The Task to Begin

If you had stopped by our house anytime in the last few weeks, you would’ve likely left with pumpkin madeleines, cranberry cake, half of a cheesecake, or a hearty slice of apple pie. Yes, just a few days ago I turned in a batch of recipes to a magazine I’ve been working with for their holiday issue. It has been an excessive few weeks in our kitchen but whenever possible, we’ve been bringing sweets to friends or down the street to the corner coffee shop (a.k.a. Sam’s office). After I sent in the last of the recipes, it was time for some good, clean food. We went to the store a few night’s ago and bought greens, yogurt, tuna, lentils, an avocado, peanut butter and a few other staples. We had soup for dinner; I had more for lunch the next day. After that much buttercream, it’s time for a bit of simplicity.

Coincidentally, this week I picked up Tamar Adler’s Book An Everlasting Meal. In it, she writes about the pleasures of simple food, of roasted vegetables and a single boiled egg. She writes about how to craft meal after meal with some greens, olive oil, eggs, and a little leftover rice. I think some people think this isn’t really cooking, and this is why I sometimes feel self-conscious talking about what I like to cook for dinner. It’s rarely grand. It’s usually vegetarian and is more of a “throwing together” than a “composing,” but come 7 or 8 p.m, it’s where I usually land. Just last night, Sam and I had roasted sweet potatoes with a little kale and a soft egg on top. That’s my kind of meal. That’s the way I like to do things, and is probably one of the reasons I’m quite drawn to this book.

I read a lot of food writing. I appreciate a great deal of it, and really stop and marvel at some of it. Adler’s writing falls in the marveling category, with sentences describing the best way to cook greens: “hot and lustily, with garlic, in a good amount of olive oil.” Hot and lustily! And of eggs she speaks of the “reassuring fact that so much privacy, cracked open, isn’t a fragile thing at all but ready for gusto, incubating euphoria.” With sentences that will often catch you off-guard, the book is a celebration of the simplicity inherent in food and the most sensible way to approach preparing it. A lot of this has to do with making a meal out of very little, and thinking of leftovers in a new way.

So here we are with some leftover cream and buttermilk from holiday recipe development, and a turned down page from last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine in which there was an unassuming recipe for Drained Buttermilk with Soaked Raisins. It ran in a piece on Dutch comfort food and it spoke to me because of its spareness. Instead of raisins, we have some beautiful ripe mangoes on the counter so I diced those and topped my version with juicy bits of sunshiny fruit and ground, salty pistachios. Oh, and of course, a generous dollop of honey.

When talking about her goal with the book, Adler writes, “I only mean to show what cooking is: an act of gathering in and meting out, a coherent story that starts with the lighting of a burner, the filling of a pot, and keeps going as long as we like. So, our end is clear. If our meal will be ongoing, then our only task is to begin.” Last night I began with the leftover dairy in the fridge: I lined a colander with a dish towel, filled it with buttermilk, put it in the refrigerator, and went to bed. I awoke to this.

Buttermilk Yogurt with Mango and Ground Pistachio

Buttermilk Yogurt with Mango and Ground Pistachio

  • Prep time: 10 mins
  • Total time: 10 mins

While The New York Times didn’t call this dish yogurt, I found that it basically is. My version uses less cream, and I’d encourage you to use whatever sliced seasonal fruit or roasted nuts you have on hand. Also, I don’t know why, but I really love this when it has a chance to come to room temperature just a bit rather than right out of the refrigerator. Do note that it must chill overnight in the refrigerator, and that time isn’t accounted for in the total time above.


6 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1-2 mangoes, diced, small chunks (we used Ataulfo, or Manila mangoes)
1/4 cup pistachios, ground
honey, to top


Put a colander inside a large bowl; wet a clean kitchen towel and wring out as much water as you can. Fold it in half to create a double layer; line the colander with it. Add the buttermilk and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate for 24 hours.

In the morning, remove the buttermilk from the refrigerator and use a spatula to scrape the thickened buttermilk from the towel into a bowl and stir it until it’s smooth and creamy. Discard the liquid that has strained away into the bowl (or use a little to drizzle on top along with the honey).

In a separate bowl, use electric beaters to beat the cream to a soft peak. Fold the cream into the buttermilk. Portion into individual bowls and top with diced mango and ground pistachio. Drizzle a healthy spoonful of honey on each.


