Monthly Archives: May 2008

Graduation

Whole wheat crepes with cinnamon sugar and walnuts

It’s been an eventful ten days, in the most literal sense: My best friend moved to Seattle. My husband turned 30. My little sister graduated from high school.

Yes, I have a 17-year-old sister. I have a picture of us on a ridge near our parents’ house in Boise, Idaho, taken the week I left for college, the summer a forest fire engulfed the hills around our home. She was six. I like it because the way I’m carrying her, her dark hair blends into the charred earth behind us, and it sort of looks like she’s on fire, too.

It’s appropriate, for such a driven person. When I was in high school, Allison was the kind of kid who would hold her breath until she turned blue, just to beat me.

She’s still tenacious. She has an amazing intellectual wingspan. She’s funny, and remarkably beautiful. And she’s turning into the sort of friend I look up to unconditionally. (But whatever you say, I’m still taller.)

Last weekend, we all gathered around her and clucked. It must have driven her crazy, the way we talked about her like she wasn’t even in the room, all weekend long. (If you think being an only child sounds hard, try fending off two parents and two (much) older siblings, and their significant others.) We chirped about her summer job, what her friends are doing, what she should adjust on her road bike, where she’s going to college. . .

That last bit is a delicate topic. See, she’s not quite sure. She still might go to Middlebury, where my brother and I went, or to UW, in Seattle.

I loved Middlebury, and I’m sure she would, too. (She’ll succeed anywhere.) But when I was back east, I missed Allison’s childhood. I sent twigs for her nest, but I was not always there to help build it. My heart does a little dance when I think of her coming to UW. I’ve been fantasizing about her showing up at our house on Sundays, to have dinner and do her laundry in our basement.

All weekend, the family balanced there, together, in a strange, exciting void between celebration and uncertainty. When Allison wasn’t home, we volleyed the advantages of Vermont and Washington back and forth with equal weight. I can’t imagine the conflict inside her head, but I do think I know, with the advantage of hindsight, that she’ll be happy at either place. And we’ll be happy, too, wherever she is.

On Monday morning, the day before graduation, I volunteered my brother Josh to make crepes. We’ve never been a pancake or waffle sort of family, but crepes – doled one at a time out of a hot, buttery pan – are commonplace.

A crepe is a pancake’s overachieving sibling. The batter pools onto a hot pan and runs across it, instead of plopping down and sitting there, like a pancake would. On a relaxing morning, pancakes watch television. Crepes play Wii.

I don’t make them often in my own home. I have a good blue steel pan, and know how to make the thin, demanding batter skitter across a film of bubbling butter and lace up all pretty. I love how they taste, but I just don’t do it. Crepes are the cornerstone to Howe holiday mornings, and to me, they seem most at home on an oak dining table in the Boise foothills.

Josh left home with a different impression. In San Francisco, he makes crepes weekly, almost, folded up with goat cheese, bacon, and chives, or rolled around chicken and mushrooms for dinner. Though I have every confidence in my own crepe-making ability, it somehow felt funny to step up to the stove with him in the room. He’s a damn good cook, and he’s inherited my father’s status as crepe-maker.

opening milk

He blended up a batch of all whole-wheat crepe batter, using the local milk my mom has started buying. We inherited the same willingness to tinker in the kitchen; he added pinches of this or that until something inside him determined the batter was perfect.

Crepe batter needs a good rest. Normally, my mother makes it the night before, and it sleeps in the fridge, where the flour’s proteins relax, so it pours smoothly the next day, and the crepes yield easily between the teeth. On Monday, we made another pot of coffee, and put the blender aside for a quick nap.

drinking coffee

No one in my family sits still very well. (If you think I’m energetic for someone with lupus, you should meet my mother. You’ll understand how much I have slowed down.) Yet there we were, drinking coffee and sitting, remembering J.R. Simplot on Memorial Day, listening as his giant flag snapped this way and that in the wind, at half mast. (Yes, the king of potatoes has passed.)

simplot's flag at half-mast

May is the best that way, in Boise. The weather’s never good enough to encourage early action, nor hot enough to insist on it. The month just stimulates coffee consumption.

