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While you're not looking

I went through a period a few years ago when I couldn't cook a pot of dried beans worth a damn. Every bean came out waterlogged and falling apart, like a rained-on newspaper, and on the rare occasion when every bean wasn't waterlogged and falling apart, it was only because a few holdouts had a mouthfeel closer to gravel. I did everything I was supposed to do: I soaked them, brined them, cooked them without salt, cooked them with salt, cooked them at a simmer, cooked them so a bubble only rarely broke the surface. Every way, the window of time in which they were just right, tender but not yet reduced to mush, was narrow at best. Occasionally I hit it, but often not. So I gave up on dried beans for a while, which is fine, actually, because canned beans are great. I can think of worse fates than going to my grave a crappy bean cooker - for instance, living an entire life without doing "Islands in the Stream" at karaoke. (Crossed that off the list.) But dried beans are cheaper than canned, much cheaper, and I wanted to get it right.

My friend Winnie Yang helped me, though she has no idea that she did. In 2007, she left a comment on a Serious Eats post about cooking beans, and in her comment, she described her favorite method, which comes from the great John Thorne and his great book Pot on the Fire. Thorne cooks beans in their soaking water, and in a very low oven, not on the stovetop. As Winnie put it, "His method produces peerless beans . . . the tenderest, most velvety beans just barely held together by the skins. There's not too much danger of overcooking, and you get optimum flavor." I bookmarked it in my browser, calling it "Winnie's Pot Beans," and then I completely forgot about it.  But I found it again recently, after a long stretch of dried bean avoidance, and I am now a believer. It is How I Do Dried Beans. Incidentally, here is Winnie, looking as sprightly and triumphant as I now feel every time I eat my own cooked-from-dried beans, only she's not in a kitchen but instead walking in the woods on a vacation we took with a couple of friends five years ago this month, to pick apples and watch the leaves fall and generally cook our brains out in a rental house in upstate New York.

Now that I've dug up that photograph, here are a few others from that trip, because it feels good to see them again, and because the trees outside my window look almost identical today.

My kitchen's Formica is a sad, wonky shadow of the Italian tile in that upstate kitchen, but it serves its purpose. It is a flat surface. I can put a bowl on it, upend a bag of beans into the bowl, cover them with cold water, and, in the reflection on the water, watch the trees outside knock around in the wind.

I try to soak my beans for a full 24 hours. But I don't know how much that matters. John Thorne soaks his for eight to twelve hours. However long you soak them, soak them. It makes a difference. But do not throw out the soaking water; it is not, how should I say it, infected with future "digestive distress." As Thorne puts it, and he in turn paraphrases Russ Parsons: "Neither cook nor eater can do much to reduce the problem of flatulence, except to eat more beans. (The more you eat, the better your digestive flora can handle them.)"

Here's what you do instead: you put a strainer over a medium saucepan, and you drain the beans into the strainer, catching their soaking water in the pan. You bring the soaking water to a boil. Meanwhile, you dump the beans into a Dutch oven, season them with salt and olive oil and other things, if you'd like, and then pour the boiling soaking water over the beans, clamp on the lid, and put it into a 200-degree oven for four to five hours. After four hours, you check the beans for doneness, and if they're not done, you keep cooking them until they are. While they cook, you need only stir them once an hour, or less, or whenever you think of it, and make sure they are covered with liquid. The rest of the time is yours.

It occurs to me that this might sound like a long, slow, possibly tedious process. But because it is long and slow, I feel comfortable leaving the house, even for a couple of hours at a go. I live for danger! Large beans, like corona beans, can take up to eight hours, meaning that I can very literally cook while I sleep. And because the oven temperature is so low, and gentler than most stoves, it's almost impossible for the beans to, poof, dissolve into mush while you're not looking. They're silky, plump, and most of all, consistent, each bean cooked properly through. By which I mean, happy Friday.

John Thorne’s Tuscan Beans
Adapted from Pot on the Fire

This is more method than recipe. I’ve used this method with all kinds of beans – cannellini, pinto, corona, flageolet, little heirloom beans whose names I don’t know – and it works with all of them. I don’t even measure my beans anymore, or any of the seasonings. You can wing it. [Updated to add: a couple of readers have called to my attention an important fact of which I was unaware: red kidney beans must be boiled briskly before consuming, because they contain a toxin. Thus I cannot advise this gentle oven method for red kidney beans. Go here for more information.) A few notes:

1. I’m writing the recipe below mostly as John Thorne intended, but you should know that I generally only season my beans with olive oil, salt, and sometimes red pepper flakes. That’s all. Do as you wish.
2. When you cook the beans, they should be barely covered with water, so that the water and bean juices reduce to a delicious, thick broth. (In the photo above, I used a little too much water, actually, and they were soupier than I intended. No real harm done, though.)
3. Also, even though I just went on and on about the sadness of an overcooked bean, well… when I cook them this low, slow, gentle way, I actually like to cook them a little past done. My friend Olaiya taught me to do that, because by the time they cool down, they will have firmed up ever so slightly, and they’ll be perfect. So when I think the beans are done, I don’t immediately take them out of the oven; I leave them for an extra 15 minutes or so, to take them just a tiny bit further.

