It’s so close to summer. I know this because, for several days now, I have been dreaming of it—vivid, cinematic dreams with supporting casts and happy endings. My dreams feature long, easy days of cooking, loose and floppy bread starters blooming in my fridge, jellies and jams and pickles and platters of things being carried out to the grill, pitchers and bottles of very cold drinks. Reading books in a chair all day. Dancing on a hotel rooftop with a view of the Mississippi the night my friend Kristen gets married. Reading books with my sweet godsons, who have somehow managed to become five years old. Eating ribs in my hometown. Writing, planning, scheming, letter-writing, ice-creaming.
Oh yes, the ICE CREAM. There is going to be ice cream all summer, and other frozen, fruity-or-creamy things—ice cold watermelon all down my arms and legs, cold almond puddings with warm, boozy cherries, every kind of popsicle I can think to make, mango sorbet and pistachio kulfi and cups of falooda, the strange, rose-water drenched treat of my childhood.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now I am just sitting here dreaming about these things because I have bronchitis, and I’m not good for much at the moment. Yeahhhh, bronchitis. Have you had bronchitis before? I hadn’t. It kind of sucks. There are a LOT of things that suck worse, though. I know that. I promise you, I keep that in mind.
If my bronchitis is the bad news, then the good news that comes with it is…Jill is cancer free! That is what the doctors told us last week, when we went to the hospital for her surgery-follow-up appointments. They said—“We think we got it.” They said—“No further treatment necessary.” They said—“No appointments for six months.”
We were, at first, in shock. We went to our favorite near-the-hospital lunch spot and ordered our favorite big bowls of shoyu ramen, only to realize we wouldn’t be back the next week, doing the same thing. Over the days that followed, there were celebratory emails and tweets, the clinking of beer bottles over a table of homemade hamburgers, an actual date involving dinner reservations and concert tickets (and the Avett Brothers making me cry, in a good way), and lots of wonder and the melting-away-shock that we might could start imagining a future without hospitals and external IV lines and chemotherapy in it.
Jill has written, rather eloquently if I may say so, about how cancer has changed her. Of course, it has changed both of us, and it has changed us, deepening our trust and intimacy, making pretty much everything even more precious than it used to be. Also? Given Jill’s newfound emotional sensitivity and the fact that I’ve always been a serious crier, it’s almost funny how much tearing up is happening in our household these days (Google Chrome commercials? You’re killing us.) Ans now we’re trying to figure out how to re-enter “normal life” without abandoning the crystallizing, tenderizing effects of this unexpected adventure.
When things were their worst—when Jill was her sickest, and I was my most exhausted and both of us were asking ourselves “How do people do this?”—there were things I knew for certain. What was important, and what wasn’t. What was worth spending time, and energy, and money on, and what wasn’t.
I guess what I’d like to say is that I want to have the balls to care about the right stuff, even when cancer isn’t lurking in the background. I want to be a brave woman whose priorities are clear, and clearly reflected in her life. So I will be adding that to my summer project list, along with “make lots of ice cream.”
FIVE-INGREDIENT STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM
You don’t need me to tell you this is good, do you? And that you should use the prettiest strawberries you can find, and thick, glorious, local heavy cream? No, I didn’t think so.
I prefer this particular ice cream soft-serve, meaning eaten right when it’s churned or shortly thereafter. If you keep some in your freezer for a few days (as you can), I highly recommend using it to make milkshakes.
1 lb. strawberries, washed, hulled, & halved
2 cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Mash the strawberries with the sugar, lemon juice, & salt in the bottom of a plastic container with a lid. Let the mixture stand, shaking it occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
Here’s where you get to make choices—if you want smooth, perfectly pink strawberry ice cream, pour all of the strawberry mixture into the blender and puree with the heavy cream. If, like me, you want some chunks of strawberry for texture, reserve up to half of the strawberry mixture and pour the rest into the blender and puree with the cream.
Pour everything back into the plastic container, seal with the lid, and chill in the refrigerator for 4-5 hours. Take the container out every once in a while and shake it up.
