DIWALI 2017

Diwali always seems to come at the right time; I suppose this says something about the wisdom of ancient religious calendars and living in sync with the cycles of the moon. Initially, Diwali felt “early” to me this year–at least in part due to the unseasonably warm weather of Houston’s mid-October–the holiday did its job as always, serving as a point of reflection and an opportunity to regroup and start again.

For some time, I’ve gone back-and-forth about the viability of this blog; I post so infrequently these days, my life very different from when I began this project in 2009.

I am a parent now, of course.  And for the past year-and-a-half, I’ve been intently focused on a book project, which will come to fruition next year.  I still cook a lot, but the nature of that cooking has changed–gone are the days of elaborate, “just for the heck of it” recipes that require a trip to the specialty store for ingredients. Instead, I am all about the weekly meal plans, prepping weeknight dinners in advance, stocking the freezer with casserole, pastas, or enchiladas whenever I can. Most of my writing isn’t about food anymore.

At the same time, I know that many of my friends and acquaintances come to the blog to search for recipes, which makes me grin.  In truth, I often cook out of my archives, too; I don’t want this site to go anywhere.  I plan to maintain it, just not to update it anymore.  This will be my last post.

I’m proud of this blog and forever grateful for all of the doors it opened for me, especially the connections and friendships I made because of it.  But the time has come for something new, for transitioning into the next thing, scary and exciting as that is. I’ve got the very beginnings of a new website, which I intend to use as a platform to share not-necessarily-food-related writing and provide updates about the work I’m doing, including my new book and the occasional writing course. I’ll be posting about the first course in the coming week, so, if you’re interested, you can sign up for my mailing list here.

Like most changes, this one feels bittersweet. I can’t help but think about my students, seniors all on the precipice of major transitions, edgy with the thrill and the fear contained therein. It’s easy for me to speak to them about the importance of risk, the necessity of moving outside of a comfort zone–but it’s humbling and essential for me to stand inside this space and be viscerally reminded of what that feels like.

Thank you all, for being here and for reading.  I’ll miss this little blog.

***

DIWALI 2017

 

Wouldn’t seem right unless I shared a few of the most popular recipes from this year’s festivities:

Naan pizzas – I buy mini-naans at Costco and use them as crust. Since they’re small, I can cook them in batches on a baking sheet and serve them warm.  They are crazy-popular, and this year, I made two variations:

Butternut squash & chicken: in lieu of “sauce,” I mashed up Indian-style sweet-and-sour butternut squash, then layered it with shredded mozzarella and handfuls of diced chicken which I’d made ahead using leftovers from this recipe. Once the pizzas came out of the oven, I showered them with fresh, chopped cilantro.

Saag paneer: having cooked the greens and paneer separately, I used the saag as “sauce,” topped with shredded mozzarella and also a few cubes of paneer.  Once these came out of the oven, they got a drizzle of cilantro chutney.

Even though this party was basically a happy hour situation, I still decided to make four desserts, because of course I did:

Chai snickerdoodles – I skipped the frosting, which seemed like a bit much.  I’d do it again, because these were delightful and disappeared quickly!

Mango tartlets – phyllo shells have become my fancy-dessert- secret-weapon.  I’ve filled them in the past with Tartine’s lemon cream, this key lime curd, and this time, with Smitten Kitchen’s mango curd. Find the phyllo shells in the freezer section at the grocery store, crisp them up in the oven, then fill them with something delicious.  People will rave, guaranteed.

Pear galette – Stella Parks has never, ever steered me wrong (if you enjoy baking, you should buy her new book!) and this recipe is no exception. It was so good that I’m planning to make it again for Thanksgiving.

Saffron pistachio financiers – while these tasted great, they were a pain to remove from the pans after baking, so I’ll use liners next time.

PAST DIWALI POSTS:

2016, 2015, 2013*, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

*We skipped a year because a bunch of our friends got married all at once!  (It was the best possible reason.)

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ALL OF THE TOMATOES. ALL OF THEM. SO MANY.

Jill makes things grow; it’s what she does. After a few hours digging around in the dirt, she comes in more vibrant (if smelly). From plumerias to eggplant, she’s happier when she’s growing something, more like herself. She comes by this honestly—raised by two people whose backyard garden was massive, beautifully orchestrated, and ridiculously prolific—she’s now raising Shiv to understand, enjoy, and appreciate how food is grown.

I do not make things grow; instead, I try not to kill them when Jill is out of town. But I fit into this equation nicely, as someone who loves to spend lots of weekend time in the kitchen, figuring out what we should do with a counter piled high with tomatoes and a crisper full of homegrown zucchini & squash. There’s nothing lovelier than being able to walk out to the back patio (or send Shiv!) to grab a handful of mint, or basil, or oregano to toss into whatever’s cooking. And it’s especially gratifying to serve up a meal comprised primarily of ingredients that came from our own backyard.

Since the school year is winding down and the summer winding up, I thought I would share some of my family’s favorite ways to enjoy backyard tomatoes (other than sliced onto a mayo-slathered piece of good bread and topped with salt & pepper, of course). Jill is not a big fan of tomato-based sauces, so I’ve found other ways of using up the bounty. I hope you’ll enjoy these as much as we do.

Favorite tomato recipes from this blog—

Corn & Tomato Pie – it’s high time for me to make the first of these for 2017; this is one of those beloved favorites that makes an excellent summer meal, paired simply with a salad and some dessert. Take it to a potluck, make one for friends who just had a baby, etc.

