Twice-Baked Yams with Chorizo and Chard

jewels of autumn

I’m far too late with this little number to affect anyone’s Thanksgiving table, but I think yams belong on the table much more often.

In that spirit, I offer the following “recipe,” and a lot of thanks for a multitude of blessings: all my clients who employ people, labor over decisions, and make the world a better place; my colleague and office-mate Laura Todd who makes my life infinitely richer; my hardworking husband who helps people stay alive at work and builds decks at home; Wyatt and Loretta who suffuse everything with meaning and fun; Emily, my other spouse in this life; every sunset Bellingham has been doused with this year; and the power we all have to transform ourselves and care for each other.

Twice-Baked Yams with Chorizo and Chard
Poke 4 big yams with a fork and rub all over with olive oil. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until soft but not falling apart. Let cool. Meanwhile, in a big saute pan with a glug of olive oil, saute half a red onion and a few cloves of minced garlic. When that’s soft, add a handful of finely chopped Spanish chorizo, salt and pepper. Saute a few minutes more, then add a big bunch of chopped chard or kale and 1/2 head of cauliflower, finely chopped (or “riced”). Saute down for about 10 minutes more. When the yams are cool enough, split them and scoop the insides out into the chard mixture. (Carefully. The skins are thin. Don’t worry if they rip a little bit.) Mash the whole mixture up together with a potato masher, adding 1/2 c. plain Greek yogurt, juice from half a lime, and a little more salt. Scoop mixture back into skins and bake in a casserole dish or on a sheet pan for about 25 minutes, until warm and bubbly. When they are out of the oven, top with a few things for color and interest—the options are limitless. More chopped greens, pepita seeds, feta or blue cheese, chives, pomegranate seeds. Serves 8 as a side dish or 4 as a main dish.

Making Do

Chanterelles from my sister-in-law's foraging. Some sweet red peppers from our produce box. A little white eggplant gifted to us from someone else's produce box. Onions, garlic from the pantry. And lots of olive oil and salt. Roasted at 400 for 45 minutes. Autumnal ambrosia.

This isn't the first time I've pontificated about pulling disparate parts together. About making do. It's one of the qualities I admire most in people. As the wisest people remind us, all we have is how we respond to circumstance. (Which is why the incessant talk of sailing your own ship, finding your passion, branding yourself gets tiresome. At some point, that falls apart. Death is the ultimate example.)

Our family has just started a big experiment in making do. Yancey has moved to Seattle for the year to do his paramedic training. We will see him in snatches a few times a month, mostly while he is sleeping. All the lists have been made, goodbyes said, and there's nothing to do but to do it. I've mostly been very upbeat about the whole thing and I really do consider this an adventure where all four of us will learn more about one another. But I read this poem at our little going-away party for Yancey. It's good to be sad, good to be missing each other. And good to tell you about it here.

Before a Year Apart

Let me be dramatic
just this once.
Phooey on all this
strength and optimism.

For starters,
what will I do without the mountain
of black t-shirts on your side of the bedroom,
their soft scenery smelling of you?

And coffee cups in the car,
in the garage?
They will miss their daily excursions,
now bored and cramped in the cupboard.

I'm worried the dog
will lie by the door all year.
As hard as I try,
he always wants you.

The grass will grow long
and I'll miss the surprise
of coming home to see you've cut it,
your jeans green on the fringes.

We've lucked out getting to spend
this life together--
laundry, carpooling, working,
dreaming, laughing, longing.

And we luck out again, when,
after 21 years,
we are blessed, bound, consecrated
in this bittersweet (God, I will miss you!) goodbye.

 

Twice-Baked Yams with Feta and Hemp Seeds

Twice-baked yams

We just got home from our annual Relax-a-thon with my in-laws in Palm Springs. We had a precious time with them, enjoying being WARM, email-free, and having 3 generations alive and healthy at the same time. I ate mostly cheese and crackers with some Bloody Marys and margaritas thrown in. 

When we got home and opened the front door, the cold house had that uninhabited smell, and of course, the fridge was empty. Grocery shopping today, all the superfoods looked the best--yams, kale, yogurt, nuts. my body and appetite kicking into post-vacation mode. In a classic Sarah move, I made these yams while the kids cooked up their default Top Ramen. Jade, My best friend in high school, used to make fun of me for this tendency even then--coming home starving and delaying my meal for an hour so I could make what I was craving. No handful of potato chips for me. It's an illness.

I've felt like a sponge this past month, noticing things, being quiet, feeling less of an need to spread my opinions (don't worry--they're still there!) and more of a need to honor who or what is in front of me. I've been reading a lot about the effect of technology on our relationships.  I'm becoming convinced that if we risk in relationship by calling (instead of texting) or dropping by (instead of emailing to schedule something 12 weeks in advance), we'll be a lot happier, we'll live longer, and we'll live into the mystery of mutual dependence. It's crazy how our ancestors spent so many years trying to acquire the miracle of hearing one another's voices across the distance and how we're forgetting how to use our voices. Forgetting how to gently ramp-in to a conversation (How are you? How's your sprained ankle? I'm calling to ask for a favor) and then to exit (Nice hearing your voice, I have to get going now). All of that is a pain, yes, but it's in the messiness that the good stuff grows. I'm a big fan of texting and emailing to schedule things, but if I happen to call you instead, it's not an emergency. I just don't want to lose my voice.

And it's that in-the-moment-ness that brings me back to the kitchen again and again. I can't phone it in. It's about putting my apron on, emptying that damn dishwasher AGAIN, wiping off the cutting board, and taking those minutes just to do one thing--prepare a meal. Three cheers for uni-tasking.

