Wednesday, February 29, 2012

swede heart

Consider, if you will, the rutabaga.

I never really have, aside from the fact that it is one of my favorite things to say. When I was a tot, my mother gave me Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories, a deeply weird collection of fables with names like “How They Bring Back the Village of Cream Puffs When the Wind Blows It Away,” and since then “rutabaga” has been in my top 10. It’s an excellent word. You can say it like a thug from Brooklyn, or with a little tonsil trill like a Swedish soprano might, or use it as a growling expletive, or a very effective courtside cheer for almost any sport. I have done all of these and more, but the rutabaga is not something I have ever really gotten involved with as a food. In fact, I have created a PR problem for it in my house, because whenever anyone asks suspiciously what I will be foisting on them for dinner (I made guacamole out of peas once--just once!--and my reputation has never really rebounded from it), I am likely to say something along the lines of “rutabaga fricassee” or “tangy rutabaga-clam pancakes.”

But now I have cooked a rutabaga, and it was good. Aside from its splendid visuals--purple and yellow! Come on, people!--the rutabaga, or swede, brings a lot to the table, like whopping amounts of vitamin C, iron, calcium and magnesium, and all the health-giving benefits of the Brassica family. The recipe I used came from a totally wonderful cookbook called Veganomicon, by a totally wonderful pair of cooks, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero of the Post-Punk Kitchen, who have never steered me wrong in all the four books I have known them. They told me to put cilantro in my rutabaga, and I was skeptical. As usual, they were right. But they also said you could make it without cilantro and it would be delicious, and they were right about that, too. They included a dab of agave to sweeten this (2 tsp), which I can see the merits of, but I left it out. Your call.

As a parting gift, here is an action shot from the 14th annual Ithaca Rutabaga Curling Competition.

photo by Jerry Feist

Mashed rutabaga with coconut & lime

adapted from Veganomicon

2 ½ lbs rutabaga, peeled and chunked

¼ c coconut milk (use regular, not light, for maximum deliciousness)

2T lime juice

handful of chopped cilantro (or not)

salt to taste (didn't need much)

Put the rutabaga in a saucepan and cover with water; boil until fork-tender. Drain, and either transfer to a food processor with the remaining ingredients, or attack them right in the pot with a stick blender and see it all turn a lovely bright green. If you are not including the cilantro, you could use a potato masher instead.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

you have items in your cart

photo: thompson-finch farm

Considering our revolutionary beginnings as a nation, it’s kind of appalling how quickly we turn grassroots movements into Astroturf. Any idea that catches on like wildfire is pretty likely to become merchandised, franchised and sanitized until it’s ready for its close-up. But I have my fingers crossed for the Occupiers that they don’t get an ice cream flavor or cable channel. This is not only because the Slow Food, sustainable farming, local foodshed, food justice and environmental movements (my All-Star Team) have linked up with them, but then again maybe it is. It's pretty exciting to me, this Big Idea that it is all one issue--that fixing the food problems is not peripheral or secondary or frivolous but fundamentally connected to everything that caused the eruption of frustration into action.

If you’d like to read something beautiful and motivating about the very simple things you can do right now to start your own ripple of action, go see Alana. She nails it.

My own ripple started this morning in the freezer. Lately, I find that I am unable to go to the grocery store without sliding into a funk. WhatIsThePointWhyBotherTryingLookAtAllThisCrap is the constant refrain in my head, as I reach glumly for tired vegetables and dodge the leering eyes of the Lunchables and try not to stare menacingly into the cart of the person in front of me at the checkout counter.

But this morning I made a smoothie for my family, and as I pulled the berries out of the freezer I was transported, just for a moment, back in time to the hot, sweaty day I picked them with my children.

Last winter I thought I was being clever and I ordered a bulk bag of frozen organic strawberries, a financial savings over the tiny bags in the regular freezer case, and one that had the additional merit of inhabiting a single plastic bag instead of thirty little ones. But when the bag came it was stamped with its country of origin, and that country was China.

I am not going to mouth off about trade relations with China, or their scandalous lapses in food safety. I am just going to moan about the epic ridiculousness of shipping frozen food from there to here, and the nice little lie we can tell ourselves that buying organic is helping the world, and all the ways we ignore the costs incurred by our choices. OK, I’m done.

