Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Amazing Free Travel Game: A Summer Road-trip Gift Just for You!

Image courtesy of Hammacher-Schlemmer's unawareness that I'm borrowing it.
Is this a photo of the amazing free travel game? No, Silly. It is not. It is the Hammacher-Schlemmer Big Top Calliope! But if we were *playing* the amazing free travel game, I would read you the description of it, and you would have to guess the price. Here's a choice excerpt: "A bass synthesizer provides a tuba sound. In concert, the bandwagon replicates the whimsical tooting, clashing, and sparkle of the past by playing 25 classic march tunes, such as Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Ain’t We Got Fun, and A Tribute To Uncle Sam from a built-in microprocessor. Typically part of a circus’ arrival parade and drawn by miniature pony, goat, or a stout dog . . ." Miniature stout dog not included. Okay, so guess the price. Don't forget: Synthesized tuba sound! Ain't We Got Fun from the built-in microprocessor! Whimsical tooting! I mean, how much *wouldn't* you pay, right? 

If I wanted to, I might give you a clue about the numbers, a la The Price Is Right. "There is only a single digit, which is a multiple of 3," I might say. "The rest are zeros." Got your guess? 

$600?

Nope.

$9,000?

nope.

Give up?


30,000 dollars!

(I have this idea that when you click "Buy," the device you're holding should automatically electrocute you and redistribute your assets among the needy. But that's a side issue.)

Part of what makes it such a great game is that then someone reads you about the Selfie Toaster, which brands bread with a picture of your OWN FACE! And you're like, "I could bite into my own face for breakfast every morning? I don't know. $300,000?" 

We play that everyone who's not giving the clue yells out their guess at the same time. But you could doubtless take turns or play in some other way.

But it's only $69.95!

Make no mistake: I am not (merely) trash-talking Hammacher-Schlemmer! I am earnestly recommending this game, with which we have passed many hours of happy car travel, and I'm specifically recommending that you play in the part of the H-S website, called, "The Unexpected" (aka "Let's try to rid ourselves of some of this pesky cash!") True, you need some sort of device with cellular data to play it. But even as I write that, I'm realizing that you can request a paper catalogue here. I'm thinking you could also play it with other catalogues and websites. And it's totally not Socialist Propaganda. #unlessitis 

Ben (with the rest of us for scale, yukking it up at a funeral, because that's the kind of people we are).
This game is, of course, a Ben invention. And it came only out of his unironic love of all things Hammacher-Schlemmer. But even Alex P. Keaton Ben will admit that a $35,500 Time Machine, with no especial guarantee that you will be able to snatch the camera from your mother's hands and smash it on the ground after she snaps a picture of your two-year-old self sitting on the potty, is a little steep.

Anyways, you're welcome. Happy summer road tripping!

xo

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wild Weed Quesadillas + 7 Asparagus Recipes

Quesadillas with raw garlic mustard leaves, steamed cattail shoots, and sauteed daylily greens.
I have written about foraging before. Here, for example, just last year. But oh, if you have not availed yourself of the green green thrill of cramming bitter wild leaves into your winter-starved mouth, please try it. Even if you live in, say, New York City, where someone you know may or may not have eaten wild garlic mustard that was growing near the reservoir in Central Park. (Sorry, Ma. But urban foraging is all the rage!)

My Mother's Day card from Birdy. Inside it says, "I can't wait to continue eating our way through the outdoors." ("Yew (oops!)" refers to a poisonous little incident we once got ourselves into. A story for another day.)
Birdy is my partner in foraging, and it is just a heavenly way to spend a spring afternoon: consulting our guides, picking and tasting, soaking up sunshine and screaming about snakes. If a person were starting to drift towards a kind of hormonal situation of the teenaged kind, this would be the perfect hearty, companionable antidote, if you get what I'm saying. Besides that all the slap-in-the-face bitterness of the greens themselves pretty much constitutes life at its most bracing.

Steamed garlic mustard and cattail shoots with hollandaise. I used this Foolproof 2-Minute Hollandaise recipe, and it was perfect.
I'll recommend, again, the marvelous Backyard Foraging by Ellen Zachos. We had checked it out of the library for such an unconscionably long time that we finally just went ahead and bought a copy. The other book we bought after careful consideration was Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas. It contains plants only, but has very detailed descriptions and photographs of common edibles at different stages of growth. But even if all you do is go outside, yank a dandelion (you'll know it's a dandelion because there will be a dandelion flower), and chew its wildly bitter leaves, you'll still be a happier and healthier person for it.
12 and 15. WHAT? I wrote something here about babies and how I don't have any.
I should note, however, that the thrill seems, at least to some extent, related to the happy-survival neurochemicals your brain rewards you with for finding food: the people who foraged the plants always LOVE to eat them, while the people who are simply served the weedy meals feel decidedly MEDIOCRE about them. 

