Monday, December 27, 2010

You Can't Always Get What You Want Winter Salad


...But If You Try Sometime, You Just Might Find, You Get What You Need

The Rolling Stones have been in heavy rotation on the kitchen stereo. The girls absolutely love "Wild Horses," Coral requests it endlessly (literally) and Colby concurs with a beatific smile when it comes on. My favorite lately is "You Can't Always Get What You Want." I think it is a very Buddhist reminder of the way life goes. I was humming it to myself when Craig brought home a new stove.

Craig's dream stove, the one he visits at the local appliance store and rhapsodizes on all the things it would make possible in our modest kitchen, is a six burner, 36" gas cooktop, by Viking. That being far down on our list of priorities with things like insulation ahead of it, he focused on not what he wanted but what he needed. He scoured the resale spots and found a perfect little four burner gas stove, exactly like the standard issue in NYC apartments, to stand side by side with our 1970s electric stove. Eight burners! Gas and electric! Each stove was bought used, each for about $100.- dollars. He was in heaven. Thanksgiving for fifteen guests was what pushed him to action, and it has been a fun and helpful addition to our tiny kitchen-scape.

Every time I look at these modestly handsome siblings, side by side in the kitchen, I start to sing, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need." There are so many, many places in life this is true, this very moment in fact, trying to write with both girls hanging over me, demanding attention, is not the writing moment I would want, but I need the time, so this will do.`

Not quite having what you want, but what you need, happens all the time in cooking. We had friends over recently and Craig set out to make a celery root salad. Realizing mid way that he did not have enough celery root, he looked around the kitchen for what to add to extend the salad. He decided to try a couple of Gold Rush apples. The sweet, tart and slightly chalky apples were a pleasing counter balance to the earthy nuttiness of the celery root. We had what we needed, and it was great.

A Winter Salad

Celery root
Tart apples (such as Gold Rush) 
White (chardonnay or champagne) wine vinegar
Olive oil
Sea salt, powdered cumin & black pepper to taste

Wash and peel celery root and apples. Grate celery root and apples on the largest hole of a box grater. Amounts are about 2/3 celery root to 1/3 apples. Add salt, a small dash of cumin and pepper to taste.  Mix well with hands. Splash in a glug or two of vinegar and about the same of olive oil. Mix well. Let rest about half hour, the grated vegetable and fruit absorb the dressing nicely. And serve!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Season of "Yes"



Coral sat before her gingerbread house. The brown, hard cookies plain and ready. I watched as her chubby finger extended into the cup of frosting, past her knuckle and back out, and straight into her mouth. And so the sugar began. When we arrived I had physically tensed at the huge bowls of every kind of candy, spread like an industrial rainbow on the kitchen counter top. There was enough to recreate any scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It was a child's dreamscape, so bright and colorful, shiny and promising. I, meanwhile, worried about teeth and sugar crashing, about the rest of the day, about Coral's sugar innocence.

Colby has no interest in candy, in anything sweet except yogurt, so this moment with Coral was my first in navigating the addictive, fascinating sugar relationship, parent and child. How much do I let her eat? What if the other mom, my smart, generous friend, and I are on different pages with the volume it is O.K. to eat? Mainly though, I realized, I was thinking of my own self preservation: I was tired, Craig had been gone for nearly two weeks, I knew my patience was already very thin and I worried about how I would deal with a kid bedraggled and bratty from sugar. On a good day Coral and Colby can drive me crazy, what would happen now, after this bonanza, this wild up, and wild down?

And then I looked. I looked at the kids, bewitched by this sumptuous, out of the ordinary spread. I looked around at this home, filled with holiday cheer, Amaryllis bulbs, pine garlands, bright Christmas tree sparkling in the corner, and I decided to just say, "Yes." I did not want to be the aggravated, uptight parent, always full of rules. This was a truly special moment, one that Coral at nearly three years old may very well remember. This was a time for general guidance, how to lay Necco wafers into the frosting to make shingles for instance, but daily rules could relax at the seams a bit.

And my friend and I were on the same page about volume, and both relaxed about it. It was fun for all of us to let go a little. For the kids to have these new tastes and textures: Twizzlers, marshmallows, non pariels, ribbon candy, gum drops. All by 11 a.m. We sat back and gave gentle reminders that the candy was meant to mostly decorate the gingerbread houses. We talked, just a little, about how some sugar is so good and so fun, but if you eat too much it can make you feel pretty yucky and not be fun at all anymore. It is that way with rules too, having rules is good, makes life feel like it makes some kind of sense, but too many can just make you feel, well, yucky, and make you miss out on all the fun of life.

Happy Holidays, may your season of "Yes" be merry and bright.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gnocchi Courage


As I watched Craig making gnocchi for the first time, I thought about how the kitchen is a good place to face your fears. Identifying your fears and finding a path through them is an important skill and cooking can be a forgiving and rewarding place to practice.
Craig starts with reading. He reads cookbooks for fun, for inspiration and for knowledge. The new Canal House had a recipe for gnocchi and several ways to serve it. And his long love, Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook has an extensive recipe for gnocchi. After pouring over these two sources for a few weeks, he was ready.
For me, gnocchi is something to order at a restaurant. Like many things in the dough family, I am too intimidated to explore making it myself. So, I was thrilled that Craig wanted to make at home what I have placed firmly in the “food to have at restaurants” category. And because of my own dough intimidation, I watched Craig especially closely as he took this project on.
There is a stillness to Craig in the kitchen when he is trying something new and particularly ambitious. It is the rare time he is not playing music while he preps and cooks. He organizes his ingredients and finds all the tools. Then, and this is the most interesting part to me, he stands back, in the middle of the kitchen, body facing his work area, and thinks through the whole process. Actually it is much more than thinking it through, he is visualizing it, eyes opening and closing, moving his body, he looks like a conductor going over music in his head.
He has this moment of visualization almost every time he starts to cook. It is the main tool that allows him to overcome the space constraints of our house, and was essential in the tiny kitchen in NYC. However, visualization serves not just a useful but a profound purpose as well, it actually sets the outcome in motion. His ability to visualize the process is probably the reason he has so few real failures in the kitchen.
The gnocchi was delicious. And he learned as he went. Watching the dough come together was magic, and the moment that the gnocchi shapes hit the gently boiling water, and did not fall apart, was triumphant.
As the dark nights of winter envelop us, and the cold pressing in on the windows has us consider our physical fragility, we turn to the kitchen to explore our fears and warm our souls. Find your courage in a gnocchi experiment and ease the grip of the winter cold with a steaming plateful, served with brown butter and sage.
This is a classic recipe that changes little, find one in your favorite source.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Time for CeCe Dove's Cranberries in Zinfandel


Thanksgiving
The day before Thanksgiving, Colby had a seizure while running down the asphalt driveway and landed with all her weight on her face. She scraped along the gravel as she fell. A huge cut and her eyed swelled shut almost instantly. The seizures continued, and so did the falls, until finally, it was time for bed. In the quiet of the night, Craig and I cleaned the house and organized and reorganized all the groceries. We were expecting thirteen people for Thanksgiving dinner. We were more than a little nervous about how to get everything done with Colby seizing and in so much pain from the cuts and swelling.

By the morning, she needed Diastat and Craig and I went into our well oiled triage mindset. We simplified the menu and our vision for how clean and decorated the house would be. Helping the girls find a sense of comfort and peace in the day would be my job, while Craig would orchestrate the feast.

As we negotiated the morning I noticed how grounded in fact we remained, neither of us got emotional, or frustrated about a situation that needed accepting. I thought how this moment, the high expectations of a holiday meal, a house to be filled with thirteen family and friends in a matter of hours, is one where I could easily see a huge fight erupting in the stress. But we did not do that, we stayed on the same team, neither making an enemy of the other.

Coral went to Grandma’s where her endlessly fascinating cousins and uncle were staying, along with her cousin's tiny dog, Cheese. She loves everything about her cousin Cassandra, her long sparkly nails, her Hello Kitty accessories, her voice and vocabulary, but most of all, Coral shines in the attention of this special adult in her life.

Now, for Colby, Diastat, seizures, an injury, only one thing was going to help her find her calm, help her get some distance from the need to cry, and that was a nice long drive. I headed out towards Trumansburg and then Interlaken, taking the high road North. I would drive in one direction until I felt her energy shift, and only then turn around a find a circuitous path home. It took forty five minutes to feel the calm come over her, her body visibly more relaxed, her face, still cut and swollen, but gaining in serenity.

By the time we got home, Colby was fully transitioned to a more peaceful state. She moved from the car, to her stroller where she sat while Craig cooked, enveloped in the smells of butter and sage and Turkey.

I put on the stove my solitary culinary contribution to the meal, CeCe’s Cranberry Sauce. Wine, sugar, cinnamon stick and fresh cranberries. Boiling the sugar and wine down to a syrup I thought about time. Success is often found in giving the time you need to the simplest, most critical ingredients. Today would have been a nightmare without giving Colby the time in a soothing car ride. Without time, this cranberry sauce would be a strange soup. With the time she needed, Colby was able to participate with calm, love and joy in a very fun, and tasty, Thanksgiving feast. With time, this cranberry sauce became a sweet and tart, candied, gleaming red elixir.

