BagelsinAugust

a new year

Jan
02

Sometimes everything worth saying resides in the silence. The last sunset of the year provided a brilliant show.

The entire year has been full of color, leaving me thinking that nothing can best this one sky, only to be proven incorrect day after day.

summer spaghetti

Jul
10

We often return to what we know, when ill or simply unsure of how to proceed. Familiarity breeds a certain comfort, a known amongst the unknown. In this warmth, we can sigh and let our walls down. So let me make a confession. I am a voyeur, especially when I go on evening walks, hoping to find something interesting when glancing in open windows. A sort of theatre on display, because it is new to me, and not my own.
There is one house on the way where a middle aged man prepares sandwiches without a shirt on, his kitchen at street level, curtains drawn open. The light coming through the window creates a glow on the sidewalk, which is otherwise lit by a lackluster street lamp. One wall prominently displays copies of Cooks Illustrated on each of the three magazine rows hanging up, while other titles are hidden in the background. Every time I pass by, I find him at his task, mise en place for the sandwiches.

Spaghetti is my sandwich equivalent. Every time I am thinking about dinner with a sense of panic, spaghetti emerges from the cabinet, quietly yet brilliantly. Long, frustrating days lead to spaghetti dressed simply with grated cheese. Cold weather means spaghetti with meatballs in red sauce. Warm weather means chilled spaghetti with lightly cooked vegetables. Dinner parties are spaghetti with seafood, or demanding sauces. The joys never cease. And though it seems demure, especially in the presence of showier relatives like farfalle or fusilli, simple spaghetti in a plastic bag delivers the pomp and circumstance I am looking for every single time.

This summer recipe relies on the balance of sweet and acidic tomatoes, smokey grilled corn, and peppery aromatic basil. These flavors remind me of summer, and yet make the meal light. This is by no means the stick to your ribs spaghetti reserved for winter time. The affair here is a reflection of what you want to feel when the sun is warm, shining longer into the evenings. Omit the chicken, if you’d like, but don’t forego finding the best tomatoes and a nice ear of corn for this meal. Best of all, it comes together in about twenty minutes, with plenty of time left for an after dinner stroll.

Summer Spaghetti with Corn and Tomatoes

summer spaghetti with corn and tomatoes

Ingredients (serves two – with plenty of leftovers, or four, accompanied by a salad): 
half a pound of spaghetti
salt
one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
half of a large onion (white or yellow), diced
a hefty garlic clove, diced or sliced
dried basil, if fresh is not available (though I advocate for fresh whenever possible)
five small tomatoes
an ear of corn, with husk
6 ounces of rotisserie or pre-cooked chicken, cut into bite size pieces
one tablespoon + heavy cream, at room temperature
lemon juice from half of a small lemon
salt & pepper
fresh basil, five to six leaves, if you are using it

Steps:
1) Start cooking the spaghetti by following the directions on the package. Since half a pound is usually half the package, simply cut the water needed in half, and add a palmful (about a tablespoon) of salt. While the water is boiling, place the olive oil in a pan or pot on medium heat, and once heated add your onion. Leave the onion alone for a couple of minutes, and once it starts becoming translucent, add the garlic, and stirring often so that the garlic does not burn. Lower the heat if needed.
2) Once the water has come to a rolling boil, add the spaghetti. Make sure to cook al dente, meaning a minute or two less than the directions on the package (i.e. 7 minutes if it says ready in 9 minutes). If using dried basil, grind it lightly between your palms, over the pot, and stir it into your onion mixture. Lower the heat.
3) Cross the bottom of your tomatoes, and cover them with water in a bowl or container. Place the tomatoes and corn in the microwave for two minutes. Yes, the corn with the husk in place. After about two minutes, the corn should be ready, but your tomatoes might need more time to blanch, so give them thirty second in intervals until you can begin to see the skin on the bottom peeling back slightly. Take out the tomatoes, and place them in an ice water bath, or simply on the counter, to cool down. Let the corn cool down if it is too hot to handle, but otherwise remove the husk and silk.
4) If your pasta is done by now, drain it, reserving about a quarter cup of water. Leave it to the side, while you work on peeling the tomatoes, and chopping them. Add the tomatoes and juices to the onion mixture. Cut the corn in half, and place one half on the stove top to grill (alternatively, a grill would be helpful here). Aim for slightly grilled, so that the kernels are blistered, but not blackened all the way. Once the corn is grilled, cut off the kernels by slicing down with a knife. Add these to the pot or pan as well. Add the chicken, and let everything cook for about five to six minutes, so that the water content of the tomatoes is almost gone. Don’t stir too often.
5) Once the mixture seems as if it drying, add the heavy cream. Stir, then squeeze the lemon juice into the pan. Stir until incorporated, and if everything seems dry still, add some pasta water that you reserved. Start with one tablespoon at a time, adding as needed. Leave to cook for a couple of minutes, while you chiffonade the fresh basil. Add the spaghetti to the pot, grind some pepper, taste for salt (and adjust as needed), and toss to make sure the spaghetti is evenly covered in the sauce and chicken. Add the basil at the end, or simply on top when plating.

