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.
Healthy Comfort Food
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.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
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.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)