  1. Danielle

    Tamar's book is on my wishlist - I only leave it there because I'm afraid it will interfere with my progress through WILD, by Cheryl Strayed. I had a feeling that An Everlasting Meal is a great book, but good to now have the endorsement from a writer I respect :)

  2. Nicole

    How wonderful that you and Sam both share this way of eating. I had a friend that once told me the only thing she missed about being single was the fact that her husband thought broccoli was a side item, not dinner.

  3. Aunt V

    I've yet to make any of your recipes Megan but this might be the one because I have a quart of butter milk left over from Marjorie's red velvet cupcakes. I may have to cut the recipe a bit. By the way, Marjorie used Paula Dean's cupcake recipe with cream cheese frosting and they were nice and moist. Your Mom told me that red velvet cup cakes are usually dry and she's skeptical of the red food coloring.
    Sounds like you are settled in Seattle.

    1. megang

      Hi Aunt V-
      You can definitely cut the recipe; I actually did when I made this last night. I stupidly never really knew what to do with leftover buttermilk and would always freeze it and never really use it up, but now never again! Thank you for the cupcake tip; and I have to say, I agree with Mom on the Red Velvet front (although I really do love a good one). Hope you guys are doing well. xox!

  4. Ashley

    Feel free to bring some of those treats over here. We're practically neighbors. :)
    I LOVE that you made this recipe. I have it marked too as I was so excited to read about Dutch cooking in the NY Times. What a thrill.
    I cook the same way you do which is why there's often more sweet on my site. I rarely use recipes while cooking or take the time to notice what I'm throwing into the pot.

    1. megang

      Yes, Ashley! Now that you put it that way, that's definitely why I have far more sweet on my site as well. I rarely use recipes to cook actual meals but am a staunch recipe follower otherwise. Funny, huh? Man we should've brought you over some pumpkin goodness; I definitely went on a few extra runs last week to try and counterbalance the buttercream in my world. xox; hope you're staying dry, and fun to see you the other night.

  5. Magda | My Little Expat Kitchen

    Hi Megan. When I moved to Holland from Greece about 4 years ago, I stumbled upon this type of dessert in more than one place. It's the simplest of desserts yet it's among my favorites. I love your addition of fresh mango. It freshens it up!

  6. ileana

    Dinner is so often leftover rice or pasta added to any vegetables left behind in the fridge. Put a fried egg on that, and I am a happy girl.

    I've gotta check out that book - thanks!

  7. Brandon @ Kitchen Konfidence

    I love "throwing together" simple meals throughout the week. I usually have some sort of protein (chicken, steak or turkey), a veg and a carb. Keeping the basics interesting week to week is a fun challenge.

    Over the weekend, I like to take on more elaborate food projects to further my own culinary knowledge (and share with others). Not sure which type of cooking I like better!

  8. Marissa

    What an encouraging post. Your comment about feeling self conscious about what you like to cook for dinner resonates with me. Simple preparations with great ingredients propel me to the kitchen. Fussy, complicated recipes make me want to eat out. :) I echo your love for "An Everlasting Meal" - brilliant. Love her video about roasting a week's worth of veggies at once. Have you seen it?

  9. Anna @ the shady pine

    Whether people consider this way of eating as cooking or not, I really like this way of simplistic and good food. Really what could be better? Adding loads of fat and sugar doesn't make sense for everyday eating but this type of food does to me. I really enjoyed reading your post.

  10. Beth

    This looks wonderful! I was thinking about eating my last mango out of hand today, but I may be making yogurt instead!

  11. Denise | Chez Danisse

    I'm all about “throwing together” and your roasted sweet potatoes with kale and soft egg are just my speed. Cheers to simple nourishing food.

  12. Nikki

    I haven't visited here for a while and now that I'm back I have to say I missed your words! I enjoy reading your food writing and such beautiful pics and recipes too. I love the simplicity of this dish.

    1. megang

      Thanks so much, Nikki! Glad you pop back in from time to time. So happy you're enjoying the site; have a wonderful week. ~m

  13. Nicole @ GFShoestring

    Before I had small children, dinner was more 'ingredients' than an actual dish. I miss eating that way. Actually, come to think of it, I often will make a true 'meal' for everyone else, and then eat some ingredients myself.

    I hadn't realized it, but that may also be a reason why I don't really enjoy writing 'cooking' recipes for my cookbooks, and why I rarely do it on my blog (since I'm the boss there). It's not how I like to eat.

    Thanks for the interesting insights. You made me think.


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