Indian-Style Tomato Rice—I have fond memories of my mom packing this for me in my lunchbox. Simple but flavorful, keep a batch of this in the fridge and serve on its own, with plain yogurt, or use it as a bed for kabobs or other grilled meats.

Tomato Bread Pudding—this decadent recipe is another one I need to revisit. The perfect dish for a summer brunch, you could certainly switch up the cheeses (Fontina is delicious but $$); just make sure to choose a hard cheese that shreds and melts nicely.

Favorite tomato recipes from elsewhere—

A Diary of Tomatoes: 5 Recipes {via Casa Yellow}
I’ve made all of the recipes in this beautiful booklet from my friend Sarah; no one knows how to handle excess garden bounty better! Her tomato jam is an especially great way to consolidate & preserve your harvest; it’s perfect for all of those hamburgers you’ll be grilling this summer.

Fresh Tomato Tarts {via King Arthur Flour}
This crust recipe is one that I keep in my back pocket, pulling it out when I want to impress people but don’t have the bandwidth to do anything super-laborious. I tend to make the smaller tarts, adding fresh herbs like oregano and basil to the tomatoes before baking.

Pasta Salad with Roasted Tomatoes {via Smitten Kitchen}
I remembered this recipe over the weekend, when the kitchen counter was beginning to be crowded with beautiful yellow-grape and red-cherry tomatoes. Thanks to a recent deal on pine nuts at Trader Joe’s and the gift of feta from our favorite goat farmers, I had everything I needed on hand to make this. I love that the recipe makes a big batch—another great potluck recipe, or something to keep on hand to pack in lunches, whip out when your kid is hungry after swimming for two hours solid, etc.

Ratatouille {via Saveur}
My favorite ratatouille recipe because it’s so hands-off; other than prepping vegetables, the oven does the work here for you. The result is tender and deeply flavorful; you can use it as a sandwich topping, paired with some good cheese, or serve atop couscous for a healthy side.

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TUNA JAMBALAYA

This past Friday was Maha Shivaratri, a holiday especially meaningful to my family since our boy is named for Lord Shiva. My mom and I spent the day fasting, a practice that has grown more and more potent for me as I’ve gotten older. I have a greater respect for discipline than I used to, a greater understanding of what it can accomplish. Discipline, now, is as much about affirmation as it is about denial.

I broke my fast in the evening, after we had performed puja as a family. With my right hand working to portion bites of my mom’s famous aloo parantha, I told Shiv my favorite of the stories associated with Maha Shivaratri. The basic scenario is this: the gods were weak as the result of a curse, and in order to be strengthened, sought out amrita, or nectar of life, which could only found at the bottom of the ocean. Given their weakness, the gods had no choice but to partner with the demons in order to harness adequate power for churning the ocean, the only way to access the nectar.

This part gets complicated, but during the extended retrieval process, an extremely deadly poison emerges—a familiar mythological trope, right? Before you get to the awesome thing you’ve been working so hard for, something super-dangerous comes along. In this case, the poison was so intensely harmful that it threatened to wipe out the already-weakened gods, to say nothing of potentially destroying all of humanity.

Enter Shiva. He agrees to drink the poison, but holds it in his throat, offering it a container and keeping it from harming others. Ultimately—and some versions of the story attribute this to the efforts of his wife, Parvati, or the other gods—the poison also does not harm Shiva, though it does turn his neck (or, in some stories, his whole body) blue.

You can do a lot with this story. I am particularly drawn to the notion that poisonous things cannot necessarily be dispensed with altogether, but that sometimes we have to make room for them. I am inspired by the thought that we can render harmful things harmless by offering them a place inside our own vast capability. In debriefing the story with Shiv, we talked about sacrifice, that it is sometimes necessary to do difficult things for the benefit of others, that Shiva’s actions can inspire all of us to be strong when the time comes to do the right thing.

Earlier in the day, at the Jewish school where I work, our Head of School gave a beautiful d’var torah about that oft-quoted verse from Exodus: “You shall neither wrong a stranger, nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” It’s not unusual for the week’s parsha (text selection) to feel relevant—indeed that is the point of revisiting the text year after year, to connect it to our lives—but wow. This one. Timely.

Tomorrow, Lent begins, another layer of the multi-faceted traditions that make up my personal spiritual life. It’s a season all about sacrifice and discipline, and I welcome its structure each year, but perhaps no more so than I will now, when so much feels uncertain.

On Friday night, as I got him ready for bed, Shiv took his allergy medicine, as usual, then made a funny face, holding his lips together and puffing out his cheeks. “I was tryna hold it in my throat and be strong,” he told me after he’d swallowed it. “Like Lord Shiva.”

 

SISTER BARBARA’S TUNA JAMBALAYA

Some folks seek out more fish recipes for Lent, so I thought it would be a good time to share this recipe for one of our family’s “old reliables.” Not necessarily the most attractive or showy dish, but it sure is comforting and simple to make. I learned the recipe a long time ago from one of those old-fashioned, Southern, comb-bound cookbooks to which Sister Barbara, whoever she may be, contributed.

I lost the official recipe a while back, but I still know how to make this dish from muscle memory; this is very much a “pantry” dinner, or a “what should I make for dinner?” dinner, provided you’ve grabbed a green bell pepper from the store and always keep celery in your crisper like I do.


ingredients:

None of these measurements are precise/exact; feel free to tinker based on what you have.

