Quick Stone Fruit Preserves

stone fruit preserves

One pound (ish) of stone fruit (plums, nectarines, peaches, apricots in any combination), one cup of sugar, squeeze of lemon juice, pinch of salt. Bring to a boil for 10-15 minutes until the mixture hesitates to fall off your wooden spoon. Pour into a pint jar, screw a lid on, let set in the fridge. No pectin, no canning, so all-day affair. Just one beautiful jar of jam that will make you want to get up in the morning. And don't bother peeling any of the fruit. After it cooks, the peels will come off and roll up in little cylinders, and you can remove them if you want.

And another poem. One of my resolutions this summer is to read less on my New York Times app (though I love it so) and more actual books. I've noticed my attention span shortening the last few years, and even during a pretty brief, punchy article, I'll scroll down to find the bullet points so I can get on to the next thing. I took Loretta and my niece to the beach yesterday and resolved not to look at my phone. Instead, I took The Power of Myth, Bill Moyers' interview with the mythologist Joseph Campbell. It's been sitting on my bedside table, 70 pages read, for 3 months. I finished it in the sun, and I can tell it's going to work on me for a really long time. Here's a synopsis for you:

Joseph Campbell for Beginners

We have told millions of true stories,
and they are all the same one.

We are born, we die,
and in-between, if we say yes,
we know the ecstasy of living.

Suffering is here to stay,
and so is bliss,
and they grow together
like weeds and wheat,
nurtured in the same soil,
inseparable.

If we pay attention,
we'll hear a call to leave home,
and only those who leave
come home again.

Figuring out meanings of things
is a dead-end.
So why are we here?
For the rapture of being alive.

And if you want to know more,
find the poet or mystic or artist
journeying inside you.
Don't be scared of their light,
and get ready for odyssey.

Hot Chiles for my Hot Firefighter

Chile Crunch

I started making this condiment a few months ago, and we are addicted. When we run out, there's a lot of malaise, scrounging through the fridge for something that might approximate it. Sriracha? Too sweet. Tapatio? Too musky. Chile oil? Not crunchy. So I finally went to Cash and Carry, bought embarassing quantities of the ingredients, and once a week I can be found frying dried garlic and chiles in my wok, Wyatt walking up the stairs and asking hopefully, "Are you making that hot stuff?" He never eats a sandwich without it, which warms my heart.

And Yancey is even more nutso about it, putting it on almost everything. You may have heard that the central part of Washington is engulfed in flames, and Yancey and a crew of firefighers from his station have been sent to help. 3 men died earlier this week, and I'm just heartsick for their families. And for the evacuees, the pets and wildlife, everything and everyone in the path of this insatiable fire. I've been flooded with love, check-ins, and well wishes and have been passing those onto Yancey, and I don't feel worried. I'm not a worrier. But I do feel a deep sense of reality, like the veil has been lifted for a bit and we can see into the nature of things. We are not in control, we're always on the verge of catastrophe, and we'd better learn how to be present to one another now, without waiting. 

And I'm disporportionately nostalgic about things that remind me of Yancey--chile crunch, his tools in the garage, his little pile of keys, receipts, and flashlights by his bed. My neighbor and her infant daughter are without their husband/father for a year because he's been called up to the Army reserves and is serving in Afghanistan. This week is giving me the tiniest, teensiest idea of what it must be like for her, reading the news, checking Twitter feeds, looking for texts or emails. There are millions of people who, for many reasons, know they are on the edge all the time, and I'm appreciating them this week. (Thinking a lot about the anniversary of Katrina, too. For a great window into New Orleans then and now, I recommend my current favorite podcast, Death, Sex, and Money, its fabulous host Anna Sale, and her beautiful series on New Orleans.)

I've been fascinated by some studies I've read about collective trauma, and that part of what saves people is being about to do something with their bodies in the wake of diaster or in the middle of anxiety. That's probably why we cook for funerals and probably why I'm in the kitchen more than normal this week, makiing chile crunch, roasting hatch chiles, making granola, keeping my brain just busy enough and my body connected to the ground. I wish the same for you wherever are. xo

Crunchy Chile and Garlic Paste
This won't taste quite right at first and needs to sit for about 24 hours to let all the flavors meld. So if you taste it right after it's cooled, you might be non-plussed. Be patient. It will reveal itself to you. And it keeps forever in the fridge. 

1/2 c. dried minced garlic (not garlic salt or garlic powder)
1/2 c. crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tb. dried onion flakes
1 tsp. salt 
1 c. canola oil 

Mix all ingredients together in a wok or heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5-7 minutes until oil is sizzling and garlic is just beginning to barely turn color. Turn off heat, let cool in the pan, and scrape into a glass jar. Cover and refrigerate.

Dukkah

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I head Robert Thurman talking about "changing the channel" this week, the idea that we have the power to choose what kind of person we'll be in any given situation. We can't control how other people act (the great sorrow of my life!) or what happens to us. But just like holding the remote control and switching from the news to the nature channel, we don't have to be victimized by external circumstances or even by our our emotions. With practice (especially the kind that meditation affords), we can click into another, more freeing space.

Being creative in the kitchen is one thing that helps me change the channel. I'm doing something with my hands, getting out of my head. I'm providing for my family and taking care of my body. And I'm in touch with this earth, with the soil, farmers, and producers that touched this food before it came to me.