cutting strawberries

Josh showed me how he knows the batter is thin enough in the blender. After it rested, we had to add a bit more milk, because the whole wheat seemed to swell up a bit. I chopped strawberries, and he started pouring and flipping, topping and serving:

If you’ve made crepes, you know it wasn’t Josh’s fault; the first crepe is dependably ugly. The pan is always too hot, or not hot enough, or not centered over the flame, or perhaps just needs a good therapy session. The longer it’s been since its last use, the more cantankerous the pan is likely to be. (That’s all part of it.)

dad in line

As soon as Josh unwrapped the butter for the pan, my dad hit his chair, effectively claiming the first one, no matter what it looked like. The rest of the family sat down at the table, waiting for Josh to pick the next recipient, while he tucked strawberries, or bananas and walnuts, inside, and topped each one with a dollop of whipped cream. I held the plates.

making a whole wheat crepe

When the fruit was gone, I took a turn, filling the last one with walnuts and cinnamon and sugar, and watched as the cream slid down the hot crepe. (If the cream stays on top, there’s a problem. Either the cream is not real, or the crepe is not hot.)

Instead of eating by turn and leaving the table, like we usually do, coming back for the next round when the crepe-maker calls, we all stayed in the kitchen, enjoying each others’ company. And wondering, no doubt, when we’ll be making crepes together next, and where.

eating crepes

Josh’s Whole Wheat Crepes (PDF)
My brother Josh’s more nutritious version of the family’s crepe recipe reminds us of true buckwheat crepes from Brittany, but they’re a lot less fussy. Made with all whole-wheat flour, the batter may thicken a little upon standing; feel free to adjust it as you go. (Josh says the key element to making crepes is using your judgment, instead of staying glued to a recipe. If the batter seems to thick, add milk. Too thin? Add flour. Pan too hot? Cool it down. Crepes not browning? Turn the heat up. Too greasy? Less butter. Et cetera.) You want a batter that’s thin enough to run across a hot pan when you swivel it around in your hand, but beyond that, crepes are much more flexible than you might think. Traditional French crepes are paper-thin, but we tend to pour them a little thicker, so more actually make it to the breakfast table.

Fill crepes with chopped fresh fruit and top with whipped cream, or sprinkle with sugar and lemon before folding. For savory crepes, omit the sugar, and add a bit more salt, plus a handful of finely chopped herbs, if you’re feeling adventuresome.

And for goodness’ sake, don’t make them all at once and keep them in the oven. Serve them hot, the instant they come out of the pan.

MAKES: 6 servings

2 cups milk (plus more, if needed)
2 large eggs
1 stick unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 2/3 cups whole wheat flour

Combine the milk, eggs, melted butter, sugar, salt and 1 cup flour in a blender, and whirl until smooth, scraping down the sides of the glass, if necessary. Add all or most of the remaining flour, a bit at a time, until the batter has roughly the consistency of drinkable yogurt (very thin for pancake batter, but not runny). Let the batter sit at least 30 minutes at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator. (Bring the batter back to room temperature before continuing.)

Before cooking, thin the batter with a bit more milk, if it seems substantially thicker.

Preheat a crepe pan or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, grease with a dollop of butter (using a stick of butter to smear some directly on the skillet works nicely), and add enough batter to coat the skillet in a thin, even layer when you swivel the skillet around in your hand. (The actual amount of batter will depend on the size of your pan and the thickness of the batter; we used about 1/4 cup.) Cook for a couple minutes, until you see bubbles in the center of the crepe and the bottom side is nicely browned. Flip carefully and cook another couple minutes on the other side. Fill as desired and serve immediately. Repeat with the remaining batter.

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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, recipe, video

Brownies, for a mission

Bittersweet espresso brownies

It was a ridiculous mission.

My husband, brother, and a few friends decided to climb Mt. Shasta in a day. It’s a big mountain, to put it mildly, and it was only when Jim dropped me off in Portland, where I was to spend the weekend with my grandmother, that I realized how scared I was about having two of the men I love most in the world being up on that mountain together. Individually, they’re both smart, fit, and snow-savvy; together, they’re . . .well, you know how boys can be.