Butter and/or vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
3-4 ribs celery, diced
1-2 cans chunk light tuna in water, drained
1 cup short-grain rice
2 ¼ cups stock (I tend to have chicken on hand; the original recipe called for beef stock)
Salt & pepper
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning or a similar seasoning blend

Melt a knob of butter (or heat up 1-2 T oil) in a large saute pan over medium heat. Cook the trinity (onion + bell pepper + celery) until soft, about 5 minutes. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, then add a bit more butter before stirring in the rice, cooking it for 1-2 minutes. Pour in the stock, then stir in the tuna. Season again—a few generous shakes of creole seasoning, and perhaps a bit more salt.

Cover the pan with a lid to let the mixture come to a boil; check after a few minutes and turn the heat down as needed, replacing the lid. Cook until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is fully cooked.* Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve & enjoy!

*If your rice is fully cooked but you have more liquid than you want, remove the lid for the remainder of the cooking process. If you’re out of liquid but your rice is still undercooked, add a bit more stock and re-cover the pan.

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BRAVER THAN WE THINK

Grief does not work the same for everyone, but to anyone who’s experienced it, it’s universally recognizable.  I know grief when I see it, and I see it in this moment.  In the woman who caught my eye in the dressing room at the gym as we both looked away from TV coverage of you-know-what; in the texts between friends to share the acts of resistance and solidarity we have planned for the next 48 hours; in the deep exhalation of my mother’s breath as she hugged me goodnight.

This is my frame of reference, of course; there are lots of people who aren’t grieving, who are celebrating instead, because that’s how ideologies run: two ways.  There are those who are “waiting and seeing,” those whose personal issues are so real and primary and in-your-face urgent that they can’t see or be concerned with anything else.  I get that.

It’s complicated, and nuance matters more than ever; I know that there are legitimate concerns about the leadership and language and inclusivity of Saturday’s protest efforts; I know that there are many groups of people for whom this grief is old hat, who view these sudden and dramatic showings of outrage as privileged and lacking in self-awareness.  I know that demonizing and painting with a broad brush, no matter which side is doing it, is dangerous.

But I’ve been listening to the voices who seem the wisest, both past and present; those who have stood inside of resistance for their entire lives, who have things to teach me and all of us who are interested in learning, who can offer some direction when many of us feel unmoored.  Here’s one thing they all seem to agree on: calling things by their proper names.

I may lose some of you with this example, but hear me out.  In the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort—the power-hungry villain—is commonly referred to as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”  In the first book of the series, Dumbledore, Harry’s mentor, instructs him otherwise:

“Call him Voldemort, Harry.  Always use the proper name for things.  Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

That’s one thing we can do.  Stop equivocating things that aren’t equivalent.  Stop using euphemisms because we’re scared of the truth.  Stop wishing our way into cheap optimism.

We are so obsessed with positivity in this culture, to the point that we have and continue to erase narratives of whole swaths of people and refuse to make room for facts that don’t fit inside of our relentlessly cheery outlook.  That is part of how we got here, and we have to stop.  According to Vincent Harding, and I’m pretty sure he knew, “What is needed is more and more people to stand in the darkness.”

The other thing that I think I’ve learned—and this will seem contradictory, but I find that paradox is usually where the truth of human experience is located—hope is essential.  An insistence on joy: not as a blind looking-away, but as a choice.  Call the dystopian clown show what it is, then refuse to let it grind you down.  Resist the bullshit narratives that want to cocoon you in fear, then go make some art.  Let yourself be outraged by that which should generate outrage, even if it happens over and over and over again.  Write down what you value, what you believe in—do it right now—so that you will not be normalized into someone your grief wouldn’t recognize.  Create community around those values, if you haven’t already, or find one to join.  Remember that you are capable of great kindness, and that, while it may not seem like it, care for the self and care for the other is a radical act.

Grief is often monstrous, consuming.  But it can also be a teacher.  If we’re willing, it can show us that we are all braver than we think.

“Resistance is the secret of joy.”

“[M]ake yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit.”

“You defeat the devil when you hold onto hope.”

[Alice Walker / Rebecca Solnit / Run the Jewels]

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WOO THEM WITH CHOCOLATE

Blog posts have been few and far between this year—this is my fifteenth post in 2016—and the era of consistent, twice-a-week posts (whaaa???) feels like it’s a lifetime away.

I love this space, even as I wonder why I keep it; the internet and my life have both changed a lot since 2009.  Still, not a day goes by that I don’t interact with someone who I met because of Blue Jean Gourmet, and, from time to time, I hear from friends and acquaintances that they’re using one of the recipes archived here.  That brings me so much joy.

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Being a food writer may not be my ultimate calling, but I couldn’t have known that without giving it a whirl first.  While I may eventually transition Blue Jean Gourmet into something else, this space has helped me determine which stories do feel like mine to tell, and that is a tremendous gift.

I know we’re mostly busy talking about what a dumpster fire of a year 2016 has been, but personally, I can’t write it off.  This was the year that I signed a publishing contract, something I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember, and I am proud as heck for making that happen.  Working on a book while teaching full time and parenting/life-ing is no joke, but it’s the best kind of problem to have, one of my own making and one that pushes me to live ever-more in line with what I say I want, and who I say I want to be.

This has been a year filled with a lot of examination around those categories—what I say I want, who I say I want to be—and some hard, important adjustments made in the wake of that examining.  I’ve been a lot more honest with myself, which feels less painful and more powerful each time I do it; my bff Coco got me this awesome pin (side note: Emily McDowell’s stuff is so good) and it is an aspirational reach that I will take with me into 2017.

