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get in on it

As the calendar page turns from September to October, here’s a recipe I made in August. It’s farmers market fare and there’s still time to get in on it before most of our carrots are plucked from cold storage.

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Roasted carrots with carrot top hazelnut pesto

Adapted from Bon Appétit. Carrot tops are the earthier, more bitter cousins of their roots. Which I realize doesn’t sound particularly appetizing. But bear with me here. To mellow the bitterness of the pesto, I added one of the carrots and lemon juice. Rather than using pine nuts as in the original recipe, I chose hazelnuts since I like how well carrots and the Egyptian spice and nut (usually hazelnut) mix called dukkah go together. The leftover pesto is great on vegetables that sweeten with roasting – cauliflower, beets, parsnips, even Brussels sprouts.

Serves 4 as a side dish

- 2 pounds carrots (about a dozen medium) with tops attached

- 2 T + ¼ C olive oil, divided

- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

- ½ garlic clove

- ¼ C hazelnuts, toasted and peeled

- ¼ C parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

- 2-3 T lemon juice

Prep. Heat oven to 400°F. Peel and trim the carrots, leaving short stems attached. Set aside one carrot and all the leafy tops. Was the tops really well to remove any dirt.

Roast. Cover a baking sheet with parchment. Toss carrots (except for the one you put aside) with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, a few pinches of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally until carrots are golden brown and tender, 35-45 minutes for full sized carrots (less time for smaller carrots).

Crush. Pulse garlic and nuts in a food processor until a coarse paste forms. Add 1 cup of the carrot tops, the carrot you set aside, and parsley; process until a coarse purée forms. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and lemon juice and pulse until combined; season with salt and pepper.

Serve. Serve carrots drizzled with pesto.

Store. The pesto will last up to 2 weeks in a jar in the refrigerator. It should also freeze well.

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And, just like that, it’s September. 

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That was the opening line I planned to use as I scrambled to get this post out before sunset last Wednesday as Rosh Hashanah rushed in. Instead, I used those last few hours to curl up with a good book (well, two good books) and enter the Jewish New Year calmly and with anticipation rather than racing the clock with rushed dread of not finishing and disappointing. Disappointing whom? I guess myself.

Now, ten days later, I finish this post minutes before Yom Kippur begins because after some time for reflection, this is how I want to start my new year. Right. Now.

***

In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, I thought about the secular new year, eight months ago, when newlyweds Veronica and Brian and nearly a hundred friends and family members and I took plane, train, and automobile to reach Sacred Valley, Peru.

Mere days before the wedding ceremony, I met most of the guests in Lima at the rooftop cocktail reception that started our ten-day wedding extravaganza. While in the capital, we toured the city, tested the choppy Pacific waters, bought more alpaca gifts than any sane person should, and ate and drank.

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Each evening brought a party and each party brought music and dancing. There was a rocking ukulele at the rehearsal dinner. And the dance floor at the wedding opened with Veronica and Brian’s first dance (with a well-rehearsed lift) and ended with la hora loca, the “crazy hour” that went on well into the morning, leaving everyone covered in confetti, dressed in flowered necklaces and Incan headdresses, and dancing with human-sized furry cuy – guinea pigs – that, when not entertaining, serve as traditional Andean dinner rather than childhood pet. 

After the four days of wedding festivities, the adventure began with that plane-train-automobile trip to Sacred Valley, not too far from the Incan capital of Cusco.

After settling in to our new digs, we started up the New Year’s Eve party, complete with beer and wine and coca tea, with streamers and sparklers and silly hats (and a certain bride wearing traditional yellow underwear). We barely made it to midnight before we started dropping off like flies, mumbling something about setting a 5 am alarm and where’d I put that raincoat and will they have breakfast for us.

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The next morning, I dragged my groggy self out of bed, tied on my just-barely-broken-in hiking books, and surrendered to a backpack filled with every possible item I just might need. Bug spray and sunscreen. Poncho. Protein bars. Water. More water. T-shirt. Long-sleeved shirt. Hat. Change of socks. Flashlight.

A short bus ride, and we walked past a flurry of retail activity to get to the train that would get us to the Inca trail. Along that short walk, hawkers cried out their wares. Good hat to protect from sun! Coca gum for altitude! Umbrella! Hiking stick!

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The train dropped us off at KM104 and we started out the first day of the New Year under a brilliant sun.

From this side of the mountain, eight months later, the details are a blessed blur. There were ups and downs, zigs and zags, slippery rocks, narrow cliffs, rain and wind, and never enough water. The poncho went on and off and on again as the weather changed moods like Mercury himself.

By the end of the first mile, I was falling back. By the end of the second mile, I was holding up the caboose. There were a few of us back there, pacing ourselves, enjoying the view, breathing the air. Or, perhaps merely catching our breath. Or, many breaths. We crawled up the nearly vertical “gringo killer” stairs, and caught a few more breaths. We climbed the just-100-more, I-mean-200-more , I-mean-350-more, see-you’re-almost-there steps. Guides can be cruel like that.