CeCe Dove's Cranberries in Zinfandel

1 1/2 c zinfandel wine, any type.
2 c light brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
4 c cranberries washed

Combine wine, sugar and cinnamon and bring to simmer.
Add cranberries, 1 cup at a time until they pop but are still whole. This does not take very long, just a minute or so, depending on if they are cold or room temp.
remove cranberries with slotted spoon to bowl.
When all are cooked, remove cinnamon stick and boil syrup until it is very thick. Then add syrup to bowl of cranberries and serve. Good warm, cool or cold. Awesome leftover condiment!

Three times this amount is one bottle of wine's worth.

CeCe Dove was one of the first cheese-type stores in the Oakland area and she had a column in the local paper.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Glad To Be Tomato Sauce



Sometimes I get dark. The words, concepts and feelings that circle through my mind are incredibly negative, overly worrisome. My day dreaming is more like a nightmare. I feel incompetent and unable. I feel like I have no energy. I feel angry about everything, no buoyancy or humor to be found in my thoughts and feelings. I feel like drinking wine, eating chips and watching t.v. And if I do any of those things, then, handily, I feel bad for wasting my time with escapism.

The anger that crops up as a part of this cycle feels like it is there as something to do, something to feel during the day. Something with some adrenaline and drama. Something that is also numbing in its way. The numbing of drama and anger is that it also takes you away from your feelings, like any other compulsive behavior. I do not want to face first thing in the morning that I feel tired, lonely, overwhelmed, scared, concerned for the future or our family and out of touch with my creativity. I’d rather just go hard on myself, tell myself I am a loser, get short and irritated with the constant demands of the kids, get short and irritated with Craig’s clothes piled on the chair or his music playing loudly.

That is endlessly fascinating to me, this trust of anger and of feeling badly. Why this long cycling away from good habits that feel emotionally and spiritually uplifting, and down into long, dark corridors of self loathing and emotional disconnectedness? So here I am, writing in the morning. The house is sort of clean. There are no pressing errands. I think, in part, what brings me back to finding myself and my well feelings again is embarrassment. I feel too embarrassed to keep doing self destructive stuff. I feel some pull again and again to do what is right for myself. I like to think that the cycles get shorter, but I am not sure. I might dwell in these zones of misery for longer than I realize.

What pulls me back upwards again is a desire for the real feeling of happiness, namely creative satisfaction. To feel that an essay really says something, that is much, much more satisfying than numbing myself and dwelling in anger. It is a subtle negotiation, the conversation with oneself. In the last couple of weeks I first noticed the slow return of anxiety, coming over my thoughts and feelings like nightfall. But a nightfall with no stars or moon, no light at all. After the anxiety, anger edged in. I noticed Coral mimicking me saying, “God, stop it!” in a clenched, breathy tone. If she has heard it enough to repeat it exactly like me, and in context, then I was saying, and feeling, that too often. Then I start to feel angry towards Craig. About two weeks of noticing these things, I finally take the time for a walk in the morning. Then, time to write the next day. Slowly I grope my way through the dark place, this cold cistern, and find my way again. Find my breath. Find my ability to put myself first in constructive moments.

Last night Craig asked what I wanted for dinner. On a good day this leads to a fun conversation, a back and forth on what needs to be eaten, what we had the day before, how the girls have been eating and what they might like to have. On a less good day, like recently, it leads to me feeling put on the spot, left to decide for the family, alone. “Pasta,” Craig said.
“Sure, but not too rich, no Carbonara.”
“I could do rice?”
“The girls might like that, but is there time? Pasta is faster.” It was getting dark and Colby already looked tired.
“I could do the shortcut version, since you don’t want pasta.”
Blood starts to boil. “I did not say that, I said pasta is fine, but I do not want anything totally rich.”
“Garlic and anchovy?”
“Yes, that sounds good.”
A few minutes later, “Tomato?”
My body perks up, no analytic moment, “Yes!” That really does sound great.
“That’s the reaction I needed, thank you.”

That long, annoying moment mirrors the way negotiating with self can go too. I bicker back and forth over something important, like taking time to write, there is a not so constructive back and forth. Then suddenly there is an answer. Just in the act of keeping a conversation going, not shutting down, despite boiling blood and deep annoyance, with self as with partner, just keep talking, keep paying attention. And the answer comes. You will find the dinner idea. You will find the creative moment that makes your heart feel once again buoyant and glad. Glad to be.

Crowd Pleasing, Glad To Be Tomato Sauce

1 28 oz can of San Marzano (or other plum) tomatoes
3 cloves garlic finely minced
1 onion finely diced
sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 salted anchovy rinsed and filleted (oil packed work but salt packed have cleaner taste)
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

In a large stainless steel skillet, sweat the garlic and onions in a glug of olive oil over low heat until soft. Toss in the black pepper, bay leaf, thyme and anchovy. Turn up heat and mash the anchovy with a wooden spoon until it dissolves. Empty the can of tomatoes into the skillet smash each tomato with a fork. turn heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened to a paste-like consistency. Remove from heat and add a splash of olive oil. Serve with you favorite pasta. NOTE: do not use too much sauce, lightly coat the pasta, then put a small amount on top.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Falling


FALL
Have you ever seen a fallen maple leaf scurry across the road on its curled tips, like a tarantula? Did you know that the peppery smell of freshly mulching, fallen leaves is exactly the smell the stem of a fresh cut tea rose leaves on your fingertips?
I have never been happier than this fall, outside of a classroom, outside of a cubicle, outside of the city, watching the leaves actually fall. The graduated change of the color as the nights grow colder and colder. Their individual and collective descent, by type of tree and exposure to wind. Actually seeing the moment the wind storm takes the last of red maple leaves from their dangling perch and sets them aflight. And then the next day, all the broad, golden hickory leaves are a carpet, a crunchy pool of sunlight, on the amber grass.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Five Year Anniversary



November 1 marks five years since Colby’s seizures began. As the seizures continue, we lose hope about them ending. We lose hope about a medication working, we lose hope about surgery working. We lose hope about acupuncture, diet, vitamins, and every therapy we’ve tried. But it is only hope for the seizures stopping that is slipping away from us.

Looking with a straightforward openness to the possibility or likelihood that the seizures will always be with us, we now focus our hope on living with them. Hope for life without them now feels unrealistic. Living with constantly disappointed hope is sad and not a useful place to dwell.

I feel full of promise that we can find our way to live with the seizures. I can accept, with at least occasional grace, the constant flexibility and changing plans. I can treat the injuries from another fall with Arnica and ice, kisses and hugs. I can make our home as soft and forgiving and strong as possible. One day, even Colby’s anguished crying may find a resting place in my heart.

We have transmuted our reasons to celebrate, our very sense of what is a victory. Craig came home from a few days of work in the city and while he was gone Colby really seized a lot. Craig’s return, the girls’ and my joy at him being home, a seizure free day, the ravishing fall color out the dining room window, these are the reasons now to open the champagne. Each day is a victory. Each day we are proud of each other, grateful for each other. There is no more special occasion than today.

Recipe of things to always have in the house for instant celebrations. You never know when you will need the cheer, or when your next victory will arrive, be ready!

Cold champagne or favorite wine
Favorite cheeses
Meaty olives
Fine mustard
Crusty bread or elegant crackers
Sardine or tuna packed in olive oil

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Finding the Way



Crying

Colby’s crying returned. I hear her urgent, afraid cry at four in the morning, Craig goes to soothe her. Five thirty a.m. and the crying starts. I want to pull the pillow over my head, I want to curl up and dissappear. Already, I would give anything for the crying to stop. It is not that I do not want to get up, it is not that the crying itself is so overwhelming, though it is; the root of my instant anxiety is that I know the crying continue all day, and that there is nothing I can do to soothe her.

She cries with the intensity of a collicy infant, but she is five and a half years old. There is a huge, long arc to it, there is a depth of anguish that does not match up with the thin girlish body and round, cherubic face. The sound, the tears, the duration do not add up for a child. To look at and to feel, it does not make sense. And to feel impotent to help her, that is the feeling I try to avoid for a moment, pillow over the head.

Untouched eggs, toast, yogurt, banana all on the table in a still life of attempts. Colby won’t eat or drink. We have to hold her to get her meds in her. Craig and I are like broken glass, rough and abrupt, quick to wound. He is tired and breathing in short exasperated sighs. She’s already had four seizures. I feel anger mount about everything. Every way Craig does not ask for help, every little whine from Coral, and every desperate, shouting yell from Colby.

