THE BEST COLESLAW EVER

Every year at this time, I write some kind of “Three thousand things running through my brain!  Can’t write a coherent thought!” post, slap it atop a recipe, and call it a blog post.  This is 2014’s incarnation of that post.

the best coleslaw ever | Blue Jean Gourmet

School years create their own roller-coaster rhythm, with dips and crests, weeks that float by, weeks that you slog through, days you count down, time playing tricks with its passing.  Somehow it’s almost June and I have to let go of another batch of students who have stolen my heart.

There is this crazy ratio between “days of school remaining” and “items remaining on the to-do list,” and me trying to lasso my wandering brain.  There are the iron-on labels I just ordered because Shiv starts school next week (!), thereby beginning a life of his own, outside the context of his mamas, and I’m so, so excited to watch it happen.  There’s the knowing how blessed we are to have found an educational institution with an approach that aligns with our beliefs, with tuition we can afford…there’s the desire to maintain awareness of this privilege, as I am so easily frustrated by lack of such awareness in others.

Then there is my own personal (bastardized) version of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return, an experience of reliving the weeks leading up to my father’s death that starts each May and lingers in the background of each summer.  I remember it all freakishly well: my tiny, newborn godsons, my iced coffee obsession, the songs I had on heavy rotation, the meals I cooked, the runs I took around Rhodes campus, the drives to the hospital, my silver Razr flip phone ringing at all hours, the exact layout of my father’s room in the ICU.  Sometimes it’s very hard for me to believe that there’s been any distance—let alone eight years—between those days and now.

So I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia, or the weird cycles of school-year time, or the fact that I am planning new writing projects (holy WOW does that feel good/scary/exciting/did I mention scary?  and exciting?), but I am all over the freaking place these days.  Sticky note lists litter my desk at work, I’m doodling & scribbling in two journals at once, jumping from book to book, brain running when I get into bed at night; just behind the tiredness is a wired eagerness, pacing.

I love it.  I feel completely alive and like a total mess, which maybe is actually the same thing.  Here’s to the summer, y’all.

THE BEST COLESLAW EVER

recipe source: Lauren Crabtree

I was introduced to Lauren’t blog via my friend Leslie, who has introduced me to all kinds of wonderful things over the years.  With this recipe, Lauren shared about the health benefits of cabbage and the fact that it’s an incredibly affordable vegetable to keep in the regular rotation.  My family has likewise been working on becoming both more crunchy and more frugal, making this recipe a perfect fit.

Jill normally won’t even touch coleslaw, but she is obsessed with this one.  It is, in her opinion, the definitive coleslaw recipe; she sees no need to ever make another.  My mom has also been converted, and Shiv loves to eat it out of a bowl with a spoon—how’s that for an endorsement?  We’ve made it probably ten times in the last two months, and I can see it happening many, many more times over the course of the summer.

the best coleslaw ever | Blue Jean Gourmet

ingredients:

half a head of cabbage, sliced/shredded

¼ cup mayonnaise (we are obsessed with Duke’s in my house)

¼ cup apple cider vinegar (Bragg’s is my preferred brand)

2 T sugar

1 cup sliced or chopped almonds, toasted (I highly recommend the giant bag of sliced almonds from Costco; I throw them into granola, oatmeal, baked goods, etc.)

1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

salt & pepper, to taste

One bowl recipe y’all!  Mix the dressing in the bowl first, then dump in the cabbage, cilantro, & almonds, stirring to coat.  Season & adjust as needed.  That’s it.

I like to make this at least 15 minutes before serving, but you can make it even farther in advance and store in the fridge.  Keeps well for several days and goes with everything—tacos of all kinds (black bean, fish, ground beef), burgers/grilled sausages/hot dogs, as a topping for quinoa patties, alongside beans & cornbread, etc.  I had some today on top of leftover baked sweet potato fries & grilled veggies.

Share/Save/Bookmark

A SUMMER BOOK CLUB BRUNCH

Let’s talk about some of my favorite things: food, drink, and books.

strawberry basil ginger punch | Blue Jean Gourmet

I wanted to share a few of the recipes that were a big hit at the book club meeting I hosted last weekend.  Unfortunately, Jill was out of town, so the photographs are mine and thus not really up to par; you’ll have to take my word for it all tasted much better than it looks!

