Monthly Archives: April 2008

Sorting and reading

I’m all tumbled up inside. We went to Colorado this weekend, to celebrate a loved one who had decided not to say that she was dying. It was, I think, the kind of gathering she’d envisioned, but I can’t chase the feeling of juggling too many emotions. There’s the surprise, that she had cancer at all, and the sadness, that she’s gone. There’s heartbreak, because she suffered the evilest death, but also happiness, because she had the kind of sweetness and charisma and kindness that made us all want to come together to think about her.

That’s just what we did. It seemed easy, hopping on a plane, then driving out I-70, to their house in the desert. It was the thing to do, so we did it. We hugged and cried and smiled and talked, but now, after the service, when there’s nothing left to do, it’s harder. Bill Withers comes on the radio, and I weep into my tea. We’ll miss her.

Anyway. It certainly puts things into perspective, as death always seems to do so effectively. There I was, whining about the weather and my stupid mouth, when she was fighting, literally, for her life. I need to find a sorting hat, and spend some time thinking it all out.

It’s been a while, I think, since I shared what I’ve been working on. Today, that feels like a safe topic. (Most links are PDFs.)

From Sunset magazine, a day with Bakery Nouveau’s William Leaman, something about Seattle’s Skillet Street Food, and a little ditty on learning my manners at Seattle’s Fairmont hotel.

Edible Seattle, a new local food magazine, is also out. The recipes aren’t available online yet, but pick one up (at Metropolitan Market, for example). Them’s tasty recipes. (Here’s a little more about what the magazine is about.)

In Seattle Metropolitan magazine, there’s been stuff about green garlic (from April) and razor clams (March). (I also chatted about clamming on Seattle’s NPR station, my segment starts at about the 34-minute mark.)

Ooh, and of course, don’t miss Seattle Weekly‘s annual dining guide.

And, lucky for my newly stitch-free mouth (not to mention my body), Arthritis Today reports that strawberries are natural anti-inflammatories. Here’s one of my strawberry recipes from AT online that I’ll be making again this week. No crunchy baguette required.

Salmon with Strawberry Salsa

Pan-Seared Salmon with Strawberry Salsa (PDF)
In strawberry season, top heart-healthy salmon with a sweet strawberry pico de gallo-style salsa for a nutritious, satisfying meal.

Serves 4
Prep time: 25 minutes

1 8-ounce container strawberries, tops removed, chopped
2 scallions (green and white parts), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 small salmon filets (with or without skin, about 1 1/3 pounds total)
2 teaspoons olive oil

Stir the strawberries, scallions, cilantro, lime juice, and jalapeno (if using) together in a small mixing bowl, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels, then rub fish on both sides with the oil and season with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, add the salmon, skin side-up if applicable. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the salmon is nicely browned. Gently flip the fish over and cook another 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of your filets, until cooked through. (As a general rule, fish takes about 10 minutes to cook (total) per inch of thickness.)

Transfer the fish to a serving plate, and top with the salsa. Serve immediately.

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Filed under fish, fruit, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe

Liquid lunch. And everything else.

Avocado-Coconut Milk Shake 2

For the record, my menu today:

Breakfast: Blueberry smoothie and a scrambled egg

Lunch: Raspberry yogurt, avocado shake, soy latte with almond something

Dinner: Pho, for the third night this week

I don’t really want to talk about it, except to say that I find avocado and coconut milk to be quite the pleasing combination.

When I can tear the end off a fresh baguette with my bare teeth again, I’ll be back. (But in case you’re wondering, this is what I’ve been doing with the time I usually spend typing recipes for Hogwash.)

Avocado-Coconut Milk Shake (PDF)
If someone tells you to live on meal replacement drinks for a week, by all means, substitute this. I like it best sprinkled with a little sea salt.

TIME: 5 minutes
MAKES: 1 large shake

1 small ripe avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced
3/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1/2 cup light coconut milk
3/4 cup lowfat milk
Pinch salt

Blend all ingredients until smooth and frothy. Drink immediately.