½ pound dried beans (not red kidney beans; see headnote above), picked over, washed, and soaked for 12 to 24 hours in water to cover amply
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed under the side of a knife
3 or 4 sage leaves
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Drain the beans, reserving the soaking liquid. Remove and discard any beans that have failed to rehydrate. (They will be wrinkled and ornery-looking.) Put the beans and seasonings, everything but the soaking liquid, in a Dutch oven or similar vessel. Pour the bean soaking liquid into a saucepan and heat to boiling. Add enough of this liquid to the bean pot to barely cover its contents, reserving any remaining liquid. Cover the pot, and put the beans in the oven. Cook at this very low heat – they should never come to a boil – until they are nicely done, about 4 to 5 hours. Check the water level periodically over the first four hours, adding the remaining bean liquid (and then plain boiling water) if needed to keep the beans covered.

Serve the beans hot, warm, or at room temperature, or use them in another dish. June likes hers plain, and she drinks the bean broth that’s left in the bowl after the beans are gone. We like to eat pinto or other brown beans with grated sharp cheddar and hot sauce. If I’m cooking cannellinis, I often use them in the Ed Fretwell Soup from A Homemade Life. And this week I used some flageolets in a Molly Stevens recipe that I’ll write about very soon.

Yield: Enough beans to make a side dish for 4 or a meal for 2 or 3


As ever

A couple of weeks ago, I got up earlier than usual, while the light was still blue, and baked a cake.

We are having a very adult fall - not adult in the sense of, I don't know, the adult film industry, but in the sense that we now have a child who is enrolled in a real school. I remember only bits and pieces of my own first year of school, but I do remember operating under the happy illusion that my parents were bonafide adults who had things figured out. Having now crossed over to the other side of that illusion, I can report that, whoa, hey, it's an illusion! June is no fool, but she's content to play along as necessary. Yesterday, in the car on the way home, she informed me, apropos of nothing, that she has no blood. When I asked what's inside her body instead, she paused and stared out the window - Moms, man! Totally clueless! - and then replied, "Pee and poop, silly." (She gets it from me.)

In any case, we are now firmly into fall. My child, who has no blood, is now a child who goes to school. I am, as ever, a person who will bake a cake before the sun is up, after the sun is down, and anywhere in between, because I like to.

This is Alison Roman's Coconut-Lemon Tea Cake, from her Short Stack mini-book Lemons. I picked up a copy of Lemons on a whim one day at Book Larder, and I immediately wanted to make everything in it, starting with a Campari/lemon/rosé drink called "Rosé All Day," or maybe "Meyer Lemon Moonshine" (which, as Roman explains, "is one of the easiest things you can do with lemons, and of course the most fun (because it will get you very drunk)."). But I went for cake.

There are a certain few cooks whose recipes I trust instinctively and always. It's not to say that I trust only those few, but theirs are the recipes that most consistently appeal to me, make me feel confident, and in the end, make me proud. The late Judy Rodgers, for instance, is one of those cooks. Another is Alison Roman. I don't know her, and she doesn't know me, but she was a senior food editor at Bon Appétit, and I first saw her name in the magazine, attached to a lot of good recipes. That raspberry-ricotta cake I wrote about last March, that was hers. She's now moved over to BuzzFeed Food, but in any case, wherever she is, she knows her way around a lemon.

This cake uses lemon in two forms: the grated zest, which you rub into sugar to infuse and perfume the batter, and the juice, which you make into a syrup to pour over the finished cake.  There's also coconut in two forms, though its flavor is more subtle: there's coconut oil in the cake itself, and coconut flakes on top, which get toasted and sticky with the lemon syrup. What you wind up with is a texture and heft a lot like pound cake, but with a heady whack of lemon and the satisfying chew of coconut. June and I ate it for breakfast, and I took another slice after lunch. My mother, who loves a lemon dessert, came over a couple of days later and stumbled upon what was left of the loaf, still moist, when she went to put away an upturned aluminum mixing bowl on the counter and found that I'd co-opted it as a cake dome. She raved about it. This one's for her.

Coconut-Lemon Tea Cake
Lemons, by Alison Roman (Short Stack Editions, Volume 13)

Three notes before we get started: I tend to have regular whole-milk yogurt on hand, not Greek yogurt, and I used what I had. I haven’t had this cake when made with Greek yogurt, but I can imagine that it could only be better. It was plenty moist and tender with regular yogurt. Also, re: the mildly fiddly step of rubbing the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers, I know I know I know, but do it. It infuses the sugar with lemon flavor, and lemon flavor is what this cake is all about. Lastly, because coconut oil is very hard and crumbly at room temperature, I find it difficult to measure by volume. So I measure it by weight, scraping and chipping it from the jar onto the scale, and then I melt it.

