Category Archives: garden

Beat.

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It hardly seems appropriate to say Happy New Year, but here it is, 2014. Thinking retroactively, here’s what was on my winter to-do list:

• Finish edits on a cookbook
• Take a time-out
• Gather every preschool germ Graham brings home and filter it through my system
• Pitch stories to magazines I’ve never worked with before (some Not! About! Food!)
• Do my taxes
• Finish details of our basement remodel
• Take a writing class
• See a kid through two surgeries
• Apply to private and public kindergartens for said kid

In my mind, two months in, the last thing is the only thing that really happened.

“It’s not the school that’s bad,” soothed my husband one wintry morning. “It’s the system that’s bad.” I sniffed over the phone, and tried to compose myself on the damp bench outside my gym, where an impromptu conversation with the principal of our local elementary school had reduced me to tears and snot and hiccups. My purse sagged open into the dirt of a giant potted plant. But Jim was right. The principal had never met Graham. And he hadn’t, as I’d insinuated, actually told me that my son didn’t belong in his halls. He’d just said he wasn’t sure, and refused to speak with me further, because I hadn’t followed the (totally top secret) prescribed order of operations.

In Seattle, where public schools are arguably better than those in many spots across the country, the process of enrolling a child with special needs in a typical kindergarten classroom requires patience, time, and emotional stamina. In the past week, I have been told to enroll, not to enroll, to fill out the special education form, not to fill out the special education form, that the special education form doesn’t exist, to fill out the school choice form, not to fill out the school choice form, that I need to appear in person to enroll because of the choice form, that I shouldn’t have appeared in person to enroll, that my special ed form will be shredded, that I’m already enrolled, and that RIGHT NOW I’ll be enrolled anyway even though I shouldn’t be standing where I’m standing and don’t need to enroll.

Now, Graham is officially enrolled in our local public elementary school. Will we end up there? Time will tell. At least we have a back up plan. Does that mean the system beat me? Or did I beat the system? This parenting thing is not for the weak.

Out of the blue this morning, when I was getting whiny over all this school nonsense, Graham decided to take the stairs to into his current classroom for the first time. A friend put him up to it and offered to take his walker to the top, and he just agreed. Like it was the most normal thing in the world. Like in his little way, he was saying Mom, I got this thing beat. See?

(Thanks, kid. You sure do.)

Graham on the steps

Grilled Beets with Herbs and Preserved Lemon (PDF)
In my house, beets make excellent decorations, but they’re rarely the main event—mostly because I tend to chop them up and shove them into salads more quickly than they can stand up for themselves. Here, they shine between layers of crème fraîche and fresh herbs, punched up a bit with preserved lemon.

If I haven’t made my own, I buy preserved lemons at Picnic in Seattle, because the owners, Jenny and Anson Klock, do a consistently excellent job. To use them here, cut them into quarters. Push the lemon’s meat out of the fruit and discard it, then use a small knife to trim the thin white layer of pith away from the peel. Once you have just the yellow peel, it’s ready to chop and use.

Serves 4

3 fist-sized red beets, roasted, peeled, and cut into 3/4-inch rounds
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh herbs (leaves only)
Peel of 1/4 preserved lemon, pith trimmed, very thinly sliced
Chunky sea salt, for serving

In a large bowl, mix the beet slices together with the olive oil and salt until well blended.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. (You can use a regular heavy-duty pan instead, if you prefer.) When hot, add the beets, and cook, undisturbed, until well marked on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes total, turning the beets once during cooking.

Meanwhile, smear the crème fraîche onto a serving plate. Pile the beets on top, then scatter the herbs and preserved lemon on top. Drizzle the beets with additional olive oil, sprinkle with chunky sea salt, and serve.

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Filed under commentary, egg-free, farmer's market, garden, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, salad, Seattle

The trappings of summer

My favorite fork

“COMFORT IS A TRAP,” read the road graffiti on the bike path in front of me. My thoughts bounced first to my bicycle seat (I was, in fact, comfortable, which isn’t always the case), then rattled around beside the author’s annoying negativity, and eventually settled around the last few weeks.