Filed under recipe

Temper tantrum

Straw-Rhubarb Oatmeal blue bowl

Seattle’s sky is in full-on temper tantrum mode. Friday night: Snow. Saturday: Rain, followed by sun, followed by hail. Sunday: Sun, followed by hail, followed by snow, followed by sun.

I don’t feel much different, honestly. The surgery went fine (or so they said), and barring the sensation that I’ve been hit in the face with a softball, I’m, uh, swell.

But the mushy foods thing is pissing me off. It’s not like there’s nothing to eat – like you pointed out, there’s plenty. Last night I stirred softened, sliced spring garlic into a creamy crimini risotto, and dinner was delicious.

This morning, even, I put a half pound of sliced young rhubarb into a pan with a good cupful of chopped strawberries and a couple tablespoons of sugar, and let the whole thing fall into a bright, bubbly jam on the stove. It took a matter of minutes, and when we stirred it into our oatmeal, the rhubarb’s bite woke me up just as much as a handful of crunchy walnuts ever does.

So I’m not exactly starving. I just have to take very small bites of very soft things.

The problem lies in what I cannot eat.

Molly's macaroons

Yesterday, our neighbor’s daughter brought us big chocolate-swaddled macaroons. My husband tore into his, and as I saw him pull back back from the first bite, I knew macaroons are everything periodontists hate: crunchy and chewy, with flakes of coconut that wander around the mouth, searching for crevices. (Or stitches.) I put mine on a cutting board, chopped off a tiny piece, and poked it into the back of my mouth anyway, between the four molars on one side that still work well. It was nowhere near as delicious there, hidden away from the sweet-sensing tip of my tongue.

And really, what good is a cookie – or a good risotto, or for goodness’ sake, even a good bowl of oatmeal – if you can’t get a good mouthful?

I do not like taking small bites.


Filed under recipe

When life gives you nettles

Nettle Pesto Pasta

I’d like to file a petition to officially divide the spring season into two sub-seasons: “Spring,” which comes after Mother’s Day and is usually lovely, and “Unsprung,” the obstinate lovechild of January and July. I don’t like Unsprung, that prepubescent stage between March and April. Every year, I’m hoodwinked into believing that the rain will end, the sun will come out, and we’ll finally be able to stop eating root vegetables. Instead, week after week, I find the same pathetic produce in stores and put up with two months of petulant weather.

Last week, for example, it was 80 degrees in Seattle, and I thought the cold weather was gone. I sailed to my farmers’ market on a boat of absurd optimism, thinking that on some sunny slope within driving distance, a well-tended patch of asparagus might have been bribed out of hibernation. I fantasized about tender, bendy rhubarb and early morels, but the market mocked me. I bought obese parsnips. Again. And kale. Again. And onions. Again. And my hope boat sank.

Continue reading “Taking the Sting Out of Nettles” at Leite’s Culinaria. . . or click here for Bucatini with Nettle-Pecan Pesto.


Filed under kitchen adventure, media

A fork in the road

Mags with forks

Have you noticed? There are forks in every photograph these days. Well, not just in. The forks are main characters, really. They’re stars. All the forks on the magazine covers look glamorous, somehow, compared to what we use at home. (Except for the MIT magazine. They seem to have forgotten the fork. Or maybe they’re still busy inventing a better one.)

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me to see them getting so much attention, given how frequently we eat with them, but for some reason a recent glance at my coffee table made me self-conscious about my Oneida. (Or is it Dansk?) I mean, how could a fork from a line called Symphony claim any sort of cache? I rifled around in our silverware drawer – the one I overloaded and broke, and Jim fixed, last weekend – and came up with one sexy fork. We bought it at Goodwill when we moved in. I ate with it for six weeks straight, before our life arrived in the moving truck, and now, in a sea of cutlery without character, I’m clinging to it.