I notice my anger and I see no way out, through or around. This will be a rough day. I start the inventory of things to remember: look out the window at the last of the fall color; pause before responding to Coral, do not snap, find the tender awareness that she is a tiny child, and then help her, hug her; remember Craig and I are on the same team, we are both wanting to find our way together, do not turn him in to the enemy. Pause and make choices before responding and reacting. The choices I feel like I have about how to be with the crying feel large, clunky and basic.

The crying comes with the seizures and the seizures mean that she has lost her motor plan and basically cannot walk. Immobility and her frustration are linked. Managing her anguish becomes the day’s focus. Even though the crying seems to have its own life cycle, of course we try everything to soothe her. We hold her, we carry her, we play her favorite music, we check for splinters, we take her for long drives.

By the end of the day I want the anesthesia of wine, I want another pillow over my head, I want to feel like there is something soft and buoyant and glowing between me and the harsh feelings and needs of the day. I notice the feeling, the desire to dissappear a little into another state, and so I watch that too.

The day ends how it started: watching. Watching my words, watching my wine, watching myself in the endless work of love and motherhood. Craig and I finally catch each others’ eyes. And we acknowledge our work, a sincere congratulation to navigating a hard day. And as Colby quiets and prepares for sleep, the hope for a better tomorrow is palpable in the house.

Monday, October 25, 2010

(Sea) Salt and (Sichuan) Pepper



"Let's talk about sex, baby..." Salt-N-Peppa, 1990

I have been talking with women friends, both with kids and without, and the absence of sex drive. My friend and I were speaking of the absence of desire itself. We both have handsome, loving husbands. It is not an issue of trust, love or looks. It is more fundamental, more physiological. To hold the initial days, years, of sexual desire and activity level as some sort of relational gold standard is not useful. We are different, new people today. We have a family, we have work, we travel, we are older, and we know each other a lot better. And the things we’ve been through. Trust has been broken and repaired, we have made impossible decisions together, we have stayed together.

Thinking about the desire conversations, I realized there are a lot of things I love that I initially do not want to do. Every time I am getting ready for a dance class, considering a morning walk, or getting ready for a riding lesson, there is a consistent wavering and I think about skipping out. Facing making dinner, having friends over, getting out of the house for a movie; there are many moments of an initial feeling of resistance to things that I really love, this window of feeling like it is all too much bother. I feel like I can do it later, that there will be a more perfect, inspired moment.

Sex and dance class, I am not comparing the activities, but rather the similar feelings of resistance and relief and joy around them both. When I do say yes to sex with my partner, I am always, always glad that I have, that we have connected. But, since having two children together, I would almost always rather do something else, something that requires less of me to show up. Like clean the house, mark things off my to do list, read, take a nap. It is not that I do not want to be with him, it is that most of the time it feels like all the other places in life that need work are more urgent. Of the two needs, the dishes or my partner, why are the dishes more important? Dishes are not more urgent or important; they are easier.

Now, to show up for this person, it is a deeper place. It is not the coy, hopeful seduction of the early days. It is not fantasy and best foot forward. It is not the merging, the becoming one of falling in love. It is not the sublime aphrodisiac of making babies. Now I see the man I have come to know. He is no longer a fantasy person who can do no wrong. It is not that sexual desire is gone, it is that the whole game has changed.

Now we both want to merge with each other, to live united and in love, and we both want to simultaneously find ourselves, explore the terrains of our psychology, our spiritual paths, and our creative lives. Oh, yes, and there are also those kids to love and raise, to clothe and feed and nurture.

I love my partner and I love it when we connect. Just like I love dance class and the euphoric feeling of freedom and endorphin rush I find there too. But I resist because I am not a ball of energy and there are multiple layers of demand in any moment. Now, I have to go deep to gear up my concentration. Arousal and desire take work, effort and concentration.

And once the work is underway, that initial step of committing to the moment, comes the awe of the reward. The spiritual depth of being held and holding another, your beloved partner. The physical hum of nerve endings tantalized by touch. The gleeful triumph of having made the time to indulge in each other, just for you. It is a luxury! How easy this is to forget. That to live with love and the promise of connection is a precious gift.

We do not have forever, that is a fact. Let us savor, even if at first we don’t want to, let us savor the person in front of us, and follow the promise of being together, for the moment.

And a little aphrodisiac to help:
Mousse Au Moka Et Poivre from Raquel Carena
1/4 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp ground coffee beans
4 oz 70%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 large egg whites
1 Tbsp sugar

Grind peppercorns with mortar and pestle. Bring coffee and cream and pepper to a simmer in a small pan. Remove from heat and let steep, covered, 30 minutes. Strain cream through fine mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing on solids. Melt chocolate in a large bowl. Stir in cream. Cool slightly. Beat egg whites with sugar until they just hold stiff peaks. Fold into chocolate mixture gently but thoroughly. Spoon mousse into glasses and chill at least 3 hours.
Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Store Up the Sun



The pear tree in the back  yard is the first to show fall.  Sprinkled throughout the green are golden yellow, eyed shaped leaves. We had a cool week, lots of rain and foggy days. One morning, sitting at the outside table with Coral drinking tea, I gazed across the land at the pear tree. 

I looked at the light smattering of yellow in an otherwise still solid green landscape. The wind was blowing, but some of the yellow leaves looked like they were actually darting around. Training my eyes over the distance I slowly came to see that in with the yellow leaves were also darting yellow shapes, not leaves but bright yellow Goldfinches. As I watched it slowly came into focus: a cocaphany of thirty, fifty maybe a hundred goldfinches, too fast, too tiny and too many to count, in the tree. 

They were elated, eating with their tiny beaks the ripe pears hanging on every branch.  The yellow birds flying up and out and all around, eating the pears was beacon to the fast arriving autumn. Before the leaves fall, before the grey, white and earthen brown of winter, before the birds and bugs fly away or go to sleep, the colors dazzle us one final time. 

The birds and bugs dance and feast on the sugar and stored up sunshine in the fall fruit.  All the while, the leaves change their colors, yellow, pink, red, orange, alerting our eyes, our bodies to that arrival of cooling nights.

Air out the blankets, darn the socks, can the peaches. Learn from these tiny dancing teachers, the crickets and the goldfinches. Store up the sun. Dance one last time barefoot on the grass. Winter is coming. But now, the feast of Autumn.

Here is a recipe from Cooks Illustrated that my friend says is SO good, I will make it soon with the last of the Italian Plums appearing at the market.

Rustic Plum Cake, Published July 1, 2007
Serves 6 to 8

This recipe works best with Italian plums, which are also called prune plums. If substituting regular red or black plums, use an equal weight of plums, cut them into eighths, and stir them a few times while cooking. Arrange slices, slightly overlapped, in two rings over surface of cake. Do not use canned Italian plums. Blanched whole almonds can be used but must be processed 30 seconds longer until finely ground. The brandy can be omitted, but then you will need to melt the jam with 1 tablespoon water before adding the plums. Don’t add the leftover plum cooking liquid to the cake before baking; reserve it and serve with the finished cake or over ice cream. The cake can be served with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons red currant jelly or seedless raspberry jam
3 tablespoons brandy
1 pound Italian prune plums (about 10 large or 14 small), halved and pitted (see note above)
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (3 3/4 ounces), plus additional for dusting pan
3/4 cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
1/3 cup slivered almonds (1 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
1 large egg , room temperature
1 large egg yolk , room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
Confectioners' sugar for serving

Instructions
1. Cook jam and brandy in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until reduced to thick syrup, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and place plums cut-side down in syrup. Return skillet to medium heat and cook until plums shed their juices and thick syrup is again formed, about 5 minutes, shaking pan to prevent plums from sticking. Cool plums in pan, about 20 minutes.

2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9-inch springform pan. Process sugar and almonds in food processor until nuts are finely ground, about 1 minute. Add flour, baking powder, and salt; pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand, about ten 1-second pulses. Add eggs, vanilla, and almond extract (if using) and process until smooth, about 5 seconds, scraping bowl once if needed (batter will be very thick and heavy).

3. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter evenly to pan edges and smooth surface. Stir plums to coat with syrup. Arrange plum halves, skin-side down, evenly over surface of batter. Bake until cake is golden brown and wooden skewer inserted into center comes out with few crumbs attached, 40 to 50 minutes. Run paring knife around sides of cake to loosen. Cool in pan on wire rack until just warm or to room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Remove cake from pan and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into wedges and serve.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Love and Learn



I see now that for the first three years of Colby's life, one of an almost constant state of anxiety about her health, I saw being her mother as a severe limitation. I felt like my life was suddenly in a straightjacket of worry that would never end. As it would be in a straightjacket, I could not move my arms to embrace what was happening. I stayed clumped in my closed, afraid state, and worried. Worried about her breathing through the night. Worried about what would happen when I was no longer here to protector her. Worried about rent. Worried about how to ever find myself again within this radical new reality. The episodic and yet near constant state of emergency with the seizures was blinding. Even still, when they start up, it is almost all I can see.