Once you’re ready, freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Yields about a quart-and-a-half.
Normally I do not like doughnuts, at least not the glazed and boxed kind most people go crazy over. I can easily walk away from those when they all-too-often land in the teacher’s workroom. But these little zeppole? When I made them, I ate, like, dozens. Unabashed doughnut gluttony. Joy that I had made something so delicious.
Then there’s the feeling I get on other days, like today, when the gym scale’s number has risen a pound or two and I start to look at food like it is my enemy and not my best friend. Of course, it secretly is and always will be my best friend, but I have to pretend to be angry with it right now. For my own good.
I know it’s not just me who can be this crazy, and know that she’s being crazy, and yet is still unable to stop it. Food is a huge part of my life, it brings me joy and allows me to bring joy to others, but when the paranoid girl switch is flipped, all bets are off. I start to think about what I should be giving up, how much more time I should be putting in at the gym, worrying about how everyone around me can probably tell I gained a pound-and-a-half, and holy crap that woman has a much better body than I do, and I really f-ed up by eating all of those doughnuts because these pants are feeling a little tight and CLEARLY IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD.
Because I work with teenage girls (boys, too, but I think it’s fair to say that girls still rock the majority of body image issues these days), I take very seriously the responsibility of modeling healthy lifestyle habits and not reinforcing crap stereotypes and abnormal expectations by not saying things like “Ugh, I feel so fat” or “I can’t, I’m on a diet” talk. But sometimes it’s harder said than done, walking the talk. And I feel like a hypocrite when I feel bad, even privately, about my body.
But there’s no fixing this, is there? I’m probably always going to have a complicated relationship with food, albeit one that has gotten much, much better over the years. And if I really feel like I have been unhealthy in recent weeks, there are the logical things I know to do: add more vegetables, drink more water, cut back on caffeine & alcohol, do desserts and bread products in moderation, watch portion sizes, diversify my workouts. Wear clothes I feel good in. Flirt with the cute guys at the gym. Remind myself that someday this body will be gone, at least the version as I currently know it, and there is a lot more to me than just some measurements.
And no matter what, I wouldn’t want to live a life that didn’t occasionally involve doughnuts. Because that’s just no life at all.
from Bon Appetit, May 2011
The original recipe calls for a chocolate sauce to go alongside the zeppole, but I don’t at all think they need it. In fact, I think sauce would overwhelm these delicious little morsels of joy. Next time I’m going to try making them with orange zest instead of lemon, and rolling them in a bit of granulated sugar for a crunchy coating.
Make sure you have a lot of friends around when you make these, or people you’d like to become your friends. Because they will.
2 cups + ½ T bread flour
½ cup + ½ T whole milk
¾ tsp. active dry yeast
¾ tsp. fine sea salt
3 T sugar
1 ½ tsp. lemon zest (I just used one lemon)
2 large eggs
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened & cut into cubes
vegetable oil, for frying
powdered sugar, for dusting
In the middle of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine flour, milk, yeast, salt, sugar, zest, & eggs. Beat at low speed until a dough forms. Gradually add butter, beating until absorbed and occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.
Increase the speed to medium and beat until smooth and glossy, about 3 minutes. Scrape dough off of the paddle and sides of the bowl; cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise for 2 hours.
Pour enough oil into a deep, heavy 5-quart pot to reach a 1 ½ inch depth. Heat over medium until the oil temperature reaches 325°. Working in batches, drop dough into the oil by heaping spoonfuls (about 1” in diameter). [I found it was easier to roll the dough by hand, collect a plate-full at a time, and drop them all into the oil at nearly the same time.] Don’t crowd!
Fry, turning occasionally until the zeppole are golden brown, about 4 minutes per batch. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to cool slightly. Sift powdered sugar over the zeppole or shake them with the sugar in a paper bag.
It’s my blog’s birthday! Happy birthday, blog!
In addition to being Blue Jean Gourmet’s birthday, today is also Cinco de Mayo: this is no accident. Of course I started my blog on a day that serves as an excuse to eat and drink some of my favorite things. That was good thinking on my part. High five, self. High five.