I’m not exaggerating. I’ve been washing it by hand so I can use it more frequently, when a full orchestra of perfectly serviceable Symphony silverware waits at the ready. Just because I like Mr. Goodwill’s flat handle and dull finish, and how heavy he feels in my hand.

But we’re sort of in a fight, me and this fork. He came back into my life at a bad time.

I went to see my new periodontist a few weeks ago. I have a healthy, photogenic mouth, but apparently my gums are another story. They need a sort of preventative surgery. Hearing it explained, I’m not sure how the procedure differs in principle from Botox.

(Gross-out warning: Don’t read this if you’re eating.)

“Pretend your gums are pita pockets,” said Dr. B., jamming an inch-long device into the fleshy pink spaces between my teeth. “I’m going to pry them open, stuff them with turkey and tomatoes – you’re not a vegetarian, are you? – and sew them shut again.”

I cringed. “What happens afterward?” I asked. That story my father tells about turning fish and chips into a hot fish milkshake careened through my mind.

“You’ll go on a periodontic diet. It’s not like you can’t eat anything,” she said. “You just can’t eat anything crunchy, or hard, or super chewy, or anything sharp, or anything that could get caught in the sutures. No artisanal breads, no cereals, no hard vegetables, nothing too spicy, because you don’t want to get the blood clots flowing, no . . .”

I stopped listening when she suggested I view it as an opportunity to lose weight. But I’ve found a couple opinions, and surgery it shall be.

So I’ve been preparing, mentally, for my little adventure on Friday. Or, more precisely, for accepting what I won’t be able to eat after the fact. I’m steeling myself for a world of soup, and I have a list: avgolemono, egg drop, pho . . .

There’s physical preparation involved, also. I’ve been feeling good, these last few weeks. I was starting to think maybe I’d taken a turn for the much better – maybe even nailed lupus into some form of remission – but when I stopped my anti-inflammatories in anticipation of Friday’s work (Yes! The only time in my life I can say I’m having work done!), the pain started creeping back. Or, well, running back.

Late last night, my fork and I had a little tiff.

I guess I should back up a little. It really started when I found out that this weekend is razor clam season again. Oyster Bill told me I’d find fresh clams at Wild Salmon Seafood Market, and I got a hankering for the same fat, sweet meat I dug for last fall. As it turned out, the market didn’t have fresh razor clams, but they had frozen ones, and I decided to give them a try.

The truth? They’re not bad. For me, a huge part of the razor clam experience is digging and cleaning them, but chopped up in a light, simplified version of the razor clam chowder Kevin Davis serves at Steelhead (PDF), they were delicious. And best of all, I now have, conveniently frozen, two tasty lunches that will fit my periodontal “diet.”

Last night, the good fork and I scooped hot pasta, tossed with wine-infused spicy sausage, kale, and razor clams, into my mouth. But halfway through my bowl, my wrists got really, really tired. I put my fork down, not because I was done eating, but because it hurt too much to hold it any longer. Damn, it is downright embarrassing to think I might injure myself eating.

So no, I won’t be razor clamming this weekend. I probably won’t be doing much of anything, except hanging out, avoiding aerobic exercise, and teaching my husband how to make matzo ball soup from my perch on the couch. And hoping, really hoping, that the second the surgery’s over, I can hop back on the Naprosen wagon and go back to that fork in the road.

Oh do tell, wise reader: What would you eat?

Razor clam rigatoni 2

Portuguese Razor Clam Rigatoni (PDF)
Inspired by the Portuguese-style clam chowder popular at Cape Verdean spots on Cape Cod, this hearty pasta dish, made with spicy sausage, kale, garlic, and a touch of cream, makes a great home for chopped razor clams. If linguica or razor clams aren’t available in your area, substitute any spicy sausage or regular chopped clams, respectively.

