No, this is not a post about John, even though it is our second third wedding-commitment-whatever anniversary today.
(Did that “second third” part confuse you a bit? See, we celebrated twice. Once in a windy woodsy park with our California friends and family, and once between days of epic rain in the backyard of the house I grew up in with all the rest of the folks we love. The first was three Aprils ago and the second was three (3? 3!) years ago today. Although, if you ask John, our anniversary is in November–because the man simply cannot be expected to respect such arbitrary concretes as a calendar–so maybe we’ll have a third third anniversary then, too. But I digress. BIG TIME. Onward.)
For almost a year now, I’ve been packing Max up and sending her off on Mondays to our dear friend Shirley’s house. They spend the day together–going to the park and playing with water and generally following the whims of Max’s toddler heart–and John and I spend the day working, he at the restaurant and I at various internships.
Without fail, Monday mornings I find myself feeling grateful. The gift that Shirley has given us is like a nesting doll. At first glance it is the gift of child care, but when you start peeling back the layers you realize that she’s really giving us so much more. She is facilitating our financial stability by helping John work, she is helping me start my career by enabling these intern days spent learning and trying and discovering, and she is showing Max the kind of love we’d expect to get from her grandparents if we lived close enough and are astonished and humbled to have found outside of bloodlines.
The kid would like to be more involved than this, even. She’d like to be fully in charge of all things lettuce (except eating it because, she’ll have you know, it’s yucky and no she does NOT need to taste it in order to be certain). I can’t wait to let her handle its washing and drying, too, just as soon as I’m convinced she understands what washing and drying actually entail. Call me snooty, but I prefer my salad without any grit in it.
We’ve been eating salad nightly, coming together at the dinner table for the first time to eat foods prepared by all of our hands. It’s the stuff of my maternal fantasies and, at least for me, it feels just as satisfying as I thought it would.
Warm weather is gloriously here in the Northeast — or close enough to have me itching to be outside just about every moment I can. This is the time of year of great hope for me. Enough of my gardens are blooming that I (delusionally) think my thumb is just the slightest hint of green and that I will accomplish great things this year. By July, the insanity of this thought is always clear but for now I am hopeful and so when the day is warm and sunny I want to be outside playing in the dirt.
It’s also a time of lighter eating in general I think. A fresh salad and a little bread and cheese can really hit the spot when the temperature rises. And so on just such a day, I headed to my pile o’ magazine pages (HA! I bet you thought I had bailed on my little experiment already! Oh ye of little faith.) and found this grilled shrimp salad from a recent Real Simple.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten a little depressed about what passes for Caesar salad these days. Ask for it in a restaurant and you’ll often receive a sodden mass of lettuce drowning in a dense dressing. It’s complete overkill. This salad is the exact opposite: light and zippy. Plus you can whip it up in about 20 minutes, leaving you plenty of time to play in the garden.
It always amazes me how quiet pivotal moments can be, how lamplit instead of firecrackery they can come.
I started out taking pictures. Freshly torn butter lettuce. Walnuts steaming from their pan toasting seconds before. Oozing blue cheese. Apple slices so thin you can see through them. Oil emulsifying with a pool of fresh herbs and lemon juice and balsamic vinegar and a warm spoonful of honey. After a few shots, though, I just stopped. My mind was both intensely focused on making this simple salad sing, and wandering up the road to Sacramento. Sacramento was our shared destination, after all.
Over the winter holidays I was given a book by Rae Gouirand–one of my bosses at my internship, and also an intensely brilliant and beautiful writer and thinker–called “The Chronology of Water” by Lidia Yuknavitch. It is one of those books that I have a hard time describing with words because all that wants to come out of me are guttural cries of adoration and gratitude peppered with a healthy amount of holy crap. It is a book that makes it possible to be me. It is a book that makes it possible to be you. It is raw meat and choked throats and sex and sadness and forgiveness and fucking up and standing up and standing up and standing up over and over and over again. It is a book for the spaces in between, for the people in between. It is a warm hug. It is feminist-queer-praxis at its finest. It is and it is and it is and it refuses to not be. It is one of those books that you are terrified to close once you read the last word, that sits there in your lap holding you in the space of its kinship while you work up the stamina to carry it in your heart beyond its pages and into the world. It is a book that–for me, anyway–radically changes its reader. It absolutely radically alters both grammar and lexicon alike, sucks them into the body and refuses to parse.