I’m amazed at how much can change in a year, or in two. The length of my hair, the color of my dining room, the amount of time I spend on Twitter, my concerns and worries, my growth as a teacher, my skill as a cook, the intimacy and trust in my relationships, the new people I am blessed to know. You know how folks will say “Oh, I would love to go back to…” and then insert “high school” or “college” or some other past period in their life? Not me, thank you. I have gained too much, am entirely too grateful to be the person I am now and not the person I was back then (shudder, cringe), and can’t imagine saying goodbye to even the smallest piece of that perspective, even if it meant getting to sleep really late on weekends.
To have had this blog (and you people out there!) as a constant over the last two years, meeting you here week after week, being able to look back on this archive of life’s ins and outs–it’s simply incredible. Looking to the year ahead, I plan to keep telling stories, sharing food that I think is delicious, working with Sonya to deepen our craft, and breathing life into this toddler of a blog with some new ideas and a lot of guest posts.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for being part of this conversation and a very meaningful part of my life. Your presence is humbling and cheering; I hope you will stick around!
If you’ve never had one of these Texan concoctions, you’re in for a treat. Refreshing on the hottest of days, micheladas are a snap to throw together with things you probably already have in your pantry/fridge. There’s no one “recipe” for this drink, though the consistent elements are similar to that of a Bloody Mary: salt, spice, & lime.
This weekend, I took things one step further and made micheladas using leftover, homemade Bloody Mary mix from last weekend’s brunch. Of course, you can make them minus the tomato part and they will still be delicious! Note: the drink is traditionally served over ice, but I prefer to freeze my glasses instead.
1 beer of your choice
2 fresh and ripe tomatoes
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Tabasco or other hot sauce (adjust according to your heat tolerance)
juice of 6 limes, plus extra lime wedges/wheels for garnish
Rim the edges of the glasses you’re using with celery salt, set aside. Core the tomatoes and place in a blender along with the Worcestershire, Tabasco, & lime juice. (I left the skins on for texture). Whir until you’ve achieved a thick but still pourable liquid.
Fill your glasses with ice, if using. Pour about a ¼-cup of the tomato mixture into the bottom of each glass, then pour the beer over and garnish with lime.
Jill taught me to love ceviche–it’s one of her absolute favorite things to eat. And though I had never made it before last weekend, I have eaten so much of it that I had a sense in my mind of the tastes and textures I was after.
Luckily for me and other Houstonians, knowledgeable fishmongers and the freshest, most beautiful fish abound around these parts. Last Saturday, I bought myself some gorgeous mango snapper and wahoo from the man they call Professor Fish Heads, and went home excited to prepare ceviche in a way that would do the fish justice. I dare say I was successful!
I’ve done my best to recreate how I made my ceviche, but bear in mind that it’s not a dish that requires precision or exactness. Feel free to swap in citrus for the mango, thinly sliced carrot for the radish, or jalapeno for the serrano. My only specific exhortation is this: fry your own chips! I much prefer the flavor of a flour chip to store-bought corn, not to mention the former is much sturdier and can, quite literally, hold up to the fish. Simply cut flour tortillas into wedges, heat up a pot of vegetable oil, and fry until lightly browned and puffy. Super delicious.
approximately 1 lb. very fresh fish (snapper is the classic choice), cubed (1/2 inch is my preference)
½ cup fresh citrus juice (I used a combination of sweet & regular lime)
thinly sliced red onion
thinly sliced radish
Serrano pepper, seeded & very thinly sliced
diced ripe mango
plenty of cilantro
avocado for garnish
salt & pepper
Combine the fish and citrus juice in a shallow plastic container fitted with the lid. Add the onion, radish, Serrano, mango, salt, and pepper, and stir gently to combine. Cover and let sit in the fridge for at least 4 hours, popping in periodically to stir the mix, evenly exposing all of the fish pieces to the citrus juice. Over time, the juices will “cook” the fish and you will see it change from pink and translucent to white and opaque.
When ready to serve, check again for salt & pepper and garnish with plenty of fresh cilantro and avocado and serve with chips.