The hits of the day were a carrot-avocado salad, pickled shrimp, & strawberry-ginger punch.  I also served my trusty deviled eggs and tried this yogurt panna cotta (it tasted great, but I think I badly measured my gelatin, as the texture was off.)  Since a few of our book club members are gluten-free, so I ordered a dozen GF cupcakes from a local baker and put together a cheese plate with GF crackers & olives; had I not ordered the cupcakes, I would have made these almond orange tea cakes—my friend and blog reader Christie shared with me that they easily adapt to be GF.

Now onto books—there are few things I love more than an overly ambitious summer reading list!  I just put together mine for this year, and I can’t wait to get started.  Side note: almost all of these were recommended by friends or students.  I’ve divided them into categories and linked to their Amazon listings.  For more book ideas, I recently updated my Reading Lists for adults & young adults!

Classics I Ought To Have Read By Now:

A Separate Peace (John Knowles)
A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth)
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (James Agee)

Historical Fiction:

The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)
Under the Volcano (Malcolm Lowry)

Just for Fun:

One Writer’s Beginnings (Eudora Welty)
The Dud Avocado (Elaine Dundy)
The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe)
The Woman Upstairs (Claire Messud)

Non-Fiction:

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo)
Mornings on Horseback (David McCullough)
Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil (John Berendt)
Mountains Beyond Mountains (Tracy Kidder)

Poetry/Plays:

Red Doc> (Anne Carson)
Time Stands Still (Donald Marguilles)

Professional Development (as teacher & mom):

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (Paul Tough)
The Art of Description: Word Into World (Mark Doty)

Young Adult Novels:

Beautiful Creatures (Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl)
The Future of Us (Jay Asher & Caroline Mackler)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente)
Winger (Andrew Smith)
Zoe’s Tale (John Scalzi)

What’s on your reading list this summer?  Please share in the comments!

roasted carrots & citrus salad | Blue Jean Gourmet

CARROT-AVOCADO SALAD
via Food52

I’d had my eye on this recipe for a while, because the ingredients are mostly ones we keep on hand, but with a very different method than I usually use.  Also, we have recently become converted to cooking carrots on the grill, so I figured that roasting them would also be delicious—and it was.

In an attempt to keep this fairly simple (as opposed to running out for lots of extra ingredients), I made a few adjustment to the original recipe: swapping the citrus, using grapefruit & lime instead of orange & lemon, and leaving out the crème fraîche.  The resulting salad got raves anyway, but I can see how including the crème fraîche would add a restaurant-level lushness to the dish.

oven: 450°

ingredients:

2 lb carrots (if small, just peel, but if large, peel, quarter, & cut into 3-inch pieces)
1 grapefruit
1 lime
2 cloves garlic
1 T fresh thyme
1 T sugar
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup sprouts
¼ cup cilantro, torn
1 avocado, cut into wedges
2 T toasted sunflower seeds
2 tsp. sesame seeds

While the oven is preheating, place the carrots in a saucepan and cover them with cold water.  Salt the water, turn the stove to high heat, and bring to a simmer.  Reduce to medium and continue to simmer until carrots are tender, 5-8 minutes.

As the carrots cook, cut the grapefruit & lime in half, juicing one half of each and reserving the other halves.  Reserve half of the fresh juice for later, and combine the other half with the garlic, cumin, thyme, red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, and 2 T olive oil; process in the blender until smooth.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once the carrots have cooked, drain them and toss them in the marinade.  Spread the carrots and unjuiced citrus halves on a baking sheet and roast until the carrots are reduced in size and with a few brown spots, approximately 20 minutes.  Allow the carrots to cool to room temperature.

While the carrots are cool, make the salad dressing.  Squeeze the juice from the roasted citrus halves and combine that juice with the reserved fresh juice.  Whisk together with sugar, remaining olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Combine the carrots and avocado slices on a platter.  Top with the sprouts, and sprinkle with the seeds.  Drizzle the dressing over the whole thing and serve immediately.

