It’s that time of year where I start challenging myself in my CSA. I choose some safety things, some produce I know will get me through the week and then I go with a wildcard. This week it was parsnips. No, turnips. Yes, google image search is right. Turnips. Purple on the bottom, rotund, baffling.

I had ignored them for a few days when I decided it was finally time to make something of them. Naturally I wondered, WWAD? I turned to Waters’ The Art of Simple Food and looked up parsnips. Then realizing my mistake, I looked up turnips.

Apparently, they have enough moisture in them that you can throw them peeled and cut into a pan with a little butter and salt and they will cook up magically. Skeptical, I did as told.

I have no business being surprised this time. Really. I should know that no matter how impossibly simple Alice Water’s recipes are, they come out insanely good, every time.

They were crazy good. Sweet and starchy and really satisfying. If the thanksgiving menu wasn’t already set and the guest list not so short, I’d be bringing these to the table tomorrow.



Beef and Broccoli redux

Prather Ranch has this lovely little deal at my local farmer’s market. Five steaks for a cool $20. They’re decent-sized grass-fed sirloin tips- just enough to satiate a steak craving or good to divvy up for a modest dinner for two.

I felt something of a meat craving coming on, so I moved one steak from the freezer to the fridge before I left, and came home to a perfectly thawed cut of meat. On the blogs lately there’s been a “World’s Best Broccoli” recipe making the rounds, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I trimmed the stalks into florets, shook them with a little oil, S&P and turned to the steak. I’ve watched enough cooking shows to remember to dry the meat, salt and pepper it, and then lay it down in a hot pan. I let it cook about 4-5 minutes a side, and then, panic.

Crapfuckshitdamn, this must have been the part where I paid more attention to my email than the ‘how to cook a steak’ show of Good Eats. I quickly googled “bittman, steak,” and decided to have the steak join the roasting broccoli already in progress to cook through. The searing-hot pan, in no smart semblance of order was hit with a pat of butter, a splash of wine and sliced shallots. Not smart.

Smoking wine burned my eyes as I frantically opened windows and turned on fans in a stellar effort to keep my hair-trigger fire alarm from going off.

I failed. I hate my fire alarm.

But while the smoke was clearing, magic was happening back in the kitchen. The broccoli was searing itself into a sweet-nutty side dish. The meat was cooking through and the sauce was reducing all on its own.

Where the technique fell through, the ingredients saved the day. The steak came out perfect. Like, perfect perfect. Unabashedly pink with seared crust that made the smoke alarm seem almost justified in its reaction. This, with a roasted broccoli tossed with a little parm and a bit of lemon juice, made a damn fine beef and broccoli dinner. It was the kind of meal I was really glad I cooked for myself, because no one was witness to the spectacle that created it, plus I didn’t have to share if I didn’t want to.


Breakfast: The rut that isn’t.

Though I make a concerted effort to try new and different foods all the time, I’ll always fall into a breakfast rut. I’ll have something over and over for months on end, to the point that that food is so inextricably linked with that period of time. A double-tall latte and a bagel with two madelines drops me back driving carpool in high school. A misguided health phase in college meant a wheatberry English muffin topped with two floppy eggwhites and faux-sausage. Like an album you listen to over and over in one period of time, that you can’t shake the association.

And like that music seems to soundtrack that time period just right, for me that breakfast seems to go along just right with what was happening at the time. And it makes sense. Clearly, I believe food is more than just substance. That what’s on your plate says something about where you come from, what you hold dear, and what does or doesn’t matter to you. Driving those kids to school I was looking for something to offset my 1st cigarette buzz and the associate stomachache. That breakfast sandwich I wouldn’t go anywhere near now was well under 200 calories, which apparently was important to me at the time.

Right now, I’m in a different breakfast place. French-pressed coffee from Ritual, Four Barrel or Blue Bottle, zucchini bread I make every weekend, plus a daily attempt at the perfect omelette.

I like the new ritual of baking the week’s bread and deciding who gets the second loaf. I’m comforted by the 1 minute/3 minute rhythm of making coffee, seeing how much else I can get done around the kitchen in those intervals, and stirring the eggs in the pan until curds form, trying to find that perfect balance of hovering over the pan and just letting it be. I like looking out over my mini-side yard to see the animals run around, then unexpectedly getting a head-butt to the calf from a cat looking for any scraps. He never gets any, but that doesn’t diminish his resolve.