A few others things that help me change the channel:

  • Getting outside. This is number ONE. For many years now, I've tried to live by the mantra, "Go outside whenever possible."
  • Going in my office, shutting the door, and sitting down for 5 minutes.
  • Doing a small, satisfying home task, like sorting my ribbon bin or making the bed.
  • Texting a friend and telling her I'm thinking about her.
  • Making and sending a card.
  • Brewing a cup of tea.

And for a big burst of texture and flavor, sprinkling dukkah on top of everything, which I've been doing for a few months. The London Plane puts dried rose petals in theirs, which you might try also. That's like going from standard picture to HD. Yum.

Dukkah
Makes 2/4 cups, which will go quick of you're anything like me. If your volume of cooking is less than mine (very likely!), you can store the excess in the freezer to maintain maximum freshness. And I wouldn't dream of getting my spices in any form but bulk. Infinitely cheaper and fresher than anything you'll find in a bottle.

1 c. nuts (I like hazelnuts, but almonds would be delicious, too)
1/2 c. sesame seeds
1/2 c. coriander seeds
1/4 c. cumin seeds
1/4 c. caraway seeds
1/4 c. fennel seeds
1/4 c. black cumin (nigella)
1 tsp. coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Toast nuts in a 350 oven until slightly browned. Usually takes about 10 minutes, but watch closely! If you're using hazelnuts, you can take the skins off after they're toasted by rubbing them in a clean dish towel.

Toast sesame, coriander, cumin, caraway, nigella and fennel seeds in a hot, dry skillet for 3-4 minutes until you smell their fragrance and hear some popping sounds. Remove from heat immediately and let cool.

Combine toasted nuts and spices in a food processor and pulse. The mixture may be find or coarse, depending on your preference. But don't overdo it or it will turn into a paste! You want it dry and crumbly. You can also chop your nuts separately and crush your spice in a mortal or pestle or spice grinder, and them combine then. Add coarse salt and fresh ground pepper to the finished mixture.

Herbed Buttermilk Dressing

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Aka "Ranch."

Which I whipped up because my dad called and asked what I was doing for lunch. I said, "Come by. I'll make salad."

Today was graced.

I asked my friend Kelli to pick my kids up from school because I just needed some TIME at home to plow through my list, make the bed, be quiet. (And what I always discover when I ask for help is that people like to help and usually say yes. Please remind me of this when I pull that "I'm-so-busy" victim crap.)

There was light (and warmth!) all around. On the east side in the morning, the west side in the evening. Windows open, Brandi Carlile on the stereo.

And time for returning emails, emptying the compost pail, taking the dog for a walk, reading for work, getting out Spring sandals. A general knowing that there is enough and will be enough.

As you know, one of my favorite things is being home for lunch. I sometimes make fried rice or a little snack plate, but usually it's a salad. Today, it was a chopped salad with romaine, kale, sweet peppers, avocado, havarti, crispy proscuitto, radishes, and tomatoes. I normally make an olive oil vinaigrette but felt like something creamy. I'm reminded of Michael Pollan who opines that we can eat whatever we want as long as we make it. A few Tablespoons of this might not be fat-free, but its still healthy. (Love this little video short: "What predicts a healthy diet, more than anything else, is the fact that it's cooked by a human being." Amen.)

And lunch in the sun with my dad? That's healthy, too.

Herbed Buttermilk Dressing
In a blender, combine 1 c. buttermilk, 1/2 c. mayo, 1 garlic clove, juice of one small lemon or 1/2 large lemon, 2 Tb. olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and some handfuls of fresh herbs (big handfuls of parsley, cilantro, basil, or dill and smaller ones of thyme or oregano). Blend until smooth. Store in the fridge and treat yourself all week.

Roasted Onion Guacamole

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I know summertime is for grilling or eating cold salads. We do plenty of that. But my oven comes in handy to shrink the mounds of produce I can't help but collect. I joked with Yancey that 50% of my time is Fridge Maintenance.  Jenga Fridge--if you take one thing out, the whole thing collapses. Until we find a bigger or second fridge on Craigs List, what to do with the pounds of zucchini, giant leaves of kale, cauliflower florets, and bulbous tailed onions hogging all the real estate?!

Turn your oven to 425 and let the magic begin.

I brought home a beautiful bunch of onions from Joe's Garden (Bellinghamsters, do you know what an amazing treasure this place is?). Of course I had no use in mind for them, and before long they started irritating me, the tops wilting, the bulbs flopping everywhere. So I coarsely chopped them up, threw them on a cookie sheet with olive oil and salt, and roasted them at 425 for about 10 minutes. They emerged soft, oily, charred in places, and perfect for mixing into everything I eat this week--sandwiches, eggs, burritos. And this guacamole. 

Other ways to use your oven in the summer:

  • Cauliflower florets with sumac, sesame seed, oregano, salt, and olive oil
  • Strips of pepper (much easier than roasting the whole pepper and peeling it)
  • Zucchini sliced lengthwise into 1/8" strips with salt, pepper, a bit of lemon juice, and olive oil
  • Kale chips
  • Roasted bok choy, a current favorite
  • If you're lucky enough to have excess tomatoes sitting around, cut them in half and roast them at 200 for 10 hours. Heaven. 