Twice-Baked Yams with Feta and Hemp Seeds
I've joined the hemp seed frenzy. I find them a delicious, nutty addition to lots of things. These yams are subject to so much variation! And so much more interesting than the sweet things we tend to do to yams. They don't need more sweetness.

3 large yams
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
small handful fresh thyme, finely chopped 
1/2 c. sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 c. crumbled feta
lots of salt and pepper 
Hemp seeds and more fresh herbs for sprinkling

Poke yams with a fork all over, rub with olive oil, and roast at 350 until just done. 40-60 minutes, depending on how big they are. Let cool.

Slice in half, spooning out flesh into a bowl, taking care to keep the skins intact. Add all other ingredients except for hemp seeds and extra herbs, mashing with a fork or potato masher until combined and creamy. I like to keep some chunks in mine, but you can mash a lot or a little. Taste, adding more of anything to your liking.

Spoon mixture back into skins, top with a little more feta, and bake until warmed through, about 20 minutes. Broil at the last minute. Take out, top with hemp seeds and herbs. 

Cumin Roasted Delicata Squash

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Expectations are *%$#ers. 

Though I love the holidays, it's a constant discipline to accept what is instead of compare things to how they could be. And I even have a loving marriage, astoundingly fantastic children, and a roof over my head. November and December can wreak havoc on any of us who are grieving, remembering, tired, or longing. Yancey talks about how their call volume at the fire station goes way up during December. Lots of panic attacks and worse. 

For some, the panic is about feeling stuck and choiceless. For others (me and lots in my middle class set), it's about having too much choice. Maybe you planned the basics for Thanksgiving, but then your cooking magazine came in the mail and they are insisting that you break tradition. You've started making a new shopping list and having your own mini panic attack. 

Or you had planned to stay home the day after Thanksgiving, do a few chores, maybe play some games with your kids, snuggle with your cats, or take your dog for a walk. Or maybe you have to work. But now you see that your Facebook friend with the perfect life is planning the ultimate Christmas kickoff day in downtown Seattle and for some reason, you're now feeling bad about yourself.

Joanna Macy says all of us have "tics,"  almost neurological default places we go under stress or uncertainty. She says her tic is anxiety, and she's learned that she will always deal with it in some form. Her antidote is to acknowledge it. That's it. To welcome it. There's no way we can let it go until we've acknowledged it's there! 

The poetry is coming fast and furious lately. I'll leave you with the advice I give myself.

Plus a recipe that was DELICIOUS. And this:

I'll be blogging every day for Advent like I did last year. November 30-December 25. Little moments, recipes, photos, signposts reminding us of the incredible "Yes!" of this season. I hope you join me.

Headwaters

Some days, all that's left
is to take myself aside,
find a quiet place,
and say,

"Dear, you are in pain.
You like to control things,
and you know how silly that is.
Lie down, light a candle,
laugh at yourself,
quit trying to fix, arrange, plan, sort."

Then, like headwaters
in the middle of luscious nowhere,
the ancient power will appear--
cold, clear, unstoppable,
unexplainable. 

Cumin Roasted Delicata Squash and Carrots with Pomegranate Molasses Dressing
One of the things that makes the holidays SACRED for me (instead of commercial, rushed, or guilt-ridden) is my connection to church, to my faith community. When I enter that space with those people, something in me slows down and remembers where I came from.  We had a Thanksgiving potluck after church on Sunday. I didn't remember until I woke up, so I scrounged up and found some forgotten squash in my pantry bin. Yay for the pantry! I wanted to eat this whole platter. Delicata is so delicious and tender, and my favorite thing is they don't need to be peeled. 

2 good-sized or 3 small delicata squash, washed
2 bunches small rainbow carrots or 1 bunch big carrots, cut into sticks
olive oil
coarse salt
2 tsp. cumin
handful chopped parsley
handful pumpkin seeds 

For dressing:
coarse salt and pepper
1/2 tsp. cumin
3 Tb. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. olive oil
1 Tb. pomegranate molasses 

Preheat oven to 425.

Cut each delicata in half, then scoop out the seeds and pulp. Slice squash into 1/2" rings. Toss squash with carrots, olive oil (quite a bit), salt, pepper, and cumin. Spread out on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Don't squish it all onto one or it will steam and not roast. Switch the sheets halfway through baking time to make sure they cook evenly. Roast for about 20 minutes until browned and soft (but not mushy).

For dressing, whisk, pepper, cumin, and vinegar until salt dissolves. Then add olive oil and pomegranate molasses, whisking until emulsified, adding more of anything to taste/consistency.

Arrange roasted vegetables on a platter (Much prettier than a bowl. My favorite trick.) and gently toss with dressings. Scatter parsley and pumpkin seeds over the top. Serve room temperature.

Roasted Squash, Mark Driscoll, and other Collapsing Things

image

My friend Tracy just left for a trip to China. I was trying to reassure her that the to-do list would get done and that her son would be just fine without her. As we parted, she called out, "The world is a scary place!" Tracy is one of the least fearful people I know, but she's right. The world is a scary place, and my little life in Bellingham doesn't know the half of it--ebola, extremists, refugee camps, dictators, drought. But you don't even have to go that far to run into grief, loss, depression, loneliness, poverty, longing and disappointment of every kind. If I pay attention, it's enough to get me asking every morning, "How then shall we live?"

Some of you know that I grew up in a big, Evangelical church, so the news about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church has me really thinking about leadership, about religion, and how the two of those things can get so #$%ed up when they intertwine--how many people get hurt when what's supposed to be a message of love becomes one of shame, subservience, and sin. 

