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6.27.2014

June 27

Friday! It’s rainy here in Seattle, as it often is in June. I don’t mind, but I also wouldn’t mind being in a car on the road between Rome and who knows where in Italy, as I was on this day three years ago, when I went over for Luisa’s wedding.*



Let’s go there for a minute.


Maybe to a beach on the Adriatic. Ah.

Earlier this week, I drove to Spokane and back, which is absolutely nothing like a beach in Italy but is still beautiful in its way, and because I was driving alone, I listened to Girl Talk "All Day" very, very loud and did a lot of "dancing," by which I mean flapping my elbows wildly while attempting not to swerve out of my lane. I also listened to The New Yorker Out Loud podcast, which is terrific. Not only did the hours fly by, but I was so fired up by it that found myself attempting to jot notes on an old dry cleaning receipt that I found in the console, and despite the fact that jotting notes on old dry cleaning receipts is not an intelligent thing to do while driving, it felt great to have my brain throw off sparks like that. If your summers, like mine, often involve a decent amount of driving to various getaways (or book signings in Spokane), I highly recommend:

This episode on the rise of vegetarianism.

Or this episode on the Great American Novel.

Or this episode with Jeremy Denk on Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which made me itch to listen to Glenn Gould’s performance when I got home.

In other news, I think I will now be a regular reader of Maria Konnikova’s blog.

Also on my list: as soon as it stops raining and the weather gets its act together and the mornings get too hot for hot coffee, I plan to try these two versions of a Shakerato.

I will also soon be making a batch of last summer’s staple: Rachel’s Zucchini with olive oil, garlic, and basil. I might even make it tonight.

I will also be trying to wrap my head around the fact that Delancey was chosen as one of the Amazon Editors’ Top 20 Best Books of the Year So Far. WHAAAAAAT


Last but not at all least, do you remember my mentioning that night in April when a group of bookish musicians called the Bushwick Book Club performed original songs inspired by A Homemade Life? It felt a little weird, I’ll admit, and also wonderful. I wound up grinning so long and so hard that I got a headache. The songs were brilliant, and I’m thrilled to report that my two favorites were later recorded - and that I get to share them with you. The first, "Slow Roast My Tomatoes," was written and performed by Debbie Miller, and the second, "Bread and Wine," was written and performed by Nick Foster and Jazmarae Beebe. I hope you like them as much as I do.



Happy weekend.

* For some reason, some of the photos in my post about Luisa’s wedding look low-res and blurry. They didn’t look that way when I uploaded them three years ago. No idea.

6.23.2014

Run with it

It is 12:26 pm on June 23. I’m sitting at my desk in the window, which, if you were considering it, is a bad place to put a desk. What a person needs behind a desk is something sturdy, galvanizing, like a wall. Otherwise you’ll wind up spending your time as I am today: watching the world’s most subtle breeze blow through the branches of the neighbors’ tulip magnolia, wishing I were eating a cheeseburger.


I’m slowly emerging from New Book Insanity. I am so relieved, so glad to have this book behind me and out in the world, and also so, so, so tired. Elated! Tired! Dead!

(But hey, Spokane: I’m going to be in your town tomorrow night, Tuesday, June 24. I’ll be reading at Auntie’s Bookstore at 7:00 pm. Come keep me awake!)


Speaking of book events, there’s a question that’s come up often at these events - a question that, I’m sure you’ve noticed, comes up often in any conversation with or about working mothers - and that is, How to do you do it all? I don’t think I’ve answered the question very clearly when it’s been put to me, because ha ha haaa haaaaaaa I do NOT do it all. I don’t think anyone does, of either sex. I hardly remember what I’ve said said on the topic - maybe something about the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive people, people who believe in what you do and want you to do it? That’s very important. But I’ve been thinking about it today, and I want to add something: take a look at this blog. It’s a good barometer. I do not have an editorial calendar, and I do not post on a schedule. This blog is the place where I come to practice writing, to keep myself limber, and I do it because I love it. If I’m in a good rhythm with posting here, it’s because Delancey and Essex are miraculously free of crises for a little while, June is sleeping like a champ, and I’m probably staying up later than I should. If I’m posting less, it’s because those non-blog parts of my life are keeping me busy, and in the hours when they’re not keeping me busy, I am dead and/or eating popsicles.