 

PICKLED SHRIMP
slightly adapted from Saveur

If you’ve never had pickled shrimp before, you are in for a treat!  These were so easy and so good that I’m planning to make them again this weekend as a pre-dinner appetizer (re-using some of the original brining liquid).  I’ll admit, 12 bay leaves seemed a little excessive to me, but they did not at all dominate the flavor, so don’t be frightened by the quantity!

pickled shrimp | Blue Jean Gourmet

ingredients:

~1 lb. medium shrimp (26-30 count), peeled & deveined
2 T Old Bay
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (more if needed)
12 dried bay leaves
half of a yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 T kosher salt
½ tsp. crushed red chile flakes
½ tsp. celery seeds
¼ tsp. ground allspice

First, prepare a bowl of ice water and place a colander in the sink.  Bring eight cups of water to a boil along with the Old Bay.  Add the shrimp, turn heat to low, and cook until the shrimp are pink, just about two minutes.  Drain the shrimp and cool in the ice water, then drain again.

In a 1-quart glass jar, layer the shrimp, onions, and bay leaves.  Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl with a pour spout or Pyrex measuring cup, and pour into the jar, adding more oil if necessary to submerge the shrimp.  Cover with the lid, and chill at least overnight before serving.  Will keep for up to a week as long as the shrimp are completely covered with oil.

 

STRAWBERRY-GINGER PUNCH
slightly adapted from Bon Appetit

The original recipe called for brandy, which I did not have on hand, so I subbed in vodka; I also think this recipe would work nicely with gin and/or St. Germain in a kind of a play on a Pimm’s Cup.

I recommend making the simple syrup ahead of time (up to a week) for easy assembly on the day you are planning to serve the punch.

strawberry ginger punch | Blue Jean Gourmet

for the simple syrup:

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
½ cup hulled & quartered strawberries
¼ cup peeled & sliced fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Reduce heat and simmer until the berries have softened.  Remove from heat and let cool before straining into a jar.

for the punch:

24-oz. club soda (keep cold)
2 ½ cups strawberries, hulled & quartered, divided
1 ½ cups vodka or other spirit of your choice
½ cup basil leaves, divided
¼ cup peeled & sliced fresh ginger
¼ cup fresh lime juice

At least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours before you plan to serve the punch, muddle 2 cups strawberries, ¼ cup basil, and ginger in a large jar or pitcher. Add vodka, lime juice, & simple syrup, and stir.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Strain the muddled mixture into a punch bowl or glass jar, pressing down on the fruit & herbs to release all the flavor.  Add the club soda and reserved strawberries and basil—I also threw in a few wheels of fresh lime so it would look even prettier.

Pour and enjoy!

Share/Save/Bookmark

SPRING SALAD

At Easter, my friend Marynelle posted the following on her Facebook page:

A lot of people remember to give something up for the 40 days of Lent. At church yesterday, our rector reminded us that the Easter season is 50 days and charged us with finding as much joy as possible in the next 50 days. In the words of Barney Stinson, “Challenge Accepted.”

Marynelle is one of my oldest friends—oldest in that we’ve been friends for half my lifetime (15 years), and she knows more about me than is really safe for me.  She’s guest blogged around here before and is generally a pretty awesome lady; one of the things I love about her the most is that she’s always pushing herself.  Which, in turn, inspires me to do the same.

 

I didn’t get the TV reference until I Googled it, but I accepted the challenge, too.  We agreed to text each other at least once a day with our pieces of joy.

Some days—most days, in this blessed life of mine—finding the joy is easy.  Usually, it’s obvious: Jill & I celebrating our anniversary, my students working enthusiastically on a kick-ass service project of their own design, planning a big dinner for friends I love.  But then there are those days when I find myself mired in frustration, anger, loss, sadness, or just plain grumpiness.  So I text Marynelle.

She’s helped me see that joy is not conditional.  Sometimes you have to dig around for it, and sometimes the quickest way to find it is to acknowledge what is NOT joyful in any given situation.  And let’s be clear—there are things that are decidedly not joyful.  There are things that just plain suck.  There is not “joy in everything,” no matter what the Hallmark cards tell you.

But I do think there is joy for the taking on any given day.  I am training my eye to see it, and myself to go out and make it, when necessary.  At the very least, this little project means I get a text message once a day from one of my favorite people—and that is a little piece of joy in itself.  I recommend it.

SPRING SALAD
serves 4, easily halved or doubled

I almost added strawberries to this salad, but didn’t—you could.  Instead of croutons, you could substitute nuts.  A soft goat cheese would work nicely in place of the hard-boiled eggs, if you’re not a fan.