TIME: 45 minutes total
MAKES: 4 hearty servings

3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
4 spicy sausages (such as linguica, chorizo, or hot Italian), casings removed
1 large leek, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4” half-moons
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 (1/2 pound) bunch kale, stems removed and chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 pound razor clam meat, chopped
3/4 pound bite-sized pasta, such as rigatoni
1/4 cup heavy cream
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Put a big pot of water on to boil for the pasta.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add 2 teaspoons of the olive oil, and swirl to coat. Add the sausage, crumbling it into bite-sized pieces as you add it to the pan, and cook, breaking it up as you go and turning occasionally, until no pink remains. Transfer the sausage to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

Add the remaining teaspoon of oil to the pan, then add the leeks, garlic, and thyme. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the kale and season with salt and pepper, and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the kale has wilted. (The sauce can be made ahead up to this point, and set aside for an hour or two before the meal.)

About ten minutes before serving, add the pasta to the boiling water, and cook according to package directions. Stir the wine and paprika into the kale mixture and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes. Add the sausage and clams (with any accumulated juices), and cook, stirring, just until clams are opaque. Increase heat to high, add the cream, and stir to coat all the ingredients with the cream. Stir in the cooked pasta, and serve immediately, sprinkled with cheese.


Filed under pork, recipe

A quick salad, for skiing

I know. “Salad” and “skiing” don’t usually go together. But someone told me it’s supposed to hit 70 degrees in Seattle this weekend (hallelujah!), and we’re going skiing, which means a picnic, which means portable edibles. I will be ready.

Besides being delicious, this little salad is the perfect solution to a refrigerator full of fennel fronds.

Beet and Fennel Wheat Berry Pilaf

Beet and Fennel Wheat Berry Pilaf (PDF)
You could substitute dill for the fennel, if you’d prefer, or add any variety of crumbled cheeses, but I like the way the simple combination of lemon and fennel leaves a clean, bright taste in my mouth.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

1 pound baby beets (about a dozen 1 1/2” beets), trimmed
1 cup raw wheat berries
2 teaspoons salt, plus more, to taste
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fennel fronds (the soft, green tops of one big fennel bulb)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup roughly chopped toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim the beets, wrap them in foil, and roast for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until tender. Cool slightly in the foil, then peel and quarter.

Meanwhile, place the wheat berries in a large saucepan. Add about 6 cups water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for about an hour, maybe a little longer, until the berries are al dente. (Some of the berries may begin to open up.)

In a large bowl, whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a good grinding of pepper together to blend. Drain the wheat berries and stir them into the bowl when they’re hot, so they soak up the dressing. Fold in the warm beets, fennel fronds, chives, and pecans, and season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Since fresh fennel fronds don’t wilt very easily, the salad keeps well in the refrigerator, covered, up to 3 days.


Filed under leftovers, Lunch, recipe, salad, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

The Way We Stir


You will be happy to know, I’m sure, that the chocolate came out of my jeans. I gave them a quick scrub over the utility sink, then plunked them into the washing machine with hot water, and poof, like magic, the disaster disappeared. I would have sat on a chocolate truffle sooner, had I known it could make my laundry room smell like Willy Wonka’s without considerably altering my wardrobe.

I think it worked because I was patient. I didn’t come right home and start scraping the stuff off, see. First, I folded those second-hand Sevens neatly and balanced them on top of our bedroom door, where they cured for a few days, airing out a bit in the breeze. Only then, when it got annoying to always have the dog sitting in the doorway, gazing up at them with a soft stream of spittle sliding out the side of her mouth, did I take them downstairs.

That is patience. It’s something my fortuneteller recommended.

Ah, yes, I have a fortuneteller now. Did leave that part out? I met her in West Virginia, in a gilded room with another guy looking for guidance and entertainment. She’s a woman with The Gift. (They shall both remain nameless, lest the Internets affect said powers, but for the record, they’re both food writers.)

Really, she reads runes. (I hadn’t heard of them either. It’s not quite fortunetelling. More like forecasting.) My understanding is limited, but runes are essentially ancient glyphs, descendents of the Greek alphabet and precursors to the modern letter. In the old days, centuries or so ago, runes spread across Europe with Christianity, and soothsayers, so said my runereader, used the glyphs as a divination tool, primarily for agricultural purposes. You know, when do we plant the corn?