I can’t believe that it’s already almost July. It makes me want to hunker down at home and get my fill of very ordinary summer things, like riding our bikes to the farmers’ market (with June in the bike trailer wearing a tiny helmet and Brandon and me singing, La la la la la, la la la la la, helmet song to the tune of "Elmo’s Song," because la la la la la, wearing a helmet is SO FUN!), buying those very expensive and very good raspberries from Alm Hill and eating them all at once, taking June to the neighborhood P-Patch to look for garden gnomes, and drinking a nightly Campari and Tonic. (I like a standard Campari and Soda, but I might like this even more. Try it! Niah, our bar manager at Essex, told me yesterday to try garnishing it with a castelvetrano olive, but I was halfway through my glass last night before I remembered; sorry, Niah.) June was sick last week, so I made a chicken soup, but mostly, the kind of cooking I want to do right now is not really cooking, but basic chopping. Some scrambled eggs, at most, and lots of big salads with crunchy radishes, cucumbers, and feta. And then a popsicle, which is little more than a smoothie, frozen.


When Delancey first opened and I was still in the kitchen there, we had a popsicle on the menu, and I once wrote about it here, in a raspberry yogurt version. That was four years ago, and because I’m a creature of habit, I’m still making them: with strawberries in June, raspberries in July, blackberries in August, you see where I’m going. I’ve made the strawberry version twice in the past two weeks, and because strawberries ("dobbies," as June says) are already starting to peter out, I wanted to hurry up and write about it. If you haven’t yet made popsicles this summer, get on it. My popsicle guru Stephanie, of the beautiful site 3191 Miles Apart, has lots of other popsicle ideas, if you then want to really run with it.

This strawberry version uses less sugar than the raspberry one, and it also uses less yogurt, so it has a particularly bright, clean strawberry flavor. You start by tossing the berries with sugar and a few drops of kirsch or vodka - the alcohol will help to keep the pops from freezing too hard, without interfering with their fresh fruit flavor - and then letting them sit until their color deepens and they release lots of dark, glossy juice. Then you scrape it all into the blender with yogurt and a little lemon juice, zizz it, and then pour it into molds. (Don’t forget to taste it: it should taste a little sweeter than you’d ideally like, because it will taste less sweet once it’s frozen. That’s the case for anything that you eat very cold.) The resulting pops are electric pink, a color usually reserved for bougainvillea and nail polish, only this time, you lucky thing, you get to eat it.


Strawberry Yogurt Popsicles
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz

A word about popsicle molds: I use these silicone ones, which I learned about from the book Modern Art Desserts, by Caitlin Freeman. (And high five to my talented friend Leah Rosenberg, who called my attention to the Zurier Pops recipe and inspired me to get these molds. Leah, when I bought strawberries last week, I meant to make Zurier Pops, but I got lazy. But I still will. I swear.) Anyway, if you’re using silicone molds like mine, which are soft and pliable, don’t forget to set the molds on a sheet pan before filling them! That way, they’ll be easy to transport to the freezer. And don’t forget to insert the popsicle sticks into the mold before filling, either. It all sounds obvious, but you never know.

I also have this popsicle mold, but we loaned it to a friend (ahem, Katie), so I haven’t been able to try it yet. I’ll report back. I have a feeling it’ll be better for very liquid-y pops than the silicone molds, which might leak. Lastly, if you’re using vodka shooter glasses, which is what I used when we served popsicles at Delancey, you’ll want to pour the mixture into the glasses; freeze them for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the mixture begins to set; insert the popsicle sticks; and then freeze them until they’re hard. To serve, briefly run the sides of the glass under tepid water to loosen the popsicle, and gently twist the stick as you lift.

I should tell you that these popsicles are not as smooth, texture-wise, as churned frozen yogurt – or, for that matter, as commercial popsicles. They’ll be a little icy, even if you use the kirsch or vodka. The texture doesn’t bother me. I like it.

1 generous pound (about 500 grams) fresh strawberries, rinsed
2/3 cup (130 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons kirsch or vodka (optional)
1 cup (240 grams) plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Trim the green leaves from the strawberries, and quarter them (or, if they’re small, halve them; it doesn’t really matter much). Toss in a bowl with the sugar and kirsch or vodka, if using, stirring until the sugar begins to dissolve. Set aside at room temperature for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Scrape the strawberries and their liquid into the jar of a blender, add the yogurt and lemon juice, and process until smooth. If you want to remove the seeds – though I usually just leave them be – set a strainer over a bowl (or other vessel) with a pour spout. Press the mixture through the strainer to remove seeds. Divide the mixture among popsicle molds of your choosing, and freeze until hard.

