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 gian 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.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp (gluten free!)

Need more rhubarb recipes? The round-up is here.

This dessert is such a lovely surprise, I wanted to give it a glammier name. Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Buttered Oats or Brown-Sugar Crisp with Strawberries and Rhubarb or Sweet Butter Nuts Summer Fruit Heaven. But what it is is a perfect fruit crisp that just so happens to be gluten-free! Okay. It doesn’t just so happen to be anything. We were charged with bringing dessert to a gluten-free household, and so I did a little research.

Don't you want to invite me over so that I can bring dessert and then proceed to stage an elaborate photo shoot with your pretty dishes? It should be noted that this is the same family whose daughter's bat mitzvah we recently hijacked with mandolin, ukelele, guitar, kalimba, and our heartfelt, if not entirely traditional, rendition of REM's You Are the Everything. (You're welcome, again, guys! We love you.)
To be clear, I love a dietary challenge of any type. I like an excuse to buy xanthan gum as much as the next person, and I like. . . what? The way that making something special exaggerates the way that cooking is already an act of caretaking. Of love.
My brother’s kids spent a week with us in April, right after one of them went gluten-free, and it was a daily adventure. “I just love that you made it for me!” was about all that could be said, and was, about the lumpy, misshapen excuse for pizza. Gluten-free waffles, on the other hand, were terrific, and I even kind of liked the beany aftertaste. (I am nothing if not a bean-loving caricature of myself.) Many cookies were made and enjoyed. And next time I will make this rich, buttery dessert.

The inspiration. We love you, Brookfield Farm.
Use whatever fruit comes into season, and just adjust the filling accordingly. 
Pretty much anything will need less sugar than the rhubarb does, unless you have access to those nice plump horrible slap-in-your-face gooseberries to which my (English) mother is partial. 
Cherries and apricots are a lovely combination (and I am reposting that classic crisp here), as are peaches and strawberries, nectarines and blueberries, and, when the leaves start whispering about autumn, blackberries and apples. The cornstarch can stay more or less constant—although you could add a little more or less if you sense that your fruit is a little juicier or not.
Happy summer, my darlings. xo

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp
I started with this beautiful recipe over at The Minimalist Baker, and then added, oh, you know, more butter and sugar. And salt. And fruit. Also I added cornstarch to thicken the filling. Vary the fruits as you like.

For the topping:
1 cup oats (if gluten-free is your angle here, make sure to use oats labeled gluten-free)
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans
½ cup almond meal (Purchased, or grind raw almonds in the food processor or blender; I like it to be rustic, with the skins still on, but go with your preference.)
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces

For the filling:
3 cups sliced rhubarb
3 cups sliced strawberries
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch stirred into a slurry with a similar amount of water

Heat the oven to 350.

Stir together the dry topping ingredients, then add the butter and rub it all together with your fingers, lifting handfuls of the mixture and letting them fall rubbingly, until the butter is evenly distributed and the topping has turned pebbly. Pop this in the fridge while you make the filling.

Make the filling right in the dish (something 8 X 8 or 9 X 13 or in the middle will work—the dessert will be deeper or shallower accordingly). Toss the fruit with the sugar, then drizzle over the cornstarch slurry and use your hands to mix it all well.

Top the fruit with the crumble mixture and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and caramelizing and the topping is as brown as it can be without burning.

Serve hot, warm, room-temperature, or cold, with vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer Favorites


Even though Ben is still slogging through another week of school, summer is really here. I say this not just because last night was the first night that I alternated complaining about the suffocating enervating heat with complaining about the horrible teeny bugs crawling all over me. Not just because of the fireflies and mint or because we eat dinner at 8 and it still feels plenty early or because we eat only cold things and take only cold showers. But because it looks and smells like summer, and when the thunderstorm finally crashed in late late, I felt that enlightening lifting of heat and mood, that wild flashing happiness. Summer! Plus, the baby animals are everywhere, big-eyed and trusting: bunnies, deer, squirrels, goldfinches. Yesterday a tiny chipmunk stood on its hind legs to look through the glass door at the cat, who went insane, chittering and clacking at him, and I teased, "You're going to get in trou-ble! Don't let your Mama see you talking to a pussycat." And not ten seconds later, a big chipmunk appeared on the wood pile, yelling and scolding, and the baby scampered off.