So last summer we picked our own strawberries, here, so we could feed our insatiable need for strawberry smoothies without the temptation to go back to that well. One afternoon’s work, and we enjoyed a long winter of restorative happiness. I forgot all about that in my grocery funk, but Alana’s voice and my hand in the freezer reminded me that the little actions we manage to take are not shouts in the wind, but the fuel and the fire both.

So it's Occupy Food Day. Here is a little encouragement to do something, some little thing, today that connects your brain to your mouth, your heart to your stomach, your mind to the hands that brought the food to your family. Alana has a great list of actions in her post. Take special note of the encouragement to taste your food. Your food came from somewhere; chew on that.

Here are a few other trees to bark up:

First of all, if you are not outraged, you are not paying attention. Get some facts:

  • Four corporations, led by Walmart, control more than half of grocery sales.
  • Three companies -- Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta -- own 47 percent of the world's seeds.
  • Nearly every major commodity -- wheat, corn, soy -- is controlled by just four corporations.
  • Just four corporations control more than 80 percent of all our meat supply.
  • According to USDA statistics, America loses more than 17,000 farmers a year -- one every half an hour.

Get your chin up off the desk! Little actions, big ripples.

I've said it before, but buy local honey. Why? Read more.

Read good news and spread it.

Stop buying meat in a chain grocery store. This is the big kahuna on your grocery list. Don't clutter your head with which megaproducers are better or anything like that; just don't do it anymore. If dealing directly with a farmer is not practical for your life, then buy your meat somewhere that knows, understands and identifies its sources. Not sure what the terms all mean? Learn what questions to ask. A lot of meat eating depends on not making the mental connection to its source ("pork" sounds better than "piggy") but if you are going to change one thing only, this is the place to start. Fish? Go here.

Renew your vows with your reusable bags, cups, containers and water bottles. You don't need to buy fancy new ones, unless their sex appeal is what will make you actually use them. Shying away from packaging breeds billowing feelings of liberation and mightiness, especially bottled water and disposable coffee cups. Science. It's a fact. Don't bother looking it up, just trust me.

When you have taken some revolutionary action, whatever its magnitude, reward yourself with a cool drink. Oh, and mark that berry-picking day on your calendar now so you don't forget.

dessert for breakfast
makes one

1 c milk
1 tender-ripe pear, peeled and chunked
1 c frozen strawberries
1 tsp honey
dash of vanilla

Blend, baby, blend.

Monday, February 27, 2012


No food! I made four things in the last two days, not counting some highly medicinal spinach with garlic and lemon that was universally craved after an unpleasant flight home, and all four were flops. I cooked and cooked as dinnertime approached tonight, and still began to feel we were heading for a pizza. I was right. I seem to have forgotten how to cook, so I am going to distract you (and me) with other things.

Last night I had the occasion to yap to someone about the John Irving book A Prayer For Owen Meany. It is not unusual to hear me spouting off about some book or another, either in a rah-rah fashion or more of a poo-poo, but I am especially passionate about this one (rah-rah), because it sustained me through a period of agitated and interminable waiting many years ago. I was stuck in a location I very badly wanted to leave, and could not get a flight out of for 18 hours, and had no desire or ability to explore while I waited. So I read. It occurred to me, as I burrowed into the story, to wonder how people wait when they are not readers.

Thanks to the charmed life I had led to that point, it did not occur to me to wonder how you wait when the level of stress of the waiting makes it unthinkable that you could follow a storyline, or even a sentence, from start to finish, but I have since encountered it. Sometimes knitting serves in this type of situation, because if it is the right kind of knitting you only have to pay attention one stitch at a time, and it keeps your lap warm in the meantime.

One of my good friends is an Olympic-level reader (the quantity that she reads excelled only, in my acquaintance, by the friend who has chronic and severe insomnia) and she was doing that kind of waiting today. She was waiting for her child to come out of surgery. Even she could not read under these circumstances. She also could not knit, under these or any other circumstances. She is one of my most ardent supporters in this venture here, and yet she disagrees with almost everything I have to say, particularly the parts about the satisfaction and relaxation that proceed from making things yourself. The very prospect of making something herself, in the kitchen or in any other room, makes her anxious and unhappy. She told me so again today, perhaps suspecting that I might suggest she lose herself in a tatting project while waiting for the doctor to come out and give her a report. I had no such notions, of course.

