Monday, August 31, 2009

vacation (all i ever wanted)

When this little grant writer's head started spinning after a summer full of government proposals, sweltering East Coast rains, and stories of NYC apartment rat infestations, she got smart and got out. That's right: Mary and I are officially on vacation, in the temperate and exceedingly pleasant Pacific Northwest. During our first two blissful days of vacation, we've had no problem remembering why the Seattle area is our favorite place to eat.
Vacation started with a morning visit to the Redmond Saturday Market, where we ogled the beautifully fresh produce. While there, we made sure to pick up a few sausage and pepper sandwiches from Wise Guys Italian. The irony isn't lost on me that we came all the way from Brooklyn to the Seattle area to enjoy a quintessentially New York sandwich, but it was worth it. They use this special contraption to hollow out each piece of Italian bread, then fill the cavity with a scaldingly hot mix of sausage, peppers and onions. As you burn your mouth trying to bite into the sandwich, rich, spicy sauce drips onto your fingers, evidence of extreme happiness and satiety. Yum.
Some other things vacation has included thus far? Friends. So many of them. A totally incredible chocolate cake with chocolate buttermilk frosting and (most impressively) a decorative heart of multicolored sprinkles. A trip to Sur La Table for good measure, because one can never have too many baking pans, miniature ramekins or mozzarella cheese slicers.
And oh, oh my. The Northwest's bounty: fresh blackberries growing uncontrollably in every backyard, practically sprouting out your ears. They're ready to be baked into crisps and pies, hidden under great dollops of whipped cream, or simply devoured until your tummy grumbles suspiciously. Oh, sweet berries, pockets of juice breaking on my tongue and sliding lusciously across my palate like winey velvet. I can't get enough of you.
Nor can I get enough of this place where the sun shines during the day but it's chilly at night, and where we get to eat outside by candlelight and breathe in smells of blossoming roses and deep green grass. Today this Brooklyn girl is truly in heaven.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

sweet relief

The past few weeks, it's been, on average, about 93 degrees Fahrenheit in our kitchen. How do I know this? Well, this little surfboard magnet on the side of our fridge has a handy dandy thermometer on it. I'm really glad it does. Makes complaining about the heat so much easier when I have tangible proof of kitchen temperature.
You see, Mary and I decided to get through this summer without the help of an air conditioner. We had several reasons for this decision. Fresh air is lovely. Air conditioners are expensive. They're not energy efficient. We don't have that many windows, and we don't want to block out light with a bulky window unit. And also, secretly, it makes us (or at least me) feel rather proud to think that we're living without the modern luxury of that quickly-cooled air. Call me crazy; I probably am.The result of this decision, however, is that we sleep on top of the sheets and blankets with a strong fan blowing directly on our sticky bodies. I often find myself padding to the freezer after a few hours of tossing and turning to retrieve an ice pack, which I then tote back to bed with me wrapped in a towel and grasp as if I'm an inconsolable toddler and it is my security blanket. Not to worry; that always does the trick. I fall asleep in minutes, lulled into slumber by the coolness of the melting bundle in my arms.
During the really hot, humid days, draping ourselves over the refrigerator door sometimes provides a moment of relief. Or drinking a chilled glass of water in a stream of hurried gulps. But after a meal, when I kind of want ice cream but know I'll just get annoyed that it's melting so fast, I turn to cool, sweet fruit, slurped up as its juice trickles down to my elbow, and enjoyed so much more because I know it will be gone from the market in a matter of weeks. This watermelon salad was inspired by an incredible appetizer I recently had at The Farm on Adderley, my very favorite restaurant. Personally, I feel it fits even better at a summer meal's end than at its beginning. I have the feeling I'll be making this for years to come, with whatever fruits are in season and whatever nuts and herbs strike my fancy.While I may be wilting in the heat, we've just got to revel in summer while it's here. So soon, it will be gone for another year.
Sweet Watermelon Salad