These days, when you have your runes read, it’s a little more whimsy and mystique, a little less practicality. She asked me to think of an issue in my life, and explained that I’d pull three stones from her sparkly bag, each of which would be marked with a symbol. I’d set them symbol-side down on the table, then read them, right to left, by flipping them over one at a time. As I turned them, she leafed through her little divination book, and I was enlightened.

It was almost that easy. First, I thought really hard and scrabbled my tiles out onto the table. In the spot designated to describe the present, I flipped a Fehu, symbol of wealth and cattle. It’s a sign of hope and plenty, success and happiness. Next, a stone predicted action for the present: Tiwaz, the warrior rune, represents a willingness to self-sacrifice and the ability to know where one’s true strengths lie. My “future” tile was Kenaz, reversed, meaning lack of creativity and false hope.

It doesn’t matter what I was thinking about. Not to you, anyway, because to me, it all made an obscene amount of sense, the way she told my story, even my future, through these stones. She leveled me with a soft gaze, and said “Jess, I recommend you go home, and get a little sticky note. Write the word “patience” on it, and stick it to your computer.” And while I knew that even she saw the whole thing as some sort of parlor game, that in no way was I to go home and expect to turn wealthy or cattle-like or into Xena: Warrior Princess, I did feel a larger meaning in her words.

So here it is, the new mantra I’m working with this week: Patience.

On Saturday, I took it into the kitchen. I found myself wishing I had my fortuneteller there again, that her kaleidoscopic little bag could tell me what to make for dinner, but the point of the whole reading, I think, is to trust your instinct. How else could she be so accurate?

So I stared. Just opened the refrigerator door, squatted down in front of it, the way you do when the refrigerating half is on the bottom of the operation and your back gets tired from leaning in, and waited. My husband muttered something about the energy bill, but a few minutes later, there it was in the pot, a big white tangle of unscented nothingness, destined to become rich, sweet onion-fennel jam.

The hallmark of caramelized onions is the patience required to make them. Hopped up high on the memory of my last tart, I toasted fennel seeds in oil, sliced onions until I cried (I don’t care how sharp my knife is – I always cry), and tossed in a mangled mass of fennel. (Really. If you’re going to melt fennel and onions right past the caramelized stage and into jam, how could it matter if the pieces look perfect?)

Then, I was patient. I puttered and stirred, made a phone call, and stirred while I talked, made a grocery list, and stirred, never leaving the kitchen. What I didn’t do – and what I hate doing – is the housewide stirring dance, the body-slamming hip-hop piece I’ve gotten too good at. It goes stirinthekitchen-typeintheoffice-stir-type-screamattheclock-run-scrape-stir-stir-type. There’s nothing melodic or hypnotic about stirring like that, and really, I find it much more fun to cook to a more mellow, consistent beat.

When we got hungry, the jam was still busy jamming, so I pulled the pot off the heat and joined friends for dinner. The next day, I kept stirring.

Making onion fennel jam

Eventually, after the onions and fennel became indistinguishable from one another and the house filled with their candied, earthy fragrance, I decided the last of the vegetables’ liquids had simmered away. I dunked hearty, whole-grain bread into the toaster, and piled the mahogany mass into a glass jar. We smeared the jam onto the toast for lunch, and I licked it right off the spoon, wondering if a food could taste like time.

I felt a little grateful for my jam – not in the sense of saying grace, but because for once, I’d been able to stand there at the stove, more or less, and just stir. Patiently.

When I write recipes, I use a certain vocabulary: Stir frequently. Stir continuously. Stir vigorously. New, to me, is this: Stir patiently.

