I had enneagram class last Friday, and I was struck with the thought that I had nothing to complain about. I always look forward to these classes- they’re led by one of my favorite people on the planet, it’s a full 3+ hour evening out of the house away from my (delightful!) children, spent in the company of other women, something I basically only do once a month, on enneagram nights. Also, it’s a potluck, so that’s awesome. Also, it helps me grow as a person, which should have been the first pro on my list. But I also looked at it as a place to sort out all the big problems I was grappling with at the moment. This week was the first time I felt like I didn’t have a big thing I needed help working through. Andy, the kids, my family, my friends- I feel pretty damn good about all of it. Part of me, the insane-person part, worries that this satisfaction means I’m going to get hit by a car or have one of those blood clots in your leg that kills you instantly and without warning, like the girl in Love is a Mix Tape. But part of me just feels grateful. I used my time to talk about things I feel like I could be doing better- like being kind to strangers in grocery stores or at the wildflower center (I yelled at someone there last week when I thought he was cutting in front of me in the ice cream line. 😐 He may or may not have been there first, the jury’s still out.) But it was helpful, truly, to get to be contemplative about optimizing my human experience with feedback from a circle of smart, successful women. But then, at the end, one of the women shared something she had learned in her yoga practice, something her teacher had told her that had stuck with her: You’re the blue sky. Clouds and storms may come and go, but you’re always you, always there, always peaceful and tranquil, above it all. And all the other women in the group said, oh! That’s so perfect and lovely and useful! And I thought, what the fuck good is that? How? When would you stop in the midst of a conflict and be comforted by the notion that you’re the blue sky? I’ve clearly got plenty more work to do on the self-improvement front. Here’s what we ate this week.
Black Bean Taquitos, Guacamole, Garden Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing. The kids and I spent a beautiful morning at an unschooling friend’s house- I got to take a tour of her massive vegetable garden and delight in her giant meyer lemon tree, which had thousands of purple-y white blooms. Henry and George had fun too, though George hid his shoes deep in the woods after convincing himself that another kid had taken an interest in them, and Henry got a bit rage-y on the trampoline. I don’t know what we did the rest of the afternoon, but it somehow got to be six o’clock and I had no thoughts about dinner. This situation always results in a dinner that combines tortillas and beans in one fashion or another. I defrosted a dozen corn tortillas, put a spoonful of beans and a sprinkle of grated cheese in the middle of the first one, rolled it up awkwardly and dropped it in a pan of too-hot oil where it instantly unfurled, sending beans hissing throughout the pan. Well, shit, I thought, this isn’t right. How do I usually do this? Oh yeah, you’ve got to dip the tortillas in the oil first so they’re super pliable, then fill, roll and fry. I did that for the rest of them, but the oil was full of frizzled beans and cheese that clung to the tortillas, so they were sort of weird. So shattery though! When you ate it over a bowl of salad, with a decent creamy dressing, big flakes of salty, crunchy tortilla fell off and became crouton-like.
The Food Lab’s Hummus. My blog reads like one long internet recipe comment- I hated your recipe because it didn’t work after I changed a bunch of shit. I love JKLA and the Food Lab, I have complete faith that this recipe is beautiful and delicious when you follow it correctly, but I didn’t, and it wasn’t. I was gonna, but then I saw that you’re supposed to use a full cup of tahini for 1/2 a pound of chickpeas. That is so so expensive, you guys. One jar of tahini, which is $5-7 here, usually lasts me through 4 or 5 batches of hummus. This recipe would have wiped out my whole jar, for a smaller amount of chickpeas than I normally cook. So I made half a batch of the tahini sauce, which really is magnificently fun and science-y (read the linked recipe for the scoop on blending whole, unpeeled garlic cloves in acid to neutralize the allicin that gives you hot messy garlic mouth while still packing in tons of garlic flavor). Anyway, I halved the sauce, and mixed it with the unhalved amount of chickpeas, which are cooked until they’re sloppy tender, blended into a funky milkshake, and then, presumably, thickened up a bit with the magic of that tahini sauce. Since I didn’t use enough of the sauce, the chickpeas were watery and bland. It was a stupid call on my part, not to halve the chickpeas, and I ended up pouring most of the insipid hummus water down the drain 5 days later. There are lots of cool techniques in this recipe to explore and apply to my own hummus operations, but I’m feeling lazy at the moment and complacent in my standard hummus practice.
Coconut-Lime Pork Tacos with Black Beans and Avocado, Homemade Tortillas. I fell off the tortilla-making wagon, even though they’re loads better and not much work at all, but got back on it this week because I was cooking out of the pantry, so to speak, and didn’t have any store-bought tortillas to my name. The pork, I’ve mentioned here loads of times before, is one of my favorite weeknight meals. It comes together super fast and the flavors (coconut milk, garlic, smoked paprika, lime) are so much fun. I spent all week forgetting to take notes about what we did each day and the goings-on of Tuesday have fallen completely out of my head. We went to parkour, I know. Oh yeah, and George fell between the metal rungs of a climb-y thing and hit his nose and got an instant nosebleed and both of us were covered in blood, which totally freaked Henry out. It turned out ok. Hey, yum! Tacos!