Oh, spring! Tis the season of the cigar-tube vase. 
And if this is all too much for you, buy a nice, fat bunch of nice, fat asparagus and prepare those instead. I'm still at the exclusively steamed-with-butter phase of my seasonal gorging, but in a couple weeks I'll start to diverge. Here are some recipes, some recently moved here from farflung earlier postings.

Asparagus with Brown Butter
Asparagus with Pink-Grapefruit Sauce
Asparagus Bread Pudding
Roasted Asparagus with Lemon and Parmesan
Brown Rice Salad with Asparagus, Feta, and Lemon
Asparagus with Savory Lemon Jam
Edited to add: Asparagus with Delicious Dip

Happy spring, my darlings. xo

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ottolenghi-style Chickpeas with Mint, Caraway, and Greek Yogurt (and Quinoa)



My friend Lydia is a therapist, and whenever I launch into this or that lament—inevitably something she’s heard 100 times already—she says, simply, “This is not new information.” Which really kind of puts a cork in it, if you know what I mean. And so I will tell you that my problem is never with cooking, it’s with having something to cook—but I will know that this is not new information.

Thanks to my breathtaking laziness, this was a one-pan dish.
The same way that every month I am suddenly bleeding all over my pants and couch or skirt and friend’s car or underwear and bed, and I’m like, “Blood?” every night it is suddenly six, and I’m like, “Dinner?” It just comes around and comes around, and I open the fridge and cabinet and peer in hopefully, as though the cartoon dinner fairies will have arrived to turn my life into a Disney movie of chicken breasts and broccoli and fresh mozzarella. But the fairies do not come. They never come. They are over at Rachel Ray’s and Giada De Laurentiis’s house, gossiping about my food moths and the filthy stove top, and I understand.

Birdy, wearing one of Ava's fabulous shirts. Support our young artist friend, please!
All of which is to say that I will often start cooking something from my tragic pantry, without a very clear sense of what it might become. Hence these (fabulous) chickpeas, which started as dried chickpeas in the pressure cooker, with a light bulb over my head that had yet to be illuminated and was slowly, instead, filling with beer. So I sat down with my Ottolenghi cookbooks. Not because I have the wherewithal to procure ingredients and follow an exact recipe and drizzle it with the tears of a pomegranate, but because his seasonings and combinations can knock me out of my ruts of chipotle/cilantro/lime or garlic/smoked-paprika/sherry-vinegar or soy/scallion/ginger, not that there aren’t worse ruts than those, believe me. Ruts like those, who needs smooth roads, right? Except, I’m also always arranging the same set of pantry ingredients into different constellations, and I’m so bored of myself I could cry.

Guess whether the child featured here does or doesn't like celery. #paininmyasshole
Those three paragraphs could have been summed up simply with the words caraway and mint and olive-oily yogurt. Because that’s what the Ottolenghi recipe offered me. Sure, I didn’t have the dark leafy greens—only this ginormous green cabbage that I’ve been sawing away at for weeks. And I had celery instead of carrots, and I added a big handful or arugula because I couldn’t resist, and also served it with cooked quinoa. But I would never have thought to use the brilliantly fragrant, complicated seasonings he suggested. They turned out to be so fresh and delicious, it was almost like we were eating something new. It really was.

It helps that the mint is coming up in the garden. At dinnertime, I think: "Mint!" even though I know that that's not really dinner.
Ottolenghi-Style Chickpea with Mint, Caraway, and Greek Yogurt
Makes lots

The original recipe is from the book Plenty and comes together quickly. It calls for carrots, which would surely add a lovely sweetness here, but I used celery, which is nice and aromatic. You could use only one of the herbs, if that’s what you have, but both make the dish quite spectacular. And, finally, he uses chard and blances it first but a) I didn’t have chard and b) I’m too lazy to blanch anything first. Here (and everywhere), salt is your friend. Don’t be shy.