Ideally, I would have passed these recipes along before Christmas and Hanukkah came along, but they’re also both well suited for any New Year’s celebrations that you may be scheming, or you can just keep them in your arsenal for any time you may need to woo, placate, or dazzle someone with chocolate.

SALTED TAHINI CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

source: Danielle Orton, as shared by Food 52

You’ve probably heard about these cookies already, and maybe you thought, “Do I really need another chocolate chip cookie recipe in my life?”  The answer is yes.  But don’t make these unless/until you own good-quality tahini (ordering Soom online is worth every penny) and good quality dark chocolate (I used Guittard 66% semisweet baking wafers).  Trust me, it’s worth the splurge;people will rave about these!

ingredients:

8 T unsalted butter, soft

½ cup well-stirred tahini

1 cup sugar

1 egg + 1 egg yolk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup + 2 T all-purpose flour

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 ¾ cups good-quality chocolate chips or chunks (since I had discs, I gave them a rough chop before using)

flaky finishing salt

Cream butter, tahini, & sugar together on medium speed for about 5 minutes—the mixture should look light and fluffy when you’re done.  Add the egg, yolk, and vanilla and mix for another 5 minutes.

Sift the dry ingredients into a separate bowl, then add to the wet ingredients on low speed.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold the chocolate in by hand, using a spatula.

From here, the original recipe instructs you to line a baking sheet with parchment, divide the dough into twelve scoops, and place the dough balls on the cookie sheet and freeze for 12 hours before baking.  Either I wasn’t paying attention or I was feeling lazy, but I stashed the dough in the fridge, still in the mixing bowl, wrapped in plastic, overnight, then baked, and my cookies still turned out delicious.  You do whatever feels right to you.

Whenever you’re ready to bake, you’re looking at 325F and about 12-15 minutes in the oven, until just the edges are getting brown.  Don’t worry if the middle of the cookies looks a bit pale-that’s how they’re supposed to look.  As they come out of the oven, sprinkle with salt.  Cool on a rack, then move to a platter and watch them disappear!

Blue Jean Gourmet | woo them with chocolate

PEAR AND BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE CAKE

an oldie-but-a-goodie from Smitten Kitchen

This is a “back pocket” recipe for me, one that’s simple enough to make but feels fancy, especially when served with some homemade whipped cream.  It’s the technique here that really make a difference, so don’t ignore the instructions about making sure the eggs are at room temperature before you whip them for, yes, nine whole minutes.  If you’ve never whipped eggs for that long before, you’ll be amazed at what happens when you do.

ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 T baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

3 eggs, at room temperature*

8 T unsalted butter

¾ cup sugar

3 pears, peeled, cored, diced small (I like using bosc)

¾ cup bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips

Oven: 325F

Pan: 9-inch spring form pan, buttered & floured (I’ve also used a 9-inch square pan in a pinch)

Whisk dry ingredients together and set aside.

Using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer, whip the eggs for NINE WHOLE MINUTES until they’re pale and very thick.  While that’s happening, brown the butter; melt it in a saucepan over medium-low flame, stirring occasionally, until it begins to smell nutty and the color turns brown.  Set aside.

Add the sugar to the eggs and beat for a few more minutes.  Turn the mixer down to low and add the dry ingredients and brown butter to the batter, alternating like this:

1/3 dry mix

½ brown butter

1/3 dry mix

½ brown butter

1/3 dry mix

Mix until just combined—don’t overmix, or the eggs will lose volume!  Scrape the mixture out into the pan, then scatter the pear and chocolate pieces on top.

Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick comes away clean when inserted into the center of the cake; in my oven, that took a good hour, but you may want to start checking at 45-50 minutes, to be safe.

Serve with some barely sweetened whipped cream.  If you’re feeling fancy, a drop of almond extract or a couple of drops of Amaretto in the whipped cream would also be nice.

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DIWALI 2016

Ten years ago, I hosted my first Diwali party.  Less than six months after my father’s death, I threw myself into preparations, calling my mom for consultations on the proper way to cook the dishes I’d watched her make, but never made myself, my whole life.  I lived in Tucson, Arizona at the time, in my second year of graduate school, and I’ll never forget what it meant to me that my classmates, who I knew in certain ways through their writing but who were strangers to me in other ways, turned up to enthusiastically not just to celebrate a holiday but to bear witness to me as I fumbled my way through grief and an attendant longing to still be engaged in and hopeful about the world.

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I couldn’t have guessed, a decade ago, how my annual Diwali party would come to structure and witness so much shared history within the community Jill and I have built for ourselves.  Over the years, the celebration has gained significance because of so many attendant life events: marriages, losses, babies, cancer.  Each year, we gather together and take stock of what has transpired, making time for gratitude and reaffirming our faith in the power of goodness.

The Carroll/Mehra Diwali celebration has become a truly communal effort, a testament to the ways I have grown and changed, learning to actually ask for—and receive!—help.  My friend Maconda makes the most beautiful flower arrangements (even this year, when she couldn’t actually attend the party due to the flu), Megan plays wine fairy, Burke brought candles and napkins, Bonnie toys for the kids, and Greg & Sharon once again served as my last-minute, willing-to-do-whatever-is-needed helpers.  I throw the party because it’s tradition, because it is an important part of my identity and culture, because it is a strike in the “hope” column that I so desperately still want to occupy, but it would be worth it to throw the party each year simply to be reminded of the wonderful people who fill my life.  In the days since the part, lyrics from a song that I haven’t listened to in years filled my mind: “And I act like I have faith / and like that faith never ends / but I really just have friends.”

