Thursday, September 11, 2014

Red-Cabbage Kimchi (aka Beauty-Prize Kimchi)

“I dreamed that Birdy was sick,” I said to Michael last month, waking, and waking him, in a sweaty fright in the night in our little Wellfleet rental. He murmured something soothingly, sleepingly, and I went back to sleep only to wake again with a start an hour later. Birdy was standing by our bed with the pinky cheeks and the glassy eyes. “I don’t feel so good,” she said. And she had a 101.1 fever, and then a 103.3 fever. There was a visit to the Cape Cod clinic and a strep diagnosis and a not even wanting to eat warm buttered orzo, which is her number-one favorite food on the planet. It was all very sad and strange and, thankfully, brief. She was a lot better by the next day, and a lot more better by the day after that, and then fine. Plus, we had cable TV, and I’d be lying if I said I minded cozying on the couch with her to watch back-to-back-to-back episodes of House Hunters. Beach shmeach.

The daily miracle of wellness.
Oh, but the dream. Michael imagines that there was some tiny butterfly-wing shift in the air that I registered unconsciously: a few stray strep molecules, a nano-degree of raised heat, a way Birdy's skin felt when I touched my good-night kiss to it. Something. It puts me in awe of my own parental psychic process. And of antibiotics, to which I bow humbly down.
For you, amoxicillin, for I know it was never your intention that Birdy barf you out into a bucket.
Speaking of which: I wanted to make something for Birdy that might offer a little pro- to counter the anti-, biotics-wise, and I so I thought of kimchi. But I didn’t have napa cabbage, which is what I’ve always used when I've followed my usual recipe from the Momofuku Cookbook; I had a red cabbage. So I Googled “Red Cabbage Kimchi,” and found a whole new recipe and method that I loved. I used fresh jalapenos instead of the Korean chile powder that I usually use, that I insist on using even though it smells kind of dusty in the package and I’m never sure I like how it tastes. I didn’t use sugar, which I usually add, or fish sauce, which I am fanatical about, even though sometimes the funk is a little funkier than my mood requires. And, most differently, I followed the instructions on Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried (a new-to-me blog providentially named after my number-one favorite Maurice Sendak line of all time), where Naomi Devlin recommends using two probiotic capsules to get the fermentation started.
Imagine a scallion into this photograph.
I’m telling you. This is the best kimchi I’ve ever tasted, even though what it really is is a cross between kimchi and sauerkraut. It’s gorgeously pink and perfectly tinglingly tart, crisp and aromatic and just so utterly fresh-tasting. It is the brightest thing I’ve ever made, in all ways. Plus, I can’t even begin to imagine how healthsome it is. Red cabbage! Fermented! 
Ah, the lovely, lovely fermented foods. Also, artificially-flavored strawberry milk.
I mean, please. I eat it pretty much every day, either with a groovy frankfurter or on a rice cake that’s been slathered with almond butter. Oh, and Birdy loved it never ended up mustering the courage to try it. It does, I should mention "have a smell." [Catherine makes prissy, judgmental suit-yourself face.]

This is absurdly, tangily, addictively delicious, even though it smells and the hot-dog slices might give you a strange preschooly feeling.
Red-Cabbage Kimchi 
Adapted from this recipe at Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried. I added the scallions and upped the ginger, garlic, and chile, but feel free to omit/scale back as you prefer. I would describe this as fool-proof, but then next week I’d end up screwing it all up somehow. Still, it’s very easy and intuitive, and if you’re interested, it’s a great starter fermentation project because the probiotic capsules control it all.

1 red cabbage (I used half of a quite large one), cored and finely sliced or shredded (I used this)
2 carrots scrubbed or peeled and grated, shredded, or julienned (I used this)
1 tablespoon peeled and finely chopped or grated ginger
1 large scallion, white and some of the green, finely slivered
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
½-1 hot pepper, seeded and slivered (make it however spicy you like)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
The powder from 2 probiotic capsules dissolved in 1 cup of spring/filtered/mineral water (I used water that I’d boiled for tea and left to cool. The issue is that you don’t want the chlorine, which is designed to stop bacterial growth, because you want to grow some bacteria! It boils off after a minute, though.)

(I use these probiotic capsules. I think as long as you get capsules (not tablets) it should be fine. Actually, you could probably dissolve tablets no problem, so that should be fine too! There.)

Put everything into a (strong) ceramic or stainless steel bowl and pound with a meat mallet or pestle or wooden spoon until the juices start to flow. (This is an inexact science. Just make sure to give it a decent bashing or even a good squeezing with your strong fingers and all will be well.)

