Ever since I moved from Illinois to Colorado for college, and then to New York, I’ve traveled for the holidays, either to visit my family, or to visit James’s family after we were married. This is the first year in well over a decade that I’ll be staying put. While I know it’s going to be tough to be away from family, it’s also a relief, at eight months pregnant with a stomach the size of a Canadian goose, not to have to deal with airport security lines and crowded terminals. Plus, I’m hosting my first-ever friendsgiving, and I’m as excited about the food as a kid before Christmas. I’m lucky to be great friends with some serious cooks, and we’ve divided the menu, from the cocktails and appetizers, to the turkey, sides and dessert. There are three families, and each is bringing an appetizer (pre-dinner football nibbles) and some side dishes for the main event. I’m brining and roasting the turkey breast while my gal Kelley is confiting the legs and thighs. For dessert, I’m doing a pumpkin pie while Amanda is making a carrot cake.
Ella loves ketchup—I mean, really, really loves the stuff. She’d probably be happy squeezing it into her morning oatmeal and would certainly eat it with a spoon if we let her. I find this abhorrent. I’m not much of a ketchup fan, and I get shivers when I see her slathering a beautifully cooked bite of roasted chicken in the sweet stuff. I gave up on fighting her on this years ago, however, as I’d rather see her actually eat the meat or even those string beans, even if they’re dipped in red, than not eat them at all. But every now and then ketchup gets demanded and the chef inside me dies a little. Take these potato and salmon cakes. They are utterly lovely—crispy on the outside and tender within, laced with scallions, ginger and garlic. A hint of sesame oil and tamari (or soy sauce) give them an Asian flare, which is contrasted by a cool yogurt dill sauce.
I’m convinced that this granola sold our last house. Before moving to the Hudson Valley a few years ago, we lived in Connecticut for a stint, which, for a number of reasons, wasn’t a good fit for us. We tried to sell the house when I became pregnant with Ella, but without any luck (did I mention the housing market had just bottomed out?). A year and a half later we gave it another go. I was baking a batch of this granola when some prospective buyers unexpectedly stopped by with their realtor to see the house. I threw the bowls in the sink, grabbed a timer, gathered up a very sleepy Ella (who had been napping) and our rambunctious dog, and set out for a walk. By the time we returned the granola was ready to come out of the oven, and within a few hours we had an offer on the house. The for-sale sign hadn’t even gone up yet in the front yard. Who can resist a home that smells irresistibly like toasted nuts, oats, cinnamon, vanilla and coconut?
September was a doozy for James. He’s an orchestrator on the third Hobbit film and didn’t have a day off the entire month. Last week, in the final push to get the music done, he worked fifteen-hour-plus days, seven days straight. By Sunday, the color was drained from his cheeks and he’d shrunk from his six-foot-four frame to Bilbo Baggins-like proportions. Something serious needed to be done to bring him back from his Middle Earth detainment. In other words, cake.
Our good friend Teo lives in Colombia, and we’ve been lucky enough to visit him twice, first for a vacation years ago with a crew of old college friends and then again a few years later for his wedding. The food was awesome. On the first trip, we traveled from the mountains of Bogota (where we dined on tapas and sushi at chic restaurants) to the small village of Barichara (where we feasted on traditional dishes, including a slow roasted sheep-goat hybrid which we nicknamed the “shoat”) to the northern coast near Santa Marta, all in a tiny van crammed with 15 people. The trip to the Caribbean coast was a legendary, if slightly unfortunate 16-hour car ride involving insanely beautiful views, group-wide food poisoning and a nerve-wracking emergency pit stop in a village run by paramilitaries to find a doctor. After we finally made it to the coast and recovered from our digestive turmoil, we spent a few gorgeous days in a “camp” of sorts on the beach, where we slept in tent-like cabanas and ate incredible meals of fresh fish, coconut rice, spicy salsas and arepas.
Four months is an awfully long time to wait for a single bell pepper. We’ve never had much luck growing peppers in our garden, and this year our seedlings flowered into a single, lone capsicum. We waited and waited until the pepper turned yellow before finally slicing it up last week for a salad. Sure it was tasty, but was it worth the wait? Eh, probably not. Thankfully, however, our farmer’s market is brimming bell peppers this time of year. I usually forgo green for sweeter red, orange or yellow varieties (which are actually just riper versions of the green guys), and every week I buy a couple to toss into tacos or stir fries, or to roast for salads or pesto.
I must admit, I have a slight fetish for eggplants. They’re so sleek and sexy, dense and shiny. Every year I’m amazed and elated when they first appear in our garden—it boggles my mind that we could grow something so magnificent (it’s actually the same feeling that I get when I look at Ella—is it wrong to compare my daughter to a vegetable?). A fresh eggplant should feel heavier than it would seem with a weight that belies its size, and there’s no need for salting it before cooking. We’ve been grilling eggplants nearly every week to toss into salads and pasta, or to eat alone as a side dish. Lately I’ve been craving something a little more substantial (hello, bubby—see previous post) and decided it was time to let our purple beauties take center stage.
First, some news: I’ve got a bun in the oven, and not of the Parker House roll variety. That’s right, “Bubby,” as Ella calls her baby sister, is arriving at Christmas! This baby girl has a sweet tooth, or so I’m telling myself, as I fantasize about—and indulge in—billowing bowls of ice cream and warm slabs of pie. We usually reserve desserts for the weekend, but Bubby sometimes requires a mid-week sweet. For those moments, these quick but killer grilled peaches are just the answer. Fresh peaches get a quick bath in honey, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon, and are grilled until slightly caramelized and warm.
How can it be July? Summer always goes by way too fast, but one of the best things about having a garden is that it helps me to savor every stage of this fleeting season. First we had an abundance of arugula, spinach, lettuce, kale and chard. Now the greens have given way to a wild tangle of snow peas, with squash, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes slowly starting to show their pretty little cheeks. The snow peas have been especially generous this year, and Ella likes to stand in the garden in her socks (yes, socks—the girl wears her socks in 80 degree heat) picking and eating the pods. We’ve been eating plenty out-of-hand, but also tossed in salads, pasta and stir-fries. This potato salad is especially fitting for the season, and would be a great accompaniment to a Fourth of July barbeque or picnic.
I’m a sucker for cakes. Not the sweet kind—I’ve always been a pie kind of girl—but the savory, crispy kind. When Ella was a baby I would make big batches of shredded vegetable cakes bound with egg (butternut squash, sweet potato, zucchini), which were presumably for her, but mostly for me—I’d eat them hot out of the pan with a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt and a drizzle of yogurt. We’ve since enjoyed numerous other cake iterations, from curried millet cakes, to white bean and quinoa patties, to not-so-successful pea cakes (don’t ask). Last winter Mark Bittman published an article about quinoa cakes in the New York Times Magazine. The recipe struck me in its simplicity—there was no binder, he simply cooked (overcooked, really) the quinoa until it was starchy and sticky enough to hold together. I have to give it to the man—it’s brilliant. Forget eggs or binders, all you need is quinoa.