Meanwhile, I am sharing some perennial favorite summer recipes here. Because I know you want to eat cold things too.

Since originally publishing this chicken recipe, I have taken to often skipping the first marinade altogether, and simply salting the chicken as early in the day as is possible. But then do I have to call it "Single-Delicious Grilled Chicken"? 
Double-Delicious Grilled Chicken. I make this all summer, every summer. It's so good, and it's my favorite way to turn a giant plate of lettuce into a dinner party. You can make the dressing however you like: this past Sunday we had some friends over, and I had this vision of a kind of falafel-themed salad, so I made the chicken with lemon and lots of mint, then I added it to a giant bowlful of lettuce, cucumbers and falafel-seasoned fried chickpeas (just before they were done cooking, I added lots of coriander, cumin, paprika, and granulated garlic and they were insane). Heaps of parsley leaves too. And mint and feta. And tahini dressing, even though I claim to hate tahini. But it was so, so good. (I based it on this recipe, but used only 1/4 cup of water). I wish I'd taken a picture.

Cold Noodle Bowls. Someone requested this recipe. Was it you? It's another one that I make over and over every summer, with many variations. The ginger-scallion dressing here is a total favorite, but last night I made a variation on cold noodle bowls with brown-rice noodles, loads of steamed spinach, tofu strips, and a delicious peanut dressing. Oh, wait, basically it was noodles and tofu with Japanese Restaurant Spinach.  I added lime juice, garlic, and ginger to the dressing, and also a spoonful of sambal oelek (sriracha would be good too). So perfect for the hot end of a hot day. (I couldn't help noticing that I was the only person who helped myself to a nice big spoonful of pickled turnips to crunch up the bowl a little. Losers.)

If you wanted to share any summery thoughts, I'd love that so much. Recipes, outings, books, games, anything.


Friday, June 06, 2014

The Foragers

Clockwise from top left: bitter, slimy cooked jewelweed; mild, tasty cooked violet leaves; pungent raw salad with garlic mustard, violet leaves, violets, sorrel, dandelion greens, and a single four-leaf clover; tangy, stringy cooked curly dock. And in the middle? A bamboo shoot!
I taped this little commentary for our NPR station. I am such a proselytizing born-again forager, my God. Because it is a green, green world right now, at least here in the Northeast, and I cannot recommend enough that you try figuring out how much of that green you can actually eat! Because it might be a lot. It turns out that all kinds of plants are edible, especially right now, when they're still young and tender. Not just the dandelions, which I've written about, or the purslane, which won't be up for another month. But, oh, burdock and jewel weed and and violet leaves. Milkweed shoots and daylily buds and cattails. Mushrooms, if you're careful. 
We made garlic-mustard pesto, but you can make pesto with any tasty greens! I tend to use two packed cups of greens with 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts or almonds, and plenty of salt and parmesan.
Birdy and I got these books out of the library.

Backyard Foraging, by Ellen Zachos is probably our favorite. But Northeast Foraging by Leda Meredith and Foraging New England by Tom Seymour are great too, as is another book, not pictured here: Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas.

Birdy arranged these wild and semi-wild garnishes to jazz up a simple bowl-of-pinto-beans dinner. Clockwise from left: mint, sheep sorrel, violets, lemon balm, and a mix of Queen Ann's Lace roots (aka wild carrots) and chives. 
But it's not just the food. It's not. And it's not just the dopamine I mention in the radio piece. Or the risk, which I kind of love. It's also the time. 
wild thing
Sorry for all the narcissistic linking, but (relatedly) I have this up today too, in the Times. I am full of opinions, it seems. Enjoy your weekend, my darlings. xo
We usually only harvest oyster mushrooms in the fall, but the weird weather sent out a spring crop. Here they are, sauteed, with fried eggs with sizzling vinegar. The best meal I ever ate.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Three-Ingredient Sauce for Steak and Other Delicious Things

