Posts tagged: budget meals
February 8, 2013

Grounding, Sure-Footed, and Simple

We touched home at JFK on Sunday night, and I could already feel a cold creeping up. It reminded me of stormy fights that brew just when it’s time to say goodbye; at least getting sick would make it easier to leave beautiful and charming Copenhagen. Which I want to tell you all about in potentially florid detail–all those vacation breakthroughs and epiphanies and a sense of wide-eyed awakeness. Right now I’m still sorting through them and testing them against the light of real, everyday life.

I am also blowing my nose into oblivion. But I was enormously grateful to open the freezer and find I had the foresight to freeze a bit of this soup before our trip. It has bunches and bunches of greens in it, dill and a lively squeeze of lemon. It’s soup at its best: filled with the kind of clean, bright flavors you long for in the dark of winter or after too much indulgence or when you are sniffling endlessly. It feels nourishing, as if just breathing its lightly-scented steam will put you right again. It’s the kind of food we need when we’ve had major upheaval: it’s grounding, sure-footed, and simple. It’s what I was craving before I set off on what I called my Life Design Inspiration Trip, and what I’m wanting even more now that I’m home.

For all of you with mid-winter colds, heartaches, or who are just experiencing the dull, panging ennui that February so often brings on–this one’s for you.

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December 14, 2012

Lemony Sardine Pâté

My affection for sardines needs no introduction. And my love of pâté? That requires no explanation either. When I saw this recipe, I knew it was one after my heart.

The laziness in me is obviously a fan, too. Because if you keep a can of little fish in the cabinets, and have a lemon in your fruit bowl for French 75s, and leftover thyme from a fall-flavored shepherd’s pie, you have everything you need to whip up a quick and unexpectedly elegant little snack when friends came over. This was out on the coffee table with two fat wedges of cheese, and I dare say––with much surprise––it was the most popular nibble on offer.

And what better time to debut my little fishies table runner! For years I’ve admired the classic Sill (or Blue Herring) print fabric from Almedahls but never bought it. Do you ever do that? I put off buying something I truly love or really need, checking in on it online, or searching for it again and again on Ebay with no purchase ever taking place. If it’s not a matter of not having room in the budget, then why? Perhaps, a friend once suggested, it’s a way of punishing ourselves with a pinch of denial. Blasted Puritan roots! Well, lately I have been in the kind of full-on pleasure mode that would send John Adams reeling, buying beautiful versions of the things we need: a reading lamp for my nook, new napkins, a soft throw over the back of a chair. As my friend Amy recently wrote, you will never regret buying the best version of a practical thing. And I’d raise her: you will never regret buying a beautiful thing that you use every day. A cheerful sheet set, a little bud vase in a just-so shade of blue, a spoon that makes morning oatmeal a delight. Our purchases need not be expensive (though sometimes, like the bike of your dreams, they can be), but it brings vast amounts of pleasure and a prepared feeling of togetherness to know, yes, I have a set of eight matching napkins for dinner, a blanket for my friend’s shoulders when she sits in front of our drafty window, and the right light to curl up with the last pages of Little Women. In my two weeks of ownership, I’ve reaped $36 worth of pleasure from the spare graphic design of this runner draped across our table, and it’s the kind of thing we can take with us, wherever we call home.

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September 3, 2012

Late-Summer Zucchini with Spaghetti, Walnuts and Herbs

I always love the what to do with all this zucchini?!!? hysteria that happens in August and stretches through the first bright days of September. I find the predictability of this annual quandary comforting: here we are again, once again.

This year, my go-to zucchini solution came from the one cookbook I allowed myself to take with me to Massachusetts for the month of August. Simple food was just what I wanted to cook during those long evenings, and simple food was just what I carried in glass tupperware over to my sister’s third-floor apartment most nights. The best and easiest grilled chicken, a quinoa salad so good it was requested a second time. Simple became the guiding principle of the month. The pleasures were simple (bike rides, ice cream cones, swimming holes), the rhythm was simple (wake-write-work-ride-cook-sleep), my role as a dinner-delivering mother’s helper was simple and all the sweeter for it. It was the first time in a long time I can remember feeling truly needed. And so I unloaded the dishwasher and held the baby during bathroom breaks and watched House Hunters late into the night with a kind of joyful purpose I haven’t ever felt. It was simple.

And this recipe, while perhaps not quite as sweet and simple as two sisters sitting in easy chairs with a newborn passed between them, is one I’ll return to. Just like I hope I get back to the evening nook in that third-floor apartment, clearing the empty plates off the table, depositing them in the dishwasher, and quietly closing the door behind me just before midnight.

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July 27, 2012

A Favorite Recipe and Some List-Making

Months ago, when nothing in this world could excite me more than asparagus, a riff on what you see above was my favorite spring dinner. At least once a week, I would buy a bundle of fat asparagus spears not knowing what I would do with it back at home. Often enough, it was this recipe, which comes together in moments. And now, by thinking of it as a template dinner, it’s become my favorite summer dinner for rushed evenings. This meal is a sweet marriage of pantry staples and fresh vegetables, and it’s reason enough for me to start keeping ricotta in the fridge.

And what, like asparagus, is exciting me these days? Tomatoes and cherries. My new bike. Cracking the spine on Freedom, loaned to me from a friend’s shelf. And also the idea floated to me the other night. I was talking about my recent resistance to gratitude, how sometimes we can say the things we’re grateful for and hear the words coming out of our mouths and still not feel the true weight of it in our bones. Fake it till you make it, some might say. But this particular friend of mine has a knack for giving all feelings––the sweet, joyful ones and the equally icky ones––room to breathe. And because I’m usually so drawn to fixes, her reminder to simply give what’s there the space to be gives me a kind of relaxed breathing room, too.

I made two lists the other day. The first, Things I Care About. The second, Things I Don’t. I was enormously entertained by the latter, which felt like throwing an ex-lover’s clothes out the window (or so I imagine). It’s a fun exercise, and one that I got Sebastian to join in the other night after dinner when our plates sat eaten clean on the coffee table. It’s amazing how much of what we don’t care about can find its way into our daily lives, creeping like a wall-climbing vine over a window. (And this from a woman who claims not to care about celebrities yet has a tabloid sitting on her bedside table next to said copy of Freedom.) But once you’ve made those lists, you can get right down to the important part: how can I get more of this first list into my day to day?

Cooking for people I love and sitting down at the table with them is on that first list. This recipe will get us part of the way there.

Happy weekend, friends. Feel free to cast off your Things I Don’t Care About in the comments. Trust me, it’s fun.

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There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves.
- Thomas Wolfe