And then, we really were almost there. We reached Intipunkuthe Sun Gate. As the clouds parted and the fog lifted and we shed our rain gear, we shared a clear view of Machu Picchu that those who had rushed ahead of us missed.

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We all made it up. We all made it down. We all returned to explore Machu Picchu the next day.

Which, strangely enough, brings us back to that fish photographed up top.

On Rosh Hashanah, we decorate our table with fish or lambs’ heads, or just a whole roasted fish. We make a blessing that we be like the head, and not the tail. A leader, and not a follower. And not someone who falls behind.

Earlier this summer, in June, I bought paiche, a sustainable Peruvian fish because it was on sale and its thick, firm fillets looked like they would cook perfectly evenly. No head. No tail. Just the good stuff in the middle. I asked Facebook whether anyone had ideas about how to cook the fish, and continued to haphazardly throw items in my basket. Brian, now settled into Lima, and waiting for Veronica to join him, embraced his new heritage and suggested that I “cook it in some banana leaves! Amazon style.”

I looked in my pantry, and just could not find any banana leaves. Crazy, that. No banana leaves. But I tucked the idea away for another day.

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I did however remember a spicy fish dish that I had I had dogeared in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem months prior. I skimmed through the recipe and it looked pretty simple. Pan fry some fish, add a few pantry staples, and voilà, a quick dinner. Or so I thought.

Had I read the instructions top to bottom, I might have realized that this was no quick dish. Three hours of well-past-prime-time-TV marinating and pan frying and stirring and simmering and saucing on a night when I had wanted to eat minutes after key in door, I was annoyed. I finally sat down with fork and knife at 11 pm.

I stayed annoyed until the next afternoon, when, over a lunch of leftover paiche and couscous, I read my friend Leah‘s blog post entitled “Are we being held hostage by the 30-minute meal?“. Leah is writing her second cookbook (you might recognize a few recipes from here in her first!) and was testing time-intensive chocolate babka after time-intensive chocolate babka after time-intensive chocolate babka until she got the recipe just right. During these hours upon hours of kneading, rising, waiting, twisting, baking, cooling , Leah found herself considering quick, get-it-on-the-table cooking versus the attention and time for reflection afforded by more complex recipes.

“When we allow everyday cooking to be the only cooking we do,” Leah says, “I think we ultimately lose out. By elevating and idealizing the 30-minute meal, we inherently discredit any recipe that takes longer to make. We abandon the deeper pleasure of tackling a difficult recipe head-on and emerging on the other side, battle-scarred but victorious. “

I realized the next day that I had indeed gone to bed victorious. emerging with merely a small battle-scar burn on my finger. Because, man, that fish was good. And the prior evening was calm, the work sometimes complex, sometimes messy, sometimes slow. Once I realized that this was going to be an evening project, I got there on my own pace. I breathed. And then breathed again.

Reflecting on the my Peruvian New Year, and my Brooklyn Rosh Hashanah, and my Brooklyn Yom Kippur, I wish for me and for you the ability to lead well and follow well, to slow down and watch the fog clear, to enjoy the quiet moments, to accept the scars, and to just get through it however you do.

This year in particular is one of new beginnings for me, and I hope to embrace each experience and learn from it. Before I get all hokey on you, l’m going to escape to light some candles. Let’s hope I don’t burn myself on the match.

L’shana tova and G’mar chatima tova. Let each and every one of us have a good year, a safe, easy, and meaningful fast, and a year of beautiful moments.

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Pan-fried paiche with harissa and rose

The original recipe in Jerusalem calls for sea bass, but I figured that any firm white fish would be a good substitute. I found paiche, a South American fish, on sale and it worked perfectly. I suspect halibut or snapper would be great too. I left out the currants. This fish is spicy. Really spicy. I made the recipe with a full 3 tablespoons of harissa and next time I’ll only use 2 tablespoons. I had to serve it with couscous to counteract the spiciness. I happened to have some dried rosebuds tucked away in the back of my pantry, originally purchased as tea infusions. I’d say they’re completely optional, but are lovely for color if you have them. 

The longest part of this recipe is marinating for 2 hours, and then cooking takes about 45 minutes. I don’t think the recipe will suffer if you marinate it in the morning and leave it, covered, in the refrigerator, until evening or if you give it a quick 30-minute counter top marinate.

Serves 3-4

- 2-3T harissa, divided in half for marinade and sauce

-1 t ground cumin

- 1 lb firm white fish, skin removed (paiche, sea bass, snapper, halibut, etc.)

- all purpose flour, for dusting

- 2 medium onions

- 2 T olive oil

- 6.5 T red wine vinegar (~1/3 C plus 1 T)

- 1 t ground cinnamon

- scant 1 C water

- 1.5 t honey

- 1 T rose water

- 1 T mint leaves (optional)

- 1 t dried edible rose petals (optional)

- salt and pepper

Marinate. Cut the fish into 3 or 4 pieces. Mix together half the harissa (1-1.5 T, depending on how spicy you like things), cumin, and a few pinches of salt in a bowl. Pat the fish dry and then coat with the marinade on all sides. Place the fish on a plate and let marinate for 2 hours in the fridge. While I normally marinate meat in a plastic bag, fish is too delicate and might fall apart.