Colby woke up late in the night with a cry and her seizures started up. She would miss school. Craig needed to work, I would pack the girls up and clear out of the house so he could concentrate. It was a hot day so we headed to our friends' house on the lake. As I drove into this unexpected day, Coral narrating every single thing we passed, Colby half asleep in her seat, I felt totally calm, content in the moment.

Out at our friends' Colby continued to seize. They loved her, held her on their laps, made quesadillas, hoped to get a little food in her. Coral played in the water, ate jelly beans and stayed close to my legs. After a few seizures, Colby had one that lasted a little longer than usual, she jerked more, turned blue, and made a distressing, loud gasping sound. Coral got really scared. I turned Colby's head so her airway was clear, and then I focused on Coral during Colby's postictal semi-passed out phase which lasts about a minute.

I hugged Coral and looked her in the eyes. Her worry and fear right there on her face, in her tiny knitted brow, she is just two and a half years old. And we talked. "That scary of me when Colby does that." Translation, "That scared me." "Yes baby, that is scary." "Yea." In for another hug. And then, "Maybe Colby wants a jelly bean." And in that moment, that unlikely, painful, brilliant display of child love and logic, my heart felt as big as the lake before us. I felt so, well, I felt free, emotionally free. The straightjacket, at some point in the last two years, has eased off.

Craig and I talk about the evolution of the straightjacket phase, to now feeling that being Colby and Coral's mom is not only a dream come true, but has actually made dreams come true. Long before Colby and motherhood, I had another sort of straightjacket on, one of shame, fear and self consciousness about being myself. I am and have always been an artist. To admit to that dream and claim that title, artist, writer, was an impossible risk that I did not have the strength to take.

Until I met Colby. Her strength; the child who can keep her spirits buoyant while in a hospital bed; the child who gives over to her crying, her frustration, with open howls and fat, salty tears rolling down her cheeks. She struggles to eat and play and smile even at her most neurologically overwhelmed. She is a warrior, or as our friend Toshi calls her, The Warrior Princess. In learning to care for her, to know her and love her we have all had to, been able to, become warriors ourselves. The courage necessary in mothering has opened a stream of courage into other parts of myself, my life, long repressed.

I walked in to the house, home from our day of friends, lake, jelly beans and seizures and I was actively noticing how happy I felt. I felt so happy to feel able to care for my girls. I felt happy about how Coral and I had communicated, I felt happy that we had such generous, loving friends to visit at the lake, I felt happy that I was able to be strong for Colby and that I knew just how she likes to be held after a seizure. Listening, being present with what is, opening your heart to find, with determination, the beauty and love that is everywhere, this is a deep and personal success. The straightjacket is off, arms are open wide, holding these two girls, and the worlds within them.

At the end of such a day, an instant "fast food" dinner is called for. The Fish Taco Feast is a family favorite. Learned from a doctor friend, this nourished him through medical school. This dinner takes as long as it takes to heat up fish sticks, about 15 minutes.

Fish sticks, we like Natural Sea brand Cod Fish Fillets
Corn or flour tortillas, the smaller size, not burrito size
Shredded cabbage, cilantro, sliced onion
Shriracha Mayo (See May 15 for recipe)
Plain, good quality mayo mixed with anchovies and pickles as an improv tartar sauce for the kids

Thursday, September 23, 2010

You Say Soup



This most recent trip to the hospital was the very first time in the five and a half  years of Colby's life that just one of us went with her. Colby and Craig went and Coral and I stayed home. I felt confident in Craig and worried only about his sleep. I arranged for friends to visit and relieve him and provide some variation during the long days in the small hospital room.

However confident I felt at our initial decision that just he would go down, I started to reflect on the fact of that confidence more and more as the days stretched by. I felt amazed, awed by it. I feel truly, absolutely confident in my partner to take our young daughter all the way to NYC to the hospital for testing, medication changes and multiple meetings with the neurology team.  I felt totally confident that he would make the right decisions for her and for us, that he would call me, include me, be honest with me and be her absolute protector. That I, her highly involved mother, could surrender with a state of calm, almost no anxiety, was a real revelation to me about the state of trust and communication between Craig and I.

I told him how grateful I felt that such a potentially stressful time and decision felt so clear.  For all my episodic fantasies of worry, I had no core, gut anxiety.  It felt extraordinary, a large ripe fruit of our work together. I told him I loved him, and that I was grateful for him and for the family we have together.

We did not talk about it again until after our first dinner when they were finally back home.  After the kids were asleep and we were recapping all the events of our respective time, he told me how much that meant to him, that I had felt that trust and confidence and that I had communicated my feelings.  He said it sustained and nourished him and made him feel so loved.

It would have been easy for me not to communicate my love and confidence. First of all, it seemed obvious, after all, I had stayed home, that surely implied a trust. And I wasn't grilling him and micromanaging, so that also relays trust. And we were both busy, each with a kid and all our work, and there was so much to talk about with just the hospital updates, doctor meetings, Colby's withdrawal off a drug, the seizure reports. Maybe it was because it was so obvious and we talked and shared our love anyway, in such a critical time, that the message meant so much.

At a critical moment, like the hospital trust and communication are necessary. But there are the trillions of daily moments too, surprising, practical places that trust and communication smooth the way, like when we talk about what to have for dinner. 

A cool, early fall evening, I am yearning for soup. There is a Kubocha squash that needs to be cooked, some corn and potatoes. Craig asks for ideas for dinner, and I say soup. He listens. And in speaking and listening, the soup comes to be. 

Words of love and appreciation combined with his love and appreciation for my love and appreciation, and soon you have an exponential love, an expanding and blooming of love that quickly surpasses the quiet, personal and internal state of love.  The love we have when shared grows beyond our imagination. Then as that shared love is witnessed your whole life is bigger, warmer and feels, nestled in your chest, like a nourishing bowl of soup, feeding this hunger and craving for love, to love and be loved.

You Say Soup Recipe

about 2 cups of fresh cranberry beans
corn/corn cream (4 ears)
5 medium small potatoes
onions
1 medium-small Kubocha squash-oven roasted, or any rich, golden squash
chicken stock or water
celery leaves (from the heart) shredded
salt & pepper to taste
bay leaf & fresh thyme
butter
olive oil

Shell the cranberry beans, put in a pot with enough water to cover by a few inches. Add a bay leaf or two, some sprigs of thyme, a medium carrot cut into large pieces, a medium onion halved and a good glug of olive oil. Cook slowly until tender, skimming continually. You could also use chicken stock instead of water.

Cut and seed the squash. Cut into large chunks. Season with salt and pepper. Put on a baking sheet into an oven pre-heated to 425. Bake until browned and done but make sure the flesh is still firm. Remove from the oven and when cool enough to handle, remove the skin and dice about 1/2" cubes and reserve.

Meanwhile cut the potatoes into about 1/2" dice and saute in olive oil until almost done. Remove from pan, cool and reserve.

Remove the kernels from 2 ears of corn and blanch for about a minute in rapidly boiling, lightly salted water. Skim any bit that come to the surface. Cool them in cold water and rinse again. Set aside on a kitchen towel.

When the beans are tender check the broth for seasoning and adjust to taste. Add the potatoes and continue to simmer slowly.

Take the kernels off the other 2 ears of corn and put in a blender with about a tablespoon of water and puree. Strain through a chinois into a bowl, pressing gently (but not forcing) with a wooden spoon. Pour the filtered liquid into a small pot and heat over medium -low heat while whisking. When the starch in the corn begins to thicken add about 4 or 5 tablespoons of butter (in chunks) while continuing to whisk. Add the reserved blanched kernels and remove from heat. (See Thomas Keller's "The French Laundry Cookbook" for exhaustive detail on creamed corn process.)

Stir the reserved "creamed corn" into the soup. Then add the shredded celery leaves to the corn, potato, bean mixture.

To serve, ladle soup into large bowls. top each bowl with some of the roasted squash and serve. you can always add pieces of bacon or pancetta as well!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Market Love and Rabbit In a Pan



Market Love: a gratitude for the farmers, the customers, the relationship between producer and consumer, the participation in a viable, vibrant economy; a feeling of hope and of connection to place.

Walking through the market today, filled with Market Love, I was thinking about an article I'd read in the New York Times about an episode of provincialism turned violent - between two chefs - in Portland Oregon.  The chef who threw the first punch was angry because another chef had not used local meat in a cooking competition. It made me wonder about the extent of my attitudes. Do I share the adamant views of this chef, local being absolutely better? Or was my Market Love pure?

We as a family eat mostly local meat, produce, dairy and grain.  Olive oil, salt, pepper and wine are consistently from afar.  We are of these consumption habits becasue we like the discipline of it, and because it makes sense to us both physiologically and environmentally. But is it that simple? Do I really keep it that personal? Or, did I secretly want to sock people buying asparagus from Argentina in May at Wegmans, when the fields a few miles away were filled with that very crop? Apples from New Zealand in September? Thinking honestly about it, that does make me clench my jaw. Not throw a punch, but there is some emotion there, I'll admit it.

