Thursday, September 07, 2017

Neon Pickled Squash / Bean Feast redux / Books

I am running a new recipe below, for Neon Pickled Squash, even though what I really want to do is run the recipe for Bean Feast again. Because I’ve run it before, I know, but I cannot overemphasize the staple-ness of this recipe at my house. We have it at least every other week, if not weekly. And it’s almost always pinto beans, but sometimes I mix it up with black beans, because we’re crazy like that. If you are too lazy to click over to the link, the idea is that you cook up a perfect pot of plain beans, in your pressure cooker, with plenty of salt. I start with 2 or 3 cups of dried beans, a handful of salt, and water to generously cover; bring it to a boil, shut off the heat, leave for an our; cook at high pressure for 8 minutes (6 for black beans), then let the steam release on its own. 

A perfectly doctored bowl. I sliced the squash pickles into planks.
A pressure cooker yields beans that are perfectly tender and creamy inside, while remaining unmushy. You can bite them, and the skins are intact, but they middles are soft. I can’t even explain how wonderful they are; you simply can’t achieve this level of bean perfection with regular boiling, and believe me, I tried for years. (If you have a newfangled Magic Pot, please let me know what you think.)

The classic Bean Feast. Photo credit Ben Newman.
Then you serve everyone a glorious dishful of steaming beans (with or without rice, as you prefer) and put out an assortment yummy and attractive DIY toppings such as:

·      Escabeche and/or pickled jalapenos
·      Pickled radishes and/or squash (below)
·      Crumbled feta or shredded cheddar or Jack
·      A little cruet (!) of tasty olive oil
·      Coarse salt
·      Lime wedges
·      Hot sauce, including something smoky
·      Diced avocado
·      Slivered cabbage or romaine lettuce
·      Cilantro leaves
·      Chopped white or red onions
·      Sour cream

You are going for maximum flavor, color, texture, nutrition, so assort the toppings accordingly.

From the New Yorker. . . amiright 
But if you’re really here just for the pickled squash, and a bean feast isn’t even in your future, you’re still in luck. Because these are wonderful pickles—sweet-and-sour and good on a sandwich or burger, in a quesadilla, with cheese and crackers, or right out of the jar—and they’re easy to make. Plus, you’re not canning them, so you don’t even need to lie awake listening for pings and fretting about botulism and imagining gravestones that say "Thanks for the pickles." Just stick them in the fridge, like a normal person.

Beauty x 4 
Meanwhile, thank you to everyone—all of you parents and readers and teachers and librarians—who already bought One Mixed-Up Night, blogged about it, ordered it for your school or library, read it to your kids, reviewed it on Amazon or Goodreads, requested it at your local bookstore, wrote to me about it, and recommended it. Those things all help books sales SO MUCH! Also, there is a movement afoot to leave copies of the book in IKEA stores as a form of guerrilla book publicity. Please stay tuned for more on that, or go rogue, and sneak a copy into your local IKEA and enjoy my eternal gratitude. Also, if you send me photos, I will post them here!

For you grown-ups out there, I just finished this book, which I loved, and am reading this book now, which I am loving. Oh, reading. It really is a haven in a heartless world. Stay safe, beloved readers and resisters and dreamers and Floridians. Love to you all. xo

Trombetta, c/o Renees Garden seed company
Neon Pickled Squash
This is adapted from the recipe for Zucchini Pickles in the wonderful book preserving book Put ‘Em Up. The pickles are crazily yellow and perfectly seasoned—bread-and-butterish, but spicier and less sweet. Also, the ice treatment keeps them nice and crunchy. I make these every September because my friend Meredith grows these enormous crookneck Trombetta squash that are so enormous and so crooknecked they look like green pythons that have swallowed swans. They are very firm and lovely, though, and they make wonderful pickles. You use, like, half of one to get two pounds of slices. Seriously. Then you keep the other half in the fridge and saw away at it intermittently, like it's a gigantic and bland vegetarian salami.

2 pounds summer squash (crookneck, zucchini, or the ginormous trombetta), sliced into ¼-inch rounds
1 onion, sliced into half moons
1 tray of ice cubes
½ cup kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 small red chili or 1 teaspoon pepper flakes (if you like spicy pickles)

In a large bowl, toss the zucchini and onions with the salt, then crack the ice over it and add just enough cold water to cover. Leave it for two hours, then drain it, fish out any unmelted ice, and use your clean hands to pack the veggies into a large, very clean 2-quart jar (or several smaller jars). (The original recipe has you rinse the squash, but I find the salt amount to be more perfect if it’s unrinsed. Up to you!)

Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil, then pour over the squash in the jar(s). Use a canning funnel if you have one. And if you don’t have one, buy a canning funnel, for god’s sake. You will use it everyday to fill lunchbox thermoses, and you will wonder what you were thinking, not having one.

Once the pickles are cool, store them in the fridge, where they will keep indefinitely.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


My friend Moira Greto took this photo of Ben. 

Oh, my friends. You know how this is for me. These first low, low back-to-school days. I believe I have mentioned them before, yes? The wild grapes just starting to perfume the air, the sunlight gone sharp and cool, the street dotted with bright maple leaves. Things I love! And yet. "I think the cats are depressed about the kids being gone," I say to Michael, and he smiles at me, nods. "Do you think I have Epstein-Barr?" I ask him. "I'm so tired." "Probably," he says, and I laugh. The house is echoing. I bake a plum cake to kill time. I blitz half a watermelon in the blender with the juice of a lime, drink the entire thing and feel a little better. The cats lick my face.

And of course: Hurricane Harvey. I mean, my god. I remind myself of. . . myself. Once, during a terrible El Nino storm in Santa Cruz, I went to the SPCA to borrow some Hav-a-Heart traps. "Missing pets?" they fretted, and I said, "Oh, no. Just mice in the attic." They suggested, gently, that I waited until the disaster had passed to attend to my miniature, insulation-chewing concerns. Which seemed fair, if entirely mortifying. So yes, I will remember not to call the Coast Guard about my children having returned to school. I am sending love to you, my brave, beloved Texas people.

And, in the meantime, this middle-grade novel is about to be published! In a week. September 5th. Please order it! Please review it on Amazon and Goodreads! Please ask your local library and bookstore to order it! I will be so, so grateful. Kirkus even wrote something nice about it, concluding: "Readers will revel in Frankie and Walter’s cathartic romp and learn much about grief, family, and friendship along the way." The same Kirkus who once described a book of mine as so dull that it made you wish you were Captain Hook just so you could claw your own eyes out more efficiently. That was, at least, the gist of the review, I felt. Anyhoo. If you know anyone who writes book reviews or is a children's librarian or a bookshop owner, and you wanted to put me in touch with them, I'd be thrilled! Thank you so much, as always, for your help.

p.s. Speaking of help, and how I'm always asking for it: will you please send me questions for my parenting-teens advice column? Thank you! 

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Pair of Watermelon Salads

The world is exploding, and I am popping in to say: WATERMELON. Forgive me. This is the bifurcated world we seem to be living in, that on the one hand there are white supremacists showing doing violence that our president refuses to condemn. On the other hand, crisp and juicy-fleshed watermelon, which is suddenly the only thing I want to eat. 

So, the watermelon itself is delicious enough. But I'm also mildly obsessed with two different salads, and, since I can't pick--I mean, I will start to make one, and then think, No, no, and make the other--I'm telling you about both of them. These are less exact portraits of ingredients than they are rough sketches. They are both exquisitely refreshing, complicated, and perfectly simple.

Watermelon Caprese
This is, yes, a version of Caprese salad with watermelon in it. To make this one, dice up a quarter of a seedless watermelon, 4 large tomatoes, and a pound of fresh mozzarella (I love the kind from Trader Joe's). Add a large handful of slivered basil leaves, a couple bloops of olive oil, a small splash of balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt.
Stir gently, and eat as soon as possible, because the salt will draw the water out of the melon. (You should drink this from the bowl, though. I'm just saying.)

Watermelon, Feta, and Mint 
Dice half of a seedless watermelon and add about 6 ounces crumbled feta (a cup or two), the juice and grated zest of 1 or 2 large, juicy limes, a large handful of slivered mint leaves, and a pinch of aleppo pepper flakes (or something similarly spicy/flavorful). Stir gently and taste for lime, feta, mint, heat. I don't add salt or oil to this one.

Stay safe, keep each other safe, and resist, my darlings. xo

Friday, July 28, 2017

Green Greens Rice Casserole (+ more summer)

Today, this glorious mild and cloud-blue day, we have thwarted the skinny repeal bill, thank god, because it sounded like the lamest-ever milkshake flavor, and one that was going to have serious and terrible health consequences. So huzzah for us! Now if we can just keep them from going after our beloved queers. To that end, I wrote this, over at the anti-hate news project 500 Pens. Sigh.