Slice. Slice the onions into half moons. The original recipe calls for finely chopping the onion, but I like the longer strips.

Fry. Spread a handful of flour onto another plate. Dredge the marinated fish fillets through the flour and gently shake off the excess. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and fry the fish for two minutes on each side. Remove the fish, but keep the oil in the pan.

Cook. Now that the fish is out of the pan, add the sliced onions and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring, until the onions are golden. Add the remaining harissa (1-1.5 T), vinegar, cinnamon, a few pinches of salt, and several grinds of pepper.

Simmer. Pour in the water, lower the heat, and let the sauce simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, until quite thick. Add the honey and rose water to the pan, and simmer gently for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning and salt. Return the fish fillets to the pan. Spoon sauce over the fish as it warms up in the simmering sauce. This should take about 3 minutes. If the sauce gets too thick, add a few tablespoons of water.

Sprinkle. Serve the fish warm or at room temperature with some couscous. Sprinkle with torn mint leaves and crumbled rose petals. Keep the couscous and a glass of water nearby.

good roommates

The first time I liked eggplant was in London. Until then, I was one of the many eggplant haters. The flesh too bitter, too slimy. The skin too rubbery. My mouth too itchy with each bite.

Babaghanoush? No thank you. Eggplant parm? Nope, I make it with zucchini. Ratatouille? I’ll pass.

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And then, sitting in the Japanese restaurant  a block from her flat, Lau ordered the aubergine that changed my hating ways.

Lau and I worked at the same company, me in New York, her in London. We first met when she was on secondment to our New York office, and I lived a dozen blocks uptown from her, and after late nights in the office, we used to share a taxi home.

Around the time she returned to the UK, I started working with a client in Germany. I’d bookend every trip with a few days in London. You know, to make sure I wasn’t jetlagged for client meetings. Once my project was over, I took advantage of our cross-Atlantic company and worked out of our UK office every few months. I’d stay on Lau’s orange pull-out couch. Each time I visited, there was more framed art on the wall. They were mostly Lau’s paintings. And there was that five-foot piece she’d managed to get past security and onto a plane as her carry-on.

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We made good roommates. I’d stock her fridge with groceries and make dinner with her limited appliances. (She had no oven. For real. No oven. I had my work cut out for me.) She’d order in sushi from the place down the street. The same place every time. We’d eat on our laps on that orange couch. After dinner, Lau would make a pot of milky tea. And then usually we’d have to pull out our laptops and work.

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For a few years, I thought that the sushi place was take-out/delivery only. When we walked past it on the way to the tube every morning, I never noticed that there were seats inside. One night, with bags slung over our shoulders, we walked in. The little sushi place was long and narrow, at least twenty tables between the street and the kitchen hidden away behind a red and black curtain.

We ordered more sushi than two people should ever eat in one sitting. Those paper lists with the check boxes and the little nubby pencil, they get me every time. Just as the waiter was about to turn away, long list triumphantly in hand, Lau gestured him back. “Oh, and can we have the aubergine?” He nodded.

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I looked at Lau head tilted, brows furrowed. “You’ll love it, trust me.” And that was that.

The waiter set on our table two golden sticky eggplant halves, mirror images of each other. Lau scooped out the flesh and took a bite. I scooped out the flesh and took a sniff.  Sweet, and a little smoky. I raised fork to mouth and took a nibble. Sweet, salty, smooth, silky. Several scoops later, there was only thin crispy skin left. And there there was just a plate with a few golden brown sticky pools where eggplant had sat just a few minutes earlier.

I turned into an eggplant lover. I’ve never turned back.

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Nasu dengaku

I have dreamed about this caramelized salty sweet miso-glazed eggplant since the day I had it years ago, and after a few tries, I got the recipe right. I used the eggplant roasting technique from Ottolenghi’s Plenty and the miso glaze recipe from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy.  Make sure to cross hatch the flesh so the eggplant cooks quickly and evenly, and the glaze seeps into the flesh during the second roasting. You’ll have some extra sauce which would be great on roasted vegetables or with tofu. I’ve been able to find miso in Whole Foods and health food stores. 

Serves 2 as a side dish or starter. 

- 2 thin-skinned eggplants (small Italian or long thin Japanese)

- 3 T olive oil

- 2 1/2  T sesame oil, divided (1 T for the eggplant and 1 1/2 T for the miso dressing)

- salt and pepper

- 2 T white miso

- 1 t mirin

- 1/2 t white sugar

- 3-4 T warm water

- 2 green onions

- 2 T sesame seeds

Prep. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Put one rack in the middle of the oven and another just under the broiler. Line a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil.

Cut. Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise through the green stalk. Use a small sharp knife to cross-hatch the flesh without cutting through the skin.

Roast. Arrange the eggplant halves, cut side up, on the lined baking sheet. Mix the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in a small bowl. Brush the eggplant flesh with the oil mixture, and keep brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Go light on the salt because the miso is pretty salty itself. Roast the eggplant for about 20 minutes. They’re ready when they start to brown and the softened flesh pulls away from the cross-hatch cuts. 