It’s a salad.  Play around with it.  Don’t take it too seriously.  Same goes for the dressing—swap in a different vinegar, trade olive oil out for walnut or avocado.

ingredients:

2 cups mixed greens
1 bunch asparagus
2 hard-boiled eggs
¼ cup mixed herbs, chopped (don’t omit!  they really make this salad work)
-I used scallions & dill; tarragon and parsley would also be nice
generous handful croutons
-to make your own, see this post

Trim the ends from the asparagus, then cut into 2-inch long pieces.  Rinse.  Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; while the water heats up, fill another bowl with ice water.  Cook the asparagus for 1-2 minutes at a rolling boil, then drain and immediately place into ice water.  Drain from ice water, drizzle with olive oil.

To assemble the salad, toss the greens, herbs, and asparagus together.  Top with the eggs and croutons.  Drizzle with dressing (see below) or serve dressing on the side.

for the dressing:

¼ cup olive oil
2 T. orange juice
2 T. champagne vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt & pepper

Whisk together, taste & adjust accordingly.

Share/Save/Bookmark

SHRIMP, POTATO, & TOMATO SALAD

My mom is a gardener.  More precisely put, she is a crazy gardening lady.  You know the type—goes to get the mail and ends up pulling weeds for hours, wakes up while it’s still dark outside in order to water her plants, stops the car at the sight of a coveted flower growing in the median: she’s been known to dig things up right then and there.

The front and back of the house I grew up are lushly blanketed with greenery and flowers; all landscaped by my mom, with minimal help from outside sources.  As a kid, I learned to identify plants by name: lantana, coleus, begonia, clematis.  She taught me to pull a weed by the roots and put me to work raking leaves in the side yard.  On Saturdays when she had been working outside since morning, my father would conscript me to push the screen door into the gathering dark and cajole her to “Come inside!” at last.  Those nights, she’d drink a beer, paper napkin layered between her hand and the cold bottle, sending her off to an early bedtime.

Jill is also a gardener, the instinctive kind.  She grew up, as you can read here, tending huge vegetable beds under the supervision of her parents, and continues that tradition by planting in our backyard every season.  At the moment, okra, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, & a cousin of black-eyed peas are making their way to our kitchen table, thanks to her care.

There is a common language spoken by gardeners, an understanding and relatedness that trumps differences.  The joy that rain can bring.  The efficiency and power of compost.  Vitriol toward those blasted enemies, squirrels and rabbits and deer.  Though I have been around gardening all of my life, and can fudge enough to get by, I’m still not part of the club.  Gardening doesn’t make sense to me the way it does to my mom or Jill, or one of the many other crazy gardening ladies in my life (my mother-in-law, my Shaila Aunty, my friend Sharon).

I think the gardener gene accounts for not a small part of what allowed my mom and Jill to bond as tightly as they have.  They can tromp around the yard together, troubleshooting, admiring, inquiring, and understand each other perfectly.  They can spend a whole day constructing a backyard fountain using nothing but bricks, an old aquarium, and a decorative vase (as they did a few years ago).  Jill has even inspired my mom to dabble a bit in planted vegetables, something she rarely did when I was a kid; this summer, my mom’s garden yielded her first tomatoes, sweet and red and more satisfying than any store-bought specimen ever could be.

That’s where I come in, see—I may not be the one to grow ‘em, but I sure know how to treat home-grown tomatoes right.

summer tomatoes, previously:

tomato bread pudding (incredibly decadent)
tomato-corn pie (in a biscuit crust!)
orzo pasta salad (perfect potluck food)

SHRIMP, POTATO, & TOMATO SALAD
adapted from Food & Wine

When I first made this recipe, I was disappointed; it looked beautiful but tasted boring.  After a little doctoring (some lemon juice, more olive oil, more salt) and a little resting, the flavors came together into an understated, satisfying dish.

We are lucky to live close to the Gulf and therefore have access to beautiful, wild-caught, never-frozen shrimp.  If you can use the same, I highly recommend them; their sweet flavor does wonderful things with the basil and red onion in this salad.  Last but not least, don’t be afraid to use what may seem like an obscene amount of olive oil—it, along with generous grinds of black pepper and coarse salt, makes the dish come together.

ingredients:

1 lb. large shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 ¾ lb. unpeeled potatoes*
1 lb. tomatoes of your choice, quartered if small, diced if large
1 small red onion, thinly sliced into rings
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup dry white wine
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
large bunch fresh basil, leaves cut into a chiffonade
generous amounts of salt & freshly-ground pepper

Boil potatoes in a medium pot of salted water until fork-tender.  Drain and let cool slightly.