But when she said that she was relieving tension by thinking of all the things she was not making, I did compose a little guided meditation for her. She wanted me to make it widely available because maybe someone else in the world would feel the knots leave their neck muscles when they read it, and considering that she almost never asks for anything, and considering the whole forgetting-how-to-cook thing, I am doing as she asks.

Not Crafting: A Meditation

You are not halfway through needlepointing the second of a set of 12 new seats for the dining room chairs.

You won't waste precious time worrying over the choice between felting new Christmas stockings for the whole family and knitting them.

It will not fall to you to prepare tiny canapés or éclairs for a crowd.

No sock darning is on the horizon.

Is your immediate area free of rubber stamps and gel pens? Thought so.

You will never need to purchase or borrow a set of aspic cutters.

It’s highly unlikely that the need to find a glue stick will come up before you get to bed.


Maybe tomorrow I will remember how to cook.

Friday, February 24, 2012

piece of cake

I do not have a funny story to tell you. I do not even have a picture. But I do have cake.

My mother made friends with the man in the bakery, where she cannot buy anything because all the nice treats in it are made with wheat flour. It’s a general truth (with certain exceptions, as most general truths will have) that wheat flour is what makes things in a bakery tasty.

The man in the bakery said he knew how to make a cake with no flour that he thought my mother would like. Ha, I said, when I heard this. Treats without wheat flour sometimes taste good, say if you buy these cookies, or sell your car and use the proceeds to buy some of this flour, but generally speaking fluffy yummy cake is well outside the reach of the home cook, especially if that cook is unwilling to get involved with xanthan gum, which the very costly flour does contain.

The bakery man scrawled out a recipe on a piece of yellow paper for my mother, and we made it. I was a little too relaxed about folding in the egg whites, and also the man in the bakery conceded he may have been a little off in the amount of baking powder he had written down. More flavor was called for, too. So the first cake, while nice, was texturally a little off.

That’s all behind us now. All necessary adjustments have been made, and now all of us know how to make a gluten-free cake that has no weird gums in it and does not keep your incisors sanded down thanks to its gritty undertones. It is fluffy cake, bless its soul. You could serve it to anyone, whatever their position on gluten.

We scarfed it down plain, but vision of berries and cream, or heaps of delightful frosting--birthday cake!!--danced in my head. Apologies to egg-not-eaters and potato-avoiders--your day will come.

fluffy cake

4 eggs, at room temperature, separated

1 c unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 c sugar

1 ¼ c potato starch

1 ¼ t baking powder

pinch of salt

1 ½ t vanilla

finely grated zest of two lemons

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9” cake pan, line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper, and re-butter the parchment. Now dust the pan with a couple of teaspoons of potato starch. Have a baking sheet ready. Make sure the oven rack is in the center of the oven, not too high, not too low.

Cream the butter well with the sugar, until light. Beat the yolks in one at a time, beating well after each, and beat in the zest and vanilla.

Combine the potato starch and baking powder, and add these to the butter mixture.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt to firm peaks. Gently combine about a fourth of the whites with the butter mixture, to lighten it, and then, using a large spatula or balloon whisk, very gently and patiently fold in the remaining whites.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and gently smooth the top. Place the pan on the baking sheet and bake 20 minutes. Reduce the oven heat to 325 degrees, and bake for another 20 minutes. It will look very done before this, but gird up your loins and keep baking.

Let the cake cool on a rack for as long as you can restrain yourself, then invert onto a rack and remove the parchment. Turn right side up onto a plate and have at it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

finding my mojo

We went out for Cuban food in Miami last night at a diner where all the young table staff seemed to be calling the man who seated us “Tío” as they raced back and forth through the packed dining room. The main culinary activity took place in the blender (“the waitress cannot come because she is making your chakes now,” we were told) and in the deep fryer. So it was all pretty delicious. I think we ate the best tostones I have ever had. If you have never experienced them, tostones are crisp little Frisbees made of green plaintains and they owe their most appealing qualities to the fact that they are fried not once but twice. These were fried exceptionally well both times, and enhanced by a sauce that I yelped for when the waitress attempted to clear it. Later on, after I had poured it all over my black beans and rice, I asked her what was in it. “Garlic, lemon juice, bay leaf,” I said, and she nodded. “Also vinegar,” she added. “But the rest of the ingredients are all a secret. It’s the secrets that make the food so delicious, so we can’t tell the rest.” She made an expression of sympathy for my long face, then added, “Es muy rica, no?” as if to remind me that there was ample consolation for my disappointment to be found in just eating it. She had a point.

