Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Crawfish. Boil.

Matt and I spent the long weekend in New Orleans. Crawfish were consumed.

Friday, May 27, 2011


I’m sitting here at my kitchen table. It’s the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. The hour is early, and I’m drinking coffee (bitter, black), listening to the sounds (rumbling buses, babbling recent graduates) and inhaling the smells (floral wafts of spring, a touch of car exhaust) filtering through our now-open windows. I’m trying to think of what to say about this past week. But it’s been such a big week that I can’t quite get my head around it. An exciting, wonderful week. But right now all I can think about is how much I want to go to sleep. Even though I just woke up.

It began in Atlanta, where I was a keynote speaker at the BlogHer Food Conference. Jory Des Jardins interviewed me on stage. I’m just beginning this whole “public speaking” thing – a terrifying and exhilarating experience, one that both humbles and inflates at the same time – and this was a new format for me. A great format, though. There’s something so much more personal and intimate about a conversation rather than a speech. I’ve never much liked speaking at anything. I’m a with girl at heart.

Anyway, it was a wild time. The whole thing. I’ve never been in a room filled with so many bloggers, or so many smart phones constantly ablaze with Twitter feeds. There are some excellent summaries of that entire weekend here, here, here, here, and many, many other places, too.

Afterward, I flew to a hazy, drizzly New York City, where I walked streets that smelled of wet cement, blitzed with sudden whiffs of hot dogs, candied nuts, and heavy breaths of rain. I saw some old friends here, and some others there. My mother came to town, and we shimmied our way through a jam-packed Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, gazing at dresses that looked less like dresses and more like contemporary art. I went out to dinner with Philissa, just back from Israel, who I haven’t seen since her wedding in October. We ate in the dim back room of an East Village restaurant, a meal that involved fresh ricotta from Brooklyn, sweet peas, asparagus and a tempura poached egg. I punctuated the evening with cold sips of dry white wine, a bowl of beer-steamed mussels and, later, a fat slice of rhubarb pie.

Over the next couple days I did some book stuff, too. And the moments that stand out for me like pin-pricks, the ones that slowed down time, came when I got up in front of people—sometimes lots o’ people, others just one—and talked. I spoke at the Jewish Book Council annual event. I chatted with Melissa Clark on stage and signed some galley copies of my book at the Book Expo America. And all the while I talked about my sense of smell, my love of cooking, and my work. It’s been almost a year since I finished writing Season To Taste, and while I’ve never forgotten how much I love the subject and enjoy the process of writing, the power and immediacy of the experience had faded a bit with time.

It’s back now, though. And I’m thankful for that.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

This week.

Matt is in Colorado, hiking.

I’m at home, working. But just for a bit.

Tomorrow I fly to Atlanta, where I’ll be speaking at the BlogHer Food Conference. Though I’ve been blogging about food for, wow, more than six years now, I’ve only met a few bloggers in person. I'm curious to see if the rest of you actually exist in 3-D.

After that, I fly straight to New York City, where I have a humdinger of a schedule already set. Among other things—exciting things!—I’ll be at BookExpo America signing books and then speaking on the Author Insight Stage with none other than the fabulous Melissa Clark. I can’t wait.

This is all to say that this week, here in Boston, I’ve been a bit frazzled. It’s hard to sleep when you’re this excited. It’s hard to remember where you left your keys, or the remote, or your favorite pair of shoes when your mind is already in Atlanta or New York and certainly not here in Boston, among the menial objects of the day-to-day.

And eating? Well, that’s been simple. These last few days I’ve found myself reverting back to the dishes I cooked for myself when Matt was in Afghanistan—the quick, easy, vegetarian kind that I love to eat when I’m alone. Usually some kind of vegetable, preferably green in color. Parmesan cheese. Salt & pepper. Poached egg. Done. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Right Here

We’d been planning to move for a while.