Diwali 2016 | Blue Jean Gourmet

Diwali, like all religious holidays, has a powerful story at its core.  The villain in the Diwali story is Ravana, who is spoken of in the tradition not as a cosmic demon but rather as a man who achieves demonic status via his greed, arrogance, ego, and lust for power.  In the myth, Ravana is eventually slain by the hero Rama, but the arc of Rama’s story includes fourteen years in exile.

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In its etymology, exile comes from a root meaning “to wander” and is a derivative of a verb meaning “to take out to the root.”  There is something potent for me in that image, of pulling something out of the earth, the way that my mom taught me to weed, not the lazy way—simply tearing at the visible green parts—but to go down into the soil, to get dirt under my fingernails, to pull up under stubborn tendrils, to tug until they gave way.  It is exhausting and sometimes back-breaking work.  It is slow.  Sometimes you have to pull up the same weed over and over and over again.

Maybe we are in exile, in darkness; or perhaps we have always been here and the light is just now being shed on it.  Either way, we all have some digging to do.

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MENU NOTES:

This year, I served vadouvan spiced cashews, pav bhaji & saag paneer (both made by my mom), Indian-spiced sweet potato latkes (improvised & maybe the hit of the night, served with strained & salted yogurt instead of sour cream), the ever-beloved and oft-requested grilled halloumi, tamarind-glazed lamb meatballs, and mini cardamom-and-rosewater-flavored cakes (adapted from this recipe) and these super-delicious coconut-brown-butter financiers, half of which I dipped in dark chocolate.

PREVIOUS DIWALI PARTIES ON THE BLOG:

2015, 2013*, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

*We skipped a year because a bunch of our friends got married all at once!  (It was the best possible reason.)

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CHICKEN IS THE KEY TO MY WIFE’S HEART (AND OTHER RANDOM OBSERVATIONS)

I’m so glad it’s November.  Yes, I’m biased because it’s my birthday month—and this year, I get to share my birthday with Thanksgiving, which is maybe the best celebration mash-up I can imagine!—but I also feel like November comes as a much-needed sign post along the road, a reassurance and a relief: “You will make it to the end of the semester.”

chicken schwarma | Blue Jean Gourmet

October was a doozy and there were days I felt like I was drowning.  I am not someone who sees inherent virtue in being busy, but there I was, super-full plate and all cylinders firing, lists and schedules and ever-so-many Post-It notes.  I think it may just be the nature of the beast, of weaving book-writing into an already occupied life; I feel like I am operating at full capacity and it is exhilarating, exhausting work.  There is literally a green index card taped to my mirror with the word “DISCIPLINE” written on it in two-inch-tall letters.

This means, of course, that some things have had to go; not everything fits.  I’ve made several recipes in the past two months that I wanted to share here, but I never got photographs or a post together so I just kept a list of them on a virtual sticky note on my desktop.  But tonight, I had actually managed to prep dinner in the morning because I didn’t have to go in super-early because I actually already knew what I was doing in my classes today and because I actually wasn’t facing down a giant pile of grading (there’s a pile, still, but it’s medium-sized), so when Shiv & I came home, I was able to cook, catch up with Jill over a glass of wine, and take a warm sheet pan of chicken schwarma outside for her to photograph before we ate it up.  Which was very kind of her, as she had been looking forward to chicken-for-dinner all day.  Seriously, the woman loves chicken.  I don’t know that I appreciated to what extent, even, until very recently.  Almost fifteen years in and still learning about each other!  Ha.

This NYT chicken schwarma recipe is simple and very, very convenient—you can marinate it in your fridge for up to 12 hours before you plan to cook it, or for just 1 hour if that’s all you got—and it’s reliably tasty.  You can easily play with the quantities listed here and make a BUNCH of chicken to have on hand for leftovers, for which you will thank yourself later.  Also, if you’ve never cooked with chicken thighs, you should start; they are cheaper than chicken breasts and far less likely to dry out.

If you have the time/energy/inclination, you can trick this recipe out with lots of sides/accompaniments: a cucumber-and-onion salad or a tomato-feta salad or this marinated eggplant.  Put hummus out on the table if you’ve got some.  Or, if you need to keep things super-simple, just do 3 things: buy some pita bread, add carrots to the sheet pan along with the chicken and onion, and make a simple yogurt sauce while the chicken is cooking.  For the sauce, mince up a fat clove of garlic, stir it into 2 cups of plain yogurt, thin that with some fresh lemon juice, fold in a palm-full of chopped, fresh dill, then salt & pepper to taste.  Boom.  Done.

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A few more recommendations/endorsements—no pictures for these, so I guess you’ll just have to trust my good judgment!

* Cranberry harvest muffins – fresh cranberries went on sale at Costco a couple of weeks ago and I couldn’t resist.  Instead of designating them all for Thanksgiving purposes, I hunted around for a muffin recipe that would taste like fall, even if it feels nothing like it around these parts.  Since I didn’t have any figs on hand, I ended up fudging a little—some applesauce here, some apricot conserves there—but they were delicious nevertheless.  Keeping this one in my back pocket!