Here in Ithaca, the Farmers Market is glorious.  I love arriving, anticipating what will be fresh from the earth, filling the stalls.  I love to know, to thank and acknowledge the people who have raised the food, who have ordered the seed in January, thought out their season's flow of produce from field to market, who work long hours in the elements, raise their families and earn their living in the arduous path of independent farming. 

It has been several weeks and many markets of examining my attitudes - how alike this chef was I? - and I keep coming up with the same answer. When I invite a friend to meet us at the market and they say they did their shopping already, at the chain grocery store, I am surprised that they aren't also riveted and curious about the landscape. But rather than yelling into the phone, I invite them to dinner.

My conclusion, I do share some of the ego of this pugalistic chef. Only our touch is different.  My love and curiosity of place is genuine, and I want to share that, sweetly.  I am motivated not by a feeling of market and local being better than, but by my experience that it tastes, and feels, so, so good. Here, a complete market meal:

Rabbit In a Pan (from the great Ed Giobbi)

a rabbit 3-4 lbs
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup or so olive oil
4 cloves garlic chopped
1 tablespoon rosemary
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
any combination of vegetables, pictured here is escarole, potatoes, lima beans

Cut the rabbit into serving pieces (legs, thighs, saddle...) and put the pieces in a cast iron skillet in one layer. Do not add oil! Start the rabbit on low heat, turning, until the external moisture on them evaporates. Increase heat as moisture is drawn out.

Add the other ingredients and simmer, covered, over medium heat until rabbit is tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. add more wine if pan becomes dry.
NOTE: this process seem truly bizarre, but have faith! there is a magical moment when the rabbit goes from looking dull and grey to a lovely shade of brown very near the end. it is delicious. Try to find a great source for the rabbit (or raise them your self!) Markets are a great place to find well raised rabbits.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Home In Time for Lima Beans


Colby and Craig got back from the hospital yesterday. It was a long week there for them, and a long week here at home for us without them. The kids were literally ecstatic to see each other again. They stood in front of each other and screamed in high pitched, mono syllabic greetings interspersed with laughter. Their broad open smiles like huge slices of peaches, shiney and sweet. Colby stomped her foot and Coral stomped hers back. Craig and I tried to kiss, but we were laughing so deeply watching the girls that we could just lean on each other in embrace, tears down our cheeks.

At dinner we talked about the hospital, Craig told me about the families they'd met this time. It is a stunning sort of connection you make in the hospital. The families we have connected with over the years are people we have never spoken with again but feel extremely close to, they become part of the fabric of our family's prayers, we send them love and hope when they cross our minds, they enter our mythology of survival, we draw on their stories, the strength of their hearts when we feel weak.

The hallway is where many of these piercing connections with families happen. When you have a break from being "plugged in" to your IV or your EEG, there is only the square track of the hallway, the nurses station in the center, to wander. Craig told us about the little two year old with cancer who loved to run. Every few hours Craig would hear a clamor and see the boy fly by the doorway, gown flapping, IV poles careening behind him, then his grandmother and mother, chasing, alarmed but familiar with the chase.

On Colby's last day, when at last she could run around, there was teenaged girl and her father that they passed several times on the hallway circuit. After the third pass, they stopped and talked. Craig did not go into detail about their conversation, but about the feeling that passed between them. The kids, toddlers to teenagers, in the pediatric wards have a grace and an elegance about them. Maybe it is the studied, measured carriage that physical pain requires, but I think it is also something more internal. Even the youngest seem to have glimpsed at the mortality of self in a way that you simply cannot see without being there yourself.

The parents, they carry the bravery, the bottomless sadness, the awareness of loss, and their hope and faith. Both parent and child are present in a way, and that presence feels different in each. Perhaps that is why the connections go so through the layers of niceties and straight into your heart, there is no tuning out here. You are alive. Tired, bedraggled, overwhelmed, but alive. And you look, you gaze with absolute clarity at how it is that this other family, this other child and parent, are doing it, how is it that they are shouldering their burden, how is it that they are finding beauty. In the stark realism of the hospital, there is grace, elegance, bravery, sadness, awareness of loss, hope and faith. And the beauty of love: when you see it, it shines.

As we talked we ate a succotash and rice. Craig had needed the slow, methodical, simple work of the kitchen. He peeled a mountain of Lima beans, just arriving in season; scraped corn off the cob, and diced the carrots, onions, and leeks; all cooked in the slow, glistening fat of slab bacon cut into cubes. A sprinkle of thinly sliced basil on top before serving. The combination was colorful and textural: the earthy, interior flavor of fresh Lima's, the sweet corn and carrots, salty bacon. Served with simple white rice.

It was the mixture itself, one flavor against, or with, another that made the dinner delicious. The salty and the sweet, the interior and the flowering. As it is in the hospital, and in life, in love with each other, and in love with our kids: the bottomless sadness when faced with loss is born of the enormity of our love; our interior hopes become the grace that carries us through the world.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

How Friendship Sweetens Everything



As we ate the yummy omelette at Janet's, we talked about canning. Janet does all kinds of pickles, olives and her plum jam is legendary. She gave me a jar last year from small yellow plums that I opened in February, and it got me through the hardest part of winter. Serena had taken Janet and I to a roadside stand in Watsonville that had organic stone fruit. The day we went we found peaches and Black Amber plums. We were all very excited to do a batch of peach and basil preserve, the Patience Gray recipe.

One evening shortly after we had all canned our peaches and basil, Janet called with an idea: nectarine and lemon basil preserve. Janet, an exceptional landscape architect, had some lemon basil in her garden, and nectarines were just coming in to season.

Canning day was bright and sunny with a cool wind rising up off the ocean. We washed our jars, rims and lids, stood side by side and cut up the nectarines, measured out the sugar, and left the sugar and fruit to sit. I went into Janet's garden to take photographs in the late afternoon light. The light was caught in little puddles in the wild rose bush, sifting through the large fig leaves, illuminating arranged still lifes of beach rocks and low round bowls of succulents. Janet called through the kitchen window, "Come look at this!"

Inside, she was transferring the nectarines and sugar into a larger bowl. The bowl was upturned in her hands and the sun through the window illuminated a pool of pink, glistening sugar. Her smile, her rapt attention to this color, this moment, the beautiful confluence of ingredients: this is the presence Janet brings to her life that makes knowing her such a joy.

And this time together will be what I think of when I am home again in my new home, New York. I will recall this memory of California, of the place and the people that I miss so steadily. I will feel my love for my friends, family, place, and the love will fill my heart, like so much glistening, pink sugar in the bottom of the bowl.

Janet's Nectarine and Lemon Basil Preserve:
Use a combination of ripe and slightly under ripe (harder) nectarines. Cut into chunks and put in bowl big enough to mix in sugar. Most canning recipes call for about equal parts sugar to fruit, we used less than that. For each cup of fruit, as 1/3-1/2 cup sugar. For each cup fruit, add two tablespoons lemon juice. Stir this mixture together and let sit overnight in fridge. The next day, cook at a simmer. Gently mash with potato masher. Do not boil or overcook. Leave some nectarine texture. Cook until you see it start to glisten and the fruit is starting to dissolve. You will see the "glisten" moment. It is like the difference between water and frozen water, obvious to the eye. It is then that the fruit and sugar have thoroughly united, or jelled. Swirl in lemon basil, one nice stalk for about four cups of fruit. Place a few leaves in bottom of each jar. Ladle fruit into sterile jars and water bath can for 10 minutes.
Good on toast and with yogurt. And very good with cheese, use it as you would a quince or fig jam with cheese.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lunchtime Omelette by Janet


Homesick is a word that means more to me as time passes. It is so accurate. Distance from home is an ache, a malady, and in some ways it is also a beautiful gift. I hold my homesickness close to my chest after all these years, I don't cry like I used to at photographs of the ocean and my family. Missing home is something that you have to commune with once in a while, a wound that needs to be acknowledged and cared for, and when you do, there is a great and beautiful reward. The reward is the presence that you then bring when at last, you are home.

When I get home to California, I look forward to the people and places that I love, and I savor my time. All the things that I ache for are suddenly before me and I feel so, so grateful. The Pacific glitters like greatest jewel my eyes know. And my people, friends and family. When I hug my friends and tears rush up, I feel acutely how much I miss home. I miss the tender "ooohh" my friend Janet says when we first embrace. I miss my sister's ability to have a whole conversation while we are still standing in a hug, chins resting on each others shoulders. I miss the way Vanessa likes to hold hands while we walk. I miss the way my mom totally connects with my kids, she knows them as if she sees them everyday. I miss Rosina's laugh, she surrenders to giggle fits and I feel seven again. This is a short list, the people, the web of love and shared history is the gem, the sun at the center of my personal solar system.