Meanwhile, how is summer half over? Oh, maybe I know. 

Plus full-on gaming. And reading, reading, reading. (Also, read this, if you haven’t yet. It’s crazily good.) For car trips (especially ones to Cape Cod), try listening to this, assuming nobody in your family has a "problem" with, spoiler alert, cannibalism. We found it incredibly diverting.

I've also been busy not cooking

I dressed very thinly sliced raw summer squash with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and slivered cilantro. Calling it "Zucchini Ceviche" didn't really entice anybody else into loving it, but I couldn't believe how sweet and wonderful it was. 
and cooking. It’s been a little cooler lately, so we’ve been making a humble old favorite of ours (minus Ben, for whom this is something of an edible chore), which is this very cheesy and comforting brown-rice casserole. It’s one of my favorite ways to use a vast assortment of greens and odds and ends of good cheese (or even mediocre cheese). Plus, you can add whatever else you like to it! I just made one where I added diced zucchini and two ears’ worth of corn kernels, which I sautéed together before stirring them into the rice. I loved the bursts of sweetness from the corn, and the tender earnestness of the squash. I also confess to having used about 2 cups of cheese, including blue cheese crumbles and the wonderful Unexpected Cheddar from Trader Joe’s. Yum.

I hope you are thriving, my darlings, and enjoying everything you could possible be enjoying right now. xo

Green Greens Rice Casserole
Serves 6

This is an incredibly versatile recipe. You can add diced, sautéed corn and summer squash, if you like, or beets and their greens, or whatever else seems like it would be good. Also, there is no magic to this particular assortment of dairy! I just made it with sour cream instead of cottage cheese, and it was delicious. Plus, you can skip the cream cheese and it’s still good—maybe just add another egg to keep it all nice and moist! I didn’t write the recipe this way, but often (because I’m lazy and I like the greens to be chopped fine, but I don’t like chopping them fine), I will sauté the onions and greens, and then put it in the blender with the rest of the ingredients (not the rice and cheese and extra diced veggies, if using) and blend, then stir this into the rice with the cheese and other veggies.

6 cups freshly cooked short-grain brown rice (made from 3 cups raw)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large bunch of greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc.), washed, thick ribs removed, and chopped
4-ounces of cream cheese (a whole small packet, or half of a regular one)
3 eggs
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 (or more) packed cup(s) grated cheese (Monterey Jack and/or cheddar is perfect for this, but adding some blue cheese and/or parmesan makes it all the cheesier…)
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
1 tablespoon-1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as dill, mint, basil, or cilantro

Heat the oven to 350 and cook the rice. While the rice is cooking, heat the olive oil in a wide pan over medium-low heat and sauté the onion with the salt until it's soft, translucent, and starting to brown (around 10 minutes). Add the garlic and sauté for another minute until it's fragrant, then add the greens and cook, stirring, until the greens are wilted and tender, anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes, depending on the greens (if the mixture threatens to dry out, add a couple tablespoons of water and let it steam, covered, for a few minutes).

Turn the heat off, and stir in the cream cheese, cut into chunks, until it is mostly melted. Now stir in the rice (if your pan isn't huge, you may need to move the whole thing to a large mixing bowl), and then the eggs, which you've beaten with the cottage cheese, and, finally, the grated cheese. (See headnote for another way to do this.) Add a few squeezes of lemon juice, and the herbs, if you're using them. Now put a spoonful of the mixture on a plate and microwave for a few seconds, then taste: add more salt, lemon, and/or herbs if it doesn't seem fully flavored. (I taste it raw, but this is not a recommended practice).

Bake the rice mixture in a greased casserole dish, covered with a lid or foil, for 25 minutes, and then uncovered for another 10 until it is nice and gold on top. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Summer 2017: The Beginning (in pictures)

To say my kids were ready for summer would be like saying the Titanic nicked itself on an iceberg. They were crawling through the desert of school on their hands and knees, and summer was the oasis that was maybe just a mirage until it wasn't, and it came, and they drank and drank and are still drinking. They have been sleeping until 10, 11, 12, the poor, exhausted ducks.

They rouse themselves to eat and play Mine Craft. It was a difficult and tiring school year, and it makes me so happy to see them refueling.

Other Mine Craft compatriots come and go. They've only been on vacation for 5 seconds, these kids, so their binging goes unchecked for now.