* Saltie’s focaccia – this recipe has made several rounds around the internet, and for good reason.  There’s absolutely zero kneading involved—mix the dough, store it in the fridge overnight, then bake it off when you’re ready.  The result is chewy, salty, oily, and delicious.  This has become my go-to when I have to sign up to bring something to Shiv’s school for an event; the kids love it, and it doesn’t require a stop at the store for any special ingredients.

* Sweet potato pancakes – the original recipe calls for cooked & pureed butternut squash, but both times I’ve made it, I’ve used roasted, mashed sweet potato with great results.  I’ve also subbed in a combination of different flours for up to 1 cup of the AP: whole wheat, buckwheat, teff.  And while I haven’t made the maple butter that accompanies this recipe, we’ve found that plain maple syrup + butter works just fine.

Not food, and not sponsored, but an honest endorsement for the Headspace meditation app.  While it may sound contradictory to use an electronic device for meditation, I’ve found that the guided exercises on Headspace have really helped me solidify my practice and deepen its impact.  I love the various topical series that are offered: motivation, pregnancy, kindness, patience, creativity, focus, and anxiety, to name a few.  I’m currently halfway through the series on anxiety and can honestly say that it has made an appreciable difference in my quality of life.  And the sleep exercise is revelatory, especially if you’re someone who has trouble falling asleep.

That’s all from me for now.  Our annual Diwali party is coming up this weekend, so I hope to be back before Thanksgiving with a post and some pictures from that.  In the meantime, I must go watch the most epic baseball game of the modern era!

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DOUBLE PEANUT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Well hello there, a month after my last post! It’s been quite a month around here – me back to school, Shiv out of school for a few weeks, Jill out of town for one. I’ve made lots of “survival” meals—big batches of versatile food, like slow-cooker roasts and veggie-laced black beans. We’ve blown through plums at an alarming rate (Shiv has taken to eating two in one sitting, as a snack). I’m well into my giant Costco bag of quick-cooking steel cut oats, my school-morning-breakfast-of-choice. Jill used the internet and an electric knife to break down the half a wild hog that cousin Paul sent to us courtesy my in-laws. And I’ve made these cookies three times.

double peanut chocolate chip cookies | Blue Jean Gourmet

The recipe below yields a large amount, which is great because these cookies are delicious—wonderful texture, sweet but also salty, soft but not crumbly. After Shiv helped me put together the dough, we baked off about a dozen cookies for our family’s Labor Day feast, then froze the rest on parchment-lined cookie sheets; I’ll move those to a Ziplock bag for future use. From there, they’ll stand ready to serve as an easy dessert or a take-something-over-to-someone’s house item. My father-in-law likes them so much he thinks I should sell them.

~

Here’s a thing that’s true about me: I give good advice. Here’s a thing that’s also true about me: I’m not always so good at taking my own advice. (My friends reading this right now are nodding.) But I am trying, trying to listen to the voice that advocates for sanity, just as I urge others to listen to–and heed–that voice.

I signed a publishing contract with Picador/MacMillan this week. I keep saying that sentence aloud just to hear it and absorb that it’s real. Speaking of real, “AUTHOR will deliver THE WORK to PUBLISHER on 1 JUNE 2017” has to be both the most terrifying and exhilarating collection of words I’ve encountered maybe ever? “The work” in this case is a collection of essays with the working title Making Space: On Parenthood, Family, and (Not) Passing. I started working on it this summer, and boy does it feel good.

In short—I have some work to do. I have a lot of work to do. I don’t know how this blog fits into that work, except that I know that the thought of shutting this thing altogether makes me very, very sad, so I’m not going to do that. Maybe I’ll continue to throw recipes your way, things we’ve made and loved and managed to photograph before consuming. Maybe I’ll want to share links or poems or playlists. Maybe I’ll need to be quiet for long stretches because only so many things fit into a given day. But every time I think this blog has outlived its usefulness, I hear from someone who tells me that they regularly pull this website up for ideas on what to make for dinner. That makes me glad.

You ever have that feeling that you have no idea what you’re doing, but you also know exactly what you’re doing?  A little disconcerting, but not at all a terrible way to live. Not terrible at all.

double peanut chocolate chip cookies

(Yes, that’s a little skulking terrier in the background.  He knows a good thing when he smells one.)

DOUBLE PEANUT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Recipe from King Arthur Flour, source of so many good things

ingredients:

2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 ¼ cup peanut butter – original recipe calls for “mainstream” PB with sugar & salt; I’ve made them that way, they were great; this time, I only had homemade PB, so I added some additional sugar & salt, cookies were still great
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. each baking powder AND baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 eggs
2 2/3 cup all purpose flour*
1 ¼ cup dry roasted, salted peanuts, chopped
1 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

oven temp: 350°.

pans: Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Use a stand mixer to combine the butter, sugars, peanut butter, vanilla, baking powder and soda, and salt. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides in between. Stir in the flour, chopped peanuts, and chocolate chips.

Shape dough into rounded tablespoons and place on the prepared baking sheets. I like to sprinkle the tops with a little coarse salt at this point, too. Bake right away, or freeze for later. Check cookies at the 10 minute mark, but they’ll probably need closer to 12-15 minutes. You want them to be a little brown around the edges; if under-baked, they will be extremely crumbly and difficult to handle. Move baking sheet to a cooling rack and allow cookies to come to room temperature before moving them around.

*The original recipe recommends weighing the flour, in which case you are looking for 11.25 ounces of it. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, be sure to aerate your flour before measuring, and to level off your cup measure with the back of a butter knife—too much flour, the recipe warns, will lead to dry cookies.

