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Archive for the ‘parve’ Category

Well, today just may be the day that I turn on my air conditioner for the first time this year. I’ve cleaned the filter of my unit, so it’s ready for action, but, like all years, I try to hold out for as long as I can. I just don’t like air conditioning. Don’t get me wrong, I love having it – they sure didn’t have such a luxury in the shtetl – and I love standing in front of it every once in a while, but I like being able to keep the fresh air flowing rather than recycled. And so, two windows flung open, all three fans cranked up, I’m hoping that the heavy humidity breaks into a quick cooling downpour soon.

Eventually, I know I’ll have to bring the temperature of my apartment way down so that I can once again turn on the oven for two, almost three, hours to melt some cabbage. This is another cult classic of Adeena Sussman‘s from her Sababa cookbook that itself has developed a cult following. This dish transforms the humble crucifer into a complex yet comforting dish by braising it with other shtetl staples and then a splash of white wine (like air conditioning, not a shtetl staple). You end up with spoon tender cabbage, garlic and onion softened and sweetened and nestled in the leaves, and pools of what can best be described as potlikker.

Hot, cold, room temperature, it’s all good any which way you want to eat it. (The photo above was second day cabbage, eaten cold, straight from the pan, straight from the refrigerator.) So, even if I could resist the air conditioner through the end of the month, I doubt I’ll make it that long without this melted cabbage.

Adeena Sussman’s Melted Green Cabbage

Just barely adapted from Adeena Sussman’s Sababa (recipe published here). While I typically rewrite recipes in my own language, I’ll let Adeena’s stand on its own. I’ve noted any substitutions or tips I have in italics.

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 1/2 to 3 hours

1/3 cup (75 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp (10 mL) kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp (2 mL) coarsely cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
2 small heads of green cabbage (2 lb; 900 g), quartered (but not cored)
10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
4 shallots, peeled and halved (no shallots, so I substitute 1 medium or 2 small yellow onions)
1/2 cup (125 mL) dry, acidic white wine, such as Albariño or Grüner Veltliner
1/2 cup (125 mL) chicken or vegetable broth, plus more if necessary (I’ve even used water)
4 sprigs fresh thyme (I’ve omitted)
3 tbsp (45 mL) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup (50 mL) crème fraîche or sour cream
Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)

STEP 1

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).

STEP 2

In a heavy, large, high-sided skillet or shallow Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) of the pepper directly onto the oil, then arrange the cabbage wedges in the pot, making sure that each is lying on a flat side (you can cram them in; they’ll relax into one another as they release liquid). (I had to do this in 2 batches.) Let the undersides get nice and brown, resisting the urge to move them too much but checking once to make sure they’re not burning (reduce the heat slightly if they are), 6 to 7 minutes. Using tongs, flip the cabbage wedges, then tuck the garlic cloves and shallots into the pot, and brown the undersides of the cabbage, another 6 to 7 minutes. Add the wine and broth, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and add the remaining 1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt and 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) pepper along with the thyme. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, transfer to the oven, and cook until soft, slumped and mahogany brown, 2 hours, or 2 1/2 hours for even softer cabbage. Uncover, cool slightly, and serve the cabbage with the liquid accumulated in the pot. Season with salt and pepper and top with butter and crème fraîche. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

Serves: 4

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Walking distance from my mom’s place in South Florida, we discovered earlier this year a no-frills Russian grocery store. Well, we always knew it was there, and that it drew large crowds seated on plastic chairs at plastic tables on the sidewalk, but this year I popped in. After checking out the produce (a pretty normal assortment) and the aisles of Cyrillic-labeled bottles, jars, and cans, I was drawn to the buffet that ran the length of the store. I bee lined to the cold section: an overabundance of cold salads consisting of combinations of vegetables, heavy on the dill and cabbage and pickling. I got hooked on the more vinegary of these salads, taking home more than a few pints and quarts of them and rounding out most lunches and dinners with a little of this, a little of that.

Fast forward to the “pause” and “stay-at-home” orders that keep getting extended, and I’ve returned to my Eastern European roots. I’ve been loading up on what my friend and I like to call shtetl vegetables – beets, potatoes, carrots, cabbage – ones that are hardy and last for weeks, months even, helpful during these times of limited grocery runs. As I’ve grown weary of soup and look forward to more spring vegetables, I’ve been using up these shtetl staples to make big batch salads that stay good in the fridge.

My most recent batch: salat vinegret*.