This summer has been comfortable for me. I’ve been riding my bike, and making an ass of myself on a stand-up paddleboard in Montana, and reading Suffering Succotash on a bench in the park. I’ve been working at a patient, delicious pace. I’ve been calling this The Summer of Jess, because my goal for July (and maybe August) has been to relax and rejuvenate. Because I’m trying to revel in summer in a way I haven’t over the past few years. Because I’m celebrating the effects of my new lupus drug. (And because everyone wants a holiday named after them, right?) I’m firmly against using “summer” as a verb, but that’s really what I’m doing. I’m summering.

But back to comfort. It sounds bad, but it’s true, it’s a trap. Right now I can’t imagine working after Graham goes to bed, which has been the norm for me for so many months. I can’t imagine holing up to work in a coffee shop, because these days, the windows are always open. I can’t imagine washing doughnut dishes until my fingers crack, because it hasn’t been necessary. In so many ways, it’s bliss. But every time I feel my brain starting to relax, I instinctively tense up, just a little. My brain works like an engine; it has to be warm to move forward efficiently. It’s hard to trust that it will restart again.

My body feels the trappings of comfort, also. These days, living is easy. The Benlysta is working, and it’s wonderful. I usually wake up with zero pain. I love how the body delivers a dose of amnesia with discomfort; I’ve almost forgotten how much it hurt, just months ago, to pour milk into my coffee first thing in the morning, or to type, or to pick up my hefty 3-year-old. I’ve been picked for Team Lucky in the side effects department, but the effects I do have are a little shocking. They come snaking off the end of my hairbrush, and curling into the corners of the bathroom, and twisting, rather disgustingly, around anything that will stand still in the shower stall. I have thin hair to begin with, but honestly, having to trade the mane for a shiny new Benlysta body has come as a bit of a surprise. I feel a little betrayed by my scalp. I’ve spent far too many minutes surfing Pinterest for a new, shorter hairstyle.

But oh, that body. For July, I am focusing on the body. I’m feeding it whatever it wants – these days, spoonfuls of the parsley pesto I’m hoarding from the garden’s dramatic bolt, wrapped around potatoes, whirled into vinaigrettes, dolloped into soups. I’m working this body, and resting it. In August, or maybe September, when the brain starts up again, I’ll decide on a haircut, and just see what comes next.

Parsley Pesto (PDF)
Serving suggestions: Fold into pasta. Spread inside a panini. Whisk into vinaigrette. Slather on toast. Stuff into chicken breasts. Layer inside caprese. Stir into soup. Mix with goat cheese for crackers. Eat with a spoon. Toss with fresh vegetables and nuts for a pretty salad, nestled into Bibb lettuce: tomatoes and pine nuts, roasted beets and walnuts, etc. Make chicken salad. Or freeze, for another season, when we’re not so produce-lucky.

TIME: 15 minutes (more if toasting pine nuts)
MAKES: About 1 1/2 cups

2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
4 cups parsley (packed into a big 4-cup liquid measure)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup loosely packed freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Whirl garlic and pine nuts in a large food processor until very finely chopped. Add the parsley in three additions, pulsing until chopped between each addition. Add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and blend. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula, add the cheese, and blend just until combined. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container* in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks or in the freezer up to 6 months.

*The less air the pesto is exposed to, the less chance there is of it turning brown. I put mine in Ball jar, then either press a small piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pesto underneath the lid, or cover the pesto with a layer of olive oil before sealing. I find plastic wrap works better when freezing, just be sure to tuck all the plastic neatly under the lid, so no air gets in.

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Filed under garden, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe

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.

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

Saaging

Garden Saag

The question people have asked me over the last three weeks is this: Well, what have you been eating?