Rinse the sliced onion in cold water briefly before tossing with the vinegar in a large bowl.  Quarter or cube the potatoes, then drizzle with white wine.  Add them to the vinegared onions and season with salt and pepper, tossing gently to combine.  Add the shrimp, tomatoes, and olive oil to the potato mixture and let sit for at least 5, but up to 20 minutes while you prep and cook the shrimp.

Cook the shrimp in a skillet coated with olive oil, tossing frequently until they become pink, ~5-7 minutes, depending on their size.  Remove from heat as soon as they are cooked through, to prevent them from becoming rubbery.

Add the shrimp to the potato salad, toss the mixture carefully, and top with basil.  Taste to check seasonings before serving.

*the original recipe called for russets, but I feared they would disintegrate, so I used baby red potatoes and thought their creamy texture worked well.

Share/Save/Bookmark

FAVA BEAN PANZANELLA

I don’t usually plan for them to, but my summers often end up having themes.

There was the Tennessee Williams summer, which followed my sophomore year of high school.  I had become fixated on him in my American lit class when we read his The Glass Menagerie; I spent the summer reading everything else he had ever written.

Then there was the summer I truly fell in love with cooking, the summer of 2006, when I filled my parents’ and my friends’ kitchens with all kinds of dinner experiments.  Another summer, my mom and I tackled a list of classic films—The Sting, Cinema Paradiso, Lawrence of Arabia—the latter of which she still harangues me for forcing her to watch ALL of.

I’m not sure yet what the Summer of 2011 will go down as.  There’s been a lot of reading, a fair amount of writing, plus lots of list-making, planning, organizing (like putting every. single. one. of my Chrome bookmarks into a folder), budgeting, researching, and scheming.  Shall we call it the Summer of Getting My Shit Together?

But there has also been precious time with beloved friends and family, time together just the two of us, pausing in so many moments to be grateful that we are hanging out at home and not in the hospital.  Time to look ahead and be excited about the future.  Time to make smoothies and write letters and sit on the swing in the backyard.  Time to prioritize and pare down and focus in.

A time for every purpose, indeed.

FAVA BEAN PANZANELLA
from the Tartine Bread cookbook

I used to be scared of fava beans.  This can be blamed, of course, on the summer I fell in love with Jodie Foster, watched every movie she’d ever made, and then spent sleepless nights terrified that Hannibal Lector was going to come after me and eat my liver with fava beans & a nice Chianti.

Nothing scary about this bread salad, though.  It’s satisfying and comes together easily, the most time-consuming part being shelling the beans themselves.  The dressing is so bright and lovely that I’ve used it to dress other summer salads since.

Finally, the pictures here show the salad made according to the original recipe, we did toss in some lovely heirloom tomatoes after, and enjoyed the addition.

ingredients:

salad—

2 ½ lb fresh fava beans, shelled (about 1 cup of beans)
half a red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1-2 cups bread croutons*
a handful of fresh mint, torn into pieces

dressing–

grated zest & juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp. sugar
½ cup olive oil
pinch salt

Place the slices of onion in a bowl and pour the vinegar over them.  Let stand for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions will soften slightly and take on a pink hue.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil.  Fill a bowl with ice water and place near the stove.  Add the fava beans to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute.  Drain and transfer to the ice water to cook.  Peel the opaque outer layer from each bean.

In a serving bowl, combine beans, croutons, and basil.  Remove onions from vinegar and add to the bowl as well

Make the vinaigrette.  In a small bowl, stir together the lemon zest and juice, sugar and olive oil until combined well.  Season to taste with salt.  Pour vinaigrette over the salad and toss.  Let sit for about a minute before serving to allow the croutons to absorb some of the vinaigrette.

*for the croutons

3 to 5 slices day-old bread, sliced 1-inch thick & torn into 1½ inch chunks
2-3 T olive oil
salt
½ tsp. herbes de Provence (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Toss the torn bread with olive oil and a pinch of salt.  If you are using the herbs, add them too.  Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes.  Midway through baking time, redistribute the croutons if they are coloring unevenly.

