The quantity of herbs heaped onto nearly every dish at every Vietnamese restaurant never ceases to amaze me. And this time of year, I crave nothing more than eating this kind of food: fresh, light, fragrant. Summer rolls lined with mint, green papaya salad speckled with Thai basil, chicken salad loaded with scallions and cilantro — oh Nam Phuong! You feel so far away.
On Monday morning I opened the fridge to find no milk, no eggs, no juice and two vegetable drawers filled with greens. We had left the house in a scramble on Friday, dropped the kids in Vermont en route to Montreal, and returned too late on Sunday evening to think about groceries.
What was on my mind, however, was unloading some of those greens before the next CSA share arrived later that evening. The stars had aligned for Swiss chard fritters, an Ottolenghi recipe my friend Dee alerted me to this winter, which, along with the prawns with tomato and feta and the almond-clementine cake, she described as “not-to-be-missed” Jerusalem recipes.
Over the weekend I received the best kind of email. It not only came from an individual, living, real person, but also from a friend. She had written to tell me about her new favorite thing to eat, a salad of marinated fennel, burrata, and mint. She also casually mentioned she had made a grilled poblano, corn-off-the-cob and cotija cheese salad to serve aside some grilled New York Strips.
I still haven’t made the fennel, which sounds utterly delicious, but I can’t find enough uses for this grilled poblano salad. On its own, as my friend made it, sprinkled with cotija cheese, the sweet, smokey, charred vegetables combine to make a wonderful summer salad.
Every spring this happens: I blink, and rhubarb season passes. And in one second, my to-make list of rhubarb recipes dissolves, my thoughts shifting to stone fruits and no-cook dinners and popsicles. Before we know it, it will be the Fourth of July, and I, my mother’s daughter, will be declaring summer over. Ugh, depressing.
I think I might, however, have a solution to these time-passing-too-quickly woes: rhubarb schnapps, a mixture of chopped rhubarb, sugar and vodka, the cheapest you can find, Nigella insists. Sounds like a win, right?
Let’s hope. Unfortunately, this is another one of those recipes whose success I cannot guarantee. In six weeks, I will report back, but as with the lemons, won’t it be more fun come mid-July to open our Mason jars together?
Last weekend, halfway through our drive along the Mohawk Trail en route to a campsite in the Berkshires, we came to a roundabout, which sent us off into a village of green sweeping lawns dotted with stone steeples, brick chapels, farmers’ market signage, and students tossing frisbees. We slowed to take it all in, the utopia that is a college campus.
The following afternoon we returned to Williamstown and guided by an encouraging Yelp review, stopped into Pappa Charlie’s for lunch. We ordered as we always do when we find ourselves in these sorts of spots: anything with tuna for Ben; anything with avocado for me. In a patch of grass just outside the deli, we tucked into our four-inch thick sandwiches teeming with sprouts, dripping with mayonnaise and tomato juices. And although we have eaten this meal countless times in countless places, we relished this lunch, the soft, thick bread, the creamy avocado, the salty chips, the crunchy pickle.
I’ve heard that trying to please everyone, as a general life strategy, may at best lead to disappointment and, at worst, failure. Eek.
But what if, say, without even trying, you just happen to please everyone? Hmm.
A few weeks ago I mentioned I was reading The Dirty Life. Can we pretend we’re in book club for a moment? I want to share a passage:
First, here’s the background: Author Kristin Kimball left New York City to interview a young farmer named Mark, fell in love, and shortly thereafter started a new life with him on a farm near Lake Champlain. The Dirty Life chronicles their first year at Essex Farm, which currently provides food year-round for over 200 families.
“When we would talk about our future in private, I would ask Mark if he really thought we had a chance. Of course we had a chance, he’d say, and anyway, it didn’t matter if this venture failed. In his view, we were already a success, because we were doing something hard, and it was something that mattered to us. You don’t measure things like that with words like success or failure, he said. Satisfaction comes from trying hard things and then going on to the next hard thing, regardless of the outcome. What mattered was whether or not you were moving in a direction you thought was right. This sounded fishy to me.
This conversation played out many times, with me anxious, Mark calm, until once, as we sat together reviewing our expenses, I was almost in tears. I felt like we were teetering over an abyss. I wasn’t asking him to guarantee that we’d be rich. I just wanted him to assure me that we’d be solvent, that we’d be, as I put it, okay. Mark laughed. “What is the worst thing that could happen?” he asked. “We’re smart capable people. We live in the richest country in the world. There is food and shelter and kindness to spare. What in the world is there to be afraid of?”
I loved this. Isn’t it inspiring? Discuss.
It took 32 years for me to start listening to my mother. I’m only just beginning to understand how annoying this must have been, only just appreciating how many gray hairs I may have caused, only just accepting how many wrinkles I may have induced.
The other day I asked Ella (my four-year old) to help me pick up a mess she created, and she said: “Um, you can just do it all by yourself.” I’ve read enough self-help parenting books to know that freaking out is not the appropriate reaction to this response, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to strangle her.
I have it in for me. Every time Ella yells: “No Mom, I’m telling you a question!” I think of my poor mother and all the times she offered advice only to receive pushback.
Why was it so hard for me to just say, “Yes! Of course! That’s a great idea!” every time my mother told me to “Enunciate!” or to “Eat [my] greens!” or to “Put [my] shoulders back!”?
Why couldn’t I have just said, “You’re right,” when she told me the best chickens come from her kosher market, the best lamb from Australia?
Why couldn’t I have just smiled when she told me not to frown?
Do you know anyone who, upon seeing the Sriracha bottle on the dinner table, says: “That’s a good sign.”? Or who likes to enjoy a side of scrambled eggs with his hot sauce in the morning? Or who, when watching Rick Bayless make chilaquiles on the cooking channel nods his head and says, “Amen, brother, amen.”?
Well, if you do, tinga is something you should add to your repertoire. Made with only a handful of ingredients, tinga derives most of its flavor from chipotles in adobo sauce, which offer both smoke and heat. Traditionally, the dish begin by boiling a chicken, then pulling and shredding the meat from the carcass. Once the meat is off the bone, it stews with onions, chipotles, tomatoes and chicken stock. Chopped fresh cilantro finishes the dish.
A few weeks ago while searching for recipes online by Bea Ojakangas, the Scandinavian chef to whom Nigella Lawson credits the processor Danish pastry dough recipe, I stumbled upon a most delectable looking cinnamon pull-apart bread. Its creators, Lindsay and Bjork, had taken a class with Bea and learned how to make this “pulla,” which they described as “everything you love about cinnamon rolls in a pull-apart bread form.”
With that in mind, last Saturday, I made a batch of my favorite cinnamon roll dough, shaped it into a log as described on Pinch of Yum, and baked it for a few friends passing through town en route to an Easter gathering. The loaf of pulla stretched from corner to corner of the sheetpan, oozed with cinnamon and sugar upon baking, and required my largest cutting board for serving.
When our friends arrived, we tucked in immediately, each pulling at the nearest coil, spreading cream cheese icing over each bite, eating and talking and sipping coffee until not a crumb remained — it couldn’t have been more fun.
Have a wonderful weekend, Everyone.