Roasted Onion Guacamole

Big handful fresh cilantro
1 small clove garlic
1/2 seeded jalapeno
1/2 tsp. salt
4 ripe avocadoes
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 c. roasted onions

With a mortar and pestle, smash the cilantro, garlic, jalapeno, and salt until a paste forms. Add avocadoes and pound until desired chunkiness. Add lime, roasted onions, and more salt or lime to taste.

Creamy Homemade Yogurt

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As I've said many times, cooking is creating.

My medium isn't acrylics, oils, metal, or wood, but the possibilities in my refrigerator and the pure joy of transforming something. 

That's why I bothered to make yogurt. It used to be that you couldn't find a tub of great yogurt unless you drove to a natural foods store in Southern California. My parents used to make it in their bathtub in the 80's. I should ask my Mom exactly what method they used, but I remember the bathtub being unusable for hours at a time because yogurt-making was in progress. I remember my Mom driving all over Timbuktu looking for speciality ingredients in small-town Bellingham--Tamari sauce, dried chiles, fresh herbs, saffron, craft beer, artisan bread. Or good yogurt that wasn't full of sugar, filler, and thickeners.

These days, of course, standing in the yogurt aisle at any decent store can be dizzying. Whole milk or nonfat? Greek or European style? Cows milk or goats milk? Sweetened or plain? There's no lack of choices and certainly no imperative for getting out one's candy thermometer and waking in the middle of the night to transfer precious jars to the fridge.

But forgive me if I WANTED to, in the same way I want to make a jar of preserves just for the pleasure of it. Or make pizza dough though Trader Joe's is really just as good. (Honestly, it is. Heat up that pizza stone and you'll think, "Why did I bother?!") 

I used to have a garage sale yogurt maker, a little tray that held jars. Plug the tray in, and it kept the milk at a steady, low temperature so it would culture and thicken up. I tossed it in the Goodwill bin when we moved for two reasons: 1) It took up too much room and 2) I never liked the way it turned out, sort of curdled and overly sour.

I've been obsessed with Liana Krissoff's book Canning for a New Generation, and she jokes about "preserving milk" by turning it into yogurt. And buying the cheapest, almost expired milk to do it with. I splurged and bought organic whole milk, but old on-the-brink stuff is fine. Her method is SO EASY! The only special equipment you need is a candy thermometer (which has a million other uses, so I recommend getting one.)

I woke up in the middle of the night last night, aware that the prescribed "8 to 10 hours" had passed. I swung my feet onto the floor, padded into the kitchen, and opened the little cooler I had been using. Divine perfection. The yogurt had set up perfectly, and was more smooth and creamy than anything I'd ever made or purchased. I stuck it in the fridge and had yogurt dreams until morning. I mixed it with a spoonful of preserves (also from Liana's book) and felt very proud of myself. No bathtub required.

Homemade Yogurt

1/2 gallon milk (low-fat or full-fat!)
2 Tb. plain yogurt with active cultures (important: no pectin or other ingredients besides milk and active cultures!!)

In a large saucepan, heat the milk over medium high heat to 170 degrees on a candy thermometer, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, set the pan in a larger bowl of ice water, and let cool to 110 degrees, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, fill two glass quart jars with hot water to warm them; pour out he water. When the milk has cooled to 110, ladle a little of it into a small bowl and whisk in the yogurt. Whisk the mixture back into the milk in the saucepan, then pour the mixture into the warmed jars and put the lids on tightly.

Set the jars in an insulated cooler (I used my insulated lunch tote), wrapping them with towels and tucking one or two bottles of hot water into the cooler with them if necessary to fill up space. Basically, make the jars cozy. Set the cooler in an out-of-the-way spot for 8-10 hours, or overnight, and be careful not to jostle or disturb it as that will interfere with the fermentation.

The milk will thicken and become yogurt, and it's best to refrigerate it for a couple hours after you pull it from your cooler. In all likelihood your yogurt will be plenty thick, but if you want it even thicker, put it in a sieve lined with a couple layers of cheesecloth and let it drain over a bowl in the fridge for a few hours. I didn't do this, as I couldn't stand to see my beautiful yogurt reduced by 30% (or more!) and I liked the looser consistency. 

Cilantro Sunflower Seed Pesto

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Classically, it's absolutely pouring on the kids first day of summer, and I'm going a little nuts. Loretta and the dog are following me around the house like shadows, there have been a few sibling tiffs, the house is already a disaster (more time at home=more mess), and the sunny glow of yesterday's "School's Out!" celebration is fading a bit.

Our plans of strawberry picking disappeared with the rain. I'm disappointed and found I was looking forward to the kitchen tasks--washing, stemming, freezing, jam-making. So I found something else to relieve my get-in-the-kichen itch. If I examine my fridge for more than one second, there's always something that can be done.

In this case, Yancey bought a giant bag of washed cilantro for my taco and maragaritas birthday party. It was taking up valuable real estate and I'd be hard-pressed to use it up before it turns. Except if I get my food processor out. Now it's all packed in one jam jar and ready to use.

And so many uses! Dalloped on nachos or burritos or spread on a sandwich or omlette. Or mixed it with a little sour cream or yogurt for dip, adding a bit of lime and more salt. Or toss it with hot pasta, a little bit of cream, put the pasta in a baking dish, top with sharp cheddar and tortilla chips, and broil it. Yum.

And whatever you do, don't go buy pine nuts. I haven't purchased them in years since the price went up so much. Walnuts are my favorite for pesto, but I really liked the mild nuttiness of sunflower seeds. Despite the rain today, I really do feel the bounty coming on. Stay tuned for more fridge cleaning.

Cilantro Sunflower Seed Pesto
Pesto means "to pound, to crush." It doesn't mean basil sauce! Summertime is perfect for making pesto out of spinach, parlsey (and of course basil), and any semi-hard cheese and most nuts work beautifully. 

6-8 cups washed and dried cilantro with stems 
1 large garlic clove
coarse salt to taste (I use quite a bit since undersalted pesto is always disappointing)
1/2 c. raw sunflower seeds
1/2 c. grated parmesan or sharp white cheddar or a mixture (as I used)
1/4 c. olive oil 

Combine all ingredients except for olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Add olive oil through the feeding tube in a stream until ingredients have emulsified. Add more of anything to taste. Will keep in the fridge for quite awhile.

Almost-Fresh Salsa

salsa

Here is the dilemma:

Our family goes through a lot of salsa, mostly because one of the sacred rites around here is Sunday night nachos. (You should try it. 10 minutes, everyone loves it, and it's sometimes in front of the TV. Heaven.) I hate chopping and seeding mealy tomatoes in the winter. It's a lot of work for a disappointing result. There is some delicious fresh salsa out there, but the kind I really like is $6 for a small tub! Wyatt and Yancey would slurp that in 10 seconds. And canned salsa has never floated my condiment boat. Too sweet, flat, or weird.

Enter "Almost-Fresh Salsa," a recipe given to me by Emily who got it from her ex-boyfriend who got it from his Mom. And you guessed it--it uses canned tomatoes. I cannot keep enough canned tomatoes in the house. I've heard the packaging makes them bad for you, but have plugged my ears on that public service announcement. You only live once, right? If I don't smoke or eat fast food, I can be crazy and use canned tomatoes. 

This salsa meets my criteria of tasting good. Who cares if something is fresh but it tastes like crap! Or if it's "all natural" but you can only choke down a spoonful. About to step onto a soapbox here, but some of the recipes floating around on Pinterest or Foodgawker look absolutely awful. I'd rather have a banana for every meal than concoct some of the "good-for-you" things out there. (Speaking of bananas and Pinterest, this post is really funny.)

And if you have a salsa soapbox, you know I'd love to hear about it. 

Almost-Fresh Salsa
If you double or tripe this recipe (not a bad idea), don't double or triple the garlic. It will inedible the next day. Maybe add just a tiny bit more. And you'll notice this doesn't have any lime. The acidity balance is perfect without it.

1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, drained
1 seeded jalapeno (or to taste)
1 garlic clove
big handful chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 c. finely sliced green onions
coarse salt

In the bowl of a food processor (or by hand), chop the garlic and jalapeno. Add the drained tomatoes and pulse a few times until salsa reaches desired consistency (slightly chunky, not a puree.) Remove tomato mixture from bowl and add cilantro, green onion, and salt to taste. 

Tomato Confit

tomato confit

I heard an interview with Jacques Pepin today. For his culinary school students, he devised this final test: roast chicken and roast potatoes. He told them not to try to stand out or surprise him. He said all the chickens would be different from one another anyway. And if you pour yourself a glass of wine while it's roasting, it will matter less if it's burnt.

Amen.

Isn't it wonderful when the best things turn out to be the simplest? That's these tomatoes. Take whatever half-wilted fresh tomatoes might be wasting away in the pantry. (In my case, it was a combination of pear tomatoes from Trader Joes and a few "vine ripened" ones from the grocery that never made it into a salad. Yes, I sometimes buy tomatoes in the winter. Prosecute me.) Since you probably won't have a ton of those (you, ethical reader, NEVER transgress like me), add  them to a can of diced or whole tomatoes that you drain. Combine your tomato medley in a roasting pan and sprinkle liberally with coarse salt, a tiny bit of sugar, and a huge glug of olive oil. Roast at 300 for at least an hour, longer if you have time. The uses are limitless--with eggs, on top of pizza, on a baguette. Straight from the pan. Yum.

In the "simple is spectacular" vein, we were playing games around the coffee table last night, the evening light was pouring through our windows, and I ran for my camera. I've clicked through these photos a million times already today, thankful to the millionth power for my husband, my son, my daughter and that we're in each other's orbit every day. Amen.

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Peanut Butter Hummus

 

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It's strange to be sitting in bed writing about peanut butter hummus when thousands are camping out in Egypt's Tahrir Square, desperate for freedom and change. I keep asking myself, "Have I ever wanted anything that bad?"

Everything--even the cooking in my kitchen or yours--happens in a context. This week, that context seems more dramatic than usual. I am praying for the people to prevail. It's funny how America likes to talk up democracy. I think we champion predictability more than we champion justice. This is our chance to walk our talk. I hope we don't fail.

In my little world, I'm taking kids to the park, filing taxes, eating kimchi (that jar is never-ending!), and making peanut butter hummus.