The first friend I saw in Santa Cruz was Janet. Coral and I were invited to her house for lunch. She was slicing and stirring while we talked, and we were so happy to see each other again. Her husband Mark came home for lunch and we moved to the little outdoor table just off the kitchen. Janet put on the table an iron skillet containing a beaming, yellow omelette. She cut it into slices and the layers of color and vegetable showed through the edges. In the sun, fig trees and rose bushes draping around the borders of the garden, with my little girl and our friends, I was awash with love for life. And, love for eggs. Eggs are so purely nourishing and satisfying. This was a perfect lunch for kids and adults. And I think that sometimes a great, satisfying meal with only a little clean up and minimal fuss is important because it gives you more time to enjoy each other. An omelette is a great choice for such a time: breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Here is Janet's omelette (or torta) recipe and some omelette philosophy, in her own words:

The omelette or torta it is a great way to use up odds and ends in the fridge.  
For this one, I sliced some dense, waxy potatoes thin and sauteed them in olive oil with some sliced red onion and red pepper flakes until everything is nice and soft.  
Then I beat 4-5 eggs, added some sliced roasted artichoke hearts and poured the mixture into the skillet (cast iron) making sure there was some olive oil in the bottom.  
Then, when eggs are mostly set, I took it off the flame, sprinkled the top with crumbled goat cheese, and put under the broiler a bit till set.  I added salt to everything while cooking
Note: After adding the egg mixture to skillet, always turn the heat way down and let it cook slowly! No brown egg bottom for us! And, swizzle some more olive oil around the edges of the pan when the egg is mostly set but still a little runny on top, before placing in broiler.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Very Grown Up Float



After lunch on an intensely hot, stifling day, there were berries that needed savoring. Berries picked when ripe have a brief window before starting to mold. In this heat, they wouldn’t make it to dinnertime. We could can them, freeze them, or enjoy them immediately.

The combining of flavor, texture, smell and temperature is a simple way to describe the act and art of cooking. A bowl of berries is one experience: room temperature, their color and texture and smell unique, simple and subtle. Sometimes a raspberry is just sweet or sour and leaves a lot of seeds in your teeth. And sometimes there is a quiet, commanding wash of floral taste and smell, a sweetness of concentrated sunlight and sugar.

I asked what did we have in the house that could help fulfill the experience of the berries. First I floated them in a glass of Pellegrino water. That was pretty, and good, but needed something else. Bubbles and fruit led me to remember a small amount of vanilla ice cream left in the fridge.

Ice cream, then the berries, then Pellegrino poured slowly into the glass. This combination fulfilled and then expanded the potential of each ingredient. The popping bubbles and the ice cream in the heat served as a metaphorical backdrop to the fleeting, fresh berries. The float also literally buoyed the berries, letting them float a few at a time into a sip or spoonful enhancing the feeling of their flavor and texture.

At the table watching Coral methodically sop up her float, nose crinkling at the bubbles, naming the colors of the blueberries, red raspberries, Jewel black raspberries, and pink currants, the rare sensation of truly sugary sweet ice cream, I compared this tender, summer moment of her childhood to the life of the berries.

Time, as we all know, does nothing but march forward. Seasons show us that things we love come back. In the ice and sleet and cabbage of January we know that July will come and bring her tender leaf lettuces and berries. But we as people, the phases of our lives, we change absolutely. Coral still has the rotund belly of childhood, but every day I see it thinning out to look more and more like her lanky big sister’s.

The precious seasons of babyhood and toddlerdom, these pass by and do not return. We grow bigger and lose our milky sweet smells. We have dirt under our nails and giggle fits grow less frequent. But tastes and experiences can bring out the feeling of wonder and adventure that is childhood. While we grow big and our bodies change ever so much, we can always combine bubbles, berries and ice cream, and on a hot summer day, feel like kids again.

Blue Cheese and Summer's Tomatoes



This salad is so simple and so perfect. When I read it in the summer 2010, volume number 4, "Canal House" it seemed so obvious a combination I just couldn't believe I'd never had it. I read the recipe before our first local, giant, delicious, sun ripened tomatoes arrived. I held this recipe in my apron pocket, ready for the tomato, the irrefutable harbinger of summer. As I waited, I contemplated blue cheese.

Blue cheese has a wonderful association with friendship for me: standing in Meredith's Grandma's 1950's, canary yellow linoleum kitchen, staring at a hunk of blue cheese, each of us ready, with daring in our hearts, to cross from the cheddar of childhood to the blue cheese of adulthood. We were only eleven or twelve, but we knew that, for sure, imminently, our life was to be a whirl of glamour and cocktail parties, both of us glittering wits in swishing skirts and smart jackets. And for this, we had to prepare. First, by appreciating blue cheese.

We tasted it. We loved it, sincerely. The sharp creaminess, the crumbly texture, the demanding presence on the tongue. We sliced giant, freezing cold, green grapes into circles and stacked them on Wheat Thins, and topped it with a crumble of blue cheese. The flavor, the smells, the ingenuity of our chic, towering recipe, we knew life was only going to get better and better.

Awaiting the tomatoes, I found a blue cheese from Northland Dairy at the Farmers Market. I told Mary Rose the recipe it laid in wait to be used in and she exclaimed, "I don't have my summer Canal House yet!" And suddenly, we connected a little more, knowing our shared love for Canal House. I told her the issue was a dream, and as if saving the story line of a heavenly movie, restrained myself from telling her anymore.

Finally, tomatoes arrived at Brownie's fruit stand,and the next day at Ludgates. I made the salad. It was like falling in love: life felt more complete. As I ate, as slow as a turtle, savoring, savoring, I wondered if the Canal House Gals as we call them, knew Mary Rose and Northland Dairy. If they do not, I am sure it would be love. Their hearts are the same. The blue cheese is so, so good. The balance of salt, the texture, it is alive in your mouth. To quote the Avett Brothers "I hope I don't sound to insane when I say..." but, I feel like you can taste the reverence Northland Dairy has for its animals, for the process of its supremely hand crafted production. And that is how the Canal House Gals are, they care.

They care and they share their deep knowledge, the beautiful yields of their refined, elegant work. And, they are friends. Which inspired me to serve this salad to my friend, in honor of her thirtieth birthday. Across from a table set for lunch, with tall glasses of champagne beading up in the humidity, I could see her senses pause as she looked at the combination of tomato, anchovy and blue cheese. Then she took a bite and said, "I could eat this everyday." Everyday that the tomatoes are from plants nearby, raised in dirt, in the sun, we will. Eat well, savor the season, enjoy friendships.

Sliced Tomato Salad With Blue Cheese and Anchovies

Big, ripe tomatoes
Blue cheese
Anchovies, salt packed tastes best
the best olive oil you can find
red wine vinegar
garlic
salt
pepper

Mince small garlic clove and combine with one tablespoon vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in 3-4 tablespoons olive oil.
Arrange two or three fat tomato slices on plate, and spoon dressing over them. Lay blue cheese, then anchovies. Season with more salt or pepper.
Because this is not mixed or blended and the proportions are important, plate each individual serving.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Zucchini, Fava and Goat Cheese Salad


July 16

Make this salad now with the tiny yellow zucchini squash of early summer. It is a fresh, unique way to experience a tender, precious moment of the season.

We first read of this salad in David Tanis's "a platter of figs." The only thing you really have to do is respect the tenderness of the young zucchini, cut or shave it very thin and handle it gently. After that, it is prime for a myriad of variations.

Favas or fresh peas, basil or mint, mild or slightly stronger crumbly cheeses. Young, sweet red onions, or small, mild white ones.

Fresh favas are worth the effort. Their texture, taste, smell, the brightness of their green, they are a potent and generous bean. You will probably be competing with the local chefs for the fava supply, make a deal with your vendor to at least save you a pint!

Soon the zucchini will all be large, every gardener drumming up ways to use them and people to give them too. Before the larger ones become zucchini bread and the Ratatouille of late summer, early fall, seize this tiny window, of the tiny squash.

Young Yellow Summer Squash Salad, as pictured here

4 or 7 small yellow zucchini
a handful of squash blossoms
about 1/2 cup of fava beans (cleaned, quickly blanched and skin around bean removed)
1 small new sweet red onion, sliced
1 lemon
sea salt and black pepper
some ricotta salata or mild feta or other crumbly goat cheese
a bit of basil or mint sliced into extremely thin ribbons (optional)
some really good olive oil

Wash and wipe the zucchini squash. Cut off the ends. Using a sharp knife, a mandoline or a vegetable peeler, shave each into thin ribbons (lengthwise) and set aside. Prep the favas by removing the beans from their pods, then blanching the beans in boiling water for a few seconds. Dunk the beans in ice water. Remove beans from their skins by pinching a tiny bit of skin off the end and gently (but firmly) squeezing the bright green fava out.
Just before serving season the zucchini with salt and pepper to taste, toss in the favas and, if using, basil and onion. Splash with olive oil and mix. squeeze in the juice from about 1/2 lemon (check for taste) and adjust seasoning to taste.
Heap onto a platter. Tear the petals of the blossoms over the salad and crumble the cheese of your choice on top. If using a harder feta, you can shave ribbons of cheese, using that handy vegetable peeler again, which looks very pretty with the ribbons of squash and blossoms.