It's tempting to villainze people like Mark Driscoll, but a client reminded me this week that what we permit, we promote. It's our own longing for certainty and belonging that allows leaders like Driscoll! It's our own drive to codify, categorize, and enshrine that lets us idolize institutions or people that will fail us. In the end, we've got to have something more bedrock than church, than work, even than family and our relationships with one another. It's that darn Saint Catherine of Genoa again, running through the streets and proclaiming, "My deepest me is God!" If we dig down and find love of power, success, or fame, workaholism or violence, we haven't descended far enough. Because if we go to that deepest place, there is nothing to fear.

I'm now one of those food bloggers that's tempted to apologize for not writing about food, but here's another poem instead. And if you can stay hooked for a minute, there's a little bit about roasting squash down there, too.

On the Resignation of a Public Figure

I believe what they say,
what every news outlet almost gleefully reports--
he lied, cheated, abused his power, 
betrayed thousands of people.

I picture him, at home with his family,
avoiding the liquor cabinet (or not),
sneaking out to his car,
driving for hours to get away from himself.

I imagine running into him
at the grocery store, both of us
doing late night milk-runs.
If I got in his way, maybe he'd look up.

Then I could say,
"There is enough. You are enough.
If there is mercy for me, there is
mercy for you.
We're all dipping into the same bucket,
and it never runs out." 

P.S. I had collected quite an assortment of squash from my CSA deliveries--delicata, acorn, butternut. I know from experience that a huge, hard squash sitting there probably won't get thrown last-minute into dinner. So I halved everything, rubbed the cut sides with olive oil, and spread them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and baked until everything was falling apart--about an hour. After they cooled, I scooped the flesh into a tupperware and stuck it in the fridge. Tomorrow, I'll use it to make squash soup with coconut milk and red curry. But you can just keep it in there, smashing it into quesadillas, tossing it with hot pasta, cream, and parmesan, throwing some in your morning smoothie, dropping dollops onto pizza. Autumn at its best!

Bounty

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At the bottom of this post is a little recipe for green beans.

In-between is lots of other stuff. Skip ahead if you're the utilitarian type. Many days, that's me. 

Thanks to my friend Elizabeth, I'm now part of a neighborhood Facebook page for women who are exercising (or trying to). I love seeing everyone's posts: "Saw you on the trail this morning--woo hoo!" or "My goal is 50 miles this month." They make me want to get out there.

So I am. I've even tried a few runs lately, which is fraught with anxiety for me. I don't talk about it much here, but I had a back injury over 5 years ago that has resulted in daily pain ever since. Sometimes my pain is a level 1 or 2, most days it's a 3 or 4, and there are moments of TEN. I've had at least 3 years of physical therapy, lots of massage (not the relaxing kind), acupuncture, an MRI, an x-ray. The diagnosis is that my lower back is tight as all get-out and won't flex for anything. It's kind of like riding in a car without shocks. I feel everything. And there's nothing that can be done for it except be diligent with my exercises, keep moving, and not doing anything stupid (like moving couches or entering a weight-lifting competition).

Yesterday, running on the trail with Padré (my perfect dog), I had alternating thoughts of "I hope to God I'm not totally *&$#ing up my back, " and "I'm doing it! Thank you, Jesus!" I decided to go with the latter. All of us have reasons NOT TO (exercise, meditate, take a risk, be vulnerable). For the last 5 years, my caution has been my back pain. It's not going away and I need to be careful, but I also have to LIVE. 

My spiritual director quotes Ilia Delio: "God is love, the fountain fullness of love, the unstoppable love of love itself, always in the process of becoming more love." In other words, love doesn't run out! Goodness doesn't run out! It's not a zero-sum game. Sometimes I think, "I'm so content in my life right now. When is the other shoe going to drop?" My spiritual director said to me, "Never. You don't have to wonder, 'Would I be content if I were paralyzed tomorrow?' All you have to do is be present NOW and trust you'll have what you need when things change (or your back gives out)." Unstoppable love.

I know I'm dipping into the aquifer of the Spirit when I start to write poetry. That's been happening (though my spiritual director cautioned me that I haven't fully let go yet. I agree with her). This one is about my 10-year old Wyatt and the unstoppable love I have for him. And the way dynamics are bound to change over time. That's the letting go part.

Dropping you off at Camp

These days, you’re a front-seat passenger.
You like to fiddle with the radio,
finding a song you can sing to,
one you can feel.

I try not to ask too many questions—
how summer is going,
if you’re nervous about fifth grade,
if you pray before you fall asleep
or if you ever get scared.

Instead, I bury myself in the pure pleasure
of being next to you,
sharing a car ride, humming along,
shoulder-to-shoulder before all the years
we’re not.

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And here's the beans for you practical types.

Green Beans with Korean Vinaigrette
Parboil some very fresh green beans (thank you, Sage and Sky, for growing ours!). Do this by bringing a lot of salted water to a boil, dropping your cleaned and trimmed green beans in, bringing back up to a boil, and setting the timer for 3 minutes. Dump them into a colander and run cold water over them to stop the cooking. Make your vinaigrette by combining 1 minced garlic clove, 1 Tb. of Korean chile paste, 1 Tb. sesame oil, 2 Tb. vegetable oil, 1 Tb. honey, 1 Tb. toasted sesame seeds, a bit of crumbled seaweed, 1 Tb. rice vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss with cooled green beans and sprinkle some more sesame seeds on top.

Broiled Eggs with Kale and Roasted Kabocha

kabocha and eggs

The Pacific Northwest just finished up over 80 days without rain. Until last week, people were sitting on their decks with cocktails. At Wyatt's soccer game 2 Saturdays ago, I took my shoes and socks off and pretended I was on the beach. 

Now, rivers of rain out my window, there's no mistaking the arrival of Fall. I think Puget Sounders are a little relieved. So much sun was too good to be true. Now we can go back to taking our Vitamin D, feeling sorry for ourselves, and coming up with every conceivable use for pumpkins.

I got the most beautiful Kabocha (or Japanese Pumpkin)  squash at Joe's Garden before it closed for the season. I peeled and thinly sliced it, drizzled it with olive oil and salt, and roasted the slices at 425 until they were tender, about 12 minutes. I then used it for a million things, including a galette and these eggs. 

And that's what I recommend for those inhospitable squash, sitting in your pantry or on your porch and staring you down. If you roast it up (there's a good method here) and put it in the fridge, all of the sudden it will be in your eggs, squished between bread with cheese and grilled, or tossed into pasta. 

Broiled Eggs with Kale and Roasted Kabocha
Serves 2. Turn broiler on. Saute several handfuls of washed and chopped kale in an ovenproof skillet with olive oil and a little garlic and salt. Cook until halfway wilted. Add a handful of your roasted squash and a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of grated lemon zest. Stir. Crack 4 eggs over the top of the kale and squash mixture, and top with feta, sharp cheddar, or other cheese. Add some chopped fresh herbs if you want (parlsey, rosemary, thyme, cilantro.) Cook until eggs are set a bit, then transfer to to the broiler. Broil until everything is bubbling and eggs are cooked to your liking.  Cut around eggs with a small spatula and serve, or just eat right out of the pan by yourself or with your friend or sweetie.  

Summer Salad Series: Grilled Squash with Preserved Lemon

Roasted squash

At the end of a busy week, all I feel is blessed. I feel a list coming on. Thank you, Loving One, for:

  • Rich, Mary, Oscar, Milo, and Sebastian being with us for the week and our precious friendship that's endured a move
  • Liz and her amazing Lego Camp and how much delight it brought Wyatt, Oscar, and Milo every day
  • Walking with my aunts and cousins in the Relay for Life and remembering my uncle's battle with cancer
  • My new meditation pillow and the (surprising) discipline with which I've been using it
  • Falling asleep in the sun
  • Privileged time with clients doing good work
  • Pandora summer stations
  • My cousin Josh and his girlfrend Jamie coming up from Seattle to see us
  • Volunteering in the Roosevelt Elementary garden and harvesting golden beets, kale, snow peas, lettuce, and broccoli
  • Walking with my family and Bellingham First Congregational in the Pride Parade this afternoon. When our pastors walked in front with their robes and stoles on, I cried. Indeed, God loves everyone.

And a little meandering at the Bellingham Farmers Market where I bought a couple pounds of the World's Most Beautiful Summer Squash. Smooth, bright yellow, thin-skinned, firm, small. Just completely perfect.

We slathered grilled bread with pesto, laid some thick slices of French feta, then piled this salad on top of that. That was dinner, and there were groans of delight all around the table.

To make: Cut several small summer squash lengthwise into 1/4" thick strips. Grill with olive oil and a bit of salt. Toss the grilled squash with a few tablespoons of smashed preserved lemon (pulp, peel, and juices), olive oil, pepper, and lots of parsley leaves.

Emily's Favorite Caponata

caponata

Emily and Ricky came up a couple weeks ago for her birthday, and she requested eggplant caponata. Then my neighbor Megan left a jar of caponata at my door a few days later. Then I had one more eggplant left and made it again last night for my parents. I don't think too much eggplant ever did anyone in. 

As I've mentioned ad nauseum, we've had lots of dinner guests lately. It wouldn't work if I laboriously menu-planned, set a nice table, or worried about things like appetizers. BUT, having a little something to nibble is a favorite hostess trick, giving me time to pile dirty dishes in the sink, take off my apron (if I remember), and act like things are more effortless than they really are. 

This caponata is absolutely delicious, a big saute pan is all you need, and one batch should get you through two nights of company. I've made it with fresh or canned tomatoes, with or without red chile flakes, and even without the flourish of fresh basil at the end. That's for the summer, which I'm not sure whether we're having or not. I keep bugging Joe's Garden about the basil. They just smile and say, "That's the sun's job." And the sun is nowhere to be found. But this little number might cheer you up.

Emily's Favorite Caponata
Adapted from Epicurious. Makes about 2 cups. Leftovers are delicious over eggs, spread on panini, or a million other ways.

5 Tb. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1.5 lb. eggplant, cut into 1/2" dice
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, some of the juices drained, or equivalent amt. fresh tomatoes
3 Tb. red wine vinegar
2 Tb. drained capers
1/4 c. chiffonaded fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
red chile flakes 

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add eggplant, onion, and garlic cloves. sauté until eggplant is soft and brown, about 15 minutes. Add diced tomatoes with juice, then red wine vinegar and drained capers. Cover and simmer until eggplant and onion are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Season caponata to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in fresh basil. Taste and see if it needs any salt (capers add a lot of salt). Grind a bit of fresh pepper and add a dash of chile flakes if you want. Transfer caponata to serving bowl. Serve with crackers, pita, or grilled bread. 

Chorizo Roasted Potatoes

Choizo potatoes

I've instituted a Monday night ritual around here. I make dinner for my parents, and it's a highlight of my week. They are an appreciative audience--tired from work, happy to not be cooking and cleaning, and complimentary. This week, we had sausages, these delectable potatoes, and an arugula and ricotta salata salad. I couldn't believe how fast we polished off that mountain of potatoes.