Now pile the mixture into a very clean 1- or 2-quart jar (or multiple smaller jars—just try to distribute the liquid evenly) and push it down with your clean fingers until the juices rise to the top of the cabbage. Close with a lid. 

Set the jar aside at room temperature for 3-4 days until the pickle tastes good and sour. (Unscrew the lid every day, if you think to, just to make sure no gasses are building up pressure in there.) You’ll see it, though: once the cabbage starts to ferment, it will go from looking purple and white to looking a uniform bright pink, the way it would if you added vinegar to it. Bingo! Once it’s as sour as you like, keep it in the fridge, where it seems to keep well. I mean, it’s already spoiled, so what more could really happen to it? 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Your Famous Tomatillo Salsa

I am preserving my troubles away. What? That’s not the catchiest saying. But, you know: kimchi, wild grape jam, puffball paté, the insanely good oven-roasted tomato sauce. And this tomatillo salsa, which I make every year. I used to make it in a less fussy way: I’d just puree the roasted veggies with everything else, using lime juice but no vinegar, and then pop it in the freezer in pint-sized containers or Ziplocs. But now I’ve taken to properly canning it, and so I follow stricter guidelines re. acid and boiling, so as to not get The Botulism.

I’m sorry to post something so particular for the four of you who have access to tomatillos, because I know what you’re wanting at this time of year is a way to turn one inch of tortilla-chip crumbs and six dirty beets into enough school lunches to last the semester. Alas.  

And by the way, the great Ben Making His Own Lunch experiment is proving strangely tedious. He is wearing me down by so much fretful consulting that it’s all I can do not to shove him away from his despairing slouch in front of the open fridge and just make the fucking lunch myself. But I am holding steady. Or trying to. “There’s ham,” I say, over and over, like a postmodern audio critique of the pork industry. Meanwhile, Birdy has taken to making her own lunch just for fun—and uncomplainingly. Thus becoming my Current Favorite Child.

Exhibit A(ngel)
Exhibit B(en)
Back to the salsa: it is fruity and aromatic, a gorgeous pale green and just enough spicy and sweet to be a total crowd-pleaser. Sometimes I’ll dump a jar in a bowl and then add some corn kernels and diced avocado to fancy everything up for taco night. Or I’ll tip some into a pot of posole or Mexican rice. Or I’ll just put it out with chips. If you start making it and bringing it places, it will become Your Famous Tomatillo Salsa. Mark my words.

P.S. I should mention that what I'm really famous for is tomatillo-corn pizza: pizza dough brushed with oil, then a layer of this salsa, scattered with corn kernels and slivered red onion, topped with shredded Jack cheese. It is just BEYOND. You will be everybody's girlfriend, like it or not.

Your Famous Tomatillo Salsa
Makes 6 pints

This recipe is adapted from the delightful Put ‘em Up by Sherrie Brooks Vinton, although I see that my darling Marisa at Food in Jars has a perfect-looking one as well. You can scale this way, way down and, if you’re not canning it, you really don’t need to be very particular about measurements.

5 pounds tomatillos, rinsed and husks removed
Olive oil (I use olive oil spray for this)
1 pound onions, peeled and sliced into thick rings
5-10 jalapenos, stemmed, halved and, if you like, seeded (it’s spicier with more seeds)
2-3 peeled garlic cloves
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
Finely grated zest of 2 limes
½ cup lime juice (from 3-4 limes)
¾ cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
0-2 tablespoons sugar

Heat the broiler. Arrange the tomatillos smooth side up on a large rimmed baking sheet and broil them until they are blackened in spots and steaming and hissing, 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, lightly oil another baking sheet and arrange the onion slices and skin-side-up jalapenos on it. Brush or spritz the tops of the onions with oil and broil the onions and jalapenos until they are charring, 5 minutes or so.

In a blender or food processor, in batches, puree the tomatillos with the onions and jalapenos and the garlic until smooth(ish). As you finish each batch, dump it into a large nonreactive Dutch oven or pot.

Bring the salsa to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until thickened slightly, around 5 minutes. Meanwhile, puree the cilantro, lime juice, vinegar, lime zest, and salt in your dirty old food processor blender jar. Add this mixture to the simmered salsa, and taste it. If the tomatillos are perfectly ripe, it might be perfect as is. If not, consider adding sugar, up to two tablespoons, to balance the tartness. Taste for salt.