In watching a discussion of Soviet-Jewish Cuisine featuring Bonnie Morales of Kachka and author Boris Fishman, I learned the word zakuski – a spread of appetizers similar to mezze – that are always in the fridge, ready to pull out when a guest drops by, a tangible element of hospitality, usually served with vodka. Each of the participants had prepared zakuski, and my friend Gabi who was leading the talk showed a bowl salat vinegret, pink-tinged cubes of beets and potatoes, dressed with pickled cabbage, vinegar and traditional sunflower oil.

Remembering how much I loved the salads from Matryoshka’s buffet, I looked up salat vinegret and – not surprisingly, has most of the ingredients. I made do with what I had – those shtetl genes run deep, I tell you – and have been eating from this huge bowl for days. No guests allowed, so I shared with a friend who lives across the street from me.

* Of course I have a footnote. Vinegret comes from the French vinaigrette which is a diminutive of the word vinaigre (vin aigre = sour wine = vinegar). Most agree that the term came eastward due to the Russian nobility’s Francophilia and Francophonia, and the preparation – using vinegar to hide any off flavors – became popular in the early Soviet era when fresh produce was scarce, and frozen or canned goods dominated. Over time, vinegret has come to refer to any beet salad. It can also mean a mish-mash.

Salat Vinegret

Recipe developed in reviewing this and this, and rummaging through my fridge and pantry.

Makes a lot, 2 quarts perhaps (I didn’t measure)

– 1 lb new potatoes potatoes (4 medium)
– 2 lbs beets (2 large)
– 4-5 medium pickles (and 1/4 C pickle juice, optional)
– 1 small yellow onion
– 1 T chopped dill
– 1 T chopped parsley
– 2-3 T vegetable oil (ideal is sunflower from Ukraine, but it’s not something that I had in my pantry)
– 1-2 T mild vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
– Salt
– Other traditional ingredients: cooked carrots, peas, sauerkraut

Roast. Roast (or boil) beets and peel. I roasted by wrapping them individually in foil with a little salt and vegetable oil and cooking in a hot oven (400F – 425F) for a little over an hour (depending on size) until a paring knife pierced easily through to the center. When cool enough to handle but still warm, the skin will slide off pretty easily with your hands (the hotter, the easier). If you’re having a hard time peeling, they may need a little time in the oven.

Boil. While the beets are roasting, boil the potatoes in salted water over high heat, 10-15 minutes until that same knife pierces easily through the center. Don’t overcook, or they potatoes can get water logged.

Cut. Cut the beets into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes/pieces. Transfer to a large bowl, and clean off the cutting board and knife. Cut the potatoes and pickles into pieces roughly the same size. Finely dice the onion. Add the vegetables and chopped herbs to the bowl.

Mix. Drizzle in oil, vinegar, and pickle juice, and mix. Start tasting. Add some salt. Keep tasting until it suits you.

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Today’s installment of quasi food science – or is it food quasi-science? – will also involve salt and water and protein.

Last time, we used a salt (or sugar) solution to prevent (egg yolk) proteins from denaturing and aggregating during the freezing process. This week, that same salt solution (no sugar here) causes partial (fish) protein denaturation and also prevents aggregation which in this situation is a good thing because it creates a water-retaining gel. I turned to Harold McGee and Cook’s Illustrated (here and here) for a little help.

So, let’s talk fish protein for a sec. Like meat, fish protein is largely muscle fibers. Unlike meat, fish proteins are shorter and run perpendicular to very delicate connective tissue made of collagen. When heated to 120F-130F, the collagen dissolves into gelatin and the muscle layers separate – the fish flakes.

For tender flakes, we don’t want the muscle fibers to contract any more than they need to before the connective tissue dissolves. A salt-water brine helps. It allows salt to enter cells through diffusion (there’s more salt in the brined than in the cells), and then water follows by osmosis (cells have a greater concentration of “things” floating around in them than the brine does). Salt partially dissolves the contracting fibers and also disrupts their ability to aggregate. As with the yolk, salt ions trap charged protein groups and the proteins can’t bind as tightly to one another or fold onto themselves. This loosening up makes more space for water molecules to wedge their way in. When you apply heat, protein fibers contract but not as much as they might if those water molecules weren’t in the way, and the fish loses less moisture as it is heated.

Brining offers two more benefits. One, it seasons the fish, giving it better flavor. Second, it reduces albumin, the white protein (egg white albumen is a type of albumin) that often congeals on the surface of the fish and really noticeable on pink salmon. So, it’s prettier too.

If you’re still awake, here’s the recipe. Finally.

