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.
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.
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.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
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).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.