People ask me what I’d want for my last meal with a regularity I find stunning. I rarely think of my own morbidity, and, frankly, I think the concept of picking just one meal to cherish is a little ridiculous. Yet, when Jim was packing for the trip, I found myself flipping through recipes in my head, trying to think of the perfect thing for either he or my brother to have, should one of them find himself stuck on the side of a 14,000-foot peak, awaiting care.

I’ve been awfully heavy on the sweets here recently, but of course, I had to make brownies – a whole wheat, espresso-laden version of the ones in the back of June’s Gourmet. Jim is hopelessly addicted to the (coffee) bean, and over the last few years, my brother has been steadily working his way through one fudgy, dark chocolate brownie recipe after the next, hoping to find The One.

If you don’t count the hours I spent lying awake in bed, worrying, I had a lovely weekend. (Really, I was only there for 36 hours.)

pulled pork sandwich on our knees

I took my grandmother to the Portland farmers’ market for the first time, and we sat on a bench together, our knees touching, with a barbecued pork sandwich balanced nicely between our four kneecaps. We browsed at Powell’s, and took our purchases into the Anthropologie across the street, because really, what’s a book without a good couch? (No one seemed to mind.)

I read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which was excellent, except it made me think of people having freak accidents and dying. Poor timing, I guess.

Shasta_route

While we wandered and ate, the climbers slept for 3 hours, hiked and skied for 14 hours (up the red, down the blue), and summited with enough altitude sickness to prevent them from planning the next trip before they said their goodbyes. (In my opinion, this constitutes a perfect outcome.)

By the time they hit Portland, they were exhausted. I drove them home in the early, early morning to the sound of a full snore-chestra. There was a drummer behind me, playing a slow, low beat on a set of Timpani drums, and a much more delicate sleeper, whispering a soft rhythm, in and out, like those little brushes drummers use on their symbols. Behind me, I honestly couldn’t say who made which noise, but in the front seat, my husband honked out a most unmusical bleat. He was sitting upright, in the position one uses when one needs sleep in the most desperate way but would like to appear awake: shoulders hunched, chin pushed forward, spine bent awkwardly forward, like a flower toward the sun. Every once in a while, he would have a limb spasm and fall against the dashboard or the window, and I would giggle, there in the drivers’ seat, happy to have laughter replace chewing on my fingertips as the best means of keeping myself awake.

The best way to stay awake at 2 a.m., of course, is food. I ate Swedish Fish, which I hate, as a rule, but when I asked Jim for candy at the gas station, they were the only thing he came back with.

I’m so glad he’s home, but I haven’t quite forgiven him for not telling me there were brownies left in the backseat.

Leftover brownies

Whole Wheat Bittersweet Espresso Brownies (PDF)
This recipe is adapted from Ruth Cousineau’s recipe for Deep Chocolate Brownies, in the back of the June 2008 issue of Gourmet magazine. She called for chocolate no stronger than 60% cacao, but I used Trader Joe’s 72%. I used white whole wheat flour exclusively for this recipe – even for preparing the baking pan – and the results were sensational (especially if you’re looking for brownies with two sources of caffeine). For the prettiest results, do allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan before cutting and transporting.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 30 good-sized brownies

2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup espresso beans, very finely ground
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup white whole wheat flour, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and center a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter and flour a 13” by 9” baking pan, and set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth. When the chocolate has melted, add the ground coffee, and let sit until lukewarm.

Whisk in the sugar and vanilla, then add the eggs, one at a time, whisking between additions until the mixture is thick and glossy.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa power, and salt, and stir into the chocolate mixture, just until the flour is combined.

Spread the batter in an even layer in the pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely, then cut into squares.

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Filed under dessert, grandma, husband, recipe

Christmas, in May(ne)

I felt like a bit of a fugitive, slipping through Boston without telling a soul. I wrote a friend afterward: I hope you understand. I’d committed to the trip months before, and when I started flaring again, I just couldn’t bear the thought of traveling for more than one reason. I didn’t want to cancel the whole thing, but I wanted to be healthy.

It was the right decision. I’d planned to spend the week in Maine, with Kathy, testing and developing recipes for her next cookbook.

cakes cooling

Just as the plane left Seattle, it seems, the new drug regimen blossomed into a bit of energy, and we spent four delicious days pretending to cook for the holidays. (If you don’t feel like you’re appreciating May, try cooking 35 recipes without peas, asparagus, or rhubarb.)