Matt and I have lived in our apartment—a small but functional, noisy but beautiful Cambridge apartment—for a year now. We chose it quickly, on a lightning trip from New York City a few weeks before my lease in Brooklyn ran out and my book was due. This was in the hazy months after Matt returned from his deployment in Afghanistan and decided that, yes, he would go graduate school. The move back to Boston, the city where I was born, wasn’t surprising, but it still came as a shock. It’s not that I didn’t think Matt would be accepted to graduate school, or that once he was, he would decline. But he had filled out this particular application while wearing an Army uniform, serving his third tour of duty at war, this time in the mountains near the Pakistan border. That whole year felt surreal.

So this apartment? We made that choice fast. It’s a great place, but a tiny place. There’s a small bedroom, a living room with galley kitchen, a bathroom and a little closet. Sometimes the only thing I want is a room of my own. (Hi, Virginia.)

And so for the last couple of months, we’ve seriously entertained the idea of moving to an apartment a bit farther out and, therefore, a bit larger. I combed Craigslist ads and checked out big, rickety apartments in Watertown. I saw smaller, quirkier spots in north Cambridge. I met even met with a realtor, who drove me all around town, jangling keys, opening doors, and making me rethink my budget, my bank account, and my life.

Nothing felt right.

Last year when I first walked into this apartment, however flawed it may be, I felt something. What? I don’t know. A little whisper, tickling the fuzz on the lobe of my ear: This is a place I can live.

And so we’re staying. Right here.

We’ve lived here for just one year, but it’s been a crazy year. This is where I finished writing my book, where Matt finished his first year of school. I’ve freelanced articles from the kitchen table and read countless novels on the couch. There have been wonderful times, horrible times, and a whole lot of dinner parties in between. Also: I can walk to work. Done.

With our decision to stay official, on Saturday Matt and I cleaned. Everything. We mopped, scrubbed, swept, vacuumed, dusted, reorganized, rearranged, recalibrated the entire apartment. We’re pretty tidy people, but, man, can grime build up. I’ve never been so happy to live in a small space. As it was, I was exhausted at the end of the day. If the apartment were any bigger? I might not have survived.

We emerged from the fog of Pine-sol and dish soap a few times for nourishment. Once, to eat slices of pizza that we had picked up earlier that morning at Iggy’s. Mine was topped with ramps, tomato sauce, and goat cheese. The crust was both billowy and crisp. Thank you, spring.

Later, much later, when the sun had far faded and our apartment was thoroughly scoured, I cooked. The oven was shiny and bright. The fridge, clean and clear. I cooked a simple dinner, because that’s all I could muster. I coated chicken breasts with flour, egg, bread crumbs and Parmesan and then fried them, lightly, on the stove. I simmered carrots with some water, salt, and a pat of butter, cooking them down until a glaze formed. And there were green beans—straight from the freezer to a pot of boiling water. Dinner should not have been that ridiculously good.

Later, we sat on the couch with bowls of chocolate ice cream, watching an old World War II flick. It was Saturday night; the sounds of young people cavorting on the streets outside trickled up through our windows, mixing with the pitter patter of rain.

It’s never felt better to be home.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tuscan-Style Rosemary-Garlic Pork Rib Roast with Roasted Potatoes

I have a lot to be thankful for. A beautiful home, a supportive boyfriend, a book that will be published next month. I have a new job as an editor at America’s Test Kitchen, where I’ve only been working for a few weeks but have already learned quite a lot, my mind filled with all things cooking and food. I actually had a dream that I was a pot roast the other night. I woke up sweating profusely; thinking about muscle fibers, denaturing proteins, and the way collagen melts to gelatin when it’s subjected to the right temperature for long periods of time. What? I don’t know.

But I’m thankful. I spent years writing my book—wonderful, exciting years, but years of extreme financial instability, filled with anxiety over bills, health insurance, and rent. I’m thankful that I could take those years to write. I’m thankful that I can now take a little step back and relax.

But, oh, the point of this post? I’m thankful, too, that here in Boston my family lives close by. And this past weekend we celebrated Mother’s Day. I cooked.