Peanut butter hummus?! So creamy, easy, and delicious. As Nigella says (this is her recipe), without the "clagginess" of tahini. I remember my mom used to make baba ghannouj with peanut butter. No such thing as finding tahini in Bellingham in the 1980's. If toast is all you're using peanut butter for, you're missing out. Wyatt came home after church today and ate a huge plate of this. With all the unrest in the world, I'm hard-pressed to think of anything more satisfying than feeding loved ones or breaking bread together. 

my world

Peanut Butter Hummus
I didn't make any adjustments to this recipe. And since I always benefit from her commentary, here's the recipe in Nigella's voice:

Recipe

Fiery Homemade Kimchi

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Despite evidence to the contrary, I have not fallen off the face of the earth. I am still cooking, grocery shopping, working, list-making, breathing. Just with no time to write about it! Ah. The living is what's most important, but I do miss the re-living that happens here.

If I were a nicer person, I'd welcome you back with some fragrant muffins or irresistible cookies. Or maybe chocolate is your thing. If you're in any of those camps, this isn't your day. It's Kimchi Day.

Kimchi is one of those divisive foods. You either love it, hate it, or haven't even gotten near enough to decide. One of the best things about moving to Seattle 16 years ago was my introduction to Korean food. And even around here, it's an under-celebrated, almost undiscovered cuisine. I'm waiting for Korean to get its big break like Vietnamese food has, or tapas or izakaya. In the meantime, I'll definitely be making more batches of this. (Though Yancey's hoping I'll wait a few weeks, since our entire house now smells like a kimchi factory.)

Fair warning--this recipe takes a day or two to make (depending on if you cheat like I did), involves massaging daikon strands, and will find you putting anchovies in the food processor with apples. Now, that's my  love language, but I'd be surprised if it's everyone's. Were I to commence with a hard sell, I'd say that kimchi is full of good-for-you live cultures (naturally present in cabbage), livens up a lunch rice bowl like nobody's business, kicks up the endorphins with its spice, will make you feel like a globally conscious cook, and the homemade version is vastly better than most store-bought jars. If you're not ready to make the plunge, I've got a half gallon of it waiting to be eaten in my fridge. Come by and I'll send you home with some. Just make sure to bring an airtight container. Your partner or roommate will thank you. 

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Fiery Homemade Kimchi
This recipe is from Fine Cooking. Thank goodness I found a link to it, because I didn't feel like typing it out. It instructs you to let the paste sit for 24 hours before you combine it with the cabbage. I didn't do that. I let it sit for a couple hours. I was tempted to just grate the ginger rather than julienne it, but I'm glad I didn't. The long, crunchy strands are toothsome and delicious. I didn't matchstick the garlic, however. Why would someone impatient with details go for that?! I just finely chopped it. And what else can you do with kimchi besides eat it straight from the jar? Make soup (recipe coming up, I'm lightly promising), mix it with scrambled eggs, drizzle a little sesame oil over it and serve as a side salad. Let me know what you come up with.


Recipe

Roasted Tomato Sauce

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A few handfuls of sungold tomatoes from the garden. Some wrinkled romas from ?? And a few beautiful heirlooms from Eastern Washington. Anxious to eat them before they all become wrinkled?

The Leftoversist solution is almost always to turn the oven to 400 and ROAST. At least it's fall now and I might not incur the wrath of those of you in hotter climes. This sauce is delicious in any form--tossed with pasta, spread atop crostini. But you'll want to have it ready in its cute little jar for the recipe I'm posting next. Weak-in-the-knees good. And pretty darn easy if you've done your roasting homework first.

Roasted Tomato Sauce
Makes 3-4 cups. Preheat oven to 400. Buy or scrounge for about 2 pounds of tomatoes--any kind. Leave the cherry tomatoes whole, halve the romas, cut the big ones into quarters. Spread them out on a big baking sheet with 4 garlic cloves. Sprinkle a generous pinch of kosher salt, a little bit of sugar, and quite a bit of your best olive oil--about 1/3 cup. You want your tomatoes nice and oily with some to spare.
Roast for 45-60 minutes, until tomatoes are collapsing on themselves and maybe a bit charred in places. Take them out of the oven and let them cool a bit. Dump the whole mess into your food processor bowl and pulse until you've got a fairly smooth sauce--some chunks are fine. Clearly, you've got all the seeds and skins in there. I didn't bother taking any of them out. The roasting sweetens everything (seeds can be bitter when raw) and the pureeing mashes those skins right up. Spoon the sauce into a jar. Will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days (or until I post next).

Pico de Gallo

pico de galloWe're just home from Sun Lakes with grandparents. Our last hurrah. Wyatt was acutely aware that summer's over. Whenever I tried to ask him how he felt about school starting, he'd say, "Mom! Don't talk about that yet."

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Serious routine is about to kick in around here. Homework, being on time to the bus stop, diligently trying to get stains out of Wyatt's white polo shirts, Loretta starting preschool.

If I start to get overwhelmed by it all, remind me of Sun Lakes and Dry Falls. Remind me of the Ice Age floods that barreled through the desert, turning arid acres into an astonishing patchwork of lakes and canyons. Remind me of the forces that put human endeavors in their puny place, of the deep, cold water that is always there.