I met Kathy about six years ago. Technically, she’s my husband’s aunt’s first cousin. The aunt introduced us when I was in culinary school (thanks, Kim!), thinking I might learn a thing or two from a seasoned cookbook author. I marched right into Kathy’s kitchen and demanded and internship, and since then, our lives have tumbled together. (Oh, how I’ve learned.) She’s become a mentor, and a dear friend. Since we moved to Seattle, I’ve missed the creative energy that simmers up and out of my brain when we cook together.

welcome to Kathy's

I’ve also missed her coffee. (She makes the best coffee.) This week, it helped us blaze through the better part of a book. (I can’t tell you much, but I can tell you there’s a holiday book I’ll be recommending next year.) We alternated cooking with eating, eating with baking, baking with typing, typing with snacking.

IMG_1021

There were naps involved, great flops onto Kathy’s red couch that recharged our appetites as much as our energy.

We had people over for dinner, there in her big farmhouse, and it really was a little like Christmas, sitting at the table long after we’d finished our last bites.

kathy's dining room

There are few houses in this world where a typical night involves a mom quizzing her daughter on her anatomy homework, while the daughter cracks lobsters open for her for lobster stew.

Chopped lobster

Where lunch means leftover rolled, stuffed leg of lamb and a slice of pork roast:

IMG_1076

Where cooking with another person means standing over a fried egg together in the morning before the caffeine has kicked in, one person salting and one person peppering, arms moving in concert like they belong to the same body.

I had a lovely time. We worked hard, but it almost felt like vacation.

The problem now is that I’m awfully tired of eating.

At least, I thought I was, until I fell in love with a berry display.

At first, it seemed like a good idea to just buy them, despite the price, and go on a fresh fruit binge for a few days, to clear away that post-Thanksgiving blah feeling. (And oh. My. How the steroids bump up the appetite.)

But looking at the strawberries and blueberries en masse like that, all cozied together like they were gearing up for a nap in the oven, my mind cartwheeled toward a bubbling berry crisp.

Then, standing there in the produce section with the little clamshells stacked up in my cart, I did some quick math, and almost fainted. I do not have $28 for a berry crisp, I thought. I heard George Bush, the devil on my shoulder, blathering on about a tax refund. Dan Barber popped up on the other side, and I remembered how I’d stocked up on frozen blueberries and raspberries at a farmers’ market recently (for less than what I’d pay in the freezer section at Whole Foods, mind you). I bought frozen strawberries, and headed home, where my hazelnut cache was waiting.

Three-Berry Crisp

Three Berry Crisp (PDF)
Before summer really comes, it’s hard to find berries plump enough to simmer into a juicy, full-flavored crisp. Using frozen berries (especially if you have the good fortune to buy them locally) is a good alternative if you can’t wait for July, and it can also be more economical. Here, I’ve spent the savings on hazelnuts for a deliciously nutty, gingery topping, but you could substitute chopped walnuts, pecans, or sliced almonds.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

For the fruit:
1 pound frozen blueberries
1 pound frozen strawberries
1 pound frozen raspberries
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger

For the topping:
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir all the fruit ingredients together until the flour coats all pieces. Transfer to a 9” x 13” baking dish (or similar), and bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the same bowl, stir all the topping ingredients except the butter together to blend. Drizzle the melted butter over the top, and stir until all ingredients are moistened.

After 20 minutes, remove the berries, stir to combine, and sprinkle the topping in an even layer over the berries, pushing it all the way to the edges of the pan. Bake another 30 to 40 minutes, or until the topping is browned and the filling is bubbling.

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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, farmer's market, food politics, fruit, kitchen adventure, recipe, vegetables

Crunch Time

Hazelnut-Coconut-Blackcurrant Granola

It wasn’t a baguette I wanted, when the dentist finally gave me carte blanche to eat anything at all. I needed something more violent, something with so much crunch it prevented me from hearing the person next to me speak. It came in the form of a hazelnut granola.

When I settled on what to stir into the oats – hazelnuts (hardly chopped), fat strips of chewy unsweetened coconut, and sticky black currants – it sounded like quite a mouthful.