Whisk. While the eggplant is roasting, whisk the miso, mirin, and sugar into a paste. Stir in enough warm water (I needed 3 tablespoons) to thin the mix to a smooth consistency.

Slice and toast. Thinly slice the green onions on a bias. Spill the sesame seeds into a small pan over medium-high heat. Shake the pan occasionally and remove from the burner when the seeds are golden brown and smell nutty (about 5 minutes). Watch closely so that the sesame seeds don’t burn.

Broil. Remove the eggplant and brush with the miso glaze. Turn on the broiler. Place the eggplant on the top rack and watch carefully. Within about a minute, the glaze will start to bubble and caramelize. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before eating.

Serve. Sprinkle the eggplant with the green onion and toasted sesame seeds.

I pause

Meyer lemons

The weeks following February 22nd were the lemoniest weeks of my life. On that Friday, a box of two dozen child-picked Meyer lemons landed on my doorstep. (Thanks Jo!).

And just over a month later, I used up the last of these thin-skinned, almost sweet lemons. It was Passover and I zested the final five into macaroons.

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I was actually relieved to be done with all of those lemons. Which is strange. Or at least strange for me.

See, lemons and I have a funny relationship. There’s always at least one rolling around in my fridge or perched in a bowl on my counter. But instead of reaching for one when a recipe calls for its juice, I pause.

What if there’s another recipe just around the corner that really needs a lemon or two. Chicken skewers tomorrow? Joanne Chang‘s lemon poppy seed cake over the weekend?

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lemon poppy seed cake

So, I pause.

And then today’s salad gets dressed with a mild vinegar. One made from rice or maybe apple cider.

The first week I had the Meyers, I meted them out. I made some scones with fresh cranberries and another batch with blueberries and then hoarded the rest.

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Soon the irrational fear that I wouldn’t have a lemon when I needed it was replaced with a slightly more rational one.

What if those lemons go bad?

So there I was, struggling to use up all the lemons.

I scoured cookbook index after cookbook index for recipes that needed lemons.  

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I found recipes that feature lemons.

preserved lemons

I added lemons to recipes that don’t call for them. And that’s how I came up with Meyer lemon coconut macaroons.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALucky for me, last week when I was in San Francisco, Jo and I met for coffee. I now have another twenty lemons in my fridge.

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***

Before we get to the recipe, here are a few links I’ve been meaning to share.

Gabrielle Hamilton‘s article about a road trip to cook and eat with five home chefs in the South.

And while you’re at it, listen to the Tedx talk  that Penny de los Santos, the photographer who accompanied Gabrielle down South: “Yeah, I photograph food. I’m a a food photographer. But really what I do is capture human moments.”

Saveur senior editor Gabriella Gershenson’s writes about a trip to the Galilee (don’t forget the photos).

Jonathan Safran Foer’s opinion piece in the New York Times about the negative impact technology is having on our ability to provide undivided attention. “Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life.”

The Huffington Post on Sushi Yasusa’s recent decision to not accept tips.

***

Meyer lemon coconut macaroons

Adapted from Jess at Sweet Amandine who adapted it from Molly at Orangette who adapted it from Bon Appetit. The genius in Jess’s recipe is that it uses unsweetened coconut so you can control the level of sugar. Next time I’ll use even less sugar. 

Makes 40 small macaroons

- 3 C (9 ounces) lightly packed unsweetened shredded coconut

- 1 1/2 C granulated sugar

- 3/4 C egg whites (about 5 or 6 large)

- 1-2 pinches kosher salt

- 5 Meyer lemons (or 3 regular lemons) for zest

Preheat oven to 300ºF.

Heat. In a medium heavy-bottom pan, mix the coconut, sugar, egg whites, and kosher salt. Stir in zest. Cook over medium-low heat stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes. It will start out looking sticky and creamy. As the mix heats, it will become drier and pastier. It’s ready when the mixture is still somewhat moist and still very sticky. Refrigerate the mix until cold, approximately 30 minutes.

Scoop. Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Once the mixture is cooled, scoop level tablespoons of  it onto the parchment, leaving about an inch between (they won’t spread). If you want your macaroons to be smooth, you can roll the spoonfuls into balls, but I prefer to leave them a little shaggy.

Bake.  Bake for 30 minutes until the coconut toasts and browns slightly. They should still be a little soft. As they cool, they’ll harden a bit.

Store. Keep the macaroons in an airtight container. They’ll soften a bit by the next day.

howdy

I just got back from a few days in Austin and want to share a few photos of this live-music-playing, cowboy-boot-wearing, two-stepping, hot-hot-hot food mecca.

Have a great week, y’all!

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Happy Place

Maria

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fiddle BW base

mura twinkle

Bloody Marys

Jo’s Cafe
242 West Second Street
Austin, TX 78701
512.469.9003
And other locations

Maria’s Taco Xpess
529 S Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78704
512.444.0261

The Continental Club
1315 South Congress
Austin TX 78704
512.441.2441

Austin Food Trailers – all over

La Condesa
400A West 2nd Street
Austin, TX 78701
512.499.0300

Allen’s Boots – yup, I bought cowboy boots!
1522 South Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704
512.447.1413

good things

Hey there. It’s been a while.  All’s good, just hectic since I started my new job.

