May 14, 2010

The Pleasures of Eating Alone: Pork Milanese with Arugula Salad

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One of my happiest food memories didn’t happen in a restaurant or in France or while getting drunk on champagne and pheromones while falling in love. But somehow, knowing you, I suspect you are not at all surprised by this.

It was while working at a restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota, leaning over the small table where we counted our tips and Boss ate his lunch, that I first read Nigella Lawson’s column in the New York Times. She so voluptuously and intelligently wrote about her recipe, that I suddenly couldn’t imagine anything more glamorous or decadent than what she was eating. Her dinner had to be mine. And that is how a college student with no money ended up buying a jar of caviar.

I went home and made potato pancakes. I bought sour cream. And I spooned shiny black caviar over the top of each silver dollar sized pillow. I sat at the small round metal table in the yellow kitchen of my second apartment next to a stack of fashion magazines, and ate dinner alone. Life, I imagined, could not really get much better.

Ah, but it could! Enter aforementioned love and champage and pheromones!

But I still look back on that dinner alone as a blossoming in me of something important. I have always loved to be alone. But that dinner was about something else. There is food and there is love, and enjoyed together, they make an intoxicating combination. But there is also love for one’s self, the self-care involved in the preparation of a fine meal just for you, and the opening up of a world of unfathomable pleasure with the first taste of salty caviar.

I ate dinner alone last night. I pounded a pork chop into oblivion, dusted it with flour, and ate it alongside the lively zing of an arugula salad. It was a wonderful night.

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May 13, 2010

8 Things I’m Happy About in May

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Women Food and God

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Lavender bubble bath

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Goldie Hawn’s hair in Foul Play

fava-beans

fava beans

commencement

my little brother’s college graduation

peony

peonies

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morning pages (how cool is anne sexton in this pic?)

barley-field

my new love of barley

May 12, 2010

Baked Leek, Potato, and Parmesan Frittata

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Back in the days when I woke up and traveled 45 minutes on a train to a job every morning, rainy days used to really get me down. Once I was in the office, there was something almost cozy about all us worker bees tucked into our cubicles while the wind hissed outside. But the getting out of bed was torturous. I have always struggled with the whole getting-out-of-bed ritual to begin with; add a dark, rainy day, and what little resolve I have goes poof.

I never imagined, though, then when my commute was as short as walking to the living room or neighborhood coffee shop, that rainy days would still be my nemesis. That I would still long to lounge and luxuriate. Or that after a few days of gray, I would want to drop it all and high-tail it to Mexico. Life just never stops serving us surprises, does it?

That’s a funny thing about finally getting what you want — it doesn’t always look or feel exactly how you thought it would. Call it human nature or a cruel joke, but so often when we get “there,” sometimes the scenery isn’t quite as breathtaking as we were anticipating. Blame our expectations.

But then, of course, there are the days when we expect nothing; when we’re just on a nondescript stretch of highway. Something about the slant of the light, the song on the radio, and the grip of our hands on the steering wheel creates a moment as breathtaking as a glimpse of the Grand Canyon. Perhaps even more so.

This has nothing to do with frittatas, of course, other than the fact that slices of this subtle, spring treat have sustained me morning, noon, and night these past few days. It is wholesome and simple, and perfect for these rainy days in May.

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May 10, 2010

The Quest for Healthy Granola

homemade-granola

Happy Monday!

Of course, what I really mean is, great to see you again. As lovely as the weekends are, I’m always happy to come back to this little corner of the world and say hello to you again. Hello! Are you in a crap mood? Are you still glowing from the weekend? Whatever your state, it’s good to see you.

Today I am having some thoughts about granola. Is there ever really a healthy granola? How can oats and nuts add up to 7 million calories? And then there is the matter of burning. I am thinking of taking up a second career as a professional granola burner. I can bake springy custards and roll out homemade puff pastry, but I can’t seem to make granola without having to throw away lots of browned bits. Oh well. As my mom says, “God isn’t finished with me yet.”

With these questions in mind, it was with great enthusiasm that I came across a particular recipe for granola that didn’t seem to be an oil-sugar sponge disguised as a health food with so much reputation it’s become its own slang. There was a relatively small amount of oil, the intriguing addition of egg whites, and the option of using a sweetener like agave nectar. This seemed like a very good granola to me, and the jar of only-slightly-burned stuff that I passed on to a friend last week got good reviews.

But I can’t help but think that the granola I really like is the one my mom makes. It’s full of shredded coconut and slivered almonds, and the recipe is written on a sheet of notebook paper tucked inside a yellow binder. There is a coffee can on the top shelf of her fridge filled with it. So on Mother’s Day Eve, I sprinkled a bit over a little bowl of strawberry yogurt. It felt good to be home.

When it comes to my own homemade granola, though, I’ll probably stick with this version. (Or this one, which I have yet to make myself but a friend brought to book club and was heavenly.) While there are some family recipes we carry on unchanged, there are others we have to discover and write for ourselves in order to suit the people we’re becoming, or want to become. There’s a place, though, for the recipes that transport us to another time and another age. I’ll keep my hunger for mom’s granola confined to trips home and those care packages I happily lug back to the city.

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Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
- Harriet Van Horne