M’smen and Fresh Herb Platter. At the last minute, we decided to celebrate Purim this year, for the first time ever. We didn’t do most of the stuff you’re supposed to do- being charitable to those in need (ouch), going to temple to hear the reading of the Megillah, or bringing gifts of treats to friends and family while dressed up like Haman and Queen Esther (next year, y’all). But we did sit down and have a feast of sorts, and we also acted out the totally dramatic and R-rated story as a family afterwards, under the brilliant direction and narration of Auntie Helen. It begins with the King of Persia executing his wife after she refuses to show off her naked body to him and all his drunk friends and only gets darker from there. Anyway, it was a good time! I cooked food from The New Persian Kitchen, since the story took place in Iran. I didn’t go to the store, so had to improvise some of the stuff. This fresh herb platter is supposed to include a beautiful warm oil and herbed feta, and should be served with lavash, and you fold the herbs and cheese and some of the frittata below into the flatbread. I wanted to make a flatbread from Hot Bread Kitchen, but I don’t own the book, and the only recipe I could find online was for M’smen- a Moroccan flatbread that is thick, oily, and salty, and sounded amazing. And it was! The process of making it was similar to making tortillas, except that you use 14 gallons of oil while stretching, folding, and resting the dough. It’s fun and so good. You’re supposed to eat it with salt and honey and I will have to make it again to do that.
Herb Frittata with Walnuts and Rose Petals, Minus the Rose Petals. This could not be coaxed out of the pan, so we just pried pieces out one at a time. It looks horribly dull but the flavor was wonderful, especially eaten with a bevy of herbs in that oily flatbread.
Super-Jacked Koloocheh: Date and Walnut Filled Cookies. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It is completely my fault- I’ve made the recipe as written before, with coconut, garbanzo, and some other wacky flour, but this time around I was cooking out of the pantry and just used all-purpose. I’m not sure if the spreading problem is a result of the flour, or not chilling the dough long enough (though I did as the recipe specified), but I was horrified when I pulled them out of the oven. That being said, these were absolutely insane. I had no ground cardamom so crushed the seeds from pods myself in a mortar and pestle, and the big flecks of cardamom made the cookies feel magical. They were soft and spicy and the date and nut paste in the middle made them even more wonderful. These are what Persian Jews make for Purim, as opposed to the famous hamantaschen that’s so popular here. I far far prefer these.
Rice Salad with Nuts and Sour Cherries. A dear friend had her baby last week! He’s gorgeous, she’s gorgeous, and I got a chance to bask in their gorgeousness last week, when it was my turn to bring them dinner. She had recently bought Ottolenghi’s Plenty More cookbook, so I wanted to make recipes out of it for her and her family. I’ve had this salad at a food52 potluck before, and loved it, but had never made it myself. It is a total pain in the ass! You have to cook pots of basmati rice, wild rice, and quinoa separately, let them all cool completely, then caramelize onions, make a vinaigrette, chop tons of herbs, and toss all the stuff together with a medley of toasted nuts and unsweetened sour cherries. It is so good- even my green-averse children loved it (I gave them a little scoop for lunch), but I don’t have it in me to make it again soon.
Root Vegetable Pies. These little pies, which are so much more complex than their humble name implies, were the main course to be served with the rice salad. The inside is filled with butternut squash, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, curry and caraway, aged cheddar and cilantro. It sounds like a totally bizarre combination, but it works. I was running late, and didn’t have time to let the little pies cool at home, so I put the hot pan in the car, brought along a butter knife, and sawed around the edges and painstakingly transferred them from the tray to a tupperware container while stopped at the red lights between my house and hers. They are so delicate- the whole process stressed me out.
Carrot Muffins. I made a big batch of my favorite carrot muffins for the happy family too, but my kids took out 5 of them before I got the rest packed up.
Saddest Hamantaschen. Ooph. I had leftover date and walnut paste from the deliciously ugly koloocheh a few pictures above, and had some leftover pastry dough from making the root vegetable pot pies, and it was still technically Purim, so I thought I’d be very clever and make them into hamantaschen-looking treats. They tasted great, even the jam “filled” ones, which flattened out of their tri-cornered hat shape the second they hit the hot oven, but they, unlike Queen Esther, won’t be winning any beauty contests. That’s a bad Purim joke for the one of you (Jeffrey) who’s in the market for those.