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SUMMER LENTIL SALAD

It’s the last few days before school starts back up—in-service, at least—which means my brain is ceding territory that has, up to this point, been reserved for the book project I’ve been lucky enough to spend the summer working on.  In creeps thoughts of the classes I’ll be teaching this year, how I want to structure and improve them, new approaches I want to try, goals for myself and my students.  Because I am someone who thinks in academic calendar years (2016-2017), this is a season of scheduling, making sure all of the dates are written down and cross-posted, birthdays and play dates and travel dates accounted for.

This is preparatory time, and that extends to food, too; things are about to get really busy around here, and I know myself well enough to know that it makes a huge difference in my sanity and overall health to have easy, appealing options in the fridge, ready to go.  (And conversely, *not* to have certain other things around that I am not-so-great at resisting, particularly when I am in a rush or stressed.) 

Summer Lentil Salad | Blue Jean Gourmet

Hence this humble little lentil salad.  My mom served it to me a few weeks ago, and I immediately asked for the recipe—it couldn’t be simpler, but is definitely more than the sum of its parts and keeps beautifully in the fridge.  I love pairing it with muhammara dip, another current fridge staple, some cheese and crudités for a light lunch.  There’s a recipe for muhammara on this blog, but these days I’ve been using Heidi Swanson’s recipe over at 101 Cookbooks, with a few tweaks.  First, I add an onion in along with the red peppers—I love the sweetness it brings.  Second, instead of roasting the peppers, as Heidi suggests, or leaving them raw, as my old recipe calls for, I cut them (and the onion) up into chunks, drizzle them with olive oil, and place them under a low broiler until they become blackened in places.  This way you get char and softness without having to spend a lot of time prepping or heating up your oven.  If you have a gas stove, you could certainly char the veggies over one of your burners instead.

Another thing I’ve been doing, inspired by Heidi, is making fresh turmeric-infused honey to keep on hand for sweetening teas, both cold and iced.  I grate fresh turmeric with a microplane into a mortar filled with local honey, add a few cracks of black pepper and a generous pinch of cardamom, then bash it all together.  It’s a really delicious, different flavor profile, and since turmeric has been touted forever by my people as a treatment for inflammation, I figure it can’t hurt.

Other recipes I wanted to share—and I realize we are getting into “hodgepodge post” territory now—were a few of the things I made for Shiv’s birthday party in July that were super well-received:

-Boozy Arnold Palmers, which I made using this Serious Eats recipe.  Seriously worth what may seem like extra-fussy steps, and actually very easy to do for a party because you prep it all ahead of time.  I doubled the recipe as written here, then added 2 cups of bourbon. Yeehaw!  I could have easily made more than I did, because it disappeared *fast*.  It bears mentioning here that I trust Serious Eats recipes to be well-tested and reliably delicious, which is why I went for this one.  We also have this pepperoni pizza currently on heavy rotation.  Even with store-bought sauce, it tastes like the roller-skating rink pizza of my nostalgic childhood dreams.

-Watermelon aguas frescas, for the kiddos (and also non-imbibing grownups).  I did this last year, and it couldn’t be easier: you process big chunks of watermelon in the blender, adding some lime juice and simple syrup to taste.  Strain to remove any seeds, DONE.  You can make this ahead of time, too, just know you’ll need to shake/stir the liquid before serving.

Lemon-glazed madeleines!  Shiv has long favored this cookie, and is also fond of the children’s book character of similar name (“To the tiger in the zoo, Madeline just said ‘Pooh-pooh.’”)  If you read too many madeleine recipes on the internet, you’ll scare yourself into thinking you can’t pull them off, but thanks to the encouragement of Stella Parks, who is probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered on Twitter and a fountain of pastry chef knowledge, I talked myself into tackling them.  Shiv helped—cracking the eggs and learning to fold gently, gently—and, even with the chaos of party day, our madeleines came out just fine.  Now that I know that they aren’t the bogey-man everyone says, I plan on trying other versions, like maybe a pistachio and also a chocolate?  Just know that you need a little lead time to freeze your molds and chill your batter so that your cookies will puff prettily.  They’re best eaten the same day, and that wasn’t a problem for us—ours disappeared so quickly that there wasn’t a single one leftover.

SUMMER LENTIL SALAD


ingredients
:

2 quarts water, chicken stock, or vegetable broth

2 cups green lentils

1/2 cup finely diced celery

1/2 cup finely diced red onion

1/3 cup Balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup white vinegar (or substitute red wine vinegar)

1/4 cup olive oil

salt & pepper, to taste

Combine lentils and liquid; bring to a boil.  Cook until the lentils are tender; drain.  While the lentils are cooking, combine the onions, celery, & wet ingredients in a large (non-metal) bowl.  Add the lentils and toss to combine.  Taste & add salt + pepper as desired.

Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving; the salad will become more flavorful over time.

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IT IS HARD TO HAVE HOPE

Thursday morning.  Jill left the house early for a few days of work and work-related travel; Shiv, who seems to be in some sort of extended toddler/teenager growth spurt, was sleeping in—past 8:00 am, even.  Normally, this would be a boon to me, time to get writing done in a quiet house, except: the news.  The heart-rending, live-videoed, goddamn-not-again news.

It’s the most fucked up sense of deja vu, to feel like we’ve done this all before.  There’s even a procedure: I obsessively follow Twitter, sign out of Facebook before I say something I’ll regret, follow links and re-tweet and weep because I let myself forget again; I let myself settle comfortably back into a life that doesn’t have to confront the world’s brokenness every day. 

