In the Bay Area, we often have an Indian summer. It descends each year around this time. And each year, I always wonder why it’s heating up as we ease into September. Just when all the fall clothes pop up in store windows, when the morning light begins to change, and when you feel like you should be making soup–it’s damn hot. And with the heat comes my kitchen lethargy. Rather than cooking, I find myself putting things together instead: salads with tomatoes and squash from the garden, sandwiches with cold cuts and lots of mayo and crisp lettuce, simple pastas with olives and shaved Parmesan, my infamous rustic Mexican pizzas (if you’re lucky, more on that later). So in the summer, I like to make this pesto and keep it in the fridge to have readily available when cooking sounds as enticing as changing a flat tire.
Now before we get to the recipe, you may be asking yourself, ‘wait a second. I thought Megan lived in San Francisco where it’s rarely above 75.’ Well, I’ve lied to you. Probably not a good tactic so early on in our relationship. I actually live right outside the city, about 8 eight miles North, in Marin County. I live on a wide street with big leafy oaks in a very large house with a pool, two back yards, a circular driveway, lemon trees, and a box garden.
It’s not mine. Now don’t worry: I’m not about to tell you more lies or describe the deviant ways in which I squat in rich people’s homes. The truth is that I’ve actually been living in my mom’s house, taking care of the dogs and the garden while she’s been away doing her graduate studies in Burlington,Vermont. She may be the only woman in her late 50’s that I’ve ever met who up and moves across the country, gets her own apartment in the college district overlooking Lake Champlain, decks it out in beautiful shades of reds and yellows…and gets to work. Like it’s nothing. I’m so proud of her. And so happy that I got to stay in the house for the last few years of my twenties. But change is on the horizon: my mom’s done with her coursework and coming back for good in two weeks. I guess it’s time to have that huge house party I’ve been meaning to have for the last few years (just kidding, mom).
I say I live in San Francisco for a few reasons, the obvious one being it’s just easier for people who aren’t familiar with our massive state. The main one being that I really do live there in a sense. I’ve never felt a connection to Marin, where mothers cruise down the suburban streets (or the outdoor malls) in double-wide strollers, where luxury stores abound, where it’s actually impossible to get something to eat after 9 p.m. Trust me when I tell you the place shuts down. So I drive into the city numerous times a week and, emotionally, feel much more at home and at ease. There’s something about the fog, the dramatic hills, the particular neighborhoods, the food. I love having brunch in Hayes Valley, running along the Marina with my new running friends, getting dumplings out in the Richmond, strong coffee and used books in the Mission, or having a picnic in Shakespeare’s Garden. It’s just more me.
Now that I’ve confessed my white lie, let’s move on to the pesto, aptly named for the physical place I lay my head. For now.
This pesto is a nice alternative to more traditional pestos made with pine nuts. It’s full of really good fat from the Omega 3 oils. It tastes complex and summery with a serious hit of garlic, fragrant basil, and a nice blend of grated cheeses. The trick is to use high quality olive oil instead of a common table oil. You will taste the difference. Once you gather the ingredients, this is a simple, quick pesto: 10 minutes max. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Place basil, olive oil, garlic, and walnuts in food processor. Blend until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the Parmesan and salt and blend a few seconds more, until neatly folded in. If using with pasta, after boiling and draining the noodles, add 1 tablespoon of pasta water to the pesto and stir thoroughly. This loosens it up a bit. If using as a spread instead, you may need to add a little oil according to your preference (some like thicker pesto). Regardless, it tastes like an August afternoon.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
We recently had our favorite day of married life yet. When I tell you what it consisted of, you may worry or chuckle. Sundays used to be sacred in our house in the sense that it was our one day off together. We'd often read the paper, get a slice of quiche at Cafe Besalu, or take walks around Greenlake or Discovery Park. But now Sundays are generally when I work the farmers market for Marge Granola, and Sam helps me set up and take down each week, so they've taken on a very different feel, one more of work than leisure. So a few months ago, after mildly panicking that we no longer had any routines or days off, we reclaimed Saturdays as 'the new Sunday' and last weekend set the bar pretty high. The day began really cold: in the high 20's and graduated, eventually, to the 30's. We decided it'd be nice to just stay inside; Sam had a little work to do and some letters to write. He had a few articles he'd been wanting to read. And I'd been thinking about this lasagna recipe, so I puttered around the kitchen roasting squash and slicing garlic. The afternoon ticked on slowly. Sam made us baked eggs for a late lunch and I tried unsuccessfully to nap. I think it was the calmest we'd both felt in a long time. I'm lucky to have found a man who loves spending time at home as much as I do. While we both love going out to see friends, traveling, and having people over to our place, we also gain the most, I'd say, by doing simple things around the house -- straightening up, making a meal. organizing records or books or photos. Especially in this season of cold temperatures and early-darkening skies, it's what I crave the most. And last Saturday closed in the best of ways: we opened a bottle of "wedding wine" (thanks to my neurosis and fear we'd run out, we over-ordered wine when planning for our wedding) and dug into generous slices of this very special vegetarian lasagna, a hearty layered affair with caramelized onions, a sage-flecked tofu ricotta and a simple, savory butternut squash purée.