summer spaghetti with tomatoes and corn

new year

Jan
18

ants in a squash blossom

I had gone back again to my little house and stood up on its roof and wanted to see a good end in all that and to find a good beginning in myself. And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been, full of work that has never been done, full of tasks, claims, and demands; and let us see that we learn to take it without letting fall too much of what it has to bestow upon those who demand of it necessary, serious, and great things.
Rainer Maria Rilke to his wife Clara Rilke on January 1, 1907 from Villa Discopoli (Capri)

 

the golden hour

Nov
08
My favorite time of day is the hour before sunset. Everything is covered in a veil of warm amber. People are returning home from work; families reunite. The sounds of relief as doors open. The freedom of removing tight shoes and heavy bags. We are together again, momentarily we displace the demands of work, focus on each other.
 
Windows are still open, and curtains unready yet to be drawn. You can take a peek, examine homes with people in them – how they live, move. Lights not yet turned on, and that glow of the last rays of sunshine floods entire rooms, highlighting and simultaneously masking objects. I especially enjoy the sounds of cutlery hitting dishes, the voices coming through kitchens, the laughter or discussions around tables, and smells of food.
 
Morning comes, and we all complain, begrudging the day as we arise, often in confusion. But the evening is different: slower, kinder. We made it through another day, how comforting to know the golden light is ours.

on my way homeheading east during sunset
sunset in Hawaii

tonight’s tabbouleh

Aug
15

My tabbouleh recipe is the trial-and-error type, tested over many dinners, with improvements occurring all the time. I do not have one single recipe, as it is a work in progress, developed to my taste, but I do have two beliefs about tabbouleh that I try to stick to.

The herbs are the best part of this salad, so both the parsley and mint need to be thoroughly cleaned, or otherwise you end up biting into bits of sand/dirt. You can wash the parsley and mint by dunking it in a bowl of water several times (and changing the water as needed). You can gently pat the herbs by laying them on a towel, or leave them on the counter to dry. The herbs are less mushy, more crisp, if revived with a quick water bath and left to dry.

The next thing most tabboulehs contain is a grain, or filler of some sort, if you will. Bulgur is the traditional go-to.  In the recipe below, you will see I use bulgur #1, the finest, smallest grain. I have found it in the international aisles of grocery stores, in natural food stores, and also in specialty markets. Other types, or grades, of bulgur or dried cracked wheat that you may find in stores work, too, but the size of the grains will affect how much water you use, and overall consistency. If you cannot find bulgur, or do not eat wheat, quinoa and couscous are fine substitutes.

Tonight’s Tabbouleh
tabbouleh
Ingredients (serves four as a small salad or two generous servings for dinner):
1/2 cup bulgur #1/ bulgur fine
1/2-1 teaspoon ground sumac
1/4+ teaspoon garlic powder, adjust to your preference
one pint of cherry tomatoes
pinch of salt
1 lemon
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup+ of water
one large bunch of washed parsley (see note above about washing)
half a smallish bunch of washed mint
small bunch of scallions (about 5-6, depending on size), finely sliced
one Persian cucumber, peeled and diced
about two tablespoons of red wine vinegar
additional extra virgin olive oil, optional