Birdy takes gaming breaks to read a little bit. Michael and I took her to see the touring company of Fun Home, and I think it was the best thing we ever saw on stage. I got goosebumps no fewer than a dozen times. Birdy is now loving the book. (FYI, my Survivor column about teenagers and reading should go up tomorrow.)

If you're not already, try making cold-brew ice coffee: shake together 1/3 cup of any medium-roast grounds with 1 1/2 cups of water, and leave it at room temperature overnight. In the morning I pour it through my porcelain pour-over cone, but you could totally line a sieve with a basket filter, and use that instead. It makes about 2 cups of coffee, and it is caramel-sweet, with a striking absence of bitterness, burntness, or sourness. Keep extras in the fridge.
My current everyday, anytime meal: Put an egg in a small pot of cold water. Bring it to a boil, shut off the heat, and leave it for 7 minutes. Run under cold water, peel, halve, and top the yolk with a tiny pat of butter, a sprinkle of salt, and a shake of hot sauce. Perfection. 
But a person cannot live on eggs alone. So there are popsicles! These are from a recipe for Sour Cherry, only I used bing cherries and added lemon juice. There is also almond extract. They are possible the best popsicles ever.
I actually wrote the People's Pops people to remind them how wonderful their cookbook is. I mean, I know I've written about it before, but we use it at least twice a week, all summer long, and every recipe is delicious and perfectly crafted. It always makes exactly enough to fill our mold--no more, no less. Amazing. If you know anyone with a summer birthday, the book along with the mold makes a great gift.
Juxtabo is a very good summer game: the tiles are these gorgeous, sherbetty colors, and it's a perfect quickish but interesting on-the-carpet-by-the-fan sort of game. Plus, we can take it camping because the pieces are wonderfully heavy and won't blow away. What is it, though? It's like a cross between Othello and Blokus and Colorku, but not exactly. Sorry.
The kitten is under the impression that under = cooler. 
Maybe he is right!
A couple other things, re SUMMER:
  • Another great summer game is this.
  •  If you are resisiting Kan Jam because you don't want to spend $40 on two pieces of plastic and a shitty frisbee, I hear you. But we actually play every single day
  • They no longer make the old sunscreen I recommended all the time, but we are really liking this one
  • If you've got animal-loving kids, they will love my friend Cammie's latest book.
  • If you want to be harrowed in a good way, read this. If you want to be harrowed in a bad way, read this. If you don't want to be harrowed at all, read this.
  • Speaking of harrowing, the S-town podcast really is great. My whole family loved it, but there are very mature themes in it, just so you know. I would say 14-and-up, but would really depend on the kid. 
  • Maybe pre-order this

Please share your best summer game, book, audiobook, recipe, and whatever else ideas! Please!

Monday, June 05, 2017

Marzipan Blondies (+ links)

I am wild for almondy baked goods. Not so much the kind with real actual almonds, which I can take or leave, but the kind that has marzipan or almond paste, with its intoxicating scent of almonds wafting out. I will choose the almond croissant at the café, the almond macaroon at the Italian bakery, the chocolate-covered marzipan at the candy shop. I love, love, love that flavor, as do my kids, and I love to bake with almond paste. This recipe, for example, which is wonderful (and gf to boot).

You will swear these have almond paste in them! Which is crazy, because you're the one who made them.
But often I don’t have almond paste. (Because I used it already and it is expensive and I am too cheap to buy it again.) So I have been forever looking for a recipe that communicates all the pleasure of almond paste, without the actual almond paste, and this is it. I only found it because a friend’s son baked it, and she posted about it on Facebook, and I could just tell from looking at it that it was going to be exactly perfect: crunchy-edged and with a soft, sticky middle, exactly like an almond macaroon.

It turned out to be a Marion Cunningham recipe, called simply “Almond Butter Cake,” and it has more almond extract in it than seems wholesome, and I wouldn’t do it any other way. I’m calling it blondies and baking it in a square pan because I think it lends itself better to bars—and to the idea that it’s texturally way more like brownies than like cake. Sticky, chewy, and like brownies, leavened only with eggs.