In honor of my mother, and also in honor of the countless hours I’ve been poring over the Cook’s Illustrated archives of late, I used one of their recipes for a roast: Tuscan-Style Rosemary-Garlic Pork Rib Roast with Roasted Potatoes. For this, I bought a bone-in center-cut pork roast from the butcher. I brined it. I seared it, fat-side down. I cut off its bones, sliced through its center, and rubbed the meat with a fragrant garlic-rosemary paste. After tying the layers of flesh and bone all back together with twine, like a present, I stuck the roast in the oven, the bottom of the pan moistened with just a bit of white wine. A half hour later, I added the potatoes. An hour and a half after that? Dinner. It was great.

I served the pork roast and potatoes with asparagus, which I roasted with Parmesan and lemon. For dessert, I made strawberry shortcakes—tender, flaky biscuits sandwiching a pile of fresh strawberries and a pillow of whipped cream.

As we ate, the sun descended beneath the spring-green trees that line the sky outside our windows. At the table, there was good wine, and a lot of laughter. I could the smell the biscuits baking in the oven the second they were done… that sudden waft of toasted butter. I couldn’t help but think about the months right after I was hit by a car while jogging here in Boston—the accident that ultimately caused me to lose my sense of smell. My mother took care of me then. My whole family did. I’m thankful that I was close to them then. I’m thankful that I’m close to them now.

Tuscan-Style Rosemary-Garlic Pork Rib Roast with Roasted Potatoes

2 cups kosher salt
2 1/3 cups dark brown sugar, packed
10 large cloves garlic , peeled and crushed lightly with the back of a knife
5 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 bone-in, center-cut, 4-pound pork rib roast

Garlic Paste
10 cloves garlic , minced to a paste (or pressed through a garlic press)
1 ½ tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

¾ cup dry white wine
2 pounds medium red potatoes, quartered
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Brine: Dissolve salt and brown sugar in 1 1/2 quarts hot tap water in large stockpot. Stir in garlic and rosemary, and then add 2 1/2 quarts cold water. Put the roast into the brine, and then the pot into the refrigerator. Brine for three hours. Rinse roast under cold water and dry thoroughly with paper towels.

2. For the garlic rub: While the roast brines, stir together the garlic, pepper, rosemary, olive oil, and salt in small bowl. Mix to form a paste, and set aside.

3. Prepare the roast: When roast is done brining, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until hot, about 4 minutes. Place roast fat-side down in skillet and cook until well-browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer roast browned-side up to cutting board and set aside to cool. Pour off the fat from the skillet and add the white wine. Increase the heat to high and bring to boil, scraping skillet with wooden spoon until browned bits are loosened, about 1 minute. Set skillet with wine aside.

4. Now, cut the rib bones off of the roast. To do this, hold the roast so that the bones are perpendicular to the cutting board. Beginning from the far side, use small swipes of your knife, to cut the rib bones from the meaty flesh, following the curve of the bones to the backbone until the meat is free of ribs.

5. With the roast laying flat on the cutting board, fat-side down, make a lengthwise incision in the pork loin, slicing through entire center of the meat, stopping one inch from the end. Fold the meat open. Rub this inner flap of meat with 1/3 of the garlic paste. Fold the meat back together, and on the side of the loin where the ribs were once attached, rub the remaining paste. Now, place the bones back on the loin in exactly the same position they were before slicing them off. Tie the entire roast together, using seven individual lengths of twine. Sprinkle the browned side of the meat with 1 teaspoon pepper. Set the roast rib-side down in a large roasting pan. Pour the reserved wine and browned bits from the skillet within. Put the roast in oven.

6. When the pork has roasted 15 minutes, toss potatoes with olive oil in medium bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. Baste the pork with its accumulated juices and the wine from the bottom of the pan. After pork has roasted 30 minutes, add the potatoes to the roasting pan, stirring to coat. Continue to roast the pork (basting every 20 minutes or so) until the center of the loin registers about 135 degrees on instant-read thermometer. This should take 65 to 80 minutes. (You can add a half-cup of water to the bottom of the pan if all of the wine evaporates, to prevent burning.) When done, transfer the roast to the carving board and tent loosely with foil. Let it stand until the center of the loin registers about 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, an additional 15 minutes. In the roasting pan, arrange the potatoes in a single layer. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and return potatoes to oven, roasting until tender and browned, 5 to 15 minutes longer.