1 ½ cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ¼ cup (250 grams) sugar, divided
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
¾ cup (210 grams) whole-milk Greek yogurt (see note above)
½ cup (80 grams) coconut oil, melted
2 large eggs
½ cup (35 grams) unsweetened coconut flakes
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a (9”x5”-ish) loaf pan lightly with cooking spray or butter, and line it with parchment paper. Grease that too, while you're at it. (Though trying to grease paper with butter can be an infuriating, wrinkle-filled endeavor, so I won't blame you if you skip it.)

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and kosher salt.

In a large bowl, rub 1 cup of the sugar with the lemon zest until the sugar is fragrant and yellow and smells, well, like you just rubbed a lemon in there. Whisk in the yogurt, coconut oil, and eggs. Add the flour mixture, and stir just to blend.

Scrape the batter into your prepared pan, and smooth the top. Sprinkle coconut flakes over the surface, and bake until the top of the cake is golden brown, the edges pull away from the side of the pan, and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. (I found that the coconut flakes were browning before the cake was done, so I tented the cake loosely with foil after about 45 minutes.)

While the cake bakes, combine the lemon juice and remaining ¼ cup of sugar in a small saucepan, and bring it to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat, and keep the mixture warm. When the cake is done, brush the top with the syrup; then return the cake to the oven and bake for 5 minutes more to re-crisp the coconut. Remove the cake from the oven, and cool completely before serving.

Yield: 1 standard-size loaf cake


September 6

I've never been to Chez Panisse, the restaurant itself, the part with the nightly prix fixe menu. But I first went to the Cafe at Chez Panisse the summer that I was twenty, working at Whole Foods in Mill Valley, California, and living nearby at my aunt's Tina's house. I went with my cousin Katie, who was also at Tina's that summer, and her saintly then-boyfriend Rob, an un-date-y third-wheel kind of date. We made a reservation, got (too) dressed up, and ordered the Menu du Jour, a three-course meal for the current steal of $30 - though it must have been $25 then, at most. We threw down.

I remember the first course with a clarity that surprises me. It was Little Gem lettuces, which I'd never heard of before, dressed in Green Goddess dressing, which I'd also never heard of before, with slivers of cucumber, beet, and avocado. It was understated, careful, perfectly spare, but not precious. Sixteen years later, we serve a Green Goddess salad at Delancey every spring because of that night at the Cafe at Chez Panisse, and because of that salad. The second course was a pasta, and then tiny profiteroles, both of which were quietly terrific, though I remember neither as vividly as the salad. In any case, what I remember most clearly was the way we felt afterward. We felt like we'd accomplished something. We'd crossed a threshold. We'd taken ourselves to Chez Panisse! The Cafe, anyway! We'd paid for it ourselves! We'd eaten Alice Waters' food! We'd had experiences.

I've been back a few times, and it's always felt like that. Brandon and I went for lunch at the Cafe the first time I took him to California to meet my family there. We had pizza with nettles on it, the first time either of us had eaten them. Chez Panisse was on our minds when we drafted the first sample menus for Delancey. It was also on our minds we started to reach out to the farmers and ranchers who supply us with most of the fruit, vegetables, and meat we use at Delancey. We wanted to feed our customers food that we could be proud of.

It's become a cliche, this farm-to-table ideal, a benevolent cliche. In this country, access to good food is a complicated, unequal thing: how nice that some of us can afford to feed our families fresh, organic food, while the rest of the country scrapes by on cheap, GMO crops! I feel as cynical about it as the next guy. But I will never forget a morning at the farmers' market three years ago, when I was out of my mind with the insomnia and anxiety that I would soon understand as postpartum depression, when Wynne of Jerzy Boyz, who grows our apples and pears and dries oregano for our tomato sauce, put her arm around me and let me cry all over her coat. And I cannot say how happy it makes me that June is on a first-name basis with Eiko and George of Skagit River Ranch, who raise the pigs for Delancey's sausage - we break down, season, and grind 100 pounds of their pork every two weeks - and the cows for Essex's burgers. It feels right. It feels right to support people who are doing good work, and to be supported by them in return. I learned that - or a lot of that, at least - from the influence of Alice Waters and the restaurant she started on a hope and a whim almost 45 years ago.

All of this to say that I was beside myself with glee when, about three weeks ago, I was asked to interview Alice Waters and write a profile of her for the National Endowment of the Humanities, to accompany the announcement that she has been chosen as one of this year's National Humanities Medalists. We spoke by phone a couple of Fridays ago - I now have a soft-spoken voicemail from her on my phone: "Hello, Molly. It's Alice." (!) - and I still feel electrified by it. I'd read a lot about Alice Waters. You have too, I'm sure. None of it had read prepared me for how gracious she was. We had some phone glitches that meant I had to call her six times, dying a little more with each attempt, and then she had to call me a few more times, before we got a proper connection. But her patience never flagged. And under her quiet grace, she is radical. That's the word I keep coming back to: radical. She made me want to pump my fist through the phone. She goes for it. Talking about school lunch reform, she said,

All the ways we’re addressing the serious issues of the day are band-aids for something that needs to be addressed systemically. We keep talking about poverty and equality, but we don’t address it in the place where we can impact every child, in the public schools. We’re not making sure every child has access to a real lunch, for free. They can do it in India! They can do it in Brazil! We can do it here. What you’re hearing is my shock. Brilliant people I know are not able to see the truth: whether we're dealing with the problems in our prison system or anything else, it begins with the care of the child in school right at the beginning. We need to invest in the teachers and schools and the farmers that can feed them.

But what really stuck with me was a point in the conversation when she was telling me about the beginning of Chez Panisse, about her search for the kind of eating experience she'd had in France, the experience of eating what's in season, the food that tastes best at a given moment, and sharing it with family and friends. She wasn't thinking about who would come to Chez Panisse; she knew only that she wanted a community restaurant, and that her friends in the counterculture of 1960s and '70s Berkeley would help support it. "If it wasn't vital to me, I would have done something else," she said.

I read somewhere a while ago - maybe on Chocolate & Zucchini, back when Clotilde was writing her very first book - this piece of advice: "Write what you want to read." It's pithy, and it sounds obvious, but it meant something to me, and it still does. I think it applies to everything, not just writing. It's why Brandon had the idea to open Delancey: because he wanted to eat really great pizza in Seattle, and he wanted it badly enough to learn how to make it himself. I've witnessed it over and over among friends in the food industry and other creative fields: the projects that catch fire, the projects that really go somewhere, come out of a genuine desire to do something that you want to see done.

I've seen her criticized, Alice Waters, for her idealism and her privilege. But the story of how she got to where she is could belong to a lot of us, in ways large and small, and it does. "We didn't make money in the beginning," she said. "We lost money. But then it got better. Making money comes from doing something right."


I changed my mind

Two Mondays ago, the night before the moving truck was due to arrive at my mother's new (Seattle!) house with everything she owns, Brandon suggested making a celebratory dinner. My mother, it was agreed, would choose the menu. After a moment's hesitation, she requested steak and Caesar salad. We headed out for groceries.

I'm not going to go into great depth about the steak. I don't know. I feel bored just thinking about writing it. You know how to cook steak. Right? You don't need me. If you don't know how, or if you want to try another method, I can tell you that we use Renee Erickson's instructions (for indoor cooking, not grilling) on page 195-196 of her dreamy A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus, though we test for doneness by temperature (135°F for medium-rare; all hail the extremely not-cheap but worth-it Thermapen!), rather than by time. Thus concludes my discussion of the steak. Let's talk romaine.

Nobody talks about romaine. I too used to dismiss it, in as much as one might bother to formulate dismissive feelings toward a type of lettuce. But a few years ago, I changed my mind. Of the lettuces available at an ordinary grocery store, I now almost always choose it. It's not fancy, but it is consistently good, with its mild but unmistakable flavor and that juicy, resilient, water-chestnut crunch. I am not bored by romaine. I usually slice it cross-wise from tip to stem for salads, but sometimes I halve it lengthwise and roast it instead - thank you, Yolanda Edwards! - and sometimes, especially in the case of a Caesar, I just whack off the stem end, dress the leaves, and serve them whole, and we eat them with our fingers.

A couple of months ago, on a quick work trip to California, I was asked to make dressing for a Caesar salad, and I realized with a start that I didn’t know how. It’s not that I consider this a particularly glaring omission in the experience of being alive; there are a lot of things more important, starting with access to affordable housing and clean drinking water and the right to vote and believe me, I could go on, could I ever, but there I was in California, and it was dinnertime. I was at my cousin Katie’s house. Her husband Andre was grilling burgers, and Katie was getting their son ready for bed. My assignment was Caesar salad. Katie is a confident, no-recipes-needed kind of cook, and by the way she mentioned it, I knew she could make a Caesar dressing without much thought. So I did the part that I knew how to do, prepping the greens and putting them in a bowl, while I waited for Katie to finish the job.

As I expected, she had an easy way with Caesar dressing. She assembled it in a half-pint Mason jar, entirely by eye: the juice of a lemon, maybe a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise, maybe a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, maybe a quarter cup of olive oil, a little vinegar, and black pepper, shaken to mix. We tossed it that night with torn-up kale and some farro that she had cooked earlier and stashed in the fridge. (Katie is full of good ideas like that - fleshing out salads with a handful of toasty cooked grains in lieu of croutons, putting a seven-minute egg on top, etc.) But when I came home, I was faced with that regrettable cosmic phenomenon familiar to all cooks, the phenomenon that makes the same dish taste better when someone else makes it than it does when you make it yourself. I decided to forge my own way.

I took down The Zuni Café Cookbook, my own personal Southern Oracle of cooking, and asked Judy Rodgers, RIP, to teach me. What follows is her recipe. It's not much more complicated than Katie's, except the chopping of garlic and anchovies, which I guess is a little complicated. Instead of mayonnaise, it uses egg, which is more traditional but just as easy. Judy Rodgers's version is what we made for my mother that Monday night, and we all pawed at the salad bowl. But if you're turned off by using a raw egg, or if you'd just rather use mayonnaise, I'm also including a second recipe, a tweak on Katie's recipe, a version that Brandon and I have worked up over the past couple of weeks. I happen to like both, and much to my surprise, the mayonnaise-based version has even made a salad-eater out of June, an avowed lettuce-dismisser. We've been on a Caesar bender, and I see no reason to stop.

P.S. Re: the Southern Oracle, here we go again...
P.P.S. A particularly great This American Life: "The Problem We All Live With."
P.P.P.S. Interesting - and, in my experience, accurate.

Zuni Café Caesar Dressing
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers

Rodgers calls for salt-packed anchovies, but I use Scalia brand oil-packed, which I steal from Delancey. They’re not cheap, but they keep in the fridge for a long, long time, and they have wonderful flavor. Before using, I rinse them well and dry them on paper towels. And about the quantity of kosher salt: a three-finger pinch is the amount you pick up when you pinch with your thumb, index finger, and middle finger.

Oh, and a tip for applying thick dressings, and for applying any dressing to whole leaves of romaine: keep a box of powder-free latex gloves in your kitchen. Spoon some dressing into the bowl of lettuce, slide on a pair of gloves, and use your hands to gently rub the dressing onto each leaf. You could also do it without gloves, if you don't mind smelling garlicky for a bit.

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2/3 cup mild-tasting olive oil
About 1 ½ tablespoons minced and mashed anchovy fillets (from about 6 to 9 fillets)
About 2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 large cold eggs
About ½ ounce (15 grams) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt

For serving:
Romaine or other greens of your choice
Croutons or cooked farro, optional
Freshly ground black pepper

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, anchovies, and garlic. Add the eggs, the cheese, and lots of black pepper. Whisk to emulsify. Add the lemon juice, and whisk again, just to emulsify. Taste, first by itself and then on a leaf of lettuce, and adjust the seasonings to taste. I add a three-finger pinch of kosher salt, if not a little more than that.

Spoon as desired onto romaine or other greens, and fold and toss carefully to coat. Add croutons or cooked farro, if you want, and more grated cheese. Serve with a final dusting of cheese on top and some freshly ground black pepper.

Yield: about 1 ½ cups of dressing


A Caesar Dressing Sans Raw Egg

Unless I’m going to make my own mayonnaise, which I don’t do in most everyday instances, I use Best Foods (which is also sold as Hellmann’s).

½ cup (105 grams) Best Foods / Hellmann’s mayonnaise
2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 to 5 oil-packed anchovy fillets (see note in top recipe), minced and mashed to a paste
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
Three-finger pinch of kosher salt

For serving:
Romaine or other greens of your choice
Croutons or cooked farro, optional
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Whisk to blend well.

Spoon as desired onto romaine or other greens, and fold and toss carefully to coat. Add croutons or cooked farro, if you want, and more grated cheese. Serve with a final dusting of cheese on top and some freshly ground black pepper.

Yield: about 3/4 cup of dressing


July 29

Today is our eighth wedding anniversary. It's also the 11th birthday of this blog, the first day of our first-ever corporate tax audit, and the day that my mother officially moves to Seattle. It's a lot of Big Adult Stuff, and I have lots of feelings, including immense gratitude for our accountant. But most of all, I'm glad that these two wide-eyed pups, the ones in this shot circa 2007, decided to take the great leap that is marriage, that they've kept at it, showing up, cooking, eating, building, building some more, figuring it out, duking it out, and loving, loving, for eight whole years. And I'm glad that this blog made it all happen. Thanks for being along for the ride, everybody.

And now, for a properly celebratory cocktail:

Campari Granita
from Bitter, by Jennifer McLagan

The world does not need Campari Granita. It is enough, I think, that Campari exists, and that we can mix it with soda water and drink it. But the instant I saw this recipe in Jennifer McLagan's excellent book Bitter, I knew I had to make it, because the only thing better than straight-up Campari and soda (or a Negroni, or an Americano, or a shandy), is Campari and orange or grapefruit juice and the smallest splash of lemon juice, frozen and forked to the texture of a snow cone and eaten with a spoon on a sticky July evening, while you make dinner. Or more succinctly, in the words of our friend Michael Riha: this stuff is great. Cheers.

For the orange version:
1 cup (250 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
½ cup (125 ml) Campari
½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice


For the grapefruit version, which is more bitter, and which I prefer:
1 cup (250 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
½ cup (125 ml) Campari
2 tablespoons (25 grams) superfine or caster sugar
½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Stir the juice, Campari, and lemon juice (and sugar, if using grapefruit juice) together. Pour into an 8-inch square metal pan (or another pan of similar volume). Place in the freezer. Stir the mixture with a spoon every hour or so, to break it up into large ice crystals. I used a fork for the last stirring, to make the ice crystals finer and fluffier. It took about three hours for my granita to be fully frozen and to the right texture. If you forget to stir the mixture and it freezes solid, don’t panic: just break it into chunks and pulse briefly in the food processor. To serve, spoon the granita into chilled glasses.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

P.S. A wonderful, and relevant, episode of On Being.
P.P.S. Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain in the car on a hot, sunny day, with the windows down!


We'll go from left to right

I promised cookbooks, and I shall deliver cookbooks. No more nostalgia! No more old photographs! No more zoning out with Danzig videos on YouTube because a man in a Danzig t-shirt just walked into the coffee shop where I am writing and reminded me of the song "Mother '93"! I will be useful.

Four years ago, when we moved into the house where we now live, I started keeping a small collection of cookbooks on top of the refrigerator. Most of our books live in June's room, on the wall of shelves there, but that's down the hall from the kitchen, and I wanted to have my most-used, best-loved, most-consulted books within reach.  I rotate them as new books come out and others fall out of use, but a few never leave.  I wrote about last summer's collection on Serious Eats, but the fridge looks decidedly different now, so here I am, not watching Danzig videos and recoiling in horror from Glenn Danzig's pectorals, nope nope nope.

We'll go from left to right, and I'll try to point out recipes that I particularly like or make often.

- Seven Spoons, by Tara O'Brady. I hope you know about Tara's wonderful site. Her book is even better, if that's possible. The first time I picked it up, I thought, This book is going BIG. It's full of food I want to eat, food that feels doable but also thoroughly inspired, and the whole package is lit from within by Tara's writing.  Hummus with White Miso (page 112), Za'atar Chicken and Roasted Vegetable Salad (page 170), Coconut Kheer (page 230), and with the kheer, Pickled Strawberry Preserves (page 111)

- My own books! So embarrassing! I keep them up there because I am suuuuch a jerk because the best part of having your recipes printed and bound is being able to dog-ear them, write notes in the margins, and muck them up with butter smears. From A Homemade LifeBuckwheat Pancakes (page 68), Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger (page 26), Ed Fretwell Soup (page 156), and Scottish Scones (page 174); and from DelanceyMy Kate's Brownies (page 183) and Sriracha-and-Butter Shrimp (page 88)

- River Cafe Pocket Books Pasta & Ravioli, by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. I have three River Cafe books, and I've come to believe that their recipes aren't meant to be followed to the letter; they're best used as treasuries of good, simple ideas. I've been meaning to make the Penne with Zucchini and Mint, which I think my friend Gemma once recommended, and in which the zucchini gets cooked until mashable and enriched with an amount of butter that might best be described as swashbuckling. Also, Penne with Sausage and Ricotta.

- Every Grain of Rice, by Fuchsia Dunlop. I LOVE THIS BOOK. Luisa does too, and I'll just let her speak for me, because she gets it so right. I requested the Sichuanese chopped celery with ground beef (pictured above) for my birthday dinner last year, and I may well request it again this year. Red-Braised Beef with Tofu "Bamboo" (page 108), Bok Choy with Fresh Shiitake (page 180), Sichuanese "Send-the-Rice-Down" Chopped Celery with Ground Beef (page 194), and Fish-Fragrant Eggplant (page 210)

- Parisian Home Cooking, by Michael Roberts. I bought this book on a whim when I was 22, living alone for the first time, and at the height of my Francophilia. (When I opened the front cover just now, a flier fell out from an anti-Front National rally on May 1, 2002, with a headline reading, "Nous Sommes Tous des Immigrés." Ouaaaaais!) Michael Roberts taught me a lot about French home cooking, and though I don't use this book as much as I used to, I like to keep it around. Perfect Mustard Vinaigrette (page 69), from which I took the proportions for "my" everyday vinaigrette; Scrambled Eggs the French Way (page 50); Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Vinaigrette (page 92); Glazed Brussels Sprouts and Shallots (page 96); Green Beans and Morels (page 110); and hey, whoa, I just noticed Plums Baked with Marzipan (page 344), and now I want to eat it.

- The Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. I put this one on top of the fridge a couple of months ago, after eating a piece of Irish soda bread at the Grand Central on Eastlake. It was incredible, and I really need to hurry up and make the recipe, because I want to hurry up and eat it. Irish Soda Bread (page 25)

- Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan, as pictured above. A classic. Marcella makes me a better cook. Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter (page 152); Pesto by the Food Processor Method (page 176); Bolognese Meat Sauce (page 203), though I can't decide whether I prefer Marcella's or Luisa's; Smothered Cabbage, Venetian Style (page 479); and Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup (page 94)

- Chez Panisse Vegetables, by Alice Waters. My sister gave me this book for my birthday in 2002 - just found her tiny gift card wedged inside the book, aww - and I've consulted it often. Like Nigel Slater's Tender, it's organized alphabetically by vegetable, though the dishes are more spare, more basic, more Chez Panisse-y, than Slater's. Honestly, I'm torn on which I prefer. But this book taught me how to make lots of staples, and how to make them well: braised chard, roasted potatoes, and the simplest Tomato Salad (page 290), which, in the summer of 2004, moved me to write the word "Heaven" in the margin.

- Beyond Nose to Tail, by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly, pictured above and below. I've cooked very little from this book, and I cannot speak to the reliability of its recipes. I love this book instead because it is the most irreverent, beautiful, ugly, unnerving, and personality-filled cookbook I know. From its elegant white cover with tidy type to a black-and-white shot of a cook face-down in a bowl of what appears to be Apple and Calvados Trifle and a full-color centerfold of a Pot-Roast Half Pig's Head, it is stunning.  Plus: Henderson's writing, of which a favorite passage, from the recipe for Pressed Pig's Ear, is below. Campari and White Wine (page 3); Bacon, Egg, and Bean Salad (page 20), Orbs of Joy (page 74), What a Baked Potato (page 76), Quince and Prunes (page 153), and You Fool (page 156)

- Hungry Monkey, by Matthew Amster-Burton. Matthew is one of my closest friends, so bias bias bias, but: this book is a funny, smart, and very very useful account of feeding a young kid. I credit Matthew with the fact that I really enjoy cooking with and eating with June, mostly because I refuse to get worked up about it. Also, his recipes are great. Sour Cherry Shake (page 103), Chicken and Spinach Meatballs (page 140), Potstickers (page 239), Cumin-Ginger Carrot Coins (page 90), Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Glaze (page 101), Larb Gai (page 53)

- Super Natural Every Day, by Heidi Swanson. I love Heidi. We all love Heidi. This is my favorite of her books, though I have a feeling that her newest, Near & Far, is also going to join the fridge-top collection shortly.  Baked Oatmeal (page 44), White Beans & Cabbage, which I finish with a squeeze of lemon and more olive oil (page 86), Hard-Cooked Eggs with Dukkah (page 106), and Macaroon Tart (page 192)

- Bitter, by Jennifer McLagan. This book has the sexiest cover in the history of the written word. I may, or may not, have sat around stroking it for fifteen minutes before taking the above photograph. It also happens to pay tribute to several things that I love: chicories, Campari, beer, grapefruit, rutabaga. And Campari Granita, ding ding ding!  Will be posting about that shortly. Belgian Endive Salad with Anchovy Dressing (page 19), Sugarloaf Chicory Sautéed in Duck Fat (page 34), Tea Custard with Poached Fruit (page 67), and Campari Granita (page 86)

- Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce. I have loved, currently love, and will probably always love this book. I'll even call it a classic. I wish it had measurements by weight, but now I'm just being grouchy. Chocolate Chip Cookies (page 41), Oatmeal Sandwich Bread (page 130), Crumble Bars (page 156), Banana Cereal Muffins (page 157), and I've been meaning forever to make the Figgy Buckwheat Scones (page 80)

- Plenty More, by Yotam Ottolenghi. Of course. Saffron, Date, and Almond Rice (page 49), which I like to eat with harissa and with a salad of cukes and feta; Thai Red Lentil Soup with Aromatic Chile Oil (page 89), Green Beans with Freekeh and Tahini (page 110), Honey-Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt (page 163), Curry-Roasted Root Vegetables with Lime Leaves and Juice (page 177), Baked Rhubarb with Sweet Labneh (page 291), Bitter Frozen Berries with White Chocolate Cream (page 295), Stewed Blackberries with Bay Custard and Gin (page 305), Walnut and Halvah Cake (page 315), and Meringue Roulade with Rose Petals and Fresh Raspberries (page 332)

- Genius Recipes, by Kristen Miglore. I'm going to let this Instagram shot speak for me. From Shirley Corriher's Touch-of-Grace Biscuits (page 6) to Judy Rodger's Roasted Applesauce (page 12), Marion Cunningham's Raised Waffles (page 29), Moro's Warm Squash and Chickpea Salad with Tahini (page 70), Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake (page 221), and Marion Burros's Purple Plum Torte (page 217), this book compiles and houses a substantial fraction of my cooking repertoire. Next I want to try Diana Kennedy's hunky, dead-simple Carnitas (page 120).

- The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater. This is my favorite of his books, because the format is so inviting, so functional. I love being able to flip open to a date close to today's - July 24th, let's say - and imagine him hustling together a dinner for six: French beans and goat cheese, cold wild salmon with mayonnaise, boiled new potatoes, a green salad with warm peas, and a trifle so good, he writes, "that I wish I had made two, the last one to eat alone, in my bathrobe, at breakfast." I get the sense that Slater's recipes, like those of the River Cafe ladies, are meant to be used as springboards, not as hard-and-fast recipe-recipes, and I've been meaning for a while now to play around with the Pork Burgers with Lime Leaves and Cilantro (page 79), Thai Fish Cakes (page 113), Mustard Chops (page 127), An Almond and Greengage Crumble (page 280), A Quick Ham and Mushroom Supper (page 305), and Baked Onions with Parmesan and Cream (page 336).