It’s this. It’s a bastardization of Indian saag (the kind I used to adore eating with paneer), made by sautéing spinach and kale and whatever other greens crop up in my kitchen with garlic and ginger, then simmering them into submission with a can of coconut milk. Hit haphazardly with an immersion blender, the greens collapse into a green mass just liquid enough to deserve a bowl. (Say the word saag aloud, so it rhymes with “clog,” and you’ll know how the dish gets its name; it’s a real slump of a thing.)

I eat the saag alone, or draped over roasted chicken or millet, or I thin it with a bit of stock (or additional coconut milk) and puree it in a real blender until it’s silky smooth. Then I use it as a grown-up sauce, for grilled salmon or halibut. It’s what I’ll be making ahead to take camping this weekend, which means I’ll eat it Dr. Seuss-style for days and days—on a boat, on a train, in a box, with a fox.

So yes, in week three of this silly thing, my culinary spirit is still, well, saaging. But at least there’s this. And for that, I’m thankful.

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Garden Saag (PDF)
There is an awkward, pubescent moment in every Seattle garden each year; it usually exists between June and August, when the days are just at their peak length, when the kitchen excitement over tiny fresh greens has died but the tidal wave of mature summer tomatoes has yet to begin. In this span of two weeks, the garden grows. It’s exactly what we wanted it to do, isn’t it; yet, when the workhorses of our early summer gardens, the greens, really get down to business, we’re often overwhelmed. When spinach, kale, and arugula threaten to take over every inch of your living space—or any greens, really, as long as they’re coming in massive quantities—make this sauce. Inspired by Indian saag, a spinach dish often draped over paneer (Indian cheese), it’s delicious on its own, mixed into rice, or draped over a delicately grilled slab of fish.

Light coconut milk will work for the recipe, but the flavor will suffer.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 tablespoon ghee or unsalted butter
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
3/4 pound fresh spinach (regular or baby), cleaned and chopped
1 medium bunch kale (about 1/2 pound), ribs removed, cleaned and chopped
1 can (15 ounces) coconut milk
Small pinch red chili flakes (optional)
Kosher salt

Heat a large, wide pot over medium-high heat. Add the ghee, then the garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring, until the garlic is soft, about a minute. Add the spinach and kale and cook until the greens are wilted, stirring frequently. Add the coconut milk (water and solids, if the contents have separated), the chili flakes (if you like spice), and salt to taste. Cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is almost gone, another few minutes.

Using an immersion blender or a food processor, partially blend the greens until they’re spoonable but still a bit chunky, and serve as a side dish. (To make a sauce, simply puree until completely smooth.)

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Filed under farmer's market, garden, gluten-free, recipe, side dish, vegetarian

Soup for the masses

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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.

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

The Thoughtsorter

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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.)

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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

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

Stewing over summer

Summer Stew 2

It always happens, this time of year. I get anxious for fall. Fluttery. Nervous. Unsettled. Not sure what to make of summer, because I’m not sure when it will be over.

Maybe it’s school starting, even though I’m not in it. (I had that dream about forgetting to read for my first college French class again last week.)

Maybe it was the sound of my husband listening to my brother’s hard drive woes, then seriously instructing him to drop his laptop from a height of six inches. That would make anyone nervous.

No, really, I think it’s just change. Fall’s my favorite season; I must get nervous that someone will forget it, and skip right to winter. Every year, when the market peaks with peaches and tomatoes and corn, something inside me starts whaling on the panic button, incensed at the remote possibility that we might not give potatoes and pomegranates their due this year. That we’ll mourn the first half of September, and forget to revel in the second half of October. This weekend, I bought a kabocha squash at the market, and put it on my mantle, as a little reminder. Don’t be nervous. Fall will happen, and you’ll love it, again.

You’ll see the apprehension in my kitchen, too. This time of year, when the morning light no longer threatens my alarm clock’s job security, I start in on the soups and stews like summer never happened. As if we won’t get enough of those in the months to come.

Yesterday, I set out making a soup for a friend whose baby is due in a few days. It was bound for her freezer, originally, for the days when just putting the pot on the stove will be too exhausting.