Several slices of watermelon, black seeds removed
1 ounce of chevre or another fresh, tangy cheese such as feta
10 unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp. of your favorite honey
A few pinches of lavender blossoms

Assemble watermelon slices on a plate. With your fingers, gently pry off small nubs of cheese and sprinkle over the fruit. Sprinkle pistachios over next. Dip a fork into the honey and drizzle in quickly over the salad. Sprinkle salad with lavendar blossoms, and serve immediately.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

wednesday afternoons

From seventh through twelfth grade, Adriana and I went to an interesting school. Depending on where you're from, you might know the type. It was the sort of place where we were allowed to call our teachers by their first names, where art and foreign language were both core classes, and where you could easily fit our entire graduating class into one small classroom. With room to spare.

One of our school's many eccentricities was the Wednesday Half Day. On Wednesdays, we would only have half of our classes, and we would leave the squat building we called our campus at around 12:30. Adriana tells me this half day phenomenon was intended to give us time for the obligatory community service required by the school's founding principles. Most weeks, the two of us used it to fit in an extra study session. Cool we were not, but at least we got some really good grades.

And so it was that Wednesday afternoons constituted some of our first forays into trying to feed ourselves. If we were at Adriana's house, lunch might consist of Cheese Toast, spongy-sweet potato bread laden with Tillamook cheddar and broiled into open-faced sandwiches of bubbly deliciousness. If we found ourselves at my house, lunch often meant quesadillas we assembled in the microwave or Top Ramen boiled on the stove. While we've come quite a long way since then, both culinarily and nutritionally, there is one creation from that time that I am happy to reprise now: Rice noodles with peanut sauce.

Back then, I boiled the noodles and sparingly stirred in a few spoonfuls of the bottled gourmet peanut sauce I found in the fridge. I never lavished the noodles in quite as much sauce as I would have liked, as that stuff tasted so good to me, it might as well have been liquid gold. These days, I don't want to spend the money or the time seeking out the ideal sauce. I would much rather create one that suits my needs exactly. Throw in a little chicken for protein and broccoli florets to sop up all that flavorful sauce, and I have a delicious and nourishing meal. I love how sometimes, growing up is as easy as realizing you can make a sauce better than the one from the bottle. And serving a cucumber salad alongside your noodles.
Peanut Sesame Noodles
Adapted from Gourmet, June 2002

Peanut Sauce:

1/2 cup smooth, organic peanut butter
1/4 cup low sodium tamari
1/3 cup warm water
2 Tbs. chopped ginger
1 large garlic clove, chopped
2 Tbs. rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 Tbs. Asian sesame oil
2 tsp. honey
1 Tbs. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. dulse flakes

Noodle Salad:

3/4 lb. thin dried rice noodles
4 scallions, thinly sliced
3 cooked chicken breasts
1 head broccoli, lightly steamed or sauteed
3 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds

Whisk sauce ingredients in a medium-sized bowl until they form a thick sauce. Cook rice noodles according to directions on package (usually by boiling about 3 minutes), and drain water from noodles. Add chicken, broccoli, sauce, and most of the scallions and sesame seeds, reserving some for garnish. Stir until noodles, chicken, and broccoli are coated with sauce. Serve on plates or shallow bowls, and garnish with reserved scallions and sesame seeds.

Cucumber Salad
Adapted from Gourmet, October 2001

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. agave nectar
1 tsp. low sodium tamari
1 tsp. Asian sesame oil
2 medium cucumbers, sliced very thin on a mandolin

Whisk first four ingredients together until agave nectar dissolves. Place sliced cucumbers in a bowl, and pour in enough dressing to coat each slice (you will probably have some dressing left over). Toss the cucumbers to coat, let sit for 15 minutes in the fridge, and toss them again. Serve.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

pizza night

Did you have Pizza Night when you were little? If you're like me and most of my friends' families, you did, and that night was Friday night. Fridays, in my opinion, are terrific days. I might even venture to say they're the best days. The thing about Fridays is that they're so full of promise. They're worn down around the edges, tired and rugged with too much crammed into their minutes, with sudden pops of light and joy bubbling up from within because they hold that unavoidable, irrepressible scent of weekend freedom.
Fridays are just peachy-keen, and pizza makes them better.