My friend Casey makes a sweet potato salad that is to die for. Every time she makes it, people go crazy and ask for the recipe. And she says sure and then does what I did for years with my Swedish gingerbread/mjuk pepparkakor recipe until I gave it up to the internet world two years ago: she cleverly forgets to give you the recipe.
…Until a few weeks ago, when I reminded her that I had indeed handed over the mjuk pepparkakor recipe and that she had promised to hand over the salad recipe in exchange but still hadn’t. It was time to cough. it. up. And Casey, wonderful woman that she is, did.
So, I went to the grocery store the other day to fill out our meals for the week (we were starting to get low on the provisions you and Dad left us with…oh man, that was awesome) and I came home feeling quite pleased with our stash. I always feel pleased after grocery shopping (I’m sure there’s something to be said about this), but this time I felt a little extra pleased because I had gone shopping without a list, an exercise I read about a few weeks ago that supposedly helps keep your brain sharp (because, you know, being a full-time student isn’t doing that….but anyway). I always bring a list. Always. Admittedly this is mostly because I love a good list and not because I’ve ever feared I won’t remember key groceries…or, at least, it was.
John is cooking dinner tonight (awesome). The meal scheduled for tonight (based on produce not turning before we use it) is sausages with beans and salad (sausage is one of our go-to busy day dinners…I really liked the pasta with pesto and sausage you made when you were visiting). Ten minutes ago, John came into the living room where G and I were watching an episode of 30 Rock (John has M in the kitchen with him, making this is a seriously luxurious moment) and asked if we had buns.
Nope, I forgot them.
Fast forward a few minutes. John’s back, this time wondering if I bought mustard (sausages require mustard in our house).
Nope, I forgot it.
And so, though dinner will be fine, there goes my pride in grocery shopping without a list. You don’t use a list, I don’t think. It’s one of the magical mom skills you posses (yes, though I’m a mom myself, I don’t think I’ll ever stop marveling at your super mom status…if anything I respect it now more than ever).
Alright. Here comes Super Dad (John) with our dinners so I’m off.
What’s this picture got to do with food? NOTHING! My dad has become *obsessed* with these five finger shoes that supposedly make him use his feet the way we’re supposed to. Anyway, during his visit he and John had some serious conversations about shoes and so this drawing is just a little present for my dad from John.
Janet here: It’s hot, hot, hot again on the East Coast and the idea of turning on an oven is pretty much a non-starter for me. While I would like to believe everyone in my family would just eat this incredible blue cheese cole slaw for dinner (click here for recipe), in fact I do have to serve up something else. This lemon chicken, adapted from the Barefoot Contessa, is mighty tasty as well as being a good excuse to serve the cole slaw. It does require planning ahead a little bit — you have to marinate the chicken overnight — but then you can send someone else outside to grill the chicken while you stand by the fan and stay cool!
Rachel here: Ok, so after your delicious breakfast of muffins, why not do a little bit of cooking ahead over the weekend to give yourself an equally special lunch? I don’t know about you, but lunch is sometimes the only pause in my day where I can regroup and touch base with myself. For this reason, I usually try to bring myself something that I both enjoy and provides a good amount of fuel for the second half of my day. In this regard, I am looking for a good balance of protein, carbs and good fat to tide me over until dinner. Anyway, this week I head back to school and so I wanted to come up with something that would brighten my spirits and give me some energy mid-day, but that would also be easy to bring along with me. Hence, we’re doing lunch salads for this post.