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Quick-brined salmon with miso-lemon glaze

Makes 8 4-ounce servings

Adapted from Food & Wine. The recipe calls for 2 pounds of salmon but I typically make one pound at a time (I’m just one person, especially during “stay-at-home” orders) and save the leftover glaze in the fridge for a few nights later. Make sure to bring the glaze to room temperature and stir well before spreading on fish. I’ve only ever used this on salmon, but I suspect it’s quite good on milder white fishes as well. 

– 1 T kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
– 2 lbs salmon (with or without skin)
– 3 T canola oil
– 2 T fresh lemon juice
– 1 T shiro miso (white)
– 1/2 t grated garlic (one medium-large clove)
– Sesame seeds, for garnish
– Lemon wedges, for serving

Prep. Preheat the oven to 450F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Brine. In a shallow bowl or baking dish large enough to fit all of the fish in one layer, combine the salt with 2 cups room temperature water and stir to dissolve. Add the salmon and additional water to make sure it’s submerged. Let brine at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Whisk. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, lemon juice, miso, and garlic until smooth.

Bake. Drain the fish, pat dry with a paper towel, and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Generously brush all over with the miso lemon glaze. Roast until golden and just cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Transfer to plates, garnish with sesame seeds and serve with lemon wedges.

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I was speaking with my friend Veronica over the weekend, comparing stories about our daily COVID lives. In Lima, Peru, her family is in strictly-enforced lockdown with no outdoor excursions allowed. To get some exercise and fresh air, she and her husband and their kids run around – masked, of course – in the garage of their apartment building. And while I’ve been able to go outside for walks in Central Park and get groceries, I too spend most of my time indoors.

Another thing we share: we were both cooking while we chatted. Her, a prune cake for Easter. Me, oat-free granola for Passover.

“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of granola, not having oats?” Veronica laughed, the same distinctive cackle that I’ve known since high school.

“Well, I guess it does. But it has everything else that I put in my granola and I like it on yogurt, so I’m calling it granola. Maybe it’s faux granola. Or faux-nola?”

She laughed again.

Anyway, I present you Passover granola. Faux-nola if you insist.

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Passover Granola (of Faux-nola)

Makes 6 cups

Adapted from Epicurious. Mix and match large coconut flakes with whatever nuts (and seeds if you eat kitniyot) you like. My regular granola uses a 1:1 oat to nut ratio, and here I replace all oats with coconut, same ratio. This year’s nuts are almonds, hazelnuts, and pine nutsI add egg whites to help the granola clump because though I like it as a topping for yogurt, I tend to eat it out of hand much more over Passover, and it’s less mess to eat large pieces than tiny ones. Though, I’m vacuuming and sweeping up matzah bits all day anyway, so what’s a few more crumbs?

Don’t overcrowd the baking sheets or the granola will burn on the edges before it crisps in the middle. And, you do need to watch it in the oven closely because the granola goes from a toasty burnished brown to burnt if you’re not paying attention as the last few minutes count down.

I tend to scale the recipe, but if you follow the basic ratios, you can make as much or as little as you want – 1 C coconut : 1 C nuts : 2 T sweetener (honey, brown sugar, maple syrup) : 1 t fat (olive oil, butter). A few drops of vanilla, pinches of salt, and an egg white or two for clumping are optional. 

– 3 C unsweetened raw coconut flakes (sometimes called coconut chips)
– 3 C assorted nuts, rough chopped
– 2 egg whites
– 2 T olive oil
– 4 T honey
– 2 T brown sugar
– 1/2 t kosher salt (or more to taste)
– 1 t vanilla

Prep. Heat oven to 300ºF and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together the coconut and nuts. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl, and then pour them in, mixing until coconut and nuts are evenly coated.

Cook. Stir olive oil, honey, sugar, salt and vanilla in a small pan over medium-low heat until hot and easily pourable (but not bubbling).

Pour. Pour the honey mixture over the dry ingredients and stir until evenly coated.

Bake. Spread the mix thinly and evenly across the baking sheets and bake for 25-35 minutes, until the mix is dry and the coconut flakes are as brown as the nuts. After 10 minutes, swap the sheets top to bottom, front to back. At the 20 minute mark, stay close and check the color every few minutes. There’s about a 3-minute window between perfect and burnt.

Store. Store in an airtight container, in freezer if you want to keep it around longer.

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Procrastifry
(prə-kra-stə-frī)
verb: to make latkes instead of working when you realize it’s your last chance to fry before the end of Hanukkah because you’re heading out of town for your birthday

I guess the question though is whether I had put off the frying or the working. Or, at this point over a month later, whether I put off the posting as well. Clearly all three.