This past week was full of wonderful surprises. A call from a sorely missed friend. Last minute tickets to see Alvin Ailey. An invitation from a chef to her birthday party where I got a sneak peek at her upcoming cookbook (I’ve already pre-ordered a copy). And lots of getting-to-know-you time with a pair of babies and catching-up-with-you time with their mama.

I was on the phone with another friend who, after I bubbled over with excitement telling her about all the good things that had happened to me this week,  reminded me, “Good things are always around you. You just need to be open to them.” So, while I haven’t been able to tote  my camera around much these days, I wanted to share a few good things that I captured with my phone since January.

No recipe today, but don’t worry though, there are some lemon macaroons just around the corner.

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The mug I use in the office for tea with milk.

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Salted pumpkin caramels to fuel me through a day working from home.

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Salted pumpkin caramels, an  hour later. And yes, I’m still in my pjs.

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Biscotti and gelati day at work. There was vanilla, lemon, and peanut butter chocolate chip gelati. Lime and dried cherry cornmeal biscotti. And experimental lemon black pepper cookies.

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Passover in Miami.

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And waffles. Who doesn’t love waffles?

See you back here soon. Happy Monday, everyone.

Finally. The weekend. The end of a long terrifying week in my home town.

Friday was 70 degrees, overcast, and humid, but you barely knew it through closed windows and drawn shades. Several miles from the Watertown epicenter where I used to work, my own Cambridge neighborhood was eerily quiet. Once I turned off the barrage of breaking news reports on the TV in the background while I edited contracts, the only thing I could hear were the chirping bird sounds of spring. And an occasional siren. Stepping onto my tiny balcony for a breath or two of fresh air, I saw no one. No cars driving. No people walking. Nothing.

Yesterday was sunny, cooler. The city seemed to be waking from a deep slumber. I sat outside on that same balcony, writing this. Soothed by the slow but steady flow of traffic, joggers, and dog walkers.

Earlier in the week, after Monday’s marathon tragedy, I received an email from my friend Sarah: “I know from living in Israel through the 1990’s it isn’t easy. There were terror attacks almost every week and it took its toll.”

On Tuesday, I attended the Israeli Consulate of New England’s annual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. Like celebrations of Israel’s independence that I’ve attended in previous years, I knew to expect security and policemen standing out front, bag checks and metal detectors inside. But as I drove to the back parking lot, past men and women in yellow vests and bright orange wands as if directing planes on a tarmac, I was struck to see camouflage-clad military holding rifles and leaning against humvees. To me, these men and women were oddly reassuring. They made me feel safe in the face of a bittersweet celebration. Normally bittersweet because the Israeli national holiday always follows Yom Hazikaron, memorial day, a remembrance of the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism who have given their lives for the ongoing existence and flourishing of the Israeli state. This year, palpably bittersweet.

On Thursday night, I made udon miso soup. I felt in need of comfort and the only place I could turn to was my kitchen. The soup was warm and salty, the noodles soft and slippery and slurpy. Little did I know how the next twenty-four hours would pan out and how welcome that soup would be.

The Friday night capture brought swoops and cheers and an impromptu party on Boston Common. I was relieved but couldn’t rejoice. It feels safer here but I can’t bring myself to celebrate.

It’s now the weekend. The sun is out, the air fresh, the windows open, the breeze chilly. I just finished the last of the soup and am heading out for a walk. Life is back to normal. But it’s not the same.

PS. For a powerful first-person account of this past week’s events, read this article written by a friend of a friend.

Udon miso soup

Udon miso soup

Adapted from Steamy Kitchen.

Before you add the miso, the soup will taste bland, but don’t worry because the miso is salty.  Make sure to add it to the soup after you’ve removed it from the heat. If miso gets too hot, it gets gritty.

It’s worth looking for fresh udon. You can find the most authentic of these fat white noodles in the refrigerated section of an Asian grocery store. Nasoya also makes a pretty good version and I’ve found it near the tofu. In a pinch, I’ve also have good luck with Eden dried noodles  that I frequently see  in the Asian or Japanese section of many grocery stores. Both the Nasoya and Eden noodles are certified kosher. I used Miso Master brand white miso (and you can use any extra to make one of these two slaws). Next time I make this soup, I’m going to add some small cubes of firm tofu.

Serves 4

- 3/4 pound pre-cooked (or, in a pinch, dried) wheat udon noodles

- 4 C vegetable or chicken stock (I used vegetable)

- 1 baby bok choy

- 5-7 cremini mushrooms

- 2 medium-sized carrots

- 1 large handful sugar snap peas or snow peas

- 3 T white miso

- 3 scallions

- sesame oil and hot chili sesame oil (optional)

Cook. Make the noodles according to the package instructions.

Boil. Bring the stock to a boil.

Cut. While the noodles are cooking and the stock is boiling, get to cutting. Thinly slice the bok choy, mushrooms, and carrots. I used a mandoline for the carrots. Cut the peas into 1/2-inch pieces or keep whole.