DSC_2879

On my 32nd birthday, Jill & I came home from dinner to discover that a grand jury in Ferguson decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown.  About a week after that, a grand jury in New York decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who killed Eric Garner.  On my 33rd birthday, Chicago PD released the dash-cam video of seventeen year-old Laquan McDonald being shot sixteen times.  On December 28th of this past year, the first day of Winter Break that I had set aside to work on my book proposal, a grand jury in Ohio decided not to indict the officer who killed twelve year-old Tamir Rice, round-faced and big for his age, like my son, whose growth percentiles are currently listed at “ > 99%.”

I like to think that, were I not Shiv’s parent, I would still be outraged, paying attention, learning, reading, altering my perceptions and perspective, listening to people who know much better than I do about what it’s like—what it’s been like and continues to be like—to be Black in America.  I like to think that, but I can’t guarantee it.

It’s a futile thought experiment, in any case; not only is it impossible to separate who I am now with the fact of my son’s existence, and his Blackness, it would only be an attempt to redeem my hypothetical self, which serves nothing but my own ego.  I am not going to be useful to him if I’m busy trying to look good.  There is way too much at stake.

DSC_2872

He doesn’t know yet.  I am writing this at what I feel fairly certain is the end of his unawareness of the Truth About Things; he turns four in nine days and it’s coming.  He will see something, or hear something, or experience something, and he will ask.  He’s done it already with death and how babies get made, and it seemed right to follow his lead on those particular topics.  This, this feels like something else altogether—because it isn’t some necessary “fact of life,” but rather a fact of life as we know it.  As we have made it.

There’s been no colorblindness about his upbringing; we have no patience for that bullshit.  Not to mention, kids figure it out on their own, regardless of whatever pasty Kumbaya diet you feed them.  As soon as he could talk, Shiv began noting the different shades of members of his family, characters in books, strangers out in the world, often gravitating toward people who looked like him.  Jill had a tennis match on a few weeks ago (she’s a rabid Serena fan, or worshipper, I should say) and it was Shiv’s first time watching the game.  It’s not a simple game to explain to an almost four year-old, but when it came down to it, he really just wanted to know one thing: “Did the Black one win?”  But oh no, kids definitely don’t see color! 

Race is one thing.  I’m not at all sure how to talk to a four-year-old about racism.  But I know that I’ll have to.  Neither Jill nor I believe in sugar-coating the truth; we don’t use euphemisms for body parts, and we won’t allow our own dread to dictate the terms of our conversations with him.  To do so would not serve or honor him.  We will do what we do what we try to do in all aspects of our parenting; we will tell him the truth, in whatever way we can figure out how to say it aloud, to his face.  He has to hear it from us, and that fucking breaks my heart.

it is hard to have hope | Blue Jean Gourmet

My heart breaks not only for my boy, but for all of the boys, and girls, for the parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and siblings who have to talk them through the truth that many of us are able to spend our lives avoiding.  For the terror that people are living through.  For the children who’ve lost parents.  For the parents who’ve lost children.  For all of us; those of us who believe this is not about us, and those of us who do.

For some time now, I have turned to listing “What I Know For Certain” as a source of comfort and healing.  It was a tactic I first used after my father died, back when grief felt personal and specific, but it still works.  Only now, the list is a lot shorter than it used to be.  And basically everything on it is restating one thing: love.  Love is all I know for certain. 

I love all of the people I know (and some people I only know via the screen) who send messages of powerful solidarity, who use their privilege for good, who are asking all of the right questions, who read, who are smart, who want to be better, who make me better.  I love my mom, who is as tough as she is generous, who isn’t on any social media but uses the internet to great effect and is proof that you can be almost seventy, always learning, and willing to break your worldview wide open.  I love my friends Lisa & Christian, who invited me and Shiv out to the farm on Thursday, in case we wanted to “pet goats and be with people.”  Why yes, yes we did.

DSC_2859

I’ll leave you with something else I love—poetry.  I believe in it.  Maybe not so many other things at the moment, but love and poetry will do.

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
for hope must not depend on feeling good
and there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
of the future, which surely will surprise us,
and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
any more than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

Because we have not made our lives to fit
our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
the streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
of what it is that no other place is, and by
your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
place that you belong to though it is not yours,
for it was from the beginning and will be to the end.

Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor,
who comes like a heron to fish in the creek,
and the fish in the creek, and the heron who manlike
fishes for the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing
in the trees in the silence of the fisherman
and the heron, and the trees that keep the land
they stand upon as we too must keep it, or die.

This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power
or by wealth. It will stop your ears to the powerful
when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy
when they ask for your land and your work.
Answer with knowledge of the others who are here
and how to be here with them. By this knowledge
make the sense you need to make. By it stand
in the dignity of good sense, whatever may follow.

Speak to your fellow humans as your place
has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.
Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it
before they had heard a radio. Speak
publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public.

Listen privately, silently to the voices that rise up
from the pages of books and from your own heart.
Be still and listen to the voices that belong
to the streambanks and the trees and the open fields.
There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
by which it speaks for itself and no other.

Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
and the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
which is the light of imagination. By it you see
the likeness of people in other places to yourself
in your place. It lights invariably the need for care
toward other people, other creatures, in other places
as you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

No place at last is better than the world. The world
is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.

-Wendell Berry, “2007, VI”

 

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