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It began when I attended a discussion at 92Y (disclosure, I received a press ticket) between Melissa Clark and the duo behind the new cookbook Israeli Soul (and Zahav and Federal Donuts and The Rooster and, and, and…), Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook. Towards the end of the evening, the subject of latkes came up, and Clark probed for any tips. Solomonov wondered out loud whether starting with frozen hash brown potato shreds could be a good strategy – not because they’re easier (though they are), but because they are often par-cooked so you avoid the burnt outside raw inside problem. He explained how at Goldie, their vegan falafel spot, their famously extra crispy fries are achieved not by double or triple frying like most places but by par-cooking the potato sticks and then freezing them overnight to dehydrate the surface. Pre-cooked potatoes need less time in oil; dehydrated potatoes get less greasy.

Picking up a bag of hash browns on the way home – this was Wednesday night, if you’re keeping track – I fell asleep awash in the blue glow of my phone, opening page after page of how-tos on frying latkes and, by extension, hash browns, focusing on how to par-cook and dry out the spuds. Thursday, I poked around a little more. And more. And more.

I decided I was going to base my latkes off of Bonnie Benwick’s recipe for hash brown latkes in the Washington Post (which is adapted from Kosher Everyday, the only change is subbing caramelized onions for diced) and one from America’s Test Kitchen because, you know, they test things annoyingly painfully thoroughly. To be even more complete, I checked out Serious Eats for latke tips and those for hash browns. And a little bit of frying science. And, oh my god, are you exhausted yet? Because I am. No wonder I couldn’t face the oil until Friday.

To save you the time and effort of reading every. single. one. of. these. links. here are the main things I learned:

  1. hash browns are a good shortcut
  2. but most of the time, they’re not actually par-cooked
  3. par-cooking is helpful and is most easily achieved in the microwave – 2 minutes for a pound
  4. par-cooking does two things – first, the latke outsides are less likely to burn before the insides are cooked since they’re, you know, already mostly cooked
  5. second, it dehydrates the potato shreds
  6. apparently, when the starch in potatoes is heated above 137F (if we’re going to be exact, thank you Amerca’s Test Kitchen), it absorbs water molecules and the mixture becomes a gel and the surface is essentially drier
  7. too much moisture on the surface of the potatoes lowers the temperature of the oil, lengthens the time it takes for the crust to form, and allows too much oil to enter the inside of the latke, hence greasy latkes
  8. little moisture and lots of starch on the surface of the potatoes allows the oil to very quickly form a crust out of the starch which blocks too much oil from come inside the latke while also maintaining a fairly stable oil temperature
  9. or, according to a food scientist whose blog I found, “In general, the amount of oil absorbed into the food is equal to the amount of water that is removed during frying”
  10. this is also why you want to wring out as much liquid from the potatoes as you can before the whole microwaving thing begins

If you glossed over this, the only thing to remember is to wring out and microwave your hash browns, and then proceed however you normally do.

Also, don’t wait until the last minute. Unless you want to miss your train home for the weekend.

Hash brown latkes

Makes about a dozen 2-inch latkes

Defrost 1 lb hash browns overnight on a paper towel-lined baking sheet in the refrigerator. Gather the potato shreds in a thin cotton towel or several layers of cheese cloth along with 1/2 an onion, grated (about 1/4 cup), and twist until you wring out as much moisture as you can. Transfer the potatoes mixture from towel to a bowl, and microwave for 2 minutes. Mix in 1/4 t baking powder, 2 T potato starch, 1 t kosher salt, and 1 egg. 

If you’re going to eat the latkes immediately, line a plate or baking sheet with more paper towels. If you’re going to freeze the latkes, set out a cooling rack over a baking sheet.

Heat about a quarter-inch of vegetable oil in a cast iron pan – it’s ready when you drop in a potato shred and it bubbles like crazy and quickly browns but doesn’t burn. If you want, use a thermometer – the temperature should be around 350F. Make a small test latke to see if you need to add any salt, and adjust if necessary. Then gently drop large spoonfuls of batter into the oil – about 3-4 depending on the size of your pan – and spread the out a little bit. After about 2-3 minutes, a golden crust should have formed up the sides of each latke and it’s time to flip. Another 2-3 minutes and you’re done. Transfer the warm latkes to the paper towels or cooling rack, and do it all over again. You may need to adjust the flame if the latkes are cooking too fast or too slow (or, you know, pull out the thermometer again). Between batches, remove any rogue burnt bits of potato.

Eat with applesauce (homemade if you’re fancy). Sour cream, if you must.