For sauté:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot or ½ small onion, minced (optional—not in the original)
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
3 stalks celery with their leaves, sliced (or diced carrots)
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
4 cups slivered cabbage (or 8 cups greens)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups (or 2 cans) chickpeas, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped arugula (optional)
Pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice (if you’re making the quinoa, grate the lemon zest before juicing and reserve)

For yogurt sauce, whisk together:
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon of your best olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pepper

For serving:
Arugula, harissa, olive oil, and quinoa (below)

Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet. Add the shallots or onion, caraway, and celery and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 3 or 4 minutes. Add half the garlic, the cabbage, and the salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is just barely tender, around 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and continue cooking for 5 more minutes, stirring gently from time to time. Now add the lemon juice, the herbs and arugula, the rest of the garlic, and a large grinding of pepper, and remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and/or lemon juice and/or herbs if it needs a kick. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, over the quinoa if you like, with a spoonful of yogurt sauce, a drizzle of olive oil, a handful of arugula, and, for the unfaint of heart, a nice, big dollop of harissa.

Quinoa
This is a less fussy than the one I used to use, which involved briefly steaming the drained quinoa over boiling water. Now I just let it steam briefly in the empty pot, covered with a dishtowel.

Kosher salt
16 ounces quinoa, rinsed if that’s what the package tells you to do
2 tablespoons olive oil
The reserved lemon zest (see above)

Bring a medium or large pot of water to a bowl over high heat and salt it heavily. It should taste as salty as the sea, so we are talking a fair amount of salt.

Add the quinoa, stir, turn the heat down to medium-high and cook it for 10-15 minutes, uncovered, until it is just tender and the grains have spiraled open.

Drain it really, really well in a fine sieve—I mean, really shake it around to get the water out—then put it back in the pot, stretch a doubled dish towel over the top of the pot, and put the lid back on. Leave it to steam for 5 or 10 minutes, then gently stir in the oil and lemon zest. (For other dishes, I might use butter instead of oil, and skip the lemon.)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bread Boards (aka the dinner trick)

Have you ever seen *Triscuits* masquerade so successfully as dinner?  
I'm not offering you a recipe today. In fact, what I'm offering is a non-recipe. And it's this: make, or acquire, a stable of pretty little bread boards, and you will always have dinner. Or perhaps I should say "dinner," because the point here is to use the bread board the way fashion people might use a nice, big belt: to pull the disparate elements of your refrigerator together into a dinner-type outfit. 


Odds and ends of good cheese and bread, crackers, fresh or dried fruit, a sprig of some or other fresh herb, a dollop or marmalade or honey, pickles or mustard, a nice piece of salami for the meat-eaters, maybe a salad on the side. This is the way we eat a great deal of the time. Birdy especially, since this is what I make her instead whenever we're having something of the meat persuasion. 

bread, cheddar, brie, dates, apple-rosemary jelly
She is never not happy to have a bread board. In fact, nobody is. Nobody is never not happy. Are you following? WTF? I'm trying to say that everybody loves the bread boards. It's a little like our famous bean feasts, the principle being that dinner-eaters often like to assemble there own lovely little bites and arrangements of food, rather than being served a big plate of a thing. It also makes for great conversation, since everyone has to tell you about their favorite combination (cheddar + spicy mustard + grapefruit marmalade) or force you to try it (twist my arm). I should mention that we got this idea from a former favorite restaurant of ours (it has since burned down but is reincarnated here) that offered a bread board on the kids' menu: a $5 selection that included a couple slices of bread, some artfully rolled-up turkey and ham slices, a little of this or that cheese, and a tiny ramekin of mustard. It was a real pleaser.

cheeses, bread, marmalade, bad flash photography
Michael made our boards for Birdy's twelfth (sob!) birthday, and I can tell you how. He sawed a 1- by 8-inch pine board ($8.57 for a 6-foot board at Home Depot) into 12-inch lengths, then sanded them and rubbed them well with beeswax. He drilled the holes with a 1-inch bit; they are purely decorative, since we don't actually hang the boards, but I love how they look. (For what it's worth, Home Depot will cut the board for you for free! At least the first four cuts, I think. Then you have to blow somebody.)


But you could also buy nice little boards, like these 5-dollar ones at IKEA. Or these fancy bamboo ones from Amazon. Oh, and these little spreaders too.


Speaking of bread, I wrote a little bit about it at The Mid. And speaking of The Mid, I wrote a little bit about the 80s there too.

Take care, my lovelies. xo

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Rad Winner + Courage Banner

Wake me when there's ham.
Thank you so much for entering the contest so enthusiastically! And for your fantastic book recommendations. I have already requested This Is Where I Leave You and The Miniaturist from the library (yay!). Meanwhile, the winners of this awesome book


are Hanna (the first commenter), Doña (who is building a feminist library), and Karen T, who wants it for her sons. Please send me your address via email, and I will send you the book! Rad.

