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).
Last week I was felled like a tree with the flu. James took excellent care of me, but he was soon slammed with the same bug. Come Saturday he was tucked in bed, quarantined from Ella who, luckily, managed to escape all the muck. We had planned to celebrate my birthday on Sunday (truth be told, it would be my second birthday celebration—the first was a date night in the city a couple of weeks ago, which was incredible except for our post-date hangovers… we are getting old). Birthdays at this age are a mellow affair—James and Ella spoil me with a few small gifts and make me dinner. In the hopes that James would be better by Sunday evening, I decided to marinate a partial boneless leg of lamb that I had dug out of the freezer. While Ella painted a bunny at the kitchen table, I whisked together a mess of fresh herbs, garlic, anchovies, Dijon, lemon juice and olive oil. In went the lamb for the night with fingers crossed that James would soon return to the land of the living.
Have I mentioned that my child is obsessed with “magical” fairies, princesses, butterflies, and ballerinas? Even though we’ve tried to be as gender-neutral (and non-pink) as possible in raising Ella, she’s a total girly-girl. I’ve given up trying to influence her with tool kits and mud pies. Last month, as part of an early birthday celebration, we took her to the New York City ballet then lunch at Alice’s Tea Cup, a little spot known for its “high tea” service and fairy-friendly decor. When we arrived, we learned that there was a two-hour wait (seriously?!), but, through a serious stroke of luck, the hostess said she could slip us right in (we still have no idea what we did to please her). Ella was dusted with pixie dust (I’m not kidding) then given a pair of fairy wings to don during lunch—they sure know how to charm four-year-olds. She was on cloud nine, especially after walking past the display case of mammoth cookies, scones, towering layer cakes and pudgy muffins. She and James happily devoured tea sandwiches and baked goods, including a chocolate scone and a cupcake the size of Battery Park. I (jealously, I admit) salivated into my green tea, trying (unsuccessfully) to enjoy a breadless sandwich and a side of potatoes—groan. It’s decidedly not a restaurant for the gluten-adverse.
Ella turned four at the end of February, which is still boggling my mind. It feels like she was just a baby, and yet, at the same time, it seems like she was born eons ago. When she arrived, my mom flew out and stayed with us for a few weeks, absolutely spoiling us with her cooking and cleaning. One sunny Saturday in March she made a long-simmered lamb ragu, which we happily devoured while watching the wonder-of-Ella bobbing gently in her swing. It was one of life’s perfect moments. Lamb ragu has since retained a special place in my heart. While my mom’s ragu simmered for hours, I’ve concocted a quick version that can be thrown together any night of the week—with a baby strapped into a carrier on your chest, or with toddler crawling through your kitchen cabinets, or with a preschooler standing on a chair next to you at the stove. Every March, right about the time when I can’t bear the thought of another Brussels sprout but asparagus and morels are still weeks away, I crave this dish. It tastes like springtime, but uses easy-to-find winter ingredients.