Otherwise, put the latkes in bags in the freezer (if you’re lucky enough to have a huge freezer, first freeze the latkes in a single layer so they don’t stick together in the bag) until you’re ready to eat at which point you can pop the, straight into a 425F oven for 15-20 minutes. (Since you didn’t mop up all the oil straight out of the pan, the latkes won’t dry out when reheating.) Then, eat with applesauce.

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bonus days

Settle in, friends, for a few paragraphs of sunshine and relaxation that looking back make me long for the week my sister Robyn and I spent in Turks and Caicos in July.

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Our goal was to not have to think plan choose hike nothing. We found a reasonable all-inclusive resort built on the sand with good enough food and no need to even slide into flip flops, the water was so close to our room.

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Hammocks are my jam, so I spent a lot of time reading* in this one, and R bought the inner tube that allowed me to read in the pool as well, drifting side to side, one hand dragging in the water, wet fingerprints on the pages with each turn. (We left the pineapple behind for a bartender’s kids who played with it one day.)

The first five days of vacation were remarkable in their utterly perfect unremarkable-ness. Wake food beach food pool nap drink ocean hammock food drink lounge. One day we went to the gym. To stretch. Or at least that’s all I did there.

But from the moment we landed, I knew I wanted to extend the vacation. When the customs officer asked me how I was, I told him I was great and wanted to stay forever. The day before we were supposed to head home, I pulled the trigger and swapped out our tickets for one last day in the turquoise water.

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After booking an extra night in our room, we arranged for the next day our first foray off the resort properties (well, my sister had ridden a bike into town a time or two) – a day on a boat, snorkeling in the reefs for our bonus day.

My attempt to capture anything below the surface with my waterproof case clad phone resulted not in schools of yellow-tailed robin’s egg blue fish or fluorescent white-tipped black fish or waving branches of chartreuse seaweed. Rather, I’m left with nearly fifty fuzzy photos of water or one of my fingers blocking the lens. Instead, I give you an iguana hiding in the shadows on our last stop of the day.

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Back on dry land and in service range, I got a text from the airline: due to a storm in New York, we could change our flights without penalty. Out of concern for our safety – and truly only out of concern for our safety – we decided to stay one more night.

Bonus day number two!

Already scraping the bottom of our budget, we switched to a less expensive hotel (decision!), fended for food ourselves (more decisions!), and had to cross the street if we wanted to go to the beach (effort!).

Turns out exploring was good for us, and we were ready for it. R found an adorable flower slash coffee shop that we visited once, twice, (and she thrice). Across the street is vegetarian cafe Retreat Kitchen where we got lunch and found out about their adjacent yoga studio. More on that in a moment.

That last night, we stayed in the water – salty and buoyant enough for easy floating without the pineapple left behind – until the sun met the sea.

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Now, plastered on the window of that studio was an announcement about morning yoga overlooking the water at the Beach Enclave.

Which is how at 8 am on our (really, truly, no joke this time) last day, we ended up here…

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… doing downward dog, overlooking the water …

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… sweating our sports bras off. Suppressing giggles when I tipped over backwards during some sort of squat thing, rolled a few times like in Pilates to save face, and took a moment of repose in what I learned was shavasana (dead man’s pose) under the most barely detectable of fan-driven breezes.

From yoga to breakfast, we returned to Retreat Kitchen and took our food to go. I went straight to the beach with a bottle fresh watermelon juice and an unseasonable but delightful toast, sipping an affogato as my morning coffee because that’s what vacation is for, right?

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I parked myself on a low chair at the edge of the water, face towards the sun, waves slowly burying the frame and lapping at my tush as the chair sunk deeper and deeper into the soft sand.

***

Though I intended to publish this story over a month ago, it seems that this will be my pre-Rosh Hashanah post which always lends itself to some sort of reflection and wish. So, for 5779, I hope for the world a year of unremarkable times of normalcy and calm punctuated by bonus days of warmth (physical and emotional), sunshine (in the sky and in our hearts), beauty (inside and out), delectable food, friends and family and strangers to share it with, mistakes we can gracefully solve that we can giggle about later.

L’shana tova u’metukah to all those celebrating and Happy September to everyone else. With that, let’s eek out the last days of summer with one-ingredient watermelon juice, spiked if you’d like.

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Watermelon Juice

This recipe — if you can call it one — is inspired by our trip trip to Turks & Caicos and our meals at Retreat Kitchen.

Cut up a seedless watermelon and whizz it in a blender until completely liquified. Pour it through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids.

That’s it.