The soup started toward pasta e fagiole. At least, that’s what I meant it to be, a sausage-filled version of that old Italian classic, redolent of onions, carrots, and celery, beans, and pasta (bowties, for her two-year-old). Nothing too creative. I sizzled the meat up in my big Dutch oven – oh, big red pot, I missed you! – and softened the vegetables in the leftover juices. But as I lunged toward the cupboard for a can of peeled tomatoes, I remembered the cherry tomato sauce I made last Wednesday.

making cherry tomato sauce

A few weeks ago, I started simmering sliced cherry tomatoes (red, orange, and yellow) into a thick, bright pizza sauce. When the mother lode came in last week, heavy on the vine, I cooked up a big batch of sauce, and tucked it into the fridge for future pizza nights. I meant to share it with you that way, as a tart slather for your favorite crust.

Standing over the stove, though, with my soup-to-be begging for liquid, I couldn’t see how the canned tomatoes could possibly make a better soup base than the concentrated souls of two pounds’ worth of cherry tomatoes. Couldn’t see how the sauce’s rich tangerine shade could hurt a person, either.

measuring cherry tomatoes

In went the homemade pizza sauce, diluted with a little water. The beans and bowties came back into my field of vision, expecting to march right in, but when I rifled through my produce drawer, I found zucchini and corn from the farmers’ market, and the dry goods got shoved aside. Outside, a few straggling tomatoes begged to be used, and before I knew it, my old-fashioned pasta e fagiole had turned itself into a beanless, pasta-free stew of summery flavors. I let the zucchini and corn heat through while the tomatoes plumped and split in that great orange sauce.

I stole a bowl, before I packaged the soup up for sharing. It tasted as vibrant as it looks, one hundred percent summer.

We have a few days of summer left, still. Enjoy them. That’s what I’m going to do.

Stirring Stew 1

Summer Sausage Stew with Cherry Tomatoes, Corn, and Zucchini (PDF)
Heated to the peak of their flavor (but not a second longer), the tomatoes, corn, and zucchini here burst with the best flavors of summer—literally, in the case of the tomatoes. You could freeze this soup if you want, but I think it will taste best right out of the pot the day it’s made. If you want to make it ahead of time, save the zucchini, corn, and cherry tomatoes until just before serving, and stir them in as you reheat the soup.

If you don’t have time to make the cherry tomato sauce, substitute 1 (28-ounce) can peeled tomatoes, crushed, for the sauce and water.

TIME: 35 minutes start to finish
MAKES: 2 to 4 servings

3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/2 pound hot Italian sausage (removed from casings)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4” rounds
2 stalks celery, sliced into 1/4” half moons
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups Simple Cherry Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
2 cups water
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4” half moons
About 3/4 cup corn kernels, from a cob of sweet corn
1 cup whole cherry tomatoes

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add 1 teaspoon of the oil, then add the sausage. Cook for 5 minutes or so, using a wooden spoon to break the sausage up into small pieces as it releases from the pan. When fully cooked, transfer the sausage to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

Simple Cherry Tomato Sauce (PDF)
There’s no reason to wait for big tomatoes to ripen to make tomato sauce – and with virtually no core and thin skins, cherry tomatoes make the whole process so much quicker. Simmer for the full 45 minutes to make a sauce thick enough to spread on pizza, or for less time, if you intend to use the sauce on pasta, or in soups. (You could also blend the sauce right up with a little milk or cream for cherry tomato soup!)

TIME: 45 minutes, start to finish
MAKES: About 3 cups sauce

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 pounds cherry tomatoes, stems removed, very roughly chopped (any color)
Salt

Heat the oil and garlic over medium heat in a large skillet until the garlic begins to sizzle. Add the tomatoes, season with salt, and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the sauce reaches the desired consistency (30 minutes for pasta sauce, 45 minutes for something pizza-friendly). Season to taste with salt, if necessary.

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Filed under farmer's market, garden, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, soup, vegetables

A quick kvetch

Grilled Corn and Cotija Salad 2

All that complaining about April being the cruelest month? I was lying. If you’re a food writer, August is the worst.