Can, freeze, or eat it up! If you can it, consult a proper instructional book or website, and process the cans for at least 15 minutes.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Warm and Fragrant and Sad Carrot Salad

I wish I could write something cheering and funny. I want to model a nice, brisk end-of-summer attitude for the kids, for you. But I am just boringly, wiltingly sad. I don’t have anything interesting to say about it. Just the dial-toney hum of missing Ben, who started high school, of counting the minutes until Birdy starts sixth grade. There is a big gangly-necked blue-jay baby at the feeder outside my office window, and his mom is coaching him about how to eat, and he is moving his beak in an awkward caricature of chewing, seeds falling out all over the place while he cocks his fluffy, baffled head.

Craney will never leave us! 
Ben is making his own school lunch. He spends a lot of time with his friends, whom I adore. I cannot always guess what he is thinking. The kids leave us in increments, I’m starting to understand. It’s all right and good and perfect. We are so lucky! And I could just cry. I will.
I've got to start growing again.
Still, there is the consolation of being invited to dinner, which is, I think I’ve mentioned, one of my greatest pleasures—and one of my greatest skills, the getting us invited. Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but this carrot salad? It’s the same one from the famous carrot-salad-in-the-car story. The one that goes: one time Catherine's family was invited to their friends Lee and Meredith’s house to do some cross-country skiing. And when Meredith later invited them to stay for dinner, Catherine said, “Oh, we’d love to! I actually happen to have a carrot salad in the car. Which I brought, you know, just in case.” Our friends like to remind me of this story at least every time we see them, which is, thank God, a lot. (If not quite enough.)

Last night we were actually invited to dinner ahead of time (yay!) and I made this. If you’re getting lots of sweet, delicious carrots from your garden or farm share, this is a lovely change of pace from the usual rawness and crunch. 
Another of my carrot-season favorites: escabeche, with jalapenos and onions, which makes me feel like I'm back at Tacos Vallarta in Santa Cruz, gorging on carnitas loaded down with pickled carrots. I  can as much as I can can. Some jars are called ahead of time.
The carrots in the salad are tender but, thanks to the vinegar, still firm. The seasoning is bright and unexpected, herby and fresh and mellow all at once. Good hot or cold. Delicious. Even though Ben did not, I notice, choose to pack the leftovers in his lunchbox. (WTF?)
Gardening is not my area of expertise. I had to pick the mint from underneath the sprawling tomatoes and volunteer grape vine.
Warm and Fragrant Carrot Salad
Serves 8

This is my expanded riff on “Carrots, Roman Style” from the lovely Deborah Madison book The Savory Way. Above the recipe I have written “simple + yummy,” but then, weirdly, I have made about a million notes. Don’t be dismayed by the long cooking; this happens largely unattended. You can used a teaspoon of dried mint if that’s all you’ve got; also, ground cumin is fine, but use a bit less.

1 ½ pounds nice, fresh, sweet carrots, scrubbed
¼ cup olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon (or more) chopped fresh mint
1 heaping tablespoon (or more) chopped celery leaves (or, if you’ve got it, lovage—but less of it)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 smashed and peeled garlic cloves
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
3 cups water
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (and more, for later)
Black pepper
More herbs for garnish

Cut the carrots into 2-inch lengths, and then cut these into quarters, sixths, or eights, so that they are all nice and even(ish). (I don't see why you couldn't slice them into the usual coins, unless you are obedient like me.)

In a Dutch oven over low heat, warm the oil and add the herbs, cumin, and garlic, and cook just until you can really smell them. Add the carrots and toss them with the oil and aromatics, then add the salt, water, and vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes. Deborah says, “By this time the liquid should have reduced to almost nothing, leaving the carrots nicely glazed. If the pan becomes dry before the carrots are done, add more water in ¼- or ½-cup increments until they are sufficiently tender.”

Grind on some pepper, then taste for seasoning, adding more salt or a splash more of vinegar until the carrots taste very bright and delicious. Serve with a scattering of more herbs. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Instant Pickles, Beach-Rock Rainbows, and Endless Summer

Man, oh man. Even as I write this, I'm watching maples leaves flutter and drift, watching the plums darken and blush, watching a roly-poly woodchuck fattening up. ("I really like the blobby animals," Birdy just announced from the window. "Woodchucks and manatees. You know. The fatties." Me too.) This is all I can say about it. Because I love cool nights, I do. But the end of summer? Kill me.

We have been having such a good time.