Simmer. Add the bok choy stems (not leaves) and cook for 5 minutes until they start to soften. Add the mushrooms, carrots, and peas and cook for another 3 minutes or so. Stir in the bok choy leaves and remove from heat.

Assemble. Scoop miso into a bowl and whisk with a ladle-full of broth until completely dissolved. Then stir the miso mixture back into the soup, making sure not to boil or the miso will get gritty. Distribute the noodles evenly into four bowls and then add the soup. Slice the scallions and sprinkle over the soups. Drizzle with the oils to taste.

We’re going to do things a little differently today. I’d like to introduce you to Josh Lewin, Executive Chef of Beacon Hill Bistro. We met earlier this year at a dinner he hosted in honor of Tamar Adler and her book, An Everlasting Meal (I’m a fan!). If you haven’t tried his food yet, I’d suggest heading over to Charles Street and pulling up a chair next to the window in the long and narrow, two-table deep restaurant. Josh wanted to share with you the tradition of celebrating Nowruz, Persian New Year, as one of the many ways he opens his arms to welcome Spring. At his restaurant, he hosts Passover seders and Easter brunch. With friends, he celebrates Nowruz, Persian New Year, and makes the traditional fish dish, Sabzi Polo Mahi. ~ Gayle

***

We inch toward Spring this year with baited breath as the calendar’s turn last week was sandwiched between an ice storm one day and the threat of a slushy accumulation the next. Images of green and sprouting seeds unfortunately remain strictly in our dreams.

And yet, we inch along and stubbornly prepare to celebrate, weather be damned. This year, Passover falls early and finds itself overlapping with Easter and the likely less familiar celebration of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, which always falls on the first day of Spring and for the thirteen days following. The Nowruz celebration is enjoyed by most Iranians, regardless of their religion.

Like Passover with its seder plate and Easter with its eggs and bunnies, Norwuz is a holiday steeped in symbolic tradition. The word Nowruz means “new day” and the Haft-Seen (seven S’s) table setting is part of its celebration.  These seven S’s refer to the Farsi spelling of the required items which in English include garlic, apple, sumac, bean sprouts, oleaster fruit, vinegar, and a sweet pudding made from wheat germ.  Some welcome additions to the standard list might include a mirror, a goldfish, rosewater, or even painted eggs. As on the Seder plate, each item has its purpose and is a poignant reminder of the holiday.

The Nowruz festivities start with a thorough Spring cleaning, or khouneh tekouni, which, to those of you preparing for Passover by searching for crumbs in every corner of your house, probably sounds familiar. The goal is to clear the space to make room for the hope of a happy new year. Over the course of nearly two weeks, the old is phased out and hospitality is offered to friends and family. Like the first cuttings of Spring flowers, such as hyacinth and daffodil which traditionally decorate the holiday home, a new year begins.

So, this year, as various calendars converge to celebrate Spring, I offer this love letter to a global approach to the turning season. May we all appreciate the thawing of our previous experiences, leaving us a fertile platform for a fresh start.  May we clean our homes and welcome our families. And may we celebrate each other, where we’ve been, where we hope to go.

May we set our tables with the symbols of our chosen tradition. May we see our favorite memories in them. May we create new ones. And as in the Sephardic tradition, may we be sent on our way with a bit of broken bread (afikomen) to carry with us into whatever is next, for luck, remembrance, hope.

Eid eh shomah mobarak. Chag  same’ach. Happy Spring, everyone!

***

Josh explained to me the symbolism of each element on the Haft-Seen table, which, like in his restaurant, take advantage of local produce and are prepared with patience and care.

Sabzeh. Mung bean sprouts. Symbolizes rebirth.

Samanu. A pudding made of wheat germ. Pictured here is simply wheat germ, not pudding’d. Symbolizes affluence

Senjed. A fruit called oleaster. Not thought to be common here. But it actually is a common invasive plant species called the autumn olive (or autumn berry, or russian olive). I use it at the restaurant to make a sorbet, it has a flavor similar to cranberry, but a bit sweeter. It gets the name “autumn olive” from the shape of it’s leaves. One of our farmers in South Dartmouth forages it for us. Pictured here is the pickled fruit. Traditionally it would be dried fruit.

Sir. Garlic. Symbolizing medicine. Pictured is local garlic that we cured in house.

Sib. Apple. Symbolizing beauty and health. Locally grown Cortland apple.

Somaq. Sumac. Symbolizing sunrise. Traditionally the fresh fruit would be featured. But with the slow arrival of Spring, I could not collect any fresh sumac. The dried spice is pictured. I love sumac. A lot.

Serkeh. Vinegar. Symbolizing old age, and patience. Pictured is a chardonnay vinegar in which we preserved tulsi, the holy basil of India. We made this last fall (yay, patience).

There are a number of extras sometimes included at the Haft-Seen table. I include rose water. I carefully distilled this rose water from the petals of beach (wrinkled) roses that I collected over the summer on the beach in Wesport with Eva, of Eva’s Garden in South Dartmouth.