But I wanted the kind of granola that needs to be shoveled in on overloaded spoonfuls, the kind whose deep, sweet flavors force a person to inadvertently take bites so big that a little piece, maybe a cluster of ginger-scented oats or a whole toasted hazelnut, pops right out and splashes back into the bowl. I needed a breakfast that dropped flavors into every crevice in my mouth (especially the ones that used to be off-limits).

So yes, hazelnut-coconut-blackcurrant granola is a bit of a mouthful. But my mouth was ready.

Hazelnut-Coconut-Blackcurrant Granola 2

Hazelnut-Coconut-Blackcurrant Granola (PDF)
If you can find it, unsweetened large flake coconut is the best type for this recipe. I use the kind made by Bob’s Red Mill, which comes in fat shavings about an inch long.

For extra nutty flavor, use a nut oil instead of plain old canola.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: about 15 cups granola

3 cups hazelnuts
1 cup honey
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 18-ounce container (6 1/2 cups) old-fashioned oats
2 cups unsweetened large flake coconut
1 cup dried blackcurrants (about 6 ounces)
1/3 cup flaxseed meal
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup canola or nut oil (such as walnut, hazelnut, or pecan oil)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the hazelnuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes, until the nuts’ skins crack and begin to lift off the nuts themselves. Let cool for 10 minutes, or until the skins stop crackling and whispering. (You’ll hear them.) Transfer the nuts to a clean tea towel a handful at a time, and rub between layers of the towel to remove as much of the loose skins as possible. When all the nuts are rubbed mostly clean (no need to be too strict, ya hear?), give them a rough chop and transfer them to a large mixing bowl.

Combine the honey and brown sugar in a small saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved completely. Set aside.

Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl with the hazelnuts, and stir until very well blended. Drizzle the honey and sugar mixture on top, and stir again until the sweeteners coat all ingredients.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats. Divide the granola between the two sheets, spreading it into an even layer on each sheet, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring the granola and rotating sheets top to bottom and back to front a few times during baking. The granola is done when it’s uniformly deep golden brown.

Let the granola cool to room temperature on the baking sheets, undisturbed. Break apart and store in an airtight container.

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Filed under Breakfast, gluten-free, recipe, vegetarian

Get behind the mule and plow

On Sunday, I bought pinto beans from Buck, at Alvarez Farms’ Ballard Farmers’ Market stand, thinking I could make real refried beans:

On Monday, Jim came home to find me sprawled out in the sunbeam on the floor of our office, snow angel style, except very still. I stared up at him and asked him not to make me move. The combination of riding our bikes to the market and a three-mile walk had been too much the day before, and even with a two-hour nap, I couldn’t kick the fatigue. I’d thawed out a pound of ground beef, hoping I could work up enough excitement to make tacos with homemade shells for Cinco de Mayo, with the refried beans.

Jim decided it wasn’t a good idea for me to use a knife. “Plus, you’re probably very dirty,” he said. “Have you seen that floor up close?”

I suggested going out, since I hadn’t done anything with the beans yet anyway, and he, Mr. I Love Mexican, refused. (He always refuses to do the expected.)

Then, my husband offered to make me spaghetti and meatballs. (He’s the best that way. I’d be so sick of being my pick-me-up, in his position, but he always finds the right thing to say.) Lying on the floor, feeling the warmth of the pine planks soothe my back, it sounded like the best idea in the world. He told me to stay put.

“That would be wonderful,” I said, and decided to do my very best not to coach. He checked his email and showered, and my sun hid behind the back fence.

One thing, I thought. I’ll just get out all the stuff he could put in the meatballs. That nearly-dead head of parsley. That half an onion. The right pan. I got up.

“What’s this?” he asked, pointing to the pan.

“For searing meatballs.”

“I can’t do them in the oven?”

“You can. But if you do them on the stove, you can just dump the sauce in on top, and let them simmer, and it’s fewer dishes.” Ah ha. Trump card. I had revealed that there was premade sauce somewhere in the house.

I piled a few things onto the counter, then I really did sit down to read.