I've had some moments of uncertainty lately. We are so happy to be in Bellingham and feel to the core that this is where we are supposed to be. But it's still transition. I always say that I'd rather help others go through transition than go through my own! In the middle of it, here are a few things (in addition to Monday night dinners) that have given me pluck:

  1. Seeing Jason Quick perform at Wyatt's daycamp. He's a one-armed juggler, therapist, and circus arts instructor  who lost his arm in an electrical accident when he was six. He learned to play games by himself, and he learned to never give up. I was so inspired watching him and so sheepish about how easily I give up on things just because the red carpet might not be laid out. I'll give you a silly example. We just joined the YMCA, and am notoriously clumsy and bad at sports. But they have a rock climbing wall, and I want to learn. And they have a racquetball court that looks fun. Don't let me get away with not trying those things just because I might not be excellent at them. 
  2. The new grocery store in town, The Market on Lakeway. When I walked in and saw their bulk spices, deli, and walk-in beer cooler, I almost cried. Everyone I know is getting little bags of Cyprus flaked sea salt for hostess gifts in the next year. (Or a link of chorizo. The real kind.)
  3. Taking an early-morning spin class at the Y, sweating it out with strangers and feeling exhausted afterward.
  4. Some coaching sessions with clients when I can almost see them growing right in front of me. There is nothing better than that.
  5. Meeting my childhood friend Sam's little girl, who stole my heart immediately.
  6. Late nights with Yancey, eating our way through a bag of potato chips and talking about spray foam insulation, window packages, and flooring options. Our house closed yesterday, and the sledgehammers are poised.
  7. A visit from Emily and Ricky yesterday and some time with Emily to talk about our friendship and how we'll navigate this new terrain.

And I haven't forgotten. Here's those potatoes.

Chorizo Roasted Potatoes
Heat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash 2 pounds small yellow potatoes. If they're on the small side, halve them. If they're bigger, quarter them. Put them in a large bowl with a couple big glugs olive oil, a generous pinch of kosher salt,  a teaspoon of cumin seeds, and a big handful of chorizo sausage coins. (Spanish chorizo--the cured, ready-to-eat, usually bright red sausage, available at good delis.) 
Dump the mixture onto your baking sheet, and bake for 20-30 minutes until potatoes are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and chorizo is crisped up. Mound on a platter, and garnish with a handful of chopped parsley and a handful of sheep's milk feta. And a little more salt.

Roasted Asparagus with Mint

Roasted asparagus

I took this to a potluck last week, but can see making a whole meal of it, with a hunk of bread and a glass of white wine. I remember being intimidated by asparagus in my early cooking years, thinking I needed to spring for a cumbersome asparagus steamer or take some calipers to the store to measure the stalk's diameter. Now, the fad is to grill it. I have good news for you--you don't need to steam it! You don't need to grill it, either! And thick or thin are equally delicious! I've been eating it raw (though you must have very thin spears for this method), but mostly roasting it. If you've got an oven, you're in the Asparagus Club.

And more good news--it doesn't need to be served hot! In fact, I prefer it room temperature, when all the flavor gets a chance to shine. I dressed this just with olive oil (no vinegar or lemon juice) because it was going to sit. If asparagus (like green beans) sits in acid for too long, it will turn brown. If you're serving this straight to the table, you could certainly add something acidic. 

And some photos from our going-away party last weekend. We felt so loved and celebrated. Yancey and I stayed up after everyone had left, half-heartedly picking up pinata remnants, trying to make more of a dent in the keg, and just being grateful for all the people who have invested in us, been our friends, babysat our kids, and made us sad to leave. 

P.S. If you want to make the cookies pictured, follow the recipe for these cookies, removing the nuts, adding dried cranberries, and sprinkling the cookies with flaked salt before they go in the oven. 

Roasted Asparagus with Mint
Clean and trim two pounds of asparagus, breaking the ends by bending the stalks and seeing where they naturally snap. Heat oven to 425. Spread asparagus out on a rimmed cookie sheet with a couple big glugs of olive oil and some coarse salt. Roast until just tender, about 8 minutes (more or less depending on thickness of asparagus--test frequently). Remove from oven and pile on a platter.  Drizzle more olive oil, some torn fresh mint, grated zest of one small lemon, some generous shavings of parmesan or pecorino, a little more salt and olive oil, and a few chile flakes. Eat warm, room temperature, or cold. 

Sweet and salty cookies

Pinata Time

blueberry galette

Naomi's rhubarb crisp

Blistered Brussel Sprouts

blistered brussel sprouts

I married a man whose second love (I'm the first, of course) is brussel sprouts. Nothing makes him happier than when I haul home a big old stalk, and nothing makes him more sad than when they don't turn out perfectly.

A few weeks ago, I tried parboiling and then stir-frying them in my precious wok, planning to blog about my brilliant success. Notice that post never showed up. But these are another story. We talked about them all night long. After you've been married for 15 years, I guess it doesn't take much to light things up.

They really do blister--you will probably think you've done something wrong, but don't worry. Brussel sprouts never won any beauty contests. They key is to administer tons of salt and olive oil. Much more than you feel comfortable with. All the variegated surface area of these little bulbs will suck the salt and oil right up and render the entire bite perfectly seasoned and tender.

The rain has begun in the Pacific Northwest. Thankfully, we have lots of delicious diversions.

Blistered Brussel Sprouts
Heat oven to 450 and put a sturdy baking sheet in there. Wash 1 pound of brussel sprouts, trim the outer leaves, and halve them. In a medium bowl, toss with 1/4 c. olive oil an 2 tsp. coarse salt. Throw onto the hot baking sheet (they'll sizzle) and check/stir after 10 minutes. You might even want to (gulp) drizzle a little more olive oil at that point. Cook for 8-10 minutes more, until they're blackened and tender all the way through.

