
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons water (plus more, if necessary)
2 tablespoons chopped toasted nuts, such as hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously (and carefully) flour and butter a bundt cake pan, and set aside.

Whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl, and set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing between additions. Stir the sour cream, maple syrup, and vanilla together in a bowl. With the machine on low, alternate adding the dry and wet mixtures – first some of the flour, then some of the cream, then flour, cream again, and finally flour. When just mixed, add the squash, and mix on low until uniform in color.

Transfer the batter to the prepared bundt cake pan, smooth the top, and bake (I find it easier to transfer if it’s on a baking sheet) until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs, and the top springs back when touched lightly, about 40 to 45 minutes.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake DRIPPING

Let the cake cool 10 minutes in the pan, then carefully invert onto a serving platter. When cool to the touch (after about an hour), make the glaze: Whisk the sugar, syrup, vanilla, and water together until smooth, adding additional water if necessary to make a thick, barely pourable glaze. Drizzle the glaze (or pour it right out of the bowl) along the crown of the cake, allowing it to ooze down the inside and outside of the cake. Sprinkle immediately with nuts, if using.

Once the glaze has dried, the cake keeps well, wrapped in plastic, at room temperature, up to 3 days.

MAKE AHEAD: Cake can also be made ahead, wrapped in foil and plastic, and frozen up to 1 month. Glaze after defrosting at room temperature.

Dirty bundt pan

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Filed under Breakfast, Cakes, dessert, farmer's market, lupus, recipe, vegetables