He sounded like an unpracticed ping-pong player in the kitchen, rattling around without the habitual patterns that come to someone who cooks frequently in the same space. Three drawers would open before he’d find what he was looking for. When he began snapping the tongs open and shut over and over, I could tell he was standing over the meatballs, waiting for them to cook, instead of flitting off to start a different task, like I might have done. I wished I could watch him.

I don’t know how long it took. It was long enough for me to finish a magazine, which I rarely do. Long enough for a neighbor to knock on the door and announce, “Wow! It smells like chicken livers!” (I don’t think Jim liked that part. It smelled nothing like chicken livers.)

It was long enough for me to recognize the way a dinner’s smells rustle themselves up and out of a kitchen, and make the one who’s being cooked for feel darn near queenlike.

When it was done, he called me in.

There, simmering in the high-sided skillet, was a gorgeous sauce. It looked like a Bolognese, only the meat had more body.

“Is this meatball sauce?” I asked carefully.

“Yeah,” he said. “Your meatball theory doesn’t work. They started to burn, so I had to scramble them into a sauce.”

I decided not to argue about my “theory.”

“So we’re having bucatini with scrambled meatball sauce?”

“Yes,” he said. He piled pasta into our bowls a little awkwardly, and smothered it with his creation. He showered everything with Parmesan cheese.

Jim's mashed meatball sauce

Meatballs are always better than the sum of their parts, and this sauce – flecked with egg, breadcrumbs, cheese, herbs, and the oatmeal his mother always uses in her meatballs – was better still, because there was no cutting involved. Each bite of pasta had just the right amount of meat. I swooned, and he sat, eating quietly, and I could tell he was proud of himself (and maybe a little surprised). I couldn’t have wished for anything more on May 5th.

“Babe,” I said, mouth full. “This is amazing.”

“Maybe I should cook with you more,” he said tentatively, and I agreed. He promised he’d make the sauce again, so I could write down the recipe.

After dinner, I told Jim about how I’d heard Tom Waits playing at a coffee shop that morning. I’d decided it was a Tom Waits sort of day, all grumbly and growly, when it could have been so nice. “That’s the whole premise of that one album,” he said. “The song that goes ‘Some days, you just have to get behind the mule and plow.’ Even on the bad days, you just have to keep on going.”

He’s right. You have to rest, but you also have to plow.

I put the pinto beans in a bowl of water to soak, and decided we’d have Cinco de Mayo a day late.

It’s been a rough week or two, lupus-wise. New symptoms. New meds. Spoon counting, again. Maybe this is what the rune reader meant by “patience.” Tuesday morning, I woke up exhausted again, and tried to remind myself, every now and then during the day, that it’s okay not to feel good. Even when it gets all annoying and grumbly, illness does not equal failure.

Somewhere during the day, I found my way to the grocery store, and stocked up on poblanos and fresh chili powder. I sautéed onions and spring garlic from the market in my favorite pot, then softened the peppers, and stirred in the soaked beans and spices. I covered the pot, put it in the oven without setting a timer, and took a long nap.

Two hours later, I did feel better. We scooped piles of mild, simple, slow-cooked pinto-poblano chili up with quesadilla triangles, and relaxed together.

I feel much better today. Go figure.

Pinto-Poblano Chili 2

Baked Pinto Poblano Chili (PDF)
Once cooked, dried pinto beans plump up with a soft, almost meaty texture no can could match. Making chili with dried beans may sound like more work, but it’s not, especially when you just tuck it into the oven to cook for a couple hours, completely undisturbed.

If you don’t have time to soak the beans overnight, place them in a pot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, then let sit for an hour before draining, rinsing, and continuing as directed.

Also, you can substitute 3 cloves chopped garlic for the spring garlic, if you don’t have access to the leek-like garlic shoots that farmers’ market often sell in the spring.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

1 pound dried pinto beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 bunch spring garlic (about 6 stalks, 1” in diameter at thickest point), chopped (white and green parts)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried oregano)
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 (15-ounce) can corn (or 1 1/2 cups fresh kernels, if available)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Cotija or crumbled goat cheese, for garnish

Place the beans in a large bowl and add water to cover by 2 inches. Let soak overnight, then rinse and drain.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat a large, heavy pot with a lid (such as a Dutch oven) on the stove over medium heat. Add the oil, then the onions and spring garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and cook and stir for 10 minutes, until soft. Add the poblanos, spices, and oregano, and cook and stir another minute or two. Add the beans, broth, tomato sauce, vinegar, and brown sugar, season again, and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot, and bake in the oven for 2 hours, undisturbed.