It’s so wrong, the way these things work. The way corn and zucchini and tomatoes run screaming into the markets, just when those of us that pepper magazines and websites with delicious recipes are gearing up for winter.

This week, I’m putting the finishing touches on a Christmas menu. (Beef tenderloin. Quinoa with nuts and dried berries. Bitter green salad.) I’m editing a recipe for lemon cake. I’m writing an apple-focused fall dinner party ($4.39 for three Washington state apples, please), brainstorming ideas for Superbowl appetizers, and combing grocery stores for cranberries and Kabocha squash.

All delicious things? Yes. Delicious now? No. It’s supposed to hit 90 degrees today, and I’m trying to figure out how to fit a braise and a cake into the oven at the same time.

Honestly. Is this a joke?

In February, writing summer grilling recipes didn’t feel completely right, but it sure did taste like optimism. This week, with my garden positively jungling with peas and tomatoes and beets and (bolting) fennel, it annoys me that those of us who are trying to champion local, seasonal food can’t always cook it. It would be easier, for sure, if all food magazines wrote their stories a full year ahead, but, ahem, we can’t all write for those.

I know, I have no room to kvetch. I spend my days learning and writing about food, and cooking, and by golly, that’s a pretty nice way to live, especially when an old t-shirt feels like high fashion.

So between assignments, I’m cobbling. My lunches have been salads, mostly – big piles of crunchy things, married together in an attempt to put as much summer into my mouth as possible with each bite.

Oh, that it were different. That I could have recipes for corn everything due in, say, August. But I guess I can’t have my corn and eat it, too.

Grilled Corn and Cotija Salad 1

Grilled Corn and Cotija Salad (PDF)
Call it the little black dress of summer salads. Or the one essential tool you need for your shop. Or forget the analogies, and call it a summer salad that distills the most exciting bites of summer into each and every spoonful. It does go anywhere, though—I’ve made it twice this week, and I’ve served it to company, next to grilled bratwurst. I had some for breakfast, flashed in a skillet and dumped over two sunnyside-up eggs. I folded some into a green salad, and tonight, I’ll stir in a finely chopped chipotle pepper, along with some adobo sauce, and stuff it into chicken burritos.

You’ll find cotija – a firm, easy-to-crumble Mexican cow’s milk cheese – near the feta in most large grocery stores. You can easily substitute feta or crumbled goat cheese.

If doing anything to corn besides dumping it in a pot of hot water makes you nervous, never fear – it’s really easy to cut off the cob:

TIME: 15 minutes, start to finish
MAKES: 4 servings

1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise
2 corn cobs, shucked
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3/4 pound assorted ripe tomatoes, chopped into 1” chunks
2 canned roasted green chilies, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Juice of 1 large lime (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 pound cotija cheese, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat a grill over medium heat. Brush the zucchini and corn cobs with 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil, and grill for about 5 minutes, turning occasionally, until the vegetables are lightly charred and soft. Set aside to cool.

Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, tomatoes, chilies, herbs, lime juice, and cheese in a large mixing bowl. Chop the zucchini into 1/2” half moons, cut the corn kernels off the cobs, and add both to the bowl. Season with salt and pepper, stir to blend, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Corn salad in salad

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How does your garden grow?

I don’t delude myself. I don’t call the random stuff growing in my yard a real garden. It’s more like edible serendipity. Hey, look at that. Is that a tomato? Who put that there?

I’m still getting used to how a garden grows, in fits and starts rather than in perfectly pint-sized packages like at the grocery store. Here’s how it’s been so far: an acre of rhubarb. A million leeks. Some arugula. Four blueberries. One miniature strawberry every day for a month. One yellow Sungold tomato. Nine identical heads of lettuce, all ready at the same time. Ten more blueberries.

Now, the Sungolds are in full swing, bursting from a 7-foot plant faster than I can eat them.

Well, almost faster.

Tomato raisins 3

Recipe for Tomato Raisins (PDF)
Recipe 219 of 365

I’m not a big fan of raisins, so anything with the word raisin in it immediately turns me off – but that’s what these are, really, little tomatoes whose flavor has been concentrated into chewy tomato jewels. Add them to pastas or salads, or use them as you would sundried tomatoes. They’re essentially the same thing, just (obviously) not dried in the sun. (Ovendried tomatoes just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?)

TIME: 5 minutes active time
MAKES: 2 cups ovendried tomatoes

2 pints baby tomatoes, varying sizes and colors okay
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for storing tomatoes
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Mix the tomatoes, 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, and salt together in a large (preferably nonstick) roasting pan. Bake at 200 degrees for 18 to 24 hours, depending on the size of the tomatoes, turning once or twice during baking, until tomatoes are shriveled and flat, like raisins, but not quite dried.

Transfer tomatoes to a jar, and add olive oil to cover. Let cool to room temperature (the tomatoes will soak up some of the oil). Use immediately (be sure to reserve the oil for another use!), or refrigerate up to 3 weeks.

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A Tart for Valerie Plame

Flaky Leek, Bacon & Mascarpone Tart

In what’s becoming a weekend ritual, I recently identified yet another random vegetable peeking up through the weeds in our yard: leeks. They were in the corner I’ve been ignoring, in with the irises and sorrel and who knows what else; they’d been shy about muscling past the daffodil greens and I’d somehow just missed them. On Sunday I was down on my hands and knees trimming something else back so the (what I think are) calla lillies can grow, and an unmistakeable leek reek wafted up my nose.

So just as the rhubarb attack subsides, I now have an abundance of leeks. Want some?

Flaky Leek, Bacon & Mascarpone Tart, cut open

Recipe for Flaky Leek, Bacon & Mascarpone Tart
Recipe 128 of 365

Layers of phyllo dough, pressed gently into a fluted metal tart pan and allowed to fan out willy-nilly above the edge of the pan, give this tart a unique presentation and a lighter texture than most creamy, eggy versions. Use just leeks, or any combination of leeks, spring onions, ramps, garlic shoots, or scallions that the spring provides.

TIME: 30 minutes, plus baking time
MAKES: 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 packed cups (about 1 1/4 pounds) chopped leeks, green and white parts
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 slices thick-cut bacon
Olive oil spray
6 full sheets phyllo dough, fully thawed, from a 1 pound box
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, softened
2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat a large high-sided skillet or soup pot over medium-low heat. When hot, add the oil, then the leeks, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and beginning to caramelize, about 20 minutes. When done, remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until browned and crispy. Drain the bacon on paper towels, crumble, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 9” metal tart pan with fluted sides and a removable bottom (or substitute a pie tin) with the olive oil spray, and place it on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Stack the six sheets of phyllo dough on a cutting board, and cut them in half, so you have 12 smaller pieces of the same shape (rather than 12 long, skinny pieces).

Cutting phyllo

Place one sheet into the tart pan, and use your hands to press the dough into the corners of the pan. Spray the phyllo sheet with the olive oil spray all over, all the way to the edges.

Layering phyllo

Place another sheet of phyllo on top of the first, perpendicular to the first so that the entire bottom of the tart pan is covered. Pat the second sheet into place and spray it, then repeat with the remaining 10 layers of phyllo, placing them all at different angles so that there’s about the same amount of dough hanging over on all sides of the pan. Using your fingers, tuck the bottommost layers of phyllo (that may be sticking to the outside edge of the tart pan) back into the pan, to reinforce the edges.

Phyllo, layered & tucked in

Stir the mascarpone cheese, eggs, and heavy cream together in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the crumbled bacon and the cooked leeks. Pour this leek mixture into the prepared crust, and bake on the middle rack for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is brown and the leek mixture has puffed and set.

