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.

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.


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

Monday, March 23, 2015


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.

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. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Thai-style Squash Salad with Masses of Herbs

You are lovely, you are. How many times have you shored me up? Countless. Truly. Thank you, now and always, for your kindness, your sympathy and empathy, your thoughtful and carefully chosen words. You have said so many things to me that I have turned over in my mind, and that have offered a great depth of comfort. I will tell you a little more about my friend at some point. I will. I'd love to. I wrote the tiniest bit here, about losing her. I hope to write more.

But also, I am eating. Cooking and eating. My friend died, I slept for a thousand hours, and then I returned, hollow and blinking in the light, to the world of the living, where people expect to be fed, and where I like to feed them and to eat.

I've made this particular salad a number of times lately. I like it because it uses the end of the winter storage squash, but then it gestures towards spring with its bright flavors and heaps of herbs (and much as I want to be all asparagus and radishes, all that's growing here right now is mud and puddles). It's based on a Thai salad I love called nam sod, which is usually made with ground pork or chicken, and has this same flavor thing happening: ginger and chiles and raw onions, lime and salt and herbs, peanuts and fish sauce. 
It is so, so good, and I wanted to make a vegetarian version of it for a potluck we were going to, so I made it with squash (I left some out for the vegetarians before adding the fish sauce). 

Some people won't like it. Some people will like it just fine or even a great deal. And some people will become deranged about it, obsessed, and the email they send asking for the recipe will be time-stamped 3:25 AM, because they were up in the night thinking about it in all it's spicy-crunchy-tender-sour-salty-caramelized glory. I will say that Michael, who is generally baffled by winter squash and people's affection for it, likes it quite a lot prepared this way. "I love the mint and cilantro," he just said when I asked him. And then (this isn't saying much, but still), "I would say it's my favorite squash preparation." Recipe follows a brief photo essay. Enjoy!

Thai-style Squash Salad with Masses of Herbs
It doesn’t matter if you have a little more or less squash: just adjust the dressing accordingly. You can also add other vegetables to the squash, such as roasted Brussels sprouts, which are lovely in here. I haven’t tried sautéed mushrooms, but I feel like they would add a nice, chewy textural element; cooked barley might add that too. Another note: don’t be shy about the salt and lime and chili paste. You want the dressing to taste too salty and sour and spicy before it interacts with the robustly mild, oppressively sweet squash.

2 medium butternut squash (or 1 massive one), enough to make about 10 cubs diced squash
¼ cup melted coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
Kosher salt
1/3 cup lime juice (around 2 limes)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1-3 tablespoons sambal oolek (Malaysian chili paste) or sriracha (or something else Asian and spicy)
1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional)
3 tablespoons very finely slivered ginger
1/2 cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped
1/2 red onion, halved and sliced thin
1 bunch cilantro, with stems, roughly chopped
Leaves from one bunch mint, the largest leaves torn in half and the rest left whole

Heat the oven to 450 and line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Peel the squash (a brutal job), then cut it into ¾-inch cubes (another brutal job). Toss the squash with the coconut oil in a large bowl, then spread it out on the baking sheets and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 20 minutes then flip the cubes around, switch the pans top to bottom, and roast for another 10 minutes or until the squash is deeply browned in spots and just tender.

Meanwhile, whisk together the lime juice, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, chili paste, and fish sauce.

Gently toss the squash with about half the dressing and taste: it should be tart, salty, and spicy. Add the ginger, toss again, then leave to cool. Top with the peanuts, onion, and herbs. Toss gently just before serving, then taste again and re-dress as needed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Thank you for your kind condolences. Your words have been so comforting to me. I will be back very soon with food and books and lots to share. In the meantime, I am sending love right back out, right back at you.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Broccoli-Cheddar Chowder and Whole-Grain Cheese Muffins

I've got your back. Especially if what's on your back is 100 falling-off buttons, and you need them sewn on in the single minute before your wedding starts. Just saying. #iamagoodfriend
My darlings. I have been a negligent recipe offerer. So I'm compensating with two, which are favorites, and which I've been making again lately, what with the bitter cold and the snow and the snow falling, snow on snow on snow, and also the cold. My oldest, dearest friend is dying in a hospice in Coney Island. I have wanted not to mention that because, well, you know, she is a loyal reader, and who really wants to read that, especially about one's own self? But I think she will not be reading this. And Ben and Birdy have been sweetly teasing me that I have a kind of grieving-Tourette's right now: Hi. I'm Catherine. Nice to meet you. My best friend of 43 years is dying. 

Enough said. Because soup and muffins. Comfort. Love. Lots of cheese. xo

I garnished with "reserved broccoli florets" that I forgot to mention. Texturally, butter-fried breadcrumbs is an even better choice.

Broccoli Cheddar Chowder
Serves 6
Active time: 10 minutes; total time: 45 minutes

Thickened simply with potatoes, this wholesome green soup is easy, delicious, and velvety-rich. Also: broccoli!
1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound of  potatoes (any kind), peeled and diced
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups whole milk
pinch of dried thyme or marjoram or mint (if you've got fresh herbs--cilantro, mint, or basil--use more, and add them just before pureeing)
1 large head broccoli (1 ½ pounds), stems peeled, stems and florets chopped
Juice and grated zest of ½ a lemon
8 ounces sharp cheddar, grated
Salt and pepper

Heat the butter and oil in a soup pot over medium-low heat, and sauté the onion and garlic for five or so minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the potatoes, broth, milk, and herbs, bring to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender. Add the broccoli, and simmer another 10 minutes or so, until the broccoli is tender but still green. Puree, using a stick blender (or carefully, in batches, in a blender), then stir in the lemon juice, zest, and cheese, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Whole-Grain Cheese Muffins
Makes 12

This is a recipe I adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks, but I use whole-grain flour instead of white flour and buttermilk instead of milk. Also sharp cheddar instead of Colby jack. The muffins are quick and easy to put together, crunchy-edged, and outrageously savory. Heavily season any soup you eat alongside or it will taste flat by comparison.

1 1/2 cups flour
 (I use 1 cup spelt, and ½ cup whole-wheat)
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon garlic powder
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter (I use salted)

Heat the oven to 375 and grease and flour a 12-well muffin tin.
Whisk together the dry ingredients, then stir in the cheese.
In a separate bowl (or large measuring cup), whisk the egg, milk, and butter together.
Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir with a spoon just to combine.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until they are deeply golden and firm to the touch.