Caramelized Onion-Fennel Jam

Caramelized Onion-Fennel Jam with Patience (PDF)
It isn’t imperative that you cut the onions and fennel perfectly here, or that you actually moor yourself above the pot to stir constantly, but the further this sweet, fragrant jam cooks down, the stickier it gets, so don’t forget about it. Smear it on toast or sandwiches, or if you’re feeling daring, scoop it onto vanilla or olive oil ice cream for dessert.

TIME: 2 1/2 hours, start to finish
MAKES: about 2 1/2 cups

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
3 very large onions (about 3 pounds), halved and sliced 1/4” thick
2 fennel bulbs (about 1 pound, trimmed), cored and sliced 1/4” thick
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more, to taste
Freshly ground pepper

Note: I save my fennel fronds – the tops – and stir them into things, chopped like dill, wherever a soft, fragrant herb seems appropriate.

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the fennel seeds, and stir for 30 to 45 seconds, until toasted and fragrant. Add the onions, fennel, 1 teaspoon salt, and a bit of freshly ground pepper. Stir to lift the fennel seeds off the bottom of the pot. Cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, then uncover, reduce heat to low, and continue to cook, stirring patiently, for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The jam is done when the onions and fennel are a rich brown color and almost all the liquid has evaporated from the pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm, or keep in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, up to 2 weeks.


Filed under appetizers, gluten-free, recipe, vegetarian

A most embarrassing mess

Tapioca from top

It is delicious, the way all the little words we have can be stirred and cooked into something special, then seasoned and spiked until they taste better than just good. I think most writers open a fat bag of them, peer in, and start choosing.

Not me. I write the same way I bowl. I tend to rip open the package and huck hundreds of little pieces down whichever lane seems closest, as hard as I can, hoping their collective force has the power to override the tipsiest pins.

Honestly? I really like it that way, gutter balls and all. It’s the thrill of the thing. But if my stockbroker said buying strictly on impulse made him happy, I would probably fire him.

I spent the week at a foodwriters’ conference at The Greenbrier, the iconic West Virginian resort (slash Museum of Offensive Wallpaper), thinking about different ways to go about this whole writing business.

Talking about writing with a hundred other people seemed sort of outrageous to me, given the silence and solitude of the usual process. I had to pull back and figure out how all the little pearls of wisdom the coaches touched on – about word choice, organization, picking assignments, etc. – applied to me. Sometimes we actually wrote together, ready-set-go style in eight-minute segments, about whatever the previous seminar had inspired in us. Folks stood up afterward to share what they’d written, and invariably, I’d stare down at my scrawl and wonder how I’d wandered so far away from the original subject.

On Wednesday, we talked about how blogs and vlogs are changing the way all food-related content reaches its viewers, and I wrote for eight minutes about (I thought) a nose job:

I’ve always wanted a nose job. It might be considered wrong, altering the face nature gave me, but when I launch Messy Jessy, the vlog that chronicles what happens when an accident-prone cook brings new clothing into the kitchen, I’ll certainly have to think more about my appearance. It’ll be a pert little thing, one the camera can look straight down on, when it examines the tomato sauce smeared into my new sparkly white scarf, the flour wedged into that useless square pocket on the righthand side of my jeans, or the coffee grounds stuck in my stockings. Thank you, video technology, for my new nose. It will be perfect. And I can write it off.

It was just a crazy idea, born in the moment, out of frustration at having to spend $21.30 in the Greenbrier’s shoe shop for a pair of plain Jane black nylons I know I’ll ruin. (Really. I don’t own a television, and I’d prefer to avoid being on it. Ever, if possible.)

But I cursed myself. My father called me Messy Jessy growing up (oh, how I do loathe that name), and it appears I’ve brought the mess back.

On the way home yesterday, I sat next to a new friend on a flimsy little mosquito of a plane from Roanoke to Washington, DC. I’m a nervous, reluctant flyer, so I was grateful when she did her best to distract me. She’d shoved a few chocolate truffles into her carry-on at the hotel, and was in the process of digging the melting ones out of the depths of her computer case. She gave me one to hold. I obliged, and started excavating my own bag for the napkin she needed to wipe up. She asked me if she’d taken it the truffle back, and I said yes, because my hands were empty. Satisfied, she jumped subjects, chatting me up and out of my nervousness. (Thank you, Jill. It’s so embarrassing when I actually start yelping out loud during turbulence.)