A squeeze of lime brightens the flavor.

If your watermelon isn’t sweet enough, add sugar until it tastes right.

If you want to get fancy, fill a dish with a 1:1 mix of sugar:sea salt. Wet the rim of your glass with a lime wedge, swirl it in the dish, and fill with juice.

If you want to get tipsy, stir in some tequila, vodka, or rum.

***

* ps – The book I read isn’t your typical beach read – it’s poet Nina RiggsThe Bright Hour, a delicate memoir of the author’s last years with terminal breast cancer. It’s hard to describe, but here’s an excerpt first published in the NY Times Modern Love column. The book has been compared to Paul Kalanithi‘s When Breath Becomes Air, a memoir of a neurosurgeon’s last years with terminal lung cancer. In a twist that can only be called poetic, Nina suggested that her husband connect with Paul’s widow and the two eventually coupled up. The Bright Hour is beautiful and good for a cleansing – but not sad – cry.

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Last weekend, a good friend threw a birthday party, complete with a candy bar (as in a bar stocked with candies like green apple licorice and jelly beans stacked by color in sand art layers) and a piñata. Let me just state here and now that whacking a papier mâché unicorn blind-folded until it poops a rainbow of sweets is something we as a society must do more of. It was the best of childhood, with alcohol.

As for that alcohol, my friend charged me with mixers. Despite a stash of just-in-case just-add-spirits lemon drop and appletini, I of course couldn’t leave easy enough alone. With a hope, a need, for Spring to stick around for more than a day or two at a time, I conjured a vision of something fresh and verdant, something that smelled (visions have scents, right?) of morning-mowed grass flooded by an afternoon shower.

My first (and only) thought: spa water. Yes, that cucumber-infused concoction that’s supposed to pamper and relax you. Add lime for brightness, mint to cool things off, and just enough sugar to remind you that you’re not eating a salad. But, if you want, you can think of it as salad.

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Spa-tail (cucumber-lime-mint) mixer

This makes a big match of mixer that you can spike with gin or vodka for as strong or as weak a drink as you’d like. My favorite combination for one cocktail is 1/2 cup mixer, 2 tablespoons (1 oz) gin, and a splash of Cointreau (or other orange liqueur). If you want to make up a big batch in advance, add to the 6 cups of mixer 1 1/2 cups of gin or vodka, and 1/2 cup of Cointreau.

The mixer does separate, so make sure to shake or stir well before pouring. 

Makes 6 cups of mixer

– 3 large English cucumbers, unpeeled and roughly chopped, plus 1/2 cucumber, unpeeled and thinly sliced for garnish

– 1/2 C packed mint leaves (about 80)

– 1 C simple syrup (boil 3/4 C water with 3/4 C sugar until dissolved; allow to cool)

– 1 C fresh lime juice (about 2 lbs)

– kosher salt

Puree. In a blender, puree the cucumbers and mint until as smooth as possible. You should have about 5 cups of mush.

Strain. Strain through a fine sieve, using a spoon to press down on any solids. This should yield 4 cups of juice.

Mix. Add the simple syrup, lime juice, and a big three-finger pinch of salt, and mix (or put in a large jar and shake).

Serve. Stir in vodka or gin, and a splash of Cointreau as above, or to your own liking. Float a few slices of cucumber on top.

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Well, I’ve had a sourdough starter for about four months now and have used it for its intended purpose exactly once. The loaves were fine, nothing special, not particularly sour, way too dark, sorta spongy. Clearly I have lots of practicing to do but I haven’t felt up to the dedication and attention necessary to master a perfect sourdough loaf. Gosh, I haven’t even named my starter yet. (But I have named my robot vacuum the Noonoo. Any Teletubbies fans out there? Anyone? Naughty Noonoo!)

Despite my sourdough sloth, each week I diligently feed my starter. When I’ve filled a quart container with discard, I use it up. Luckily, because discard is typically a 1:1 ratio (by weight) of flour to water, recipes aren’t much different than others requiring flour and water, though with the addition of a little tang. I started with muffins and quickly moved on to crackers. And crackers are where I’ve gotten stuck. Stuck in the sense that I just can’t move on and see no reason to move on. Friends swear by pancakes and English muffins, so perhaps I’ll branch out one of these days, but for now, I’m happy right were I am. Every time I bake up a batch, I think to myself, “who am I? Have I become that annoying person who makes her own crackers?” Apparently I have. (Also, granola. Who seriously makes granola? I do, that’s who.)

While I’ve made some crazy shit — Sachertorte (one of only two multilayer, frosted cakes I’ve ever attempted), a Passover tart (who makes a coconut macaroon pressed crust on Passover), zwetschgendatschi (yeasted Bavarian plum tart), Cassatelle (ricotta turnovers , the dough rolled out in a pasta machine) — what amazes me the most is when I make in my own kitchen something I’d normally buy. Case in point: chocolate covered graham crackers like the ones my Bubbie used to bribe me to drink milk. Also, now, whole wheat crackers.

Before I get all in awe of myself, I have to come clean: these crackers are dead easy. The hardest part is rolling them out thinly and evenly. The dough itself is a dream to work with — the vegetable oil makes it smooth and pliable. So, when I’ve collected a quart of discard, I make a quadruple batch. When I’m in the mood for crackers, I measure out two chunks of dough, roll as thinly as I can over a piece of parchment, and decorate with whatever flavors and textures I’m in the mood for.

Slice the dough with a pizza wheel, prick each square with a fork, and they’re ready for the oven.

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Sourdough whole wheat crackers

Adapted from King Arthur Flour. I like to top with a flavor and a texture. In this recipe, I used garlic powder (I have Leah Koenig to thank for my recent embrace of the spice) and flax seeds. I’m also a huge fan of za’atar, sumac, and sesame seeds or just some oats. Next, perhaps nutritional yeast? Pepitas? Maybe brush with a different oil – how about a sesame-miso mix, maybe if I use rice flour instead of whole wheat. And I can’t help but wonder if I might make some faux cheez-its by mix sharp cheddar into the dough.

I make a triple or quadruple batch and either separately wrap single batches or write the weight required for a single batch on a ziptop bag so I can measure out the right amount for next time. Normally I wouldn’t be so picky about how much dough you’re rolling out, but I’ve found that if you try to roll out too much, it’s just that much harder to get the dough thin or even.

Makes about 100 crackers

– 1 C whole wheat flour

– 1/2 t fine sea salt, plus 1 t for sprinkling on top

– 1 C unfed (“discarded”) sourdough starter

– 3 T vegetable oil, plus more for for brushing

– 1/2 t garlic powder for sprinkling

– 1 T flax seeds

Mix. Mix together the flour, salt, sourdough starter, and oil to make a smooth cohesive dough. If the dough is to sticky, add a little flour. Too dry, add a tiny bit of oil. Still too dry, a tiny bit of water. 

Chill. Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a small rectangular slab. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to a couple of hours, until the dough is firm.

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Roll. Very lightly flour a piece of parchment, your rolling pin, and the top of the dough. Working with one piece at a time, roll the dough to about 1/16″ thick – essentially as thinly and evenly as you possible can. The dough will have ragged, uneven edges; that’s OK. 

Brush and top. Transfer the dough and parchment together onto a baking sheet. Lightly brush with oil and then sprinkle the salt, garlic powder, and flax seeds over the top of the crackers. Sprinkle from high above the dough to ensure it’s evenly distributed rather than clumping. Gently roll the pin over the dough to press the seeds into the dough (as you can see in my photos, I didn’t press down hard enough this time).

Slice and prick. Use a pizza wheel to cut the dough into into squares between 1 and 1 1/4 inches. Doesn’t have to be perfectly exact. Prick each square with the tines of a fork.

Bake. Bake the crackers for 15-20 minutes, until the squares start to brown around the edges and are lightly golden in the center. At the 7- to 8-minute mark, turn the baking sheet 180 degrees to ensure the crackers bake evenly if your oven has hot spots (mine clearly does).

Cool. Remove the crackers from the oven, and transfer them to a cooling rack. Store airtight at room temperature for up to a week, if they last that long; freeze for longer storage.

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I’ve got a lot to tell you about – some amazing travel and a skyr dessert from last year’s Iceland adventure – but this recipe has been sitting in my draft pile since May and despite these long sticky days of summer when all you want to do is crawl into your freezer, I’m here to encourage you to turn on your oven and sweat it out.

There’s no backstory to this recipe, no seasonal ingredients, no science, but I’ve made it more than a handful of times and it’s a keeper. I call it tofu candy because the brown sugar in the teriyaki marinade caramelizes during a long bake in the oven, and I can’t help but paw little cube after little cube into my not-so-little mouth and end up eating an entire block of tofu (nearly a pound of the stuff) before I realize. I mean, seriously, these are the Jelly Bellies of the hippie dippie crunchy granola world.

Roast some broccoli at the same time if you want to call it dinner.