Red Oak Leaf, Cucumber, Blueberry Salad


July 15
When Craig served this salad, I had not been paying attention to the kitchen at all. I was juggling the girls, feeding them little snacks after a long day of school and play, hanging the laundry out to dry instantly in the summer heat, and sipping at a rose wine with "Jewel" black raspberries, floating like deep purple clouds, in the glass.

The Oak Leaf from Red Tail Farm was heaped in the salad bowl. Craig tossed the salad and served it, filling the plates to their outermost edge. I noticed the cucumber, the first we'd had, bought from a table outside a house along the lake, with an honor box, seventy five cents. And then, tucked into the dark green and red edges of the lettuce, blueberries.

The combination of the texture and flavor: crunchy, slightly bitter lettuce; crisp, watery, mild cucumber; bright, sweet blueberry; balanced oil and vinegar dressing with a not too acidic vinegar. The sizes of things mattered too: the slender, elegant lettuce was not chopped, it was torn in half, or thirds so it filled your mouth, the slices of peeled cucumber gave a broad, fresh splash of water, and the whole blueberries a small, delightful pop of sweet in the bite.

It is very fun to be surprised. It does not take much to bring your senses fully in to the moment. A sweet berry hidden in the folds of crisp earthy lettuce brought such a feeling of fun, of playful levity to the table. This combination is not one of the recipes that was an evolution of another recipe. This was all Craig. That is one of the things that saves us, his ability to be present, to look with an open mind at what is before him, which in this case was a the seasonal excitement of the first beautiful cucumber, a handful of berries, our friends' lettuce.

Part of the fun deliciousness of this salad was the surprise of the blueberry. But then we had it the next night, I knew full well what to expect, and it was just as good as the night before.

Red Oak Leaf, Cucumber, Blueberry Salad

from the freshest available...
Oak Leaf lettuce
some blueberries
2 or 3 slender scallions sliced
Japanese cucumber peeled and sliced
juice of 1/2 meyer lemon
splash of champagne or chardonnay vinegar
fine olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except lettuce in the bottom of a large salad bowl. After a bit of marinating add the lettuce, but do not mix. Just prior to eating, mix well and serve.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Eggs and Pancakes with the Cousins


July 12
My brother Rich drove down from Vermont with three of the four kids he and his wife Emily have. A house full of kids and cousins is a dream come true for Rich and I. We grew up without knowing our one cousin, and we yearned for the familial, non-sibling bond we saw our friends and their cousins share. It was with real joy that we planned to get all our kids together. We made one whole room into a room of beds in case of rain, and set up a tent under the apple tree in the pasture. I got out the tall stack of enamel plates, all the tiny spoons and forks and unbreakable glasses. Rich brought eggs from their chickens, we stocked up on bread, berries, milk.

Richmond has raised, is raising, a lot of kids. When Jay and Maddie were little they went through the predictable, "I don't like that!" phase for everything you put in front of them, even if they had eaten a mountain of it the day before. Rich is Gandhi like in many ways, very good at finding a path of least resistance and saving himself some aggravation. He decided that it was not going to do any one any good to get into a dynamic of anxiety about food. The kids were toddlers and far from "failure to thrive" so he decided, that they would eat when they were hungry.

He continued on his mealtime routine, presenting the kids with nutritious options at regular intervals throughout the day and left it at that. Sure enough, they would eat like little curly headed birds for a day or two, and then eat everything put before them for a stretch.

Rich's choice was very refreshing to witness. He followed his gut and found a path that worked for him and his kids. It has helped me a lot with my own kids. Colby can be hard to feed, there are textural, sensory issues and resistances to eating that are still a mystery to us. It takes a lot of persistence and patience, but sometimes, she, like all of us, just isn't that hungry.

Rich's wisdom sets a healthy, open field for food in his family: food is for when you are hungry and it is a communal experience. Come sit at the table, be together, eat what your body says it needs.

The cousins together at the table, five plates of fried eggs and a platter of pancakes. They ate their fill, and bounded off, into the yard, into the day, with all the fuel for play they needed.

Craig's Pancakes

Ingredients:
7 or 8 tablespoons butter
1 1/3 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tbs plus 1 tsp sugar
1 tbs plus 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

In a sauce pan over low heat combine the butter and milk. Heat until the butter melts and set aside. Beat the eggs in a medium sized bowl. When the milk/butter blend is lukewarm, slowly pour it into the eggs while stirring.

In a large bowl, wisk the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. Pour the egg mixture into the flour. go slow barley mixing. the batter should be lumpy with dry patches here and there. Do not over mix.

Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-low heat. Wipe with a bit of butter, vegetable oil or bacon fat. When hot to touch, ladle in about 1/2 cup batter for each pancake. When they begin to bubble and are a deep, golden brown on the pan side, flip and cook until done. if you wish to add anything...sliced apples (try a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of lemon juice on those slices!), berries...candied bacon (!) do so when the first side is cooking, then flip.

Serve with whatever you like, jam, maple syrup, honey, yogurt. And for sure, an egg on the side.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Kenny Shopsin and Happiness


July 5

Kenny Shopsin, the strange and brilliant chef, not known for his social graces, gave me one of the most helpful ideas for parenting. He said that to find work that has meaning for you is the best example you can set, and that the best thing you can do for your kids is be happy yourself.

I held Colby, then a tiny newborn, in my lap and listened as he expounded, sitting across the table from us, exhausted from a day of cooking and yelling at his four kids, all at the time working to some degree in the restaurant. When Kenny does anything but rant and curse, you listen. He has an exceedingly rough personae, but under that is a compassion and an intelligence far stronger than his roaring expletives.

Contemplating his words now, from way inside the path of parenting and family life, they look different than when I first heard them. When I first heard, "Be happy yourself," it sounded obvious and easy, as easy as happiness ever is. Now, there is a larger family, work, and the thousand tiny shirts and shorts and socks that need folding. How to find happiness and do good work when you feel life is pulling you in a thousand directions, all of them important?

By making choices, and, the ever famous key to marital bliss, compromise. Make the beds but let the floors go. Write for an hour in the morning and accept the longing for a day. Make a dinner reservation.

What Kenny did not say was how in family life the happiness of the couple, individually and together becomes so linked.

Children are an astonishing amount of work. Their demands are tireless, their needs absolute. Meanwhile the rest of life clamors for attention. And, then there is each other. For us, that is the easiest one to lose track of. We operate for long periods under the illusion that we, the couple, can wait. That we come after kids, dishes, tractors, work.

We must take care of ourselves and our love the way we care for all the other aspects of a full life. To not let the inertia of distance between us become a habit, we need a moment together, to just gaze, and be.

We made plans for dinner out together and as I got ready I thought about all the small fissures between us, major and minor emotional infractions, moments of bad communication. I felt how that was not what I wanted dinner to be about, I did not want to talk, work, process. I wanted to be together, in the moment.

At dinner we laughed, we talked with our neighboring table, we caught up on the funny moments, profound work conversations, all the persistent beauty that occurred in the week. We invested in our happiness, the cornerstone of a loving, functional life, together. Thanks Kenny.

More Kenny wisdom, culinary and philosophical, can be found in his excellent cook book, pictured here. The essay on eggs is a revelation.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Simplicity, Lettuce


June 23
Colby Rose has been in a seizure cluster for nearly two weeks. Today she went into the bathroom, got Craig's attention, and had her third seizure of the morning. Craig caught her as she fell. Coral put her black dog under Colby's head as she laid on the cool tile floor.
Coral asked, again, "What happen?"
"She had a seizure."
"Why she has them?"
Craig ventured into more detail, "She has epilepsy."
"Epepsy? What's that?"
"It is just the way she is made, honey."
"She has a boo boo, maybe we can go back to New York City and the doctors can take it off, again."
I hear the room go quiet. Craig, like me, absorbing the knowledge and care in Coral's words and suggestions. She completely understands, in her own way, that Colby had brain surgery, and that the doctors were trying to help the seizures. I think again about how to do this, to parent these two girls, together. Coral has been asked to understand, to accept situations beyond her years. Another mom wrote about balancing the needs of a family when one child has "legitimately higher needs." That phrase has brought a feeling of freedom, it is straightforward, and true.
Given the reality of our family, two parents, one high need child, one rapidly developing two and half year old, there are many demands, and simplifying is not so much a choice as a necessity.
Eating dinner, Craig has made a simple green salad. Lettuce, radish, scallion, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper. The summer lettuce has been crisp and nuanced in flavor, growing well in the warm, bright days and cool evenings.
Paring down to the essentials while still achieving the fullest expression of each ingredient; that is the beauty of this salad.
Given that Colby has "legitimately higher needs" I often worry about each of us reaching our potential. Craig and I defer our work to Colby's needs, Coral is asked over and over again to wait. But maybe it is possible to pare down the extraneous activities and expectations in a family and still reach our individual and collective potential, reach our fullest expression.