Perfect Roasted Squash

Barely keeping my eyes open to write this. Really--how pathetic! Surely a report on roasted squash can wait.

But today was one of those days just begging to be recounted. Me and the kids met Bethany, Chris, and family up at Gordon's Pumpkins, we stopped at the fire station to visit Yancey on the way home, had the world's most perfect apple, then had dinner with Emily and Ricky, where I used the squash for our pizza. All day long, I was under the October sun, aware there won't be many more days like this for awhile, and just feeling in my skin. 

Blue Hubbards

I wrote about Gordon's last year and it's easy to be even more superlative this year. What a riot of color! Drowning in pumpkins, gourds, squashes of every imaginable shape and persuasion, kids hauling back giant jack-o-lanterns from the field, everyone awash in harvest and abundance. I'm glad things grow from the earth, that farmers tend them, and they end up in my arms. Gift after gift.
Loretta at Gordon's

bethany and sarah
And if you come home with too many squash for your own good, you should store them in a cool, dry place (like a covered porch) and try cooking them this way. You can keep the roasted squash in the fridge and pull it out for pizza, pasta, soups, burritos, or panini. Tonight, I scattered the chunks over pizza dough with sauteed kale, chevre, fresh mozarella, and fresh thyme.

Perfect Roasted Squash
This method ensures the squash stays just moist enough while it's roasting. Keeping it covered the whole time would render it too mushy, and keeping it uncovered might dry it out. Preheat oven to 425. Cut up a medium butternut squash (or something equivalent). Toss it with a couple glugs of good olive oil, coarse salt, pepper, and some fresh thyme if you have it. Spread it out in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover the sheet with foil, and bake for 12 minutes. Remove foil and roast for 12-15 minutes more until squash is tender.

Shaved Beet and Fennel Salad

beet salad

This week has turned out drastically different than I planned. Yancey fought a huge fire on Tuesday night, which meant I had to cancel three meetings on Wednesday. Aimee's daughter fell and broke her elbow. I'm in limbo with work that may or may not be coming down the pipeline. And my dear friend Jordan's in town! I've wrangled being able to see her three times already, which has been an unexpected blessing. I reminded a friend this week that "Life is lived in the in-between times." I'm reminding myself, too. When things don't follow the nice little linear route we've laid out, we can either freak out or be present. I hope I'm getting closer to a 50/50 ratio.

Though they're more common than they used to be, raw beets are another unexpected tidbit. I love them roasted as much as the next person, but Seattle is experiencing a rare 95 degree weekend. No roasting around here. I also happen to have a mandoline, which shaves things paper-thin. I got it at a thrift store years ago, and it seems indispensable in the summer. Jenn and I were at the farmer's market last week and we both bought bunches of chioggia beets. They are stunningly gorgeous. Whenever I find them, it's impossible to resist their sprirograph trance. I advised Jenn to try them raw. She emailed me late at night, asking if there were any ailments that resulted from consuming too many beets. They are that good.

Shaved Beet and Fennel Salad
Serves two as a side dish. Wash two chioggia beets and peel them with a vegetable peeler. Wash one large or two small fennel bulbs. Using a mandolin, a very sharp knife, or a (thin!) slicing blade on a food processor, slice the beets and fennel bulb as thinly as you can. Put them in a medium bowl. Very finely chop a Thai chile or serrano chile and add it to the bowl. Sprinkle a generous amount of coarse salt over salad, squeeze half a lemon, and pour a glug of good olive oil. Gently mix with your hands. Using a vegetable peeler, shave some parmesan over the top.

Candied Tomatoes

candied tomatoes

I got all heavy on you the last post. Carpe diem and stuff. And I just preached a sermon this morning, so I'm going do myself a favor, lay off the life lessons, and just say:

YUM.

I was actually a little sick this morning from eating so many of these last night. They were the main course, accompanied by fried bread, goat cheese, a bowl of grapes, and an incredible salad I'll post about soon. Yancey sat across from me (love Saturday nights when we're all home), reaching for more tomatoes and saying repeatedly, "This is what I'm talkin' about."

I like them best with bread and cheese, but there are countless uses. I threw leftovers into a barley salad, and they're delicious tossed with pasta and cream. You'll be talking, too.

Candied Tomatoes
I'm misleading you a little bit here--these are really just oven-roasted tomatoes with a bit of sugar, but they taste like candy to me. Preheat oven to 250. Take about 2 pounds of roma or campari tomatoes and cut them in half. Lay them out on a jelly roll pan, cut side facing up. Drizzle a good amount of your best olive oil over them--about 1/3 c. Sprinkle a couple teaspoons of coarse salt, a generous grind of black pepper, and 1 Tb. sugar.
Roast in the oven for about 5 hours, until they are shriveling up but still oily and juicy. Remove and let cool. You can remove them earlier or later--the consistency will change accordingly, but they'll be delectable no matter what.

Plain Jane

corn

This is for you, Emily. Emily is the Plain Jane in my life--she likes her food unadorned (for the most part) and is minimalist in just about everything except for how much mail she likes to receive. Love you, sister.