We made Jiffy Pop at our campsite. Jiffy Pop wants you to know that they don't recommend popping it over a campfire. Just saying. I wonder what they imagine people are doing with it.
We played Acquire in our miniature Wellfleet rental. Birdy took this photo from the spiral staircase.
Ben and Birdy made drip castles.
I laughed in a pond. 
We arranged dozens of rock rainbows on various Cape Cod beaches.
Speaking of summer, which we are still in the middle of, I reposted some of my very, very favorite recipes here. Including the pasta that I am making tonight, the peach jam that I am making as soon as I hit "publish," and the dill pickles that I am not currently making:

The only reason I am not brining any of those pickles right this minute is that I invented something I'm calling Instant Pickles, and I make them all the time because we keep needing pickles for picnic lunches, and I keep not having made any. 

This used to be a full jar.
Here's how you make them: fill a quart-sized jar with sliced pickling (or regular) cucumbers. I cut the cukes in half lengthwise, and then cut the halves into fairly thin slices. As you stuff the cukes into the jar, add a couple of heads of dill (or sprigs if you've got no heads), 2 garlic cloves peeled and smashed, and, if you like, a hot pepper or a pinch of pepper flakes. Add a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 cup of white vinegar, and shake the jar well. That's it. They're ready as is, but they'll get better as they sit in the fridge (shake the jar  as you think to). Plus, as they sit, the salt will draw the water out of the cukes so that they'll end up in a fair amount of brine in the end. Unless you eat them all right away. Which you might.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer Links


Oh, happy late July, dear ones.

We actually own our own tubes, which makes this activity #1 on the free thrills chart. Also: good beer in a can has changed my river life forever. Photo courtesy of the amazing Chris Perry, of deviled-egg photography fame.
I’m posting some summer links—the quick version because we are (seriously) tubing again today. 


Judith Frank’s big, beautiful novel All I Love and Know will make you laugh and cry. And I mean laugh in big loud snorting gasps, and also cry in the choking, snot-everywhere kind of way that makes your partner say, “What are you reading?” (Full disclosure: when I read this book, it was in manuscript form and was called “Noah’s Ark.” Because Judy’s my friend in real life.) The book has become weirdly, sadly timely, given that it starts with a terrorist act in Jerusalem, and a couple, Matt and Daniel, on their way to Israel; Daniel’s twin brother and his wife have died in the bombing, and they’re going to fetch the baby and 6-year-old they’ve inherited. It’s a political book in an excellent, stirring way, but of course the part I loved the most was the domestic: these two hip, young people returning to Northampton, Massachusetts with a pair of messy, grieving children. The kid scenes are completely hilarious and heartbreakingly real. Every detail is perfect: "At night, the upstairs hallway was lit up like an airport runway with night-lights." Perfect.


I also want to recommend one more to the grown-ups: Rufi Thorpe’s The Girls from Corona del Mar. (Full disclosure: I don’t actually know Rufi Thorpe!) I reviewed it for More magazine, and this is what I said: This is a ravishing, stay-up-all-night-reading kind of novel—a sad, funny, almost impossibly good debut about a decades-long friendship that spans decades and continents, teenagerhood and motherhood, unwanted pregnancy and addiction, dark secrets, fate, and, almost improbably, joy. How well we can ever know another person? The book seems to ask. How known can we ever be ourselves? This is rousing, high-impact prose: every sentence is like a ringing buoy or a slap in the face. Rufi Thorpe can write. Let’s just hope she can write quickly so we can read more soon.


Birdy wants to recommend Cammie McGovern’s absolutely magnificent YA novel Say What You Will. (Full disclosure: Cammie is our neighbor and one of the loveliest human beings on the planet.) “I liked the characters and the way the plot keeps changing,” she says, in what is not, I’ll admit, the most sparklingly worded review ever. That said, she basically lay in bed with the book, reading frantically and breath-holdingly, until she had finished. And then I read it too, and loved it almost as much as she did. Heads up: grown-uppy things happen in this novel about friendship, love, and ability.

Birdy also wants to recommend This Book Was a Tree: Ideas, Adventures, and Inspiration for Rediscovering the Natural World, by Marcie Chambers Cuff (a stranger!). It got the full Birdy Post-it-note treatment, and she got very busy making a terrarium, ASAP. 

She has plans to tackle many more of the lovely, sweetly illustrated projects. Meanwhile. . .

Is this too visually confusing, with the Munchkin lid? Note: you don't need the lid from Munchkin to play Qwixx. 
Our number-one game of the summer, for when we don’t have time for Catan, is the easy card/dice newbie Qwixx. It is somehow the perfect mix of strategic and untaxing, like Yahtzee crossed with Shut the Box crossed with Blackjack. We have played in clam shacks, at home, in our tent, and even at the Laundromat while we were waiting for our bedding to dry after a campground thunderstorm. On the very off-chance that the rules confuse you, here are the two issues we clarified (geek alert): 1) The active player can take the initial white dice. 2) The active player can take only one combination of white and colored dice.