And remind me of end-of-summer bounty, like bright red Roma tomatoes and peppers, waiting to be diced, doused with lime, and spooned onto rice and beans or into tortillas. Goodbye, summer. Thank you for filling us up.

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Pico de Gallo
Makes 2 cups. Sometimes called "salsa fresca," this is the sort of condiment I assume everyone knows how to make. You, kind readers, have asked me not to make those assumptions, though. You can add diced cucumber to this, use any kind of spicy pepper, use the cherry tomatoes growing in your garden, or sub mangos or pineapple for the tomatoes.

10 Roma tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 sweet yellow onion, finely chopped
1 or 2 jalapenos or other spicy peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 c. washed and finely chopped cilantro
Generous pinch of kosher salt
Juice of one large lime

Gently mix everything together in a medium bowl.

Broccoli Hummus

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We came home from church on Sunday FAMISHED. After-church hunger is an unstoppable phenomenon, and those moments are likely to be my grumpiest of the week. I know what you're thinking--some people would just grab an apple. But I had been sitting in church, thinking about this recipe and about the Ziploc full of washed broccoli florets in my fridge. Maybe Pastor Angela was talking about kindness or justice or other such triviality. I'll never know. I was planning lunch.

Dipping your crackers or carrots sticks into this will be delectable. But you'll also feel like Springtime Incarnate and be able to give yourself a slap on the back for filling up on so many dense calories. And you can easily turn this into a pesto by leaving out the tahini, adding some pumpkin seeds or walnuts, and throwing in some grated parmesan.

Gotta go. I'm distracted with dinner plans.

Broccoli Hummus
My confession here is that I didn't measure the tahini and olive oil I poured in. (I could make this confession with every post, but I don't want to scare you.) Start with 4 Tb. of each, and add more according to taste and to your desired consistency. It's easier to add more than to subtract it.

3 c. raw broccoli florets, washed and cut on the small side
1 garlic clove
salt
2 tsp. lemon zest
juice of 1/2 lemon
4-6 Tb. tahini
4-6 Tb. olive oil + more for drizzling

Put all ingredients except for the olive oil into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse about 10 times, until mixture is a chunky puree, then add olive oil in a stream while food processor is running to form a smooth dip. Add more of anything to taste. To serve, drizzle with a little more olive oil.

Hot Sauce 101

hot sauce

Of course, I hope my children turn out to be kind. I hope they understand their privilege and use it to work for justice in the world. I hope they're creative, curious, and have lots of friends.

But what I really hope is that they like spicy things. I hope their little taste buds are robust, that they dump hot sauce all over their eggs or rice. I hope they take after my Mom, who's always carrying her"spice holster"--coarse salt, chile flakes, and a pepper grinder. When my kids go to college, I hope they find the cafeteria food bland and fondly reminisce about all their hours in my kitchen. A girl can dream, right?

Turns out, I'm much closer to my dream than I was a year ago. Wyatt has taken to Tapatio lately. Every morning, he carefully dots his toast and scrambled eggs with Tapatio. I have never seen anything so darling. I'm trying to curtail my enthusiasm, though, in case he decides its not as cool as he thought.

Here's the lineup we always have in the fridge. There are others that come and go, but these are the bottles I simply can't live without:

  • Sambal Oelek, an Indonesian ground fresh chile that's vinagery, full of seeds and fire, and is a must for potstickers or fried rice. When we have burgers, I mix it with a little mayo for the most delicious condiment ever.
  • Sriracha, indispensable for Vietnamese food. For the longest time, Yancey had bottles of Sriracha and hoisin sauce in his work van for the Vietnamese sandwiches he and Rich would consume on the jobsite. Sriracha is seedless, slightly sweet, and still quite hot.
  • Crystals, the bottle found on every table in New Orleans. I've only visited New Orleans once, but Tabasco was nowhere to be found except on t-shirts and in tourist curious shops. It was Crystals every time. I am salivating as I write this. I love Crystals so much--full of vinegar, and will make your soft-boiled egg into an ambrosial morsel.
  • Tapatio and Valentina, Mexican hot sauces that are smoky in flavor--a musky note that the Asian or Southern ones don't have. Tapatio is a little brighter in flavor than Valentina. We use these for eggs, nachos, enchiladas, and burritos. When Yancey worked with a lot of Latino men on the jobsite, they'd open a bag of Lays potato chips, dump Valentina in there, and shake it up. That's a favorite late-night snack around here.

What's in your fridge? Any luck indoctrinating your kids in the Way of Spice?

Celebrating Year One with Rhubarb Sauce

rhubarb sauce

One year ago, I threw my Mom a surprise birthday party. I made one of my ubiquitous grain salads, and a bunch of people asked for the recipe. I had always prided myself on being the sort of person to actually go home; hunt down or make up the recipe; write it on a cute little card; and stick it in the mail. This time, I decided to put the recipe on a blog, figuring it might save a stamp or two. What I didn't know was that, for several months, the absolute only thing I'd want to do is cook and write about it. In Praise of Leftovers moved in.