***

Sabzi Polo Mahi

Herbed rice with fish is a traditional meal eaten early in the Nowruz celebrations. In Persian cooking, the rice would be boiled briefly and then layered and steamed with herbs, aromatic vegetables, and spices. A skilled cook, using this method, ends up with perfectly cooked and flavored rice as well as a layer of crispy cooked rice from the bottom of the pot, called tadeek. Anyone who’s eaten a properly cooked paella will be familiar with the concept.

Without a Persian mentor to teach you the technique, I suggest cooking your rice using the risotto method, which allows you to control the flavor from the beginning, and also finish with a respectable tadeek. Use freshly ground spices if at all possible, you owe yourself that.

Persian Jews are largely Sephardic, so they eat rice over Passover. If you’re Askenazi (from Eastern Europe), you can replace the rice with quinoa. As a seed, quinoa is  a great substitution for those who need one, given we are celebrating seeds and new growth anyway.  Follow the simple cooking instructions for quinoa, but rather than cooking in plain water or broth,  flavor your cooking water to mimic the Sabzi Polo by bringing your cooking liquid to a boil with  garlic, cinnamon, and herbs and steeping it for an hour.

I’ve chosen to use a fish called hake for this recipe. It is a close cousin to cod, and usually readily available in a dedicated fish market. Hake is a popular choice among Sephardic Jewish cooks in Spain, wehre they would call it merluza. Traditionally this might be a whole fried fish. 

Serves 6.

For the rice:

- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

- 2 tablespoons butter

- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

- 1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek

- 2 cloves garlic, finely diced

- 1 cup spanish onion, finely diced

- 4 cups arborio rice

- 6 cups warm water, vegetable broth, or other cooking liquid

- 2 cups finely chopped herbs, use your favorites. dill, parsley, cilantro, chives, … as you please.

In a wide, shallow skillet with a heavy bottom, heat the oil and butter over medium high heat. Add the onion, garlic, spices, and about 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook this, gently, until vegetables are soft, but avoid any browning.

Add the rice and stir to coat, cook about 2 minutes.

Add liquid to cover and stir, continuously. As the water reduces, continue to add more until rice is fully cooked. Simple rule for when to add more liquid… when the liquid won’t immediately return to fill the space it has been stirred away from, it is time for more.  The rice will let you know when it is cooked, by sight and taste. This will take about 20 minutes.

Just before finishing the cooking. Turn the flame to high. Stir once, then resist the urge to stir again. You will smell rice toasting. Give it two minutes, quickly stir in the fresh herbs and adjust with salt and pepper if needed.  Then remove the rice on top and you’ll be left with tadeek below. Reverse them for serving, tadeek over the top!

For the fish:

- 6 5-oz portions of hake fillet

- 2 cups matzoh meal mixed with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

- olive oil for cooking

Heat a heavy bottomed pan, large enough to hold the fish without crowding, over medium high heat with the oil.

Coat the fish on both sides with the seasoned matzoh meal and add to the hot pan, cooking for about 3 minutes, then rotate 90 degrees and cook one more minute. Turn the fish and finish cooking on the second side, for 3 to 4 more minutes depending on thickness.

A week and a half into daylight savings time and just a few hours before the first official day of spring, my balcony is blanketed with a fresh coating of snow, and the white stuff keeps coming down. Before we leave behind the hardy greens and show up at the farmers market each week to greet a new crop of, well, crops – pea shoots! morels! corn! zucchini! tomatoes! strawberries! blueberries! – I have one last kale recipe to share. You know, just in case the lamb part of March doesn’t arrive on schedule.

This kale story started last week. It was one of those evenings after work when I found myself  in the kitchen, hands on hips, peering listlessly into the fridge at a container of  baby kale, a bag of carrots, a few stalks of celery, and, oh yeah, a dwindling bowl of Meyer lemons. Resisting the gelato just inches away in the freezer, I turned on my heel and climbed on the couch, plucking a cookbook off a pile en route and balancing it on my cross-legged lap.

Canal House Cooks Every Day was the book. It had been floating around my apartment for a few weeks, from bed to coffee table to chair to said pile, spine-cracked but splatter-free. At first glance, the book is daunting. No picture on the front, no dust jacket, just a big red hardback with shiny gold and blue print. I could imagine mistaking it for a law text. Nestled among the gorgeous pictures, the recipes are written in big blocks of text that reminded me of one of my first cookbooks, Fannie Farmer, which, nostalgia aside, is not the most approachable of kitchen guides.

But, and there’s always a but, in this case a fortuitous but, on that particular evening last week, I brushed my fingers over the cloth-bound cover, soft and warm to the touch, and went straight to the recipe index. There was a single recipe under kale: Barlotti beans with sauteed baby kale, page 283.

The ingredient list was short. The instructions, once you skip the part about cooking your beans from dried, were short too.

kale and beans, dinner

Less than twenty minutes later, I sat down with my bowl of beans and greens and started the book from the beginning, no longer merely skimming recipe titles. I read about how the author duo, Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirscheimer, left their commutes behind for a kitchen atelier in which to start a business, independently launching a thrice-yearly seasonal food publication. In between cooking and photographing sessions, the two women prepare lunch and other treats which turned into this cookbook, a compendium of a year’s worth of recipes. It’s what they cook every day without being everyday cooking (hence the title).

