Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gratitude and Holiday Recipes

Oh, man. You guys. Thank you for your comments here last week. The fact that some of us have been on this journey together for 8, 9, 10, 11 years? It kills me. It does. I also loved the advice not to quit my day job. I have seriously gotten tons of mileage out of that. 

I'm putting together a little holiday gift guide--mostly the usual, an assortment of books and games--that I am hoping to publish soon. In the meantime, here are a few links to holiday favorites:

I realize that I have never posted a turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potato, or pecan pie recipe here. And those are all things I make every year. Every single year. Like, all the years, every last one. But here's the sweet potato dish I always make. It's an old Gourmet recipe, and it's excellent. The apricots keep it just barely this side of cloying.

Also, if you're making vanilla extract as a holiday gift, now's the time to start.

Happy everything. xoxo

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

This is Adolescence: 14

This is fourteen.

Fourteen stands in the bathroom doorway with a smear of foam above his lip and a razor in his hand, chatting into your bedroom. You remind yourself to pay attention. In four years he will be gone. You put a finger in your book to keep your spot while your manchild fills the doorway with his tall, talking self. You remind yourself to listen to what he's actually saying, not just to the fact of his little lemon-drop voice getting buried in gravel. Fourteen is confessing how he kind of still wants to have a job like in Richard Scarry’s Busytown. He wants to work in a paper factory or a fabric mill or inside the enormous cross-sected engine room of a ship. “I mean,” he says, “Believe me. I know those are all totally crushing jobs in real life. But still.”

Fourteen watches The Possession, The Shining, The Birds with buoyant delight, but looks on with frank, exaggerated horror when you pluck your chin hairs in the bathroom mirror. You can tell from his expression that every revolting thing in the world has been concentrated in the lower part of your face. When you catch his disgusted eye in the mirror, he reshapes his mouth into an apologetic smile. You stick up your middle finger and he laughs, leaves the room noisily beat-boxing.

Fourteen picks up a banjo to accompany his sister on guitar. He bends over her math homework, his long hair hanging into the long-division problem he is patiently explaining. He says to her, in the cat’s cranky voice, “Great. Now I have to wash all over again because you pet me.” When she snatches her hand back from the cat’s damp fur, you remind her that it wasn’t really the cat complaining, and Fourteen says, in the cat’s cranky voice, “Yes it was.”

Fourteen is full of sudden domestic judgments. “Does the kitchen sponge have to be so gross?” (Yes.) “The recycling smells.” (Indeed.) “Didn’t our floors used to be nice and shiny?” (They did!) Coming in from his monthly lawn mowing, Fourteen manages to communicate more overheatedness than a supernova. He flops on the couch, conspicuously fanning himself, and asks, breathless and, it would appear, having a small stroke, if you wouldn’t mind getting him a glass of ice water. You bring him the water, then can’t help yourself. “Fourteen,” you say, “it’s, like, ten square feet of mowing. I think you’ll be okay.” “You’re welcome,” Fourteen says. You’d love to stay and argue, but you have to rush out and buy him pants, pants, and more pants. The getting of pants is your new full-time job. If you listen hard in the night, you can hear his legs growing.

Speaking of the night: Fourteen no longer looks like a baby while he sleeps. For years, even as his limbs stretched and dangled, his dreaming face regressed to the contours of infancy: downy cheeks, pearl of nose, the pink, pouched lips of a nursling. But now that it’s been kiln-fired, the face has taken this opportunity to chisel out its jutting new edges: brow and jaw, nose and chin. Like a Neanderthal crossed with a peach.

Fourteen sits on a stool with a wooden spoon in one hand and a fork in the other, eating buttered noodles right from the pot. Fourteen and three friends eat two pounds of bacon in four minutes. Fourteen is a bottomless pit, and you secretly love this, although you don’t know why. Probably because feeding him is your idiom for loving. As is grabbing his face in your two hands and kissing his reluctant cheeks, breathing in his fleeting scalp.

Fourteen is lazy in the best possible way. One day you and he lure the cat into bed with treats, then spend the glorious start of the weekend in leisurely conversation about Friskies Party Mix. “If they were human treats, which flavor would you pick?” He shows you the package and you pick Meow Luau. He picks Mixed Grill, then asks which you would pick if they were still cat treats but you had to eat them. You both pick Cheezy Craze. The cat snores softly, draped over your four shins. An hour passes. “This,” Fourteen sighs happily, “is a classic Friday afternoon.”