Wake us when it's not cake.
The original recipe calls for a topping made of sugar and sliced almonds, but I’m a weird purist about my almond-flavored things, and find it more distracting than enhancing. Feel free to add it back in: after the batter is in the pan, sprinkle on 1 tablespoon of sugar and then ¾ cup sliced almonds. If I were eating this all by myself, I might sprinkle the batter with pignolis, à la my favorite Italian almond macaroons. But that is not a popular idea around here.

p.s. I have written some things! This, over at Full Grown People (with my favorite tags ever: "anger, Catherine Newman, men, misogyny, rage, sexism, woman's anger, work"), and this over at Motherwell. Also, my (and Ben and Birdy's) parenting-teens column continues over at SheKnows. Please send me questions if you think to! 

p.p.s. This book, The Bright Hour? It will wreck you, and you'll be so glad you read it. It changed me.

Marzipan Blondies, baked as a cake, makes a perfectly acceptable Yay, It's Wednesday Cake! cake.
Marzipan Blondies
This is the kind of cake where the batter is ready to bake long before your oven is preheated. So, so easy.

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter (I use salted)
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 ½ teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups flour

Heat the oven to 350. Butter and flour or cooking-spray a baking pan that is either an 8-inch square or a 9-inch circle. (I used geometry *and* algebra to figure out the equivalent! [pats self on back])

Melt the butter in a small pot and then transfer it to a large bowl. Or, because you’re lazy and don’t want to wash the pot, melt it right in the large bowl either in the microwave (not a metal bowl) or over a pot of simmering water (a metal bowl).

Stir in the sugar until smooth (I use a sturdy rubber spatula for the whole recipe), then add the eggs and stir until the batter is blended—kinda creamy, kinda gritty. Add the extracts and the flour and stir “briskly” (that’s Marion Cunningham right there) until smooth.

Scrape the batter into your prepared pan and bake until just set, and toothpick emerges with sticky crumbs on it, 30-35 minutes.

Cool in the pan at least 30 minutes, then cut into bars. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Smoky, Spicy Restaurant-Style Mussels (+ a winner!)

Sarah Dunlap, you won Lou's book! Please email me your address and I will pop it right in the mail! And thank you all for playing. And for hating bananas in a smoothie. And for being your game and marvelous selves.

I bought, like, a 1-dollar bottle of wine for the mussels, because I don't go by the "only cook with what you'd drink" rule. Except that I drank the rest of the 1-dollar bottle, so I guess I do go by that rule after all!
So. Mussels. What I love about mussels, besides that they're incredible cheap and incredibly easy, is that they completely satisfy my (near-constant) desire to eat out. Which is a good thing for many rea$on$, if you know what I'm $aying. A loaf of fresh bread and a salad, plus 5 or 6 bucks worth of mussels, and Michael, Ben, and I eat like kings.
Some people prefer not to eat anything that could technically be called an animal, even if it's just an eyeball-less bivalve. Those people, and there was only one of them, got a cheese board with honey and marmalade, and were very happy.
Those same people were so beautiful at Pride that they I might have cried a little bit.
If there's a down-side to mussels, it's that every once in a while you get one and it's bad. It's not just bad. It's a shell full of death and mayhem, and you swear you will never eat another mussel again so long as you live. But eventually the memory fades, the horror wears off, and you creep back in towards the eating of the mussels. Honestly, though, if you buy the farmed ones from Whole Foods, they're almost always perfect.

Other people have grown up and turned into mussel eaters.

These are the same people who were so beautiful at their prom that I might have cried a little bit.
 So, aside from the issue of the potential forensic specimen that will taste like it was severed from a rotten corpse, this is a fool-proof recipe. It's garlicky, shallot-y, a little bit smoky and spicy, and the luscious broth must be sopped up with bread or simply drunk from the bowl. You will be so happy.

Kind of Classic Mussels
You don’t really need to scrub mussels anymore, since they're farmed. If there’s a little grit at the bottom of the pot while you’re pouring the juice, just leave it there. I cook mussels longer than some people do, because I like them more rather than less cooked (the opposite of how I am about salmon).

4 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
A pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes (or something else spicy, if you like spicy things)
½ cup white wine
2 - 3 pounds mussels
Good, crusty bread

Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat, then sauté the shallot and garlic until the shallot is translucent but not browning, around 5 minutes. Add the spices and sauté for just a few seconds—until they’re very fragrant, which will be almost immediately. Add the wine and the mussels, cover the pot, turn the heat to high, and set a timer for 10 minutes. Shake the pot every few minutes, if you think to.

They’re done! Throw out any that don’t open. Garnish with something green, if you want to: a sprinkle of parsley or chives. I added a handful of baby arugula to my bowl last night, and it was delicious. Be sure to mop up the sauce with lots of crusty bread.