A year later, it's clear to me that this venture saved me from myself in lots of ways. Bits of my angst leaked out, but it's easier to tell you now that last year was a hard one for me--lots of identity issues; the intensity of Yancey starting a new job; working again to find my place in the world. That's a journey that never ends--a task that crops up over and over again if we're trying to live engaged lives. For the moment, though, I'm happy to be taking a breather from asking impossible questions. My family and I seem to have come into a clearing of sorts--we're a little scratched up from bushwhacking, but the sun's out now and we've found a grassy patch. And, of course, I brought a picnic.

Spring means rhubarb. And rhubarb means rhubarb sauce. For starters, how on earth are you going to shove all those unruly stalks into your fridge? I know my fridge would resent it. Too many tubs of half-finished yogurt camping out. So wash and chop it, throw it in a saucepan with a good bit of sugar and splash of water, and you'll have spoonfuls of spring in 20 minutes. To my taste, there is nothing better.

Happy Birthday, In Praise of Leftovers. Thanks for giving me a swift kick in the *$%# last year. And for all these dear, dear readers whose insights and friendship have helped me love life more.

Rhubarb Sauce
We had a giant patch of rhubarb in our alley growing up, so Mom became an expert in all things rhubarb--cake, crisp, chutney, bread, and always sauce. Mostly, I eat it with yogurt and granola, but you can use it a million other ways--over ice cream, pancakes or waffles; in smoothies or stirred into oatmeal.

5 cups chopped pink rhubarb (I chop mine into 1/4" dice. If you chop them bigger, they'll just take longer to cook)
3/4 c. sugar (or more to taste)
splash water

Throw everything into a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then turn down to low. Cook for about 20 minutes, until most the fruit has dissolved and it's a nice thick consistency. Add more sugar if you want. Cool, then refrigerate. Keeps a week in the fridge.

Cranberry Fig Jam

fig and cranberry jam

In Praise of Leftovers has taken a backseat this week to the rigors of catering prep.  When I get in the zone, I hardly even have an interest in pulling out the camera.  That's serious.

I'm helping my friend Geoff with a gathering he's having in advance of the Organization Development Network conference being held in Seattle this year.  This will give me a chance to praise him--I can make food link to anything. But you know that by now.

Geoff and my friend Kathy have just written a book called Extraordinary Groups.  What I love about the book (my signed copy is waiting to be read--I'm waiting for a no-children window) is not just its provocative premise--that life is too short to waste in groups that don't fulfill their promise--but that I have seen Kathy and Geoff live out the principles and possibilities in their book. I hate what I call the "keynote speaker syndrome," where you see someone speak or present and you can tell they are not living out what they're presenting. It's become a schtick, something they say but don't experience anymore.  In the three years I've known Geoff and Kathy as part of the Community Consulting Partnership, they have exhibited in countless ways what it means to be authentic;  to bring one's whole self to a group; to stay curiously and faithfully engaged in service to the community. Dedicating a cranberry fig jam post to them isn't the highest honor they've ever had, I'm sure, but here goes.

This will be on the cheese plate Friday night--delicious with brie, goat cheese, blue cheese, or even cheddar. It's sad that lots of folks only see cranberries in a sauce on an overloaded Thanksgiving table once a year. Come October, I've got them in my freezer all winter and am always finding ways to shove them into the spotlight.

You can also spread this on toast in the morning, appreciating whatever quiet minutes you might have to yourself before you bring your extraordinary self to the extraordinary groups you're creating.  The world needs whatever gifts you are bringing.

Cranberry Fig Jam
Makes two cups.  The method here is a little strange, mostly because I just made this whole thing up!  I cooked it, let it sit overnight in the fridge, then decided it was too chunky, so performed a little food processor magic on it.  I love the way it turned out.  If you don't have a food processor, just chop your cranberries and figs pretty finely before cooking them.  I can't guarantee how that will turn out, though.  This is one reason I'm so sad Gourmet (the magazine) is going away.  They have test kitchens.  I don't.  We'll save that grief for another post.

3 1/2 c. fresh or frozen cranberries
12 dried figs, coarsely chopped (I used a cake of Kalamata figs)
1 c. sugar
1 Tb. minced fresh ginger
3/4 c. apple cider

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan.  Cook down until thick, about 20 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and cool.

Put about 3/4 of the mixture into a food processor with a couple tablespoons of hot water, and pulse until smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl, and mix in the chunkier jam until thoroughly combined.

Green Tomato Chutney

green tomato galette

I've been proud of myself all week.  Instead of letting the summer garden rot and become a disgraceful mess, I got out there and cleaned up.  I harvested the last of the cucumbers; planted some cabbage, kale, broccoli, and brussel sprouts; weeded; picked green tomatoes off blighted plants.  Normally, by the time summer is over, I feel loads of shame that I haven't been a better gardener and I avert my eyes whenever I walk past my garden.  Part of the all-or-nothing propensity that hasn't served me very well in life.  I'd like to think I'm getting away from that.

Apparently, tomatoes on the counter in September is like Vegas for fruit flies.  They go ape, hanging out, whooping it up. They've been a total menace lately.  So even though I was dead tired the other night, I chopped up my tomatoes and threw them in a saucepan with a few other things and let it bubble away while I watched Oprah.

The result was delicious.  With crackers and goat cheese, in a galette crust with brie and parmesan.  You could also spoon it over polenta or grilled sausages or make a quesadilla with a bit of sharp cheddar.

chutney with crackers and chevre

Here's to really believing one of my favorite mantras:  Good enough is good enough.  Martha Stewart's gardening calendar be damned.