The lack of honor in the room was made plain by my asking the Tío fellow the same question as we departed, and by his telling me the answer. “Not much lemon juice. Instead they use naranja amarga, which gives a better flavor. And a little pepper. And some parsley.” To make sure I understood, he moved the main ingredients into English for me. “BEE-tair OH-ronj. Leaf of LOW-rell. And what do you call it? Seelery? No, PAIRslee.” I saw no evidence of parsley in the dish on the table, so I think it must be removed after imparting its flavor.

The beetair ohronj he referred to seems, upon googling, to be a Seville orange, and the concoction itself Mojo ("mo-ho") Sauce, for which there appear to be roughly fifty million formulas on the surface of the internet. Some have raw garlic, some include onion, some have butter or chile or basil or cilantro or oregano. Not right. A lot of the ones I saw online featured cumin, which I love, but that was definitely not a feature of what I ate.

For those of us lacking a Seville orange tree in the yard--and that would be a highly controversial plant, as it happens, because the extract of same is now marketed as an appetite suppressant that can kill you--it appears you can substitute a mixture of fresh lime juice and fresh orange juice, plus some orange extract. I used a scrape of orange zest instead. I can tell you, if you are able to get your mitts on some Seville oranges, that neither appetite suppression nor death appeared to result in any immediate way from the sauce, at least not in the quantity I ingested, which was substantial.

The woman in the market where I bought the PAIR-slee and the oh-ranj said with total disdain that mojo sauce could not be prepared with a mere navel orange, even if a lime was called into play, and this strong opinion was in spite of the fact that she freely admitted that she was Chilean.

Maybe she is right. I think this one below, a triangulation from a very straightlaced author and the information I got in my eyes, ears, and gaping beak last night, is pretty tasty, but it wasn't what we ate. Everyone agreed on that. "This isn't quite it," they said, ladling more onto their plates. Clearly there is room for variation.

For those of us unwilling to make twice-fried anything to serve this on, it seems to work equally well on top of grilled or steamed or roasted anything, as well as rice and beans.

mojo sauce

1/3 cup olive oil
6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced

Combine in a measuring cup with a spout:

2/3 cup sour orange juice or lime juice
(or equal portions orange juice and lime juice, plus a drop of orange extract or a scrape of orange zest)

2T white vinegar

3T water

2 bay leaves, torn

a few stalks of parsley, whole
About a teaspoon of coarse salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a deep saucepan over medium heat until a test piece of garlic sizzles lightly. Add the rest of the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Don't let it brown or it will be bitter.

Add the remaining ingredients. STAND BACK or the resulting sputter may disfigure you. Bring to a low boil. Remove from heat and remove the parsley. Taste and correct salt and pepper, if needed.

Makes about a cup of sauce, which is a lot. The extra will keep, and maybe you have a nice jar to put it in. We did not.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

faking stock

soup is a much nicer color than this

I have a poem pinned up by my desk that is printed on a bright green card and titled “A Poem To Pray For Spring.” I picked it up in a bookstore somewhere a few years ago and have had it up on one wall or another ever since. Peering at the back of it now, I see that it was a promotional piece for a poetry anthology, and that the poem turns out not to be titled that at all, but rather to be a segment of a very long poem by Swinburne called “Atalanta in Calydon.” Swinburne is worth a google or two just for the hairstyles you will see represented, and for the fact that he attended Oxford except for a brief period when he was “rusticated.” I think that is almost as good a word as “defenestrated,” except that it only means “suspended,” whereas the latter is a fancy word for throwing someone or something out a window.

You may also discover (or I can save you the time) that Oscar Wilde said of Swinburne that “he perhaps professed to more vice than he actually indulged in,” which is a pretty pithy epitaph.

Even though we haven’t had much of a winter since that one day in October, we are feeling the thrilling shift towards springtime and in honor of that, here is the snippet of poem:

For winter's rains and ruins are over,

And all the season of snows and sins;

The days dividing lover and lover,

The light that loses, the night that wins;

And time remembered is grief forgotten,

And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,

And in green underwood and cover

Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

Of course--I am sure you were thinking the same--this leads us right to soup. Of course! When I came across this parsnip soup recipe, all the comments raved about its springiness and its lovely bright green color, which made me think of the poem on the card, natch. If you make this soup, you may find that it tastes like it has cream in it, which relates in some meaningful way to professing to more vice than you indulge in, and proves something--about parsnips, or poetry, or something that might be wrong with my mind.