Stir in the corn and cilantro, and season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve hot, sprinkled with cheese.

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Filed under farmer's market, gluten-free, husband, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

Butter and coconut

cheryl's double-chocolate coconut cookies

When a pound of butter stands up in the fridge and yells – really hollers – about not being used enough around here these days, it’s dangerous not to listen.

That’s what happened yesterday. I got to thinking about macaroons, and my butter’s blocky limbs started waving around every time I went for the juice. My friend Cheryl, who’s my instant go-to when it comes to anything coconut, told me to hold off on the macaroons, if my mouth wasn’t up for the chewing.

“Patience, sister, patience,” she wrote. “The only thing worse than not having macaroons is having to eat them gingerly. Macaroons are meant to be chewed and gnawed over. Wait until you’re good and ready.”

She was right, of course. But the butter.

I turned to one of her recipes, a real homage to coconut with enough chocolate to make my heart start pounding in one quick glance. (It’s funny. I’d made them before, for a personal chef client, but I’d never actually tried them myself, because I didn’t think I’d like the coconut. How times change.)

I made a few minor adjustments, adding whole wheat flour – nothing you’ll really notice – and substituting dark chocolate chips for Cheryl’s milk chocolate chunks. (I also skipped the 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, simply because I didn’t have it, but I’m sure it would be delicious.) The cookies had just the coconut flavor I craved, and a consistency soft enough for my tender palate.

Last night, a friend of ours got a sweet new job offer, so we took the batch to their house, to share, and celebrate. Then today, my friend Sarah and I spent the morning gardening in the rain, and Cheryl’s cookies were really just the thing, when we got tired of pulling weeds.

I’m a little embarrassed to say the cookies gone already. (It’s been 25 hours.)

Thank goodness I have more butter.

Cheryl’s Double-Chocolate Coconut Cookies (PDF)
This recipe, by Cheryl Sternman Rule, has been changed only slightly from its original incarnation, which appeared in Lora Brody’s tasty chronicle of Yankee flavor, The New England Table. Cheryl’s note in the original says the cookies will freeze beautifully, but I doubt you’ll have any left.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: three dozen

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup regular cocoa powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets (or three, if you have three oven racks) with parchment paper or silicon baking mats, and set aside.

Sift the first five ingredients into a medium bowl, and set aside. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times along the way. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Add the vanilla, and mix well. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and blend just until incorporated. Fold in the coconut and chocolate chips.

Drop the batter by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, about 12 cookies per sheet. (Bake in the center of the oven for 12 to 14 minutes, rotating sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through. The cookies are done when the edges are firm and the centers lose their shine. (You will never see them brown, obviously.) Cool cookies on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, recipe

The sandwich I really wanted

Curried Coconut Chicken Salad 1

The toothbrush I’ve been using for the last two weeks is wimpy. It’s a fat blue thing, designed for the floppy hands of someone doped up on Vicodin for much longer than I was, with a pittance of soft bristles that do more mopping than actual brushing. It’s the dead fish handshake of the toothbrush world. I hated it.

Today, I graduated to a specially-designed “sensitive brush,” which is about halfway to the real thing. I never knew I could be so excited about a toothbrush. But I am, because it heralds a sure march back to the world of real food.

I was three bites in, last Saturday in Colorado, when I realized I was eating bread for the first time in more than a week. It was store-bought garlic bread, the spineless, squishy kind that you warm up in a metallic bag. As we shoveled it in late that night, mopping up the last of two Stouffer’s lasagnas, it occurred to me that there are times when good, crusty bread is exactly what you don’t want. We were gathered in John’s kitchen after the service, ten people perched on chairs and counters and stairs instead of spread out at the table in the next room. I thought it fitting, how even though Susie wasn’t there with us, we were gathered around the spot where she might have been, eating food that comforted us the way she did. (A kitchen always comforts, I guess.) I couldn’t imagine a better meal.

