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.
First of all, welcome to my newly designed website! For all of you subscribers, the emails will look slightly different from here on out, but the content will stay the same (recipes and meals from scratch in under an hour!). I’m also thrilled to announce that I’ll be teaching cooking classes from my home kitchen in Cold Spring starting in August. If you’re in the New York area, I’d love to see you at the first East Mountain Cooking School class, focused on easy grilling.
One of the drawbacks of living in the “sticks” is that ethnic food is hard to come by. Italian red sauce joints are a dollar a dozen, but Asian food, or, shall I say decent Asian food, is nearly nonexistent out here. I miss those Manhattan Thai deliveries and post-work Korean food fixes even though our mountain living more than makes up for certain city conveniences (hello vegetable garden and kitchen-that’s-bigger-than-a-nickel). When my craving for Asian fare strikes, I’m therefore left to my own devices. I have an incredible friend who makes her own kimchi and has been known to spend three days making a stock for ramen, but, while I grovel for an invitation to her house for dinner, I usually satisfy my ethnic food craving with a quick stir-fry, curry or pot of noodles. I’ve been on a “big-bowl” kick of late, and this Korean-inspired rice bowl hits the mark.
What is it about spring and cleaning? Last Saturday morning I spontaneously emptied out my pantry, washed down the shelves and reorganized all the food. Meanwhile, James swept out and scrubbed the garage. What’s strange is that we both had fun, and I promise you that these types of activities do not usually fall into the “Sizemore entertainment” category. Maybe it was the warm weather and the open windows, but we had the undeniable urge to de-clutter and freshen. I’ve found that this has extended to food as well. I’ve been craving vegetables and fish, and James has started making himself smoothies in the morning (a serious shocker, if you knew his predilection for pancakes and waffles).