About the soup stock: I was a vegetarian for so long that I kind of don’t miss chicken stock as a base for most soup. I just use water, generally. Making vegetable stock is tricky; making one that does not taste like dishwater takes some time and patience. Buying it is tricky, too, the shelves laden with over-salted, fakey-flavored and BPA-laden liquids that will spoil your soup. Water won’t ever do that to a girl.

Now I am not a vegetarian anymore, but still I usually make soup with water as the liquid. Thanks to this hot tip, I also now have a nice little stash of vegetable stock concentrate in the fridge, and that is so worth the hour it took to make it. Fear not the making of this concentrate; it is child’s play (except don’t let your child play with the food processor, not on my recommendation anyway) and it is money in the bank. I used it to make this soup, but I think you could be happy using chicken stock if youhave access to a nice one or just fiddling around with salt and lemon as seasonings. I added no salt other than what was in my components here, because the parsnipitude shines nicely without it.

snip snoup

Adapted from Simply Recipes

2 Tbsp butter

3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, sliced lengthwise, cleaned, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch slices

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 to 2 pounds parsnips, peeled and chopped

2 wide strips of lemon zest, or 1-2 tsp preserved lemon

6 cups water, or 2 c stock and 4 c water, or 6 c water and 1T stock concentrate

2 cups chopped fresh parsley (reserve a little for garnish)

Wedges of lemon and drizzles of good olive oil, to serve

Heat butter in a 4 to 6 quart pot over medium heat. Add the chopped leeks and toss to coat. When the leeks are heated enough so they begin to sizzle in the pan, lower the heat and cover the pan. Cook until soft, but don't let the leeks brown.

Add the parsnips and olive oil, and toss to coat. Add whatever version of stock and water you are using, and the strips of lemon zest or little chunk of preserved lemon. Bring to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Cover and cook until the parsnips are completely tender, about 15 minutes.

If you used lemon zest, remove and discard it. Add the parsley. Purée the soup until smooth, either by using an immersion blender or by working in batches with a stand-up blender and following sensible precautions so you do not explode the hot soup all over yourself. Adjust salt to taste, if needed.

Festoon the top of each bowl of soup with a squeeze of lemon, a dribble of olive oil and some parsley. Admire the color. Toast to spring.

Serves 6.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

may I please be excused?

I seem to have wandered away from the table here. This is mainly a result of practicality. In two days, we are leaving for five so I am cooking to clean out the fridge and not pausing to take pictures of what results.

While I do that, and also contact a psychic to see if she can conjure a mental image of where we stored every single pair of swim goggles we own as they have vanished and we suspect they are all together, and also check the EWG’s Skin Deep website to see if we can purchase a sunscreen that does not feel like peanut butter, stink of wild carrots, cost $50 per tube or cause genetic mutations in endangered caterpillars, I can also be found guest-posting on my friend Suzi’s website.

There is a lot to be said for and about my friend Suzi. It is good to have friends who, when you call and say, “I need you,” answer “where?” before they ask “why?” I am wealthy in this kind of friend, and Suzi is absolutely and recently and frequently one of them. Here, also, is a woman who understands the implications of hundreds of pounds of gooseberries ripening near your home, and a person who will place a gentle boot at your back when you stand at the door of the plane, because she has helped you sew the parachute and is ready to dive right there with you. She’s a courageous chick, and we all know courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to recognize that something else is more important.

This is her post on where we intersect on these matters, and there is a link about halfway down to a post I wrote for her series, "Out Of The Mouths Of Babes."

Friday, February 17, 2012

no calories

No fork food today.

Something else to feed you with, thanks to Glutton For Life's Friday hit list.

In other news, if you find yourself with an itchy clicking finger, aim it at bee-killing pesticides, Monsanto's GMO corn, Frankenfish, or the dark side of pop culture and fire away. It's the work of a moment, I swear.