Twenty minutes after an uneventful landing, a trip to the restroom, a dash into a store for water, and a 15-minute walk from one Dulles terminal to another, I discovered said truffle smeared across the back of my jeans.

messy jeans

This is not a stain. This is an embarrassment.

But it got better. I got bumped up to first class on my flight to Seattle, and found myself seated next to my district’s congressman.

From my window seat, I could see three other airplanes cruising along ahead, their jetstreams throwing pillows of white into the air so innocently, as if they were stirring up clouds, rather than poisoning the atmosphere. When I wasn’t hiding behind my computer screen, I stared out at them, thinking that if I was just still enough, my jeans and I might become invisible.

The flight attendant detailed the dinner menu to Mr. McDermott through her fanciest smile. “I’ll have the short ribs,” he said. She leveled me with her best Soup Lady stare. I waited for her to address me by name, or perhaps give me the same menu options, but apparently her breath was only useful for passengers holding public office, or perhaps those who hadn’t messed their pants. “Short ribs, please,” I mumbled.

I didn’t think once about the turbulence.

spilled tapioca

This morning, I stared into my neglected refrigerator for inspiration for a dessert to share with a neighbor, but the condiments just stared back, and suggested I try the pantry.

I decided to alter a coconut milk tapioca pudding I made last week, and reached for a bag of tapioca pearls. (The first go was fabulously fluffy, almost marshmallowy, but lime zest gave the whole thing an eery green shade that was less than appetizing.) I started cleaning up after the gingered version, and knocked the whole bag of tapioca pearls right over. Zillions of little white balls tumbled out, skittering over a placemat and onto the counter, pouring into the crack between the counter and the trash can, jumping into the spaces between our rattan-covered stools, and, yes, hiding in my sweatshirt pocket.

I think I’ll avoid food altogether for the next few days.

Ginger-Scented Tapioca in green 1

Ginger-Scented Tapioca Pudding (PDF)
When it comes to tapioca pudding, I don’t like adding anything that gets in the way of how the little pearls feel tumbling around in my mouth. Infused with just enough ginger and lemongrass, this coconut milk-based version, based loosely on Bob’s Red Mill’s recipe for the fluffy, old-fashioned kind, perks up the taste buds without sacrificing its hallmark texture. Soaking tapioca pearls in water before cooking encourages their natural starches to come out, making the pudding creamier, so be sure to let them sit for the full 30 minutes.

Note: If your stove’s lowest setting isn’t really, really low, you should probably be by the stove to mother your pudding as it simmers.

TIME: 30 minutes, plus soaking time
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

1/3 cup small tapioca pearls
1 cup water
2 eggs, separated
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 4-inch segment lemongrass, cut into 1” pieces
5 (1/4” thick) slices ginger (about the diameter of a quarter)
1/2 cup sugar

Combine the tapioca and the water in a small bowl, and set aside to soak for 30 minutes.

Whisk the egg yolks, coconut milk, and salt together in a medium saucepan. Add the tapioca (with its water), stir in the lemongrass and ginger, and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until thick.

Meanwhile, place the egg whites in the work bowl of a stand mixer. With the mixer on medium speed, add the sugar in a slow, steady stream, then increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, about 4 to 5 minutes. (The mixture will be smooth and shiny like meringue, but not nearly as stiff.)

Remove the lemongrass and ginger from the pudding, and stir a heaping 1/2 cup of the hot pudding into the egg white mixture. Fold the egg white mixture back into the saucepan, and cook another few minutes on low, stirring until the mixture is evenly blended. Scoop pudding into small bowls and serve warm or at room temperature.
tapioca mess


Filed under dessert, gluten-free, recipe