When it’s all done, I sit down and either catch up on yesterday’s Colbert or what piled up on the RSS feeder overnight. I make sure to make enough time for it all, even if it means getting up at ridiculous-o’clock to make it to the gym and have time enough for all this.

Yesterday I was trying to remember the breakfast ruts that came before and the spaces they came with: toast with sunny-side up eggs or bread with butter and jam at 90 Parker. Walnut rolls at my desk in the Pearl District. But I couldn’t remember when I had fallen into the habit of making time for breakfast, of setting aside some time to ease into the day.

I knew it was in Portland, and I knew Stumptown coffee was involved, and I knew that we used to trade urls like sections of a newspaper while some new band discovered on Pitchfork streamed wirelessly from the speakers. And just remembering these details brought back that time. It’s the same details that keep a sense of nostalgia always within arms length. The most-played tracks on my music library, my missing roasting pan, my first bike, spice jars.

But I had forgot about the rosemary bagels. Ideally with homemade butter or at least the good butter from the local dairy. And I forgot the name of the dairy, too. Not Strauss, that's here. I think it had two syllables. And I could look it up in an instant, I could have that name back at my disposal, but what's the point? Why reconstitute a memory and bolster that nostalgia?

I'm glad the details are getting lost. These threads of memory are quietly snapping one by one and one day, before I know it, they'll all have decayed through and broken, and then tension, the sinuous tug of longing won't be there so strongly. I think that soon enough I’ll fall into a new breakfast routine and before long, I’ll look back at a two-egg omelette, two generous slices of zucchini bread and a French-pressed cup of coffee and have an association I don’t have the benefit of knowing right now.

this lovely landscape

Apple Nougatine, recipe from the good people at Tartine Bakery, and a sure contender for new dishes that will grace the table at my family's thanksgiving. Apples were sliced and sauteed in butter and sugar, then piled over a puff pastry. Over the top is a magic little concoction of egg whites, sugar and sliced almonds that hints at a sticky candy that pulls it all together.


Just right.

I had no business making dinner. It had been a weekend of total gastronomic excess, starting with a breakfast of Duck Eggs Benedict, followed by a veritable cookathon of lasagna, roasted delicata squash, carrot-cauliflower soup and zucchini bread. There was a lot of produce that needed to be gotten through, and instead of consuming it, I just cooked all of it, all at once. Besides having a fridge full of food, I had just come back from my latest Underground Food Academy class- Cheesemaking Plus. We had spent the afternoon making ricotta and shaking cream to make butter, then ended it all by sinking pieces of baguette into a bubbling pot of expertly-crafted fondue.

More food should have been the last thing on my mind.
But there was something about the momentum of all the food-based activity that I couldn’t quit, and something about all the richness of the waiting leftovers I just couldn’t bear to tuck into. I wanted fresh and I wanted green and I think a part of me just didn’t want the weekend to end.

The only thing in my fridge that hadn’t been roasted, buttered or braised was a bunch of rainbow chard quietly awaiting its fate in the crisper. I like the ritual of chard. Of bathing the oversized leaves and stacking them in front of me. Of taking the time to see their astounding color veined through the greenery. Of separating the stalk from the greens in two deft slices and assigning them into different piles. The two parts cook at really different rates, and if you don’t treat it right, you’ll end up with super over-cooked greens or stalks that are more than a little toothy.

About halfway through prepping the chard, I realized I was going to have far too much food again, and the idea adding more leftovers to the obscene cache of food in my fridge was too much. So I called over a friend.

I boiled water for pasta, heated some oil in a pan to start some shallots softening. When they were edging towards brown, the slivered stalks go in. Also a good time for the pasta to start cooking. Once the stalks have softened enough. Chopped greens go to the pan (with a tablespoon of butter) and get covered and steam their way to doneness. Salt, stir in cooked pasta, add a little parm. Eat.

After a weekend of running around, of meeting people and prepping for an Academy class, of meals charged with expectation and interactions fraught with anticipation, there was something about sitting down to a simple meal comprised of all of 5 ingredients that felt like a whole lot of right. I hadn’t planned to cook, to have anyone over, to entertain, but I’m glad I did, that I gave into my impulses. Because once in awhile, shrugging off impulse-control can leave you feeling really, really satisfied.