Going to go work on my outfit now. Keep an eye out for me on the street later; I'll be easy to spot.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


The other day at the grocery store, I heard a woman (a well-heeled woman, who had parked next to me so I saw her snazzy wheels and knew this shocking thing I am about to tell you was not likely an issue of cash flow) ask the young man in the produce department where she could find fresh mint. He pointed it out. She said, “can I buy half a bunch?” and to my amazement, he said yes. “Good,” she said. “And I want half a bunch of basil, too.”

The very idea! Nice Produce Guy says that happens frequently enough that they have a policy about it, which apparently is to say yes even though it is possibly the silliest thing I can imagine asking a produce guy, other than maybe “can you peel this orange for me, and then can I pay less per pound?”

My reactionary response is a recipe for a metric butt-load of dip, because I was loathe to leave you with either the desire to ask the produce person for half a bunch of dandelions, or if that proves untenable to you, with half a bunch of dandelions themselves.

Dandelions continue to be the snappiest-looking things in the greens aisle, so I continue to seek out ways to make them into something. I started out thinking I was making pesto here, and I bet you could use it that way. So far, I am just eating it, but I watched someone in the kitchen spread it on bread, and someone else glopped it onto some noodles.

For the olives here I used the regular old kind you might put in your martini, not anything fancy, and I like the sweetness of the almonds to balance out the strong taste of the greens but you could make do with another nut that amuses you. These proportions made something quite thick that sits nicely on a piece of bread; increase the olive oil a bit and use just 1/4 cup of nuts to get something more sauce-like. If the quantity exceeds your capacity, I think it would freeze well.

dandelion pesto

makes about 1.5 cups

1 bunch of dandelion greens

about 4 ozs baby spinach leaves

¾ c EV olive oil

1/2 to 2 cloves garlic, as you prefer

½ c pitted green olives

2t preserved lemon, or 2 t lemon juice and a pinch of salt

3.5 ozs feta cheese, crumbled

¼ c raw sunflower seeds

½ c raw almonds

Thoroughly wash the greens so you don't end up with grit in your dip. Nobody likes that. Chop off the thicker stem-ends of the dandelion and discard (or give them to a sheep, if one lives nearby), and then coarsely chop the leaves. Place about a third of the greens in the container of a blender or food processor with the olive oil and garlic and whizz to break them down a bit, then add another third of the greens, or as the capacity of your machine indicates until they are all in there. When all the greens are roughly chopped, add the remaining items and process to your desired degree of smoothness. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

get snippy with me

I confess to liking the kind of hippie food that alarmed carnivores fear from vegetarians. My sister and I used to frequent a macro-neurotic restaurant (OK, that’s not really what it’s called--I know that) that lay conveniently between our two apartments, and I still crave those plain grains and steamed greens and beverages made of twigs and bark, though I am less likely to go to a restaurant to get my hands on some than I was back when I was a callow youth. One night when we met for dinner I remember that we had to go somewhere else because my sister said she had had a long day at work and she was not up for “all that chewing,” which is certainly a factor in that particular style of healthful dining.

But there are some foods that only sound like they are going to fall into this category. They turn out to be so much less weird and commune-conjuring than the ingredients suggest they will be that it would be better for the cook to construct them in secret, where none of the suspect ingredients can be observed and hearts hardened against them, and then just whisk them into the mouths of the waiting diners before they can ask any questions.

I pulled that off tonight, but only because on Tuesdays dinner happens in shifts and I made these in between the first wave of eaters and the second, when no one was lingering around in the kitchen. They sound heavily weird, I am just going to warn you, but they don’t taste that way. I swear. Independent tastebuds that would not get close enough to a millet croquette to hit it with a mallet confirm this, as does the photographic evidence of small digits snatching them off the plate as fast as I could try to aim the camera at them.

What of the parsnip, anyway? I just learned it is the closest cousin to parsley, which in some varieties grows with a thick and very parsnip-esque root. Earlier today, in a random event having nothing intentional to do with parsnips, I came across an article in a 2010 New Yorker (this is about the standard delay at which we come across issues of the New Yorker) about root vegetables. In it the writer, Jane Kramer, laments the lack of parsley roots in NYC green-groceries. Apparently it is a hot item in Croatian cooking, especially if you want to stew a rabbit, which I never do. Parsnips are high in potassium and fiber and--perhaps more compelling for the younger customers--are an important food for several butterfly species. Mainly they are tasty, with all of a carrot’s sweetness and a lot more flavor.