7. Cut the twine off of the roast and remove meat from bones. Set the meat, browned-side up, on the cutting board and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Serve immediately, with potatoes.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Baked Rhubarb Compote

When I was a little girl, my mother made strawberry-rhubarb pies. When she was small, her mother made them, too. If I ever have a daughter, she’ll grow up eating the fruit pies of my past. There’s nothing quite like a recipe studded with memories, one that taste of spice and time. I’ve written about this here before.

Though I had a few bites of a transcendent strawberry-rhubarb pie made by my stepmother the other day, I haven’t made any myself. I haven’t had time to bake. Or to write. Or to even eat, really. This whole “new job” thing? On top of the whole imminent “book publication” thing? Wow. Time has taken on a whole new dimension. It no longer feels traceable, reliable, or manageable at all. It’s moving way too fast; and much, much to slow. It’s hyped up on over-stacked google calendars, on phone dates and deadlines and the electric shrill of my alarm clock. It’s bloated with commuting, with paper work, and the confusing architecture of a new office. The elongated gray faces of the scores of workers heading home on the T at 5pm make the time draaaaaaaaaag.

But I’ve been thinking about rhubarb ever since I picked it up at the market last week. Generally I enter the grocery store with a well-thought list, concrete with recipes lodged in the soft tissue of my brain. This time my plan didn’t included rhubarb, because I really only buy rhubarb to make pie, and I don’t have time to make pie right now. Sometimes, I wonder if I ever will again. I was drawn to its vibrant colors, however: the bright reds, soft pinks and dark forest greens. I bought a whole pile of the slick stalks on a whim, brought them home, and tried to figure out what to do.

Alice Waters helped.

In her cookbook, Chez Panisse Fruit, Waters writes about rhubarb, which is really a vegetable but often treated as a fruit. It’s tart, crisp, and can be luscious with juice when cooked. It’s excellent in pies and crisps, ice creams, soups, and jams—not to mention alongside rich meats like pork and foie gras. “Rhubarb is the vegetable bridge between the tree fruits of winter and summer,” she writes.

Inspired by Waters’ baked rhubarb compote recipe, I sliced and chopped my stalks and laid the pieces out in a pan. I sprinkled them with sugar, and then with orange juice and zest. Covered in foil, I baked them at 350 degrees for about twenty minutes, then removed the aluminum and baked them for 10 minutes more. What emerged was a silky sweet compote, lush and velvety, but with that familiar tart rhubarb bite. This compote works as a side to something savory—like the fat bone-in pork chops that I served that night, seared on the stovetop and then finished in the oven—or something sweet—like the Greek yogurt I ate for breakfast the next morning. Simple and quick, tart and smooth, like a pinprick pause of flavor in what has become a huge wash of time.

Baked Rhubarb Compote
From Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Fruit

When I baked this compote, I eyeballed the amount of sugar and orange juice based on the volume of rhubarb spread out in the pan. I’m not sure how much rhubarb I began with, but I added just enough sugar to coat the stalks, and then enough orange juice to make the whole concoction look moist. I used the zest of about a half an orange, too. Here are Waters’ instructions, for those more inclined to follow a recipe with concrete numbers.

1 pound rhubarb, rinsed, wiped dry, trimmed of leaves and tough stumpy ends, sliced in half and chopped into chunks
1 orange (Waters suggests Valencia)
½ cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix together the rhubarb with the sugar, zest of the orange, and about 3 tablespoons of juice in a 9- or 10- inch non-reactive baking pan. Cover and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the cover and bake for another 5 – 10 minutes. A knife should slide easily into the rhubarb. Serve warm.