Share/Save/Bookmark

RAW ZUCCHINI SALAD

Oh hello there, fresh green vegetable!  I HAVE MISSED YOU.

Hospitals are terrible places for people who love food—hospitals can also be terrible places, generally.  At the same time, they are also miracle houses, temples of possibility, monuments to what the body and the brain can do.

If you’re feeling a little discouraged or frustrated in your life, I recommend you go spend some time in the surgery waiting area of a nearby hospital.  Strike up a conversation with the people sitting nearby, share your Kleenex and your snacks.  Watch as parents receive instructions about how to care for their infant daughter’s bandages, practicing on a doll the case manager has brought.  Listen (because you can’t help but overhear) bad news being relayed over the phone.  Marvel at the possible range of human experience.

If I say “I’ve learned things over the last few days” it’s really that “I am dead certain now of things I had suspected before.”  Like—most things we spend our time worrying about don’t matter.  Attempting to plan every detail of every day is overrated.  I’m stronger than I give myself credit for.  My friends are extraordinary.  Jill is tough as freaking nails.  And I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me that this is a marriage.

Jill’s got a big, bad scar running down her chest, a will of iron, and a long but hopefully smooth road to recovery ahead.  We’ve received nothing but the most excellent care from every hospital employee, and more love and good wishes than I can really wrap my mind around.

We’ll celebrate our anniversary on Thursday, back home from the hospital, and full of gratitude.  And hopefully with some green vegetables.

RAW ZUCCHINI SALAD

I can’t even really call this a recipe—hardly original, it’s just what there is to do with lovely little zucchini this time of year.  Infinite variations are, of course, possible.

ingredients:

2-3 small zucchini
2 lemons
olive oil
salt & pepper
Parmesan cheese
fresh basil (optional)
¼ cup toasted nuts (I’ve used Marcona almonds here, but I think pistachios would be delicious)

Cut the ends off of the zucchini and shave it very thin with a mandoline (or slice carefully with a sharp knife!)  Toss the zucchini with the zest of one lemon, the juice of both, olive oil, salt, & pepper.  Shave Parmesan cheese on top of the salad, and garnish with basil and/or nuts, if using.  Serve immediately.

Share/Save/Bookmark

KALE CAESAR SALAD

I know, I know, I know.  More kale.  I gotta be kidding you with all this healthy green shit, right?


Last week, when Jill received “no go for chemo” blood work results, we set about bulking up her diet, in hopes that we would boost her white blood cell and iron counts in the process.  Spinach in smoothies, tons of black beans and other legumes, a little steak sneaked in for good measure.  I bought bunches and bunches of kale.

Maybe it was all just psychosomatic; maybe a week’s worth of rest alone would have pushed her numbers back up to the “good to go” levels where they were this Monday, but one thing I find to be consistently true about life (with or without cancer) is that the little rituals, talismans, and superstitions can make more of a difference than you might think.

If you read Jill’s blog, you know that early in her treatment process, she christend her chemotherapy regime “Hurricane Kali,” after the Hindu goddess associated with death, destruction, and regeneration.  Jill shared the name on Twitter and Facebook; we put a picture of Kali, fierce and fearsome, on our refrigerator.  Our friends bought us all Kali necklaces, which we all wear daily in solidarity.

When Jill was cleared to start chemo again, we both said “Okay, Kali, do your thing.”  Amazing how a seemingly small and silly idea has taken on so much power in our lives.

I think this is a human thing—we find things to believe in, we latch on to what we can, we imbue our actions with meaning.  And sometimes, as in the case of Caesar salad dressing made from scratch, those actions are delicious.

KALE CAESAR
from Tartine Bread, one of the most beautiful cookbooks I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning

Because this recipe came out of a bread cookbook, you’re of course supposed to make the croutons from homemade bread.  I promise to do that one day, but this time I was lazy and cheated with a store-bought loaf.  I did, however, make the croutons instead of buying them, and in doing so was reminded how silly of me it is to ever pay for pre-made croutons or breadcrumbs, because it is SO EASY and much tastier to make your own.  (Unless we’re talking panko breadcrumbs, because I purchase those shamelessly by the pound).

If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, I’m betting you could make this dressing with a food processor.  You’re not going to feel like as much of a badass, though.  So really, this is the excuse you’ve been waiting for to buy yourself a really handsome mortar and pestle.  You know you want to.