The kids and I have been having a lot of fun eating this week. Wyatt has been picking raspberries from our bushes every morning. He brings them inside, pulls down a piece of parchment paper, lines a cookie sheet, and freezes them to enjoy in the afternoon. Is he precious or what?

corn-bliss

We made popsicles this morning, have been chewing on raw mint from the garden, and whooping it up at the Georgetown Farmers Market. We got a bouquet of fresh garbanzo bean stalks, and Wyatt helped shell them today, eating one every once in awhile. Still don't know what I'm going to do with them--probably saute in olive oil, garlic, and cumin, then a squeeze of lime. I've never seen them before.

more-corn

And the kids and I have eaten two huge bunches of rainbow carrots since yesterday morning. The carrots right now taste like candy, and they can't get enough of them. Today, at snacktime, Wyatt asked for two carrots, two pickles, and two baby cucumbers. Plain Jane.

corn-heaven

As promised, dinner tonight was just corn on the cob. Six beautiful ears from Alvarez Farms. I had one, Wyatt had three, and Loretta had two. They turned into neanderthals, munching the kernels off the cob like it was their last meal. Finally, all of us in stitches, I got out the camera, which prompted even more performance. Plain Jane, Ridiculously Delicious.

race-to-the-finishcorn-carnage

Plain Jane Corn
So silly I'm telling you this, but somewhere along the line, I learned to cook corn this way, and nothing beats it. Put big old pot of water on the stove. Shuck your ears (or have your seven-year-old do it). Cut them in half if they won't fit in the pot. Drop them in, and get the water to a boil. As soon as it boils, turn the water off, cover your pot, and let the corn sit for 10 minutes. Now it's ready to eat, and not even a tad overcooked. Nothing worse than mushy corn. And if you have a grill going, you can throw it on there for a quick second for some smoke and grill marks. Oh--one more thing. Let your children completely annihilate whatever cube of butter happens to be in the butter dish. No sense trying to protect it. Slathering corn is its highest use, anyway.

Just Do It

artichoke fest

It's a bit of a rocky road, but worth it in the end:

  1. Feel sick over the weekend (or face some major failure or disappointment). You'll have ample reason to feel sorry for yourself.
  2. Drag yourself to Safeway with your two young children and let your seven-year-old talk you into buying artichokes.
  3. Will these artichokes to be the tightest, biggest, most gorgeous specimens you've seen in a long while. Especially for your neighborhood Safeway, which usually resembles a 7-Eleven.
  4. Drag your two young children up to Urgent Care to get a different prescription and spend a long time on the phone with the consulting nurse after being told the wait to see a doctor is FOUR HOURS.
  5. Come home and put the giant artichokes in the steamer. Let your children watch a ridiculous movie on Netflix while you fold six loads of laundry.
  6. For the dipping sauce, melt an entire cube of butter, add one minced garlic clove and the juice of one small lemon. Embrace such falsehoods as "I'll use the extra butter for tomorrow's dinner!," or "The children are really eating a lot these days!"
  7. Witness with wonder how you and the kids rip into those artichokes--the dipping, licking, sucking, grabbing glory of it all.
  8. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and love this moment at the end of the day--in sickness or in health, for butter or for worse, at the table together.

It's artichoke season. Go find a few and feast.

Brussel Sprouts with Radicchio and Fish Sauce

brussels and fish sauce

It would be a little embarrassing to admit how many brussel sprouts we've been eating around here.  Brussel sprout fried rice with preserved lemons and parmesan. Roasted brussel sprouts with whole wheat pasta and chevre.  Brussel sprout smoothies. Have to draw the line somewhere.

But don't draw it before you make these.  I know fish sauce doesn't find its way into some kitchens--you might be vegetarian, you might live in a part of the country where it's hard to find, or you just find it downright disgusting.  Certainly, if you stick your nose into a bottle, you're liable to run away in fear.  Whenever I'm cooking with it, Wyatt wanders into the kitchen and says, in his most high-drama fashion, "Ew!  What is that smell?!"

I always think it's funny when cooks say things like, "Oh, you won't even taste the anchovies in there!"  What?! Isn't tasting the point?  In the case of fish sauce (and sometimes anchovies), not really.  At least, not tasting in the distinct way you'd savor a fresh piece of fruit or a piece of chocolate.  It's more like, "What's in here?  It's haunting."  There's a name for that--"umami," or "savoriness--the fifth taste." Everyone (as in chefs, food writers--duh.) is going overboard on umami these days.  I don't think about it that much, but I know it's out there, and I know fish sauce is a shortcut to it.

I would eat this tasty number as a main dish--with a side of barley or couscous and a glass of wine.  Yum.

birds at carkeek

In totally unrelated news, we haven't had rain in a couple days, and Seattleites are coming out of the woodwork.  We went to Carkeek Park on Saturday, and the beach looked like the middle of July. I took some of these photos last year at Carkeek.  It's crazy how much the kids have grown since then.  I've been really nostalgic and thankful this month.  It was a year ago that Yancey got THE CALL offering him a job in the fire department, and we've been reminiscing in some form almost every day. Being on the beach with the kids, watching trains go by and birds convene in the bare trees, I felt grateful all over again.

yancey and wyatt

Brussel Sprouts with Radicchio and Fish Sauce
Serves two hungry people or 4 as a petite side dish.  You could do this without the radicchio--I love, love, love its bitterness and wish I had a bottomless supply.  And if you don't have shallots, sub finely diced onion.

1 lb. (or slightly more) brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
1/2 head of radicchio, thinly sliced
1 large shallot, finely diced
olive oil
2 Tb. fish sauce
freshly ground pepper

Heat a big pot of salted water until boiling.  Blanch the halved brussel sprouts until just tender, about 5 minutes.  Drain.

Heat a big glug of olive oil in a large skillet.  Add shallots and saute until beginning to brown.  Add brussel sprouts and raddichio, and saute over medium high heat until radicchio is wilted and everything's beginning to get a bit crusty.  Add fish sauce and swirl to coat, letting the liquid evaporate off. Serve with freshly ground pepper.