Just a small offering today, and it's this:


I had occasion to make this banner recently for some friends in need of courage, and I loved it so much. It turned out that the very act of making it gave me exactly the courage I needed myself.


1. To make one, print this out full-size (8 1/2 by 11) on the color paper or card-stock you want your letters to be.
2. Use a combination of scissors and x-acto knife to cut out the letters (the printed side will be on the back once you glue them down).
3. Cut out the triangle and trace it onto colored cardstock 7 times (you can line it up so that they alternate up and down, like jack-o-lantern teeth, to get more triangles from the paper). Cut out the triangles.
4. Stick the letters to the triangles. (I used an extra-strong glue stick.)
5. Sew the triangles to a nice, long piece of ribbon, bias tape, or, like I did here, old sweat-pants string. I actually just lined up each triangle on the string, arranged so that the string was on the front side of the triangle, and sewed them on one at a time, going nice and slow. If you are already having a panic attack about bobbin and presser foot and you've already poured yourself 4 glasses of wine, just hole-punch the triangles and thread a nice piece of cord or twine through them. Or tape them to the fucking wall, who cares? Easy peasy!

Sending love. And courage if you need it.
xo

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Spring Things (+ a Give-Away!)

Miriam Klein Stahl's illustrations are sublime.
Rad American Women A-Z. Can I be proud without sounding like someone’s disgusting old paternalistic grandpa? Because I am. Twenty years ago, the outrageous Kate Schatz was a student of mine at UC Santa Cruz—in both my creative writing class, and in my section of Wendy Brown’s life-changing Feminist Theory class. And look! Look what she’s doing! Feminist writing! Right? This book is buoyant, brilliant, gorgeous, badass, heroic, and totally, unapologetically rad. Just the very fact of it, in my house, makes me happy every day—to say nothing of all the times I walk past Birdy intently reading about Temple Grandin or Dolores Huerta or Angela Davis. 

Angela Davis, who was teaching at Santa Cruz when Kate and I were students there. Was it a constant thrill to glimpse her on the wooded walkways of that campus? Guess.
Yes, it is a (brilliantly) illustrated alphabet book—but make no mistake. This is a book for boys and girls of any age, including grown-ups. It is my new go-to baby gift, as well as my new go-to teenager gift. If you want to win a copy of this book, leave a comment here. I’m going to use some of our Amazon credit (generated from this blog’s holiday shopping) to send the book out to three happy readers. But please don’t let the give-away stop you from ordering a copy, either from Amazon or, preferably, directly from City Lights. (OMG: It is currently out of stock. HOW RAD IS THAT? Pre-order it, okay?)


Our friend Maya, modeling.
More bragging. Our dear friend Ava (known to long-time readers variously as “Ben’s best friend, Ava” or “Nicole’s daughter, Ava” or “Birdy’s idol, Ava”) has opened an Etsy shop. Currently on offer: t-shirts printed with two of her incredible designs. These are stunning. Plus, when she is crazy-famous one day, you can produce your thread-bare Ava original, and blow people away. Don't you want to support a young artist, and be wicked cool at the same time?

A few other things. These three books, all written, suspiciously enough, by middle-aged white mothers (?), are among the best I've read, despite my current lack of imagination. 



All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. When my friend Ali was dying, and I couldn't bear to read anything that wasn't perfectly crushing and hopeful, this book was perfectly crushing and hopeful. And also just so funny and kind-hearted and profoundly human (maybe because Toews is Canadian?). We love, we try hard, we are deeply flawed. It's a novel, but is almost exactly autobiographical, so brace yourself. And "All My Puny Sorrows" is taken from a Coleridge poem, of all perfect things. Oh, really. I only envy you for not having read it yet.


Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe. Also perfection, in a different way: a crazily funny, irreverent find-Mom-a-husband story told by a completely delightful English 9-year-old. It sounds YA-ish (not that there's anything wrong with it!) but it is actually comically full of sex and drinking and darkness and depression, and in the Venn diagram of "pleasure" and "reading," the circles would overlap completely, and it would be this book. There was not a single page from which I didn't want to read aloud (and I only stopped myself because every time I said, "Oh my god, listen to this," Michael, putting down the paper, would sigh) If you haven't read Love, Nina yet, her nanny memoirs, read that too.


Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny. I just finished this last night, even though I tried and tried to make it last longer, but wolfed it down instead, and then lay around feeling full and kind of greedy and sad because it was all gone. Don't let "stories" throw you if you're not a story person: the voice is continuous, and it reads like a novel. A novel that is mostly about women having sex with men who are mostly not the men they should be having sex with. It is so funny and good-natured and true: there is passion and tedium, like in real life, and, in my favorite story, a child's birthday party that is so profoundly stressful and boring that I wondered if it wasn't, perhaps, the very best representation I'd ever read of parenting. 

Now I need a new book. I welcome your thoughts below, even if you're not entering the give-away! Speaking of: enter by Monday April 6th at noon, winners announced soon after.

xo

p.s. One last recommendation: this documentary. It blew us all away, kids and grown-ups.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Chimichurri

I am posting this recipe here--an older one--by special request. It is one of my all-time favorites.

In my dream, I arrive at the library just as everyone at the kids' school is sitting down to do an art project with their parents: there is glue and wood, paint brushes and scraps of colorful paper. "Oh, great, an art project!" I say, too loud. "I love art projects!" Only when I sit down in one of the eensy chairs, and see everybody looking quietly at me, do I realize I am naked. "Oh, gosh!" I say, too loud. "Lucky I have some undies in my bag!" Everybody looks at me quietly while I hop around and stick my two legs into one leg hole and fall over forwards with my bottom in the air and fall over backwards with my legs in the air. "Oops!" I say from the floor. "Yikes!" I laugh. "This isn't the least embarrassing moment of my life!" Everybody looks at me quietly.

 

It's like the kind of question Ben is always posing: Would you rather go to work completely nude or wearing a transparent wetsuit? (Nude.) Would you rather go to town completely nude or wearing an outfit with large holes cut out over all your private places? (Nude.) What about large holes cut out but patched in transparent fabric? (Nude.) At Dream Crafts Project, I would have been way better off naked than with the whole underpants situation.

 

I love questions like that, and I ask them too, but mine are almost always about food, and I always imagine that we're packing up for a life on a deserted island. What if you had to eat one thing for the rest of your life, but you'd get all your nutrients from it? (Michael picks ice cream, Birdy picks yogurt, Ben picks plum cake, and I pick brown rice.) If you could only use one seasoning for the rest of your life, what would it be? (Salt.) What about besides salt? (Lemon.) What if you could only use one herb? Ben picks mint; Michael picks basil; Birdy can't decide between mint and basil. But me? I pick parsley. I love parsley. It's so green-tasting, so boldy herbal without impersonating any kind of bubble bath; it's the closest you can get to seasoning a dish with the smell of newly mown grass. If it's on my plate as a garnish, I always eat it, and even hours later, I can feel its verdant echo in my mouth, as if my very teeth are photosynthesizing.

 

And this sauce is all about the parsley; it's a tribute to parsley, really, even though it's more commonly understood as an Argentinean accompaniment to grilled meats. In fact, it's typical to add other herbs to chimichurri--oregano or thyme or cilantro--but I love this parsley-only version, which is based in its simplicity on a recipe I clipped from Gourmet years and years ago. It is basic and fantastic, sharply herbal and mouth-wateringly green, with just enough vinegar to balance out the richness of, say, a perfectly grilled steak. But it is excellent with grilled anything: steak, chicken, fish, tofu. It is also a great condiment for sandwiches, and a little stirred into a pasta or grain salad is fantastic. In sum, it has for years been one of my most indispensable summer recipes. Encourage your kids to try it--by promising that they don't have to actually eat it or by calling it Shrek Sauce or whatever--because they may actually like it, but they won't know unless they etc.

Chimichurri 
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Total time: 10 minutes

I salt steak very heavily before grilling, and so I actually undersalt this sauce a bit!!! I know! Add more to your liking. Also, the sauce can thicken while it sits--almost like it's gelling, strangely--so you may want to stir more oil or vinegar into it as you like. If you can't get out your grill yet, I say a bit about pan-frying steaks here.

1 large bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1/2 cup really good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup regular old white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
A large pinch of dried red-pepper flakes (optional)

Cut the largest stems off the bunch of parsley, then submerge the leaves (along with all of its smaller stems--I am not picky about this!) in a sinkful of cold water, then spin it dry in a salad spinner.  Combine the parsley with the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and whir until pureed. If it resists pureeing (maybe you had an extra-large bunch of parsley!), add more oil and vinegar, proportionately--enough to make a sauce-like consistency, and taste for salt.