Cool the tart for 10 minutes, then transfer it to a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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A Weekend Project

Last weekend I nestled a little Black Russian tomato plant in next to the rhubarb, simply becuase I’m beginning to believe the rhubarb has superpowers. It won’t stop growing. I hope the tomatoes take the hint.

A taste of this delectable rhubarb marmalade inspired me to make this orangey version – we’ve been topping everything from the olive oil cake to walnut bread to plain yogurt with it.

Recipe for Orange-Rhubarb Marmalade
Recipe 116 of 365

You’ll know the marmalade has begun to thicken enough to start testing when the bubbling sounds get lower and louder. (The sound reminded me of that swamp full of R.O.U.S. in The Princess Bride.) This is more of a spreadable compote than a highly gelatinized marmalade, so don’t expect it to become as solid as store-bought jelly.

Note: This recipe does not process the marmalade thoroughly enough to make it shelf-stable. Keep it refrigerated up to 3 months.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: Approximately 6 pints marmalade

4 large navel oranges, stickers and tough stems removed
1 gallon (16 cups) water
5 cups sugar
1 1/2 pounds young rhubarb, chopped into 1/2” pieces

Cut the oranges into sixths through the poles. Seed them and slice them thinly using a food processor fitted with the thin slicing disc (or slice by hand). Transfer the oranges to a large stockpot and cover with the water. Cover and let sit overnight, 12 to 18 hours.

Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Place a few small plates in the refrigerator. Add the sugar and the rhubarb and stir until the sugar has dissolved completely. Simmer an additional 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Start checking for doneness after about 1 1/2 hours: spoon about a tablespoon of the marmalade onto a cold plate. Return to the refrigerator for a few minutes, then take it out to see whether the liquid part has separated from the fruit. When done, the liquid part of the marmalade won’t run across the plate; it should hold together.

Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool for about 30 minutes. Carefully transfer the marmalade to 5 to 6 clean pint-sized jars, seal with clean lids, and refrigerate.

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It’s balmy out!

Lemon Balm

Our tiny yard continues to grow surprises for me. Today as I was weeding out in the Seattle sunshine I identified a previously ignored plant as lemon balm, an herb that looks like mint with fat leaves and has an unmistakably lemony flavor, sort of like lemen verbena. I made lemon balm butter by mixing 1/4 cup of finely chopped lemon balm with a stick of softened unsalted butter along with the zest and juice of a lemon and a little salt and pepper, and used it two ways:

I rubbed 1/4 cup of the lemon balm butter under the skin of a 4-pound chicken, which I roasted at 450 for about 30 minutes and then at 400 for another 40 more. The chicken was delicious and moist, thank you butter, and I loved how roasting it in a cast iron pan gathered the juices up so I could saute chopped potatoes in the leftover chicken fat. But unfortunately, there was no real lemon balm flavor to speak of.

Roasting Chicken in cast iron

Then I dotted a little of the butter onto freshly steamed asparagus, with just the result I’d hoped for: an herbal and intensely lemony flavor with each bite of asparagus.

Asparagus with Lemon Balm Butter

Give it a try, if you have any lemon balm (or run into it somewhere; I’ve seen it at the Ballard farmers’ market), or with mint, basil, lemon verbena, or any other soft, green herb.

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It just keeps coming!

My attempt to use all the rhubarb and postpone the next harvest for a few weeks failed miserably. It just keeps growing! Pretty soon I’m going to have to do a major harvest and start freezing the stuff.

It’s time to turn (perhaps predictably) toward rhubarb’s savory side.

Rhubarb-Apple Salsa

Recipe for Rhubarb-Apple Salsa
Recipe 103 of 365

Despite the sugar, this is still a bracing, tart salsa – serve it on something rich (I like the idea of grilled salmon) as a way to brighten up heavier flavors.

1/4 pound young rhubarb (3 thin stalks, or about 1/4 pound), diced
1 Granny Smith apple, diced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice, from 1 large lime
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to blend. Let sit 10 to 15 minutes before serving so the sugar has a chance to dissolve. Enjoy!

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Red invasion

Inside the rhubarb patch

When we first looked into buying our house, I was smitten with a huge rhubarb patch nestled under the porch. Now, as it unfurls its toxic leaves with supernatural force, I’m happy about every penny we spend on our mortgage. I love rhubarb. (I was also surprised to learn just now that it would take about 5 kg of the toxic leaves to kill a person my size.)

Yesterday I realized we’ll be gone this weekend, when all the tiny just-sprouting rhubarb stalks will be trying to push their way through the mature leaves to the sunlight. I thought I’d help them out by pruning out (and eating) the biggest of the bunch:

Picking rhubarb

I can’t even think about rhubarb without singing the Prairie Home Companion ditty about Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie, the pie that washes away the taste of shame and humiliation. I know rhubarb pie is an eventual must, but I decided to start in on my stash with a few less likely contenders, even if they have fewer sin-ridding side effects.

And a poll: my husband took one bite of these bars and announced they need goat cheese. I think that sounds repulsive, and I love goat cheese in almost everything. What do you think?

Rhubarb Bars with Pine Nut Crust

Recipe for Rhubarb Bars with Pine Nut Crust
Recipe 96 of 365

Inspired by one of my favorite desserts, lemon bars, these bars have a rich, buttery crust made with toasted pine nuts and a gooey, tangy-sweet rhubarb topping. Note that they’ll need to chill for a few hours after baking before you can cut and serve them.

TIME: about 30 minutes
MAKES: 24 bars

For the pine nut crust:

Vegetable oil spray
2 cups flour
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
2 tablespoons sour cream

For the rhubarb topping:

1 cup sugar
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1” chunks
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

Add the remaining crust ingredients to the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is sandy and beginning to cling together, about 30 1-second pulses. Dump the mixture into the baking pan, saving the food processor bowl for making the topping. Use your hands to press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan and up the sides of the pan about 1/2 inch. Bake the crust for 20 minutes on the middle rack, or until just beginning to brown at the edges.

When the crust comes out of the oven, start the topping: puree the sugar and the rhubarb together in the food processor until it has the consistency of applesauce. Add the eggs, salt, and baking powder, and pulse a few times, until blended. Pour the rhubarb mixture over the crust, and use a spatula to smooth it into an even layer.

Bake the bars on the middle rack for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top is firm and just barely beginning to brown. Let the bars cool for about 30 minutes at room temperature, then transfer the pan to the refrigerator and cool completely before cutting into squares.

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Little hands

This morning I was thrilled to see my first set of seedlings sprout; I woke to find my baby mixed greens standing up to wave at me from their place beside the kitchen sink, like so many tiny vegetable hands:

Really baby greens

And without further ado:

Chicken Leg, comin' atcha!

Recipe for Hoisin-Orange Chicken Legs
Recipe 72 of 365

Like a sticky, Asian-inspired, baked-not-fried version of chicken wings, these drumsticks are not a clean experience. Serve them with carrot and celery sticks and bleu cheese for dipping, and plenty of paper towels.

TIME: 40 minutes, plus marinating time
MAKES: 5 legs

1/3 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon finely ground fresh ginger
1 – 2 teaspoons sriracha or other hot sauce, or to taste
5 big chicken drumsticks (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk the hoisin, soy, orange juice, ginger, and sriracha until blended. Add the chicken drumsticks, turn to coat, and marinate at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator, covered, turning once or twice during marinating.

Before cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Transfer the drumsticks to a foil- or silicon baking mat-lined baking sheet, draining any extra liquid off the chicken legs and back into the marinade bowl. Bake the legs for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, transfer the marinade to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook the marinade at a low simmer, lowering the heat if necessary and stirring occasionally, until the marinade reduces to a sauce thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 8 to 10 minutes.

After they’ve baked the first 10 minutes, turn the legs over and brush them with the sauce. Bake 30 minutes more, for a total of 40 minutes, turning and brushing with more sauce every 10 minutes. Transfer the legs to a serving platter, sprinkle with the sesame seeds, and serve immediately.

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