Oh, the end of May! I love it so much. It's like the Thursday night of the whole school year, is how I feel. You're not done yet, but you start to enjoy anticipating being done so profoundly that this moment might be even better than the later doneness itself because the whole summer is still to come, dawning in front of us like a golden orb of promise and lazy mornings and NO SCHOOL LUNCHES TO MAKE and camping and popsicles and oooooh, I can't wait.
The obligatory May cigar-vase photo. Didn't I just post one, like, yesterday? When the children were still small and peachy?
We spent Memorial Day with lots of our closest friends, and I am in such a strange state, such a vibrant wabi-sabi mix of excitement and melancholy (What? Me? I know!), that I spent the whole day accusing passing hordes of children of growing up too fast. Luckily, I was not alone in this project. All my friends feel the same way. "Look at him!" we cry. "Look at her!" about each other's long, lanky, hirsute, broad, pimply, gorgeous, mustachioed, breathtaking, bosomy children, even though it's only been, like, two days since we were all together. I cannot take it. I can't. And we've been to three funerals in three months, and that's only the half of it, and every time the wind blows, the dogwood blossoms snowfall to the ground, even though I have waited all year for that tree to bloom. Even though that tree bloomed just a second ago, and a second before that, and it will bloom again in the wink of an eye, the children all another foot taller. What?

What does this have to do with Three-Ingredient Sauce for Steak? Oh, nothing, I guess. Except that steak feels like such a harbinger of summer. Even though I cooked it in a pan, because it was raining and it breaks my heart too much to watch Michael at the grill with an umbrella. 

These are marvelous, wonderful skirt steaks. Oh, they are so, so good. I heat the pan on nearly high heat for TEN MINUTES before salting the bottom heavily with coarse salt and then adding the steaks. TEN MINUTES. This pan. The love of my life.

Did I mention salt?
But the sauce? I can't describe why it's so good. In the Venn diagram, it would almost entirely overlap with the wasabi-kicked soy sauce you'd dip your sushi in. 
I picked the only easy recipe in the book.
The mustard--and you really do have to use that fancy Colman's in a yellow tin--makes it crazy, nose-clearingly hot. Not spicy. Hot in the sinus way. And then the soy is there, mellow and salty and rich. And then the rice vinegar comes in all bright and floral. It makes steak sing. And the song it's singing is, "I am so fucking delicious, you are going to die!"

We are 3. Yes. 3.
The sauce is also excellent on plain brown rice, on edamame, and on fish, which is what it was invented for. Where I first had it, in fact, was at a restaurant called Roy's that my parents took Michael and me to in Hawaii, oh, 6 or 7 thousand years ago. And what I had it on was, at the time, the single most transformative meal of my entire life: Blackened Ahi with Soy Mustard Sauce and Beurre Blanc. I can hardly write about it still. It made me feel like I'd never actually eaten anything before that tasted good, and like I might never again afterwards. I'm sure it sounds very 1993 now, but wow. I talked about that meal every hour, every day, for years, to the point where my thoughtful brother finally got me the Roy's cookbook, to try to assuage my longing. And guess what I've made from the cookbook? This single 3-ingredient sauce. Not the whole plate of food, with the fancy tuna. Not any of the other recipes, with the slivered papaya or the flying fish roe or whatever. Just this one thing. And it was completely worth it.

What about me? Nobody even mentioned salt!
Three-Ingredient Steak Sauce
aka Roy’s Soy-Mustard Sauce

Okay, there are four ingredients, but are you really going to count water?

1/4 cup mustard powder, preferably Colman’s
2 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons [unseasoned] rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce

Mix the mustard powder and hot water together in a cup [or small bowl] to form a paste. Let sit for a few minutes “to allow the flavor and heat to develop.” [Wah? I do it anyway.] Add the vinegar and soy sauce, mix together, and “pass through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.” [I skip the sieve, but I do use a whisk.] Cover and “refrigerate for at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to develop.” [I tend forget this whole 1-hour part, but oh well.]