OK, I have danced around long enough. I am going to have to tell you what is on these parsnips. I just ask that you keep an open mind.

parsnip oven fries

adapted from here

4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into sticks (or substitute any root vegetable)

3 T almond butter

1T EV olive oil

pinch of sea salt

pinch of cayenne

Preheat the oven to 400 and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, mix the nut butter, oil, salt and cayenne. Toss the sticks of parsnip (or rutabaga, if you swing that way) in the mix until thoroughly coated and spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for about 35 minutes, moving them around occasionally, until they are crisp on the edges. Over-roasted is better than under-roasted. Eat the first one quizzically, with a little hesitation, and then find you have finished the tray.

I was going to suggest, before I made these, that the coating be duded up with some fresh ginger or lime zest, or a finishing salt, but I am glad I made them plain. Parsnips have a mysterious spiciness to them, and it was nicely supported by the little tix of heat from the cayenne and the tiny bit of salt was all it needed.

Monday, February 13, 2012

portion control

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, the midwives sent me in to see their new staff nutritionist to evaluate my vegetarian diet. If you have a mental stereotype for a dietician or nutritionist, it is quite likely it looks a lot like she did: pert, earnest and tidy, with her brand-new diploma hanging right over her desk. She asked me to fill out a diet summary and I did it diligently, recording all my protein sources and so forth. She began to look it over. “Now here with the tofu,” she said, tapping the paper with her pen, “what size portion would you say you consume? And here with the peanut butter,” (tap, tap)” is that about a two tablespoon portion?” And so on down the list, until I knew without much doubt that 16 years of being the vegetarian daughter of a worried Jewish mother was better preparation for reviewing my pregnant diet than whatever it was she had done to earn her diploma. But if doubt remained, it lasted only until she got to the bottom of my list.

“What about casseroles?” she asked. “Do you eat casseroles?” I said I didn’t. “Well you should,” she said with certainty, patting my list. “Two to three portions per week.” What they might be made of was not addressed.

My husband and I spent the rest of the pregnancy thinking up Horrifying Casseroles we might pretend we made weekly. Baked Snickers with Crack, and so on. But we behaved ourselves and didn't tease her, because I never went back.

As luck would have it, a few years later when my sisters and I were wrangling a collection of little cousins whom we often fed together, I stumbled across a recipe for Chilaquile Casserole in a Mollie Katzen cookbook. Making it as I did back then, I felt like I had either just stepped into our out of the test kitchens of a women’s magazine. A package of this, a jar of that, open a can, and presto! Six portions of casserole! I wanted to call up the nutritionist and let her know. But it was delicious and nourishing and totally simple to make and we abused the privilege of its discovery so severely that my oldest nephew re-christened it “Chili-Kill-Me Casserole.”

It is not really a recipe, I guess, but more of a platform on which to build something you will find tasty. I hope you enjoy your portion.

chilaquile casserole

Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Still Life With Menu

The basics:

12 uncooked corn tortillas

2-3 cups of coarsely-grated jack or mild cheddar cheese

dashes of salt, pepper, cumin and/or chile powder

3 large eggs

2 ¼ c buttermilk

The options:

1-2 cups cooked, drained pinto or black beans (or use some leftover black bean soup or chili--just try to steer clear of canned beans)

1-2 c shredded cooked chicken or turkey, or browned ground meat

1 c corn kernels

1 4-oz can of chopped roasted green chiles

1 to 1 1/2 cups of salsa

1-2 c cubed roasted potatoes

Oil a 2-quart baking dish. Cut a stack of 4 tortillas in half and then quarters, so you have four little stacks of wedges, and repeat for the other two stacks of 4. Cover the bottom of the dish with one set of these wedges, and layer on half of your chosen additions, followed by one third of the cheese. Lay on the next set of wedges and repeat. Top off with the remaining wedges.

Beat the buttermilk, eggs and seasonings together and pour gently over the top. Distribute the remaining cheese on top (you can also reserve a few tablespoons of salsa to glob decoratively on the surface), and let stand at least 20 minutes before baking. You can pause here for a few hours if you want to bake it later; just put it in the fridge and let it come to room temp before you bake it, uncovered, at 375 for about 35 minutes, or until golden on top and apparently set.

For a true Good Housekeeping glow, be hereby informed that this serves well hot or at whatever temperature it is when you arrive at a potluck with it, doubles easily and re-heats without complaining.