When I was growing up, my mom would sometimes buy individual Boboli pizzas for the two of us. We would unwrap the fluffy discs and shred firm aged mozzarella onto them, then top the whole thing with discs of spicy pepperoni. If we felt zany, we'd add some sliced mushrooms and black olives. It didn't matter to me that the crust came from the grocery store and the pepperoni slid out of plastic packages. All I cared about was the fact that I got to make something I was going to eat, and my mom let me pull the little pizzas out of the oven when they were finished and scrape the too-hot bits of burned cheese off the cookie sheet to nibble. To me, with my fluffy bangs and scrunchies tied around my wrists, those pizzas were as good as homemade. It was the time my mom took out of her day of working, going to college, and cleaning up after me that mattered, plus the joy we shared as we artfully topped our pies.

I find myself wanting pizza on Friday nights a whole lot more than I do on other days. Which is a good thing if you feel like making your Friday Pizza from scratch. It takes a while for the dough to rise, so you'll probably be having a late dinner, but you don't have to wake up early, because tomorrow is Saturday. I know; I'm a little brilliant sometimes. You might also want to sip some wine and taste some cheese while you wait. Just a thought.
My point is this: It's Friday. You've worked hard. Reward yourself with a delectable cooking (and dining) experience, and make this pizza. I followed Gourmet's recipe exactly, minus using a large cookie sheet instead of a pizza stone. Mary claimed it was the best pizza she's ever eaten in her life. While I will admit that, as my girlfriend, she is biased, I will also say that the girl is from Brooklyn, and if there's anything she knows, it's pizza. If I were you, I'd trust her.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Little Things

Sometimes, when life gets you all stressed out, you need to take a moment, breathe in (and out), and think about the little things that make you want to jump up and down with joy and exuberance. I've been stressed lately, and so I've spent the entire evening thinking of things that make me want to do just that. In doing so, I realized that summer is a terrific time to be delighted by small things. Convenient. I also realized that I should do this more. It's fun! For instance, while washing the dishes a few minutes ago, I realized that my toes were really enjoying the dimpled fuzziness of the rug beneath them. See? It's the little things. Here are a few more things I thought of. Oh, and by the way, what's on your list?
1. Cherries are in season. Hold me back.
2. A young feminist blogger declared August Self-Esteem Awareness Month. Yeah! Young people rock!
3. The fantastic progressive comedians who work tirelessly to keep our silly culture in check.
4. Hugs. Big ones, small ones, good ones.
5. The fact that one of my favorite bloggers is involved in a New York-style thin crust pizza endeavor in Seattle, officially starting August 12th.
6. After a ridiculous amount of patience, my hair is finally long enough to put in a ponytail. (Thanks, Terra.)
7. The IKEA 2010 catalog has finally arrived! It seems I am the only person who is really excited about this. I feel as if I should be embarrassed by the extent of my excitement, but I'm not. Not at all.
8. The way The Maybelles wrap me up in their lilting, witty tunes.
9. Getting letters in the mail. Isn't that just the best?
10. The best herb store I've found in New York is right off the Q train in Brooklyn
11. This salad is so yummy and fresh, and it reminds me of one of my best friends.
Israeli Salad with Basil and Mozzarella
Serves 2

1 cucumber, preferably from the farmer's market
2 tomatoes, the tastiest you can find
4 basil leaves, julienned
2 Tb. olive oil
The juice of one lemon
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Several slices of fresh mozzarella

Dice the cucumber and tomato as finely as possible and place in a bowl. In a small cup, whisk together olive oil and lemon juice. Pour over vegetables and mix together. Add salt and pepper to taste. I served this over fresh mozzarella because we had some, but I would usually eat this with hummus and pita, scrambled eggs, or anything else, really.

Subscribe in a reader

Adriana Willsie and Kylie Springman ©2009