So, before I give you this recipe, I should confess that I strayed ever so slightly from the recipe in a way that I would not advise (although only for aesthetic purposes). The recipe advises that you cook each type of bean separately. In a moment of moving-induced hubris/laziness, I opted to throw all of my dried beans in one pot. The end result is that all of my beans got mashed except the biggest ones (pinto in my case). It tastes completely fine (the partner even had seconds last night), but when I make this dish for company (which I most certainly will because it is such a fabulous blend of flavors) I will take the time to cook each bean to perfection in its own little pot. Anyway, here’s the recipe from Chez Panisse Cooking by Paul Bertolli with Alice Waters.
Salad of String Beans, Shell Beans, and Tomatoes
3 c. fresh shell beans (the more variety you use, the more colorful your salad will be)
4 oz. mixed string beans
2 small red tomatoes, diced (the official recipe calls for you to peel the tomatoes, too, but I didn’t and I can’t see why you would in this scenario)
1 large yellow tomato, diced (again with the call for peeling that I, again, opted out of)
3 T. chopped fresh Italian parsley
8 salt-packed anchovy filets, soaked, squeezed dry, cut in half lengthwise and tossed in 2 tspn. olive oil
For the dressing:
1 small red onion (4 oz.), finely diced
3 T. red wine vinegar
1/4 tspn. salt
1/8 tspn. freshly ground pepper
1 small clove garlic
4 salt-packed anchovy filets, soaked and squeezed dry
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Prepare the vinaigrette in a small bowl. First, combine the onion and the vinegar. Add salt and let it dissolve before adding the pepper. Pound the garlic and anchovies into a paste in a mortar and then add to the rest of the dressing ingredients. Add in olive oil. Set aside until after the rest of the salad is finished.
Cook each type of shell bean in its own pot with 1 quart of water and 1 tspn. of salt. When tender, remove from heat. Combine all of the shell beans in one container and leave enough cooking water in just to cover the beans. Place in refrigerator until cooled.
Parboil your string beans. Cook each type separately if there is significant variation in size; if not you can throw them in one pot together. Remove from water with a slotted spoon once they are tender but still holding their crunch. Place on a plate to cool (cooked string beans are like sponges so definitely do not leave them in water as they will turn to mush) and put in refrigerator.
Once all of your beans are cooled, drain off all water and combine beans in one bowl. Season the tomatoes with 2 T. of the vinaigrette and 1 T. of the parsley. Add salt, pepper and vinegar to taste (beans can handle a strong vinaigrette!). Pour the rest of the dressing over the beans, garnish with the remaining parsley. Arrange the tomatoes over the beans. Pour any remaining juices over everything and add anchovy strips to the top.
In the picture above you will see my alternate approach to serving this salad. I kept the string and shell beans separate, as well as the tomatoes and anchovies so I can assemble the salad in portions as I want to eat it. Pretty easy to make and you have a delicious and very healthy lunch for the week! I plan on bringing a piece of crusty bread along with me to soak up the dressing this week.
Janet here: The first time I made this recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Parties!was for a crowd of colleagues who were at my house for a brainstorming retreat about what we wanted to do next with our publications during the next year. Everyone loved this salad, and the ideas we came up with innovative and interesting. Was it the food? Who can say for sure, but I personally believe food can have that kind of impact on what happens. I mean, how many magical dinner parties can you remember where the food was sub-standard? I can’t think of a one. Take it for what it’s worth. This much is certain: You won’t go wrong with this one.
Chinese Chicken Salad
serves 12 (but you can easily halve so you don’t have to wait for a throng to make this tasty dish)
8 split chicken breasts (bone in, skin on)
good olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound asparagus, ends removed, cut into thirds diagonally
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeed
4 scallions (White and green parts, sliced diagonally)
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds toasted (Toast by placing on dry saute pan and cooking over medium heat for five minutes or until browned)
for the Dressing
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes until the chicken is just cooked. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
Remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin (hard to do I know) and shred the chicken in large, bite-size pieces.
Blanch the asparagus in a pot of boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes until crisp yet tender. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain. Cut the peppers into strips about the size of the asparagus pieces. Combine the shredded chicken, asparagus and peppers in a large bowl.
Whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing and pour over the chicken and vegetables. Add the scallions and sesame seeds and season to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature.