Late the other night we arrived home from a week-long stay on the big island of Hawaii. Oliver promptly fell asleep in the car ride home (of course, after not sleeping through the duration of our 12 hour travel day), and Sam and I were starving so we stopped at the store for a frozen pizza, got O into bed and brought the luggage upstairs, and sat quietly at the dining room table listening to the spring rain sharing a few slices. It wasn't great pizza, and it followed not great airport sandwiches, and all I could think about was how excited I was to get in the kitchen and make something great. Something with protein that felt nourishing and tasty -- that all of us would eat and love. So instead of tackling the piles of vacation laundry today (so. much. ketchup), I headed to the store to pick up a few things to make a springtime chickpea salad -- great as a sandwich filling or dip, and the perfect antidote to too much starchy food on the road.
Weeknight dinners were something I rarely gave much thought to as an actual subject in and of themselves until we had Oliver. Before, there wasn't any urgency around the dinner hour: we poured a glass of wine, opened the cupboards and chatted about what may or may not sound good. I remember taking lots of pre-dinner walks, admiring all of the bungalows in our neighborhood, or running down to the beach with Sam before we'd come back into the house, sweaty and tired and hungry. Today there's much more urgency and I feel like we're constantly looking at the clock. There are fewer walks and -- count them -- exactly zero runs. We definitely have nights where we reach for an easy pack of ramen or a store bought salad mix. That said, so often when we as a culture talk about weeknight cooking, it falls into the rhetoric of dumbing down dinner: How can we use all the store bought shortcuts to make this assembling process a breeze? And truth be told: urgency or not, I still want to cook; I don't just want to assemble.
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.
Last weekend I taught a cooking class called Summer Whole Grain Bowls at The Pantry. It was a new class for me: new recipes, new flow, uncertain timing. A few days before the class I realized I was strangely dreading it, and I usually love teaching so I couldn't quite figure out why. Part of it certainly was that it was new material, but the other part came down to pure baby logistics. Oliver is still nursing so being away from him and prepping and teaching students for 5-6 hours ends up being stressful and, frankly, uncomfortable. To pull it off involves a partner who brings you the baby the second class is over as well as a baby patient enough to nurse in the back of a very hot car, balanced next to a box of cookbooks and a case of Le Croix. And then a mama who heads back indoors to prep for the next day's class. Let's just say Sam and I were happy to see Sunday evening roll around.
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.
Morocco is a country full of color, noise, bustle. It's a vibrant, bold, beautiful country and just so happens to be the one place I've had a hard time explaining to people when they ask how our time there was. In many ways, it's different from most places I've traveled because there aren't a lot of definitive restaurants or cafes you 'must try' nor did we have a long list of tourist must-sees. Sure, in the cities we visited there are beautiful mosques and madrasas and gardens and museums -- and we saw many of them. But really, we spent most of our time in Morocco wandering, people watching, letting ourselves get lost within the markets and souks and streets. The answer to the question, 'what should we do today?' was usually met with the sentiment that we wanted to get out and just see it all. And despite all the ways that the days were frenetic and impossible to plan or predict, there were a few constants: the prayer call that would sound over loudspeakers on top of the minarets throughout the city a number of times a day, and a spicy bean and noodle soup that was often served with lunch or dinner.
We arrived in New Jersey late one morning last month in a little red rental car. We'd just come from a meandering drive from my mom's cabin in upstate New York, dotted with many stops in small towns to visit houses from Sam's childhood. Soon we found ourselves at Sam's mom's place in Mt. Holly, before us a feast of stuffed grape leaves and fattoush. This was the food Sam grew up on, and the food he's made for me a few times to show me as much. He makes tabbouli brimming with parsley and mint (we once had a tabbouli showdown in the middle of the produce aisle at Berkeley Bowl, me deeming him crazy for buying so much parsley, he deeming me crazy for the big bag of bulgar wheat I was clutching). This is his comfort food, the food he's made when we have dinner parties. The food that reminds him of home. Unlike Sam, I don't necessarily have one distinct type of food I ate growing up that's tied to my ethnicity or a distinct place, so all the talk that night of buying pita from The Phoenician Bakery and how long to steam grape leaves was not an experience I share with my parents or sisters.
I've spent three weeks baking in my commercial kitchen for Marge. I'm still running around doing what feels like hundreds of errands each week, but things are starting to become a bit more streamlined. I've done two farmer's markets and a few great local events. I'm meeting lots of new folks who live nearby, making friends with other vendors, and oftentimes selling out before the market even ends. For me Saturday mornings are like a big ol' bake sale and I couldn't imagine anything else I'd rather be doing. Friday nights, however, are a much different story. The night before the farmer's market always brings about many hours of baking, packaging, usually burning myself once or twice, occasionally getting aluminum foil caught in the convection oven (lesson learned: no aluminum foil in the convection oven!), witnessing occasional drug deals out back, listening to old classic rock on the radio, talking to myself, pacing. And more pacing. For the past few weeks, there's been very little sleep, lots of anxiety, and questioning if this is really how I want to spend every Friday night into eternity.