Yield: depends on your molds. I get about 8 when I use my 4-ounce silicone molds.

6.08.2014

Right now

Hello from a train en route to Portland, Oregon! I’ll be at Jim Dixon’s Real Good Food olive oil warehouse tomorrow, Monday, from 3 to 4, if you’d like to stop by for some olive oil and a book, and then I’ll be reading at Powell’s on Burnside tomorrow night at 7:30. And then, on the way home, because I am an unstoppable book-signing machine, I’ll be swinging by the Bayview School of Cooking, in Olympia, for an event at 6:00 pm. If you’re in the area(s), come on out.

Now, in the meantime, I promised you the recipe for June’s new favorite thing, which, now that I think about it, may also be my new favorite thing. The thing in question is minestra di piselli e polpettine di pollo, or English pea and chicken meatball soup. Does it sound more enticing if we call it herbed chicken meatballs in broth with peas and Parmesan? It does have herbs and Parmesan. It seems wrong to not mention that.


First of all: poached meatballs. I know. Not attractive. In general, poached meat is rarely attractive, except maybe poached chicken breasts, maybe. That aside, look at the peas! Attractive! The golden(ish), clear(ish) broth! The grated Parmesan, which I forgot to put on for this photo! And more to the point: the flavor!

A couple of years ago, a small, handsome book called Zuppe, by Mona Talbott, showed up on my stoop. (I often receive free, unsolicited copies of newly published books, and this was one of them. Full disclosure, etc.) Talbott, I learned, was the founding executive chef of the Rome Sustainable Food Project at the American Academy in Rome, where she cooked for the Academy’s community of scholars, artists, and thinkers. I immediately got the sense that she had spent a lot of time thinking about soup – my kind of person – and her recipes felt like the stuff of Italian grandmothers, humble but satisfying, the way I want everyday cooking to feel. I thumbed through the book, and then I put it on top of the fridge with the other dozen or so cookbooks that I use most, even though I hadn’t used it yet. I just had a feeling.

The recipes in Zuppe are not elaborate, and they’re also not very detailed: they assume that you already know something about cooking and have your own opinions and instincts to bring to the task. That’s not necessarily a problem: these recipes have some very good ideas, very doable good ideas that I wouldn’t come up with alone, and if you jump in and follow your nose, they’re great. (I find that many of Nigel Slater’s recipes work the same way.) For instance, this soup. It could be plain. But if you make sure that your broth is flavorful, your fresh herbs are fresh, your meatballs are seasoned well, and your Parmesan is good, it’s quietly perfect, just what I want to eat as late spring turns into summer. It feels comforting, filling, but also light. We’ve mostly eaten it for dinner, because it’s so easy to do ahead (see below) and because many days, by dinnertime, I can barely manage to pour a Campari Shandy and let’s not even talk about actual cooking no no no. It would also be an ideal lunch.

I should also say, for those of you in the business of feeding babies or toddlers, that this sort of meal is spot-on for June. (Right now. Tune in for the next episode!) I quarter her meatballs, and she eats them and the peas mostly with her fingers, and then she drinks the broth that’s left. It makes us both happy.


Herbed Chicken Meatballs in Broth with Peas and Parmesan
Adapted from Zuppe, by Mona Talbott

I made this one evening after June was in bed, and it fed both of us for the next couple of days. When you pack it up for the fridge, keep the meatballs separate from the broth, so that they don’t fall apart and the broth doesn’t get cloudy. When you want to eat a portion, just ladle out some broth, plunk in a few meatballs and some peas, and warm it. Grate on some cheese, and it’s ready.

If you have a choice about your ground poultry, use dark meat. As for the chicken broth, I try make some whenever I roast a whole chicken: I toss the carcass in a deep pot with a quartered onion, a roughly chopped carrot, a roughly chopped stalk of celery, a handful of cilantro or parsley stems (if I have them), and some salt; cover it all generously with cold water; bring it to a simmer; put it in a 200- or 225-degree oven overnight, and then I strain it, let it cool, and stash it in the freezer. But when I’m not so spectacularly on top of things, Better Than Bouillon is quite tasty.