For me, of course, biting into the bread without risking dental upheaval was a nice thrill. I felt like I’d advanced to a new level of healing. I got cocky.

On the way back to the airport the next day, we hit a café in Glenwood Springs, where we saw a coconut curried chicken salad sandwich on the board. (You know how I feel about chicken salad.) Just saying the word “sandwich” made me feel like a reckless teenager; the idea of shredded coconut in chicken salad delighted me to the point of public squealing. (I’ve never been a big coconut fan before, beyond the milk, but I think it’s safe to say I’m on the front end of an undeniable love affair with the stuff. It must have started with lust for something I couldn’t have. Doesn’t it always.)

I hung back in line at the café to gauge the sandwich’s safety, see if looked soft enough to eat, and when I saw one come out on a wheaty version of Wonder bread, I decided to take the plunge. I’d chewed the garlic bread without doing any damage – how different could it be, eating a doughy sandwich with mushy stuff inside?

Mouth-wise, it was fine; I took tiny bites and rolled everything back to the good molars, away from the still-tender tissue in the front of my mouth. I have graduated to soft sandwiches, too.

The chicken salad was another story. There were big, dry chunks of chicken, slathered with a curried mayonnaise too thin to give the salad any real mouthfeel, along with overwithered cranberries and zilch in the way of coconut. I was happy to be eating regular food, but disappointed that the sammy’s insides didn’t have much in the way of flavor, especially given the amount of mayonnaise involved.

Today, spurred by sandwiches in the news, I made the flavorful, yeilding chicken salad I’d wanted. I slathered chicken breasts with spices and roasted them right on the bone, so they stayed moist, and whirled the meat around in my KitchenAid, so it got good and shreddy without much effort from my hands. I added Madras curry, and thick Greek yogurt, and the bittiest dollop of real mayonnaise, along with basil and scallions and a hefty dose of toasted unsweetened coconut. It stirred up into the sort of fine-textured chicken salad that makes you want to get out the ice cream scoop, an avocado half, and a fat butter lettuce leaf, and pretend it’s 1975.

I know it will be better tomorrow, when the curry has had more of chance to do its business, but waiting didn’t seem to be an option today. I piled it onto my favorite seeded bread (have your sandwiches met Dave yet? He’s our new hero.), along with fat slices of avocado, and ate myself silly.

Going for the seeded bread was a little aggressive (even though I put the toast on a wet cutting board before assembling the sandwich, so it would soften a little), but now that I’ve conquered the sandwich, I have big aspirations for this almost-healed mouth of mine. Tomorrow, I’ll have another scoop of chicken salad, maybe on naan or soft pita.

But soon, I’ll be eating apples and tortilla chips and, big, sharp slabs of chocolate. Just you wait.

Curried Coconut Chicken Salad 2

Curried Coconut Chicken Salad (PDF)
In my opinion, chicken salad is best when the chicken is shredded, as opposed to cubed, because it allows the flavorings – in this case freshly chopped basil, scallions, curry, and a delicious dose of toasted coconut – to wedge themselves into little crevices, in each and every bite. I “shred” my chicken in a stand mixer because it’s easier for me, but you could certainly use your hands or a fork. Adding chopped apples and walnuts or cashews would make this is a more traditional curried chicken salad.

Before you begin adding curry powder, taste it first, and judge how much you need based on its strength.

TIME: 40 minutes active time
MAKES: enough for 4 or 5 sandwiches

2 large chicken breasts on the bone (about 2 pounds total)
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground pepper
1 (7 ounce) container 2% Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped fresh scallions
1/4 cup (packed) chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup toasted unsweetened coconut

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the chicken in a large pan fitted with a roasting rack. Stir the olive oil and one teaspoon of the curry powder together in a small bowl with the salt and a good grinding of pepper, and rub the mixture all over the chicken, in a thin layer. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the chicken reaches 165 degrees at the thickest part on an instant-read thermometer. Set aside to cool.

When cool, pull the chicken off the bone and cut it into 1” pieces. (You should have a generous three cups.) In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, shred the chicken using on-off motions until you reach the desired consistency. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder, plus the yogurt, mayonnaise, scallions, basil, and coconut. Stir to blend, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Filed under chicken, Lunch, recipe