Root Vegetable Pie. Cabbage and Apple Salad. That pot pie recipe makes way more filling than you need for the pies. I remembered that from the last time I made them so I doubled the pastry recipe and we had a modification of the pies for dinner. I had a tiny head of purple cabbage in the fridge, and an old apple, so we spiralized the thing (George’s main thrill in life) and mixed them together with a vinaigrette made sweet with the last of our apricot jam and a sprinkling of clover leaves that George and Henry collected from the garden.
Venison Chili. I made a giant pot of this chili, which was mostly just black beans that needed to be used up and a big can of fire roasted tomatoes that were on sale at Whole Foods the day I yelled at everyone, plus a Dickinsian amount of diced venison backstrap- the only meat I had in the house. It was too tomato-y, but you can eat almost anything when it’s topped with sour cream and cheddar and scooped up with tortilla chips.
Strawberry, Ginger, and Poppy Seed Scones. I got the Violet Bakery Cookbook from the library and fell head over heals in love with it. There are a trillion things I want to make from it: cinnamon buns, ham/cheese/leek scones, yellow peach crumb bun, chipotle and cheddar corn muffins, ginger molasses cake, butterscotch blondies (with caramel shards!), and a drop dead gorgeous cherry cobbler. But these scones were at the top of my list. They’re packed, packed with crystallized ginger. An ungodly amount. Also, four times the amount of poppy seeds I bought. They’re just lovely. The ginger, which was so sharp and spicy before baking, totally mellowed and tasted just right with the strawberries that went all jammy in the hot oven. I’m a fan. This was my contribution to ennegram potluck night. The other contributions were two big salads and a platter of fruit, so it’s easy to see who’s the glutton of the group.
Radish Salad. I had some high school friends over for dinner on Saturday. One of whom, an old friend from theatre, I hadn’t seen since high school. We’ve been facebook friends for a while and I just admire the hell out of all the cool stuff she does, organizations she works for, Selena halloween costumes she wears, etc that I really wanted to see her again, and after months of talking about it, we finally made it happen. I knew I wanted to make a quiche from the Bouchon cookbook, which is always delicious and ideal for a dinner party because you’re supposed to make it the night before. Anyway, I wanted a punchy salad to serve with it, because it’s so rich, and April Bloomfield’s description of this radish salad sold me. You chop up a full pound of radishes, then use your hands to smash basil leaves and sea salt into them, which coats the things in basil oil. Then you add thick and thin slices of parmesan and crush those into the radishes with your hands too, which makes some of the cheese bits get creamy and leaves lots of big hearty chunks too. I’m not sure I really noticed the basil in the end product and my parmesan chunks were on the too-chunky side of the spectrum, but it was a good foil to the quiche and it all got eaten, so that’s something.
Pan-Fried Asparagus with Basil. April Bloomfield’s description of this won me over- I loved the idea of letting the basil leaves get a little crispy in the pan with the asparagus. It was good, I’d say, and made total sense alongside the rich, eggy quiche. Henry took a bite, turned to me, and said, “Mama? I’m going to say something just to be polite. I really like these green beans.”
Bouchon’s Quiche Lorraine. One of the great loves of my life. The magic here is in the onion confit, two and a half pounds of onions that you slowly melt on your stove over the course of about two hours. They’re not caramelized- they’re transparent yellow and slippery- and the flavor is larger-than-life. Obviously, I don’t know how to describe it. Larger-than-life is not helpful, I know, but I’ve got no words. If you try it, you’ll know what I mean.
Squash, Brown Butter, and Sage Quiche. When I saw this quiche in the Violet Bakery Cookbook, I knew I had to add it to our Saturday menu. I didn’t think one quiche would be enough for 9 people, and thought this looked so pretty, even if it is super autumn-y. I was unhappy with the amount of flour in the pastry when I read through the recipe- only 1 cup! I like 1.5 cups for my pie crusts, because I like them thick, with big fat crimped edges- but gave it a go as written. I’m so happy I did. The crust is amazing, and, along with with last-minute pour of brown butter-toasted sage leaves- made the quiche. The crust is very thin, but you prebake it with parchment and pie weights (standard) and then remove the paper and brush the whole of the crust with egg wash, which I had never seen before and is completely genius. It made the crust shiny and crackly and it is so thin and flaky. Really lovely.
Coconut Macaroons, Local Strawberries, Egg Yolk Chocolate Chip Cookies. The money shot. The macaroons and chocolate chips cookies are both from The Violet Bakery Cookbook. The macaroons are worth the cost of the book- the best I’ve ever made by a far cry. The chocolate chip cookies are great too. They’re richer than the normal set, but also more tender, more chewy, and more crisp on the edges. But what makes me really and truly love them is that they go together. You use three egg yolks for the cookies and the macaroon recipe calls for four egg whites, so you have a built-in excuse to make both every time. Even more wonderfully, I had one last jar of lemon curd in the freezer and used the last egg yolk to make another batch of The Everyday Baker’s lemon bars to bring to Easter dinner the next day. I’m out of eggs and full of desserts and couldn’t be happier.