Simplest of Green Salads

In a bowl place sliced scallions and radishes. Cover lightly with vinegar. Let sit while prepping lettuce. Sprinkle olive oil over lettuce in bowl. Sprinkle salt and pepper. Toss when ready to serve. Coating the radish and scallion with vinegar both softens their texture and infuses the vinegar with their flavor. Olive oil over the lettuce leaves coats it lightly and makes it shinier, and gives a silkier "mouthfeel."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Last Day of Spring Feast


June 20

Craig and I have been craving lamb, perhaps an ancient craving, in our dna, since lamb has been a part of nearly every Spring Feast food tradition the world over, through the ages. Northland Sheep Dairy in nearby Marathon, NY has beautiful lamb. Actually they have beautiful products from all parts of the lamb to sheep life cycle: sumptuous sheepskins; earthy, soft yarn; aromatic, finely textured cheese; and meat in sensible, refined cuts. One hundred percent grass fed and sustainable farm practices. It seems that nothing is wasted and the animals are fully appreciated.

And, like every food writer before and after me will proclaim, you can taste the difference! Maybe that is why the food movement and what it could mean for environmental evolution holds such promise: the rewards are physically pleasing and immediately obvious. Simply put, this lamb tastes like an animal that lived a life of movement, fresh air and seasons, and ate what it should.

On the last day of spring, June 20, we got to our spring feast. The day was warm, everything green and bursting with life, with a cool breeze coming off the lake. We grilled lamb chops over a hardwood fire. Craig made flageolet beans from David Tanis's "a platter of figs and other recipes." A green salad of Romaine and Oak Leaf lettuces. Bowls of radishes and tiny, new carrots. The fire was going so nicely we rummaged around for more to grill: a single andouille sausage from the Piggery, and a stack of sliced peasant bread. Il Buco olive oil and salt over the grilled, smokey bread.

For the kids, a cold pitcher of water infused with fresh, crushed cherries, thyme, mint and lavender, and for us, a bright, soft red wine. We raised our glasses to Father's Day, to this glorious spring of flowers, baby birds and fruit, to each other, and to our family and friends, always in our hearts. Happy Summer Solstice.

www.northlandsheepdairy.com

Monday, June 14, 2010

Asparagus


June 14

A particular guilt is sweeping over me: I may have waited too long to post a recipe. Asparagus is a short, glorious season. If the season is already over in your area, put this recipe in your pocket for next year. It is simple and truly beautiful on the plate.

This year an Amish farmer at the market had asparagus with slender purple tips and a sweet, nutty flavor. He told us his plants were happiest, tasted best, when left rather wild in their fields with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. A half wild, half cultivated crop.

Watching Coral eat asparagus, clutching it by its verdant green stem, olive oil dripping down her fingers to her wrist. I think of the farmer and the asparagus before us and decide that we too are at our best when we are a little wild, and a little cultivated. So the olive oil drips, Coral rubs it into her skin, and grabs for another stalk.

Best with asparagus that is very, very fresh. Preferably local and picked that day or the day before.

Break or cut off the wooden ends. For thicker asparagus, peel the stalks. Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Add a couple glugs of olive oil. Toss in the asparagus and shake pan to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Shake pan again, reduce heat to low, and cover. Occasionally shake the pan. Cook until just barely tender. Arrange on a platter and serve as is, or drizzle with a mix of lemon juice and finely minced shallots. It is good warm, at room temperature or lightly chilled.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tenderness, Strawberries


June 12

At the sink with a colander full of fresh picked strawberries, my chest goes soft between my ribs: they are so beautiful. Craig got them from Buried Treasures Organic Farm at the market. They are our favorite because they are the small strawberries, bigger than the tiny, wild strawberries I hunted as a child in Big Sur, but far smaller than the usual grocery store strawberry. They are deep red all the way through, floral, and so sweet they make your whole body pause at the flavor.

Noticing the feeling in my chest, and feeling the small berries between my fingers as I trimmed the green crown of leaves from their base, I contemplated tenderness. It has been a week of a lot of seizures. Craig and I felt ourselves slowly erode in the stress and sleep deprivation. After the first few days of seizures we get into a kind of survival mode that leads to very abrupt conversation and frustration with each other over trivial things. Normally it drives me crazy the way he leaves his clothes draped over the furniture. In a time of higher stress, I react with internal storms of molten lava, I feel really, disproportionately angry. I lose touch with my tenderness.

While I was holding these precious strawberries, old friends were visiting. T. has a way of asking questions that inspires an authentic, present response. She is absolutely listening, she asks because she wants not just to know, but to understand. She asked about Colby's need for care for her whole life, and later at dinner, about her cognition level. To face not the questions but the answers to the questions was to speak words that are largely a silent understanding between Craig, myself and our community. To say, yes she will need care her whole life, to imagine creating safe environments for her once I can no longer fit her on my lap or catch her when she falls having a seizure, is to connect, for a moment, with some of my greatest fears.

To feel that fear, rather than shield against it with an automatic answer, is to connect again with tenderness. As T. and I spoke I felt the tremendous work of life, of being present and honest, of truly sharing your heart and experience, and I felt my love for Craig. As crazy as clothes on the furniture make me feel, I am so, so glad and grateful to be on the road together. As abrupt and bratty as we can get, we also shoulder a burden and find beauty along the way. In conversation with T. I went from feeling so tired and sad to feeling lucky and rich and surrounded by love.

Our anger is understandable: our child suffers, despite medication and radical surgical measures. The work before us is acceptance, and remembering that when we are angry, we are not really angry at each other.

While preparing dinner, I opened champagne. Craig and I looked at each other in the eyes for perhaps the first time all week and toasted everything we could think of, including "to us." We leaned into each other at the fridge door, rather than away. Kissing as we passed in the hallway, holding hands at dinner, saying thank you to each other. A brittle, exhausted day ended with serving strawberries and vanilla ice cream to a house full of friends and kids. Our lips were red, and our hearts, once again, soft.

Perfectly Simple Parfait
Cut strawberries into mixing bowl. Add one teaspoon of brown sugar per quart of strawberries. Toss and chill until ready to serve. To serve: in a small water glass, one layer of strawberries, one layer of vanilla ice cream, another layer of strawberries. Ladle a little of the syrup at bottom of bowl into each glass.

Classics Are Born Every Day



May 15

This post is about the circuitous ways that new food finds a permanent place at your table. It started with John, Master Roaster, expert in the sacred coffee bean. He is a neighbor of a friend, and one day while we were talking under the giant walnut trees that divide their driveways, I asked where one could learn more about coffee. Something like a wine tasting, a way to taste side by side and get a sense for the regions and the vocabulary used to describe flavors. He said I could come by anytime and we could roast up some beans and make espresso.

I took him up on the offer on a cold winter day when I had a break from the kids. John took from his storage closet a large burlap bag filled with small quantities of single origin, unroasted pistachio colored beans. He set up his home roaster, outside in the winter air, and started speaking.

It is one of life's singular pleasures to listen to someone with deep, calm knowledge talk about their passion. He described what was happening to the bean as the temperature rose, the smells were captivating. He would announce what smell was coming next, what it meant for the progress of the beans, and then it would fill the air. Around us, light brown husks burned off the beans and floated like a storm of tiny, wild moths.

We went inside to join his wife Alice and make expresso. I, despite my coffee tutorial, cannot describe how delicious the espresso was. I could only smile and nod and hope for another shot as John and Alice conversed about what they tasted. The casual way in which John tossed the roasts together to try different blends was the comfort of an expert.

John and Alice told the story of how the love of coffee and roasting was born in San Francisco and honed in Alaska. We talked of our travels and why Coca Cola tastes so much better in Mexico. As we talked and savored espresso, John started to bustle in the kitchen, and I absorbed his every move. He set a cast iron pan over a low flame and cut thick slices from a huge round of sourdough bread. A splash of olive oil in the pan and he pan fried the bread. Then Hellmans Mayonnaise in a bowl, and a few good shots of Sriracha, briskly stirred together to a pretty salmon pink.

He set the bread on a plate, sprinkled it with salt. I watched as he took the first piece of warm, pan toasted sourdough and dipped it deeply in to the Sriracha Mayo. I followed. So simple, so divine! Ingredients that have lived side by side in my fridge for nearly my whole life! On a cold day, it was the most simple, pleasing snack. I could hardly wait to tell Craig. It has been a part of nearly every meal since.

I write about it now because I am looking forward to it on summer foods, namely, slathered on a barely coked, lightly salted corn on the cob; grilled fish; a dip for asparagus; in deviled eggs; on a burger with arugula and roasted Sungold tomatoes. I love it with fried rice, grilled shrimp, any kind of taco, scrambled eggs. It is good on everything. And, it is very pretty.

We use Hellman's mayo or Spectrum Naturals Organic Mayonnaise with Olive Oil, and Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, also referred to as Rooster Sauce. The Spectrum Mayo has a beautiful texture, it is closer to an aioli that to a typical mayo. Mix together to your preferred spiciness.