Last but not least, please do not make the “ewww gross!” face about the anchovies.  You just think you don’t like them.  Anchovies are, in fact, delicious.  Like this salad.  Trust me.

for the salad:

1 bunch black kale*, stems removed and torn into pieces
2/3 cup aged Parmesan cheese, grated
croutons (see below)

In a large bowl, combine the kale and croutons.  Pour the dressing over the top, sprinkle with Parmesan, and toss to coat.

for the dressing:

2 lemons
3 cloves garlic
6 olive-oil packed anchovy fillets
1 egg yolk
salt
olive oil (1 ½- 2 cups)

Grate the zest from one of the lemons.  Cut both lemons in half.  Place the garlic, anchovies, & lemon zest in the mortar and pound with a pestle to make a paste.  Add the egg yolk, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice and stir to combine.

Continuing to stir, pour in ½ cup of the olive oil, drop by drop.  The mixture should look smooth and creamy.  Begin adding the oil in a slow stream; the dressing should thicken.  Periodically stop pour in oil to add a squeeze of lemon.  Taste the dressing for salt and lemon and adjust as necessary.  Once it’s ready, add small spoonfuls of water, stirring to thin the dressing to the consistency of heavy cream.

for the croutons:

3 slices day-old bread, sliced 1-inch thick and torn into 1 ½-inch chunks
2 T olive oil
salt
½ tsp. herbes de Provence (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Toss the torn bread with olive oil and a pinch of salt.  If you are using the herbs, add them too.  Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes.  Midway through baking time, redistribute the croutons if they are coloring unevenly.

*also called lacinato, Tuscan kale, or dinosaur kale
Share/Save/Bookmark

FARRO, FENNEL, & TUNA SALAD

Jill has taken to calling farro “the ancient grain of the ancients.”  Quinoa, which we’ve also come to enjoy as a pasta and rice alternative, is known in our house as “the ancient Incan grain of the Incas.”

There’s this thing I like to do; I like to go through people’s wallets.  Not in order to take anything, of course, and not without their permission, but I take great pleasure in unpacking the business cards and receipts, membership notices and frequent buyer cards, pieces of plastic, movie ticket stubs, and general detritus of everyday life.

If I were to unpack my relationships in the same way, what might I find scattered across the coffee table?  Long dinners shared, favorite books in common, nicknames, emails, hazy memories of piquant nights, crisp remembrance of things they said that I loved hearing.

But probably most of what I’d find, and incidentally what I value the most, are the pennies-and-lint equivalents like “ancient grain of the ancients.”  The goofy, we-don’t-know-where-that-came-from particularities of a love or friendship.  The little, inexplicable things that accumulate as we walk through life with another, witnessing them and having them witness us.

FARRO, FENNEL, & TUNA SALAD
adapted from Food & Wine, October 2010

1 cup farro
3 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
2 large carrots, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cans tuna of your choice
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 ½ cups arugula
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
juice of 1 lemon

olive oil
salt & pepper

Bring the broth and farro to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the farro is tender and all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 25-30 minutes.  Remove from the heat and cool.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat, then add the carrot and garlic and cook until just softened, approximately 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir into the farro.

To the farro mixture, add the tuna, chickpeas, fennel, & onion.  Squeeze in the lemon juice & season with salt and pepper.  Stir to combine, garnish with arugula.

GREEN BEAN-LENTIL SALAD

I do not think like a Chef.

Folks who distill complex philosophy, who sew their own clothes, who know exactly what color paint a room needs, whose eyes frame perfect photographs, whose hands build and fix furniture.  All of these I know, and in them I recognize the same thing; I can’t do that.

Our brains work the way they work—certainly we can stretch and challenge them, but I know my limits.  I shan’t be fixing my own car anytime soon, for example, unless I want to break it.  And though I love food and think about it most nearly all the time, I know my brain does not work like a chef’s.

I can tell you when a dish is working, or when it isn’t, but it’s 50-50 whether I’ll be able to diagnose how to repair it, or even what’s in it in the first place.  I can follow recipes, tweak them, streamline them, know a good one when I see one and an overly complicated one when I see those, too—but it’s rare that I generate a downright amazing dish on my own.

Which makes it all the more fun to watch and learn from folks who think about food and flavor and technique in ways I can only dream of, hoping that a little bit of that genius will rub off.

