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.

Monday, June 14, 2010


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.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Apple Tart

May 8

So far, Craig makes one dessert, Apple Tart. The simple, country style tart was his first foray into flour and sugar. Seeing Craig do something so different, outside his usual savory realm, I saw anew what a skilled cook he is. By skilled I mean in part the muscle memory and control of someone who has put a lot of time and attention into the act of cutting, paring, slicing; the motions of cooking itself.

In general, Craig's cooking is not overly fussy. The way he cooks feels like the ultimate and inevitable evolution of the ingredients. He does not ascribe to, though he admires, the very high tech cooking that bends the very structure of food to the will and vision of the chef. Craig's cooking has a naturalness to it, and he is a natural, in his element, while cooking.

Watching a "natural" it is so easy to underestimate the work, the level of experience and concentration. Me and the girls, and our guests, experience mainly the end result: dinner on the table. There I notice the symmetrical scallion slices, the perfectly tender and balanced flavors of the meat, how precise an amount he has made for our family. One night at dinner when I commented that the red sauce over polenta was particularly delicious, he described the way he had diced the carrots into tiny pieces rather than puree them with the tomatoes because it gave a more interesting mouth feel and more of a tiny pop of sweetness. It was a portal, a tiny carrot dice sized portal, into the level of care he puts into cooking, and the nuance to which he experiments.

To think of all the unnoticed ways of slicing and combining, the experiments and successes that are just gobbled down! Respect and love and intelligence are a part of any job well done, and it feels so good when good work is acknowledged. That may be part of why the table is and has been such a healing place for the family. We agree and disagree about both major and minor parts of life, and in the specific manageable realm of the table we get to work on our communication. First and most importantly, we get to appreciate each others' work. It is a time to speak kindly and say thank you.

And, we get to work on considering our differences. Craig loves more salt and fat than I do. He would put bacon and goose fat in everything. Over time he has scaled back on salt and our compromise was a bowl of great sea salt on the table, we found some flexibility. In the context of one peaceful environment, for us the table, we can explore. Our insights about our daughters, renovation of the house, conflicts at work, soaring insecurities, all have a place to be shared. With the same level and care that we come to the table, we share at the table. We talk, and we listen. It is the discipline and beauty of time at the table that keeps our ability to communicate also growing.

When he took his first apple tart from the oven, I thought it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. Looking more closely, beyond the glistening melted sugar sprinkled on top, inside the warm, toasted frame of the dough curled over the edge of the pan, were the apples: each slice was peeled with the quick three angle motion he always peels his apples with. Here, nearly a hundred of them all layered together, I saw not the habit of that motion, but the intelligence.

It is a simple action, peeling an apple. Simple does not mean it is not difficult. Communicating can be so hard. Words become lodged in the space between the ribs and feel to heavy to speak. Bad feelings sit in your stomach and have no shape, no name, just bad. Pick up the apple. Say the words. Cut the slice. Open your feelings. Peel off the skin. Listen. Talking, and keeping on opening up is a habit as much as peeling an apple. And eventually, that habit can have great intelligence.

Craig took Serena's advice and followed a recipe diligently a couple of times, and after that, started to freestyle. His freestyle tart is a blend of two great recipes from, David Tanis's a platter of figs and other recipes, and Richard Olney's Lulu's Provencal Table.

Here is Craig's Apple Tart:
you'll need...
2 cups all-purpose flour (and a bit for dusting)
2 sticks butter diced and very cold (plus extra to taste for topping)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg beaten and enough ice water to make 1/2 cup
5-7 large apples (any combination, crisp and tart like Pink Lady, Fuji)

Put the flour, butter and salt in a bowl. Using your fingers work together until sandy with some larger pieces of butter remaining. Don't overwork! Pour in the egg and ice water and quickly knead. It will be sticky and soft. Sprinkle a bit of flour on the dough and form into a rectangle. Wrap in plastic, foil or wax paper and refrigerate for an hour or longer.
Peel the apples, cut in quarters and core. Slice into pieces about 1/8". Put the pieces in a large bowl dust with sugar and squeeze lemon juice on them. Toss to coat and set aside.
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Dust a work surface with flour and roll out the dough into a rectangle large enough to fit a 15 1/2 by 10 1/2 baking sheet. Don't worry if it breaks up or looks funny, just patch bits where needed. Dough should come up over the edge of the baking sheet.
Arrange the apples in rows on the pastry dough. The apple slices should overlap like shingles. Melt some butter over low heat and brush onto apple slices and exposed dough edges. Sprinkle with sugar to taste and, if desired, cinnamon.
Bake for about 45 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crisp. Let cool. Serve as you like...plain or with whipped cream, créme fresh or ice cream.