Many of the recipes in the book are simple, some more suggestion than instruction. In a less-than-stellar review of the first of the team’s seasonal series, Nora Ephron wrote, ” The cookbook has very few recipes and although many look perfectly workable, there’s almost nothing in Canal House Cooking that’s singing, Cook Me, Cook Me.  Which is one of the things I look for when I first open a cookbook.”

I’ll admit, I had the same initial impression of  Hamilton and Hirscheimer’s Every Day. Luckily I dug a little deeper to discover a gem. I suspect this first recipe will send me back to Every Day once that first spring produce arrives.

Happy end of winter, all. And good riddance.

Kale and beans

Greens and beans (or baby kale and cannellini beans)

Hamilton and Hirscheimer use borlotti beans and prepare them from dried, but I like tender, thin-skinned cannellini beans and I had a can of them just waiting in my pantry. The only thing this dish could use is a crunch. I think next time I’ll add some toasted pine nuts. 

2 servings

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet (mine is 11-inches in diameter) over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add a chopped onion and saute until brown (you’re almost stir-frying here). Lower heat and add 2 garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers. Saute until the garlic softens, but don’t let it burn. Add to the pan 3 large handfuls of baby kale (if you’re the measuring type, this is about 3 packed cups) enough to fill the pan to overflowing. Let the kale wilt, stirring periodically, until all of the kale is a bright dark green. Meanwhile, drain a 15.5-ounce can of cannellini beans and rinse a few times with cold water. Add them to the skillet and stir until warmed through. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Zest and juice a lemon over the skillet.

I realize that these scones might not look like much.

There’s no shiny glaze, no bright fruits dotting the surface, but scrolling past these unassuming little lumps of baked dough would be a mistake.

They’re the most breakfast-y of scones I’ve ever known. And though I’ve never tried hot oatmeal – there’s just something about the texture that turns me off – I imagine that anyone raised on the stuff will find a familiar cozy feeling with each nibble. The scones are grounded in a healthy dose of oats, nearly as much oat as flour, which gives them heft without density. They get their sweetness from maple syrup (it’s in season right now, so go out and grab a gallon of fresh grade B), so they taste and smell of nectar and nature. Toasted pecans lend a buttery crunch. And then there’s butter and cream to round it all out.

Also, they take just a few minutes to throw together. In the time it takes to pre-heat your oven (mind you, mine takes ten minutes), you’ll have toasted and chopped the pecans, rubbed butter into flour, whisked maple into cream, mixed wet ingredients into dry, and scooped up these unremarkable looking lumps of dough. But bake these little guys up, and you’ll believe me when I say they’re all that.

No bag of chips necessary.

oatmeal maple pecan scones

Oatmeal maple pecan scones

Adapted from Flour, but just barely. I skipped the raisins and glaze in the original recipe, and made much smaller scones which reduced the baking time from 40 minutes to 25. Make sure to toast the pecans – I scatter them on a cookie sheet and pop them in the oven while it’s heating up. As for the maple syrup, buy grade B which is darker and mapley-er than grade A. You can also freeze the unbaked scones: scoop out the dough, freeze them on a baking sheet, and wrap them well in plastic. Then bake them straight from the freezer, adding about 5 minutes to the baking time. 

Makes 2 dozen small scones

- 3/4 – 1 C pecans (I used halves, but feel free to use pre-chopped)

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1 1/4 C old-fashioned rolled oats

- 1 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/4 t baking soda

- 1/4 t kosher salt

- 1/2 C cold unsalted butter

- 1/3 C cold heavy cream

- 1/2 C maple syrup

- 1 cold egg

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast. Scatter the pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven while it’s preheating. This should take less than 10 minutes – the pecans are done when they color slightly and you can smell their nuttiness. Once the pecans have cooled, chop them.

Mix. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, oats, baking powder, and baking soda on low-speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until just combined. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and scatter into the bowl. Mix on low-speed for about 30 seconds on low-speed, or until the butter is somewhat broken down and grape-sized pieces are still visible. (Or just dig your hands in and rub the butter into the flour with your fingers).

Whisk. In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, maple syrup, and egg until thoroughly mixed.

Mix again. On low speed, pour the cream mixture into the flour-butter mixture and mix for 20-30 seconds or just until the dough comes together. It will be fairly wet and you will still be able to see some pieces of butter. Stir in the cooled chopped pecans.

Scoop. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop dough – about 3 tablespoons per scone – onto the parchment. I used a tablespoon-sized scooper and mounded one heaping tablespoon on top of another heaping tablespoon. A regular tablespoon and a gentle nudge with your finger will work just fine here as well. At this point, I slipped half of the scooped dough onto a baking sheet and into the freezer, eventually packing them up in a few plastic bags.

oatmeal maple pecan scones, scooped and frozen, ready to be baked

Bake. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown on top. If you’re taking the dough straight from the freezer, baking will take about 30 minutes.

Store. The scones are best on the day they’re baked. However, if you can’t eat every last one, wrap up the leftovers and freeze them. I love them straight from the freezer; otherwise they thaw in just a few minutes.

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