Teryaki tofu (aka, tofu candy)

Adapted from Cooking Light. If you want to add some vegetables, slide a baking sheet of broccoli (tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper) in the oven ten minutes into the baking process – it should be ready around the same time as the tofu. Double or triple the marinade so you can toss in some pressed tofu and have candy on a whim (plus about 40 minutes of oven time).

Serves 1 or 2 as dinner

– 1 (14-oz) package extra-firm tofu, drained

– 1 T brown sugar

– 1 t grated fresh ginger

– 1 garlic clove, minced

– 1 T low sodium soy sauce

– 1 t rice wine vinegar

– 1 t toasted sesame oil

– dash hot sesame oil

– cooking spray

– 1 T toasted sesame seeds

Drain. Cut the tofu crosswise into 5 (1-inch-thick) slices. Place slices on several layers of paper towels and cover with additional paper towels. Place a cutting board on top and weigh down with several cans. Let stand 20 minutes, pressing down occasionally.

Whisk. While the tofu is pressing, whisk together the sugar, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, oils, and sesame seeds.

Cube. Cut each tofu slice into 1/2-inch cubes.

Soak. Add tofu to marinade and toss to combine. Let stand for 10 minutes. Heat oven on to 375ºF.

Bake. Arrange tofu in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375°, stirring periodically, for 30 – 40 minutes or until tofu is browned on all sides. Toss with sesame seeds.

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Spring fruits and vegetables, in the Northeast at least, arrive with exclamation points.

Asparagus!

Morels!

Peas!

Fiddleheads!

Favas!

The exclamation pointiest of the exclamation points is ramps. I mean, ramps! Better yet, RAMPS!

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Because they’re typically foraged and their season is short, these alliums could start a cult with worshipers preparing all year for the few weeks these pungent (and, whew, they are pungent!) guys emerge, praying to the gods of rain and sun and dirt, stalking farmers market for the first hint of these wild leeks that look a bit like scallions but with purplish stems and broad leaves. Mario Batali even made a video about them that’s worth a watch.

When I spied a few bundles on friends’ Instagram feeds, I beelined to my neighborhood farmers’ market. It was the first Friday after Passover and while I was very happy to see She Wolf Bakery and grab the last maple and oat loaf, there was little in the soil-plucked, tree-picked category. The following week, same thing. I brought home a bundle of branches covered in buds and the promise of my own personal cherry blossom festival. To date they’ve only sprouted leaves. Not a single flower yet, but I have faith.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI finally trekked down to the Union Square Greenmarket hoping for something, anything, of the green variety. My schlep was rewarded with an entire table of ramps. I loaded up and then went a little bit crazy. Scallions. Upland cress (which is like watercress, but more peppery: I’ve been chopping it up like parsley and adding it to Israeli salad). A few mint plants for good measure. By the time I got home, my bag reeked but I didn’t care.

The most common ramp recipe I found was for pesto, but I wanted to make something slightly different. In the past I’ve sautéed ramps, and this time I went for a chimichurri-like sauce with a dash of vinegar and some red pepper flakes. While the herbs for chimichurri are usually hand chopped and mixed with oil, I sliced my finger earlier in the week (it’s still healing and not very pretty looking) and decided to just throw everything in the food processor for a smoother puree.

I’ve been slathering this on everything from bread to an omelette to fish. And mixed it with yogurt, a bit of mayo, and a squeeze of lemon to dress cabbage slaw. I’m even thinking about trying to make skirt steak to showcase the sauce (you might have noticed that the only been I ever make is braised – I’m sort of scared of ruining a steak).

Ramp chimichurri

Adapted from Vegetarian Ventures and A Couple Cooks. Make sure to clean the ramps really well – they’re not as gritty as leeks, but they are related. The extra step of blanching the leaves will help the sauce retain a bright green color. 

Makes 1 cup

–  approximately 25 ramps (2 -3 bunches)

– 2 T sherry vinegar

– 1/4 C olive oil, plus extra for storage

– 1 t aleppo pepper

– 1/2 t salt

Wash. Separate the leaves from the bulbs. Swish the leaves in a big bowl of water to dislodge any dirt, draining and replacing the water until it runs clear (this may take quite a few repeats). Cut the roots off the bulbs and then remove the outer slimy layer.

Blanche and shock. Make an ice bath. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Drop the leaves in until they wilt, about 10 seconds, and then transfer to the ice bath. Once cool, squeeze as much water as possible from the leaves.

Puree. In a food processor, pulse the ramp leaves and bulbs, vinegar, oil, pepper, and salt until smooth, but not too smooth.

Store. Cover with a thin layer of oil to prevent browning and refrigerate.

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