Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Change Is Good

Have you ever had the experience of just sailing along, living your life, going through your daily routines, when all of a sudden a bunch of changes hit you like the proverbial ton of bricks? That's a little what life has been like for me recently.

All of a sudden, I am planning a wedding to the man who makes me happier than a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of a warm brownie.

I am starting a new job that will give me back an hour of my life each day thanks to a better commute.

And after two summers and two winters of CSA deliveries, I have decided not to sign up again.

Shocking, I know. When I first started, I didn't know a turnip from a rutabega, a leaf of kale from a mustard green, or an acorn from a butternut squash. My CSA experience changed that. Now I not only know what they look like, but what they taste like and most importantly, what I like.

Joining a CSA forces you to cook and eat what is given to you. I credit this for making me more comfortable in the kitchen and expanding my palate. But after two cycles I feel that I have graduated, in a way.

This summer, I plan to shop more at farmer's markets. Plus my new job will give me greater flexibility to get ingredients each day for whatever I want to make for dinner that night. I've learned that I prefer buying food on an as-needed basis rather than going to the store once a week, loading up the shopping cart, and trying to use up all the produce before it spoils.

I have noticed an evolution in the blog anyway - away from posts about my kitchen foibles as I learn how to make something or my surprise at discovering a new fruit or vegetable and toward more confident prose about cooking and a desire to share stories about my encounters with food.

So that's the plan. Of course, change is a little scary. But necessary to grow, I think. Here I go.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Outside the Box

I usually have a Passover seder with my family (with the exception of two years ago when we had a rather unusual seder in Mexico). But this year, due to a variety of reasons, we were on our own.

I can't say that we had an actual seder (although we briefly considered downloading this). We ate many of the traditional foods, however the meal didn't quite come together without a hitch.

A lot of the food, I must admit, came from a box, including matzos, macaroons, and matzo ball soup. While this isn't the worst thing in the world, we had some minor mishaps too. As the eggs hard boiled, several cracked in the roiling water causing poofy whiteness to burst out of the shell. No big deal. The chicken burned too, just a little.

But the one item that I feel like I truly made from scratch and turned out to be the best part of the meal, I thought, was charoset. This is a sweet mix of apples, honey, cinnamon, nuts, and wine. Despite how good it tastes, scooped on a piece of matzo, charoset has a somewhat darker meaning. It symbolizes the mortar that the Jews used while they were slaves in Egypt.

I followed my mom's recipe, only she had no measurements, just ingredients. Keep mixing them together until it tastes right, she said. So that's what I did.

Mom's Charoset Recipe

Chop apples and walnuts* in the food processor.
Add cinnamon, honey, sweet red wine**, and golden raisins to taste.

*We used almonds
**We used white riesling

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to Get Over Jet Lag

Our flight landed at Heathrow Airport at about 8 a.m. Anyone who has ever flown overnight from the U.S. to Europe knows how brutal that can be. Breakfast is served about an hour before landing, which is really the middle of the night. But outside, the sun is coming up. And so begins a seemingly endless day of avoiding sleep and staying up as late as possible.

The secret, as I learned, was to stay active and eat a lot.

We arrived at Ali and Dan's place about mid-morning. Ali already had the entire day planned for us. We'd walk about 40 minutes from their place in Islington to experience one of her favorite pastimes since moving to London almost two years earlier - the Borough Market.

By the time we arrived, it was packed with people who were inching their way from stall to stall, snacking on the wide array of foodstuffs, and trying to avoid the crush of people.

This did not deter us.

We grazed on a bulgur salad.

I discovered my latest addiction here - salty and smoked almonds.

We browsed through fresh produce (we'd go on to eat a lot of potato and leek soup later on in Wales).

We wondered what ostrich tasted like.

And gawked back at this guy.

We watched this guy scrape cheese to make the Swiss/French/German dish raclette (a toasted cheese sandwich)

Then we ate raclette.

And drank some of this.

The next morning, we were good as new.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Soup of the Day

When I was little and hated all vegetables except for carrots and green beans, I still had to eat the occasional spoonful of peas. The stakes were high, but the thought of biting into those little balls of green mush filled me with dread. So I did what any child would do when dessert was on the line.

I swallowed them whole.

That's pretty much the last thing I remember about eating peas until adulthood, when I discovered the error of my ways. Now I freely eat snow peas, snap peas, even those once detested green peas. I actually chew them too.

In fact my love of peas grew even more during our recent trip to the UK. It was late afternoon, and we had just arrived in the coastal town of Fishguard in Wales after about five days in London with our friends Ali and Dan. We were strolling down a narrow sidewalk when we happened upon a little cafe. Feeling hungry from our long day's journey, we popped in for a bite.

The soup of the day was written on a chalkboard behind the counter. Pea and mint. That's all it said. Pea and mint. For some reason, that combination enticed me. The earthy, almost nutty, taste of the peas mixed with the fresh blast of mint. Two foods with intense flavors came together in the most subtle way. I was hooked.

Surprising to us, this delicious bowl of soup typified how we found the food in Wales. We had not expected much more than fish and chips, but every menu advertised the use of local and organic ingredients, often with vegetarian and vegan options. Sure I had my fill of chips, but we ate much better than I thought, which served us well as we walked for miles up and down the windswept Pembrokeshire Coast.

Pea and Mint Soup (adapted from

Knob of butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
4 cups water
2 cups split peas (next time, I'm going to try fresh or frozen)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A bunch of mint, leaves only, roughly chopped
4 tbsp low-fat yogurt, to serve

Melt the butter with the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, cover and sweat very gently for 15 minutes or until completely soft.

Add the stock and bring to a gentle simmer, then add the peas and simmer for 10 minutes until the peas are soft. (*Since we used dry split peas, we let them simmer for about 25 minutes until soft.) Remove from the heat, add the chopped mint, and purée. Push through a sieve if you want a very smooth finish. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve in small bowls, hot or chilled, garnished with a swirl of cream or yogurt, a sprig of mint and lots of black pepper. Serve with pumpernickel bread.


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