Broiled Tomatoes with Cream

broiled tomatoes

Went to Pike Place Market with the kids this morning.  Yancey's at the station, and a passerby offered to take a photo of us. After 14 years as Seattle residents, this is our first picture with the pig.  When Wyatt and and his best friend Oscar were toddlers, Yancey took them to the market on Fridays.  They'd wander through, get fawned over, and fill up on berries.  I worked downtown for 7 years, and stopping by Pike Place is one of the things I miss the most.  I've heard lots of Seattle folks moan about the tourists, but love the crush of people with cameras and the distinct feeling that I'm not a tourist.

pike placebike at the market

When we got home we were starving (are you picking up on a pattern in my life?), and I made a "before vacation" lunch. We're leaving for 3 days, so there are bits in the fridge that need to be eaten--pasta from 3 nights ago, two lone tortillas in danger of drying out.  And we supplemented with carrots and English peas from Pike Place and these tomatoes.  When I was pregnant with Loretta (and before I knew it) I was on a silent retreat.  The convent served broiled tomatoes and cottage cheese for lunch, and I ate an obscene amount. Nothing ever tasted so good in my life.  Hello?!  Hormones!.  I craved broiled tomatoes the rest of my pregnancy and could still eat them every meal.  I've written about oven-roasted tomatoes, and of course I love a platter of sliced fresh tomatoes in the summer.  But I think this is my favorite way with them.  They sizzle on top but are just warm in the middle, and I'm salivating remembering them.  I saved a few on a plate for my 3:00 snack.  I'm out of cottage cheese, so ate them today with crackers and leftover blue cheese hazelnut spread from book club last night.

A trip to Pike Place, the Link Light Rail opening today (2 blocks from our door!) after 5 years of hype and construction--it's a good day to be a Seattleite.

lunch

Broiled Tomatoes with Cream
Serves two for lunch or 4 as an appetizer.  You can definitely makes these without cream.  The cream was a new addition that was part of my "use-it-up-before-vacation" scheme.  It added a wonderful touch, though.

8 medium tomatoes (not giant beefsteak or tiny cherry tomatoes)
2 Tb. extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
pepper
1/2 ts. sugar
fresh herbs (I used thyme and chives)
2 Tb. heavy cream

Halve the tomatoes and put them in a baking dish cut side up.  Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle salt, pepper, sugar, and thyme.  Broil on high for 3 minutes.  Remove from oven, dribble a little cream over each tomato, and scatter sliced chives. Broil for one or two minutes more, until bubbling but not burnt.

Grilled Eggplant with Caper Vinaigrette

grilled eggplant

It's HOT by Seattle standards.  On days like today, I find myself eating just when I'm hungry, and then not very much.  If it's overcast, all I can think about is the next meal.  Anybody know about the psychology of that?

We're headed to a family reunion over the weekend, and I expect most of you won't be around, either.  In case you are responsible for contributing to potlucks or BBQ's, here's one of my favorite summer delights.  It's so beautiful laid out on a platter, and may even win over some eggplant avoiders.

Our gas grill is now around 10 years old, and I really want a new one.  I'm tempted to say "need," but don't know if that's quite true.  Sometimes I go months without coveting any cooking implements, and other times I want everything.  In my coveting phases, I try to remember that being a good and innovative cook has nothing to do with fancy equipment.  I think of all the little kitchens in Southeast Asia where people squat on the floor with a butane burner, wok, and rusty knife, and the delicious food that emerges.  Though I miss the mark frequently, I want to be a contented person.

Contentment is much different than comfort, though.  On this 4th of July, I'm grateful to live in this country and content with my good life.  I'm mad about a lot of things, though--our horrible immigration policy, the torture of detainees after 9/11, the astronomical costs of healthcare, the millions of non-violent criminals locked up as a result of the war on drugs, a system that produces so many working poor folks.  So the 4th is a complicated holiday for me, and I suspect for many of you.  I'm going to celebrate, but I'm celebrating what this country can be, what's possible.  I'm going to celebrate the (someday?) advent of Martin Luther King's dream, that the triple evils of materialism, militarism, and racism will one day be toppled, that we will live in peace with one another.  I'm going to celebrate the possibility that we'll stop discriminating on the basis of gender, race, religion, and every other identifier, and that the gap between rich and poor will disappear.  And I'm going to celebrate the part I have to play.

One of the things that's helped me stay engaged lately is my friend Lynn's blog Rebuilding Democracy.  Across the top of her site, it says "We are dawning a new story.  Living with radical hope." That's part of what I like about Lynn's perspective. She's fiercely informed and urgent, but still has hope.  I was one of the Americans bawling my eyes out with joy on election night and during Obama's inauguration.  But we're not there yet--it's just the beginning.  I disagree with Oprah when she said that MLK's dream had been fulfilled in Obama's election.  Not even close.  But I have more hope than I did a year ago, and that's something.  Happy 4th, everyone.  Keep the faith.

caper vinaigrette

Grilled Eggplant with Caper Vinaigrette
You can grill the eggplant a day ahead of time and pour the dressing over a bit before you plan to serve it.  Some crumbled feta would also be delicious over the top.

3 large eggplants, cut into 1/2" thick slices
olive oil and salt for grilling
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c. curly parsley, washed and finely chopped
1/4 c. capers, coarsely chopped
juice of one large lemon
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
Fresh mint

Heat grill to medium hill.  Brush eggplant rounds with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and grill until charred and semi-soft, about 3 minutes/side.  Remove from grill and lay on a platter, overlapping slices.

For dressing, combine garlic, parlsey, capers, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and chile flakes.   Whisk olive oil in to emulsify, adding more of any ingredient to taste.  Pour over eggplant, and garnish with torn fresh mint.