Steps:
1) I begin by cutting the tomatoes in half, or quarters, depending on the size. Place the bulgur in a glass bowl, add the ground sumac and powdered garlic, and mix. Instead of leaving the tomato juice on the board, put it in with the bulgur. Also, put the chopped cherry tomatoes in a colander over the bulgur, and toss with a smallish pinch of salt. Let the tomato juice drain over the bulgur for a couple of minutes.
2) Meanwhile, cut the lemon, and squeeze half of the juice on the bulgur in the bowl. Put the bulgur with the juices and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in the microwave for one minute, stopping halfway to fluff with a fork. The grain will start to slightly sizzle, so keep an eye on it.
3) Take the bulgur out of the microwave, and it will smell like it is lightly toasted (the liquid is absorbed, and color has changed to a darker shade). Immediately add the water and squeeze the other half of the lemon into the bowl. The bulgur will absorb the liquids quickly, so stir a few times, before placing in the microwave for another two minutes, checking halfway again. Taste at the one minute mark to make sure the bulgur is not too hard, but also not mushy. The consistency you are aiming for is al dente, or slightly underdone. Adjust for more water, if needed. Take out of the microwave, fluff with your fork, and leave to cool down.
4) To chop the parsley, cut off as much of the stems as possible, or pinch the leaves from the stems. Don’t discard the stems though, as they can be added to broths. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but the less coarse stems, the better the taste. Chop the parsley, aiming for medium to fine. You can make sure no large pieces or leaves are left, or just call it done. Place on a plate, bowl, side of the board…just not in the bulgur yet, as it may be hot, but, if your bulgur has cooled down, then by all means add the parsley in.
5) Pinch the mint leaves from the stems, as you did with the parsley. Here you want to take care to remove the leaves completely as the stems tend to be too large and woody to eat. Mint stems make great mint tea, so these don’t need to be tossed either. Chop the mint finely, and add to the bowl, along with the scallions and cucumber.
6) Add the red wine vinegar, and combine. Taste to see if you would like more olive oil, or salt. I usually add just a little of both, adjusting as needed. You can refrigerate the tabbouleh for a day or more, but I like to serve it immediately, with toasted pita bread. For dinner, stuffed pita pockets with hummus, tabbouleh, and yogurt or tzatziki are my favorite. When it comes to meat, lamb is a good accompaniment to this salad.

calm mornings

Jun
08

When I have the chance, I like to eat sit-down breakfasts. They’re not grand affairs, nor composed of contents from a box hurriedly dumped into a bowl and splashed with milk. I think of each breakfast as a calm beginning for whatever the day ahead will present. It is a ritual that makes me feel as if I have already accomplished one task from my list.

One of my favorite breakfasts is made with muesli. What is muesli? It is similar to granola, but made with raw rolled oats (granola is made with baked oats). Like granola, muesli usually contains dried fruits, nuts, or seeds. Unlike granola, there is no baking involved, or sitting by the stove the entire time making sure you don’t burn anything. Muesli is forgiving; all you have to do is shop for the ingredients, if you don’t already have them, and toss them together. The combinations are manifold, which gives my creativity plenty of exercise. What I enjoy most about muesli is that it comes together quickly, and lasts a while. I recently chose to make a batch of muesli with some of the ingredients I already had in my pantry, the jars that are almost-but-not-quite empty, taking up space with ten pieces of something inside.

Below, I offer some of my favorite muesli combinations with the fruit that is in season now. I promise that they do not take more than five minutes to prepare, from gathering the ingredients to arranging in a bowl. Muesli can be made to accommodate all allergy symptoms. Oats don’t sit well with you? Try adding puffed quinoa or toasted buckwheat instead. Dealing with picky eaters? Try adding some of their favorite dried fruits or nuts to the mix. If you don’t like yogurt, try kefir or your preferred type of milk or milk substitute instead. Most of all, spend a few minutes with yourself, not Buzzfeed or your phone.

 

Muesli Mix Ratio*
-40% rolled oats

-20% other grain (puffed rice)
-40% dried fruits and nuts (10% almonds, 10% dried blueberries, 10% dried raisins, 10% date pellets)
-a handful of seeds (sunflower)
-pinch of salt

*I use this ratio for all the muesli I make. In parentheses you will find the ingredients for the blueberry muesli I mention in the recipes below.

 

Strawberry and Banana Muesli with Hemp Seeds
strawberry and banana muesli Ingredients (measurements are suggestions, adjust to your liking):
-generous quarter cup of plain yogurt
-two heaping tablespoons of blueberry muesli
-half a banana, peeled & sliced
-six strawberries, washed and sliced
-one teaspoon hemp seeds (hemp seeds are full of easily digestible protein, various vitamins, iron…the list goes on)
-half a teaspoon of poppy seeds (not pictured)
-less than one tablespoon wildflower honey

To arrange: 
1) First place the yogurt in a bowl (mine is from Crate & Barrel), and top with the muesli. Continue layering with the fruit, and then seeds. Drizzle honey on top.

 

Mixed Cherries and Strawberry Muesli with Almonds
mixed cherries and strawberry muesli with almondsIngredients (measurements are suggestions, adjust to your liking):
-generous quarter cup of plain yogurt
-two heaping tablespoons of blueberry muesli
-dozen cherries, washed and pitted, then sliced in half
-eight strawberries, washed and sliced
-about 15 almonds (almonds are high in calcium and fiber) 
-less than one tablespoon of orange blossom honey

To arrange: 
1) First place the yogurt in a bowl, and top with the muesli. Continue layering with the fruit, and then almonds. Drizzle honey on top.

