Posts Tagged 'vegetarian'

(not so) easy as pie

pumpkin praline pie

Ambivalent. That’s my primary emotion about Thanksgiving.

By most accounts, I should *love* Thanksgiving. After all, it is our one feasting holiday, this country’s only day devoted solely to food.

But it can be hard to get past the cultural politics, the complicated family dynamics, and the compulsory menu that has the culinary breadth of a bowling alley. Sure, you can have some fun with Marsala in the gravy, and maybe you’ll switch to wild rice dressing this year, or go a little crazy with the cranberry sauce. But in the end, you line up and chuck that ball at the same ten pins, year after year. When you consider the days of work that typically go into one afternoon’s meal, does it really pay off?

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insalata, insalatón

roasted squash and pomegranate salad

Here’s the sort of salad I imagined we’d be eating as we rode our bikes through the hills of Tuscany: plates of field greens piled with herbs, fruit, roasted vegetables, cured meats, mozarella di bufala – everything local and in season. Peppery vinaigrettes. New olive oil. Verrry old balsamic.

The reality looked more like this: a glass bowl of green leaf lettuce, wedges of anemic tomato, and perhaps a few rounds of carrot or cucumber. Sometimes, an arugula salad, composed just of arugula. Accompanying the salad was not a vinaigrette – remember, vinaigrette is a french word – or, even ‘italian dressing’ (this may be an american invention), but the same four things that arrive with any contorno: olive oil, ordinary vinegar, salt, and pepper.

If you hail from the U.S., where the number of words a server uses to describe your entree seems directly proportional to the ‘fineness’ of the restaurant, the food of Tuscany requires a mental shift. Tuscan food is defined by a simplicity that verges on ascetic: antipasto is a plate of thinly shaved prosciutto, the primo piatto, a plate of hand-rolled pasta with olive oil, pecorino and black pepper, the secondo piatto, a perfectly grilled pork chop.

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the smart sister

The first time I had tarte Tatin, Kathy and I were on the coast of France, in a heartbreakingly beautiful fishing village just a scooter ride from Nice. Unlike Nice, whose imported sand beaches are plastered with sun-bathing tourists, we loved Villefranche-sur-Mer because it was beachless, and real.

It was a place where you could jump off a black boulder jetty into the sparkling harbor, and gaze up at the kaleidoscope of houses that are the town’s steep ascent from sea.

You could find a simple hotel room for thirty francs, and fling open its tall shutters to air and sun. And from that window, gaze down at a verdant garden, and follow its lush rows of fat tomatoes and peppers rambling toward a house, to discover it belonged to a neighborhood bistro, La Trinquette. It would have been closed earlier, when you checked in to the friendly hotel, eking out the transaction in painstaking French.

Setting out for dinner, you would walk past its chalkboard announcing grilled sardines, toward the restaurants with a sea view, candles blinking prettily atop tables set in straight rows. Tuxedoed waiters worked in tight formation, attending to a rising tide of diners.

On instinct you would turn away from your guide book and back toward the neighborhood restaurant that does not have a view of the sea. The owners have been cooking there since one of them was thin and both of them were young. Their clientele knew them when they were this way, and will tell you of jolly stories of the old times.

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soup rut

In my early days as an earnest young lesbo, I did not consider myself to be good at making soup. The three we cooked when I was growing up were two pages out of my grandmother’s book, and one out of my mother’s.

Chicken and noodles was just as it sounds. I’d get home from school to a boiled chicken, cooling in its broth. It was for me to pick the meat off the bones, and then return it to the pot  with a bag of wide egg noodles. Just three ingredients: water, chicken, noodles. And heavy use of the salt shaker at the table. My sister does not remember it now, but she hated that soup.

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overfull with summer

polenta with mascarpone and tomato salad

No photo. That’s one big thing that stands between what happens in our kitchen and what happens on lesbo-kitchen. After all, there has been a lot of cooking and eating in these past months. But I can’t seem to get the photographing part right: because I don’t have time, or don’t want the food to get cold, or we have guests. Or I don’t like the photos I took. At least half the time it’s that we don’t eat until after dark, even in summer. And I still have a lot to learn about low-light photography, which – skills aside – doesn’t necessarily flatter food, anyway. My newest reason, and I can’t really complain about this because it is by design, is that the kitchen in our new house doesn’t have west-facing windows. All those btus of afternoon sun blasting through western windows = poor house design = huge air conditioning load = gorgeous, tasty, photogenic light. (Remember those peanut butter cookies ?) Golden afternoon light from the sun slung low: Will never fail to send me running for the camera.

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before it’s too late

rice penne in a colander

It’s almost summer, and I still have kale on the brain. We’re kicking off the covers at night and sleeping with windows open to cool air and cricket songs: sure signs that it’s time to tuck winter greens into the back of the recipe box to wait out the heat of summer, but here I am still trotting out the kale recipes. As if we haven’t had the Winter of Kale. As if we weren’t already surrounded with halos of golden virtuosity, positively humming with the health benefit of daily doses of dark, leafy greens.

The truth is, my kale obsession has nothing to do with virtue and everything to do with our CSA, and the fact that months of cruciferous goodness have created quite a backlog of tried and true recipes that I can’t bear not to share. Plus, I’ve heard about the rain in Oregon, and I’m betting that my northwesterly sisters will be able to make use of it for another couple of weeks.

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the backyard harvest

by wickenden on flickr.com

I am not a good gardener, but the backyard does produce a small spring harvest, without our attention, year after year. Long before the wisteria was even thinking about making leaves, catmint was pressing up into plump mounds. A widening patch of lawn has turned green – no thanks to the blue grama, its blond eyelashes still curved shut. Shin-deep garlic chives and oregano have jumped their borders in order to bring the idea of ‘pizza’ to the act of mowing the lawn. You can hear the rosemary buzzing from across the yard, lying prone under its load of flowers and bees.

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