Green Tomato Chutney
You can deal with the tomato skins in one of two ways.  You can either blanch them in boiling water for one minute to loosen the skins, or do what I do.  Just cook everything, then pick through with a spoon and fork and remove the skins. Most of them will have fallen off and curled up into little cylinders during cooking. Of course you could make this chutney with ripe tomatoes, too, but part of its charm is the tartness that comes from the green ones.

2-3 lbs. tomatoes in various stages of ripeness, coarsely chopped
1 Tb. olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
2 Tb. chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tb. chopped fresh ginger
dash of red pepper flakes
salt

Heat oil in a large saucepan.  Add onion and ginger and saute until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the rest of ingredients, bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer for about 45 minutes, until mixture is thickened, tasting a few times and adding more of anything to taste.  Remove from heat, let it cool, then store in the fridge.  Will keep for at least a week, and will thicken up a bit more when cold.

To make a galette, spread about 1/2 c. of your chutney over galette dough.  Lay about 4 oz. of sliced brie over the chutney and grate parmesan over the whole thing.  Fold the dough in to form a crust, then bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes, until crust is golden.

Pickled Hot Peppers

pickled hot peppers

When I come across them--in farmer's markets, roadside stands in Eastern Washington--I must buy the beautiful chiles and peppers that signal autumn.  Especially the hot ones.  My kids think Yancey and I are certifiably NUTS.  They don't understand why we would knowingly infect almost all our food with painful granules.  I want them to be discipled in the Way of Spiciness, but maybe that's a pipe dream.  Wyatt's starting to like salsa.  That's something.

The problem, of course, is I often end up with a crisper full of peppers, and I'm not nuts enough to eat them out of hand. That's for my mom.  I've been roasting them like crazy, but here's another way, thanks to Molly Wizenberg's column in September's Bon Appetit. Here's the recipe if you want to make enemies of your children.  She calls for sweet peppers--I used hot ones. We've been putting them on everything--pizza, sandwiches, goat cheese and crackers, falafel, straight out of the jar. If I find Loretta doing that, I'd be prouder than the mother of an Ivy Leaguer. Someday.

Mojito Peach Salsa

Mojito Peach Salsa

I'm in bed with my laptop.  The kids are watching Bob the Builder (much to Wyatt's chagrin--he's SO Discovery Channel now), and I hear rain on our new roof.  Fall is definitely on its way, but I'm sneaking in some peach-talk.  My blogging friend Dana talked about summer fruit guilt recently, which I thought was true and funny.  Quick!  Eat all those peaches and really enjoy them!  In addition, you must indulge in fabulous and creative fruit creations which you post about on facebook.  If you're a blogger, for heaven's sake--where's your beautiful rustic fruit dessert?

I've made (and written about) lots of salsas.  I think it's because I'm always looking do something with a couple pieces of fruit, one lone cucumber or tomato.  Many recipes assume you'll be making a big bowl of something for a party.  That would mean you'd have to go out and buy a bunch of stuff.  But if you're cooking for yourself or your family, you really only need a bit to transform your lonely produce into some tangy deliciousness.

Coming home from Sun Lakes, we stopped at a produce stand.  I got peaches, chiles, corn, Roma tomatoes.  Just a bit of each. And when we stopped Safeway for some ice, I grabbed some avocados.  Like I always say, I am incapable of resisting avocados on sale.  When we got home, we had Vacation Fridge (meaning nothing), but I found some corn tortillas. Guacamole, peach salsa, tortillas.  I had the rare occasion of being cilantro-less (what?!), so picked a bit of mint, and it was just the thing. Seems like you can call anything "mojito" these days, so I'm shamelessly jumping on that bandwagon.  Maybe I could moonlight as a recipe-namer somewhere and get paid a lot of money for it.

Lots of thinking as we were driving past the alfalfa fields and truck farms of Central Washington.  Namely, that farming is hard work. Can't take vacation, can't leave things to chance, have to buy that expensive equipment, really have to care about the weather forecast.  And the immigration debate must be so much more than that if you're a farmer trying to keep your costs low.  Complicated.  Without understanding all of it, I just felt thankful that there were still farmers and families committed to growing food that ends up on my table.  I don't know who picked these peaches, but someone did.  And they took care not to bruise them--picked them gently from the tree, placed them in a crate, put the crate in a truck, unloaded the truck at the produce stand, arranged them on a table, scribbled "Local!  $1.29/lb" on a 3 x 5 card, and put them gently in a bag with my tomatoes and corn.  Gift after gift.  So much wonderment and hard work in every plain old day.

Mojito Peach Salsa
I made another peach salsa at Sun Lakes that had corn and cilantro in it.  That was delicious, too.  You can leave the tomatoes out of this, add finely diced cucumber, and leave the chiles out if you don't like heat. This makes a small bowl--double it if you've got the stuff around.

2 large peaches
handful cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 small red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno, serrano, or other hot chile, seeded and finely diced
handful fresh mint, roughy chopped
1 Tb. sugar
juice of one lime
lots of kosher salt

Combine all ingredients gently.  Put more of anything to taste.