 

Orange-Banana-Cherry Muesli with Chia Seeds (aka sunshine on a cloudy day)Orange-Banana-Cherry Muesli with Chia Seeds (aka sunshine on a cloudy day)

Ingredients (measurements are suggestions, adjust to your liking):
-generous quarter cup of plain yogurt
-two heaping tablespoons of blueberry muesli
-half a banana, peeled and sliced
-half an orange, slices or supremes
-about two teaspoons of chia seeds (chia seeds are a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus)
-4 cherries, washed and pitted, then sliced
-half an apricot, sliced
-about 20 goji berries (goji berries are high in antioxidants) 
-7 pistachios, shelled
-a light drizzle of wildflower honey, optional 

To arrange: 
1) Place the yogurt in a bowl, spread on the bottom, and top with the muesli. Arrange the banana slices on the outer side, and the orange supremes on top of the muesli in a flower/clock/circular pattern. Sprinkle the chia seeds between the spaces of the orange supremes. Layer the sliced cherries in between the orange supremes, finishing with the apricot slices, goji berries, and pistachios. Drizzle lightly with honey on top. This is optional, as the bowl is already a sweet from all of the fruits.

 

Kiwi Muesli with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote and Poppy Seeds
Kiwi Muesli with Rhubarb-Strawberry "Jam" and Poppy Seeds

Ingredients (measurements are suggestions, adjust to your liking):
-generous quarter cup of plain yogurt
-two heaping tablespoons of blueberry muesli
-one kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced
-one tablespoon of rhubarb-strawberry “jam”, directions below
-about two teaspoons of poppy seeds

To arrange: 
1) Place the yogurt in a bowl, spread on the bottom, leaving some “gaps” for the muesli. Place the muesli in the “gaps”, and add the kiwi fruit around the edges. Place the rhubarb-strawberry jam on the yogurt, and top off with poppy seeds.

For the Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote: 
1) First things first, this is not a traditional jam, but a looser version. Now that this is out of the way, take one washed and dried medium sized rhubarb stalk, cut into two inch pieces, and 12 medium sized, halved strawberries, and toss in a bowl with juice from half a lemon, and two tablespoons of sugar. The sugar amount you use will be more or less depending on how tart your rhubarb is, or how sweet your strawberries are. Let the mixture sit until a good amount of juice has been extracted (15-30 minutes).
Note – I do not recommend honey, or other sweeteners, when making this mixture because both fruits are low in pectin, and too tart to use with citrus juices alone (the pectin in citrus would gel the mixture, but my results were too tart in previous trials). The sugar here acts as a binding/gelling agent, and honey/agave both proved to be too watery to use. The process took much longer, with diminished results. 
2) Then, place the contents of your bowl into a stainless steel or copper pot, and turn the heat on high. You want to keep the mixture from sticking, so stirring with a rubber spatula is important. As the mixture begins to boil (it will rise, bubble, and foam), reduce the heat to medium, and continue stirring.
Note – You can remove the top of the foam at this stage, or wait until the end. Removing the foam only produces a clearer set, so if this is not a problem, then move along swimmingly.
3) You want to make sure that the contents are breaking down, so if 5 minutes or so have passed and you still have large chunks of fruit, feel free to gently mash them with your spatula against the sides of the pot (not the bottom, because they may stick due to the pressure you are applying). The consistency will become a little thicker, and the bubbles will appear smaller in size. Keep stirring.

4) The desired consistency is up to you, but I measure mine by the drips falling from the spatula when I hold it up straight (horizontal) over the pot. If the drips are very rapid, that means it needs a little more time to thicken. When the drips take a second or two to come down, almost like they want to fall but have to think about it, then I turn off the heat. (And sometimes, when I haven’t been paying attention, and the drips almost seem to unite to form one larger drop, then it is closer to traditional jam (ie thicker) than I want it. You can add some water or juice to loosen a thick set jam, and boil a minute or so more.)
5) I pour the hot compote into clean jars, immediately after turning the heat off, seal and turn the jars upside down until cool, and then refrigerate. These jars sometimes seal, sometimes they do not, which is why I put them in the fridge, and eat the contents in about a week. If you would like to process this mixture, make sure to follow the USDA recommended canning instructions.

local wildflowers

Jun
01

In my mind, coming home with a few flowers (from overgrown bushes) after a hike or walk is a sign of a successful trip. I have held this belief since I was a child. It seems then that by this measure, yesterday was a successful trip.

wildflower bouquet

wildflower bouquet

spring

Mar
20

What a joy it has been to see this small ice poppy plant produce vibrant red blooms for the last two weeks. I especially like the folds of the petals as they emerge, reminiscent of creases on silk fabric. Spring is here, indeed, and I am elated.

Ice popies

larkin

Mar
19

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow. – First Sight, Philip Larkin