Happy reading and gaming, friends! Please do weigh in with your current favorites. I can't tell you how much of your advice we've taken over the years.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mac's Mai Tais

Sorry, sorry. I know. That was mean. Here it is, right here. I would have posted it sooner, but I was camping. With a giant jar of Mai Tais in the cooler. Mmmm.

I don't know how to explain what's so good about this cocktail. I'm not even really a cocktail person, being a die-hard IPA-loving beer drinker. But these drinks. . . I don't know.

You will have to buy some weird kinds of booze, if you don't already have it. I felt nervous about posting this, and then remembered that it's because I used to food-blog for Disney.
Nobody hasn't loved them.

They're really subtle, even though they're crazy strong; you can't even figure out what's in them, if you don't know. Everyone guesses pineapple. Or cherry something. I think it's the almond mixed with the citrus. Crazy. Happy summer. xo
I've been juicing something like 6 limes to get a cup of lime juice.

Mac's Mai Tais
This is a copycat recipe that I recreated from the ingredients listed in the Mac's Shack cocktail menu, which says only, "Flor de Cana rum, orange curacao, amaretto & lime." I added simple syrup because the drink seemed both too tart and too strong without it. When I made these for a bunch of people, I used a 1-cup measure as the part, and mixed it all in a 1-quart mason jar. If you're making a single drink, you're probably looking at. . . what? Maybe 2 ounces for a part? Did I just turn your summer cocktail-making into a weird math problem?

1 part golden rum (I used Flor de Cana, because of being obedient)
1 part fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 part amaretto
1/2 part orange curacao
1/2 part (more or less) simple syrup (equal amounts of sugar and water, heated together until the sugar dissolves)

Mix together and serve over ice. Garnish with a fresh cherry, if you like.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Perfect Grilled Tofu

If I hadn’t started making copycat Mai Tais from Mac’s Shack in Wellfleet, and if they hadn’t turned out to be the best thing ever, this tofu would be my most-requested recipe of the summer.

I have been making it all the time, for groups both vast and small, and it is tangy, smoky, and perfect. Always good and always loved by all. Plus, easy-peasy. I cannot recommend it enough.

Happy fourth, my lovies. Stay cool (Ponyboy). xo

Perfect Grilled Tofu
This recipe is very easy to double, and you don’t really need to quite double the marinade: about 1 ½ times the recipe is perfect for 4 packages of tofu.

2 (12-ounce) packages extra-firm tofu
½ cup sherry vinegar (This is not the same as cooking sherry. I want to say, "Or a different kind of vinegar," but cannot bring myself to. However, if you try it with a different kind, please report back. I'm sure it will be great.)
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder (or 2 cloves garlic, pressed)
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or ½ as much table salt)
½ teaspoon cayenne (or not, if you don’t want or have)
½ teaspoon dried marjoram or thyme (or not, if you don’t want or have)
Black pepper

Begin by pressing out the extra moisture from the tofu: remove each slab from its aquarium, wrap them in a clean dish towel, and put something heavy on them. I like to use a baking sheet with a full tea kettle on it. Leave it like this for, oh, 5 to 45 minutes. Longer is better, but shorter is totally fine.

Meanwhile, mix together the remaining ingredients.

Cut each piece of tofu into 6 slabs, and put it all in a dish or Ziplock bag for marinating. Pour the marinade over the tofu, cover it, refrigerate it, and leave it to marinate for 30 minutes to 48 hours, turning it occasionally to get all the surfaces saturated. Longer is better, but shorter is totally fine; I probably average around 4 hours, but when I’ve done it for 24, it was amazing.

Oil your grill, preheat it at high, and then turn it down to medium (or do whatever the equivalent is, if you’re using charcoal or a fire-breathing dragon). Put the tofu on the grill (reserve the marinade) and cook it, turning, until it’s well browned, but before the grill marks get black (10-15 minutes total). This from Michael: “There’s a time when it goes from white to beige, but it’s still not done, even though it has grill marks. It needs to get really dark brown before it seems cooked.” (What? I don’t know.)

Now put the tofu back in the dish, and pour the reserved marinade back over it, and eat hot, warm, room-temperature, or cold. Sometimes, and I know this is annoyingly vague, I reduce the marinade a little by boiling it in a small pot, but sometimes I think that’s just so I have something to do while Michael’s cooking it. It is great either way.