Also in the worst possible way. You have been arguing for fourteen years about his teeth and whether they really need so much brushing. “Fine,” you say evenly, one night. “Don’t brush them. They’re your teeth.” Oh god!” Fourteen says, his indignant voice like a deep-dug hole. “Mama! Jesus. That’s brutal! You still have to make me.”

Fourteen scrambles into his enormous boots to take a walk when you invite him. The oak leaves on the ground are thick as leather, and they fill you with joy and sadness. In four years he’ll be gone. These are the same oak leaves that Fourteen crunched through when he was a chubby, staggering toddler, proud in his brown lace-up shoes and knee-deep in autumn. “I feel like we’re just walking through the leaves, and the calendar pages are flying off, and we’re already walking through the leaves again,” you say, and Fourteen says, “I know, right? Even I’m starting to feel like that.” He bolts away to look at something, then smiles at you from a patch of sunlight. And it’s not so different from when he was two: all you can do is be there, open-armed and always, in case he turns. In case he runs back. 

This is the fourth episode of This is Adolescence, an essay series conceived by Lindsey Mead and Allison Slater Tate, and which I'm just completely thrilled to be a part of. Please read the lovely first trio of installments, each of which made me remember a detail of my recent past so acutely that I had to write it in my journal: 11 here, 12 here, and 13 here. And coming up: 15, 16, 17, and 18, god help us.

Unbored Games Winners!

Huzzah! Thank you so much for playing along, and for your kind words, and for your indulgence of my adolescent humor. The winners are:

Sarah C. from New Orleans
Amy S.
Jenny F, hurling yourself into the hopefuls.

Please email me your address. More give-aways coming soon!


Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Unbored Games Give-Away!

So, as I have mentioned, first I insinuated myself into the Unbored book series, and now I get to do a give-away here of Unbored Games. Life is, despite the hideous election results, totally grand.

That's me, all the way at the bottom left, looking dauntedly at the amazingly creative ways the art folks signed the books. I just wrote my name, like a schmo, but I was so happy to be there. Also, the Unbored team is almost weirdly attractive.
I'm crazy excited about this give-away for a couple of reasons.

1) Bloomsbury is generously donating three copies of the book to this particular cause, the cause being readers of this blog who want the book. That means you have a guaranteed 1 in 3 chance of winning! Okay, it doesn't mean that. But still.

2) I am a big fan of Unbored, and of games, making this second book in the series just completely perfect for people like me (and hopefully you) plus the essay I contributed

3) I actually got to meet Joshua Glenn and a bunch of the crazily talented creatives at a book event on Saturday, and they were so much fun, and Josh and my Michael even share the worst and most hideously small-hearted phobia that I am not at liberty to share here, but that makes me love them both all the more.

So please enter! Just write a comment in the comments saying you'd like to enter and you will be entered. (Sorry. I did it again. Gross molesting passive voice. "You will be entered by me" was worse though, and then "I will enter you" was even worse than that. Sorry.) You have to live in the U.S., also, sorry. Sorry sorry sorry. I'm having that kind of day. Sorry.

Two other things:

Ben's latest stop-motion claymation is up on youtube (speaking of Unbored, which is where he learned how.) Please watch it. It's very, very short, but it does have a notably distinct narrative arc. Also, please note and admire his correct usage of "its." Atta boy.

I have a new piece at the NYT Motherlode blog, and I'd love it if you went over there to read it! (Sorry.)

Thanks, friends. And thank you for being such a bright spot in the bleak November ick of this particular day. xoxo
Gratuitous cat belly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


As a buffalo-chicken-wing lover and craver, this is a challenging time of year for me. Because we are getting bushels and pecks of stunning late-season produce from our farm share? But we are not getting chicken wings. Not any chicken wings at all.

I'm shy!
And so, with a large head of cauliflower beckoning from the fridge, I Googled Buffalo Cauliflower, fearing the worst.

The recipe--which is *this* recipe--did not give me a hopeful feeling. Why on earth would a batter of rice flour and water become crispy in the oven with no oil? Please. It seemed like one of those fake Pinterest ideas, like lighting an orange half that magically burns like a candle. Like someone was looking for hits, and made up some crazy shit, and who cares.

But, magically, it works. The batter gets crunchy. It soaks up the buffalo sauce. The whole thing turns into the kind of mad-addictive plate of food that you intend to savor for the hour before dinner, only then it turns into a crazy feeding frenzy that ends in 45 seconds, after which everybody is stuffed. (I did the math in my head: this is not a calorically sparse food. But it is nutritionally dense, which is nice.)

Look, you're not going to be chewing crispy, salty, shredding meat off the bones like you'll wish you were, if that's your thing. But you are going to be crunching into deeply flavored, spicy, crispy bites of food that will satisfy you in every other way. Try it and see.

Buffalo Cauliflower
This recipe is based on the one at The Lean Clean Eating Machine, a blog I know only because of my Googling of "buffalo cauliflower." Whereas Mr. (Lean) Clean uses ½ cup Frank’s with just a teaspoon of margarine, I use equal parts butter and Frank’s, because I’m a Buffalo purist. Also a lover of butter, and not vegan. But use whatever you like or need to, preference- or dietary-wise. Don't be tempted to use more oil in the baking stages. You'd think it would make it more crispy, but it just makes it less crispy. I don't know why that is.

Cooking spray (or olive oil)
½ cup brown rice flour
½ cup water
¾ teaspoon kosher salt (this is a “pinch” originally, but come on)
¼ teaspoon granulated garlic powder
1 medium-sized head of cauliflower, teased apart with a knife into smallish florets
¼ cup butter, melted
¼ cup Frank’s Red Hot sauce

Heat the oven to 450 and spray a large nonstick baking sheet with cooking spray. (When I brushed the sheet with olive oil, the cauliflower stuck a little, but when I sprayed it with cooking spray, it didn’t. I’m just mentioning that.)

Whisk together the rice flour, water, salt, and garlic powder in a small bowl.

Hold each cauliflower piece by its stem end, dip it in the batter, and then lay it on the baking sheet. This will not seem like it’s going to work—it will look like the batter’s all pooling off the cauliflower onto the baking sheet—but trust me, okay? Alternately, you can whisk together the batter in a large bowl, dump all the cauliflower in and mix it around, then pull out individual pieces to lay on the sheet, but I think the other way works better. And it really doesn't take that long. I can't stress enough how much you're going to think this isn't working: the batter will sort of pool off the florets and it will all feel grim and worrisome. Worry not!

Bake for 10 minutes (the batter will have hardened into a crust), and then flip each piece over with a spatula or tongs and bake for another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the Frank’s and butter in a small bowl. (I actually measure the Frank’s in a glass cup, then add the butter and melt the whole shebang together in the microwave.)

Take the cauliflower out of the oven and use a pastry brush to brush each piece with the Buffalo mixture. I like to have it so that the florets are resting on their flat sides for this, if they have a flat side. Bake the cauliflower for another 8-10 minutes, until it’s crispy and the sauce looks absorbed.

Remove the cauliflower from the oven and let it sit for 10-15 minutes before serving. The original recipe says 20, and everyone admits that even though it sounds crazy to let it sit, the resting time makes it better, and I find myself strangely agreeing.

Serve with (natch) celery and blue cheese dressing.

Blue Cheese Dressing
Makes 2 cups

This is so, so good. If you keep it around, you will eat more salad, I promise.

1 cup blue cheese, crumbled (I used Trader Joe's already-been-crumbled Blue Cheese)
1 cup Hellman's or Best Foods mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire (thank you spell check!) sauce
A dash of granulated garlic powder 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor, or with a hand blender, whir all the ingredients together until smooth. Taste for seasoning and serve or chill.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Winner! and other stuff

And the winner is: Tracey, who wanted to "forget to return" the copy she checked out from the library. Tracey, email me your address, and I will get Dinner: The Playbook right in the mail. Thank you, everybody, for playing! We will be doing some more contests soon, so please stay tuned.

While I'm here, a couple other things.

I have to tell you that, since this album came out, we have listened to nothing else. Just go over and click the little clips over there and tell me you aren't dying to hear the whole thing. Seriously. So, okay, yes, Small Parade is two friends of mine, one of whom is Nicole, of Improv Sewing and Carr's Ciderhouse fame. She is also, for long-time readers, the mother of Ben's dearest friend Ava. But I would listen to this record and love it even if they were strangers. Plus, Ava did the cover art!
This is Ben and a banjo. Not a doorknob.
Did I ever tell you about this essay, over at Brain, Child, about Ben and the doorknobs? Herewith I am. Telling you.

What about the fact that I have a little game-night cameo essay in the new Unbored book? Unbored Games. It's here, it's queer, get used to it. Okay, maybe it's not queer so much as just totally awesome, because those guys are the greatest. You can only imagine my great honor at being invited to contribute! Plus the illustrator did an excellent job with my imaginary dream family of three kids and a hirsute man friend. See a great preview of the book over here. And if you don't already have the original Unbored, please be sure to get it.

Note to locals: Josh Glenn and I are doing a little Unbored Games event in South Hadley, MA on November 1st. Details here.

I also have a strange little essay in the spanking-new (spanking!) anthology, Full Grown People's Greatest Hits Volume I. Because it is edited by the brilliant Jennifer Niesslein, I can promise you it's going to be a can't-put-it-down situation. I don't actually have it in my hands yet, but I can't wait.

Next up: This stunning picture book, The Mitten String.

Yes, Jennifer Rosner is one of my dearest friends, and yes, I have known her beautiful children since they were babies, but that's not what makes this book such a treasure, I swear. I mean, just look at it, for one thing. And for another, the story is so deeply sweet and uniquely lovely that you just have to get it and see. There is wool in it! And sheep! And a deaf mother and her child connected with a piece of yarn. It is magical, and you can preorder it now and get it in just one week! Read a sample page here, if you like.

Okay, my darling friends. Thank you for your pateince. Recipes are coming soon. xo

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sweet and Spicy Tofu Bowl PLUS Dinner: The Playbook give-away!

Chopsticks whittled by Birdy.
Jenny Rosenstrach’s Dinner: A Love Story blog is that rare mix of real-life, inspiring, and aspirational that actually makes me want to buy some actual food for once so that my family can eat an actual real meal like chicken, and not just a rotating pantry assemblage of grains and cheese and chickpeas and non-perishable vegetables and cabbage. I love her. I loved her first book, with its wonderfully adaptable strategies and entertaining stories and excellent recipes, and because she’s the kind of person who calls pork ragu “an instant party.” And now I love her second book, which is, again and perfectly, just about dinner—about getting appealing, delicious evening meals on the table to feed a family that has kids in it. Plus, it’s little and, adorably, styled to look like a Little Golden Book.


I’m giving you a sneak preview here, with this tofu recipe that rescued my family from the doldrums of The Same Tofu We Always Eat. Everybody loves it loves it loves it. It’s sweet and sticky and spicy and totally craveably umami. Plus: miso and Sriracha and lime! The trifecta of yum.
This is not Jenny's cat.
You should buy Dinner: The Playbook because it will probably pay for itself in, like, three days (unless you were planning otherwise to just eat beans every night like some people). Then you should enter the give-away to get a copy for a lucky friend. Just leave a comment and live in the U.S. to enter. (If you live not in the U.S., you can send me a complaining email instead!) I'll announce the winner on Monday.

From the Playbook. Courtesy of Dinner: A Love Story
Sweet and Spicy Tofu Bowl
Confession: I ran out of miso once and made this with only half the miso, and it was STILL GOOD. If people in your family eat a lot of tofu, double the recipe.

1 14-ounce block extra-firm tofu
½ cup sweet white miso, such as Miso Master brand (available in Asian markets and in the refrigerated sections of better supermarkets)
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon Sriracha, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce [I used regular!]
Juice of ½ small lime
2 cups cooked sushi rice [I used brown rice!] drizzled with 1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar while still warm
1 bunch of spinach, sautéed in olive oil, salted and peppered [I made kale slaw!]

About 30 minutes before you plan to start cooking, slice the tofu into pieces the size of playing cards (about ½ inch thick) [I cut it into 12 pieces], lay them flat on a paper-towel-lined dinner plate, cover with more paper towels, then place something heavy on top, such as a cast iron pan. [I actually put the tofu on paper towels on the foil-lined rimmed baking sheet I was planning to cook it on, then covered with more paper towels and a smaller baking sheet with a full kettle on top.]

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the miso, maple syrup, Sriracha, soy sauce, and lime juice.

Preheat the broiler to high. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat lightly with cooking spray. Place the tofu pieces on the baking sheet, brush with [half] the miso mixture, and broil for 5 minutes, or until golden but not burned. Flip over and broil for another 5 minutes, watching it carefully. [Me again. I spooned on the remaining miso mixture after flipping it, but I notice now that the recipe does not call for this step. I still recommend it!]

Serve the tofu over the rice with the spinach and a drizzle of Sriracha, if desired.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Caramel Apple Upside-Down Cake

Even this "perfect" one seems to have some displaced apples.

I just pitched a piece to a women’s magazine about my schizophrenic kale-Cheezits relationship to food and eating. Jolly Ranchers and buckwheat groats; bar-room chicken wings and raw kohlrabi. “Interesting!” the editor wrote back. “But what’s the take-away going to be? We’re not getting such a clear sense of it.” That is a good and important question! What is the take-away going to be?

Maybe it’s this: the fact of our privilege means we have a fridge full of food, which is such a profound luxury. 

I want us to nurture our healthy bodies and to invest in organic practices, in local and sustainable harvests, in a healthier planet with healthier creatures on it. But I also want to not fret over every mouthful, which can feel kind of narcissistic given that so many people are frankly hungry. Also, I’m raising a girl. I really don’t want her to overthink every bite of food, if you know what I mean. I wish for some easiness in her about eating—a sense that, as long as her basic diet is healthy and sound, it’s fine to slurp up a blue raspberry Slurpee every now and again. (Even if she notices, and she does, that it makes her feel kind of cruddy.)
Corn Nut butt
I’m just thinking aloud, by the way. And this may all just be specious justification of the fact that, even though I’ve been generally leaning away from sugar and white flour, I’m posting this cake today. Because it’s apple season, and because I wanted there to be something nice when the kids got home from school.

The cake is so sticky-salty-buttery good that everyone will love it. Even if right after you take it out of the oven your camera strap catches on the corner of the kitchen island such that the camera slingshots out of your hands onto the tile floor where its lens cap flies off with a heart-stopping clatter and by the time you finish Googling "I dropped my camera and it seems alright but is it?" the topping has cooled and stuck, and you have to scrape the entire thing back onto the cake in a messy heap. Even then.

It will still taste delicious! Even if all the dumb apples and dumb cooled caramel had to be spackled onto it and photographed with a not-broken dropped camera that is maybe taking blurry pictures.
Caramel Apple Upside-Down Cake
Serves 6 to 8
Active time: 35 minutes; total time 1 hour

This cake is like the autumn cousin of the more familiar pineapple version. It is gooey and gorgeous--and a fantastic way to use some of those apples you might be getting in large quantities right about now. It’s based on the French tarte tatin, so butter, yes, caramel, yes, salt, yes, but NO CINNAMON. If you want to add cinnamon though, you totally should. Because life is short.

Please note: if you need to be sure the cake is going to come out perfect, then butter the skillet and line the bottom with a circle of parchment before you begin melting the butter and caramelizing the apples.

For caramelized apples
2 crisp apples (or 3 if they’re small), peeled
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter (I use salted!)

For cake batter
1 1/2 cups flour (I use—can you guess?—half spelt)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
1/2 cup sour cream

Heat the oven to 350.

Core the apples, then quarter them and slice each quarter into thirds. Put the apple slices and sugar in a large bowl and toss to coat the slices with sugar.

Melt the butter in a10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat until foaming. Reduce the heat to low and arrange the apples, cut-sides down in the skillet. I do mine in an attractive spiral! Sprinkle any leftover sugar around the apples, and cook over moderately low heat until the sugar begins to caramelize, about 15 minutes. (At first it may look like the sugar is caramelizing right away, but that is likely still the butter toasting. Wait a sec and see.) Remove the skillet from the heat while you make the batter.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg and beat well. Add the flour mixture and sour cream alternately in 3 batches of flour and 2 of sour cream, mixing at low speed after each addition until just combined.

Spoon the (very stiff) batter over the apples in the skillet, blooping out all the batter in stiff little globs and using a butter knife after to spread it as evenly as you can without disturbing the apples; this is sort of stressful and unsatisfying, and the batter will not cover the tops of all the apples. Bake in the middle of the oven until the cake is golden brown and feels firm when you press it, around 25 minutes.

Run a thin knife around edge of the cake and invert a plate over the skillet. Invert the cake onto the plate, keeping the plate and skillet firmly pressed together, then replace any (or all) fruit stuck to the bottom of the skillet if necessary.

Serve cake warm or at room temperature.