Oh, and I think this soup would be wonderful served with a slice of garlic-rubbed, olive-oiled toast at the bottom of the bowl, to soak up broth and get silky.

3 ounces (85 grams) rustic, country-style bread
¼ cup (60 ml) whole milk
18 ounces (540 grams) ground chicken or turkey
6 sprigs Italian parsley, leaves finely chopped and stems discarded
4 sprigs marjoram, leaves finely chopped and stems discarded
Black pepper
Salt
2 ½ quarts (scant 2 ½ liters) chicken stock
12 ounces (340 grams) fresh or frozen peas
Grana Padano or Parmesan, for grating

Cut the crusts off the bread. Cut the bread into roughly ½-inch cubes, and put it into a large bowl. Add the milk, toss to coat, and leave to soak for about 20 minutes. Then squish the bread into a mush, and add the ground chicken. Add 1 tablespoon each of the chopped parsley and marjoram, a few grinds of black pepper, and a couple of very generous pinches of salt. (If you’re using table salt or fine sea salt, about 1 teaspoon should be right.) Mix with a fork, or with your hand, until evenly combined. (If you’re unsure of the seasoning, at this point you can fry off a little bit of the meat mixture and taste for salt.) With damp hands, form the meat into 1-inch balls. You should get approximately 25. Chill the meatballs for 30 minutes before cooking.

Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a wide pot, such as a Dutch oven. (This is a good time to taste the stock for seasoning.) Gently drop the meatballs into the simmering stock, and cook for 5 minutes. You’re looking for their internal temperature to reach 165 degrees. Remove the meatballs from the stock, and set aside. If the broth is cloudy, you can strain it, or just continue on. You can now go one of two ways:

1. If you plan to serve the soup immediately, add the peas to the simmering stock, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Return the meatballs to the pot, and stir in the remaining chopped herbs. Serve with freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmesan.

2. If you plan to eat the soup later, chill the meatballs and the stock separately. When you’re ready to eat, bring the broth back to a simmer, add the meatballs and peas, and cook until everything is warm and the peas are tender, maybe 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining chopped herbs. Serve with freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmesan.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

6.01.2014

June 1

I’d been planning to put up a post tonight about some meatballs that June has been into lately (MEAT! MEAT! she yells; I think you can imagine it). They’re delicious, served in broth with peas and grated Parmesan, ugly but molto Italian. But then, possibly because it is June 1st, the sun came out and the day got hot, and meatballs felt very wrong. Instead, first thing this morning, I texted a friend to propose a late afternoon trip to the beach with a picnic dinner for our two babies, who are really now toddlers.


And then Brandon and I ran into a couple of new friends and their two children at the farmers’ market, so I invited them, too. I am the least spontaneous person on Earth, so I had to mark the occasion. This post really could not be about meatballs. This is a post about the beach.


I’m from Oklahoma. Where I grew up, it is flat. I have no idea what it’s like to grow up near water, or islands, or mountains. Sometimes when we’re at the beach, or even just driving around town, I think to myself, WHOA! June is from Seattle! It sounds obvious, because it is, but I wonder how this place will shape her, what it will be like to grow up near the water, someplace where you can pick blackberries and catch your own Christmas Eve crab, someplace way up north, way out at the edge of the country.


Being out on book tour was incredible - thrilling and invigorating and heady and thank you all(!) for coming out and being there(!) - and it was also the longest I’ve been away from home in a couple of years. I’ve always loved to travel, and to travel alone, and I still do. I knew June and Brandon were fine, helped along by grandparents and friends, and I didn’t worry. I want her to have sturdy attachments to people who aren’t her parents. Plus, it was good to have time to sort of live my pre-June life again. I liked that life a lot.

But there was one big thing that I missed about having her around, and that’s this: being with a young child forces you to be radically present. You can’t zone out, replaying this morning or planning for tomorrow, when you’re at the beach with your kid, because while you’re zoning out, she’s going to put her sticky sandy hand in your friend’s Tupperware of roasted asparagus. You’ve got to stay there. You’re on. I’m glad for that, even if I’m not very good at it. My friends got some extra texture with their asparagus tonight.


It’s good to be home. 

P.S. Hey, Kirkland, I'll be at Parkplace Books this Tuesday night, June 3, at 7:00 pm. See you there?