GREEN BEAN-LENTIL SALAD
adapted from Alex Seidel of Denver’s Fruition in this year’s “Best New Chefs” edition of Food & Wine

This salad was absolutely delicious—grilled green beans, who knew?—but its leftovers didn’t hold up very well.  To that end, I recommend serving this to a crowd (it would make a lovely side dish for a roast chicken, for example) or cutting the recipe in half.

ingredients:

1 cup black beluga or small brown lentils
1 lb. green beans, washed & ends trimmed
8 baby patty pan squash, quartered
2 tomatoes, sliced
4 oz. piece of pancetta, cut into a large dice
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. fresh or ½ tsp. dried oregano
pinch of crushed red pepper
olive oil
sherry vinegar
fresh basil, for garnish

Sauté half of the shallot and half the garlic in olive oil until translucent.  Add the lentils, bay leaf, oregano & 2 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Simmer the lentils until cooked through; remove from heat, discarding the bay leaf.  Drizzle generous amounts of olive oil & sherry vinegar atop the lentils, dressing them as you would a salad.  Stir in the remaining shallot & garlic.  Set aside.

Heat a cast-iron grill pan over medium-high heat.  Toss the green beans with a little olive oil, then season with salt & pepper before grilling them over high heat, turning when they char.

At the same time, cook the diced pancetta in a large skillet over medium-high heat until lightly browned.  Add the squash, crushed red pepper, & a bit of salt and cook until the squash begins to soften. Toss in the tomatoes at the end, if you like.

Arrange the green beans on a large platter, then arrange the squash on top.  Pour the lentils atop everything and garnish with a little fresh basil.

CRAB SALAD

Grocery shopping is, at once, one of my favorite activities of all time and a total pain in my ass.

On a free and uncrowded early Saturday morning, with the promise of a full day of cooking ahead…I love the grocery store, I love everyone in it, each charming item on the shelf, each employee and fellow patron.  In fact, on mornings like those, I pretty much love everyone and everything everywhere.

But when I’m rushing home post-gym, sweaty and with a million things on my to-do list, only to realize that I’m missing an ingredient in the cookies I agreed to bake for a work party the next day, and then the self-checkout machine freaks out because it thinks I haven’t properly scanned an item, and there’s nary a blue-shirted employee in sight to assist me…well, let’s just say that my mood turns just as sour as it was kite-flying in the previous scenario.

There are times, though, when someone or something pushes me out of my “I am so busy and important” annoyance mode and forces me to relax, interact, connect, even grin.  On the day I was buying ingredients for this salad, the man behind the seafood counter took my order for picked claw meat, then winked at me and said, “I haven’t seen you around here for a while.  How you been?”

My default was to resist his attempt to engage—I’m in a hurry, I’ve got to get to the check-out, I’ve got to get home, I’ve got to—but his openness and unhurriedness disarmed me, and so we started to chat.  Nothing monumental, just polite conversation with good feeling behind it.  He asked me what I was making—I described the salad for him.  “Oh, a real cook!  Well, then—“ and he ducked into the back to grab the freshest meat for me.

I still think of this and other “close encounters of the grocery store kind,” not as profound moments that evidence my own awesomeness, but as reminders that if I pull my head out of my ass every once in a while, it feels pretty good.

CRAB SALAD
slightly adapted from this recipe

As my friend the seafood man says, “Most people think they should buy that jumbo lump stuff because it’s so expensive.  But the flavor’s in the claw.”  He’s right, and this salad is a light, delicious summery thing—perfect as a lunch or a first course.

for the salad:

½ to ¾ of a head of Napa cabbage, sliced
14 oz. crab claw meat
1 avocado, sliced
½ cup of matchstick-cut carrots
½ cup sliced cucumbers
½ cup each of fresh mint, basil, cilantro, roughly chopped

optional: toasted sesame seeds (for garnish)

In a large bowl, toss together all ingredients except crab.  Portion the salad out into individual bowls, then top each bowl with a generous serving of crab meat.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired. Drizzle with dressing and serve immediately.

for the dressing:

½ cup rice wine vinegar
2 T sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Serrano pepper, minced

Bring the vinegar & sugar to a boil in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat, then stir in garlic & pepper.

Share/Save/Bookmark

| Next Page »