And there is one more book that isn't in the photo up top, a book that I added to the fridge only last week, and that is Rachel Roddy's Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome, which will soon be released in the US under the title My Kitchen in Rome: Recipes and Notes on Italian Cooking. I have long been a fan of Rachel's writing, and let me just say: Rachel, THIS BOOK! You nailed it!  This is one I'll have forever.

Well, that was fun.  Happy week, everybody.

P.S.  Most of the book links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links - you know, FYI and so on.


July 10

My mother tells me that she had always loved the house. She used to drive by and admire it. When I was thirteen, it came on the market, and she and my dad snatched it up. The house was built in 1948, old for Oklahoma, painted brick with wrought iron and ivy. It needed a lot of work, and they tore out walls and opened it up, changed everything. It was their biggest, finest collaboration, and they made it exactly what they wanted. It was weird in ways, or maybe quirky is the better word, with a mirror on the ceiling of the downstairs bathroom and Pepto-Bismol pink wallpaper in the dining room. But mostly it was beautiful, obscenely beautiful, full of books and art and small fragile things that my dad collected at estate sales and antique malls. He got to live there for less than ten years before he died, but my mother is still there, or will be for another two weeks, when she moves to Seattle.

This move has been a long time coming, and I've been waiting impatiently for the house to sell. When she called me up in mid-June to tell me that she'd gotten an offer, I nearly shrieked. But then a different thought came, and I stopped nearly-shrieking, because that thought was, I will never see that house again. So on Wednesday, I got on a plane and flew here to do just that, and to help my mother clear twenty-plus years of living from the various cabinets, closets, and shelves. If you had asked me fifteen years ago, even ten years ago, if I'm a sentimental person, I would have denied it. Now there is no doubt. Between loads of books - 295 donated to the library thus far - and trips to Goodwill, Mom and I get lost in piles of photographs; her old jewelry box, with its collection of scarabs and giant costume earrings from the '80s; the box of poems my dad wrote to her before they were married.

We moved into the house when I was a freshman in high school, and I lived there for barely four years, plus a couple of summers in between other places. It wasn't long. But I can still hear the creak of the stairs when my dad went down to make coffee in the morning, and the shhhh of his hand sliding along the banister. I know the smell when you walk into the front hall, and the smell of the living room, and the smell of the kitchen, all of which are different. I know the hiss of the air conditioner. I can find all the light switches and lamps in the dark. I dyed burgundy streaks into my hair in my bathroom there, put on the long black net skirt that was my favorite article of clothing at age sixteen, and listened to Minor Threat on vinyl that I mail-ordered from Washington, DC. I had the hots for Guy Picciotto in that house. I sat on the floor of my bedroom and typed out college applications on an electric typewriter. In the laundry room, my first dog had her last seizure. My mother and I carried her to the car on a beach-towel-turned-stretcher, and not long after, she was gone.

I made my first pie with my mother in that kitchen, a blueberry pie from some Martha Stewart book. High on our victory, we attempted a towering lemon meringue pie that wept uncontrollably onto the counter. Later that same summer, on that same counter, my dad and I rolled out fresh pasta. He liked to grill burgers out back, the burgers that I ate all through my so-called vegetarianism. He sat by the window in the kitchen to enjoy his Saturday egg salad and beer. Upstairs, in my bedroom with the stereo cranked up, I daydreamed (for years, years) about what it would be like to make out with someone but never actually did - until, VICTORY, shortly after high school graduation, I had my first kiss in the front hall and, hopped up on elation and pure cold terror, grabbed the doorknob to keep from passing out.

It was to that house that I returned the summer after college. It was in that house that I woke up on September 11, 2001 and, along with everyone else alive that day, watched as the World Trade Center fell. I read a lot of Frank O'Hara in that house, and I wrote a lot of poetry that I do not plan to ever read again. I attempted and abandoned Henry Miller. I once folded myself into the biggest chair in the living room and spent an entire weekend reading The Fountainhead. It's the house where my dad spent the last weeks of his life, on a hospital bed in the den. It's where, Brandon likes to say, he first knew that he wanted to marry me. It's where we found out, over dinner in the dining room, that my cousin Sarah's first daughter had been born, my "niece" Mia. Five years later, in the living room across the hall, Mia's grandmother, my aunt Tina, spent her last night on this earth. And the following night, at 26 weeks pregnant, I hid with my mother and three cousins in a closet as a hailstorm knocked out more than half of the windows in the house and sent shards of glass flying into the remains of our Thai beef with chiles and basil, still in a wok on the stove. We lived a lot in that house, and I probably don't even know the half of it.

Brandon sometimes tells me that he misses places, physical spaces like rooms and sites and buildings, after he leaves them. I've felt the same way occasionally, about a house where I often played as a kid, the amphitheater at Quartz Mountain, or apartments where friends have lived. But I never really missed this house until now. I'm glad I do.